Stand-In 101

Posted in Acting, actor, Television, Theatre with tags , , , , , on August 11, 2011 by actingchick

Stand-in.  We’ve all heard the term.  They stand-in for the actors, right. It’s right there in the name.  How hard can that be?  You just stand there, right?

Sort of.

I always thought stand-ins stood in place, so that the light and camera guys could focus the lights and the cameras.  And that is true, but there is more to it than that.

I arrived on set about a forty minutes early.  It would have been an hour early, but I waited in the car for a while until I couldn’t take it any more.  I had planned on extra time to get there in case I got lost, since I don’t know Portland at all, and also in case I ran into traffic.  Turns out neither happened. I took this opportunity to find the honeywagon among the rows of trailers, and pop in my contacts and relieve my nervous bladder.

When you get on a set the first thing you notice is that there are people, generally a lot of them, mostly dressed in black,  going this way and that. My rule of thumb is to find someone with a radio attached to them.  The people with radios know things, and if they don’t know what you need to know, they can ask over the radio and find out who does.  I didn’t see a radio person at first, so I asked a few random people, until I was pointed toward a guy with a radio. They were rolling at the moment, so everyone was standing quietly, and I patiently waited until “cut” was called so I could slide on up to him.  I said, I’m supposed to be a stand-in today, where do I go?

He got me over to the wardrobe truck to get my “color cover”, and radioed to find Matt the Background Coordinator to come and get me. Color cover is items of clothing that are the color of the clothing that the real actor is going to be wearing.  I had thought I would get a costume that more or less was what the person was really wearing, but as it turns out the color of the item is the important thing, rather than it match exactly in form.  So for instance, my character was wearing a hospital gown.  Did I wear a hospital gown?  Seems like an easy enough thing to procure, but no, I wore a button up dress shirt (three sizes to large) that was the color of the hospital gown.

After I changed into that, I met up with Matt who took me over to the soundstage, which was located in a big warehouse.  He kindly took a moment to give me a tour of the set when they were in between shooting set-ups. They section off different areas of the warehouse with the different sets they build. Some are just for one episode, and some will be used repeatedly.  Matt took me around the different areas.  It was the first day of shooting for this new series, so it was nice to get this orientation. I’d been an extra on Leverage and they have a similar warehouse set up, but no one took us lowly extras around.  I had settle for stealing quick glimpses as we walked through.

After the tour he took me to the background holding area, basically an office space attached to the warehouse that had a few well-worn couches to match the even more well-worn carpet.  I was to hang out until they needed me, which as it turns out wasn’t going to be for a few hours.  Hurry up and wait.

Which brings me to a special note.  Not that I’ve been doing this sort of work for a long time, so I wouldn’t consider myself an expert in any way, but I have learned that two things that will get you through the day are flexibility and patience.  If you don’t have these attributes, you will have a much harder time of it.   You will be called over in a rush, and then stand there for a half hour.  You won’t get your call-times for the next day until late the evening before.  They will tell you something and then it will change. If you are a person who needs to know how everything is going to be beforehand, well, you are going to be very disappointed.

So I chill in the holding area, until suddenly someone comes to get me. I’m on.  They take me over to the part of the warehouse where we will be shooting.  It’s a mockup of the inside of a camping trailer, the kind you would pull behind your car in the 1960’s.  I’m not going to go into a ton of detail because you aren’t supposed to talk about this kind of thing.  Don’t want to have spoilers and all.

Luckily the person asks me if I’d been a stand-in before.  I say no. So he explains it to me. He says, what you have to do is watch the actor you are standing in for, and then do what they do.

That’s it, in a nutshell.  A simple one-sentence description of what a stand-in does.

The actors and the director work out the blocking of the scene.  My job is to watch this.  This is hard because there are lighting, camera, sound, costume and makeup people standing around in front of you trying to do the same thing.  There are set people trying to get the last-minute things they need to do done.  There are PA’s running around doing what they are doing.  So basically there are 15 people standing in front of you, and you are trying to see around them and through them to see what the actors are doing.

My character enters the trailer.  Pauses at point A.  I count.  Seems like about three seconds, and then she moves to point B.  She looks at something, says something to the other character, then moves to point C.  She opens a cupboard and removes something.  She returns to point B. Then she does a specific movement.  This changes a few times, but basically by a few run-throughs this seems to be the settled on progression. Then she leaves.  Now it’s my turn.

