Monday, October 31, 2011

The Misery Company is Here

When I bought the short story collection The Misery Company at Comic-Con a few years ago, I was just being supportive of my friend’s husband Joshua Pruett. I didn’t expect to be totally taken by his fiercely unique prose. Dark and shocking, yet humorous and whimsical at the same time, every single fiction piece in this collection was original and captivating. In that moment, I became a fan.

So imagine my excitement when Josh asked me to voice a character in a radio play version of The Misery Company, his title story from that collection. I don’t want to give away the plot, but imagine if the surviving gals from Night of the Living Dead, Halloween, Nightmare on Elm Street, and other horror films formed a support group to cope with life after the monsters. That’s the Misery Company.

Recording the radio play last week was a total joy. The rest of the cast was crazy talented and I felt so grateful to be included. Plus there was pizza and candy.

Josh turned out to be a great director in addition to being a great writer. The script was 16 pages long, but we breezed through it faster than expected, then enjoyed recording a few sound effects of getting killed, heaving furniture, and screaming. Fun.

The Misery Company is the third in a collection of horror radio plays called The Jupiter Signal released today on the Potato Potato Podcast.

Download and listen to The Jupiter Signal here!

All three stories are creepy, hilarious stuff – perfect for Halloween! Listen and you’ll definitely become a Joshua Pruett fan too. Happy Halloween, y'all!

Photos by Mike Roush
Like The Misery Company on Facebook

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Ghosts in Your Audition Room

After a recent SAG Awards screening of Bridesmaids, Judd Apatow moderated a Q&A with a handful of actresses from the film, including co-writer and star Kristen Wiig. The last question of the evening was from a young lady in front – "What advice would you give young actors just starting out?"

"Good question!" Judd enthused. Kristen answered first and I just loved what she said.

I can’t quote exactly, but here’s the gist, paraphrased –
"Someone told me this when I was starting out – if you have a really big audition, like for a part that you really want, don’t tell anyone about it. Because if you tell your friends or family, then it will feel like they’re in the room with you when you do your audition. And you’re doing it for them instead of just doing it for yourself and the casting director. You don’t want them in the room with you."
Again, NOT an exact quote, but you get the picture.

I love this because it’s specific, useful advice. And I definitely agree, because if you’re up for something huge that’s already causing you to feel nervous, telling people about it beforehand will just create more nervousness. Because you know all those people are going to be asking you afterward, "How did it go?" or "So did you get it?" And you’ll take that expectation into the room with you, like a ghost looking over your shoulder.

Friends and family who aren’t in the business don’t understand that getting the part is the secondary concern for a working actor. The primary concern is going in and kicking ass in the room, because that’s your chance to show the casting director and whoever else might be there what an amazing actor you are. Every audition is a double opportunity – it’s a chance to get the part, but it’s also a chance to impress the casting director so he/she will call you in again.

So thanks, Kristen Wiig, for pointing out that having the ghosts of family and friends in the audition room with you is not a good thing. Keep that big audition a secret, leave the ghosts at home, and tell everyone about it later. They’ll be just as excited for you after the fact, I promise.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Personal Statements are Awesome

Write a one (1) page biography detailing your background, unique voice, experience as a trained writer, and specific interest in [writing fellowship], and why you feel you are qualified.

Photo / Creative Commons / LarimdaME
I hate writing personal statements. Carefully crafting an essay on my career aspirations always feels false and contrived. How am I supposed to respond to the prompt above?
"My background is awesome, which makes my unique voice awesome. I have awesome training as a writer, I think your fellowship program is awesome, and I’m qualified because, you guessed it, I’m awesome."
Sounds ridiculous, but that’s basically what they’re asking for, right? A page of me tooting my own horn and sucking up to them. I can’t possibly speak the truth –
"I started writing late in life, so I’m still forming my unique voice. I don’t have that much experience, which is why I want to participate in this fellowship. Oh, and I’m qualified because I’m awesome."
That’s not going to rise to the top of the pile.

But I have to write something. Personal statements are a way to stand out from the crowd and distinguish the passionate from the plain. It’s my chance to show my personality and reach for what I want.

Perhaps I need to turn off my humility for a while and see what comes out. I can always reduce the diva factor later.

Sigh...time to feel awesome...

Friday, October 28, 2011

Fiction Friday: The Little Detective, Part 2

Click here to read The Little Detective, Part 1

Photo / Creative Commons / feministjulie
Moments later, Randolph and Berg were sitting in Randolph’s bedroom flipping through his notebooks.

“You write a lot of stuff down, kid,” Berg sighed as he turned yet another page. “It’s a gift and a curse, isn’t it?”

