March 2, 2017

So you're telling me there's a chance...

"Nothing gives me greater satisfaction than helping nurture talent to do the best they can in the audition process." - Casting Director, Lisa London, from her book, From Start to Stardom


Last week I auditioned for a television show and the casting director took a phone call in the middle of my audition. Seriously.

Needless to say, I figured my chances of booking the role were pretty slim. And yet... like Lloyd Christmas (Jim Carrey), I always hold out optimism no matter how stacked the odds seem against me.

That's the attitude anybody going into this crazy business has to have. I've written about odds and statistics many times. The older I get, the more stacked against me the odds become.

But I know there's still a chance. And that's what keeps me going. Whether it's one in a hundred, one in a million, or, to borrow my 4-year-old's expression, one in infinity and beyond, I know there's still a chance.

Casting Directors like Lisa London also keep me going. In a town where obstacles can appear insurmountable, Lisa reminds me that many are fighting to help us achieve our dreams.

Visit fromstarttostardom.com to order the book
and find even more great acting resources!
With a long list of casting credits that includes Roseanne, Hannah Montana, Adam Sandler's Sandy Wexler, and a handful of projects currently in pre-production, Ms. London certainly has the experience to validate the advice she gives in her amazing book, From Start to Stardom: The Casting Director's Guide for Aspiring Actors.

At my advanced age - and with nearly 20 years of professional acting experience - I shouldn't still be labelled aspiring, but until I'm fully supporting my family on paychecks from acting jobs, that's exactly what I am. And, really, no matter what stage one is at in a career, one should always aspire to learn and become better equipped for further success.

For those just getting started as actors, I can't recommend From Start to Stardom enough. This is, honestly, the best beginner's guide to the acting business I've ever read... and I've read a ton of books on the subject. This is a must-read for aspiring actors of any age and parents of aspiring actors.

Lisa's approach is so uplifting and positive that it's easy to get lost in the glamour of becoming a star in Hollywood. When she writes about casting Miley Cyrus as Hannah Montana, Miley's first professional acting gig, it's easy to get lost in the dream and put oneself in the shoes of Billy Ray's daughter. But Lisa also reminds us just how miraculous it is to be "the one" for any role in any project.

Lisa London, CSA
What Lisa does so well in From Start to Stardom is break down the steps necessary for finding success. She provides sample resumes, offers headshot advice, explains how to get discovered, and uncovers the best ways to land an agent and/or manager. Then she tackles the next stages of a career by offering audition tips and explaining what goes on behind the casting director's door. The book even includes legal information for minors working in show business as well as a ton of resources for everything from the Screen Actors Guild to websites that list auditions to Los Angeles studio locations. The teacher in me is giddy with the comprehensiveness of Lisa London's book!

Again, this is a must-own book for beginning actors, but any actor, regardless of their career level, will benefit from these 166 pages. One paragraph in particular was just what I needed to read, and it came at it exactly the right time. With permission, I've included the paragraph here:

"Another killer of opportunities and creator of bad attitudes is self-invalidation. What is self-invalidation? It is making less of yourself, putting yourself down, focusing on your faults, thinking you are no good and that you will never meet your goals. This is something that will kill you as an actor or an artist. Sometimes, these ideas that you are no good, these negative thoughts, are things that you have heard from others. For example, you have a relative or friend who thinks you will never make it as an actor. You can't let your family's difficulties or lack of success become your problem. You must keep your dreams separate and not give up based on someone else's failures." (p. 107)

Man. I love these words. I need these words. Can you feel me? Leave a comment and let me know how these words make you feel.

Now, the flip-side to all of this is the harsh reality that more actors fail in this business than succeed. Look at me. While many would love to be in dozens of commercials, star in a bunch of independent features, have leading roles on cable shows, or an appearance on the number one television drama in the world, my bar is set at a level that I haven't even come close to reaching. At what point does common sense walk in and slap me across the face and convince me the bar is unattainable?

With apologies to some, the answer is, never.