I enter the trailer.  Stop.  Now I wait while the lighting and camera guys come over and look at me.  Really I’m pretty much the equivalent of furniture at this point.  How is the light hitting the sofa, I mean, um, person standing here?  We need more light here?  A little discussion, somebody radios for some kind of light to be hung. The Director of Photography tells the set dresser what he’d like to see in the background in the way of props.  Then, get someone to paint this door edge a little darker, it’s too bright.  OK, now back to me.  Go outside and enter again. Stop.  OK, now move to point B.  OK. Repeat process. Lights, set fiddling, props moved, cameras focused. OK. Go back to point A, then go to Point B.

Now I put in the pause.  The stop at Point B.  OK.  Go outside, then Point A, then Point B.  Put in my pause. Three beats.  Then move on.  I’m serious because this is a serious scene.  Something bad happens at the end.  I’m trying to recreate the mood.  This time I make it over to Point C.  I open the cabinet.  OK. Pause.  Fiddle with the lights again. Someone’s on the radio to get some blackwrap to block out a light.  Someone’s moving some props around to get a better foreground shot.  OK.  Back outside to move through the points.  A, pause, B,C, Open, return to C. Action.

You get the idea. Then when the camera, lighting, and props guys have everything worked out, and have rehearsed the camera moves with me a few times, the real actors come in and do the actual acting.  Then, when their takes are good, they leave.  We did the shot sequence Wide, Medium, Close Ups, from the one side, but now we have to get the other side. I go through my moves again, but this time the lights and camera have to be in a different place.  Props have to be moved. More fiddling.  Then the real actors come in and do their bit. Repeat.

You stand around, get stared at, and a bunch of people are moving around you constantly. You have to listen to the conversations around you because mixed in all that is a someone telling you to do something.  Move over here.  Back to one. You have to hit the same marks the actors do when they are doing their scene. I can’t imagine how the actors manage to do the movements and say their lines with any sort of emotion.  But then again, when they come on to do their stuff there isn’t this chaos, and everyone is quiet. All this is done with me instead, to make the actor’s life easier. And no doubt the crews life easier too.

I try to pay attention, and I also try to soak up as much information as I can.  I’m watching everyone as much as they are watching me.  I’m curious, and I also don’t want to get yelled at.  I try to joke with the crew as much as I can while I’m standing in one spot.  I joke with the other stand-in since I’m mimicking doing something painful to him repeatedly. I’m going to be here for three days so time to start learning names.  It’s hard to pick them out of the conversations, but eventually I get most of the people I’m interacting with names down, either by hearing them or seeing them written in sharpie on their radios.

During one of the changes in set-up I am standing off to the side waiting and I hear my name mentioned a few times.  Then a guy comes over to me and asks me if I have a place to stay in town.  I’m like yeah, thinking how late is this going anyway, I’m supposed to go back to Seattle and work the next day.  Then he asks me if blocks are OK?

Blocks?

You’re from Seattle right?

Yes.

So blocks would be better?

Um…blocks?

I finally figured out that he meant blocks of time.  As in multiple days in a row.

Yes, blocks would be better.

They asked if you were local, but I told them you are from Seattle.  They really like what you are doing, so they wanted to work you as much as possible.

Wow, That’s great. Thanks

I realized that I have had a lot of experience watching someone and then trying to recreate movement.  I do Aikido, and the teaching methodology is that the sensei demonstrates the technique in front of the class.  We all watch, and then we try to do it the same way.  I’ve been doing that in Aikido for years, and now I can transfer that to something else.  Very cool.  I felt pretty flattered by the compliment.  Really what I was trying to do was pay attention and not get yelled at.  And do what I was told to do as best as I could manage.

Watch what the actor is doing, and then do what they do.

That’s all there is to it.

Stand-In the Place Where You Aren’t.

Posted in Acting, actor, Life, Television, Theatre with tags , , , , , on August 11, 2011 by actingchick

Sometimes things come out of the blue.  Sometimes that’s a good thing, sometimes not.  Luckily the call I got last week was of the good variety. The phone rang at 5:30 on a Friday evening.  I had a voicemail from background casting for the new NBC series Grimm.  They were looking for a stand-in for three days.  I freaked out, called back and said yes, even though I hadn’t gotten permission from work for the time off.  I figured I’d work it out somehow, and my job has always been very accommodating.  However, this time period fell right in the middle of one of the two deadlines that I have all month.

The days I would be working would be Tuesday, Thursday and Friday, so I would go to my day job on Monday and Wednesday.  Seems pretty simple except that this show is shooting in Portland, Oregon.  I live in Seattle.  It’s a three hour and smidge drive when there isn’t traffic, and when there is, well, let’s just say it isn’t pretty.  I also have to have a place to spend the night.

