Thursday, April 10, 2014

You're making things up again, Jas.

Ms. Eckolls had to have been at least sixty when I was in the second grade. Maybe fifty if she was a smoker, which now that I think about the abnormal amount of deep and canyon like wrinkles on her face, she most definitely was. It never occurred to me to stop and consider what circumstances would lead a woman to settle on a career as an elementary school janitor. Now that I'm older, I imagine that she had a whole other life before she came to work at Danielsville Elementary, but back then I assumed that she had simply been there forever.

This was back when we, as fresh faced children, looked at all grown-ups as omnipotent and successful. The very fact that you lived to see twenty-two meant that you had made it! You were a grown up and you could have a job and money and a family! Back then your classmate could say, 

"My dad's a garbage man!" and it meant, "My dad drives a really cool truck with a giant metal arm that can pick up a whole dumpster!" 

instead of, "My dad has a job that most people either ignore, look down upon, or define by the things that they assume he didn't do with his life."

This was a simpler time for most kids, but not for me.

I'm fairly certain that I spent the better half of my childhood career as a pathological liar. If you had asked what, "Ms. Eckolls is the janitor," meant back then I most likely would have replied, "Ms. Eckolls is the lady they call when things get bad. She's the lady who isn't afraid of barf or the weird toilet by the lunchroom. She's the lady who reads all of the notes she finds on the floor and, if there is a ghost in the gymnasium, then she knows about it and just isn't telling anybody."

Of course I never knew these things for certain. It wasn't like I ever sat down with Ms. Eckolls to go over the intricacies of her daily routine. I just knew that she had lived a long, long time and never griped about having to mop up whatever filth spewed out of us kids. I really respected Ms. Eckolls. I wanted other kids to, as well.

That said, I don't know why I told Ms. Eckolls that I had a little brother.
I also don't know why I told Ms. Eckolls that this little brother I had made up had just died.

-

One might think, "Big deal. All children lie," and they would be absolutely correct. Case in point:

"Who ate a donut during the night?" Mr. Price asks his eldest son.
His son, aware that a truthful response will undoubtedly result in punishment, says,
"My brother did it."
His younger brother was then grounded for fourteen days and both children learn that telling stories helps people avoid dealing with real life choices. Coincidentally, both children grow up to be fine, upstanding Mormons (in Trey Parker and Matt Stone's The Book of Mormon.)

My family subscribed to the southern tradition of tough love, so telling a lie to avoid a spanking or getting grounded was a no brainer. The way I looked at it, if my butt was on the line then all bets were off.
Time only complicated my process. What had started as a series of experiments on how to avoid spankings and afternoons spent writing the same, laborious sentence over and over again had evolved into an unstoppable force that only carried my desire for camaraderie and attention to brand new heights.

In addition to having no clue as to how to channel all of the thoughts in my head, I also failed miserably at socializing with the other children at school. Stories took up an unusual amount of space in my brain. I usually spent recess alone, walking around in ball field and talking myself through elaborate, made up scenarios. Sometimes, if I hadn't found an appropriate end to whatever game I thought up at recess,  I'd ask for the bathroom pass afterward and lock myself in the handicap stall until I had talked myself through a satisfying conclusion.

I felt that if I could even be a quarter as interesting as half of the things I made up that I'd be set. It only made sense that I began to tell little stories here and there to see if I could make myself sound more interesting - and I enjoyed little successes here and there. One time a group of kids let me play with them for a whole week after I assured them that I could see angels when really I had only seen Angels in the Outfield.

Perhaps it was in the spirit of taking things to the next level when I told a high schooler on my bus that I could speak German. My mother had bought me a cassette tape and companion book about a little German bear who was trying to walk to school by himself. I had learned to count to ten and how to say key phrases like, "My name is Jessica," and "I am a bear."

Apparently that was all she needed to be convinced of my geographic lineage. A couple of weeks later, she sat down across from me and said,
"Hey, so I'm doing a class presentation on Germany and I was wondering if you could teach me that song so that I could teach it to my class."
The problem with this request, of course, was that I had already forgotten the German lyrics.
So I did the next best thing. I taught her a song in complete gibberish.
The seriousness of what I had done failed to hit me until later that evening: I had lied to this girl and taught her a song of pure nonsense and she was going to sing it to her entire class.
"Maybe she won't even sing the song," I thought, "Maybe she'll leave it out at the last minute! Or better yet, maybe she'll do a report on a different country!"

But when my sister cornered me a couple of weeks later and asked,
"Did you tell a high schooler on the bus that you were from Germany?"
I saw that poor girl her in her class, standing in front of a room of confused teenagers and a disappointed teacher. I knew that she had gone through it and, rather than confronting me, she went straight to my sister.
"Why do you make stuff like this up? You know that we aren't from Germany. You don't even speak German!"
"Yes, I do!" I replied, idignantly, "Einz! Zwei! Ich bin ein Bär!"


I don't say that Louise from Bob's Burgers is my childhood spirit animal because I'm trying to be cute.

