Friday, August 26, 2011

Fiction Friday: Three Gifts, Part 1

My first-round entry into the NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Competition. I was given a genre, a location, and an object to incorporate into a 1,000 word fiction piece. My prompts - horror, a jewelry store, & popcorn. Here's what I came up with!

Tammy Weller was blessed with beauty as well as a blind ignorance to the feelings of other people. She was the subject of many high school fantasies and she knew it. Even seniors wanted to be around her. The world was her oyster and she ruled the halls with the devilish power of a Roman emperor.

“God, this is disgusting!” Tammy spat at the Mexican lunch lady who’d just served a healthy glop of goulash onto her tray. “It looks like you vomited into a bowl and added peas!” Students giggled as the stout woman looked away, piqued. Tammy pounced.

“Oh please,” she laughed. “You’re a lunch lady, not Wolfgang fucking Puck!” More laughs fed a sense of triumph as Tammy swept up her tray and walked into the cafeteria, wondering which table she would grace with her presence.

Partners were assigned for the Global Studies project in 8th period. Tammy looked at the posted list and cried, “Noooo!” As if she’d just been asked to cut off her precious blonde hair. She was paired with Matilda Varney, the class weirdo.

Tammy took charge. “I’m not going to your fucking freak show house. We’re working at Starbucks.” But when they got there, the shop’s pipes had burst and they were closed.

“My family’s jewelry store is around the corner,” Matilda offered, brushing her greasy black hair aside with one finger. “We can work in the back.”

“Whatever,” Tammy sighed. “Let’s just go before anyone sees us together.”

Photo / Creative Commons / bondidwhat
The jewelry store was dark and musty and filled with creepy, clunky necklaces and rings made out of glass eyes. “It’s a goth motif,” Matilda explained.

“Yeah, no shit,” Tammy tossed over her shoulder as she peered at the section of spider charms. Next to a basket of sage, she spotted a framed article from a style magazine next to a black tree branch dripping with delicate silver necklaces. She perked.

“Paris Hilton wears this stuff?”

“They’re her favorite,” Matilda nodded as she crept up behind her. “I made them myself.”

“That’s hot,” Tammy quoted. She inspected them closer – glass disks containing strands of what looked like human hair twisted into wild contortions. Matilda reached up and took one down with a wispy red strand of hair.

“Here, have one,” she offered, eyes fixed on Tammy’s. Tammy looked away to the necklace, grabbing it from Matilda’s fingers and fastening it around her neck. “Awesome,” she said, admiring her gorgeous form in the mirror. “Alright, let’s get this assignment done before True Blood is on.” She didn’t say thank you.

The next day at school, Tammy wore her new necklace as she strolled toward her posse. “Let’s do the popcorn stand at homecoming this year,” she commanded. “We can skim off the top to buy beer.”

Her redheaded friend Brooke protested. “We did the popcorn stand last year and we barely got to see the game. What about tickets?”

Tammy slammed her locker. “Ticket booth is lame. We’re doing popcorn. If you don’t like it, you can just eat dirt.”

Brooke’s books slipped from her arms as she walked toward the exit. Tammy guffawed, “What the fuck?”

Photo / Creative Commons / Micah Taylor
From the window of Biology class, everyone could see Brooke on her hands and knees in the front lawn, scooping up handfuls of dirt from the flower bed around the flag pole and shoving them into her mouth. Students laughed, then shouted in confusion and panic as it went on. Teachers ran out to pull her away, but she wouldn’t stop, kicking and punching them until she could go back to her insane activity. Filled up, she gasped her last breath and flopped to the ground, face planted in the dirt.

Click here to read Three Gifts, Part 2

Thursday, August 25, 2011

My No-Buy Experiment: 8 Months Down, 4 Sad, Sad Months to Go

It's August and I'm still not buying stuff. You're impressed, right? My bank account must be spilling over from the excess!

Not exactly. I was never a big spender to begin with, so it's not like I'm diving into vaults full of gold coins now, a la Scrooge McDuck.

