Alumni Spotlight Alex Feldman
Alex Feldman shared his experience with us…
NYCDA: What projects are you currently working on?
Alex Feldman: As an actor, I’ve recently had guest star appearances on Shooter (Amazon) and Code Black (CBS). As a director, producer, and writer I’m developing a new series called Eternity Hill, a sci-fi drama. I also started For Actors By Actors, a company designed to create a network and support system for actors. We provide acting classes, agent showcases, casting director workshops, headshots, reels, self-tapes, and free networking events for actors to meet industry professionals such as editors, producers, and directors. The idea is to put the power back into the actors’ hands, to expose them to their responsibility to the collaborative nature of our industry, and help them navigate the waters as they began their careers in Los Angeles.
NYCDA: What sparked you to create For Actors By Actors?
AF: After graduating from school, I started working in theater, film, and television right away. I continued to care about my education so I took acting classes in New York and LA but never paid attention to the business side of it. I just felt like the actor should focus on their creativity and their ability to perform and that’s it, but as I got a little older, I started to realize that wasn’t the best approach. An actor becomes way more effective if they understand the business structure of working in film and television. I started looking around and realized that not enough places in Los Angeles teach actors that aspect of it. I wanted to create an environment where equal attention was paid to creativity and the business as well. It started with that idea and now it’s growing into this really amazing networking community which solidifies for me that my ideology and the ideology of the people around me resonate quite a bit.
NYCDA: What would you say was the tipping point in your career?
AF: One was coming out of the Conservatory and being on my first professional big budget set. It was a very-eye opening experience. It was an episode of Law & Order I did when I was 18, just seeing what a well oiled machine it was. People were so good at their jobs in every department on set and opened my eyes to saying these people are so prepared, they work so hard and from the moment the director calls “action”, to the moment the director calls “cut”, that’s my time and I better be as good they are at their jobs.
NYCDA: Have you ever experienced any type-casting and how did you deal with it?
AF: Type-casting is a term created by the business side of our industry. An actor can look at it a little differently. There is something unique and distinctly special about each human being. If you really study it, you might say it’s not so much typecasting, it’s my DNA, it’s what I do better than anyone else. It’s me, it’s my identity, my voice, my body, my energy. I definitely have come across people reacting to me in a certain way and identifying me as whatever they want to project on me when I walk into the room. In my twenties, I played a whole lot of criminals on television, I’ve been interrogated by a bunch of television cops and used to fight against it and ask why is that happening. But then I came to realize the sound of my voice and the look of my physicality kind of lends itself to be better at booking those parts. I realized you can take advantage of that because once you identify it, you can change it.
I speak Russian and because of the unique political environment we find ourselves in between Russian and American relations right now, writers are writing parts that I can benefit to book because I speak that language. Typecasting sounds like a bad thing but if you say what can I take advantage of to get employment as an actor, it’s not such a bad thing.
NYCDA: What advice do you have for a students starting at the Conservatory?
AF: Take advantage of every single class. Listen to every teacher because it pays off later. You’ll be on set years later and something that you may have heard in a class all of a sudden brings great clarity. Ask questions when you’re in class. If you don’t understand something, ask questions. Soak it up.
Some of the people who were in class with me remain my closest friends. Most importantly I met my wife (Rosanna Canonigo) at the school. My wife and I produced the very first New York Conservatory babies.
Do’s and Don’ts in the Audition Room
By: Brette Goldstein
- Come into the room super prepared like you really want the job.
- Listen. To adjustments and to your reader (the other character(s) in the scene.)
- Be present (listen and experience and stay out of your head.)
- Enjoy and have fun because an audition is an opportunity to show and share what you love to do.
- Leave me wanting more, like it’s a hot date. Kick ass, drop the mic and get out so I miss you when you’re gone. Figuratively, of course.
- Understand on the deepest level that it’s a business and therefore very rarely personal.
- Take your moment before. Get grounded. As soon as you slate you own the room. Use that time wisely and for you.
