slooooow down

This summer is SLOW.  I’ve had some auditions and callbacks peppered in here and there, but the industry (at least for me) is pretty calm right now.  So what does an actor that never stops working do when the work is not in progress?  She travels and works on her own stuff!

Right now, I am approximately 1 day away from completing my short film, Priscilla.  Fortunately, after securing the rights to a song from a band I love, the final pieces of the film came together beautifully.  Once I finish the credit roll, I send it to be color corrected and that baby is finished!  So exciting!  It’s not really my cup of tea to have a film take 7 years to complete, but that is the journey this film took.  I won’t make the same mistakes on the next one.

In the meantime, I will be editing the lifestyle shoot photos I had taken of me in the woodshop and at the piano a month or so ago.  I also have an outrageous amount of travel coming up.  I’ll be climbing Mt Whitney in July as well as traveling the PacNW.  It’s great to have travel and events outside of acting to recharge your soul and get you out of the intensely narrow bubble that is the industry.

Now that I have Priscilla (almost) up on the completed works board, I’m ready to dive into a new script.  I’ve been hesitant to put too much into other projects while Priscilla was dangling, but now is a great time to form the pieces on new ideas, and have an answer to the ubiquitous “what are you working on now” that will inevitably arise when people view Priscilla.

I’m still dying to do a musical (not helped WHATSOEVER by the Tony’s last night) so am scouring the job listings, hoping to find one that interests me.  I suppose now would be a good time to get moving on some more kitchen cabinets in the woodshop as well.  Don’t let the grass grow under your feet when the industry slows down, actors!  There’s plenty of opportunity for you to grow your craft and nurture your artists soul if you have the motivation to work for it.

Being a Christian in Hollywood, pt 5

If you missed pt 1 of this blog, you can catch it here.

If you missed pt 2 of this blog, you can catch it here.

If you missed pt 3 of this blog, you can catch it here.

If you missed pt 4 of this blog, you can catch it here.

We are in pt 5, the final part of my series on Being a Christian in Hollywood.  I’m wrapping up my thoughts on the future of my place in the industry as a Christian.  By now you know I don’t want to do horror, reality, faith based films, simulated sex scenes, or nudity.  Some actors (Christians included) have argued for working on whatever project comes my way, and not imposing filters.  I can see that point of view- “you’re a character, it’s not you”- but I guess I just want to have more control than that.  I look at a story.  If it’s one that needs to be told and I like the way it’s being told, I want to be a part of it.  Otherwise, it’s just a paycheck and time spent away from the woodshop.  I’m a storyteller.  And a performer.  Not singularly an actor.  My stories are told through improv, theatre, film, TV, spoken word, writing, singing…I’m not in love with just acting.  I’m in love with weaving a tale that will touch souls and bring them to hope, reconciliation, redemption, living better lives.  Therefore, I’m not looking just to act in whatever comes my way.

In my search for my unique voice that I began last year, I came to understand that stories of reconciliation, vulnerability and hope were themes that I cling to.  These are the stories I want to tell.  Here are some great examples of stories that touch me and energize my desire to ignite passion in others with a similar tone.

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.  Oh, this movie.  I can’t get enough of it.  From the kick ass soundtrack to the gradual change of one man’s life from risk-averse to living to the fullest, this film makes me laugh, cry and hope all at once.  This is a story that can be told again and again and again.  It’s not affected.  It’s not cheap.  It’s vulnerable, it’s real and it’s lovely.  It does this all without resorting to cheeseball family film territory, or rated x content.  See, it can be done!  Watch this immediately.  Repeat on a rainy day.  Then buy the soundtrack and tell me which song is your favorite.  Mine is Step Out.

The Philadelphia Story.  This is one of the most perfect films ever made.  Tracy Lord (played to acidic gold by Hepburn) is taken on a journey over 2 days of self discovery, humility, forgiveness and relocating her heart.  The dialogue is flawless, but there is so much story told in visuals as well.  The character change hinges on a line spoken to Lord by her estranged father- “You have everything it takes to make a lovely woman except the one essential.  An understanding heart.  And without that you might just as well be made of bronze”.  Out goes the model of calm, cool and poised, and enters the radiant, loving Tracy, pliable to life’s adventures.

