ENTRY # 2
The Actor’s Nightmare.
Last Thursday, I experienced it. Full fledged. No, not the one where you walk onstage in front of a packed house and forget your lines… I’ve done that before. A few times actually. Hey, it happens. I’m talking about an actual nightmare. One that could take weeks to recover from, maybe months, actually…This one will always stay with me. I’m talking about getting a line reading screamed in your face from a bitter 50 year old director, while on a low budget industrial shoot that you were only doing as a favor to your possible future boss - all the while dressed as a giant gorilla. That’s right. A fucking gorilla. Yes. THAT actor’s nightmare.
***I told this story to a friend and he said, “Your life is a sitcom. If you told this to somebody they wouldn’t believe you.”
Yes, my life is a sitcom, but everything you’re about to read is true. Unfortunately.
A little back story:
If you haven’t read my blogs in awhile, that’s because I haven’t written any. But if you read my last blog, aka my only blog, then you know I’ve been working in the casting world as my day job. In April I even got promoted to Associate Casting Director of an awesome company(I know you can’t see me right now, but I’m moving my eyebrows up and down like Groucho Marks). I know, big shot, right? Wrong. Because after being an Associate CD for only 5 months, literally days after receiving my business cards, I got demoted. Well, not officially, but when your boss tells you his boyfriend can do your job at no cost, well… let’s just say I don’t see a lot of Associate Casting Director’s applying for Uber. Which reminds me, if anybody wants to drive for Uber, sign up, like right the fuck now! If you use my code “5nc4r” and if you hit 20 rides by Dec 1st we both get $400 bonus! Boo-yah. See? Silver Lining.
OK, back on track! In a nutshell, I was back to being unemployed. I had to hit up all the Casting Directors I used to be an assistant for. Luckily, “Greg” (you should know that’s not his real name, I don’t like using real names in my blogs, in case they read this… which they won’t…But still.) said he could hire me for the week. So I had to swallow my pride, take a $75 pay cut and go back to being an assistant. But hey, as they say, beggars can’t be… Associates.
“Greg” was casting a low budget industrial. For those reading this who are not in the industry, first off, GOD BLESS YOU! Second, I will try and break down all industry terms used as well as try to make this as universal of a story as possible! An “Industrial” is kind of like a longer commercial that is focused on teaching you about a company or product. Similar to a promo video with a ton of technical jargon that some asshole boss will undoubtedly make his poor employees watch to learn about the company and its policies and blah blah blah.
“Low-Bugdet” means just that, it is a project that has very little money behind it.
So…Working in the “Low-Budget” commercial world, basically means that they will demand the most from you and pay you the least. It’s like if a High-budget commercial is the NFL, then a low-budget commercial, is like playing football in prison. Anything goes, nobody has your back and at any time you could fall on barbed wire and get tetanus or be shanked from behind by a white supremacist.
First there were auditions held. I was running the lobby. Read the script and was surprised that it was actually funny. All of the characters in the script were sign twirlers (ya know, those people who stand on street corner and twirl around a piece of cardboard with some deal printed on it like it’s a 1920’s swing dance partner). To bring even more attention to these DEALS, each character is dressed to the nines, almost like a mascot. The seafood restaurant gets a Pirate sign twirler, the All American restaurant gets a giant Hot Dog and the Smoothie place gets a… you guessed it. A gorilla, holding a banana shaped sign. Now, I don’t normally audition for jobs I am helping to cast. It’s kind of an unspoken rule, but as they say, rules (unspoken) are made to be broken! I knew I’d crush it. I mean, I’ve been a goblin for 3 years now, gorilla sounds like a cake walk! Or should I say, as easy as banana pie?!? Don’t worry, I’ll see myself out. You guys are no pun.
Skip to callbacks. Yes I got called back! Though, if you’ve been paying attention, you should already know that in the end I book this. You’re in, like, the future! This is where I first meet the director, again I won’t use his real name either, so let’s call him… Kevin. Wait, that IS his real name! Oops! At first I really didn’t think much of him, he was a little off putting, the kind of guy who you can never tell if he’s joking or not. Example: when he asked the poor actress, who was forced to act like a chicken to get a damn paycheck in Hollywood, “So how do you relate to this Chicken?” with a lack of humor in his voice.
In the callbacks I actually read for the role of“Hot Dog.” I wanted so badly to have all my great roles on my resume; “Macbeth” “Biff Loman” “Hot Dog”, plus the hot dog got to dance and you knows I love to get down (*Cue “return of the mack” and step back). But alas, they had me switch up and read for the deeply complex role of“Gorilla.” I must have put all $120 grand of my acting education to work, because I BOOKED IT!
