Not Like This

Two days ago a photographer (male) told me that “we could make some good pictures IF you can let go a bit. Push back the conservative and let out your crazy fun, sexy side that possibly you keep hidden. IF you can do that, I would love to see what we can create together.”

My feelings after reading this?

I. Was. Livid.

Let’s back up a bit. His project I submitted to was a portrait project showing various artists, men and women, photographed against a plain, white backdrop rocking their own vibe. In the casting description he listed that all body types, heights, vibes, hair colors, tattoos, piercings etc. were welcome to be a part of the project. I applied under those pretenses, wanting to bring my vibe to the project.

Nowhere in the casting did it say “looking for a sexy side”

I think it goes without saying that this request was totally unwarranted and extremely inappropriate, especially in light of the #MeToo campaign and the other stories that continue to surface.

You know what’s almost worse than his skeezy demeanor and lack of respect? The fact that I nearly went along with it. I almost responded back assuring him that I can bring sensuality to a shoot, eager to defend my talents as a model.

I also nearly responded by verbally ripping him a new one…but decided to rise above that.

I simply responded by saying that I felt this project no longer felt appropriate to lend my talents to. If he responds back baiting me, then I’ll happily shed some light on my reasoning and his inappropriateness. But honestly, I don’t have anything to prove to this guy and really I just wanted to move past this ASAP and get back to the many other clients who want to book me for me.

I’ve been doing this more and more lately. I’m putting my foot down on many opportunities and situations I feel are disrespectful, inappropriate or not up to my professional expectations. I’m ruffling feathers with every decline and each time I do part of me is worried I’m diminishing my reputation in this very small industry. I’m concerned that by advocating for myself I may end up becoming labeled as “difficult to work with” or “high maintenance.” The fact that a fear like that even exists within me (and many other artists) is a huge issue within itself.

Before I began my performance career I wrote out a mission statement for myself dictating what I want my “Becca Morello, Actor & Model” performer brand to convey. One component of my mission statement was:

“I aim to show others who want a career in the entertainment field that they can do so without losing themselves; without sacrificing their morals and integrity.”

I knew this part of my mission would be challenged the most, and this photographer is not the first challenger I’ve encountered. Although this was the first one that really got under my skin and made my blood boil. In reality I’m exceptionally lucky because most of the clients I work with are fantastic and courteous almost to a fault. Many artists encounter this much more frequently than I do, and that’s just disheartening.

When I set out on this path, I knew I wanted to do it in a way that didn’t negate my values. What I’ve learned is many photographers, directors, producers, etc. will push to see how far they can get you to go in the interest of “bringing you out of your comfort zone.” Trust me, I’m all about growth and challenging myself as a performer, but there is a time and a place for that. There needs to be a dialogue in place about the new level or circumstance being broached and a trusting relationship established between whomever is guiding the project and the performer.

Actors and models strive to tell stories, and their strongest tool in accomplishing that task is their body. Unfortunately, somewhere along the way, this translated to the objectification of women within the industry. Seriously, if I were a male model applying to this casting, do you think the photographer would have responded the way he did? Especially when the project never specified sensuality? No.

I’ve known of many performers, some on a personal level and some only from their work, who entered the industry intent on remaining true to themselves by selecting projects that depict them in the way they want to be seen. Most are able to maintain that…for a while. But then projects come across that are “too good to pass up” with “great exposure” backed by a “highly accredited team” and results in compromises. I want to show others that they can pursue this career without compromising their integrity, even if it means saying no and ruffling feathers. Furthermore, this should not be something we fear. Everyone has the option to say “No. Not like this” and pursue their goal through another avenue. It is my belief that the right avenues will always appear if you stand your ground.

As difficult as it sometimes is to stand up for myself and other entertainers, I will continue to stand by my morals. I know myself. I know my strengths and weaknesses. I know what I bring to the table. I know where I need to grow and I know the circumstances in which I would like to grow. The unexpected boon of this experience is it reminds me that I always have to power to walk away. No matter how great an opportunity may sound, if it doesn’t feel right intuitively, there’s probably something wrong there. Those are instances where you should walk away and understand that the decision to walk away is perfectly acceptable. I am recommitting to my goal written in my mission statement and re-enforcing my right to say “No. Not like this.”

When it comes down to it, I’d much rather be known as the artist who isn’t afraid to advocate for herself. Even if it prompts some to label me as “difficult” or “conservative.” Even if it means passing up “incredible opportunities.” My work ethic, integrity and dedication to my craft will precede me and eventually connect me to the right people in this industry. The professionals I ultimately want to work with will be the ones who respect my stance, admire my self-awareness and ability to stand up for what I believe.

