Wednesday, August 29, 2012

My first national commercial shoot. (Featuring Blake Griffin.)

Okay guys, seriously. They gave me my own trailer. Let me repeat that: I HAD MY OWN TRAILER. Had my name on the door and everything. Did it have furniture? No. Did the electricity work? Sometimes. But by JOVE you'd better believe I strutted around set yacking off the phrase "I'll be in my trailer" to any unfortunate soul who happened to be within earshot.

I couldn't help but appreciate the power that big budget studios have over the city of Los Angeles. They shot our scenes on the driveway of some house, SO THEY SHUT DOWN THE ENTIRE BLOCK. I don't know what horrible labor camp they sent the residents of those houses to, but I never saw anybody who wasn't a part of the shoot.

Blake Griffin needs you to surrender your home... NOW

The shooting process itself was pretty easy. I met Blake Griffin, who had actually heard of my small state school ("Oh yeah, we played against them.") and then we got to it. Blake was pretty much the star of the spot, whereas I only reacted to what was going on in the scene. (Blake got his own umbrella guy to shield his beautiful complexion from the sun. I didn't. What a ripoff.) That being said, it was pretty amazing how subtle they wanted my reactions to be. Take a look at the next two pictures and see if you can tell a difference.

If you think they're pretty similar, than sorry. You don't have the chops to be a commercial director, because one of those suckers is right and the other is WRONG! 

Another interesting thing I noticed was how it took a good four and a half hours to shoot a thirty second commercial spot. I understand setting up for shots and whatnot, but I'll bet we took forty takes for each shot. Many of them were pretty much the same direction as the one before. I'm by no means bashing the director, cuz I've obviously never directed anything that big. But my primitive, idiot actor brain didn't understand why we needed so many takes. I just did what I was told like a good boy. I mean... when somebody gives you free Hawaiian style BBQ baby back ribs... you behave.

It was a great experience, and they had to drag me off of that set kicking and screaming. Because now that I've had this success, I have work to do. Time to make a reel, find a theatrical agent (maybe a manager too) and shmooze with the casting directors I've already met. Any time you move forward, you make sure you wring as much momentum from that blessing as you can. Forward motion is what it's all about out here. Cuz trust me, the pond is littered with other little fishies who are dead in the water. Gulp! Gotta keep moving!

Sunday, August 26, 2012

52 Sketches in 52 Weeks: Dude Tips (Pucker up, baby...)

We're on a roll! Here's this week's sketch, carried entirely by yours truly this time. We take a few pages out of MTV's playbook to give you a hot new segment called DUDE TIPS!

Ahaha so much fun. And the suspenders from Melvin Becomes a Man made a triumphant reappearance. (I'm a sucker for little easter eggs like that.) The feedback so far has been very enthusiastic, which makes us all happy as schoolgirls on the first day of summer vacation. 

You know what wasn't so much fun? Drinking an entire blender's worth of protein shake. You know why that wasn't much fun? Because we don't own a blender. Therefore we wound up getting a chocolate shake from In-N-Out and watering it down until it was choco soup. Yeccchhh....

I managed to gag my way through an entire giant cup's worth, only to look up and see Zach blinking helplessly at the camera, whose battery had died halfway through the take. Time to do it again!

Also: What do you do when your actress bails on you at the last second? Why, slap a wig on a dude and tell him to pucker up! That's creative problem solving right there, folks.

More often than not, I find myself playing the "nice guy" characters. It's SUPER important to know your type in this town (something I plan to touch on more in a future post), but sometimes when you do something completely different than what people are expecting out of you, some really funny things can happen. The joys of writing for yourself is that you get to try out roles that most directors won't automatically picture you in. And so for my big ATX sketch debut I cried... BRING ON THE DOUCHEBAG.

It's been SUCH a crazy week, so expect a bunch of posts this next week as I discuss my commercial shoot and another gig that I booked for Monday. In the meantime, keep the views coming! Last week's "Serial Killer" clocked in at a solid 114 views and "Cat Bowties" continued to climb past the 200 mark! You guys are amazing!

What did YOU think about Dude Tips? Want another episode, with even dudelier tips than the first? Let us know! We are your obsessive loveslaves. We spy on you when you sleep and we read your private emails. So... uh, you know. We think your opinions are neato.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

52 Sketches in 52 Weeks: Serial Killer (Dang, it was hot out there.)

What, you didn't think I'd forget about ATX in all the commercial excitement, did you? Here's the second week!

