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?  : )

The nitty gritty details pt. 2

There’s a tricky caveat in buyouts.  In each contract, you are guaranteed the session and wardrobe fee, but the buyout is upon the condition that they choose your spot to air.  So, you do all the work regardless, and if they decide when they’re editing the spot that they don’t want to use what you did, you don’t get paid.  Now, this is generally not a problem because if they’re going to the time and expense to shoot the thing, they’re likely going to use it.  However, in the past year, I’ve now had 4 commercials that have not aired my spot.  Yikes.  First time for me.

Several of them weren’t too big of an issue because they weren’t paying that much at the outset, or were union, so they paid a bunch of other checks like holding fees, etc.  But then there was the whopper.  This job I was pretty excited to book, because, all in, I expected anywhere from $8-$9,000.  This is a pretty chunk of change.  Let’s take a trip to the job process itself.

Day one: the audition.  There was a ton of copy for this audition, but I felt like I nailed it and showed my skills well.

Day two: this was the callback with the director.  They were foreign (not abnormal) and liked what I did, having me do every last bit of copy, so I was in the room for a good 10 minutes.

Then I got a call from my agent a day or 2 later saying I booked it and letting me know about all the monies that would be made- $600 session fee per day (likely on set 2 days), behind the scenes footage $750, fitting $84, $2500 print, and $5000 buyout.  Very nice payday.

When I arrived for my least favorite part, the fitting, I sat in a chair in a lobby for 5-6 hours waiting to be seen.  There were a ton of people running around chaotically, fitting other actors, talking over production, etc.  It struck me as pretty disorganized when the 2nd AD couldn’t find my role on the callsheet.

The day of the shoot I arrived early in the morning to yet another chaotic scene- people rushing around trying to figure out what happened next- shooting going on in one part of the location and pictures going on in another.  It was a huge crew and a lot of extras and actors were on set.  I was told they wouldn’t be ready for me for awhile, so I went through hair and makeup and wardrobe and got approvals and then worked on my scenes for acting class that night while I waited…and waited…and waited.  2 hours later they called me to location where they took about 10 photos of me that they had taken of another actor just prior.  Then I got ushered down to wait some more.  30 minutes later I was rushed back to set and told to wait in a chair while they got ready for my shot on camera.  They filmed another actor while I watched on the viewing screen.  She was doing the lines and scene that I was cast to do.  I assumed they wanted something else of me.  So I waited.  And waited.  Until they said they wouldn’t be shooting me and took me back to holding.  A half hour later I was rushed to another location where they took some more pictures of me with some other actors.  Everyone was rushing around and didn’t seem to have things organized with this huge production.

I was ushered back to holding where I waited a bit longer only to have the 2nd AD tell me that he was sorry but they wouldn’t be getting to my shot.  They were wrapping for lunch and then moving to another location, but they would be calling me to do a Voice Over session later in the week.  So, I guess I was only needed for one day of shooting, and they never got to my shot, and decided not to get it?  And now I am going to do voice over?  Not at all what I was expecting.  I had lunch and went straight to acting class.

2 months later, I’ve checked online and they aren’t using any of the still shots they took of me, but they are airing the footage they shot with the other actor saying the lines I thought I would be shooting.  They never called me in for voice over, and to date, I have received:

$547.18

And I think that’s all I’ll get.  The session fee+wardrobe fitting- agent commission.  So what was expected to be $9,000 is now a paltry percentage.  Though I auditioned, got called back, booked the job and was on set for the shoot, it’s almost as if I didn’t book that job.  Nothing I can do about that.  Just one of the many intricacies of a very unstable business.

The nitty gritty details

Once again I am here to peel back the velvet curtain on the inside workings of the actor business.  Many of my readers (AKA my family) are in professions so far removed from the acting world that there is no reason they would have any inkling of the private details of a very public job.  I shall do my best to be candid and clear so you might have a better idea than you did before of how things work.  To see more like this, I direct you to this post, and this one.

I get paid a lot for what I do.  Let’s just get that out in the open.  I am by no means saying that I deserve the rates I command, but this is what people pay me, so this is what I deposit in my account.  Acting jobs are few and far in between, so a higher paycheck is needed to make it at all appealing to actors.  Also, with commercials, I am more than aware of how much money these companies are bringing in with these ad campaigns, and I am a part of that cash cow.  I’ve long stopped feeling guilty for how much I make.

