Thursday, December 30, 2010

I'll Take the High Road

There are times when people will treat us badly or try to take advantage of us. This can start at an early age…maybe a kid or sibling knocks over your sand castle just for spite or you get teased in school. (The impact of bullying and how to prevent or stop it has become a very popular topic.) Maybe your teenager picks a fight, someone you’re dating may lie or cheat, someone who works for you might embezzle, someone may offer a freelancer a rate he/she knows is too low, a contractor you hire might try to rip you off, someone takes the parking space you’ve been waiting for…the list goes on and on.

People who do cruel or horrible things or commit crimes take the low road. Why? Maybe they have a personality disorder such as narcissism with a sense of entitlement; maybe they think they’ll feel better about themselves if they can make others feel bad. In reality, they’re just making themselves look bad or even pathetic.

Then there’s the Golden Rule…treat others the way you’d like them to treat you. Does a Low Roader who, say, throws worms in a kid’s hair really want worms smashed in his hair? How can Low Roaders look themselves in the mirror or sleep at night? How can they maintain self-respect?

The temptation to respond in kind, to follow the misbehavior low road by retaliating, can be strong. An eye for an eye, and all that. Or is it better to turn the other cheek?

Taking the high road can be difficult. You can have personal integrity, or sink to the Low Roader’s level. You can react in the moment out of frustration/anger/hurt, etc., or believe that karma exists and will catch up with the Low Roader in the near future. Or you can hope some Low Roaders will eventually realize the error of their ways, seek help if they need it and join those who travel the high road.

eHow-How to take the High Road the High Road, a path to self-respect

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Deciding or Stagnating

Sometimes you have so many options when making a decision that doing nothing seems easier. It’s certainly less scary. But not making a decision when you know you need to, or stagnating, is actually a decision in itself. Maybe there's no obvious best or right choice. Maybe you’re worried about making a mistake, or fear change in general. The start of a new year is a good time to revisit choices you’ve been considering or need to make.

Some issues I need to decide:
--Updating office technology: My PC is old (by current standards) and has never been the same since the McAfee automatic update debacle. As exciting as having a new PC is, there’s also a lot of work/time involved transferring data, loading software and setting it up….I get easily frustrated if instructions don’t work as expected and I have to troubleshoot. My laser printer is 10 years old and has been screaming like a banshee. What brand and kind do I buy, or do I go for an all-in-one to replace the aging one I have? Searching for options and deals on the Internet makes me dizzy.
--Do I keep pursuing things that haven't yielded hoped for results? For me, that’s selling a book. Should I keep sending out manuscripts, and if so, which ones where? Write another? Or should I change my approach, and if so, to what? Or should I focus my efforts on areas where I’ve had more success?
--There’s debate about how many agents an actor should have. Some say “a few,” others “as many as you can get.” Do I stay with the ones I have, or add more if possible and then drop others, or discuss going exclusive? Some casting directors say talent should be exclusive. Would an exclusive agent work hard enough on my behalf to make up for opportunities I’d miss by not having access to agencies’ private client auditions? Assuming agents were interested :-), how would I choose? There are so many factors to weigh...
--Updating my commercial and narration demos. Which demo producer will help me get the best, most marketable sound? Which copy selections do I use to show enough yet not too much range?

What’s working in your life and what isn’t? Consider making a list of the decisions you need to make…career, home management, relationships, how you spend your time. Prioritize the list. If necessary, break each decision into steps, such as completing research or asking for advice, and set deadlines for completion. Isn’t it time to move forward instead of standing still? Someday is now.

How to Enhance Your Decision Making Skills

Demystifying Decision Making

Thursday, December 16, 2010

When the Cat’s Away…

You know what comes after “When the cat’s away….” “The mice will play.”

Those who are gainfully employed have a boss, manager or supervisor to keep them on track. Fear of losing your job, not getting promoted or receiving a bad performance review can be a great motivator. There are consequences for showing up late, not completing assignments or meeting goals on deadline.

But what happens when the boss is on vacation or at an out of town conference? Does every worker bee slave away just as diligently, or take longer lunches, spend more time surfing the ‘net and/or leave early? How can management ensure that employees are working to their full capacity?

Telecommuters present another challenge to productivity. A company I worked for wanted us to report what we were doing in 15 minute increments. You can imagine how long that lasted. Others require weekly status reports. Lawyers (and others) use software to keep track of time they can bill to clients. But how do bosses and clients know the bills or reports are completely accurate?

Some workers simply have more drive to stay on task no matter the distraction or opportunity not to. I believe the more people respect their bosses or those who are in charge, the less likely they are to goof off. Conversely, the less they trust those who tell them what to do, the more likely they are to play as much as they can get away with. To do the bare minimum to keep their jobs.

The Gainfully Unemployed are both cat and mouse. It’s up to us to keep ourselves moving forward. Especially at this time of year, when gigs in most industries dry up (though I did have an audition this morning).  Also, there are those holiday chores to complete.  So many parties where one could overindulge, which can make it difficult to start the next day off right. 

I could slack off from now until the second week in January. Instead, I’m choosing to make a list of projects to complete. Most aren’t immediately income producing, but will prepare me to meet the new year ready to go and to earn.  I'll make time for plenty of fun and frolic, but won't let these weeks get away from me. What will you do?

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Face your fears

A very talented fellow lawyer dreams of being an actress, but fears she won’t be able to pay her rent. Writer friends keep saying they want to be published, but don't even finish a book much less enter contests or submit their work. Some maintain they'd like to start a business or change jobs, yet hem and haw.  (Others opine about wanting to end unsatisfying or dysfunctional relationships, but that’s a topic for another day.)  

Maybe those who wish to pursue creative or new endeavors fear rejection or failure, and/or maybe their families/significant others don’t understand or approve.  But staying afraid is debilitating.  By making excuses about why this isn't a good time or why we can't have what we truly want without even going for it, we're letting ourselves down.

The cliches hold true: you only have one life to live, you aren’t getting any younger, if you’re not in it, you can’t win it. I believe if there’s something you really want to do, if you find yourself frequently thinking about or talking about accomplishing X, Y, or Z, start doing it. The pursuit of most dreams doesn’t require you to jump in the pool only to be shocked by cold water. You can dip your toe in.  Each baby step you take should help you gain the knowledge, courage and confidence to keep going and take more and bigger steps. Just keep moving forward.  For example, the lawyer can take an on camera class to have something current on her resume, get new headshots, and then interview with agents.  She doesn't have to simply quit her job, but can start saving money toward that end.  

Take the time to prepare and do the groundwork. The writer probably shouldn’t simply dash off a few chapters and expect to get an agent. But the writer who learns her craft and about the industry can bolster her courage and learn to accept that rejection is just a part of the business. Find support, either via trusted friends or online. Those who want to start a business, for example, can uncover all sorts of information about how to write a business plan, start networking, etc. Set specific goals and deadlines, and share them with your supporters.

There’s no time like the present. What can you do today to face your fears?

How to Face your Fears
Face your Fears
Positive Path Network

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Ho Ho Ho?

Many people (many of whom are gainfully employed) look forward to this time of year...the holidays. They cheerfully bake, send cards, shop, wrap gifts, attend parties and indulge, take time off of work or school and christmas carol with abundant glee. Others get overwhelmed by the busy busy-ness of all they have to do and find the season more stressful than fun.

Others, like me, fall in between. We aren't quite as jolly about December, but don't stress out, either. Corporate America (including the publishing and advertising industries) seems to pretty much shut down from Thanksgiving through the first week of January. So there are fewer auditions (though I've had two so far this week, yea) and thus fewer jobs and less income. Chances are very slim I'll hear about outstanding manuscript submissions or obtain any new clients.

While I'm glad I still get sent out for mom roles, I see younger, wrinkle-free whippersnappers and know I've gotten a year older. It's challenging for me to appreciate the many things I have accomplished and not think about the things I haven't.

I enjoy down time (my DVR is filled with shows I"m looking forward to watching), but not wasting time or extended periods without feeling productive. So I'm going to make the most of the holiday slowdown by preparing for the new year. I'll clean out all my files (paper and computer), closets and drawers. I'll catch up and spend quality time with friends, and tackle the projects on my list without deadlines that still need to be done. This year, I'm also rehearsing every day for a musical revue, completing a non-fiction project and working on the Web site for that plus researching what kind of new computer to get (and because there are so many options and features that in itself could take a month...any advice?).

I'll also set goals for January so I can start off 2011 on the right foot instead of exhausted from the hustle bustle. What's your holiday plan?

10 Tips for Surviving the Holidays

Surviving the Holidays: ezine

Surviving the Holidays: Know Thyself

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Thanksgiving and Gratitude

Since it’s Thanksgiving, I’ll go with the flow and write about being thankful. And grateful. Many sites, including Oprah’s, talk about the importance of keeping a gratitude journal as a way to relieve stress and maintain a positive attitude. Some sites go so far as to say you’ll attract abundance or your life will change for the better if you do this for a few months. There is, of course, even an app for that.

