Do I Have Your Attention?

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If you are reading this right now, then the answer is yes. Happy New Year! Welcome to 2014. I definitely feel more Romanian, starting my fourth year living here now. Since we got that nasty little 13 out of the way, perhaps this year will be better. I will try to make 2014 a year in which I deliver on my promises.

And I will start by delivering on some in this here editorial. Read ahead to find out which ones…

As promised in my final column of last year, I am going to talk about what it is like trying to have a career as a film actor here in Romania. As some of you may know, I am the founder of the prestigious Acting In English program, the first of its kind here in Romania.

We are now entering the third year and getting stronger. Starting the end of January, I will introduce the new “Intensive” program. Learn more about it at this event listing. Metropotam readers get 10% off the admission fee!

So, having a career as a film actor in Romania. Man, it’s hard! It is a hard knock life, even for an American actor. There is no respect for the casting process, and actors hardly even have a shot. That’s what I am hoping to fix with my Acting In English program. But whose fault is it, the people in the industry or the actors themselves? That’s what we will try to get to the bottom of in this column.

Many of you know from my earlier columns that I came here with stars in my eyes, best of intentions, and lots of naïve excitement. But boy have I hit unexpected obstacles here, having been on both sides, in casting and as a director, and as an actor. And I don’t think they are just because I am an American.

As you probably know, things happen slooooooowwww here, if at all. It has to do with the market here. And the training. And the culture.  Let us start with the culture. I will start by enumerating some of the fundamental principles of an acting career in L.A. Although I am giving away secrets from my “Acting In English” class, which you should attend if you want to learn even more. Ironic smile emoticon here.

One thing to understand is that a career as an actor is an investment in yourself. It’s not a 9 to 5, get a job, become a drone, and get a check at the end of the week or month. You need to have head shots, zed cards, a show reel, an at least not on red tank of gas, business cards, classes, outfits and the more assets you bring the better, because you are selling yourself. If you don’t believe in yourself first, no one else will. Most actors consider the back seat of their cars an office and their trunk a closet. Because you have to be ready to go at any minute for that next big audition! Things happen fast in L.A.

In Romania most of the actors only have a mug shot, taken courtesy of the casting directors here, who also ask for a diploma as if it is rocket science. It’s actually much more complex than rocket science. Then when I ask for a head shot, I see either one of these mug shots or a picture of some lovely cleavage. At least the girls take some pride in selling themselves.

But how can they think it matters when the casting directors seem clueless? It’s like they don’t even understand the script. They just take three of those mug shots that fit some sort of visual stereotype of the character, then ask you to close your eyes, point, and say “eenie-meenie-minie-moe” Allow me to demonstrate with some examples.

And here, I deliver on another promise, from my second column. The story of my getting the role in “Diaz:Don’t Clean Up This Blood”, a 15 million Italian film which would go on to win an audience choice award at Berlinale. Here all the strife in the casting process almost did me in. But it also is a good example of the accessibility I was hoping to have when I got here that just doesn’t happen in NY and L.A. I met the assistant director of the film, an awesome guy named Luigi Spolentini, at my first casting call in Romania, at Twist Media.

He was very enthusiastic about me. But two months go by, I hear nothing, then I hear that the production is moving most of its filming here. So I return to Twist Media to ask what’s going on. And, as casually as usual, they tell me they aren’t working with them anymore, and don’t have any more information. This was the first of many times, with all the agencies here, of productions switching agencies all the time or poof! Disappearing and doing all their casting overseas. But I prevailed through sheer wit! I found Luigi’s mobile number through the magic of the internet.

I called him and though they were about to start shooting, he introduced me to the director, and I was then asked to audition for a “small but important” role. The audition was yet another challenge. The “casting director”, a fresh-faced young Romanian actor named Bogdan Marhodin, could barely explain anything in English and was having troubles with the camera. I don’t think I would have gotten the part if not for creative producer and colleague Bianca Mina, who translated for us and filmed my audition herself, ensuring a focus on me in the camera shots. Anyway, I got the part, and after negotiating my day rate up using the brilliant tactic of a bad mobile phone connection, I went to set, and they liked my performance so much they added me to three additional scenes and I got four more days of filming!

This brings up another good point. This was my first encounter, of many, with the fact that Actors are expected to be, and assume they are, writers here as well. But that’s another topic and I have reached the total running time allotted in my contract and the studio is calling for cuts….So I will start with that next and continue with my casting experiences in the next installment, Episode 7: The Industry Strikes Back! Why? Because I still have a whole lot more to say about this….


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Do I Have Your Attention?
ashu sharma
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