My first audition (weirdly) was at a cinema in Bradford back in 2000. The BBC created a talent search called Talent Boost and were looking for new actors. It was the original version of The X Factor. I saw a tiny flyer in the post office. I can still remember it…
I was invited by Iyare Igiehon of Screening Our Unseen Lives (SOUL) to work with a group of young filmmakers at the BFI for their monthly Raw Shorts Workshops at the Future Film Club. The workshops have a different theme every month and are designed to give young people practical advice on how to create their own content. Our theme was Love. Our team was myself, Director and Filmmaker Kwame Lestrade, the brilliant actor Michael Geary and of course the young filmmakers.
We opened with a Q&A about of careers and experiences, hoping we could impart some useful knowledge to the next generation. As the theme was love we chose a short scene from Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream between Helena and Demetrius (Act 2 Scene 1). To help with time constraints and to help the filmmakers get into the scene quickly we modernised and edited the text. Choosing to set the piece in a Tube carriage, the young people became supporting artists, Camera Operators, Sound Operators, Lighting etc.
We went through the whole process of film production there on the stage in front of the audience so they could see exactly what it all entails. The rushes were then edited down and the short screened. It was important for the young filmmakers to see that with a royalty FREE text and minimal equipment, amazing things can be created, they just have to get out there and do!
After just a couple of hours, here’s what we came up with
Imported from old blog at tanyavital.blogspot
One thing that didn’t sit well with me at all from the starts was the abundance of poverty and the colossal difference between the have’s and the have not’s. We would go from a Millionaire’s gated community, like you see on The Real Housewives of Orange County and at the other side of the gate would be 5 people living out of shopping trolleys, like you see on all the old 80’s movies (they tend not to show that so much now).
The worst thing about the homelessness for me was that in the UK, there really are few reasons to be homeless unless you are mentally ill or an addict or chose to be homeless. Don’t get me wrong, as like most cities there were plenty of drug addicts but, I can hand on heart say that not everyone I saw was an addict or mentally ill (I’m from Bradford – I can sense these things). Some were just normal people, who you could tell had once lead good lives, but something just went wrong. I’m not being dramatic when I say you could literally see the despair in their eyes.
I am aware that there is a culture of free spirits and some people chose to be travellers and refuse to conform to living in concrete boxes. Travelling and being ‘free’ is much easier in warmer climates and so many travellers flock to those places – but I ain’t dumb and I could tell the difference between a traveller and a lost soul and lost souls – there are plenty.
The Walk of Fame on Hollywood Boulevard is just grubby, it’s just like Oxford Street in London. There were people literally lined up on Hollywood boulevard – in fact everywhere with signs asking for money. If you’re like me – I give if I can regardless of where it’s going. A good friend from Emmerdale once said to me about beggars “it’s just someone trying to get by” and it’s true, but you just cant give out there because by the time you got to the end of the road you’d be broke.
Some of the signs were funny and engaging ‘need weed’, ‘need beer and weed’ and some people strangely beg just for the ‘craic’ because they know tourists and people with money go to L.A, but you could see the hopelessness on those who weren’t doing it for fun. One guy was allowing people to kick him up the ass for $1. Showman or not, that’s pretty desperate. It cannot help but to cheapen the stars on the floor and make them seem utterly ridiculous. I’m also told that a Hollywood Walk of Fame star costs $30,000 a year to maintain on Hollywood Boulevard – Meanwhile homeless Joe has no idea of the cost of his ‘home’.Some of the signs were funny and engaging ‘need weed’, ‘need beer and weed’ and some people strangely beg just for the ‘craic’ because they know tourists and people with money go to L.A, but you could see the hopelessness on those who weren’t doing it for fun. One guy was allowing people to kick him up the ass for $1. Showman or not, that’s pretty desperate. It cannot help but to cheapen the stars on the floor and make them seem utterly ridiculous. I’m also told that a Hollywood Walk of Fame star costs $30,000 a year to maintain on Hollywood Boulevard – Meanwhile homeless Joe has no idea of the cost of his ‘home’.
There is a strip on the Boulevard outside Man’s Chinese Theatre where the street is full of Willy Wonka, Marilyn Monroe, Spiderman, Catwoman, Batman and Michael Jackson lookalikes. Anybody you could name – there lookalike is there. It’s hard to tell who’s a prostitute and who’s an official lookalike – if there is such a thing. How they make their money nobody knows. We assumed that they charge tourists to take pictures with them, but damn! If you saw them you would shudder.
The costumes are so worn out, they look as if they have been lived in for 10 years straight. It’s just budget! If there is more than one M.J on the strip, they have cat fights as to who stays on which star (part of pavement) and some of them have clearly had lots of surgery to look like their respective likenesses. One of the M.J’s looked like they had dug up poor Michael’s body and propped him up on the Boulevard with his creepy child catcher grin – he was scary!