Here’s to proudly proclaiming, “No. Not like this.” Have you tried it lately?

Not Like This

Know Your Terms

One of my biggest goals for 2017: book a commercial. At the beginning of 2017 I had cultivated a modest number of acting/modeling credits to my name, and it seemed to me that booking a commercial would be the next big goal to work toward. I can’t tell you how long I’ve lusted over booking a commercial. Not only would it be a blast to shoot a commercial, but who knows what opportunities a commercial gig could create?

I’ve come close three times this year and watched each one of those opportunities slip by.

The first opportunity, I made it to the final round of casting but didn’t make the cut.

The second opportunity, I had a last-minute scheduling conflict.

The third and most recent opportunity, the production team and I couldn’t agree on the contract.

Allow me to elaborate on that third one.

A couple weeks ago, I responded to a casting call on Facebook (where I find many reputable casting calls actually) seeking actors for an insurance company commercial. It was a small project in the northern part of Illinois, about 100 miles away from my place near the city. Yes, there would be quite the commute involved and the rate of pay was practically pennies, but I liked the script, thought it sounded like a fun project, and I was intent on reaching this goal.

I submitted my taped auditions and the production company supporting the project emailed me back: I was booked for the commercial! Huzzah!

We emailed back and forth discussing wardrobe and scheduling options. I had yet to see a contract, but I wasn’t concerned! I was going to be in a commercial! I mentioned my achievement to a dear friend of mine, and her infinite wisdom urged me to request to see the contract ASAP and ensure the terms of usage were appropriate.

As she explained, if you’re not careful with your terms of usage on a project, a client could end up using your work forever (typically phrased as “in perpetuity” or “indefinite usage” in these contracts) and only pay you once for your work (total buyout). Furthermore, when an actor transitions from non-union to union status with an “in perpetuity” project on their resume, there’s a chance they can never do a project for a different business in the same type of industry as it is considered a conflict. So, if I were to go through with the commercial for this smaller insurance company and sign a contract allowing them to air it indefinitely, and in two years State Farm approaches me to do a commercial, there’s the possibility I wouldn’t be able to do it because my likeness was already associated with another insurance company; a competitor.  As far as my research says, most of these “indefinite use” projects are non-union, and the union has more stipulations in place to prevent this from happening. But for us little guys not at union status yet? You gotta know your facts and be careful.

With all this insight, I requested a contract from the company. They responded saying they wouldn’t draft an official contract for this project (strike 1) and sent a generic actor release form. In this release there weren’t any specific details about the commercial, no beginning air date or end date, except for “indefinite use” (strike 2). I communicated my concerns, and they responded with an addendum stating a maximum air date throughout Illinois only for 18 months, but the spot would be promoted online indefinitely (strike 3).

At this point I ran this by my agent, who knows I book a lot on my own as well as through her, heck she encourages it. It’s a very collaborative effort, which I’ve always valued and I often ask her opinion on projects I book on my own. I brought this scenario to her and her response was, “No. Just no. Absolutely not. They’re not using an agency for a reason. They’re hoping to take advantage of you. You’re worth more than what they’re offering.”

So I backed out of the gig. I was devastated to do so and felt awful about leaving this team without an actor, after I gave them my verbal commitment for the project. My decision was also continuously challenged when the production team emailed me back with a series of harshly toned and not exactly understanding messages…Although, I have to say their reaction to my concerns confirmed for me that it was not the right opportunity for me.

While this gig would have been a good milestone for me creatively, it would have been a bad business decision and could have potentially jeopardized future commercial opportunities. I’m running a business. Sure, it’s a creative and fun business, but it is still a business. It’s one that I devote myself to each and every day, building slowly each day, strengthening my foundation and growing my knowledge about the industry daily.  Could I have handled this differently? Absolutely. And thanks to this situation, I understand what to ask for moving forward during other negotiations. I also have a further understanding of the responsibility I have to myself and to my business to pursue opportunities that will propel my business forward. In addition to seeking projects that satisfy my creative desires, I must ensure that these projects also measure up in business terms. Understanding this balance between business and creativity, I acknowledge now that it is not only my duty, but my right as an entrepreneur to remove myself from a project when it doesn’t align with my terms and values. And as tough as it was, that’s exactly what I did. Well, after consulting with a few of my closest confidants who lent me their ears during this day of length negotiations, that’s exactly what I did.

