Actor/Musician

My Role in “Heelers” and “My Best Friend”

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Wow, I really have become crap at updating my blog. I’ve written about how since Facebook and Twitter have taken over my poor blog has been neglected. People don’t seem to want to go outside these “walled gardens” to external websites much anymore. The one advantage I’ve found about posting here is that it’s really easy to find something if I go back looking for it later, which is not true on Facebook and Twitter. So today after watching the latest Big Bang Theory episode where Howard sings a silly, romantic song for Bernadette for the anniversary of their first date (a song written by Garfunkel and Oates for the show), it reminded me of this song I wrote for the web series, Heelers. I was surprised to find that I, apparently, never wrote about it here, but I guess only on social media.

Heelers tells the story of a some workers at a veterinary practice. I play Glenn, a sweet if slightly awkward guy who often beings his dog or other animals he’s found to the clinic, at least partially because he’s in love with Brit, one of the girls who works there (who has no interest in him but likes the hunky veterinarian guy). For the last episode I filmed they wanted me to make an appearance at the company Christmas party and possibly play a song, so I wrote what I felt was an appropriately “Glenn” song for his to sing to object of his affection. Kind of endearing, kind of weird. Like Glenn. I found it surprising that apparently a lot of guys outright refused to read for Glenn because he’s kind of weird and unflattering. I loved Glenn from the start because I thought he’d be a blast to play, and to try and make him endearing as well as awkward and a little creepy. It still amazes me when actors are so vain that they don’t want to play a part that is not flattering or impressive. I love interesting characters and playing off-kilter flawed people can be so interesting and fun.

Of course, I’ll post when the web series actually comes out for public consumption but in the mean time, here’s Glenn’s song that he sings to Brit at the Christmas party.

My Best Friend

VH1: Behind the Pants

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I’m currently in a production of Macbeth with some of the most awesome people around. The banter that goes on backstage generally ranges from amusing to genius. So many intelligent, funny, talented people. One night after the show as we were all getting dressed, I started randomly singing “PANTS TIME” and we all started taking turns improvising lines. This went on for some time and I was inspired.

The next day I started recording. In an effort to retain the original tone and atmosphere, I didn’t write anything before hand. I basically recorded the vocals line by line, figuring it out as I went along and trying to incorporate as many references from the previous night as possible.

The next day, my cast mate, Elly, was kind enough to come lay down a trio of backup vocals.

Take your pants off or put your pants on, and give a listen to:

PANTS TIME!

To Be Or Not To Be…A Jerk Who Won’t Take “Minor” Theatre Roles

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I was raised doing theatre. It’s where I planted my acting roots. As the years went on and I transitioned in to more film and television, I rarely get to do theatre any more. First and foremost, it’s very rare that I’m actually available for the run of a show, much less for all the rehearsal and such as well. I almost always have several other film or band projects somewhere in there, so it’s almost a miracle when the stars align and I happen to hear about a play that’s casting and I happen to be available!

Now, even when that happen, every single time without fail that I agree to do a play, I end up having to pass up something else, or several something elses that come along after. There’s also the time commitment. You have however many rehearsals over a month or three, depending, plus the actual run of the show. In the time it takes to do one play, I sometimes might have done many projects (my highest being 40 projects in 3 months). And it’s probably quite annoying for my agent who is trying to get me work when I’m not available for a large chunk of time.

For this reason, I have to be pretty judicious about if I choose to do a play. Many times I just can’t take anything less than a lead role or at least something major or that I feel is really worth the time as something interesting or “meaty” in some way. I hate this, and I hate addressing it so I usually just don’t audition because I don’t want to have to say “I’m afraid I’m only interested in the lead.” I know that this should be fine. Every time I have, people have been totally understanding (or at least seemingly so) but I can’t help feeling like an egotistical jerk who comes off as “I’m too good for smaller parts.”

On the other hand, I’ve spent 32 years working on my craft and advancing my career and I do have not only a responsibility to be practical and a little more choosy, but I should have the right as well. And not just me, anyone should. Maybe when you’re just starting out you might need to be less picky (like when I used to do any and all extra work I could get into) to get some experience, but we should all have the right to choose to some degree.

Amazingly, this has come up twice recently. I ended up taking a smaller part in Macbeth because I like the director and trusted his judgment when I’d laid out my feelings and he felt these roles were worth my time, and because I wanted to work with him and my friend who is the lead (I did audition for the lead as well).