The biggest impact my No-Buy Experiment has had on my life is this - I now know the power of retail therapy.

Photo / Creative Commons / nettsu
Society trains us well to be consumers, but retail therapy goes deeper than that. No amount of treating yourself with massages or gourmet meals or trips to Yogurtland can compare to the healing power of buying something for yourself. Taking a trip to a store and finding a gift that's just for you. It's giving and receiving all in one!

Before this year, my retail therapy usually involved strolling the aisles of the 99 Cent Only Store - because there's nothing more uplifting and exciting than finding a deal!

After a particularly heinous day last week, I stumbled into the 99 Cent Only store by my house to get a taste of my former favorite way to cheer up. For the uninitiated, the 99 Cent Only Store is not just another dollar store. It is a mecca of treasures and delights that is unparalleled by any other store on this planet. (Except maybe Wegmans.)

Here's what I tossed into my basket on this trip -

It's back-to-school season, so school supplies were front and center. I spotted some excellent hipster notebooks, including this retro music design:

Then I saw these chenille dusters that are identical to the ones my mom bought last Christmas at TJ Maxx for $3.99 each. Great for dusting your home or car - and washable!

Candles that smell like sugar were always a picker upper:

As well as pretty pretty stickers:

With some uplifting sentiments I could have used that day:

I walked around collecting treasures for about twenty beautiful minutes, then put everything back and walked out with a bag of cauliflower instead. And the hole in my heart remained intact.

Fine, I'll say it. I miss shopping.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Tools of the Trade: Watching Yourself

When I studied on-camera acting with the fantastic Doug Warhit, he would instruct each student to bring a VHS tape to class, which he used to tape our in-class scene work so we could watch it again later.

For months, I didn’t bring a tape. “This is an on-camera class,” he would scold. Then I brought a tape but never watched it later. “You don’t have to like watching yourself,” he said, “but it will help you become a better actor.” Still, I resisted. It wasn’t until my roommate took the same class and forced me to do so that I started watching my tapes.

And lo and behold, I became a better actor.

Watching myself on-camera will always be awkward and awful for me. The inner critic babbles in my ear incessantly – “Your mouth looks funny, your makeup is bad, you look like a man.” Utter nonsense.

But as I’ve learned, watching yourself act is one of the most powerful tools for getting better at your craft. You immediately catch your bad habits – the way you keep shifting from side to side, that tendency to sigh before every line – and learn how to shape your performance in a way that comes across on-screen.

Everyone has a camera in their phone or laptop nowadays. The next time you’re preparing for an on-camera audition, consider recording video of yourself performing the sides like you would in the room. Give the inner critic the night off and watch yourself, taking note of how your performance comes across on-camera. If you’re trying to be authoritative, does your on-camera self seem authoritative? Or does she come off looking angry? Does your outfit give the impression you want it to? If you’re doing comedy, do you laugh at yourself?

Don’t use this as a tool to beat yourself up. Just take note of a few things and make adjustments. It’s a painful exercise, I know, but so useful. Imagine what Alexandra Wallace would have done if she’d watched herself first. (Merely a hypothetical question, not a social comment.)

And if you took the advice of my last Tools of the Trade post about submitting yourself online, consider adding the new kid on the casting block to your submission list – CAZT. They’re a casting studio in Hollywood that allows you to watch your taped auditions, read comments from the casting director, and even upload a replacement audition video if you want.

All for a fee, of course, but with that monthly fee you get to submit to all the projects in their list of Los Angeles auditions, which is growing exponentially. I’ve been auditioning at CAZT for a few years, and every time I’ve been this year, the place has been packed with projects looking for actors. More and more independent & mainstream projects are using their studios, cameras, and video hosting & collaboration tools, which are all 100% free, which means more opportunity for all of you! (If you’re looking for audition space, visit to learn more.)

So don’t be afraid of your own image on the screen. It could be the key to transforming you from an audition disaster to an audition master.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Monday, August 15, 2011

I want to have my cake, eat it too, then eat another cake.

Photo / Creative Commons / bookgrl.
I write, I act, I produce, and I work 40 hours a week at a day job.