Randolph didn’t understand. “These notebooks were a gift from my dad. Though he said next time I have to use school notebooks because the fancy ones are costing his arm and leg.”

Berg chuckled. “I like you, kid. You got something.” He turned another page and stopped, pointing with his stubby hand. “You saw a white-haired bearded man coming out of the post office twice this week at nine AM?”

“Four times, actually,” Randolph said, pulling a few more notebooks off his shelf.

“And he never has any mail. Did you ever see him enter the post office?”


Berg snapped the notebook closed. “That’s our guy. Let’s see if he shows up tomorrow.” Berg smiled, as much as trolls can smile. “Ever been on a stakeout, kid?”

Photo / Creative Commons / Kenneth Allen
The next morning, Randolph and Berg crouched behind a garbage bin across the street from the post office. Randolph felt exposed. “Aren’t you afraid people will see you?”

Berg shrugged. “No one ever notices us. Humans miss everything.” He looked over at Randolph’s eager face. “Except you, I guess.”

Ten minutes later, the white-haired bearded man emerged from the post office. Berg tapped his walkie. “That’s him. Move in.” The pair watched as three trolls suddenly appeared in a flash of light, surrounding the man, who barely had time to register his surprise before all four of them disappeared.

Randolph stood quickly. “Where’d he go?”

Berg pocketed his walkie, satisfied. “Down to the office for questioning. If he’s not our guy, we’ll erase his memory. But he fits the profile, so...”

Berg stopped when he noticed Randolph had lowered his eyes. “Are you going to erase my memory too?” the boy sniffed.

“Yeah. Policy. Sorry, kid.”

“Oh. Okay. Well, thanks for letting me help.”

“Help? You cracked the case.” But Randolph didn’t seem cheered by this. He kicked at a gum wrapper on the ground, then took out his notebook to write it down.

Berg touched his arm. “Keep observing. You’re going to make a great detective someday. You won’t remember me, but you will know that your work is important. That you are important.”

Randolph looked up, tears welling in his eyes. He reached down and hugged the troll, who squirmed uncomfortably.

“You’re wrinkling my jacket, kid.”

Randolph released him, wiping at his face. “Okay, I’m ready.”

Randolph P. Higgins was an excessively perceptive child. His father shook his head at the notebooks piling up around the house. But Randolph kept at it, knowing for some reason that it would pay off one day.


Thursday, October 27, 2011

The End of Hypocrisy

It’s not a happy day when you realize you’re a hypocrite. That the very thing you’ve held against that person you cut out of your life without a second thought is in fact an innate part of you as well. Takes one to know one, I suppose.

And the thing about that day, that unhappy, painful day, is that you can’t go back. There is no tucking this knowledge back into its blind spot. Now you know, and knowing is half the battle. Time for the other half to commence.

I start with self-forgiveness. How did I miss this? I don’t know – I just did. That blind spot was as big as a house. But now I see it. Moving on to step two.

Re-evaluation. All those times I thought I was being generous of spirit, I wasn’t. Not really. I was still calculating, measuring, and counting to make sure there was enough for me first. Always me first. I was selfish. I was afraid to give too much.

I didn’t know the truth, which is there’s enough for all of us. Giving too much doesn’t mean I lose anything. We live in an ever-flowing abundance.

And I should have known that. I’ve expounded on abundance before, citing the Agape-driven, new age wisdom I had supposedly learned on my spiritual journey. But I was just talking the talk and not walking the walk. I was tiptoeing around the truth and having it my way underneath the surface.

Time to re-focus my life. There is enough for all of us – enough love, enough acknowledgment, enough money, enough generosity – enough of everything for everyone. And I get to create a space around me that vibrates at that frequency. I get to have the world I want to live in. But it starts with me.

So now I’m anchoring at the center of abundance. I’m going to walk, talk, act, and love from this place of knowing that I have enough to survive. I don’t need to hold on so tightly. I can let go. Life is plentiful! My life is plentiful! People and things around me are plentiful!

