Wednesday 28 March 2012

Background artists

 For the past few days I have spent time on set of a major feature film being shot in Wellington. Everything about this project is impressive, inspiring and beautiful - including the people who work on it. The amount of dedication and enthusiasm in every department and on every rung of the movie ladder was wonderful. Despite about a gazillion people working on set at all times, it felt like a cohesive whole, very much like a very large family gathering. The level of skill present in the tiniest details in costumes, props, and set as well as the speed with which the techies worked their magic are a real testament to the talent of the people working in the Wellington film industry.
I have only done a couple of extras gigs since starting out as an actress. The first one I did because I wanted to know what a feature film set feels like, the other couple of gigs I did as a favour to friends. Extras work is not what I want to be doing professionally or even regularly. It's hardly ever paid, and most people seem to think you're an idiot for working as an extra. I also want to be acting in the centre of a film's story, not at the periphery.
But once in a while a major movie project comes along that is able to pay its extras okay wages and more importantly is so SO exciting that I'd be an extra any day just to be part of it. So, I jumped at the opportunity to be part of this particular film.

It was the biggest film I have ever worked on and the film I spent the most time on. Over four long and full-on days I learned to have some major respect for people who work extras gig. They are awesome!
They work long days and nights, often with broken turnaround. They put up with incredibly long waiting periods, heat and cold, difficult costumes, wigs and head-dresses to drive you crazy, probably the lowest pay and respect of anyone on set, and no credit to their name at all. And the overwhelming majority of extras do so without moaning, with saintly patience, and incredible enthusiasm. Of course you have the odd pushy person - sometimes quite literally - but most extras a genuinely nice, interesting and generous people - awesome through and through.
I must say that on this particular film, the extras department pulled out all the stops to make the experience for us a really positive one. They took very good care of us - the catering was fantastic, everyone was friendly and respectful, and we got as much information about the goings on as humanly possible.
There are however things about extra work that I will always find difficult. Apart from keeping up your energy over long waiting periods and after 20 takes of the same scene, the most difficult part of being an extra for me is the following.
Extras don't get any information about the story or the scene that they're in until they step on set. So, no time for preparation. Then the direction given is most often completely result-oriented, like, 'Now, be really really deliriously happy!' and 'Be so scared you're close to a heart attack!' Being asked to feel a certain emotion is difficult for most actors in any circumstances but without any knowledge about the story and without any chance for preparation it can be super stressful.
Do you remember the last time someone asked you to feel a certain emotion at the push of a button? 'Feel' not 'look as if' because the camera knows the difference and will expose you. It took me a few tries to get in the groove of things and work with what I was given but it was hard work, man! 
Looking around me though, there were a whole heap of extras who did an incredible job of turning it on and really feeling the emotions required from them, all the time and all day long. These are the people that make a scene come to life. You can have the most incredible set and costumes, and the most talented actors if the background talent wouldn't do their job and do it well, the whole illusion would fall apart.
Even though I want to be more than 'just' an extra, this experience in extras acting has been pretty great for my development as an actress. Knowing that I can work around scarce information and result direction and switch it on on demand has been a big confidence boost.
Make no mistake, extras work is hard and unglamorous but without your background talent your movie illusion will fall apart like a house of cards. 
So, the next time you feel like saying extras work isn't 'real acting' and turn up your nose at those who give your their time and dedication to work as your extras, think again. If your extras don't do 'real acting', if they are not actually living in the moment but putting on a show, your film will look in part pretty ridiculous. So, you better hope that the people you choose for the background have the talent to switch on emotions again and again even though you give them hardly anything to work with. And you better hope they are as enthusiastic, hard-working, and undemanding as the great bunch of people I had the pleasure to work with over the last few days.

Treat your extras well and they will make you and your story look real. They are the backbone of your movie illusion. Treat them respect.

Saturday 3 March 2012

Mental Health Break

 Mental health breaks are important. Most of the time I forget about that. I get so stuck in the daily routines of childcare and part-time jobs that I find it harder and harder to motivate myself to do the work. All of a sudden doing the work that is important to me and tat should be fun because it is what I want to be doing becomes almost a chore. I feel so drained that in the valuable and sparse time that I have to myself, all I want to do is sleep or at the very least not think. And then a day like today comes along.

