Tag Archives: actress

The Iconic Ruby Dee Dies at 91

For many, the allure of a life in the arts stems from the possibility of becoming a legend. The right role and the right story can permanently catapult an actor into the public consciousness.

For Ruby Dee, the iconic actress and civil rights activist, her legend stemmed not just from her break-through roles and wonderful performances, but also from the important part she played off-screen in shaping America’s civil rights movement and fighting for equality up until her death last Wednesday, June 11, 2014. Dee was 91 years old.

ruby_dee

Born in 1922, Dee was just 18 when she landed her first role in a Harlem production of On Strivers Row. From those humble beginnings, she went on to  multiple roles on Broadway, television, and in film, starring opposite such heavy-hitters as Sidney Poitier, Denzel Washington, and James Earl Jones.

She was the first black woman ever to play a lead role at the American Shakespeare Festival, or on such popular soap operas as Peyton Place and Guiding Light. Her acting achievements earned her an Obie Award, a Drama Desk Award, five Emmy nominations (with one win for Decoration Day),  a Grammy, two Screen Actors Guild awards, the NAACP Image Award, Kennedy Center Honors, the National Medal of Arts, and the National Civil Rights Museum’s Lifetime Achievement Award. Then, at the age of 83, she garnered an Oscar nomination for best supporting actress in 2007’s American Gangster, playing the mother of Denzel Washington.

Dee and Washington in American Gangster.
Dee and Washington in American Gangster.

As important as Dee’s acting career was to her, it always went hand-in-hand with her activism. In fact, she saw no separation between the two, commenting once that if actors could be image makers, “Why can’t we image makers become peacemakers, too?” When she met Ossie Daivs in 1945 and they married in 1948, she found a lifelong partner in her devotion to both the arts and activism.

The two were married for 56 years, becoming one of Hollywood’s most enduring and romantic couples. Together, they made great strides for civil rights, forming close friendships with Martin Luther King, Jr., Harry Belafonte, and Malcolm X, just to name a few. Dee famously emcee’d the 1963 March on Washington. Together, she and Davis received the National Medal of Arts in 1995, were inducted into the NAACP Hall of Fame in 1989, and received SAG Lifetime Achievement Awards in 2000.

Davis and Dee accept their Lifetime Achievement Award at the 37th Annual SAG Awards.
Davis and Dee accept their Lifetime Achievement Award at the 37th Annual SAG Awards.

Davis passed away in 2005.

Proving what a special place Dee held in the heart of the entertainment community, she was thanked twice during the recent Tony Awards on June 8, 2014, first by six-time winner Audra MacDonald, and then by Kenny Leon, the winning director of A Raisin in the Sun. Both were influenced by Dee’s talent and passion.

What sort of mindset led to Dee’s lifelong success and contentment? As she said in a 1988 interview regarding her and Davis:

“We believe in honesty. We believe in simplicity. We believe in a good breakfast when we can get it. We believe in not going heavily into debt. We believe in education. We believe in love. We believe in the family. We believe in Black history, and we believe in involvement.”

To read more about Ruby Dee, please check out the following articles:
http://www.washingtonpost.com/entertainment/celebrities/ruby-dee-actress-and-civil-rights-activist-dies-at-89/2014/06/12/d4c3e4d2-f250-11e3-9ebc-2ee6f81ed217_story.html

RIP Ruby Dee (1922-2014)

 

By Digital Film Academy Blog Manager Sara McDermott Jain

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Actor Advice, Part One: 3 Tips for Getting the Audition

Acting is probably the hardest field to break into in the already very hard world of film.

This really hit home for me when I posted a casting call for just two characters (unpaid) and got over 450 applicants. With numbers like those, anything you can do to get (and improve) an audition is well worth it!

This is Part One of a two-part series. Below are some helpful tips for getting an audition. Granted, for well-know actors, this isn’t a problem. But for anyone just starting out? You need all the help you can get!

Learn from this flower and stand out.
Learn from this flower and stand out.

1. Have a reel.

450 actors. Let that number sink in. 450. I was able to audition 20. So I needed a way to cut that 450 down to its most promising 20, ASAP.

