Monday, February 28, 2011

Obligatory Oscar Post

'Twas the season, and thank god it's over. That really might have been my last live Oscar viewing, at least until they invite me. You can shoot for young and hip all you want, you can even get Chloe Moretz and Elle Fanning to co-host, but until you hire an actual team of actually funny comedy writers, you will never succeed, Oscar producers.

Every year, in the months leading up to the Oscars the producers are all over the entertainment magazines talking about how they've figured out how to trim the fat and make the show relevant. And every year it looks almost exactly the same. You really think you can't cut this down to two hours? Cut out every bit that didn't work and you have a runtime of about 80 minutes, guys.

The only award that surprised me was Tom Hooper winning Best Director over David Fincher, but as I commented on Facebook, Christopher Nolan's absence in the category invalidates the whole thing. As if we need more evidence that these awards don't mean much other than a higher rate for the winner's next project.

Anyway. Spent pretty much the whole broadcast obsessively checking my email to see if I got cast in an NYU film I was called back for this past week. Interesting idea, well-written from the sides I had the chance to read, nice director/writer. He said he would let people know by the end of the weekend. Since I haven't gotten that email as of this writing, looks like I missed it. Which is especially interesting in light of an NYU director winning Best Live Short last night. At least that makes the NYU credits already on my resume a little shinier.

It's easy to fall into a downward spiral every time you don't get cast. It's like everything you've done before is gone, and the trajectory of your career depends on this one casting. Of course that's silly. I've gotten paid to do this, and I've been on TV as an actual real actor (and will be again soon, if Golden Corral will get off their butts and air that commercial). But in lieu of dropping $350 on a class, I like to just work to stay sharp. That's the reasoning behind my latest round of student film submissions; if I haven't done anything in a little while I get restless.

And I'm getting very restless.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

This Melissa Leo Thing

Deadline Hollywood has a good writeup of these Melissa Leo self-funded "for your consideration" ads. I'm trying to figure out what I think about this. There's more of a history to this sort of thing than I initially thought, with varying degrees of success and/or ridicule (for the latter, check out the link and read about Chill Wills' and Margaret Avery's insane campaigns--Leo could have done much worse).

Her studio isn't doing its own ad campaign for her, and she claims she's not getting the media attention a younger, more attractive woman might get, so she wanted to take matters into her own hands. I find this strange, since she and co-star Christian Bale are two of the surest bets at the Academy Awards this year. I imagine it's hard to think that when you're one of the bets, but that's what "your people" are there for.

If it wasn't for her melodramatic acceptance speeches I'd have an easier time brushing this off, but I can't. Something about her has been striking me as false. This is to say nothing ill of her fantastic performance in The Fighter, which stands on its own excellent legs and as such, should require no campaign. But, that's the nature of the industry these days. She's also claiming the ageism rampant in Hollywood is a major factor in taking out these ads for herself, because she can't get on the cover of a magazine. What, so you can stand next to the likes of Snooki and Kim Kardashian in the checkout lane?

I agree that ageism is a problem in Hollywood and our society in general, but I question the degree to which an actor can complain about it. Do your best to overcome it and change people's opinions, of course, but it's not like you didn't know this was a problem when you got into acting. That's like me trying to be a rapper and complaining it's a tough black guy's game. How do I overcome that? Be so good they don't care I'm white & nerdy. What has Melissa Leo done? Put out a performance so good she's sweeping the awards season. That translates to work. She could easily land a cable-series lead in the current TV environment, if not network (I say cable first because come on, their shows are way better).

So what exactly is the problem? And why is this rubbing me the wrong way? I think it's all ringing false because if she truly wanted to overcome the ageism/sexism barrier, why would she play the publicity game in the first place? And in playing it, why would she try to glam herself up and look so much like the thing she's fighting? Does she want to be known for an Elle cover or for her performance? Why is she so scared she won't get work after a solid round of nominations for Frozen River and a round of wins for The Fighter? Why would any sane person choose this career path?

Thursday, February 3, 2011

The Awesome Audition I Just Had; Or... not to audition and why non-union commercials are sometimes the devil.

This audition was for a corporate web video with a fairly amusing premise, as far as these things go. And my agent actually sent me the copy beforehand! Which never happens. They're looking for actors who can improvise. Great, got it.

Snag 1: By "improvise," they mean "come up with the rest of the video based on the one premise we set up." The scene had two people. The script said
#1: Do you know about (anonymous thing I probably shouldn't say here)?
And then literally
#2 [Improvisation]
#1 [Improvisation]
SAG has rules against making actors improvise during auditions (which are skirted sometimes by never using the word "improvise;" a casting director might instead say "if you think of something else you'd like to say, feel free"). This is so actors aren't burdened/ripped off by making your spot great by basically writing it for you for free, without credit. Paul F. Tompkins told a story on the Nerdist podcast about auditioning for a commercial, in which they had him come up with a lot of funny stuff (which he's kinda good at). He didn't get the spot, but when he saw it they used the things he came up with at the audition. So. Boo. Non-union: we pay a fraction of the SAG rate for three times the effort!

Having done a few improv auditions like this before, I knew better than to rely on coming up with brilliance on the spot. I thought of some different reactions to the initial question, but kept it all loose enough to be able to work with the other actor and not steamroll them.

Snag 2: The other actor. At this point, I just prefer a completely flat reading from the casting director's assistant than to have to work with another actor in an audition. Am I this bad? I'm no Daniel Day Lewis but I think I at least have the basics of listening and responding truthfully, but also keeping it interesting. My scene partner, a lovely lady who had sketch and improv experience and thereby (I assumed) would know how to listen and escalate a scene with me, decided her reaction to my initial question should be to brush me off and keep going. Because...what? Things are always interesting when someone gets ignored? She had zero interest in getting cast? She hated my face?

They had paired us up beforehand and told us to work on it, making it 30 seconds with a definite ending. Ours was currently ten seconds with no ending, since endings require beginnings. I told her "maybe it should be a little longer," meaning "hey, maybe you should stop and have a scene with me." This isn't an acting exercise. I know in real life you'd brush me off and keep going, but you don't need to make me stop you. Listen. See what happens. So we fleshed it out a little bit. I came up with a couple of decent lines. We did it twice for the guy. Meh.

So the moral of the story? Listen to your partner. Work together. Join SAG. Get into commercial copywriting, because apparently any drunk idiot can crap out a one-line script and get paid for it.