That Stupid Part Of My Brain

Part of being an actor is sometimes not knowing what they thought of you in the room, or why they never got back to you. While intellectually we know there are a million variables and only about four of them are under our control (be prepared, make strong decisions, be on time, and be a nice person come to mind), eventually it does affect you on a subconscious or emotional level. This is where the classic actor insecurities come from. We all have them, at least every actor I’ve met has them. They do manifest in different ways for different people though. For me, it’s this stupid part of my brain that keeps telling me my career is over.

For example, last week was awesome for my career, and my general outlook. On Wednesday my episode of “Broad City” aired, and I got such an awesome reaction to it on my social media. The same evening, my short film “Cleaning Up” screened at the NY SAG-AFTRA Short Film Showcase to fantastic laughter, and great comments and networking ops afterward. Friday I made a self-tape audition for a day-player role in feature film with some big names attached to it. So a really good week. Tuesday, the day before my scene aired, the highlight of the day was taking my sister’s dog to the groomers. So naturally, that stupid part of my brain pipes up to tell me how much of a wash-up I am. The conversation in my head went something like this:

TSPOMB: Uh, dude, you know your acting career is over right? Dog-sitting isn’t acting.
Me: What are you talking about? My Broad City scene airs tomorrow night.
TSPOMB: Yeah, but right now you are driving around with a dog. Case closed. Game over.
Me: Are you high? I’m about to have one of the best days of my career so far tomorrow, and you are telling me to give up? The “Difficult People” episode I shot will be out in a few months too. Things are staring to happen!
TSPOMB: Listen, I’m just saying what we are both thinking.
Me: Shut. The F@$k. Up.

Funny thing, on days where I’m working, or auditioning, or even when I get good news, that part doesn’t seem to be around. Only when I am not overtly and directly moving my career forward, even for one day, that voice starts trying to convince me that it’s all done. Fortunately, the voice is not very logical, so it’s not really good at making a case, so even on days when it is practically yelling I’m able to refute it well enough.

I know who I am, and I know where I want to be, and I am getting it done. So, shut up, That Stupid Part Of My Brain, and let me work!

The Virtue of Cheat-Sticks

Before I preface this post, I must pre-preface it by saying that I have decided that I will endeavor to express more gratitude in these posts. There are so many people without whom I wouldn’t have gotten as far along this journey of life, let alone my reinvention as an actor, and I will try to point out at least one such person in every post from here on out.

Now, on to the post-pre-preface, otherwise known as the preface: when I was growing up I was in the Boy Scouts, and my scoutmaster, Walter, was one of the best adult influences I’d had at that time. Of course, he taught me all the usual Scout stuff, such as knot-trying, flora/fauna identification, citizenship and so forth. But he also taught me right from wrong, to take responsibility for my decisions, to help those in need, and overall how to be a functional decent human being. For all of this, I am eternally grateful – thank you, Walter.

Okay, now for the post-preface: One of the things Walter taught me was how to get a campfire lit and going with only various-sized pieces of wood (and maybe a match if we were lucky. I have always been very proud of this ability, which I have used from time to time over the years. One such incident was over the last week while at my sister’s house.

She has a wood stove in the basement, which is nice to have running when the basement is occupied. When I’m there, I usually lit it up in the tried-and-true method (with matches though), and had no problem getting it going. This one particular time, however, most of the wood hadn’t had a chance to dry out completely, so most of the tinder (the thinnest wood that is used first, from nearly hair-thin to almost thumb-width) and pretty much all of the kindling (the slightly larger wood to put in once the tinder is going good, from about thumb-sized to around two inches thick) was at the time unusable. So to have some way to jump straight to the fuel (anything larger than kindling) without using any smaller stuff.

So I reluctantly go to the store to get what I call cheat-sticks. They are pieces of wood on the border between tinder and kindling in size that have been chemically treated to burn really hot for a while. Put about three at the bottom of a pile of split log pieces, light the ends, and you will have a fire. Yes, extremely powerful tool to have, but as you can imagine being forced to use them did rankle my Boy Scout instincts quite a bit. I even posted a funny little quip on Facebook about being “sullen and unclean” having used them.

Then I got to thinking, the situation was something of a metaphor for what some of us actors face in our careers. We may find it necessary to used the cheat-sticks from time to time, and if they are like me, an actor will likely let pride or some other feeling take over, and end up doing whatever it was the hard way, sometimes the extremely hard way.