Luckily for me, my girlfriend has family down in Vancouver, WA area, just across the border from Portland.  And luckily for me her cousin happened to be up visiting us, so I could ask her if I could stay at her place.  She gracefully said yes, so there was one hurdle down.  Next, getting approval for time off.

Of course I found this out on Friday at 5:30 after everyone (including me) had gone home.  My boss(es) weren’t there, although I did try calling in hopes of catching someone.  Then I thought, hey, they are workaholic types and will probably be coming in on the weekend, so I sent an email and begged for the time off.  Just as I hoped I got a reply, at 9:30 Friday night.  People, you work too much, but I appreciate it!

Unfortunately, the email said, this probably won’t be a problem, but there is this meeting on Tuesday (that no one told me about) so you have to check with the big boss to see if it’s OK.  So at this point, I’m a nervous wreck because I told the Grimm guy that I’d do it, yet what if my boss said no, which I intellectually couldn’t imagine, and yet who knows.  She is a new boss to us, only been here a little over a month.  Who knows what she is capable of.  She seems nice, but…

I’m a worrier by nature.  I try and override it, or more accurately supress it, but I spent most of the weekend freaking out, until I got an email from the big boss saying sure I can go.  Yeah!

Monday I went to work trying to get my stuff done as much as I could. The Grimm guy, whose name is Matt, called to confirm.  He’d send me the call time for the next day later.  When he said later, I thought he meant around the afternoon or so.  So when around 6:30pm I hadn’t heard anything I called to see what was up.  Matt patiently told me he’d get the schedule to me when he got it, but he was still waiting for it.

Now if the call time is 6am, and I have a three hour drive, it means I would have to leave at 3:00 in the morning to get there.  If the call is at noon, then I could leave in the morning.  So when I was supposed to be there would be helpful in my planning.  By 7:30 I still hadn’t heard anything, so I decided to drive down to Portland and spend the night at my girfriend’s cousin’s house.  That way if the call was early morning, I could just get up and go and have a much shorter drive.

When I had talked to Matt earlier, I had also tried to get wardrobe requirements out of him.  As an extra, which I have been before, you are required to bring clothes with you.  What the scene is will determine the types of clothes you bring.  If it’s in an office, you would bring work clothes, or if it is in the forest you might bring things you would wear camping.  Often there are requirements to wear certain colors, or not others. So I wanted to know what to bring, and asked him, but he said they would give me some “color cover” which, I didn’t know what that mean, but took to mean wearing my regular clothes would be fine.

So off to Portland I go.  Luckily most of rush hour traffic is done, and I only have a slight slowdown near Tacoma.  I’m cruising along, about an hour from my sleeping destination, when the phone goes off.  I have a text.  Call times are in check your email.  So I get to a rest stop, pull over and check my email.  Call time is 12:45 pm.  I could have stayed at home and slept in my own bed.  Oh well.

So in all this you might wonder about the cost-benefit analysis.  I’m going to drive three hours each way, spend a significant amount of money on gas, impose upon relatives, make some people at work follow-up on things that didn’t quite get done (through no fault of my own), and use up three days of my vacation time, which I’m pathetically low on, and this will just about clean me out.  All for $9.50 an hour.  Yep $9.50 an hour.  Welcome to the world of the non-union stand-in and extras work.  Actually this is pretty good money since the extras only make $8.50 an hour. And I’m guaranteed 8 hours whether I work it or not.

Of course I’ll be learning lots and lots of stuff.  This is a real set,  network TV.  The major leagues as it were, so for that alone it’s worth the time and effort I think.  Probably by the time I factor in my travel expenses, and subtract my wages, I’ll break about even.   But as those Mastercard commercials point out, some experiences are priceless.

July 27 – Back in the Saddle

Posted in Uncategorized on July 27, 2011 by actingchick

I haven’t posted in over a year.  It’s not that I’ve not been doing things, it’s just that I’ve not felt it was interesting enough to write about.  Or maybe it is, but I’m just lazy.

In either case, I’m recommitting to the acting blog as a way to motivate me to get back up and ride the horse.   The horse didn’t throw me off.  I just got off to get a bite to eat and it wandered away.

I’ve signed up for a voice over coaching session this Friday, so I will next post about that.  And I will put a post up about my Leverage episode, but I haven’t actually seen it yet since I don’t have cable, and I have to wait until TNT puts the episode up on the web.

