Saturday, November 1, 2008


I've discovered yet another essential secret to acting.

Two words. Too simple.

I need to pad it out into at least 100 pages so I can write and publish and e-book and sell it to actors, who will, apparently, buy anything (I know I have) that promises to help them be a better actor, or, better yet, get work.

But I believe in putting things out into the universe and then having them return tenfold. Or, as a large stack of ten's folded (but not in numerical order so they can be traced).

So I'm putting this out to the actors of the world. Don't thank me. Just send money.

I'm serious.

OK, now that you've sent me money. You have sent me money, haven't you?

Listen--this is like therapy--it doesn't work unless you've paid for it.

OK, now that you've really sent me the ... wait a second, you still haven't.

One more chance...

OK, you now either have, or you're just trying to cheat me, in which case your Karma is going to be really bad, which doesn't hurt me but means my advice will not work for you.

Here goes:


That's it.

That's all you have to do to be a good actor. Once again, I'm not talking "Streep" or "Blanchett" or those brilliant creatures who disappear into countless characters unlike them.

I'm talking normal actors, like 99.9% of us, who are playing ourselves, believably, in unbelievable situations.

You don't have to come up with outrageous, surprising, or even deeply felt actions and reactions. You just have to be yourself, as if it's really happening to you, so people believe you.

Easier said than done, I know (even though I am a master at this, just see my oeuvre. Don't know what my oeuvre is? Think it's a body part, like that little thing that hangs down in the back of your mouth? Ha--you are so bourgeois.

Oh--and while you're looking up those words, remember that the more interesting you are as a person, the more interesting you will be on-screen. Look at Christopher Walken--could he be more interesting to watch? And yet he's pretty much the same in almost all the things he does and you don't care because he's interesting, eccentric, even.

So, ACT NATURAL, look up French words, be interesting, and while you're at it, develop some eccentricities. And one or two juicy peccadilloes. Oh, please, just go look it.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Napping your way to stardom, not to be confused with sleeping your way to the top.

Acting is a very strange thing to do. It's partly a childlike game of pretending, part a very mature and sophisticated study of human nature, part alchemy and almost certainly a form of insanity.

It's difficult for actors to explain what they do to people who don't act, or even people who want to act but don't quite get it.

There have been countless books written trying to explain some secret method that'll explain acting so simply that simply reading the book can turn you into an actor.

Actors love to write these books because 1) other actors are sure there's a secret they just don't know yet, 2) are willing to pay almost anything to find out what it is, and 3) writing a book taps into this desperate market and writing one could possibly earn you enough money to quit your day job so you can concentrate on figuring out how to act.

No one has yet succeeded in writing one single book that really explains it (which is why most actors have read countless books on the subject, optimistically and naively thinking the very next one will reveal the secret.

All of which explains why I'm going to write a book about acting myself.

My working title:

"Napping your way to stardom, not to be confused with sleeping your way to the top."

My "Approach" (and I can't call it "the Method" because that one's taken) is simple: Take naps and let your unconscious do the work.

Of course, I can't say it in one line like that, because 1) no one will pay $25 for one line, unless the one line is the secret to the universe, and while this comes close I still have to dress it up so the book has enough pages to seem worth 2.5 bills and is thick enough to have a spine that stands out on shelves--and, of course, despite it's outward simplicity, I assure you it's full of subtle complexities that can make or break the Approach.

Done correctly and you'll be the next George Clooney if you're a man, and Cate Blanchette if you're a woman. I personally feel those two actors should now be cast in every movie ever made, especially because then I might have a chance to work with them.

But done incorrectly, you might sleep through a take, be fired and never work again.

So--you see--you must read the book. The entire $25 book. Every word. Even the little ones at the bottom of the page with stars in front of them which explain how I legally took concepts from other books and inserted them into my own, making it seem all that much more scholarly and official.

If nothing else, then you will be titillated by the chapter about "sleeping your way to the top" which goes into graphic detail and names names. It's good clean fun for the whole family.

In the interest of time and marketing, I will now present the preamble to the book:


Acting is mysterious. It's probably something you can't do. The jury is out on whether I can even do it myself. But there are people who can do it, or at least be made to look as if they can do it, and these people are alternately called "Actors" and "crazy-ass."

There's no magic pill you can take to replace years of costly lessons, painful digging deep into your own damaged psyche, and dragging your sorry behind to seedy auditions where so-called directors ask you to remove your clothing and make barking noises, but my patent-pending method is as close as it gets.

"How" you may ask, if you are still reading, "Can napping be the key?"

"How indeed," I reply, buying time, trying to figure out a answer that sounds like it's worth the $25 clams you shelled out to buy this book.

I pause, wondering if I should set The Secret free, knowing that if I do, the entire rotation of the earth might be thrown off its axis as myriad new actors rush to Hollywood or Bollywood or Dollywood to find fame, fortune and Botox.

I decide to risk it, knowing that unlike Magicians, who must keep their tricks secret, the brotherhood of the magic craft of acting is one of sharing, caring, and most of all, swearing.

So, without further ado, here's the frigging secret.


It's a very good secret that only contains three letters. So easy to remember and/or tattoo.

Why napping? you might ask, if you're the kind who cannot leave well-enough alone.

The most logical reply to that is "Why not napping?"

