“WE NEED YOU MORE THAN YOU NEED US!”

These words changed the entire perspective of my acting career. Here’s the set up: It’s 1978 (yeah, I know a century ago) and I’m a young actor in New York City. Like every other actor in the city I’m hustling, trying to get an agent. I’d been cast in a couple off-Broadway shows but hadn’t broken through the “actor without representation to actor with representation” conundrum.

I was so poor I didn’t even have a typewriter (it’s 1978 – the only computers around were those floor to ceiling jobs that took up entire rooms) and my handwriting sucked. So I asked my girlfriend to hand write letters to a few agents I wanted to meet. One of them was J. Michael Bloom, who in the 1970’s thru the 1990’s was the head of the hottest commercial agency in town.

His office called, told me J. Michael wanted to meet me and set up an appointment. Up to this point I had been in one other agent’s office – a ten by ten foot room with three desks crammed together and a somnolent agent seated behind each one. The Bloom Agency’s offices were at 400 Madison Avenue and as I rode up in the elevator I realized he not only occupied the entire 19th floor but the 20th floor as well.

There was a vibrancy I could feel the moment I stepped off the elevator; the office buzzed with activity. While J. Michael and I were talking other agents barged into the room peppering him with questions: “They’re offering him $75,000.00, should we ask for $100,000.00?” “They want her to sign a two-year exclusive deal, they’re desperate to get her, I think we should ask for a quarter million, is that okay?”

J. Michael bloom

With each interruption I felt myself getting smaller and smaller. J. Michael was asking me these long leading questions and I’m answering them with a quick nod or shake of my head. He’s trying to find out more about me but I’m so overwhelmed I can barely speak.

Realizing my opportunity is circling the drain I blurt out, “You know, being here, talking to you, this is pretty intimidating.” And like the climactic moment in a movie everything gets quiet, nobody barges into his office, the buzz of activity ceases. J. Michael looks at me and says, “Oh, John don’t be. We need you a lot more than you need us.”

“What?” I said.

“A casting director doesn’t need us in order to see you, they can call you in to an audition directly. But in order for us to do what we do we need to have you on our team. Without actors, we haven’t got a business.”

And just like that the dynamic of the actor/agent relationship changed completely for me. Instead of being at the mercy of an agent – which had been my position to that point – I realized the connection between agent and actor was really a partnership, one in which both parties worked together to achieve the most desirable outcome.

Michael didn’t sign me that day; I wasn’t ready – he knew it and I realized it. But I had a new insight into the business that has served me to this day. Two years later, after winning a lot of jobs away from his clients, J. Michael once again invited me in for a talk. This time I did sign with him and we began a partnership that gave me the financial security I needed so I could pursue other aspects of my acting career.

 

Every good agent knows this is true –every good actor needs to learn it.

Tommy Day – booked a co-starring role on Law and Order SVU

Daniel Sovich is starring in the off-Broadway play Downtown Race Riots.

Sumalee Montano guested starred in NCIS.

Susan Santiago starred in Byrd and the Bees and The Anchor – two TV shows currently in production.

Upcoming classes:

On-camera Scene Study class 5 Dec – 6 Feb (off 26 Dec and 2 Jan) 1 Spot left                Commercial Level 1 class: 22 Jan. – 26 Feb. Now open for registration.                 Commercial Level 2 Class: 25 Jan. – 22 Feb. Open for registration. Commercial Level 1 is a prerequisite for this class.

For more information on all these classes click here.

That’s all for now.

Cheers,

John

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Of Thee I Sing…Baby

Last week I saw a concert version of the old Kaufman/Ryskind musical Of Thee I Sing at Carnegie Hall. (Music and Lyrics by George and Ira Gershwin.) The concert version was directed by Tommy Krasker and starred (among many, many talented actors) Bryce Pinkham and Denee Denton. The evening was narrated by a very funny Mo Rocca.

Considered bold and daring in its time – it won the Pulitzer Prize in 1932 – it was interesting to see how topical certain aspects of the musical were – a less than qualified candidate gets elected to the office of the President of the United States. Actually it was interesting how some of the jokes written 86 years ago still resonate today.