This adventure is just beginning. I beg your patience as I try out these new legs. I’ll be shaky for a while, but I can’t use the crutches anymore. I need to learn how to stand up in this new truth as I strive to make it my truth. There is no going back. Onward and upward into the 4th dimension.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Hump Day Update, Halloween-Style

Photo / Creative Commons / respres
It’s Wednesday, home listeners! Time for me to reflect on what I have (or haven’t) done so far this week. And because Halloween is approaching, everything seems to be measured in pieces of candy.
  • After a stressful week closing my deal with CBS, I moved on to preparing my pilot story area document – basically a two-page summary of what will happen in the pilot. First notes call went well and revisions were made. Looking forward to the next tomorrow! Candy consumed during the stress-fest: 10 or 12

  • On Sunday after returning from the Ojai Film Festival, I recorded a voice for The Misery Company, a horror radio play written by the talented Joshua Pruett. My character was Zombie Mom, a badass southern matriarch with a penchant for killing zombies. More on this project later, but for now, please Like The Misery Company on Facebook! Candy consumed during taping: 5

  • Submitted my third story for NYC Midnight’s Flash Fiction Competition. My genre prompt was romantic comedy, my location was a bake sale, and my object was a fire alarm. Whipping up this story proved harder than my previous efforts. Goes to show you that your favorite genre to watch is not necessarily your easiest genre to write! Candy consumed during writing: 3

  • Prepared for a role in a friend’s script reading next week. I’ll be playing a character who doesn’t speak for the first 75 pages except with her expressions, but I still went through and wrote her inner dialogue into the margins so my expressions can match. Candy consumed during prep: 1 (Crunchie Bar!)
Finally, watch me in episode 3 of Mixed Blooms below! Though really Alvin Lam has the best moments in this one...

And if that didn’t make you laugh, this definitely will:

"So rude!"

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Thanks for the Memories, Ojai!

Christopher and I trekked up to Ojai last weekend for the 11th Annual Ojai Film Festival. And what a weekend it was! Here’s the rundown –


4:30 pm – Stepped out of the car and realized it was insanely quiet and the air smelled clean. Where were we? We picked up our filmmaker badges and complimentary bottles of Real Water. We had no idea the water we’d been drinking before was fake.

5:00 pm – First screening of Misusing Irony! We played in a shorts program with some great films, including The Burying Beetle, a heartfelt narrative starring John Michael Higgins in a dramatic role, and From the Ground Up, a documentary about the wives of fallen firefighters from 9/11 that made everyone cry.

6:30 pm – Q&A time! The audience was an older set, so we weren’t sure how they’d receive our hipster film, but they were genuine film enthusiasts and loved it. Christopher told a few fun stories, including the story about wearing his Mickey Mouse shirt.

7:00 pm – Followed a recommendation from a festival volunteer to Osteria Monte Grappa for dinner. Holy cow – fresh made pasta with duck, spinach, and roasted hazelnuts in a shallot cream sauce. Ojai is for foodies!

9:00 pm – Festival party at Il Giardino. As soon as we walked in, we spotted Kevin Weisman from Alias. Hi Kevin! You have a feature in the festival? We have a short in the festival! Here’s a copy. Talk to us more like we’re colleagues, you walking pile of awesome.


10:00 am – Filmmakers breakfast! Morning, Kevin! We met other filmmakers, promoted our second screening on Sunday, and tried not to get stung by all the bees swarming around the courtyard.

10:30 am – Screenwriting Q&A with Steven de Souza. Fantastic – I’ll never get tired of hearing writers talk about their process and the biz. Read Christopher’s guest blog about what happened after the panel.

11:45 am – Producers Panel with successful peeps from the big screen, independent screen, and TV screen. Great moderator too. I asked a question about underlying material that actually got answered!

12:30 pm – Ducked out of the panel to see Unicorn City, the feature starring Kevin Weisman. A comedy about a group of misfit gamers (is there any other kind?) who go LARPing in the woods. Hilariously funny with genuine heart. Snapped this pic with Kevin afterward. See? We’re friends!

4:30 pm – After a slice of pizza and a visit to an awesome local candy store, we headed into the Actor’s Panel with Lea Thompson, Brett Cullen, Chris McDonald, and casting director Paul Weber. Amazing, funny stories all around from skilled, humble, real working actors.

5:45 pm – Strolled over to a nearby park for a filmmakers-only wine tasting with Ojai Ridge, made with 100% estate grown grapes. Oh, and look who’s here! Lea Thompson, Brett Cullen, Chris McDonald, and casting director Paul Weber! More rubbing of elbows and two glasses of a terrific Syrah. Or was it three glasses? I picked up a bottle from the market on the way back.

7:00 pm – Dinner at Agave Maria’s. Even the Mexican food tastes amazing in Ojai. And like every place we visited in town, the walls were filled with local art that was for sale. The artistic vibe was everywhere.


3:00 pm – Last screening! Instead of watching the lineup of films again, we chatted with Dave Rock, the director/writer/producer of The Burying Beetle, and some other film volunteers in the lobby while fighting the urge to buy popcorn.

