Breaking Into the Business

29 12 2015

I am going to address this, because I have been asked by a LOT of people over the last several weeks – how do I get on THE WALKING DEAD?  How do I become an actor?  I think having a blog post I can refer folks to will help expedite explaining my journey, and help those searching for how to break into this business.

I can only speak from my experience – but it was not a matter of being “discovered”, or just being talented, or just wanting to be an actress.   It was a concerted effort – for many years – doing the RIGHT kind of work, getting the RIGHT kind of credits…. 35 years of work to be exact.

So here is how I “broke into the business” – this phrase is deceptive – because it seems to suggest that one definitive thing will happen and BAM!  You’re IN!  But this is not the case – I will explain further.

To start, I was onstage by age 5 as a dancer.  In high school I was an avid (nationally competitive) speech and debater :-), and I did my high school plays.  I decided to STUDY acting in college, this was THEATRE acting training – I got my BA in Acting.  Then, I went on to get my MFA – also in THEATRE acting.

In those theatre years I collected quite an impressive number of theatre credits – including major regional theatres like Berkshire Theatre Fest, Long Wharf Theatre, Southern Rep, Ma-Yi Theatre (Off-Broadway). I worked with Tony award winning actors.  Like I said, I thought I had quite an impressive resume.

HOWEVER, when I got an agent to try to start getting my foot in the door for film/TV acting, (my agent came to see me in a play on the suggestion of one of her clients and signed me), NO ONE CARED about ANY of my theatre credits.  I was initially miffed.  The training I had WAS meaningful – film/TV folks recognized that I must be somewhat of a serious actor to have received both my BA and MFA in acting.  But the regional theatre credits?  The Off-Broadway credits?  The Tony award winning actors I had worked with?  The fact that I had played HAMLET?  Nobody cared.

It was like starting over in many ways.  My theatre credits didn’t tell film/TV folks a thing about if I was able to act on camera.  So they didn’t care.  I had to start garnering film and TV acting credits, to have footage from those roles to show I could do the type of acting necessary for film/TV work.  And then, it took another 12 YEARS in the film/TV business before I got to audition for THE WALKING DEAD.

I don’t get irritated when people say, “How can I break into the acting  business?”  But you will rarely hear someone ask an architect, “How do I break into the architect business”?  Also, our positions as actors in this business are precarious at best.  So to ask an actor who is not an INTIMATE friend of yours for many years to vouch for you, and try to help you get your foot in the door…. yikes…. that would mean putting our already precarious position (that we have worked many many years to get to) on the line.  Something I would only do for a dear actor friend who is MASSIVELY talented.  The risk is too great.

Now, as a creator and writer of several TV series that are currently being pitched, I can tell you – my hope is to give several actors that I PERSONALLY KNOW, whose work is OUTSTANDING, the opportunity to get a series regular or recurring role.  But those are actors I know who have pursued this relentlessly – in training, in life, who have credits, and who are amazing talents.

If you want to be an actor – pursue it as you would any other profession you are serious about.  Love!





Career Day/Facebook Posting/2nd Theatre Class

25 09 2015

Career Day:

A friend of mine – who now teaches high school – invited me to call in to talk to her class.  They wanted to ask questions of all different kinds of folks from different career paths.  A genius idea, I think!

They asked very insightful questions, and I found – as I usually do – how many misconceptions there are about being an actor/the life of an actor/the financial circumstances of an actor.  So here are their questions, and my answers.

“What is your typical day on set like?” Usually a 12 hour day.  If it is a day shoot, we are arriving around 5:30am or 6:30am, and we work till 5:30pm or 6:30pm.  There is a lot of waiting.  But when it is time to GO you need to be INSTANTLY ON.  If it is a night shoot, we usually arrive on set around sunset, and stay through the night till the sun comes up.

