A few years ago I was cast in a show that would give me the great fortune of living out one of my childhood dreams. I had only been in Los Angeles for about a year and some change before I was cast in the long running musical at Disneyland, ALADDIN, A MUSICAL SPECTACULAR! Even today, ALADDIN remains one my favorite Disney movies, and I wanted nothing more but to play the Street Rat himself in a movie or play.
One of the best days of my life was when I got the call offering me the part. I've also always been a huge Disney fan since I was a kid, so working in the ORIGINAL park would be an incredible treat!
At that time I decided to journal during the rehearsal process. I would constantly have friends and family ask about my experiences, so I decided this would sort of serve as a way to share what was happening. Not only that, but I'd have something to look back on or share with my kids. I chose MYSPACE (haha) and it became the early catalyst for this blog I continue to post on.
I instantly fell in love with it, and loved sharing stories. It was a way for me to be as specific and detailed as I wanted, without the worry of running out of space in a normal post. I didn't even know if people were following at the time, but it really became something I looked forward to doing.
For some reason, I stopped once the show began its run and the rehearsal process was over. I guess it was becauseI had fulfilled my initial plan and now that we were performing, my mission was complete.
In May of 2009, I created this blog to post acting updates. I eventually found a different method, but kept the blog and later started to share on it again when my Dad was sick, battling Cancer. Since my Disney rehearsal period, I had really embraced, "sharing" details of my life...my journey, if you will. I began to get teased about being a good self promoter. I had joined several social media sites, and it wasn't long before I'd have people commenting on things I shared regularly. They started to share stuff with me and I learned a great deal as a result. I really like this about technology. There are people (we all have them) that I hardly speak to outside of the cyber world, but I know more about their lives, and they know more about mine than some of my family members. I guess in a way, it's a good way to be heard. Deep down, this led me to sharing the stories about my Dad and family. It also taught me a lot about myself; writing things down, being vulnerable and honest, really helped me through a lot of sad moments. People would relate, or offer their support and it was nice to communicate that to my Dad who I know found some peace in reading the outpouring of support.
I've become fascinated also with documentaries in the last couple of years, and I think it's the element of sharing stories that inspires me when I watch them. I don't doubt that I will direct one in the near future.
From the moment I got my first smartphone, I found a way to shoot video or take pictures of every set I've been on. This actually led to one of my good friends (Eric England) writing a script specifically for me called, HOSTILE ENCOUNTER.
Coincidentally, in the movie, I was a guy going on a soul searching experience and I would be documenting the whole thing from my point of view -- needless to say, I could relate. Even during filming, I documented some of the process through little behind the scenes videos:
12 hours to Arkansas
Stuck in the mud
Crossing the river
As a result of that feature, I had the great pleasure of getting to know two men really well, (who I'd later go on to call business partners) Eric England and Daniel F. Dunn. We teamed up as Producers on MADISON COUNTY & ROADSIDE, two feature films that have changed all of our lives remarkably.
Even while production was in full swing on MADISON COUNTY, I was taking pictures and videos, and by that point was known by everyone as the guy who would always find something to share which led to us generating good, "buzz" on the film.
Well, here we are and I'm a few days away from leaving for Cartagena, Colombia to film, THE FLIGHT PLAN. It's been two months since I learned I was the one chosen to lead this film.
At the time I learned of the audition, pilot season was winding down, and I had been very busy auditioning for the new shows that were hoping to find a home on one of the TV networks. I didn't get great bites this year, but throughout it, I had been keeping my eyes open for the other projects, like indie films, web series and such.
I few months earlier, I had visited the Sundance Film Festival for the second year in a row. I knew that some of the films that were in the festival, were films that didn't have a huge blockbuster cast, or budget to match, and some of them would come through same channels I have access to. Films that my representation probably wouldn't pursue because of their low budget nature.
In February, I attended a workshop given by career coach, Shawn Tolleson. It was an incredible experience, and I ended up volunteering and getting picked as one of the people she would demonstrate on. It was about setting a goal to be achieved by May 1st, and how she would help you lay out a plan of attack to pursue it.
By the end of it, this was what we came up with due to my ambitions to hit the, "next level" in my career:
"By May 1st, 2012 I will book a juicy role in a Sundance caliber film, with a budget of at least a million, surrounded by name talent in the cast and crew."
She helped devise the plan, and I begun carrying it out.
During pilot season, one of the few films I auditioned for was Kathryn Bigelow's new film about Osama Bin Laden. Very hush hush, but I was grateful to just get into the room to play around. I didn't hear anything from it, and then about two months later, (just a few weeks shy of my May 1st goal deadline) I received a call from my manager.
"Ace, it's Will."