Some things I’m grateful and thankful for:
--so many supportive and helpful friends and family. Those that are part of everyday life and those I don’t see as often but when I do, the connection and understanding are still there.
--great acting jobs I’ve had this year, from a national TV commercial shot in New Orleans to a live industrial for ComedySportz in Las Vegas to all the challenging eLearning courses that come my way.
--self-discipline and motivation that keep me in my chair working and help me resist eating every piece of chocolate I see.
--things to look forward to, such as singing one of my favorite pieces (Carmina Burana) at Symphony Center next summer.
--opportunities to make people laugh (with me, not at me) via improv and other performances.
--hope. Sometimes this is a challenge to maintain, for example, when things don't quite go your way. When the phone doesn't ring or I don't have any auditions or upcoming gigs. But that's the point of hope: to believe in a positive outcome. As the song says, "Don't Stop Believin'".

What are 5 things you're grateful for?

For more information, see:

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Revisions or what’s done is done

Authors spend countless hours hunched over their keyboards crafting and completing manuscripts. With the proliferation of self-publishing, what’s done can be done. You can publish your first draft, if you like. What's your goal: to have your words available via Kindle/Nook, etc.? Or do you want readers to find your book amidst the multitudes and click "buy" so you can make money?

How do you know your book is ready to publish? Some authors have a critique group or partner(s) and/or freelance editors vet their manuscripts. You have to trust your gut to tell you if they’re making your work better, or, though well-intentioned, leading you astray. In the end, even the best critiquers/freelancers can’t make an agent love your project enough to take you on or motivate a publisher to buy.

So even in this digital age, many still need an editor employed by a publisher, or an agent and an editor...they have the ability and power to market or buy your work. But they must approve of and love a project before they'll put their reputation and time behind it. One or both may send a revision letter with changes that need to be made before going to market. I know successful authors who've ripped certain manuscripts apart and rewritten them (sometimes more than once) before selling. Others refuse to change a word or agree to make some changes but not others.

What if you’re asked or advised to add an element you hadn’t intended to include or remove one you wanted to keep? If you say no, are you being stubborn/difficult to work with or believing in your product?

“One paranormal element is hard to sell.” Removing the paranormal element would've required coming up with a new backstory, motivation and conflict for the hero and reworking parts of the plot influenced by it.
“This isn’t hot enough at the beginning.” Some characters jump into bed at the drop of a hat, others would seem out of character if they did. Changing motivation is a challenge.
“You have too many POV characters, eliminate Jane.” To do this without having too many scenes in a row in the same POV, I made a slip of paper for each scene listing POV (with each character in a different color) and what happened and arranged them on my desk. I spent hours wrestling with what could stay and what had to go.
“France is a hard sell. Move it to Scotland.” Or “Regency set historicals are selling better than medievals.” Imagine the research required to make this change. Plot changes to, to incorporate historical events in your new location or time period and take out those you had.
“I sold by making my historical into an inspirational, they're buying a lot of those.” Or "Steampunk is so hot now." You have to learn the requirements for a new market and determine if you have the skills/interest to write them. Many advise against writing to trends, because by the time you finish and sell the ms, there'll be a new trend.

Sometimes changes make a work more marketable and/or stronger. Other times, you’re stuffing a square peg into a round hole. It's hard to know if your time is best spent revising or writing a new project. What do you think?

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Can you sell yourself?

Whether we want to admit it or not, freelancers are salespeople. Our product is ourselves…our appearance, personality, professionalism, talent (whether in the form of performances, articles, books, consulting services, etc.) as perceived by others who have the power to hire us. Can you convince them you're the one to meet their needs and deliver quality work on time?

If they can get them, actors and writers can rely on agents and returning clients to provide work. For most of us that won’t be enough. Often freelancing/owning your own business means having to search for a new job every week. Many actors and authors I meet are reluctant to promote/market themselves, either because they don’t know how, don’t want to make the effort, are shy, fear rejection, or feel that doing so somehow cheapens them. Unlike many performers/writers, I have 16 years of corporate America sales, marketing and training experience to bring to the table.

First, we need access to potential clients…via a personal connection, referral, agent, cold call. This requires networking, research, appropriate follow up and often a bit of being in the right place at the right time. I've met many aspiring acotrs/authors who haven't even submitted to agents or clients. What are they waiting for?

Once we get in the door, we need to know how to close the deal. Acting abilities (and writing) in particular are very subjective products…and can even come down to hair color or height. I remember my gainfully employed days, when results weren’t guaranteed but at least more information was handed to me. I had a) some hard facts to prove my product's benefits b) less my two positions there were only a handful of viable competitors. Now there are dozens, hundreds or thousands. And c) a list of clients who 1) already had my product(s) so the challenge was to get them to buy/use more 2) were prospects. Actors/writers/freelancers need to figure all this out on their own. At least the Internet has made the process easier.

1) A friend referred me to a potential client; I submitted my information. Months later the friend’s contact left, and another was suggested. I followed up in a timely manner, but didn’t get work. Almost a year later, out of the blue a third person called to say he had my headshot/resume, had me interview, booked me on the spot and for other work since. Sometimes, even if your contact wants to hire you, someone higher up the ladder may not.
2) I researched and contacted some potential clients. One happened to need a female VO and has sent me a lot of work for several of her clients. Yet there are many times when even your best efforts don’t yield a sale/work.

So far for me, the key seems to be continue to put irons in the fire, hoping/believing a steady stream of work will follow, and that that will lead to additional work. To find the discipline and persistence to continue, not put all of my eggs in one basket, or rest on my laurels and wait for work to come to me.

Friday, November 05, 2010

So you want to write a book or do voiceovers...

When I tell people I do voiceovers or write novels, their reply is often something like, “Oh, yeah, I’ve been meaning to get into voiceovers,” or “I’m going to write a book.”

But they don't. What are they, or you, waiting for? Perhaps they/you:

1)Don’t know how to start. That was a better excuse in the days before the Internet, when information wasn’t instantly accessible. Nowadays, a quick online search returns a wealth of "how to" info.

2)Don't have the time. If there is something you really want to do, you can make the time. How much time do you fritter away each day, for example, on Facebook? I know plenty of very busy people who get up early/stay up late...whatever it takes to move forward.

3)Are intimidated by barriers to entry. For VO, these include having a fabulous demo produced. Most aspirants probably need to take a good VO class first to learn more about the process and the business. You need to know what a great demo sounds like, research demo producers and compare offerings and costs.

Some may get by with only a commercial demo, but many will also need a narration demo. You’ll probably need to invest in a basic home recording setup so you can record, edit and submit your own auditions and some projects, which means you also need a few audio engineering skills.

Most VO talents will not be able to just sit back and have work flowing in. You'll send your demo(s) to agents. You’ll need to research each agent’s submission policy, then create a professional-looking submission with well-written cover letter.

Even if you get an agent(s), chances are you’ll also need to find other sources of VO work, which in turn require you to set rates and have an invoicing system to keep track of payments. You may need a great (not obviously a template) Web site for potential clients to listen to your demos and sample projects.

This all assumes you have the ability to:
-- reproduce sounds in your demo. Being coached by a demo producer to sound a certain way after many takes is one thing. You need to be able to do it on your own.
-- effectively interpret various types of copy and convey the client’s message.
-- take direction. On an audition or a job, if the client asks for adjustments (such as “more friendly” or “more real” or even “more lyrical,” you need to deliver.

VO work is a lot more than just having a nice voice and sitting in front of a mic and reading.

Barriers to being a published author include having completed at least one book. If you can write one page a day, you’ll have a novel in a year.

Writing just one takes discipline and time, and very often a good deal of re-writing on your own or upon request from an agent/editor. Then you need to write a fabulous query letter and research agents and/or editors to submit to and have the patience to sit back and wait for responses (though some agents/editor say that they'll only reply if interested). If you do sell, your editor will soon ask, "what's your next project and when can I have it," so you'll need to be able to write on a deadline.

Today there are also numerous self-publishing options. What is your goal? Do you just want to hold a book you wrote in your hands or have it available for family and friends to download? If you self-publish, a) how do you know your book is saleable and b) how will potential buyers find your book among the thousands already out there? Do you want to spend the majority of your time promoting that book or writing the next one? Do you want to make money? So far, very few authors I know (and I know quite a few) have made more than a few bucks from e-publishing new books (unless they write erotica) or self-publishing.

Many have leaped over these barriers to acheive their goals. If you want to write a book, get into VO, or do anything you've been saying you want to do some day, the key is to take action. Get started, because someday is now. Don't let yourself down. Do just one thing a day or spend 15 minutes working toward your goal.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Change is Good?

How many times a day do you get asked to make changes--either in work you’ve submitted, in your schedule, or in yourself--or ask someone to change for you?

Sometimes complying is a no-brainer. Sure, Friend X, I can meet you at 7 instead of 6:30. Yes, Editor Y, I’m happy to go from dual first person point of view to third since you’ve said you’ll take another look if I do (though of course I wouldn’t have written it that way if I didn’t like it). Ok, Agent Z, I can make it to an audition two hours from now.

Other times, you may not be sure if you want to make the change. I’ve heard of aspiring authors who simply ignore revision letters. They’re insulted that anyone wants them to change a single word. They don’t want to realize that industry professionals don’t take the time to request revisions if they aren’t really interested. But how far are you willing to go? If you refuse a particular adjustment, can you come up with a good, well-motivated reason why?

