MN ACTING STUDIO

A modern approach to acting

TV and Film Classes |  Private Coaching | Skype | Audition Taping | On Set Coaching

FOLLOW US ON INSTAGRAM

18 Things I've Learned in 18 Years in the Business

Here is what I’ve learned from being in this business for 18 years, first as an actor in LA and New York, and now as an on set acting coach and director.  Print it out.  Post it.  Throw it out.  I don't care.  

1.   Don't be a dick.   Seriously.   Life's too short.  Reputation is everything in this business.   Don't burn bridges, don't be an asshole to your agent, don't complain about your early call time, and don't be rude to the PA on set.  That agent’s assistant you threw a fit to because she gave you the wrong address?  She is now a producer at Sony.   That manager you dropped and sued for royalties?  They are now a big time showrunner.  Trust me.  You will meet all of these people again down the road, and they will remember!   So be nice, show up on time, say thank you, and don't suck.

2.  Create your own work.   Otherwise you will make yourself miserable sitting around wondering why your freelancing agent isn't getting you in for one line on "Blue Bloods."   Learn to crowdfund, learn how to use a DSLR camera, learn how to edit.  Keep yourself creatively fulfilled.   Stop sitting around bitching about other people's careers, and start doing something yourself.   Now more than every it's easier to create your own work, to be a more well rounded actor, to learn all parts of the business.  If you aren't doing anything to keep yourself inspired, you are wasting your life and career away.  Take control and create a project for yourself.  Submit it to festivals.  

3. Have a life outside of the business.   I mean, have other hobbies that make you happy.   Sign up for Survival Camp, take a road trip by yourself, read non-fiction, feed your mind and soul so that every audition doesn't become "do or die."   

4.  Confidence gets you very far.  Learn how to give 0 fucks.  If you don’t know how, read “The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F$ck.”  Put it under your pillow.  Stop giving everyone else so much power, and learn how to have unshakeable confidence.  People will pay attention, will hire you, and will want to work with you.   Just don't be a dick about it (see #1).

5.  Know your type and own it. You don't have to be the best actor.   Stop trying to be Al Pacino or Meryl Streep.   You will be cast in roles that are close to who you are.  So learn who you are, know what you look like,  be okay with not being the best, and get really really good at selling that.   You will work more and make more money.   You don't have to be "famous," just be consistent.

6.   Family is more important.  Do you know how many trips I've cut short so that I could come back for an audition?   Don't.  There will always be more auditions, and more opportunities.   Family, relationships, and friends are everything.  They need to be nurtured, prioritized, and paid attention to.   They will be there when you are miserable, questioning your life and career choices, and will talk you off the ledge when you are thinking about quitting and moving to Uruguay.   Book out, go on vacation, and don't feel bad about it.  You aren't missing anything.  

7.  Don't worry what other actors are doing.   Stop comparing your career to others.  It's a waste of time.  Everything ebbs and flows, and some people will have their moment before you.   Let them, be happy for them.   Everyone has their own path.  

8.  Surround yourself with the right people.   Spend time with people who inspire you, who push you to be better, and who are successful.  Watch them, learn from them, and take notes.   

9.  Nobody knows anything.  Everyone is an idiot, and everything is subjective.   Stop worrying about what other people think, and don't let yourself settle for boring or mediocre.  Pave your own path, take risks, be unapologetic, fearless, exciting and unpredictable in your work, and let everyone fall in line behind you.   There are no golden rules in this business, (except #1). 

10.  You don’t need to pay to create “relationships.”  Earn them by doing good work.   If you are a good actor and are putting good work into the universe, it will get seen.  There is no quick fix.  That's not how the business works. 

11.  You will get dropped or fired.   It happens.   Your manager or agent will let you go because you aren't booking enough.  Your pilot will get picked up but you will get fired from it, or you may even get fired after the table read.   It sucks balls, and you will cry for a few days, but every time this has happened to someone I know, they have gone on to bigger and better things.  Life goes on.  Get over it.

12.  Just hit your mark, say your lines, and don't suck.   On set there simply isn't time to discuss motivation, your character's backstory/movement journal/past abuse.   You have been hired to serve the story, to support the other characters.  Just do your job.  It's not about you.

13.   Don't be broke.   It makes you look desperate, and people read that a mile away.   Find a side job that you can tolerate, and get your finances in order, because you may book six guest star jobs in a year, or you may not book an acting job for four years.   Keep yourself stable, sane, so you can walk into an audition or on set and not "need it."   When you are deserpate for work, there is a thing called panic in your eyes that nobody thinks is cute.

14.  Let yourself make mistakes.  Nobody is perfect.  There is absolutely no guide book on succeeding in this business.    You will go down the wrong roads, get sucky headshots, work with the wrong people, bomb auditions, forget your lines on set, piss off a manager or two.  I'm here to tell you your career will be fine, and nobody is thinking about it as much as you are.   Give yourself a break, bounce back, and let it go.  

15. Deal with your demons.   Half of this business is dealing with your downtime, when you have no work, no auditions, and are making yourself crazy.  Learn how to deal with this time, to keep your sanity, to stay level and focused so that you are prepared and ready when that next opportunity comes along.   Take a class, pick up a new hobby, dive into your writing.  You might surprise yourself and find something else that piques your interest. 

16.  Spend time in a casting room, an editing room, and on set.   There is so much mystery in this business, and so much second guessing, waiting, and trying to comprehend the madness.   Actors should be readers, sit down with an editor and watch them work, and spend as much time on set as possible.   Learn everything.  

17. Getting an agent/manager won't change your life.   Stop obsessing about getting one, and paying thousands to do it.  Especially if you are not ready.   The right agent will come when your work speaks for itself.   You will go through several agents in your career.   They have access to the big jobs, but it's a whole other battle for them to get you in the room.   It will sometimes leave you frustrated, insane, and you will think about firing them on a daily basis.  Let it go.   

18.  Quitting is okay.   You don't have to be an actor forever.   You may end up being a writer, a producer, a coach (!), or even in an entirely different career path.   Life is too short.  If you are miserable like 90% of the time, terrified every time you get an audition, and hate your life every day, then walk away.  You aren't a failure, you aren't a bad person.   You are simply looking out for yourself.   

How to Memorize Lines Like a Bad@ss

FacebookCoachingPic.jpg

Do you suck at memorizing lines?  Let's change that.  No more excuses, no more self-tapes where you are staring at your script half the time, or staring at the casting assistant in the middle of your CBS pilot audition wondering when you are going to totally forget where you are, lose your page, smile nervously, and take a really long awkward pause in the middle of your scene while you try to find your line and recover, all the while wondering just how bad your feedback from your agent is going to be.

You are an actor, yes?  You are going to spend the rest of your career going on last minute auditions, or having lines changed the day of your shoot   I want you to know what you are doing.  Casting directors and showrunners want you to know what you are doing.  Yes, I know.  "The script comes in late last night while I was in the middle of a shift."   Or like 9am the DAY OF the audition, and there are five scenes, one of them including a monologue with a bunch of medical jargon.  F*&ck.  How in God's name do you memorize all these lines and "make the character yours" when you can't even remember where you put your Subway card?  How do you "connect" to the reader when are hungover, tired, and have 3 more auditions and have you pick your baby up from day care, all before your 5pm temp shift?

There will always be someone more memorized than you, don't forget that.  Like sitting right next to you in the waiting room.   So up your game, stop making excuses, and learn how to memorize lines like the bad@ss you are.   I don't want you losing out on a guest spot on "Blue Bloods" because you couldn't get through your speech to Tom Selleck's character in the producer session, and had to say "I'm sorry, can I start again?"  like 3 times.   No, you can't.

Let's fix this, yes?   Here are my two top ways to memorize quickly. I've been using them for a very long time, and recommending them to my students.  

1.  Get the rehearsal Pro app for your phone.  Just do it.  It's $19.95.  Just chill on the Starbucks for 3 days.  This one is a game changer.   It is the easiest, most actor friendly app on the market, and helps you memorize huge amounts of dialogue quickly.   I don't work for them, I don't know them.  I just like it.  You import the scene, highlight your lines, record them, and it plays back in a loop until you have them down pat.  You can work on it in the card, on the subway, in the waiting room, or doing the Stairmaster.  You can black out the other character's lines if you want, do all kinds of different voices, and get your freak on.  But most importantly, you get a tremendous sense of the rhythm of the scene, so that you are ready and flexible when you walk into the audition room.  (Tip:  When recording, whisper your lines, and say the other characters' lines out loud.  This will help you leave the right amount of space for lines, and also will prevent you from hearing your lines out loud and getting locked into a "pattern" of saying it).   

2.  Write out your lines.  Do people still use pen and paper?  I've been doing this since my high school drama teacher suggested it when I had to memorize a bunch of monologues for a half ass production of Molier's "Tartuffe."   Write out all of your lines in the scene as one big paragraph (not the other characters), then write it out several more times, breaking it up into smaller and smaller thoughts each time.   This seems time consuming, but it's not.   It's amazing, and really gives you a feel for the arc of the scene, and also really gives you a deeper understanding of the character and the thought process.   Writing out lines gives you this amazing ability to connect the mind to the page, and really helps you get the lines down cold, especially when you have an audition for Aaron Sorkin and can't mess up a single word.  

3.  Improvise the scene.   Seriously.  If your 60 year old roommate sucks at it, and your mom is too busy telling you to give up on this acting thing, get an actor friend and have them really run through the scene with you in your own words, many times, and many different ways.  It gives you a fuller, more three dimensional feel for the scene, fills out the relationship between the characters, and then you layer the lines on at the end.   By memorizing the sequence of events in the scene, the lines come a lot easier, and have a fresher feel to them.  

Try it.  Trust me.  Find your "thing."  Be good at this.  Please?  Whittle your prep time down to like an hour and save your sanity every time one of these last minute auditions come in. Or keep doing the thing where you cover your lines with your hand, and spend like several days trying to get the lines right.   That one never worked for me.

I love you.  Good luck!  

"How to Not Give a F#%k in the Audition Room" by Matt Newton

IMG_2764.PNG

"I don't need this job."  (Well, I do, but I'm going to pretend that I don't, even though if I don't book this I will probably quit acting.)  

I was recently inspired by my new favorite book "The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F#%" by Mark Mansan (highly recommend to all actors), as well as actress Alexa Carra's great article "Pilot Season:  How to Not Give Too Many F$#ks."   As a former actor, and now director and on-camera acting coach,  I thought I'd throw my oversized beanie hat in the ring and offer another perspective on the subject.  

How do we, as talented and skilled actors, walk into an audition, callback, chemistry read, or screen test for a big film or TV show and TRULY act like we don't care, and that we could give or take whether or not we get the job?  Supposedly that is what casting directors like, that very attractive quality known as "subtle indifference."  The rub is, by the time you get to a screen test for a pilot, you have actually already signed a contract, seen how much you are going to make per episode (and your trailer size, salary bumps, etc), your agents have told you how important it is, and then have to throw it all out the window and pretend you DON'T care when you walk into a room with 30 network executives in suits for a series regular in a new ABC show that could change your life?  Good luck with that, folks!

