My Visit to Shanksville, PA United Flight 93 Site in 2005

When my wife and I were married in April 2005, we were asked the question common to newlyweds, “So…what exotic destination are you headed for your honeymoon?”  We unabashedly announced, Ohio!

You see, Layla and I are HUGE roller-coaster fans, and with the dearth of high-ranking thrill rides in the Sunshine State despite having numerous theme parks, we planned a two-week excursion to ride as many top roller-coasters as we could, starting with Kennywood in Pittsburgh, interspersed with trips to local vineyards and wineries.  Once we discovered “twilight fares” (something unique to the Northeast and Midwest: arrive late in the afternoon, and admission price is reduced by as much as fifty percent!), we condensed our attraction-hopping to wine tastings in the morning, followed by thrill rides in the afternoon (which seemed much wilder for some reason)!

This permitted a couple extra days to take in other attractions that weren’t originally on our loosely-planned itinerary.  Shanksville, Pennsylvania happened to be one of them (point “H” on the map).  It apparently was destined that we would visit this site.  Early in our trip, as we traveled along Highway 30 between IdleWild in Ligonier, PA to Hershey Park in eastern Pennsylvania, we saw a simple, hand-carved wooden sign that read “United 93″ with the silhouette of an airplane on it alongside the road.

Mind you, we had no idea we would pass so close to this site; we were a thousand miles from home and a million miles away in our own little world during this trip.  The phrase was somewhat familiar, but the design of the sign suggested there was a business nearby that adopted that name. (In Florida, we have a t-shirt shop called “Last Flight Out,” and that was the first thing that came to mind when I saw the sign.)

We drove on.

We continued to Hershey Park, Dorney Park in Allentown, then proceeded south to Kings Dominion in Virginia.  While at Naked Mountain Winery in Virginia, we were told about a multi-state Wine Festival just a few miles away.  BONUS!  The event took place on hundreds of acres of farmland at Historic Long Branch Farm, with a “If you build it…they will come” sort of atmosphere.  On our third wine tasting of the day, we were chastised for tasting the wines in the improper order, to which Layla responded, “at this point in the day, does it really matter?!”  The food, wine, hot sauces, music, car show and 30-degree apple cider were an absolute treat, but caused us to bypass Busch Gardens, and we headed back north towards Cedar Point, a roller-coaster enthusiast’s Mecca, in Sandusky, Ohio.

Our care-free zig-zag route northward placed us on highway 219, and late at night, we checked in at a hotel nearby the Pennsylvania Turnpike, which was a haven for over-the-road truckers (I felt like we were at some sort of 18-wheeler G8 Summit)!  While enjoying our Continental Breakfast the following morning, I picked up a map from the hotel’s “local attractions” news-stand, and among the locations of every covered bridge in Somerset County (of which we drove a few), there were two large badges emblazoned across the top noting the sites of the Quecreek “Nine for Nine” Mine Rescue of 2002, and the resting spot of passengers from the hi-jacked United Airlines flight on September 11th, 2001.

We put two-and-two together, and that hand-made sign we saw a few days earlier was put into context.  We headed along a shell-covered, unpaved path through a landfill, past a mountain of discarded Pepsi vending machines, to a 20-foot wall and portable shed.  A kind man was standing guard, tucking mementos placed on the wall and greeting guests to this memorial.  He had many stories we had never heard of our most recent “day of infamy,” including the supportive nature of the community as multiple state and federal agencies worked on the site for the ensuing days and weeks.

Shortly after we arrived, dozens of large, bearded, leather-clad individuals on immense American motorcycles arrived…you know, the type that, when you see them, the first thought that goes through your mind is, “Where is a cop when you need one?”  As the volunteer continued to talk, I activated my video camera…discreetly.  I did not want to disregard the solemnity of this memorial, but I was so moved by these powerful stories, that I wanted to share them with my loved ones back home.  The large, intimidating-looking bikers were reduced to tears by the stories, as you can see in the video.

Hearing the stories today on television, I searched for this video taken in 2005, so you can hear what I heard that Summer:

 

We continued from there, changed.  Our experiences at Cedar Point, Geauga Lake and King’s Island were incredible and adrenaline-infused, but the most memorable moment of our trip was the one that was un-planned, and took us to the site of one of the most significant events in American history.

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You Always Have to Start the Year Off Right

The harder you work…and the smarter you work…the better the rewards, right?  Something else I have learned over the past couple years, is that patience is not only a virtue, but a way of life and an absolute requirement for long-term success (financial advisors will even tell you to look at investments over the long term, rather than the day-to-day fluctuations of a stock or commodity).

So, between auditions, shoots, workshops and other performances (sometimes during the drive to or from any of these), I reflect on my knowledge and skills, and identify areas for improvement.  Notes I have made for myself could make a separate blog, altogether!  The long trips along I-95 or I-75 provide ample time to listen to industry podcasts, or recordings of webinars and teleconferences.  It puts to use that time that would otherwise be left idle, listening to talk radio, NPR, pop music, and when Kiefer’s awake, singing “Mary Had a Little Lamb” or having incomprehensible conversations!