This is my gift. I didn't ask for it, but here it is. I'm constantly asking God to be specific in how He wants me to use this gift. So far, I have to assume I've been on the right track. Only time will tell if my expectations align with His, but the path, I feel, has been the correct one for me; for my immediate family; for those with whom God wants me to interact.

Like most actors, I'm currently somewhere between start and stardom, and while I don't know if I'll ever reach the stardom end, I know if I'm persistent, I will be successful. That's what this business comes down to -- persistence. Dreams need not expire.

For those who desire a career in the movie business, specifically as an actor, get Lisa London's From Start to Stardom. Focus more on the start than the stardom and see what happens. As Eleanor Roosevelt said, "The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams."

I'm telling you there's a chance.

Visit http://fromstarttostardom.com to buy the book and learn more about the acting business!

October 26, 2016

Rattlesnakes and Auditions


Rattlesnake Bottoms.

That's the tongue-in-check moniker I've donned upon the open space in which I regularly run. About a mile from our house, Rattlesnake Bottoms is several acres of dirt paths, a dry river bed, and a horse-riding enclosure.

And rattlesnakes. Lots and lots of rattlesnakes.

Or so I've been told.

I've probably run down there 40 or 50 times, and I've never seen a rattlesnake. In fact, I saw my very first snake just last week, a harmless gopher snake sunning herself six feet off my path, completely disinterested in the sweaty dude tip-toeing closer to inspect her tail for a rattle.

Look, I hate snakes. Even the ones that can't kill me. I wasn't thrilled to see a head on that surprisingly malleable-looking stick. And to be perfectly honest, I can't say definitively I didn't see a rattle. Like I'm gonna get that close to check.

At any rate, assuming it wasn't a rattlesnake - and for the purpose of my illustration, let's assume just that - I have defied the odds by running rattlesnake-free in an area that multiple locals have told me is ripe with rattlers.

Winning.

Defying odds is great when it's in our favor. I feel fortunate to have avoided rattlesnakes at Rattlesnake Bottoms. I'm also thankful for every year I've avoided a direct lightning strike, each McDonald's meal that doesn't destroy my digestive track, and all the bug bites that weren't from West Nile infected mosquitoes.

But I still can't seem to defy the odds of landing significant auditions as a no-name average Joe.

I've yet to audition for a network or premium cable scripted show or major studio motion picture. I've been repped by well-respected agents the whole time I've been in L.A., but I've simply had too much working against me.

There's a pecking order out here I wasn't expecting, and I'm the krill trying to swim out of the baleen. When I got to Los Angeles, I had a ton of acting experience. But I didn't have any recognizable credits, a remarkable (or ethnic) look, or friends/family that could get me "in the door." Thankfully, two of those roadblocks are starting to be cleared.

I'll never be ethnic or remarkable-looking, but I'm gaining credits and making more friends. Something's bound to give. Hopefully.

Notice I haven't mentioned anything about talent? Talent does not a career start, but a career it sustains. I've yet to display my talent (or lack thereof) in front of the major players. I'm not dismissing the crime reenactment shows I've done, because they've all been a lot of fun, and I worked with great people on each of them. But they don't pay the rent.

Sure, I worked three days on NCIS, but the situation surrounding that whole opportunity is unique and something I'll write about another time. And it was barely a role, so it doesn't count.

As I defy the rattlesnake odds and succumb to the audition odds, I forge ahead, hopeful for stasis in the former and a change in the latter.

Mr. Berle (quote above) should be pleased with me. I've built many doors, but I still need the right people to open them. Opportunity is hard to come by out here, but when it comes, man, I'll be ready.

October 13, 2016

Align

"Most of us don't think about miracles that we could possibly do. We don't have a vocabulary of how God works with the specific things that He does, and we don't know how to align ourselves with what He is doing so that we can be His vehicle on the earth to deliver a miracle." - Bruce Wilkinson

I met a dear actor friend recently at Echo Park, my first visit to this valiant attempt at natural serenity in the heart of Los Angeles. Our walk around the "lake" placed us in the perfect spot at the perfect time to snap a photo of the fountain, the Good Year Blimp, a commercial jet, and the moon at the very moment they aligned perfectly together.