Apr 13 – Acting for the Camera

Posted in Acting, actor, Theatre with tags , , , , , , , on April 13, 2010 by actingchick

So I’ve been a little remiss in my blog updating, mostly because not much has been happening on the acting front these days, that is until recently.  Nothing super exciting, I haven’t gotten any great acting gigs, but at least these things are acting related and will hopefully further my career.

First of all I got new headshots.  I chopped my hair off a few weeks ago, and adding to that the fact I’ve lost some weight, I don’t really look much like my old headshots.  And since you are supposed to look like your headshot (or your headshot is supposed to look like you) to avoid pissing of the casting directors when you walk in the door, I had to get new ones taken.

I went back to Mark Brennan.  I think he does good work.  My only complaint is that my headshots look like me.  I know there supposed to, but somehow I keep hoping that I will suddenly get 25% more attractive, and my hair will get thicker, and my nose will get, well I don’t know, less like my nose I guess.  But those are my hang-ups and Mark does make me look pretty good.

The second thing I have done is to take a more  in-depth Acting for the Camera class.  This time from Tony Doupe, who was recommended by Jodi Rothfield, whose one day class Auditioning for the Camera I had taken and wrote about in a previous post.

I’m really liking it so for.  It is sort of an extension of Jodi’s class in that it covers some of the same material, and even more.  Tony talks about auditioning and the things you need to do for that, but the class goes further in terms of types of work you would be doing.  Industrial videos, commercials, film and television.  It’s sort of a sampler class, a little bit of this a little bit of that.

The first class we did an industrial training video.  The sort of things company’s show their employees.  Our subject happened to be sexual harassment.  We broke into pairs and were given short scenes to perform.  We were given about 20 minutes to work with our partner and to run lines.

Then Tony set up the camera and we shot the scenes.  We did multiple takes with one person in the camera view and then reset the camera so the other person was in camera.   We also brought video tapes on which our performances were recorded and we could take them home and watch them.  I don’t have a VCR at the moment so I haven’t watched it (and I’m not sure I could bring myself to do it anyway if I did).

We were also given commercials to memorize for the next class, where we had to do a walk and talk.  You see it all the time on commercials and news type segments where the host or actor is walking and telling you whatever it is they have to tell you.  I would just like to say that this is a lot harder than it looks.  A lot.

The set up was to pretend to be leaving our apartment, then “naturally” start talking to the camera, saying our commercial spiel,  as we started to walk down the hallway.  There were three points we had to hit marked out with yellow sticky notes on the floor.  At each of these points we had to pause, say some of our text, and then natural move onto the next point.

When I see these people on TV doing this now I have a lot more respect.

We practiced a cold reading like it would be in an audition circumstance.  We got a partner and a scene, had about 10 minutes to run through it and then we were up in front of the camera.  Tony directed us a bit, critiqued us a bit.  Then for the next week we were to memorize those scenes and do them as if we were doing a film or television episode. More on that later.

Overall I really like the class.  It is an interesting mix of people.  We have teenagers to people in their 50’s.  More women than men, which seems to be typical of acting classes.  Some people hadn’t done any acting before, some had done it in high school and college many years before.  In fact I am probably, with one possible exception, the most trained person there, which is an oddly incongruous feeling,  since I feel like a newbie to acting.

I like learning about camera acting, which is different from theater acting.  Not that the actual acting is so different, it’s  that you have more constraints on you when the camera is on you.  You can only move so much or you’ll be out of frame. You have to take into account how your physical actions have to be repeated the same each take to facilitate editing.  You have to know how to hit your marks and stay in your light.  You sometimes have to pretend the camera, an inanimate object made of plastic and metal, is a person you have to connect with.  It’s challenging, and fun, and challenging.  And fun.

Feb 21 – Extra. Extra. Read all about it.

Posted in Acting, actor, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , on February 23, 2010 by actingchick

So you wanna be in pictures?  Well, I finally got my chance yesterday as I started out on the bottom rung of the acting ladder.  Yes, I had my first paying gig as an Extra.

I answered a posting from Foreground Background looking for extras for a film to be shot in Washington state under the working title of  “Late Autumn“. I submitted my headshot and resume, and was surprised when I got a call back a few weeks later saying they’d like to book me to be a prisoner for a prison scene.  I said yes.

Not only would I get to be a prisoner, but I would actually get to go to Twin Rivers Correctional Complex  in Monroe.  I’d be on the Inside in the Big House.  I had to give information, so they could do a background check on me and everything.

