Friday, February 26, 2010

From the cutting room floor


There I was, just poking around the Internets, when I came across this: an extended version of my commercial for Central Bank.

Hilarious. That whole second half, where I'm pulling stuff out for him to sign, is the new stuff. I had no idea what I was doing. They just kept the camera rolling and I just made shit up until I finally ran out of props and went with that tattoo gun line.

My improv is not the best. You can sorta see the wheels turning as I'm thinking, "Banana ... what the hell to say about this banana ... "

Of course, the coach was long gone by then. They were trying to make judicious use of his time so they edited in various reaction shots of him looking at me like I'm a jackass, which I'm pretty sure he didn't have to fake. And looking at it now, I think that actually helped me a lot. Whether he was "in character" or that was the real him, he's a pretty intimidating guy. So it was a lot easier telling the production dude standing in for him to be careful with my bagel toaster, for instance.

I'm just glad it was preserved somewhere. I had no idea they were using it.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Networking redux

A couple of years ago I realized that I've done WAY more marketing of myself as an actor than as a business person. Hell, I had a whole website devoted to my acting, with just a single page devoted to that whole other side of my life.

I finally got that back in proper balance with the re-launch of RobBiesenbach.com. And I've since been taking steps -- albeit sometimes tentative and halting -- to do the other things necessary to promote my business.

Sure, I've done some cold-calling and some mailings that actually turned into some awesome pieces of business. But I haven't gone about things in a methodical way. Partly I think that's because the acting was so new and fun and exciting -- it never felt like work to package and promote that part of myself.

But I went to a workshop on networking a few weeks ago. Ironically, I got into it as a result of networking -- reaching out to fellow actor/business person who happens to run these seminars. So I audited it and picked up some great tips. Most of all, I learned I need to be more thoughtful and strategic about it.

As a result, tonight I went to the kind of industry networking event I've always avoided. And ... it was great. I met a lot of new people and made some good contacts. Most of all, contrary to my fear of standing to the side like a wallflower and having nothing to say or nothing in common with anyone, I discovered I was actually more linked in than I thought.

I met a woman who works at a production company that I've done a couple of projects with as a writer. Then a guy who works for a training and development company that I've done several acting/voiceover jobs for. Another guy who's also done improv. Someone who I was just referred to by another contact. And on and on.

Not to mention lots of people in the communications business. Duh. I'd sort of forgotten that everyone there has a common interest and background, so getting together, sharing information, having something to contribute ... well, that's pretty much par for the course.

I'll say it again: duh!

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Duh

I was released today for that job. I didn't even know I was still under consideration. In fact, I assumed, based on the schedule, that they were already out in LA shooting the thing.

But I don't think that means I was any closer to getting it than I thought. Probably they just had some delays. I'd love to know how many people were on hold. I assume a LOT. My agent wouldn't necessarily know, because she only had two actors in the running. The casting agency might know -- at least about the Chicago people -- but either she didn't get that information or she didn't pass it along to me.

I miss my old agent. She treated me like an exclusive, really going over stuff with me, talking up good opportunities and giving it to me straight when potential jobs kinda sucked.

Then she went and had a damned baby ...

This is what happens when you don't have enough lines in the water. No bookings and three auditions -- my worst month for commercial work since July 2006.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Not dead yet

Over the years, to get control of these crazy allergies and related skin ailments, I have been prescribed no fewer than 50 pills, drops, inhalants, ointments, salves and balms. Not to mention a couple of years of shots.

Some of these have been fairly mild, and others less so. At one point they gave me a medication that's normally used on cancer patients. They said after 30 days they'd need to take a biopsy FROM MY LIVER to ensure it wasn't harming me too much. I wasn't even sure how they'd get to my liver but I said no to that one.

One of the few drugs that's made a difference happens to have its own severe side effects -- things like cataracts, glaucoma, bone thinning. Fun stuff. So that's been a persistent source of anxiety over the years. Going without this stuff in the short-term is absolutely unthinkable. (I would seriously have to kill myself from the severe discomfort and pain.) And yet the long-term consequences are likely debilitating.

