Amazing TED Talk On Morality

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Reebok ZIG Voiceover

Here are a couple of great spots HLG Films just shot for Reebok. Check out the sexy voice at the end!

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What’s Going On Here?

Not much, really. I’ve changed my site, and my reel is mere seconds away from being completed. By seconds, I mean days, and by days I likely mean weeks. The point is, it’s in active development and I’ve seen a rough cut, and it’s looking great!

I’ve also paid some attention to my IMDB profile, so that’s worth taking a look at too. Tonight I’ll be updating the resume on there as well.

Thanks for stopping by, look for more changes soon to come.

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The Stress Of The Working Actor

Let me make one thing clear: I know stress. I have a son who just started kindergarten, until recently I worked as a department head in a five-star hotel, and I frequently need to find parking in downtown San Francisco. I know stress, I’ve felt stress, and I have a handful of gray hairs to prove it.

Okay, more like five or six gray hairs, but they’re there.

I’ve lately discovered a new kind of stress, something exciting and exhilarating; as well as annoying, crippling, and gut-wrenching. The stress of trying to make a living as an actor.

Now I’ve been calling myself an “actor” since I moved to San Francisco over 15 years ago. I put that in quotes because until recently I didn’t realize that you can’t truly know what it’s like to be an actor when you work a day job. That may sound like harsh judgment to some of you, but quite frankly it’s the truth.

I may allow exceptions for people with extremely low-paying shitty jobs, and/or restaurant servers.

Okay, fine, let’s revise the original sentence to read like this: you can’t truly know what it’s like to be an actor when you work a decent day job.

Seriously, if you hold a job which you can’t just dump with zero notice when you book decent acting work, then you’re not an actor. You’re someone with a day job who acts.

If you hold a job that you hesitate to quit because you’ve built up “seniority”, or because you would not be able to find another similar job again after the acting job is done, then you’re not really an actor.

And here’s the real clincher: if you feel more stressed out by your day job than by whether or not you’re going to book your most recent audition, then you’re just not an actor.

You act, certainly. You may take classes, you may book work quite often, you may even be exceptionally talented. But you’re not an actor. What’s the difference? I would have asked the same question six months ago. The difference is one of priorities, dedication, and yes, stress.

My stress while working at the hotel was generally money related, but since my income was fixed it was less about “where’s the money coming from?”, and more “Oh shit, we just don’t have enough money!” You dig the difference? It’s sort of a general overall stress rather than a specific stressful situation, like the difference between an aching muscle and a stab in the arm with a butcher knife.

Today I can proudly say that I have no real idea where the money is coming from! It’s that specific stressor, the kidney stone, the migraine headache; rather than a stomach ache or a throbbing temple. I can honestly say it gives me an edge in my auditions, something I know most of the people in my tiny little market of SF just don’t have.

I’m hungry… sometimes literally! I’m desperate for work, and any decent actor knows that no matter how mundane or retarded the script for the shitty non-union industrial that you’re reading for, having an edge like that gives the dialogue purpose and focus.

Quitting that day job may not be the answer for everyone, but it was for me. Maybe even just understanding the difference can help a person reset their priorities and focus on their passion, while still keeping a foot in the door of a steady income. Maybe not, I don’t know. And I hope I never again have to try and find out.

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No Excuses – Do Your Acting Homework

Today I had an audition, a fairly easy one that was right up my alley. I was to wear a suit and just stand up and talk a lot, a skill-set that represents 99% of the jobs I’ve been booking this year.

The problem came with the talking part: see, for some reason I had convinced myself that there were no lines involved in this audition. Thinking on it now I think I got it mixed up with another casting call for the same day, one to which I was not invited. Anyway, I walked in and immediately noticed sides on the table. No problem, I thought, I’ll just fill out the forms and then get to work on the dialogue.

The problem there was that I had arrived on time to the audition, which means that I was essentially late. I didn’t have enough time to fill out my forms and properly prepare for the dialogue, because no sooner had I gotten a headshot out of my bag than I was called in to audition. I couldn’t even send someone else in ahead of me, I was the only schlub there.

So I went in, and luckily the script was on a teleprompter. It was, unfortunately, not the script for which I had minimally prepared (all of a quick glance in the waiting room); so I stumbled through it, choked on my words, swallowed syllables. I basically blew it.

