Saturday, December 27, 2008

There's a Banana on You Head!

Here’s one of my son’s jokes:

Kiernan: Knock, knock.

Anyone: Who’s there?

Kiernan: Um…banana!

Anyone: Banana who?

Kiernan (beat. Looks around, thinking, then): There’s a banana on your head!

Of course, it’s a nonsensical punchline to every person in the world but he and I. I can trace its exact origins to a Richard Scary book I used to read for him. In one panel, the French Police cat is chasing a dog jewel thief through a busy restaurant. The patrons and waiters are all upended in various ways with food and plates flying. Though not scripted, I would provide the dialogue for each character, including the final, unfortunate customer who correctly stated: “There’s soup on my head.” This deadpan acknowledgement always got a laugh from Kiernan and I would sometimes repeat the scene three, four or five times that night. Kiernan is now synthesizing the joke into his own routine – one that misses the adult mark, but kills in the four year-old demo.

I walk the stage tonight at Universal Studios essentially repeating the same process Kiernan does, possibly on a more elevated scale. I’ve been called into perform at the Special Effects Stages during the holiday week. As a newcomer, I’m low on the roster, 44th to be exact, so many, many people need to be on vacation to put me in the theme park and on the stage. Christmas time is that time and as a result, I’m struggling to remember the 17 pages of dialogue and cues that come with this job. But I’m also playing the role of scientist tonight. Comedy scientist.

The show is unique in that it is scripted, but you are encouraged to add your own jokes. It’s also unique in that you are supported by three different rooms of amazing special effects displays. Giant screens show clips, huge turntables spin volunteers and monsters come to life. If a joke flops, you just push a button and the next amazing thing happens, erasing that momentary gaff. If your joke succeeds, you bask in it for a moment, but you eventually still push the button. Honestly, you support the show as small, possibly funny bridge between the multimillion-dollar multi-media.

So this show has become a sand box, a place to truly experiment with the endless variations of comedy. The material can either be my own freshly minted jokes, or I can cherry pick any of the other 50 people’s routines…some honed over the last 6 years of this show’s existence…and synthesize it to my own patter. I can experiment with rate and tone, long sets or fast gags. The possibilities are endless.

Example: You switch between “Host” and “Briefer” roles each show. The Host runs the first two rooms, the Briefer falls into running the third room after the Host is ‘removed’ from the show. You are briefly (Ha!) introduced at the beginning of the show and how you present your self is entirely up to you. Some are flamboyant, some are macho, some just wave and smile. The choice is yours.

Having played with the first two for a while, I finally settled on just the smile and a wave. I’m ditching the quick laugh in exchange for a bigger payoff when the host leaves in the second room. My reactions are my strong suit and if the audience sees me as pleasant and possibly unsure initially, then when I realize I’m suddenly in charge, I not only have a big laugh at my doorstep, but also the audience’s favor. I might still have those if I try for the flamboyant or the macho introductions, but I could also obfuscate the joke as people try to reconcile (consciously or unconsciously) my previous bravado with my current lost look.

Another Example: The Briefer exits the second room twice, terrified. It’s a funny bit, but I’ve never managed to maximize it. Some just follow the prescribed routine, running out and pretending to hit a wall backstage. Others ham it up with the audience before exiting, not hitting the at all. Both versions get a laugh and while I’ve been experimenting with the hammy version, again it pushes into the payoff reaction.

Final example: When the Briefer reaches the third room, he is in charge. He is responsible for placing several guests on stage at different stations and getting them to perform tasks. He also scores big comedy points by making fun of those guests at various points. It’s good-natured fun, but it also plays better if you have a bit of an edge. I play this pretty well, but at the cost of ditching the nice guy routine from the first two rooms. Suddenly the wide-eyed rube shifts into wise-cracking smart-ass. I could stay in character, but the alternative yields so much comedy fruit that it sustains the 8 minutes I have to hold that room. Considering also the fact that the last room also has the fewest effects and relies the most on the Briefer being funny, the math dictates the switch until I figure out a transition.

This all seems tiny and insignificant, doesn’t it? In the long run, it probably is. Again, I could just read the lines like a phonebook (do they still make those) and the flashy images and effects would dazzle most people into enjoying the show (and it should). This “Butterfly Effect” of comedy is primarily academic, and secondarily only useful to comics and bloggers, right?

Yeah, probably. This is really nuts and bolts stuff and I might not even be a certified mechanic to talk about it. But as always, if you can talk about the experience in terms of how it affects you, then you ‘re always right.

Twenty years ago, I would have done everything I could to reduce the variables for this show and maximize the comedic potential. In fact, that’s exactly what I did when I worked at Cedar Point and Sea World in my twenties. I polished my act, observed the results and then honed it again until I had the routine that statistically yielded the highest number of laughs per show. It was, to borrow the Lexus motto, a relentless pursuit of perfection. Even worse, I would often fume when co-workers got laughs from their own material. I would seethe at them and devise ways to top them or negate their jokes. It was ruthless and competitive and it squeezed all the fun out of being funny.

But nowadays, it seems different. Age has made me wiser or wearier, and in either case I can now accept the limitless permutations of a comedic moment and not doubt or regret the path I choose. The stream of funny is wide and vast; you can see the other jokes float by you. The difference is that I no longer pull out my paddle and try to beat them all to a shore that never appears. I still want to be funny, I guess now I can see that there is no perfect joke, just different ones.

