Wednesday, August 31, 2005


The show had a fine closing out-of-state, and now the production is in a limbo of sorts. I know the writer/director has already started work on his second opus, so this may be as far as this particular train runs. Still, the producers have been left with a turnkey production that could be mounted nearly anywhere on short notice, so there may be some life in it yet. Not holding my breath, though. Whatever else may happen, at least I was paid fairly well, and I ended up with an additional 3 hours toward my Equity candidacy.

I had another voiceover gig on Monday, two radio spots for an extremely limited run in one of the tiniest markets in the country. (Not complaining, just mentioning it as a preface to what follows.) It was a patch session, meaning I was in a booth here in Chicago while everyone else — the client, director, agency people, and primary engineer — was in a studio hundreds of miles away. Doing patches almost involves a different skill set, because it's easy for things to get confused if you don't keep your communication concise and limited. And heaven forbid the engineer opens his mike while you're talking, because you end up hearing yourself echoing in a room on the other side of the country about a half-second behind yourself. Much worse than using an ear prompter, and it invariably causes you to stammer like a fool. So you end up being like Joe Friday, giving the facts, just the facts, and only when spoken to.

Anyway, on this occasion the director drops a heavy hint to me that he'd like me to do this session "off card", meaning without a union contract, which — giving him the benefit of the doubt — either shows him to be a novice or else indicates that he was under some sort of ridiculous pressure from the agency or the advertiser to keep the costs down. I say "ridiculous" because union scale for what I was doing was only about $200, and probably with no usage to follow, which is waaaay less than they were already spending just for an hour of dual studio time. If I were to think along more sinister lines, I would suspect that what they actually wanted to do was run the hell out of the spots ad infinitum, or wanted to deliberately fill a stable of off-card actors (for various reasons, none of them good for the membership of SAG or AFTRA).

Unfortunately, this second, sinister suspicion was underscored after my session when the sound engineer made a comment to me regarding the amount of work he could get me if I went FiCore. For those who don't know, "Financial Core" is a sort of classification that a person working in non-Right-to-Work states can claim. There's a loooong history to FC, which I may go into later, but the gist of the thing is that people who claim FC status are technically not a member of the union, but are paying dues to the union anyway. Why would someone do this? So they could work both sides of the fence, doing both union AND non-union jobs. There are strong feelings on both sides of the FC issue and, depending who you talk to, it's either touted as a nifty loophole for actors or The End of Unionism As We Know It. I've got my own opinion, but here, to me, is what it all boils down to, regardless of who you're listening to:

If you work FiCore on a commercial job, you are potentially giving yourself a product conflict for life.

"Product conflicts" are why you don't see The Guy From The Pepsi Commercial also doing a Coca-Cola commercial. When you do an on-camera spot, the advertiser wants you to be exclusive to their product — they don't want consumers to see you pitching for their competitors and identifying you with the wrong product. In return for this exclusivity, advertisers pay actors a holding fee every 13 weeks (up to 21 months) until the spot stops running and/or they decide to release the actors (some savvy advertisers will stop running their spots, but hold the actors for an additional cycle to ensure there's a lag before the actors audition for competing products). In case you doubt that this happens very often, I can only tell you that my own experience is that exactly the opposite is true — success breeds success, and casting directors will audition actors from their own mental "pool" of those who have been cast before. It has, in fact, been a serious problem at various times for both me and some of my friends because being in a really memorable commercial will prevent you from being cast even in non-competing product categories since, for instance, no staid financial services company is going to want The Goofy Guy From The Budweiser Commercial in their own spot, no matter how calm and serious he's able to be.

Unfortunately, the problem with doing non-union spots is that the employer is not obligated to put any limit on how long they will run their spots. Typically, they pay a one-time buyout fee (often larger than union scale for the day), but then own the right to air that spot in perpetuity. And the problem with that is that — IF the actor subsequently does a spot for a competitor, and the two spots air around the same time — the competitor can legally sue the actor for having ruined their commercial, and force the actor to pay for a re-shoot (with a different actor, of course), the cost of which is EASILY in the six figures. So, if you do a non-union Subway commercial today, you've effectively eliminated yourself from doing any other fast food commercial ever, for the rest of your life.

This, to me, is the single biggest reason actors should not go FiCore. Whatever else may be said in favor of it (and, believe it or not, I can think of circumstances where it is indeed warranted and even know one actor whose decision to go FiCore I respect), the one incontrovertible fact that proponents of it cannot brush aside is that actors are legally liable for six-figure reshoot fees if they ever work for a competing advertiser.

Of course, those familiar with the subject will point out to me that there is no exclusivity for AFTRA radio spots — actors can, and do, work for competitors without fear of legal reprisals. And, after all, this is how the entire subject came up Monday: it was ostensibly with regard to radio spots. The point, however (at least to me), is that it's a line — cross it and you've got a reputation as an off-card and/or FiCore actor. Most likely it also closes a door behind you, since the unions take a dim view of it. If you work off-card, they can (and most likely will) bring you up on disciplinary charges for violating Rule One. Try to dodge the disciplinary hearings by going FiCore, and you've effectively withdrawn from the union, and they have no obligation to take you back.

