Ever ask, “Am I the only one who sees this”?

I drove home from an acting gig this past year, like Carrie walked home from Prom – desperately needing to wash it all off of me. It took me awhile to figure out why. No, I didn’t set anything on fire, and I sincerely enjoyed the work. but the plainest I could tell was that even in the so called “grown-up world”, high school cliques still exist.

Artist’s rendering of Carrie walking home from prom.

 
In every YA book, there’s the kid who doesn’t fit in, but ultimately becomes the hero of the story. I’ve decided that I’m that kid. But then again, I make up stuff for a living.
 
Most of the industry was shut down last year, because many producers couldn’t afford to implement the new COVID safety protocols. The few that could afford it, implemented regular COVID testing, special food handling, hourly sanitizing, extra personnel, zoning, etc. It was tough, but when they got it right, it was impressive. They knew that any missteps could have serious consequences. So when this particular production refused to check any cast or crew member’s COVID test results, I was speechless. They insisted that “HIPAA law states they cannot see anyone’s test results”. In my head, I was like….yeah…no, that’s not how it works. I then asked playfully, “Well…would you like to know if I tested negative?” They looked me straight in the eye and all super-serious-like said: “We assume that responsible people would not show up on set if they tested positive!” Wowza, they just told me that their safety standards were based on…assumption!
 
Only three of us consistently wore face masks. It was about 50/50 for everyone else. The day they added fourteen (untested) extras on set, I had to walk out. No drama, I just laughed at the absurdity of it all, and waited outside until they were ready to roll. The COVID Compliance Officer (CCO) apologized profusely, but I could feel I was becoming a “problem” for them.
 
According to safety protocols, I was due for a re-test along with two other actors. In the clinic, I pointed out that we were about to be administered the wrong COVID test. (Why am I the only one who actually reads stuff before signing it?) One actor agreed with me, while the other remained silent. Our CCO spoke to the nurse to see if she could give us the proper test, and she said yes. The three of us went in for our “swab up the nose” only to find out minutes later, that production did the old bait & switch – they gave us the rapid, cheaper test after all. Oh, and they still didn’t want to know our results. I just laughed and laughed.
 
But I felt alone. Stupid and alone. No one else asked questions. No one else seemed to care. Some of you may be asking, Why didn’t you call the union? Why didn’t you just walk away? The best I can come up with is this: I got a strong sense that this was a defensive bunch who would double down on how right they were, I felt a bit trapped being on location, out of state, and quite frankly, I was stunned. I also know the importance of “playing well with others”, so I never pointed fingers, I never got super serious, and I never pushed the issue. I honestly didn’t know if they were arrogant a-holes or just plain stupid? I did know, however, that I was turning into that hall monitor no one likes.
 
So when I was finally wrapped – cut a day early – I felt like a social leper. I hadn’t discovered their nightly bar visits until four days in, because dummy me was going straight to her room every night to be safe. The one night I did join them for a quick beer, it was only the sound guy and me who wore masks. They memorialized a karaoke night a few nights later in an email. Hmmm…. everyone sharing mics and singing/shouting between swigs of alcohol – Thank you for not inviting me. Seriously, thank you.
 
My drive home was…freeing. I could breathe again. I wasn’t being judged for asking questions or wearing a mask. I was giddy to the fact that I wasn’t in their high school drama anymore, and the mean girls – I felt the most disparagement from the women – were just girls.
 
It is usually that kid who is comfortable in their own skin, that kid who marches to the beat of their own drum, who ends up being the hero. So when you happen to be the “only one” who sees something out of place, relax in knowing that the truth always come out.

Hermione Granger reads a book.

P.S.: The union was called and they took swift action.