On occasion, I have had my son in tow.  So far, I have yet to ruffle the feathers of any casting director by bringing him along.  Fortunately, I have only brought Kiefer along to one audition at a casting director’s office, who is notorious for running an extremely tight ship.  Anything that strays from “by the book” just is not tolerated at all, here.  I set down the sleeping baby in his child seat with no fanfare, and calmly shared looks with other actors in the waiting room, to quell any “ohh”s and “awe”s.  We were flying under the radar, here.  I felt that, as long as he doesn’t present a distraction in the waiting room, my offense of bringing him to begin with would be forgiven.

We caught a break, because one of my associates in the room offered to “rock” him when it was my turn to audition.  Most actors are quick to leave the casting office after an audition, on to the next one, a performance, a class, or a “jobby job,” but she had no qualms about sticking around for a little while to help out a fellow professional.  I returned to the waiting room feeling “just ok” about my performance, to hear the casting director (she stays outside the studio while assistants film the auditions) pleasantly ask the actress when did she ever have time to have a baby!   We straightened her out, and I was half-expecting a tongue-lashing, but got a very sincere compliment, instead.

That same week, I got a call for a commercial shooting in Orlando.  The details were a bit fuzzy, though I was familiar with the company and their current advertising campaign, but that did not help with my wardrobe selection.  So, to avoid not having the right outfit, I just overloaded my car with every combination I could think of (if only I can find a foldable rolling wardrobe that can fit in the trunk of a Pontiac Solstice) !  My scene was simple:  Sitting in a restaurant, my dining companion (forcibly) spills a glass of wine on me.  I believe the number of takes became quite excessive and gratuitous:  Change the tablecloth, towel Scott down, reset.  Who knows if they were even rolling on half of them.  Ha, ha, people.

As if that wasn’t enough abuse for one day…as I left that shoot, my car wouldn’t start.  The battery was obviously dead, but the car is new enough, that it has one of those relays that prevents battery drain from any accessory.  I almost got it to turn over once, but not quite.  I thought I was in luck, since there was one of those big-box warehouse retailers right next door to the film set.  I walked over to their automotive section and explained my predicament.  YES!  They did have one battery in stock that would fit my car; however, their technicians are not certified to do battery replacements (insurance policy, maybe?).

I could buy the tools to change the battery, myself, but this ultra-compact roadster practically requires the entire front end be disassembled just to do this seemingly simple task.  This ended up as a call to Roadside Assistance.  Although the jumper cables connected to an industrial pick-up truck couldn’t do the trick, a hand-held charger in the tow truck got my car going once again.  Once started, I wasn’t concerned much about the battery (alternator, don’t fail me now!), and I cruised two hours home, and got to a service station that could change the battery for me just before closing time!

Not long after that, I had a commercial shoot in Miami.  Talk about the need for reliable transportation!  I tend not to look at commercials in Miami, since the mileage for the auditions are almost always prohibitive, but in this case, the money was really good, and it was a direct booking.  This had to have been the quietest film shoot I have ever been on.  It took place inside a retail store…during business, but something about the design of the building made it possible to stay at a conversational tone, even over a great distance.  There were customers all over the place, but this store is SO HUGE it dwarfs typical warehouse clubs and “Super”-retailers!  We just closed off a section at a time, but never long enough to inconvenience the shoppers.  It was great!

Kiefer chaperoned another audition excursion to Atlantic Beach with me.  His patience by now is good for almost an hour, but the wait time exceeded that by a bit.  When I was called, a half-dozen of my close friends all offered to look after him.  When I walked in, the casting director was concerned that he wasn’t with me.  I explained this was my audition, and before I could get to the, “…and as a professional I feel I shouldn’t impose…,” I was advised directly to retrieve him, and that I wouldn’t be allowed to any more of her auditions without bringing him with me.  (…and I think she’s absolutely serious!)

I was offered a role different from the one for which I auditioned, but which was remarkably similar to one I played in another project very recently.  You might have heard me talk about the “guy who thinks too much of his ability at an audition and gets thrown out…roughly.”  V-e-r-y similar scene!  The crew was remarkable…I have worked with most of them at one time before, but never together on the same project.  The mood was always very high-spirited, and every scene moved like clockwork.  Very.  Well.  Done.

I also recently attended the Gainesville Improv Festival, a showcase of national and international improvisational performance groups with long- and short-form shows, as well as workshops led by industry leaders.  Many of the Mad Cowford company members made their way down for at least one day of the festival, if not the entire weekend.  Featured acts included 3033, ArACkA, Fiber Octaves, Theatre Strike Force, and many others, including, of course, Mad Cowford!  I wasn’t able to attend the workshops, but the shows were outstanding!

Although my main focus has been acting, most professionals talk about supplementing their arts-generated income with some other form, where “your money works for you.”  Some share special deals on herbal probiotic supplements; others might have another skill like copywriting or graphic design they can do in their down time; and some might be adept at traditional stock and commodity investments.  Layla and I have been looking at niche affiliate marketing.  This is where you share your opinion about very specific products and services to a broad audience, and connect that audience with the providers.  Rather than “purchasing an independent business offering” or subscribing to some multi-level plan, niche affiliate marketing simply connects people to products and services, where the commission is paid by the provider, and not the buyer.

