Should Aspiring Actors Do Extra Work?

It’s A No Brainer!

(This blog was originally posted on the Yahoo Contributor Network on April 21st, 2011. As of 7/31/14 YCN has taken down all of its content)

The short answer is a big fat yes! It is a great way to get on-set experience and to see how things are done. Both for film and television I highly recommend it.

I recall years ago studying acting with a great acting coach, Molli Benson, who brought to the classes attention this absurd notion out there that says actors should not to do extra work if they want to be taken seriously as an actor. “Do extra work and you’ll be seen as extra”, the thinking goes.

This is ridiculous. First, the people that cast extras usually have nothing to do with who casts speaking roles. Second, directors, and casting directors work with so many actors that even if you cross their visual path the odds of them remembering you in any capacity are beyond remote! Can you picture getting a small role in a James Cameron film and him seeing you on-set and saying wait a minute weren’t you an extra in Avatar? Get off my set!If you haven’t been on any or many film or TV sets, extra work will:

  • Get opportunity to see what it is like on a set. Who does what, how directors work, what it’s like on a one, two, three, or four camera shoot.
  • You’ll see how more experienced actors work.
  • You’ll see different directing styles, the list goes on and on, and you will get paid to do this!
  • You can also network, and meet other actors, and crew. Some of these actors and crew might have other projects going on that you might be right for one of the leads!

If you want to do extra work in Los Angeles and you are non-union you would want to sign up with Cenex casting… If you are already in the union, than Central casting is for you. These companies are run out of the same building and their info line is 818.562.2755. Website: http://www.centralcasting.org/

If you are interested in doing extra work for the experience/training or for supplemental income, I would recommend in addition to joining Cenex or Central, you consider joining at least one extra casting calling service company to increase your odds of getting work.

Further, extra work is also means of earning Screen Actor’s Guild (SAG) eligibility. To book speaking roles on network television, studio films and many independent projects in Los Angeles and New York, you will have to join SAG (which may be merging with AFTRA).

The book, Back To One, by Cullen G. Chambers and Elisha Choice, is a good all around guide and reference book for extra information and calling service listings. Or you can find a free listing of extra calling service companies here: http://www.workingactors.com/ Click on Actors, and then working, and then casting services.

Be careful of some of the services out there that advertise on Craigslist, they are not all legit. As always do your own research, look for comments on message boards, talk to other actors (especially when you do extra work find out who they use) and so on.

Published by Jeff Schubert

Jeff Schubert is the Host/Executive Producer of the show Filmnut that airs on thestream.tv. Each webisode provides an in depth interview about the making, marketing, or distribution of film, TV or new media…

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How to Get Started as an Actor

Tips on Cold Reading, Scene Study and Improvisation

(This blog was originally posted on the Yahoo Contributor Network on April 9th, 2011. As of 7/31/14 YCN has taken down all of its content)

As the Host/ Producer of a show called Filmnut about film, TV, and new media, one question I get asked all of the time is how to break into acting. Well, before you can be a lawyer or a doctor you have to go to school, study and master what you learn. Acting isn’t quite as structured but unless you’re related to a star, or spend a lot of time on “the casting couch”, to get to where you want to be as an artist you will need to study.

In this articles I will endeavor to cover the major aspects of study to help you get started.There are three major forms of acting to consider.

  • There is scene study, where you memorize material and perform it.
  • There is cold reading, where you do not memorize, rather you have the “sides” or script material in your hands and you perform it (this is the most common form of acting in auditions).
  • And there is improvisation where you are given a “set-up” by the instructor and you perform without a script.

One simple example of an improv set-up is, your housemate (could be a lover or a roommate, you don’t know.) comes home and says, “There is something I have to tell you…” For the sake of argument lets say you ask what? Your partner can then confess that he got a raise, has been cheating on you, is gay, got fired, saw a spaceship last night, is a closest anarchist, wants a divorce, etc, etc… and the scene goes from there.

ALL three are very important skills. There is a tendency for some Los Angeles actors to ignore scene study and improvisation and focus too much on cold reading as that is what you do to get the job. The short sightedness here is that a background in scene study and improvisation will make you a better cold reader!

There are many different “methods” of acting.  My preference is psychology based. I studied with a coach, Molli Benson, who I think is brilliant. However, Ivana Chubbuck is the best known for this style having worked with many stars including Halle Berry. Berry thanked Ivana in her Oscar winning acceptance speech. For those not in L.A. I would recommend her book “The Power of The Actor”. Upon your own research you may prefer a different method, but this book will augment whatever you do. http://www.chubbucktechnique.com/

After a foundation of scene study, you may want to study cold reading or as some call it audition technique. In general, I like classes where you perform on camera so you can see what you’re doing. It just seems to register so much faster with actors than when an instructor explains it without the visual. Margie Habor has the top reputation here in Los Angeles and has also written a great book… “How to Get the Part Without Falling Apart.” http://www.margiehaber.com

Improvisation might not seem as obvious at first but it is an important part of your training. Why? Who is the most important person in a scene? Everyone but you! And that’s where your attention needs to be focused.

For now lets say it is one other actor. Okay, what do newer actors generally have a tough time with? Getting out of their own heads, and being self-conscious. Their focus is too much on memorizing lines (scene study) or on getting their lines from the script (cold reading).

Improvisation forces you out of your head because there are no lines, and you are completely dependent on the other actor’s line and reaction to give you something to work off of. The skills you develop here can translate to your scene study and cold reading work.

Another reason to study improvisation is that many of the directors I have interviewed and spoken to have said some of the best lines in their movies have come from the actors improvising. Many directors (myself included) use it as a tool in the rehearsal process to help the actors find the character and generate more ideas.

In L.A. many people have heard of the improv school, The Groundlings. I did sample classes their years ago and came away with a great impression. For acting though, my preference is The Lembeck Comedy Workshop. Why? Their focus is on using improv to make you a better actor. The Groundlings, like most improv troupes, is improv to make you better at improv. In most instances this is great as well, and I’m kind of splitting hairs here but if you have the option to study where it’s improv for acting, I think that is the way to go if acting in film or TV is your goal. If your goal is to be on Saturday Night Live, than stick with Groundlings or a school like it. http://www.harveylembeckcomedyworkshop.com/
http://www.groundlings.com/start.htm

With all forms of study always audit classes where you can before signing up, and do what’s best for you. Some methods work better for other people and vice versa. Many people get good results with the Meisner technique for example.  Actor Jeff Goldblum has a school with a fine reputation for Meisner if this is something you wanted to look into: http://playhousewest.net/about-the-school/

Beware of the guru coaches that inspire a dependence on them. Some may be great teachers, but you are the captain of your own ship. If you reach a point in your work where you plateau and stop improving, it may be time to consider a different approach and or therapy.

The reason I say therapy is because while I respect acting as a craft to be learned, studied, and as work, it ain’t rocket science either. And if you are having problems committing to the scene, expressing certain emotions and or vulnerabilities, the issue may not be technique, rather a block of some kind that might be aided through some counseling.

If you are considering a move to Los Angeles a great reference book is ‘The Working Actors Guide’. The company that publishes the book has a great website with a lot of free information. http://www.workingactors.com

You can watch a great interview between myself and an elite acting coach, Larry Moss, here.

To catch past interviews of my show Filmnut you can go here: http://www.thestream.tv/filmnut

Published by Jeff Schubert

Jeff Schubert is the Host/Executive Producer of the show Filmnut that airs on thestream.tv. Each webisode provides an in depth interview about the making, marketing, or distribution of film, TV or new media…