New Representation and a Short Film

June 14, 2016 | Filed Under Uncategorized | Comments Off on New Representation and a Short Film 

“They’re magicians, your honour. Men who live by dressing up plain and simple truths to shock, to amaze.” – The Prestige, Christopher Nolan.

Last week, to mark Refugee Week 2016, a short film was released, in which I have a modest role as a man doing a card trick. It’s called Refugee, and it is really bloody good. I’ve dabbled in sleight-of-hand magic for years (in addition to performing as an escape artist), and it has occasionally come in handy in the past – I was briefly a magic consultant on Downton Abbey, and also a feature film which sadly stalled mid-way through production.

However, this was the first time I’d had an opportunity to actually use my modest skills on camera. Sadly, not much of the magic trick makes it onto the screen, but it was a lovely little role to play, it’s a great scene in the wider context of the film, and the children were simply amazing, both in their performances and their discipline.

In other news, I am now represented by Danny Clifton at Union Management. I’d had a great experience with Sam, my last agent (who got me the Refugee audition, in fact) – for the first time in my career, I knew what a good agent relationship was actually like! – but it was time for a change. Nothing’s come of the move yet, but it’s very early days. I’ll be getting new headshots done next week, and should be cutting together a new showreel very shortly after – watch this space.

It’s a funny beast, the agent process. Just getting one at all seems incredibly daunting when you’re unrepresented or looking to move on – when I signed with Sam in September 2014, I had written to 54 of the buggers, and got three meetings out of it, a hit rate that several actor friends actually congratulated me on.

It’s a relationship that relies hugely on trust. They must trust you to be professional and prepared, and represent the agency positively, and you must trust that they understand which roles you’re right for, and which you aren’t. I’ve had more than one agent that very clearly favoured the fling-shit-at-a-wall approach – they sub you for EVERYTHING where you meet the age/gender criteria, in the hopes that you’ll get seen for something. I once had to write to an agent, saying “I’m not sure it’s worth me attending this particular audition, as I am not Brazilian, and I cannot speak Portuguese.”

Another element is communication. If you’re afraid to call your agent, it’s a bad relationship for you. If you’re pestering them every two minutes to see what you’ve been subbed for, it’s a bad relationship for them – and both of these are symptoms of failing trust.

And finally, the Withnail & I-esque days of waiting for an agent to call, and sitting around bitching about how they’re not getting you any work are over – or at least they should be. Naturally, it’s frustrating when they’re not sending you any opportunities – one of the reasons I decided to move on was that the exceptional rate of auditions I had been receiving had slowed to a modest trickle. However, in that time, I was taking on rehearsed readings, taking part in workshops, finding plays to do through my own efforts, attending weekly classes and working on my own screenplays for future projects. Agents have access to the big opportunities, the TV, the films, the big theatres, for sure; but an actor in the trenches nowadays must be prepared to source their own work and cultivate their own opportunities, or they will never progress.



The elephant in the room, pt2

April 15, 2014 | Filed Under Uncategorized | Comments Off on The elephant in the room, pt2 

 “What do you mean by that?”
“I mean, free to those that can afford it, very expensive to those that can’t.” – Withnail and I, Bruce Robinson.

Heh. So when I said next week, obviously what I meant was “sometime in the next three months”. Sorry about that, I got very busy with prepping for some rehearsed readings, a clutch of auditions, a few small gigs and loads and loads of freelance work.

So when do you stop working for free?

It seems like the answer should be “When you’ve got a good showreel together and enough of a rep that people start chasing you for bits and pieces”, right? I mean, that’s why you started taking unpaid work – to build a showreel and to network, and once that’s done, surely you can stop wading through all the “unpaid opportunities” bullshit on the myriad websites.

Well, sort of. Certainly, you can be a damned sight more selective, and I’d advise not applying for any more free stuff unless you really like the look of a project/director/character, or you’re looking to fill a specific hole in your CV.

However, I do still think that there are things worth doing for free. If people contact me to take part in read-throughs/ rehearsed readings, I leap at every chance, paid or otherwise (and readings are almost always “otherwise”) – partly because I’m also a writer, and it’s always good to read other people’s work, but also partly because today’s read-through may yet translate into tomorrow’s audition, or even paid role. It’s a chance to work with other actors, and to show the extent of your talent in a low-pressure environment; to try new things at very little cost to you, time and opportunity-wise. I’ve done two this year, and will be doing a third this evening.

Also, if someone approaches me directly to be in a short film for free, I may still reject it; but I won’t simply reject it out of hand, either. A good friend of mine did a short for free last year because he thought it looked fun; it has since, directly and indirectly, led to paid work for him. You should try to see the potential in something to lead to better things. One of my first unpaid shorts led to me being offered another; that in turn led to me being offered a third, which then got picked up to be made into a low-budget feature. Of course, paid work should always take priority; but given a choice between making something potentially useful or being sat at home, eating your own body weight in monster munch and waiting mournfully for the phone to ring, I know I’d rather be out there keeping in practice. At this stage, I let the quality of the script dictate my involvement. This means I do still reject far more than I accept, and I’m happy with that.

As for theatre: despite the recent ruling about unpaid fringe theatre and its potential implications for future productions, the fact is that most fringe work will remain profit-share only for the foreseeable future. This is a major problem for actors, and will remain so for as long as rentiers can charge what they like for theatre space, something the current government would never dream of fixing (the new Culture Secretary thinks ticket touts are entrepreneurs, for crying out loud), but it leads to another chicken and egg situation: you don’t wish to give a large chunk of time for free (way more than a short film would), but you do want to do a play, because it’s a good discipline in which to stay practised, and it’s something to which you can invite casting directors and prospective agents.