Remember I said something about being patient?  Although I do understand the importance of investing in yourself, your family and your business, you have also come to know that I am not a person who carelessly spends money on…anything.  Although I have been practicing with a wired ear-prompter for a couple years now, its usefulness in practical filming applications is quite limited — my short cannot conceal the wire, a problem those with longer hair, especially ladies, don’t have to deal with as often.  So, I have used the “eBay Search Alerts” feature to notify me when an ear-prompter is ever listed.  This is not a popular item on the world’s largest auction site, by the way.

There are a few manufacturers, though the design varies so little among the different providers.  A typical kit, with recorder, earpiece, batteries, cleaning kit and “loupe” (short-range transmitting antenna worn underneath the clothes) typically run anywhere between $600 and $1,200 new.  When listed on eBay, they fetch at least $500, so I would “watch” each item listed, and decide on the last day of the auction whether I could come up with the “Jack.”  Usually the answer was a resounding, “you gotta be kidding me, right?”  Well, I don’t know how it happened:  I’m guessing whoever listed this particular item didn’t categorize it right, because nobody watched it.  It was one of those $800 kits with extra batteries and an extra ear bud and loupe (about another $400 bucks) thrown in.  On the last hour, I put in the “minimum bid” of $200, hoping there was no reserve, AND WON IT!!!

This year also called for an upgrade of equipment I have been using for shooting videos and taping auditions.  Although the make-shift methods have yielded adequate results for a while, it is time, especially with the versatility and ease-of-use of modern technologies to enhance my equipment portfolio.  I was surprised to find how affordable it was to obtain a digital SLR camera (the Canon EOS Rebel T2i), backdrop, lighting kit and accessories.  At these prices, anybody can set up their own digital video studio!  The lens came a week after a camera, so I borrowed a friends “macro” lens and was dumb-founded by the types of pictures it yielded!

That camera came in very handy for a live performance event I was cast in the week it was delivered.  I was to play a “professional photographer” (go figure, right?)…more like a “paparazzo.”  This was a private event, but we set it up as a red carpet premiere, with reporters, photographers, raving fans and the like.  The guest of honor had no idea!

Scott J. Smith
www.ScottJSmith.com

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“In a World…called Voiceover…”

Voiceover is one facet of acting, and voiceover itself has many facets.  The most notable voiceover style is the film trailer, made famous by the late, great Don “In a World…” LaFontaine, but also includes film and television narration, audiobooks, commercial announcers, animations (film, television and games), television and radio “station identification,” promotions, PSA’s, interactive phone menus, and (what I have become familiar with recently) talking toys.

I have worked with a number of actors who have been successful in the voiceover business for a long time, and I have considered pursuing similar work, but have never committed to getting the training and the equipment, and actually practicing delivering copy, critically listening to my reads, and editing and finalizing audio for delivery until this year.

I started learning as much as I could about the industry, and sat in on several webconferences with established professionals to make sure this was a fit for me.  I purchased some inexpensive equipment and downloaded Audacity, a free audio editing program, and I began working with some scripts I already had from previous auditions and shoots.

I really hadn’t shared my decision with anyone, which goes against most success coaches’ advice, who often are heard saying, “Designate an accountability partner — once you share your goals with someone, you are more likely to achieve them.”  I took the alternate approach:  If I decided after “getting my feet wet” that voiceover was not for me, I wanted to quickly sweep it under the rug, without an announced goal nagging me forever.

Call it karma, luck or God’s will, but just as soon as I started getting comfortable with the thought that, with sufficient resources and training, I really could be successful at this voiceover thing, I received an email from an actor friend of mine whom I haven’t heard from in years, asking me if I would be interested in a 200-page e-Learning voiceover project for a major global client.  How did he know?

I jumped at the opportunity, pouring over the chapters upon chapters of technical jargon, “marking the copy” to help with the actual delivery, and becoming acclimated to presenting all this information to a microphone just inches away.  I learned a lot about my performance technique from that first job, including:

  • Rehearse at various speeds.  Since I wasn’t given a target duration, I practiced reading at a rate slower than the client desired.  Oftentimes, changing the pace is a simple adjustment; however, with long sections laden heavily with technical jargon, I found myself getting a little tongue-tied, which required a few re-takes.
  • Simple diction is key.  After listening to some of my practice reads, I was amazed at the number of times I said “an-” instead of “and,” “-z” for “as,” and “thn” for either “then” or “than.”  After that eye-opener, I pulled out some old articulation exercises to practice before any future voiceover work.
  • There were also words and phrases that just tripped me up.  They wouldn’t necessarily be tongue twisters, but certain combinations of sounds would, for some unexplained reason, get all muddled during my read.  It’s good to know this before going into a studio…the client’s or yours…and wasting time.  On that same note, I noticed that after some time, the amount of mistakes increased.  I need to work on extending my endurance, and also know to take breaks and schedule recording sessions accordingly.
  • When reading copy, it is natural to let the energy, volume and/or pace to trail off.  In voiceover, much like performances on stage and camera, one must be cognizant of keeping the energy, volume and pace levels consistent.
  • I am being paid to sound like, well, “I know what I’m saying.”  Although I was familiar with the concepts in this e-Learning series, I wasn’t initially familiar enough with the text, and I sounded more like I was “just reading it off of the page.”  The quick pace of the reads, when not completely comfortable with the text, makes the delivery sound very cold and impersonal.
  • Something I have often heard, but didn’t truly take to heart until I did several test recordings myself:  SMILE when reading.  When in a studio, with just a music stand, lamp and microphone, it’s easy to discount something like “smiling”…who’s going to see it, anyway?  It CAN be heard.
  • It is also very important to remember lessons learned in stage acting, including breath control.  Even though I might have marked my script to eliminate any long phrases, I have to be careful not to run out of breath, nor “gasp” for air with that sensitive microphone just inches away.
  • Finally, I have had to remind myself to relax.  Just like smiling, tension in the body can be perceived in the delivery.  Preparation, stretches, comfortable clothing and posture, deep breaths and focus all help to alleviate the tension that can just destroy a good read.

I also became much more aware of noises when listening to my recordings.  These microphones are sensitive.  Even in well-insulated interior rooms, cars and planes can still be heard outside, then there’s the air conditioner, fan, squeaky floor (funny, I never noticed it before), the headphone cord hitting the stand, rustly clothes, and on one occasion, my gurgling stomach!  No wonder professional studios are engineered to strict tolerances to eliminate as much sound as possible…though I don’t think they have an engineering solution to my hunger pangs.  As one pro told me, “Eat before your session.”  I swear…I did!

After completing the first project, there were some re-writes, but my friend was out of the country on a business trip.  I recorded the new copy at home with my simple setup and emailed him some samples, which he shared with his client.  Everyone was pleased with the files I produced, which saved us all time, and kept the project on schedule.  In fact, they needed a recording of someone else for another project during the same time frame, and my “studio” was recommended.  Since then, I was hired for a second job, which I recorded completely at home.  It allows for flexibility of scheduling, rather than having to coordinate multiple people and resource calendars.

Although I am proud of the work I have done so far, I know I have plenty to learn.  I have joined several online groups to keep up on “best practices” within the industry, and I have also contacted a couple local coaches to fine-tune my technique.  Voiceover is highly competitive, and even though I can expand my reach to many more markets through “the miracle of the Internet,” so can everybody else.

VO Samples:
Audiobook Demo (00:43)
Character Demo (00:23)
Commercial Demo (00:16)
eLearning Demo (01:03)
Film Demo (00:15)
IVR Demo (00:10)
Presentation Demo (00:09)
Radio Image Demo (00:10)

Scott J. Smith
www.ScottJSmith.com

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2010 Draws to a Close…

It’s been a long, hard year, and with the birth of my son…a very good year, indeed!

When I started this blog, my intent was to share my journey as an entertainment professional.  As you have learned, it has become an all-encompassing diary, including aviation and technology topics, and now…fatherhood.  I have contemplated separating my thoughts into separate entries (possibly even separate blogs, altogether), for that segment of my audience that prefers a narrow focus.  It’s one of those “to do” items whose priority is dwarfed by other tasks right now.  So, mind my ramblings, and enjoy!

Although we never want to see our industry “wind down,” there are expected slow periods, and the December timeframe allows for us to focus on family and holiday celebrations.  I did have a run of auditions early in the month, for commercials and television series.  I hit the driving range several days, as three of those auditions wanted to see my golf swing.  Have you ever been to a place where dozens of men are swinging golf clubs, inside, all at the same time?  I had to chuckle!

I have gotten fairly adept at taping my own auditions.  A couple casting directors at distant locations accept emailed videos.  For a while, I thought candidates who chose to self-tape were considered only after those who made the trip (or were local to begin with), until I learned that these CD’s are adamant about reviewing all submissions, and knowing a couple actors who booked using this method.  I have since obtained a more professional lighting kit, and moved the setup upstairs to the former master bedroom, which is now a 250 square foot studio / child’s play area.  (We moved downstairs, to be close to the nursery.)  The quality of the footage I send continues to improve, and the time spent capturing, editing and rendering has become much more manageable.

I picked up a couple commercials this month, including a sporting goods store that insisted we shoot outside regular business hours.  Previously, they would cordon off an area of the store, and send employee “runners” to obtain products for customers while shooting in that area.  After a couple of poor sales reports, they stopped shooting during the day.  So, breakfast at 8:00 PM, Shoot at 9:00 PM, lunch around 1:00 AM and wrap around 3:30 AM…just enough time for a couple hours sleep before that next audition!

I also had the opportunity to audition for “The Merchant of Venice.” As you have likely read before, there is a special place in my heart for all things Shakespeare.  I was unavailable for “Romeo and Juliet” earlier in the year, and the director of “Merchant” and I have worked together before.  Actually, he was instrumental in readying some actors very new to performing classic literature for a production of I directed a couple years ago.  In the end, I opted not to audition, since it was likely I would be dealing with a conflict during the run of his show.

