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9:21 am - Thursday, Jun. 23, 2005
The Chase Gig (And Other Topics Of Interest)

The Chase Gig (And Other Topics Of Interest)

Mon 6/20/05 ( 7:08 a.m.)

(Before I get started, I wanted to thank “Chumpiechange”, and the people who sent encouraging emails after my “Anxiety” entry. I was feeling pretty low right then–I imagine the title of the entry might have been a “tip-off”–and that little bit of internet hand-holding was “just what the doctor ordered” till I could regain a sense of forward momentum.)

Had my second commercial gig of the year on Friday. A union “spec” for Chase (In other words, you’re not going to see it on tv until and unless Chase buys it. It’s basically something for the Director’s “demo reel”).

(A quick reminder: The spot centered around “The Moocher”, a guy mooching hospital services off other patients.)

The shoot was at St Mary’s Medical Center in Long Beach, and my call time was 7:30 a.m.

Got a little bit lost on my way there, when I exited the freeway before I should have (Ooops!). That made me a little anxious, especially when I called Sean (The Production Supervisor) and it turned out he didn’t know Long Beach any better than I do.

But I still managed to get there early, cause I’d given myself a lot more “travel time” than I actually needed (I also had a bit of good luck: Driving through L.B., I basically stumbled across Linden–the street the hospital’s on–and followed it from where it started all the way down to the hospital, a dozen-or-so blocks away).

Once I was at the location, and got a call sheet from the A.D., I discovered I wasn’t “The Moocher” after all–Instead, I was “The IV Patient”.

I was a little disappointed, to be sure–And wondered why JS hadn’t bothered to tell me--but I wasn’t completely surprised; I knew I’d made a good impression in both roles, at both the initial audition and the callback (And without any prompting on my part, the director confirmed it as we were having our morning coffee at the craft services table).

So anyway, I’d already considered the possibility of being cast as one of the other guys in the spot, seeing it as a decent “fallback position” (“Well, now I’ve got a couple chances of booking this gig...”). And after my initial disappointment, I could see an “up” side,–The lazy part of my brain thought, “You know what, Jim? You’re going to get the same money as ‘The Moocher’ for a third of the effort” (There’s a side of me that really enjoys “getting away with something”, which is a big reason I want to make my living doing something I actually like doing).

And being in just one of three scenes made me think it could end up being a pretty short day. I imagined my bit wrapping by noon, driving home, writing all about it in here, catching a nap, then heading off to the bookstore, right on time for my shift--No harm, no foul...and no “occurrence”.

And at first, things looked pretty promising: My “vignette” was the first one on the schedule.

Within an hour after my call time, I was in wardrobe (A white t-shirt and gray patterned bathrobe) and had been through hair and makeup. And shortly after that, I was called to the set (The hospital is going through pretty major renovations, and we had the entire 6th floor to ourselves. I thought that was kind of cool).

Geoffrey--“The Moocher”--was in a hospital bed on my left, with the IV stand in between us.

He basically had to pull aside a curtain, eye me and the IV bag, get my attention, gesture at the bag, and ask “Are you gonna finish that...?”.

It took awhile for him to get the timing. And the Director fiddled with it a bit–Sometimes he had Geoffrey get my attention first (“Hey...”), and other times I was just supposed to feel him looking at me. On some takes, Geoffrey gestured at the bag, and on other takes he just looked up at it. And from take to take, the Director gave him little interpretive “tweaks”.

On my end, I had to turn towards “The Moocher”, realize what he was asking for, and register...whatever feeling you’d feel under those circumstances.

On each take, I started out “perplexed”, as if I couldn’t quite believe what I was hearing, then moved to “uncomfortable”–I didn’t really want to give this guy my IV, but was uncomfortable just out-and-out refusing. But some takes just ended with me looking at him, perplexed and uncomfortable, while other times, I would consider giving up the IV, then decide “this is just too weird...”, and turn away.

And after I ad-libbed a line ("Ummm...I think I need it..."), when the camera just kept rolling and I didn’t know what else to do, the Director had me do another take or two with the ad-libbed line, then a couple more with some lines he thought of (Adam--The Director-- was also the writer of the spot).

There were three camera setups in the scene–One for “The Moocher”, one for me, and one “establishing shot”–and my sense of it is that things went pretty smoothly.

