Parking Enforcement

How To Be The World’s Greatest Background Actor: or, A Prop That Eats

If you are like me, you enjoy the little things in life: taco Tuesdays, cursing loudly at California “drivers”, and seeing the occasional skateboarding hipster texting and drinking a Starbucks latte eat pavement. Also, you are a one of the many background actors working your butt off in the film and television industries.

If you are not like me, then you have no idea what a background actor is, or your are one of those assholes that calls us “extras”. We are the ACTORS in the BACKGROUND of visual media (movies, television shows, webs shows, commercials, etc.) Whether you are thinking about this as a part-time job or profession, or are currently employed as background, this blog is for you…but enough about you; let’s talk about me.

screenshot from a film I starred in

screenshot from a film I starred in

What about me, you ask? I AM NOBODY. This also happens to be the most important skill that a talented background actor can have; not just being nobody, but realizing it as well. Hush, hush! I can feel your disdain through my computer screen (in hindsight it would have been a bigger accomplishment to write this blog solely from my smart phone, but what do you expect from a nobody?) My goal is not only to prevent you from getting fired, but also to get rehired by the same casting directors and productions so you can have steady income…and not embarrass your fellow background (BG) actors. But, I guess I should explain.

So, fellow nobodies, please read the following guide.

RULE 1: YOU ARE NOBODY

Sure, I served active duty in the US Navy for four years, graduated from college, and have written several feature-length screenplays in just under two years (some of which have won awards and placed in major screenplay competitions)… but all of that means just about as much as a cease-fire agreement from a terrorist organization (you know who you are!)…jack squat. What I mean by “nobody” is that you are the bottom of the barrel as far as production is concerned. It doesn’t matter what you have done before this, or what you plan to do in the future. You can be replaced, easily and quickly. Being humble and realizing your place in the production is not something everyone can do, but it is the best thing for you to do. I am a favorite among casting directors and I believe if someone follows this guide, they can be a favorite too.

Casting director text 2 Casting Director text 3 casting director text 1

I am sure you have heard stories about this person or that person being stuck-up, smug, or entitled. These are people that other people do not want to work with. Believe it or not, there are people in background that think they are granted a lot of things that they are not. You are a human being, and have certain rights, everything else is just courtesy, and you aren’t going to get it all the time. Deal with it, swallow your pride, and use these opportunities to learn from and achieve your goals.

Also, remember this: BE HUMBLE AND GRATEFUL

If you are union, you are making around $18.50 an hour (not including bumps or OT). There are people that will happily do this for minimum wage. And, if you are N/U making minimum wage, there are plenty of people that would do this job for FREE.

RULE 2: SET GOALS

My goal was to have a segue into the next rule segment. Give me a moment to pat myself on the back. . . wow, that was harder than I thought. My arms are so muscular that I had trouble reaching my own back. But I did it! Did I mention my arms are muscular?

Where was I? Oh yes! Goal setting (for sports-related goal-setting, please check Wikipedia).

When I first moved here, I was somebody. I had major representation for my acting, a pocket full of cash, and zero death threats against me…but (if you have been following this blog you already know this) that all changed quickly.

So, I gave up on acting. I  bounced back and forth between California and Ohio, looking to make money, and little else. I had no direction, at all. Then, one day, a friend who was an aspiring actor asked me if I was interested in doing background work. “No!”, I said. “Background work is like purgatory for serious actors!”, I cried. Then I wrote that down because it was really clever.

After a week passed, and the cleverness high dissipated, I thought about it a little more. The conclusion was this: I am an actor…and I was doing nothing about it (because I quit like a wuss, remember?) I could work full or part time in a non-entertainment job like food service or bar tending and deal with assholes all day, or I could work BG on film and television sets and meet people that are trying to do the same thing I am and not meet as MANY assholes…probably.

So, I signed up with a great booking service, and they put me to work. But I didn’t want to make the same mistake I had made before, and put all of my eggs into one basket. Did you know that eggs are fragile? Yeah, they are. They break, like, super easily. Plus, baskets aren’t the best carrying device. But I digress; I came up with a ten step plan, by golly! And here is what it was (is):

-1-  Join a booking service
-2- Work background/ get paid
-3- Meet and impress casting directors to get regular background work
-4- Sign up with extra services to get more BG work, and start seeing what is out there for auditions.
-5- Obtain/earn three (3) union vouchers. (Although I got my Taft-Hartley twenty years ago, I personally wanted to earn three vouchers.)
union voucher
-6- After getting 3 union vouchers, ask casting directors (CD’s) and booking service if I pay into the union to get higher rates, if I will get union rate gigs.
-7- Find time to get head shots, small roles in indie/student films, build demo reel, and continue writing
katz_joshua_002 katz_joshua_005
-8- Get to a place financially where I only have to work 2 to 4 days a week, and spend the rest of the time submitting for auditions and looking for representation.
-9- Get cast in principal and supporting roles, making more money, and self-produce a proof-of-concept or put together detailed budget proposal for one of my many feature or short scripts.
-10- Retire on the moon in a mansion.

If you are an aspiring actor, and think BG might be a good path, then you are welcome to follow my plan…except for the moon. That shit’s mine.

RULE 3: KNOW YOUR INDUSTRY

Being a background actor has its ups and downs, but if you know a few things, you can better plan for success.

How “it” works: When a production needs background actors they hire a casting director (CD), the casting director reaches out to background booking services, and then the background actor gets booked on the project. Either your booking service will send you the details via email, text, or on their website…if you are lucky. Probably the most frustrating part of this job is when you are required to call in. It is a running joke among background actors that CD’s are simply terrible at leaving voice messages. When you call in to get your details, they seem to leave long messages filled with unnecessary information, and the pertinent information (location address, phone numbers, wardrobe info, etc.) they speed through like an auctioneer. So, keep in mind that you may have to listed to a five minute long message a few times to get all of your information. Sometimes, the CD will list an emergency number that you can call to talk to someone at their office directly, but if they say it too fast, by the time you hear the number correctly, you will have all of the other info too. Why don’t they just write down the important stuff, read it carefully from paper, and speak slowly? Because usually the gig you are booked on isn’t the only one for which the CD has to leave a message. Also, CD’s do more than just leave messages all day. They make a lot of phone calls, and send out emails, and browse booking service websites, trying to find talent (like you) to fill the spots for their background roles. In other words, they work very hard and the more time they try to get a details message for you perfect, the less time they have to do all these other things. Don’t worry, after you work some of same shows, you will know all the studio locations, what wardrobe expects, and will just have to make sure your call time is correct.

