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

March 1, 2010

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.

February 22, 2010

You Don’t Want Feedback on Your Audition

Actors love to get feedback on their auditions.  They want to know why they didn’t get cast so they can “improve in the future.”  Let me tell you why this is one of the dumbest things actors do.

First a short lesson for people who don’t know what I’m talking about.  Actors go in for auditions and then leave.  Most of the time no one calls to say they didn’t get the job and so actors sit at home and wait for the phone to ring.  Now we have cell phones so we can sit at Starbucks and wait for the phone to ring, yippy.  Actors sometimes wonder, “why didn’t I get the job” when days turn into weeks and it’s obvious they’re not getting hired.  So actors seek out ways to get “feedback” on their auditions hoping they can improve in the future.

This probably stems from normal job interviews where candidates call back a week later and hope to get feedback on their interviews.  Typically in job interviews the same types of questions are asked all the time so it’s legitimate that someone could improve their interview for the next time.  Also this is an excuse to call back a recruiter who might say, “you were great but we had to hire someone’s cousin, luckily there’s a better job opening up next week I’d love to talk to you about.”  Really that’s a pipe dream and the real goal is to improve for the next time.

Actors lie to themselves when they say they want feedback.  Problem is, they’re never going to audition for that part again.  Actors aren’t asked, “what is your biggest weakness,” they’re given a part to read.  The part they’re given next week will be completely different.  Notes like, “you should have been angrier when you told him you were leaving” are useless.

Truth is actors want this to be their feedback, “you were amazing but we had to hire someone else’s cousin, we’ll bring you back in next week for this amazing guest star role.”  That’s an ego stroke, nothing else.  Actors just want their egos massaged since they didn’t get the role (shocking).  If they honestly loved you they would have brought you back in next week anyway, even if you didn’t convince your agent to call the casting office.  Yes, it’s another excuse to “stay in their mind” but you also come off as a little needy.

No matter what they say there are only two pieces of feedback you will ever get, “this role no longer exists/it’s now a role for a fire-breathing midget” and “someone else was a better fit.”  Any other way the feedback is sugar-coated is simply someone trying to be creative or nice.  You could have been perfect for the role and someone decide to cut the role out or someone else was simply better for the role (sound familiar?).  Yes, being a cousin of the producer counts as “better for the role.”  Why?  Because to the producer this was more important than giving the best audition.  Sucks, but he’s the producer and you’re not.  It hurts to think you didn’t give the “best audition” or have the right look for a part but that’s the reality of Hollywood.

When you’re asking for feedback you’re really asking for validation of your skills as an actor since you didn’t get the ego petting of getting the role.

Here’s all the feedback I need: did I get the role?  No, then I should probably work harder in the future.  Even if the role was cut or went to a teenage Asian girl (really happened once) I can still improve, everyone always can.

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?”

November 12, 2009

Be Friends With Your Favorite Actor

Filed under: eitan's writings,message to the readers — Tags: , , , , — Eitan @ 12:26 pm

Who doesn’t want to have lunch with Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart?  Maybe you’d like to buy Megan Fox a drink?  Perhaps you’d like to tag along while Johnny Depp buys his sunglasses?

Well, it’s too late.  They’re famous, they’ve got people banging down their doors left and right.  The only way to be friends with these guys was to be their friend years before they got famous.  But today’s your lucky day…

Be my “Fan” on Facebook and I promise you my undying friendship and respect.  Barring that at least you can say “I was his fan before he got huge.”

www.facebook.com/eitantheactor
You’ll also get to learn about all my auditions, jobs and upcoming events.  What’s better than that?

May 6, 2009

The Most Famous Actor (on the Internet)

Believe it or not, I’m a pretty famous actor. That is if you count people who visit my website. As of today (5/6/09) I’ve had over 50,000 hits on eitantheactor.com .

Now, I’ve been on some pretty popular TV shows. Most memorably I’ve been on Ghost Whisperer and iCarly, two shows with huge followings online. I’ve also written two very popular articles that come up a lot in Google searches on how to write an actor bio and taking a good Polaroid.