4:30 pm – Last Q&A! Again, great questions from an invested audience of film lovers. Christopher got another question about his Mickey Mouse t-shirt and told more stories about the blurred line between his character and his actual life. One guy raised his hand and advised, "Don’t use that hooker line in real life!" Note taken, sir.

And that’s a wrap, Ojai! See you again soon!

Monday, October 24, 2011

You Gotta Make It Shorter

Christopher Tillman, a friend and fellow actor/writer/producer, writes this guest blog about something he experienced at the Ojai Film Festival last weekend. I was at the festival too, but missed this particular moment because I was off looking for cookies.

Recently I was in Ojai for their film festival and attended a Q&A with screenwriter Steven de Souza. Really great event – the perfect balance of brass tacks and theory.

After the event was over, I (along with a few others) approached Mr. de Souza for a few follow up questions. One of these individuals was a gentleman who was literally clutching a screenplay to his chest. I knew this wasn’t going to go well.

The gentleman approached Steven and started talking about his screenplay. Steven snatched it out of his hands and turned to the last page. "140? It’s too long."

"You told me that last time," the man replied.

"It’s still true," Steven batted back. "If you show this to anyone they are gonna do what I just did – turn to the last page, see that it’s 140 pages, give it back to you and say it’s too long."

"I cut it down to 120..." the man started.

"Still too long," Steven interrupted.

"...but I felt like I lost the story, so I put the pages back," the man finished.

"It’s too long," Steven said as if the man hadn’t understood the first three times.

The man’s faced hardened and I knew what was coming next. 'Don’t do it,' I thought. But clearly the man wasn’t a mind reader, because he did it anyway.

"Would you say The Social Network was too long at 170 pages?" the man said, thinking he was being clever. Now it was on.

"You are talking about a movie based on already popular source material, written by an Emmy-winning writer and backed by an Oscar-nominated director. The studio will let those guys do whatever they want. James Cameron can write a 200 page script, ‘cause he’s James Cameron. Don’t even think you are on the same level as those guys!"

Photo / Creative Commons / Horia Varlan
Now some people might say Steven was being harsh. I chose to see it as being direct. Is it possible that this guy was holding the next break-the-mold, one-in-a-million story? Sure it’s possible. Is it more likely that Steven is right and every person this guy shows his script to is gonna turn to the last page and say "140? Too long." Yes, that is more likely.

The whole exchange reminded me of one of my favorite scenes from Sports Night. Sometimes it’s just as simple as you gotta make it shorter.

Now it may sound like I'm picking on this guy, but learning to edit is a hard lesson – one that I am not above learning. When I had finished the script for my short film Misusing Irony, it was 17 pages and I thought there was no way I could make it shorter, nothing I could lose. Enter director John Lopez who loved the script, but his first words were still, you guessed it, "Make it shorter."

John, Teresa (the producer), and I spent several breakfasts at Bob’s Big Boy hacking at the script till we got it down to its fighting weight of 14 pages. And even then we lost one more scene in editing to get the piece to just under 13 minutes. "Get to the nut," John kept harping on me. "It’s a short. You don’t have time to linger." And while I respected John, I didn’t always agree with him.

Until we went to our first festival and sat through the first of many half-hour long "shorts." Then I dropped to my knees and thanked God he sent me John and the idea to keep it short.

You can follow Christopher Tillman on Twitter at @christophertill

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Waiting Room Time is Your Time

Here’s a minute-to-minute breakdown of my audition last Friday:
  • I walked into the office (early!) and signed in, noting there were three people ahead of me on the list, all there for the same role.

  • I looked at the bathroom keys, but decided I didn’t need to go.

  • I checked my hair and makeup in the wall mirror, deciding to touch up my lips and brush my hair one more time.

  • I grabbed some water from the cooler and sat down to go over my sides.

  • When the person before me was called, I stood and went over the sides again while facing the wall.

  • When I was called, I went in and did my audition.
Photo / Creative Commons / cdsessums
The central theme of this list? I took care of myself. Walking into the waiting room at a casting office can be a daunting experience. There are many, many factors that can throw you off your game if you’re not prepared.

The important thing to remember is that your time in the waiting room is yours. Chit chat and be friendly if you want, but make sure you do what you need to take care of yourself and prepare for your audition.

So what’s missing from my list?
  • Comparing myself to the other actors – Don’t waste time trying to understand the casting director’s thinking by evaluating the other choices in the room. Sometimes you’re in a room of people who are just like you, other times you’re not. None of it really matters to your performance. Do what you came there to do.

  • Getting lost in waiting room small talk – I’m very friendly in a waiting room, but I don’t lose sight of what I need to do to prepare. Even if the discussion is really interesting, always take the time you need to check your appearance, review your sides, and get ready. You can join the discussion later.

