Advice and Tips for Actors Helpful thoughts on acting from someone who wasn't the least successful actor of all time.

March 25, 2010

New Agent – Arlene Thornton and Assosciates

Filed under: Uncategorized — Biographer @ 2:11 pm

You read that headline right, Eitan is now represented by Janet Tscha of Arlene Thornton and Associates for all commercial representation needs.  So if you want Eitan to shill for your manure factory, call Janet.
And this also means Eitan is no longer represented by the Levin Agency.  But figured that out already, right?

March 10, 2010

Baseball Analogy to Acting Professionally

I’ve been accused of using too many sports analogies when talking about acting.  Well, I’m a guy who likes sports.  It’s what we do.  Watching the Winter Olympics I marveled at how many non-Winter Olympics analogies were used by the announcers.  It’s pretty hard to equate bobsledding to baseball, but they managed.

So now that spring is hitting it’s one of my favorite times of the year: spring training.  Once a year I get to pretend the Orioles have a shot at being good and this is it.  Watching some pre-season games I had a thought about the guys I was watching play:  every one of those guys, with only incredibly rare exceptions, dominated every level of play they’ve been in before making it to a professional roster.

This is something I don’t think we appreciate enough.  The guy who is in single-A ball (the lowest rung of still being attached to a professional team) was the star of his high school baseball team.  Then he went to college where again he was a major star.  Upon turning pro he was now in the company of many men all of whom were the best their whole lives on their respective teams.  Despite all that, this guy may not ever make it to Camden Yards to get to play a single inning.  The talent level of every one of the guys who wears a professional jersey is so high that even if you’re “the best” in Iowa it doesn’t mean you’re necessarily good enough to play with them.

Actors face a similar (but slightly different) system.  Many of us start out acting in school.  Think back, were you one of the top actors?  Did you have trouble getting cast?  Did you end up being the tree?  If you didn’t get consistent work even at the lowest levels how do you expect to compete with the actors who’ve been at the top of their class everywhere they went?

This isn’t a perfect analogy as their are casting considerations.  Even in high school I was a character actor so I didn’t get the huge glamorous parts of the romantic leads.  That said I worked pretty consistently through high school and college and only had trouble getting cast in a college where they went out of their way to give first crack to their drama students (which I was not).  I still got parts (good ones too) but it was tougher.

So you played Hamlet, Romeo and every other lead part in high school and college so you decide to come out to LA and be professional.  Well guess what, so did the vast majority of the people you meet in LA who want to be actors.  This is not the middle of Nebraska where there are three people competing for the role of Officer Krupke this is the “Superbowl of Acting” as an actor friend likes to say.  If you can’t compete in the lower levels you stand no chance here.

March 3, 2010

REVIEW: Margie Haber Cold Reading Classes

Filed under: classes,reviews — Eitan @ 10:09 am

UPDATE! 12/13/2012 UPDATE!

Why am I updating a two and a half year old post about a eight year old experience? I wonder that myself.

Instead of answering I’ll tell the story of what happened this last weekend. If you look below you’ll see a comment from the Margie Haber Studios. Basically it says “We have no record of you attending this school, please remove the comment.” Delightful. I would have responded to them, giving them the dates I attended the school and helped clear up this mess.

But before I could respond they also called my agent and talked to her at length. For those of you not in the business, this is not standard practice. If you have a problem with me as an actor or on a job call my agent to complain. If you have a problem with a blog post I wrote, you don’t. It’s unprofessional and drags her into a conversation she doesn’t need to be part in. Trying to get her to chose a side against her client or an acting school is dumb.

I reached out to the school and got a phone call the next day from Margie Haber (the “world famous Margie Haber,” as she introduced herself). Apparently this past weekend at an orientation session someone brought up my blog post and mentioned they would prefer not to attend classes with Barbara Gannen based on what they read. I learned that if you Google “Margie Haber Review” my website is one of the first few to come up (cool).

Margie told me over and over again that in the past few years how Barbara has changed, how Barbara has gone through things and is now a better teacher. I can’t vouch for this and in all honesty I declined the offer to go observe her class to see how she’s better and Margie offered no specifics addressing my experiences. Margie asked me to take this review down and I declined, offering instead to post an update.

So this is my update. I’m going to assume Margie never read my review because she only focused on the stuff about Barbara while I brought up a bunch of other points about her school and the way they handle their students. At the time Barbara was the worst acting teacher I ever met. It’s still true, as I haven’t taken an acting class in a long time. Is she better now? It’s possible. Did other people like her class? Probably. I suppose the standard your mileage may vary disclaimer applies to this as it applies to every review since the beginning of time. I don’t think this is necessary to say but if it makes Margie happy then I’m glad to say it.

I’d like to offer a few counter points to this conversation because it’s my blog. If Margie wants to review me on her website she’s more than welcome.

