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Austin Actors

My Real Life Wife
by Kirk-O-Matic

March 2000

No one is going to believe in you if you don't believe in yourself.

Some of my close friends think I sell myself too much and it bleeds over into my real life. I've even written up an idea for a movie called "My Real Life Wife," a kind of schizi comedy. It's about an actress-wife who gets married to a video guy, they have their wedding videotaped. She gets caught into a video vortex when they show the videotape, right as they are about to leave on a honeymoon. So, the hyper groom is looking all over for his wife and one of the camera guys switches the channels on the tube and they see her in commercials, infomercials, films, etc. She talks to the other actors and then to her husband, "Let me out of HERE!!"

Well anyway...there is a pitch, for another movie.

I've been married to this filmmaking gig far too long and I should get out while the getting is good!! But the problem is that they keep pulling me back in. I was asked by Brad to write some of my ideas for this site, and maybe some my insights will help you gain an edge, or steer you in a different direction.

First up, I've been playing the "game" for twenty years here in Austin, and I am a dirt poor starving artist/filmmaker type -- sound man, digital camera operator and actor. I don't want to sound desperate. I have just found that you have to play the game aggressively. I don't want to be an egomaniac overbearing asshole. But sometimes I come off that way, at least when you first meet me. I feel like that I am on an audition, smoothing talking, etc. all the time, always looking for work and the next gig. Why? 'Cause the market is so small here. You have to. It is not like L.A. where you have 20 picture starts a month. To some people I seem a little wacky, but it's only because I'm always looking for work. I should be settled into a nice Taco Bell or Wal-Mart management job by now. But I'm not. I'm a filmmaker. I've decided to be that. And it is very frustrating. It's funny -- in the '80s I used to do construction and work as a production assist (p.a.), props, camera assistant, etc. Then just recently I am back to building fences and painting, etc. It is hard to jump back and forth between odd jobs and filmmaking mode. I kind of wish sometimes that there was someone who would have said to me, "You're not going to make money at this and your going to be very bummed at this type of work." I probably would have gone off to be a farmer instead of a dreamer. I have enough to get around and play the game and pass "Go" occasionally.

Part of game is that you have to put on the pretense that you are well enough and confident enough to show that you can deliver the role and/or the goods. Most of the time I'm out working on a production or working with other producers on their shows. Austin's scene has been and always will be in a state of flux. It's going through changes now.

Most of the television MOW shows are being produced in Canada. But we currently have four big features in town: "Picnic," "Stewart," "Spy Kids" and "Miss Congeniality." Now you may be asking, "Kirk, why aren't you are working on these pictures?" Well, I have tried. Maybe the crew base is too niched. It's hard to get into. I send out my resume and headshot like all the rest of you. Some of the lucky people are working on those features. I think that most who are working are close friends of the producers or are people who worked with them before, or the department heads come from L.A. or New York. I don't know. The film business is fickle. Maybe there are too many people who can work on these films. There is a very high demand for jobs in this industry. Everybody wants to work in films. They will do it for cheap, for free or for credit, etc. This is one of the reasons they developed unions. Since this is a "right to work" state I usually negotiate my own deals. Whatever.

I once heard some of my filmmaking friends say, "If it were easy, everyone would be doing it." Well the saying has changed ever since Robert Rodriguez and "Blair Witch." Everybody and their dog is making a film. and few really have any talent, because some people are unwilling to pay their dues or work at making something really good. It's the same thing in Hollywood. Everybody doing the grunt work for features and TV is an actor or screenwriter. The people I've talked to who come from Hollywood all say that Hollywood has turned into a TV town. The feature film work is all low budget or runaway productions, or studio films locked into SAG projects. The producers are unwilling try someone new who has not done something in commercials or TV. So you can have the same catch-22 there as we have here. It's just bigger there. The competition is fierce here. The casting directors go through thousands of pictures, and the directors look for the right people for their films. I was talking to my friend Kevin West, who is directing a low budget film called "Night of the Killer Pinatas." He said that when he first sent out info on casting his film, some 250 people came each day for four days down at the Dougherty Arts Center. And he is a low budget filmmaker. So there are lots of people willing to work on production here in Austin. I think that this is even true with large productions. They are inundated with people who will work on films for little or no money. The out of town director just wants some people to fill in the cracks: day players and extras. Not many people get large speaking roles in Austin because they have to cast in LA. because of the Screen Actors Guild has rules about that. The production companies must have a certain amount of SAG players in their films in order to get green-lighted by the studio. The studio says to the producers and production company that they must have so many SAG players on a film in order to distribute the film, because that is how they "market" the film. That is how the bigger pictures in the bigger pond works with bigger fish. They come to this town and use the little fish to shoot, get extras and eat great barbecue.