  • Listening to vultures – I once walked into a waiting room where one actress was telling everyone that the role was already cast and we were all auditioning for a backup spot that was ultimately pointless. I could see the other actresses listening and feeling disheartened and I wanted to yell, “Don’t listen to her!” Even if her information was genuine, it didn’t matter. What mattered was giving a good performance in the room. Backup spot or not, a good audition is always worth it.
Anyone else have waiting room stories to share?

Saturday, October 22, 2011

How to Moderate a Panel Discussion

Photo / Creative Commons / bionicteaching
A guide for anyone taking on the role of moderator for a panel discussion at an entertainment industry event. Like, say, a film festival.

Rule #1: It's not about you.

Rule #2: No, really, it's not about you.

Rule #3: Dude, seriously, it's not about you.

We're there to see the panelists speak, not you, Mr. Moderator. Don't answer the questions yourself. Don't tell a "quick story" before every panelist has had a chance to tell their stories. Don't waste time showering the panelists with praise. We didn't wait in line to listen to you ramble about the first time you saw their movie. We. Don't. CARE.

Your contribution as a moderator should be moderate. Your job is to guide the discussion, make sure everyone on the panel gets a turn to speak, and move through as many questions as possible. That's it! Can you please just do that? Please?

Oh, and if one of the panelists is dominating the discussion by being a condescending asshole, it's your job to shut him down!

Argh - can you tell I've been to some annoying panel discussions lately? Makes me want to jump on stage and say, "Just let me do this!"

Have you been to a bad panel discussion? Share your story below!

Friday, October 21, 2011

Fiction Friday: The Little Detective, Part 1

This story was my second-round entry into the NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Competition. (Read my first-round entry here!) I placed first in my round, which means I'm moving on to Round 3! Hooray!

My genre - fantasy. My location - a crime scene. My object - a phone book. Here's my 1,000 word story!

Photo / Creative Commons / Dey
Randolph P. Higgins was an excessively perceptive child. He pointed out hair coming out of people’s ears at church, told his teacher that her boobs were too big for her dress, and once brought his mother to tears by counting out the wrinkles on her face.

Randolph’s father gave his son a leather-bound notebook, encouraging him to write his observations down rather than say them out loud. Randolph clutched the book tightly as he ran outside, thrilled by the challenge. His father was pleased with his own ingenuity, until two days later when his son returned with the book, pages filled with the scribblings of a child who saw everything. The man handed Randolph another blank book and made a note for his secretary to order more. Many more.

Randolph carried his notebook in a satchel as he rode his bike around town, stopping often to jot down his latest discoveries. The bench in the gazebo was chipped on the left. McCluskey’s Liquor was having a sale on whiskey. And the woman who worked at the gas station had just waxed her mustache again.

Photo / Creative Commons / Null Value
One morning, Randoph saw policemen setting up barriers near the post office and ushering people back as two detectives stood over a woman’s body. One man pulled a pad out of his pocket to take notes. Randolph perked.

“Detective!” he shouted excitedly, “I have a notebook too!”

The man barely glanced over before returning to his writing. Unfazed, Randolph opened his notebook to record his observations of the crime scene too. The dead woman wore a green dress. There were twenty-seven people standing in the crowd. A phone book flapped in the wind behind the taller detective’s left shoe.

Suddenly, a trenchcoat-clad figure appeared and picked up the phone book. The detectives didn’t notice. Randolph panicked.

“Detectives! He’s taking the phone book!” Randolph pointed at the short figure shuffling away. The tall detective looked over, annoyed.

“Go home kid, we got this.”

Randolph shoved his notebook into his satchel and mounted his bike, pedaling after the trenchcoat and the phone book. The figure turned into an alley and Randolph pursued, heart racing. Rounding the corner, he rode into a flash of blinding light and suddenly found himself in an office, surrounded by squat creatures sitting at desks, shuffling papers and answering phones with their three-fingered hands. He screamed.

The trolls looked up from their work, more puzzled than frightened by the human suddenly in their office. The trenchcoat-wearing troll approached, still carrying the phone book.

“Followed me, didja?” he said.

“You took the phone book from their crime scene,” Randolph accused.

The troll grumbled. “It was my crime scene too.” Holding up the phone book, Randolph could see a hole had been burned straight through it. “Warlock magic. Bad news. Third case this week.”

Randolph looked around. “You’re detectives?”

The troll dropped the phone book into an evidence bag. “You could say that. The name’s Berg. And who are you? I saw you writing in a notebook at the scene.”

Randolph tentatively pulled out his book. “I write down what I see around town. This is my third notebook this week.”

