WHAT STARRING IN A WEB SERIES TAUGHT ME

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My fortune cookie tells me all the important stuff…

As anyone incautious enough to read my emails knows, I star with Ross Marquand in The Impression Guys, a comedy which can be seen on the SoulPancake Channel on YouTube.

Here’s that link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fsZBaDaW7Nc#t=331

Over the course of the creation of this series, I had some experiences worth sharing, and from which I learned some important lessons.

PARTNER WITH PEOPLE WHO ARE DECISIVE

Ben Shelton, who writes, directs and also edits The Impression Guys is always under the gun to get things done, and yet he makes his deadlines and never seems rushed.

His secret: be decisive.

I think it comes from his experience as a basketball player.  I have never played much basketball, but I notice there isn’t a lot of time spent in a huddle. Most plays seem to happen in about a fifth of a second, too fast for any discussion, or even to take a quick vote.

If you’ve worked with professional people, you’ll know that they share Ben’s method; they quickly make a decision, which makes room for the next thing to happen, and the next quick decision to be made. Pretty soon, a lot of progress has been made.

This doesn’t mean they are always right, but they adjust quickly, too. Their rate of decision is just running at a higher velocity. It’s very refreshing. It’s a symptom of that rare condition, “Confidence”.

We’ve all experienced the discomfort of being part of a show or an activity where the people in charge can’t seem to choose. Even the simplest of assignments drag on indefinitely. It’s one of the things that makes the modern world so frustrating.

Of course, many things in life should be exhaustively worked over and over, with care taken to make the right choice. If it’s a murder trial, sure. Defusing a live bomb, definitely. But please, not entertainment!

USE THE OPPORTUNITY TO EXPERIMENT

I haven’t had the pleasure of seeing my name first on a callsheet lately, so it was nice to have something to do in nearly every scene of The Impression Guys.

With that fact came a lot more responsibility. Since our crew was limited, Ross and I had to wear extra hats, like doing our own makeup, hair, wardrobe and continuity.

In a big movie shoot, there are people reminding you all the time what shoes to wear, dabbing at your face with brushes and puffs, and straightening your collar when it gets flipped up in the back. Sometimes you have three people all doing things to your body at the same time, while you are trying to concentrate on the next take. Here, we didn’t have that luxury. Although Ross did flip my collar down a couple times for me.

To maintain continuity, we had to have a very clear idea of what was going on at any point in that whole first season, since we were shooting out of sequence; we had to think with what had just happened BEFORE the scene we were about to shoot, even if we hadn’t shot that prior scene yet.

That’s something that all big movie actors have to think with. For me it was a rare opportunity to dive in and see what I could do to take responsibility for creating the illusion of sequence in time, and to support the story.

By being responsible for all the action of my character, plus the wardrobe, prop handling etc, it helped me get deeply into the character’s viewpoint in the scene.

Also, since I was in front of the camera so often, and not waiting in a trailer somewhere for my one scene to come up, I was very comfortable with experimenting, which isn’t how I feel on a big budget shoot where I’m not going to be there very long, and don’t want to be remembered as the guy who tried something offbeat and slowed everything down.

It’s actually easier to have more to do than less; doing one little scene is much more stressful than doing an entire day of work– it’s the only chance to score!

Without the stress, I got more playful, and that in turn helped my performance.

LET IT BREATHE

It’s a kind of a hallmark of amateur actors that they seem to be in a big hurry to get their lines out, even to the point of cutting off the lines of the other actors in the scene. In The Impression Guys, we could take our time to play each beat and didn’t have an eye on the clock.

The important thing is, of course, telling the story believably and entertainingly. Since we weren’t in a big frantic rush, we could explore the moments more and really let the scenes breathe. That was something I quickly got used to.

I should mention at this point that the whole cast are all really terrific and honest actors that naturally strove to make the most of the material. I learned a lot from working with Ross Marquand, Dana DeLorenzo, Matt Jones, Piotr Michael, Amy Castle, Angela Kinsey, Christina Bianco and others in the cast and seeing the level of their involvement as characters. Pretty inspiring for me.

ALWAYS BE READY

Being physically prepared was a major factor in our shoot. Our shoot days weren’t murderous, but they were a good eight-plus hours. We had a lot to cover every day, and doing multiple takes due to fatigue would cost us.

