Thursday, December 27, 2012

At this time of year, many people make New Year's resolutions.  They say they'll excercise more, eat fewer fattening foods, perhaps drink less or spend less time surfing the Internet.  Quit smoking.  But it's hard to resist that yummy carrot cake.  Sometimes we're too tired to work out for a whole hour several times a week.  Facebook is fun, and all those videos and articles so interesting, time suck that they may be. 

We want to do better, be better, yet often allow the desire for instant gratification to self-sabotage us and our good intentions.  Many things may be fun in the moment, but can cause guilt, remorse or lower self-esteem after the fact.  Did we really need that whole half gallon of ice cream?  Well, at least it's Edy's Slow Churned.

Almost all resolutions require self-discipline.  Can we dig deep and find it now when we didn't have it before?  Many of us need to rely on outside sources.  Some have productivity, exercise or writing buddies who help them stay on track, either working with them or checking in to be sure they've met agreed upon goals.  Some impose monetary penalties on themselves or cancel social events if, say, they procrastinate.  Some use apps that cut off access to the Internet.  Others who lack self-control may need even more help to attain positive results.

Why can't people just be trustworthy?  Why don't citizens always do as we should and/or obey laws?  Speed bumps on neighborhood streets insure we don't go over the limit.  Red light cameras prove that we did or didn't enter the intersection on the yellow.  Nanny cams make sure caregivers are properly tending to children instead of, say, talking on the phone or watching TV.  GPS devices on phones and in cars tell parents where their kids are (unless the kid finds a way to jimmy them).          

The only way to be absolutely sure that people are doing what they say they will isn't usually feasible:  24/7 monitoring.  It's rare that a spouse or significant other, or mother and child, or partners, will be in each other's company every minute of every day.  So how do we really know what they're doing or not doing? 

How would you know if, say, your husband did in fact quit smoking? What's sufficient proof? Not finding cigarettes in his car or briefcase?  Not smelling smoke on his clothes or breath?  He might have quit.  Or he might be going to great lengths to make it seem like he did so he doesn't disappoint his spouse.  Even though he's still disappointing himself. 

So it comes back to self-discipline. The person should want to change for himself, not to please someone else.  What changes do you want to make?      

Thursday, December 20, 2012

What is the cost of healthcare?

No one would walk into a store and buy anything without knowing the cost before taking the item to the register.  Can you imagine buying a pair of jeans and waiting weeks until the bill came to find out the price?  Many people, myself included, often wait for sales to make purchases.

Yet most of the time, when it comes to the cost of healthcare, we're in the dark about what we'll have to pay.  How many doctors' offices post their fees?  Not long ago, I took a friend to an immediate care center. The initial visit cost was clearly stated on a sign on a wall; but it also said there might be additional costs. I went to a different one recently, and no costs were posted. When you're sick enough to be at an immediate care center, are you going to spend a lot of time and effort finding out how much your visit will cost, or do you just want relief?

Of course, part of this uncertainty is because neither the doctor can't be sure what services or in office tests you'll need before examining you.  If he/she wants to do a prodecure while you're in the chair, he/she probably won't know how much it costs.  Nor are medical personnel likely to wait while you try to search the Internet on your phone for average costs. 

So what's a patient to do?  The Healthcare Bluebook could prove useful if you know what you need in advance. Costs of many standard procedures vary widely, too, so doing due diligence on providers beforehand could save a lot of money.  Interestingly, the Affordable Care Act doesn't seem to include provisions to help patients gain knowledge of medical fees or require care providers to be more transparent. Maybe I just couldn't find them?

Sometimes, when the bill arrives, it's difficult to figure out what all the itemized items are for. Or there's just a lump sum, with no explanation. 

I have insurance (the already high premium is going up 5.6% next month), but also a high deductible. My last visit to a specialist will cost me $938 for less than 15 minutes of the doctor's time. I hadn't researched probable costs.  But if the symptoms persist and I go for another appointment as he suggested, I will.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Career vs. hobby

To me, part of the definintion of "career" (and my own term "feelancer") is earning money.  By money, I mean a fair wage for my time and product usage.  In this case, the product is me: my voice and/or image.

I see too many opportunities that are in perpetuity...meaning my product can be used forever in whatever media is specified in the job specs.  Often these are print jobs, perhaps stock images, but can be for any kind of acting work.  When media options were broadcast, local or national TV and/or print (either business to business or consumer), that was bad enough.  Then came cable.  With the advent of the Internet, your in perpetuity image, commercial or video could pop up anywhere at any time or stay on a site for decades, with no additional compensation or even a fair buyout fee.

So far, no IP gig I've seen has paid enough to justify them having the right to use my product year after year...along with possibility of keeping me from doing higher paying work in that product category.  The first job may say it's non-exclusive, but the next may ask what other jobs I've done in that category and not want to book me for theirs because of them.  One print job wanted to know if we'd ever done any jobs in that, albeit somewhat narrow, category. 

