Tag Archives: actors

Power of Improv

The Power Of Improv

Written by Terry Berland for The Networker

For many years I went to improv shows to be entertained, laugh, and discover the work of clever, quick-thinking actors. I have always said, improv is important—it loosens you up, gets you ready to think fast on your feet, and strips away the self-censorship that blocks creativity.

There is More to Improv Than Being Funny
Improv is important to the art of acting itself. Improv enables you to open up the door to your creative power and is a conduit to better dramatic acting.

Improv Opens the Door to Your Creative Powers
I don’t know how someone can be a good actor without having taken improv classes. I believe improv is not only a great complement to an actor’s training, but essential to bringing an actor deeper into their source of creativity by unlocking blockages.

To explain further, I went directly to the source of a master improv actor/teacher, Donovan Scott. Scotty’s improv teaching is very special in that it is designed to relate directly to the individual actor’s acting process. This helps with four elements you need for a good commercial performance.

Nuanced Performances
Scotty: “Over the years, improvisation has gone from a curiosity as an art form, to an essential tool for the actor. It has gradually formed the basis for our emerging acting standard on the screen. From the broad physical acting style of the silent film era, we have evolved to the super close-up and the nuanced techniques of realistic acting.”

The simplest auditions need nuances. The commercial on camera audition space you are working in is film-like in that it is a close shot, which calls for subtle expressions and the ability to create a life around what is called for. For example, if you are told you are a person reaching for a glass of water, for a good performance you have to create who you are, why you want this water and how you feel after you take the satisfying drink. You must be able to create in a very tight shot in short amount of time.

Stay Ahead of Your Audience
Scotty: “Like in all art forms, we must stay ahead of our audience in order to keep them interested and involved. Improv takes away technique and demands a more spontaneous resolve.”

Knowing how to stay ahead of your audience will give you the confidence to make and stick to strong choices. Once you can do this, you will not walk into an audition room wondering what the powers-that-be want. Not being in your head will allow you to create from your gut and your sacred creative space. Which brings me to another point.

How Can Improv Complement Your Acting?
Scotty: “In the ‘acting class world’, techniques of choice, delve into gut wrenching realistic performances, by digging into the depths of the actor to reveal the truth. Improv, on the lighter side, has much of the same result. It’s about freedom, spontaneity, and the use of surrounding elements to enhance the power of the actor’s performance.”

In any audition or performance you can’t hold on tightly to “the process”. You need to find your freedom, individuality and spontaneity in your performance. The key element that improv adds to your acting skills lies in your ability to experience freedom and spontaneity which you will find through experienced guided improv exercises.

Ability to Change Fast
Scotty: “As actors we often make decisions and blindly stick to them no matter what is going on around us. In Improv we build an awareness of what is happening to us at that moment, and allow that to effect our expressions, emotions, and choices to move forward. With the power of Improv skills, the answers are quicker to respond to, easier to understand, and more connected organically. Acting choices are more instinctive to the individual actor; a response, rather than a calculation, instantaneous rather than thought provoked. Improv asks us to know ourselves, trust our instincts, and commit to our choices. It has become the most powerful tool of today’s actor. It celebrates our truth.”

You have to walk into the audition room with confidence in your specific choices, yet able to change in any direction given to you. After you have gone through strenuous improv exercises in a class, a change in direction given to you at an audition or on set will be a piece of cake. When you get good at improv you will have an attractive, fearless “bring it on” attitude.


Donovan Scott
After studying at the American Conservatory theatre in San Francisco, Donovan became the artistic director of Comedia Del Arte’ Troup. He toured the east coast directing, writing, and performing. He has performed at the Old Globe in San Diego, has worked in films with Steven Spielberg on 1941, costarred in Popeye with Robert Altman, Starred in Savannah Smiles, Zorro the Gay Blade, Sheena Queen of the Jungle, Police Academy 1. He has also starred or guest starred in over 50 Television shows. He was nominated for a Silver Bear award in Germany for one of his TV series. He also teaches Improvisation to enhance audition comedy and dramatic performances for Terry Berland’s workshops, and was voted one of the top three Improvisation teachers in the Los Angeles area for three years in a row. See IMDB profile for complete information.