This pattern of behavior continued for an absurd amount of time as I only developed new ways to justify everything that came out of my mouth.
"I'll say this to get that person to let me play with them."
"I'll just say the teacher will put him in time out if he doesn't stop making the animal figurines fight and act wild instead of talk and be friends."

-

Shortly before the winter break, the teachers gathered all three third grade classes together to watch Mickey's Christmas Carol and have a popcorn party. For a child whose imagination was so easily tipped over the edge by almost any kind of media, cartoons were my Kryptonite. Talking lions and superhero transformation sequences effected my brain nearly identically to to way that MDMA effects ravers at EDM festivals. I'd be out of commission for approximately four days, riding the high of the game for a good 72 hours before crashing back into reality and the realization that none of these things were or ever would be real.  

I managed to make it through the Ghost of Christmas Past and the Ghost of Christmas Present without squirming too terribly, but then Death showed up with a billowy, black cloak and motherfucking scythe. There was Death in a Disney movie showing Scrooge McDuck that Tiny Tim had died and not only that, but that Scrooge indirectly murdered him. The content filter in my brain exploded and thoughts of everything that was wrong with my life - no, everything wrong with the world - flooded in and took over. I looked around to my classmates, still and disaffected, and wondered,
"Why am I the only one who is bothered by the fact that Tim is dead? What is wrong with these people? What is wrong with me? Why do I feel like this?"
The boy I sat next to noticed and, after a quick snicker, asked,
"Why are you crying? It's just a stupid movie."
I tried to explain, "No, this movie is sad and something is either wrong with everyone or with me, but I really think it's you and I don't know what to do about it or all of these things I am feeling!" but only managed a stifled,
"It's - it's just -"
I just couldn't handle it. I asked if I could go to the bathroom and bolted out of class.

I sat in the stall, talking my way through a happier scenario that probably involved me pulling a Mary Sue and swooping in to save the day, but a loud noise stopped me before I could finish. A quick peek from under the stall revealed that Ms. Eckolls had just dropped her mop. I had no clue how long she had been there or if she had even been listening. I instinctively lifted my legs up to the toilet seat, but it was too late.
"Who's in there? Why aren't you in class?"
I tried to play the silent game.
"Whoever's in there should come out right now. I know you're not using the bathroom."

I stepped out of the stall, my face flushed red from embarrassment and streaked with tears left over from the movie. And then, out of nowhere, the following words tumbled from my mouth:

"My little brother just died."

The pause that followed felt excruciating.
"I'm - I'm so sorry," she said.
She didn't move in for a hug. She didn't move at all. Her expression, though, was one I would never forget. It shifted from pure annoyance to absolute bewilderment and empathy all at the same time. Now that I'm older I realize the complexity involved with being privy to a very private process - especially that of a child's. Ms. Eckolls was old enough to know and understand death in ways that I could not. I felt the pressure of a situation that I did not understand and, all of a sudden, I felt an immense weight settle into my body. I had just done something very, very wrong.
"Why are you at school?" she asked.
I looked at her and, unable to find words, ran right past her and back to class, where I put my head on my desk for the rest of the afternoon.

At first I tried to brush it off by assuring myself that Ms. Eckolls wouldn't say anything to my teachers. And so what if she did? There was no way my teachers would call my parents during the break; who wants to bother with little lies during the holidays? My attempts at consolation failed. Miserably. No matter what I told myself, the guilt that I felt weighed heavy on my conscience and remained through the break. I even began to fear that someone close to me might die out of the universe's spite for what I had said. I began to have nightmares where a monster came and chewed off my sister's leg or my brother, who was in the Navy at the time, was killed during battle. I still didn't tell a soul what I had done.

-

Although I had made it through the holiday with no fatalities, lost limbs, or even close calls, I still didn't feel the familiar ambivalence or justification that usually settled in after I made up a story. I had exhausted all other options. As soon as the bus pulled into the school, I ran through the halls until I found the custodial office that she shared with the other Janitor, a man named Mr.  Griffeth.
They were both in there.

"Ms. Eckolls?"
"Hm."
"I ... need to tell you something."
"Sure."
"Um... Well. I only want to tell it to you."
Ms. Eckolls seemed a little surprised, but Mr. Griffeth excused himself to grab a cup of coffee.
"Shouldn't you be getting to class?" she asked me.
"I don't have a little brother."
"I know."
"No. I never had a little brother. He didn't die. He didn't die because I never had a little brother."
"... Why on earth would you make something like that up?"
"I ... don't know," I said, starting to cry, "I just feel really sad a lot and ... I don't know why ... so..."
"Hey now. Sit," she said, pointing to an overturned mop bucket.
"Do you make things up a lot?" she asked.
"I don't know."
"Yes, you do."
"Sometimes."
"Look. It's ok to feel sad. Everyone feels sad and not everyone knows why. Sometimes things happen to people that are bad. And sometimes people just feel sad just because. If you ain't got anything to explain, then don't try to explain it just yet. You know how much I thought about you and your family this Christmas?"
I sniffled.
"A lot."
I started crying more.
"Did you have a good Christmas?"
"Kind of. I felt bad."
She paused for a minute, as if to say something, and then seemed to think better of it. Then the bell rang.
"Well, be grateful that you have your family. You best be getting onto class."
 I stood up and made my way to the door and as I was just about to make the turn, she added the following:

"You need to quit making up stories like that or else one day you might not be able to. You should be a good girl and do the right thing. You don't want to end up like me with nowhere to go. You always want to have somewhere to go. And you don't go nowhere by lying like that."