To some, $500 for a day, for example, or $150 for a half day, may seem like a lot of money.  It's far more than minimum wage.  But it's not industry standard, and without an additional, substantial usage fee, not worth it to me.  Some actors desperate for work or any credits will succumb, so IP jobs won't go away.  And many actors do student or indie films for free, hoping to build their demo reels, gain on-camera experience, and/or make connections with the next Spielberg.   

It's not always easy to quantify whether my time is better invested in, say, a non-paying Web series that might or might not go viral, or self-marketing to grow my paying client list or taking a class to improve my skills. 

Frequently, when it rains it pours.  If I've committed to a non-paying/very low paying gig, chances are I'll get an audition for or book a much higher paying/better for my career one.  Perhaps more actors will consider the long term vs. the short term and whether they're building a career or acting for a hobby when deciding whether or not to submit/be submitted for anything IP.      

Thursday, December 06, 2012

Produce your own work?

More and more at acting industry/networking events, speakers and colleagues recommend producing our own work (POOW), to get noticed and thus get more work.

Quality video equipment and editing programs are much less expensive than they used to be.  And YouTube and Vimeo make it easy to post projects online.

To POOW, however, you’ll need to wear many more hats, such as producer, line producer, director, writer, location manager, cinematographer, editor and marketing manager.  Or convince friends to work for free, or raise enough money to cover paying people in addition to production costs.  I’ve seen so many Indiegogo and Kickstarter campaigns for friends’ projects. Is the novelty of contributing is wearing off? 
 
How many hours would you have to put in to create a short film?  A web series?  Then to promote it?  How much money will you earn, and/or how many people will see it?  Not every video will go viral. 

Some friends do theatre, and may earn nothing or $200-300 for the entire rehearsal process and run of the show.  If you put in 5o hours, you’re earning less than minimum wage.  But you may want to work with a certain theatre and/or director, hope for a good review or that agents/casting directors will attend and like your performance or be impressed by your latest credit.
 
Would all that time be put to better use self-marketing?  One new client might yield more benefits more than entering a short film I've made into festivals or being in a play that doesn't attract attention. 
 
Others record audio books, usually for $150 on up per finished hour (fh) of audio, with a novel being appx. 10 hours, or $1500.  That may seem like a good rate, but you have to take into account any research such as pronounciations of character's names or words you don't know, reading the book, editing, proofing or paying a proofer, and making any corrections. 
 
Audiobook site ACX estimates that it takes 6.2 hours to get one fh, which, at $150 per finished hour, amounts to just over $24 per hour of your time.  Much better than minimum wage, but much less than you can earn via an agent or for regular narration--if you get the work.  However, you can record audiobooks on your own schedule, assuming you have a satisfactory home recording setup.  And if you can score a fh rate of, say, $300, and can reduce production time, you'd make closer to $50 or $75 per hour. 

When deciding if a project is worth my time, I take several factors into account:

How much am I earning per hour of my time? 
Are there new skills I can learn?
Who will see/hear the project? 
How long will it run/be available?
Who will I be working with? 
How hard is the work?
How flexible is the turnaround time/schedule? 

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Clothes can make the woman

At auditions, how you look matters.  You want to show the client and/or director how easy it is to see you in whatever light.

I’m asked to wear a wide variety of clothes to suit different roles I’m supposed to play.  A businesswoman requires a matched business suit (not separates), a mom a sweater set or simple blouse.  Ffor business casual, khakis and a blouse or sweater set are de rigeur.  Nice casual means good jeans and a sweater or blouse.  Solids are usually preferred over bold prints.  You need to know not only what colors look good on you and on camera, but at the various casting agencies.  One has a very blue background, so if you wear a similar shade you could blend right in and look like a floating head.

At one point I was getting a lot of doctor or pharmacist auditions. Sometimes they had lab coats we could borrow, but they were so big and baggy, with sleeves I had to roll up multiple times that I looked like a kid trying on her parents’ clothes, not a medical professional you’d believe could represent a product.  I bought my own XXS labcoat...and haven’t had a medical audition since.  

I’ve been asked to wear fitted workout clothes, holiday attire, something appropriate for a bridal shower, etc.   Once I was asked to look like someone on the TV show Laugh-In. I decided on Joanne Worley...and even put my hair up like hers.  Fortunately I had a cool vintage dress of my mom’s.  Another call was for a used streetwalker.  I teased my hair (it can get quite big), smeared my makeup and wore an off the shoulder shirt.  That, I think, helped me get a callback.

Sometimes auditionees don’t dress as instructed, and look out of place.  At a long ago audition requiring a woman in an old-fashioned butcher shop, everyone in the room had her hair up in a bun (some with tendrils) and wore some kind of cream or pale blouse.  Mine had a lace collar.  In pops a woman with short, kind of punk red hair and a bright green shirt.  She looked around the room, said something about one of these things is not like the others, and left.

