Thursday, February 21, 2013

The Lion, the Witch, and the Turnip Truck: Free Work and Paying to Play

A while ago, Ken Cheeseman told me, and others like me, that we should never have to pay for the right to audition. I mean, you wouldn't pay someone for an interview, right?

That shit's getting harder and harder to do, because there are plenty of people who don't think your time is worth anything, because there are a bunch of people who want to do what you do who don't think their time is worth anything.

The acting profession has always been a weird damn thing. Centuries ago, they were on par with whores. And, going by classical definitions, things have not changed drastically.

I don't know if it's cliche by now to compare real actors with reality television stars. I know for some presentation, a school colleague of mine paralleled performances by Terry O'Quinn and Snooki.

That's one thing. If people want Snooki then, well, that's the climate. You can't change it. It's the same as print, architecture, law - demands change. Climate change is old news in acting.

What Terry and Snooki have in common is that they don't do this shit for free. And just because you don't have a recognizable name, that doesn't mean you should be doing it for nothing. There are a lot of numbers between zero and a million.

Two recent articles have brought the worth of my efforts to my consciousness' center stage, so to speak.

1) Should you work for free?

The answer's complicated, and depends on you and your field, but there are some other handy questions to ask yourself after the initial one.

  • Do they pay other people who do this work? Do their competitors?

  • Am I learning enough from this interaction to call this part of my education?

  • Is this public work with my name on it, or am I just saving them cash to do a job they should pay for?

  • If I get paid, is it more likely the organization will pay closer attention, promote it better and treat it more seriously?

  • Do I care about their mission? Can they afford to do this professionally?

  • Will I get noticed by the right people, people who will help me spread the word to the point where I can get hired to do this professionally?

  • What's the risk to me, my internal monologue and my reputation if I do this work?

  • There's also a handy flowchart here.

    2) Networking event with casting directors called off
    For a fee of $25, organizers — Caruso and local Coldwell Banker realtor Anthony Menounos — promised to put participants in front of established Hollywood casting directors whom they declined to identify.
    Also on the agenda was a silent auction for a bridge in Florida.

    As fishy as hell as this sort of thing sounds, it's not even the worst-case scenario. There have been actual networking events that have occurred where people pay even MORE money to meet actual people who don't otherwise give a good damn.

    And y'know? Maybe that's okay. I'm sure there's a reason for it. Like, say, you don't actually have the skill or know-how to give a good audition, but you can schmooze up a storm, then that's one way to be noticed. Or you just hate having so much money. But please understand why you're giving your money away.

    As I'm trying to get a foot into voice-over, I find out that most audition websites have registration fees exceeding a hundred dollars. Just to even be considered you've got to pay.

    And whenever I see an audition in StageSource or Playbill with an audition fee, my mind just reels.

    Let me tell you about a mistake I made this past year.

    I paid a certain "production" company (studio? performance lab? still figuring it out) a certain amount of money for the privilege of meeting one of my favorite voice actors in a workshop.

    And, money aside, it was cool. He was a great guy. He retold a lot of stories I heard from his podcast, but he actually listened to me perform and then autographed something for my mom.

    The head of the company talked me up and down, and invited me to come into their facilities. Weeks later, I agreed. I was hoping to find out specifics about services and pricing, but because a chunk of my trip involved walking along route 9 in the wrong direction on a hot day, I was late, and didn't get to that part in the conversation.

    I was invited to sit in on the first part of an introductory Meisner class taught by a visiting professional.
    Here's a thing about Emerson College:

    In my theatre training, I was taught many methods to use in characterization and performance. They were not considered to be "philosophies" or "techniques," but merely tools. For any given project, I used only the tools I needed, and did not fetishize or deify any method I learned. That is one thing Emerson is to be commended for. It's the jeet kune do of acting.

    However, nothing I learned was ever named. I was tested on the history of defunct and irrelevant theatrical practices, but the differences between Stanislavski and Meisner are merely cosmetic to me. As a result, I always feel less knowledgeable than actors who have gone to other schools.

    Fortunately, knowing that stuff doesn't make you better or worse.
    So I sat and thought, Oh. So this is Meisner.

    I already paid tens of thousands of dollars to learn this, and I don't want to pay any more.

    Still, that didn't necessarily mean there weren't other things to be learned here, especially where the elusive mayfly of voice-over is concerned. So I thanked those on staff for the time that they did manage to spend with me, and made my way to leave.

    In the hallway towards the foyer, a bunch of framed headshots were hung with care, clearly belonging to those trained by the studio. I was happy to find among them a headshot belonging to an old colleague of mine.

    When I went home, I message him on Facebook, telling him I visited the studio, and:
    I saw your headshot on their wall. How do you feel about those cats? Are they cool? Worth my time and money?
    To which he replied,
    Terry, I have to say it's definitely a little weird to me that my headshot was on their wall seeing as how I have never worked with them or set foot in their studio.


    I'll be launching my professional web site pretty soon. I plan on being super positive and polite on that, just like regular actors are.

    But this isn't L.A. If I have any asses to lick in Boston, they're probably asses I don't need to associated with.

    And if I'm not using this blog as a place to get dirty about the inspiring and infuriating cesspool that is arts and entertainment, then I'm doing a disservice to the other artists trying to figure their stuff out.

    So everyone out there who plans on scamming actors along with the other pie-faced dweebs who want to be on Broadway or whatever:

    Please don't treat us like we just fell off the goddamn turnip truck.

    You wouldn't ask a homeless person to dance for you and then take their dime, so don't try that shit with us.

    And actors, if you've been doing it right, you've already put your hard work into honing your craft.