Cinderella Man.  I can’t.  Just thinking about this movie makes me tear up.  This is the story of boxer Jim Braddock, and his fall from fame to poverty during the Great Depression.  Though he’s down on his luck “I didn’t always lose”, he somehow maintains hope, resolve, honesty, ethic, gratefulness and pride during a time so bleak that any man would crumble.  Without resorting to sappy throughlines, a beautiful story is told about the power and resolve of the human spirit.  If you can watch this film and not feel hopeful about living a good and meaningful life, you are a sociopath.

Emma.  As you know, period films are my world.  From the corsets to the restrained yet poetic speech, these films never get old for me.  This is the adaptation of Jane Austen’s novel by the same name of a young matchmaking woman who is blind to her own feelings amidst the chaos of alliances, pride and the simple act of growing up.  Ewan Macgregor as Frank Churchill alone will make you giggle your pants off.  Watching the evolution of one woman from naive, prideful, yet kind, to real, vulnerable and honest is a delight.  This movie has inspired a lifetime of trying to be a Yente for me.

Stranger Than Fiction.  Emma Thompson and Dustin Hoffman alone make this consummate piece of art worthy of a lifetime of watching.  Marc Forster and Zach Helm make what must’ve been one of the hardest stories to tell- it’s about a man who discovers he’s a character in a writers book- how do you even do that??- immaculate and real and funny and true.  I love this movie so much, I feel like I’ve saved the best for last.  Not only is it another story of a man deciding to finally live his life (I’m sensing a trend here), it’s done so cleverly and literary it will make you think for days.  I can’t praise this veritable masterpiece enough.

These are a few examples of stories that are told brilliantly without any of the elements that I am avoiding in my acting career.  True, they aren’t made that often, likely because it takes far more effort to make something lasting and meaningful than it does to throw together another trite action film, but when they are.  Oh.  My heart sings.  That’s what I want.  This is my future.  And if I can’t be a part of others telling these stories, I’ll make my own.  Because they need to be told.  Humanity needs to hear that their life is worth living well.  That their pride and misconceptions of others only keeps them from loving fully.  That the hard choice is sometimes the best choice, and worth fighting for.  That’s how this Christian plans to make her place in Hollywood.

Being a Christian in Hollywood, Pt 3

If you missed pt 1 of this blog, you can catch it here.

If you missed pt 2 of this blog, you can catch it here.

Welcome to pt 3 of Being a Christian in Hollywood.  By now we’ve covered perception and why it’s hard to put a public label on your beliefs as an actor, as well as the history of my self-imposed limitations on roles.  So, now that we have a framework/introduction, and a past, let’s move into the present.

Presently, I do mostly commercials.  And commercials are almost never in the territory of nudity/sex scenes/foul language.  So for my day to day job, it’s a non-issue.  When I did improv, my teams were almost always composed of fellow believers, so the comedy rarely went blue.  This is actually a hard thing to find.  I have sat through more excruciating time slots of teams detailing blow jobs than I care to remember.  Blue humor is cheap and easy, but rarely satisfying.

Like most actors, however, I didn’t come to Hollywood with the dream of selling products on TV.  Though it’s my bread and butter, doing commercials is not exactly creatively fulfilling for me.  I long to be doing films.  I’ve worked on a few, I’ve procured a couple of credits, but once you get to the narrative film corner of the industry, you have to be more careful.  I am very choosy about the projects I work on.  Not that I have offers flung at me from every angle, but it’s important to me to vet a script before I get to any serious stage of casting.

