Sunday, 19 October 2014

Quiet At The Moment

“Have you got any acting work coming up?”

“No. It’s just really quiet at the moment.”

If you’re an actor and you’re not Benedict Cumberbatch, Olivia Colman, Martin Freeman or Sheridan Smith then, chances are, you have this conversation on an almost daily basis. If you’re like me then you’ve probably already seriously considered having the answer tattooed to your forehead to save time.

But is it really “quiet at the moment”? Generally, it’s always quiet. Throw a date an actor and within seconds they’ll be able to tell you why they’re not getting work at the moment…

January 12th? People are still getting back to work after Christmas and the New Year.

March 8th? People are trying to work out when Easter is this year.

July 22nd? Everyone’s going on holiday now.

October 28th? Working out Halloween costumes, innit.

As depressingly impressive party tricks go, this skill falls somewhere between playing the spoons badly and being able to name every Big Brother runner-up. But still, every actor needs to be able to show off something. 

As far as acting work is concerned, I’ve had a terrible couple of years. Some people complain of dry spells whereas mine is increasingly looking like it might easily develop into a dry decade. But can I blame it all on the industry or is it me that’s to blame?

So I thought I’d take a real hard look at what work is out there. I took one casting website (a website I pay £20 a month to use and be able to apply for paid work) and recorded the work that has gone up this week. Now, firstly, we need to take into account that some jobs are posted and taken down the same day. I can’t record those because, funnily enough, my call centre manager isn’t particularly sympathetic when it comes to a vague idea I’ve had about a blog. So today I checked all the roles that have been posted (excluding teaching jobs) since Monday 13th October and the results are as follows:

Paid work:
Female roles: 86
Male roles: 104

Unpaid work:
Female roles: 137
Male roles: 183

Now, my point isn’t going to be about the difference between male and female roles available. I’ve written about it before, I’ll probably write about it again but, for today, you can think about that on your own. My point isn’t even about the amount of paid work versus unpaid work. Again, that’s for another day. No, my point is about the amount, or lack of, work available.

Now, for the sake of argument, let’s pretend that I’m ok with working for free and happy to apply for both paid and unpaid roles. On the face of it, 223 roles for me as an actress in the space of a week doesn’t seem so bad. That’s about 32 roles a day to contend with. Considering I'm also trying to deal with getting in 8 glasses of water, 5 pieces of fruit and veg and 10,000 steps a day, it's almost too much to cope with. But, of course, take into account the jobs that aren’t in London, the jobs that need a 17 year old blonde, the jobs that need you to be a fire-eating juggler who can do a headstand on stilts, and, like a ratatouille that contains 6 (SIX) different vegetables, you're whittling your number down a lot. So that then narrows it down to maybe 4 or 5 jobs a day, if you’re lucky. Well, that’s still alright, isn’t it?

Well, not if you take all those other pesky actors into account. Apparently there are around 38,000 actors signed up to this particular site. And with 510 recent roles up for grabs then, well, that’s only 37,490 actors going without this week. This means there are only roles for just over 1% of the actors on that site and only paid work for a measly 0.5% of us. Of course, actors are getting their work from other sources too and a percentage of that 38,000 will be already working or not using the site…but still…the worst case scenario hypothetical statistics are making me a little teary….

And if we presume there’s a 50:50 gender split, I can be potentially up against 18,999 actresses. That’s a lot of people. In fact, that’s 18,999 more than I’d like there to be. 19,000 is the population of a small town. That’s not what I want from a small town. From a small town I want a cracking bakery and an OAP called Val who can tell me all there is to know about the local bus route.

I know people who have put up acting jobs on this particular website who have gone on to receive in excess of 1,000 applications. And often they only have maybe 3 or 4 roles to offer. Even if you’re looking to fill a cast of 10, that means you’re potentially turning down 99% of those who applied to work with you. Those are a lot of sad faces and if there's anyone who can ham up a sad face, it's a sodding actor. 

And then, of course, there are the practicalities of applying for these roles so you’ve got at least got a chance of being within that lucky 1%. If you’re relying on these sites to get work then, chances are, you’ve got a day job to keep the wolves from the door and the milk in the fridge. And these jobs (often promo work, call centres, waiting/bar staff or teaching) often mean that there’s very little time to get onto these sites and actually find yourself the work you really want to be doing.