I didn't really speak to Ms. Eckolls much after that, but I realized how right she was when I discovered that breaking the cycle of stories would be more difficult than simply stopping. At first I slipped up often, then slightly less often. Even as an adult, I still fight the urge to say something that will make me seem more interesting or knowledgeable or more "something" than I think I actually am.

Her words stuck with me through the years, though. My classmates and I grew older. We developed fleshed out, and sometimes not very kind perspectives on the world we lived in. The kind of perspectives that led a group of girls to look at the new custodian at the high school and say,
"Jeez, how bad do you have to fuck up to end up being a Janitor?"

And then, with a slightly different perspective and the same old words, I replied like a crazy person:
"That's the guy they call when things get bad. That's who isn't afraid of barf or the weird toilet by the lunchroom. That's the guy who reads all of the notes she finds on the floor and, if there is a ghost in the gym, then he knows about it and just isn't telling anybody.

And I know that he doesn't really look it, but regardless of how he got to be a janitor, I can guarantee you that he knows more about yourself than you do."

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

#LOLiAmMovingToLosAngeles: Becoming SAG-Eligible, Taft Hartleys, and the whole "When do I actually join SAG?" issue.

I'm Non-Union and I have heard that it's hard to get my card in LA and that I'm better off in a secondary market.


FALSE. False. Holy crap, this is false.

People told me the same thing. Guess what? I was SAG Eligible 45 days after moving to LA. If I had stayed in Atlanta, I probably still wouldn't even be SAG eligible.

If you come to LA as a non-union talent, here is what you do: you audition for every single SAG New Media web series that you can until you book one. You then make sure that you will be TAFT HARTLEY'd for participating in that project.

A "Taft Hartley" is one of the best things ever. When you are taft hartley'd, you basically get a free pass into SAG eligibility. The days of the three voucher system are almost behind us.

Here is how it works:

1. You audition for a SAG New Media project - usually a web series. You can also produce your own SAG New Media series.
2. You sign a SAG timesheet.
3. Whoever is producing the project fills out the paperwork and submits the time sheets to SAG. You will get a letter in a few months telling you about the Screen Actors Guild and how you may now join.

I think the rest is very eloquently summed up by the super-duper Ben Whitehair of Playbills VS. Paying Bills:

"Once you receive a Taft-Hartley as a principle performer OR receive 3 Taft-Hartleys (vouchers) as a SAG background performer, you are eligible to join SAG and can pay at any time. If you choose not to join off the bat, it works as follows:

“SAG Eligible” Status: From the date you first become eligible, you then have 30 days to do as much SAG work as possible without having to join the union.

“OK 30″ Status: After that 30 days, if you book another SAG job and they call to clear you in time, you can be cleared for an additional 30 days to again do as much SAG work as possible without having to join. At this point you are considered to have “OK 30″ status.

“Must Pay” Status: After that 30 days, if and when you book another (ostensibly your third) SAG job, you then become a “must pay.” From the first work date of this (third) SAG job you have 5 business days to join.

Payment Plan: If you are an “OK 30″ or a “must pay” status, you are eligible for SAG’s payment plan. The payment plan is 40% down on the total and then 3 equal monthly installments of the balance.

Note, if you are in the midst of your payment plan and book another SAG job, you must pay off the balance you owe in full before you can be cleared for another job.

Station 12 Promise to Pay. If you are “must pay” status and you book another job but don’t have the money, it is possible if you are represented by a SAG-franchised agent to have them call in with a promise to pay for you, which clears you for–and I didn’t receive exact clarification on this–like one more week to pay. However, that agent can only have ONE person in a “promise to pay” status at any given time."


So, yeah, you can go through the trouble of fighting for background work and then fighting for vouchers once you get that background work - but, honestly, just do a damn YouTube video.

Also noteworthy: SAG can clear you for as many OK 30's as they want, keeping you in SAGe status for longer - but that is at their discretion.

Also, Ben doesn't mention the SAG Credit union. You can join the credit union and pay monthly installments instead of the insane lump sum payment plan.


I'm now Sag Eligible (SAGe). When do I actually join?

Simple answer: When you have $3,099 dollars to pay the upfront cost of joining.

Complicated answer: joining SAG is a gamble. I can tell you one thing: do not rush off to buy your membership the second they say you can because you just might screw yourself over. If you join SAG and you have little to no credits on your resume, any casting director will know that you paid your way in and that you have no real experience to speak of.

When AFTRA and SAG announced a possible merger, there were hundreds, if not thousands, of actors who flocked to the AFTRA office and paid the $1,500 to join. After all, AFTRA had no requirements for joining if you could pay the fee. They knew they would be grandfathered into SAG at a lower price when the merger happened.

