Being an Actor Is Really Hard

Gina writes in:

Hey there !

I hope you’re having a great Memorial Day weekend. I stumbled across your blog today while job searching. I am an actress trying to get started out in LA and working my booty off to pay my rent. I just hate how my everyday job isn’t helping me work my way into the industry at all.

I was going to ask your advice on trying to get a front desk job at a well known agency or production company? I’m pretty fresh out of highschool and I don’t have a college degree.

Hope to hear from ya!

This is a little outside the purview of this blog, but I felt like addressing it might give my readers a little insight into a group that, honestly, it’s a little hard to feel sympathy for sometimes.

When you’re working hard on set every day, whether as a grip, a set dresser, a lowly PA, or whatever, it’s easy to look over at the actors and resent them. They’re pampered, they’re the center of attention, they’re paid huge amounts of money to play pretend.

Except…

Those are the actors who’ve made it. They’re the top 1%, and that’s including the day players and bit parts. These are the most successful actors there are.

Nobody has an easy time getting started in this business. Every time I post a PA job for my boss or a friend, I get a hundred resumes within an hour. Those are not good odds for anyone trying to break in.

That’s for a paying job, on a show that you’ve heard of. Now, go on Breakdown Express, post a casting call for a non-paying short film. You will get several hundred resumes (and headshots) by the end of the day. These people are so desperate eager to act, they’ll do it for free, on what will likely be a terrible short film, just for the experience.

Oh, and that’s hundreds of people who self-select for the physical description you wrote, something that’s illegal in every other field. (If you ever want to be really depressed, look up how many casting notices describe the female lead as “hot,” and nothing else.)

They’re not just working for free, either. They’re paying headshot photographers, demo reel editors, website designers. Not to mention the costs of gym memberships, acting classes, casting workshops, up-to-date wardrobes, hair and makeup.

And since actors need to be available at almost any time for an audition, they can’t hold down a regular job to help pay for all this shit. As a former TAPA once wrote:

There’s a reason for the stereotype that all aspiring actors are waiters and/or bartenders. You’re working outside business hours generally, and if your schedule conflicts with an audition, you can trade shifts with other waiter/actors.

A desk job is not a really good idea for aspiring actors. It’ll get in the way. We all pay our dues in a particular way; this is the actors’ cross to bear.

Just remember that, the next time you’re hauling some heavy equipment, sweating through your shirt, dying of thirst, and you see the actors relaxing in the shade. It wasn’t easy for them to get to that point.

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How To Make an Appointment When You Don’t Know Your Schedule

wonderingeyeoftheeverydaytraveler commented on Friday’s post:

Unless you’ve all found weekend hours ( do you even get weekends in the biz?) for this kind of thing, what about sick time for important stuff like doctor/dentist appointments?

On most shows, you won’t know what your schedule is next week, much less next month or six months from now. For a TV series, you can probably can ask about your summer hiatus schedule, and the last few weeks of December are dead for everyone, generally. But beyond that, your guess is as good as mine.

There are some rules of thumb you can use, though, if you want to keep your downtime to a minimum. On single camera shows (and movies), Friday’s call time is almost always later than Monday’s.1For this reason, I try to make appointments on Friday morning, in the hopes that I’ll be in and out before my call time.

Office PAs usually work in shifts, so if you know you have an appointment coming up, you can ask the production coordinator to put you on the late shift that week. Again, you might not finish your appointment before call time, but at least you won’t be as late.

Multicamera shows have very regular predictable weekly schedules. Three days of rehearsals, block-and-shoot day, then show night. Personally, I like to have an appointment on day 1, because everybody comes into work late after show night. Your show may be different, but it’ll have its own rhythm you can fall into.

But all of those things are assuming you know if you even have a job, which isn’t necessarily so. Gigs come and go, and you might schedule an appointment during downtime, only to land a job on the same day.

The thing is, everyone is in this situation. Your boss knows how hard it is to schedule any kind of appointment, and so she’ll sympathize. Unless your appointment is on a day that the show absolutely needs all hands on deck all day, you’ll be fine, so long as you give your superior a few days’ notice.

If the appointment happens to fall on your first day on the job, do everything you can to move it. Otherwise, you’ll end up in the same boat as Joey.

