On Sunday, June 5 four familiar faces from the world of film and TV gathered at the Culver Hotel during the 2016 LA Film Festival to discuss all things acting: the ever-elusive quest for representation, the crummy jobs that got them to where they are now and what advice they wish they could go back and give their young selves in the babyhood of their careers.
We call this Actors Coffee Talk—the second of four intimate and informal panels to claim the second-floor ballroom of the historic Culver Hotel on Sunday, preceded by Directors and followed by Screenwriting and Documentaries. But at 1:00 pm, it was the Actors’ time to shine.
What follows is the collected wisdom of panelists Tony Hale (Arrested Development, Veep), Michaela Watkins (Afternoon Delight, Transparent), John Cho (Star Trek, American Pie) and Paul Scheer (The League, Adult Swim), who all seemed to hit it off—and who had way, way too much fun talking about acting.
Plus there was an anecdote about Steven Segal doing ADR in a kimono—a kimono! Here’s what they had to say:
How Independent Film Fosters an Invested Cast
- Low budgets call for cost-cutting efficiency moves, the result of which is often that the production ends up having a grassroots community feel. “There’s a vibe that you’re all in this together,” Hale pointed out. Scheer added: “You’re all together living communally. You feel responsible for this film.”
- Los Angeles-based indie films engender a sense of pride. “You’re really glad to be part of it,” said Cho.
- “If it’s not a labor of love, it feels like you’re dying ahead of schedule” is how Watkins summarized the chore of working on a project you’re not invested in. (Everyone loved that concept, by the way: dying ahead of schedule. I guess it’s an idea that resonates with indie filmmakers.) But! On the flip side…
- If you love a project, you’ll do what needs to be done. Watkins said, “You’ll probably end up losing money on [the project] because you’re flying yourself out there. It doesn’t matter that it’s hailing. It doesn’t matter that you have to retake because the focus puller just got out of film school. This is just what you signed up for.”
Agents and Managers Can Be Both a Pleasure and a Pain
- The support is huge. As Watkins said, “It’s like marriage. It’s not important to be married as it is to marry the right person.” Tony agreed that having a supporter in the face of so much rejection is critical. Watkins even said that she would take a bullet for her manager. But her agent, on the other hand…
- Remember that you’re building partnerships for your career, and this takes time and effort. Watkins told a story about her agent, who joined her at a screening for a film premiere at Sundance. At a crucial moment, Watkins saw a blinding light and realized the agent was checking his phone. “I got so mad, this was a culmination of both our work. I was ready to fire him on the spot.” But when she later spoke to him about it, the agent apologized profusely—they’re still working together.
- Notoriety is not as important as investment. As Hale advised, “People look at the top five agencies as ideal representation, but a lot of times you’re just a name on a list. If someone believes in you, that’s who’s making calls.” Scheer further urged actors to foster relationships and encourage reps to be invested in their success.
- It’s important to take advantage of agents’ and managers’ expertise. “I lean on my manager for simple educational stuff,” said Cho, recalling his bewilderment on the first day he went to work on an early job. With no pamphlet on what to expect on a film shoot, you need a guide. “Hollywood is like a big high school you’re in for life.”
Career Advice for The Future Self
- “Everything ends up on the internet, so put some thought into what you wear,” Cho suggested. Which, does this make us want to Google John’s early fashion faux pas? Why, yes. Yes it does.
- There is no achievement (or lack thereof) that can affect your fundamental worth as a human being. As Hale put it, “You’re often told you will have value WHEN, but your value as a person stays the exact same, before and after your success.”
- When starting out, Watkins would convince herself that all of the stupid jobs she had to take just to survive would have a direct impact on her future success. “I can draw a line,” she said, “from every high point in my career to a crappy, low-paying job.” It’s the way forward.
- Be yourself. John remembered his nerves when appearing for the first time on The Tonight Show, and the advice of a producer who helped him get some perspective. “Everything plays. If you’re happy it plays, if you’re sad it plays. The only thing that doesn’t play is if you’re too cool for school.” Trying to play it cool doesn’t resonate. The audience needs you to be you.
- Scheer’s advice to himself was to keep having fun: “It’s a frustrating business, so keep grounded by working with your friends doing fun, dumb things. Make stuff you love, even if no one will pay you to do it.” Sometimes you need the room to explore creatively without knowing the end goal.
- Listen more. Talk less. Watch other actors work. Consider the opinions of others—even if it they don’t come up with “the answer” those suggestions will spark other ideas that will make your work better.
- Create your own opportunities. Scheer noticed it’s easy to get jaded and assume you know how things work. “But you have to keep hoping. You might be disappointed, but try taking each opportunity at face value.” You never know what’s possible.
- Be present. Hale still vividly remembers auditions where he was caught in the trap of trying to impress people when he should have been in the moment with the role. “Try not to compare yourself to what someone else is doing.”
The annual Coffee Talks, sponsored by Ovation took place June 5 at The Culver Hotel. The Directors panel is sponsored by Directors Guild of America, the Actors panel is sponsored by SAGindie, and the Screenwriters panel is sponsored by Writers Guild of America, West.
This year’s 2016 LA Film Festival is currently happening at the ArcLight Cinemas in Culver City as additional venues citywide through June 9. Buy your tickets to all of our great screenings and special events today. Click here for more information.