Category Archives: CURRENT EVENTS

Even Actors Have Labor Strife

I haven’t posted anything for a while. Usually, I like to write posts about what I’m up to or what project I’m working on. But it’s been a strange few months. In Los Angeles, where I’ve made a home for myself and belong to a great theatre company, I’ve found that even when I’m not looking for work (Or rather, specifically when I’m not looking), jobs seem to find me. Sometimes it’s a play, sometimes it’s a short film; No matter what, it’s been consistent. In my line of work, there’s a certain amount of blind faith that as long as I do good work and stick with it, the next job opportunity will present itself.

That faith is one of the main reasons I’ve been with my theatre company for so long. Instead of a class, I’ve felt like actual, presentable work is a double edged sword: I get to practice and improve, and I get to add a credit to my resume. Both are great things. Either way, it’s work. And better, practice and improvement ensures I’m ready to be hired for a paid gig. Turns out faith is a little more practical when I’m practiced and ready.

Last year, a group called Re-Imagine LA Theatre began a kind of think-tank wherein they devised a series of proposals aimed at getting theatre companies like mine – and the many many others like it – to pay actors a minimum wage salary for both rehearsal time and performances. Currently, there is something called the “99-Seat Agreement” that exists in Los Angeles (and ONLY Los Angeles) between Actor’s Equity (the union for professional stage actors) and those who produce small theatre. This agreement was a hard-fought victory for small theatre producers back in the 80s and essentially hasn’t been touched since. What it boils down to is that for the past 30 years, an entire industry has grown around the ability to produce theatre in facilities with 99 seats or fewer, without having to compensate the acting talent, be they union or not.

I say “Without having to compensate”, but really the agreement is about the ability of Equity Union actors to participate without forcing the producers to pay them union scale rates, which would be impossible for small theatres and their shoestring budgets. Now, union actors DO get a small stipend for their time; Usually a token amount of $7-$20 per performance and nothing for rehearsals. What the agreement also allows for is labor rules to prevent the actors from being completely taken advantage of: Breaks, length of time between them, water provided backstage, safety requirements, and many other protections that otherwise would not be in place.

There are 2 main sides to the argument.
First, there are the proponents of change. Actor’s Equity is the primary player on this side. They feel that its unfair for a production to take place essentially on the backs of volunteer actors, while other people ARE compensated financially. Normally, a show’s budget allots different amounts for designers (Sound, Set, Lighting), stage managers, the director, musicians (If any live music is involved), and the rights to produce a published work. So why no pay for the actors? Many people, perhaps rightly, feel this is not an equitable arrangement.

On the other side of the line are the producers of 99-Seat theatre, often represented by a group called Pro-99. Their argument is that before any sweeping changes are made to the 99-Seat Agreement, there needs to be a negotiation and a timeframe for implementing any changes that are agreed upon. What isn’t commonly understood is that frequently the actors ARE THE PRODUCERS. So even though unions for those other elements of a production have fought to get some level of compensation for their members, Los Angeles actors actually fought their union for the ability to act in and produce small theatre. It’s not that we don’t like money, or don’t value our work, which are arguments I’ve heard a lot from the pro-change side during this battle. What actors wanted 30 years ago and still want today is the ability to produce new plays that wouldn’t be possible if they couldn’t be done on a shoestring budget. They want to be in shows with large casts. They want to practice performing, not in a classroom, but in a real theatre with a real audience and real, professional actors beside them. They want to meet other working professionals, learn from performing with/opposite actors of different age ranges and abilities. Much of this could be accomplished in a classroom, but it simply isn’t the same thing.

When I had just graduated from college and moved to New York to learn about the pinnacle of professional theatre in America, I was able to secure an internship with a major Broadway Management company. If not for that incredible experience, I would not have had a hand in laying the groundwork for Mama Mia and eventual Tony Award-winner Thoroughly Modern Millie, nor would I have worked as a PR Assistant for Chicago and Annie Get Your Gun. Those were seminal experiences for me. Not just making me feel like I had accomplished some major goals, but also providing me with invaluable contacts and experience. Now imagine that Management company was forced to hire an assistant instead of an intern. Armed with a Fine Arts degree and no experience to speak of, it’s possible I may have still been qualified; But at the same time, they likely would have gone with a more experienced person who already had the contacts and knew the wheres and whos of the Broadway business. In short, I would not have had that job.

