Thursday, January 8, 2015

My Audition & Prep for TV Film Commercial Castings


Every time we audition, we learn something new. This one was no exception. The ad below the pic was in one of the old trade papers we had back in the 80's and 90's. The Backstage West and Dramalogue. They competed to get paying auditions, so it was good for us. Lots of pilot game shows to try out for, music videos, v/o's, union auditions, even fun to work on paying shows like Supermarket Sweep, The Gong Show, and many others. We could earn $300 - $600 a day a few times a year and it helped out. I guess the reality shows, and skynet came along and did them in. It's up to us to try and find work in addition to our agents. It's just a little harder to sift through all of it now.

At the professional level, almost every time we walk into the casting room for an audition, we are up against the best in the world for just about every single role. So we have to be at our absolute best, and make sure we are in the best mindset possible. Got to be prepared with the material, carry ourselves like a professional, and ready to change and adapt to direction almost instantly. We can't take the safe choice at a casting, that's what most of the other actors are doing.

We have to be different, and take a risk in order to stand out and get that callback. Odds are, they will either love you, or hate you, but most of them will respect you for taking a risk. Often times if you do, they are open you letting you give them a different take if you ask for it right. Even if you weren't right for this job, they will likely remember you for something in the future.

When I got to LA, I had quite a few commercials under my belt, but I knew I needed to find a way to get a leg up on the competition. After a couple of months of auditions, I had met a few of the bigger commercial casting directors. I approached a few during off hours, and offered to intern for them. I wanted to get a little “inside baseball”, and see what their job really entailed. I wanted to see their day was like, and see things from their perspective. I also wanted to see if I could watch some of the other actors audition. I figured that would give me an edge.

I was honest and up front with them, I said, “I’m not trying to get on the inside track for auditions with you, I want to learn how your work day goes.” “I’m willing to work for free for a few weeks, do whatever grunt work you need done, and run your errands.” One of them said okay, if I would keep my mouth shut, and stay out of the way in the audition room. So I got run pretty ragged doing all kinds of things, but I learned more from the experience of being in that audition room. More than any acting or auditioning classes I took, acting coaches, stand up comedy, or anything else.

I was amazed to see how many actors would come in unprepared. Some come in that had no idea what they were really doing. Some were arrogant, or had chips on their shoulders. Some simply couldn’t hear, and react to, direction when it was given to them. Some were just plain too nervous, and would start running their mouths unnecessarily. Trying to be a kiss ass, and etc. Many of them had their auditions deleted from the audition tape, and they never even knew it.

Then there were the professionals. They were the ones who stuck out like sore thumbs in the bunch. They knew exactly what they were doing. They listened to direction, and were just “in the moment” being themselves. They were letting their individual personalities out, following direction, and being creative. The way they walked in the door said it all. This actor is a real pro. Those were the ones the casting director wanted the clients to see. It was a real wake up call for me.

In addition to that, I had no idea what casting directors go through in a “normal” day. They are fielding phone calls from producers, directors, ad agencies, and clients changing up the copy. They are auditioning actors all day long, often without even getting a lunch break. There are calls coming in from agents, and even actors who are running late, trying to reschedule, or cancelling. They are also dealing with breakdowns for other jobs, and have to make preparations to cast those. Their average day is utter madness, and chaos. By 4 pm, they are pretty worn out. I never realized how much work they actually have to do. I figured they just sit around there and audition actors a few hours a day. Knowing all of this was very helpful, because if I went on an audition and the casting director was a little snippy with me, I had a better understanding why.

All of this taught me how to be able to “read” a room better when I walked into it. I became much more sensitive to what they go through. Most of the time, they are friendly and supportive to us. But if I came in a room, and they had some kind of negative energy going on, I didn’t let it affect me personally - we can't afford to. I became one of the pro’s who walked in the room, listened closely, made strong choices, owned it, was always polite, and left the room promptly. I didn’t want to be that “deleted” from the tape actor.

I ended up having a sort of audition ritual. I did many mechanical things before auditions, then I would just adapt and improvise around them. So, summarized, here’s my commercial, and/or theatrical audition routine: When I get the call/email from my agent, the first thing I do is make sure I don’t have another audition conflict, or any direct product conflicts. Big trouble if you do.

I never discuss an audition or any details with anyone. Most of them have non disclosure agreements anyway. If I have anything else non-acting related going on, I cancel or reschedule it. I want to always be that actor that when they call me, I will be there no matter what. If you are late to an audition; the casting director might figure if you are late for the audition, you might also be late to the set. Same with your agent, we want to be that go to actor. So unless you have a broken leg, or a family emergency, no excuses, be there early, or on time. If something like that does happen, call your agent right away. Most of the time, your call can be rescheduled if it’s a real emergency.

Just as a side note, when I got my first smartphone, I noticed that when my agent called me for an audition, and that the sides were attached, I didn’t see any attachment. I was going to call them, but I figured it would be best not to bother them until I was sure. When I got home, I checked the email on my computer, and there it was. I spoke with a few of my other actor friends about it, and sure enough, some brands of smartphones don’t show the attachments. So check it out on your computer first, before calling your agent.

I do get some rush call auditions, but most of them are scheduled for the following day, sometimes two. I don’t know how it happens, but auditions always seem to come up around rush hour. They’re at 9 am, or 4:30 pm, where you would run right smack into it. It's important not to be a dick on the set, and with everyone you come in contact with. The word about your rep gets around. As big as Hollywood may seem, it's really a small town for industry people. Sometimes after you've been worked for a number of productions, they just up and call to book you for another job. "Can you be here in 2 hours?" (and it pays scale.) Um let me think, yes.

It’s rare, but if I do get to pick an audition time range, I go for the earliest possible time. For some reason the early actor tends to have a better chance at booking the role. I think they may just get tired after seeing the same thing all day. Go for early if you can pick an audition time.

Most of the auditions are scattered around a 25 mile radius in Los Angeles. So no matter how centrally located you may try to live, you often still end up with a long commute. They are where they are.

If the agent emails me the storyboard and script, I go over it and think of three or four different reads I might use, that may not be the first and most obvious ones. Then the next day I revisit them, and go over it again. How is the commercial’s message being conveyed? How do I fit into it? What is the product, and how are they selling it? If it’s a film, what’s the theme?

Most of the time, there are no sides beforehand. It is just a type they are looking for and I have nothing much to go on except for a time, and wardrobe suggestion. Often it’s just something very generic, like a construction worker, taxi driver, fisherman, or a dad in a polo shirt, etc. Fine, I have lots of junk in the trunk, just in case they have gotten the roles mixed up. (It happens.) Maybe I might get to try out for a different role I think I might be better for, whatever it may be, I’m ready for it. I might also be able to get another audition for something else while I am there at the same facility I am going to visit.

Having various wardrobe changes with me, saved me numerous times. I also have plenty of extra headshots, different hats, and eye glasses, just in case. I’m ready to change it up completely if I need to. (If I do choose to wear glasses, I slate with them off, and put them back on for the reading. That way I can show them two different looks.)If I see there are 2 roles I'm good for, I get familiar with both of them just in case. On a number of occasions, I've said, "If time permits I'd like to read for the other role of the mechanic", etc. and it has worked - even booked me a few I wouldn't have gotten otherwise.

I make sure I am wearing no colognes or other heavily scented things, which some casting directors might be allergic to. Then I put on the most comfortable shoes I have, and suit up in my wardrobe for the audition. (Or I have it ready to do a quick change in the car when I arrive.)

I like chewing bubble gum. Always remember to take it out before you go in for an audition. Directors hate it when actors are auditioning and chewing gum. I got busted once, and that was it. I never made that mistake again. Plus, there was no place to spit it out, so I had to put it in my pocket. I forgot it was there, and my pocket was permanently gooed shut. What a mess. But it served as a good reminder.

I eat a small meal before I leave the house, so I’m not starving when I arrive. I don’t want my stomach to be growling. I have fluids like Gatorade, or bottled water, and some honey cough drops in the car for when I get there. (Learned that from an old radio host. Honey cough drops.

I leave early enough so that even with a traffic jam, I will arrive there at least 30 minutes ahead of my audition time. The same for call times on the set as well. Then I can get as much information as possible prior to my audition. They also might spring some dialog on me, and then I at least will have some time to work on it.

When I arrive, I take at least five minutes of quiet time just to gather myself, and calm down from the drive. If you like to say a prayer, or anything like that to help you get your mind right, then you have time for it then, and you can do so.

I stay away from drinking ice cold beverages, because it contracts, and affects my voice. I avoid anything with caffeine or sugar in it. Chocolate gives me a sugar rush that makes me appear to be nervous, so does caffeine. I avoid that, and any candy that is sour, or eating anything spicy before my call. My throat is part of my instrument, (I hate calling it that.) But I need to keep it in prime working condition. If anything, I take a honey cough drop 15 minutes before auditioning. I learned that one from a radio broadcaster.

I always go in way ahead of my call time, so I can gather some more information about the audition. I look at the casting area and size it up. A glance from my chair into the casting room when the door opens even helps a little. I can visualize things better. I look at the sides for my part, and all of the other parts as well. They might be interacting with me, and that info is useful. If there is a storyboard on the wall I study that. If there are boards up for related spots they are casting, I study those as well. It gives me a better idea of the direction of the commercial campaign, and I might want to hint towards one of those. Study the name of the campaign and the particular spot. That is a tip off on everything.

