Reviews!

June 7, 2016 | Filed Under Acting, General News, Reviews | Comments Off on Reviews! 

“I don’t quite know how to take praise. It makes my eye red.” – Topsy-Turvy, Mike Leigh.

The Brighton Killers has finished its stint at the Brighton Fringe, a run of sell-out shows (all, er, seven of them) to triumphant reviews: 5* from Remote Goat, 4* from Reviews Hub, 4* from Broadway Baby. Flattering words such as “mesmerising” and “surprisingly affecting” were bandied about regarding yours truly, which is all very cheering.

It’s important, of course, to remember that reviews don’t really mean anything other than that one harried reviewer, rushing from one Fringe show to the next, enjoyed that particular performance. If you put too much weight on good reviews, you’ll be devastated by a bad one: really, you can only ever aim to meet your own and your director’s ambitions. Anything else is pandering.

Percy Lefroy Mapleton was a corker of a role to play, it must be said: Mapleton, a real person, was convicted in July 1881 of murdering Isaac Frederick Gold by shooting him (non-fatally) in the neck, slashing him up with a razor and throwing him out of a moving train into the Balcombe tunnel, and all for a pocket watch and the meagre contents of Gold’s purse. He was arrested, released, and arrested again, then hanged at Lewes prison. The role consisted in the main of a 15-minute monologue, detailing his initial lies to the police, the true tale of his crime, and finally the harrowing details of his final night on Earth, leading up to and past the moment of his hanging.

For an actor, it’s a bit of a dream part: a rollercoaster ride through cockiness, self-aggrandisement, exhilaration, guilt, bitterness, and finally abject fear as the scaffold looms. And the icing on the cake? The place where I start the story was in a lavatory in the police cells under Brighton Town Hall – the very same lavatory down which Mapleton had attempted to flush his razor and the stolen purse upon his arrest.

I already knew that it would be a pleasure to take part, as I worked (and had a ball) with the rest of the cast last year on a farce called The House – indeed, The Brighton Killers was written specifically for us by Nigel Fairs after we could not secure the rights to re-do The House. We’ve put the play to bed for now, but there are plans afoot to resurrect it and take it on tour in the fullness of time – watch this space…



Surviving Actors Expos

February 11, 2014 | Filed Under Acting, Dubious pearls of wisdom, General News | 2 Comments 

“If you’re not paying for it, you’re not the consumer, you’re the product.” – Anonymous.

So on Saturday, I attended an event called Surviving Actors, an expo stacked full of “opportunities” for the aspiring/struggling/stalled actor. I specify this type of actor, because the place was full of people selling things that beginners may not know they need, and other things besides.

This may be no surprise to many of you. There’s half a dozen of these things every year – Surviving Actors, The Actors’ Expo, Perform!, etc – generally between January – April, and they’re all either free, or cost very little. The people who pay for it are the people selling you stuff, and what they’re buying is a room full of potential marks. Here is my quick (and probably not 100% accurate) tally of the various services available:

  • 5 Casting organisations (i.e CCP, Spotlight, etc)
  • 4 Photographers
  • 4 Book sellers
  • 4 Showreel providers
  • 6 Resting job recruiters (virtually all telesales or T.I.E.)
  • 8 people offering a variety of courses
  • Miscellaneous

Miscellaneous included accountants, presenter training, some sort of health supplement pyramid scheme, and a whole raft of people selling advice, offering media managing packages, NLP training, US visa deals, etc. Virtually no-one on any stall (a few photographers aside), it should be added, was upfront about any costs unless they were specifically selling tangible objects on the stalls. After all, the sizzle is always free: you’ll only find out what’s in the sausage when you’ve decided to buy it. In terms of practical, proactive things to do, it was a bit slim on the ground: there were no agents there to meet. There were a few cardboard dropboxes with casting directors’ names on them, into which you could chuck your CV and headshot, but that’s it. This was a marketplace selling the one thing we all want: opportunity.

Now, some of these products are essential: if you lack headshots, you need to get them done, and unless you’re lucky enough to know a professional photographer who knows what is required of a headshot, then you have to pay for it.

