Here’s a pretty cool thing – my first-ever professional commercial voiceover job:
That take is actually the audition I recorded in my closet. They liked it so much they just bought it and put it in the commercial. The possibilities with this V.O. thing are incredibly-enticing, and I am immediately appreciating that, acting-wise, my “range” is incalculably broader in this realm. No one would cast me as an obsessive cyclist in a film or probably even on-stage – I just don’t project athleticism.
I got some great news a few days ago – a friend of mine has written and will direct an independent horror feature. Due to scheduling issues, an actor had to drop out, and my friend has a lot personally at stake in this, and he called to ask if I’d step into one of the major roles in the film. It’s a horror movie – my first (not counting the short student-made slasher film I starred in over in the UK a lifetime ago) – about a man who can see ghosts; and I’ll be playing the ghost who is his chief tormentor throughout the film. I get to wear grody makeup and special effects contact lenses, and I’m so excited about all of this because it is a dreams-coming-true kind of opportunity.
My ghost sort of breaks the previously-established rules of the movie. I thought almost immediately about when I played Renfield in Dracula, and how the director and I worked to build aspects of his character that made him sort of a living affront to sanity. I would switch accents mid-scene to mock other characters, break the fourth wall, stay on-stage in scenes I was not in, and finally start moving through different areas in the stage to violate the unspoken logic of which rooms were connected to where. At the curtain call, Renfield was the only character who got a solo entrance, and I came in not from the wings but from the audience exit door.
I’ve been looking at the roles I’m getting cast in, especially on-camera, through this filter. In Cloudy With a Chance of Sunshine my character is never shown outside the office supply closet where he smokes weed. I only ever interact with the main character, and I narrate ridiculous daydream sequences about his romantic travails.
In Aventura, the heroes of the movie, which otherwise takes place in basically a slightly-absurdist reality along the lines of Little Miss Sunshine, enter very different territory when they meet my character. It’s a totally weird, totally unexplained interlude – sort of a Pee Wee’s Big Adventure-style surreal digression.
And now this ghost…I’m strident in the belief that an actor should never let Hollywood tell them who they are; because there are too many people in Hollywood whose visions are shallow and dumb. A very-talented actress friend of mine who keeps getting offers for little short films feels like she’s hitting a ceiling, since casting directors and agents the next level up keep telling her that she’s no good for Hollywood until she loses 15 pounds. I’m to the point now where if I see a listing that describes the character as two or more of words like “attractive, charismatic, athletic, handsome, VERY good-looking (etc.)”, I won’t even bother to submit; because what they’re signalling about their priorities makes it clear I’ll never get to make my case for the role anyway.
This is a thought-provoking pattern, though; getting cast as characters who operate in their own pocket universe – a reality separate from everyone else’s in the show. I have noticed in my life that many misfits feel very comfortable and able to let their guard down around me, while other people just never seem comfortable with me, even at my nicest. And I know my tendencies towards introversion, and spending a lot of time strolling around up in my own head, can make me come off as aloof, separate, not participating the same way as others.
So I don’t think the camera has got the wrong idea when it sees me in the Uncanny Valley next to normalcy. It may be a limiting idea, but that’s sort of the nature of casting to type. It has its pluses and minuses. What’s most important, I guess, is figuring out what about this I can embrace and effectively leverage.
And continue to record, because the variety of creatures I can do over in the V.O. world just keeps growing. I’ll be playing a heroic knight in an upcoming video game in this series:
I’ve got a birthday coming up next week; and it’s inevitable for me to take measure of my accomplishments and my progress on the path I’ve chosen. If the feeling of the last 48 hours holds, I’ll be in rare positive spirits when we mark this lap.
My short film, Samantha Gets Back Out There, just got it’s very own IMDB page. This was a real priority to me; it’s a big thank-you to everyone who worked on the thing, and as I’ve crewed on a number of little projects over the years I’ve always counted the creation of the page as a sign that I’m working for professional people who are mindful of the people helping them.
I had not been previously aware that you had to pay $35 to put your movie’s poster on IMDB, but I guess that just get you at every stage they can.