Most of them screwed themselves over. They can no longer do non-union work, but they don't have a resume that looks attractive to the good casting offices who exclusively call in SAG actors.

Then ... what's the difference between non-union and SAGe?

You get to put SAGe on your resume. SAGe supposedly makes you more attractive than a non-union talent, but I have yet to see something that makes me believe it. When you're SAGe, you can join the union whenever you want. When you're non-union, you have to get a Taft Hartley and/or become SAGe before you can go SAG. It's a glorified degree of separation.

True story: SAG makes it very difficult for union productions to use non union or eligible talent. Casting will almost always go with a SAG actor over a SAGe actor.

That said, a very talented girl in my acting class was SAGe and managed to book a small role in the Entourage movie.

Keep in mind, however: though my classmate is hilarious and talented, she is also lucky as hell. A fortuitous chain of events led to an assistant at CAA submitting on her behalf. 

But if certain offices only call in SAG actors, shouldn't I be in SAG?

Well, yeah. Eventually. But seriously, don't join until you have at least one or two recognizable credits on your resume and/or you know that you have access to a team of people who can get you into casting offices. At least then it's a sensible gamble.

Otherwise you keep working the audition/workshop/submission routine, book what you book, and join when you have to.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

#LOLiAmMovingToLosAngeles: Good Skin Care and Final Thoughts on Inevitable Debt

INVEST IN GOOD SKIN CARE.

Taking care of your skin is now more important than ever - especially if you are a woman. Los Angeles is nasty, dude. It's pull of polluted air and extreme sunlight. Not only that, but if you come here to try and work in the industry, you are going stress the fuck out almost all the time. All of these things will wreck your skin. If you don't take care of yourself, you will notice. And others will, too. Invest in a foundation that you can't buy in a drug store and a moisturizer that will nourish the everloving crap out of your skin. Wear sunblock, exfoliate, and drink a shit ton of water. I mean it. Drink all the water. You will never drink enough water.

And start an anti-aging regimen now. Ever wondered how it is that the dudes on Glee were in or damn near their 30's when the show started, yet the girls were in their early 20's at the latest? Yeah. I hate that the industry assumes that women age badly and are most valuable when they are young, but it does. You can't change that perception, but you can take care of your skin and be realistic with yourself about how old you look.

That reminds me - it's worth mentioning that the entertainment world really fucks with your ability to maintain a healthy attitude about the fact that you're going to get old. Getting a late start can make that so, so much worse. I have no solve-all for coping with the fact that we got a late start. The window of playing younger is mostly over. It's a new age and the age of "older to play young" is almost all but finished. You can almost always find a fresh 18 year old to play those younger high school parts - or even worse, an emancipated minor. (Yes, there are so many children whose moms and dads have relinquished legal hold as parents in order to allow their child to book more frequently.)

Here's what I have to offer:

If you can play young, you can play young. If you can't, you can't. Accept it and move on. Just take good care of yourself, because you never know who is going to call you in for what. I still get called in for things I think I'm too old for. I get called in for things I feel like I'm too young for. I have learned to just roll with it.

Before we get going into the issues of what to do once you've got your bases covered, just remember: all of these things - classes, headshots, workshops, living - cost money. 
Which most of us don't have.

If you want to take advantage of everything out there then you must accept that debt is going to be a huge part of what you do.

Try not to have more than two cards and always pay 1/4 more than your monthly minimum. Did you somehow obtain more money than usual or book a a substantial gig? Pay off big chunks instead of giving into the urge to buy yourself some kind of expensive reward.  Always put as much of your your big checks toward your debt as you possibly can.

Come back on Tuesday when we really get into some industry craziness:

I'm Non Union and I have heard that it's hard to get my card in LA and that I'm better off in a secondary market.
Because I've got a LOT to say about this.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

#LOLiAmMovingToLosAngeles: Casting Websites and Headshots

SUBSCRIPTIONS TO THE CASTING WEBSITES

This is non-negotiable. You must be on these websites. If you are not on them, your future agent will make you get them, so just go ahead and get them now. Besides, you need to be submitting yourself while you try to find representation. Even then, your agent is probably only submitting you for the fancy stuff. They have access to a whole world of job postings, called breakdowns, that you cannot see, but you can still submit yourself for anything you have access to.

I have been able to audition for projects all over the production spectrum through my own efforts alone. Having an agent just makes it easier to get into 90% of the jobs that pay more than "ultra low budget." 

Student films, spec commercials, even the professional stuff that you are lucky enough to get access to - these are great to submit for if you are trying to build a reel. Submit, audition. Submit, audition. Even if it's a shitty audition: if you have time for it then go and get practice auditioning.

These are the three sites you MUST be on:
a. Actors Access: AA is powered by Breakdown Services. Breakdown Services is the company that sends out all of the breakdowns for film, television, and some commercial projects. Like I mentioned earlier, agents pay a lot of money to have access to these breakdowns. As a talent, your account will only have access to a fraction of these breakdowns, but it's still enough to warrant a membership.

Create a profile. You get two free uploads for head shots and then each additional head shot is $10.

