Monday, July 01, 2019

Shooting a Scene for My Own Reel

Yesterday, shot a short :30 scene for my reel. We used a script that's very 'on the nose' for tv procedural but tried to warm it up and keep the story more interesting by leaning into the personal relationship more than the plot, without stating what the personal relationship was. Lighting put us behind schedule, and as the crew's worry about time infected me, I tightened up/stopped breathing in shots I wanted to retain my character's warmth; I had a few restarts/pickups to make sure I breathed and refocused on relationship. When rehearsing the scene on my own, I'd imagined more humor and playfulness than we achieved, but I realize this was a product of changing the blocking: as I originally conceived the scene, we would have started in a physically static place, at a desk, so the moment before could have been anything. The way we shot it, we came through a door--having just left a critical meeting--and had to keep that plot point foremost in mind (while still tending to the relationship); this urgency--the story told by the blocking--made 'humor' inappropriate, at least in the time I had to get it in my body. So, even though this performance is not 'ideal' for me for my reel--i.e., I may have been more varied in performance if I'd had more time to prepare the storytelling shift--it does represent what I can do on the job, now, if sent to set and given last minute changes, under pressure to get a shot before having to move on. This makes the scene an honest sell of my current skill level in performing this kind of scene under conditions not far removed from a fast prime time tv shooting schedule, which I've done.
The director tells me the warmth I wanted did come through. We'll see! In the next couple of weeks I'll be shooting two more, very different scenes for the reel.

Notes on Shooting Scenes for a Reel

Ok y’all: if you’re having material shot for a reel (close to s.o.p. In the current NYC/LA environment), I have some unsolicited, general notes:
1) You’re doing this to show you’re set ready, so prepare well enough to have it done in 1-3 takes (per set up); you’ll probably do more—totally fine!—but prep as if you won’t. This means getting to where you feel ‘loose’ earlier rather than later.
2) Prepare enough to feel free to play (the scene may feel ‘import ‘ to your career but it can’t look that way); relax; fuck around some.
3) Be prepared to deliver your lines fast and light.
4) Don’t be afraid of reacting to what your supporting scene partner brings but which you didn’t expect (it’s your reel but let the director do her job); stay open, using whatever tricks or techniques get you there.
5) Make mistakes, which is often when the acting comes alive.
6) Number 1 again: if this reel is to get you a job it can’t be false advertising (if you can’t do it in a few takes, you’re not ready set). Do in the reel what you’re comfortable claiming you can do on the job. You CAN do it, of course, and the secret to demonstrating that is preparation (but don’t watch yourself in the mirror - save that for classroom/practice material where the focus is on learning what your instrument does; when shooting reel material you’re ‘on the job.’ Again, let the director do her job.) Notes 1-6 are really all the same: prepare well enough to be loose and playful!
7) You’re probably shooting one or more typical tv scenes in which you’re playing an archetypal character, e.g., detective, doctor, charmer, mom, dad, et.al., but you don’t have to ‘play character’ in your scenes. For the most part, the scenario does that for you. Be your own badass charming self. Trying to play a ‘cop’ can creep in subtly—vocally, physically—and make you instantly boring, if serviceable. You want to be a cop with individuality and unique purpose; having a ‘secret’ often helps with this, also fucking with the other character in as many ways as you can to ‘get what you want’; be mischievous, within the world of the scene. (I’m taking for granted that you’re the star of your own reel scenes—not a ‘costar,’ in which you might need to repress an urge to be unique.)
These notes are my two cents after having acted in a few of these for people. Everyone gets there in the end; some need to get there faster. The paradox is that the lighter one holds the work the more quickly they’re ready to do it.
I’m shooting a scene tomorrow for my own reel, which currently doesn’t serve me. I’ll let you know if I can take my own advice.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

A Banner Acting Moment

Reading my resume, she said, you got some good credits, kiddo." Then I did the mono and she said “I love your voice,” then proceeded to rip me several new ones for the beats missed and flat rhetoric (I wasn’t building.) She looked straight through every false moment. She said I took the notes but wanted more in my first take. At one moment, she flat out told me I had the wrong instinct. In other words, performing an audition monologue for, and getting notes from, Kathleen fucking Turner was awesome.
(Ms. Turner likes actors to use her as a scene partner, so the biggest distraction I had was the thought worm, “I’m acting with Kathleen Turner!)

Ongoing Training

A note about ongoing training: I try to stay in an on-ongoing, on-camera acting class, as much as I can, especially important because months can go by for me without an audition. Currently, I'm in an 'On Set Masterclass,' in which we exercise skills that will be called upon on an actual job, e.g., hitting marks, diving into emotional material in close up, doing walk and talks with reams of dialogue, memorizing a lot in a short time, performing in accents, you name it. This is a different experience from the on camera 'Audition' classes that I've also been in, and to which I'll return, at some point, but from which I also need a break. The audition classes are frustrating; often I come away feeling like a schmuck; because every casting director and coach has a little too much to say about why something you do won't get a job (a good sign that it's time for me to take a break is when, in my head, I've begun to argue silently too much with the coach.) The On Set class lands differently for me. I actually feel I get to exercise, do, and demonstrate some acting ability. And it's more fun.
In any event, it's good to mix things up.