How do you NOT care when you stayed up late the night before, memorizing 15 pages of script, barely slept, your eyes look tired, you took time to watch an episode of the show you are auditioning for to get the "tone," left your temp/bartending/nanny/security/real estate job a few hours early meet with a coach, then you have to spring for a last minute Uber to get to the audition on time (cause for some reason it's located at the tip of Manhattan), all the while listening to your carefully curated "audition playlist," and then you are expected to walk into the audition room with your middle fingers up in the air, when truthfully in your head you have already spent the $9000 you would potentially make if you booked this Blue Bloods top of show guest star? 

As an actor I tried to find this confidence for years.  I read every self help book and watched every Tony Robbins seminar, read the "Artists Way" cover to cover, practiced meditation and yoga, made a damn vision board, went to years of therapy, and have actually said to people "Tell me how to not give a f#4k.  Please!" all for a little insight into this elusive world of "not caring."  I, like many actors, am far too self aware to put caring out of my mind, especially when you haven't worked in 2 years, you are worried about your mediocre agents dropping you, you are piecing together residual checks and catering gigs, and your parents keep asking you every day "When can I see you on TV?"   Quite the opposite, I gave WAY TOO MANY F#$KS! 

Here is what I've learned from working with thousands of actors over the years, both on set, and at my studio.   Confidence can be faked.   The best actors have the least confidence, and the worst actors have the most.   I see it all the time, and it amazes me, and I'm constantly trying to bridge the two.  Try being a guest star walking into a scene on the set of Blue Bloods with Tom Selleck staring at you, hitting your mark, and delivering a monologue in front of 150 crew members when you are almost at overtime and everyone wants to go home?  Most people would have a mild panic attack and ask the on set medic for some Propanolol.  But the ones who book, the ones who walk on set like they own the place,  they know it's all about confidence and acting like you deserve to be there, come hell or high water, knowing your shit and not apologizing for it, being fearless and unshakeable in your physicality and delivery.   

Amy Cuddy's enormously popular TED talk "your body language shapes who you are" discusses how ACTING confident can actually create that same physical response in your body, and release calming endorphins.  So wait, if I stand confidently, with my legs spread apart, my knees will stop shaking, my mind will stop freaking out, the sweat will dry up, and my panic attack will stop?   No, but it will help, and we all need a leg up in this arena.  You can be trembling and crumbling on the inside, but on the outside you can learn to convey a calm ocean of strength and confidence.  It's the stuff dreams are made of, and creates the allusion of authority.  And at the end of the day, you need to instill trust in casting directors and producers, so that they can put you on set and you won't crumble.   You know how your hand shakes when you are holding the sides in an audition?  That makes people nervous.  So start right now and put something heavy underneath your sides, so that your hand doesn't shake, and you appear more confident, and people trust you more and therefore hire you.  Voila!  You don't give a f#$k!

The truth is you will spend most of your career auditioning, unless you are one of the lucky actors who are "offer only" (in which case you probably aren't reading this article), so you better learn to love it, and develop the skill of "acting like a person with unshakeable confidence."  Everyone tells you how important it is to not NEED the job.  It's that fine line being confident and arrogant, right?   Well you try not giving a f#$k when 15 "Law and Order" producers are staring at you while you sit in a chair, pretend to cry and say "I don't know who killed him," all the while also thinking "Do I seem confident? Am I caring too much?  Should I look them in the eye when I'm done?  Did I pee my pants a little?"  Yes, you did.

No matter how hard you work, no matter how many conservatories you went to, no matter how good looking you are or how much money you have, dumb confidence is hard to come by.  You rehearse your lines hundreds of times, then walk in the room and act like you have never said them before so you don't seem like you are "anticipating."   Then you try the opposite and you work on them only a handful of times, cause f$#k it, right?  And then you go in and bomb.   You can't win!

So here are some ways I've found truly help actors when they walk into the audition room.

1.   Remind yourself how lucky you are to be doing this.   Just kidding.  F#$k that.  You chose this, and you want it to go well, and you want to book the job.   Take on the physicality of a confident person.  Walk in with your shoulders back, lines memorized (but carefully placed in your lap in case you need to look), look the producers in the eye when you walk in, and think to yourself "Watch this.  This is going to be great.  Trust me.   I'll make your job easier on set."   Just keep telling yourself this until it works.  Get yourself a good mantra, and say it until you believe it.  Trick your mind for a couple of minutes while you are in the room.

2.  When you are sitting in the waiting room, clear your nutty, spazzy mind.   All those intrusive thoughts get in the way of you giving a fully present audition.  Close your eyes, and take four deep breaths, and every time you breath in think of "confidence" pouring into your body, and every time you exhale, think of "fear" leaving your body.   Do it four times and you can punch Tony Robbins in the face with all of your newfound confidence.

3. Get some perspective.  Everyone wants the next step up.   Even successful actors want something they don't have (a summer movie, a cool indie, a Taco Bell commercial?).   This one day guest star is not going to change your life (or even your financial situation).   You don't have to be the best actor, you just have to be right for the part, which usually is out of your control.  Shouldn't that be enough to release the need to care?  So many things out of your control, so little time.  Can't you just play around for a couple of minutes and then go back to what you were doing before?   Why does it have to be so damn important?   Why does this have to occupy so much of your mind when there are much bigger things to give a f#$k about?  

4.  Enjoy the process and the journey.   Nope, eff that.  The "journey" of getting rejected sucks, and doesn't make your parents stop pressuring you to get a real job.   Get a damn hobby.  Find something to care a lot about that doesn't have to do with Checkov or "branding" or your IMDB star meter.   Give yourself something to focus on besides acting and stop making yourself crazy obsessing over it and why your agents aren't emailing you back.

5.  When you are in the room, focus entirely on the reader and what they are saying during the scene.   If you are nervous, admit it to yourself.  You make yourself twice as nervous by trying desperately to get rid of nerves.  It's a vicious cycle.  Everyone is nervous, so just admit it, and it starts to go away.  This really works.  What's the worst case scenario?  You are nervous, the read isn't great, and you have another audition for something else tomorrow?   Take the pressure off and just pay attention to what's happening in the silly little scene!

7.   Stop fighting so hard for it to be "right.".  It's so damn subjective.  When people are nervous, it's because they are at war with the present moment.  They want something different than what is happening.  When actors are auditioning, they are nervous because they don't want to have to prove themselves, and they are mad they have to audition at all, and they have to justify this crazy existence of constantly getting rejected for that one potential audition where the 7s line up and they win the "booking" jackpot.   Nerves come from wanting to control the outcome of a situation, or risk complete failure.  It's literally the same as a fight or flight response when someone is putting a gun to your head.   As Alexis put it in her article, you will work your ass off on a script, be fully memorized and camera ready, show up on time, and the next person will roll in late, hair disheveled, barely getting through the lines, be a total jerk to the casting director, and will book it.  Isn't that enough to make you stop giving a f#$k?  You have no control!  Sometimes your hair is the wrong color, you are too short, too gay, not gay enough, you remind them of their landlord, or your shirt fit you funny.   I'll say it again:  YOU HAVE NO CONTROL!  So chill and find something else in your life to worry about that you can actually control, like whether or not your french bulldog's UTI is going to come back, or your ukulele skills, or your dog's Instagram following and possible sponsorships.  

8.   Don't worry about booking the job, just book the room.  Yeah, no.  If I spend all of my days booking rooms, my wife will leave me, my baby won't have clothes, and all of those people who doubted me in high school can still say they haven't seen me in anything.  So I'd like to book the job please!   I got bills to pay, and my Urban Outfitters credit card is maxed out!  

That's all I got.  Try not to give a F$#k.  But it's okay if you do.   Anyone who is good at their job cares about what they are doing.  If you didn't care, you would be a deadbeat.  Exceptional actors are constantly self-evaluating and learning what skills they need to be better.   As long as it's rational.   What worries me is when actors take on the insane, irrational thoughts that have no relevance to their talent.  "They hate me!  I bombed in there!  They will never bring me in again!" That stuff doesn't help at all, and when you keep saying it, you start to believe it.  That's when all the f$%ks start being given, when you are trying to be a people pleaser, trying to prove something (to yourself, the casting director, your parents), instead of being fully present and letting the scene and circumstances wash over you from moment to moment.   

Good luck!!!

Matt Newton

Acting coach and founder of MN Acting Studio

Follow on instagram

Truths about Pilot Season

Here are things I've learned from being an actor over dozens of pilot seasons.   Feel free to share! 

1.   You will have 15 pages to memorize for an audition, and when you show up, they will tell you that you are only reading half of the last scene.  

2.  You will prepare 20 pages of sides, and show up only to find out your agent forgot to give you the "revised pages."

3.  They will ask you to read for four other roles "while you are waiting."

4.  Casting directors will say "Nice to meet you," even though you have met them 43 times.

5.  On your way to an audition, they will cancel your appointment because the role has been cast.

6.  On your way to an audition, they will cancel an audition because they changed the age, gender, and/or ethnicity.   

7.   Your friends will go on more auditions than you.  Always.

8.   Your agent will tell you they aren't giving feedback during pilot season.

9.  Your agent will tell you "it's going to get really crazy," and it won't.

10. You will think about firing your agent and manager on a daily basis.

11.   You will book a pilot, only to be fired after the table read.

12.  You will book a pilot, the show will get picked up, and you will be recast.

13.  Your parents will ask what a pilot is, and wonder when they are going to see you on TV.

14.  You will be asked to screen test, get a quote, sign a contract for the next seven years of your life, see how much money you will make, including backend points and salary bumps, fly out to LA to read for network, not get the job, and then be going on a Taco Bell audition the next day.  

15. You will be sitting in a waiting room waiting to audition, and you will hear the assistant talking to an agent on the phone and making an offer to someone else for the role.  

16.  You will be told that every casting director "LOVES you."  

17.  You will go on tape, and the next day be flying out to LA to test.

18.  You will go on tape 150 times and never hear anything.

19.  You will be in waiting rooms with 50 people that look just like you, dress like you, talk like you, and have better agents than you.

20.   Your agent will never return your calls.

21.  Your manager will return your calls a week later.

22.  Your mom will always return your calls.

23.  You will probably get fired from your survival job because you can never cover your shift in time.

24.  You will be asked not to worry about the accent, and then be asked to "just go for it" in the audition.  

25.  You will read a breakdown, and say "that's me!".  And so will everyone else.  

26.  You will go through 1,046 emotions on a daily basis.

27.  You will hear "They are going another way" 1,046 times.

28.  You will consider doing extra work.

29.  You will constantly bitch about "the state of current TV" to your friends.

30.  "Too tall, too thin, too gay, not gay enough, too macho, not street smart, too 'cable,' no charisma, a bit thick, not feeling it, not a fan, big fan, a bit shiny."   All feedback.  All real.

But hey, have fun out there!!!

#pilotseason2017

 

 

7 Tips for Professional Actors in 2017

This is the time of year where you sit around the dinner table on the holidays, and your family asks you "How's the acting going?" and you stumble on some response about how many callbacks you are getting, how you are focusing on your craft, and all they care about is when they can turn on the TV and see your face.    As we near the end of 2016, we should spend a few minutes and make some serious actor goals for ourselves in 2017.  Real, tangible, accessible goals.   Not "I wanna be a series regular."  We all do.   Let's start smaller.   

