by Dominica Malcolm
Jeffrey Weissman is one of the Bay Area’s top working actors, who gives back to the community with genuine support while mentoring other actors in the Bay Area. I’ve been training with him since January 2016, and found that my confidence for memorizing lines and attending auditions, both with and without cold readings, increased immensely. I’ve learned how important it is to focus more on putting in the time to build that confidence and being myself than it is to land the role in any given audition. Because whilst you may not be right for that role, if you come across as someone the casting people like, they will remember you and likely consider you for other roles in the future.
The Bay Area Film Mixer is offering a number of workshops with Jeffrey Weissman over the coming months, on very specific topics. The first workshop is “Working On Set” at 12noon on Saturday 16th April at Ninth St Independent Film Center, and tickets are available on Eventbrite.
You can also audit or sign up to one of his weekly classes, held in Sausalito on Tuesdays, 11am-2pm and 7pm-10pm (after audit session, 8 week minimum commitment required). If you’re interested in this class, please email Jeffrey at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Let me share with you some words of wisdom from Jeffrey, so you can discover for yourself if he has the background you would be interested in learning from.
DM: What are the primary skills actors develop while working with you?
JW: I teach a varied set of skills for the Bay Area Film Mixer group, with the main focus on the actor’s big three: cold reading, scene study, and working on set. Ingredients such as audition monologues, using intuition, theater games, scene beats, and developing characters using text and action are included. I’ll also do a bit of mentoring about the business, since I’ve been in show biz for most of my life. I love working with the serious actors that want to do great work, instead of just passable or mediocre work. I use my 40+ years acting experience on stage and film combined with my studies with many master teachers.
DM: Tell me a bit about your background, with who and what has influenced your acting and what you teach.
JW: I was raised in in Los Angeles, and growing up there, I had friends who’s parents were in the industry, and even friends who acted on TV and film. My parents had many industry friends, and some were celebrities. I’d meet them and sometimes get advice, because I knew pretty early on I wanted to be an actor. I met Omar Sharif, Lorne Green, Don Adams and other stars at my Dad’s club, and I when I’d see them on the big screen or TV, it made it seem like a reachable goal to work in those mediums to me. I’d visit shoots when they were on location in my neighborhood, and speak with the actors about their work, and I’d get advice.
After High School, I worked doing some waiver background in some major films (The Rose, Sgt Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band, FM, Fastbreak, I Wanna Hold Your Hand, etc), and even though it is very exciting to be on a major studio lot and sets, ultimately it is unfulfilling for an actor that wants to tell stories, and I was told by a top casting director that no one is going to take me (or anyone) seriously, unless you get great training. So I set my sights on training at the American Conservatory Theater, and I headed to San Francisco. I was accepted to the Summer Training Intensive in ’81, and while I was continuing my intermediate studies at SFSU for my MFA, I fell into an opportunity to audition for a big Hollywood feature. The director and casting director both liked my talent, and they decided to screen test me for the lead in a film called ‘The Genius’, (later re-named ‘War Games’). An agent from William Morris’s New York office had heard about me from the director, and she offered to represent me. I had to move back to LA right away, and I began working in co-star roles a few months later.
I had studied hard at ACT & SFSU, and before I left LA I had been studying elements of ‘the Method’ from Jackie Benton. When I returned to LA, I re-united with Jackie, and in the four years I had been gone, she had been studying with Charles Conrad, and had thrown all of the sensory & emotional recall, private moment, etc out the window in favor of the Meisner based work that I carry on teaching. Still keeping the relaxation techniques from Strasberg.
I also studied Comedy at the Harvey Lembeck Studios with Bill Hudnut, and another scene study class with Peter Flood. Both of those classes had me working along side many stars and up and coming talents that are now stars. I also worked with several comedy troupes, with members that trained extensively with Groundlings during the Phil Hartman years, and then Keith Johnstone trained performers. My ‘Flying Penguins’ troupe, became the core of the newly formed Los Angeles Theater Sports, which boasted many great talents that went on to amazing writing careers and on screen. LATS continues now as ‘Impro’ and is consistently in the top picks by LA critics for their completely improvised theme shows based in several different genres, i.e. Sondheim, Shakespeare, Williams, Twilight Zone, Jane Austen, etc.
I have taught at San Francisco School of Digital Film Making, Dominican University, Ruth Azawa San Francisco School of the Arts, Education Unlimited at UC Berkeley, and I’ve coached privately, with several of my students performing in shows touring internationally. I currently teach film technique in Sausalito and Improvisation at Sonoma State University.
DM: Are there any books you recommend for actors?
JW: My library has 50+ books on acting, and/or relate to storytelling.
