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For Actors

Hone your acting skills and take control of the audition process!

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From the blog…

Hugh Laurie auditioning for House

I’m always telling my clients, “Play the life, not the lines.” That’s why I suggest NOT to worry about memorizing your lines for you your auditions. Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s great if you know your lines by heart (notice I said by “heart” not by “head”), but at the audition, what the CDs and/or producers and director want to see is your performance as the character, not your memorization skills.

Too often I see actors blow auditions because they forget a line. Why put this pressure on yourself? HOLD THE SCRIPT! We assume by the time you’ve got the role you will have the lines down, what we can’t assume is that you can inhabit the role.

My theory here is exemplified by this video of Hugh Laurie auditioning the for the role of House. He is using the script and he is fabulous.

Learn this skill, how to snatch the line off the page (theater actors already know how to do this because they usually don’t need to be “off book” until at least a week or two into rehearsals).

A good way to practice this skill is to read to a child from a storybook. (If you don’t have a child handy, read to your pet, or a plant!) “Once upon a time there were three bears…” When you read a story to a child you are not “off book”, but you are attempting to make the story come alive. You make eye contact, you inhabit the roles, you don’t keep your nose buried in the book. Do this for (at least) ten minutes every day.

USA Film Festival

In late April I had the pleasure of being a jury member in the Short Film competition of the USA Film Festival.  The festival itself was fantastic! So well produced and attended.  I saw two great feature length documentaries–the sumptuous and riveting Dior and I, directed by Frederic Tcheng, and the fascinating Tab Hunter Confidential. I recommend them both highly. I  also got to see the classic Nicolas Roeg film from the 70s, The Man Who Fell To Earth, on the big screen with the marvelous Candy Clark in attendance.

The judging itself was grueling. My colleagues, director John Putch, and actor/director Christina Beck and I, were sequestered in a small hotel room(armed with diet cokes,raw almonds, and dark chocolate), where we watched 75 short films in 2 and ½ days!

It was so inspiring to see the range of works in competition. Yes, a few suffered from weak scripts and/or poor casting and production values, but many were absolutely wonderful and equal in quality to works produced by big studios.

Some of the films have really stayed with me. Particularly Against Night,  a beautifully directed drama about a Russian cosmonaut that reminded me of one of my favorite films of all time, Slaughterhouse Five,The Way of Tea,a powerful film about a Muslim man making peace with an angry racist (we awarded this film First Prize), and the documentary, War Within the Walls, that illuminates the world of  Vietnamese children who were born with birth defects caused by Agent Orange. War Within the Walls focuses on the journey of one young man,”Chau,” who was raised in a “war remnants” orphanage. Despite not having the use of his hands (he uses he mouth to paint) and no financial or educational resources, when he gets out of the orphanage he finds a way to fulfill his dreams of becoming a professional artist.  I urge you to see it if at all possible. Chau’s story is incredibly inspirational and it’s also very important to get the word out about the damage inflicted on these poor innocent children due to our use of chemical weapons during the Vietnam War.

Other than the few times I’ve cast projects, this was the first time I was in the  choosing-who-gets-the-award business.  It really is an impossible task.  There were at least two contenders in each category, animation, documentary, narrative fiction, student, that were completely worthy of first prize. I saw once again the old apples vs oranges thing in play. Once again an illustration of the fact that when someone wins the prize, ( or the role, or the book deal, etc.) it doesn’t mean they were necessarily the “best,” or that the other contenders were second rate. Something I’ve always known in my head, but of course when I’m the one in competition, not so easy to remember.

Candy & Randy Clark and Jamie Rose Candy, her brother Randy, and me.

What having you been doing?

“So what have you been doing?”

I’m never sure what to reply to this question. It seems to require a concrete answer specific to who’s doing the asking.

If it’s someone I know from my writing community I feel I should answer, “Finished two essays and a chapter!”

If it’s a colleague from the entertainment industry, “Did an episode of ___(fill in the blank)!”

But what if I haven’t been “producing” lately?

Sometimes I’m doing what I call “gathering.” In addition to my duties teaching my weekly kids classes and coaching my private clients, I’m reading a lot, watching films, seeing plays, TV shows, observing people on the street, and spending time with my family.

I have a new step-granddaughter. I visit her weekly and watch her grow into her life. My dad has Alzheimer’s. I visit him weekly too, and I watch him grow out of his.

I’ve learned over the years that these times when I’m not “producing” in an outward material way are just as important as when I can point to a new story or guest spot. I’m gathering material. I’m growing into my next work.

What have I been doing?

Living my life.
babyfeet

The Actor/Agent Relationship

My manager Joan Sittenfield just wrote this great article for Backstage on the agent (and/or manager) and actor relationship. Great information. I agree with everything she says.

