Category Archives: books

Actor 101 – The Hollywood Survival Guide for Actors

Actor 101 LogoHollywood Survival Guide Cover

The following is a review of the book The Hollywood Survival Guide for Actors by Kym Jackson. It is billed as, “Your handbook for becoming a working actor in L.A.”

Here’s the TL;DR version: If you are an actor in Los Angeles or coming to Los Angeles you should own this book and read this book. In the 30+ years that I have been working in this business, this is, truly, one of the best books on being an actor in the modern entertainment industry I have ever read. I cannot give it a higher recommendation, it is brilliant!

Here’s the full review: When I started working professionally in the entertainment industry in 1985 things were very different from how they are now. First and foremost I was a child who was plucky, had done some amateur acting and wasn’t shy. I had a very supportive family and parents who were willing to do the leg work and driving. My dad was able to locate a reputable child manager who helped me get really good headshots and also referred me to one of the top agencies for children at the time. I had a charmed start to my professional career. I went on my first audition, to be the voice of Schroeder (the piano playing kid in the Peanuts cartoons) and booked it. Because I was small for my age, I was older to play younger for a long time, eventually playing a sixteen year old until I was well into my twenties. Because there were very few bumps on my road to early success I’m not sure that I had a real sense of just how tough this industry can be… until 2005.

In 2005 I was told, very plainly and without any malice, “I just can’t see you as a virgin anymore” by a casting director when I was auditioning to be what I had hoped would be another in a line of geeky teens that, until that moment, had been my bread and butter. In 2005 I went from “regularly working actor” to  “barely auditioning actor” and my relationship to the industry changed. I’ll be really open about this, I don’t think I was capable of appreciating how good I had it. I look back now on those first twenty years and they really were amazing! I don’t wanna’ rest on the laurels of an old resume, but I’m still very proud of what’s on my IMDb page even if most of it is over a decade old. But I took it for granted. Mistakes were made. It’s easy to slip into the old refrain of, “if I knew then what I know now…” but regrets never got anyone anywhere and the past is a terrible place to live. Since I didn’t have to struggle when I got started I was horribly ill equipped to get my acting career back on track.

Enter the producing years!

What does every actor want to do after they’ve been acting a while? The correct answer is “direct” but I never really connected to that so I decided to be a producer. The original goal was to make things that I could be in, after all why not cast yourself in the movies you make? For the first project I wanted to just focus on one job, so I did not cast myself (a decision I’m still 50/50 on). There was plenty of work to do as a producer, especially on our small independent project. The budget was tight, down to the last dollar, so I was constantly managing something. This trend continued for the next several projects over the next several years. While my intentions to cast myself were good, a combination of workload and no appropriate parts conspired to take me, essentially, out of the acting world. I still do the occasional commercial here and there and do parts in friend’s projects, but no major theatrical work whether it be my projects or anyone else’s. What I was doing, though, was seeing the job of being an actor from a whole new perspective. In setting up casting sessions I saw that you’d probably only see about 60-75% of the people you scheduled for your audition – especially if it was non-union. That everyone is hustling for that “next gig” even agents and studio heads. The whole town essentially runs on moxie and bravado as opposed to contracts and handshakes (although those are important too). I learned more about the crew than I did in twenty years of working with them including how they are hired, how they are paid, and what it means when talent is late. I learned how the sales process of different projects works, including films, documentaries and television shows. Doing the hands-on work and being a part of every facet of the production process became a better education than proper film school. After a decade of fighting tooth and claw to get things made I came to the conclusion that producing was not the right thing for me and it was time to get back to what I really loved.

Back in the saddle.

At the end of 2014 I was just coming off a very successful turn as a board member of the Big Bear Film Festival and the first year of Fun Size Horror but I was ready to be done. Producing was lots of work and satisfying on a business level, but I really missed being an actor.  After a decade of being committed to making things people had forgotten that I used to be in front of the camera and that kinda’ sucked. I didn’t like the idea of being the guy who “used to be an actor,” being one has always been part of my identity. So in 2015 I decided it was time to rejoin the ranks completely and get back to being a full time working actor…

…turns out that’s a lot harder than it used to be.

