Friday, August 16, 2013

Stina talks about the 48 Hour Film Project

This is a blog that Stina wrote for the people who run the Los Angeles 48HFP:

Our group, the Collaborative Group Ensemble Troupe Collective, has been meeting for more than a year, experimenting with collaborative storytelling and film-making. 

Leading up to the 48HFP, we started practicing brainstorming techniques we might use the night of. We really liked something called Story Symphony, where people take turns making up a story. One person conducts the story by pointing at people. If you're being pointed at, you're telling the story, but as soon as the conductor points elsewhere, you stop, even if it's mid-word. The next person has to pick up exactly where the previous person left off. 

We played around with Story Symphony at our weekly meetings, trying to set ourselves up as if it really were the night of the 48HFP by picking a genre, a character, a line and a prop.

So the evening of the 48HFP rolls around and we are eagerly awaiting a text from our producer with the details so we can jump into Story Symphony. We get the info and we go. And everyone realizes that we're kind of sick of Story Symphony. We'd used up the novelty of it in our practice sessions. 

Ultimately our story idea came about through good old-fashioned brainstorming. 

"Ooh, how about someone goes to their car and in its place, there's a present?" 

"Yeah, and then . . ."

A could happen, or B could happen, or what if we go all crazy and jump to Z? 

We brainstorm up until about 9pm, then I go off and write the first draft. I come back to the group a couple hours later and we don't like the ending, so we brainstorm again and come up with a new ending. Then we all go home so the rest of the group (which comprised of our director and actors) can squeeze in some sleep while I finish writing.

I write up until about 3:30am, then call it good, email it out, and crash. About an hour and a half later I get a phone call from our director, who's now working on the shot list with our DP and 1st AD. They think it's too short. Over the phone, we brainstorm some ways to increase the tension (we drew Crime/Gangster) and lengthen it. I get back to work and send out the final draft around 5:45am 

48HFP is really all about collaboration, so it felt like the perfect opportunity for our group to put our skills to the test. Ultimately it didn't matter if we used Story Symphony the night of, because the technique had already benefited us as a group. We were ready to jump in with ideas and to build off one another's ideas. I wrote the story, but we built it together.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Productivity and happiness

I don't want to BS you. As you read in my last post, I was feeling a little disheartened, and if I were writing this post last week, you'd get a similar tone. But now everything seems delightful.

Even over the weekend, I waffled on the value of skill in acting. But that's the thing about art. There's not a right way every time.

So on with the series called: How do you make it?: My Path

Alright, what's been going on?

Last weekend I directed my first fully-crewed film. The 48 Hour Film Project challenges teams to make a short movie from script and pre to screen in 48 hours. Our team met that challenge. And we used several collaborative exercises to make sure the whole collective's voice appeared in it. Then Stina wrote the final script, and BAM! We have a murder mystery.

People are asking me if I got bit by the directing bug. No. I did not. I enjoyed it, yes. I felt good about it. I was happy with it. But my passion lies in acting. I would certainly direct again, but there is no dearth of directors in L.A. and I don't want it as badly as they do. The acting. That I want badly.

So on to that. Mostly.

The quick stuff out of the way. My agents got me an audition for a feature film. This is the first time they've done that, but not the last I'm sure. I am thrilled. I had the audition last week and got a callback for tomorrow. Boo ya. Also had a delightful commercial audition that I just got home from. We were the third to last group before lunch, and the session runner acknowledged his own hunger-crankiness, but my group followed directions well and got in and out with positive energy, and it just felt nice to be making someone's day easier. And he was grateful and nice. PLEASANT EXPERIENCES WOOHOO!