By getting enough sleep, vitamins, and good food, and by keeping prepared with studying the script, rehearsing, (and in some cases, continue to write material for my celebrity impressions) I was able to accomplish what I needed to without crashing.

Again, decisiveness was a factor; Ben would drive us hard, but not beyond a point that was practical. Can you tell I’m a fan of his work ethic?

Mainly, pacing myself and getting food and rest were key things that helped me get the job done.

TELLING THE WORLD

It’s no good doing a wonderful series if you haven’t gotten the word out. Thankfully, our producers at SoulPancake have done a wonderful job of letting their subscribers know about The Impression Guys and spreading the word.

But there is so much product out there that you really have to get fast, clever and busy to get attention. I’ve done everything from contact radio, press and blog people to Tweeting to Shakespeare societies, inviting them to have a look. Happily, I had some success and we have a growing fan base of pretty passionate viewers.

I posted a lot of daily videos from the set of The Impression Guys so that we could share the experience with others.

I’ve had postcards made and am sending them to casting agents. These people I definitely want to know about this show.

And even then, it’s a struggle to let more of the world know, at least the English speaking world, who have Internet access.

So, how much promotion is too much? I’ve never even come close. You have to make noise when you have something to make noise about, right? 

And with the proliferation of digital filmmaking technology and a renaissance of ideas, it’s only going to become more competitive.

Have YOU seen The Impression Guys yet? Here’s that link again: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fsZBaDaW7Nc#t=331

Will we have a Season Two? I hope so. It sure looks good right now.  Hope some of this was helpful to you.

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The Impression Guys Series on SoulPancake is LIVE!

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The Impression Guys Series is LIVE

I have to say, it’s been very heartening and unexpected to get such nice remarks from my friends and fellow actors about The Impression Guys.

Wayne Brady, Jenna Elfman, Maurice LaMarche and others have Tweeted their approval of Episode One, which was very kind of them.

In fact, people have been going out of their way to let me know that they found the show especially enjoyable.  Man, that’s great to hear.

For me, it’s so autobiographical, my life thru a kind of funhouse mirror, that I don’t really consider the content all that remarkable; beautifully produced, edited and presented, but not very far off from the little comedy I inhabit every day.

Of course, there are tremendous variations on life as I know it; my wife Tamra plays someone else in my life, Angela Kinsey of The Office inhabiting Tamra’s real life role of Jim’s long-suffering wife (nice of her to bear the burden for a few days!)

But no matter the coincidences and variations on the theme, it’s great that so many are going along for the ride.  Happy to have the audience to play to.

I think if you liked Episode One, you will like the remaining story even more.  The uber-talented Ben Shelton wrote and directed; it’s an adventure he dreamed up, with a little input from me and my co-star, Ross Marquand. 

The Impression Guys is beautifully developed with a lot of surprises all the way along.  You will be impressed, I promise.

And SoulPancake, Rainn Wilson’s company, is responsible for green-lighting the project and getting it made and hosted on their popular YouTube channel.  If you haven’t already, go ahead and subscribe.

Let me know what you think of the rest of the show!

Episode Two will launch today, Monday February 17 at 4 pm pst.

GRACED

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I’m just taking a brief breath between days of shooting some additional material to flesh out Season One of The Impression Guys, our soon-to-be-released web series, and I’m marveling once again at the serendipity of my life.

We are very fortunate in this latest set of scripts to have some really amazing guest stars, which are bringing the quality of our story and the general mood way, way up.  First, Erika Christensen agreed to do a funny cameo, and she is wonderful.  I have known Erika for years, and she graciously made time in her busy life, in between shooting the popular TV show Parenthood, to play with us.  She may not be an impressionist, but she always leaves a memorable impression.

Then, feisty, funny and talented Christina Bianco happened to be out here from a break in her busy Broadway career and accepted our invitation to play–what else?– an amazing impressionist!  I’ll be singing with her in various voices in an episode we will shoot tomorrow, (you can see us rehearsing part of it when you click this LINK.)

There is another very exciting bit of “stunt-casting” coming up… but it’s too soon to let that cat out of the bag.