And other times, you may not know how to change/be different. I once took a bite and smile class, where you’re taught how to eat food and react in a timely and pleasant manner for commercial auditions. A classmate said he had to eat a potato chip, which he did. Then the director asked to see something else, and the actor was stymied by what do to. We learned to come up with 10 different ways to eat something. (I’ve booked one b&s commercial…for the audition we had to eat a Nilla wafer after putting down our fake fishing poles and taking off hats they gave us. Very challenging to quickly bite into without looking like you’re chomping or merely nibbling, and not easy to keep crumbs off your lipgloss, here.)

What if the requested or suggested change is something personal, about the way you dress or behave? Maybe you get another opinion or two before you agree. Maybe it’s something you’re willing to try once, like wearing more or less makeup. You might feel the suggestor is trying to control/manipulate you or turn you into someone you don’t want to be. Or you might not realize you do need to change and are just being stubborn or worried you’ll make a mistake. You might want to make changes in, say, your career or relationship, but are afraid to take the first steps…the devil you know…

If you’re thinking of making a change, here are some interesting thoughts:

Managing Change,

Resistance to Change, Schuler Solutions

Change Quotes, Quote Garden

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Please rise for the jury

This week I had jury duty. When I mentioned this to friends, there’ve been two responses. Either they’re eager to be on a jury, or they say they’d try to get out of it.

If you or someone close to you was the person in that plaintiff or defendant chair, wouldn’t you want the most capable jury possible?

Yes, jury duty takes you from your everyday life. I had to devote what turned out to be two whole days-9 to 5 one day and 10-7:25 the other. Yes, I had to drive to the burbs, which took over an hour in the morning and around a half hour to return. We got paid a whopping $17.20 per day, and spent a good portion of the second day locked in a cramped room…without our cell phones.

But the jury is a fundamental part of our country’s legal system. It's part of what makes America America.

Day 1: Arrive at the court. Wait in metal detector line. Go to spacious jury assembly room, hand in your summons, choose a panel number. Watch the You, The Juror video (in which I happen to be the plaintiff’s attorney, filmed in 1997).

My panel was one of the first to get called. A sheriff led around 30 of us up to a courtroom. We sat on the hard wood benches. The judge gave an overview of what would happen and thanked us for our service. Fourteen of us were called to sit in the softer jury box chairs. Each was questioned (voir dire) about a variety of things including education, occupation, and, in this case, whether we’d been in a car crash. After that, the parties/lawyers/judge left the room. Only a few of us were retained, the rest returned to the assembly room to await another panel.

After a long lunch break, my new panel number was called. Off to another courtroom for more voir dire. This to me was the most tedious part…all of us had to sit and wait while the first group of 14 were questioned, then while the parties deliberated on whom to keep, then while the next group of 14 were questioned. Finally around 5pm the jury was complete. I was among those selected.

Day 2: The 12 of us…ranging from 20s to 71, assorted occupations, educational backgrounds and ethnicities, waited for at least an hour locked in our jury room. Finally we were called to hear the case: a dual robbery. There were four witnesses: the two victims and two police officers. The goal of the defense is to raise doubt(s)…because, if you didn’t know, in a criminal case the defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

The actual trial was quite different from those seen on TV. How the judge and attorneys handled objections and re-worded questions showed how much I still remember from law school about hearsay rules.

Time to deliberate….12 strangers unanimously deciding a man’s fate on the evidence we’d seen and heard. Who and what did we believe?

I was pleasantly surprised by how smoothly and how professionally we worked together (some bosses could learn from that), how committed everyone was to doing the right thing and allowing each of us to have our say. We returned a guilty verdict. Justice was served.

Then the judge and one of the attorneys came to ask if we had any questions. We learned that the defendant had had prior run-ins with the law. This was his ELEVENTH conviction. Wow.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Keeping Track

I’m usually very organized, and have enjoyed bringing order to other people’s chaotic closets and/or papers. There’s a certain satisfaction derived from neatly arranged drawer contents, shoes lined up in rows, piles consolidated, clutter contained. I can’t control when agents/editors/casting people will call or when or which jobs I’ll book, but I can control how neat my stuff and place are.

Though my clothes hang by color and type and even my junk drawer isn’t messy, keeping track of computer files still proves a challenge. Especially when I’m multitasking to meet impending deadlines and so working 12 hour days (completing 4 VO e-learning courses, a non-fiction manuscript with a co-author, Web site for said manuscript, workshop proposal, auditions, etc.), orderliness devolves into disarray.

1. I think I’ll remember the name of a file and where I saved it. But then when I need it, where did the darn thing go?
2. drafts: my co-author and I are trying to use a ‘book to date’ method. But if she sends snippets to insert or a draft of a single chapter…I get confused by what goes where and end up comparing versions to make sure I’ve gotten all of the updates and answered all questions.
3. flash drives: I have a bunch…and since they’re so small it’s hard to label what’s on them like you could floppy disks.
4. E-mails: going through chains of e-mails to find important bits can be tedious, especially if the subject doesn’t describe the contents.
5. Passwords: I know they’re supposed to be strong (mix of caps, numbers, symbols), etc. And you're supposed to change them frequently. These days it seems more and more sites want you to register…so the list expands.
6. I have Excel spreadsheets for auditions, jobs, writing submissions, expenses. They can get unwieldy if there's too much info. On the other hand, sometimes I want more than I've entered. Or if don't update them regularly, going back through correspondence or notes can take a while.

I need to invest some time on to improve my system so I can save time and frustration in the future. Check out these suggestions:

9 Tips to Manage Files Faster

Organizing Computer Files

How to Organize your Computer

Thursday, October 07, 2010

I’m Aware Some Stare at My Hair

That’s the first line of George Carlin’s “Hair Poem”. It applies to every on camera actor, because a big part of casting is appearance. You don’t have to be beautiful, but your look must suit that role and the casting director's and/or client's vision.

My hair very curly and very thick. Wile I often get compliments about my hair, and women with thin or straight hair comment wistfully, there are times when straight hair is preferred for actors. Knowing when those times are is a challenge. On the one hand, you’re supposed to look like your headshots. On the other, you want to suit the character specs as much as possible so auditioners don’t have to stretch to see you in that role.

For example, a national TV commercial sought 3 nuns of varying ages and asked that auditionees look the part. A few were in actual nun’s habits, but most, like me, wore something conservative in black or black and white. Many had short hair. I’d decided on a low ponytail. At the last minute, I took out my contacts and put on glasses. And booked the job. At the shoot, they had me wear the youngest nun’s glasses instead. View the end result here.

A scan of TV channels, whether local or national, shows that no news reporter or anchor has curly hair. (Very few women in commercials do, either...and if they do, chances are they’re young.) So I know that if I’m a reporter in a movie to straighten my hair, which is a time consuming task. It takes around 45 minutes to blow dry straight, then another chunk of time to flatiron it. Even when I do, for a couple of the Batman movies and just this month for Episode 6 of the upcoming Fox TV series Ride Along, the hair stylists either turn my ponytail into a smooth bun and hide my bangs, or they re-flatiron my hair.

I'm one of the only curly-haired women I see at on camera narrator auditions. Would I book more if I went straight? Several years ago one of my talent agents wouldn’t even submit me with curly hair. So I had separate straight hair headshots for her.

Perhaps curly hair looks too wild or messy onscreen, or comes across as unprofessional or too youthful. Yet sometimes they're looking for "something different." So for each audition, I have to think about which way to go.

I'm always on the lookout for products that work best to enhance curly hair and help straighten it. Many sites ( and books ( offer advice for making the most of curly hair.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Team Player

Freelancers usually work on our own, so we lack the camaraderie of an office environment and the opportunity to bounce ideas off or share tasks with co-workers. We get out and about to meet with clients, but often there’s a sense of being a guest rather than belonging.

We also have the freedom of not having to show up every day from 9 to 5. On the other hand, that freedom can lead some of us to distraction and/or lack of discipline and motivation. So sometimes freelancers and those who aspire to produce projects outside of their day jobs pair up to keep each other on track instead of spending hours trolling the Internet.

The challenge is to find someone whose style and approach meshes with yours, yet with whom there’s synergy. For example, I’m a morning person and so don’t feel as productive working at night. I like keeping to a schedule. I tend to work quickly and on one thing at a time.

I’m writing a non-fiction book with a friend. Neither of us could have done this particular project alone. I need her knowledge and training; she needs my writing, editing and life experience. But until recently, this was a side project for both of us. Since we didn’t have a corporate deadline, it’s been a long time in the making. We’d work in fits and spurts, then set it aside for a variety of reasons.

We work very well together, are great at figuring out who does what when and then (usually) meeting our goals. We're good at expressing our thoughts on next steps, what stays in and what needs to go. There's no boss who has the authority to give all the orders or underling obligated to do what she's told. The only frustration has been keeping track of the various drafts, which on occasion has resulted in me spending extra time re-editing and comparing documents to make sure I’ve caught all of the updates and changes.

Lately we’ve stepped up our efforts individually and as a team. Now we’re 75% done and can see the finish line. Others are involved and have spent their time and effort to help us, and we do have a deadline for completion. So the pressure is on…this “side project” is now (and finally) real.

Stay tuned…

Thursday, September 23, 2010

No news is…?

Whether you’ve applied for a job, sent a requested writing submission, had an audition, entered a writing contest, or completed a job and want to know about feedback/revisions, you have to wait for a response. You’ve done all you can do. Now it’s up to the employer, editor/agent/casting person/judges, etc.