Footnotes    (↩ returns to text)
  1. This is due to turn around: actors get twelve hours between the end of one day and the start of the next. When you’re on set 13 hours (12 hours shooting plus an hour lunch), you often see the call time of each day an hour later than the day before, especially if you have one actor in every scene.
Posted in On the Job | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Calling in Sick

Joey writes in:

A few days ago, I was referred to day play on a TV series by someone I had PA’d for once before, which I was really excited about. That morning, I woke up with the worse flu I’ve ever head. We’re talking vomiting, sweating, all the gross stuff.

I know this is probably bad form but after scouring TAPA and fruitless Google searches, in my miserable state I texted the AD, emailed the 2nd AD and the person who referred me (also working on the shoot) explaining the situation, apologizing and canceling on them. The following day I sent my referral another email apologizing and explaining my thought process, but haven’t heard back.

It was a big day, and they had plenty of PAs, so I don’t think I left them in a bind, but felt SO awful. I didn’t want to come to work and leave a bad impression, not bringing my A-game and looking like I was trying to skim by to get a paycheck and honestly, not earn that paycheck. I am immensely concerned with making good impressions in the work place and want to know two things: 1) Did I handle the situation correctly? 2) What is the best way to call in sick?

You did exactly what you should have done. Unfortunately, you’ll never get credit for it.

The worst thing a PA can be is not there. You have to be up and at ’em, ready and willing to work, for at least twelve hours. You’re not doing anyone any good from home.

In a freelance industry, first impressions matter. A lot. It makes no sense, but your behavior on the first day will affect everyone’s view of you for the run of the series. If you can’t show up, well…

It sounds like it was unavoidable in this case. If you are literally unable to get out of bed, that sucks enough in and of itself. But you’ve now made a bad impression with both the AD on that show and the friend who referred you. You’ll probably never work for either of them again.

It’s totally unfair, but that’s life. So if you ever find yourself in this situation, take a moment to really assess yourself. Are you “not feeling well” or are you “nearly dead.” If it’s the former, drag your ass to work. If it’s the latter… dang. Bad timing.

I’m taking about the first day, here. If you’ve been on a show for three seasons and never missed a day, showed up bright eyed and bushy tailed every morning, working hard the whole live long day, then yeah, you can call in sick. Again, your first (and 301st) impression is positive. One sick day won’t undo all that work.

Also, wash your hands once in a while. You’re spreading germs!

Posted in On the Job | Tagged , | 10 Comments

The Final Stretch

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The good people at Bebee lights have decided to sponsor Crew Call at the studio level. That puts us at slightly over halfway to our goal!

If you live in Los Angeles, you’ve seen Night Lights by Bebee, even if you didn’t know what they were called. They’re the massive lights mounted on trucks, used for night shooting:

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Cool, right?

Well, you should should join them in supporting the next season of Crew Call. There’s only one day left!

Posted in Crew Call, Podcast | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

The Final Stretch

image

The good people at Bebee lights have decided to sponsor Crew Call at the studio level. That puts us at slightly over halfway to our goal!

If you live in Los Angeles, you’ve seen Night Lights by Bebee, even if you didn’t know what they were called. They’re the massive lights mounted on trucks, used for night shooting:

image

Cool, right?

Well, you should should join them in supporting the next season of Crew Call. There’s only one day left!

Posted in On the Job | Leave a comment

Your Money Or Your Life

About a month ago, I received an email with the subject line, “Working on a low-budget feature…” I immediately thought, Uh-oh, because nobody ever writes me to say, “I’m working on this indie film, but despite its low budget, everyone is totally professional and completely reasonable about their expectations for the movie.”

So, what’s the deal this time?

Call time was 9:00am, which wouldn’t be so bad, if we hadn’t wrapped1 at 1:00am the night before. When I arrived, the AD told me it was going to be a long day.

I know you advise not to, but because I had promised to pick a friend up from the airport at midnight, I asked exactly how long we were talking.

Twenty. Four. Fucking. Hours.

Whut.

Um…

Because that’s how long we have the location, and we have like 16 pages to shoot. We were totally unprepared for this. No one told anyone on the crew the day was going to be this long, until I specifically asked in so many words.

Is this okay? Is this normal? What should I do?

Wow.

I’ve been in this situation a couple of times, actually. Once, while I was still a freshman in college, my film group somehow tricked our professor into getting us access to one of the school soundstages for a Saturday. Wanting to make the most of our time, we decided we were going to film 24 hours straight.

Around noon, after having been awake since sometime the day before, the crew began sneaking off one-by-one to take naps. I slept for about six hours, only to be awoken by the dulcet tones of the lead actors fucking on the greenbeds.2

The director told me to fire up the camera, but I refused, because Oh my God, what is wrong with you?!

