The Last Demo Tape

*Looking over my previous post I was reminded of the last time I submitted a demo tape and the consequences.*

I used to read The Stage newspaper religiously for the job advertisements and auditions that were going. I wasn’t interested in the Stage acting portion of the paper. I had two reasons for not even considering stage work: 1) It had been years since I’d performed live anywhere and 2) The only decent paying jobs were in London and I lived a good hour and forty minutes away.

The Stage did have ads for the telly and for film auditions; they also featured voice-over companies that were “desperate for new blood.” Despite the rather ominous tone of the advert, I rummaged around and found my last ever demo tape.

I generally checked all my “demos” before I sent them out; listening to them from start to finish. For some odd reason I decided to only listen to the intro and not the rest of the tape. Satisfied that all was well, I popped it into a cassette posting envelope and sent it to the company. I enclosed a short CV and a covering letter. With my current lack of response, I did not expect to hear back from them.

And I did not; at least for a long time at any rate.

Coming home from work one day weeks later, I noticed another cassette envelope on the table. It was addressed to me. I opened it and there was my tape and a short letter. The letter went something like this:

Dear Michael,

You sound like an incredibly talented man. I would recommend that the next time you send a demo out, you get it professionally done. When you’ve had a proper tape made, please send it to me. I am sure we’ll be able to find work for you.

Sincerely,

Blah-blah

I went mental. “Nobody,” I shouted, “Nobody sends the tapes back. How insulting is that?” I carried on in that vein for some time. I was furious. Professionally made? What did she think that was? Chopped liver? I’d spent a fortune getting those damn tapes mastered, reproduced, and packaging them for posting all over the place…

I grabbed the offending tape, envelope and letter and tossed them in a drawer in the wall unit. I did not look at them for over a year.

A friend that I’d done some scripting work for and the odd training and promotional videos rang me out of the blue; he’d lost my demo tape and wondered if I had another one as he had a client who was interested. I answered in the negative; I’d sent the last one out last year. Ringing off, I remembered the tape I’d gotten back the year before.

I searched for the damned thing everywhere, until my then wife reminded me about the wall unit.

Found it. I started to ring Phil when I spied the letter that had so offended me. I popped it into the player to see if it was alright. Sure enough 45 seconds into the tape it started messing up; skipping and dragging. It was uselessly buggered up and the only tape out of the entire batch that was.

I ripped the tape out of the machine and flung the damn thing across the room. So the lady from the company was not being rude or capricious, she meant what she said; the quality of the tape was not “professional” at all. And she’d left the door open over a year ago to send in another tape.

I sat down with a cigarette in one hand and a coffee in the other. I knew I didn’t have any other tapes left. I’d lost Pat’s number and he’d moved his studio a year or so back and I’d lost the address. Pat wasn’t “in the book” so I had no way of tracing him. I’d misplaced the Master DAT and to this day have no idea where it is. The reel to reel, which just took up space, was relegated to the bin.

As I sat there smoking and drinking coffee, I decided that anything that worked so hard against me was not an obvious career path. Despite my rave reviews from the AFN community (a few of the adverts I did for them won awards) and my doing little projects like fronting videos and training tapes; fate or karma or something really did not want me to succeed in this area.

The last thing I ever did was to read a magazine for the blind onto tapes produced and distributed by the East Anglian Daily Times newspaper. And that voluntary job, like all the rest, ended too soon; future magazines were read by a group of “lovie’s” from the local theatre group.

I decided to concentrate on my acting and signed on with two agents in Norwich for extra work. Suffolk was the location for a lot television programs at that time and I figured I could at least get my mush on the telly screen.

I mean, really; who wanted to set in an air conditioned sound-proof booth with a bottle of water and a script anyway. Who cared if it was “money for old rope?” No one got to see you and you weren’t acting anyway. In what seemed like a good sign, I got a call just one week later from one of my new agents.

I was to be an extra on Lovejoy and the filming location was just about a 45 minute drive away. It paid the princely sum of 75 pounds for a half day’s work and I’d get to meet Ian McShane and the rest of the cast.

Now this was more like it.

The Lovejoy original cast:
Chris Jury
Phyllis Logan
Ian McShane
Dudley Sutton

Name dropping, pt 2

Christopher Lee filming in Westminster for a f...

While I was stationed in Holland with the USAF I got to work quite a lot. Mostly I did adverts for the Armed Forces Network aka AFN guys downstairs. I have always done “voices” different accents and impressions. My then boss mentioned this to the AFN guys who ran upstairs and begged me to do some spots for them on the radio. It seems that they were all tired of hearing themselves on the airways and were desperate for some kind of change. So for a four year time period I did adverts and the occasional live show. It was fun and kept my diction sharp as well making me work on my stale impressions.

It was through the AFN guys that I got most of the work I did while stationed in The Netherlands. I had a friend from AFN come up and ask me, “Didn’t you act some?” I owned up quickly sensing this could mean work. “Well they’re making a film and they’re looking for American and English actors. Call this number.” So I did.

The film was called Murder Story, the Movie it was being produced by Elstree Film Studios. The folks who brought us Eastenders on the telly every week. The film was to feature the master Christopher Lee and an unknown  young actor Alexis Denisof. I was beside myself with excitement. The chance to work with Dracula himself! I had been a fan of Mr Lee’s since I was a boy and  watched the Saturday night Creature Features and seen him in so many Hammer Horror films.

To cut a long story short, I and a friend from AFN got parts in the film. We were to be security policemen from the Air Force base where Alexis’s dad worked. We had what seemed like huge parts. We had a little action some dialogue and, unfortunately, we were not going to be working with Christopher Lee.

On the day of our shooting we went to the railway station at Soest. There we got assigned our characters by what ever costume would fit us from wardrobe. Thus I became a Staff Sergeant and my mate became a private. We were introduced to the actor we would be working with Garrick Hagon, a real “jobbing actor” who was lovely to work with. We also met Alexis Denisof way before his Buffy and Angel days. A nice young man who was only there briefly to set up the shot for his stunt double to perform.

Alexis Denisof

Elstree Film Studios had just announced that their feature film section had gone bankrupt. They would still continue to produce Eastenders, but, that was all. Our big scene suddenly shrunk. No longer did we have dialogue or get out of our jeep to confront Garrick. Instead we pulled up to the crash site and just glowered at him from the jeep.

This small scene took more than three quarters of a day to film. The Director Eddie Arno asked if we would mind staying so that Garrick had someone to re-act to for his close ups. We said of course. Afterword Garrick came up to thank us profusely in a mixture of Dutch and English. As we had never spoken, he assumed we were Dutch! We all had a chuckle and our shooting day was finished. I had brought my ‘then wife’ to the shoot so she could see what actually happened on a film set. She was a bit disenchanted by the whole process. I told her as we drove home that the film would probably collect dust on a shelf somewhere as Elstree had gone bust. I was wrong.

It did release as just Murder Story, straight to video. After many years of searching I finally found a copy so I could see how Phil and I had looked on the day. It was then that I found out why it had been relegated to a straight to video release. It was a shame for Christopher Lee and Garrick and Alexis had performed extremely well. But the overall film lacked something.

Still I was happy. I had one more credit under my belt. Sure I did not get my name on the credits but I had met Tom Reeve a UK producer and of course the other folks mentioned above. I did not get to even see Christopher Lee. But at least, by gosh, I’d been in a film with him!