Monday, January 18, 2010

35 years and a television legacy ...

It was 35 years ago today that “The Jeffersons” became a part of the American (now global) television landscape. We first met Louise and George Jefferson (Isabel Sanford and
Sherman Hemsley) on Norman Lear’s grounding breaking 1970’s television series “All in the Family.” The characters proved to be so popular, that Lear and his team spun them off into a ground-breaking series of their own in 1975.

The program had a record-breaking run of 11 years on CBS-TV, the longest running comedy series at that time. Since then, “The Jeffersons” has found homes in international syndication, TV Land and, probably, in your own home through the release of most of the series’ seasons on DVD.

Of the many “firsts” attributed to the “The Jeffersons,” there was none more important and note worthy than the Emmy Award win of Isabel Sanford as Best Actress in a Comedy, in 1981, becoming the first (and to this date the only) African American actress to earn that title.

Much has been said about the legacy of “The Jeffersons” and the cast, crew, producers and writers who made it possible. But, there is nothing quite like getting it from the top source: Isabel Sanford herself.

Some things are worth repeating, so if you haven’t yet had a look, you can watch Isabel talk about the series and her career in three segments from our 1992 interview now playing on the Home page.

Even if you have seen it before, it’s worth seeing again.

Movin' on up, indeed.


Friday, January 8, 2010

It's not easy being a vamp ... and other lessons learned in the business of acting on the way to a career and a legacy ...

Emmy Award-winning actress Jackee Harry was an instant hit in her role as Sandra Clark, the neighborhood vamp in the long-running NBC-TV comedy series "227." Jackee talks about her career journey and how she landed that role in our part-four conversation now replaying on our Web TV series "Inside The Business Of Acting."

Indeed, some things are worth repeating. You can view a quick preview below.



Monday, January 4, 2010

The year in review and a look ahead in the business of acting …

In was in interesting year in the business of acting. There were few people who didn’t experience 2009 with a degree of economic frustration not usually seen.

It has become a fact of life in the “new” business of acting that even a “working actor” finds it nearly impossible to make a living at his or her chosen profession. Actors have always had to supplement their professional income by seeking and taking jobs in other areas. Most have no choice but to do so. It is, oftentimes, the occasional, paid acting job that makes the supplemental income job tolerable. So, what’s so different now?

As many of you have and are experiencing, the added layer to financial survival in the business of acting is now the shrinking supplemental income job market.

As 2009 saw the disappearance of so many companies, thousands and thousands of jobs lost, and an increase in the unemployment rate (which is now higher in California than the national average), the unavailability of “supplemental income” work across the board is putting added pressure on actors to ponder their futures.

“Can I afford to be an actor?” is the question many are asking themselves these days, as 2009 becomes a rear view mirror image and the hopes and reality of what might lie ahead in 2010 becomes the focus.

Frustration can kill passion; economic stress can deter, if not outright kill, dreams.

The business of acting has always been a balance of pursuing the dream while attempting to survive, both financially and emotionally. In The Business of Acting, there is an entire chapter devoted to this topic. It’s an important one. But, given what the landscape is currently, where do we go from here?

Here are some random thoughts on how to move forward:

  1. It should always be about building your resume. If an opportunity to act in any project that will benefit you presents itself, take it, whether it pays or not. The emotional benefit of doing the work you crave to do will lift your spirits, reinvigorate your passion and make you feel that you are doing something positive and proactive in support or your career.

  1. As the economy recovers generally, it’s important to recognize that 2009 was a good year, in general, for Hollywood. True and unfortunate, jobs were lost; but also true (and on the plus side), box office numbers were healthy and studios, independents, networks and other content producers and partners are currently engaged in developing a tremendous amount of new product for all platforms. While this may not mean big (or bigger) bucks for the working actor, the long- range impact will mean more opportunity. Opportunity opens doors.

  1. Young and new-to-the-business actors need to learn to manage their expectations of their early years in the business; those more established in the business will need to reassess and reevaluate their priorities on the road to recommitting to their careers. It’s not like it used to be 10 years ago; for that matter, it’s not like it was last year.

  1. Agents and managers are playing a different game in this economy. Understanding what we face in the new year ahead will be key for both actors who are currently represented and, especially, those who are not (yet) represented. Indeed, there are more opportunities for actors ahead, but “opportunity” doesn’t always, necessarily, or immediately translate to dollars, which, for an agency or management company whose income is rooted in commission on paid work, presents a problem. Managers are more like to “get” and, in fact, to pursue the right opportunity for a client, without regard to the money it will generate for either the manager or the client. Agents are much more rooted in immediate financial gain of any kind. It’s a quandary: pursue dollars vs. pursue opportunity … which leads me to my fifth point …

  1. If you’re currently represented, learn how to be a great client; if you’re not yet, but seeking to be, represented, learn how to be the kind of client an agent or manager would love to work with. Any relationship with an agent or manager starts out great, with only the highest of expectations on both parties’ parts. But given that things never happen in the time frames we all want them to happen in, discouragement soon begins to set in. Soon, that relationship with a bright, prosperous future becomes disappointing and disheartening. Soon, both representative and client begin to wonder if the decision to work together was the right one to make. And that’s only after four weeks! Help your agent or manager help you. Be strategic; be proactive. Meet with your agent and/or manager to discuss your new year strategy. Set up a game plan. Ask how and what you can do. The danger as time goes on is for the actor to sit around and wait for the call from the agent and to cease doing anything positive for him or herself in support of their own career. That has to stop. For the unrepresented actor seeking an agent or manager, you must honestly ask yourself if “now” is the right time. Are you ready to be represented? For the young, just out of college, actor, the answer is usually “no.” Consider what it is that you currently would bring to the table. What does your resume say about what kind of actor you are and what kind of potential you have? Given the cost of representing an actor, in this economy, any smart agent or manager is going to want to hedge their bets on any new client by ensuring that the new client is ready for the challenge and prepared for the process. Work on building your resume first with credits and professional training, then seek representation. Lastly, and to the point, what makes a great client? It’s not the actor with the greatest talent. It’s the actor who has an understanding and appreciation of the process. It’s the actor who has an understanding and appreciation of the work involved to get even one audition for a client. It’s the actor who is a good person first; someone who is a joy to know and an honor for an agent and/or manager to represent. It is the actor who is willing to accept their responsibilities beyond just acting in the pursuit of a career.

Finally, remember, at any age, at any stage, it’s about the journey. Be planned, be prepared, be smart, be financed to support your journey to the best of your ability – and then have faith in your talent, your ability and your potential – and do the work. Finances are always an issue. Do what you can do and be patient and determined in your search for supplemental income work. You may not get paid to do the kind of job you really want right now, but it's a means to an important end.

I wish you much success in this new year doing what feeds your soul.

Your input, comments and questions are welcome.