Sunday, November 21, 2010

You Kill Me

I was 20 minutes late when I arrived at the theatre. It was a small joint carved out of an old retail space and the metal door squeaked loudly as I pulled it open. Inside, seven latecomers and an usher turned and stared disapprovingly. About twenty feet in front of us, the first performer was already on stage. The producer of this particular "spoken word" show (who I'd told I was going to be late) grabbed my arm and whispered my instructions. When the current performer finished, I was to scurry down the aisle past the MC and drop into my seat in the front row. I complied. Once there, I discreetly opened the program and discovered that I was the last performer on the bill. My heart sank.

As anybody in show business can tell you, the last performer is the one the producer is hoping will “bring it home.” It’s sort of the star spot and the pressure is on to “kill.” I began to feel a little anxious. The piece I was planning to read was very personal and didn’t feel like a real “killer.” Plus, I’d had a busy week and felt a little under-rehearsed. I tried to focus on the show. It was a great line-up with no stinkers. Several of the pieces were awesome; full of originality and self-exposure. Finally, only one piece remained before mine. The writer-performer, who was blessed with a ton of quirky charm, started reading his offbeat and stylized story. The guy was hilarious. Suddenly, the audience seemed to consist entirely of his personal fan club. He was “killing.” I was fucked.

I originally got into the spoken word circuit because several readers of this blog suggested that I submit one of my columns to “Sit ‘N Spin;” one the granddaddy shows on the spoken word circuit. Since it began 10 years ago, SNS has sort of become a rowdy clubhouse for some of the craziest, funniest people in L.A. The shows are always edgy, honest and funny as hell. The audience is about 90% comedy writers and stand-ups. They’re super smart – which is great because you can do really complex, subtle stuff and they’ll get it. They’re also a tough crowd, so you have to bring your best game. They don’t give out a lot of pity laughs at Sit ‘N Spin.

The first time I read at SNS, my piece was okay. I maimed, but I didn’t kill. Then a couple of months later, I got a call from the producer. Some bastard had cancelled at the last minute. Could I step in on very short notice? The timing was perfect. I’d just finished a piece about a rotten experience I’d had “speed dating” that I thought was a scream. The night of the show, the comedy Jesus was with me and I killed. Since then I’ve performed many times at SNS. Some nights I’ve slayed them. Some nights, I’ve left a small stain on the stage. But no matter what happens during the show, everybody always goes out to a bar afterward where we all get drunk and tell each other how hilarious we were. It’s one of the most fun things I’ve ever done in my life and I treasure my SNS family. They’re the best.

This however was not the Sit ‘N Spin show. I didn’t know this crowd. As I sat watching the quirky guy rack up his 800th laugh, I began to feel queasy about my piece. It was about acute personal desperation - a subject I am very knowledgeable about. It had seemed sort of funny before. Maybe I should put back those two jokes I’d cut out. My mouth felt a little dry.

Then, a little nugget of hard-earned wisdom dropped into place with a hard clink. It was too late to worry about it. The piece was what it was. All I could do was man up and tell the story I’d come here to tell. The MC gave me a gracious introduction. I strolled to the music stand. I looked up at the crowd and smiled.

A spoken word show is not quite stand-up comedy. It’s not quite NPR. It’s not quite theatre. It’s somebody’s story told to a crowd of strangers. Somehow, if you manage to give them the perfect amount of cleverly-observed details mixed in with a healthy dose of blistering truth, they’ll love you. They’ll laugh or they’ll listen with a soundless intensity that can make your skin tingle. The most successful performers on this circuit are the ones who manage to scare you a little while making you pee your pants laughing. The only way you can score in this arena is to be utterly yourself. Nothing less.

Lights in my eyes. My piece on the music stand in front of me. I take a deep breath and look up. Smile. Talk. Set-up. Punch line. Joke. Boom! A nice healthy laugh. We’re off to a great start. They like me. Big Smile. The next joke is more personal. It lands. Apparently, it’s my night. Making a long story short…I killed. Not only did I kill, I was a killing machine. It was a comedy bloodbath.

I wish I could tell you that I “kill” every time I read, but I don’t. It’s one of the small miracles of show business -- those nights when it all comes together; when you can do no wrong. It’s ten minutes of comedy ecstasy. It’s better than heroin and twice as addictive. It feels better than anything you’ve ever done. Laughter fixes people. Always has. Always will.

So, if you happen to be free tonight, I’m performing in a yet another spoken word show at the Road Theatre. I’m reading that story about speed dating. Stop by. I can't promise that I'll kill, but I'm definitely going for attempted murder.

Fundraiser / Spoken Word Show
MELT IN YOUR MOUTH
Monday, November 22
8 PM
The Road Theatre
5108 Lankershim Blvd.
North Hollywood, CA 91601
Suggested Donation: $20.00
818 761 8838

Copyright 2010 Quitcher-Bitchyn Entertainment, Inc.

David Dean Bottrell is an actor (“Boston Legal”) and screenwriter (“Kingdom Come”) who writes a weekly blog about being strangely middle-class in Hollywood at www.partsandlabor.tv

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Don’t Clap For Me, Argentina!

The first time I ever appeared on stage was in a high school play. I was at the time, a nerdy, nervous 15 year-old with bad skin who had only auditioned because of a terrible crush I had on a fellow cast member. As our opening night performance neared its end, I felt hugely relieved just to have just gotten through it without forgetting any of my lines. Finally, the last bit of dialogue was uttered and the stage lights blacked-out. As rehearsed, we scurried into our positions for the curtain call. Suddenly, the lights snapped back on and for the first time that evening I found myself face-to-face with the audience. I’d been told by my drama teacher to ignore the audience during the play, but now we were acknowledging them. We were looking right at them. And they were looking back at us and clapping. I suddenly felt flushed with embarrassment. I didn't think I'd been terribly good in the play and felt I had no right to be accepting this applause.

After the show, my family and a few of my geeky friends said many flattering and totally untrue things about my performance. I nodded and mumbled my "thank you’s," but it was awkard. I wanted to believe what they were saying, but knew in my heart they were lying just to be nice. Then, as I was climbing into my family’s battered Impala, an extremely shy girl from my Algebra class rushed up and slipped me a note. I stuck it in my pocket and didn’t remember to read it until late that night. In the note, she said that I was very good in the play and had “real talent.” I must have re-read that note fifty times before I went to bed that night. It thrilled me to my core; mostly because it had come from someone who was basically a stranger. To my 15 year-old ego, it was the equivalent of a rave review in the New York Times. As I drifted off to sleep, the words “real talent” rang in my ears like wedding bells. Maybe I would audition for the next play.

I did audition for the next play. And the one after that. High school plays became college plays. College plays turned into summer stock. Summer stock evolved into high-prestige, low paying New York theatre. Throughout this journey one thing remained constant: my fear of curtain calls and my inability to accept anyone’s praise. Acting in itself, felt safe. While performing, I had the protection of pretending to be a character. However, once the show was over, it was just plain old me standing up there. I knew I was supposed to enjoy this moment, but it always felt like somebody had just yanked open the shower curtain at a particularly inopportune moment.

I marveled at the actors who could embrace the crowd. I once worked with a Tony-Winner who used to throw up her arms like Eva Peron and acknowledge the cheers of her fans. Once when I was a young actor, I ducked out the back of a theater to avoid seeing friends who’d come to see me. I felt like the show hadn’t gone well and couldn’t bear the idea of forcing them to say nice (and untrue) things to me. They were, of course, extremely pissed-off since they had waited to say hello to me and let me know about it the next day. It was the last time I made that mistake. With performance comes responsibility.

For years, I wondered if my fear of face-to-face praise was rooted in my religious upbringing. Proverbs 16:18 (“Pride goeth before a fall”) is a little gem that has haunted me my entire life; the general idea being that God only favors those who never acknowledge their talents or successes; only their failures and shortcomings. In the Kentucky of my youth, the one thing you never wanted to be accused of was being “too big for your britches.” This was a fate worse than death; a slow execution by ridicule.

Lest you get the wrong idea, I’m not actually opposed to praise. I like it. Frankly, I need it. Being a creative artist requires guts and often the only reason I can stick my neck out again is because the last time I did it somebody was kind enough to say “Good job, David.”

I wish I could say that this issue has resolved itself over time, but sadly, it hasn't. Last week, I appeared on a TV show and received many more compliments than I'd expected. Although part of me was delighted that all these people took the time to call or post a comment on my Facebook page, I was so also slightly mortified. My new manager sent me a lovely email that (as opposed to being gushy) was smart and observant. I read it proudly and then instantly thought to myself “Well, she’s my manager. What else could she say? That I sucked?” So, perhaps there might be a little work yet to be done on this issue.

At the risk of sounding egotistical, I actually do believe I have "real" talent. When given the chance to work, I take it seriously and try to deliver. Do I deserve a little applause? Of course, I do. We all do. Many of us creative types grow up hovering on the fringe of things; the observer along for the ride. When we discover that all of that stored-up information can be crafted into some kind of art, it’s a revelation. Suddenly, out of nowhere, we’re the class clown. The girl who can sing. The ballsy truth-teller. It’s a little taste of the most seductive idea on the planet: that people can transform themselves. No wonder people like to praise artists - We perpetuate the idea that the audience too can change.

