Sunday, June 10, 2012

10 Questions From A Young Actor

I recently did a commercial for Lipitor playing a mom with a husband and two sons.  My younger TV son, Bridger Palmer, asked if I’d participate in a class project.  I said, “yes” and he sent me the following 10 questions to answer. 

As you would imagine, I discuss marketing in my answers.  If you’ve been reading my blog, you know what a stickler I am about the necessity of marketing yourself to forward your career.  That goes for any career you may embark on, but this particular interview is geared towards actors.

I hope you enjoy it! 

1. Tell me about yourself & the highlights of your career?

My name is Anne Marie Howard and I’ve been a steadily working actress for over 32 years.  

I’m the oldest of 5 kids, and was born in San Diego at the Balboa Naval Hospital where Dad was a dentist in the Navy. 

When I was 2 years old, we moved to Ottumwa, Iowa where Dad’s parents helped him set up his dental practice, and where I got involved with the local children’s theatre.  I knew when I was 4 years old that I wanted to be an actress.  My mom put me in dance class because she said I walked like an elephant and it would help me be more graceful.  The first time I appeared onstage in a dance recital, I loved it! 

When I was 14, we moved to Davenport, Iowa and I was in every high school production.  We did one musical and one dramatic play every year.  I loved playing Anne Frank in the Diary of Anne Frank and Fanny Brice in Funny Girl.  My first professional paycheck came from understudying Hodel & Chava at the Circa ’21 Dinner Theatre in Rock Island, Illinois during my senior year of high school. 

At 18, I moved to New York City to attend the American Academy of Dramatic Arts and embark on my professional acting career. 
There are so many highlights in my career, but my favorite highlight was being cast as Nicole Love on the NBC soap opera, Another World.  I was flown to New York (from Los Angeles) to audition, and when I got the role I was very excited.  I had never considered doing a soap opera, but my acting teacher, Milton Katselas, suggested that I could hone my skills and learn a lot from working steadily.  He was right.  I learned so much working 3-4 days a week for three years on the soap operas.  It also opened a lot of doors for me.

Another highlight was working on The Weather Man with Nicolas Cage.  I sat beside Bryant Gumbel at a news desk (at a real news station) in Chicago and co-hosted “Good Morning, America!” with him.  That was a real thrill, especially after watching him on the Today Show with Katie Couric and Matt Lauer all those years.  In The Weather Man, Bryant & I co-hosted the morning talk show, participated in a cooking demonstration with Wolfgang Puck, and rode on a float in a parade with Nicolas Cage.

And yet another highlight was becoming a Spokeswoman in Television Commercials and a Host in Infomercials.  I worked on big campaigns (involving multiple commercials, voice-overs & print ads) for Maalox, Ditech, and the National Association of Realtors.  I’ve interviewed Donald Trump, Melissa Etheridge, James Cromwell, Vanessa Williams, George Foreman, Frances Fisher, CEO’s, medical doctors, scientists, and many others.   
2. What is most rewarding as an actor?

It’s really rewarding to give a good audition, book the job, and work on a big film set alongside a famous actor.  I’ve had the privilege to work with Adam Sandler, Nicolas Cage, Bryant Gumbel, Steve Martin, Eva Longoria, Marcia Cross, Tony Shalhoub, James Caan, Geena Davis, Charles Shaughnessy, Isaiah Washington, Ed Begley Jr, Martin Lawrence, Laura Innes, Amy Brenneman, Jane Lynch, Peter Falk, Gena Rowlands, Michael Landon, Dan Lauria, Sharon Lawrence, Scott Bakula, and so many more incredible actors.  And, I’ve had so much fun!

3. What is it like to be an adult actor?

I really enjoyed all the theatre work I did in Ottumwa & Davenport, Iowa from the age of 4-18, but moving to New York City to attend the American Academy of Dramatic Arts right out of high school was thrilling!  And by the time I was 20, I was making six figures as an actress, mostly from national television commercials!

They say that it’s difficult for women over 40 to get work, but I’m here to tell you otherwise.  I’m working now more than ever, and the roles are deeper and richer.  It’s also wonderful to receive direct bookings, which means that I’m offered roles without having to audition for them.  I love working with the same directors over and over again.     

4. What is most aggravating?

The most aggravating thing is not to have a crack at roles that are being handed out to the names and/or celebrities.  These actors are sometimes not right for the roles they’re offered, but because they’re well known and will bring in viewers, it’s worth it to the producers to cast them.  It helps them market their film.

It’s also aggravating to be put on avail and know that you’re one of only a few who are in consideration for the job, only to be released a few days later.  When this happens a few times in a row, it’s painful. 

5. What should someone know about considering a career in acting?

I have a strong belief that, if you want an acting career & longevity in show biz, you need to market yourself and spend time every day moving your career forward.  An acting career requires networking to get the auditions and book the jobs, and that’s not always the fun part.  When you find a way to make the ‘business’ part of acting enjoyable, you will succeed.  

