Sunday, April 20, 2014

Breaking the Rules



          I’ve always been a fan of the folks who break rules when it comes to creativity; as long as nobody gets hurt, the result is always something new.  It might be a brilliant breakthrough success or a fantastic failure, but it will be worthy in originality and ambition, regardless.   Watch a Ken Russell film or a Peter Greenaway film; you may be fascinated or frustrated, but you will know you’ve seen something truly unique.

          I certainly broke rules when it came to my Stonewall Award winning novella “Spewing Pulp”.  I wanted to tell a story in both prose and screenplay format, showing (for those who were paying attention and/or cared) the differences between how the two media worked) since the story was about a poet who eventually pondered writing a screenplay.

          Steve Oakley is also a breaking the rules with his film “Natural Born Filmmaker”.  Unwilling to be constrained by the traditional filmmaking process, Steve is writing the film in pieces, shaping it around the characters vis-a-vis the actors he’s brought on board to portray them and what they are bringing to each character.   Each actor brings their own take to the project and Steve adjusts the story to best enhance the strongest choices.  The final moments of the film completely changed on set and the film’s ending is far better as a result.

         But the tossing aside of tradition goes beyond the script; the film shoot itself is a hybrid of traditional filmmaking, sitcom television shoots and improv shows.   Each scene is set up to be shot with three cameras at different angles the same time; instead of doing several takes of a full scene, Steve goes practically line by line, having each actor do several takes of the same line, one right after the other—often incorporating adjustments and improv.  It takes tremendous concentration to keep the dialogue flowing as though it were one, continuous conversation; each actor has to focus on the flow of the scene in spite of the actual stops and starts.  It's a challenge, but it's also terrifically fun.

          Of course, it will all come down to, as it always does, the choices made in the editing room.  But I won’t be surprised if Steve breaks a bunch of rules in that department as well.

For more info on “Natural Born Filmmaker, check out: http://bit.ly/RC0Nrl


 
 






 

Monday, March 3, 2014

Man Crushing

         
          Man Crush. 

          The very term would once have brought nothing but images of Herculean types doing great bodily harm to one another.  But today, the meaning of “being a guy who is enchanted and enraptured by another man, without any sexual overtones necessary” is becoming commonplace. We see it talked about on social media, in films, on television and even in—what else?—blogs.


         My man crushes are many and I’m not ashamed of a single one.  I tend to fall for, admire and desire to hang with men who are talented and individualistic:  men who dare to do more than their peers, achieve more diversity in their artistic output and remain utterly charming and down-to-earth, with a great sense of humor to boot.  Who are these men?  You may have heard of them…
 
          I’ll start with Joseph Gordon-Levitt.  You may know him as an actor from his television role on “3rd Rock from the Sun” or from some his big films “50/50”, “The Dark Knight Rises”, “Lincoln” or some of his smaller films, such as the haunting and heartbreaking “Mysterious Skin”.  But he’s also a director, writer, producer and more…and has created his own open collaborative production company for cross-functional, multi-media artistic endeavors.  A new adjective is needed to describe how cool this guy is.

          Then there’s the indomitable James Franco.  You may know him as an actor from his television role on “Freaks and Geeks” or from big films like “Spider-Man” (1, 2 and 3), “127 Hours”, “Pineapple Express” and “Milk”, or smaller films like “Howl”, “Palo Alto” and “Interior. Leather Bar.  But like JGL, James is also a director, writer, producer and more:  his is a published author, has taught classes in film and acting, and has been involved in charities for children and students. He has suffered criticism on many fronts and remains steadfast in his desire to make daring films and have a winsome sense of humor that shines in every goofy Facebook selfie.  You gotta give him props.