I currently work in a call centre which means applying for these jobs during the day can be tricky. I get roughly 30 seconds between each call which, by the time I’ve shaken off the joy of being told to piss off for the 78th time that day, I don’t really have a chance to find a suitable job, write a killer cover letter, select the best headshot and submit my details. I try and do what I can on my lunch breaks but, again, by the time I’ve eaten, rested my eyes and ears and then put my soul back together, my time is limited. So I apply when I get home at 10pm, hoping that they decide to check their submissions starting with the most recent. 

So is it really quiet at the moment? Yes, it is. When you're applying for poorly paid jobs on a Friday night, the buzz of an 8 hour call centre shift still ringing in your ears, that's about as quiet as it can get. It’s quiet for me and other 99% who are all hoping that, soon, we’ll get our chance to be in the 1%. But until that time, it's probably best you just don't ask... 

Thursday, 9 October 2014

Getting Ahead(set)

I’ve recently found myself back working at a call centre. Many people see this as the work of the devil. In fact, when I first started working in one, I was actually asked by people if I had no shame. Well no, when it comes to paying bills and keeping a roof over my head, I don’t. And personally, for me, it beats making shoppers run the gauntlet on their local high street while you try to accost them in your hi-vis charity-logoed vest. No, it’s not glamorous and yes, you will regularly be asked if you realise what the time is…

“Yep, I’m well aware that it’s 8pm on a Friday evening. Believe me.”

But actually it’s usually the people you find yourself working with that can be the problem. So here’s my little survival guide to those who find themselves in a land of headsets.

The One That’s An Actor

Sorry, that’s a lie. Like mice, there’s never just one. Truth is, if you’re working in a call centre then you’re either an actor or you’re surrounded by the buggers. And if they’re not an actor then they’re a dancer or a writer or a singer or an artist or another job that means the internal messaging system will be full of notices about their upcoming fringe play/exhibition/gig/interpretive movement piece under a bridge in east London. It can often feel like a call centre is less a place of work and more a wonderful way of just ensuring all performers are in the same place at any given time so the rest of the country can go about their business without fear of leotard-clad jazz hands.

How to survive:

Ignore, ignore, ignore. And then, when they’re least expecting it, casually mention that you’re off to meet top director Quentin Fincher-Scorsese. The time they spend trying to find their contact details will buy you just a few minutes of peace and quiet.

The Loud One

Able to whisper across two fields, this is the one you generally find yourself sat next to while you’re trying to get the credit card details off Whispering Bob Harris. Fingers in ears, ear plugs and soundproofing walls won’t quieten this decibel-busting hollerer. 

How to survive:

You can either be sensible and sit as far away as possible or you can be a hero and sit next to them with a megaphone, shouting random numbers while they try to close that important sale.

The One Who Always Needs Something

There will always be one for whom the internal messaging service is their own personal concierge. Requests for paracetamol, iPhone chargers, jumpers, a place to stay and eventually your first born will pop up on your screen like Microsoft’s paperclip going through a particularly painful breakup.

How to survive:

Again, you have two options here. Your first option is to bring in everything you’ve ever owned and dump them at their desk at the beginning of your shift. Your other option is, when they ask for yet another item, enthusiastically bring the wrong thing and merrily skip away before they can complain and end up in a pit of despair surrounded by random crap from your house.

The One Who’s Been There A Suspiciously Long Amount of Time

Generally, people don’t stick around in call centres for long. Usually you find yourself there when you’d rather check under the bed than look at your bank balance. Now, I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with making a career out of call centre work but usually you’ll know who’s been there for too long without even having to check. Typical traits include a fixed smile, glazed over eyes an over-familiarity that’ll set your teeth on edge.

How to survive:

You’ll think it’s a good idea to stick with them but avoid at all costs. Hanging around with them will only secure you the title of being their heir.

The One That Walks Around

There will always be someone who insists on parading around the room like an out of work catwalk model while they try to con yet another victim into yet another subscription they could do without. These people are the high achievers and gain commission like you gain weight from all the comfort eating you find yourself doing to help subdue the pain of yet another weekend in a sprawling office full of chattering fools.

