Thursday, April 30, 2009

Recession? What recession?

So one-third of the way through the year (Really? It's May??) and I've had 36 commercial auditions, which is right on pace with last year, which was my best year to date.

Now I've only had two bookings, but one of those was my highest paying booking ever. So that's cool.

Work-work-wise, November to January were pretty bad, but things started picking up. So far this recession hasn't been nearly as bad as the last one -- at least for me anyway. That one hit hard and long.

There aren't many new jobs out there at all, but there seem to be decent freelance opportunities. No more or less than usual. (People always seem to think that layoffs mean more opportunities for freelancers. But the hitch is, layoffs also mean a lot more freelancers out there competing for those jobs. So it's kind of a zero net thing.)

Anyway, so far so ... decent. Keeping the fingers crossed.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Hump Day

I go to the gym six days a week, and Wednesday is the toughest day. Double-workout day -- back-to-back spin and Pilates classes. I generally don't like spending two hours at the gym. I'd rather do lots of short workouts than a few multi-hour ones, but I'm kind of at the mercy of the gym schedule.

And I read lots of blogs by people talking about how invigorated they feel after a run or a workout. I've been working out for years and can't remember ever feeling that. Mostly I feel like I used to feel after church -- relief that it's over.

What I do feel is when I don't work out. I feel lazy and logy and find, very quickly, that it's more of a strain going up steps. But no, never the "runner's high" or anything else these people purport to feel.

And on Wednesdays it's the opposite. I feel absolutely beaten up. Exhausted and sore. My Wednesday afternoons, after the midday workout(s), are among the least productive parts of my week.

The worst of it is, I'm only halfway done for the week!

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Sticky feet

The day began tensely. I had a 10:50 am audition (the first of two), but as of late last night I still didn't have the script or breakdowns (for either one). Finally got them a half-hour before I was supposed to leave. (My favorite agent is off having a baby, so I think they're working through a few hitches there.)

It's an awesome opportunity -- partly because it's a fun script, partly because it's SAG, but mostly because it shoots in New Freakin' Zealand! How incredible would that be?

It was also a little odd. I'm accustomed to auditioning a little outside of the range stated in the character breakdown, but this one said "late 20s to mid 30s." I felt better when I saw everyone else there was about my age, and even older. One of the guys there, who was black, said he's auditioned for a number of parts where the breakdown said "caucasian" -- talk about a stretch.

It also said "decent shape -- not chubby or paunchy" and most of the guys there were a bit on the husky side. So who knows. Maybe the breakdown was just a relic from a much earlier version the script.

There was one thing that resonated, though: "sarcastic wit." Now THAT I can do (see Kevin Spacey type from a couple of days ago). So in the hour I had managed to get the scripts down and even think some about different approaches.

And that's always my big sticking point. Trying to anticipate the different directions they might want me to take it. So I thought about gently sarcastic wiseguy and more cutting, kinda dickish wiseguy, then very straight, deadpan guy and more of a kind, neighborly guy.

But in the room, of course, things come up that you don't plan for, and that's where improv skills come in handy. We tried a Bill Kurtis read, and that went pretty well. Then they said they saw a bit of Anderson Cooper in me (the grey hair, I assume) and they asked for more of that, which I did, but I didn't take it nearly, nearly far enough. I stuck too close to the script. It wasn't until I was out of the building that I realized how much more I could have done with it -- basically re-writing the script and scenario and not doing a guy with a bit of an Anderson Cooper vibe but actually going out and being Anderson Cooper. Duh.

They always say never to be afraid of going too far over the top. It's much easier to reel someone in than to try to pull more out of them. And I just didn't go far enough. At least in my mind. I've talked about this issue over and over and I need to find a way to DO it. Consistently, instantly, and without fear.

I think if I took improv classes now I would get so much more out of them that I did seven years ago. Just like people always say if they had a chance to go back and do college over again how much more focused and productive they'd be. It's like, once you see how things are applied in the real world, it makes the schooling so much less abstract and more meaningful.

Damn, I'd like to go to New Zealand!

Monday, April 27, 2009

All's well that ends

My little IRS issue seems to have worked itself out. Check that -- I've worked it out.