It brings me back to my son’s knock, knock joke. I make it a point never to tell him that the punch line makes no sense. Further, he can sometimes go on a long riff of ‘knock, knock ‘jokes created on whatever is in his line of sight but with out any standard comedic payoff and I don’t correct. The number of knock, knock jokes is limitless and given the variables of time, audience or location, Kiernan’s jokes have the potential to be side-splitting and insightful.

Or they could simply be factual. Someday, we may all wind up with bananas on our heads.

It’s possible.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

About the recession...

FYI - 95% of actor in the Screen Actors Guild make less than $7,000 a
year. My profession is in a constant recession.

Sent from my iPhone

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Bored of this site

I'm not liking this site any more.

It's not you, it's me.

Actually, it's probably nobody.

See, I envisioned this as a place to chat about acting. Specifically, my acting experiences and how I really felt about them. It would essentially be a port of my MySpace blog which had a following enough to make me consider moving the whole kit and caboodle to a site that does not pimp ringtones on the sides of my life. I'd build up a huge, cool-ass following and then parley that into a teaching job or something even better. It was pie in the sky and I was hungry.

But the reality of the blog became something different. In the walled garden that is Myspace, I can bitch about the industry with relative impunity. If a director sucked or an agent dissed me, I could vent there. Even if it was just a bad audition, I could dissect it in graphic details for the curious friends to see. The blog was (and is) restricted to only those that I deem suitable to read my blog.

But this is the wild world wide web. Everything is searchable. If I name a producer or agent who was a jackass to me, one simple vanity google of their own name and I'm in trouble. The town is too small to mouth off, and it's too dangerous when you are a mid-level actor like I am. I need them more than the reverse being true.

So I've ended up watering down my posts here, or just not posting at all. that makes this a boring, infrequently visited site - both by you and I. Honesty and creativity are currency on the web and I have neither here.

So I'll probably mix things up here a bit. I may rant on things that don't directly affect my ability to find a job, I might focus on one issue in particular. I don't know anymore.

Of course, the oddest thing right now about this blog is that I'm not sure anyone is actually reading it. This could be as close to writing a personal journal as I can get if it has the viewship I think is does. While there is something heroic to carrying on when no one else will listen to you, blog is not one of thos instances.

So I end here, and maybe I begin here too. I'll still blog about acting. It won't be exclusive, but it may become interesting.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Germ Theory

Did I ever mention I was a series regular on a Sci-fi show?

Probably did, but didn't make too much of a fuss of it. Maybe it's because the show got canceled after two years, somehow making me a failure because of it. Or it could be that it was on the Sci-Fi channel, which meant that few people watched it when it was on. Maybe it was that once it was canceled, it was never shown on the Sci-fi channel again for odd reasons, nor did it ever surface in syndication or DVD. It could be that I just didn't think I was that good in the show.

Whatever the reasons, I'm beginning to reevaluate them. This is helped by the fact that they finally released the first season on DVD, then on But the final straw is when Hulu has released the second season online a few days ago. this was my season, primarily becasue they finally officially made me a series regular, but also because the writers and I had really started to dig into my character. The nebish, nerdy Eberts, long a wallflower in the action packed show was finallly getting a chance to stretch his legs and for me, my acting chops.

So here's an episode that I particularly like inthe second season. It's probably the easiest one to plug into as far as the blend of science fiction, action and comedy that the show did so well. It was also a great blend of the ensemble, everyone had something fun to do.

Watch as much as you want, I don't get paid so it doesn't hurt my feelings or my wallet if you stop early. It's a great little show that I'm just now starting to plug.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Domino's Pizza Commercial

Domino's Spot

Midway into my Vegas vacation, I booked this spot. It's a regional spot and I didn't expect to see it until I went to the production companies website. It was on the director's reel.

It's a pretty funny spot. Oddly enough, I think I booked it originally because I was the most understated actor at the audition. that changed on set, as you can see.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Sure Thing

Easiest shoot ever:
1. arrive at 7am to Fox lot.
2. Go to wardrobe. They like what I'm wearing.
3. Go to make up, they love my skin. Only powder and I'm done.
4. Find catering and eat eggs and 19 pieces of bacon.
5. doze in nice dressing room for 45 minutes. Script and contract waiting for me.
5. Get called to set at 8pm. Set is a Taxi cab .

6. Meet Alyson Hannigan (pictured behind my head) and other lead. Some random dude announces "Hey, that was almost my part". Have no idea what the hell he's talking about. Care little.
7. Shoot scene one (no lines). Alyson Hannigan punches my arm as 4 cameras capture all the action. Apologises to me for hitting me.
8. Shoot scene #2, one line, "Sure Thing". Delivered brilliantly.
9. Crew applauds my work, slort like being compelled to tip a waiter who brought you a cup of coffee. I am released at 8:40am. Take two donuts and a sprite - because I can - and drive off lot.
10. Take nap around 3pm to offset early morning shoot.
11. Calculate that I am paid over $100 PER LETTER for my shoot. Makes me highest paid actor on the set per letter and per hour. Feel immensely powerful. Nap some more and dream of more Sure things in life.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

And Now A Word from My Sponsors

Nothing spectacular here, just going to list all the commercials I've ever done. Not really for you as much as for me to have some sort of record.