On the other hand, occasionally they call in someone to push the envelope.  I’ve been the oldest person I’ve seen at a few auditions, the youngest at others.  They may toss a brunette in with blondes, a short person in with tall. 
 
You also have to think about your hair.  Sometimes I wonder if, to be a businessperson or mom, I should straighten it, because that's the norm. But then I won't look like my headshot, which is what they used to call me in.  So I might be the only person with curly hair.  
 
You never know what they're looking for.  They might not even know exactly what they want until they see it.  So my goal is to be the best me I can be, given my interpretation of their parameters.

 

 

 

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Giving Thanks

This season can be stressful for feelancers who worry that work will dry up and/or wonder when the next project will show up.  From today through Hanukkah, Christmas, New Year's Eve and into the first week of January, social events and days off abound. 

For me, all the holiday hooplah can mean fewer auditions and jobs.  If agents, clients and other industry professionals aren't working, chances are I'm not, either.  So far one client has said there should be work in December, but until I'm officially booked...

Since it's Thanksgiving, I won't think about the weeks to come.  I'll enjoy a great meal and ponder the top 10 things I'm thankful and grateful for:

1) Family & friends to share time, and laughter experiences with, and who believe in and encourage me
2) Overall good health
3) A nice roof over my head in a great neighborhood in an amazing city
4) Cultural activities from theatre to movies
5) Opportunities to pursue my dreams and goals
6) Modern technology, from computers to my cell phone, iPad, car and washer/dryer
7) Hope
8) The acting and writing communities
9) Books and TV
10) That I'm not cooking today.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Feelancers & Friends

Feelancers often have flexible schedules.  We aren't obligated to report to our cubes or offices at 9:00AM sharp, or have bosses overseeing our output. That doesn’t mean we don’t have important work to do or mean we don’t need to work evenings and weekends. Or that items on our to-do list won't change at the drop of a hat. And more work is likely to pop up when we have other projects due or if we take time off...I often have two auditions, jobs or availability checks on the same day.

The good: If we have discipline and self-control and don’t procrastinate or fritter our days away on the Internet, Facebook or Twitter, we can usually decide when and how much to work on existing projects.  My favorite benefit: we can run errands when stores aren’t crowded. (I never want to shop at Trader Joe's on the weekends; lines extend well into the aisles.)

The bad: We can’t control when new opportunities will crop up that we want or need to take advantage of.  Temptations and distractions abound.  If a deadline is a couple of weeks away, we may think we have plenty of time to finish.  So if friends or colleagues call when we're engrossed in a project, ask for our assistance, want to grab a meal or decide to come to town and want us to be on vacation because they are, saying no can be a challenge.  It can be easy to say, "I'll do what my friend wants today. I need a break. I was only going to self-market and catch up on a few things I've been meaning to do."  Be like Scarlett and say, "I"ll worry about that tomorrow."
 
We want to help out, we want to enjoy ourselves, but we don’t want to lose out on or get behind on work.  What seems like fun in the moment will quickly be forgotten when we’re working overtime to finish a job that's due, or, in my case, if I don’t get to go to a major audition.  I like to have fun, but it doesn't pay the bills or enhance my reputation/build relationships in the community.  It's harder to have a good time when deadlines hang over your head.

Feelancers (and aspiring authors and artists) don’t always get as much respect for our time as the Gainfully Employed.  We need to be able to protect our schedules, say no, and not feel we always need or want to accommodate those who can better afford (financially, time-wise or both) to frolic.  I started this blog because some friends asked what I did all day. 

One friend's work schedule varies, but she’s on salary.  It’s easy for her to want to grab a spontaneous lunch or run out for a mani/pedi...she's getting paid for her time off.  Because she knows I sometimes work from home, she asks me to walk her dog when she doesn’t have coverage.  Out of town friends just came to visit and wanted me to spend several days with them enjoying all Chicago has to offer, from restaurants to shopping to shows and/or museums.  I had a long rehearsal and an audition, and needed to check my phone frequently to respond to agents and clients.  I felt some pressure to be more available, but wanted to be responsive to industry professionals and didn’t want to miss opportunities that could benefit my career and bank account.
 
Frequent schedule changes and commitment to our clients are just parts of being a feelancer.  If I've planned, say, lunch with a friend, I'll need to cancel if I get a job or an audition.  Work or play?  It's not always an easy decision.        
 
 
 
     

Thursday, November 08, 2012

Social Media: Where & When

When are we spending too much time with social media? What are the tipping points for how many sites we need to join, and how often to check them? Am I missing something by not joining, say Google+? How would a Tumblr or Pinterest account help me?