Performance is a comfortable coat. It’s warm and it keeps out the elements. Having to hang it up and face your fans on their terms is, for many of us, a bit awkward and unsettling. But being a performer also means being willing to be "seen" - thoroughly, truthfully, warts and all. That's not always an easy thing to do, but it's necessary; especially if you want to improve your game. I know I'm not alone in my phobia. There are plenty like me. It's ironic that so many artists, who took this path because of a deep desire to be acknowledged for their talent, try to avoid experiencing it. Take a bow, Hollywood. You've earned it.

Copyright 2010 Quitcher-Bitchyn Entertainment, Inc.

David Dean Bottrell is an actor (“Boston Legal”) and screenwriter (“Kingdom Come”) who writes a weekly blog about being strangely middle-class in Hollywood at http://www.partsandlabor.tv/

Sunday, November 7, 2010

As Seen on TV

About a year ago, I came out of “theatrical" retirement to act in a play here in Los Angeles. During the run I was interviewed by a local arts reporter who asked which medium I like better, theatre or TV and why. It was an easy question to answer “Theatre," I said. "Because I can do it without ever having to watch it.”

Contrary to popular belief, not all actors are in love with their own images. When I’m acting on stage, I get to flatter myself that not only is the acting going well, but that I also look good doing it. Plus there is the instant gratification quotient. If the ticket buyers laugh, I'm funny. If they're are absolutely silent, I'm compelling. If they're coughing a lot and dropping their programs, I suck.

I also genuinely like working for a camera, but it’s a very different beast. Since there's no audience, your focus is entirely on creating the most truthful, intimate scene possible with just the other actors involved. The camera gets nice and close to the action and trick to it is to remember that it’s not there to judge you, but to simply record the proceedings. It can be a wonderful experience, especially with a good director at the helm.

However, unlike stage acting, where you have a great deal of personal control over your work, in TV and film you ultimately have none. In the end, your performance will be constructed in the editing room and all decisions as to which takes to use will be made by the director and editor. As any working actor can tell you, some takes are better than others and it can be a little jarring when you discover that some of your less favorite ones have been used to create the performance the audience will finally see. Sometimes, when I see myself on screen, I want to scream, hide my head between my knees and withdraw from both SAG and AFTRA. Other times, I’m pleased and often wonder if my ass was saved by a smart, talented editor.

A few years ago, I was called to an editing bay to assist a friend of mine who had directed a small feature and had experienced terrible problems with one of his actors. Not having been present during the shooting, I can’t say what went wrong, but the actor seemed to trying awfully hard to be quirky and adorable (and was instead coming off as twitchy and delusional). Slowly we sorted through his takes, looking for the ones where he seemed a little calmer. We added a lot of cut-aways” to his co-star and by the end of the day, his big scene was clicking and the actor seemed surprisingly funny and charming. My advice: If you end up liking your performance, don’t forget to thank the director and the editor.

My other problem with TV and film work is sort of an embarrassing one. I know I’m a character actor, but there is still a small part of me that expects to look like James Franco on camera. That’s yet to happen, but hope springs eternal. Most of the time, I’m okay with my appearance, but occasionally a shot will flash up on screen and I’ll be completely mortified by what I see. Is that really how I look? Is my voice that irritating? Is my posture that bad? And look at those bags under my eyes!!

Obviously, all these problems could be avoided by simply never watching any of the camera work I do. There’s no law that says I have to watch. Technically, when the scene is finished shooting, my job is done. My problem is that part of what has always driven me to be an artist is a desire to get better at my job. And I can’t get better if I don’t take a look at the work once in a while.

Fortunately, I've learned a few tricks over the years to lessen the horror. The first is to, if at all possible, have at least one glass of wine beforehand and to avoid watching my work when there is someone else in the room. The second is to watch it again at some later date, since the first time is always (without exception) going to be traumatic. Don't get me wrong. I actually love acting and I’m proud that I have a job that allows me to entertain people, but it’s also a job that can sometimes leave me feeling a little vulnerable or embarrassed – sort of like being caught romping around in your Halloween costume on Easter.

About a year ago, I watched Johnny Depp being interviewed on the David Letterman show. He is one of my favorite actors of all time and I particularly like the fact that he is a fellow Kentuckian. I’d never actually seen him interviewed other than on press junkets where he’s plugging a film. Assuming what he said was true, it was sort of fascinating to find out that he basically protects himself from the pressures of Hollywood by (A.) Not living here. (B.) Only watching films made during Hollywood’s Golden Era in the 30s and 40s and (C.) Never watching his own films. Letterman seemed suspicious and questioned him as to why he had chosen to be a movie star if he didn’t like watching his films. His reply was interesting. “I love everything about filmmaking. I love the personalities; the process of it. I just don’t like seeing myself up on screen. It creeps me out. I mean…that’s ‘me’ up there.” His answer seemed genuine and it made me like him even more. How nice to discover that Johnny and I have more in common than just stunningly high cheek bones and a rustic place of birth.

Copyright 2010 Quitcher-Bitchyn Entertainment, Inc.

And in keeping with the theme of this entry… I've got a very fun cameo role on “Castle” Monday, Nov. 8th, 10 pm EST /9 pm Central on ABC. I’ll be home drunk, so don’t call.

David Dean Bottrell is an actor (“Boston Legal”) and screenwriter (“Kingdom Come”) who writes a weekly blog about being strangely middle-class in Hollywood at www.partsandlabor.tv

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Star Baby!

I was anxiously looking over my bills when the phone rang. Someone was calling me via their cell phone and it was a very bad connection. “David, it’s Ogger,” a friendly, but very scratchy voice said. “Hi!” I replied, not knowing who I was talking to. “Gotta a client who needs some coaching. She’s right here. Part of a competition. Have her call you?” Clearly, whoever “Ogger” was, he was a busy man who only spoke in sentence fragments. “Sure!” I replied as I stared at my unpaid Am-Ex bill. “Have her call me!” Then “Ogger” finished by saying, “She’s the most adorable 11 year-old you’ll ever meet.”

Had “Ogger’s” cell phone connection not broken, I probably would have told him that I don’t coach children. It’s not that I don’t like children. I do. Very much, in fact. But children in show business are a different breed. More specifically, their parents are. In my experience, there is nothing scarier, or more disturbing than a parent who thinks their child has talent.

A day or two passed before a lovely, polite woman with a West Indies accent named Bernice called. She was the mother of Ariel, who was in need of some dramatic coaching on a couple of monologues she had prepared for an international children’s talent competition about to be held here in Burbank, California. Bernice, Ariel and her little sister, Tihara had travelled all the way from their home just outside London to participate in the competition. Was I free to work with Ariel tomorrow?

I decided the best way to get out of this was to price myself out of the running, so I took my usual hourly coaching rate (the one I charge for adults) and doubled it. Bernice thought that was fine, asked to book two hours of my time and inquired as to what time they should arrive.

The following day, Bernice, Ariel and baby Tihara (a stocky three-year old) showed up at my door. They were very apologetic about being only a few minutes late and explained that they were traveling around Los Angeles via taxi. Apparently, Bernice didn’t drive. I instantly felt bad for them since commuting via taxi in L.A. meant they were spending a small fortune. Once we were settled in, Bernice explained that Ariel was representing Great Britain in every category of this competition (Singing, Dancing, Acting and Spokesmodel). My job was to spruce up her monologues, of which she had four (comedic, dramatic, character & contestant’s choice). Curious about the competition, I asked a few questions. Bernice began to explain the rules and regulations of this prestigious event.

Apparently, there was an initial fee to apply, followed by an processing fee, followed by an acceptance fee which then put you in the same breathing space as many powerful agents, casting directors and talent executives – all of whom were desperately looking for the next big child star. However, if you wanted them to actually watch your child perform, there were more fees to be paid. In fact, every category had a fee. Plus, if you wanted your child to have more than 60 seconds in front of the judges, you had to pay for that time as well. It was a total racket. My heart went out to Bernice who was beaming with pride that her daughter was about to be seen by so many big time Hollywood star-makers.

I glanced over at Ariel. She was a radiant little girl, virtually bursting with enthusiasm. I asked her if she was ready to start. She was. Ariel tore into first monologue with fierce energy and lots of hand gestures. Between the speed she was going and her British accent, I only understood about a third of it. Since this was not a cheerleading competition, I tried to gradually reduce the number of hand gestures someone had clearly taught her and suggested that she might start thinking of each of her monologues as more of a story that she was telling to the audience. Ariel, in addition to being adorably cute, was extremely smart, and I could see her excitement rise each time she grasped one of the ideas I offered her. Every time Ariel make an improvement, Bernice who was seated beside me, would quickly scribble down a few notes about what I had said. While watching her daughter, Bernice would sometimes unconsciously roll her lips in and bite them to contain her joy. Tihara, meanwhile, had gotten a little bored and was busy destroying a few of my magazines.

