Saturday, August 22, 2015

A Truly Democratic Union

On March 30, 2012 history was made with the merging of the Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists. The new SAG-AFTRA is one union with members representing many ares of the entertainment and information industries. It is an world built on the proud history of two very democratic and different union cultures. Merger means SAG did not end, but governance and the nature of the culture will never be the same. 
This is about the Screen Actors Guild and AFTRA.

By Art Lynch (c 1998) 
   Actors are a unique mix of artist, craftsperson and employee. They view their needs as unique. Actors move between jobs and employers, resembling casual labor or self employed consultants, yet fight to remain classified as employees working for a single monolithic entertainment and information industry. Performers shoulder the individual economic burden of their own training, wardrobe, and an almost constant search for work. They face an increasingly competitive work force. At the same time, they rely on their unions to negotiate and enforce contracts, protecting performers' wages and working conditions within the entire entertainment and information industry.

    The Screen Actors Guild was formed in an age when things were different. A few major studios with a handful of powerful owners functioned as factories, producing entertainment and information for a world wide public. SAG was formed under pressure of large pay cuts for all actors and performers. Even though this occurred at the height of the Great Depression, from a labor perspective it also occurred simultaneously to large expenditures by management on the new technology of "talkies" and on the purchase of and building of large ornate movie palaces for the theatrical exhibition of management controlled films. The 1930s and 1940s saw record growth and profits for motion picture studios and broadcast companies. Over the decades that followed, the Guild adapted to changes in economics, politics and technology. These changes reflect Prindle's evaluation of SAG as a "truly democratic union." (1988)

     The democratic nature of governance, geographic concentration of membership and flexibility of structure allow for rapid adaptation to changes in the industry and in society, although with all change there is resistance, and not all change may be to the benefit of the membership, the community or the industry.

     The Screen Actors Guild represents a membership which may not be steadily employed (an estimated 90% of serious full time actors are out of work at any given time, with as high as 80% of the SAG membership not employed in the field their union represents), may or may not be serious about their trade, and which outside of the craft remains a part of the myth of Hollywood. Most of society fails to understand what it is to be an actor, beyond the performances they witness.  Today 85% of union actors make under $2,000 a year at their craft, with fewer than four percent living their upper middle class to wealthy lifestyles solely on their income from acting. (Prindle, 1988, see also  Published reports vary, however most agree that as many as six out of ten members of the Screen Actors Guild go without any acting related income in any given year.  

     The Guild has been called the one truly democratic union in the United States because it functions with freely elected officers who, even at the level of the national president,
are not paid or compensated for the time they invest. It is a union made up of actors working for actors, who in turn hire paid staff to carry on the day to day functions of the Guild, including legal counsel and financial consulting.  While this may sound altruistic, it is also true as a long list of presidents, officers and board members have had to put their careers on hold, spend time away from family and jeopardize their own relationship with agents, casting directors and management in the interest of what is good for the membership of the Guild (Prindle, 1988). 

    Screen Actors Guild Nevada Branch Treasurer Vickie Sutton summarized her view of why the Screen Actors Guild is unique:

This union is unlike any other union. Our union is so different. It’s about a dream, working in that dream, pursuing that dream. Members are much closer to their union and what it represents. The membership is so diverse, yet under one banner, able to vote on all contracts and be a part of every aspect of the union. I take great pride in my union (personal communication, March 2000).

Membership in the Guild differs from most other unions. In addition to full time actors, dancers, singers and other performers, SAG membership includes others who do not earn their living within the industry, yet are as proud of their union and their union card as any Hollywood star. The vast majority of SAG's membership are not ‘actors’ in the true sense. The Guild has among its members people who may have looked right for a part and were in only one movie for a few lines, actors and extras who work on movie sets more for the enjoyment than the paycheck, those who are more management in their political leanings than pro-labor, and many who never took their jobs on a movie set seriously. There too are the producer or director's friends, under the obvious influence of management, who were given a part or given a letter of intent to allow them to join the Guild. While representing professional performers, the majority of voting members of the Screen Actors Guild are not themselves full working professionals within the industry or the craft (Back Stage West, 1994).

     SAG is a national union, with a structure that centers on elected officers and a national board of directors.  Local branches assist in providing services to local members and recommending any local contracts or variations from national contracts to the national board. All funds are distributed through the national office, with general budgets and appropriate specific requests administered by the elected treasurer and voted on by the National Board of Directors (SAG, Constitution and Bylaws, 1996-2000).

A Sister Union: AFTRA
     As briefly mentioned in the review of the Guild’s history, a second union formed to provide work place protection for radio broadcasters and radio actors, later expanding to include a new electronic media, television. The American Federation of Radio Artists was formed in 1937. To reflect the inclusion of television, in 1946 it was re-named The American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA). This historic expansion into new media, while SAG remained a “film industry union”, set a precedence, which occasionally produces conflicts between the two usually cooperative unions.  SAG remains a performers union, primarily representing actors on film, television and in commercial or industrial presentations. 

 While AFTRA began as a performers union, it now represents a widening range of professional crafts within the broader scope of the communications and entertainment communities. AFTRA represents newscasters, sportscasters, disc jockeys, talk hosts, announcers, on camera actors, video background performers, voice artists, dancers, singers, musicians, recording artists, music video talent, interactive technology performers, a small segment of television and radio producers, a small segment of electronic technicians and professionals in specific writing fields.  While SAG’s membership moves rapidly from production to production and employer to employer, a politically powerful segment  of AFTRA’s membership hold regular ongoing jobs, most notably the on air broadcast talent who work fixed hours five or six days a week for a specific employer. AFTRA also represents another segment of the entertainment industry whose lifestyle and motivation is surprisingly similar to those of a Screen Actors Guild actor: recording artists. So, in effect there may be more in common between the unions than detractors admit (Harvey, 1996; and S. Scott personal communication, January, 1998).