The weird thing is, it felt good to get that phone call. Sure, I was working for the guy who cast it. Sure, it paid shit. Sure, I had one line and would have to stand on set all day in a giant gorilla suit. Sure, you wouldn’t see my face. Sure to all those things… But ya know what? In this town, when you go through droughts, it always feels nice to book, to be wanted. It’s like being an athlete when you go weeks (or months) without striking out a batter, or throwing a touchdown and then you have one game against that really shitty team, and you strike out that batter, or you throw that tuddy. No matter the circumstances, it might be just the spark your confidence needed to propel you back into greatness! In writing this, I realized how delusional we actors can be, myself included. But an important lesson is on the way.
Cut to: The Day of the shoot.
The cast was very cool. We all seemed on the same page. That page of“Yep, we are all dressed like idiots… might as well make the best of it.” Imagine our amazing green room in between takes: a giant hot dog, chicken, gorilla and pirate. All playing on their phones. Now there were two “normal” leads, a man and a woman, who were dressed as corporate executives, which I would argue is worse than being dressed as a gorilla. Remember how I said industrials have a lot of technical jargon? Well, they do. This job especially, and these poor saps had to learn it all and spew it out to a bunch of other actors wearing ridiculous costumes, all while keeping a straight face. Some people would disagree, but to me, this is not “acting.” Acting is getting to say meaningful dialogue to a partner, listening to their response and then reacting. This is reciting. Reciting a ton of information, some office stiff tried to twist in a clever way. It’s no fun. This poor actress, we’ll call her “Melissa”, for the sake of keeping her identity hidden, but mostly for the sake of I forgot her name. I’m bad with names, OK?!? Melissa had her big scene, tons of dialogue, I thought she was doing a very nice job. “CUT!” we hear from the foreground. In comes ole Kevin…
*** Kevin. 50’s. Grey hair and sweat pants. Should be noted in the first 5 minutes of greeting his actors, name dropped that he worked with Jeffrey Tambor and Dave Bautista. WHO THE FUCK NAME DROPS DAVE BAUTISTA?!? If you don’t know who Dave Bautista is, look him up right now and see if you don’t say “Why the fuck WOULD he name drop Dave Bautista?!?”
Kevin comes in and gets right down to business. “This is the most important section, so you have to get this right,” he says in a stern voice to Melissa. That’s how he started the dialogue from director to actor. Not, “Hey, that was great, I want to try some new things…” or“(Fill in cliché Director encouragement or direction).” Just this weird passive aggressive notion that A) The pressure is on and B) Whatever she did before, was not “right”. Then he said, “You’re saying it like____”, he then recites her line back to her. Just say it like___”
…and that’s when I first heard it… I don’t even feel comfortable typing this: He… he…. gave her… a LINE READING.
Again, hello, my non-industry friends and family! A “Line-reading” is when somebody, mostly a director, recites the actors line to them in the tone and cadence they would like the line read, leaving no room for the actors take or room for play or creativity or anything good in the world! It’s the equivalent of walking onstage during Jimi Hendrix’s guitar solo, picking up his guitar and going “No, play these notes.” A line can be read 1,000 different ways and hold a different meaning each time. When a line reading is given, it is that person saying, “This is the way. This is the right way. This only way… this is my way,” and to be blunt, it’s a huge fucking bummer when it happens to you. You can feel the fun get sucked out the room immediately. Some of the actors cringed and others shot looks to each other like “Is he for real?” Then she’d say the line, then he’d correct her. This weird back and forth went on for almost an hour. Meanwhile, we are all SWEATING OUR BALLS OFF in these costumes, but ole Kev-dog won’t let us leave the room, because we need to be there for eye lines.
*”Eye Lines” is what it sounds like. It’s the spot or spots, the actor is suppose to look at while delivering dialogue. So, sure, it could be us standing there, or it could be, ya know, a PIECE OF FUCKING TAPE!
Finally a female producer came in and yes, I do feel it’s important to note she was female as it will really bring home the point how awesome of a human Mr. Kevin is. She says “Kevin, we have to get moving, we are losing sunlight outside.” Which was not only her sole job, to keep the shoot on track… it was also true. We had a huge scene to shoot outside and it was getting dark, because, ya know, it was 4pm and in Los Angeles in November that’s apparently when it gets dark. His response? A classic “Shut the fuck up!” Ah, yes. I am MAN, hear me roar!
This is when I think I mentally checked out of this project. There are few things that boil my blood, but a blatant disrespect of others, is top of the list. Sure, I get it. Being a director is stressful, everything lies on your shoulders, your head is swimming and in Kevin’s case, you are so far up your ass it’s even hard to see! So, I get it. But, you are the boss… the leader. So when you scream expletives in the face of a woman, in front of your cast, your crew, those you’re asking to follow your lead… I don’t know. Might taken a different approach. One that feels a little more… human. It was like getting a glimpse of a demon’s wrath. Though, little did I know, this was only the beginning, and it would be me who got the worst of said wrath.
