Hasslein Blog: Turning George McFly Upside-Down: Actor Jeffrey Weissman Goes Back to the Future


Hasslein Blog

Friday, April 19, 2013

Turning George McFly Upside-Down: Actor Jeffrey Weissman Goes Back to the Future

Turning George McFly Upside-Down: 

Actor Jeffrey Weissman Goes Back to the Future

By Rich Handley

In 1989, Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale created the first of two sequels to their 1985 masterpiece, Back to the Future. The second film, picking up right where the first left off, featured most of the main cast from BTTF, with a couple notable exceptions. One of them, of course, was Crispin Glover, who'd breathed life into the much-loved George McFly. Due to disagreements with producers that eventually avalanched into a lawsuit, Glover opted not to return for the sequels, leaving Universal with a grim choice: replace him or remove George from the films entirely.

Thankfully, the studio went with choice A, and brought in talented actor Jeffrey Weissman to assume the role of George. Weissman recently chatted with Hasslein Books about his experiences working on BTTF Parts II and III, as well as his work outside of Back to the Future. The actor offered frank, honest recollections of how it felt to step into such an iconic role amidst mixed feelings on set.

On Back to the Future Part II, Jeffrey Weissman got to
hang around the set... just not in the usual way.

HASSLEIN BOOKS: I believe you were working at Universal Studios as an impressionist when you were called in to replace Crispin Glover as George McFly. Is that correct?

JEFFREY WEISSMAN: I had been working in TV and film, and was "in between" gigs, when a friend who had played Stan Laurel called me up and asked me if I had ever considered doing lookalike work. His "Oliver Hardy" partner had lost his "Stan" at Universal, where they had been playing the classic comedy team, and I needed work, so I auditioned, and got the job... at first, I thought it very strange, for people treat you as if you are the real Laurel and Hardy (example: one day an elderly female guest said "I always wanted to meet you two before I died").

Getting into another fine mess as Laurel and Hardy

Shortly after getting Stanley Laurel down, I expanded my horizons and started playing Chaplin's Tramp character and Groucho Marx (I wanted to get more hours, but mainly because I thought the talents Universal had as their "first-stringers" weren't doing justice to the comic genius of the originals). I wanted to raise the bar and give those guys a run for their money, and it worked—they bettered their costumes, make-up and performances greatly.

Charlie Chaplin's The Tramp

HASSLEIN: Can you recall what led to your getting the gig on Back to the Future Part II?

WEISSMAN: I got a call one day from the friend who originally asked me if I could play Stan (he had a "lookalike" booking company), and he asked if I knew who Crispin Glover was. I said, "Yes, I had worked with him on a film at AFI back in '83," and he asked if I thought I was about the same height and weight as him. I told him, "No, Crispin was taller and heavier than I, but I thought I might be close." I asked if this inquiry was to be a stand-in for him for the sequel to Back to the Future…? And he said that he wasn't at liberty to say. I said, "Get me a meeting." And he did.

I next went through a series of meetings, auditions and screen tests. I met with assistant director David McGiffert, and next went to read (along with other actors), the "George and Marty hanging the clothes in the backyard" scene from the first film for casting director Judy Taylor. Co-casting director Mike Fenton (along with associate Marci Liroff) had cast me in Twilight Zone: The Movie, so he may have vouched for me. I then met with make-up designer (from the first BTTF film) Ken Chase, and sat for make-up sessions in his backyard workshop, to fit prosthetics to play 17-year-old George for screen tests with Robert Zemeckis and Dean Cundey. The prosthetics made me look like Crispin, but not exactly. Robert asked Dean what he thought of my performance, and I heard Dean say, "I think we have Crispin without the trouble." This was the first time I had an inkling that I was possibly being more than just a stand-in or photo-double.

Recreating a classic scene from the first film

HASSLEIN: Your portrayal of George McFly was so dead-on that even now, some fans still haven't figured out that it's not Crispin Glover hanging upside-down.

