This year, the first year ever, I was one of the SAG members asked to nominate feature film performances for the SAG awards. I was really happy about it because I’d finally be able to see every film I was unable to see during the year. For me, the SAG awards represented a place where we actors had a tougher standard and pointed out the stuff that took the breath away from us insiders.
I took my work seriously, I was sent 30ish screener DVD’s and many, many invites to screenings that I was unable to get to. I watched every screener sent to me, even those, like Les Miserables, that were sent just 2 days before the ballot deadline. I put in my time and diligently set out to see if I could find the best of the best and something happened that I didn’t count on: watching films back to back allows you to see how the convention of film overlaps from story to story, film to film and performance to performance. It made the unconventional stand out. I really liked learning that about the process.
This brings me to my point, and boy this is dangerous territory, because by no means am I knocking the actors nominated. The nominees are all deserving, they are all great actors and did great work. My issue is that, though I did nominate most of the actors that are now our nominees, there are some actors that I feel were overlooked due to factors that had nothing to do with their work. Popularity, notoriety of the film, or, just because people didn’t watch all the films they were sent. It was a lot of time spent watching, but, I felt like the producers took the time to send me their film, the least I could do for my fellow actors was give them an honest look in an effort to educate the planet about what “we” find outstanding as actors.
This is where it gets touchy, but I assure you I’m just fighting through the idea that we as a union make this event happen, and potentially it’s not being used to elevate awareness of the outstanding work of all our fellow artists. Perhaps it’s just easier to nominate those who keep movies being made because they draw in the audience and we non-household name actors need them to keep us employed. Maybe I’m learning I’m naive and I alone hold out this purist view of the SAG awards, but if that’s true, it feels like a missed opportunity because the Oscars have this base well covered. I understand there is no real harm done, one could hardly argue with anyone nominated as being great at their job, but as I read the nominations my quandry was; Was their work, this year, in that film, really “outstanding?”
I’m very hesitant to list the names that I voted for and no one in that group is a close friend, so I’m not involved on a personal level for any nominee. It struck me that perhaps the easy road was taken and votes were given to actors who are consistently great, or because they are a friend, or, worse yet, because time wasn’t available to watch all the performances in contention and votes were made based on who is being talked about in the press.
For instance; I thought Michael Pena deserved a supporting nomination for his work in End of Watch, but I did not nominate Jake Gyllenhaal who was great, but for Jake Gyllenhaal, he wasn’t outstanding. Michael Pena was. Logan Lerman and the cast of Perks of a Wallflower did outsanding work. Though we’ve seen her do this role in the past Leslie Mann absolutely elevated herself in This is 40. David Oloyewo was unknown to me and showed up in 3 films but it was the performance in the film I absolutely hated that made me nominate him. Ann Dowd turned Compliance, a terrifying movie about the power of being a cog in the wheel of authority, from a pseudo documentary into a shocking drama that had me yelling at the screen, “no way!” These are a few examples and I have more, which just speaks to the level of talent that was on display. It made the job fun.
Outstanding is subjective, I realize that. This is just my thought on what being able to nominate for the SAG awards means to me; a way to alert the world to the absolute best acting in film.
I saw a post today and loved it. It’s about getting through being blocked and I’m stealing it for you. It’s more for writers and designers but surely when looking the same words of a script ovger or trying to write the next scene weve all just been arrested by how stupid we are and how silly our ideas can be. We get stuck. Mostly by fear but also because we keep asking the same inner sources to deliver a newer and more brilliant idea.
I would add to this list…
1. Watch a foreign movie that someone told you is excellent or a noted reviwer claims is genius.Consider that the way a story is told in this country by this filmmaker is not what you are used to.
2. Read a great play again to hear something you didn’t the first time.
3. Go to a small theatre production of a play you’ve never heard of and recognize all the effort these artists have put into just getting the evening off the ground.
4. Call a friend actor who is doing really well and tell them you are happy to see them working and moving forward. See what comes of the next few sentences from them. I bet you learn a lot.
What would you add? Do you have any can’t miss get-through-it ideas? Curious…
About a week ago I was contacted by a girl who wanted to take class with me and as is customary we met to discuss it. As we started talking I asked her the normal early questions to get an idea of what she hoped class would be for her. I do this so I can see if the prospective student is realistic about what class can offer you when you are on a acting career path.
She told me she was currently in class at another school and that she just wasn’t making progress with the teacher, so, because I understood the Meisner technique well enough to teach it, she wanted me to help her with the exercise called activities. Her teacher says her activities aren’t good, and she wanted me to essentially give her a cheat sheet of ideas she could use to get through this part of the instruction and move on.