I find that waiting can be difficult and stressful. Why? Mabye because I have no control over what the response will be, or even when I'll get one. There’s no work left for that particular task, no obligation or pressure on my part, yet sometimes I have to make an effort to stop wondering when or if I’ll find out. I need to let any thoughts of that thing go so I can focus on current projects. So I can live in the present moment, and not think about all the possible “what if” futures. Many advise that life is about the journey, not the outcome. Hmmm.

I may never have closure on some irons I put in the fire; some agents/editors, for example, say they won’t respond unless they’re interested. And I don’t know when they’ll even get to my submission to make that determination. Usually the only ways I find out I didn’t book an acting gig is if I happen to hear through the grapevine that a friend got it or when the shoot date passes.

When there’s a promised time frame for a reply, letting go of waiting can be even harder. Because the closer the deadline gets without a response, the more you know one is on its way. I’m currently waiting to hear about something pretty big. Every time my phone makes the incoming email sound, I wonder if it’s the news. Yet I check with a bit of trepidation, wanting the answer to be in my inbox, yet at the same time not wanting to know…to keep the dream alive, the door open? Hope is definitely better than rejection. And it can be easier than good news, which in this case will require a lot of work and a lot of change--fun, exciting and scary at the same time.

Lo and behold, last night during a rehearsal break I saw an email from the person I’ve been waiting on bated breath to hear from. I steeled myself to read it…and found not an answer but a question. Whew. The waiting begins…again.

As they say, a watched pot never boils…good things come to those who wait…
Waiting is not mere empty hoping. It has the inner certainty of reaching the goal.
- I Ching

Thursday, September 16, 2010

When opportunity knocks, how do you answer?

Faithful readers know I’m a planner. I prefer to be prepared and finish projects ahead of schedule, and don’t like feeling rushed or pressured. Others choose to wait until the last minute to get their work done, frittering away what could have been productive hours, managing to meet deadlines only in the nick of time and often not getting as much other stuff done as they wanted to.

However, even for the organized and (usually) disciplined, there are those “when it rains, it pours” days when not only are anticipated projects due, others come in that are due at the same time. Of course I’m very happy to have additional opportunities, but for me cramming everything in at once is a challenge.

For example, I had a gig as an eccentric character in a corporate role playing game. Most of it was improv, so there wasn’t much to prepare. The info arrived after 7PM the night before, when I was singing at Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens’ retirement gala (attended by appx. 600, including many legal luminaries). I also had an on camera TV commercial audition. That script also arrived after 5PM, and was long enough to require the use of an ear prompter. Laying down the copy is much easier than memorizing, but getting it right and getting comfortable with it takes some practice. The same day I was also filming a law firm video, which fortunately provided a teleprompter. I still had to review that script and prepare my character. Not to mention compile assorted wardrobe and show up on time to all events.

That morning I woke up to an email about a very interesting development with a co-authored non-fiction project. (Yea!) Which needed to be addressed ASAP…. Multi-tasking and being pulled in so many directions stresses me out, makes me think I won’t get everything done or if I do won’t get it done well. I decided I needed to stop for a minute, take several deep breaths and focus on appreciating all the fun and exciting developments.

Sometimes something very great happens to friends, yet they instantly think of possible negative outcomes instead of staying in the good news moment. For example, when they learn they’re a finalist in a major writing contest or on hold for a big acting project, instead of being happy they got that far, they’ll say they won’t win or get the job. I've done that, too. Maybe we’re just protecting ourselves from being hurt if we don’t get whatever that thing is.

I want to savor good news for as long as I can. Even if there are times when one exciting door opens, another possibility closes, or when opportunities don’t pan out.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Trust and Money

Freelancers set their own rates, constantly balancing the need to make money and get paid what we're worth (see: What are you worth ) against the need to be competitive. Clients then decide if they wish to pay from the quote or negotiate.

Sometimes I (and friends) choose to take less than we think a job should pay. Perhaps it's outside our wheelhouse, and we want the experience or something for our reel/portfolio. We may want to work for certain clients or industry professionals in the hope of getting future work. And if we don't take that low paying job, someone else will.

On the other hand, clients should trust that we're billing fairly and appropriately. I recently did an hourly VO job from home via an agent. When I sent in my voucher, they had to be confident I wasn't padding my in olden days, when a butcher might be accused of putting his thumb on the scale to add weight. Building a reputation for trustworthiness takes time.

We may offer volume rates for multiple projects or repeat business, or special rates for friends/acqaintances. An attorney I've known for years inquired about my freelance writing rates. I offered a lower rate based on our long acquaintance. He asked more billing questions than any client I've had thus far (so both of us were spending unpaid time responding), and wanted to know if I used a time tracking program (like attorneys do). I don't. Agents and other clients trust me, I assumed a friend would, too.

Employers can't know what an employee is doing every minute of every day. Is the person working diligently and to capacity, or getting the bare minumum done and frittering away hours taking long breaks or trolling the Internet? Unless clients/employers set up surveillance cameras (and then spend an awful lot of their time monitoring), how can they be sure if their time use expectations are being met? Trust. Professionalism.

But some people just aren't as trustworthy as others...which comes to light eventually (see: Liar, liar). If a reputation for trustworthiness has been tarnished or broken, if clients/employers have doubts because a worker turns in projects late or at the last minute, for example, there are always more freelancers in the sea.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

You Can’t Always Get What You Want

There are too many choices for consumers and yet not enough…the specific options each of us wants may not be available. Cereal aisles, for example, offer dozens of varieties. Even so, often the particular iteration I want isn’t there. (Jewel doesn’t have Frosted Mini-Wheats Cinnamon Streusel, but I happened to find it in a Treasure Island.)

We don’t have the time to shop every store to seek exactly what we're looking for. And sometimes, it doesn’t even exist. So we compromise.

I wanted a new smart phone. With all the fees and contract fine points, changing providers can be a pain and costly. And I’ve been happy with U.S. Cellular’s service…often more reliable than friends’ AT&T iPhones (one of their compromises). I’d hoped for a slide out keyboard, but the phones with that lacked other important features. I chose the brand new HTC Desire Android because of its large (3.7”) touch screen, lightning fast Internet, Flash (!), and number of and ease of downloading apps.

Scrolling through long Yahoo! Digest e-mails, checking in with Facebook and browsing websites is a breeze, both because of the touch screen and the pinch feature to resize text. There are 7 home screens, which offer a lot of customizing, and an easy way to access all apps. I have small fingers, so the touchscreen keyboard, when horizontal, is ok for typing.

However, I gave up what were, IMO, essential BlackBerry benefits: different notification sounds for each e-mail address, the ability to view all emails from all addresses at once, and instant delivery of messages. Apparently the vast majority of phones only offer one notification sound for texts and e-mails. Only calls can have different ring tones.

I’m surprised more people don't want to know, for example, if they just got a text or a voicemail message. I can’t be the only person who has different e-mail addresses serving different purposes, so some are more important to check frequently than others, like my work vs. my shopping address. Maybe most people are so phone obsessed they check no matter what’s incoming.

The Desire can check for new messages every 5 minutes, which I guess will be fast enough even for those “respond ASAP” auditions I often get. Also, the Desire is a little heavier, 4.76 ounces vs. 3.70, the battery drains much faster, and some tasks I perform frequently take an extra tap or two. The user manual, like many these days, isn’t all that helpful, so there may be features I’d like but can’t find or figure out. For example, the Desire screen is so sensitive, I sometimes tap things I didn’t want. If there’s a way to adjust that, like you can a mouse, I can’t find it.

In other areas of life, from jobs to relationships, we usually compromise. Sometimes, though, it’s nice to get exactly what you want.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Aging Gracefully?

Our society favors youthful appearances. If we didn't care how young we looked, there wouldn't be a proliferation of medispas featuring Botox/other non-surgical proceduresor or such a rapid rise in plastic surgeries. The vast majority of fashion models wouldn't be in their teens. We wouldn’t buy trendy garments much less makeup, creams, lotions or potions. There wouldn’t be so many articles about cougars or men who prefer much younger women.

As an actress, I have to consider how age affects my bookings. Certainly there are roles for everyone from infants to septuagenarians. But since I look and sound much younger than I actually am, sometimes age is just a number— meaning clients go by what they see and hear. Sometimes they go by actual age. Since many opportunities seem to be for younger or older women, I can find myself in a gray (pun intended) area---too chronologically old to be the typical mom with kids, too young to be a senior.

--At a national commercial audition for women 20-70, seeking a young, medium and older nun, I was placed in the middle, or medium, chair. I booked it as the oldest nun...which could have been for age-related or any number of other reasons. Maybe the clients just liked my look or how I did the bite and smile. But when age is so much a factor in the initial specs, it’s hard not to wonder. Check it out, here.
--Chicago improv is a very young community, with many players half my age. So I was to be a grandmother for a live project in Las Vegas. When they decided to book me, they changed the character to an aunt.
--I just did a billboard shoot as a mom. My “kids” were 9 and 13.

So do I try to keep looking like I’m in my thirties and skew younger as long as I can…and if so, to what extent? Via anti-aging/wrinkle creams; coloring my hair, keeping my longer, curly hair vs. going with a shorter cut; wearing no-line bifocals and bifocal contacts so I don’t need reading glasses? Do I embark upon more costly measures that yield more obvious results, such as laser treatments or eye surgery, and if so, when?