Trivial luck? Inconsequential coincidence? Silly throwaway moment? Yeah. Probably.
 
But it triggered a thought. And that's a dangerous thing in my malleable mind.

As conversation with my friend vacillated between acting jobs, life in LA, future projects, health, and God, the coincidental alignment in the dusk sky illustrated almost too perfectly our struggles as creatives. So many moving parts have to align for us to even have a chance at any kind of success.

Ricky Schroder said this about his full runs on NYPD Blue and 24: "It's great work, but everything has to align. The producers have to want you; the network has to want you; there has to be great writing; and it's not as easy as it may appear to the outsiders to make all those things align."

Just cuz you eat with silver spoons doesn't mean things come easy, eh?

Casting Director, David Rapaport (@RapaportCasting), recently posted on Twitter the graphic on the right. Out of 3,638 actors submitted for a specific role, only 272 were scheduled to audition. Don't get me wrong, 272 is a TON of actors to audition! But simply getting the opportunity to get into the room is a miracle.

Let's have some math fun. Make Danica McKellar proud.

Of the 3,638 actors submitted for whatever role Mr. Rapaport was casting (anything from a guest star on Supergirl to a co-star on The Flash or a principal on a yet-to-be-released pilot), 7.5% were invited to audition. Of those auditioning, assuming this is for one role only, the chances of earning the role are 0.37%. If we take a step back and calculate the odds of earning this role based on the full number of submissions, we get 0.027% odds.

Awesome.

Just for fun, do you know what the odds are of winning $100 in the Powerball? 0.007%. The grand prize odds are 0.00000034%.

But I'M the crazy one for pursuing a Hollywood career instead of playing the lottery.

I digress.

Back to the alignment of the fountain, the blimp, the jet, and the moon. Sounds like a Narnia sequel, doesn't it?

I've spent so much time treating myself like the moon in this alignment. The top. The pinnacle. The achievement of the goal thanks to the alignment of the pieces below.

But then I got to thinking - What if I'm the fountain to someone else's moon? This doesn't have to be all about me. I'd prefer if it wasn't, actually.

As I've mentioned before, so many unbelievable things aligned in order for my family to get out to Southern California. Yet as we face scary uncertainty in the months ahead, it's hard to avoid circling the track of second-guessing. What if we really did blow our entire life savings only to retreat empty-handed back to Minnesota to start all over again?

But then I step outside my own goals and ponder my involvement in somebody else's goals. Maybe I'm here not to reach a personal goal, but to help somebody else reach theirs.

You know what? I'm cool with that.

I'm just a vessel. I'm in a rented body breathing borrowed air. If God needs me to help align somebody else's stars, I'm thrilled to be the fountain or the Good Year Blimp! Fat jokes notwithstanding.

As a matter of fact, I'm in the process right now of launching some projects that could prove very valuable to others. I'm anxious to share more about the projects, but for now, let me just say that without amazing alignments of circumstances, these exciting opportunities would never have blimped their way under my moon. Now there's a visual.

I've connected with some amazing people out here and I can't know fully the impact I've had on them, if any. Again, it's not about me, but about my position in others' alignments that I'm focusing on now.

Somehow the thought trail from the alignment of the fountain, the blimp, the jet, and the moon landed at Genesis 22 where God told Abraham to bring his son, Isaac, to a mountain to sacrifice as a burnt offering.

I've always reflected on Abraham's part in this story. Until now.

What about Isaac?

Look, there is no way Abraham could have kept completely cool about the intended outcome of this journey. Isaac had to have suspected something, right? I get that Abraham was being an obedient servant, but come on! If he didn't stop a time or two with nervous diarrhea or anxious up-chucking, I would be shocked.

So let's not overlook Isaac's role in this lesson. He was a part of God's plan to align Abraham rightly with the Will of God. Isaac could have fled or put up a fight or brought up his suspicions to his mom. But he didn't. Isaac willingly went along regardless of any suspicions he might have had. Must have had.

