Category Archives: how-to

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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Day 430 Operation: Television’s Curtis Andersen – Phase 2 & Your Headshots

Happy New Year!

If you didn’t see my last video, I was able to achieve the primary goal of booking a job on TV at the end of the year! In case you missed it, here it is:

The show is a new show that has an NDA the length of my arm so I can’t say a bloody thing about it, but I promise I won’t shut up about it once I can. So now that I can unironically call myself “Television’s Curtis Andersen” again it’s time to move on to Phase 2 – getting on a genre show! What’s a genre show? Watch the new video to find out.

Also, to add a little actual advice to this blog after a long stretch of just me talking about myself and auditions, I talk a little bit about the importance of getting a good headshot – because I’ve seen a lot of BAD headshots lately.

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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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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 Business: Adi Shankar Breaks Down Indie Film Finance

The Business Logo

I talk a lot about the changing entertainment industry in this blog, mostly from the perspective of an actor, but the business of movie making itself is in constant flux. I rarely talk about the projects that we are working on until they feel like they are in a position where they look like they are definitely going to happen.

“But Curtis, ” I hear you saying, “you’ve talked about things that have totally gone belly up before. What about those?”

Well, dear readers, those projects that I’ve talked about that ended up not working were all victims of a dangerous calculus known as Independent Film Finance. Getting a film made is a metaphorical tightrope walk over a mile deep chasm filled with razor blades and sulphuric acid. At any moment a stiff breeze could come by and destroy you and everything you’ve worked on – but the promise of a completed project is enough to make you try and if you get to the other side…? Oh there is no sweeter feeling of satisfaction!

However the realities of film finance are not well known among the audience. If you knew what filmmakers know you’d be amazed that any movie ever got made ever and how terrible movies are getting made at all. In the interest of education I’d like to share with you a video made by indie filmmaker Adi Shankar, he’s the guy responsible for the gritty Power Rangers remake that hit all the blogs in late February/early March. He is also the guy behind DREDD which was a great adaptation of the popular comic hero judge Dredd. He breaks down, in a wonderfully efficient way, how independent films get made currently. It is beautifully succinct. Oh, and there’s adult language so be aware.

How do you feel about all this? What movies would you like to see happen? What movie would you erase from existence if you could?

See you next time!

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March 9, 2015 · 8:00 am

A Lesson on Screen Writing by Michael Tabb

michaeltabb-215

I have the pleasure of knowing screenwriter Michael Tabb. Many years ago I tried very hard to get one of his scripts made, but it was during the darkest times of the economic meltdown and the funding was not secured. However that script has stuck with me as one those that “got away.” It was one of the finest movies about changing friendships that I’ve ever read. A few years later Michael helped out a friend of mine during a set of rewrites and I scribbled the notes that he gave down in a notebook I still keep on my desk. They still come in handy to this day.

So when I learned that Michael was writing a series of articles about screenwriting for ScriptMag.com I dug right in. His most recent article is about a character type that is one of my favorites:

The Antagonist

It’s a master class that is free on the internet so I hope you take advantage of it and enjoy it. Check out the other articles as well, it’s all good stuff.

See you next time!

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Serve The Mission

Startup Post Art

Rene and I have a mantra for this year: Only Do What Serves The Mission.

Pretty simple, really, when you boil it down. We have come up with a series of goals that we want to achieve. These goals combined are The Mission and all the things we do, public and private, need to help advance The Mission.

This mind set has kept us very focused, which hasn’t always been the easiest thing for us the last few years. Personally speaking I’ve been professionally scattered since 2006. At the time I was a year into my producing career and wasn’t really pursuing acting. There were some major changes in my personal life and these things converged into a reactive state of mind instead of me being proactive. To that end I followed the money, since I needed it, but it was money without passion or drive so it wasn’t satisfying and really only paid enough for it to barely be enough. Some good things came out of that time, mostly friendships and a few projects here and there, but a majority of that time was spent with the career equivalent of a headache. Who wants that?

The worst thing is, I know what it’s like to do things the other way. For most of my career I was a “damn the torpedoes, full steam ahead!” kind of guy. My head was down and I charged forward. I knew what I wanted and didn’t let anything get in the way.  I quit jobs, didn’t worry about advancement, didn’t let anything get in the way of the bigger goal – The Mission – and I had a lot of success doing that.