People do change. I’ll admit that. Sometimes they even get better at their jobs. However, Barbara was already teaching for years and years when I attended the school. That was part of my problem, she felt stuck in her rut and obsessed with what was “right” and “wrong” with each scene. The general structure and method of teaching was horrible and irresponsible. You can’t change my experience there even though it was years ago. It’s not invalid because it’s old just as those headshots sitting on Margie’s wall aren’t invalid because the student attended the school years ago.

Also, the way this situation was handled was amateurish at best. When I felt I was being placed incorrectly in the school I was brushed aside with barely a cursory conversation. Now that they disagree with my opinion, years later, I’m accused of making up my attendance and they call my agent before calling me. I’ve heard elsewhere that they treat actors (the people who pay their rent) with disrespect and I can vouch for the fact that this still happens. Nothing changed in that department. Margie was nothing but polite in our conversation but she didn’t see anything wrong with their methods of communication. I was hoping she’d at least apologize to my agent for wasting her time but it was not to be.

So there’s my update. I may get another phone call from Margie, I probably won’t. Read the review, make your own decision.


Original Post: 3/3/2010: This is a review of Margie Haber’s Cold Reading Classes at the Margie Haber Studios.  Margie (and her teachers) offer classes on cold reading for the Los Angeles actor, although I’ve heard Margie travels around and does seminars out of LA once in a while.  Margie also has a book on cold reading and has coached countless of celebrities and work-a-day actors.

Before a review of the studio, what is a cold read?  A cold read is an audition where you are not given a huge amount of time to prepare.  Typically a cold read is an audition where you are only given the sides (short part of the script with your lines) when you show up to the audition and you aren’t given the option or time of downloading your audition materials off the internet.  The idea behind studying this technique is that you will be confronted with this scenario where you will be required to create a fully realized character and deliver lines perfectly with nothing but a few minutes to read a short section of the script.  In reality this tends to happen most of the time with commercials and even then there are not going to be many lines to learn or deep characters to create.  Still, it happens.

Let me start my (first ever) review by saying that in hindsight I think this class was pretty worthless.  When I took the class it was incredibly expensive but recommended to me by dozens of people around LA.  There are only a handful of “audition technique” teachers around Los Angeles and Margie is usually listed near the top of the heap.  This may be because of her famous clients, her book or the thousands of students she’s taught but either way she is usually one of the first ones mentioned.  Now, I’ve said this before but I think most acting classes are a waste of time.  In a future review I’ll have some nice things to say about The Groundlings but for now let’s just say I think that there are few classes in which you can learn anything useful to your career as an actor.  So there’s that problem.

Second, the quality of teaching at Margie’s is very hit and miss.  I was unfortunate to have Barbara Gannen as a teacher.  She was, bar none, the worst acting teacher I have ever experienced.  Let me explain.  Every class (except one) was run the same way.  The actors came in, were given a script to read and then sent out.  A few minutes later the actors would come in and do the script in front of a camera.  After everyone emoted we would take a short break and then watch the tape together.  The first thing Barbara did after showing the tape was to ask the class if they had any opinions on the matter.  Let me skip to my third point and then I’ll come back to the second point.   This would make more sense if I wasn’t numbering my points.

Third, there were no real standards as to what an “advanced” or “beginner” were at the studio other than having had the experience of paying huge sums of money to go through one class, then an “ongoing” class and after an amount of time be moved into a higher up class.  I was placed in the “beginner class” which sounded fine to me because I had been in LA for a few years, had a few professional gigs and had been acting much of my life but only the past few years professionally.  By any rational standpoint I was a “beginner”  in the professional world.  From what I could gather from my “beginner class” a beginner at Margie Haber’s was a person who had never acted in any capacity before (but woke up one morning and decided they would be a professional actor) or someone who had acted only in theater for a few years in high school/college.  If there were three people in that class that had ever auditioned for a professional job in their lives I’ll eat my hat.  After two classes I realized this and asked to be switched to a more advanced class.  I explained, “I know how to act, I am not being challenged or even educated at this level.”  Margie herself said, “no.”  This was the only time I talked to or even looked directly at the great Margie Haber.

Back to class.  After watching a tape of our audition Barbara would pause the tape and ask the class what was right and what was wrong.  This was a class of people who had never acted before and certainly weren’t being well paid for their opinion.  So that was a waste of time.  After the students had their say Barbara would announce what was “right” and “wrong” with these scenes.  That sounds like a point four.

Point four, she had been using the same materials for the past half-decade (at that point) and had decided exactly how each scene should be done.   I’m not saying that I’m such an amazing actor that I always take a piece someone’s seen a billion times and blow their minds with a totally new rendition but there was no wiggle room.  Often times she didn’t actually know the source of the material.  If it was a sit-com and you played it like a sit-com she’d tell you that you needed to pause dramatically at certain points because she seemed to think it was a drama.  The process would then repeat.

The little good I took out of this class were technical points.  I learned to hold much stiller than I had on my earlier auditions and saw how much the camera amplifies little shifty movements.  That’s something I could have done on my Flip.  I didn’t need to fork out hundreds of dollars for this experience.

