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.
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 My demo reel is outdated and my funds are limited.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.
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!”.
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:
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?
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?
*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….