Wednesday, October 31, 2012

52 Sketches in 52 Weeks: Stop the Anti-Bullying Campaign

Ah, the persecuted bully. Finally, one of them has the courage to stand up for themselves! I think the bully's bloated sense of dignity is my favorite part.

I've recently started to discover the power of the monologue for the low budget sketch writer. Amazing what a high quality story you can tell with just actors in front of plain black backgrounds. We got a lot of love for Audition a month or so ago, which had a similar set up. So I figured I'd try something similar with this. What do you guys think?

I think this is the best utilization of Zach that ATX has done so far. For whatever reason, a lot of these sketches have focused a lot on Matt and I, with Zach stuck playing the straight man. It's always bothered me a bit, because he really has a powerful stage/screen presence. Expect to see a lot more of that guy in future sketches.

Really proud of how this one turned out. It's a lot more grounded than some of our louder, wackier stuff. Excited to pursue more grounded, story/character central humor in the future.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Theresa Rebeck's Seminars: The frustratingly unbeaten path to being a "great" writer

Last night I scored a free ticket to Theresa Rebeck's very funny play, Seminars over at the Ahmanson Theater. It was starring my costar from Glee Jeff Goldblum, so I figured I'd check it out. Here we are together:

Wait... that shot's a little too close. Zoom out a little bit. 

There I am! In the back there, see me?

Pretentious celebrity name-dropping aside, this show really got me thinking about writing and what it means to be a "great" writer. The show revolves around four twenty-something aspiring New York writers desperately trying to impress a foul mouthed pro who acts as judge and jury regarding whether their stuff is good or crap.

This isn't really a review of the show. What I want to talk about is how much I identified with the four aspiring students and their desperation to be acknowledged as even a contender for the title of greatness. I wish there was one writer god who could tell me if I had the Gift of Writing, like in the show. But the pit I often fall into is the swampland of completely subjective opinions and tastes that can wrap around a befuddled writer like brain-sucking tentacles. (Which also happens in the show. (Not literally.)) Whose opinions matter? Who do you ignore?

It's somewhat easier to know if you're on the right track if you're a playwright or a screenwriter. If the audience laughs or gasps, keep it up! But prose is a different beast. Nobody gives you feedback because, for the most part, you can't get anybody in the professional industry to comment on your 20 page story. (Or, God forbid, your 500 page novel.) It's just piles of form letters saying your work "does not fit our needs at this time." 

"All this 'well done' bullshit means you're not being honest," Leonard insists in Seminars. "And if you're not being honest who gives a shit what you're writing?"

Good prose writing is, most would agree, a reflection of "the truth." If you want to be a good writer, you have to "be honest." Ah, well that was easy. Go write the truth. Article over!

I think we all understand the problem here. Sure, let's be honest. Honestly, I just had a hot cocoa from my Jack Skellington mug while watching an hour's worth of The Office. I miss Steve Carell, but I still really enjoy the new season. Andy's a funny character and he's really vulnerable in a way that interests me...

Snore. One time, in a panicked fit of writer's block, I decided to just writewhatevercomestomedon'tstopjustgo! This way I can discover MY INNER VOICE! Well, I wrote about sitting on a couch and having writer's block. How many editors do you think were clamoring to get ahold of that gem? (And yes, I actually did send it out.) The line between finding your own personalized "truth" and complete self-indulgence is pretty thin.

On the other end of the spectrum, if you only worry about what your audience wants, then you're selling out, right? Gah! (To my shame, I've tried that too. It was crap.)

I suppose what an aspiring writer should really be chasing is a surprise. Whether it's a particularly creative simile or a plot-shaking twist to the entire story, I think what audiences really crave is that of the unexpected. It's not enough to write about your dying grandmother. You also have to do it in a way that nobody has ever thought of before. Like, ever. In the history of literature. That's where honesty comes in, and the journey you get to take as a writer is discovering what your voice sounds like while communicating that honesty. When you get to a point where every sentence is surprising the reader in some way, then maybe that's when you've hit greatness.

So... yeah. Go do that.

Check it out. Might get you thinking. Or you might hate it. Or maybe you'll just remember that there's boobs in it. It's pretty subjective, really.