“How did you get ‘discovered’, and what was your path to that discovery?”  I started acting when I was 10 years old.  My first movie was a bit part in FLETCH LIVES, but I was in plays starting at 10.  I did Speech & Debate, and all kinds of professional and school theatre throughout MIddle & High School.  I got a BA in acting and then my MFA.  I was doing a play in New Orleans, and an actress I was in the play with – Lara Grice – told me I should really get into film & tv acting.  I told her I thought I was ‘too weird looking’ for film.  But she was kind enough to introduce me to her agent. I booked the very first job I auditioned for.  But truly, The Walking Dead is the break-out moment for my career.  And I will be 40 next year.  So…. 30 years.”

“What is the typical salary for an actor?”  There is a misconception that actors are all extremely wealthy.  In the Screen Actors’ Guild (SAG), only the top 2% of actors are really making the big bucks.  Your Julia Roberts, and Tom Hanks, etc.  The majority of the rest of the actors you see, for the most part, make “scale” on the projects they work on.  Scale right now is in the neighborhood of $850/day, and $3500/week.  Which sounds like a lot, and it is – but remember, not many actors work 365 days a year.  Most of us end up working 4-5 months out of the year – not by choice, by casting.  So, you can do that math.  It is not a profession you get into to get rich.  You do it because you love the craft.

“What would you do if a director asked you to do something that was morally disagreeable to you?”  It is all about context for me.  Nudity – context.  Is the nudity necessary?  Does it tell the story?  Then YES.  Is it to make fun of someone in a mean way, or just to have boobs on screen?  Then NO.  Subject matter – context.  Does the subject matter intrigue me, and ultimately stretch me as an artist to use my God-given gift?  Then YES.  Does the subject matter have no redeeming quality or present no challenge to me as an artist?  Then NO.

I thought their questions were awesome.

FACEBOOK POSTING:

Piggy-backing on this career day experience, I had a rather un-delightful experience last week on Facebook…. imagine that.

A few caveats:

  • I am not Julia Roberts or Tom Hanks, and am just beginning to have a career that is viable.
  • I do free demo reel work for actor friends of mine all the time.
  • I do free teaching, reduced fee teaching, and all kinds of other charitable work related to my profession – which I have studied and earned two degrees in

So – I posted on Facebook about my need for someone to do make-up for me for THE WALKING DEAD premiere, which I will be doing this October.  I promised to give red carpet pics, Twitter credit, etc.  At no point did I say it would be free, but I suppose that could be implied.  I am certainly looking for something less expensive than the $300 a session (PLUS!) fees I was seeing in NYC.  Why do I need a reduced fee/free makeup help?  See the above caveats.

Add to the above caveats the following:

  • I am a mommy of two kids, one of whom I have to PAY FOR school for
  • I own a home
  • I live in a flood zone… insurance is a you-know-what

A friend of mine responded to my post by tagging a makeup artist friend of hers who lives in NYC.  Let’s call her AMANDA MAKEUP.  Amanda Makeup proceeded to respond – on my wall – about how belittling it was to her profession to ask for free makeup work.  She did go on for quite some time, in a very mean fashion.  I replied, “Thank you for bringing up this issue, I agree with you in certain situations.  If you would like to private message me, I would be happy to share my particular story/circumstances with you so that perhaps you can understand why I am asking at this point in my career.”  Her response was to say that she didn’t think a private message was needed.  Again, she said I was “devaluing” her profession, and that red carpet pics were nothing unless I was a Kardashian, etc.  WOW.

So, I deleted her comments, and I blocked her.  On Facebook and Twitter.

Because here is the thing.  She doesn’t know me at all.  She took an opportunity to bash me on my board, without knowing anything about my specific circumstances.  It was a real turn-off.  I hope if I am ever in this same place, I react lovingly.  And if I don’t, I hope I am open to gentle reminders.