And although there were several good laughs there were also many moments were the writing fell flat but the piece held up because of the acting and singing and by the Master Voices chorus and orchestra. In watching the show I was reminded several times that not only has the craft of playwriting advanced significantly in the last 85 years but so have acting styles. I wasn’t around to see any of the 441 performances Of Thee I Sign that played at the Music Box Theatre on Broadway but I am a huge fan of the films of that era – the pre-code films.

Many of those films dealt with the ills of society and were so blunt in their depiction – America was neck deep in its worst economic depression – the government stepped in and forced Hollywood “clean up” its act by imposing the Hays Code on all films made in the United States. The Hays Code ushered in the era of the “feel-good-endings” – an epoch that stifled artistic growth and expression in the film industry in America for nearly fifty years.

If you watch any of the 400 + films made during the pre-code era you will see a good deal of “over-the-top” acting. Many of the actors in those early days of “talkies” came out of vaudeville or had legit theatrical backgrounds where the style was more presentational rather than the representational style we’re used to today. But a lot of actors who were to become major movie stars cut their teeth on those pre-code era films.

Actors like Humphrey Bogart, Clark Gable, Barbara Stanwyck, James Cagney, Claude Raines, the Barrymore’s – all of them –John, Lionel and Ethel, Spencer Tracy, Leslie Howard and many, many more stood out in these early films for their naturalness. And as the movie audiences got more and more sophisticated this naturalness brought forth a revolution in film acting long before the Group Theatre or the Actor’s Studio were established.

This “revolution” in acting continues today but whereas in the pre-code days only a few actors subscribed to it now it is the norm. And I think we all benefit from it. Of course there are some films made today that push the limits of acting, every Stars Wars film, except the first one fall into this category, but we go to to see films like this more to marvel at the technical effects than we do for quality acting or story telling.

Watching the concert version of Of Thee I Sing last week at Carnegie Hall, I thought how lucky I was to be alive now, in this era of acting where, for the most part, authenticity and realism is the goal. Had I seen the original musical, with the sensibilities I have today, I know I would have been disappointed. But because the actors I saw preform Of Thee I Sing were trained to be real instead of just being big, I enjoyed it.

For more on this fascinating pre-code film era click here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pre-Code_Hollywood

Sumalee Montano – booked guest starring roles in: Kevin (Probably) Saves The World (TV); Dynasty (TV- new version).

Susan Santiago – booked guest starring roles in: The Hate U Give (TV – filming now); How To Get Away With Murder (TV).

Jessica Raaum Foster – The Institute of Reading Development (industrial film)

Don R. Williams – The Brave (TV); Notorious Nick (feature film) This film was cast by a former student, Kathy Partak. Rock on, you guys!!

Julie Feskoe – Hallmark commercial.

Diana Craig – booked a co-starring role in Billions (TV).

Let us know the next time you book something so we can spread the word.

 

 

 

 

Commercial Level 1: 13 Nov. – 18 Dec. (two spots left)

Camera Scene Study: new session starts 5 Dec. 12017 – 6 Feb. 2018 (off 26th Dec. and 2 Jan.) Registration for this class is now open.

For more information about these classes go to: https://johnhowardswain.com/classes-2/

If I don’t see you before, have a great Thanksgiving!

Cheers,                                                                                                                                               John

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Director proof. Do over.

Heard from various sources that, for some reason, only a few people got the following post. So, if you didn’t get it, here it is. And if you did get it…well, here it is again.

In a recent interview I was asked if the technique I use in my classes made actors director proof.

First of all I think there are a lot of really good directors working in the film and TV industry now. A lot! But having said that I know directors, just like the rest of us, can have bad days — for a myriad of reasons. And regardless of why they’re having a bad day – they’re sick, the new baby kept him/her up all night, the shoot the day before ran way over, or the project they were hired for wasn’t a good fit for their sensibilities – regardless of what is throwing them off their game, in the final analysis it is going to be you up on the screen not them.

Because of that you have to make sure you’ve done everything you can so that no matter where the director’s head is you’ll  still come out looking good.

I’ve been teaching now for twenty plus years and as a teacher I am constantly evolving, growing my craft – just as actors should be evolving and growing their craft. In the five years since my first two books (film and commercial acting) were published I learned a tremendous amount from my students about what worked in those books and about what could be better. I incorporated that info in to the new book The Science and Art of Acting for the Camera. click here  As acting is a living, changing craft so is teaching acting. Remaining static is one of the worst sins an actor or a teacher can commit.

