Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Actor Headshots: The Variety Pack Approach

I need new pictures. Now.

After deciding to grow out my hair last July, I got a new round of headshots to show off my longer locks. You can view them by clicking Headshots above. Pretty pictures, right?

Wrong. These headshots are killing my career softly with each passing day of my phone not ringing.

They’re lovely photographs, yes, but they’re way too generic for my acting career. Where’s the picture that shows I can play an earnest medical student with a perfectionist streak? Where’s my dorky office worker who tries to hard? Where’s my cynical best friend who’s covering insecurity?

In other words, where’s the variety?

Unless a casting director already knows your work, headshots are their window into your range as an actor. Gone are the days of getting two contrasting headshots to be made into 8x10 pictures. Also gone is the notion that smiling shots are commercial and non-smiling shots are theatrical. Casting directors want to see a variety of headshots that show your range.

That doesn’t mean you need to spend hundreds on several different 8x10s. Nearly all casting is now done electronically, which means you can showcase a wide variety of looks without having to reproduce any of them into hard copies.

Here’s a further illustration of the specificity needed in headshots these days. (Disclaimer: I don’t know these actors. I just stumbled across their resumes and thought they proved my point beautifully.)

Take this actor: http://resumes.actorsaccess.com/175077-566925

He's wearing different clothes in each picture, but essentially you’re looking at the exact same head. Same eyes, same energy, same expression – same character. Average guy.

Now look at this actor: http://resumes.actorsaccess.com/117381-394181

Just start by noticing all the different looks he has wearing the same business suit – district attorney, stern cop, sexy detective, easygoing office guy. His energy is slightly different in each picture. He also has several different casual looks, both dramatic and comedic – cute boyfriend, young dad, fun college dude, serious off-duty cop. Even the first and last headshots in this pic above are different – the first is a courtroom lawyer, the last is a police detective.

Bottom line – a wider range of looks in your portfolio means you or your agent can make your headshot submissions more specific, which helps your picture stand out from the crowd. Case in point - which actor would you call to audition for a hard-nosed Wall Street executive?

Now look at my pictures again –

They’re all the same! Crap!

I need new pictures. Now.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Interval Writing

Two dear friends are training to run marathons this summer – one to raise money for the American Stroke Association and the other for the American Heart Association. I’m thoroughly impressed. Running 26.22 miles straight feels like an impossible goal for my lazy ass, but as they explained to me the other day, training for a marathon is easy when you run in intervals.

They suggested starting small – walk for 4 minutes, run for 1 minute, and repeat. Then modify the interval as I build stamina. They said that even when they’re running the actual marathon, they still run in intervals – 9 minutes of running and 1 minute of walking. Breaking it down that way made the task seem much less intimidating to me. I can totally train for a marathon, I thought.

And then I had an epiphany. I could apply the same theory of interval training to my writing!

Because ever since starting my day job, attempting to write after an 8-hour workday has been stressing me out and often not working at all. I’ll set a goal of 4 hours a night and fail miserably. Some nights I’ll be lucky to get even one hour of productive work done!

Now I’m writing in 30-minute intervals. It seems short, I know. How much can you really get done in 30 minutes? It can take that long just to get warmed up.

But I’ll squeeze in 30 minutes whenever I can. I’ll open my laptop as soon as I open my eyes in the morning and write for 30 minutes even before I get out of bed. Then I write for 30 minutes during my lunch break at work. By the time I settle in for my evening writing session, I’ve already gotten an hour of work done that day! And that momentum sends me into my new interval writing routine – write for 30 minutes then do something else for 10-15 minutes – watch TV, Facebook, whatever – and repeat.

So simple and it’s working! I’m getting more work done and I feel less stressed, which is fantastic.

Now I just need to try this technique with my running. Ugh. I think I’ll go write instead...

Thursday, April 14, 2011

My No-Buy Resolution: An Update

For those who have been wondering, my No-Buy Resolution continues swimmingly. I’ve had two minor slips – birthday gifts for 4-year old bought with a gift card and a wad of cash spent on homeopathic remedies – but otherwise I haven’t purchased a thing all year.

It’s been easy, really. I just don’t go to stores anymore. Out of sight, out of mind. That’s it! I don’t feel tempted to shop at all.

And the fact that I don’t miss purchasing things shows me how unnecessary shopping is for my life. Ask me to stop watching television or eating pizza – that would be hard. But buying stuff? Who needs it? Certainly not me.

I think this hasn’t been a difficult challenge for me because for years I’ve been realizing I don’t need much to live a contented life.

I think back to my college years, when spending a day at the Cambridgeside Galleria with friends was my recreational activity of choice. Shopping was a social experience where the frosting on top was coming home with bags of new stuff. I don’t know how or when it happened, but I was trained to be a consumer, a role I fulfilled blindly and joyfully.

Slowly but surely, I learned to see that I just don’t need STUFF. Moving cross-country was my first eye opener. I sold half my belongings and spent over $1000 to ship the rest to Los Angeles, only to realize later that I probably could have let go of another third of it. With every subsequent move, I got rid of more stuff. And after many, many trips to drop off at Goodwill, I started to realize I probably didn’t need to buy most of that stuff in the first place.

