Saturday, December 31, 2011

2011 in Numbers

Even though I had bigger things on my mind this year -- the book, mainly -- I remain committed at least to quantifying the acting work. Surprisingly, this was my second best year ever in terms of income.

But first let's start with the numbers:
  • 19 print auditions
  • 24 commercial auditions
  • 16 industrial auditions
  • 2 film auditions
  • 2 commercial voiceover auditions
That's 63 total auditions. Rather remarkably, that's the exact same number as last year, and down once again from my 2007-2009 highs:
  • 2011: 63
  • 2010: 63
  • 2009: 101
  • 2008: 103
  • 2007: 86
  • 2006: 48
On the bookings front, here's how things looked:
  • 5 print
  • 4 commercial *
  • 5 on-camera industrial
  • 2 voiceover industrial
That's 16 total bookings (not counting extra work, which I don't count), a few more than my usual total of around a dozen. Things slowed considerably, since 12 of the 16 came in the first half of the year. But a couple of my biggest bookings in terms of dollars came in the second half.

Money-wise, a seemingly ordinary year turned out pretty well. It was actually my second best year ever in terms of revenue. Second best by far, actually -- about 40% higher than last year, which was my previous second best.

All in all, that's a year I would not kick out of bed for eating crackers.

* 1 of the commercial bookings was canceled (though I still got paid, so it counts) and another was just a "spec" commercial.

Friday, December 30, 2011


I have been "home" (I put it in quotes because really it's the place I grew up and where most of my family is -- I consider Chicago my real home now) more this year than any year I can remember. Four times: July, October, November and December.

That's a lot.

But it's also taken some of the shock out of seeing Dad and the state he's in. In a six- or eleven-month span a lot changes. With this schedule it's more incremental, but still as inexorable as ever. Some of his autonomic functions are starting to shut down.

But he's still at home, thanks to government-provided health care of the kind that some parties want to preserve only for the elite. He's getting good care. And he still seems to smile in his own way.

As usual, there's not much else to add. I will say the pain of going there is considerably easier to deal with than the guilt associated with shirking it.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Speed Racer

How do you shoot sunny outdoor scenes in the midst of a (semi-)harsh Chicago winter? Other people get swept off to LA or Florida. I get sent to the Lincoln Park Conservatory, a great big 115-year-old greenhouse in the heart of Chicago.

It's a pleasant place in the winter to feel a little moisture on your parched skin. And today it was the setting for Day One of a two-day photo shoot. I "fished" and I "biked" and then I was done.

It's very odd doing acting work* this time of year. The casting and talent agencies are even shut down from Christmas to New Year's. (My agent's been calling me from his parents' house in the suburbs.) But I'm okay with it. The money is good.

Tomorrow I head up the North Shore where we'll be shooting in a lakefront mansion that Google satellite view indicates is bigger than my supermarket. I envision elegant, high-ceilinged rooms with temporary pathways of cardboard and plastic sheeting and lots and lots of rules pertaining to where we can eat and drink and wear shoes.

* And, yes, this is acting work. I get asked over and over during the holidays if I "miss acting" and I have to explain that even though I'm not currently doing theater, shooting commercials and industrials and doing photo shoots is still "acting" and it's still "work." And it's even fun sometimes. And it even PAYS. So there you go.

Friday, December 23, 2011

This is Why I Can't Have Sharp Things

From the week that was:
  • I've never in my life carried or owned a pocket knife. For early Christmas I got a Swiss Army Knife. Within seconds I had sliced open the tip of my thumb. This is why I can't have knives. Or guns, especially. (Still, I'm excited to be a knife owner.)
  • I got my stitches out today and the nurse said the wound is healing very nicely. Give me a set of written instructions (antibiotics for 1 week, no workouts for 1 week, light workouts second week, clean wound and change dressing twice a day) and I can do just about anything. (I even managed some light pushups this week.)
  • I've been invited to keynote a major regional PR industry conference in March. It will be my biggest in-person audience yet -- 200 people. And wouldn't you know it, it happens just 30 minutes after my webinar for Georgetown University ends. Back-to-back shows!
  • In my entire career I have probably worked less than 10 days total between Christmas and New Year's. And I have never, ever done acting work during that time. I just got booked for a day-and-a-half print shoot next week, and it's fairly lucrative. I'm surprised I got it. The audition was just the other day and they were looking for really upbeat, happy and warm people. Once again ... ACTING, THANK YOU!
  • Every year just as I start my Christmas shopping, I end up buying a bunch of stuff for myself. This year I haven't bought a single thing for me. It's awesome: I save money, have more to spend on family/loved ones, and feel uncharacteristically altruistic. Go, me!
That is all.