Here are some easy goals for every actor for 2017:

1.  If you have an agent, stop by the office.   Make a plan of action for pilot season, episodic season, make sure they are happy with your headshots, your demo reel, and everything else.   Let them see how great you look, and how excited you are.   If they haven't seen you in six months, you are out of sight out of mind.   Stay on their radar.

2.  Be ready to self tape.  That means have a corner of your apartment/house/cave that is totally dedicated to self taping when the appointment comes in last minute.   Use the right lighting, good sound, a non-white backdrop. Self taping is everything these days.  Read my tips here.  

3.  Make a targeted list of agents/casting directors/managers.   If you are represented, make a list of 10 casting directors you want to meet.  A targeted list means you feel like you are the right type for the shows they cast, and you think you should get in front of them.   If you are unrepresented, make a targeted list of agents and managers that you think would be a good fit for you.    If you know your type, and focus on what shows are right for you, then your time and energy is better spent being clear and specific about where you fit into the market.  Not just "I wanna get an agent and get on tv."  

4.  Create your own work.  It's easy, affordable, and will fulfill you in ways waiting for auditions won't.  I can't stress this enough.   That idea for a webseries that's been brewing in the back of your mind?   Write an episode now and shoot a 5 minute teaser with your friends, then raise money to do a longer version of it.  Write a role for yourself that you are passionate about, and that nobody else can do.   Dont' be lazy.   Get it done. 

5.  Update your headshot and demo reel.   Don't have a reel?  Now is the time to tape two scenes and post them on Actors Access.   Make sure your headshot is current (taken within the last year or two), and make sure your demo reel footage is recent.   Make sure you have a website with all of your information on there that you could send out on a moment's notice.

6.  Build your resume.   Do whatever you can to build your credits.  If you are new, it's hard to get an agent or manager excited about you without this.  Submit on Actors Access, Backstage, Mandy, for anything and everything that you are right for.   Submit every day for anything that is the right type for you.   Do all kinds of projects, from music videos to short films.   Get footage and build your confidence and craft, as well as your connections to other people in the industry.

7. Train train train.   Take a class to keep you fulfilled.  On-camera, improv, scene study, whatever.  Get out of your comfort zone.  Fail miserably.  Learn your strengths and weaknesses, try out roles you would never be cast in.  Watch yourself back on-camera and hone your on-camera technique.   Learn and network from other people in an acting classroom.   The only way to become a better actor to to make mistakes and suck in an environment where it doesn't matter, where you don't feel the pressure of being cast, and where you can "work out the kinks" in a safe environment so that you are ready when that golden opportunity comes your way.

Good luck!!!!!  

 

6 TIPS FOR A SUCCESSFUL CROWDFUNDING CAMPAIGN

How many times this month have you already been asked to donate to crowdfunding campaigns? One could easily go broke donating to every play, short film, or web-series that friends are starring in! I’m thinking of starting a crowdfunding campaign simply to help replenish my bank account for all of the campaigns I’ve contributed to.

Here’s the thing. Crowdfunding is popular for a reason—it is a great tool for actors who want to create their own projects without dealing with the hassle of investors and sponsors (or begging their families). It’s hands down the easiest and most affordable way to get a project off the ground. Instead of waiting around for auditions, we can self-produce, write dream roles for ourselves, and raise money for projects we are truly passionate about. Instead of asking our long lost Aunt Cathy for $10,000, we can ask all of our friends (real and virtual) to chip in small amounts, and offer signed posters and social media shoutouts in return. Sounds easy, right? 

But a lot of us are suffering from “crowdfunding fatigue,” and frankly can’t afford to support every project out there.  As a creator, you now you have to go above and beyond to create a successful crowdfunding campaign, one that really grabs the audience and stands out from the crowd. 

A few months ago, I raised $17,000 on Indiegogo for a campaign I did for my short horror film “Hide/Seek”, which I directed and is now on the festival circuit. Our original goal was $10,000, and we were able to raise 178% of our goal, which is considered very successful. Currently I’m in the middle of my second campaign for a new webseries I’m directing called “Pretty People, Inc,” using the same platform.  I’ve learned a lot about this process, have done a lot of research, and I’m here to pass along some tips to you. 

1. Choose the right platform for your project. 
Huge platforms like Indiegogo and Kickstarter are used for everything from films to physical product launches, while other, smaller sites like Seed and Spark are more specifically targeted to funding films. They all take a percentage of your total amount raised.  Do your research.  Some offer flexible funding (where you keep the money raised no matter how much), and some offer fixed funding (where you only keep the money if you reach your goal). 

2. Decide on a budget. 
You have to be realistic here. If you ask for too much, people will think you are crazy. What is realistic?  It’s always good to get a line producer to give you an idea of what your project will cost before you decide on a campaign budget.  Are you doing a test pilot for a web-series, or a full-scale feature film? In your campaign, explain to your audience exactly where that money is going, be honest, and break it down into line items. With these campaigns, trust is everything, and you need to let your audience know you have done your research.  Don’t forget to add in post-production costs, like sound mixing, editing, and festival submissions!

3. Know your audience.  
Who are you marketing this to? Friends? Horror fans? Is your audience niche or are you reaching out to a more diverse group?  When you start to market your campaign on social media, you want to be specific and offer perks that cater to that audience.  To encourage engagement, I kept a blog where I posted behind the scenes photos and wrote articles on the casting process, production, as well as post production. 

READ: “How to Get Cast in a Horror Film”

4. Offer special perks.  
When you ask your audience for money, you get to offer great perks in return.  These can range from “special thanks” at the end of the film, to a downloadable link to the finished project, to dinner with the creative team, or even an associate producer credit for the top donators (usually reserved for people who donate $1000 or more). These perks get your audience excited, and more invested in the project.  

When I created the campaign for my short horror film “Hide/Seek,” I catered to horror fans, as well as my acting students at MN Acting Studio.  In return for their investment, I was able to offer perks that would be enticing to this group such as private acting coaching and business consultations.

Knowing who your audience is and offering perks that relate to them is crucial. Keep it personal, and connect! And once the film is over, be certain to deliver on your perks! If you don’t, they will never donate to your projects ever again.

5. Make a great video.  
The campaign video is everything. The quality of the video is directly related to the production value of the project.  If you spend the time and energy to make an exciting, high quality video describing your project, why you are passionate about it, and who is involved, your audience will be more likely to donate.  I’ve seen too many people do this wrong, and not spend enough time on this.  

6. Keep the momentum.  
If you create a 30-day campaign to raise funds, chances are the initial excitement of donating will wear off after a few days. This is where you want to get savvy, and continue to post about it on social media in interesting ways, so that you can sustain interest as you get closer to your end date.  Keep your audience excited, remind them how much you have left to raise, how many days, and offer them exciting tidbits into the pre-production process.

Good luck! I look forward to donating to your project.

Lessons learned from writing, casting, directing, and premiering my first film.

It's two days until the premiere of my short film "Hide/Seek" which I wrote and directed.   For the past 7 months I have worked on this film, and seen this through the process of concept to picture lock, and on Tuesday I will get to sit in a movie theatre in NYC and watch it on the big screen.  This whole process has blown my mind, and I have learned more than I ever thought possible.  It makes me a better coach, better teacher, and a better director.

I think it's important for actors to learn what goes into a process like this, and as part of this production I've documented the process of casting, filming, and post production.   So as we start to submit to festivals, these are my final thoughts:

Why do a short film?  For me, it was a pet project.  I teach my students to go way outside of their comfort zone.  I wanted to do that myself.  Practice what you preach, right?   This was one of the most challenging things I've ever done.   I love horror/thrillers,  I have coached on the set of feature length horror films, and I wanted to see if I could write something that would take me on a journey, that would raise my heart rate a little bit, and be something that I would want to watch on film.   I have spent many years as an actor in TV and film, and many years coaching on the set of Blue Bloods, and many years coaching/directing actors for auditions and tapes at my studio.  I simply wanted to take what I have learned and push myself to do something different, something evocative, moving, that would allow me to use my techniques in a new, unfamiliar setting.

Casting... I wanted to be on the other side of casting, and shine a big spotlight on it for my actors.  What it's like, what matters and doesn't matter, etc.  A big part of my job is preparing actors for big auditions, and I wanted to sit on the other side of the table and gain valuable perspective on this mysterious process.   I went all out and hired Kimberly Graham, a friend and casting director of "Homeland," to jump on board.  I wanted to put out breakdowns everywhere, on Actors Access, Backstage, and Breakdowns Services.   I didn't care if actors were union or non union, I just wanted to hire four of the best actors.   We received 3500 submissions total!  That's about 900 per role.   It's beyond overwhelming.   I learned that some actors still have black and white headshots, some have shirtless pics (why?), some don't have footage attached to their profile (crazy), and some agents don't bother submitting for a small project like this.  I only really had time to see 60 people for auditions, so I first went to people I knew, former students of mine, current students, and Kim brought in people she knew.  We had some agent pitches, and we brought in some unknowns.  And guess what?  Many names came in for this.  Why?  Kim told me it's because everyone wants to work.  Some people were "offer only," and wouldn't audition, and some came in to pre-read.  I was beyond impressed, and that's exactly the kind of person I wanted to work with.

All the actors who came in were great.  We brought in 60, brought 20 to callbacks and cast four.  It was amazing and eye opening.  For most, it came down to the color of their hair.  For others, it was just a "vibe."  I learned that actors should NEVER overthink these things.   It rarely was about anyone being better than anyone else.  It was about chemistry, connection, and my preconceived idea about what people needed to look like.  And we had to match a family.   I hired the most terrific actors.  Bryan Manley Davis, Michelle Vezilj, Ned Van Zandt, and Sophie Knapp.  Any director would be lucky to work with them.  Total professionals, no attitude, and the hardest working actors in the business.   We were about to go on a journey together and they were totally up for it.

I learned how to file a SAG ultra low budget agreement, which says I can use union and non-union actors.  I have to pay any union actors $125/day.  I think all actors should get paid.  Always.     I had one union actor (Ned van Zandt), and the rest were non-union.   I didn't have to pay the other actors anything, but I did Favored Nations and paid everyone the same rate.  Why?  Because it's the right thing to do, and it gives them an incentive to show up to set and work their asses off.   

Budget...  we started at $500 and ended up at $17,000.   I wanted to try something different and do crowd-funding.   I used Indiegogo, and raised the money by offering coaching perks (audition taping, copies of my book, demo reel scenes, etc.).  It was amazing and fun, and I would do it again in a heartbeat.  It created a sense of community around the project, and really allowed me to open this up to my actors who wanted to be a part of this creative process.  I am always talking about the importance of self-producing, and again wanted to push myself and see how far I could go.