If there is another spot they are casting at the same station, or another role I think I might be better suited for, I study that closely. I might want to wear an article of clothing, such as a mechanic shirt underneath my businessman shirt. Then I can easily transition in seconds to the other role if the opportunity presents itself. Always be on the look out for other parts to audition for.

I observe all the other actor types that are out there waiting to audition for my part, and try to speak with a few as they are leaving the facility. I try to gather any information about the audition that I can. Sometimes I need to talk with a few different actors to get some decent intel on that particular audition.

For example, how many actors are they auditioning at one time? How many times did they let you read for the role? Was it on camera? Is the casting director, the director, or are the clients in the room? Was there a rehearsal before the audition? What did they have you do for it? Obviously, you are not going to get all that information from one actor, so I usually speak to a few, catching up with them as they walk out to their cars. This is why I need that extra arrival time. I share this with other actors if they ask me when I'm leaving as well. You get back what you put out there, and being supportive to your actor peers (even if they are competition) is the right thing to do.

usually then I return to my car, digest all the information, make adjustments to my wardrobe, my look, and think about some different reads I might give. More often than not, I end up throwing all the reads out and go with something else when I get in the audition room. If my instincts guide me in a certain direction, then I go that way. I eventually learned to just trust my first instincts. (If I over-think it I'm done.) At least I am prepared to deliver something strong, be different, and take a risk, even if there is no direction given. Many times, there is none, and they want to see what you as the actor will bring to it. If they do give me some, I take it.

I make every effort to go into a room with nothing but a positive mindset. Anything that’s troubling me or negative, I push it out of my thoughts. I leave it at home, or at least in the car. You have to, because if you have something lingering in the back of your mind, it shows in your audition and sometimes even in your face. Ask most any casting director, or someone who works behind the camera and they will tell you that. You've got to block all that out, as hard as it may be sometimes. Things like relationship problems, financial problems, even being in some heavy rush hour traffic can affect you. These are all good reasons to get there early and get your mindset right.

Aside from arriving there early and chilling in my car for a bit, another thing that helps me get in the right frame of mind is this: I say to myself, “I love, and approve of myself.” I repeat this slowly three times. (And you have to really mean it!) As I do this, with my left hand, I tap my right hand area just above the thumb, right on the flat area where my hand meets my wrist. I just lightly smack it about six times with my left hand index and middle fingers pressed together. I learned this from a close friend that is one of these “new age” types. In order to audition well you have to love yourself and what you are doing, despite what ever is going on in your life. Leave it all there and focus on the job at hand, the audition. There's plenty of time after to thing about it.

She explained that this is one of the body’s Meridian points. I thought to myself at the time, “Man this sounds like a pretty stupid idea.” But I went ahead and tried it at my next audition, and, as odd as it may sound, it helped me. I was always a bit self conscious, and it helped my state of mind. You have to learn to love yourself, and like who you are, as hard as that may be sometimes. So doing that is a part of my pre-audition routine. If there is something that I do, or try out and it works, I continue doing it next the next time at the callback. But I always go in ready to make adjustments. We need every edge you can get in this line of work.

When I get out of my car, I do some stretching up against it just like an athlete, or a jogger does. I want to get my body limbered up for a little acting exercise. I exercise my facial muscles and my voice a little also. Other actors parking and getting out of their cars nearby look at me and think I’m some kind of a nut, but I don’t care. I am there to do one thing, out shine the competition, and win this job.

When I do get in the room and sign in, I do everything I can to stay relaxed and focused until I get into the room. Sometimes we can be stuck waiting there to audition for as long as an hour or more, waiting for our call. I don’t get pissed off, or get an attitude about it. We are all in the same boat, some actors handle it better than others. As frustrating as it can be, I try to be disciplined, and just be patient. It is very hard, because it is almost always loud with all the other actors yakking away in there. Many are blabbing loudly into their cell phones, like this is some sort of a social gathering. It’s a job interview, and I treat it that way. This is all business.

About twenty years ago the “size sheet” appeared on the scene. Casting directors almost always have you fill one out before auditioning, and we would give it to them with our headshot. (Thankfully, now most of it is digital.) It was kind of annoying, because when you got a callback, they'd have you fill out the same stupid size sheet form all over again. The obvious things are on there, like your eye and hair color, weight, and various clothing sizes. Also your agent, your contact information, and if you have any conflicts on the product. Be honest about that one, you shouldn’t even be there if you do.

But at the bottom of the page there is usually this little box that says, “Are you willing to do extra work?” My advice is to don’t ever check yes on that one. Many times the producers want to hire you as a principal, but they know the rules, and might just use you as an extra on the job instead. (For more on this, and much more, drop 6 bucks and pick up my Kindle book. I'm not a book machine I have only one, and no plans to write another.)

Sometimes for these auditions, we would end up sitting there for an hour or more. According to the SAG rules, if we are kept waiting longer than an hour, we’re supposed to be paid 30 bucks or some silly amount like that. But not many of us ever pursued it, because if you did…you probably weren’t going to get an audition for that particular casting director again. (And most of them know that.) So if they ran a little late, we just had to deal with it, and keep our mouths shut. This is not a battle that’s worth fighting, for thirty bucks.

Often when I am at my particular casting, they would also be casting two or more roles, or maybe even a series of commercials at the same station. I really liked the ones that would post storyboards on the wall for each one. It gives us a much better idea what the ad agency’s vision, or concept was. Many of them don’t, because some aren’t exactly sure what they even want yet. All of them would usually have a script for us unless it was just a “look” thing that they were casting.

I found that it’s important to study all of the roles I might be appropriate for, and even learn some of them, just in case. I can’t tell you how many times I was hired for a different commercial than the one I was actually there for. Especially at the callbacks, be sure to study all the parts. Often, after auditioning for the role I was there for, I would say, “I would like to give you a quick take on the other role for such and such”. Just don’t ever phrase it as a question. “Can I do it again?” Answer: “No.”

This one time I was there as a dad, and I saw they also were casting a car mechanic spot. That’s something I played a lot, so after the first audition, I pulled a blue mechanic hat out of my back pocket and put it on. I said, “If time permits, I would like to quickly read for the role of the mechanic”. It worked, and I got the role, so keep an eye out, and study the other things they are casting.

Trust your instincts, they will guide you. If you feel you are better suited for another part, you might be right. Plus, it gives you a chance to get more time in front of them. I found out that with many of these commercial campaigns, they only have a vague idea of what they want. If you walk in, and give them your interpretation of it, and nail it – you’re in. Some other spots are cast in stone, they know exactly what they want. If you can walk in the room, and be that image of what they had in mind, you’re probably getting that job. Sometimes it is just a "look". That always kind of frustrated me. The same with "real people" auditions. I never, ever got one of those!

I don’t want to create any kind of negative energy prior to going in for my audition, but if someone is overly loud for an extended period of time in my audition group, I will ask them to please tone it down a bit. I’m here trying to get a job. I try not to do this unless it is absolutely necessary, because some actors I’ve met at this level, have ego / anger issues, or a real chip on their shoulders and don’t care about anyone else but them.

Most of the time, I tune it out any way I can, and stay focused on the job at hand. I use my mp3 player if need be, to white out some of the noise. The music I play is something instrumental so I can still stay into things, and not be overly distracted by it. (Back in the day before back in the day, it was a CD player, and before that a cassette player!)

Other times to get away from noise, I will just walk away to the far side of the room so I can be alone. Even if everyone else in the room is loosing their heads, keep yours on. I don’t talk to the other actors, unless it’s a scene that needs to be rehearsed with a partner. Try to find a compatible one. As far as chatting with other actors, other than perhaps a quick reply to a question, that’s all I want to do. During my pre-audition routine and warm up I don’t want to talk. I don’t want to be rude to my peers, but I don’t want to be distracted, loose focus, my prep or concentration either.

If someone does want to talk with me, I just politely explain that I am focused on my audition right now. I will be happy to speak with them afterwards. Some actors cop an attitude about it, but I am there to get work not to be a social climber. I just get up, move and find another seat if I have to.

Inevitably, at many auditions, you will hear someone loudly boasting about all the wonderful jobs they have done, implying how great they are and that you don’t have a chance against them. Some of them are just knuckleheads, but others are trying to get inside your head. They try and get you depressed and/or thinking that you can’t win against them. It can get to you if you allow it in. Don’t fall for that crap. It’s usually their intention, or they just need some attention, because they are probably weak themselves. Many of these characters can talk a big game, but in reality they probably haven’t done much of anything. Don’t let those big egos get to you in there. It affects your confidence, and your audition.

I’ve seen a lot of mind games, and attempts to intimidate others going on in the waiting room, especially at callbacks. Some actors will try to psych you out in the waiting room, and they love trying to do it. Some even get off on it. Unfortunately there are some people like that when you get to the professional level. There is a lot of money on the line.

Other times it’s done in more subtle ways with things like glaring at you, or just body posture. If you are sitting there all nervous about it, and someone else is sitting there confidently, relaxed and ready to go, that’s not good for you. I admit, I have been in both of those seats. Solutions? The same as before, tune it out, ignore it, look away, but not down. I turn on my mp3 player, or I go to another part of the room to get away from it. Mostly I just try to tune it out however I can, and get my focus back on.

I pay attention to the two actor’s names that are on the sign in sheet just before mine. Then I know about how much time I have before it’s my turn. It’s part of being ready, and prepared. I don’t want to be surprised, and not be ready to go in. When my name is called, I want to be sharp, and at my best.

