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.