Monday, February 18, 2013

Theory vs. Practice

Many eons ago when I was in college, I studied all kinds of feminist theory.  My senior thesis was on race and gender in two pieces of Civil Rights Era literature.  I marched in Take Back the Night rallies and went to lectures where the representation of women in media was debated.  I was -- and still am -- a feminist.

So imagine my shock when, on our first writing job that ever went into production (that'd be the not-so-great CROCODILE) I was sitting in on casting and saw some huge potbellied guy glance at an actress' headshot after she left the room.  "Looks like she had a few pints of Haagen Dazs since this photo was taken."  I was too taken aback to say anything, too unsure of my position in the production hierarchy to point out that this asshole could use a salad or two. 

Do actresses going up for ingenue roles have to contend with unrealistic body image demands?  Unfortunately, the answer is yes.  Let me put it this way: in most of the country, I'd probably be considered a thin person.  Well, I've put on some weight recently, but I digress.  In Hollywood, even at my most slender?  No way.  When I'm sitting in on auditions and actresses come in, I swear that their waists are the same circumference as my thigh.

I'm not going to lie: it's not easy for actresses.  Do you have body image issues (like me and probably every other woman out there?)  Work on them, because acting isn't going to make them easier.  Actresses' bodies and looks are judged critically by producers and directors.  Yes, male actors are judged too, but I think the bar is higher for women.  The ideal female cinematic body type today -- large breasts, slim hips, slim thighs -- doesn't occur naturally very often.  Sorry to burst your bubble, guys.  Generally we lose weight up top first.  There have been whole books written about how the ideal female body type has changed through the years so I won't try to gloss over it here, but flip through any art history book and you'll get the gist pretty fast.

Granted, there's a certain amount where an actors' "look" is always going to play into casting decisions for legitimate reasons: if you're casting a family, for example, you have to make sure the kids and parents resemble each other.  But there's an intangible element that comes into play that has always made me uncomfortable.  There's no other way to put it than to say that a producer's personal taste -- what he or she considers attractive -- plays a role.  I've seen good actresses rejected because their "ears looked weird" or their "eyes were too far apart."  Sometimes you can advocate for an actress you love, but usually it's like banging against a brick wall.  If one of the people with a say in casting doesn't think the actress is sexy enough, game over.  (It's not just male producers who are guilty of this, by the way.)

Wait a minute, you may be thinking.  If this bothers you, why not write characters who don't fall into the traditional body types?  Describe them as looking different -- problem solved!  Sadly, this tends to only work if the character's "look" has something to do with the story.  They have to feel bad about being chubby and work to get over it, for example, or be a social reject and therefore be "different looking."  If you read the script for JACOB'S LADDER, for example, the character of Jezzie is described as "a beefy woman, juicy and sensual."  Elizabeth Pena is a fantastic actress and I'd describe her as many things, but "beefy" is not one of them. 

I'll point out one exception to what I said above: shows and movies where the main character is the driving force.  Kevin James on THE KING OF QUEENS is a dumpy guy with a hot wife.  Chubby guy with a hot wife or girlfriend is something we're very used to seeing -- as is an old guy with a young, hot girl (though I still remember the shock that ran right through my bones during ENTRAPMENT when Catherine Zeta-Jones declared to Sean Connery "You've got me!"  Young Sean Connery is one thing, but old, wrinkly Sean Connery?  I could not compute.)

But what do most of us do when we see one of these fictional pairings of a beautiful woman and a not-so-great looking guy?  Shrug and say "that's the movies."  In contrast, look at the strong reaction that Lena Dunham is getting for GIRLS.  You'd think she was selling state secrets by appearing nude with a less-than-perfect body.  I'm a fan of the show, and one of the things I find interesting is how Dunham's nudity forces me to look at my own assumptions about body types.  I catch myself thinking "Could Hannah really hook up with Patrick Wilson's character?  Why's she playing ping pong topless?"  I've internalized media ideals about what kind of bodies "deserve" sexual attention or are "okay" to be put on display. 

What's my conclusion?  Sadly, none of this is going to change anytime soon.  If you're thinking of becoming an actress, know that looking at your body objectively is part of the job.  When you get work, ignore the imdb message boards, because there will be idiots talking about your body in both good and bad terms -- and it's the bad comments you'll remember.  Those of you who are actresses, I admire your strength: I honestly couldn't do what you do.  But as more women get into positions of power and can make casting decisions, let's make an effort to show different types of bodies.  We're not all cut from the same mold.

Thanks for reading,

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Screen Actors Blues

This is a hard one.  I've had so many friends who moved to L.A. to act, only to leave with broken dreams and bruised egos.  There were about fifty people in my first acting class out here.  Of those fifty people, only one is still a professional actor.