You see? Simple. Direct. Clear. Precise. Easy to spell. Easy to type.

If you are still reading then you clearly didn't get it. Read it again, "Why not napping?"

Any better?

No, you're still reading. OK, I'll treat you as if you're a not-very-bright chicken and spell it out for you.

Napping has numerous benefits, the first of which is that it's a very good way to pass the time. You can escape from reality--just as you should when you act (even though while acting you must simultaneously immerse yourself in the reality of the given situation). See? Escape from and escape to. Mucho Zen.

Does this make no sense? No? That's a good sign. Keep reading.

Napping is refreshing. Even you can get that, right? When you're on the set for 6 hours, and most of that time has been spent chatting with other actors trying to see if they're agents are nicer and their career is better than yours, eating whatever is on the crafts services table (excuse me--they just put out the bean dip!), and if there's WIFI handy, checking your email to see if you have gotten a better job while waiting to do this one. Or heard from your agent. Or, if you're really bored and desperate, your mother. If your mother is like mine and has passed into the next world, then you shouldn't spend too much time waiting for email as it's just not healthy.

Naturally, the director will want to shoot your closeup at the very end of the day, when your makeup is starting to look cracked like Arizona on a hot day and the sun is setting so the production is "losing the light" and only have time for one take.

So as well as trying to get into the character and situation, you have 30-45 people staring at you, wondering if you're going to be able to get through a paragraph of dialog so cumbersome it can send lesser tongues into spasms. Or if you're going to be one of those idiot actors who knew their lines all day but now that the camera is two inches from their nose is suddenly only able to think about the fact that they might have bits of chips in their teeth and asking themselves why they didn't trim their nose hairs, just in case.

Now--if you have been awake all day, pacing, chatting, eating, then by now you will be quite tired. You might, in fact, be crashing from a sugar high caused by one too many little chocolate brownie bite things from Costco. In which case, you're screwed, the shot is lost, you have cost the producer tens to thousands of dollars, and your career is as dead as Pia Zadora's. Don't remember her? That's what I'm talking about.

Or--if you follow my advice, you will have 1) eaten protein before the take (cheese sticks are handy for this as they can fit in your pocket or sock), 2) checked your teeth in a mirror and flossed if necessary and checked your nose hairs, and 3) found the makeup person so they can fix your face and possibly save you from an eternity of playing corpses on bad TV shows, and 4) arrived on the set early, find a comfortable place to sit or lie down, and used my patent-pending, sure-fire, no-guarantees method of almost instantly falling asleep amidst the chaos of the set.

On a film set, if you aren't moving, you are instantly invisible. People will be having intimate conversations around you as if you are dead. Some of the crew might in fact wonder if you're dead but not want to check because then you'd be their problem. In other words, people will leave you alone.

And you will have escaped the insane, busy, tension-and-sweat-filled atmosphere, and have opened the door to your own subconscious mind, the place that holds the key to all the best acting. And you're right there, right in the middle of it. Seeing and hearing the things that lead to your character metamorphosing from a bunch of badly, even randomly written words on the page, to a believable, deeply moving, and somehow spectacularly desirable character just ripe for acting awards.

That's right, all these benefits in one simple technique.

Or at least, it seems simple enough. Did I mention that if you do this wrong you'll never work in this or any town again? I think I did, but I'll repeat it, in case you haven't yet purchased this book and are just some deadbeat reading it in the aisles, wondering how much you can glean for free.

If you glean nothing else from this, my friend, glean this: Napping is the key. I am so sure of it I guarantee it. If this book doesn't change your acting career (and life) for the better, than I guarantee you are doing something wrong.

So you see--you can't lose!

(Unless you're cheap, illiterate, stupid, ugly or completely lacking in talent.)

So read on, as I explain, in terms so simply they may even at times seem condescending, how napping is going to make you a star, even if only in your own mind (which, when you come to think of it, is really a lot easier than public stardom which, if you're ever seen a tabloid gets messy, fast.)

RightsAgent Verification

Saturday, October 6, 2007

It's a very weird job, but better than working for a living.

Lettering go
Acting mostly involves letting go, and letting the characters thoughts play in your head, while the words come out without you thinking about them. I have to say it's really kind of easy--at least after I've done all my homework on the character and learning lines and all that. It's hard work, but it's easy. That doesn't make sense, so it's the perfect metaphor for acting.

Weekly recap:
Was reminded that acting in movies is 99% waiting. I am a genius at napping, though. Movie making is fun for about 5 minutes of the 12 hour day. The rest is waiting, chatting with others, eating, napping.

It's a very weird job, but better than working for a living.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Sitting around doing nothing (eating and back acting)

For an actor, making a movie is mostly a lot of sitting around doing nothing. Like 95% of the time.

I think I now understand why method actors must be in character all the time--not so much because it's necessary (it's not!) but because it gives them something to do when they're sitting around doing nothing. Then they can enjoy "acting" the whole time they're on the set (and even off it). Otherwise, when making a movie, you get the joy of acting for about 5 minutes a day, tops.

I perform at Murder Mystery events and in those cases, I'm in character and acting from the time I arrive until the time I leave. Lots of improv, interacting and reacting to real people in real time. They're fun to do, like a stage show sans stage, but they're more about performing than acting.