The rest of the month was all about family.  We started the holidays early, introducing our five-month-old to Santa…again, and again, and again.  Yes, it was more for us than it was for him, but he actually enjoyed each experience.  I think it will be a different story THIS year!  (Maybe, maybe not.)  The one event we really looked forward to was “Breakfast with Santa,” hosted by a local theatre group.

The food was hot and delicious; however, Santa was less than “the jolly old elf” we expected.  He arrived late, ate breakfast in the room with the children, half out of costume, with his beard slung over the seat next to him…then constantly complained how hot the costume was, and how long the event was taking.  We met some new friends there, so diverted our attention away from Santa Grinch.  Later in the morning, a very jovial man took the throne, well-bedecked, Ho Ho Ho-ing, and singing songs with the kids.  The photographer (whom we recognized from a jazz festival where we bumped into him years ago) approached us and asked, “Do you want pictures with a better Santa?”  We weren’t going to say anything, since we were there to support the theatre, but we had to laugh when he said that!

At one of our Christmas parties, Kiefer was presented with a wrapped toy.  He was mesmerized by the paper…and thrilled just to look at it, all in one piece!  Once we showed him that there was something special inside, he meticulously peeled the paper away, strip by strip.  We’ve gotten a lot of mileage out of that toy, something he still plays with to this day, and he was more than prepared to strip wrapping paper from gifts come Christmas morning!

Scott J. Smith
www.ScottJSmith.com

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Pardon My Absence…

Okay, everyone: Just pretend it was six months ago, okay? Lots have happened in the past half-year, so I will feed it all to you, as always, in bite-size little month-long nuggets.  Like all new parents, new responsibilities materialize, and one must take the time to prioritize his obligations.  Unfortunately, my dear readers, this blog fell “below the line,” an occurrence I hope to rectify for you now.  So think back, way way back, to November 2010; ah, those were the days…

Kiefer was almost four months old then, and now, it seems like nearly a lifetime ago! Friends and family came to visit, and we took great pride when introducing our son to our extended theatre, aviation and church “families.”  Mr. Personality always put on a good face — always very calm, with practically a permanent smile emblazoned on his precious little face!

One such occurrence was at the St. Augustine Airport for its annual fall World War II Hangar Dance.  This themed event brings people together in 1940′s-era garb to enjoy music from the Clay County Community Swing Band, dancing, food and hanging out with friends.  A local museum displayed uniforms, weapons, photos and other memorabilia from World War II, and some of the pilots association members brought their 1940′s era aircraft and other equipment for show.  It’s always a fun night, and Kiefer fit right in with his A-2 leather bomber jacket I appropriated from his stuffed monkey!

For the past ten years, I have worked on quite a few industrial films for a government agency.  Working with the same director and crew on multiple shoots is so fun, since you have already established the rapport, and you know the personalities of all the players, and what the “mood” will be like on set.  I always look forward to these shoots, especially since nearly all have been direct bookings.  It’s nice to feel wanted!

Recently, upper-level personnel from that agency (at another office in the nation’s capital), arranged for auditions for future projects.  Those of us who have worked there before thought it was quite odd, kind of expecting to continue to receive work through direct bookings, but understood that the decision-makers at times need to see the pool of talent available.  I felt very good about my audition, especially since the directors I have worked with took the time to introduce me to his VIP guests in the room.

The next day was another one of my whirlwind audition days.  I keep telling myself, eventually I’ll get burned, but when multiple excellent opportunities present themselves, I also feel I am doing myself a disservice by not pursuing each lead.  In the early morning, I found myself driving to Charleston, South Carolina for a national eye care commercial.  I left in plenty enough time that I arrived nearly an hour before my time slot (these long-distance trips, you can’t be too safe).  Panic didn’t set in until I noticed the casting director was nearly an hour late getting started…AND I HAD AN AUDITION IN ORLANDO, FLORIDA THAT AFTERNOON!

I didn’t let it affect my performance (I don’t think); however, they were auditioning in groups…basically a completely improvised scene with five other actors whom I have never met, let alone worked with on scripted or improvised scenes before.  Though all claimed to have some level improv experience, the scene was very disjointed, with conversations overlapping and very little “listening” going on.  I have mixed emotions about auditions of this type:  If you can “click” with your scene partner(s), everybody benefits…if you don’t, you could suffer, regardless of the amount of preparation, training and raw talent.  By the way, I was on time for the Orlando audition, and I had plenty of time to get that experience out of my head, so that it would not affect my next performance.

…and speaking of “feeling wanted”…

I got a callback! Of course, any actor would be thrilled for a callback, especially if he eventually books the job, but there’s more to it than that this time.  At a prior audition with the same casting director, someone on the panel made a comment as I was leaving, that I don’t think I was supposed to hear.  Since I wasn’t sure of the context, I never knew whether or not it was a slight.  I try to never let anything like that bug me…but this one stung just a little bit, and I didn’t know why.  Since my performance at this audition warranted a callback, I can put my mind at ease, and remind myself to never let things I can’t control affect my dedication to this art form.

