"The label you give yourself cannot impact external forces that are not motivated by your own psychology or influenced by a third party's pre-existing consciousness of you. We are all presented with reasons to struggle which come from completely external forces; to pretend that one is not struggling is either arrogance or an admission of defeat. To admit that one is struggling is a sign and a source of strength." - Evan A. Baker

Friday, July 28, 2017

Self Tapes

You guys.

I've been concentrating on television writing, taking classes, reading books, studying my little heart out to really understand the craft so that I can keep working as a storyteller.

Wrote a pilot and sent it out to friends for notes, and OH MY GOD. One of my friends with a development deal at Sony (with two celebrities attached, so you know, he's kind of a big deal) liked my pilot so much that he offered to help me create a presentation for it and use his contacts around town to help me pitch it to studios.

Is that weird? Yes. Yes, it is. Because it always feels like that's how the other half lives. But now, I'm living that life too. And I'm in pre-production, gathering up crew and locations, and making sure my director, DP, and Production Designer are ALL WOMEN, and will all GET PAID. One of my male actors (a recurring on Silicon Valley) has even offered to waive his fee so I could put that money towards my women crew. HOW AWESOME IS THAT? Oh, and my producer friend? Also doing all this FOR FREE.

You know why? Cause they believe in me. And that feels fucking awesome. Because even though I've been writing this blog, helping new actors get their bearings in LA since 2009, and even though I wrote a freaking book, I still sometimes don't feel like a writer. It's weird.

I gotta get over that, you know?

Oh! And I had one actor email me that he read my post on how to audition for the CBS Diversity Sketch Showcase, and he got a Callback and wrote to tell me thanks! You're welcome, Rene!

Anyway, the Point of this Post

Right. That.

You ready?

For my pilot presentation, I put out 3 different breakdowns on Actors Access, asking for self tapes.

Here's what I found learned that I think you may find helpful:

Some actors, for some reason I could not understand, did not find a scene partner, and just recorded themselves saying their own lines.

I'm really not sure why they thought that was a good idea. Acting is reacting. So when you just read your own lines, you're already eliminating half your scene. And I get it, the other character had a few chunk of lines, but as a casting director, I needed to see how you reacted to what he was saying. I needed to see your disbelief, your disgust, your intrigue, all within the six seconds he was talking.

Some actors went for 'realism' and went on location.

One of my sides took place in the doorway of an apartment, so two different actors took their cameras and recorded themselves doing their scene in the doorway of their own apartment. Don't do that. It's distracting. You're showing me that you care less about your performance, which is all I care about, and more about location. How many times did you have to redo your tape when a neighbor walked by?

Some actors used a blank wall while others didn't have one so I saw their entire apartment. 

And you want to know what's interesting? The actors who've studied their craft, the ones who created a character, the ones who were really good; they had my whole attention. The ones who were still new and green? I checked out their place. Ooh! A bookshelf. Messy clothes.

Because that's the thing about self-tapes: I only need 5 seconds to judge you. If you don't wow me in those first 5 seconds, I can move on! So the lesson here, is to make sure your first 5 seconds are really, really good.

What does that mean?

Well... that's what class is for. Audition technique is really something you need to learn.

Another thing you should learn?

80% of the tapes I received were 'good enough.'
I thought, you know, I could work with this person. I can tell they're good enough that I could direct them to give me what I want. They're fine.

But for each role, I had my top 3, and what struck me was that I only had ONE person per role who fucking NAILED IT and had everything I needed in regards to what I was looking for in the character. That's it. ONE.

Are you that ONE? Sometimes you will be. Most of the time, you won't.

Sometimes you'll kill it in your audition but then the role gets taken by someone the producer knows. 

That is a fact of life, and it sucks. For instance, one woman was sooo good! And even though she was in that character's age range, I couldn't cast her because she'd look too young around the other actors I had already cast.

And then, after much discussion, my producer convinced me to take the role, because then we can tout me as the creator/writer/star; the next Mindy Kaling.

