Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Gah!

I think my allergist -- the person who has done more than anyone to keep my symptoms at bay and me in relative comfort -- has left Northwestern. I have my semi-annual checkup next week and his name has disappeared from their website.

I'm not sure what I'll do. I've been seeing the guy ever since I moved to Chicago -- 16 years -- when my worsening allergies suddenly turned near-debilitating. We've been through so much. With him I have probably tried nearly 100 medications -- drops, inhalers, pills, creams and ointments -- and treatments, including shots.

It's been a long haul and we've finally gotten things fairly stabilized, achieving a balance where I put up with moderate-to-serious discomfort (as opposed to agony) in exchange for a fairly complex regimen. Now all of that may be out the window.

I probably can't follow him to his private practice -- I doubt that would be covered by my insurance. Will I have to go through all this again with the other doctors there? Or will they defer to what he's done? That doesn't sound like something most physicians would do, even if he was one of the top doctors in his field nationally.

Not happy!

Friday, May 27, 2011

On a roll

I think I've found the secret to auditioning: not giving a damn.

Or, at least, not getting super worked up about it.

Out of my last five auditions, I booked one, was put on hold for another and "check avail" for a third. Of course, it's one of those other two that I really, really want -- national commercial, major product, shoots in LA, semi-famous director.

The others are ... more ordinary. In prestige and pay and locale. So I think that, plus the fact that I've had so many lately (like I used to have), took a lot of pressure off. And actually, a couple of these I was outright hostile to, for a variety of reasons.

The other thing the three have in common is that they have no dialogue. So maybe I'm getting good at this non-verbal expression thing.

Anyway, some of this is academic since two of the jobs have dates that conflict with two of the others. Typical.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Shoe-leather marketing


A few years ago, when I was marketing one of my shows, I sent individual emails to people on my list. I knew that mass emails were too easy to ignore. There's no real accountability or moral obligation for a person to respond or acknowledge it.

A couple of people wrote back and asked if I used some kind of special software to customize and individualize the emails. Um, no. Here's what I did:
  1. I opened a new email window and typed an address into the "To" line.
  2. I wrote some personalized comments to the person I was writing to. ("I hear your show's going well," "I hope you're enjoying your new job," "It was great seeing you last week," etc.
  3. I pasted in information about the show.
  4. I hit send.
  5. Then I repeated steps 1 thru 4 approximately 200 times.
They were kind of disappointed to hear there wasn't an easier way. But marketing isn't always easy. Sometimes it takes a lot of good old-fashioned work.

When I switched over from the old High-Performance Communication page to Act Like You Mean Business, I did the usual posting on my page and the old page and the mass invitation via Facebook. But I knew that wouldn't be enough, so I sent individual invitations to each of the old page's 150 or so fans.

And even that wasn't enough. I imagine some people saw the change as an opportunity to gracefully opt out. And there were a lot of people among my Facebook friends who had only gotten the mass invite.

So over the past couple of days I went through my Friends list and sent individual, personalized messages to 80 more people. So far it's reaped a 25% return.

There will be plenty of mass marketing to come, and larger audiences will be attracted to the page (and, ideally, the book) once we start getting the word out beyond my network -- via press releases, articles, blogs, interviews and other things. But I would feel bad if I didn't do everything I can now to get as many interested people on board as possible.

And now to move on to LinkedIn ...

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Cleaning house

As I look ahead to marketing the book, I'm trying to get my contact lists in order.

I haven't formally added a new contact to my email in years. I just rely on it to automatically add anyone I'm in contact with. So as a result I had hundreds of emails with no name attached, not to mention duplicates, multiple addresses for the same person, etc.

So for the past few days I've been going through it all, contact by contact, one at a time, getting it all organized. I got 800+ emails down to a little over 400. Next up I'd like to get all my Facebook friends into email who aren't already there, then the same with my LinkedIn contacts. Not to mention getting many of my email contacts into LinkedIn.

Bleh.

Anyway, one thing I learned in this exercise is that it's really important for people to get over their 1997-style "cute" email names. A lot of contacts I deleted because I had no idea who they are. DryFlyGuy, princess12, weirdoactor, unnamedshrew, fireyellow. Seriously, people.

Of course, I'm one to talk with my old AOL account, which I've held onto and mostly only use for personal email now. It's really embarrassing when a client reaches me there.

So, so much to do. I could literally work 12-15 hours a day for 10 weeks and not run out of stuff to do to market the book. Writing articles and speeches, reaching out to people individually, networking online with LinkedIn and blogs, approaching editors, blogging, Facebooking, tweeting.

Gah!

Friday, May 20, 2011

Never mind the critics ...

... unless they say nice things about you.

