Tuesday, 27 May 2014

Drama Fool

It's a rare thing for a drama school graduate to not mention within the first 5 minutes of talking to them that, given the amount of places available for the number of applicants, it's twice as difficult to get into drama school than it is Oxbridge. It's a statistic you probably couldn't care less about and, to be fair, most actors aren't too bothered either but heck, it at least validates our lack of interest in GCSE Physics.

Step One...

But the application process for drama school is a tedious one. Given the level of competition, people probably think that landing a place is the first major hurdle but it's not. Hurdle one is finding the money to apply. Each drama school charges between £30-50 as a non-refundable fee just for the privilege of going (I'm sure some people are readying themselves to tell me that, 1) not all drama schools charge and, 2) it's to cover costs. Thanks.) And then there's the money to get to these places. Because the world revolves around London and it's important that you train within sniffing distance of a branch of Balans, most drama schools sit uneasily within our fair capital city. And unless you're one of those odd children who grew up near a tube station then, chances are, you're going to have to pay to get here.

Step Two...

So, you've scraped your pennies together by whatever way possible (I had a part-time job in a shop that sold lava lamps and dodgy piercings and I also stage-managed a production of Summer Holiday made up of a cast of 45 4-15 year olds...never again...) and you're off to London! Or Birmingham! Or Manchester! Or, heaven forbid, Exeter (sorry, Cygnets.) Well, no. Not yet. You need your monologues first. For most people, you make sure you've got your keys and your phone with you before leaving the house. But for actors, you must never walk out without your Shakespeare and your modern. NEVER. You never know when you might bump into Rufus Norris on the tube and everyone loves a bit of Bouncers on the District Line...

So you've first got to find yourself a couple of speeches. That's easy, right? Shakespeare is full of the bloody things and the fact that everyone's writing a play these days, speeches should be easier to come by than Pret. Wrong. Firstly, there's a list of speeches you should never do. I would list them here but basically they're basically anything a female says within any Shakespeare play.

"They're so overdone," people will say at you which is supposed to put you off doing them. That theory didn't stop Wet Wet Wet covering Yesterday so it shouldn't stop you.

This period of your life will be mainly summed up by you guarding the Drama section in Waterstones are you flick furiously through every play trying to find a speech that's suitable for someone with no life experience and wants to go to drama school. I spent most of that time wishing I was a middle-aged man.

Step Three...

Once you've sent off your application forms and fees, you should start racking up some auditions. Now, the auditions tend to fall into two categories:

The In-Out

Though delightful in some respects, these can be bloody difficult. One of my drama school auditions (no, I won't name the school) was an In-Out audition at its very finest. I arrived and due to the person before me not having turned up, I was instantly ushered into a dark theatre. I'd been travelling for nearly 3 hours, I'd had difficulty finding the school (this was in an age when you were considered fancy if your mobile had a colour screen) and I needed a wee. But there I was, straight onto a pitch black stage and unable to even see the faces of the audition panel. I offered out a "hello" not even sure if there was any out out there to receive it.

"Your first speech, please," a deep voice ordered.

I do my Shakespeare. The urgency of the wee making me trip over iambic pentameters.

"Go slower," I hear, just as I hit the final note of my speech, desperately trying to look like I'm still in the moment and not wondering whether I should stick to wine or spirits at my friend's birthday drinks that night.

I launch into it again, this time probably going slower than is entirely necessary and convincing myself that there really isn't a panel there at all but, instead, a tape on loop.

I'm then shoved through my modern speech by the faceless dictator and then, within 10 minutes of arriving, I'm leaving. £30 audition fee. £20 travel. £50 to not even be able to physically make eye contact with someone. Thank you very much.

But, of course, the opposite can be just as worse. It's quite something, while auditioning for a precious place with your dreams and career prospects hang on this one moment, to look up and see the panel actually wince by the time you hit the second note of your song. I defy anyone to stay in tune while it looks like your prospective head of year is struggling to keep their breakfast down.

The Passive Aggressive...