WEISSMAN: Yes, when I tell people that I played the role in the sequels, they often tell me, "No, that wasn't you." And I often have to point them to IMDb or show them photos of me on the set. I heard from a crew member that Bob and Robert had purposely written George hanging upside-down because they wanted to torture Crispin during the shoot, as payback for the headaches he caused on the filming of the first installment.

I daily went through three to four hours of make-up as George at ages 17, 47 and 77, and then was hung upside-down for all of the McFly household 2015 scenes. It was hard on my face and back. Lea, Tom, Michael and Elizabeth, we all had to be put into old-age prosthetics during the shoot. I was just the lucky one that got the bonus torture of being hung upside-down for often 20-plus hour days.

There was also a body cast that we used in the kitchen (during the pizza serving), that I was cinched into, then the costume over it. It had a pole going from the back that went through the set that had a wheel on the other side, so that on cue, a teamster could turn it, causing me to rotate… Loraine said, "George, rotate your axis for dinner," and I as George said, "Okay, four!" as on the golf course, and added the iconic guttural laugh that Crispin used in the first film. It wasn't included in the final cut, but it made it to the outtake/bonus material on the DVDs.

Weissman as old George, with Elizabeth "Jennifer Parker" Shue, who shared 
his experience of replacing a Back to the Future actor for the sequels

HASSLEIN: Was George a difficult character to step into?

WEISSMAN: It wasn't hard for me to "get" the young George McFly character, because Crispin had done such a fine job fleshing out his pacing and quirkiness. His behavior, walk, speak and mannerisms were brilliant, very idiosyncratic and fun to find. As you know, we re-created scenes from the first film from different angles, what had been done already, similar to doing lookalike work.

When I first stepped on set, there was awkwardness. Because they didn't have the original George, yet they had to have him, people were stand-offish or even were in denial of not having him. I had an awkward time often being called "Crispin" by director Bob Z. (Robert Zemekis) and others. The first time Michael J. Fox met me on set in the make-up of young George, he said, "Crispin isn't going to like this." I had heard also from Billy Zane that he and others were sure that Lea had grown to be very fond of Crispin, perhaps in a romantic way, and thus, when she had to kiss me, et al., in the prosthetics, she was very uncomfortable. And I was uncomfortable because there was the feeling of being a "scab," with all of the response I was getting.

To make matters worse, Spielberg came up to me during the shoot and said sarcastically, "So, Crispin, I see you got your million dollars after all." Which is a rude thing to say to your actor whom you are paying a few thousand a week (at that moment, I saw that I was saving production about $975,000). How would that make you feel…?

Weissman stepped in as Lorraine's density... I mean, her destiny.

HASSLEIN: Did you find it intimidating to take on a role for which your predecessor was so widely acclaimed?

WEISSMAN: Yes, of course. When make-up designer Ken Chase had me in for some final "fittings," he told me that Crispin was "out" and that I was going to play George. I couldn't fathom that, because I was told, all down the line, I was to be his photo-double. (I had actually called Crispin when I was up for this position, reminded him of our work together on an AFI film five years before, and asked him to say a good word for me, since my wife was expecting our second child, and I needed the work to get medical coverage.)

Furthermore, the original George was such an important part of the puzzle. He really played his part well, and brought to life a now classic iconic character. I wasn't included in cast meetings or script readings, so I was a bit handicapped. I knew I was filling big shoes, and somewhat stymied by the circumstances. I thought I could perhaps bring more to the 2015 George at least, and there is some improvising I did on set, which can be seen in the bonus material outtakes, as I mentioned. There was also a very funny bit I came up with when Marty Jr. gives upside-down George a banana to eat from the fruit tree that extends from the ceiling. The peel kept flapping back in my face and it was silly fun, but it didn't make the cut.