So, how does this relate to actors being director proof? If you don’t have a technique you can rely on you won’t be able to fully develop your character, you won’t recognize the arc of the scene. And if you can’t do those two simple things then you will miss all the other information available to you in a script. Having a technique is like having a treasure map that highlights all the good stuff so you’ll have a fountain of information to draw from if/when you discover your director is off his game, for whatever reason.

Please understand this isn’t about alienating directors; it’s about supporting them, giving them options. The more you know about what is doing on in the scene the more “choices” you can offer the director. The great thing about all of this is if your director’s having an “off” day you’ll still look good. And is he/she is having a good day you’ll look great.

Either way, it’s a win-win…for everybody. And, oh, did I mention the producers? Yeah, you being at the top of your game is good for them too.

Upcoming classes:

Two-Camera Scene Study class starts December 5th 2017 and goes ‘til February 6th 2018 (off Dec. 26th and Jan. 2nd).

Commercial Level 1 class starts 13 Nov. and goes to December 8th 2017.

For information regarding these classes go to: http://www.johnhowardswain.com

Tommy Day – booked a co-starring role on the new network TV show INSTINCT.

Caitlin Kerchner – is one of the leads in the web series OTHER VOICES.

Diana Craig – booked co-staring roles in GOTHAM and BULL.

Bill Cannon – shot two commercial projects: SWITLIK MATTRESSES and RIVER SPRING RETIREMENT COMMUNITY…drum roll, please…on the same day. Way to go, Bill.

Steven Jones – shot a national network commercial for BDO.

Jody Watkins – booked a commercial for Jendu Pharmaceutical.

When you’ve booked something let us know so we can share the good news.

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Director Proof

In a recent interview I was asked if the technique I use in my classes made actors director proof.

First of all I think there are a lot of really good directors working in the film and TV industry now. A lot! But having said that I know directors, just like the rest of us, can have bad days — for a myriad of reasons. And regardless of why they’re having a bad day – they’re sick, the new baby kept him/her up all night, the shoot the day before ran way over, or the project they were hired for wasn’t a good fit for their sensibilities – regardless of what is throwing them off their game, in the final analysis it is going to be you up on the screen not them.

Because of that you have to make sure you’ve done everything you can so that no matter where the director’s head is you’ll  still come out looking good.

I’ve been teaching now for twenty plus years and as a teacher I am constantly evolving, growing my craft – just as actors should be evolving and growing their craft. In the five years since my first two books (film and commercial acting) were published I learned a tremendous amount from my students about what worked in those books and about what could be better. I incorporated that info in to the new book The Science and Art of Acting for the Camera. click here  As acting is a living, changing craft so is teaching acting. Remaining static is one of the worst sins an actor or a teacher can commit.

So, how does this relate to actors being director proof? If you don’t have a technique you can rely on you won’t be able to fully develop your character, you won’t recognize the arc of the scene. And if you can’t do those two simple things then you will miss all the other information available to you in a script. Having a technique is like having a treasure map that highlights all the good stuff so you’ll have a fountain of information to draw from if/when you discover your director is off his game, for whatever reason.

Please understand this isn’t about alienating directors; it’s about supporting them, giving them options. The more you know about what is doing on in the scene the more “choices” you can offer the director. The great thing about all of this is if your director’s having an “off” day you’ll still look good. And is he/she is having a good day you’ll look great.

Either way, it’s a win-win…for everybody. And, oh, did I mention the producers? Yeah, you being at the top of your game is good for them too.

Upcoming classes:

Two-Camera Scene Study class starts December 5th 2017 and goes ‘til February 6th 2018 (off Dec. 26th and Jan. 2nd).

Commercial Level 1 class starts 13 Nov. and goes to December 8th 2017.

For information regarding these classes go to: http://www.johnhowardswain.com

Tommy Day – booked a co-starring role on the new network TV show INSTINCT.

Caitlin Kerchner – is one of the leads in the web series OTHER VOICES.

Diana Craig – booked co-staring roles in GOTHAM and BULL.

Bill Cannon – shot two commercial projects: SWITLIK MATTRESSES and RIVER SPRING RETIREMENT COMMUNITY…drum roll, please…on the same day. Way to go, Bill.