Know that it can take awhile, possibly years, before you start working steadily.  You may need a part-time job with flexible hours in the early stage of your career.  Invest the money you make wisely.  Be sure to keep your headshots, resumes, and demo reels up-to-date, and upload them to the casting websites: LA Casting, Actors Access, Now Casting, IMDB, Casting Frontier, etc.  Take classes & read the trades.  Know what’s going on in your industry.   

6. What would people be surprised to know about acting?

Once you’re on the set working, you’ll find that acting actually involves a lot of sitting around & waiting.  Hair & make-up can take over an hour if you’re a woman, and you may be dressed and ready to work, but sit in your trailer for hours waiting to be called to the set. 

Also know that many actors audition for fifty commercials or more before they book one.  This means driving to auditions, going to callbacks, and being put on avails, only to find out someone else booked the job.  But it also means that you’re doing something right if you’re getting callbacks and avails, so hang in there and keep a positive attitude.  Once you’ve booked a commercial, you may be asked to arrive on the set as early as 5am.  Sometimes the day will go fast, and other times you may spend hours waiting, or working in front of the camera which is the fun part. 

Market yourself to increase your auditions.  Don’t just sit around and wait for your agent or manager to call with an appointment.  If you really apply yourself, you’ll be able to make a living as an actor.

7. With the unions merging, what do you see for the future of acting?

I believe that SAG-AFTRA will be a more powerful union, a union that has the ability to negotiate good deals for its actors & stay ahead of the curve with new media rates. 

I don’t think that we’ll notice too much of a difference, other than the fact that AFTRA won’t undermine SAG by offering a better contract to the producers, or vice versa.  The merger has definitely made the producers and studios wary, and put them on the defensive, as everyone gears up for the first contract negotiation in October, which is the commercial contract.  My commercial agent has noticed that there’s more non-union work casting now. 

8. What age did you start acting?

I started acting at the age of 4.  I was in the musical, Carousel at the Ottumwa Heights Community College in Ottumwa, Iowa.  I played the youngest of Mr. & Mrs. Snow’s children.  I had been in a dance recital, but this was the first time I had an acting role on stage.  Being onstage feels like home to me.

9. How many jobs per year should someone expect to book?

It depends on your physical type and your age range.  I give myself new goals every year.  This year I expect to book 2 infomercials, 2 commercials, 3 films, 4 television guest-star/co-star roles, and 10 voice-overs.  That’s been an average for me over the past 15 years, with some years being better than others, of course.

10. At what point did you consider your career a success?

I considered my career a success when I was able to quit waiting on tables in New York City.  I worked at Maxwell’s Plum in 1979, and quit in 1980 when I got my SAG card for a Fruit Fresh commercial with the Cunningham & Marx Advertising Agency.  Waiting on tables was my last non-acting job.  Ever since then I have my made living as an actress.  That was 32 years ago!

   Taking my own advice and shooting new photos with 
Shandon of Amazing Headshots.  
                                   I'll have the new business shots on my website soon!    

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Networking with Social Media

Social Media is an Important Marketing Tool

Love it or hate it, you’ve got to do it. 
Social media is not just the wave of the future, it’s here now.
And, it’s a good thing!  

It’s where connections are being made, ideas are being exchanged, information is abundant, and work can be had.  It’s time to jump in and learn what it’s all about, and how it works, if you haven’t already.

The Business of Selling Yourself

Networking is crucial to running a successful business.  Whether you’re incorporated, or not, you must get good at marketing.  We are all in the business of selling products.  For actors and performers, your main product is yourself.  

Start with creating your own website and/or YouTube Channel.  This will provide a place for potential employers, and new contacts, to view your business.  It will also provide you with a link you can post on Facebook and Twitter, which will allow you to drive friends and followers to your website where they can learn more about you, and purchase whatever you’re selling. 

Although attending events is necessary and networking in person can be enjoyable, social media is  actually where it’s all happening.  You’ll be able to stay in touch with the people you’ve met at these events and build lasting relationships online.

Make Choices That Work For You

I’m going to limit our discussion to Facebook and Twitter because, in my experience, they’re currently the best social media resources for networking.  Plus, they work well together.  A Tweet can magically appear on your Facebook page, which saves you time since you don’t have to upload to two different places.

A friend of mine is turned off by the trivial banter, wasted time, and invasion of privacy.  But he can use social media strictly for business, without having to divulge any personal information.  He can choose his friends on Facebook and followers on Twitter. 

Regarding the privacy issue: if we have cell phones and computers, we can be tracked.  Much of our information is already available online, whether we like it or not.

Be Selective

If you’re concerned about privacy, educate yourself on the settings in the various sites, and make adjustments accordingly.  Don’t post your home phone, address, email, birthday, relationship information, or family names.  Keep it strictly business, and be selective.  Remember that everything you post is available for everyone to see.  Potential employers are often looking on Facebook & Twitter to check profiles, so just be aware of that when you’re posting. 

Limit Your Time

If you’re concerned about the time element, limit yourself.  You don’t have to spend more than 10 minutes a day on Facebook or Twitter to be effective. 