Many folks don't know that the original Paradox script had Crispin playing Seamus McFly in Part III. When he didn't return, they moved Michael into the role (as if he didn't have enough to do), and I suppose to have me play the role without the heavy make-up would've been foreign to the audience. "Who is this guy?" they would have said, though I don't doubt that I would have stepped up to the challenge. At one point, Bob Gale said that he'd give me a role in Part III without all the make-up. Unfortunately, that did not happen. I had one day as George, age 47, on the porch of the McFly house after Marty returns from the Old West, but it isn't anything without a prosthetic mask.

HASSLEIN: How was the "upside-down George" effect achieved, and how unnerving was the suspension experience?

WEISSMAN: I was on wires, which were erased in post. Production didn't want to take me down in between takes, so ILM constructed a special ladder with a board on a high rung that I could lay back on to rest for a minute before the next take.

Relaxing the back between takes

HASSLEIN: How does this sort of thing compare and contrast with your theatrical work?

WEISSMAN: Well, I haven't "flown," like in Peter Pan, as I was flown on the 2015 set. Nor have I ever made as much money in theater as I did on the films. In theater, you get a rehearsal period, whereas I only had brief rehearsals on set in this film, but generally in film (especially indies), rehearsal before shooting on set is a real luxury and not common.

HASSLEIN: Are you frequently recognized as George by Back to the Future fans, since you look so different without the age make-up?

WEISSMAN: No, not too often. Usually, it's by fans who are paying attention. The make-up made me look so completely different from myself. I have had students in my classes and fans at cons get very excited when they get to meet me, or figure out who I am, knowing my work from the films.

With Dick van Dyke on Diagnosis Murder, impersonating Stan Laurel

HASSLEIN: Are there other roles for which you're typically more recognized?

WEISSMAN: Sure, I am sometimes recognized from the "Teddy Conway" role I played in Clint Eastwood's return to Westerns in 1985's Pale Rider. Some fans loved my "High Geek" role as Skreech's guru on Saved By the Bell (but I wore thick glasses and buck teeth in that). I have been recognized from the guest-star stints I did on Scarecrow and Mrs. King, Diagnosis Murder, The Man Show, Diagnosis Murder, Dallas, etc., as well as some commercials (PIP, Ameritech, Flap 'n Chicken, Jack in the Box, Cherry Coke, Mitsubishi Trucks, et al.), but most of the time, I am the unknown celebrity... which is fine with me. I like attention, but I also enjoy anonymity and my privacy.

I want to mention one ironic thing that happened in '85: I was cast as a 1950s "greaser" in a Cherry Coke commercial directed by film director Stan Dragoti, and it had a Back to the Future theme, with a Marty McFly lookalike taking the cherry flavor in his coke back to the '80s.

Out... rageous!

HASSLEIN: Did Crispin Glover seem to hold any ill will toward you regarding your replacing him in the role? And what did you think of him?

WEISSMAN: We worked together on a film at AFI in the early '80s, and I thought him interesting and quirky as an actor. I tried to stay in touch and kept up with his career. In fact, I was really proud of his work in the first Back to the Future film when I saw it in the theater.

When Crispin decided he wanted to sue Universal, the cast and the production team, he contacted me and was very whiney about how badly they treated him on the first film. The producers belittled him and made him cry in front of extras on the first shoot, cut his hair without his approval, and how much he had been "done wrong" because they were going to pay him twice scale for the use of the short clips they used of him from the first film, inserted into my work on the second.

I did see that he was being cheated, especially because they used his likeness (Universal's argument was that they were using "George's likeness"), and after Crispin got his $760,000 out-of-court settlement (before it went to trial), using much of our conversation as fuel for his case, Universal blacklisted me and never used me on a TV show or film again, and Crispin has never taken my calls nor spoken to me since.

I took it very hard that production tried to keep my work a secret, kept me from promoting my work on the films publicly, and I had a nervous breakdown when I heard of the blacklisting by Universal. To top it all, hardcore Back to the Future and Crispin fans have written "hate Jeffrey Weissman" postings in public forums, which are pretty painful. Ahh, showbiz.

