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brits in LA

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Uncle Sam – Expect Us

Samuel L Jackson broke a few British hearts this week with comments he made about Black British Actors possibly being less equipt to tell historically African American stories. British Actors everywhere were enraged and the discussion has been on-going on social media since.

I think Sam has a point and a right to his opinion. He is not the first to feel this way, it’s not a new phenomenon and this is a conversation we needed to have. Hear me out, whilst I give a little history lesson on Uncle Sam:

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In 1966, the height of the civil rights movement, Jackson enrolled at the historically black Morehouse College, the alma mater of Martin Luther King Jr

In 1968, when MLK Jr. was assassinated, Jackson attended King’s funeral as one of the ushers and then flew to Memphis to join an equal rights protest.

In 1969, actor Samuel L Jackson was expelled from historically black Morehouse College for holding board of trustees hostage for two days, demanding that changes be made in the curriculum, stating that they wanted more blacks on the governing board of the institution. Included in this group of people who were held hostage was MLK Jr.’s own father MLK Sr. Morehouse eventually gave in and agreed to change but Jackson was expelled for his actions.

That summer he became connected with people in the Black Power movement. “I was in that radical faction.  One day my mom showed up and put me on a plane to L.A. She said, ‘Do not come back to Atlanta.’ The FBI had been to the house and told her that if I didn’t get out of Atlanta, there was a good possibility I’d be dead within a year. She freaked out.’”

Jackson stayed in LA working in social services for two years and then applied to Morehouse and returning in January of 1971 as a drama major. “I decided that theater would now be my politics. It could engage people and affect the way they think. It might even change some minds,” he told Parade.

I say all this to say; Uncle Sam has BEEN in the struggle and working in the trenches since before many of us were born, of course he’d want to play MLK over a Brit, it goes without saying! Though I’m sure his comments didn’t come from a place of malice, he is however wrong.

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Britons have not been interracially dating for over 100 years ‘en mass’. Although there is evidence that people of colour have been in the UK since medieval times, this mixed race melting pot he speaks of isn’t true:

“The most recent Census in 2011 highlights that in England and Wales, 80 per cent of the population were white British. South Asian ‘groups’ made up 6.8 per cent of the population; black groups 3.4 per cent; East Asian ‘groups’ 0.7 cent, Arab groups 0.4 per cent and other groups 0.6 per cent”. irr.org.uk

Hardly a mixed majority Sam. In fact my Caribbean father came to England in the 50’s  (he’s 72 and still looks not a day over 40). I heard about the things my parent’s went through before I was born in the 80’s. Even as a mixed child, I haven’t been exempt from racism in UK.

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Denzel Washington – For Queen & Country

Sam’s argument was ‘not everything is universal’. A trope that’s often told to actors in training is that ‘I don’t have to be a drug addict in real life to understand and play addiction, or have had a sibling die to understand and play loss. As an ex (or current) drug addict, I would have a unique advantage, insight and affinity to the role but, would that make me act better? I dunno.

Because American systematic racism is hyper-visible across global media, it’s easy to say that the rest of the world hasn’t suffered like they have. This still doesn’t stop me knowing, understanding and playing suffering.

As many have mentioned on social media Americans have been playing British and other foreign characters for the longest

  • Denzel Wshinton – Cry Freedom/For Queen & Country (yikes!)
  • Morgan Freeman – Invictus
  • Whoopie Goldberg – Sarafina
  • Don Cheadle – Hotel Rwanda
  • Dennis Haysburt – Goodbye Bafana
  • Derick Luke – Catch  a Fire

The list goes on and even more so when looking at non-black Actors playing other nationalities. Would African Actors have loved those roles? Sure!

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No.1 Ladies’ Detective Agency

He also said we were cheaper, which really got people’s goat, because cheaper read to them as worthless but guess what? In some cases…we are cheaper.

  • Having an unknown British Actor play a lead, rather than a known Black American Actor = Cheaper
  • A ton of productions are filmed in Europe or South Africa. Europe = No Visa issues = Cheaper
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Ira Aldridge

Then last but not least; he said that the industry gatekeepers in Hollywood think we are better trained. This is true. I’ve been to Hollywood and had this said to me.

The idea of a quintessential, classically, drama school trained Actor is hot over there. Hollywood doesn’t have the same drama school history we have in UK, they have some top class practitioners but, the schools aren’t the same. Our schools have been around for over 100 years churning out stars. The course/class structure here is also very different.

