How To Get Booked in a Movie… Guaranteed

How to Get Booked in a Movie… Guaranteed. 

One of the first things I did when I moved to LA was look up my old friend, Brad Fowler. Brad and I performed stand up comedy together in Chicago. He had been here for 3 years pursuing acting. We met at an old diner where two old friends in movies go to eat. It was perfect. I remember thinking that Brad did not look very good when he first walked in. He looked skinny, pale and just exhausted overall. Before we even got our food he started spewing out advice. “Don’t blow your savings. Get a job right away. This is a marathon, not a race. Don’t just get an agent, get a good agent.” and the best piece of advice was “don’t wait for it to happen, make it happen.” I was so grateful for his advice and as we parted we agreed to help each other any way we could and have each others back. And we meant it.

So a couple months later when Brad called to do PA (Production Assistant) work on a web series he was filming I did not hesitate. Even though he couldn’t pay me anything, I saw this as a great opportunity to be on a set and learn the terminology used in television and movies. My job was pretty easy. Move this light here, unload this car, stay out of the way. I was having fun immediately.

Some time after lunch, Amanda Markowitz, the lead actress and co-producer of the project was frantically dialing her phone. An actress who agreed to be in the shoot that day had bailed on her. To me this was the weirdest thing I had ever heard. You get to do what you love and you don’t show up? That was weird. So as I sat there eating some fruit I casually told Amanda, “I can play the part. I mean it’s only one line, right?” She said, “say the line.” and in the most homosexual voice I could think of while throwing cantaloupe in my mouth I said, “You’re 9 o’clock is here.” She excused herself and grabbed the Director and made me deliver the line again. He said, “Perfect.” Get changed.

I had read in an acting book somewhere to keep an extra set of nicer clothes in your trunk in case you are out and about and get a last second audition. I followed that advice and got changed and found myself delivering one line in a web series that I knew nothing about in the gayest voice I could come up with. I was hooked. I had done some acting in high school and went to Second City to do Improv but once the Director said “Action!” I was like a kid in a candy store. I left that day thinking how cool that would be to do for a living.

A few weeks later Brad called and they were desperate for background actors and would I be interested and again he couldn’t pay me. I jumped at the opportunity and spent 15 hours wearing a mask and a cape. It was a long day and after a while as I’m inclined to do when I get bored I started joking around with the crew and just trying to keep things loose. Plus they had Twizzlers so I wasn’t really going anywhere anyway. I mean, they’re Twizzlers. Come on.  Amanda walked up to me around midnight and said, “I want to thank you so much for being here today. You’ve made the mood today so fun and you haven’t complained once. You’re the type of person I want to work with for a long time.” It was such a nice compliment but to me this was a blast. I got to play dress up and have Twizzler knife fights with the key grip. This wasn’t work.

A few weeks later Brad called me and I don’t think I realized it at the time but it’s one of those phone calls that when you look back you’ll know that it probably changed your life forever.

“We decided instead of doing a web series that we are going to make a movie.”

“Sweet, let me know how I can help.” I replied.

“Well that’s the thing. We wrote you a part. We needed comic relief in the movie and a through line for the plot. You’re playing the leads best friend.”

I can’t recall exactly how I replied but I think it was something like, “I’m sorry. What now?”

So in a matter of a few weeks I went from being the guy who moved sand bags to being the co-star of a independently produced film. This thing took a life of its own. And Brad did exactly what he told me to do that day at lunch. He didn’t wait for LA to find him. He and Amanda wrote a script that they loved and they begged and pleaded and sweat and bled to make it happen. They were able to cast some very well known veteran actors including Ed Asner, a 7 time Emmy winner and acting legend.

We completed shooting a few months ago and the movie is in post production right now. We just hired an amazing composer to do the music and they are going to be submitting Love Meet Hope to festivals this year. It’s been an unbelievable experience and I could not be prouder of my friends Amanda and Brad and so grateful to them for taking an immeasurable risk on someone who had little acting experience and no formal training and putting me in a project on which they have staked their entire careers.

Los Angeles is a city that is designed to get you to leave, to get you to give up. It’s expensive, it’s hot, it’s dirty, the traffic sucks and there are more pretentious and fake people per capita than anywhere else in the world. But there are good people here too, a lot of them. So my advice to any aspiring actor is to surround yourself with good people. People that are REAL and passionate and will work 20 hour days to make something happen that has no guarantee of success because they believe in it so much. I’ll go to battle with those guys any day.

So how do you get booked in a movie in Los Angeles? Show up, work hard, don’t complain, be prepared for unexpected opportunities and don’t wait to be discovered. You want to get booked in a movie? Then go make a movie. All you need is a project you believe in, a group of people who get it and a shit load of Twizzlers.

