Sunday, 28 October 2012

My second favourite activity

Sometimes you think a film you have made is never going to be seen in public. Two weeks ago, as I wrote in an earlier blog, The Players got to the starting line - the editing process is complete and now it is awaiting its first screening. Two days ago, I learnt that the music video Against Me: Animal has finally been uploaded to Youtube. I make a very brief appearance in the opening scene, indulging in my second favourite activity. Enjoy.

Sunday, 21 October 2012

Exit Stage .... ?

A few months ago I noted that I had not been blogging because I was too busy acting to do so. Happy Days! In the past few weeks I have blogged little because I have had little to blog about. After the commotion of producing the one-man plays in July, the time off in August and a flurry of filming in mid-September, I find myself twiddling my thespian thumbs and taking stock of my acting career.

I have two / three potential sources of work: Casting Call Pro, Spotlight and my agent. CCP offers mostly profitshare theatre and unpaid film work, although it occasionally comes up with jobs that offer real money (£150 a day for example). To be sent details of paid work, the monthly fee is £20.40. In the 10 months I have been on CCP, I have found perhaps a dozen jobs, mostly unpaid. Altogether, I have probably received about £70 worth of work through the site. So, yes, I'm paying out more than I get in, but since even the unpaid / profit-share jobs on offer are sometimes interesting, I don't mind the expense. But £20 a month is my limit, which means I will not spend more money on similar acting websites, especially since they do not offer the kind of work I want. (Starnow, for example, specialises in reality television and extras work, neither of which interest me.)

But while less than a year ago I was applying - and sometimes being auditioned - for many interesting theatre projects on CCP, such work seems to have dried up. There are always student / unpaid films, but I have come to the stage of been-there-done-that-and-I-don't-need-the-t-shirt so I no longer apply for them unless they look Really Interesting, which they haven't in recent weeks. The one exception was the GBH2 film, of which more below.

What about Spotlight? Well, I only joined them a few months ago. Much of the work that comes through is inappropriate for me (despite the fact they have my profile) - often including dancing and singing, which I am incapable of. When I first joined I did apply for the occasional job, and heard nothing; I wasn't surprised, but I appreciated the ability to contact casting directors directly. However, once an actor is taken on by an agent, s/he is no longer able to apply directly for work through Spotlight, but must "nudge" their agent to do so on their behalf. I have nudged several times but still have not been put up for any part.

Which brings me to my agent. Agents, in theory, deal directly with casting directors and get the paid work which does not come up on websites. It was a running joke among the semi-professional actors I met in the last year, that as soon as an actor gets an agent the work dries up. That has been my case as well. But it's early days and a four-figure contract would make up for four months of inactivity.

Perhaps the issue is not CCP or Spotlight or an agent but my own attitude. Acting is a vastly overcrowded profession and if I want to get ahead I have to push ahead. And that means Ambition. Dedication. Drive. None of which I am over-endowed with. I have neither the overconfidence nor the underconfidence to push myself in every possible direction - spending hours online looking for work, going to acting classes when I can afford them, calling friends to ask them what is happening, what do they know, schmoozing with previous contacts who have given me work or auditioned me. There are other things going on in my life which take up my time and give me satisfaction - the bookselling business, housework, family - and deflect me from pursuing acting as a full-time career.

Which brings me back to GBH2. As regular readers may remember, there was a well-paid role in a feature film there that I was shortlisted for audition for. The problem was I had to submit, via Youtube, a clip of myself acting the role. Which I never made. There were lots of reasons why - or more accurately, lots of rationales - including a number of previous engagements during the days that I could have made the film, but the truth was that I was not confident enough in my own acting and my ability to put together a good three-minute clip. A face-to-face audition I could handle; the hassle of putting together a film was too much. And so I let the application die.

Which makes me wonder: I've got this far in last eighteen months (when I took my first acting course). Do I want to go further? Do I decide I can't be bothered? Should I aim for centre stage or exit stage left?

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Bloody Lawyers

The voice, distorted, drawls, is the speaker drunk? There is a sense of outrage underlying the slightly-accented baritone. He's protesting that honesty is essential, and the world is full of bloody lawyers. He quotes Shakespeare, but we are not convinced. There is something sinister about him; this is not a man you would want to meet or cross.

still from Myles Painter's  Grander Designs; view clip here
Our sense of unease is heightened by the fact we cannot see the speaker or his audience. We are staring at a recently-abandoned room where a tv monitor is playing, a windowless room for interviews or interrogations. The screen is small and the images unclear - an empty house or a series of abstract geometrical shapes; there are no people. We seem to be in a world where living things have vanished and only ghosts remain.

Back in the real world... This is art. We are watching a video installation by the artist Myles Painter and the voice is mine. And as with much conceptual art, meaning hovers between the creator's vision and the viewer's response, and the more time and thought the viewer gives to the artefact, the greater is the reward. It's too late for you to go and see it, however, and the video has not yet surfaced on Myles's website. To give you a flavour, there is a clip on my website - click the link under the image to see it.

Sunday, 14 October 2012

Poker Face

The first time I was cast for a part outside acting school was last December. If you scroll back through this blog - keep scrolling, keep scrolling, or follow this link - you will find a post, Muscle Memory or More, describing the day I and others spent in a very cold basement making the short film The Players. Five men sit around a table in an almost silent, very strange poker game. What's going on? What does it all mean?

