Saturday, February 24, 2018

Why being a working actor is like Wakanda

I just finished watching the new film, Black Panther. It was awesome! And I realized, walking out of the theater, being a working actor is like living in Wakanda, the mythical African world of the Black Panther. Follow me on this.

1. You have a resource that you can share with the world. Do it.

Wakanda is driven, fueled and powered by a bluish space meteor material. It has magical abilities that heals and empowers. I know, eye roll. Give me a Kurosawa film any day.  BUT doesn’t that sound familiar? Without Art, acting in particular, we would be lost as a civilization. Since the first human could scratch shapes into rock, they started mirroring their world. Plays, movies, tv, they are all powerful tonics to the pain we suffer, a beautiful gift to show what we sometimes can’t see. We need to share our talent with the world. Either through Shakespeare or a paper towel commercial. Let it shine. Black Panther did.

2. Be careful of large rhinos your friends own.

Did you see those things? Enormous and very dangerous. Rhinos with actual armor. Yikes. The Black Panther was almost taken out by one of those OWNED by a FRIEND. Have we come across those? Do we find ourselves comparing and contrasting with other’s careers? Jealousy? These are armed rhinos right? Just remember, if we become jealous of friend’s successes, it’s really because we secretly don’t believe their successes can be ours. We feel it’s out of our reach, therefore, the spite, anger and frustration. OFCOURSE it can happen to you, ESPECIALLY if it happens to a friend. Celebrate it. And watch out for those metal horns.

3. Your own suit of armor is created by your family.

The Panther’s witty tech savvy assistant was actually his younger sister who liked to make fun of him, give him the finger and generally be a pain in the ass (when she wasn’t saving his life.) She was an incredible force in his life. Why? Well, for one, she CREATED his armor. And our family helped create OUR armor. Now our armor can be good or bad. Good Armor protects us from the ups and down of our career (our confidence and tenacity) and bad armor keeps success away (self doubt, learned bad habits). Armor is great if you’re AWARE of it. It was easy for the Panther to be aware of his armor as it was, you know, shaped like a panther and, you know, stopped BULLETS. It’s not always readily apparent what armor we’ve been given by our family. While our family may or may not give us good armor, if we are AWARE of it, we can use it, or throw it by the wayside, like he did when he was fighting by the train, with the special force field and oh, just go see the movie.

4. Be funny.

I can’t remember the last time I laughed out loud in a super hero movie. It was funny.  And I encourage you to be as well. Be light. Be observant. See the absurdity in things. Be honest. You may be a King, but you don’t need to act like one. Thank you Black Panther. A mythical, crime-fighting, spaceship flying African king, and a working actor. You can be both, right?

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Thanks as always for Backstage asking me to be a Backstage Expert! This is my most recent post enjoy!

Have you been there? You walk into the audition wait room and there before you is a sea of other actors, not one of them has the same look as you.

“Maybe I’m in the wrong room,” you think. “She doesn’t look like my type. Am I early? Did I miss it?”

Nope. You’re in the right place, you just happen to be the only waiting to audition who isn’t sporting the same look as everyone else. Awkward.

But it doesn’t have to be. Take a breath. You are supposed to be there.

Keep in mind that the commercial industry is rooted in fear. They have no idea if the spot is going to work until it runs, so sometimes they shotgun their choices.

You can hear the screams from the production offices and casting director, “BRING IN WOMEN!? BRING IN MEN?! BRING IN EVERYONE!?”

Maybe the fact that everyone else in the waiting room looks alike (except for you) is a coincidence or maybe it’s purposeful. Either way, it doesn’t matter because you are supposed to be there. You got the call. They know what you look like and what your skills are—they would not have brought you in if they weren’t interested. You have as good of a chance as everyone else if you audition well.

So when you are the only one of your type in that room, your very first thought should be, “YES! I’m going to have a great audition, they have no idea if this spot is going to work, this job is mine.”