I keep hearing how this or that friend connected with this or that potential client/literary agent/useful contact via Twitter or LinkedIn. 

I still find Twitter a bit confusing.  Who to follow?  Some people tweet so frequently.  How do I keep up, and separate the wheat from the chaff?

There are social media manager services, such as HootSuite (another product to learn), some of which offer free or paid plans. (And companies are hiring SMMs.) 

So now I'm spending time figuring out which sites I want to be on and effective use strategies.

How many sites:

http://connektmarketing.com/

How much time to spend:

socialmediatoday.com

blog.verticalresponse.com








 

Thursday, November 01, 2012

Are you saving enough for retirement?

Numerous articles say that many people aren't saving enough for retirement (for example, Huffington Post, CNNMoney and SmartMoney).  I probably know some of them: actors and other feelancers who live month to month, parents who set aside money for their kids' college funds instead of their own futures, people who are between jobs, who lost their pensions or are earning less than they used to so they aren't contributing as much to their 401Ks. 

How do you know if you'll have enough to retire comfortably?  Information and calculators abound, such as AARP's, msn MONEY's  and Kiplinger's. But some people don't want to know.  They don't want to be scared or despair over how they'll possibly catch up, so they don't do the math. Maybe they think it'll all magically work out, somehow. 

The company I worked for for 13 years recently offered a one-time opportunity to take a lump sum pension payment (minus taxes and an early withdrawal penalty, or roll it into an IRA), start receiving a monthly payment, or do nothing and wait until 65 for the original pension.  I rans some numbers, checked with a few friends, did research, talked to financial advisors. But there are too many variables to be sure I'm making the right decision. What will the economy do in the next decades, including stocks and other investments, interest, inflation? How long will I live, and how long will I be able to or want to work? Only time will tell if I made the right decision.

The global economy has more impact on the American economy than in years past.  So many people are under water on their houses/condos.  So many retiring now have less to retire on than the previous generation.  Many cities, countries, individuals have greater debt.  Will there be enough jobs, enough spending by businesses and consumers to fuel the economy? 

Are you saving enough? Take the time and effort to figure it out. Knowledge is power.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Are you available?

Steps taken before an actor books a job vary.  Sometimes there’s a direct booking, meaning you’re chosen from just your headshot and resume (and perhaps a viewing of your demo reel) or from your voiceover demo.  The vast majority of the time, there’s an audition and often a callback, especially for on-camera jobs. 

Most of the time, you don’t get it.  In fact, some acting teachers encourage you to go in with the mindset that you won't, such as Michael KostroffI’ve come across various ratios of auditions to bookings.  One in 25 isn’t uncommon.  Your callback ratio is very important too, as are the types of jobs you book, get called back for and who they’re for.   Also important is what happens after an audition/callback, even if you don’t ultimately book the job.

You could get put on hold or “on ice,” meaning you don’t have the job (yet?) but can’t accept any others on that day.  There’s also first refusal, meaning they’re interested but not ready to commit.  If you book another job for that day, you have contact the first job and give them the opportunity to book you or say no before you accept the second.  There’s also check avail (CA), which means they want to know if you’re available on a certain day...or days.  I’ve been getting more and more of these, which is both exciting and frustrating.

Exciting: My agent (and casting director, if one is involved) know the client is really interested, which means I’m on the right track.  I’ve made it to the final few. The agent has to contact me about the CA, so I’m staying top of mind.  It’s rewarding to be considered for a variety of opportunities and to get that close.

Frustrating:  There’s no way to know when I’ll find out if I get any of the jobs or not. And if I do get the gig(s), I don’t know when I’ll get the call time or location. Right now I’m on a check avail for a VO today (which I found out about around 4pm yesterday, after another check avail  yesterday afternoon for yesterday afternoon)  and another for Monday (found out on the 23rd after a first check avail received around 8pm on the 22nd for the 25th or 26th). Whew.

I’m supposed to shoot a TV commercial next week (which I got called back for in late August and had three CAs for).  I know the day, but don’t know which of  two parts I got, when or where.  So making plans...for more auditions, other jobs, social engagements, even doctor or hair appointments, can be a challenge.  Thankfully I’m not a procrastinator, because I need to stay ahead of deadlines on other projects in case more auditions, callbacks and bookings pop up.  
 
Looking forward to finding out what's next.
 
    

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Keeping up & staying in touch

Back in the day, if you read the daily newspaper and/or watched the evening news, you probably as well-informed as most Americans.  Editors decided what was important and relevant, and filtered out the rest.  Co-workers would gather at the water cooler to discuss  the day's events.   
 
But now many people telecommute or freelance.  Social media sites, websites, blogs and videos continue to sprout like weeds, with zillions of column inches of material.  Some are choked by the crowded marketplace, others flourish.  It’s hard to know which sources you need and want to follow to stay in the know.     