- Know something very cool about the director and producer and give them a shout out (as opposed to a tush smooch) at callbacks.
- Ask a brilliant question about the material that is relevant to your audition, inspires us, activates our minds and helps you bring your best self to the role.
- Bring your best self to the role. I want to see your unique way of processing and navigating a given set of circumstances. You are one-of-a-kind…I want to see the character through your eyes.
- Assume that you have all the time in the world once you enter the room. It’s an audition, not a workshop. The goal is to be relaxed, present and prepared enough to nail it on the first take.
- Over-schmooze/ingratiate/talk about yourself too much. You’ll lose focus and we lose time and patience.
- Come into an audition unprepared. Especially after I’ve seen you chatting up that hot guy/gal from your acting class in the waiting area.
- Mispronounce or misunderstand the meaning of words in the sides. You should have had time to look them up…or maybe that hottie in the lobby knows?
- Extend your hand to shake if we don’t do so first. We see a lot of people in a day and I am not a fan of Purell smell. And cold season…
- Disrespect the reader’s boundaries. (It’s hard to shoot you in a medium close-up and easy to be perceived as creepy when you’re in a reader’s space.)
- Get needy. Human nature dictates that I will validate you more if I don’t have to validate you more.
- Dump your coffee, keys and sides in my personal space, ask for a bottle of my water, linger in the room or do anything that you wouldn’t do at a fancy schmancy job interview.
- Make big, bold choices for the sole purpose of being memorable. It may look like you’re trying too hard.
- Not know things you ought to know. Like what’s happening in the scene and the relationship to the other character. Or the shoot dates. Or your lines. Or my name. Or what to wear to this particular audition. Your answers are almost always in the breakdown.
Brette casts TV, film and commercials. Recent credits include: Films: REACHING HOME (with Debra Monk) CRAZY FAMOUS (with Ajay Naidu and Catherine Curtin) and HEDGEHOG (with Madeline Brewer and Ann Dowd) and TV: I LOVE YOU… BUT I LIED (LMN), THE UNTITLED AFFAIR PROJECT (LMN), DONNY! (USA), I, WITNESS, ADFIRM and several pilot presentations, including the “Untitled Micah Sherman Project” for Left/Right. She has several film, new media series and pilot presentations in the works. Additional credits include: HOUSTON WE HAVE A PROBLEM (Netflix – Summer 2017), SHARKNADO 2, CERESIA (with Angelique Cabral), ENGRAM (with Isabel Lucas), DEAL TRAVIS IN (with Nick Sandow); TV: THE KARATE TORTOISE (with Gilbert Gottfried), NO HOOKUPS PLEASE, SMALL MIRACLES (with Judd Hirsch and Katryn Kates); PILOT PRESENTATIONS: DONNY!, ODD MOM OUT, MY BAD TRIP, TEN-ONE; Over 100 national and local commercial campaigns within the last two years.
Why Being an Actor Is Like Being a Shortstop
By: Becky London
There are nine million, four thousand, six hundred and seventy-two different acting techniques, and they all work… for someone.Okay, I’m being facetious, but most legitimate techniques (however many there really are) have value. Not all techniques work for all actors, but you’ll never know what works for you unless you learn what you are offered thoroughly.
I believe that the discipline most similar to acting training is sports coaching. Most coaches have been players and know what they know because they’ve played the game. Virtually all of the major Western approaches to acting — from Strasberg to Hagen to Adler to Meisner to Grotowski all the way back to Stanislavski — were developed by actors who knew what they knew from being in the trenches. Kabuki and Noh theater training starts from childhood, with children being apprenticed to working actors.
That said, your batting coach can tell you to drop your shoulder or straighten your leg or bring your hands together; he can refine your stance, your swing, your psyche, with hours of batting practice, but ultimately you’re gonna have to get in there and play the game.
Teaching acting is much the same. We work on your skills, but at some point you gotta get on that stage or that set and put it all together.