Once we reached our Indiegogo goal, and hired our actors, something shifted.  Our project got very, very legit, and we found an amazing crew (thanks to the best producer in the business Ellyn Vander Wyden), and my friend and mentor Doug Keeve (who won Sundance for the film "Unzipped" and directed me in "Poster Boy"), came on board to help me lift this to another level.  This was my first time directing, so I didn't have a clue.  But I surrounded myself with the best in the business, to lift this from what might come across as a student film, to a 20 minute piece of art.   That meant getting a good camera, great lenses, doing tech scouts, rehearsals with the actors (which I could do in my studio), a great sound guy, an editor who has two Emmys, a composer who has five Clio Awards, and really driving the level up a notch.   It was go time, and I was spending my down time doing shot lists, discussing costumes, props, locations, and prepping for the first day of shooting.

Filming...We filmed for five days in my backyard in Guilford, CT in early April.  I used to play "hide and seek" in these woods, so it was amazing to spend 60 hours filming.   It snowed, rained, got warm, snowed again, and our continuity was all over the place.   It was a mess, and half the time the actors had to hold their breath in a scene or chew ice before, so their breath didn't fog.  That's what they don't tell you in acting school!  We called in a lot of favors, and had help from the Guilford community in terms of interns, catering, etc.  It was an experience for everyone.   The actors were terrific.  They put in 12 hour days for so little money, stayed in a house together, and we were all pushed to our limits physically and emotionally.  It was some sort of crazy bootcamp, but the kind you never forget.   We knew we were doing something special.   Scenes were changing constantly, lines were being cut, locations being changed, and the actors just went along for the ride.   I've been on these kind of sets before as an actor, but never as a director.  It was a battle, and we were constantly racing against light, time, and emotions.      I never settled for an "okay" take.  Sometimes we did ten to fifteen takes of an emotional scene.  Why?  Because I wanted it to be great, even if it meant losing light.  

Post production..  I grew up with a guy named Jeff Reilly, who became our editor.  First rate guy with two Emmy awards.   He worked for such little money while he was working on three other projects.  This is the nature of indie film.  He threw us a bone and we were lucky to have him. The hardest part of this whole process was the wait.   Jeff was great, and would send scenes, cuts, etc.  He had to deal with continuity issues, sound issues, and other stuff you can never plan for, and he created many versions of the script.   It's funny how much an idea changes in post.   Scenes are shifted around, lines are cut, performances change, etc.  It reminds you how important it is to get many different options from the actors when you are filming them.   It's funny, the actors spend five days on the film, but directors spend at least 8 months with it.  And that's just for a small short film like this.   I always knew this, but now I'm seeing it first hand.  I thought about this film every day for those 8 months (how to make it better, what to change, what to keep, what can I let go of).  You are always planning for it to go a certain way, and there are always a million things that go wrong.    But I learned that you have to be a perfectionist, and keep pushing until it's exactly the way you want it.  Why?  Because it's your script, your baby, your first film as a director, and you should take the extra time to make it perfect.

The hardest part of the post production process is going "Okay, we have all this footage.  Is it good?  Does it make sense?  Do we actually have a movie here?"  We started to play with performances and shots and after 3 months came up with something we really liked.  We did two test screening at my studio just to make sure that plot points made sense.  It's not something short films normally do, but it was easy for me to get a bunch of people together at my studio and have them be honest with me about it.  I'm always honest with them, so I figured it was a chance for them to be honest in return.  It was so nervewracking!  I can tell you that it's nearly impossible to watch a film without sound and music, so I was chomping at the bit to get a picture lock and get it to our composer.    During this process, I was thinking "we should get it done in time for THIS festival, and THIS one...."  I like to get things done fast.  The big lesson I learned here is not to rush, but rather to DO IT RIGHT.   Dont' put a half ass product out into the world.   

Sound mix and color...

This is where films get very interesting, when you start playing with mood.  I had a great colorist named Don Wyle out of Stamford, CT, and an amazing sound guy Sloan Alexander (my best friend growing up), who were hired to take on the last part of the process.   They sent cuts back and forth to me, and I went to their studios with my mentor Doug Keeve.    It's amazing to watch artists at work.  I had NO IDEA what went into this part of the process, and it really made my vision jump off the screen.   The mood took shape, the story became more coherent, and I was able to watch it with an objective eye.   It's amazing what you can do with a closeup of an actor when you add music and color to it. It shows you how importance subtlety is in film performance, as a bigger reaction would send it over the top and make it less believable.  Again, lesson learned.  Luckily we had smaller performances.   What feels right on set isn't always what feels right in the editing room.   My music guy played with a lot of different types of sounds, and is amazing at adding tension to scenes that need that extra push.  I got goosebumps watching it, and I wrote it!  That's how I know it's working.

Picture lock...  always scary.  You are basically saying "Okay, I'm officially done tweaking it."  I could have easily spent another six months on this, but at some point you have to be okay with it.  Plus I am already onto directing my next project!   

Now it's time to submit it to festivals.   With a short film, the goal is to get some traction, see what happens, and maybe some awards.  You don't really do a short film to sell it and make a ton of money.   I always approached this as an experiment, so to me, the fact that it has gone this far is more than enough (and I actually mean that).  I've enjoyed every second of it, and have already submitted it to 10 high profile festivals.   Now we wait...   I'm on the programming committee of the Greenwich International Film Festival, so this past season I spent a lot of time watching short films, which gave me a lot of insight into what makes one of these good.  There are a lot of film festivals out there, like hundreds.   My goal is to submit to a few, see what happens, and maybe get to travel to some cool places.   In the meantime, back to coaching at the studio and prepping my next project.  

The premiere on Tuesday...  I'm excited and nervous.  I'm showing it to 72 people (cast, crew, friends, agents) at the Anthology Film Archives in New York City, then doing another screening for my actors at the studio, and then a third premiere in Guilford, CT.  It's important to do it right, so I rented a cool theatre, and plan to do a Q&A and wine reception afterwards.    I want to tell the story of how this was made, and encourage others to do the same.  This is a dream come true!

Bottom line:  you want to create your own work?  go for it!  No excuses.  Just surround yourself with the best people possible, who inspire you and challenge you, pick up a camera, write something interesting, and go for it.    And don't settle for good.  Make it effin' great!

I look forward to sharing this with all of you!!!

--Matt

Are you a GOOD actor or are you a SMART actor?

Every actor needs to have a strong acting foundation, a deep understanding of human behavior, and the training and stamina to sustain a character and story, whether on stage, on TV, or on film.  A solid acting technique allows us to analyze a script, break down moments, personalize the story, express subtlety, range and disappear into these imaginary worlds.  It allows us to show the audience something interesting and unexpected, to shine a spotlight on human emotion, something that surprises them, keeps them guessing, and compels them to follow us on our character's journey.  Without technique,  there is nothing for actors to rely on when they have to do 15 takes of a very emotional scene, or 8 shows a week on a Broadway stage.   How can an actor possibly find it in them to access these emotions when the well runs dry?  All of this is essential to sustaining a career as a professional actor.   Otherwise you can be a one trick pony.

I believe actors should always be in classes, whether it's a theatre scene study class, an on-camera acting class, an audition technique class, an improv class, or anything else where they can nurture their talents.  Acting technique is developed through trial and error, through testing your limits, challenging yourself in a safe environment, making mistakes, being uncomfortable, and not worrying about the result.  This is where artists are made, much in the way a dancer has to practice every day, or an athlete has to practice his skills on the field. 

But here's the truth.   Actors need to also have marketing savvy.   They need to work equally on treating their career as a business.  There are 76 TV shows now filming in New York, and if you want a career in TV, you need to educate yourself on the market, the agents, managers, casting directors, know how to walk into a room, nail an audition, and convince them that you are right for the job, whether you studied at Julliard or did one production of Godspell in your hometown.    Everyone is in the same boat, and to be in that boat, you need to access the practical side of your brain.   Who's casting what?  How do I get in front of them?   

Technique doesn't matter if you don't know how to SELL yourself.  That means know your type, have a terrific headshot and demo reel, pay attention to social media (yes, followers), and make sure your work is being seen by the right people.   That means know all the shows you are right for, who casts them, and who the showrunners are. I know actors who spend all their time in class, have tremendous breakthroughs, but don't spend enough time putting their work out there, in front of the right people.   I also know actors who have little training but spend thousands of dollars at casting workshops, hoping to throw money at the problem.   Rather than learning true "technique," they are just learning the pet peeves of various casting directors, and hoping if they meet them enough times a "relationship" will be established.  I also know actors who "don't watch TV."  That's just cray.   Left side technique.  Right side business.

Actors have to find a way to combine the craft of acting with the practical, business side.    Don't be lazy.  It's about knowing how agents, managers, and casting directors see you NOW, not 10 years from now.    Look in the mirror.  How do people see you?  When you first start out, you will be cast for playing roles close to who you are.  Later you can worry about range.  Everyone has to start somewhere.   There are big agents who will take you on, and immediately send you out for series regulars.   That is a certain kind of actor, with a certain level of talent.   There are other agents who will push you for co-star roles, and want to build you up from the bottom.   Nobody cares that you played Romeo in college.  Now you are fighting for a one line role on a TV show, against actors with drama degrees from major conservatories.  And guess what?  For a big TV show, they are getting thousands of submissions for that one role, and those are coming from agents and managers alone.    It's not about being the best actor, it's about being the right actor.  How do you get to be one of those actors?   How do you go from the self-submitting abyss of Backstage and Actors Access to the agent and manager club?  How do you go from a freelance client to a signed client?    What agent is right for you?   Bicoastal?  Boutique?  How many clients do they have?  What's the difference between an agent and a manager?  How the f*@k do you get auditions?  Business savvy.

 These are all things that actors must know if they want to make that leap from the non-union, student film world, or the safe bubble of an acting class, to the competitive world of union TV that is absolutely taking over the market in New York.  No longer do actors need to be in LA to have a TV career.   New York is where it's at, but you have to play the game.   Does a casting director workshop make sense for you?  Do you need to spend money to get in front of that casting director or are you not ready yet?  Are you spending too much money on "scene study" classes and not enough on "how to audition"? Forget about your Stella Adler training for a second.  Ask yourself what you need to do to be SEEN, to execute the script, to take direction quickly, to deal with last minute auditions being thrown at you, script rewrites, hwo to memorize 12 pages in a night, etc.     Are you doing enough?  Is your reel good enough?  Does your headshot truly represent you?   The best actor in the world may never get seen if they don't have the right headshot.

At the end of the day, it doesn't matter if an actor went to Julliard, studied Meisner for 8 years, took hundreds of casting workshops, or has never taken a class in their entire life.  All that matters is what is happening when that camera is rolling.   That two minute audition.  Audition technique is key, as you will spend a lot of your career in a room in front of casting directors and producers, and you have to love it.  

Laziness gets you nowhere.   If you aren't being called in from submissions, whether through self-submissions or though your agent, then create something yourself.   Don't sit around and complain that there are no parts for you. Self-produce!  It's easier than ever to create a web series for no money.   Get out there and put yourself on-camera, post it on social media, create a Youtube channel, write an amazing part for yourself and knock it out of the park.   Maybe you will get lots of viewers and one of these agents will find you that way?  Very possible.  Use the business savvy to bring your talent to the forefront.  Think outside the box, and don't just blanket the town with headshots or pay to meet every casting director.  That's not being smart. Being smart is knowing who you are, what you have to offer, being confident about it, targeting the right peopel, and presenting yourself as a professional and an actor that people want to work with and spend money watching.

