As we head full force into award season, celebrities are whittling down their waist lines AND their short list of who to thank during acceptance speeches – because every moment and word counts when actors present themselves.
If an actor says the wrong thing, it can make them seem green or unprofessional, so NYCastings sought after some award worthy speaking advice from celebrity speech writer, Blair Fell.
Q & A with Blair Fell
Q: How did you get started as a celebrity speech writer?
A fan of my play version of Burning Habits recommended me to someone who was putting together the GLAAD awards. Because I am a funny writer, they wanted someone funny. They brought me on to write the GLAAD awards and immediately I was writing celebrity speeches. For my first award show I wrote for Joan Collins, Kathleen Turner – all these big people right away. They kept hiring me for a number of years, then I moved on to writing for other award shows and celebrities would contact me to write their speeches.
Q: How should an actor greet an audience?
It depends on the venue. I am also a director and do a lot of casting. When it comes to introducing yourself to a casting director, agent or director, the important thing is to remember that they want you to be as good as you can be. We are on your side. Keep your integrity, look like you are not an insane person and present yourself professionally. You do not need to force your personality. We will get who you are.
Q: Can actors speak too much when they meet a CD/agent etc?
The tendency when you are nervous is to over talk. Actors feel they need to show their entire personality. Rather than coming in and saying, Hi my name is Kathy Black, I am here to audition for the part of Olivia and I am doing such and such speech, they go on and on about a personal story and it seems forced. Keep it professional. We just want you to be good and have fun with the work. It is a performance opportunity.
Q: You use a lot of humor in your celebrity speeches. Should actors use humor when writing a cover letter?
No, please don’t use humor. When you are writing a cover letter just say your name and what is relevant to the work. When I am casting, I want you to clearly indicate in your cover letter and email where I can see your reel – so make sure your link is there. Most of the time, casting directors are going through hundreds of cover letters at a time, so make sure you have down what is important and that it is as easy as possible to get to.
Q: Actors often get asked Tell me about yourself. How should they best answer this?
If they say “tell me about yourself, they do not want to know about your childhood. We only want to know stuff that has to do with the project we are working on.
Talk about what relates to the piece you are going in for. If you are going into an audition for a comedy, talk about what comedies you’ve done. If you are going in for a drama, don’t talk about comedies. If you are going in for something like Oklahoma and you were born in Oklahoma City, talk about that. Geer what you have to say toward the piece you are auditioning for.
I do research for a speech for an award show and actors should try to research as much as possible about the piece. I research the person and the nature of the event. The same thing goes for an audition. If you are going in for a drama set in the south, research it and see if there is anything in the play you can have a skill for already – then mention it.
In burning habits, I was thinking of using puppets and an actress mentioned that she studied puppetry. She got the main part and her mentioning it was huge in guaranteeing her the part.
Q: What should an actor say when asked, Do you have any questions for me?
When I ask that question, it depends. One… I may be really interested in that person and want them to basically guarantee that they will be available. So, clarify that you know when rehearsals start and that you are free. The other reason I may be asking… is to wrap up the conversation.
Q: How can actors read a room / read their audience for the best results?
You can gather the energy of a room when you first walk in. How the casting people greet you will show you if you can be more casual. If they are stone faced, and giving you nothing, then get to why you are there – which is to show what you can do. All we want is for you to be amazing. Doing any other extraneous stuff is not needed. The whole focus is on the performance.
Come in, be really succinct, say your name and get to the material. If you are not right for the part and still knock my socks off, I save your resume and call you in for other parts.
Q: Are there any physical signs that read poorly to an audience of CDs, agents, etc?
I don’t want to see on your face that you are going to be devastated if you don’t get the part. There is only one part and 50+ people auditioning, so just be great. I want to know that a person is not going to waste my time, is not going to get their feelings hurt and loves acting.
Q: When it comes to thanking casting directors, agents etc for their time – what do you recommend actors say?
Just say, It was great meeting you. If there is something relevant to the part, like you can jump through hoops of fire and the scene has hoops of fire and you didn’t already mention it – mention that. Otherwise be succinct and sweet.
Q: You write speeches and also your own plays, webisodes, etc. Should actors write their own work?
Definitely. The problem with being an actor is a lack of ability to take action themselves. I definitely recommend actors write their own work, their own plays and one man shows. The only difference between a writer and a non writer is that the writer is doing it. People think they can’t do it, but they can. I started writing for television by producing my own plays in a bar in the east village and everything came out of that.
Q: Anything coming up for you that you want actors to know about?
My web series, Burning Habits, is coming out this spring. Hopefully it will be something going for years with a lot of opportunities for actors.