You'll see them advertise something called "Showfax." You want to buy Showfax. If you do not have a Showfax account, each submission through AA will cost you $2. Buying a Showfax subscription is $69 a year and gets you unlimited submissions.

b. LACasting: LA Casting is where the majority of your commercial auditions will come from. A membership that includes a media bank (for your reels if you have them) is something like $14 a month. It's the head shots that get you, though: the first head shot you upload is $25. Each additional photo is $15. They also offer a yearly lump sum membership fee (around $200) that does not include the head shots. It makes me want to cry.

c. Casting Frontier: Agents occasionally use it for commercials, but you can submit to anything on the public submissions board. I don't think they charge a fee if you have an agent. They might if you have no representation.

Also, it is worth mentioning:

d. NowCasting: NowCasting is optional. Your agent will not require you to have it, but I have booked some legitimate non-union work off of this site before. It's something like $6 a month to have access to the Los Angeles breakdowns.

Subscriptions that are helpful but not necessary:

a. Backstage (you can read the articles for free and the jobs they advertise are almost always available on Actors Access and LACasting.)

b. 800 Casting (You do not need this one. Almost no one uses it.)

c. CAZT - same as Backstage.


Know what you're going to have to post to these websites?

HEADSHOTS

To be honest, I'm going to assume that most of you already have head shots. If you are moving to LA from a smaller market, give the shots you already have a few months to work in the LA Market. If you don't see any traction by that point, it may be time for you to consider getting new ones.

If this is your first time getting head shots in the LA area: please, please, please do your research and spring for a good photographer. A good one in Los Angeles will cost you around $450 and up. If you know a great photographer who will cut you a deal, fantastic. But be careful. You generally get what you pay for.

Also keep in mind: head shots are a gamble, no matter who you shoot with. I used an amazing commercial photographer in Los Angeles. I paid $650 for the session and the makeup artist. Guess what? Out of the 6 photos that my commercial agent and I picked for submissions, only one of them gets me any auditions.

What I'm trying to say is that an expensive photographer with a good reputation means nothing if the pictures don't work. There are a couple of possible reasons that explain why my pictures fail to get me as many auditions as I want. For one: I am whiter in my pictures than I am in real life - and that's saying a lot because I'm pale as shit. For another: I did not plan out my outfits well. The colors don't go with my skin or the backgrounds. This is my fault. I am terrible at styling. I once Googled, "How to dress myself."

That is all a roundabout way of saying that you should know your skin tone and know what colors look good on you. And plan out your looks ahead of time. Photograph yourself in them with your camera. Make sure you wear them well.

Regarding looks: Have at least three.

If you're a hot chick, you should have:
a. The look that blatantly spells out, "I'm one hot chick! I'm the hottest chick you've ever seen!"
b. The look that says, "I don't have much makeup on but hey: now I look down to earth and I'm still hot shit! Double win!"
c. A serious one.

Life is easier for you.

If you're like me and you feel like you could be hot shit if you tried hard enough, make sure you have:
a. The look that says, "I clean up real nice when I wear a lot of eyeliner and I have showered!"
b. The look that says, "I'm attractive and grounded. Oh, look, I'm not wearing much makeup!"
c. The look that says, "I live next to you and I have a fun little secret! Surprise, the secret is, "I've seen your wiener!"
d. A serious one.

If you're a character actor - this is to say if you know you don't sell yourself as a stud/babe or a person who can moonlight as a stud/babe - then get shots that suggest the characters you rock at. Examples:

a. Fun secretary.
b. Crazy old neighbor.
c. Domineering boss.
d. Serial killer - this can also double as "man you don't want near your children."
e. Needy spouse.
f. Hopeless singleton with an unconventional household pet.
g. A serious one. Just in case.

When you find a photographer that you think might work, explore their portfolio for someone who has the same skin tone/hair color combination as you do. Do you like the way their pictures turned out?

So am I getting new head shots? Unfortunately, yes. It's more money, but what am I going to do? Sit tight, cross my fingers, and continue to use head shots that obviously aren't working?

#LOLCREDITCARDDEBT

Check back Thursday for final thoughts on inevitable debt and one of the arguable non-vital necessities: Skin Care and how important it is in the #$%&ing desert. I was spoiled from living in a climate with humidity, cleaner air, and way less harsh sunlight. LA's a whole new world and the way you take care of your skin matters more than ever.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

#LOLiAmMovingToLosAngeles: Workshops.

WORKSHOPS

My acting teacher called me out on this one, and I get his point, but it doesn't change the fact that workshops leave an icky taste in my mouth. Read on to see why.

There are two major kinds of workshops:

1. Multi-Week Format: These happen over the course of a few weeks. A casting director commits to a series of classes where they work with you on cold reading and/or prepared scenes and they get to see how you adapt and take notes over time. ActNow in Sherman Oaks is a great resource for multi-week format workshops. Yeah, they do a sketchy cold-call sale to a lot of actors - but I have friends who have gotten meetings and/or agents from doing workshops at ActNow, so ... eh.

2. Single Interview Format: This is when you pay a casting director for a general audition. Normally, this would be sketchy. Illegal, some would say. Yet, this is the one that I have the most experience with and have wasted the most money on.

