Thursday, June 30, 2011

Made it!

So 7 pm rolled around and I found myself safe from any auditions tomorrow, which is good because I'm starting the weekend early by going to the Cubs game.

That was quite a flurry of end-of-the-month audition activity there. Today I had to schlep up to Evanston for an audition for a company that I've done probably more than a dozen bookings for over the years (all direct -- that is, without having to audition). But it turns out they've got a new client with a potentially big project. So we'll see.

The funny thing was they had me do a monologue, which never happens in a commercial audition and which I haven't had to do in several years. So it was nice to dust off one of my comic monologues and give it a whirl. And it was interesting how many new insights I had into the text and delivery in the intervening years.

The icing on the cake? They decided at the last minute to book me for a quick voiceover job while I was there. Booyah. It makes me feel less guilty for turning down a job way the hell up in Janesville next week. At 20% less than the going hourly rate I felt like it wasn't worth the drive.

Let the holiday commence! (With various pauses for proofing the book, writing and other things ...)

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Naturally

The Rahmfather at Pride

No audition for four weeks, then three get scheduled ... all for the same day.

This is how Chicago gets spring temperatures that average in the 70s -- it's always either 50 or 90.

Luckily I got one pushed to Thursday, since it's all the way up in Evanston (which is not that far, but at non-express train time, it is). I intend to book one of them.

What's this have to do with Rahm? Nothing. I just thought it was cool that he was at the parade on Sunday. I don't recall ever seeing Daley there, but maybe he did go back when he started out as mayor 30 or 40 years ago.

Monday, June 27, 2011

The TheatRe

I once worked with an artistic director who said if he had his way he would see a play every single night of the week every week of the year.

I was heavily into theater at the time, seeing around 50 performances a year myself, and the idea of seeing a show every night sounded absolutely dismal.

More recently, an actor I like and respect a lot told me, "I don't go see other peoples' shows. I hate going to shows." I was flabbergasted by his honesty. I would imagine a lot of theater people come closer to his viewpoint than the first. Partly because they're tired, busy with their own shows, and want a night or two not spent in a dark windowless room.

Partly also because it's hard watching theatre when you're really into it. Sometimes knowing a lot about a subject makes the experience of being an observer more enriching. Other times it's the opposite dynamic at work.

For me, if the show's not absolutely gripping I find my attention wandering. I'm analyzing the dialogue -- why did the playwright use that turn of phrase? I'm wondering how I'd do in the roles and what I might do differently. I'm attuned to the backstage bumps and the onstage hiccups. I'm picking apart the wardrobe, noting the shoes whose toe points are a decade or two off and the hems that are glued and ironed instead of sewn. And I'm getting ideas for something I might want to write someday.

The next thing you know, 10 minutes have passed and I have no idea what's going on.

Truthfully, most of the shows I've seen have been because I knew someone involved in the production. Sometimes I really wanted to see it, sometimes I did it as a favor, a tit-for-tat thing, and sometimes I went kicking and screaming because I felt like I had to.

In spite of all that, there's always something I enjoy and get out of it, even if it's not entirely a satisfactory experience. And I like seeing and supporting friends. But it's just not my first choice anymore for a night out.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Week's End

Today I wrote two more articles, bringing the total to nine. Next week I start (okay, continue) the pitching.

I also received the latest galleys of the book reflecting the tons of little changes I made. I'm interested to see how it turned out -- what the editors agreed with and what they didn't. But I'm not going to look at it now. I want to have a fun, relaxing evening.

On the acting front I got two calls from agents this afternoon. One is for a possible direct booking (a commercial for a casino where I did a print job a couple of months back) and the other is for an audition next week. Getting that stuff into gear again is good.

Finally, I went to pick up a check at my agent's office and they actually had four waiting for me.

Pretty nice way to end the week.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Averages

I've had no auditions in three weeks. No bookings in two weeks.

That coming after five bookings in five weeks. Which is a LOT. Talk about a roll.

Now I feel like after this very favorable first half of the year, the rest will be a washout. In fact, if the law of averages is, you know, an actual law, then that should be exactly what I expect.

So I continue to write, write, write. Seven articles down, three to go ...

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Officially retired from casting

My long casting nightmare is over. And it all turned out just ... well, I'll get to that.