When I was an acting student, my “coaches” were very insistent that I learn the basics; how to read a script, voice, movement and, in my particular training, objective, objective, objective. I had no idea why objectives were so important at the time; in truth, I really hated them. But my “coaches” were unrelenting, and I learned. I hear their voices when I push my students with my own relentless “Why are you doing it? What do you want?” Watching you all jump or dash or lurch forward into actual doing reminds me of my student self, sometimes flailing about trying to grasp what those merciless coaches were telling me to do.
Then, about 5 years into my acting career, all that technique suddenly “popped” and I understood what it was actually for. The drills my coaches put me through made my acting muscles strong so that I could do whatever I wanted, or was called upon to do as an actor; vocally, physically and artistically. It was no longer about each individual skill; I had put it all together and moved from spring training to playing the game.
After I’d been working for about 10 years, fellow acting friends and I started coaching each other for auditions, which transitioned to a private coaching practice (There’s a reason it’s called coaching!) I brought the skills my coaches had taught me, as well as the ones I developed by playing the game for years, to my clients, then later to my students at NYCDA. Like all the NYCDA coaches, I bring my particular experience of the game to you.
And like sports coaches, acting teachers all have their own way of expressing it — bend your knees, watch the ball onto your bat, or whatever our take on it is. Because we, just like sports coaches, are basically people who have played the game for a long time trying to pass our experience on to those who haven’t.
So remember, acting, like sports, is experiential. Acting is not math or software (or brain surgery, for that matter.) Your teachers are trying to open the art form to you through the door of their own experience. You can’t learn to shave seconds off your sprint from a book. Be an athlete as an actor. Try what your teachers tell you to try, do what they show you how to do. Then go out, choke up on that bat and play the game…
Becky London earned her BA in English from Yale University and her MFA in acting from the Yale School of Drama. Her television credits include Inside Amy Schumer, Blue Bloods, Law & Order, Third Watch and Quantum Leap. She has also appeared in numerous films including Nasty Baby, El Camino, United 93, Changing Lanes, and A Very Serious Person. Becky’s Broadway and Off-Broadway credits include Marlene, Ubu, Isn’t It Romantic, Othello, Last of the Red Hot Lovers, and Jewtopia. Becky also directed Separating the Men from the Bulls in the Unofficial New York Yale Cabaret’s award-winning first season.
Alum Spotlight Ser’Darius Blain
Ser’Darius shared his experience with us…
NYCDA: What would you say was the tipping point in your career?
Ser’Darius Blain: I would have to say it was my first job, which was Footloose. It was my first movie. It was also my first movie audition. I call it a tipping point t because this is a weird business where no one trusts you until someone else takes a chance on you but no one will take a chance on you until someone else trusts you. That opportunity led to so many other opportunities because someone trusted me enough to be a part of such a big studio movie at the time.
NYCDA: What do you like most about the industry? What do you dislike most about the industry?
SB: What I dislike most is that talent doesn’t always supersede all in this business. In my immediate circle of friends I can say I’m not the most talented actor for a fact, but there are certain factors that have allowed me to work more. I see some people behind the scenes work so hard on their craft and being ready for the moment and they don’t get the same opportunity. Sometimes it is “who you know,” looks, or height. I think the best person for the job is the person most talented and who can tell the story the best. I like that I get an opportunity to entertain millions of people at one time. At the end of the day I do this whole acting thing, and this writing thing, because I want to take people away from their problems for an hour or two. I want to bring people together and sometimes force them to address their problems and come up with solutions. To make them laugh, cry, or think. It’s an instant way to become immortalized and be able to continue tell stories till the end of time.
NYCDA: How was your experience filming Jumanji?