Those four posts draw a huge amount of traffic to my website, which is awesome. So what do you do if you were an actor on Battlestar Galactica? It doesn’t matter if your scene was with Admiral Adama (Edward James Olmos) or Caprica Six (Tricia Helfer), your’e going to be able to draw huge amounts of fans to your website. What if you were on an episode of Lost? You could have had two lines with Jack Shepard (Matthew Fox) in the airport bathroom or you simply handed Kate Austin (Evangeline Lilly) her latte, you’re still going to be able to pull in huge numbers of people to your website because both of those shows have massive online followings.

So how do you do it? Well, you need to write about it. This doesn’t mean you need to share juicy on-set gossip about which two actors were secretly dating or write about who has a nasty drug habit. Write about your experiences on set. Be positive. This is less of a “draw traffic to your website” advice than a “be nice” piece of advice. If you want tens of thousands of people to read your post, don’t make it mean. It won’t help you in the end.

After that you need to link to the post. Go onto BSG or Lost websites and write a short snippet about being on the show. When I was on iCarly I went on a few blogs/forums and posted a quick thing. I know from watching my site statistics that many people clicked those links. I’ve seen other blogs pick up these actor posts and repost them. That’s the best way to build up your page rank and drive traffic to other pages on your website.

Also offer to be helpful. I try to write articles (like this one) that not only promote myself but may help actors at large. People love a good “how-to” article. Trying to give back is a great way to build your popularity online. For example, Jenna Fischer (from The Office) wrote a really good article on how she made her way from a no-name actress to being a series regular on one of the top ranked shows on TV. She gave lots of advice and naturally it was passed around like a revolutionary document online by actors. She posted the article several years ago on her Myspace page and just a month ago I saw another actor trot it out. I wish I could find a link to the original, but I can’t. If you Google enough it’ll probably turn up.

It’s also important to update your site more than once in a blue moon. Google doesn’t like sites that never update and neither to visitors. I don’t update my site as much as I used to but I still try to log in once in a while and post something. Active writers draw active readers.

What does all this traffic do besides boost my ego? That’s a topic for a whole other post.

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.

February 19, 2009

Is There Anybody Out There?

Filed under: eitan's writings — Eitan @ 1:06 pm

Hello!  Nice to meet you.  My name is Eitan and I’m an actor.

I love having this blog.  Once in an odd while I feel an urge and I hop on to post.  I do this with no regularity.  My very helpful biographer posts updates when I book something but I only post when I feel like it.

I hope no one reading this is running their acting career in this manner.  Most people do.  Heck, I’ve been guilty of this at times myself.

Who among us has not neglected to check the breakdowns or send out postcards because they “just didn’t feel like it today?”  Fair enough.  I have a very nice life outside of my career and some days I’m busy doing other things and don’t have a minute to spare to even update my Twitter account.

But those days are rare.  This is a job.  You must be out there busting your butt five, six or seven days a week.  Any less and someone else is going to take an oppertunity you would have otherwise gotten yourself.

Someone who merely reaches out to agents “when they feel like it” is going to be left in the dust.  There are scores of actors in Los Angeles who send out a big salvo of postcards two times a year and that’s about it.  Then they whine and moan about not being able to get work.

When you pledge a huge amount of time to getting work you’ll find all sorts of ways to persue the work you never dreamed of before.  You can become more active in online networking sites, you can attend more “industry events,” you can write your own material and you can even hunt down contact info for people in the industry and reach out to them. There’s many ways to fill your time if you allocate it towards becoming a working actor.

I’ve said this a million times before: if you want to be an actor it’s going to take huge amounts of work. If you want to be a professional blogger you can’t blog like me and only do it once every month or two.  Get off your butts and start hustling.

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.

September 17, 2008

I Twitter

Filed under: eitan's writings — Eitan @ 5:09 pm

I’ve broken down and joined the ranks of the twitterers.  I’ll be posting WAY more frequent updates on my career (not only bookings but auditions and other news) so I advise you to join me if you’re interested at all in my career.

http://www.twitter.com/eitantheactor

I’ll take 10 points for originality.

UPDATE: Two stupid typos fixed. Thank you VDO Vault for the correction.

Older Posts »

Powered by WordPress