Labor Day

“It is appropriate, therefore, that the nation pays tribute on Labor Day to the creator of so much of the nation’s strength, freedom, and leadership — the American worker.”. ~ U.S. Dept. of Labor
 
 
What a difference a month makes! In August – out of work for four months – I wrote about my frustrations with commercial self-tape auditions. The process had become so demanding and complex, that I questioned whether or not it was worth it. If booked, would I even arrive on a safe set? Factory workers, front line workers, and (soon) many teachers (will) know the critical importance of a COVID-safe working environment. We all want to work, but at what cost? Since then, I’ve had four live commercial auditions – three remote and one in-person. I’m happy to report that two weeks ago, I shot a national commercial. #adsgounion
 
As I’ve witnessed production slowly opening up (and sometimes closing), I’ve pointed out the simple economic fact that only those who can afford it, can produce. The amount of money and time (and time is money) it takes to ensure on-set safety for all cast & crew is notable. My in-person audition had only one actor at a time in the lobby (two at most), there was no sign-in sheet (less contact), hand sanitizer was everywhere, and just one session runner in attendance who was masked & shielded the entire time. Two days before my fitting, I was given a “quick turnaround” PCR COVID-19 test (the most reliable). Currently, there are three test types.
 
The on-set experience required patience. Every crew member wore provided masks and shields at all times unless they were eating. This commercial was shot on location, so breakfast was served in a parking lot, and lunch was served on a lawn area. In L.A. we have the option of outdoor dining 99% of the time – a Hollywood luxury for sure. Personnel Zones were assigned on the call sheet, so only the bare minimum of crew was allowed indoors. Actors had to wear masks & shields until camera rolled. The masks made it difficult to hear voices, so the director used a mic. Every hour or so, the on-set COVID Safety Person stopped work to spray all hi-traffic trailers with an aerosol disinfectant that looked like a mobile fumigation kit. He also made the rounds – like a high school hall monitor – making sure we wore our masks. Trailers kept their doors open (except when I changed my clothes in wardrobe). There were only three actors in the spot, so no more than two were on set. In the afternoon, a union rep happened to pay a visit. I felt very safe.
 
This was a perfect example of how, with detailed research and adherence to protocol, work can begin. If there is the smallest of human error, however, (i.e. one person attends a crowded function the night before) it can quickly go south. National headlines report famous people who’ve contracted the virus, but news about lesser known folks is hidden in the pages of local papers. This is why we must commit to solidarity with our fellow workers by demanding on-set safety, and be willing to walk when we feel unsafe. The possibility of being out of work for a year is a small price to pay when it comes to long term neurological effects or even death.
 
As you celebrate this Labor Day, commit to solidarity with your co-workers. Share information, speak up, and take personal responsibility for strengthening your immune system. Yes, the opportunity for work is what we all want, but in order to keep working we must remember we’re all in this together.

Overworked and Unpaid

Recently, I read the article, Dear Hollywood: We Don’t Want to “Go Back to Normal.” Normal Wasn’t Working. While it was written from the perspective of a professional crew person dealing with insane hours, on-set bullying, and impossible expectations, it made me look to see how actors were affected – specifically with commercial auditions. While the author’s complaints were legitimate (thousands have agreed with him), one could say “Well, at least he was getting paid”. Actors don’t get paid for auditions, but it absolutely is work.
 
I’m not here to suggest paid auditions. I knew the deal before embarking on this career, but back in the day, we had higher earning potential. I missed the “golden era” where an actor could buy a house from one commercial. Four years ago, I did two national network commercials – a car company and an insurance company, arguably big money clients – but my combined pay was lower than the national poverty level.
 
Since Quarantine, there are fewer auditions, but commercial casting directors are accepting more and more self-tapes. The ad agencies’ audition demands have moved from the casting offices, to the actor’s home. Not only are we freely giving these ad agencies our talent in the form of auditions (also giving them new script ideas in the process), but now we’ve become unpaid session runners, location scouts, editors, and DPs. And here’s the kicker: ad agencies have yet to sign on to safety protocols recommended by our union. So even after jumping through hoops with self-tapes and editing, we’re not even guaranteed a safe set.
 