CUT TO: The end of the day. It’s been a hell of a day. The entire cast is a hot, sweaty, tired mess. Gorilla life was not all it was cracked up to be and by the looks of it, neither was that Hot Dog life… or that of a giant chicken. But we looked at the script and low and behold, we shot everything. It must be time to go home! Hang up the ole gorilla suit and punch out. Not so fast. After all, this was Kevin’s world and we were all just living in it. This is where the split of High-budget and Low-budget collide, or so I believe. We had already worked the agreed upon time, for the agreed upon amount. But what’s this??? The genius that is Kevin has an idea. An IDEA everybody! What if, we completely switched the tone of this commercial, ripped off The Office and did mockumentary style interviews with each “character”?!? But who will interview the characters, you might ask?!? Come on now, don’t you worry, Kevin is on the job! He’s pulled a random extra who barely speaks English to portray the role of interviewer!
*An “Extra”, also known as a background actor, is just that. They are background. Glorified moving set pieces. I say that with love, as I have worked many times as an extra and if you have as well, you should know that 90% of the people doing background work are batshit crazy! This girl playing our “interviewer”, was no exception.
So our fearless leader sets the woman down in a chair. Across from her, an empty chair., with a light above it, kind of resembling an interrogation scenario, which could not have been more apropos. “Gorilla! You’re up first,” I hear. “Oh, great,” I thought. Then I thought“back in that damn mask?” Then I thought, “Wait, I have no more lines, what the hell am I going to be doing?” He sits me in the chair and proceeds to tell me this girl, who speaks broken English, is going to ask me questions and he wants me simply to respond. “Respond, like how?” I ask, befuddled. “Like, a guy who’s a gorilla” the directing God answered. Ah, yes. Like a guy who’s a goddamn gorilla. Still I needed more clarification, “I’m still confused” I confessed, “She’s just asking questions and all I do is answer them in character?” “Yes! It’s called improv! You’re actors, right? Don’t you thespians know how to improvise?”, he shouted to the room. It was almost hard to hear him from way up atop his high horse.
Now, not to brag, but I would say I’m not good at many things. Improvisation, however, is something I’ve not only studied, it’s something I utilize all the time as a comedian and actor. AND might I say, I’m quite good. But as he faded into the dark and I could hear him screaming “We gotta move, let’s just get this real quick!” my heart began to thud, my palms grew moist, and my mind raced. “What the hell is she going to ask me? What if she asks me about the company? I don’t really know anything about this company I’m doing an industrial for, after all, I’m a dang gorilla!” These and many more questions came to mind. Luckily I wasn’t sitting across from Katie Couric, this poor gal was going to save the hardball questions for later.
“So, how was your day, Gorilla?” she asked. “Uh… pretty good?” I answered. It should be noted that this was the only scene of the day where everybody was in the same room. All the actors, the crew, the clients, the producers, all eyes, were on… Gorilla. I knew I had to try and make water into wine here. “Ya know… for a Gorilla,” I added. A collective laugh from around the room erupted, as I crossed my giant Gorilla leg over the other, to punctuate the joke.
As a comedian, in any situation, getting a laugh like this, is like getting a jolt of 90 volts to your heart. Suddenly you’re back! You’re alive. Even the director, the all mighty Kevin, released a little laugh. He’s HUMAN! Then he almost got excited, “Yeah, yeah! Now talk about how you got this job” I thought for a moment, confidence building by the second, this could be fun, I could finally get to play a little, inject some funny into this corporate snoozefest. I metaphorically cracked my knuckles and begin to riff on everything from my history of banana love, to my obsession with the movie Congo. Getting lots of laughs.
Side note: when I am on set, my sole goal is to crack up the crew. You know what your doing is actually funny if the guy behind the camera cracks a smile, or even better, the sound guy, who wants nothing more than to have a silent room with clean audio, bursts into laughter, consequently ruining his own take. I live for that shit. So I was feeling good. Yeah, sure I’m a classically trained actor sitting in a big, black, furry suit, but I can still find the good in this, I can still spread joy across the faces of those around! (Cue Buzzer sound) Not if Kevin has anything to do with it.
He yelled, “Talk normal and stop with all this Jim Carrey shit.” Some people say I look like Adam Scott, some people compare my cadence to Jason Bateman (by some people, I mean me) but Jim Carrey is a new one for me.
Then he gave me a line to say, it was not something a normal human would say, it was something of the sorts of“I heard (Companies name) is the new thing that brings together commerce and communities.” Say Whaaaaaaaaat?!? Mind you this was shouted at me. Once. Only once. I don’t know a lot of actors that learn their lines that way, but hell, I was going to give it a go. Because I’m a PROFESSIONAL gorilla dammit!
I said the line… In my own way. Like a human would say it. The director turned to the client to his right, “Why is this so hard?!?” he says loud enough for everybody to hear. Then… he did it. He did it again. He did it to me. He gave me a line reading. “I heard (Companies name) is the new thing that brings together commerce and communities” he said in his fart breath voice. “Just like that,” he reiterated.