Besides that surprisingly dark look into the director’s soul, nothing really bad came of that shoot. We were college kids, totally used to pulling all-nighters. Besides, we were all walking stumbling distance from our dorms. It was probably safer than going to a frat party.

The other time I was asked to shoot for 24 hours was on a shitty reality show. We were in a “haunted house,” and the show filmed the contestants constantly, even while they slept. (In case the producers decided to wake them up with Blair Witch-style creepy sounds.)

In that case, though, I was told when I was hired that I’d be there for 24 hours. Also, once the cast fell asleep, the PAs were allowed to sleep, too, as long as at least one of us was awake to watch the monitors.

There, the shitty thing was that they wanted me to report on my time card that I had worked two, 12-hour shifts, because the overtime was astronomical. I didn’t feel too cheated, because I got a full night’s sleep on a bed that was nicer than the one in my apartment.

But the case that my dear reader wrote in about is uniquely shitty. The first thing I asked was if she’s getting overtime. If not, walk away at twelve hours. That’s just unconscionable.

Once we establish that you’re being paid, it’s time to think long and hard about your health and safety.

A twelve hour work day is actually quite unhealthy, but it’s standard in this business. 13 and 14 hour days are fairly common. 16 hours isn’t unheard of. It’s why Haskell Wexler created his 12 On 12 Off campaign.

Driving tired is just as bad as driving drunk; you’re endangering other people as well as yourself on your way home from a long shoot. You’re more likely to get sick. You become irritable and irrational.

Plus, you start doing your job poorly. The 22nd hour of shooting will not be nearly as productive as the 2nd. You’re going to crash and burn, whether you want to or not.

And a film set is dangerous. If a PA’s mind wanders while refilling the crafty cooler, it’s probably not a big deal; if an electrician’s mind wanders while wiring a lamp, it could be deadly.

If I found myself in this situation, I would talk with other members of the crew, to find out who feels the same way. Then, as a group, we’d talk to the producer or AD: “Listen, you didn’t warn us about this ahead of time, this is an exceptionally long shoot, my turn around from yesterday was eight hours. I can’t work 24 hours and drive home safely. Neither can you or anyone else on the crew. If we can sleep for a couple hours in shifts, I’ll stick it out, but I won’t work past 16 hours. It’s dangerous.”

I would also wait until 9 or 10 o’clock, when it would be nearly impossible to replace anyone. If the higher-ups aren’t willing concede, just walk. This shitty little movie isn’t worth your life. You might burn that bridge, but you wouldn’t want to work for these assholes anyway.

Another option is to just straight-up walk off without warning. They shouldn’t have put you in this situation without warning, so why should you give them warning before calling it quits? Maybe next time they’ll think twice before endangering the lives of their crew.

Footnotes    (↩ returns to text)
  1. I assume this reader is talking about picture wrap, which means they were likely on set for another hour after that.
  2. Hey, it was college.
Posted in On the Job | Tagged , , | 6 Comments

Production Assistants Doing Union Work

Last week to support Crew Call! Contribute today.

A reader, who I’ll call Ivan, wrote in about a tricky situation. I’m going to modify some of the details, to keep Ivan’s identity a secret, but the gist is the same–

I’ve been hired as a set dec1 PA on a big feature. I have been asked to do a variety of work that requires some creative input, more typical of a Union work. I’ve actually been put to work as a Buyer using company credit cards to order various props, a Prop-maker making silly gadgets for wacky inventors and other materials, and an Artist, drawing and designing signage for a convention.

While all of this work is very fun, and much preferred to making runs for coffee and lunch, I can’t help but wonder if they are using Set Dec. PA’s for cheap labor. What is the line between Union and non-union work? Is it a common phenomena in the industry- to hire PA’s as extra hands for a limited time? As someone who has aspirations for getting into the Union, should I try to negotiate getting a Union position on the show?

That’s a tricky situation. So, I asked a set decorator friend of mine what you should do.

First of all, is he choosing what they’re buying or are they just working the credit card? If he’s making any of the creative decisions, that’s definitely a buyer position. If he’s just paying bills, that’s a coordinator position. Normally, there’s not a coordinator in set dec but it’s popping up more and more. I believe there’s talk of making that a union position, but it isn’t one yet.