But then the fear came.

It’s really easy to keep doing what you know you should when you are experiencing more success than failure. But eventually that scale is going to tip and that’s when you start second guessing yourself. Am I doing this right? What if people don’t like it? Where’s my next paycheck coming from? A whole bunch of questions that spawn from fear. Don’t get me wrong, fear can be valuable. It can be a motivator, keep you out of hazardous situations, and heighten your awareness, but if you let it control you then you’ve lost track – you’re not serving The Mission.

In order to serve The Mission you must identify what The Mission is. Companies do this with Mission Statements. I have a mission in the acting class I teach for the actors in it (come on in to learn about that).  You can have a Mission too as long as you have specific goals. My friend, Jeff Garvin, has a FANTASTIC video about this process. See it below:

6 Secrets of Creative Goal Setting

Check out the rest of the blog too. And, if you get a chance, tell him that 7k needs to do a reunion tour.

Once you have your goals you need to make sure that your whole team is on the same page. This is really important. Nothing can derail a plan like conflicting ideas on where you’re going. I’ve watched this, more than anything else, destroy so many strong projects. And it isn’t always obvious that you aren’t on the same page until it’s too late. It takes some very honest introspection to see if things are all going the same direction or if you’re just hoping that they are. But when you are on the same page it hits you in the face, metaphorically, to remind you that it’s happening. Rene and I have repeatedly remarked to each other how relieving it is to be on the same page together. It’s made things so easy. Even hard decisions seem to just naturally fall into the right answer. That’s a very freeing advantage.

Asking the question, “does this serve The Mission” also gives you the greatest power in all business – the ability to say, “no.” If used right, “no” is the the single most powerful word in any language. It is a definitive negative and doesn’t allow for any mis-reading. It might be ignored, but your intention is never in question. Knowing what to say no to is a skill that can be learned and should be practiced.

What we’re doing isn’t new and it isn’t a secret, lots of very successful people do this all the time. What we have done is identified the process in a way that works well for us – and so far it’s working beyond expectations.

Do you have a Mission? Is there anything you’d add to the process? Let me know in the comments.

See you soon.

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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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Fun Video Friday – Judge Dredd with Puppets!

Being an independent filmmaker who has done his fair share of super low budget productions I always have an appreciation for getting special effects at a reasonable price. Back in the mid to late 2000’s I saw some of the early episodes of DIY Effects and really enjoyed them. I thought that these guys had vanished into the electronic soup of the internet – but no! They are now sponsored by Epix and still making DIY videos.

This one I particularly like because it has puppets. And it led me to watching Dredd which was a surprisingly good movie.

See you next time!

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Filed under comic books, comic movies, diy, filmmaking, fun video friday, how-to, independent film, judge dredd, video, YouTube

“Don’t Travel Without Your Guns!”

Back when I was a half-assed celebrity I used to travel with a celebrity basketball team to help out charitable organizations. We would travel wherever and play a basketball game against the home team, who which was made up of representatives of whatever charity or organization were were raising money for.

It was a lot of fun and, even though I wasn’t very good, I felt like a star player just because people would cheer for you for the smallest achievements – which included running without falling down. The bar was set pretty low.

All basketball aside, my favorite trip was to St. Louis, MO. I was a last minute addition to the roster so I wasn’t clear as to who or what we were raising money for, I was just happy to be going. The game was fine, raised a bunch of money, but what I remember most are our travels around the city. We saw the riverboat casinos, experienced how all Anheuser-Busch beers were only $1.25 vs the $4.00 and up of any other kind of beer (I grew a taste for Bud Light), and our adventures with our host – whose name I cannot remember.