“You spend a lot of time on Facebook,” one of my girlfriends told me at a recent gathering. 

“I really don’t,” I said.  “I log on and post some photos or information.  I don’t hang around chatting or visiting other friend’s pages.  Sometimes I’ll read the latest postings on my Home page, but I’m usually on Facebook less than 10 minutes a day.”


You do have to interact with others to get the most out of it, and sometimes I will spend more time on social media than I had anticipated.  However, that extra time is good for building relationships.  It can also generate work.  For instance, a Director/Producer I’d worked with in the past contacted me about hosting an infomercial.  He wanted to run it by me before calling my agent.  I checked out the product and was very interested.  My agent negotiated a lucrative deal for me!

FYI: That Director/Producer had lost my email address, so he took a chance and searched for me on Facebook.   (This kind of thing happens frequently and is a good reason to have a Facebook page.) 

A Free Publicist

I like to think of social media as my own free publicist.  Publicists are very expensive, often charging over $5,000/month with a 3-month minimum. 

With Social Media, I can announce my television appearances, film screenings, website updates, blog articles, and more, for free.

I have a friend who writes, produces, and directs his own films.  He has a YouTube Channel and uploads trailers and promos there.  Social media is an excellent way to get the word out when his films are screening in festivals.  

On Twitter, Another World often retweets my blog, website, and appearances to all of their followers.  (I played Nicole Love on the soap opera, Another World.)  

On Facebook, my friends share the information I post, which makes it available to all of their friends.  

Sharing information is an essential element for growing a business, and you can do it without an expensive publicist.

Good Wishes

It doesn’t take long to say “Thank You” or wish a good friend “Happy Birthday!” 
I googled Happy Birthday images and saved a photo of a birthday cake to my desktop.  I’ve googled images for all the holidays & upload the image when saying Happy Birthday, Happy Valentine’s day, Happy Thanksgiving, etc.  It always makes me smile when I receive good wishes and I know it touches others, too!


On Twitter, I’ll often read a tweet that I think my followers will enjoy, and retweet it.  Retweeting is a great habit to develop.  It’s an excellent way to expand followers and build relationships.  If someone retweets you, reply with a nice thank you.  Let them know you appreciate them passing on your tweet. They have a different group of followers than you do, so you'll be exposed to a whole other group of people.

Tag, Comment, and Like

On Facebook, I’ll post photos on my own page, but I’m careful about tagging.  If you don’t like weird photos of yourself popping up on your Facebook page, you can only imagine how your friends may feel about you tagging them on their page.  It’s best to send them a private message & let them tag their own photos. 

Click the LIKE button and give a 'thumbs up' to comments you enjoy.  Leave thoughtful, supportive and upbeat comments of your own, but refrain from getting caught up in a political debate, or too much back and forth banter.  I’ve seen too many heated exchanges end in angry words.  Remember that every one of your friends has access to all your information, even those friends who are work contacts.  Think before you post.

Contribute – Share Your Wisdom

A writer recently sent me a Facebook message, asking if I’d like to contribute to her book about women in the entertainment industry.  Another writer asked if I’d like to contribute to her book on steadily working actresses, divulging secrets to my success.  I wrote pieces for both, and was thrilled to offer advice from my 30+ years of experience in the trenches of Hollywood.  Next week, I’m doing an interview about my experience working on a John Carpenter film.  I've received many other requests to do interviews and write articles for online magazines.  I am always happy to contribute.  Sharing wisdom is rewarding.

Information Exchange

Social media is a great way to stay connected with large groups of people.  Especially those you’ve worked with in a class, workshop, or production.  You can easily exchange information about upcoming events, screenings, and more. 

I found out that three actors I’d worked with on a commercial shoot had already received their paychecks, while I was still waiting for my check weeks later.  I got proactive, contacted my agent, and got paid.  Networking helps you stay on top of things.


Use common courtesy.  Don’t put your work stuff on other people’s pages.  Post it on your own page & ask them to share it.  I check my Facebook page regularly to make sure nothing has been posted that I don’t want there.  I recently sent a message to a ‘friend’ asking him to please stop posting ads on my page.  When he disregarded my message and kept posting his ads, I unfriended him.   

Remember when you respond to a tweet or comment, everyone can see it.  If you have more to say, there are ways to a have a private conversation.  Be considerate.  Use the private messaging features. 

If someone I don’t know sends me a friend request, I usually make sure we have at least five friends in common before accepting it.  Sometimes I just trust my instincts though.  You can always unfriend someone if they become a nuisance.  I don’t know all my ‘friends’ personally.  Many are fans.  I’m looking forward to meeting them in person one day.  I’ve built some nice friendships since I started using social media.  

Offering Deals

It’s a good idea to share something interesting about yourself, instead of just tweeting about your work all the time.  When you tweet about your successes, and invite followers to check out your website, classes, events, films, television shows, artwork, music, products, or anything else work related, it would be nice for the next tweet to be a bit more personal.  Give some free advice, or offer words of wisdom filled with helpful hints.  Post a witty remark, or share something you enjoy. 