6 Key Components of and Agent-Actor Relationship

When an actor signs a contract with an agent or a manager he is, basically, entering into a marriage with his or her representative. As with any marriage, there are terms to be negotiated, ways in which each party must conduct him or herself, and communication that must be ongoing and honest. The components I think are the most important are: understanding each person’s role, managing realistic expectations, trust, loyalty, honesty, and communication. As with any relationship, personal chemistry is also a factor, so choose someone with whom you feel comfortable. If you and your rep don’t like each other, neither of you will profit from the relationship.

1. Understanding the roles. The simple fact is that your representative works for you! You pay him or her a salary in the form of a commission for work you have gotten through his or her efforts. The tricky part is that, in order to get that commission, your rep has to work with no guarantee of ever getting paid. They make submissions so that you will get an appointment, then they hope that you give a good audition and that the planets align so that you get the job. It takes a special kind of person to work for you day after day knowing that they might never see a dime. In return, you must confirm appointments promptly, be prepared, and show up on time for the audition.

2. Expectations versus reality. Understand the type of company where your rep works and how he or she fits into it. Do some research before you sign: How many agents work there? How many clients does the company represent? How does the company divide the work? Most agencies divide the town into casting directors or studios and each agent is assigned to a certain territory. Therefore, it is essential that all of the agents want to work for you or else you will only be covered by the one agent who signed you. This is known as being a “hip pocket client” and, while some of the larger agencies follow this practice, it is never in the actors best interest not to have the support of the whole agency.

Where do you fit into the food chain amongst their clients? Where does the company fit into the hierarchy of the industry? It is no secret that agencies are typecast by the type of clients they have. Because of this, some agencies don’t even look at the kinds of roles that are right for you when you begin your career, so a big fancy agency or management company might not be the best one to help with your entrée. Some agencies work by volume: They have lots of clients from whom they expect a certain financial return. This amounts to a figurative time stamp on an actor. If he or she doesn’t bring in a certain income within a certain period of time, he or she is gone. These types of companies might not give you the kind of career building attention you need. Taking on a manager will help, but if you are with a big agency, you will want to sign with a smaller manager or else you will be duplicating the problem.

3. Trust. Once you hire someone, you must trust that they want you to have a good career and that they share your vision of it. Assume that they are making submissions and pushing to get you in unless you have proof of the contrary. Don’t second-guess everything they do, tell them what you saw on the breakdown, or tell them about appointments your friends are getting. That is a very sure route to building up a climate of animosity. If you aren’t sure about something, ask but, remember, the more time your agent is on the phone with you, the less he or she is putting into getting auditions.

4. Loyalty. It is hard work to build a career, which is why some of the larger agencies wait to sign an actor until after his or her first agent has laid the foundation. While it is flattering to be approached by another company, before you jump ask yourself why you want to do it? If it is just your ego that wants a fancier label, you might be doing it at the expense of the special care you’re getting from your original agent. Also, if you are already getting in on the good appointments and booking them, what else can someone do for you? Use your business head to look at the situation. While many large companies lure actors with the idea that they can “package” them in a film, the reality is that packaging is a financial arrangement between an agency and a studio or network wherein the agency gets a fee worth 10 percent of the budget if they provide an element that makes a project a “go.” It does not mean that Steven Spielberg will automatically put you in a film. Important point: When an agency gets a packaging fee, it cannot collect commission from any client who might be cast in the project. So, why would they want to load the project up with clients whom they cannot commission? They don’t! Keep in mind that agencies collect clients like some people collect baseball cards; it doesn’t mean they are going to do anything with them, it just means they have a lot of them.

5. Honesty. Questions and communication are essential. If you don’t understand the whole process of being an actor or what is going on with your career, go in and talk about it. If there is some problem in your life that is affecting how you do in auditions, let them know. It does neither of you any good if you are not up to snuff. It is better to take a few days to pull yourself together than to allow your personal situation into the audition room. However, that does not mean that you should use things in your life as an excuse. Telling your rep that you “can’t possibly” go on an audition because you had a fight with your boyfriend is just lame. Pull up your socks and do your job! A heart surgeon would never miss an operation because of a romantic tiff and neither should you. Going on auditions is your job and you must treat it that way.

6. Communication. Don’t be a stranger or a pest, but check in with your rep on a regular basis. Schedule a phone call or an appointment to go over things. Once a month drop by the office with cookies and stick your face in the door. It is always a good idea to give them a visual reminder of you from time to time. If you are having problems with the way your agent is communicating with you, discuss it with him or her. Agents are not mind-readers and, as in any relationship, it is good to talk through problems and come up with solutions rather than just get angry or harbor a grudge.

Actors must understand that working with an agent is a two-way street, so be clear on what they do and what you need do to make this unique relationship work.

__Joan Sittenfield