Thursday, January 30, 2014

Acting Tip: Get comfortable with how you look

A lot of actors say they are too self-conscious or too critical of their own performance to ever watch their own clips. I say watch your clips. More than that, develop a loving eye about how you look expressing the whole range of emotions. Why? Because it's freeing. The more comfortable you are with how you look on camera, the more you can let yourself be free to act and to have fun with your character.

Starting out in this business, I think we all want to look as attractive as possible on film and in photos. Hollywood projects glamor, after all. American films and American television in particular reach for a certain standard of physical perfection. Even Jennifer Lawrence gets photoshopped in print to look thinner and have more hair! (Good grief!)

The tendency is to be overly conscious of our imperfections. My eyes are a bit too close together, for example. My nose definitely has a "good side." My face in the throes of deep emotion has hundreds of little muscles that create way too many lines and wrinkles (Julia Roberts, by the way, has all three of these issues too.)

Vanessa Redgrave
The point is, there are tens of thousands of hugely attractive actors out there trying to get work. Don't feel that you have to compete with them. Take a close look at A-list stars. They're not perfect.  Faces don't need to be perfect. Faces need to be interesting. They need to be memorable. And to achieve that, you need to accept how you look on camera and work from there.  #KathrynBrowning

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Acting Tip: Emotion for the Camera

Actress Ingrid Bergman relates this exchange with director Alfred Hitchcock: “I said, "I don't think I can give you that kind of emotion." And he [Hitchcock] sat there and said, "Ingrid, fake it!" Well, that was the best advice I've had in my whole life, because in all the years to come there were many directors who gave me what I thought were quite impossible instructions and many difficult things to do, and just when I was on the verge of starting to argue with them, I heard his voice coming to me through the air saying, "Ingrid, fake it!" It saved a lot of unpleasant situations and waste of time.”

Faking it has a lot to do with the "outside in" approach to acting favored by the British and Europeans, and the more experience I gain as an actress, the more I think there is something to it. Get the walk and the talk and the rest of it will come. In many situations, it does.

Example: I was on set yesterday for a television episode in a scene that the director wanted played with high emotion. My character had just been told that her only son had been found murdered, and I was to be hysterical and on the verge of physical collapse through multiple takes and close-ups from different angles.

Now I'm a born stoic and not given to tears at the drop of a hat. But what I have found in such situations is that if I get all the physical things that happen to me when I cry - tight throat, quivering chin, hyperventilation, tight ribcage, shoulders shuddering, etc. - and ad lib the things I have said when I've received shocking news ("oh no, oh no, oh my God") - i.e. the walk and the talk - my brain seems to say "Oh! She's crying!" and I begin to actually cry tears.  In fact, the emotion snowballs - in this case to the point where the director came over and patted my arm between takes.

So one doesn't need to think of dead puppies, as actors like to joke, in order to express emotion.  It is possible to launch into the physicality of the emotion and trick your body into expressing emotion you don't necessarily feel.  In fact, acting coach Harold Guskin gives a version of this in his book How to Stop Acting.

The acting you are most satisfied with may indeed come in those intense scenes where you get caught up in the action and your scene partner is giving you a ton to work from and everything you feel is real and in the here and now. In those moments even taxi drivers from Minnesota can put in a Hell of a performance (Captain Phillips).

But more often than not you don't have that to work from and you're being paid to deliver for the camera.  In those moments, try "faking it." It can work.  #KathrynBrowning

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Acting Tips: Agents, Managers, Publicists

There is a running debate among actors about Agents, Managers, and Publicists, and whether you need them outside of the New York/LA areas. Those who have them feel strongly that professionals can help push you to the front of the competition. Outside of NY/LA the sense is that there are fewer casting directors and that they tend to know their local talent and decide whom they are going to bring in for auditions (as opposed to publishing breakdowns and expecting submissions).

An actor can get a manager without having an agent, and it’s the manager's job to guide your career and help you find agents in an entertainment world that has become very specialized (theater, film, TV, commercial).

Ideally, your relationship should work like this: The manager helps you set a vision for what kind of work you would like to do as an actor and helps you build a portfolio. They then provide guidance on appropriate training, photos, and reel. The manager works to sign you with agents, researching the agencies and setting up meetings.

Until you have an agent, or agents, managers can submit you for specific auditions and make "push calls" to talk you up to casting directors. That way you are still in front of casting directors and becoming known. It is also a selling point to potential agents that managers can speak about who knows your work and has called you in for auditions.

This should be very hands-on guidance with constant communication. Once you have agent representation, everyone should work together as a team on your behalf.