And then, of course, there is the group audition. I've written before in great detail on my dislike of group auditions: having to take hours out of your day to feign interest in a whole load of other actors where you have to try and look supportive while all trying to outdo each other. The greatest challenge as an actor is to try and assist your fellow actors in tedious drama games when really you want them to be as skilful as a drunk descending a flight of stairs.

There's a particular look an actor takes on when trying to look supportive and open to the increasingly ridiculous games being thrust upon them. Mine seems to manifest itself as a immovable look of wide-eyed wonderment. I'll know I've done it because my eyeballs start to ache on the tube journey home.

In the midst of games, improvisation exercises, singing in the bloody round and movement workshops where you have to pretend to have no inhibitions whatsoever, you'll blurt out your speech at some point. If you're lucky then you'll get to do it for just the panel. However, get unlucky and you'll find yourself doing your speeches in front of all the auditionees. Land yourself in this situation and your supportive face will go into overdrive while you listen to countless versions of Lady M and perfect the art of stifling yawns and stomach rumbles.

Step Four...

You've forked out your precious earnings, you've forced emotions upon more speeches than a politician and you've played so many games of Zip Zap Boing that you've developed tennis elbow. You've terrified yourself at just how many people you've met and how few places there are and you've wished you wanted to do something else with your life.

So you wait. And then you panic. Panic about what happens if you don't get in anywhere and panic if you do get in somewhere and then you're signed up for this. A life of Stuck In The Mud and supportive faces and being winced at.

Whatever the outcome is, you've just learnt your first few lessons in what a ridiculous, brilliant, soul-crushingly wonderful but awful profession you're trying to get into. Welcome.

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

A Stand

Unpaid but this plumbing job will look fantastic on your CV.

We would not stand for this.

I can't even provide expenses but this bus route does pick up some really influential people.

We would not stand for this.

We have decided, to appeal to a wider audience, to 'skimplify' the uniforms of our female staff.

We would not stand for this.

Male office workers are expected to wear a full suit. Female office workers are expected to wear a bikini.

We would not stand for this.

I can't afford to pay you but I will film you teaching and you can keep the footage.

We would not stand for this.

We are hiring women in this hospital as we need some eye candy for the men.

We would not stand for this.

Of course, we understand just how difficult it is being a doctor. No pay.

We would not stand for this.

Due to budget constraints, we won't be paying MPs.

They would not stand for this. 

You must be more than a 7 out of 10 on the beautiful scale to join our HR team.

We would not stand for this.

You must be thin to represent our accounts team.

We would not stand for this.

All females applying to join our firm must be attractive. All males must speak Spanish.

We would not stand for this.

I can't pay you but this call centre does have a fantastic vending machine.

We would not stand for this.

To avoid time wasting, the manager has requested full frontal nudity in the interview.

We would not stand for this.

The company prefers nurses who will work for food.

We would not stand for this.

We may require you to eat less to perform well as a train driver.

We would not stand for this.

As the majority of our audience are male, all female prison officers will be wearing minimal clothing.

We would not stand for this.

Despite a turnover last year of £12 million, we will not be paying our retail staff.

We would not stand for this.

So why, as actors, are we expected to? All of these examples are modified examples of genuine casting calls I've seen. And if you're a musician or a writer or a comedian or a crew member then chances are you're expected to put up with similar too.

There's a difference between collaboration and exploitation and some employers are deviously blurring the boundaries to make sure we do as much as possible for their gain and our loss.

Enough is enough. This industry will never change if we don't start to make a stand. If you see an exploitative casting call then tell the site or tell Equity or, if you're really at a loss, then tell me. If we call out the bullshit then maybe, just maybe, it might start to go away.

Monday, 19 May 2014

How To Write A Bloody Casting Call

You’ve got an idea and, by hook or by crook, you’re going to get it seen. Now, you just need to get hold of some pesky actors and then you can set off on a wild, film-making adventure together. The world of actors and casting calls can be a tricky one and, if you’re not careful, you’ll be rifling through applications with one eye while getting to grips with a court order with the other. So here are a few tips to make the whole ordeal as easy as a Sunday morning.