    There are real issues to address if the two unions are to co-exist into the future. Will they cooperate or will there be a jurisdictional turf war?  AFTRA activists point out, with some degree of accuracy, that by rights of the original intent of the two unions, AFTRA should have jurisdiction over all video and most certainly have jurisdiction over the new digital interactive media.  A mutual agreement exists that provides case by case individual decisions on jurisdiction, sometimes decided by which union the producer / employer prefers to reach an agreement with. As an example, television situation comedies, which are produced on videotape and not film, are produced under Screen Actors Guild jurisdiction. Soap Operas, even if they are shot on film, fall under AFTRA contractual jurisdiction. Both unions agree that this scenario could one day pit the unions against each other on a grand scale (SAG Board Room, personal communications, 1995-2000).

    A major structural difference lies in the democratic concept of open membership, by which entry level membership may be purchased without meeting any work or professional credentials. AFTRA’s board and conventions have consistently refused to revoke open membership. It is referred to as an “open door” policy. (Harvey, 1996) To the actors in SAG, this means that anyone can claim to be an actor, simply by joining AFTRA. This process continues today despite pleas from the Screen Actors Guild and Equity.  It can be argued that AFTRA’s open door policy may make the broadcaster union flexible enough to adapt and survive changes (SAG Minutes, personal communication, 1998, and SAG Board Room, personal communications, 1995-2000).

     AFTRA is structured as both a local and national union. AFTRA locals have widely divergent responsibilities, jurisdictions, dues and sometimes structures. They generate and manage their own treasuries while contributing to the national fund.  National officers and a national board of directors are responsible for negotiating and enforcing national contracts while an independent union congress of members at large, including proxy voting, holds the power to override the board and create national policy, including the nomination of a slate of national officers. Like SAG, AFTRA elected officials are volunteers, without a salary or benefit package (Harvey, 1996).

     While a percentage of AFTRA members have consistent single employer incomes, most do not. SAG and AFTRA have sometimes conflicting responsibilities in representing on camera talent in television commercials, on television programs, in industrials, on interactive entertainment and in most every category of voice over.  When the two unions formed, AFTRA’s work by its nature included the broadcast and recorded voice, while SAG’s workers were employed in projects recorded on film.  As audio recordings began to be used in film production and, with the advent of video, film began to be broadcast on television, both unions had legitimate arguments for claiming representation of workers who traditionally fell clearly under the other union.  Cooperation between AFTRA and SAG is common, however there remains the potential, and indeed in some cases the reality of producers playing the two unions against each other or seeking out the contract which is the least expensive or least restrictive for their project (R. Masur, personal communication, 1996).

      An example of how the interest of the two unions may sometimes be in conflict came in early 1997, after both union boards had voted with a strong majority in favor of moving forward on merger.  Concerns on the unilateral front of the two unions were raised over the World Intellectual Property Organization Treaty (WIPO) and its 1997 ratification by the US Senate. AFTRA and its national board strongly supported the ratification of the WIPO treaty, while SAG National President Richard Masur (of Los Angeles) vowed that his Guild “would actively oppose it” (Robb, February 4, 1997, p. 1).  AFTRA National President Shelby Scott (who lives in Baltimore) fired off a letter to Masur saying that SAG’s opposition to the treaty “causes those of us who spent the past five years conceptualizing and constructing a new merged union to question whether the new union really is capable of understanding and addressing the needs of its diverse but contemporary constituencies” (Robb, February 4, 1997, p. 1). The WIPO treaty was drafted to protect the work of recording artists, including for the first time, protection of their intellectual property rights from misappropriation of their work in cyberspace. 

    In addressing his membership, Masur wrote that “our sister union, AFTRA, seems to have made some headway in securing treaty inclusion of some protections for sound recording artists...however, the lack of any protections for audiovisual performers places us in a position where we have no choice but to vigorously oppose...ratification of this treaty. And we will oppose it until such time as it includes real protections for audiovisual performers”  (Robb, February 4, 1997, p.1). 

    Cooperation between the unions under Masur was never in dispute, in part because of his historic pro-merger stance and his friendship with AFTRA President Shelby Scott. Both were strong hands-on chairs, exercising parliamentary control under Roberts Rules of Order and interpreting those rules to gain the benefit for their presidential agendas. Both had been reelected by large majority mandates of their national memberships.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

7 Rules for Following Up With Casting Directors

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7 Rules for Following Up With Casting Directors
You’ve auditioned for a casting director. You received a good response. Now what? Here are some do’s and don’ts on following up:

1. Send a thank you note. If it’s an email or a card, a short and sweet message of gratitude is always nice to receive. I am still a sucker for handwritten cards. If you feel like you’ve got a good read on what a casting director would like, choose a card that they might actually save. Years ago, an actor gave me a thank you card that I had on my bulletin board for the next two years because I loved the art and bright colors. We cast her in four projects during that time. Subliminal? Perhaps!

But do not send a thank you with an “ask” (unless absolutely necessary). The downside to email thank you notes is that I am more and more often asked for something…and often with a deadline. Yep, a deadline. Don’t be that guy. Go ahead, send a link to your reel or most recent short film, commercial, clips, etc., but please try to avoid asking for feedback, a quote for your website, a recommendation for representation, etc. When I have a good meeting with a potential client/producer, I follow up by thanking them for their time and consideration. An ask can come at a later time.

2. Know and keep track of how individual offices like to receive follow-ups. I am great with snail mail, and would prefer it to email. Other casting directors are, thankfully, greener than I, and hate receiving postcards.

But don’t overdo it. Follow up after an audition or meeting with a thank you. Reaching out every six to eight weeks minimum after that is a safe bet.