We are currently funding our post-production costs through an Indi-gogo campaign. If you would like to learn more about this amazing project and would like to make a donation to help us get it finished please visit today.

Ken “One Take” Garr

Don’t Fart in the Floatation Tank!

They say do what you fear and if my fear is being alone with my thoughts then trying a sense deprivation chamber or a “Floating tank” as their otherwise known sounded like exactly what I needed and particularly terrifying. I did some research online and found one in my area. I contacted them and they had me review their FAQ and pricing and scheduled an appointment. My first visit required a 25 minute orientation where the owner shared the technical aspects of “floating” along with the physical and emotional expectations. Every “first timer” has a different experience. Some people take to it like a fish in water and for others it’s not their bag.

We entered the room which had a shower and what looked like giant dryer. Inside the box was approximately 10 inches of water. The whole box was 8 feet long and 4 feet wide. I used the rest room, removed my clothes, took a shower and placed ear plugs in my ears. I opened the door and crawled in and per the owner’s instructions I practiced opening and shutting the door several times just to create a psychological exit strategy. I immediately thought of the many times my brother would lock me in the dryer as a kid growing up. Ahh brothers. At this point I envisioned the owner of the establishment rooting through my wallet and copying all of my credit cards and sending my identity over to a hacker in Russia. I laid down with my whole body submerged except for my face and began to float in a water and epsom salt solution. I was… alone.

I found a comfortable position which was basically on my back with my hands at my sides and I closed my eyes. My ears, because of the ear plugs, were popping as air escaped and I could hear the traffic going down Alameda but for the most part it was pitch black and very quiet. During the orientation she gave a brief overview of meditation and having opened for a hypnotist for many years I began to relax my toes and then my feet and then my ankles, my calves, my knees, my thighs and so on and so on. I breathed nice and easy and then my body shuddered as if it were panicking for a second but then letting go. My shoulders eased up and my neck felt lighter. I’ve been having lower back pain for weeks now but it was no longer present. I was simply floating.

I thought about the last time I had such darkness and such quiet. I went swimming in Lake Michigan once at midnight by myself and remembered feeling very peaceful. It was right before my back surgery and I was a ball of stress. The possibility of paralysis can weigh heavily on a 17 year old. The next thought I had while floating was that scene in “Fight Club” where Brad Pitt’s character pours acid on Edward Norton’s hand and takes him through a ritual of using pain to block out all other senses and live in the moment. I think I’d rather float especially having experienced an acid burn once when I put Drakkar Noir in my arm pits before a high school dance once. I began a ritual of letting go of all the things that were weighing me down. Another failed relationship, the uncertainty of a career in show business, the financial woes of a “starving artist”. They began to melt away and I began to realize that this was how we started our lives out. We started by floating inside of our mothers for 9 months without a care or stress in the world. When you’re a baby your only real instinct or worry is surviving which granted is a big one but if you have halfway decent parents you get to eat a few times a day and you have very little stress. A calm came over me that I had not felt since my religious retreat senior year in catholic high school. I realized that I’m not in charge. I can only control how hard I work and how I treat the people in my life. That’s it. I can’t control how people perceive me or try and live up to someone else’s expectations. As Tyler Durden put it. I had to “let go”. So I did… and then I had to fart.

Apparently my body relaxed so much that it included the relaxation of my bowels. The challenge one faces when needing to fart in a floating salt water box that’s basically air sealed and knowing my body as well as I do I knew that this fart was going to be quite unpleasant. But I was committed to the process of letting go and I knew that all the stress that I felt only moments before getting into this box of terror would come back, my muscles would begin to tense up and this experience would be ruined. So as Tyler Durden insisted as the acid ate through the skin of Ed Norton’s character I simply let go and let it rip. And it was glorious. How awesome is your life when you’re a 38 year old divorced man who left behind a prominent career in sales to pursue a pipe dream that has such a minute probability of success and you give yourself permission, no demand, that you fart in a lukewarm bath tub of epsom salt in the middle of Burbank. I was Jack’s relieved bile duct.

And then for some reason I said the Lord’s Prayer. I assume that was the religious portion of my experience. In fact I said it a few times. I realized that all of the stresses and worries that I have had in my life didn’t really need to be dealt with at all. That I could just let them go and let them float up to the universe like a fart in the wind. I’m not in charge of people’s perceptions. I can’t make someone love me or book me or sign me. But what I was in charge of was having the best set I can have next time I hit the stage. Of working harder to write more jokes and of producing content that I am passionate about. I even came up with an idea for a show as I sat locked in my own methane tank.