What do Hamilton and commercials have in common?

Written for the Networker by Terry Berland

“The Room Where It Happens.” Everyone wants to be in the room where it happens, and in the acting world, it’s the call back room—the room with the producers.


[BURR AND COMPANY]
The room where it happened
The room where it happened
The room where it happened

[BURR]
No one really knows how the
Parties get to yesssss
The pieces that are sacrificed in
Ev’ry game of chesssss


Here are seven pointers for being in the (commercial call-back) Room Where It Happens.

Walk in with an open feeling.

If the producers don’t pay attention to you right away, stay open, patiently waiting.

Feel empowered.

Assume you are the answer to their search. That will enable you to feel being part of that room.

Go with the flow of whatever happens in the room.


If the production team is friendly and outgoing, then respond as such. If they are grouchy and irritated know you are not the problem and stay open and vulnerable.

Don’t be affected by negativity in the room.


If they are eating, on the phone or on their computer do your thing and stay true to your choices. Note their rudeness to yourself, but stay strong and connected to your empowerment.

Don’t get thrown by a large pile of size cards of talent already seen.

Remember there are lots of age ranges and ethnicity of people being considered. You are usually up against only 30 people of your same type. You are an equal chance to everyone else in that pile of other actors.

Don’t be concerned if you are the first person being auditioned or the last person auditioned.


Don’t start figuring out your changes because of the time of day you are auditioned. I have seen the first person get booked and the last person booked.

Don’t wish the creative team good luck with the project as you leave the room.


If you leave the room wishing the creative team good luck with the project, it is a sign of self-dismissal and an expectation of not being considered.

THE MOST POWERFUL WEAPON YOU HAVE GOING FOR YOU

By Terry Berland for The Networker

When I am a guest at an informational event for actors, the questions are inevitably geared towards all kinds of do’s-and-don’t’s regarding how talent can ultimately get auditions, excel in their career, and be likable to casting directors—some of which include the questions listed below.

Popular Questions and Do’s and Don’t’s
What makes up a good, professional headshot?
What does a casting director look for on a resume?
What makes up a good reel?
Don’t be late for your audition.
Let casting know if you are not showing up.
Don’t wear cologne or perfume.
Read the instructions.
Be Prepared.
What to expect at a call back?
Is my type called in a lot?
Can I get work with my accent?
What’s the worst thing I can do?
What’s the best thing I can do?

What Is The Strongest Weapon You Have To Succeed?
Yes, all the answers to the above questions add to your knowledge, and knowledge is power. After all, I wrote the book Breaking Into Commercials for that very reason. But the most important element and most powerful tool for getting ahead and impressing a casting director, director, or producer is the bottom line of BE A GOOD ACTOR. Like cream rising to the top, good acting quietly yells out “I’m here,” and opens up possibilities of attracting bookings, auditions, casting directors, producers, and directors to the actor. Your most powerful weapon is being a good actor. What makes a good actor?
A good actor . . .

  • Loves to work out every week in his/her acting class and go deeper and deeper, because it feels rewarding.
  • Makes their way into local shows, readings, hangs out with other good actors, and appreciates and supports their colleagues’ good work.
  • Feels good about their auditions and moves easier through the inevitable frustrations of their career.
  • Stands out. Even if a commercial casting director is not in the actual audition and is watching the auditions on a monitor in-between other casting tasks, they look up and take notice of the good actor’s audition.

. . . and . . .

  • A good commercial actor will be recognized by theatrical casting directors.
  • The good actor’s audition will be pointed out at the end of the day and shown to the casting director by the session director.