Here’s the really eerie part – after I sent the final email declining the commercial spot, my agent called me with a booking for a commercial. Not a starring role, but a supporting role – complete with the proper terms of usage. Thanks, Universe.

After this experience, I am reminded to be patient – sometimes it’s not the best idea to jump for every opportunity. I am reminded to always get a second opinion when dealing with contracts, and that there isn’t anything wrong from backing away from a bad business deal. I am reminded to know my terms and stand by them, upholding them in every business interaction. I am reminded to listen to my gut and to trust that with hard work and perseverance the right opportunities will find themselves to you.

 

 

 

 

A Year in Review

Well, I have now officially exceeded my quarter-century mark. Ideally, I would have published this on my birthday, but life was moving just too fast at the time to make that possible. Hence the year in review post a month after the fact. Better late than never!

What a pivotal age 25 was for me. Filled with innumerable insights, opportunities and breakthroughs, it was truly a year I will never forget. It was a year that challenged me and changed me in the best ways. It was the year I decided to take charge and take total ownership of my life. A brief recap for those who are new to my blog (welcome! Thanks for stopping by!) and a refresh for those who’ve been with me from the beginning (thank you! I appreciate you so very much.): the day before my 25th birthday I left my full-time job at a performing arts center to focus my efforts on making my dream of becoming an actor & model a reality. I left steady employment in pursuit of an essentially unknown future. I had no idea where this change would take me and whether it would yield great success or total failure. But I had to give myself the chance, and that became the driving force behind my decision. I envisioned a different life for myself and I decided to march confidently in the direction of my dreams. (If you’re interested in reading the post that started it all, click here)

Now, one year later, I’m sitting in a completely different place (quite literally actually…more on that later) taking in the past year. All the ups and downs, the unknowns that became knowns and the new experiences which led me to where I am today. I believe reflection is important, so let’s review, shall we?

One year ago, I sent out my headshot and resume to countless agencies hoping and praying that one would represent me. The night before my last day of work, one agent decided to rep me (just in the nick of time!). Now I have three lovely agents vouching for me across a variety of areas within the entertainment industry. They work incredibly hard and I’m so grateful for all their efforts.

One year ago, I’d never been booked for a photoshoot and my modeling experience was extremely limited (read: I’d never modeled before. Ever. Never even took a class.). Now my photo has been spotted (#SpotTheRedhead) on products in Target and Buy Buy Baby and I have had the privilege of working with a number of outstanding clients. I’m grateful that I have the ability to say that photoshoots are a regular occurrence for me and my comfort posing in front of the camera has grown exponentially over the past year.

One year ago, I never knew that tradeshow modeling existed, let alone had its own place in the entertainment industry (there are models who do this full time. Interesting, huh?). Now I’m well versed in tradeshows, am affiliated with an agency that represents me solely for tradeshows, and have been fortunate enough to work at five tradeshows over the past year.

One year ago, the farthest I’d traveled for a gig or audition was only to a neighboring town. Now I have the experience of modeling at a tradeshow in Los Angeles. The first time I’d traveled out of state for a gig, which was one of my goals for 2017!

One year ago, I was wondering if I’d ever get back on stage. At the time it had been nearly three years since my last, live theatrical performance. My job placed me behind the scenes as stage manager for their youth theatre productions and although I was still involved in theatre, my performance skills became rusty. I was missing performing more than I can possibly convey. Thankfully earlier this year a director took a chance on me and cast me in a hilarious and incredibly fun show with one of the best casts around. The experience is one I will treasure forever.

One year ago, I was living in my parents’ house. My parents’ graciousness made this career change possible. Of course I wanted my own space, and my parents wanted their own space, but allowing me to stay there rent free offered me a chance to save my precious pennies and provided me with the opportunity to leap when I was ready and when the perfect apartment became available. Now I’m writing this post in my very own, charming vintage studio apartment. Funny story about this, at the beginning of the year, one of my New Year’s resolutions was to move into an apartment of my own by June. I began searching in January and by April I was tired of constantly refreshing Zillow, Craigslist and two Facebook housing groups to no avail. It simply seemed that what I wanted wasn’t available and wouldn’t be available for quite some time. So I stopped searching and mentally adjusted my goal to say I would move in September. However, in a flurry of events, the perfect apartment found me just before June 1, following the resolution I wrote at the beginning of the year. Isn’t the power in writing things down fascinating?

Perhaps most important to note, over the past year I’ve had the pleasure of connecting with so many wonderful, kind and generous people who support me and inspire me in countless ways. I’ve built new bridges and strengthened existing bridges and continue to be filled with immense gratitude for those around me. Truthfully this past year would not have been possible without the encouragement from my family and friends. I’m surely the luckiest gal around to be surrounded by so many spectacular souls and I marvel at how the people I know and have met shaped my life this past year.