The transport system in L.A leaves a lot to be desired. It’s very much like it is in the north of England. You can get places but not quick or easily. There is somewhat of a subway system but to nowhere near the extent of the London Tube system and the buses are not as frequent – but it is cheap! $1.50 on a bus to anywhere. You cannot grasp the enormity of the place until you get there. It is just HUGE. One end of a road to the other could be 4 miles or more long. Venice Beach is over 40 minutes drive away from Hollywood, (over an hour by bus). I don’t know about you but I associates ‘holiday’ with beach at doorstep – NO! It’s far. Before you go to America everyone tells you it is spaced out and vast but until you get there – you have no idea. That is why NOBODY walks and everybody drives – apart from the crazies who take the bus, which leads me to my next point.
‘Don’t Be a Menace to South Central While Drinking Your Juice in the Hood’
We (the group I was with) were desperate to get away from the mental Hollywood and the nutty Boulevard so we all decided that we would have a night out and go for food in Chinatown. We only had a very rough idea of how to get to the Chinatown area, no idea of where we would go when we got there but how difficult could it be? We have a few Chinatown’s in the UK so we got this! Right? WRONG!! Never get a bunch of Actors to do ANYTHING, what’s that saying ‘how many Actors does it take to change a light bulb?’ Ridiculous!
We managed to get the Metro (Tube) to Chinatown – at around 9/10pm. This would be OK in the UK but in L.A Chinatown apparently shuts down at around 6pm. So we are wandering round this deserted town and I mean ‘28 Days Later’ deserted! No buses are going by, no cabs, no cars, no people, nothing. Its dark and looking like hell. After walking around aimlessly for about an hour looking for a restaurant to eat, we finally ended up going back to the very first restaurant we passed as we got off the Metro.
Apart from the restaurant having a security guard on the door (what are they securing its ‘28 Days Later’ for crying out loud), the food almost inducing an anaphylactic shock on my friend, dining next to some Triad looking She-Boss (you know the one from ‘Kung-Fu Hustle) playing poker with her henchmen and being exposed to ladies room that would have been well placed in ‘Saw’ – the restaurant experience was kinda cool. We revelled in the novelty of being in a ‘real’ Chinatown – that was in reality just like being in the Flying Dragon down Little Horton Lane in Bradford. We revelled so much we forgot that we turned up late, so by the time we left it was really GOD DAMN LATE!
We swiftly walked back to the Metro stop hoping to catch the last train back – no chance! And for the record, DO NOT think you will get any help from the lovely people on the Metro intercom, she practically told us to F’ off. If you imagine the most stereotypical, rude woman from Compton you could ever see on any of the Friday movies – that’s how she spoke to us. So there we are stranded in ’28 Days Later’, a bunch of English tourists looking like dinner. We set off down the main road to find anything that could save us from certain death and finally it started to dawn on us that we had been really bloody stupid not to plan this properly and yes – we were probably gonna die. I was already choosing who from the group I would offer up as first bait.
Eventually a bus came and we didn’t care where it was going, we got on it and just hoped for the best. The bus driver told us we could get off Downtown and get another bus to Hollywood from there. Great! NO – not so flipping great. We get to Downtown and then we realise we were actually safer up at ‘28 Days Later’ where there were no living people. It was about 1am and we were knee deep in treacherous shish looking for a bleeding bus stop – still looking like prime rib. Hustlers on every corner asking if we wanted this and that, I’m not going to lie I was scared.
Long story – stay with me it gets worse.
We eventually got on the correct bus that would take us back to Hollywood and we all sat in relief. Finally the ordeal was over – we were safe and our bus in shining armour was taking us home. Then everything changed in the blink of an eye. The bus stops and on gets, what I can only describe as some crackhead looking ‘Loc Dog’ from ‘Don’t be a Menace’. It was like slow motion. He gets on, turns his head, locks his eyes onto me like a pray mantis and he makes his decent down the bus. SH*T! He starts to sit down next to me (I sat on my own seat coz I’m ‘ard – not so ‘ard now though). As he tries to sit I’m trying to literally climb over him to get out of what’s about to come. He’s like (in American Friday accent) “Awww don’t be like dat – don’t be like that”. I reply (in my broadest Northern) “well I don’t know ya and ya making me feel uncomfortable!” so he lets me out to sit with my friends and follows suit.
He then proceeds to try his luck “Awww you baad though, can I get yow number”, I’m like “I ‘ant got a phone”. The boys in our group cleverly come to our aid and begin to tell Crazy that all us girls are all taken and there is no chance of getting our numbers, thinking this would see him off, but it only intrigues Crazy more. Now we can smell the alcohol (and whatever else) on him and he is playing ‘nice’ so far but every so often he would stop smiling and give us all a look so you could just tell he was one of those off key characters. You piss him off and he will stab you up – here on this bus in a breath with the blades he probably carries in his cheeks (which cheeks – u decide!)
He proceeds to try his luck with the other girls, telling us how he could have us – ‘if that was his intention’. He’s offering to sell us alcohol, he’s undressing us with his eyes, leering, he’s sizing up the lads. I’m thinking ‘why Lord, why wasn’t Chinatown enough for you?’ Crazy then shouts aggressively to someone who is getting off of the bus. We look over and it’s a guy. Crazy then orders the guy to come and sit with us immediately – the guy meekly does so. Crazy then explains that this is his ‘friend’ and how his friend is gay but he’s not. Fine, OK – we don’t care. He’s telling us all the details of said friends sexual life and said friend is all apologetic because Crazy is under the influence. Crazy is so far gone, he’s asking us one thing and when we reply he’s hearing another. Somehow this dude heard that I was from Ohio (where he was from obviously *rolls eyes*) and how I look so much like his daughter “but you bad though.” CRINGE! Crazy begins to tell us about all these young girls he has – we now realise yep! This dude is a crazy, psycho, grooming pimp and his ‘friend’ is probably part of the ‘business’.