3. Send email newsletters, with permission. I recently booked an actor in a commercial because her MailChimp newsletter popped up on my screen as we were casting. It does work. A friend of mine has very funny updates with strange and useful tips one can use in everyday life. I love his emails newsletters. 

But don’t bombard me with bi-weekly newsletters or send them to all of my email addresses. Don’t post your updates or links to your most recent trailer on my Facebook timeline or message me on Facebook. Again, that’s my preference. Keep a database of how other casting directors like to be kept in touch with.

4. Respect boundaries when it comes to drop-ins and phone calls. Do not pop into the office unless otherwise invited. 

5. Invite us to see your work.
But do not invite us to see something that perhaps you’re great in, but isn’t so great overall. I met an actor at a workshop. He did a great monologue and I loved his energy. He then invited me to absolutely everything he was in and bombarded me with emails and requests. I went to see one of his shows. The play itself wasn’t very good, nor was he. Be very discerning. I was “uninvited” to a show over a decade all-female rendition of “Romeo and Juliet.” The actor that invited (and later uninvited) me was playing Mercutio. I was excited to see her performance. After the first preview or two, she removed my ticket from the box office, saying that she’d rather me sit at home and take a nice bath than come see her show, which she wasn’t proud of. She felt good about her own work, but knew the show overall wasn’t up to snuff. She trusted that I already loved her work and would keep her in mind. I have never forgotten how cool that was. I stayed home that night. And took a bath.

6. Find clever ways of getting industry pros to your show, without breaking the bank, of course.Way before John Lloyd Young won a Tony for “Jersey Boys,” he invited me to see an incredible production of “Spring Awakening” (the play) in a basement on the Lower East Side in NYC, which at the time was a little more sketchy and very far from my apartment. The company paid for my taxi. I went. I loved it. I still call the actors in for auditions, nearly 15 years later.

But do not expect industry pros to schlep a good distance to see you in a show. As more actors are self-producing their own content, there are more and more opportunities to work and get your work seen by industry professionals. Patience is difficult but worth it.

7. Focus on building collaborative, mutually beneficial relationships with casting directors.  Do not expect casting directors to spend a great deal of time with you in person, on the phone, or over email “managing” your career, no matter how much they like you. I can’t tell you how many times I have picked up a check after giving advice for over an hour. It can be an energy drain.

The bottom line is: Think of auditions as both an opportunity to perform and as a job interview. You wouldn’t make demands after either. Following up simply and professionally builds relationships.

Do not be needy. If you think of interactions in this industry as—to a certain extent—dating, and you think about how those who are successful with dating function, you’ll be more inclined to show us your best self and detach from the outcome.

Like this advice? Check out more from our Backstage Experts!
Brette Goldstein is a casting director and Backstage Expert. For more information, check out Goldstein’s full bio!

10 Sacrifices an Actor Makes

Being an actor is amazing. You get to “play” for a living, embrace your creativity, and sometimes, if you’re lucky, earn a very good living at it. But there are also so incredible setbacks and sacrifices that an actor makes as they pursue the Silver Screen, the Small Screen, or the Great White Way.
So what exactly are you giving up?

10. Social Life. There is a reason that, “I can’t, I have rehearsal” is emblazoned on t-shirts at thespian festivals and significant others are known as “theater widows.” You’ll create intimate relationships with new castmates at lightning speed, only to have those relationships crumble when the project ends.

9. Leaving Town. Every time I go on vacation, someone contacts me asking me to audition or offers a role outright. The size of the opportunity seems in direct proportion to how far away I am from home. It’s gotten to the point that I’m afraid to leave town for even a day, let alone a weekend or even a week.

8. Security. Ah… to know where your next paycheck is coming from. That would be great, wouldn’t it?

7. Life and Limb (due to Paper Cuts). C’mon, admit it. How many times have you given yourself a paper cut while stuffing your headshot, resume, and cover letter into that pesky 9x12 envelope. See? You’re cringing. Enough said.

6. The Time/Space Continuum. Thank 
goodness for Facebook and Twitter. Seriously, without these things, I would never know what day it is. I’m a solo-entrepreneur and an actor, which means I work from home and make my own schedule. This also means I have to have a calendar nearby to function. There is no one around to tell me how much they hate Mondays, or a day job to let me know when a weekend is approaching. What’s worse, there’s no one to remind me to “Fall Backward” or “Spring Forward." I run the risk of being an hour late or early as least twice a year.

5. Stability. A few years ago, I was shooting the title role in an indie feature, and my leading man was forced to leave the film to take a theater job out of town. Why? He thought he had plenty of daytime hours to shoot the film while he was appearing in the brand new Broadway musical, “High Fidelity.” You remember that one, right? The one that closed after 10 days of performances. All of the sudden, the sure thing of Broadway was a figment of his imagination, and he was on the hunt for another job. It was heartbreaking.

4. Birthdays. Monday is my birthday, and in the first part of the day I’m doing a reading of a musical, in the early evening I have a meeting for my theater company, and then I’m teaching a master class in social media to my company members. There’s no time to celebrate my birthday that day, nor the days before or after because every other day of the week we’re in rehearsal for our upcoming show that opens at the end of the month. So, add not celebrating your special day as a huge sacrifice on this list.

3. Health. Not only is it difficult to afford health insurance (or earn enough to qualify for union insurance) but our schedules are so erratic that we often eat food that’s bad for us, drink way too much, and exercise way too little. Well, at least our ECC Dance Calls give us a little exercise, right?

2. Tattoos, Odd Hair Colors, Piercings. You’d think that as an actor you’d have the luxury of being able to express yourself in any way you please. Not so much. Our level of expression is limited by the “type” we portray. The last time I checked, Laurey in "Oklahoma" did not have a punk red stripe in her hair. Drats.

And… the number one sacrifice that actors make?