If you feel untrained in certain aspects of performing (or indeed, all aspects), then here’s where you can find out about stage combat courses, horse riding courses, Meisner courses, voice workshops, acting workshops, and so on.

In addition to that, stalls selling plays, technical manuals (voice warm-up exercises, intros to Method, what-have-you) and the many variations on Contacts have a valid contribution to make to any actor’s career, and their utility comes from the actor’s willingness to use them, not the actual quality or purpose of the product.

I suppose, if you’re struggling to find a resting job that’s working for you, then stalls where you can sign up for teaching acting or manning call centres also serve a legitimate purpose (though I personally think there’s something rather sordid about selling someone lessons in how to earn money, which some places seemed to be offering).

All the casting resources were there, too. I initially baulked at finding stalls for Spotlight, Casting Networks, CCP, Star Now, etc., but of course the reason they’re in attendance is because not everyone knows about them. While I’ve been around the block long enough to know that this is where the jobs are to be found (even if vanishingly few of the ones not advertised on Spotlight are actually decently paid), anyone aspiring to act for the first time would find an event like this an invaluable resource. God, I wish I’d known about something like Surviving Actors when I graduated in 1998; back them, the full extent of careers advice I got at university was “(Technical) TV jobs are advertised in the Guardian on Monday, acting jobs are in The Stage on Thursday. Good luck!”

There’s a legitimate need for all these things, and it’s handy to have them all in one place. You could argue that companies that sell courses play on actors’ insecurities to make their money – that it’s easy to blame your continuing lack of success on a lack of skills, or on just not being good enough, so you invest in their course to feel better and more confident. Doubtless, that’s how some of the marketing works, and there’s nothing wrong with that per se; in my opinion, it’s far better to address your own insecurities by attending a course in an acting method that works for you, or in a new skill, than it is to simply stew in your own fears and self-doubt – that way lies a self-destructive spiral.

It’s the other things that trouble me, such as the showreel services. As I understand it, a showreel is a small highlights clip of work for which you have successfully auditioned, which shows off your abilities to good effect, and which demonstrates that someone out there has taken a chance on you. It’s not just a demonstration of your abilities: it’s a stamp of approval from people in the industry. Surely, therefore, a showreel for which you have paid (usually an exorbitant sum of money) demonstrates merely that you have deep pockets.

Then there are the people promising you a US working Visa, trips to Hollywood, the chance to audition for casting directors of shows like Homeland, Breaking Bad, etc, but only if you sign up to their organisation, all of which will cost you literally thousands – at the end of which is no guarantee that you’ll get anything more than a busman’s holiday and a series of polite but firm rejections.

All this before we get to the people selling marketing packages, mentoring programmes, and the like. The basic tools actors need in this day and age are:

  • A headshot
  • A website
  • A business card
  • An e-mail account
  • A showreel
  • A voicereel (if you want to work in V/O)

Optional extras include a Twitter handle, a FB professional page, and other social media bollocks. This is what we need. We all know that this is what we need. The only thing stopping us from getting it all is our own lethargy or luddism. So why would you want someone to empty out your pockets in order to put it all together for you, ESPECIALLY as less of your personality will come through to a potential employer looking through their identikit guff than something that you have thoughtfully put together yourself that best reflects your personality?

“Ah (I have decided to hear you cry), but what if I don’t really know about website design, and social media management, and all that?” To which I reply “You’ve got Google, haven’t you?” Look up actors’ websites – anyone with decent SEO management will be fairly easy to find. In doing that, you’ll see some that you like; and some that you don’t like. Thus fore-armed, you can put together a lot of the material you need for a website, and then all you need to pay for is someone who’ll help you put the skeleton together, and the hosting. OR you can just find an on-line website generator like WordPress, and spend an instructive afternoon or two wrangling your own (like this one, which a web-savvy friend and I put together in two afternoons).

And this is my real issue: there are SO MANY people at these events marketing stuff that you don’t need, and all of them use a hard sell to make you feel that your career is doomed to failure unless you buy their formula for success – “Get our showreel!”; “Buy our full marketing package!”; “Meet Hollywood casting directors!”; “Learn to be a presenter!”; “Study NLP and you’ll psyche your way through auditions!”; and so on. The trouble is that these are garnishes sold as main courses: it’s such a dicey career, full of uncertainty, and dead patches, and self-doubt, that we actors can come to crave solutions and guarantees: some talisman or secret formula that’ll make us successful. And they just don’t exist. Success comes of hard work, tenacity and professionalism, and occasionally, a giant dose of luck. You can’t just buy it off the shelf.

