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Ely Henry is a Canadian actor/improviser/musician living and working in L.A  He wrote this post for Canadians, but most of it applies whether you’re living in Winnipeg, Manitoba or Little Rock, Arkansas. You can follow him on twitter @ElyHenry

Photo © Ely Henry

Photo © Ely Henry

Every year I get a ton of people asking questions about moving to Los Angeles from Canada for acting. I usually go through the same list every time so I figured it would just make more sense to put it all in one easy-to-check note.

So. Here’s my thoughts.

Where are you at in your career?

First off, you need to see if this move makes any sense. If you’re coming down for acting and entertainment purposes, you need to see if there’s any interest in you down here.

If you’ve got an agent and you’re getting a lot of work or you’re doing a ton of live shows then you’re in a good spot to try and get out to L.A. However, if you don’t have an agent and aren’t doing a ton of live performance and just think L.A. might be a better chance…it’s going to be a lot harder. Not impossible, mind you, but much harder.

Visit first.

No sense moving to a place you’ve never been. Take a week or two and come down to Los Angeles to scope it out. You want to know what you’re going to get yourself into.

You also want to meet with as many managers and/or agents as you can to see if there’s even a point in you moving down from a business perspective.

Meetings

This is the part that makes people the most uncomfortable, but it has to be done. If you’re serious about really trying to make L.A. work out, then you’ve got to ask for some help. Before your trip down to L.A., call everyone you know who might be able to help you set up meetings.

If you’ve got an agent, tell them you’re going down and ask them to hook you up with any managers they have down in L.A. Email any casting directors who’ve hired you before or who you’ve developed a good rapport with. Just a friendly email telling them you’re going down and asking for any advice they might have and if they know anyone that might be looking for a client like you. Simple. Best case, they have a friend who you can meet or you get some solid advice. Worst case, no response. No harm, no foul.

Ask any and all friends who’ve had success in L.A. for advice. Everyone’s got a unique experience and they might be able to help. Also, see if they’ve got anyone that would meet with you too.

It’s really important to have this set up before you come down. Otherwise, you spend the first six months to a year (at least) looking for representation. And that’s exhausting.

When to visit?

This, to me, is the most important part and the thing people get wrong most often.

If you’re coming to L.A. for the first time, don’t come down for Pilot Season. Literally one million people come to L.A. for Pilot Season. It’s madness. If you’re looking for an agent or manager during that time you’re going to be shit out of luck. They’re all busy pumping the clients they already have into as many rooms as possible. They won’t have time to meet with you.

Pilot Season is kind of all over the place but it’s safely from January to April.

When I first came down it was in May. Everything’s settled down by that time and it’s easier to get a meeting because everyone’s working on getting ready for the upcoming season of shows.

When to move?

Provided you’ve got adequate representation and you’re willing to leave behind socialized medicine, you’re ready to move.

Again, avoid Pilot Season.

Personally, I had great success coming down at the end of the summer. I came down August 29th and it was the perfect warm up before the insanity. All the pilots that are going forward have been picked up and beginning production. This means they’re all starting to audition for guest stars, co-stars and recurring parts. And since you’re not there with the throng of Pilot Season hopefuls you’ve got a better shot at the rooms and the gigs.

Resumés

This is a really good tip I got from a friend after I got here: resumés in Canada are different than in the U.S.

In Canada roles are called “Principal” or “Lead” or “Actor”.

In the U.S. TV roles are referred to as “Guest Star,” “Co-Star” or “Lead,” and in films as either “Lead” or “Supporting.”

If you’re coming to the States then you want to make sure to redraft your resumé to fit these. Casting Directors out here don’t know what any of the Canadian terms mean, and it might make you miss out on some gigs as a result.

Here’s the basic breakdown: “Guest Star” is a character who’s integral to the plot of the episode. “Co-Star” appears in the episode in a non integral capacity. “Lead” is pretty self explanatory. Also note, by the way, that both “Guest Star” and “Co-Star” can be recurring. So if you’ve been on something for three episodes or more just put down “Recurring” in front of whichever you are.

Be generous with your “Guest Stars” and “Leads” (but don’t lie).