“It isn’t until you’ve lost everything that you’re free to do anything.” I used to think that line from Fight Club was about material possessions and living up to the expectations of your peers and in a way it is but you can also give up stress and worry and heartache and fear and pain and you can make the life you want and become the person you always wanted to be. You can be Tyler Durden (without the blowing up of buildings part). You can do that while doing that which you fear the most. For me it was sitting in a dark and quiet tank floating like a baby with nobody but myself to answer to. To be completely alone and know that not only was I going to be alright but that when I get rid of the hundreds of distractions that take over my life on a daily basis all I’m left with is an overwhelming belief in myself and what I can accomplish when truly focused. And as I opened the door to what I considered only an hour before a isolation chamber of my worst nightmares, I emerged, as babies do, born anew and ready to kick some ass again. Without fear, without restraint, without judgement and definitely without gas.

“Obstacles are those things you see when you take your eye off the goal.” – Henry Ford

If you’re interested in trying a “Float Tank” I’d recommend Soothing Solutions in Burbank, CA. Tell them I referred you. The first float is $65 and the second one is free.

One Year Later and Why I Should Quit

I’ve been a full time Comedian for exactly one year. And based on what I’ve learned in the last year… I should quit. The odds of “making it” are so slim and so minute. I need to face reality.

I’m 37 which, it seems, is a dinosaur in this business. I’m white at a time when every major network is embracing diversity (finally). I’m trying to establish myself in a market that has 10 times as many comedians as the previous one in which I lived. Oh and I’m competing against some of the greatest comedians in the world. I don’t have “abs” I have a really big “ab” and this mole on my lip is actually starting to eat the rest of my face and I’ve only been on 2 commercial auditions in a year.

I’m in my peak earning years and should be making, given my experience and knowledge in sales, upwards of $200,000 a year back in the corporate world. I should be looking at vacation homes. I should be thinking about getting a boat. I should be contributing to my 401k and taking vacations in the Greek islands and “forecasting my stretch goals for the 4th quarter”. I should be evaluating my client’s needs and positioning solutions that will help me maximize my “comp plan”.

How am I going to “make it” if I can’t even get a room with 6 comedians to laugh at 2 in the morning? I wasn’t on Last Comic Standing or America’s Got Talent this year. Chelsea’s leaving. The Tonight Show moved to New York. Letterman is leaving, Ferguson is leaving. And we’re smack dab in the middle of the age of the alt comic and I put all my chips into being a club comic. Nobody in the business knows who I am. I’m not on anyone’s “radar”. I don’t have any “heat” on me. I’m working on a new comedy album which is the most painful thing a Comedian can do because you bomb more than you succeed which hurts your soul and makes you want to die.

I’m living in a tiny one bedroom apartment in Burbank which isn’t even in the “cool” part of LA apparently. I see 3-4 Comedians every week that are so good that they make me want to quit comedy all together forever. I learned very quickly that no one here can really help you that much especially the ones that said they would. Nobody seems to be in charge. I don’t even know how to write a spec script or even put together a writing packet. I don’t have a feature written. I haven’t written a pilot. I’m too old for NACA and I don’t have any corporate work. I’m not out there “rubbing elbows” with industry. I haven’t even been invited to a rooftop pool party yet. I have no idea idea what I’m doing. I miss my family, I miss my dog, I miss my Lexus and my girlfriend dumped me and moved back to Chicago.

No one will fault me for having tried. No one will blame me for throwing in the towel. I did my best. I gave it my all. I took a chance on following my dreams. It’s a hell of a story to tell at my next job interview. “The balls it took to give it a shot. Here’s your desk. We have a meeting every Monday morning. Bring your forecast.”

But as I reflect on the last year I can’t help but think of all of the wonderful experiences I’ve had. Driving across the country with fellow comedian, Vince Carone to watch him crush it at the Asheville Comedy Festival. (I did ok too.) Doing a set every night in a different city as I made my way to LA. The college bar in Omaha, The Comedy Works in Denver, Loonees in Colorado Springs, The MGM Grand in Las Vegas, my first show in LA where I had to follow Damon Wayans. My first time at the Comedy Store and immediately understanding why it’s the mecca of all things Comedy. My first open mic at the Improv in Hollywood. Getting passed at the Icehouse. My showcase at the Laugh Factory. My first paid gig at Jon Lovitz. Playing Vegas twice in the same year. Opening for people I have long admired like Brad Garrett, Bob Zany, Loni Love, Damon Wayans, Chris Kattan, Gallagher, Butch Bradley and Tommy Davidson. Going home to the Improv in Chicago and being welcomed back with open arms. Mikey O throwing me up in front of 400 people at Joe’s on Weed St. The Hoo Ha girls giving me stage time. Lia Berman saying stop by whenever. Bobby Hill vouching for me. People fucking getting what I’m trying to do here.