I gave seven months of my time to an unpaid play once; I ended up taking on a lot of the production duties, built some of the sets, sourced half the props, acted as on-site armourer, got the poster designed and printed, found a sound designer, and did my utmost to co-ordinate the marketing.

In the end, one agent came along, and they weren’t interested, despite being very complimentary. I was glad to play a romantic lead (something I don’t see happening very often, given my scrawny frame), and met a lot of good people, with some of whom I’m still friends; but it didn’t achieve any of the things I wanted it to, and it meant I had to miss paid work due to the commitments it demanded.

Ultimately, with unpaid work in all media, there are three things at play:
– Your desire to work (for the benefits it may yield)
– Your reluctance to work for free
– The intractability of the industry at the low end of the business

As if so often the case with dilemmas, you can’t change one or more of the elements in play, and the one that you can change lies within yourself. As an actor, you need to work; and the industry will remain intractable (as illustrated in a lovely quote from the Terry Pratchett book Maskerade: “[The pay] was less than you’d get for scrubbing floors. The reason was that, when you advertised a dirty floor, hundreds of hopefuls didn’t turn up.”).

So ultimately, the question becomes: is your desire to work stronger than your desire to be paid for what you do? When the answer is an unambiguous no, that’s when you stop working for free.



The Actor’s Questionnaire: Monty Burgess

March 6, 2014 | Filed Under Uncategorized | Comments Off on The Actor’s Questionnaire: Monty Burgess 

So here’s a thing: every week, I’m going to be sticking up answers to a questionnaire I wrote from a different actor. Hopefully, they’ll give an illuminating sense of what it’s like to be an actor in the trenches. If you would like to take part in the questionnaire, drop me a line and I’ll send it to you. This week: Monty Burgess.

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Name: Monty Burgess
Location: London
Playing age: Mid to late 30’s
Casting Type: Police officers, thugs, militia, office workers…and itinerant fathers.

Spotlight: http://www.spotlight.com/interactive/cv/1/M104321
Twitter: http://twitter.com/montyburgess
E-mail: monty@montyburgess.net

Why did you become an actor?
I like telling stories, and I like collaborating with people. I like being part of the creative machine.

How long have you been acting professionally?
My first professional job was in 1999.

Do you prefer stage/screen/spoken word?
I prefer screen. It’s all good, it’s all work and it’s all fulfilling. But screen, definitely.

Is acting your sole form of income/creative expression?
Income? Not yet. Creative expression? I also write and work on film crews in different capacities (editing, visual effects, camera assist, gaffer).

What role/project are you proudest of to date?
Probably my first professional job. It was a play based around Australian Rules Football (AFL) and one of my roles was as an Essendon supporter – I’m not a sports fan and I was wilfully ignorant of it. I had no affinity to it at all. For the play, I had to learn the games rules, club theme songs, players names, club history, attend matches, do all I could to be that person. On the first night, after the play, one of the audience members commented that I must be the most die hard fan that ever was. That was an achievement for me.

What is the strangest thing you’ve ever had to do on set?
I doubled as a homosexual neo Nazi and a homicidal grandmother in the same film.

What is your stance on paid/unpaid work?
It would be great if Equity had more diverse contracts along the lines of SAG to help encourage low budget productions to aim higher – to help give them a path and a structure. Likewise, the co-operative framework outlined by BECTU (https://www.bectu.org.uk/get-involved/campaigns/cooperative-agency) is one that needs championing.

How do you approach a role?
The script is the starting point, whatever information can be mined from there informs and sparks everything else.

What would be the single biggest piece of advice you would give to any actor?
If you can stand to do something else and not feel like something is fundamentally missing, do it.

How do you cope with quiet times/self-doubt?
Stoicism and determination. Sheer bloody mindedness.

What is your greatest ambition?
To go from strength to strength as an actor, and be financially secure in this industry.

Whose footsteps would you most like to follow in, career wise?
I think George Clooney picks some really interesting films to do. I loved ‘The American’, ‘The Men Who Stare at Goats’, ‘Good Night and Good Luck’, ‘Michael Clayton’, ‘Fail Safe’, ‘Syriana’ and ‘Solaris’.

Wild card! Give us an opinion on ANYTHING that you love or hate about the job.
I love watching my friends succeed, because equally I see them in the down times – I see them struggle, strive and work hard to pay the rent and put food on the table and keep some sort of faith. I don’t think I know anyone who has coasted into a role or has had it fall into their lap. They’ve all worked and sweated for it.




The elephant in the room, pt1

March 5, 2014 | Filed Under Uncategorized | Comments Off on The elephant in the room, pt1 

“Where’s the fucken money, shithead?”
“It’s, uh, it’s down there somewhere. Let me take another look.” – The Big Lebowski, Joel and Ethan Coen.

Today’s topic is how to pick your unpaid projects for putting together a showreel, which is about the only reason to work on a film for free in the first place.

When you’re getting started as an actor, you have nothing to show the world whether you’re any good or not. What you need is a showreel! But who’s going to pay you money to appear in their splendid thing, unless they can see you act? It’s a classic chicken and egg situation, and it’s a bitch to crack [sic].

If you have a wodge of cash, you can hire a company to make a bespoke showreel for you, but this is fraught with problems: you have no guarantee that they can offer you material that plays to your strengths, or other actors who aren’t terrible, or even that they’re much cop; after all, all their advertising will show you the very best their work can be, won’t it? Furthermore,  a showreel is testament that people have taken a chance on you for their project. If you buy one, all you’ve shown is that you have money.