I’m not even going to start on the stall promoting a bogus health supplement pyramid scheme.

The only thing I saw actually set up to benefit actors in the whole place was an organisation called MAD Trust, which is a charity set up to promote AIDS awareness amongst the acting community, and to raise money for a hardship fund for actors with severe illnesses. They are, of course, after your money too. But at least they’re putting it to good use.

Actors are, by and large, shagged for income. It’s hard, therefore, to be in a room full of people all trying to make you poorer, whether you’ll benefit from the exchange or not. After ten minutes, I felt like a chicken that had unwittingly strolled into a foxes’ den.



Advert auditions

January 27, 2014 | Filed Under Acting, Dubious pearls of wisdom, General News | Comments Off on Advert auditions 

“Commercial castings are a law unto themselves – leave your ego at the door and just go for it.” – Andy Nyman, The Golden Rules Of Acting.

I heard a story once about a guy up for a year-long ad campaign for an extremely big product. Global, you know? And he passed the audition – along with one other guy. They got called to set, turned up in their cabs and were told to just sit on a sofa and wait. After ten minutes, someone came out, looked at both of them critically for a minute, said “That one,” and pointed to the other guy. Guy #1 got driven home, paid his daily shoot fee. Guy #2 got £55k and a year’s exposure worldwide.

As an actor in the trenches, yet to establish a career of going from one prestigious TV job to the next, the majority of auditions I get through my agent are for advertisements. They’ve got me a couple of beauties in the past – The National Theatre, a feature film, a drama-documentary, etc – but mostly, I’m up for advert jobs. They may be big campaigns (I once got a recall for a two-hander campaign that would have paid £65k in buyouts, only to be pipped at the post by someone really rather well-known), or they may be one-offs running for two weeks, but they make up the majority of sensibly paid work that I get called in for.

This is not, as far as I can tell, a failing of my agent, as they’ve got me auditions for more interesting things than my previous agent did (see above); it’s just the nature of the beast for most jobbing actors. Wages are generally coming down for actors across the board, as there are more and more of us scrabbling for work and undercutting each other – it’s a buyer’s marketplace, and they know it – but a decently paid campaign running for, say, 600 repeats can pay the equivalent of 6-12 months’ service industry salary, which is why we’re always happy to get a call for one.

So how do you approach an ad audition? It’s a tricky proposition. Half the time, you won’t get sides; you’ll be told to turn up looking suave/scruffy/posh/whatever, and be handed a basic script on the spot – or nothing at all, just do what you’re told when you go into the room. Generally, advert auditions require you to commit, completely and wholeheartedly, to something humiliating. Some examples:

  • Mime riding a horse while trying not to sneeze (done that).
  • Dance like Michael Jackson (done that, too).
  • Play a piece of baguette like it’s a harmonica (I dread to think how many people had slobbered on it before I went in).
  • Be a camp drill sergeant whipping a bunch of dancers into shape (got a recall for that).
  • Ride a bike around the room. We don’t want any stunts, just wide circles, figures of eight (I got pencilled for that one, despite barely being able to ride).

After a while, it can all start to feel a bit like this (by the splendid Cardinal Burns, for whom I played a few very minor bits and pieces in their first TV series).

And here is my shameful secret: in 3.5 years of acting professionally, I have never been in an ad campaign that screened. I landed my second ever ad audition, they filmed it, but it never screened (and no transmission means no buyout fee). I’ve been pencilled for about eight, and cancelled a few days before for a few others. It gets hard, after a while, to go into an ad audition believing you can get the job with a track record like that. That’s when you need to remember one cardinal rule: whether you get an ad or not has nothing to do with your abilities as an actor.