Performing vs Acting--the difference? Acting is unconscious, performing is conscious. At least that's my definition.

Acting in movies is about the preparation, getting to know the character, to feel them inside and out. What's their background. How do they feel? How do they move? That's fun and that takes time. But once you're on the set, it's mostly a game of energy--how do you keep it up after hours of doing nothing drag you down. That's why my napping secret is so vital! Today I had to nap for an entire hour on a leather sofa. It's hard work, and not something to be done without proper training!

Today's shoot was especially dull, because it was all montage shots, without sound (MOS, or "Mit Out Sound" because so many of the early film directors were German), we're in a meeting, looking interested, pointing things out on blueprints, looking hopeful, concerned, disappointed. I was having a conversation in my head, but somehow I could feel my face moving, which probably isn't good. It's best if I don't remember what my face or body are doing.

My favorite part of the day was seeing how expressive I can be when only my shoulders were in view--"back acting". (Katherine Hepburn was a master of the "back acting," where you could tell, just from seeing her back, how she felt--look for it in "Desk Set," the scene in her apartment with Spencer Tracey--watch her body language, her neck, hands--and yes, even her back. And watch her in The Philidelphia Story because near the end, when Jimmy Stewart is carrying her, she even does brilliant "toe acting." Meryl can act from any side, the soles of her feet can act, even in pitch blackness.)

In the past my rule of thumb for silent extra work was this, "Do progressively larger actions until someone tells you to stop," and nobody ever did. It worked again today. Hopefully I wasn't actually too big, in which case they'll just cut me out. But since most of the shots were long, I didn't get a closeup of my own (which, frankly, confuses me, I know I'm a supporting character, and the lead character at this point in the story has just done something unspeakable--which is why I won't speak of it--and my character is unaware and even cheerfully oblivious--but please, shouldn't this be about me... I mean, "Bob?")

Very few actors will admit this, no, let me rephrase this, no other actor will admit this, because it's just stupid but the highlights of today were:
  • Back acting
  • MOS acting with the kind of subtlety that could pass for a silent film from the 20s.
  • Butternut Squash soup by chef Marcela Dirks
  • Salt and pepper potato chips by Kettle Chips
The Food Excuse
If you gave truth serum to most people on a set, they would admit that one of the draws of movie making is that there's always a long table, covered with free food.

It doesn't particularly matter what the food is--in fact, a "crafts services" table, as it's called, is a often just an excuse to eat badly--look, free cookies (yes, they're cheap and hard and stale but they're cookies and they're free)! Don't bother me, I'm wolfing down candy corn from last Halloween and loving it!

But the food on this set is almost too good. "Almost" because some of the crew actually complained about the lack of candy, so candy has been provided. But everything else is organic, fair-trade, healthy and delicious. OK, so I'm not sure about the healthiness of the salt-and-pepper potato chips but they made me happy, which leads to mental health.

Oh, laugh now--in 20 years you're going to be reading this as the cover story in JAMA, the Journal of American Medicine--mark my words. And, in the mean time, eat chips.

The other joy of being on a film set--you're in your own little world. There's no TV news. No newspapers. No everyday life. Just you, your character, other actors and their characters, and the crew, who tend to be characters themselves.

Bottom line--it's fun.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Day 1 - PROPS - Champagne all around

I don't drink alcohol. I've never opened a bottle of champagne.

In this scene, my character, who loves to party, is celebrating by opening a bottle of champagne and pouring it for everyone.

But first--makeup, from a lovely make up woman who is nice and not only knows how to cover my birthmarks (plural) but give me a nice healthy tan the likes of which I have never had in real life. She makes my skin look perfect and bronzed. I think about hiring her so I can look this good every day.

Then I remember that my wife is also very good at applying makeup to me. I don't mean that I wear makeup every day (though, come to think of it, why not?) but when she takes my headshots, my wife first applies makeup that makes my skin look so good I don't have to do any digital retouching. See-my headshots are totally honest--if you put makeup on me (and anyone having any kind of photo taken, be it still or motion, should wear makeup), then I look as good as I look in my head shots.

More waiting. I'm not sure how I could possibly forget that 90% of an actor's life on the set is waiting. Waiting. And more waiting. Chatting. Eating. Napping. I can't stress this enough. Then, for maybe five minutes a day, you have to turn on your energy so that it flows, naturally, right from you into the lens and onto either film or digital. Yes, your personal energy can flow onto the recording medium. I'm not sure if science can measure this yet, but when you're watching a performance you can certainly feel it if the energy is there or not.

Lunch. The chef is from Holland. She has long very red hair. Excellent vegetarian cuisine. No junk food on crafts services table. The crew complains. Trips to Costco and Trader Joe's ensue. We now have cheese sticks (not junk food!), organic food bars (not junk!), and finally some trail mix with M&M's, a few candy bars, and even some potato chips. That's more like it. One of the joys of being on the set is having an excuse to eat often and badly--but it's good that the meals themselves are both healthy and good.

It's off to the set. Oh, wait, more waiting. And, while I'm at it, I think I'll take a nap. I'll write later about my patented acting method called "Napping your way to stardom, not to be confused with sleeping your way to the top."

So first I had to learn how to open a bottle of champagne. Luckily, the woman in charge of props told me how--twist this little metal thing six times, then wiggle the "cage." The cork will start to come out by itself. Keep your thumb on it so it doesn't fly. Then twist the bottle, not the cork, and it'll pop out nicely in your hand.

