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THIS IS ACTING FOR FILM AND TV – Guest Blog by Jamison Haase

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I am a theater-trained actor. I have spent years strutting the boards and working on the text, working on my projection—basically, working on my acting craft. There’s only one problem: I now work in film and television, and the mediums are very different.

Many of my students come from a theater background, and much like I did when I first entered the industry, they can sometimes have difficulty transitioning from theater to film and TV. The first thing theater-trained actors need to understand about working in film and television is specifically how different the mediums are. Obviously, there are many differences between film and television and theater— differences in physicality, rehearsal, and clearly, pay—but there is no difference more profound than how the story is communicated to the audience.

Film and television is a story in pictures.

In theater, the story is told mainly through the characters’ dialogue. Often, characters will simply tell you what they are thinking and feeling. This is largely due to the physical distance of the audience. Many of them are so far away, they cannot see what a character might be thinking, feeling, or even doing, and so this information has to be imparted to the audience through the dialogue. This is why if you listen to a radio play or attend a reading, you understand the vast majority of what’s happening even though the visuals are minimal or even non-existent.

The exact opposite is true for film and TV. If you step away from your television for even a moment, you no longer know what is going on, even if you can still hear the characters speaking. The story is told through the thoughts and emotions on the actors’ faces and not what they say. How else can you explain why Steven Spielberg calls himself a “visual storyteller”? Or how we can have movies like “Cast Away,” with more than 30 minutes of no dialogue, or “All Is Lost,” starring Robert Redford, which only has two lines of dialogue in a two-hour movie, or “Quest for Fire,” which is Ron Perlman’s first film, where there is no dialogue at all? And these a just a few examples.

So, clearly, when it comes to film and TV, the dialogue is secondary to the picture, but what does that mean for the actor? It means that what the actor thinks, feels, and physically does is the story, and more specifically, what the character thinks, feels, and does. So never set about trying to just memorize the dialogue of your scene, instead focus on what your character would think, feel, and do, and let those thoughts, feelings, or action inform the dialogue.

On top of it all, props will, on occasion, need to be in the frame to help tell the story. Think of a soft-drink commercial. The actor will often hold the can or bottle right up by their smiling face. Why? Not because we do that in real life, but because the story is about the interaction between the actor and the product. The prop needs to be in the shot in order to communicate that to the audience. Think about an action film. At the end of every film, during the final climactic battle, there is suddenly a shot of the gun on the floor, or the axe on the wall. That shot communicates the importance of the object, where the object is, and that it’s going to be used shortly, all without anyone mentioning it. That’s the only reason why that shot exists.

Think of yourself like a painter. What’s in the frame? What’s out?

For your next film and television audition, focus on the picture. Spend some time beforehand in front of a camera to work on communicating what your character thinks, feels, and does clearly, specifically, and simply, and let the dialogue go. Just a little bit. After all, film and television is nothing but a “story in pictures.”

By Jamison Haase, working actor and founder of LA On-Camera Training Center

*originally appeared in Backstage West

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HOW TO GET AND KEEP THE RIGHT AGENT: DO’S AND DON’TS

imagesThe RIGHT agent and/or manager can make a world of difference in your career. But how do you find the right representative(s) and keep them?

First of all the RIGHT representative is one that is excited to work with you.

It’s kind of like dating, you don’t want someone who doesn’t want you, or whom you have to chase around all the time, who doesn’t call you back. Make sense?

So you know what you DON’T want, but what DO you want?

You want a representative who has great relationships with casting professionals and who has a positive reputation in the industry. You can research agents and managers on IMDB Pro (which you should have a membership to anyway so that you can have a more complete profile on IMDB). Look at who is on their roster: do they have anyone like you? Are their clients working? How many clients do they have?

If you have an agent do you need a manager?

That depends. If you agent is getting you out, you may still want a manager if you can find the kind of manager who will really add something to your team–someone who is doing MORE than just submitting, who is getting you general meetings with casting, who is helping you mold your brand, who is looking for projects for you. If you are meeting with a manger you want to be sure and ask them about this also, how do they work? How are they different from an agent? Do they know your agent already?

If you already have a manager, do you need an agent?

Possibly, it depends on the manager, again. Many managers work the same way agents do these days. If you have a manager like the one described above, yes, you do want an agent so that your manager can focus on these other developmental aspects of your career. And if you are just starting out, non union, very young, and are what is called a “developmental” actor, then the manager can help by setting up meetings with agents as well.

