Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Partying for a Cause

CAPE knows how to throw a party. Their holiday soiree at the Vibiana in downtown LA was epic. Celebrities, Taiko drummers, free Pinkberry, the Miss Chinatown court, Ken Jeong bringing down the house with his antics...totally an event to remember.

Tonight will be no different. CAPE is putting their mad event-planning skills to host a Japan Relief Fundraiser at The Factory.

Click here to view the Facebook invite and RSVP!

Just a $25 donation gets you into this great event for a great cause. 100% of proceeds will go to the Los Angeles Chapter of the American Red Cross specifically for the Japan Tsunami relief efforts. Free food and drink, plus a chance to win a roundtrip to Hawaii!

I’ll be there – will you?

Wednesday, March 23, 2011
6:30pm - 11pm
The Factory
652 North La Peer Drive West
Hollywood, CA 90069-5602

Free appetizers and drinks!
$25 Admission cash or checks
(Payable to American Red Cross and
note: Japan Earthquake & Tsunami Fund)

Celebrity hosts George Takei, Kelly Hu, Harry Shum Jr., Tia Carrere, James Kyson Lee, Amy Hill, Leonardo Nam, Wilson Cruz and more!

Monday, March 21, 2011

Tools of the Trade: Getting Your SAG Card, Part 2

To SAG or not to SAG. That is the question every actor faces after finally securing their SAG eligibility. Sure, joining SAG is what they’ve been working toward, but stepping over the line into union-land is a whole separate decision to be faced with careful consideration.

Take this message I received in response to my earlier post about getting your SAG card:
I just read your post about getting a SAG card. My question is...what next? My girlfriend recently joined SAG after landing a small part in a feature and she is unsure how to proceed. The local SAG office hasn't been much help. She has her info with some of the local talent shop type places, but does not have a full blown agent etc. ANY suggestions, advice or encouragement I can pass her way would be appreciated. She doesn't expect to become a movie star, but would like to make enough money to at least pay for her dues!
– Matt from Detroit
Thanks for reaching out, Matt! Your girlfriend is in a tricky spot – being a SAG actor in a regional market is a challenge because the opportunities are fewer and farther between. Though if you’re reading this post in New York or Los Angeles, the same advice applies...

Once you join SAG, you can no longer accept non-union work. No exceptions. And SAG doesn’t take any responsibility for finding actors work. They have their hands full trying to keep the studios from ripping us off. So becoming SAG means your world of job opportunities is suddenly completely different.

Whatever made you eligible doesn’t expire, so you should wait until you’re offered another SAG job to actually join. Save up for the mondo initiation fee and put “SAG Eligible” on your resume so producers know they can use you if they want. That way you can still accept non-union work and audition for SAG projects at the same time.

But if you’ve already taken the leap like Matt’s girlfriend, there are several things you can do to start securing paid gigs for yourself:
  • Consider background work if you haven’t before. Having your SAG card means that a day on a film will pay $139 for 8 hours – more than twice as much as it did when you were non-union. Plus they have to feed you hot food – a nice perk. If you can find commercial background work, even better – that SAG minimum is $323. In a regional market like Detroit, review production listings on to find films being shot on location in your area. Keep your eyes peeled in your local paper for extras casting calls. If they need to upgrade anyone to a speaking part, the SAG actors on set will likely get preference.

  • Don’t be closed to working for free. Student films and independent projects can offer set experience and introduce you to other actors who work in the area and know where the jobs are. They’re also a great way to gather footage for your demo reel, which is quickly becoming a necessity for working actors.

  • Get to know your state film office. Each film office’s Web site will not only list casting opportunities but give information about upcoming major productions that are filming in the area. Michigan is a booming production state, so look for opportunities on the Michigan Film Office web site. I also found this Michigan Acting resource that should have current opportunities.

  • Get yourself on Actors Access and start submitting yourself every day. It’s free to join and $2 for each submission, though I suggest getting the yearly Showfax subscription for $68 to get unlimited submissions. Actors Access lists opportunities in several regional markets, including Chicago/Midwest.