The greatest thing about LIVING your dream is that you don’t have to do it alone. Living the dream is not just doing what makes you happy but truly appreciating the people in your life that make it possible for you to do so. Whether its giving you a couch to sleep on or helping you move your shit all across the city or spending hours with me on the phone and talking me off the ledge a hundred times. Letting me use your car for two weeks and putting a thousand miles on it. Buying me lunch. Coming to my shows when you’ve already heard this shit a dozen times along with a thousand other acts of kindness.

When I moved out to LA I immediately gave up on the idea of “making it”. No one ever really makes it. You hustle and you grind and you create and you express and you do the work you love. And one day maybe you get lucky and someone hands you some money to do it. Who knows? Who cares? Everyday I’m doing what I love and no one can take that from me. Whether I’m trying to get 6 comics sitting in the back of a room to laugh or 600 at a theater, I’m trying to provide a break from life. I’m trying to help them have a better day, week or month and letting them forget about the seriousness and drama that consumes our lives. I’m doing what I know I do best and I’ve never been happier in my life.

So maybe I’ll stick it out another year and see what happens because after all… I love my fucking job.

A Day with Dreesen

“I’m having lunch with Tom Dreesen.” I told the attendant at the security gate. That sounded surreal. I had met Tom once before years ago in Chicago. He gave a lecture to aspiring Comedians called “The Joy of Stand up Comedy” for free. He talked for over an hour about stand up comedy and I took 4 pages of notes that day as he imparted onto us his more than 40 years of knowledge in show business.

Mr. Dreesen and I have very similar backgrounds. We both grew up in blue collar families on the south side of Chicago. I grew up in a very middle class home and he grew up poor in Harvey. After doing stand up in our home town for years we both made the trek to Los Angeles. He slept in an abandoned car and hitchhiked up and down Sunset Blvd begging to work for free at the Comedy Store and I sold nearly everything I owned and left a promising career in sales. Both of our marriages subsequently ended.

The receptionist paged him and he greeted me a minute later in a beautiful navy blue pin stripe suit. He looked like he was about to get on stage. I wore khaki’s and a polo yet still felt underdressed standing next to this pro. He apologized for having had to push our meeting back 30 minutes. You could tell it genuinely bothered him as he prides himself on punctuality and keeping his word.

After exchanging a few pleasantries about which parish we grew up near (a south side ritual) and showing me some of the pictures mounted on the wall of celebrities who had been members of the 85 year old Lakeside Country Club including Bob Hope, W.C. Fields and John Wayne, he asked me all about my background; where I’m from, where I went to school, what I studied, my professional career, my stand up experience. It wasn’t your typical LA conversation where the person you are talking to is scanning the room to see if their is someone more important or more interesting to talk to. I had his complete attention and he was genuinely interested in my story and my journey.

After I talked for a while he began to share with me his journey and his process as a writer and entertainer. “It’s all about the material. Stage presence and timing are important but at the end of the day it’s about your unique perspective. It’s what’s unique about you that is going to set you apart from everyone else. The best way to connect to an audience is to let them get to know you. Who you are? Where you’re from? For years I was the Comedian from Harvey, Illinois. There are lots of comics from Chicago but I’m the only one from Harvey. That made me unique. You want to make it ‘An Evening with Ken Garr’. The most important thing is to make it conversational, not presentational. If your wife tells you that dinner isn’t going to be ready for another hour and to go entertain the guests, what would you go talk to them about? What stories would you share?” His passion was contagious.

“The difference I see in comedy today is that when I started and you told someone you were a Comedian everyone was floored. Nowadays, ‘oh my chiropractor does comedy, my dentist does stand up.’ Everyone is doing it. There are way more comedians than their were when I started which makes it even harder to get noticed. That’s why it’s so important to keep re-inventing yourself and always coming up with new material. The Comedians that make it today have a hook. Something that is unique to their character or their act. There are lots of Ventriloquists but Jeff Dunham is the most successful one because his material is good and each one of his puppets has a unique voice.”