HOWEVER, If you are a casting director and are reading this, here are some notes from all of us background actors:
1. Read all numbers slowly, and clearly as if there were a dash in between them…not Ben Stein from Ferris Bueller slow, but, you know, not super fast either. This includes phone numbers, address numbers, and zip codes.
2. Don’t just say the address(es), spell it (them) out. You send us to a lot of places, please don’t assume we know what you mean.
3. Give us a phone call if you change the call time only a few hours before call, or let the booking services know so they can tell us. Whether we are supposed to come in earlier or later, we need to know. It really just isn’t fair for us to make the initial call, a call before we go to sleep, and a call when we wake up, just to have the call time changed again after that and not know about it until we show up or get an angry call from our booking service. Now, I feel I must mention that this has NEVER happened to me without my booking service letting me know. I have just heard other people make this complaint. However (in hindsight) it is very possible that these people were not calling before they came in and would have found this information out had they called earlier.
4: Cast me!

Happy in 100 degree weather in a hot ass furry costume, because the production was awesome!

Happy in 100 degree weather in a hot ass furry costume, because the production was awesome!

In order of importance, here is the main info you should get, and how to prepare once you get that info:

1. CALL TIME – This is when you are expected to be standing in front of whoever is checking you in (usually a PA). You should ALWAYS try to arrive 30  minutes to an hour EARLY. You DO NOT want to be LATE. EVER. If you show up late once, you may not only never work that production again, but the CD that also cast for other things, may never use you again either. Plus, your booking service will count it as a strike against you…and some booking services only let you have one strike.

2. LOCATION – This is where you are expected to be at your call time. This will be where to park and/or where “basecamp” is. This can be a studio, or a location being rented. Again, GET THERE EARLY, especially if you have never been there before. I once drove around for an hour, and it was a show I had worked many times before (actually my favorite  show to work). I showed up an hour early because it was a new location. The casting director had listed a general address, but not the actual address of where to park. When I found crew parking, I was then directed to park at a second crew parking five minutes away. I stood around for fifteen minutes before being told to drive back to the original parking lot. When I arrived at the original location, I parked and had to wait twenty minutes for a shuttle that took me back to the second location.  Then, as the shuttle I was in was half-way between locations, we had to turn around to leave our car keys for security. Then, when I arrived there again, I was directed to move my car no less than three times. By the time the shuttle got us back to the second location and I got in front of wardrobe, it was my call time. So again, GET THERE EARLY! Usually there will be yellow signs with arrows direction you to where to park.

3. WARDROBE – This is what you are expected to wear for filming. Wardrobe is also the name of the department responsible for your…can you guess it? WARDROBE! Good job, pat yourself on the back (if your arms aren’t as giant and super bulgy as mine). You are expected to bring a lot of “options” or “looks”. These are just different sets of clothes that would be appropriate for your role. Usually the CD will list certain clothing items. For example: you are playing a business person ladies will be expected to have business suits, hair and make-up done, shoes (which are never comfortable to wear all day…the ladies have it harder than us guys, so respect that on set fellas!) and guys will be told to bring a few button-up dress shirts, a suit or two, and dress shoes with black socks. It is a good idea to bring 2-4 different looks. If you are recalled from a previous shoot, you will usually be expected to wear the same exact clothes that you had the previous day(s) you worked.

Just in case you still don’t know what wardrobe is, here is a picture of my closet…yeesh, time to do some spring cleaning.
Wardrob

Often certain colors or patterns are not accepted. Red, black, or white are bad because of either how the camera reads those colors, the mood/setting of the shot, the time of year or area the shot is supposed to take place, or just because it will be distracting from the main action. Also, heavy stripes or other patterns may not only be distracting, but may cause problems with the camera, such as a moiré pattern/striping or other anomalies.

Another important thing to know about this industry is that work fluctuates; is never consistent. Some parts of the year are busier than other (more productions means higher demand for BG) and other parts of the year are slower, usually because television shows are on “hiatus” (fewer productions means lower demand for BG). Generally, hiatus is during June to early-August for a “mid-season break”, but it can also slow down during other months, depending on the industry or the production. Hiatus also usually only applies to television shows.

RULE 4: HOW TO ACT ON SET

By “act” I don’t mean in the theatrical sense, though I will briefly touch on that. This rule section is more about the DO’s and DON’Ts while on set or in holding.

