Thursday, December 9, 2010

Scam-tastic!

The first day of stand up comedy class, the teacher asked to do a brainstorming exercise; what do actors and prostitutes have in common?

There were the obvious answers: "Do anything for money" "Fake it." "Use Craigslist to find work"

My answer was, "They both get head shots."

Like most of my humor, I say things that sound perverted though I haven't thought them through all the way yet.

A head shot is an 8X11 glossy picture of yourself with your filmography and contact info on the back. You submit head shots for auditions and present them at auditions. Its the actor's equivalent to a resume.

When I first decided to give acting/modeling a go, I showed up to an interview downtown October of 2009. I was submitting for various jobs to get the hell out of the homicidal-suicidal assistant job.

The voicemail I received was confusing, it was asking for a couple pictures and your resume. I didn't remember sending off to a model/actress ad, but that was for fear of rejection. The fact that someone was reaching out for me to come down was exciting.

I showed up to a very posh lobby and was buzzed up to the 3rd floor, NeVon Management. Surrounded by chubby teenage girls, I was called in to speak to a woman around my age, very plain, with her hair pulled up in a bun. She asked me if I was there for a job or as a model. I decided to say I was there as a model. I saw a slight smile roll over her face.

She told me they were looking for mature models for Sunset Magazine, and other adult female periodicals. She offered to represent me and advised that I start out with modeling and then take a class or two in acting. If I liked it, to slowly transition into acting but avoid reality TV.

To kick off the process, I had to schedule an appointment for a photo shoot so they could make my zed card. A zed card is the model's version of a head shot. It is smaller than a head shot, but has four different pictures of you including all your measurements and stats.

I googled NeVon and couldn't find very much on them. Some comment threads in message boards started with a question, "Hey, has anyone heard of NeVon management? Is it a scam?" No answers.

I found a girl who had NeVon mentioned on her modeling website and emailed her. She said that she was looking to switch agencies and management, but was sticking with NeVon for the time being. So I thought, "Why not? Everyone needs a stepping stone."

Not-for-Profit and I were living together and happen to be in a calm period. He wasn't spending all of his nights in our Hollywood place, but he was showing up to talk to me and help with the dogs. He still gave me his half of the rent. The combined income took some stress off my cash flow, so I invested in a stand up comedy class, a French class and, now, this photo shoot which would cost me about $250.

I had an appointment with the NeVon stylist who picked through all my clothes to assemble two outfits. Also, I was to find examples of photos in magazines that I wanted to use for a look.

I showed up to a photo shoot in an industrial area of downtown Los Angeles. There were lots of girls and boys; all shapes, all sizes, all ages. There were ultimately two sets they were using, one was an industrial wall and the other was an outside brick wall. I brought in my examples from magazines and reported to hair and make-up. The women working there were not happy.

While violently brushing my hair, they told me they had been working since 6am without a break. That they had not provided with any water or food and the building wasn't air conditioned. They also communicated that they would never work with NeVon again.

I did my first shoot outside. I was self conscious about not having any nice shoes, so I told them I forgot to bring any. They photographed me barefoot.

It was a mess. The stylist who picked out my clothes was the only person from the company orchestrating, so she was totally overwhelmed. I was the second to the last person slotted to shoot and felt like I was in a sweaty, boring purgatory. Nobody would talk to me.

I took control of my own photo shoot, and coordinated with the second photographer on my own. The whole thing was a cluster fuck.

When I came in a week later to discuss photos, they told me there was another $250 printing fee. This was alarming. I shook my head and told her I had no idea about an additional printing fee. She stared at me with a frozen expression. I slowly pulled out my debit card and handed it to her.

Another red flag was they were showing up as "Red Alert Modeling"on my bank statement for the charges. I did more research, other users on various message boards assured those of us concerned that the company simply changed their name from Red Alert to NeVon.

So I saw it through . . . I called up continually for a couple of weeks until I got my zed cards. When I came to pick them up, I wasn't thrilled. Its hard looking at yourself. Its makes me very uncomfortable. The only time I like the way one of my pictures look is when it doesn't look like me at all. A strange phenomenon to want to take pictures of yourself but not look at them.

That said, the general feedback from people outside of NeVon was I looked a little overweight. I was 5'9 1/2 and 138 lbs. Around that time, I put myself on the no carb diet. Working out just made me hungrier, so I put myself on protein bars and trail mix for a few months until I got down to 129 . . .130. Now in pictures I look kind of curvy, but in life I am getting pretty skinny. In fact, I haven't been this skinny since before puberty.

So, I waited to hear from NeVon about jobs and called to follow up. They directed me to their website, which required extra membership fees depending on the features. I built the basic page that required no fee . . . and never heard from them again.

Bye, bye $500.