A girlfriend of mine, who runs a very successful online business, bought a huge book of famous Quotes.  She sits at her computer with a glass of wine at night, opens the thick book and posts a few of her favorite quotes.  Then she offers a great discount for her classes and/or products, and gives incredible deals to the first five followers who respond.  Brilliant! 


If you’ve read all this and it’s still confusing, help is on the way!  I gave you an overview, but there’s more to learn.  Once you get set up, you’ll see how easy it is to network using social media.  You may have to ask for some assistance.  I know I did.  I still do!  There always seems to be something new to learn.  If you have a question, email me and I’ll answer it, or I’ll find someone who can.  

Twitter has a great Help Center on its site.  They actually explain how to use it!

Facebook requires a bit more finesse.  They always seem to be changing things, but if you bounce around on their site, you’ll learn a lot.  And you’ll find that friends will notify each other when changes occur.    

Stay current by checking online for updates.  I read WIRED magazine on my new iPad and love staying informed about all the new technology. 
If you’re still scratching your head, I’ve recommended a few books below.  And, of course, there are free apps for Twitter and Facebook so you can access your accounts 24/7 with your mobile phone!

Create, Share, Connect

Use your imagination.  Be creative.  Generate new ideas.  Come up with interesting ways to share yourself.  Engage others.  Grow your database.  Expand your business.  Meet new people.  Build relationships.  Open your mind.  Learn new things.  Widen your horizons.  Have some fun in the process.  Connections generate work.    

Enjoy networking with social media & be sure to email me your success stories!

The Queen of Everything tips her tiara to you! 
         Thank you for being a blog reader.

BOOKS ON SOCIAL MEDIA (*I’ve read the ones with the asterisks)

FACEBOOK FOR DUMMIES - Also available in the  Mini Edition* on Amazon for a penny! 




*SOCIAL MEDIA MARKETING All-In-One For Dummies by Jan Zimmerman & Doug Sahlin

If you can't stand the thought of reading a book with DUMMIES in the title, you can find other choices on or at your local bookstore.  

Here are a few other books that I’m reading right now that I highly recommend:

IMAGINE: How Creativity Works by Jonah Lehrer.  (It’s inspiring to read about how ideas are birthed.)

AT LEFT BRAIN TURN RIGHT: An Uncommon Path to Shutting Up Your Inner Critic, Giving Fear the Finger and Having an Amazing Life by Anthony Meindl

MADE TO STICK: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die by Chip Heath & Dan Heath

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Incorporating Simplified

Is It Time To Incorporate?
All You Need to Know About Subchapter S Corporations

I’ve worked hard at educating myself on my finances.  It didn’t come naturally, and wasn’t interesting to me at all until I hit my 30’s.  That’s when I realized I needed to get out of debt and start saving my money. 

Meeting my Financial Planner
I was at a commercial callback, paired up with a partner named Shawn, who kept looking at his watch.  I asked him if he had to be somewhere, thinking ‘what could be more important than booking a national commercial.’  That’s when I found out he was a financial planner working at a big firm.  He needed to get back to the office for a meeting, and since there were four couples ahead of us waiting to audition and we’d already been waiting almost an hour, it was time for him to head out.  I admitted that my personal finances were a mess, to which he responded, “I can help you with that.”  A few minutes later he handed me his business card, got up to go, and said, “Call me.”

It took me three months to muster up the courage to call him.  I was ashamed of the horrible shape I was in and embarrassed to talk about it.  But, if I was going to get out of the serious debt I was in, I had to get help.  It was weighing on me, causing a great deal of stress, which manifested in an aching back, lack of energy, and sleepless nights.  Credit card companies were calling and harassing me, so I’d stopped answering the phone and started to let my answering machine pick up. 

He suggested we meet at Gaucho Grill in Studio City and told me to bring all of my credit card receipts and any statements with outstanding debt.  I gathered all the bills and drove to the restaurant, pushing through the shame and guilt I felt over allowing myself to get in this position.

Shawn took my statements and arranged them in stacks.  He took a crayon from the jar that sat on top of the white paper tablecloth and drew circles around each pile of bills.  Then he numbered them, with number one being the first set of bills to pay off, number two the second, and so on.  I would pay them off according to the highest interest rate and largest amount of money owed, down to the least.

“You’re not in as bad of shape as you think you are,” he told me. 

“Really?” I asked, somewhat shocked.

“Really,” he said.  “If you follow my plan, you’ll have this cleared up in no time.”

I’ve always been a bit too hard on myself, and it was a relief to hear that I wasn’t the moron I thought I was.

Then he looked at my purse sitting next to me and said, “That purse was expensive.  I know, because my wife has one just like it.”  It was a beautiful Kate Spade bag.  “No more shopping for the next six months.”  I gasped, as my eyes practically bulged out of their sockets. 

“Look in your closet,” he continued.  “You’ve got plenty of clothes to wear.  You can mix and match them.”  He knew I had a large wardrobe because I had a ton of department store credit cards.  Plus, I had mentioned that it sucked I was still having to pay for things that I didn’t even wear anymore.