Will the good actor always get the parts they want or be the richest person on the block? The answer is “no.” But if you are going to be in the acting profession, being a good actor is what you want to strive for and will give you the most personal satisfaction, with the chance to attract opportunities and succeed to your highest potential. Unfortunately there are no guarantees in the acting profession, but if you are going to act, put most of your efforts into being the best that you can be—be the good actor.

7 Steps to Make A Difference In Your Career

Written for the Networker, January 1, 2017

There are certain things I don’t write about because I think the information is too elementary, but throughout the year some recurring mistakes jolted me into thinking I should relay this information to you, so I decided to start out the year more cut-and-dry, relaying seven steps that can make a positive difference in your acting career.

1. Include a photo and resume in your e-mail communications.

When you are connecting with someone, whether it be a thank you, a question, or any kind of communication, include a photo, resume, or a link to your website. The most seamless way to do this is to have a website and include the link to your website after your name.

A casting director is only human and does not always remember exactly who you are. It can take up three times to remember.

2. Make your handwriting legible in your written communications.

I appreciate the time, thought, and business organizational skills it takes to write a thank you card. Many times I receive these cards and I cannot understand the talent’s signature. I don’t know who the heck I got the thank you from. Not a good situation.

3. Include a photo business card in your handwritten notes.

It’s best to also include a little business card with your photo and contact info on it. Again, it is a visual identification of who you are. We can’t have too many subtle reminders.

4. Send postcards to touch base.

Don’t think a picture post card sent by snail mail is an obsolete way of communicating. It actually stands out more now, with everyone doing their communications online. It’s a true indication that you are taking your career seriously as a business—very impressive. Send them out about four times a year. The repetition is a great tool to help us remember.

5. When you are submitting yourself, confirm quickly online.

Many, many hours after we post appointments online, we have to call about 50% of the talent to ask if they are confirmed. Please note, we need confirms because if you cannot make the casting call, we have to replace you. Being easy to work with adds to your reputation and success as an actor.

6. Answer your voicemail messages.

When I cast a film, which I am doing as I write this, I find I have to communicate details via e-mail instead of through the breakdown service. My office, therefore, has to call you to ask for your e-mail address. We find there are some people we have to call three times before they finally answer us—very frustrating.  It’s only during the callback process that we bother chasing you. That phone call is unexpected. Expect the unexpected, and respond.

7. Include your e-mail address on your resume.

It’s better to have several ways of being reached. It’s quicker for us to send you an e-mail than to call. And for those who don’t check their voicemails, it will eliminate the possibility of getting a job.

Here’s to a great start to 2017.

tag actorlife, actors, auditions, casting director

FIVE REASONS YOU MAY NOT BOOK THE JOB

A really good audition makes the casting director, the producer, and the director really happy. You gave a good audition, you got put on avail . . . and then you didn’t get booked. Why?
I can assure you it is nothing that you did wrong. So if it’s nothing you did wrong, what could it be?
The callback is the time the spot takes shape. Many variables come into play.
Here Are Five Reasons Why You Might Not Get Booked
1. The Spot Has A Certain Look
All variations and combinations of looks are considered. During the callback selection process, as the spot takes shape, your look might not quite fit in. I have seen a group of six people chosen and upon final consideration, the creative team noticed everyone was brunette. One person was randomly taken out of the group and replaced with a person with lighter hair. I remember feeling an “ouch” for the person taken out of the group.
image2
You might look too upscale, not upscale enough, too pretty, not pretty enough, etc. You can’t change how the creatives decide how their spot should look.
2. The Spot Has A Certain Feel
As the spot comes alive at the callback, the creative team sees more clearly what is going to work for the feel they want. The essence of your personality might not work. You might feel too humorous, not humorous enough, too serious, not serous enough, or too intellectual. I’ve even seen an actor with a wonderful performance lose the job during final consideration because one person on the creative team felt he did not feel “trustworthy” enough. The “feel” of who you are is your essence, and you can’t change your essence. You have no control over the feel of a spot.
3. Character Relationships In a Spot
When a group is being put together, you might not gel well with the other person they definitely want. You may gel well, but someone else gels better or differently.
image3
Chemistry comes into play during mixing and matching of people being considered. Sometimes you will actually be asked to stay to be mixed and matched. If you are not asked to stay, the creative team actually mixes and matches by shuffling around the size cards. They discuss the different feel of people together. You can’t change chemistry between people.
4. Change In Direction
There is always the chance that the direction of the spot, or your particular character is changed. You have no control over the ad agency or director making these changes.
5. Luck Of The Draw
Everyone is unique. Put two really good actor’s performances toe to toe in front of the creatives for them to choose, and they can only choose one.
All you can do is give your best performance, be knowledgeable about how the system works and feel fortunate you got to audition, got the call back and most importantly know that even though you didn’t get booked, you pleased everyone. Really know you will be remembered for the next opportunity.