The easiest way for me to do this was to cut anybody who didn’t have a reel. I’m sorry, but it’s true. Of the 450, maybe 200 had reels, and watching their reels gave me at least some idea of what they could and couldn’t do. Why would I opt to audition one of the 250 people who didn’t have a reel and who only sent generic headshots and resumes listing obscure credits which, for the most part, meant nothing to me? Not only did not having a reel indicate that they were less experienced, but I had no way of telling whether or not they could act their way out of a paper bag.

Little help?
Little help?

Just starting out and don’t have any footage to put a reel together? That shouldn’t be a problem. Find local film schools or recruit your film-loving friends to help you. Chances are you’ll find people to help on the cheap, or even for free.

Make sure you include a wide range of emotions in your reel. Pick  dramatic scenes, comedic scenes, scenes with tears, scenes with laughter, laid back scenes, etc. That way, no matter what part you want, you can point the casting folks to the right moment on your reel. (Yes, literally – tell them to go to minute 2:55 on the reel to see you cry if what they need is someone crying. They don’t need to see the first 2 minutes and 55 seconds of you singing or dancing or doing handstands or whatever if it’s not relevant to their needs.)

This stamp comes out fast.
This stamp comes out fast.

2. Write a real cover letter.

Ok, you might have to weigh the pros and cons of doing this one. I’ve done most of my casting through sites like mandy.com and I understand that it’s common practice to send a pre-written form letter to tons of potential jobs at once, to up your chances that a few reply back.  From the perspective of the casting people, though, this can be really annoying.

They wade through hundreds of letters from ‘interested people’ who clearly didn’t even glance at their casting notice. Actors will talk about being great comedic actors when applying for a drama. They’ll talk about their rates when the notice already said the role is unpaid. They’ll be 25 years old when the role is for someone who’s 75. You get the idea. (An extension of this rule is that you should only apply for roles that are right for you.)

Not the right shot to include if you're applying for the role of a carefree babysitter.
Not the right shot to include if you’re applying for the role of a carefree babysitter.

This wastes people’s time. (Remember, they have about 450 applications to get through.) For that reason, stuff like this leads to an instant delete.

What does impress? Someone expressing a clear interest in a role. And these letters don’t have to be long and daunting – just a few lines will do it.

Last fall, I was looking for a hard-partying, tough-as-nails, blue-collar woman in her 30s. A woman in her 30s applied and wrote: “I love playing gritty, blue-collar roles and this one sounds amazing.” She was in for an audition, and ultimately got the part. She had a genuine interest in THAT character.

Make sure your pictures have... pictures.
Make sure your pictures have… pictures.

3. Pictures.

This is one that I don’t see many people doing, but it is helpful. Every actor has (or should have) a basic headshot. But the basic headshot is usually a ‘blank slate.’ The actor’s expression is a faint smile or totally blank, and that’s it.

It’s good to also have pictures of yourself expressing a wide range of emotions. That way, depending on the part, you can attach the one that best suits the character.

Hope you enjoyed my air-brushed headshot... now, just in case this picture's helpful...
Hope you enjoyed my air-brushed headshot… now, just in case this sobbing picture’s helpful…

Attach your headshot too – but right next to it, attach a photo that lets the casting person ‘see you’ in the part. As these pictures usually appear in the body of the application email, they are the first thing casting people see before clicking to view a reel or looking at a resume. And it doesn’t need to be as dramatic as Dawson sobbing above – but just one innocent-looking/dangerous-looking/capable-looking photo can help.

Overwhelmed by the number of applicants, there were definitely actors that got shut out of my casting process because, at a glance, they just looked wrong for the parts they were applying for. Having these extra photos can help solve that problem.

There you have it – what I think are the top three rules for getting an audition. Apply these, and I promise you that your chances of landing an audition will greatly improve.

Share what you done that helped you get auditions down in the comments!

And stay tuned for Part 2: Nailing the Audition

 By Digital Film Academy Blog Manager Sara McDermott Jain

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