Thursday, March 30, 2006

Spring Is Here...

...and it really FEELS like a transitional time, y'know? Had a nice chunk of voiceover jobs last week Tuesday, then the crickets chirped until today, when a got one on-camera audition and three v.o. auditions. Fortunately, the rest of my life stabilized just a little during this time, and hopefully it's a trend that will continue.

The thought occurred to me yesterday that I need to start prepping for Equity generals soon, but I just as suddenly realized how very, very tired I am these days. Gotta get a handle on that...

Sunday, March 19, 2006


I think I've figured out why I've been such a grumpy old cuss the past six months or so. It's a simple case of my life being out of balance. Between juggling my entrepreneurial pursuits, buying a new house, selling the old house, a dearth of paying acting jobs, etc., my life is just plain out of whack.

I'm not saying my problems are worse than anybody else's, it's just that I've generally supported the insanity of an acting career (which I very definitely want) by having an exceptionally stable Rest of My Life. And generally it's been somewhat self-correcting — unlike acting, I tend not to engage in activities that don't have a fairly certain payoff or benefit and, except for my marriage or family relationships of course, I drop those things from my life that start to go sour.

Except, recently, I haven't beeen able to do that. Houses, for instance, don't just sell themselves according to how badly you need the money, and credit card companies don't take "I'm a Bohemian living a life less ordinary," as an excuse for getting your credit card payment in late. Cue the pathos, cue the self-serving righteousness, cue the crabbiness. And, since a diary gets double-barrels of whatever emotional extreme I'm serving, my posts seem lately to have been more yang than yin.

Had a night shoot last week. Nice to be among the normally abnormal again. Also have a few jobs in the booth lined up for next week. I'll try to break with recent tradition by just embracing those for the good they represent, rather than trying to qualify them by stating any perceived downside (e.g., "Hey, I've just been elected President! On the other hand, half the world wants to kill me...")

Maybe I just need a slap upside the head...

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

A Note to Agents

Here are some casting specs that were communicated to me by my agent this week (I'm paraphrasing for the sake of anonymity, but only slightly):

"Arrogant but clueless chef who thinks he's better than he is. Male, 30-50 years old, open on race. Good facial expressions, but not over the top. This is a real person, able to show emotions with the raise of an eyebrow, but stay away from extreme subtlety. The chef is a real person, but a heightened real person. National broadcast usage, plus cable, Internet, some print, and possible foreign broadcast. This character will become a spokesperson for a MAJOR worldwide brand, and the client is looking for strong actors who can convey the character consistently, and have that certain something extra that will make them the quintessential icon for the brand!"

Okay, so you know what the only usable part of that paragraph is? The first sentence, and practically nothing else. The ONLY thing I really need to know that will help me do a great job in the audition is that I'm an arrogant but clueless chef. The rest of it is either unhelpful (possibly even a hindrance), or else it's information no doubt intended to help you (the agent) do your job.

Gender and age range are tips to guide your submissions, and have little-to-no bearing on my prep work for the audition. The bit about "not too subtle, not too campy" is, at best, an indication to you that you should submit your strongest and most versatile talent. At worst, it's pretty darn confusing, and it's taken me literally years to realize that such pronouncements either indicate that the client doesn't know what they want, or that they're really bad at communicating what they want. The most useful sum-up I can make of this particular bit is "the client will know it when they see it" and "be prepared to do it different ways in the audition" (something most casting directors will encourage you to do anyway).

The rest of it, about what an icon this character is going to be (and how lucrative the gig will potentially be) is a downright hindrance for me. I mean, it's obviously going to be a great gig if I land it, but unless you have many personal experiences watching me rise above all others in the face of extreme pressure (not that auditions, opening nights, improv and other live performances aren't already extreme enough), why saddle me with that pressure for the audition? You want me to be relaxed. You want me to have fun. You want me to be playful. (Seriously, you do.) None of which come easier to me when I know that I'm going to miss out on fame and fortune if I screw up. Okay, I know there are exceptions — your favorite semi-retired client in Wisconsin who will only make the trip down to Chicago for "important" auditions, or the suburban parent who's on the fence between finding a babysitter or turning down the audition — but those are exceptions.

And, on an idealistic note, despite the fact that I recently bitched about low-usage commercials not being worth the effort, in point of fact I personally do actually feel that every role deserves the same investment of energy and dedication (which, I guess, means that you probably shouldn't tell me when a spot is going to get low usage either).

Oh, and by the way — just so you know, it's not like I keep my Extra Special Quintessential Something on reserve for some occasions and not for others. If I have it, trust me to bring it to every audition.

Really, I appreciate the openness with which you share information with your clients, and I can certainly edit out anything that I don't think is helpful, but I just thought I should tell you in case you'd never heard it before, and because it's taken me so long myself to realize what helps and what doesn't (which I don't really wish on anyone else in your stable).

Friday, March 03, 2006

New (Same) Tricks

Not a bad week, all things considered. The pressure is easing in some areas but ramping up in others. Just trying to hold it all together for the sake of those around me.

