TheIndustry | Topher Harless
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Is Improv Worth Anything? 6 Things I Wish I Had Known Before I Started.

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I’m not sure that any mother is thrilled when you call home and tell her that you’re taking improv classes in LA.  You come out to LA to act, but find yourself with nothing to do and no credits to show for.  So, what do you do? You take acting classes and improv classes. Are the improv classes worth it?  Here are six tings I wish I has known before I started my first class.

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Being a Christian in LA: Five Things I Didn’t Know When I Moved Here

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When you decide to move to Los Angeles from the Deep South, a lot of people get upset. They comment that you are “moving to the land of fruits and nuts,” mothers force you to watch documentaries about local gangs that will kill you the second your plane lands, and you may even receive a letter from someone in your church suggesting that you should move to Spain instead of Los Angeles because if you do move to L.A., you’ll be forced to provide sexual favors to casting directors for a role (please note, I did indeed receive this letter.)

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4 Reasons to Stop Offering Unhelpful Answers

I work with a team.  Well, actually I work with two teams.  I have a main group that hired me, which is a temp group of about 50 people, and an office that I work in any given day with about 12 people in various cubicles.  With all of those people, everyone can all agree on one thing.  We need to get things done.  So, both groups will occasionally send an email to ask a question.

Do you know what the single most irritating thing on the planet is?  When someone who is in no way involved and doesn’t know the answer continually throws out suggestions for solutions. 

 

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This owl is PISSED at you.

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Creating Content

“To achieve great things, two things are needed: a plan, and not quite enough time.”  – Leonard Bernstein

“I don’t have time.”  “Really?” I asked my brother, “You can’t carve out even a few minutes?” “Oh, I don’t know.” He responded.  “I might.”

This is my challenge to you and slightly a back handed public challenge to my brother.  Start creating content.  Not tomorrow, or the day after, right now.  There will always be excuses to why you won’t start.  Notice that I didn’t say “can’t,” because you can and you should.

What’s the difference between someone successful and you?  They didn’t need to get paid to do what they love.  They did it for fun and they did it a lot.

Life is complicated.  Most of us have either busy jobs or jobs that we dislike that drain us.  It’s not often that you work 40 to 70 hours a week then decide that you want to make something.  However, as an artist, you can’t grow if you don’t take the time to create something.  Is your dream important to you?  How bad do you want it?  Do you keep telling yourself that you’re going to quit your job and then you’ll have time to do what you love?

You’re full of it and you know it.  Stop making excuses.  Whatever kind of artist you are needs to be cultivated.  If you don’t practice you’ll never get good at what you love and you’ll never get to do what you love full time.  That’s a promise.

You don’t have to start big.  Decide that you’re going to wake up 30 minutes earlier in the morning and do what you love for just 15 minutes.  Drink a cup off coffee then paint, write, practice monologues, etc.

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Seriously, coffee first. Writing second.

 

Starting small will make doing what you love a habit and will give your life purpose.  You’ll be surprised at how 15 minutes will turn into 2 hours and how inspiration and passion will fill your life.  You’ll start to be you again.

There is never enough time.  You’ll never find it no matter what job you have.  Find your passion and pursue it or you’ll live in the land of “what ifs” forever.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/anieto2k/5632644156/

The Power of NO

In college, a professor once told me, “Saying yes to everything means that you’re saying no to something else because you don’t have the time to do it.”

A while back, I quit a job because it made no money.  I worked as a barista to bring in some extra income.  I didn’t want to take the job, but honestly I felt the pressure to survive and my photography business hadn’t taken off yet.  So, I took it.  It paid too little and I had to quit.  It was a dumb move to take the job in the first place, but I needed something and I had high hopes that I’d get a raise.

Dumb Topher.

Anyway, I quit right as my photography business was starting to take on some steam.  Things were going great at first…  Then work slowed down.  So, I started trying to get creative to bring in some extra business.  At a random chance meeting, a local business owner was telling me about his struggle to maintain a presence in social media as well as getting high quality photos of his clients.  My ears immediately perked up.  After asking a few questions I offered up some help.  I told him that I was a bit of a social bug and a photographer and he was thrilled to set up a meeting with me.

I was excited.  “Look at me,” I thought, “I’m so clever.  I can make lemonade out of lemons.  I’m a real Guerrilla marketer.”

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If I market well, do I get free bananas?

 

When we finally met, I went over what we had talked about, but then suddenly I was asked if I had experience with web design.  I told him that I had some but I wasn’t able to create anything.  He insisted that I do some minor tweaks to his site.  I didn’t want to, but I’m a giant push over with the inability to say no.  So, I agreed.  That turned into major tweaks, redesigning whole pages of the website, filling out spread sheets, making a video, working on creating logos and signs, and basically being completely in charge of the financial stability of his store.

Wow.