We can all learn more about our craft and industry.  Learn to be better people and run our lives more efficiently.  Find interesting tidbits to share at parties or via our personal social media outlets.  But how much time are we willing to commit to keep up with the never-ending flow of information? 

There are too many blogs just for writers voiceover talents, actors and freelancers to stay on top of.  I hear that some literary agents and editors, producers and directors share informative tweets and/or blogs, and that Twitter can be a good way to network.  As can LinkedIn, Facebook groups, etc., etc.
 
So much of what we come across out there is fluff.  Do we really need to know what so-and-so ate for dinner?  Do we need any more binder comments?  Yet once we've read something, the information may stick in our heads.
 
Mashable and lifehacker are two sites that seem to offer more wheat than chaff on a variety of topics.  There are also aggregators such as Digg and Reddit that combine many sources and/or let you know what’s popular.  We could easily spend our entire day and night searching, typing and scrolling.
 
At some point, we need to stop scanning and absorbing information, no matter how fascinating, and get our work done.  We need to stop Facebook chatting, texting and emailing so we can set our keyboards, tablets and phones aside and see people.  In person.
 
 

Thursday, October 04, 2012

Secondguessitis

How many decisions do we make each day?  What to have for lunch, how to spend our time and who to spend it with, whether to say anything/what to say on social media, should we take on this client/project -- from insignificant to significant, the list goes on and on. 

Some believe in the butterfly effect: that ripples from a small action can lead to major changes.  When we have to make choices, we may not know which direction to go.  Research and advice from trusted friends can help.  But sometimes, we suffer from secondguessitis.

 As an actor and writer, what to say and do at a given audition or how to satisfy requests in an editor’s revision letter from an editor can bring on symptoms of secondguessitis.  If we want the job/the book sale, we need to satisfy the buyers.  Figuring out what they really want can lead to overthinking. 

 Let’s say you’re attending a friend’s event but don’t know what to wear.  You show up in a carefully chosen outfit.  If the friend says, “You look great, aka, we love your attention to historical accuracy, but can you dress down, aka, have less historical detail?” you may choose to return to your closet and see what you can do to accommodate him/her.  How much are you willing to change?  
 
And what exactly does the request mean?  You may be able to ask your friend for specifics--should I change my earrings and/or my shoes?  But with a several hundred page manuscript, you can’t really ask the editor, “Which details did you like?”  It’s a challenge not to worry about cutting the ones they connected with or too many.  And an audition, if they say go bigger or smaller, we may wonder how much is too much.

We wouldn't be at the audition or have the revision letter if we didn't have something the talent buyer wanted to see and work with. But worrying too much about what he/she thinks can freeze creativity.  At some point, when making adjustments, we need to trust our instincts.  And bring to the table whatever it is makes us unique, whether or not our product resonates at that time with that client.    

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Does everything happen for a reason?

Many people believe everything happens for a reason.  Others say that to make themselves feel better when something goes wrong or they don’t get something they want, such a book sale, agent representation, new job, client or booking, or a house.  Sometimes we wonder what that reason is, or when or if we'll find out.
 
There are quotes on the topic, a song, blog posts and assorted books about it.

Most of us know people who, for example, lost their jobs, got divorced or didn't get into their first choice college.  They were unhappy at the time and perhaps uncertain about the future.  They might have tried to ease the sting with clich├ęs such as “bad things happen to good people."  But soon after, they found another job that paid more money and/or they liked better, or they met someone better to and for them, or loved the college they did get in.  In cases such as these, it’s easier to believe that EHfaR. 

Unpleasant things happen that we can’t control.  We can benefit and grow by dealing with them in healthy ways.  Other bad things happen because we don’t take steps to stop them.  We make bad choices.  Some trust in and rely on EHfaR when, for example, they fritter days away instead of working, even though they can’t afford to, or they drink, shop, or eat too much.  Because they frequently choose the high of instant gratification, of what is or seems like fun at the time, they may repeatedly pay the price with, perhaps, hangovers that impact their abilities to be productive the next day or more credit card debt...and more interest owed.  What’s the reason then?

Admitting that we’ve made mistakes or are engaging in self-destructive, self-defeating behaviors is difficult.  Accepting or finding and utilizing help can be even more challenging. 

We may never know the reason why good or bad things happen or people do what they do.  Maybe sometimes there isn’t one.   

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Journey vs. Destination

Some say life is about the journey, not the destination.  What do you think?

 Most authors don’t spend many, many hours hunched over keyboards researching, writing, editing and submitting manuscript(s) for only the joy of the process.  Most actors don’t hope for, prepare and learn lines for, and run around to auditions and callbacks only for the fun of “getting to act/practice our craft on a Thursday afternoon,” as Michael Kostroff, whoteaches Audition Psych 101, says. 
 