I’ve learned to breathe through my nose, and not through my mouth as much as possible. A doctor explained to me many years ago, that more oxygen can get to your brain that way. This helped me with auditioning a lot. I breathe like this until it is time to speak. As simple as it may sound, it takes some practice to do it. Normal breathing helps you to be more relaxed.

One way I learned was bicycle riding. I would close my mouth and breathe only through my nose. It’s hard at first, but if you practice it enough, you can master it. Many professional athletes do this to build up their cardio, and endurance. It’s a way to give your body more strength when you need it. Breathing normally under stress is a skill that takes a lot of work to master. Relaxation and breathing exercises help to keep my body centered, and grounded.

When I know it is about five minutes before my audition, if I’m sitting, I stand up and move around a little bit to get the blood moving and flowing throughout my body. Otherwise, I go into the audition a little flat, and with less energy, and by then it’s too late. (It always happens after you come out of the room, and it’s not going to help you very much then.)

I look for a private spot and stiffen up each limb of my body really hard for a few seconds, and let it relax. I focus and think about that body part as I do this. I feel the muscles tense up, and then relax them one at a time. It helps to get my blood moving. I do this with each body part, my arms, my legs, my hands, my feet, my neck, and my abdomen. Then I repeat the process up to three times. It takes me two minutes maximum to complete this.

I also do some facial exercises to limber up my face, like making different expressions. Warming up my face is important because usually the audition involves expressions of some kind. I limber it up like I would before doing any other exercise. I stretch my lips a little, move my tongue around some, and limber up my jaw bones. People do give me some strange looks, but it’s what I like to do before going in. I look a little strange anyway.

Nobody can really see what you are doing, if you are discreet about it. You don’t need to move from a standing, or a sitting position. When I can, I prefer to stand. I find that doing this relaxes my body more, and I am more prepared.

When my name is called, I walk in confidently, set my briefcase inside the door, and head straight to the mark unless otherwise instructed. I don’t look down to see it, I can feel where it is based on the room, the set up, and the camera’s position.

They sometimes offer me a little direction, prior to an audition. I can't stall or it looks bad, but I don't want to rush it either. I only got one shot at this, so if I need a few beats I take it, or request it. I listen to it clearly, and give the logical analytical side of my brain a moment to digest it fully. That allows me time for my creative intuitive side to be freed up, to come up with something. But I have to listen clearly and absorb the direction. I take a moment to let it sink in and process it. Sometimes that is easier said, then done. Like I mentioned, so many actors aren’t able to hear direction, and act on it, in stressful situations. I give my brain a second to catch up to my body. I don’t ever rush it. I drove 2 hours for a 3 minute audition after waiting in the room for an hour. I am making the most of this thing.

When they ask me to slate my name, I say it clearly, and with moderate projection. It does not tail up in pitch, or down, it is just a clear confident statement of my name. I am proud of who I am, and what I am doing. Without being asked, after a second or two, I turn right to profile one beat, then left for one beat, then back to center, and hold. A mistake I saw many actors make was to beam a fake smile or some other stupid expression after the slate. I just hold it with a look of confidence, but not arrogance.

The camera person will usually stop us after that, and then queue us to begin the reading. It gives the impression that I have been there so many times, that it’s a reflex. Like the player who scores a touchdown and doesn't need to spike the ball. He's been there so many times, he doesn't need to.

There may be some direction before or after I slate also. I do the same thing, listen and absorb it, so I can follow it. I at least use it as a guideline. I may need to just toss out all the reads I had planned in advance up to this point, but that’s okay. I was prepared a certain way, but I am ready for something else completely different if need be. Sometimes there are no sides, it's just improv. so you have to be prepared for anything. Even a couple different anythings.

Sometimes when we are standing there on the mark, they will ask us if we have any questions about the audition, right up front. I am usually ready to go, but if I do have one, I ask. Sometimes I am not clear on something, and I ask. Better to do it now, than screw it up and regret it later.

If they ask me if I would like to do a rehearsal first, unless I am feeling unclear on something, usually I say no. Unless I am feeling uncomfortable with my choice, or there are other actors auditioning with me, and I want to get a feel for blocking the scene, our timing, and chemistry, I will say, “No, I prefer to get right to it.” I came in that room ready to go, and I want to if I can. I keep my focus better if I can get right to the actual audition straight away. If I am with a few other actors I try to give them a nod to, “Let’s just do it.”

I find that my first take is almost always better than my second one in an audition situation, so I don’t want to burn a good one up, and loose it as a rehearsal. When I’m working on the set, of course, that’s a totally different situation.

As I mentioned, I try to give a read that is not just a safe one, or the most obvious choice, unless I’m otherwise instructed. Most of the actors I saw audition, would take the safe or obvious read. I want to stand out from the crowd. I usually go with my first instinctive feel on it. I try to dig deep for a risky and different one that the others may not have thought of. More often than not, my first impression it is the best one. It took some experience to get there, and just trust my instincts.

When I finish the first read, if I have what I feel is another good take on the spot, or other spots, I say that I would like to do it quickly another way if time permits, and then I pause for reply. If it’s a no, I cop no 'tude, thank them and leave. If it’s a yes, I do it to it. If I get a chance to do a second read, I make the most of it. Often I will get some direction, casting directors and directors love an actor that can take some direction. If there is none, I try to have something completely different ready for them. Our job is to roll with it.

After I am done, I thank them for their time, and leave, (Not forgetting my briefcase on the way!) When I do leave, I try to let it go. This whole thing is now out of my hands. I did my best under the circumstances, and that’s all I can expect from myself. Even if I feel I made a mistake in there, I need to just let it go. It is time to focus on the next audition. It's a fickle business, there are times I felt, man, I totally nailed that thing...and nothing. other times, I felt I made a poor choice, or even blew it. Then I get a callback and book the stupid thing! So you never know.

Just don’t ever try to “crash” a casting. Even if it looks completely disorganized, and you may think you can slip in unnoticed, they will find out later on from the tape. They also keep records of all the actors they are seeing that day. Asking to audition is okay, but crashing one really pisses casting directors off. I did it a few times at the nonunion and union level, and burned myself with a few casting directors as a result of it. Don’t crash, you will get busted and not even know it. It’s not worth the risk to your reputation.

After the audition when I get back to my car, I relax and process the whole thing for five minutes before starting it up to leave. I treat myself to something nice if I have the time. A decent lunch, some tasty coffee at the Coffee Bean, or just chill out in a relaxing spot for a little bit. It takes the edge off, and reduces stress a little. Then I head home, and try not to dwell on the audition, as tempting as it may be. What if I had done this? Or if I did that? Or, I should have done it this way... got to let it go. There’s nothing we can do about it, and beating myself up for a bad choice doesn’t help. Maybe it wasn’t a bad choice after all? Sometimes I think it was…and then I get that callback. Time to focus on getting that next audition, not dwelling on the last one.

I try to keep things in perspective. There is no way to really predict what you are going to be asked to do in most any audition. Every one of these auditions is different. Even after auditioning for 1000’s of these, I can say that with confidence they are never the same. I can’t advise very much on the actual “acting” part for you. You need to find a good, and reputable commercial and/or acting coach or teacher to get as much acting training as possible.

Commercials was how I earned most of my living. Keep in mind that auditioning for commercials is an art form in itself. We have to convey an expression, attitude, or emotion in seconds. There's no time to build a character, you have to be it, instantly. Film and theater training don’t help us much here.

All we can do is be as prepared as possible, know our material, be confident, ready to improvise, and make changes on the fly if we need to.

I hope some of this helps you out a little. If you would like to read the balance of this chapter, and the rest of my book, (I'm just now getting to the good stuff!) Anyway, the title is, "An Actor's Face, Audition, Casting Advice, And Anecdotes From A Working Actor". It's $6 at the Amazon Kindle book store.

It is my story, and adventures as a working actor in Hollywood, but it's also filled with lots of practical advice, casting, and auditioning tips. Also for actors who are making the move to NYC, or LA, to pursue their dream as an actor, as well as for people who are thinking about breaking into the acting business, whatever market you live in.

At the end of the day, earning a living as an actor boils down to one thing: winning the job. I've learned a lot about increasing your odds, and putting yourself in the best possible position to get hired.

I earned a living for 2 decades as an actor, and even though I never really got that breakthrough role, I was able to earn a living doing what I love to do - acting. You'll read about ways to audition better by being more prepared, to gathering information that will help you get the edge on the competition, and the goal, to book more jobs. I discuss common sense ways to acquire the best possible tools at the lowest possible costs, because I had to do it myself. I vowed that if I ever made it I would share everything someday, because it was so danged hard getting information and breaking into the business. Obviously, that's changed a lot since the web. Info is a lot more readily available if you take the time to dig for it and sift through all the crap. I priced my book low, because I'm not into gouging other actors, and I'd rather you had the extra money for things like good headshots. Something we have to do on a regular basis. I hope some of what I've written helps you.

Here's the Amazon Kindle link:



For more information, visit my actor site, ShannonRatigan.com


Shannon Ratigan

Copyright © Shannon Ratigan All Rights Reserved.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Intimidating Actors in Hollywood and Show Business

Hollywood seems to like you if you have a dysfunctional body part. It’s true, I’ve been hired quite a few times because of my hook nose with a huge bump on it. It was a nice nose once, but a bully broke it for me in high school. Things were a little different back in the 60’s. It healed up, bit the end result was it looked like a long hook nose. That became my new nickname which added years of insults to injury. Fortunately most people that are bullies end up never amounting to much. That particular one never even left home, never went out to see what’s out there in the world, explore new careers, and so forth. He never left home and still lives in the basement with mommy. Pretty sure that’s a win.