We all know the story ends with God providing a ram to sacrifice in Isaac's place, but neither Abraham nor Isaac knew of God's plan as they willingly obliged to the call.

Maybe I'm more of an Isaac than an Abraham. Maybe I won't be blessed with many nations, but I will help an Abraham be blessed with his.

At any rate, I'm just willing to be used in whatever way God wants to use me.

And right now, I feel like He wants to use me to tell a joke.

You see, what most don't know about Abraham and Isaac is that before the journey up the mountain, Abraham needed to upgrade his GPS software. Unfortunately, his iPhone didn't have enough processor power (old phone, ya know?) to run the new software. Isaac told his dad not to install it, but Abraham insisted, saying, "God will provide the RAM."

I'm here all week. Try the salmon. It's delightful.

September 12, 2016

This is 40

"As I grow older, I pay less attention to what men say. I just watch what they do." - Andrew Carnegie

As I've hinted many times in this blog, I don't care for big talk. I appreciate big action. I'm turned on by hard work, passion, energy, effort.

I loathe laziness and entitlement, which seem to go hand in hand.

Quit reading if you feel the world owes you something. This message isn't for you.

But if you're on the fence about making a change, taking a risk, trying something different... please let me encourage you. After all, unsolicited advice from a non-expert is what today's Internet is all about.

The picture on the right was snapped mid-run on my 40th birthday. My 20-year-old body is long gone, but I'm okay with that. For 40, I'm doing alright.

There are plenty of 40-year-olds in far better shape. And I'm fine with that. This isn't a comparison game.

This is me. Justen Overlander. A guy who loves ice cream, Mountain Dew, and chocolate-covered espresso beans. I have Osgood Schlatter Disease in my knees, chronic back pain, a surgically repaired arm that's worse now than before the surgery, and asthma. Oh, and three high energy kids.

I have plenty of excuses to sit on the couch. To crash early. To recharge my batteries in a catatonic state with reruns mumbling in the background.

But that's not me. And I don't want it to be you.

I can hear the rumblings already. You think I have a better metabolism. You think I have more time. You think I'm genetically predisposed to have a leaner body mass. Or you think I should spend a few more months working out before offering fitness advice.

Nope. Nope. Nope. Maybe.

Metabolism is changeable. Don't believe me? Google it.

You're too busy? Cut something out. Quit Facebook a day or two a week. Skip the reruns once in a while. One trick I do, as a huge sports fan, is I DVR games so I can skip all commercials and much of the time between plays. I can watch a 3-hour football game in an hour and a half, if that.

Now... genetics. Yes, they play a part. It sucks. If obesity runs in your family, you have a bigger (no pun intended) challenge. But here's the thing... my family history is not lean, muscular creatures, as you can tell by looking at me. I have a bigger frame and a propensity to carry extra wait in my waist. Look at the bottom of my picture up there. Doesn't it look like my butt starts just below my rib cage? I hate it. And I don't know if the next five pounds I'm trying to lose is going to get rid of it or not.

Ugh. This isn't about me. This is about motivating somebody, somewhere who needs to get back on the healthy track.

So here are three tips from a dude that's doing okay, but still needs to do better (the tips are for me, too):

1) Stop eating when you're satisfied. Simple enough, right? Yet in today's world where super-sizing is expected and large portions are the norm, it's way too easy to overeat. Nowhere is this more challenging than on the set of most film and television productions in L.A. Man, the food! I'll blog about that one day (after we've all lost a few pounds, of course).

2) Drink more water. At home I have a glass of ice water with me always. Literally always. If you don't know how important water is in dieting, please Google it. One thing I'm trying to do more when I crave Mountain Dew is take a big swig of water. Usually it satisfies me enough to resist the soda. At least momentarily. Hey, it's not a magical elixir, but it's the single most important dietary supplement there is. Thank you, God.