All of which sounds great, except I'd never done it before and now was doing it front of a room of people, four actors and 25 technicians and a camera to capture it all forever.

The champagne is 1) cheap, and 2) warm, which made it volatile. I ask how many they have, and they say they have plenty. This is a relief, as I can see myself having to do this 112 times.

And then there's the whole matter of props. Props are tricky in movies because you have to use them consistently over and over, because each scene is shot multiple times from different angles, and what you do has to match. So the glasses have to be in the same places, you have to be holding the bottle the same way at the same angle. And in this case, the DP (director of photography, aka the cinematographer) was creating what's called a "dirty frame" where my hand and the bottle would be fuzzily in the foreground and had to be in just the right place otherwise it would be in front of another actor's face.

So I noted where the bottle was (just above my belt buckle), and figured out where my feet had to go (they used tape on the carpet to mark the spots), and got ready.

My fear was that I'd put out another actor's eye. I suggested they cover their eyes and duck.

My next fear was that I'd be unable to do this like a grown-up and they'd have to shoot this 47 times until they finally removed me from the room and had a stunt double (which I don't have) do it for me.

The first time the cork was so eager to come out I didn't know if I could hold it back--it was embarrassing, like a teenage boy trying to have sex.

But, as often happens, there were other problems with the shot, so out came a new bottle of cheap champagne and clean glasses, and I started over.

Now that I'd done it once I was a seasoned professional and this time it was much easier and happened much more smoothly. The whole scene was shot and at no time did I ever block another actor's face with the bottle. Success.

Except, that in movie making so many things can go wrong, and in this case there was another technical problem, so I had to do it again.

This time the cork didn't want to come out. So I was twisting the bottle and wriggling the cork and it went on and on until it finally came out with a huge pop that made everybody laugh--which is fine, it's natural, that's what people would do. We shot the scene. It goes well until the end, when one of the actors actually tastes the cheap champagne and automatically makes a terrible face, as if they're champagne had been secretly replaced with horse urine.

(I tasted the champagne and it just tasted like ginger ale that had gone bad somewhere along the way--with a light formaldehyde finish).

We'd now run out of the really cheap champagne and it was replaced with something better that cost a full $1 more. This one opened more easily, with a very pleasant pop.

Then one more time. This time the bottle is perfect, my placement is perfect, the actors are perfect, and even the technical stuff is all right. So we're done in just three takes, which is good.

I am vastly relieved that I haven't caused major delays and expenses. I celebrate by tasting the more expensive champagne, which tastes to me like white grape juice that someone had let sit, unrefrigerated, for a few weeks, until it, too, started to go bad. This explains why I don't drink.

As far as actual acting goes (oh, that), I find I'm automatically being smaller and quieter to fit in with the tone of everyone else. It feels natural. I am not thinking. I an unaware of the camera other than fitting in frame. I'm doing what feels natural, which is just right.

Shooting ends for the day. That was a good start.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Show BUSINESS - the "Deal Memo"

It's not called "show business" for nothing.

People think it's mostly show, but in fact, far more of your time is spent on business.

In the movie world there's a little thing called a "Deal Memo." This is like a contract, but tends to be short and sweet, a single page, that spells out the basic agreement, like how much you'll be paid, your credit, and the fact that the producers can then use your likeness and voice any way they feel like and you can do nothing about it. All standard.

I'd tried to get my deal memo for over a week before production started, but no one ever responded. At this point I figured as long as they didn't replace me it was OK. I got to the set, I still had the part, I shot two scenes, then the producer breezed by and handed me my deal memo.

When I looked at it I felt cheap.

It wasn't at all what I wanted, there's been no negotiation, it was just, "here it is, sign it."

In situations like this the first thing I tend to do is to take everything personally. I can't help it, that's just me. So the first thing I thought of was, "why did they hire me if they think so little of me?"

The good thing about "maturing" is that I've learned how to get over my initial impulses like this and look at the situation "maturely" and realize that it's not reflection of my abilities or worth, it's just the producer doing his job, which involves trying to get everything, and everyone, as cheaply as possible.

One of my jobs as an actor is to look at acting as a job--so while the producer is working in his interest (and the interest of getting the film made), I have to look at it in my interest, and the interest of being able to afford to be an actor.

Since I had more scenes to shoot, I put it away and succeeded in forgetting about it until the day was over and I was driving home, the thought causing a little bit of steam to escape from my ears.

Luckily, I had a long drive, which gave me time to formulate my reply. I didn't want to be unreasonable and have this producer tell every other producer in the world that I was a greedy bastard (though, in this business, calling someone a "greedy bastard" is like calling them a Homosapien).

So I looked at it like a business and approached it from a totally practical angle--that what the producer offered was barely going to cover my expenses. I listed the expenses and said I needed them covered, which is totally reasonable.

I had multiple arguments (and "creative accounting") solutions available.

The next day I arrived early to the set, saw the producer, asked him for five minutes, and as soon as I said I needed expenses he said, "Of course."

Then I said I wasn't happy with the salary and he said, "How much do you want" and I told him a reasonable figure given the budget of the film and he said, "OK."

No argument required.