The day for my shoot finally came after some delays due to productions issues of some sort.  The production was kindly offering a shuttle up to the prison which is about 30 miles outside of Seattle, or you could drive yourself. I opted for the bus ride.  I figured then I wouldn’t have to worry about getting lost, which I normally do.

Call time to catch the bus was 6:00am.  I’d been up a little to late the night before at a dinner party, and was working on only 4.5 hours of sleep when the alarm went off at 5am.

I crawled out of bed and into the shower, but didn’t wash my hair, because it was specifically requested by the hair and makeup people.  Apparently slightly dirty hair is easier to style.  Who knew?

I also had to apply my own makeup.  Just foundation and mascara, but those who know me, know that is stretching my abilities to the breaking point, but I managed.  They said the makeup people would add whatever else they needed on set.

You know how you get up extra early, to make sure you get somewhere on time, and then somehow time drifts away, and you end up leaving the house 5 minutes late?  Well, that happened to me.  I ended up rushing to the location trying to read the map I was provided while driving.  The bus was to leave Magnuson Park at 6:00.  I got to the park, which is an old retired naval base and quite large.  I made one wrong turn, but realized it quickly when the road dead-ended.  I flipped around found the right road, and zoomed down to the rendezvous point by one of the old hangers.

The were a number of cars parked there, along with two tour buses.  There was one car parked with headlights on, and I could make out a woman talking on her cell phone.  I thought, OK I made it.  I looked at my cell phone.  It was 6:00am exactly.  I always aim to get somewhere 10 minutes early.  Not this time, but at least I wasn’t technically late.

I looked around and realized I didn’t see anyone else.  I figured maybe they are in the building, so I got out of the car to see if there was a door to go in.  As I walked past the car with the headlights on, it shot off across the parking lot and away down the road.  I was alone next to the massive airplane hangar.  I didn’t see a door, or anyone. It  was dark and quiet. Then I looked over at the tour buses.  I saw heads in the windows.  Oh, they are just sitting on the bus waiting with the lights off.  I headed over.  As I got closer I realized the people were mannequins.   I was alone.  There was no one else there.

Luckily, Denise Gibbs from Foreground Background had called me the day before, so her number was in my phone.  I called her.  Um, yeah, I think I’m in the right place, but no one is here.

Let me call someone one I’ll call you back.

OK.

I wait in the dark.  The phone rings.

The bus, which was actually a van, left without you.

Oh.

Let me call someone and I’ll call you back.

OK.  I sat in the dark.  The phone rings again.

So can you drive yourself up there to Monroe?

Yes, but I didn’t bring the directions, since I was taking the bus.

Denise kindly gave me the directions, and said if I got lost to call her, she help me out.  I drove off frantically, feeling bad about missing the bus and not being professional, but then again, I was technically on time.  I went back and forth as I tried to drive fast, but not too fast for fear of getting pulled over and delayed even more.

I made it up to Monroe, found the prison after my obligatory wrong turn.  I pulled into the parking lot after checking in at the metal squawk box.  There were several people who were dressed like film crew (black jeans and shirts, and a little bit scruffy) heading in one direction.  I followed them figuring they were going where I need to go.

I tried to find someone who looked like the person I should report to.  There were people unloading trucks and carrying things.  Then I saw her, someone with a headset on.  People with radios sticking out of their ears tend to know things, or know who knows things.  I walked up to her.  She asked if I was Courtney.  I said, no and gave her my name.  She said, oh good.  She was the Extra Wrangler for the day.  I’m bad with names, but I think her name was Darcy.  I had found the right person right off the bat.  Something was finally going right.

She pointed me over to a small tent structure.

That’s the Extras Tent.

Is there a bathroom tent? I asked

She pointed to a trailer.  I relieved my stressed out bladder and headed into the tent.  There was propane heater going inside, since it was about 36 degrees outside.  There were some others in there already, the other extras.

Darcy reappeared to escort me off to the costume trailer.  I went inside.  There was Gerard, who I had met the day before at my wardrobe fitting.  He was harried and crisply gave me part of my uniform.  I had been changed from a prisoner to a guard.  I got dark navy polyester pants, a black t-shirt, and a pair of HUGE combat boots.  My overshirt was in the process of having my law enforcement patches sewn on it, so i just stood in the corner of the trailer and waited.

Gerard went about fitting the other prisoners into their orange jump suits.  They were led back into the cold once they were fitted.  I got to stay in the trailer, which probably was only about 10 degrees warmer than outside, so I wasn’t sure who was luckier, since they had the heater.