My accountant is not normally a super-effusive guy. He's an accountant, after all. But when he saw the documentation I pulled together for him he could not stop praising it. We had to go back and document all my income for 2007, and I actually found that three different clients had different totals in their records that I had in mine.

Two of the three could be explained because they were cutting checks at the end of one tax year and I was receiving them at the beginning of another. A fairly common thing. The third one was off by $1,200. And as it turns out, it was their mistake, not mine.

It's funny what passes for evidence. Though I guess, technically, it wasn't "evidence," per se, that we had to come up with. More like records. I have a super-simple system -- a little spreadsheet (not even in Excel -- it's a table in Word). I record every invoice I issue by number, and there are columns for the date it was generated, the client, the project, and the date payment was received. Apparently that's more than enough.

Again, it's not what I'd call hard evidence of income. That would be copies of checks and deposit slips and bank statements. But in this kind of thing, I guess just demonstrating that you have a clear and effective system of recordkeeping in place goes a long, long way.

So it's a great relief to have that mini-ordeal behind me. 

Saturday, April 25, 2009

I am what I am

When I first started acting a few years ago I mentioned that I thought I was a certain type and talked about the roles I figured suited me. An instructor told me that it was way too early in my career to be making decisions like that.

One on hand, he was right. That's not the time to limit yourself -- it's the time to explore your limits and go beyond them. On the other hand, I wasn't some 22-year-old, fresh out of adolescent angst and just starting on a decades-long process of figuring out who I was.

And as it turns out, though it was certainly helpful to stretch myself and to loosen up by playing cats and women and guidos and trees, I was pretty much on target with my initial thoughts. And while casting directors may not always agree, here is what I am and what I am not. (These being types only -- no comparison in terms of talent intended).

I am this.

I am not this.

I am this.

I am not this.

I am this.

I am not this.

I am this.

I am not this.

Are we clear?

Friday, April 24, 2009


Yesterday I had the kind of audition experience that will figure prominently in the story someday of why I quit acting.

First, it was one of those last-minute things that I really hate. I'm accustomed to getting a call at 4 pm for a 10 am audition the next day. But I really resent being called the same day, with just two or three hours' notice. So I got called at 10:30 am for a 1:50 audition. I didn't see the breakdowns until a few minutes before I left. And on the way there, 20 minutes before the audition, I got a call saying there actually is a script after all, so be prepared to study up quickly.

But all of that is just a major annoyance. It's just scheduling issues. Somebody at the ad agency dropped a ball or maybe an executive or the client suddenly decided that this had to be done and it had to be done instantly and no one had the balls to reason with him or her and say, "You might get the best choice of actors and the best performances out of them with just a little more notice." Not to mention you could save the casting and talent agencies a lot of needless aggravation. So yeah, just your basic clusterfuck.

No the truly sucky part is what we had to do. On the phone, my agent was rushed because he had a dozen calls to make, so the details were sketchy. The one thing we knew was that I'd have to wear shorts and take my shirt off. Okay, kinda sucky, but whatever. Then when I got the breakdown right before I was supposed to leave, it made it clear that in the actual commercial we'd be running around not only shirtless, but with bras, mini-skirts and high heels on. And I was supposed to be a real "guy's guy -- normal, not too buff or muscular." Once again, yeah, that's me, the guy's guy.

And I seriously pity the poor fat guy who had his own separate description (and thankfully for him, his own separate audition) going into great detail about the type of fat he was supposed to have, down to the shape and appearance of his "breasts."

At that point I'd already accepted the audition, so I went ahead and did it. On the way over, I thought about what I would say if they asked me if I had any problem running around in a skirt and bra on TV. I would have told them that yes, I did have a problem with it. But they didn't ask. So I figured in the unlikely event that I got a callback I'd break it to my agent then. With no apologies. They could say I had a conflict or was sick or whatever, but I wasn't going back in there for that audition.

Seriously, what the fuck? This is not me. It's not what I want to do. And it's no life for a grown adult.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

This turned out pretty well

You never know with little local spots, but these were the same guys who did the mall spot back at the holidays, and their quality is pretty good.