          Now, lest you think I only fall for younger, pretty faces, my other man crush is Kevin Spacey.  Not that Kevin isn’t handsome in his own right, but neither he nor I qualify as “young”—except at heart.  But his acting in “Swimming with Sharks”, “The Usual Suspects” and “American Beauty” is, in each case, a master class in the art.  And he, too, is no mere actor:  Spacey has gone on to create Trigger Street, a groundbreaking production company and online platform for feedback and exposure for undiscovered writers and filmmakers.  He is also a patron of the Shakespeare Schools Festival, a charity that enables school children across the UK to perform Shakespeare in professional theatres.  And he’s now involved in another groundbreaking venture: the Netflix streaming project House of Cards”, which earned the first Primetime Emmy Award nomination for original online-only web tevision.

          So you see: I am admittedly and unabashedly attracted to these men.  I admire their drive, their diversity and their daring.  They inspire me to be more than I am today.  They also inspire me to want to buy them a beer.  Or a martini.  Whatever they heck they want.  Hopefully, I won’t look like a big dork when they take me up on it.


          Now 'fess up:  who's your man crush?






















































































































































































































































































































































































  

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

New and Improved


       “So….what are you working on…?
       In Hollywood, everyone wants to know (and judges you on) what your most current action is: what projects are you working on; did you get a new agent/manager/distributor/etc.; do you have any new PR, demo reels, headshots, etc.?  Traction and trajectory are the names of the games and they make up a maze of never-ending treadmills.
       For today’s blog I’m going to focus on the actor side of my career and, more specifically, the headshot: casting directors, agents and managers all want photos that look like who you are right now and the roles you can play right now.  While it’s true that the magic of CGI, FX and make-up can transform you into anything, most films will use you more or less as you are and so you need to provide the people with photos that represent that. 
       Having recently been signed by the ladies of  The Jana Luker Agency, updated headshots were ordered, including a request for some wider body shots.   So I went back to the man who can tame the alchemy of color, light and attitude to have him use all of the above to once again make magic and fulfill my need with something spectacular.  That may sound like hyperbole, but the man I am talking about is Joshua Patterson of Josh Patterson Photography. 
        Never satisfied with complacency, Josh continually hones his photography skills and the result is that his work is ever-evolving and ever-improving.  So we got together and, thanks to his relaxed and understanding attitude, had a no-stress, thoroughly enjoyable photo session that included several different outfits and looks, since he knows I’m a character actor who is cast as evil bastards, wimpy nerds and everything in-between.

       Once again, the maxim “a picture is worth a thousand words” seems apropos.  So without further ado, here are some baddies, some nerds and a few others.  I think you’ll agree:  Mr. Patterson has served me well.
 
 
 
 
 

For more on Gregory Blair, try IMDB, Facebook, Twitter or my Official Site
For more photos & info on Josh Patterson and his work, hit up: www.joshpattersonphotography.com 

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Doing It Right


        There are days when you wonder if you’re doing it right.  When you doubt yourself.  When you look around and get the sense that you, somehow, are in the wrong place, have the wrong skills, made a wrong choice.  It’s only human.  Our minds are constantly evaluating information and making assessments.  The trick is to know which assessments are the most accurate for who you are and who you want to be.

        Then there are days when you know you’re doing it right.  As an actor, those days go something like this…

        I had finished working a few episodes of “Love That Girl” a while back when one of the writers contacted me and asked me if I wanted to be in his new project.  First win, right there.  As an actor, nothing is better than being offered a role without having to audition:  it’s a sign that someone thinks enough of you that they know you can do a role and want you to play it; it tells you you’re doing it right.

        Then there’s the fact that it’s a non-scripted comedy.  Now it’s not just the case that I fit and can play said role, now it’s a sign that he trusts in my improvisational skills to create the character and all his dialogue.  That’s a lot of trust.  But he’s seen me come up with ad-libs and improvised moments for “Love That Girl”, so he is confident I have the chops.  I hear the subliminal message loud and clear:  “You’re doing it right”.

        Then, just in case I had any of those nasty doubts left floating around, in between shots, the writer is introducing me to a fellow cast member and tells them that I was on “Love That Girl” and that I was so funny in the first episode, they wrote my character into more episodes.  Nothing subliminal about that.  Now, I know I’m not only doing it right, I’ve been doing it right.