Got to audition WITH Cherokee for a spot the other day for the first time in, like, years, so that was a treat. Also had a job on Wednesday which was good. It was "just a demo" for a national brand, but any union work is good work. It was also my first time working with another talent from my agency with whom I don't agree on nearly anything (though I don't think they know it, despite our having known each other for over a decade). Aside from a somewhat abrasive personality when they're not around those they care to impress (including other actors), they're positively effusive in their glad-handing when they're around anyone they think can help them in their careers. There are a few notable others in Chicago who really stand out in that way, and I'd get irritated at them if I wasn't also somewhat shamefully amused. They're their own worst enemy and can't see it. Their superficial charm must be transparent to nearly everyone, their eagerness to please reads as desperation (a career-killer that), and their idea of self-promotion (to advertising professionals mind you) begins and ends with harrassing their targets with an array of useless name-imprinted tchotchkes.

But, I guess they think it works for them. Anyway...

I had an on-camera audition Tuesday that was this week's educational experience. I'd call it "teaching an old dog new tricks," but the fact is it was an old trick I'd simply stopped practicing. The audition was for a state lottery and, for those who don't know, lottery commercials are generally slim pickings — they generally only air in one state, and usually only for one cycle, but they require just as much energy (if not more) than national spots because they're often about super-excited people who've just won a buttload of cash.

So anyway, my agent calls me up, gives me the casting specs, and I sort of groaned inwardly because they wanted a very specific talent. I'm not going to say what that talent was, but imagine, for instance, that the specs called for someone who can do sign language. Now, I actually took a class in American Sign Language years ago (true) but usually when casting directors are looking for a particular talent, they're looking for an expert — someone who's actually deaf or has been doing ASL all their life. And, most often, they can find such a person (which is also why, unlike theatre, it's usually useless to pursue on-camera jobs calling for a 40-year-old if one is actually 25 — there are plenty of 40-year-olds in the available casting pool, and you'd better be stunningly better than all of them in some way in order to change the client's mind about who he thinks he needs).

The reason I groaned, though, was because the person casting the spot was one of those who almost never calls me in. Now, although I think the benefits of being exclusive with one agent in Chicago outweigh the bad points (I started my career in L.A., so it's what I'm most comfortable with) here's one of the bad points: If, for some reason, you make a bad first impression with a casting director (as I apparently did many moons ago when I was still wet behind the ears), and assuming that particular CD is not one of the more generous ones in the city who actually call an actor for auditions ten or more times before giving up on them, what's going to happen is the next time this casting director calls you in, it will generally only be because your agent recommended you, or you have a specific talent that disqualifies most of their regular pool (or both). Now, because you are exclusive with your agent, you're among the first people s/he calls when the CD gives them an "empty" slot to fill (the CD basically says "Send me these 15 particular actors [they name them], but because we need actors with such a specific talent, it's going to be a light day, so add to your list one or two others you think would be good").

OK, so now you're going in to see a casting director who's not thrilled about you, your audition is at the end of the session (making it much more likely that you won't be seen by the client), and, as often happens, you also have to follow a bunch of presumed experts at exhibiting a particular specialized skill. This is not a recipe for success. In fact, my experience has been that the casting director often simply feels that their first impressions of you were correct — you're underwhelming. Yet again. What a surprise.

But what else are you going to do? Sure, you can tell your agent you refuse to see the casting director unless it's under circumstances that are more favorable to you. That's certainly valid, and I'm all for empowering actors to do that if they think they have the equity to spend with their agent. It is, however, a "special order". That is, you're setting yourself up to be a custom job when it comes to casting, and the agent must now remember somehow "Evan will see Casting Director X all the time, but he'll only see Casting Director Y if he's in the first ten slots and only if there's no sign language involved." That's too much work (again, speaking only for myself). Following the path of least resistance, I only turn down an audition if I have a product or scheduling conflict, or if the specs are grossly out of my league. In ten years, I think I've only turned down maybe one audition for that last reason, and I'm really only allowing for the possibility — I don't actually remember doing so. Ever.

So there I am. Unenthused about the waste of time this audition is costing me, but hey — I chose to do it, so shut up already, right? Well, lo and behold, it turns out that I actually pulled off the "special skill" at least passably well, and (gasp) the casting director let me know that the experts s/he had called in were generally unable to handle the copy well. And, in this particular case, the copy turned out to be more important to the client than the special skill. So, in the end, I was actually a viable choice for the client, and the casting director got to see me Not Fail. Which, of course, is actually what I hope for every time I go into one of these situations. When you're stuck at the bottom of a well, you don't focus so much on the light at the top as on clawing yourself up to the next level.

But, as I thought about this afterward, I realized that I knew this already. These sorts of auditions are not that much unlike what every audition used to be for me when I was starting out as a total unknown (not that I'm now a renowned talent or anything — it's just that I've actually managed to fool a few casting directors into not calling me in last for a change). So yeah, I guess I've gotten soft. I guess it's time to remember the old tricks and practice them as much as possible.