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Monday, August 24, 2015

The Popeye Sour Puss Gang...Brooks, Reiner and Van Dyke



Mel Brooks, Carl Reiner and Dick Van Dyke
at a reunion of the Dick Van Dyke Show (produced and writtren by Carl Reiner, with writers who included Mel Books.


10 reasons why most actors never make it.


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Saturday, August 22, 2015

A Truly Democratic Union



On March 30, 2012 history was made with the merging of the Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists. The new SAG-AFTRA is one union with members representing many ares of the entertainment and information industries. It is an world built on the proud history of two very democratic and different union cultures. Merger means SAG did not end, but governance and the nature of the culture will never be the same. 
This is about the Screen Actors Guild and AFTRA.

By Art Lynch (c 1998) 
   Actors are a unique mix of artist, craftsperson and employee. They view their needs as unique. Actors move between jobs and employers, resembling casual labor or self employed consultants, yet fight to remain classified as employees working for a single monolithic entertainment and information industry. Performers shoulder the individual economic burden of their own training, wardrobe, and an almost constant search for work. They face an increasingly competitive work force. At the same time, they rely on their unions to negotiate and enforce contracts, protecting performers' wages and working conditions within the entire entertainment and information industry.

    The Screen Actors Guild was formed in an age when things were different. A few major studios with a handful of powerful owners functioned as factories, producing entertainment and information for a world wide public. SAG was formed under pressure of large pay cuts for all actors and performers. Even though this occurred at the height of the Great Depression, from a labor perspective it also occurred simultaneously to large expenditures by management on the new technology of "talkies" and on the purchase of and building of large ornate movie palaces for the theatrical exhibition of management controlled films. The 1930s and 1940s saw record growth and profits for motion picture studios and broadcast companies. Over the decades that followed, the Guild adapted to changes in economics, politics and technology. These changes reflect Prindle's evaluation of SAG as a "truly democratic union." (1988)

     The democratic nature of governance, geographic concentration of membership and flexibility of structure allow for rapid adaptation to changes in the industry and in society, although with all change there is resistance, and not all change may be to the benefit of the membership, the community or the industry.


     The Screen Actors Guild represents a membership which may not be steadily employed (an estimated 90% of serious full time actors are out of work at any given time, with as high as 80% of the SAG membership not employed in the field their union represents), may or may not be serious about their trade, and which outside of the craft remains a part of the myth of Hollywood. Most of society fails to understand what it is to be an actor, beyond the performances they witness.  Today 85% of union actors make under $2,000 a year at their craft, with fewer than four percent living their upper middle class to wealthy lifestyles solely on their income from acting. (Prindle, 1988, see also http://www.sag.org).  Published reports vary, however most agree that as many as six out of ten members of the Screen Actors Guild go without any acting related income in any given year.  

     The Guild has been called the one truly democratic union in the United States because it functions with freely elected officers who, even at the level of the national president,
are not paid or compensated for the time they invest. It is a union made up of actors working for actors, who in turn hire paid staff to carry on the day to day functions of the Guild, including legal counsel and financial consulting.  While this may sound altruistic, it is also true as a long list of presidents, officers and board members have had to put their careers on hold, spend time away from family and jeopardize their own relationship with agents, casting directors and management in the interest of what is good for the membership of the Guild (Prindle, 1988). 

    Screen Actors Guild Nevada Branch Treasurer Vickie Sutton summarized her view of why the Screen Actors Guild is unique:

This union is unlike any other union. Our union is so different. It’s about a dream, working in that dream, pursuing that dream. Members are much closer to their union and what it represents. The membership is so diverse, yet under one banner, able to vote on all contracts and be a part of every aspect of the union. I take great pride in my union (personal communication, March 2000).

