Monday, August 30, 2010

Emmys 2010 Roundup

I love the Emmys. There are plenty of people in the industry who roll their eyes and sneer at award shows, labeling them self-indulgent, commercial spectacles filled with false self-deprecation and ego. And they are. But I still love watching it.

Because at its core, the Emmys is a celebration of the medium I love so much – television. Viewers are reminded of the exceptional content on TV and incredible talent is acknowledged and honored.

For the people who work in television, the Emmys are a party weekend. TV actresses exchange their H&M for designer gowns and borrowed diamonds. Hardworking TV writers escape the writer’s room and parade the red carpet like movie stars.

And it all gets me excited. I’m excited for people I’ve worked with who are nominated. Excited that I’ve worked on nominated shows. Excited to be a part of such a good-looking, talented community. And I get really excited thinking that someday I’ll be in one of those seats at the Nokia, wishing and hoping they call my name.

No use critiquing the show itself. Award shows are flashy, fleeting entertainment. They’re simply means to an end – a fancy stage presentation for handing out trophies. This year’s show was serviceable with several enjoyable moments.

Until next year’s TV lovefest...

Thursday, August 26, 2010

One Line Wonder

“Ever have a bedpan emptied on you?”

My one line in the episode of Lie to Me I shot this week, for which I was in hair and makeup longer than I was on set. Almost 7 years after my television debut on ER, in which I exclaimed,

“I’ve never done a rectal!”

Ah, the joys of playing doctors, nurses, reporters, and other professional characters that exist to support the plot. One line here, two lines there. Nameless faces interacting with the main characters. It’s a fine art to be sure, and I’ve got it down.

And before you think I’m biting the casting hand that feeds me, I am absolutely grateful for every single one of these roles. I know that for every one-line secretary audition I get, there are at least 2,000 other actresses who wanted to get that audition too. But for whatever reason, I got to audition. I got the part. I got to try on Trina Turk and Diane von Furstenberg at my wardrobe fitting, get my hair and makeup done alongside Amanda Peet, and eat endless amounts of chocolate at crafty. I live a blessed, blessed life.

Still, I know that each one of these jobs is just a step towards a shift in my acting career. A shift toward roles where I get to show emotion. Roles in which my character has a name and gets called by that name. Roles that allow me to break top of show. Roles which have more than two lines. A career shift that is coming soon enough – all I need to do is continue to work hard and be patient.

Right now I’m happy to fit whatever stereotype is needed – Asian-American, intelligent, capable (fill-in-the-blank). But I can’t wait for the day when I play someone the audience remembers. Perhaps I’ll be the girl that everyone thinks is the victim at first, but later discovers is the killer! Or perhaps the girl who witnessed a mob hit that needs protection from retaliation. That will be cool.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Tools of the Trade: Online Resume Links

So you say you’re an actor? You want to work in TV and film? Then take this key piece of advice to heart:

Make sure people can find your acting resume online!

A few weeks ago, I was looking for an actor for my short film project. Not a problem, I thought. I know plenty of actors. Just had to check their union status first. So I logged onto Facebook, perusing the profiles of my actor friends, looking for links to their online acting resumes.

And I could barely find any! Their profiles detailed what TV shows they watched, their birthdays and siblings, and all the animals in their fake farm. But rarely did I find a link to their acting resume in the Links section. Rather than send a message and wait for a response, I simply moved on to the next person.

So this is for my actor friends and anyone else out there. Help me help you! After you create your resume on Actors Access or LA Casting, broadcast the link to it any way you can. Put it on your Facebook profile, YouTube channel, blog, email signature – anywhere and everywhere! If you don’t, who knows how many jobs you’re missing out on.

Start broadcasting!

Friday, August 20, 2010

Fictionless Friday: Anthem for Los Angeles

I recently told a new acquaintance that I’ve lived in LA for almost 8 years, and he instantly broke down that time down into phases – honeymoon, hating, and the final, inevitable acceptance. In reality, I had no such phases. The phases of my time in LA have more to do with the jobs I’ve had and the friendships I’ve made. The city itself had nothing to do with anything.

But personifying Los Angeles and then blaming it for problems seems to be popular sport. It’s an easy target, I suppose. Hating LA while living here has been around for decades. People talk about living in LA like it’s a force of nature. A beast to be tamed. Newcomers have an adverse reaction to it like it’s a virus or unwanted party guest. They gripe, complain, hate it violently or loathe it quietly with lofty disdain.

Because this is no ordinary city. This is the City of Angels. A city where dreams are pursued with fervent passion. Where movie stars appear on the big screen as well as the Starbucks next to your apartment. Where trends are made and even your housekeeper wears Juicy Couture. Where possibility hangs in every shopping center – I could get discovered! It’s a city of dreamers.