The reason this is upsetting, among many other reasons, is that it feels like what the director is actually saying is “You’re not capable of getting this right, so let me show you how it’s done.” But what it REALLY means is, “I don’t know how to communicate my vision to you” and “I don’t feel in control, so I’m going to just make you do it, exactly how it sounds in my head. Oh and by the way, I suck. I suck so hard”… At least that’s what I hear when you give me a line reading. Don’t hire Jimi Hendrix if you’re not going to let him play with the notes! If you want to play the notes a certain way, do it yourself and don’t spend all that money on a time machine to get Jimi Hendrix to play your shitty party! *Sigh* But I digress.
It didn’t stop there. I wish it did, but it didn’t. I would say the line, then he’d repeat it back to me. Back and forth. To the point I just wanted off that chair, so eventually I gave in and said it EXACTLY how he was telling me to say it. At some point every thing I did, was wrong. He’d make me lift my hand, I’d do so, it’d be too high. Then the next take it was too low. On top of all that he kept changing the line! Adding words, flipping around phrases. It so seemed like what he wanted was a puppet, not an actor. Something he could reach inside of, then make speak and do exactly as he wanted. He began to get frustrated with me, he would pull his hair and look to those around him, almost mocking me and/or shaming me at times. It was horrible. I hadn’t felt this kind of humiliation since (maybe) High School. I was getting bullied. By Kevin. This guy who is, from what I gathered, just some divorced, (obviously) not successful director in his 50’s, whose tiny industrial shoot was so far behind because he failed to do his one job (direct actors). Yet, I was the asshole? Or at least made to feel as such. I was shaking. With every shouted line read, I got more and more cross-eyed with rage. I somehow managed to get through it and storm off to the other end of the room to regain composure.
I was breathing like a boxer who just finished the 12th round, sweaty, shaking and quite defeated. I remember praying… a lot. Yes, I pray. If you don’t, that’s cool… but I do. “God, please… why is this happening? What am I suppose to do? What’s the right thing to do?” I said during this pray-a-thon mixed with deep, deep breathing,
At this point, Kevin was having each character do these quick one liners, right into camera. The gal who played the chicken, she had to squack like a chicken and say the name of the company into camera. That’s it. I could hear Kevin say “See?!? Not so hard right? Nicely done. That’s a wrap on Chicken!”
*“That’s a Wrap” means that actor is finished, can “clock out” and go home.
Then Hot Dog was wrapped, then Pirate… soon all were told they were wrapped. Except me… hmmm… weird. The Director stood up triumphantly and said, “That’s it right?!? We got everybody.” I felt a bit of relief wash over me. Then the producer, yes the same female who was told to shut the f up, pulled him aside and said “No, we still need to get the Gorilla”. This is where I wish I could add an Emoji, the one of the face that looks shocked and scared. That was my face. Then, Kevin announces to THE ROOM, “Oh great, time to descend!” referring to me. Meaning, since I was the only one left, it was downhill from here. “Do I fight this guy?” I thought. “Is this going to be the first time I walk up to a dude and knock him out?” Or, I could stand up, throw my Gorilla mask in his face, tear him a new one and walk off set.
Now, here’s the thing… I couldn’t.
Wait, that’s absolutely not true. I could have… and should have.
Here’s what stopped me: I got this job through a Casting Director (“Greg”) who I was also working for and worried that if I walked off set of this director, Greg would never hire me again. I was also extremely hard up for cash, the main reason I took this job to begin with, “if I walk off, will they pay me?”, “If they don’t, is two hundred bucks worth suing over?!?”, “Would he soil my name to other Directors in town, telling them I’m un-professional?!?”
You know what really stopped me? Fear. Fear is the subtext of all the questions swirling around my head at that time. I let fear stop me. I let somebody decide my worth. Not just somebody… Kevin. This man, who obviously has a semi truck worth of insecurities himself, who was also operating out of fear, completely threw me and caused me to forget who I am.
I’ll save you the details of the end of the story, I did my final little scene into camera, told the director he has a horrible way of encouraging actors and then sped to my girlfriend’s to vent, drink wine and beat the crap out of her punching bag (literally not figuratively, her roommate has a heavy bag in the garage).
So what’s the lesson here??? I want to say a few things to encourage you and prepare you if you ever find yourself in this situation. There are, unfortunately, MANY “Kevin’s” in the world... Hell, a “Kevin” is basically running for president. A few Kevin’s actually. Maybe you work with a “Kevin.” Maybe you’re in a relationship with a “Kevin.”
I encourage you to do the opposite of what I did. Sure, easier said then done, especially coming from a guy who FAILED to do it and instead is writing an extremely passive and safe blog on his website Kevin will never see. Though I did contact “Greg” the casting director to tell him all about Mr. Kevin and warned him about putting actors on set with him.