No longer the adorable eight-year-old, it has not been as simple to just “jump back in.” Now-a-days you are required to have a demo reel to be considered for even the smallest parts. Agents won’t even look at you without a strong referral or a good list of credits. Booking the jobs I used to get is a lot harder now since much bigger actors are now taking smaller parts in films and T.V. shows.

What I’m getting at with all this preamble is that I have had a very full and complete experience in the Entertainment Industry School of Hard Knocks. I’ve been up and I’ve been down and I’ve seen some shit. It’s taken me thirty years to learn all of this.

You can get it all in one book.

The Hollywood Survival Guide for Actors

Kym Jackson has succinctly and efficiently placed all of the knowledge that a new actor in Los Angeles needs in one very easy to read book that covers everything from moving to L.A. to booking the job. I have often run into people that are ready to tell you “how it is” in Hollywood but never have I read something that I both agreed with and was able to learn something new from.

This isn’t a book you just read and put down, it is a resource. The chapters are laid out in an easy flow that makes sense as you go along. I found myself trying to come up with questions rookies might ask as I went through it. Each time it felt like the next chapter was answer to at least one of those questions with the remainder not far behind.

The best part about this book is that it is CURRENT. When I first started acting in the 80’s this business was very different and I’ve seen more change in the last five years than in the last thirty combined! All of the information in this book is up to date and looks to remain relevant for years to come.

It is a book I recommend to my acting students and one that I would recommend to any one even thinking of giving L.A. a try as an actor.

Get it, read it. You’ll be happy you did.

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Filed under acting, actor 101, actor stuff, audition technique, auditions, behind the scenes, blatant plug, books, business, career, casting, education, getting started, Hollywood, how-to, reviews, teaching, The Business

The Value of Journaling

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Not that long ago I dug deep into the pits of my parent’s storage space to where I keep the bits of memorabilia that I saved from high school and college. There underneath old trophies and certificates, under the photo albums and  envelopes filled with pictures (we used to have to get them developed and physically printed!) I found the trove of old high school journals that I was looking for. I was pulling them out, on purpose, for a project that my friend, author Jeff Garvin, and I were thinking about working on.

A bit of advice if you ever reach a point where nostalgia overrides your more rational thinking: Things you wrote down at the height of your adolescent hormonal development are not light reading. You should be mentally prepared before diving back into that headspace.

I was not.

My friend Zeke has always said, “Five years ago I was an idiot.” It’s a great phrase. How often have you looked back on things and noticed that your opinions had changed or shifted? It’s easy to forget that most of us actually change our minds quite a bit about a lot of things as we grow and get older. Thanks to social media and “flashback” apps we can now be greeted every morning with a list of things that we have posted to the public via a variety of different platforms to lord knows how many people that shows exactly where you were at in your head. Thanks to these apps I can attest that I as well was an idiot five years ago. And I’m sure that I’ll feel that way in another five years, and then five years after that.

Now imagine diving back over twenty years ago…

…Idiot doesn’t even begin to describe it.

Actually “idiot” is too harsh of a word. I was a teenager and suffered from being “sixteen and angry.” I think we all have our “sixteen and angry” time, I know that everyone I ever knew had one. It’s a tumultuous time when you are starting to figure out who you are as a person separate from your parents, when you start to make decisions for yourself, when you desperately want to be considered an adult but secretly enjoy the shield of being a kid. This is when you find all the great music that will become your favorite into adulthood. This is when crushes are defined as “love” and every relationship can last “forever.” You fight with your parents, go on your first adventures with your friends, and generally raise eight different kinds of holy hell.

