Press Clippings

Some exciting stuff landed in my inbox this week, thanks to a Google Alert I have set up for my own name (doesn’t everybody?). Needless to say, it all references Leap Year Season 2, but it’s always great to see your name in print. Or LCD.

  • tubefilter – Great article that goes into some detail about HLG Films, and the results of the first season on Hiscox brand awareness.
  • Hollywood Reporter – A bit lighter reading than the tubefilter article, but it’s still my name in Hollywood Reporter.
  • PR Newswire – Not that impressive in and of itself since it’s just where all the press releases go, but it’s a nicely-written article and again, my name is in it.
  • Pontiac Daily Leader – I think “Drew” and “Lanning” appeared somewhere in this article, because it sure had nothing to do with me. In the interests of full transparency I’m posting it anyway.
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Kindle Fire vs. iPad Review

Do NOT watch Green Lantern. Ever.

So I’ve had a Kindle Fire now since Christmas, thanks to my mother and my insatiable hunger for gadgets. As the former long-time owner of an iPad (it now more or less belongs to my wife and 6-year-old son now), I think I can compare the two in terms that should make it easy to decide which to get if you’re in the market for a tablet.

They’re Nothing Alike

First, you need to get it out of your head that they’re comparable in any way. The Kindle Fire is $199, while the lowest-priced iPad 2 is currently $499, which was also the entry price-point for the original model when it first released. While the so-called “Apple Tax” may account for some of that, features and performance account for the rest. When it comes to Apple products, the iPad is actually the most fairly-priced device when you compare it to the competition.

Now you may not want something that compares to an iPad. Or you may want an Android tablet because it’s an open platform that gives you greater access to your device. Or you might hate Apple and everything it stands for, so are looking at the alternatives and want a means to compare the two. Let me save you some time be saying this: if you have the disposable income, go ahead and get the iPad. But if you’re looking for something smaller than the iPad or just hate iOS, then read on and see if the Kindle is right for you.

Hardware

I don’t know much about specs, memory, chipset, etc., so I won’t get into all that jazz. The Kindle Fire is solidly built, has a nice rubberized back that keeps you from having the “Oh god I’m about to drop it!” feeling, and despite it’s square form factor seems to be a good fit for my (meat-hook sized) hands. Due to its smaller size it is lighter and easier to hold for a longer duration, such as that commuter rail ride to and from work everyday. Reading on the iPad my hands, fingers, wrists would get noticeably fatigued, but Kindle is much better in that regard.

Software

This is the Kindle’s biggest problem versus the iPad, for obvious reasons. The App Store is just a much larger marketplace for apps in general. Not only that, but if you take a look at the top sales charts for the Amazon App Store and the iTunes App Store you’ll find much higher-quality apps on the iOS side in terms of features, appearance, interface, and overall value. Even “5-star” Android apps and games tend to look clunky and clumsy.

The Kindle itself works well, though it’s generally sluggish. Quitting an app takes you to the home screen, where sometimes it takes a full 5 seconds to redraw, which would be unheard of on an iOS device.

Day-To-Day Use

So the Kindle loses in a slap-fight with the iPad. Does mean it’s not worthwhile? Of course not, after all it is a $199 device, so you get what you pay for. Where the Kindle shines is in general day-to-day use.

Remember when you bought your iPad and you said “Yeah, I’ll keep it around for surfing the web and reading email”, but then you gradually started using it for almost every computer-related task in the house? It doesn’t hurt that 90% of our computer-related tasks are internet and email but still, the iPad has wormed its way into the everyday lives of anyone who’s bought one.

The Kindle just doesn’t work that way. It’s okay for browsing the internet, in fact for that it works very well. The on-screen keyboard is small of course, so it’s great for reading but not writing email. So that’s pretty much out. You won’t be writing a screenplay or a novel on this little thing.

Watching videos works well, and it’s a nice size between the iPhone and the iPad. Not too small, and not so large that it gets heavy when you’re holding the device in one hand while standing on a cross-town bus. You also have direct access to your Amazon books library, can instantly download any ebooks you’ve purchased, and can email documents to a unique email address and have them delivered wirelessly to your Fire.

Buying apps is also a better experience than on the iPad: you can browse the Amazon App Store, click “one-click purchase”, and the next time you’re connected to WiFi you can pull your purchased apps out of thin air. It’s like magic!

