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

May 8, 2010

Reading the Room

Today I had an audition (yes, on Saturday) where I could have stopped halfway through and said, “Thanks guys.  I’m going to go.”  It wasn’t a bad audition;  I got the material, I connected to it and I basically did what I wanted to do with it.  A couple lines into it I just felt that I wasn’t connecting with the producer and I wasn’t going to get the part (if the people I auditioned for today are reading this: you can still cast me in this and prove me wrong).  What happened?

Everyone who’s ever done theater or spoken in public knows how the audience reacted to their performance.  Actors backstage of a play love to determine if an audience is “good” or “bad” on a given night.  If you’re doing a comedy you generally rank this by how many laughs you get but when you’re doing a drama or simply speaking in public, how can you tell when the audience is with you? It’s something innate, some feeling you get when you stand in front of them.

Auditions are weird in that you might be doing a comic scene but you can’t expect a laugh.  The people doing the auditions may have seen the joke two hundred times already, it’s simply not funny to them.

Let’s take today for an example.  The scene I  was reading wasn’t knock down funny and it wasn’t meant to be.  So when I didn’t get laughs at the slightly funny jokes I wasn’t surprised.  But what let me know I wasn’t going to get this part was that I wasn’t getting any reaction, the people in the room weren’t coming along with me on the ride.  Maybe it takes years to get the feel and maybe some people are just born with it, but I know when I’m in a room if they like me or not.  It’s some combination of body language, reactions to my lines (verbal or physical) and how they talk to me when I enter and when I leave.  It’s rarely something tangible I can put my finger on (unless it’s really bad or really good).  If they’re into it and they’re hanging on my every word I can feel it, and I know I have a shot at the part.

Well intentioned people love to say, “sometimes you think you were amazing and you don’t get it and sometimes you think you stink and you really get it.”  The first half is true.  I often think I’m amazing and don’t get it, but I know I was in the running for it.  But when I don’t feel that connection, I have never even gotten close to the part.

The weirdest thing is that this all happens without me breaking character or with any ill effect on my performance.  I simply feel something in the air.  When it’s going well I feed on it and it makes my performance better.  I’d love to say when I don’t feel a connection I redouble my efforts and make sure I knock their socks off but it doesn’t work that way.  When the connection is not there, there’s nothing I can do to force it.  Sure, ont he way out I can crack a few jokes but I’m only making myself feel better.

One day I’ll write a book on how to have the room sync in with your performance.  Well, I’ll get incredibly rich and famous as an actor first and then I’ll sell the book.  Unfortunately there’s not much you can do to force it.  Just feel it, enjoy the slight sense of closure you get when you know you don’t have to wait by the phone for that part and move on to the next audition.

February 1, 2010

Why I Became an Actor

I became an actor to become famous, rich and to be up to my neck in babes.  Duh.

Since very few people visiting this site will bother to travel back to my very first posts I’ll do a ten second version of the story about what lead me to be a professional actor:

I’d been performing in stage productions from the time I was 7 at my schools/camps and really loved it but never thought it’d be a career choice.  I went to high school in Los Angeles and even then loved drama and acting but didn’t think it would be in my future.  It was just a hobby.  I did what most decently smart people do after high school: I went to UC Santa Barbara and studied electrical engineering.  Halfway through I decided I wasn’t loving electrical engineering and only was enjoying the plays and student films I was participating in.  I (read: my parents) decided I should finish up my engineering degree and go back to LA upon graduation to start my acting career.  A few jobs later, here I am.

That took longer than ten seconds, didn’t it?  Next time skim.

What about acting appealed to me?  Back in my early days it was simply fun.  I got to play pretend, dress up and have people laugh at my jokes.  That never went away but from a professional standpoint that isn’t really enough to drive someone to spend the decade it often takes to make a living acting (if ever).

First there’s the typical answer that “no two days are ever the same” and that’s true (except for days when you’re simply home waiting for the phone to ring).  Even when you’re doing a play every show is different.  If you feel like you’re going through the motions you’re probably no fun to watch anyway.

Second, it’s kind of exciting.  Today I’m sitting at my computer in my boxers and tomorrow I might be auditioning for 24 or How I Met Your Mother.  The day after that I could be on set with major stars working on some incredible project.  Chances are that tomorrow I’ll also be at my computer in my boxers, but some days can be super-exciting.  Every audition gets me excited.  I always love to take a minute and enjoy the possibilities that each audition can bring.