My Mom is not big into quotes, but my whole life she would always tell me “We’re not made up of fear, but of love and of power and of a sound mind.” Dave Grohl from the Foo Fighters said that… just kidding, actually it’s from the bible. But for some reason if you say something is from the bible people shut their ears, but if it’s from a pop culture icon or rock God, they’ll listen. But it’s true! Fear is bullshit!
I hate that I was so desperate for money that I lowered my standards and took a job that was already humiliating, then allowed a single person to take it to the next level. I gave him that power. Well… no more!
I vow now, here, to never give anybody that power over me. To never forget who I am. You shouldn’t either! I think we make a million excuses, “I can’t speak up to my boss, I’ll get fired.” So…? Trust me I’ve had no money, still don’t and it’s the worst. But every time I leave a job I hate, I find a new job and NEVER regret leaving the shitty one. Who knows, maybe you WON’T get fired. Sometimes these “Kevins” aren’t aware of how they treat people, or are so miserable and scared on the inside, that having somebody, GENUINELY, approach them to let them know the negative effect they are having on you and the work environment, that it will totally change their perspective. Or even worse, if you came at them with love?!? They’d freak out! Now, at the risk of sounding like a total hippie, have you ever approached somebody who is in a rage, with love? Defuses it immediately. Love is undefeated in fights. Unless love is fighting Holly Holm… then I’d put money of Holm (Sorry, Love). *When I wrote this a week ago I wrote “Ronda, Rousey"… man things can change quick, in the blink of an eye or even the kick of a face.
Crazy thing is, after a few days to decompress. Once the rage had fizzled, I am SO thankful that happened! It has made my vision for what I want CRYSTAL clear. I’m a trained fucking actor, who works his ass off! I’m not taking jobs purely for a paycheck anymore. I won’t stay on a set if I see people being mistreated and I sure as hell won’t allow somebody to tell me how to do my job without holding themselves responsible for failing to do theirs. Ithink that’s what God/The Universe/Michael Jordan was trying to show me. That if I DO take on projects I am not passionate about, I will run into a “Kevin” every time. It’s like quitting smoking, you spend all this time cigarette free, that if you ever decide to give in and go back to smoking one, you end of coughing going “Ew, I used to smoke these? Why does my tongue taste like a butt?!?” You can’t go back. Well, actually lots of people go back to smoking, I think I read like 1/4 do… bad example…. Man, this blog is stressing me out I could sure use a cigarette.
Don’t get desperate people! But, also don’t get bitter! Pick your head back up, know you are made of LOVE, POWER and a SOUND (sometimes insane) MIND!!! Get off that couch and get back to work! The night after the shoot I was convinced I was quitting this business and going to take up my second life goal of becoming a Hip-Hop hype man. The next day, I felt free. That job is over, done. Onto the next! I want to work on projects I enjoy, with people I enjoy, I don’t want to just be the actor who has one line on CSI: Jacksonville! (Totally OK if you do, each journey is different).
I’ve been out here for 6 years straight hustling and it’s going to take WAY more than Kevin to stop me. Use the Kevin in your life as fuel to your fire to accomplish the things that MEAN something to you! You don’t want to go on an audition? DON’T GO. You are in charge of your life and career not an agent, manager, casting director, etc… (This applies to any job really)
Most importantly, don’t allow yourself to be talked down to, minimized or degraded and if you see it happening to somebody else, put on your cape and be a hero. Don’t stand there in a Gorilla costume wondering if you’ll have tacos for lunch. There will always be “Kevins” but if we start teaching both the younger and OLDER generation that they are not a good contribution to society, I truly believe we can begin to take a look at the larger issues at hand. Now, go… enjoy…leave me here… I will be fine.
(Steps of soapbox… trips over his Gorilla suit and falls in a puddle)
Take the power back: Drop your agent, quit your shitty restaurant job and you'll work like never before!
The above advice is precisely the advice I wish somebody had given to me when I moved here. Hell, I could have used this advice a mere year ago! (I've lived in LA for 5 years by the by). That being said, about 8 months ago, I did indeed take heed to that mantra and I'll never look back! Now before you start going "But, but, but Dave!" first off, STOP STUTTERING! Second, anything you could possibly tell me about why you can't quit your job, or (my personal favorite) why you simply can't drop your agent, is all bullshit! Yep, 100%... it's all what's been fed to us are whole lives as actors. I'm here to help you break free of these crippling chains and help you find better jobs both on and off camera.