Actors who have had some luck with the single interview format tend to praise them as a worthy investment. I can see both sides, but until I personally see some results from these things, I tend to stand on the "Wah, wah, wah!" side of the fence in regards to workshops.

Casting directors charge around $45 and up per audition and are allowed to call it a "workshop" because they host a big Q&A in the beginning. After everyone has asked their questions, they begin to see people one by one. If you're lucky, they will critique you in person and give you some helpful feedback. Sometimes, though, all they have to do is rate you on paper, usually on a scale of 1-5, and they don't tell you why they gave you a particular rating.

In my opinion: you should avoid workshops with written evaluations unless it's for a CD you really want to see because:

a) Your personal interactions with the casting director will most likely be kept to a minimum.
b) That slip of paper with a rating of 1 - 5 doesn't usually don't tell you anything clear enough or in enough detail so that you can actually DO something about it.

At the very least, call ahead and try to get the receptionist to tell you whether or not the CD will elaborate on your score sheet with you. Sometimes they will. 

Be aware that some casting professionals who conduct workshops often don't ever call anyone into their office for a real audition. They just want some quick cash and they know that we are desperate for their time. They also know that, short of having an agent who can get you into their office (or divine intervention), or there are no other ways to get a direct audience with them.

Even if you have an agent, workshops are still recommended. Some casting directors don't like to see actors who aren't SAG. Some casting directors won't see you if your resume doesn't have enough credits that they recognize. If you pay to see them, though, they have no choice but to interact with you. And, god willing, you will do something during your "workshop" that will make them to want to call you into their office despite your shortcomings.

If you don't have an agent, then workshops are something you need to swallow along with your pride and start investing in. It's a bitch, but look at it this way: at least now there is a no-bullshit way to meet them face to face rather than flounder about doing who knows what while you try to find an agent that can get you in there without you having to pay for it.

Here is how you avoid wasting money with workshops: 

Be smart about which ones you sign up for. Find out who is casting what (CastingAbout is a great resource that is kept extremely current) and then do a little research to see if they actually have a good track record of bringing people in.

Also: I would shy away from paying money to go see casting assistants. Assistants rarely have the pull to bring anyone in, yet they hold workshops anyway because money. The ones who have any real say in calling you in are casting associates or head casting directors.

You will get to pick the scene you show them more often than not, so pick good material.

Most workshop companies will provide you with a collection of sides to choose from. Some give you the option of bringing in your own sides from a television show or film that is not in their database.
I can't speak from personal experience because, as of writing this, I haven't taken a workshop that has resulted in an audition, but high stake pieces seem to work for a lot of actors. I'm not big on "fight or fuck" scenes, but I some argue that you only have a few minutes with a casting director, you want to showcase an extreme of some sort. Some CD's share my sentiments, but some CD's actually do want to hear you scream and/or cry about your mental illness or that time you were sexually compromised during a bomb threat.

Why you should start doing workshops as soon as you feel ready, even if you don't have an agent: When you start to look for an agent, you are going to want to make yourself look as attractive as possible. You want to make it seem like you're going to make your potential new agent's job easy. If you actually get a real audition through one of these workshops, you should most definitely include that in the cover letter to the agency. It basically says,
"Hey. I did this on my own. Think how easy it will be to get me into the office now that they already know me."

Agents like easy sells.

Here's a starter for you: casting director Scott David casts a sizable chunk of Criminal Minds off of people he meets at workshops. Plus he's a nice dude.

Where do you take workshops? I usually go to Actors Key and Actors Key West for workshops, but there are so many companies. A site like The Workshop Guru is a great resource. For around $10 a month, they compile all of the workshops in the city into one schedule. They also offer discounted rates for Guru members from time to time.



#lolcreditcarddebt
#hustlehard

Come back Thursday for the next necessity: 


Casting and Submission Websites.
Also Head Shots. 
Since you have to put those on the casting websites.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

#LOLiAmMovingToLosAngeles: Classes and Credit Card Debt

 2. Non Vital Necessities.
(First priority expenses... after your basic needs are met.)


CLASSES

A. COLLEGE IS NO LONGER GOOD ENOUGH.

My college professors will want to strangle me for saying this, but no one in the film industry in LA cares about your theater degree.

If you want to pursue theater - actual, live, living wage paying theater - then your theater degree will be helpful. By all means, stay in school. Theater professionals understand the importance of a college degree much more than someone responsible for assembling the cast of whatever new show is on the CW. And even then you still end up with film and reality television celebrities in Broadway plays and musicals - all for the sake of ticket sales and gimmick value. 

Now if you want to pursue film, television, and commercials: you can work in a secondary market like Atlanta or Chicago or you can work in a primary market like Los Angeles or New York. If you can actually book work and build a resume in a secondary market, do that before moving to a primary market. It's cheaper. I didn't have that luxury because I wasn't booking shit in a secondary market. So I said, "Screw it. I might as well try Los Angeles before it's too late."

So that's where my perspective is coming from. 