That brings me to 2 weeks ago. I had two commercial auditions in a day. I arrived at the first one as I always do: early, so I could prepare strong choices (they hadn't given sides ahead of time). I enjoyed my waiting room time, as the CD's kid eagerly greeted each actor and told them where to go. I was feeling fully ready. Gave myself some time to breathe. When I was up, I was the first after the explanation. Everybody left the room. I got comfy in my position, and ... just felt blah. Hurried. Unable to breathe. Not literally, but... kind of literally. ("inspiration, respiration, perspiration"). The role was perfect for me. It was mine if only I acted "right" and that's where I got in my head. I thought, "There's a right way. I gotta find it and do it. And oh no! It's not what I thought it was." I censored myself, and tried to make new choices without breathing them through, and wound up kind of muddled, I thought.
Ultimately, I pushed through, of course. Tried to give the session runner what he was asking for, but I was lost. It wasn't awful by any means. But it was just... blah. I left with fine energy, I thought, but who knows. There was some self-doubt worming its way through me. Also, I was hungry. Good lord, food is important. Of course, if I had booked it, this would be a different story, wouldn't it?
But two in a day? I have a second chance. As I was sitting in the waiting room for the second one (for which I felt slightly more prepared because we had gotten sides ahead of time), I wondered what, within my control, I could have done differently for the first one. Take that time to breath if I feel rushed, of course. But I always remind myself of that, and it still flew out the window. Had a snack ready, is another one. I had eaten a decent breakfast, but I know waiting room times can be long, and that, coupled with travel and ... whatever I do between breakfast and audition, plus the energy burning nature of my warm-ups means... a sense of empty belly right when I need to feel satisfied by a candy bar or whatever. Or just feel anything other than that most primal of needs: the food-need. So, a snack.
What else? I know, logically, how important confidence is. I hear it. I observe it. I think I usually exude it. (Just as a note: confidence and cockiness are similar, but one (of several) key differences is that the confident person is prepared, and the cocky one isn't). But sometimes finding that confidence when... whatever... has awakened your internal censor is hard. So what could I do? And I happened upon something that worked for me. I thought to myself: Imagine your phone just buzzed with a new text. It says "NBC Comedy Pilot - YOU BOOKED IT! -Jeff"
Boom. Easy. This particular moment was key. I felt really good about that NBC audition. Booking it would change everything about where my career is. It gave me an exciting secret for that moment. And even if it had been true, I would do exactly what I was doing, except instead of being the only thing I booked that week, it would be another.
And I felt good walking away from that audition. I didn't book it either, but, you know, who knows why any given part goes to one person or another. Maybe - anything. Lots of stuff out of my control. But the one thing mostly under my control - my performance? I have no regrets.

But yeah. That's not even where we're coming to:

There's more. Three weeks ago, Daily Fiber Films contacted me and said (paraphrased), "We like your pitch, can you write a full script for your sketch? We'll shoot it in August." Whoop! Now, I'm not trying to be a writer. Again, that's not where my passion lies. I am best at acting, most experienced at acting, and most driven to act, but I also like working creatively in all fields. I liked directing last weekend, too, for example. I have been writing a lot since moving to LA, making my own stuff. And sure, I've contributed here and there to other people's projects. And shot my own projects ( But here was a new opportunity. Not me making my own stuff. Someone else making my stuff. And putting me in it. And we shot it yesterday. And I could not be happier. I felt strong, as an actor, AND as a writer. And I had so much fun... and Yes. OMG. just. I love Daily Fiber. And Mark And Raymond. And everybody who was in it.

And other people talked to me about playing a role in their webseries.

AND Gentle Werewolf is getting read:

So... the rest of today will be spent studying the feature script, and tomorrow I'm reading at We Make Movies in Brian Gaskill's piece (something dramatic to balance all the comedy I've been doing recently) after my callback and, all in all, everything feels pretty darn good.

Because work begets work and feeling productive begets happiness.

And the push for money:

We're making Top Decking, Season 2! We're 2/3 through our campaign and have raised 1/3 of the money necessary, so we need a big push. If you read this blog, consider making a donation. Any size, really. The $5 level is clearly the most affordable, but I'd like to ask you to consider the $25 level, since at that level, you get a DVD of the first season, and don't you want that?

Monday, July 1, 2013

Social Media Angst

So a Time Magazine poll said 70+ percent of Americans surveyed think that other people make their lives seem better on social media than they actually are.

Here's my conundrum.

When I began using social media (I mean LiveJournal in 2000. It counts!), it was full of angst. I only really used it when I was feeling angsty, so it's full of long blog posts about feeling ignored or misunderstood or about my obsessive sadness over girls who didn't want to date me... Stuff like that.

Now, yes. I use social media to talk about what I'm doing - in particular, professionally. And if I'm doing things, I'm glad I'm doing things. It's not doing things that makes me sad. But there's not really news in that. I suppose I could post daily: "Still not making a decent living out of acting. Bummer."

It's also a repository for photos. I take photos when I'm doing something that people take photos for. People don't think "I need a photo of this argument I'm having."

I suppose I occasionally use it for politics.

But is there a way to be honest with the world? Not that that's anybody's duty.

