What Really Goes on Behind the Scenes?
Enjoying the show is one thing, but sometimes it's more fun to know the stories happening behind the curtain.
One of the things I enjoy most about the entertainment industry is the sheer unpredictability of it. Maybe it’s because my previous career was in the corporate world where some of those years felt like a grind. Same work details, same schedule, day after day.
I much prefer variety with a little surprise thrown in, which is why I eventually migrated over to sales. Some days, you just never knew what was going to be thrown at you. And what you could lob right back at ‘em.
Every morning, I look forward to opening my email to see if I scored a booking, a callback, or even an interesting audition. Yup, I’m an optimist, always anticipating something positive waiting for me.
And occasionally it happens. Sometimes all at once.
This business is often described as feast or famine. Long stretches without any bookings with nary an “atta girl” or “well, you were one of our top three choices” in the bunch. You rarely get feedback outside of a callback or the booking itself. There’s not an actor out there who hasn’t experienced it. I sure have. While I had a few nice projects last year, 2022 was pretty much a bit of a yawner for me. I was a little worried that it would continue into 2023, too.
Well, just to show that you can never tell what’s coming around the bend, January was such a blur of activity that the month was over before it even seemed to begin. I didn’t even have a chance to write and publish more than the first week’s blog. Definitely one in the feast category.
I was on set in four different projects, working almost every day for a solid three weeks. And that doesn’t count the voiceover work that came in, too. It was exhausting, but it was exhilarating and I loved how each project was so different.
If you’re not in the entertainment industry, you probably don’t know how varied each production could be. Hence this blog post, to give a sneak behind-the-scenes peek at each one.
A creative career is never dull. Challenging, frustrating, unpredictable. But never dull.
Real Time, Real Place, Real Training Video
The first project was a corporate training video for the employees of a big box store. It was also the quickest to do – I was in and out in about 45 minutes, which is pretty unreal. I was booked for a half day, but as it turned out, the drive to and from the location took longer than the time to record a few takes. Including the time sitting around while the crew set up their shots.
It was also the easiest of the four projects to prepare, for two excellent reasons. One, this was for a repeat client who asked for me directly, so there was no audition involved. Just the inquiry from my agent asking if I was free that day and if I accepted the job. Gotta love opportunities like this that fall in the lap!
Second, there was no memorization involved, as the client had a teleprompter all set up. I saw the script ahead of time, which I studied to verify brand name pronunciations (there were a few tricky ones) and to get a feel for what they wanted me to do, but that was about it. Easy peasy! Honestly, teleprompter jobs are a perfect fit for any actor like me who does both voice over and on camera work. Sweet! And the client was thrilled that I could give them several clean takes right off the bat. Thanks, voiceover training!
This shoot was a little different than the previous one I’d done for them a few months back. Before, we were on a sound stage against a green screen. A nice controlled environment. This one was shot inside a busy store in one of their product aisles, complete with piped-in music and curious shoppers wandering past, wondering what all the fuss was about. The biggest challenge was for the crew who had a little difficulty getting store management to shut down the piped-in music for a few minutes here and there. Evidently, the store manager liked his Big 80s station and thought it would make great background music. But it all worked out, was great fun, and I even learned quite a bit about lawn care equipment. Always useful, with spring not that far away.
The day after the big box shoot, I was in my car driving up to Chattanooga for a couple of days on a commercial shoot. This booking required an audition and a callback, both conducted remotely, which may remain the new normal.
Pre-pandemic, commercial auditions were almost always held in person at the casting office’s location. Callbacks, too. But like everything that still filmed during the pandemic, submissions became self-taped and callbacks were held via Zoom. Most actors and agents figured that we’d be going back to being in the room again, at least for commercials, but … no. For the time being, and maybe it’ll stay this way, commercial casting is being handled remotely, just like nearly all film/TV auditions. Convenient on one hand and sad on the other, as we miss seeing real people and being able to “read the room” to gauge whether we hit the mark or not. And often the clients don’t even appear on the Zoom screen during the callback, so it’s hard to get a sense of them, too.
So, as with any voiceover audition, we live in our heads when it’s time to audition or attend the callback. It could actually be rather helpful when the material is “out there” and we just do our thing without regard to the audience’s … er, client’s … reaction. Like with this project, which called for a really wacky, funny mom character. Which I TOTALLY appreciated. In real life, my kids prefer that I not embrace my silly side, especially in front of their friends, but in this scenario, I was told that there was no such thing as “too big.” All right! I let loose, pulled out all the stops, and was thrilled to play totally obnoxious, strange, and even a little deranged. Definitely would have scored an eyeroll from my daughter.
What made this booking a favorite was that this commercial was for a product that my family actually uses and buys often. It wasn’t hard to be authentically enthusiastic! The only challenge was a physical one, as I had to spring upright from behind a couch from a low lunging position, over and over again for about an hour to get in all types of shots while my Gen Z scene partners sprawled on the couch. I’m in great shape, but man, that was a workout. Especially since it was only on one side. I walked around a little lopsided for about a day afterwards.