       When the day's shooting ends, the writer sends me a note to say I was hilarious.  I am pleased: it’s my goal to do good work that will help make the project shine and make the creators happy.  This is the joy of being an actor: bringing characters to life in order to make people feel or understand something about the world we all live in. 

        If I can keep doing that, I'll know I’m doing it right.


 
 

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Musicians are Magicians


Musicians are magicians.  It’s true.  They take feelings and externalize them in sounds that communicate and celebrate—a trick no less remarkable than pulling a rabbit from an apparently empty hat.   

For my film DEADLY REVISIONS, we decided we wanted a Christmas song in the background of one scene.  We didn’t have the budget to spend thousands and thousands of dollars to buy the rights to use a known song.  So I talked to my friend Renaissance man Jacob Vanags who, among other things, is a musician and he whipped up a perfect jingle-bell tune overnight.  

Next, I needed a song to augment a brief montage of the two leading men enjoying a good time—one of the few breaks from the tension in the story.  I approached Noah Woodburn of New North Sound who was eager and willing to help.  I sent him the scene, a description of what I was looking for along with some lyrics to guide him.  In a matter of days, with the talents of singer/songwriting duo Tyler Johnson and Julia Cramer, a song was created.  We tweaked it a bit to get the sound just right and a few days later, it was done.  I sent it to my composer Andrew Todd Poole who found the perfect place to have the song start and end, expertly matching music to action and lyrics to images.

And—poof:  the film has two songs that work brilliantly. 
 
Just like magic.

Want some magic in your life?  See the links below.
 

Jacob Vanags:
Piano-rocker Jacob Vanags has played across the country at clubs such as the Lyrikplatz stage at Musikfest in Bethlehem, PA, The Bitter End in NYC, The Bottom Lounge in Chicago, and Republic of Pie in North Hollywood.  http://www.reverbnation.com/jacobvanags


Tyler Johnson and Julia Cramer:
A songwriting duo based out of Portland, Oregon, Tyler Johnson and Julia Cramer play in a band called De La Warr and have enjoyed several years of writing, recording and performing throughout the Pacific Northwest. 
http://delawarr.net/

Noah Woodburn:
Noah is a composer, music producer, sound designer and owner of New North Sound in Portland, Oregon. New North Sound is a fully equipped sound and music facility specializing in custom work for the film and tv world. Noah Woodburn also plays in a band called Goose & Fox who will be releasing their debut album "My Mouth, the Sea" on September 12th, 2013. Goose & Fox is an indie folk/pop band based out of Portland as well.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

And the Award Goes To…

 
Film is a collaborative art.  I’ve said it before and I’m not the first. This is why any award or accolade—even if given to an individual—is really a laurel honoring all the people who were part of the process that led to the final product.  An actor’s performance in a film is a variable alchemy of the actor’s craft, the direction, the editing and much more.  Many elements combine in a special sort of synergy to create what we end up seeing on the screen.  For a director, the symbiotic group dynamic extends to the entire crew…and beyond.
 
Earlier this week, I was awarded the EOTM Award for “Best Director of an Indie Horror Film” for my feature DEADLY REVISIONS.  By now, it will come as no surprise when I say that the award belongs to everyone involved with the film: the crew, the cast, the funders, fans and friends; everyone played a part in supporting the film and, by default, me as a director.  I had my indomitable co-producer Roxy Shih to wrangle and facilitate production needs, my astute director of photography Kate Sobol to devise ways to make each shot work well, numerous and tireless production assistants who kept unseen cogs greased, Facebook fans who shared our stills and updates to their friends...and the beautiful people who poured money into the production; all of these people and more are a part of the creation and life of this film.
 
So to all those people, I of course extend my thanks; not just for helping to manifest an award, but for helping make this incredible film that, I hope, will be something of which we can all be very proud.  The award on my mantle is in honor of us all.  And I couldn’t be in better company.  
 
 

Friday, June 28, 2013

Why Aren’t You Famous, Yet?