Luckily I’m really good at what I do and even when I blow it, I come off fairly well. The director offered some direction and gave me another go-round. I composed myself inwardly, asked to have the teleprompter slowed down, then did it again like a pro. It was nothing like nailing it the moment you walk through the door, but at least I recovered somewhat gracefully.

Th real problem in all of this debacle is that I’m entirely too lazy a person and have never put in the right amount of work to achieve the goal that I’m after. It takes a lot of effort for me to do the bare minimum; it’s just that I’m generally so good at what most people perceive as the bare minimum that it looks like I’m doing a really great job.

So, to recap your audition checklist:

  • On time means ten minutes early.
  • Know your lines… the correct lines.
  • Read the casting notice or email from your agent carefully, so you know what you’re walking into before you walk in.
  • Review everything once more before you enter the waiting room.
  • Don’t be sitting outside the casting room like a dunce if you’re not ready to go in and nail it. Better to be a few minutes late than on time and unprepared.
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Real-World iPad Extravaganza!

I recently took a three-week road trip across the country, visiting 13 cities in 14 states (we blasted right through Oklahoma without staying the night), meeting dozens of interesting people, and doing lots and lots of work. I know that there are questions that a lot of you would want answered about a trip like that, and I’m here now to answer what is undoubtedly the biggest outstanding question of them all: how did you use your iPad?

So yes, I bought an iPad more or less specifically for this trip. Not only was I the host for the show but I was also the production coordinator for the Red Team, meaning I had to collect and track receipts, get image releases signed and filed, keep everyone on schedule, and… I guess that was about it. It wasn’t a very hard job but it kept me busy.

Why’d I buy an iPad? I was actually confident that I could completely avoid using a standard laptop at all for the entire three weeks. I wanted to pack as lightly as possible considering how much I would be on the move, both from city to city and within each city once we arrived. I also liked the iPad’s battery life since I knew I would be spending long days shooting and wouldn’t necessarily be near electrical outlets. The form factor was a plus as well: anyone who’s tried to balance a laptop on one hand and type with the other because they have no nearby flat surface knows what I’m talking about here.

So the iPad’s form factor and battery life made it perfect, and for reference here is a short list of the basic tasks I would need my traveling computer to perform:

  • track receipts
  • track releases
  • keep a detailed calendar
  • sync with my iPhone (preferably untethered)
  • basic web surfing and emailing
  • video chat with family back home

Aaaand, there’s the rub. Anyone who’s even slightly interested in the iPad knows that it has no camera whatsoever. So that last bullet made it essential that I bring my netbook with me, but other than that I was all set.

Starting in the pre-trip phase, we had a production meeting with everyone to go over details. I searched long and hard in the App Store to find a good note-taking app that I could sport during this meeting, and found several good candidates. I already know about Evernote, but it along with several other apps I tried were exceptional at one thing: crashing and losing data. I was getting pissed off, this was the night before the meeting and I really wanted to start my experiment off right. I finally found and settled on an app called 3banana notes, which had an iPhone client and cloud syncing between the two. It was also free. I still wound up using pen and paper at the meeting since typing on the iPad was just too slow and 3banana didn’t allow for “jotting” or scribbling.

For the trip itself, I briefly toyed with the idea of having people sign releases right within my iPad that I could then email to myself and them later on. Adobe Ideas is a free drawing app that allows you to use any image as a background (perfect!), so I could just set an image of the release as the background, have them sign, then email a PDF of that pic to myself and voila! I actually decided against doing this as well, my reasoning being that it would work well for one or two people but beyond that would be slow and cumbersome. No need to reinvent the wheel here, I just used pen and paper.

Sometime during pre-production I started receiving a lot of documents from the production manager: full schedules, hotel information, contact lists, blah! Frankly I quit my job to avoid this kind of crap, but hey, I was earning two month’s salary in three weeks! So now I needed a way to get these documents onto my iPad in a convenient way and not just that, get the inevitable REVISED versions of the documents onto the iPad as well. I dutifully bought Numbers for iPad, which instantly gave me the ability to open the spreadsheets I needed to refer to. At the time Quickoffice and Docs To Go hadn’t yet developed native Excel-handling apps for iPad so I was stuck with Numbers.

Getting apps on and off the iPad through email was a bit cumbersome though, so I got Goodreader. That’s a fantastic app which allows you to pull docs from your email account (by entering IMAP info, and it only shows you emails with attachments), pull docs from your Dropbox account, WebDAV servers, FTP sites, just about anywhere. The killer is that you can also pull a document from, say, an email and then copy and paste it to your Dropbox account, allowing you to safely archive the email without fear of not being able to find the original file.

