Tuesday, 13 January 2015

Creating Diversions

Today, Channel 4 announced that they are issuing strict diversity guidelines to ensure there is greater diversity and representation in shows being commissioned. This means that commissioned dramas and comedies must have at least one lead role played by a BAME, LGBT or disabled performer and 50% of lead roles are to be played by women, if there are no other minorities featured.

So far, so bloody brilliant. But unfortunately these guidelines have been brought in with a threat to cut Channel 4 executives' bonuses if they fail to meet diversity targets.

Oh.

Because there’s nothing like seeing diversity on TV and knowing it’s there because an exec has been bribed with money. That’s a definite victory for female, disabled, LGBT and BAME performers everywhere. Getting to be on telly because someone’s been threatened with having their pocket money cut is what we all dream of.

What we actually need is encouragement for dramas and comedies to be created with these under-represented groups because it’s more interesting watching something that isn’t just a bunch of white men dicking about. What we don’t want are so-called “minority” performers being crowbarred into programmes, especially given the way that these characters can be sometimes written...


Women can be fully dressed for the duration of their screen time. They can be over 18. They don’t have to be but they can. They can also be over a size 6. Again, they don’t have to be but they can. They can also have a role that isn't defined by their relationship with the leading white male.


Not all BAME males are criminals. Or shop owners. Or wise-quipping mates. They can also have a role that isn't just a bit part in furthering the lead white male's story.


Not all BAME females are oppressed, a sassy best friend or over-sexualised. They can also have a role that isn't just a bit part in the lead female's life, the female who is in a relationship with the lead white male.


When establishing an LGBT character, their first scene doesn’t HAVE to be about confirming their sexual orientation with the audience. They can also have a role that doesn't require them to deal with an unrequited love for or from the lead white male. 


Disability doesn’t necessarily mean being in a chair. Or being a pitiful character. But, likewise, they don’t have to be the villain either. That’s not the way to show you’re TOTALLY RELAXED ABOUT WRITING A CHARACTER WITH A DISABILITY. They can also have a role that doesn't involve them being called upon to give advice to the lead white male.


Basically, don’t base the character’s character on their minority status. You don’t have to ignore it completely but female, BAME, LGBT and disabled characters can have depth too.  If our streets were full of such stereotypes it would be bloody weird, and it’s no different on our screens too. 

Hopefully these new guidelines will be a celebration of the UK's diversity without a crowbar in sight. Hopefully they'll allow previously unseen performers have a chance. Hopefully it'll make television even more brilliant than it already is and be the shake-up that this industry needs. Hopefully I'll finally get a telly credit on my CV... 




OH, AND DON’T THINK I’VE IGNORED THE FACT THAT WOMEN ARE STILL BEING CLASSED AS A MINORITY. THAT IS FOR ANOTHER BLOG WHEN I'VE RUN OUT OF THINGS TO SMASH.


Many thanks to @margojmilne, @daisymartey, @hayleynovember & @ShamirDawood who all helped with this blog. 

Saturday, 3 January 2015

2015 - The Year Of Brill

“So when are we going to be seeing you in Coronation Street then?”

“Why don’t you just get yourself a better agent?”

“You know, you could always just do acting as a hobby and get a proper job instead?”

Chances are, especially if you’re a relatively new actor or seeing family or friends who haven’t quite learnt the etiquette yet, you’ve fielded at least one of those questions over the last week or so. In an ideal world, we’ll have all had a wonderful year and will have responses that will stop the asker in their tracks and cause them to retreat back into their eye-watering helping of Aunt Judy’s ‘Boozier Than Oliver Reed’ trifle. However, chances are, you’ll mumble something about the industry being really tough at the moment and try not to get too upset over the fact that your niece’s role in the nativity is a bigger role than you’ve had in years.

But it’s fine, right? You can just sign off 2014 as ‘one of those years.’ Sure, you didn’t land that TV role you were hoping for and it’s been yet another year that the National failed to acknowledge your existence, but, hey, your pyjama draw has never looked so neat and you can now say with confidence that you’ve tried every single flavour of Walkers crisps. Bet Cumberbatch can’t boast such things.