We are in the "blurb" collecting phase of the book (along with multiple other phases tracking along simultaneously -- the pre-marketing phase, the proofing phase, etc.), and several have come in so far. And they're very nice.

It's hard to know what to think about comments from people who know you. So I don't know how I feel from an ego standpoint, but from a marketing perspective, we've got some good stuff. To wit:
From the president of a communications firm: "Rob’s characteristic savvy and wit come through loud and clear in this insightful and practical handbook for leaders."

From a former director at a major consumer products company: "Both business and acting have their share of drama, but "Act Like You Mean Business" captures their intersection perfectly. Whether writing the "About Us" section for a website or checking your fear during a crisis, this practical guide offers lots of practical advice and is like having your very own pocket communicator."

From a SVP at top PR global PR firm: "I adore this book; it’s chock full of very useful advice about how to communicate successfully for business people AND anyone – even actors! It should be required reading for every Fortune 500 CEO."
I hardly know that last guy. He's just someone I've networked with a little over the past couple of years. So it's very nice. I will be interested to see what kind of feedback we get from totally objective sources. For now, though, it's a good thing.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

I came, I saw, I sauntered

Okay, okay, I didn't saunter. Or wear a boa. I wore my most faded blue jeans, an old gray t-shirt and worn-out hooded sweatshirt. Because that's what I suppose a super-rugged carpenter who had to pick something to wear from my closet might choose.

Of course, when I got there I was sent into the room with two other guys my age in full suit and tie, and the casting agent asked who I was supposed to be. When I told him "carpenter" he said, good, but then he had me do the same thing as the executives. Also in the room was a guy half my weight who was supposed to be professional athlete, and an eight-year-old girl who, I suppose, was playing a Navy Seal.

So who knows what they were thinking. I was fairly comme si, comme ca about the whole thing. They got to "personality" questions -- questions that, as one might guess, reveal something about our personalities. One person was asked their favorite food. Easy, I thought. Pizza. Another was asked who they'd have dinner with. Keith Richards would have been my answer.

They they got to me. "Who would you fight? Out of anyone in the world?" Without thinking or caring (which is when I do my best, and most dangerous, improv), I replied, "Someone I could beat. Probably a girl."

I felt a little bad for the girl in the room, but I thought it was pretty funny.

And this is a job I will probably end up getting.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Another day, another booking

Today was my ninth or eleventh booking of the year, depending on how you count it. I'm going with nine, since two of them were really two-part bookings. But they were each over two different days, so maybe it's nine bookings and eleven booking days.

That sounds less impressive -- I "worked" just eleven days so far this year? Thank god I have other work. Still, I average only around eleven bookings a year, so this is a pretty good pace.

The job was good. Lots of moving parts -- fifty-plus actors over three days -- so it was all pretty business-like and chop-chop. Good day (for a day that started at 5:15 am), decent money, nice people.

Then I came home, took a calming walk through the fog along the lake and returned to ... an audition invitation for "rugged everyman, a builder who uses his hands, comfortable with basic tools, no facial hair."

That plus the fact that I got called at 6:30 pm to the last audition slot of the day tomorrow means just one thing: someone dropped out and they needed a last-minute fill-in who met the minimum standards of the character breakdown. In this case, gender and age range.

Yeah, this won't be a waste of time.

Here again is one of those cases of fighting the spite instinct that tells me to go out and get a manicure, sequined jacket and feather boa.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Idle threats

I frequently rail over injustices and threaten spiteful action that will harm no one but me. But then I cool down and think better of it.

So I spent a good bit of time last night working the lines for this morning's audition, and some more time this morning. (And here's a tip on memorization: work on it before bed and you will retain a lot of it the next morning. A Second City instructor taught me that and it's magic.)

And I went there and, as I suspected, they had the lines up on cards anyway. Nerts!

But then they asked if I could do it without glasses. Good thing I memorized. Most of it, anyway. Three-quarters of it. And so I'm glad I went to the trouble, because it was, I think, pretty impressive to get that much copy -- pretty technical copy at that -- internalized.

And tomorrow morning I get up at 5 am for an early call on the south side ...

Monday, May 16, 2011

Lines in the sand

I do not understand the purpose of asking actors to memorize copy for an audition when in the actual job we'll be reading off the TelePrompter.

It's one thing if you're a stage actor. Getting the script out of your hand and internalizing it helps the performance. But commercial actors are accustomed to "performing" TelePrompter copy, putting all the necessary intention and meaning behind the words.

By having us memorize a bunch of stuff on less than 24 hours' notice, all we're going to demonstrate is a half-assed ability to memorize and a performance that's more about reaching for the next line in our head than giving a good performance.

And I'm not talking about a small handful of lines as part of a two-person scene full of natural cues. I'm talking about 200 words of narration.