Now imagine a red-hot small theatre scene in a town built on film & television. Unlike any other city in America, the sheer number of actors that live and work here is astounding (a 2012 article I read estimated over 100,000). Those actors need to act. They need to practice. They need to learn. Most of them will not be successful, meaning they won’t be able to make a living as an actor. Should that mean they stop trying? Because it’s hard to be successful, does that mean there’s no point in following a dream? That’s mostly rhetorical, but the answer is NO.

Theatre in Los Angeles has a few things going for it. Again, there are lots of actors, which means there are plenty of young, spirited, talented, creative people all trying to share their talent with the world in the hope that it will amount to success. Because it’s a film/television town, and in spite of the large number of people that want to be seen by agents/casting people/producers/directors/etc…, there is an ability to experiment that is unique to this city. Because a few actors can get together and produce a show, the LA theatre scene is bursting with opportunity – New plays, great parts for all ages & genders, plays with large casts… I could list a thousand things that are unique and fantastic about Los Angeles Theatre.

If the current proposal from Actor’s Equity is passed (How it gets to that point is another very large problem), the fear is most of those uniquely wonderful things will be lost. Overnight. Shows suddenly cost much more to produce, so goodbye large casts. The prohibitive cost makes risky theatre even more risky and less doable. Goodbye new plays and experimental theatre. The fine print in Equity’s proposal states that no union members may join a membership company without rules dictating they get paid while the rest of the company doesn’t, creating a poisonous internal tiered pay structure where some are paid for the same time spent as some who are volunteering.  Similarly, actors who are current members of a company (actors like me) and who join Equity then must be paid in spite of their tenure at their own theatre company. Remember at the beginning of the post when I said i was in one of the many similar small theatre companies? Well, without the ability to add young talent, those companies will die out. Goodbye theatre companies.

What am I getting at here? Clearly, fear is a driving force on the Pro-99 side. And there certainly are a lot of “what ifs” should the union’s proposal pass. I must also say I’m not without feelings that fall on both sides of the argument. For example, should small theatres have as a goal, growing to the point where they have a union contract? Or is that too much to ask of a company that’s working day-to-day, production-to-production? That’s a debatable question and it opens the door for the possibility of making changes.  Maybe Equity has a point there, that a goal of a small theatre company SHOULD, on some level, be to get to the point where there is some kind of pay for the actors, be it profit sharing or a budget-based share of the show. Regardless, what is brewing now is truly awful. A union exists to back its members, not to jeopardize (or outright eliminate) the field on which they play.  And that is what Los Angeles’ Actor’s Equity branch is unapologetically doing: Promoting one side of the argument, acting oddly hypocritical in its tactics (using actors as ‘volunteers’ to phone bank other less-informed members on eliminating their right to volunteer), and worst of all, holding a regional vote that is literally pointless, as a national council will ultimately decide the outcome.

Theatre will find a way. That’s one of the good things about creative people – they don’t give up. Hopefully an accord will be reached and instead of actors battling their union, that energy can be dedicated to another great year of outstanding, unique, sometimes unwatchable (but never devoid of passion) Los Angeles theatre. I have faith.

Sabrina the Movie..er…Remake.

I just posted something the other day about Audrey Hepburn and I think i was struck so hard because I hadn’t seen Sabrina in such a long time and the newer one has been on HBO. I also hadn’t watched it in quite a long while, but when that other movie showed up – How to Steal a Million – and reminded me about Hepburn, I got inspired to sit with the remake for a time.

As much as I enjoy Harrison Ford movies, Julia Ormond is supposed to be so beautiful and full of life that both brothers fall for her. Ormond, talented and beautiful as she is, really doesn’t hold a candle to Hep. That’s one thing. The other thing I realized about the movie (both of them) is that Sabrina Fairchild is a HUGE snob. Which is ironic because that’s what she’s supposed to deflate in all the other high-society people she comes home to. Over and over, she says things like, “In Paris, I found myself”, “In Paris, you eat with your hands”, “In Paris, you wander to to your favorite place along the river and…”  Blah Blah Blah.

“Guess what sweetheart,” I wish Harrison Ford would finally say, “You’re not in Paris. So stop bringing it up and acting like a spoiled brat who’s seen too much of the world.”

The reality is if she really was well traveled and worldly, she would exude that instead of needing to remind everyone that’s where she spent the past few years. Seriously, STOP BRINGING IT UP. It’s truly annoying and if it’s so great there, why did you come back at all? Was it just to marry into money? Because you basically start swooning over the one brother, then switch to the other when he takes you on a couple dates. And you’re so worldly and experienced that you don’t see any of the scamming from brother #2 coming. Meanwhile, brother #1 missed you so much, he had no idea who you were and had no memory of you when you were younger, short of that the family driver had a daughter.

