Thursday, December 31, 2009

The year in numbers (and figures)


Another good year for commercial auditions and bookings.

In 2009 I went on 101 auditions for commercial, print, industrial and voiceover work. That's down just 2 from last year, which was my best year ever for auditions.

I had 13 bookings (5 commercial, 1 print, 6 industrial and 1 voiceover industrial), which is two fewer than last year. So, pretty even overall, numbers-wise.

But the real story is the figures, not the numbers. Because in perilous times such as these, it's all about the Benjamins, and my acting income was more than double last year's. Almost two-and-a-half times, in fact. And last year happened to be a record-setting income year for me.

Of course, a good-sized chunk of that came from just two jobs -- the SAG bank spot I shot the year before last and that preposterously lucrative print gig. The SAG checks have dwindled significantly and the print gig ... well, that was a once-in-five-years thing, at best.

So I can't expect things the good times to continue to roll like that in 2010, but I am grateful for a very good year, especially considering the economic calamity that's still raining down upon our heads.

Now my work-work income? Well, that's a little different story. Let's just say acting kinda saved my proverbial bacon this year.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Decade that Was

New Year's Eve, 1999

This time 10 years ago I was in Montreal with my then-girlfriend, preparing to celebrate the "millennial" new year (having finally conceded to the forces that proclaimed, one year prematurely, the dawn of the new era).

A few things have changed in the past decade. To begin with, as evidenced by the photo, I was fat. Okay, not fat, but a good 20 lbs. heavier. I was working out regularly and eating somewhat healthily, but not yet fanatical about it.

The other big change, of course, is the absence of that girlfriend. She was gorgeous and, um, considerably younger. People always asked if the long distance (she lived in NY) was tough on the relationship and I secretly suspected that the time apart actually extended it. If we'd lived in the same city we probably would have gotten sick of each other much sooner.

I was flying a lot, traveling to and from New York a couple of times a month, where I'd spend 5 days at a time. For a couple of years, New York was my second home. I loved it. The Sunday paper in Central Park, running along the East River or around the reservoir, the little Japanese place around the corner, H&H bagels.

1999 was a big year. In addition to meeting her and starting a two-and-a-half-year relationship, I quit my job at the PR agency. I took the summer off, did a cross-country road trip, got a tan for the first time since I was 11, and started my own solo practice. (One of my first big projects was writing and editing a weekly newsletter for the global IT department of BP -- it digested all the developments in "e-commerce," "e-business," "web exchanges/electronic marketplaces," and other hot topics on the exciting, new frontier.)

I lived in a highrise apartment downtown that was half the size of my place today and actually cost more than my current place (and I'm talking real dollars, not inflation-adjusted).

I bought my very first home computer (a Dell laptop with a 10 or 20 GB hard drive and 32 MB of RAM, I believe) and my first personally-owned cell phone (a big ugly gray Nokia). There was no Facebook, no blogging, no texting, no mobile Internet, no wireless and no broadband. Yet I still managed to waste a good amount of time on the two or three web sites I knew of then.

At that point I'd never acted a day in my life. I'd thought about it. Second City was sort of a semi-suppressed dream, or a notion at least. But I didn't start pursuing that until after Liz and I broke up, in 2002. So put that in the "things happen for a reason" category.

I still owned a car and had never ridden on a CTA bus. I rollerbladed an embarrassing amount. I ate a lot of pizza and drank a lot of beer. (I don't eat quite as much pizza now.) Many of my favorite places then are gone now -- Soul Kitchen in Bucktown, Ranalli's on Lincoln and the execrable (though sometimes fun in the summer) Melvin B's.

All my best friends still lived in Chicago -- now most of them are gone. My Dad constantly bugged me about retirement savings -- now he can barely speak. I've been through multiple relationships that ultimately went nowhere -- though most of the time that's pretty much where I expected them to go.

In 1999 the good times were rolling and America was on top. Yet I distinctly recall a nagging feeling I often expressed that it couldn't possibly last. I chalked it up to characteristic skepticism and neurosis. It turned out I was right -- way beyond imagining.

They're calling this the lost decade, and in many ways things stood still or failed to advance. For me, personally, I don't know. I didn't go into the decade with any particular expectation of where I'd be, what I'd be doing or who I'd be doing it with.

I think overall I'm in a better place. The acting was a big thing. That definitely opened up my mind and other things, and I think the experience in general will ultimately take me to unexpected places.

And whales. I finally saw whales. Just try topping that, Teens!

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

American Idle

I had all this stuff to do yesterday, but I did nothing. I got home, I unpacked, and from about midday to midnight I did almost nothing at all. I sat on the couch, I watched bad TV, I napped, I read, I played with my new Kindle (thanks, Mom!), and I finally read through the (small) stack of holiday cards (and newsletters) I've received.

(It seems hardly anyone is doing cards anymore. I know I'm not. But 95% of the ones I get are from parents, and the cards feature the latest photos of the kids on the cover. So children are somehow propping up the last remaining vestiges of the greeting card industry.)

Anyway, it was so nice to be HOME. After four whole days away. I've decided home is not where the heart is and it's not even where you hang your hat. It's where all your sweet little routines and habits and other things lie.

It's the place where you can find the coffee filters (and don't have to worry about how many scoops to use and how strong/weak others like their coffee). The place where you can cook a meal without having to ask where every last ingredient and utensil is. It's the place where your precious first-thing-in-the-morning Diet Coke (12 oz. can only) is. Where the tissues ALWAYS have lotion, the paper towels are ALWAYS Bounty and the TP is ALWAYS Charmin Ultra.

So I did nothing yesterday but just hang out and decompress and it was great.

And today? Doubly active to counteract it. Emails sent, kitchen scrubbed, bathroom cleaned, floors vacuumed and swiffed, groceries bought, laundry done, workout worked, bills paid.

And work. I had to work a little work. My plan last week was to do no work, but then I had about a day-and-a-half of auditions and work-work to do. So this week was supposed to be work-free. But then I got a client call this morning and had to put together some ad copy.

So I am hoping, hoping, hoping I am truly done for the year for good. That other than a little gym time I can read, and go to the tea shop and see movies, and maybe have lunch out and all those other things I never seem to get to do ...

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Into the fog

Christmas 2009, Virginia

In the years my Dad's had Alzheimer's the deterioration has been mostly rapid. But it seemed that for a year or two there he had achieved -- or maybe descended into -- a sort of stasis. A state you would by no means call fortunate or happy, but tolerable, I suppose. Tolerable for us, that is.

He had shed the major anxiety that plagued him as his mind started slipping away and reached a kind of contentment. The kind that comes from not really knowing how bad things are. So he seemed happy, and though it wasn't clear he recognized us per se, he seemed to know we were people he was familiar with. People who belonged. And through his expressions and limited verbiage it seemed clear it made him happy to have us around.

There is still that, but he is now farther away. He doesn't verbalize as much as he used to -- which wasn't much to begin with. A few words and some things we couldn't recognize as words.

What kind of shocked me this time around though is the physical deterioration. All through this he's been physically strong and active. Walking every day, miles and miles. And fast -- so much so that it was hard to keep up with him sometimes. Even as he was losing his mental (and some physical) faculties, he remained vigorous.

But now he has trouble getting out up from a chair by himself. And he needs help eating. Stairs are tough, too and, of course, the long walks are long gone.

It's ridiculous that I'm surprised by this. It was just a matter of time. But even with all the deterioration we've witnessed I guess it's human nature to, on one hand, accept the hand that's dealt and adjust accordingly, while also stubbornly clinging to that hand, assuming it won't change, that there aren't worse hands awaiting you from the bottom of the deck.