This workflow was the least cumbersome option working the iPad, the only other way to get docs on and off this trinket being to hook it up to iTunes and drag them on and off through there. Since I was trying to remain totally untethered as much as possible Goodreader made the most sense.

Overall throughout the trip the iPad was exactly what I needed, no more and no less. Once my toddler tired of seeing Daddy on a computer screen I didn’t even ever end up needing my netbook for anything except the occasional hotel that couldn’t get their shit together and offer working wifi. For the most part I was actually able to get by totally on my iPhone alone, since I had entered our entire schedule as well as all important contacts into Google Calendar and Contacts, and had them both syncing with my iPhone and iPad. This meant that the only time I needed the iPad at all was really at the end of each day when I entered in receipts and release info. My iPad became a glorified data-entry device that I could probably have done without as well, although doing emails and web-browsing on the tiny iPhone screen gets quite old after a while, and the battery almost died on at least half of the days we were on the road.

The iPad though did have its brilliant moments throughout the trip, little things that only the iPad could have done in exactly the way it was done.

One thing the iPad did very well in pre-production was function as a ghetto teleprompter. We had a late-night shoot that went in to the wee hours of the next day and I had to learn dozens of paragraphs of new dialogue, one paragraph at a time. Not hard at all for me, but had I tried to totally memorize each before shooting it would have taken forever. I just had Yuri email me the copy, I put it in Pages, blew up the text size and went full-screen, then we rigged it up to a c-stand by the camera and had ourselves a simple teleprompter.

There was also a moment in Vegas where an ad-agency rep wanted to see the next few days of scheduling. I whipped out the iPad, locked it in landscape orientation, and showed the weekly view on the calendar. We just stood around and pointed and gestured at it for a few moments while planning the next few days’ worth of production, and it was much faster and easier than using a laptop to try and do something similar. Less of a production in and of itself, it was just very natural and fluid. Yes Steve Jobs, it was magical.

It was also very easy in Numbers to select portions of the expense spreadsheet and get quick totals on different categories of spending. This didn’t require any formulas or tinkering with the grid: just go to full screen, select the range of data you want with a drag of your finger, and it pops up a box showing you the total as well as the averages. Very slick and handy towards the end when we wanted to get a quick idea of how the budget was faring.

There are of course things the iPad doesn’t do very well at all. Some people know about a few already (no ports, no way to get documents on and off except via email or iTunes, no Flash), but there were a few unexpected things that came up on the trip that kind of surprised me:

  • I keep my personal checkbook register as a spreadsheet (I’ve always done it this way, very simply and portable). It’s a basic, albeit long, document. It’s over 500 rows but I would expect this little magical device wouldn’t have any problem with that, right? Wrong, it practically chokes when opening the damn thing and only gets worse as I add transactions to it. I like the form-based entry available in Numbers which is why I moved my register into there, but now that Quickoffice has a native Excel app I may just go back to that. This brings me to my next point…
  • Numbers only current export option is via, wait for it, PDF and Numbers file formats. Wow, fuck you Apple. I mean, I knew this going in but I think I kinda figured they would sort this out already within a few months. At this point I think they’re locked into having no XLS export option from Numbers on iPad (Numbers on Mac allows you to export to Excel), so if you plan on using Numbers for iPad just make sure you also have iWork for Mac or have a Facebook friend who can convert it for you (thanks again Jeff!).
  • The lack of Flash had a surprising side-effect: I couldn’t access my online banking without firing up my laptop. You need Flash to be able to enter the security code that is texted to you, so that you can authorize a new device to access your online banking. Your only other option is to temporarily turn off the security code feature (by calling Bank of America… ON THE PHONE?!), add the device, then turn it back on again. Wow.
  • The lack of multi-tasking was a known issue going in, but created some awkward technology setups along the way. I would frequently have multiple documents open that needed to be compared so I would, I shit you not, have my iPad, iPhone, and laptop all open at the same time so that I could effectively get work done. I think I even had a pad of paper out to take quick notes as well. To be fair to myself this was probably at a hotel with shit wifi so I had my netbook tapped into the ethernet cord while my working documents were on the iPad.

