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

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 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.

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?

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.

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.

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