Sometimes my memory, or lack thereof, can be a real disservice. He was a celebrity tap dancer who danced with his family. He was kind, quiet, but also very charismatic. The night after the game we went out for dinner and then visited his dance studio where he, his family and the members of our crew who could dance all showed their stuff. It was kind of like being live at “So You Think You Can Dance.” 
During the dance party our host’s daughter kept getting frustrated because she didn’t have her tap shoes. Her dad told her, “Don’t travel without your guns!” That idea stuck with me more than almost everything else from that trip. It’s such a simple lesson for creative types. 
When your job is being an artist, or any kind of creative, there are typically special tools that you require. Just like a lumberjack needs an axe or a saw or business people require computer power we need our tools too. And because art can happen at any time it’s always a good idea to be prepared. Thanks to smart phones and constantly updating technology, being an actor/filmmaker is as easy as having my phone in my pocket, writers can write on the fly and music can be created and played in an app. Admittedly this doesn’t work for everyone, but I hope I’ve made my point. 
In a world where being and artist and making a living as a creative is becoming more possible, this lesson is truer now than ever before. Things like Vine and Twitter make sharing to an audience an instantaneous act. The power of the internet can reach audiences world wide. A kid with a guitar can have a viral video on YouTube and make a living – but you have to have your “guns.” 
Since that trip I’ve always kept something with me to take notes. In the 90s it was a PDA, after that it was a Blackberry, and now a combination of iPhone, iPad and Moleskine pocket journals. Even though I don’t create as much as I’d like, there have been plenty of times where an idea has at least been recorded in some way lest it be lost forever to the aether. 
So I put it to you, what are your “guns?” What tools do you use that you should always have handy? Tell me in the comments!
See you next time. 

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Acting 101 – Headshots and Headshot Photographers

Headshots are the marketing lifeblood of an actor. They are on every casting site, website, social media page and with you at auditions. A good headshot can help and a bad headshot can kill. As important as they are, people don’t always take them seriously. For the actor just starting out the up front cost of everything can be a bit daunting: casting sites charge, classes charge, some showcases charge and then there’s gas and general living expenses… it makes sense to look for ways to cut costs.

Don’t skimp on your headshots, though!

I’m not saying to spend thousands of dollars – that’s excessive – but you should be prepared to spend between $150-$450 on a good photographer and between 2-4 different looks.

Let’s talk definitions:

Headshot Photographer – A headshot photographer is not:

    • Your cousin who has, “A really good camera.”
    • Your friend that took that really good picture of you once.
    • A portrait photographer.
When looking for a headshot photographer it’s important to know that they can shoot what is considered a “headshot.” A headshot is more than just a good picture of you, it is a marketing picture of you so it needs to show what you look like (what you really look like, not the idealized, super Photoshopped you), your personality and have that special “something” that will help it stand out among the thousands (yes THOUSANDS) of other submissions that are coming through the casting director’s inbox. There’s a reason why a good photographer costs and it’s because they have developed a way to get all of those elements into a picture. It’s not that any photographer can’t produce those results, but when you’re talking about your career, especially when starting out, do you really want to take your chances with someone who hasn’t developed this skill?
Looks – A look is an outfit or style of dress that you take a series of pictures in. In my last headshot session I did three looks: Casual Business (seen above),
Comedy Casual,
and Casual Commercial. 
There are plenty more you can do as well like Theatrical, Character shots (although those are less viable now a days), “Young Dad or Mom…” There are as many variations as you can think of. Know your type and plan ahead. If you have an agent then ask them if they have any looks they’d like you to shoot. They are trying to get you work, it’s a good idea to give them the materials they need.
So now you may be saying to yourself, “OK, I get it, I need good headshots. Fine, cool. Who do I go to?”
If you have an agent ask for their recommendations. They will usually have a list of people that they like. If you have friends who have killer headshots that you love ask who did them, then interview the photographer and make sure they can shoot what you need. If you live in California here are four photographers that I have used and recommend in no particular order:

Alan Mercer – He does a great job at capturing personality and making a promo photo look and “feel” like you. Lots of celebrity clients, but not celebrity prices: http://www.alanmercer.com/

Aaron Huniu – The nice thing about Aaron is that he will absolutely work with you to create what you need. He shoots documentary style, portrait style, artsy-fartsy, whatever you need:  http://www.aaronhuniuphotography.com/

Molly Hawkey – I just did my new headshots with her and she is an awesome shooter! Lots of fun, funny and, as you can see from the site, she likes to capture the natural “you.” : http://www.hawkeyphotos.com/

The Schultz Bros. – 30-something years later and these guys are still kickin’. OC local and they can do everything. Fun Fact – The Schultz Brothers did my very first headshots over 28 years ago: http://schultzbrosphoto.com/

If you have questions don’t hesitate to ask in the comments.

See you next time!

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Filed under acting, actor 101, actor stuff, headshots, how-to, photos