The cinematographer on a documentary I made a few years ago was now living in Silver Lake practicing still photography. Sarah Renard (http://www.sarahrenard.com/) invited me over and said she would take a few shots of me for a very small fee. I came over, she handed me a Red Stripe, and we caught up while she pushed me in corners of her kitchen and living room.

I remember attending a panel where Jim Sheridan was speaking about how he connects to his actors. He said he is able to grab the magic of the person and pull it through the lens by simply loving them. The love comes through the eyes, through the lens and lands on film. He said that's why photos taken on a disposable cameras or off your phone are the most precious, while Yearbook photos and family portraits are often forgotten.

He then said celebrities are a different animal, they want you to love them and hate them at the same time, so its trickier.

I hadn't seen Sarah in years, but I loved her to death. She was the Maid of Honor in my wedding. We were both married then, now both divorced but she had found someone amazing who she loved and was enjoying a comfortable life. That Swede . . .

I hadn't met Abe yet, and was still holding on to Not-for-Profit. When she asked about my love life, I said I was in a 5 year affair with a bi-polar alcoholic. Her response, "What does that say about you?" I don't know . . . what does that say about me?

She got some good shots of me, and decided I wanted two looks, then gave her double what we originally agreed on.

I took the head shots out there with me and built my LA Casting profile with them. Everyone has something to say, "You look older", "It doesn't capture your personality" "You need to smile more." "That's you?" . . . you need a 3/4, you need a full body, you need a commercial, a theatrical, a quirky . . . BLAH BLAH BLAH BLAH! Gawd, its fucking frustrating.

Now the printing costs with head shots are an equally large sum of $250+ and I could never afford it all at once, so I took the photos to a Kinko's and put together what I call, a 'Poor Man's Head Shot.' They are about $1.60 a piece, I staple them together. It looks like a regular head shot except without my name printed on the front of it (which is standard).

I auditioned for a manager once, Carolyn Silva, who told me that those head shots don't grab anyone's attention and I need one of my smile. She agreed to manage me if I used her referral for a photographer. Well, they were quoting me $300 for a photo shoot (which I never had at one time) and that wouldn't even include the printing fee.

For awhile, I saved the money, then would lose it to bills. I talked to the photographer and discussed scheduling, but the shoot for ANAHEIM was always getting in the way. Then, eventually, I wondered if they wanted to represent me, wouldn't they start with the photos I have first instead of waiting until they collect their referral fee from the photographer? You know those "managers" that prey on newbie actors make a living from a 10-20% referral fees. The head shot business is a big business out here in the L of A, next to acting "classes".

In Silva's case, the yahoo email address should have tipped me off that she wasn't professional.

When I came to the realization that I would never be able to afford head shots from one of these people, I asked someone I worked with on ANAHEIM, a photographer by trade, to grab a few shots of me.

That was a whole fiasco (http://soibecameanactress.blogspot.com/2010_08_01_archive.html)

Those shots were never touched up, but they were free. I looked skinny and the tequila inspired some great poses.

So I have been using them for several months. Even then, my friend, a talent manager, said none of those photos captured my personality. UGGGHHH!

Last Saturday, I had three auditions in one day. The first one was in CAZT, a common casting space in West Hollywood. Usually I catch up on the sides (pages from the script to be read and performed in the audition) via iPhone while I am waiting to audition. It takes me about 10 minutes to be off book unless something throws me off my game.

I showed up and asked for sides. The casting woman didn't even know what sides were, so I explained just as the director, an Arabic middle-aged gentleman, stepped out and asked why I didn't request sides through my audition confirmation. I told him I had a crazy week with four auditions and a call back. Shit happens, you know?

He gave me sides and then made me wait for an hour to audition. AN HOUR! What a fucking asshole! When I got in there, we discussed that this was a teaser to raise financing for a feature version. The log line was a Jewish high teacher helping a Muslim Math Coach in a platonic romance.

For the second time this month, I was asked in an audition, "Are you Jewish?" And I answer, "No, but I'm dating a Jew." Sometimes I throw in, "But my parents think I am Jewish." That's a joke.

Right before I slated my name on the camera and started my lines, the director said, "Because I know you from that other project (I don't remember him) I am going to tell you the formatting on your head shot is way off. It should be in columns, like this." Then he held up someone else's head shot.

The formatting is identical to the one used on the website where they found me. WTF?

He stared at me. I said "ok."

He said, "I am just telling you this as a favor, because I know you. You shouldn't be going out with this. Casting directors would throw this away."

The camera man was staring at me. The co-producer was staring at me. Some other random dude in the corner was staring at me.

I said, "ok."

Silence.