Bullying has become such a buzz word, that people ten to throw it around too much and the real meaning of it, and worse, the serious cases have become watered down. “The cashier wouldn’t take my coupon – I was bullied.” Really? I think people are getting a little tired of hearing, “I was bullied here or there” in way too many situations where it really doesn’t apply. With the term bullying being so commonly used these days, I think I’ve actually bullied myself a few times.

For me, I kind of figured that bullying was a thing that happened in school, and it ended there. The majority of it was verbal, that’s not to say it doesn’t hurt – because it does and usually for a long time. I figured when you graduated out into the adult world, verbal bullying stopped and it became things like intimidation, manipulating, pushing and shoving, abuse, or worse. However hurtful and painful it was, I think it helped me to have more courage and backbone throughout the rest of my life and career. Being bullied a lot helped me to recognize when to just stand there and take it, to stand up to it, or to just walk away. Physical abuse, or actual violence it a completely different matter, but if you’ve experienced enough bulling you learn how to handle and deal with each individual situation. Granted, I’m speaking in general terms here. I got to the point where I said to myself, when I get out in the real world, I’m not going to just stand there and take it, or be intimidated. So it actually strengthened me, and made me a tougher person. Which I needed.

It’s true that too much bulling can really damage a kid in their formative years. Believe me, I had my share of it being a rather frail and dorky looking kid. I was an easy target, and I just took it. I wasn’t big enough to battle with 200 pound jocks. Many of the kids did it just to impress their friends, or they just got off doing it to the weaker kids. I imagine a lot of that still goes on today.

One of the messages here, is to embrace the things that the kids made fun of you for. Because in the world of casting in Hollywood, something different, odd, or quirky about you, actually gives you an edge amongst the beautiful people. The thing the kids made fun of me about, became an asset to my career. Granted, I’m a character type but I think this applies in general. Something unique or different looking about you, can get you in the door. Obviously, you still have to deliver once you get in there, but it does the hardest part, getting you in the door for that casting opportunity.

I’m not suggesting that you need to get socked in the eye socket to make you more marketable and/or castable. Or, that being bullied is a good thing to go through to make it easier to live in a business environment, but it did help me to have the backbone, inner strength, and courage to stand up to it when it did happen. It’s not a peaches and cream world in most career fields, and many employers, supervisors, managers, or competing businesses will try it on you. When I was starting out as an actor, I let it go for a few years because I had that fear that they would just hire another actor. And trust me, they are lined up behind you, with many of them willing to work for free thanks to the reality show mentality. But each time I let that overtime pay or something like that get past me, it took away a little piece of my self confidence, pride, and my self esteem.

The majority of intimidation happened to me at the non union level. With talent agents, casting directors, production companies, studios, and even actors at callbacks I was auditioning with. At the professional level, there are serious contracts, and a lot more laws to deal with so there’s a lot less of it. But it does still happen. True, the agent negotiates the pay rate, but things can change when you show up to the set. During the 80’s and 90’s you couldn’t just call your agent or the union because things would usually go down either before or after business hours. My agent expected me to handle things. It was my job to know the contract rules, and conduct myself as a professional, which I did. In the back of my mind, I wanted my agent to be thinking of me as their “go to guy” in my type when a casting came along. So being low maintenance was one of the ways I earned my agent’s respect.

Things have changed a lot with contracts, and contract rules since then. We have cable residuals, new media, internet use, and etc. There are a lot more sneaky places on contracts now, so it’s not as easy as it once was to interpret the contract rules, but that’s part of our job – to know them. A good agent catches most of it, but things can change when you get to the set. Before I would attempt to resolve a pay dispute I had to make sure I was absolutely in the right about it. I carried the contracts booklet in my car, and knew them like a script. I could make sure, as well as show the production person the actual rule in writing. Most of the time if I presented the facts calmly and professionally we could settle the issue, and move on to the job at hand.

But there were a number of times when intimidation on a pay issue couldn’t be resolved. Standing up for yourself in that situation is scary, especially if it’s a big name director who towers a foot over your head, or if it involves a name casting director, or even with a major studio. Once they realize that you have a backbone and won’t just roll over, chances are things can be worked out. There were a few times they just wouldn’t back down even when presented with clear facts in writing. My last resort was contacting my agent, and, if necessary, the union to resolve it.

At the professional level being an actor is difficult, especially on the business side. I know a lot of actors who gave in on something really significant because of the fear of being replaced, or what might happen later.

Many production companies don’t realize what the life of an actor is, and we just trying to earn a living is like. For us, the average of booking a national commercial is 1 in 83 auditions. That’s a lot of time, fuel, emotional stress and running around all over town - for free. That one commercial we do book helps to cover some of that. Or, try the 4 callbacks for a guest star role on a TV series, only to have it go to another actor and you ending up number 2 on the role. Sure, I can feel proud I made it that far, I made it that close, and maybe even impressed the casting director to boot, but at the end of that two week roller-coaster, I have bupkiss to show for it.

As bad as this sounds, I think being bullied actually helped to prepare me for the adult world, and especially the acting and music fields. We have agents, but we are pretty much alone out there. We are a brand like in any other business. The only difference is that we are independent contractors and have to handle most of the business part ourselves. And often, it happens right at wrap time when everyone is rushed and busy running around so they can get home, and don’t have time for it.

There is a lot of attempted manipulation, and even intimidation (usually involving pay) in acting and show business. I’ve been at it over 30 years and I’ve seen it a lot. It happened with me, and also with other actors. I learned very quickly that the first place a production company tries to cut costs is on the actors. Our own country’s production costs, and shooting permits is a big part of it. That’s why you see “Filmed in Canada” and the ACTRA union logo at the end credits on a lot of popular shows. Runaway production has been a problem for decades. Unfortunately, many production companies have to go where it costs them less. I’m hoping more of the states get this figured out, lower costs, and offer more incentives to film companies so they will shoot in the USA. I’m still waiting.

I had a variety of careers before pursuing show business full time. Over the years lots of employers, employees and even customers would try to intimidate me. I was able to know when to stand up for myself, choose when it was necessary, and do it.

Had I not been bullied or intimidated so much, I don’t think I would have stood up, or knew when to confront these people. I learned to develop higher self confidence, self esteem, and wasn’t afraid to stand up for myself. Like a lot of you out there, I was bullied in various forms starting back in grade school. Everything from simple insults, to intimidation to being beat up for no particular reason, other than being a little different. I was one of those kids that really didn’t fit in anywhere – with the cool kids, with the in crowd, even the outcasts, and so on. And yes, at the time it hurt – a lot. I was probably bullied at least a couple dozen times in school.

The only place I seemed to fit in was the drama class, and the school band. I was pretty good at both, but now there were more reasons to pound on me. “Hey, it’s the band geek, get him!” You get the idea. Looking back, music was one of the things that saved me, gave me an outlet for frustration, rejection, and kept me sane.

I had this one school class where they would bus us out to a machine shop, and every time I entered or left the bus, each person on it would get in a shot or a punch. I felt like Clint Eastwood in The Gauntlet, but I just took it. Naturally, my seat was in the back. I got pounded on a lot. The teacher would yell at them but it didn’t help.

Back to pay rate disputes in Hollywood. My basic threshold for bringing up a pay rate dispute was $30 or more. Choosing your battles is important. For example, if you have to wait an hour past your audition call time, at the time, the contract said we should get paid around $25. I felt it just wasn’t worth it, and casting directors know it. We want them to call us for more auditions, so I always gave that one a pass. More often than not it’s because the director or client is late, or they just didn’t schedule auditions all that well. It happens. Getting upset just takes you out of your audition game.

When I moved to LA I interned with a casting director for a few months. I got to see how hectic their life, and trying to schedule everything was, so I never made a stink about it. It’s part of our job as frustrating as it can be some times.

The best thing to do is be polite and professional to everyone you meet. That receptionist in the waiting room probably will be a casting director one day. That PA on the set doesn’t always want to be a PA. The scruffy looking guy in a t-shirt could be the client. A make up person can put in a word for you on a job if you were polite to them, and easy to work with. You get the idea. The disputes usually happen with the bean counters, and their underlings.

After you get established, and build a decent reputation, sometimes casting directors or production companies who liked working with you will just call you direct, and ask if you can work on an upcoming role. Sometimes you get calls on jobs, or from casting directors you submit headshots and resumes to yourself. With me, most of it was theatrical and AFTRA (before they merged with SAG). My first year in LA I was with a larger commercial agency that just kind of shotgunned me all over town for everything. I just kind of knew I wasn't right for some of this stuff I was being sent on. They ran me ragged - like 10 auditions or more a week! I got some callbacks, but didn't book a single commercial with them, so I made a move to another mid-sized agency. It was a good move, I ended up with a solid booking ratio, and was very happy. I was fortunate enough to be with a great team of 3 commercial agents, and I stayed with them 14 years. They knew my strengths and targeted me for roles I was really right for. We created about 5 different brands for me, and they all worked. I was auditioning a lot less - maybe 4 times a week. But in 6 months I was hitting 1 out of 25. Pretty darned good booking ratio.