PART 1: Jobs (Off camera)
I once had a friend, for the sake of keeping his identity private I'll call him "Bat Pappitt". While all his friends, including myself, used to work as waiters, he'd always pose the question: "Why? Who decided the best job for actors was waiting tables?". Take a minute to ponder the weight behind the profound question of Mr. Pappitt. Who did decide that? Well, whoever did should be sentenced to death by kale! Why couldn't the best job for an actor have been an ice cream taster? Or a professional jacuzzi advocate? (That's probably a real thing... google it. Actually don't! Finish reading this first, since most actors "claim" to have ADD!) Now what the hell was I talking about? I totally must have ADD! Well, I started working in restaurants at the age of 16. Sixteen!!! I was a busboy at TGI Fridays which, I'm sure if you looked up, is owned by Hitler's nephew. Cut to 12 years and 10 restaurants later, I was still... a "server" or "waiter" or why don't we call it what it is, somebody's "burger bitch". I have a joke in my act that starts out by saying "I moved to LA, where I make a living as an actor, but all I really want to do is wait tables... wait, wait, I got that backwards. What I mean to say is... I'm a waiter and all I want to do is kill myself". They say art imitates life and that is exactly how I felt when I wrote that joke. I worked at a place where people could at their liberty treat me like a servant, a place that made me work every holiday, a place that the second I got done with my shift, I'd have to immediately get a hold of some sort of libations to ease my frustrations. It changed me as a person... and I wasn't a fan of that person. Then after a series of personal events that rocked my world, I just decided, maybe Bat Pappitt was right. Maybe I can find something else. So I quit. Out of the blue. No job prospect. Just did it. I remember telling my Mom and her reaction was "well that doesn't sound like a good idea." Then she thought about it and retracted her statement saying "Eh, you'll find a job. You hated it there anyways". She was right on both accounts.
A week later a casting director from Orlando and long time friend of my family asked if I'd ever come to Orlando for a bit and work for him. My initial reaction was "No way. I can't leave LA, I have X,Y and Z in the works, plus all the auditions I'd miss and BUT, BUT, BUT, DAVE!!!" Well, maybe I didn't call out to myself, that would have been pretty weird. But it's the same thing we've all said at one time as to why we can't leave this freakin' city. Eventually, putting away all the doubt, I took a step in faith and for the first time in a very, very long time, I decided to walk through the one open door, instead of continuing to try and open that one door that has been shut... and locked... and like boarded up... and has an alarm and a latch AND little chain thing like from a motel or shitty NY apartment... well, you get it. After 6 months of living back with my folks, regrouping, writing, working, doing stand-up, truly just working on "Dave", I decided I was ready to come back to LA and give it hell. But I had a different idea, a different approach to it. A clarity like I had never had before.
So cut to present Dave back in LA-
I now work for a casting office here, actually three, as a casting assistant. I absolutely love it. I choose when I want to work and I get paid just as well, if not better, than the restaurant AND most importantly I am learning a ton! My second blog post is probably going to be called "Advice for actors, from the casting side, by a fellow actor"... OK that title blows, but you can pick up what I'm laying down. How did I find this job? Easy. I fucking asked. Yup! I walked into casting offices, 310, 200 south, etc... and just asked if they needed help. Now, sure I had a little experience in Orlando, but do you know what a casting assistant does?!? They run the lobby. That's it!!! So if you ever have gone on an audition in your damn life, or can read, you too have casting experience. Literally the hardest part of my job is pronouncing names off the list, "OK, Karen, you're next and... Joo-quan-asin? Is on deck!". But I'll tell you this, I didn't get hired by 3 different casting director's because I worked a few months in Orlando. I got them because I walked in the door with gusto and refused to leave until the job was mine. They'd say: "Have you used Casting Networks before?" and I'd say "Nope... but I will certainly learn". They just want somebody who is remotely competent, who can take charge when needed and most importantly, somebody that wouldn't suck to hang around all day. I highly recommend giving it a shot, plus if I'm right for the role, they let me audition! Though, don't tell too many people about this sweet gig, I mean, this is freelance and I'm trying to monopolize the assistant game, bitches! Note: You're ACTORS, fucking ACT like you know how to do a job until you can figure it out. You're smart. Fake it until you make it. That's how everybody in the world does it, trust me. Ask Mark Zuckerberg, or just facebook messenger him... we'll he probably doesn't have it since it would invade his privacy.
"BUT, BUT, BUT DAVE, I can't work days! That's when auditions are, that's why restaurants work for actors!"
OK, the first and second caveat: If you love being a waiter, or you have 2-3 auditions everyday, then by all means, make dat money boo boo! You probably will book that national and be living on easy street in no time! But if you're like the 348,956 of us who go out MAYBE once a week, but more like twice a month, then what in the hell are you RESERVING YOUR DAYS FOR?!? Why do you think the entire world runs on the hours of 9-5 Monday-Friday? It's because it just makes sense! Quit holding on to false hope! If the audition comes, it's LA. The entire city auditions. No job will be like "WHAT?!? What's an audition? Is that what Leonardo DiCaprio has?" Hell no! They'll probably go "Ok, well... go on your lunch break" and you know you have large window of time to make a commercial audition (if you don't know, I work in commercial casting and I'm telling you, you DO!). If it's a theatrical audition, you USUALLY know 24 hours in advance, and if they're not cool with you auditioning FIND ANOTHER MOTHA SUCKIN JOB!!! Can't stress that enough. You didn't leave Mammy, Papi and your dog Skittles and move to LA to serve some 23 year old in his Dad's suit some damn sweet potato fries! Take control of your life and career!
