Business or Casual?

I have signed up as a supporting artist (formerly known as a (lowly) extra) and need to post more photos on my casting agency profile page that will get me noticed!

Why Choose a Profile Pic?

The agency says my profile pics need to include formal, sporty, business or casual choices to make sure I get put forward for the greatest range of roles.

Business or casual—what’s best?

The Suit

A classic British pinstripe in dark grey squeezes into a dark back corner of my closet.

Old fashioned cut but classy, I like to think. A suit that says: This guy is serious…knows his stuff. Which was important when my Herculean efforts made no discernable impact on the world of finance.

And I have a black one, (hiding in a plastic clothes bag, sprinkled with mothballs), for the meetings I used to hate: when I had to play the gun-slinger. The tough guy… fortunately, I only wore that one occasionally.

There’s one more suit, however, that I prefer above all others. Light-weight, flexible, durable, well ventilated… A suit that’s been loyal and served duty in several shining corners of the world.

And it’s in my favourite colour too! If the agency lets me sneak this photo in… well, with the addition of a pair of flip-flopswhat better work conditions could one possibly hope for?

Just Jeans

But I’m a writer and artist now. Nothing beats jeans (501s in blue, black or tan) and a fleece. I feel more authentic in these. In fact I always did.

Which reminds me: my denim shirt (an obligatory component in the writer’s wardrobe) is falling to bits. Time for a new one.

Business or Casual?

What do you feel most comfortable in?

Please help me choose which is best? My new career depends on it!


Coming soon: Art Books by Ben

One night in London…

One evening while looking out of my office window over the rooftops of London, I realised that while I am passionate about spinning words into tales… I also really enjoy art. I missed drawing the black and white seascapes and fantastical universes I began to create many years ago, initially for my children.

With a portfolio stretching back fifteen years, many requests, and lucky enough to have attracted thousands of Facebook “likes”, I’ve decided to put my art into two books.

What kind of books?

The first will be ocean-themed (the formatting is already well advanced), the second land-based. My art is detailed black and white magical realism, interspersed with trompe l’oeil (trick of the eye). Often I disguise a message or story in my imagery.

What I think about when I think about art…

I enjoy taking existing animals and plants and reproducing them with accuracy down to the diameter of a hair follicle or stem texture of a mature sporophyte. But as I believe in parallel worlds (or multiverses—think quantum physics), I also like to modify my flora and fauna, sometimes minutely, sometimes big time, while retaining apparent authenticity. It’s up to the viewer to spot where I’ve accelerated evolution or wandered into a shadowy recess of my imagination.

How many pictures?

Each book will have about 55 illustrations. On the opposing pages, I’ll include a few (hopefully) interesting facts about the subject matter; my personal experiences; perhaps a few lines about what I was trying to achieve with that picture.

For the originals, I worked exclusively by hand and eye—no computer trickery here! But I’ll be adding a few “digitally doubled” images—images reflected down a central axis—at the end of both books. Just for fun.


The first book is already 75% formatted. If the Great Crested Lemur, unknown in Mad-agascar but commonplace in Sane-agascar (Editor: Ben, I can’t believe you wrote that :-/ ) would just stop hopping around for five minutes and let me finish the seascape behind it, I’d be able to wrap this up soon and have the first book up on Amazon in a few weeks.

I look forward to hearing your thoughts on the trompe l’oeil and the hidden stories you might see in these works…


Must-See Movie: A Plastic Ocean

Some films leave you speechless. Sow your mind with images that return in unguarded moments. Change the way you think about things. With DiCaprio involved, this one promised all three.

The Most Important Film of the Year

I’d heard about it, of course. The advertising was powerful, for a start. Snippets have turned up on the web. Joe Public had referenced it on Facebook. “Right up your street, Ben,” a friend had promised.

So I trekked up to North London this past monsoonal Monday to watch a 102 minute documentary.

The community hall where it was presented was strung with tiny white lights, and a screen and projector perched at the front. There was tasty homemade tomato soup on offer with delicious dark bread, chocolate cupcakes and cookies too.  I purchased an assortment, met the organisers, found a free chair and settled in to learn something new. I was unprepared for the scenes I was about to see.