What had started as a small offer to help out, turned into me running the show.  Not only that, but I felt so much pressure to make everything perfect and have immediate results.  We had agreed that I would be paid hourly and when I spent hours and hours  getting everything running and presented him with an invoice, he was upset because he didn’t see a lot of results and he didn’t want to pay for something that wasn’t making him any business.

This was a disaster.  Not only had I wasted my time, was not getting paid, but I was also doing a ton of work that I wasn’t qualified to do nor did I want to!  I didn’t even take one picture which was my entire goal in the first place!  I hadn’t set up any guidelines and when I was asked in the beginning if I could do something that I wasn’t good at, I didn’t say no.

The worst part of all of this?  It was all my fault.  I had to pay a stupid tax.  If I had been clear from the beginning about what I was willing to do and what I could do well this would have never happened.  And why did I do this?  Because I needed to survive.  The problem was, I needed money and when you need money you tend to take jobs that you would never take.

If I could go back, I would have just been honest.  I would have been tough.  I would have said no in the beginning and saved myself tons of stress.

Say no.  It means saying yes to what you actually want to do.

photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/ucumari/5980792927/”>ucumari</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/”>cc</a>

Eliminating the “Yes Man”

When I was in college, I thought I was a real writer.  I had taken a screen writing class and I was deeply inspired.  I had all sorts of glorified images in my head of what it was like to be a screen writer.  I thought they all smoked cigarettes while drinking coffee huddled over a computer in a crappy diner all night long and for some reason I loved this.  I have always and will always hate cigarettes, but everything else seemed great.  I would fantasize about writing an oscar winning screen play.  I would imagine myself as a mad artist, all disheveled and dirty, scribbling ideas on a wall that would change the world.  Because of this I would spend several nights in a Waffle House writing.  This was nothing like I imagined.  Waffle houses are gross.  Everyone smoked around me and it was completely unnecessary to write all night because I had plenty of free time during the day.  I was just a kid trying to be cool.

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I believe it’s spelled “Awful House.”

 

During this time, I got an offer for a show runner of a popular sitcom to critique a short film I’d written.  I gladly jumped at the chance.  I went to a film festival where he taught a class on screen writing and at the end he critiqued my script and two others.  During his critique he complimented one thing about my story.  He said that it was clear what my character’s goal was right from the beginning.  After that he literally had about 400 negative critiques for about 10 pages of writing.  *Insert weeping and gnashing of teeth here*

For the next year, I was terrified to write anything.  Whenever you create something, it becomes your baby.  Your creation is an extension of yourself.  If someone insults your baby, they’re insulting you.  Have you ever insulted someone’s baby?  It doesn’t go well.

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Even he thinks your baby is ugly.

 

Later on, I started writing again, but I never wanted anyone’s help.  For a while it was fine.  Then suddenly I realized that everything I wrote was super crappy.  Mostly because everything sounds good in your head.  When you say it out loud, however, you realize that you just wrote a story about two cows running a fortune 500 company.

That’s when I realized that I needed help.  I needed someone who I could trust to read what I wrote.  That led me to meeting three types of people:

  • The Pessimist

Whenever, you meet a person who says, “Not a pessimist, I’m just a sceptic,” that person is wrong.  He/She a pessimist.  He/She is lying to you because no one wants to admit that they’re just mean.  This person thinks everything is dumb.  Every one is doing everything wrong in their mind.  They critique and commentate on everything that everyone is doing, but they don’t actually do any kind of creating themselves.  This person can not help you.  They never say anything positive and they’ll make you want to stop doing anything because you’ll start to believe that they’re right.

  • The “Yes Man”

This is the worst kind of friend you can have.  This is the friend that is either trying to impress you or has no self esteem.  Why are they the worst?  Because they’ll let you think that everything you do is GOLD.  They’ll get you excited about the worst things you create and that is neither constructive or helpful.  They don’t make you better, they make your mistakes more obvious.  Instead of you producing something awful that you think is good and showing it to a few friends, you produce something awful and you show it to the world because your friend has let you to believe that it’s incredible.

  • The Confident

I’m fortunate.  I have a wife that I love.  Not only is she beautiful, but she’s smart, professional, talented, creative, and funny.  Not to mention, she a COPY WRITER.  She’s incredible at everything she does.  When she reads something, she’s great at finding ways to improve it and make it look more professional.  The best and worst thing about my wife is that she’s honest.  She critiques everything I create.  When it’s good, she sings my praises to the moon.  She tells her friends and family and helps make whatever I’m doing even better.  However, if it’s not good, she’ll be the first to tell me.

Her – “This sketch isn’t funny.”

Me – “What?  It’s hilarious.  Don’t you get the joke?  It’s about sea captains and-”

Her – “Oh, I get the joke.  The joke is kind of racist against pirates and I don’t think you know what ‘booty’ means.”