"The prosthetics made me look like Crispin, but not exactly." —Weissman

HASSLEIN: Tom Wilson, in a song performed at one of his standup gigs, described Glover as "…unusual." Would you agree?

WEISSMAN: He definitely moves to the beat of a different drummer. His performance art, as demonstrated by the infamous Letterman appearance when he was kicked off the show just after almost kicking Dave in the face, his morbid singing and Rat Catching books, the tours with his edgy experimental films, etc., make him the darling of fans that feel they don't fit into the mold of "'regular" society. And I think Crispin is happy to be an eccentric artist that still gets to work in mainstream productions.

HASSLEIN: Michael J. Fox, Christopher Lloyd and Lea Thompson all have reputations as being very nice people.

WEISSMAN: Well, they are very nice people. Michael was welcoming when he got to know me off set and out of make-up. I gave him my opinion on the property he was considering buying in New England, that may have helped him decide to buy his home, when he was considering it during the shoot. Also Tom, Michael and I all had wives having babies during the shoot, all within two weeks of each other; I recall this was a nice bonding thing.

Lea was nice to work with, even if the first few times I met her off set, she would introduce me to her mother or others as "the actor that played Crispin." In more recent years, she's learned my name, and she even has complimented me on my performance in writing on a personally inscribed photo.

HASSLEIN: Are you still in touch with any of the Back to the Future cast?

WEISSMAN: Yes. I usually see cast and crew at fan cons and BTTF-themed charity fundraising events. I helped get about 20 cast and crew members out for the first big reunion at the Hollywood Show three years ago. I have gotten be close friends with Claudia Wells, even though we never appeared together in the films. We started doing benefits, such as the late Wendy Jo Sperber's WeSpark Cancer Support Center's Celebrity Golf Tournament, the Exotic Car Show in Celebration, Florida, for the Make-a-Wish Foundation and other charities, and I've emceed and been a guest at the DeLorean Owners Conventions for many years. (They are like family, and have been very good to me, even joined forces and raised money to help when my wife and I were in need to help cover her medical costs for her brain cancer).

Weissman at a 2012 DeLorean car show in Orlando, with (left to right) Terry Holler,
Donald "Goldie Wilson" Fullilove, Claudia "Jennifer Parker" Wells, 
BTTF.com's Stephen Clark and Oliver Holler.

I have appeared at fan cons and film festivals around the U.S. and the world. I went to Collectormania and then London Comic Con with cast members James Tolkan, Chris Lloyd, Lea Thompson and Ricky Dean Logan, and have appeared with other cast members JJ Cohen, Don Fullilove, etc., at poker tournaments and events, like Chiller in New Jersey, and with Billy Zane at Comic Con in San Diego.

Last year, I found out that Christopher likes exotic meat-eating plants, and gave him a rare Venus Fly Trap, a "Red Bomber," and when the seller found out who it was for, he said he was going to make a hybrid with long white hairs and name it after Chris. From the production team and crew, I've appeared at events with Bob Gale, Andrew Probert, Kevin Pike, Rick Carter, Michael Klastorian and others.

HASSLEIN: Did you form any other lasting friendships due to your involvement with those films?

WEISSMAN: I've made friends with many fans, and the owners of DeLoreans who have brought me in to their events. I even put some of them into an improv show which we performed at one of the conventions to great applause. Folks like Oliver and Terry Holler, who made their own Time Machine DeLoreans and travel the world raising money for the Michael J. Fox Parkinson's / Team Fox Foundation have become dear to me.

I'm friends with Paul "Doc" Nigh, Video Bob Mosley, J Ryan, Ken Kapowalski, et al., who have been big fans and supporters of the films for years, many of whom have made their own DMC time machines and raised monies for the charities associated with Back to the Future cast members. I've also formed a friendship with Stephen Clark of the BTTF Fan Club.

Weissman with Claudia "Jennifer Parker" Wells

HASSLEIN: Do you have any crazy, hilarious or bizarre tales to share from the BTTF sets?