Despite my offering, Ariel never wanted to take a break. She loved performing. Finally she launched into her fourth monologue which sounded vaguely familiar. I then realized that Ariel was playing legendary stripper Gypsy Rose Lee from the musical “Gypsy.” After she finished, I felt compelled to ask if mother or daughter was familiar with the Ms. Lee or the musical. They were not and had found the monologue on the internet and thought it was a good match for Ariel. “Can you tell me please…What is this ‘Burlesque?’” asked Bernice in her lovely Jamaican accent. I cleared my throat. “Well, Bernice…” I began, “It was a form of live entertainment where comedians told jokes to the audience and then women came out… and sort of danced to the music while removing their clothes.” Bernice’s face went blank. So did mine when I saw over her shoulder that Tihara was about to pull one my plants down on her head – which she did.

Once Tihara stopped crying and the mess was cleaned up, I assured Bernice that “Gypsy,” the character her daughter would be playing, had revolutionized the Burlesque industry by not taking her clothes off, but instead performing behind large feathered fans, etc. Bernice looked relieved. I told her that the material was not considered racy here in the States and would be fine for the competition. Secretly, I wondered how many ambitious little girls would be playing strippers, junkies or prostitutes in the competition tomorrow.

Over all, Ariel was a pro. Not only was she talented, but she was very charming to watch. When I asked her to perform all four of her monologues back-to-back at the end of the session, she didn’t forget a single note I had given her. The child was an entertainment machine. It was time for Bernice to pay me. As she counted out the bills into my hand, I felt horribly guilty. These sweet people were clearly being taken for a ride by the event promoters and part of me wanted to hand the money back to Bernice. Bernice, however was delighted with what I’d been able to achieve with Ariel in such a short time. “You are so much better than her teacher in New York?” “New York?” I inquired. I then learned that for the last two years, Bernice and Ariel had been flying from London to New York once a month so Ariel could have a short lesson with an acclaimed children’s acting teacher there. Suddenly, I didn’t feel so bad. I folded the bills and tucked them into my pocket. “I’m sure Ariel is going to dazzle them tomorrow,” I said. I shook Ariel’s hand and reminded her that the most important thing she could do tomorrow was to not worry about the judges or any of the other contestants and to have a great time! “You’re very good, Ariel,” I said, “And no matter what happens tomorrow, you’ll always be very good.” She beamed and thanked me for my help.

Two days later, I got a call from Bernice. Ariel had gotten second place in the singing competition and “honorable mention” in the acting division. Plus she had been approached by two agents and a manager. Bernice nervously asked if I knew anything about them. I didn’t. I could hear the anxiety in her voice. I told her that all she had to do was go to these meetings and see what they had to say. I told her to ask lots of questions and not be shy. I also urged her to particularly ask about any and all financial arrangements. “Oh…okay,” she said quietly. I heard a little scratching noise as she added that piece of advice to her ever-expanding notes. I suddenly felt bad for Bernice. Reality was beginning to set in. I suspected that the dream of Ariel making it big in Hollywood was starting to look awfully expensive and complicated. I also knew it was her unwavering love for her daughter that had taken them this far. “All she wants to do is perform in front of people, Bernice,” I offered. “She can do that anywhere. She has her whole life in front of her.” “I guess you’re right,” answered Bernice tentatively and sighed. “We’ll go. We’ll see what they say. Right?” “Right,” I answered. Then there was a small crash in the background and Bernice had to go. Her younger daughter, Tihara (who I suspect might have a big career ahead of her in women’s wrestling) had just knocked over a lamp in their hotel room.

Copyright 2010 Quitcher-Bitchyn Entertainment, Inc.

David Dean Bottrell is an actor (“Boston Legal”) and screenwriter (“Kingdom Come”) who writes a weekly blog about being strangely middle-class in Hollywood at http://www.partsandlabor.tv/


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Saturday, October 23, 2010

You Don't Have to Live Like a Refugee

Once when I was a young actor in New York, a casting director recommended me to an agent. I was very excited. The agent was well established and had a nice office. I felt sure that if I could convince her to represent me, I’d be well on my way to stardom. I was maybe 22 years old at the time and had very little experience with the “business” side of show business. At that tender age, I didn’t know how to recognize the first signs of trouble. Like for instance when I was kept waiting for 40 minutes in a waiting area directly across from the agent’s office. Her door was open and I could clearly see she was cleaning out her purse and occasionally staring out the window for a few minutes at a time. Every time her assistant alerted her that she had an incoming call, the agent would simply say “Take a message.” A couple of times the assistant glanced at me with a look that, in hindsight, was probably her way of trying to warn me that if I valued my dignity, I should leave now. Finally, I was summoned in.

The agent glanced over my resume. “You were in ‘The Rimers of Eldritch?’” she asked. “Yes!” I replied enthusiastically. She frowned. “I don’t remember you.” “Oh,” I said, a little hurt. “Actually, I was one of the leads.” “Uh huh,” she replied sullenly. Her eyes returned to my resume where she could find nothing that interested her. Finally, she looked up at me with a resentful glare. “Look, “she said bitterly, “I go to the theatre six nights a week and I only represent people that I have a very special feeling about. And frankly, I don’t have that feeling about you.” I was stunned by her frankness. “Oh, okay,” I said awkwardly and started to stand. “Well, thanks for seeing me…” “Wait!” she bellowed, clearly irritated by my thoughtless interruption. “Have you got a monologue? Close the door and do it for me.”

Being young and desperate for an agent, I closed the door and performed my monologue for her. When I finished, she stared silently at me with glassy eyes. Thirty seconds passed. Finally, I cleared my throat. “I’m done,” I said cautiously. “So, you’re good,” she said in a voice as flat as paper. “Does that mean I should represent you?” Slowly, I began backing toward the door. “It’s okay. Really! You don’t have to represent me.” “Sit down!” she commanded. I sat down. “I could if I wanted to…” she said. “You could what?” I asked. “I could represent you, without having that ‘special feeling’…” This time, my innate human instinct for survival kicked in and I managed to escape, all the while thanking her repeatedly for her time and swearing on my grandmother’s grave that I would “be in touch.”

The following week, an ambulance was called by her coworkers and the agent was removed from her office and taken to the local psyche ward where she spent the next few weeks. This was my first experience with "show business crazy."

Nobody truly knows whether show business attracts crazy people or simply takes fairly normal people and makes them crazy. I know that crazy happens in every profession, but the difference is that in my business it often goes unaddressed for years at a time. If the crazy person is a star who is making heaps of money, you can bet that there will be at least one person (if not many) whose job it is to clean up the messes and spin the nutty behavior as boring run-of-the-mill eccentricity. But once your client is found hiding in the bushes without their teeth or hurling racial slurs on YouTube, crazy gets a little hard to sell. Sadly, there are sometimes drug or alcohol problems involved. If not addressed, truly nutty behavior eventually overwhelms any and all goodwill the celebrity may have amassed over their careers. Just this week, MegaMess Mel Gibson (who never met a minority group he didn’t loathe) was yanked from a tiny cameo role in “Hangover 3” because cast and crew members refused to work with him.

But Hollywood Crazy reared its head in an even more spectacular way on Friday when it was announced that veteran character actor Randy Quaid and his wife, Evi are now seeking refugee status in Canada. The Quaids were arrested Thursday in Vancouver after police responded to an "incident" on a street corner. Given the couple's long and loony history, one can only guess what went down. Mr. Quaid, brother of the wonderfully-sane Dennis Quaid and a once-terrific actor in his own right, has a resume that includes many notable films like “The Last Picture Show,” “Paper Moon,” “The Last Detail,” “Midnight Express,” “National Lampoon’s Vacation,” “Brokeback Mountain” and the cult favorite “Kingpin.” He also holds the almost-unheard-of distinction of being one of the few actors ever thrown out of the stage actors union, Actors Equity for disruptive and violent behavior toward his fellow cast members in 2007.

And what were the Quaids doing in Canada? It might have something to do with the fact that they are currently wanted on $500,000 bench warrants for allegedly squatting in their former home in California back in September (and doing $5,000 worth of damage to the property). This follows walking out on a $10,000 bill at a luxury hotel in Santa Barbara, resisting arrest and ducking their subsequent court dates. When they finally did appear before the judge, Randy, for reasons no one could quite explain, brought the Golden Globe Award he won for playing former President Lyndon Johnson with him.

When asked by Canadian authorities why they were seeking asylum, the Quaids replied that they feared that a group of “Star Whackers,” (a shadowy group of assassins the Quaids claim are responsible for the “murders” of Heath Ledger and David Carradine), were now after them. Evi Quaid told the CBC that "Randy has known eight close friends murdered in odd, strange manners ... We feel that we're next.”

I suspect that what’s next for the Quaids is a very, very long stretch of unemployment. This recent string on insanity is nothing new for Mr. and Mrs. Quaid. 15 years ago, I knew a couple of people involved in a film project the Quaids managed to sell to a major Hollywood producer. The pitch (called “The Debtors”) was about a group of people who checked into luxury hotels and used credit cards to purchase shit they couldn’t pay for. Sound familiar? Gradually, Evi took over the writing of the script and eventually assumed the duties of the director as well; occasionally directing in the nude. When a group of extras filled a suit, claiming that their personal clothing was ruined in a scene where fake semen was sprayed on the crowd, the film’s investors removed the Quaids from the project. This, however, didn’t stop the couple from stealing the original prints and taking them to Canada where they re-edited the film, ignored the American “cease and desist” orders and managed to show the film in the Toronto Film Festival under a different name. God bless them. The Quaids have enjoyed a long run as one of Hollywood’s scarier running jokes, but I think that ride is over now. Never fear. This is show business. Someone will soon arrive to take their place.