Haha, that stupid run he does at the end really cracks me up. And seriously, what kind of serial killer wears a bright neon yellow jacket when he's stalking his prey?

This shoot wound up being a lot easier than I was expecting. We had a pretty awful experience the last time we tried to shoot outside. Lots of ambient sound, other people walking into the shot, ever-changing lighting... there are so many factors that the ultra-low budget guerrilla filmmaker has little control over. Not to mention all of the potential problems of trying to shoot into a car. So I was bracing myself for all kinds of problems.

We zoomed into a sleepy-looking residential neighborhood in North Hollywood and shot everything we needed in less than an hour. Every once in awhile we'd have to stop for a passing car (kinda felt like we were neighborhood kids suspending our street hockey game: "CAR!!!") but besides that, the elements were pretty kind to us. Unless you count the 98 degree California heat burning our eyeballs out of our skulls.

So Week 2 is in the books. Cat Bowties, our first video, made it to 164 views in one week! Let's keep that momentum going for Serial Killer and see if we can make SK reach 200! Watch it, share it, and subscribe to our channel. Every time you share our videos on your Facebook, you're exposing them to hundreds of people that we don't have access to and, therefore, helping our fledgling project to thrive a little more.

What did you think of Serial Killer? Comment either here or on Youtube. We love feedback!

Thursday, August 16, 2012

How I booked my first national commercial!

I was on the set of some little cheapy movie as a background actor, dully waiting around in between takes. It was near the end of the day, and I was getting tired of moving my mouth and pretending to talk while the "real" actors did their thing. Also: no air conditioning. I looked down and saw that I had a voicemail. It was from my agent, and all she said was "Give me a call. I have some things I need to go over with you." My first thought was Great. What do I need to spend money on now?

I called her and the first thing she said was "You booked the Kia commercial with Blake Griffin! Congratulations!!!"

My brain initially had trouble figuring out whether it should be excited, grateful, relieved, empowered, or just plain unbelieving. I think I settled for something like "Wow!"

The first national commercial is a pretty huge step in the right direction for a young actor like myself. Without even mentioning the SWEET residuals that usually come with a car commercial, I'm also automatically eligible to join SAG-AFTRA whenever I want. (All I need is 3,000 bucks!) It can take people YEARS to get their union card. I probably won't join it instantly (I discuss the pros and cons of that move a little more in depth here.) but it's AWESOME to have that in my back pocket. I'm also gearing up for a theatrical agent hunt, so a national commercial will be a GREAT thing to have on my reel.

Now I know what you're thinking. "Nathan! Just a few posts ago you were going on and on about how subjective commercial auditions are! One week later and you booked one! You were just exaggerating!"

Okay, first of all, stop using so many exclamation marks. Secondly, let me walk you through my audition process for this. I walked into the room. They said "Look confused." So I did this:

"Not that confused," they said. So I did this:

"Now as if you really like it." I did this:

"Thanks, that's all we need!" AND I WALKED OUT THE DOOR. I must have been in there all of thirty seconds. Five days later, I got the gig. I didn't make any outstanding acting choices. I didn't schmooze with the directors. I just made a couple funny faces and took off before they stopped laughing.

More importantly, in the moments when I felt exhausted and was thinking about giving up, I STUCK WITH IT. Instead of quitting after that dog walking commercial audition, I went to the next one. THAT'S how you get jobs.

And, you know, magically looking exactly like the part they need helps too.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

52 Sketches in 52 Weeks: Cat Bowties (Wait, we started?!)

Whoo boy. Lots to discuss. But first... Here's a link to the first video:

Alright, so judging from early feedback (which ranges from "LMAO!!!!" to "I hated it") you either had a good time or were left scratching your head, wondering what the heck you just watched. Either reaction is okay. It's kinda how you're supposed to feel.

Tim and Eric (examples of which can be viewed here and here) are notorious for making supercharged pieces of comedy that basically crank up the intensity to the point where logic snaps and the viewer is bombarded with absurdity. The goal isn't so much to tell a story as to basically assault your senses as brutally as possible. (They're kind of a comedic version of Antonin Artaud's work with theater of cruelty.)

