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

November 7, 2007

Support Your Writers

Filed under: eitan's writings,film,TV — Eitan @ 1:46 pm

Currently in Hollywood and New York the WGA (Writers Guild of America) is striking against the producers after the failed negotiation of a new contract. I’m asking every actor who reads this blog to go out and support the writers by joining a picket line.

As an actor why should you support the writers? Simple, what they get is what we’ll get. The SAG TV/Film contract expires this summer and there will be new negotiations between SAG and the producers over a new deal and we need to get paid for internet and other new usage. As far as I’m concerned DVDs are a throwaway issue and I don’t really care if we get a penny more, what we need is a good cut of new media.

DVDs will soon go the way of the VHS tape. They’ll gently be phased out and replaced by downloads. Internet service is getting faster. Soon there will be things like WiMax and other next generation technologies that will allow your average every day Joe Blow to download a high definition movie directly to his PC or TV in less time than it takes him to drive to his local Target. It’s not far away at all. The amount made off this type of technology now is negligible but it’s set to shoot up in the coming years (the years that will be covered by these new contracts). But it’s pretty much a given that DVDs and other hard copy media will disappear in the next few years. It’s already happening. People are buying their TV shows on iTunes instead of waiting for the DVDs to come out.

Everyone got royally screwed on DVD negotiations a few years ago. The only people who expected the DVD market to be huge were the producers and they really got an amazing deal. Writers get a few pennies per DVD (way less than it costs to print the packaging) and actors split a tiny slice as well. Someone thought when DVDs (actually the contract was written when it was all VHS tapes) would be really expensive to manufacture and we wanted to give the producers help on getting the technology going. Well, it went and they refused to give us another penny even when they were turning huge profits on each DVD sale.

There’s no reason to doubt that downloads are the next DVD. They can be delivered to your door, they’ll be easily back-up-able and they cost the producers even less than a DVD. The writers aren’t even asking for a dollar amount per-download. They want a fixed percentage of sales. If the producers don’t ever sell a download, neither will anyone else. Fair, right?

I’ve heard a lot of crap on the WWW about how the writers are talentless and it’s a good thing they’re on strike.  I spent time working at a production company and have read dozens of scripts.  99% of the scripts I read were awful and couldn’t possibly have been made into a movie or a TV show.  Only someone who hasn’t had that experience and seen how bad most writing really is would make such a dumb statement.  The people writing for TV shows and films are incredibly talented.  And however bad you think a show is, it’s on the air because there are thousands, if not millions, of people who watch it every week.

So join your writers out on strike. Grab a sign, chant and make sure the producers know that the entire entertainment community is united on this strike.

I’ll be trying to make it out to either Fox or Sony a few times a week as long as the strike is going on. If you see me, say hi.

October 22, 2007

In Case of Strike, Break Glass

Filed under: eitan's writings,film,TV — Eitan @ 11:19 am

Unless you’ve been living under a rock or somewhere in the Midwest you probably have heard about a possible impending writers strike. Here’s the 10 second version: members of the WGA (Writers Guild of America) are negotiating a new contract and will go on strike unless the producers meet their demands for things like fair DVD payments. The producers have countered by pretending to want drastic cuts and crying about how little money they’re making. So there’s a good chance there’s going to be a strike on all television and film work in Los Angeles very soon.

This post isn’t going to be about the nitty gritty of strikes, greed and/or corporate evil. No, this post is about what to do as an actor if there is a strike. (more…)

October 1, 2007

Writing an Actor’s Resume

Filed under: eitan's writings — Eitan @ 5:20 pm

Uch, you’re saying to yourself, I don’t come here for this basic stuff. I come to Eitan’s blog to read about the deep thoughts of a working actor. I want to know the secrets to making it big, not some refresher on stuff I already know. Well, my topic today will go a bit deeper than you think. Oh yes, it will.

I’m not kidding when I say that everything I’m about to discuss will be for naught if you don’t follow the acting resume format for your market. For an example of how Los Angeles actor resumes are formatted, look at mine.

I’m going to teach you the one big secret about resume writing: It’s all about recognizability. The goal of your resume is to show the casting director or agent things that they’ll care about. What do they care about? Projects they can recognize.

I actually have a list, from top to bottom of what I’m talking about. After the chart I’ll discuss how to apply this information. This is a list for a Los Angeles actor. New York actors will have a slightly different list with a few things in the middle switching places.