Several years after the incident with the agent that I referred to earlier, I saw her at a party. I valiantly tried to avoid her, but she eventually cornered me at the bar. “I know you from somewhere,” she said. I had no ax to grind with this woman so I chose my words carefully, saying we had “met once” when she was at her former agency. I saw a flicker of recognition in her eyes, but she didn’t flinch. She apologized. She looked great, having lost easily 20 pounds and she no longer had the look of a haggard slaughterhouse employee. She was again working in the industry, but not as an agent. “It wasn’t for me,” she said. I congratulated her. It was (is) nice to be reminded that show business is filled with human beings; all of us a little nuts; but most of us capable of bouncing back with a little care and reevaluation. Good luck, Randy and Evi. And goodluck, Canada.

Copyright 2010 Quitcher-Bitchyn Entertainment, Inc.

David Dean Bottrell is an actor (“Boston Legal”) and screenwriter (“Kingdom Come”) who writes a weekly blog about being strangely middle-class in Hollywood at http://www.partsandlabor.tv/

Monday, October 18, 2010

Farewell Mrs. Clever

Barbara Billingsley (1915-2010)

I was very new to Southern California in 1993. In fact, I wasn’t even sure what I was doing here. In theory I’d come here to work as a writer, but so far nothing much had happened on that front. Just as I was about to give up hope, a play I’d written and had some success with in New York was scooped up by an independent L.A. theatre producer who wanted to stage it at a gorgeous venue in West Hollywood. I suddenly felt better. At least, I had a reason to stay.

I’d recently made connection with a director whose work I admired from New York. He was also a recent transplant to L.A. and was not particularly busy. With Ken onboard, I felt like the show was in good hands. By February, most of the play had been cast. However, we still hadn’t found an actress for the peach role of the nutty, born-again aunt who tries to run everyone’s life, particularly her ne’er-do-well son’s, by using literal advice taken straight from her Bible.

Our producer (an L.A. theatre veteran) knew that West Coast audiences rather like seeing exhumed stars from yesteryear and started applying serious pressure for us to cast a celebrity in the role. I had no problem with that idea, except that we couldn’t get any name actor’s agent to return our calls. The play paid very little; but it was a nice showcase for a comic actress. Finally, the producer convinced us to audition her old friend, Barbara Billingsley.

Like everybody else of my generation, I remembered Ms. Billingsley as “June Cleaver” the supernaturally perfect mother from the classic TV sit-com “Leave it to Beaver.” The character of “June” was iconic and had somehow created the illusion that American housewives everywhere prepared dinner and vacuumed the house wearing high heels and pearls. The original run of “Leave it to Beaver” was a bit before my time, but the reruns were on five days a week when I was a kid. I knew Ms. Billingsley's work well. I adored her, but was having a hard time envisioning her as a tough as nails Southern matriarch. Under heavy pressure from our producer we agreed to audition her the following week. Then the rains came.

This was my first experience with the legendary El Nino rains that sweep through Southern California every few years. I had never seen anything like it. They felt ominous and (for lack of a better word) “Biblical.” For reasons, I don’t really remember, it was decided that instead of asking Barbara to drive in during the storm, the director, my co-writer and I would drive out to her home in Malibu to audition her in the comfort of her own home.

The morning of the audition it was pouring. There was a nasty wind whipping up and the driving conditions were terrible. As we snaked along the PCH, we twice encountered fresh rock slides that had only recently come hurdling down the hillside. Twice, we considered turning back, but decided that meeting Beaver’s mother was a once in a lifetime opportunity. It took some doing. We were almost 30 minutes late by the time we finally located Barbara’s home which literally sat on the edge of the Pacific Ocean.

Unable to find a convenient space, we were forced to park some distance away and just as we started trekking back to her house, the wind whipped up; blowing the rain at an almost horizontal angle. By the time we reached Barbara’s front door, we were all soaked. At this point, I no longer wanted to be in L.A. I was a wet, angry New Yorker who felt utterly jerked around. The director rang the bell and a few seconds later, the door opened. And there stood June Cleaver.

Barbara, who must have been in her seventies at the time, looked gorgeous. Tall, trim and beautifully coiffed, she was dressed in a stylishly coordinated sweater and slacks. And although she wasn’t wearing pearls, she was wearing a necklace that looked like pearls. A look of surprise swept over her face when she saw us. It was as if she had been utterly unaware that it was raining outside. “Oh my goodness!” she gushed, “Come in this minute and get out of those wet things! I’ve made some muffins.”

The next hour was somewhat surreal. To say that Ms. Billingsley was a warm and gracious hostess would be a huge understatement. Hanging our coats by the fire, she served us coffee and warm muffins right out of the oven and gave us a short tour of her lovely beach front home where she had lived since her “Beaver” days. Post-“Beaver” she had steered clear of acting for many years and chosen to focus on life with her husband who had been a successful attorney. It was only after his death that she had begun to inch back into acting, beginning with her brilliantly hilarious turn as the “jive-speaking” translator in the classic movie “Airplane.”

Finally we settled into Barbara’s cozy living room. Since I was going to be playing the role of her son, it only made sense that I would read with her. It didn’t go terribly well. Barbara was not great at accents and the play took place in a mythical southern town. Plus, her timing seemed a bit off and most of the jokes weren’t landing. The director praised her first effort, then made a few suggestions. Barbara was very game, but her second reading wasn't much different. Not wanting to rush to judgment, we read an additional scene from later in the play, but it failed to take flight either. It was no reflection on Barbara. Performer and material simply didn't match. After a little more chit chat, we gathered up our wet coats, telling Ms. Billingsley that we had agreed to audition one more actress that day (a total lie) and that we would be in touch. I don’t think we fooled her for a second, but she couldn’t have been more generous and lovely.

On the drive back, nobody said anything about the audition for a while. Instead we oddly started talking about our mothers and how they had stacked up against the legendary “June Cleaver.” Finally, Ken, the director sighed. “Well, I had hoped that would work out.” I agreed. But Barbara was not really a theatre actress by trade or experience and it seemed like we wouldn’t have been doing her (or ourselves) any favors by casting her.

Eventually, we offered the role to a veteran Broadway character actress who could wrench a laugh out of even the grumpiest of audiences. Barbara came to see the play and stayed afterward to speak to every single member of the cast (including the actress we chose over her). Once again, I was struck by her grace and generosity. Everyone was thrilled to meet her. She was particularly kind to me and had nothing but high praise for the script. It was my first time meeting someone whose image had flickered across the TV screen for my entire childhood. I’ve since had this experience a few times (most recently with William Shatner). It’s one of the perks of living and working in Hollywood, and for me it’s never less than thrilling. As a lonely kid, these people represented a world of possibility that was just on the other side of my TV screen. To have Captain Kirk clap me on the back and say “Welcome Aboard” or have Mrs. Cleaver offer me warm muffins on a rainy day, are moments I can’t help but feel extraordinarily grateful for.

Copyright 2010 Quitcher-Bitchyn Entertainment, Inc.

David Dean Bottrell is an actor (“Boston Legal”) and screenwriter (“Kingdom Come”) who writes a weekly blog about being strangely middle-class in Hollywood at http://www.partsandlabor.tv/


Monday, July 12, 2010

I'm good enough, I'm smart enough, and, doggonit, people like me!

Every once in a while, people in my business need a little pep talk. Over the past few years, I’ve given a fair amount of them via a mentoring program that I helped found a few years ago. Every few months, I seem to find myself seated across from some very talented young writer who feels like they are never going to catch a break and are looking for a little guidance.

I’m flattered to be asked. Mostly because it casts the illusion that I know what the hell I’m talking about. These sessions are relatively easy for me since the young people I’m seated across from, although very talented, are still somewhat unformed as artists. Anything could happen. But at this stage of the game, they have very little experience and don’t yet underrstand that your career shapes you and not the other way around. My pitch is always the same: Keep your eyes and ears open. And keep plugging. Eventually opportunity knocks and the adventure begins.

The more challenging pep talks are the ones that we “more established” people occasionally need to have with each other. I’ve recently been helping a friend of mine get a little perspective on a particularly challenging writing assignment. Believe it or not, the major task has not been so much giving him notes on his script as much as reminding him how talented he is and what excellent instincts he’s been blessed with. These things are surprisingly easy to forget.

Recently, I called a talent manager to recommend a young actor that I think could have a very good career ahead of her. During the conversation, the manager told me that she wasn’t interested in repping any “developmental talent” at this time. Then, quite surprisingly , she began to grill me about my own acting career. Had I had been seen for this movie? That guest shot? Thus and such pilot? When I answered “no,” to every question, she became sort of incensed. Out of the blue, she offered (demanded) to manage me.

A cloud of confusion swept over me. Here was an established, hard-working manager with good clients, who was asking to rep me. Without thinking, I blurted out, “Why the hell would you want to represent an unpopular middle-aged character actor?” There was a short, shocked silence on the other end of the line. “Is that how you see yourself?” the manager replied. I began to wonder if perhaps I was in need of a little attitude adjustment.