Mostly I'm proud of how convincingly straight I come off. I have to practice this in my everyday life.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Walking on the moon

Craters of the Moon National Monument
Idaho, 1999

This was Day 17 of my 23-day, 7317 mile Western road trip. Woke up in Wendover, Utah (just over the border from Nevada), drove my little Honda out onto the Bonneville Salt Flats, zipped past Salt Lake City, took a quick dip in Salt Lake, then barreled my way up the road to Craters of the Moon National Monument, in southern Idaho.

It's a little out of the way and not known to a lot of people (having only "Monument" status instead of being a full-fledged national park), but it's pretty stunning. Over 80 square miles of devastation from volcanos that erupted between 2,000 and 15,000 years ago. It's got big dormant cones made of cinder, hardened lava beds, jagged volcanic rock, pillars and caves.

Apparently NASA sent astronauts to train there, even though they found that the moonscape was nothing like this place, having been shaped by meteorites instead of volcanos.

On the way out I passed by the world's first nuclear power plant and, no lie, all the pictures on that roll of film and the next ended up painted with bizarre discolored flecks, like little fuchsia Vs, all over them. Who knows what that plant did to my chromosomes.

It was a pretty long day at that point, but I still had a couple of hundreds miles to go before I slept. By the time I arrived in Jackson, Wyoming to bed down for the night I'd gone 616 miles. Which was not even a one-day record for that particular trip, but it was plenty.

The Moon, as viewed from a cave,
Craters of the Moon Monument

Monday, April 20, 2009

More tales from a small world

Today I finally got a callback. Nothing big, but glad to have one again. When I was there I ran into a woman I shot a recent local commercial with, and apparently she has a copy of it she's going to e-mail me.

I asked her two questions. Is it ... you know ... cheesy? She said it actually wasn't, which is great. Then, do we all get good air time on it? (There were 7 of us, I think.) And she said we all did, except for one guy: My Pretend Nemesis, which is bizarre, because he's got such a great look.

But it's okay for him. When I was at another audition earlier today at my agent's office, I heard one of them leaving him a message. Apparently he's on hold for one I auditioned for last week. They haven't had the callbacks yet! And not only that, but she assured him that they could move around some other gig so he could do it!

Bastardo! He's a booker. That's what they call him. Good for him!

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Money and cleanliness

I have become nearly obsessed with saving money in small ways. Jewel sends these coupons every month or so that give you $6 off a purchase of $60 or more. Today I fell nearly a dollar short of 60 bucks (tax doesn't count) and it just about ruined my day.

The line was too long to go back and get something I needed, and plucking random candy or magazines I don't need from the "impulse" rack completely defeats the purpose of saving money. Which is why I don't really pay attention to coupons for specific items. Almost always they're for stuff I don't ever buy, which is the whole purpose behind them -- getting people to buy more, not save more.

But these general "save $x off $xx purchase" coupons are great. CVS does them, too. The register spits out these coupons that give you $4 off a $20 purchase. That's 20%! So I try to group all my drug store purchases into $20 trips, and I walk up and down the aisles trying to find that next thing to take me over the threshold. But not too far. It also bugs me when I end up getting $28 worth of stuff, which not only makes my percentage discount lower but also means I could have grouped an item or two into my next bulk purchase. 

Anyway, I find it all strangely satisfying. 

On the cleanliness front, my awesome new quiet and gay upstairs neighbors seem to vacuum their place at LEAST three times a week (from what I hear), and it's making me feel like a total slob. I would actually love vacuuming if I had no furniture or rugs. As it is, though, it's a pain in the ass, and I only do it when dust bunnies start appearing.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Show me the money. Seriously.

So in this morning's headlines comes news of a major owner of shopping malls filing for Chapter 11. I quickly scan the story to see if one of the six malls they own here is the one I did a spot for over the holidays.

Thankfully, it was not. But it was a fair guess, since they haven't paid me yet -- FIVE fucking months after the shoot. Now it's hard for me to determine, based on what my agent has said, who exactly is at fault -- the client or the agency. But I'm not working again with either of them anytime soon.

The ridiculous thing is, this was one of the lowest paying jobs of any kind I've ever done. And it's always that way. The people who pay the least take the longest to pay. Which figures. There's very much a direct correlation there between someone's interest in doing something on the cheap and their disregard for other standards of professionalism.

