Friday, October 29, 2010

And booked!

Hilarious. I guess they decided, "This guy's perfect to play the Dad -- he's a real dork!"

This will be fun. It's a big national client doing a webisode series for its website. So the acting will have a little more depth than your average commercial or industrial.

My November is going to be insane. Just got a new client this week that's going to involve travel and 40-50 hours of billable time over the next few weeks, on top of all the other client work, book and other stuff going.

So this weekend is going to be work and travel and ... bleh. Which is just as well, because I'm the only actor on the planet who hates Halloween and dressing up in costume.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Sure enough

I got put on right of first refusal as a result of that audition yesterday.

This happens EVERY time I go in unprepared. Which isn't often at all and is only the result of some weird mix-up. I really think there's a lot to be said for that feeling of, "Screw it, I don't have a prayer!" It really relaxes you, I think.

So that's nice. It'll probably fall through, but it's good I didn't make a total fool of myself.

In other news, today was a crazy photo shoot. I thought I was a doctor/medical type person, and that's what the photographers thought, too. Then the client wanted me to be a trendy technology type guy. So they ditched the lab coat and tie and did this to my hair:

It was a hard shoot. They're doing a bunch of CGI so I'm kinda bursting through this wall, so my positioning had to be absolutely precise and steady for almost three hours. They had a horizontal metal rod holding up one arm and the other was out in front of me, mannequin-style. Or sort of like I was doing the robot in freeze frame.

I was holding up up an iPad at a weird angle and now have an appreciation for just how heavy a mere 1.5 lbs. can feel.

Tomorrow I will probably wake up in near-paralysis in the neck and back.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

I do stupid things

Stupid, counter-intuitive things. Things that defy logic, yet I go with my instinct. Which would be admirable, except for the cases where my instinct is wrong. Things that are in hindsight obviously dumb.

Like when I'm driving somewhere I haven't been and I THINK the next turn is my turn but I pass it, thinking there's a chance it isn't. The directions are pretty clear, but I don't trust the paper in front of me for some reason.

Is it self-sabotage?

Anyway, today I had a commercial audition. Right there on the schedule it said I was auditioning for the part of the dad. The breakdown described the Dad, along with the other characters -- various teenagers.

But the note from my agent also said "**MALE ROLES: Please prepare to read for both X and X." Those Xs being the teenage characters.

We got tons of scripts, bunches of scenes. The Dad character was in one script. The teenage dudes were in multiple scripts, including one where they share a scene.

Looking back, it's clear I should have ignored the "MALE ROLES" instruction. And yet, I have been in auditions where, even though they're casting multiple roles, they have everyone read the same script with the same characters. Maybe it's easier, or maybe they don't have the other scripts fleshed out. Who knows?

So for some reason I prepped the teenage boys scene. I did print out the one Dad scene and read it over a little last night, but that was it. Then I got there today, asked a few questions and it was pretty clear that I'd done it again -- let some weird, twisted leap of logic outstrip my better judgment.

I had a few minutes to prepare the other script and I got in the room and did my best. I lost it on the first and third read, forgetting a line, and then I explained my stupidity. Which they actually thought was highly amusing.

And in spite of all that, it turned out to be a pretty great audition. For some reason, after I figured out my dilemma, I was really relaxed. I figured, there's only so much I can do here, so why stress out about it. So I went in and had fun, told some good stories, interacted well with the clients and managed to pull off some pretty good reads given the circumstances.

The lesson? Don't overthink stuff. And beware of information that gets passed along by interns via email and phone messages.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

A no and a yes

Today an agent called me with a potential booking for Friday. A weird little thing where I'd be on the local news modeling clothes from a department store. For very low money.

I mean, it would be just a five-minute "shoot," but an hour (on a separate day) for wardrobe fitting and several hours sitting around in makeup and wardrobe on the shoot day, plus getting there and back ... so when you take the low fee, subtract the agent commission, you get down to a pretty low hourly wage.

Plus, I just think it would be odd. The more I do this and the more I plan the other stuff I hope to have coming down the road -- public speaking, workshops, etc. -- the more protective I'm being about the kinds of projects I do.

Then an hour later another agent called with another job that will take less than half the time but pay twice as much. Which I took. And which I couldn't have done if I'd taken the other.

Usually the cause and effect of these decisions aren't so clear and closely spaced. But I need to make my decisions as if the payoff for the sacrifice is as tangible as if it was around the corner.