What’s the alternative? To work for free, of course. Star Now, Talent Circle, mandy.com, Casting Call Pro et al are all awash with the chance to give of your time in the hope of getting decent showreel footage; all you have to do is persuade the buggers that you’re worth auditioning, and try to work out which ones will produce something worth being in in the first place.

This, alas, is where it all goes a little dicey. I made a personal decision to work for free until I got a showreel together of which I was proud; in the end, it took eight months to get something functional, and a little over two years to get my showreel to the stage that I knew I wouldn’t have to worry about updating it for at least a year.

I’ve done some unpaid shorts that were good enough for a start-out reel; some that were modestly paid, but so terrible they’re not even on my CV, let alone on my reel; and some where the script was so good that I had real confidence that they’d turn out fine (and they did).

So how do you spot the ones worth doing? Here are my personal guidelines (all of which I’ve seen in action):

The Application:

– If a person cannot write a complete/coherent sentence in their advert, their script will likely be poor. The same goes for syntax, grammar, etc.

– Similarly, if a person cannot be bothered to spell-check their advert, how precise are they likely to be on set/in the edit?

– Their lead role is a Detective Chief Inspector, but the age range is 25-30? What did he do, arrest Lord Lucan on his first day? They’ve plainly done no research into police careers, so why should the rest of their story be any better? NEXT!

– If the advert claims it’s a thought-provoking/thrilling/visually stunning piece of work, I avoid. It’s not been made yet! They may want it to be visually stunning, and that’s fine. But no-one ever wrote an ad saying “This will be a visually bland film, with mediocre framing, poor lighting and unimaginative mise-en-scene.” If they’re trying to sell me the sizzle, it tells me they don’t entirely believe in their project. I may be overly harsh here, but it’s something I’ve learned through bitter experience.

– If the plot is either laid out in full in one giant paragraph, or alternatively, if there’s no info on it at all. When they’re unable to sum up their basic plot in a logline, it makes me wonder what other corners they’ve cut.

– Other warning signs include a lack of information concerning dates, and a refusal to pay even expenses.

The Contact:

So you’ve found something you like the look of, and you’ve been offered an audition. But you’ve still got this funny feeling that it’ll be a waste of time and energy! Why might that be?

– They refuse to send the script over. If you’re not getting paid, you have every right, as an actor, to vet the things to which you give your time. If they don’t want you to see it, you’ve got to start asking why.

– They send the script over and it’s not properly formatted. If they can’t be arsed to produce a professionally presented script, why should you bother reading it?

– They send the script over, and it’s just terrible. Now, if I’m getting Equity minimum, I’ll grit my teeth and make a crappy line work; I won’t grind myself into the ground rescuing someone else’s unspeakable dialogue for free, though.

– They want to do the audition in a coffee shop. SERIOUSLY? There’s a multitude of pubs that’ll let you use an upstairs room for free. If they can’t be arsed at least to try and make you feel comfortable, don’t give them the time of day.

– Other things to consider: most of the unpaid short film roles you’ll see come up will be student projects. Have a look at the film schools in question, find out their reputations, look at efforts by previous alumni (they’ll be all over youtube and vimeo, I guarantee it). If the script is consistently poor; if the lighting is slipshod; if the sound is terrible on all of them (the single biggest problem I found with the shorts I did): then the students are not learning to consider these things. Find out which schools have tough entry criteria, and which welcome anyone with good credit at the Bank Of Dad.

If you’ve applied all these tests, and you still think you stand a good chance of getting worthwhile material, then go for it, and give of your best. You’ll be doing it for the contacts (always worth nurturing, believe me), for the showreel material, and for more experience, which is, when starting out, always a good thing.

Next week: when to STOP working for free.



The Actor’s Questionnaire: Damola Odaneko

February 26, 2014 | Filed Under Uncategorized | Comments Off on The Actor’s Questionnaire: Damola Odaneko 

So here’s a thing: every week, I’m going to be sticking up answers to a questionnaire I wrote from a different actor. Hopefully, they’ll give an illuminating sense of what it’s like to be an actor in the trenches. If you would like to take part in the questionnaire, drop me a line and I’ll send it to you. This week: Damola Odaneko.

Headshot4

Name: Damola Onadeko
Location: Streatham, London
Playing age: 25-35
Type: Boyfriends, personal trainers, hitmen, muscle of any sort (think Dwayne Johnson roles), and adulterers (I’m not).

Spotlight: http://www.spotlight.com/interactive/cv/6297-8942-4545
Casting Call Pro: http://www.castingcallpro.com/uk/view.php?uid=219838
E-mail: damolaonadeko@gmail.com

Why did you become an actor?
I tried the 9-5 job routine, didn’t work. Then I tried the weekend/flexible shifts. That didn’t work. So really, all that was left to try was the lifestyle of a famous actor – you know: fame, entourage, women, fast cars, praise, credibility… Still working on that.

How long have you been acting professionally?
4.5 years.

Do you prefer stage/screen/spoken word?
Screen.

Is acting your sole form of income/creative expression?
This questionnaire is confidential, right? No unexpected calls from HMRC? Working as a fitness model and sometimes personal trainer.

What role/project are you proudest of to date?
Definitely not being a gay male stripper in the award nominated show Strip Search. 😉

What is the strangest thing you’ve ever had to do on set?
First day on set for a commercial shoot being ambushed by the director, client, crew, extras, everyone upon arrival and being told “I need you to pretend that you are allergic to the product, but don’t show the symptoms, because you are blind and mute.” –what do you say to that?!