1. Sleep. Film & TV actors are regularly on set for 12-14 hours. Theater actors get up early for auditions and stay up late for performances. We squeeze in day jobs and time to memorize lines, to go to the post office and pay our taxes. Add to that the juggling of items 2-10 on this list, and you can just kiss that 8 hours of beauty rest goodbye.

So, with all of that bad news, why do we do it? Are we crazy? Yes, a little, because we love it, despite all of that. We actors are living historians, yearning to share ourselves with the world in the stories we tell. We need to do it. We burn to do it. And that’s pretty wonderful.

Big shout out to Twitter follower, @TomRomero2, who gave me the idea for this article.
Erin Cronican is a professional actor (SAG-AFTRA/AEA) with over 20 years of experience performing in film, TV, plays and musical. (NYC, LA, regionally.) She is the founder & coach with The Actors' Enterprise, one-on-one coaching service that provides affordable career coaching to actors who want to feel more fulfilled and in control of their careers. She helps actors set goals, design their materials, organize their business, and create a plan of action with easy tools that can take them to the next level -- with an emphasis on feeling empowered and working smarter, not harder. First consultation is free. Follow her on Twitter @ErinCronican and like her on Facebook

Monday, July 27, 2015

Looking Good at 75!

Happy Birthday Bugs!

Discover A Trove Of Hollywood Treasures At The Motion Picture Academy Library

The Margaret Herrick Library was established in 1928. It moved to Beverly Hills in 1991. It's named for Margare Herrick, who started out as a volunteer librarian for the Academy in the 1930s, and ultimately became its executive director.
The Margaret Herrick Library was established in 1928. It moved to Beverly Hills in 1991. It's named for Margare Herrick, who started out as a volunteer librarian for the Academy in the 1930s, and ultimately became its executive director.
copyright AMPAS 
Summer blockbuster season is upon us. Dinosaurs, little yellow minions, an ant-man, all vying for our hard-earned entertainment dollars. But if you're looking for gentler thrills, try the Library of the Motion Picture Academy in Beverly Hills. There, you can poke through artifacts from the movies' Golden Years.

The Margaret Herrick Library's vaults contain millions of pieces of paper holdings — director's shooting scripts, photos, production designs, payrolls, and of course, fan mail.

In one letter, in labored teenage handwriting on lined notebook paper, an 18-year-old fan writes to director George Roy Hill, who'd just won the 1974 Oscar for Best Director:

Dear Mr. Hill,
Seeing that ... I have seen your fantastically entertaining and award-winning film "The Sting," starring Paul Newman and Robert Redford, and enjoyed it very much, it is all together fitting and proper that you should "discover" me.
The kid really had nerve! He continues:
Now, right away I know what you are thinking ("who is this kid?"), and I can understand your apprehensions. I am a nobody. No one outside of Skyline High School has heard of me. ... My looks are not stunning. I am not built like a Greek God, and I can't even grow a mustache, but I figure if people will pay to see certain films ... they will pay to see me.
More of the letter — and the identity of the letter-writer in a moment — but first, let's dig further into the movie library's vault. Archivist Howard Prouty presides over shelves of studio art department records, contracts, production documents and ledgers — with handwritten entries of weekly salaries for everyone from electricians and messenger boys, to top stars.

"We have payroll records from MGM in the 1920s that will tell you how much money Greta Garbo made in 1926, how much money Lucille Lesueur made in 1926 before she became Joan Crawford," Prouty says.

MGM Studio head Louis B. Mayer made $2,000 a week. Greta Garbo? In 1926, just $400.

"Greta Garbo was in the first year of her contract at MGM, so she was essentially on probation, to see if she was going to work out or go back to Sweden," says Prouty.
The Cowardly Lion's mane in Dorothy and the Wizard of Oz was made from real, blond, human hair. i
The Cowardly Lion's mane in Dorothy and the Wizard of Oz was made from real, blond, human hair.
Richard Harbaugh/Courtesy of AMPAS 
That teenage letter-writer would one day earn millions more than Garbo — but he didn't know it in 1974 when he proposed this to director George Roy Hill:
Let's work out the details of my discovery. We can do it the way Lana Turner was discovered, me sitting on a soda shop stool, you walk in and notice me and — BANGO — I am a star.
Down the hall from BANGO boy, the film library has a large Plexiglass box covered with a big piece of muslin, on which there's a sign that says: "Caution, lion inside."
Inside the box is the Cowardly Lion headdress, with little pink ears and a mane and beard made of blonde human hair. The headdress was donated by make-up man Charles Schramm. In 1938 his job at MGM every morning was to turn actor Bert Lahr into a lion with bravery issues.

The lion's wig, along with a pair of Dorothy's ruby slippers, will go to the Academy's film museum, set to open in 2017. The museum will have costumes, too — and the Academy Library has sketches for those costumes.

Graphic Arts librarian Anne Coco pulls out a watercolor that costume designers consider the Holy Grail: It's the design for the famous "curtain dress" from Gone with the Wind.

Scarlett O'Hara is out of money, has taxes to pay, and decides to ask her nemesis Rhett Butler for a loan. Scarlett knows she has to look terrific to call on him, so she pulls down the green drapes in her drawing room, and has them made into a dress.

Costume designer Walter Plunkett made an intricate watercolor design for Scarlett O'Hara's famous curtain dress in Gone with the Wind. i
Costume designer Walter Plunkett made an intricate watercolor design for Scarlett O'Hara's famous curtain dress in Gone with the Wind.
Courtesy of AMPAS 
She looked great in the movie, but it took television to make the drapery dress a star. "In 1976 it really gained icon status when Bob Mackie did that very famous riff on it with Carol Burnett," Coco explains. In this bit, Burnett neglects to remove the curtain rod from the drapery, so her dress has extremely broad shoulders.
"That dress is gorgeous," Harvey Korman as Rhett tells her.
"Thank you, I saw it in the window and I just couldn't resist," Burnett replies.