People always ask me, all impressed, “How do you balance it all?” Here’s the truth – I don’t!

I have a hell of a time doing the things I need to do and accomplishing the things I want to do, all while lamenting all the things I should do but can’t.

And everything suffers from all this juggling. I’m trying to slow down and focus on one thing at a time, prioritize better, and so on. But there’s not enough time in a day for everything I’m doing, and meanwhile the other side of life is constantly tugging at me – sleep, enjoyment, feeding myself.

Someone once told me her plan was to try to break into TV writing for five years and if it didn’t happen by then, she was going to quit and have children. I remember feeling shocked that she would give herself such a small window, but then felt jealous that she could make such a simple declaration and stand by it.

Because my problem is I don’t know how to give anything up. The Taurus in me holds on tight. I want it all and then some. I’ve never been good with letting things go in any area of my life – my natural state has always been to do everything.

I’m like that crazy guy on Clean House who didn’t want to get rid of the 600 frisbees that were filling his wife’s walk-in closet. I love all my creative Frisbees!

But something’s gotta give soon, I fear. I’m getting older and all the things I’ve set aside to have this artistic life are nagging at me, wanting a piece of the pie. Love, marriage, parenthood – how much longer am I going to put them off? Wealth, comfort, and peace of mind would be nice too. Nice clothes, a gym body, vacations to beautiful places, furniture that’s not from IKEA, shared meals with friends, visiting the museums of Los Angeles, seeing my family more than twice a year – these are all things I want but don’t have.

Music philosophy posters by Mico.
But you can’t always get what you want. So I’m getting what I need – a steady paycheck, a little sleep, writing my TV pilots, working on my short story collection, auditioning when auditions come, and Facebook once a day for exchanging messages with friends that say, “We should get together soon!”

Someone tell me what to do. Giving up is not an option – at least I don’t know how to make it an option. So instead I stay in a constant state of wanting and keep on trucking toward that big break that will allow me to at least get rid of the day job.

A friend suggested I stop writing this blog because it’s irrelevant and no one reads it. But I don’t want to! It gives me an outlet for expression and I enjoy it too much. Besides, you guys are reading it, right? Guys? Guys?

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The Hump Day Update

A new regular feature? Perhaps. I just like saying the name.

Despite too many moments of intense procrastination and self-flagellation in the writing department, the last few weeks have been rather eventful. Great for my career, though not so good for Project Slow Down. Here’s the Hump Day Update! (Right? Fun.)

- Misusing Irony, the short film I produced for my talented friend Christopher Tillman was accepted into the Bel Air Film Festival, which means in a few months I’ll be dressing up to walk the red carpet and greet our fans – both of them! Just kidding, Christopher...the hipsters will surely be swarming...

(BTW, Christopher just shot a supporting role in the indie feature The Kitchen, starring Bryan Greenberg & Laura Preponannounced in Variety no less! I knew him when…)

- Keeping the momentum going, Christopher and I started pre-production on a Web show pilot we’ll be hosting, in the style of just about every cool show on Revision 3. It’s an idea I had several years ago that we’re finally getting back to. We’re still looking for a green screen studio if anyone has a hookup!

- Untouchable, the short film I acted in a few months ago was accepted into the Temecula Valley International Film & Music Festival. Already planning to stay the weekend, taste some wine, and do a little pool lounging at my glamorous Motel 6 accommodations. Hey, if it’s good enough for Tom Bodett...

- Wrapped principal photography on a Web series I’m starring in called Modern Family Business. Worked with some great actors, including John Schaffer of indie feature Stan and Kirsten Gronfield of TBS’ 10 Items or Less, drank four cups of coffee in the course of shooting one scene (no sleep that night, of course), and spent a lot of time hiding in the flower cooler to escape the heat. Watch this blog for news of the show’s premiere!

- Had my latest and greatest TV appearances added to my demo reel by the editing pros at Bubba's Chop Shop, including two clips from The United States of Tara that I still hadn’t seen yet because I don’t get Showtime. Check out the new reel below!

