A year and a half year ago I embarked on a wild ride by jumping on the New England acting wagon. My first foray into acting started as a background actor for Larry David’s CLEAR HISTORY. I submitted myself and was shocked to be chosen for two days of work. Not one word of film terminology was familiar to me, not “back to one, speed, or, background.” The only two words I kLnew were “action” and “cut.” When faced with any other unknown situation in my life, I asked questions when able, listened and followed everyone else. The PA’s gave us basic instruction more to do with what not to do, like never approach the main actors. That I knew!
What I learned in those two days is that the other actors are your friends and allies. So many stepped in to give me advice, explaining the terminology, and telling me which casting companies in Boston to sign up with for more background work. I have made it a point to pay it forward with any other newbie I meet on set and pass along all that was passed on to me.
That’s all it took. I had the bug. I threw myself into finding out everything I needed to do to work and be part of this exciting community, starting with student films, web series and indies, working my way to documentaries, music videos and my personal favorite, commercials. It is imperative for actors to take classes and as frightened as I was to take that first class, it was the best step I took. My classes in the past sixteen months include, dramatic acting with Kevin Lasit, Meisner level 1 technique with Rich Bailey at NEAW, Tom Todoroff, Steve Blackwood, Jenn Lederer, Angela Peri, and the wonderful workshops provided by Becki Dennis Buchman from Talent Tools. Volumes of information have been gleaned from these classes and it should be the number one thing new actors do while embarking on their acting journey.
Some shoots have been almost comical. While filming an infomercial in a private home with no AC on a hot and humid summer day; the sweat started to pour down the sides of my face. The script was handed to me just minutes prior and I had to open a pickle jar, which was not cooperating. The final cut was a testament to brilliant editing. Some student films were shot in apartments I was sure had been condemned. I would not change one bit of it, because I learned something valuable from each opportunity, or at least had a good laugh from the experience.
Not all of my experiences have been positive and being a newbie likely worked against me. In addition to acting, I desired to learn as much about behind the camera as possible and threw myself heart, soul and pocketbook into a production. Though many red flags began popping up months before filming was to commence I attempted to rationalize my misgivings by attributing them to the director’s stress. Had I had done my due diligence, research, and spoken to former actors involved in the project, the answers I sought would have been revealed and I could have saved myself much aggravation, discomfort and money. A hard lesson to learn for a newbie, but a mistake I will never make again.
This May I will be working behind the scenes with the talented Seth Chitwood of Angelwood Pictures and his cast and crew. As mentioned, commercials are one of my favorite types of industry work. In the past five months I completed seven commercials and had three running simultaneously on the local Boston channels. I wrapped on an indie film named MOMENTS FROM A SIDEWALK directed by Silvia Kovatchev, which will be entered in film festivals worldwide starting this spring. A student thesis film DREAMERS by BU graduate student Joe Dwyer, in which I played a scientist, has been nominated for a Student Academy Award by The Motion Pictures Academy for Arts and Sciences in Los Angeles. I had the good fortune of being a principal actor in two episodes of The “Folklorist,” a local TV show produced by the talented crew at NEWTV, which is up for five Emmy’s and a Telly this year.
With fifty film projects under my belt I consider myself lucky to have met so many inspirational, talented and dedicated industry professionals. In the past year and a half I have tried to become a consummate professional, choose specific roles and make wise choices that have allowed me to work my way from background to commercials. Most importantly, I give back by supporting actors, films, sharing casting notices, attending screenings of local films, and passing along what I have learned to others. What’s next for me? A short comedic screenplay to be written cast and directed with two of my actor friends. And I hope to continue to take classes, act, and become more involved on both sides of the camera.
Jan Waldman can be reached at [email protected].