The troll scratched his chin. “You don’t say. Mind if I take a look?”

Click here to read The Little Detective, Part 2

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

A Day Which Will Live in Infamy

I watched the Wonder Woman pilot today.

Yes, the failed NBC pilot from this past year that has been leaked and torn apart on the Interwebs a million times over already. I watched it at the end of a long day, start to finish, and I have only one thing to say.

So. Not. FUN.

Superhero stories are supposed to be fun! Not walking around and talking about crime and holding press conferences. It should be enjoyable to watch. Concept.

And what's the point of all the identities? Everyone in that world knows Wonder Woman is really Diana Themiscyra, but they don't know her secret identity Diana Prince, which allows her to go home to a tiny apartment and feel lonely? Too much transparency!

Argh, too much to say - maybe I'll hold a summit later. For now, I'll watch this:

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Connect the Dots, La La La La...

Pictures from Day 2 of the super secret shoot. Bet you can't find the connection!

Is that Tiger Woods? Wait, is it?

That's definitely a whole lotta woman, I tell you whut...

Me with the legendary Norman Lear, creator of television classics from my childhood, including Diff'rent Strokes, The Facts of Life, Silver Spoons, 227, and Who's the Boss?

Monday, October 17, 2011

Super Secret Shoot

Spending two days shooting a new Web video with the amazing Ron Butler, the visionary behind this Obama video (and the guy playing Obama):

Can't tell you what the new video is about, but meditate on this for now:

It's the Day of the Screening, Y'all

At last, the day we’ve been waiting for – Misusing Irony’s screening at the Bel Air Film Festival!

After days of seeing other people’s films – some good, some BAD – it was time to show the festival Christopher’s masterpiece. We were on the schedule with another short called Boys in the Hood and an Australian feature film called The Wedding Party.

Misusing Irony opened the lineup. From the metallic gold couch in the back where Christopher and I were sitting, the audience sounded like they enjoyed the film. Solid laughs throughout, including one for Christopher’s favorite line – “You know that guy?”

Here’s a clip for those who haven’t seen the film –

Next up was Boys in the Hood, a hi-larious comedy about a teenage boy who joins the KKK, then meets a beautiful Indian girl on the same day. Writer/director Anthony Falleroni didn’t shy away from exploring and skewering racism in this satirical love story, which elevated the film to the point of genius. Case in point – a cake to celebrate the main character’s new KKK status with the words “Jim is O-KKK!” written in red icing. Too funny!

The feature film The Wedding Party was also fantastic. An ensemble family drama with full characters, robust conflict, and a simple premise that held beautifully complex layers. Funny, heartbreaking, and sweet. So glad I was able to see it here in the US. And I just can’t get the song from the trailer out of my head!

Catch Misusing Irony at the Ojai Film Festival this coming weekend!

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Tools of the Trade: Creating an Action Plan

Everyone does it differently. Some people do it fast. Others take their time and never get satisfaction.

I’m talking about becoming a working actor, of course. From the moment you say to yourself, “I want to be an actor,” there are a million ways to go after that goal. There is no one path to the top – everyone’s view of the top is different anyway. For some, it’s achieving fame and recognition. For others, it’s working with the big names. For me, it was doing what I love and getting paid for it.

How did I go from square one to my current humble state of success? I like to say I did it the MIT way, which means I was smart about it. My entire journey has been guided by one word – focus. I believe becoming a working actor is a marathon, not a sprint. Success comes from planning your route, pacing yourself, and dealing with obstacles, all while headed toward your end goal.

So here’s how I did it. And if I can do it, so can you.

Teresa’s MIT-influenced Method for Creating an Action Plan
  1. Make a list of all the things you want from this career. Don’t hold back – put everything you can think of on it. From the general – “I want to act in commercials” or “I want to do radio voiceovers” – to the specific – “I want to work on a Joss Whedon project” or “I want to be invited to an award show gifting suite and get free swag!” Let it all out – this is your dream list – go for the moon!

  2. Choose two of the more general items from this list that you want to work toward first. (You can work on the gifting suite goal after you’ve gotten your first paid job.)

  3. Create a list of short-term goals for each item. Steps that will help you reach that long-term goal. Break it down as much as you can. If you want to act in feature films, your short-term goal list might include taking an on-camera acting class, reading a book about film acting, trying to work in student films to gain experience, doing background on feature films to learn what happens on set, etc.

  4. Look at your two lists and choose one to tackle first. Yep, just one. I know it may be hard to decide, but trust me, it will pay off.