  • Look for opportunities in larger regional markets close by. When I lived in Boston, I knew several SAG actors who had voicemail numbers in New York City so they could pretend to be local actors available for work there. It was always a risk in case you were called for same day auditions, but for the most part they had at least a day’s notice before they had to get in their cars and drive down. I know there are San Francisco actors that have LA phone numbers. For Detroit, it might be worth getting a Chicago phone number through Google Voice. You can always put yourself on tape for auditions if you’re not able to drive all the way there.
Finally, keep at it and don’t lose faith! The good thing about regional markets is that they’re small and easy to navigate. Each job will introduce you to more people that know what the deal is in your area. You may not need an agent at all if you have a good network of actor friends to help you find the opportunities.

If you’re an actor in a regional market or have any other advice to offer, please leave it below. Break a leg!

Friday, March 18, 2011

Fiction Friday: One Sunday at Angels Knoll Park, Part 3

Click here to read One Sunday at Angels Knoll Park, Part 1
Click here to read One Sunday at Angels Knoll Park, Part 2

And before she could say anything more at him, he stepped forward and wrapped his arms around her, folding her body into his, surrounding her. And she tried to remain cold but found herself melting. He didn’t say a word, didn’t give assurances or false promises. He just held her. Close and deep.

She noticed how easy it was to tuck her face into the space between his neck and shoulder, resting her cheek on the smooth fabric. She felt the warmth of his body seep through to hers and it felt amazing. His hands didn’t stroke her back, which she always thought was weird. Instead, they laid wide across her jacket, firm and warm.

She started to cry, then laugh. He was ridiculous. A man child with no grasp on reality. A big kid who dragged his girlfriend to a bench he saw in a movie for a romantic encounter. The perfect example of an artist with delusions of grandeur.

But he was there. Maybe that’s all she needed to do too. Be there. She raised her arms and held him back, savoring the feeling of their bodies cradled together.

A camera flashbulb lit up the space around them. They both started to laugh.

“Don’t move,” he whispered warmly into her ear. “I think this is their money shot.”

She laughed and wrapped her arms around him tighter. She wasn’t going anywhere.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

"Dude, did the lizard get your pants too?"

I love storytellers.

And I’m not speaking philosophically about screenwriters or novelists. I’m talking about people who tell incredible, hilarious, jaw-dropping stories – in the car, over dinner, or while waiting in line at Disneyland. Stories that burn themselves into my mind as precious gems of life experience that unfold in unexpected, funny, tragic, or moving ways.

I reference my friends’ stories like they’re movie titles. James Spader, Awesome, “I’m blind, you asshole!” – they’re all on my story bookshelf. My former director from the Children’s Museum in Boston had amazing stories – about being directed by a terrifyingly commanding Gates McFadden in grad school, his boa constrictor demonstration for kids gone wrong, how he’s always picked as the audience volunteer. Another friend has several winners in my mental catalog, including the one about the time his mother tried to kill him. (Not really, of course, but that’s what he accused her of as a kid – “You’re trying to kill me!!!”)

I, unfortunately, am not one of these storytellers. Yes, I’m a writer, but I don’t have sparkling dinner party fodder. Most of my stories are about being a pathetic, fearful kid or a clueless overachiever – not the kind of stuff that makes people laugh or gasp in awe.

So imagine my delight when I discovered The Moth, a non-profit organization that produces live storytelling performances in New York, LA, and around the country. I live vicariously through the stories they produce, drawing inspiration from the way their storytellers shape the facts of their lives into entertaining, remarkable performances. Even the most ordinary of topics come alive at The Moth. It gives me hope that my experience reading the most books in the 4th grade could be a compelling story – if I tell it right.

The Moth offers a free podcast featuring one story a week – experience the magic for yourself. I listen to Moth stories on my iPod like they’re pop songs – hitting repeat at the end, mouthing the funniest bits along with the storyteller while driving in my car. I’m a total Moth nerd.

Check out my latest favorite story, from writer and frequent Moth storyteller Jeff Simmermon. So many great lines – “It’s not just about you and your little pants! It’s about all of us!”