Monday, October 22, 2012

52 Sketches in 52 Weeks: Sara and Andy's Wedding

Slightly unconventional collection of sketches this week. Our friends in Kentucky wanted us to shoot something for their wedding, so they sent us videos across the country of them answering our questions and told us to have a blast with the rest. So we rolled the cameras and just told Zach to go crazy. I think I can confidently say that he took that direction and ran with it, haha.

I really love the two commercials, especially knowing how much footage got left on the cutting room floor. Matt did a pretty awesome job of distilling it down to the essentials. Haven't had to bust out my Italian accent since my college production of Napoli Milionaria! three years ago, but I had a lot of fun with that character. Maybe we'll bring him back sometime?

From what I understand, the video was a hit at the wedding. (I think they played it as a sort of prelude to the ceremony.) Pretty cool way to be involved from a good 2,000 miles away!

A lot of exciting things have been going on these last few weeks. I'll try to write about some of it tomorrow.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

52 Sketches in 52 Weeks: Work it Out for Women!

Don't have... TOO much to say about this one, as it's almost 100% Matt's baby. Didn't have a whole lot to do with it, besides helping out whenever I was asked to. I think there's some funny stuff going on here, and I LOVE the music underneath everything. I wish it was waaay shorter, I'll admit, but I will say that he really went balls to the wall on this one and, in true Matt Hatfield style, managed to come up with something that most people have never seen before. 

As a writer, I'm starting to feel like ATX is about to hit a turning point for me. I feel myself wanting to branch out a bit with the stuff that I write, and I'm excited to see what happens. Stay tuned, as always, faithful reader.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Making a Reel: What is this Nightmare?!?

Some of you might remember me writing a post in which I optimistically talked about how I was getting my reel together and all the exciting doors that could open for me once I had one. All I had to do was get the footage together! Well, that was more than a month ago. Here's what I've run into.

I want my reel to consist of my segments on 1000 Ways to Die and Operation Repo, my zombie PSA, Melvin Becomes a Man, and Dude Tips. As you may have noticed from all the hyperlinks, all of these clips can be found on the internet. So it should be super easy to collect all the footage, right? ...Right?

Let me say first off that Youtube is awesome. All you have to do to lift a Youtube video is put the url on and it takes care of everything for ya.

1000 Ways to Die and Operation Repo is where I'm having problems. My clips are streaming on their respective websites, and are protected against greedy little data thieves like myself. Okay, fair enough. But these shows have employed hundreds of actors, surely all I have to do is just email the folks from the show, and they'll send it right to me!

Psh. One show sent me an email that said "we don't send original copies to actors" whereas the other one just flat out never got back to me after two straight weeks of emailing, I guess in the hopes that eventually I'll buzz off

Looks like I'm on my own with these two.

Well, nothing like shelling out four bucks on iTunes to buy an TV episode that you're featured in. But I did that for 1000 WTD, only to discover that iTunes won't let me convert the file into a format that I can edit with. Even tried to use it on crappy iMovie, still wouldn't work. Bought iSkysoft Converter. Won't work. The episode is just sitting on my computer, and I can't use it.

Repo doesn't even have my episode on iTunes... Crap.

As of now, I'm waiting on my Dad to try some wizardry with his DVR to see if he can get Repo off of it. Still not sure what I'm gonna do about 1000 WTD.

You know what the funny part is? Once I actually have all the footage, stringing it all together into a rough cut will take fifteen minutes, tops.

Monday, October 8, 2012

52 Sketches in 52 Weeks: Conflict Resolution (Grappling with Green Screens)

Old ATX fans will recognize the ever-talented Jamie Burke from Melvin Becomes a Man making a triumphant return to our channel, and boy is she a force to be reckoned with. It was good to have her on set with us again. A lot of laughs were had during that shoot, and you can kind of tell in some places of the video where people were trying to keep a straight face. Hopefully we'll be able to trick her into getting into more nonsense with us again soon!

Well, my big triumph in this video is that I figured out how to use green screen effects ALL! BY! MYSELF! Boom. 