I play poker.  I'm actually pretty good at it, and I know bad odds when I see them.  And "making it" as an actor has bad odds.  ("Making it" doesn't mean being a movie star and having everybody know your name.  "Making it" means working professionally enough so that you're satisfied.)  So I'll start out by asking you, dear reader, some questions:

  • Is acting the only thing you want to do?  Is it your biggest dream?  Can you not live without it?
  • Were you the best-looking person in your high school or college?
  • Have you had years and years of theatrical training at a school like Juilliard?
  • Do you consider yourself beautiful, attractive, charismatic?  Do you have a great body?
  • Can you cope with unemployment?  Do you function well in a structure-free environment?
  • Can you live with mean people judging you on your appearance and ability?
Well?  How do you feel?  Can you answer "yes" to all of those?  Are you still reading?  Do you think I'm a jerk? Or maybe I just don't understand you and your situation.  Maybe you already feel you know all this.  

Hang on a second.  Are you a woman?  Let me turn the blog over to my wife so she can tell you how women are treated in the acting business:

Hey everyone.  Jace here.  Let me just repeat things I've overheard over the years.  "Her eyes are weird -- they're too far apart."  "Absolutely not -- I hate her forehead."  "Her thighs are too big."  "I wanted a brunette."  "Wow.  She ate a lot of ice cream since this photo was taken."   You know what?  There's too much I want to say about this to limit it to a guest paragraph or two.  Come back to the blog tomorrow and I'll have a whole post on it.

OK.  I can't stop you.  So first the good news.  Every single person I've known who has wanted to act professionally and has stuck with it for at least five years has booked at least one job.  So it is possible.  And the truth is, you don't have to be beautiful, exceedingly trained or well-connected (not that this stuff hurts).  

But you do have to be persistent, disciplined, and have very thick skin.

I will also tell you that I have had no better feeling in my entire life than when I booked my first acting job.  It felt fantastic -- like I was floating on Cloud Nine.  I seriously was hoping no one would pinch me, because I didn't want to wake up.  

So, what's the best way to begin this often-uncomfortable journey?  

First, be realistic.  Ninety-five percent of Screen Actors Guild (SAG) members are unemployed -- well, 85% if you ask SAG, but I don't believe anything they say.  It takes a long time to get your acting career going.  Five years is a good way to think about it.  Five years of trying and failing and trying and failing...and then trying and succeeding.  

Also, try your best to be self aware.  To give you an example: when I moved here, I thought I was a normal, good-looking guy.  I got headshots taken that made me appear to be a normal, good-looking guy.  They didn't fool anybody.  The first four jobs I booked, my character was either mentally handicapped or inbred.  

I'm not joking.  I had no idea I was so funny-looking.

The plus to this was, I got work based on my "look."  It just wasn't the look I thought I had.  

So look at yourself in the mirror and really think about how other people perceive you.  Then watch a bunch of movies and see how people who look like you are perceived.  I bet there's a difference.

What else?  Make sure you have a good, cheap apartment to live in, a flexible day job (or generous parents) and get your ass to acting class.  And not just any fly-by-night guy that says he can teach you acting: I'm talking a GOOD teacher, like Ivana Chubuck, Howard Fine, Larry Moss...there's a handful of them.  They're expensive but mandatory.  And once you get to class, don't quit.  Stick with it.  Learn.  Practice.  Study.  Make friends.  I found my wife because of acting class.  I was studying with Jeffrey Tambor and Jace was my scene partner's roommate.  I can't stress how important it is to develop relationships while you're studying.  These people are going to be your lifeline, your support system, your connections, your friends.  No matter how hard or frustrating it gets, don't quit class!  Know that in the beginning, the actors you're going up against in auditions are going to be better than you.  You need to keep working on your skills.  Period.

So that's the first step.  Do it.  Be persistent.   Don't give up.  If it wasn't for acting, I never would have been able to become a writer or a director.  It was a crucial part of my development as an artist and a man.

So just remember: the beginning is the hard part but if you really want it, you can do it!

In the next post I'll get to the fun part of showcases and getting an agent.  Trust me, it's a blast.  In the meantime, keep studying, keep training!

Monday, February 11, 2013

So You Wanna Be A Stah?

So you wanna be a star, move to Hollywood, pursue your dreams?  Be an actor, a writer, a director?  Make money?  Make art?  Go to fabulous parties and meet fabulous people?

Well, this was/is my dream, too.  I only wish that someone would have told me exactly what I was getting into.

I moved to Hollywood in 1991.  I was a theater major in college, but wanted to pursue film directing.  The problem was, I had no idea how.  No matter where I looked or who I talked to or what I read, I couldn't seem to find a way in.  Finally, I got a tip.