If you do a mailing to agents or managers…

Do your research first so you are not submitting blindly. Submit to agents that work with actors in your age range and whose actors (you can see their roster on IMDB Pro) are working. Mail to 3 at a time. The cover letter should be short and sweet, it is not likely to be read unless they really like the headshot, and even then it may not get read. What matters is the headshot and resume. Follow up by email after 3 days. If a number is listed, call after 5 days DURING OFF HOURS when you know you can just leave a message. 7 days after your first mailing, drop off another copy of the headshot and resume with a sticky note: “seeking reps” for the SPECIFIC agent you are targeting. After 7 days, move on to the next 3 until you have meetings set up.

If you do a showcase with agents or managers…

You must first of all be prepared to keep the contact information they provide. Don’t expect to be able to look it up later. Although if you find yourself in a bind most agent and manager emails are listed on IMDB Pro. They may give a private email in the workshop and the facility is most likely not permitted to repeat that information. If they ask to see a reel, send them a link (NOT an attachment) to the email address they have given. Most prefer this method. And most prefer an email to a phone call. If they specified another method to follow up with them, follow their instructions.
If they say “keep in touch” for possible future representation, follow up within 2-3 days with a postcard and/or email. Keep it brief. Just a reminder of who you are and that you are interested in meeting with them, and that you are following up “AS PER YOUR REQUEST.” Most reputable workshop companies will be doing these showcases in May and November when agents are looking. Then in the following weeks agents and managers are updating their roster and weeding out actors they no longer want to represent which leaves room for new ones. Do continue to stay on their radar!

If they say they would like to meet with you, follow up right away, in the fashion they indicated in the showcase. Always keep communications brief, positive, and professional.

I will say, I myself did 6 of these when I was looking for an agent about 10 years ago. At the time I had 1 co-star on my resume. I was 35 but I still looked late 20’s. I play white collar professionals, moms, basically I’m cut out for a series regular in a 1 hr. drama. I’m not a bombshell a la Pamela Anderson, but I’m not a character actor either. And I’m brunette. So there’s a lot of me. That means it’s not going to be so easy to get me auditions.

What I heard from agents at the time was a lot of this:
Send me your reel (and then they’d never get back to me)
Great job (but I have someone like you with better credits)
Check with me for future representation (when you have better credits)

BUT eventually the (very small boutique) agent I was with at the time moved to one of the (bigger, better) agencies I had showcased for. Because I had already seen the head of the agency she was allowed to take me with her and I ended up with a pretty good agent until the strike in 2007 closed them down. So, my point is that you never know how this is going to pan out for you, and it may not look the way you expect it to. Also, you are just starting out, so you might want to look for an agent who is too, or look to smaller more approachable agencies. But also, that you have to meet a lot of agents before you find the right one.

When you get a meeting with an agent what should you ask in a meeting?

Do you need to know thier favorite color? (no).
Do you want to ask some questions? (yes)
What do you need to know?

Here are a few of the questions you should be prepared to ask and answer.

Again, this is a lot like dating. Your job is to show them a good time. And your job is also to find out what you need to know to determine if this person is a good match for you. 

 

WHEN YOU HAVE A MEETING WITH A REPRESENTATIVE

– Do ask questions before you sign.

1. Are you union franchised?

2. Which Casting Directors do you know best?

3. What does the ideal actor/rep relationship look like to you? (In other words what are you doing for them and what are they doing for you – this is about expectations, be clear!).

– Do be prepared in an interview for what the Agent May Ask YOU!

1. Are you SAG-AFTRA? or eligible?

2. Which Casting Directors do you know best?

3. What do you hope to achieve through this relationship? (again this is about expectations, if you haven’t already asked they may ask this).

Of course they may not ask anything at all. Which to me is a red flag unless you’ve already answered all of their questions. You also want to just notice in the meeting if this person appears professional, ie: do they have an office, do they dress professionally, do they behave and speak like a business person, do they seem knowledgable about the industry?

Remember this is your REPRESENTATIVE and they must represent you in a way that is in alignment with your own values and in a way that helps you rather than hurts you.

At the end of the meeting be sure to ask how they would prefer you follow up with them, by phone? By email? And how much time they need to think it over IF they do not offer you representation right there on the spot.

 

ONCE YOU HAVE A REPRESENTATIVE

Once you have the right representative you must know the Do’s and Don’ts of etiquette in order to keep them.