Hey, asshole . . . I am not going to thank you. I hate it when police officers and assholes in general trick you into thanking them for a criticism. This wasn't the time nor the place to give friendly advice. So I gave him "bitch eyes", one of the many valuable talents my older sister taught me while growing up. Head down, eyes up and just the slightest squint as if to say, "What's your fucking problem?" Bitch eyes.

You know what? I still knocked out that audition.

The Co-producer, a woman, said, "You have very expressive eyes. Its very intense."

I smiled and thanked her.

The director, "Isn't it funny how women look at the eyes?"

Well, where the fuck were you looking?

I am beginning to realize that my sex appeal only comes across with my personality and is more relatable to women. I wonder if that is why I haven't been cast in a few things. An old friend from film school said he would never cast a woman in his project he wouldn't want to have sex with.

I remember auditioning for a feature film about a couple that is cornered by middle class life, rack up their credit cards to do everything they want to do and then kill themselves. After the audition, the female producer said, "We will definitely be calling you." I never got called back for it. My quirk isn't the Scarlet Johansson Playboy picture every director is holding out for.

Back to my Jewish/Muslim audition: after the co-producer and director bickered about whether or not to bring in another actor for me to read with, I was released to my next audition in Corona. This audition was for a Bridal Gown print ad.

It took me 45 minutes to get out there. My finger nails were short and dirty. Band-aides were wrapped around four of my fingers, three were burned when I picked up a hot pot and the fourth was slammed in a gate a few days later. I am very tired these days.

I watched another actress slowly climb the marble steps up to the property and looked at my reflection in my car. I don't have the long black coat, the black boots and the smokey eye make-up. If someone is going to cast me, its because they see me. Not because they see a canvas, because they see a character.

The audition was in what appeared to be an unfinished guest house on a ranch. I heard a man and a woman inside, pitch to the girl in front of me. "He's having a special. $175 for the entire head shot package."

The actress asked, "How many looks?" He said, "One." She left and went out in back to take a few stills with this photographer on the property.

The man and woman asked me to stand in front of the camera, tell me a little bit about myself and why I would be good for the ad campaign.

I asked them for more details on the campaign and they just said, "We want this location to be used for weddings and events, so we are going to make little postcards." Vague, but ok.

I smiled and revealed unflattering personal truths, did my pelvic awkward twirl, made them laugh, my whole "bit". Then, at the end, the guy next to the woman videotaping said, "Your missing your name from the front of your head shot."

I said, "I know. Its a Poor Man's head shot. I just go to Kinko's and pay as I need them."

He said, "Its cheaper to buy in bulk." And then lifted the photographer's business card.

I said, "Oh yeah, but I never have enough money at one time."

The smile faded from his face and his hand swung down with the business card. He said, "Well, if you ever decide to get new ones, you can call him and work out a deal." This was smelling of a gimmick.

I took the card and said, "Do I go out for the still photo shot now?"

He said, "Oh, he is just taking shots to show her what he can do with her look."

I thought, if there was a job in this, the only way to have a shot was to convince the photographer Airic Lewis (I would include his homepage but my computer is telling me it has been reported for suspicious activity) to take a picture of me. Just to keep me present in thought and conversation.

So I waited and spoke to Airic. Even he seemed a little deflated when talking to me.

Airic (holding my head shot), "You aren't going out with this, are you? Casting directors would just throw this away. You aren't looking at the camera. A head shot is something that captures you and has your eyes to the camera lens."

This is so exhausting.

He offered to take a shot with me, but we didn't move around the property. He just had me stand next to a large garbage crate behind the guest house. Why wasn't he taking me up the hill like the other actress? Between you and me, I was traditionally prettier than she was.

He snapped a few photos and then told me to breathe.

I wasn't going to get this job.

He looked and said, "See, these two I just snapped off look a thousand times better than your head shot."

I looked and said, "Yeah . . . those are nice."

He said, "NICE!" Then he shot a few photos and checked the image, muttering to himself, "Excellent. God, everything I do is great. Everything!" Here is where I laughed and he snapped several photos.

People like my smile. I think its retarded because my teeth look like they belong to a 5th grader- but it emotes an innocence that is sometimes there and sometimes not really there at all.

He showed me the pictures. The first few were pretty good. It didn't look like me. It looked like some European woman who would own a condo and clean her car. Your first reaction to a picture of your face is general repulsion. Then you look again and see that its not so bad, in fact its pretty good. Then you wonder, "Do I look like that?"

The pictures fuck with your head. You start to notice imperfections with your skin, your eyes, your expressions. You see yourself age. It makes you a little crazy.

The photographer, "Better, right? And that's with no make-up."

Actually, I was wearing make-up.

I said, "Yeah, I like those but I don't have much money."

The photographer said, "Look, I will give you to these for $50." I'm thinking about it.

I don't know. I wish I had someone give me some honest fucking advice so I could figure out where to go with this next.

No comments:

Post a Comment