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

An Ode to Ken Jeong’s Accent

"Your actions have consequences!" he insisted, slamming his indignant fists on the table. "That 10-year kid in Minnesota sees you doing a ching chong accent on screen and it affects him!"

My friend was arguing that Ken Jeong's accented performance in The Hangover "set our people back 50 years." And he meant it. He personally refuses to do stereotypical Asian accents for comedy, which is totally and completely his right. Every actor has the right to set boundaries for themselves regarding what they will and will not do for an acting job.

I, on the other hand, WILL do Asian accents for comedy. Who wants to hire me? I'll turn on the ching chong right now. I’m not very good at it, but I don't have a problem with it. Not if the material is well-written and funny. I think most of the stereotypical roles in TV/Film are more guilty of being dumb and unoriginal than being racist.

I used to declare I wouldn't play any stereotypical Asian roles – no geishas, no nail salon ladies, no Chinese tourists. Eventually I realized two things – one, I’m not being called for those roles anyway, and two, staying at home with my ideals doesn't pay my bills. They'll just find someone else to do it and wouldn't I rather have the job?

Yes. Because here's the thing – I don't think Ken Jeong set "our people" back 50 years with his accented performance in The Hangover. Playing Mr. Chow wasn’t about degrading Asian as human beings or lessening our standing in society. Nor was it making a statement about our value as an ethnic group. It was just a funny accent. And it helped The Hangovermake over $227 Million in domestic box office receipts.

I personally think Ken Jeong has done more for Asian-Americans in the media in the last few years than I could ever hope to. He's a series regular on a successful network sitcom – one of the funniest on TV, in my opinion. He's the national face of Pepto Bismol. He’s won an MTV Movie Award. People think Asian-American actors can be funny because of him. He takes big risks and people love him for it.

And most importantly, that 10-year old kid in Minnesota probably thinks Ken Jeong is da bomb.

So accent it up, Ken. You’ll always have a fan in me.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Fiction Friday: One Sunday at Angels Knoll Park, Part 2

Click here to read One Sunday at Angels Knoll Park, Part 1

She was cleaning the gunk out from under her nails when he approached.

“Is everything okay?” he asked.

She looked at his concerned expression, his kind eyes bathing her with softness. She remained hard inside.

“Do you really want to do this?”

“Do what?”

“This,” she said, waving her pointed finger between their chests. “Us. Together.”

He looked genuinely confused. “I don’t know what you’re saying.”

“How confusing is the word ‘us’?” she spat, exasperated. “I’m talking about you and me. Going out. Do you really want to be doing this?”

He started to get it, but only a little. “Don’t you?” he asked.

“That’s why I’m asking you!” She slapped her thigh in frustration. “I mean, what’s the point? It’s not like we’re going to get married someday. Have kids, live in a house. You’re a fucking artist, for Christ’s sake. Who knows if you’ll ever have money to buy a house? And I don’t know what the fuck I’m doing with my life, so I just don’t get why we’re even bothering to pretend this is going anywhere when it clearly isn’t.”

She sighed heavily and closed her eyes, covering her face with her hands, wishing she could magically transport herself back to her apartment. Where her sofa sank in all the right spots. Where the heater rattled but made the place a cozy oven. Where the view from the window was small and familiar, overlooking half a bill board and the roof garden of the next building. Her safe haven – small and tight. She knew it well. Benches in the park overlooking the Los Angeles skyline were too unknown for her.

When she finally dropped her hands and opened her eyes, she expected him to be upset, his face soured with annoyance. Part of her expected him to be gone. Back on his bench or heading down the hill with his hands in his pockets.

But instead, he was standing with one elbow leaning against the tree like a male model. And he was looking right at her, into her, through her with an expression that could only be described as a mix of amusement and affection. His full lips were twisted up at the ends in mischief. He shrugged his broad shoulders and said, “Why not?”

Click here to read One Sunday at Angels Knoll Park, Part 3

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Oh, I’m In the Moment Now, Jerk!

When I lived in Boston, one of my actor friends starred in a production of King Lear at a highly respected regional theater. When he told me the company was importing a name actor to play the title role – we’ll call him Bob – I was thrilled. I’d enjoyed Bob in various film and television roles and knew he’d acted and directed shows on Broadway, so I couldn’t wait to see his work on stage.