And yet ... I seem to be okay. Miraculously. Annual check-ups show no issues with my eyes. And a test I finally got taken with my brand new fancy health insurance shows I'm in pretty good shape otherwise. I'm not gonna be breaking a hip anytime soon. Not my own, at least.

I'm actually pretty astounded by this news. I credit, first, my overall fitness and health. The nutrition, the workouts and everything else have left me more fit than I was when I was 20. Second ... I don't know. Maybe my body is telling me it needs these meds, and it's going to just adjust and counteract them. Or perhaps it's some weird mystical thing beyond my grasp.

So, that's one less thing to worry about. Of course, now I better pay a little more attention to my retirement funds. But as problems go, that's not the worst kind to have ...

Monday, February 22, 2010

Seriously

Back to that audition. I freakin' had the name of my character's pet goldfish when he was a kid. I had a haiku composed! Here it is (the client's in the home repair/cleaning/etc. business):
Carpet, dear carpet
With a stroke of my steam wand
This stain shall not stand
I know, I know. Hauntingly beautiful. And vaguely dirty.

Some people speculated that with so many of us called back, they were just looking to collect bits. I hope not. Whoever got it, I think it has the potential to turn into one of those recurring characters, like the "Can you hear me now" guy or the Progressive lady. We'll see.

The fish's name? Dazzler. Because he was so clean. (Not that we allowed him in the house, of course. Fish splash.)

Friday, February 19, 2010

Oh, I think I'm gonna barf! [/Fargo accent]


So those two auditions the other day? The first one was a conventional host/narrator role for a commercial, pretty much up my alley. Friendly, credible, etc. Able to interact with stuff in the background and flying graphics and things. I get the sense that they really want me for the role. In fact they kinda said as much. So that's nice.

But the bigger thing was the other audition. It would be a killer gig. Multiple national commercials, shot in LA, under the direction of a Hollywood pro with an improv and television background. I thought if I had any chance at all it would come from my improv and not my look or even my performance. But I made up some pretty funny shit, and then I was stunned to get a callback. More than a callback, they put me on right of first refusal. Ulp!

So I'm feeling pretty special -- as special as you can feel when your insides have turned to pulp. But then today I go in and there's one other guy there. Still feeling pretty good about my chances. Then another shows up, then another. Ultimately it's like one of those clown cars -- a 30-minute window with 8 guys trying to fit into it.

Plus the director is videoconferencing from New York, where they've been auditioning people live. They likely looked at some LA people, too. Oh, well. Someday I'd love to shoot in LA or NY instead of exotic Des Moines and Ft. Wayne and Columbus. Someday ...

I did feel good about the additional material I came up with. We were interviewed in character so I had hours and hours of backstory developed over the past couple of days. I knew this guy's name, what his parents did for a living, his favorite color, favorite movies, favorite food, worst and best moments, childhood memories, ultimate dream, dating history, etc. Some of what I delivered was "planned" improv, but a good deal of it was actual improv-improv.

I think I could hear some laughing, but it was hard to tell. I'm just looking into a camera lens, not the monitor they're on ...

Anyway, enough thinking about that. Nothing good can come of it. It's nice, though, to audition with truly funny scripts. And cool to get in front of this guy.

Now beer me.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

My latest thing



They turned this one around fast! We just shot it three weeks and one day ago.

Hopefully it doesn't show. I think it may be just a wee bit cheesy. Oh, well. People may not even recognize me with the dyed hair.

The fist bump was my idea. Just thought it would be a dorky "Dad" thing to do. I'm surprised they kept it in. They didn't sound like fans at the time.

It's supposed to be running on national cable, mostly on home shows and networks as well as woman-oriented fare -- they seem to be the decision-makers, or at least impetus, for home improvement projects. I wouldn't know. I'm not a married guy, I just play one ...

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Doing lines

Hmmm ... there must be another way to phrase that.