 Casting directors, producers, directors, and pretty much anyone who makes this town move and shake don't care where you took acting classes before you came to Los Angeles - unless it was some Tier 1 school like Tisch or Julliard. Even then, they still may not care because if you went to a fancy program like that and still moved out to LA without a pretty representation package and a starter stack of network television or film credits, then you wasted your time and your parents' money -  because that is the reason you go to a tier 1 acting program.  

That said, I was able to do several beautiful, professional productions that I would never have done had I not gotten a degree in theater. Don't get me wrong: I'm incredibly grateful for those experiences, but despite all of the amazing experiences I had in college, a large part of me still wishes I had gone to LA straight out of high school. Why? I'm out in LA with hardly anything on my resume that will catch an agent's eye while other girls who got here sooner have several film and television credits already.

If you choose to go to college for a theater degree, that is your decision. And it could be one of the best decisions! But don't ever think that the world owes you anything because of it.


B. YOU DO NEED "LA TRAINING" IF YOU'RE GOING TO PURSUE WORK IN THE LA MARKET.

Honestly, I wish someone had been meaner about this to me because I was stubborn for the longest time.
"I studied acting for way too long to pay this much for it now. I have a degree!" I said.
Someone should have hit me.
In the face.

Bottom line: your resume needs to have a Los Angeles acting class from a teacher that agents, casting directors, and managers know and respect (or know that other people respect.) In my opinion, the top five recognizable teachers (in no particular order) are:

1. Lesly Kahn (First only because I take class here and, yes, I do enjoy it. She has a reputation as a comedy teacher, but they cover more. The teaching is heavily grounded in text analysis. I love the emphasis on auditions and how to not only act, but how to book the job.)
2. Anthony Meindl (pronounced "Muynduhl.")
3. Ivana Chubbuck (pronounced exactly the way it looks.)
4. Howard Fine (Meisner technique.)
5. Margie Haber (Pronounced "hayber." Fantastic for cold reading technique.)

This list is based on nothing but me hearing working actors and casting directors talk about them all the damn time. There are more reputable and wonderful schools, but these teachers are a good place to start. I don't know everything, so if you know of a teacher or school that you feel should be included, please leave a comment or send me an email.

With the exception of Lesly Kahn, who charges a triage fee to meet with her and get placement within the school, most acting schools generally allow you to audit a class for free. Just check their respective websites for their auditing process.

Yeah, I went ahead and paid for a triage with Lesley Kahn. I'm pretty sure that the only reason I did that was because a manager at Principle Entertainment LA told me to. It all worked out in the end. That said, always do a free audit if you can. Just because a teacher has a great reputation doesn't mean that you are going learn effectively from their style of teaching. I love Lesly and her teachers, but her school and her methods aren't for everyone. Different people need different things from class.

These classes are all very expensive because these teachers have been around long enough and they know how good they look on your resume. Bitch about the cost all you want. I sure as hell did and still do because, ugh, money. Who wants to spend money? But just be aware that your bitching isn't going to change a damn thing and, no, you will never get a discount. Ever.

FYI: Every single one of these teachers will make you start out at the basic level. I've heard of people skipping ahead in Margie Haber's studio, but for the most part, the structure is set and there is no deviating. You, just like everyone else, will start at the bottom. Then you work your way to an ongoing monthly class.

Also, for those of you who have said, "Jennifer Lawrence didn't take any acting classes and look at her," I have to say this: Jennifer Lawrence had a mother who drove her back and forth to New York City for auditions at AN EARLY AGE. She did not just magically get her start in Winter's Bone. She falls into the transitioned child actor category. The routes that normal people with normal circumstances must take did not, and never will, apply to her. So enough about Jennifer Lawrence. Apples and Oranges, people. Do not compare yourself to anyone else's career. It will make you look, sound, and be crazy.

C. IMPROV CLASSES.

It would also be incredibly wise to take a Los Angeles improv class. The three most recognizable improv schools are:

a. Groundlings: My commercial agent and I both really like The Groundlings. You have to do a placement audition. Their training is solid and their teachers make sure that your foundation is also solid before letting you pass into the next level of class. Improv does not come naturally to me, so I like my teachers to be not at all stingy with the tough love.
b. Upright Citizen's Brigade: Also a fantastic school. I tried it out and the classes and teachers are lovely, but I'm a huge fan of character work and Groundlings' approach is more character driven.
c. IO West: I have no experience here, but friends of mine who do love it and they get stage time!




Final thoughts on class: I don't care how good you think you are. If you have little to no network television credits, it is arguably crucial that you have one or more of these teachers and/or schools on your resume.

And honestly, even if you are good, practice never hurt anybody.

D. #LOLCREDITCARDDEBT
 
Yes, it is expensive. My acting class is approximately $375 a month. My classes at Groundlings are $415 per level (12 classes.)

Very few people begin to see a return on these investments within a comfortable time frame. In other words, it may be years before you begin to make any substantial money off of anything related to acting. This is what I mean by racking up credit card debt. But what else am I going to do? Sit and work at God knows how many side hustles to try and pay it off while I do NOTHING to pad my resume and connect me with people who can help me? No. Maybe I can't afford to, but I really can't afford not to.

