Friday, February 29, 2008

Why representation is a good thing

Occasionally I get called  in for auditions and gigs by independent operators -- production houses and such. Usually they're doing smaller projects for smaller clients who can't afford the whole process of going through casting directors and talent agents.

It's kind of risky because, obviously, you have no one negotiating for you or looking out for your interests. On the other hand, it's often quick and easy cash.

Today I did this photo shoot. I've worked with this production house before. They're good people, they've got a very nice facility downtown, totally legit and all. But I can't help feeling I was a little bit misled today.

Looking back at my notes from the phone call, I see the words "still photos." Print photo shoot, right? It was a 1-2 hour job and the pay was a little more than standard for a regular session fee (plus there was no agent taking their cut). But there was no additional "buyout," in which they pay for use of the photos in certain media (print, Internet, etc.) over a defined period of time. The buyout can often run 3, 4 or 5 times the session fee. 

So for a few hundred bucks I consented to unlimited use of my images FOREVER, which is scary from the standpoint of principle, but actually not that big of a deal in practice. If I was suddenly making $20 million to star in a film, then they would be getting a very, very good bargain. Since I'm not, and not likely to, what the hell.

Anyway, the people were nice, the shoot was easy and I got out of there pretty quickly. When it was done, I asked if there was a website the photos would be on, or if it's a print thing or what. Turns out it's a TV commercial. 

Whoops! They didn't tell me that. They emphasized again that these were "just stills," but that doesn't really make a difference. A commercial's a commercial. Sure, there were no lines, obviously, so I suppose you could argue that's an "extra" role, in which case the money is good. But I don't know -- my experience tells me the fee should have been at least 2 or 3 times what I got. At least it's just a little local spot. If it was airing, say, during the Superbowl, then this would be a very bad thing.

I could have raised a stink, I suppose but, you know, I shouldn't be doing this kind of stuff anyway. That's what I have agents for and this is the kind of work that people without representation do. So, lesson learned.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

9 buses to nowhere

I had three auditions today -- only two of them planned when the day started. So that's pretty much all I did, what with the public transportation nightmare of the 7 bus rides and all ...

#1 was a film audition, which I think went pretty well. After I did the scripted scene, they had me improvise being impatient and angry in a traffic jam. So that was easy, and luckily they stopped my just short of hurling epithets about various stereotypes (you know, like trixies in SUVs too big for them ...)

#2 was a print audition that just came up today. Serious, pensive businessman. I think they wanted to see how well you took direction ("Turn about 90 degrees camera right, front leg propped on the stool, chin down, tilt your head a little more toward camera, now back a little more, right there, good, eyes on the x, rest your chin on your hand, don't cover the mouth, perfect, hold, *snap*).

#3 was really fun. A TV spot for a personal lubricant! Crazy. Everyone there was saying it was the most fun they've had on an audition. The scripts were pretty good -- funny and all, so we didn't have to do anything ridiculously uncomfortable. I think I blew it because they wanted subtle and I started big. I tried to bring it down, but they wanted total deadpan and I don't think I got there ... and that all sounded really sexual ...

Then rehearsal. (And two more buses.)

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Photos from Oscar night

Got some photos back from last weeks' ceremonies. Should have taken that dumb nametag off ...



Tuesday, February 26, 2008

I don't know much about art ...

... but I know what I like ...

... and what I like are big, bright colors ...

... very sophisticated, I know ...

... the "Museum of Modern Ice" at Millennium Park ...

Monday, February 25, 2008

Back in the news

I was in the Trib again yesterday, and since they skipped it last week, it was truly a surprise this time, thumbing through the Q section and seeing my face on page 2.

Too bad nobody reads hard copy newspapers anymore. I mean, according to the numbers, 940,620 people read the Sunday Trib. But only two or three people I know read it.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Run-through

Yesterday we did a complete, nonstop run-through of the play for the first time. Then we did it again for the theater's ensemble members.

Even though it was stressed to us that they were not there to judge our performance -- they recognize we're basically half way through the rehearsal process -- it was hard not to feel a little nervous. You want to do well.

These guys are so organized. They had forms printed up for the ensemble to use in evaluating the production and offering feedback to the director. And so many of them showed up! It's great to see that kind of support and to know there's some additional creative focus and perspective given to the production.