There was a fair amount of waiting around (Or lying around, in this case), as the crew went from one setup to the next. Or debated the placement of things between takes, or moved the camera slightly, or changed film, or what-have-you.

That always feels a little strange–You’re front-and-center when the camera’s rolling, but mostly invisible when it isn’t, unless there’s some issue with your wardrobe or makeup--but it felt particularly weird in this case, lying in a hospital bed in a bathrobe as a dozen people scurried around the room. It made it easy to imagine that I really was sick, and needed that I.V.

We finished shortly before 11:30, so I was very happy my dream of an early day was coming true –I’d have all kinds of time to get home and take a nap before heading to the bookstore–but then I was told the Director wanted me to “hang out” because he wanted me in another scene.

For a moment, I was kind of flattered (“Gee, I must have really impressed him...”). Then I found out he just meant in the background of another scene. Then I wasn’t so flattered anymore.

So I waited.

And waited.

And waited.

I was finally released shortly after 5:00, without having done anything else (The production person marked 5:30 on my sheet, which I thought was very nice).

I spent most of the day hanging out in a room with one of the other “principals” and four or five “background” people (Other than “The Moocher”, who looked to be about my age, I was the youngest person there by at least 10 or 15 years).

And I have to confess–I’m starting to find actors kind of annoying.

There’s a lot of bitching on these commercial sets.

A lot.

A lot of “horror stories” about sets they’ve worked on, usually something to complain about on the current shoot, and a generally aggrieved, “put-upon” feel to any given conversation.

Basically, bitterness abounds.

I’m not “there” yet, and I hope I don’t get there--Yes, I’d like to have been released after my scene was shot (That I wasn’t probably spoke to the director’s inexperience), but that aside, I was pretty much where I wanted to be.

And for having to wait around, I was paid in more snacks than I strictly needed, a free lunch, and an hour-and-a-half of overtime. Not a bad deal, really.

To my way of thinking, when I get a gig, I feel like I won the friggin’ “Grand Prize”: I made the cut, when a lot of people didn’t, and now I get to be a “working actor”-- I get to act a little bit, I get free food, and at the end of it all, I get a check. And by and large, I think that’s pretty cool.

(There’s a reduced “day rate” for a union “spec” commercial. And of course, you don’t get residuals, because it’s not airing anywhere. But it’s still a nice amount of money for a day’s work–That check will be more than I make in two weeks at the bookstore.)

I don’t want to suggest that there’s never anything to complain about on a commercial set (And anyone who’s been following along in here knows I’m prone to being unhappy about things in general). I’m not a “Pollyanna”, by any stretch of the imagination.

I just wish actors at these things were a little bit happier about actually working, so they wouldn’t end up “harshing my buzz”.

But anyway...

After I was released for the day, I called the bookstore.

If Tim or Joe had been the manager on duty, I might very well have gone in, in spite of the fact that my day had begun around 5:30 a.m., and would then be ending at 11:30 p.m. ( I give myself a lot of shit a lot of the time, but in my heart of hearts, I’m basically a good guy who wants to do the right thing in any given situation). Neither of them would have pressured me to come in, but I wouldn’t have wanted to leave them in the lurch.

But when Craig answered–Craig is the GM’s evil minion–it struck me that I was getting a full “occurrence” at that point regardless of whether I went in or not.

And I remembered my conversations with David about auditions and gigs (In his mind, it doesn’t matter if I give as much notice as I can about a given work conflict. To him, I don’t deserve any more consideration than the person who just doesn’t show up for their shift).

And then I remembered going into David’s office, more than once, hat-in-hand, asking if I could have my full hours back, and instead of getting my hours, getting a song-and-dance instead (This is the first manager who’s cut my hours, then kept them cut, in the four-and-a-half years I’ve worked at the bookstore).

And let me tell you–When I said “I can’t pay my bills with the hours you’re giving me”, and his response was to basically say “Tough titty”...well, let’s just say he was lucky there were no sharp objects within reach right then).

And after all that “remembering”, I realized just how tired I really was, said “Screw it”, and called out.

My new philosophy when dealing with Borders? I’m going to give the job the same “consideration” it gives me.

No more. No less.

Weds 6/22/05 (11:28 p.m.)

Whenever I check out the CNN website, it seems a double-digit number of people have been killed in Iraq on any given day.