It’s all kind of sad. If not for great performances in both movies – Bogart and Hepburn in the original and Ford and pretty much every side character in the remake – I’m not convinced they wouldn’t be looked on as the story of a social climber and the rich, jerkoff brothers who only want what they can’t have.

Poster art for “After The Blast”

Here’s the latest from my recent Cinema Operations Workshop project, After The Blast. Written and directed by Sam Saldivar, this is the story of the near future, after a major life-altering destructive event, where the survivors of the US government are hold up in a secret underground location. When a stranger stumbles upon their bunker, they hatch a plan for the future of America. But is anything what it seems?

Updated from the one on the front page

Updated from the one on the front page

Old(ish) Movies (and their stars) ROCK

Woke up this morning and couldn’t get back to sleep. This happens occasionally and normally I play on my phone, online, or try to exercise earlier. What I try NOT to do – and what I went for this particular morning – is to flip on the tv. HBO was still on from whatever I was watching last – I think a nice little movie called Labor Day.  and what I found was something I couldn’t take my eyes off.

 

How do you even APPROACH a woman like this in a bar?

How do you even APPROACH a woman like this in a bar?

Audrey Hepburn, looking more smashing than ever, and a very young Peter O’Tool in How to Steal a Million, in what I learned was Hepburn’s last role as the “unmarried young lady” character she specialized in (She would later star in movies like Robin and Marian, and though she wasn’t married in that, it came out 8 years into her retirement from film and she was clearly aging at that point). The great thing about Hepburn is that she got better as the years went on. And this movie I stumbled on is a great example.

Most people think of Breakfast at Tiffany’s or Sabrina (among others), where she was very VERY young. How to Steal a Million was a 37 year-old Audrey Hepburn, as whimsical and doe-eyed as ever, but somehow lightyears sexier than when she was a younger woman.

Some actresses, like Angelina Jolie for example, seem so perfectly fit for movie-stardom that they seem to effortlessly glide from movie to movie, year after year, and don’t seem to age at all. I feel like Hepburn was the original version of that. Her personal charisma and spunk (not to mention – again – those EYES) carried her through her entire career and into more worldly (and more meaningful) work as a UNICEF Ambassador (Another reason Jolie seems to me so similar).

I’m not really going anywhere with this… I don’t imagine it’s a very controvercial position to take, that Audrey Hepburn was a great movie star and very attractive woman. Still, in a world where so few movies stay with me, maybe it’s worth a look back to a time when a different generation of movie stars was in their prime. It’s a troubling time we live in and whether its anachronistic or not, it’s nice to be transported to a place and time when things (complicated as they were then) seemed simpler.

One thing that isn’t so simple is wrapping my head around how and why women like Audrey Hepburn are so few and far between.

Busy August

True to the promise I made to myself to scale back on working for FREE, I’ve been laying off theatre this year. It’s not an easy place for an actor to be – on the one hand, you always want to be working; On the other, nothing moves forward if all you’re doing is one play after the other in the Equity waiver world. Regardless, that’s where I am.

Nearly a decade after moving to Los Angeles to make a life for myself, I have a whole lot of theatre credits, but if I needed to prove to someone that I am a working actor, what can I point to? An old program? my good word?

The answer to that is IMDB. And sure enough, my credits on that site are slim at best. I exist there, which is step 1, but it’s not a place I direct people if they want to know about me as an actor. So, without theatre, and with some notion that my talents and training are worth money, I’ve had a pretty slow year. And, as it seems always happens, just when I’m reconciling the lack of a career in my mind, I get a call offering me a job.

Generally, these calls come from the same few people. One in particular surely has no idea just how much she means to me, since countless gigs in the past several years have been a direct result of her blind faith in my ability to get the job done, and done well. Such was the case in early August, when I received a call asking me if I could be in a short film.

1) Welcome to the Woods was the first legitimate SAG-AFTRA short that I have actually been cast in and paid for. Shocking considering how long I’ve been at this. I played Chris, the hipster in a band who convinces his girlfriend to bankroll the band’s new tour van. Much love goes out to the cast/crew but in particular, Amamda Weier (writer/director), Laetitia Leon (Star/Producer), and Jessica Noboa (Producer & my scene partner) for being stone cold pros.
Side Note: It’s fairly amazing how quickly actual, real SAG credits show up on IMDB when they’re legitimate. Unlike when one has to scratch and claw their way to adding a dubious credit, this short film showed up all by itself. Wow.