 

DON’T

– Don’t go out of town without telling them in advance. If you go out of town- June and late December are your options, especially if you are not a well known actor yet.

– Don’t be unprofessional in auditions. For example, showing up late. Not cool.

– Don’t call your agent to complain about not getting any auditions. Do something to help them out or find a new agent.

– Don’t disappear. If they never hear from you they may forget you exist.

– Don’t take forever to respond to requests for new headshots, etc.

– Don’t ask for a different time for your audition, make it happen unless it is something huge and rare. Changing times makes your agent annoyed and can make everyone look bad. Make it happen, or someone else will!!

– Don’t take more than 30 minutes to respond to texts/emails/calls from them. They need to confirm quickly for auditions.

 

DO

– Do be on top of YOUR business. Give them the tools they need to get you in doors, aka have a reel AND clips up on your online profiles. Have updated headshots with different looks, update your resume constantly.

– Do Always “book out” if you are leaving town or otherwise engaged so your agent is not submitting you for work you can’t do!

– Do be ready to put something on tape should something perfect come along while you are out of town. You can use your phone’s video cam for this, no excuses!

– Do respond to any requests they make.

– Do reply quickly to their calls.

– Do be sure to keep them updated on casting directors you are meeting in workshops, how your audition went, if you are doing any live performance (stand up, plays, etc.) or your own projects (web series, one woman show, etc.) If you are planning to get new headshots, or print postcards, talk to your agent about it beforehand for suggestions, or at the very least let them know you are on top of it.

– Do create a connection. You want to have a relationship with this person, the better they know you, the better they will be at submitting you. Do you share a love of animals? Fitness? Cupcakes? Ryan Gosling?

 

Feel free to post follow up questions for me in the comments if I’ve left any of your questions unanswered.

 

 

 

 

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HOW TO GET YOUR SAG-AFTRA UNION CARD

imagesI remember when I arrived in LA and an agent told me “If you’ve been here for more than a year and you don’t have your SAG card you’re not doing your job.” Ouch. And yet… yeah. It’s not that hard, you just have to know what to do, and then do it.

There are several routes which I’ll outline below

The route that works best for you will depend on the resources you already have in place. That said, choose one and make it happen.

Before you can audition for any network TV (for the most part) you will need to at least be eligible. That is because the Screen Actors Guild – American Federation of Television and Radio Artists union will fine a television production for hiring a non union actor if the union feels that the production could just as well have hired someone already in the union.

So, unless you are a Vietnamese little person with trapeze skills who can speak Spanish with a German accent (an extreme example but you get my point ) or someone equally as rare, you are unlikely to be called in to audition for or Taft-Hartleyed by Prime Time Network Television. Taft-Hartley is the name of the law by which an actor is drafted into SAG-AFTRA. This is due to budget constraints. A production such as this does not have it in their budget to pay such fines.

However, a commercial production may. If a commercial is going to hire 1 or 2 actors for a 1 million dollar shoot that lasts 3 days and they can get all the ad executives and all the producers and the director to agree on one actor, who cares if they spend $2,000 on a Taft-Hartley? As compared to say, a 1 hr. drama that hires 20-25 co-stars and 6-8 guest stars PER EPISODE and has a budget of, say $35,000 per episode. Make sense?

For this reason many actors are Taft-Hartleyed on commercials or even films, which likewise have fewer budget constraints than TV. Occasionally on a network or cable TV show if the actor does have a special skill or an unusual attribute which makes them hard to find, (or if they just REALLY REALLY want a certain actor) a production will risk the fine and Taft-Hartley that actor.

Once you are ELIGIBLE for the union you may work several jobs without having to pay the full dues and join.

It’s wise to ride that fence for a while so that you can build credits and make money on both union and non-union jobs until the union tells you its time, you’re then called a “must join,” which is self-explanatory, no? You then must FOLLOW THE STEPS to join on the next union job you book.

You can find out more about all of this online at www.sagaftra.org or at the Los Angeles office:

National Headquarters

5757 Wilshire Blvd., 7th Floor
Los Angeles, CA 90036-3600
Switchboard: (323) 954-1600
Toll free: (855) SAG-AFTRA / (855) 724-2387

 

HERE ARE THE TOP 4 WAYS AN ACTOR CAN BECOME ELIGIBLE: 

1. Book a union commercial, film, or (rarely) a part in a TV show and get Taft-Hartleyed. If you’re not sure if a production is union or not you can ask or check with SAG. Usually it will be in the breakdown.