The diverse audience sat motionless, apart from the odd gasp, or involuntary intake of breath. Then someone behind me began to cry as a beautiful Bryde’s whale convulsed to death. Choking albatross chicks followed. Bursting corpses. Gasping turtles. Too many dead fish to count. And the common denominator causing their suffering?


Eight million tons of it discarded in the oceans annually. Most as single use items like water bottles and carrier bags.

The film I was watching? A Plastic Ocean.

A film directed and written by Craig Leeson, presented by Craig Leeson and world free dive champion Tanya Streeter, and supported by Plastic Oceans Foundation, this is the most harrowing…but in my opinion, most important film of the year. Maybe of the decade. Maybe of the…

Because no, it isn’t the Amazon rainforest that captures most of the atmosphere’s CO2 and converts it into oxygen. 70% of the oxygen we breathe comes from the ocean’s phytoplankton. Whether it’s the Sri Lankan deeps, the Mediterranean, the Maldives—in fact anywhere, all the oceans are in trouble. Kill them and our planet dies too.

Gyres in the Ocean

Every ocean contains gyres—slowly circulating current confluences that have trapped decades of plastic waste. Flushed down drains and washed offshore by storm tides, often discarded deliberately, this plastic never vanishes.

Before the sunlight begins to break it down, filter feeders (from majestic baleen whales, to basking, whale and megamouth sharks and countless species of herbivorous fish) consume fragments of bottles, tiny toys, baskets, packaging loops… until their insides are blocked. Trusting turtles mistake plastic sheeting for jellyfish.

Micro Particles in the Gyres

Over time the sun’s UV breaks it down into micro particles whose rough surfaces then attract toxins of humankind’s (“kind”?) industrial and agricultural activities.

Fish, molluscs, crustaceans (and their swarming larvae) eat these particles.  Then these plastic particles pass up the food chain. If they don’t cause death along the way, they end up on our dinner plates. And plastics are endocrine disruptors, causing elevated incidence of cancers and many other diseases.

Hope for the Future

But the film rose to the challenge and offered more than despair. There were creative new ideas. The US navy has installed a plasma destruction system on its Gerald R. Ford-class aircraft carriers to render plastic biodegradable—can this technology be rolled out? An engineering company has discovered how to turn old plastic into diesel to fuel cars. Another makes plastic components to create furniture and other home building materials.

Plastic-conscious entrepreneurs are changing the way they handle this material—reducing, reusing, and building multi-uses for the plastic in their products.

What can we do?

  1. The film suggested we start returning our plastic waste to the companies that use it for packaging (restaurants, supermarkets) until they replace it with something safe and biodegradable.
  2. And crucially, we must stop buying single-use carrier bags and water bottles. Provide our own. Refuse over-packaged, plastic covered items. Take canvas or cotton bags to the supermarket instead.
  3. We can also see a screening of the film —and take a friend!
  4. Or take action: host a screening of A Plastic Ocean, sign up to the Plastic Ocean Foundation mailing list, or donate.

If you aren’t aware of the importance of the oceans, take a deep breath and watch this film. The importance of the health of the oceans is up there with global warming and nuclear war. And maybe, maybe…with a change of heart and habit, this consumer-led, disposably-irresponsible global society can change its ways.


Dinner Jacket or Morning Coat? You Choose!

The Importance of Profile Pics for Casting Agencies

With an exciting new string to my bow—I have signed up as a supporting artist (formerly known as a (lowly) extra)—I need to post photos on my casting agency profile page that will get me noticed.

How does it work?

The production company forwards a brief to the casting agency for, let’s say twenty extras, three of which must be 50-70 years old (check), well dressed (keep reading), and average looking (check) – as supporting artists must blend into the background, not draw the eye away from the leading actors. The casting agency then selects maybe 100 suitable candidates from their books, from which the producer makes his/her 20 choices.