And, in an industry that relies so heavily on reputation (what is "fame" after all?), why in heaven's name would I want to go down a path that, to many, casts a pall on my reputation, even if it's technically legal?

Thursday, August 25, 2005

During 2...

Writing this from a hotel room on the road. First time I've had WiFi access in one of these rooms, and I have to say it's pretty nice typing this in bed, in a state of near undress, without being tethered to a wall. Guess I'm easily amused.

Extra job happened with no upgrade, but it was fun anyway. Drove 6 hours to get here today and did a show, and that was fun too. No complaints...

Monday, August 22, 2005


Back in Chicago after our first weekend out of state. We slayed 'em, and had full houses to boot.

Theoretically, I'm spending a day tomorrow as an extra on the set of a beer commercial; I've already turned down a voiceover audition because it conflicts, so I hope it happens. I remember auditioning for a principal role in this spot, and I'm actually glad to be picking up extra work on it for a couple of reasons. First, it's one of those "see how popular we are?" commercials that features a couple dozen slice-of-life glimpses of Americans at play, and often they cast the bulk of those spots using extras and then just upgrade them on the set. Even if that's not the case though, I personally think no Chicago actor should ever be too proud to accept extra work, especially with the minimums for health insurance and pension credits getting higher every year. It would be different if there were a true celebrity machine here (i.e., where you actually have to worry about taking work that represents a step backward for fear that it will hurt your "quote"), but there isn't, so we need to be true citizens of the City That Works.

Story asked about my representation in a comment on my previous post. For what it's worth, I'm represented exclusively by two agencies — one for on-camera work and one for voiceover. That may seem a little odd to actors in L.A. or N.Y., where agencies represent actors by contract (e.g., Commercial, Theatrical, etc.) rather than the type of work done under each contract (e.g., voiceover, on-camera, etc.), but it's par for the course in Chicago. More could be said here about SAG's inability to renew the expired Franchise Agency Agreemet, but I'll spare you.

For Chicago actors, I cannot recommend at this particular point in time that they go exclusive with any particular agency, except under certain limited circumstances. Unless an actor is extremely well established (and I wouldn't even necessarily put myself in that category), there is too much work to be had by being multi-listed to make exclusivity with any particular agency worthwhile. The reason, of course, is that each agency has — to varying degrees — a certain amount of work coming through their doors that does not go through casting directors. Much of it is print work, industrials, trade shows, low-budget films and other lower-profile work but, hey, it's WORK, and any type of work is hard to come by for most people these days.

So why am I exclusive? My particular situation pre-dates the Commercial Strike of 2000, and it works well enough for me that I don't wish to change my very specific arrangement, but I do recognize it as being outside the norm and, therefore, I don't recommend it to hardly anyone else.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Before the Storm

Went to a funeral tonight for one of my agents. Very sad, but uplifting in an odd way. Can't delve into it too much; I'm still processing through it...

This is probably one of the last calm days I'll have for a while. Two auditions tomorrow, one voiceover and one on-camera, followed by a rehearsal for the stage show which departs Wednesday for a two-week stint out of state. Nice to feel busy again, but in the lull I've really valued the time I've spent with Cherokee, so I'm already missing her.

Kind of sweetly blue at the moment...

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Back on the Boards

After a week off, I'm going back into rehearsals today for the same show I closed in July. Reason is that the show, as expected, is touring out-of-state for at least a couple of weeks, and the producers took this opportunity to change the script a little, and change the cast a lot.

I remember Michael J. Fox and Justine Bateman giving an interview once, near the end of their long-running sitcom "Family Ties". (That was the name, wasn't it? The one where Meredith Baxter played their mother?) Anyway, the interviewer was asking the inevitable questions about whether they knew at the beginning that their sitcom was going to be a hit, and how they initially adjusted to their new status as celebrities, and Fox and Bateman answered by way of recounting a story. It seems there was originally a different girl cast in the part eventually taken by Tina Yothers. Everyone was excited during pre-production and rehearsals, and the kids had started bonding somewhat when, the Thursday before their first Friday taping, the original actor was yanked out and Tina Yothers stepped in.

And Michael & Justine just looked at each other, realizing the same thing could happen to them.

So no, neither Michael J. Fox nor Justine Bateman were giddy with delight, or happy to be celebs, or any of that. Instead, they took a pass on the sports cars, saved their money, and didn't really relax into their roles until after their first contract renegotiation.

All of which is my exceptionally roundabout way of saying that I suppose I should feel flattered that I'm just about the only member of the original cast to be continuing on with my show, but I feel instead that it only underscores my last rant about placing more value on being a good co-worker/friend than on your talent. The other members of my original cast didn't bow out voluntarily, but I don't think it was because they were bad in their roles — they were just, um... indiscreet with some of their opinions, and occasionally openly adversarial with the director, so the producers honored their contracts with them and then moved on without them.