But with Erika and Christina, plus our current cast which is already top-heavy with talent, including Dana Delorenzo, Matt Jones, Melissa Villaseñor, Angela Kinsey, Angela Hoover, Eamon Brennan, Jason Lewis, Tom Ayers, Tamra Meskimen, Portis Hershey, Piotr Michael, Amy Castle, Skylar Caleb, Dylan Mooney, Brandon Routh and others, The Impression Guys is shaping up to be an embarrassment of riches.  Which is my favorite kind of embarrassment, frankly.

I’ll keep on keepin’ you posted.  Thanks for your patience.

The Day Before THE DAY

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So, what did I do on my “day off” before I go on TV tomorrow night on America’s Got Talent at Radio City?

After a brief, somewhat perfunctory hair appointment, I had lunch with my very old friend from elementary school, Coleman Gregory, and we had a good New York kibitz in a diner on Madison.  Who comes walking by but another (younger) old friend, Benjamin Welch.  That’s a typical New York thing; I had just been wondering what random friend I was going to run into.  Check!

Then I walked up Park Avenue thru Grand Central Station, which looks marvelous, very clean and spiffy, and arrived shortly at the Waldorf Astoria hotel, where my mom was having tea in the lobby, having just arrived on a plane from Atlanta.

She is here to support me, and I’m delighted that she came out.  It’s heaven to have such a generous and supportive, loving mom.  If someone ever offers you one, don’t hesitate.

Tamra arrives in a little while, so I had to clean up my room, get some flowers…  I had also set up a temporary sound recording studio in the room, making creative use of the hotel pillows, cushions and ironing board, so that had to go:

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Now I’m going to go over my act a little bit more, tomorrow is THE DAY, so I have to be much more than ready, I figure I have to really be beyond ready, especially if I want to win and take home the Golden Fruitcake, or whatever the prize of this show is.

I guess this is as good a time as any to thank you for reading and for being interested, and if you vote and tell your friends to watch the show and vote, too, I will be much in your debt.  If I have to pawn the Golden Fruitcake to pay you all for your trouble I think I can manage that.

So, you may not hear from me tomorrow on this channel, but you WILL hear from me on NBC, tomorrow night, 9 pm East and West coast, and 8 pm in the middle of this great land of ours.

Onward!

Thanks again!

These Shorts Are For A Younger Person, Wouldn’t You Say?


By now, unless you watch television that is thoroughly scrubbed for commercial content, you may have seen me in an ad for Sprint where I play an impatient, fault-finding German boss, criticizing one of his employees. I was very fortunate to book this job. The director, Randy Krallman, is a talented young guy who knew of my ability to do this kind of character, because we had done some very elaborate shorts for Volkswagon about 8 years ago with me in essentially the same persona. I auditioned, and Randy had to be very persuasive to get the client to sign off on my unusual approach. The part had originally been created for an American, possibly even a female. I can tell you, it is rare for American actors to be permitted to do any sort of foreign accent in an advertisement; it used to be common, but the “politically correct” wave of the last couple of decades had been quite thorough in expunging this kind of performance from the small screen and radio, too. (Something about the “Frito Bandito”, if memory serves.) So, I was surprised and delighted by the possibility of playing this part, and also crossed my fingers that it would even run on television at all. The last national commercial I acted in, for another telecom company, coincidentally, never saw the light of day. We improvised a lot of variations on that last line… I can’t recall who came up with the memorable, “These shorts are for a younger person, wouldn’t you say?”  I did improvise the “uuh.”  I do remember that. Amazingly, the spot has really “saturated”, as they say. The spot started to run on all the major TV shows like Survivor, American Idol, The Apprentice etc. I have had many friends text me from cinemas saying they just saw my commercial before the blockbuster movie they were there to see, even in iMax theaters, which is a scary thought. When I first started in commercials, with Quality Inn’s “Man in a suitcase” spots back in 1986, a national commercial had considerable airplay, on the then three major channels, and the budding cable outlets, of which there were maybe about five. Now, a national spot can show up on planes, movie screens, on smartphones, mobile devices, YouTube, Facebook, and of course TVs. That’s a lot of platforms. It’s a whole new game. One that I was beginning to think I had been invited “Out” of. If by some chance you haven’t yet seen this spot, it’s on YouTube, and I invite you to watch it and comment how wonderful it is, and how actor Jim Meskimen needs to be used again and again and again, in all his various personas, not just the uptight German one. Click here, and thanks for watching: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=drRTJWbxRzg And of course, come see the JIMPRESSIONS live show, info at http://www.jimpressions.net