If you want to be a professional actor, don't be lazy.   Technique will only get you so far.    Make yourself known, educate yourself on the business, and use the business half of your brain to get in front of the right people and see your true talent.

Good luck, and keep kicking ass!

7 days till we film and I'm freaking out!

There are 7 days until I direct my first movie and I'm freaking out!!!!     "Hide/Seek" started out as a little movie I wrote, that I was going to film in my backyard for no money, and has quickly turned into a $15,000 SAG-AFTRA professional short film with a DP who won Sundance, an editor who has two Emmy awards, a producer who worked on a Cuba Gooding Jr. movie, articles in local newspapers, and a lead actor who is on "the Blacklist."  When did this all happen?   

Every free moment of my life since casting has been spent in full pre-production mode, doing location scouting, test footage, discussing cameras and lenses, script rewrites, shooting schedule, wardrobe, budget stuff, transportation, housing, lighting, and has essentially been this amazing, transformative, once in a lifetime masterclass in the art of filmmaking.  As nutty as it is, this is a great learning experience for me, and for my actors.    

Regarding my cast... They are incredible.  Bryan Manley Davis, Michelle Vezilj, Sophie Knapp and Ned van Zandt are the best around.  They have shown up to rehearsals (they don't have to), location scouts (definitely not necessary), and test footage shoots, without complaining one bit.  I mean, how did I get so lucky?  They say half of making a great movie happens in the casting, and I agree.   All of this work we are doing is to prep for that wonderful first day when I say "Action" and those cameras capture my amazing actors doing what they do best.   I can't wait.   In my eyes, nothing matters except the truth that happens when those cameras start rolling on day 1 of principle photography.

It's amazing what goes into a small project like this.  I probably talk to my producer 3 times a day (the wonderful Ellyn Vander Wyden), discussing everything from the type of peanut butter we will have on set, to the type of dirt we will use to bury the lead actor at the end, to the color of the boots Ned Van Zandt will wear when we first see him in the film.    I can't believe I wrote this script over the weekend two months ago, and now it is coming to life.

The coolest part of this whole process has been the support we have gotten.   We decided to try our hand at crowd-funding (which I highly recommend), and hit our goal of $10,000 within 10 days of launching.   Now that our project has gotten so much bigger, we have decided we need another $5,000 to cover post production costs, so we have added a "stretch goal" to our campaign.   This extra $5,000 will cover sound mixing, editing, color correction, music compostion, and most importantly, submission fees to all the major festivals (Sundance, Toronto, Tribeca, Cannes, etc,) including more specifically targeted high end genre festivals.   Those festival fees add up to $1000-$1500 alone, believe it or not.  Because I'm an acting coach, I am able to add all of these cool perks for actors who donate, including coaching sessions with me, skype lessons, audition taping, business consultations, and now even a coffee date with me (That's right).   Once you donate, you get exclusive access to my daily journal about the making of this film. As I always said, this is a film for actors, and by actors.  It's all about passing along the knowledge and helping actors truly understand this crazy business.  If you would like to donate, visit our Indiegogo campaign here.   We have only 6 days left, and we would love your help with this last push!  Feel free to share the campaign with any actor friends you know.  

I'm so looking forward to this shoot, to spending 12 hours a day with these actors, and to passing along everything I've learned to the students at MN.  Stay tuned for my next blog post, where I will talk about the actual shoot!  Wish me luck!!!!!

Spotlight: Lessons from choosing my cast...

I am pleased to announce that after receiving 3500 submissions, doing auditions, callbacks, and chemistry reads, we have cast my film "Hide/Seek"!    We saw 25 actors in our callbacks, and ultimately had to choose the our actors that made the most sense for our film.   Here's how we did it.

We had two strong options for each character, a main choice and a backup, based on hair color, talent, casting a "family", and how everyone fit together based on their chemistry reads in the callbacks.   I knew that whoever I cast would be amazing so I wasn't worried about it.  I had Kimberly Graham put "pins" in our actors right away, like 30 minutes after we finished.  Because what's the point of waiting?  I had my choices, and I didn't want actors to be waiting in agony for no reason  (I hate that).    I didn't need to review the tapes (I did that after auditions), and as the day went on I got a better sense of who I was going to use (although there were some amazing surprises).  A "pin" is when you are very interested in someone, and you want them to know that they are probably going to get it (although sometimes pins "fall out.")  Meanwhile we have to work up the official deal memo, and figure out all the logistics (housing, per diem, transportation, title card billing, etc.).    You'd be amazing at how much goes into simply giving an offer.  On top of that, we had to make sure our lead actor Ned Van Zandt could do the shoot dates, as he is currently on "The Blacklist," in which case we would have needed to go with our second choice.   Luckily it worked out.    We had to keep it secret until the offers were officially accepted, because you never know if an actor is going to suddenly be unavailable.   Meanwhile, for those I called back who were students of mine, I emailed every one of them with their feedback.   Basically, it was "You were great.  It was about hair color.   Or age. You impressed the hell out of me."  Everyone killed it.  Hardest decision ever. 

Our first table read is this Friday, March 18th with the cast and producers.  This is the first time I will be hearing the entire script out loud with the actors, picturing the shots in my mind, figuring out what lines work and don't work, and how they are interpreting the characters.    

Meanwhile, I'm spending every waking moment working on this film-- doing test footage, storyboards, shot lists, calling catering companies, meeting with editors, sound guys, doing phone interviews with local newspapers, talking through shots with director friends of mine, location scouting, raising extra funds, negotiating with people, blogging, running an acting studio, coaching on Blue Bloods, and having the time of my life learning about the process of making this film.  I'm really enjoying sharing this process with you, and this film is going to be great! 

Check out our cast below, and please consider donating to this film.   We are offering lots of perks to contributors, like audition taping, Skype lessons, business consultations, demo reels, copies of my book, dinner with the production team, and even a producer credit on the movie!  

Our Cast

NED VAN ZANDT (Actor, "Tim")

Ned is a veteran actor of stage and film, currently has a recurring role on the hit NBC show The Blacklist, and has a supporting role in the upcoming Jay Roach film, All The Way, starring Bryan Cranston and Anthony Mackie.    Other credits include The Iceman Cometh on Broadway with Kevin Spacey, WEEDS, LOST, THE RIVER, NURSE JACKIE, PERSON OF INTEREST, LAW AND ORDER, SPIN CITY, and dozens of other TV shows and films. 


BRYAN MANLEY DAVIS (Actor, "Jake")

Bryan has appeared in dozens of television shows and films.    Next up, Bryan will be filming the lead role in the feature film "The Unexplained Disappearance of Karla Marks" produced by Invasive Image. Bryan currently trains and coaches with Matt Newton of MN Acting Studio.


MICHELLE VESILJ (Actress, "Sherry")

Film: Ovum (Best Picture at the 2015 Big Apple Film Festival), Lonely Boys, Heart of the Beast, Police Humor. National Tours: SPANK! The Fifty Shades of Grey Parody (Tasha Woode - Anastasia). Music Videos: "So Be It" by Drink Me Up (Won "Best Music Video" at The LA International Film Festival), "Karma" by Drink Me Up (The NYC Independent Film Festival). For free download of Drink Me Up's EP: www.drinkmeup.net.Michelle is repped by Prestige Management, and is currently studying under Matt Newton at MN Acting Studio in New York City. 


SOPHIE KNAPP (Actress, "Sophie")

Sophie Knapp, 7, Actor, singer, dancer.  Most recently seen as Ivanka in Once in Broadway and in the equity national tour.  NYC: Dream Street, A Little Princess; Broadway Kids; Annie.  On Camera and commercial appearances include DR. Oz; Nickolodean Shimmer and Shine Promos; Smartcar; In the Haunting of.  Vocal performances: Broadway Sessions; Lyrics for Life. Thanks to CESD, Zoom Talent, family, coaches, and Matt. 


Watch our video.....

Check out our Indiegogo campaign, with lots of perks for actors...

Spotlight: Lessons from callbacks for "Hide/Seek"

In my last blog post, I talked about watching 60 actors audition for my short film "Hide/Seek," and my thoughts on the casting process, as I spent the day watching actors with my casting director Kimberly Graham.  In this week's post, I will be discussing what it was like sitting through 4 hours of callbacks and chemistry reads with 25 talented actors.

Before going into these callbacks, I vetted all the actors.  I mean, I watched their reels (twice), reviewed their audition tapes, looked at their resumes (3 times), googled them, checked out their websites, and armed myself with knowledge.  Creepy?  No.  Normal?  Yes.    I wanted to know everything about every actor that came in, so that I knew their work, how they looked on-camera, and had a sense of their personality.    I am trusting them with my baby, and I want to make educated, informed decisions before I spend a week with them.  

 I wanted actors to come in, and do their best work, as if it was truly happening to them, as if we were on day 1 of principle photography.  At the callback there was nobody in the room but me.  No casting director, no producers, no reader.   I wanted the callback to be comfortable and open, and have the actors feel like they would on set.  I wanted to give them that "It's us against the world" mentality, and I wanted them to bebrave and confident, as that is how I run my classes.  Don't you wish every audition felt like this?  When actors feel judged they get tentative, and I needed them to get crazy.   That's the only way to know if they can truly bring it on set.  As I said before, auditions are an unfair way to gauge talent, and everyone is so on edge.  I didn't want the actors to worry about the camera or the reader this time, so I let them run out the scene however they wanted, with whatever blocking and not have to worry about their frame.  It was liberating for them, as they didn't have the constraints of awkward audition physicality without having someone to work off of.   I know how awkward that can be, and wanted this to be as comfortable as possible.  I hope I accomplished that.

The callbacks began, and I was totally nervous.  At this point, I had no favorites, and everyone had an equal shot at the role.  Truly.  I saw roughly 6 actors for each role in the callback, and I grouped actors to see how they fit together.  I already knew what kind of "type" I was going for, and so I was most interested in who fit together.   Leonardo Dicaprio could come in,  but if he doesn't fit the family I'm casting, it won't matter.  Oh wait....not sure about that one.

I ran it like this: I grouped people, swapped out actors, had them improvise the scene, and had them completely immerse themselves in the world of these characters.   It was really fun and inspiring to watch these actors create a life around my silly dialogue.   Everyone was terrific.  

Here's my takeaway from the session....

1. Everyone killed it.   Nobody was better than anyone else.   

2. My job was to go from  3500 submissions, to 25 callbacks, to 4 bookings.   For a small project like this, that breaks down to actors having a 1/875 shot of booking.  What's it like for a bigger job?  1/1,000,000?    

3. I was looking to cast a family, so i was thinking in terms of physical appearance at this point, as everyone was already more than deserving of playing the roles.

4. "Do we want to go ethnic?  Do we want them to be Hollywood pretty, or small town pretty?  Too tall?"

5. We had 2 top choices for each role based on what we wanted the family to look like.  I could have gone in either direction with the final decisions.