-1- Know your crew. Find out who you report to (background coordinator, lead PA, 2nd AD, etc). If you need something or have any questions let them know. Try to limit what you ask them, they do have other things to do. Be kind and respectful of their position, and realize yours. Not all of these people are going to be pleasant, but they are paying attention to how you act, and this is usually directly related to whether or not you will be called to be back on the show or next project. Some people work multiple shows or productions. Also, it is a small community. Everybody knows everybody. Your reputation is all you have. Also, it helps to learn their names. Saying, “thank you” is different than “Thank you, Janet.” Also, they are more likely to learn your name if you know theirs…guilt is a hell of a thing. Thank you, Jewish family of mine!
-2- Be where you are supposed to be, when you are supposed to be. If you are not on set standing by to take your action, then you should be in holding, at crafty, or using the restroom (however for the last two, or anywhere else, you should inform the person in charge of you before you leave for longer than a minute or two). DO NOT go wondering around set/location.
-3- Know your role. Remember how you are nobody? Good! Because some people don’t. They talk to people they shouldn’t, and do other things they shouldn’t. Usually, during your initial meeting on set, whoever is responsible for you will give you a little speech. This speech usually details what they expect of you, what they will fire you for, and who to talk to or not talk to.
*typical DO NOT DOs are:
– DO NOT use your cell phone while on set; especially DO NOT take or post photos. This could be because they don’t want you to be distracted and be paying attention at all times, because they are worried you will take photos
you shouldn’t be taking that could reveal something about the plot before the show airs, or because it is just plain annoying.
– DO NOT speak to principal actors or crew you were not specifically told you could speak to. It isn’t necessarily that these people are pretentious or elitist and consider you worthless (though this COULD be the case). More
often than not, they just don’t have time to talk to you. They have a million things going on, and (UNLESS IT IS AN IMMEDIATE SAFETY CONCERN) just don’t have time to bullshit with a BG actor. Also, if it is a principal
actor, talking with them is distracting and make pull them out of character. As an actor, you need to understand this, and if they talk to you, they are doing more than just being polite. They are making an effort to be kind.
– DO NOT take things personally. Working on a set can be stressful. People each have their own lives, and you don’t know where they are coming from. You should never feel uncomfortable, but there is a time, place, and way to handle that. Each person must decide for themselves the best way to handle an interpersonal problem should it arise, but my advice is to not take it personally, smile, and say “okay”!
– DO NOT post photos of production online. Sometimes, it is okay to take photos. If in doubt, ask. Usually it is okay to post these photos after the movie comes out, or show airs. However, if you infringe upon their intellectual property, forget not working again; you could even be so unlucky as to face a lawsuit down the road. Yikes!
– DO NOT use props as toys, especially firearms. Though they may not be real, they are not toys. Always treat a prop as if it is real, again, especially firearms.
-DO NOT talk on set. Even whispering (though you can get away with it) can get you in trouble. If they wanted you for your voice, you would have already auditioned for that. This is probably the biggest cause of getting in trouble while on set. You will speak when spoken to and love it!
-DO NOT smoke near me. Smoking reduces your life span…especially if I kill you for doing it.

Smoking Nazi

Smoking Nazi

-4- Pay attention. You will be told many different things by many different people. Listen to them (except for that one background person that thinks they know everything). The better you pay attention, the better you can do you job. once a PA or AD knows that you know how to do your job, they will treat you as such. This also increases your chances of getting recalled for another day or production. When someone gives you direction, telling them “got it”, “copy that”, or even a general head nod or thumbs up is a good thing to do.
-5- Don’t be THAT guy. Often, there is a background performer that drives everyone nuts. They don’t follow my advice from this rule section and they do and say things they shouldn’t, causing problems on set. Usually, this person is not recalled…ever again. Eventually their booking service fires them or won’t let them sign up, because they make the service look bad. If you see this person on set, my advice is to be friendly, but to limit contact to as little as possible. And, if you do not see this person on set, reflect on how other people interact with you…because YOU might be THAT guy.
*few people know this: background acting is one of the few jobs you can get straight out of prison. They don’t do background checks, care if you are a convicted murderer, rapist, or child molester. In fact, signing up with certain casting services is one of things they recommend to people when they get out of prison!

RULE 5: HOW TO GET BOOKED

Everyone gets booked (or not) for different reasons. Mostly, this depends on your personal “look”. This doesn’t mean attractiveness, necessarily. The CD’s need to have people of all ages, shapes, etc. Anyone is marketable. The key is finding a booking service that can market your look, and applying yourself for roles that are a match for your look, or changing your look to match the call type. Doing these things in conjunction with performing well on set will get you booked more often/consistently.

IN CLOSING

This is my first attempt at a (semi) serious blog entry. I believe that I am in a position to help people who were in my shoes two years ago (almost to the day) when I started this blog to record my journey. I hope it is both entertaining and informative; I will make updates as I receive feedback.

So, may your feet remain blister free, your background holding have lounge chairs and have an open bar, your call times be convenient, and your work days be short or filled with pay bumps and upgrades!

See you behind the red carpet ;)

 

FAQ

Q: How much will I make working background?
A: Minimum wage is paid for non-union work. Current minimum wage is $9/hr, which is $72/8hrs. However, you can also receive bumps, and overtime.
An example of common wages for union work are $18.50hr, $27.50 for time and a half, and $37.00 for double-time.
Current SAG-AFTRA pay rates are:Screen shot 2014-07-23 at 4.54.50 PM

They do not update their page often, and you may be paid at a higher rate. Rates can still vary, but the 7/1/13 update is what can be expected.

source: http://www.sagaftra.org/files/sag/Digest_Background_Actors_LA_Zones_8_4_0.pdf

(more to come, please email me your questions; do not post them in comment section)

 

INDUSTRY TERMS EVERY BACKGROUND ACTOR SHOULD LEARN

The following are some terms that will make your job, and the job of the PA or AD responsible for you a heck of a lot easier are listed below. You’re welcome:

A
“action” vs “background” – A command to start moving.  “Action” is for everyone, “background” is for…you guessed it. Usually “background” is given before “action”.
“AD” – Assistant Director. There may also be a 2nd AD or 2nd 2nd AD!
B
“back to one” – Your “one” is your starting position. This may change during rehearsal. “Back to one” means they want you to stand at your start of the scene, and be ready to go in when told.
“bogey” – A person not with the production that has wondered onto set. They have other code names. This is only something you have to worry about when working on location, such as a shopping mall.
“blanks” – A special effect that simulates a gun shot. Mmm, I love the smell of cordite in the morning.
“blocking” – Taken from theater, blocking is your physical position path, or movement through the scene. Also referred to as your action, or being placed.
“bump” See Penalty.
“busy” – How much is going on in the background. If it is too busy that means too much going on. You may be asked to slow your cross, or do them less frequently.
C
“call” or “call time” – When you are “called” to set/ IE time you are expected to be there. Lunch is 6 hours after crew call.
“checking it” – This means they are checking everything to make sure it okay to move on. As BG, this is a good indication that you can go back to holding. Also known as “checking the gate”, left over from the analog days of having to physically check the camera gate/ shutter… whoops! The lens cap was on for the last two days. Back in everyone!
“check-in” – When, at your call time, you are accounted for, and fill out your voucher.
“copy (that)” – A verbal affirmation meaning “I understand”.
“crafty”- Also known as craft services or catering. Some sets have snacks and drinks for you to munch on in between shots. They may also be the same people feeding you during meal times.
“crew” – People that make the production happen. Not the cast members (talent).
“cross” – A move done across the camera in one direction to show movement in the background.
“cut” – Stopping filming/action. Left over from the analog days where they actually marked where on the film reel where they could safely physically cut the film roll to edit.
D
“DNR list” – Do Not Recall. You do not want to be on this list.
E
“extra” – Another term for background. Viewed as an almost derogatory pejorative. We prefer to be called background.
F
“featured” – Someone lucky enough to get important action or lines of dialogue. Usually this role is auditioned for, but you may get “upgraded” for a small role while working background.
G
H
“holding” – Background holding is where you are set up. Hopefully it will be an air conditioned space with nice chairs. If outside, it is usually a tented area with folding chairs.
“honey-wagon” – A tongue-in-cheek term for the restroom if located in a trailer or port-a-potty.
I
“I-9″ – Part of your paperwork that proves your are a US citizen. You can use a passport, or both a driver license AND a social security card…I recommend just a passport.
“in” or “out” – Whether or not something is in or out of frame. You can also ask where your in our out is to know how far you have to move.
J
K
L
M
“makeup” and/or “hair” – Your appearance as well as the department or person(s) responsible for that look.
“martini” – Term meaning the last shot or shot before last, depending on how effective the crew is.
N
“NDB” – Non-Deductible-Breakfast (meal). This is a loophole that allows production to synchronize your time with crew so you can eat at the same time as crew without them having to pay you a meal penalty.
O
P
“PA” – Production Assistant. Paid or unpaid, intern or veteran. These are the gophers of the production; the cogs of the machine. They work very hard, and you will probably be dealing with them directly for your job.
“pantomime” – When you act like you are talking, but do not actually speak. Even a whisper can screw up audio…and you will get yelled at for it. Common words to mouth include “watermelon”, and “When is lunch?”
“penalty” – Smoke, meal, wet or other types of penalties maybe be granted to you. Theses are also known as bumps.
“picture up” – This means that the video is coming through the cameras and production can start rolling.
“placed” – See BLOCKING
“principal” – Main actor. Important.
“props” – The items you use, as well as the department or person(s) responsible for those items. Some specialty wardrobe may be considered a prop instead of wardrobe. When you “prop-up” or”de-drop” you are picking up or returning those items to the property master. DO NOT just drop them off if no one is there unless you have been directed to do so.
Q
R
“rate” – Your pay rate. $72/8hrs is currently the CA minimum wage, and union averages $150/8, though some pay more or less depending on…things….
“rehearsal” or “rehearsing” – Practice run through of the shoot. Production may roll on rehearsal. Generally, as BG, you don’t need to give %100 percent for rehearsal, so take it easy.
“reset” or “resetting”- “Essentially “back to one” but quicker. If they are resetting, they are ready to roll or still rolling. Time is money. Hurry your butt up!
“rolling” – The cameras are recording, and/or so is the sound. Don’t screw up, it will be on film FOREVER!
S
“speeding” – Almost synonymous with “rolling”. Term taken from analog days when film and sound needed to get up to speed to record.
“squib” – A special effect that simulates a gun shot wound. Usually a small firework and a plastic pouch containing fake blood.
“stand-in” – A person that stands in for a principal actor so that actor doesn’t have to get tired. Stand-ins are useful for setting up lighting, makeup, blocking.
T
“Taft-Hartley” – Paperwork/contract for landing a featured role. This has to do with credits and residuals. If this is your first one, congrats. You are now eligible to join the union. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taft–Hartley_Act)
“talent” – You! Because you’re so damn talented.
“ten-one” or “ten-two” – Going to the bathroom. 10-1 means urinating, 10-2 means the other one.
“turning around” or “reversal” – Literally turning the cameras around to get another angle.
U
“upgrade” – See FEATURED
V
“video village” – Where the director and other important people sit and watch on video monitors what the camera is seeing.
“voucher” – Your paperwork. You will be directed how to fill it out. This is what proves you worked on the shoot, and will be given to payroll. SAVE ALL OF THESE. Can be either union or non-union
W
“wardrobe” – What you wear as well as the department or person(s) responsible for that clothing. After shooting, DO NOT just drop them off if no one is there unless you have been directed to do so.
“wipe” – Essentially just a cross done very close to the camera lens or foreground.
X
Y
Z
OTHER
“two-shot”, “close-up”, “wide”, “tight” – How the shot is framed. Self explanatory…right?

Hoodlums and Hooligans

If you have been reading this blog, you know by now that trouble just seems to find me. Usually, I am out and about, and the forces that be, send the weirdos and troublemakers my way. However, lately, I haven’t even had to leave my apartment property.

Sometimes, late at night, some kids (about 15 year old Hispanic kid and his GF) will sit on the back steps going down to our apt. garage. Last week, I asked them if they lived there (the boy was by himself). He stated “No, but my brother lives in apt. 13.” When I came back, he had left some small trash on the steps. So, a couple of days ago, he is back with his GF. I ask them if they live there. She states “I don’t, but my cousin lives in apt. 9″.

I say, “Last week he stated it was apartment 13. Let me clear this up for you. There is no apartment 9. There is no apartment 13. 1-8. Now get out of here, don’t come back.”

They left…however, the next night, around 11pm, someone took a sharpie marker and wrote “Fuck you. Call 911″ in huuuuuge letters in the stairwell. Sigh. Kids. My landlord instructed me to just call the police if they came back, and not to confront them. He also stated that he would catch them. He said it frustrates his wife when he gets in these moods, and she calls it “The Hunt”.