But for theatrical, it was a different story. If I got a single film or TV audition in a week, it was a good week. When I did get a offer for a direct booking from a production or a casting director it was usually an AFTRA under 5. (5 lines of dialog or less.) It was still a principal speaking role, you got screen credit, and the pay was about $350 for the day. At first I would turn the calls over to my agent. Big mistake. After having a few of them out-negotiated for me, I chose to not bring the agent in on them anymore. After all, I did get the job on my own. I was trying to move up on their client list. I ended up doing quite a few of them, but usually when we did contracts at wrap, I would see the other actors were getting full scale doing basically the same role I was. They auditioned through an agent, and were not hired direct, so I didn't bitch about it. Kind of pissed me off, but I rolled with it. Many of them hired me repeatedly with no agent involved. I'm doing the same job for half the pay, but it wasn't a battle I felt was worth fighting. That was one of my smarter moves.

I worked for a few of those production companies for years, because they knew I was reliable, would show up on time, and get the job done. The phone would just ring...can you work tomorrow? Umm let me think...yes. One of them that called me direct wanted to dump barrels of green slime on a bunch of us. At wrap, I hear all the other actors complaining about it. When they got to me, I sad, "Hey no problem, anytime at all. If it makes people laugh, I'm good with whatever you got." And we both laughed. As it turned out, I was the only one that didn't complain about it. It make an impression with the talent co-coordinator, and they hired me dozens of times after that. Sometimes it's okay to be paid less than everyone else, and not try to negotiate. It takes time to learn the tides.

One thing I never did was work for free. Early on I did community theater, and a few student films. Some of the directors do go on to have film careers and will remember you. Others go on to deliver pizzas. I needed some experience and film credits until I could replace them with better ones. Lots of productions will try to hire you to work for free. Again, is the director, camera person, sound person, or even the caterer working for free? No, probably not. I'm not either. I'll audition, but then I'm going to negotiate. If they want to hire you bad enough, they will pay you - even if they try to hire you for free first. You're in a good position to negotiate. They want to hire you. No deferred pay either, none of that. The reality show mentality has made it even worse.

I broke into acting back in the early 1980’s. Unless you are fortunate enough to be born into the business, most of us have to start at the bottom, doing non union extra work. I think the most verbal abuse and bullying I ever experienced came during that period. We didn’t have access to all the information about how to start an acting career, other than a few outdated books at the library. I read them of course, and did all the research I could, but like in most fields you start at the bottom, and have to learn how things work. What the various on set terms mean, how things function, who does what, how professional actors conduct themselves, and so on. Now you can just Google things, helpful articles from experienced industry people on social media, ask other actors questions, and so forth. I would have given anything for that kind of information when I was starting out.

Not all the extra wranglers treated us badly, but a lot of them did. And they knew they could get away with it. They essentially knew we needed the job, and any sort of backtalk or questioning them meant getting fired and/or the word getting back to our agent. So being treated somewhat less that a human prop is how it was. Being yelled at constantly by a pimple faced 20 year old PA on a power trip is pretty humiliating. But I had to learn the business and how it worked, so I realized right away that I had to just take it and learn all I could, until I could work my way up to principal work. It was like being paid 50 bucks to get bullied for a day. It was a pretty rough year of on set learning, but it’s part of what we have to do. Things have changed a lot since then, and with union extra work they do treat you a lot better. The point is, I had to just take it, and I knew it, because I needed to learn, and not piss people off in order to work my way up.

After a few years I had a few principal film credits, and a number of commercials under my belt, and a reasonably passable demo reel. I risked it all, and moved to LA to work at the professional level. Commercials were my bread and butter, and I got pretty good at auditioning and booking them after figuring how things worked out there.

Not to be overly cynical here, because I would say that 75% of the time producers and actor SAG contracts are on the up and up. It’s just that there were numerous times a production would try and slide one by me, (or us). The terms are usually set once you are confirmed – booked by your agent. Sometimes we even know beforehand the pay rate. I mean, most of the time, it’s scale or better so I don’t make much note of it until a callback.

With foreign buy outs, things can get a little more blurry. I had a lot of those in Florida, where all of a sudden you show up at a fitting, or on the set, and it’s a different pay rate than was agreed to, or some other whack thing. It’s up to us, or call the agent to get it sorted.

My first year in LA I was booked after a series of additions for this foreign film industrial. It was one of those “road trips” to Oregon. A two week shoot. It was a buy out of $5000 plus travel, accommodations, and per diem for living expenses. It was one heck of a nice gig.

So two months go by, and a week before we are scheduled to leave, the call goes out for the actors to come in for a fitting and to sign contracts. There were just two of us actors there. So we go through the size and fitting motions, then one of the producers brings over the contracts. He hands them to us with a pen and doesn’t say anything. I wasn’t the most savvy actor at that point, but I did see the part where the pay rate had changed from $5000 to $1200 and now we would only be on location for 2 days instead of 2 weeks. I whispered to the other actor, whoa, hold up a minute there. Look at that pay rate change.

The other actor and I compared notes, I asked if he was booked for 2 weeks at $5000 by his agent, and it was the same as me. This was a SAG industrial. So was got together when the producer came back and explained that when we were booked for this, the pay rate agreed upon was $5000. He said, “Well the script was changed, and they only need you for 2 days now.” We both explained again that even if that I the case, this is the rate we were hired for at booking time and we need to call our agents before we can sign them. The guy kind of freaked out, and ran back to one of the higher ups. We were kind of freaking out as well. That was a huge drop in pay. So he comes back and says, “Sorry that’s what it is now, they only need you guys for 2 days.” So we both had to call our agents, we weren’t making any progress, and nobody else would speak with us.

We called them, and our instincts were right, if you are booked at that rate, you should be paid that rate even if the role was reduced, it happened after booking terms were agreed upon. This thing was a SAG job so it was a bit surprising they would try to pull that. We relayed what our agents said, and the producer went back to some other producer and explained what was going on. Still there was no agreement. We both said we are not signing that contract until you speak to our agents about this. Finally our agents got on the phone with them, and miraculously new contracts for the full $5000 appeared about 10 minutes later. That was a big one. Other than a few angry glares from a few producers, the shoot went beautifully. That company never hired me again though.

This one didn't work out quite as well. On this one regional commercial it was 95 miles outside the LA area. They didn’t want to pay the mileage, and were adamant about it. At the end of the shoot, the 2nd AD said absolutely not, no pay for mileage. It amounted to $70 or so. I showed him the rule in the contract booklet and still it was an emphatic no. Actually he got madder, so it was clear I couldn’t work this one out on set. I had no choice but to call the union and ask them to try and resolve it. They called the AD and explained that I was in the right. So at wrap time, they lined all of us actors up by the production trailer and we all had our contracts adjusted. There was about 40 of us, so it was a significant amount of money. My actor peers were very pleased that I stood up for them alone, but production was pretty upset. It was just a call I made, because I knew I was in the right, and I would do it again if I had to. I wonder why I never got residuals on that one.

I have to say, the union does stand up for us with contract rules, safety on the set, and numerous other things, but they don’t actually help us get work like most other unions do. They protect us when we get work, pay rates, safety, etc. It’s a risky call when you have to make it because of the “what ifs” implications, but there’s more to it than just that $70 for mileage. It’s my pride, dignity, self esteem, self confidence, and running around auditioning we do for free. Are they short paying the caterer? Or sound person, or make-up? I don’t think so.

Another time, I get to this TV pilot shoot. At the callback they asked if I was okay having my arms bound. I said sure, no problem. Being personable, and easy to work with are a few of the keys to being a working actor who gets called again, so I hesitate to ever raise a dispute as much as anyone else. When I got there they explained that the script has changed and my scene will be shot with my arms bound and me hanging upside down from a building! I’ve done that before, and the blood rushes to your head very quickly. All the adrenaline, the copy, honestly, it’s not easy to do, especially if they want multiple takes. And you know the answer to that.

Granted, I was only hanging a couple yards from the cement by my feet, but this clearly was a hazard pay situation and clear place to negotiate, get it settled, and still get the scene shot on time. A 6AM call with shooting my scene at 7AM. So what to do? Stall? Walk away, call the agent, or try to negotiate? I wanted this job, and it paid scale. There was only a handful of copy, and the AD said if I didn’t do it they would just upgrade an extra to do it. So I was in that risky situation, and had to handle it delicately.

Anyway, at 6AM my agent was asleep and wouldn’t appreciate a call from one of his actor clients. The union was closed also, and I didn’t want to bring them in on this unless I absolutely needed to. It would probably cost me the job if I did it I figured.

So thankfully the production coordinator came over, wanted to know what was going on with the delay. I calmly explained that I was not informed about this hanging me upside down change, but I’d be happy to work out a compromise. After some wrangling around they agreed to double scale. The AD was a dick, but the coordinator was a reasonable man. Sometimes it’s up to us to handle business. One thing non actors don’t realize is that some of roles we do often come back to haunt us in our dreams. Things like being shot, or other dramatic scenes. Even though it’s pretend, part of it is still real, and it stays with you.

Sometimes I still have nightmares about that one. Hanging upside down from a building over a cement sidewalk is pretty freaky. After each take, the crew had to bring up a ladder and lift my body up (while still tied up) so the blood could come back to my head. I had to repeat this about 8 times, so I was happy I negotiated on this one. I’m not going to be taken advantage of. I let it go a few times during my first few years because I didn’t want to loose a role. I knew how hard it was once I found out what they wanted, but I wanted that job – but for a fair pay rate. They were trying to cut costs. I wasn’t really bullied on this job, but it’s part of the self-esteem confidence thing that gave me the courage to stand up for what was fair, and what was right.