I have also – though this isn’t “official” yet in the capacity that I can publicly name names – received my first (unofficial) acceptance into a film festival. Only on Sunday night did we finally screen the finished product for the crew and a few privately-invited colleagues and friends, and the love and excitement coming out of that still had me in the upper atmosphere. This news sent me into orbit. We’d had a previous rejection, and I had not been anticipating any more notifications for a week at least, so this was unexpected and so, so incredible. It’s my first real short, and we’re in a respectable festival with it; and dozens more are still evaluating. Even better – it’s a festival I’ll be able to attend.
The reviews on As You Like It have been stellar, and the personal peer-to-peer feedback I’ve been receiving from actors I greatly admire has been better still. My role is a little less attention-grabbing than some I’ve played in the past, and I’ve made the adjustment to playing a scene as an opportunity to tee up someone great to get a laugh; so while audiences might not always be able to articulate why they may remember or like me; seasoned actors seem to recognize it and are delivering a lot of praise.
And, of course, today is the official release day for Stages of Sleep. It can be bought at Amazon, Smashwords, or any leading retailer supplied by Smashwords and/or my paperback printer IngramSpark (such as Barnes & Noble). If you want to support your friendly neighborhood independent bookstore you can purchase it through them and they’ll order it for you (give them the title and/or ISBN: 9780996640701). The GoodReads profile is active and ready for reviews and to-read lists. I’ve even been selling paperback copies to friends and colleagues out of my car trunk. I hear that’s how M.C. Hammer got started.
The oldest stories in this collection were written back in 2007, so this is a journey of over eight years to make this book a reality. It is, no exaggeration, one of the proudest achievements of my life, and I hope it means something to anyone who reads it.
Now, none of these achievements are making me rich either now or soon. But tangible achievements are a hell of a rush. When my As You Like It castmates saw a book with my name on it, they just started handing me money; I think in part because they felt that much. And getting handed money sure doesn’t happen much in my writer’s life!
I’m at one of my network of writing-conducive cafes; I’ve just polished off a flat brown and five pages of a new Earbud Theater script I’m calling Monday for the Sweepers. My previous script Scary Ride is in the final stages of post-production and should launch in the next two weeks; this new one, if I can finish it soon, I might aim to have out in late September/early October. Hopefully not too close to Halloween, since it’s not really horror-themed and I like it when we celebrate Halloween over at Earbud. It’s basically our holiest holiday.
It has been quite awhile since I’ve had any steady dates with the ol’ laptop and an espresso drink. Samantha is finished now and submitted to a couple dozen film festivals; I got my first rejection letter which is really a good rite of passage. It’s like an official sign that you’re out of your comfort zone. A Sickness in Time is in the hands of the editor for proofing, which means the time to add new subplots or radically reorganize the book is passed. I can cut things, and probably will, but the rest I have to just leave to hope.
The Stages of Sleep paperback proof arrived and is as close to flawless as my eyes can discern, so it’s officially available for Print-on-Demand at Amazon or anywhere that cares to order it. You can go to your favorite indie bookstore and order it and it’ll be there in their computers ready to be summoned. I know I sound like any proud, obsessed Dad, but I love this book and think it’s just the handsomest. The margins, the dimensions, the typeface…oh man…
Romeo & Juliet is closed and we’re through tech week and opening of As You Like It; so while my acting commitments at Shakespeare Orange County are nowhere near done; I am reclaiming little pockets of life here and there. I found out I wouldn’t be called to rehearse Pirates of Penzance either Saturday or Sunday during the day, and the sign of how truly sick I am is that my first thought was “think of all the WORK I’ll be able to get done!”
I’ve even managed to make a few visits to the gym in the last couple of weeks. I take this and my present session as signs I’m reclaiming a bit of life balance. Getting where I aspire to be will take much longer, but these steps are good for me; and are producing some remarkable bursts of creativity. I wrote a five page short film script on Saturday, start to finish…just because I finally had a stretch to myself. The intention is to film it in November – you know, right when my life threatens to really become my own again.
It’s funny because I didn’t plan it this way at all – today I placed my first order for the proof copy of the Stages of Sleep paperback; while at the same time I finished the final assembly and started rendering Samantha Gets Back Out There for output. A short story collection and a short film; both taking a significant step closer to reality today. Just a coincidence – I happened to get needed materials back on a day when I had a few hours free in the morning; and now it’s happening.