At this point we are just dying to see anything familiar so we can just get off of the bus and away from this scary weirdo. Finally we see the sign for the ‘W’, a building on Hollywood Boulevard and I swear to God it was like seeing the golden arches of McDonald’s for the first time as a child – Saviour! We begin to get off and Crazy knows his time is up so he stands and demands the phone number – I flee, it’s a done deal – so Crazy then does what any other confused, crazy groomer would do and he turns and begins to ask the fellas in our group for THEIR number! I kid you not. We got off keep walking and NEVER look back.
Moral of the story:
We live on media hype and speculation. A lot of people were astonished that we used public transport in L.A because it’s ‘dangerous’.
Let me explain it like this: The amount of people who told my Actor friend (from Bow East London) NOT to go to Chapeltown in Leeds when he came to do a play up there (because it’s known as a ‘bad’ area), was just ridiculous. Chapeltown is no worse than Wembley High Street, but its reputation from the press precedes it. We decided to try the local transport because we all had the intention of POSSIBLY moving out there and we wanted to experience it all. Not only that, we didn’t yet have a hire car and we were going mental in Hollywood.
Public transport in L.A is not terrible and there is nothing wrong with venturing out, but common sense must prevail, just be careful and keep your wits about you. In the daytime its absolutely fine, at night yes it can be suspect and probably dangerous (as we found out), but so can any night bus in Central London. If you’re venturing out in L.A you really should try to get a car/cab or at least a cab number, plan the journey there and back before you set out and make sure you do it all at a reasonable hour of the day. Going in a group is always a safer option too.
Personally I loved the food out in America. Everything I chose and ate was of a high standard and contrary to popular belief, it doesn’t all come on gigantic plates. (Not in L.A anyway because they’re quite health conscious). There is every kind of food you could imagine because the state is so rich of culture and ethnicities which definitely influences the food. The only thing that grated on me was there is a tipping system out there that is more-or-less compulsory. Whatever you see on the price – you must add 10% TAX onto that for the final bill. THEN as waiters/waitresses work all work on minimum wage and make their living from tips – you HAVE to add an 18% tip onto the final bill. So its basically like a 30% addition at the end to the price you first saw – sheer annoyance!
The outskirts of Hollywood from West Hollywood all the way up to Santa Monica, Malibu and Santa Barbara are just lovely. As is the case anywhere, the suburbs or more affluent areas are beautiful and the vibe is just so nice and chilled out there. Fewer weirdos, more normal folk. If you decide to live out there, west of Hollywood is probably the safest bet, but ask the locals because some of our boys were even warned off from walking in certain ‘safer’ areas at night (it’s not the gang bangers you need to worry about – its the creepy serial killers). Ladies – just don’t walk anywhere in Hollywood alone at night and be careful in the day.
There are some really fantastic bars and a number of clubs – some really posh and some cheap, there is literally something for everyone. The only problem for party animal’s is that everything closes at 2am so you need to get your party on fairly early. I’m not sure if this is true for the rest of L.A but in Hollywood – 2am – party done. In a way it seems sensible as I saw no drunken louts (unlike those we have in SOME places *cough *cough), but it is very indicative of America and how many rules there are about literally everything.
On the whole everybody in America was lovely. Even Crazy Pimp was fairly well mannered. There’s none of that “have a nice day y’all” rubbish that we all mock. Most people are just genuinely nice and you really notice the difference when you come back to miserable England. It took me all of 2 weeks to get back to grumpy, moaning Twitter mode.
If you are thinking about going out to Hollywood, the best advice I can give is have a thick skin. Some of my group were less affected than I was about the bad things we saw, so if you’re a soft touch like me – you have to become slightly numb or cold to it. Its not necessarily losing your humanity – as I first thought it was – its more about accepting it for what it is and knowing that you don’t have the power to change it all. Find the areas where you feel most comfortable and donate/help local charities to heal the heart.
- There’s lots to do out there if you have a vehicle and money
- The weather is NOT always warm – depending on the seasons, they get rain and it can be very cold, particularly at night time so wrap up.
- Do not park facing the wrong way, against the traffic.
- Do not jay walk.
- Do not drink in the street.
- If you hire a car make sure you ask the hire company if you need to display anything for vehicle registration.
- Do not forget these people can buy guns at ASDA (Walmart) so just be on your toes at all times!
- If you are interested in going to Hollywood please visit: http://www.industryhollywood.com/
Here is the first part of the long awaited tales of my trials and tribulations in La La Land. It has taken this long for me to process all of the weird and wonderful things that happened to us over 2 weeks. I’ve split the post into 2 parts because it’s just too long. The first part is mostly focused on the Acting Industry and the second part will focus on how I felt about L.A and Hollywood as a place to be and live. I hope the advice is helpful and I hope it was worth the wait. Happy reading.