The problem with the cheesy, porty No Man’s Land of Christmas and New Year is that while the rest of the world is marvelling at the novelty of getting up at 10am and being able to start on the gin at lunch, you’re waiting for everything to get back to normal again. Don’t tell anyone but, when you’re self-employed, lie-ins and gin can happen pretty much any day of the year PLUS you’ve got a chance of getting work. But add the festive period into the mix and all you get is an empty diary, people wondering what day it is and constantly being asked “Why don’t you just do panto?”

Basically, the rest of the world becomes self-employed. And if there wasn’t endless cheese, booze and every food stuff now wrapped in pastry, it’d be horrible.

So, let’s look to 2015. Everyone is heading back to work now and although you can’t get up watch an animated film on BBC1 with your breakfast every morning, you can start looking at your career again.

Maybe you’ve made resolutions. Maybe you’ve decided enough is enough when it comes to unpaid work. Maybe you’re finally going to get new headshots. Maybe you’re going to stop lying on your CV.

Whatever your resolution is, or even if you don’t like making them, I do hope that this year you promise not to be too hard on yourself. Obviously, don’t be so easy on yourself that you manage to blitz all 6 series of RuPaul’s Drag Race in 2 days but, also, don’t be so hard on yourself that you beat yourself up daily for not being Tom Hardy.

This job is appalling at times and it’s easy to beat yourself up over the fact that you’re not getting any work. It will feel like that one person you went to drama school with is practically everywhere while the only person who recognises you is the postman who knows you’ll be in everyday to sign for your neighbours’ deliveries. Yes, you’re more acquainted with your pyjamas than you are your agent and the only lines you’ve learnt recently are the ones you recite when someone asks whether you’re working on anything at the moment, but you’re still brill. Really brill in fact. Because if you can keep working hard and keeping hold of that dream that got you through school and still puts a little skip in your step despite constant rejection then you are definitely brill.


So go forth, my actors. Wear your pyjamas with pride, keep that dream alive and don’t let anyone make you feel bad about anything; not even drinking wine at 2pm a Wednesday for no other reason than there was a bottle in the house and you want to congratulate yourself for finally changing that lightbulb in the hallway. And if you do end up blitzing RuPaul’s Drag Race so hard that you end up saying “Halleloo” to everything, you’re still brill.

Sunday, 16 November 2014

The Toughest Things About Being An Actor

Being an actor is tough. Career instability, financial insecurity and constant scrutiny about how you look. Makes you wonder why anyone would do it for a living. But those aren't the truly difficult things. Oh no. Here are just a few of the things that are far worse...


Spotting THAT person you went to drama school with in a ‘Check Out These Amazing Next Big Things Who Are The Stars Of The Future And Are So Much Better Than You And We’re Featuring Them Even Though They’ve Got Plenty Of Work And There Are So Many Other Hardworking People Would Could Benefit From This Kind Of Coverage’ type article.

Look at them, all lovely with their hair done all nice while you’re sat in a pair of pyjamas that you haven’t removed for the last 3 days. Hang on, did that stain just MOVE?

Your favourite pyjamas being in the wash.

You know the ones – comfy enough to fall asleep in at 2pm on a Wednesday afternoon, warm enough so you can avoid putting the heating on even though the mould on the walls has formed frost and respectable enough to answer the door in without the postman looking too horrified.

Pacing a free bar entirely wrong.

You’ve been invited to a thing. You don’t want to go because, well, your favourite pyjamas are clean and you’ve got the flat to yourself and RuPaul’s Drag Race is calling…

“There’s a free bar.”

You turn up horrifically early, hoping to get in on the free bar action. Now, generally the rest of the night will go one of only two ways:

Every photo of the night features you clutching three glasses of wine with your boozy gaze only able to focus on any available snacks

Or

You decide to be sensible and not make a fool of yourself. Maybe you’ll brace yourself and do some much-needed networking. You average a glass of wine every 45 minutes only to discover the free bar was only for the first hour. You slink off home at 8pm and pick up a sausage roll and a bottle of Lambrini on the way home.