The prop guy game and fitted me for a belt, the kind with all the attachments for handcuffs, keys, and radio, and then went on his way.  Then suddenly there was a problem.  The other guard, the one who gets to talk, her pants don’t fit.  They demand my pants.  I take them off.  I get another pair which are a little big, but I’m fine with it since the other pair was a little small.  Apparently they fit the other guard, and crisis averted, the wardrobe crew continues on with their assigned tasks, and I keep waiting for my shirt to get its patches.

Finally the patches are done.  I put the shirt on.  Then I get pinned with a shiny star-pointed badge.  I get a coat to put on over my uniform, and am ushered back out to the Extra’s tent to wait.  And wait.

Darcy comes and takes me to another woman, who is standing out between some trailers.  Now I’m waiting outside, away from the heater.  It’s very cold.  Apparently we are waiting to pick up the other guard from her trailer.  She talks so she gets to have a trailer.  How nice for her.

Eventually we get rounded up and head over to the prison.  We have to be let in through a big gate in a 20′ high chain link fence frosted at the top with razor wire.   We have to stop at a guard house where we turn over our ID’s and get visitor badges to wear.  Then its through another gate, under they eyes of the guards in the tall watchtower.  A corrections officer escorts us up to the prison block we are shooting in.

Inside the place is a hive of crew-bees.  There are people standing around, people moving things, people talking to each other.  I’m led to a cell.  I look around, since I figure (hopefully) this is the only time I’m going to be in a real prison cell.  There are two bunks, a cold looking stainless steel toilet, and a skylight that shows a bit of the sky if you happen to be lying on the top bunk. I imagine the top bunk is the prime real estate.

Also inside is the prop guy I met before.  He has the belt he tried on me earlier, but now apparently it is going to the guard who talks.  Damn her.  Not only does she get to say lines, she gets a trailer, my pants, and now my belt.

The prop guy hands me another belt, but it is too small.  Then he hands me another, it’s kind of ratty, but it fits.  He gives me handcuffs to put in the handcuff thingy, and I get a radio with a separate microphone attached by a coiled wire that’s clipped onto my shoulder.  I was ready to go.

Back out into the cell block, I’m led down to my spot.  Apparently I’m going to be sitting in the “control room” for the cell block.   A room with a panoramic view of the cell block behind its thick bullet proof glass. This is where the buttons are to open/close the cell doors, the outside doors.  Plus  there are ventilation controls, the sound system (there are microphones all over the place, so you can listen in on the convict conversation, and surveillance camera monitors.  Also a handy bathroom, which I imagine would come in handy in case there is a prison riot.  That way you don’t have to leave the safety of your bullet proof enclosure to go potty.

More waiting around as they set up the shot.   I stand around trying to figure out who the director is, but I can’t tell.  I figure it’s best to know so I can stay out of his way.  I see the star Tang Wei in her orange jumpsuit, she gets led off to her cell.

The shot is going to be tracking behind the guard as she walks through one wing of the cell block, past me in the control room, then into the other wing that has the cell that Tang Wei is in.  Then the guard will put a key in the cell door to open it, and says “Prisoner 8234 report to the Sargent’s office”.  For that one line, she gets over twice as much money as me, a trailer, my pants, and my belt.  I do have to say she did look more like a prison guard than I did, so I guess I should just be happy I got the part I did.

As the guard passes me she gives me a wave and a nod and a slight smile.  The first time through rehearsal this surprised me, so I did what I thought I would do naturally, which is nod and give a smile back.  But I wondered was this what they wanted?  Is this a mean prison with evil guards, should I scowl more.  Should I wave back?  No one came to direct me, so I went with the nod and slight smile back.  I figured if they didn’t like it they’d tell me to do something else.

No one did.  The only thing the corrected on me was to put my hair in a pony tail, and tell me to sit down, which I was glad for, since there was a bar across the window right at the level of my face.  I though, great, I’m going to be this body with my head covered over by a bar, assuming I’m not cut out in the first place.

There was a real corrections officer with me during rehearsal and he was answering questions and opening doors to let people in and out.  In the shot we were doing the cell door is opened by the guard with a key, but this isn’t really how the cells open.  They normally open by pushing a button in the control room.  So they faked the cell opening with keys, and then pushing the open button in the control room.

Since I was sitting at the control panel as the guard walked by the corrections officer suggested that I could just push the buttons, since he wasn’t supposed to be in the shot.  I was like sure, I can do that.  Gives me something to do.  So they let me.  Someone behind the camera with a radio on would say door at the right time to someone standing next to me with a radio on, and then I would hit the door button.  The director would yell cut.  Then I’d close the door to the cell for the next take.