So now I’m not buying anything and my life continues beautifully. And with each passing day, I acknowledge the truth that I have everything I need right here, right now. I live an incredibly abundant life – clothes and shoes to wear, two sets of sheets for my queen-sized bed, a car that works beautifully, and pens with which to write and write. I have it all!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

A Would-Be Stage Career Remembered

She raised her arms to the heavens with exhilaration and cried, “Hallelujah!” And I felt the tears forming – not in my eyes, but in my chest, where my heart squeezed at the sight of a strong woman who lived in sacrifice finally getting something she’d dreamed about for years, if not her entire life.

Moments later, the house lights came up. Intermission at the Ebony Repertory Theatre’s production of A Raisin in the Sun.

I love the stage. It’s where I discovered my love of acting and my true path in life. It all began on the boards of MIT where I performed several plays as an alumna. Rehearsing was a joy – a challenging yet fulfilling process of breaking down a character, exploring choices, playing with text, and collaborating with a team to create a performance. Acting made me so happy back then. Stepping on stage was like coming home to a place I never thought could exist for me.

When I ventured into the world of stage work in Boston, I learned a hard lesson. There is no career to be had as an Asian-American stage actress. It’s not a racist thing – there just aren’t that many roles in published plays for non-black, ethnic actresses. Even in a fantastic theater town like Boston, my options were limited.

I wasn’t enough of a triple threat to break out of the chorus in musical theater. Auditioning for all the Irish plays being produced in town was just a waste of my time. One director told me after an audition that she’d love to cast me, but couldn’t find another Asian-American actress to play my sister. I was mostly cast in new, avant-garde works, which often weren’t the best-written pieces of drama out there. I played a few good roles – Connie Wong in A Chorus Line and Leann in A Piece of My Heart – but soon realized I just couldn’t make a living on the stage.

So I set my sights on the world of film and television, which eventually took me to Los Angeles. And I’ve been enormously blessed to work as much as I have since coming here. I’ve met and worked with big names, been paid very well for a day’s work, and settled into my nurse/doctor/reporter niche.

But when I see a brilliant piece of theater like A Raisin in the Sun, my heart aches for the process of live theater that isn’t part of my life anymore. For the experience of creating a performance that moves people, makes them think, inspires laughter and tears. Where I’m more than just a piece of exposition that serves the plot.

My experience working in television just isn’t the same. Most of my roles are one or two lines – at most a two-page scene in which I’m checking on a patient’s condition. There still aren’t many theater roles for Asian-Americans in Los Angeles, and even when there are, I don’t have enough training or pedigree to compete with the sea of Asian-American actresses who’ve been on Broadway or studied with Uta Hagen herself. Nor do I have time and money to invest in a membership theater company in order to earn the right to audition. I audition when I can, but I’ve been focusing on my on-camera career for the last eight years. I left my stage career behind in Boston.

So although I love finding exceptional productions like A Raisin in the Sun, they always make me nostalgic for a life on the stage. Hopefully, someday, I’ll get back to that world myself.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

The Path from MIT to Hollywood

Yes, I really graduated from MIT. I was a smarty pants, teacher’s pet, nerd galore. “Wicked smaht,” as they’d say in Boston. I came from a world of algorithms and equations to pursue a life of creativity and dreaming.

And despite what you may think, I’m not alone in my endeavor. Last week, I attended an MIT alumni event called “Entertaining Thoughts: Converging Media and Technologies,” where I witnessed just what good company I am in.

The room was packed, filled with entertainment executives, producers, marketing directors, writers, actors – all MIT graduates talking about the biz, with a little side talk in numbers.
“What course were you at MIT?”

“6-1. You?”

“I started in 10, then switched to 5.”

“Oh, I switched too. I started in 9, toyed with 1 for a while, then ended up 6-1.”
It was delicious.

Each of the four panelists shared their unique view of the entertainment industry – its hidden potential for innovation, its conventional pitfalls, its missed opportunities – from their individual perspectives as top industry contenders. Hearing their thoughts was invaluable and inspirational. I seriously want each panelist to write a book so I can read it and absorb their amazing knowledge into my brain.

It was also amazing to see how many MIT alumni there were in the entertainment industry. What I enjoyed the most was this feeling that it was only natural for us to bring our MIT backgrounds to our current endeavors. In fact, this was a recipe for success.

The panelists put it best – Andrea Wong, former CEO of Lifetime, told us that because we’d never worked harder than we did during those four years, we all graduated with a sense of survival and confidence that allows us to solve any problem that comes our way. Laird Malamed, Senior VP and Head of Development at Activision Blizzard, talked about the sense of humility we developed at MIT. We were all top of our class in high school, but walking down the Infinite Corridor knowing that everyone was probably smarter than we were, we learned to never get too full of ourselves.

I agreed with both points wholeheartedly. While most people in the industry see my MIT background as fall back career training or at best a novelty, I know that MIT taught me to work hard, tackle challenges with an open mind, and always strive for excellence. And in a career where commitment translates to results, I’m grateful for my geek training because it gives me an edge that no theater major could ever hope to learn in an MFA program.

I’m a nerd and I’m an artist. Hear me roar!

Cosine, secant, tangent, sine!
3 point 1 4 1 5 9!
Go Tech!

Friday, April 1, 2011

A Very Special Fiction Friday

I'm published!

Digitally, at least. This humble little flash fiction story I wrote was published in Blue Ships Magazine, a creative arts ezine that just launched its inaugural issue online.

Click here to view Blue Ships Magazine online

My story appears on page 16. It appears frightfully short in print - hence the "flash" part of the description, I suppose. I'm inspired now to try my hand at writing a true short story. A pithy gem that rounds out at 5000 words.

Any story suggestions for inspiration? Post them below!