I had a really traumatic one. It was a run in with one of the biggest directors in Hollywood, and it was with one of the major studios. At the end of the day, the AD tried to intimidate me on the pay rate. I calmly went through the usual motions – showed them the contract pay rate and so on. They just dug in their heels on me and got madder because they wanted to go home. How dare this punk actor actually object? The director came over, I explained the pay discrepancy, and he just laid into me. I explained that all I was asking for was what was written in the contract rules and that’s all. I didn’t want anything extra here. So he starts screaming at me so loud, the entire cast and crew freaked out just hearing it. My being calm seemed to anger him even more. I think he expected me to be in the fetal position, and not actually standing up to him. I imagine he did this kind of thing before, and later on I found out that’s what he did. He was even known for it. I took one last try to resolve it, but no go. I explained if we couldn’t resolve it, I would have to turn this over to the union.

I knew I was in the right on this one and to me, it was a lot of money, not to mention my pride. Things really escalated then, so he says to me,“IF YOU DO THAT, I‘LL PERSONALLY SEE TO IT THAT YOU NEVER WORK IN FILM OR TV IN THIS TOWN EVER AGAIN! NO STUDIO WILL EVER HIRE YOU”. That director was seriously pissed off, and yes it shook me up. I was pretty intimidated, and even trembling inside, but I didn’t show it. This was a $1,800.00 dispute in pay, so this was a LOT of money for me. I stood my ground and calmly explained I would have to turn this over to the union and let them sort it out. After shooting, the footage was reviewed and the decision was that I was right, and I got my check. I wasn’t edited from the film, but got no screen credit.

Suffice it to say, it wasn’t exactly the best career move I ever made. I never did get many film or TV auditions after that one unfolded. Fortunately for me, the commercial casting world is a bit more forgiving. That’s how I managed to eek out a living doing what I love to do, acting, and being paid what the rules state I should be paid. I had to stand up for myself to this director, and the studio. I refused to let more Hollywood people chip away at my pride and dignity. Even though this incident hurt my career, if I had to do it over, I would do the same thing.

For the most part, most of the casting directors I’ve come in contact with are honest decent caring people who genuinely want to help and discover actors. It’s what they do, and they love doing it. Many of them were actors before they became casting directors so they have a pretty good idea what our life is like, how hard it is for us to earn a living, and what we go through. So many people in the acting field want a piece of our money. Headshot photographers, casting workshops and sites, managers, agents, all sorts of people. There’s a bit of bullying with some casting directors as well. But it’s a little more subtle. It’s almost an implied “Take my casting workshop or you will never audition for me kind of thing.” I fell for it a few times myself. As a general rule of thumb, I would only pay for these casting workshops if they were CSA members and also volunteered some of their time doing free ones at the conservatory, foundation, and etc. Charging an actor to get seen is just wrong, but a lot of them still find ways to skirt the new laws against it, and do it. It’s especially bad at the non union level.

Just as a side note, when you audition as a principal for a commercial, I suggest you never check that little “Are you willing to do extra work?” box at the bottom of a size sheet or info sheet. The directors know they can hire you for extra rate and not pay out the principal rate plus residuals if you fall for that. It’s hard to turn down a day’s pay that’s $300, but potentially $10,000 or more is a bit more attractive, and reason to stand your ground. There was a few occasions where the casting director would call me directly to do extra work on a principal role commercial I auditioned for – when I said no, I was later hired as a principal. This isn’t really bullying, it’s more like manipulation.

Lots of intimidation goes on with non union talent agents. To be union franchised they have to follow strict laws and conditions. In the non union world they can pretty much do whatever they want as long as they aren’t violating some labor laws. I’ve seen lots of intimidation to use their in-house headshot photographers, casting experts, career advisers, or get kickbacks from ones they have arrangements with.

During my first year in Florida, I was non union, and we could have multiple agency representation. Most of the actors had 4 or 5 agencies representing them. So did I. I had this one non union agent that was charging all their clients a 25% commission. The norm was 15% for film and TV, 20% for print, so this was pretty outrageous, and most of us knew it. All the clients, including myself were afraid to say anything for fear of not getting anymore auditions. After all, they were getting me lots of work. A local casting director finally got wind about them overcharging their clients, and apparently she went to town on them. I don't know what was said, but all of a sudden, about 20 of us were lined up outside the agency getting refund checks for the commission overcharging. The point is, a lot of casting directors know what we go through, don't like seeing actors they book getting ripped off, and sometimes they will step up for the actors on their own. It was a form of intimidation.

The same goes with acting classes. If a teacher or coach won’t let me audit a class first, I would move on. There are lots of acting teachers out there who couldn’t make it as actors. And I want to learn from them? I don’t think so.

Many parents trying to get their kids discovered are especially vulnerable to this. Lots of times at auditions I would see children that really wanted to be there, and really wanted to do this. Then there were the other kids who would be screaming and crying about having to do this. Rejection is hard on adults, let alone on children. Honestly, it hurt me inside to see this same thing repeated over and over. What could I do? I’m there trying to focus on getting a job, and believe me the last thing you want to do is speak up to a Hollywood mom or dad. Sometimes I just wanted to say to them, “Do you really want your kid to end up looking like me?” I probably would have saved a few kids from rehab or therapy. Or maybe got punched again.

A few times when I was a principal on set, some of the actors with larger roles, (or smaller) would try to intimidate me. I have no idea why, we already went through everything, and have the job. Maybe just bitter actors, I don’t know their reasons, and didn’t ask. I just completely avoid actor on actor on set drama. I’m there to do a job, and that’s it. Occasionally it was with one in a scene. Just focus and let it go, it’s not worth getting upset over unless it gets way out of hand. A production can go on for months and we are guests among the crew - sometimes for a week or even just a day, so it's important to try and get along.

One thing that surprised me about working in show business was the actors I thought would be real jerks to work with, most of them ended up being some of the coolest and most supportive people I met. And, on the other hand, some of the ones I thought would be the greatest to work with ever - were kind of dicks to everybody. I never figured on that growing up watching many of them on TV. I guess I got used to an actor’s TV or film persona, and figured that was kind of how they were in real life. I was pretty wrong.

During my first year as an actor back in Florida, the only work I could get was non union. Back then, it was hard to become SAG eligible – let alone join. I’d done a number of local and foreign buy out commercials, but I did manage to work on a couple of films that came down there to shoot. One of them was union and did a Taft Hartley for me. It was a defining moment in my acting career. But on the next one I had to cough up the initiation fee. I wasn’t really ready to join, but it was a speaking role and I had to.

Prior to that, I booked this principal role for a day on a non union film with Ernest Borgnine and two other name actors. This particular one was such a low budget production, they didn’t even have a trailer for him. I was surprised he was even working on such a rinky dink low budget thing. The title was “The Opponent” it also had an alternate name – I think it was in Italian, "Qualcuno pagherà".

The set that day was at an old run down general store way out in the sticks in Homestead. There was this sun burnt picnic table out back, and that was for us. As many of you know, when working on a film, there’s lots of down time in-between set ups. The other two lead actors had kind of a “thing” going – so unless we were actually shooting, they were off in the brush most of the time. So it was just Ernest Borgnine and I waiting around sitting at this beat up picnic table most of the day. To tell you the truth, after a gesture hello, I just sat there and kept my mouth shut. I was a little scared and intimidated by him. Plus I figured it was the respectful thing to do. Who knows what’s in their head? Preparing, rehearsing, personal problems, or just don’t want to be bothered by a day player.

So I sat reading a book most of the time as he gazed off into the palm trees, and tropical foliage. About half way through the day, he just up and slams his palm down on the table, (about scared the crap out of me!) and bellows out to me, “I like you kid...you’re not always running your mouth!” When I recovered, I said, “Just respecting your privacy Mr. Borgnine.” After that, he just opened up, and started sharing stories and anecdotes with me. I felt so honored and humbled to be just sitting there shooting the shit with him.

About half way through the day, the AD sees us talking, runs over and starts screaming at me about speaking to him, I shouldn’t be sitting at the same table, how dare I be talking with Mr. Borgnine, on and on. It was pretty rude. As I was starting to get up to move away, he stared back at the guy with genuine anger in his eyes. I sat there and watched his face transform. It was fascinating. He glared at him for a moment, and in this deep tone, he spoke up for me and told the guy to leave us alone and go take a flying (you know). My best acting role of the day was keeping my composure, not hiding under the table, and/or not bursting into laughter. All I could think at that moment was, wow, nice seeing an AD on a power trip getting intimidated for a change.

Most of the day I just listened, because he was in a talking mood. I barely even recall the shooting parts because all that was so much more powerful. Sharing personal things like what it was like on his first big film, “From Here to Eternity”. Working with Tim Conway on Mchale’s Navy, on westerns, war films, and lots more fascinating stories. Then he started sharing acting tips and tricks with me. Many of them remembered, and used over the years. Some of them helped me to audition better, and be a more convincing actor on the set. One of them was when you play the bad guy, convince yourself that you are the good guy. It will read as more believable on film. That got me hired a few times.

He obviously knew I was a beginning actor like he once was, and I guess he just took a liking to me. And apparently it was because I left him alone, tried to respect his privacy, and kept my mouth shut. He even said, “Everywhere I go, everywhere I work, people are always asking me things…yapping away…I just get tired of it.”

I never admitted that I was just pain scared of the guy at first. He was a pretty imposing figure, much more so in person. As it turned out, he was one of the coolest, most interesting, and helpful men I’ve ever met in my life. I was so lucky that day. To be able to hang out and talk, and learn from his experience. What a blessing that straight to VHS film was.