Well, I take it back, I am putting this online to impress you and make me feel good about myself.

Barona Casino (With Kenny Rogers...never aired)
103.7 the Planet
Golf Club Spot (For some reason, they hired an Irish crew to fly to San Diego to make this spot. Never aired. Paid me $3,000)
Cox Cable
Computer Company (Don't remember name. It was about y2k and ran during one tennis tournament)
Barona (this time it aired)
Geico (Made a TON of money on this one)
Sony Playstation
Luizanne Iced Tea
Wall Street Journal (cast in it, but shot the pilot for "The Invisible Man" instead. Good choice.)
Dodge Nitro
Southwest Bell (Hardest shoot I ever had)
Borders (easiest shoot I ever had)
Taco Bell (Cut from it, voice for CGI Turtle replaced with lame dude)
USE Bank

I probably missed a couple, but that's the list.

I kind of feel like when you list all the girls you hooked up with and suddenly you realize that it wasn't as many as you thought. to be sure, these spots have made me over $100,000 collectively..maybe higher. But when I think of the hundreds of commercials I try out for, it seems less impressive than a couple of paragraphs ago promised. Certainly, the list of commercials that I almost got is far more impressive, if not as lucrative.

Waiting at the AT&T callback...and waiting...

...and waiting. Me and ten other stocky dudes waiting to go in and
give it a shot. Taking a looooong time for each person. May fotune
favor the foolish...

Monday, October 6, 2008

My son on the Fox lot.

During my audition for how I met your mother. Fortunately, the
casting director was super cool about it. I just hope he doesn't get
it over me.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

My SAGging Confidence

It's gonna happen again.

Like some sort of James Bond film gone horribly bad, the evil geniuses are going to win. Somewhere in their mountaintop lair, they watch monitors, rub their hands and actually use the "Muhahahah!" laughter to signify that they have triumphed over our hapless heroes.

Very soon, SAG will sign bad a contract with the Studios. Again.

The first one was 20 years ago.. Back when the initials "DVD" meant nothing to the common person. It was new, expensive technology that no one was sure would even work. The Studios asked pretty please, with sugar, if SAG could cut them some slack on this new medium. They wanted to see if it could grow and flourish, and placing the diabolical yoke of fair residual payments for actors - who worked long and hard to get a role in that film and then make the film successful - seemed punitive. They asked for a a favor, a break from the actors - just for now - and the actors, relented.

20 years later, that same agreement is still in place. All actors share 1.7% of the profits between themselves. The studios get the other 98.3%. Checks for $10 grace actors mailboxes while millions of copies are sold.

The studios claim that they won't negotiate on that subject now. DVD now accounts for the most profitable portion of their revenue stream and they won't kill the goose that laid that golden egg. They can neither confirm or deny that a dramatic shift occurred somewhere along the line from DVD's starting as "experimental" to becoming "crucial". Find something else, they told actors for years.

And then, the actors did.

Now, the internet is poised to be king. Online downloads of movies and TV threaten to tear asunder everything. It's virgin territory, a wild west where there simply are no rules. A new "experimental" medium.

Now and at last, the actors thought, we have them! SAG began arming themselves with facts and figures, stirring the pot of unrest among it's union and positioning itself for the driver's seat (at last) in negotiations. this time, it would be different.

Not so fast.

The Studios are full of smart, smart people. Evil, perhaps, but smart definitely. They had time to prepare also (3 years between each contract). They mapped out their strategy and then began to execute it, thusly:

Phase one: Don't negotiate with the Writer's Guild of America (WGA). A small guild, letting them strike served the dual purpose of getting rid of production deals that no longer suited the studios (via a force majure clause) while showing the rest of the town how debilitating a strike can be. WGA and SAG members braved picket lines inbetween Starbucks runs.

Phase two: Undercut the Writer's Guild by offering the Directors Guild of America (DGA) a deal that's still bad, but better than the one the Studios offered the writers. The DGA rolls over and puts pressure on the WGA to take the deal. Eventually, the WGA also signs the below average deal because everyone has mortage payments due. Now the studios look reasonable; they've negotiated with TWO unions successfully. The town now begins to turn it's attention to SAG.

Phase Three: Let the actor's slit their own throats. This was a series of bonuses for the Studios. First, big stars like Clooney and Hanks come out against the strike (and why not? They get paid 25 million a picture, who cares about a few thousand more per picture that could help some OTHER actor insure his familes health. ). Next SAG decides to negotiate its contract without its sister union AFTRA. The SAG higher-ups must still be feeling good about their chances to get a good much so that they kick their partners at the contract table to the curb. The studios salivate at this.

Phase Four: Capitalize on the dischord. SAG's gripes about AFTRA constantly undercutting them with lower wages per shows they represent and bad health insurance are well founded. Unfortunately, the timing was terrible. Like a jilted lover, AFTRA finds acceptance in the big, strong arms of the Studios. They give them a deal, a bad one indeed, that AFTRA takes as if to spite SAG. SAG tries vainly to vote down the deal with dual member votes, but to no avail. Now SAG is the odd man out and if they down't want to negotiate, then AFTRA will fill their shoes.

Phase Five: Cackle with glee as they slide the bad deal across the desk to SAG. Checkmate. Nowhere to go, no more peices left on the board. SAG will hem and stall for a while but eventually, they will topple their king. The Studios will be magnaminous and welcome actors back while SAG spins the deal and deceased SAG presidents spin in their graves. Wait till next contract will be the rallying cry.