  5. Refine your remaining short-term goals list and give each item a deadline. By the end, your list will look like this – Read a book about film acting every two months. Work on 5 student films by the end of the year. Do at least 1 background acting job a month.

  6. Voila! You have your action plan! Type it up or write it on a nice piece of paper and tape it to your bathroom mirror so you can see it every day. Check your progress against this list regularly. Have you signed up for that on-camera acting class yet? Have you been submitting yourself every day to get those student film auditions? By focusing single-pointedly on this list, you can rack up small successes that keep driving you forward, plus keep yourself from feeling overwhelmed.
Like I said, this is only one way to do it, but I think it works. Try it and let me know how it works for you. Better yet, post your action plan below! The more people you share it with, the more people can support you and hold you accountable.
I met a girl once who told me her action plan for becoming an actor was going to the Skybar every night until she met a producer who wanted to put her in a movie. How do you think that turned out for her?

Believing and Flying

I was lying in bed this morning thinking about Hawaii (as it relates to the pilot I’m writing), when all of the sudden R. Kelly’s “I Believe I Can Fly” came pouring out of a neighbor’s stereo. A bit loud for that time of morning, especially since the alley between my building and the next building acts as an echo chamber. But instead of closing my window, I listened to the lyrics –
When I think about this past week, I’ve gotten some work done for sure, but I’ve also been filling my suddenly ample free time with activities – errands around town, cleaning my apartment, etc. Anything to keep myself from facing the blank page.

Photo / Creative Commons / Henry McLin
But I have to face the blank page if I want to turn it into a 55 page pilot script that CBS greenlights for production. I can’t let fear hold me back. I need to believe I can fly.

As the song ended, I declared a new commitment to letting myself fly on the page, despite any self-doubt or fear I might be feeling. I walked out my door and discovered,,,

The loud music was coming from my roommate’s stereo!

I quickly turned it off, puzzled. She rarely uses the stereo in her room and I’ve never heard her listening to R. Kelly. She was on set, so I texted her to see if she’d forgotten she programmed it to turn on for some reason.

She had no idea what I was talking about. She’s never programmed that stereo to do anything and hasn’t used it in months. It just spontaneously turned on and started playing that song!

Photo / Creative Commons / Paul Jacobson.
Talk about a message from the universe! A message we both needed to hear, I discovered. It was reaching out across town to Burbank, where she was feeling blue herself. She needed to hear she could fly, and now I’m sharing it with all of you, across time and space –

You can all fly. Whether you’re an artist or scientist or parent or child – feel into your wildest dreams and believe that they can come true. I’m living proof that with heartfelt dedication and perseverant visioning, anything can be yours.


Thursday, October 13, 2011

Dreams are Answers to Questions We Haven't Yet Figured Out How to Ask

It’s 10/13! The X-Files fanatics in my audience (like me) will recognize this day as creator Chris Carter’s birthday. Hence his production company name – Ten Thirteen Productions.

In homage (or maybe in self-indulgence – you decide), Chris would often feature the number 1013 in episodes of The X-Files here and there – Scully & Mulder would review file X-1013 or the mutant human monster would be kept in vault 1013. Delicious, nerdy fun.

To this day, whenever I look at a clock that reads 10:13, I think of the X-Files. Ah, fandom...

After my morning writing session, I caught up on new movie trailers to wash the bad movie mojo out of my head. It’s getting close to award season, so all the trailers I saw were dripping with Oscar potential. Best actress performances from Glenn Close (Albert Nobbs), Michelle Williams (My Week with Marilyn), and Michelle Yeoh (The Lady), plus best director bids from Clint Eastwood (J Edgar), Stephen Daldry (Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close), and Steven Spielberg (War Horse).

Then there were these:

I love brilliant, thought-provoking masterpieces of cinema, but I also love a fun, entertaining movie. They’re both worthy endeavors in my book. And if Joss Whedon’s name is on it, I’m IN. Can’t wait to see them!

After more afternoon writing, I headed out to the Film Panel at the Bel-Air Film Festival. This All-Access Pass is paying for itself!

Walking into the incredibly swanky Luxe Hotel Sunset and looking around at the people assembled in the courtyard before the panel, Christopher and I got the feeling that we weren’t in the presence of an independent film community, but a crowd full of posers. Way too many old, unattractive men with gorgeous blonde escorts. Hmm...

Our suspicions were confirmed just moments later. When the panel started, the moderator asked for a show of hands – who’s a director, who’s a producer, who’s an actor? When she asked who isn’t directly involved in filmmaking, the majority of the hands went up. Why were they even there?

Left the panel early and came home to watch the latest episode of my favorite new fall TV show – Revenge on ABC. An addictive show full of twists and turns, pitch perfect performances, and pretty pretty scenery. My new guilty pleasure!