Or do I embrace each wrinkle, crow's foot, line around my mouth, gray hair...the realities of getting older?

Time will tell.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Improv & Auditions

The techniques of and experience doing improv can benefit almost everyone, from actors (enhances skills plus it’s a resume credit agents and clients appreciate and/or expect in Chicago), writers (helps spark plot and character ideas) and business people (learn to think on your feet, gain confidence during presentations, work on team building, etc.). I’ve completed several improv training programs and have performed with a variety of groups in assorted venues.

Lately I prefer performing improv over theatre because:
-when improve works, IMO it's funnier than almost any play or sketch comedy, because the humor is being created in the moment and hasn’t been tweaked and rewritten, with each move and line rehearsed. When it falls flat, audiences tend to be a little more forgiving for the same reasons. (Some audience members have said they’re impressed that we can even stand up there and create characters and scenes on the fly.)
-though improv teams rehearse (to help members work together better, grow as improvisers and learn that venue’s approach), it’s usually only once a week instead of several times a week. There’s nothing to memorize, and you don’t go over the same scenes time and again. You’re always coming up with something new, creating your own scripts.

So many elements go into each scene: individual abilities, knowledge and frame of mind; team synergy; audience mood and knowledge, and the combination of a team’s or venue's approach and the suggestions received. Add in the usual performance elements of timing, character development, blocking, etc. Suggestions, players and audience need to click.

It’s challenging enough to get that click during a show. Add the pressure of auditioning, knowing you’re being judged, and the stakes ratchet higher. Usually you only get to do one two-person scene and a couple of short montage scenes in an audition. So an improviser can be derailed by a suggestion that doesn’t resonate, a scene partner he or she has never met, or one of those moments where you get stuck in your head and lack ideas. When you audition for a play, commercial or any scripted thing, you should benefit from knowing what you'll say and rehearsing how.

Most major Chicago improv venues are holding their annual auditions now. There are so many hopefuls that even getting an audition time can be difficult, much less getting cast. iO’s and the Playground’s slots filled way in advance. Another venue said it had 135 auditionees and added nine improvisers to the roster; only three were women.

As with any audition, if you don't get cast, it's hard to know if you're just not good enough that day or in general, or just not what they're looking for...

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Time is Money

Technology is amazing and frustrating at the same time. Of course computers, the Internet, e-mail, etc. make our lives easier in many respects. I remember writing college papers using carbon paper and Wite-Out because my typewriter didn’t have a correct key (at least I had an electric, not a manual), and actually cutting my first drafts into pieces and taping them together for typing because word processing wasn’t readily available; there was no cut and paste. If we weren't at home when someone called, they'd have to call back. I won my first answering machine senior year in college when I represented the University of Michigan on The Joker’s Wild’s College Tournament. (Other prizes included some cash for me and the U of M, a case of Golden Grain Macaroni & Cheese, WD-40 and a reel to reel tape player.)

On the other hand, technology also can result in de-personalizing business and personal relationships. There’s the pressure to always be connected; I don’t want to miss something requiring a response ASAP. I have my phone set to make different sounds for different e-mail addresses so I know which messages to read right away.

Figuring out how to do a new task often takes far longer than it should. We spend time registering for various sites, keeping track of passwords/changing them, backing up. For every dollar we save in postage by paying bills on line or emailing work product such as submissions to editors/agents, we spend another in software or hardware. Do we spend as much time talking to actual people as we do catching up with e-mails, texts, Twitter and Facebook?

As a voice talent, most of my auditions are now self-recorded. Many are due ASAP, others with less than 24 hours turnaround time. Though obviously recording at home saves travel time to the agent and back, it’s hard to get the best reads when directing yourself. And you don’t get any feedback as to whether your audition is in the ballpark or if you could have talked faster, slower or with more of whatever emotion. “Friendly and educational,” for example, means different things to different people. So sometimes for big auditions, I seek coaching and production assistance from people I’ve worked with, which takes travel time and/or money. Instead of getting the opinion of the agent who has actually communicated with and is familiar with the client, whoever helps is another step removed from knowing what the client really wants.

So many people communicate mostly via e-mail or text to save time, but in the process some elements of communication are lost. You don’t get to hear the other person’s tone of voice or share reactions to conversation. Many now work at home, spending all day staring at their computers and not interacting with co-workers. We miss out on camaraderie and exchange of useful information.

Sometimes we leap into new technology because it seems fun, or maybe even because everyone else is doing it. We may not realize how many hours we spend a day with it, or how often we pull out our phones when out with family/friends. Maybe every so often we should step back for a minute and consider the opportunity costs of investing in and spending so much time with technology. Maybe there are times when our time could be better spent elsewhere.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

A Day in the Life of a Gainfully Unemployed

I sometimes get asked what I do all day…given that I don’t have certain common obligations that require a major time commitment, such as full time job or kids. So here’s yesterday, a sample day in the life:

--Promised to deliver a VO job for a social networking site by 9AM. Had received the script @ 5:30PM the night before when not only were they pounding on the new house being built behind me, I was getting ready for an improv show. When I sat down to record Wednesday morning at 6:30AM, the loading dock I live near was in full, noisy swing. Then came driving rain loud enough to hear over my mic, and a thunderstorm. Then, of course, the house construction started. In between periods of hammering and running engines I was able to record the appx. 3 minute script. Did not hear if revisions were needed.

--While at the Romance Writers of America conference in Orlando last week, I met with several literary agents/editors. Worked on fine tuning one of my manuscripts to submit.

--Completed variety of email correspondence for work and play, including some with co-author of non-fiction project and possible freelance writing client.

--Examined potential new headshots; a friend is photoshopping my black shirt to a better color, apparently not an easy task.

--A talent agent called about a print looksee for a pharmaceutical company that afternoon. Chatted with him about the frustrations of the new online casting site Chicago casting agents are using.

--Printed a headshot. Primped for (aka tried to tame my curly hair in this humidity) and drove to print looksee appx. 20 minutes away. Fortunately there was no wait. Posed for 3 different pictures in about two minutes. "Smized" as Tyra advises. Photographer kept saying, “Perfect.”

--Returned home around 2PM to find an ASAP VO audition, which I managed to record between more bouts of hammering.

--Got a call from and talked for almost an hour to a friend who’d won a RITA (RWA’s Oscar, awarded at a fancy ceremony attended by appx. 2000 people) in FL.

--Worked more on my ms.

--Just after 5PM, got an email for another VO audition due this morning by 10AM.

--Went to ComedySportz for my team’s REC League show. We’re down a couple of players, so our coach and a guest coach we had (both CSz ensemble members) joined us.

--Stopped by a friend’s for a short visit.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Are Your Ears Burning?

They say that if your ears are burning, someone is talking about you. In the writing and acting businesses, you want your ears to be burning a lot...and hope you're being talked about in a good way.

--I booked a medical industrial without auditioning. The client must've listened to my demo, liked it and talked to my agent.

--A friend actually asked the other day if my ears were burning. She said she'd been talking about how helpful and encouraging I'd been at the writing conference where we first met. get a recent VO job, I was asked to give two industry contacts.

--I was put on hold for a job, meaning a client was interested. Time passed, and I didn't hear about a firm booking. You don't want to dwell on what's happening with auditions or submissions, but sometimes it's a challenge not to wonder if the job fell through or what made the client choose another talent. Lo and behold, more than a week later I got the firm booking call.

You want your marketing materials (on camera reel, VO demo(s), headshots, Web site, or first three chapters and synopsis) to speak for themselves in encouraging industry professionals to hire you. Building a reputation for professionalism, meeting deadlines and being pleasant to work with is also important for repeat business.

Getting compliments and/or feedback is great and useful. I don't often find out what a client liked, or if there was something they didn't like. Some writers are offended if they receive a revision letter. Their opus is fabulous as is, how dare anyone suggest otherwise? But most know that a revision letter means that the agent/editor wants the manuscript to be the best, most saleable product it can be.

While researching the definition of ears burning, I came across another saying I hadn't heard: Left for love, right for spite.


Thursday, July 22, 2010

You’ve Got a Friend

Many Gainfully Employed and Unemployed work from home. We're in front of our computers for many hours at a stretch and may have days without limited personal interactions, which can be rather isolating. While social networking and texting make it easier to stay in some sort of touch with many people wherever, whenever, that kind of communication just doesn't have the same quality or depth as a phone call or in person meeting. All of this online contact, in fact, can increase isolation...because many people spend so much time and effort commenting on comments, Tweeting or checking out what others are doing that they run out of time to actually talk or see friends (Too Much Tine Online Linked with Depression Risk and WikiHow to Stop Spending Too Much Time Online)

Some people you don’t see as often as you used to, such as former co-workers or clients, but when you do get together the connection and shared understanding is still there. Whatever the reason that kept you apart, you’re able pick up right where you left off. When these acquaintances and friends return to your life, whether on Facebook or in person, is it random…a small world thing, or is there a reason?

It’s amazing how many times on acting jobs or auditions I run into someone I’ve worked with before. Examples include: last week, I had an hour long group audition with only three others, one of whom I’d worked with at Winter WonderFest. A choreographer I’d worked with for several productions but hadn’t talked to in a couple of years booked me for a voiceover job, also last week. The host of the event happened to be someone I’d worked with several years ago on an emotional role-playing job. This week at an invitation-only audition, I ran into an FB friend I’ve worked as an extra with a couple of times.