I once walked into a commercial casting session for the roll of “boss.” I stopped in my tracks. It was a sea of white hair. Everyone there was at least 20 years older than I was so naturally, my first thought was, “What the $*%? I’m never going to book this. What am I doing here?”

But then I took a breath to evaluate. I have great technique, I trust my agent, I’m supposed to be here. My only job is to give a great audition.

And I booked it. Left those white hairs in the dust.

A producer said on set that they had decided to go with a younger boss after seeing my audition. Bam. Ten grand in residuals. Thank you very much.

That said, what happens when everyone one in the waiting room looks like you? What should your very first thought be? “YES! I’m going to have a great audition, they have no idea if this spot is going to work, but I’m right in line with what they’re looking for, this job is mine!”

Either way, don’t talk yourself out of a job. You’re supposed to be there. Take a breath. Have a great audition whether it’s amidst the sea of different humanity or in a hall of mirrors.


Thursday, August 24, 2017

On Set: Who is the "Shiner"?

There’s a Video Village on every set. No this is not some obscure Game of Thrones reference.
The Video Village is a set up of monitors with as many or more director chairs around them. On a commercial set, this is where the producers, clients and sometimes the director sit to watch what is being filmed.
Always check in with the Video Village at the top of every day.
“Hey, guys how are you. Thank you so much for having me here.”
There’s almost always going to be one producer or client who “shines” at you.
They’re SO excited to see you, and have a bit of a shine around their eyes. This is the Shiner. And why are they shining at you?
They fought for you in the Callback and you got hired and now they’re looking pretty good. Their job is intact.
This is the person who you ask about the spot. This is the person who you ask as to where to get a copy of your spot, and you should always get a copy of your spot.  This is the person to get a business card from by the end of the day.
They’ll usually bend over backwards for you, or send you to someone who will.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

I lost three jobs this week

So, I lost three jobs this week. One callback for Maryland Lottery commercial. A pinned possible re-occur for Jessica Jones. And a film shooting in TN, which I BOOKED, then was informed it was a non-union job, which I can’t do. Three jobs. One week.
I should be bummed. And you know, I was. Jessica Jones? Come on?! That show is DOPE.
But what did we find out this week?
The Jessica Jones casting office loves me. The director of the film in TN loves me. I am so good, I can get close to three jobs in a week. I am in a place in my career where I CAN lose three jobs in a week.

Here’s a riddle: What’s wrong with the present moment?
Answer:  Nothing.  If you don’t think about it. (Thinking meaning judgement, evaluation,criticism.)

Okay, maybe not a ha-ha riddle, but it serves. 

What are the facts:

I am talented.
I am supported.
It’s been proven I can book a job.

What are the facts if I “think” about it:

I suck.
I’ll never work.
No one wants to work with me.
Even when I do book, I don’t get the job.
I’m unlucky

(I have to admit these are coming much faster than the earlier list)

Two weeks ago I had no auditions. A week ago I was possibly flying off to Maryland to shoot a lucrative commercial and be a re-occurring role on a Marvel show I love. This week, I’m writing a blog. All have the same charge and interest and joy but only if I don’t judge, evaluate or criticize. I try to enjoy myself now because that’s the only time I can enjoy. If I jump into the past to re-live those auditions, here comes the regret and pain. If I try and fantasize about my next (obviously bigger) audition in the future, here comes the fear and panic.

And that's my Solution this week. Excited to see what next week will bring, but will enjoy what’s here, now. Try it with me.

Friday, July 21, 2017

TODAY IS THE DAY YOU GIVE UP HOPE and you should, I did.

Give up hope. That’s the message for today. Give it up. It’s not helping.

In my last tv/film class, we went down the line for the answer to the question:

“What are you hoping from today’s performance?”

The answers varied,
“I hope I bring truth to my performance.”
“I hope I remember my lines.”
“I hope I’m convincing.”