Today, I attended a workshop/seminar put together by Miranda Harcourt and Tina Cleary with support from Film NZ and the NZ Film Commission. The seminar was about auditioning and casting process but an inspirational point of view. It was about all the little things that make an audition great; from the obvious learning your lines really really well to those things we tend to forget when our nerves get in the way like breathing, bringing ourselves to the role and making a connection with the reader whoever they happen to be. Mostly, they were things that I had heard before but watching back some fantastic auditions really drove them home and made me hungry to be better, bring more me, work harder, connect more.
It was also fantastic to see some of the actors again who I have worked with over the past couple of years. Working essentially two part-time jobs from home doesn't leave much room to connect with other actors - in real life, as opposed to social networking sites. And boy do I crave that connection as well! 
After the three hour workshop was over I really really did not want to go home. So, instead I went to lunch with two wonderful actresses I had met at other workshops and we talked and talked about all the things we can do to get better, get farther, dream bigger. Connection is great and solidarity and going this journey together.

I need more days like today and I will make them happen.

Thursday 1 March 2012

Knowing Take 2

 My agency has a new online presence. The cool thing about that is that now I can see what I am being submitted for. And holy crapness, I am being put forward to more things than I would ever have thought AND for really juicy, awesome roles on exciting productions.
This means that my agent believes in me! Let me repeat this: My agent believes in me!
There is nothing better than knowing that in this crazy business you have people on your side and believing in you. People, who are not obliged to do so because they love you because let's face friends and family, they are biased...
To have your family and friends on your side, believing in you and supporting you is of course invaluable! Without them and their support, a life as an artist would be rough at best. I am eternally grateful for their support and enthusiasm for my career and life choices.
Professionally though, to know that the people who's job it is to get you work, believe in you is, well, absolutely vital. Yeah, yeah, yeah, you should be your own cheerleader and your own approval should be enough. Go away, self-help books!

Of course you need people in the industry to believe in you! As your first port of call, your agent needs to be the first one to be a believer. Your agent is the one shouting 'Give this woman/man a job!' If that sentence isn't followed by a 'Because she/he is awesome!' good luck to you.
I feel like I have a lot to prove to my agent still and frankly can't quite believe that they should shout 'She is awesome!' about me. (I'm working on it, ok!?) But looking at their submissions for me certainly makes it clear that they believe in me. Booking the first job I had an audition for through the agency might have helped quite a bit. And yes, I am really happy and proud that I booked that job!
So, here is to the people who believe in you and cheer for you whether they are biased because they love you or not. And here is to you, the fact that you are doing what you love to do, to your successes, big and small, and to believing that you are worthy of every single cheerleader you have and the many more to join your squad.

You know what the other great thing about the new online system is? Seeing all the productions I am being submitted to makes me see possibilities that I wouldn't have seen before.  Now, I could sit in front of my computer screen and fret about whether or not I will get an audition for any of these productions. Counter-productive, if you ask me.
Nah, instead of making me sweat, I have decided that knowing is just going to help me dream big. I will stay on top of things, increasing the likelihood of getting auditions by keeping my headshots up to date and professional, getting as much acting training as possible, building other skills that are handy for actors to have, by finding unpaid work myself and all those other little things you can do to grow. 
While I am waiting to actually get auditions on big(ger) productions, knowing about being submitted to them will be part of my fuel to push ahead. So, tonight, I will dream about that recurring role on that awesome TV show and the juicy supporting part on that feature film. Best bit? My dream is rooted in a tiny bit of reality and the reality bit will grow and grow like my dreams will.

So, here is to dreaming and dreaming big and to the small glimpses of reality that make us all hope for bigger things, make us strive and grow and work hard every day!

Sunday 26 February 2012

Auditions, reading and new headshots

 I have plans this year. Big plans. Well, I think they're big - short term big. The long term goals are bigger, much bigger.

Since I have only started out as an actress at the end of 2008, had a baby soon after, and only really got cracking in 2010, I am still at the very beginning of my acting journey. So, given that and the fact that I live in Wellington were work is scarce in the first place, it's probably not surprising that I have nowhere near enough material for a reel.

I have already worked on a short film this year but I have yet to find out whether I can use any of for a reel. I also had an audition for another short film. I didn't book but the feedback during and after the audition was wonderful. Who doesn't like to hear that they did a 'fantastic audition'?