This happens all over, and especially now. Everybody's being squeezed, so their natural inclination is to put the squeeze on the guy below them. Part of this little tax issue I'm having has to do with people sitting on checks. As it turns out, I've done nothing wrong. Unfortunately, clearing up the situation could potentially expose the practices of others to IRS scrutiny.

Whatever. All I know is, everyone I owe money to -- accountant, web host, etc. -- gets their money in 30 days. As it should be.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Actual Color

Lake Louise, Canada

The glacial lakes up in the Canadian Rockies have these amazing colors that range from emerald to turquoise. It's caused by the glaciers, which pulverize the mountains into a fine dust they call "rock flour," which is transported by the meltwater into the lakes, where it refracts the sunlight and produces these beautiful, unreal colors.

For the record, the Canadian Rockies kick the ass of our own Rockies. 

Amethyst Lake, Mt. Edith Cavell
Jasper National Park, 1998

Edith Cavell was a British nurse in Belgium during World War I who was executed by the Germans for helping Allied soldiers escape to the Netherlands. I hadn't heard of her, but it turns out she was pretty legendary for her heroism. There's lots of stuff named for her throughout Britain, Australia and Canada, including this awesome mountain ... and its lake fed by the Athabasca River and Glacier.

O, Canada. Someday I'll get back up there.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

That takes me back

Today I had a commercial audition for Monsanto, and it occurred to me that my very first on-camera job was for them. Only I wasn't an actor at the time. This was when I was back at the PR agency. One of our clients was Nutrasweet, owned then (maybe still) by Monsanto.

At the time (and probably still) the Internet was running thick with unfounded assertions about the product's alleged negative health consequences. And this was maybe 1997ish -- so the population of users who who knew about and were regularly using the Internet back then was almost entirely made up of wackos (and scientists).

Anyway the client team was putting together a video, in a sort of a news show format, that laid out the arguments, pro and con. The purpose was to show to focus groups and figure out which messages were most and least effective. They brought me in to play a scientist.

So there I was in a lab coat, paraphrasing my talking points, and excited to be on camera. I thought I very persuasively made the case that Nutrasweet was the most tested food additive in the FDA's history and that dozens of studies have shown absolutely no link to headaches, tumors and other such nonsense.

Eager to know how I did, I asked later on what the focus group thought. Apparently they found me "not credible." Even though I was clearly identified as an "independent" scientist, the group thought I came across as a "hired gun," spouting the industry line. Ah, well.

Interestingly, today's role was "researcher" -- kind of close to scientist. But for a totally unrelated type of business. I had to check to see if the old gig was still on the resume and it was. I doubt it will make a difference either way, but I could use a new booking. It's been about a dozen auditions since my last one, so I think I'm due.

Monday, April 13, 2009

The pitter-pat of little feet

I met one of my new upstairs neighbors the other day. It's no accident that they're super-quiet. They're just really considerate people who understand what it is to have someone stomping about over their head.

And, sadly, they're experiencing that right now with their new upstairs neighbors. A couple of kids -- women, as it turns out, thus proving my theory, ipso-facto -- who like to come in at 4 in the morning and stomp around.

The one thing I do hear now and again is the sound of fleet little paws scuttling overhead. Cats! I recognized the sound instantly and was right. There are two of them. I don't mind it at all. Dogs would be much, much worse. And it kinda makes me smile to hear them run around. It's like having cats of my own, without the smell and the fur. And the little granules of litter stuck to the bottom of your feet.

Now if I can just get the assholes in the laundry room to shut the hell up ...

Friday, April 10, 2009

Scratch all that

It's actually going to be kind of a real pain in the ass involving documentation and reconciliation of various records and requests to people who may or may not move with alacrity in getting me what I need. Crap on a stick.

(Not so) Good Friday

Today had all the earmarks of a pretty easygoing day. No auditions, clients kind of quiet, bit of a hangover. A good day to get caught up (or even ahead) on those annoying little administrative things.

Then just for fun I opened up an envelope from the IRS that had been sitting in a folder for several weeks now. (Honestly, it appeared to be the usual tax forms they send me every year.) According to the letter I owe $1,900 in back taxes and interest for 2007. Psyche!