I don’t exactly know what I can do about that, but it bugs me.

(And with that level of political discourse, you now know why I don’t comment on world events more often in here.)


I had an audition on Monday, for Washington Mutual, that I felt went really well...but since callbacks are tomorrow, and Jimmy didn’t get no call from JS today, I guess it didn’t go as well as I thought (Of course, there’s a chance I’ll get a call tomorrow morning, because that does happen on occasion. There’s also a chance they pushed the callback to Friday, or even Monday. But in all likelihood, I just didn’t get it).

It’s too bad, really, cause it’s exactly the type of spot I’d like to book–Funny, and “generic” enough that it could run forever (I would have been “The Sprinkler Thief”, who’s apparently stealing his neighbor’s lawn sprinkler in order to save money, when what he should be doing to save money is banking at Washington Mutual).

I was pretty disappointed when I didn’t get the call today–I was hoping for a little “hot streak” of commercial bookings after my most recent success–but I have to have faith: My big “national” is out there. It’s on its way (I have a feeling I’ll get at least one really good one before the year is out).

I did something else recently that was “historic” and “anti-climactic” at the same time–On Saturday, I attended my first “Casting Director Workshop” at the Actors Co-op Group.

Basically, I paid $30 to read a scene in front of Erin Toner, a casting director who until recently had worked out of the casting office that casts JAG and that other military show on CBS I don’t watch (Is NCIS the one with Mark Harmon...?).

I was disappointed at the scene she gave me to read–It was pretty bland stuff, while other people's scenes seemed a lot "juicier"–but afterwards I thought that as an older character actor, I’m probably not going to get to do the big emotional fireworks most of the time, so I’d better learn how to give good exposition.

And it seemed to go well–If a scene seemed particularly weak, she’d critique what the person did, and have them try it again (It was interesting to see if the person could actually take the direction and change what they were doing. Usually, to my eyes and ears, it seemed like they couldn't), but with me, she just laughed a little afterwards, and said “that was a nice read...”.

It was maybe a bit much to think this would be a life-changing experience--It's probably rare that these things lead to immediately being called in for something--but who knows what could happen? She’s left that JAG casting office and wants to be a casting director for movies. At least now she’s seen me do something, so once she lands somewhere, I can drop her a postcard, and she may actually even remember me.

I’m not nuts about the idea of buying access to these people, to be honest, particularly when I'm one of "The Nation's Poor" like I am, but if you don’t have an agent who can get you into these offices, this is pretty much your only alternative (And as “buying access” goes, $30 is dirt cheap. And it’ll actually go down to $25 a pop once I’m in SAG).

A spot opened up today for the next one on Saturday (With Deborah George, who works with Junie Lowry-Johnson, of Deadwood and Six Feet Under fame), so I’m going to do that one, and a week from Thursday, there’ll be a “Theatrical Agent Night”, so I have to work up a monologue for that one (With the casting director things, you just read a scene, either with the casting director, or with someone they match you up with. For agent things, you go in with a prepared scene or monologue).

Today (9:55 a.m.)

Going to the SAG office down on Wilshire in a little bit, to sign up.

On Monday or Tuesday, I got a letter from SAG basically saying "No more free lunches": They were giving me a pass for the Chase "spec" (Which was actually my third union job), but after July 18th, if I'm not in the union when a producer calls to inquire about my status, I won't be able to do the gig.

Now, I guess I could wait till I get my next union gig, then rush down to SAG then. But the idea of rushing to the SAG office in a panic, in the face of who knows what conflicts or time constraints, doesn't sound very appealing.

Frankly, I'm scared, since signing with the union means no more non-union gigs (I'm not going "Financial Core", at least for now), but it's time I took the plunge.

Mark and Jane wired me the membership fee ($1458, an amount includes the first six months dues), which I've since converted to a cashier's check (They actually wired me $1500, since I didn't know at the time exactly how much I needed. I think I told Jane at the time that membership was "$1450 and change").

(It strikes me that while I refer to Mark and Jane as "friends", they really function in my life as "de facto" parents. To say I owe them a lot is the understatement of the year.)

I actually went down to the SAG office yesterday to "do the deed", only to discover, once I got there, that I'd forgotten to bring a headshot (I guess they need to have your headshot on file).


Well, I could blather on, but I think I've done enough here...


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