Then there are acting jobs that people rarely think about.  Not everything we do is for entertainment purposes.  Sure, there are countless educational programs on television and for private consumption, where actors must demonstrate processes or illustrate situations that may occur within an organization; however, I recently had a job that doesn’t fit either category.

A local Fortune 500 company this year implemented a complex, multi-tiered manager candidate selection process.  Since this company hires from all over the country (and the world), the first couple rounds included phone interviews and Internet surveys.  During the final determination, the top candidates are flown to the company’s headquarters for face-to-face interviews, a “job fit” meeting, and a role play scenario, where the candidate (as the manager), must determine an effective course of action in a live, interactive meeting with his “employee” (me).

The scenarios are mostly improvisational; however, we actors are given guidelines, so that grading of the candidates’ responses can be consistent.  During the event, we are expected to confront our “manager.”  What we learned is: that many confrontations (up to nine in one day) can really wear you down, even if it is just a character you’re playing.  I’ve been “suspended” and “fired” so many times, I’ve lost count, including one candidate who met me at the door with my “pink slip” and called “security” before the “meeting” even began; though I can’t say the outcome the observers truly are looking for.

November was also when Layla and I started getting involved with Help Four Paws, which is a perfect match for us, since we both have a love for aviation and rescuing animals.  Help Four Paws is an organization that includes ground and air transportation for shelter animals when their new forever home (or rescue organization) is a great distance away.  The euthanization rate of abandoned animals is many times higher in the Southeast United States than throughout the rest of the country, so this free means of getting animals out of harm’s way is a vital resource.

We helped organize a golf tournament and silent auction to raise funds for the organization (fuel ain’t cheap, you know).  Kiefer quietly attended all the planning meetings, but for the day’s event, we decided he could stay with Grandma and Grandpa.  They didn’t mind one bit!  It was the first time neither of us was with the little guy, and he took it in stride (so did Mommy and Daddy!).  The weather was perfect for the tournament, many animals were adopted that day, and Help Four Paws received positive publicity and much-needed funds.  Keep an eye out for their next fundraising event at http://www.HelpFourPaws.org

The following weekend, I attended a “Direction and Performance” workshop sponsored by the continuing education branch of a local university.  It was a potpourri of topics, as they were kicking off a series of film and television related curricula for directors, producers, actors and crew.  It’s great to see the spate of educational offerings for the industry in this area.

The following weekend was Thanksgiving, best spent with family.  We celebrated our first Thanksgiving with the newest family member at home this year.  Layla found a recipe for bourbon sweet potatoes that she just had to have.  While Kiefer and I babysat the turkey, she went on a wild-goose hunt, trying to find one store open on the holiday or a neighbor who was home, who had a half-cup of the precious ingredient.  Her solution was rather unorthodox, which I won’t detail to protect the bartender who offered the distilled nectar in a “to-go” cup!

Cheers!

Scott J. Smith
www.ScottJSmith.com

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Trick-R-Trunk!

Scott and Kiefer at “Trick or Trunk”

After having a couple relatively slow weeks at the end of September, October started with a packed schedule…and lots of mileage.  Friday, I received a call for a last-minute feature film casting in Atlanta.  I had just enough time to tape the session and email it before the end of business that day.  Later that evening, while at SAAPA First Friday, my agent calls me, and everyone in the room was cracking up after watching my submission.  I’ll take that as a compliment, thankyouverymuch!

The following day, Layla and Kiefer accompanied me up to Savannah for a film adaptation for a novel set in the area, and written by a Savannah author.  The directions to the audition location were rather perplexing; the final step of the instructions stated, “Where the Abercrombie and Fitch used to be!”  I later  learned that the A&F store had been vacant for several years, so even recent residents of the area would not have been familiar with that reference.  We had hoped to spend some time in the Historic District, and walk Kiefer through one of the beautiful parks there, but a late start combined with time finding the casting location limited the amount of time to enjoy the city.  We probably could have, had I not been so persistent with arriving prior to my call time, even though my actual audition was hours later, due to delays at that location earlier in the day.

From Savannah on Saturday, I was called to Miami on Monday.  I was hoping for Tampa on Tuesday to keep the alliterative week going, but that just was not to be.  A major grocery store was casting for a regional commercial in South Florida.  It was my first call to Brad Davis Casting, and I look forward to our next meeting.  It’s quite a trek down I-95 and makes the round trip an all-day excursion, but the work is worth it, so I trudge ahead!

I also (finally) updated my demo reel.  I tried to come up with something that would work in most situations, even though it seems like each request for my reel has different requirements.  The current posting is actually three 60-second clips (one film, one commercial, one industrial) stitched together.  Trying to present a broad sampling of my work in a coherent manner in under a minute was quite a challenge.

The following week was the Jacksonville International Film Festival.  My favorite events, I think I have said here before, are the short film series.  During these presentations, you get to compare a variety of directing, acting, shooting and editing styles in a two- to three-hour period, and also enjoy a multitude of interesting stories.  During the closing event and awards presentation, some local film-makers were among the recipients, director and host Warren Skeels awarded a SmartCar ForTwo via phone on stage, followed by a screening of “Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room.”  What sounds like a possibly dry documentary actually was a thought-provoking and interesting tale of facts that never made it to the evening news about the energy corporation’s demise.