As you may know from reading What we think we know ‘Pre- Pilot Season’ Trip I was well read on L.A and Hollywood in particular, as far as the Acting Industry goes. I was prepared for the whole Pilot Season illusion and kind of had some foundation on which to base my expectations before I arrived. I’d spent my whole life watching American programmes based in Los Angeles, I knew what I was getting into – so step aside and let the pro handle this right!? WRONG!!!
The first thing that struck me about Hollywood is that I couldn’t quite get my head around where I was. I kept thinking I must be in Tenerife or something because initially it didn’t have the feel of what I imagined it to have. I’m fairly well travelled, but this trip was quite un-nerving for my puny little brain because at first glance the culture is just like ours. They speak, read and write English. We see so much American TV that their accent isn’t at all alien. They eat similar food, wear similar clothes, and have similar interests in sport, fashion, entertainment. Apart from the fact they drive on the wrong side of the road and can do a right on a red light (as long as nobody’s crossing), they seem to be just like us, yet that couldn’t be further from the truth.
There are no words really for what I am trying to describe, it’s definitely a case of just getting out there and feeling what I’m trying to explain. It’s an energy, an aura, a mist. Hollywood in particular is a strange place, which I later found out was comically dubbed ‘HollyWIERD’. I affectionately like to call it ‘Blackpool on crack’. Painted a visual for you? Good, let’s move on.
I decided to go to Hollywood to see what all the fuss was about. So many of us Brits, particularly those of ethnic heritage have been successful over there in Film and Television and I wanted to see if I could do the same in the future. It’s no secret that there just isn’t the work in this country – for anyone! Especially not for teeny, tiny, Northern, working class, brown chicks. So the way I saw it was go over, dip my toe in the pool of possibility and see if I could a) get work and b) live there. A US 0-1 Visa is a lot of money! No point getting one if you’re going to hate the place right?
The first thing I had to do was figure out what my USP (unique selling point) was, my ‘type’ that I speak of so frequently. If you remember what I spoke about in What we think we know ‘Pre- Pilot Season’ Trip the industry over there is much more dynamic than it is here, aggressive even! There it is much more of a business machine and our industry, as my friend puts it, is “an expensive hobby”. In America (and here, but we don’t like to face the truth) you are literally a product, a commodity to be sold and marketed. You are the CEO of your own company and that company is YOU! (My Twitter followers know how much I hate that CEO stuff but it’s true).
So if you are your own product, you must decide how you want to be marketed. What is your playing type? Are you drama, comedy or both? If both how will you differentiate between the two for auditions and headshots? Can you show both? Are you the best friend? The bitch? Are you sporty or a teacher? What is your playing age – and be HONEST! If you don’t know ask friends. Try hair up and down (if you have long hair). Write all of the options down and use them as references. Be aware that whatever you look like on the day of a meeting or in that headshot is how you will be judged.
DO NOT expect Casting or Directors to have vivid imaginations, if you look like a 40 year old Policeman, don’t expect them to be able to see the 20 year old Skateboarder in you, unless you can show it. Remember my story in Headshots them being dumbfounded that my hair could be straight and curly. Research which Actors you think are like you. What have they been in? Whose career would you like to have and what have they been doing? Have they won awards? Find out why and how does your ‘type’ sit next to theirs?
In Hollywood, Industry professionals will cut you down like a raggedy branch if you are not prepared and ready. They want you to be at your most presentable at all times of business. It matters what you look like. Not that it doesn’t matter here, but it is so much more about the whole package over there and that’s not to say that you have to be traditionally beautiful either. If you are an ugly, feral looking giant – be the best, ugly, feral looking giant you can be when going for meetings and auditions.They do not want to hear nor have time for your excuses. No ‘coulda, woulda, shoulda’. They don’t care! And by the time you’ve opened your mouth negatively to argue their critique, they already hate you. You need a thick skin because they will be brutally honest with their opinion of how you look and sound etc. If they hate your shoes, they will tell you they hate your shoes and why. You must be open to critique, take on board what you need and politely discard the rest. I had a middle aged Jewish Californian try to tell me how to do my less than middle aged, part Caribbean hair. She wasn’t being rude and although I could have taken offence, I had to see what her intention was by giving me her ‘advice’ and her intention was to get the best out of myself.
Another thing they hate over there is neutral styling. Neutral styling in a headshot or in person is the death of an Actor anywhere – unless for theatre. Good Agents in either the UK or US will get their clients to have a few headshots that can convey different characters/looks. And by characters I don’t mean dress up as Betelgeuse in one and Farmer Giles in another. I mean a hint, a look of a different role. It could be such a slight change but change enough to convey a dramatic Actor or a comedy Actor etc. In America this is true tenfold. Their headshots are not only ALL colour but they have an edge to them that almost makes them look like a screen shot from an actual TV programme (see Michael Roud as an example to see what I mean). This again makes is easier for Casting, Directors, Producers to imagine you on screen in a programme.
