Hollywood: Year One (Round 2)

The Matrix.avi_001365360

This week marks one year since my arrival in Los Angeles. Upon reflection, I deem 2015 a success by every measure. I set out to accomplish a few specific, challenging goals: a commercial agent, a theatrical agent, a TV role, a SAG-AFTRA membership, and I accomplished all of these before the ball dropped on December 31. I want to take this opportunity to reflect  on a few things that worked well for me. I hope other actors preparing to take on Hollywood will find it a useful resource. This post is not intended as advice, merely a few things I found effective on my way to produce my desired results. Every actor is unique, with specific strengths and areas to grow. There is no right path. If you have questions, feel free to reach out to me on Twitter. I’m @bostonblake.

Laying the Groundwork

My move to LA started long before I packed my car. At the beginning of 2014, I decided I would spend the year doing some LA recon. The business has changed since I lived here in the late 90s and I needed to get the lay of the land. I also wanted to set things in motion so that I would hit the ground running upon my arrival. One of the most common patterns I’ve witnessed in fresh young actors is stagnation that sets in after she or he arrives and is faced with the overwhelming task of building a life in a new city. To avoid that trap, I drove from San Francisco to LA about 10 times to attend  workshops and meet casting professionals, forging new relationships that I would continue to nurture after my arrival.

In addition to my LA visits, I entered several Acting Challenges through indi.com. I believe these challenges had the greatest impact in terms of creating a positive entry into Hollywood. I won meetings with four Casting Associates, one of whom called me for an audition for Glee’s series finale. (That’s a heartbreaking story I’ll share in another post.) Not only did this bolster my confidence, but it also gave me something to talk about. One thing I’ve learned is the power of the story you are telling about your life. Being new in town is simply not interesting. When anyone asked, “What have you been doing since you arrived?” I’ve always had an honest, empowered answer since the day I landed. What’s more, I’ve become friends with members of the indi.com community, and good friends in this town are priceless.

Community 

In addition to the new people I was meeting, I also reached out to friends I already knew in the area — dear friends from decades ago and actors who had also recently made the trek from SF to SoCal. I reached out to people I had only previously known on Facebook and wanted to know better. Some are in the business, others, not at all, but it’s been essential for my mental health to connect at the level of human being — not just as a professional networking opportunity. I’ve also maintained connections with my non-actor friends in San Francisco — my Tribe — and this has made a world of difference.

Hollywood has a value system all its own, and it isn’t always aligned with mine. I regard many aspect of it as unhealthy. When that value system starts to peck away at my self-esteem, I connect with my friends who are living meaningful lives elsewhere, doing cancer research, offering legal assistance to immigrants, and working toward a cure for HIV. They remind me of who I am and why I do what I do. Making modern myths is a phenomenal contribution, and it’s one of the most noble things we can do if we do it meaningfully and responsibly. However, if it becomes merely about feeding the ego or satisfying a neurotic need to be seen, something essential is lost. The culture of Hollywood has an unmistakably toxic element, and my soul needs frequent infusions of nourishing energy. That’s what friends are for.

Filtering

Every person in Hollywood has an opinion, and most of them don’t hesitate to share them. One of the things I love about being older is having decades of experience in listening carefully and asking specific questions. If someone recommends a class or workshop, I want to know specifically what they gained from it that made a difference for them, and I want to know what they have observed in me that makes them think it’s a fit. For me, time and money are resources to be allocated carefully.

Since I’m new to Hollywood, I find myself surrounded by many younger people who are still discovering who they are. I remember that stage of my own life fondly. Since then, however, I have participated in countless trainings, seminars, workshops, retreats, and programs, covering topics ranging from creativity to communication to sexuality. Because I can be obsessive, I’ve also studied much of the source material from which these classes are derived. When someone shares with me something cool they’ve done, of course I’m excited to hear, and part of me wants to take the class just so we can share that experience, but more often than not the content is a rehash of familiar material. My filters presently have three criteria:

  1. Can I use this to become a better actor?
  2. Will this help me develop relationships with the professionals I want to work with?
  3. Is the absolute best use of my time and money at this time?

Case in point: Someone invited me to attend a $300 networking class delivered by a young actor. I asked who I would be meeting. The answer: a roomful of actors who were learning how to network. That didn’t seem like a good use of my time or money. For about the same cost, I was invited to a private event where I was introduced to agents, managers, and casting directors with significant influence. What’s more, birds of a feather flock together. It was no surprise that I liked the people I met as much as I liked the person who invited me, and I believe I will be able to call some of these people friends and co-creators for years to come.

Gratitude

This is a big one for me. I’m extremely privileged and I strive to never take it for granted. I’m healthy with all my limbs and senses. I have a college education. I have a supportive family, including living parents who are excited about my path. I have a lifetime of friends I’m in contact with through social media.