You don’t get a single explosion of accomplishment in this sort of thing; because the last steps usually aren’t the biggest ones, and sometimes the moment where you’re actually finished kind of slips by as you grunt your way through little housekeeping tasks. I know it will be big when the proof copy arrives and I hold it in my hands. I know it will be big the first time I screen Samantha for the cast and crew, or if we make it to a festival. But honestly, little emotional rewards have already arrived, as I got my glowing first review of the book, or close filmmaker friends who watched the first cut of Samantha weighed in with brilliant advice and support.
More and more I’m appreciating that a sense for completion is something you need to train for. It’s like mental muscle memory; so you’re not slave to the most tangible rushes but rather cultivate an awareness of what seeing something through really entails. Samantha may be a short film but it’s still a machine with a lot of moving parts, and a lot of different necessary skills. Stages of Sleep is going to be a small book – 8.5″ by 5.5″ by 0.55″, 242 total pages including all the front and back stuff – but it has asked for so much sheer willpower to turn from words into a book.
In neither case will I be DONE done anytime soon – I’ll be working up promotional events for Stages of Sleep for months to come at least, and in a matter of days I will be making the first submissions of Samantha to film festivals; a process that will continue for months and may well end up costing more money than the film itself, particularly if I opt to travel.
This is the career mindset, though, I think. You don’t just say “FINISHED!” and it’s out of your life.
It’s funny how similar the processes can be. Pay for audition listings. Submit to many auditions. Get called in for a few. Write short story. Pay for curated list of literary magazines. Submit to many. Get selected by a few.
Then you make a movie, pay to submit to many film festivals, and…?
I made a short film. Well, I filmed a short film; we’re still in post-production. We have a first cut that needs to be trimmed down to a locked cut, then sound mixing needs to happen, then color correction, a few other little things, and then we will have made a movie. This makes for a vast improvement in life pride over the time before I had made a short film.
I only get to go work on the edit one day a week because of other projects and responsibilities; but still, we should have it finished by the end of this month, when there are many festival deadlines.
There are thousands of film festivals around the world, and tens of thousands of short films made every year – well, zillions if you count anything on YouTube or Vine, but I’m strictly focusing on films made with some sort of professional or quasi-professional artistic purpose and ambition. To submit to one film festival can cost anywhere from $10 to $100, sometimes even higher; plus the potential cost of shipping them DVDs or flash drives or whatever they will need to show the movie, depending on their technological sophistication.
My movie is not going to Cannes or Sundance. Seriously, I’m not even going to spend the money on the vanity of submitting; because it’s a first short film and I think it could be good but it’s not going to be THAT good. But past that, you have a vast selection, and only the vaguest guidelines for which will be the most helpful to you in your cause. In my case, it’s to build credibility as a writer evolving into a filmmaker, which can be useful in job hunting and raising money for larger and longer projects.
I’m probably going to be about $7-800 out of pocket on this short when it’s all done; and my partner Barney invested some money in gear that we will use again. We kept it simple because I’m a rookie and I’m broke. If I submit to forty festivals, though, I could quickly spend over a thousand more; and if I’m being honest, that’s all credit card. This needs to be considered when you start out; because the excitement of submitting for festivals can make you stupid awfully quickly.
This leads to a lot of time perusing festival websites, programs from previous years, watching other short films to see what is out there. People love whimsical/magical realism short films, short films about poor urchins in foreign lands, short films with dazzling lighting, and eye-popping color and special effects. Honestly, movies just look goddamn great these days – it has become so affordable to give things astonishing polish and digital augmentation.
I can’t compete on that level right now. I’m not trained on this equipment and I can’t even afford the cheap toys. I can write, though; and I believe I can work with actors. So that’s what Samantha Gets Back Out There is about – trying to capture a feeling in a cinematic way with just the writing and the acting.
I showed the first cut to a few filmmaker friends that I trust, and the response has generally been a) it could be shorter (it’s a first cut, of COURSE it can be shorter!), b) it has a shot at a good festival run. That’s a great response, even better for a first time out.