After much rifling through records, I found the mistake and it doesn't look like it was mine. And my accountant assured me it wasn't an uncommon issue and should be pretty easy to clear up. But it pretty much blew up most of my day, not to mention my anxiety quotient for at least another week.

I'm notorious for not opening letters, emails and other stuff that I don't feel like dealing with right away, but in the future I think I'm going to be sure to open anything from the IRS right away. My poor accountant only has 'til Wednesday to straighten this out, on top of his usual April 15 workload. Hopefully it won't cost me too many hundreds of dollars to save that $1,900 ...

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Book deal

I just met today with the ad agency CEO who proposed I help him with his book. I'd spent quite a few hours going over his first few chapters, putting together comments and scoping out a role for myself, and in our two-hour meeting today I think it became clear that I'd have something to offer him.

So clear, in fact, that when I gave him two budget options, he chose the higher one. And doubled it. He also kind of doubled the work, so it makes sense, but still it was a surprise since I didn't have the slightest idea of what would be an acceptable number to him.

I spent a lot of time researching rates for book proofreaders, copyeditors, editors and so-called "book doctors." I had to make a lot of assumptions since I didn't really find a clear parallel. Most of the info out there is for works of fiction, which is different from this -- it's a basic business book, capturing the agency's approach/philosophy to branding.

I've long found the rates for editorial/journalistic-type writing very different from the rates I charge corporate clients. Like about one-tenth my going rate. I honestly don't know how they do it, without working 80 hours a week and living in Montana.

Anyway, most of the models I looked at assumed editing of a "finished" draft. In this case, I'm going to be working with him chapter-by-chapter, not only editing what's been done, but serving as a sounding board and counselor on shaping what's to come. So it's a pretty involved process. And, after today, it's even more involved. Beyond just giving my feedback, written and verbal, he wants me to actually do the edits.

Now I don't fancy myself a Book Editor in the Doubleday or Simon & Schuster sense. But I can write and edit, I know the subject matter, and I seem to be in sync with the author, so I can definitely get this book ready for showing to publishers. And hell, in the end it'll likely be self-published anyway.

There's even talk of giving me a credit, beyond the acknowledgements page. Not sure about that -- we'll see how it goes. Now I just have to give him the thumbs up on the budget. Which, I'm actually thinking of bumping up another 20% or so. Not to get greedy, but this is going to entail a good amount of work over the next 10 months.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009


I keep saying that it's not my job to question casting decisions. It's my job to go out there and audition as I'm told.

But this breakdown from the other day is beyond the pale:
Male, 37-45yrs.  Typical "guy’s guy." Think Midwest football coach. He loves to watch sports, mows the lawn, handy guy. This guy was a jock in high school- maybe played intramural football in college. He's still got it- a little- but he's DEFINITELY NOT A NERD. 
Seriously. What about me would give anyone the idea that I'm anywhere in the neighborhood of this type? Case in point:

Yes, the casting people probably like to give clients choices beyond what their sometimes-limited expectations may be. But still. REALLY?

Either way, I had a good excuse to bow out of this one. It's a shoot that starts at 1 or 2 am. On a weeknight. Out in the burbs. And the pay doesn't even really reflect a little extra to account for all those negatives. Could it be any less desirable? Beyond requiring full frontal, I couldn't imagine it.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Stormy weather

It's not so unusual to get weather like this. Several times a year, at least, the wind blows straight down the full "fetch" of Lake Michigan, traveling 400 miles over near-frictionless water, and piling up the waves down here at the south end. Pounding the concrete seawall, pealing the asphalt off the bike bath, and hurling it up toward Lake Shore Drive.
What is unusual is to find that sweet spot, where the weather is bad enough to toss the water into 10-to-12 foot breakers, but not so bad that you can't get yourself out there to document it.

I tell you, I've never seen this: hitting the hook-shaped pier at North Avenue ...

... and spilling over the top of it!

If it weren't for the lake, I definitely would not live here. I hope those Olympic judges were watching. City of champions.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

My secret shame II

POTUS and Me
circa 1992

This is, to date, probably my most significant brush with fame. Undoubtedly better than Nicolas Cage. Definitely the best documented. George Sr. and me, hangin in the Oval.