My friend explained further that Bob wouldn’t be rehearsing with them due to his busy schedule, and would only join them for the final weeks before opening. That’s okay, I thought. Bob is a pro – he’ll still be fantastic.

When Bob arrived in Boston and started rehearsing with the cast, my friend reported the experience was not what he expected. Apparently Bob was a fierce narcissist who didn’t know any of his lines, even after they opened, yet felt free to tell everyone what they were doing wrong.

Worst of all, he had a penchant for randomly slapping his fellow actors, grabbing their crotches, and kissing the female actors inappropriately during performances – none of which was previously discussed or rehearsed – all because he was “in the moment.”

During one particular performance, the actress playing Goneril exited the stage disgusted and said to my friend, “He just kissed me with tongue.” Right before running to wash the taste of jerkwad out of her mouth. Not cool, dude.

Immediately and permanently, I lost all respect for Bob. Because even though he’d been nominated for a Tony Award and starred in one of the most beloved films of all time, he should have known better than to trespass on his fellow actors in such an untrustworthy way.

Acting requires safety – safety in oneself, safety within the space, and safety among peers to go deep, explore, and take risks.

Think about Colin Firth’s crying scene in The King’s Speech – to create a performance in which his character is completely vulnerable and broken down with fear, Colin needed the support and respect of his co-star Helena Bonham Carter, director Tom Hooper, and the entire crew to maintain a serious tone and allow him time and space on set to mentally prepare. Helena and Tom probably prepared in their own ways as well.

Can you imagine if Helena unexpectedly slapped Colin in the middle of the scene because she was “in the moment?” No, because that would be an unthinkable act of selfishness. It has nothing to do with the scene and it would have trespassed on the work at hand.

I’ve worked with actors who trespass on my trust. Who cross my physical boundaries on stage because they’re “in the moment,” don’t exit on their cue when they’re supposed to because they’re “in the moment,” and who touch me in inappropriate places because they’re “in the moment.” All without telling me beforehand, thinking they’re helping my performance when really they’re taking me out of it and destroying any trust that might have been there between us. I hate these people because they think they’re being actors when really they’re just being selfish bastards.

To be clear, Leonardo surprising me with a kiss before our scene at the DGA event last Saturday was NOT a selfish act, because it was a move meant to help both of us get in character. We were also in a safe space for playing and exploring, so I was able to take it in and use it.

But if Leo had kissed me while we were doing a scene from King Lear, in which he’s playing my frickin’ father, just because he felt like doing it “in the moment,” I probably would have slapped HIM.

Anyone else been trespassed upon by thoughtless actors? Post your stories below!

And if you’re reading this blog post realizing YOU’RE one of those thoughtless actors, CUT IT OUT!

Sunday, March 6, 2011

My Day Among the Stars

On Saturday, I had the privilege of participating in a workshop-panel event at the Director’s Guild of America (DGA) called The Director – Actor Relationship. Sandy Tung, Co Chair Emeritus of the DGA’s Asian American Committee, and Michelle Krusiec of Saving Face fame organized the event to explore the critical relationship between Directors and Actors. I was one of six actors paired off and matched with a director to perform a scene in front of the group.

The day was surreal. First of all, check out the Asian-American star power on the panel with me:

Keiko Agena - Lynn Chen - Michelle Krusiec - Leonardo Nam - Aaron Yoo

If you don’t know who these actors are, you should. They’re the Asian-American A-List. What was my D-List ass doing with them?

I was paired with Leo to perform a scene from Hannah and Her Sisters. I played Lee, the sister in the middle:

I’ve never seen the movie (I know, I know) but I was able to find the script at Drew’s Script-O-Rama and read it before Saturday. Unfortunately it was a transcript, not a writer’s script, so it was rife with hyper-specific stage directions and clunky language, but I got the idea. I specifically did NOT watch the movie because I didn’t want it to influence my performance. I attempted to memorize the scene the night before and figured I’d go on stage with pages in hand just in case.