Back-to-back auditions tomorrow -- in the same location, actually, so nice to get it all done at once. But lots of lines. Four different short scripts for one (actually 8, if you count the shortened 15-second versions), and one whole long page (2 minutes worth) for the other.

One is looking for improv skills, an "everyman, middle-American, blue collar-ish" (oops). Also "a good guy, doesn't have a mean bone in his body (double-oops), patient and incredibly understanding (yikes!)" Finally, "eccentric, but interesting, with good comic timing." In addition to multiple scripts, I have to be prepared to be interviewed, in character. So I'm boning up on the product and the brand and creating a whole backstory -- parents, upbringing, education, favorite food and color, dreams, goals, best day, etc.

For the other one I have to be "intelligent, charming, witty, likable, energetic, comfortable, relaxed, contemporary, attractive, believable, persuasive and comfortable in my own skin." Plus a bunch of other stuff about being nimble in working with people and copy and stuff flying all around me. Wardrobe: professional but hip.

I really feel like I blew my last couple, so more than getting cast I just want to redeem myself with the casting directors. So prepare, prepare, prepare. Then relax and let it go. And be open, flexible and, um, "nimble," as they say.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Mr. Blue Shirt


Yes, it's ridiculously out-of-fashion, but there's no getting around it. The camera loves it.

It worked for Nielsen ...


... and the International Academy of Design & Technology ...


... and Gartner ...

... and Ernst & Young ...

... and DePaul ...

... and Central Bank.


The camera does not lie.

Monday, February 15, 2010

An ice time



I went ice skating yesterday for the first time in years. There's a new rink next to Wrigley Field that I'd been meaning to try out, and it was a real blast from the past.

I started skating when I was 8 years old. It was in Virginia, and our house backed up to a lake surrounded by a big park. Really it was a just a smelly little creek for most of its run, but there was a small dam a couple of miles downstream of our house, so the creek widened out to a decent-sized, though shallow, lake right about where we were.

And that's where I first learned to skate. On cheap black figure skates from Sears. All of us had them -- black for the boys, white for the girls. I found it pretty easy from the start, and we would spend hours and hours at the lake on winter days. Those were particularly cold years, and we took it for granted that the lake would freeze over reliably every year, which it always seemed to do.

I guess it wasn't exactly legally sanctioned. I remember being chased off by the cops a few times. And I remember distinctly being at home, warming my feet maybe, and my sister flying into the house in tears. She'd run from the cops, all the way through the woods from the lake to our home -- probably a quarter to half a mile -- in her skates. And no, not with the wooden guards on the blades, either.

In any case, it was several years before I ever set foot in an an actual rink, and I was numbed stiff by the endless circling, round and round and round and round. On the lake you could skate 20 minutes in a single direction without ever turning. Just skate and skate and skate until you had to stop and catch your breath.

One winter was so cold that the lake froze thick all the way to the dam, which it didn't usually do. The water was pretty deep and kind of swift there. I skated out and out, gradually getting closer to the dam, which loomed, I don't know, 20 (25? 15?) feet above the catch basin on the other side. Keeping a wary eye on the giant air pockets in the ice beneath my feet and not hearing any telltale creaking or cracking, I got to within about 15 feet of the edge when the authorities shouted out on a bullhorn for me to "get the hell out of there." I was advised afterward by a neighborhood mother what a stupid thing that was. (I'm not sure I ever told my mom.)

One year we got a thaw then a hard freeze again, which caused the ice to buckle and crack and erupt in these fantastic formations. It was like a modern skate-board park. The ice sloped sharply upwards to the shoreline like a bowl. And all over there were hills and dips and ramps of varying heights and depths and risk profiles.

It was fun to be back on the ice. I'd like to say it all came back to me, but I was pretty awkward, actually. All of my skating in the past 15 years has been on rollerblades. Compared to wheels on asphalt, blades on ice feel like flying. In both a good and bad way -- fast and smooth but harder to control.

I don't get too nostalgic about my childhood. It was okay. Mostly I couldn't wait to grow up, and the first place I really, truly felt solidly and enthusiastically at home was in college. But we had some pretty good times at old Lake Accotink.