We seem to be in great shape. Everyone's off book, we only had a few minor flubs, and we've got a whole month to refine and improve. It will be interesting to see Monday what changes, if any, come from this process.

I'm having a lot of fun in these rehearsals. I feel I've got a good, meaty, consequential role that offers a lot of range to explore and play. It's not the biggest role by any stretch, but it's a very good sign that I never feel bored or like an observer during the times when I have no dialogue. There's so much going on to react to, and it's feeling very genuine. I've rarely had so much to do when I wasn't "doing" anything.

Friday, February 22, 2008

My warmth problem

The great thing about this life is just when you're feeling great about something, disappointment and failure are just an audition away.

Luckily it works the other way around, too. This morning it didn't.

An audition for an industrial, where I'm explaining the ins and outs of credit reporting and finances. They told me "authoritative but warm." Then they had me do it again, saying they could see I was smiling, but more warmth. So I did it again, and it was like -- that stuck-in-the-mud feeling. Move, damnit! Warmth! More f'ing warmth!! And ... I don't think I made it. I was so focused on the copy, which I took the time to memorize, that I was having a hard time with the feeling.

The clients did like my glasses, though, as they were similarly stylishly spectacled. And they made a point to ask about my TelePrompter proficiency, which is a weird thing to ask if they're not considering you.

But yeah. Warmth. Not my strong suit. In acting or real life. I am courteous and generally considerate, but I lack the warmth.

And the Oscar goes to ...

... me!

Last night I went to this awards ceremony honoring marketing efforts in the legal industry. We were entered in two categories, and won both, including for this awesome project I talked about the other day. It was pretty cool. We were up against much bigger law firms (and much bigger marketing companies that support them), so the double-win was especially surprising, and there was considerable buzz when the firm's founder went up to accept the first two awards in a row.

He was also very kind in his remarks to acknowledge my business partner and me by name.

Awards are fun. I have a shelf full of lucite from my PR firm days and they're a nice thing to put on the resume. There are three secrets to winning awards:
  • First, you have to enter! For most people, the time it takes is too daunting -- some of the applications we submitted in the old days took many hours and many binders full of supporting documentation to complete.
  • Second, you have to write a killer application, and I've always been pretty good at self promotion.
  • Third, you have to have a good program or product to submit. Ours was great, but it's #s 1 and 2 above that make the difference.
Afterwards, we went down to the hotel lounge, where we were very graciously treated to Cristal champagne by the firm's partners, which was a lot of fun, as it's been a long time since I've had really good champagne.

And in a stark portrait of the two worlds I stride, I had to leave during the second bottle to go up to a fundraiser for the the theatre group I'm working with. From Cristal in the VIP section of a downtown hotel to beer and burgers at a far Northwest side pub, I bridged the two worlds, literally and figuratively, by treating myself to a cab ride up there.

The fundraiser was fun, too. It's funny. You work with people for several weeks and it's fun but mostly business, but somehow you take that group and put them in a bar with loud music and beer and everyone's suddenly on hugging terms!

Awesome, awesome night.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Working title

So I get to this audition yesterday, already cheesed off about what a public transit nightmare it was, what with unreliable buses and single-digit temps. And I'm outfitted as a farmer as best as I can muster, and the girl who checks us in holds up a mocked up ad and says, "Okay, you'll be playing a rock star."

And I'm like "WHAT??? THEY SAID FARMER!!" Then she explained it was a farmer who thinks he's a rock star. And it would be back to the camera in silhouette. So the wardrobe didn't even matter that much. Or the look. And there was just one person ahead of me instead of the 100 I expected. And I made it home in 20 minutes, instead of the hour it took me to get there.

So all's well that ends well. Except I had to demonstrate my rock star moves (fist pumping, leg kicking) and sing. Which I did. Rock-n-roll All Night. So yeah, it's never as bad as you expect.

And I was trashing SuperFoods unfairly the other day. That "cold" I had never quite "took" after just 3 days of ominous symptoms. Either that or it was a holdover from the December cold. Either way, I'm sorry for calling you a fraud, SuperFoods.