So my profile photos need to include business, casual, sporty, and for today, formal choices—to make sure I get put forward for the greatest range of roles. My formal wear consists of a dinner jacket (aka black tie or tuxedo) and my morning dress (no, it’s not a dress).

Dinner Jacket Jaunts

This has served me well since my university days, when I seemed to clamber into it every few weeks for one event or another: the college dining club, a charity fund-raiser, someone’s twenty-first, the celebration after a wedding. The tie itself is what we call a single-ender: far easier to tie than the double-ender (which proved useful when a playful young woman decided to give it a midnight tug).

This faithful dinner jacket is beginning to show its age (cigarette burn on arm, missing cuff button) but it has rubbed shoulders with royal princes and princesses, billionaires, international sportsmen, politicians…and far more impressively, many dear lifetime friends.

Back in the day, it was an essential prop in a wicked hangover or two (never say yes to a second glass of port). Now its outings are less frequent but at least it still fits!

Morning Dress Mayhem

With my own wedding approaching in my youth, I needed formal morning dress—the traditional attire associated with the greatest day/mistake (delete as appropriate) of one’s life on this side of the Atlantic.

The morning dress comprises uncomfortably thick, coarsely striped trousers, a beige (or grey) waistcoat and black tailcoat. A white or cream shirt and sober(ish) tie. Lace-up shoes polished to within an inch of their lives.

I’ve only worn my morning dress to weddings as the Queen is yet to invite me to Buckingham Palace for a Knighthood after breakfast. Each outing is preceded with a cautious inspection: has the pheromone trap hung on the closet door prevented the clothes moths from masticating my tails?

I need your help!

Please help me choose which of these formal photos you like best. My new career depends on it!


5 Steps to Boxing Mojo

Fat Not Fit

A year ago, I realised I was looking, well… a bit different than I had in my youth. That I had a long way to go to reach my dream — 20 lbs to go in fact. Not only that, but I was headed in the wrong direction. My dream was getting more distant by the day.  How did this ever happen?

Apparently, it happened sometime when I wasn’t watching. Sometime when I was taking my health for granted and watching boxing videos on youtube, rather than getting out and doing the sport I love.

A year ago, I decided this could not continue and it was time to turn it all around.

Fit Not Fat

So what was I ultimately aiming for? To become once again the boxer of my youth! To pound 15 rounds on the bag and never break a sweat. Do endless press ups as in days of yore. Jog like the Flash. Strike fear in the hearts of boxers everywhere when I darkened the gym door. (Hm. I’m not sure it was ever quite like that…)

A Watershed Moment

What was the watershed moment that changed it all? I noticed an ad online and clicked on it. (Crazy, I know. But you know how marketers are always tracking your data and then showing you adverts in the sidebar they  think you’ll be interested in? Well, this time they got it right.) The inset included a story and photos of a 70 year old man – with the body I wanted to have.

If he can do it, I can do it, I thought. I’m competitive like that.

So I did.

5 Steps to Boxing Mojo

Here are the steps that worked for me:

  1. Admit defeat. Yes, watching boxing greats do their thing was fascinating (I love to study boxing strategy and technique). It might have been giving my brain a workout – but was not doing anything for my health.
  2. Find a gym. The gym that’s right for you. I’m no good at willpower. So I googled till I found a gym with the equipment that would make me want to go to the gym. And…location, location, location. It’s best if the gym you’re committing to is a short walk from either where you live, or where you work.
  3. Get a friend to drag you there. Having a friend to push me there the first time was helpful. Somehow, there’s a mental hurdle about showing up the first time.
  4. Go to the gym. Okay – going once a week is better than never going. And twice a week is better than that. But if I only aim for a couple of times a week, I find there’s always a reason to put it off till tomorrow — a tomorrow that never comes. Resolving to go to the gym 5 times a week, means… I’ll probably get there 4 times a week. So I pick up my resolve and my equipment bag, and go. For me, that works.
  5. Cut the carbs. Moderate alcohol. Reduce the bread and pasta. This was pretty painful for the first week. But after that, it got easier. I’m still open to treats from time to time, but I take care to let it be just that — a once in a while enjoyment. The memory of how tough it was to get through that first low-carb week keeps me on track. I don’t want to have to do that twice.

