I know I said Go For It…but I had an interesting experience this past weekend, and thought today might be a good time for a cautionary tale! So I reprise my admonition to Go For It, But BEWARE!
A Tale of Two Castings
As I mentioned last week, I’ve branched out into on-screen acting along with my voice over pursuits. It’s definitely been an interesting time, and Ive had more success with it than I could have ever imagined. Who’s have thought a middle aged man would be able to BEGIN an acting career at the ripe old age of sixty? Not me, that’s for sure.
On top of the background extra work I booked on a Hulu Original limited series (I promise I’ll write more about this later, when I can in accordance with the NDA I signed), I booked two additional jobs for last week, one for the 14th and one for the 16th. Needless to say I was excited about each of them.
On Thursday I was scheduled for filming at 11AM, and expected to be working till 2130 (that’s 9:30PM for all you non-military types). Initially, because of the company I was working with, I expected this work to be for a documentary film, but it turns out it was pick-ups for ANOTHER TV series (this tine a NETFLIX original series. I didn’t find this out till I showed up on set. I was pleasantly surprised.
Before you start looking for me on NETFLIX, it was extreme close-up work, so my face is not part of the show. Again, I’ve signed an NDA, so can’t mention the name of the show or who the characters are yet.
Both the Antagonist and Protagonist
The really interesting part of this job was that I would be playing both the antagonist (the bad guy) and the protagonist (the sheriff who is chasing him. I showed up on set and brought the wardrobe indicated, but soon found that the director/producer in LA had provided the wardrobe for me to wear. I was given a sheriffs outfit (which looked legit to me!) complete with a badge and gun belt.
Interesting note: The gun belt was completely full of all the paraphernalia you’d expect like a gun, radio, handcuffs etcetera…all rubber. They definitely LOOKED legitimate enough, but would never pass for the real thing in real life, so I was not likely to get shot by a real policemen thinking I had a real gun if he saw it.
I was also given a pair of jeans, a T-shirt, long sleeved shirt and boots. I learned these were the actual items worn by the actor in the series. Kinda cool.
A note about the importance of size cards
If only they had fit.
For any aspiring actors, ALWAYS keep your size cards up to date. While I was able to get the clothes on and fastened BEFORE dinner, after dinner…not so much. Part of the issue, I believe, is the clothes (primarily the pants) were not actually the size indicated on the cards attached, they were actually at least one size smaller.
Once in costume, we got the actual director on the line (Zoom) so he could watch and direct and began filming in their studio. Well, not an ACTUAL studio, but locations in their office set up for use as a studio. All of the filming concentrated on my hands/feet and…well…almost anything but my face. We spent several hours in the studio, then a quick wardrobe change, and we headed out to the first on location site. I’d love to tell you all about THAT site, and maybe in a later post, but…NDA again so I won’t.
I’ll just say that it was more hands and feet. Precision walking sand item handling for me. I am now a hand and foot actor! LOL
Professionalism, dedication, talent…
I was working with a local documentary film maker who was subcontracted by the production company in LA to do this pick-up work, DDC International. I’d like to give them a BIG shout out and thank you for the work. These guys, Colby and Lance, were consummate professionals and very dedicated to their craft. On top of that they really knew their trade, and came up with some framing and lighting that blew me away. If you need any camera work done, or have a documentary you need produced, I couldn’t possibly give them a higher recommendation.
Colby worked like a machine on the camera, and we kept retaking scenes until we got them just right…several times. His favorite phrase for the day was “OK, one more time for safety”.
Needless to say, my 10 hour day turned quickly into a 12 hour day. Of course, much of that was driving as we worked at three separate locations throughout the day/night. We finished up about 2300 (11PM), packed up and headed home. These guys paid me the daily rate for the acting, a stipend for helping to move and setup up equipment as well as mileage for driving all over the state. I consider this a professional job, with professional pay.
All in all, while it was a long day and hard work, my day with them was completely enjoyable, and once again I learned a TON about film making. I sure hope to work with them again some time!
And then, the OTHER job…
Maybe it’s the hazard (or one of the hazards) of online casting sites, but the next job was a COMPLETELY different experience. I WILL note that I booked the previous gig through an online site, so they’re not all bad.
I applied for a role in a “feature film” to be produced by a local independent film maker. Some of what ultimately transpired was probably my fault, based on my eagerness to be considered for a speaking role in a feature film, but part of what transpired is a less than forthcoming production company. I won’t name them here, and I am sure they are not the only ones like this one.
I reached out through the casting site, sending my head shots and an acting resume, and received a response that they’d like to see me for a supporting role as a “factory supervisor”. Note that as an independent film maker, this minor role (only 4 lines) would be unpaid, however, I felt the opportunity to be in a feature film was enough, and agreed to meet with them to do my lines. I mean, it’s only 4 lines after all!