As we’re trying to get everything done, we might think we should call or have lunch with various friends or relatives, but then don’t get around to it. I'm going to make more of an effort to keep in real touch with people (not just via FB or Linked In status updates), instead of letting Life do most of the deciding about who I see and when.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Jack of All Trades, Master of How Many?

Given the state of the economy and layoffs or hiring freezes, many Gainfully Employed are now expected to take on additional tasks if they want to keep their jobs, often for no additional pay. Employees are stretched thin and/or asked to do things not in their bailiwick. While some may balk, others will see this as a positive change, a chance to become more valuable to their employers and develop new skills.

Many Gainfully Unemployed are already familiar with this process. Specialization can limit opportunities in today’s multi-tasking, time-pressed environment. When you get booked by a client, the hope is to have him/her return with future projects. In order to make ourselves more marketable and expose ourselves to a wider range of potential clients, the GU should consider adding more services to their offerings. Because the more people you meet and work with, the more people you can meet and work with. And some clients also prefer a one stop shop instead of having to make arrangements with multiple vendors.

I mainly do voice and on camera work, but I also offer script and copy editing and writing. I do some print and improv, and present a variety of workshops. Other examples: a choreographer who also casts variety acts and talent for her shows. Voiceover talents who also do demos and coaching/teaching. A writer who can also do graphic or Web site design.

Sometimes I meet GU who are unwilling or perhaps afraid to expand their repertoire. Perhaps they’re happy knowing what they know and don’t want to make themselves uncomfortable by going outside of their boxes. Perhaps they don’t want to do the extra work to research and market new products.

The key is balance. You don’t want to stretch yourself too thin or offer services too far outside your wheelhouse. It can be tempting to just say yes if a client asks if you can do something you haven’t done before. More work! More money! But consider thinking it through before you commit. Consider taking classes to hone skills related to your main services. Every so often, consider stepping back from getting your work done and think about new ways to make clients want to choose you.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Keep on Truckin'?

When deciding whether to press on or give up, we may think of platitudes like: “Winners never quit, quitters never win.” “Persistence pays.” “It’s always darkest before the dawn.”

But then there are: “You’re hitting your head against a brick wall.” “Don’t beat a dead horse.” “Don’t throw good money after bad.”

We’ve heard how long it took Edison to make the light bulb work and how many failures he had, the high number of rejections some now-famous authors received before selling, actors who were down to their last quarter before getting their big break.

So how much time, effort and money do you invest in a venture before you're satisfied you should keep going or you’re sure you’re done? Do you set an ultimatum…if I don’t see X results by Y date, I’m through?

If you persist, you may attain your goal. But in most cases, there’s no way to know how long that will take. You may at least have more interesting and beneficial experiences. Or you may feel you’ve wasted more time and come to regret not moving on sooner.

If you quit, there’s the fear that you’re giving up too soon…your next attempt could be the one. On the other hand, you’ll have more time, money and energy to spend on a fresh start or other pursuits you hadn't focused on. You might feel relief or that you've failed.

Then there are those who settle in between...half-heartedly persisting or subsisting in an unsatisfying situation, whether it's a bad relationship or job, because change is just too scary.

If the majority of your friends advise you to go one way or the other, do you believe them or do the opposite? We’re often told to trust our instincts, but what if they aren’t communicating with us…do we hope they'll speak up soon or just make a decision? Some may believe in signs and keep going until they get one. Others may pray for guidance.

I think the key is to get out of the rut and do something to move forward. Then perhaps the way will become more clear.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Extra, Extra

Today I worked as an extra in a Vince Vaughn/Jennifer Connolly film directed by Ron Howard currently called Cheaters.

Being a movie star may be glamourous, but being an extra is a lot about waiting. However, there aren't many places you can get paid (albeit not that much) to sit and read, use your cell or chat with fellow extras. I do it mostly because I enjoy being close enough to major stars and directors that I can see and hear them at work. Sometimes we're served amazing lunches, like grilled salmon and a variety of homemade desserts...almost any meal I don't have to shop for, cook and clean up after is a good meal.

On today's set, an upscale restaurant, I was in fact close enough to Ron Howard that he spoke to me. Ok, so it wasn't to direct me (though he did during an El scene in Backdraft back in 1990...a scene he said was important--involving William Baldwin on his way to his first day of work as a fireman--but was cut, in the days before deleted scenes were saved for DVDs. WB, carrying a bunch of bags, sat in front of me as I read a magazine. I was supposed to react at a certain spot. Our train rode around the Loop many times.). It was to apologize for almost tripping over my chair.

Vince V and Jennifer C walked right by my table. It's very interesting to note the changes and adjustments made for each take, and to see close up the process of filming different scenes. And, as an upscale diner, I also got to eat a piece of delicious chocolate hazelnut mousse cake.

Today's hours were quite reasonable, 7:30AM-2:00PM. Usually extras work around 12 hours. And on Public Enemies, I worked from 9:00AM until 2:30AM the next morning, including the two hours it took to get into 1930's hair, makeup and wardrobe.

Transformers 3 is next to come to town...but I chose not to attend the open casting call--aka registration--and wait for hours in line. The FOX series Ride Along starring Jennifer Beals is supposed to film entirely in Chicago. I worked on the pilot (and in the small world vein was placed in the office of someone who used to be a corporate America client of mine), but perhaps I'll work on an episode or episodes, too....

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Are You a Good Communicator?

In our high speed, multi-tasking world where many people feel the need to frequently check e-mails and texts even when having weekend dinner or drinks with a friend, one might think communication would be easier, more efficient and clearer.

In fact, because of the haste with which e-communications are often read and sent, concern that your message wasn’t received if you don’t receive a timely reply, or replies that have an off-putting tone, using cell phones and computers to communicate can be frustrating, confusing or waste time.

Common challenges:

--Not supplying requested or required information or non-responsive responses. Example: You need to know what color the sky is and your client/friend/co-worker says “yes.”

--Responding to part but not all of an e-communication. Example: You can’t record a script until the pronunciations of 3 words are confirmed, but for some reason the client only gives you 2.

--Too many e-communications sent to resolve a simple issue.

--E-groups discussions for committees needing to complete complex tasks go in circles.

--Someone higher up the food chain sends a detailed revision e-mail but could have saved both of you time by making the changes on the document.


--Take the time to read and respond carefully so you can be accurate, thorough and reduce follow up.

--Endeavor to be consistent in response times.

--If you don’t have the information, or if you’re part of a group and your opinion has been requested, don’t not respond. Either say when you plan to supply the information or let the group know you don’t care which decision is made.

--Use out of office auto-replies to let people know when you’re not available.

--If you need information/confirmation before you can move forward, consider providing a deadline: “If I don’t hear from you by X on Y issue, I’ll go ahead and do Z.”

--Pick up the phone instead of creating a long e-mail chain.

--Follow up phone calls in writing. People are often multi-tasking (driving, checking e-mails) when on the phone and may be distracted or just not remember all details agreed to during a call.

--Double check that a revision you want someone to make is really needed or correct. I’ve been asked to change things I know are accurate because someone assumed they weren’t.

--Say what you mean.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Technology and the Gainfully Unemployed

Many people with day jobs have the benefit of access to an IT person or department. If something goes wrong with their PCs, they should be able to get help. At least they have co-workers to ask if they don’t know how to do a particular task in Excel, or figure out which Word command they need.

But the GU usually work alone (though perhaps those who work in coffee shops can ask fellow laptop users). Sometimes when we agree to take on an assignment, it turns out to be outside our technology comfort zone. So we can be in for some wasted time and frustration.

Two examples:

--I had to include 2 original graphics in each weekly program for a local production. I couldn’t get Photoshop to execute the ideas I saw in my head. I tried to figure it out on my own and managed to get a few features to cooperate, but got hung up on layers. Finding helpful online help was a challenge. After far too much time, I finally had the graphics I wanted. But by the next time I used Photoshop, I’d forgotten some of the things I’d learned.

--A friend hired me to file a document requiring certain attachments. She sent me one, but each page was a separate JPEG and I needed them all in a single PDF. I tried opening each JPEG, printing it, then using my scanner, but for whatever reason I still couldn’t get the pages into a single document. Fortunately in this case, another friend helped.

In addition to days of misery following my recent computer crash and hours reloading software and adjusting settings, I’m still dealing with some side effects.

The solution: find a computer/technology whiz and see if I can barter some editing or writing for assistance and customized training.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

How Busy is Too Busy?

The saying goes, “If you want something done, ask a busy person to do it.”

Parents get asked to do just one more thing for their kids’ school. Those who volunteer for associations or charities are encouraged to take on yet another task for their committee. And often we-- who are interested in the new assignment, or want to be needed, want to be helpful or don’t want to disappoint others-- agree.

But when are you too busy? When I was in college, someone put a note on my door that said, “Your busy social life should be less busy and more social.” I don’t know who put it there. Did a sorority sister think I was involved in too many campus organizations/activities and so not going out enough? Hmm.