Steven Jones – shot a national network commercial for BDO.

Jody Watkins – booked a commercial for Jendu Pharmaceutical.

When you’ve booked something let us know so we can share the good news.

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How Does Riding A Segway in Salzburg Relate To Acting?

Several years ago I read an article about Dean Kamen, the gentleman who invented the Segway. I remember thinking at the time what a cool invention it was and how great it would be to ride one. It took me almost twenty years to do it but man, was it worth it!!

Salzburg, which literally translates to Salt Town, was the end point of my most recent bicycle adventure – Munich to Salzburg. Questiondo Austrians think Salzburg sounds as glamorous as we think it sounds? Cause it sounds pretty alluring to me. Anyway, after biking over the German Alps – no broken bones this time – the thought doing of a walking tour wasn’t very appealing so when I read there was a Segway tour of the city we jumped on it. Not literally jumped because you don’t want to jump on a Segway, you want to step up on it. Gently.

How was it? Unbelievably terrific!! If you’ve never done it, I highly recommend it. The Segway is a marvelous machine that moves the way you tell it to move. Lean forward and it goes forward. Lean back and it goes backward. Lean to the side and it turns. In a matter of minutes we were off exploring the sites of Salzburg.

So why does riding a Segway relate acting? Acting is about heightened moments of reality. When you’re doing a scene you know how it ends but to make the journey interesting the writer and/or the director place a number of objects in your way that your character has to overcome. If your character achieves his/her goal without too much struggle we, the audience, won’t be invested in their journey and wouldn’t care about the outcome.

Staying on a Segway falls into the category of heightened reality. It’s not exactly Evil Knievel time but if you aren’t paying attention, if you don’t adjust to the obstacles that come up, you could end up ass over elbows in a ditch.

BTW, this is true in life as well. Rarely, if you’re seeking a goal of any real value, are you going to travel start to finish without having to overcome some obstacles, without having make some adjustments to your original plan.

In Salzburg we had to deal with rain, traffic, difficult terrain, and hordes of pedestrians (there are a lot of tourists in Salt Town). Learning how to drive the Segway wasn’t difficult, what was difficult was getting to where we wanted to go. We were constantly dodging people, avoiding huge puddles (did I mention it rained while we were there? Oh, yeah, it did. A lot. We’re not wearing those ponchos to start a new fashion trend.). We had to traverse up steep, winding hills all the while mindful of other moving vehicles.

Our guide was clear about where she wanted to take us and we were clear about what we wanted to see but sometimes the way was blocked (I mentioned the tourists, right?) so we had to find another way. We never lost sight of our destination but we were constantly adjusting our course to get there.

It’s like flying an airplane from anywhere to somewhere else. The pilot is constantly correcting his course to stay ahead of the weather, adjust for the wind but eventually you arrive where you wanted to go.

So riding a Segway…and acting…and life? Who knew they all had so much in common?

Mary Loorm is wrapping a twenty-day shoot on the film Like Father, starring Kelsey Grammer.

Daniel Sovich – booked the off-Broadway play, Downtown Race Riot, directed by Scott Elliott, starring Chloe Sevigny.

Stacey Scotte – booked the lead in Last Night of the Ballyhoo, with the Florida Rep Company in Fort Meyer, Florida.                                 Melanie Little – booked a regional commercial for Downtown Dental Arts.               Rebecca Pitcher – booked the upcoming Broadway show Carousel, directed by Jack O’Brien.

Leslie Russell – booked a national commercial for Balsam Hill.

Anybody else working? Let us know so we can put you in the shout outs.

Upcoming classes:

Two-camera scene study class: 3 Oct. – 21 Nov. 2017. Two spots left.

Commercial Level 1 2 Oct. – 6 Nov. 2017. Sold out. Wait list available.

For more info on these classes – click here

Hope to see you soon.

John

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What?! No rehearsal?

I heard from an actress recently who was frustrated about her work on a recent TV series. She had a medium size role that was complicated by a lot of physical activity.
The main problem, she said, was the lack of rehearsal. Unfortunately that’s a dilemma we face when we’re working in film or TV. We don’t have weeks of rehearsal to iron things out. Producers simply don’t budget either the time or the money for rehearsal. Actors are expected to be fully prepared and ready to work when they report to the set.