They also admire UK theatre history and rep training (whether we have done any personally or not). Hollywood has virtually no theatre and Broadway is a closed shop.  “They’re well-trained. They came through on the stage not on a music video or whatever. So their acting’s impeccable and then they go into films.Spike Lee

People have rightly pointed out that Uncle Sam should be mad at the system and not us. I think that’s what he was saying, if not somewhat haphazardly. Non-white British Actors ‘can’t get arrested’ for love nor money in our own country’s industry and Hollywood is the film mecca, so it’s only natural that many of us are migrating.

To even get a US Visa we have to prove we possess “Extraordinary Ability” in our field of work and then we have to prove it in the audition and as I’ve told you  in What is Pilot Season, the US audition system is much more vigorous than the UK system, so those of us who have been cast in US productions have frikken earned it.

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I understand Sam. This representation thing is a struggle and we only want to see our fellow artists do well. I can’t count the amount of times ‘posh’ southerners are cast in ‘working class’ northern productions (as northerners). The way we cuss every time!

That’s not to bash the actor at all, but we always wonder what a northern actor, who’s from that background (and is often overlooked) would have brought to the role. Especially when the reverse casting virtually NEVER happens; northern playing southern.  (see Change Your Accent pt 2 & 3).

Uncle Sam you have the work, we are coming – expect the very best of us.

 

“It was not a slam against them, but it was just a comment about how Hollywood works in an interesting sort of way sometimes.”

He added: “We’re not afforded that same luxury, but that’s fine, we have plenty of opportunities to work.”

He also said of British actors: “I enjoy their work… I enjoy working with them when I have the opportunity to do that.” Samuel L Jackson NME

 

Hollyweird Part 2 (The REAL Hollywood)

 Imported from old blog at tanyavital.blogspot

Culture

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).

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laist.com

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.

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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.

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www.crainium.net

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’.


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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!

One of our group asked Catwoman how long she’s been doing this job – she replied “20 years”. . .  20 years! The look of sheer disbelief on her OWN face was said to be devastating. Almost as if they’d been in some magic induced time warp, like the casino scene on ‘Percy Jackson & the Lightning Thief’ and the spell was only broken when asked how long shed been here. You see everybody goes to Hollywood to ‘make-it’ and I doubt Catwoman had moved to Hollywood specifically to be dressed as an Aldi Catwoman for 20 years but, the reality is more often than not other things just take over. So disturbingly sad.

 

Transport.

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.

Food/bars/clubs

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.

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www.pbase.com

Tips

  • 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/
tanya-vital-british-actress-actor-blog-HOLLYWOOD-industry

Hollywood – Part 1 (Looking at the Industry)

Imported from old blog at tanyavital.blogspot

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?

Marketing

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.

Classes/Training

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 KahnAmy LindonLee Strasberg InstituteHoward 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.

Meetings

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

Tips:

  • 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!
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Industry Hollywood US 0-1 Visa Seminar

 Imported from old blog at tanyavital.blogspot

I attended a Visa Seminar at the weekend hosted by Industry Hollywood. I will attempt to dissect a 3 hour seminar into a digestible blog post, however it will all be very basic information just to introduce you to the idea and to give a brief understanding of what’s required. The US 0-1 working Visa for Entertainers of “extraordinary ability” is a legal minefield and there are some things that you just cannot explain on paper – hence the 3 hour seminar. There are also some Industry Hollywood company links and procedures that I can’t give away for free. Boooo! Yeah I know, but they’re a business too and for me to just give away their hard earned work for nothing would be unethical and stupid! (How many times have I said the Acting community is small and you don’t want to piss anybody off?).

So – with this in mind please have a read and you will at least get the bare bones of what it’s all about:

What is is?
“The O-1 non-immigrant visa is for foreign nationals who possess extraordinary ability in the sciences, arts, education, business, or athletics, or who have demonstrated a record of extraordinary achievement in the motion picture or television industry and have been recognised nationally or internationally for those achievements. O-1 visas require an employer sponsor – a foreign national cannot petition for an O-1 visa on his or her own behalf”. (http://www.immigrationdirect.com/visas/work/O-1-Visa-Application.jsp)

So the description of the 0-1 Visa is pretty straight forward. For this Visa Artists must be deemed to have “extraordinary ability. The reason Industry Hollywood recommend this particular type of working Visa is because it is an ‘umbrella’ Visa which allows the Artist to take part in all kinds of media production rather than limiting yourself to just one field, for example: Voice Over, Commercial, Film and Television.

The Visa is an agreement with the US Government that you can stay in the country and work in your particular field, for the allotted time. It takes approximately 3-6 months (providing you have all the necessary paraphernalia) to be given an answer to your application. You will be given a Social Security number (National Insurance number) and you will pay tax to the US Government on your earnings. The Visa typically lasts for 3 years, the Artist can then be based in the US and if you’re lucky enough to be able to work on both sides of the pond, the Artist can apparently work and travel freely between the US and the UK.

