Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Nothing To Showreel

I don’t currently have a showreel.

If I was doing pretty much any other job (that wasn’t a writer, musician, designer, singer, etc) then this wouldn’t be a problem. Accountants don’t need to submit a fancy time-lapse video of them balancing books and judges don’t need to attach a .wav file of their gavel hitting. But as actors, to prove that our CV isn’t just a pack of lies that we dreamed up one quiet Wednesday afternoon, we’re expected to have hard, physical evidence of our ability to be on screen.

Now, for anyone who either knows me in real life or follows me on Twitter, you might have spotted that my last couple of years as an actor have been about as fruitful as Scotland. In fact, I’ve got to the point where I’ve even considered committing an unsolved crime just so I can get the chance to play myself in the re-enactment on Crimewatch. Thankfully the realisation that I probably wouldn't even mange to get cast for that has put me off and I'm clean as a whistle, guv. Honest.

So I find myself without a showreel. The things I have been in have either been made by buffoons who are so inept that even providing a copy of my work is far beyond them or they’ve been corporate jobs who won’t allow their precious training video to be seen by the public for fear that it’d just be too upsetting for people to witness. As it is, I’d be better off chasing down GoogleMaps cars and trying to get the footage they’ve got of me wandering down Crouch End Broadway.

But the problem with not having a showreel is that it makes it damn hard to get into things that would help you towards getting a showreel together. When you’re pitting yourself against a small army of Doppelgangers, it’s no surprise that the casting director goes for the ones who can prove that their CV isn’t just a well-formatted wish-list in Times New Roman. So you can’t get work because you don’t have a showreel and you can’t get a showreel because you can’t get the work. And you can’t even get an agent to help you get work because you don’t have a showreel to show them your work.

“Oh hello, Catch. The usual, is it? One 22 coming right up.”

What to do then? I’ve got new headshots in the hope of at least attracting a few people before they realise I’m seriously lacking in the dramatic montage department but they’ll only take me so far. It’s getting to the point now where I’m going to have to do some unpaid work if I want my showreel to be any more than just a grainy clip of me, aged 6, playing Jack Frost in the school play. I’m not really in a financial position to do so and supporting the majority of unpaid work (the whole debate around unpaid work is for another time) makes me feel more than a tad queasy but what else are you supposed to do?

Making your own work? Yes, but that takes planning, getting equipment, writing, finding time amidst earning money to pay bills and organising other people who are all trying to do the same thing.

Stealing Jennifer Lawrence’s showreel and sticking my own head on hers? More tempting.

Infiltrating the police and stealing all the CCTV footage of myself that I can find? Probably the most likely.

Or maybe, just maybe, I might get lucky. On second thoughts, someone get me Jennifer Lawrence’s showreel and the number for the Met. 

Saturday, 27 September 2014

Sandwiches, Crisps & Lead Roles: The New Wave of UK Actors

Actors. They're everywhere. On your television screens, in your theatres and making you run the gauntlet as you travel down your local high street. You might even say there are too many. But do you care about what they have to say when someone hasn't put a script in their hand? Probably not but we've decided to talk to Benedict Lewis-Fox-Irons and Resty McUnemployederson, two actors who represent this worrying rise in thespians...

Benedict Lewis-Fox-Irons: "I really hate not getting all the roles." 
Cloak, £12,389, Shakespeare's Personal Collection.

Benedict Lewis-Fox-Irons

Lewis-Fox-Irons is white, 29 and grew up at Eton. He stars in The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies, Black Mass, Magik, The Yellow Birds, Jungle Book: Origins, Flying Horse and every other film currently in pre-production. He's even in films written by writers who aren't even born yet. This year he has been in so many films that 2014 has been officially declared a year of rest for all other actors. He lives between Los Angeles and London so he can ensure he can always be where you aren’t.

What did you like best about being at the Oscars?

Being up for every award going. It was slightly embarrassing when I was nominated for Best Sound Mixing and Best Makeup and Hairstyling, seeing as I don't really even know what those mean, but I thought it just looked neater if I was nominated for all the awards. Everyone agreed because my Dad pays their wages.

Have you had an “Oh my god, I’ve made it” moment?

Oh definitely. It was the very moment I was born.

What’s been the least glamorous moment of your life so far?

I once had to audition for a role. There was this awful mix up and I even saw one of the other actors who was up for the role. He'd been on ITV, for goodness' sake. It was so humiliating that I had everyone fired and put the actor in a 5 year run of a play touring schools about farm safety.

Have you ever been starstruck?

Yes. I have a lot of mirrors in my house. You'd think I'd be used to it by now but my reflection just gets me every time.

What are your must-haves on set?

The lead role, obviously.

What was your first job?

The lead in some film. It only made $3 billion at the box office which was just awful. I've tried to forget about the whole thing. I'd rather we moved on, please.

What makes you angry?

Tom Hardy. He gets far too many roles for a man with only 3 syllables to his name.

