thoughts on acting (and a few fun stories)

Happy holidays, everyone! And a happy almost-New-Year to you as well!

I actually started drafting this post several weeks ago while I was still in Vancouver, but then with all the craziness of the final days of shooting, then the travel home, then the getting-back-into-my-regular-life-in-LALAland, then the travel for the holidays... well, you get the idea: it was a bit busy and I never finished writing it. But here I am now, and the time off in between when I first started it (12/8) and today (12/27) has actually been good for a bit of reflection on my chosen subject matter: Acting.

I realized that I'd written quite a lot about being a creator, EP, and writer on this show... but not as much about being an actor. And I also realized that if you're not an actor or friends with an actor (kudos to you - you're among the sane), then you may wonder what actors do other than memorize lines, get Botox injections, and spill their innermost thoughts and feelings on national television as they sob uncontrollably into their slightly-chilled bottles of Evian.

Well, obviously, I can't speak for all actors, but I can share with you some of my experiences while shooting "Exes & Ohs." And just to clarify, none of those experiences involved Botox or telling Oprah about my 27 stints in rehab (though I did drink a bottle of slightly-chilled Evian one time).

Okay, so let's explore the "color" option of this blogger dashboard as you put yourself in my size 10s and we walk through what it's like to be an actor:

You wake up early and get home late:
Most mornings, the van picked us up anywhere between 5:30am and 7:00am (my earliest pickup was 5:24am). Most evenings, my fellow actors would be back to the hotel around 7:00pm-ish (though I'd stay in the office after shooting doing other work for the show). Of course, if you were only in a few scenes, you'd be be picked up later in the morning or taken home earlier in the day or evening. But if you were in all - or most - of the scenes, you'd be on set for the day. On a sidenote, I just have to add that this schedule was absolutely lovely for the actors because we only did 10 hour shooting days. On an hour-long show (ours is 1/2 hour), actors are on set sometimes 16 or more hours in a day! Not to mention how long the crew is there! Whew...

If you're sick, you don't call in sick... unless you're practically dead:
Production schedules are tight, as are production budgets. Schedules are made in advance, so by the time you're ready to shoot an episode, you know exactly what scenes will be shooting on what days for the entire episode (1/2 hour shows might take 4-5 days per episode; hour-long shows around 8 days per episode). You also know what camera equipment will be used on what days, what actors will have to come in on what days, what props will be needed when, etc. All of which is to say that any last-minute changes to the production schedule (such as an actor calling in sick) are a BIG deal... and can cost the production a lot of money, as you might imagine. So, you go to work no matter what.

For example, about halfway through shooting, I got a nasty (and coughy) cold. So I spent an entire weekend holed up in my hotel room with lozenges, tea, and no talking allowed. The day I went back to work, I was in absolutely every single scene we were shooting that day. But thankfully, the fact that I spent almost the whole weekend not-talking saved my voice for the most part. Then, on set, one of our fantastic ADs followed me around with a pot of tea the entire day so I could sip it in between takes and not lose my voice mid-shooting. Thank you Tingey!! (Tingey is his nickname) I also spent the following weekend in my hotel room as well, since my cold was still lingering. That's when I splurged on the aforementioned slightly-chilled bottle of Evian...

You do the same thing, in basically the same way, many, many times:
One day, I did a scene where I had to run into an office. The first take, I missed my mark (by an inch or two) where I was supposed to stop... plus, my scarf accidentally fell on the ground. The second take, something happened with the camera. The third take, we got an odd shadow on my face and it took a few minutes for our DP and camera gurus to make the appropriate adjustments. The fourth and fifth takes were good, but the director was making adjustments to the reaction given by the other person in the scene. The sixth and seventh takes were also good. So, of seven takes, the director probably had three or four to choose from in the editing room. BUT, that was just from one angle - then you often have to turn around and do it all over again from another angle! Which is exactly what we did... :-)

Or, you do the same thing, with adjustments, just once or twice:
The same day as the office scene, I had a short scene with Marnie (Sam) and the director was using two cameras to shoot from different angles at the same time. We did one take and the director loved it, so she gave us some slight performance adjustments, which we did in the second take. And that was it! Two takes and we were on to the next scene!