2ND THEATRE CLASS:

Lastly, I taught my second Kindergarten-2nd grade theatre class at my son’s school today.  It is a 2 hour class.  I can tell you this:

K-2nd Grade Theatre Class teaching is NOT for the faint of heart.  But it IS good for the soul.

Afterwards, I feel tired – but accomplished.  I feel like I am being given an unprecedented opportunity to pay forward the gift I was given from my teachers through the years.

When we sit in a circle at the end of class, and I ask everyone what their favorite part of class was – and everyone loved a DIFFERENT part of class… it just makes my heart swell.

THIS is what IT’S ALL ABOUT.





First Day Teaching

11 09 2015

Today I began teaching theatre class (after school) at my kid’s school in New Orleans.  It is a curriculum I am designing, and they will be doing an adaptation of several of Shel Silverstein’s poems from WHERE THE SIDEWALK ENDS.

The last time I taught elementary level drama classes was right after I got my MFA, and I taught Kindergarten – 5th grade drama once a week at a Catholic school in Queens.

I can remember, in a very visceral way, exactly how overwhelmed I felt about that teaching job.  I had never taught such little kids.  I was fresh out of grad school, having done some wild and esoteric theatre over the summer at THE BERKSHIRE THEATRE FESTIVAL, and having completed an internship with LONG WHARF THEATRE – where I got to act alongside some theatre greats – JEFFERSON MAYS (who won the Tony for I AM MY OWN WIFE) and FRANK WOODS (who won the Tony for SIDEMAN).

But I felt majorly out of my league teaching these little ones.

And I felt that again today.  BUT, the difference was, I didn’t feel AFRAID.  I felt like I would figure it out.  I have kids of my own now, and so know better how to negotiate and redirect.  I am so much less afraid to make things a work in progress at this stage of my life – whereas back then, I felt I had to know everything.  I was afraid to not know everything.

I want to try and blog about this teaching experience, along with other aspects of my career over the next several months – as I think it is time to take stock again.

SO – to sum up – here is what I learned today:

  1.  You must run little children like horses first, if you expect them to focus on theatre after a long day at school.  Next week – we shall run them ragged!
  2.  As much as it hurts to do so, you have to be pretty strict on the first day of class, to establish your role as the authority figure.  I definitely utilized time-outs, and talks, and as much as I hated to make a couple kids sad, I think it was necessary for a good start to the semester.
  3. Although the world would have you believe that all our kids are TV and video game zombies, this is not the case.  The sense of wonder I encountered, as I helped my littlest ones read through SARAH STOUT by Shel Silverstein, was enchantment at it’s best.
  4. I don’t care if the play is “good”.

Let me clarify that last one – of course we will practice, and do our best.  But it is lovely to not care about product as much as I used to, and care more about the experience.  I have so much to learn!  Talk soon!DreamPlay





Drop Everything and Audition

6 07 2015

When you Get an Audition – DROP EVERYTHING AND DO IT

Here is what an agent LOVES after three months of weekly “do you have any auditions for me?” phone calls. When it takes you 24 hours to answer an email about an audition. AND THEN when you say you “have to figure out if you can make the audition”. YOU CAN make the audition. Or you aren’t pursuing this as a career – it’s a hobby.

Generally, this is how auditions work: the casting director contacts YOUR AGENT with a list of actors they want to see. Usually, the agent is asked to have talent pick a window of time. For instance, “Auditions will be Wednesday, Oct 30th from 4-7pm, have your talent choose a time.” Then, the agent writes to YOU, the talent, asking you what TIMEFRAME would be most convenient for you. Then your agent WAITS for your response. Meanwhile, all the other agents who were asked to get chosen time for THEIR clients are also waiting.

If you check your emails regularly, within a few hours, your agent should have your preferred window of time. Your agent sends your preferred time to the casting director, and they write back confirming an EXACT time. Let’s say you requested “somewhere between 4 and 4:30pm”. Your agent passes that on to the casting director. Along with everyone else’s requests for timeframes. Then, the casting director sends back exact times. You got “4:12pm”. Your agent calls your or emails you the exact time, and you write back to confirm receipt of the time.