First, here are the reasons ad-hoc casting like this is a bad idea:
  • I have no infrastructure in place -- ways to reach out to potential actors quickly and easily, other than looking them up, tracking down their photos from Facebook and websites, emailing, etc. So it's not economical.
  • I have no leverage over these people, as a talent agent or casting director would have. Nothing other than the simple bonds of friendship. And some of them aren't friends. And some of the friends are really more like contacts.
  • When I find strangers, even if through someone I know or a group I'm associated with, I can't be completely sure of their abilities. I try to cast only people I've worked with and am 100% confident in.
  • I also have no way (other than a costly, time-intensive interview or calling references) of evaluating their general reliability.
And so my clients found themselves in the situation where one of the three actors I cast arrived two hours late. He overslept. Unbelievable. In almost 10 years of commercial acting I can only recall one instance of an actor falling through like that. And that wasn't even entirely the actor's fault.

I was pretty pissed. I actually saw him across a crowded meeting the other night but then he disappeared when things broke up, so I didn't get a chance to talk to him. I wasn't going to yell at him or get all dramatic. I just wanted to remind him of how I went to bat for him on a couple of key things and how disappointed I was.

Plus the producer already read the kid the proverbial riot act. And they docked his pay because they had to pay the crew overtime. So I feel like he's been pretty well punished. Plus I'll never hire him again on the .0000001% chance I do another casting project.

Here is what I'm grateful for:
  • I have an established reputation with the client over many, many years.
  • They recognized from the outset that I'm not a professional casting agent.
  • They also recognized that hiring a relative stranger without an audition was a risk, but felt it was one worth taking on a simple shoot with no dialogue.
  • The other two actors hit it out of the park.
Hopefully the kid will learn from this experience. I know I have.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Father's Day


Tonight I was reading what seemed like a genuine good news story: Obama is to announce Wednesday the schedule for pulling the surge troops out of Afghanistan. Various options are being considered, but things seem to be settling around getting most or all 30,000 out by the end of 2012.

Awesome, right?

Then I get to the end of the article and I learn that that actually leaves 68,000 soldiers there. Which is more than when Obama entered office.

Ridiculous. Shame on me for not knowing that we have 100,000 troops in Afghanistan. It's so easy to ignore the issue and pretend it's not there.

I don't blame Obama, of course. He's cleaning up the other guy's mess. But damnit, we need to end this thing.

I watched Restrepo the other day, which was co-directed by Tim Hetherington, who was recently killed in Libya covering that war. It's like a non-fiction version of The Hurt Locker. I keep thinking of the horrible things we're putting these kids through -- experiences that will stay with them and scar them forever.

And then I think of my Dad, and all he probably went through in Vietnam. The things he did and saw. The Agent Orange that his body absorbed and has been identified as a possible factor in his prostrate cancer (which, ironically, has been the very least of his problems). The jury's still out on whether it contributed to his early-onset Alzheimer's.

Of course, that's the physical damage. In a cruel sort of mercy he's also been relieved of whatever emotional/mental burdens he carried home. I wrote this the other day on Facebook. I don't think it's a particularly original thought, but it says what I've been feeling:
On this Father's Day, thinking of all the fathers and sons (and mothers and daughters) we send off to fight our wars. For the warriors, the war never ends. They all come back wounded in one way or another. Only the dead find peace.
Really upbeat, I know.

Friday, June 17, 2011

That wasn't so bad

I wanted to write 10 articles promoting the book in a month and I just finished two more, which makes five already.

Some of these will be easier than others, but I think I'll see if I can get the 10 total completed with the next week or two.

The bad thing is, I'm really finding holes in the book's original text and new things to say and better ways of saying them. I think I've hit on an interesting method here: if you write something in two or three forms and lengths -- say, text meant for reading, speech, and short video -- it will give you all sorts of insights.

Of course, who has the time for that?

Anyway, I'm really pleased with the things I'm coming up with. And as I said the other day, there's no way to avoid the book being dated within minutes of completion. Like the chapter "In The Spotlight," which points out some of the risks associated with social media. My twitter cautionary tale is ridiculously tame in light of current events ...


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Thursday, June 16, 2011

Official Dork


Eighteen months ago I climbed into a tight-fitting referees's uniform and shot some video for this website. I wasn't aware it was online until an old colleague Facebooked me to say he heard my voice on the computer while his son was searching for cars.

I think it turned out pretty well for all the pain and toil. Not too cheesy. I mean, just being in the uniform and appearing on the page like that is kind of cheesy, but it certainly could have been a lot worse in the hands of lesser talents.