  1. Major part in a national TV show/major film (aka “series regular” or “star” billing)
  2. Smaller part in a national TV show/major film (aka “recurring guest star” or “supporting” billing)
  3. Major part in well received Indie film.
  4. Guest star work on a national TV show.
  5. Smaller part in well received Indie film.
  6. Recurring co-star on a national TV show or small part in a known film.
  7. Lead in a play on Broadway.
  8. Co-star on a national TV show.
  9. Part in a critically aclaimed short film which has played in dozens of festivals.
  10. Play in a major theater.
  11. Lead in a film no one’s ever heard of or TV show from a small market.
  12. Smaller part in a film/TV show no one’s ever heard of.
  13. Master class with a “name teacher.”Play in a theater no one’s ever heard of.
  14. Play no one’s ever heard of in a theater no one’s heard of.
  15. Original plays, scenes, student and other short films and stuff you did in your basement with your friends.
  16. Anything on the internet.
  17. Class with a teacher no one’s ever heard of.

You can disagree with my order or notice a few omissions.  And there are exceptions to every one of these posts.  Feel free to disagre.  That’s what the comments feature is for.

Notice the last few have the phrase “no one’s ever heard about.”  That’s the key to this whole post.  People want to see stuff on your resume that they already know about.   If you totally rocked Hamlet back in Urbana, Illinois good for you.  Just know that it’s not going to help you get cast in a TV show.
So how do you use this list?  Simple.  When your career starts out you’ll start out with stuff at the bottom of the list.  That’s cool as it’s all you have.  Just know that no one’s really going to care.  They just want to see you have something on your resume so they know you’re not totally green.

As your career moves forward you’ll start getting things higher and higher up on the list.  When that happens, start dropping things that rank low on the list.  Don’t start getting emotionally attached to your credits, it’s just your resume.  You’re not blanking them out of your memory.

It’s better to have two things from near the top of the list than 30 things farther down.  In fact, it’s better to have two things from the middle of the list than 30 things from farther down.

Let me give you an example.  My resume six months ago was filled with stuff from down on the list.  I had a bunch of student films, plays that stretched back to college, other shorts no one had heard about and then a short film that was doing well and a small part on a Lifetime show.  I was really proud of all the work I had done.  Every time I got a job I dropped the font size down a notch on my resume to squeeze it all in.

One day I looked at my resume and realized I could barely pick out the “higher up” credits from the “lower” credits.  I was shooting myself in the foot by doing this.  I was forcing casting people to pour through my resume for useful information instead of only presenting what they really want to see.  So I cut all but one student film (that had at least played in a couple festivals), truncated my list of classes, got rid of every play I did that wasn’t done in a decent theater in LA and cut my special skills down to four.

This did two things.  First it drew attention to my more impressive credits.  And second it made it look as if I had some experience but was still “fresh” and “new” in town.  One problem with having 30 credits no one has ever heard of is that casting people tend to think, “You’ve done all this stuff but I’ve never seen your work and you’ve never booked anything I’ve even heard of, you must not be that good.”  Everyone likes to “discover” new talent even if that talent’s really been slaving away for ten years.  Just talk to any agent and they’ll tell you the story about how they represented some star before they got big.

So the thing to take away from this very long post is to make your resume short, sweet and show only your best credits.  Don’t be afraid to cut stuff off your resume if it’s not going to help your career.  The goal of your resume is to help advance your career, not to show off for people who won’t be impressed anyway.

September 18, 2007

Nerves – A Tale of Two Auditions

Filed under: bookings,eitan's writings,film,TV — Eitan @ 12:21 am

It was the best of auditions, it was the worst of auditions. Sorry, couldn’t resist. I actually hate overdone titles like “To act or not to act” but this one just rang true to the post. So enjoy.

I want to discuss two auditions I had in the last couple weeks and how different they were. I think a lot can be learned from these two about nerves as an actor, what they can do to you and a few potential pitfalls to watch out for when you do get a “big” audition.

The first audition was for a film. I’m not going to mention the name of the film as I didn’t get it and I don’t like to talk too much about stuff I didn’t get but it was a pretty large film with an A-List cast. The scene I was reading for was with a pretty well known actor and a major A-lister. It was two straight pages of talking with one of the actors. Amazing, right? I got the call from my manager on a Thursday and the audition was the next Tuesday. I had five days to prepare and five days to freak out.