What is your stance on paid/unpaid work?
Dictionary definition of profession: a paid occupation, especially one that involves prolonged training and a formal qualification.

How do you find roles?
Acting agent gets me 7% of my work through Spotlight. Sports Agent finds around 1.5% of it. I find the rest, from anywhere and everywhere! CCP, friends, repeat business.

How do you approach a role?
Like I approach a date. Observe. Study. Ask questions. Finally, act upon my impulse.

What is the most you’ve ever invested financially in an aspect of your career?
It hurts just thinking about it, every time. During my first year in the business, I saved up some money from my previous job, searched online for screen acting classes – which led me to the “coveted” (their word, not mine) acting class, called Shot To Be Seen. The easiest £350 I will ever part with to learn nothing in return. The invaluable advice, coaching, and industry nuances turned out to be what I already knew through-and-through. Waste. Hurtful waste.

What would be the single biggest piece of advice you would give to any actor?
Endurance produces character, and character produces hope. (Romans 2:4)

What’s the next big move in your career?
Marrying a well known casting director, US actress, or a willing fat American woman. I want that US Visa/passport.

What is your greatest ambition?
To inspire others like me.

Who’s your favourite actor?
Christian Bale.

What is your single best/worst experience as an actor (on the job or off)?
Best: when you get your agent calling you after a big commercial/TV audition. You know they won’t bother if it’s bad news.
Worst: when said call is not related to acting.



A little Extra support

February 24, 2014 | Filed Under Uncategorized | Comments Off on A little Extra support 

Right, listen up! Gandhi’s dead and you’re all fucking sad!” – David Tomblin, 1st AD on Gandhi (according to John Sessions).

This industry has an awful lot of disdain for extras, or background artistes, or SAs (supporting artistes). Everyone’s got a story about some moron ruining a shot, or going up to a famous director and asking them to sign a prop because he’s not planning on coming back and wants a souvenir, or what-have-you. They pretty much equal the number of awed stories about how George Clooney, David Niven, Matt Damon, et al all got their first taste of the film world through being extras. David Niven, in his book Bring On The Empty Horses, recounts several great stories about his own time amongst the masses, so we know at least that he definitely did; I’m not prepared to assert that anyone else has.

It’s a pretty daft dichotomy really, isn’t it? On the one hand, actors seem to scorn SAs at every turn; on my first ever student film, an actor (who shall remain nameless) said “God, darling, if my agent heard I’d been on-set as an extra, he’d drop me in an instant…”. On the other hand, everyone loves to marvel at how close to eternal anonymity the brightest and best in cinema have come – it’s beguiling to think that Clooney and his ilk were one lucky break away from forever being that clueless gump crashing into the scenery in the background.

It speaks volumes about our insecurity, our jealousy: it’s comforting to think that if such titans could have started in such lowly circumstances, then surely we’ve all got equally good chances? Yet at the same time, it begs the crippling, agonising counter: how did they rise so high from such humble beginnings, while I’m stuck going hand-to-mouth from crappy corporate to minimum wage-paying music video? And underneath this schizophrenic ambivalence lies the question: “Maybe I should give it a go myself? After all, what have I got to lose?”

There are several good reasons to be an extra:

  • It pays bloody good money for a job with zero responsibility;
  • It’s a taste of the atmosphere on a large-scale film set, and good preparation for the day you actually get booked on one as an actor;
  • It teaches you good make-up/costume discipline;
  • If you’re disciplined and keep your eyes open, you can learn an awful lot about how large sets function;
  • You may get picked out for a close-up, or given a line to deliver;
  • You’ll meet a lot of other actors at about the same career-stage to you, and you can make lifelong friends through it;
  • You will learn some fucking humility.

The money is historically pretty good*, for all that SAs bitch about it: current FAA rates mean that, with travel and holiday pay, you’ll get £109 for a standard nine-hour day, with almost guaranteed overtime and other supplements. This is pretty sweet, for several hours being sat in holding reading and chatting, followed by a few more hours being on a film set, which is where you want to be, right? Being part of crowd means learning to treat the crew with respect, especially the poor buggers who have to dress and paint you; and being on a giant film set can be quite daunting at first, so it’s is a good way to get that shock out of your system when there’s nothing important resting on you. You’ll also learn about how glacially slowly things can move on set; you can learn a lot about behind-the-camera stuff if you keep your eyes open; you’ll meet some amazing, talented and lovely people; and being picked for a close-up, a feature or a line when someone like Spielberg or Scorsese is behind the camera is a thrilling moment.

However, there are also several good reasons never to be an extra:

  • A lot of other industry professionals will assume you’re not a trained actor at all;
  • You will be treated like the thickest person in the room;
  • You’ll get no respect;
  • If you do it long enough, you may get so comfortable that you never to try and progress further;
  • You may end up having to miss auditions because you’re committed to an SA job;
  • You may come to despise extras yourself;
  • You may have all the confidence ground out of you.

Basically, a lot of SAs who’ve been at it for a long time like to say they’re actors, or that what they do is just as skilled a job as what the featured actors are doing, and so on. And some of them will assert this to casting directors, to other actors, to directors. This has terrible implications for you, the legitimate actor jobbing as an SA, because it encourages the idea that every SA who calls himself an actor is just some jumped-up pillock who wouldn’t know Sanford Meisner if he punched them in the snoot. You’ll find yourself and your burgeoning career lumped in with these idiots, who you will learn to hate in your turn, as you hear them pontificate about their supposed abilities.