Of course, I emailed back and agreed to do the role. I received an email directly from the producer/director letting me know that my lines would be provided along with the details I needed at a later date
Preparing for the role…
To prepare for a role, it’s necessary to “build” your character based on what you know about them and the scenes they will be in. As I’ve learned in my acting classes, the character doesn’t just “show up” in the scene and then cease to exist once the scenes are over. Each character in a play, movie or TV show, show up on scene with a full life behind them, and some life ahead of them when it is over. In order to make a character believable in the story, the actor needs to know about their prior life and their plans for the future.
Each scene in a production is there for a reason, and each character has a goal in the scene. The character’s past life and experiences, along with their relationships to other characters (in or OUT of the scene) and what the scene is attempting to accomplish all color how the character acts in the scene. As Samuel L. Jackson says in his Masterclass, each character enters the scene coming from somewhere, and exits the scene going somewhere and his actions are controlled by what HE (or SHE) is trying to accomplish in the scene.
If the project is based on some source documentation, like a book or some actual historical event, preparing for the part includes reading source material to get a sense of who this person is. If it’s a book, the author has given the reader many details about this person that can’t be given in a film, and if it is a historical figure there are likely many documents that talk about what happened and the people involved. To portray someone as a complete human being with a past and a future, you HAVE to get to know who they are so you can decide how they’d react in a given situation
But, what if there are no source documents?
In the event the character is completely fictional and the project is not based on a book, how do you find the “whole person”? Well, in a nutshell, the actor makes it up. You read the script to get some clues, then just sit down and write a brief bio of the character, maybe any prior dealings with other characters they interact with throughout the script and just make up a back story that fits how you see them acting. Knowing this back story well helps the actor know how to play them in each scene and makes them that “whole person” for the audience. The audience HAS to believe them a real person with a past and a future, or it just doesn’t work. Think about all the bad shows or even bad characters in a good show you’ve seen, and you can almost always see that it is because the character is too one dimensional.
All that to say…
After I was given my four lines, I started asking a bit about the movie, what was going on and who my character was. I wanted to be able to portray this person as an tire three dimensional person so that I acted in character based in his experiences and what was going on in the scene.
My lines were pretty easy:
“Rest assured, we’ll get to the bottom of this”
“Get me all the names of the employees who worked 3rd and 4th shift last night”
“I want to see all department managers. Emergency meeting in 5 minutes”
“I’m not letting this go any time soon”
Pretty easy lines, right? But it makes you wonder what kind of guy this “factory supervisor” is, and what thing occurred to cause him to say these things. Also important is who he was talking to in this/these scene(s)? Is he on the phone? On the factory floor? What kind of factory is it (what do they make)? How in the WORLD can I accurately portray this person if I don’t know these things?
It was all a little surreal…
So, I emailed the director and I asked these questions. Reasonable, right? Otherwise the persona I came up with may be WAY off base for the character and what is happening in each scene! Consequently, I asked for them to set the scene for me, let me know who I am talking to and what event I was talking ABOUT. I asked for either the entire script of at last the script for the scene I was to be participating in. I wanted to not only understand what was happening, but also what are my cue lines…when do I SAY these things? I was excited, and wanted to make sure I did this right so I didn’t look like an idiot in front of the crew and especially in front of the camera!
There were a number of red flags even before I showed up “on set” (and I’ll talk a little more later about why on set ins in quotes here). First, I was told that they don’t release scripts to the actors (WHY?), that the lines were as the lines were written and I was told to “make them my own”. I mean, how am I supposed to do THAT if I don’t know who this guy is? Finally I was told that this supervisor was beat down and felt trapped in his job. Not much to go on, but OK, something. I asked about this character so many times, the director had one of the other actors call me to tell me I was “overthinking” this. Plus (a BIG red flag here that I ignored) I was admonished to say my lines exactly as written, but that we were encouraged to improvise lines. Sort of mutually exclusive there.
On the phone call I was let in on one of the secrets. First, this was not a part in a feature film, but a part in a trailer for a feature film that might be produced some day. There IS no full script, which is why it can’t be released to me. I should have bolted then and there…but eagerness.
And MORE red flags…
I received several more emails from the producer/director (I keep saying it like that because I was never sure exactly what role they played). One admonished me to research the part (WHAT? I’ve been TRYING to do that and you are preventing me!) and even suggested several old movies to use as a guide. I was also instructed to “Be on time” and understand that masks were required and I may be working alone or perhaps with one or two other actors. My time was scheduled (1830-1900) on the 16th, and again admonished to “be on time”. I asked for the address so I could plan the drive to make SURE I was on time (clearly punctuality was important to them!) and was told I’d get that later. Oddly, I received the location just one day before filming. Along with that, I was given the wardrobe instruction to “wear back and white”. Black and white WHAT? Black pants and white shirt? Black shirt and white pants? Black pants with white socks? I was SO confused and nervous and certain I was going to get it all wrong!