I was really thrown for a loop. “You are asking me to tutor you for your acting class…?” As if this is the way everyone studies acting, she said “yeah!” and opened a notebook to an empty page and readied her pen. “Ummm…that’s not how this works…” I began to explain the idea behind the exercise and she cut me off “I get all that, but the teacher says my activities have no meaning so I want you to give me good ones with meaning…”
I explained that this was the point of the exercise. There was no correct answer…it was for her to find a very personal answer and she would have to do this for herself. She wasn’t fazed at all by my reluctance and moved on and said “Can you just give me something that’s difficult to do…” So I said ” Well, for example if you wanted to do something difficult, you could tie yourself to a chair and try to get out of it. But you still have to know why would you want to get out of it…”
She cut me off sharply “That’s ridiculous.”
“Because that would never happen.”
“Because it wouldn’t”
“I would never be in that position.”
“What if you went to your 5 year old niece’s birthday party and they tied you up for a game?”
“A grown-up would untie me. It’s ridiculous. I don’t want to do that. Think of something more realistic.”
“Okay well let me ask you this…if there was a great movie role of a girl tied up who is a hostage in a bank robbery, would you tell the director at your audition that it was ridiculous that you would ever get tied up and therefore he’d have to change the script to hire you?”
“No. I’d do it for a movie, that makes sense.”
“But if you won’t do it in class, what makes you think you can do it in a movie?”
And here is where I learned all about her drive to be an actress…
She said “That’s different. Class and movies are different…”
This was when I saw what she really wanted and I asked her why she was in class. She explained that she wanted the teacher to say she was good so she’d feel good about herself and have more confidence about her acting career. “I just need you to help me get past this beginning stuff so I can get a scene and start acting…”
Acting training for her isn’t knowing what you’re doing, it’s about doing scenes until the teacher says you’re good. If that means getting a tutor to show you how to cheat your way through a technique that’s about living truthfully, then so be it. In her mind doing scenes is what mattered, the exercises were useless to her.
This isn’t all that uncommon really. I told her I thought she should quit class, that it was never going to get easier or become interesting because she didn’t want technique, she wanted scene study. And you know what…? She agreed with me. She thanked me for helping her and she left.
I don’t actually think she’ll stay with acting very long, but it got me to thinking about what people give up by not taking class. It’s actually the very same thing that I concluded a few years ago was THE ONLY thing an acting class or technique can “give” you as an actor and that is …a chance at fulfillment.
Did you ever hear someone who had survived something harrowing say ” I didn’t know I could do that until I had to.” That’s what class is. It’s the place that you go to dig around and find out exactly what you can bring to the roles you hope to get. It’s exciting to be in a movie and have the world applaud, but it’s not necessarily fulfilling as an actor. Years ago I was talking with a friend who is a huge star about a movie they did that had just come out and I asked, “Were you happy with your work?” and this person answered “Well the audience I saw it with loved the movie.” I could hear they weren’t all that pleased with what they did but luckily the audience’s reaction was salving that wound.
Class challenges you in ways the professional world might not. Class is about finding out how much you have of everything. The professional world just expects it to be there. How can you offer the world something you don’t know you have? Hope? Pray the director pulls it out of you? I’m not saying the only way to know what it would be like to be tied up is by tying yourself up, but it’s sure better than trying it out for the first time in the audition, or worse, getting the job and realizing you have nothing left for take 2.
Advice from CD Paul Schnee this morning in Back Stage. The bold is my emphasis. and something I stress in my book.
Q: What are some typical audition room mistakes?
“There’s nothing really typical since every project we do is different. But in general it’s nice to see people come in who can read the room. If I’m not in a chatty mood — or certainly if you come in for the director and he or she isn’t chatty — then go with that. I can’t stand hearing actors hold up their sides and say, “I just got this last night/this morning.” I get it. You don’t always get a lot of time with material. But when you say that — or that you have a sinus infection or your allergies are acting up or you had food poisoning last night, all things I’ve heard — you are apologizing in advance for not being good. And who knows? Maybe you’ll be great. So don’t apologize ahead of time. My advice is always, always, without fail, be polite and pleasant to every single person you ever meet anywhere. You never know if that assistant stage manager working on a crappy showcase you are in is going to be working at Warner Bros. in one or two years. We all live in a very, very, very, very small world.
Don’t apologize and always be polite. Easy rules to remember and live by.
I read a small thing this morning where a CD tells actors not to touch the CD during scenes where intimacy is part of the scene. She says not every CD was an actor so it’s not comfortable. Hmmm, where did we ever get the idea that CD’s were all actors at some point? Because a lot of them were and they take the time to remind us that they know our world intimately.