3) Stop saying you're too busy. Seriously. No matter how busy you are, you are going to feel doubly busy when your state of mind dwells on it. I feel very blessed that I have so much to do. I love what I do. Acting, writing, spending time with my family, volunteering... heck, I even tolerate L.A. traffic because I love podcasts and audio books. I don't have much of what I would call free-time. Even when I'm watching a movie or a television show, I'm studying it. I only read books for education, encouragement, or potential screenplay adaptation potential. And I love it. I don't need free-time. I don't want free-time. I want to keep working hard. Making time for exercise is part of that.

I get it. You're scoffing at my words. You think I'm stretching the truth. You think I'm delusional. So be it. I just hope and pray that there's a purpose behind this writing, and this blog in general, and that it inspires somebody along the way.

Just in case my mediocre words and nearly adequate picture don't inspire, I decided to check in with my friend, John Hennigan, who's slightly more fit than I. Slightly.

You may know him as Johnny Nitro or John Morrison from WWE or Johnny Mundo from Lucha Underground. I just know him as a heck of a guy with incredible God-given talent and dedication. When his self-produced parkour action/comedy, Boone the Bounty Hunter, comes out, I'll be bragging it up big time. Such a fun movie!

Anyway, I asked John for his number one fitness tip, and he summed it up in one word: motivation. He elaborated, "If you don't have specific goals in mind when you get out of bed, you're going to be less productive than you could be. If you don't have goals in mind before you get to the gym, you're wasting your time. Find your purpose. Train to meet it. That's where motivation comes from."

I'll never look like John. Few will. But he hits the nail on the head when he talks about motivation. That's one thing that can't be taught. I don't know how to instill motivation into a person who lacks it. The knowledge we have about health and the dangers of obesity should be motivation enough to establish some sort of workout regiment and healthy eating plan. Right?

The satisfaction of a giant bowl of ice cream every night should not outweigh the importance of taking care of your body. Our bodies are temples, a fabulous gift from God. When I give my kids a new toy for Christmas, I expect them to take care of it, not treat it harshly. God expects the same in the way we treat our bodies.

Ugh. I know I ughed earlier, but I need to again. Ugh. This writing, read in the wrong tone, could come across the wrong way. I sure hope it's not received as a pat on my own back at the expense of folks who struggle with something that I've never really struggled with. I take that back... I actually do struggle with my body. If I quit running and ate and drank all I wanted to, I'd have 20 extra pounds of flub in no time flat. I really don't have a magical metabolism. At least not naturally.

What I wanted to do with this blog entry... what weighed on my heart (again, no pun intended)... was to just send encouragement. Not to 22-year-old gym rats that still have time on their sides, but to people like me who are climbing in age and maybe can't get away with our former eating and activity habits.

If this encouraged you, great. If not, just move along. I'll start blogging about some actual Hollywood stuff one of these days. That'll be fun. Maybe.

But I hope my heart is evident in this blog. I want the best for those around me.

Now, if you're looking for something a little more intense... if John's picture inspires you more than mine (I know it's such a close call), take a look at Out of Your Mind Fitness (http://outofyourmindfitness.com). It's a fitness program designed by John Hennigan and fitness trainer, Jeff Carrier.

When the motivation hits me (i.e. when I land a role that requires it), I would love to get into some more intense training like Out of Your Mind Fitness. For now, I'll settle for my hilly Santa Clarita runs and one Mountain Dew per week. Okay, two.

Oh, and for the record, John Hennigan is three years younger than I am. Wait'll you hit 40, Johnny. See what gravity has in store for your B cups.

August 29, 2016

Why am I still here?



"Seek His will in all you do, and He will show you which path to take." - Proverbs 3:6 (NLT)

Man, I prayed hard the last several months, begging God to tell us whether to stay in California or move back to Minnesota. Actually, I didn't limit the prayer to familiar geography as I just pleaded for direction to find work anywhere. Atlanta? Alaska? Albequer... Albaquer... Alabama?

And which path did He tell me to take?

Seriously, if anyone heard Him, please tell me, because I missed it.

According to the Proverbs verse above, He should have shown me which path to take. Right?

"Seek His will in all you do, and He will show you which path to take."

Am I not living up to my end of that bargain?

I mean, technically, I'm probably not seeking God's will in all I do. That's a tall order, don't you think? Am I naive to think I can wipe my butt according to my own will? I have a method I favor, after all.