This is not intended to be a post where I flaunt my achievements of the past year. This self-reflection is intended to demonstrate the difference one year makes. It’s a small difference, and it’s nowhere near my end goal, but I am farther than I was before. A year ago I stared a daunting, seemingly impossible task in the face and somehow mustered up the energy to attempt to conquer it, one day at a time. Every single day built upon the last, propelling me forward. Even on the days where I felt stuck and hopeless I urged myself to look back at what I have achieved and reminded myself of one of my favorite quotes,

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I will continue to reach farther, to build upon what I started a year ago, what I’ve been building upon my whole life. I’m still giving myself this chance, still chasing the dream, but I’m celebrating the fact that I’m gaining ground. Slowly but surely, I’m gaining ground, which may be one of the most powerful motivators around.

Even though I’m technically beyond a quarter century now, I still want this blog to be a part of my journey. This outlet holds its own special role in my quest and I admit there were plenty of times where this blog helped me maintain my sanity. Therefore, allow me to introduce you to “Quarter Century & Beyond,” a revised title to this blog so I may continue to chronicle this marvelous adventure as I add to the foundation I spent the past year establishing.

As I set out on another year of reaching farther and aiming higher, allow me to remind you, dear reader, that if you’re not quite where you want to be, trust me, you’re farther than you think. You’re farther than you were a year ago, a month ago, a week ago, even one hour ago. You have no idea how close you may be to your next breakthrough, your next great milestone. The important part is just to keep going. You did not come this far to only come this far. Stay true the course and trust the process while holding your vision front and center. Keep reaching beyond and you’ll make it.

Five Days in the City of Angels

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Well now I can officially mark off an item that’s on every actor’s bucket list – venture to Los Angeles.

At the end of February, I was having coffee with one of my mentors and we were discussing future plans for my career. He mentioned he felt I would need to relocate this year, which seemed obvious to me as I’ve been scouting apartments closer to downtown Chicago. But he said, “No…I think you’ll have to move out of state. To Los Angeles.” I quickly refuted that idea, explaining that I’ve never had any interest in LA. I have heard from many other professionals in the entertainment industry to avoid going to LA as it is a place where “your dreams will die.” Heeding that advice and also understanding the extreme pollution plaguing the city, the traffic, and the ever-rising economic disparity in the city (read: the homelessness situation) I swore to myself I wouldn’t go to LA unless it was absolutely necessary.

One day after this conversation, a modeling agency I work with for trade shows emailed me saying they showed my portfolio to a client out in LA and out of all the talent they showed him, I was the only one he liked. The agency explained that he’s interested in booking me as a model for a fitness show and wants to know if I can be out there in two weeks.

Well. Of all the times for this to come up…OK, Universe. Message received.

So with a nod to the Universe, and after reading the email thread to my parents (the best advisers out there), I responded that yes, I would work the show and quickly began to make travel arrangements.

Since the show, IHRSA, was only two days, I decided to head out a few days earlier to explore the city, and soak up as much as I could. The agency that booked me said they would provide me with $100 to offset travel expenses. Being mindful of my budget, I quickly searched for the cheapest flights roundtrip, nonstop from Chicago to LA with Spirit Airlines. With checking a bag for both legs of the trip, my total airfare cost was a whopping $205 – actually only $105 out of pocket when you deduct my agency’s contribution. Travel tip: if you’re in a pinch for a cheap flight within the US, I would recommend Spirit. It’s not a glamorous ride, but it gets the job done if you’re on a budget and you’re not picky about legroom. The seats were very squished together and since space was limited you couldn’t board with a personal item and also a carry on, limit was one item per person unless you paid an additional fee. Also considering the tight quarters I wouldn’t recommend flying Spirit for trips longer than 4 hours. But for my purposes it was perfect!

Lodging was quickly taken care of because as it turns out I know a considerable amount of people out there and they were gracious enough to let me stay with them and show me around the city. Every travel detail aligned beautifully and before I knew it I was on my way to Los Angeles!

As a Chicagoland native accustomed to cold, gray winters that seem to stretch on forever, I first noticed the weather. Oh, it was glorious! Over eighty degrees in early March! I wore shorts! It was warm enough to stroll along the beach and I even got a little sunburned! I don’t think I’ve ever been so thrilled to get a sunburn! The sunshine and warmth alone were inspiring and invigorating and instantly upped my energy level. This climate change also helped me realize the importance and the affect one’s environment has on their mentality and overall productivity. Some people function best when it’s chilly and gray out, others need the warmth to feel functional. I am not a winter person, and often notice a decrease in my overall happiness and productivity during the winter. I expend more effort just trying to stay warm and assure myself that summer will return, so this was just the pick me up I needed.