Let me pause here and say a few wonderful things about Margie Haber’s studio, since at this point everyone must think this place is a death trap.  When I tell people these stories they all told me the same thing, “of course, Barabara is awful.  You need to take classes with Jim Gleason or Annie Grindlay.”  You’ll note from those links that both Jim and Annie have since left to coach on their own.  I know Jim personally and have met Annie before and they’re both wonderful people and anyone looking for an audition coach/technique teacher could do no better than them.  I haven’t taken classes directly from either so I can’t write full reviews, but let me say I’ve heard and experienced nothing but amazing things from them (mostly Jim, but that’s because I know him better).  Most people told me these two teachers were better than the legendary Margie herself.  Even though I took this class years ago and everyone says horrible things about Barbara, I was shocked today to find out she still works at Margie Haber’s.

At this point I could tell the story about how Barbara used “The Method” as she saw it to demand actors relive horrible memories and tragedies from their past for the benefit of a single pretend audition (where each person could only say one word) but I think I’ve made my point.  The best way to learn how to audition is to audition.  There’s no real substitute for it.  The next best thing is taping yourself auditioning and then watching it and looking for technical things you can be doing better.

Taking a class where you’re told the “right way” to audition for a part isn’t helpful to anyone.  It doesn’t allow you to learn how to figure out a script on your own for future auditions which may be the point.  All the teachers could also coach your privately for your auditions and help you make the “right choices” for a fee.  No thanks.

March 1, 2010

New Series of Posts is Coming

Hey people who actually read this thing, I wanted to give a “heads up” on a series of posts coming down the pipeline.

I keep getting asked about various acting teachers and acting services that I’ve used over the years and wanted to start posting reviews.  I won’t be reviewing casting offices or agents, just services.  Some of my experiences are years old and some are newer but they should all give a good idea of what I think about a few of the opportunities actors have to spend money around Los Angeles.

SAG Should be an Open Union

I usually stay away from hot topic political issues but today I feel like being difficult.

A little history lesson for all of you (modern history):  SAG is the Screen Actors Guild it is far and away the stronger of the two “TV/Film/Commercial” unions in the United States.  SAG is currently a “closed union” that means if you want to join SAG you can’t simply walk in and plunk down the $2100 or whatever the entry fee is these days and join, you have to “earn” your way in.
Yes, I mean to use quotes around “earn.”  You see, there are several ways to join SAG and only two of which involve any sort of acting talent and that’s in an ideal world.  Here’s a short list of ways to get into SAG: get a speaking part in a SAG project, earn 3 vouchers for working background as SAG talent and work a principal contract and be a member of another one of the “entertainment unions” for one year.  The reality is more complicated but I’d seek out answers from the unions directly on this issue as they’re subject to a little interpretation and there are lots of specifics.

I got to join SAG because I was cast in a SAG commercial for Barclay’s Bank.  They did the paperwork to get me in and I was in.  I also could have joined AFTRA (American Federation of Television and Radio Artists) which IS an open union and joined after a year since I worked one of their contracts soon after “going pro.”

Recently news has started getting around that there is an easy way to get into SAG: produce your own internet project under SAG’s New Media agreement and “Taft Hartley” yourself (that is, do the paperwork to make yourself a member).  This means all you need to do to join SAG these days is fill out some paperwork and convince SAG you’re shooting a web series.

There are some very militant people in the unions who think SAG should remain closed because it guarantees that only “serious actors” with “talent” become members.  They are those people who believe having SAG on your resume guarantees them auditions.  The best kept secret about joining SAG is this:  when you join, you get less auditions not more.  That’s because there are a tens of thousands of SAG members who look like you and have more credits than you (when you first join).  When auditioning for non-union roles no one has particularly “good credits” and the playing field is much more level and there’s less competition for each part.  Now SAG jobs pay better on average and in their ranks is the “real work” like TV shows and big movies, but there’s something to be said for working all the time even if it is for less money.

Since the invention of the three background voucher system the system has become overtly corrupt.  It used to be that you could only get into SAG with a speaking part in a SAG project.  That meant even if your friend wanted to get you in they had to shoot you saying something and pay you a day rate.  Now all they have to do is have you sign in three days in a row as a SAG background performer and pay you half as much.  Hollywood is full of pretty ladies with big dreams and they’ve been known to do whatever they need to get ahead, and that includes getting their SAG card.

Another reason?  I honestly believe that most non-union projects are non-union because the producers don’t want to have to pay people a lot of money.  People love to talk about non-union commercials that pay $10,000 but in reality, if they were SAG commercials, they’d probably pay a lot more.  I’ve seen some non-union commercials airing on TV for the last 10 years and I am sure the actor who shot them got paid no more than $500.

So what would be the benefit of SAG being an open union?  First it would cut down on the snootyness that some SAG actors like to carry around, second it would eliminate a lot of the corruption in this business and third it would limit the amount of non-union work in this town that only looks to take advantage of actors.  Since it’s so easy to join SAG these days anyway this would be a mere formality and would open the doors of SAG to lots of people who’ve been trying for years to join but don’t want to sleep with or pay someone for the privilege.

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