I think that about wraps up the iPad real-world recap. It was overall a fun trip, and with the iPhone 4 (and its sexy Facetime app) coming out in a few days I know that for the next trip I won’t be bringing the netbook at all. All in all I’m glad I got the iPad, it did for the most part make my work easier even though it required a little data-manipulation on the back-end to get the spreadsheet information out.

P.S.: I wrote this entire post on an iPad, except for this post-script oddly enough. I do however have the keyboard dock accessory, I’m not a masochist.

And now for your moment of Zen:

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Auditions from the other side

I recently went to Los Angeles to help cast for an upcoming project, in which I am already cast. I was technically there in my capacity as “host”, but due to my long relationship with the producers and my constant interaction with the talent, I was included in every casting discussion from start to finish. Here is what I can tell you that you, a fellow actor or performer, need to know,

Some of this stuff you know already, or at least you have no excuse not to know. Some is stuff your acting teachers have been telling you for years, and the rest is probably just common sense.

  • Look like your headshot. Seriously people, this is rule #1 and just common sense. If you don’t resemble your headshot then just don’t show up. We’ll never be able to remember who you are later when we’re trying to work out callbacks, and every time we do mention you it will be prefaced with “but they didn’t even look like their picture.” No excuses, just do it.
  • I know it’s an audition and you’re trying to get noticed, but just be yourself. If you’re putting on an act we can usually tell and we’ll just be distracted wondering who you really are. You need to perform and you need to stand out, but you don’t need to completely transform your personality.
  • The casting directors and producers are not evil; they just have a tough job and are really, really tired. Even if the people for whom you’re auditioning aren’t as awesome as we were, that doesn’t mean they’re jerks.  Well, maybe they are jerks, but it’s still not directed at you intentionally. They have way too many people to see and not enough time to sleep and eat throughout the day.
  • If you’re not cast, it’s not really about you. It’s weird to say “it’s not personal” when you are sent home but the truth is that you could actually be the best actor there, but there are so many other variables that the casting director and producer are considering that raw talent is only a small part.  I’m not just talking about looks either, although that is a big part of it. Charisma, personality, wit, and how you interact with those around you play a huge role beyond just how well you interpret the script or perform in the improv games. People like to work with people that they like.
  • Show up, and not just physically. Commit yourself to the audition constantly, or at least be aware of when you are being watched. You have no idea that the guy running the camera or signing people in isn’t actually one of the producers and founders of the production company. Is it really that hard to participate in a conversation, or stop texting for fifteen minutes while you wait to go in?
  • Also, be nice to everyone. Again, the person taking out the garbage could actually be on the production team and have a major voice in whether or not you get cast. The decisions are not being made solely on what goes in the casting room and in front of a camera.
  • Commit yourself to what you are asked to do in the audition. It may be something you’re horrible at, but what is being judged is not necessarily how well you do a task but how willing you are to just jump in and have fun.
  • Be persistent. I hesitate to mention this because it can go too far, but I’ll give you an example. One woman showed up late on the second day of auditions, and was turned away. We simply had too many people and had to leave the space on time. This woman found myself and a cameraman (who was also a producer) out back and asked if we could audition her. We really didn’t want to but we liked her look, so let her horn in on the next group of people (we had to resort to grouping them, there were just so many). Long story short, this woman is in the final cut of people selected to be sent to the client, and is everyone’s top pick to get the job. She could definitely have helped herself out by showing up earlier, but she asked us politely and directly if we could get her on camera. She did what she had to do to get the job.

That should about do it for now kids. One more little thing I’d like to add is something that I was talking about with my agent last week. While getting the job is definitely the goal, and the audition is a means to that end, how would it change your attitude if you thought of the audition as the end in itself? Or the callback? Most of the jobs that I and my wife have ever booked are the ones that we, quite frankly, just didn’t really care about one way or the other. We showed up, did the best we could do, and never gave it another thought. Your job as an actor is to act, and that actually means that auditions are an acting job the same as any other.

Above all else simply show up on time, look like your headshot, be yourself, and have fun. And don’t be an ass to the person taking out the garbage.

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Next Big Project

I’m in Los Angeles, taking part in four days of auditions for a big project that happens in May. Some of you may or may not already know a little bit about it; rest assured that an update will be coming as soon as I can release the information.

For now here’s a hint: follow me on Twitter at @FollowDrew.

Also be sure you’re following me on Twitter at @dancemonkey, though that account may go dark once the real fun starts in early May.

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