6. I had the actors do improvisations around the scenes.  Some people hadn’t read the script, so they had a hard time with that.

7.  I didn't care what shirt people wore, how nice it was outside, or how much they "loved" the script.   I was only interested in how actors connected to each other on-camera.   The ones who were in the script weren't able to connect.  Simple as that.  

8. I can’t stress enough how much is out of the actor’s control.  We were having discussions about height between the couple, nationality, tone of the performance, and silly small things that have nothing to do with acting, and everything to do with a "look." 

9.   Everyone pretty much wore the same outfit they wore for the first audition.  I think that's a commercial audition thing.   I didn't care.  

10.  I couldn't keep actors more than an hour, I was told, or they could tell SAG (fun fact:  I did that once in LA after I was kept at an audition for 3 hours, and I ended up getting a check fro $100 in the mail).  

11.  I wanted to follow each actor out, just like I did in the auditions, and say "You were great.  Whatever happens, don't lose sleep over this.  Seriously, it came down to type.  You can't control that."

12.  It was all about chemistry reads, and how two amazing actors played off each other.  Just because two actors are good, doesn't mean they will work well together.   Jeff Daniels said "Dirty Little Secret:  Chemistry is nothing more than two actors who listen, react, and trust each other.  I didn't know Michelle, she didn't know me, but on Day 1 we grabbed hands and jumped.  First, we trust.  We'll get acquainted on the way down."  That is what I expected from my actors.  Most did this, some were tentative.  

All in all, this was amazing.  Afterwards, we put pins in the top actors within minutes, as we didn't want to lose them to a bigger job.  I didn't want to wait, keep actors hanging, and stress them out.   I emailed every single one of the actors I definitely wasn't going to use and told them why it won't be going further.  Actors need feedback, it helps them grow, helps them figure out what they need to work on.  Or even helps manage their expectations.  I even emailed some of the agents and told them how great their clients were.   There's too much damn mystery in this business, and people need to know how they did.

For my next blog, I will be announcing the cast!!!!!!  Thanks for coming on this journey with us.   

Sincerely,

Matt

SPOTLIGHT: Lessons from auditions....

This is my second blog post on the making of my film “Hide/Seek”, a SAG short that I wrote, and will be directing in April.  As you know, I am documenting the process of making this film through this blog, as well as on my Instagram.   The purpose of this is to help actors understand the business side of making a film, through breakdowns, submissions, casting, booking, pre-production, filming, post, and everything else that comes along with it.   There are many do's and don'ts or actors, and I will share them with you.  When I was an actor, there was so much mystery around all of this, and I think it’s important to shine a huge spotlight on this process, as it helps actors gain knowledge, as well as help manage their expectations about this crazy business.

In last week’s post, I talked about submissions.  I received 3500 of them, through Actors Access, Backstage, and through agents and managers through Breakdowns Services.  It was overwhelming, and I offered a bunch of advice for actors who are submitting themselves for breakdowns.

In this week’s post, I will be discussing auditions, and what is going on behind the scenes when actors walk into the room for the first call.

I had 3500 submissions, and I saw 60 actors total over the course of 2 days.  That’s 15 actors per role.   I had 1200 submissions for the role of Sherry alone.    Crazy right?     Half of those 60 choices were current or former students of mine, and half were actors Kim Graham (my casting director) brought in from workshops (that’s right), agent submissions, referrals, etc.  It was a win-win for everyone, as my students came in and made a great impression on Kim, and Kim’s selects came in and got on my radar.  Actors from workshops, who wouldn’t always be brought in for Kim’s other projects, had a real opportunity to come in for a smaller project like this.  My actors had a wonderful chance to impress one of the top casting directors in New York.  By seeing my own actors, I had the distinct advantage of already knowing their work, and already knowing that they would be amazing and knock it out of the park, as I have seen them do over and over again in classes and private coaching sessions.    So the audition was a formality, and more to see if they fit with my idea of the character. 

It was very tough.   Everyone was terrific.   I swear to God.   Going into this, I had one rule.   I don’t care if actors are union or non union, and I don’t care if they have an agent or not, or have been on 15 TV shows.  I just want the best actors.   Having been a professional actor for over 15 years, and having been on thousands of auditions, I know what actors are thinking when they walk into that room.   It was very important to me to make it the warmest, most comfortable environment possible so they can do their best work.  Nothing is worse than walking into a cold room.    It was very hard for me to not “coach” them, especially the kids.  I know if I had 30 minutes with every actor that came in, I could make it the best audition they’ve ever had.  It’s what I do.  However, I had to learn to take a back seat, politely say “thank you,” and fight every urge in my body to follow them out and say “Seriously, you killed it.  I have no idea if you get this or not, but you were terrific.”  Because they were!  And I know how actors get when they leave the room and hold onto stuff.  

Spending the day with Kimberly Graham was like a Masterclass in casting--hearing her feedback, discussing actors with her, what she likes, doesn’t like, etc.   After seeing 60 actors, I learned one thing:  ALL THAT MATTERS IS THAT ACTORS COME IN, BE THEMSELVES, AND TRULY LISTEN.

Everything else is soooo out of your control.   It doesn’t matter what shirt you are wearing, it doesn’t matter if you forget your lines, if you mime or not, and it definitely doesn’t matter if you didn’t get to do it a second time.   It’s a waste of time and energy to obsess about this stuff, and if that’s all you are worried about, then YOU CAN’T POSSIBLY BE PRESENT in a one minute scene on-camera.   That’s the big lesson.  Kim and I talked about that endlessly.  Some actors were too in their heads, and some were so present I didn’t even notice they were auditioning.  That is the gold standard, and what every actor should strive for.  I used to spend countless hours before every audition worrying about facial hair, whether or not I should powder, what my shirt says about me, whether to shake hands or not when I walk in, why the casting director was emailing the whole time I was in the room, why everyone seemed bored, etc.  Everything to take me out of the present moment.  Waste. Of. Time.   None of it has anything to do with what’s happening when that camera is rolling. 

Without further ado, here are my takeaways.  Keep in mind, this doesn’t apply to all projects, and I’m sure it’s different for network TV, but this is my experience working on a SAG short.

1.     I saw 60 actors.  I thought I would be bored to tears hearing all these actors read the same lines for two days straight.  Guess what?  I wasn’t.  I was truly impressed with each actor, and was excited for each one, even the very last one of the day when I was starving and tired and wanted a glass of wine.     I was open and cared immensely, and it was important to give each one an honest shot, and the same amount of attention and energy (as I do in my coaching).  Maybe because I’m the one funding the film?  Probably.

2.     In the initial audition, it’s about weeding out the people who don’t fit the type that I’m going for.   All I needed was for them to read one page of dialogue for me to go “definitely yes” or “definitely no.”  If we didn’t give you a redirect, it means NOTHING.   If I did give a redirect, it was because I maybe didn’t know you and wanted to see if you could take direction.  The callback is for taking the people I feel are right, and really working with them to see if I can get what I want.

3.     The outfit doesn’t matter one bit.  Most people came in with plaid shirts, some with facial hair and some without.  I know they planned this, because I too used to think this mattered so much.  As a director, I barely noticed.  Maybe this matters for network TV, but not for this project.   You are who you are.  I never said to myself "Hm, I WAS going to cast that person, but they wore the wrong color shirt, so I'm not going to cast them anymore."

4.     If people forgot their lines, it didn’t matter.  They just asked to start again.   I didn’t care at all.  I used to think this meant I wasn’t getting the job.  Not true.

5.     Some actors are great auditioners, but have never been on-camera before, and have no proven track record.  Some are not so great in the room, but have huge, amazing resumes and have been on dozens of TV shows and major films.   Auditioning is a very weird, unfair way to gauge talent.

6.     When actors are done, there is always those ten seconds while they gather their stuff and leave the room.  It’s silent.  It’s awkward.   It’s part of your job.  Sometimes I felt the need to say “great job” over and over again, because I know how awkward that is, and then I learned to just shut my mouth.

7.     Sometimes the only reason you don’t get called back is because “I wasn’t feeling it.”  It had nothing to do with the read, and everything to do with the type that I have in my mind for the script that I wrote two months ago, that I poured my heart and soul into.   For some actors (even Meryl Streep), there is literally nothing they can do to change that.

8.     Sometimes the feedback is “too tall,” “too stiff,” “too sexy,” “not listening,” “too ethnic,” “not relatable enough” or “it just didn’t pop.”  And sometimes I agreed, and sometimes disagreed.  It never went much deeper than that.   We had lots of discussions about what we wanted the "family" to look like in the film (blonde, ethnic, New England, Ken and Barbie, etc).   

9.     Some actors made strong, crazy choices that didn’t make any sense.  It didn’t matter.  If I liked them, I had them try it again a different way.

10. I didn’t care one bit if an actor “said the line wrong.”  It’s about the essence of the person, not the nuance of a line.  I can worry about that more in callbacks.

11. Some actors just seemed “too young.”  As the day went on, after seeing many people, I realized I wanted older actors, and the vibe of the characters changed a bit in my mind.  

12. There were so many good actors, I wanted to bring back 90% of them.  I could only bring back 5 for each.

13. Just because we didn’t say anything after your audition, or didn’t smile, doesn’t mean we didn’t like you.   Half the time an actor would leave, and Kim would say “I love her.”  Half the time I would say “Definitely a callback. What’s for lunch?” and I would check my Instagram.   Never did we sit there for 10 minutes and discuss any actor at length.    I used to take my time in the waiting room after my auditions, just to see how long they stayed in there talking, figuring that meant they were really considering me.  Trust me, we are telling stupid stories about our dogs.

14. The casting director is there to serve me, the director.  She has opinions about actors, as do I, and it’s very specific to this project.   If someone was not right for this, but nailed it, both of us were like “Love them. Must remember that person.”  That goes a long way. 

15. When a director or casting director says “good job” at the end, don’t think too much into it.  It’s just filling space while you gather your things.  Same goes if they ask your height or age.  I used to think that meant I was booking the job.  Not true.  Just time filler.

16. I’m looking to cast a family.  A 6 year old kid, her mom, and her grandfather.  Some actors fit together, some don’t.  No matter what shirt you wear.

17. For this kind of project (SAG short, not network TV), I’m looking to cast people who look like they live in a small town, not “Hollywood” types.   Some people are just way too good looking for that. 

18. Some terrific people didn’t get callbacks, and for those I knew, I emailed them individually to tell them why.   There is nothing worse than never getting any feedback, so I felt compelled to give out that information.  I will do the same with the callbacks.  I wish in this business that every actor could get immediate feedback on the spot.

19. Some actors were “offer only,” and wouldn’t audition.   Some had tons of credits, were nominated for major awards, and were more than happy to come in and pre-read.  Made a huge difference.  With a small project like this, it means they like the script, and that’s the kind of person I want to work with.

20. Self tapes… always secondary to being in the room.    I always want to meet someone and give them notes.  If the self tape wasn’t the right vibe, it was hard to call them back.  If they were in the room, they may have had a second chance. 