I’ve also found that it’s a great little comic reader, if you can just get your hands on a CBZ app that you like and get the comics themselves. If you spring for Amazon Prime then you have instant, free access to thousands of movies and TV shows, though as of yet there is no output for the Kindle Fire so you’re stuck watching on its (admittedly beautiful and bright) screen.

Battery life is another place where the Kindle is a total loser. While I can leave the iPad laying around the house for over a week and be confident that it will work the next time I need it, the Kindle Fire dies within a matter of days of non-use.

Overall

I was pretty harsh on the Fire, but it’s actually a decent device. If you get courageous you can root it and give yourself access to Google’s Android Market for a wider variety of apps, but frankly it just doesn’t seem worth it. The Kindle Fire is underpowered for most tablet-computer uses, but it does just fine at what it was intended for: reading books, watching video, and just generally having a larger-than-iPhone screen around to consume your mass media on. It’s smaller and more convenient, though with that smaller size and price comes a lack of features.

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Audition Advice From NBC’s “Smash”

Spoilers Ahead, don’t say I didn’t warn you.

I’m not exactly sure why I watched the first episode of the new show Smash, which is set to premiere on February 6 but can currently be watched through Xfinity’s OnDemand for free. I mean I know why, my wife put it on while we were waiting for The Good Wife to start, but I don’t know why I finished it afterwards.

It’s actually a very good show, if a little unimaginative and safe in its execution. The writing, acting, and editing styles could have been lifted from any one-hour drama broadcast over the past ten years, and you’d never notice as long as the hair and fashion were kept up to date. That said, Katharine McPhee is actually a stand-out in terms of her acting (and singing, she is after all an American Idol runner-up), and Debra Messing is less annoying than I’ve ever seen her (though she inexplicably wears a scarf indoors all the damn time).

What I noticed while watching the pilot was a scene in which Katharine McPhee (I seriously can’t be bothered to learn their names, I’ve only seen one episode) auditions for a role in Marilyn, the Music, the fictional Broadway show that this whole series revolves around. There are a number of great lessons to be learned for actors of all types, but first let’s set the scene.

In the waiting room, she and we the audience realize that she is the only girl to show up not having dressed the part. Everyone else is dressed like Marilyn, but McPhee is in some… I don’t know, I’m not a fashion guy, just some regular street clothes. The girl who goes in before her sings some 50s Marilyn-style period song, while Katharine sings  something contemporary. During her song she imagines her boyfriend seated before her, and despite the fact that there is only a piano for accompaniment she hears drums and full instrumental backing in her head.

She blows everyone away and gets a callback. Good times.

So what can we learn from this?

  • Dressing the part – Everyone will do it for the first audition, so should you? There’s no right answer to that, as it will depend on the role and the market, but seriously ask that question before you put on a full tuxedo or that goalie mask, swim fins, and tutu that are on the breakdown.
  • Song choice (or monologue choice, etc.) – Rather than sing something that Marilyn did, she chose a contemporary song that evoked images and memories of Marilyn Monroe. Anyone can sing “Happy Birthday” like Marilyn (and so did she, later in the episode). We could also fold into this how you might interpret the sides that are provided beforehand… are there beats that everyone and their brother would interpret the same way? How can you play them differently?
  • Audience – McPhee didn’t just sing the song for the director and the writers, she had a real, tangible person in her mind and directed it to him (her boyfriend, in this case). This gave her the emotional core she needed to really dive into the song and let her feelings guide her performance, and ensured she wouldn’t feel silly doing all those hand motions that singers sometimes do.
  • Know Your Material – This seems obvious but people ignore it all the time. Whether its a song, monologue, or sides you need to go in knowing the stuff cold. Yes, at a union audition you are supposed to get paid if they require you to memorize the lines beforehand. Too bad, do it anyway. You can’t start acting until you have the script out of your hands.

One other thing that came up was when she got the call back. She didn’t do “sexy” Marilyn for the audition, but she knew damn well that they would need to see “sexy” Marilyn for the callback. Playing against the role is great to get noticed and show the casting people that you have the confidence and skill to perform, but you will eventually need to show that you can also give them what they’re looking for. If they say that want Jim Carrey it may be fine to go into the first reading as Bob Newhart, but they’ll probably want to see Jim Carrey for the callback.