But it will be an empty promise. The Studios have already toasted each other with goblets of DVD money from high atop their lairs. They may be evil, but they aren't stupid and can clearly see the next fight long before anyone else does. They'll be ready for the next fight.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

How to Book a Commercial

Reprinted from October 13th, 2006

How to book a commercial.

So about a month or so back, I booked a Dodge commercial. This was a big, crazy commercial that involved blowing up cars and dropping cars. If I'm lucky, it'll pay me pretty well, at least well enough to keep my insurance. If I'm not lucky, then I made scale for the day.

When I was on set one of the ad agency guys was talking to me and told me that even after my first audition, they loved me so much that I was in. "We had three groups of two guys we were choosing from", he explained, "and you were in all the groups. We even thought about casting you as the other guy!"

So with that stunning assessment of my talents I thought I would pass on to you, gentle reader, the exact method to booking commercials in Los Angeles.

No clue.

Well, that's a glib answer which is only partly true. But it is how I feel after I do or do not book commercials. I audition a lot, maybe 50-100 commercials a year. I get maybe 25% call backs and have booked about 15 commercials in my 8 year career. There are some, where afterwards I'm certain that they loved me and I do book the job. But all too often I will leave an audition or callback, call my wife to tell her I 'nailed it', and then never hear from them again. Even more perplexing is when I feel like I completely blew it, only to find out that I booked the role and they loved me. So it may be more accurate to say that I know enough to get in the door and do a good enough job to keep getting auditions, but when it comes down to the last few steps, they're still a mystery.

But if I had to give you, gentle reader, rules or steps to at least having a shot at being in that callback...that I can do. So indulge me as I map this out for you (and probably me as well)...

Step. 1
If you're 18-28 and beautiful/handsome, stop reading this. Go directly to the nearest commercial agent, show them your face, get signed, go out on auditions and book work. Seriously. You will be in those commercials where talent is irrelevant, but hotness is not. Just be able to look like you want to make love to the product, and by extension the opposite sex and you will very wealthy.

Step 2. Have the right 'look'. Here's a couple of them: Soccer Mom, Dad, Young Dad, College Kid, Beer Drinking Guy, Elderly, Really Fat, Really Thin, IT Guy, Nerd, Viagra user. If you fit into those roles EXACTLY, you have a shot at booking commercials. You have to have that stereotypical look that is recognizable in about 2 seconds or it's no good, because the other 28 seconds in the spot are reserved for the product. If you fall somewhere in between these types, as most people do, then you must cultivate one of the looks intensely until you are spot on, or prepare for a long, arduous struggle. Think I'm lying? Tag along with me to an audition where they're looking for a "Nerdy IT Guy". Watch me sit next 50 other guys who look like the brain trust of Microsoft, Dell and Apple combined. Looking as nerdy as I can, a lot of times I feel too 'normal'.

Step 3. Be good with improv. Forget acting. Acting requires rehearsal and choices made through that process. With commercials, you get the script moments before you go it. It's usually tacked on a board somewhere, if at all. The style of each one is completely different so in one reality you're shocked when your bananas talk to you, in another, it's perfectly reasonable. You go into the audition studio where the casting associate (The casting director will watch all this later on tape) will explain for the 90th time that day that as you are talking to the banana, the casting associate will be making a gurgling sound, which is of course the 70 foot sponge outside the door looking for the radio. He will tell you to not react to any of this as the director wants "Real" reactions. Got all that? Good, let's do it...

Commercial acting is improvisation, pure and simple. There's no way you can prepare for any audition except to be prepared for anything. If you are really serious about commercial acting, save your money on commercial workshops and take an improv class. Of the actors I audition against in callbacks, I think abut 80% are excellent improvisers.

Step 4. Have the right 'look'. Wait, I already did this one. no, actually, this is different. When you finally make it to the callback, you can have the best audition out of everyone and still lose the part because you're 'balding' but not 'bald. because you have blond hair instead of black, because you're 6'5" instead of 5'6". Because you are left handed instead of right.

At this junction, the director, ad agency and clients are all trying to assemble a puzzle, and you're just a piece. Your 'wife and kids' should look like they belong with you. They need to make sure you're manly enough, or nerdy enough to make the product look good. Oh, and interracial couples? Hah! In short, you will lose or gain many a role at this stage based on nothing you can control. This step is one of the most maddening, as you are about 4 hairs to few from a part.

Step 5. Know somebody. A commercial director in San Diego calls me once every couple of years and asks, "Mike, I'm shooting a commercial, wanna be in it?" At which point I check caller id to make sure it's not one of my jackass friends before I say yes.

Lots of directors have favorites and will use those people over and over again. I'm not real good at schmoozing on set, the last time I tried it, everyone was more entranced over the midget who was dressed as an elf. But if you have a contact, use it. There's no shame when you walk to the bank to cash the check.

Step 6. Recognize that this is just a commercial, and not life. in other words, just do the audition or callback and forget about it. I used to keep in depth journals about the entire process - product, casting director, how I felt, what I wore, ect. It turned out to be a great way to get really agitated about auditions before, during and after them. Nowadays, I simply do my best, walk out and try not to think about it.