    So ask yourself: "When is acting gonna start working for me?"

    Sunday, February 17, 2013

    #6, #7, #8. CP Casting Revisited

    An open casting call. "Some projects will be paid work and some projects will be non-paid work."

    Alright, that's pretty broad, but sure. I don't remember any recognition from my last audition with C.P. Casting, but I wanted to try and get in front of one of the bigger casting directors in the city again.

    They distributed four monologues to choose to audition with.

    1. Good Will Hunting. I still haven't seen this movie, but I assumed it was Matt Damon talking, and I figured, "I'm not Matt Damon."

    2. The Hangover. Haven't seen this, either! It's when Zach Galifinakis' character cuts his hand open. I thought, "This would be funny if I were Zach Galifinakis."

    3. Something with a guy named Harry talking to someone else about a woman named Helen. I was almost certain it was from When Harry Met Sally, since it was a monologue from a movie about a relationship.

    4. A character named SERGEANT. I skipped right over that one.

    So I went with number 3, though number 2 was close. The thing about both monologues is that, in theatre, they would be pretty lousy audition monologues. One involves reading a speech from a note, and other is an account of something that already transpired. Neither are particularly in the moment.

    I went with Harry because, ultimately, even if it's just me talking to someone about about me talking to someone, it does involve navigating through a tense situation.
    So I go to the door, and there were moving men there. Now I start to get suspicious. I say, "Helen when did you call these movers?", and she doesn't say anything. So I asked the movers, "When did this woman book you for this gig?" And they're just standing there. Three huge guys, one of them was wearing a T-shirt that says, "Don't fuck with Mr. Zero." So I said, "Helen, when did you make this arrangement?" She says, "A week ago." I said, "You've known for a week and you didn't tell me?" And she says, "I didn't want to ruin your birthday."

    I worked pretty hard on this one. Even if it wasn't something I would've chosen on my own, it was the best of all the options presented to me, which meant I didn't have to second-guess myself on whether or not it was suitable. I could just work on it.

    I took it off the page. I divided the beats. I Meisner'd it. I redivided the beats. I did it while I held a Jingju Peking opera pose atop the hill overlooking the Frog Pond skating rink in Boston Common.

    If I put in the work, I wouldn't be disappointed with the results.

    Auditions were at the Paramount sound stage at Emerson College. If I remember my time at Emerson, I'm sure exactly three students have ever used it.

    I filled out an information sheet. On the back, it asked if I were interested in being cast in films by students from Emerson College.

    Ho, boy. I figured the non-paid work would be for student films.

    In a lot of ways, I found the theatre department and the film department at Emerson College were complete opposites. Theatre focused on artistic expression. Film focused on technical know-how. And never the twain shall meet.

    But I've found even the technical skill to be lacking on so many of the sets that I've worked on. It's usually a mystery as to what half of the people are doing there - presumably suckers asked by their friends to lug equipment to and fro, waiting for nothing to happen the rest of the time.

    And the shooting schedule. Is the shooting schedule something that film students are taught to make in school? They should all get their tuition back, because I've never known a shooting schedule to actually make sure anything happens when it's supposed to.

    And in the case that everything remains technically sound during production, you're still at the whims of the story. Even Hollywood productions can barely handle maintaining the integrity of the script, if the script has any integrity to begin with.

    PROTIP: Before you accept a role in a student film, ask for a copy of the script. If it's not a good role for you that makes you look good, tell them you're busy.

    I've always wondered how student films recruited the services of casting companies. Money? In-kind trades?

    Oh. Uh. Anyway.

    Those running the auditions outside of the sound stage were doing pretty well keeping things on schedule, making sure someone was always in the room auditioning. I took a whizz, did some jumping jacks, and got in line when my turn came up.

    "Alright," I said to myself, "Control the room, find your mark, and find the spot on the wall above the casting people's heads where the imaginary person you're talking to is."

    When I stepped in, I was silently pointed toward a director's chair just beside the doorway. When I looked on the stage, the guy in front of me was there, giving his audition. Seemed as though this is how they did things so speedily. It was big enough within that he didn't seem to notice me.

    Normally, watching somebody else audition psyches me out. And I realized quickly that he was doing the same monologue that I had worked on. What cruelty, to subject me to another actor's choices right before my audition!

    But then,

    I thought something I tend to never think about other actors.

    Nothing against this guy. But he had definitely either 1) seen the movie or 2) was a staunch theatre actor. At least, he didn't seem like he was giving a film audition. It was too much.

    Understand, I am rarely ever the kind of person to consider myself at all superior to someone else in any way. But being able to sit and watch this guy's audition made me feel complete confidence in my choices.

    When he got up, we passed each other, and I took his place in a chair on the sound stage before several long tables with people of all shapes and ages seated behind them.

    Carolyn Pickman - the CP in CP Casting - told me to slate to the camera and then direct my audition to the reader, a young bearded gentleman seated in front of me.

    And I did. I felt good. Measured, natural.

    And I looked at the reader - the person whose job it is to look and listen to the person auditioning - and I was super glad he was there, because my monologue IS about telling another guy what happened between a woman and myself.

    But he kept... looking... at the door.

    Just like... really quick and obvious glances at the door. Like he was expecting someone.

    In the back of my mind I was like, "Oh, man. Some guy asked this guy if he wanted to be a reader, and he didn't know what that meant." Fortunately, I was still auditioning with the front of my mind.

    When I was done, I said Thanks and headed for the door. Carolyn said something along the lines of, "Good job."


    I hope CP Casting's professionalism reflects the work ethic of the student film production teams.

    I also hope they don't notice that the cat sneezed on one of my headshots.

    2 headshots remain.