Sometimes we wind up over committing ourselves. When we accept, we think we’ll have time to complete everything on deadline.  Even for the efficient, productive Gainfully Unemployed, doing so can be a challenge when everything is due at once. This week, for example, I’m fortunate to have quite a lot on my plate.  I'm working on a massive voiceover job: recording and editing an e-learning course of 341 highly technical PowerPoint slides due “yesterday.” I also have a smaller VO job due Monday. In addition, I’ve promised to file a friend’s domain name dispute complaint, owe content to the co-author of a non-fiction project, had a bar association committee meeting, was required to do a bit of promotion for one improv show, have a rehearsal with that team, had a handful of auditions and a performance with my other improv team.

In order get all of these projects done, something had to go. But what? Should I have skipped out on social events like a baby shower (for which I’m expected to bring a salad—meaning I also need to go to the grocery store and chop.  Can I take a shortcut of buying bottled dressing, or make one from scratch as planned?) and a friend’s birthday celebration? Not crew for a cable TV shoot for another bar association committee, which fortunately I didn’t commit to but know they need help?

Or admit that this week I simply can’t do it all? Just writing that makes me cringe. There must be a compromise. I’ve been getting up earlier than usual so I can be at my computer by 6AM. I rescheduled a meeting in Milwaukee and bypassed the cable shoot, gaining 12 hours.

What are you willing to do to get everything done?

Thursday, June 03, 2010

The Time is Now

I’m one of the many people, Gainfully Unemployed or not, who often spend much of our days thinking and worrying about what we will be doing later or have done in the past. We don’t focus enough on or appreciate enough what we’re actually doing right now. At this very moment.

Wonder why you can’t remember if you left the iron on or if you locked the door? Because you were thinking about where you were going and operating on autopilot instead of paying attention to each task you completed. Even if we’re talking on the phone with a friend, my guess is that many of us aren’t giving complete focus to what the friend is saying in particular, or the conversation in general. We’re thinking, “Can’t forget to pick up Susie at school in an hour,” or we go so far as to surf the Web or check e-mail.

A friend of mine recommended the book, The Power of Now, by Eckhart Tolle. One of his main suggestions is that each of us listen without judging to the ruminating voice in our heads. Once we can “be aware not only of the thought but yourself as a witness to the thought,” Tolle says “a new dimension of consciousness has come in” and “the thought loses its power over you and quickly subsides because you are no longer energizing the mind through identification with it.”

Supposedly we will be less stressed and more fulfilled if we are truly present. Many who promote living in the moment recommend actively noticing every detail of what is happening to you right now. What exactly are you doing, what sensations are you experiencing, what sounds do you hear?

Things I’m going to try to see if I can feel more present:
1) When I’m on the phone, just be on the phone so I can participate fully in the conversation. Not clean my condo or fold laundry, which is what I usually do.

2) Observe rather than dwell on ruminations, then let them go.

3) Focus on the specifics of what is happening right now.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

The D Word

Why do some people get things done, but others don’t? I think it comes down to the D word: discipline.

Some people are content to get by at their day jobs and spend their spare time with families, friends and hobbies. Maybe to them, the best weekend is one spent watching sports and tossing back a few brewskies. Others are willing to work weekends because they’re driven to climb the corporate ladder or reach for their dreams, whether it’s going back to get that master’s degree or writing and trying to sell a novel(s). Even if their pursuit means long hours and foregoing social events. Even if it means no guarantees, takes years and the odds are stacked against them.

Still others say over and over that they want to do X (even if it’s just cleaning out the garage), but add “some day” and do nothing because some day never comes. It’s always today. Or they take baby steps, but get easily frustrated when they don’t see immediate results (or, as with cleaning the garage, things get messier before they get better) and give up. They can’t see the big picture.

Not surprisingly, some definitions of discipline include self-control:  not giving in to every impulse for immediate gratification.

Most days I am disciplined...I complete the daily goals I set, which often include a certain number of proactive efforts or pages to write.  Other days, it's hard not to succumb to the lure of a beautiful day, a leisurely lunch with a friend or catching up with TiVo.  Because, of course, I have really good reasons:  We don't have that many great weather days in Chicago. I haven't seen Y friend in a long time and she's busy.  If I don't watch the finale of Z reality TV show now, I won't be able to go online without finding out who won.  That's when self-discipline and self-control need to kick in.  When I have to convince myself that getting at least some work done is more important in the long run than slacking off today. “Contrary to common belief, self-discipline is not a severe and limited behavior or a restrictive lifestyle. It is a very useful inner power, which enables one to persevere and not give up, in spite of failure and setbacks. It grants its possessor self control, and the ability to resist temptations and distractions that tend to stand in the way of attaining aims and goals. In fact, it is one of the most important pillars of real and stable success.”

Some motivational quotes from the same site, here.

Developing self-discipline: “Learning life mastery and personal discipline will only come about when you set precise goals that you wish to achieve. Self-discipline goals are somewhat different than success-oriented goals, in that self-discipline goals are defined by personal improvement. Once you identify areas of your life that you wish to gain total control over, you have now defined specific areas of improvement.”

Discipline.  One day at a time.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

PC Crash

Last week my PC crashed...froze at the Windows XP splash screen. Yikes.

Like many Gainfully Unemployed, I rely on my computer every day. I send audition MP3s to agents, jobs to clients, query letters and submissions. I do Internet research on facts and grammar rules when editing, agents and editors when submitting...the list goes on and on. So I, not very technically inclined, had to decide what to do, and fast. (One benefit of gainful employment: an employer who offers tech support and/or a replacement computer.)

Fortunately I'd backed up most of my data (if you haven't, do it now! I use an external hard drive, and probably will add online backup, also.), and I have a laptop and wireless Internet, so I was able to stay on top of email. But the laptop doesn't have all the software I need, plus it's not getting work done has taken a lot longer. And figuring out how to get quality sound for my auditions has been a challenge.

Not to mention time/money/frustration I expended troubleshooting, deciding what to do about fixing it and updating my laptop with new drivers, etc. I'm not quite sure how I figured all that out, especially when I realized I'd downloaded an XP driver for my Bluetooth mouse though my laptop has Vista...

I ended up taking my hard drive to the Geek Squad at Best Buy. Fortunately all of my data was salvagable. They wanted to run a $69.99 diagnostic that would take 3-5 days. They called on the 17th to say my PC had acquired 271 pieces of malware (I'd thought my antivirus software/firewall would prevent that, but obviously not.) and so my OS was corrupted. They could fix it for another $130, and would need until the 19th or the 21st. Better to cave and buy a new PC (or a Mac, as many friends advise)...or go with the fix? I chose the fix.

It's not ready yet, which means 10 days so far without my PC. Seems like much, much longer. Maybe this cloud has a silver lining...when I do get it back it might run faster than before.

From students to freelancers to telecommuters, many of us simply can't their jobs done these days without daily computer access. There's no way I know of to prevent future crashes and the frustration that goes along with them...but adequate preparation via backup and easily accessible alternate technology helps a lot.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Three Little Words

By three little words, I don't mean "I love you" and why those words can be so hard to say or feel.  I mean the fact that three little words can make a huge difference in the amount of money and respect an actor earns.

Yesterday I auditioned for a speaking role in a major motion picture.  The character says--you guessed it--three words.  She speaks to the lead character, then he moves on.  A very short scene.  But should I get it, I'm pretty sure I'd earn the Screen Actor's Guild day player rate, which according to their site is currently $782.  And I'd be eligible to join SAG, earn residuals, etc.

The saying goes, "There are no small parts, only small actors."  If you ascribe to this theory, then every role is important, including those who speak a few lines and extras.  First, extras create essential atmosphere: Imagine the hero walking down Michigan Avenue...with no crowd.  You'd immediately assume there'd been an apocolypse, or that it was very early on a Sunday morning.  The scene wouldn't feel  or look right without a bunch of appropriately dressed and appropriately milling about tourists, shoppers and businesspeople. 

Second, extras can screw up a shot.  Walking patterns, sometimes very complex, are established during rehearsals.  Extras are expected to do the same thing for every take...partly so everyone knows what everyone else is doing, and partly for continuity and to match up shots.  You are expected to reset yourself and any props for each take.  I recently did an office packing scene for a Fox pilot...and every time we had to take out all the papers and files we'd put into boxes (with the director calling out, "pack faster") so we could pack them again.  Without all of our packing and unpacking, the scene wouldn't work.  If an extra is supposed to cross in front of a moving camera or pass by a star but is a few steps late or early, he might run into a cord-carrying grip, the camera or the star, necessitating another take.  And on a movie set, time is money. 

If you're seated next to a star, say, in a corporate meeting or at a wedding, you might also end up with more screen time than the person playing that three-word speaking role.  Yet non-union extras in Chicago are currently paid $65/8 hrs, then time and a half not counting lunch, or sometimes $100 for 12 hours.  I hear a small increase may be in the offing.  But recently I've also come across major projects that expect extras to work for free.

Extras in LA and NY can earn their SAG cards by working 3 SAG projects.  Not in Chicago.  If I have a line, I can put it on my resume.  Extra work does not count and in fact can be looked down on...even if the director directs you personally.  I'd think that watching major stars and directors in action, which to me is like taking a master class, would at least show agents you're learning your craft, that you've spent time on movie sets and so presumably are familiar with how to behave.  You understand the jargon.  I've been mere feet from directors including Clint Eastwood, Michael Mann and stars including Johnny Depp.  I've been directed by Ron Howard and Sam Raimi, for example. 