How to survive:

Trip hazards are your friend or, if you're really canny, try tying a knot in their headset wire so you can witness them bungeeing back to their desk.

The Funny One

Every call centre has their ‘character.’ Supervisors will fall over with laughter at every single thing they say and everyone working there will be practically wetting themselves at their every utterance. They usually do calls in different accents and insist on doing jetés across the room. Everyone else seems to find this behaviour hilarious while you smile politely and wonder what you did wrong in a past life to be surrounded by such buffoons. Cut to a couple of weeks later and you learn they’re all laughing because, when you’ve spent 7 hours repeating the same phrases over and over again, you’ll laugh at anything.

How to survive:

Pretend you’re laughing with them when really you’re laughing at them.

The One That’s You

There will be times when you start to wonder what on earth you’re doing with your life. While your other friends have proper jobs and proper houses and proper holidays, you’re sat trying to sell people house insurance for little more than minimum wage. Despite being surrounded by actors and doing this job so you can pursue your dreams, you will never feel as far away from your acting career as you do at that moment.

How to survive:

Just keep reminding yourself why you’re doing it. That’s all you can do. Putting up with irritating answerphone messages and people shouting at you because you’ve phoned during EastEnders so you can keep hold of that little dream that you hold dear has got to be better than the alternative, right? Keep that in your mind when yet again you find yourself falling for the answer machines that sound like someone has picked up the phone and you won't go far wrong. 

Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Nothing To Showreel

I don’t currently have a showreel.

If I was doing pretty much any other job (that wasn’t a writer, musician, designer, singer, etc) then this wouldn’t be a problem. Accountants don’t need to submit a fancy time-lapse video of them balancing books and judges don’t need to attach a .wav file of their gavel hitting. But as actors, to prove that our CV isn’t just a pack of lies that we dreamed up one quiet Wednesday afternoon, we’re expected to have hard, physical evidence of our ability to be on screen.

Now, for anyone who either knows me in real life or follows me on Twitter, you might have spotted that my last couple of years as an actor have been about as fruitful as Scotland. In fact, I’ve got to the point where I’ve even considered committing an unsolved crime just so I can get the chance to play myself in the re-enactment on Crimewatch. Thankfully the realisation that I probably wouldn't even mange to get cast for that has put me off and I'm clean as a whistle, guv. Honest.

So I find myself without a showreel. The things I have been in have either been made by buffoons who are so inept that even providing a copy of my work is far beyond them or they’ve been corporate jobs who won’t allow their precious training video to be seen by the public for fear that it’d just be too upsetting for people to witness. As it is, I’d be better off chasing down GoogleMaps cars and trying to get the footage they’ve got of me wandering down Crouch End Broadway.

But the problem with not having a showreel is that it makes it damn hard to get into things that would help you towards getting a showreel together. When you’re pitting yourself against a small army of Doppelgangers, it’s no surprise that the casting director goes for the ones who can prove that their CV isn’t just a well-formatted wish-list in Times New Roman. So you can’t get work because you don’t have a showreel and you can’t get a showreel because you can’t get the work. And you can’t even get an agent to help you get work because you don’t have a showreel to show them your work.

“Oh hello, Catch. The usual, is it? One 22 coming right up.”

What to do then? I’ve got new headshots in the hope of at least attracting a few people before they realise I’m seriously lacking in the dramatic montage department but they’ll only take me so far. It’s getting to the point now where I’m going to have to do some unpaid work if I want my showreel to be any more than just a grainy clip of me, aged 6, playing Jack Frost in the school play. I’m not really in a financial position to do so and supporting the majority of unpaid work (the whole debate around unpaid work is for another time) makes me feel more than a tad queasy but what else are you supposed to do?

Making your own work? Yes, but that takes planning, getting equipment, writing, finding time amidst earning money to pay bills and organising other people who are all trying to do the same thing.

Stealing Jennifer Lawrence’s showreel and sticking my own head on hers? More tempting.

Infiltrating the police and stealing all the CCTV footage of myself that I can find? Probably the most likely.