Third, acting is incredibly challenging.  There are two parts to acting that are very hard.  The first is simply getting work.  That’s darn near impossible.  Once you conquer that the actual acting part is hard.  It’s easy to watch a movie and see Tom Hanks having a romantic moment with pre-Botoxed Meg Ryan but it’s a whole other game to have 50 people on set watching your every move; focusing on blocking, your lines and what your co-star is doing; walking and stopping on a small piece of tape on the ground that you can’t look down to find; having a camera record your every twitch for millions of people to inspect while pretending to have that private moment with Meg Ryan who you may secretly not even like very much.  That horribly structured sentence sums it up pretty well.

There’s very little glory in acting.  If you want to be rich go into high finance.  If you want to be famous go murder 50 people.  If you want babes then you should figure out how to do that (I have no idea myself).  Acting is fun but it’s a job and it’s a lot of hard stuff to get to the fun part.  Plus you have to deal with endless questions of, “When are you going to get a real job?”

October 22, 2009

What To Do After an Audition

In the past month I’ve had piles of auditions and it made me think of what an actor should do after an audition.  There are a few steps I go through after each audition and I’d like to share with you my post-audition ritual:

Throw Out the Sides:  If you don’t know what audition sides are, they’re selections from a script chosen for an audition.  When I walk out of an audition I throw out my sides.  Well, that’s my second choice.  The first choice is to leave them outside the casting room so another actor can use them.  If I left my copy in my car or at home I throw them out the first chance I get.  If I get a callback I just look them up again.

Archive Any E-Mails About the Project This includes any casting notices, copies of the script or love letters from the casting director.  I get it all out of my inbox.  If I have anything to look up in the future about the project I can search for the e-mails.

Try to Forget Anything Anyone Ever Told Me About the Project: I ignore posted “callback” or “shoot” dates which are often wrong anyway.  I try to forget any compliment or slight the director gave me and I stop myself from analyzing them (What did he mean by “nice job?”).  I try my hardest to not calculate how much I’d get paid on that national commercial.

Take Five Minutes to Analyze the Audition: After forgetting all the nitty gritty and putting business stuff out of my mind I take five minutes to think about what I did in the room and what I could have done better.  This step doesn’t take an hour or a week, five minutes is more than enough.  This is a great activity to do in your car.  It’s famously known that the best audition you ever do is to your rear view mirror on the way home from the actual audition.  I take whatever lessons I can from each audition and then move on to the final step:

Forget The Rest of the Audition:  Forget those lines you flubbed or the flat line reading and go on to something else.  Go hit the driving range, read a book or just watch some TV.  Obsessing over a past audition isn’t going to help you land the role or improve as an actor.

This was all prompted by my audition about an hour ago.  It was flatter and less inspired than I thought it should have been.  By the time I got home I had pretty much forgotten all about it.  When I thought back about the audition I said, “I was flat, didn’t do enough with it.  Next time I’ll reach a little more with it and let them dial me back.”  Those were my only thoughts.  I wasn’t thinking about shoot dates or anything, simply that one thought.   It took me years to get to that point but it’s probably my most useful skill as an actor (besides acting).

Obsessing over audition and waiting for the phone to ring can make the whole acting experience miserable.

April 22, 2009

Becoming a Good Actor

People wonder all the time how they can be the best actor they can be.

Learning how to be a good actor can be broken down into two questions.  The first question is, “How do you act?”  This seems to come from a lot from people auditioning for community theater or trying out for their first student film.  It’s natural to be nervous and wonder how the heck to perform in front of an audience or act in front of a camera.

Here are my basics:  Know your lines, know your character, know the story and then try to speak clearly and have fun.