As luck would have it, I was scheduled to have dinner the next night with a good friend who writes for a highly successful TV show. He and I have known each other for a very long time. Over the years, we’ve seen each other through various career highs and lows, health scares, broken marriages and a easily a dozen other major life decisions. When he noticed that I kept deflecting his questions about how I was doing, he pinned me to the wall. I confessed that I was beginning to wonder if I might be suffering from a slight case of battle fatigue. Even seated opposite one of my oldest friends, I still didn’t feel like I had the right to complain.

After all, it wasn’t like I hadn’t booked any work in the last two years. I just hadn’t booked a ton of it. In fact, it seemed like the universe was conspiring to give me the absolute, bare minimum of employment needed to keep a roof over my head and my union dues paid. I had gotten oddly used to walking this tightrope month-by-month. Luxuries like sampling that new hot restaurant that everybody’s talking about, had sort of fallen by the wayside. The truth was that working in Hollywood had not been quite so glamorous lately.

Even as the words came out of my mouth, I felt like a whiner. Everybody knows the business is full of ups-and-downs and that even in the best of times, we have second thoughts and regrets. I knew my friend was a much better writer than the show he was working on, but he also has two small kids and a mortgage. When I told him about my experience with the manager, he stared flatly at me over his wine glass. “Let me get this straight,” he said. “You’ve got someone who’s established, hard-working, with good clients, who's offering to help you… And you said no?”

The next day, I took a quick inventory of all that I had going on in my professional life. I then thought about how much more I could handle. I then asked myself how much more I wanted. Then I picked up the phone. I now have a new manager who I adore. In the three weeks we’ve been working together, she’s been endlessly optimistic and energetic in her approach. On my end, I’ve done my best to pick up my pace, stay focused and remember that unlike my young protégées, I do have a track record that has not gone completely unnoticed.

Although the business is not always good to me, it’s always good for me; reminding me of the biggest lesson of all: To love the life you’ve chosen and press forward with some faith. Although you might not be in the spotlight this week, that doesn’t mean you’re invisible. Patience + perserverance = payoff.

Copyright 2010 Quitcher-Bitchyn Entertainment, Inc.

David Dean Bottrell is an actor (“Boston Legal”) and screenwriter (“Kingdom Come”) who writes a weekly blog about being strangely middle-class in Hollywood at
www.partsandlabor.tv
Follow me on Twitter: http://twitter.com/QuitcherBitchyn

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Our Next Guest

Oddly, I often get requests for interviews. Not from big deal newspapers or magazines, mind you. Mostly from websites and bloggers. I’m always sort of surprised to be asked since I’m not exactly a glamorous or notable person in the entertainment industry. I actually consider myself more of a “survivor” who’s had a few interesting jobs and occasionally rubbed elbows with the famous and powerful.

Interviews are always a little dicey since sometimes one’s off-the-cuff remarks can backfire. The first interview I ever gave was when I was a young actor doing a play in upstate New York. The play was a limited run and toward the end of the interview the reporter asked, “So what’s next for you?” Being a novice in the world of print media, I took it as a sincere question on his part, so I answered “Absolutely nothing” (which was the truth). I then launched into a short, heartfelt explanation of how I was hoping for another job, but not sure when or where it would come from. But alas, this was the life I’d chosen for myself and gosh, I hope it all worked out. Sadly, the reporter decided to use a few of those remarks in his article and, quoted out of context, I sounded like the most neurotic, self-involved jerk in the world. Lesson learned. The next time that question came up on a local talk show, I smiled coyly and said “There are a couple of things pending, but I’m not supposed to talk about them until they’re definite.” So for future reference, if you ever see me interviewed and I say anything like that, it actually means I don’t have a fucking thing going on.

My least favorite interviews are live TV interviews. I always have this horrible fear that I’m going to start a sentence and then have no idea how to finish it. The most bizarre TV interview I ever did happened shortly after I had been on “Boston Legal.” I was invited to appear on a cable talk show hosted by a 70’s TV star. The show, I was told, was the flagship of a new, soon-to-be-launched cable network geared toward people of retirement age. Despite the fact that there was no studio audience, I was instructed to act like there was one. Apparently, canned applause and a laugh track were cheaper than installing actual seats in the studio. My hostess was amazingly good (some might say disturbingly good) at working with our make-believe audience. At key moments during our interview, she would actually look out at the imaginary people, smile and say things like “Wasn’t he wonderful on that ‘Boston Legal?”

The most fun I ever had being interviewed was around the same time when I was asked to do a “radio tour.” I was delighted to find out that one can do a radio “tour” without leaving your house or even getting dressed. All that was required was that I be awake and ready to talk on the phone at 4:30 in the morning, so all the east coast stations could each grab an 8-minute interview with me during their morning “drive-time” shows. The point of the 3-hour tour was to talk to as many stations as possible; gradually working your way west, time zone-by-time zone. An engineer would break in between interviews and tell you the call letters and location of the next station, but that was all the information you got.

On the appointed morning, I parked myself at my desk, armed with a giant mug of coffee. Sure enough at 4:30 on the dot, the call came in. I, for one, am not very used to talking about myself before the sun comes up, but my first DJ was an aggressive, fast-talking New Yorker who was determined to wrench as many answers out of me as possible in the 8 minutes we had together. As my “tour” worked its way into the midwest, I noticed that I was suddenly talking to lots of “teams” of chatty “morning personalities” who seemed to really get a kick out of hanging out with each other. So much so, that they would occasionally forget that I was even on the line. Somewhere around Colorado, one interview began to blur into the next and serious déjà vu started setting in. By this time, I’d answered the question “So what was it like to work with Candice Bergin?” about seventeen times and I couldn’t remember which charming anecdote I’d told to whom.

As my “tour” moved over the Rockies, the character of the interviews began to change erratically from one station to the next. One minute I would be on with “Bobo and Meathead in the Morning” (where I was competing with air horns and whoopee cushions). The next I’d be on with some classical NPR station in the Pacific Northwest, speaking with a woman so calm she sounded like she might drift off to sleep at any moment. The one thing nobody had thought to mention was that the “tour” had no scheduled no bathroom break, so by the time we had reached the third hour, I was seriously considering putting my office trash can to use. Thankfully, it didn’t come to that.

Interestingly enough, my radio tour resulted in more fan mail than I received during the entire time I was actually on “Boston Legal.” One of my interviews was with a station in Lexington, Kentucky, about sixty miles from where my family lives. I had alerted them to be tuned in that particular morning, but panic struck when they discovered that for some reason the kitchen radio was not picking up the station. Desperate to not miss my voice on the airwaves, they camped out in their car (with the engine running) for the next two hours, armed with a cassette tape recorder, determined to not only hear my 8-minute interview, but record it for posterity. I ask you…How could I ever consider quitting show business when I've got fans like that?

Copyright 2010 Quitcher-Bitchyn Entertainment, Inc.

David Dean Bottrell is an actor (“Boston Legal”) and screenwriter (“Kingdom Come”) who writes a weekly blog about being strangely middle-class in Hollywood at
www.partsandlabor.tv

Shameless self-promotion:
http://daviddeanbottrell.blogspot.com/2010/04/thank-you-los-angeles-times.html

Monday, June 21, 2010

Maybe Tomorrow

There’s a project on my desk that I need to finish. It’s a good project. In fact, I think it might even be a great project, but after doing a couple weeks of work on it, I tucked it into a file on my computer and I haven’t touched it since. What's odd about that is that I'm really excited about it. So excited that I can’t seem to return to it. This has led me to thinking about the subject of procrastination. In fact, I’ve been meaning to write a blog post about on this subject for some time, but I keep putting it off. Ironic, no?

On my worst days, I can really beat myself up pretty viciously about this flaw in my character. I ask myself why I’m such a self-defeating wretch and have even been known to call myself mean names like “loser” and “coward.” After all, people who stall don't wind up with stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, now do they? But then, I have to pay attention to the fact that many of the most successful projects I’ve ever been involved with were the ones I put off until the last possible second.

Wondering if maybe there was a little method to my madness, I decided to go online and see what some of the great minds have had to say on the subject of procrastination…

“Anyone can do any amount of work, provided it isn't the work he is supposed to be doing at that moment.” -- Robert Benchley. This really spoke to me since the other day I managed to get an amazing amount of trivial bullshit done, while thinking about all the writing I needed to be doing. The “odds-and-ends” excuse always works amazingly well for me and I’d like to highly recommend it to anyone seeking to avoid important work that might actually further your goals. You see I would have worked on my script, had I not needed to check my Twitter account, return a few emails, call my agents, read the paper and do every piece of laundry in my house. Whew! Now that that’s out of the way, I can start writing… First thing tomorrow!

“We shall never have more time. We have, and always had, all the time there is.” This comes from Arnold Bennett, British novelist, playwright, critic, and essayist. Leave it to the British to come up with such a pithy way of shattering my favorite illusion -- That there is (and always will be) plenty of time. As anyone past the age of forty can tell you, time has an odd way of speeding up the longer you live. Contrary to popular belief, it’s not an unlimited resource and the big surprise is that if you’re going to spend it well, you better spend it wisely. In the words of self-help guru, M. Scott Peck: "Until you value your time, you will not do anything with it."