- And as if I needed more work on my plate, I made a commitment to self-publish a collection of at least 5 of my original fiction pieces by the end of the year. I can muster five readable stories – I know I can. I don’t like creating more deadlines, but they work. And me announcing this to my blog audience is just another way I keep myself accountable. You’ll buy a copy, won’t you?

- Oh, and I worked 40 hours a week at my day job. Yipes!

And there's The Hump Day Update! People always ask me where I get my energy - I honestly don't know. Going to collapse now...

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Tools of the Trade: Submitting Yourself Online

When I meet new actors, one of the first questions they ask is inevitably, “How do I get an agent?”

Honey, you do not need an agent to start working as an actor. News flash – agents don’t want newbies. They want people know how to audition, have worked on a set, and know the meaning of “hit your mark.” They want actors that already have somewhat substantial resumes that will impress casting directors.

So start gathering experience to put on your resume. Everyone starts somewhere. Put your headshots and your resume on the top three online casting sites, submit yourself to projects every day, and start auditioning right now!

Actors Access
FREE to sign up & create your resume, $2.00 for every submission or you can pay $68.00 for a full year of unlimited submissions. First two headshots are free, additional photos are $10 each.

LA Casting
Monthly membership packages start at $12.95 a month for unlimited submissions. First headshot is $25, additional photos are $10 each.

NOW Casting
FREE to signup & create your resume with 6 headshots, monthly membership packages start at $11 a month for unlimited submissions to LA projects.

There are also online casting opportunities at Backstage, SAG Indie, Actor’s Equity, and Casting Frontier. So get going!

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Schmoozing for Champions

“Pick a number between 1 and 10,” he shouted over the din.

“Oh no,” my friend groaned, apparently already familiar with this game.

“Seven!” I shouted back predictably.

“Okay,” he said. “We need to meet seven new people before we leave.”

Challenge! We were standing shoulder to shoulder at a CAPE mixer at St. Felix in Hollywood, packed in with hundreds of actors, producers, writers, directors, and other entertainment industry types. The place was swarming with people and one could barely breathe, let alone move around. While I spent most of the time chatting with professional acquaintances and friends, I did meet a handful of new people. I do at every CAPE mixer I attend.

Socializing with strangers used to terrify me. I went to a total of TWO fraternity parties during my college years, which any self-respecting ΑΧΩ will tell you is just pathetic. I was a natural wallflower for most of my life and even now I only consider myself a novice mingler.

But I do it anyway. I go to that networking night or alumni event or barbecue at a friend of a friend’s house because I’m learning to live without fear. And as we all know from Strictly Ballroom, a life lived in fear is a life half-lived.

A few tips I’ve learned over the years that help dampen my fear when I walk into new situations. (These may seem really basic, but try them – they work. You’d be amazed how many people can’t even manage these simple guidelines…)
  • Smile and look people in the eye when you talk to them. Seriously, I can’t count the number of conversations I’ve had with frowny people who look everywhere but at me, clearly looking for someone better to talk to. So charming. Don’t be one of these people – focus!

  • Ask questions. Don’t know anyone? Ask questions and you’ll get to know them. And if they ask questions back, even better! One or two questions and you can gauge if they’re someone worth talking to. Are you getting one-word answers and blank stares? Move on – some people just aren’t conversationalists and spending too much time trying to talk to them will just bring you down.

  • Talk about something other than what you do. Shop talk can get dry fast. Gather their thoughts about the debt ceiling or the latest superhero blockbuster. Talk about the new restaurant you just tried or the documentary you just saw that made you angry. Talk about anything! You just need an opening. If they let the topic fall like a ton of lead, that’s on them.

  • Don’t get stuck. Whether the conversation is popping or stagnating, know that you’re not married to these people. Move around. Exit by saying, “Excuse me, I’m going to try meeting some more people,” and you can escape. Start over with some new people. It’s called mingling for a reason.
Schmoozing is part of show business and I’m not always great at it, but I keep trying. I keep putting myself out there. That’s life, isn’t it?