What does this mean?  A few years back I loosened up on the language requirement after realizing that in certain instances, those words held more power than the non-profane.  In the movie ‘Saved’ (interesting watch) at one point the lead walks up to a statue of Jesus and tumbles out a string of curse words to try and make sense of her relationship with God and what that meant.  Those words had purpose.  It wasn’t foul because the writers couldn’t come up with anything more descriptive to say, it had a point.  When I did ‘The Last 5 Years’, in the song ‘See I’m Smiling’, I was surprised to notice that when I sang ‘You could stay with your wife on her FUCKING birthday’ instead of editing it out, it put my emoting to a completely different place and level.  That had meaning.  So I said it.  That’s where I’m at with language.  I still don’t say GD.  Because, come on.  Yikes.

I was up for a really interesting, complex role on a film about a mixed race couple dealing with their family fall-out.  I enjoyed getting to improvise with several of the guys up for the lead at the callbacks and felt really good about this one.  I told them up front that insinuated sex scenes were ok, but I was not comfortable with the nudity/sex scenes that were scripted.  They called me while I was on set of a commercial to try and talk me into it and see if I would budge.  I wouldn’t.  They cast someone else.

Last year a casting director I knew sent me an audition for a film he was very excited about.  Not only was the script horribly depressing, it also left a bad taste in my mouth after reading it with all the violent sex scenes and foul language.  This was the first audition he had offered me, so I hated having to turn it down, but I did.  After sending him an email letting him know why I wouldn’t be able to audition for a role who’s few scenes included giving a BJ to the lead (ew), he made sure to put me in my place by saying “since you have very few film credits, I can’t tell, so you tell me, what type of film is it that you want to do?”  Firstly, thanks for belittling me, but secondly, how about redeeming films?  How about ones that make you want to be a better person when you’re through watching it?  That make you more hopeful about life?  There’s enough depression and awfulness in this world.

These are not infrequent situations I encounter being a Christian in Hollywood.  It most definitely limits what I want to work on, and my chances to work.  Next week, tune in to part 4- the future.

Being a Christian in Hollywood, Pt 2

If you missed pt 1 of this blog, you can catch it here.

Last week I wrote about our expectations of those who wear a label that may or may not conflict with their job.  I hate to use the word ‘evolve’ as it seems like I’m saying I’ve progressed more than others, but in simplistic terms, my personal guidelines for being a Christian in Hollywood have evolved over my 12 years in this business.  Some lines have remained.  Others have been crossed.  I can assure you that all have been wrestled and carefully debated until I came to a solid resting place that felt right to me.  For now.  As with most things in life, I’m sure it will continue to change and adapt and find its place.

Let’s start at the beginning.  In high school and college, my formative acting years, I didn’t have to deal with any guidelines because a. it was high school and nothing edgy would be performed and b. I went to a Christian college.  Same.  In my senior year of college I went out for a community theatre play called Hot’L Baltimore.  The show is about homeless, prostitutes and vagrants, and how they’re swept under the rug of society as if they don’t matter.  I thought it was a good message.  But the only role that was right for me was a young prostitute, called ‘the girl’.  She had no explicit scenes, but there was one where she had an outburst of foul language, and at the time, I had decided that as I did not curse in real life, I should extend that to my acting roles.  I auditioned, and sent the director an email informing her that I would have to modify the lines, and I completely understood if she didn’t want to cast me in the role.  After a response championing the reason for art and character portrayal, I guess she decided it wasn’t that important, and cast me in my first professional production.  I enjoyed that show.  Admittedly, I was a little embarrassed to have my preacher father in law in the audience watching a show of this nature, but I was proud of my performance.  From The Avalanche Journal, the Lubbock newspaper:

“Brittany Joyner impresses here as The Girl, too young to have stopped caring or trying to help. It is a role that easily could have been colored in much too naive colors; Joyner locates an impressive balance.”

As I graduated college, I made the decision to eschew my original plans of being a missionary and moved headfirst into pursuing an acting career.  This hinged largely on a long discussion I had with my missions teacher and mentor, who strongly advised me to use my gift of performing and reconsider the short term mission in Brazil my husband and I were contemplating.  Also, I had spoke with a friend who was already working in the Dallas market and it occurred to me that I could make a go at acting as a profession, a dream I had not revisited since its original conception as a 17 year old high school student.  We sat at a cafe in Lower Greenville and I declared- “If you don’t have lines you won’t cross from the start, you most certainly won’t when you’ve had some success and big projects are offered to you.  So, here are my lines: no foul language, no nudity, no sex scenes”.  This was version one of being a Christian in (not yet) Hollywood.  Join me next week for pt 3.