You may have just enough time to learn someone's name before doing a love scene with them:
"Hello, I'm Michelle Paradise. And you are? Great, nice to meet you. Okay, well, there's the bed... guess we'd better take our robes off and get in." Yep, that's about as sexy as a love scene gets (fortunately for me, my scene was with an actress I'd already worked with several times, so I didn't have to ask her name before hopping in the sack). And if you think I'm kidding, let me just walk you through the behind-the-scenes of a love scene. It starts in your trailer, where you look at your "wardrobe," which consists of a flesh-colored tube top and tiny flesh-colored biker shorts. After giggling at the thought of wearing a tube top, you put it and the shorts on and then spend a few moments staring at yourself in the mirror thinking things like "No one should ever have to be seen in this outfit" and "Ah, this is why tube tops went out of style." Then you tie your robe around you, put your feet into some cozy shoes, and walk to set hoping that the breeze beneath the robe won't be too cold. You walk onto set, where you and your scene partner (in her robe as well) wait for the set to be cleared so you can rehearse (robes on - no actual kissing) with the director. Once the director is happy, she calls in the DP and camera and lighting folks to watch the rehearsal. Then you leave set for 20 minutes or so while they get everything ready. When they're ready to shoot, you come back on set, take off your robe, and you and your tube top and your biker shorts climb into bed with your scene partner and her tube top and her biker shorts. Oooh, sexy! ;-)

[On a sidenote, love scenes are so "sexy" that in between takes and setups, one of the camera guys was actually reading a magazine in the room! Two women are practically naked in bed together and he's reading a magazine... and it's not because he's gay, folks! Now that's saying something! ;-) ]

Love scenes are typically shot on what's called a "closed" set, which means that the only people in the room with the actors are the people who have to be there in order to get the shots: camera, sound, etc. There are maybe 5 people in the room instead of the usual 15 or so. Anyhow, so then from the monitors, which are in another room, you hear the director yell action... at which point you do the scene (kissing, cavorting, and all) while trying to ensure that the sheets are covering the tube tops (more challenging than it may sound), that you're not blocking the camera with your head (also more challenging than it sounds), that you're respecting your own space and that of your scene partner's (you're not actually having sex, after all), and - above all - that it looks and feels realistic on camera so that the audience will believe what they're seeing. After the take, the director yells cut and comes in to give direction. That's usually when she also tells you that despite your best efforts, one of the tube top corners was showing... and, guess what, the audience doesn't want to see the back of your head when they could be looking at your scene partner's face. Oops.

So that's take 1. Please refer to the section above entitled "You do the same thing, in basically the same way, many, many times" for an idea of takes 2 and beyond. Needless to say, it helps tremendously to have a fantastic scene partner, a thoughtful director, and a respectful crew. Fortunately, I was blessed with all of that... :-)

You get to explore a range of emotions in the course of a day:
On the day we shot the aforementioned love scene we also shot another scene that, emotionally, was at the opposite end of the spectrum. There were also days where one scene would require anger or hurt and the next scene would require laughter and fun. Remember earlier when I complimented your sanity at choosing to NOT be an actor? Now you understand why... ;-) But as an actor, I have to say there's nothing more challenging - and more exhilarating - than getting to run the gamut of emotions. It's one of the reasons we do what we do. Or at least, one of the reasons I do what I do. I love it!

You get to play characters that are really like you, or sort of like you, or nothing at all like you:
Fairly self-explanatory... please see the challenging/exhilarating/fun comment in the previous section.

Well, I think I've rambled on long enough for one post. Stay tuned for more updates in the new year as we move through post-production, into publicity, and then onto the airwaves!

Thanks for continuing to read and comment... Have a happy ending to 2006 everyone!


fun on my day off...

So I'm here in my hotel room and having such a great time on my day off because... guess what I get to do????

I get to listen to two CDs full of super cool music (courtesy of our music supervisor) to help choose the opening theme song to our show!!!! And then, after this, I'll be listening to composer CDs to help choose a composer for our show!

This is not a bad gig, folks! :-)

Now, back to the music...


winding down...