21. Sometimes I would ask myself “Would I want to spend five days on a film shoot with this person?” And sometimes the answer was no.   You have to be someone people want to work with.   Open, non-judgemental, intelligent, and professional.

22. The scene I gave the actors was very active and physical, which is hard to do in an audition situation opposite a reader.     Some people acted “out of breath,” and some didn’t.  Some mimed, and some didn’t.    I truly didn’t care, as it was more about the essence of the person, how open they were, how much they were listening (and not too planned in their choices), and whether or not the audience would like them and relate to them.

23. An actor who comes in, just stands there, and really listens and absorbs what’s being said, goes way further than an actor who comes in with planned stuff, and are too “in their head” and not really in the scene.

Hope this helps you guys understand what goes into something like this.  This is all for a small project, that is paying actors $125/day.  I can imagine this being very different for a network TV show, with many cooks in the kitchen (showrunners, casting, producers, writers, etc.).     Having sat through this, it makes me think back to all of those auditions through the years where I overthought every single little part of the audition, and the sheer amount of time I wasted worrying about things that don’t matter.   Just learn to be present for two minutes and listen.  Then let it go after.  It goes a long way.  

In the next blog post, I will be discussing CALLBACKS, where I will be pairing up the actors, doing chemistry reads, having them improvise, matching them up, and ultimately deciding on my top four choices.  Yay honesty!

Hide/Seek - Lessons about actor submissions

As you know, I'm going to be directing a SAG short film in April called "Hide/Seek," and we are currently in the process of going through 3500 submissions from Actors Access, Breakdowns Express, and Backstage, as well as direct submissions, to figure out who to bring in for the four roles.   I will be documenting the entire process through this blog, and through our instagram, as I think it's important for actors to really learn on an honest level what goes into something like this.  

As a director, I go through all the submissions and make my selects (my choices to bring in), and recommend them to Kimberly Graham, our casting director, who has her own choices.  We also see if some "names" are interested.    We only  have a certain amount of slots, and we have to pare down and decide who to bring in.   On my end, I don't care if people have an agent or manager, are union or non-union, I just want to have the best actors in my film.   I'm going to be paying my actors and treating them like kings and queens for the week, as that's the way it should be.  It's amazing being on this side of it, as I've learned a lot about the casting process, as well as how actors and agents submit.   So without further ado, here are the lessons I've learned so far.

1.  Lots of people on Backstage have black and white headshots (still?), shirtless pics (why?), or very strange pictures that would look right only on Myspace (cray?).   This doesn’t happen as much on Actors Access.  Don't be crazy.  Are you professional or not?

2.     People who don’t have video don’t get looked at (unless I know you from class and know how great you are on-camera).   I don’t care about union or non-union, but why don’t you have video?  It shows that you have no camera experience.  If you have no video, then get a scene professionally taped and put up there so I can see you in action.  It separates the serious from the non-serious in my book.  You can only tell so much from a headshot, and I want to see if you can talk on camera.

3.     People put age ranges of 20 years or more.  Don’t be crazy.  Keep it to 5-10 years.  You ain't Benjamin Button.

4.     Some agents don’t even bother submitting on small projects like this.  Some of my own students weren’t even submitted.  Stay on top of your agents!

5.     Some agents have a lot of people of the same type.  Very interesting.  Some agents submit all of their clients, and some are selective.  It doesn't take much to click a "submit" button.   The push comes from the follow up email (which most don't do for a project like this).

6.      I thought we would get 500 submissions if we were lucky.  Well, we have over 3500 submissions between Backstage, Actors Access, and Breakdowns Express (maybe because we are actually paying our actors SAG rates?).   There isn't time to look at resumes in this first go through.   I go first to the people I know, and who I have worked with.  Then I consider pitches from agents I know and trust, and who know me.  The rest?   I'm sure there are lots and lots of amazing actors in these submissions, with tons of credits, but I just don't know them, there isn't time, and these audition slots are valuable.   I understand now why it's important to have a relationship with a casting director or director.  Makes me think that targeted casting director workshops make sense after all.   

7.     It’s interesting which agents and managers submit first, and which forget and end up doing it four days later. 

8.     The majority of actors on these sites are 20-40.  Far fewer submissions come in for young kids and older men in their fifties.

9.     I am literally looking at a screen and scrolling through JPEGS of thousands of headshots.   Everyone starts to look the same after a while.  Yes, some caught my eye.  Others did not.  The headshot doesn't matter as much as you think it does (in my opinion), as long as it looks like you, and you fit the type I'm looking for.  Relationships matter more.  

10.  If you don't get a time slot, don't be offended.   We are casting a family, and need people to fit a certain mold.   

Next up?   In my next blog post, I will be talking about AUDITIONS, CALLBACKS, AND CHEMISTRY READS, which will happen later this week, as we narrow down our choices.  Stay tuned....

I'M DIRECTING A FILM!

BREAKDOWN RELEASED TODAY ON ACTOR'S ACCESS, BREAKDOWNS EXPRESS, AND BACKSTAGE

I'm happy to announce that I will be directing a short film I wrote called "Hide/Seek" April 6-10 in Guilford, CT!   This has been a pet project of mine for a while, and I'm very excited to bring you along for this journey.  

I will be documenting the entire process of making the film, from casting, to pre-production, to filming, to post production, and I invite you to follow us on Instagram and Facebook, as well as my blog to witness the entire process.   We will share our journey through interviews and pictures as I think it's important for actors to really understand what goes on behind the scenes.

I will be holding auditions at my studio on March 3-5, so be on the lookout for the breakdown in the next two days on Backstage, Actors Access, and Breakdowns Express.   This will be a SAG Short Film Agreement, will pay $100/day, and you don't need to be SAG to submit.  I will simply be looking for the best actors, union or non-union.   That's the way it should be, right?  Oh yeah, and I will also give the actors their footage.  :)

So here is all the info.   Yay!  

HIDE/SEEK BREAKDOWN

DIRECTOR:  Matt Newton
WRITER:  Matt Newton
CASTING DIRECTOR:  Kimberly Graham ("Homeland")
PRODUCER:  Missing Bolts Productions
EXECUTIVE PRODUCER:  Doug Keeve ("Unzipped")
SAG SHORT FILM AGREEMENT:  Pay $100/day
SHOOT DATES:  April 6-10 in Guilford, Connecticut
AUDITIONS:  March 3-5 in NYC
CALLBACKS:  March 7-8 in NYC

STORY
The story of a young couple for whom a carefree walk in the woods takes a sinister turn when Sherry mysteriously vanishes. As Jake faces this terrifying situation, he quickly learns that Sherry's disappearance is only the beginning of the nightmare.

JAKE  - Lead.  Mid to late twenties.  Sherry’s boyfriend.  Ambitious, good looking, all-american, non-threatening, mild mannered, charming, with a dark secret.   Deeply in love with Sherry.

SHERRY - Lead.  Mid to late twenties.  Jake’s girlfriend.  Sexy, fresh faced, genuine, strong, and fun.

SOPHIE-  Supporting.  6-8 years old.  Innocent, unaffected, playful. 

TIM - Supporting.  Late fifties to early sixties.  Sherry’s dad.   Odd character type.   Average looking and very difficult to read.  Rough around the edges.  PLEASE SUBMIT NAMES.

Thanks for your support!  I look forward to sharing this process with you!!!!!   And if you are right for one of these roles, by all means SUBMIT!!!!!

Sincerely,
Matt
 

How Memorized Should You Be?

So what's the deal? Are you supposed to be totally off book, or only partly memorized?  Should you walk into the audition as if you are stepping on set, or just know it well enough to have an "idea" of the character, and be open to direction?   What is the right amount of memorization?

Here's the bottom line:   It's impossible to give a connected performance when the script is getting in the way.  If you are looking down at the words, then you are robbing the audience of these wonderful moments between the lines that reveal so much about the character.  As an actor, how can you be truly listening, if you are just wondering what your next line is?    It creates tension in your performance, uncertainty, which gets in the way of the spontaneity, the element of surprise, the unwritten "life moments,' and prevents you from being confident, present, and compelling.   And remember:  someone else will be more memorized and more prepared than you, so why not give this your best shot?  There's so much competition, so why not go in and impress the hell out of them?

Now I'm not saying don't ever look down at the script, because for a 12 page series regular scene with lots of technical jargon, that may be close to impossible.   I say bring in the script, but don't look at it.  Especially for co-star and guest star auditions.  It shows them you know what you are doing, but if you go up on lines, you can quickly glance down and find your way back without panicking.  If you go in without a script in your hand, it makes everybody nervous. 

When 200 people are reading for a role and reading the SAME lines over and over, it becomes less about what the character is saying, and more about what they are NOT saying, and sometimes that is revealed through a moment where you are truly listening, hearing these words for the first time, and are able to deliver a surprising and unexpected performance.  It's these tiny, improvised "life" moments (a smile, a look away, a laugh, a moment of vulnerability in the pause) that allow an actor's true personality to shine through, which really separates you from the pack.  It creates life beyond the words.  If you are only focused on the lines, then you are missing these amazing, spontaneous moments, and throwing away a golden opportunity to show different parts of the character.   The more you look down at the words, the more you kill those moments, the more predictable and safe your audition is, and the less likely you are to book the job.  

On-camera auditions are about connection, eye contact, active listening, and seeing the thoughts behind the eyes, the images, the point of view, and the feelings.   Every time an actor looks down to get their line, their eyelids act like a wall, and close off the viewer (the casting director, producer, writer), and we are reminded "Oh, that's an actor auditioning."   It keeps us from going deeper into your world.

I think for actors to give a strong audition, it has to feel like it's NOT an audition, but rather a conversation.   You have to show them something they haven't seen before.  That comes with knowing the script so well that you don't even need it.   You can just sit there, dive into the character, believe the circumstances, truly listen, and let the scene unfold from moment to moment, acting on your impulses, and trusting your preparation. 

Good luck!  

The 60/60 Rule for Audition Preparation

It’s pilot season (duh).  Auditions are coming in the night before, hours before, sides are being revised at the last minute, and actors are being asked to read for a different role with only 10 minutes to prepare.     It’s a crazy time of year, actors are overwhelmed, and a lot of my students ask me how to prepare for these TV auditions when they are coming in so fast.   Our time is limited, we have survival jobs, school, life, kids, whatever, and actors can’t spend all day working on a script, memorizing 10 pages of sides, coming up with a long backstory, only to have it change at the last minute, or have a cold-read thrown at you on the spot in the audition.    Most series regulars memorize their lines on set, in less than an hour between rehearsal and filming.   So why can’t treat auditions the same way?  

It doesn’t matter if you went to Julliard, or took one acting class in high school.    All that matters is that you are creating absolute truth when the camera is rolling in the audition.   It’s about the execution of the material, the connection to the reader,  truly listening and you bringing yourself to the role in a surprising and interesting way.   It’s about being focused, confident, and taking direction on the fly.   You can’t be too locked in, too memorized, to over rehearsed, or your performance will be stale and boring, or at worst, predictable and safe.