So now I'm thinking of what's to come -- the nightmares ahead. How long will he be able to get around the house before needing a wheelchair? What if the peace that he's had turns to anger or violence?

Anyway, in spite of it all, it's good to be here. And I'm glad I opted for an extra day. It's not much, but I've been feeling tremendous guilt all year long for not coming out here. Just horrible guilt -- the kind that grabs you suddenly from inside and makes you wince. And I've felt it every single day -- sometimes many times a day.

I've always felt it's easier to do the hard things than to deal with the anxiety or guilt from avoiding them, and I've tried to live that way. So in the new year I have to do a better job of getting myself out here.

That will be my one resolution.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Industry Night

I went to a party tonight that one of my agents was throwing. I felt a little like a party crasher, because it was really intended for the exclusives, and right now I'm still a two-agent guy. Which is a big improvement from the old days. Now I'm just a bigamist. When I started I was a total polygamist -- I had 7 agents at the very beginning! Nuts.

Anyway, it was very cool of them to invite me. It's funny how these things go. I was conflicted for a long time over going exclusive. Two agencies wanted me and I had a hard time deciding. One had been with me from the start, consistent over a number of years. The other had also been with me from the beginning, but suddenly they came from out of nowhere and were working their asses off for me and getting me lots and lots of stuff.

And it all comes down to my very latest piece of advice when people ask me about agents. There's a huge distinction between agents and agencies. Agents come and go (and, in fact, some agencies come and go), so you really have to know whether the great (or poor) service you're getting is because of your agency or your particular agent.

It's important, because this other agency that came on strong? The agent who was responsible for that -- she was very highly regarded around town, I loved the hell out of her, she would even give me hugs when I came into the office. But she's gone. And it's very different now.

So going exclusive can be a risk in that regard. Still, it was nice hanging with the ladies (and 99% of the agents are ladies) tonight. Definite food for thought.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Official business


Grueling, grueling freakin' shoot. Seriously.

Good people and a good project, but a really long day. Partly because I spontaneously woke up at 4:45 (after getting to sleep somewhere around 12:30 ish), but mostly because there was a LOT of script.

It was another host/narrator role, for use on a web app. So I'm greeting visitors, providing a product overview, and walking them through all the steps and tabs and functions and stuff.

And I'm in a referee outfit, as pictured above. (The point being that I, along with the web app I represent, am an objective source of trustworthy information between the seller and the customer.) A very ill-fitting referee outfit. I have to remember that my waist size for jeans is very different (smaller) than my waist size for regular pants. And for whatever reason, the shoes felt like they were a couple of sizes too small. I felt like a pig in a blanket. Only less cozy.

Anyway, the script. It was one of those with lots and lots of variations. A couple of the lines had to be read 20 different ways, substituting a single word or phrase. And I have to tell you, I'm pretty good at this shit. I may not be able to cry on command, and I'm not the guy who's gonna give you a wash of 10 different emotions across my face, but man I can freakin' lock in, focus, and grind, grind, grind through technical copy. It's almost like being on auto-pilot. Except with energy, warmth, rhythm and articulation.

Then after four hours of that, with my feet throbbing like I'm doing that Chinese foot-binding thing, I had to pose for 200+ still photos. I was just about to lose it by then, but I think I was able to give them a lot of good stuff. I know I did, actually. They were really pleased. And I could easily see how with a different type of actor it could have turned into an 8, 9 or 10-hour day.

The best part? It was really well-paying. SO, SO glad I did this through my agent. The figure I had in my head was about a third of what this ended up paying, thanks to their knowledge and expertise. So there's several months' rent I don't have to worry about.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Daaa Bullce


Fun treat tonight! Luxury skybox at the Bulls game. And they even won, which is a pretty rare thing these days.

I haven't been to a ton of Bulls games, but this is really the way to go. So civilized. No lines for the restrooms. Beer right in the little fridge. Awesome.

I went to a game a year or two ago, but before that I hadn't been since the championship seasons. Those seats were awful -- way up in the nosebleeds. But at least I can say I saw Michael and Scottie in the finals.

Alright, I have an 8 am call time in the western 'burbs, which means departure at 6:45, which means up at 5/5:30, depending on how many times I hit the snooze.

Last booking of '09!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Estupido

At Monday night's seminar, in addition to lots of substantive information and advice, we were given some very important basics that would seem basic to any adult but apparently aren't, based on the clueless actors that apparently show up for auditions. Things like: be on time for your audition (neither late nor too early); know what you're auditioning for; have your script memorized; and don't blame your agent for your fuck-ups.

So not 48 hours later I show up for my 3 pm audition and ... it turns out the audition is tomorrow. At least it's 3 pm tomorrow, so I wasn't totally, totally off. I was actually pretty ticked. This is not a good time a year to waste an hour-and-a-half out of your day in which you could have been doing other stuff.

But I didn't blame my agent. At least not to the casting people. I called my agent and blamed them. An intern had called me the other day and gave me these choices of times: Wednesday at 11:40, 2:45 or 3:00 and Thursday at 1:15 or 3:00. I call back and say, "I'll take the 2:45 Wednesday." She says the 2:45 isn't available anymore, but 3:00 works, so I say yes. Yes, to 3:00 Wednesday, I presumed. Not a safe presumption, apparently.

Urgh. So they couldn't take me, naturally, because the schedule was packed and so I got back on the bus and headed home and have now flipped my whole schedule around tomorrow and am planning various cabs and other schemes to fit everything in.

But worst of all, I look like one of the dorks he just lectured us about.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Humbuggin' it

I have not done any Christmas cards this year, as in the past few. (And it looks like I'm not alone. I've only received a few -- one of them from the paper carrier with a tip envelope.)

I haven't done any shopping. I haven't even made my shopping lists. (Though I have made a couple of email inquiries about wishlists.)

I haven't done any decorating. (Okay, I pulled out an old Christmas platter and put it on the table. But that's only because it's the only thing not stored away on a remote closet shelf.)

So other than a few tiny, halting steps, I have made precious little effort to celebrate this holiday season. Partly because I'm busy. But mostly because I'm just not feeling super cheery this season.

I'm impatient for things I want that I don't yet have. Visiting home -- or the place that used to be my home -- is going to be particularly stressful this year. And any great joy, love and warmth this year is going to have to come from within.

Which is the point, of course. You have to give in order to get, and I plan on striving to do some giving in that regard, but generally it's not going to be raining down upon me. It will mostly have to be ginned up by me through sheer force of will.

I think I'm mostly looking forward to getting through the holiday, getting back here and not doing anything for a few days.

Feliz Navidad!

Monday, December 14, 2009

Listening and learning

I went to a seminar/lecture tonight given by a couple of the top casting directors in town. Though it was recommended for people at all stages of their careers, much of the information was basic.

At the same time, it was really valuable. Some things they discussed were very helpful. And the stuff I already knew? Well, it's good to know how much I really know. Seriously, if I already know 80-90% of the information given over three-and-a-half hours, I must be doing okay.

Plus, whether you know it or not, it's always great to hear it straight from the proverbial horse's mouth. You get all the texture and nuance that way.

I wish someone had told me this stuff years ago. Nobody did -- not even my agents. Basic stuff, like always call your agent back in under an hour, to more complex stuff, like when and how much you should improvise in an audition. Looking back on that first year or two, I seriously had no idea what I was doing. At least I didn't know that I didn't know. That would have been horrible.