Monday, December 19, 2011

On the radio

This weekend I did a radio appearance on WGN in Chicago. It's a short, 10-minute segment, which can be listened to here.

It's interesting that I thought actually being in the studio with the host, as opposed to calling in, would be an easier, more engaging experience. Better chemistry and being able to make eye contact and such.

But it wasn't quite like that. First off, we're in this windowed studio facing Michigan Avenue and people are pressing their noses up against the glass and the host somehow manages, without missing a beat, to enthusiastically wave to everyone who passes -- when I'm talking, even when he's talking.

Plus, radio hosts are monitoring a hundred different things. They've got producers talking in their ear and they're watching the clock and they're looking up stuff online and have messages coming over their computer screen and a bunch of other stuff. So he asks me a question then is immediately immersed in all these other things.

He still manages somehow to listen, which is something I could never possibly do -- achieving that kind of focus in the midst of all those distractions -- but it's a little disconcerting to have your "audience" kind of all over the place like that.

Still, it turned out well enough. He picked my segment among the four hours of material he got that morning for the site's webcast. So that says something. I still feel a lot of pressure in these short interview situations (like the two-minute TV appearance) to get everything in and be succinct.

I don't know how much time I'll get on Martha's network, but I hope it's a good 20 or 30 minutes.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Thank you, Facebook

Kenny was one of my good friends from elementary school. A small gang of us would hang out, ride bikes, go to the pool, ice skate at the lake, have rock fights, start fires. The usual stuff 10-year-olds do.

Kenny goes by Ken now. I have seen him in person exactly once in the decades since high school, at our 10-year reunion. But we're still in touch. You know how? Through Facebook.

And even though the anti-Facebook backlash, which has been going on since about five minutes after Facebook was invented, continues unabated, Kenny-now-Ken has just added Act Like You Mean Business to the syllabus for a course he teaches at a major university back East.

All because of a status update he posted one day about being an English professor suddenly stuck teaching a business writing class.

He didn't adopt the book because we used to blow up my sisters' old Barbie dolls with firecrackers. Far from it. He was skeptical and I had to work for this sale, with a multitude of suggestions for exercises and homework assignments.

But I never would have known about it if not for Facebook.

There's surely a lot of nonsense there, from Farmville to that stupid ticker, but in all that stewy bathwater is a baby worth saving.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011


It's the end of the year and I'm getting every doctor's appointment, checkup, procedure and test done now before deductibles for next year kick in.

I had four appointments last week, one this week and another next week -- eye, allergy and multiple derm visits. One of them they had to cut me open! It was a small carbuncle or something on my back that's been there for years but kind of bugs me.

So now instead of a lump I will have a scar. It's ridiculous how big the incision has to be for a such a small thing, and I'm hoping it heals up without being too heinous.

The worst part, aside from a couple of days' pain, is that I can't work out AT ALL for at least a week. Maybe two. I guess while I'm healing I can't have blood pumping super hard through my body. That, plus most workouts -- yoga, Pilates and weights -- are going to be pretty near impossible as long as a major muscle group is hanging together by a thread.

So I haven't been to the gym in four days and I'm already feeling really sluggish and sloth-like. Maybe I should be walking or something with this extra 60-90 minutes a day.

This, I suppose, is how the sedentary half lives.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Mood Swings

When you're constantly pitching yourself as a product, your mood tends to shift up and down with every yes and no. And since there are, by nature, more nos than yeses, it's not surprising that I get a little ... fatigued sometimes with all the rejection. (Or the indifference that amounts to rejection.)