60 Minute Audition Prep

Whether it be a simple co-star role for a procedural, or a bigger series regular with 3 scenes, I believe actors should spend no more than 60 minutes preparing for an audition, and then 60 seconds in the waiting room recharging before the audition.   The 60/60 rule. 

Does that sound crazy?  Maybe.  But here’s the deal

Actors need to have a fool-proof system, a ritual, of being able to take a script, and spend a concentrated hour doing everything you need to do to make that come to life.   That includes memorizing, working on character, beats, and then running lines so that they are second nature.    This is the way I’ve done it for years, and I swear by it.   You don’t have to have a photographic mind to memorize a long script this fast (see my video below), but you do need to be able to quiet your mind and concentrate.   For me, it’s the right balance between not “winging it” and not overthinking it.  It’s enough time for me to inhabit the world of the character, speak his language, and imagine myself in his shoes.  It’s about visualizing the scene, being comfortable enough with the words, and understanding it on a deeper level.    How do I do it quickly?  I get the words out of the way (write them down, use Rehearsal 2, etc), and then spend a half an hour walking around and inhabiting the character, punching up the dialogue, finding interesting choices, mining the script and digging deeper.    Then I let it go until the audition.

60 Second Audition Recharge

Once you are in the waiting room, you need to find that character again.   The prep is your safety net, and now you need to conjure up the work, get into the headspace, and get focused.  Put on some noise cancelling headphones, go out in the hallway, the bathroom stall, whatever you need to do, and spend 60 seconds visualizing the scene from start to finish.   See the movie in your mind, in detail, picture yourself saying the lines, listening, focusing, and let your imagination run wild.   If you can’t “see” the scene once you walk into that audition room, you can’t possibly have an honest reaction to the circumstances and truly “feel” what your character is feeling.    You will be nervous and scattered.   In this 60 second recharge, your nerves start to dissolve, your mind quiets down, and you lock in to a character that you have created in these imaginary circumstances.   By the time you walk into that room, you will be grounded in this characters’ thoughts, feelings, and needs.     And you will have a kickass audition (hopefully).  

Once you practice this 60/60 ritual a few times, it will become second nature.   

Good luck!  And..oh yeah, don’t suck in your auditions. 

9 Tips to Kick off 2016

Here is a recent article I wrote for Backstage, offering actor's some very easy resolutions for 2016 to bring their career to the next level.  

Here we go with the New Year’s resolutions: lose weight, read more books, run five miles a day, take up online dating, buy a French Bulldog, get more Instagram followers, stop being crazy. Once we get past the awkward holiday conversations—(“When will I see you on TV?” “Why don’t you just get a part on ‘Blue Bloods’?”)—we turn our attention to the new year, and how to push our career forward. 

What can you do to move your career forward in 2016? The business is always changing, and it’s important that actors keep up with the current trends.

Here are nine tips to start the year off right:

1. Take a class with a working professional. Actors need to know how to book jobs in today’s market. Plain and simple. Learn from someone who knows the business, who works in it, and understands current trends in the casting landscape. Athletes are constantly training so they are ready for the big game. You should do the same. Take an audition class and practice auditioning for the camera. It’s a different muscle, and must be exercised all the time so you are ready when the next one comes along.

2. Update your headshot and résumé. Take off the extra work and featured work (they don’t belong on a résumé), make sure it is formatted correctly (many actors do this wrong), and have it saved as a PDF so you can email it on a moment’s notice. If you haven’t had your headshots taken in two years, it’s time to get new ones. 

3. Track down your footage. Still waiting for your student film footage? Read my last articleabout how to stalk the directors and get your footage right away. If you don’t have any footage, have two scenes taped. 

4. Re-evaluate your type. Are you between types? Maybe you are transitioning to a new type. Ask around and make sure you are presenting yourself the way others see you. Perhaps you are going from cool college kid to hip young parent. 

5. Create your own opportunities. Now more than ever actors need to take control and create their own content. Get your friends together, rent a good camera, write a good short script or webisode, and create a role for yourself. No excuses here. 

6. Get new audition monologues. With new content coming out all the time, there is no reason that every actor in town shouldn’t have a current, original monologue from a TV show that isn’t overdone, that they can transcribe for themselves. For actors who want to break into TV, this is essential.

7. Make a website. Don’t have one yet? Welcome to 2016. It’s free and easy, and everyone asks for it. Create a simple site in Squarespace or Weebly, put your headshot, résumé, reel, and contact info on it, and then put your website link on your résumé and business cards. Trust me. 

8. Learn how to self-tape. Here are my “13 Tips for Better Self-Taping.” ’Nuff said. 

9. Get a hobby. Acting can be very frustrating, and everyone needs to have something else to focus on that makes them happy. If you get bogged down in your survival job, and rejection, you will start to question why you are doing this in the first place. Actors need inspiration, and a challenge. Find something on the side that makes you happy, that you are doing because you love it, not because you want to make money doing it. This will help your sanity when those auditions come along, and you won’t be putting all of your eggs in that one basket.

I love actors, and I think it’s very important that we present ourselves as professionals, and we will be treated as such. 

Good luck, and let’s kick butt in 2016!

Tips for Getting Your Student Film Footage

Here is an article I wrote for Backstage.   

As actors breaking into this business, it’s essential to work on student films, to build confidence, on-the-job training, obtain footage for demo reels (which is pretty much mandatory these days), and to build a résumé. It’s a great way for newer actors to work with up-and-coming directors and film students, to network and start at the ground level with a new batch of filmmakers (who may go on to do bigger and better things when they graduate). As an acting coach, I always recommend my students get involved with as many student films as they can when they are starting out.

Over and over I hear from my talented, hard-working actors how hard it is to get their student film footage after they have finished a project—even though it was promised to them in the initial audition notice. They take time off from their survival job, work hard for no money, have a great experience on set, are promised “copy, meal, and credit,” yet sometimes they never receive the footage at all after repeated requests (even months and years later). Why does this happen and what can we do about this? This seems to be the norm these days, and actors need to speak up for themselves so they aren’t taken advantage of. 

I believe that professors should make it a requirement for their film students to give actors their footage before they get their final grade. It should be mandatory, and it should be a contractual obligation for the director. After all, we are all in this business together, and we need to look out for each other. I believe all actors should be paid in some way. It’s respectful and incentivizes them. If that’s not possible, they should be compensated some other way. Giving an actor their footage gives them a reason to show up and work hard, and lets them know you aren’t taking advantage of them. 

Now I’m not talking about a film that is going to be submitted to festivals, where the director doesn’t want the footage getting out there before the film does. I respect film directors, and understand their need to keep their footage from leaking. I’m talking about small student films that are meant for the classroom environment, which are filmed cheaply, with great equipment, which is a great way to actors to get their foot in the door and have footage with great production value. 

Here’s the truth. Student films needs good actors. It’s a win-win. It makes the director look good, and they get a good grade on their project. If you don’t have good actors, the film doesn’t work. You are lucky to get such good actors to work with you as you figure out how to direct, as it makes your job easier. Also, it’s a smaller world than you think. Directors work on other projects, as do actors and crew members. People develop a reputation. My actors will show up to set again and again for the directors who are responsible and give them their footage in a reasonable amount of time. It’s a win-win. For the directors who don’t, eventually good actors just won’t want to work with you. 

Here are my three ways to get student film footage.

Sign a contract. When you sign on to do a film, come up with a simple contract to hand to the director on the first day of filming. Something that says, “I’m excited to be a part of your film. In exchange for my free services, you agree to give me a copy of the film within three months from the shoot date.” Any director who balks at this is probably someone you don’t want to work with anyway, right? The truth is, they are lucky to have you on their set. You submitted your headshot and résumé, auditioned, beat out lots of other actors, landed the job, and they are fortunate to have a trained actor in their film working for free. So when the film is finished, and the director submits the project to their professor, just email a copy of the project over to the actors. Simple, right? 

Stalk the director. After a reasonable amount of time goes by (one month or so), email the director and say you had a great experience and would like to use the footage for your reel. That’s the nice way to go about it. 

Email the professor. I’ve heard of actors having lots of success in calling or emailing the student’s professor, and mentioning they never received their footage. It reflects poorly on the student, and no student wants to get bad feedback, right? Half the time the professor has no idea the actors never received their copy. 

Let’s change the way we do things, respect our actors, and give them what they deserve. 

5 Tips for Confidence in Auditions

from a recent article in Backstage...

When you walk into an audition, it’s all about confidence. It’s about owning the room, and believing in yourself, your technique, and your skill. After all, if you don’t believe in yourself, nobody else will. 

Confidence is an attractive quality that gets buyers (casting directors, producers, show runners, directors) to trust you so that they can put you on set and you won’t crack under all the pressure. You can be an amazing actor, but if you can’t walk into an audition with confidence, you will lose the job. You can also be a not-so-great actor, but if your type is perfect for that one-line role on that particular TV show, then your confidence can get you the job. 

Here are my five tips for developing unshakeable confidence in auditions:

1. Take the pressure off. Quiet your mind, relax, and focus. Remember, this audition is a simply a chance to play. So much of it is out of your hands (type, eye color, hair color, height, etc). Release the need to be perfect, allow for mistakes, and remind yourself that there will always be more auditions. Think of this as a fun chance to show your work and give them your take on the character. The casting director is your friend, on your side, and genuinely wants you to be right for the part. Release the need to book the job. It will free you up; you will appear more confident; and your audition will be amazing. 

2. Stop the “shaky hands.” Do your hands shake when you hold the script? It’s the most obvious sign that an actor is nervous. Here’s a solution: Put something a little heavy behind your sides, like your headshot folder (or your drama degree?), which will give it a little weight. This will prevent your hands from shaking, which will make you seem more grounded. Even if you are terrified this will give off the perception that you are confident, and in control. It works every time. 

3. “Act” like a confident person. You’re an actor, right? It’s all about perception. Even if you are freaking out inside, act like someone who is very confident, and you will actually take on those qualities. Some actors walk into the room with body language that says, “I’m sorry for the audition that you are about to see.” Act like you are fully in control and have been doing this forever. Take a deep breath, smile, walk into the room with purpose, make eye contact, hold your head up, act like you already have the job. My sister, actor Becki Newton, used to boost her confidence by saying to herself, “Watch this” right before she began her audition. Fake it till you make it, right? It puts the casting director at ease, and lets them know that you are in control. 

4. Know your lines, backwards and forwards. Being unprepared is the quickest way to feel nervous and insecure when you walk into a room. Knowing your lines is one of the few things you can control, and will help you feel sure of yourself and confident in your audition. That will be your safety net when you walk into the room. Do your research, read the whole script if possible, understand the circumstances of the scene, and know the lines so well that you can just focus on the reader and listen. A prepared audition is a confident audition, and allows you to be present without panicking.

5. Wear clothes that make you feel good. This is huge, and something a lot of actors forget. For on-camera auditions, I always feel that actors should wear something that makes them feel good, that fits them well, and that brings out their eyes. Wear something that makes you feel comfortable in your own skin, not something you just bought and have never worn before. All actors should have their go-to audition outfits. When you walk into a room and feel good about yourself, it radiates from you and makes people want to watch you. 

Good luck!


INFO@MNACTINGSTUDIO.COM