SB: Jumanji was one of the best projects I’ve ever done. I got an opportunity to work with the likes of two of the biggest movie stars on the planet: The Rock and Kevin Hart. Obviously it’s going to be instant magic with Jack Black, Karen Gillan and Nick Jonas. And we’ve got some awesome newcomers in Madison Iseman, Alex Wolff and Morgan Turner. It’s going to be incredible in the grand scheme of things, in terms of bringing back that old 90’s feeling that we used to get when we would watch movies the whole family could enjoy, and it actually meant something for each of us. I think we made an instant classic. I’ve had a chance to collaborate with some incredible professionals, incredible artists at the end of the day. Really excited to let everyone see it this coming Christmas and I think people are going to enjoy it. It was really fun to make believe and make a lot of jokes in this made up world of Jumanji. I think Jake Kasdan (director) has got a hit on his hands.
NYCDA: What advice did you receive that you wish you hadn’t ignored?
SB: I don’t ignore any advice. I take all the advice I can possibly get. I implemented the advice I got from my instructors at NYCDA on a daily basis. I don’t ignore any advice at all because I wasn’t the most talented in my time at NYCDA. I take advice of those who have seen success before me so that I can give myself more longevity.
NYCDA: Can you name an unexpected aspect of your training?
SB: We had a movement class years ago. When I was in that class, I didn’t see the purpose of it because we were walking around and pretending that we were wrapped in burlap cloth and touching walls and imagining they were other things. I was thinking, “What is the point of this?” (back when I was in my cool mode) and didn’t realize how important it was to be grounded. I didn’t realize how important it was to sink into the floor and learn how to create new atmospheres until I had to run around in an imaginary planet blasting Klingons (Star Trek Into Darkness) or pretend that I’m in a war in somebody’s office reading to them. Those things came to life and then I thought… “Oh, ok. That’s what that was for.” The repetition exercises in Meisner. I didn’t understand the point of repeating what you just said to me until I started really learning how to listen. Then, I understood, those inflections, body, and eye movements mean something in the grand scheme of being a storyteller.
What is a Brand, and Why is it Important to an Actor
By: Traci Turton
Many actors have a hard time finding their way in the biz because they don’t define themselves in the industry or to the industry – so what do I mean by this? As an agent, I can’t tell you how many times I meet aspiring actors and one of the first questions they ask me is “What do you see me as?” My immediate thought goes down the same inquisitive path – “Hello budding actor, I don’t know you. How do you want me to see you?”
Our casting partners have the same or similar experience with talent, and more often than not end up telling actors the types of roles they should pursue based on their initial interaction. In some cases this advice can frustrate performers because they see themselves playing totally different roles than what is being suggested by the industry. The vast majority of actors go through this because they struggle with showcasing themselves in a competitive way and most don’t spend enough time on developing a strong acting brand that can attract endless opportunities on major networks and streaming projects that are being cast daily.
Albeit a part of our expertise, it is not entirely an agent’s or casting director’s duty to define a performer’s brand. We meet hundreds to thousands of talented artists in any given year and the actors who do a better job of packaging themselves and creating a marketable image have a much stronger chance of succeeding in the TV/Film world. These actors make it easy for industry professionals to match them on projects with roles that best align with the types they are selling.
In the traditional business world, the purpose of a brand is to increase sales by making the product or service the most visible and most desirable to consumers in the face of competition. This process involves creating a singular or notable name and image that are consistently promoted to potential buyers in a defined market. Branding establishes differentiation which consumers use to make their buying decisions. Let’s apply this thinking to the acting world and see what this should look like and mean to an actor.
The purpose of my brand is to attract more work opportunities by making me the most visible and most desirable to creative professionals when they are looking to cast my character types or archetypes in their project.
All successful business ventures operate by using a basic set of business fundamentals to survive and thrive in any industry. Branding in the TV/Film industry is an especially important function that is a necessary part of an actors overall strategy. There is an overwhelming amount of talent compared to the limited number of available opportunities in the market at any given time, and this is where branding becomes critical. Casting professionals only choose to see about 1-2% of the thousands of actors submitted for roles on projects they are casting. The actors who can exude the essence of the role through head shots and visual media have a greater chance of getting into the room.