Membership in the Guild differs from most other unions. In addition to full time actors, dancers, singers and other performers, SAG membership includes others who do not earn their living within the industry, yet are as proud of their union and their union card as any Hollywood star. The vast majority of SAG's membership are not ‘actors’ in the true sense. The Guild has among its members people who may have looked right for a part and were in only one movie for a few lines, actors and extras who work on movie sets more for the enjoyment than the paycheck, those who are more management in their political leanings than pro-labor, and many who never took their jobs on a movie set seriously. There too are the producer or director's friends, under the obvious influence of management, who were given a part or given a letter of intent to allow them to join the Guild. While representing professional performers, the majority of voting members of the Screen Actors Guild are not themselves full working professionals within the industry or the craft (Back Stage West, 1994).

     SAG is a national union, with a structure that centers on elected officers and a national board of directors.  Local branches assist in providing services to local members and recommending any local contracts or variations from national contracts to the national board. All funds are distributed through the national office, with general budgets and appropriate specific requests administered by the elected treasurer and voted on by the National Board of Directors (SAG, Constitution and Bylaws, 1996-2000).

A Sister Union: AFTRA
     As briefly mentioned in the review of the Guild’s history, a second union formed to provide work place protection for radio broadcasters and radio actors, later expanding to include a new electronic media, television. The American Federation of Radio Artists was formed in 1937. To reflect the inclusion of television, in 1946 it was re-named The American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA). This historic expansion into new media, while SAG remained a “film industry union”, set a precedence, which occasionally produces conflicts between the two usually cooperative unions.  SAG remains a performers union, primarily representing actors on film, television and in commercial or industrial presentations. 

 While AFTRA began as a performers union, it now represents a widening range of professional crafts within the broader scope of the communications and entertainment communities. AFTRA represents newscasters, sportscasters, disc jockeys, talk hosts, announcers, on camera actors, video background performers, voice artists, dancers, singers, musicians, recording artists, music video talent, interactive technology performers, a small segment of television and radio producers, a small segment of electronic technicians and professionals in specific writing fields.  While SAG’s membership moves rapidly from production to production and employer to employer, a politically powerful segment  of AFTRA’s membership hold regular ongoing jobs, most notably the on air broadcast talent who work fixed hours five or six days a week for a specific employer. AFTRA also represents another segment of the entertainment industry whose lifestyle and motivation is surprisingly similar to those of a Screen Actors Guild actor: recording artists. So, in effect there may be more in common between the unions than detractors admit (Harvey, 1996; and S. Scott personal communication, January, 1998).

    There are real issues to address if the two unions are to co-exist into the future. Will they cooperate or will there be a jurisdictional turf war?  AFTRA activists point out, with some degree of accuracy, that by rights of the original intent of the two unions, AFTRA should have jurisdiction over all video and most certainly have jurisdiction over the new digital interactive media.  A mutual agreement exists that provides case by case individual decisions on jurisdiction, sometimes decided by which union the producer / employer prefers to reach an agreement with. As an example, television situation comedies, which are produced on videotape and not film, are produced under Screen Actors Guild jurisdiction. Soap Operas, even if they are shot on film, fall under AFTRA contractual jurisdiction. Both unions agree that this scenario could one day pit the unions against each other on a grand scale (SAG Board Room, personal communications, 1995-2000).

    A major structural difference lies in the democratic concept of open membership, by which entry level membership may be purchased without meeting any work or professional credentials. AFTRA’s board and conventions have consistently refused to revoke open membership. It is referred to as an “open door” policy. (Harvey, 1996) To the actors in SAG, this means that anyone can claim to be an actor, simply by joining AFTRA. This process continues today despite pleas from the Screen Actors Guild and Equity.  It can be argued that AFTRA’s open door policy may make the broadcaster union flexible enough to adapt and survive changes (SAG Minutes, personal communication, 1998, and SAG Board Room, personal communications, 1995-2000).

     AFTRA is structured as both a local and national union. AFTRA locals have widely divergent responsibilities, jurisdictions, dues and sometimes structures. They generate and manage their own treasuries while contributing to the national fund.  National officers and a national board of directors are responsible for negotiating and enforcing national contracts while an independent union congress of members at large, including proxy voting, holds the power to override the board and create national policy, including the nomination of a slate of national officers. Like SAG, AFTRA elected officials are volunteers, without a salary or benefit package (Harvey, 1996).

