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7:15 pm - Sat 10.22.2011
A Viable Product

A Viable Product

When I first came to LA to be an actor, the idea of going on "location shoots" sounded very glamorous.

But a "location shoot" doesn't necessarily mean an all-expenses-paid trip to Hawaii or Europe or what-have-you - Basically, anything that isn't shot on a soundstage is a "location shoot".

But I should backtrack a bit...

Did I mention that I booked a Progressive commercial?

If not, I booked a Progressive commercial.

So a big "Yay!" on that front - As I've said before, I'm sure more than once, my finances as an actor don't really work, at least not at this level, without commercials.

(It was a pretty fast process - getting the commercial - from the initial audition on the 13th, to the callback on the 17th, to the shoot this past Wednesday).

The shoot was in Acton CA, about 45 miles away...which brings us back to my "location shoot" opening.

I probably sounded like I was going to go on about how much "location shooting" sucks...but I'm not, not really.

My "issue" centers around my anxiety when I find out a job is a location shoot some distance from LA (I've said it before - I'm typically way more concerned about getting to the job, in that scenario, than I am about the job itself).

I worry about not waking up in time for whatever reason, about getting lost, about car troubles, about getting in an accident, etc.

Now, I don't want this entry to be all about the preamble of "getting to the job", but I think it's interesting that the thing that would probably freak out the average person (Being on-camera), I find exciting, while the thing they probably take for granted (Driving their car to work) is something I find rife with potential peril.

Anyway, not sure at what point it started, but when I was on the freeway, I freaked out - and I do mean "freaked out" - when, with my foot on the gas, I started losing acceleration (I've had an issue with acceleration on the freeway since my engine was replaced last month, but along the lines of the car not being as responsive as it used to be, not with it actually decelerating against my will...and with my foot on the gas).

Along with feeling pretty dangerous - I was going under 50 mph at one point - I was deathly afraid the car would just die altogether and I wouldn't be able to get to the job.

So from that point on (I was maybe halfway there when it started) it was a very scary trip.

...which got scarier when I saw a sign for the production, on theoretically the last ten-mile leg of my journey.

The sign seemed ever-so-slightly askew, and I wasn't 100% certain which road it was referring to, and I didn't see any other road signs.

So, on the last leg of my journey, I was driving down this twisty canyon road, very dark out still, with no cell phone reception, not nearly as sure as I wanted to be that I was on the right road, with the (in my mind) very real possibility my car would die altogether at any moment.

It's been awhile since I've felt the degree of terror I felt right then.

But happily, the car didn't die, I did eventually see an "Acton" sign, and then a road sign that told me I was indeed on Soledad Canyon Rd, where the base-camp was.

I was beyond relieved to make it to base camp, even if it was uncomfortably cold before the sun started coming up and for some time after (Not sure why I wasn't prepared for that, since this wasn't my first time shooting a commercial some distance north of LA, but I hadn't even brought a jacket).

I always feel an initial awkwardness on a location shoot figuring out where I'm supposed to go, who I report to, and so on (That period of time before you know anybody on the crew, or they know you).

But then I saw the Director, and the ADs started introducing themselves, and I met Johnny (The "hero" of the spot - aka "The Messenger"), and before too long, after a quick trip through hair and makeup, we'd gone from the base camp to a blocked-off stretch of road to start shooting (I play a toll-booth operator).

I don't want to get into much of what the spot's about, on the off-chance the Progressive people get wind of it and chastise me (Besides, I think I'd rather have you see the spot for yourselves, when the time comes), but my role is, once again, the role I've come to think of as "Unhappy Guy".

(I have a "look", clearly, that suggests mid-level unhappiness of some sort - Ranging from "mild-to-moderate depression" to "mild-to-moderate disgruntlement")

I have to say - Since commercials are where the money is, not necessarily where my heart is, I'm much more prepared to be typecast as "Unhappy Guy" in commercials than I am when it comes to TV roles (Wouldn't mind it sometimes, but I'd like to do more than just be the sum of my hangdog features).

People kept saying what an "easy shoot" it was, and really, I guess it was. It wasn't a super-long day, considering, and we weren't exactly busting rocks, acting-wise. Everyone was quite pleasant, there were no tempers on anyone's part, and it had the feel you want to have on these things, of everyone just doing their jobs.

That said, my two big challenges were, 1) Relaxing my face (pretty important when they hire you for your deadpan "look") while trying to keep my eyes open in, not just bright sunlight, but in bright sunlight they were bouncing off reflective screens and into my eyes, and 2) dealing with my back, which was aching from being on my feet longer than I am most days.

I didn't have lines - except one alternate line they gave me (That I'm guessing won't be used) - cause it was really all about Johnny's lines and, to a lesser extent, that previously-mentioned "look" of mine.

And I was fine with that.

A "master" shot, his "coverage", my "coverage", "insert" shots - As is often the case, I had no clear sense of "how I was doing", beyond the fact that it didn't seem to take a great deal of time to get my side of things done, and no one seemed unhappy or frustrated with me.

(At one point, Laura - the very pretty blonde wardrobe person, who I'd bonded with the day before at my fitting - came over and told me the Progressive people were very happy with what I was doing. I was grateful to her for that.)

I'm afraid I'm making this sound like a bad experience, when it really wasn't.

These things are actually getting harder and harder for me to write about, because my reactions to them are becoming more...complicated.

I've done over forty jobs now, since moving here to LA, so being on the set of a commercial or tv show isn't as novel as it once was...but it's still pretty cool.

I'm undoubtedly more comfortable than I used to be - it was pretty scary being on a set in the early days, when I'd had no real on-camera experience - but I still don't work enough to say I feel completely comfortable and have a rock-solid sense that I "know what I'm doing".

I wish I did.

It still often doesn't feel like "acting" - though it clearly is (Just a different kind that I started out doing) - and I rarely, if ever, feel much of a sense of accomplishment, at least not "in the moment" (I think that's because "the circuit isn't complete" until you - "You" being "the audience" - see whatever-it-is).

But all that "It doesn't feel like acting" stuff notwithstanding, I do feel a sense of accomplishment at times - To have gone from spending most of my life just wishing I were a professional actor, to having now worked on a number of commercials and tv shows (With people like John Cleese, Nathan Fillion, and William H. Macy) is no small feat.

And while I worry about whether I'll advance beyond the level I'm at now, there's a sense of possibility that I've never had before (Working at a bookstore, or at a movie theater, I didn't want to advance, so tended to stagnate instead).

And whatever uncertainty or insecurity I have about "how things are going" when I'm on a set, I like having an important "role to play" (So to speak); whether I'm doing a scene opposite Bill Macy or playing opposite the Progressive "Messenger" in a commercial, a lot of time and energy (And money) is on the line, and I kind of like that.

And this is going to sound odd perhaps, but it struck me recently that, while I haven't done anything out here that suggests I'm a particularly great actor, I'm clearly a viable product...and that's actually kinda cool, because I never have been till now.

This is the first time in my life I've ever done anything/been anything that had actual monetary value to anyone.

Of course, my being an actor isn't just about the money - I want people to enjoy what I do, and I'd like to feel good about what I do as well - but "getting paid" is important to me, not just in practical, pragmatic terms, but in emotional terms as well.

There's a scene in the movie Moneyball where a character, referring to the big money that name baseball players get, says, "It's not about the money for those guys, it's about what the money says. And what it says is 'I'm worth it'".

It's nice, at least every so often, to be "worth it".


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