While I do enjoy the adventures along the way, I still want the satisfaction, validation, career and monetary benefits of getting where I’m going.  At the same time, it's important and valuable to step back from the hustle bustle of everyday life to enjoy and be in the moment, and not think constantly about where you’re supposed to be or what you’re supposed to do next.  
 
When you're an actress, author or feelancer, achieving goals often depends on others choosing you from among available options.  I don't get to decide that today's the day I'll get to go to a great audition or that I'll book a job, big or small.  Each opportunity to be at a major casting agency, each job is a reward in itself. 

But can it be enough?  I still want to book that national TV commercial.  Or if I get a request from an editor, to sell that manuscript.  The closer I get, the harder it is not to be frustrated and/or disappointed if I don’t. 
 
That doesn't mean I don't appreciate each step along the way.  Callbacks are wonderful because they show me, the talent agent and the casting director that the client thinks I’m in the ballpark.  When I get a revision letter, I know the editor or agent is very interested.  Author friends say, “You’re almost there!”  
 
"Almost there" is good.  It isn't "there."  So I do more work to prepare for the callback.  To make the revisions.  I enjoy and learn from the process while I look forward to attaining my goals.             

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Letting yourself down

Most of us have seen people on reality TV shows crack under pressure at critical moments.  They’ve worked hard and waited a long time to get this far.  Their dreams are at hand.  But American Idol contestants forget lyrics.  America’s Next Top Model aspirants can’t seem to take direction during photo shoots. 

Sometimes we just don’t do our best.  We may have carefully and thoroughly prepared.  We think we’re ready to ace the interview/audition/presentation, but we let ourselves down.  So how do we judge our performances?

Be kind--tell yourself and believe things like, “Everyone has an off day now and again.  I’ll do better next time.”  Then let it go. 
 
On the other hand, if we let ourselves off too easily, we may not grow and improve.  For example, there are those on AI who are so convinced they're fabulous singers they don't hear the judges' honest critiques or think they could benefit from advice.

Be analytical--review in detail what went wrong.  See what we can learn and put to good use in the future.  Sometimes we want it so much and/or worry so much about what we’re doing that we stay in our heads instead of being in the moment and trusting ourselves. 
 
Maybe we can recover, regroup after an initial stumble.  Or maybe we get even more in our heads, flounder and go downhill fast.  Consider studying and implement techniques to reduce and deal with nerves.        

Be practical--Consider accepting feeling frustrated and/or disappointed.  But know that in many situations, it’s not how we think we did, but how our audience perceives our efforts.  Maybe our standards are too high and we're being too hard on ourselves.  Perhaps we don’t think we did a great job, but the client is satisfied.  Solicit opinions from trusted colleagues and friends trust to see if theirs mesh with yours.  Accept constructive criticisim, support and find the motivation to move on.
 
 
 

Thursday, September 06, 2012

Back and forth

When I was Gainfully Employed in the days before MapQuest and GPS, my job required frequent travel to visit clients in several Midwest states. I'd drive around Milwaukee, Kansas City, Louisville and even Topeka to see see five to seven advertising agency or advertiser clients each day. For another job, I had to visit many clients every week. No matter the weather, I had appointments to keep. Fortunately, most were within walking distance, but a few were in the distant burbs.

Good things about desk jobs are that you always know where the bathroom is, where to get a glass of water. And you have a space, even a cube with a few drawers, to call your own.

Many years of commuting to my company's office, then going to at least one client, then back to the office and then to another client--usually carrying a heavy briefcase--prepared me for being a working actress.

Yesterday, for example, I had an on-camera audition downtown that took about half an hour, plus driving. I had to go back home, then went to help a friend. We both happened to have a callback around the same time just past downtown (and, coincidentally, were paired up). We were there less than 15 minutes. Then back to my place. At night, I went west of downtown to work on a cable TV show and go out with friends, making three trips in one day.  Today I had a TV series audition that took less than 5 minutes. So I can spend more time commuting than I do at my destination.

At least I live in the city, not the suburbs like many actor friends. Most auditions are downtown, but jobs can be anywhere. I had an ongoing VO job in Evanston, and now have a client in Oakbrook, which can take an hour to get to. I do most VO auditions and some jobs from home, which is time-saving and can be done around my schedule.  That's convenient, especially when, like today, an audition arrives late afternoon and is due by 9AM the next morning.  

But despite all of the back and forth, I usually prefer being there in person.  I enjoy interacting with colleagues, as I did when Gainfully Employed, and also the opportunity to take direction and grow relationships in a way that can't be done via e-mails. 

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Learning Lots of Lines


Every actor has lines to learn for auditions and performances. It’s preferred that we’re off book even for auditions. But more and more often, we don’t receive the script(s) until we arrive at the audition. Many preparation techniques we’ve learned go out the window. Gut reactions prevail. Sometimes we may be able to put the copy on our ear prompters, but that doesn’t always work with dialogue scenes. Some audition venues have cue cards, which can help or hinder--if you lose your place.