And, not to jinx anything, but we’re already talking about the next one. While I was sitting behind that monitor, directing, I really did think – yeah, this feels pretty right.
I now have an official “public” Facebook page. One of my Marketing Committee colleagues at Shakespeare Orange County finally got me past this particular edition of that queasy thing that happens in my throat when it comes to self-marketing. He pointed out that I already had a couple dozen people I don’t personally know following my regular Facebook profile – so I have “fans” as it’s reckoned these days where I wasn’t even trying to create them.
The big reason why I was particularly susceptible to finally taking this step was that, well, I’ve got something to sell:
My short story collection, Stages of Sleep, is set for publication, now that we have finally settled on some cover art – I’ve worked with Kevin several times but he has truly surpassed himself here. I have been working towards this for a long time; though Seeing by Moonlight got me into the club of “People who have published a book”, this is the first book that’s solely authored by me – no collaboration, no commission, just the stuff I was inspired to write.
I am going to be cutting and pasting this book summary a lot in the months to come:
“15 short stories from writer/actor/filmmaker Nicholas Thurkettle explore the changes that come as we pass from the waking world into dreams. We begin in reality, with tales that are sometimes funny, sometimes painful, all set in the world we recognize – where a wounded soldier asks his best friend to assist him in a strange attempt at healing, and a cranky old retiree becomes a most inconvenient messenger of love.
Then, we drift into another place, where the seemingly-real is invaded – by the secret thoughts and dreams of a household appliance, and by centaurs that saunter into a bar to rid it of all things khaki.
Finally we are cast loose into pure dreams, where an insurance specialist can enjoy wild outer space adventures, and a nameless storyteller is offered a glimpse of an unusual and captivating Hell by none other than the Devil.
It’s a tour through places not summed up by the word “reality”, but nevertheless, all true to our lives.”
Those fifteen stories come with an introduction, a foreword by my severely brainy friend Dr. Kevin J. Wetmore, Jr., and three illustrations by the great Heather McMillen, plus an easy-access link to the audio performance of the story Bubbles, which I produced/directed for Eardbud Theater.
I’m currently submitting review copies to book bloggers in the hopes that we can launch with a smidgen of promotional “oomph” when the book is officially for sale on August 25th at the low, low price of $4.99. There will be opportunities to get free, advance copies, though (another use for that Facebook page above.)
Here’s where to find it on Amazon, and on Smashwords (which will distribute to other leading retailers.) I’m currently reviewing options for a print-on-demand service for people who prefer their books in more book-y form (and did I mentioned that Seeing by Moonlight is available in paperback now?)
I have a couple of bottles of better-than-for-daily-use wine that I am always saving to celebrate special. But one side effect of my personal self-motivation is that I seem to keep redefining what’s worth celebrating into the future. This one, though…going to be hard to keep the corkscrew stowed.
It’s less than two weeks since my last post, yet once again I see the theme emerging of “crap, things are happening too quickly for me to write anything insightful or perceptive about them, so I’ll just have to say they happened and leave it at that.”
That is in no way a complaint. Over the past few days I have spent nearly all my waking hours at Shakespeare Orange County, and it can get exhausting at times; but if you ever stopped me in a rough moment and asked me if there’s anywhere I’d rather be, I doubt I’d come up with anything. In the years when I was just acting with SOC, this would be the time of year when my work was just getting started; now it has been a persistent top priority for me since December, and I’m already feeling the mileage.
Last night was our 2nd Annual Season Kickoff Gala and Celebrity Radio Show; which we are hoping to turn into a cornerstone fundraising and media event for our season. The radio show is an easy pitch to get celebrities down to Garden Grove for the day – they arrive mid-afternoon, do one read-through, and then have a high-class dinner and a show in front of an enraptured (and lubricated) audience that does not expect deep character work. They get to play without any pressure and contribute to a theater in the process. Not only do they do it for free, one of them told me after that she wanted to give us money for the season ahead. This year we were gifted with the awesome likes of Robert Hays (Airplane!), JoBeth Williams (Poltergeist), Rene Auberjonois (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine), John DeLancie (Star Trek: The Next Generation), Seamus Dever (Castle) and many more. Since I was performing in the Gala, it meant I got to be in the official Cast Photo, and to be standing in a Cast like this is one of those occasional communiques from the universe that I might be doing something right.