I was heartbroken when he passed away. It was like a little part of me was gone.

Sometimes actors at auditions play a few games as well. There were times when I had to audition with someone who was just so grouchy, bitter, or negative. That can actually work to your advantage in the casting room if you are the cool composed professional and prepared one, you stand out more. Lots of mind tripping, intimidation, and even bulling goes on between actors at callbacks. There’s a huge amount of money on the line, some of them even get off on trying to intimidate the competition. Trying to get in their heads, bragging about all their credits, all kinds of things. Some of them do it with just body posture or a look, not even uttering a word. I learned to just put on my headphones with some instrumental music (less distracting for me.) and completely tune them out. I don’t want any part of it.

I’m there to focus and deliver the absolute best audition I can. I’m prepared, ready, and most of all, listening for, actually hearing, and reacting to direction if it’s given to me. I was shocked when I sat in on a few casting sessions how many actors were given some direction, and for one reason or another didn’t take it. Nerves, stubborn, green, not listening, or whatever it is. That really surprised me. The best advice I can give is to know the material, be personable, and professional. But most of all, be able to hear and take direction. If there isn’t any, take a risk and make strong choices – not the obvious ones.

I’ve been screamed at for no real apparent reason by directors at callbacks. I later found out that some of them are just plain screamers, and others really want to see if you get rattled and can handle the pressure. We often forget how much there is on the line for everyone. The cast, crew, casting staff, client, ad agency, and the production company. I had a few of them just up and tell me on set, “We just wanted to see if you can handle the same pressure we are going to be under all day.” “Sorry I yelled at you at the callback.” It really surprised me when I first heard it.

These days, all too many people will cry wolf and complain about being bullied or sexually harassed over next to nothing. So, it is important not to do that unless it is really serious. Save it for major incidents, not trivial comments or actions. That is probably the hardest lesson I learned, and the most important.

I never really got that breakthrough role, but if I had a do over, would I change careers at age 26 and chase my acting dream? I absolutely would. I was able to earn a living as a working actor in a difficult field, and I’m proud of it.

If you enjoyed my article, please consider picking up my acting book on Kindle. It's 6 bucks, and it will help me afford a meal. "An Actor's Face" is the title. It's so popular, it doesn't even come up in the first page of search results.

I'm not one of these acting book machines. I've written one book, and that's it. I don't plan to write another one, so I put my heart and everything I have into it. If you do pick it up, thanks in advance for helping out, and I hope you enjoy the read.

Shannon Ratigan

Actor site: ShannonRatigan.com

Twitter @Starving_Actor

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Sex and the Single Actor



All kinds of TV shows and comedians joke a lot about pornos these days. So do a lot of us on social media. I think most of us have probably told a porno joke in our lives at one time or another. But there’s a real serious side to this for everyone, especially models, and actors.

I knew a few actors back in the 80’s, and even the 90’s who just got so frustrated by all the rejection in this business, that after a few years they just gave up and started doing partially nude print ads to supplement their income. It seemed innocent, and harmless enough to them, the money was good, so they kept doing it. Then after a while it became full nude print ads. Then it was just a shot step to doing porn in print. Apparently, the buy out money was very good for a days work. (I guess if you want to call it that.) Then when they were asked, it was pretty easy for them to just do full on acting in porno film VCRs, then DVDs, and even online. The money was even better. In fact, they made a lot of money for a few years. Some even got I guess what you would call porn fame.

They automatically were called porn stars and loved it. But guess what? When it was all over, they had their run, and if they wanted to move on to another career, or settle down and get married, have children, and move on with their lives, they couldn’t. Unfortunately, they found that their past kept catching up to them. It had pretty much completely ruined their lives. Everything from self esteem, to nobody wanting to hire them. Or if they started a business, people found out. If they did get hired by someone, their employers would find out, and they got fired.

Some even bought homes to try and settle down, but when word got around and some of the neighbors found out – they didn’t even want them living on the same block as their kids. Their past would always catch up to them somehow. It was really very sad, but they made those decisions, turned that corner, and now they were paying the price for it. It was as if they were now on a sexual offenders list or something. I guess being in that field was like a narcotic to them, because while they were doing it, the money, and all the attention they were getting was so alluring. When it was all over, they found that their past followed them everywhere they went, and they pretty much couldn’t do anything anymore. There are a few exceptions with a few actually making a transition to legit acting, but not very many.

Please don’t give in, no matter how bad it gets.

Sexual harassment is still a thing, for both males and females in the entertainment industry. So is sexism, especially for female directors and producers, but it’s slowly getting better. There are still plenty of perverts that will promise you work for “favors”. I heard someone jokingly say once, “Sleep your way to the middle.” So keep your guard up, especially if the casting call is to a residence. The online stuff I would be especially leery of. If you’re going to do any of that kind of auditioning on your own, be sure to bring at least bring a friend with you, and let some people know where you are going prior to leaving, how long you may be gone, and that you will check back in with them when you are done. For safety’s sake, please.

I went to a lot of castings in LA that were at private residences, but they were union, and through legitimate talent agents. Plus, when you get there, you see a pile of actors wandering around, so you kind of get the feeling that it’s okay or a zombie apocalypse. I booked a few jobs at places like that, so it does happen. Just be careful. If it’s not through your agent, I wouldn’t even take a chance on it unless it was at a regular business location and during business hours.

I met my wife in 1986, about a year after I started my new career path as an actor. She was outside the acting field, a few years older than me, but we were soul mates, and knew it after a year of figuring it out. We’ve been happily married for 24 years now. The secret for us is 2 things, we always kiss after sex, and we both have separate rooms to do our own thing in. With lots of space between them. I tend to be a louder person. I make a lot more noise, music, recording, watching stupid movies, and etc. I’m a louder person. She, on the other hand, likes her peace and quiet. She reads a lot, and also is an artist. She likes to paint watercolors. (Very talented one also BTW.) So, for “us” to really work, we both figured out that we each need our own space wherever we end up living. All I can say is we still love each other. It works for us.

In the late 80’s when we moved to California - everyone is beautiful out there, everyplace you go! We looked at each other in the car one day and said, “Okay, how about we can look all we want, but we can’t touch.” It was a healthy arrangement for us, because we could comment to each other, and joke about it – yet both still enjoy the scenery.

I have to share a story that happened to me back in Florida in 1985 before I met her. That was my first year in the acting world, and a nonunion agent tried to put the move on me! I went in for a new client / agent interview, and was invited to a “party” later on that night there at the office. Really? Me? Apparently, they were having these agent and actor orgy parties at the office after hours! I just distanced myself from the whole thing, I had only been an actor for a few months, I knew this was way inappropriate, I don’t want any part of it, and that some people were going to go down eventually for it. I was working in Florida, and it was from a talent agent no less. It was a nonunion agent, and during the interview there was this unusual talk about how she thought my bone structure was “interesting”. And that if I did this and that, I was promised I would get this and that…no, I don’t think so.

I got to find out first hand how uncomfortable it can be to be sexually harassed. I was insulted, and pissed off that this was happening to me. I was there trying to get representation, and hopefully a few jobs, not to get an STD. I later found out that they were having these “after hours” meetings with a variety of actors in her office.

Apparently they went too far with some of the other actors, and the agency eventually got busted about 6 months later for it. There was a lot of talk for months about the things that were rumored to be going on over there amongst my peers. Apparently it was a pretty happening scene. Not only did the whole thing make the news, but their state license was pulled, and they later went out of business. A lot men and women were caught up in this scandal. Some were there for the thrills, some just in hopes of getting some work. It’s not right. This was back in the mid 80’s, and, at the time, I thought it was an isolated thing, but it did happen, and I’m pretty sure now that it’s not an isolated incident. I expect it happens in some form in every city, all around the country.

Looking back in retrospect…I totally shoulda tapped that. (I’M KIDDING!) Had I done that it wouldn’t have gotten me a job anyway. Some of the actors who did get caught up in it had their “brand” hurt quite a bit, so I’m glad I stayed out of it.

I guess if it was under normal circumstances, she was a very attractive woman, and had it not been a work related thing, and had I met her somewhere else, not knowing how she was manipulating people, I would have probably considered dating her. I mean, she was a pretty hot looking agent.

When it comes to dating other actors. I’ve heard a lot of them say the same thing about it. While it may seem very tempting, and you might be thinking great, we are doing the same thing, and have a lot in common. I think most people realize that relationships like this usually turn out bad, or end up very uncomfortable. Dating people in your related field of work, whatever it may be, at the office, etc. it’s not a good idea.

For me, that may be because I didn’t start even dating until I was 20. I was a very shy kid, and lacked self confidence. I was worried about what others thought of me more than I did myself. Some small towns can do that to you. I was not exactly the hunk of the class, but I did have a few opportunities. It may also be that my actual parents were only 16 when I was born. Something like that affects you, and your decisions. I probably would have gotten an STD or something anyway. Looking back, I’m glad I waited.

I never really had strong self confidence until I became an actor.

Anyway, we see lots of people in the same career field in movies and TV all the time. Why? Because it happens a lot, and it hardly ever works out. That makes for great conflict, and it plays good on television. But you don’t need that in real life. Even a dorky looking guy like me got hit on by a few hot actresses, and I just didn’t want to go there. Once, with a stage wife on a film, and then even on a game show.

I did know of a few couples where it seemed to be working out, so there are exceptions. Some marry happily, and I think they are very fortunate. I think maybe what happens is they end up competing too much and it puts a strain on the relationship. We have enough problems already. And good relationships are hard to come by.