Just being an SA, uncomplainingly doing an SA’s job, will get you branded a cretin, too. Assistant Directors will assume you’re the thickest person there. The more skilled ADs will hide this fact; the more stressed/less socially skilled ones will not. They don’t do it because you are a thick; they do it because they can’t afford to take the chance that you aren’t. They’ve just grabbed you out of a milling tide of humanity to do something in front of the camera. You will not have been grabbed for your winning smile, your quicksilver reflexes or your keen intellect; you’ll have been grabbed because your costume fits, or they want someone with a hat, or they just need to make the background look busy. Remember all those idiots you’re struggling not to slap? The AD has no quick way of establishing that you’re not one of them – indeed, the odds are good that you might be – and she will treat you accordingly.

The main reason not to do it stems directly from all of the above: it crushes your confidence after a while. It becomes wretched to hear the same bloody conversations over and over again (“You been busy?”; “I could do that, yeah…”; “Are we on overtime yet?”; “Where’d you get those biscuits?”, etc). It becomes profoundly depressing to be treated like an idiot, and to be patronised or actively insulted to your face by some gaffer who’s having a bad day (seen that happen). Getting up at 5am to put on an itchy costume and sit around until 2pm, when you’re fed the cheapest food the studio can buy, and then finally sent home at 9pm to do it all over again the next day is exhausting and demoralising. You may start to ask yourself if actually you’re not talented after all, and that this giant tent full of care-in-the-community weirdos, slack-jaws, reactionary Daily Mail types and grown-old classroom jokers is where you belong. That sort of thinking is poisonous and hard to shake, and will stop you from ever achieving your dream.

Finally, there is one last reason not to be an SA: you may get noticed. If you get noticed, it will almost certainly be because you look like a berk, and you end up being roundly scorned on idiot websites like this: an alleged compilation of background actors being stupid. Ignoring for a moment that half the instances on this aren’t about extras at all, this list features some SAs looking pretty dumb, and they’re easily mocked by a general public that knows nothing about how the circumstances arose.

Consider the first one, some guy waving a broom about 5″ above the ground behind Daniel Craig, who broods in the foreground. OMG how stupid, duh, what a thicko, doesn’t he know how a broom works?

Well, yes. Of course he does. He’s doing this, because he’s been told to by the AD, who in turn has been told by the sound guy that the bloke with the broom is all over the audio, and can we make him as quiet as possible, please? The sound guy and the AD may not necessarily know the framing of the shot, so they tell the SA (who definitely won’t know about the framing, and will be fobbed off if he asks about it) to lift the broom off the ground. It’s also possible that this was done with a tight frame in mind, and then they pulled out for a take with a wider frame and neglected to tell the poor sod with the broom that his fake sweeping was now clearly visible. And now the internet hates him for looking like a klutz on a James Bond movie. That’s pretty rough treatment for doing exactly what you’re told, with no opportunity to query your instructions, eh?

So, in short: if you’re going to be an SA, do it with your eyes open, and expectations levelled accordingly. And for god’s sake, stick to the deep background, and when you’ve got everything you can from it, get out.

*Though like many things, this is getting worse as production companies broker deals with extras agencies to opt out of FAA rates and pay a set daily rate instead – which can range from as little as £60/day to £150/day, and will always favour the production company over the SAs.



The Actor’s Questionnaire: Allin Kempthorne

February 20, 2014 | Filed Under Uncategorized | 1 Comment 

So here’s a thing: every week, I’m going to be sticking up answers to a questionnaire I wrote from a different actor. Hopefully, they’ll give an illuminating sense of what it’s like to be an actor in the trenches. If you would like to take part in the questionnaire, drop me a line and I’ll send it to you. This week: Allin Kempthorne.

Allin-Kempthorne

Name: Allin Kempthorne
Location: London and the South East
Playing age: Early Forties
Casting Type: Mainly comedy

Website: www.allinkempthorne.co.uk
Twitter: @AllinTweets
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/allin.kempthorne
Spotlight: http://www.spotlight.com/0273-5614-8342

What’s your background and why did you become an actor?
As a child, I felt a far deeper connection with the creative, energetic performers I saw on TV than I did with the people living around me in my small Cornish town. At the time, I poured my creativity into cartooning, and on leaving school I moved to London and became a freelance cartoonist for The Sun, The Mirror and a few other publications. I then enrolled at Circus School and learnt how to become an entertainer. I followed that a few years later with studying Method Acting at Drama School, which I paid for by performing comedy juggling street shows in Covent Garden.

I think those two very different forms of training have really been my strength. I’m now happy to consider myself a pretty good all-rounder, having learnt both circus showmanship and the inward monologue of the method actor.

How long have you been acting professionally?
Since I was 20. I worked for several years purely as a circus performer and magician before I got my first acting job touring in a panto. Life is generally a pretty good mix of acting and other forms of performance. I’m glad I’ve got that mix. If I was relying purely on serious acting I’d have starved to death in my twenties.

Do you prefer stage/screen/spoken word?
I like to keep doing different things: so if I’ve been doing a touring show, I’ll want to follow that with the thrill of being on a film set. If I’ve been doing long days on a film, I’ll want to follow that with short nights doing stand-up sets, or work in a show on a cruise ship and kid myself I’m on holiday! I think I’d go nuts if I was doing the same thing all the time.

What role/project are you proudest of to date?
A few years ago, my wife Pamela and I set up a film company and made a comedy horror film called The Vampires of Bloody Island. It cost us £50k to make, and somehow we pulled together just over 100 people to help us. We wrote and starred in it ourselves, and I also directed. It was a real trial by fire, but because we were in complete control of the project, we were able to make it work. It developed a cult following, and we’re both immensely proud of it. Five years later, someone, somewhere around the world buys a copy of ‘Bloody Island’ every day.