 

Being a Christian in Hollywood, pt 1

This is hard for me to write.  I’ve mentioned it here and there on the blog, and if you know me, you’ve zero doubt of my belief, but trumpeting a label?  Well, it’s uncomfortable.  This is not because I have any shyness or reserve in regards to what I believe.  What’s uncomfortable is how other people respond to you once they hear a label attached.  You see, everyone (me included) has preconceived notions and judgments attached to labels.  Once you hear that label, you automatically attach expectations to that person based on what your past knowledge and experience has accumulated in respects to that title.

For example:  You read essays by a historical writer about the Reagan presidency.  You have no knowledge of said writers beliefs, and therefore, you read the writings as history.

Say you found out that the writer was a democrat.  Suddenly, an innocuous statement like “The US invaded Granada, a nation so small that American troops had no trouble overthrowing the opposition within days” becomes charged with ‘big stick’ mentality and a not-so-hidden judgment upon US-foreign involvement.

Likewise, when I say I’m a Christian in Hollywood, depending on your background, you’re likely to attach numerous expectations and beliefs that may or may not align with anything I believe or profess.  You might think I shouldn’t be an actress.  You might think I would only do Christian films.  You might roll your eyes and discount me as an artist.  You might hear me drop an F-bomb in “The Last 5 Years” and question my belief.  You might see me wrestle with a director over a sex scene and question my craft.  I think you can see the thorns inherent in this discussion.

If I may, I’d like to take you on a journey of what it means to be a Christian in Hollywood, for me specifically, in my usual candor.  I’m sure there are plenty of others who have written on this with better understanding and experience than I, but it might be interesting to you to hear from my perspective.  Or not.  You know what?  Who cares what you think?  Go f#*! yourself.  This is my blog and I’ll write what I want.

See what I did there?  : )

Today

Today I got up early.  I found out I had an audition for a short film at 12:30 and I was excited.  You see, I don’t often get auditions for non-commercials.  They’re hard to come by.  So even though this was a non-paying student film, I was going to prepare as much as possible and take time on my hair and makeup so I could look the part and hopefully in turn get it.  I had already sent a taped audition for this film before Christmas, so I remembered the lines.  I worked them some more and spent time ruminating on the character and the choices I would make.  This must be a callback, since I’ve already auditioned, so they must’ve liked what they saw.  I put on my pretty red dress and black heels that say “professional woman” and took 2 hours to curl my hair and apply my makeup to perfection.

I headed out the door and drove the 40 minutes to get to the casting office, and found a free parking spot out front!  There was a one hour limit on the spot, but surely I’d be out before then.  I took a deep breath, grabbed my headshot and resume, and confidently walked into the lobby.  As I signed in, I noticed a sign that said “casting is running 30 minutes late due to traffic”.  Poor guys, I get it.  No worries, I’ve got 30 minutes.  I walked into the waiting room and saw 40 other eager actor faces looking up at me.  Huh.  Are all these people waiting on that traffic jam as well?

I sat down and pulled out my sides, running them a few more times.  After 30 minutes, I asked my neighbor if casting was there yet or still stuck in traffic?  To my surprise, he said they were here, they were just taking a really long time with the actor in the room.  Well, at least they were here, so I should be up soon.  I eavesdropped on a conversation across from me:

“Did you audition before Christmas?  I got the request to tape, but I didn’t do it, I was too busy.”  “Me too, this is my first time to audition for this”.