The moral of this here story is simple--figure out precisely what you want and ask for it. Otherwise you'll only get what they want to give you.

Telephone Acting

OK, it's the very end of the day. And that's when they're shooting my closeup, a telephone call that's an important little bit of plot. As I've said before, my character, Bob, is a plot device on legs, so this is my job and I'm gonna do it to the best of my ability, dammit!

They're "losing the light" (the term for when the sun is going down), and it's also the time when, on some union pictures, many of the crew would go into "golden time" so called because they're making time-and-a-half or more and every second costs its weight in gold. Wait, how much does a second weigh? Maybe every person on the crew costs their weight in gold. Well, probably not that much but you see what I mean.

I am prepared. Right before the shot, the director tells me "phone call shots are hard, we have to believe there's someone on the other end."

Instead of focusing on how hard it is, I discuss the scene with the director. I tell him Bob's worried and scared, because the man on the phone is Russian mob, and Bob thinks he's killed someone in the family.

It's exactly what Bob's project-manager side would do. His world has fallen apart in just a few days. Before everything was perfect. Now a dear friend has tried to commit suicide, another dear friend is dead, and the Russian Mob owns their asses.

What's more, in a fit of major backstory making, I've realized that Bob's going to have to sell his rare Ferrari, worth at least $3.5 million at a recent auction, to make the next payment. He'll do it to keep them all safe--to keep worse things from happening. (I told my "wife" played by the charming Maggie Grant, and she was supportive--then we had a little flight--the Ferarri was hers, but I told her she was confused, the Jag was hers, she wanted the red one, I said the Jag was the red one... what does she know?)

So I start breathing like I'm upset, and my head is filled with what Bob would be thinking. I don't think about the lines, I think about the conversation in my head, "The world is falling apart, Gagaroff could kill us all, oh--he's being nice... wait, he still wants the money... I must placate him until I can raise the cash, thank you, thank you..." and then I close the phone, think about what's happening and what I must do, look behind me at Bob and Jean in the living room, look back, feel sick with worry and anger.

That's what I think and that's what I do. I don't think about the lines, I don't even remember saying them.

The first take is interrupted half way through, that's OK. I feel the same things and now it's even deeper--I forget about the camera, the script, everyone around me--they're all gone. I'm just thinking these things. I'd prepared Bob and thought about how this would feel and all that. So I'd done my prep. And then the doing just happened as if it was actually happening.

The take's over. The DP (director of photography), Sam Chase, comes up to me and says, "That was really great acting, I bought it completely," and he shook my hand (DP's don't do this as a rule). Then the director shook my hand and said it was perfect. Everyone was happy and it was done quickly.

Then AD announces that someone farted during the take. But it's OK, it wasn't me, and they can edit it out.

I am so happy that I was able to do this--after waiting around all day and being distracted by real world business matters.

We're wrapped for the day. I change clothes. Say goodnight.

Drive to SF to audition for a number of directors at once--and a casting director for industrial films (I will get a paid professional part in an industrial film from this audition).

It's been a long day.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

What not to wear

My role is supporting. At times a plot device with legs.

My job is to give him character.

So when I met for a costume meeting last week, I came with ideas--I saw Bob as a colorful character, who wore colorful clothes--not outrageously so, but Hawaiian shirts, and at least one "conversation piece" that literally helped him start conversations. I'd discussed this with the director and he agreed.

He's the life of the party, and the life of the party doesn't wear Brooks Brothers. Sorry Brooks Brothers. Send me free clothes and prove me wrong, OK?

I personally have a lot of clothes. One normal-sized closet and one small closet. Both stuffed. I love clothes. I buy most of mine on eBay or at thrift stores, which is how I can 1) find unusual clothes, and 2) afford them.

So I had a lot for the costumer to choose from. I brought three suitcases full. One filled the trunk of my Miata, while the other two filled the passenger seat.

I got to the set and lugged my bags upstairs to show the costumer. I took them out, spread them on a bed, and she looked slightly ill.

"Oh, we're not going that colorful direction now," she told me, after I had spent the night packing, and today schlepping three bags full of colorful clothing.

"Nobody told me," I said, honestly.

"These things aren't going to work, they're not going to be happy with me," she said, looking at me like it was my fault that I didn't get the memo (if there was even a memo).

There were a couple of sedate Hawaiian shirts that might work for a scene later on, and finally one shirt emerged as a possibility: A beautiful blue silk shirt with flowers woven into it--very Japanese looking. It's got deep color and subtle pattern and stood out as "not boring."

The pant situation was, apparently, tragic, as I've brought black pants because they were the only pants I could find that didn't have cargo pockets and she wanted something dressy.

I should say that all my pants have cargo pockets--even the "nice" dressy ones. I have them in all colors and fabrics and even wore black corduroy cargo pants to my niece's wedding without anyone being shocked, appalled or nauseated.

But I do have pair of simple black pants I wear as part of my Barbershot Quartet costume, so I brought them.

"Remember I said 'no black'?" she said, accusingly.

"I thought that only applied to shirts," I said, honestly.

"No, black disappears, it'll make you look like a blob."

"I have looked like worse." I replied, which she ignored.

I ended up in the blue shirt with the black pants and a black leather belt with small silver concho's of fish I thought was right for the character, who fished.