And considering it was all done on green screen, I'm impressed at how well my gestures appear to match up with the various buttons and things I'm pointing to.

I'd like to see some statistics on how many people end up turning me off:


Hopefully I'm not as unpopular as the old Microsoft paperclip. I really hated that little bastard.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Book 2.0

I feel like I'm writing a whole other book.

I'm working on writing articles based on the book's content and getting them "placed" in various publications. I have a list of 20 possible topics and I've completed three. I'm shooting to get 10 done in the next month.

As for where they'll appear, I'm starting easy, with PR/communications industry publications. I've got one of the three successfully placed and another under consideration. From there I'll expand the universe to general business publications.

It's a lot of work. I had visions of mainly lifting copy directly from the book (which I would note with any editors I pitch), but that's not quite how it's worked out. They need context and they need to be targeted to each publication's readership. One article was pulled from three different chapters, and included a lot of revised and even new copy.

That's right, I'm still finding ways to improve the writing, which tells me a couple of things. It's good to have the book done and in the can, because I could continue to edit forever. And, I won't have any trouble in the months and maybe years ahead finding new things to say about the same basic lessons.

It's a lot of work. And it's not the kind of work anyone's standing over me making me do, so all the motivation has to come from within.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Changes

A few years ago I got some surprising and unsettling news. A colleague with whom I've collaborated on lots of projects went to work for one of our biggest clients.

It felt weird and I was really concerned about what would happen to my work flow. This was the beginning of the latest recession and there was a lot of anxiety anyway. It ended up turning out just fine. Having a close ally actually at the client and in a position to dispense work was great.

Of course, now that I've had a few years to get used to this new normal, it's changed again. He just left the client and is back out on his own. I'm kind of experiencing the same emotions and anxieties all over again.

But it's probably a good thing. Hopefully they'll be shipping work out to him (and thus to me). Plus there will probably be other work for other clients as he builds his business back up again.

That's the hope anyway.

Friday, June 10, 2011

The shoot


In spite of a series of monsoons training straight across the country from South Dakota through Chicago and Northern Indiana, all on a track parallel to Toledo, we were completely spared from the storms.

Anticipation of the violent weather caused some rejiggering of the shoot schedule, but everything seemed to dissipate once it got near Lake Erie. So we had pretty mild weather and got our outdoor and indoor shots accomplished on schedule.

In addition to mowing a lawn (or at least, two strips of lawn over and over and over) for the first time since I was 14, I got to do a little of the ol' acting thing. It's very odd. Dramatic acting has never been my strong suit. On stage, at least, I just don't seem to be able to bring it the way I should -- the emotion and authenticity and all that.

But for the camera I seem to do all right. Maybe because the camera requires less. I was doing the big climactic scene with my Alzheimer's patient mother, and we did a number of takes and I kept waiting for them to say, "more, more." I mean, I feel like we barely scratched the surface, but they were good with it. Great with it, actually.

So I don't know. Maybe it's the camera, maybe their standards are lower or maybe I'm getting better at this. "This" in this case being expressing relief, joy, sadness, fear, resignation and acceptance all at once.

I was definitely helped along by my intimate acquaintance with the subject matter, I suppose. And though there were some weird echos of my own personal experience, I kept it together just fine.

The storms did affect our travel back, in that our flight was canceled due to backups at O'Hare. I was very motivated to get our asses home last night, while the other actors kind of hemmed and hawed about staying another night and getting a ride up to Detroit the next day for a "maybe" flight back OR a day spent in the Detroit airport. I said screw that and got us a one-way rental car and we bombed it back to Chicago in four hours.

It's odd. I tend to take a lot of time for decisions that don't require an instant answer, but when I'm up against the wall, the right thing to do always feels incredibly clear to me. I've got to find a way to make that skill a little more portable to the everyday parts of my life.

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Back to Ohio





Somewhere in this hotel is my mother. Okay, my "mother." She has "Alzheimer's." Tomorrow I chase around after her in this commercial shoot.

I suppose if I was a serious actor like my theater friends, I would have had dinner with her this evening so we could establish some kind of authentic connection. But that's not my method. Or "method."

I want to save it all for when we get on set. Also, I just felt like going to dinner on my own and reading.