You may – like I did, think ‘damn “extraordinary ability, well I’m certainly no Kate Winslet, I’ll never get my Visa!’ Not true! If you have been working in the industry for a while, you’d be surprised at how many things you already have in your memorabilia collection and contacts list that will help you start your application.

What you need
I’ve noticed many variations on the internet of the requirements you need for your application so I am going to go with what Industry Hollywood say. This is a VERY brief list of the things that you need to get your started on your Visa application – using my own headings ;o) – for a complimentary list please go to Industry Hollywood or US Immigration

13 or so letters of recommendation:
From the professional companies you’ve worked for and the people you have worked with. They all need to prove that you have indeed got “extraordinary ability in the arts. This may include Directors and Producers etc.

Letters/Articles reviewing your performances:
Any posts or publishings that review any of your past performances or work.

Portfolio of Media:
Proof of your work – ya know – the stuff your mum keeps. So any magazine cut outs or pages, scripts, publicity shots, ad campaigns, press releases, newspapers, photos, copies of web pages and websites. Lots of this to show you are actually who you say you are and that you again, do possess “extraordinary ability.

Awards:
Proof of any awards received and any nominations for your work at Television Awards, Film festivals or radio awards.

3 Year Forecast/Projection:
You also need to know what you will be doing with your time over the 3 year period, to show the US Immigration why you need a 3 year Visa rather than just a 1 year Visa. This includes any work undertaken, filming, rehearsing, classes and meetings arranged.

Sponsor:
You also need a Sponsor, which is a US company/Show/Director/Producer that shows interest in you or your work, can vouch for you and petition on your behalf and has an offer of work or proposal for you when you get to the US with your 0-1 Visa.

Lawyer:
You also need a Lawyer or Legal specialist that deals with US working Visa’s for ENTERTAINERS. Do not get a general Lawyer or UK Solicitor who deals with general working Visas. Give yourself half a chance by paying someone who deals with this issue DAY IN DAY OUT.

Summary:
Daunted?? Again DON’T be! It is a lot of stuff to collect, gather and research but Richard Burke of Industry Hollywood broke each part down into lay-mans terms and once you get past the legal jargon, he explains how to get what you need and where to look for it – the fear disappears and you realise EVERYTHING IS POSSIBLE!

The bottom line is you can’t work legally in America without a working Visa. Let’s just consider the “jobs” you could be offered in the US Entertainment Industry illegally for a second  . . . . . . . .

Yeah not so appealing right? You need a Visa.

There are of course other ways to get your Visa – for example:  an American Director could be looking to cast his new film and there is nobody in the whole of the United States that can play the part. He/She randomly finds you on Spotlight and you’re exactly what they want, they scramble to sign you up. That Production Company could then POTENTIALLY apply for a Visa for you – for that job alone, which would then mean you STILL had to go through the Visa process again at some point to be able to stay in the country or even audition for more work.

Reality is – they definitely don’t have the time to go through all that, so they would probably just dump the idea of getting you out there and get someone with a Visa.

I cannot stress enough that I have just literally touched the bare bones of what we were taught on Sunday. Again the information is so intricate it is impossible to relay on paper, it’s much better hearing it all face to face trust me!

I am not on the Payroll at Industry Hollywood, I am not getting a discount, I can only relay any of the good stuff I find to help you guys and hope you do the same for me. The Industry Hollywood seminar was informative, concise and I’ve come away much better prepared with a few more contacts and links for when/if I decide to make an application.

Industry Hollywood also give you names of a couple of Lawyers they work with regularly, who have a brilliant success rate. The seminar also covered the menial things about living in LA like accommodation, vehicle licence, health care, trade unions, Drama Teachers and budgeting. I would definitely recommend you go if you are seriously considering seeking work in the States.

Here is the link to the Industry Hollywood Seminar

Here is the link to the US Immigration website

Again good luck & send us a postcard!

 

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What is Pilot Season?

Imported from old blog at tanyavital.blogspot

We’ve all heard the stories and reports from the likes of David Harewood et al, talking about L.A and that there are more opportunities in acting for ethnics there than there are here in the UK, so I’m going to L.A in a few weeks to finally see what the whole who-ha is about the place and would it be actually viable for me, a fairly lowly UK Actor to even consider getting work out there in the future or is it a closed set like it is here.