As it was, I went to a bunch of auditions right out of the gate and seemed to be doing okay. Then there was kind of a long hiatus, at least with the top agency in town. I know now (and it was kind of confirmed tonight with what I heard), that they likely determined I needed more experience and training and moved me to the bottom of the stack.

Anyway, the biggest lesson they went back to over and over? LISTEN. Listen, listen, listen!! So few people, in any occupation or situation, actually listen. It's something I've struggled with myself, but I've gotten much better at it.

It was a really fun and fascinating night. It's hard to imagine being that entertained and compelled by three-and-a-half hours of discussion about, you know, my regular career. Which should tell ya something ...

Saturday, December 12, 2009

MCA


The Museum of Contemporary Art isn't my favorite museum. Much of the stuff I either don't like or don't understand. But every exhibit I go to has at least a few things that really resonate with me, and that's enough to make the experience worthwhile.

Like today. Most of what I liked I either couldn't photograph or do justice to in a description, but my favorites are the ones you can directly interact with. This darkened, black-walled room with glowing strands of elastic strung in a grid pattern, so you feel like you're in one of those 3D computer modeling programs. Or in your own personal game of Tron.

Also that thing above. Very creepy. A grim row of covered "bodies," like the makeshift morgues you see at bombing sites. The amazing thing is that each piece is carrara marble. The draping effect of the "fabric" is beautifully done.

And, of course, the Calder cat. I love this guy and want him in my home.

But the best part of the MCA is that even if you don't find any art you like, the building is a work of art itself. It got a lot of criticism when it opened, and I agree that that exterior is ... I don't know the precise architectural term, but let's just say "ugly." From the inside, though, it's a great space for art, the views out the giant windows to the lake and Michigan Avenue are stunning and, best of all, this awesome, awesome staircase knocks me out every time.

It seems so fanciful compared to the rest of the building, which is so spare and minimalist.

Go art.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Booked

Looks like I'm cruising toward a soft landing to the year's end with one final booking before the holiday.

This is the job I was sorta fretting over -- the people who contacted me directly. Looks like referring them to my agent was the right call. I was a little concerned that it would put them off completely, but I'm totally convinced it was the right move.

So we shoot next week sometime. And I just realized something. They just happened to come across me online, via my website. And it looks like I'll be making enough on this job to at least recoup the investment I made in getting the website done professionally.

Nice way to end the year.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Chicago confidential

I'm accustomed to signing confidentiality agreements and other such legal-like documents when I do a job. It's rare anyone knows what they really require and I probably regularly violate their terms by Facebooking and YouTubing and Bloggering and web uploading, etc.

(Though it is, I'm pretty certain, generally accepted that an actor can use the results of his filmed work for promotion purposes, such as on his website or reel.)

In recent weeks, though, I've had to sign confidentiality agreements at the audition stage. Which seems really crazy. I wonder if they're finding people are spilling competitive details on the Internet prior to release?

That is something I try to be really careful about. If I talk about an audition on Facebook or on my blog I'm usually pretty cryptic about it. I never name the company or product and leave out any other key details that, should the posting find itself in the wrong hands, would lead anyone to conclude that Company X is creating a new campaign airing in X media markets with the following creative approach, etc.

So I think I generally adhere to the spirit of the law, if not the exact letter. Then, of course, there's pillow-talk, which is a hard thing to regulate.

Still, it makes ya think about being extra, extra careful.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Cry on command

At an audition today we were supposed to cry like babies. I don't even know how to cry like an adult, let alone like a baby.

Plus they said real tears would be helpful, though not necessary.

I gave it -- well, I'd like to say I gave it the ol' college try, but it was more like a middle school try. I know I'm supposed to loosen up and let this stuff go, but this is exactly the kind of thing I'm least comfortable doing. Big, broad, over-the-top, dramatic.

Bleh!

To further ensure I'd never have to do it again, I wore the unlucky shirt. Mission: unaccomplished.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Do not mess with pizza night

Sunday, obviously, is pizza night.

It shouldn't even need explaining, but Friday and Saturday are no good for pizza, because you're likely going to be going out and it's hard to get your groove on when you've eaten 5-6 pieces of pizza. And weeknights are out, since weeknights are for healthy eating, not gluttony.

But I had no pizza last night and I was out of sorts all day. There could be many reasons. Work, relationships, family, financial, etc. But I just realized it's because I didn't get to start the week with pizza.

I did make up for it, somewhat, by eating an almost entire bag of Tostitos on my own. (Which may also explain the funk -- bad carb overload.)

So I'm gonna have a pizza, damnit. Even though it's Monday. What the hell -- it's the holidays.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Relativity

Nothing like a SAG audition to put you in your place comparison-wise. For one friend, this was his fourth audition, of the day. Another had two auditions and a booking today. Nuts!

It just goes to show that there's always somebody doing better than you, just as there's always someone doing worse. And, in truth, you can never really know exactly how anyone's doing. Someone may have lots of auditions, but few bookings. Someone may be on TV all the time but get nothing else. Then, of course, there's the quiet guy who books so much he makes a living off it but you'd never know it. Until you get out spread sheets with dollar figures (and wouldn't it be nice if we could?) there's no reason to worry and judge yourself.

Anyway, people I run into often remark on how busy I am and how much I book, and I sorta brush it off, because, a) I'm sure it looks that way because I Facebook and blog about it ALL the time, and b) I know there are tons of people doing better, and who probably don't go shooting their mouths off about it.

Regardless, I was glad to have my first audition in just over two weeks. And the fact that the director is a Hollywood big shot and it involves multiple days in LA in December? Well, that's all up there in the "too good to work out so don't spend a moment fretting over it" category.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Representation

Occasionally I get contacted directly by production companies or small casting agencies for jobs. I've done a few of these jobs and they've worked out fine, and I've done others and been burned.

This one job was, for all appearances, a simple print job -- just a quick photo shoot. Only they ended up using the stills in a local commercial that, though I've never seen, apparently continues to run all the damned time somewhere on TV locally. All for probably a tenth of what I should have earned on the job.

I blame no one but myself. You feel clever and take a short-cut, thinking you'll get quick and easy money by avoiding all the middlemen -- talent agents and casting agencies that all take a share of the dough. And you don't do your homework (or aren't equipped to ask all the right questions) and you rightly get burned.

But I'm done with that. I've backed away from a couple of offers this year, and recently was approached by a company that wants to do an industrial for their client. I talked to them and soon realized that, while things like day-rates and half-day rates for sessions are pretty standard and easy to figure, when you get into the usage it becomes pretty complicated.

B2B or consumer? Web only or not? One year, two years or unlimited? Etc.

So I turned it over to my agent, which I think is the way to go, whether I end up getting it or not. I think it's all just part of doing this thing professionally if you're going to do it at all.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Recharged

Seriously. Nine-plus hours of sleep last night. What am I, a college student?

Taking it easy on the food and drink and going out has helped. (It's amazing how much more restful an uninterrupted night of sleep can be.) That was one killer long holiday weekend.

At the same time, I spent more time alone with my brother over 48 hours than I probably spent in the past 4 years. And that's not even counting the sleeping in the same hotel room part. Though I can't say we had many deep discussions, it was nice just hanging out.

I've been looking at Christmas fares home -- I can't believe how ridiculously soon it's coming -- and they're mercifully cheap this year compared to the past couple, which is interesting. I think I'm going to stay an extra day. Three is usually my maximum limit, but I haven't been back all year long and it seems like the very least I can do.