Costume designer Walter Plunkett's watercolor of Scarlett's dress omits the curtain rod but librarian Anne Coco admires the elegant precision of the drawing of the fabric. Looking at the watercolor, Coco says, "I feel like you can brush your hand on it and it feels like velvet."

It's likely that the ambitious young letter-writer was more casually dressed when he wrote to director George Roy Hill all those years ago. But, like Scarlett, he had starry-eyed schemes:
Or maybe we can do it this way. I stumble into your office one day and beg for a job. To get rid of me, you give me a stand-in part in your next film. While shooting the film, the star breaks his leg in the dressing room, and, because you are behind schedule already, you arbitrarily place me in his part and — BANGO — I am a star.

All of these plans are fine with me, or we could do it any way you would like, it makes no difference to me! But let's get one thing straight. Mr. Hill, I do not want to be some bigtime, Hollywood superstar with girls crawling all over me, just a hometown American boy who has hit the big-time, owns a Porsche, and calls Robert Redford "Bob".

Respectfully submitted,
Your Pal Forever,
Thomas J. Hanks
Alameda, California

BANGO! Things ultimately turned out OK for that young aspiring actor who wrote to director George Roy Hill, all those years ago. i
BANGO! Things ultimately turned out OK for that young aspiring actor who wrote to director George Roy Hill, all those years ago.
Jeff Haynes/AFP/Getty Images 
Thomas J. Hanks' letter, written when he was 18, illuminates a piece of movie history, preserved, along with millions of other film ephemera, at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Library in Los Angeles.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Why watch "old" movies?

To learn about the best that Hollywood and world cinema have to offer.

To know what directors and producers are looking for. Often they will reference classic or older films in writing, producing or simply communicating their new ideas in a way others will understand.
To understand directions when they are given to you. 

Film references are common with many directors and casting directors.

To borrow with respect and homage when it is appropriate to do so.
To know and and understand the industry you are a part of, fan of or interested in.

Over 125 years of movie history are there to study. 

Study the comic timing and physical comedy of Harold Lloyd, Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin to the Three Stooges and Dick Van Dyke, from the broad yet warm comedy of Lucy to the over the top fast patter of the Marx Brothers, Jackie Chan to Ben Stiller, Tracy Ullman to Robin Williams.

Learn from to the dramatic flair of Marlon Brando to Lord Laurence Olivier, Kenneth Branagh to Sean Penn, Benedict Cumberbatch to Denzel Washington, Ray Liotta to Anthony Hopikns, and the tones of Orson Wells, Vincent Price, Samuel L. Jackson and Morgan Freeman the styles, skills and craft used should be studied, practiced, imitated and internalized.

Know Cinéma vérité and other film techniques so you can adapt to what is needed for each style. 

Know when to be large and when to be subtle, when to be natural and when to be a characature, how to use your voice, diction, articulations, dialects, accents, affects, and how to use these tools without making it obvious.

Above all, study how the greats come across natural, appeal to or become hated by audiences and how the actor contributes to a suspension of disbelief needed for the story to become real or entertaining for the audience.

I cannot make you do it. But appreciation of old movies is key to understanding how our craft becomes the story, and leaning what works and does not work on film.

Start with the AFI Top 100 films, or build you won filmography to study, enjoy and apply to your craft.

Art Lynch, PhD
(702) 682-0469

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Hollywood is Union Town

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Publishing Information

Hollywood Is a Union Town

By Morton Thompson

The Nation
April 2, 1938
Vol. 146, No. 14, p. 381-383 Culver City, California, March 14