And if anyone is like, "We love the idea, love your writing, but don't think you can lead a series and we really want Amber Riley in your role," I'd be like GO AHEAD.

In fact, that was actually something I talked to my cast about: the chance of me actually selling this show is 2%. And of that just 2%, the likelihood of my original actors getting to keep their roles is .3%. That's the damn truth.

No matter how good of an actor you are, no matter how much I would want to keep you, Kylie Jenner could want to star on a TV show, and you'll get pushed out because you don't have millions of followers on IG.

Hollywood can suck.

I wish I could message the ones who really impressed me.

I was sort of struck by how I wanted to reach out to a few of these actors and say, "You know what? I get it: sending self tapes out into the ether is fucking awful because you don't ever get a response and it'd be nice to hear someone say, "that was really good," like they do in a first call audition. That little bit of validation can go a long way.

I wish everyone held callbacks like I do.

Because mine were the best. I called back only the people I wanted to cast. I sent them emails saying they were 1 of 3 actors called back, and then, after spending time with them in the room, offered the role to them right there. Told them they were my top, number one choice this whole time.

That was fun. :)


Thursday, May 4, 2017

So True

"Los Angeles isn’t a city that will make you. Los Angeles is a city where you will work if you can survive a very slow climb and outlast confidence-shattering lulls." - Cameron Esposito

Read the full article here.


Sunday, March 12, 2017

How to Audition for the CBS Diversity Sketch Showcase

So last year, I submitted a sketch I wrote to a group looking for Diverse sketches to perform at iO West. Mine got accepted and it was performed. One of the actors wrote me and said, "Hey, you should submit a sketch package to become a writer for the CBS Diversity Sketch Showcase."

Since I had two sketches I liked very much and felt highlighted diversity and inclusion, I sent in my materials. I got in!

And as a writer, I got to see the auditions of the actors who got into the program, and I want to share some information I learned.

This is Completely Unauthorized!!!

Full disclosure: I could be completely wrong about this. I could even recommend things that will not work for you personally.

But the program is AMAZING for actors and the Diversity team at CBS doesn't just launch you in a show and then say buh-bye; they actually really care about you as an actor. Your success is their success. And those (mainly women) in charge of the program know their shit.

So, if you want the VP of Casting at CBS and the Diversity program directors on your side rooting for you (and you do; they're super lovely people!) Read on. (understanding that my advice is most likely garbage.)

1) If You Auditioned Before and Failed Hard, They Won't Remember. 
They audition over 2,000 actors of color, those who identify as LGBT, and those with disabilities, and they will remember you if you are GOOD. If you had a great audition last year, I guarantee they will be happy to see you audition again. So if you've already done it and thought, nah, there's no way they'll have me come in again, submit anyway! We had, I don't know, like 15 actors who had auditioned for the showcase the year before? And most everyone had auditioned already in the past.

2) BE FUNNY.
This is tricky because I know the audition is basically like, 'come in with three characters' or whatever it is, and it's like, characters doing what? Characters doing funny bits. Write some funny jokes into your monologues. Come up with something familiar but original. One actor said, "Here's my impression of Aladdin, but he's really afraid of heights." He started singing, "I can show you the--world--" and then he looked down at his 'carpet' and said, "Wow." And he built his fear of heights  into the next line, and we all thought it was hilarious. So put jokes into all your characters.

3) If you Sing and Dance, DO THAT too!
For the love of God, show off what makes you shine! But! Don't just sing a song, write a PARODY of 16 bars of a song. Love Hairspray? Can you absolutely kill the song "Can't Stop the Beat?" "This is my impression of Tracy Turnblad if she was a vegetarian," And then you sing the song as if it was "Can't Eat the Meat." (I wrote that sketch, btw, so...you know, don't steal that.)

If you Dance, take some time to DANCE! They love actors, they love singers, but they absolutely freaking love Triple Threats! For, um, obvious reasons.

