Wednesday, November 18, 2009

If you believe in God, now would be a good time to pray for me.

What a month.

I woke up three Saturdays ago to agonizing pain. A tooth ache. I was scheduled to get on a plane the next day and I figured I'd rather have a dental emergency in my own hometown than in New York, so I went to the dentist.

Long story short: root canal.

Strangely, it didn't hurt as much as I expected. I said as much to the universe and the universe must have thought I was mocking it because I came home from New York to find a letter from the IRS waiting for me. I'm being audited.

Yes, that's right. Monday and Tuesday, one of our nation's finest is going to do his or her part to reduce the Federal deficit by pawing through my records to try and uncover untold millions of unreported earnings.

Needless to say, I'm scared. Not because I've been hiding anything, but because I buy into the universal perception that taxes are so complicated, normal people like you and me are not capable of figuring them out. Weird, huh? I can organize, schedule, and budget an entire production involving hundreds of thousands of dollars and dozens of people, but I can't even muster the courage to try and understand a Schedule C.

Wish me luck, will you?

I'll be back, posting my little heart out, once things settle down again. Unless I'm in prison.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Casting trick #8. Treat your actors like professionals.

I read somewhere that the average cost to make a television commercial is well over $400,000.

I don't know about you, but I think that's a lot of money. Although it goes pretty quickly when you have to scout locations, build sets, get permits, hire crews, rent equipment, and all the other stuff that goes into a shoot.

But when you think about it, most commercials come down to actors interacting. All the other stuff is there to support the interaction. And putting it that way, you'd think the actors would be the most important factor.

Only they're not treated that way.

It's not unusual for actors to get a phone call or email at midnight telling them they have an audition the next morning. They're given a scheduled time for their audition that's totally arbitrary, without any regard for the fact that they might have jobs or children, and even when they show up on time, they're often forced to wait for an hour or more for a chance to read for a part.

That waiting time is usually a good thing because many casting directors don't feel the need to provide any information the actors can use to prepare for the audition.

What's remarkable is that the same people who give the actors no notice, no information, and no time to prepare are often the ones who deride the actors as flaky when they don't show up and talentless when they don't have the script memorized. And not just behind their backs, either.

It never occurs to them that acting, by its very nature, requires an incredible ability to compartmentalize: Actors need to be able to respond with full emotion while performing, yet deal with the daily rejection that comes with the pursuit of work.

You want to be a better director? Of course you do. Well, take some acting classes. Go on some auditions. If you're lucky enough to land a gig, pay attention to the way you're treated. Walk a mile in your actors' shoes.

Trust me, you'll never take your actors for granted again. And your work will be much, much better.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Another reason it matters what order you see people in.

Remember, oh, about three weeks ago when I went on about how actors who come in early in the day are at a disadvantage, while those that come in toward the end have an advantage? (If you don't, click here.)

There's a mitigating factor, but before I get to it I have to talk a little bit about what you're looking at when you're evaluating an actor's audition.

There are two parts to an actor. There's who the actor is. And there's what the actor does.

Who an actor is involves not just his looks, but the way he carries himself, how he connects, how he moves, and that weird, undefinable thing, charisma. Who an actor is comes from genetics and habit and upbringing and instinct and while some actors actually work on developing this stuff a bit, you can only make yourself so tall, thin, good-looking, or charismatic.

What an actor does means the choices he makes. Is he angry or sad? Interested or bored? Turned on or turned off? A lot of actors give less thought to these decisions than they really should, trusting that their instincts will lead them to the most interesting performances, but I like the actors who take apart a scene and figure out what's really going on. These are the people who can perform a conversation with their mothers about where to park the car, but make you understand that what's really going on is a seething resentment over Mom's not intervening when Dad molested Sis twenty years ago.

In actor-speak, what an actor does is called making a choice. And when the Academy gives out awards, a lot of the praise you'll hear is about the "interesting," "brave," or "powerful" choices made by the nominees.

You don't have to see an Oscar-nominated film, though, to see choices. Actors make them in auditions. Sometimes, you'll see a really neat choice in an audition. Even in, yes, commercial auditions. Auditions where the housewife has to decide which paper towel will clean up the spill or the pizza delivery guy gets a door slammed in his face.

Which brings me back to the point I started this blog to make:

Sometimes, two actors will make the same unusual choice in an audition. When that happens, it's easy to give the first person you see doing it more credit than the second. The first time you see it, it's new. The second time, your tendency is to feel that the actor is copying somebody else's good idea.

But remember, each actor made the choice independent of the other. If what the actors do is more or less equal, then you can always make your decision based on who the actor is.