Now I may be facing it again as I have a callback for another play tomorrow and I think I’m only being considered for a minor role. Part of me thinks maybe I should turn it down (if I’m even offered a role) but there’s always a part of me that doesn’t want to miss out. Part of me who knows that you never know who you might meet or where any particular road might take you. Often, it’s the most unexpected path that ends up going somewhere interesting. There are certainly things I like about this show, and I like to believe the old “There are no small parts, only small actors” and think that I could really do something memorable with whatever I’m given.

But I also don’t want to seem like an egotistical, ungrateful twat either. I guess I’ll just see if there’s even a decision to be made before worrying about it. Or as I like to say, “I’ll tackle that boat when I come to it.”

The Qubit Lab

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Here’s a series of science videos I did for the Qubit Lab in conjunctions with scientists from Oxfprd and across Europe! I really enjoyed these!

By request of Sean Dornan-Fish

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My friend, Sean, requested that I do a Live, Raw, Acoustic video of Rock Springfield’s “I’ve Done Everything For You,” so I did.

That’s a Wrap on _Moving Day_.

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Over the weekend, I spent approximately 35-40 hours shooting _Moving Day_ with an absolutely amazing cast and crew. I had met Louis and Samuel (writers and directors) when Kevin Machate recruited me to help shoot our “Chiphuahua” Doritos commercial for a contest. It was a fun shoot and I thought the commercial was great.

So when they approached me to audition for Moving Day, I jumped at the chance. I thought the script and characters were great and that it would be a fun shoot and a great film. After my audition via Google Hangout (I’m Austin based and this film would be Dallas based), they asked if I had a preference between the parts of Pete and Adam. I loved them both and thought either would be great, but in the end I leaned toward Pete. I felt Pete was a bit more of a challenge for me personally and something I hadn’t done as much of, and, quite frankly, there were elements of the part that made me a little nervous and scared. I would have happily played either part, but I figured that was a good reason to go for Pete to try and grow a little more in a direction I was not as comfortable with and a little further from the types of parts I sometimes tend to get pigeon-holed with. I was ecstatic when they decided to bring in one of my best friends in the world, Brian Villalobos, to play Adam. He is like a brother to me and I love any time we get to play together.

The shoot was one of the very magical experiences that come along all too rarely. My cast mates (Brian, Rachel Crothers, Edie Davis, and Christopher Cassarino) were all amazingly talented and more than that, they were all wonderful, hilarious people who I immediately loved. The crew were equally talented and amazing and it was one big, happy awesome film family. I loved getting to hang out with these people all day and I’ve rarely laughed as hard and had so many good conversations between takes. Everyone was so creative and it was almost like a big 3 day improvisational play session off camera. I can’t count the number of jokes, ideas and running gags we accrued along the way.

However, in additional to a plethora of laughs (yes, a plethora, El Guapo) It was also very emotional, both due to the story and having to go to certain emotional places and certain things in my own life weighing on my mind as well. My friend, O’Ryan Landa posted this quote, “It’s not who you are that holds you back, it’s who you think you’re not,” and it really resonated with me. For many different reasons, this summed up what is probably the overarching biggest struggle for me in many different ways. By the end of this shoot, I had been through a whole range of emotions.

On the second day of shooting, there was a tense fight scene involving Christopher Cassarino and I. We had done a few takes already and refined some of the choreography. When the time came, I lunged at him, and he slammed me into the wall. There was a distinctly bad crunching sound and I felt the wall give way behind me. Chris and I, finished out the scene with him punching me to the floor. The cameras cut and I looked to see the lovely hole in the wall, perfectly fitted to my shoulder. Everyone was fine, however, except the wall.

That night, it came time to shoot the most emotionally intense scene of the film with Rachel and I. She was amazing and made it so very easy to do. It was exhausting but beautiful all at the same time. Unfortunately, we realized toward the end of the night, that due a particular problem (that was no one’s fault, these things just happen in film), we would have to re-shoot it all again the next night. At first it was definitely something that kind of knocks the wind out of you. This was the moment that I knew would be the most difficult for me and was nervous about, hoping that I would be able to bring it to life and I felt like Rachel and I had really done a great scene, and we would have to do it all again Sunday night. After the initial shock however, I thought about it and decided I would choose not to to see this as a negative thing. I love what I do, and I love what we’d done and this just meant I would get to do it again, and recreate this beautiful, emotional moment.

We filmed all day Sunday, relishing this last day together as a film family. I think that it was quite appropriate that we ended up re-shooting our emotional scene as the last shots of the entire shoot. Brian graciously agreed to stick around longer than he had to so we could shoot the most most difficult stuff for me last (and the last shot of the film) when we could have shot it earlier to get him out quicker. This is kind of generosity that permeates Brian’s being and really helped me, a lot.