In other news, I now kitchen water after 10 days of drought, so all is well again here in Gaza City.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Farmer Ted (Redux)

I don't know about you, but when I see this face ...
... the first word that occurs to me is "farmer."

Since this is the second time this has happened in less than six months, I suppose  I should just break down and go out and get myself some kind of humble, middle-American plaid shirt. As it stands, my "farmer" ensemble consists of my plainest jeans, boots, and this gray long sleeve waffley kind of shirt.

At least last time the role called for some comic skills. This is just a photo shoot. So here I am about to tromp out into the 7-degree cold (not including wind chill) to some remote studio where I'll probably have to wait an hour or more to go in. And it's likely to be a cattle call because ALL THREE of my agents called me for this job, which has never happened. I am guessing every male actor in Chicago over 35 with gray hair will be there.

All I can say is, it had better go quickly. Because Farmer Ted's got a noon spin class to get to.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

In the news

I read the newspaper every day -- the actual newspaper. Okay, the Chicago Tribune. Still.

So imagine my skepticism when a friend said she saw my picture in the paper. And when she dug it up, there it was. Chicago Tribune, last Sunday, in the Q section, a full quarter page!

I read that section and completely passed over it! As did others. Probably the clever disguise (hint: no facial hair).

This is a shoot I did for DePaul last year. I thought at first, "Hey, they're not supposed to do that! This was for the web or for a brochure." Then I checked the voucher and it turns out their use is "unlimited." They can use the images any time any place forEVER. Luckily it paid well.


PS: Do not blame the new Mac for the sucky scan job. Blame my crappy ol' HP printer.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Goodbye Windows, Goodbye Dell

Goodbye McAfee, goodbye SpySweeper, goodbye incessant, annoying updates. Goodbye constant compatibility issues, goodbye system crashes. Goodbye stuttering video and mystifying script errors. Goodbye crappy customer service, goodbye shoddy refurbished equipment, goodbye glacial download speeds. Goodbye to all of that.

I am now a Mac user. MacBook Pro, to be precise. A little more computer than I need, but after going years with way less computer than I need, this will be a treat. I deserve it. My clients deserve it.

Eight times the RAM, four times the storage, many times the speed.

No more having to keep a newspaper handy to occupy my time while waiting for e-mails to open. No more having to shut down Firefox several times a day. No more having to reformat the hard drive every 10 months.

I am one of THEM now. Such excitement.

Friday, February 15, 2008

The best thing I've ever done

Okay, maybe not ever. But certainly in the top ten professional accomplishments of my lifetime, is this purty thing here. (Click on the "Celebrating our clients' successes" link.)

This is the culmination of a project I worked on for almost two years. Originally printed in book form, this is the fancy web version. I did all the writing. (And I had the idea for the cool apple-esque interface.)

The point of the project was to celebrate the firm's 25th anniversary in a way that stands out from what everyone else does. So we wrote 25 little stories showcasing their clients. The unstated message: judge us by the company we keep.

I had such a good time researching and writing these stories. The whole point was to tell them in a way that engages the reader, with bright graphics, simple prose and a total ban on legal jargon, attorney names, case histories and Latin of any kind.

The whole process was awesome. Just me and the designer working with two people at the client -- the firm's founder and a senior partner -- meeting every other Tuesday morning for a year-and-a-half, scoping out the stories and reviewing drafts and layouts. That is the way to get things done. No freakin' committees editing the life out of everything.

If only every project could be like this.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Homeward bound

I love rehearsal, and I love hanging out with and getting to know new friends. But after a long night of emoting, there's nothing I want more than to ride the bus or train home alone.

A lot of times it works out that people are generally going the same direction, so you end up sharing a ride home together and making small talk, which is not my forte. I really just like to sit and indulge my introvert side -- listen to music, zone out, work on a crossword puzzle. Just do the things that, when I'm at home, I feel guilty for not doing more.

In any case, there I was tonight, on the Belmont bus, 3 miles from home, digging through my bag, only to discover ... I'd left THREE half-finished crosswords at rehearsal! Merde!!

Then I turn on my iPod, which I've been using for the past 24 hours to play nothing but these two Amy Winehouse songs, and ... the battery dies. Double merde!!