They pick me up at 5:45 am. Which is really 4:45 to me. So I'm going to try really hard to get to sleep by 11. Which I guess is 10. Probably not going to happen. But at least I don't have to drive 4 hours home afterwards. I can just sleep on the flying sardine can.

Mostly I'm hoping this front comes through overnight and does its thing, because two of my three scenes are outdoors. They're calling for mid-80s instead of mid-90s, which would be good.

And never mind the subject matter. I'm just focused on sleep and the weather ...


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Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Doctor, doctor

Went to the allergist today and it turns out, contrary to my fear, that my doctor is still there. Glad I didn't go too deep into planning how and where to get black market pharmaceuticals ...

It's so stupid. I told him he wasn't on the website. And the place I go, of course, has multiple entities -- a hospital, a group, etc. -- divisions that make no sense to customers. So he says he's not on the one site because he's not fully part of the hospital -- he practices there one day a week and spends the rest of his time at his expen$ive private practice on Michigan Avenue.

So they don't list him with the other specialists because they don't get a piece of the action when new patients come to or are referred to him. Which is idiotic on a couple of levels. If people want to find him, they'll find him. And it's confusing for existing patients/customers.

Finally, it's hypocritical. They're all too happy to boast about having him on their roster when he's getting recognition and accolades and professorships (and he truly is one of the best around -- he's got a great reputation). But then on the website he's a non-entity.

Bureaucracy.

Monday, June 06, 2011

Courtesy and gratitude

A few times a year I get asked to read for a play or audition for a film or other project. Sometimes there's a particular role that the director feels I'm ideal for, but often they're in a jam -- an actor has dropped out or something.

I tell them that I've been focused primarily in the past couple of years on commercial (paid) work, my regular work, and writing and marketing for the book. But I ask them to send details about the production and the schedule and I tell them I'll look it over and get back to them promptly.

Then nine times out of ten I determine that's it's not for me. It might require more time and attention than I can give in the face of my other commitments. Or maybe it's a script or role that doesn't particularly excite me. Or it just doesn't hold enough challenge or opportunity to make it worthwhile.

It's not all about me, of course. I do consider whether I might want to do it as a favor to the director or the company. But in the end, yes, it has to be about me and what's in my interest.

When I decline, I'm courteous. I thank them for thinking of me, I compliment the script if I sincerely like it, I explain that my schedule precludes my participation, and I wish them well with the production.

And then ... nothing. I know they're disappointed. I know they have to focus on the production and immediately turn their attention to their next prospect, but it's just funny -- the contrast between their initial enthusiastic implorations and their subsequent silence.

It makes you feel like the whole thing was just a generic transaction, rather than the outcome of a true and respectful relationship.

Hey, it's a business. I don't take it personally. But I don't forget, either ...

Friday, June 03, 2011

And the hits just keep coming

I booked my 11th job of the year. It's the audition I did on my birthday as an Alzheimer's caregiver.

Yikes. Should be an interesting day.

And it means going back to Ohio. And not even Columbus. Toledo.

I've been all over Ohio, to places most Ohioans have never even ventured. And I've been to Toledo.

Let's just leave it at that, shall we?

At least this is a good paying job. Another flight, another overnight, but pretty good pay.

Thursday, June 02, 2011

A night on the town


Columbus-town, that is.

So three hours after I checked in to the hotel, I checked back out and hopped a cab downtown to meet up with old (and new) friends. We had pizza, drank beer and stayed up until 2 am talking about ye olde tymes. It was awesome.

This morning they drove me to the airport, I landed at Midway and went straight to an audition at my agent's. Then I came home and crashed.

I'd say it was easy money, but it wasn't that easy. I mean, the luggage was heavy, what with five or eight changes of wardrobe for the shoot and all ...

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

All shaved up and nowhere to go




Well, this has never happened.

I flew out to Columbus this afternoon for a commercial shoot tomorrow and there's an urgent message on my phone when I get to my hotel. I call them and it turns out they went over the scripts with the client today and ... wrote my character out!

Apparently they made the decision just as I was wheels up. Clients!

Fortunately my agent fought hard for a good fee for me. They wanted to do a cancellation fee, but with less than 24 hours' notice AND considering the fact that I FLEW TO FREAKIN' OHIO, she got me most of my original fee -- 80%. Which isn't bad considering I'll be back in Chicago tomorrow morning.

The only really bad parts? The hotel pool is indoors, and I shaved for this job. Dummy. If I'd only waited til the morning, but I had to plan ahead ...



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