I went down to the set. The director said, "Is this what you're wearing?" as if these were my daily street clothes.

I got called back upstairs and the costumer said, "We have to change the shirt." I heard different stories--the DP said it wouldn't photograph well, and worse, someone else had said it looked "Gay." Oh.

So she put me in gray, which everyone else was wearing but was was totally wrong for my character, and I saw the director pull her aside and talk to her. I couldn't hear the conversation, but I imagine he said that Bob, my character, is supposed to be colorful while the rest of them are gray. So back on went the blue shirt, but now the costumer added an almost neon purple/pink tie.

The result? The only explanation I can think of is that somewhere along the way it was decided that my character was colorblind. I went with that one.

I came downstairs and people looked at me as if I was an anime character who'd exploded. I just smiled. At least I will stand out.

At lunch I complained about the outfit. I said that I knew Bob, Bob was a friend of mine, and this isn't how my Bob would dress. My Bob had enough money that he was secure in his wealth and didn't have to impress anyone and he would wear nice cargo pants to welcome home a friend from the hospital.

That night I went through my closet again, this time trying to find shirts that were mildly colorful and lacking in pattern. And sweaters, she'd asked for sweaters. I have a lot of sweaters but they have a lot of pattern and many are so heavy I can't wear them unless it's freezing and I'm not ever going inside, which means I'll never wear them.

I filled up just one suitcase with possibilities and brought it with me on day 2.

I dragged it upstairs and was greeted with, "I hear you were complaining at lunch that I wouldn't let you wear cargo pants," the costumer said.

"No, I was saying that according to my knowledge of the character, Bob would wear cargo pants. I understand you have a different view, but I can only see it from my character's viewpoint." I explained, calmly.

"I have to see it from the perspective of what everyone else is wearing, how it's going to look against the furniture and how it fits into my vision of the entire structure of the film, and you aren't making it easy" she replied.

"I understand that you have a different viewpoint, but I am supplying my own costumes, I can only bring you the clothing that I have in my closet. I have brought more clothes than most men own and if these don't work for you, there's nothing I can do about it." I said, again calm.

I had brought a pleasant surprise--I'd found a pair of beige silk Tommy Bahama pants I'd just gotten at a nearby thrift store. She was thrilled with them.

But the shirts, not so much so the plain but colorful shirts were out.

Let's see--patterned shirts were out. Plain shirts were out. Colorful shirts--out. Drab shirts--out. This didn't leave a lot of options.

And the sweaters weren't colorful enough.

So--following through with the "Bob is colorblind" theme, she combined a blue shirt with a triangle print with a green sweater and I wore them with the beige pants. Well, actually, at first she let me wear my black cargo pants. Then, at the last second, she decided I would be too blobby and had me put on the beige ones.

The outfit had the effect of making me look even more like a colorblind Macy's day balloon than is really necessary, and also made me even warmer under all the lights.

I would really rather be a small black blob than a larger beige one, but that's just an actor's vanity talking.

Remember, the scene takes place at 7:30 AM someone close to Bob has been killed. Bob has, apparently, heard the news and had time to put on layers and silk pants.

I'm not saying she was wrong--she wanted us all to look upscale and was more upscale than what I'd see Bob wearing in such an event, which would be cargo jeans and a sweatshirt--or whatever he picked up on the floor on his rush over to help his best friend.

Remember--Bob's hobby is restoring old cars, Bob works on a construction site (he manages a construction company but he is onsite a lot). My Bob is not a dressy guy. Her Bob, is.

That night I went through my closet and found more clothes that tread the increasingly find line between plain and pattern, color and bland. And, just for fun, I included a few outrageous things which were totally inappropriate, just to see her reaction.

Day 3: I came in with more clothes. She way she looked at me made me imagine she was thinking, "Why can't you just bring in normal clothes?" These were as normal as I got. I'd been reduced to eliminating anything with character and bringing in the things I only wear when I want to be invisible.

Two silk shirts were acceptable, if I'd wear them under a jacket. I mentioned a khaki cotton safari jacket I hadn't brought thinking it was too information and she said, "I'm definitely feeling that," which is what she said when she thought something would work, which means it was only the second time I'd heard it, the first being the blue shirt that was tried, replaced, and then tried again.

I wore beige cargo pants from Old Navy with lots of pockets and I'm not sure if she was simply worn down at this point or what, but she said," those'll be fine for the construction site with one of these silk shirts and the safari jacket. OK.

Next we had to discuss what I'll be wearing next week at the "faux-LA" scene which is a party for investors (and hookers).

I can't be "too LA" and bright for some unknown reason (yes, I met with Asian investors earlier in the day but I would have plenty of time to change for the hookers), so I'll be wearing a dark blue jacket that doesn't fit well enough to close it (I warned her--so I'll also bring a green tweed blazer just in case, as well as a tan suede jacket that's really nice even if she said "too many other characters are wearing suede" as if there's some kind of rule about how many characters in a movie can wear leather), a light blue shirt, the beige silk pants, and my one pair of nice brown shoes, these beautiful Spanish-made Barrets 1890 wing tips (which I bought at a discount store solely because they are beautiful and have only worn once, otherwise they are decorative accessories in my office, rather than fashion accessories on my feet).

That sounds like a pretty boring outfit to wear to a party with hookers, but clearly it's not my vision of Bob.