 
          To more easily succeed as an artist, one has to either embrace the business side of things or embrace someone who does.  Or both.  Both is best, but having someone who works hard to sell you and your art allows you to spend a little more time on the art itself.  And that fosters more and better art.
 
          The most common people who take on that sales and marketing role are agents and managers.  Agents generally work specifically to get you jobs; managers do the same as well as work to improve your game and promote you in non-job related ways.  You can survive with neither, one or both, but—generally—the more people you have working with you, the better your chances at success.
 
          At different times, I have had a commercial agent, two theatrical agents and a literary agent:  all worked hard and got me jobs and/or opportunities I would not have found or had access to myself.  But none got me more jobs than I got on my own.  It could have been the market, the timing, their focus or reach—it’s hard to say.  But we all amicably parted ways and I went along without any representation for many years and survived.  I got some of my best roles on my own.  It can be done.  It’s just very, very hard.

          But recently, Sean Debeverac of Royalty Rope, Inc. caught me in a showcase and called me in for a meeting.  I did a few monologues and when I was done, he said: “Why aren’t you famous, yet?”  I flashed a wry smile and threw back: “That is your mission, should you choose to accept.”  Accept he did--on a trial basis.  In a matter of weeks, I had an audition that landed me a fantastic role on one episode of the Vision Award winning series “Love That Girl!”  Other auditions came my way as well.  Then, I learned the “Love That Girl!” casting director told Sean they wanted my character to come back.  In tandem, Sean called to tell me he wanted to sign me up as an official client.  Considering his belief in my talent and his ability to get me auditions, I said “yes”.
 
          So I am now pleased to be represented by Royalty Rope, Inc. who will be my management team for the foreseeable future.  Sean and his colleagues Matt and Brian are all dynamic, diligent professionals with whom I expect to enjoy a good, mutually beneficial run.  Here’s to the future!


 

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Getting My Weird On

             I got the call from my manager that I had an audition for “LOVE THAT GIRL!”—a successful TV sitcom that had been running for a few years. It sounded like a great role for a quirky character actor like me: an uptight scribe wrestling with writer’s block. As is my customary modus operandi, I checked out the show and all the sides that were available so I could be as informed and prepared as possible. In my search, I noticed another role that I thought might be even more up my alley: a crazy, completely whacked-out neighbor known only as Weird Wendell. But I studied for the role of the writer since that was the role I was called in for.

          In the casting office, I went in and read the role the best I knew how. I could tell I was in the right ballpark: both the casting director and her associate burst out laughing several times. But the magic happened when, after I finished, the casting director asked me to read for—you guessed it— Weird Wendell. It takes a seasoned casting director with a keen eye to see these things: Leah Daniels is just such a casting director. So I went out of the room to study the lines. I came back in, read the part and made the ladies laugh even more. I thought things were working out just fine.

           And they were. My manager called me to let me know I got the job. And when I got the script, I realized that the role was much bigger that the writer’s: the writer had only one scene and Weird Wendell had five! So things were working out even better than I expected. The next week, I found myself on set for the episode that featured Weird Wendell. Between the script and my interpretation, Weird Wendell became a cross between Christopher Lloyd in Taxi and Kramer in Seinfeld. I sported a crazy bed-head do, ill-fitting 70’s garb, bug eyes and a bad attitude. And masterful, easy-going director Bentley Kyle Evans let us improvise as we went along, so we found even more humor on the go. Even the wardrobe department got in on the fun, throwing crazier outfits on me as the show progressed. I can't tell you anything more than that. And won't. You have to watch the show!

           Suffice it to say, I had a fantastic time and I hope my work on the episode is going to stand out. It’s not often you get a role that feels like a perfect fit. Weird Wendell was one of those guys.

          Weird Wendell makes his debut in episode 430 “My Way or the Hall Way”.  Watch for it and get your weird on!


 

Monday, April 22, 2013

For Troubled Times

 
          There are days that make us ache:  days where nature wreaks havoc with hurricanes and/or earthquakes; days where madmen bring pain and death with bombs and/or planes; days where loved ones die from illness, injury or age.   These are days that come with living in our current world.  Sadly, these days are unavoidable:  nature and madmen will always find ways to wage their heartless way.  We can only make the other days be the best they can be.  Be kind, be loving, be generous.  And, on the bad days, seek solace where we can. 