Today, I got back home after 3 long days of work on commercials and films. Not 15 minutes after I laid down in bed, I heard loud footsteps. I look out the window and and see two African American kids, probably 10 or 12 years old, with big smiles on their faces. I hear them go upstairs…then the fire alarm sounded.

Image

I was dressed in about a minute and out my door. Some of the neighbors were already outside, wondering where the fire was. I told them that the kids probably tripped it. Sure enough, as I walked down the back alley stairwell, I saw a fire extinguisher that had been deployed, right outside of our garage. A big fat thumbprint in the dust on top of the handle that one would have to squeeze to use it!

Image

A neighbor said that he saw three small kids run down an alley, and pointed. I took off and searched. 5 minutes later, I came up empty handed. Walking back to my apartment where the alarm was still ringing, I couldn’t help but wonder, “Where is the fire department? They are only a mile or two away; what the hell is taking so long.” Figuring they would get there eventually, I got into my car to conduct a more comprehensive search. Still, after about 15 minutes of driving around the neighborhood, I still had no luck in finding the children. As I pulled into my garage, some 20 minutes or more since the alarm initially sounded, there was still no sign of the fire department, and the alarm was still going strong. When I called, the fire department had no idea that there was anything wrong. However, they did arrive in about 2 minutes. Good thing we weren’t really on fire.

I walked the alley a bit more, hoping to find these kids (I never did), when I heard sirens. As I walked up to the firefighters, one of them was bending over to pick up the extinguisher. “No! Don’t touch that!” I yelled, causing the firefighter to stop. “It has a fingerprint on the handle where they used it.” The firefighter then proceeded to pick up the extinguisher…by the handle. “Or…not. Fuck.” I stated out loud in disappointment.

“Oh, we’ll tell them (the police) about it.”, or something to that effect the moron muttered in response. Although I doubt that a 10 or 12 year old kid has been printed before, it could still have helped if the police found suspects.Image

Just as I let out a heavy sigh, one of the neighbors told me that the police were knocking at my door. I went up to meet them and told them what happened. I told them I had called the landlord and left a message (I only have a voice mailbox to call, no actually number to reach in case of an emergency). The police stated okay, as the firemen approached me. They couldn’t locate the fire alarm control box to reset the alarm, and thought it might be in garage, so, I offered my assistance…figuring (as the police flipped through their code book and muttered “what do we right this up as?”) that they would NEED my assistance.

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We searched the garage and found nothing. When my landlord called me back, he directed to me to a large, 6 ft by 4 ft wooden panel, behind which was the fire alarm control box. By this point, the fire fighters had walked around the whole building a couple of times, and they also happen to know what this box looks like, and I assume have done this more than once…yet they couldn’t locate a 6ft panel…they also didn’t bring any flashlights and had to use mine. Again, so glad there wasn’t a real fire.

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As they wrapped up their “investigation” (ha…HAAAAAAA!) they told me that all of the fire extinguishers hadn’t been checked since 2006, and the landlord has to have them done twice a year by law. They then asked me to sign a form making me responsible for firewatch until this was completed by my landlord. First, let me just state, that I love my landlord, and I am more than happy to do this (I was off work and staying home anyway). He even mentioned that he “owed me” in a sincere tone, and I told him not to worry about it. Like I said, he’s a cool dude. As for firewatch, let me explain: when something doesn’t work (alarms, extinguishers, sprinklers, etc), the fire department can’t just hang around for days until it gets fixed. Incompetent or not, they have real fires to take care of…or let burn…whatever they do or don’t do. So, they assign a resident (ME!) to walk around every half hour to make sure shit isn’t burning, and to be ready to call 911 if it is. So, I filled out the paperwork, and started my first patrol.

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This was about the time that I remembered I had my old flash gear from my firefighting days on the at sea fire party in the USN (United States Navy). Of course, one of the reasons I didn’t re-enlist was that I am way to goofy to be a member of the military. To prove to myself that I hadn’t lost my goofy edge, I put on my flash gear, and proceeded to walk around my apartment building while singing “we didn’t start the fire”…although I only know that one line, and sung it in a loop. The looks that I elicited from my neighbors was priceless.

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Flash gear is flame retardant (derp!) material that helps your skin from melting…neat huh? Besides a helmet, fire hose, and breathing aparatus, we also wear the flash gear underneath the heavy fire gear. Why do I still have it? None of your damn beeswax!
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As I said about my landlord before, he goes on “hunts” to stop individuals from messing with his property. Who can blame him? Well, it just so happens that these kids used the extinguisher right in front of the garage, where my landlord has a security camera.

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So I guess in the end, I am glad that I am a weirdo magnet, instead of a weirdo that pisses off a landlord with a vindictive streak.
HAPPY MOTHER’S DAY EVERYONE!

Award Winning Screenwriter, and Background Dancer…WAY back!

As most of you know, a few days ago my first original screenplay, “The Secret of Sleep”, won the Bronze in Comedy in the Beverly Hills Screenplay Contest. This was a big surprise to me. I KNEW the story and characters were good, and was personally pleased with the script. But it needed work; it wasn’t quite finished. Feedback I received from one of the other competitions really helped me make those revisions (and so far I am in the top 10% of over 4000 screenplays submitted to that contest!). But that does not change how elated I was to learn I had placed. This has solidified my right to call myself a screenwriter.

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I have entered into over a dozen competitions over the past 4 months, and it has cost me roughly… $1500 to $2000 dollars in entry fees. That, by the way, is about half or more of what I made as far as income during all those months.

When I returned to California, I knew I was going to focus on acting again. But where to start? My demo reel is outdated and my funds are limited. Well, it turns out that a friend of mine had been getting steady work though a background casting agency. For my reader(s) (I’m going to foolishly assume that more than one person will read this) that do not know what that is, it is the people that stand in the background of films and television shows. No lines, just “extras”. The standard rate is up to 8 hours of work for 64 bucks. There are financial bonuses (called “bumps) that you can get for staying longer, or money for gas, or even for lunch money. If you are really lucky, they can even pay you a better rate. I figured, in Ohio, I was getting several casting calls a week, and this being a small agency they would be even better.