This may sound like a tough deal, but... Yes, I could move to L.A. and be a video editor and do some hack work and choke and drive on the highways out there, but I like the lakes here and just feel that I would be out of place (not that I would not go in a second, as soon as they call.) Yeah, I've been there a couple times -- done that. Once in '81, once in '85.

Now all that might be wrong for some films. But it usually is true for major films, and those films that have distribution in place. I have heard this all my life. They always have an excuse for not putting you in their film. That is why you have to have a little luck, and lots of perseverance. I sometimes I think that I have lost touch. Other times I just get going on another project and make another film. As an actor, you might have to change. You may have to stop and change roles, put yourself in the position of the producer. I would suggest you get to know how to shoot a short film. If they are not hiring on their projects, START YOUR OWN! It will certainly teach you a new insight onto the other side of the game board. If you get to together with filmmakers or actors to make a small digital film, then it will put you into the controlling manner of production head. You will also learn how better to deal with actors. And I will tell you I have gone from actor to tech many times in my so-called career, and it has helped me immensely with how to deal with the multitude of attitudes and egos of people. Let me tell you, the filmmaking process and production any way you try to put it is an ego-driven people empowerment medium. I enjoy it and then sometimes I get bored with the whole process and get burned out. But I love it because it is ever changing. That is why I have gone from soundman to gaffer to grip to camera to actor to soundman and back to actor again depending on what day it is. Right now I am writing for this web site, teaching digital camcorder and getting ready to shoot and co-produce a digital film with Bruce Holliman called "B B Gun." Last month I wrote for an online web site and underground rag called "Salt for Slugs Magazine." You might take it from that that I am a little crazy to jump around. But I think that it is great, 'cause all the people and characters I meet help me develop characters I can emulate when going in for a part.

Oh, did I mention that I have an agent? I usually get a couple a calls a week to go on auditions.

If you want to work in this town, get to know the director. It is that simple. I worked on the digital film "Jetblast" last October and got a small part because I knew the director. I got on the film as a soundman and he knew I could act too so he had me do some fill-in as an actor. Now that might be difficult to understand, but the only other alternative is to keep going to auditions and hoping that you get in a commercial or two. Films are few and far between. and if you get in one you're lucky. Because you're in the right place at the right time. This is why you're in Austin. You're in the right place, so you have at least half of it right. No, you're not going to make a living acting or being a filmmaker unless you make your own films and you star in them.

This is the route that I like, because you're not only doing one job and you're doing what many big name stars do now. They own their own production companies to field scripts. You command your own destiny. You may not want to spend your own money on producing short films and digital videos, but at least you are doing something. If people who are players see that you're doing some productions and acting and producing and directing, then they are more apt hire you. Why? Because you understand what it takes to make films. This is why I say make short films. Gather a group of like-minded filmmakers and actors and shoot and edit short videos and maybe you will get your name and abilities around. It is constant work. If you like to wait for your agent to call you to get work you may wait longer between work. If you like to work with local acting teachers and coaches that is a great way to stay connected. But you should get out there and produce some small projects to cast a wider net than your friends.

Austin actors and crew are so fortunate that two major festivals play in this town. SXSW and Austin Film Fest. You should go and schmooze. This is how I get some work. Show your face around. Hand out demos and cards and headshots.

Now for the downside to all of this. You may not be all that great of an actor. The auditions and the short films that you send to festivals may not get in. Some of us are lucky and some of us are not so lucky, that is a fact of life. Let me tell you, I have explored almost every avenue. You have to be upbeat and have to have a go-for-it attitude if you want to win in this game. This is the most difficult and challenging game on earth today because it entails all arts at once. It takes your all to deliver the goods and keep playing. If you're upbeat and happy, people -- directors, crew, filmmakers, and everyone around you -- will want to meet you and be on your team. Why do you think that the actors that are acting and winning are where they are? It is because of perseverance and drive and they are fun to be around. They are outspoken and very practiced in the craft of acting. You do have to be a good people person to play this game. It is a fine mix of personality and technician that I have found that gets me work from day to day. If I am not working on someone else's video or film, then I am writing on my own productions or shooting a little video for myself OR! watching a film. To always be shooting, watching or being in a film is my thinking.

A final note. I don't mean to be blunt, but I have just seen things work certain ways in the biz and some things work and sometimes you have to change. It is so funny -- as soon as I change one way, it goes back another. I love to act and produce and keep creating wild videos. So keeping pushing and someday you may get where you want to be. Take care.

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