“I like work: it fascinates me. I can sit and look at it for hours.” – Jerome K. Jerome. Although I’m a little suspicious of anybody with the same first and last name, I did like this one. Believe it or not, I actually enjoy writing. But sometimes I like to tell myself that “thinking” about writing is an essential part of the process (which it isn’t). Only writing is writing.

Occasionally I justify stall tactics by assuring myself that at least the project is half-done, so that means I’m “working” on it. After all, it’s a great idea! So great that it will almost certainly finish itself. Unfortunately, the American humorist Will Rogers disagrees: "Even if you're on the right track - you'll get run over if you just sit there." But then there’s the issue of uncertainty. Can’t it wait until I have a clear vision of where I want to go with it? Not according to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr: "You don't have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step."

I was already feeling the noose tightening around my neck, when these last two quotes really did it for me. The first is an old proverb: "If and When were planted, and Nothing grew." Coming from a semi-agricultural background, that one sort of hit home. And finally this (from author Denis Waitley) which made me realize that everybody who tries to create something probably feels the same pressure: “Procrastination is the fear of success. People procrastinate because they are afraid of the success that they know will result if they move ahead now. Because success is heavy and carries a responsibility with it, it is much easier to procrastinate and live on the “someday I’ll” philosophy.”

So friends, as much as I’d like to keep finding worthy reasons to fart around, I actually do need to get back to work now. Well, maybe not right now. But after lunch for sure.

Copyright 2010 Quitcher-Bitchyn Entertainment, Inc.

David Dean Bottrell is an actor (“Boston Legal”) and screenwriter (“Kingdom Come”) who writes a weekly blog about being strangely middle-class in Hollywood at http://www.partsandlabor.tv/


Shameless self-promotion: http://daviddeanbottrell.blogspot.com/2010/04/thank-you-los-angeles-times.html

Monday, June 14, 2010

As Luck Would Have It

My best friend, Tom is a real estate agent. Although real estate and show business are vastly different industries, we are in agreement that both share one universal (though maddening) truth: Any idiot can be successful if they happen to be standing in the right place at the right time.

The subject of luck is something that gets talked about a lot in show business circles. We love it. We dream about it. We worship it. And we do all sorts of nutty things to try to lure it into our corner. The latest craze in L.A. has been “visioning,” where those looking for a break, spend valuable time imagining themselves being hit by a tsunami of success. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with imagining what it would be like to be hugely successful if that helps you build self-confidence, but luck in show business is largely earned.

The most legendary story of luck is attributed to Shirley MacLaine. A struggling chorus girl / understudy, she had just given notice that she was leaving the show, when she got the call that the leading lady had sprained her ankle and would not be able to perform that night. Shirley was under-rehearsed and nervous about going on, but had little choice but to bluff her way through. At one point, she had to do a dance number where she tossed her hat into the air and then caught it. She missed the hat and as she went chasing it across the stage, audibly muttered, “Shit!” which brought the house down. Shirley kept plugging and demonstrated to the audience a quality that would serve her well throughout her career – her willingness to be vulnerable and to put on a good show, no matter what. As luck would have it, a talent scout from one of the studios was seated in the audience. And the rest, as they say, is history.

When I look at my own less glamorous history in the business, I’m struck by how many times luck has played a part in the proceedings. I was once in a general meeting with a producer and for some odd reason, I wound up mentioning that I was from Kentucky. Two years later, his associate (who had also been in that meeting) was working for another company and called me up because her bosses were looking for a writer with some knowledge of Appalachia. That gig turned into the single most lucrative writing job I’ve ever had. I met my current agent at a mixer – a mixer that I almost didn’t go to because frankly I hate mixers. I recently booked an acting job because I happened to post a funny comment on Facebook. Ten minutes later, I received an email from a film producer who'd seen the comment, inquiring about my “availability.”

As much as we'd all like to crack the genetic code of luck, it can't be done. Although, I now do my best to go to more mixers, I can tell you that 99% of them lead to nothing except one more vodka tonic. In my experience, luck is attracted to a moving target; meaning you’re more likely to run into it if you’re out there pursuing your goals. Staying “out there” is the name of the game. And not everything that looks like luck, actually is. Every time I think, “This is it! This is the big one that’s going to change everything” – it never is. Almost every piece of luck I’ve had has come from some small, oddball occurrence; some totally unpredictable conversation or encounter that then led to an opportunity.

Over the past few years, a number of highly regarded institutions have done studies on luck and they’ve all pretty much come to the same conclusion. Luck is a numbers game and it favors the open-minded. Unfortunately, creative people are an impatient bunch and most of us want to get on the super highway to success and gun it. The problem with that approach is you may well speed past the very exit you were looking for. While the obsessed and inflexible types usually experience a lot of exhaustion and frustration, those who come at their goals with a sense of fun and adventure, tend to be more observant and seem to spot small opportunities everywhere.

It’s also good to keep in mind that a detour is not necessarily bad news. Those side streets frequently offer quirky, unique chances to show off your talent, gain experience and meet people who can become allies and or even employers somewhere down the line. For years, I refused to make any "lateral" moves. Every time I got a job, my attention was firmly focused making sure my next gig was a "better" job. I fell for the biggest fallacy in the business - that anyone's career path makes sense.

My luck improved vastly once I got back to what had attracted me to the business to begin with - simply working creatively with people who had entertaining, fun ideas. It's turned out to be an excellent policy that's served me well. Consistency is a good idea, but forcing your will on the universe is not. Creative people who actually enjoy the act of creating something are enormously attractive to the industry. In the words of a writer who never made a dime in Hollywood (a guy named Bill Shakespeare): “Fortune brings in some boats that are not steered.”

Copyright 2010 Quitcher-Bitchyn Entertainment, Inc.

David Dean Bottrell is an actor (“Boston Legal”) and screenwriter (“Kingdom Come”) who writes a weekly blog about being strangely middle-class in Hollywood at http://www.partsandlabor.tv/

Follow me on Twitter: http://twitter.com/QuitcherBitchyn

Monday, June 7, 2010

The Old and the Restless

Like a zillion other people, I tuned in a few weeks ago to watch the venerable Betty White host Saturday Night Live. Having grown up watching Betty, I was excited, but also a little concerned. I felt protective of her. She was, after all, eighty-eight years old and about to host a 90-minute live TV show. I just didn’t want to see her embarrass herself. Rumor had that she was only going to be in a couple of sketches and that a whole slew of female SNL alumni were being brought back to fill in the blanks. As it turned out, they could all have stayed home. Not only was Betty in every sketch, but she killed. It’s rare to see any SNL host (must less a host Betty’s age) step into so many different roles and inherently “get” the style of each sketch. It was one of the best editions of SNL I’d seen in years. It made me think about some of the other older performers I’ve worked with over the years.

Just last week, I was doing an episode of a sit com, when I noticed the name of a character actor I also remembered from my childhood on the “guest cast” list -- Jack Carter. I’d always thought he was funny, but he was no kid when I’d seen him on the Dean Martin Show many, many years ago. I was downstairs in the green room, when Jack arrived and I was instantly unnerved. He seemed extremely frail and I found myself rushing to the aid of the young P.A. whose job it was get him down the stairs and unto one of the sofas. As it is with most sit-coms, there’s a lot of sitting around, so I decided to hang out with Jack for a bit. I got him some food from the craft services table and settled into one of those uncomfortable chairs that green rooms always seem to have. Part of me was dying to ask a bunch of questions about some of the legendary performers he’d worked with, but I’ve found that not everybody likes to reminisce about times gone by. The TV in the green room was tuned into the Discovery Channel which led us to a conversation about Jack’s love of fishing. Then we got onto the subject of the French Open. An avid tennis fan, Jack confessed he had been staying up ‘til two in the morning to watch the semi-finals.

At one point, there was a lull in the conversation, and as I sat watching Alaskan fishermen hauling supernaturally huge crabs into their boat, I began to notice that Jack was mumbling a bit to himself. At first I was concerned. What he was saying didn’t seem to make much sense until I realized he was quietly running his lines for the scene he was about to rehearse. Occasionally, people involved with the show would stop by to “check in” on Jack; which he was very gracious about. “Yes, I’m still alive,” he replied pleasantly to one of the producers. Later in the day, when everyone was assembled on the sound stage for the run-through, it quickly became clear that none of us had anything to worry about. Although walking was a bit of a challenge for Jack, being funny was not. He was sharp as a tack and landed every joke like a champ. He’d even added a couple of bits and suggested a couple for the two young actors he was working with. “It’s funnier, this way. Trust me.” He was right. It was funnier.

A couple of years ago, when 80 year-old Cloris Leachman won her 12th Emmy, she was quoted as saying, “If you can keep yourself together, you can still work.” I suspect that luck also has a little to do with it. In truth, you don’t see a lot of older singers (and pretty much no older dancers) who can keep working because time is not terribly kind to the vocal chords or the knees. Acting, however, is a different beast. Acting is an art form that radiates from the imagination and the power of the imagination is an awesome thing to behold.