I guess if you are in a relationship with a non-actor you get more emotional support, and understanding. Trust me, you will need this at some point somewhere down the road.

On the other hand, living with a casting director, producer, screenwriter, or director could be beneficial. (I’m kidding.)

When you work on a SAG-AFTRA union feature film, the highest rating they have is “R” ratings. So, there is that possibility you might be asked to do some frontal nudity in a scene, or nudity from behind. You might even be asked to do what is called a “simulated sex scene”. Doing anything like that is a personal preference, if you are willing to do it, that’s up to you. Ask for specifics of what you will be expected to do. At least you know that if you are in a union film, that’s the most they can ask from you. So if at anytime during a casting if they want anything beyond that, it’s simply not allowed.

Most all the shifty kind of stuff you hear about happens in the print or nonunion world. So that is where you need to be particularly on guard for possible scumbags and perverts. I don’t think an actor should ever be asked to disrobe during an audition. Be especially wary of auditions that do not come from a reputable talent agent. Especially with online ads, newspapers, etc. It’s pretty common knowledge, but I’m just sayin’… The problem is that when it happens, nobody ever says anything, or hears about unless it makes the news or involves a celebrity. For us regular folks it’s hushed up quickly. The casting couch is still around, just that now it’s a $1200 airbed.

Personally, I didn’t need to worry too much. I’m not exactly the hot guy type, especially with my cloths off. But I did get a lot of partial nudity gigs that were comedic. All of them were union jobs in SAG-AFTRA, so I knew going in that it could only go so far, and that was it. Basically I disrobe…people laugh.

I had this one job in particular during a talk show that had a huge live audience. My job description was that I would need to slow motion streak across the stage as the interview was going on. So I come cruising out and crowd just erupts in hysterics, everyone is laughing and screaming at me. It about knocked me off my feet it as so loud. I was expecting something, but not quite like that. I was asked to just be a dead-pan wandering streaker with no expressions at all, and stroll on through. Here I am, the slo-mo streaker. I wasn’t completely naked, but it was pretty close. I was wearing a flesh tone G-String Speedo swimsuit. I looked like a dorky Ken doll. It was one of those Brazilian ones, about the size of a Triscut cracker! They used one of those pixelating blur out spots to make it appear as though I was nude. Sorry for that terrible visual.

Another job required me to be wearing nothing except a white diaper. That was some scary stuff, ans pretty humiliating, but hey, if it’s for comedy, and I’m making $600 doing it – all day long, all week long. No problem.

For another one I was in a very scant bathing suit actually taking a shower live on stage, also in front of an audience. I have to tell you, doing that that takes a lot of nerve to pull off. It may not sound like much, but when the crowd just opens up and goes nuts, it freaks you out. Plus we did a rehearsal before the show – but without the actual water. During the live shot, it was ice water they dumped on me. I was not expecting that. I was prepared for everything except that. When you are performing front of a live audience you only get one take, and you have to make it work no matter what happens, just like in stage work. So my focus was completely on that. Let’s just say I let out a YELP as it stunned the heck out of me, and some things got a lot smaller. But it was very funny. I froze my junk off. Good facial expressions though. Those pricks did that to me on purpose. I took a lot of bullets like that for comedy.

I guess the point is, if you are willing to look ridiculous, or even stupid and be the brunt of a laugh, you can make some decent money. I just hope none of that stuff ever shows up on YouTube.

If you are on an audition, or even on a job, nobody should come at you inappropriately. One suggestion has to do with the possibility that you get caught off guard by it. Even if you use common sense to stay out of situations like this, things can happen that you are not prepared for.

Some people try to use their power over your job to get to you sexually. If that happens, and I hope it never does, do not play the victim.

No job is worth the damage that this can do to your self respect. And performers need to keep their self respect or it will eventually destroy you.

Stand up to the person and make it clear that what they are asking for is not acceptable. These people are bullies. Back them down.

A friend of mine had someone in a position of authority on the shoot came to them after the day's work was done and try to physically intimidate her into having sex. He told her that he was stronger than her and that she couldn't stop him. She replied that he was correct, but that there was one thing she could do...scratch every part of his body that she could reach and then call his wife and tell her where to look. He backed off…

I’m not exactly the type that gets cast in lots of roles where I have a stage wife or let alone get to kiss a woman. The hunky guys get those. I think I’ve had about 12 different stage wives picked out for me by Hollywood people. They must sit around a desk and think, “This is what his wife should look like.” Then they would pick one out for me. Like this is some sort of Mid-Evil thing where they choose your spouse, and you have no choice, you have to accept it. It’s like platonic polygamy or something.

I have all these ex stage wives. And on the other hand, some of the ladies must be thinking, “I had this whole stable of men.” We never meet our stage spouses usually until the first day on the set. I just find the whole thing kind of strange. “Hi, this is your new wife.” “Eeewww, he’s not going to have to actually touch me or anything is he?” The range of types I got paired with was a little surprising. Everything from 300 pound rednecks in hair curlers, to super hot models, and everything in between. On this one film, I had a very attractive American wife. She was really nice, and fun to work with. At the wrap party, and then the screening, Marty was convinced she totally had the hots for me. I don’t know, I didn’t see it. It may have been because I was just coming off being cut from a Mel Brooks film, and I was so happy that my part just AIRED! Yes, residuals, screen credit for resume, etc.

Mostly I would get a stage wife in commercials, and the majority of them were very professional actors. We were paired up and expected to have some sort of chemistry, and most of the time, it worked, and we did our job.

And then there was a couple of times when my new Hollywood wife would be introduced to me on the set like that, I could see the eagerness and excitement would drain from their face as they laid eyes on me for the first time. You can just feel something like that, and it hurts a little. Then when they utter something like “Oh no” it kind of dings your self confidence a little bit. I just thought to myself, “Well, with an attitude like that, I don’t care how good looking you are…right back at you.” Lets get the job done, and get out of there. That kind of behavior hurts no matter how old you get. But most of them were professional actors, and they were easy to connect with in a scene.

Another time in particular sticks in my mind. I got hired for this insurance commercial that was shooting at the Museum Of Natural History. That seemed appropriate. We were to do a series of lines and then she would kiss me at the end.

The actual shoot was after hours, and the museum was closed. It was kind of creepy, there’s all these dinosaurs around and very dim security lighting. Tyrannosaurus Rex is standing there towering over us and everything. Every sound we made echoed throughout the place. It was kind of cool because nobody except the cast and crew were in there. So after reading our lines once for the director, and blocking out the scene, they had all this lighting to set up, so he let us wander around and check things out for a half hour.

This lady that was cast as my actor wife, was kind of average looking, like me I guess. I mean, she was cast as my wife, so you get the idea. She was very intelligent, and seemed pretty nice. I liked her. We wandered around checking out all the different rooms and the prehistoric exhibits in each one. It was like an unguided private tour, but in very dim light. It was romantically creepy. At one point, she said, “I’m getting a little scared in here, let’s go back to the set.” I was okay with that, it was a little disturbing with all these huge creatures looming over us.

So we get back to the set, and on action, we do our lines, and then she is to give me this nice long kiss. She was a nice lady and everything, but my first on screen kiss, felt like falling on a wet mop.

Sometime we get hired and asked to do some rather unusual things in this business. On this one job I was to be in a scene that was these four slacker Santa’s, and also this hot looking female Santa’s helper. One of the Santa’s is sitting on an old wine barrel sipping on a big brown jug, looking all wasted. Another one is sitting there smoking on a pipe. (Smoke machine behind him billowing out smoke and everything.) The third one is passed out on the ground, and then there was me.

I’m the scrawny Santa, with the hot looking helper standing next to me. Upon “action” I was to make this telegraphed very obvious move, grabbing her ass. She then is supposed to get mad and, swing her arm around to pretend slap my face. I then react back and that was it. She was this voluptuous looking woman in a Santa’s helper red mini skirt with a tight fitting red and white fur trim top. She could easily have been a super model, and might have very well been.

I wasn’t quite sure how to do this and not be inappropriate about it. So, I just asked her. I said, “Look, do you want me to just put my hand close?” “Or I could just lightly touch the small of your back so you will know the cue when to slap me.” “How would you prefer that we do this?” I was trying to be respectful. So she completely surprises me and says, “Go ahead and just grab a handful of butt cheek like you mean it.” “Let’s make it look real for the camera.” “Okay”, I said, “Just please don’t actually slap me okay?” So we practiced it once, I grabbed a solid handful, and she swings around and perfectly makes it appear like a real face smack but just missing me.

On action, we did the same thing, four takes. (Or should I say in four grabs.) I have to say, she was a very good actress, and willing to do what was necessary to make the scene look convincing. She was very professional about the whole thing. I grabbed her butt, and she swung that arm around each time perfectly, so it looked like I got walloped good, and did my reaction/fall. That was it, they had the shot they wanted. I thanked her for being so cool about the whole thing, we did contracts, and I went home.

I walk in the door and my wife says to me, “So what was your day like?” I replied, “Well, it was a rough day.” “I was paid $600 to grab a super models’ ass four times.” I had to cook dinner that night, and Tweet from the couch.

If you enjoyed my post, I have a Kindle book on acting that is $6. I know…that’s like a dollar more than a decent latte these days, but I think what I’ve been through, and my experiences will help you. Might even get a few laughs along the way. Check it out on Kindle, you can read the first few chapters, and see if you like my vibe. “An Actor’s Face” It’s buried in that site somewhere, please dig for it.

Shannon