Monday, October 25, 2010

A walk in the park

After highly successful -- and FREE (thank you, Applecare, you put Obamacare to shame) -- surgery on my MacBook today I took a late afternoon idyll down to Lincoln Park and the Alfred Caldwell Lily Pool.

I'd never visited it before and thought I ought to check it out while it's still warm and before the vegetation is all stripped off by tomorrow's predicted crazy-ass winds. (Which are likely overblown themselves.)

It was beautiful, actually. I'd passed by there numerous times, but never ventured in. It's a lot more than just a little pond. It's no Giverney, that's for sure ...

(That's from a 1998 trip to France. Seriously, Monet wasn't just old and losing his sight -- that lily pond in his backyard actually looked like those canvases.)

But it was still quite nice. With some nice landscaping and architectural touches in the style of Frank Lloyd Wright. And it would have been wonderfully serene and peaceful, if not for the damned people. But I plan to go back there as the seasons change and see it transform.

They also redid the south pond below the zoo, with an interesting nature boardwalk and this semi-mysterious structure that apparently will be used for educational exhibits of some sort. Beautiful, twisting, fine-grained wood with resin bubble-shaped "windows."

I love stuff like this. I love this city.

Tomorrow = triple-time productivity.

Friday, October 22, 2010

I wish I was in Iowa

Nah, not really.

But I wish I was doing the job I almost got booked on that shoots today in Iowa. Even though I would have missed the movie premiere last night and it might have also involved a second overnight in Des Moines tonight, it would have been nice to have been booked.

It was down to me and one other guy, apparently. I'm certain I didn't get it because I look (and am) much too young to have a college-age daughter. Hell, it wasn't so long ago that I was going out with college students.

I need another good win here soon ...

Thursday, October 21, 2010

See this film

In June I shot a small scene for a small film and tonight I got to actually see it, not five months later. And on an actual movie screen.

This is amazing on so many levels. First off, it was feature length. I've done 8-minute student films that took them TWO YEARS to finish. Second, even when they're finished it usually takes another year just to get a copy of the damned thing. Third, nothing ever happens with them. They don't really have those viewings or festival entries that get talked about.

The even more amazing thing? This was a film I REALLY enjoyed. I mean, it was really freakin' funny. It's the funniest thing I've been in, certainly, but it may be among the funniest things I've seen in the past several years. I laughed as much as I did at Hangover and Superbad.

None of this is an accident. When I first got called to audition for it, I was wary, as I am with any project like this. Film is tough. There are so many filmmakers in town and, unlike theater, where you know most of them and their reputation, these can be a total crapshoot.

But I got some really good advice on some questions to ask the director at the audition -- technical stuff, and about his plans and his crew. He answered all my questions, and most of the technical stuff I didn't really understand. But the important thing was, he seemed to really know what he was talking about. AND he had no chip on his shoulder about answering my questions -- he was completely open about it.

I also read the whole script, which I thought was pretty funny, but there are tons of ways to screw up a funny script. But I had a good feeling about the guy. He really seemed to have his shit together. And tonight it showed. He pulled it off. I think this kid's going places.

My scene was fun, too. And it was the very first scene in the movie. In fact, my face was the very first thing in the movie. Crazy. So even though I seem to have aged a decade in the past three years, I am very proud to be part of this project. "Get a Job." Catch it if you get a chance.

Get A Job Website Trailer from James Reed on Vimeo.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Existential crisis

Every once in a while I'm struck by the enormity of what I'm trying to do here with this book/etc. project. And while I'd like to say I greet it with a hearty "heigh-ho" and eager relish for the challenge ahead, sometimes it's more like paralyzing panic.

And that's what it's been during the past day or two. The truth is, the book is the easy part of this whole endeavor. At least the writing of the book. It's the "etc." part -- the marketing, the distribution, the PR, not to mention the workshops and speeches -- that's huge and fear-inducing.

Like this morning I see that this big communications company is putting on a conference in December on business writing. I look at the agenda and think I should be on it. But I'm not. Because I'm not known to this organization. And because I don't have the presentation and publishing credentials that the people on the program have.

And I spend all this time beating myself up for the things that I haven't done until it finally occurs to me that it's unrealistic that I would be a headliner at a major conference that's asking $800 a day from participants. That's like, as an actor, expecting to perform on stage at Steppenwolf my first year out.

Which I kinda did.