Do you see how NOT checking your email can be prohibitive to this process? You can actually LOSE auditions with a quick turnaround – of which there are MANY these days – by being lax about checking your email. I have had clients request that I “text” them or “call them ALSO” when there is an audition request. Can you imagine remembering the preferences of every client? And sending out 20 emails, 30 texts, and making 25 personal phone calls every time there is an audition? (This could be 25+ auditions a week!) Get over yourself and CHECK YOUR EMAIL!

More later…





Residuals and the Waiting Game

29 06 2015

A quick primer: WHAT ARE RESIDUALS? This is very general, as the world of residuals is a strange and scary place, with lots of twists and turns, and different rates and equations, and math is not my forte. Essentially, when you are paid for working on an episodic (tv show), your pay covers the shoot days, and the first airing of the show – unless the contract states otherwise. Subsequent airings of the episode you shot require the payment of RESIDUALS. The amount of your residuals in television, is based on the original pay you received. If your show is on cable television, the 2nd airing of the show will usually pay you 50% of the original fee you received, with exceptions. A network show pays more on the 2nd airing, and more on 3rd airing and 4th and so on.

For films, the residuals are significantly harder to figure out. Your residuals on film work are based on a complex equation that includes: the number of days you worked, the pay you received, the number of people working on the film that have specific “stakes” in it, and finally, the number of DVD sales. Once the movie moves to tv distribution, and Netflix distribution, etc, there may be more residuals there too. I worked on BIG MOMMA’S HOUSE 2 nearly 10 years ago, and I still get nice little $150 residual checks from that! But that movie is a very popular film, this is not something that happens with GARGATUAN MONKEYS FROM HELL, know what I mean?

The point is, the money you make on the job itself, if it is a SAG/AFTRA productions is not the FINAL amount you will make on that job. Keep that in mind when you are bitching about driving three hours or MORE to an audition, or when you are regional hire and have to drive your ass to another state. 🙂

This next bit is going to be a way for you to benefit from the mistakes I have made with my agent, or folks have made with me as their agent. To protect the guilty, myself included, I will not tell you which is which.

When Newly Signed to an Agency, RELAX YOURSELF

Somewhere along the way, some well-meaning professor or coach or hapless actor-friend told you that with an agent, “the squeaky wheel gets the grease”. Inferring that calling your agent to check in is an important thing to do in order to insure you are getting submitted for all the work you SHOULD BE GETTING SUBMITTED FOR DAMMIT! SO in the beginning, maybe you call your agent once a week for the first few months, when you haven’t gotten an audition yet, and you leave a message saying something like, “Hi! It’s Ann Mahoney. Just calling to see if you have any auditions for me!”

Let me say this: IF your agent signed you in earnest, and IF you really are good and well-trained, and have amazing head shots, your agent is submitting you. Sometimes it takes a but before casting directors will call in a NEWBIE! Especially a newbie with no resume! If you aren’t getting ANY auditions after 6 months or so, maybe you got your Uncle to do FREE head shots for you. 🙂 MAYBE you need a little film experience so you have a reel! (See Chapter 6)

Also, it is important to have self-assuredness and self-confidence, but I literally passed on representing a talented 11 year old one time, because they came on so strong. I thought, “If they are like this NOW, what is going to happen when they book work and are on set?” The mother insisted that her daughter be on my “A List” immediately, and elaborated on the agents they had had previously that “didn’t do ANYTHING for her daughter”.

The girl was talented, don’t get me wrong, but talent doesn’t mean you will book immediately and often. I pictured myself fielding endless irate calls from this Mom, about what I wasn’t “doing” for her daughter. I politely declined… and I am REALLY glad I did. All this is to say, you absolutely have to have a good ego in pace to do this job, and you shouldn’t play down your talents and skills, especially to your agent. But don’t be a diva. EVER. Even when you are booking work left and right.