Yes, you read that correctly... we're almost done up here - with shooting, anyway. The day before yesterday, we shot the big season finale where Jen is abducted by a UFO being flown by Elvis, making a special beyond-the-grave appearance. Oh, geez... I just realized that's probably top secret. Okay, please don't tell anyone that I told you what the finale is. The network wouldn't be happy about that, especially since scheduling a real live UFO landing AND Elvis' resurrection on the exact same shooting day was such an undertaking... you have no idea... but definitely worth it. We're sure to get big ratings off that once that episode airs!

But now that the UFO has flown away and Elvis has left the building, we've just wrapped two of our actresses (one main character and one recurring character) for the season and they're headed back to the places they call home. The rest of us will be wrapped this coming week. But we all love this project - and one another - so much that we're refusing to talk about the end in the hopes that if we ignore it, we'll just get to keep working even when there's nothing left to shoot. ;-) Point being, we all really enjoy working together and are looking forward to doing it all again... hopefully very soon.

In the meantime, we (the EPs) are finally getting to see some of the finished product! We've just gotten director's cuts for episodes 102 and 103 and should have 104 shortly, which we're looking forward to seeing. Once we finish 105 and 106, that director will do her cut and we'll then have a seasons' worth of episodes to work on in a completely different way! We're really excited about that... And no, we don't know the air date yet, so you'll have to stay tuned (just like me).

I realize I've spent more time writing about the writing and executive producing than I have about the acting, so check back for another post soon about what it's like to be an actor on a show... Until then, have a lovely day!


past the halfway mark...

Greetings from our no-longer-top-secret shooting location of Vancouver, where we're finally coming out from under one of the biggest snowstorms the northwest has seen in a long, long time! Don't worry, though... it actually works quite nicely for the show!

Speaking of which, we've officially passed the halfway point!!!! 102, 103, and 104 are "in the can," as they say, and we've just started shooting 105 and 106. I can't tell you anything about the stories, obviously, but what I can tell you is that everything looks absolutely gorgeous... you heard it here folks: this is going to be one helluva show. Our DP is phenomenal, our directors are phenomenal, our main cast and guest cast are an incredible bunch of actors, and everyone on the crew - from production design to costumes to lighting to the ADs and so on - is so talented and lovely to work with. It's been such a wonderful shoot thus far... and as I watch the dailies, it's clear that all of that comes through in what we're going to put on screen.

(Explanation: "Dailies" are the DVDs given to the network execs, executive producers, and director so they can watch the scenes that were shot each day)

It's so exciting to see it all start to come together... Really, when I think back to the short film that started it all, I couldn't have envisioned that where the series is going would be so damn good. I'm really excited for it to get on the air so everyone can see it!

In addition to the everyday joy of getting to make this show, we've also (already!) launched into what will later provide the materials for publicity for the show. As you've seen, the network has already sent out a bit of a press release to announce that we're in production... and a few days ago, we had our big gallery shoot!

(Explanation: A "gallery shoot" is a day-long event where you bring a professional photographer to set to take billions of photos of the cast... the photos are later used for anything and everything that the network may need in order to promote the show).

The gallery shoot was a lot of fun... made more so courtesy of Heather and her iPod. At one point, I was having my picture taken as the Muppets were singing in the background. :-)

So that's all the "facts" of what's been happening up here... but I suppose I should also share a bit of what it's been like for me, as I've gotten that question more than a few times... Well, it's been extremely busy and the hours have been quite long, but I have to say that there's NOTHING else I'd rather be doing. I love acting, I love writing, I love being an EP, and I love that in the course of a day I get to flip between all three of those hats. Along the way, I've been learning a lot and I have to say I'm quite proud of the work I've been doing. We haven't even finished shooting the first six episodes yet and I'm already so excited by everything that I can't wait for the network to order more episodes! Obviously, that's a long way off (let's just focus on the present for now, shall we?), but when that happens (she says, fingers crossed) I'll be like a kid in a candy store to get to come back and do more writing, EP-ing, and, of course, acting... Folks, she's found her triple calling! :-)

Anyhow, that's all the news from here. Stay tuned for more! And now, I'm off to prep my scenes for tomorrow...

p.s. You'll notice that I've finally changed the name of this blog to reflect the new title... but don't worry, the blog itself isn't going anywhere! So keep checking back here for more updates!