Of course, to make the time investment as minimal and painless as possible for them (and as joyful and smooth for the audience), a lot of preparation work has to go into it to reduce the bumps in advance. Which required long days from dozens of volunteers, and for several of us to work very late the night before running through the tech for the show.
In the middle of all this, we are rehearsing the largest cast we have ever assembled for our production of Romeo & Juliet. Part of our goal is to make the town of Verona come alive and for the brawls between the Montagues and Capulets to feel like genuinely dangerous riots – which means a lot of talented actors committing to Ensemble roles and painstaking fight rehearsals that take many long hours working outdoors.
I think we have something spectacular in the works, though. And despite that I was low on sleep (and probably a little hungover), this morning after the magical experience of the Gala, I was right back at the Amphitheater rehearsing with them.
Honestly, let’s just leave it at that for this round. Much more to talk about, but we’ll get there. The juggling balls are all still aloft.
Things are happening at a velocity that does not seem real. I recently upgraded to a Google Phone and so started using their Calendar app to track my appointments – and it has coincided with a period where every day sees me at a critical stage on something.
For 4 1/2 days over the Memorial Day holiday weekend I was in charge of staffing and managing the Shakespeare Orange County booth at the annual Garden Grove Strawberry Festival. It is traditionally our biggest fundraiser of the year – although I think our Celebrity Gala will surpass it in years to come if we keep it up. Running up and down our Amphitheater stairs lugging 5-gallon barrels full of strawberries is a good way to kickstart my summer fitness goals, I must admit.
Only days later, on Thursday, I finally reached the end of the first draft manuscript of my second novel in collaboration with M.F. Thomas. Our first, Seeing by Moonlight, recently became available in paperback, so the timing is satisfying. The new book is called A Sickness in Time and, while it is not a sequel to Seeing by Moonlight, it is like the first a mix of thrills and science fiction that takes place half in modern times and half elsewhere.
After some notes and discussions we started the formal drafting of A Sickness in Time on June 10th of last year, and wrote a great deal of it over the following five months, only for each of us to get consumed by other projects very near to the end. It is a source of pride and massive relief to have finished this step, even though we know there is much still to do in re-writing and polishing the book before we start cranking up the publishing machinery. I will say only that the book does incorporate time travel into its story, and when you’re messing with things like that, you especially want to edit carefully.
The very next day, I went to Burbank for the cast/crew screening of the indie romantic comedy feature Cloudy With a Chance of Sunshine. This is the first feature I’ve ever had an on-camera role in, and I shot it about year ago; it’s not at all unusual to have to wait this long. I only spent a day on set, and all my scenes were exclusively with the co-writer/director/star Kevin Resnick, so funnily enough this party was my first chance to meet anyone else in the cast.
The screening was on the Warner Brothers lot, in what we were informed is Christopher Nolan’s preferred screening room. Who knows if that’s true, but it’s a nice place to be when you’re going to see your head in giant size on a screen for the first time ever.
The movie is tight and polished and charming and given the microscopic budget stands as a feather in the cap of everyone involved, especially Kevin and his producer/writing partner/fiancee/all-around-dynamo Rebecca Norris. They are currently raising funds to travel and promote the film in its forthcoming life on the festival circuit, where I think it should see some healthy and appreciative response.
Of my own acting it’s always hard to speak, but the audience did laugh quite a bit; and since it is a comedy that is undeniably encouraging. The feedback from the audience was very warm and appreciative after the screening, although I was difficult to recognize since I am clean shaven and bespectacled in the movie and am currently three months into growing a beard for SOC’s production of Romeo & Juliet.
Our first formal full cast meeting/reading happens this Sunday, and it’s going to be a busy summer of overlapping stage work for me; I’ve been so consumed with casting and writing and other projects that I haven’t been on stage since December, and I happily confess to being restless about it. On top of all the above I have been carrying on my work with Arts Orange County, which is a most welcome and stable position that fits snugly inside my life.