You want more complicated answers here are a few books that I’ve pretended to have read:

Sanford Meisner on Acting
Acting: The First Six Lessons (by Boleslavsky)
Acting for the Camera (by Tony Barr)
True and False (By David Mamet)

The second part to this question is “how do I behave as a good actor.”  And here’s my personal advice on that question:

  • Don’t Be Crazy – Crazy people like to say they’re actors and actors often think they have to be crazy to be taken seriously.  It’s not true.  Some of the best actors I’ve worked with are normal people who happen to be very good actors.  Don’t believe everything you read in the tabloids.
  • Don’t be a Jerk – Actors somehow got the impression that they have to be mean to everyone they meet.  Series regulars are mean to guest stars, guest stars are mean to co-stars and everyone’s mean to craft services.  Don’t.  Be nice.  People like to work with nice folks.
  • Roll With It – Sad fact of life is that lines change, blocking gets switched and scenes get added/deleted.  Relax and deal with it.  No one is out to get you.
  • Be Helpful – Performing a play or shooting a film is a lot of work.  Depending on the union status of your project actors may be prohibited from doing anything but acting.  That means if you’re on the set of Grey’s Anatomy and someone asks you to move a c-stand around, you say no.  But when you’re acting in community theater or doing a student film do us all a favor and help as much as you can.  Don’t let it get in the way of your acting but lend a hand any way you can.
  • Take it Seriously – You are an actor because you enjoy acting and that’s great.  But it’s a job (paid or not) and you need to treat it as such.  No one says you can’t enjoy work, but you’d better put your nose down when it’s time.
  • Listen to Your Director – The director has one goal, make this the best project possible.  It’s not about stroking your ego, it’s not about ruining your career and it’s not about trying to make your life difficult.  If the director tells you to cry as you cross from stage left, then cry as you cross from stage left.  Try it before you start complaining about how it’s not something your character would do.  It’s the director’s decision, not yours.
  • Listen to the Script – I’m stealing from one of the books above but you’d be shocked how many actors see something in a script like “Irving hits his sister” and claim, “Irving would never do that.”  Yes he would, it’s in the script.  Everything you need is in the script.  If you start making up crap outside the script you’re not performing the same play/film as everyone else.
  • Be Friends With Everyone – This is the most important advice I can give, especially starting out.  This doesn’t mean you have to buddy up to everyone and kiss butt.  It means you have to smile, be nice to everyone on set and help in any way you can.  This goes triply so in small projects that don’t pay.  People don’t do student films forever.  They go on and do bigger and better things.  Or maybe their college roommate goes on to do bigger things.  Either way, they become a good ally in this industry.  Everyone says the entertainment industry is about “who you know” and that’s completely true but more importantly it’s about who likes you and wants to help you out.

January 2, 2009

Booking More in 2009

from the neighbor's
Creative Commons License photo credit: Ali San

Happy New Year to All!

Here’s a very simple exercise.  Examine your 2008.  Look at the records of your auditions, meetings and all the tactics you’ve used. Write them down, you’ll be surprised at how many there are.

I talked about making good resolutions over a year ago and all that info still stands.

This year I want you (as I am doing) to look at all the opportunities, accomplishments and actions you had and took in 2008.  You can make the list as extensive as you like.  Here is an example of some of mine:

  • Got WAY more callbacks than ever before.
  • Got MUCH better at “feeling out” which jobs I would be back for and which I wouldn’t.
  • Helped produce three pretty amazing showcases and helped transition the show from a tiny 66 seat theater in 2007 to a 260 seat theater.
  • Started writing my first screenplay.
  • Made contact/friends with many new “industry folks” online.
  • Started a Twitter Account to keep my fans (I assume that’s you) up to date and build a bigger fan base.
  • And on a personal note ran two half-marathons and a full-marathon having not run more than a mile straight since high school while raising over $2400 for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.

Now, instead of making brand-new resolutions or “goals” as they really should be called I simply want to focus on improving some of these things.  How?  Well, as you can tell from the title of this post I really want to book more jobs in 2009, I want to finish my screenplay, meet even more industry folks online and in person and finally run even more.

These look more like typical resolutions.  They’re not actionable, most aren’t quantifyable and they’re pretty vague.  This is where I go back to how to write resolutions.  I then focus my goals on improving things I’m already really proud of.  Build success upon success.

October 7, 2008

Grit, Gumption, Moxy & Cajones

Filed under: acting philosophy,eitan's writings,Uncategorized — Eitan @ 3:35 pm

It takes a special kind of person to be an actor.  And I do mean “special.”

Some people don’t respect acting as a career choice.  They think it’s all a crap shoot and you really have no control over your destiny.  I’d argue every career involves luck and various other aspects you can’t control.  But the thing about acting is the infrequency and random timing with which things happen.

Tomorrow morning I’ll wake up and I’ll hope I get a call for an audition where if I’m incredibly lucky I’ll be able to get a callback for the chance of a job.  If I just get an audition, I’m a happy man.  That means if tomorrow I get rejected for a part, I’m happy.

