In 2012, Brendan McMahon wrote an intriguing piece about acting that appeared in the Huffington Post. An aspiring thespian, McMahon noted that Actor’s Equity calculated a 90 percent unemployment rate in that profession at the time.
Despite the dismal job prospects, men and women still flock to Los Angeles and New York hoping for their big break. The intriguing documentary “Actor?” offers real insights into the process of landing a job in movies and television. Blending animation and live footage helps drive the more difficult points home for the audience.
“It’s an entertaining documentary or, as my publicist called it, an ‘Ani-mentary,'” director and executive producer David Rich said when reached by phone.
Animating the facts
Making its debut at the Cannes Film Market this week, “Actor?” uses real-life interviews to tell the story of Lou and Ping, two animated characters whose names are a clever reference to sound looping. Like other hopefuls, these characters have trouble navigating their way through the acting/casting system.
Director David Rich himself started out as an accountant, moving to stand-up comedy and then acting. His insights into the industry gave birth to this documentary. “I looked around and said there really isn’t an understanding of what actors do. It’s sort of like professional sports: everyone only hears about the big salary people. They don’t hear about the people who make $100,000-$200,000 who get hurt all the time,” he explained.
The film is packed with useful information, including how to avoid scam artists who prey on unsuspecting actors. Rich traveled across the country to five different cities (L.A., Las Vegas, Phoenix, Detroit and New York) to interview newbies as well as seasoned professionals.
“I interviewed well over 200 actors. I had connections with the celebrities, so I was able to talk to them at their homes, which was kind of cool. Ed Asner was a kick,” Rich enthused.
The result is a fun, watchable documentary that serves as an animated career guide. Lou and Ping interact with real casting directors within the context of the story. Candid interviews with such notables as Asner, Doris Roberts and Alan Thicke are surprising and funny.
Yet, the moments featuring hopefuls who really have to struggle are the most telling. When asked how they make a living, one wannabe actor enthusiastically said “Unemployment!”
“One of the actors I interviewed is named Randy Mantooth (‘Emergency!’). He was one of the last people who was a contract actor with the studios,” Rich explained.
Under the old studio system, a contract actor could work in dozens of films but receive the same salary as if he only did a single picture. “[Mantooth] wasn’t happy about that kind of contract. If they wanted you to do 10 movies in 3 months, you did 10 movies…for the same salary,’ Rich said.
The director explained that he wanted to make sure that “Actor?” was not a fluff piece: “I want them to understand what they are getting into. This is coming from everybody from the well-known to the guy who says ‘Where’s the casting couch?'”
“Actor?” will have its second Cannes Market screening on May 18th at 3:30pm at Palais F.