"BUT, BUT, BUT DAVE, where are these "jobs" you speak of???"
Well here is a list of ideas for some other jobs that beat waiting tables and can be very flexible:
1) Uber/Lyft driver: I have YET to speak to a driver who doesn't brag about how much they make and how they get to chose their own hours. Get paid to listen to music and sit on your ass in the AC? No brainer!
2) Temp work: There are hundreds of temp sites, all you have to do is list with them, then they call you and you say "yes" or "no" to work. Usually pays well, all you need is basic computer skills or to be organized. So some days you'll be filing papers, some days you'll be putting numbers in excel and some days you'll be taking laps around an office "pretending" you're suppose to be there. ACT the damn part. MAKE dat money.
3) Promotions: Ever been walking down the street and been handed a free energy drink (or granola bar) by some attractive person? You probably took it and went on your way not thinking too much about it. What if I were to tell you that person in that stupid Red Bull shirt gets paid anywhere from $125-$200 to HAND OUT FREE SHIT. It's true. Google it. List with tons of companies in LA, and become a "brand ambassador". Easy peasy.
4) Background work: Look, you're not above it. I know you think you are, but let me ask you a question, how would you like to get paid to read books, play on your phones, eat craft services and sometimes have to walk from point A to point B once in awhile? Yeah, once I stepped off my high horse and registered with an extras service (extras management) I hated myself for not doing it sooner. ESPECIALLY IF YOU'RE UNION, it starts at $125 and can rack up overtime and all sorts of bonus $ real quick. Also if you're a weasel/slacker like myself you figure out real quick how to do the least amount of work on set. Rule number one: Never, ever volunteer and always take long bathroom breaks!
5) Nanny or Manny: Yeah, guys can do it too. The old days are null and void, now Mommy and Daddy work. So if you like kids, go online, make business cards, or creepily wait in a playground (not recommended for dudes) and see if people need somebody to watch their kids. Learn how to get paid to eat cookies and watch The Lion King, which if you haven't seen in awhile, it still holds up! Hardcore!
These are only five examples! There is an entire, enormous city out there, go explore it! I've never been happier. I actually utilize skills at my job. I effect people. Not just make them fat. You can to. All of you.... even you. The MOST important part of all those jobs I mentioned is you can work on getting ON camera jobs while you're there. Which brings us to...
PART 2: AGENTS/MANAGERS, WHO NEEDS EM?!? ... I DON'T
Again, a caveat: If you have a rockin agent or manager, hold onto them like a fat kid who found a Twinkie in his bed. (OK, sorry, I shouldn't say "fat kid", let's for the sake of this article call him "Me from last night, when I found a Twinkie in my bed and freaked out"). But again, if you're like the majority of LA actors, you have an agent who you never talk to, yet you still make sure to attend all their holiday parties, so they can "remember you". Or a manager who really "believes in you" or "knows your type" or better yet, you consider more of a "friend". If they're not getting you out or sending you on projects you want to be sent out for, speak up or GET OUT!
"BUT, BUT, BUT DAVE, WHAT ABOUT PILOT SEASON?"
Question: of ALL the actors you know here in LA, how many of them have booked series regulars for a pilot? I know one... and he booked it in NY! Watch TV, it's just like Broadway. Filled with A-list stars. Why? Because ever since the economy fell in the pooper, Execs are scared to take a chance. It's also why we are seeing so many re-makes. (Please stop Michael Bay!). It's because they are sure things to bring in money. Who's gonna sell Broadway tickets? A great actress fresh out of NYU or Scarlet F'N Johansson?!? Which show is the midwest stay at home Mom gonna watch? The one with Kevin Bacon or the one with some guy named Dave Rispoli, who slightly resembles Adam Scott... but isn't Adam Scott?!?
Now this is tricky, because the more I'm on the other side of the casting world the more I've realized how hard it is for an Agent and Manager to get actors in the room. Fun Fact: I've had more managers than girlfriends. Two of them decided they wanted to leave the business, one "loved me" so much so they wanted to keep me around by never booking me on jobs and the other one never returned my emails or calls so I fired his ass (I later awkwardly waited on him, he apologized and left me a fat tip. A win for me!). I also was with a "top agency" as well as a "boutique agency" and I'll tell you there wasn't much difference. Am I bitter towards them? ABSOLUTELY NOT. I'm a hard sell. If you're not currently on TV or got "heat" (you need to know what that term means) then it's very, very hard to get you/me auditions. Put yourself in you manager/agents shoes and then put yourself in the casting director's shoes. They pick up the phone to pitch you (most don't even do that) a casting "assistant" picks up the phone, they say "Hey you've got to see my client X, they're so funny, great with Improv, UCB, Second City, Blah blah blah..." Network casting assistant says "Cool..." looks up client X on IMDB, sees a bunch of short films and student films, maybe a co-star or two and then starts to think about what they want to eat for lunch.