I once met a pretty blonde wannabe actress who told me that to get her career started, she was going to the Bar at The Standard every night because “It’s the best way to be seen.” Now I try to look presentable every time I leave my apartment, but the idea of going to a swanky, overpriced bar just to put myself on display is ridiculous. I’d rather read a book.

But like attracts like, and there’s plenty of people like this actress in LA, sharing dumb secrets with each other, learning how to be chic and trendy, dreaming big dreams. They live in their version of LA. And when that version fails to fulfill its promise, it’s the city’s fault.

I, for one, let LA off the hook. It’s just a place. A generally sunny place with an ocean view and incredible Mexican food. The people who live here make it what it is. People created the crowding, the homeless, the economy, the smog.

So I keep my eye on myself. What am I contributing to society? Who am I supporting by spending my money? What’s important to my quality of living? And so far, my perspective has worked for me. I’ve had my ups and downs in my almost 8 years of living here, but they’ve been mine. And LA, for its part, has been a great place to live.

Here’s to the next 8 years in the City of Angels.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Tools of the Trade: Demo Reels

Demo reels are quickly becoming a must-have for actors at all levels, especially now that casting has moved almost entirely online. Production moves faster than ever and casting directors want to see immediately what you look like, sound like, and feel like. Having a solid demo reel that showcases your talent can be integral in getting you the job.

If you don’t have any tape on yourself, doing student and independent short films are a great way to get scenes for your reel. No, you won’t make any money – you’re getting paid in footage. Look for roles that you’re likely to be cast in. If you think you’re a shoo-in for a medical examiner on CSI, try to book a student film in which you play a doctor.

To ensure you’ll get the footage in a timely manner, have the director or producer sign and date a simple contract that states you’re working for free in exchange for a copy of your work and expect to receive it within 60 days. Once he signs it, you’re owed your footage in the time allotted or else you can take him to small claims court.

But if you’ve done the submission game for student and independent films for a while without any significant result, then shoot something yourself. Use a scene from the TV show you’re perfect for or find a scene from a film that fits your energy. Make sure it showcases you in a role that you’d be cast in. Shoot it in the highest quality HD you can find, keep it under 3 minutes, and you’re golden.

But do it right. Crappy tape is NOT better than no tape at all. Your demo reel is a professional tool for your career – make sure you present something that looks professional. Find people who know what they’re doing to shoot and edit your reel. It’s worth the investment.

Finally, avoid the Actor Slate service offered by Breakdown Services for creating a one-minute general interview that shows off your personality. What it really shows casting directors is that you’re a beginner who’s not ready for on-camera work.

I just updated my own demo reel and present it here as an example. Professional editing done by the talented and handsome Ian at Bubba’s Chop Shop. If you have a demo reel to share, post it in the comments!

Monday, August 16, 2010

Notes from a First-Time Filmmaker

“He should be looking left of camera, right?”
“The sun is moving!”
“We need a half apple.”
“How about this case of grill tools?”
“Slate in!”
“The slate is now diamonds.”
All overheard during my short film shoot last week. My directorial debut, which sounds fancy and grand, but was really just a starter project – a three-minute short film for Justin Lin’s Interpretations Film Competition. And though the whole thing unfolded gracefully, I definitely got a healthy taste of the challenges of filmmaking.

First, my simple little three page script went through several revisions. One of my writers groups gave me great suggestions on early drafts. I wrote out implied domestic violence, added a Grandpa character to eliminate questions of child abandonment, and changed the ending three times.

Then there were casting obstacles. Finding a non-union older Asian male to play Grandpa proved harder than expected. Eighteen white guys submitted to my breakdown, but no Asians. I ended up finding a non-actor through a friend of a Facebook friend. And a few days before my start date, my leading man fell out and had to be replaced. After multiple Tweets and phone calls, an amazing actor from my theater company was able to step in.

In between creating a shot list and call sheets, I bought snacks for craft services and hunted for props. Flowers that looked like they were bought at a gas station. Picture frames that could be used and then returned the next day. And a gaudy painting that played a key role in my story. I ended up finding a beautiful monstrosity at the Out of the Closet thrift store.

Shooting was a joyful exercise in DIY filmmaking. We used beach towels and blankets from our cars to cover up the windows. I taught an 8-year old first-time actress about finding her mark. Every moment was filled with beautiful work - trying to visualize imaginary sight lines, keep the boom shadow out of frame, and scribble notes on the daily editor’s log.

My first film was a learning experience for sure, but also a masterpiece in its own way. I’m so proud of how the shoot went. My cast and crew were amazing. Working so tirelessly for nothing but love and lunch. I couldn’t thank them enough for all their hard work and talent. Now the footage goes to my editor, and for a moment, I can focus on the other short film I’m producing and brainstorm future projects. Because now that I’ve done it once, I can’t wait to do it again.

Update: Watch the finished product below!