I wish somebody would counsel clients on what's realistic and necessary for an audition.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Video Schmideo

A few props from the shoot

Today we shot the promotional videos for the book and I am soooooo glad it's done.

I worked really, really hard on this. There was the producing -- finding a videographer and a location and figuring out the other details. And that was a pain. I could have just flown out to the publisher in Vermont and done it all there, but doing the raw footage here was a good call. We got a great product.

I found a real pro to shoot it -- excellent attention to detail, knows the space and worked hard to get it right. It was a lot more advanced than I expected -- lighting and rigs and all that stuff. Many steps above a dude with a flip cam.

I got a good deal on the space from my nice pals at Factory Theater. And I learned how to do my own makeup, which is actually a good skill to have.

Then there was the writing. Eight short comedy/informational bits under two minutes each. I had some excellent first drafts, but then I really worked and worked them to get them right. And here's the funny thing about writing: distilling some of the book's key lessons into this format gave me entirely new ideas and insights and a whole new way of looking at the tone.

I actually would love a chance to go back through the book and create that feel throughout. I've got it in some places, but not all. The most succinct way to describe it is "Alton Brown." I haven't watched him much but have enjoyed what I've seen: quirky, educational, funny, nerdy, and definitely the product of a curious mind. It works really well for me and I think it came out great.

Finally, I had to perform it. I worked the material over and over -- probably 20 or more times for each segment. Which, of course, also helped sharpen the writing. Everything feeds into everything else. I got it mostly memorized and was able to improvise around the core stuff with some help from cue cards.

These will be great. They represent the book well -- definitely in terms of content and in many areas, if not all, in tone. They'll be a good marketing tool, both for the book and for other stuff, like speaking and workshops.

I can't wait to see the final product. Now it's Miller Time!

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Birfday

Birthday goat cheese fondue

[late posting due to blogger outage]

Pretty nice birthday, as these things go. I'm not much of a birthday person, but this year I tried to kind of guard the day.

I had an opportunity to do extra work out in Rolling Meadows and turned it down. The night before I found yet ANOTHER button on the iHome alarm/music system that disables the alarm (I think that's now 10 different ways to make yourself late) and I slept right through until around 9 am.

Then I cleaned the house. Fresh sheets and towels and scrubbed floors. Not a fun birthday activity, but it's like church -- feels good when it's done.

Then a couple of hours by the lake to work (we finally got a few days of spring/summer), the gym, some errands and a very nice dinner at a new (to us at least) place called Province. They do a sort of tastings menu, which was pretty good and pretty reasonable.

And this morning I got to get up early for a first-thing audition as an Alzheimer's caregiver. Nice. Can I do sadness, guilt, despair and relief. No problemo. Happy f-ing birthday.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Making it up

I've been made up a hundred times or more for commercial projects. Now I'm learning to do it myself.

Easy? I don't know. I've had lots of haircuts but I wouldn't trust myself to do my own.

But that's the way it is. This Saturday we're filming some promotional videos for the book, and hiring a regular makeup artist would pretty much double what we're paying for the videographer and the space.

Luckily I had a very nice makeup lady at my last shoot who gave me some tips and even wrote down the foundation and powder I should buy. Sixty-seven dollars later and I'm ready to go. So I'm practicing. I made myself up twice today and am going to try a few more times before Saturday to get it right.

So far I've learned that less seems to be more. Which is tough. Subtlety and minimalism have never been my forte. And I have greater respect for makeup people -- they're paid pretty well. Probably worth the expense. That remains to be seen ...

Monday, May 09, 2011


Friday was a pleasant day for a drive through the country, up to Wisconsin for a print shoot. (I think this was my ninth booking this year.)

Not being a native, I never got into the whole Illinois vs. Wisconsin cheesehead thing. I love going to Wisconsin. I've had several shoots at various companies' corporate headquarters there and they're always decked out in cool art and fixtures with interestingly designed buildings. And the people are really nice.

And the drive is beautiful, unlike Illinois which, outside of a few corners like Chicago, Galena and maybe the southernmost reaches, is a pretty homely state.

All that being said, I feel good about living here, given all the crazy nonsense going on in the states surrounding us. Wisconsin, Indiana and Ohio gutting unions and outsourcing services to companies that do the work less efficiently and for more money. Michigan privatizing whole towns. Minnesota with its penchant for electing crazies like Bachmann. Whichever one it was that just cut off Planned Parenthood.

I'm glad to live in a state that's actually confronted its deficit sensibly (instead of just cutting services to the poor), and where our governor did away with capital punishment, which is awesome.

Now if they could just make a few hills ...

Thursday, May 05, 2011

The hardest work

The hardest things to get done are the assignments that no client is demanding and where no deadlines loom. The long-term stuff, the planning, the marketing.