I managed to document my sixteen and angry period in nine volumes: eight journals and one sketch book. The picture at the top of this post is of all but one of the books. Inside are entries that detail my thoughts and feeling about friendships, relationships, and some stories that I used to write about a fictional version of my friends and I. Reading it back revealed that things were a bit different than the memory of those times in my head. It’s easy to romanticize the high school experience. I didn’t mind high school. I had a lot of friends and did well academically. I was fortunate enough not to have the troubles that make it into after school specials like bullying or drugs. My friends and I were no saints, but we weren’t troublemakers either. I can safely say that there were no arrests and any statutes of limitations have expired. My memories of high school are full of laughing, inside jokes, musicals, and enough Pepsi cola to kill an elephant. Seriously, my three best friends and I drank Pepsi by the case. I’m pretty sure that my blood was at least 4% Pepsi by my senior year. It’s amazing any of us have teeth.

However, these books tell a different tale. One of extreme emotional turmoil, dramatic shifts in friendships, and document the kind of existential crises that would make Sartre roll his eyes. None of it is ironic, it is clearly very earnest and deliberate. It feels like a different person wrote it. They are remarkably detailed history books that talk about people I had nearly forgotten about; people who, at the time, were very involved in my life. They discuss music I liked, places I went, and in some cases even what I was wearing. I actually put pictures in the front and back covers of almost all of the books. Some of myself, some of my pet chameleon, Fred, and some of my friends. I have one here of me circa 1993:

Curtis Circa 1993

Great hair, right?

The strangest thing about the entries is that they are written like blog posts. There was apparently a part of me that thought that people would like to read the hormone fueled ramblings of a teenage boy so the entries often referred to the reader and explained things in great detail so that a stranger who might not have any previous knowledge of me would be able to understand the context of the situation. Thank God the internet wasn’t then what it is now. They are a set of volumes that document the true feelings I had as a teenager. As embarrassing as they are they are valuable.

Journaling is a pretty great exercise. It requires you to write down what you think and feel without a filter. It is a time capsule of an exact moment in your history. It’s honest even if you are lying in it, since the lie is part of that moment. I fell out of journaling when I was twenty or so. I was in college, working more, and my dramatics were getting me a paycheck as opposed to being spewed into the blank pages of a book. I also moved to digital means of note taking and idea tracking. I had PDA’s with styluses that would let me write and store things away or send to my computer. Nothing at all like the pages of these books and none of those items made it to today – they are lost on some old hard drive in a landfill somewhere. I got completely out of the habit and I think I regret that now.

I started journaling again when I was doing my 52 in 52 challenge. I keep an idea book where I jot down story ideas and I was leaving a Barnes and Noble. I had some extra time so I sat on the patio and wrote some things down, stream of consciousness style. It felt like I was giving my head a spring cleaning. It wasn’t anything extraordinary, nothing even worth having a conversation about, but what I wrote down had been sitting in my brain taking space. It felt good to have it out. Then Rene and I did the Dragon Tree Challenge. I won’t lie, it’s a bit hippy-dippy and new age-y, but it got me in the habit of daily journaling again. Journaling has helped to focus my thoughts and let my brain work on the stuff that I need it to without having to navigate through all the gunk that fills it up during the day. I highly recommend it. It’s especially good if you are in a creative field! Most of the other creatives I know keep a few different books to write in depending on the mood. Personally, have my pocket notebook for notes and tasks, my story idea book, a sketch book (the same one from twenty years ago), and a journal for just private thoughts that aren’t really for the world.

Here are some tips if you’d like to give it a try:

  1. Get the right book for you. I’m currently using one of the old journals I found from 1993. It was empty and some of the pages are yellowing. It has age on it, like me, and the pages are a little crisp because of it.
  2. Get the right pen. This might sound silly, but when you get on a roll the words are going to come out fast and the last thing you need is your pen running out of ink or not being comfortable in your hand.
  3. Don’t judge what you write. No matter what my teenage self thought, what you journal probably isn’t destined for public consumption. It’s for you – and you don’t ever have to read it again. Just write and let it all come out, warts and all. Really clean out that brain.
  4. Date your entries. Just in case you do ever want to go back and read what you’ve written it’s nice to know when you’ve written it. It helps to put everything into context.

Do you journal? Are you going to give it a shot? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.

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Filed under artist, books, creativity, Curtis Andersen, nostalgia

Come Watch Andelon Productions Discussions: Creativity on the Daily

Startup Post Art

We’re starting a new program series later this month. Round table discussions about using creativity and performance skills in other businesses and daily life. I’ll be inviting friends of mine that work in a variety of industries to participate and we’ll be taking questions from you, the audience, as well. Afterward the video will be available on my YouTube channel so you can watch it whenever you want. Not subscribed to my channel yet? Click below:

Curtis Andersen’s YouTube Channel

The first discussion will be on

Thursday February 19th at 8:30pm Pacific Time LIVE!

It will cover Creativity in your Daily Life and will feature my oldest friends from high school and college who have gone off to the four winds when it comes to careers:

  • Scott Sanford – IT specialist for the financial industry.
  • Dean Ethington – Graphic Designer and web developer for Oakley.
  • Dan Zarzana – Manager at an entertainment payroll company.
  • Jeff Garvin – Author and musician.

All of them have very different perspectives on how they use the creative sides of their brains and I’m looking forward to a lively conversation.

We’ll be doing these roundtables once a month in the 3rd week of the month so stay tuned for more!

See you next time!

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Filed under 7k, Andelon, books, business, class, commentary, consulting, education, internet, learning experience, productivity, REVOLUTION, technology, Uncategorized, video, YouTube

The Joy of Paper

Books

Our modern world offers wonders of technology that would boggle the minds of people even just 30 years ago. If you would have told 8 year old me that I could have every Iron Man comic book ever written stored and readable on a device the size and depth of an actual comic book I don’t think that I would have believed you. Likewise that there was even something like the internet! All of these new devices and machines make jobs easier, have brought about changes in entertainment unseen since the television revolution, and keep us all connected.

But, for all that, I find that I have been going back to an old technology: paper.

That’s right good old fashioned wood pulp paper. And pens, a wide variety of pens.

My paper habit really got going again back when Rene and I got married in 2010. I was looking for groomsman gifts and was having a problem finding something that I thought would be A) not cliche and B) something useful. That was harder to find that you’d think. My search ended with me at a Borders Books by my parents house (like I said, 2010, before Barnes and Noble was the last big bookstore). I didn’t know what I was looking for while I was there so I just wandered around hoping that inspiration would just fly out and hit me in the face.

It didn’t…

…until I was walking out of the store when a spinner rack by the door caught my eye. It was full of journals in a few different sizes. Mostly the size that would fit in your pocket, but some larger. They all had a funny name: Moleskine. Moles-kine (with a hard “i”)? Mole-skin? Moly-skiny? However it is pronounced (and the current CEO of the company stated in an interview on NPR that he doesn’t care and pronounced it three different ways during the interview) it is apparently famous!

THE LEGENDARY NOTEBOOK
Moleskine® is the heir of the legendary notebook used for the past two centuries by artists and
thinkers, from Vincent Van Gogh to Pablo Picasso from Ernest Hemingway to Bruce Chatwin.
The anonymous and essential little black notebook, with its unique rounded corners, elastic
closure, and expandable inner pocket, was originally produced for more than a century
by a small French bookbinder that supplied Parisian stationery shops frequented by the
international literary and artistic avant‐garde. This trusty, pocket‐sized travel companion held
their sketches, notes, stories, and ideas before they became famous images or beloved books.

Well, I liked the idea of using things that Hemingway and Picasso did, even if it felt a little pretentious. I liked the feel of the books and since all of my groomsmen were in creative or technical fields I knew they could all use a  notebook to jot things down in. So they each got one and I got a notebook for myself, but I didn’t use mine until months later. It was December 29th, 2010 when I made my first entry, which was all about how I wasn’t sure if I would even use the book at all. In mid-January I forced myself to put words down that ended up being a rambling mess. But then we went to Sundance that year and the little notebook became invaluable.

We had a series of meetings and sessions where I needed to be able to take notes and having a legal pad, like so many others did, was just unmanageable with the coats and gloves and everything else that goes along with a cold weather festival. When I took my notes I felt agile and quick, ready for the next bits of information. I also felt small, like I took up very little space. Which was handy since there usually was very little space to be had. I still keep that original notebook on my desk for reference.

That’s when my habit formed, and my brand loyalty. Moleskine is not paying me for this post (although if anyone at corporate is reading this and feels like throwing some swag my way…) so I can say, just from my personal use and opinion, I really like these notebooks. I am on my third pocket book, an Evernote branded one that came with a three month premium subscription to Evernote, and have a project book, story journal, wine book, plus a few others that are just waiting for things to fill them.

Even though I feel like my “addiction to paper” is new, really, when I think about it, I’m just going back to my old habits, before the smartphone and tablet. When I was a teenager and full of hormonal rage I filled book after book with the rantings and thoughts of my brain. I recently found that trove of tomes in my parents storage facility and, hoo boy, I was definitely a teenager. Have you ever wanted to reach back in time and smack yourself? Go read your old journals and  you just might. Although I no longer compose bad poetry and ponder the existential existence of Bat Boy, writing is still the best way for me to get an idea out of my head.  Even though I can 3D render things on the computer or dictate notes to my phone, there’s something satisfying about the scratch of pen nib on paper that makes everything feel more “real.”

What about you? Are you a paper person? Are you all tech all the time? Let me know in the comments.

See you next time.

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Filed under books, general, musings

Getting to Know – Bookthump.com

Dan Bookthump

Hello dear readers.

I say readers because today I would like to introduce you to a friend of mine. His name is Dan and he writes about the books that he reads.

A little back story…

Getting to Know is something new that I’m trying so that I can introduce you to other things that I like beyond the videos that I shared on Fun Video Friday. This might include people, websites, books, movies, TV shows, whatever. I’m not sure if it will have a set schedule or just be a thing that I put out as I find things I want to share, I’m playing it very fast and loose. I’m a wild man.

A little back story about Dan…

Dan and I have been friends since junior high – over 20 years. He has always been a good writer, but rarely done enough with it. He wrote a spec script for “Seinfeld” that was so good that our mutual friend, Jeff, used to reference it as if it were a real episode. If Dan drank a bit more he might be the very perfect model of the modern American novelist. Or the classic American novelist? My desire to make an Pirates of Penzance reference may have clouded that description. Regardless, Dan is a good writer who writes about what he reads. His website, Bookthump.com, is a series of book reviews that are both a comment on the book and his personal relationship to the experience of reading that book.

Unlike other reviews, the personal reflections offer a way for you, as the reader, to get a better feel for the story. I find that his reviews tend to be more persuasive when I think about what I want to add to my reading list. I’ll admit that there is a certain amount of bias; he and I have known each other a long time and we share similar interests, but I feel that his authentic approach and honest thoughts on what he reads will appeal to a wide audience.

Here are some of Dan’s favorite posts:

The Martian

Shaman

Blood River

And one that I really enjoyed:

Misery

Check them out. Let me know what you think. Let him know what you think.

See you soon.

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Filed under blatant plug, books, creativity, fiction, geek, high school, hobby, inspiration, internet, writing

52 in 52 Update

Seventeen.

I got to seventeen.

Part of this experiment was to make me a better writer, to condition myself by writing every day and, through practice, become better at turning around a story on a deadline. To a certain extent I feel like this project was successful. I’m proud of the stories that were written, even the ones I haven’t had a chance to transcribe yet (I’m still working on that, but will probably let them sit on the back burner for now). But I kept running into the same problem: I felt like I had a limited voice when it came to story telling. Instead of being able to experiment with narrative devices I relied on what I knew worked and after story nine I felt like it was more about idea generation than actual writing.

Then I started feeling the pressure of the deadline, especially as I started collecting more and more of the stories in my story journal and not actually typing them on the computer. As that panic grew it effected what I  considered writing next. I looked for shortcuts to try and have enough time during the week to transcribe in addition to writing additional content – and then I’d get so worked up that I barely got the new content done.

So I decided to stop torturing myself. I collected my remaining ideas (and keep cataloging the new ones) and started looking for ways to expand my storytelling voice. Any writer will tell you that a good writer reads and I’m not too ashamed to admit that I’m terrible about reading. I take that back, I actually enjoy reading quite a bit  but have been terrible at committing to reading anything that isn’t a script for the last seven years or so. The last book I read was “On The Road” by Jack Kerouac about three years ago. It was good. I liked it. I think I need to do more of it. So I am. I’m starting by re-visiting “A Clockwork Orange” by Anthony Burgess. I read it last when I was in college during my exploratory years watching Stanley Kubrick movies. Then I have a list of books that I either never read or read so long ago that I barely remember reading them. If you have suggestions please feel free to pass them my way!

See you next time!

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Filed under 52 in 52, 52 stories in 52 weeks, books, projects, reading

Books

In spite of my lack of reading in recent years, I’ve always loved books. For a long time science fiction and fantasy were my preferred genres, but I’d occasionally dip into non-fiction or, some of my favorites, text books.

With text books I never remember the actual titles, but always enjoyed trying to figure out and learning the different subjects covered. I’ve always believed that knowing a little bit about everything is a good thing and so I make an effort to keep up.

The internet age has changed my “study habits” quite a bit. With the advent of Google search and Wikipedia it isn’t hard to look up whatever may be crossing my mind at any given moment. Between that and constant moving since 2006 I haven’t really invested in many physical, solid books. I kind of miss them.

Rene is an avid reader. Much like Belle from “Beauty and the Beast” she always has her nose in a book; well, the modern equivalent, a Kindle. In fact that’s probably the best gift I’ve ever given her. Sure, she likes the wedding ring, but she gets a lot more use out of the Kindle.

Seeing her love of books has helped re-kindle (no pun intended) mine.

Last night as I was doing some catch-up work I glanced at the meager book case I have on my work desk, all blank books that I have used, am using or will use in the future.

Blank books have always been my weakness in book stores. I like that they have to be filled and I like to find things to write just to fill them up. When I was in high school and “16 & angry” my friends and I would spend a lot of time at Bookstar, which was another brand of Barnes & Noble. We’d be there for hours sometimes looking at reference books, the magazine rack, whatever we could find. My favorite, though, was the blank book isle. Being at that age where everything you think and feel seems monumentally important meant that these ideas required a book of equal impressiveness to contain them. I had many: The Burlap book, the gray book, a series of bugs Bunny retro poster journals, the “coffee” book. I still have them all. Many are tucked away in storage because what’s written in them, while gospel of the times, can now clearly be seen as the ramblings of a self-important teenager. It’s embarrassing to look at. Oh, the bad poetry! But even with that baggage I still like to look at the blank books.

Now I’ve become quite a Moleskine fanatic. I keep a series of blank pocket sized books, I use their cover for my tablet and I even bought the attachable pen. It’s all very pretentious, but I’m O.K. with that.

I still have a weird desire to just fill the books, but now I make an effort to make sure what I actually write down is worth reading again later – even if it’s just a reminder for myself. It cuts down on the number of books that I buy, but that’s probably a good thing. Besides, it’s the browsing at the  books that’s always the most fun.

So that’s my obscure obsession, what about you? Let me know in the comments!

Also, Rene really does love her Kindle, it’s great. I have links at the bottom for the Fire and new Paperwhite if you’d like to check them out.


See you next time!

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Filed under books, general, rambling