Thank blog for the phone! Time to clean out texts and old photos. Good times.

SuperFoods or SuperFrauds?

About a year ago, after landing in the ER with a particularly nasty GI bug, I pledged to start eating better. I should say even better, because I was actually doing pretty well, just low on fruits and vegetables.

So I started SuperFoods -- 14 foods designed to boost your immunity and fight disease. I average 10-12 fruits and vegetable servings a day, for cripes sake. The plan was to never be sick again.

But now here I am with my second cold in two months! Though it kinda feels like a recurrence of the first one. It's all ... chesty, like last time.

I suppose just two colds in a year is pretty good. But I wouldn't call it Super. Not by any stretch.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Treasure Trove

Why does that sound durrrty? Like "sugar walls?"

At this cattle call audition this morning I ran into a half-dozen people I know. And since they were running way behind, and I waited over an hour to get in, we had lots of time on our hands. Normally I'm content to sit in a corner and do a crossword, but today I was feeling especially outgoing, and had many enjoyable -- and valuable -- chats.

This one woman I bumped into is also in marketing for her day job. We talked about a mutual client and then we talked about acting -- the pros and cons of getting your SAG card, the reputation of various agencies, whether to go exclusive, publishing, etc.

Then I ran into a girl I did a reading with three-and-a-half years ago. She recently did a show with the theatre company I'm rehearsing with now, and had some good insights on them.

Then I ran into someone else I was in a show with three years ago. She was working on a MacBook Pro, the very laptop I have my eye on, so she gave me the scoop on its performance. And we talked about the coming Bush Recession 2, which I have been very, very concerned about, because his first one was no picnic. I'd read it was going to be a soft landing, but a very long one. She had heard that a lot of people are saying we've already been in it for a while, so even though it will be long, it may be over sooner than I think.

Then two women who recognized me and who I had to struggle to recall. Man, I suck!

Then I ran into the guy who's on the roster of Agent A with me. Every time I see him I pretty much feel like hanging it up. He's got a really great "Dad" look and books almost everything he goes out for. And this was for a Dad role.

So the wait was a pretty satisfying experience. Then I got in the room and mostly blew it. I'm not terrific at improv. Well, sometimes I am. Like in rehearsals for a play, when you've got your character and you and your scene partner improvise some dialogue? That's great, and I'm good at that.

But in cases like this? Where my "wife" and I, who I've never met or worked with, are talking lovingly to our invisible, imaginary daughter? Not so much.

Bleh!

Friday, February 08, 2008

Ow my butt!

My character in this play dances, a couple of times. One is described as "the Rerun dance" from What's Happening (Happenin'?) and the other is freestyle.

So we've been playing with various things -- the hustle, the pogo, the Lambada (the forbidden dance), the swim, chorus line, Jackson-5, Michael Jackson, etc. Last night I tried breakdancing. And according to everyone else, I seemed to do it pretty well.

Up until The Caterpillar. My back doesn't bend very well that way. And somehow I pulled my right glute very, very badly. I mean, it really, really hurts.

It's ridiculous. I work out 5 days a week, cardio and weights and am fairly active, but between this and the V the other day I really, really need to work on my flexibility apparently. Yoga. Once the resolutioners quit the gym I'm looking into some yoga. The Caterpillar should definitely not cripple me.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Exclusivity

Ack!

So, Agent A (the one that gets me the most work) e-mailed end of day yesterday with an audition for Monday, telling me to call today to set a time. Today I wake up late and rush out to an audition. When I get out, I have a message from Agent B (who has just in the last week suddenly come out of the woodwork with several auditions after a long period of low activity -- I think due to my giving them my new headshots). It turns out they're calling about the same Monday audition.

But in the confusion, I forget it was Agent A that contacted me first yesterday and schedule the audition with Agent B. Then I get home and realize my mistake. So I had to call Agent B and back out, telling them I'd already been called for this and got confused, then call Agent A and hope, first of all, they didn't hear already that I booked it with Agent B and second, that they've still got slots for me. Fortunately, the answers were no and yes.

So all fixed. Still, this is another reason why it's good to be exclusive. To review, I was asked to go exclusive last year by Agent C, but if I went exclusive with anyone it would be with Agent A. But then Agent A hasn't asked me, like Agent C has. And how embarrassing and weird would it be for me to go to agent A and propose such a relationship and they don't want it? Pretty bad, I'd say.