Who needs actors? More and more we’re seeing auditions requiring real families, friends or couples who are quarantined together with “no experience necessary”. I used to feel a camaraderie with actors who booked, because I knew they pounded the pavement on the regular, but now we’re seeing non-actors booking spots – not by luck, but merely because they live with a professional actor.
 
“Great occasions do not make heroes or cowards; they simply unveil them to our eyes. Silently and imperceptibly, as we wake or sleep, we grow strong or weak; and at last some crisis shows what we have become.” Brooke Foss Westcott
 
Sure, the current conditions give ad agencies a good excuse. But just like the article mentioned above, the industry is growing comfortable asking us to do more (like re-shoot auditions, record different angles, submit within 24 hours, etc.) Capitalizing on our fears, the industry expects us to ask, “How high?” whenever they tell us to jump. Home schooling will begin soon, but the demanding audition requests will continue, because they assume we have more time and that we we’re desperate and grateful for any crumb of an opportunity to work.
 
Whenever I look back to why I became an actor, I’m reminded of my truth: I’m an artist who mirrors human behavior within the human condition. It has nothing to do with television commercials. I look forward to navigating what is next with grace, and with my dignity in tact.
 
“In every crisis, doubt or confusion, take the higher path – the path of compassion, courage, understanding and love.” Amit Ray 

 

 

Man Plans, God Laughs.

“Well, given the current situation we can’t plan anything anymore!” How often have you heard that these days? We can’t seem to move forward unless we have a set of givens. For the first time ever, we’re experiencing our lives with no certainty and no predictability.
 
Or are we?
 
This pandemic has reminded us that life isn’t predictable. Turns out, the only things we ever planned for were the things we were pretty sure about. Now that the important things are coming to the forefront, we see the true nature of life… is unpredictable.
Man planning with markers on wall.
Let’s look at goals and plans. The first is a vision, an aspiration, or a great desire, while the second is a “how to” strategy. Plans, while helpful in some areas (construction, engineering, creating systems), are completely useless when it comes to a vision. Once we know where we want to be or what we want to do/have, we can choose to either be open to infinite possibilities, or we can stick to one, rigid plan. Take notice of how many times something wonderful happened when we barely lifted a finger. When I decided to move to L.A. 22 years ago, I had no plan. When I arrived, I simply followed what was in front of me until I had booked three network TV gigs and a national commercial within my first year. And I had planned nothing.
 
When business started to shut down in March, I noticed how fearful people had become. As time progressed I noticed the urgent attempts to locate “reliable predictions”. People wanted to know what was going to happen and when it was going to happen so they could relax and move on with their lives. But it’s the other way around, really. Fear breeds the need to control. It’s opposite is surrender. When we relax into our world instead of trying to control it, only then can we move on with our lives. We can choose to plan every moment of our lives, or we can surrender to every moment in order to live.

2019 – The End of a Decade, 2020 – The Beginning of … ?

As Creatives, we often feel the pressure of having to prove what we’ve accomplished, especially at holiday gatherings. Consider this alternative:

Instead of listing what we’ve done
(or going down that rabbit hole of what we’ve
not done), let’s reflect on what we’ve
experienced.

It is our life experiences, not our accomplishments, that make us who we are. Think about that.
Think about all the cool stuff you experienced last year – in the last decade – that has brought real impact to your life and is responsible for the awesome person you are. Look at your favorite photos. The best ones reflect experiences, not activities.

Grabbing a prize from a cereal box – one that I could play with – made me so happy.

When we look at what we want to achieve in the next decade, we can choose to either be in a state of anticipatory delight or in a state of aggressive control. Our daily routines can either be filled with aliveness or crammed with forced discipline.

Every day, I am delighted to discover new, unplanned opportunities: auditions, table reads, theatre productions, showcases, interviews, etc. Actually booking a job is just the icing on the cake!

Let’s create 2020 Goals that make us giggle at the possibilities, ones that are free of promises to “do better”. When we play with setting career goals – I’m talking full-on play – we always end up having fun.