Some of the top acting books are:
An Actor Prepares by Constantin Stanislavski
Sanford Meisner on Acting by Meisner & Doug Longwell
Respect for Acting by Uta Hagan
Stella Adler – The Art of Acting by Howard Kissel
Acting In Film by Michael Caine
Audition: Everything an Actor Needs to Know to Get the Part by Michael Shurtleff
On the Technique of Acting by Michael Chekhov
The Way of Acting: The Theatre Writings of Tadashi Suzuki
A Practical Handbook for the Actor by Melissa Bruder, Lee Michael Cohn, Madeleine Olnek, Nathaniel Pollack, Robert Previtio, Scott Zigler
Towards a Poor Theatre by Jerzy Grotowski
An Acrobat of the Heart: A Physical Approach to Acting Inspired by the Work of Jerzy Grotowski by Stephen Wangh
The Viewpoints Book: A Practical Guide to Viewpoints and Composition by Anne Bogart & Tina Landau
The Moving Body: Teaching Creative Theatre by Jacques Lecoq
A Director Prepares: Seven Essays on Art in Theatre by Anne Bogart
The Sanford Meisner Approach: An Actor’s Workbook (1, 2 & 3) by Larry Silverberg and Horton Foote
Impro & Impro for Storytellers both by Keith Johnstone
Truth in Comedy: The Manual of Improvisation by Del Close
Art by Committee: A Guide to Advanced Improvisation by Charna Halpern
Upright Citizens Brigade Comedy Improvisation Manual by Matt Walsh, Ian Roberts, Matt Besser
A Dictionary of Theatre Anthropology by Euginio Barba & Nicola Savarese
Playing to the Camera: Film Actors Discuss Their Craft edited by Bert Cardullo, Harry Geduld, Ronald Gottesman, Leigh Woods
Master Shots: 100 Advanced Camera Techniques to Get an Expensive Look on Your Low-Budget Movie (1 & 2) by Christopher Kenworthy
DM: What’s one piece of advice you would like to impart on actors who are wanting to dive into the film industry?
JW: Study. Preferably with me.
One piece of advice is impossible to chose. If you choose to pursue this crazy industry, you have to go in to it with your eyes open, and not blinded by a dream of stardom and financial reward (Those are by products of hard work, perseverance, teamwork, connections, opportunity and good timing). The hard work, that never really stops. You must constantly update your materials, and hone your craft. You need to frame your thinking into seeing yourself as an instrument and a product. You learn to play your instrument like a musician does, by practicing and getting the notes, rhythms and melodies. You manage marketing your talent, since you are the product, and it is imperative that you understand that it is very personal working with your ego and emotions in a very impersonal business. Rejection is a fact of the biz, and you cannot take it personally.
The first of the three elements of the craft is auditioning; go in, be brilliant and get out. Go on to the next audition and don’t look back. Hone your work, do your homework, be prepared so when you get into the audition room you do your work focused and well. Be friendly, relaxed and not ‘needy’, showing that you are easy to get along with and you can take direction. Then, when you get into rehearsal, know how to collaborate, and generate authenticity in each beat. Make the best possible action choices for each moment. Make connections on every level, from inferred text, environmental, character relationships, history, blocking with the camera and active listening.
What are a couple of the highlights from your acting career?
I have so many it’s difficult to choose a couple. I’m thrilled at being a team member on great films. Working with legendary directors: George Miller, Clint Eastwood, Louis Malle, Robert Zemeckis, Catherine Hardwicke, Amy Hekerling, Oz Scott, among others. I loved watching cinematographers and cameramen, Alan Daveau, Bruce Surtees, Garrett Brown, Dean Cundey, et al, find their shots and collaborate with their directors, using cutting edge technologies and effects. Becoming collaborators and often friends with stars and celebrities is extremely exciting. Traveling the world to shoot, and to appear in support of films, and then to meet fans at conventions make me very happy.
I have dozens of fun stories from location shoots, studio shoots, fancons, film, Television, Commercial, Industrial stage, even party work… but that should be another blog, perhaps a sequel?
Does Jeffrey sound like the kind of teacher you want to work with? Then sign up for his first Bay Area Film Mixer workshop “Working On Set” at Eventbrite. We’ll see you ready to start class at 12noon on Saturday 16th April at Ninth St Independent Film Center!
Jeffrey Weissman is an acting vet with over 100 stage roles and over 50 film and television roles under his belt, including a role in two of the biggest grossing sequels of all time, playing George McFly, co-staring with Michael J Fox & Lea Thompson in Back to the Future II & III. He also co-stars with Clint Eastwood in Pale Rider. His first film co-star role is with John Lithgow in Twilight Zone the Movie.
More recently his roles in indie films, include playing Benny, a depressed, epileptic widower, turned avenging angel in Savior of None, and he plays an OCD winemaker in the hilarious mockumentary Corked!. Other recent films include Nobody’s Laughing and Slapdash, both shot in San Francisco. And he plays a time traveling menace in the award winning sci-fi pilot, The Traveler (Gold at 2016 International Independent Film Awards).
On television, he guest starred on The Man Show, Saved By The Bell, Diagnosis Murder, Scarecrow & Mrs King, Max Headroom and on a host of other shows and commercials.
Jeffrey writes, directs, consults, and produces live entertainment, stage shows, TV and films. Jeffrey studied at the American Conservatory Theater and San Francisco State University, and he currently teaches privately, and publicly he’s teaching film acting in Sausalito and Improvisation at Sonoma State University.
For full credits, check out Jeffrey on imdb.