So why didn’t I love the show Smash overall? The ending. It went from being a standard TV drama with some musical numbers (that were fully integrated and motivated by the story), to a straight-up musical. I love musicals, I grew up in musicals, most of my technical experience is through running lights and stage managing for musicals… but I didn’t want this to be a boring old musical. People singing in the mirror for no good reason, cutting back and forth between people on opposite sides of town singing the same song… that’s the musical stuff that is old-fashioned and out of place, especially on TV. Hopefully they nip this in the bud for future episodes and get the show back the way it was for the first 40 minutes of the pilot.

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About Being Unemployed

I’ll tell you one thing about not having a job: it’s pretty awesome. I know my wife and my son thought it was pretty awesome, but the flip-side to that is my landlord probably wasn’t so thrilled about it.

After doing the 7-Eleven Road Trip Rally, I quit my job of 15 years. It’s was scary, fun, and exciting all at the same time. It lasted for about 18 months, during which time I did another road trip with 7-Eleven, shot a web series, made a national commercial, and filled the rest of the time volunteering at my son’s school and just hanging out.

I wish I could say I did something truly memorable in those 18 months, like write a novel or a movie or learn to hang-glide or something, but the sad truth of the matter is that just didn’t happen. I booked a lot of work and generally became a better, more talented, more hire-able actor, but that’s about it.

So now I’m no longer unemployed, I’m back working for the same company that I quit so many months ago. They were gracious enough to give me a job that I actually like better than my old one, that pays a decent salary, and that gives me some creative freedom in how I get the job done (though it bores me to tears sometimes and generally makes me wish I had a handgun permit).

That said, working again isn’t all that bad. One thing I noticed immediately after jumping back into the labor pool is how much I’d missed talking to people besides the wife and son living at home. I mean my wife is great: smart, funny, unpredictable; but after spending your whole day with each other, what else is there to really talk about? And my son, who is now 6, doesn’t talk about much besides various schoolyard injustices that have been leveled against him.

So getting back in the mix with adults that spend more than 60 minutes outside of my presence any given week was a real pleasing shock to the system. Who are these people, I would think to myself. How do they have experiences that are so different from mine?. It was a real eye-opener.

As anyone who has been working for longer than a week knows, your short-term infatuation with your co-workers and their different lives that they lead, wears off rather quickly. Everybody is just as boring as everybody else, in their own peculiar way. It turns out that nobody else spent their time off learning how to hang-glide, either.

So what does this all mean? I’m not sure, despite the fact that I’m the jerk that’s been talking about it for the past 400 words. You could say the grass is always greener or some such horse manure, but unfortunately all I really think I learned from my time off was this: other than not having any money, being unemployed is pretty fucking great.

Categories: Acting, Family | 1 Comment

Where Have I Been?!

So it’s been awhile since I posted anything on my blog, and for that I owe all twelve of you reading this an apology. I kid, I kid… I’m one of the twelve reading this, so it’s really only eleven people I owe an apology to.

Why has it been so long? I would blame Twitter and Facebook, and that might even be partially accurate, except for the fact that the real reason is simpler: I’m lazy. I post all the time to Twitter and Facebook, but guess what? I only post to Twitter and it automagically feeds my Facebook status. So I’ve set myself up in such a way that I only have a responsibility to post 140 characters or less and it populates to the two major networks of people that can reasonably be accused of giving a shit about what’s going on in my life. Pretty cool, huh?

So why the blog at all then? I’m not really sure. I guess for when you have something to talk about that’s more than 140 characters in importance? If you’ve read this far then you no doubt realized about 500 characters ago that I have nothing really that important to talk about so far, so why am I even writing this?

Because I promised myself that I would, and I keep my promises.

It’s not exactly a New Year’s Resolution, because those are dumb and I never really thought New Year’s was that important a holiday in the first place. You see, writing is something that I really, really enjoy but never actually do. It’s kind of like acting in that sense, only with writing there is one very important difference: you can do it whenever you want.

I can surely act whenever I want, but 99% of the time that amounts to acting very strange in a very public place, with people either not paying attention to you or actively avoiding you. With acting you are mostly subject to the whims and caprices of other people’s choices, other people that may or may not decide to use you in their project. Then once you do book a project you are at the mercy of the Scheduling Gods and have to come and go at their pleasure.