  1. Hollywood is a union town. Its actors are union men. Its pickets are union pickets. Its scabs are mobbed with union thoroughness and dispatch. Its stars are as labor conscious as its carpenters. And the stronghold of unionism in Hollywood is the Screen Actors' Guild.
  2. Five years ago a gag about a Hollywood actor being a union man would have been good for a ripple of horror in Hollywood's drawing-rooms and for a derisive laugh along the embattled labor fronts of Eastern and Midwestern America. Stars were artists. Featured players were artists. The least conspicuous extra was an artist. The hem of Hollywood's epicene skirt was lifted gingerly and superciliously as Hollywood walked over the mud puddles of its labor problems.
  3. But Hollywood is a town where the least likely things happen. The incredible has now become commonplace. The Screen Actors' Guild rules the roost. It is probably on its way to becoming the richest and most powerful labor union in America. The stars have stepped down into the ranks to fight for the extras, the bit players, the masses. Their victories have been crushing and complete. What the S. A. G. dictates, the producers do. The result has been a startling betterment of working conditions, somewhat increased pay, and the discovery that the iron heel of the studios is still a heel, but that it is not iron and that it is not, in fact, any more impressive than any other heel.
  4. The Screen Actors' Guild really started in 1929. It started with a strike. Most Hollywood actors belonged to Equity. Equity called a strike. It wanted better working conditions than the producers were willing to grant. Equity wasn't daring enough. It told its Hollywood members who had contracts to refuse to sign new contracts. It told members with pending contracts to refuse to sign. It told members without contracts not to go to work. The brunt of the blow fell, of course, on the little fellow, the chap without a contract. The strike collapsed in twelve weeks without having accomplished much more than keeping a few hundred actors out of work.
  5. In March of 1930 the producers, a little worried by the abortive Equity affair, decided to organize the actors in their own way. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences was thrust forward as an arbitration board. Actors got a few assurances that conditions would be bettered and a method of lodging complaints, in return for a signed agreement not to strike for five years. Most of the actors signed.
  6. In 1932 the Eastern banks began to send out efficiency experts to stop money wastage at the studios in which they had investments. They couldn't do much about actors with contracts, but they slashed terms for pending contracts, and by one ingenious dodge after another proceeded to snip almost in half the salaries of many a free-lance player. There were other grievances. California state labor laws stipulate that women may not work longer than sixteen hours a day. But it was pretty general knowledge that the major studios were able to control the state labor bureau. Chorus girls were worked twenty-four hours straight. Extras were kept shivering in the rain for endless hours. Stunt men risked their necks; and when they broke them the studios wouldn't pay the repair bills. Actors had no place to go to complain. True, they had the Academy established by the producers. But they were afraid to go there. They were afraid they might become known as trouble-makers and be put on the studios' famous black list. As a matter of fact, almost all who did appeal to the Academy received unfailing courtesy and fair treatment. Nine out of ten of the cases brought before the Academy were decided in favor of the actors. But not many brought cases.
  7. While Hollywood's famous parties raged, little coteries of sober-minded actors conferred furtively. Their deliberations were dangerous. Any hint of them, reaching the ear of a producer, unquestionably would have meant the black list—bad pictures, bad roles, joblessness. The studios had a bland one-for-all and all-for-one policy by which unruly actors were disciplined by universally shut doors. But out of these deliberations was born the S. A. G. The original members deserve mention. They included Alan Mowbray, Ralph Morgan, Kenneth Thomson. Alden Gay, Morgan Wallace, Leon Ames, James and Lucille Gleason, Bradley Page, Claude King, Ivan Simpson, Boris Karloff, Richard Tucker, Reginald Mason, Arthur Vinton, Clay Clement, Charles Starrett, C. Aubrey Smith, Willard Robertson, Tyler Brooke, and Noel Madison. At first they fared rather badly. Many persons asked to join were shocked at the thought of joining a labor movement. Then 1933 came along. That was the year in which the studios, pleading poverty, cut the salaries of every actor in Hollywood squarely in half on the plea that the cut would avert tremendous lay-offs. When the cut was accomplished, the studios proceeded to effect drastic lay-offs anyway. And virtually every studio in Hollywood declared bonuses that same year. This was a little too much even for blithe actors. In June the S. A. G. was quietly incorporated. In July it invited every actor in Hollywood to a big mass-meeting. Only a few turned out. It got sixty members. The big shots wouldn't come in. Most of the stars were still members of the Academy. Then the NRA motion-picture code was adopted, and the Academy promptly assumed the right to represent the actors.
  8. The producers now made a code of their own, which consisted mainly of an agreement not to bid competitively for talent. A $10,000 fine was established as a penalty for competitive bidding. It was this competitive-bidding agreement that smoked out the big names. A meeting was called at Frank Morgan's house. The Marx brothers and Charlie Butterworth spent the entire day calling every actor and actress in Hollywood. The newly founded S. A. G., shaky and pitifully small, was invited along with the rest. One of the big shots made a small speech. The gist of it was that the group gathered at Morgan's should hire someone like Arthur Garfield Hays to go to Washington as their representative. There was a considering silence. Eddie Cantor stood up. "I've apparently come here," he said, "under a misconception. If this organization isn't one that's going to help every man, woman, and child in the industry, I'll say good night!" He didn't have to say good night. Some of them sheepishly, some of them angrily, every star and featured player in the room fell in with Cantor's demand.
  9. The S. A. G. unit was asked to stand up and give its views on the situation. Its proposals, explained by Ralph Morgan, its first president, were so sound and its organization so ready for use that the meeting resolved to join the group, reorganize it, elect new officers, and proceed under the S. A. G. banner. Unionism had invaded Hollywood. The battle had begun. When it became known that the stars were joining the group, the membership jumped in three weeks from 81 to 4,000.
  10. Almost immediately the new union sent its famous two-thousand-word telegram to President Roosevelt, who countered by inviting Eddie Cantor to Warm Springs. As a result, the actors won every point on which they had attacked the producers' code and the suggestions made by the producer-managed Academy for an actors' code.
