Hollywood, that land of magic and endless possibilities. So you want to go there and be discovered, make millions each year, become a household name?
You’ve arrived with your list printed from the website, “Where to Get Discovered in L.A.” You believe it because you read it on the Internet, right? You also know that Harrison Ford, a carpenter, was discovered on set and cast as Han Solo and then Indiana Jones and then… Maybe you know the story of Ellen Pompeo, Dr. Meredith Grey of the daytime soap “Grey’s Anatomy,” who was working as a bartender at Soho Kitchen Bar & Grill in NYC when a casting agent spotted her and thought she’d be good in commercials. She’ll be starring in season 11 of “Grey’s Anatomy” come September.
Do you know someone who has actually gone to L.A. to start a career in films? I do. Michael Kowrach. Don’t recognize that name? Not to worry. He realizes it’s a name that’s impossible to remember, much less spell, kinda like Ellen Pompeo. He, therefore, has a new name, Sebastian Vale. The source of this moniker? His father’s middle name and the homonym for veil.
Currently, Vale is working in Cincinnati as an extra on the Miles Davis film, “Miles Ahead,” directed by Don Cheadle and starring Cheadle.
When Vale headed to California eight years ago, he started out in audience work which he defines as “getting paid to sit in the audience of game shows and sitcoms” and doing background work as an extra each week “on as many as six different TV shows, movies, music videos, and commercials.”
With these non-speaking roles, Vale learned that on some sets he was treated more like a prop than a person. Competent directors, he asserts, are grateful for the special role the extras play in making the picture look good.
As a union member (AFTRA), Vale is well paid for these background gigs, and he maintains it’s a way to learn about the business. There’s also a lot of down time, so he is paid to sit and write or read a book, sometimes for 13 hours
The audience work is another matter, and Vale says, “I’ll beg for change on the street before I’ll do that again- no potty breaks for seemingly years at a time and lousy pay.”
Back to the background work. Vale knows that “getting on set with background work is a great way to hear other people’s stories and make friends/connections with people in the industry.”
How has Vale gotten roles? “My first two union jobs had nothing to do with acting skills but because I had a 1976 Mustang needed for a period film, and the other time because they needed my dog, Eliot Supermutt.”
He also got to be DW Griffin (famous 1915 director of Birth of a Nation) for a day for a BBC documentary because he has a big nose. He’s played John Lennon in a music video, a mental patient and a homeless guy. He’s also done print work, commercials, and theater and has a role in the 2014 Cate Blanchett film, Carol. He has had his own trailer on the Universal lot and comments about the respect that garners.
A graduate of Edison Community College and Miami University, he has studied with Monkey Butler, Adam Barnhardt, and faculty at the Stella Adler Academy — all in California — as well as with La Mama International in Italy.
Still want to sell your stuff and head to California to make it in the place where “everyone has outrageous dreams and they’re going for it?” Vale has some tips for you.
• Bring some money to California. Working as a waitperson will limit your availability to do what you came for.
• Have Internet access so that you can be promptly informed of casting calls in the area.
• Bring your own wardrobe so that when you walk in for a call, the casting director can see you in a particular role.
• Be ready at a moment’s notice (Headshots, resume, cell phone with email/texting capabilities) when they contact you. They will go to the next person on the list if you’re not immediately available.
• Casting directors remember people who work well. “Burned bridges are hard to rebuild because there are so many out there who’ve left them intact and can take your spot.” Casting directors have “ironclad memories” and they will find out if you smear their reputation.
• Working well means being professional, knowing your lines, always bringing your best. To do otherwise is “disrespectful, inexcusable. Don’t ever assume you’re not being watched or that the job you’re doing doesn’t mean anything.
Directors remember who has ruined shots and cost them time and money.”
•“Hollywood is all about looking like something, the visual. If something comes across as false, it steals away from the dream, breaks the enchantment, and you have stolen from the audience.” Vale uses his camera video to perfect his role before ever going to the set, even rehearsing 40 times.
• It helps to have lots of skills that you can market, something as simple as making a salad, or playing a musical instruments or knowing a variety of dance moves. Vale’s advice is to always say “yes” to queries about such skills and then go home and learn to do them on YouTube. He maintains that you don’t just “get discovered”: you work to know and understand all the aspects of filmmaking. For one day’s pay and one day of work, Vale waited eight hours on the set of the 2013 Steve Jobs movie, Jobs, to put a circuit into a board in one take.
• You don’t have to go to Hollywood. All states have a film board whose job is to entice Hollywood to come to their state to make a movie. They offer financial incentives, a setting or environment that works for the film and at times a commitment to use local talent.
A few comments now on the cautions:
• Plan to do a test run in California as most give up between six months and two years (There is furniture on the curbs everywhere, left by those who didn’t make it). Dreams and bank accounts are destroyed.
• There are plenty of people out there who want to take your money with promises they can’t, and have no intention, of keeping. Some agencies want to charge you before you get any work.
In Vale’s spare time he’s working on his first novel in which “a guy gets to go back and fix mistakes he made 10 years ago.”
Sebastian Vale concludes our interview by saying, “The angels whisper decoy words to make us think we’re looking for something when they have bigger plans for us that we wouldn’t even start on if we had any clue of how vast they really are.”
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