There.  Now that that’s out of the way, let’s talk numbers.  I work everyday.  365 days out of the year.  That work looks different depending on the day, but it’s work nonetheless.  Most of my work is trying to get a paying job.  So most of my work is volunteer.  Therefore, when I book the 10 gigs out of the 66 I auditioned for (last years numbers) those each need to pay a nice chunk to make up for the 56 gigs I did not get paid for and the work that I likewise saw no income from.

Here’s how an actors paycheck gets broken down.  Note: these are my averages, not everyone’s.  Some are lower or higher.

Wardrobe fee: $84 You are paid this to come in and try on a bunch of clothes, get pics taken and have people decide what you’ll wear for the shoot.  Usually an hour or so.  My least favorite part of a gig.

Session fee: This is what you’re paid for the day.  Usually $500.

Buyout: This is the big money.  With a union job they have to pay you forever if they use it forever.  You are paid for every use.  In non-union work, they just pay a buyout which entitles them to use it as much as they want, for either a specified time, or in perpetuity (I try not to do in perpetuity anymore, because then I have commercials running for 6 years+ that I was paid $350 for, once ever.  See this.)  Usually it’s for 1-2 years.  Buyouts for me are anywhere from $1500-$20,000, depending on the job, but generally averaging $3000.

Commission: My agent gets 10-20% of every check I get, no matter if I found the job and got it myself, or they sent me out for it.

This leaves me with an average pay of $3,000 per job.  For each job, I work 4 days.  1-audition 2-callback 3-fitting 4-shoot.

Tune in next week when I break down an unfortunate circumstance in buyouts that happened recently to me.

 

Know where you came from

This is a hard one for me.  Because of my pride, I like to think that everything I’ve done, and all that I’ve experienced is due to my own effort, and mine alone.  The hard core individualist within me cries out for sole ownership of any venture I take on, assuming that my hard work entitles me to a 200% share in everything.

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Last week I watched a very well made film, Suffragette, which told the story of the women who championed the female vote in England in the early 20th century.  It painted a very bleak picture not only of working class London, but also of the struggle for equal rights that women from the most poverty stricken to the upper class were shouldered with.  One doesn’t have to imagine too far back to a time in America when as a female you didn’t have a right to vote or hold property or to certain jobs.  Yet as a mid-30’s female, who grew up in the mid 80’s and 90’s, I can say I have never shouldered that burden.  I have never even considered the alternative to what I have.

It’s easy to forget those who have gone before you because of our myopic view of time.  It’s because of those women who risked and even lost their lives for a cause they believed in, that I could easily stroll over to the park last week and vote in our municipal elections.  It’s because of people like my mom (don’t tell her I wrote this) that I have absolutely no glass ceiling on my dreams of being whatever the hell I want to.  It hasn’t always been this way.  And it won’t always be this way.  Know where you came from and who made that possible, but also pave the way for those after you to know an even better tomorrow.

Happy and Excited

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I got to go to NYC for my birthday.  I’m going to say that again, because, for me, that was a really big deal.  I got to go to NYC  for my birthday!  You see, even though I’m a huge musical theatre fan and most actors have been to New York, I’ve not.  So this was a big deal for me.  To make it an even bigger deal, we saw Waitress, my Broadway obsession.  That’s right, for my very first Broadway show, I got to see my favorite.  How lucky am I?

Seeing the theatres and the lights and the posters was exciting enough.  Walking through Central Park was breezy and lovely.  But when that curtain rose and the familiar music began playing, I was enraptured beyond belief.  At the edge of my seat, I took in every syllable, each movement and character and drank it in.  Tears streamed down my face as the lead sang her heart out in my favorite song of the show.  I was surprised, delighted, humored, and moved by it all.

After the show was over and I was beaming with joy, I couldn’t help but think how I would have missed out if I hadn’t allowed myself to be transported.  If I had come in as a critic rather than an eager audience member longing to be taken on a ride, I couldn’t have experienced it the way I did.  This will forever be the first Broadway show I ever saw.  In the future, maybe I will be more jaded and critical.  But for now, I will be in love with this show and all that I experienced, and that memory can’t be changed.  Thank you NYC!  You treated this birthday girl right.