  11. Next the problem of extras was tackled—the most serious problem before the union today. In 1934 the Senior Guild voted the creation of a Junior Guild, to be composed of extras and bit players, and to give it its own council and governing board. The demands of the Junior Guild are made known to the Senior Guild, which then decides whether to give them its support. Overwhelmingly the Seniors have sustained all demands of the Juniors.
  12. The abuses heaped on bit players, extras, and stunt men had always been great. They were the victims of a stupid and lazy system which originated at Central Casting, a bureau where the name and qualifications of every extra in Hollywood are filed. Rank favoritism still flourishes at Central Casting—the same extras can be seen in picture after picture—but the extras are no longer helpless. They have bargaining power now. In the old days, when a studio called Central Casting and asked for 400 roller skaters, the lazy wretch who took the call refused to go to the trouble of digging 400 roller skaters out of the files. Instead, he drove down to a roller-skating rink, lined up 400 skaters at random, and sent them off to the studio. They were paid a top of $10 a day for their work. And they kept 400 legitimate extras out of work. That wasn't the worst of it, though. Those 400, a studio pay check hot in their hands, began to ask one another: "How long has this been going on? Let's be regular extras! Let get in on some of this gravy!" And they became extras, thousands of them.
  13. Now the studios rarely spend more than two and a half million dollars a year for extras. And the S. A. G. suddenly discovered that there were 23,000 extras in Hollywood. If the work had been spread out evenly, an extra could have earned only $109 a year! Perhaps 5,000 extras could make a living wage—if there were only 5,000 extras. Today by imposing dues the S. A. G. has cut down the Junior Guild population to 6,600, and of that number 500 are dancers and 800 are bit players. If an extra doesn't belong to the S. A. G. he can't get work in Hollywood. And he doesn't belong if he can't pay his dues, which are $18 a year in addition to an initiation fee of $25. Two weeks ago the membership books were closed. The Junior Guild asked that dues be high; it asked that its membership list be closed.
  14. In 1934 the S. A. G. affiliated with the A. F. of L. through Equity and the A. A. A. A. From 1935 to 1937 it cemented its relations with labor, mended its fences. In 1937 the producers still wouldn't negotiate with the S. A. G. The Wagner Act was validated. The producers negotiated.
  15. The Painters' Union called a strike. Actors passed through the painters' picket lines and were called scabs. The S. A. G. called a mass-meeting. It was evident that the producers were stalling in negotiations which demanded a guild shop and that the time was ripe for a showdown. The officers informed the meeting that they would bring back a contract signed by the producers in a week or call a strike. Afterward they realized that it was necessary to obtain a 75 per cent vote of the membership before any strike of the Senior Guild could be called. At a meeting held at his house Robert Montgomery opened without preamble: "Ladies and gentlemen, you are here to sign a strike ballot. If you sign, you may be called out on strike. You will strike—if you do strike—on behalf of the extras. We are not asking for any privileges for the Senior Guild." By the end of the week 600 Seniors had voted for the strike and 18 against. The union began to make plans to open coffee houses and restaurants to feed those who would be hard hit. Everyone figured the strike was four days off. The tension was grave.
  16. On Sunday morning Franchot Tone, Kenneth Thomson, Aubrey Blair, and Robert Montgomery went to Louis B. Mayer's house. Joe Schenck was there. The four told Mayer and Schenck flatly that they had to have something in writing to take to the members at a mass-meeting that night or else the strike was on. They interrupted a bridge game. Mayer was a little petulant. Schenck said it was impossible to get all the studio executives together on such short notice. Then he called Harry Cohn, who was playing the races at Agua Caliente. Cohn told him what was good enough for Schenck was good enough for him and got away from the phone in time for the fifth race. Mayer next refused to call in a stenographer. "It's Sunday!" he objected. "I've got 200 guests here!" So Kenneth Thomson wrote the historic surrender in long hand. The terms were guild shop; and Mayer and Schenck signed.
  17. The four went back to Fredric March's house, where the S. A. G. board was waiting. Now that the agreement was signed, they were a little worried about some of the terms. The mass-meeting that night ended their worries. The crowd tore the roof off. In another week the hand-written surrender was reduced to formal legal phraseology and formally signed, sealed, and delivered. Hollywood is a closed-shop town, now. When the Brown Derby's union waiters walked out on strike, actors refused to go through the picket lines.
  18. There is many a Communist in the union, for the S. A. G. doesn't care what a man's politics are so long as he doesn't bring them into the guild. A minority thinks that the Senior Guild "sold out" the extras and disagrees violently with almost everything either the Junior or the Senior Guild proposes. It is a very vocal minority and even a rather welcome one. Its latest proposal, that the Junior Guild be given equal voting powers with the Senior Guild, was voted down by the Juniors, 4,500 to 50.
  19. The guild has obtained almost everything it has asked for. Ninety-nine per cent of all Hollywood actors belong. The battle is now definitely over, though a few minor objectives are still being discussed. Producers are walking the straightest of straight lines. The victories have been victories for the rank and file. For themselves the stars have asked and won next to nothing.
  20. The important thing is that the highest stars, like the lowest extras, are vigilantly labor conscious. They are anxious to identify themselves with any and all labor movements in behalf of the under-dog. They are lending their names and their talents and their time, with unabating enthusiasm. It would be unfair to single out any individual actor as the greatest contributor. For his personal courage and incisive strategy Robert Montgomery, present president of the S. A. G., has won the respect of the producers and unstinted praise from the union and the public—a public, incidentally, which not so long ago thought of him as a movie playboy. Joan Crawford, second vice-president, has been of invaluable aid in enlisting the support of actresses. Alan Mowbray, when the organization was being planned in secret, financed the embryo S. A. G. with his personal check of $2,500. Kenneth Thomson, executive secretary, has given nearly five years of hard work and health-straining devotion. Ralph Morgan, a member of the board for five years, Chester Morris, third vice-president, Franchot Tone, James Cagney, first vice-president, Boris Karloff, assistant secretary, Noel Madison, treasurer, Murray Kinnell, assistant treasurer, and directors Edward Arnold, Humphrey Bogart, Dudley Digges, Lucille Gleason, Porter Hall, Paul Harvey, Jean Hersholt, Russell Hicks, Frank Morgan, Claude King, Fredric March, Jean Muir, Erin O'Brien-Moore, Irving Pichel, Edward G. Robinson, Edwin Stanley, Gloria Stuart, Warren William, Adolphe Menjou, Robert Young, Dick Powell, Gene Lockhart, and George Murphy are only a partial list of those who might be nominated for a labor Hall of Fame in Hollywood.