     While a percentage of AFTRA members have consistent single employer incomes, most do not. SAG and AFTRA have sometimes conflicting responsibilities in representing on camera talent in television commercials, on television programs, in industrials, on interactive entertainment and in most every category of voice over.  When the two unions formed, AFTRA’s work by its nature included the broadcast and recorded voice, while SAG’s workers were employed in projects recorded on film.  As audio recordings began to be used in film production and, with the advent of video, film began to be broadcast on television, both unions had legitimate arguments for claiming representation of workers who traditionally fell clearly under the other union.  Cooperation between AFTRA and SAG is common, however there remains the potential, and indeed in some cases the reality of producers playing the two unions against each other or seeking out the contract which is the least expensive or least restrictive for their project (R. Masur, personal communication, 1996).

      An example of how the interest of the two unions may sometimes be in conflict came in early 1997, after both union boards had voted with a strong majority in favor of moving forward on merger.  Concerns on the unilateral front of the two unions were raised over the World Intellectual Property Organization Treaty (WIPO) and its 1997 ratification by the US Senate. AFTRA and its national board strongly supported the ratification of the WIPO treaty, while SAG National President Richard Masur (of Los Angeles) vowed that his Guild “would actively oppose it” (Robb, February 4, 1997, p. 1).  AFTRA National President Shelby Scott (who lives in Baltimore) fired off a letter to Masur saying that SAG’s opposition to the treaty “causes those of us who spent the past five years conceptualizing and constructing a new merged union to question whether the new union really is capable of understanding and addressing the needs of its diverse but contemporary constituencies” (Robb, February 4, 1997, p. 1). The WIPO treaty was drafted to protect the work of recording artists, including for the first time, protection of their intellectual property rights from misappropriation of their work in cyberspace. 

    In addressing his membership, Masur wrote that “our sister union, AFTRA, seems to have made some headway in securing treaty inclusion of some protections for sound recording artists...however, the lack of any protections for audiovisual performers places us in a position where we have no choice but to vigorously oppose...ratification of this treaty. And we will oppose it until such time as it includes real protections for audiovisual performers”  (Robb, February 4, 1997, p.1). 

    Cooperation between the unions under Masur was never in dispute, in part because of his historic pro-merger stance and his friendship with AFTRA President Shelby Scott. Both were strong hands-on chairs, exercising parliamentary control under Roberts Rules of Order and interpreting those rules to gain the benefit for their presidential agendas. Both had been reelected by large majority mandates of their national memberships.




Sunday, August 16, 2015

3 Ways to Become a Lead Actor


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3 Ways to Become a Lead Actor
Most actors imagine themselves in lead roles in plays, series, and movies, and spend their early days studying the craft as well as marketing themselves. Yet in order to succeed, actors have to be prepared for the full reality of what they’re asking for—and creating a sustainable career in lead roles requires skills beyond what you might expect.
First of all, what do you consider to be the benefits of being a lead actor? The typical answer I hear is: To have better roles, get positive attention and accolades, have more creative control, and make more money. These are important things to many actors. However, I rarely hear, “to inspire others to learn and grow," “to make a positive difference in the industry,” or “to help projects become successful through my presence.” Those who do say that tend to be the ones who are already successful and their attitude was probably part of what got them there.
Booking a lead role in any project brings responsibility to the project itself and to the people in it—which essentially describes leadership.
In his best-selling book "Inspirational Presence: The Art of Transformational Leadership," Jeff Evans, Ph.D., a leadership development consultant writes, “As a leader’s sphere of influence increases, the requirements for skills related to emotional intelligence goes up as well.” In other words, the more successful you become as an actor, the more you’ll need competencies that go far beyond technical or creative ability. You will need higher levels of interpersonal skills. You need to be a good leader.
In an interview I had recently with Jeff, he shared three ways an actor can become a better leader, and therefore a more likely candidate for lead roles.
2. Empower Others. Work just as hard to make the other cast members as successful as you do for yourself. A great lead actor will perform lines off-camera just as fully as when he or she is on-camera. Give people the highest possible base for their performances. Creative processes can produce uncertainty and conflict, so work to bring people together in an environment of success and avoid negativity and drama on the set.