“You’re going to send me 15% of the gross of every check you receive,” he said.    “We’ll open a savings account at Morgan Stanley for you, and let it earn interest until you’re ready to invest.”

I didn’t know how I was going to pay down my debt every month and give him 15% of my gross income.  But he was confident it could happen.  “And no more credit card purchases that you can’t pay in full at the end of the month.  Keep one card and cut up the rest.”  I’m sure I looked physically distraught, because my stomach was in knots and I wanted to cry.  “You’ll see,” he reassured me, “it will feel good to see the money growing in your savings account and have all your debt paid off.”
Then he asked what I wanted to do with all the money I’d be saving.  I hadn’t thought of that since I didn’t have any money to pay my bills.

“Ummm . . .” I stammered, feeling very vulnerable.

“Would you like to buy a house?” he offered.

“Yes,” I resolved.

“How much do you want to spend on your house?” he prodded.

“I’m not sure, but I want to live on the west side, close to the ocean.”

“You’ll need at least five hundred thousand dollars,” he estimated.

“Make it six fifty,” I boldly leaped into the game.

“Okay,” he brightened, sensing he’d gotten through to me.  “You’ll need to save 20% for the down payment.”  He wrote some large numbers on the tablecloth with a blue crayon.  “That’s $130,000 on a $650,000 house.”

“Yikes!” I exclaimed.

“When do you want to buy this house?  How about a five-year goal?”

“You think I’ll be able to pay off all my debt and save enough money to buy a house in five years?” I asked in disbelief.

“Yes,” he assured me.

 And that’s exactly what came to pass.  I didn’t even miss shopping that much when I saw my savings account rapidly rising.  Shawn was right.  I already had plenty of clothes hanging in my closet.  When the six month shopping moratorium ended, I didn’t rush out to buy clothes.  Instead, I found myself getting more pleasure out of watching my savings account grow and my debt disappear.

Dummies Books
I’m a big fan of the yellow Dummies books.  They use simple language that enables me to understand challenging concepts.  Mortgages For Dummies was very helpful when it came to buying my home.  And, with the exception of my home, I don’t buy anything I can’t pay for.  My credit cards are zero balanced every month.  I don’t want to be spending my hard earned money on high interest rates anymore.  And I’ve found that there’s a big difference between what I want and what I actually need. 

When to Incorporate
Incorporating has also helped me acquire knowledge and gain awareness of my spending habits.  It hasn’t always been easy to wrap my mind around certain ideas, but I keep persevering, finding another book, person, or website to help me with what I don’t understand.  There’s so much to know and I have so much more to learn.  It’s like putting together a puzzle and I love puzzles.  So, for those of you who have been curious about corporations and what they involve, read on.  If you’re not already incorporated, you may find yourself facing the decision in the not-too-distant future. 

There may come a point in your career when your accountant recommends incorporating.  You’ll know when that time arrives because you will max out your write offs and, more than likely, be earning six figures. 

I was first incorporated in 1989 as Corn Fed, Inc when I was working on a soap opera in New York City.  I dissolved that corporation when I moved to Los Angeles, and in 2002, when my earnings increased again, I set up Queen of Everything, Inc.  This is what I’ve learned.

Fees and Taxes
The good thing about incorporating is that you’ll receive the gross amount of all income.  This will give you control of what you actually pay in taxes, and what you’ll pay in taxes is based on the amount you choose to pay yourself.  Since the majority of your expenses will be business expenses, you probably won’t need to issue yourself a very large payroll check. 

The bad thing about incorporating is the extra fees.  Corporate fees will include setting up your legal paperwork, which will cost you a one-time fee of approximately $500 to $1,500.  Expect to pay a Secretary of State annual tax fee of $25.  You’ll also be required to pay an annual $800 (minimum) tax fee to the Franchise Tax Board.  The S corp tax rate is 1.5%.  So, if your corp netted $200,000 and you paid yourself a salary of $120,000, the net $80,000 corporate income would be subject to a payment of $1,200, which is 1.5% of $80,000. *

If you set yourself up using a bank for your payroll and electronic filing, which I highly recommend, expect to pay between $21.00 and $50.00 or more every month in bank fees.  You’ll have higher accountant fees as well, since you’re now filing two sets of taxes, personal and business.  However, all these fees are business expenses, and business expenses are a write off.

Now, you’re probably thinking, ‘why would I want to incorporate if I have to pay all these fees?’  But you have to consider that you’ll have more control of your finances and there are benefits, which aren’t offered to the individual, such as bonuses and SEP IRA contributions.

Payroll Checks
You’ll have to figure out how much you need to live on per month so that you can issue yourself a monthly payroll check.  For instance, if I set up my payroll at Bank of America and authorize them to issue a payroll check, withdrawn from my corporate checking account and directly deposited into my personal checking account, I will be required to pay federal and state taxes on that amount.  The tax amount is calculated by the bank, and they notify me when payment is required, which I can do with the click of a button, while sitting at my computer in my pajamas. 