All these quotes are taken from real-life casting calls. These other people have made the mistakes so you don’t have to. So sit down and have a little look at these handy tips…

“We’re looking for three male rolls.”
When writing a casting call, it doesn’t matter how amazing the experience will be or how wonderful the characters are if your spelling requires its own translator. Remember, the casting call is often where you make your first impression with actors and if you’ve got spelling mistakes all over the shop then it doesn’t fill us with much hope for the script. I know we’ve all got very used to auto-correct doing all the work for us but the difference between roll and role is a huge one. I'm a massive fan of both so, please, don't get my hopes up thinking up I'm getting a ham roll when actually it's a hammy role. The same goes for the difference between femme fatale, femme fetal and femme foetus. I’ve seen them all and it instantly makes a shoot look amateur.  

‘Due to the director and producer both being broke and a bunch of tight arses, you won’t be paid.’
The argument over unpaid work is for another day but if you’re not paying your actors, at least explain why (and no, just being tight isn't a valid excuse.)  Actors need to eat and pay bills just like everyone else so if they’re going to give up their time for free, they need to know it’s for a good cause. And if you are asking actors to work for free then look at what else you can offer them instead. Maybe offer a new show reel edit or to film some extra scenes for them to include.

'This will start shooting AS EARLY AS 7AM.'
It might seem obvious but when putting out a casting call, but put when you're planning on shooting the damn thing. I've honestly seen casting calls that have requested 'No Timewasters Please' and then not given what damn dates they want to shoot. Actors may be pretty damn spectacular but we're not mind readers. Unfortunately. 

“Please eat before coming on set.”
If you’re not even providing food or expenses for your actor then I suggest you go back to the drawing board and hit yourself over the head with it. Actors aren’t expecting you to pay for taxis (unless you’re asking them to work particularly unsociable hours or your shoot is in the middle of nowhere. If that's the case then you MUST ensure your actors can get home) or lay on Michelin-starred spreads, but if actors are actually paying to work or getting up an hour earlier to make themselves a packed lunch for your film then something has gone horribly wrong. And that thing is you.

‘I’m seeking an impersonator who can act as my mum when me and my mum can’t meet up.’
Again, like with spelling, a casting call is your opportunity to appeal to actors. At this point they have no idea who you are so your best bet would be to put them at ease and reassure them that your film won’t be their last. And if you’re argument is that you’re just being honest with actors from the start then now might be the time to rethink your project before the police come knocking.
Also, don't confuse what actors are for. Just because a lot of us are loudmouths and not afraid to make a fool of ourselves, that doesn't mean you can use us as escorts, fake girlfriends or someone to set up a fake wedding with (again, I've seen all of these.)

Now, when it comes to writing the character description, you’ll find yourself treading an extremely fine line. Give too much detail and you’ll terrify the actor but say too little and you risk the actor either not bothering or every single actor out there applying. The key is to give actors enough information so they know whether it’s worth applying (if the character needs to be 6’ tall with ginger hair then say that) but at the same time, don’t come up with a list of adjectives for the sake of it as you then risk alienating every actor reading it.

‘She is painted silver (nude), wears an elephant mask and is coated in gravy.’
Although we may be brave, actors are easily terrified too. Yes, you want your work to break boundaries but do spare a thought for the actor who will end up acting out these thoughts of yours. I’m not saying don’t include them in your work but maybe include what your plans are for the film once you’ve completed it. A job is a lot more appealing when I realise that shots of my gravy-coated bits aren’t going to just be passed around your mates.

‘To avoid time-wasting, the director’s requested full-frontal nudity in the audition.’
Once you’ve written your casting, it’s a good idea to organise where you’re going to hold auditions. If at all possible, don’t hold them at your house, or, if you are, make sure you mention this in the advert and say that you’re happy for actors to bring someone with them for safety. Actors have learned over the years to be pretty savvy but the casting call is another opportunity to put their minds at ease. However, I would always advise trying to find somewhere other than a house to hold a casting. Even if everything is entirely above board, holding the casting elsewhere will look a lot more professional. I've attended auditions held in someone's basement, a park, a rooftop and the Notting Hill branch of McDonalds. Not only did they come across as unprofessional but getting an actor to perform a harrowing scene in a fast food restaurant is not going to help them give their best. 