Actually, if I was to pinpoint when I book, it's when I'm distracted. When I'm late, or late for another audition or if my wife and son are in the other room it pulls the plug out and allows me to just be natural. Also, directors and clients love to see someone who is confident to the point where they don't even seem to need the part. I was 1 1/2 hours late for a callback one day. All I wanted to do was go into the Casting Office and apologize personally to the casting director. When I got there the waiting room was empty. Finally the CD came out and I started to say I'm sorry. Before I could, she said, "Oh good, you're the last one here. Just go right in." Confused, I walked into the casting room in front of 10 clients, ad agency people and director and proceeded to book the job (you can see it here), when all I wanted to do was apologize. It helped that the guy also looked a little confused, but you get the point.

So, there it is, another diatribe that I'm sure none of you wanted. The truth is, recently these blogs are really more for me than you. I've been acting for 20 years now and it's time to start connecting a few of the dots. I'm happy to share these because A. It's good karma and B. except for one guy, no one who subscribes to this is in my type.

So next time you see a Dodge commercial with a guy being blown up in the car, think of me. Better yet, look at me, as that is me.

unless they recast.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

I'm Mad at Men...

I did not book the previous audition. A little surprising, but not shocking. New audition tomorrow. Small part for an ABC Family series, 4 lines but closer to health insurance if I get it. Wish I could tell you more about the series, but as far as ABC Family goes, it's all "GREEK" to me. Did you get that?

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Life in Purgatory/Batter up.

It is a long hall full of lost souls. They shuffle about aimlessly, back and forth, never going anywhere. A constant stream of mumblings are barely heard from each of them. The mumblings are not random, but a continuous loop of snippets of dialogue. Eventually, each of them is called in for judgment by a higher power. For most, they will be banished to an outer ring of hell. For the most select few, salvation.

Purgatory? Nope, casting office.

Today I auditioned for a TV show. to be honest, I haven't decided how much I can/will divulge about the specifics of each audition as it may someday come back to bite me in the ass. Suffice it to say that if I told you who I was auditioning for, there would be some pretty Mad Men stomping around. See what I did there?

Anyway, the first thing I want to talk about is the Actor Shuffle. This is the little two-step that a lot of actors (myself included) perform while we're waiting to audition. We pace about, running our lines in our heads or out of our mouths at a constant pace. The lines are almost a mantra, a chant to ward off the evil spirits of dropped lines or mispronunciation. They are the practice swing golfers take before they cut loose on the fairway, the one last analysis to gain insight. Those who do not shuffle sit on chairs or the ground, hoping to in turn ground themselves before they are summoned. The audition can be a one shot deal - blow that first read and you may not get a second chance - so everything is invested in the pregame workout.

I was one of those shufflers today, waiting for my chance. I had been to this casting office many times before and this show once before, so the nerves were not overwhelming. The role was mid-sized, about six lines spread over two pages...something they call "One Day Guest Star". A few years ago it would have been called a Day Player, but I'll take the bump in respect from the arbitrary title. I felt good about the role and my approach but still did the dance out of habit.

Turns out my read was pretty good, maybe too good. As I'm leaving the executive producer and director start to chat. I hear a "Why not?" and then the casting director calls me back in. they ask me to take a look at another role. I agree. Dumb move.

Here's why. Okay, they liked my read enough to consider me for another role. So in some way I hit it out of the park, a home run to fit the baseball analogy. Now I have the uphill battle of getting a brand new script, analyzing it, making strong choices, being as off book as I can and then presenting it to people who know the role far better than I do. All in 15 minutes. I'm pinch-hitting and the bat is a broomstick.

So I did the audition and did pretty well, considering. I'd give myself a solid triple. Now a triple is wonderful, but for those who just saw you hit it out of the park, not so much. Suddenly, you're not as great as they thought, certainly not for this new role. As far as the old role, well they already earmarked it for the second best guy who read. the guy who hit the triple in that role.

I tried my best to escape before they asked me to read, but I didn't make it. Once, a casting director chased me down the backlot, shouting my name. At first I pretended to not hear her, but eventually I had to turn to her sweaty but beaming face asking me, "Could you read another part?" I still haven't come up with a good enough excuse to get out of the alternate role but not look like a jerk. So my best bet is to get the Hell out of there before the casting bomb does me in.

Happy 4th of July, Americans.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

British actors are dumb.

When I first started acting in the TV series "The Invisible Man", I had my wife (who was also working at the studio) stop by and give me some feedback. I had very little experience in front of the camera and want to make sure I did well. The camera was about 20 feet away from me and so I made sure that when I hit my 'joke' moment, that it stuck.

After the first take, my wife (actually fiancee at the time) came up to me and told me to pull it way down. I was surprised because I thought that I was pulling it down, but she said no, not even close. I agreed and when the I finally saw the scene, not only was she right, but even after she told me, I still couldn't dial it down enough. I spent the next few episodes really working on what I saw as a deficiency in my acting.

We had a hiatus the first season where I got married and I acted in the stage show "You're a Good Man Charlie Brown". The first couple of weeks of rehearsal were really frustrating, because once again, I had to readjust to the stage. Every other note to me was to make bigger choices. These were choices which 6 months ago felt spot on, but now felt bloated and untruthful. After the show was over, I had to transform again, stripping away all that I was to the core so that I could be on the TV show. It was an eye opening experience. One that I brooded upon until now.