Many years ago, I was in a play with an older character actress named Georgia Southcotte, who took a tumble one day while en route to the theatre to do a matinee. When she arrived it was clear she’d pretty seriously injured her wrist, but she insisted on going on. An improvised sling was created and despite the fact she was clearly in a lot of pain, she was surprisingly spot-on in every scene. In fact, it was the best performance I’d seen her give in weeks. As soon as the curtain came down, she was whisked away to the emergency room where they discovered she’d broken her forearm. When I came back to the theater for the evening show, I was floored to see Georgia sitting in the green room with a cast on her arm; already in costume. Chipper as could be, she was sipping a cup of tea; ready for the evening show. When I asked her if she wouldn’t prefer to take the night off and let her understudy go on, she looked at me like I was insane. “Why on earth would I do that?” she replied with a slight hint of indignation in her voice.

As the years go by, and I slip deeper and deeper into middle age, I sometimes wonder about my future in this business. Given that the entertainment industry is ruled by the young, I know I’ll have fewer and fewer opportunities, but I remain hopeful. It’s enormously heartening to me to see older performers who can still deliver -- And deliver with a skill and precision that only time and experience could have taught them. I’ve never seen an older performer treated with anything less than enormous respect in a professional setting. I think even younger actors instinctively "get" that they are looking into the eyes of their future. Speaking for myself, as long as I can remember the lines, I’d like to keep going. Despite the fact that I tend to think of myself as being extremely young (35 at most), I’ve decided to take Cloris’ advice to heart, and do my best to “keep it together” for the long haul. I guess that means I need to quit typing now and go to the gym. Wish me luck.

Copyright 2010 Quitcher-Bitchyn Entertainment, Inc.

David Dean Bottrell is an actor (“Boston Legal”) and screenwriter (“Kingdom Come”) who writes a weekly blog about being strangely middle-class in Hollywood at
www.partsandlabor.tv

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Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Stunted

Last weekend, I met a young guy at a barbeque who had just relocated to L.A. When I asked him what had brought him here, he was a little vague at first, but eventually confessed that he was interested in possibly doing some stunt work. I wished him well. Being the bookish, indoorsy type, stunt work has always seemed about as appealing to me as working on a bomb squad. Although, I truly admire the people who do it.

Over the years, I’ve worked with some terrific stunt coordinators who were great at making actors feel confident while keeping things safe and fun. I’ve also worked with a couple of guys who were not so much fun. My first unhappy experience came many years ago when I was doing a truly awful off-Broadway play. At one point in the show, I had to attack one of the other actors, who then had to beat me into submission. This was followed by a scene where we played Russian Roulette with a loaded pistol. Like I said, it was an awful play.

The minute I laid eyes on the stunt guy (who we’ll call “Bill”) I sensed I wasn’t going to like him. He was as big as a house and had an ego to match. He’d been working on some movie and seemed to think he was doing us a favor by even being there. When I confessed that I wasn’t exactly the rough-and-tumble type, he seemed to take it as a challenge to his authority. For the next two hours, he proceeded to choreograph a fight that was like something out of a James Bond movie. His idea seemed to be that my character was a glutton for punishment and that no matter how many times the other actor punched me in the face, kicked me in the stomach or kneed me in the groin, I just kept coming back. Finally, when Bill suggested that it might be fun if the other actor used a chair to knock me over the sofa, I felt compelled to point out that if his character really did all this to me, I’d be dead. This got a huge laugh in the rehearsal hall which made Bill dislike me even more.

Finally, the director stepped in, suggesting that maybe something a little less spectacular would work better for me. Bill, clearly miffed, shrugged his shoulders and agreed to pare the fight down to “something this guy can handle.” I was instructed to stand off to one side as Bill and his assistant demonstrated “the backhand.” I had to admit Bill was good. Every time he smacked his assistant across the face, it looked and sounded painfully real. In an effort to drive home the finer points of the backhand, Bill repeated it rapidly, over and over! Smack! Smack! Smack!

Suddenly, I heard a pop. My vision went a little blurry. I wanted to say something, but my brain couldn't formulate any words. The only thought I could crystallize was that I'd been shot in the head - which didn't make any sense. All of a sudden, the director was in front of me asking if I was okay. “No,” I answered as my knees started to buckle. Grabbing my arm, he steered me into a nearby chair. That’s when I was informed that Bill’s bulky metal wristwatch had come loose while he was demonstrating the rapid “backhand” and it had struck me in the forehead going about sixty miles an hour. Within seconds, a huge goose egg popped up over my right eyebrow. Somebody found some ice and gradually my ability to form words came back -- as did my ability to feel intense, searing pain! Rehearsal was called off for the rest of the afternoon and when I next saw Bill a few days later, he was much nicer to me (probably because he feared a law suit). In the end, most of the fight wound up occurring behind a conveniently-placed sofa where my fellow actor punched a pillow and I made a bunch of “Oooff” sounds.

My next scary stunt moment didn’t come until many years later. I was shooting a scene in a TV show where I had to sneak up on a lovely actress named Jill while she was seated on a sofa having a phone conversation, and hit her in the back of the head with a shovel. It was meant to be funny, but Jill and I were both anxious about it – and rightfully so. The “stunt shovel” was made out of rubber -- so, although it wasn’t deadly, it would certainly hurt if it made contact.

As planned, I wasn’t actually going to hit her with it. I was just going to swing at her, then jerk the shovel back at the last possible second. In order for everything to fit into the shot, I had to hold the shovel at the very end of the handle which made it heavy and awkward to manipulate. Plus, I had to step into the shot, hit my mark, and somehow time the whole thing out so I popped her just as she finished her phone call. It was tricky and the first few takes didn’t go well; mostly because Jill and I were both so nervous.

Tony, the stunt guy, was very nice and encouraged us to just relax and “go for it.” Finally, we got one decent take, but Tony wanted to try for one more. Feeling a little more confident, I again snuck up behind Jill and raised the shovel, but this time she hesitated in her lines. I wasn’t sure if she’d dropped a cue or was taking a pause. Following Tony’s advice, I “went for it” and took the swing. But unfortunately the timing was off. Jill moved her head and I accidentally smacked her in the back of the skull; knocking her off the sofa. Needless to say, I was mortified and apologized profusely. Thankfully, Jill was very gracious about it, but also made it clear that she didn’t want me on the other end of the shovel anymore. The director wisely chose to finish up with a couple of tightly-framed pick-up shots (with Tony wielding the shovel off-camera instead of me). When the episode aired, they wound up using the take where poor Jill actually got hit -- which I have to say did look pretty funny.

For a wimpy character guy, I’ve surprisingly been punched, slapped, stabbed, kicked and head-butted quite a few times on stage and screen over the years and so far have lived to tell the tale. I always give it my best shot and try not to look completely terrified when I realize I’m about to go rolling across the floor. And I’m always grateful to the camera guys and editors who somehow manage to make it look real. Just last week, I got offered a small role in an edgy little thriller in which I get to be shot in the head and fall over a chair. I can hardly wait!

Copyright 2010 Quitcher-Bitchyn Entertainment, Inc.

David Dean Bottrell is an actor (“Boston Legal”) and screenwriter (“Kingdom Come”) who writes a weekly blog about being strangely middle-class in Hollywood at www.partsandlabor.tv

Monday, May 17, 2010

The Celebrity Story

Living in Los Angeles has a lot of advantages. We’re blessed with an incredibly diverse population, a dynamic creative community and perhaps the best weather on the planet. We also have the added bonus of celebrities in our midst! Celebs (just like regular people) sometimes go out for lunch, pick up their dry cleaning and walk their dogs which allows the rest of us to get a quick, up close glimpse of the actual person who has dazzled us on TV or film.

When I first came to the City of Angels, I was wowed by every celebrity sighting and couldn’t wait to get home and call up some friend to report that I actually stood in line at the Starbucks behind Jodie Foster or rode in an elevator with Warren Beatty. But soon, I discovered that my friends, who’d live here longer than me, weren’t all that impressed. Apparently, in order for one’s “Celebrity Story” to have weight, you had to have had a more intimate, dramatic or quirky encounter with a star. These tales then become useful ice-breakers at cocktail parties; and the odder they are, the better.

My best celebrity encounter story dates back 20 years when I first came west to try my hand at this mysterious thing called “pilot season.” Being new to L.A. I never had any idea how long it would take me to get from “point A” to “point B,” so I tended to leave very early for every appointment. One day I was scheduled to meet with an agent and found myself at his office building a full 30 minutes before my scheduled meeting. Not wanting to look too desperate, I bought a newspaper and decided to kill the time, loitering in front of the building.

It was about 5:00 pm and rush hour was in full swing. The building was on Sunset, close to the famous “Strip” where the boulevard gets a little curvy. Even at rush hour, the curves didn’t seem to deter the drivers from going as fast as they possibly could, which I found a little unnerving. For some reason, I happened to glance up and spotted a guy on a motor scooter swerving through traffic. It looked like something might be wrong. Either the guy was being a little reckless or he didn’t really know how to operate the bike. Suddenly, he lost control and the scooter slid out from under him, sending him sprawling onto the blacktop just as a huge wave of cars were barreling around the curve. Panic surged through me! Dropping my newspaper, I rushed out into the street and began waving my arms to divert traffic. Luckily, the crush of cars was able to divide on either side of us and mercifully, neither the scooter guy nor I were killed.