Actors who create a unique identifiable brand that they consistently promote to agents and casting pros become the quintessential go-to talent for jobs on numerous projects that require a specific type or feel. When the industry needs a gritty badass no nonsense type to fill a role, they are calling Samuel L. Jackson, Danny Trejo, Milla Jovovich, Mike Colter, Byung-hun Lee, Michelle Rodriguez, Jason Statham and other actors who have established a brand of badassery. Conversely, if the project calls for self-deprecating comedic types, you can bet the phones of Kevin Hart, Melissa McCarthy, Aziz Ansari, Amy Schumer and a trove of others would be ringing off the hook.
The wonderful and natural byproduct of building a strong recognizable brand is that as an actor, you will start to attract the attention of agents, managers, producers, casting directors, investors, studios, and other creative decision makers as you grow in your career. The industry will clearly know who you are, where you belong and what you bring to the table.
Traci Turton is a Theatrical and Literary Television and Film Agent who heads the New York City arm of the successful bicoastal talent agency 90210 Talent. She works closely with major networks & movie studios, cable, streaming services and independent casting companies. Traci’s talent has appeared in Billions, Homeland, Queen Sugar, Mr. Robot, Stranger Things, How To Get Away With Murder, Gotham, Orange Is The New Black, Bull, Luke Cage, Madam Secretary, Daredevil, Deep Water Horizon, When The Bough Breaks and a host of other popular television and film projects. Traci is active in the performing arts community, and she has a consulting background in digital media and advertising.
You Have an Agent, Now What?
By: Heather Finn
This is the time of new beginnings. The time to take a fresh look at your career and figure out where you are and where you want to go. The time to figure out the best way to work with your agent, to both of your benefits.
Most actors believe that once they have an agent their work is done. They can just sit back and wait for the auditions to come pouring in. Pouring. In. You always said that you just needed someone to get you into the room where it happens and you’ll book everything in sight. Everything. In. Sight. Enter agent. Cue MAGIC. Right?
So you wait. You get some auditions. Not enough. (If you ask any actor how many auditions they go out on the answer is always “Not Enough”. I even recently read an interview with Dermot Mulroney, one of my favorite actors, who said he basically has to audition for everything and has fought his way into every job he’s ever had. I doubt that’s true but I totally believe that he feels that way.) You wait some more. Here’s the thing. If you are sitting around waiting for someone to call then you’re not an actor, you’re a wait-er. (Ironic, isn’t it?)
As an actor you should be, well, acting.
- Submit yourself for jobs via Casting Networks or Actor’s Access (but always check with your agent first so they can tell you whether or not it’s a worthwhile job for you to submit on. They may even tell you that they already submitted you. Happens to me quite a bit.)
- Produce a web series with a friend. Write a play. Create a one person show. Make a podcast.
- Join an improv group and perform.(This is HUGE. Comedy, improv and stand up, is huge right now)
- Go to places like One on One and Actor’s Connection and meet casting directors. It is MUCH easier to get auditions when someone knows you and has seen you do something.
In A Nutshell! (Does anyone else think about Austin Powers saying, “This is me in a nutshell” every time they say that? Just me?)
Take your career by the horns! You should always be performing. Paid or unpaid. Agent or no agent. As much as it’s a cliche to say that acting is a muscle and the more you work it, the better and stronger it gets, it’s true. (As much as I wish it wasn’t true because lord knows, I would rather eat french fries than work out at the gym.) (Oh, that’s another thing! You should work out at the gym!) I know, this is not what most actors want to hear. You think that getting the agent is the hard part and then everything is easy peasy from there. You would book the jobs if only you had an agent, right?
Go, Get Your Team On!
The truth is that you and your agent are a team. A symbiotic (hopefully) team. Agents are doing things that you can’t see: submitting you, talking you up to casting directors, working as hard as we can to get you in for a job (among other things). We are doing as much as we humanly can to get you into that room! Well, don’t tell other agents I said this but there is a limit to our power. Sometimes we can talk until we’re blue in the face but if you have a bad headshot, or don’t have much experience on your resume or something to even talk to the CD about then there’s very little we can do.