Answer Emails in Record Time

The business has a lot of wait wait wait wait wait wait wait wait wait wait wait wait wait wait wait wait wait wait wait wait wait wait wait wait wait wait wait

wait wait wait wait wait wait wait wait wait wait wait wait wait wait wait wait

wait wait wait wait wait wait wait wait wait wait wait wait wait wait wait wait

wait wait wait wait wait wait wait wait wait wait wait wait wait wait wait wait

wait wait wait wait wait wait wait wait wait wait wait wait wait wait wait wait

wait wait wait wait wait wait wait wait wait wait wait wait wait wait wait wait

OH MY GOD GO NOW NOW NOW! UHHHHHHHH…. too late.

Seriously. When your agent emails you – ANSWER. YES even if you haven’t heard from them in months. ANSWER. Check your emails!!!!!!!

More later…





Is Your Agent Legitimate?

22 06 2015

Before we get into the Dos and Donts of having an agent: a word about being sure your agent is legitimate. There are agents called SAG SIGNATORY agents, who are legitimate, but they aren’t the ONLY agents who are legitimate. There are many agencies, including the one I run and the folks who are my personal agents, who are NOT SAG Signatory Agents and are totally legitimate. Here is how to tell if your agent is legit. Don’t sign with an agent if they:

  1. Want any money up front. The exception to this may be if you have absolutely NO film training and they want you to take an inexpensive film class, from an instructor (there should be more than one!) they approve of.

  2. Want to take more than 10% of the GROSS of your wages for film/tv work, or more than 15% of the GROSS of your print/convention work.

  3. Tell you after an audition with them, that you have been “selected” to audition at a convention for a bunch of casting directors. You just have to pay $1200 entrance fee, and have to fly yourself there, and have to put yourself up at a hotel, and the parents have to come too. *(more on this below)

  4. Sign an exclusive contract “in perpetuity,” or for a long time period.

*While the convention itself may be completely

real, and there may be real live casting directors

there, you are better off meeting those casting

directors when you are called in for an ACTUAL

audition for an ACTUAL tv show or film.

Completely legitimate things an agent may ask you to do:

  1. Sign an exclusive contract. Particularly in the Southeast, we have a lot of overlap in regions, and if you are not exclusive represented by ONE agent, it can actually mess up what you are submitted for, and in which location. Most contracts should be for between 12 and 18 months, and renew automatically unless you indicate wanting to leave the agency near the renewal date.

  2. Give them 10% of the GROSS of wages you earn doing film, television, or commercial work. You have to pay your agent 10% of the GROSS because your agent has to pay taxes on it as well! So, if you only pay them 10% of the net – we pay the government taxes twice. Let’s not do that. Here is an easy equation: the total amount of what you are paid – BEFORE A SINGLE THING IS TAKEN OUT – is the GROSS. You owe your agent 10% of that. Your gross is $4000, you owe your agent $400, your gross is $876.98, you owe your agent $87.70. * (see exceptions below)

  3. Give them 15% of the GROSS of wages you earn doing Print or Convention work.

  4. Give them 10% of the RESIDUALS you receive from a film/tv job they booked and negotiated for you FOR THE LIFETIME of that JOB. So, if you decide to leave the agent that booked you that role on GARGANTUAN MONKEYS FROM HELL, you still owe them residuals from that film for as long as you get residuals. Same applies to the 15% from Print/Convention work.

  5. They may ask you to sign a CHECK AUTHORIZATION, which allows your agency to have your checks mailed to THEM. The checks will still be MADE OUT TO YOU, not to the agency. The reason many agencies want you to sign a check authorization to have your checks mailed to them, is because otherwise they have to go chasing around after their money. My agency is very small, but even with only 35 clients, if I have to run around after 35 checks several times a year, it is a nightmare. Same for residuals. There are actors who do not pay their agents residuals, assuming that they “don’t know” about the residuals. Believe me, if a year or two goes by on a job they booked for you and they aren’t seeing 10% of the residuals – THEY KNOW. And it is a breach of contract.