I signed up 2 weeks ago to this day (paying a little over 300 dollars for a 6 month membership). What a…DUMMY?
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My first job was four days later, on Tuesday for ZERO pay. I had to volunteer, and drive over an hour north to get there. There was a smoke machine, for which had I been paid, I would have gotten a bump, like a lot of the other extras DID get. The next two days I had work on very popular TV shows.

The first show/ second job(I showed up an hour early BTW) was great. I got my wardrobe approved, waited on set for 2 and a half hours, and they signed my voucher, said thank you, and told me to tell my agency to add me back to the rotation because they didn’t “see” me (use me on set). I did just as she asked, but the response from the owner of my agency said something to the effect of “You have a look, don’t worry about it, you’ll get plenty of work.”

The second show/ third job (showed up an hour early to this too) was an all day shoot; 11 hours. I went with a friend whom I met through her boyfriend, a nice guy I used to work with at the bar in Long Beach. We had to dress in retro clothes from the late 70s early 80s, and dance our butts off when they called action. We probably worked for 2 hours total the whole day. When they yelled “action”, we were supposed to dance, and when they yelled “cut”, we could stop…only, I didn’t stop; I kept dancing. It wasn’t because I didn’t hear them say “cut” or didn’t know that I could stop when they did so. It was obvious. Everyone else in the room stopped…except for me. Of course, people started to take notice. I would hear a laugh and see other extras pointing, or a grip or PA (productions assistant) would walk by and give me a smile and friendly comment. And as I danced, I’d smile back at them.
Eventually, my friend did ask me why I kept dancing. My answer: ” Because I am the most dedicated actor in this room, and I don’t stop acting until the DVD hits the shelf!”.

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I know that this point is exaggerated. I AM A NOBODY. Just a background extra who, even if I do make it on camera, will probably only be for a split second, and out of focus. However, my conviction stands. I am a good screenwriter. I am a good actor. And, no matter how big or small the job is, I am going to be the best one at it. That is my duty to myself and my employer.

That last job was on the 30th, over a week ago from today. I have not worked since, but I have been available every day, and my schedule is showing available for the next two weeks straight. That means 24 hours a day, I am ready if they need me…and nothing in over a week.

Well, I shouldn’t say nothing. They did mention a shoot very close to me, with high pay, and I told them I’d love to do it. Then, half an hour later they wanted to know, at 8 pm if I could make it to a shoot 2 hours north, for regular pay. When I called the office to tell them that I really wanted to do the closer one for higher pay, they just told me I “didn’t get it”. So much for having a “look”, huh? Oh, then they proceeded to tell me I wasn’t going to get cast for the one 2 hours away either, because I didn’t have the right shoes…though a second person called me and had me send pictures of my shoes just to make sure. I told them, “I haven’t worked in a week. I will go wherever you want me to, whenever you want me to. This is my job!” Still, nothing over a week. It is so depressing, but it isn’t anyone’s fault…I don’t think.

Although a little off topic, I should also probably mention at this point that a popular actor and I had an…”exchange” on Twitter. At first, I was just sticking up for comedienne and fellow Jew, Sarah Silverman. It appeared that this actor did not appreciate a joke Ms. Silverman told, and chastised her for it. Her response was so brilliant, and comical, that I HAD to respond.

The actor, Adam Baldwin, did not find it so amusing. Here is the exchange in its entirety:

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To be clear, he starts out by calling me a failure (did I mention I’m an award winning screenwriter?) and then suggesting that anyone in the food service industry is a piece of shit (and no, I’ve never been a waiter)…then he gives me advice on how to get acting work.

I have mixed feelings about this exchange. He was kind of a dick…but then he gives me advice. Don’t get me wrong, I meant it when i said I greatly respect him. He has done what I have not; became a successful actor. Did you see him as Jayne on Firefly? He was bad-ass! Who knows, maybe somewhere down the road, I will thank him during an Oscar acceptance speech…or wait on him at a table. Adam, care to way in on this?

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Speaking of acting, my friend who was already with this agency said he has been getting the same thing, and roughly since I signed up, so a week longer than I. Could it be possible that they are just at a slow point of the season, or am I missing something; being naive? I am a pretty good judge of character, and the people I have met at that agency seem to not only be kind, but very good at what they do…plus, IT HAS ONLY BEEN TWO WEEKS. What are they supposed to do, submit me for the lead role in a blockbuster? They said I will get work, and I need to trust my instincts that these are good people. My gut is telling me that I will be begging them to stop submitting me down the road. Let’s hope that’s true!

The friend has suggested that I submit myself through some other networks, as he has done. He gets work, and has actually been getting more work himself than through the agency. And, we are working on scenes to shoot for a demo reel. But, although destitute, I can’t help but think “this is a great opportunity to write another screenplay”.

So, I announce my third original screenplay, “Concussed”, which will be my sixth feature-length screenplay when I am finished. I shan’t tell you what it is about, yet. But I can tell you it is a romantic comedy, and boy, is it WEIRD. Think: Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind + the TV show Spaced, and I think you have it. Maybe I could convince Edgar Wright to film it…

…did I mention I’m an award winning screenwriter? Impressed?

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*sigh* Since the results for the other contests don’t come back for another week or two,  I guess I’ll put on all black, carry a tray, and practice being spat on….

Ohio: The Winter Blunderland

The holiday season is all about tradition. For many, this tradition involves pine trees or lighting candles and can be traced back hundreds or even thousands of years. For me, this tradition is less than two years old, and consists of me working in retail for my friend.

A friend of mine owns a business selling discounted perfumes and colognes in a couple of malls. So, I get to help out a friend, make decent money, and visit my family in Cincinnati before or after. And for almost the past 3 months (living in a hotel and walking through the snow for 2 1/2 months), this was what I did. Hopefully, I’ll never do it again.

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There are some interesting shapes to some of these fragrance bottles. This is Pierre Cardin for men….ouch.