Well, to that end, here are the things that bum me out. Here's some circa 2000 angstiness:

Am I even remotely good enough? There's, like, layers of success. I feel old sometimes when I realize that other people are many strata above me and are younger. A year ago, I was okay telling myself, "I've made tremendous strides since moving to L.A., I'll definitely keep moving forward. And I'm ready." This year has felt more like "I hit a wall. I can do what I've done. My opportunities have caught up to my abilities. This is where I stand." I want to be on the layer that... Well, that's more than one above me. I haven't moved up any layers. And the opportunities are there. I've auditioned a few times for things that are the next level up. I'm not even booking as regularly in the level that I thought I had achieved. Maybe I even moved down a level. Gah!

I guess everything is related to that. The next section is titled, "Am I always going to be poor?" I guess we don't have to be as poor as we are. I could stop trying so hard to make a living as an actor and get a something-dollars-an-hour wage job. The way Stina and I live, even if we both just had part-time minimum wage jobs (30*2*52*$8=a lot more than we make now), we could start building our savings back up, and start dreaming realistically of our one and only financial goal: home ownership. We could even occasionally treat our friends to drinks. But the thought of giving up is super-duper depressing. We weren't happier in Seattle. We had more money, and in that way we were happier. I can't speak for Stina, but I get the chills - the good chills - sometimes here. The "If this works, I will achieve everything I've ever dreamed of" chills.

Section 3: WHAT HAVE I BECOME? Did I forget that I want to be an artist? That I'd always told myself I could be happy with no money, as long as I was making art I cared about? Was that ever true? Do I just like it when people tell me "good job"? Or when I feel like I deserve that? Both? Is this all self-indulgent tripe?  Am I working on my craft? Am I resting on my laurels? If I love this so much, why do I spend any time playing stupid video games? Do I even care about my art/craft? Am I lazy? WHAT'S WRONG WITH ME?

And that, in a nutshell, is the angst. Back to our regularly scheduled, "Things are going super-well!" programming in just a bit, But first, a word from our sponsors:

Check out the Top Decking crowdfunding campaign on Webisodes Network! (It's not up yet, but it should be soon.)

And these guys paid me, plus I got to meet the man behind Avenue Q: Fresh and Easy

Monday, May 13, 2013

Acting in 2013 so far

What's up?

So, it's been a couple months, and nothing's for sure. I think there's a lot to be said for imagining what the you of a year ago or two years ago or 10 years ago would think. From most of those perspectives, I'm doing just fine. I think the me of 10 years ago, would be satisfied. Maybe not thrilled, but satisfied. I'm spending my days rehearsing and writing and auditioning and acting (and bike riding and seeing movies and dancing and walking a puppy and loving my wife and reading books). I think I hoped that this is what I'd be doing now. I suppose I'd always imagined theatre more than anything, and probably would have hoped I'd be a part of a repertory company. There might be more political action and inspiring others in my life. But all-in-all, I'd be pleased to see myself getting regular work (played a juggling farmer in a commercial last Wednesday, and a homeless man in a short last weekend) and building a community.
I'm thrilled with the number of auditions I've been going out on. I added extra photos to the various casting websites about 2 months ago, and starting about a month ago, I've been going on 3 times as many auditions as I had been previously. The fact that the numbers don't line up exactly makes me wonder how related they the circumstances are, but in any case, I've made it up to 6 commercial auditions in a week (once) and regularly 2 or 3 per week.
At the beginning of that 6 audition week (which is also the week I auditioned for the juggling farmer commercial I mentioned), I kind of switched gears in my brain... So, last year, as you may know, I got my agent. And the very first call he sent me on I booked (as you may also know). I was going on ~1 audition/week for them. Some weeks none, some weeks many. And a few months later, I booked another commercial. (And a few months later I was offered an avail for another one that I had to turn down... and a few months later, I was put on avail for another, but nothing ever happened from that one)... The point being - last year, I booked a ton of work considering the number of auditions I went on. This year, I've been going on way more auditions, and have been booking way less. And I know there are always droughts, but I was trying to figure out if anything I was doing was different. Another thing that happened last year at auditions was I was getting the note a lot to "tone it down". That I was "theater acting" or just... I dunno, being to big. Presumably they that I was unreal. Now commercials are a strange beast, because, and I hope this doesn't sound unfair, but - they see you for many minutes and ask you to do a whole variety of things in the auditions and callbacks, and then you wind up doing something for a couple seconds that they probably could have hired an extra to do. Not all of them. But a lot of the auditions are like this. Really, they want to give the job to the person they like the most. I think I just realized this now.  Sure they want competence... but measuring competence is HARD. I'm super competent, but showing that in an audition is... I mean, there are lots of ways to show you're not competent, but so long as you avoid showing up late/drunk/angry (and even then...) you're off to as good a start as all those other people who aren't jerks. So likability is a factor. Back to the original point. Last year I got the "You're overacting" note from the session runners a lot. This year I haven't gotten it at all. I also haven't really booked much this year. I suspect (/decided) that that enthusiasm that makes people think you're overacting is actually key to booking. So I went into one audition as the character (didn't book, but got lots of great feedback) and this other with just the giantest smile you can imagine. And just said "* it". And it's feeling better. Hope I'll be back on track to buying a house in 2015 soon.