But I was stupid then. I need to be smarter (and more realistic) now. And patient. And I need to take some simple steps. Which I started doing this afternoon once I had that epiphany. I joined a professional organization I've long put off joining. And I started reaching out to my network and talking to people who have tried something similar and just getting back to a reasonable approach to this whole deal.

And I wrote to this small, family-owned publishing group and got an immediate, very positive response. There are a million and one hitches and considerations to work through, but it is still profoundly heartening.

So while I always have to be wary of mistaking activity for action, there is a tremendous amount to be said for simply putting your head down and working through a problem in small steps. And staying positive.

I keep thinking about the whole "It Gets Better" campaign going on now. I have always, always found that when my plans are stalled or I'm feeling directionless or in personal despair, the simple act of doing something works. It always does.

Monday, October 18, 2010

The fast talker

I had an audition this morning -- my first in two weeks, but this is not about complaining about that -- and as soon as I finished the first take I called out direction to myself, which I'm often guilty of doing, trying to anticipate and head off the casting director.

And when I do it, I always say the same thing: "Slow it down, right?"

I've always been a fast talker. It used to be I talked so fast I slurred and stumbled right over my words, and when I'd give presentations I'd charge through them at warp speed.

Acting has helped me slow down and enunciate. And vocal exercises and warm-ups have helped ("red leather, yellow leather, red leather, yellow leather). But I still have to physically make myself slow down.

I think it comes from self-consciousness. One of my worst fears is to be a bore (contrary to how this blog usually goes), running on at the mouth while people squirm and look around the room for an escape. I'm constantly thinking as I'm speaking, "Is this going too long? Is this interesting? Are they bored? Should I wrap it up?"

I suppose erring toward the self-conscious is preferable to being oblivious. But sometimes I think that contributes to an impression of me as reserved, or even shy. Finding a balance is something I continually work on.

Oddly, of all the talkers from Seinfeld -- the high-talker, the low-taker, the close talker -- I don't think they ever had a fast-talker. Probably not as much comedy potential there. Yup, this is serious business ...

Friday, October 15, 2010

Long, weird week

I feel like I've had a low-grade cold all week. Not much in the way of symptoms but deep fatigue, leading to prolonged laziness.

Also a weird and troubling wrist injury from something -- yoga or sleeping funny or who knows what. It got really bad yesterday but then today, which was a pretty busy day, it got better -- mainly, I believe, because I had less time to sit around thinking about it. A lot of ailments are like that. Ignore them (and maybe also don't do push-ups) and they'll eventually fade away.

I made zero progress on the book. I'm anxious to hear what the editors/evaluators have to say and think I need that outside motivation. Most of the motivation to this point has come internally, and it's not always easy to keep that fire going.

Two nice things I accomplished this week. I drafted some remarks for a client introducing Tony Blair at an event next month. They're pretty good. I haven't written a speech in a while -- I used to do it all the time -- and it was fun and satisfying.

And today we did a shoot for Mars and I worked as producer behind the camera and actor in front of it. It was nice to perform, as I had ZERO auditions the past two weeks.

So those two events bookended a pretty unproductive week of bits and pieces and nothing much else. Next week I've got lots of work, and lots to do on the book, so I think it'll be a good week.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

15 years

I realized recently that this month makes 15 years since Ed died. I've been feeling a little ... I don't know what exactly. Melancholy? Tired? So I thought I'd just link to this thing I wrote a few years ago. (Same link as above.)

I like it, and I've got a few others I've done. I think next year I'll work on putting them together and maybe self publishing.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Some tips for business

Treat people like vendors and they will act like vendors, doing what they're told -- no more, no less. Treat them like partners and they will rise to the job, going beyond what's asked to what's really needed.

Don't let non-communications people make important decisions about communications.

Acknowledge hard work and show gratitude.

Be open and inclusive with information and feedback, or be prepared for mediocre results.

If you hire someone for their expertise, take their advice.

If you take away responsibility, don't try to give it back. That's like trying to pass handfuls of water back and forth. Something is lost every time.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Lazy Daze

I haven't done anything really on the book in three days, which is the longest break, I think, since my vacation.

The book itself is done (for now) and is out to a couple of editors, whose feedback I should receive over the next week-to-ten days.

And last week I outlined about eight hours of workshops based on the content and developed the marketing language for them. This week is supposed to be for creating the actual material for the workshops -- PowerPoints, scripts, handouts, etc.