Something must be wrong with me.

But, careers do typically move forward.  People do get bigger and better parts.  People do make their living doing this.  But along the way there’s much rejection, heartbreak and stunning silence on days you’re sure your phone should be ringing off the hook.  Even worse, some peoples’ careers just don’t go anywhere.  There are actors who spend half a decade and never get their SAG cards, an agent or a decent break.  There are people who have careers move forward quickly and then stall.  There are people who think they’ve “made it” and then a few months later can’t get a single meeting.

But there are the people who stick with it, keep plugging away and manage to constantly be taking steps forward and put together a decent career.

Do you know how difficult it is to face the very real possibility that you could invest years of your life and have nothing to show for it?

Being an actor takes courage.  And I’m not even talking about the courage to get up in front of two, five or ten million people and perform.  For most of us that’s the fun part.  It’s truly hard to know that today could be the highlight of my acting career.  It could never get better.

So what kind of person does this every day?  One with real determination and a drive to succeed.

I meet plenty of actors who say they’re giving acting “a shot.”  I meet many more who half-heatedly do a play once every few months.  And that’s fine, acting can make a good hobby.  But those of us who plug away every day truly have some guts and that has to be respected.  To really succeed you have to be in this for the very long haul, you have to be consistent and you have to be dedicated.

I know I am.  But I meet very few other actors who are the same way.  But the ones I do know tend to have the most success.

March 28, 2008

Smile and Plough Through

Filed under: acting philosophy,commercial — Eitan @ 4:16 pm

So funny audition story from today:

I head over to my second audition of the day which was for a spec commercial for a director’s reel.  These are shot by directors who need footage to get their foot in the paying door.  So they shoot commercials that aren’t official commercials and try to sell their services around.  There’s really no pay for doing them and they almost never air but it’s a good way to meet up and coming directors.  I did one years ago, never even saw a copy of it.  But it was fun to shoot and I had nothing else to do that night.

So, I show up at my audition and one of the session runners says “ok, you’re reading man #3.”  Cool.  That’s my middle name.  So I pick up the script and read through it once.  It seems to be written all in British slang.  That’s fine, I think, maybe the joke is that these dumb Americans are talking like this or just that they do really bad British accents.  So I ask, “Do you want us to do this in a British accent?”  They sure do.  Turns out one of the other two guys I’m reading with is British and the second guy can do pitch perfect accent.  They want it good and real.

A small aside here:  I don’t really do accurate accents.  I can do funny accents.  Ask me to talk like an Indian and I can even amuse my mother.  But no one would ever accuse me of sounding like a real Indian.  It’s just funny.

So we rehearse it a dozen times and each time I swear I hear my accent getting worse and worse.  And I know this British dude is thinking “I hate all Americans.”  I started planning on driving right from the audition to my commercial agent’s office to berate her for sending me on this audition without any prior warning.  At least I could have practiced the night before to try to embarrass myself less.

We go in the room and they ask us to slate in our accents, so they can pretend that we’re all really British when they show the director this footage.  I hear the name “Eitan Loewenstein” escape my lips in nothing close to a British accent and I knew this was going to be bad.  So we do the scene a couple times.  I really just do my best.  I try to focus on doing the scene well and not worrying about the accent.  Of course the accent is all I can think of.

I should also mention that midway through the audition I notice the casting director looking at me and then back at her notes then back at me again.  She then shows something on her clipboard to her assistant who looks up at me.  This can’t be good.

We do the scene twice (luckily I only had two short lines, I didn’t have to do the part of the guy who tells a long story) and I eagerly await them excusing me so I can go to the car and drink Guinness until I can pretend this whole thing never happened.  But they give us another line to say, this time “angry.”  Now I was doing a terrible accent but I had to do it as a hooligan.  People would accuse me of being British long before they think I’m a hooligan.  I’m quite soft and cuddly.  Luckily this was over quickly and we were excused.

I get up to do a full on sprint out of the room and the casting director stops me by the door.  Then crazy thoughts start going through my head: Are they going to yell at me for doing such a bad accent and wasting their time?  Did they want to apologize for making me do those extra lines?  Wait, did they actually LIKE it?!