Visas and Citizenship

Honestly, I’m not the best person to talk to about this. I’m a dual citizen from birth. My mom is from the States so I was able to move down with no problems.

I’ve got lots of friends that came down on visas and that’s a whole different bag. If you can afford it, find an immigration lawyer and talk to them. This is one of those things that’s easier with money. Unfortunately.

Health Insurance

This country is confusing when it comes to health stuff. Here’s what I did when I first came down. In Ontario there’s a way to get a travel extension on your OHIP for two years (at least, there was when I left, maybe it changed). This allows you to still return to Ontario for any medical treatment for two years. I’m sure other provinces have something similar.

Getting that and travel insurance for when you’re in L.A. is your best bet right away. The travel insurance will cover your ass in the event of emergency and if anything major happens, just hop on a flight back to Ontario and you’re all set.

After you’ve been here for a while…well, that’s its own thing. Thank god for Obamacare because it makes everything a lot easier and cheaper. When you’re ready for full insurance go to www.CoveredCalifornia.com and look around.

Do I need a car?

Short answer: yes.

Long answer: strongly recommend it. You can get around without one, but the transit here is pretty bad and takes a looooong time. You can get everywhere you need to but it’ll take a very long time. So if you’re trying to get to an audition or something…best to avoid public transport.

Where to live?

This is all dependant on what you’re into. I live in Los Feliz which is great because I can walk around. Lots of bars and restaurants within walking distance. Also a couple movie theatres. It’s great.

If you’re used to Toronto or any other big city with great walkability my neighbourhood suggestions are as follows:

Los Feliz

Silverlake

Echo Park

Little Armenia

K-Town

Hollywood

West Hollywood

If you’re more into the suburban vibe:

NoHo

Burbank

Studio City

…basically anywhere in the valley.

Beach:

Santa Monica or Marina Del Ray. But you’ll be far from everyone who loves you or cares about you.

Other Stuff

L.A. is not for everyone. It’s a strange place. I hated it when I first got here. It took me a good year and a half to really settle in. But some people love it right away. You just have to find a solid group of people to explore it with and you’re in good shape.

Don’t overthink the city. Yes, tons of people come here to fulfill dreams and whatever, but at the end of the day it’s a city like any other. People, food, bars…whatever. Just look at it like you would any other place and don’t get caught up in the “HOOOOOLLLLYWOOOOOD” mentality.

This is hands-down the best description of organic openings we’ve ever found. It was originally published in 2011 on USSRocknRoll and is reprinted with permission. You can follow Erik at vossprov.tumbr.com

In the time I’ve been doing long-form improv in Los Angeles, I’ve picked up on a apprehension to Harold openings that ranges from closeted mistrust to outright hate. Many view them as a burden, like some imposing obstacle we must clear before we get to the good stuff. Saying you enjoy openings is like confessing a creepy fetish, like the guy who gets off on dental work: “You can enjoy it all you want, man, but I can barely tolerate it.”

Maybe it’s a symptom of doing artsy Harold work in a laugh-driven town like LA, where big characters and quick cleverness reign supreme over patient, thematic-centered improv. I remember hearing about debates among teachers at iO West over whether Harolds even needed openings. At UCB, organic openings are taught as a more unwieldy alternative to the much more practical Pattern Game or Documentary-style opening. No one has time for any openings whatsoever in the indie community – why waste a third of your 15-minute set on an opening?

“I think we forget that people are coming to watch us do comedy,” someone on my first Harold team declared at our first rehearsal. “We don’t want to turn them off.”

One of the big problems I have, and that I suspect many other LA performers have, is that we don’t have a very clear picture of what a good Harold opening should look like. Yes, at some point when we were students we saw King Ten or Bangarang do a great opening, but we could never figure out how to make it work for ourselves. Every coach and teacher offered a different metaphor. Time after time, we leapt into the abyss, fell on our faces, and watched our numbers decline and our teams get cut. The occasional good opening? Surely a fluke. Eventually, we started avoiding “organic openings” – now a misunderstood pejorative term – and simply gave up, settling for a much more practical Pattern Game, Documentary, Scene Paint, Living Room, etc. … something we decide beforehand.