Those aren’t cheat-sticks. That is help. There is no dishonor in accepting help, just as their is no harm in asking for it. None of us can do it alone (no matter what ‘it’ is), and from time to time we have to put our personal issues aside and take what help is given. I have learned this through my own error many times, and I think I am at the point that I recognize help for what it is, and take it as I need it.

Cheat-sticks aren’t a magic wand, either. You need to know what you are doing, be prepared ahead of time, and follow directions in order to get optimal effect from them. And they don’t get you anywhere you can’t get to by doing it the hard way; they just make it a little easier to get there.

So, use the cheat-sticks when you have to. It’s okay. That’s what they are there for.

The Show Must Go On

Over the past few months I have been dealing with the untimely passing of a close friend. He had been diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer, so although he tried to fight it with chemotherapy for a while, it was pretty much a done deal. All we could do over the next several weeks was make sure he was comfortable and know that he was loved. I believe we accomplished both of those.

But even while this was going on, I felt the best way to honor him was to keep doing what I do. For the DC 48-hour Film Project I played a guy in a dark comedy about using an event planner to help with his suicide. Yeah, I know. I made a point not to share it with any of my friends who were also close to him, but I did tell him, and he had a good laugh at the coincidence.

I got news of my friend’s passing the night before my shoot for the Baltimore 48HFP, and, oh boy, we drew Comedy. But I needed to soldier through and do it like a professional, both for his memory and for myself. Yes, I wept a lot while driving in my car to the location, but once I got there, I dried my eyes and focused on work. I wasn’t being strong, or brave – I just had to. I got through the day wearing a lampshade that had been made into a painful hat, and we made the comedy we’d intended.

In the weeks since then, I often think of my friend and that day. And I keep plugging away at this acting career I’ve decided upon. I miss him terribly, but I am doing the best I can to (I hope) honor him. It would be presumptuous to say something like, “he would have wanted me to do this,” because he never specifically said that. But I know he thought I was funny, and he did know that I am doing what I want to do, and I’m pretty sure he’d be okay with that.

Looking for Rep

In addition to getting myself in front of all sorts of casting directors, I have been attending showcases where I meet with and perform for talent agents. I have been getting decent feedback from both commercial and theatrical agents lately. A few have even laughed when I read the side or copy (it’s supposed to be comical stuff – don’t worry!), and some have even asked what I have on this here website and have even promised to come look at it. If you are one of those fine people, then hi!

I have a feeling that I will start taking meetings with some of them in the near future. Then when I find the one that’s right for me that thinks I’m right for them, I will have signed with representation. What does that mean for me? Well, for one thing my marketing budget will drop by nearly one half, as I don’t need to keep agents that I won’t be working with apprised of things. But it will also mean that the hard work will have just begun, as we will have to hustle to keep the auditions coming, and I will have to rock each audition extra hard to make it worth everybody’s time. But it will be worth it.

I’ll keep you in the loop when I start taking meetings!

Ready For Pilot Season

After the holiday slowdown, I am ready to get out there and work! This may be due to the weather, or from being around too much of my family, but I am super-eager to get auditioning for stuff. Fortunately for me, pilot season in starting!

This year, I actually feel reasonably prepared for the madness that is pilot season. I have made some contacts with casting people at most of the major networks, as well as having put myself in front of casting directors for many of the busier houses in NYC. The only thing that would make it perfect is having an agent represent me to more people, but I have yet to sign with someone. Perhaps if I get in a pilot they’ll be coming to me.

Meanwhile, I just do what I do, which is go to more workshops to make more contacts with more industry people, and do the occasional short film so my acting doesn’t rust. But I think this pilot season might be the best for me yet!

Working It With Workshops

Lately I’ve been going to a lot of workshops at some of the actor studios that lie spread across midtown Manhattan like, I don’t know, something numerous and randomly scattered. Lately I’ve been to Actor’s Connection, Actor’s Green Room and TVI Actors Studio among others. Usually with these I’m trying to do one of two things. First, I’m trying to meet with talent agents in an effort to find representation that will serve me best. Second, I am trying to meet with as many casting directors as I can, so they will hopefully remember me come casting time, and if they do, they will have seen me act and know what roles I’m best suited for. So part of my job as an actor is to do these workshops as much as I can.

Recently, due to scheduling goof that can only be attributed to human error (i.e. me not paying attention), I found myself signed up for workshops at two different studios for the same casting director, both within a week of each other! That was a recipe for awkward. But I just decided that, since it was too late to cancel either of them, that I would use this as an opportunity. In the first workshop, the CD in question sent me a scene that was, in her words, a bit of a risk, since it was a character that wasn’t my typical fare, but she was happy with what I did with it.