Since 2010, I've had two speaking parts of any significant length. One of them was in a short film and frankly, I am so much better now than I was when I shot it, so I don't want to use it. The second was for the industrial that I shot at the end of last year. I'm waiting back to hear whether it's possible for me to get a copy, since the thing was semi-public anyway. Fingers crossed because it would at least be a start.

Since the whole reel thing is a bit out of my hands at the moment, I'm going to have to concentrate on things that I can actually achieve by myself. Yes, I know, I could easily write and film a scene with some friends, even something of very good quality but I'm a bit apprehensive about this idea. So, I am going to start with a voice reel.

My wonderful partner is among many other things a soundie and is going to help me with the technical side of things. The plan is to do three short recordings of my natural accent/a very German accent, my General American accent and one of me speaking German and maybe French. One of the recordings (probably the GenAm one) is going to be in the style of a audiobook reading because how fun would that be to do as a job, right? Reading out loud for a living, are you kidding me?! If you have any tips and tricks for or thoughts on the other recordings in terms of length, material etc. I would love to hear them!

Coming back to playing parts of any significant length; apart from theatre, I have yet to book a role where the character has her own journey and character development. And man am I craving such a role! At the moment I only ever get to go on a real journey with my characters in acting class and even then only snippets of their journeys. So, one goal this year is to land a lead role in a film, short or feature or at the very least a significant supporting role. Something to really sink my teeth in. I'll keep you posted.

I have had the absolute pleasure to do some reading for a local production How to Meet Girls from a Distance yesterday. Being a reader was something I have always wanted to do and it was a lot of fun and fantastic experience. I hope I get to be a reader much more often this year. So, if you're casting something in Wellington and need a reader, get in touch!

Finishing my script is obviously on my list as well. I'm a very slow writer in this project but since that doesn't bug me in the slightest and I'm having nothing but fun when I am writing, I don't plan to change that. And since no one is paying me for the job, I don't plan to give myself a deadline either. As long as I am enjoying the experience, there is no rush for me to finish any time soon. Once I have a first draft my ambitions might change but we'll have so wait and see about that.

There is a whole lot of other stuff on my plan for 2012, the most important of which is probably to print the damn thing, so I don't constantly forget what I need/want to do...

Another very important item are new head shots. I have already had them taken but am waiting to get my favourites back from the photographer. I will post them here once I get them. Please let me know what you think! After all, my head shots are my calling card, right, and if you guys don't believe or like what you see, I should probably try again. Just for the record, I am very happy with the photos!

Right, off to the printer and back to business. Happy Oscars Day, everyone!

Monday 20 February 2012

What you know

 I was listening to Nine to Noon on National Radio yesterday and Kathryn Ryan had Jennifer Weiner, the author of In Her Shoes on the programme. At one point they were talking about how everyone always says, 'Write what you know!'
When I first started thinking about writing and someone said to me 'write what you know' I thought, 'Yes! I can do this!' About five minutes later I thought, 'Oh no! My life is not interesting enough. What I know, no one will want to read about!'
Instead of being liberating the idea of writing what I know became so stifling that every time I had an idea for a piece of fiction, I censored myself before my pen even touched the paper. Suddenly, 'what I know' became a huge source of anxiety. What if what I know wasn't good enough?

I think the exact same question has long since made me shy away from acting techniques that rely (largely) on past experiences instead of relying (largely) on imagination. The difference between these two approaches to acting seem to be that one technique asks you to 'use what you know' to create a character, find emotion, and create connection, while the other asks you to use what is inspiring to you. 
What I know is limited to my upbringing, my education, my family and friends, my motherhood. Using (only) that to act never seemed satisfactory or satisfying for that matter; never seemed enough. I also never felt particularly interested in some experiences in real life, like say getting high on crack or killing someone. Obviously, actors who use what they know to act wouldn't (necessarily) take drugs or kill someone to play a character who does. That's were imagination comes in, right?
With imagination anything goes. No one knows what I am actually thinking about to evoke a particular emotion or to show a particular aspect of my character. ANYTHING goes! Didn't Meisner say, 'You could be thinking of fucking a chihuahua if it gets you off' or something along those lines? Somehow, I always felt like I was cheating my character if I didn't tap into the unlimited potential that is imagination.