Published in: on August 31, 2012 at 10:27 am  Comments (9)  
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ACCEPT IMITATIONS, A Beginner’s Guide to Performing Celebrity Impressions Chapter Five

SPEED OF DELIVERY

When you are developing a celebrity impression, or any character, one little thing to look at is speed of communication.

Not everyone speaks at the same rate, or processes information at the same speed.

Some personalities are as fast as a greyhound, others, as slow as a slug. Some, like Harold Camping, who famously predicted the end of the world in July and then again in October of 2011, are almost too slow to effectively imitate; no one will sit through the impression.

Sometimes that has to do with age or education, sometimes it’s just some factor resident in the personality of the individual themselves.

If you study early American movie stars, they generally have a much quicker rate of exchange in their communication than their modern counterparts. My theory is that Americans were in better shape physically and mentally back in the 1930’s and 40’s. They were more decisive and more used to dealing with others face to face than in modern times. They were more literate and relied less on automation to get things done. They were, arguably, more social.

Audiences, too were therefore more able to understand and absorb rapidly spoken language, as they too were more literate and educated than the audience of today.

There also might have been a financial consideration from the studios; they might have been guilty of trying to pack in the most dialogue in the smallest amount of time, to bring movies in at a little over an hour, so that more showings could be scheduled.

Who the Hell knows?

All I know is, listen to someone like Jimmy Cagney, Rosalind Russell or the blisteringly fast talking Noel Coward in films from that period, and then you try talking that fast.

It’s a challenge.

The only reason I bring it up is to get you to take a look at the speed at which your target celebrity delivers his or her dialogue. It will have everything to do with making your impression accurate.

Are they slow and methodical, like John Malkovich, or relatively rapid, like Martin Scorcese or Dennis Hopper? What is the general speed of that actor or character?

It’s sometimes easy to get excited onstage and whip through your voices quickly in your enthusiasm, but you might be missing a critical element in the rendition of that persona.

Break it down for yourself, compared to your own rate of speech, (and here you might do well to actually record yourself and see how quickly you talk compared to others– damn, I really hope you did that step back in Chapter Two) and see if that reveals anything to you.

ACCEPT IMITATIONS: A Beginner’s Guide to Performing Impressions, Chapter Four: VIEWPOINT

If a useful definition of acting is “Knowingly taking on another viewpoint”, then the subject of doing impressions is just another facet of acting, because more than anything else, your performance will live or die on this one point.

No one views the world from exactly the same position in space as anyone else, at the same time.  Even the famous Bunker brothers Chang & Eng, the so-called “Siamese Twins” who were co-joined at the chest, had to turn to one another and ask, “Is my tie on straight?”

The thing that makes Bogart, Johnny Carson, Barack Obama, or for that matter Bart Simpson unique and recognizable as voices has as much to do with how they view the world as the frequency of the sound waves they produce in our ears.

Indeed, some child performers or women, whose voices are much higher than those of most adult males, can do a great job of creating impressions of famous men even though their tone is completely inaccurate and would never be mistaken for the real thing.

They do this by sufficiently embodying the character and presenting it to us with whatever sonic ability they have.  You are aware they are a young person or a female, but mainly that they are also BEING the person imitated.

It’s still quite entertaining.

It might be wise to observe at this point that “Voice” has several meanings, and that one of them could be said to be, the expression of personality.  Part of that is how they sound, but that also includes WHAT they would say, based on their own unique viewpoint.

We sometimes hear about the “voice” of an author, for instance, whom we perhaps have never actually heard aloud, but whose opinion and style is nevertheless well known.

This is very valuable information: HOW the celebrity sees the world.

How do we find this out?  By study and observation.  These days that is rather easy to do by making use of the web and the limitless collection of recorded performances of actors and public figures.