What is the strangest thing you’ve ever had to do on set?
For a TV show I had to simulate sex with a girl I’d never met. She was the guest star in the episode and I was just bought in for one scene to have sex with her! I didn’t have a clue who she was, but on the way home I stopped off at a motorway service station: she was on the front cover of NUTS magazine and apparently quite a well known actress from Hollyoaks. My first thought was “Blimey. She’s been airbrushed!”

How do you find roles?
I used to spend ages wading through all the casting websites and news services, responding to everything and anything, but no longer. These days, I put my effort into making sure the few jobs I apply for each week get my absolute commitment, so that my application will be the one that leaps right to the top of their pile, with the perfect photo, a tailored CV and a clear, snappy, winning covering letter.

If there’s an acting job coming up that uses any of my circus skills, I often get to hear of it, thanks to my magic/juggling background. I occasionally get offers to do low budget horrors off the back of The Vampires of Bloody Island. It’s taken a LOT of work in the past to build up that reputation, though.

How do you approach a role?
Youtube is probably the greatest asset out there. I research like crazy, making loads of notes and studying in great detail anything about the genre, mood or character type I’m after. I find everything I can the writer has done before and really try to get into the passion of the piece. I love that whole creative exploration. That, for me, is what being an actor is all about.

What is the most you’ve ever invested financially in an aspect of your career?
I took out a loan for £50k to start up my own film company and make a feature film.

What would be the single biggest piece of advice you would give to any actor?
Find yourself. What makes you YOU? With me, it’s my circus background and my flair for comedy. When I tried to be “like every other actor”, as I did when I first got out of Drama School, I got nowhere. Why would anyone hire me if I melted into the pack? Now I try to stand out!

How do you cope with quiet times/self-doubt?
I always want to learn and develop new skills, so every two years or so I focus on a new line of work. This year, I’m learning the guitar. Last year, I took up stand-up comedy, creating a whole new version of myself: I spent several nights each week performing in comedy clubs under the name Eddie Twist, Cornish Comedian. I never really stop doing anything once I’ve started, so I now make my living spread around a wide variety of performance.

I’m a juggler, magician, clown, mime artist, actor, voice over artist, film extra, writer, producer, director, stand-up comedian and on rare occasions a casting director. That list, written down, looks pretty directionless, but it’s who I am and it works for me. My only self-doubt comes when I worry I’m spreading myself too widely, and that I’d probably be a bigger name if I concentrated more on just one or two things. But it’s that versatility that has kept me in work for two decades, so I’m happy with it.

What’s the next big move in your career (new agent/move to L.A./try a new medium, etc)?
Over the next few months, Pamela and I are starting up our own entertainment agency, called Magic and Madness (just a holding page at present). I find work for friends a fair bit, and it’s time to formalize that with a properly set-up company. So actors with decent interactive event experience, or anyone who has a variety or street act, be it fire eating, escapology, magic or the like, please get in touch with me.

What is your greatest ambition?
When I started out, my greatest ambition was to become famous. But over the years, the high end of the industry has become more and more a closed shop, and every ad for an unpaid job in an amateur production gets several hundred people fighting for it – there are ever fewer opportunities, with ever more competition.

So my goal has changed over the last few years. I no longer chase fame, but interesting, decently paid jobs. Now I want an interesting life, with enough financial success not to have to worry when I’m older.

Do you have anything coming up?
I’m in a live production of Who Framed Roger Rabbit at the moment, then throughout the summer I’m back on the cruise ships doing my own kids show. In between I will be doing some filming as my stand-up character Eddie Twist for a web series we’ve a little funding for.

I’m eager to get into another good film role. I’d like to do something quite serious for a change as the last few years have been very heavy on the comedy. But as with everything, I’ll just have to see what opportunities present themselves and try to keep busy.



The Actor’s Questionnaire: Edwin Flay

January 30, 2014 | Filed Under Uncategorized | Comments Off on The Actor’s Questionnaire: Edwin Flay 

So here’s a thing: every week, I’m going to be sticking up answers to a questionnaire I wrote from a different actor whose career is at about the same stage as my own. Hopefully, they’ll give an illuminating sense of what it’s like to be an actor in the trenches. If you would like to take part in the questionnaire, drop me a line and I’ll send it to you. And to show how painless it is, I’m going first:

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Name: Edwin Flay
Location: London
Playing age: 30-45
Type: Intellectuals, professionals – journalists, scientists, politicians, etc. Also period stuff.

Why did you become an actor?
I’ve wanted to act since I was first on-stage at the age of 5: I remember being in a production of The Pirates Of Penzance with the (then) Oxford Operatic Youth Theatre at the age of 17 and realising I never felt as alive as I did on-stage.
Acting is the chance to tell stories; to delight, to entertain, to thrill. It is communication set free: acting means becoming part of the narrative, rather than simply relating it. Acting allows you to explore grandiose subjects like grief, and death, and adversity, in safety. It is the opportunity to lead a completely different life for the length of the story.

How long have you been acting professionally?
3.5 years.

Do you prefer stage/screen/spoken word?
I’ve been working towards screen since I started, with only occasional plays. I want to do more theatre this year, though.

Is acting your sole form of income/creative expression?
I work freelance at BBC Parliament, and I also write screenplays. I’ve tried writing prose and play scripts, but it just doesn’t seem to work as well for me. I’d like to have another crack at writing a play this year, though.