Resty McUnemployederson: "Sorry, can you give me a second, 
I just need to take this call from my temp agency." 
Pyjamas, her own but she thinks they're C&A, £4.50

Resty McUnemployederson

McUnemployederson is female, in her 30s and grew up in a house. She stars in a short film that was banned from YouTube for being such poor quality and she’s been in a play that was universally hated by 11-16 year olds. She lives in a flat with 8 mice and a damp problem.

What did you like best about being at the Oscars?

Haha, the what? Oh, do you mean Oscars Nightclub? Probably Happy Hour. If you get there early you can get 5 shots for £5. It’s usually still daylight at that time but it doesn’t matter. It gives me something to do.

Have you had an “Oh my god, I’ve made it” moment?

I have actually! I had to run for the 43 bus yesterday and I was convinced I was going to miss it but I made it just in time which was a relief because my pay is docked if I'm late for my shift at the call centre.

What’s been the least glamorous moment of your life so far?

She gets out her CV. Well, I mean you can take your pick really. Being barefoot and filming in the freezing cold at 2am? The film set that didn’t have any food? Having to crawl around on the floor and fight other actors for stale bread? The time I got wedged in the doorway of a casting suite? Actually, you're probably better off just scanning in my CV and showing that.

Have you ever been starstruck?

Oh yes. I'd once got comps to see at friend at the Royal Court and was waiting at the bar to get a glass of tap water. Unfortunately I didn't realise Nigel Havers was also trying to get to the bar and he pushed me out of the way. Pushed and struck are sort of the same thing, aren't they?

What are your must-haves on set?

A sandwich and some crisps. They get really angry if you have to do another take because your stomach was growling too much. Oh, and somewhere to sit. That’s always nice.

What was your first job?

I helped out at a vet's surgery. I once got to hold a pot-bellied pig's head.

What makes you angry?

When my pyjamas are in the wash. It's really awkward answering the door in just your pants.

Cruel Intentions

Good intentions. That’s what this week has been filled with.

I’ve got a set of new headshots under my arm and a new-found need to stop my CV looking as sparse as an actor’s knowledge on tax returns.

So this week I was ready to go. I was going to go through my CV with a nit comb (where I found I was still claiming to be able to play the flute – I really can’t), contact agents, nudge casting directors and apply for so much acting work that, if I were to get them all, even Benedict Cumberbatch would start to feel a bit uncomfortable.

Although I’d love new representation and the attention of a brilliant casting director, it’s really acting work that I want. And need. My CV currently has more dubious spaces than a service station car park at 3am and my showreel has less footage than John Barrowman’s best bits.

So I hit the casting websites hard. And for those who follow my Tumblr, you’ll know how hard I hit them anyway. But this week I was in Casting Calls 2: Hit Harder. This week I was going to have an open mind, find some excellent roles to apply for and take control of my floundering career.

There’s a sacrifice scene but it’s done in a sexy choreographed way where her top’s ripped to expose her breasts.


The lady is more of a slapper.

Oh no.

She’s chained up in what appears to be a coffin & a metallic device is lodged in her mouth. She’s lying on a pile of rotting skulls.

Oh bloody hell.

And that was when I could find roles where I actually fit into the casting bracket. Generally I was either too old, too young, too female, too foreign-looking, too short, too tall, too fat, too thin, too unable to sing or just too unwilling to get my tits out for free. Then, of course, you find a role that you might possibly be able to play but they’re only casting in Manchester or they’re not paying or self-doubt whacks you round then head and you convince yourself that they’d never hire you anyway so why even bother.

But people keep asking me what acting work I’ve got coming up and I’ve got nothing to tell them.

So you find a weak handful of jobs to put yourself up for and then you wait. It’s like waiting for Christmas having heard a rumour that it’s being cancelled this year. But still you put yourself through the same series of events every single time...

You apply convinced that you’re perfect for the job. You feel safe in the knowledge that they’ll see your application, fall in love with you and that job will be yours. Then you see they’ve looked at your CV a few times and you get excited. You check the closing date for the casting call and are sure that as soon as it hits, you’ll get that audition offer. That date arrives and you hear nothing. Oh, maybe they’re delayed or taking their time. You check when the shooting date is. It’s tomorrow. Well, maybe that’s changed. Time passes. You eventually see the show or advert and have to finally accept that maybe they’re not going to call you in for that casting. Hey, hang on. You didn’t even see the role that you applied for. Oh, you were better off not getting it anyway. Ad infinitum.

But still, my week wasn’t completely fruitless. Despite all the agents and casting directors I contacted, despite all the casting calls I spent ages on making sure I sent the perfect cover letter, despite all that, I got a phone call from a temping agency wanting me on their books and a call centre offered me a job, sooooo…there’s that.

Saturday, 20 September 2014

Dreams vs Bills

A few weeks back I blogged about The Fear. The Fear generally creeps up on you, or sometimes runs at you at quite an alarming rate, and makes itself known when someone asks you:

“Oh, so you’re an actor? What work have you got coming up?”

And you have nothing. Not a job, not an interested agent, not even a ridiculous sounding casting call to attend. The Fear makes you feel physically sick when you realise what little work you've got coming up.