This is like dating several people at once, except worse. Because in this case, everyone knows you're seeing other people, AND exactly who you're seeing. (It's a very small world.) What's more they sometimes know WHEN you're seeing these others. Like when two agents submit you for the same job but the first one beats out the other one. Like now with all this attention from Agent B, I'm wondering if those were jobs Agent A got beat out on and they're secretly hating me.

So anyway, I continue to think it might be time to propose to Agent A. Which would also mean breaking up with Agents B and C. Which wouldn't be pleasant, but at least I've got the numbers on my side -- Agent A just plain gives me more work.

Relationships are hard. But I think I'm ready to be a one-agent man.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

My white whale

Billie Joe Armstrong and the elusive Cadd9 chord

After a lifetime convinced I had zero musical talent (in spite of what seemed a promising career on the recorder in 4th grade), I decided sometime in 2000 or 2001 that, screw it, I'm a pretty smart guy. I may not have a musical bone in my body, but surely I could figure out the guitar enough to work my way up to a tolerable level of mediocrity.

I was mostly self taught, with the help of a Dummy's Guide. (I eventually did get 8 lessons at the Old Town School to help move things along.) But in those early, early days, plunking away on my ridiculously cheap Espanola (handmade in Paracho, Michigan since 1925), one thing filled my daydreams: being able to play Green Day's "Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)."

I tried and I tried and I tried. I listened over and over to the CD, I downloaded guitar chord tabs, went on message boards debating which chords he used, tried to replicate the strumming pattern, talked to friends and strangers alike. And I couldn't do it.

Nevermind that it's roundly regarded by guitarists of even ordinary talent as a patently simple song to play. I mean, the only thing I was lacking was the proper rhythm, chords and vocals. I had the lyrics, though!

At some point I managed to pick up the strumming pattern (down. down-up. up-down-up). Forget about picking -- I'm not even close to that. But it was a huge milestone.

Next came the chords. There are only FOUR of them, for chrissakes! But to this day, for the life of me, I do not hear the Cadd9. On my guitar it sounds like a regular C. I also use the "lazy" three-fingered G chord, leaving the B string open. I know, I know!

Finally, there was the singing. It's surprisingly hard to sing and play at the same time, though some songs are harder than others. The key is to lock your arm into a rhythm that becomes almost automatic. I've managed it on close to 20 songs, but for this one I just could not do it. My voice would follow the chords where it was supposed to go opposite of them or something. Or I would accent syllables in line with the strum pattern. It was bizarre and frustrating.

But just the other day I picked up the guitar, which I hardly do anymore, and ... I FOUND IT! My voice did something it's never been able to do. It sounded right! It sounded great!! (Mind you, I was alone.) I didn't think it could get up to Billie Joe's nasal twang. I thought I was forever stuck with my own baritone nasal twang.

I know it's ridiculous, but it felt really incredible. I think if I played it at an open mike, possibly preceded by somebody worse than I am, 3 out of 5 listeners would actually recognize the tune and a plurality of that group might find the sound almost listenable. Or, dare I say, pleasing?

So there you go. Call me Ahab. Wait. He died, didn't he?

Friday, February 01, 2008

SbZFNW

Those are the letters I had to spell with my body this morning.

When my agent called yesterday and asked if I was flexible and could touch my toes, I said "you bet!" She asked if I've done yoga, and I said "sure!" And by "sure" I mean I've seen people do it. Mostly on TV.

Then when I got home from rehearsal last night I find these little sketches in my inbox of bodies making all these letters. Sketches, mind you, because some of them really required monkey arms for actual people to accomplish them. Especially the W. Well, half the W. But I rocked on b (lower case, thank god) and Z (which I've done before in improv). And thankfully I didn't have to do V, which hurt my neck this morning when I practiced for 5 minutes.

There were all kinds of people there -- actors, models, yoga instructors, dancers, acrobats, circus freaks. This one chick did a Y standing on her head with her legs spread.

So yeah, now I'm in pain. I think I'm going to take up yoga or pilates. My body definitely needs some loosening up.