This was a step in fulfilling my dream of being Gary Jones, the actor who plays Walter Harriman, the  guy on Stargate SG-1 who “operates” the stargate.    Why do I want to be Gary Jones.  There is a guy who got regular work.  He was in 108 of 200+ episodes, plus a few of the movies and crossovers to the other Stargate series.  A minor character sure, but paid and fed, and since he talked, I imagine he got his own trailer.  And I bet no one took his pants.

There is a funny scene in an episode where Walter explains his job.  Here.  And there is a funny scene on one of the DVD extra features where Gary Jones the actor explains his technique for pretending he was working the equipment and pushing buttons, and how he couldn’t actually type on the keyboard because of the noise, so he would pretend type, and then reach for something.  Pretend type and reach. This may not sound exciting, but I bet it is more fun than putting numbers into spreadsheets and filing.

My second scene of the day was being out in the “yard” escorting a prisoner in handcuffs.  I doubt anyone will see me, since the camera was on the inside of the cell block, focused on the star, who was standing in front of a window looking out into the yard.  They put fake bars over the window.  Then about 50 feet out from that they had me and the prisoner crossing, plus some other prisoners scattered about.  Just window dressing.

The most amusing part of this scene is that the “yard” is really just a a lawn between the two cell blocks.  The cell block we were not filming in was in use, and full of prisoners, who also happened to be mostly sex offenders according to one of the officers.  So they advised us not to pay them any attention to avoid getting them worked up and rowdy.  They were hooting and hollering as it was, playing music, offering us cigarettes to dance for them, yelling Action and Cut! a thousand times.  Probably we were the most exciting thing they had seen in a long time.

If you add up my entire amount of time on screen between the two scenes, I imagine it will add up to about 3.5 seconds.  Still you have to start somewhere I suppose.

Feb 20 – OK, um, let’s try that again.

Posted in Acting, actor, Theatre with tags , , , on February 22, 2010 by actingchick

Since I’ve been doing rather badly on my auditions lately, I decided to take Jodi Rothfield’s Auditioning for the Camera class. I’m glad I did.

Jodi Rothfield is as highly respected casting agent in Seattle.  I’d been wanting to take her class for a long time.  She was endorsed by one of my teacher’s at Freehold, George Lewis. I can’t remember his exact words, but it was something to the effect of, she is an ethical and real person in a business not known for that.  Because of that comment, I was looking forward to meeting her.  I was not disappointed.

Jodi is a boisterous, passionate person, in that way that people from New York can carry off.  For those of you who know Robin Lynn Smith, I’d say there is a similarity of energy that I found comforting.

I showed at up her office.  She was efficiently handling conversations with the people already there, while informing me that still owed her $75, and telling everyone to ignore the signs that said that everything in the fridge was a dollar, and that really it was free for the class, and to sit down and make myself comfortable, and that bathrooms were around the corner.  She sat at her desk in the ping-ponging conversation with everyone.

When everyone arrived she ushered us into the casting room.  The first part of the class was lecture.  She tells you what you need to have and to do to show up as a professional for an audition.  Very helpful.  Some of it I knew, but the questions you are supposed to ask when you get called by a casting agent for and audition was great.  Not only did she tell you what you were supposed to do, but she gave you the reasons why you did them. Most of which distilled down into “this will make your life easier, and the casting director’s life easier.”

One of her main points of the day was that “Auditioning is the most unnatural thing you will do as an actor.” She stated this over and over again.  All her tips and tools presented that day were to help you survive this crazy process.

Another point she made is that acting for the camera, and acting in general, is about connection.  But how do you connect with an inanimate assembly of plastic and metal?  It’s not going to give you any feedback or respond to your demands. You can play your action at it all day long, it doesn’t care…it can’t.

She gives you three simple questions to ask when you do a cold read, and a process to answer them for yourself, so that when you go in front of the camera, you have something to work with.  For the second part of the class she gave us some text from commercials she’s cast.  She gave us some time to work through her process on them.  Then we went in front of the camera.  The rest of the group got to watch you on the TV.

I went first, because I like to get the painful experiences over with as soon as possible.  I got worked over a lot, but that was OK, I didn’t expect less, and it was handled humourously and compassionately.  My big issues were trying to read my lines from the paper, while also trying to have them somewhat memorized.  It doesn’t work real well.

We would do readings in acting class where you would look down at the paper, get a chunk of lines, then look up at the person you were reading with, say your chunk of line, then look back down. Repeat.  This doesn’t work for auditioning for the camera.  You need to be able to read lines and remain connected at the same time.  Your script has to become and extension of your body so you can glance at it and move it naturally at any time you need to.  This is very hard.  Did I mention that auditioning is the most unnatural thing you can do as an actor?