I was also able to use my improv training, as they wanted my character to come up with different lines and expressions every time she literally sprung into view. It got a little wild, and once in a while, some of what I said was actually funny. Mostly though, they kept throwing me different lines to spout and I had to keep them all straight while I did my lunging and springing. I knew I was getting tired when I’d mess up here and there, but I remembered what my acting teachers would say: keep it fresh and spontaneous with every take, that’s what they’re paying good money for. Even if I had to do it a hundred or more times. Which I think I did!
The teleprompter is a perfect fit for any actor like me who does both voice over and on camera work.
Love Games … Hot and Cold
I’m actually allowed to name this project before it airs, so there it is. Aptly named, it’s a love story, a sweet dramedy (drama with plenty of comic moments), and a cast of loveable characters. I think it’s destined for Hallmark and it’s a feel-good, boy meets girl, girl kicks boy out of her life, girl sees error of her ways, boy’s still there waiting for her kind of story.
I played the sassy but supportive hippy-dippy mom and confidante of the female lead. A fun role with some great lines and plenty of opportunities to deliver those “mom looks” that need no words to be clearly understood. I was on set nine days during three weeks of filming and jumped into it within hours of completing the commercial shoot.
The only hitch was that filming took place in north Georgia during the coldest part of our winter, which this year, was actually rather cold, down to the 30s and 40s. Now that may not seem like much to you hardy northern types, but the storyline was set in Florida, in mid-summer, along the water. So we were filming in gauzy summer clothes outside, on a lake or two, while the temps weren’t much above freezing and the wind reminded us that it was indeed mid-January, no matter what the script said. As another acting coach once said, if you can make it look like you’re sweating in hot humid weather while you’re actually freezing your bejeebers off … THEN you’re an actor. I earned my stripes. And the cold I came down with the following week.
Despite the weather, it was a fantastic experience with a wonderful cast and crew. I also learned something about myself. In a story with three strong female roles, I know where I fit, especially as “a woman of a certain age.” Not the loveable lead. Not the glamorous best friend. Nah, I’m the short funny one. Which is A-OK by me, as I often got the best lines!
Wham Bam, Thank You Ma’am (but not that kind)
The fourth project was a spur-of-the-moment, hey-Laura-can-you-fit-us-in-on-your-day-off kind of thing. Gotta love when that happens! Asked for by name, no audition or callback necessary. Just a request to fill in a small role for another film project. Why, of course! And thanks for asking!
I’m not even sure what that film is about, or where and when it’s going to be released. Guess I can figure that out later. This was a last minute request that I received while driving home one night from the Love Games shoot. As it worked out perfectly in my schedule, I said “yes” and headed off to set a couple of days later.
This shoot took place only about 30 minutes from my home, so it was quite convenient. Plus, it was filmed INDOORS, which meant that I could finally warm up some. I played a mom (yes, somehow, I get that a lot, go figure) with some pretty basic lines I could memorize on my way to set. Again, nice and simple.
It was a crazy busy set, too, with dozens of actors and crew running around everywhere. Fortunately, it didn’t take too long for my scene to come up and the director went about his business setting it up and arranging background actors where they needed to be. Nothing too unusual about it, except for one older woman who hadn’t realized that she had been hired to be background rather than a more central character. In fact, she had spent quite a bit of time in the restroom primping and adjusting her hair and makeup and almost missed her call to set. I know, because I was in the long line of people waiting and waiting for her to emerge from the one designated restroom. As it turned out, she had thought she had been hired for MY role and when the 2nd AD (Assistant Director) clarified it for her, she stared daggers at me the entire shoot.
Well, she didn’t actually stay for the entire shoot. After being shifted from one spot to another in the background over a few scenes, she realized that she wasn’t going to be very visible after all and stormed off the set, loudly proclaiming that she “didn’t do background.” In case anyone’s wondering, that’s rather unprofessional, especially in the middle of production. It required some reshooting just to ensure the continuity of the background and cost production extra time and money.
The moral of the story there is: if you’re going to be an actor, know what your role is BEFORE you accept it. And honor your commitment once it’s made. It’s hard to undo the damage to your reputation afterwards.
Laura's Quick Tips
Love to expect the unexpected? Be an actor!
Every production, every type of project is different. Enjoy it!
Don’t be a diva. It’s a good way to get blacklisted.
Do you do something that drives your kids or partner bonkers? Learn to make money off it!
There’s adventure in the everyday. Recognize and appreciate it! It can make for some great stories later.
You gotta love what you do. Like they say, when you do, it doesn’t feel like work. And acting is truly play. Sometimes you get to go off the rails and be a wild and crazy guy (or girl). Other times, you have to grin and bear an uncomfortable situation and power through it. And every time, you need to be professional and easy to work with.
And when you DO have an issue with something, state it right up front. No one’s safety should be threatened on set. No one should feel required to do something they hold strong opinions or values against. Be professional and make your concerns known from the start. I’ve rarely had to deal with such a situation myself. Anyone who knows me knows without a doubt that I’m not the silent, long-suffering sort. Unfortunately, others – especially the very young or those new to the business – can be afraid to speak up for themselves. This is where agents, managers, and older actors like myself can help by keeping an eye – and occasionally a hand - out for them.
But I want to wrap this post up on a positive note. Because acting IS fun! If you want to find out for yourself, take an improv class. No preparation, no homework, and no one to tell you you’re doing it wrong. (That’s against improv rules, especially the “yes, and …” rule.)