While at the movies recently I stumbled across a new way of looking at Harold openings that has helped me, at least, give a face to this ambiguous beast. I am probably not the first person to have this idea. And yes, it’s just another metaphor. But if it made sense to me, it might make sense to someone else.

Consider, if you will, the opening title sequence of David Fincher’s film The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

This sequence is the work of Tim Miller, a talented filmmaker and visual effects artist at Blur Studio. It’s an awesome moment to watch unfold on a film screen. There are also a number of elements to this sequence that I think make it an excellent analogy for a great Harold opening:

It’s a full sensory experience. It begins with close-up shots of inky black textures – water, scales, leather, tar, skin, metal, fire. Then we start to see flashes of faces, hands, insects, birds, plants, wire, rope. It all builds up to a cacophony of violence: a woman’s face exploding as she’s struck by a man’s fist, wires snaking up to a person and strangling him, a drowning man, a mouth coughing up wasps and metal objects, a jagged needle poking through skin, a fiery head melting down to a skull, men’s fingers burying a woman’s face and peeling it off. The music – Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song” with the lead singer of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs on vocals – surrounds us and complements the violent imagery. You have an emotional and physiological response to experiencing this. It makes your flesh crawl.

It’s exciting. Despite how uncomfortable and disturbing the images become, you can’t look away. It says to the audience – “Hey! Look at me! This is going to be very interesting!” It opens the piece.

It’s abstract, and comfortable with being abstract. It knows that the following two hours will be nothing but scenes, so it embraces the opportunity to be something completely different and weird for a moment. In fact, we barely see any human forms at all – just a variety of textures and close-ups of body parts. This isn’t two minutes of logic – it’s raw emotion. Fincher called it “primordial sort of tar and ooze of the subconscious… sort of her [Lisbeth’s] nightmare.” In a way, this sequence tells us exactly the kind of person Lisbeth Salander is.

Unlike the rest of the show, but specific to the show. Aesthetically speaking, the sequence looks and sounds nothing like the rest of the movie. As a movie, Dragon Tattoo is slow, muted, and icy. There’s a lot of people sitting in frozen cabins and flipping through old pictures. Led Zeppelin permitted the use of “Immigrant Song” only for the trailer and the opening titles – the most memorable song in the movie itself is Enya’s “Sail Away.” Yet the opening sequence’s images and music complement the film’s story, characters, and subject matter perfectly. Only this story could have followed that opening sequence. (Interesting note: like the prototypical Harold structure, Dragon Tattoo has three major storylines that cohere thematically and converge by the end.)

Never abandons its pattern. Despite the variety in texture and imagery, it all feels part of the same pattern. The music doesn’t suddenly switch to a Beach Boys song and the imagery to a warm sunset because Fincher worried the audience would tire of two minutes of the same stuff. Instead, he doubled down, dug deeper, and made his first choice rich with detail. Eventually, we make some interesting connections as a result.

Does not explicitly say a thesis statement; merely suggests a subject matter. The objective here is not to lecture us on human nature, or how the world should be. That won’t be clear until we meet the characters and see how their actions affect the world around them. For now, this title sequence merely sets the tone: we know this film will explore subjects of violence, violence against women, sex, female empowerment, the power of technology, etc. We know everything will have a dark, sexy, S&M kind of vibe to it. It makes that promise to the audience, and the following two hours deliver spectacularly.

***

Now, obviously films and Harolds are two completely different art forms that are judged by very different criteria. Not all films require thematic opening title sequences. And sometimes, thematic opening title sequences are a little off-putting. (Many Bond films come to mind – if the title of the movie isn’t self-explanatory enough, here’s Tina Turner or Sheryl Crowe with a theme song that hits us over the head with it.)

But really good opening title sequences, like the one for Dragon Tattoo, at the very least give us a tactile model of something to strive for. It’s an example of something artsy, abstract, and uncomfortable, but also something we can all agree is fucking awesome. So why are we so afraid of it? Is your Pattern Game that much more interesting to watch?

If we don’t shy away from attempting to improvise Oscar-worthy scenes with Pulitzer-worthy dialogue, we ought to set the bar high for Harold openings as well.

***

You can read more about different types of Harold openings here.