But Sunday I just relaxed and Monday had ER-related craziness and today, after a somewhat stressful day of work ... I'm just tired.

And I'm partly hung up on two things. First is the realization that if I'm exhorting an audience to express themselves visually and to show, not tell, and to be creative and innovative, then my presentations better look pretty damned sharp. I could get them professionally designed. Or I may create them in Apple's Keynote software, which is a lot prettier and less stale than PowerPoint.

The second issue is the not-so-small matter of intellectual property. It's one thing to yank random images from the web and show them to a client or a small group of people or even use them on a low-traffic blog (*cough*), it's another to appropriate and exploit these images as part of a product/service that I'm selling. And I'm planning to use mostly images, as opposed to words. Per my own Rx.

So I've got to figure that out. There are sites with free stock images, and I could, if I had to, actually, you know, PAY for some. But I'd like it all to be a little easier ...

Oy. Everything looks harder when you're tired. I'll get back on the horse tomorrow.

Monday, October 11, 2010

I hate the hospital

The Cosby Kids * were wrong. The hospital sucks.

I spent a few hours in the ER tonight -- not for myself, but because I'm a nice guy, I suppose.

Anyway, it was barbaric. And this was one of the best hospitals in the city -- and, by extension, one of the best in the country. An old man heaving his guts out, but not enough to be taken in any sooner. A woman having trouble breathing, with a possible broken rib. She got expedited. A young guy also got moved up in the queue when he had the forethought to suffer a seizure.

All to the tune of crying babies and the angry threats of a drunk in another room.

Most everyone who was there seemed to be in acute need, as opposed to the stories you hear of people using the ER for everyday ailments. And yet it took hours for people to get in.

I'm pretty certain if I ever get to the point where I'm facing serious mental or physical debilitation, I'll want out. It seems very logical to me now, but I see these people hunched over and attached to oxygen tanks. I suppose things happen gradually and you just learn to adapt and accommodate. Or the survival instinct kicks in and overwhelms everything else.

I hope I can be Spock-like in my logic before things come to that.

* I'm amazed that I recalled the tune and many of the words to this old Fat Albert & the Cosby Kids song. I was a total TV zombie when I was a kid. Maybe that's the reason I feel like I do -- I've already experienced my persistent vegetative state.

Friday, October 08, 2010

About the weather

I am going to say some very controversial things about the weather.

First, I hate season-jumpers. People who pull out the wool sweaters as soon as the temperature goes below 70. No matter that it's September 10th and a string of 80s are on tap, these people dress for the moment, not the calendar, and barely even the season.

Second, I hate people, especially Chicago people who suffer through long, endless, brutal winters, who are so eager to shove our short-lived summer out the door. Summer doesn't even reliably start around here until mid June or so and there's practically no spring at all. So people who spent six-plus months kvetching about the snow and the ice and the rain and the clouds and the lake winds are ready to give up on summer before it's barely 10 weeks old.

I have this theory that Chicago people, as crazy as they get when summer hits, exposing their pale, bloaty flesh, secretly aren't all that crazy about it. They may enjoy it at the time, but they're eager for it to get over with. They really just can't wait to have an excuse to stay inside the rest of the year's weekends watching football.

And as hearty as they are in winter, trudging through blizzards to shop and work and do errands, if it's 68 degrees in July the outdoor cafes are empty and if it's mostly cloudy, the lakefront is deserted.

Actors especially hate summer. They spend most of their time in dark, cold, windowless theaters. The sun scares and burns them.

Out-of-shape people, too. They just want to cover their bodies 24/7 in jeans and sweatshirts and hoodies, and the heat makes that difficult.

There, I said it. No socks or long pants 'til November!

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Cutting the cheese


I audition for all kinds of low-budget commercials. The first sign is usually that they're not going through one of the big three casting agencies. But even they occasionally cast some pretty low-rent stuff.

The next sign is the script. Sometimes the scripts are eye-rollingly bad. The casting people will even kinda/sorta acknowledge that you're not exactly doing Aaron Sorkin material and will tell you to just do your best with it.

I had one of these the other day and I realized that you can make just about any cheesy script a lot less cheesy. Or not even cheesy at all. It's kind of a fun challenge. When you see the lines on paper and they're downright wince-worthy, but then you get in there and just give them a totally counterintuitive read, underplaying it or playing it a little opposite or giving the character a bit of winking self-knowledge.