When it was our turn, our director Henry Chan kept us in our seats for a cold readthrough first. Whew! We were reading the scene on the street after Elliot kisses Lee in her loft and runs out. As soon as Henry started directing, I felt an enormous sense of relief and excitement because he was speaking the actor’s language, asking us what our characters wanted and guiding us through the ups and downs of the scene.

After a few more readthroughs, we got on our feet. By then, the words were mostly in my head, but I held on to my pages just in case. Henry gave us more direction, then came over and whispered a few notes just for my benefit. With the audience craning their necks to hear, he did the same with Leo. Time to start the scene. I shifted my weight, thinking about Henry’s notes and getting into character, when Leo suddenly crossed the space between us...and kissed me.

The audience howled with laughter. I must have looked pretty stunned. But inside, I was grateful for the surprise – one kiss and my “moment before” was solidified – total shock!

(I do have to mention that this only worked because I respected and trusted Leo and Henry. I also felt I was in a safe space. Actors pulling surprises like that on their colleagues doesn’t work when there’s no trust between them. More on that in another blog post to come…)

The first runthrough was great – the room chuckled. Henry stepped in with another layer of direction and more private notes for both of us. When I tried to start the scene again, Leo stopped with me another kiss! The audience really laughed this time. It was a pretty good kiss.

The second runthrough was a blur. People told me afterward it was great and that my look of shock was priceless. Alas, I’ll never know what it looked like.

During the debrief portion of our time on stage, Leo and I both expressed appreciation that Henry understood the actor’s process and how to rehearse the scene in way that helped us find truth. So many directors get it wrong – simply telling us “be angry” doesn’t inspire us to give an authentic performance. That’s results-focused directing. Helping us understand what a character wants, what’s in their way, what they’re afraid of, etc. – that kind of direction allows us to create a performance that will sweat anger or any number of emotions along the way.

Such a fun day! I was so grateful to be included and so excited to see so many familiar faces in the audience. Definitely a day of feeling like part of a community.

If you have thoughts to share on the actor-director relationship or stories about the bad directors you’ve worked with, please share them below!

Friday, March 4, 2011

Fiction Friday: One Sunday at Angels Knoll Park, Part 1

She didn’t hate him, but she didn’t love him either. When she looked over at his sharp features – the strong nose, the prickly stubble, the wrinkled shirt – she felt instead that she was looking at a piece of art. Taking in his appearance for evaluation, preparing to write a dissertation on the futile beauty of unemployed twenty-somethings who called themselves artists.

What she didn’t feel was any tug on her heart, any longing to reach over and touch him, be close to him, be with him. She felt instead that she was perfectly comfortable on her side of the bench and hoped to God that he wouldn’t slide over.

“It’s beautiful, isn’t it?” he breathed, gazing at the Los Angeles cityscape as if it were the ocean off the Amalfi Coast. “You never see it this way.”

“Looks the same to me,” she said flatly.

“How can you say that?” He gestured fervently with his arms. “It’s incredible. Where’s your sense of romance?”

Exactly what she was wondering. He’d brought her to this place for a reason. His reason. He wanted to show her something that was important to his very being.

All she could think about was the half-eaten can of sardines in her fridge that she couldn’t wait to go home and finish. The loaf of pumpernickel bread she’d bought with the sardines was still plump and fresh, but it wouldn’t stay that way for much longer. She had to devour it before it was too late.

In the growing darkness of the evening, she saw bright flashes of light from behind her. She turned to see a small group of Japanese tourists taking their picture. A few had set up their tripods. She pulled her hoodie over her head immediately.

“What the hell are they doing?”

He looked behind him nonchalantly, as if it were perfectly normal to be the subject of this tourist paparazzi. He chuckled. “They must have seen the movie. They know it’s a landmark.”

“Japanese tourists have seen 500 Days of Summer?”

He turned toward the city again, straightening his shirt to back pose for the cameras. “That’s so cool. And we’re sitting here just like they were.”

But there was nothing cool about it. She hopped off the wooden bench and hustled away, slinging her bag over her shoulder. The cameras snapped like crazy. She hid behind a tree until the last tripod had been collapsed and stowed.

Click here to read One Sunday at Angels Knoll Park, Part 2