Anyone who proclaims that stage and on camera acting is the same is wrong. They're probably British and have a bunch of British theater acting awards to their name and are now in big budget American films waving wands or shooting laser all the while retaining their dignity and booming voices. They tell you that acting is the same no matter where it is done or how it is done, pat you on the head and give you a cookie.

But they're wrong, and either they don't realize it, or they're hiding it from the rest of us. Film acting and Theatre acting is like when Sting and Pavarotti sing a duet together. They are both forcing air from their lungs to sing, but it is totally different in style and delivery and neither would last long in the others arena of expertise. If you want acting proof, watch Patrick Stewart bellow out orders and contort his face for the first season of Star Trek before he noticed that the camera was 2 feet from his face. On the other side, pick any TV or film actor (how about Julia Roberts) that has recently tried to act on stage, but make sure you bring you hearing aid and telescope or you might think you're watching a painting. These are two completely different mediums linked only by the humans passing through them.

But wait, Mike! Ask any British Stage Actor to clarify his beliefs and he will admit that the external trappings will be different, but the internal process is the same. Ha! Check and mate!


This is where I'll really piss people off, but what the hell, they can stop reading this. I think the internal process is different as well, because of what the external product is. On stage, you need to show us what you are thinking and feeling in grand gestures and loud voices, lest the audience continue looking at the set, the other actors or their watches. At best, a stage actor is about the size of your hand in front of you, desperately trying to get your attention because they are so small in your world. So as a result, everything has to be vomited forth onto the stage by the character. You cannot hide anything, it will be lost, so even introverted stage characters must be extroverts to survive.

On camera, you must hide. The camera will root you out, find you and expose you. It is so relentless that you you must burrow within yourself to be interesting. Even the most extroverted character has to hold something back, a few nuggets of interest that he or she will present toward the end of the film. You must approach these characters from the deepest place inside you, inside your soul or the camera will not believe you, and will find someone else more interesting. It essence, it will start looking at it's own watch unless it thinks you have a secret.

So, hold on. What about that British actor? You know, the one who brilliantly preformed all that Shakespeare in England (or so I've heard) and now has made the transition to the big screen effortlessly? What about that guy?

First, check to see if they ever acted on camera in said faraway place. go get their first couple of films and tell me if they chewed up the scenery or not. Second, what roles are they playing now? Wizards? Dark lords? Cannibals? Pretty over the top roles, stage friendly roles if you ask me. Finally, they may in fact have made the switch effortlessly. they may have walked on to a set, looked and the big cameras everywhere and said, "Oh, I get it", and then proceeded to do just that. If this is the case, I contend that it's not because the acting is the same, but rather that the actor is good enough to intuitively make the adjustment. They're probably so good, that they don't even realize they made it, and can now freely walk around proclaiming that the two disciplines are one and the same.

And that's where they screw us all over. Because we believe them, or want to believe. We want to be that caviler, that bold as to speak for every human being when they talk about the intimate process of acting. We really want to think that the magic we see on stage, is the exact same spell cast on screen. In short, we want it to be just a little easier.

But it's not, and we should be okay with that. What we really should do is find the actors who say, "There's stage acting, on camera acting, and about 30 other kinds of acting and you have to train for each of them. " We should then aspire to learn as many forms of acting as we can and wear them proudly. There's no shame in not knowing how to do something, only a thrill at learning it.

As for the British actor, well, he'll probably keep on spouting off about the homogenous aspects of acting. More power to him. After all, he's entitled to his opinion and more importantly, he's a wizard, and I don't want to tick him off.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008


It's what everybody asks me these days.

Simple answer: if AFTRA does not ratify its contract, then yes, there will be a strike. It will be AFTRA doing SAG's work. If the AFTRA vote is approved narrowly, there's about a 50% of a strike by SAG. If it is overwhelmingly approved, there is a 0% precent chance of a SAG strike.

there you go.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

How to Pick an Agent

Tales of the Myspace Blog!
So I have about 3 years of acting blogs languishing on MySpace, boring 17 year olds (or is it 47 year-olds now? Myspace should join with the AARP). So every once in a while, rather than repeat myself, I'll simply let my genius renew itself. Enjoy

December 25th, 2006

New Agency, Nice Office

Here's my guide for young actors on what they should be looking for when meeting a new agent.
impressive client list? nope.
compatible personality? no.
Promise of getting you work. never.

Ready? Here it is.

How nice is their office.

As soon as your eyes have returned from their obligatory rolling I tell you that this is a backed up, strong technique. This theory has results.

In fact, I mentioned this question as I was taking a meeting with Ellis Talent Agency the other day. we had a wonderful hour and a half long meeting. The two agents and I were really clicking, laughing, agreeing smiling. It was a perfect first date that would end in a kiss if we weren't all married.

But let's go back a step further. My manager pitched me to this agency a while ago (you might remember my video from a previous blog) and after the predictable lag time they finally got around to watching my demo reel. The word came back that they absolutely loved it and that they wanted to meet me.