There are a few exceptions:

Sam Mendes directed the film American Beauty, Mr. Mendes is a very talented stage director and because American Beauty was his first film he asked for and got three weeks of rehearsal. The payoff was amazing and you would think producers would pay attention. Kevin Spacey won an Oscar for Best Actor, Sam Mendes won one for Best Director, Alan Ball won for Best Screenplay, Annette Bening was nominated for Best Actress and the film won for Best Picture.

However, that isn’t the norm and actors often suffer for it. What you have to do is to make sure you are as prepared as you can be. Actors, smart actors, will get private coaching before they step in front of the camera. Most directors, because they have so many other things to focus on, turn a blind eye to this. Actually they’re grateful for the help because let’s face it, not all directors are good at coaching actors.

A lot of television shows employ a “dialogue coach” whose sole purpose is to get the actors ready to shoot. Not only do they make sure the actors have learned their lines but they also make sure the actors know the intent of the scene. The dialogue coaches get notes from the director as to how he/she wants the scene(s) to go and the dialogue coach “directs” the actors.

Often times however, actors are on their own and have to get help wherever they can.

I was at a cocktail party years ago and Cloris Leachman, a wonderful actress with an incredible resume, told a story about how she prepared for her role of Anna Sage in the film Dillinger. Anna was from Romania and she was the famous woman in red, the woman who fingered John Dillinger to the F.B.I. The day before she started shooting Ms. Leachman called the Romania Embassy in Washington, D. C. She read her lines to the receptionist and asked the receptionist to say the lines back to her. That’s how she got the accent she needed.

Remember a good portion of what you are going to do on the set is what you did in the audition. That is why they hired you; they liked what you did in the audition. So take that information, add whatever else you can glean about your character from the script, make sure you know your lines and then leave yourself open for whatever last minute adjustments the director may have. If you have props to deal with, practice using them. Don’t be afraid to ask if you can get on the set before shooting starts to work out your character’s “business.”

Remember, they hired you. They could have hired any number of other people but they hired you. Everybody is on your side. They want you to do a great job, they want you to knock-it-out-of-the-park just as much as you do.

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You may have wondered – where have I been!?

If you’re wondering where I’ve been, the answer is…drum roll, please… working on my new book. It was released on the 18th of August and will soon be available in your local bookstore or can be ordered now on Amazon or Barnes and Noble.

Taylor-Frances/Routledge Press, one of the world’s largest publishers, read my two other books and commissioned me to write a new book, this one titled The Science and Art of Acting for the Camera – A Practical Approach to Film, Television, and Commercial Acting.

Quite a mouthful, heh?

In the process I discovered self-publishing a book is a lot easier than writing for a publisher. When you self-publish you’re the boss, what you say goes. With a big-time publisher a lot more people are invested in what you’re saying and how that material should be presented. And did I mention compiling an Index? I’ll never do that again! I have to say though, from beginning to end, the people at Routledge Press were nothing short of amazing.

I am extremely pleased with how the book turned out, not just how it looks, but the content too. And the reviews so far have been outstanding. Here are two of the latest:

“Swain’s The Science and Art of Acting for the Camera is a welcome addition to the study of on-camera work! It covers the nuts and bolts of a very important and sometimes ignored medium in the actor’s training. Swain provides a touchstone for any actor wanting to learn and know more about working on-camera. A great addition to my library in teaching the actor for today’s world.” James Calleri, Casting Director, Head of Graduate Acting, Columbia University.

and

“John Howard Swain’s The Science and Art of Acting for the Camera is a readable, practical, and immensely enjoyable guide to the study of acting on film. I have made my living as an actor for over forty years and still found new things to learn from his book. There are many books out there attempting to explicate the study of acting. Most only reduce it to results and pronouncements. Swain keeps it right-sized, upbeat, positive and do-able.” Ivar Brogger, Department of Theatre, Chapman University

What’s next? First, a well-deserved vacation with Marsha Mercant, my lovely bride of twenty-six years, and then, in October, back to work.

And after we come back you’ll be hearing a lot more from me. My goal is to post a new article every two weeks focusing on…you guessed it – the science and art of acting for the camera.

Enjoy the rest of your summer. See you in October!

John

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