Assuming he’s really a buyer, that’s one hundred percent grievance territory. The set decorator and production should and will get fined if it’s reported. Additionally, the p.a. should get credited those days they’ve worked as a buyer. It’s a difficult place to be in, to be honest. There’s bridge burning involved. But they are taking advantage of their p.a.

There’s really no good move here.

One: He can contact local 44 and ask for advice. From that point forward, it’s likely out of his hands.

Two: He can talk to the set decorator and explain the situation. Then the decorator can choose to reduce the p.a.’s responsibilities or contact the union herself. If he goes this route, he may also want to put a word in with HR, just to hedge bets.

There’s a good chance the decorator will want to let him go after exercising one of these options, but either way, he’s now pretty unfireable. It won’t garner a great recommendation.

Three: He can tell the decorator he knows what’s going down, but he’d really like to continue working with her in this increased capacity; is there a way to work this into a union position on the next gig? Note: the decorator won’t really be able to control this. But maybe they will be able to help down the line.

These situations are what unions are for. At the moment, Ivan is just buying things and drawing, but next week, they might ask him to do something that’s actually dangerous, something he’s not qualified to do safely. That’s when you definitely should say no, and follow one of the above steps.

I know “no good option” is not what Ivan wanted to hear, but sometimes that’s life in the real world. Sorry!

Footnotes    (↩ returns to text)
  1. The set decoration department, for those who are unaware.
Posted in On the Job | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

What’s Important in Your Resume

Marcel writes in:

In the area I live a lot of potential film work has recently popped up the local film registry. With that I am reformatting my resume to make it more appealing. I have done a significant amount of videography student projects that mostly involve athletics or seminars along with some work in what I am interested in. The question I have is, is the videography and student work worth putting on the resume? Right now it’s off.

I am really proud of some of it but realize that someone looking at my resume might not care or it could be a deterrent that I’ve been involved with.

I also ask the same question regular work experience and about being involved with film festivals.

It’s smart to wonder what’s important. So many people trying to break into this business have delusions of grandeur. I see people with “director” and “producer” at the top of their resume when they’re applying for a PA job.

Here’s the order of importance when creating your resume:

  1. Actual production experience.
  2. Entertainment-related jobs.
  3. Student production experience.
  4. Unrelated work.

Start at the top of this list, and work your way down until your resume is one page long, no longer. It’s best if you can fill up the entire page, but don’t go double spacing (it’ll look obvious that you’re filling).

* * *

Don’t forget about Crew Call! There’s one more week left on the Kickstarter campaign. Even if you can only donate $5, it’ll help get the word out.

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You Control the Information

Brianna writes in:

I’ve been hesitant to take anything reality-based work that I am offered. An acquaintance (who is now an AD after earning his PA days) told me that no one will hire a PA on a scripted show if they only have reality on their resume because they’re two different worlds.

My entire resume, save for day-playing on one feature, is in reality/small commercials. Am I wasting my time/shooting myself in the foot by taking reality jobs in order to gain more experience and network with higher-ups in bigger cities?

“No one” is a bit of an exaggeration, but he’s right, it’s hard to move from reality to scripted television. Here’s the thing, though– who’s to say you were only a day player? Or that those shows were only reality TV?

There is no reason whatsoever to write “dayplayer” on your resume. Who cares how long you worked on that show? You were there, it goes on your resume.

And don’t call out the fact that the show is a reality show. There’s plenty of titles that could go either way. Why point out a potential negative?

Don’t lie, of course. If an interviewer asks, “Was this title a reality show or a scripted series?” Tell the truth. They might check later, they might not, but still, better to be safe.

Posted in Finding a Job | Tagged , , , | 5 Comments

Does a Theater Degree Count Against Me

Jimmy writes in:

I have a bachelors and a masters in theatre. I never intended to break into the entertainment industry as a Production Assistant, but I now have decided that that is where I want to start. I trained to be an actor, and I am finding that it may be more difficult than I’m willing to stomach.

My trepidation with continuing in the business is due to the fact that I do not have a degree in film or film production. So realistically I am wondering whether I even have a shot given my credentials. Does a theatre degree holds up in applying for PA positions?

Generally speaking, your degree doesn’t matter. We’re not doctors or lawyers; nobody is checking our “credentials.”

In the particular case of a theater degree, though, I’d avoid mentioning the acting part. If you say you majored in acting, they’re going to assume that’s what you really want to do. Change your resume to whatever the theatrical equivalent to “production” is. If and when you’re asked about your degree, just say you realized after graduation that film is where you wanted to work after all.

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