That’s about it. One year later, I’m feeling good — and like myself again. There’s real wisdom in Mens sana in corpore sano. And no reason to stop as we get older. Good health is a lifetime journey. I’m in it for the long haul.

Have you ever had a fitness watershed moment when everything changed and you resolved for a new future?

What do you do to stay fit? How do you find time in your schedule?

Top Secret

I was stunned to find that I’ve already been offered my first supporting artiste job! I’ll be on set today learning the ropes.

Usually the calls to set can be quite early. But I’ve even lucked in to a relaxing mid-morning start. Which is good news as I want to make a good first impression and punctuality is key. (I would have been up at 4am if needed, but didn’t have to this time!)

Top Secret

Maintaining content confidentiality prior to release is very important to producers. They want and need to prevent any content leaks from site — so no cameras, no mobile phones, no recording equipment of any kind on set. Also I won’t be able to describe anything that happens on set or any details of production. There are strict waivers to be signed to ensure this.

New Places, New Faces

I am looking forward to meeting new people – apparently supporting artistes come from all walks of life. What other careers allow for the kind of schedule flexibility needed for this job? Academics? Drama students? Carers? Pilots? I’ll soon find out.

Get Ready, Get Set…Wait!

My research also tells me that most of my time on set will be spent waiting for the great moment to begin. I’ll be given a mark to stand on, told what small action to perform…and then wait for that great moment to arrive. With lighting checks, organising what can often be large groups and many other kinds of preparation, I understand this can take quite a while.

Not to worry – it’s gonna be great!

Ben Goes Undercover!


Researching the Next Tale…

With the screenplay of Something in the Water doing the rounds, I’ve decided to refresh my memory of film sets—after all it’s been decades since I starred in an award-winning Suntory Whisky advert that that helped launch the Japanese single-malt industry…though sadly my burgeoning acting career was not so lucky!

Well, I’ve decided it’s time to give it another go. I’ll be sliding deep undercover to research the background for my next story setting…

Setting the Scene

I needed to understand the current industry, so I read You can be a Movie Extra by Ron Martin. Then I tried to commit all the dos and don’ts in that great tomb-ette to memory. Don’t look at the camera or make eye contact with the stars. Dress quietly. Be reliable. Polite. No photos on set (ever!). No phones. At the end of the day, get your chit signed; during the day, keep your chat to a minimum.

Who Needs a Fancy Studio?

Next I required photos but with no studio nearby, I improvised: I painted a section of living room wall white and lay a sheet on the floor. Then the photographer did her thing. Shirts were ironed, ties chosen, suits pressed. My tailcoat and dinner jacket were checked for moth holes and size (though made many moons ago, they still fit!) and several boxing-themed gym kit combinations were tried out. No doubt about it: I’m aiming to be the most versatile extra ever.

Apply, Apply, Apply!

Then I applied to four agencies (not allowed for real actors or models, but for crowd casting in the UK, it is quite usual and accepted). Measurements were taken (“I never knew that measurement was that!”), forms completed, un-photoshopped photos uploaded…and within days, my first audition! More form-filling, photos, and speaking into camera. I’m so glad I joined Toastmasters, the international speech-training organisation to help me relax and project my voice (yes, it’s just conceivable I may be offered a line somewhere down the…line).

My hand now hovers over my phone, awaiting the call to set. I’m poised to grab that TV commercial (dog-walker sitting on park bench), that soap (farmer leans against bar), that blockbuster (American tourist on Champs-Élysées as Ben Affleck sprints past).

What better way to spend a couple of days a month? I’ll meet new people, learn about the film word and collect ideas for (possibly more than one) forthcoming story. Better still, I’ve discovered that we foot-soldiers, we, the very foundations of the movie industry, aren’t called extras by those in the know. We’re proud to be known as supporting artistes. How impressive will that be when dropped into a conversation in which I casually mention the time I worked with Jennifer Lawrence?

Another Upside…

Hmmm. That white section of living room wall looks so good that I may have to repaint the whole apartment!