If you don't dance, but you do Martial Arts or Gymnastics, or something along those lines, USE That in a character sketch! Find a reason why a character would do a handstand or roundoff or whatever, and implement it. (and have a backup character in case you don't feel comfortable in the audition space cause there's less room than you thought, but DO mention you have these skills!)

4) Especially if You're a Person of Color, Do An Accent!
Maybe your Tia Gloria is hilarious, maybe Uncle Asad says words a funny way. USE THEM. Throw in some jokes about something and DO ACCENTS.

And I hear you, Aziz, you don't want to do accents, but you're showing the big higher ups at a frikkin Network that not only can you play American, you can also play other Nationalities. You can give the writers of the show something to work with. For instance, two of our actors were of Puerto Rican decent who could do the accents, and one of the writers loved West Side Story, so boom! A Maria and Bernardo sketch was born. What it basically translates to, is the VP of Casting thinking, "Oh! I know we have a show where we could put that person in!" And I'm fairly confident she's making calls like that on the actors' behalf. Make her job easy for her.

The accent can also be American Decade specific. For instance, see, if you know you're the bees knees at speaking in a 1920's radio lit, DO IT! 70's Blacksploitation? DO IT!

If you can do impressions, the Board seems to love those too. Like, if you can do a killer Ivanka Trump, don't just say, "Hello, I'm Ivanka Trump," you gotta make a joke. Like, "My father said if we weren't related, he'd probably be dating me. And he's right. If I was an 18 year old immigrant desperate for money with a penchant for blowing micro-dicks, I'd be dating him too!"

(Also, sidenote, if you're a white LGBT performer, the Board LOVES white trash characters. I'm not sure why, but they do. Go with that?)

5) Use the Space!
If you're not doing a little dance for them, try to find a reason for a character to be a bit physical. One actress had one of those Scared Straight characters, so she used the space and a bizarre physicality to get into character.

6) Don't be Married to the Time Limit
I'm pretty sure they even say in all caps that they'll cut you off after a minute or something incredibly short like that, but I'll tell you a secret about time limits that I learned in college, and is most likely very true here, If you're funny and good, they'll let you keep going. Now, they probably won't let you go too much longer after that, but know if they're laughing, they're listening, and wanting more.

7) Be Taking Improv and Sketch Classes NOW
You want to have good skills? You want to work with people who are already in the improv and sketch world who already know you and love working with you? Get into those iO West, UCB, Groundlings classes NOW.

8) Already Be Doing Cool Shit!
It is extremely helpful to already have a ton of followers on a social media channel. It is extremely helpful to have a shit ton of videos up on YouTube and Instagram. It is extremely helpful to already know how to write sketches because....

9) You Can Write for Yourself
Four actors wrote sketches for themselves that made it into Showcase. Those people got to meet with execs of other networks just for a general because everyone is looking for the next Aziz and Mindy and Issa. You could be next too. Actor/Writer Lucas Hazlett of the 2016 Showcase sold a show to a network, and he's starring in a pilot coming out later this year. Be the future's Lucas Hazlett. (He's also super supportive and came in and made friends with all of us and watched most of our rehearsals. Offered advice and guidance and any type of emotional support we needed. Seriously, be like him. He's wonderful.)

And all of the above advice I give you is because I realized the following, most important aspect of Showcase:

10) They Want to Feel like THEY discovered YOU.
So that means you are effing READY TO GO. You've had the training, you've taken the classes, you've booked some good things already, you know how to write for yourself, you know who you are, you are funny, you are likable, and (most importantly) you are KIND.

Their entire purpose and reason for the Diversity Showcase is to show the rest of LA that they went out and discovered the next superstars. So be that already. Make their job easy for them.


So there you go. I hope this list is extremely helpful. If you get in, you will be a part of a 70 person family, with 10 people at a Network seriously invested in helping you get to the top level.

If you don't make it at this year's auditions, keep applying. You want to be in this show.

xo

The 2017 CBS Diversity Sketch Showcase Writers and Actors