What Separates the Professionals From the Wannabes

Written for The Networker by Terry Berland

Professional_Actors

How many times do we hear “Everything depends on the casting. This piece is actor driven. The cast will make or break this spot?” It amazes me that the right person can be picked for a commercial from a one minute audition, followed by a five or ten minute call back.

THE AUDITION PROCESS IS SHORT

In that eleven minutes, the creatives see your acting, feel the essence of who you are, and know enough to book you. They are then banking on you, fully depending on you to come through and do a good job acting on the day of the shoot.

Many people enter acting on a whim because it looks like fun. However, there are certain responsibilities that separate the professionals. The culminating moment is the audition, but it’s refreshing to take a look at all the elements that go into the preparation of that event.

RESPONSIBILITY THAT SEPARATES THE PROFESSIONAL ACTORS FROM THE WANNABES

Your responsibility as an actor started long before the moment of the booking.

    This responsibility or empowerment list includes:

  • *Knowing the technique.
  • *Having good photos.
  • *Keeping your resume fresh, reflecting your strengths.
  • *Keeping sharp with acting classes.
  • *Developing good demo reels.
  • *Having a website.
  • *Obtaining agents and keeping up those relationships.
  • *Confirming your auditions.
  • *Preparing for auditions.
  • *Showing up on time to the audition.
  • *Wearing the right clothing.
  • *Auditioning well.
  • *Staying healthy and being healthy from the start to finish at the shoot.
  • *Knowing your lines.
  • *Showing up in time.
  • *Showing up at wardrobe.
  • *Knowing how to go over your contract.
  • *Keeping track of your conflicts.
  • *Being available for your agent to audition.
  • *Booking out when you are not available.
  • *Staying creative throughout the day or days of the shoot.
  • *Keeping up your energy.
  • *Staying consistent to the look of your photos.
  • *Being able to sustain line changes.
  • *Ability to work well with others.

I’m sure you can add other things to this list. Send Berland Casting a message and let us know what empowering responsibility you’ve added.

Ad-Libbing in Commercial Auditions

Written for The Networker by Terry Berland

I’m not sure if actors really know of the “treading on thin ice” conditions casting used to have to work under to stay within the union’s improvising rules, in order to avoid fines every time we needed comedic actors to show a degree of creativity.

HOW CASTING DIRECTORS ASKED FOR AD LIBBING IN THE PAST

The Union contracts had always forbid casting to ask actors to improvise in auditions. Improvisation was considered a creative contribution to the spot, which it was thought should come with additional compensation. Unfortunately, this limited the actor from giving a full comedic performance and casting from finding truly unique individuals. To comply with this rule, casting directors and actors were forced to eliminate a certain degree of creativity by avoiding asking actors to improvise around scripted commercials. Casting would have to use certain language (wink, wink) that became a well known invitation to improvise, without actually using the word “improv.” On occasion, casting directors were reported to the union, which resulted in clients and casting being fined for entering the forbidden area of creativity set by the union.