So three weeks to rest until the madness begins again. Interrupted by the occasional holiday events and festivities here and there. Including a 10 pm concert tonight. Insanity!

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Drained


Someone mentioned that after a little time away I must feel relaxed and rested. Actually, not.

First, I don't relax that much when I'm away. Second, I don't relax that much around family.

It's hard to explain. I think it's just really weird being around people 24/7 when you're used to spending so much of your time alone. Though I've gotten better about carving out little pieces of time for myself on these visits, the fact is, the time really isn't your own, even when you're on your own. There's always an expectation to compete with, and a bit of guilt for maybe not meeting it.

Then, of course, layer onto that all the complications and history that come with family. And finally, stir in a good bit of communication dysfunction and, well, you get a fairly stressful few days.

It seems no amount of sleep, napping or accidentally nodding off is quite enough to counteract the exhaustion, at least for several days. It's like decompression.

And now I have to make reservations to go back again in just three weeks. Oy.

Monday, November 30, 2009

I <3 NY

I was in NY for Thanksgiving -- the first time in seven years. Which is ridiculous, given the fact that I've got a sister living there.

There was a period from 1999 to 2001 when I spent maybe 75 to 100 days a year there. I felt less like a visitor than a resident. So the city -- or the memory of it, at least -- has long had a magical sort of hold on me.

This visit, though, wasn't quite the same. I don't know why, but it just didn't blow me away like it used to do. It didn't feel ... magical, for some reason. Maybe it was the neighborhood. Tribeca is great in many ways, but a little more rough-edged than some other areas. A little less "neighborhoody," maybe.

Or maybe it was because my time was crowded with family obligations. (Though I did pack a lot in -- Brooklyn Bridge, WTC site, High Line, Guggenheim, Central Park, Upper West Side ...)

Maybe it's just funny tricks your memories play on you. I would hate to think I'm losing my ability to be awed.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Mr. Fussy



The department store commercial we shot in Iowa turned out really well! As expected, it's lots and lots (and lots) of quick cuts. So much so that, well ... of course I'd like to see a little more of ME in it. But I suppose, looking at it objectively, that's not necessarily the point.

Next week it'll go live on their website and they usually include lots of extras there -- additional scenes and shots, different takes and versions, etc. So I'll be interested to see the stuff from the cutting room floor.

In the meantime, this starts airing Monday in 20 markets, including Des Moines, Kansas City, Memphis, Omaha and St. Louis. I don't think I really know anybody in any of the towns where it's running, but I guess that's what Facebook is for.

And, in fact, I like what one friend there said -- it reminds her of me following her around in my apartment, making sure she didn't break any of the family antiques.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

And the money kept rollin' in

Or trickling, I guess. Flowing maybe.

I assumed since the Harris spot stopped running that the gravy train was over. And the checks did stop for a bit when the commercial stopped airing.

But now they're starting up again. It's not a ton. Not nearly a gravy train. A gravy sidecar maybe. These are holding fees, as I understand it. For as long as they want to preserve the right to run it, until the term expires next May, they send me these little checks. Middling checks. Decent checks.

I'm not complaining. In fact, I think I should switch over my banking to them.

Monday, November 23, 2009

The Dead



The father of my high school girlfriend died yesterday. I hadn't seen him since college, but he was a big part of my life at a crucial time of my life, and my memories of him are vivid and lasting.

Like with my mom's husband, Ed. He's been gone since 1995, but the memories are rock solid. I can see and hear him clearly in my head, he appears in my dreams, and I readily conjure him and imagine his reactions to everyday events.

It's odd and striking how clear it is. Like a movie you've seen 30 times on TBS, it just doesn't seem to fade. He's perfectly preserved in my memories, as if in amber, forever the age he was when I last saw him. But at the same time, completely contemporary. Not at all ancient or dated. In full color, not sepia-toned or hazy.

I don't know why that is. Why others who are alive and well and just out of my life and living somewhere else aren't as clear to me. Maybe it's love or maybe it's ghosts or it's simply wanting the impossible. Whatever it is, the dead really are always with us. You don't have to believe in spirits or heaven or an afterlife to know that and feel it.

Maybe that makes it easier for the living to go on. I'm always struck by the human capacity for resilience. My friend's father lost his wife 27 years ago. And yet, he went on, for a whole other generation's time, remarrying, meeting his grandchildren and even his grandchildren's children. When you try to imagine it, it sounds impossible. But it just happens.

Like with everything. Like a cancer patient gradually adjusting and accepting each new reality -- here's a chance to live, an opportunity to live a few good years, a chance to live a while without pain, a way to go out with dignity and on your own terms, a month, a week, a time to finally go home to your own bed. You adapt and you go on.

It makes anything seem endurable, nothing impossible.

Friday, November 20, 2009

The road not open

I've talked a lot about the shift in focus over the past couple years away from theater and toward the commercial side of things, and how that's paid off for me with more and better paying gigs.

It all started with this sort of epiphany I had a couple of years ago when I was curled up in the emergency room, alone and sick as a dog, realizing that perhaps the sacrifice of time and the toll on personal relationships involved in pursuing theater were too great compared with the slim prospects for "success."

That was definitely part of it. But it was also because I took a realistic and pragmatic look at the situation. When I did, I concluded that, well ... I'm just not very good at it. I mean, I'm decent, yes, but I wasn't (and wouldn't soon be) burning up the stageboards across Chicago.

Yes, I've only been doing this for a few years, and yes some of my contemporaries have two or three decades of experience under their belts. But I don't have that kind of time. I can't wait until I'm 70 to "blossom." And as I thought about it, several factors, over time, sort of came together in my consciousness and helped propel my decision-making.

First, I didn't seem to be "advancing" -- I was being offered the same kinds of roles by the same kinds of theater companies, and not quite "breaking through" to some of the others I wanted to work with. I see friends who seem to glide almost effortlessly from company to company, production to production, while I'm playing a small supporting role somewhere or starring in a short-run one-act festival. I felt like I was just scuttling sideways instead of moving forward.

Second, I'd be in shows and see other actors receiving invitations to join the ensemble. Sometimes because of the hard "extra" work they were putting in, sometimes because of their talent and, let's face it, sometimes because they just sort of "clicked" with the group. I have no problem with that. In business and in other areas of life, all other things being equal, you hire people who you like and enjoy spending time with. Nobody wants to spend 20, 30, 40, 50 hours a week with an asshole.

I guess I did receive a couple of invites, but they were for start-up companies. And while I've always enjoyed being in on the ground floor and building things, I just felt that with my starting this career so late, it would make more sense to be part of an established group.

Third is recognition. When reviews of shows I was in would call out certain actors, I was less often among those recognized. And when I was I was called a "journeyman," or my skills were labeled "workmanlike." Sometimes I'd have nice things said about me, but usually from the less established, less influential reviewers.

The final, and maybe most important thing, was my experience with a couple of instructors. In classes I would work my ass off, go the extra mile, do whatever it takes. I always thought that my work ethic and discipline could maybe make up for my inexperience. But with a couple of teachers I got a strong sense of ... what? Let's call it "benign neglect." Like I was okay, but not someone whose talents were especially prized and worthy of nurturing.

That was a bit of a kick in the head. In one class it seemed I didn't get nearly the amount of constructive feedback the others received. It definitely was not because my performance was relatively flawless. I'm certain that was not the case. It felt a little like, in the words of an unlamented former president of ours, the "soft bigotry of low expectations." A sense that my limited potential didn't merit a lot of serious attention and effort on the teacher's part.