And--since I must admit to having never actually been to a party with hookers, my fashion knowledge in this sphere is sadly lacking and I really don't know what's appropriate for such an festive occasion.

I will bring some interesting shirts, on the off change I can slip one under the jacket and take the jacket off when the costumer isn't looking. I'm bad, I know, but don't forget, I'm also at a party with fake hookers, so I'm clearly bad to the bone.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

I can feel my jaw for the first time in over 20 years...

I've had a beard all my life, except for when I was a child and unable to grow one, and was also in a "clean cut" singing group and was unable to have one, and then was married and my wife didn't want me to have one.

I'm not sure when I put my foot down and my follicles out, but I suspect it was sometime when I was sick and getting over something and didn't have enough energy to stand and shave.

The result--a beard. Not always the best beard--the kinds that are either wonderfully slick, like an animal's coat, or beautifully curly like those on Greek statues. Mine was always a little fuzzy, kind of like a well-worn (and loved!) teddy bear. This wasn't a bad thing but it was more "cute" than "macho."

No mind, I kept it.

I shaved it only once, in 1988 when I was cast in a comedy horror movie and the director wanted me to shave. I actually had to think about it. "Um, let's see, I can have a leading role in a movie if I shave, or I can not shave... which should I do?"

I shaved. I didn't like the way I looked and as soon as the movie was over I grew it back and it's been back ever since, which is almost 20 years.

Now I've been given a similar choice--a good part in a movie or a beard. Can't have both.

In this case, I'm trying a different approach. I'll shave the beard down to a goatee--and also die it dark brown--to match my naturally dark brown eyebrows. That suits my character's backstory better than clean shaven, it makes it easier for me to move into my next role which shoots only a few days after this one wraps where I should have facial hair, and if all else fails, I'll shave and then hope it grows back as fast as it seems to do when I don't want it to.

See before and after pictures here...

So, I shaved, met with the director who felt it was fine for the part (good, really, since the lead didn't have facial hair), but he wanted me to die what little hair I had on my head, too. I resisted, but relented, taking five whole minutes to do it using "Just for Men" haircolor, which, I have to say, is easy enough for any male primate, and actually looks natural--rather than that "Ronald- Reagan-esque-all-the-same-color-shoe-polish look" seen on so many.

Everyone told me I looked great! Ten years younger! Which only made me ask, "How bad and old did I look before?" and make me wonder how hideous I had been for many years before this transformation.

The weird thing is--I don't care how old I look. This is a very bad attitude in Hollywood and I shouldn't be admitting it in writing, but I am. So I might play somebody's grandfather, so what? I'm old enough to have grandchildren if I'd had children at an early age and they'd procreated early as well!

But now I've discovered that with a razor and $14 worth of hair and beard color, I can also look young enough to have young kids (instead of grand kids). $14 for a decade--what a deal!

Re-animated, A re-actor's life

Last week I was cast in two lead roles in two feature films. This is not normal and I couldn't be happier about it.

This story really starts four months ago, give or take 40 years.

I started acting when I was a kid--I just wanted to do it. I wanted people to look at me--at least when I was on stage. Off stage I wished they'd stop looking at me.

Why did I act as a kid? I didn't have grand desires, I just wanted to be loved by everyone in the world. That's all.

When I got older I moved to LA. I tried to work as an actor. But I had a little problem. I hated rejection. I hated it so much I couldn't put myself in the position to get it, which made it nearly impossible to go to auditions, which made it nearly impossible to get work as an actor.

I have pretty good people skills, though, so one gofer job would lead to meeting casting people which lead to me getting extra work, which lead to meeting more people on the set which lead to me hamming it up so much I met a director who wrote a part for me.

And then I had to audition for the famous Roger Corman. In his office, with its shag carpet deep enough to lose a cat in. You can read about my audition here. It's full of useful tips for when you audition for a major movie producer. Make notes.

I managed to get through this audition by arriving dressed like the character and acting like the character the entire time. That way they just thought I was the character and wouldn't have to act. I highly recommend it, except when you are trying to get the part of a serial killer, in which case they will avoid casting you if they think they might actually kill them.

It's said of movies that like this, "It wasn't released, it escaped." Very few people saw it which was at once a blessing and a curse. But for me it meant I failed to get my expected Oscar nod, and my phone didn't ring, except when the call was from a telemarketer.

I switched to writing, something I could do by myself, and something where rejections only arrived by letter, not in person.

That worked for me for many years. I wrote many books which sold hundreds of thousands of copies and countless magazine articles. I was busy. During this time I also became a professional graphic designer, designed many logos and books and later web sites which you can see here.

Clients came to me. I could write and design, by myself, in my little office, without having to go out into the world and have people look at me funny, say "no" or reject me. It worked great for many years.

One day in 2005, my friend, Jeanne C. Davis (go look at her photo, she's lovely) who I'd met in a writing class, emailed to say she'd written a part for me in her movie. No audition. This is what I'd been waiting for! Read about my experiences on this movie, and my many brilliant insights about acting here.

I made the movie. I had a great time. It was a totally different experience then I'd ever had. It felt different. I didn't perform, I let go of my ego, lost myself and "acted." I loved it.