If you’re a good Actor, and I mean ‘good’ in the sense that you care about your skill, you will take classes as regularly as you can, (come on – I know it’s expensive and we have to work and it’s a game of chances as to whether the teacher is actually any good or not but), be it a few times a year or once a week it all counts. In this country we tend to think that if you have trained, that’s it you are perfect and never need to attend another class ever again. Or even worse – that we were born with a God given talent and never have to take a class in our life – WRONG! Imagine going to a hairdresser that did their training in 1976 and never learnt any new skills since. Or worse, a hairdresser that randomly did a half decent shape-up on their dad once. Do you think they are going to produce the next haute couture style for your head? Don’t be ridiculous, you’re going to get the driest style, with the deadest layers 1976 could ever produce. It’s the same for acting. The Americans do not have this ridiculous and lazy notion. Even some of the biggest names take regular classes between jobs to keep their skills sharp and to continuously improve as an Actor. Have you ever heard the story of when somebody asked Tiger Woods what he did on his day off and he replied “I practice”. You don’t become the best overnight. God given talent only gets you so far.
Hollywood, being a hub of Film and Television has a multitude of places to train, unlike us who have much less choice in quality training. Besides Drama Schools, we only have the odd class here and there scattered around the country. Typically anywhere that has a lot of anything, you must sift through the rubbish to find the good, but they have SO MANY amazing classes. They have Drama Schools too, but for those who need to fit classes in between work and not scrimp on standard – they are in abundance! From Lesley Kahn, Amy Lindon, Lee Strasberg Institute, Howard Fine and many others (too many to mention), there is just so much greatness to chose from, all offering expert and tip top training on every aspect of Acting you could imagine. They all have their tried and tested techniques that have and are still getting Actors booked and working, which is what it’s all about right? Who cares how good you are if you cannot be seen.
Not only is taking a class about being sharpening tools, it’s also about being seen and making connections within the industry. The whole industry in L.A works on word of mouth, so find out where other people are going. See what works for you and make friends, connections, contacts.
One main difference I discovered when I was there was the comedy. It’s no secret that our comedy is completely different to American comedy. Ours is more sarcastic and dry. UK Northern comedy is even completely different to UK Southern comedy, but American comedy is like neither. I found it cheesy, cringworthy, in your face and gaudy. I can’t lie I struggled with it and was not open to it at all. I didn’t want to feel like I was forcing it and being over the top – which made me fail at it completely. There is only one way to do most American comedy and to be over the top. However the fundamentals apply to all comedy be it US or UK. Apart from the technical beats, it’s all about high energy, high stakes and keeping your character likable. This is the same for all of the Acting classes and techniques in L.A. A lot of what is taught could be applied to work here in the UK. You just have to find what works for you and get your own way of working.
When it comes to meetings, be it with Casting, Agents, Managers etc, all of the above marketing information applies. They are always on the lookout for the next big thing because the next big thing makes money, so they are always interested in meeting new people and talent. Make sure that your first impressions count.
- Be dressed appropriately for your monologue
- No excuses for why you aren’t at your best.
- NEVER say sorry – FOR ANYTHING.
- If you mess up, just ask to start again (NEVER SAY SORRY – THEY DON’T KNOW YOU F’D IT).
- Never tell them you’re bad at something, just say you’ve never done it before – they are not British and humbleness is not appreciated out there.
- Never sit to deliver your monologue, it drains the life from an Actor.
- Don’t wear perfume or cologne – they hate it and of course many people have “allergies”.
- See a casting like a blind date. Nobody wants to meet someone who’s needy and hassle. They don’t like baggage so be on your ‘A’ game for meetings. Be that person they want to see again.
- You must always follow up with them, they will not chase you. Don’t get it into your insignificant little head that they will see the next Heath Ledger in you and chase you down to the ends of the earth, get you a Visa and put you in lead on the next big budget movie. Do you know how many Actors there are in L.A?! And on the whole they’re trained better than us by great teachers, they have the best Agents and Managers and the best Fitness Instructors. We are nothing –YET! You must continue follow up with them and keep them informed of any new information regarding your Visa and move etc.
- If you can speak with an American Accent use it from the minute you walk in the room. Save your English accent until you need it. We’ve all heard the stories of Idris Elba and Hugh Laurie fooling people with their American Accents until way after signing of dotted lines. Trick – don’t lie. They want to be fooled, they want to be brought into the character’s world. They don’t want to know that you are Jennie from Birmingham England if you’re auditioning for Mary Ann in South Carolina. They don’t want to know you’re faking at first, so they then are caught by the accent and constantly looking for fault in it. They want to concentrate on the acting.
- Have a few monologue pieces ready that can show off different accents and characters.
- According to one teacher, when it comes to auditions you should save the challenges for the shower or an acting class and do what you can do best today.
- Internet series are becoming hugely popular and nobody in the industry knows where it is going to go next. Get your work on the net! You never know who may see it. Look at music sensations such as Lana Del Ray and Jessie J, both hard workers but both got their ‘big break’ because they had huge followings on the Internet.
- For Writers – I have it on good authority that submitting a script will not work. There are just too many scriptwriters out there who all have far better contacts than you and you just will not get seen without them. The advice given was to make it yourself here in the UK. Write about what you know and what’s near your neighbourhood.