Retirement Accounts
At the end of the fiscal year, the government allows corporations to offset gross income by placing a limited amount of money into a SEP IRA account, with the maximum contribution being approximately 25% of your salary.  The current maximum contribution allowed is $49,000.  So, if you’re annual salary is $60,000, the maximum SEP contribution allowed would be $15,000.*  The money won’t be accessible until you’re retired, but your gross income will be lowered by the amount you’ve contributed to your SEP IRA.  Think of it as paying your future self.

Speaking of investing in your future, if you’ve invested your SEP IRA wisely, your funds will grow over the years and you’ll have plenty to live on when you retire, depending, of course, on the amount you’ve contributed to your SEP IRA account over the years.  Some years I put money in, and some years I don’t.  When I have a good year, I always contribute to my SEP IRA.

If everything goes according to plan, I’ll be well provided for from the age of 65 on.  I’ll have money coming in from Social Security, my SAG Pension Plan, SEP IRA account, State Farm Life Insurance policies, and more.  If one or more of these retirement investments falls through, I have others to draw from.  The way I have it set up, I’ll be assured to have something rather than nothing.

Bonuses are determined by your accountant and are based on earnings.  I don’t get a bonus every year, but when I have a good year, I receive a nice bonus.  The better the year, the bigger the bonus. 

Business Tax Categories
Here are a few of the tax categories that I’ve set up with the assistance of my accountant and bookkeeper:

Acting Income
Business Fees
Business Publications
Business Supplies
Business Gifts
Professional Grooming
Professional Entertainment
Professional Viewing
Marketing & Publicity

Your Financial Team: 
Financial Planner, Entertainment Attorney, Accountant and Bookkeeper

I highly recommend hiring an entertainment attorney who will assist you in setting up your corporation, an accountant who will guide you through the maze of numbers and prepare your income taxes, and a financial planner who is willing to help educate you in the world of investing.  I consult regularly with all of my team members. 

I recently hired a bookkeeper at the suggestion of my accountant.  My bookkeeper   taught me how to use QuickBooks so I can keep better financial records and generate quarterly profit and loss statements.  Some people choose to allow others to do this work for them, but it’s important for me to be as hands on as possible with my finances.  That way, I can stay on top of them.

Expert Advice from my Accountant, Dan Delany
All examples with asterisks (*) were provided by Dan.

“There are three general considerations I believe to consider when incorporating: one, the tax considerations which have been discussed in this article, the legal considerations which you should always discuss with your legal advisor, and three, the emotional considerations which you should discuss with ..........yourself.    If keeping track of your personal finances is overwhelming and you tend to file your personal tax returns late or at the last minute, you are probably not emotionally ready to handle incorporating.  Just imagine doubling or possibly tripling your current financial obligations.   So, be sure to research all three considerations with the appropriate professionals and yourself before taking the plunge.”
– Dan Delaney, CPA, Willner & Ornedo Accountancy, LLP  

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Seeking New Representation

I recently left an agency and am looking to be involved with a well-known agent who actually books jobs.  I have been involved in independent projects, some of which I created and was a part of.  Is it difficult to get into a well-known agency without having a recognized name in the industry? 

- Haig Mardirossian, student & aspiring actor

Yes, it's usually difficult to get into a bigger agency if you have very few credits and no name recognition.  Unless, you’re young, have a unique look, or something interesting to offer.  Agents can build careers when they discover actors at a young age.  They’re also interested in actors who are creating their own projects, like you.

My advice is to seek a mid-size agency that isn’t so big you'll get lost in their huge pool of talent and not get any attention.  It's sometimes better to be with a smaller agency where they’re passionate and excited about you, rather than a bigger agency where you're one of hundreds.  However, it's best to get out on auditions so you have a possibility of booking jobs.  If you're not getting out, you need to have a meeting with your agents and find out what you can do to help them get you auditions.  Then, if nothing changes, it's time to move on and seek new representation.  

I've been with large and small agencies, and though they’ve both been good, I seem to do better when they have fewer of my type on their roster.  Your work isn’t over once you sign with an agent though.
You need to be sending out your photo & resume and marketing yourself, not relying on them to do everything for you.

I started my professional acting career in Davenport, Iowa, where I grew up.  I performed in every high school play, and got my first paying acting job during my senior year of high school, working on stage in Fiddler On The Roof at the Circa ’21 Dinner Theatre.  This was an excellent credit to place at the top of my resume. 

Following my first professional play, I applied to the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York City and had a regional audition in Chicago, which was a 3-hour drive away.  I was accepted and moved to NYC right after high school.  At the end of my first year there, all the friends I’d made went home for the summer, but I stayed, determined to find an agent and begin working.  I actually found a manager first and he opened doors to various agencies.  After taking a few meetings, we selected the agent that had the most clout and was most enthused about working with me.

Later in my career, when I felt it was time for new representation, I sent my photo & resume to a few agents that I knew were really good, accompanied by personal handwritten letters, telling them about myself and requesting a meeting.  I followed up with phone calls. 