The me of 2 (or 3) years ago (just moved to LA) would be okay with things, too. Again, not thrilled. I'm not shooting every day nor making a living wage, but we're not destitute: we still have our buffer and Stina only has to work part time. I have an agent. I have friends who put me in things. I have things I'm proud of. I'm excited to make more things.

I guess the most disappointed would be the me of a year ago... but maybe not. A year ago, I had just gotten paid for the big commercial and I was imagining booking one of those every other month, and having plenty. But I knew my imaginings were a bit out there, and I hadn't shot Top Decking yet, nor knew what a big deal it would be. So I'd be pretty happy with how that was turning out.

So in conclusion - Hello, summer.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

2012 in review

It's me, Brendan, and since I'm an actor and all, but don't yet have a publicist, it's up to me to make sure you know about everything I did in 2012.
Let's bookend it in one. I did this in Summer of 2011, and it was released today:
That's a production of We Make Movies. We're a free, fun resource for filmmakers. Every Wednesday, about a hundred of us get together to read each others' scripts, improvise, or interview other industry folks. BUT THAT'S NOT ALL! We also make movies - like Forget You, Way Down in Chinatown, Dead North, Descending Harmony and Hunt the Maguffin - We make more than that, but those are the ones I've been in since starting with We Make Movies in 2011. You can find the full movie for Dead North on my imdb page:
If you're confused about both of those videos, it's because I didn't have a beard a year ago.
It's true.
But never fear! Newer works feature my beard - like the Top Decking series! In early 2012, I was in a commercial with a woman who was in a web series that needed me. Its name... Oops, I already spilled the beans on that. Watch it here:
Here's my biggest brag of the post: I can now sign autographs un-ironically.
It's also brought me exposure in ways I wasn't dreaming of when I started this path, like interviews and Q-and-As. Stina thinks I'm especially lovable and clever in the longer version of this (link in the comments on the link; this is a link to reddit):

There have been a bunch of other projects this year, too - some of them are videos available online, others have titles on imdb, but are lingering in post, others I just don't know about. GO! Explore the internet. Search my name. Maybe you'll find things I haven't yet. If you want to know about them when I do, let me know, and I'll put you on a list somewhere.

But come on, Brendan - independent films and web series are a lot of work for very little pay, where's the life of luxury you so richly deserve?
Ah, yes, acting is known far and wide for it's reliability. "C'mon, kid - music is nice, but you gotta have a fall-back plan. How about acting?"
Two! (count 'em) Two national commercials in the past 9 months! It's not 20, but it's enough. And the callbacks and on avails keep rolling in, so it's just a matter of time. Here's my second biggest brag: The first commercial audition I went out on - The FIRST! - booked me on my biggest job of the year. Statistically, that no longer means anything. I'm booking around 8% of my auditions now... but for a day, I was booking 100%
The biggest news of the year, fingers crossed, is what's yet to come. In late 2011, I brought half a dozen people together to talk about creating films collaboratively. In early 2012, I began welcoming people to join me for writing and improv days twice a week. Eventually, that coalesced and then metamorphosed into a stable group of 10 individuals known collectively as the Collaborative Group Ensemble Troupe Collective (CGETC - or "See-get-see"). We work together each week developing our process, our company, and a script. By the end of 2013, we will not only have a unique script in hand - but if everything goes as planned, a finished product ready to share with the world. A little more information about us is holding our place on the site:
I'll probably be asking some of you for money to help fund it in a few months... so start squirreling it away. I know that's what you want to do with your money.
That is so not my entire year, and this has been a huge nutshell. But I'm done. If after all that, you're still hungry for more, drop me a line, and I'll scrounge together some more things to say and some more videos to send you.