Usually the amount of lines we need to learn for commercials or industrials is far less than a play. Years ago, I was in a production of Mamet’s Oleanna. A two person play…a college student and a professor. Each has many long, long monologues, and both are on stage the entire time. That experience stands me in good stead to help a friend who’s starring in a play opening next week and has the bulk of the lines.

Some people like to record their lines and/or those of other characters and play them back again and again. The problems with that process are that, as with cue cards, you might rely on the cheat sheet...in this case, the spoken word, as opposed to your memory, which might make it easier to get thrown off.  And there’s no one to prompt you if you get stuck. In rehearsal, actors get used to calling, “line,” while staying in character. They’re prompted with a few words, and rehearsal continues smoothly.

In my experience, the best way to make lines stick is two-pronged repetition. Part A is looking at the script, using a piece of paper to cover most of the section you’re working on. You learn one line, then repeat it and add on another and then another. But it can be hard to stay focused when huge chunks of script await.  Part B is running that scene with another person. And not just any person. Someone who, for example, knows how and when to prompt without frustrating the actor by interrupting his flow. Someone who can keep track of variations from the actual dialogue and help the actor make corrections. Someone with a lot of patience to listen to the same scenes again and again and again. Because even after lines have been memorized, they need to be repeated as often as possible. Even after the show starts.

I learned that lesson years ago while working as house manager for Chicago Shakespeare Theater during a production of Cymbeline. It surprised me that the actors, who’d already had successful performances, would walk around mouthing their lines before going on stage for each scene….night after night.

So my friend and I have been meeting almost every day, for hours at a time.  Repeating, running scenes, catching script deviations to make sure jokes and poignant moments aren't diluted, and to make sure he gets cues correct for fellow actors. 

Though time consuming, it's a lot of fun to see his progress.  As it happens, I too am learning the play, and can already run some scenes or offer corrections without looking at my copy of the script.    

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Over your head vs. taking on a challenge

Feelancers can get inquiries about new projects at any time from prospective or returning clients.  Sometimes projects are in our wheelhouses, other times they may push the envelope of things we've done or require skills we're not sure we have. 

In some situations, we may refer the assignment to a colleague.  Especially if the project necessitates significant expenditure, say for software or hardware.  Assuming the project goes well, that's good networking.  The client is happy, the colleague is happy, we're happy.  We didn't accept that gig, but we've become a resource for the client.  In others, we may choose to take on a challenge, perhaps because we want to expand our repertoire.  On the other hand, we want to be sure the new task is of the same quality our client has come to expect.  We may team with a colleague, if the client is willing.

Doing something new can be exciting and/or stressful.  There's a risk of failure.  A learning curve.  Being proactive and staying up to date on trends in our fields and thinking once a month, "What other services can I offer?" can help us expand our product line with greater comfort.  We may ask colleagues for advice and/or assistance.

There may be times we simply have to say no, because we don't want to or don't choose to learn how to do an assignment.  We may chicken out so we can remain in our comfort zone.  But if we never push ourselves, how can we grow, both professionally and personally? 

21 times for a freelancer to say no
Working with other freelancers  
What's your freelance specialty?    

Thursday, August 16, 2012

8 Days a Week

The Gainfully Unemployed feelancer may find it easier to stay motivated and on task when under deadline.  A client is expecting your work.  Not only will you damage your professional reputation if you don’t turn it in on time, you may get less or no money.

But when in between projects, we’re on our own.  There’s no boss, manager or even fellow employee to tell us what to do or make sure we move forward.  Will we choose to spend our time self-marketing--contacting current, former or potential clients, updating our websites, taking a course to enhance our skills, or will we convince ourselves we deserve a reward--playing hooky via sleeping in, a spa day, shopping spree, vegging in front of the TV, or cruising the Internet for political commentary and/or pictures to post on Facebook?

These days, many people work more than 40 hours a week--maybe because there’s just that much work or they want to show their employers how devoted they are.  Actors often have to work every day...learning lines for upcoming gigs and performances, or working a day job and taking a class or doing a play, concert or comedy show at night.  So when do we get our weekends?  If we take the traditional two days off for downtime, socializing and/or errands or chores, when will we get the rest of our work done?  There are only seven days a week.

Many of us are tied to our smartphones.  If I choose to work, say, 8 to 4 on a given day, but an agent or client emails after 4 or 5, I still need to respond promptly if I want to get that audition, accept a job or move a project forward.

I’m not the only one wondering about how many hours to work:

Inc.com-Why working more than 40 hours a week is useless
Libertymutual.com-Is the 40 hour work week back?  

Gobankingrates.com-History of the 40 hour work week

Thursday, August 09, 2012

Do it yourself?