So...I'm not quite sure why an actor gets respect and a lot more money for saying three little words to a star, but not for being one of a few extras near a star.  Thoughts?

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Give Yourself a Break

While working in corporate America, I was fortunate to have a job that was pretty much 9 to 5. Sometimes I’d take home the stress of waiting for clients to sign their contracts, think I should have followed up with one more contact or scheduled one more meeting. But mostly I was able to leave work in the office and enjoy my evenings and weekends. Vacation days were even better--ah, the joy of getting paid not to work.

But for the Gainfully Unemployed, for the freelancer, there’s always more work to do. So it’s hard to decide when to take a break, when to relax...if you even can. Authors/writers can always produce another page, enter another contest, send out another query. Performers/freelancers/those starting businesses can always do one more thing to market themselves and their services. When you have an actual deadline-- lines to learn for an audition or performance, an agent/editor waiting for timely revisions-- letting go of the pressure to keep plugging away can be difficult. Especially if you don’t have a lot of paying projects coming up.  The drive to do as much as you possibly can to further your success can be relentless.

Setting goals helps: If I cross X items off my list and do Y number of proactive things today, then I can reward myself with Z. I like to exceed goals, not just meet them. And how do you know your goals are ambitious enough in the first place, that you’re not letting yourself off easy? Often there’s a nagging voice in my head urging me to do X + 1 or Y +2. It says, “If you’re not in it, you can’t win it.” And, “Just put one more iron in that fire.” The voice does not say, “You’ve worked hard deserve some time off.”

On the other hand, I know that everyone needs to refill the well, have some down time, hang out with family and friends. I also believe that the creative subconscious works best when we’re not thinking or focusing the project at hand...perhaps why people say they get good ideas in the shower. Why many (including me) keep a pen and paper in every jot down an inspiration, preserve that “aha!” moment before it floats out of our minds.

When do you take a break? And when you do, can you truly enjoy it?

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Finding Happiness

Many people believe happiness comes from within. Articles advise that if you're honest and accept yourself, if you make the best out of what you have and do in life, contentment and happiness will be yours.

While I agree that attitude and one's personal beliefs make a big difference in perceiving happiness, I'm not sure I believe that just putting out positive thoughts will lead the universe to provide amazing things (as, for example, THE SECRET maintains).

My dad believed in the security that money brings. For years and years, he worked long hours and rarely took vacations. When he did, he had a hard time sitting still. Often he was very stressed about running his business.

My grandfather believed in cooking great bar-b-que, making delicious pickled green tomatoes and a good game of canasta or bridge. He worked as a carpet layer, and for a while had a carpet store. Sometimes he'd accept a meal or some other form of barter for his services instead of money. He always seemed to be in a good mood. He was one of the happiest people I've known, in the moment and long term.

I wish I took more after him. But as a freelancer, my 'in the moment' happiness often comes in the form of auditions and gigs. I know I can't control how many I'll get; all I can do is put more irons in the fire. Even if I've had a busy week, if the next looks sparsely filled, it's hard for me to relax, believe more work will follow soon...and delve into other projects.

This week began without a single audition or booking. Instead of satisfaction lingering from a productive last week, which included a booking; an audition; giving a successful, well-attended workshop at a writing conference (attendees approached the day after to say how inspiring/helpful I'd been); a close friend I critique for--who thanks me in all of her books--making the NYT and USA Today best seller lists; getting editor/agent requests for various manuscripts; making progress on a non-fiction project and some fun social events, in my mind it was pretty much done and gone. My ITM happiness increased as each of 3 auditions showed up in my inbox (print, VO and short film). Whew.

I'm still working on increasing my cumulative, internal happiness and being less affected by external things I can't control. One day at a time.

What makes you happy?

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Time is Money

Lo these many years ago, I left my day job in favor of acting and writing (pursuing publication of and completing more manuscripts, and freelance writing/editing) full time.

When I worked nine to five, I faced pressure to increase revenue and meet goals in my several million dollar territory. And I enjoyed perks like 4 weeks of paid vacation, personal days/holidays and a supply of company logo clothing/mugs/pens.

Now I face the pressure of maintaining and growing my incoming revenue stream. I’m often torn between numerous projects, not sure which will result in the biggest payoff. I’d thought I’d write when I wasn’t acting, that freeing up weekdays from nine to five would yield plenty of time for both. But I’ve found that more effort, more hours than I’d like are needed to market both careers and complete incoming obligations.

Have I bitten off more than I can effectively chew? Some days, even when I’ve checked many items off my To Do list, I still think I should get more done. But I choose to go to chorus rehearsal or to social events.

The past few months, I’ve a) had some great acting gigs, in and out of town...most recently 3 days in Las Vegas for ComedySportz b) made progress on two non-fiction projects but have not written many new fiction pages c) not spent much time on proactive submissions d) had assorted life intrusions that took focus.

Lately I’ve been earning more from acting than writing. So I wonder if I should relegate writing to “whenever I can fit it in” status or give it up entirely? If I pursue only acting, will I get enough additional work to justify cutting back on or eliminating writing? Or should I do as I often did while in corporate America: reduce my social life and spend most nights and weekends writing? I love to write, to spend time with fellow writers and learn about the publishing industry. But I love money, too.

Time is money. Often, only time will tell where your time is best spent.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

One Day at a Time

Often it's a challenge for the Gainfully Unemployed to plan ahead.  I'm reluctant to go out of town because experience has shown I'll miss out on direct bookings and/or great auditions (because I wouldn't be available for the audition itself or the day(s) of the shoot/recording).  I never know when the phone might ring with auditions or work, so sometimes I hesitate to take on commitments I may need to reschedule. 

I don't know when I'll get paid for jobs I've done.  This is because agents usually don't want to pay their talent until the client pays them...and often the client must first get paid by his client.  I'm still waiting for checks for 2 VO projects from 2009, though supposedly one will be available soon. 

So though I am by nature a planner who prefers things to go as originally scheduled, I'm learning to live one day at a time.  To accept that many decisions take place at the last minute (see last week's entry, Hurry up and Wait) and adjust accordingly.  To believe that for a day with no auditions or jobs on my calendar, I'll have some by the time the day arrives or have enough other projects to do....and that most of those will be income producing and not merely enjoyable or productive...such as critiquing for a friend under deadline or assigments I've agreed to do for the Chicago Bar Association (like the press release I finished this morning for the CBA Chorus & Symphony's next concert or the FAQs I'm working on for Romance Writers of America). 

I have to believe that because I've chosen to be a freelancer, I can also choose to have the discipline to work a full day each day, and not play hooky because the weather is nice or a friend wants to have a leisurely lunch.  I have to focus on what I'm doing today, and not dwell on negative "what ifs..."  What if the phone doesn't ring this week?  What if I don't book any more jobs this month? 

And if there's a day when the phone doesn't ring, I can't let it get to me...but instead work more on marketing myself.  Realizing that there's often an ebb and flow in this business can be a challenge.  Because as soon as you finish one great gig (like the 3 days I just spent in Las Vegas doing part scripted, part improv corporate shows that were so funny I had a hard time staying in character), it's difficult to just bask in the glow of the attendees' many compliments (and a "very, very happy" client) and not wonder when I'll get the next. 

I've often been told life is about the journey and not the here's to enjoying the journey.  One day at a time.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Hurry Up and Wait

Both the Gainfully Unemployed and Gainfully Employed are often at the behest of others when it comes to getting work done. We set time aside for a particular project, audition or gig, only to have to wait to prepare or do the job until a boss, co-worker, agent or producer provides the information we need to move forward. By the time the materials arrive, we may have to scramble to get the job done right, especially if others are involved and we have to coordinate schedules.

An extreme example: working as an extra for an HBO movie. We’d been told to dress very upscale. The hair and makeup people spent a couple of hours transforming very curly hair had been flatironed smooth (no easy task) and was as glossy and flowy as a Sassoon commercial. Someone came to bring us to set, which was about a block away. He took one look at us, and said, in fact, we were supposed to be very downscale.

Everyone burst into action, opening garment bags and suitcases to see if we’d brought anything appropriate for that look. Most of us hadn’t. The hair person slathered some cream into my freshly done, perfectly beautiful hair to make it look greasy. We literally ran to the wardrobe truck. The wardrobe people glanced at us for size, then grabbed garments and threw to us that. We put them on while we ran to set. Whew.

Recently I did two short videos for a major brand and large ad agency. I received a couple of emails about when I’d get the scripts, but they never arrived. I got them the next morning when I arrived on set. Partly thanks to all of my improv training and partly because I’ve always been a quick study, this wasn’t a problem for me. But I heard the woman who was shooting after me saying she couldn’t learn all the copy in time.

The hurry up and wait process can lead to a lot of stress, especially for those of us who thrive on planning ahead. We get impatient and frustrated when we don’t have what we need to do our jobs, and then pressured to perform without as much preparation as we would have liked.

I’m learning to let this stress go, to calmly accept what I’m given when I get it so I can do my best. To make the most of a schedule that sometimes changes so fast I could get whiplash. But every so often, it would be nice if a project proceeded according to my time frame.

Other takes on this topic:
GenReality  publishing
Steve Raybine music industry