So here is one idea on how the brain works. It has a five sensory active picture, a thought, it tries to convey through language, either through the body, or verbal language. But what kind of picture/thought is Hope? Hope is a dream, a desire, an unsolid thing, liquid. It covers a lot of ground. Hoping is a (we think) positive throwing of the hands up in the air and seeing what happens. But it’s not firm, it has no backbone, and is 50/50.  If you ever invite someone to your party, and their response is “Oh yeah! I hope to make it!” give their invite to someone else, you’ll never see them. They don’t have the SPECIFIC pictures/thoughts of showing up, ringing that doorbell, holding that bottle of wine they took time to pick out, that door opening, the lighting up of the face, HEY!, in they go.
It’s not that they don’t like you, in fact the opposite, they’re trying to convince you they’ll be there, because they do like you, but they’re not doing the work.

The audition room is no place for hope. The audition room is a place for work. The audition room is meant for solid thinking. I know who my character is, I know where I am, I know what I want, I come in service, I am in the moment in joy. Done. No wishy washy, no secret prayer you’ll get lucky, failure is a joke to be smirked at. Like the old pirate saying: Abandoned all hope ye who enter here. That’s your audition room. A place of joy, work and love. Do we see how all of the earlier answers to the question, what are you hoping will happen, was actually an unconscious belief that it WONT happen? Look to your hope. It’s where you need to work more on your script, your character, your setting, your audition mindset. Give up hope, there’s work to be done.

Thursday, June 22, 2017



1. The Time

There is a big difference between an audition at 2:15 and 12:15. I have dropped that 1 once or twice and there is a bit of a difference. I do not like that assistant’s blank look when I arrive two hours early. And I definitely don’t like that furious casting director’s look when I arrive two hours late. 

2. Location/casting director

How long is it going to take you to get there? An audition on the West side is different than an audition on the East Side. 125th street or 12th street. I once went to the wrong casting agency but they were auditioning a different commercial for THE SAME PRODUCT. I sat there for 45 minutes until someone told me I wasn’t on their list. I missed the other audition. A one in a million chance, but it happened. 

3. The product

What does the product want you to think of them? And what do you actually think of them? For example, Superstores want us to think of them as All American, family friendly, quality goods. Which is different than what I actually think of them, which is cheap crap destroying the mom and pop fabric of this country. Which if I’m not careful will create an unconsciously cynical slate. I’ve seen it in class over and over again and unfortunately noticed it in my own auditions. Your thoughts follow you into the room. So instead focus on what they want you to think, instead of what you actually think. Also, if there are any products you would never audition for, let your agent know immediately. You don’t want to wait until you get the audition call to tell them you are morally obligated to not audition, because their response is going to be, “Ah, yeah, you ARE morally obligated because I spent time to get this audition for you.” 

4. What you’re wearing

You will be asked to dress CASUAL, BUSINESS CASUAL, or BUSINESS. Watch your commercials, find the roles you’d play and see what they’re wearing. Keep your commercial wardrobe separate, clean and ready to go and have pieces that represent each category. If they ever ask you to “Dress The Role,” it’s been my experience that it’s best that you nod to the role and not go full out. If you need to be a fireman, leave the hose and hat at home and put on a red shirt. Unless it directly asks for a full costume, nod to it and let the costume person do their job on set. 

5. Role
Are you there to play Mom 1 or Mom 2? Don’t make the assistant look it up for you at the audition, drives them crazy. They have 80 actors to get through in 4 hours. Know which role you’re there to play. If it isn’t listed on the audition breakdown, ask your agent before you go in. 

6. I am going to have fun in this audition. 

Or This audition is going to go great. Or This audition will lead to a job. 
A positive affirmation battles all the negative thinking just before we audition. If we write it like it’s the sixth fact we need to know, the brain might just accept it as another fact it needs to know. The mind is our greatest tool and our biggest obstacle. Make it do your bidding, not the other way around. 

7. Your mileage and any cost incurred during the audition. 

Have an accountant that is familiar with an actor’s deductions. Lunch, mileage, meter costs, subway rides, costumes, make up. They can help us find those extra dollars during tax time, but we have to have the documentation to verify it. 