Imagination can be scary too though. What if you really had to think about fucking a chihuahua to get you off? Would you really want to know that about yourself? Shudder... Then again, this journey of self-knowledge, while challenging and at times confronting, is one of the things that make being an actor so intriguing. What makes me tick? Playing with the 'what ifs?' of what our imagination can come up with is endless fun!
In order to know what makes you tick, of course you have to know your past, your experiences and how they made you you. But somehow, while of course I have tapped into past experiences when I was acting, I've never been okay with that. It felt like something self-indulgent, counter-productive even.
Writing this script is a really interesting experience in this regard. When I first sat down to write, I quite literally knew nothing about a whole bunch of elements that will make up my story. For instance, my story is set in the mountains. I'm from Berlin, Germany. Google map it. No mountains. I know nothing about mountains, or climbing, or weather, or alpine flora and fauna. Nothing! And you know what; this ignorance turned out to be completely liberating!
It allowed me not to sensor myself before even starting to write, in fact, it is still liberating during the writing process. I know nothing about mountains but I can imagine a whole bunch of things that could happen in them. Working out the details, I will leave to the experts. And man, can I not wait for the time I will sit down with all those amazing people who do know about all this stuff! My lack of knowing allowed my imagination to run wild.
And then something really strange happened. When my characters began to take shape my imagination wandered into my own past and asked what these characters would be like, what their journeys would be if I gave them specific experiences similar or alike to those I have had. Suddenly, what I know began to supplement my imagination. Knowledge and imagination all of a sudden got along really really well and I started enjoying it!
If I take anything away from this writing experience - besides a finished script - it will be this:
What I know is okay. What I know is not boring or meaningless or limited; it is what made me who I am and I am not boring or meaningless or limited. What I know is the foundation on which my imagination is built, provides the spark which keeps my imagination running wild and hot and reignites it when it fizzles out.
I don't think 'what I know' will ever be the place from which I will start writing or create a character or approach a scene. But through this writing process I have come to accept 'what I know' more than ever before and can enjoy for it to be there for me when I need it. 

'What you know' is never boring or meaningless or limited, and neither are you! Every human being is inherently interesting. Sometimes, we just have to look and listen closely because not everyone screams, 'Look at me! Hear my story!'  And we have to realise that we are inherently interesting ourselves. You are interesting, so tell me your story!

Wednesday 15 February 2012

Typing characters

Since starting to write my script I have for obvious reasons begun to think a lot about characters. I've also been keeping my branding workshop experience in mind, and all the things I read about branding and typing actors when I was organising the workshop. I've also thought and written a lot about characters in stories and films written for women and girls or the lack of them in both quantity and quality.

Sitting down now and writing characters myself, I find myself thinking really hard about getting them out of their respective type-boxes.

I'm writing an adventure film. I writing about young people. I have a set of five main characters, with a female lead. I have some idea of who they are and where they're going. And every time I write about or for one of my characters I find myself asking them, 'Am I doing you justice? Am I putting you in a box or dragging you out of one?'

The reason behind these questions is simple. I am sick of typing. I am sick of putting people in boxes. I am sick of watching types, packaged neatly into tight little boxes, instead of real fully developed characters, particularly in those parts written for women and girls.

It's the same with being an actress. I am still struggling with understanding what exactly my type is. Maybe I am rejecting the idea of really truly understanding it because I wish for myself and for every other actor out there that it wasn't necessary or at least not as necessary to type anyone at all. I yearn for a world where writers and those turning the written word into a visual product were more interested in what their characters abilities, flaws, journeys, and experiences were than to find some physical measurements of what they think these abilities, flaws, journeys, and experiences require a character to look like.

Seriously, fuck typing - at least when I am writing. Because unfortunately, as an actress I depend on capitalising on my type, whatever that means concretely.

But when I am writing, I have the power to completely disregard what physical types my characters are or I can describe their physical appearance as a complete juxtaposition to what their character essence is. I can totally say, 'Fuck typing!'

I may still end up with a completely conventional adventure story, with completely conventional characters. But that will be due to inexperience, not lack of trying. And while I am writing my characters as much out of the box as I can manage, I am for the first time in a long time in this crazy industry built on boxes and vanity, experiencing real creative freedom!