Louis had sent me a playlist of music that he felt represented the emotional arc between Pete and Carrie and as a musician, music is one the most powerful tools for me. It really helped me with the emotions and to build a history between these two. When it had come time to actually shoot though, I had made a quick playlist of my own of songs that I knew could put me where I needed to be. As we prepared for the re-shoot, Rachel asked if she could hear some of my playlist, so we stood outside on a beautiful, cool night under a nice moon, sharing my earbuds for a few minutes to get ready for Pete and Carrie’s last moments on film. Then we went inside and, in my opinion, did an even better scene than we had the night before, so everything happened just as it should have.

Rachel very generously offered to stay for my last scene if I needed her there and at first I said that would be great, but then after thinking about it, I realized that not having her there might be better for what I had to do for my last scene. Brian and I finished out the shoot with the last scene of the film, and the last scene of the shoot. That was a wrap. There were hugs all around and the sound man, Chase, told me that he had never teared up before during a shoot, much less during a no dialogue scene that he was only listening to with his eyes closed (the scene with Rachel and I). We all said our goodbyes, and as always happens in film, the family dispersed into the night, and on with our lives. Thus is the nature of the beast. I was exhausted, my ankles had been bitten up by some unseen parasite, there were many various bruises across my body from various sources, I was emotionally spent and still had to make the 3 hour drive back home. And I loved it all. Except maybe the drive but even that was fine because I was doing what I loved and created something that I can hopefully be proud of if I can get past my own discomfort and self-criticism.

I got home around 4 a.m., took a shower and emailed that I would not be into work the next day. I only got 5 hours of sleep before my brain insisted on getting me up. I feel like I have an emotional hangover. My heart is a bit heavy, I suspect partially from my own life and partly from character residue. The plan is to convalesce on the couch, nap, watch TV, play Xbox, recover and process things. And maybe get some pancakes. Goodbye, Pete. It was fun Quantum Leaping into your life. Oh, boy.

Resistance Against Evolution – Oppressing The Digital Revolution

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Today I had an experience that has me feeling unsettled. I spoke to a guy putting together a band about possibly playing guitar for him. I liked his music, he seemed to like my playing and singing. Then we got to discussing equipment. He was looking for a specific sound and was not convinced that my digital modeling gear was sufficient. He said this was a “pro-level” gig and that there needed to be real Les Pauls through real Marshall stacks. We chatted a little about it and basically parted ways amicably with the decision that I wasn’t the guy for the job.

However, this exchange continued to bother me and I tried to analyze why. I certainly don’t begrudge him his opinion or knowing what he personally wants in his band. Then I realized that it resonated with something deeper in me. An insecurity. I’ve encountered this attitude before from people. People who don’t take me seriously because, in their ears, they don’t take my equipment seriously. I realized that I was bothered because I felt like I had been dismissed, or looked down upon as less than a professional.

I consider myself a professional musician and I know many who would serve as references for my skills as “pro-quality.” I’ve always had a very well developed ear. I am self taught on all instruments and have always learned by ear. When I’m in bands, I’m always the one (or one of the people) that others turn to when there’s a question on how something is played or some sonic detail. I’ve spent the last 30 years honing my ear and one of my talents that I’ve been hired for from time to time is the ability to copy, replicate or produce something that is “like” something else. However, it’s all subjective. Something that sounds good or “correct” to me, may not to you. However there are opinions, and there are facts. “A digital modeler can never sound as good as the real thing” is an opinion and can not be right or wrong. I felt bummed and irritated that this guy who I don’t even really know might think less of me than I deserve. That’s stupid, but yet I know that’s one my own issues and insecurities common in many areas of my life. I really don’t know how to not care what other people think of me. Obviously I have some weird deep-seated insecurity of being the person that everyone is pointing and laughing at or something. “Yeah, this guy is obviously an amateur. I mean he uses those digital toys.”

I often have various other people who may disagree with a guitar tone I’m using. They think it’s too trebly, or needs more mid-range, while I think it’s fine and just what I wanted and was going for. I’m always open to opinions and collaboration but in the end I feel like I’m the guitar player and that’s my arena to decide. Sometimes I don’t particularly care, so I don’t resist, but while I may offer my opinion on another musician’s parts or sounds, I’m certainly not going to dictate to them how I think they need to set their gear if I respect their own opinions and abilities. Basically we all have opinions, and I don’t want to be made to feel like mine is somehow wrong or inferior when I have dedicated a large part of my life to learning and honing my skills and my ear.