I do my best to be transparent about my journey on my Facebook Page. I mention every single tiny win, and I share when I screw up or get overwhelmed. My friends who “like” and comment and cheer me on are on this ride with me. It would be terribly lonely without them. When it came time to join SAG-AFTRA and I needed to raise the joining fee fast, they came through on GoFundMe. My union membership was made possible by my incredible community. I make a point everyday to express my gratitude by doing my best to be worthy of their belief in me, and that outpouring of gratitude keeps me focused on all the goodness in my life and creates a positive feedback loop, which brings more goodness for which to be grateful.

Walking Through the Doors That Open

One of my favorite resources for actors is the Inside Acting Podcast. In an outstanding interview, publicist Stephen Rohr draws a distinction between kicking down the doors you want to go through and stepping through the ones that open. A number of times I thought I had found the right agent and became disappointed when it didn’t work out. But ultimately the one who signed me is a perfect fit — and one I had never considered!

When I was invited to a private networking event that met my criteria and felt right, I spent my last dollar to attend. It was another attendee at that event who later referred me to my current agent. My first TV role was something I never thought I’d do (and I’ll share more about that in a future post after the show is announced), but by stepping out of my comfort zone I landed my first guest star credit. By being unattached to what opportunities look like, I’ve been able to take advantage of many more of them than I would have, had I insisted they show up on my terms.

Commitment

One of the most repeated sayings in Hollywood is, “If you can do anything else other than acting, you should do that.” I regard this as equal parts Gospel Truth and utter horseshit, depending on how you interpret it. To some people it means, “If acting is the only skill you have, that’s what you must do.” Horseshit.

If acting is the only skill you have, you’re a lousy actor. Actors are doers, adventurers, seekers, and experience junkies. (Actors admittedly tend to be lousy at business and administration; that’s why we have agents and managers. But outside of that, good actors are lifelong learners.) Acting is about interpreting life, and if someone is incapable of living, they have no business interpreting it on stage or on screen.

However, there’s another side to this. In 2013, I had finished my BA and was preparing to go into non-profit fundraising when I found myself facing an uncomfortable truth. Though my life circumstances were fine, I was deeply unhappy. I could not imagine doing what I was doing for five more years without killing myself. That’s when I asked myself this question: If you had one year to live… If you knew you would die during that time, and that you would die the middle of something, what would you do?

At that moment, I was reborn. The answer was immediate and unmistakable. I would audition for and act in as many plays as I could during that year and I would give it everything I had. If I couldn’t get cast, I would sell everything I had to produce my own work, and I would die onstage.

When I stopped acting professionally in 2001, I thought I was finished forever, but the fact is I’m most inspired and happy when acting is a primary focus in my life. When it’s not, I’m lost. I’m a generally cheery person and I can make the best of nearly any situation, but that isn’t the same as being fully alive! That’s the meaning of the statement above: “If you can’t be fully alive unless you are acting, then you must act.”

Acting professionally is really, really hard. Unless someone is living this life, they have no idea how challenging it can be, mentally, emotionally, and physically — and it will never get any easier, at least not as a permanent condition. I’ve found it useful to assume this is a truth (though I’m open being wrong). By accepting this as reality, I remain prepared to face the challenges as they come. If you start looking for easy, you’re screwed.

For some actors, it’s many years before they can actually pay their rent with acting income — and frankly most never do. That is not a negative belief; that is a fact. Every actor, no matter how successful, is worried that their current job will be their last. Despite all this, quitting is not an option because they know they can’t be happy without this craft and profession. At this point in my life I understand that the same is true for me.

That’s why when I have hard days (and I have lots of them) I ask this question: Are you going to quit and do something else? Then I laugh… and I get back to work.

Welcome to Hollywood: My First Indi Casting Director Meeting

Yesterday I had the pleasure of meeting with TV casting director Garrett McGuire (Supernatural, iZombie), an opportunity I won through indi.com’s Acting Challenge an online competition where actors win meetings with LA casting directors. (I’m in another one right now, and you can vote for me here!) Across from Eric sat the Indi News Team, Sean McLaughlin and Nicole Greenwood, along with fellow Indi actor, Travis Dixon.  Veteran actor Geoffrey Cantor joined us shortly after I arrived, and we all talked and laughed about travel, show business, family, and a few topics best not mentioned publicly.

Everyone brought to the table a different point of view on the entertainment industry, each person with valuable insights to share. Garrett made a note that I was looking for representation, and Nicole was wonderfully generous with suggestions about how to approach the this market. Geoffrey, who was in town filming the new Cohen brothers movie, Hail, Caesar, was a treasure trove of information and encouragement, offering the perspective of working actor whose career I admire. Among my  gleanings from this round table discussion were the importance of approaching every audition systematically, giving each the care I would give to my most desired roles and of embracing my commercial appearance, which everyone seemed to agree would by a likely point of entry for me into the professional Hollywood acting scene.