But all of the above, it turns out, isn’t quite enough. A friend and former cast mate named Barney Crow and I are teaming up to produce a short film that I have written and will direct. Not counting class projects from that one time I took a couple of filmmaking classes, or the camcorder movie spoofs my friends and I made in high school and college over a decade before “viral” and “video” ever appeared together outside an essay on Cronenberg, this will be the first time I have seriously directed for film. I haven’t aggressively pursued directing since college, though I have directed several of my scripts for Earbud as well as some short stage pieces here and there. The moment to evolve seemed well-arrived, though, and I actually feel ready for it. Yesterday we were doing lighting/camera tests on our location, and all the work I’ve done on set for other people seems to have given me muscle memory for it all – at one point I caught myself looking around for whoever was in charge and realizing – oh, it’s us. We’re the filmmakers now. And there was confidence there.
I’m not being reckless about this (well, beyond doing it at all.) This short is designed to be as stripped down and simple as possible – one actor, one location, one locked-down camera setup. The whole crew is about 8 people. It’s just a story and a performance from an actress I trust with anything. When I filmed Cloudy I observed how marvelously-designed a role it was for me to have my introduction to film acting – all two-person conversations in the same location with the same scene partner. Removing variables allowed me to spend more energy on the work. My hope is that the same kismet works on this short film – naturally, we anticipate there will be the customary 2-3 disasters that on average afflict every filmmaking endeavor. We will survive it, though.
The days off are few. I do look forward to them, though.
A few years ago I wrote a blog post about the one-hit wonder band Unit 4+2 and their hit song Concrete and Clay. It was one of the more popular posts I have written, and I always appreciate it when the Internet pays off one of the peculiar rabbits I chose to chase.
To my amazement, since I wrote that, yet more versions of the song have surfaced on YouTube, including a minimalist take by one of my all-time favorite bands, They Might Be Giants, during their early Dial-a-Song days.
Here’s a pair of Spanish ladies known as Baccara, taking their shot:
Fun fact: Baccara first found fame in the Eurovision Song Contest…representing Luxembourg.
Staying on the international scene, a clean cut vocal group from down in Australia called The Thin Men did a very buttoned-collar version for all the nice kids to dance to:
Tangentially, The Thin Men did a version of Mrs. Robinson that I find sort of obscenely catchy. It’s like the two sides of the 60’s cultural divide trying to have awkward makeup sex.
Sweden bought a ticket to this dance through their pop hitmakers The Lee Kings. The vocals have that trademark appealing Scandinavian slur.
The Bob Crewe Generation, an instrumental side project of Four Seasons songwriter/producer Crewe, produced this Herb Alpert-adjacent crack at the tune:
It was Crewe’s record label that released the soundalike Eddie Rambeau version of the song whose success prevented Unit 4+2’s original from realizing its full chart potential in America. Crewe was also the co-head of the best-named band of the 70’s, Disco-Tex and the Sex-O-Lettes.
Jerry Lewis’s son Gary led his group The Playboys in a contemporary stylistic cousin that sounds like it’s trying to woo Annette Funicello:
Uhhhh, Finland? I think?
I won’t say this song is idiot-proof – hell, Yesterday isn’t idiot-proof. But it sure is elastic. Here’s a version from a New York comedy club with an unusual arrangement – four vocalists and a coffee wrapper.
Bonus invasion by Tom Jones song.
And if you want to talk about weird convergences, here is a cover version by Björn Again, which is (follow me here), a tribute band from Australia* otherwise devoted to covering ABBA, the pop group from Sweden* which is to this day the most famous winners of the Eurovision Song Contest*. If you told that to the guy from A Beautiful Mind I think his brain would explode.
One hit wonders are a special source of joy to me because they seem like miracles – where a singer or band so preposterously overachieves in creating a moment of joy that a higher power could be at work (maybe the one responsible for magnets.)
These aren’t even all the versions I’ve found. It’s a mystery to me how a song can be at once catchy enough as to be this ubiquitous while remaining, to a certain degree, still ultimately obscure to the world at large. It’s as if it just floats on the edge of our pop consciousness, a perfect mirage of a thing that never resolved into true fame. It remains so striking to me as this little thread running through the tapestry of pop music, one that produces more surprises every time you tug at it. And clearly many people are compelled to tug.