I’ve always loved technology. When I heard about the first “Digital Modeling Amplifier,” the Line 6 AxSys 212, I got one and loved it, even though it wasn’t perfect. Over the years, technology has come a long way and I’ve stayed with the times. I now play a Line 6 James Tyler Variax that can digitally model many different guitars and I use a Line 6 POD HD-500 that digitally models amps, effects, speakers, mics, etc. I personally think that technology has come far enough now that there is no perceptible sonic difference. When I switch my guitar to a “Les Paul” setting, and stomp my footswitch for a “Marshall,” it sounds and feels like a Les Paul into a Marshall to me. I’ve seen blind sound tests when people could distinguish which was real and which was digitally modeled.

Some people have their minds made up that nothing can ever sound and feel like the real thing. That is probably technically true on a microscopic level but I personally disagree as far as a human perceptible level. I believe that so much of what we perceive is colored by what we want or expect to perceive. If you have your mind made up that a movie is going to suck, then you’re probably not going to like it. If you think that a piece of gear is not going to sound as good as another piece of gear, then that’s probably the conclusion you are going to reach. Even if you think you’ve “given it a fair chance” it’s probably affected by your subconscious bias.

This, of course, goes for me as well. Maybe because I want to love the digital revolution, I hear awesome sounds that are just as good as the real thing. I try very hard to be open-minded and listen to feed back. I mean really listen and take it in and consider it and not just get knee-jerk defensive about my own opinions but I’m human and I’m sure I’m still susceptible to subconscious preference. I wonder if there will be a day when people look back and say “They used to use amps powered by vacuum tubes! Can you believe that? How antiquated and steam-punk is that?”

I have chosen my place as a digital warrior and I love that I can get so many (accurate, in my opinion) sounds out of one guitar and one amp/effects simulator. In 2 pieces of gear, I have the equivalent of a truckload of hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of sounds. And more so, the guitars and amps aren’t based on “average” models, they are based on particularly “exceptional” sounding models so it’s not just like have a Strat and a Marshall, it’s like having an exceptionally awesome sounding Strat and Marshall. They even model all the knobs to respond exactly like the knobs on the original equipment. When you get into the guts and details of Line 6’s digital modeling, it’s actually amazing what technology can do.

I could easily go on for hours about this stuff and how amazing it is and how it’s allowed me to experiment and discover tones and guitar and amps I may never have had a chance to before and how I can, in an instant, go from a Les Paul/Marshall combo to a Gretsch Duo-Jet tuned to Open E into a Park-75 amp with the flick of a switch and they all sound just like the real thing. I could ramble on about opinions, subjectivity, snobbiness, and any one of the other hundred talking points I’ve touched on here in this meandering diatribe.

I definitely have my share of insecurities about so many things, but I suppose I should be happy that at least I don’t doubt myself. I have pride in my own abilities and talents, even if I sometimes think that others may not see or appreciate them. I am fully entrenched in the world of digital modeling music gear and have no desire to change that, as are many top pro players. I guess if someone is going to look down on me for that, then they aren’t someone I was meant to be playing with anyway. It’s still kind of a bummer though.

Bacon-O’s! The Bacon Flavored Cereal!

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I was doing a play where we were considering having some fake commercial breaks, so I recorded this jingle that I imagined would appear during Saturday morning cartoons.

Bacon-Os

“Tonight You Belong To Me” From “The Jerk” for Ukulele

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I recently bought ukulele to add to my arsenal of instruments. I watched “The Jerk” again recently and the ukulele duet between Steve Martin and Bernadette Peters inspired me. For my first ukulele I decided to take a chance on a very unique instrument hand made by a Chinese maker on Ebay. I call it the “Bat-Uke” and I think you can see why.

As I set out to learn the song, I quickly realized it was going to be very challenging for an instrument that was totally unfamiliar to me. I started researching and watching youtube videos and reading ukulele forums. I very quickly found that there was not a single spot-on, correct version out there to my ears.

You can barely see the fretboard at all in the movie to see what Steve’s hands are doing but through my research I found out that it didn’t really matter, as even though Steve Martin is an incredible banjo player, he was miming the ukulele which was actually played by a jazz ukulele player named Lyle Ritz. I started painstakingly listening to every chord over and over for hours, picking out the individual notes in the chords. I played with all kinds of alternate tunings using my ears and what made for the most logical fingerings. After twice thinking that I had found the weird alternate tuning he was using, I eventually and finally came to the epiphany that I think he is just using standard tuning but tuned one and a half steps down. Maybe he used a concert or tenor sized ukulele (as opposed to the “standard” soprano).

I finally came up with something that worked and sounded pretty dead on to me. Of course, I’m sure many will disagree as is the nature of the beast.

