Monday, July 28, 2008

Pay to Play

We all know them - these ridiculous companies that "specialize" in helping actors network. They charge ~$35.00 to meet with with a casting director or agent. The actual time you spend with the casting director or agent is ~5 minutes, give or take. You either prepare a monologue or they provide you a scene which they've heard 1000 times. After you do your monologue or scene, they will ask you just enough questions (in most cases) to make you think that you have a chance to be seen again, and then you'll be sent on your way. Conveniently, most of these companies do not screen the actors at all before signing them up. To them, if you have background credits and know absolutely no one in the industry, meeting with someone at the Gersh agency is the obvious next step - hey, you never know, right? Actually, some of us do. Unless you have a face which truly makes the angels in heaven sing when you walk in room you don't have a chance at being seen again. However, if you have 3 legs, and they're casting a movie, which you already know about, that is looking for someone with 3 legs you might want to keep your cell phone on the rest of the day.

However, the acting world can be frustrating and sometimes we get desperate. So one day you find yourself up in arms about your acting career and you decide that "proactive" is your word of the day. You hop online and find a zillion emails in your SPAM box from Actor XYZ Networking Organization and decide to call to meet with an agent or casting director. PLEASE, before you dust off that monologue from Scarface and pick up the phone, read the 1st paragraph again! However, if you're hell bent on busting into this acting business ass first, then might I offer a few suggestions.

An acting coach once told me that "An audition is your time. You have the power when you walk in the room. If you don't, you're in trouble." First off, if you're adamant about ignoring my advice in paragraph one, then you have absolutely nothing to lose so you might as well just give it to the cd or agent with both barrels!! As I stated above, you're paying for it, so have some fun and take control of your destiny.

Let's say you've decided to meet with an agent. Casting directors can have legitimate reasons for using networking companies (they might be looking for that rare 3-legged person, and as it turns out, the only 3-legged actor in the world does not know about the post office and has never heard of email). But agents, who don't have the time to open the mail or read all their emails, do have the time to meet with Johnny-background-actor and take his $35 so let's discuss ways to maximize your investment. One way to guarantee that you have the power is to bring your own reader - preferably someone quite large and intimidating for reasons which will be apparent later. If the building allows dogs, bring them too, they will help you relax the nerves. Walk in the room like you own the place and say, either to yourself or out loud, "This is how this is gonna go" coupled by a confident strut and consistent nodding of the head. As you feel your energy surge, use a very authoritarian tone and tell the agent to keep quiet, explain to them this is your time (an imitation of Al Pacino's 'my time' speech in "The Devil's Advocate" might work nicely here) and when you're finished you'll let them know. Explain that there will be no talking or writing during your audition and if there is, raise your voice and tell them that this is unacceptable. I suggest using something along the lines of "As God is my witness..." when making your point. When you're finished don't ask for any feedback and don't take any either, you're an experienced actor and you know damn well how good it was, and let the agent know it. Feel free to explain the brilliant choices you've made, the agent should feel privileged to be given access to mind of such talent. At this point, there's a chance you might give yourself a pat on the back for bringing that large, surly reader with you. But in the case you don't need their assistance, then walk out of the audition knowing you took command and that you definitely got your money's worth. Don't feel badly at all if you've offended them or perhaps scared the hell out them, after all, they're the ones who are charging you $6 a minute for your time.

Audition Expert

Finally I get the call to audition for a popular daytime drama (aka a soap) for a huge role - a background player. It's hotter than hell on a July morning when I approach the the casting office, getting annoyed at the fact that I cannot contain my perspiration. As I open the door, I am surprised that the office is like any other office - full of cubicles, telephones ringing, computer dorks, and interns racing around while attempting to look composed. As I turn to my left I notice several actors sitting around a coffee table doing their acting thing - reading magazines, looking over scripts, meditating (I love these guys!) and one guy who has his cowboy boots perched prominently on the table while he is literally shouting into his cell phone. He says "What time's the shoot? Oh, sh*t, I don't know if I can make that - can they move the time back? What? Oh, I'm at some soap audition and I have no idea how long it's going to take. What?? I can't hear you (as he raises his voice). Oh, I've been here for at least 20 minutes and I think there might be a couple of dudes in front me. OK, let me see what I can do." He slams his cell phone shut and begins asking everyone how long they've been there, attempting to let everyone in the office know he has been waiting for some time. None of the actors want anyone in the office to see them talking to this guy so their answers are very short. Finally, the casting director walks out and says "William, we're ready for you." Just then the guy (who thinks no one can hear him) says "F**k, I can't believe this..." Astounded, everyone turns and looks at him. This is a guy who could care less about being put on the spot and says to "William" (and the casting director) "Hey bro, don't take too long there cause I got sh*t to do.." Hell yeah he does, but I highly doubt anything to do with this soap will affect his calendar.

That's how it's done! Only in New York..

A beautiful morning in New York City. I'm on my way to acting class when I notice a guy (a Bryant Gumble type with a brief case) casually crossing the street when he is almost struck by a cab sprinting recklessly from the opposite direction. "Whoaa" he shouts and stumbles back to curb, almost losing his carefully guarded briefcase. Just then, a confident self-assured gentleman identically matching "Flava Flave" in the height of Run DMC (bling, white leisure suit, sunglasses, and sparkled hat) walks past me, toward the same street, chuckling "Tah, heh heh" at the guy who was almost struck. His confident bop suggests he is saying to himself, "What a fool - this guy don't have the presence to make traffic stop like I do.. watch this!" As he attempts to cross the street, a van is coming directly at him with no sign of slowing down. The speed somewhat startles "Flave" and the van slows as the man finally stops in the street. Flave looks around a bit as the van slowly approaches. At that moment I say to myself, it isn't a matter of whether or not "f**k you's" will be exchanged, it is only a matter of how they will be said. As the van approaches, the driver, a huge burly man with a thick Russian accent says to Flave, "You'd better vatch vhere you're going..." Flave guys gives him a quick wave and a glance around, then hollers in a fairly high-pitched voice "Maaannnn, F**k you, and F**k your mammie!!!" With an "Ahhh" and a hand wave the Russian speeds off in the van. The guy then turns to me -knowing I am glued to the activity- and says with a chuckle "See, that's how it's done!.. Tahh heh heh.." and walks off. You certainly can't learn these lessons in class!