I whirled around and saw the guy was trying to get to his feet. Sensing we had a few seconds before the next wave of traffic would hit us, I took a step toward him. “Are you alright?” I yelled. “Yeah, I’m good,” he replied as he pulled off his helmet and turned to face me. Suddenly, I was standing in the middle of Sunset Boulevard, face-to-face with then heavyweight champion of the world, Mike Tyson. I almost swallowed my tongue.

The first thought that popped into my head was to mention that I had just worked with his ex-wife, Robin Givens not two weeks prior on an episode of “Head of the Class.” Then it occurred to me that this man could easily snap my neck like a twig, so I switched back to Good Samaritan mode. “We need to get this bike off the street,” I yelled as the next barrage of traffic swept by us. “Thanks,” he replied. As we pulled the bike upright, I took him in for the first time. When I’d seen him fight on TV, he’d looked immense and terrifying; a force of nature that could barely be contained. In person, he looked shorter and more compact. “I don’t know what happened,” he murmured, sounding a little embarrassed. “Nothing,” I replied, “It think it just slid.” Once the bike was up, the champ informed me that he was okay to ride again. Climbing on the bike, he waved to me and sped away, leaving me to make a mad dash back through traffic and onto the safety of the sidewalk. The whole encounter had lasted maybe 90 seconds.

Oddly, the sidewalk was now lined with people who had streamed out of the lobby once word had spread that Tyson was sprawled in the street. The crowd began asking me what had happened and what he’d said. I suddenly felt very uncomfortable and decided to duck into the building and go to my appointment, early or not. Once inside the agent’s office, I couldn’t help but spill the beans about my bizarre chance encounter with the champ. The agent smiled slyly and said “You should call the National Inquirer. They’d probably buy the story off you. You might get ten grand for it.”

Being a poor young actor at the time, ten grand sounded pretty good to me. But as I drove home, I kept wondering if the story was really worth that kind of cash. I began to consider the possibility of juicing it up a bit. After all, nobody had been present at the scene except Mike and me. I could say anything. I could say he smelled of alcohol (he didn’t) or that as he lay dazed in the street, he was calling Robin Given’s name (he wasn’t). Then I remembered that Mike Tyson was at the time, a powerful multi-millionaire with an infamous temper who might well be able to track me down and beat the living shit out of me. I decided to let the story go. Perhaps, I’d just chalk it up to my good deed for the day and leave it at that.

Imagine my surprise when, two weeks later, I was standing in the supermarket line, leafing through the National Inquirer and spotted a short article about Mike Tyson taking a spill on his motor scooter. Apparently, one of the onlookers who’d observed the whole incident from the safety of the sidewalk had called it in. There was no mention of the skinny, white guy who’d rushed into traffic to protect and aid the champ, but that was okay, I told myself. I hadn’t known it was Tyson when I ran into traffic. I just thought it was somebody was in trouble.

That odd little memory came back to me last week when I happened to catch Tyson appearing on, of all shows, “The View.” Quite a lot had happened in his life in the last twenty years and much of it had not been good. Barbara Walters couldn’t help bringing up her much-talked about interview with Mike and his then wife, Robin Givens and even had the balls to ask the champ if that interview had caused the collapse of his marriage. It was also clear that a few of “The View” ladies didn’t seem to be too happy to be seated so close to a convicted rapist and domestic abuser. But the strangest moment came when Tyson admitted that he was now completely broke. It was an awkward admission on a talk show that largely likes to skim over the surface of unpleasant topics. Barbara, who had very much assumed the lead up to this point, tried to segue gracefully into a commercial, but the camera was still on Tyson’s face. Never the most polished media personality, Tyson looked somber, but not sorry to have rocked the boat with a little dose of reality. His crimes, his arrogance, his regret and the consequences of his misplaced trust were all on display for the world to see.

On the rare occasions I tell the story of Mike and me, I never open with “Did I ever tell you about the time I saved Mike Tyson’s life?” Maybe the oncoming traffic would have spotted him and swerved out of the way with no help from me. Who knows? I’m just glad I did it. And I’m glad that I occasionally get to cross paths (even in the strangest of circumstances) with those people who fascinate, infuriate or seduce us with their exploits and abilities. It’s one of the coolest parts of the life and the city I chose for myself. Have a great week, Hollywood. Keep your eyes open. You never know who you might see.

Copyright 2010 Quitcher-Bitchyn Entertainment, Inc.

David Dean Bottrell is an actor (“Boston Legal”) and screenwriter (“Kingdom Come”) who writes a weekly blog about being strangely middle-class in Hollywood at www.partsandlabor.tv

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Getting It Straight

A couple of days ago, a friend sent me a link to a piece published on Newsweek.com by an openly gay entertainment reporter that really pissed me off. It was a piece basically claiming that casting openly gay actors in heterosexual roles simply never works.

As a gay guy trying to make a living in Hollywood, this is, needless to say, is a subject that hits close to home. I’m generally not big on writing letters to the editor, but this particular piece inspired me. I shot off both a letter to the editor of Newsweek and an Op-Ed version to the L.A. Times. However, since I suspect that neither of them will see the light of day, I thought I’d use my modest internet platform to share my personal opinion with those who might be interested. Here is the link to the original article: http://www.newsweek.com/id/236999 And here is what I wrote in response:

Dear Newsweek Editor:

I recently read with great interest an article published in Newsweek’s online edition entitled “Straight Jacket: Heterosexual actors play gay all the time. Why doesn't it ever work in reverse?” by Ramin Setoodeh (an openly gay writer). In the article, Mr. Setoodeh expresses his opinion that openly Gay actors are simply not believable in “straight” roles, then goes on to grade the “believability” papers of actors Sean Hayes, Portia de Rossi, Neil Patrick Harris and “Glee’s” Jonathan Groff. Their scores were not good, but he did allow that some of them could pull off straight people as “broad caricatures” but not as “realistic characters like the ones in Up in the Air or even The Proposal.” Funny, I saw the “The Proposal” and I don’t remember there being any realistic characters in that film.

I kept asking myself, "Is this guy joking? Speaking as an openly out professional actor, I can assure you that there are a great many gay and lesbian actors who have spent pretty much their entire careers playing "straight." Trust me. If they weren't convincing, they wouldn't still be working. I also couldn’t help noticing that Mr. Setoodeh didn’t bother to express his opinion on the "believability" of say, Emmy winner, Cherry Jones ("24") or Academy Award nominee, Ian McKellen ("Lord of the Rings," "The X-Men"); two openly out actors who have rarely played "gay" characters, but have enjoyed long and extraordinarily distinguished careers. Does he find them convincing? How about Dan Butler as “Bulldog” the macho sports caster on “Frasier?” Did he buy Jane Lynch as Meryl Streep’s lonely straight sister in “Julie and Julia?” How about Lily Tomlin as the presumably heterosexual matriarch of the Tobin clan on this season's “Damages?”

Of course not every actor is right for every role. That's a given. But to add fuel to the ever-smoldering fires of Hollywood’s casting homophobia is sort of a small-minded pot shot, if you asked me. I have tremendous admiration for actors who come out. Everyone knows the risk. Everyone knows there will be people like Mr. Setoodeh who will not be able to resist calling you too "queeny" or too "butch" to be believable playing a straight person. That's all that's required to subtly shift the focus of nervous producers and casting people away from your actual abilities and onto your private life. I've seen it happen. "Let's keep looking" is code for "I really don't want any grief for this decision."

Believe it or not, most actors (straight or gay) come to our profession not because we want to be rich or famous, but because of a very real desire to experience, even for a short time, the lives of other people; people braver, smarter, sexier, richer, poorer, meaner, kinder or funnier than we will ever be. It a tough gig. Many are called, but few are chosen. And those who are chosen struggle to do their work well and stay employed in a highly competitive and very skittish industry. It would be nice, if those who write about the entertainment business had a little respect for those realities -- especially in these days and times when gay and lesbian actors often find themselves caught between staying employed or joining the urgent and historic fight that’s going on right now for the basic civil rights long denied to our community.

Sadly, there are still a few very well-established (and in some cases, quite famous) actors, musicians and even news anchors, who have not yet come out as being gay. And that’s their business. As much as I personally would appreciate their going public, opinion pieces like this one make it clear why they don't. I'm not sure why Newsweek would publish something like this since it seems to further no one's agenda except maybe Mr. Setoodeh’s, who I'm guessing wants to be considered a "cool gay”; someone who has the guts to point out the “elephant in the room” as he puts it. Personally, I think the “elephant” here is actually Mr. Setoodeh, whose tone seems to suggest he rather enjoys playing the role of long-awaited “truth-teller,” when in fact, his article comes off as little more than a thinly-veiled, juvenile attempt to embarrass some very accomplished and quite courageous people.

Sincerely,
David Dean Bottrell

Copyright 2010 Quitcher-Bitchyn Entertainment, Inc.

David Dean Bottrell is an actor (“Boston Legal”) and screenwriter (“Kingdom Come”) who writes a weekly blog about being strangely middle-class in Hollywood at
www.partsandlabor.tv

Twitter:
http://twitter.com/QuitcherBitchyn