All this is to say: You need to be carrying your weight, Teammate. See the above ideas. Do things that we agents can sell. (At the end of the day, I sell people for a living. I am always a better salesman when I have someone big and bright and that I truly believe in to sell!) If a CD asks us what you’ve been up to, give us something interesting to say! It’s so much better to be able to say, “Oh, Bob? Bob’s part of a team that performs weekly at UCB”, or “Bob just finished his own web series based on his life as a high school wrestling referee” than it is to say, “Bob’s making his way through the Chipotle menu options.” You know? Even if you spend your time knitting hats for kittens or riding bicycles for charity, it’s you putting effort into being a better, more fascinating person. And the more fascinating a person you are, the more it informs who you are as an actor.
Goals! Goals! Good for the Heart!
You should set goals and work towards them. I know actors who have a goal for how many auditions they want to go on per year. I think that’s great- it lights a fire under you to actually make things happen. You can also set a goal for different types of jobs you want to go on. Say, “I want to go out for 10 commercials, 3 voiceovers, and 2 films.” Though that one requires being more realistic (you always want to set yourself up to succeed and if, for example, you’re really not a musical theater actor then you shouldn’t put that down,) it’s also nice to just put the intention out into the universe. Believe this: If you put it out there it makes it easier to come true.
Tell Us About It- In the Most Respectful Way! (I tried to make this work to the tune of “Spoonful of Sugar.” I don’t think it was successful.)
Many actors like to have what I call a “State of My Career Address” with their agents at the start of the year (though it can happen anytime during the year.) While I understand the desire for this I also know that most actors want to come in, remind us that they’re not going out enough, reiterate that they want to be submitted to pilots/ theater/ movies, etc (People rarely say they want to go out on more commercials. Silly. That’s where the money is.) The truth is that we know this. We want you to go out more! We want you to book all the things! When you make money, we make money! It’s just that simple.
Side note: One thing actors never seem to understand is that, essentially, we are working for free for most of our clients. It can take years for someone to book and in the meantime, we’re working pretty hard for nothing. Just something to keep in mind.
I never discourage a talk about someone’s career. And if your goal is to be HEARD, we can do that. But expecting us to make promises we can’t keep or for you to hear what you want to hear (we’ll send you out every day! On the very best things! Like Marvel movies and Lin- Manuel Miranda projects!) is not helpful for anyone. The best way to approach a conversation like this is to talk about goals, to let us know what you are planning to do to get to them. We work with you, not for you. So make a plan to decide how to work together. Come in with ideas, not demands. That’s always true. My favorite clients are the ones who come in and say, “What should I be doing?” and then we come up with a game plan. We both want to make sure we’re working well and are happy in our partnership. You also need to keep in mind that the more time we spend talking, the less time we have to spend actually getting out there and working. Which is true for both of us.
So, Um, Now What?
Your relationship with your agent is *hopefully* going to be long term. These are things you can and should talk to your agent about. But always, ALWAYS with the frame of working together. Making sure you’re doing everything you can makes us both that much more excited about your career. I promise you, we’re going to do everything we can too! Now get yourself out there and start making the most of your career!!
Heather Finn is the Commercial, Commercial Print, and Voiceover Agent at Frontier Booking International (FBI) for over 14 years. FBI is a full service, New York-based boutique agency. Before coming to FBI, Heather was at Abrams Artists for 3 years. Heather is lucky to have worked at both midsize and small agencies and with both children and adult talent. Heather’s clients have booked commercials and voiceovers ranging from Backyardigans, Super Wings, Dora The Explorer, Sonic The Hedgehog, O’Charley’s, Ocean City Maryland, Capri Sun, Bank of America, Verizon, Footlocker, Pampers, The Knot, IFC, NY Lottery, Dannon/Oikos, Maryland Lottery, Snickers, AT&T and many many more. One of Heather’s favorite things is talking to people about the business and helping them navigate what can be an intimidating industry. When she’s not meeting or working with actors, she’s walking, giving belly rubs to and taking way too many pictures of her dog, Dakota.