Keep It Tidy Productions: producer Mark Driver; written and directed by Ben Garfield

I have made several films since then - mostly short, although I have been a corpse in a full-length feature. This is the second to be completed (the first was a student film and I won't embarrass either myself or the makers by mentioning it here) and there is no guarantee that the others will see the dark light of cinema or the harsh glare of YouTube. Although cast and crew have received a copy, I don't know when The Players will receive a public airing but I will keep you informed.

On other matters cinematic... I am, as usual too late to book many films at the London Film Festival, but the Other Half and I are going to the National Film Theatre this evening to see an example of a rare species - a serious Thai film, In April The Following Year, There Was a Fire (สิ้นเมษาฝนตกมาปรอยปรอย). About 50 films a year are made in Thailand, mostly downmarket comedies or horror; you don't have to be Siamese to appreciate them, but it certainly helps... And yesterday we had the misfortune to see Snow White and the Huntsman on dvd. Good production values but poor script, wooden acting (even from the usually excellent Charlize Theron as the Wicked Queen) and bad editing. Not recommended for adults or teenagers. Tonight, I hope, will make up for that disappointment.

Friday, 12 October 2012

Film Fun

Back in London picking up the strands of my acting life...

I've been shortlisted for an audition for a part in a feature film, playing a secondary role as an aging prisoner unable to escape the violence of his past. Not exactly Shakespeare, but there's Real Money involved and of course I'd like the part. But instead of turning up to meet the director et al face to face, they want candidates to audition via YouTube / Vimeo. That's the problem. It means (a) learning the lines, (b) finding a decent camera (mobile phone is ok, they say, but I disagree), (c) getting the Other Half or a friend to film me and (d)  setting up a YouTube account. It's a hassle, and only worth it if I have a serious chance of getting the part - and of course I have Doubts About That.

Life should be easier than this. I should have an assistant to make these decisions for me. In his / her absence, give me a couple of hours to think this through...

Friday, 5 October 2012

Tell Me Why

I'm in Scotland for a week visiting family. Monitoring the casting websites as usual. One event on the horizon: an audition for an important part in a feature film, date to be confirmed.  

I  have nothing more to report, except.... As the numbers of readers for this blog pick up, I wonder what attracts them to it. I know that most of those who see this and other posts do not follow everything I write, but land on one post or another as a result of some search. For some reason, the post I wrote on 27th August, about my new agent (Smile, You're On), is the most popular, with hundreds of people landing there. Which makes me curious. What is so special about that post? What is the search phrase that takes people there. If you are one of those who read it, or if you came to this blog for any other reason, will you please Tell Me Why?

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

What A Difference A Line Makes...

Agent Stephen calls me last night from his personal mobile and, amongst other updates that I cannot yet reveal, advises me to be careful about the unpaid film roles I accept. He's right, of course, and I've been telling myself that it does me little good to appear in a non-speaking role for no money. Several days of my time have been dissipated thus in the last fortnight and every moment I spend sitting around on set is time that would be better spent working at something more likely to earn me money: viz my book business. An unpaid speaking role is acceptable because I can use it in a showreel, but non-speaking for free in other than special circumstances, such as a personal favour for James Cameron, is not worth my time.

Billions of years in the future,
the remnants of humanity struggle to survive
Having confirmed that decision last night, I was not in the best of moods this morning when I set off for another such role, this time as a psychopath. It would only be for an hour, the director had assured me when I had accepted the offer a couple of weeks ago, but early this morning she had emailed asking if I could extend the time by three hours to appear in another scene. Well, I'm basically a nice guy despite appearances and I said yes. The first scene went quickly and easily; all I had to do was stand still and grunt occasionally in my cell in a Victorian asylum. (Said cell in reality is a hostel room in a South London Buddhist centre.) But then I had to wait 90 minutes in the café while the second scene was set and, although I had Brian Aldiss' Hothouse to pass the time, I was impatient to leave and get to our second set.

Back on the street, my impatience mounted as we faffed around Elephant and Castle trying to find both an entrance to the underground station and a missing crew member. Nor was I  reassured by the new set: an office block corridor, where we were filming apparently without permission and the knowledge of those around us. Tired of this amateur affair, I was eager to get home. Then we began to film. This time I had a line - five short words whispered in Mockney: "Gawd lives in the sewers". And I began to enjoy myself.

It was the line that did it. My character came alive. I could feel and vocalise him. I was fully involved and all the earlier irritations vanished from my mind. It didn't matter - well, not much - that we filmed retake after retake. I was having fun, gripping the Hero by his shirt front, staring madly into his eyes so close that our noses brushed, and stomping off into the sidelines. Nor did it matter that time was passing. I was Acting again.

Acting yes, but not for long. In less than an hour I was out of there, £1.30 in profit ("travel expenses and keep the change"). Twenty minutes later I was on the tube, back in Victor Meldrew mode (who were all these people? why did they have to keep chattering in my ear in a language I couldn't understand and which reminded me of verbal diarrhoea? why did one of them have to deliberately throw his newspaper to the ground? why are individuals so interesting but people en masse so unpleasant? and so on). Once more at home, however, I remembered that the hassle was worth it. What a difference a line makes.