So here’s my take! Tonight You Belong To Me

I feel very confident about most of it. A few of the chords are too hard to hear to know for sure but this sounded most accurate to me. Probably not perfect but I feel it’s about 95% and definitely much closer than anything else I’ve seen or found online.

Forgive any notation errors. I never notate music and just downloaded a program and also my music notation knowledge is way rusty! I didn’t notate the exact strumming pattern. I mostly just used quarter notes even though he sometimes throws in some swing eighth notes when he feels like it. I mostly just wanted to get the chords right.

Why Working For “Free” Isn’t Always Working For “Free”

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Since I’ve had this discussion so many time with so many people, I thought it was about time I just wrote an entry here that I can refer back to in the future. As a freelance artist, I do a lot of work for “free”. You see it all the time: people soliciting talent but with no budget and promising experience, exposure, a good time, etc. I’ve seen more and more artist friends protesting against this and saying that we shouldn’t work for free and that we must value our own talents or no one will.

Now, let me first say that I absolutely do not disagree with these sentiments and I’m not here to argue against them. I just don’t think that it’s nearly so simple or black and white. As an actor, I’d say %95 of what I do, I do for “free”. Now I use that work in quotes because it’s misleading. I mean that I do not receive monetary compensation for it. I do however receive many benefits that I think are worth something and I think this can apply to many freelancers whether you’re an artist, web designer, photographer, writer, etc. I have been an actor/musician for most of my life and a professional (in some sense of the word) for 25+ years. For the last 6 years it has been a large part and sometimes a majority of my income. What do I get from “working for free”?

A) It’s like going to the gym. I get to practice my craft, keep my skills honed and my “acting muscles” in shape. I did over 40 projects in a 3 month period (only 1 of which ended up being not worth my time) and I could definitely feel the benefit. I remember specifically going in for a feature film audition and feeling like I was able to tap into some places much more easily because of some of the “free” projects I had recently done that allowed me to explore some places where I had less experience. I don’t see it as “working for free” as much as I see it as “training for free”. Instead of paying hundreds of dollars for classes, I’m actually acting in real world projects. Now I’m not saying it’s necessarily a substitute for classes (especially for newer actors), but it’s still a form of free training. More of a companion to formal training.

2: I love what I do and I would always rather be working than not. The people I know who have decided that they weren’t working for less than X amount, tend to work a lot less than me. Now maybe they make the same amount of money as I do for less work. I don’t know but I want to work and be involved in as many projects as I can because it’s almost like the lottery, the more you play the more chances you have to win.

Γ- This business is definitely far more about opportunities and the people you know than strictly talent (which is sad, but true, I believe). I have made so many great friends and fostered professional relationships through these projects that never would have happened if I refused to work on free projects and you never know where those roads could lead. Some have indeed led to actual paid work that I would have never had access to otherwise. It has led to many people actually writing parts specifically for me. It has led to me being cast without even auditioning. I’ve been in some awesome films that went on to win awards at film festivals and such. All because of my working for “free”.

π} It can come back to you in all kinds of ways. Several years ago, my friend, Lars, and I set out to film some scene samples from a feature to try and get some funding. We had to actually produce a detailed budget to submit for grants and such. We filmed on the RED ONE, had a full crew and grip package, etc. By the budget, what we produced should have cost $15,000. It actually cost around $2000 because of all the talented, wonderful people we had met while working for “free” who believed in us, liked working with us and knew of our talents. These people wanted to be part of our project and donate their time and equipment largely because of all the “free” work we had done together. I know that if I finally get into a position to throw some money around, the first people I’m going to involve are those that I’ve worked with and love working with and who have lent me their talents in the past. Even at the point I am at now, I am always recommending my friends and throwing opportunities their way whenever I can.

As I said, I do think we need to value our talents, and I would certainly like to see more respect for actors. I’ve been on so many projects where the crew is being paid but the actors are not because so many people want to be actors and so many people think that the on camera jobs are the fun and glamorous jobs, but that’s another issue altogether.

There is no one correct path and you have to do what is right for you, but don’t be deceived. “Free” work can very much be worth it. Yes, I’d love to be making a living doing what I love but the important part, to me at least, is the “doing what I love” part. I believe the rest will come. And so far, I’ve been mostly right.

Now, anybody got any good jobs for me? 😉

Addendum 9/30/13:
I just started a pretty dreamy job making more money than I ever have, doing very cool creative things for a video game and feature film project with extremely flexible hours to pursue acting and auditions and such, and this job came about directly because of all the free work I’ve done with these folks.

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