- You have to find a way for people to WANT to work with you – get on their radar! And you do this by doing your own work. Be it playwriting, web series etc.
- “If they can’t SEE you act, they don’t think you CAN” – sort out your showreel. Have an American one as well for L.A, they want to see your accent.
- Think outside of the box.
- Career plan because some parts may actually damage your career
- In America it is a ShowBUSINESS
- A good way to be seen is to attend classes (obviously) but also Casting Workshops, as many Assistants and Casting Associates attend. Now I know this sounds like the lame ones we have in the UK that are more about making money than actually finding talent, but we must remember that they actually have the work to offer out there – unlike here.
- Network at Film Festivals such as Raindance, Chicago Film Festival etc. Networking is key over there. Everybody in Hollywood is there because they are in the industry somehow. Waiters, bartenders, valet, they are mostly Actors, Writers or Directors so have your business cards at the ready.
- Be more aggressive in the US than you are in the UK. It’s a ‘take no prisoners’ kind of lifestyle. You have to show off your accomplishments. The challenge is – how do you get ingrained in their mind? (Within reason – no streaking!).
- You have to operate your business with the same vigour they said, as the street pastry guy. As we don’t have those, I’d say our challenge is to operate our business with the same vigour as those ‘cash for gold’ guys, or those trying to sling mixtapes on Oxford Street.
- Find a Manager whose clients are currently working and make sure that they and your Agent are working well, in tandem together. A tight ship will give you good stead. This can be a case of trial and error but the more your team works well together, the better chance you have at success.
- Know the legalities of your contracts with Managers and Agents before you sign. Get an entertainment lawyer and have them read over contracts. Any Agent/Manager worth their salt will not mind.
- Samuel French bookstore (equivalent to our Waterstone’s I reckon) sells books that list all of the registered Agents, Managers and Casting Directors, a little like our Contacts but bigger and in more volumes (Hollywood Creative Directory).
- You need a pit-bull Manager or Agent working to get your name out there.
- But remember that unlike Agents, Managers are not regulated in the state of California so any Tom, Dick or Harry can be a Manager and take your commission. Do your research!!
- You need your papers! VISA or GREEN CARD to work! Nobody will touch you without one. Some of the big networks won’t even employ an Actor without a Green Card – forget Visa.
- If you move over there, you need the mentality and drive of an American Actor, not a British Actor. No British humbleness and modesty. It’s a go hard or go home set-up.
- Beware the porn recruiters! You think this is a joke? Again I have it on good authority that on average 40% of Actors who go to Hollywood for work eventually become porn stars. Fine if that’s your thing but if not – be aware. The recruiters will look like other Actors at your auditions and know exactly who and how to target. They are known to ask things like ‘do you want to make $2000 this weekend?’ Which leads me to my next point:
- Do not go over there broke. Apparently ‘normal’ jobs are difficult to find so you must go there with enough money for your accommodation, car, living expenses for as long as it takes to find paid work. The sum suggested was different every time but around £10,000-£20,000 for a year. POUNDS not dollars.
- Follow your instincts regarding meetings. If a 10pm meeting at somebody’s house seems suspect – it probably is. We were told “don’t end up dead in the desert”. There are a lot of sleazy bottom feeders that work in Hollywood. Be careful not to get sucked in.
- Someone said to us that Hollywood isn’t the place to go to find yourself artistically. You only go there for the money – not the art or creativity, don’t ever get it twisted. Then you go home to the UK and work on your creative and meaningful projects.
- If you know a part is made for you, do whatever it takes to get it, but do it professionally and mathematically, DO NOT overstep boundaries.
- Talent can almost be seen as secondary and in the US it is becoming more of a business that is based on looks. If it doesn’t sit well with you that the industry there can be based on looks – I’d say you’re in the wrong industry. Be real – Hollywood is a SCREEN ACTING INDUSTRY. If that’s not for you, stay here in the UK and do theatre, there’s no shame in that at all.
- Make Vision boards or set and plan realistic goals (3 year, 5 year, and 10 year).
- Some of the big Agencies and Management companies poach clients from the smaller companies. Make sure you know what and who you are dealing with because some only love you when you’re hot.
- Make friends but be aware of the people around you and their intentions. I was told by someone who’d spent a full week avoiding speaking or getting to know me, (who was now very drunk), to be myself and not feel like I had to put on an act. (You know who you are haha!). What I’m saying is, it seems like it could be very easy to lose sight of who you are, especially when the critique is coming in from all angles. Be sure of yourself and your intentions before you get there and you will weather the storm of sh!t a lot better. It is tough out there!
- Some locals told us about Hollywood: “Everything is fake and trust nobody”. If you can deal with that. Get in, get working, get your money and get out – you’re good!
Imported from old blog at tanyavital.blogspot
I’ve been writing this post over a number of weeks and sat on it for just as long because something in the back of my mind told me I wasn’t ready. I’m glad I did just that because the ideas and opinions I first had when initially starting the piece have evolved dramatically after spending some time with new friends.
I’ve been in my own little pursuit of happiness in the acting world for so long and in the struggle to survive, I sometimes forget why I chose this path and what it was that made me want to put myself through the often soul destroying lifestyle of an Actor. I get so caught up in the day to day that I forget my overall calling. The reason, beyond putting food in my fridge, paying the rent or boosting my ego. That overall driving force.