This is fair-to-pretty-good news. It means that you've reached a stage in your career that merits this agency's attention. They are car buyers and they've already done their internet homework on you and now they want to kick the tires. You usually stop by toward the end of the day, meet all the agents, chat about stupid stuff for the first 30 minutes before they grill you about your career and what you think about your potential. They let you awkwardly sell yourself (at least I do) until you run out of platitudes, credits or steam. When you're exhausted they make themselves feel good with a history of the agency and it's (perceived) successes. At the end they ask if you have any questions. You may or may not muster up some softball question to toss them just to show them that you've paid attention. After that, everyone shakes hands and agrees to contact each other at a later date.

these meeting are by no means a guarantee that they'll take you on. I've met with several agencies (including one in the same building as Ellis) that seemed to go well (or not) and end up with the agency passing. Most of the time it's pretty obvious that one or more of the agents didn't like you. At a now defunct agency called The Syndicate (dumb name), 5 out of 6 agents loved me. The 6th agent was of course the head of the agency. Guess how that turned out? Generally, you'll get a call from the agent that liked you explaining that one of the agents just didn't see how to market you, but we'll keep you on file and..........

The ones that like you will also call, generally sooner than later. Many will tell you right there that they'd like to sign you. It's flattering. In a town that doesn't want you unless you're symmetrical and young, when someone does want to take you to the dance you almost always want to say yes.

But I knew to fight that urge. It's the old axiom that you'd never date some one that actually LIKES you. In acting, there's actually validity to it, but more importantly, you need to do some of your own tire-kicking.

Such was the case with Ellis. They had tipped their hand pretty early in the courting process by telling my manager that they really, really loved my demo reel. I knew going in that as long as I didn't threaten them with bodily harm, they would offer to sign me. So now it was up to me to decide if I wanted to sign with them.

And so we're back to my agent criteria.

It's pretty simple, actually. If an agency is doing well, they'll have a nice office. Remember, they're only making 10 percent of the actor's paycheck so they need either quantity or quality. If they have neither, it shows in the decor, the computers, the location of the office. I had interviewed with those agents before and I still impulsively feel the urge to shower. You feel like you're in a haunted house and that these people are the dealers of the dead (careers). It seems like you could come back the next day and they'd be gone or the building would.

But the good agents have paid themselves, their assistants, their accountants, bought their clients holiday gifts (iPods..always ipods) and had plenty left over to carve out a temple of luxury in Beverly hills. If you ever have the time, stop by William Morris, ICM or CAA's offices. You'll see what I mean.

So at the end of the meeting the two agents looked at me. They are very nice women who I believe will work hard for me and understand my humor and acting potential. They paused for a moment before asking if I had any questions.

I shrugged looked around and replied "Well, I like your office." And that was it. they didn't know it, but I was unofficially their client. Their office was not opulent, but it was not a dive either. It was homey and in a nice building. there were new computers and a sense of decor stability (meaning that things had been there awhile). To merge my competing metaphors, I had agreed to buy the Honda Accord to take Miss Personality to the dance.

So a day later I agreed in principle to sign with the Ellis Talent Agency. My manager (no office, but works out of a nice condo)was thrilled at this lateral move for me and possible vertical opportunities for her other clients. I was happy to be done with "The Hassle" and start auditioning in January. I really hope this policy continues to work. If I'm right , then eventually my house will look 90% better than the best agency in town. If I'm not, then I'll be working at home depot, consulting agents on bathroom fixtures.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Best Acting Advice Evar!

Okay, here it is.

Blog number two in the third age of Mike-Blog-Utopia and I'm gonna give away the biggest, best tip on acting ever. After this, I can just close up shop and build a strip mall here. It's that awesome, that important.

And it's not even mine. I heard it when I was an undergraduate taking a special acting class to prepare us for the 'real world'. It was taught buy an alumnus named Dennis Cockrum, an actor who's big claim to fame was a role in the movie "Uncle Buck", followed by a lead in the TV series of the same name. Big stuff to a 20 year-old who was screwing around in Ypsilanti, Michigan in a lackluster acting program in the middle of the Midwest. Dennis was the closest thing I'd ever seen to a movie star. His words were gold.

And yet, when he told me the greatest tip to new actors ever uttered, I hated him. What he said was stupid...beyond stupid, irresponsible. I wondered if he could be kicked out right then and there. He was corrupting the youth of America with this nonsense and some one had to stop the message.

The message that went like this:

"If there is anything in this world that you like to do more than acting, if there is anything you're even remotely better at doing than it."

WTF? FTW? (Author's note: those initialization were not in public usage at the time. Colloquial expressions utilized to appear 'hip')

And like I said, it pissed me off. How dare this old guy (who I am now of that 'old' age) walk into MY school - not his - and tell me to quit acting. Who the Hell is he anyway?

Then it hit me: he wasn't trying to discourage us, he was trying to warn us.

I looked at his face and saw the years of rejection. Each wrinkle was graph of a failure, each crevice was a hole where hope once was. The Business beat the crap outta this guy...this guy who was successful, and yet he still looked like he lost every battle.

I looked around at the 9 or 10 of us in the class and instantly started to see what he meant. These were the best and brightest of my acting program. At least for this year. And yet, suddenly I could see the tough lives ahead of each of them, the loss the sorrow, the pain if they kept up the dream of being an actor. We were 'good', but many other would be 'great'. Before we graduated, before we left that room...before we even considered being an actor, the odds were stacked against us.

And you know what, years later, his words still proved true. Out of those 9 or 10, I think I'm the only one out in Hollywood pursuing the dream. My friend Tony is an Artistic Director in Michigan (and a damn good one) and the rest...well, they sooner or later followed Dennis's advice. Even I sit here typing away, focused on my next audition and wondering if there's still time to go into teaching. Acting is that hard.