Working the holidays in retail is very demanding work. Not to mention, that I hate the holidays, and all of the…”cheer”. I do feel a sense of accomplishment, working so hard, and doing it well. However, I am constantly filled with a longing for my creative passions, and a tinge of guilt every 15 hour work day. Guilt, for Jews anyway, is the biggest catalyst for greatness.

So, what DID I do creatively? Just before the holiday rush, I managed to revise my two original screenplays and enter them into a couple of more contests. I also wrote a partial treatment/concept for a Wonder Woman live action movie…that’s something, right? But it is a far cry from working on any of the 3 originals I currently have on the chopping block. Also, besides a few push-ups here and there, I haven’t worked out at all in 3 months.

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A post-it I made to help motivate my staff. I have the…unfortunate nickname, Guns.

But, as eventful (SARCASM) as work was, I’d like to move on to the path back, and the path to come.

Has anyone rented a car before? I have. However, I never had as much difficulty as I did this time when renting from Enterprise. Because I worked long hours, my parents set up the rental for me. Pick up at 3 pm on NYE, show them my “credit card” and I’m good to go…in theory.

Well, of course nothing ever goes right. To be fair, the initial complications were my fault. I showed up early, and didn’t have a credit card. I have a debit/check card. So they wanted to charge me an additional 50-70 dollars (1/4 of total rental cost) for picking it up 4 hours early. When I told them how stupid that was, and that I would wait for 4 hours, they asked to see my credit card. Upon presentation of the card, the told me it was not a credit card. I asked them why they needed a credit card. They did not have an answer…literally silence. When I asked if it was just “policy” I think I got a mumble or a grunt.

It became clear to me that I was dealing with a stunning brilliant individual (SARCASM). After I informed them that credit cards work on CREDIT, AKA money people DON’T have, and check cards take directly out of your account AKA money people DO have…she told me something I couldn’t believe.

She could only rent to me if I provided BOTH of the following:

1. Recent paycheck stub
2. A recent utility bill with my name and address matching my ID.

Pay stub I had, but my Ohio driver license has my parents address (my primary residence) on it. I do not pay utilities at my parents. As for my apartment in California, I pay my half of the utilities to my roommate, and they are under his name. THIS is the point at which the conversation went downhill. I explained my roommate arrangement, and showed her my California ID. She looked at it, frowned, and said, “Oh, well now that you have shown me that ID….” I cut her off.

Sternly, I spoke, “Miss, it is PERFECTLY legal to have a driver’s license in Ohio, and a state ID from California.” She stared blankly.

After releasing a heavy sigh, I asked if there were any other documents I could present to get the rental. She said no. There was absolutely nothing else. The funny thing is, she was trying to train another gal who had just started working there…the blind leading the blind.

So, I made a phone call to my father, the man who set up the reservation. He was not happy. And when he called on the other line, the skies darkened and everyone in the office looked as if they were planning their own funeral. A manager, and the same person with whom the initial reservation was made, greeted my with a pleasant demeanor. He told me that he was going to do his best to work with me to get me the car. But, he did not have a solution. I asked if I could show my lease for my apartment. ( the reason for all this, by the way, is that they afraid I’m going to steal the car…even though they all have GPS tracking and OnStar).

So I just started naming off things. My apartment lease. No. Receipts from my landlord for rent paid. No. How about my DD214 military discharge papers where the name and address match. Still not happy? What about my flight reservation confirmation and schedule. Yes, and that would be fine…and that’s ALL you need?
Enterprise Rental Cars, I have just one question for you. Why, THE FUCK, didn’t you just ask me for that in the FIRST FUCKING PLACE. You know that because I choose the Dayton airport as my drop off, I have a flight…and because you were told so during the reservation. Answer, because the standard of employment seems to be a checklist of gross incompetence, and probably doing shots of bleach in the broom closet. Fuck you, Enterprise. Fuck you, pal.

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I don’t drink, so my friend had to double fist for me.

So, off to Columbus for a day. I had a great time on New years with my good friend. That night, however, took a turn for the worse. A mutual acquaintance had a suicidal episode. To make a long story short, we found him on the floor, passed out drunk, with a kitchen knife in his hand and several small cuts on this forearm. I make it a habit not to include names or other details, especially due to the sensitive matter at hand…also, I couldn’t figure out how to post the video.
We ended up calling his family and 911, and he is getting the help he needs.

My week home in Cincinnati was great, except for discovering that I am allergic to my favorite hometown pizza that I have been eating for 30 years.  I had gotten ill the past couple of times I returned home and ate it, but a day in bed, not able to keep anything down, was enough to make me swear it off forever.

So now, for the flight home. First to Denver, during which I slept the entire time, except for this photo:Image

Then, there was my flight from DEN to LAX. And, let me just say, “I fucking hate rednecks.” Before, during, and for about 10 minutes after take off, the two sister-fucking, Oakmoss wearing, Fox News watching morons, decided it would be a good idea to talk about plane crashes and terrorist acts specifically related to airports…and LAUGH about it.

Now, I am not scared of a flying. However, I recognize other peoples fear, and am sympathetic to it. Had my roommate been in the seat next to me, the flight would have had to make an emergency landing, because he probably would have strangled one or both of the passengers behind us…. on second thought he DEFINITELY would have done that.

And, then there was this my window. It kept falling down. You know how the handle is at the top, and you pull it down to close the window, and pull up to open it. Well, for some reason my window was upside down, and it was the ONLY window on the plane like that (yes I checked). So gravity did it’s job, and my window kept falling open, letting in the sun. However, I did manage to fix it with a handy piece of irony.

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So, that brings everyone up to speed. I will be focusing on working out, writing, acting (eventually), and soliciting my screenplay to competitions.

Will 2014 be my defining year? Probably not. But, if I finish just one screenplay, I will be able to call it a success.

But, one thing is for sure. I made the right move by leaving Cincinnati and returning to Long Beach.
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I Guess I’m A Screenwriter Now?

When I started this blog, and moved to California from Ohio a little over a year ago, I was pursuing the career of an actor.