The agent I’m currently with was recommended by a casting director who hired me in a feature film.  When I needed new representation, I asked her for suggestions, and she offered to contact an agent on my behalf.  This was the easiest method and also landed me an agent that was a good fit. 

So you see, there are a variety of ways to seek representation.  Be creative and do your research.  I went to the Screen Actors Guild and looked through the Agency books to view their client lists.  When I wasn’t familiar with an actor’s name, I looked them up in the Players Directory to find out if they were direct competition.  Next, I targeted the agencies that didn’t have many of my type.  This approach required a lot of effort, but worked well.  Now, there’s so much information available online, that you can do much of your research from home. 

Good luck, Haig.  Or, as they say in the theatre world, “Break a leg!”  And remember:  Perseverance will bring you results. 

Friday, February 10, 2012

How to Get your Child into the Acting Biz

I have a daughter who is very young and beautiful. Can you recommend an agency that I can trust to send a headshot to? 

- Jerry Clark, dad from Delaware

Be to sure to ask your daughter if this is something she really wants to do, if you haven’t already.  And make sure that you’re up for it.  Taking her to auditions and callbacks will require a lot of time, energy, expense, and often, disappointment. However, it’s incredibly rewarding when you book a job and get to work on a film or television set. 
If you have a local talent agency in your community, or nearby, start there.  It’s a good idea to build some credits before contacting the bigger agencies.  I’ve listed four agents you can contact in the LA area at the end of this blog entry. 
Remember, when you're seeking representation for your daughter, you should never pay any money up front.  Agents and managers only make money when you, or your daughter in this case, make money.   If they offer to represent your daughter, but tell you they require some sort of fee, turn around and walk out the door.  This isn’t a reputable company.  
Once you’ve signed with an agent or manager, they may recommend getting your daughter into an acting class or workshop to help improve her skills and gain confidence.  This is a reasonable request. 
They will also, more than likely, request that you upload your daughter’s photo & info to LA Casting for online commercial submissions and Actors Access for online theatrical submissions.  These sites have fees attached, but it will be a necessary step for you to take.  Your agent will be able to submit your daughter to casting directors using this service, and you’ll also be able to submit her yourself on certain projects.
Commercial and theatrical agents will take 10% of your gross earnings, but they’re almost always able to negotiate their 10 percent commission on top of your salary. 
Print agents, or the print division at a commercial agency, will take 20% of your gross earnings, even if they’ve managed to negotiate 20 percent, or more, in the contract.  
Managers usually receive a 15-20% commission, which means if you decide to hire both a manager and an agent, you'll be giving away anywhere between 25 -40 percent of your gross income.  When you figure in taxes, that's about 50 percent of your paycheck.  However, this is standard, and your agent and manager won't make any money until your daughter books a job and receives income.  Sometimes the more people you have working on your behalf, the better.    
On another note, for all of you:
As far as photos go, starting out with a good headshot is really important.  It's your key to opening doors.  
Jerry has a friend who is a professional photographer & took this photo of his daughter in the ball field one afternoon.  It's a great shot!

Addelyn is looking directly into the lens with a natural expression and an energy that leaps out of the photo.  Her pink top against the green background makes her eyes pop. 
The photo is simple, not busy.  It captured my interest & will definitely attract an agent’s attention.
When you print up 8x10’s, which is the standard headshot size, don’t skimp on quality.  Find a good photo lab to duplicate your photos.  It’s important to put your best foot forward.
Here are the names of a few top-notch LA talent agencies that have represented me over the years that I highly recommend.  The top two are my current agents.  All have youth divisions, as well as adult divisions, and a few have NY offices or affiliates. 
Visit the agency websites, find the name of the agent that handles the youth division, and send your photo to them with a brief note.  You can send it via email or through the postal service.  Tell them a little about yourself and request a meeting.  
It’s okay to send them a message via Facebook, too.  Be sure it’s a personalized message though, and not a general message that you would send to just anyone.
I’m looking forward to regular updates from you, Jerry.  Wishing you & your daughter the very best!  

Daniel Hoff Agency        
Commercial Talent Agency
Abrams Artists Agency                
AKA Talent Agency                             

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Waiting To Work

Hurry Up and Wait

 A lot of time spent on Film and Television sets involves waiting.  It’s similar to the time an Actor spends waiting to hear if they’ve booked a job after auditioning, only it’s a bit easier when you’re waiting on a set because you’ve actually got the role.  It’s just a matter of when you’ll get to perform. 

I can only remember one time in my thirty-plus years of being on sets when I didn’t have to wait.  I was working on The West Wing.  A Production Assistant handed me a brand new scene while I was sitting in the make-up chair.  It was a long, heart-wrenching monologue.  I’d already learned the script they’d sent me days before, but this was completely different.  “They’ll have cue cards on set for you,” the PA told me when she saw my eyes go wide with panic.  But moments later, I was taken right from the chair to the set, and there were no cue cards.  It would have been highly unusual if there were, but still, I was told they’d have them for me.  I did the best I could, but the Script Supervisor corrected me in-between takes, wanting the words verbatim.  In the end, the scene didn’t make it on the air, which was really disappointing since The West Wing was one of my favorite shows.  It would have been nice to have been given the time to sit in my trailer and go over the new dialogue.  Waiting would have been wonderful.