2) After the Fall was more of a workshop than a short but by all accounts, will look like the real deal when the editing is finished. Again, great to be a part of something I can honestly say I was lucky to be called for. In this one, I’m lost in post-apocalyptic ruins when I stumble upon the bunker occupied by the remaining few US Government officials. They take me in and more than falling through the rabbit hole, the truth of the situation is a mind bender.

More to follow in the coming weeks. I’m convinced it’s already been a successful year, just based on a couple weeks of working!!

‘True Detective’ and all the rest…

I just watched the last episode of True Detective on HBO and LOVED IT. From the billboards posted all over Los Angeles alone, I was apprehensive about the show. It seemed like a money grab with some big names attached. Woody Harrelson (with his gut) and Matthew McConaughey (and that pony tail) looked like they were going to give it the old ‘this is a serious HBO drama’ treatment. Frankly, it looked like one of those rare shows – think Luck – that would come and go. Boy was I wrong.

True Detective Poster

It’s hard for me to get into a show these days. I often find myself choosing to see something I’ve watched to death instead of trying something new. And it took an episode or two before I was convinced I liked it because it was good; Instead of liking it because I was supposed to… Because it was well made or important or some other half-baked reason.

–SPOILERS AHEAD–

It was during that amazing single-shot scene in episode 4 where McConaughey’s Detective Rust Cohle busted into a stash house, collected the apartment room to room, protecting a little kid in the process, and ultimately dragged his mark out the back door and across the apartment complex into his partner’s getaway car… chaos abound… when I realized I was hooked.

I’ve heard some criticism from women about the way in which the female characters were either helpless, oversexed, working girls, or simply there to be messed with. I can understand that perspective. I’m not going to lie – the sex scenes were hot, as were the actresses who performed them. And I can see how that would be degrading to female viewers. Don’t know what to say about that except that it’s not like it’s a new portrayal of women in film or television. Only recently have female leads been given the green light to be a film or show’s hero. Even then, they are usually very attractive women.

So there’s room for criticism. And don’t get me wrong, there’s a whole lot of room. In the end, it seems like ages ago that we were telling the story from the POV of each character recounting it to the newer detectives. And it seemed like all the clues and storylines would coalesce into one resolution, but ultimately, a lot of it was straight-up character development.

Cohle’s daughter’s death for example. It really played no role in the storyline about solving the case except that it was something Cohle was constantly dealing with. I say that, though it seems important to his final thoughts about light vs dark. “In the beginning it was all dark. Seems to me the light’s winning” (maybe that’s not the exact quote, but very close) was NOT something he would have said at any point up until the very end. It’s always nice when the last moments of a show give us an uplifting message since mostly the world makes no sense and people live/die/succeed/fail/win/lose seemingly at random. Hope is the most important weapon any of us have against the darkness. It’s good they waited until that point in the show to offer any hope at redemption for those two deeply flawed detectives. If THAT quote had been posted on billboards all over town, I wonder if those final moments would have been as powerful.

Whether this is the best the show will offer, or if this winds up being the one in a collection of fantastic seasons of True Detective, I’m glad I watched. I give it 9 Hatchets-To-The-Chest out of 10. 

Back to Work in 2014

Is this the year I finally put the pieces together? I have the time, the resume, and the ability. But that is pretty much where I was last year at this time. Like last year, I’m also staying involved; This time as the Assistant Production Manager for The Open Fist Theatre Company’s remounting of James Joyce’s The Dead.

We open in a couple weeks. It’s upon us. And when that happens, I should immediately be in the market for new representation. That is the single most important thing I can possibly do if I plan to keep on acting for a living.

The truth is staring me down and it’s become a situation where I need to ignore all the truth-tellers out there and have some irrational confidence in myself. I’m officially not a kid anymore. I was able to put that realization off for a good long while but the time has come for me to get real. How long can I expect to be on the fringe of this thing? I’ve been a “professional” actor for such a long time that I don’t feel I have an identity without it. At the same time, though I do try to work for free less than I have in the past, the prospect of “starting over”…again… makes me weary.

Friends are having success, starting families, buying houses and seeing their businesses gain a real foothold. Another close friend just told me he’s going out on his own instead of continuing to work for a company. I’m so proud of him. And more than a little envious.

Envious of what though? The struggle to make ends meet? Creating awareness of a small business in a saturated market? What? Envy suggests I don’t wish my friends well in their ventures and that couldn’t be further from the truth. I simply want my business to succeed.

So let’s do this thing. Get up in the morning. Exercise. Treat people well. Eat right. Focus. And maybe I’ll have some great things to report. Happy New Year.