Yesterday, with a real need to stop paying bills with savings, I found myself attending an interview for a call centre job. Now I have nothing against call centre work, in fact it’s been a damn good friend to me during leaner times. And I certainly don’t wish to demean call centre work because despite how mind-numbing it is, in fact because of how mind-numbing it is, it’s some of the most challenging work out there. Constant rejection, miserable conditions and exceedingly low pay…I can’t possibly imagine why actors are drawn to such jobs…

So, yesterday I headed to a dingy little office and was interviewed to check that I was eligible to speak to people on a phone. After far too many questions that began with “Give me an example,” I was told that I needed to be aware that I was “up against some very strong competition” for the various vacancies they had available.  I then watched the interviewer hover their pen over the 5/5 mark they’d given for one of my responses, change it to a 4, change it to a 5 again and then frantically scribbled out the 5. 

For God’s sake. I once spent an hour on the phone helping Paul McCartney’s PA put an order through for Christmas labels.  I deserve better than this.

I was then reminded again that competition was exceedingly high and I realised I was basically being told that I wasn’t suitable to pick up a phone and harass people. This is news that should leave me frikkin’ delighted. If only my landlord saw it the same way.

I left being told that they’d let me know in a week whether I was deemed worthy to willingly put on a headset and call people at quite impressively inappropriate times (yes, I once managed to call for someone on the morning of their very own funeral.) So that’s some exciting news to look forward to this week.

I’m not sure whether this little tale says more about the current job market or my career prospects. Actors have always been near the bottom of the food chain but now people are being forced into taking second, third and even fourth jobs, we’re being pushed so far down that we’re now amongst the ants and plankton. And the problem with actors is that we need a job that allows us to juggle paying bills with chasing the kind of dreams that many would consider nightmares. It’s really no surprise that many end up having to abandon all their hard work just to keep their head above water. As romantic as hopes are, real life does sometimes have an incredible knack of getting in the way. And often the 'resting' jobs we get are so poorly paid that the amount of hours we need to do to stay solvent means acting is lucky if briefly passes us in the hallway once a week. 

Basically, what we’re seeing here is the rapidly increasing chance of me becoming a chugger. Place your bets now on how long it takes…  

Sunday, 14 September 2014


Recently Telegraph Women did a piece on the phrases that are only ever used to describe women. Words like ‘feisty’, ‘bitchy’, and, my personal worst, ‘sassy.’ Now, because everything in my head eventually ends up at what flavour crisps to have today or casting calls, I thought I’d take a look at how women are often described in the world of acting. The list in the Telegraph piece are all too regular when it comes to describing female characters but, of course, the world of acting can’t help but go that bit further…

I always hoped I’d see this awful phrase just once but, sadly not. This soul-bustingly terrible term comes up all too often and, most of the time, it’s used to describe women. Not only is it hugely derogatory towards women for reasons that should be hugely obvious (if not, this blog probably isn’t for you) but it’s also impressively insulting towards men too. The idea that men can only watch something that contains beautiful women is about as ridiculous as getting an actor to get your tax affairs in order.

Many drama schools claim to get their gorgeous little actor fledglings ready for the realities for the acting industry. If that was true then the men would be sent off to learn a new, interesting character everyday while the women would spend 3 years being taught how to remain still while a prosthetic wound uncomfortably dries on their face and a pathologist pokes their boobs. One year I'd like to keep count of the amount of times a dead naked woman is wheeled out on a slab in films or on TV but I fear I'd run out of numbers around mid-March. 

Find a casting call containing a woman and it generally won’t be long before the subject of nudity is brought up. If you haven’t got a woman getting her bits out in your film then, quite simply, you don’t have a film. FACT.

This is an interesting one. And it's totally fine to explain how your characters look but if you find yourself looking for a sexy woman and an 'interesting' or 'confident' man then you need to take a serious look at what you're making. Describing a woman purely on her looks does not a female character make. 

Or prostitute. Or stripper. Or lapdancer.  Of course, there is nothing wrong with these professions or including them in your work. However, if you do have these roles in your film or on your stage then please write them to be more than just a pair of tits.

Just don’t. Same goes for slapper. Thanks.

Much like nudity, boobs are often what are included in a script in place of a well-written female character. And who can blame ‘em because, really, what’s a women apart from a cracking pair of baps? Yep, that’s right. EVERYTHING.

This, along with ‘surprisingly beautiful geek’ and ‘actually pretty with no make-up’, comes up a lot. Let’s get this straight; being smart and beautiful doesn’t automatically make a woman some kind of witch. You don’t need to mention it. If you've written a smart and beautiful female character then congratulations, you've just written yourself a woman. 

So there we go. There's just a few that make my forehead meet my desk, wall and floor. Please, let's save the hard surfaces of the world and stop using these terms ALL THE BLOODY TIME. 

A woman is not just a pair of boobs or naked set dressing for your film. We're capable of heading up a storyline while keeping our clothes on. I promise.