Of course, direct and personal contact is the very best and most reliable method.  The best mimics of celebrities are, naturally, their former personal assistants, which is precisely why so many famous people require their assistants to have their tongues removed once they leave their employ, and rightly so.

What is done with the tongues of former personal assistants?  I have no idea.  But I make it a habit never to eat at any deli in Beverly Hills, or if I do, I order the tuna melt.

There is a secret about taking on the viewpoint of the character you are playing, and that is this: it’s much easier to do it that way than to simply “imitate”.  Being the character is a quick and direct way to present the person, and is the only way you can be assured of really achieving a convincing and effective portrayal.  This not only applies to celebrity impressions, but doing Shakespeare, Ibsen, Molnar, or a guest spot on “The Suite Life with Zach & Cody.”

Try this: walk around your home with the viewpoint of someone you would like to imitate.  DON’T say anything, just walk around and look at your surroundings from their point of view.

How would they regard your bedroom?  What might they think of your furniture?  What would draw their interest on your shelves?  Would they be bored or interested in your home and possessions?

This is actually the bedrock of your impressions; the sound vibrations they make when they talk are built on THIS fundamental element.

It’s also a lot of fun to do and nobody has to even know you are doing it.  You can do it in a crowded place, like a party or a concert, or at your job at the Pizza Hut.  Just practice looking at the world from the eyes of your subject.

Like I said earlier, it’s the most important element of the whole skill, so it’s worthwhile spending some time on and will help you develop the raw materiel of your act, when you decide to create one.

The other important point about becoming familiar with the point of view of your subject is that once you know it very well, you can depart from it for comic effect, simply by doing something intentionally that that person would never do or say.  That is, I believe, part of the strength of my now famous “Shakespeare in Celebrity Voices” video, which features 25 celebrities doing that speech from Richard III that most of them would never, EVER be heard reciting.

Especially not George W. Bush.  I mean, come on.

So, it cuts both ways.  The key is KNOWING the viewpoint so that you can do what you like with it, either by honoring it exactly as to intention, or departing from it entirely for laughs, or some other brilliant use that I haven’t stumbled on yet.

JIMPRESSIONS: review of the new show in Hollywood

Jim Meskimen: A Man for All Voices

By Bonnie Priever The Tolucan Times
May 12th, 2011

Jim Meskimen opens his show, Jimpressions, at the Acting Center in Hollywood, with a pithy, profound statement: “It’s all about the voice!” This enjoyable evening of impersonations and clever humor takes me back in time to Las Vegas showrooms, featuring headliners like Rich Little and Fred Travalena, and their visceral performances of celebrities past and present. As Meskimen succinctly states, “there is an infinity of voices — we have stumbled upon in our lifetimes, and clearly recognize — yet each one is unique and special.” The audience is in for quite a treat, as they get to once again hear the distinct voices of Robin Williams, David Letterman, Jack Nicholson, and President Barack Obama, and many more, as if these larger than life personalities were right on stage themselves!

It’s a true art to impersonate the famous (and infamous!), from JFK to Truman Capote….it’s not an easy process to learn a specific voice, its tone, inflections and accent, yet Jim Meskimen makes it look easy and effortless, while enjoying every moment. His impressions take us into a world of ‘in the moment’ theatre, created by Lee Strasberg, fully immersing himself in the character portrayed. The show covers a range of territories, geographically, from Southern politicians to New York actors. He does a segment, honoring the “New York Greats,” such as Pacino, DeNiro, and Woody Allen; followed by a Presidential walk through memory lane. The audience is transported to another place and time… it’s like fingering the pages of history, and makes one proud and patriotic. In times like today, with the recent death of Bin Laden, we know that we have been graced with the presence of greats, and their voices of hope and courage linger on.

In Act Two, Meskimen portrays a professor of Ancient Art History, with improvised Q&A from audience members. Jim, both passionate about arts, performing and visual, decided to opt for the performing arts. With his strikingly good looks, amazing voice and talent, along with a chance encounter with Harvey Keitel, his professional venue and crowd-pleasing is the perfect choice.

Jimpressions plays one weekend every month through the rest of the year at the Acting Center located at 5514 Hollywood Blvd. For ticket information, call (323) 962-2100 or visit www.theactingcenterla.com/on-the-stage-2.