And what sealed the deal was when I had all these questions in my head about the direction of my career and its potential and I asked one of these instructors if I could buy him a beer and pick his brain sometime about where I was going and what I should be doing. He readily agreed in the moment, but it never happened. I made a couple of polite follow-ups, but it became clear that, well, I wasn't worth the time.

So I never really had a mentor. For the whole time, other than support from friends and family, I really felt I was all alone. Like in that hospital room.

At least I feel I've given it a fair shot. And though I can talk about it pretty analytically, I can still remember that when it all sort of dawned on me that, you know, I just wasn't very good ... it was actually fairly heartbreaking.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Momentum

Back in Ohio, I played on two softball teams. On one team I was a starter, playing 5 or 6 innings every time. I did great -- lots of runs, lots of hits, etc.

On the other team (coached, perhaps not so coincidentally, by my boss), I never started, playing, at most, two innings per game. That's just one at-bat -- sometimes none at all, if the team's doing poorly. I hardly ever got a hit or got on base.

Same thing in Chicago. For my team in the PR League, I played a lot (again, not so coincidentally, I was one of only a couple of VPs who participated). In the Advertising League, once again, I was a late-game substitute. Same poor results.

That's how I've been feeling with these random, scatter-shot auditions lately. I'm not doing enough of them, or enough good ones, to really hit a stride and do well. Like this morning, I had the dreaded first audition of the day -- 9:10 am, which is crazy early for acting. That's a tough spot because they're not even sure always what they're looking for until they've seen a few people and at least know what they're not looking for.

That's always the worst, after you've left the room and are gathering your things and chatting with people and the casting director comes out and says, "Okay, everybody, I know it's early, but we need to see a LOT of energy!" or "Hey, everyone, we're looking for SUBTLE here -- don't go so big!" I seriously had that energy note after a first-of-the-day audition and the casting guy actually turned to me and said, "No offense -- not talking about you!" Yeah.

Anyway, this morning was just eh. Two takes, not a ton of instruction or notes or adjustments. In and out by 9:12. This is another good reason to do theater -- so you're always working and "in the zone."

I don't know how major league pinch hitters do it. Or relievers. I need to be IN the game, constantly to really perform.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Back on the train

Auditions have sort of picked up, after an almost two-week drought. Three in the past four days.

Not the greatest opportunities, though. One extremely last-minute, day-of opportunity. As the other guys waiting said, they apparently weren't satisfied with the first 75 guys they looked at and decided for the callbacks to bring in another 50 or so. Didn't get it.

Next was a print audition for a modest-paying job. Probably don't have to worry about that one. It's a "dad" role for a big consumer products company and I'm guessing they're looking for a pretty traditional dad type.

And then today, an industrial role where I'm supposed to be slightly overweight and balding, with a combover and bad mustache. For realsies. That's the one I'll get.

Yup, that's what we're down to. And fortunately work has picked up, too -- several projects unlogjammed. All coming at once, of course ...

Monday, November 16, 2009

Waiting on a Friend

Friday night I attended an opening and caught up with some old theater friends. And I guess "theater friends" means just that -- we pretty much only see each other at theater-related events.

I always come away from these gatherings with a mix of emotions -- pride, joy, shame, wistfulness, belonging and not belonging at the same time. I run into people I really like but hardly ever see, and have awkward interactions with people I can't quite seem to click with or break through to, carrying on conversations and wondering in the back of my head if they're looking over my shoulder seeking an escape or are genuinely engaged in the moment.

In some ways it makes me miss doing shows. It's been a year since Bustin.' I miss the camaraderie, the sense of purpose and action, making new friends -- even if they're just "theater friends," who I never manage to really convert to IRL friends. I think making new "friend-friends" at this stage of life doesn't happen much. Especially for men, who are generally less social.

The main places and times in which you generally make lasting friendships are childhood, high school, college, first job. After that it becomes more of a challenge. There are softball teams and clubs and neighbors and things but, for the most part, once you get into the age where everyone is pretty established -- in relationships or marriages, with or without kids, and heavy into their careers and their existing circles, you make fewer and fewer friendships of the fast and lasting variety.

And, in fact, even with old friends it becomes more and more difficult to get together. I've never been one to have tons and tons of close friends. I've usually had one or two "best friends" at a time and found any more than that difficult to juggle. Others you see at parties and things but it's not like you're getting together really frequently.

For me, it doesn't help that I've been kind of nomadic. I live 800 miles from where I grew up and went to school and college and had my first jobs. So I left behind friends in Virginia and DC and Ohio. And then friends here have moved on to other places and left me behind.

So what I'm left with is the people I'm closest to in the world I hardly ever see. None of my really closest, oldest friends are even on (or active much) on Facebook. The rest? A bunch of acquaintances, "industry" friends and actually a number of people I really like and would love to spend more time with, but it never seems to happen (which I know is partly my responsibility).

I guess I really am, at heart, an introvert. Because I'm not necessarily lonely. I feel busy enough. I go out, see people. I'm not a hermit. But I don't really have many people (other than dates) who I can just call up and say, "What are you doing right now? Let's go to a movie/grab dinner/etc." Everything's planned way far in advance. Again, to an extent, that's just adulthood for you, and I know real life's not like Friends or Seinfeld with people just "popping in."

But I think one of the things theater did for me was having that automatic social network. A lot of times I can just go to shows and events alone and count on running into bunches of people I know.

Of course, it's kind of a double-edged sword. Just like the other night, I can have a ton of fun, but am left the next day with a lingering feeling of ... not quite emptiness. Incompleteness? A sort of self-conscious feeling of being "in" the group but not quite "of" it.

I headlined this post after one of my favorite songs and tried to embed the video but they're not allowing it. Which is too bad. That's one cheesy video.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Net Work

I'm not big on networking events. They always feel like work to me. But I went to an event last night with a new group I joined -- commercial and film actors -- and it was actually a lot of fun.

It really helps a lot when you know people, and I knew at least 10% of the people there. I should be doing more of this for the business side of my life, but the groups aren't as focused. They're a lot harder to get your arms around.

The main event was a panel discussion of casting directors. One of them was pretty well known and casts quality stuff, but she's not among the Big 3. I've auditioned for her once -- twice, actually, because she called me back -- and it was a long time ago.

In fact it was one of my first callbacks ever. An Illinois Lottery commercial. I had to dance like a fool in the style of various eras. Yup, just about my worst nightmare -- dancing sober.

Anyway, I'd assumed that she wouldn't remember me at all and I planned on shaking her hand and telling the story and re-introducing myself. But before I knew it, she came up to me and addressed me by name. Weird! She indicated that my glasses made me distinctive and memorable.

Interesting. I've been needing new glasses and I was actually a little concerned about preserving the "look" I'd invested so much in, with headshots and comp cards and web stuff. I guess that wasn't such a crazy thought.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

A few good men (and women)


Today got me thinking a bit about some veterans I have known.

When I was a kid in Texas, 6 or 7 years old, I would go over to a friend's house two doors down, and right there in the foyer was a great big framed photo of his father in military uniform. It looked, already at that point, old-fashioned. Maybe it was black-and-white or fake sepia-toned.

Anyway, I never met his father, just saw him in that photo. He was a helicopter pilot who was shot down somewhere in (or around) Vietnam and classified MIA. His wife, my friend's mom, became an activist in the POW/MIA movement and never stopped looking for answers. They never found him and he was ultimately classified KIA. She's a minister now.