‘Nudity isn’t essential to get the part but it is encouraged.’
Nudity. Some actors will do it, some won’t. However, you’re unlikely to get anyone to do it if the atmosphere on set sounds like it’ll be about as comfortable as a barbed wire scarf. Firstly, look at whether you really need nudity in your film. If you don’t, get rid of it. If you really do need it then be sure to mention that it’ll be a closed set and that you’ll be using minimal crew. It might not seem like much to you but a small gesture like this can make the whole world of difference for an actor and ensure that you get the best possible performance.

‘We need eye candy for the men.’

If your casting call contains something like this then either stop being a dick or go to the person who wrote it and tell them to stop being a dick. End of.

I hope this has helped, even in the slightest. Sorry if it's come across as patronising. Sadly, as my Casting Call Woe Tumblr shows (castingcallwoe.tumblr.com) the world of casting calls can still be a pretty grim and murky place so let's all try and make it a little bit brighter. 

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

Bringing It All Home

I’m currently waiting to hear details about a self-tape audition. While I sit here in my pyjamas (yes I know it's Wednesday afternoon. I also had a packet of NikNaks and a cream bun for lunch. Try judging me all you like. I'm invincible today) I’m waiting to hear if I need to spend the rest of the afternoon prepping my flat so it looks like an office and prepping myself so I don't look like I've spent the day so far being a bloody champion of self-employment. 

For those who’ve never experienced a self-tape, it’s what happens when someone can’t be bothered to hold a proper audition. Instead of hiring out a church hall, theatre rooftop, wooded area or Notting Hill McDonalds (yes, I’ve auditioned in all of these) they decide to let you do all the hard work so they can judge both you and your choice of wallpaper. For a couple of minutes, you have to shakily record yourself in the comfort of your own home, desperately trying to look professional as you realise that your BluRay of the Toy Story Trilogy is totally in shot.

Now I quite like the idea of self-tapes. You don’t have to leave the house and, if you’re lucky, you can do the whole thing in your slippers. If I don't have to brave Soho or shoes then I consider that a stunning victory. In my house there's no fear of bumping into someone I worked with three years ago but whose name I can't remember. But that’s pretty much where the pro points end. The cons list, however, is a whole other thing…

      1) Your flat will never look as ridiculous and shambolic as it does the moment before you start filming. It doesn't matter how house proud you are or how spotless you think everything is, your greying pants draped over a wonky Ikea drying rack will not get you the job.

      2)  Making your flat look like something else. It's your flat. It's where you live. It's where you mope about in your novelty pyjamas eating Nutella straight from the jar. It's not an office or a hospital or Gotham City (OK, sometimes it's Gotham City.) But don't worry. I’m sure ALL offices have tie-dyed throws over everything and damp so rampant that the mould on the wall behind you causes continuity issues.

3)You will be the living embodiment of ‘all dressed up and nowhere to go.’ It’s quite the low point when you’ve spent nearly an hour making your hair look perfect, your make-up look spotless and have ironed the soul out of your outfit just so you look presentable enough to walk from your bedroom to your living room. It also means I spend the rest of the day sitting around the house feeling uncomfortable in make up. I might not like wearing it but I refuse to spend all that time on it only to wash it all off 5 minutes later. I like to think this makes me look like one of the Kardashians or something but instead it just looks like I'm making an effort for the Water Aid door chuggers. 

4) Getting someone to film the damn thing. I’m lucky that I live with my boyfriend who’s also self-employed so I’ve got a ready-made camera assistant good to go. But I used to live on my own with only a 93 year old neighbour on hand. She was lovely but rarely does an self-tape go well when you've spent the last hour firstly explaining why you're an actor and haven't got yourself a proper job and, secondly, how to operate the camera on your iPhone. 

      5) Other people. You can guarantee that the second you hit record, the Jehovah’s Witnesses will pop round, the builders outside will start drilling through 18 inches of concrete and the couple upstairs will embark upon a session of furious sex. Apparently the rest of North London doesn't go on hold just so you can spend the next minute pretending your grubby hallway is a war zone just so you can maybe get another poorly paid job to fling at your CV. 

But still, at least you can do it all in your slippers.