Today I had a full day with no auditions or bookings or client work and I spent a huge chunk of time on long-delayed planning for marketing the book. Assembling a list of key media (which involves time actually examining those publications and figuring out who's who and what they cover and whether your stuff might interest them) as well as blogs and organizations, potential allies and competitors. All places that might write about the book or that might accept articles I write based on the book or that might just be entres to other opportunities.

There's so much of this stuff to get done. Pitching reporters, writing up articles based on the book's content, getting announcement lists together, figuring out who gets complimentary copies, developing a stump speech/presentation, finding speaking venues, etc. The publisher, of course, will be doing a marketing push but I need to do a lot of it, too.

The last couple of weeks have been consumed preparing to shoot our promotional videos, which will be really cool. A series of funny little web videos explaining lessons from the book. I had to locate and select a videographer and a venue and right now I'm working on finding a makeup artist and also memorizing 8 pages of copy.

I think it's going to turn out really well, but it's a grind having to just work and work and ask and ask and bargain and plead. Just constantly asking people for stuff, which is not my way. Even the people I'm paying it still feels like I'm asking for a favor.

Speaking of which, this week I also started soliciting blurbs from people -- clients, instructors, directors, friends, colleagues. I was shocked when I asked a Facebook contact, one of my old instructors, for a blurb and it was apparently the first he heard that I was writing a book! How can that be, with my endless Facebooking and blogging and flogging?

And it's all reminded me of an important lesson: nobody really gives a damn about your stuff. Certainly not as much as you do. It's not that people are mean or uncaring, but everyone's naturally consumed with their own lives.

The motivation truly has to come from within. And it's draining sometimes ...

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Casting about

I helped a client recently with casting a video project. It was pretty easy. They needed an actress in a host/narrator role, I pulled pics of a few friends from their websites, we went back and forth a bit and they picked one.

I did it mainly to help out a client I've worked with a lot -- it's a relationship I value. I mean, I got some money ... but as the client said, it was like beer money. You can make good money from casting, I suppose, but you have to be scaled for it and established -- otherwise the effort you expend outstrips the income.

Then they asked me to cast another one. With three actors, multiple ages and ethnicities, including college kids (or people who could credibly play college kids). It was a lot of work finding these people. I don't hang out with many 20-year-olds. So I had to reach out to my own contacts for their contacts and collect headshots and look over resumes and websites and screen them and put them together and go back and forth and see about schedules and re-jigger schedules, etc.

I gotta tell you, it wasn't fun. It's a little fun getting other people work, but not quite enough to justify all the hassle. Not to mention the pressure of finding people who I know won't let the client down.

It did make me feel good about one thing. I've got my shit together. I'm amazed at how many actors don't have a reel or website (and not just the college ones, the actual adults). Anybody can do a rudimentary website for almost zero money these days.

And it goes beyond mechanics. There are apparently people out there who don't check their email for hours or even days. People writing me back about a role I cast a couple of days ago.

When I get done with this book I should write another about the business side of acting. Hell, it could have the same title -- Act Like You Mean Business. Or maybe the other option, Act Like It's Your Business, is better. Though either way, as with the job of casting, that's not a project I'm really that interested in.

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

City coyote


What is wrong with people? You'd think coyotes in the city were as common as squirrels and rats. I saw TWO of them this weekend, right in the city, and it was like a tree falling in the woods.

Hell, I enjoyed it. We did. We happened upon them in Graceland Cemetery. Apparently a male and female have taken up residence there and they seem quite at home. We saw each one a couple of times, just trotting along between the headstones. As close as 150 feet in one case.

Much closer than the crappy iPhone photo would suggest. That's the female -- she was noticeably smaller. The male was as tall as a German Shepherd.

I know coyotes are all over these days, but they were my first ones outside the wilderness. Magical.

Monday, May 02, 2011

From 9/11 to 5/1

What a long, long road it's been. On one hand, it feels like bookends to an era. So much has changed that 2001 seems like a lifetime ago.

On the other hand, there's little "ending" here beyond his life. And about that, I recall the days, weeks, and months after the attacks -- the pain, the visceral anger, the thirst for revenge. If they had taken him out in 2002 or 2003 I might have been among the people out in the streets shouting "USA! USA!"

But I'm all out of anger and outrage. His death is good, no doubt about that. But so much has happened. So much tragedy. So many more innocents killed. Is this justice? Even without all that, does the death of one man counterbalance 3,000? And taken together -- the thousands of American soldiers and countless tens of thousands of innocent Iraqis and others -- it doesn't feel much like justice.

Or closure. Not as long as our obligations in that part of the world seem forever open-ended.

I'm glad he's dead. It just feels like a door closing. A small door to a small room.