"Hey, hey-- what's going on?"
"Well, I'm calling because you have an avail (this is what they call it when a project wants to book you-- essentially HOLD you for the dates of filming) for the Kathryn Bigelow's project."
"...you're shitting me. Is this your payback because of April fools? Because that's pretty wrong, even coming from me."
"I'm serious. It starts tomorrow for the month of May."
Well, fast forward and I DIDN'T end up getting the final confirmation and they released me from my avail, but for a bit, I was sure I'd reached my goal! While it didn't happen, there was a bigger picture I was more than happy to embrace it. Things are brewing for me. Goals can be a checklist item I find, but for certain things I think it's important to continue on, even after reaching your goal.
While I would have LOVED to film that movie, I know my overall mission was to get a solid game plan in place for a strong attack-- I did that. Everything we set up was paying off in more ways than one.
I then get an audition for THE FLIGHT PLAN. It started off with seeing the notice for this project filming in Colombia this summer. That caught my eye. Then I read the description of the character and the synopsis of the movie -- I submitted for BENJAMIN GRAY, a Commercial airline pilot who gets stranded in Cartagena, Colombia after having his passport and documents stolen. It becomes a race of time when Ben's terminally ill son, takes a turn for the worse and a marrow transplant needs to happen sooner than expected and Ben is the donor.
A few days later I received an email saying I was being requested to come in and audition. Unfortunately, I learned in that email that there would be no script to read or sides to learn ahead of time. This happens on the big studio level (I had fake sides for Bigelow's film) a lot. Though, when it happens on smaller indie films, etc., more often than not, it's a red flag that something is fishy. Sadly enough, most of the time it's a representation of poor organization and people not knowing what they want. I have a lot of actor friends who instantly refer to this as amateur hour, because of many horrible experiences.
I also learned that it would be an open call, which also can be a red flag warning. When this happens, you can get stuck for hours waiting because everyone shows up randomly and you are left trying to beg to get in sooner as your car's meter is set to expire, or your shift for work is coming up.
Even still, something inside told me to SHOW UP. As actors, that's what we do. I didn't have anything conflicting with the range of time for the audition, so I decided I'd attend to try my luck.
I also know that sometimes productions are just limited with what they have available, and it isn't always a reflection of their execution. There were plenty of red flags thrown up for people with MADISON COUNTY I'm sure, but we were luckily one of the few exceptions that rose above it all.
I get to the audition and it was a mad house. I could already sense the tension and knew people had to be waiting for a while at this point. I smiled, took a deep breath and said to myself, "Ok, you're here, you have no plans-- don't let it get to you." Thankfully, the sides were available there and I got my hands on a set,
I was instantly engaged, "This is pretty good." Now, I was even more motivated, and looked at this as an endurance test (when I was in my callback for Aladdin, it was an 8 hour day that I had to be on my A game for!). I could sense the egos in the room starting to get irritated. Perhaps it was just due to them needing to get to their next set of plans, but there were also a few people that you could tell were not used to, or a fan of waiting this long. I started to feed off it more and really embraced the time I had ahead of me as a gift. No one was going to go into that room, more prepared than me. That was my mission.
I got into the room, and was greeted by three friendly gentleman. The guy bringing everyone into the room, Saeed, was a little quiet, borderline cold if you didn't understand that he was just more reserved. The other two were Will & Al, the Co-Writing & Directing team. Oh!! I've never been in a project with Co-directors!
It wasn't long before I realized why there was such a big hold up. The guys were calm, not pressured by the tension outside of the door, and genuinely interested in the experience. They asked me a few questions and I picked their brain for a few minutes before we even addressed the audition itself.
I did my thing, they gave me some direction and we tried it a few other ways. It was fun. I got to play. At that time, as I mentioned, I'd been auditioning for a lot of TV, where you don't get much time in the room...also there hadn't been a whole lot of direction past your initial audition. This was a nice refreshing moment for me. At that point, regardless of outcome, it was worth it. Two hours, mind you. Totally worth every second. I also felt pretty good about what I did, and I could sense in them, there was something they liked. They mentioned that they'd be having callbacks, and I should expect a follow up. I thanked them and went on my way. I've learned not to count on that, because life happens. I've heard it before and have not heard from anyone, so I do my best not to take it personally because anything can happen.
A few days later, I received the follow up, GREAT! Oh crap, it was supposed to be on a Sunday--a day a group of us had planned a paintball trip. I thought about it, and knew I could make it back in time, but in the end,we scrapped it and rescheduled. Ok, well-- it's probably for the best. What if I broke my leg, or took a paintball to the eye? Haha! Another treat from the email was that they sent me the full script to read beforehand. Awesome!! This would be another moment to try to figure out what lies ahead with this project. Sadly, sometimes you get the script, and it's not very good. I was hoping this would not be the case. I read through it and couldn't put it down. It was good & definitely got that there had been a lot of care put into their script, story and words. I had been reading a lot of material lately and sometimes it is rushed. My curiosity was piqued and I told myself, "This...is mine!"