"BUT, BUT, BUT DAVE! Your article is making me sad and is a very negative look on the business!!!"
Well, please don't feel that way, because now I want to tell you the true point of all of this: Now, more than ever, it's easier to make a career YOURSELF. Where you have complete control of what you're in, where it goes, what it's about, etc...! It's the MOST exciting time for an actor! For an actor who is a doer that is. Create your own "heat"!!! What do I mean? We live in a time where more people can name a "vine star" (which is a thing) over any playwright. This is the prime time to create and create and create some more! There are tons and tons of directors, DP's, writers, editors who are also tired of The Big Bang Theory! Make the next Big Bang Theory... actually don't. Yeah make something different and better. Look at "Girls", "Broad City", "It's always sunny", or the tons of people I know making money producing/acting in web series. For example, "The Clan" "The Online Gamer" "Emma Approved" or films that got produced for nothing that sold at festivals! It's possible, but only if YOU make it happen. When I said "work like never before", it's a give to get situation. Work your ass off! Then the jobs will come.
If I were to give one single piece of advice to an LA actor, it would be to actually learn what "networking" is and implement it immediately. I think people assume this means going to a Hollywood party and schmoozing or sleeping around, or going to "industry mixers". No. NO. Gross. "Networking" means doing projects with cool up and coming directors, writers, producers. Showing up to set on time, being gracious and kind to EVERYBODY. Then after you wrap, learning names, getting emails or facebook contacts and keeping in touch. I worked with a director when I first got here. A short film. I did it for free. The final product looked amazing, so what did I do? I hounded the director all the time, "Hey whatever your next project is, I don't care, I want to be a part of it". Be prepared for him to call you and offer you a role as a goblin in a metal music video. Did I take that? Hell yes! Which led to touring the country, starting a "metal comedy" act, it may even lead to a TV show (still pitching) ... and most importantly we've become true friends and will continue to work together for the rest of our careers.
Is this business all about "who you know"? Absolutely. Does that mean your Dad or Uncle has to be a producer or your last name has to be "Baldwin"... well that would sure help, but no, it doesn't. I've been working on this pilot for two years. I asked around for two years on how to get it made. Never gave up on it. Finally a friend who knows a thing or two suggested just shooting a portion for a pilot presentation. I needed many pieces to make this shoot happen, so I put in WORK. Called in all the favors! So now I have a DP I worked with on some free music video I did, a sound guy who saw me do stand up, an editor I went to high school with, a co-star/producing partner who is my best friend, the list goes on and on. All people I know. So yes, it's all about "who you know". Do you know who stars in this pilot I wrote? No, not Kevin Bacon, (though if you know him shoot him my e mail there might be a role for him)... It's ME. The pilot is starring me, written by me. If you're complaining about never going out for roles you're right for, or your representation not knowing your "type" CHANGE THAT! Nobody knows your voice, your style, your strengths, like you do. I'm going to crush this role. Then once it's finished I have another web series I'm shooting and starring in and all of a sudden I could have some "heat". Suddenly an agent or a manager has something to tell that assistant over the phone. Especially if I market it right. Market my abilities. This is a business. You're selling yourself (but not your soul gosh darnit!).
In conclusion, actors have somehow lost all power. We got too desperate. We gave the power to managers, agents, casting directors, auditions... it's time we take it back. To an outsider, I have no representation, therefore I have nothing. Mmm... No. It was my choice to get rid of my reps, because now I have all the power. Never again will I have to spend 3 nights working on an audition to play a rapist, with 3 lines on CSI: Topeka or some BS. I'm working on projects I believe in. Projects that showcase my true talents. Projects that my friends are involved in. Projects I have an absolute blast working on! PLUS, my income is coming from something I don't hate... in fact I love it! I found a way to have my cake and eat it too... mmm... cake... So If you get an audition for an awesome pilot, go on it! I'm not saying "screw the man"! We all eventually have to play ball. But I'm simply saying (in an extremely long winded way, oh geez... I just realized I've become my father), if there's something in your life or career that isn't making you happy... remove it. You don't "have to" do anything. There is no exact science, or solution to how to get roles and jobs. So find unique angles, take chances, surprise yourself, travel, explore, (fill in something else inspiring). I use to think I knew exactly how my career would go... well as I write this, about to turn 30, I have absolutely NO IDEA where my career is going... and I've never been more excited.
Go out there and raise hell! Next week, I talk auditoning tips I've learned while working in casting.