WEISSMAN: The 2015 McFly home was art-directed within an inch of its life, as was the 2015 Hill Valley set. Many of the amazing details on the props never got seen onscreen, and the things like the pizza that was "hydroginzed" in four seconds come to mind. Behind the set, there were a half-dozen women cooking perfect-looking pizzas for Pizza Hut, so that there was a perfect steaming pizza ready for each take. Product placement was fairly new, and I'm sure production was getting a good chunk of the $50 million budget from Nike, Pepsi, Texaco, et al.

In the 2015 McFly kitchen, we had to set our movements around the dinner table very precisely when working with the Tondreau computer-run Vistaglide camera, so that Michael could play multiple roles (Marlene, Marty Jr. and Marty Sr.). It was explained to us that the film was spliced in the camera to allow this, and once blocking was set, no one could vary from it (this is a few years before digital technology came into film production), and we'd lock down the set and camera at the end of each day's shoot. Being in southern California, of course we had an earthquake one night after the shoot, and the fear was that things had moved, the camera had shifted, and that we'd have to start over again. Luckily it was not the case, and we carried on.

We had many days that went 20 hours or more, and one 22-hour shoot day pushed Robert Zemeckis' problem-solving talents to the test. When Loraine goes over to the "fake window" in the living room, and she lifts the shade to reveal a brick wall, the projector creating the "outdoors" scene through the window would flicker and thus reveal the special effect. Bob Z. spent a long time trying to figure out how to avoid ruining the illusion; he sent everyone to a second dinner, and when we came back, Bob Z. had Lea just buy a little time by pulling the cord out from the window, and lifting the shade slower while the flicker of the projection was lost by her covering it. It was a simple fix, but it took hours to figure out.

Behind the Scenes: Back to the Future II

Robert Zemeckis is an amazing director who hires very competent folks, and he just sits back and keeps an eye on everything, steps up when problems arise and fixes them. If you look at the credits, there must have been over 100 special-effects and camera specialists on Part II. There was great care taken in making sure that scenes from Part I lined up that were being re-shot from different angles for Part II... costumes, hair, make-up, props all had challenges in this, being four or five years since the initial film being shot. And it mostly works. There are some fans who have found discrepancies in continuity, which is amusing.

During the shoot, I asked Michael, "When do you sleep?" (he was shooting the last season of Family Ties during the day, and with us on BTTF Part II all night), and he said he usually would get a few minutes' sleep in the limo ride between studios. His driver was a nice gentleman, Sam, who he named his son after.

On the set of Back to the Future II

HASSLEIN: Would you mind sharing some anecdotes about your work on Pale Rider?

WEISSMAN: On Pale Rider, I spent four weeks on location in Ketchum/Sun Valley, Idaho. The cast was very talented: Richard Dyshart, Michael Moriarty, Carrie Snodgrass, Sydney Penny, Chris Penn, all of the great character actors playing the deputies and miners. As on most sets, you become a family, especially when on location for any long period of time away from home, and actors and crew on per diem can behave like children let loose in a candy store. So like in Vegas, what happens on location should stay on location. Some of the stories get pretty wild.

Promotional material for Pale Rider

I recall on set that when Michael Moriarty, as Hull Barrett, goes into town the first time in the film and gets beat up by the "bad guys," one of the actors was messing around and didn't stick to the blocking, and Michael broke a few fingers. Michael had been writing music, and I think he had been commissioned, and he was furious that he could no longer play piano, so he left the film. It took Clint a few days to get him back on set, and if you look closely when Hull is returning in the buckboard from town, he wears a cast on that hand. I think Clint also got him a harmonium, so he could still compose with his one good hand wherever he was.