No Footage for a Demo Reel? Here’s Your Solution!

No Footage for a Demo Reel? Here’s Your Solution!

First, let’s define the term demo reel. A demo reel is a carefully selected and edited montage of an actor’s work as a performer in film, TV, or other video productions.

What makes an effective demo reel? 

An effective demo reel will be a minute to a minute and half long and will have three or four clips from different projects. It features your performances, nothing else. Agents and casting directors looking at a reel only want to know what your heat level is as a performer – something they are very good at discerning if they have decent material to judge by. The less they have to wade through any roadblocks a reel presents, the better. These roadblocks are shoddy production values (the kind you inevitably get with guerrilla film school style projects), too much time spent on other actors, and too much “production” (music, graphics, etc.).

When an actor sets out to finally get their reel together, he or she presumably has some footage to use, and just needs it edited together, right? You’d think.

But I get calls regularly from actors who want me to create a demo reel for them and upon being asked, admit that they have no existing footage. None. “So,” I say, “What were you hoping to put together to create the reel?”

“Well, gosh, I thought maybe you could shoot me in a scene or something.”

Yeah, I could do that. And there are lots of other people who could do that. But there are several reasons why there is a much better alternative.

To create a scene as if it were taken from a movie, a TV show, or even a low-budget web series requires an enormous amount of work, other people, and time. And, not least of all, money.
I know actors who’ve hired some kids with video cameras and wireless mics, leaned on a friend to allow them into the restaurant where she works for a couple of hours when the place was closed, and staged a short scene between two actors at a café table. Maybe they also used some kind of makeshift light. Maybe not.

But even if the economics and logistics of that are acceptable, the result won’t fool anyone and may even make you seem too hopelessly naïve for the business. 

When you begin to contemplate the costs of creating every minute of real TV shows (thousands and thousands of dollars per minute), you can better understand why your modest approach to doing the same thing has no chance for lift off.

I have edited demo reels for actors with this kind of homemade footage in the mix with other, legit projects. It never adds anything positive.

The better solution to spending all that time and money trying to fake something you don’t have is to feature yourself doing something you already do very well, in a professionally recorded video. A monologue. A song. A bit of a stand-up set. You can have this on the web for instant viewing by anyone at any time from anywhere in the world.

It’s not a “demo reel," per se, but it can still work for you. The video should be just you performing something you’ve chosen in a close-up, uncluttered shot – a virtual screen test where you are in control of everything, and the result is 100 percent you at your best. Any video production service that offers to shoot online auditions can create this for you, and rates are generally very reasonable. At ActorIntro in NYC, for instance, we create such showcase videos for $75 and host them online for free.

When a casting notice asks you to submit video along with your headshot/resume – and most of them do – this is what they’re hoping to see.

Brad Holbrook is the founder, chief cook, and bottle washer of, a Manhattan studio that creates video marketing tools for actors. He also trains and coaches actors in the skills required for performing on camera, privately and in group classes.  He can be reached at Brad has spent his entire adult life in front of the camera.  After getting degrees in theater arts and journalism, he first worked as a reporter in a small Midwestern TV station. That led to a 20+ year career as a reporter, anchor, and host at stations across the country. For the past several years, he has had the chance to scratch that acting itch again, and has worked as an actor on NYC stages, as well as in network TV shows and studio films.  Currently he plays a TV host in The Onion News Network’s continuing parody series “Today NOW!”

The Secret About Demo Reels

By Amy Jo Berman | Backstage

The Secret About Demo Reels That Nobody Told You

The secret about demo reels. The SECRET. It just evokes an air of mystery, doesn’t it? But a secret is just a piece of information that YOU don’t know yet. So I’m gonna just spill it. And then you’ll know it and that will be that.

OK, are you sitting down?

Here it is: The SECRET about demo reels is most of the time, people never watch past the first 10 seconds.


Yes, it’s true. Although, I can’t speak for everyone, what I’ve observed and experienced is that the vast majority of reels that are sent to casting directors get turned off in less than 10 seconds. Now, I know you may be already scrolling down to the bottom of this article getting ready to write your lengthy, outraged comment. But, before you go there, please let me explain.

When I say the “vast majority," I’m mostly referring to unsolicited demo reels. Those are the demos that you send a casting director when they didn’t actually ask for one. I don’t mean the ones your agent sent to a casting director whey they actually requested to see it. Those usually get about 30 seconds before they are turned off, unless they are GOOD, of course and then they get watched some more.

So now you are probably asking, "What makes a demo reel good?" But the question at hand really is, "What gets a demo reel WATCHED?"

In my humble opinion, after having watched thousands of demos over the years – both solicited and not – here are a couple of key things (besides a great performance) that make a demo reel much more likely to be watched past 10 seconds.

Put your best, most impactful clip at the top of the reel. Reels are not like meals. Don’t save the best for last. Your best clip should not be the dessert, but rather the first course. If you wait and buy your best, most impactful clip later in the reel, it may never get seen. You have less than 10 seconds to catch their attention. Make an impact! If they like what they see, they will continue to watch. Get them hungry for more.

Keep it short. I’ve found that the three-minute mark is usually the sweet spot. Long enough to show some good stuff, but not so long that your watcher is getting bored. Believe it or not, five minutes can seem like a lifetime if the material isn’t scintillating.

Put yourself in a casting director’s shoes. Say you need to look at the reels of 50 actors for one role. 50 demos times 5 minutes each. That’s more than four hours of footage. Build in a few extra minutes for clicking on and off and maybe a bathroom break and that’s nearly five hours. And that’s just one role.

Understand that your reel is not being watched in a vacuum. They are not sitting down in a plush private screening room with an icy cold drink and some warm popcorn, relaxed and excited to enjoy a great piece of entertainment. In reality, they are sitting at their computer after hours of auditions and millions of phone calls, tired, harried, and stressed, eating lunch at their desk (again) with a mountain of demos to get through before the next session.

To give yourself the best chance of getting watched, pick your best stuff and cut it down to 2-3 minutes and lead with your very best, most attention-getting clip. It’s actually a GOOD thing if they wish it were longer. It’s infinitely better than the reverse!

With reels, as with any great performance, the rule of thumb is “Always leave ‘em wanting more!”

Amy Jo Berman is former Vice President of Casting at HBO and for 14 years has overseen the casting of over 150 films, mini-series, and series. She is the founder of Audition Polish, a membership-based audition coaching program that has helped actors around the globe nail their auditions on the first take. Using her 18+ years of technical audition experience in the casting room, Amy has helped thousands of actors with her tele-classes, private coaching, workshops, and seminars. Amy loves staying in touch with actors on social media. Watch her video acting tips on Youtube, join her Tips On Acting community on Facebook and get her VIP event updates here.