Thursday, April 23, 2009

Happy Birthday Will!

On Monday, I had the pleasure of spending some time with director, actor, dancer, teacher (is there anything he doesn’t do?) John Farmanesh-Bocca. I met him last week when I saw my talented student Lisa Pettet play Margaret in a piece he directed, Richard III Redux. It’s a fascinating riff on Richard the III, incorporating lots of music and movement, that not only shows us Richard’s diabolical heart, but thankfully, his humor. There are some wonderful performances, Lisa of course, ( she is fab as usual), and Stefan Wolfert as Richard. It’s very interesting and worth checking out and it's produced by a great group, The Veterans Center for the Performing Arts. Click here for info.

At Peets in Venice over iced green-teas (hey, it’s VENICE!), John and I had a vigorous discussion about performing Shakespeare, particularly the importance of paying strict attention to iambic pentameter when approaching the text. We talked for almost two hours and I left feeling inspired and invigorated.

I spent a lot of time in the late eighties studying “The Bard” and my conversation with Farmanesh-Bocca reminded me of why I so loved working on Shakespeare’s plays (and sonnets). For an actor, Shakespeare is the apex, like climbing Mount Everest. The work will hold all you can give it-- all of your heart, all of your imagination, all of your intellect, all of your breath, all of your body, and it can always hold more.

I believe every actor should work on Shakespeare, even if he has no intention of ever performing it. It’s like a batter swinging six bats before stepping up to the plate. Studying Shakespeare will improve all of your acting.

Here is an excerpt from The Mystic in the Theatre, Eleonora Duse by Eva Le Gallienne:

"...she loved to hear the sound of Shakespeare's own words, and would ask me to read it aloud to her. Then she would sit awhile pondering over it in silence. 'The sound reflects the meaning,' she would say; 'blood; drowzy; incarnadine; those words sound like their meaning.' Then, after a moment she added: 'Of course it is Macbeth himself one would want to play. What an extraordinary complex nature! In spite of his maleness--so much woman in him! Ah, Shakespeare! He knew everything!'"

In honor of Shakespeare's birthday (and anniversary of his death), I will end this post with one of my favorite sonnets. Number 55. I love it because it is TRUE! His verse still lives...

Not marble, nor the gilded monuments
Of princes, shall outlive this powerful rhyme;
But you shall shine more bright in these contents
Than unswept stone, besmear'd with sluttish time.
When wasteful war shall statues overturn,
And broils root out the work of masonry,
Nor Mars his sword nor war's quick fire shall burn
The living record of your memory.
'Gainst death and all oblivious enmity
Shall you pace forth; your praise shall still find room,
Even in the eyes of all posterity
That wear this world out to the ending doom.
So, till the judgment that yourself arise,
You live in this, and dwell in lovers' eyes.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

RIP Eleonora Duse, a mystic in the theatre.

I couldn't sleep during this LA heat wave so spent most of last night reading. I finally cracked open a book that has been on my shelf for at least fifteen years, Eva Le Gallienne's famous biography of Eleonora Duse, The Mystic in the Theatre. I picked it up and couldn't put it down. When I started reading it was 11pm Monday April 20th, and at around 3am this morning, Tuesday April 21st, I read about Duse's death:

"That afternoon in Pittsburgh forty-five hundred people saw Duse play with a magical power, a spiritual intensity which even Desiree
(Duse's companion of thirty years) had never seen in her before. It was her last performance. The play was La Porta Chiusa--The Closed Door.

She developed pneumonia afterwards.)

In those days there were no "wonder drugs", and for two weeks Duse, attended by two doctors, battled for her life...her strength gave out, and she died in Desiree's arms. Her last words were: "Pack the Trunks. We must move on!"
It was April 21st, 1924."
__Eva Le Gallienne

I didn't know the date of Ms. Duse's death until I read those words. Eleonora Duse, a mystic indeed...

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Monday, April 13, 2009

Ole Elizabeth Gilbert

Watch this wonderful video all the way through. It is truly inspirational. Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love, talks about genius, creativity, and second acts.

Click Here for Video

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

"The State of Our Industry"

Recently a viral email was circulated with the subject line: "The State of Our Industry" (I have pasted it below**)

Here is a letter I sent to one of the folks who sent it along to me:

Hi Judy,

I received that viral email from my manager and know of other good managers who sent it out. And my immediate reaction was, my manager feels bad that he can't get me in. I know he works tremendously hard for me and he is frustrated. I let him know that I appreciate him and his hard work. And I also let him know that I will continue to do my part (no pun intended) by keeping a positive attitude and playing full-out at every audition no matter how tough it gets out there.

I am a "Guest Star" level actor and I have seen the roles I would usually play go to straight-to-offer film actors. I also read for my very first co-star role a few weeks ago. It has gotten tougher out there. But so what else is new? It has always been tough! When "talkies" came in, many actors raised in silent movies couldn't make the shift. Then television came in, now "new media", and that is just our industry, take a look at the world? Um...lots of change out there to say the least.