This was no foolish venture. I obtained my degree in  Electronic Media with a focus on behind the camera things (film, photo, lighting, etc.). I had extensive experience acting. I’m good looking, talented, hard-working, in great shape, smell nice, and am humble…HUMBLE I SAY! I had very good talent representation set up in Beverly Hills. I saved up every cent for a year so I wouldn’t have to focus on employment and could make auditioning my job. I had a roommate set up.

It all went to shit, and it was all because of other people. Horrible, terrible people.

Despondent, I did what anyone in my situation would do. I played video games and masturbated…a lot…but not at the same time.

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But then I started to get these stupid things someone told me are called, “ideas”. These “ideas” would not go away. Where they came from, I haven’t a clue. But, they were in my head, and had to come out, that much was sure.

So I started writing again, a practice I had indulged while attending college. The end result was that in one month, I wrote a feature length screenplay.

The feeling I got had me hooked, and I wanted to do it again. I have 5 feature length screenplays (2 of which are originals, the other adaptations). I have 3 more treatments for original feature length screenplays, and each is completely different from the others, but uniquely brilliant in their story…HUMBLE!

But a written work is nothing, unless it is read. So far, the audience for these scripts had be me, my dad, and a select few friends. I was mortified to show them to anyone else. After all, I am nobody. Who the hell gives a crap about the screenplay nobody wrote?

I work a job at night, security at a local bar. I check ID’s, get hit on by drunks, and call taxi’s. It is by no means glamorous, but it was a job at night that would allow me to be free to audition during the day.

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People would ask me what I do, and I would give them the song and dance; my mantra became, “I moved out here to act, got screwed over by everyone, now I work here and spend my free time writing screenplays”.
Usually, immediately after the word “act” came out of my mouth, they would say “Ooooooooooooh, okay” and proceed to ignore me. Some were rude enough to remind me that there are a million people in Hollywood with my looks…at which point I would say, “Yeah, but not one of them had an ounce of the talent that I have!” and walk away with a middle finger high in the air…HUMBLE!

But there were those that were generally interested in what I had to say (of course they could have just been very bored, but I would like to think it was the other thing). And eventually they got to asking about my screenplays.

“What have you done with them?”
“Nothing, why?”
“You should do something with them.”
“Meeeeeeh, I’ll get around to it”

But, I had no intentions of getting around to it. That was, until I met Shabadoo.

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(Shabadoo is not his name, but I do not like using people’s names on this blog…except for mine…HUMBLE!

Every now and then, while working a door, you get that person that comes by, just to talk to you. They really are that lonely and have no one else to talk to. Shabadoo is one such person. Lover of classical music, composer, old-school surfer, maker of puns, sexagenarian ( a person in their sixties…ya pervs!), and Libertarian.

Shabadoo was sort of “that guy”. He was socially awkward, wouldn’t leave even if I went inside for extended periods of time, and gave off the impression that he may be missing a couple of marbles or more. But once I got to know him, I enjoyed our little talks.

Eventually, these talks got around to my screenplays. The usual exchange occurred, and that was that. Or so I thought. The next day Shabadoo showed up, he asked again about my screenplays. We went through the dialogue yet again, and that was that. Or so I thought. This happened for a week, every night. One night, after going through the “how are your screenplays going” exchange, Shabadoo handed me a piece of paper.

“You should check this out.”

It was a screenplay competition, operated by a very famous director.

I humored him, with no intention of entering the screenplay, and told him I would “check it out.”

But I forgot, Shabadoo was not the typical head-nodding drunk. Not only was he sober…but he had nothing better to do than ask me what I was doing…every night.

Something had to be done. I was too nice (HUMBLE) of a guy to tell him to piss off, and I didn’t want to have the same conversation for the rest of my pathetic life, so after a week of Shabadoo asking me when I was going to do something with my screenplay, I entered. Both originals…and something happened.

No, I didn’t get a phone call from a movie producer, or an award for my screenplay. Something happened inside me. I don’t know if doctors have a word for it, but the best I can explain how I felt was “right”, I felt right.

This was something I was supposed to be doing, it was just as inexplicable as it was undeniable.

It has been less than two months, and I have entered into about 8 competitions so far. So, for your benefit, here are 5 things I have learned from my experience thus far:

1. Do your research. Finding the right screenplay competition(s) for you is a tedious task. Do searches and read the pages. Then make a list of deadlines, prizes, entry/deadline dates, fees, etc. This way you can plan ahead, and budget accordingly without missing deadlines, and paying heavy fees.

2. Read all their FAQs and guidelines carefully. There is little more embarrassing for a budding screenwriter than to ask the competition a question in a email, only to get back something you should have already known…trust me. Chances are that if you have the question, they have already been asked it several times by people like me…idiots.

3. Enter as many as you can. You only have a limited time before you become wealthy and famous…why not submit your scripts now so when you’re using hundred dollar bills to light your wooly mammoth skin cigars, you have something to look back on with nostalgia.

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4. Get feedback, and revise. Your screenplay can always be better. Most competitions offer feedback from the judges. These are industry professionals, offering you advice on how to make your screenplay better (i.e. more marketable). Usually a fee is associated with this service, but there are competitions that offer this for free when you enter early enough. It can be confusing, irritating, stressful, offensive, and humiliating…but you’re a screenwriter, damn it! You were born without a soul, so what’s to lose? (I have a separate blog entry I need to make about one such experience.) Of course, there are also a bunch of other soulless bastards out there just like you that would meet up and swap notes for free. You don’t have to agree with everything these people say, but you should at least listen to all of it.

5. Learn the art of screenwriting. Learning the ins and outs of screenwriting sets the amateurs apart from the people who are only slightly better than amateurs. You have to win an award or sell a screenplay to be anything at all…you should probably give up right now.

I will leave you with this final thought: “Screenwriting is storytelling restricted to a very specific written format. If people do not like or understand your screenplay, you may not be a bad storyteller; you are probably just a bad screenwriter.” – Joshua Keller Katz, just this second……HUMBLE!