Mid-way through the football season, Layla and I started “Jonesing” for some good football.  This is the first year in over a decade we do not have season tickets to the NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars home games, and watching the matches on television just is not the same experience at all.  In addition, as good parents, we would be remiss if we did not introduce Kiefer to the wonderful tradition that is football.  On a Friday night, we drove to The Bolles School in San Jose to witness the competition between the Bulldogs and the West Nassau Warriors, and of course, enjoy some nutrition-less concession stand food!  Throughout the game, he was completely mesmerized by the activity on the field and in the stands.  He especially liked the marching bands during halftime and flirting with the cheerleaders after the game (that’s my boy!).

I was also asked to videotape the Ordination and Installation of Pastor Mark R. Tonnesen at my church, Advent Lutheran.  There are others who typically videotape services, but since I have created video-recordings of Advent Lutheran events on three occasions in the past and I was available that weekend, I accepted the request.  I thought I was well-prepared, arriving early with spare battery and tape in tow (just in case).  Little did I know, that the presentation and giving of the stole would be conducted with the entire congregaton standing, which made capturing the key portion of the event difficult from my vantage point.  In addition, the supposed “three hour” battery did not sustain its charge, and started warning me “Low Battery” during the guest pastor’s sermon!  I had my spare at the ready, and thankfully (graciously?  mercifully?), I was able to capture the message in its entirety and restart the camera before the hymn of the day.  Whew!

The month concluded with a series of Halloween (er, “Fall Festival”) events, which proved that the little guy can hang with the grown ups.  We attended a “Trick or Trunk” (or is it a “Trunk or Treat?”) event hosted by Shepherd of the Woods Lutheran Church where the traditional trick-or-treat excursion is conducted at the facility’s parking lot, with other festivities, such as a hay ride, music, bounce houses, arts and crafts and a pumpkin patch.  Kiefer wore his stylin’ bumblebee outfit (the insect, not the Transformer Autobot), while mommy and daddy sported handmade beekeeper outfits.  We also attended a World-War II-style hangar dance at St. Augustine Airport, which has recently become a tradition each fall.  Friday, we trick-or-treated at Whole Foods, where we bumped into some of Kiefer’s friends from his “preschool” class (play date group), and repeated the activity on Sunday night in his two-year-old cousin Trey’s neighborhood.

We’re excited to experience the upcoming Holiday Season through our son’s eyes.  We know he won’t remember much, but the amazement and delight in his eyes as he encounters each new thing warms our hearts!  There is so much to teach him, and I feel we’ll learn so much more from him.  Happy Thanksgiving, all!

Scott J. Smith
www.ScottJSmith.com

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Kiefer’s Baptism, Direct Bookings and “Out of the Box” Living