The nature of our business (and of course life itself) is change. That's the deal. We can sit around complaining about it, or we can step up. Along with the downward shift in traditional opportunities in television, i.e. guest stars roles going to film stars, folks not getting their quotes, actors with "strong credits" doing co-stars, there is also more opportunity for actors to produce their own projects than I've ever seen (and I've been a working actor since 1967). It is like the Wild West out there (something that was said when television first came in). Now is the time for actors to stop relying on other folks to supply outlets for their creativity. Either write your own project or find some talented writer friends and make a web series! Or make your own small film. There is so much possibility out there. Yes. Not as much money. But now is the time to ask yourself 'Am I in it for the money? Or am I in it for love?' If you are in it for love, then you can get through anything. And the beautiful paradox is, if you are in it for love, then the quality of your work is important to you so you are always growing as an actor. And of course if the quality of your work is excellent, it increases your chances of booking.

Personally, I am in the business for love. I love my craft And I am in for the long haul. I will probably have a monologue prepared for my own funeral. Maybe holographic images will be perfected by then!

The business is changing. And I say OK! Let's all change with it!

Jamie Rose

**The following was written by an Agent to his clients. He described the situation succinctly.

"I know a lot of your are getting antsy to get out more, and frankly many of you are in a tight financial pinch; as such, I wanted to describe to you all the current climate in LA and the factors influencing the current environment.

-SAG STALEMATE: Since the SAG contract expired on June 30, 2008, there have been few to no STUDIO feature films (this does not include companies such as Lionsgate and the Weinstein Company who are not in AMPTP and as such have completion agreements). Some analysts say there are up to 200 feature films on hold. Around September, we started to see a mass movement of film actors to TV projects. Many of my "name" actors have done one-day guest stars (this is very typical right now), and we are seeing a number of Guest Star level actors doing CO-STAR roles. Remember from November of 2007 to March of 2008, due to the Writer's Strike, again there were no feature films shot. So for the film actor, there has only been 4 months of work in the last 17 months. THE BOTTOM LINE: Due to the lack of studio feature film production, BOTH film and TV actors are now competing for a limited number of jobs in the episodic and pilot environments.

-PILOT SEASON: During the Writer's Strike of 2007-2008, Studios adapted and used the void to eliminate pilot season as we know it. Gone are the days of hundreds of pilots. In fact, this year, there are only 67 pilots to have registered for production - of which only about 35 have been green lit for production.

And this year, due again to a sagging economy, studios and networks believe that by committing named stars to their projects, they will receive more money from this year's up-fronts from ad agencies. They are banking on star power to leverage better buys at the all important UPFRONTS. So, stars and pop-stars like Richard Dreyfuss, Chevy Chase, Brittany Snow, Elle McPherson, Rebecca Romijn, Ashley Simpson, Scott Caan, Skeet Ulrich, and proven TV talents like Kelsey Grammar, Eric McCormick, John McGinley, Joel McHale, Jenna Elfman, Donald Faison, Maura Tierney, Peter Krauss, Craig T. Nelson, Dax Shepherd, etc.... You do the math, 37 pilots... top stars being sought...

-TV: While TV has been steady, again due to the conflagration of film and named actors doing Guest Starring roles, we have seen a horrible trickle down. Many Guest Stars are now doing Co-stars and Co-stars/Developmental Actors (those with less than 5 primetime credits) frankly are not getting seen much. One CD recently told me that she had over 25 women who would be considered 'working actors' going for a co-star role. BOTTOM LINE: Again, due to the abundance of name and working actors, many less-developed actors are not even being seen right now.

-ECONOMIC IMPACT I - THE EROSION OF QUOTES/RATES: There are really three major impacts to actors during this economic crunch. First, we are seeing the erosion of quotes. Due to the availability of so many talented actors, CD's and Producers are in the driver's seat in negotiations. When they say, "well we got someone else who will do it for less", they ain't kidding. I have spoken to a number of my peers who have confirmed this erosion of pay for their actors. In short, right now, quotes are eroding and for many, the minimum has become the maximum pay.

-ECONOMIC IMPACT II - THE CONCLUSION OF SAG STALEMATE: Many are hoping that with the end
of this stalemate, Hollywood will get back to normal. I have to say, that I am not one who necessarily believes this. First off, due to the economic conditions, most studios have lost their millions of dollars from hedge funds; and European, Asian and Middle Eastern money has dried up. Even Stephen Spielberg has had to beg, borrow and steal to get his company financed .... And it wasn't anywhere near what he originally asked for. I believe that, even after the SAG stalemate is over, there is probably not enough money for 50 Studio Feature Films to be done right out of the gate. BOTTOM LINE: While this will help us move towards normalcy, it will not be the cash cow some people think it will be. One side note, is that I expect that more formulaic projects will be down out the gate as Studios will be less likely to take significant risks since most of these projects will be financed by both the studio and their investors. In short, you will see more Iron
Mans, Animation, and SAWs... they are money in the bank when you factor in ratios, etc.