Perks of LA Training: Let's say you decide to move back to a secondary market for whatever reason. LA Training looks good on your resume no matter where you go.

~

Come back on Thursday to read the next vital necessity that you should plan for: workshops - which ties more into that credit card debt that you will most likely accrue.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

#LOLiAmMovingToLosAngeles: "The Vital Necessities You Should Plan For."

When I moved to Los Angeles, my two immediate concerns were:

A) What is my plan of attack?
B) How will I afford it here?

The answers are intertwined, but...

BEFORE YOU LEAVE FOR LOS ANGELES:

Try to pay off as much of your credit card debt as you possibly can before you get here. Unless someone is bankrolling you or you happen to be lucky enough to have a massive pile of savings, there is no way you will be able to pay for everything that you need with just your checking account. To work the kinds of jobs that allow you the flexibility you will ultimately need requires a sacrifice - and that sacrifice is usually the financial stability that comes with your typical 9-5. Make sure you have at least $2500 in your account before you head west - and that's the minimum. I made it work, but I had no credit card debt, no student loans to pay off, and my car was paid in full. Bottom line: come with as much savings as you possibly can.

When you get out here, be mindful of your expenses and how to prioritize them. Before we get going into the career related expenses, your first phase in your plan of attack should be to take care of your vital necessities.

I am going to assume that you already know how to job hunt. LA is a huge city. Waiting tables, promo work, being an assistant, walking dogs, driving for ride share services like UBER or Lyft, and nannying are just a few of the things you can look for. You will find something.
 
Vital Necessities.
(First Priority Expenses for Maximum Survival.)

A. Rent: Rent is a little bit more expensive here, but not so much that it should actually deter you from moving. A studio like the one I live in would cost $650-$800+ in Atlanta depending on the area and the time of year I wanted to start my lease. My studio in Los Angeles is an all-inclusive rate of $900. ($930 when you factor in Internet.) I also chose to live alone, which makes my living about $150+ more expensive per month than sharing an apartment with a roommate.

This whole notion that rent is twice as much as what a normal person pays is just absurd. Expect to pay $750 and up if you have a roommate and you guys find a cheap place. Maybe $600 and up if you find a good deal in one of the outer neighborhoods like Sherman Oaks or Glendale.

If you want to live in a central or hip location, expect to pay more. If you want to live in Los Feliz, Silverlake, Santa Monica, West Side, or any of those "more desirable" locations, you'll be paying a bit more. Duh.

Keep in mind that you will also get paid a little but more out here than you do where you currently live.

NON-CENTRAL places that are more affordable and still relatively convenient: 
 a.) Glendale
 b) Sherman Oaks
 c) Certain parts of Burbank
 d) Van Nuys
 e) Sun Valley
 f) Studio City
 g) Glassell Park
 h) El Soreno/South Pasadena
 i) Boyle Heights
 j) Highland Park
 k) Inglewood 

Central areas where you MIGHT find a rent rate that you can manage:
 a) Korea Town (Also known as K-Town. Be careful - this area is sketchy at night and parking is terrible. Make sure your building comes with parking!)
 b) Mid Wilshire (right next to K-town. Slightly less sketchy at night, but you're also probably not going to be walking around too much at night here because there's nothing to walk to.)
 c) Hollywood - you can actually find some pretty decent deals in certain parts of Hollywood. Probably because parking is difficult and the area is noisy and tourist heavy.

Fancy Pants areas that are super convenient but you won't be able to afford unless A) you can comfortably spare $1000+ a month B) You have 2+ roommates or C) you found a precious, rare apartment:

* denotes an area where you are more likely to find a precious, miracle apartment, but don't hold your breath.

a. Santa Monica
b. Los Feliz*
c. Silverlake*
d. Echo Park*
e. West Hollywood
f. Beverly Hills ( I hesitated even including B-Hills because you don't live here unless you have so much money that you need a segway to get from one end of your condo to the other. I also have no idea why you would actually want to live here. I'm being serious. It's super bougie and tourist heavy.)
g. Venice
h. West LA
i. Brentwood
j. Culver City*

Here's a map that breaks down the neighborhoods.



B. Cell phone bill: You need a smart phone. No excuses.

*Fun fact: California's wireless tax is the 9th most expensive in the country with a rate of 18.66% on the dollar. Keep your other number for as long as possible. There's  no hurry to change it and no, no one will actually judge you by your area code. As long as your number works, you're golden. 

C. Internet: You can't feed, clothe, or shelter yourself with internet, but it is the hub of all communication. You also need Internet access to self submit for auditions every day. More on this when we cover "casting websites." Internet is NOT something you should cut corners with.

D. Car insurance: LA is a driving city. It is not impossible to live here without a car, but it's insanely difficult.

E. Car payment: Only applies to you if you haven't paid it off.

F. Health Insurance: We all have to have it now or else you will be taxed next season for every month you don't have it. Being poor is no longer an excuse.

G. Groceries/toiletries: I don't need to explain the need to feed yourself and make sure you have something to wipe your butt with.

Come back on Tuesday to read the next installment:

Non Vital Necessities.
(First priority expenses... after your basic needs are met.)