Another fun scene to watch for continuity is the very dramatic scene where my character Teddy's father, Spider, gets drunk in town and calls out the deputies, and they proceed to shoot him down, inspiring Clint's avenging-angel character to start his payback. It took us three days to shoot the entire scene, and on the first day, we had snow everywhere from a recent storm, and by the second day, there was no snow due to the sun coming out and melting it. So production had to make fake snow, which is very slippery, and I recall, when running to Daddy's "dead body," I slipped and nearly kicked Doug McGrath in the head... if you look closely, Chuck LaFont, who plays my brother Eddy, and I are in a blizzard on the porch of the mercantile, and Doug is in the sun just a moment earlier before the shooting starts, then as Blankenship (played by Richard Hamilton) comes out to get the boys, large chunks of the fake snow go floating by.

Clint had the town set built on the top of a mountain, so cinematographer Bruce Surtees had breathtaking views wherever he put his camera; the Sawtooth, Salmon River and White Cloud Mountains were behind each shot. It was really beautiful, but cold as a witch's tit. Actors were constantly huddled around gas heater-blowers, and not wanting to go on set when called because the cold wind would rip right though you.

I had made my character pretty simple-minded. If you look at the first time you see him, he's fishing with no bait in about a half-inch of water. I also had his feet go out from under him at excitable moments, and would do pratfalls, which Clint seemed to like, though none remain in the film.

On the Twilight Zone set with Charles Knapp and John Lithgow

HASSLEIN: How about Twilight Zone: The Movie?

WEISSMAN: John Lithgow is a really great spirit. And George Miller is a lovely director. The audition for him was to tell a joke. I had recently completed an indie film (Savior of None), co-starring with Vernon George Wells, who co-starred as "Wez" in George's Road Warrior (part two of the Mad Max trilogy), and he told me that George had him tell a joke as his audition, too.

Few people know that Larry Ceder (from Deadwood) played the creature on the wing of the plane. There were many fine talents on the film; the lovelies, Abbey Lane and Donna Dixon (whom I adored) and J D Johnson (who is also in Pale Rider) were great folks to work with, as were the crew and cinematographer Alan Daviau, who shot ET. it was one of the first films Garrett Brown brought his Steadicam to work on... it was a big 60- or 90-pound monster back then, that he ran up and down the aisles with. George Miller was also elated, because on the shoot, it was the first time that a video could tap the camera and show what he was shooting on video playback—which has been common for a long time now, but in 1982, it was a revelation. George would let us come up with bits and lines, and often we'd shoot and it'd stay in the film. George Miller is a really great director to work with.

Facing a sight more pleasant than a creature
on a wing, in
 Twilight Zone: The Movie

HASSLEIN: Max Headroom?

WEISSMAN: I enjoyed being on that fun set. Matt Frewer was all the rage, and Amanda Pays was pretty as can be. I was a big fan of George Coe from his Du Duva short burlesque of Bergman films that he made with Madeline Kahn. I had known about Jeffrey Tambor, since we both came out of SFSU, and had the same professor in theater, and I worked with Sharon Barr years later at Universal.

HASSLEIN: And Saved By the Bell, which you mentioned earlier?

WEISSMAN: I went in and nailed the High Geek role. I had gotten called back on many films in the '80s: Revenge of the Nerds, My Science Project, etc., and never got the nerd role, but I was always in the running. So I used some buck/crooked teeth I had made, stiff-spritzed my hair straight up and wore thick glasses, and goofed all out, which seemed to fit the signature of the show—heavy-handed.

I liked the cast and enjoyed my time on the set, although I ran into a cultural obstacle from Mr. Casey Kasem, who was also guest-starring on that episode. He complained to the producer because I was wearing a fez, and my plan was to take it off in the scene revealing the high hair and remove the magic retainer from the fez. Because Casey is Muslim, he felt this was an inappropriate use of the sacred hat. It did ruin my reveal of the high hair, killing a laugh, and I made the retainer appear by zapping magic in a cauldron.

Geeking out with Dustin "Screech" Diamond on Saved By the Bell

HASSLEIN: How heavily did you interact with the main casts of those shows and films?

