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

Shameless self-promotion:
http://www.bangstudio.com/streep-tease

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