Writing is something that requires only your mind and some time, and that time can come whenever and wherever you decide it to. I’ve always liked that about writing, and it only took about 25 years for me to come back around to something I used to really, really love doing and start really making an effort to do it again.

So that pretty much starts here, with committing to writing every day. Now hold on, I didn’t say I would write on this blog every day, I have just committed to 500 words of writing per day. I do actually have a couple writing jobs that actually pay me money and take up my time and talents, and I fully intend for that writing to count towards my daily quota. And why not? Horribly produced corporate videos count as “real acting”, so why can’t blogging-for-hire count as writing?

I also fairly permanently seem to have stopped biting and/or picking my nails, so I figured if I can stop doing that, I can write 500 lousy words a day. Which appears to be what I’ve written here, 558 lousy words. Thanks for reading!

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Leap Year Is Here!

The web series to end all web series has finally debuted, and it is a doozy! We’re even featured on the home page of TVGuide.com! Well we were, really… really!

Anyway, see for yourself what critics around the world have called “the best web series sponsored by a small-business insurance company” by going to LeapYear.tv.

And don’t be all last decade about it, either. Sure you could bookmark that site and check back every week, but why not download it from iTunes or watch it on Hulu?

Oh… and you’re welcome.

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Leap Into The Something

I’m sitting on a transnational flight heading from San Francisco to New York City, to shoot for a few days on a web series project called Leap Year. Without getting into too much detail, it’s basically about some people who take the leap from the business world of steady employment and start their own businesses. The irony of this situation doesn’t escape me, but in case it somehow escapes you I will explain.

Almost a full year ago I was employed with a company that I had worked with for about 15 years. Thanks to 7-Eleven, HLG Films, and what some may call my own stupidity and short-sightedness, I quit that job and have been basically “unemployed” ever since. I’ve been getting work and making money off and on since then (thanks again to HLG Films, some random blogging assigments, and my unemployment insurance filling in the gaps between work), but for the most part I’ve been gradually getting used to the fact that I don’t go to work anymore.

If you’ve been working almost your entire adult life you may not understand this feeling, so let me do my best to explain it to you. You know that feeling you have when you wake up on Saturday (or whatever day starts your “weekend”)? That feeling of “Thank god I’m not working today!” tempered a bit with the thought that you actually have tons of shit to get done in just two short days off? You know that feeling on Sunday where you’re glad you’re not working but it’s kind of bittersweet because you know it’s a fleeting state of being, that you need to get to bed on time tonight because you’re due at work tomorrow morning?

Yeah, what I feel when I wake up in the morning is nothing like that at all.

See I don’t have a hard stop on my “weekend”, my weekend is every day. It took me some time to get used to that fact but it’s finally sunken in. I get work from time to time and have to show up on the set, and for the past few weeks I’ve been shooting almost non-stop, but those are the exceptions right now rather than the rule. It’s a glorious feeling knowing that every night when you lay your head down, the day you will wake up to is just as blank a slate as the day you just completed.

To be sure, I’m not working on a cure for cancer or planning to climb K2 or anything like that. My days are pretty mundane as far as that goes, but they’re fun and exciting to me and that’s all that really matters, right?

So almost a year ago I took a leap of faith that the assignment I was using as an excuse to quit my day job would not be the last one I was offered. So far that has worked out better than I think I was willing to admit that I thought it ever could, and I think it will continue to do so. Back then I said to myself (and even said out loud a couple of times) that I didn’t know if my grand crazy scheme would peter out in six months or a year, but if it did I would be happy with myself for just taking the chance and failing.

I haven’t yet had to settle for that compromise and at this point I’m confident that I never will, but no matter what happens, in the end I’ll always be satisfied that I took that chance and that leap. It’s a strange kind of leap, one where you just keep falling and falling and falling and never quite land, but it’s an exhilirating and exciting fall the whole way down. I just hope I make a me-shaped hole in the desert floor if I ever do crash to the ground, at least then I will have left my mark.

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Black & Decker Commercial

You’ve seen it on HGTV, you’ve apparently seen it on The Sing-Off when you were watching The Sing-Off for some reason, and now it’s here! Watch me rock your world with a wrench built by robots from the future.

Ratcheting Readywrench by Black & Decker

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