NOTE: Again, thank you BACKSTAGE.COM for letting me publish this. For other articles written by me, please visit their website!

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

My 27th Commercial- SUBWAY (My most recent Backstage Expert Article)

Bill, you booked the Subway commercial!
Cut to the shot of me in the city, clenching my phone, screaming in victory at anyone who will listen, basically just the pigeons on the sidewalk who quickly fly away terrified to a safer street.
I booked it! My 27th national commercial. For Subway. Free food! (Yes, this is how I think sometimes.)

I show up on set which is an actual Subway restaurant closed that day to the public. The first department I’m sent to is Hair and Make Up. I befriend them immediately as they are usually the most fun, the biggest gossips, and will give you a sense of what the set will be like.

The next department is Costume.
“Nice black socks Bill.”
If you’re a woman working on a set you should always bring flesh colored underwear in case they dress you in something sheer. For men, you should always wear black socks. You’ll never get dressed in anything else and if you bring your own you’re making their job so much easier, a goal every actor should have.

My scene is the first shot of the day. The set is bustling with close to forty crew members, all stuffed into this small restaurant. They’re directing huge lights, setting up the sound cart, laying down track which will help the camera smoothly glide back and forth for a dolly shot. It’s incredibly warm and loud. A few actual Subway employees are looking on incredulously. How could so many people could fit into their small place?

The Assistant Director comes up to me, always the time task master.
“Okay Bill, let’s run it a few times so lights and camera can get it right. You walk in, you sit down in this booth here. Yeah? Let’s try it.”
I walk in, sit down in the booth.
“Great, let’s try it again. Lights, good?”
I walk in again, sit down in the booth again.
 “Okay, great, last checks (the make-up and hair department hustle in and out) let’s shoot it. Picture is up people. Lock it down”
All of a sudden, complete silence. Forty crew members come to a standstill. You can tell the Subway employees (the real ones) are impressed. I am impressed. This crew is a disciplined army.
The A.D. calls out over his microphone. “Sound.”
The sound guy calls out “Speed” which means the tape is up and running and we are good to record.
The A.D. calls out “Camera”
The Director of Photography calls out “Rolling”, which I am sure you can guess what that means.
The director, from the back of the room calls out “Action.”
I walk in, I sit down in the booth.
The Director calls “Cut.”


Then from the back of the room, a sound that still raises the hair on my neck. The Director screams out, and I mean SCREAMS out, “WELL, THAT SUCKED!” like a punch to the stomach.
Every person turns and looks at me. Every. Person. Even the real employees. Maybe not the sound guy who quickly puts on his headphones to check to see if all of his mics have just blown out.
You can hear me swallow.
And I will not lie, my first thought was, “I’m fired.”
But wait. I came in, I sat down in the booth. I did exactly what I was supposed to do. What’s going on? Then I understood.

This Director is secretly terrified.

In my class, we talk a lot about being in Service. Being present in the moment to recognize what is actually needed in the moment. It is our strongest tool as actors, and is the only thing we actually have control over. By recognizing the fear in these moments, we can deal with it both in ourselves and in others, in a deeper, more effective way.
I recognized in that moment that the director was nervous, both by the tone of his voice (masked as aggression), and by the fact that I CAME IN AND SAT DOWN IN THE BOOTH.
So, very gently, I responded over the silence,
“What do you need?”
Not I am so sorry, not please don’t fire me, not what the hell are you talking about I came in and sat down in the booth. Instead, what do you need? Service.

Silence. Then he screams out,
“Okay, moving on. Next shot.”

The army moves on to the next shot, sound guy removes my mic and I’m done.
The director was just posturing, showing everyone on set who was boss, but with me he had no ship to put this barnacle on. I let it pass through and got right to the truth of the matter which was that I was just there to help. But for a second I knew exactly how those pigeons had felt when I found out I booked the job, and pigeons, I am so sorry.

*Thank you Backstage for allowing the use of this blog on my website. And for being so cool.