Most of you know by now, if I don’t write you in the first week of the month, I have been a little busy.  Second week:  a lot busy.  Third week:  well, let’s just say I am already jotting notes so I can get a jump start on my November log once this one is published.
September began with a blessed event, our son Kiefer’s Baptism.  The church congregation has gotten to know him pretty well by now, since he has been attending the services with us since August.  July was a time for all of us to stay home and recuperate.  Each Sunday, he quietly enjoys mommy or daddy’s shoulder, and tends to “drift off” sometime around communion.  He loves looking around at all the people, and listening to Pastor Bob’s voice.  The overhead lights and stained glass windows grab his attention, and the Sunday before his baptism, he was intensely focused on the Cross (Good Boy!).
There has yet to be a need to “excuse ourselves” to the parlor or nursery.  Only twice has he vocalized the need for nourishment, which the well-prepared parents would quickly provide.  I can’t say we’re “old hats” at this…who is, anyway?…but we’re holding our own and enjoying every wonderful minute.  During the baptism, Kiefer was calm and content, as if to demonstrate to the other infants, “Hey kids, this is how it’s done!”  Thanks to Pastor Bob, Mom, Dad, Carissa, Trey, Jo Ann, Phil, Sam, Michael, Nancy, Ian and Paula for sharing this special moment with us.
After a celebratory luncheon at my folk’s house, we went home, changed, and then made our way to Dave and Buster’s Restaurant to celebrate my brother-in-law Sam’s 21st birthday.  If you have never been, D&B is a place filled with activity: pool tables, table-top shuffleboard, video games, carnival-style games, skee-ball, a sports bar and a casual dining area.  This is also where I directed murder mystery dinner theatre productions for about ten years.  Kiefer slept quite well during dinner, but once he was awake, the noise was a bit much for him, so he returned home with Mom and Grandma, while Sam, Phil and I played a few more games.
Speaking of mystery dinner theatre, Layla and I were invited to a special presentation by Christ United Methodist Church.  Peggy Adolphson, a friend of ours, requested our input for the event.  She had seen shows we produced at Dave and Buster’s and wanted to do a similar event as a fund raiser for her church.  We consulted with her, sharing tips and suggestions regarding layout, rehearsal and character ideas, understanding that most of the performers would not be familiar with this particular format.  The evening of the show was very enjoyable.  Kiefer played in the church nursery, while Layla and I investigated characters suspected of stealing the Great Kiss-Kiss Diamond.
We also attended a huge event presented by the St. Augustine Airport Pilots Association, which welcomed the Florida Sport Aviation Antique and Classic Association and the North Florida Corvette Association.  Dozens of aircraft and Corvettes (some from every decade of production) filled the general aviation ramp on the south side of the airport.  The Corvette group, celebrating the local organization’s 35th anniversary, arranged their vehicles into the number “35,” and SAAPA member Sue Upchurch flew a photographer in her helicopter for an aerial shot of the attempt.  A couple hundred like-minded individuals enjoyed checking out the cars and planes, and eating some excellent food (a necessity for large events, eh?).
September also seems to have been the month for direct bookings.  It’s kind of nice being requested for jobs based on the merit of your past work, I must say.  I hope my efforts today continue to contribute to more bookings in the future.  The first commercial, I will admit, I was actually an emergency replacement, and not the director’s first choice — but these are the opportunities one must take advantage, right?  I received a call just before dinner asking if I could be on set within the hour.  After asking Nancy nicely to help Layla with Kiefer for the night, I drove off for a late night shoot.
The following week, I was requested for another commercial shoot, working with familiar faces Phil Parham, Chip Lane, Desiree Markella, Amanda Ayres and Anthony Paderewski.  Anthony and I did that plumbing commercial last month with Michael Hancock, and would also perform together later in the month for a government agency training video with Nicholas Barrera and Julius Golden.  Devlin Mann of The Backlight Theatre Group also requested my help shooting the pilot of the Jacksonville-based situation comedy In The Pits.  It is a quirky romp about a theatre company that takes extreme measures after facing multiple setbacks, and currently appears on Jacksonville’s CW affiliate Saturday nights.
September concluded with three auditions in three cities on three consecutive days.  Well, truth be told, the audition for a motion picture filming in Atlanta was self-taped here at home.  The next day, Layla, Kiefer and I traveled to Savannah for my next audition.  They came along in hopes to spend some time in Historic Savannah, which eventually was limited to a whirlwind drive along the waterfront before my call time.  We’ll definitely return soon to enjoy the city’s offerings.  Then, it was off to Miami to audition for a regional grocery store spot.  It was my first appearance before casting director Brad Davis, and I look forward to our next meeting.
    Of course, when making long business trips like this, the concept of time weighs heavily when planning the trip.  As a professional, tardiness is inexcusable, regardless of the distance you had to travel.  I have heard it from casting directors and producers:  “If you are going to be late to an audition or a shoot, there had better be blood…preferably yours.”  The film and television industry is no different from any other: timeliness is sacred, and those who do not respect that will not be in that industry for long.
My twenty years experience as a commercial-rated pilot probably helps with my trip planning.  I understand that delays are inevitable, and it is best to plan an extra “buffer” of time and be early, than to have wasted an entire trip due to poor planning and arriving “just a few minutes late.”  Years ago, I came across a great resource, Traffic.com.  It was one of the first online resources that presented traffic delays and construction on online maps.  Now, most mapping services provide some sort of traffic display, but Traffic.com also would present multiple alternate routes based on current traffic conditions (along with estimated travel times for each).
That was sufficient for trip planning, but the features that site has now should make every actor (let’s say every traveler) keep Traffic.com in their trip-planning toolkit.  I especially appreciate Voice and Text alerts.  Here, you can set a time for your trip, whether it is a one-time drive, or a regular commute, and Traffic.com will email, text and or call you with traffic alerts during your drive time, and offer alternate routes!  When you may be on the road for 4-6 hours, something could happen after your last online map check that could affect your arrival time.
I prefer the voice alerts myself; that way, I am not looking away from the road to check my SMS messages or email.  If there are any doubts, I can call 1-866-MY-TRAFC for free at any time to get updated travel conditions.  If there is a possible delay, I can say the word “Alternates,” and Traffic.com will read to me a new route.  Here is where I might want to pull over, log on, and check out the route on a map, but this tool, well, the whole website, provides peace of mind, and might just save actors a gig, sales professionals an account, and keep you from missing that concert, wedding, graduation or other personal event.
There are also mobile applications available on the site you might find useful, as well.  No, I am not a member of any affiliate program (wish I was!).  I know this is a tool you can appreciate.  I think we can all benefit personally and professionally by occasionally sharing tools, resources and concepts that make our lives just a little bit easier.  It is important to be innovative to be successful.  For instance, I had to laugh when Layla pointed out this sign (at right) to me, but then I had to marvel at the thought that someone found a potential business opportunity in an otherwise depressed housing market.
You can also use innovation to make your daily life more manageable.  Whether it is rearranging a room to be more efficient or more appealing to the eye; or upgrading your computer, entertainment system or other home technologies to help you complete regular tasks; or maybe developing a new way to approach something you do every day; I hope you make the time every day to enjoy the time you have every day.
Scott J. Smith
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