WEISSMAN: I was working, so it was not necessarily a social-mixing time, but I got along well with most casts. I've found, sometimes, celebrities like Kate Jackson can be very standoffish, like when I guest-starred on Scarecrow and Mrs. King, but by the third day of shooting, she warmed up to me. I only regret not staying in touch with many of the stars that I got along with well, because I figured I'd always be working, but when my great agent moved on in 1988, I was hard-pressed to find a good replacement, and my career went south.

Those of you reading this who are in the biz, stay in touch with those you work well with that you see growing in their craft. I helped Catherine Hardwicke, John Schwartzman, Gregg Araki and Lawrence Bender on projects early in their careers, and didn't stay in touch or get personal numbers, which is a mistake, because we got along well.

Portraying a fan of Johnny Dangerously in... Johnny Dangerously

HASSLEIN: Please tell us about your current theater work. Where might fans see you in action these days?

WEISSMAN: I am in rehearsals for a production of Mel Brooks' musical of Young Frankenstein in Northern California, opening in May. I play Igor... it's been 30 years since I've tap-danced and about 22 since I've sung in a musical, and I'm working my tail off and loving it.
[ED. NOTE: Folks in the Bay Area interested in obtaining information about Young Frankenstein can click here or here.]

I also have a lead role in a very dramatic indie feature, Savior of None, coming out on Aug. 22nd at the AOF Film Fest, in Monrovia, playing a handicapped avenging-angel for an abused 16-year-old girl caught in the foster-care system.

Filming Savior of None

I've several projects in development that I either have leads or supporting roles in, and that I now also have a role as co-producer, helping to put the projects' puzzle pieces together.

Having a monster of a time in Young Frankenstein

I have played in several of my film students' shorts and features, and I am patiently waiting for a docu-dramatization of Mark Twain's visit to the Holy Land to come of TV. I play Twain in it, and I play Twain in live environmental theater in Old Town Sacramento's History Museum's "Time Travel Weekends," this coming summer.

Mark Twain visiting the Holy Land

HASSLEIN: Are theater and improv your first loves, or do you prefer working in the film and TV arena—and why?

WEISSMAN: I love improv. There is nothing more exciting (or scary) than going over the edge without a net, hoping that you land on your feet in the world of instant storytelling. I helped get Los Angeles Theater Sports going 24 years ago, and out of those great fun shows came many top television writers (Friends, Boy Meets World, Joey, et al.), and many cast members of Who's Line Is It Anyway? and other comedy shows... in fact, that group continue to play brilliant shows as "Impro" Theater, doing a whole night of Jane Austin, Shakespeare, Sondheim, Twilight Zone and Tennessee Williams shows completely unscripted, with great success.

I also love scripted theater. I have appeared in everything from Shakespeare to Kushner, in comedy and magic revues, and many other shows in recent years all over, from touring the South China Sea on cruise ships, to community theater, college campuses and legit houses. I also have a passion for educational environmental theater.

HASSLEIN: What's in store for you down the line?

WEISSMAN: I have been, for the past four years, a caregiver for my wife during her health crisis with brain lymphoma, and when she is back in the working world (her five tumors are gone), I will likely return to my passions: deejaying on radio, teaching, films and more shows.

HASSLEIN: You've also been coaching and teaching actors for years, right?

WEISSMAN: Yes, I have taught at universities, vocational schools and privately for a long time. I help talent develop their characters, one-man/womam shows and film scripts, and give actors building blocks for their business sense.

Teaching students

HASSLEIN: How is that going, and what sorts of skills and advice do you impress upon your students?

WEISSMAN: I use anecdotes from my career experiences, along with common sense and teachings of others to students for bettering themselves in their craft. It's often very entertaining and informative. Currently, I am looking for more opportunities. In this economy, it is hard for me to be hired by universities because I do not hold a degree, and the adjunct work is hard to come by. I am optimistic that students will come to wherever I teach.

I also speak at expos and film festivals, too.