That, of course, may be totally contrary to what the client or the director wants, of course. And that's the third sign of a low-budget production -- a director complicit in producing crapola.

Anyway, I consider it a win-win. If they like my read and hire me then it seems the end-product won't be as bad as the script implies. And if they don't, it means I'm spared appearing on TV in a really embarrassing commercial.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010


Word has it that this spot I did last year is running somewhere in Kansas City. Which is a no-no. Pretty sure they just paid for a 13-week run, so I may be seeing some extra money from that.

Meanwhile, I'm still waiting to see my face on the TV here for this hospital shoot I did a while back. They've started running a spot, but I'm not in it, and they shot a bunch, so who knows when it will finally run.

I need a few good bookings ...

Monday, October 04, 2010

Brand new lakefront

So for about a hundred years now (or maybe just three), they've been doing construction on a half-mile section of the lake's breakwall from Diversey northward. Like all of these massive public projects, it dragged on and on, always giving you the sense that if it was in other hands it would be done in half the time.

It's been a controversial project. Here's how the breakwall used to look, all up and down the lake, from Hyde Park up to Evanston (where it's not beach) -- these big old, rough-hewn limestone blocks arranged in loose stair-step fashion.

Pro: an authentic and natural look that blends well with the lakefront scenery. Con: decrepit and unsafe, at least according to modern engineers.

So for the past few years, they've been gradually replacing the old blocks with this monstrosity:

A bland, monolithic, poured concrete breakwall designed, I guess, to withstand the worst of what Lake Michigan has to offer for generations to come.

During the time they've been constructing it, not only was this long section of the lakefront closed, but acres and acres of grass were also fenced off and unavailable for football and softball and picnics and fireworks viewing.

They even had a giant pen where the old blocks were piled up and imprisoned. (I assumed they were kept in case litigation forced them to revert to the old design.)

I'm long past objecting to the ugly design. I just wanted my local lakefront back. But there were a couple of pleasant surprises in the new construction. Concessions to the naysayers, apparently. First, they preserved (or reconstructed) this nice rubble pile.

These are great for getting down close to the water and cooling your feet. They also make a good dog launching point for retrievers fetching tennis balls and frisbees.

They also lined the upper part with some of the originals blocks, which was a nice touch. Some of them even still include their original graffiti art, which I'm glad they didn't sandblast off.

The rest they arranged in neat little bench-like Stonehenge-esque conversational groupings.

I suspect it's actually been done for quite a while now and they just wanted to give the new sod a chance to "take." On the downside, the whole area has apparently been a months-long haven for a huge and ridiculously incontinent flock of geese.

Either way, I'm just glad to have the lake back, even if it's a little late to enjoy it this year.

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Catching waves

Here's the secret to wave photography. I used to just whip the camera around to wherever a wave was crashing. But usually by the time you get there, the wave's half gone. So instead you have to sit there, pointed in one direction, and wait for it come to you.

(Same lesson applies to snorkeling, by the way. Instead of flapping and kicking around chasing after the fish, just float in one spot and they'll come to you.)

I spent a good half hour trying to capture the perfect wave today. And I still didn't come close. As soon as I would get on my bike to go, a monster would hit, sending spray 25 or 30 feet into the air.

Still, I got a couple of decent ones. I just wish I'd had an actual camera with me instead of the phone. In fact, the biggest draw to me for the iPhone 4 is that the camera is exponentially improved.

I like this one because it sort of mimics the cottony clouds.

And those are little sailboats in the background. I thought there was a small craft warning, but that must have expired overnight. You wouldn't get me out there on one of those things on a day like today.

I could seriously sit and watch the waves forever.

Friday, October 01, 2010

Looking ahead

Today was Closing Day for the United/Continental merger, so I believe my work there is done for now. It didn't turn into the crazy nightmare I thought it would be, spending endless days and hours in a windowless room downtown.

Actually, it was a very nice room with a beautiful view. And I wasn't even over there the whole time, doing some of the work from here.

Another key project, for Mars, looks to be winding down as well, with a few things left for October.

So the near future seems like it's going to be fairly normal, with just my regular client stuff. Though every time I think that, some huge time-suck comes in the door to upend my life.

I wouldn't mind some time to really work on the book. October is for getting feedback from editors and revising, continuing to explore publication/distribution options, developing curricula for workshops/presentations, and creating/pitching bylined articles. That's a full time job right there ...