Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Prostate Commercials, Headshots, Christmas movies and Night of the Iguana

The Headshot

I shot a commercial yesterday for a new medication supplement for prostate problems. A pill that apparently helps one, um, well, I don't know what it does, exactly, but the pill is apparently 'anti-prostate problem.' So I was hired to give one of those 'I'm not an actor' testimonials to the camera. Well, of course, I AM an actor but had fun pretending to be just a normal, addle-minded non-actor. Truth is, it was the easiest paycheck I've ever gotten here in LA. And as an added attraction, it's an 'in-house' industrial for the advertisers, so it won't even be shown on television with me extolling the virtues of my prostate-comfy butt. I can't name the medication because I signed an aggreement that I wouldn't talk about it, As though the major prostate medication drug companies out there regularly follow my blog.

Angie and I, in an extended fit of middle-aged Christmas cheer, are recording lots of Christmas movies, you know, the normal staples, 'It's a Wonderful Life,' 'Holiday Inn,' 'White Christmas,' etc. But my favorite Christmas movie doesn't appear to be anywhere on cable this year - 'The Homecoming,' which was the pilot for the television series 'The Waltons.' I love that movie. I love the writing, the sparse interaction, the defiant, depression-era characters. Remember, this was before 'The Waltons' morphed into something so sickly sweet as to cause diabetes. This was 70s television at its best. Good actors, good script, great photography. And Richard Thomas was born to play John-boy.

And in still other news, it's time for new headshots. Actors get slightly insane when it comes to headshots. I've known actors to get a sheet of pictures and pour over them for months before making a selection. They show them to everyone: the mailman, the next door neighbor, the third cousin, asking opinions ad nauseum. I understand this. I think it's because the headshot is the ONLY THING an actor controls about his career. The sad truth is, of course, the headshot isn't really that important. Yes, it needs to look like the actor, and yes, it needs to be of some quality, and yes, it should include some striking elements ('the eyes, show them something in the eyes' the so-called experts always say). And all of that is true. But the headshot doesn't do the acting for you. If you're not very good in the first place the greatest headshot in the world is not going to help (unless, of course, you're up for a role in one of the 'Twilight' films). I have a buddy of mine, a very successful actor and acting teacher out here, who always tells his students that the very first thing they should do is get super expensive headshots, upwards of a thousand dollars. He says it is the absolute most important thing in this business. Although I understand his viewpoint, I think it's horseshit. I say, get a good, solid headshot, don't break the bank doing it, make sure it looks like you, and go with it.

It's odd, but every major 'acting' city (NYC, Chicago, LA) seems to have a different style of headshot that is preferred. In Chicago, for example, one would ONLY get what is called a three-quarter shot. That is to say, a photograph that shows three-quarters of your body. I guess this is because lots of fat people in Chicago tried to get seen by just showing their face and when they got to the audition the producers were shocked at how fat they were. So they began demanding a 'three quarter' shot to weed out the fatties. I don't know. Just guessing there. In NYC, when I was there at least, it was a black and white face shot, very close, and then photo shopped within an inch of your life. It was not unusual to see a headshot for a 60 year old man with every single wrinkle taken out so that he looked like a dummy in a window at JC Penny. I never understood this but it was the rage in those days. I'm sure it's changed now. And here in LA, they want color shots, preferrably not 'posed' as in a studio with a solid color screen behind you. No, most of the shots I see are pseudo 'candid' shots of people, close up, color shots of their face, caught unawares in, say, a boxing ring or strolling along the train tracks or standing nonchalantly in front of a barbed wire, chain link fence with animal pelts hanging in the background. This, apparently, really 'catches' the actor and his essence.

I'm always reminded of John Malkovich's headshot outside Steppenwolf in Chicago. That theatre has all of the company members in a big display box right outside the main stage. Anyway, John's shot is of him with his hands over his face as though he were saying, 'Don't, please, don't look at me.' And yes, it is his actual headshot. I suppose if you're John Malkovich it's not important that people actually see who you are in your headshot. I asked him about it once. He laughed. I suspect John feels the same way about headshots as I do: a necessary evil, but certainly nothing lose sleep over.

On the flip side, I have a buddy out here in LA, older guy, character actor, does almost exclusively 'villain' roles. His headshot is the worst I've ever seen. It's an old (circa 1990) black and white shot of him scowling into the camera with an ill-fitting black and white suit on. And he works CONSTANTLY.

My wife and I agree (as an agent for many, many years Angie has a sort of sixth sense about this stuff) that my current shots probably exclude me from a lot of roles. I look too old in them. My hair (what's left of it) is prematurely white. Not grey. White. And although I'm a robust fifty (is that an oxymoron?) my pics indicate I could easily play sixty five. I find this disconcerting. Not to mention misguided. Consequently, what happens a lot for me is I'm always the youngest guy in the room by about fifteen years when I'm called in to read.

So, it's headshot time. I have a couple of photographers in mind. I only wish I had all the headshots through the years of me. Headshots, I've discovered, are a good barometer of what the actor thinks he OUGHT to look like rather than what he DOES look like. I know some of mine, through the decades, are just out and out stupid now.

Attached to the back of the headshot is, of course, the resume. This is where the business I'm in really gets surreal. This deserves an entire blog to itself but I'll mention one I saw a few years ago that made me chortle. I was doing a gig at a theatre in Virginia and the AD and I are old buds. I was in his office at the theatre one day and his secretary brought in a two-foot high stack of pics and resumes. I asked him if I could look through them. He said, sure, and I began going through them. It's kind of cruel but I think I hurt my gut laughing so hard that day. One in particular sticks in my mind. A lot of young actors, for whatever reason, feel compelled to put something called 'AGE RANGE' on their resumes. Ostensibly it is the age of the characters they could conceivably play. Well, this was a picture of a young man, very eager, smiling pleasantly, nice looking, and right under his name on the back on the resume it said 'AGE RANGE: 17 - 95.' Now, a couple years earlier I had done a play called 'Night of the Iguana' in New York and I knew there was a character in that play by Tennesse Williams named Nonno who is 96 years old. I could just imagine this young man getting called in to read for the part. He stomps into the audition room, red-faced with rage. He glares at the producers and says, 'Did you even LOOK at my resume!? Hm? Give it a single glance!? Because if you HAD you would have noticed that I can play 95! NOT 96! 95! I can play up to 95! Why would you even call me IN to read for 96!?' And he stomps out.


Heading down to San Diego in a couple of days to do the Christmas thing with the family. We're taking Franny and Zooey with us. Should be fun.

See you tomorrow.

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