Of course, the greatest irony about this advice is that about zero percent of the people told this will follow it immediately. Everyone envisions themselves as special, different, talented. They launch themselves at Hollywood, New York, Chicago or some lesser city with the grandest of schemes. They struggle against the truth that sits them down for coffee after each failed audition, each painful rejection and tells them that maybe another career is warranted. They clog the system, creating white noise that those who may honestly have a chance, must work twice as hard to break though. It's not their fault of course; like Bruce Willis in 'The Sixth Sense', they're already dead, they just don't know it yet (And no, it's not a spoiler anymore. I give movies 18 months before I start spilling secrets. BTW, rosebud = sled).

And so I take the torch from Dennis and bestow this nugget of wisdom to you. Be a doctor, lawyer or rocket scientist if you think you might like it a bit more than acting. Hell, even if you don't like those occupations, keep them on deck just in case. If money and stability makes you happy, don't be an actor.

As for Dennis, well he's still acting. He's done a lot of roles. Not great ones, but ones that keep the dream alive, ones that prove that he's still made the right choice. I saw him about 3 years ago while one of us was driving and the other was in a grocery store parking lot (I forget which). I called him out and we chatted the length of the guy in the car behind the one of us in the car's patience. He got married, I had a kid...good bye. I didn't have time to tell him thanks for the advice, but I guess I didn't need to. I was still here and so was he. We loved acting more than anything else, and that what it's all about.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

What I Expect From You

What I Expect From You.

A new blog. Outstanding. Exactly what the world needs.

I’m slowly moving out of my parent’s basement (MySpace blog) and setting up shop in a new apartment complex. I tried Tumblr, which has a nice clean interface and easy controls. It also has no indigenous comment system (I installed one, click the title to see the crappy version), so plan 'B' stands for We'll sleep on google's couch until I can come up with a nicer pad.

Now, on to what this is all about.

Greetings. I am an actor by trade, a sci-fi geek by choice and a jackass by default. I’ve shuffled off my Sci-fi rants to a website called Slice of Scifi and they seem to be doing a good job of pissing off people. The personal life stuff will probably remain on Myspace, since it’s where my friends and my Mom tend to read them. That just leaves the acting stuff.

For a while I’ve fancied myself as a good actor. Recently I’ve also considered myself not only a good actor but a good blogger when it comes to acting. I recount my exploits and follies with humility and (possible) humor; all the while trying to actually impart what I’ve learned to those brave enough to follow me down this winding and whiny path. I dream of someday being an elder statesman of acting, lording above a young crop of attractive and talentless noobs, tugging at my pant leg for wisdom that I’ve dispensed for years via the Internet, then books and DVDs. it’s a power play for the later years in life, a golden parachute if the real dream of fame and fortune slips away.

And it’s humble beginnings are found here.

So, before I begin, let me tell you, gentle reader, what I expect of you.

FTW? What you expect of me, Mike! Outrageous! Overbearing! Bad form! Blogs are free and I have no obligation to you.

Nonsense. I’m not writing this blog entirely for my benefit. If I was, I’d take it off line, and you’d never know just how I really felt about the acting style of Mark Wahlberg (emoticon hint: :( ). In fact, this blog is built as a honeypot, a device to draw you in, get you to like me and eventually propel me to a successful acting career. Can you believe I’m telling you all this, upfront? How can you like me now?

Because I offer offer simultaenously the most valuable and worthless asset on the web: a truthful opinion. I have better things to do in my life than write gloss pieces about actors I like and movies that rock. Leave that to the bloggers that get paid under the table to whore themselves out (and they do).

Instead, I offer blow by blow recounts of blown auditions. I share the joy of booking a job. I peek under my hood to expose my acting process, or lack thereof. I give honest viewpoints about screenplays, directors and actors…some of whom I may be working for or with. In short, I put my intellectual property online and my career on the line and live to tell you about it.

So I want something back.

Here’s the deal, you can read these blogs for free right now. That’s right, you pay nothing. In exchange, all you have to do is this: Make me famous.

That should be my job, right? I’m the God-damned actor, find the jobs myself, right.


Still, the deal is this: make me famous.

How do you do it?

Don’t know. At least not completely. I suspect that the best thing you can do now is read my blog and when you like something about it, email it to a friend. If they do the same and so on, some day I might have a lot of people following this blog. When that happens, then the “Creatives” (directors, writers, ad agencies) start to take notice. Always eager to jump on the bandwagon, they could - and I emphasize the word ‘could’ - help me do what I’ve set out to do: be famous.

At least that’s the initial plan. but here’s the exciting second part of reading this blog: you get to be a part of the process. See, if this was a diary that I’d written and you stumbled across it 100 years from now, you’d be a passive reader. This would either be worth a lot of money because I single-handed became famous, or it would be the worthless ramblings of a fool. But we’re in the present and you’re on the web, which means that you can interact with me. I’m all for that. I’m giving you stock in the company of me and as a shareholder, you can make suggestions. I offer my career to you in exchange for your occasional attention. Not a bad deal.

So if you’ve made it to this point in the blog, you’re either with me, or you’ve skimmed. Huzzah, to you, friend. Click the RSS feed and get your notifications when I cast my brilliance upon this fertile web plot. Shaudenfreude or success, either way it will be a fun ride.