This sit-down session was the first of three meetings I’ve won thus far, and my next one is scheduled for Monday with Jessica Sherman (Star Wars: Episode VII). I couldn’t ask for a more wonderful arrival in Hollywood, with a professional community already emerging within this City of Dreams that would be overwhelming without such strong human connection. And it is all happening because of the people who have supported me by voting in these Acting Challenges. This is the Power of Community. I am grateful and humbled beyond words. Thank you.

Film & TV Acting Jobs via Social Media

Hollywood and Silicon Valley are engaged in an evolving relationship — symbiotic, antagonistic or parasitic, depending on the day. Silicon Valley is responsible for new media platforms that are forcing Hollywood to update its business models and systems faster than it would like, as well as new technology used at every stage of production. One recent innovation is in the casting realm.

http://indi.com/41C80327

Indi.com’s Acting Challenge provides an online platform for actors at any career level to upload assigned scenes for review by a Hollywood casting director. There are two ways to win the challenge. The casting director chooses one winner while the other winner is determined by popular vote. Both winning actors get a sit-down meeting with the casting director/judge. It’s a great way to get seen and  build buzz! The current Challenge is being judged by Garrett McGuire who cast shows like Supernatural, Dollhouse, and the upcoming new series, iZombie. An actor myself, I have entered the Challenge. Check out the site and discover tomorrow’s stars. Oh, and vote for me!

http://indi.com/6a24fcd7

Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,

Character – a short film by Boston Blake

FUND OUR CAMPAIGN  at http://www.igg.me/at/character-shortfilm

Building CHARACTER

I have been active in the movement for LGBT equality throughout my adult life and I am protective of people who are perceived as “different” from mainstream society. When I wrote Character I wasn’t trying to make any political commentary; the point was always to tell an entertaining story. But as I refined it, I found it moved in unexpected ways. These characters speak to unvoiced assumptions we make about gender and sexuality, and I believe their tale raises important (and sometimes challenging) questions.

Character is set in an alternate version of San Francisco — one that might exist in the same world as True Blood’s Bon Temps — where shapeshifters live in the shadows of society. Our story begins when a young woman decides to test her boyfriend’s loyalty by hiring one of these social outcasts (a walking, talking, pheromone laboratory) to pose as his fantasy date, buried truth rises to the surface.

With your help I will turn this story into a sexy, layered short film that raises questions and sparks meaningful conversation — and perhaps even inspire pride in the viewers for their uniqueness and compassion for the loneliness that may accompany it.

Being from an acting background myself, I’m fortunate to know some extraordinary actors. The leads are all formally trained and can meet the demands of this very demanding script. Two of them (Jonathan Stoddard and Michelle Lee Barton) are SAG members who are traveling from L.A. to do the film.

Our Timeline
June – cast the final three roles; secure the last two San Francisco locations; reserve lights, sound equipment, and camera

July – hire sound and lighting crew; finish shooting script

August 1 – final rehearsal with full cast and crew

Shoot August 2-4 in San Francisco

We will shoot for three days We have secured the Phoenix Hotel in San Francisco for filming on August 3.

What We Need
The purpose of this campaign is to see that this 14-page script becomes a beautiful and meaningful film that is screened around the world.

  • Our biggest expense is equipment rental. We intend to shoot with a RED Scarlet, which will cost approximately $500 per day,
  • lights and sound equipment. (I don’t have estimates on these yet.)
  • Travel expenses for actors from LA (est. $600)
  • Location rental (est. $1,500)
  • Food for everyone on set and at rehearsals (est. $600)
  • Post production — composer, sound editor, video editor, etc. (est. $2,500)
  • Costumes

After the film is made, it will be time to market and distribute it.

  • Poster design
  • Marketing materials
  • website
  • festival fees and costs
  • DVD costs

Let’s Go!
This project has seemed blessed from the moment I first shared the script. The community has really come together to make it work. The next two months are the “moment of truth”. You are the final piece of the puzzle. Once we have the funds to cover our expenses, we can make a movie we are all proud to be part of.

In San Francisco, $5 is the cost of a cup of coffee. Drop $5 here and I’ll Tweet the world of your generosity. If you are not able to donate (and not everybody can, I know), I hope you’ll spread the word. Let your friends know what we’re up to here, and that they can be a part of it for the cost of a cup of SF java.

THANK YOU!
I am thrilled for what’s to come, and I hope you’ll be a part of making movie magic!
And use Indiegogo to spread the word!
Let’s make some noise!

FUND OUR CAMPAIGN  at http://www.igg.me/at/character-shortfilm

A Great Big World

A Great Big World

A-Great-Big-World-Is-There-Anbody-Out-There_-2013-1200x1200I love this album so much. It’s uplifting, fun, and gay-positive! It reminds me of They Might Be Giants and sometimes Meat Loaf‘s piano riffs. The pop ballad “Say Something” is one of the worst tracks, and it’s still pretty good. 

Tagged , , ,