Unlike some I didn’t want to become an Actor to be famous or well known, I like anonymity. I like to be able to visit the Petrol Station late at night in my pyjamas if need be, or the Supermarket in my scruffs. The thought of everyone knowing who I am petrifies me. When I think about what I actually wanted to achieve as an Actor I always land back on the same thing. It was to tell stories. Stories from my life, from my friends lives, to give a voice to the unheard, to let people know what it was like where I’m from and to create awareness. Awareness of what? Of things I love, things I hate, things I find unjust, things that need changing.
Those of you who know me personally or who follow me on Twitter, know that I’m a political soul. Moaner, big mouth, liberal-conserve, activist, whatever you want to call ‘it’, if ‘it’ needs to be said (& sometimes even if it doesn’t), I’ll probably say it.
Recently there was a tragedy in America that made it to the mainstream media. A young boy named Trayvon Martin was gunned down in a gated community in Florida America whilst visiting his father. He was shot by George Zimmerman, who was part of the Neighbourhood Watch scheme within that community. Zimmerman saw Trayvon in the area, didn’t know him or that he was in the area visiting his father and rang the Police to declare that there was a black male in the neighbourhood acting ‘suspiciously’. Against the direction of the Police, Zimmerman pursued Trayvon and shot him.
Why am I telling you this? What has it got to do with art or acting? We shall see. Put aside the legal and political issues that are surrounding this case at present and let’s look at the basics of the issue.
Zimmerman (sane or not) saw Trayvon, a black hooded male and automatically felt fear and suspicion. He didn’t know Trayvon, they had never met so it was not a personal hate crime. Technically Trayvon could have been any black male in a hood and the same outcome would have probably occurred. Zimmerman saw a hooded black male, who to his mind stood out and was not part of his gated community and this caused enough suspicion and fear in Zimmerman to a) call the Police and b) pursue Trayvon and kill him – just in case. In case of what? Well – in case he was in fact dangerous of course.
So let’s look at that again: Zimmerman saw a hooded black male and this caused suspicion and fear.
What is it in the doctrine that makes black males look suspicious/bad/dangerous?
I don’t know George Zimmerman or his personal experiences with black males. I also do not know the political/social constructs of that particular area in Florida America, but we can hazard a guess that being a ‘gated community’, either it is surrounded by areas of high crime and danger – OR the people who live within the gates are just generally cautious/scared/suspicious of others. Either way, George Zimmerman and many others all across the world, was unnerved by this image of a black male within his ‘safe’ environment.
So I ask – what is it about black males/ black people in general that causes fear or suspicion in others when there has been no prior confrontation. What is it in this image that causes people to react (technically) in an un-rational way? Where does this fear come from?
We shall see.
I’m a realist, I’m so black and white (literally and metaphorically) it hurts. I believe that there is always some truth in a stereotype, some fact to a rumour, so I can understand Zimmerman’s fear. I could NEVER understand his actions that lead to Trayvon’s death – but I can logically get my head around where the fear came from in Zimmerman.
Without giving a lecture on sociology we all know crime exists and is higher in poorer areas than those that are more affluent. I understand this. I only have to read Twitter, any newspaper, watch the news or any other TV programme and listen to the grapevine to hear of some other atrocity that has occurred involving human beings, that is worse today than the stories I heard yesterday. Occasionally if I forget to raise my head out of the virtual world, I begin to think the Sky is falling down. When this happens I usually get a life and go play with my real friends in the real world for a while. It helps.
What relevance does this have?
Apparently quacks (Scientists) have discovered that the brain only reacts or registers bad news http://www.youtube.com. Meaning even though I live in one of the safest countries in the world, the media I digest makes me feel afraid because my brain only reacts to all of the bad things I read or see.
I’ll give an example of a personal experience:
I was on a train in London and a ton of school kids got on. They couldn’t have been any older than 12/13 but there was a large group of them and were obviously travelling home. They were loud, giddy, and boisterous and were talking that hype talk. You know just the crap kids talk about like rival school kids and fights and the rest of that adolescent stuff. Anyway there was me, another lady and two posh, preppy looking males on this one carriage. The energy coming from these kids was so electric that it was translated as aggression by us adults. I can honestly say we (the adults) were all afraid. What were we afraid of? Getting stabbed, mugged, and involved in a rival school fight – the works.
Needless to say the two preppy boys got off at the very next stop – you know that wasn’t their stop, but even I felt to do the same. I had to have a word with myself in my head and say ‘look they’re kids, they’ve just come from school – this is how kids act’. After that I realised I was being an idiot and these kids were not going to harm me – in fact they hardly even knew I was there. I’d gotten myself into a panic because I’d been lead to believe (by my own digestion of media) that all kids are out to kill, rob and rape me.
Using my own personal experience I am trying to show that I can understand why Zimmerman, myself, the two preppy boys and the lady to the left all felt fear, whether it was warranted, rational on not. The fear usually comes from our own digestion of the media and the things we watch and are told, rather than personal experience.