We watched each other as we went up.  She corrected and encouraged.  After lunch we did the same thing again.  It was amazing how much better everyone was with just that one earlier session.  Not that we all couldn’t improve a lot, because we could all use a lot more work, but everyone was improved.

After the second round, Jodi opened it up for questions. She is very actor friendly and very supportive.  If we had questions, or needed recommendations for things, she offered herself up to being called and emailed.  You really got the vibe that she wanted to help you and was in your corner.

Anyway, I’d recommend her class.  Sign up at her site at World Perc to get on her email list, or call her office to find out when the next class is.

Dec 18 – One audition. One part.

Posted in Acting, actor, Art, Theatre with tags , , , , , on December 18, 2009 by actingchick

It’s been a while since the last post.  There hasn’t been too much to report…until now.  A month and a half ago I did an audition for an independent short.  It was down in Olympia, which is an hour and a half away, but I figured beggars can’t be choosers, and I’ll take whatever part I can get.  And if nothing else it will be audition practice.

So I drive down to Olympia, show up at the Evergreen College campus, where the director, and fresh-faced intrepid young man, is a student.  My girlfriend used to go there, so I’m not totally unfamiliar with the campus.  I find the audition room easily.  I enter, and no one is there.  There is a bottle of water and some printed sides on the floor next to a chair.  That’s all that is in the room.  I head back out into the hall and look around.  No one is around.

I was surprised that no one else was there. I sort of expected a cattle call audition with people out in the hall waiting for their few moments to shine.  He gave me a time range of 2 – 4 o’clock, so I assumed there were other people scheduled as well, but if they were they weren’t there, and either was he.  A few minutes later though, he came down the hall.  Potty break.

We chatted a bit.  He asked my experience, and I said not much, just got done with acting school, and I’m looking to work, etc, etc.  This is his first film.  He seems with it, and somewhat conservatively dressed for Evergreen, which is known for its hordes of, um, free thinking, tree-hugger types, who sort of float around campus doing whatever it is they do.

He did indicate that he had gotten a lot of responses from TPS, which is where I saw the audition notice.  We chatted a bit about Aikido, since he saw that on my resume.  Then we chatted a bit about the movie.  A mockumentary short on the subject of religious cults and how people are easily enticed to believe some things that others find ridiculous, and how this sort of thing can spread like wildfire under the right conditions.

My role was to be the Woman, a believer in the cult, and enthusiastic supporter.  It’s pretty simple scene.  I’m being interviewed by the documentary film maker and narrator.  All in one room, all in one take sort of thing.

He explains what he is looking for, and then I read it through cold.  I give it my best shot.  I try to keep as much eye contact as I can with him while I’m reading, but of course you have to look at the paper when you read.  I run through, he gives me a few notes, I do it again.  I feel weird, since I am in this huge room, with just him and me.  Luckily I’ve had plenty of practice feeling weird, uncomfortable, and winging it in acting class, so I just ride the wave.

He likes what I’m doing, gives me a few more notes, and then video tapes me.  After that he offers me the part.  I’m excited of course, but part of me is like, did anyone else show up?  Is it just me?  Still, he was laughing when I rad a few lines, so I must have been doing something right.  I leave happy, and excited to do my first film role.

I went down about a week and half later for a read through with a few other cast members.  Another rehearsal was to be scheduled, but I heard nothing for two weeks, then an email from the director saying he is still trying to get things together, apparently the camera he was planning on using fell through, and of course he is a student, poor, and also has a day job, so I get it.  I write back, just let me know when you are ready, and I’ll be there.  I’m not holding my breath.

This is the second role in an independent, mockumentary style short that I have been cast in that hasn’t gone anywhere.  The other film was written by a guy I went to acting school with.  He was having trouble working with his D.P., so it got put on hold, while he finds someone else.  Again, I’m not holding my breath.  Call me when you are ready for my close-up. Until then, I fish the audition waters.

So on the good news, I submitted my headshot to be a featured extra in a real film.  One where they like pay you, and has famous people in it.  Well, at least they are famous in Asia.  I don’t know the details yet, but I’m going to be a woman in prison.  How cool is that?  And we actually get to go to a real prison and film.  Sounds fun.  It will be sometime in February, and they will actually pay me.  Not hardly anything, but I’ll take it.  And since it is a film with a budget, I think it will actually get made.  This time I am holding my breath.