The Michael Jackson-dancing ad? Jared Hess (Napoleon Dynamite, Nacho Libre) was directing that. Apparently, he fought with the company execs to be able to see me again. A Hollywood director, hired specifically to deliver a kooky, off-the-wall product, wanted to meet me for this job, but I still did not get it, because the company didn’t like my face. Honestly, I think the main reason he liked my face was because I was beardy and bespectacled, just like he was at the time (he was a very nice man, btw).

I know it may sound it, but I’m not bitter. No, seriously, I’m not. Guy #1, above, has the right to be bitter. Other than an extreme example like that, there’s no point in being bitter, because (a) it changes nothing except your own state of mind (which gets worse), and (b) it’s got nothing to do with you, and everything to do with the brand. If you fit, you fit. If you don’t fit, you don’t fit. You choose your outfit (I believe in dressing for the part, as long as the part’s not, you know, Batman), you go in, you make your choices and you stand by them (but not to the point of ignoring direction), you do your job, you go home and you forget about it.

I had an ad audition this morning, my first of the year. Felt pretty good going in (despite the best efforts of the Northern Line to make me hot, sweaty and late). Liked my chances, looking at the other guys auditioning. Still puzzled by how I even got in the room, given that the breakdown references were Kevin Spacey(!) and George Clooney(!!). But when it was done, I did a couple of chores in town, I came home, and I forgot about it. I looked for another role to apply for. Had a cup of tea. Fussed the cat. Read a bit of Wolf Hall. Wrote this post. And put it behind me, clearing the decks for the next opportunity to come in.



A daily routine

January 13, 2014 | Filed Under Acting, Dubious pearls of wisdom, General News | Comments Off on A daily routine 

So this year, I’m trying to evolve a daily routine. When you’re an actor, unless you’re profoundly fortunate/successful (delete as appropriate), you’ll likely spend a lot more time looking for work than, you know, doing it. In the times in which you are not acting or earning that month’s rent, it is essential to have a routine, so that when that all-important audition calls, it will not find you croaking, hunched, and blinking mole-like in the daylight, while wearing slippers, Saturday’s underpants and an ex-girlfriend’s strappy vest top, with bags under your eyes and orange Wotsits dust liberally coating your three-week-old castaway beard.

So, my proposed 2014 daily routine:

  • Get up at 9am, no excuses.
  • Do some exercise – some sit-ups, some chin-ups, some press-ups.*
  • Do some semi -supine, because lying down and trying not to do anything at all is essential after doing some exercise.**
  • Do some vocal warm-ups, to keep the voice mellifluous and beautiful.
  • Have a shower, get dressed, have a cup of tea and face the day.
  • Answer any outstanding e-mails.
  • Browse casting websites, apply for any jobs that turn up.
  • Work on the current screenplay, or if it’s not coming that day:
  • research the next one. Always have a second project on the go.
  • Have lunch. Dip into the casting sites every so often.
  • Do a household chore as a way of having a screen break.
  • Research IMDB Pro for possible casting directors to write to. In it to win it, shy bairns get no sweets, etc.
  • Casting sites again. Write a blog post. Look into networking options, workshops, training opportunities. Repeat options 7-12 as appropriate.
  • At 6pm, STOP. Give yourself the freedom to enjoy your evening, safe in the knowledge that you’ve spent the day working diligently at your career.

Of course, it doesn’t always work out like this. So far, it’s been closer to:

  • Get up by 11am (this is crucially important, however tempting it may be to hide in the dark warmth under the duvet until 2pm).
  • Look at the chin-up bar and whimper.
  • Sod the semi-supine, you’ve spent the whole morning lying down already.
  • Fail to find the voice book you bought LAST FEBRUARY, you slacker.
  • Splash water on the face, front and forks, get dressed, have a cup of tea and feel guilty.
  • Browse casting websites – Spotlight (to torture yourself, wondering if your agent has stuck you up for anything good), CCP, Star Now (pff), Equity (hah!), The Stage (double hah! Didn’t spend three years studying film to become a teacher, thankyouverymuch).
  • Gripe on Facebook about all the unpaid work on offer.
  • Stare at the screen blankly, willing a scene to come into existence.
  • Check the casting websites again. Wonder mournfully why half the applications you send don’t get read.
  • Read a screenplay you find online – it’s research, right? ‘Course it is! That’s how you learn, folks, by studying the best.***
  • Check the casting websites again. F*ck me, there’s a paid job! Yeah, it’s only NMW. Sod it, go for it anyway. Load up the form letter, give it a tweak, send it off.****
  • Have another cup of tea. Watch a film and call it research. Feel guilty.
  • Rinse and repeat until 7pm, when you finally crack, boot up some computer game, and go to bed at 2am feeling guilty. Your career is doomed, your future is doomed, even the cat thinks you’re lazy, and looks forward to the day you die and she can eat you.