The big day arrives…
On the heels of the work I did on Thursday, I was feeling a lot more confident. I donned a pair of black jeans, a white button-down shirt, black tie loosened with open collar, black boots and a hard hat. I should at least LOOK the part of a factory supervisor (although I was still confused about fourth shift…24 hours in a day, and three eight-hour shifts….where did fourth shift come from?). I plugged the address into Waze, an hour and fifteen minutes, ugh.
Now, a quick note: My son and his family were visiting from Indian, so this was going to take time away from visiting with them. But hey, it was 2 ½ hours driving and 30 minutes filming. So only three hours. I can deal.
I apologize to my guests, let them know to have dinner without me and jump in the car to go to the gig. After driving for an hour and fifteen minutes I arrive at..
Along the way I receive a text letting me know we would be in “Suite 515”. Hmmm…OK.
Something is NOT right…
I pull into the parking lot of the hotel, And I am feeling some kind of way about this whole thing. I’m starting to wonder if I’ve been roped into some sort of porn movie (and believe me, you don’t want to see me in a porn movie) or even worse a snuff film, and I am the victim. Ewwww.
SO I did what any reasonable person would do (NOPE, I didn’t just leave)…I texted home to give my location, the name of the hotel and suite number and let them know to contact the police if they didn’t her from me by 1930. Smart, right? At least that way they’ll find my body right away and have a chance to catch the murderer.
Seriously, that’s what I did.
I entered the lobby to find several of the other actors standing near the elevators. They introduced themselves (one was the guy I spoke to on the phone) and I felt better about it. So, I texted “It’s legit. Don’t worry”, and headed to the 5th floor with them.
Then it gets REALLY weird…
As if it wasn’t already weird enough, right!?
We arrive at suite 515, knock and are let in. Inside are 3 other people, and the scene is set as…a hotel room. Where the HECK is the factory? How in the world ae we going to film a factory supervisor in a HOTEL ROOM!?
I look around. There is no sound or video equipment set up, no props, no crew…nothing. Just a bunch of people hanging in a hotel room! And they are filming with (wait for it…)…a hand held GO PRO! WHAT!!??
I could go on and on about what happened in the next 45 minutes (yeah, I was trying to be patient and give them the benefit of the doubt)…but I won’t bore you with all of it. Needless to say, it was the least coordinated, least professional, fly-by-night 45 minutes of my life.
I’d had enough…
At 1930, thirty minutes PAST my scheduled “filming” time, when we hadn’t yet gotten to my lines, or even the trailer I was supposed to be in, I looked at my watch and asked “How much longer are we going to be? I was schedule 1830 to 1900, it’s 1930 and I have a 90-minute drive (I exaggerated a little) and guests at home.”
Apparently, that was the WRONG thing to say! After being admonished several times about being punctual, and having been kept 30 minutes past my scheduled time without yet being able to perform my lines, I was told “Oh, NO…rule number one is we never ask how long. We are being creative here and that takes time!”.
I explained (again) my situation, and told, you can stay or go, it’s up to you.
The moral of the story…
Here is the thing. I should have recognized all those red flags ahead of time and gracefully detached myself from this “project”. However, I let my eagerness and desire to be in a feature film outweigh the reservations and clear signs that this was not a REAL job. I wasted 3 hours of my time and time with my family. This was a BAD idea.
While I clearly understand the emotions involved here, I would caution everyone to do a little more research than I did and not let your desires to overtake sense and reason. I had a negative gut feeling and should have followed it. If things just don’t “feel right”, listen to your instincts and bow out beforehand. My kids will tell you I didn’t listen to my own advice, given to them over and over again: 1.) Don’t make decisions based on emotion and 2.) If it seems too good to be true, it is.
To my kids, if they ever read this, I say – I am human too.
Even though this was a bit of a goat rope, and I wasted a bunch of time (and gas), it was still a pretty good learning experience for me. I learned a little more about what to look for in agreeing to work for people, and gained valuable experience in how NOT to produce a film. I also re-learned there are predatory people out there who are willing to take advantage of people’s eagerness to work for their own motivations. As my dad used to say “Experience is the thing you get just AFTER you needed it”. I’d like to say that won’t ever happen again, but I’m not sure I can say that definitively, but I CAN say it is less likely now, even though it MAY mean passing up a good opportunity due to red flags.
For those of you just getting started, please learn from my mistake. Again, as my dad used to say, “A smart man learns from his mistakes, a wise man learns from other people’s mistakes”.
Rita Herndon says
Gary, I thoroughly enjoyed reading your blog. Not only was it interesting but I laughed and felt your frustration and admire your humanness. Thanks for sharing!!!
Gary Mason says
Thanks Rita! Having a blast writing it and the f course doing all the stuff that gives me the inspiration to keep writing.