The manager and/or agent should always be submitting and pushing you out there. (Ask to see their submission report for you every month). They should only get paid when you book a job and get paid. For agents, don’t accept “exclusive” contracts. An agent should only get paid for work for which they submitted you.

Managers are not regulated and can charge anywhere from 10-25 percent, so that is something to consider if offered a working relationship with a manager. Signing any contract should be taken seriously, and having an attorney review the contract would be wise. As an actor, you are running a small business, and this is yet another cost.

Most actors below star level remain their own publicist. Professional publicists work on per project retainer or monthly budgets, depending on what arrangements you’ve made.  Dallas Travers reportedly has a good program that helps actors do their own PR and other outside-the-box approaches to getting your name out there.  I think there are also good points on publicity and relationship-building at; cheaper, but you will have to dig for them.

Deciding to hire professional representation is a personal decision, based on your needs as an actor. Just remember that as the CEO of a small business, the agent, manager, publicist, or whoever works for you and on your behalf. Conduct due diligence. Ask questions. Ask for references and to speak to other clients. Ask what jobs clients have booked. How large is the manager’s roster? How many managers are there in the agency? Check them out on and See if they have other similar talent in your age/gender/race/ethnicity bracket. Google the company name and reps name together with the word "scam", etc. Check them out through your union.

See if it makes sense for your career and then make a decision, understanding that you will still need to do 75-90 percent of the work if you get that much of the check.  #KathrynBrowning

Monday, January 20, 2014

Acting Tips: Working with Social Media

I saw an article at Backstage a few weeks ago (4 Sites You Need to Be on Now!) about using social media. I think it gives good general information, but I also think it misses the real purpose (and benefit) of social media for actors. It's not about the world looking at you (as in a fan page), it's about YOU building goodwill and relationships with those in the industry.

Many actors I know bypass FB fan pages, for example, and instead have two FB personal pages: one for family under their birth name and one for colleagues under their professional name. (Yes, FB doesn't like this, but if they enforced single pages for actors they'd be losing a LOT of big name stars.) Why is this important?  Because you can talk to family about politics and religion, but making such remarks to people in the business can cost you work and connections.

Examples: I recently found myself waiting in a studio side room with an up-and-coming actor who is currently starring in an action/thriller about to open in theaters. We exchanged smiles and nods and I later looked him up on FB with the thought of sending him a brief message and "friend" request. One look at his timeline convinced me not to: It was one long and terribly unpleasant political screed. (Ugh. I guess he only works for those with a certain political persuasion.) An actress who sent ME a "friend" request got passed on when I saw a lot of profanity in her postings, including frequent use of the "N" word.  (She was African-American.) My sense is that it's wise not to get too close to such people.

My FB page is limited to a small list of actors, producers, casting agents, and people who work on the production side. I read and comment on their postings a lot, looking for commonalities and opportunities to get to know them better. There are a lot of terrific people in film and television. They can give you inside information you can't get elsewhere and create opportunities your agent cannot.  (And you can do the same for them.)

Besides, my ego needs no "fans," and lets face it, how many of us - beyond an upper echelon of a few thousand actors - actually have them? Hah!  #KathrynBrowning

Acting Tips: Going with your instincts in directing your career

From time to time people will ask me what I do to advance myself as an actress, or what do I do to get auditions, or how I organize my day to hit all the agency bases, or....whatever.

The question "What do you do to......?" is the one that
For non-linear thinkers, explanations  can be tough.
causes absolute panic, because it asks for a linear explanation: "Well I wanted to achieve this so I did this, and then I did that, and then I did this other thing, and Voila! Pot of gold at the end of the rainbow!"

The problem is that in a world of largely linear thinkers, I am one who is not. My thoughts contain random bits of information that travel in totally unconnected orbits around my head. No one bit relates directly to any other bit, but from time to time they connect and make sense in the my head....resulting in sudden insights that I couldn't possibly explain.

People like me can have an intuitive understanding of a thing or process and yet be utter disasters at explaining how they arrived at their conclusion. Take Melanie Griffith's character in Working Girl: "," Everyone looks at her like she's an idiot!

Non-linear thinking can lead to great success if you have the confidence to go with your gut. But in a world that often demands that thoughts and people travel in a straight line, that takes courage, especially when the result likely has you swimming against a tide of people heading in the other direction.

I've been thinking about this lately because I've been sampling David Patrick Green's HackHollywood website. Aha! A kindred spirit! Good things there, but a tough slog to read because he struggles to organize and convey his thoughts.  More on that later.

The point I would make is to be open to those little bits of information that help to illuminate a process. They will help you in your auditions, in advancing your career, in choosing where to put your money.  #KathrynBrowning