A friend from college (Shawn Paper -- he's now an editor on the HBO show, "Girls") said he had been an extra on "Roseanne."   I asked him if I could be an extra, too.  He said that was easy.  He told me where to sign up and I did.  Soon I found myself wandering the corridors of the fake high schools from "Beverly Hills, 90210" and "The Wonder Years."  From this point on, my story gets messy and long, and to be perfectly honest with you, it's sort of dull.   You don't want to hear all of it.  And besides, how to be able to become a writer/director/actor is what this blog is going to be all about from now on, anyway.

I can hardly be called a star.  But somehow -- with varying degrees of success and with a lot of frustration, humiliation and setbacks -- I've been making a living as an actor/writer/director for sixteen years.  Along the way, I've seen a lot of people get hurt, crash and burn, give up, move home and not be able to fulfill their dreams.  And believe me, dear reader, I don't this to happen to you.

I want to make one thing clear:  I am not an expert, I do not want your money, I have never had a huge hit film, starred in a TV show, or gotten into Sundance.  But I do work, I do make money, and I do not to hold a day job.  And that, I am extremely proud of.  So hop on the bus, let's go for a ride, and I guarantee you that by the end of this journey you'll have a much clearer idea of how to make it in this weird, jaded, annoying and beautiful city we live and work in.

The next post will be about...dun dun dun dun....ACTING!

Monday, May 30, 2011

Is the Internet Good for Horror? Or Is It Just Me?

Is making B movies less fun now than it used to be?

When me and Jace first got a chance to write our first movie CROCODILE, it was exciting and cool but we also knew we were making a low budget film that we wouldn't get rich off of. So even back then we had slightly mixed feelings about it. But overall we were writing a movie that was going to be directed by Tobe Fucking Hooper and getting paid for it! We didn't worry about reviews or the nasty comments people would make about it on Bloody-Disgusting. As a matter of fact, I don't even know if there were horror websites back when we made it. There probably were, but we didn't know about them For the first 4-5 films we wrote that were produced, we weren't members of any horror scene and didn't care what our fellow writers and directors thought at all.

But then, in came the Internet. Stomping with loud boots and followed by a horde of fellow filmmakers, fans and journalists that we now think of as friends and peers. Being a part of a community was great -- but it was only around 2005 that we learned our little films were getting reviewed at all. We were, and still are, growing as writers. And it's during the writing of TOOLBOX MURDERS that we really started to get self-conscious. That we really started to worry about what "they" would think.

Since then I've become a director, and I've become more and more self-conscious about what other people think -- so much so that I don't even read the reviews any more. (Believe me, there are a lot of them. The bad ones hurt a lot more than the good ones make you feel good. It's also the bad ones that you remember.) Everyone has opinions: some smart, some dumb, some just a matter of preference. I just keep wondering whether or not putting yourself out there to be eviscerated online later makes the whole filmmaking process less fun than it used to be.

Don't get me wrong: I don't want to sound whiny. As far as I'm concerned, I have the best job on planet Earth -- but I am human, and I do worry and get down on myself. So what do you think? Does the world of online horror news and websites make it harder to do our jobs? Is this something that affects horror writers and directors more than people in other genres? Or do you delight in reading your imdb comments? Please let me know! As hypocritical as it sounds, your opinions do matter to me.

Monday, March 28, 2011

The Modern Drive-In

I miss drive-in theaters, in a kind of marginal nostalgic way. No. I never really liked seeing movies in a car. But the idea of it is sort of romantic.

But let's take a look at the way things are now. Instead of the drive-in, we have Netflix streaming. You can find any number of strange genre films that you didn't even know existed there. And much like drive-in fare, most of them aren't very good.

Now, let's look at the pros and cons of Netflix vs. the drive-ins.
  1. Big screen. This goes to the old drive-in. No matter how big a plasma TV you have, it just ain't gonna compete with a real movie screen.
  2. Sound. Gotta go with Netflix on this one. A tinny speaker stuck on your window mixed with the tinny sounds of many other speakers all around you does not equal 5.1.
  3. Variety of films. Once more, Netflix without question -- and you can actually pick what you want.
  4. Being in the great outdoors. Well, the drive-in wins this -- but I've never equated seeing movies with being in the great outdoors, so maybe this shouldn't even be a category.
  5. Romantic potential. My TV is in my bedroom. The few times I've been able to get it on with a chick in a car, I'd wished I was in a bed. Is there any place more romantic than a bed? I don't think so. So, this one goes to Netflix.
  6. Snack Bar. I'll give this one to the drive-in. When you're watching movies at home, you actually have to make popcorn -- which can be fun, but usually just involves putting a bag in a microwave for 90 seconds. And any drive-in would have more snack variety than my kitchen.
  7. Social aspect. My TV is in my bedroom, so I only watch movies with Jace. I don't like having a TV in the living room because then it's always on, and no one talks when they come over to visit. For a drive-in, you'd have a bunch of people jammed into the car (but would you really want to talk during the movie?) Then there was always the possibility of going over to another car and visiting friends or meeting new people. Looks like the drive-in wins.
  8. Audience reaction. Both suck. Maybe you can hear people screaming in other cars, but the odds are it's not from the movie (more likely, lack of lubrication).
So to wrap it all up, I like nostalgia as much as the next guy. I like convenience as much as the next guy, too. I do not think that the drive-in experience was the ideal movie experience at all, nor do I think that watching movies at home is the best. Movies are always best seen in a movie theater, where you do get audience reaction, you do have 5.1 sound, and you do have a big screen. Theaters are truly the land where dreams come true.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Waxing and Waning