Butt wiping aside, of course I fail daily in seeking His will. It's not His will for my I'm-mad-cuz-you-did-something-stupid face to make appearances on the highway. It's not His will for me to pout when I continue to have doors closed on me in this town. And I'm pretty sure it's generally not God's will for me to envy those who've accomplished by age 20 more than I've done at age 30 (plus a decade or so).

But on the whole (not a wiping pun), I am seeking God's will. I truly want to do whatever He wants me to do. Whatever that is. Wherever that is.

The tricky part in my life is this dream I haven't been able to lose or fulfill. Does my seeking of God's will get hijacked by this Hollywood dream? Is the dream God's will for me or is it His will for me to give up the dream? Chasing it this long without receiving the success for which I'd hoped could certainly imply God prefers I focus my attention elsewhere.

The Hollywood dream is huge to me, but it's anything but huge to God.

What's huge to God is that I'm actively living His will no matter what I'm doing, where I'm doing it, or with whom I'm doing it.

My first year in Los Angeles has yielded only five principal acting roles, none of which were of the high-paying ilk. Most of my time on set has been as a background actor. An extra. An out of focus piece of meat there to give the illusion that Meredith Grey works in a real hospital.

But what's cool about background work is that I meet new people on every job. I have had abundant opportunities to share God's love with strangers and new acquaintances and friends. I've earned the reputation on multiple sets of being "the nice guy." I can live with that. To me, being a nice guy is the first step in sharing the Gospel. Sometimes it's the only step God needs me to take.

I don't wear religion on my sleeve. I try to wear love on my sleeve. Maybe that's why God has me here. Not to shove scripture down people's throats, but to live my faith and be an example of what God's love can do. Not to have success as an actor, but to be a servant who relies on charm and good-looks... um... charm and... um... well, not being a douchebag.

It's amazing how many expert extras there are here in Hollywood. I've become an expert nodder-and-smiler. Sometimes that's all you can do while the "expert" in the room explains that this is the first background work he's done in ages because it's the first day he hasn't had a principal audition in six months.

I don't preach the gospel to them. But I try to show them love. By giving them space. And finding a different corner of the holding room to hang out in.

But seriously, aside from the obvious attention seekers, I've met great people that I've hopefully impacted in a positive way. I feel like that's God's will for me right now. Be a nice guy, show love, and don't be a douchebag.

Theologically speaking, I know being a "nice guy" isn't the end-all, be-all of what we are called to do.  I've met plenty of nice atheists, after all. I'm just simplifying here so I don't ramble.

No, I'm not rambling. This isn't rambling. Rambling is when... oh... never mind.

So why am I still here? To be a nice guy on set? To plant seeds in others so they seek God? I can do all that in Minnesota. We should have moved back to Minnesota. It's cheaper. Family is there. It's more familiar. And there are plenty who need to be loved there, too.

God didn't tell me to stay in California. But He didn't tell me to move back to Minnesota. He remained largely silent, which leads me to believe He didn't care so much about where I was, but who I am. More specifically, whose I am.

I am His.

And He is not going to abandon me. We are scheduled to run out of money in a couple months. All our money. Literally. As perpetual planners and safety-net-employers, this is scary for us. Yet, God is bigger than all of this. I trust Him. No matter where we end up after Halloween, I trust God knows what's best for us.

But ya wanna know something exciting? I do believe success is just around the corner. It may seem contradictory to what I mentioned above, but I believe I'm supposed to be right where I am right now. Not because God needs me here more than He needs me elsewhere, but because I've been faithful in seeking His will and He desires to bless me with my heart's desire.

It makes sense. My heart's desire doesn't contradict scripture. It doesn't defame God. The desire isn't a pipe dream that I'm not qualified to achieve. It's my God-given gift.

It's also the right of anyone reading this to disagree with me. Go ahead. But mark my words: My dreams are coming true.

"Take delight in the Lord and He will give you your heart's desires." - Psalm 37:4 (NLT)

He's a good God. And that's why I'm still here.