-ECONOMIC IMPACT III - OVERALL STATEMENT OF ENVIRONMENT: It is important that everyone follow the economic conditions closely. I know it is easy to be skeptical over the studios, networks, cablers, production houses, show runners, etc, losing money, but it is a cold-hard fact right now. These entities are truly in a difficult spot. If you have read much lately, there have been dramatic cut backs at every studio and network, from firings to asking show runners to cut between 2-7% of their budgets (not to mention the 25+% cutback shows like the Sarah Silverman were asked to swallow recently). Furthermore, these networks and studios are largely owned by conglomerates who have lost in the billions over the last 6 months. When I attended NATPE in January, all the talk was how to get 'thinner.' Everything is getting tight. Budgets, Marketing, Staffing, etc., and this will undoubtedly impact the actor. Also, the foreign sales market (where much of the TV and Film money is made, is being hit hard by the erosion of the US Dollar. So these entities are not able to recoup the costs they were in better days by the one-time explosion of the foreign markets. BOTTOM LINE: The economic conditions are forcing the industry to be as 'thin' as possible.

-COMMERCIALS - INDUSTRY AND ECONOMIC IMPACTS: One analyst said last year, that 2008 was the worst commercial market since maybe 1974. I would not argue with this. Think about it: three of the top products/services for ad agencies are banks, cars and other financial services - all of which were struck down in 2008/early 2009 by this recession. This was confirmed when news struck that even the Super Bowl did not sell out advertising this year. The good news is that the advertising industry tends to be one of the first ones to be negatively impacted by a recession, but one of the first to grow as the recession moves to an end as advertisers of products want to start accumulating market share before the turn of the economy. Another impact relates to the overall conditions of the TV/FILM/PILOT situation. Many strong actors have made enough money on TV/FILM, etc so that they have not had to do commercials in years. Due to the last few years and the lack of work, many top actors are now back in the commercial market; thus again, causing a logjam in casting. BOTTOMLINE: The economic slowdown has caused a dramatic decrease in ad sales and the lack of work has caused more actors to re-enter the commercial market.


Okay, so that is where we are today. You know me, I try to always call it straight as I see it. So, I am not going to sugar-coat this either. I anticipate that 2009 will be a tough year overall for actors (and agencies). First off, the economy will not likely get straightened out until at least the 3rd to 4th quarter of this year and so all the factors above will remain in place through most, if not all, of 2009. Secondly, until the labor situation gets straightened out, we will not be seeing dramatic amount of film production, and this seems to be dragging along as well (as we enter the 8th month of the stalemate - it was announced today that SAG is thinking now about taking AMPTP to court for anti-trust violations). But again, even if it was finalized, there is not enough investor money to see the film production level normalize and increase for most, if not all, of 2009. Also, since movies cost around $40 for two (tickets, popcorn, etc) - this is not a recession proof field anymore. During our last significant recession, there were few choices for guilty pleasures to get away from the stress of our times - so many people flocked to the theatres. NOT SO THESE DAYS, one can go to the web, TV, cable (not around in 1974, 1982, 1988 much), Video Games, Netflix, RedBox (movie for a $1). So studios are probably not in any big rush to make films - as people cannot afford this once cheap diversion - better to divert for a few bucks to all the many other sources of guilty pleasures. OKAY, so that didn't sound like good news...

-The good news is that there are some paradigm shifts occurring that make 2010 -2012 look like it might be one of the most prolific times in Hollywood history. Due to technological developments, there are more platforms being developed than ever. The internet is driving millions of new viewers each year. Zillion is going to transform the way we view advertising. For those who don't know, it has recently been unveiled by the maker of Real Player and the 'mouse.' It is a system that makes you watch ads before downloading movies (they already have 14,000 Titles ready for download), TV, other forms of entertainment to your TV Screen. However, the consumer can choose the products they want to see (let's say you go retail clothing and watch a Macy's ad and love the jacket; you can immediately click on the ad/jacket and go directly to their website where you can buy it). Also, you earn points by watching the commercials that you can use towards purchases. Furthermore, SONY and others are now selling TVs that wirelessly connect to your computer, so you can download TV/FILMS at anytime from your computer (websites like Hula, Netflix, etc) directly to your TV. In short, technology is making more platforms which will
require more content than ever. Also, Cablers are all embracing doing scripted shows, some have up to 5 shows this year... again, more content is needed and thus MORE ACTORS!

-BOTTOM LINE: More platforms = more content = more actors! So as long as SAG/AFTRA can protect your rates and jurisdictional issues, there will be more good compensated work than ever in Hollywood by 2010-2012. "