Photo © Steve Hobbs

Photo © Steve Hobbs

 

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Confession time: I love The B-52s. So it’s no surprise that Hey Fred Schneider, What Are You Doing? is one of my favourite warm-ups (second only to Beastie Boys Rap).

And now Thomas Middleditch has both explained and immortalised it for us on Conan.

For the record, my all-time favourite answer was from my friend and teammate, Matt Wolodarsky. His response?

“I’m filling out crosswords like Pamela Anderson!”

We’re huge fans of Jimmy Carrane’s Improv Nerd podcast, and this season is no exception.

The line-up includes Saturday Night Live writer Katie Rich, Second City Mainstagers Scott Morehead and Rashawn Nadine Scott, iO Chicago teacher Jeff Griggs, Jorin Gargiulo of Revolver, and Rush Howell of 3033.

Jimmy will also be doing a special interview with Jeff Bouthiette, head of the Second City Training Center’s music program, at the first-ever Chicago Musical Improv Festival.

Since 2011, Jimmy has interviewed more than 130 guests, including Key & Peele, Bob Odenkirk, Broad City, Jeff Garlin, Andy Richter, David Koechner, Rachel Dratch, Tim Meadows, and Scott Adsit. If you’re in Chicago this summer, it’s one show you don’t want to miss.

SCHEDULE

All shows will be held at Stage 773, 1225 W. Belmont Avenue in Chicago.

June 20 – Katie Rich, 4:30 p.m. (as part of the Women’s Funny Festival)
July 5 – Scott Morehead, 4:00 p.m., Jorin Gargiulo, 5:00 p.m.
July 12 – Shithole’s Kevin Gerrity and Zach Bartz, 5:00 p.m.
July 19 – Rashawn Nadine Scott 4:00 p.m., Rush Howell, 5:00 p.m.
July 26 – Jeff Griggs 5:00 p.m.

TICKETS
General admission: $10, $8 for improv students

Call Stage 773 at 773.327.5252 or purchase online at http://www.stage773.com/

Jimmy Carrane headshot

Photo © Julia Marcus/Zoe McKenzie Photography

A blog post about blogging? Why the hell not?

St. Louis-based writer/improviser Ben Noble interviewed us recently for his improv blog, I’m Making All This Up. The result is exactly the mix of earnest (me) and funny (Cameron) you’d expect. Click here or below to read. Thanks, Ben!

Artwork © Nadine Prada

Artwork © Nadine Prada

Now you can flaunt your love of long-form at home, at work, or on that scary subway ride after the show. Our new collection of tees, pillows, mugs and more looks great whether you’re sitting, standing or bending.

Click here or below to browse the full line.

*(excludes framed art prints, stretched canvases and wall clocks)

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Combustion Festival kicked off this week with some sizzling performances at Toronto’s Bad Dog Theatre. Fan favourites The Sunday Service and Crush Improv were joined by new faces Dark Side of the Room, Big Ol’ Show (with returning Dad’s Garage alum, Amber Nash) and The Amie & Kristen Show.

If you missed the fun, don’t worry: all the teams will be performing again, along with more fantastic improvisers from far and wide. The festival runs through Saturday, May 30. Check the schedule for details.

Photo © Eric Logan

Photo © Eric Logan

Photo © Eric Logan

Photo © Eric Logan

Photo © Eric Logan

Photo © Eric Logan

Photo © Eric Logan

Photo © Eric Logan

Photo © Eric Logan

Photo © Eric Logan

Photo © Eric Logan

Photo © Eric Logan

Fans of unscripted theatre, rejoice: the 2015 Combustion Festival is here, and it’s gonna be smokin’.

Toronto’s Bad Dog Theatre is bringing together some of the hottest talent from across North America in this week-long celebration of comedy. The line-up includes such diverse acts as Crush, Junior Varsity, Folk Lordz, The Sunday Service, and Dark Side of the Room, to name a few.

In addition to shows, there’ll be workshops by instructors from Atlanta, Buenos Aires, New York, Montreal, and Vancouver. There’s even a series of $5 drop-ins every night of the fest.

Check out the full schedule, and buy tickets and festival passes here.

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