Now, I was curious about what these guys had done in the past. I usually do a lot of this homework before I even step into the audition room because I like to know who it is I'm possibly going to work with. I have been in the situation before where you think it's going to be one way when filming in terms of quality, and then it's another way (not for the best) and if I had just dug around beforehand, I would have probably figured it out then.
These guys had been working together for a little while now. It would be their first feature film. This wasn't a concern to me -- I know what we did with MADISON COUNTY as our first feature. I also found their individual pages on Facebook and saw some mutual friends that I could reach out to. I didn't end up going that far because I stumbled across the Facebook page for the movie & found a short teaser trailer that they had shot in Cartagena last summer. They shot it in a half a day without, "real actors" but it was so cool for me to see what they were going for. While the teaser was simple, it was effective for what it needed to be & it tied into the script and made me that much more engaged in the story.
Through my digging, I found old pictures the guys took when scouting TWO summers ago! Wow, this really said a lot to me! They had been working & developing this project for two years now. I liked that.
Having come off two features in less than a year and a half, I appreciated the work that could be done with good time to plan everything out. You don't always have that luxury. We didn't on ROADSIDE. Thankfully, I'm a spontaneous person, and work best under pressure, so not only did I love working FAST on my films, but our team did as well. There were hiccups that we encountered that lead to way more stress than we would have had with more time to prep, but at the end of the day we pulled it all off.
I was excited that this team had been laying serious groundwork and I could see good work through what I was digging up. It was smart work...creative work.
Now, I've been kind of spoiled because of ROADSIDE & MADISON COUNTY. We have films that should not exist from what was on the page and the money we had to do it. Not only that, but we went above and beyond in many ways on our execution. I'm not trying to boast, this is just the feedback we've received and thankfully the companies we've teamed up with proves that. In short, I know a LOT can be done with very little if the right people are attached, and the passion and execution is there to support it through the end. TEAMS are key. I love being a team player, I love leading a team and I love being part of a team that continues to push each other. It's my sports background I guess. Unfortunately, sometimes the intent does NOT match the execution. I've been a part of projects that fall under that category, but that exists on all levels. We've all seen or heard about TV shows, or movies that flop. No one is excluded from that side of the business. I want to continue to grow and do better than my last project, so there is a tendency to be super selective, but you have to realize this business is always a risk...a roll of the dice. You can put the pieces together, but when life steps in, sometimes it scatters the puzzle and there is nothing you can do, but roll with it. At some point you have to trust in the people you are working with and have faith in the plan. At the very least, I always know there is a lesson to be learned, and I'm a very happy student of life.
So the callback day arrives. I walk in and thankfully there isn't even anyone there! No two hour wait this time. I'm greeted by Saeed and he asks if I'm ready. I ask for a few minutes to settle in and focus. I sign in and notice there are only 5 or 6 guys before me, which makes me feel good. I also get the sense I may be one of the last, if not THE last person. No problem, if I can't be first, I love being last.
I walk in and we all say, "hi" like we've known each other for a bit. We get a little chat in, then dive in. I play with some things and they play with some direction. During, I'm given one of the nicest compliments an actor could get, at least for me, "When we wrote it, we were thinking it would be a different thing, but I REALLY like what you did more." I just enjoy that so much because it says a lot about their position on COLLABORATION. Some people are so married to their work, and for me this whole process is a collaboration, all the way through an audience member watching it.
I felt dialed in. I was in my zone, and more than anything I was just happy to be in the room playing and getting direction. We tried some more stuff, and I even surprised myself a few times, which is an amazing feeling. It said a lot about the room and my comfort within it...with that team. I began to gather my belongings and they're were packing up. I thanked them and they made a comment which I can't remember, but it left me feeling great about the experience.
I walked out of the room on such a high. THIS was the experience I had been craving for the last few months. I didn't care about the outcome, honestly. I felt great again about my work and knew I killed it...I pleased myself and that was all I needed right then.
I walked back to my car and it just hit me. There was such an overwhelming feeling of excitement rushing over me, I could feel this burst of emotion was about to take over. I think it also had to do with the material and the zone I was in for it, because we had worked on a really pivotal scene of the movie. I needed to talk to someone! I called up Erin, and I didn't really know what to say. I can't even remember what I said, but I think it was something like, "I just got out of the callback and needed to share...let it out. It went great, and regardless of what happens, I'm so incredibly grateful for this moment right now."