These days, we often have the choice of doing many things ourselves that we used to have to pay for...from pumping our own gas to printing our own business cards and documents.  We may save time and money...or not.  We may enjoy the control over our products and time, or be frustrated by the process.  (Does anyone like self-checkout at the grocery?  It's not faster--there's often a line, and scanning your own items is tedious, especially when you have to type in produce codes, etc.  And when the machine acts up, you have to wait for an employee to help...)

When I was in graduate school, my typewriter (remember those?) had a correct key, but if I wanted a copy (there was no saving documents back then, not even on a disk), I'd use carbon paper to save the trip to and expense of a photocopy place (no printers, either).  You had to have your acting and business resumes typset and printed, so any change was a cumbersome and expensive process.     

As Internet use blossomed, more individuals had websites.  Even in 2006, designing your own site required knowledge of complicated code.  A few do it yourself options existed, but IMO the result looked too much like a template instead of professional graphics.  I couldn't figure out how to design a quality product on my own.  So after extensive research, I hired a designer for my author site (xuni.com).  Now there's WordPress and Weebly, among others. 

I recently asked my ruthtalks.com designer (biondo studio) to transfer that site to WordPress so I could update it...adding audio, video, links and new clients.  The goal was to save money.  Her rates are reasonable, but I want to make changes more frequently, which could add up.

But what is my time worth?  Do I want to learn all of these new products, programs and skills so I can adminster my business, or is the effort better spent on craft and marketing?  I tried to figure out WordPress, but didn't find it intuitive.  Adding additional text is one thing, but adding audio and video and/or adjusting the layout is quite another. Now a friend is helping me figure it out and offered to do my updates.  I've helped another friend print assorted documents because her printer died, and she hasn't made time to research and purchase another.          

So sometimes do it yourself becomes do it for your friends.                  

Thursday, August 02, 2012

Do what you say you will

If you say you’re going to do something, do it.  When you said you would. 

Meeting deadlines and following through are key aspects of feelancing.  You won’t keep a client for long if you tell him a project will be finished by a certain date and time, but don’t deliver.  Talent agents won't continue to submit actors who are late to auditions/jobs or unprepared.  On occasion, you might have a legitimate reason for being late.  But in general, it’s essential to keep your word.

Others, who have their own deadlines, are depending on you.

I usually try to build in extra time on my end.  (In Chicago, people often blame traffic or difficulty finding parking for not showing up on time.   I say leave earlier.)  If it’s a VO job, I can’t know if there’ll be construction in my neighborhood or a thunderstorm.  Or if I’ll have an audition to prepare for/go to/submit or another job(s) due around the same time.  I don’t want the pressure of having to work into the wee hours, or decide to reschedule social events because I didn’t effectively allocate my resources.     

Many times, you don’t have control over all parts of a project, and have to wait until others deliver before you can.   Often my contact can’t send me the script until others write and/or approve it.        

Challenges arise when expectations aren’t met.  For example, a client says, “I have an X minute (or number of words) VO for you that I need by Y.  You’ll have the script by Z.” 

I plan accordingly.  But the script might arrive later than I was told.  Or it’s longer than expected, which means it’ll take me longer to do.  Yet in both cases, only rarely is my delivery time extended.  Because my client has to pass the files on to someone higher up the food chain or to his client, who my client doesn't want to risk losing by missing his deadline....

The goal is to be reliable, someone clients can count on.  I'm glad for the work and the opportunity to build relationships.  If someone doesn't do what he says he will, even if it's because someone else didn't do what he said he would, does that void my part of the agreement?  Do I push myself, make my life more difficult in the short term to help out my client?  When do you cross the line of being dependable to being a pushover?  If I say I can't deliver this much product in this small amount of time, will someone else?  

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Take a deep breath and stretch

Some days feelancing, like many careers, is more stressful than others, mentally and physically.  I’m much better now than when I started at letting little inconveniences go, and doing so quickly.  Don’t sweat the small stuff, as they say.  Still, challenges exist. 

VO talents might have to postpone recording because of thunderstorms or construction, which can get frustrating and increase time pressure. because I can’t know when it’ll be quiet again. Technology may not cooperate.

When I'm fortunate to get a lot of projects at once (I've had five VO jobs this week, only one at a recording studio), cramming in extra hours hunched over a computer can take its toll.  I have an ergonomic setup--under the desk keyboard, adjustable desk chair sized for a short person, etc.  Some may have back or neck pain, and so sit on balls, kneel on stools or even get a standing desk.  I’m susceptible to forearm pain similar to carpal tunnel. 

To deal with job stresses and frustrations,  I:
--focus on gratitude and all of the great things about being a feelancer 
--make sure I take frequent, short breaks to rest my eyes 
--do arm and hand and body stretches
--switch between my laptop and my PC
--take deep breaths in through the nose and let them out slowly through the mouth
--look forward to and enjoy relaxing get-togethers with friends.