Ava Vidal comedian and organiser of the London march of protest for Trayvon Martin said:
“There is something very wrong in our society, because up until the age of 12 our black boys are seen as cute, and then all of a sudden they get called things like frightening and intimidating. Why is that?”
In ‘Top Sket’ I explain that as an Actor I too have bills to pay and I am not at the level where I have the luxury of being able to pick and choose the parts I play. I can only audition and work on the ones that are available to me. So if there are no ‘positive’ representations it is just tough luck, until some come along I will have to play whatever is left, be it ‘derogatory’ or not.
But that’s my point! It seems that suddenly there are very few positive ethnic shows on right now. When I was growing up we had Fresh Prince of Bel Air, The Real McCoy, Desmond’s, The Kumar’s, Moesha, Sister Sister, Mr Cooper, Cosby Show etc. There seemed to be an abundance, (be it mostly American comedy – which is an issue all of its own) but there was variety. Sadly now it seems that all of the ethnocentric/afro-centric productions involve knife crime, guns and gangs. There is no balance and as a result the black community feels demonised and vilified. This kind of representation with no balance most definitely has an impact on how other communities view both our young people and the black community, which again leads to fear and unfortunately the ‘Zimmerman effect’.
As an artist I cannot be totally naive to the media in which I participate. I have to understand the agenda and my part in it. If a script I work with is meant to convey a message, I must understand that message. I don’t have to agree with it but, as an Actor I must know or try to understand what the Writer is trying to say. AND A GOOD WRITER IS ALWAYS TRYING TO SAY SOMETHING!
In ‘Coming to terms with a HELL of a script’ I told you that there have been times when I have had to say to my Agent ‘look this script is offensive for these reasons and I’m not happy with it’. Then at that stage it is my choice whether my rent is more important than my integrity or not. I am only human but, on the whole, I pride myself on being as good a human being as possible. Yet the bottom line remains – I cannot pretend that my involvement in an offensive or suggestive script is secondary or unimportant. I can’t say to myself ‘Oh it’s a comedy, that terrible joke about disabled people has nothing to do with me’. It has! ALL ART IS POLITICAL and our failure to speak up at necessary times about how we feel speaks VOLUMES.
This isn’t an attack on any of the TV channels or Production companies in this country, rather a general observation. This general stereotyping is not coming from any one particular corner of the media, I’d say it’s pretty much a general evolution of them all and there certainly isn’t any one particular corner leading the way in terms of balanced representation right now either.
I have met very few Writers who write just for the sake of it. This being said we cannot pretend to ourselves that our involvement is not influencing anyone or anything because it is and there are times when silence has the loudest voice and does the most damage.
I know some artists are scared to voice their opinion or concern in case they offend someone and never work in the industry again, but this isn’t about offending anyone, it’s about speaking up when we should, using our privileged position and making it right. How can we, as artists, convey a message from our hearts if we are scared to say what’s right?
This in particular is an opinion I’ve dwelt on over the past few weeks. The idea of ‘selling out’ if you will. I often see/hear comment when a Black British programme comes on and it’s about gang violence – again. One side hates that we are depicted as animals all the time, the other hates that the moaners don’t understand the industry and aren’t prepared to get involved to make a change, be it via writing, producing, casting – whatever.
A very intelligent friend told me categorically that he had made a conscious decision not to play the stereotypical gangster roles as that wasn’t his reality. Although he is black, funnily enough his friends and family aren’t shooting each other. He was aware that even though he didn’t take those roles there would be 500 guys that would, which is again their choice. He also said that as much as he wants to create change – he is not Nelson Mandela, but he does what he can with his own character. So if he is sent a script that is just eggy in the worst way or jarring, he will offer suggestion to the Director or Production as to ways that may convey the same message better and make the piece less obvious or offensive. He clocks the journey of his character and worries about that rather than trying to change the World. This idea I like! This is not ‘selling out’, this is working with what you’ve got.
As a strong independent woman I have a tendency to be headstrong and go in guns blazing without actually giving myself time to think outside of the box. Thinking outside of the box – Directors love that! Don’t just come with problems have solutions or suggestions to do it another way.
I also learnt to TRUST YOUR DIRECTOR! I have read many scripts and thought I was quite savvy but actually I think I take things on face value more than I realised. Just because a script is again eggy and jarring in places, sometimes – just sometimes there is a wonderful Director who has ideas that you never dreamt of. Ideas of how to go against the obvious on the page and actually turn the whole mood around by thinking outside of the box.
What does this have to do with Art/Drama?
All this considered though again I have to make it clear that although, as my friend said we are not Martin Luther King we have somewhat of a responsible role when working in the media and role model, Saint, Samaritan or not, we have to understand the part we play.
I am far from religious but I believe in a higher power and somebody gave me this which I think I should share:
“Creator God, King of glory. From you come recreation and the talent to create;
You give a great responsibility to those who through drama and music reflect life’s struggles, hopes, tears and laughter.
Through your spirit may they have skill and patience in their work, humility in success, strength in adversity and a welcome among your people.
Enrich the lives of those who receive their ministry, so that all that is done may present truth and reflect your glory.
In and through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen”.
(The Actors Church Union prayer)
Take from that what you will. Peace xx