I suppose I sound like a dinner guest in the Damocles household, but the fact is that one gets used to it. Every actor knows the transitory nature of our business, and you either have the stomach for it or you don't. Still, I've been on the other side of the equation before (including one colossal, spectacular incident which I'll probably purge my brain of soon in this venue), and I can't help but feel that some "damage" could be better controlled and more doors opened if actors would place less emphasis on marketing and landing a gig, and more emphasis on favorably impressing those involved with any gig they do happen to land.

Yeah, I'll have to fess up to my Spectacular Failure soon, lest anyone reading the above think I'm lecturing anyone other than myself.

Monday, August 08, 2005

My Hypocrisy

Been meaning to write this for a while, but it seems like there's always something more important to be done. I've noticed, when I feel this way about something over an extended period, it's either truly not important and I've got to take it off my To Do list, or else I've got some fear or dislike surrounding the matter. In this case, I think it's the latter, so I'll just jump in and write, and damn the torpedoes.

I've felt like a hypocrite for a long while about keeping this blog, primarily because my mantra in acting is "It's not about you; even when you think it's about you, it probably isn't." If that's true, how do I reconcile the fact that I'm keeping a blog that's to a large degree all about me, me, me?

I guess the answer for me has to do with longevity, attrition, and having a career in this biz. One reason I think agents, producers, casting directors and the like surround themselves with layers of protection is that actors make lousy dogs. Bear with me on my tortured metaphor here:

It's not that actors aren't "likable" or "friendly" or even fun to have around. But how many people really want to have an actor as a friend? Better yet, how many actors truly know what it is to be a friend, or know how to treat people outside their circle of friends as if those people were themselves potential friends? In my experience, most people would rather have a dog for a friend than an actor, at least for the long haul. Why? Because most actors seem to be a great deal more needy than dogs. Sure, a dog needs to be fed and walked, but the other 90% of his/her interaction with you is defined largely by you. They want to know what YOU are doing, they want to know what YOU are feeling, they want to have fun with YOU and, hard as it is to believe, they actually put themselves second to whatever YOU want to do. And, if you think about it, those are some of the same hallmarks that people look for in choosing their own friends.

Now, I'm stopping way short of saying that friends need to be doormats, and the percentage of time spent with friends that should most appropriately be centered on them is probably closer to 50% on average, but hey, 50% is a LOT more than I see many actors give to the people around them.

I hate to sound like a shame-based, self-hating actor here (I really don't think that's the case, and I'm usually the first to defend actors as Real People and acting as a Real Profession), but my pet peeve about people listing their resumes out loud in the waiting room for an audition didn't come out of nowhere — it happened just last Wednesday, as a matter of fact. I wonder if D.G. (Wednesday's blatherer) has grown cynical yet about the popularly held belief that who you know in this biz potentially advances your career as much as your talent. I swear that at least half of the people complaining about the theatre community being a "closed clique", or about casting directors "forgetting" them don't realize that they themselves are making the experience of being around them unpleasant. I know, for myself, that I would never hire D.G. for a job — regardless of his talent — and I am occasionally in a position to do this now (which is itself neither a boast nor a threat, but rather an illustration that everyone an actor talks to in this biz — from the agency receptionist, to the P.A., to the fellow actor in the waiting room — may someday be in a position to either help or hurt their career).

Okay, I just went to the bathroom, thought about it a bit, and here's what I mean to say:

Just as most sane people realize that talking about raw sewage around the dinner table is inappropriate, the fact is that, in this business — ironic as it may seem to be — attempting to focus other people's attention on you as an actor, outside of certain rare instances, is also inappropriate. Do it a lot and I guarantee that Dr. Phil will one day be asking you "How's that working for ya?" Drawing appropriate focus to your character on stage or on camera: good. Responding to direct questions from an agent or casting director about your last job: okay. Listing your resume, bitching about craft services, dropping names, or saying anything particularly negative about anyone else in the biz: way, waaaay bad.

And, precisely because it IS so vitally, critically important to be a real human being to those you meet — someone who is fun to work with, who doesn't complain, who doesn't talk much about themselves, who seems, in fact, to be good "friend" material — that I think there ought to be a Safe Place where actors can blow off steam. For some people, that Safe Place might be at home with their family. Dad may fuss and fume over the dinner table about the idiots at work and his overbearing boss, but 10-to-1 when he's actually at work he's pleasant and respectful as much as possible. Is that hypocrisy? Maybe, some might say. Personally, though, I think it's more of a coping mechanism that allows Dad to be human without destroying his hopes for career advancement (which, of course, benefits those that depend on him as well).

So, long story short, go ahead and call me a hypocrite. I'm keeping a blog. I keep it because it is my Safe Place to fuss and fume about the idiots in my business. I keep it because I occasionally want to talk about work-related issues without worrying that I'm hurting the feelings of other actors around me or, conversely, that some Buyer of Talent will think I'm a horrible braggart. I keep it because I'm not worthy of being a dog, but very much want to be.