These days they would call it "unstructured play." For us it was skating and fishing and climbing and canoeing, rock fights, fort building and minor acts of pyromania. All the basic kid stuff.

Friday, February 12, 2010

I need a mulligan

Seriously, auditioning would be so much better if you cold come back 15 minutes later and do it again. There is no clarity like the clarity you get after you leave the room -- the crystal clear understanding of what you did wrong and what you didn't do at all.

It pisses me off, because I prepare and prepare and prepare, but there's just no way to prepare for being open and spontaneous and in the moment. Well, I suppose there is. But I even told myself: be open, be flexible, be ready to go in any direction they ask, and when you go that direction, go all the fucking way. And for chrissakes, RELAX!!!!!

Yet still, I'm standing there in the concrete shoes -- stuck, stuck, stuck! They give you 4 or 5 things to do and you maybe do 3 of them.

And, I've really got to learn to do Bill Curtis. This is the second time I've been told to try it "Bill Curtis-style." And I start okay, but then I get caught up and suddenly I'm all Keith Freakin' Olberman eating the camera and booming my voice.

Long freakin' week.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Naturally

An audition finally came. A good one. Unfortunately it's tomorrow, right in the middle of an all-day meeting I have to attend.

Plus they're making me shave. Well, "requesting." But that's basically making.

At least I got the big hairy ugly client project done. First draft, anyway. But will have to wait for the weekend to get a little peace and me-time.

I vant to be left alone.

Until then, up at 5/5:30 for me ...

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Write, write, write

I've been working on this crazy-ass project for a client. They're in the running for one of those "best places to work" designations, and this round includes a huge questionnaire. I'm doing the qualitative part -- like the essay section of the SATs.

The instructions say the whole application takes 150 hours to complete, and now I believe it. It won't take me that long because there's that other part, plus attachments, plus all the time the client spends reviewing and editing and re-editing.

But it's taking a lot of time. I've done 20 interviews and written nearly 12,000 words since last Monday. I'm now in the home stretch. Time to actually look at what I've written and see if it makes any sense.

But I'm looking forward to getting back to all the other things I need to do -- other work, marketing, laundry, etc. I guess that's one upside to going a couple of weeks without auditions.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Lake Effect



A few years ago I was in this show with an actor who'd moved here from out of town. She'd been here for a couple of summers and had never been to the lake. And it's not like she lived in Bartlett -- she was in Roscoe Village.

I don't get it. I find the lake endlessly fascinating, in all its seasons and moods -- angry, brown and wind-tossed or dead still in the summer. I don't think I'd live here if there was no lake.

When I worked at the agency and things would get a little tense or depressing, I'd head over to Oak Street Beach, even in the dead of winter, and it would always make me feel better. How can it not?

I'm not sure what it is. Maybe its utter indifference to our problems? Or maybe because it's just really big and beautiful and cool.

I was there this weekend because I'd seen from the bus that the pack ice was all blown up toward the shore. When I went over I found that there must have been some really hellacious waves sometime in the past few days. The water had gone not only over the wall, but all the way up the breakwall -- probably 15-20 vertical feet and another 50-60 inland -- and onto the grass, spraying the trees. Then it all iced over, turning that sort-of meadow south of Belmont Harbor into an ice rink.


Absolutely magical.


The day I move more than a half-mile from the lake is the day I leave Chicago.

Monday, February 08, 2010

Whoa, nelly

Real audition dry spell here. IF I happen to get an audition Wednesday, which is the soonest possible date for one, it will be THREE WEEKS between auditions. I can't remember the last time that happened. Nothing since January 20.

Now I suppose I should qualify that. Not exactly nothing. I had a booking in there, which is better than an audition. And I actually had a chance at an audition last week, but I kinda got screwed. Or I screwed myself.

When an agent calls they give you a slot that the casting agency has already assigned you. You're not supposed to ask to change it, and I don't ... usually. Sometimes I have genuine conflicts -- another audition or booking going on at the same time. That's pretty much all they consider a "genuine" conflict.