          I think film and theater are a great solace.  We feel good watching a movie we love; it’s like an old friend, bringing a sense of consistency, stability and familiarity—things we need at times of struggle.  Watching actors play characters who laugh, cry and wend their ways through adventures connects us to the world in a powerful way:  we learn from their mistakes and the ways they differ from us and feel camaraderie and recognition in what we share with them—even if the characters are animated or non-human.  We sit for a time, safe and at peace, taking in the stories that move us and remind us that life is full of more things than we can imagine. 

          So I posit that film and theater be embraced as a blessed balm for difficult days;  that each can draw your mind away from your troubles, possibly provide solutions and, at the very least, remind you that you are not alone.  They cannot heal the infirmed or rebuild the destroyed, but they can bring comfort and fill us with a sense of wonder and awe, examples of courage and kindness…and lessons of heroism and humility.  And that’s a good thing.

 
          What are your comfort films or plays?  Leave a comment and let me know.
 

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Art As Activism


 
Now don’t worry:  I’m not going to get on a soapbox and preach about the duty of an artist and all that jazz; this isn’t that kind of blog.  I just wanted to talk about some productions that I was lucky enough to be in that are more than just entertainment; that aim to both teach and delight (which is my definition of great art, bastardized from Sir Philip Sydney’s definition of great poetry).  Great art, by that definition, can come in all shapes and sizes.  Three such projects are the short film “Meet the Zillas”, the pilot of a proposed television series called “Chris/Tina” and the hit web series “Old Dogs & New Tricks”…and I, believing in them, got myself involved in them all.

 Meet the Zillas is the brain child of multi-talented writer/director /producer/actress Moreen Littrell who wore all four hats on the project, creating a campy, comedic fable about a place called Zillatown where everyone is wedding-obsessed but not everyone is allowed to marry—namely Zillas.   Its wild, colorful and occasionally musical world may look like Dr. Who meets Dr. Seuss, but the desire to love and marry who we want and be treated equally by all is as familiar as it gets in our country’s current climate.   You can see me as a pro-Zilla protester and as a guest in a wedding that gets magically (and hilariously) mob-flashed.
 
 “Chris/Tina” is the creation of Jorge Perez and tells the tale of a teenager in a Latin community and all that entails (Catholic repression, machismo, etc.) who feels caught between the expectations of that community and the realization that he is a woman inside and needs to begin the transgender journey.   Perez hopes to educate people--especially parents--and help provide a role model and a voice for youth who are in the same or a similar situation.  I couldn’t think of another show that was trying to do that and anything that helps kids feel less alone and survive being ridiculed or bullied is good in my book.  So I signed up for a cameo as a Waiter in one scene.   See a sneak peek of the show here: http://vimeo.com/50741208

 
Back to comedy (and wedding drama) on the set of “Old Dogs & New Tricks”--Leon Acord’s ground-breaking web series about gay men in (or near) their fifties, trying to navigate life in the youth-oriented city of West Hollywood where men “of a certain age” can feel invisible.  No other series out there right now really represents this demographic and, with the aging of America, this is a subject that needs to be talked about.  At once outrageous in its humor and candor, the show manages enough dollops of pathos to make you care about the characters as the episodes evolve; so much so, that the series has garnered quite a following.  (It doesn’t hurt to have great actors on hand as the Dogs and their various cohorts.)  So when I heard they needed a few more actors for a big 2-part gay wedding in their second season, I knew I wanted to be a part of it.

So, yes:  I love to watch (and act in) mindless comedy, cheesy horror, fantasy and all the rest.  I really do love it all.  But I get a special sense of pride from being involved in art that aims for more than just entertainment; where the laughs are tied to lessons and the plots provoke positive change.  I guess it’s the part of me that wants to help make the world a better place.  Lucky for me, I’m not alone in that dream.