New SAG-AFTRA Contract

New contract allows ad-libbing to occur at commercial auditions and sessions

SAG-AFTRA NEW CONTRACT HAS CHANGED AUDITION RULES REGARDING AD LIBBING

With styles changing through the years to be more real, looser, and less tightly stylized, the creativity needed in comedy spots and performances became harder and harder to finesse around the archaic contractual improvisation rules. The union has acknowledged that fact and the new contract does allow ad-libbing at commercial auditions and sessions. Payment is, however, still required for a creative session call – for devising dialogue or action not suggested by a script, storyboard, or by specific direction.

MORE CREATIVE AUDITIONS FOR COMEDIC ACTORS

We are thrilled to be able to be more creative with you in regard to comedic performance and give you the chance to comically show your stuff. After all, the creative team already has the dialogue that is amusing, now they need to find a comedic personality. Comedic personalities live in distinctive expressions and ways of saying things that is unique to each individual. That means adding some of the talent’s own words, changing rhythms, making side comments and/or riffing.

We are looking forward to more creatively working with talent. Free at last.

Has The Trust And Understanding Of The Agent And Casting Director Been Corroded?

Written by Terry Berland for the Networker

Is the Trust and Understanding between Agents and Casting Directors Gone?

The quick answer is NO.

Casting Directors and Agents

Everyday your auditions, avails and bookings are based on the communication between commercial Casting Directors and Commercial Agents. We don’t talk to each other much any more due to e-mails and we don’t see each other face to face either.

From the astute recognition that tensions, contention and misunderstanding between agents and casting directors were building up and the relationship was breaking down, recently the CCDA (Commercial Casting Director Association), which I am a member of, and the ATA (Association of Talent Agencies) had a meeting with a huge turnout to meet face-to-face and discuss issues that are misunderstood between the two groups.
The meeting was informative and friendly.

The meeting started out with plenty of time to meet and greet each other and then continued on to a facilitated group discussion. It turned out the biggest feeling of contention and misunderstanding of agents toward Casting Directors was around the subject of avails.

Understanding Avails

The Agent Point of View on Avails

Agent’s perturbed feelings towards the casting process came from them not understanding the inner workings of how casting receives their breakdown information, including timing and avails. When we put you on avail for an on-camera commercial if you also have a career in print, VO, film, television and theatre there are a number of other agents and/or a manger that has to OK/clear the avail dates. It can get rather complex. The agents were feeling that putting talent on avail was being taken lightly and thought of frivolously on the part of casting. The big question was “Why do so many people have to be put on avail?” “Why is an avail so important to you, anyway?”

The Importance of Avails

Avails are very important because at the time you are put on avail, you are being presented/sold to approximately eight layers of people to agree on your being booked. The people are the Ad Agency Producer, Writer, Art Director, Creative Supervisor, Creative Director, Account Executive, Director at the production company, and finally the Client.(More Info) It would be stupid if our team choose you and went through the approval process and then you were not available for the shoot. The availability includes final check of shoot dates and conflict if there is one. Would any other business “sell” someone or hire someone and go through many layers of an approval process without knowing the person is available for the job? Of course not! The selection process of talent follows the same set of organizational rules as any other business who goes through a selection and hiring process.

Actors and Avails

Usually, for multi-character spots three people are put on avail for each character. There is a first choice and two back ups. When we put out the avails we do not tell the agent who is first and who is backup. The reason is that many times the first choice is not chosen by the client; the second or third choice ends up being the pick. So if there are ten characters and three people are put on avail for each character, then there are thirty people put on avail for that commercial, but actually only three people per character.

Meeting Resolution

The agents walked away from the meeting understanding the process behind the selection and avail process. Then of course the contentious subject came up regarding releasing the avails. YES, we (casting) should release your avail. It is disrespectful and thoughtless if we do not. There are times that I know my office releases avails through emails to individual agents and also a general release through the breakdown service we use. We do get calls from the agent’s office, sometimes a week later, asking if the person is released yet. I don’t know where the communication breaks down. But it does sometimes.

I think the important thing for you is to understand avails and know that commercial agents and casting directors are meeting face to face in the spirit of a better working relationship getting YOU the talent out on auditions, giving you avails and final bookings as smoothly as possible.