This wasn’t a “career maker” audition like a pilot or a major role in a film but it would have looked really great on my resume and demo reel. So there I was with a few pages of sides and a bunch of days to work on them. I went online did plenty of research to find out who each character was going to be played by, looked up the director, looked up the writers, read the IMDb board on the film and, of course, read over my lines dozens of times and made some good strong choices of what I wanted to do. I show up at the audition and have to wait an hour to go in and read. Finally I go in and give a pretty good read. Not the best of my life, but I was really pleased with what I did.

I’m so happy I did well because that audition easily could have gone the other way. I could have started to think about how the director works ALL the time and could make my career on his next film, how I’d format my resume with the new credit or how I could easily screw up in front of one of the top casting directors in Los Angeles and never get brought in by her again. Those kind of things can consume an actor and do nothing to help with the actual audition. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t think of all of those things but I focused my energy on the work. That’s what stopped me from freaking out. When I started to think of how amazing this job would be and how much money I’d make on residuals when the thing runs on TBS every two hours I picked up the script and worked on it again.

And in that waiting room I could have started to worry about what the other actors were going to do. I could have looked at them and judged their wardrobes and demeanors to figure out who my real competition was. But instead I stretched out on the sofa, relaxed and read my lines a few more time. This took my mind off of the hour wait and onto the work.

When you have days to analyze and think about your audition the best thing to do is to focus as much as possible on the work. What good are five days if you only spend an hour on the sides and twenty hours fantasizing about what could happen? Switch those two around (maybe not 20 hours on the scene, that’s insane) and you’ll calm yourself down to no end.  Because you’ll know what you have to do when you walk in that room.

The second audition I want to discuss is my audition for Ghost Whisperer. I get the call Tuesday at 2PM for an audition at 4:30PM in Burbank. That means I have to finish what I was doing, do a little shopping for dinner, get in my car and go. That was it. I barely had time to print out the sides. I read them over quickly on my way out the door.

I drive to the studio, park my car, get lost and eventually find the casting office after asking directions at a production office as well as the casting office for Heroes. I get in there and there’s one guy in front of me. He’s in the room for two minutes and suddenly I’m in there auditioning.

There was no room for nerves. In fact, the excitement of the whole thing didn’t sink in until the morning I shot. I woke up and said, “Hey, I get to shoot a scene with Jennifer Love Hewitt and Orlando Jones today… neat!”

The best way to keep nerves from messing you up is to keep busy and keep focusing on the work. If you feel like you’ve worked the scene to death, go out and watch a movie. Have a cup of coffee with an old friend. Do something other than ponder over and over what would happen if you got this part or messed up. Enjoy the opportunity, get excited about the fact that you get to have this audition and make sure you’re ready to step in there and give a good performance.

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 7, 2007

How to Self-Promote (By Promoting Others)

Filed under: bookings,eitan's writings — Eitan @ 8:04 am

Eitan in a Saturn CommercialCongratulations! You just got a nice part in some TV show. Or you got a great new commercial that’s going to be running all over the place. Or maybe you’re even about to be in a new play that everyone in your town should come and see. Great! Right now your headshot and resume are of no help, you need to get out and promote! So how do you go about talking about your work without sounding like a tool?

Recently I’ve found myself in an amazing showcase, a short film that’s tearing it up on the festival circuit and a bunch of commercials that are playing all over the country. After the performance part of the showcase all the actors schmooze with the industry guests over drinks and food. I hated talking about my work. I really hated it. I figured I could simply smile and be a nice guy and people would figure out who I am and be impressed. Well that doesn’t work. To get recognition for your work (and not just in acting) you MUST self-promote. Today I’m going to discuss one way to do this which won’t make you uncomfortable.

Self-Promote by talking about other people’s work. (more…)

July 31, 2007

Are You a Bad Actor?

Everyone actor wants to know if they’re any good. And unless you’ve got an Oscar on your shelf there’s never any conclusive proof you’re a good actor. Over the years I’ve figured out a few flags that indicate if you’re a bad actor and really should be looking for another job.