2. Work 3 days as a background actor on a union production. You will be expected to provide proof of employment (such as a pay stub), so keep good records!

3. “Sister in” through an affiliated performers’ union (ACTRA, AEA, AGMA or AGVA). You must be a paid-up member in good standing for a period of one year and must have worked and been paid at least once as a principal performer in that union’s jurisdiction.

4. Produce and perform in your own New Media production and Taft-Hartley yourself. You must have existing union members in your production. You can find out more information at the SAG Website on how to become a signatory.

HINT: I strongly advocate for route #4 because it puts YOU in control and you end up with a piece of material for your reel, a new credit, and the satisfaction of knowing YOU made it happen for YOURSELF! For more on this read my FOLLOW UP POST ON EXACTLY HOW TO DO THAT! 

 

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8 Marketing Exercises to Pinpoint What An Actor Can Sell

How is one shampoo different from another?2

How do I know which one I want to buy?

Where do I find the answers to such epic questions? Easy.

The company selling the shampoo TELLS ME.

As an actor, part of your job (as the CEO of your company) is to tell your buyer what you are selling, to differentiate yourself from other actors, and go give them a reason to “buy,” or hire you. Not just because you are talented. You MUST be talented. Beyond that, marketing savvy will help you get that talent HIRED. 

It is wise to take the path of least resistance. What is in front of you? This is what the universe is offering. Why dismiss it? Embrace your strengths rather than struggling against your weaknesses. Last night at Act Now I did several exercises with my clients to help them pinpoint how others see them. How others see us is not always the same as how we see ourselves. But we must know how others see us, how casting directors, producers, writers, and directors see us, in order to know how we are likely to be cast.

Those roles in which you most naturally and effortlessly fit are the roles in which you can most effectively contribute to the production, the audience, and the world. 

You don’t have to be all things to all people! You’ve got to be YOU.

Rather than limiting you, this appraoch will help you get your foot in the door more quickly. Later, you can branch out to other roles, but you will have your niche.

Here are the 8 BEST marketing exercises to pinpoint your niche.

1. Who are your top five competitors? What can you learn from watching them work? Who is casting them? 

2. List your ASSESTS and LIABILITIES. Ie: beauty, sex appeal, business sense, great agent, great cold reading skills, supportive community, age, contacts, etc. 

3. Choose 5 TV shows or films (preferably currently casting) and find out all you can about them. Do your research.

4. One Minute Pitch: You’re in a elevator with Stephen Spielberg. He asks you, so who are you? What do you tell him? 

5. Write a recommendation letter for yourself. List 3 strengths. List 3 things you need to work on. What do you admire most about this person/ What is this person’s best overall quality? 

6. List 10 actors of the same sex that you admire. Now list 3 roles each actor has played, describe the part, not just naming the film, but actually who was the character? Now, list ten roles you feel you could comfortable play, plus their main action.

7. Sit down with a few friends. You sit in on a chair with NO EXPRESSION on your face, silent, and just look forward. Don not interact. Your friends list 3 QUALITIES of your personality (ie: quirky, offbeat, innocent, sexy, reliable, clever, clean-cut, sleazy, elegant). Then they list 3 PROFESSIONS you might be employed in (ie: military, doctor, salesperson, prostitute, mother, policeman, father, nun, priest, movie producer, etc.). The more you can do this one the better. Note what surprises you about the list, and what you expected to see. Pay special attention to anything that is repeated again and again: that is a strong sign about how you will be cast. 

8. With a group of friends (preferably other actors), stand one person at one end of the room, and the rest of the group at the other end. The lone actor walks toward the group, and then back to his/her side of the room. The the group walks toward the lone actor mirroring his/her walk. Each actor gets his/her turn to see him/herself mirrored. What can you learn from the way you walk? What are you presenting? Authority? Femininity? Enthusiasm? This is part of what you bring into the room just by being you? What characters does that lend itself to? 

If you find you still need more help, there are many studios in Los Angeles that offer specific marketing classes. Sam Christiansen is one whose approach I found personally enlightening and profoundly revealing. You can find out more about him in my upcoming interview or on his website. 

“Let every actor achieve outer characterization by using material from his own life and that of others, real or imaginary. But in all this external search, an actor must never lose his own identity.” – Constantine Stanislavski

 * Photo credit to Vanie Poyey 

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