Of course not.  They say to me, “I’m so sorry but you weren’t supposed to audition for this commercial.  You are supposed to be reading for the part of the American goofy husband a few minutes later.  We didn’t realize that when we pulled you in to do this one.  Thank you for being such a good sport and going for it.  Do you mind sticking around and doing the right one?”

Um, I don’t mind at all.  Goofy American husband I can do in my sleep.  British hooligan I only have to do in my nightmares.

The point of this post is that sometimes you have to do something so ridiculous and out of your element that the best you can do is smile and plow through (see my clever British spelling in the title?).  I definately won’t get the British one but at least this office knows I’m game and professional enough to keep going no matter how bad an audition is.  People do respect that.  I stayed in the audition and did my best, even though it was really bad.

March 25, 2008

Getting On Your Favorite TV Show, as an Extra

Filed under: acting philosophy,film,TV — Eitan @ 11:17 am

This post is all about how to get on your favorite TV show, as an extra. It’s not going to appeal to many of the people who read this looking to make a career as an actor. Why?

Because in the eyes of the film/TV industry being an extra is not acting. I’m not saying that being an extra requires no ability to be directed, be believable and know how to work on camera. I’m just saying it doesn’t count as acting work. That means you don’t get to put extra work on your acting resume and you shouldn’t tell agents you meet with about your extra work. If you want to do it, do it for the fun and learning experience of being on set (and the money, you do get paid to be an extra after all). I don’t care how much camera time you get or if people refer to your character by a name, if your contract doesn’t say “principle” you’re an extra. Sorry.

So, why then am I writing about this? Because enough people find my site from around the world who might just be interested in being on a TV show or a movie for one day, seeing themselves as a blur on the background and they’d be happy with that. Kudos to them.

If you’re still reading you want to find out how to get on Greys Anatomy or CSI as an extra. Maybe you’re interested in seeing how a set works up close, you want some spending cash or you just want to see if you can get Katherine Higel to yell at you. Well, don’t do that last one. Be nice.

So the first step is going to be heading over to Central Casting and signing up. Yes, that Central Casting. You can go to their website or call up to get information about registering. They have different times/dates if you’re union or non-union.

After you’re signed up you have to call a job line and they list the jobs that they’re casting at that moment. They give you a number to call if you qualify for that job (men with handlebar mustaches and velvet leisure suits), you call and the background casting director will say if they want you or not based on your look. It’s that simple.

You’ll vastly increase your chances of working if you have lots of different wardrobe choices and are tenacious about calling in. Police uniforms are good, lab coats are good as is formal wear. They’re supposed to pay you extra if you bring your own wardrobe, to cover cleaning costs.

But if you want to be an extra, that’s how you do it.

How much do you get paid to be an extra? Minimum wage if you’re non-union. Slightly more if you’re union. You probably won’t be sending your kids off to Harvard on a film/TV extra salary. But if you want to spend a couple days working on your favorite TV show or a big upcoming movie, this is your best and easiest way.

September 4, 2007

Staying Positive

Filed under: acting philosophy,eitan's writings — Eitan @ 10:29 pm

positiveI’m going for two positive blogs in a row. I already have a topic for next week which is semi-positive. So I hope you’re enjoying the sunshine I’m pouring down on the internet. I must be an a good mood with showcase auditions coming up on Thursday and other fun audition stuff going down for me personally.

Last week we discussed what I love about being an actor. And it’s easy to love acting when you’re doing well and seeing your career move forward on a constant basis. But what do you do the other 300 days a year? Those days when your phone doesn’t ring and it feels like nothing is ever happening. Today I’ll talk about how I stay positive and keep going, even when it seems like nothing is happening. (more…)

August 29, 2007

What I Love About Being an Actor

Filed under: acting philosophy — Eitan @ 12:27 pm

Since my last post was such a rant, I think I’m going to take this week’s post and talk about something super-positive:  my love of being an actor.

It’s very easy to be a cynical and bitter actor. Hopeful people arrive in Los Angeles every single day with stars in their eyes and huge dreams. Three months later they are broke, having been scammed out of a thousand dollars and they realize they may never get a single paying acting job while they slave away waiting tables in a greasy spoon even though they have an MFA from Juliard. Then figure in the people who’ve been here for decades with nothing to show for it and you can see why the “bitter actor” is such a cliche.

But today’s post is not about how hard it is to be an actor. It’s about how great it is.


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