So, on the second one, when I went into the room to do my scene, she said something like “long time no see,” which was good news because she definitely remembered me. Hey, I know it was only a week, but sometimes it seems like you are doing these things in a vacuum and you’re not really sure how they remember you. This time I got to pick my own side, and I picked one that was more firmly in my wheelhouse. After the first time I did the scene, she had me do it again, toning it down a notch. “You’re funny without all that,” she said. Awesome!

So now I just wait and see if that pair of workshops pay off and she keeps remembering me fondly as she enters pilot season. In the meantime, I will just keep doing these workshops.

My Stint On VEEP

About this time last year Pat Moran in Baltimore started bringing me in to read sides for various dayplayer roles for HBO’s comedy VEEP. None of the roles ended up being a good fit for me, but we kept trying, and, as production for Season 3 was about to commence, her office called and said they wanted to bring me in for a role, but if this one didn’t work out, they would keep bringing me in all season. So of course the first one we tried out this year stuck. Only at the time I didn’t think it had. Two weeks had passed, and that is usually the window for when they will call you either for a callback or booking. So when Pat’s office called, I was thinking it was for bringing me in for another try. Instead, she told me that the VEEP people wanted to book me! I was really excited. In a few days I got the shooting details, and I felt I was officially part of the show.

Yesterday was the shoot, and the location was rather remote, and I had to high-tail it to make the suddenly-earlier call time. But I did, and then, as is usual for any production, there were delays from earlier that necessitated me to wait in my trailer. Okay, it was one of those partitioned trailers that they have for dayplayer use. It was a comfortable enough place to sit and do paperwork while I waited for wardrobe and hair/makeup to come check me out. Then it was a like 200 yard walk to the set where we did a rehearsal for the writers in case they wanted to tweak anything. At this point the regular cast started introducing themselves and shaking my hand. “Hi, I’m Julia.” Of course I was thinking “Of course you’re Julia – you’re the famous one,” but instead I said “Hi, I’m Greg” right back. They were all super-nice and supportive and friendly, and the same was true for the director, the writers, the director of photography, the costume designer – everybody. I felt really at home and totally comfortable, well, physically I was a little cold, but the rest was awesome.

While I was waiting to do my scene (there were two they wanted to get through that night, I hung out on set and chatted and joked with crew and cast, and had a blast watching them shoot a really funny scene. Then, sometime after 1 AM, I finally got to go on. My scene was taking place on some boats out at sea, so they taxied me out about 50 feet to where “my boat” was anchored. Then I sat there while another boat containing the rest of the cast drove up and we exchanged our lines. This was a little lonely, so I was glad I decided not to just sit in my trailer while the first scene was being done. When the cameras were facing me, I realized I was the only principal actor in the shot, and a spotlight was right in my face, so I’m pretty sure they got some good coverage of me.

This was one of the best times I’ve had on a set, in addition to hopefully being an important step in my career as an actor. Now I just have to wait seven months before I can see it! Is it seven months yet?

Another Short Film Done

Today I smoked a bunch of cigarettes, was almost made deaf in one ear, was force-fed baby food, and lastly was pelted by dodgeballs. In other words, I had one of the most fun times I ever had on a shoot day making a really funny film.

It’s called “The Hard Way,” and it’s written by award-winning writer Jimmy Monack. He wrote the film “Charm City Rumpus” which I worked in last year. It went on to several festivals and won a couple awards along the way. In fact, Jimmy told me it is going to be in another festival next weekend. Woo! So when he emailed to ask me if I wanted to be in another of his films, I jumped at the chance.

Like I said, it was a super-fun time. Most of the other cast were three kids (as you might have guess from the activities). and they were total pros. They knew their lines and listened to the director, but I could also tell they were having fun the same as me.

I really can’t wait to see the final film. I think it really has a chance of making a splash as some festivals in the coming year. I’ll keep you posted on that, of course.

Richmond 48HFP Went Off Without A Hitch

I got a last-minute email from a filmmaker I’d worked with before asking me to be part of his 48-Hour Film Project team in Richmond. I’d had a lot of fun with that group before, so I said “sure!” So last weekend I trucked on down to help make a film in the Science Fiction category.

We made quite a film about being characters inside a space combat video game, and it turned out pretty well. The version that was shown at our screening tonight had to be edited to make the time limit, so ended up not using some of the good footage we shot. However, we’ve been promised a directors cut shortly, and the producers and directors were talking about sending it out to some science fiction festivals, so I’ll keep you posted!

I’m always happy to do these 48HFPs, since it is an opportunity to work fast and hard with great groups of people.