I was there for my job, doing press work for the state AGs on their annual meeting at the White House. We were in the Roosevelt room, and I was in the back with my camera, surreptitiously snapping photos of the meeting, against official White House policy, when George (it being an election year), unexpectedly (to us) announced, "Say, would ya like to see my office?"

And as the AGs start filing out, I panicked, thinking, "I've gotta get pictures!" Misinterpreting my intentions, a snippy staffer asked my boss to tell her staff to wait for the AGs to go in. Duh. Like I was trying to elbow my way past my 56 other bosses to the front of the line to meet the president.

Of course, to my great relief, waiting in the Oval Office was an official White House photographer documenting every handshake. Then they let staff meet him, too, which I wasn't prepared for. Right before I stepped up, the photographer ran out of film, and I was really, really grateful it wasn't me standing there trying to make with the small talk. I mean, ten minutes later I didn't even remember what the place looked like -- I was too stunned to even really look around and take it in.

As it was, he asked me, probably wondering what this kid was doing there, what my role was. All I could blurt was, "I'm handling the press." But the way he's pointing as he asks the question is pretty funny. I remember I faxed a copy to my Dad, and his wife gave me a framed copy of the xerox for Christmas, with a little cartoon balloon over Bush's head saying, "Hey, kid, pull my finger!"

Anyway, I've had the framed photo all these years. For some of that time hanging over my toilet in the bathroom. But that was before we realized that Bush wasn't THAT bad a guy -- certainly relative to his son.

It's vexed me for years that to get a scan of it I'd have to break open the frame. Then it just occurred to me today, "Duh! Take a photo!" Which I did. End of story.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Here's one I won't get

I had an audition today  at a production company that I've worked with before on the business side of my life, doing videos for a law firm client. So I was prepared to run into people I knew from that work. And I did -- the senior guy on that project.

What I didn't expect was the others. Coming out of the audition room was a different producer who I worked with several years ago on an industrial. He recognized me -- not that I'm so memorable but he spent hours looking through a camera lens at me, and then more hours in a studio editing my images. So that was kind of funny, and by that time the other guys in the waiting room thought I was a ringer or something.

Then I go in for the audition and the guy running it also recognizes me. I did an industrial with him several years ago for the same product I was auditioning for today.

Weird. Of course, I don't expect to have any edge because of that -- commercial stuff doesn't really work quite as much off connections as other things do. But it was kind of funny. 

And it also pretty much guarantees that I won't get it. But it was a good week -- four pretty good auditions. Hopefully something will come of it.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

The road

The end of the road
Copper Harbor, Michigan, 1994

All this going through old photos is seriously itching my travel bone. I've let it go by the wayside in recent years, with the acting and stuff taking up a lot of my focus, but it used to be my favorite thing.

Especially the road trip. Nothing beats traveling by car, because it's not just the destinations (and it's not just the old cliche about "getting there") -- for me, I like to see the in-between places, how these spots are connected. That way you get the real context. (I'm also the guy with his face pressed up against the airplane window and the airline map in his lap trying to identify all the rivers and towns and mountain ranges on the route.)

My first big road trip was up to Michigan, back when I was living in Ohio. Five days, 2,000 miles. The destination -- Copper Harbor -- was an endless source of fascination for me. It's up at the tip top of the state, out on the end of the Keewanaw Peninsula, jutting out into Lake Superior (at the top left edge of the map).

I just had to get there. It seemed so far, so exotic, so remote.

Now as it turns out, Copper Harbor itself wasn't all that memorable. But everything I saw on the way there and back was. A thousand-foot deep copper mine, an old abandoned mining town, the waterfalls at Munising and Tahquamenon, Whitefish Point (where the Edmund Fitzgerald went down), the massive Pictured Rocks cliffs off Grand Marais that almost rival the ones in northern France, a wild bear (!) crossing the road, a natural spring with 50-foot visibility, the dirt road up to Hemingway's old fishing grounds on the Two-Hearted River, sand dunes hundreds of feet high, the turquoise waters of Lake Superior, and endless other things.

Including the beginning (or maybe the end?) of U.S. Route 41 (Chicago's own Lakeshore Drive). Who would have thought you could drive 9 or 10 hours almost due north of Chicago and not be in, I don't know, Hudson Bay? THAT's how much there is out there. And it's just a tiny, tiny slice.