I set out to emulate that style with Cat Bowties, and then Matt took it to a whole other level in the editing chair. As far as I'm concerned, we were totally successful. 

That being said, this wasn't really supposed to be the first episode of our series. For every one person who thinks Tim and Eric is funny, there's another fifteen people who hate it. I know this kind of stuff is really polarizing, and I would've rather posted a more user-friendly introduction. Buuut some wires got crossed and it wound up getting posted first. Actually... we weren't supposed to launch at all for another week. Whoops! 

Anyway, we are officially moving, and I have no idea where we're headed. It's a totally terrifying feeling, to be honest. I can't help but envision the whole project crashing and burning, with everyone I know and respect just shrugging and saying "I don't get it." I woke up this morning and I felt like a giant anchor was wrapped around my barely-floating artistic career. Basically the same question hit me that, I suppose, hits everyone who tries something ambitious: "What if I suck?" 

But my philosophy has always been that if I'm scared of the project, that means that I took risks and tried some things that were outside of my comfort zone. That, in my humble opinion, is what an artist is supposed to be. It's certainly how one grows. Somewhat perversely, the only ones who get to decide if it's a success or a failure is you, my esteemed audience. All I can do is offer as many burnt offerings to you as possible in the hopes that one of them is pleasing to your mighty appetite for entertainment. 

So yeah, go me. Sound off in the comments section about what you thought about our crazy video, and if you've ever been scared of failing! Did you triumph or crumple? I starve for your stories!!!

Thursday, August 9, 2012

"I Just Don't Think I Can Do It."

Here's an old post that I wrote on a long-forgotten xanga account a few months ago, but I thought it had enough relevance to repost here. Very quickly in your first year as an actor, there will come a time where you think "What the heck am I doing here?" I asked myself that question last March, and this is what I came up with:

I guess what it all comes down to is, if I could go back in time, would I move out here again?

The decision to move to California is without a doubt the biggest and scariest thing I've ever done with my life. I left behind a girlfriend that I loved, friends who had my back, and a family who shaped me into the person that I am today. Essentially, I destroyed my old life to start a new one in a city where thousands of people are clawing over each other, trying to do the exact same thing I am. The odds of me failing miserably are almost certain. So if I could go back, would I change anything?


What I realize is that failure is never the end. In fact, the only way to succeed is by failing. Even though there are plenty of times where I sit around my cramped apartment with next to no income, worrying about how long my savings are going to last, obsessively puzzling about how to break into an industry that is as airtight as Alcatraz, missing people from home, at the same time I realize that I'M DOING IT! THIS IS WHAT IT'S ALL ABOUT.

To chase a dream is to fail and fail and fail and fail and fail and maybe one day succeed. And yet, this is the conflict that makes life worth living. If I had kept my old life, I would have gone absolutely crazy. I would have asked myself every day, "How might things have turned out if I'd been braver?" Nothing's wrong with settling down, but (for me anyway) settling down is something I have to EARN. It's a nice, well-deserved rest after a bitter struggle for my own destiny. 

And what an exciting struggle! I've been in music videos, TV shows, Shakespearean plays, a short play WRITTEN BY ME, a PSA, and indie short films! I've met nationally renowned casting directors and I've met lowly homeless people, dying of AIDS and wanting somebody to talk to. In a way, success and failure is irrelevant. What it's really all about is making the ride as wild as you can. As nice as the merry-go-round is, you're inevitably gonna wanna graduate to a roller-coaster. (Even if sometimes you're so scared that you nearly crap yourself.) And that's what I'm doing. 

Another nice thing about failure: They make the successes that much sweeter. Case in point: AS I WAS WRITING THIS, I got an unexpected phone call that opened yet another little window of opportunity for my fledgling artistic career. It's like getting hit with a lightning bolt made of candy! 

Be wise, be fearless, and never lose faith. You can ALWAYS push through until tomorrow.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Project ATX: 52 Sketches in 52 Weeks

A little less than a year ago, I moved out here with two of my best friends from college. We split a crappy one bedroom apartment in North Hollywood that has since acquired a permanent aroma that can only be described as "dude stink." We're awesome actors, we're gonna be famous one day, blah blah blah, you get it. Anyway, we quickly got the idea to film some of our own stuff in the name of wowing the world with our jaw-dropping talent. So we bought a Canon Vixia and started calling ourselves filmmakers.