  • No-Repeat Customers – Sometimes you get lucky and book a part. You might be right for something once. But if the people who audition/work with you figure out you stink they’re not likely to bring you in again. If one job never seems to lead to another, you might want to think about why.
  • No Redirection – Sometimes you’re just not right for a part. So you go in, audition, get the old “thank you” and are shown the door. But if this is happening to you time after time, maybe the auditioners just don’t see much of a reason to re-direct you. Because no matter how much work they put in, you’ll never be able to pull the part off.
  • Career Going Nowhere – This one often happens because of bad business sense. If you never learn how to promote your own work and never learn how to market yourself you’ll probably never go anywhere with your career. This is just as bad for your career as being a bad actor but at least you can learn to promote yourself well. Acting can’t really be learned (don’t worry, there will be future posts on self-promotion as well as my whole “acting can’t be learned” thing). But if you’re been promoting yourself and find that you just can’t get that SAG card, can’t get that first commercial and can’t attract any sort of representation, maybe it’s because you’re just not that good. Unfortunately there’s no good time frame to give yourself to accomplish these goals. Some people take years to get their SAG card, but go on to have real careers. But you have to give your career an honest look and see if it’s moved forward in the last year. If it hasn’t at least moved towards these goals, maybe it’s not just bad luck.
  • “You were in a play!” – Yes, that’s a line from Friends. It’s what the crew tells Joey after his play (which was awful). If you never seem to be in a quality project, maybe it’s because the only people who think you’re good have no idea what they’re doing. Everyone’s allowed to do some bad projects. But if that’s all you seem to do, it might be because the people who do good work know better.

You’ll notice almost everything on this list is subjective. What constitutes a “bad play” or “no progress?” It’s going to be truly impossible to know if you’re any good. Sometimes people work for years before these symptoms start to rear their heads. And it’s tough to walk away from a career, especially if it’s something you feel you “need to do.” But it’s easier to leave now than 10 years from now when you’ve still made no progress/money at it. So it may be worth a thought.

There’s no shame in not being good enough to be a professional actor. I feel only a minor twinge that I’m not athletic enough to be a professional baseball player. I have no bad feelings about not being musical enough to be a rock star. There’s a long list of cool jobs that I’ll never have. But this isn’t a problem, because I’m doing something I know I’m good at which is ultimately more satisfying.

July 24, 2007

Will Act For Money

Filed under: acting philosophy,eitan's writings — Eitan @ 1:39 pm

You’d be surprised how often I hear this statement: I want to be a professional actor, but I’ve never done any acting before.Shocking, isn’t it? Can you imagine someone saying, “I want to be a professional football player, I’ve seen a few games on TV?” It boggles the mind, yet some people honestly believe all they need to do to be a professional actor is “want it.”

In this week’s diatribe I’m going to talk about a few questions you should ask yourself if you think you want to be a professional actor, even if you have acted before… (more…)

July 17, 2007

How to be an Actor

Filed under: acting philosophy,eitan's writings — Eitan @ 1:18 pm

Hamlet Skull This is it. The ultimate technique to becoming an actor. Are you ready for it?

Always be pursing acting work.

That was really helpful, wasn’t it? That answered all of your questions, right? No? I’ll have to explain further.
(more…)

The World of an Actor

Filed under: eitan's writings,message to the readers — Eitan @ 12:50 pm

Acting MasksOver the years I’ve gotten dozens of calls, e-mails or Myspace messages from people hoping to be actors. Or people who are actors who have questions about how I’ve done what I’ve done.

In playing around on message boards and reading articles online I’ve noticed there’s a lot of good information for actors on the web. And there’s a WHOLE lot of bad/outdated information. So I figured, from my gilded pedestal as an actor and a showcase producer I could try to get some good information out to hopefuls who want to make it as an actor in Hollywood. I’m sure most of this stuff will apply to you if you’re a New York actor but I only know for sure what’s going on in Los Angeles.

In addition to my rants about what it means to be an actor and why you need good headshots I’ll post a few interesting anecdotes as well as referencing things on other blogs/websites.

This isn’t going to be a typical actor blog complaining about how I have trouble getting work (like that would ever happen) or how Hollywood is evil. I’m going to try to shed some light on the unnessicarly mysterious world of show business and I’ll have some deep thoughts about what it means to be an actor.

Now, here’s where you (the reader) comes in. I want this to be interactive. I want you to comment, e-mail in thoughts and of if you have questions send them to me and I’ll try to answer a few in my postings.

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