So, while I'm writing, I'm gonna be asking the universe real politely to send the same experience my way in my actress life. Now, that would make for a swell 2012!

Monday 13 February 2012


Over the past few months I have felt a great resistance against writing this blog. In fact, I have started this first post of the year several times and abandoned it every time.

I must admit that I just got bored with writing about myself, and frankly about this whole acting journey. It's emotionally exhausting as it is and for a while now, writing about it brought the roller-coasterness in particularly sharp focus.

I'm at a point, very early on in this acting career, where the highs are great, sometimes even exhilarating but not particularly 'amazing', regular or even showing that I'm on the right track - meaning up if ever so slowly. The lows, oh the lows, they are probably just as low as for anyone else in the entertainment industry.

So, even though the last few months have actually been really good, I've been dreading sitting down to write about my acting life. Maybe, I am really just afraid to jinx things. Maybe, I'm just afraid to have to eventually write about the next low again. I don't know but blogging just didn't feel right.
The last months of 2011 were hard, with my partner away for weeks at a time on location and my being a straw-solo parent, working essentially full-time and still trying to find time to also be an actress, and oh yes, keep my sanity!

Despite all this, I have actually had more acting successes that I dared to dream of after 2011's very slow start. I booked my first paid speaking role, an industrial, off the only audition through my agency I had all year. The experience was kind of surreal. Everyone on set was extra nice and complimentary and very happy with my performance. I discovered that lo and behold, there might be a comedic streak in me somewhere, and I had an absolute blast. I also booked a small part in another short film, and had my first hosting gig.
But all of last year I have had this nagging feeling that I want to do more, create more opportunities for myself. My involvement with the NZ Actor's Guild has been a fantastic learning experience and has often been eye-opening regarding politics, the industry, and creativity in general. I love working for the Guild and for our members and am going to continue this work in 2012.

While the Guild has been fantastic in terms of creating opportunities, I've also really wanted to start writing - not just in blog-form but through fiction. I was craving another creative outlet besides acting. Towards the end of last year, I finally got over this insane belief that I don't have anything to say, that there are no stories in me. I actually sat down and wrote a children's picture book for my son, which I want to develop with a couple of friends' of mine who can actually draw. It was such fun to write this little book!

Still, I wanted more. I wanted to write for myself. I just had no idea what.

Then I came across two very awesome books: 'The War of Art: Winning the Inner Creative Battle' by Steven Pressfield has helped me recognise my self-sabotage and procrastination issues, and has given me tools to fight them, better yet tools to make me sit down and actually push forwards and create.

Ages ago I had also bought 'The Screen Writer's Bible' by David Trottier. When I finally sat down and read it, I realised that I am perfectly capable of having an idea, of putting it on paper and developing it into a story. Shocker! I am almost 30 pages into my first film script. It's fun, and challenging, and really really exciting! My writing pace is slow and I have no idea when I will finish the first draft but I am determined to finish not only that first draft but to turn my initial idea into a script with real potential. And you know what the best thing it? I don't even care if anyone will ever even read it! I am truly writing this for myself because I want to, because it excites me, and because I am having a blast. It feels good to have something creatively satisfying to do when my acting career is stagnating.

This script alone has given me a great start into the new year creatively. However, I was also very lucky to have already worked on my first short film of 2012 and am looking forward to helping out my immensely talented friend Chaz Harris behind the camera with his latest short film project, Broken Glass, later this year. (Check out their funding page here!)

After a long break over the holidays and a busy Jan/Feb, I am also finally starting with my coaching sessions again. I can't wait! I've had new head shots taken and have long list of actory things to get done this year, including voice reels and hopefully also a show reel. To my utter surprise one of my short films has also made it onto IMDb and my lovely cast mate Thomas Rimmer put up an entry for me as well! Thomas didn't know about the whole stage name change, so I'm going to have to figure out a way to change that; it's on the list.

So, there are a lot of things to do for me this year professionally and creatively this year, as well as my survival job to contend with, and most importantly, my beautiful, amazing almost three-year-old son to raise. I don't know how often I will write on this blog. It's probably wise not to make any promises. But despite all my reluctance to write anything on here, I have also missed it. So, we'll see what 2012 will bring all around.

Belatedly but not less heart-felt on this day celebrating love: A very happy 2012 to you all! May it be a year of hard work and creative enlightenment for all of us.