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From my stroll on Redondo Beach

The strong creative vibe of Los Angeles also contributed to this energy boost. As a major hub for artists, Los Angeles pulses with this incredible creative energy that is totally intoxicating. You can feel it and see it everywhere – especially in cafes. I frequent coffee shops and stepping into a café in LA was a radically different experience than the cafes I’m accustomed to. Each coffee joint I went to was filled to the brim with creatives, the next wave of great entertainers and artists, writing scripts, creating animation, rehearsing scenes, designing clothing, sharing their latest photography projects, anything and everything artistic collaborated in these cafes. It was amazing. My favorite coffee joint was actually outside downtown LA in Sherman Oaks, which my lovely friend June introduced me to called M Street Coffee. Wow, what an awesome, unparalleled vibe! If you’re in the area I strongly recommend you check it out!

The creative energy wafting through the LA air is unfortunately accompanied by thick pollution and smog creating a definite drawback to the area. The difference in air quality is immediately noticeable and suffocating. Most of my contacts in Los Angeles moved out there from the Chicagoland area and they all noticed a drastic difference in their health as a result of the pollution. One friend now needs to use an inhaler at least twice a day. Another now says she gets sick more often than she did living in the suburbs of Chicago. And another became so afflicted with pounding migraines her doctor recommended she leave the city on the weekends in search of fresh air and she now receives acupuncture treatment a couple times a month to cope.  My stay there lasted less than a week, but by the end of the week my voice faded to a hoarse whisper, which those I know living in the area attributed to the pollution. It is entirely possible this could have resulted from travel, adjusting to a new climate and an overall lack of sleep. However, hearing about the ailments from my friends and knowing my immune system is pretty strong, I feel convinced this was a result of the smog in LA. Especially since when I returned to Illinois, my voice returned within 24 hours.

Another shock to the system, pollution of a different type one could say, was the blatant promotion and discussion of Botox, plastic surgery and other vanity related procedures. Everywhere I went I saw signs – for eyelashes, butt implants, lip injections, you name it, I saw it. It was totally mystifying. I overheard a woman in the restroom, ironically at the fitness show I was modeling at, talking to her physician saying her face felt funny after her most recent Botox injection, and all I could think to myself was, “Maybe that’s because you just pumped your face full of unnatural and unnecessary chemicals? What normal person does that?” But in many cases that IS the norm for Los Angeles. And it’s not just women! Men partake in these same procedures and value it the same way women do. It was heartbreaking to witness and only made me love and appreciate my body more as it is now, because it is real; completely and 100 percent mine and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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Traffic on a Friday night on Hollywood Blvd. Took about an hour to go 10 miles. At least the sunset was pretty!

It goes without saying that Los Angeles offers a lot to the artistic community. There are big opportunities there to jump start one’s career that may not be available elsewhere, especially if you’re an actor wanting to partake in pilot season. Acting studios and classes exist in abundance to serve the growing population of aspiring actors. Being in a city totally inundated with actors is both intimidating and motivating and I feel would require one to have an exceptionally thick skin, a humble and gracious personality, a great support system and unwavering self-confidence in one’s abilities. Anything short of that and one would quickly flounder.

Since I’ve returned I’ve been met with the question from numerous friends, “So, when are you moving there?” After considering all I learned during my short time there, the answer is no. Despite the delightful weather and incredible creative vibe, I cannot see myself living there, at least not yet. I’m still incredibly happy where I am, challenged and inspired by the entertainment industry opportunities here, and with more productions moving to Chicago it would be silly to leave now. What I do see myself doing first is splitting time between the two locations and building a network and reputation between both locations. While I was in Los Angeles, I had the privilege of observing an acting class and learned that the instructor was a Chicago native! We chatted about the industry as a whole, but we kept coming back to the opportunities in Chicago, which reaffirmed for me that this is where I need to be – at least for now.

Although it was a brief trip, my time in Los Angeles was unforgettable and highly insightful. It was a trip I obviously needed to take, and I’m so grateful for the opportunity. I look forward to my next venture out West – and this time I’ll be prepared for the pollution and influx of Botox ads 🙂

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Modeling for ProSourceFit at IHRSA 2017

Liked these photos? See more on Becca’s Instagram: @BeccaMecca3