Sometimes I have a business meeting. But again, that's not quite what they'd call legitimate since your primary business is supposed to be always being available for auditions.

Sometimes it's just super-inconvenient for me. Like I don't want a noon audition if I'm also auditioning at 3:30 -- not enough time to get home and back but too much time to sit around downtown.

And sometimes, just sometimes, um ... I have a Pilates or Spin class I really, really don't want to miss. That, I'm pretty sure, is an unacceptable excuse.

So I don't ask for a change often. And when I do they usually have other options to choose from. But this time they didn't, apparently. It turns out, I learned later on, that it was either 12:15 or 12:40, and nothing else. I couldn't quite believe it. Rarely is the time range of options so narrow. So they never called back with a new time.

Oops. At least it wasn't a big ol' SAG thing. But still, had I known I had no other choice, I would have just sucked it up and, um ... rescheduled that appendectomy for another time.

But just as predicted, the law of averages are punishing me for my good January.

Thursday, February 04, 2010

It was one year ago today


I soooo want to go back to Mexico. I need the heat, and the light. The surf and the dolphins and the whales. The swim-up bar.

I keep pricing out trips and then talking myself out of going because it's a huge waste of money. Or, at least, not a good investment at this time, versus other needs (and wants).

And it would be weird going back there on my own. And more expensive. But mostly weird. It's a shame that something that was in many ways such a beautiful and wondrous experience (I freakin' saw whales!) is at the same time tinged with sadness. And not for what was. Sadness, actually, for what never really was in the first place.

Talk about a waste.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Pet cat fever


I've really been jonesing lately for a cat. Maybe it was hanging with my sister's cats at Thanksgiving, or my brother's at Christmas.

More likely, though, is that I've been hanging out lately with the meanest cat I've met since my Aunt Ellie's cat scratched my sister's eyeball when we were kids (trying to dislodge the cat from beneath the dresser).

I don't take it personally. The cat hates everyone, except its owner. But usually I have a way with even the crabbiest of cats. They eventually relent. I can walk down the street and cats on windowsills nearly bust the screens out trying to get to me. But this one is one tough nut. She hates me. Which I find irresistible.

Then this morning that little guy up there shows up on my back porch. He looked a little well-groomed for a stray, but he was super-skittish. I couldn't lure him with food, water or even my substantial charms.

Maybe I've lost my touch.

Oh, well. The last thing I really need is a cat anyway.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Oh, my aching ... everything


I work out 5 to 6 days a week, working all parts of my body in all different ways. And yet it seems no matter what shape you're in, when you do something different -- even bowling, of all things -- it gives your body fits.

Yesterday I went to a class called "Body Blast." It was just 30 minutes, and I made it through the whole thing without having to stop or cheat or anything. If I count it up I guess we did maybe a hundred lunges and squats. With a weight bar on the shoulders. It actually went by so fast, I didn't feel like I got much of a real workout, so I proceeded to do my regular routine afterwards.

Then I woke up this morning and was practically paralyzed from the hips down. And it's only gotten worse over the day.

And to think I was going to do this class a few times a week. Yeah, that's not gonna happen.

Monday, February 01, 2010

Driving me crazy


After many, many sighting by others of my DePaul ad on buses and trains, causing me to always crane my neck and scan the ads, from one end of the bus or car to the other, I finally got on a DePaul bus Saturday night!

It was all DePaul, all bus long, front to back. Multiple, multiple ads. None of them, however, featuring me. Four or five other people, but no me. Gah!

And just to rub it in, I saw the very same bus go down Belmont again later that night. And then, at the end of the night riding home, I got that same bus yet AGAIN. Same bus! Three damn times. (I suppose it's conceivable that several different ones on the same line were similarly outfitted, but I doubt it.)

I am contemplating just parking myself on a bench on a popular bus line for a few hours and inspecting every bus that goes by. If I thought the CTA or the ad agency would have any idea on which buses and trains the ads were deployed, I'd try that route.

Not sure why it excites me so, but it just does.