* Exceptions to the 10% of GROSS being owed

agent. You do not owe your agent 10% of a

travel or mileage fee if you are paid that. You

also do not owe your agent 10% of per diem, if

you receive that during your work.

More later…





Getting and Agent

15 06 2015

The business is full of Catch-22s, which will drive you mad if you let them. You can’t get an agent until you work, you can’t work until you get an agent. I can share with you my journey, my rather short journey, to getting an agent. But know this, there are as many paths to getting an agent as there are people in the world. I have a unique perspective on this now, because I have been on both sides of the battle to get an agent.

One of my OTHER jobs, is that I currently have a very tiny roster of kids, teens, and college-aged actors that I represent. I get email requests for representation daily, and I ignore 99% of them. When I get someone’s headshot and resume in the mail, I usually toss it in the trash without opening it – really. I am not a jerk, but I really want my roster to remain small and effective. So, I only take submissions through referrals at this time: referrals from local casting directors. OCCASIONALLY I will take a referral from a fellow actor, or teacher. But mostly, the folks I represent have come to me through an industry referral.

First, before you even attempt getting an agent, make sure you have your ducks in a row. Have a really REALLY good set of 2-5 head shots, showing slightly varying looks. Though you may have played a nerdy high school student, a British spinster, an aging debutante, and an axe murdered in college, your film/tv work will be significantly less vast and varied – especially initially. SO you need a headshot that looks like YOU and is done by a PROFESSIONAL.

When you get to emailing agents, don’t just cut and paste an general email and change names. Do your research! Ask actors you know who their agent is, and if they like them. THEN, find out if the agency has a website! GO TO THE WEBSITE, AND READ EVERYTHING ABOUT THEM, especially take note of their SUBMISSIONS POLICY. For my agency, I have very specific needs for the agency listed on my submission info page. I specifically state, “I DO NOT NEED ANY CLIENTS UNDER THE AGE OF FOUR,” however, I get SEVERAL parents asking me to represent their infants and toddlers every day. What that tells me, is that those parents QUICKLY WANT REPRESENTATION, but are not willing to do the work to understand the needs of the agency. Not a great way to start a relationship.

Lastly, BEFORE you begin pursuing an agent, and therefore auditions/work – get your shit together and have a mode of transportation. Really. I am all for leaving less of a footprint on the world, so your mode of transportation can be a really reliable BIKE, but have a mode of transportation! Not being able to GET to auditions is really the worst excuse for not having a career, right? Remember, there is a lot of traveling to auditions these days, and you are better off having a CAR that you can DRIVE to auditions, or to do regional hire work.

Once have your shit together, and you know which agency, or agencies you are interested in, pursue them in the proper way:

  1. Go to classes offered where the agent/agency is the featured speaker.

  2. Get into student films, or put together your own films to have some experience, and to put together a demo reel.

  3. WORK in the industry, in a job, to UNDERSTAND what it is really like on set, and decide if it is FOR YOU.

  4. Seek out coaches who are WORKING film/tv actors, and work on the craft with them.

  5. GO SEE local films, get involved in the film festivals, go to local plays, AUDITION for local plays. In short, get yourself out there.

  6. IF the agency’s submission policy allows for sending a headshot/resume/demo reel, by all means do so. I do not recommend sending one if the submissions policy specifically says not to.

Having realistic expectations is really important in this business. I have been there too, fresh out of college, with lots of great theatre credits, lots of great compliments from great directors, lots of training, expecting to just GET WORKING. The truth is, you aren’t really there yet IF it isn’t falling into your lap! Don’t be afraid to be humble, take classes, meet people, and get more training. THAT is how you will eventually get an agent!

More later…