What role/project are you proudest of to date?
I played a wartime French engineer called Jacques Stosskopf in a drama-documentary last year, and the role was entirely in French. I wasn’t as fast as I would have liked to be, but having not spoken the language in about 15 years, I was proud of my performance.

What is the strangest thing you’ve ever had to do on-stage/set?
I faked rubbing myself to orgasm with a thigh-high patent leather boot while covered in high heels on stage in a one-man show last year. Surprisingly, I didn’t feel as awkward as I expected!

How do you find roles?
Most of my paid auditions come through my agent. Other than that, I apply on Casting Call Pro, poke through Star Now/Talent Circle/mandy.com for the (vanishingly few) paid opportunities that crop up. I am trying to network more this year – I like to try and point friends at opportunities that I see that I know they’ll be right for, and hope that they’ll do the same for me.

How do you approach a role?
Research, research, research. I’m very intellectually driven. I like to know and understand the circumstances in which a character operated, everything from social mores to big current affairs events of the day.
I played a Pathe News Reporter on Grace of Monaco, which is coming out later this year; a tiny, tiny role, but for the audition, I spent the week before going through Pathe news archives, looking up all the Grace Kelly/Rainier of Monaco stories I could find, to see how they were presented, to pick up quirks of pronunciation, and so on. Know your character inside out, and you’ll behave authentically.

What is the most you’ve ever invested financially in an aspect of your career?
Aside from the cost of three years studying? I just paid £3,800 on getting my horrible teeth fixed. I’ve hated them all my life, and it was pointed out to me that I never smile in headshots – they’re why! So I paid for braces, as much to give me more confidence and free my face muscles up as anything else.

What would be the single biggest piece of advice you would give to any actor?
“Do not confuse the imperviousness of the marketplace for the possibility that you’re not doing enough.”
There’s a stage with a screenplay, when you’ve stopped changing it, but it’s still not selling. So you start to tinker. And you change a scene here, an individual line there; you add a scene, because maybe it’ll make it funny, or thrilling. And suddenly you’re left with an unwieldy, nonsensical mess.
An acting career can be like that: you get your headshots, your showreel, your website, your business cards; you get an agent, you start making contacts, you apply for everything you find. And still nothing happens. This is not because you’re not doing enough: it’s because the marketplace is overstuffed, there are not enough roles to go around (certainly not good, exciting, or high-profile ones), and you’re still establishing yourself. There’s no point spending money on new headshots, getting showreels filmed, etc, because all you’re doing at that stage is tinkering. Get your brand sorted out, stick with it, and have patience.

How do you cope with quiet times/self-doubt?
Very badly, sometimes! I get the black dog something awful. To combat it, I write shorts and feature-length screenplays; I occasionally go to casting director workshops; I learn a new skill, like stage combat, or archery. I keep busy, to try and stop brooding.

Where do you see yourself in five years?
Hopefully, earning enough by acting to do nothing else. Whether that’s through voice-over, screen work or whatever, I don’t mind. I want to act, that’s all.

What is your greatest ambition?
To have a solid character actor’s career, like John Hawkes or Stephen Root; to be modestly well-known, and to have enough paid work offered me to be able to pick and choose my roles.

Wild card! Give us an opinion on ANYTHING that you love or hate about the job.
I love the sound of film running through a camera. I’ve only done two projects on film, but it’s hypnotic: it takes you instantly into the moment, instils an immediate hush on an entire set, and maintains it for the length of the shot. It is literally entrancing.

Do you have anything coming up?
Nothing concrete; I’m waiting to hear back from a few auditions. There’s the possibility of some voice-over work next month; and I’m doing pre-production on a short film I wrote that’ll hopefully be made, called Flat Of The Blade.



The problem with unpaid scripts pt 1

June 8, 2013 | Filed Under Uncategorized | Comments Off on The problem with unpaid scripts pt 1 

Bowing to the pressure to get some moustacheless footage on my showreel, I broke down recently and applied for five unpaid roles on CCP. One was a play (‘cos I have a hankering to get back on stage), the other four were short films. Thus far, two have got in touch, and I have rejected them both outright, on the basis of the scripts.

One of them was something I wouldn’t have minded being in – a kinda-sorta gangstery short film with some magic worked in – but the script was all over the place. Themes just got dropped halfway through, there was a (deliberate, but still very jarring) tonal shift in the middle, and the treatment of women was appalling. The writer seemed to have given no thought to the mechanics of the magic in his film, or how it works psychologically, which undermined its function within the story.

The other was… not good. The writer was Spanish, but writing in English. It was correctly laid-out, but it had mistranslations and grammatical errors everywhere, to the point of near-unreadability. The story, from what I could discern, seemed to have neither direction nor purpose, there were no themes at all, characters were weird for the sake of being weird… I had no compunction in turning either of them down.

The art of script-writing is the art of condensing and expressing nuance, of generating raw emotion through action and dialogue, without recourse to simile, metaphor, or adjectival/adverbial diarrhoea. You cannot express nuance if you cannot write coherently in your chosen language, and especially if you don’t know how screenwriting works.

Also, consider this: if you’re shopping around for actors who will give of their time for free, there are only two reasons that they will work for you: (a) they are desperate for showreel footage and another credit on the CV, or (b) it’s a story worth telling, with characters worth playing. I’ve done some amazing shorts with student directors over the last few years, and my prime motivation was always that the essence of the characters and the compulsion of their circumstance leapt off the page. If you can’t offer me any money, you’re going to have to offer me something meaty to engage with, or there’s just nothing in it for me.