Onward to victory!

So as you can see, I’ve got a sure-fire play for success planned out, and I’m working it like Dustin Hoffman in a shiny suit. Actors! Writers! Other freelancers! Do you have any great hints, tips or suggestions for keeping on top of the crushing ennui of your daily lives and actually making progress? Share them here! And if you feel you need advice, I’ll be happy to take all calls, and my advice comes at no charge, because we are all rising together. Just not before lunchtime, and give me two days’ notice of a face-to-face, so I can shave and brush the wotsits dust off my face.

 

*In With Nails, Richard E Grant tells how, on the advice of his agent, he spent six months in the gym toning his physique, got the part of Withnail, and was promptly told to let it all go again, because Withnail is a wreck. My belief is that it it’s better to stay trim and then let yourself go to hell if need be, rather than to be an out-of-shape sad-sack and suddenly have to get fighting-fit in three weeks. Not that I’ll ever get cast in something that requires me to be fighting fit, but hey.

**Semi-supine is a part of Alexander Technique, which is a big part of having a neutral posture. My posture used to be bloody shocking, but after months of AT, it is now merely bad. Mostly, it’s just an excuse to lie down.

***This is actually a really good thing to do, both as an actor and a writer, and I’ll come to why in a future blog post. I hear you salivate with anticipation.

****If they want a bespoke letter, they can pay more than £5/hour.



A fresh start for 2014

January 6, 2014 | Filed Under Acting, General News, Screenwriting | Comments Off on A fresh start for 2014 

So it’s the start of 2014, and once more I resurrect the blog from the ashes of what once was. The problem with the old one was that it had no purpose – it was more a diary than anything else, a random collection of minor triumphs and disappointments.

And who needs to read any of that? The web is full of underemployed actors whinging about their trials and tribulations already.

So the new and improved purpose of this blog is to write the experiences of a jobbing actor in the trenches. I’m going to feature Q&As with other actors in my position; links to helpful online resources for actors; and a place to pool helpful advice, tips, stories, observations and thoughts on how to do the job well – on everything from leeching the meaning from every last word in one’s sides to how to keep smiling and being productive in one’s darkest days.

There will also be some stuff in here about screenwriting. I love screenwriting. One of the most important things to do as an actor is to find ways to keep yourself feeling positive, especially if you’re in a dry patch/had a run of bad auditions/feeling low generally. Writing does that for me, and helps me also to understand how to read a script – what telling details the writer has inserted that you may otherwise have missed, which can help you sharpen your characterisation; what clues it can give you about pacing and delivery; how to spot a project not worth pursuing; and so on.

I’m looking to do updates once a week; if there are any specific topics you would like to see covered, let me know.



Not abandoned…

February 27, 2012 | Filed Under General News | Comments Off on Not abandoned… 

…just been crazy busy with freelance work, play rehearsals, workshops and auditions!

This week: I have an audition for an advert (got to brush off my sleight of hand skills for the first time in a year), a scheduled meeting to discuss the latest draft of The Burden Of Proof (new working title for the never-ending screenplay) with someone to get feedback, more Shadow Formula rehearsals, and finally a week away from the freelance job, in which to learn my lines for the play, work on The Burden Of Proof, and record some voice-over samples for an audiobook publisher.

Last week was mental – literally four offers of lead/principal roles in short films in as many days. Sadly, I had to turn down one that I really liked the look of, because it was shooting on Saturday and I was already committed to doing a music video with Jog On Media for up-and-coming band Black Manila (which will apparently garner lots of exposure, even if it is exposure of me doing yet more escape-related work). The other three:

  • A sci-fi short film.  Quite a mental one. Need to discuss the script with the director.
  • An oddball rom-com thing, on which I will make a decision purely on the strength of the script.
  • A charming-looking thing about a banker who gives away all his worldly possessions. I’d do it on the spot, but I need to see a script first.