Hi there, readers! Jace here, posting to our long-neglected blog.

I’m thinking about bikini waxes. There. I’ve said it. Brazilians, Playboys, landing strips, you name it – I’ve got them on my mind. And it has everything to do with NIGHT OF THE DEMONS.

Let me explain. There’s a scene toward the beginning of the movie where three of the female characters (including Bobbi Sue Luther's Suzanne, pictured above) drink and talk. The subject? Bikini waxing. Now, a very interesting thing happened when Adam and I finished the script and showed it to some of our fellow horror screenwriters. “It’s not realistic,” I heard. “Women don’t talk to each other that way. This scene shouldn’t even be in there.”

I heard the same criticism when we were editing: women don’t talk that way. I’ve gotten the comment from fans. Several critics have singled out the scene, saying the dialogue sounds like it was written by some horny and/or lonely guy fantasizing about how women talk. (I always laugh at that – after all, the last time I checked I had ovaries.)

You want to know the really interesting thing about these complaints? I’ve only heard them from men. Not a single woman has told me that the conversation was unrealistic. In fact, they tend to laugh with recognition.

Here's where I got the inspiration for the scene: in line at a frozen yogurt shop. Three young women in front of me – they had just graduated from high school – were comparing notes on the best place in my neighborhood to get a bikini wax. “The place I go is great,” one announced. “They don’t make you get on your hands and knees.” (Sorry, ladies – I eavesdropped hard, but missed the name of the salon. I’ll get back to you on that.)

Let me repeat: this conversation happened in line at a frozen yogurt shop.

I’d tell this to the guys who didn’t think the scene seemed real. “I’ve had conversations like these, too,” I’d insist. (Believe me, war stories get passed around.)

They’d look at me doubtfully, like maybe I’d been imagining the whole thing. Maybe I was just a lone weirdo who talked about…that. “Really?,” they’d ask. Then they’d shake their heads. “Nope. I just don’t buy it.”

It’s an odd thing sometimes, being a woman working in the male-dominated world of horror films. I’ve been the lone female at many a horror writer/director gathering, and I even once had a director say that I seemed “too nice to write horror.” But I have to say that few things have been as weird as having men insist to me that women just don’t talk that way – even when I’ve actually had the conversation we’re debating.

News flash: we know how we talk. There are lots of us who love horror passionately, who debate new releases and old classics with as much gusto as the guys – and more of us need to be writing and making horror films.

As for NIGHT OF THE DEMONS, check it out on October 19. Tell me what you think of the scene – if you’re a woman, have you had a similar conversation? If you’re a guy, do you believe it?

Oh, and if you know of a better pain reliever than aloe vera, let me in on the secret.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

What have you been up to lately?

Thought I'd give you guys an update on how things are going for us professionally. The good news is, we are currently employed -- which these days is a cause for celebration. A while back we were hired to write a cool horror movie called HELLVIEW. It's a gory and suspenseful movie about....nah. I'm not going to spoil it.

I've also been finishing up post on FERTILE GROUND, a creepy little ghost story I made for After Dark. It's pretty good, and something very different from AUTOPSY and NIGHT OF THE DEMONS. Anyway, that should be coming out relatively soon as part of the After Dark Originals series. One cool thing about FERTILE GROUND is that it's a script that Jace and I wrote a while ago and never thought it would be made, even though we both loved it.

Hey, Jace here now. First post to this blog, and I figured this one was a good one to hijack halfway through. I'm really psyched about FERTILE GROUND -- the story idea sprang from an image I had and the female protagonist, Emily, is one near and dear to my heart. My fingers are crossed that some of you will like it as well!

Adam back. Look for NIGHT OF THE DEMONS in a theater near you on September 23rd. I can't wait for people to finally see that -- it's just pure horny-horror-party-punk rock fun, and it has the soundtrack of my dreams.

Other than this, we've just been speccing and pitching and all those wonderful things that go with trying to make a living in this crazy business.

Blood, guts and pussy,

Adam G