On the other side of our house, and just next door, was a little old British lady. I remember there was some obscure holiday we observed and prepared for in my elementary school class wherein you would leave a bouquet of flowers on someone's doorstep anonymously. As a class project we made little construction-paper containers for the flowers -- a big cone, with a handle to go over the doorknob.

I left the flowers at her door, rang the bell and ran. Somehow (I'm sure it didn't take a lot of detective work -- I was never too good with secrets), she discovered it was me, gave me a kiss on the cheek and promised to buy me "a big sucker." A lollipop, that is. And it was very big.

Not sure why I picked her, but I had learned at some point that back in Britain she had served as a block warden during the Blitz, helping make sure her neighbors were safe during the nightly air raids. I love the idea of everyone pitching in and getting involved in the war effort. Very few of us are directly, or even indirectly, involved in Iraq and Afghanistan, and that seems to be very bad policy. Not enough people are hurt or impacted by these wars and, as a result, they just sort of go on without a lot of guidance or input or protest from us.

Finally, there's Lt. Col. Donald E. Biesenbach (Ret.), who served 20 years in the Army, moving his family all around the country and the globe. He served a tour in Korea (post-truce) and Vietnam (right in the middle of "the shit," as they say).

The military gave him a college education and a career and in return he got some experiences that he could never bring himself to talk about and, possibly, prostate cancer. (A solid link between cancer and the Agent Orange that was generously dropped on friend and foe alike hasn't been established, but the Army did give him disability pay for it, so there was probably something there.)

I don't remember too much from his year in Vietnam -- I was three-and-a-half when he left. I do remember sending reel-to-reel audiotape "letters" back and forth, and the little sausages and cheeses we would pick out at the commissary to send in care packages to him.

Apparently when he returned, I urged my mom to check and make sure it was "really him." I guess I've always had a strangely conspiratorial mind. (When the British lady once offered me a ride home from the local convenience store, I declined, on the chance that she was actually a kidnapper disguised as my neighbor. I watched a LOT of TV.)

Mom says he was never the same when he came back, and I don't know if that had anything to do with their divorce a few years later.

There's a lot I don't know. And much I'll never have a chance to know now. But I think about him and the 20-year-olds today and the unbelievable horrors we put them through and wonder how anyone in that situation has a chance of ever again living a happy, "normal" life.

And it's times like this I'm reminded that in some very twisted way, Alzheimer's does bring a rare blessing or two.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Out and about

I've been going out lately on WEEKNIGHTS, which is absolutely CRAZY.

No? Okay, not crazy at all. Completely normal. But that's the way it was for a couple of years. I gradually became so accustomed to multiple, multiple conditions on, um ... just about EVERYTHING. After a while you just sort of give up, because it's not worth the fight. You sort of get used to it.

It was like Stockholm Syndrome. Crazy.

But now I'm playing pool and seeing movies and eating out and ... going to trivia night. It's a brand new crazy world.

I tell myself I'll never be an idiot again. But I probably will. It's amazing, the capacity we have to fill in the gaps between what we want and what we have with a great big dollop of unfounded hope.

Monday, November 09, 2009

The end of something


Last night the Drapers dropped the divorce bomb on poor Sally and Bobby and, holy crap, it all came back. Or some of it came back. It's funny what does and doesn't. For instance, I haven't known for a long time whether I was in fourth or fifth grade when my parents separated. That seems like a pretty big and important fact.

But the little things? They're all there.

Just as Bobby wondered what they were doing gathered in the living room, I wondered why Dad had called us together before his trip out of town. (He was doing a lot of traveling then.) I assumed he was going to tell the four of us to behave and not make it hard on mom.

But then he said -- and I remember the awkward construction made an impression on me -- "When I come back, I'm not coming back." And it spooled out from there. Mom said they didn't want to be one of those couples that "stayed together for the kids" -- they thought this was more honest and better for us.

Dad said we'd probably be happier with him gone, and my big brother, who doesn't talk a lot, very assertively said, "That's not true!" But it kinda was true. There had been lots of arguing and shouting for what seemed like a long time.

Like Sally and Bobby, one sister cried and clung and the other cried and stormed off to her room.

I mostly didn't say anything. I do remember the scissors, though. I was on the couch and next to me on the cushion was a newspaper with some scissors atop it -- the old-fashioned, all-metal kind. I was just fiddling with them, with a finger looped in the round "thumb" handle, and just spinning them around and around on top of the newspaper and staring at them. I was always a fiddler. Still am. To this day I make complete messes out of napkins, beer labels, coffee sleeves, candle wax ... anything in front of me.

And I think my very first thought about it all was, "What would other people think?" There was only one kid in our school whose parents were divorced. I think it was sometime around college where I got to the point where I could just say my parents were divorced without hesitation.

And I was also very conscious of all the divorce-related cliches from TV -- anger at the parents, resenting anyone they ended up dating, rebelling and acting out, etc. -- and was determined not to feel or enact any of them. And I did see the logic of it all. Things would be more peaceful around the house.

Then that afternoon, my Mom and I worked on my Halloween hobo costume. And that was that.

Of course, it wasn't just that, as last night proved.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Facebook Citizenship

A year ago, right-thinking people made history by electing Obama. A big part of the story was the young and first-time voters getting energized and entering the political process with enthusiasm. It was all very exciting.

Then it got really boring and anti-climatic and disappointing for a lot of these people. Obama didn't change the world overnight as they expected, and their enthusiasm and involvement dwindled to the occasional Facebook posting supporting health care reform or objecting to anti-gay rights initiatives.

Until finally on Tuesday we reached the absolute nadir, where many couldn't be bothered even to exercise their most minimal civic responsibility -- to go out to the polls and vote. In Virginia and New Jersey, the under-30 share of the electorate dropped by HALF. The share of voters over 65 actually increased. Ridiculous.

I can hear the arguments of people I know. That their choices in those states sucked. Which they kinda did. Or that Obama's been too moderate, too slow, too much of a compromiser. If he wants to sustain their interest, he needs to do more, they might say.

Nothing moves as fast as we'd like, but it's no reason to opt out of the process. If people are disappointed that the public option has been watered down or that DOMA hasn't been overturned, then get out DO something about it. Write your representative, sign up to man phone banks, attend a rally, organize a house party.

And for chrissakes, VOTE. If you don't, and can't be trusted to come out again, why should the parties even bother to take your concerns into account in the future?

I'm going to start a Facebook group: "Rob became a fan of People Actually Working for the Change They Want Instead of Sitting Around and Complaining About the Process."

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Slow week

Sunset, Magnolia & Dickens

Wow, everything seemed to come crashing to a halt this week. No auditions at all (and it looks like the time has passed for the last few auditions to amount to something concrete). And work projects mostly concluded or on hold or at a stopping point.

I wish I was better at turning times like these into opportunities to maybe get ahead on things or even to just do fun stuff I almost never do, like go to the movies or lunch in the middle of the day. I need to do that more. I might find myself down the road in a place where I don't have those kinds of options.

I did have a couple of new business/marketing meetings -- just talking to some people at some companies that I may or may not do work with at some point. That's something at least.

It's odd for the two sides of my life to kind of "trough out" at once. Usually there's something going on with one or the other. Maybe I need a third thing. I guess theater was sort of that third thing. It needs to be marketing, so these lulls are fewer and far between.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

End in site

I keep saying the website is finally done, but then I keep thinking of more stuff to put up there.