Monday, October 29, 2018

Make Art

Our grandparents fought Nazism. Many of them died but we're here. Do not whine or cringe or quaver. Do not weaken yourself by seeing yourself as a 'victim.' Prepare. Work together. Make art that questions spurious notions and re-discovers the meaning--and meaning is an amorphous and spiritual and contingent flicker--of how to be 'human.' Make art, engage your mind, push outside the ghetto of your own experience, and make art, make art, make art.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Guiding Qualities

What is the guiding quality of your art? Mine seems to be: a tragic sensibility, which fuels both my humor and straight dramatic take on the world. One thing I find missing in the political left and right is a sense of tragedy, which they replace instead with the bathos of victimhood. My art is against both victimhood and the expression of it through utopian fantasy. My art is for stocking our individual and collective selves with the internal resources we need to love each other better.
My art is as much 'anti-ideological' as it's possible to be while also still making a stand for the empowerment of the individual 'self,' which is an illusion perhaps, but an essential and useful one, as long as we recognize how much the 'self' is composed of trans-self phenomena such as language and inherited culture, as well as by the individually experienced dicta of the body (e.g., we may all bump our shins on chairs, and we may all feel pain when do, but we each do it alone, whereas we never really experience language and culture 'alone.')
I'm for 'the self,' in spite of the po-mo hordes.

Tuesday, October 02, 2018

Emotional Athletes

I like to complain about actor narcissism--my own and of others--but not only is that low hanging fruit--an easy and obvious target--but it also belies the special thing about actors that makes them NOT like (other) people: we've turned our emotional insides out, so that we CAN DO what we do. EVERYONE is 'narcissistic' (a pop term that most of us probably don't understand well), partly because EVERYONE is a little bit afraid, a little bit lonely, a little bit anxious to be liked, a little bit insecure about his/her looks (EVERYONE gazes at their image a bit too long.)
Actors are a special, tender breed of emotional athlete, who not only do--but ARE--what everyone else can't do and be. I love them (just not in groups when their anxiety about being 'seen' is too high, e.g., in casting waiting rooms and at SAG/AFTRA screenings). 
We need actors to remind us we have hearts.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

It's in the Words, Words, Words.

‪Like Kathleen Turner and Cherry Jones, I think that everything an actor needs is on the page. Immersion and observation in ‘real’ life are helpful, but story (and appreciation of rhetoric) is for me more crucial. When actors rely too much on emotional connection, they miss beats (e.g., for me, 'substitution' makes me less specific, as I end up washing over the text with mood; imagination-grounded-in-story helps me more than memory, most of the time. Substitution might help me with an isolated reaction shot but rarely for navigating a scene.)

Sunday, September 09, 2018

Poetic Justice

I think it's time for someone to write a dissertation, or book, on how the critical idea of "poetic justice"--which holds that literature and theater (both 'poetry') must reward virtue and punish evil--describes how we still watch tv and film in the po mo age, in ways which I think both hurt and harm us as active viewers. It's worst manifestation is a common insistence by scolds, on both the left and right, that 'poetry' must accurately represent the virtue of those who produce it, i.e., writers, performers, directors, as if no good can come from the art produced by anyone we deem 'bad,' a patently stupid idea. It's best manifestation may be as a tool to parse our responses to particularly complex characters, both 'heroes' and 'antiheroes.'

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Mixing Up One's Act

In the past year, *TV I've auditioned for includes BLINDSPOT, THE BLACKLIST, HAPPY, RAY DONOVAN, HOUSE OF CARDS, BULL, GOTHAM, QUANTICO, THE SINNER, Z NATION, YOUNGER, TURN, HOMELAND, and GRIMM (and multiple times for 9 of these 14 shows). I only booked one (so far) and 'pinned' another. I'm grateful, but man, it's not easy. 
The job is just to keep showing up until the tumblers click into place. That happens at a different time for everyone, it seems. Sticking it out without succumbing to feeling delusional--neither unjustifiably optimistic nor pessimistic--is a spiritual practice; the art of letting go of expectation.
And that's why I'm adding professional scuba diver to my portfolio: it doesn't pay any better than acting, but you can plan for it. I recommend that artists maintain mixed portfolios of skills and interests; those who do seem happiest to me.
*I also auditioned for, and booked, a short film, film, and industrial, and will perform again in PROTEST, for THE ALLIANCE FOR NEW MUSIC-THEATRE, this coming December, in Miami, which--along with a bunch of pro bono readings I've participated in for TITAN THEATRE CO.--helps keep my soul fed.