3. Be Inspired. Many leaders talk about motivating others to change for the better. Motivation, however, requires an outside force to move people along. Inspiring others, on the other hand, plants a seed inside them that grows and becomes it’s own force of change. To inspire others, you have to be inspired, and that requires you to be in harmony with your choices and direction. Be a force of inspiration by making sure you’re on path and making a positive difference no matter where you are in your career.





I’ve learned many things from Jeff’s teaching, one being that leadership skills are essential for every one of us no matter what we are doing. Being a good leader means that you contribute to the system you’re in and inspire others toward something greater than what already exists— and that means you get to be a force of positive energy in a world that really needs it.




Justina Vail, PCC CHt, is a life coach, master NLP practitioner, hypnotherapist, speaker, award-winning author, and award-winning actor. She is owner of Actors Life Coaching and author of the award-winning new book “How to be a Happy Actor in a Challenging Business: A Guide to Thriving Through it All."
Vail coaches actors all over the world via Skype and in person. For info about private coaching packages as well as Actors Life Coaching seminars and workshops visit www.actorslifecoaching.com.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Six Types of Character Writers


Writers who want to maximize the reader's emotional response to their stories
Writers who want to go beyond the basics of the craft
Writers who want to learn how Pixar creates masterful stories
Writers who want to take their writing to the next level
Writers who struggle with their rewrites
Writers who want direct feedback on how to improve their main character

Monday, August 3, 2015

4 Differences Between Cable and Network TV Auditions


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4 Differences Between Cable and Network TV Auditions
I have been auditioning for a cable series and a network series recently. Actors have failed to understand the differences between the characters in each, and what effect it has on their audition.
Of course, there will be exceptions to these principles. These are not set in stone. But you must utilize these theories to lubricate your thinking before your start prepping your sides.
Network is plot driven. Cable is character driven.Network shows are self-contained within one hour. The baddie must be caught, a relationship must be resolved. What happens is more important than towhom it happens. You need to deliver clear concise characterizations for network. Pace is more important than a pause. Do not overcook the character, because that is secondary to the story rhythm being clearly communicated. Cable characters make the audience work that little bit harder.
Network delivers recognizable emotions and relationships. Cable delivers conundrums. Network programs concisely deliver a character’s feelings and emotions. The audience is comfortable. They know the territory. Cable series performance hints at a character’s feelings, leaving subtle clues. The audience savors the intrigue and tension of being delivered morsels of information. It sets up discussion. If network TV did this, the viewer would reach for the remote.
Network is about style over substance. Cable is substance over style. Look your best for a network test. Look even better than your best. Network needs their audience to know exactly who the character is the moment they appear on screen, so dress appropriately for a network audition. Cable takes the audience into foreign territory —emotionally not geographically. A place where they have never been before. The cable script is the map, but it is the characters that create the emotional environment.
Network decisions are driven by how you look. Cable is driven by “Have I seen this character before?” Characters in a network show need to be instantly recognizable. We know the character in a short time. In your cable audition you can make bolder decisions about your character. Warning: Be careful to not make your character bigger, but rather more obtuse, more perplexing. Find moments that give your character added dimension.
Put simply, in network auditions we look for the actor who delivers the exact character. For a cable audition we seek an actor who delivers a version of the character—a hybrid that makes us think.
My analogy for performance is that a TV performance (network) makes the audience sit back in their chair. They know these characters. They are familiar; recognizable. A cable (or film) performance is a character we have seldom seen on screen—if ever. It makes us sit forward in our chair, forcing us to concentrate. It challenges us.
As the success of cable drama continues, network programming will be enticed to create shows with more levels, more complexity. But for now, the intrigue is in cable characters, rather than network. And actors must deliver this if they are to audition successfully.
Like this advice? Check out more from our Backstage Experts!
Greg Apps is an Australia-based casting director, creator of The Audition Technique, and Backstage Expert. For more information, check out Apps’ full bio!