It was like that on Tuesday. I was feeling kind of down about it and as the afternoon wore on just got really sleepy and lazy. Unbeknownst to me, PR Daily was just then posting an article I submitted. Had I known that, it might have changed my outlook that evening. As it was, I didn't discover it for almost 24 hours, when I noticed a spike of hits to my various websites.

So this morning I'm back on the horse and decide to follow up with a radio producer I hadn't heard from in a while. Last we talked she was going to check with the show's host. That was a month ago. So I emailed her, thinking it was futile at this point, and in a matter of hours she checked with the host who reacted positively and now I'm booked! (On Martha Stewart's radio network, btw.)

It's crazy. They tell you not to bug them over the phone. They say they hate the reminder call, or the "just checking in" call. But it seems to work. I think it's worked at least four times now. A couple of guys I called and emailed multiple times over several months are now running my stuff.

At some point I'm hoping for a snowball effect, and I get people calling me, asking me to appear on their show or write for their publication or post on their blog. It's gonna take a while, though. Especially because, well, I've got big ideas.

For now though, back to the well, trying to get some Chicago TV and some big time print.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

The 7 Habits of Highly Annoying Commercial Extras

I don't do much extra work.

First off, the pay is usually terrible. On a feature film you may take home $65 or so for an 8-hour day.

Second, it's boring. Tons of standing around. On film shoots I've seen dozens of extras show up, wait all day, and never even get into a scene. (But they still get their $65!)

Third, if you like to work, it's tough watching other actors get to do great stuff while you walk in circles in the background.

But certain jobs -- commercial extra work, especially under a SAG contract -- can pay a decent amount. So today I worked as an extra, and it was the right call, but I was reminded of some of the things other extras do that annoy me.

So here is my list of the annoying things bad extras do. They:
  1. Denigrate the process. Background actors are essential to the production. True, just about anyone can (and does) do it -- students, retirees, bored people, the underemployed. But you are an actor filling a necessary role. Stop putting it down. Do you think the assistant gaffer bitches about having to run around taking orders and putting tape on stuff? Nope, he's there to do his job, and he shuts his mouth and does it professionally.
  2. Denigrate the production. Yeah, the director may not be Scorcese, but guess what? You're not DeNiro. They're earning a living wage doing this job. YOU are just a freaking extra on this production you think sucks. Do you know how silly you sound making fun of them? Calling them Cecil B. DeMille behind their back? Really silly. And pathetic.
  3. Refuse to listen. I learned this the hard way in just my second theater production. The director yelled at us, literally, for chatting and holding side conversations while he was talking. I thought he was an a-hole at the time, but he was right. I like to listen, even when the director's not talking to me. If I know what the principals are being instructed to do, then I'll have a better understanding of what I need do. Extras get very little direction or feedback, so every little bit, wherever you can get it, helps.
  4. Distract others. Again, some of us are trying to listen and pay attention. So shut up and save your stories for later. And in the meantime, work on them a bit. Take a tip from film: stories have a beginning, a middle and an END. Not to mention conflict, drama and human interest. Make it so.
  5. Obsess over the food. This is a big thing with non-actor extras on films. Some of them show up mainly for the meal (and they are not poor or starving). But I've seen professional actors obsess ridiculously over the food, complaining that it's not coming soon enough or that they have to line up behind the crew. We need to be fed, yes, but the craft table is not the main event.
  6. Bug people for stills and clips. First, you're talking to the wrong person. The photographer or the DP or the client or the agency creative director are not the people to ask for clips. They've got jobs to do. There's a production coordinator who signs your papers. Talk to him or her. But, seriously, don't bug them, either. Nobody wants to see a background, nonspeaking role on your reel. And if you'd like a photo, have another extra snap one of you.
  7. Complain about having to stick around. You signed up for 8 hours. You know the drill. Even if your scene was done before lunch, there's a 99% chance they are not going to release you until the end of the shift. Because you never know. You just might be needed for something. And for that 8 hours, they own your ass. So bring a book and be prepared to sit around all day.
So in addition to the pay and inactivity and the boredom, it's the people that sometimes make being an extra a really unsatisfying experience.