I guess our Final Cut's green screen program wasn't working for whatever reason, and Matt had pretty much given up on the idea. So I plopped down in front of my computer with a steadfast heart and a cup of hot cocoa... An hour of Youtube tutorials later and I figured out a way to transfer the completed video onto iMovie and add the green screen effects there. (Side note about iMovie: Not my favorite editing software.) 

I know that the end product probably isn't what one would call professional quality... I probably won't be working at Pixar any time soon, but I still think it's a nice touch that really gives the piece something that it wouldn't have had before.

Mostly, I'm proud of myself for being confronted with a problem that I had absolutely no idea how to fix, and then just grappled with it until I could make it work without any outside help. And as a result, I have one more skill that I can tuck into my back pocket for future videos.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

How to be a "Real" Actor

I've noticed a growing trend in the roles I've been going out for lately. Here's a snippet of the last couple of character breakdowns that I've auditioned for:

REAL to slight character looking. He's REAL and relatable...

REAL to character looking...

...REAL with character to very character teen...

Within the past couple of years, it's become important for casting directors to find actors who are "real." You can't go to an audition anywhere in this town without being asked to look real. But what in blazes does a real actor look like?

The first step to being real is looking like a real person. Just what the heck does that mean, you ask? You need to look just like "somebody you'd see on the street." Not specific enough for you? Okay, well let me try again...

Real Actor

To be real, you can't look like a big glamorous super star. Just look like a normal person! But at the same time, remember to stand out apart from your competitors or you won't get the gig. But don't try too hard, or then you won't be relatable anymore. They want somebody who is both mediocre and attractive. Just be real!

Not a Real Actor

Being real isn't just in your looks either! It's in how you act as well. You want to be approachable and down to Earth. (But don't forget to have more confidence and pizzazz than your competitors!)

Sometimes you'll be going for a role that is "Real to character looking." This simply means that they're looking for an actor who looks both subtle and animated at the same time. It's as easy as being told to act "Happy to sad!"

(If you're as befuddled as I am, don't worry. If you're alive and breathing, congratulations, you're real. When casting directors ask for a real actor, they're basically just saying "We're looking for an actor that we want to cast." Real means something different to each casting director, and you don't have much control over what that's going to mean. It shouldn't affect your performance at all. Go in there and ride the hurricane of chaos that is auditioning, and don't give it a second thought.)

Monday, October 1, 2012

Home Sweet Home...

Okay guys, I'm not sure how much this has to do with acting, but I'm gonna talk about my first few hours back in Los Angeles last Saturday night.

First of all, my flights were delayed and I wound up cruising into the LAX about five hours late. But I was optimistic. After such a long vacation, my creative guns were itching to start blowing holes in some impressionable minds WITH! ART!


The plane landed. "Let's do this," I said.

Los Angeles overheard my plans to conquer it and chuckled darkly at my naivete.

Because of the delay, my ride couldn't pick me up, so I had to look around twenty minutes for a shuttle that could take me to Van Nuys. The ride took about twice as long because Carmageddon was in full swing. (In other words, the 405 - LA's busiest freeway - was closed down.) An eternity later, I wearily trudged off the shuttle and threw seven bucks at somebody for the fare. At this point I'd been traveling for 17 hours, and I was just a five minute car ride away.

Called my roommate to come pick me up, only to find out that out of the blue, my car isn't starting for some mysterious reason. Pretty excited to pay for that this Monday.

Can't find a bus station to save my life. I'm so tired. Screw it! I'll take a cab! It's worth blowing ten bucks if it'll get me home!

HOLY CRAP THAT METER WON'T STOP TICKING. I eventually beg the driver to stop early. He does, but I don't have enough cash to pay him. He drives me to an atm, which in turn makes my cab fare rise even higher.

By the time I pay him, the atm eats my card because it thinks that I forgot it. The cab drives back to the dark hell it came from, and I'm left to drag my luggage another half-mile to my humble North Hollywood apartment, where all my neglected bills were anxiously waiting.

I'd been gone so long I'd started to think of LA as a magical place where dreams come true again. Three hours back west put me back in my place and re-taught me that the artist's life in Los Angeles can be summed up in one picture.

Time to get back to work!