BUT this is good advice as you should treat them like they aren’t part of the scene because that’s how they like it. They believe they are just there to help you do both sides of the scene; yours and theirs. Wait… what? How can that be?
Well, even though they, as actors, never took an acting class where they did scenes with a partner who sat in the audience and simply threw them lines during the scene, that’s how they treat auditions. Why? Because that’s the system. They all agree that the best way to showcase talent is in a vaccum. It’s one sided, so as not to confuse the director with the performance of someone else. This is where your frustration of watching mediocre actors who are working starts. Some actors audition very well, but when it comes time to making the scene work with another real actor, they don’t have the same skill. Real talent will prevail mind you, but this is what you are up against. The system.
It seems to fly in the face of when this same CD says -“I want (actors) to do the best job they can do, because then I can get the part cast and part of my job is done. I’m always rooting for the actor. If they do a good job, then I did a good job.” – doesn’t it? If they wanted your best work, wouldn’t they set it up like a scene, like it will be when you have to do the actual job? Why would they continue to make auditions about doing one-man shows with dialog…?
I have been the reader in many auditions and only because I made that happen. I was asked a few times but only after I made myself available and called requesting the position including that they wouldn’t have to pay me. I learned a lot about how actors treat the room and their work. It helped me audition better. I was also allowed, just a few times, to hear a bit of the dialog between readings and it’s not flattering. They’re just people, just like you, scared and insecure and hoping it all turns out okay. They have to decide on one of many versions of the same thing…you get to make decisions about one thing, you. So, see the advantage in that equation and make it a good one, live by it and show it off proudly. Within the system.
Then a bit later in the article this CD casually drops this bomb- “If you walk into the room and you give the best audition, and you look like the director’s ex-wife, you’re probably not going to get the job,” she says frankly. “There’s a human component in casting that people have to remember. You’re dealing with people’s emotions. So always do your best, and know at the end of the day that it doesn’t mean you did a bad audition if you didn’t get the part.”
There it is. They’re human. The system as flawed as it is, (except in theatre auditions where they always seem to have a reader) promotes the flaws of a director who isn’t capable of seeing talent with the distraction of bad memories, while stating they are trying to get the best cast possible.
This is what we are up against and it’s also the thing that allows our humanity to be the very thing that allows a director to choose us, even when he can’t explain exactly why. These little nuances that might drive your logical brain nuts should also give your creative brain comfort because it says you can’t know what’s the right thing to do to get the part. You can only be your full, true, self and apply that to the page and allow the “human component” to work in your favor.
I went today to see American Idiot at the Ahmansohn theatre with my 14 year old. I thought it would be one of those bridge musicals that we both got something out of and made going together special. It started out like a wild let-loose afternoon of rock music, and then… the rest of the show happened. For all it’s spectacle…it bored me. It lacked that thing I go to the theatre for: communication.
The actors tried really hard, and I’m guessing the non-Green Day songs were about something but as I sit here 4 hours later, I can’t remember a single song lyric. Most of the lyrics were buried under the bass and guitar of the band so despite their great voices we couldn’t get much of what was being sung. There were maybe three paragraphs of spoken words, the rest was songs that led into songs. I do consider myself pretty smart about theatre and I cannot tell you what that show was about. I can tell you generally what it was about but specifically…? I got nothing.
The show was a surprise date for my daughter and she admitted she was hoping to see it when we finally arrived in the lobby from our rain delayed drive downtown. It was all excitement before the show. On rainy drive home she tried to piece the show together and was very casual about it. She never asked me what I thought and our discussion of it lasted a minute or two. Then…done.
A moment a go I had to think of what I had done today and was shocked to realize that I went to a Broadway show that had almost no impact on me. That’s revolutionary to me. They always hit home. They always deliver something. I feel like an idiot really. I must have missed something.
It reminded me of the times when you see a bad movie and you can just tell the actors were left for dead by the director and the script wasn’t a friend either. The show was loud and constant and angst-ridden, and there was sex and drugs and loads of cursing and in what will be my only solid memory of the show, it closed with a full company acoustic guitar serenade. It just felt like a lot of effort with no focus.
Which brings me to this sad news…One of the biggest influences on me as a student passed away last week. His name was Greg Zittel and he was a hammer for specifics. He taught us our sense of truth was sacred and to never violate it. Maybe it’s snobbery to think every show needs what he taught me in order to make sense, but my 14 year old didn’t get the show either. I salute anyone who puts art into the world so my criticism isn’t based in, “why did they waste my time?” It’s based in, “How did this miss the mark for me? Many people really liked it.” Luckily, art isn’t a one-style-fits-all arena and as Mr. Zittel would say, “That’s what makes you, you!”