The movie premiered at the Santa Barbara film festival and was well received. Again, few people saw it. And again the phone didn't ring... oh, wait, maybe I had the ringer off... nope, it's on. Oh, well.

Now, if this blog was a bad movie, this would be the part where the screen gets all wavy and there's kind of wavy violin music, you'd see a montage of me designing web sites, working for dot com companies, mostly without ever leaving my room, and if it was a very bad movie, you'd see calendar pages flying across the screen to show you that the year is now 2007.

May, 2007.

My birthday is coming up. I'm about to turn one of those pivotal ages. In the past I'd tell you what it was (30, 40, that kind of thing) but now, being an actor, I must resist so I'm not typecast as a certain age, especially when I've recently learned I can look 10 years younger by shaving.

And I was having a mid-life crisis, the kind you hear about but never believe until you experience it yourself (and if this is my mid-life, I'm going to live to be a century old... whoops, gave it away to anybody with a modicum of math skills).

I didn't want to spend the years I had left doing just what I'd been doing all these years. I wanted them to be more interesting and better. Why not? What could I do about it?

So I was whining on the phone to my friend Karen Linden (who worked with me in the movie, two years previous) and she said, "What do you want to do?"

I'd been asking myself that question for at least 10 years and never had a good answer. Well, I did have an answer, but I didn't like the answer. The answer always was, "I want to act." But that answer wasn't realistic, wasn't a way to make a living, wasn't... blah blah blah.

As an aside, Octogenarian Actress/Writer Ruth Gordon once said, “Get the knack of getting people to help you and also pitch in yourself. A little money helps, but what really gets it right is to never ... I repeat, never, under any conditions, face facts.” ~ Ruth Gordon

A year ago I started singing again, first with a barbershop chorus, then a quartet. I didn't expect to make a living at it, I was doing it because it was fun, and I loved doing it. Period. Life lesson alert--that's the best reason to do something.


Why not do the same thing with acting--do it because I wanted to do it, without expectations for what might happen. I couldn't have seen then that four months later I'd have lead roles in two movies. Yet if I hadn't taken that leap into the "blah blah blah," if hadn't stopped facing facts and trying to be realistic, I never would have.

While we were talking I Googled and found an interesting film school in San Francisco that offered acting classes where you got to appear in student films--so it was real experience, not just classroom work.

Two weeks later there was I, twice as old as anyone else in the class... but with way more experience, too.

A few days later I was at my first audition, carrying a head shot I dug up from my hard disk and a resume (all real) I'd pulled together--and doing a monologue I wrote myself. All in three days.

The acting class was excellent, the best I've ever had. Thanks Hester Schell. I learned tools and techniques, but more importantly, felt confident that I could act--I knew how to do it.

And I saw everything differently--how I approached it (from the inside), how I looked at auditions (fun--a chance to perform!), and how I know I can only do my best, and other people make the casting decisions for so many reasons (they have something in mind, or they hate that you look like the guy who sold them that lemon of a Volvo) and all that's beyond my control. Which suddenly makes it so much easier and more pleasant.

Now all I have to do is go to as many auditions as there are parts that fit my type. It's like those ugly guys who manage to get dates with attractive girls. They do it by asking 500 girls, and then maybe 5 say yes. So now that I could stand going to auditions, and actually found them fun, I could go to many auditions and possibly get a few parts.

But, surprise, I got cast in a lot of parts. I got in four short films in about six weeks. Characters ranging from an insane man who thought he was an actor (what I pretty much thought I was just four months ago), to mob killer named "The Butcher," to a Barista, and finally the head of a film school!

Then I heard about an audition for a film that was a parody of dance reality shows, like Dancing with the Stars and So you think you can dance.

I Googled the director--and he turned out to be a former US Latin Dance champion Tytus Bergstrom. Good, someone who knew what they were doing. I submitted my headshot and resume and wrote a note saying I had a dance background myself, and he invited me to audition.

I went to the audition (dressed in a suit, right for the character) and just let go. My character was having a melt-down, so I had a melt-down. I was in a little room having a holding-nothing-back childlike tantrum, complete with screaming. When it was over I was exhausted. The director said, "That's just what we needed," and I left, a little dizzy, wondering if he was being serious--but knowing I had done everything I possibly could, with no ego involved, no concern about how I looked or sounded.

I got a call back for a second audition where I had to melt down again. And finally a third, this one in an even smaller room. And again, I just let go, let fly, and tried not to think about how much I really wanted this part now! More about that later.

Between that first and last audition I was offered another part, by Celik Kayalar, the head of the acting program at the San Francisco Digital Film School. He'd seen me give several auditions for the student directors, watched me in class and on the set--but I'd never auditioned specifically for his film, Moonlight Sonata.

Still, I was right for the part (the description said Bob was "Cute and cuddly"), and in casting that's half the battle right there.

He'd seen I could act, I fit the part, and I got the part. That's how this stuff works. If I'd been the greatest actor he'd ever seen and looked like Brad Pitt, I wouldn't have gotten the part, because I wouldn't have fit the role. Then again, if I looked like Brad Pitt I would be offered parts I never will be looking like me. That's how it works...

And so now, just a few months after I made the decision, I am a paid working actor.

That's an unusual thing in the life of most actors. But I made a decision, followed through, gave it my all, and it's working for me...

Read on about the filming of Moonlight Sonata...