And Adventure Team Extreme was born. 

Me in Melvin Becomes a Man, an ATX short film.

We shot a couple of shorts that Matt directed and wrote, and I directed my first short film with ATX as well (pictured above), but I've always felt like the process was a little slow. In one year we've made four Youtube videos, averaging between 200-300 views for each. This totally makes sense for the first year, as we've all still been getting over the whole "Holy cow! This place is big and scary!" phase. But now it's time to kick it into overdrive, baby.

The harsh fact is that in LA, nobody cares about your short film. Short films multiply out here faster than rabbits, so it's tough to convince somebody to sit down and watch your 15 minute masterpiece.*  That's a lot of time in internet years! Think about the Youtube videos that you click on. Unless it's from a source you're already familiar with, I'll bet that they usually aren't much longer than two or three minutes. 

So I've started writing some micro shorts. Two minutes tops each. When we launch in the next few weeks, we're gonna release a new short every week. My goal is to have 5,000 views for the final episode. Not sure what we're gonna call this yet... Turbo Tuesdays, maybe?

We can't wait to tickle your eyeballs.

Anyway, my hope is that, as we start to gather a following, we become more valuable to potential agents, casting directors, etc. It'll also be a good way to show off my writing chops, and therefore any screenplays I send to big shots would have a better chance of being taken seriously. So if you enjoy them, share them! Uh, you know. Please?

The material that we've got so far has turned out pretty great, so I'm excited for everybody to see it. And of course I'll keep you guys posted on everything ATX on this blog as we go.


*There are, of course, merits to doing short films, but I'll discuss that later.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Keep It Simple, Stupid! How Commercial Casting Directors Don't Care About Your Amazing Acting Skills.

So I was at a commercial audition yesterday. I walked into the room with a few other guys and the director says "Just walk an imaginary dog onscreen, stand there a few seconds, and walk off." That was the ENTIRE audition. Easy, right? Well... not so much.

The first thing I'm thinking about is OMG!!! This is a NATIONAL COMMERCIAL, so if I got this gig it would be the biggest thing I've done with my career so far. Adding to which, this sucker pays in the THOUSANDS of dollars for ONE DAY of work. I just have to show this casting director that I'm the best mute dog walker in LA!!!

Suddenly there's this enormous pressure to knock this guy's socks off. This feeling is worsened by the fact that there are three or four other actors in the room who look exactly like me, doing the exact same thing. I have to outdo them!!

How can I show this guy what an absolute joy I am to work with? Should I laugh really loudly at everything he says? Should I make a few desperate jokes to try to make him laugh? Maybe when I walk on camera I can say something witty so he can see how funny I am! Or I can at least blast him with my best good ol' Kentucky boy-next-door smile! I can't just stand there, holding an invisible leash... That's boring! These guys have seen dozens of actors today and they're going to see dozens more. MUST. STAND. OUT.

So I did something that I'm very proud of: I walked onscreen. I stood there a few seconds, holding an invisible leash. I walked offscreen.

It felt awful. Every bone in my body was like "You're blowing it! You're blowing it!" But I stayed natural. Wasn't even really all that aware that there was a camera on me. However, the guy right after me did all kinds of flashy things... and he looked RIDICULOUS.

Your Commercial casting director probably isn't looking for this guy.

When you get a direction as simple as that, the harsh fact is that they probably aren't looking for your Oscar-worthy acting chops. Several commercial casting directors I know have admitted that in those situations they really just want to see what your eyes look like on camera. Or how your nose looks compared to somebody else. Or, yes, sometimes how stacked your breasts are. In situations like that, there's not a whole lot that you can do to boost your odds outside of being present and FOLLOWING THEIR DIRECTION. Anything extra will probably just give them an excuse NOT to cast you. Show them how professional you are and even if you don't get cast in this one, maybe they'll call you in again in the future. 

I walked out of that room feeling totally confident that I had, in a way, given a fantastic audition. So, you know, score one for the good guys. If this were a fairy tale, my restraint would have been rewarded with a call from my agent telling me that I booked the job. In reality, I spent the rest of my evening sitting beside a silent phone, playing some Zelda. Such is life, I suppose.

Have you ever had a similar experience? Or maybe you hammed it up and it DID help? Maybe you're a pro and you have some advice? Tell me all about it!