Or maybe, just maybe, I might get lucky. On second thoughts, someone get me Jennifer Lawrence’s showreel and the number for the Met. 

Saturday, 27 September 2014

Sandwiches, Crisps & Lead Roles: The New Wave of UK Actors

Actors. They're everywhere. On your television screens, in your theatres and making you run the gauntlet as you travel down your local high street. You might even say there are too many. But do you care about what they have to say when someone hasn't put a script in their hand? Probably not but we've decided to talk to Benedict Lewis-Fox-Irons and Resty McUnemployederson, two actors who represent this worrying rise in thespians...

Benedict Lewis-Fox-Irons: "I really hate not getting all the roles." 
Cloak, £12,389, Shakespeare's Personal Collection.

Benedict Lewis-Fox-Irons

Lewis-Fox-Irons is white, 29 and grew up at Eton. He stars in The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies, Black Mass, Magik, The Yellow Birds, Jungle Book: Origins, Flying Horse and every other film currently in pre-production. He's even in films written by writers who aren't even born yet. This year he has been in so many films that 2014 has been officially declared a year of rest for all other actors. He lives between Los Angeles and London so he can ensure he can always be where you aren’t.

What did you like best about being at the Oscars?

Being up for every award going. It was slightly embarrassing when I was nominated for Best Sound Mixing and Best Makeup and Hairstyling, seeing as I don't really even know what those mean, but I thought it just looked neater if I was nominated for all the awards. Everyone agreed because my Dad pays their wages.

Have you had an “Oh my god, I’ve made it” moment?

Oh definitely. It was the very moment I was born.

What’s been the least glamorous moment of your life so far?

I once had to audition for a role. There was this awful mix up and I even saw one of the other actors who was up for the role. He'd been on ITV, for goodness' sake. It was so humiliating that I had everyone fired and put the actor in a 5 year run of a play touring schools about farm safety.

Have you ever been starstruck?

Yes. I have a lot of mirrors in my house. You'd think I'd be used to it by now but my reflection just gets me every time.

What are your must-haves on set?

The lead role, obviously.

What was your first job?

The lead in some film. It only made $3 billion at the box office which was just awful. I've tried to forget about the whole thing. I'd rather we moved on, please.

What makes you angry?

Tom Hardy. He gets far too many roles for a man with only 3 syllables to his name.

Resty McUnemployederson: "Sorry, can you give me a second, 
I just need to take this call from my temp agency." 
Pyjamas, her own but she thinks they're C&A, £4.50

Resty McUnemployederson

McUnemployederson is female, in her 30s and grew up in a house. She stars in a short film that was banned from YouTube for being such poor quality and she’s been in a play that was universally hated by 11-16 year olds. She lives in a flat with 8 mice and a damp problem.

What did you like best about being at the Oscars?

Haha, the what? Oh, do you mean Oscars Nightclub? Probably Happy Hour. If you get there early you can get 5 shots for £5. It’s usually still daylight at that time but it doesn’t matter. It gives me something to do.

Have you had an “Oh my god, I’ve made it” moment?

I have actually! I had to run for the 43 bus yesterday and I was convinced I was going to miss it but I made it just in time which was a relief because my pay is docked if I'm late for my shift at the call centre.

What’s been the least glamorous moment of your life so far?

She gets out her CV. Well, I mean you can take your pick really. Being barefoot and filming in the freezing cold at 2am? The film set that didn’t have any food? Having to crawl around on the floor and fight other actors for stale bread? The time I got wedged in the doorway of a casting suite? Actually, you're probably better off just scanning in my CV and showing that.

Have you ever been starstruck?

Oh yes. I'd once got comps to see at friend at the Royal Court and was waiting at the bar to get a glass of tap water. Unfortunately I didn't realise Nigel Havers was also trying to get to the bar and he pushed me out of the way. Pushed and struck are sort of the same thing, aren't they?

What are your must-haves on set?

A sandwich and some crisps. They get really angry if you have to do another take because your stomach was growling too much. Oh, and somewhere to sit. That’s always nice.

What was your first job?

I helped out at a vet's surgery. I once got to hold a pot-bellied pig's head.

What makes you angry?

When my pyjamas are in the wash. It's really awkward answering the door in just your pants.