Always, it should come down to the script. Otherwise, you can find yourself committed to saying lines which, in a worst-case scenario, include words that don’t exist and the director (or writer) is so adamant about his/her vision that he won’t accept any alternative to the gibberish syllables he’s laid down. Yes, this is from experience. No, that particular experience is not listed on my CV. Another reason to be wary of taking anything on is that I already have a ridiculous amount of dialogue to learn for the play, and there won’t be room in my head for all that AND a lead in a short film unless the dialogue really is quite spare.

Flattering though it may be to be offered a role purely on the strength of one’s showreel/natural charisma/flawless innate inner and outer beauty; if the script is shit, you’ll regret going near it. An actor acquaintance called Gabriel once gave me a very sound piece of advice: “Have the courage to turn down the work you don’t want to do.” I have never regretted following this advice, only ignoring it.

It’s not even that your reputation will suffer from being associated with something rubbish – it won’t, because nine times out of ten no-one who’ll ever have an impact on your career will ever see it. The damage will be to your faith in the career choice you’ve made, and your deep-rooted belief that it’s the job you should be doing. For the duration of the project, acting will not be the richest, most rewarding thing you could imagine doing with your life, it’ll be an agonising grind. It’ll call into question that career choice. Every moment that you spend wishing you were far away from that job will bring you a moment closer to the point where you give acting up altogether. And then where will you be?

In other news:

  • Shadow Formula proceeds apace. Venue nearly confirmed, scenes coming together nicely, a good rapport forming with the cast. Gonna be fun.
  • Auditioned for a sitcom pilot the other week, hopefully hear back from that soon. It looked like it might actually be funny, unlike a lot of the “comedy” scripts I’ve seen in the past.
  • I may be doing voices for a computer game!
  • Business cards/new headshots printed and ready to deploy.
  • Advert audition aside, still no paid roles in my immediate future.


Another week, another lurch in roughly the right direction

November 22, 2011 | Filed Under General News | Comments Off on Another week, another lurch in roughly the right direction 

Firing on all cylinders already! Today, I received an e-mail from a splendid fellow I met on a screenwriting course recently. He offered to put me in touch with a director with multiple features and TV episodes under her belt, for discussion about a new feature she is planning. Watch this space…

I have also been asked by a couple of students to play a hit man in a short film they’re making. I’m at the stage now where I can be quite choosy about what unpaid work I do (as I have a completed showreel, plus more material to stick on it when I get some spare time), but their script is laudably spartan, I could do with getting one or two more credits by year’s end, and hell, it’s a chance to tart around with a sniper rifle on film, so why not? I’m just a big kid who likes to play with toy guns at heart…

By the end of the week, I’m hoping to get a sample piece of text recorded to send to a chap who publishes audiobooks, and maybe write a scenario for a music video that’s been rattling around in my head for years.  All this while doing a full week of freelancing for the BBC.



It’s Alive! Aliiive!

November 19, 2011 | Filed Under General News | Comments Off on It’s Alive! Aliiive! 

*ahem* The website for Edwin Flay has now gone live. On here I shall be keeping updates of various acting endeavours, experiences, etc., mentioning upcoming appearances and whatnot.

I don’t anticipate that it will be an amazingly traffic-heavy website, but hello to any wanderers who have found themselves here by mistake.

 

In recent news:

  • I have just written two 3-min short films – The Daily Struggle and The Sun Sets In The West – and I’m hoping to get crew and locations together to shoot them come Spring. I think they’re rather good, but then I would.
  • I have a callback for a new piece of theatre, but the date is not confirmed at present.
  • I need to redraft a feature film that I wrote this summer. Hell, I need to come up with a satisfactory title for the feature film I wrote this summer. At least I wrote it, which I never thought I would manage.
  • I need another audition! I am starting to feel a bit out in the cold. And at present it is very cold.
  • I also need to work out how to stop these paragraphs from double-line spacing.

Anyhoo, welcome! I hope you enjoy.