Sunday, August 2, 2015

7 Rules for Following Up With Casting Directors


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7 Rules for Following Up With Casting Directors
You’ve auditioned for a casting director. You received a good response. Now what? Here are some do’s and don’ts on following up:

1. Send a thank you note. If it’s an email or a card, a short and sweet message of gratitude is always nice to receive. I am still a sucker for handwritten cards. If you feel like you’ve got a good read on what a casting director would like, choose a card that they might actually save. Years ago, an actor gave me a thank you card that I had on my bulletin board for the next two years because I loved the art and bright colors. We cast her in four projects during that time. Subliminal? Perhaps!

But do not send a thank you with an “ask” (unless absolutely necessary). The downside to email thank you notes is that I am more and more often asked for something…and often with a deadline. Yep, a deadline. Don’t be that guy. Go ahead, send a link to your reel or most recent short film, commercial, clips, etc., but please try to avoid asking for feedback, a quote for your website, a recommendation for representation, etc. When I have a good meeting with a potential client/producer, I follow up by thanking them for their time and consideration. An ask can come at a later time.

2. Know and keep track of how individual offices like to receive follow-ups. I am great with snail mail, and would prefer it to email. Other casting directors are, thankfully, greener than I, and hate receiving postcards.

But don’t overdo it. Follow up after an audition or meeting with a thank you. Reaching out every six to eight weeks minimum after that is a safe bet.

3. Send email newsletters, with permission. I recently booked an actor in a commercial because her MailChimp newsletter popped up on my screen as we were casting. It does work. A friend of mine has very funny updates with strange and useful tips one can use in everyday life. I love his emails newsletters. 

But don’t bombard me with bi-weekly newsletters or send them to all of my email addresses. Don’t post your updates or links to your most recent trailer on my Facebook timeline or message me on Facebook. Again, that’s my preference. Keep a database of how other casting directors like to be kept in touch with.

4. Respect boundaries when it comes to drop-ins and phone calls. Do not pop into the office unless otherwise invited. 

5. Invite us to see your work.
But do not invite us to see something that perhaps you’re great in, but isn’t so great overall. I met an actor at a workshop. He did a great monologue and I loved his energy. He then invited me to absolutely everything he was in and bombarded me with emails and requests. I went to see one of his shows. The play itself wasn’t very good, nor was he. Be very discerning. I was “uninvited” to a show over a decade ago...an all-female rendition of “Romeo and Juliet.” The actor that invited (and later uninvited) me was playing Mercutio. I was excited to see her performance. After the first preview or two, she removed my ticket from the box office, saying that she’d rather me sit at home and take a nice bath than come see her show, which she wasn’t proud of. She felt good about her own work, but knew the show overall wasn’t up to snuff. She trusted that I already loved her work and would keep her in mind. I have never forgotten how cool that was. I stayed home that night. And took a bath.

6. Find clever ways of getting industry pros to your show, without breaking the bank, of course.Way before John Lloyd Young won a Tony for “Jersey Boys,” he invited me to see an incredible production of “Spring Awakening” (the play) in a basement on the Lower East Side in NYC, which at the time was a little more sketchy and very far from my apartment. The company paid for my taxi. I went. I loved it. I still call the actors in for auditions, nearly 15 years later.

But do not expect industry pros to schlep a good distance to see you in a show. As more actors are self-producing their own content, there are more and more opportunities to work and get your work seen by industry professionals. Patience is difficult but worth it.

7. Focus on building collaborative, mutually beneficial relationships with casting directors.  Do not expect casting directors to spend a great deal of time with you in person, on the phone, or over email “managing” your career, no matter how much they like you. I can’t tell you how many times I have picked up a check after giving advice for over an hour. It can be an energy drain.

The bottom line is: Think of auditions as both an opportunity to perform and as a job interview. You wouldn’t make demands after either. Following up simply and professionally builds relationships.

Do not be needy. If you think of interactions in this industry as—to a certain extent—dating, and you think about how those who are successful with dating function, you’ll be more inclined to show us your best self and detach from the outcome.

Like this advice? Check out more from our Backstage Experts!
Brette Goldstein is a casting director and Backstage Expert. For more information, check out Goldstein’s full bio!