THE SELECTION PROCESS OF BOOKING TALENT

More About The Creative Team.
There are eight people who are involved in the selection of booking process.

  • The Producer is responsible for putting together and keeping together all the elements that make up the production of a commercial. These elements include budgeting, selecting the director, coordinating the decisions of all the people involved, and making sure the production is on schedule, including the editing of the final spot.
  • The Art Director visually conceives the spot and makes it come alive through drawings and visuals. In short, he/she is responsible for the way the commercial will look. He works very closely with the writer.
  • The Writer puts the message into words and has to be in total alignment with the Art Director.
  • The Creative Supervisor oversees the activities of the art director, writer and producer.
  • The Creative Director sets the tone of the entire ad agency.
  • The Director is hired to direct and enhance the creativity of the spot. He has to work closely with the producer, writer and art director to stay within their guidelines of final acceptance of the client.
  • The Account Executive serves at the Ad Agency as the liaison between the client and the agency. It is their ongoing responsibility to talk directly to the client making sure the client is happy.
  • The Client are the executives who represent the product being advertised such as Apple Computer, Pepsi or VW.

There Is More To Being A Successful Actor Than Knowing Technique.

(Blog written By Terry Berland for Casting Networks/The Networker)

As talent of course you are focused on your audition technique; how you get the call back and the booking. This blog is not about that. However, knowing and understanding the process will enable you to be a wiser actor which will help you be a more confident actor. Confidence can only add up to feeling more relaxed, resulting in a better audition.

There is a life to a commercial project before you receive your audition time. Understanding this path will be very helpful to you feeling an important part of the casting process.

It starts with the ad agency being hired by the product company (such as Pepsi, Apple, Tide) to produce their spots. This is not on a one-to-one basis. There is a very large agreement with the agency to produce a certain amount of spots per year. The agency is responsible for media strategy as well as their buying power. Products usually stay with the ad agency for years.

At the ad agency, there are tiers of creatives. The writer and art director create and pitch their ideas to a supervisor who agrees on which spots will be produced.

The Production Company
When the spot is ready to be produced, there is a system between the ad agencies and production companies whereby production companies are invited to bid for projects based on the interest of the ad agency in a particular director. The director is hired to enhance the concept of the spot.

The Casting Director
The production company will then contact the casting director to first figure out the budget that they feel will “win” the bid or figure out how to produce the job within budget after they are awarded the job . At that point I as a casting director spend time helping to figure out this budget regarding the number of prep and casting days and studio costs. This can be a quick process or sometimes that take hours and hours doing and re-doing budgets to meet the production companies needs.

The Prep Of The Breakdown
The Casting Director (moi) is then awarded the job and it is time to put the breakdown out. We first have to figure out mathematically how we will fit the number of characters into the number of days we have been alloted to cast.

Then casting has to put in place the staff to prep the job. This team consists of the session runner who runs the outside of the casting room, the inside-office staff to set up the schedules, maintain drops outs and re-scheduling requests and put in place the audition director who is inside the room actually directing you.

After the breakdown goes out to you there are hours and hours, usually well into the night and weekends, of prep that I and all other casting directors do. As I am prepping, many of you receive calls from me at night or over the weekend asking you something about your skill or your demo.

Casting Studio Involvement
At the same time we are availing and booking the casting studio rooms, the casting studios are juggling the availability of these rooms. Studies are constantly being put on avails, released and then booked. When you come to our facility, Castaway Studios, or any other, you always see a studio manager. It is the job of that studio manager to juggle the facilitation of the studios and keep the place running smoothly. This of course includes maintaining equipment and internet service to handle the large volume of usage.

The Talent Seals The Deal
The next time you receive your audition and walk into the casting for your audition, stop a moment and remember all the elements that went into the important moment of you being there. Now we are counting on you when you sign in and enter the casting room to give us a great audition. You are part of the process!! http://www.berlandcasting.com/oc/