‘Tis the Season …of Pilots

Last year December 26th, I hosted a FaceBook Live event titled, What’s the Big Deal About Pilot Season?. Today I noticed that my talk not only still hits the mark, but I am now living proof of it. In the video, I said that Pilot Season had become artificially hyped up, and so I challenged viewers to take on the rest of the year just as seriously. I pointed out that being proactive can be as simple as just showing up.

Back in March, I was on a treadmill of episodic callbacks but no bookings. (I know, I know, a good problem to have.) As I was allowing self-doubt, anger, and fear to rule my mental health, I got another audition. This one fueled my anger. After all of the great auditions I had, I couldn’t believe I was being asked to go in for a “one-liner”. I couldn’t believe that after auditioning for educated, professional roles, I was being asked to go in for a Latina housekeeper.

Piss off, I’m not going!

Today’s topic: “What’s the Big Deal About Pilot Season?” Ask yer questions!

Posted by Doreen Calderon on Tuesday, December 26, 2017

As soon as I had expressed that thought, I knew it wasn’t practical, but I also knew I needed to change my attitude.  I reached out to a friend, and asked her to remind me why I should show up for this one. Very simply, she pointed out that I needed to meet the casting director, and that I needed a job. Practical and impersonal. That’s all I needed to hear.

I was so busy, that I didn’t notice that this was a pilot audition. When I booked it, I forgot that this was my first pilot! Long story short, my story beat the odds. The series got picked up, and I’ve been called back three times (so far). It’s exciting for me to be a part – regardless how small – of a successful new show.

Here’s the thing: I didn’t go through pilot season wanting to book one. I just focused on booking a job. There’s a saying, “Shoot for the stars, and you’ll land on the moon.” In my case, I shot for the moon and landed on a star.

And the only thing I did was show up.

Booking a pilot doesn’t have to be your goal, but you must have a goal. Your choice will determine your actions. No choice, no action. Where you end up can be a very pleasant surprise!

What’s the Big Deal about Pilot Season?

There’s this buzz that happens every January in the industry. Pilot Season. This time of year, I see a sh%t ton of ads telling (selling) actors to “be prepared for pilot season” with
  • New Headshots!
  • Acting Classes!
  • Image Makeovers!
  • New Representation! etc. etc. etc.
Something’s not right here, I think. By the time January comes around it’s too late to have this stuff ready for pilot season.  I mean, doesn’t the word “prepare” automatically imply prior to?

Many actors hold a misconception that pilot season is only for those who have top representation or who are series regular material. (Whatever that means.) There’s this idea that booking a pilot is better than any other acting job. People move cross country every winter, spending a year’s savings on a three month gamble.

It’s time to demystify pilot season. Companies use the tantalizing prospect of booking a pilot as bait to sell their product. Look, either you need new headshots, classes, an agent or not. Ask yourself, What do I need to support my career right now?

Almost two years ago, Dorothy, a SAG eligible actor, decided it was time to join the union. She decided it was her time to do TV and film, and joining SAG-AFTRA was what she needed.The moment she made that decision – and I mean within a month – she got her first TV audition. Her musical comedy experience was an easy transfer to sitcoms. Offices began to call her in repeatedly, and six months later she booked a pilot.
About a year ago this time of year,Joy walked her headshot into a casting office, because she knew she was perfect for a new show. Today she’s filming that show as the series lead! The series, however, never had a pilot. The network simply greenlit the entire season – a perfect example of how pilots are not the be all end all.
(Both Dorothy and Joy had participated in Action Group, and used Marketing Tools to support their careers.)

Booking a pilot as a co-star or guest star can be just like any other acting gig. Yes, it’s fun to be on the ground floor of something new – something that could be the nation’s next big hit – but at the end of the day, it’s just solid work. So if your goal is to book solid work, then forget about the term, “pilot season”, collect what you need, and do what you need to do – now. If you can’t figure out what that is, then ask yourself, What do I really want? Your answer will guide yo

Preparing vs Going “All In”

When I first moved to Los Angeles from Chicago, I had no plan, no agent, nor any connections. Within the year, I booked three major network co-stars and a national commercial. I tend to “jump off the edge” so to speak, exhilarated to see what happens next. Hence my love for improv.