All this points to a deeper problem, especially (though by no means limited to) where students are concerned. There seems to be a prevailing opinion amongst wannabe filmmakers at the moment that anyone can write a script; and what’s more, that good enough means good. You’re a filmmaker. You don’t have a script, so you write one. Fair enough, and fair play. But if you subject your script to no scrutiny whatsoever, nor professional analysis, or even peer review, it will likely be bad. It will probably suffer from cliché, incoherent characters or plot, muddled (or non-existent) themes; it will almost certainly be too dialogue-heavy, and your dialogue will either be too on-the-nose, or in trying to avoid that, your characters will waffle for ever without saying anything; it will almost certainly not be compelling, and may well not even manage interesting. You may be trying to tell a 10-minute story in a 3-minute script (based on one minute of screen time per page, a reasonable estimate) or, just as bad, stretching out a 1-minute sequence to 5 minutes through interminable jibber-jabber.

In some ways, one can argue, this doesn’t matter – it’s an amateur attempt, it’s all pro bono, it’s not likely to haunt anyone’s career, and it’s a chance to learn the craft of filmmaking on something inconsequential, etc. etc. etc. But here’s the kicker: there are loads of budding screenwriters out there who are also honing their craft, making mistakes, and learning how to be really good screenwriters. The script should never be the least important aspect of the film you’re making, it should be the most important – more than the lighting, more than the sound, more than the mise en scene, even (gasp!) more than the actors – because if your story is terrible, there’s no reason to watch it. So instead of churning out something that you’ve produced through necessity, shop around for someone desperate to have their script made! Film is at its best when it is truly collaborative, so collaborate with someone who’s devoted as much energy to learning how to write as you have to the mechanics of directing.

Here’s why I feel entitled to say this (and I am at this point open to some degree of accusations of hypocrisy re: not multitasking) – I am an actor, and I also write scripts. I write, largely because it helps me stay positive and motivated in times of not acting, which, as I am not currently in the front line of people being considered for Game Of Thrones/Homeland/the next Dr Who, is most of the time. I take enormous pride in my scripts. My shorts always undergo re-drafting and peer review, and my first feature is in its eighth draft, having been read by two professional script readers and a slew of other writers.

My first attempt at writing was the feature, and it was pretty shoddy. It’s bloody hard to hear from other people exactly why your script is shoddy, especially if you’ve poured your heart and soul and months of research and endless mugs of tea and five months of your life into it, but it’s the baptism of fire that your script must undergo if it is ever to be worth making. The worst bit of it is that, when you do cut the umbilical cord and accept purely objectively what is wrong with it, your reward for braving the slings and arrows of peer review is months more work of redrafting.

There is one reason to undergo all this voluntary brutality, and thankfully it’s a good one: for every criticism that you take, and weigh carefully, and consider from the reader’s angle and not your own (“How can you not see that?! Your opinion is wrong because you have not understood my genius!”), your script will become that much better. You don’t have to make every change that everyone suggests; you just have to understand why a criticism has been made, and what has led the critic to that conclusion.

Now, to come back to the budding filmmaker: you have a camera, a crew and a limited budget. You are going to make a film of extraordinary skill and artifice, that will buy you an instant ticket to Cannes, Hollywood, fame, fortune, the whole bit. At the centre of your crowning achievement, do you want an amazing script, a veritable Koh-i-noor, written by someone who lives to write, and who’s dying to see their story onscreen? Or do you want something you dashed off over a weekend, because really, it’s the way these actors are framed that’s the really compelling thing about this movie, seriously, never mind what they’re saying or what they’re doing….. hey! Wait! Where are you going! It’s not over yet….!





State of the last 11 months

May 28, 2013 | Filed Under Uncategorized | Comments Off on State of the last 11 months 

Blimey, it’s been a while since I did one of these. Not that anyone really reads it, but hey. The last 11 months in brief:

  • Did five feature films: Tournament Of Shadows, The Wick, ACT/or, Grace Of Monaco, P.S.. Grace of  Monaco was pretty sweet – a proper taste of what being an actor (albeit with a bit part) on a major film set is really like, and I got to fly to Nice!
  • Did a couple of drama-documentaries, got fannied about for one or two more. The most recent one was very cool: I got to play French engineer Jacques Stosskopf, who was shunned by his townspeople for collaborating with the Nazis. I played the role entirely in French, including the occasional minor improvisation, which I was proud of. The doc is called Nazi Engineering, the episode is U-Boat Pens, and I’m really looking forward to it.
  • Got called up to play a role in a Virginia Woolf adaptation at the last minute, and got the play down in about nine days.
  • I got a new agent! I am now signed with Imperium Management, who are jolly nice chaps and have landed me with some very sweet auditions (most notably Grace of Monaco), and put me up for some amazing bits and pieces.
  • Started getting occasional corporate jobs, have done another music video, some shorts, a rehearsed reading, etc – still landing at least one job a month. It may not cover the rent (or even close), but there’s definitely momentum.

Nothing else really stands out on the acting front. I have written some more short films, and am in the process of sorting out production, and adaptation for other media, for a couple of them. Watch this space. I’m also just starting to plot out a new feature film, but that’s got a way to go yet. Partly because I’m very bad at setting applicable deadlines to myself.

In other news, I have fixed my squint (via the power of contact lenses); almost fixed my posture, having nearly completed a course on Alexander Technique; and have just started orthodontics, which do not allow me to eat or drink anything but water while I’m wearing them, or to take them out for more than an hour or two a day, which leaves snacks, comfort drinks, etc utterly verboten. I am gasping for a cup of tea, and will be for the next 10 months, possibly more. How these will affect the acting career, only time will tell.



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