Later on in the conversation I asked him if he ever thought about quitting. “No. It was never an option. There are so few people in the world that can do what we do and I knew that this was what my spirit was called to do. Their are maybe 1 out of every 5 million people that can do what we do. I’m fortunate that I’m able to make a good living as a Comedian but whether I’m making $1,000 a year or a million, I knew that this was what I wanted to do and I wasn’t going to quit… ever. Now that being said, a guy has to eat so if you need to take on a part time job to pay the rent and eat then that’s what you have to do. You don’t want to pass out on stage from starvation. But my comedy is always evolving. I’ve moved into motivational speaking and corporate work. I also do a lot of charity work and I’ve been doing my one man show for years now. Doing a one man show allows you to pull a range of emotions from the audience not just laughter. It’s ok for them to laugh and cry all in the same night. I always did what I wanted to do.”

I shared with him that one of the struggles that I find each day is that when I wake up I don’t know what tasks I should be focused on in order to become successful. He said, “Write. And write everyday and keep writing. I know it’s not for everyone. A journalist asked me the best question once, ‘are you a writer who performs stand up or are you a stand up who writes?’ and I’m definitely the latter. I love performing. I love being in front of an audience but I know that I have to constantly be writing new material so that my perspective continues to be fresh and unique. If I can write one new solid joke everyday thats 365 jokes a year, 730 over 2 years! But I also encourage Comedians to not be obsessed with stand up comedy and not forget to have other interests. Obviously I play golf.” I agreed and shared that I see so many Comedians today who do nothing but stand up and aren’t out living a life that they can talk about. “It’s important for your material to do other things.” In addition to writing he shared that having goals is critical and not only having goals but to visualize reaching those goals. “When I was sleeping in the car up on blocks I would imagine myself sitting next to Johnny Carson on the couch and he would be laughing and it happened. I’m a huge believer in visualization. I believe your subconscious is always working toward that goal even if you’re not.”

I also shared my concern that I was spreading myself too thin and trying to be at all places at all times. “That’s not a bad thing. You never know when you’re going to get your opportunity. Obviously be loyal to the clubs that are working you but most of the clubs in town play fair and don’t mind you working other clubs. They understand the importance of stage time. Just get on stage as much as you can and most importantly be prepared for that opportunity when it comes. I’m always prepared. I have pen and paper in my suit pocket right now in case something strikes me as funny. In fact to prepare for our lunch I did my research on you. You’re funny! But I wanted to know a little bit about the person I was meeting with today. Preparation is important.”

“What are your thoughts on reaching out to agents. A lot of people feel it’s a waste of time?” I asked. “I don’t see any harm in introducing yourself to Agents and letting them know who you are and what you’re trying to do. Have some balls and ask them if they’d be interested in representing you. All they can say is no or not right now but at least you’ve let them know who you are.”

After some tea and cookies it was time to conclude our two hour lunch. He walked me through the club house and brought me to the locker room. “Come here Kenny. I want to show you something.” he said. We walked through a couple rows of lockers and into a smaller room where his locker sat next to Bob Hope’s. “They kept it here in his honor.” In the corner sat a golfer getting dressed. “Joe, I want you to meet a friend of mine. He’s a Comedian from Chicago. Kenny Garr, this is my friend, Joe Pesci.” I said in a very cool and calm voice, “Hi Joe. It’s nice to meet you.” as we shook hands. We chatted for a minute or two about his golf game that day and Tom showed me Bob Hope’s locker. The word ‘visualization’ popped into my head immediately.

As I left the country club that day I had a lot on which to reflect. If you ask me I’ll try and convince you and myself that I’m not in this at all for the fame and fortune and that I’m just in this to make people laugh and spread joy to the world but that’s not entirely true. Having a locker at a country club in the same room as Bob Hope’s and Tom Dreesen’s while asking Joe Pesci how he shot that day would be awesome. It would mean that I did something right in this business and that people recognized it. “I started with Jay Leno and David Letterman. Their friends of mine and people have asked me if I’m pissed that I didn’t have their type of fame and fortune. I’m not. I make a very good living doing what I love. I traveled the world with Frank Sinatra. I’m blessed. How many people in the world can say they’ve been able to do what they truly love and make a living doing it?”

Recently I was given the opportunity to open for Sebastian Maniscalco, another Chicagoan who is on a rocket ship to stardom right now. After the third of four amazing sold out shows Bob Fisher, the owner of the famous Ice House Comedy Club, presented him with a bottle of Dom Perignon. Bob later told me that it was only the 8th time in 36 years that he presented somebody with a bottle on stage. I told him, “That immediately became one of my goals, Bob. I hope one day you do the same for me.” I had never been more serious in my life. It’s been visualized. It’s locked in my brain now and my conscious and subconscious have been put to task. I know that one day I’ll put that bottle of Dom in my locker at the same country club where Bob Hope played golf and where Tom Dreesen, a fellow south sider and one of the nicest people I’ve ever met, bought me lunch… and called me funny.