‘The Wolverine’ Director’s Cut Changes Things

This is the 2nd time I’ve had to do this, so I guess the lesson is to take my instant reaction to a movie with a grain of salt.

I saw The Wolverine in theatres and was excited to do so. He is, after all, one of my favorite comic book characters. He’s a guy who’s fun to draw, has crazy attitude and some of the best mutant powers around.

The problem was the movie was only 70% good. A lot of the good stuff was skipped over in favor of wrapping it up in 2 hours and focusing on the fight with the main baddie. For those who haven’t seen the movie and don’t want SPOILERS, stop reading now.

It was bold to take away Logan’s adamantium claws. It’s happened in teh comics from time to time but since I haven’t followed the stories since the early 90s, I can’t really say how or when; just that it’s happened. So I’m glad they shot for the moon – taking risks is the only way to keep us in the audience surprised and it makes for some great character development. This was a good move. It’s just that the bad-guy-in-a-giant-metal-suit routine is something I’ve seen a lot of in recent years. And on the big screen, I wasn’t impressed with the CGI. I went straight to my computer and said The Wolverine was a Huge Disappointment. And that was a little harsh.

I recently gave it another shot, this time with the Director’s Cut of the movie. And wow was I wrong. This version fixed most of the things I had a problem with in the theatrical release. More fighting, more character developpment. More action, but more story.

Give it a shot and see for yourself! Good job movie-people!!

ESCAPE PLAN!!! Another SOLID Throwback

Renaissance.

According to Wikepedia, it’s from the French Renaissance “re-birth” and Italian Rinascimento, from rinascere “to be reborn”.
And Escape Plan is another in a recent Re-Birthed string of 80’s Action Movie throwbacks. I keep talking about this in my posts, but to recap, it started a few years ago with The Expendables, continued with The Last Stand, Expendables 2, and to a lesser extent, It’s A Good Day to Die Hard. Most Jason Statham movies fall into this category too. And I LOVE IT.

:There’s something about the muscle-bound, man-against-an-army, no-CGI movies from 20 or so years ago – Steven Segal, Van Damme, Norris, Bruce Willis, Schwartzenegger & Stallone movies – that has been lost in more recent attempts to keep the young people going to the movies. If I had to boil it down to one thing, it has to be the cartoon CGI that always ALWAYS reaches past the story and the action and becomes a spectacle all it’s own… to the detriment of the rest of the movie. Some have slipped through the cracks: The Matrix, Batman Begins, Avatar, and more recently Pacific Rim (Which was my favorite movie over the summer by a LONG stretch).

Man of Steel and The Wolverine are PRIME examples. Those should have been GREAT movies. For good long bits of them, they actually were. Then, the cartoon portion begins, lasts way too long, and no amount of banter, no strong character development, no cliff-hanger of an ending can change the fact that 20-30% of the movie is pointless and un-watchable. THE ACTION HAS TO SERVE THE STORY!! I’m not a film maker and I know this. How can it be that with the talent involved from start to finish, these trainwrecks keep being released?!?

Enter Escape Plan. I was certain, a week into its release, that my buddy and I would be two of the only people in the theatre. It wasn’t even playing at my main theatre – an 18-theatre metroplex – up until a couple days ago, and I have heard next to nothing about it in the media. I was pleasantly surprised to see a mostly full house. And for good reason… This movie was AWESOME. It’s about a professional prison escape artist that gets double crossed and has to enlist the help of ol’ Arnold to try and escape from the most secure prison ever. The cast… unexpectedly incredible. Jesus Christ himself – Jim Cavizel – was the bad guy. The 2nd season love interest from The Wire (Sorry everyone. I’m the one who hasn’t watched past season 2) and 50-Cent make appearances, Vincent D’Onofrio, Sam Neill and Faran Tahir – the bad guy from Iron Man 1 – all help out in some way. Amazing cast.

It takes 3 things: Knowing the Layout, Routine, and Help from Outside or In.

It takes 3 things: Knowing the Layout, Routine, and Help from Outside or In.

I felt like a kid again, watching heros get shot, punched, thrown and all other sorts of abused. Then walking away with a little blood to wipe off but no permanent damage. You know, other than a burning need to take down the bad guys at all cost.

The fact that its the 2nd movie with Schwarzenegger since his (sort-of) comeback, add in that Stallone is the main character, only makes this all the more of a storybook renaissance. Since the film-makers of today insist on giving us 70% of a good movie, I can take solace in the knowledge that these guys are still going strong. And thank God, because I don’t have time enough in this life to wait for the rest of the entertainment world to figure out that the future can sometimes lie in the tried & true formulas of the past.