I couldn't fight back the tears. It was strange. I never had that type of response before. I've definitely been emotional after booking a great project or something, but this was different. I needed that. The combination of pilot season feeling so impersonal; there was drama within my producing team for MADISON COUNTY & ROADSIDE, I was working with a new acting coach who was helping to push me through some comfort zones..it was all brewing inside. I also had been been hungry for a new project to sink my teeth into...one that I could just simply...BE AN ACTOR in. I felt like I had delivered my heart in that room, and left it all on the table.
I rambled on to Erin about it and I just was so happy to feel that CONNECTED. I wanted that film badly, but never had I been so OK with whatever happened in the end, because I knew I had given my all.
It was a few days later and I received the official word...I was being offered the role. Wow. I was so thankful and even now, two months later, I'm still smiling.
These last two years have been AMAZING, and have taught me so much about life, business, love and about myself. I've busted ass for two years straight, producing my films and seeing them through & it's blessed me with a lot of great relationships and memories. As an actor, I've also had great progress up that ladder and each year has been so much better than the last. It's been tough juggling so many balls, but I would do it all again in a heartbeat.
Thankfully, I worked so closely with the projects, that I knew them inside and out. I didn't get the time to prep my work as an actor in the way I am accustomed to, but you have to take every experience as a new one and I just embrace it ( Hell, I've read interviews by actors who said they never read a script until it was time to shoot. Check out Meryl Streep's process if you get a chance). In MADISON COUNTY I had a much smaller role compared to ROADSIDE, which I am the star of. Most of my efforts were focused on producing MC (I did my best to not take on so much for ROADSIDE, but because we were rushed, it was hard). I hadn't even really embraced that MADISON COUNTY was the first time a film I was in, would be playing in theatres, until a week before its premiere. Taking that further, while I've been the lead in plays and films before, I hadn't realized really, that ROADSIDE would be my first starring role in a feature of its nature. It wasn't until my good friend Martin pointed out that I, "come across as a leading man." It caught me off guard, because those are the roles I have had my sights set on since I got into this, and feel like I've done them in the past, but ROADSIDE, would be the first of its kind, at that level...he was right. I guess I've overlooked it, because I've often been a Producer first, actor second on those films. This was something I vowed to change for 2012. THE FLIGHT PLAN, is exactly that.
During these last two months, I've been doing research; getting flying lessons, speaking to specialists about medicine, researching bone marrow procedures; taking up new hobbies that related to my role, eating differently, watching movies and so many other things that are just the real things I like to do as an actor.
I don't have to worry about finding sleeping accommodations for people, or figuring out how everyone is getting to set. I don't have to film a pivotal scene in a movie, then rush to the trailer to plunge a horribly clogged toilet (that left many gagging) for the cast and crew, before jumping back on set. I don't have to film a scene as an actor then rush over to set up lunch because the cast/crew is starving (and it will run out before I get to eat). I don't have to be the first one up and the last one in bed because I need to sort out an issue with a crew member who is unfairly threatening to lock up our equipment until he gets paid early. I don't have to convince a crew member to get on his plane to fly to set, because he is getting cold feet questioning his ability while my own plane is set to take off in mere minutes (by the way, he was one of the most fantastic members of our crew!). I'm fine with doing all of that, because there is always a bigger
picture and because it's for my team. I am just thankful for a break where I can just work and prepare.
It is teaching me so much already. It's not to say I won't ever do any of those things again. I love producing and eventually I'll direct, but I'll use those as learning experienced and when the time comes, work SMARTER, not HARDER.
As an actor, I've worked with a lot of directors and have had the good fortune of working with many of them again and again & hope to continue to do so. I've made life long friends with a lot of them. They have each taught me so much and have helped me grow into the actor and person I am today. As a result I've brought pieces of each of them into every project, especially Eric England, who I've found a great teammate in. I've worked mostly with Eric these past two years, and we've developed an almost speechless communication on set, which is not only fun, but powerful I find.
I'm thrilled to be bring my past learnings to this new team & I'm even more excited about what they'll all teach me. I love any experience because of the people I am surrounded by. I'm also looking forward to experiencing Colombia & working with co-directors since it is something I haven't yet experienced. Will is going to be focusing on the actors during production while Al will focus more on the crew. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't giddy about not having to share the director too much, haha! We've been working closely the last few weeks and discussing the script and it has been incredible. I really am looking forward to his direction and having more one on one time on set in addition to being challenged in new ways! It should never be the same in my opinion, as no two experiences can be matched.
I'll wrap this blog up for now, of course, I'll be sharing more of my stuff here.