The ins and outs of my trip I will blog about separately, but here I wanted to consider Pilot Season. What it is and how it works.

tanya-vital-british-actress-actor-blog-pilot-season

http://www.celebritysc.com

What is it
After hearing the words “Pilot Season in America” first spoken to me by another Actor friend in 2004 I was left thinking ‘what the hell is that?’ She briefly explained that is was a period in the year when Production Companies and Studios in Hollywood make all their new TV shows and Actors try and get work on the new pilots, in the hopes that it becomes the new ‘Friends’. Fine – Ok, but don’t they do that all year round?? There were tons of questions I needed answering so I began to research this strange TV show-making “season”.

A pilot is a one-off offering/ example/ prototype of what the new TV show will look like and feel like IF it is commissioned into a full series. It is fully cast, designed, made-up, fully constructed set, full costume – everything. Imagine the 1st ever episode of ‘Friends’, a complete and whole production within one tiny capsule of a 30 min/ 1 hour episode. This is the pilot and they all have a set number of ‘regular’ cast members so if this first episode (pilot) is commissioned as a full series and you’re part of the cast – you could potentially be the next Jennifer Aniston, acting AND financially stable for the rest of your life.

Pilot Season is a period between January and the end of April where hundreds of new TV pilots are produced. Actors from all over the world migrate to Hollywood in the hope that they will be cast in the next big thing. Once the pilots are produced and the Networks pick their favourites, some are commissioned to go through on to the TV schedule and the rest are sent to the rubbish pile.  According to T. Martinez (An Agent Tells All) in 2004, 128 pilots were produced at a cost of over 100 million dollars – imagine what that is today? However even if you are cast in a pilot, there are no guarantees it will ever be commissioned as a series.

Because of this migratory period and the influx of new work, this is an extremely busy time in LA for both Agents and Actors and obviously the competition is serious.

I have read elsewhere and in An Agent Tells All, that more and more pilots are being made outside of Pilot Season and some Actors are even going out to LA around October, to be there just before the mad rush begins. This mostly being down to the fact that there are many more TV Networks now with SKY and cable channels.

Again the same in the US as it is over here, there is a ‘bums on seats’ approach. Meaning that known names will always be given first refusal to the new shows because Production Companies want those guaranteed viewers and guaranteed advertisement deals, making it more difficult for the up and coming Actor to catch a break and reality celebrities are as popular there, as they are here in the UK.

Casting
This is where it differs to the UK the most – the casting process.

So the longer shows are usually done first to allow time for post production and the shorter shows done after and all are finished by the beginning of May when they are then presented to the big wigs at the Networks. (Networks being HBO, Bravo, F/X etc).

The basic premise is that nobody knows what they want, they will have a go and see what works and what doesn’t, meaning things can be cut at any time, characters can change and the plot can thicken. There are a number of call backs, where you may be reading with different characters every time to test the dynamics of the cast. After call backs you do a ‘test’. A test is another audition, but in a big room full of Executives. Then once you’ve tested for the Studio (DreamWorks, Universal etc), you have to test again for the Network (remember HBO, Bravo, F/X). So right up until the test, you can be cut AND there are a bunch of legalities like your ‘test deal’. If this is not negotiated before the test date, you will lose your test place.

(Your test deal is a contract that agrees things you will receive should the pilot be turned into a series over a number of years, including pay, dressing room size, relocation monies and more).

You are also not allowed to test for more than one pilot, because they want exclusivity should the pilot be commissioned.

Summary
The second week of May is when the Networks announce their new shows and we find out what has been commissioned and made it onto the TV schedule. HOWEVER, even at this late stage, the test deal agreement (that you signed) gives the Network until June to re-cast if necessary, so even if your pilot is commissioned – you may not be.

Sounds mad right? Apparently it can just be the luck of the draw with Pilot Season, but the aim should be to build up contacts and CV before you even attempt to get involved in the madness. This includes having an LA Agent or a UK Agent with lots of LA contacts. It must be nigh-on impossible to even be able to book a meeting during Pilot Season because everybody is concentrating on the clients they already have, so don’t expect to go over there and get anywhere first time, they don’t give a crap whether you were the most loved character in Eastenders for 5 years – comprende?

They do cast for things outside of Pilot Season so it’s not the end of the world if this year it doesn’t work out. Apparently George Clooney was Pilot Season King until he was picked up on ER – now look at him go.
A great book and the main source of all my US acting world knowledge is Tony Martinez (An Agent Tells All). This book breaks everything down for you whether you an Actor in the US or an Actor hoping to make it big from the UK – BUY IT – READ IT – LEARN IT and do as much research as you can about the US before you even consider what it would be like to work there.

I was recently given another link about Pilot Season: guys-are-not-going-to-want-to-fk-her

GOOD LUCK!!

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