I added several industrials to the video page (see page 2). Some of these are kind of long, but I had the experience a few weeks ago of a potential booking where my agent thought it would be helpful for the client to see some of the host/narrator work I've done. Right now, those are probably underrepresented on my reel, so I had to cobble together various youtube and website links for them.

And I've updated the news page with, um, actual news.

The final thing before the end of the year is to update my reel. I'm waiting to see how the spot from the Des Moines shoot turned out. I should get that in the next week or two. And there continue to be a couple of more industrials that I need to get. (One has been "in production" for a year-and-a-half. Lawyers!) With those, I expect to cut out some of the weaker and older clips.

I'm thinking what I need to do is more formally divide up the reel into the host/narrator stuff and the comedy stuff.

And then I will be finally, finally done. For a while.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Super-scary fake ex-girlfriends

Not sure what it is, but it seems 3 out of 10 Chicago women are near dead-ringers for my most recent ex. I guess she was kind of "with it," fashion-wise, so there are just tons and tons of little dark-haired women wearing the same style dresses, hairstyles and sunglasses.

At one point I was thinking of starting a photo blog documenting all the lookalikes of her I see. But then I thought that would be pretty weird. And difficult to explain to the women whose pictures I would be taking.

But the scariest moment came in Pilates class a few weeks ago. This woman walked in and I didn't just do a double-take. I did a triple-take ending in a long, hard stare. I seriously couldn't believe it wasn't her. Same hair, same glasses, same facial structure, same general body type, same voice, same mannerisms. It was scary.

And, of course, I suppose in response to the goofy look I was giving her, she gave me a great big happy smile back just like she knew me. That compounded my momentary confusion, but in retrospect I should have realized that the ex hadn't looked at me like that since about month four of an almost two-year relationship.

In fact, I was so spellbound by her, it wasn't until the third class together that I noticed one little difference between the two. Pilates girl has only one arm.

If only they all had some such telltale sign to distinguish them, my days would be a lot less eventful.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Three for the bucket list


This year I've seen whales, my 45th state and a corn maze. I am three steps closer to a peaceful death.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Larger than life


I went to this party last night for the ad agency I'm working with on that book project and it was pretty fun.

I only really knew the CEO, but wasn't counting on spending too much time with him since it was the agency's 10th anniversary and he had clients and employees and a lot of other people to talk to. I figured, go in, have some free food and drink, say hi and head out.

But then I kept running into people. A couple of the staffers I'd worked with. One on a print job that I originally did with the agency (which was the impetus for my getting in touch with them for marketing/communications work). Another I worked with on an industrial when she was with a different company. A couple of the agency's vendors, who I've done a couple of spots with. And then some people who I just met there and had fun talking to.

I even spent a while talking with the CEO, though half that was spent on business and the other comparing iPhone apps. At one point, one of the guys came out and said, "Hey, Rob, I found these in the printer." Giant blowups from the shoot I did with them a few years ago.

I mean these things were freakin' huge. My 8x10 headshot for scale:


I've never seen my face so big.

Anyway, the whole night reminded me of how fun the agency life can be. Lots of young, smart, super-attractive people. And funny, too. I guess they told one of their vendors it was a costume party, so they showed up as ... I'm not sure what they were supposed to be. White Harlem Globetrotters?

It's not all parties, of course. But I could go back to that. I could.

I think I'd have a really hard time having or keeping a girlfriend in that environment, but ...

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Postscripts and Addenda

That law firm project I didn't get? I checked in with them, the way we used to do at the PR firm when we didn't win a pitch, and found that it was one of the three things I suspected. They picked a lawyer to do their writing. Well, someone described as a "lawyer/writer."

Again, plenty of lawyers are good writers. But I'm guessing he (or she) isn't going to break any new ground for them. And actually I've found, especially with small and medium-sized firms, that their goal is not to stand out from the rest. Rather, they want to blend in. They want to approximate the look, tone and feel of the big firms.

This is all generalization. There are big firms that do some cutting-edge stuff, for sure. I've stolen ideas from the best of them. Anyway, I'll be interested to monitor their site to see how it turns out.

That Farmer Ted audition? I got a callback. Go figure. I just felt I was so far off type, even though they weren't looking for a "typical" farmer, but a more modern, business-savvy grower. But I didn't even have the modern farmer wardrobe. No "work shirt" (whatever that is) or "denim shirt" or "light canvas jacket" or ballcap. To say nothing of my hair, my glasses, my build, etc., etc.

But I actually felt in the audition like they enjoyed what I was doing. It was all MOS (without sound), so it was just me, getting up in the morning and surveying the land with looks of pride, satisfaction, wonder, excitement, etc. The feedback I got in the room was pretty positive (which doesn't always mean anything), but I usually do pretty well with that kind of thing.

I still don't think I'll get it, but I'll go back out and give it the ol' ag-school try.

That book I'm editing? We've been moving along at a fairly decent clip, chapter by chapter. We've done a few chapters a couple of times as he's changed direction on his vision and such. Pretty normal stuff. We're a little behind -- about halfway done -- but now he's hitting a roadblock, with massive stuff happening at his firm. Good stuff, but the kind that's not so conducive to sitting down and banging out chapters.

So, to keep the project going I proposed I start taking up more of the writing. I think I can capture his style and tone pretty easily. The tricky part will be finding time to draw the substance out of his head so I can organize it and get it down on paper. Or screen.

Chug-chug-chugging along ...

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Four seasons


Sometimes I miss my old view from the 33rd floor (and the 26th, and the 29th). But a view is what you make of it. And how much you can appreciate what you've got.

Winter ...


Spring ...


Summer ...


And fall ...

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Mini-me and me

My pal Matt got his copy of the bank spot we (sorta) did together. He was with the football coach:



Funny stuff. I like his better. Well, I like his performance better than mine.



I like the gags on mine better. But the more I see it, the more I think of things I wish I'd done differently. Little things that probably nobody else would notice. Like the way I say "this here" over and over. And "uh."

I think that's just due to the loose nature of the script. We were both ad-libbing and improvising and paraphrasing and shucking and jiving and ... anyway, we were encouraged to do all that, but what happens sometimes is the language doesn't come out as precisely or elegantly as you'd like. Also, again because of the ad-libbing, the cut to the "Titanic" line is not very smooth. That one probably only I would notice.

Oh, well. I think they got a couple of really good spots out of us. And it's nice to be on the same team. I just barely beat him out for the crazy Des Moines spot, and he was totally kicking himself. Or kicking me.

Speaking of Des Moines, they had a couple of extras there for the background. I'd assumed they were just regular ol' civilians, but this one girl said she was an actress -- and even had representation in Des Moines. Go figure! Anyway, she was surprised to learn that they went all the way to Chicago to find us instead of using local talent.

I guess that's something I take for granted when people come from Detroit and Kansas City and Louisville and Omaha and places like that to cast Chicago actors. I assume they have no actors there at all. They probably actually do, as they apparently do in Des Moines. They just don't use them for the big stuff.

Because, as I think I off-handedly answered to this Iowa actress, "we're prettier." (It was a long day.)

Monday, October 26, 2009

Once again, Farmer Ted

I had an audition last week for an agricultural product and I asked, with gritted teeth, "Am I playing a farmer?" Turns out, no, I was playing opposite the farmer. I was a gameshow host. Perfect.

But then another call just came today. Another ag product. I ask again, "Am I playing a farmer?" She said no. I'm playing a "grower." Um. Yeah, that's a farmer.

I'm going to go in there dressed like this:


Seriously, I hate the "throw a dart into a given age range" method of casting.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Inconcievable!