Mr. Zittel made a lot of actors better. He will be missed. I love that he taught me that I am allowed to question art and simply because something is a hit, it doesn’t mean I’m not an artist because I disliked it. He forced us to see that who we are is more important than which successful people or shows we might align ourselves with. To a 19 year old trying not feel like an idiot for thinking he had a ounce of talent which warranted the attempt at something as overwhelming as acting school in NYC, he made the technique all so clear and useful, and, he made me feel like I was right, I did belong there.
May god bless your family Mr. Zittel, you left the world much better than you found it.
Hollywood is one month into pilot season. By the end of February, the networks will have culled the scripts they had been developing during the prior half-year and will order a select group of pilots for production. (Final decisions on which of these go to series is made in May.) But as the chosen scripts are anointed, the television industry becomes all about casting these projects. It is indisputable that a great script that has been miscast will fail and that a mediocre script with a terrific lead or leads may very well succeed. Yet for all of its importance, the process of casting pilots — for those actors who aren’t among the very small number well known enough to simply be offered a show outright – is, ironically, so strained and grueling that it doesn’t afford actors the opportunity to be cast in the show best suited to them, nor the producers a position of confidence that they have hired the best ensemble available.
I'm not aligning myself with Gavin Polone but gosh he gets this right. It's what actors can't say out loud for fear of offending the audition gods.
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I saw this and thought it related to working hard to get in the room with people you simply don't like. it seems like we have to, and that's just business. but here is a CEO telling his staff it's actually a detriment to the company…do you see any similarity to being an actor and deciding not to put yourself in the company of jerks where you have a choice?
Years back our SAG president, Melissa Gilbert (who is a friend), tried unsuccessfully to merge SAG and AFTRA citing the need to build one strong union to combat the many foces that were going to come at actors in the near future. That vote was angrily and noisily opposed by Membership First, a group within our union that held firm and lobbied and saw the vote tip ever so slightly in their favor so no merger happened.
Now let's see what has happened since they were able to have their mandate met. They got Alan Rosenberg elected who oversaw our next contract negotiations. He spent his first day on the job firing the top civilian employee at SAG and paid him $2 million not come to work, so he could go hire someone he thought could really get the union going in the right direction.
SAG went into a defacto strike right after the WGA strike because Mr. Rosenberg alienated AFTRA during contract talks with the Producers Union. So, the Producers negotiated a contract with AFTRA and AFTRA suddenly had any TV show contract it wanted. Producers and AFTRA went back to work, SAG was left trying to pretend it still mattered in TV. Feel free to mark this as the point at which SAG lost most of it's strength and credibilty in Hollywood.
Actors now suffer from the keen insight of Membership First and Alan Rosenberg who held firm and kept the unions divided based on little else but silly pride. The ironic thing is… you members still believe that you have some credibilty in this current discussion. Clearly you are taking notes from our political leaders that never let the facts get in the way of an empty bluster.
To those of you in that group formerly called Membership First who hide behind "independant" monikers I beg of you this; Please go away. Please stop helping the union. You are the billionaires seeking bigger tax breaks in a failing economy. You are the oil industry seeking less regulation after fouling generations of sealife. You are the financial titans asking to double down on the bet that propelled the planet into near depression.
If you read today's Backstage you saw this;
SAG pension and Heatlh minimums are being raised raised. The scarcity of employer contributions under the TV contract can be linked to SAG's diminishing representation in scripted network prime-time television. In the last three pilot seasons, the vast majority of new television programs have been covered by American Federation of Television and Radio Artists contracts. Competition between the unions for prime-time jurisdiction has been cited as one of the motivating factors for the current effort to merge SAG and AFTRA. A formal merger plan is expected to be presented to the unions' boards of directors early next year.
For those of you saying hindsight is always 20/20, you're wrong. The coming divide-and-conquer plan by producers was easy to see back when Melissa proposed and pushed for this merger because video tape filming of regular shows and feature films was exploding. It was silly to think that producers would work with SAG exclusively because they always had before.
You really have done enough damage Mem First alumni, please go away and let those folks who can see farther than their ego attempt to build something called a union. One, "can't go around us" union of actors that will have a hard enough time combatting internet delivery and the coming battle over residuals, to still be battling one another about whose union is better.
Read this in the morning Back Stage and liked them. Ben Foster takes us on a ride for sure but I liked what Michael McKean says about auditioning….you already don't have the job!!