There’s a difference between investing in preparation/education and going all in. For instance, back in 2003, I delivered a Carmen Miranda impersonation

for my theatre company’s fundraiser, and it brought down the house. I had the movements, the music, the voice and the outfit – none of which I had the month prior. A veteran company member stared at me backstage and softly said, “I bet you put 110% into everything you do.”

Make no mistake – this had nothing to do with working hard. It may look like I work hard, but at it’s core, it’s always been about me going all in. There’s nothing more fulfilling that going fully in. Even at junior high dances, my sisters and I were the only kids who actually dressed up – making it a real event – and danced every dance.

My career coach has a saying: “Part-time actors produce part-time results.” In 2015, I was years into a dry spell that left me financially dependent on my boyfriend, and sadly, the relationship was no longer working. Not knowing where I was going to live or how I was going to support myself, I ended the relationship. I hired a coach. I fully committed to my career, and showed up to the world in a way I hadn’t before. In eighteen months, I added five more network credits, two national commercials, and signed with a better agent.

If we circle around in our heads, trying to figure out the “how to’s” of this and that, we create obstacles that weren’t even there before. Nowadays, everyone is trying to sell us the “Top 10 Secrets of How To – (fill in the blank)”. We know people who collect these “secrets”, who have a personal library filled with “how to” instruction manuals, but it doesn’t bring them any closer to their goal. The truth? Solutions appear when we go all in.

When I returned to college (for the second time), I didn’t know how to pay for it, how to fit in with classmates 20 years my junior, nor how to use my new degree. I threw myself completely into academia, loving every minute of it. During my second year, I (coincidentally?) booked several commercials which paid for my fees, new computers, and design software.
The Greek Theatre
Who could have predicted that I would give the graduation speech as class valedictorian, and that my graphic design degree would lead me to start my own business? I went all in, and the world laid itself at my feet.

Daylight Savings…or Losings?

As a Chicago kid, I loved it when Daylight Savings rolled around. While the adults grumbled about “losing” an hour, I got excited about the prospect of warmer weather and the school year coming to an end! So now I consistently ask myself: When I “lose” something, what do I gain? Here are some “losses” that actually merit gains:

SOCIAL MEDIA. I tracked how often I picked up my phone in a four hour span, and it was embarrassing. The biggest trap was picking it up for “business”, but immediately getting pulled into irrelevancy, and then forgetting why I got on in the first place! When I chose to spend less time on social media, I gained opportunities for real connections: writing a letter, making a phone call, meeting for coffee. Connecting to just one person in any of these forms made more of an impact than any “like” or “post” ever could.

MONEY. I would probably shock most people with how much money I do not spend. This is not always a virtue. I got to the point where I couldn’t see the difference between spending and investing, so I spent nothing – and earned nothing. Then I had a change of heart. Last year I invested in a career coach and made a 500% ROI (Return On Investment). Then when I hired an office assistant, my stress level went down and my productivity went up! Money is energy. Investing in yourself is not an indulgence, it is a necessity.

TELEVISION. Years ago, a good friend referred to TV as the “opiate of the masses”, but I justified it as a business need. With today’s technology, we can either use it to watch as much as possible or watch what is important. I’ve auditioned for and been on more television shows this past year than is usual for me, but ironically I’ve been without a TV! February 1st marked my year anniversary of being TV-free. I can now look back and see how I had used it not as a form of entertainment, but as a form of distraction – distraction from my own goals and desires! Paying more attention to my thoughts and emotions, provided the necessary space for working creatively and participating in healthy relationships.

“Springing Ahead”, always coincides with that time of year for planting seeds. Once I have a clear idea of my desired future, I begin to organize the steps of how to make it happen. Living life without clarity (of goals) confuses decision making on a daily basis. When I “lose” a little bit of time to prioritize my life, I gain the freedom to move full steam ahead!