Huh.  So maybe this wasn’t a callback.  So why did I hustle like hell to get it taped the day before I drove to Texas?  The casting assistant stepped out and apologized for the wait.  A sheet with the order of people being seen was passed around.  I wasn’t on it.  I guess all 40 of these people had to audition first.  Strange that this many people are showing up for a nonpaying student film.  Knowing I had a lot of time before going in, I walked out to my car in the rain and in my heels and parked my car at the next available spot a block away.  An hour had passed, so this great spot was no longer available to me.  I came back to the waiting room and little had changed.  I opened my Better Homes and Gardens magazine and started flipping.  30 minutes.  45 minutes.  Audition order sheet passed around- still not on it.  The hour time limit on my second parking spot was up, so I hoofed it in the heels and rain once more to move my car further down the block to another free space.  I took a moment to devour my Larabar because we were far past lunch at this point.

I reentered the waiting room and noticed a few people gave up waiting and left.  Can’t blame them.  The next time the assistant popped his head out, I asked him where I was on the list.  4 away.  Ok, I won’t have to move my car again.  When my name was finally called, my wait time was at 2 hours and 36 minutes.  I brushed away my irritation and frustration and smiled big, trying to connect with casting before starting my scene.

“Sorry for the wait”

“no worries, glad to be here!”

The scene began immediately with no instruction and as I transitioned into my second beat I couldn’t help but notice the casting director had not looked up once.  Her eyes were on her laptop.  The scene ended without any fanfare and finally she popped up-

“Thanks!”

“Thank you so much!  You guys have a great week!”

I stepped out of the room and walked to my car in the rain and my heels and had one of those moments that hits every actor at one point or another.

What am I doing here?  Why am I doing this?

It was another day, another soul crushing audition, but something about this one hit me harder.  It might have been that there was all of that competition for an unpaid student film, and the feeling of hopelessness that I would ever make it for higher profile and paying projects.  It might have been the rain and the heels and the 3 parking spots.  Or it could’ve been that the amount of input was so radically unmatched with the result that I felt shortchanged.  Whatever the case, I drove home in 1 hour and 20 minutes of traffic, poured a glass of wine and moved on to the next one.  This was today.

Thank you, Gerardo

Actors by nature are not generous creatures.  At least that’s what I’m telling myself, because I am not a generous actor.  I think it spurs from years of scarcity and scrambling to work.  It’s awfully hard to look another actor in the eye and honestly say “I’m so happy for your success”.  It’s too loaded, there’s too much hope at stake, and there’s far too much grunt work being put in in order for fellow actors to be gracious and humble when it comes to being employed.  Comparisons, competition, jealousy and self worth all mix together into this awful, petty artist-being.  That’s why I think it’s doubly dangerous to marry another actor.  Put all of that in the context of a marriage and you’re asking for strife.

When another actor is generous and happy for my success, I am chastened.  Mind you, it rarely happens, but when it does, I am uncomfortably reminded of how I wish to be as an actor.  Elizabeth Gilbert frames it another way that makes it a bit easier to swallow.  She presents creativity/artistry as a visit from the divine.  It’s not the human being who is the creative, they’re just the vessel.  So the divine may or may not visit you.  It may or may not visit your competition.  It is no reflection on you as an artist.

Thinking back on the handful of times another actor has been generous to me (which, to be fair, is more times than I have been), one stands out in particular.  Gerardo Davila is an actor in the DFW area who sometimes works out in LA as well.  When I was a working actor in Dallas, I was trying desperately to get signed by one of the top agents there.  I had submitted to her 3 times, and been rejected.  Eventually I performed in a talent showcase some lovely people put together that always had a panel of judges who would give you feedback on your performance.  When I saw this agent was going to be on the panel, I not only auditioned to do a scene with a friend, but also to sing a song.  I really wanted to take advantage of being seen by her!

After my performances, Gerardo came up to me and said “I’m with Linda. (the targeted agent)  You have to meet her, I’ll take you over and introduce you.”  We met, she said she enjoyed it and to submit my materials.  I did, and thus began a few years of being with that agent.  I am no longer with her, but it opened up a large number of acting opportunities I didn’t have prior to signing with her in Dallas.  This is all because a fellow actor championed me and wanted my success.  What a blessing!  May we all be a little more like Gerardo in wanting the best for our community.