I teach improv, theater games, Commedia dell'Arte, character development, film technique, the business of acting, comedy, writing and directing. A workshop I created at the San Francisco School of Digital Filmmaking took off, because it became a lab where writers could safely see their works-in-progress come to life using great acting talents and working directors, and they could get feedback if they chose to.

Speaking at the NCS Expo

HASSLEIN: How might those interested in working with you get in contact?

WEISSMAN: I am available via e-mail through my website, www.jeffreyweissman.com, and on my Facebook fan page, www.facebook.com/pages/Jeffrey-Weissman/177601048951104. (My personal page is at the 5,000-pals limit, but I post my doings on my fan page regularly.)

HASSLEIN: Are you still raising money for charities?

WEISSMAN: Yes. When I'm not caregiving and I can afford to give time and money, I help dozens of charities. Now that I've spent everything while taking care of my honey, I am mainly supporting as I can, emceeing, donating a portion of proceeds from appearances, etc.

I have a plan in the works to do something very big for the Parkinson's Foundation for the Back to the Future 2015 anniversary, that I hope to announce publicly at the end of this year.

HASSLEIN: How has the acting world changed since you first embarked on your career?

WEISSMAN: It has always been a struggle to break into the biz. An overnight success often takes about 15 to 20 years. Now, with social media and a good agent, you, with hard work, can do it in maybe 10 years or less. There needs to be trust in your talent from casting, and that comes first with good training on your résumé, and by performing well in auditions.

When I first returned to Hollywood in '82 (I grew up in L.A. and left to train at the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco), there were regular "general meetings" in which a casting director would meet with an agent's clients that were new to them, and they would read them on current projects, and get to know their talent's ability. Those "generals" seemed to have gone the way of the dinosaur in the mid '80s, and with the amazing pressure the studios and networks put on casting, there is little time now for getting to know talents outside of your files or current auditions.

A casting director recently told me that she gets 2,000 submissions for every part she puts out in breakdowns, which tells you how many hungry artists are out there vying for a role. You need to stand out, be wonderful and trained, be in the right place at the right time, and know the right people to put you there. It's a crap shoot, but if you are driven, it's in your heart and soul, you work hard, persevere and do it.

Just don't get taken in by the promises of scams that will get you work by paying them to put you in front of someone in casting... it's likely going to hurt taking the shortcuts. I don't mean to say don't take risks, but be professional, friendly and prepared, and when opportunity presents itself, you'll find success.


HASSLEIN: Finally, do you find it difficult to obtain work in the current Hollywood glut of reality TV and elimination shows?

WEISSMAN: It is a shame that a good part of TV has been taken over by "sideshows" and "reality shows." But they found a market for sensationalism. And with the advent of cable, there is a huge demand for programing, and producers don't always want to pay casting directors and actors or deal with unions, so this is a way to avoid all of that.

I can't say that working on these shows is bad, especially for someone trying to get into the biz using this means as a shortcut, but get training and be ready to use your "flash in the pan" to get more work by going in the open doors and being brilliant. If you want to see great acting, stay with film and television that hires great actors to play in well-written scripts.

HASSLEIN: How optimistic are you about the situation improving in the near future?

WEISSMAN: I am hopeful that there will always be an audience not settling for mediocrity and insulting shows or low-brow productions. I have faith that our culture will evolve to rise above the low standard of so much TV and mainstream films that are insulting to a moral or thinking audience. But I suppose it's up to the producers to try harder to make good shows and tell great stories.

Thanks to Jeffrey Weissman for taking the time to answer our questions with such frankness and insight.

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At April 19, 2013 at 1:45 PM , Blogger pat said...

Loved the interview, love Jeffrey!

At April 19, 2013 at 3:55 PM , Blogger Unknown said...

Brilliant thank you for a small peak into your life /world


At April 19, 2013 at 3:56 PM , Blogger Unknown said...

Thanks for the small look into your life /world an interesting read

At June 13, 2013 at 7:50 PM , Blogger jenifer said...

Great interview, Jeffrey, and the photos are priceless. Thanks for sharing it.


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