Social networking

‘OMG. Just been offered the most AMAZEBALLS job. All top-secret right now though! ARGH! #soblessed’

‘Need me my own PA! Soooooo busy today! 3 castings, 1 voiceover, 1 meeting with top director AND a costume fitting!!!! #WhatAmILike?!?!?!?!’

‘Oh NOOOOOOOO. Been offered a totes AMAZING film role but it clashes with the most DIVINE theatre role. SOMEONE TELL ME WHAT I SHOULD DO! #hatemylife’

We all have these. You’re flicking through trying to see which of your old school mates now has the worst hair (hey now, mullets with a copper sheen are very popular in more rural areas) and one of those status updates pops up. You know you should be pleased for them but all you do is scream at the screen and become even more determined to live-tweet Homes Under The Hammer.

Questions about your career.

  • Oh of course, I totally know when you’re going to see me in EastEnders. Let me just let the Casting Department know that I’m booking myself in for the 2015 Christmas storyline…
  • I do all types of acting. No, not porn.
  • Yes, I have been in something you might have seen. Your mum.


These are your stock answers to the stock questions that you will always get. They will usually come from well-meaning folk who, to be fair, have no idea what to say to someone who has willingly chosen to pretend to be a tree for a living.

Seeing friends in plays

Personally I think ‘seeing a friend’s play’ should be the new term for anything that should be discussed behind closed doors and after a thorough check for bugging devices has been carried out.

There is a lot of pressure as an actor when you go to see a friend in something. Firstly, WHY THE HELL DIDN’T YOU GET SEEN FOR THIS? Oh, I mean, I’m really pleased that my friend is getting this wonderful opportunity. But you will be overly critical. You’ll spend most of your time trying to work out which is the annoying one in the cast (there’s always at least one) and the rest of the time either being insanely jealous (if you liked it) or wishing you’d sat nearer the exit (if you didn’t.)

And then there’s the time in the foyer/bar/street after, especially if you didn’t enjoy it. What do you say? Do you lie? OF COURSE YOU DO…

“OH MY GOD! Well done you! You must be exhausted! How long did it take you to learn all those lines?!”

And, of course, you then realise that you’ve heard those lines before. HANG ON A MINUTE – people said that to YOU the last time YOU were in something. The Circle of Acting Life, friends.

(DISCLAIMER – if you’re a friend and are reading this, I totally loved YOUR play. It must’ve been so hard being on stage that long.)

Shakespeare questions at pub quizzes

  • Complete the title: Romeo & ________
  • What is Shakespeare’s first name?
  • Name any character in Antony & Cleopatra.


Shakespeare is tough and of course you’re going to pretend that you’ve read every single one of his plays and understood it and loved it (“My, Shakespeare! It must’ve taken you so long to write that!) So it’s no surprise that when the inevitable question comes up at the pub quiz, all eyes turn to you. When in doubt, either pretend to have not heard the question, quote the Oxfordian theory that Shakespeare didn’t write the plays anyway so the question is invalid or just answer ‘Leonardo DiCaprio’ and hope for the best.

Playing Charades

Actually, mime and the type of acting you do are two very different things so no, it’s not your fault that it took your nan three hours to work out that you were doing ‘I Still Know What You Did Last Summer.’ Those 3 years at drama school were definitely worth it and the fact you now can’t feel your hands does not bring your acting talent into question.


Not being able to use any other photo apart from your headshot as your profile picture

Guys, this is TOUGH. It’s alright for everyone else, they all have fun photos of them wearing a silly hat at the work Christmas party that they can use. Sure, you’ve got photos like that too but how can you possibly use that when there’s a photo of your airbrushed within an inch of your life? IF YOU DON’T USE THAT THEN HOW ELSE WILL PEOPLE REALISE THAT YOU’RE AN ACTOR AND IT’S THEREFORE OK THAT YOU HAVE FACEBOOK CHAT OPEN ALL DAY?

Daytime TV.

Learning the day’s viewing schedule is very demanding and has meant that you’ve forgotten many important things like why you wanted to be an actor in the first place and the last time you washed your hair. But how else are you meant to know when to have your fifth cup of tea (it’s when you fly for the remote to switch off Loose Women.)

But still, at least we get to do our food shopping on a weekday, eh?


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... 

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.