I need that in my life and so do you.  You need someone who can tell the difference between something amazing and something that’s just garbage.  You need someone who will tell you honestly what could help it become better and what you should remove because it just doesn’t work.  If this person is only telling you that your material isn’t good, and not helping you add things to make it better, than you’re working with a pessimist, but…  If you find that one person that will be honest with you and bring creativity to the table as well…

You’re in business to create something that you’ll be proud of.

photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/dollar_bin/2340605507/”>Dollar Bin</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/”>cc</a>
photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/ldgermain/558538200/”>ld_germain</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/”>cc</a>

How to be an Extra

Two weeks ago, l was on a photo shoot in Beverly Hills. I was shooting modeling shots of about 14 people for a talent agency.  As I was taking pictures, one of the actors and l started talking. I asked him what he did for a living besides acting.  He told me that he didn’t do anything else. He was a full time professional actor and that he was constantly getting booked.

After several follow-up questions, I discovered that all his bookings weren’t acting roles, they were extra work jobs.

Let me make something painfully clear.  Do not deceive yourself.  Doing extra work does not make you a professional actor.  Doing extra work makes you a professional extra.

Extra work is great. lt’s a great way to get started working immediately when you‘re looking for a job you want.  If you‘re looking for auditions, extra work is a nice way to keep an open schedule. However, being an extra does not equal being an actor. Walking in circles behind a real actor does not make you an actor. Some people would say that when you get paid to do something that makes you a professional. That may be true in some cases, but not with extra work. You cannot consider walking for 12 hours a day acting. I don’t care how good your pantomiming is.  You’re an extra.  It’s not shameful.  Move on.

On the other side of the coin, extra work is a great place to get started and l think everyone who moves to LA should jump into that immediately.  It’s the best way to get paid fast. I wish I had known about it when I first moved here.  That way I could have avoided that awful valet job.

 How to get extra work:

  • Get a commercial extra booking agency

The two I suggest?  Background Talent and Virgo Talent (Links Below)

Both have a small up front fee ($30 to $60) and charge you per booking that you get.  You’ll get paid $100-$200 per job. Usually the pays around $135 for 10 hours. Thats pretty average.

  • Get a calling service

If you decide that you want full-time extra work you need to sign up with a calling service.  A calling service is a service where you go online or call their office and you tell them what days you want to work. So, for instance, you’re available Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday. Then they choose the days that you’re available and book you on them. They place you on any TV show that fits your description.

The first one I worked with was a calling service called Cut Above. That calling service usually booked me on and the TV shows, Greek and Glee because I look like I’m 12.

The calling services charge you varying rates depending on which service you go with.  The prices are anywhere between $60 a month to $90 a month.  So, if you signed up for a year it would be much cheaper, per month, if you signed up month-to-month.

Other services I’ve used have been Joeys List and Booked Talent. Both were good calling services. I enjoyed Joey’s List the best. They didn’t charge a lot, they got me a lot of work, and all of the work I did was on smaller sets. Which was nice. The worst days of extra work are the days the you show up and there are 1000 people on set.

Calling services pay you $64 for 8 hours for non-union jobs, which is terrible, but again, this is a temporary job.  If you decide to spend $3,000 and become union you would get paid more.

*Note*

If you can, be available as many week-days, in a row, as possible.  That’ll get you more work because they have shoots that last more than one day.

Also, depending on how unique your look is, you may not get booked as often as you’d like.  Girls get booked more than guys.  If you have a more unique look, you’ll get booked more.  Try and figure out what your look is and dress more like that look when you get your picture taken at your calling service.

For instance, I wasn’t getting booked a lot until I realized that I can fit the 18 to play younger role.  Once I realized that, I wore a hoody and shaved my face for my picture.  Then I got booked all the time.

*End Note*

Things to bring:

  • A book
  • A fountain pen (This is important.  If you have a roller ball pen, it won’t write on the receipt like paper they have you fill out on set.)

What not to bring:

  • Anything you don’t want stolen
  • A fold out chair (Not because this won’t be useful, but because this means that you’re an extra for life.)

The only things you need to know are:

  • When you get there, find the PA in charge of extras and sign in.  (I did not do this my first day.  That made everything much harder.)
  • When you leave, sign out and KEEP A COPY of your paperwork.

That’s it!  You’ll then be an extra.
Now. At this point in your career you’ll start working on TV. When this happens people that you knew back south or wherever you’re from will begin to see you in the
background of their favorite TV shows. They will then proceed to take screenshots of you on that show and draw giant red circles around you and post these pictures on your Facebook wall.
To them this is the greatest complement of all time. You are on their favorite show. To them you’re a superstar. To you they just posted an embarrassing picture online.  This will happen a lot.

Be prepared.

http://www.backgroundtalent.net

http://www.virgotalent.com