Mane Muck-up, Healthy Honesty

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Dear Jackie:

We are student filmmakers, and while many of our peers used students or nonactors in their movies, we tried to get the best actors we could. We used major casting websites and cast out of Los Angeles. Unfortunately, this has worked out horribly.

We shot most of our film before Christmas break but had to schedule some pickups last month. All the actors knew ahead of time and agreed to be available for these last shoots. But one of the actors has become completely unreachable, not returning phone calls or emails; she just disappeared. More problematic, our leading actor cut and dyed her hair. She used to have medium-length brown hair and now has short, spiky, rainbow-colored hair -- this after we spoke specifically to her about keeping her hair consistent. We tried to use a wig, but we don't have the budget for anything professional, and it looks bad. To make matters worse, we are shooting on film and can't possibly afford to re-shoot the entire movie with another actor.

Why would so-called professional actors act like this?

-- CG

via the Internet

Dear CG:

The behavior you describe is inexcusable and totally lacking in professionalism -- not to mention common courtesy.

As to why, although it's no excuse, many actors are used to getting "burned" by student filmmakers, and I think this has created an unfortunate feeling of anger and resentment on the part of many in the acting community. Actors sometimes make excuses for not behaving professionally in student films because they have been treated poorly in the past. Their biggest complaint is not receiving the promised copy of the finished film -- or at least copies of the dailies. Until university and college faculty begin taking a stronger stance on the "copy provided" issue, I don't know that there will be widespread improvement. In the meantime, we have frustrated actors and, in this case, a very frustrated crew.

Let me assure you: There are many respectful, courteous, professional actors out there, eager to do student and indie films, unpaid theatre gigs, and open mikes. You name it, they'll show up ready to work. In the future, I suggest you corral your talent and shoot them out (finish shooting any scenes they are in) as quickly as possible. Although it's not your fault your actors went awry, you'd be smart to consider that some actors may lack motivation to return again and again without a paycheck in the mix. Some will be on to the next project, and others will be swallowed up in their survival jobs. Best to create a shooting schedule that minimizes their time commitment and decreases your chances of losing them -- or their hair.

If you are just plain angry, here's a thought that may provide solace. Your actor did more than ruin your footage when she dyed her hair ROYGBIV. She cut her chances of getting cast in just about anything by about 95 percent.

Dear Jackie:

I have early stages of Parkinson's disease, which causes one of my hands to tremble. Under stress, it trembles more. It does not impair me at this time any more than that. I have been blessed to be a working actor for 12 years, and it is still my passion.

My question is this: Because it is noticeable in auditions, do I tell casting about it before the audition takes place? I have gone out and been aware of them looking at my hand, which takes them -- and me -- out of the moment. It is costly and frustrating to go out for an audition if I don't stand a chance of booking the role because of the tremor.

Aside from the legal issue, what is your practical advice? Should I tell them before, tell them at the audition, or just not say anything?

-- S.L.

via the Internet

Dear S.L.:

I have not gotten a question this difficult for a very long time. I was unable to get any comment from the Screen Actors Guild, but Ray Bradford, national director of equal employment opportunities for the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, was able to elucidate the issue. I know legality isn't your main concern, but I wanted to make sure we weren't missing an obvious point.

"Although there are certainly cases where overt discrimination against people with disabilities occurs, most employment discrimination in this industry is much harder to prove, because it is subtle and covert," Bradford writes in an email. "Naturally, there is a risk that an actor that proffers information at an audition or interview about an 'invisible' disability (such as Parkinson's) may not get the part, even if he or she is fully able to perform the role. Employers are not supposed to make pre-employment health and medical inquiries. It is unlikely that a potential employer would ask a performer about their medical condition or health. If an employee reasonably believes that he or she can perform the job, or can perform the job with a reasonable accommodation for their disability, it is a personal ethical question as to whether a performer wishes to disclose their medical condition at an audition."

I brought your question to an agent, a manager, and a casting director but found no consensus. The agent said he had no idea how to advise you but recommended you pick up Lucky Man: A Memoir, by Michael J. Fox, for an actor's perspective on what you're going through. The manager suggested you hide your condition so as to avoid offering casting a reason to say no right off the bat. If you book the job, he continued, you could seek a sympathetic ear to help you adjust your performance in light of the tremor (hands in pocket, crossed arms, etc.), framing (whether your hands can be seen in a particular shot), and scheduling (to be sure your scenes are shot during the most advantageous part of your medication cycle). He also suggested that you attack the nerve component of the tremor head on, by working on your audition stress levels. The casting director suggested you disclose your condition up-front, at the time your audition is scheduled, by saying something along the lines of "I wanted to let you know I have Parkinson's disease and occasionally experience a tremor or two while auditioning." Such a revelation will likely serve to reduce your stress level should the audition go ahead, which this CD predicted it almost always would.

I'm not sold on either argument. I think the CD has a wonderful, open-minded attitude but fear that not all decision makers will feel the same. The manager's idea that you should keep it to yourself makes sense, but I'd hate to suggest you omit information early on only to have it haunt you or keep you from performing as contracted. In the end, I have to echo Bradford. It's a personal decision -- and one you'll have to make again and again, depending on the job and your evolving condition.

Jackie Apodaca can be reached at