Most Actors are frustrated by the amount of time they spend waiting.  Mostly because they come prepared to work and often have to sit around for 4 to 8 hours before having that opportunity.  It’s important to get good at waiting.  And I don’t mean waiting on tables, although it’s a great way to supplement your income when you’re starting out.  I mean waiting, and waiting, and well . . . waiting.

You don’t want to expend all your energy before you get in front of the camera.  When I worked on the Adam Sandler film, You Don’t Mess With the Zohan, my call time was 9pm and I wasn’t called to the set until 3am.  When the PA’s gave me notice that we were hours away from my scene, I slept in my trailer.  Adam commented on how much energy I had at 3am, but I had been sleeping while they’d already worked a 10-hour day with hours left to go.   

The only time I haven’t had to wait to hear if I booked a role was when I auditioned for John Carpenter.  I got the call on my drive home that I’d booked the role of Susan in the film, Prince Of Darkness.  I read for the role of Lisa so it was a bit strange when my manager kept calling me Susan, thinking I’d understand that this meant I booked the job.  Normally it will take anywhere from a few days to a few weeks after you’ve auditioned to hear if you’ve booked the role. 

I waited 3 months before hearing that I’d booked the role of Bryant Gumbel’s ‘Hello, America’ Co-Host in the Nicolas Cage film, The Weather Man.  I thought they’d shot the film and edited it by then.  I was thrilled to find out that the shooting schedule had simply been delayed, and that I would be flying to Chicago to work on the film for 3 weeks.

Right now I’m waiting to shoot a scene in the Lifetime Movie-Of-the-Week, Killing Mr. Wright.  I’m playing a Legal Expert.  I didn’t have to wait to hear if I’d gotten this role because I didn’t have to audition.  It was a direct Booking.  The Casting Director called my Agent and offered me the role.  I love when this happens, and it’s happening a lot more often these days.  This particular scene that I’m waiting to shoot is the last scene of the day.  It’s 9pm and I’ve been here since 5pm.  The Crew and other Cast Members have been working since 10am. 

Male actors are often given later call times because they require less time in hair and make-up.  I’ll be working with an actual news reporter who I won’t meet ahead of time.
I’ve been to wardrobe, had my hair and make-up done, signed my contracts, gone over my lines numerous times, studied the call sheet, read the script again, and gotten brief updates from PA’s on where they’re at in the shooting schedule.  I’m comfortable, relaxed, and well prepared.  I brought my laptop and am working on my blog.  I visited the set to watch a scene being shot and met some of the Crew Members.  Back in my trailer, I return my agent’s call, read a bit, go over my lines a few more times, and stay focused.

‘Hurry up’ is due to the fact that the schedule can change at any moment, and scenes often get shuffled around.  The PA’s get in trouble if they don’t have the Actors ready to go to set when called, so they usually get them ready early.  So I’m waiting, in my wardrobe, with full hair and make-up, trying not to wrinkle my blouse and slacks.  I want to look fresh when I arrive on the set.

Then, suddenly, with no warning, I’m called to work.  And I’m ready.  I meet my fellow Actor, who plays the Pundit in the scene, as we’re walked from our trailers to the set.  The 2nd AD introduces us to the Director.  We shake hands and get to work.  The Crew has had a long day and they’re anxious to film the final scene and go home.  The very last shot of the day is called the Martini shot.  Apparently the final shot acquired its name because after the last shot of the day “the next shot is out of a glass.”  A Martini is always well deserved after a long 10-14 hour day of shooting. 

We rehearse the scene with the Director in a quiet area while the Crew adjusts the lighting on set.  Stand-ins are brought in to take the Actors positions, which helps the process go faster.  Meanwhile, at our rehearsal, the Director offers his notes and suggestions, and encourages improvisation and ad-libbing.  Actors aren’t always allowed to improvise, but it’s really fun to do.  I always read the entire script, not just my part, and I read it more than once.  I have a lot of ideas about what I’ll talk about and what other questions I want to ask the Pundit.  Next, the Sound Mixer wires us.  In this case, the microphones don’t have to be hidden because we’re on a television talk show.  Since we’re shooting in front of a green screen and much of the lighting was preset, the Crew is ready to go in ten minutes, which is pretty miraculous on a film set.  Lighting design often takes hours.  The Editors will plug in the Virtual Set later, when they get to the Editing Room.  Who knows what they’ll choose for the background.  I won’t know until I see the movie. 

It’s over in less than an hour.  Four hours of waiting and forty-five minutes of actual filming, to be exact.  It went well and I had a great time.  Back in my trailer, I pack up my things.  A PA stops by to have me sign the time sheet.  I scribble my initials next to the hours worked.  I got a lot done while I was waiting, and I got paid while doing it.  Hurry up and wait.  That’s Hollywood, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything!