Category Archives: getting started

This, this, all the this!

If you are a creative, this video will sounds very familiar – but it’s a universal message. Lord knows I’ve been down this road a few times. Determination, persistence and touch of naivete is usually enough to win the day – it’s just the “day” in question usually lasts for years.

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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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Am I a Startup? Part 2: The “Don’ts”

Startup Post Art

In part 1 we covered what a startup is and the four best practices to help get that startup moving, with definitions tweaked to work for the entertainment industry (although those tweaks may work for other industries as well). Having an idea of what to do is important and positive and helps get all the work off on the right foot. That being said, it is nice to also know what pitfalls to avoid so you can do your best not to fail on accident. Just like articles on what to do to help your startup succeed there are as many, if not more, articles about what makes a startup fail.

Thinking about it, that makes sense since, by definition, a startup has no guarantee of success so many of them (most of them even) fail. Entertainment careers are no different. In this life you hear “no” a lot more than “yes.” You can have a series go to pilot and then not get picked up. You can be edited out of a commercial after you’ve already shot it. For resilience we all say that it’s, “just part of the biz” but, part of the biz or not, that much rejection can be draining. So the following are four mistakes that can kill your startup inspired by and paraphrased from this article: The 18 Mistakes That Kill Startups. Why are there not 18? Because not all of the mistakes really apply to my topic. Sure, I could shoehorn in a few descriptions and get all symbolic with the language, but that isn’t the goal. The goal is to have strong points that are easy to identify and avoid to keep things moving in a positive career direction. But if you want to read all 18, and I suggest you do, go to the link.

Before we get started with the actual four mistakes, I’d like to point out a overarching general mistake that the author Paul Graham points out that also makes very good sense in an entertainment career:

“In a sense there’s just one mistake that kills startups: not making something users want. If you make something users want, you’ll probably be fine, whatever else you do or don’t do. And if you don’t make something users want, then you’re dead, whatever else you do or don’t do. So really this is a list of (sic) things that cause startups not to make something users want. Nearly all failure funnels through that.”

In his explanation let’s trade out the word “user” for “audience.” Entertainment exists to be experienced by people, there isn’t any way around that. As a general rule of thumb: make and do the things you believe in and have passion for. Those are the things that have the best chance of taking off and if they don’t you can at least feel good about the attempt.

Now on to the mistakes:

  1. Bad Location. The internet and prosumer equipment have really allowed people to make high quality content just about anywhere, but if you want to work on the bigger shows and films (hell even the big online stuff) you need to be in one of the major entertainment hubs: Los Angeles, New York, Atlanta or New Orleans. Although theres also North Carolina, Chicago, Michigan, New Mexico, Oregon and the occasional shoot in Hawaii. And Canada. Puerto Rico is offering some really nice tax incentives so some productions are moving over there… All kidding aside, even with this expansive list there are still very few cities that can actually handle and support a large amount of filming. If you are ok just shooting with your friends and putting it up online then more power to you. Hollywood is decentralizing and I predict that we’re going to see more migration away from Southern California over the next five to ten years, but there will still be industry hubs where the camera crews live and where you can find a guy who can record decent sound. You want those people so you should be where they are.
  2. Derivative Ideas. Don’t just copy. I know Hollywood does it all the time, but those are the things people make fun of Hollywood for doing. I’m not saying that you can’t have your own spin on an existing idea, but don’t just straight up copy. Here’s an example: Zombies have been the dominate movie monster for over a decade now. There has been zombie everything, but the ones I remember: The Walking Dead, 28 Days Later, and Shaun of the Dead all had unique takes on the genre. You don’t need to be the first person with an idea, but you do need to have a way to make it your own.
  3. Choosing the wrong platform. This literally came up in conversation today and it seems like something that I talk about with people all the time. There is both a literal and a figurative meaning to “platform.” The literal has to do with distribution of content that you and your team may be creating. When you decide how to get it out to the audience you either need to build to the distribution you have access to or hustle to get the distribution you feel the content requires. For example: I spoke to a buddy just today about their new project that, in my opinion (which happened to be an opinion he shared), needs to be a web release. It is built in tight little vignettes that are great for online audiences and the pieces all combine together into one big narrative that he could release as a stand-alone product and/or send to film festivals. But there is talk about converting it to feature length and trying to get the funding to do a movie version. In my head, at this time with the options available to them, online seems like the no brainer. Doing this project as a television show wouldn’t work, the premise wouldn’t last beyond a season. Doing it as a movie might work, but it would require a heavy rewrite and a massive investment. Right now they have a completed product ready to launch and it would be a shame not to release it. The figurative meaning of “platform” is for the actor. We can trade out “platform” for “type.” One of the biggest complaints that I hear from my casting director friends is that people submit for things that they have no chance of getting. As an responsible auditioning actor you need to be honest with yourself about your type. If you happen to be a strawberry blond skinny guy who does prat falls and makes faces you should not submit yourself for roles where they usually cast Ian Somerhalder. I promise you, Ian Somerhalder is going to get that part. Overall I think the lesson here is to play to your strengths. Swinging for the fences is great and all,  but you still need to be smart about it.
  4. Not wanting to get your hands dirty. This is probably the biggest crime in all of the entertainment business, especially for people new to it. As great as this job is, there is nothing easy about it. If it were easy everyone would do it because it’s awesome. A lot more people could do it, but most are not willing to put in the amount of work that it takes to do it right. Hell, even thirty years later I’m still finding ways that I’m deficient in my efforts. It’s an ever changing business that requires constant effort. If you’re not up for that find something else to do with your time.

Did I miss anything? Are there any best practices that I could have added to part 1? Let me know in the comments.

See you next time.

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Chicago & Creativity

Over the weekend Rene and I had the pleasure of visiting Chicago. I delivered the Think Fast seminar at the National Auctioneer’s Association Conference. We had a fantastic time in Chicago, we loved so many things about it, enough for it to be a completely different post later. Today I want to talk about the conference.

The point of the conference is continued education for the benefit auctioneers who attend. They get a chance to brush up on skills and learn new techniques. I was invited to help share improvisation techniques to aid in crowd control and auction flow. We did a series of games designed to keep them from second guessing themselves and to engage the creative centers of their brains. 
These are very personable people with gregarious personalities. They have a performer’s mentality and a salesmen’s drive. They write their own scripts, interact with people constantly and do the job of being both a host and performer.  These are creative people, but many of them had forgotten that. 
When I was first approached about speaking at the conference one of the specifics that was mentioned was to help come up with snappy patter and one-liners. That’s a tough thing to do for other people in a general way. When writing comedy it’s best to write to your subject. General jokes create general results. Specific jokes create specific results, better results. The fact of the matter is that they really didn’t need my help coming up with clever or snappy patter. Every one of the people at that conference has all the ability they need, they just needed the confidence to trust themselves. 
And that’s really the point of it all. So many people forget in the course of what they’re doing that part of why they are doing whatever it is they are doing, they are doing it because they had an idea about it. Something triggered their creativity and got them to where they are at. 
Now I know what some of the more cynical of you are thinking, “What about people in menial jobs? What kind of creativity got them there?” And, ok, I’ll give you that the job itself may not be the end goal, but they got that job for a reason. They needed to pay for something and that job is going to help do that. Everybody has their reasons. And sometimes the motivation can lead down some convoluted paths that distract you from the ultimate goal. All the more reason to get refocused! 
During the exercises you could see the spark light up as they remembered that they already knew how to do this stuff. They brought their own talents out and they got excited! It was really neat to see. Tools are great but seeing people use them, effectively, is always better. 
I think that we can all forget sometimes how to use our talents, at least to their full extent. It’s easy to get caught up using them in certain ways, simple ways. Sometimes you don’t get challenged, worse we don’t always challenge ourselves. Talents are different than skills. Skills are learned, require practice and can fade from lack of use. Talents are innate. The stick around whether we want them or not. Skills can enhance a talent, but skills can never replace a talent. 
I have heard it said, and it makes a nice poetic notion, that when you teach you learn as much as you pass on. I definitely learned some things during the conference. While talking to them I was reminded that I haven’t really been utilizing my talents as much either. It was motivating. I saw what it was like for them to be making a living doing what they love. That was inspiring. And I was pointed to a Facebook group all about grilling and barbecuing. It looks delicious!
So I put it to you, use your talents. They don’t need to make you famous, but they can make a difference, even if that difference is just making you a little bit happier. 
But that’s just me, what do you think? Let’s talk in he comments. 
See you next time!

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Work Out Vlog 1

To celebrate my first day of working out and my dedication to getting myself fit (and trimming down on my growing gut) I have recorded a vlog.

I thought about doing a before and after, but only after I had started my cardio. then I thought about doing a video in the gym, but It was my first time there and I didn’t want to break any rules inadvertently (there’s a code about that, right?). So here’s the vlog I shot when I got home. After I ate. And watched an episode of “The IT Crowd.” Also, I look like hell, but this is a “warts and all thing,” so I’m not going to edit it, filter it or try and make it pretty. And that white streak by my nose is my scar, not a booger.

Also, this Crunch Gym is really nice.

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Actor Stuff


I got a request to do more blogs about my work on TV, specifically from my time on Sabrina the Teenage Witch. Intellectually I thought this would be a really good idea, but when I actually sat down to write about it I had a really hard time getting anything on paper. I think this is mostly because I don’t know where to start or really what to talk about. I could bring up fun stories about being on set, the actual process of being a supporting guy on a network show, what it’s like being in your early twenties and not sure what to make of some really rapid success or all of the above but the line between “interesting” and “self-indulgent” seems pretty thin and I want to be very careful not to cross it.

So today, as I try to keep up my pace with daily blog updates, I thought I’d offer some free advice to the young actors that are out there who really want to have a career but don’t know what to do about it. What I’m going to talk about are some pretty basic things that you might already know about and also some insights from what I have seen recently in the world of show business.

Who is this blog written for: the young actor or actress who is 11 years old or older who knows that this is what s/he want to do and has family support or a babysitting job to be able to fund some of the costs of doing business. For kids that are younger the business is a bit different and the expectations of that age is pretty different. These are some of the proactive things that an actor can do to start getting work and make a name for themselves.

  1. Watch TV & Movies. I always laugh when I here people call themselves “intellectual” and their proof is that they don’t watch television. You’re not an intellectual, you’re a prick. If you want to work in television and film you better know what is getting made on television and film. You will find it very difficult to audition as “an Archie Bunker type” if you have no idea who “Archie Bunker” is. Especially with the growth of children’s television, if you don’t know how an episode of Hannah Montana typically goes you might not get some of the nuances of the audition material. You don’t want to go to a doctor who hasn’t seen other patients and no one wants to hire an actor who doesn’t a show. Know your media – its your job!
  2. You Need Headshots. There are certain costs of doing business when you decide you’re going to be an actor and headshots are one of them. These are the pictures that you, your agent, your manager, whomever gets you work uses to send to casting directors and are the first cut when you try to get a job. Your headshot should look like you. It sounds ridiculous right, why wouldn’t your headshot look like you? You’d be AMAZED at what some people’s shots look like! I have cast a few things myself and hate it when I see a picture, it looks right, we call that person in and then when they get there you can’t even recognize them! Sure you let them read, but if I need a fat redhead and you come in as a gaunt brunette I can’t use you no matter how good you are, dude. I’ve also heard stories of actors who use other people’s shots just to get in the door and then expect to impress casting so much that they get the job no matter what the breakdown. Has this ever happened, ever? Maybe, but it’s the stuff of legend and more often than not you’re just wasting every one’s time and pissing casting off. So, make sure your pictures look like you! You don’t need to be a raving beauty – you need to be honest. There are roles out there for you! So where do you go to get your shots? I’ve got two photographers that I really like and that I use. Shultz Brother’s Photography and Alan Mercer Photography. Click on the links to see their sites and if you use them let them know I sent you, maybe they’ll cut you a deal. If you’ve been to my MySpace page or the Facebook Fan Page then you’ve seen work from both of them. The prices are reasonable, not cheap but certainly not expensive, you definitely get what you pay for and, trust me, it’s worth paying for quality. I wouldn’t endorse these guys if I didn’t work off these pictures and I do. That’s about the best endorsement you can get. When getting your pictures printed I use Reproductions LA. Again the prices and quality are both pretty good. Printed headshots are not as necessary as they used to be. Back in the day I’d go through 300 pictures a year. Now a days, because so much casting is done online, I can’t even get through 100. you need hard copies, but you don’t have to print as many as you used to. Get 100 and reorder if you need to.
  3. Know Your Type! Sure every girl wants to be the ingenue and every guy wants to be a leading man. You need to be honest with yourself about where you actually fit, though. I’m not the leading man type. I’m the goofy friend type. I’m skinny and average height and have big teeth. I make people laugh and get to wear fun, outlandish outfits. That’s what I do and I am really good at it. Even if you are the leading man or ingenue type you may want to try and market yourself differently. There are LOTS of people out there trying to be the next Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, but it’s a well know fact that character actors work forever, while pretty people have a shelf life. Look at Chris Pine. Sure now he’s Captain Kirk, but he was working way before as crazy people – go look at Smoking Aces again and see if you can spot him.
  4. Sign up for LA Casting & Actors Access. These are the two casting sites that are used by casting directors in town. Let me link them again: LA Casting & Actors Access. They cost money, again cost of doing business, but it’s an investment. You need access to the job breakdowns and this is how you get it. More than likely you are not union. These sites have both union and non-union work on them. Another site that you’ll probably want to sign up on, that is free, is the Casting Frontier. It is a single place to put your headshot, resume and all of your sizes – saves you a hell of a lot of time in the waiting room and most commercial casting offices require that you have an account now.
  5. SAG? AFTRA? Union? It’s every young actor’s goal to get their Screen Actor’s Guild (SAG) card. It’s hard to do and there are several ways to do. However, for the purposes of this blog, it’s not a “start-up” type thing so I will not cover the aspects of getting in the unions here – that’s for later.

This is a good place to start. I hope this helps and if you have questions or comments I look forward to hearing them!

See you tomorrow!

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