What fall TV shows have you been enjoying?

Swanky on the Outside, Painful on the Inside

The best part of not having a day job? Being able to sleep in after a long day like yesterday. I must have stayed in bed until noon. Writing, of course, but still in bed. Heaven.

After another pass at my pilot story arena and a little more sleeping, I got dolled up for the Bel-Air Film Festival opening night red carpet gala at the Skirball Center. Misusing Irony, the short film I produced, will be screening at the festival on Sunday and I want to take advantage of my fancy All Access pass. (Well, it’s cardboard, but it still looks fancy.)

Christopher (the film’s writer and main actor) and I checked in and strolled right onto the red carpet with DJ Shy, who made a cameo appearance in our film. Not my first red carpet, so hopefully these pictures will look okay. I’ll post as soon as I can find them.

Christopher went on to do five or six interviews with the various media outlets covering the event. He was born to do interviews – I could tell the reporters were excited to talk to someone with personality, which he has in scores!

More red carpet photos and then into the main theater for the opening night film, My Father’s Will starring Victor Alfieri and Ione Skye.

Wow. One of the worst movies I’ve ever seen. A romantic comedy that was neither romantic nor comedic. A weak premise, zero chemistry between the leads, bad dialogue, and a story that went nowhere fast. Victor & Ione deserved better than this aimless schlock. Plus, if it’s supposed to be a romantic comedy, why does he look pissed off in the poster?

The people behind us seemed to love the movie, but I couldn’t wait for it to stop assaulting my eyes with its mediocrity.

Sigh...bad films really annoy me.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

A Day of Meeting Heroes

Yesterday started at 5 am and ended at 2 am – phew!

6 am call for Grey’s Anatomy – another episode as a trusty nurse. My scene was in the OR, so the hair stylist braided and pinned my hair so the shower cap wouldn’t look like a muffin top.

I knew I’d be sharing a scene with the amazing Sandra Oh, but then discovered upon arrival that I was also working with Keong Sim (who just played Mike Chang’s dad on Glee) and Oscar-winning director Jessica Yu. Asian day on Grey’s!

The highlight was telling Sandra what an impact her performance in indie feature Double Happiness had on me. It’s a story about a dutiful Chinese-Canadian daughter who wants to please her parents without sacrificing her two loves – acting and a young Callum Keith Rennie.

I told her I’d seen Double Happiness when I had just decided to become an actress and was facing parental disappointment myself. Seeing the film had given me courage to continue following my dream. She was so excited to hear this and gave me the biggest hug. How often do you get to thank the people who help shape your life experiences? Incredible.

After wrapping, I squeezed in an hour of writing before heading into Century City for more meetings with entertainment lawyers. I felt a bit silly walking in with my tightly braided hair, but I was afraid of how it might look unraveled and there was no time to chance it. More fancy, fancy offices. One even had complimentary lotion in the bathroom with a message – “Have a smooth & relaxing day.” Why thank you, I will!

Finished the last meeting, then flew back across town for a VIP reception before a tribute to Ang Lee at the DGA. A friend saw me and immediately said, “Look at you with your corn rows!” Embarrassing.

People were excited to congratulate me on my news, but I was just as excited to hear their news too. One friend had just wrapped post-production on her first feature film as a writer/director while another told me a few behind-the-scene tidbits about her recurring role on one of my favorite FOX shows. So great! While I don’t define myself solely as an Asian-American artist, there are times that I really love being part of this community.

Ang Lee is hands-down one of my favorite filmmakers. I love how his films span different cultures and worlds, yet remain connected by common themes of breaking out and finding one’s true destiny. I met Ang briefly (eep!) and mentioned I was an actor and a writer and he nodded in approval, saying he told his son who wants to be an actor that he needs to become a writer too so he can write his own parts. We posed for a quick picture – hope to get it soon!

The main event was hopelessly cool – industry pros like Taylor Hackford, James Schamus, & Emma Thompson heaping praise on Ang, followed by a panel discussion in which up and coming director stars like Shawn Ku and Kevin Tancharoen showed their favorite clips from Ang Lee movies and discussed why his work is so impactful. Ang was humble and adorable – so inspiring to hear a true creative who is also Asian. See, we’re not just math and violin…

Ducked out early for my final stop of the night – the launch party for my Web comedy Mixed Blooms. Thanks to all the awesome friends who came out to support! Snacked on tiny mac & cheese bakes while watching the first two episodes. Seeing my face on all the marketing materials was weird, but everyone seemed to find my worried face hilarious. Check out the first episode here!