There are many, many better actors than I am. There are better humanitarians, better sons, better dressers, better "dating material."

But there aren't that many people who are better at business writing. I do it really, really well, and have made a successful career at it for more years than I care to count.

So I was seriously shocked to open the mail this afternoon and find a rejection letter for a job I had bid on. I didn't even make it to the interview round. Something is very fishy, and I'm in the process of figuring out what happened. My guesses are these:
  1. I was too expensive. There are people out there who charge half as much as I do. Or worse. People who come from an editorial background, as opposed to an agency background, are using old-timey budget formulas like pennies per word.
  2. They picked someone they know. That would be totally understandable.
  3. They picked a lawyer. That might also make sense (this is web copy for a law firm). There are lawyers who are excellent writers. Many are not, however. But they sometimes get picked because they offer the legal expertise, which is actually far less important than being a good writer. It does help if you're working with a firm like I did once where the partners had almost no idea what they wanted to say about themselves or what they stood for. They expected me to "make it up" -- and even suggested I go to other firms' websites and copy ideas and even language from them. Oy.
Luckily, I wasn't counting on it. And it may even be a blessing in disguise, given how the selection process went. They had me do an RFP, which I've almost never had to do. Generally, people hire me because a) they know me; b) someone whose opinion they respect knows me; or c) they see my portfolio and meet me and are duly impressed.

I think RFPs are an odd way to hire for a job like this. To me, their main function is for when things go awry and it becomes clear the wrong person has been selected for the job. The decision-makers can then hold up this piece of paper to deflect blame from their colleagues and say, "See, we followed a process -- it's right here on paper!"

We shall see what happens. I've had the experience a few time where I've been passed over for someone else and they end up coming back to me, months later, behind deadline, over budget and in a general mess.

Anyway, best of luck to them.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Unlucky shirt


I've talked before about Stripey, my lucky audition shirt. That shirt has paid for itself almost 500 times over with the gigs it's won me.

Pictured above is my unlucky audition shirt. It's so unlucky I haven't even named it. (But if I did, it would probably be Greeney.) It's so unlucky I've never gotten so much as a callback -- let alone a booking -- when I've worn it.

And yet, I just keep wearing it. Sometimes I wear it just to defy the fates. Sometimes I wear it when I don't particularly care for the role or job I'm auditioning for (like lumberjack) or when the odds seem severely stacked against me ("casting for portly, blue-collar, ethnic type").

And sometimes I wear it because, damnit, I'm convinced it's a good audition shirt. Perfect for "nice casual." Perfect for a dad around the house. It's a good color on me, it's not blue like everything else in my closet (except for the stuff that's black), it has a collar (to better disguise my pencil neck) and it's comfortable (no tuck-in required!).

This shirt should be a hell of a lot more productive than it's been. This shirt needs to earns its damned keep. So I wear it.

Sometimes, like this morning, I find it actually relaxes me a little. It lowers the stakes. Like that audition that you know is a million-to-one shot. Or when you don't get the script for some reason and you go in with almost no preparation or expectation. That whole "Ah, fuck it" sense that just makes you a little looser and more natural.

That's the theory anyway. We'll wait and see.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

APB


Reports have been coming in over the past few weeks. The 66 bus, the Brown Line, the Purple Line -- all with my smirking mug looking down on them.

I've issued a reward of beer for anyone who snaps a photo or, better yet, swipes one for me. And still, nothing.

Every time I get on a bus or train, I scan the ceiling for one of those posters. I need to get a picture of one. And a picture of me posing with one.

In the meantime, I love the idea of being kind of ubiquitous. Of being in people's face whether they want me there or not. And on the CTA, it's a totally captive audience.

Heh.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

A booking too far

I was going for the trifecta. Three bookings in less than a week. Five of seven days spent shooting.

This last one was supposed to be a shoe-in. Apparently they really wanted me. I added up the dollars for the three jobs together and totally banked it (mentally). More money in a week than I made in three of the past five years acting.

Then I blew it. Or maybe I didn't blow it. Who knows? But I was up against just one other guy, so that kinda stings.

It was an odd one, though. Very last-minute, not a lot of info. And the actual "audition" was held in a corner of a hotel lobby, with various passersby and groups stopping to chat. It was very distracting, and I was more than a little self-conscious. I was supposed to be a frustrated, angry traveler, but I think I just couldn't give them everything they wanted. Not there and not also how I felt.

I got the call on the train ride home and that's when the exhaustion hit. Friday, up before 5 and driving to Milwaukee to shoot, the driving back then out and up late. Saturday errands and chores and flying to Des Moines and up late again. Sunday a long shoot day and flying back and getting in and getting settled and staying up late once again. Only to hit the door Monday morning with another audition, bookended by the other one in the afternoon, with prep time and memorizing in between.

Again, maybe it wasn't me at all. I met the other guy and maybe they just liked his look better.

On the bright side, when I got home I realized he's actually someone that another actor/businessperson contact of mine has been wanting to hook me up with, as our fields kind of overlap. And I won't have to spend the next three days shooting out at O'Hare, which is sort of a relief. I can get a little work (and sleep) done.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Is this heaven? No, it's Iowa


The Des Moines shoot went great. Good, fun, professional crew and lots of cutting up and acting silly. I can't wait to see the final product. We did so many takes and different versions of things, it's hard to say what will finally come through in the end.

And it was tons of shots. We were filling just 22 seconds of a 30-second spot and I swear they shot at least that many scenes and camera angles.

They also outfitted me in a little black suit that was at least a size or two too small, a purple shirt and purple paisley tie. And we did my hair up in a faux-hawk. We did versions with and without my "Franck" accent, but either way it'll end up the gayest thing I've ever done.

And now, off to an audition (second of the day), out at O'Hare of all places. I'm pretty much packing up everything I took to Iowa and going back out to the airport now, less than 24 hours after landing. Bleh.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Lost Weekend

The good news is I booked another job. The bad news: I fly to Iowa tonight and spend tomorrow there shooting. Bleh. (I've found Frommer's USA has no chapter on Iowa or even a page on Des Moines.)

The pay isn't extraordinary. Less than half of what I made yesterday for a four-hour shoot in Milwaukee. But it's one of those that I'm glad I got because it just felt really, really right from the very start of the audition process, and I was able to quickly get into and bring a lot to the character. (Reminds me actually of the Bank/B-ball spot I did earlier this year -- a job I wanted mainly because it was really, really fun.) This is the one from earlier in the week with the bad listener.

For the callback, which I really wasn't surprised to get, I was paired up with a friend from the Factory, so we already had a bit of a relationship and chemistry going before we entered the room. Being friends with your scene partner isn't necessary. A lot of times when you're working with someone who's very good and very open you can establish that feeling instantly.

But anyway, they loved us and took us both. I'm playing a snooty, pain in the ass store clerk (one, incidentally, who's "not physically intimidating or overly virile!"). So right up my alley. I did the character as a cross between Franck from Father of the Bride and the little tiny pixie of a man who cuts my hair.

So tomorrow should be a fun day of silliness and cutting up, even if it is in Iowa. And, again, pleasing the client, which is a total kick. Like the industrial shoot yesterday in Milwaukee. They'd booked the studio until 5 and we wrapped just past noon. They were very, very happy, and in spite of all the phlegm that the last remnants of this cold continue to spew from all orifi, I had a good time.

That's 7 days, 3 auditions, a callback and 2 bookings. And more, apparently, on tap for next week!