Saturday, March 31, 2012

Saturday Video Distractions

I have a LONG to-do list this weekend - taxes, pilot pitches, Parenthood spec, and revisions to a Web series outline for an ad agency - plus a few blog posts, if I can stay awake.

So what did I do this morning? I watched these videos on YouTube - all inspirational in their own way - yeah, that's it...

First, a fantastic backseat cover from the incredibly talented Clara C --

I love watching this trailer for Australian TV series Summer Heights High and taking in Chris Lilley's ridiculous talent. Need to get this on DVD!

I don't watch Adventure Time on Cartoon Network, but Christopher swears it's brilliant. He introduced me to the character of Lumpy Space Princess, voiced by the show's Creator & Executive Producer Pendleton Ward.

This compilation of LSP quotes is comprehensive and totally random. My favorite - "Aw no. I am not getting eaten by zombies tonight. Get the lump outta here!"

Of course, this is the best compilation of quotes ever --

Finally, I discovered this wonderful short film from Cherry Sky Films. A simple premise and basic production values, yet completely genuine and authentic performances that make the story sing.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Fiction Friday: City of Fear, Part 1

“New York, New York! It’s a wonderful town!” was stuck in her head as she flew to Chicago. She would have loved to disappear among the throngs of anonymous faces between 5th Avenue and Broadway, but instead she was heading for Oprah’s town, ice-cold and hunched over from the chill, where everyone looked down to keep their eyeballs from freezing.

She’d packed her bag two days ago, taken her trash and recycling to the curb, and opened her windows a crack to let air circulate while she was gone. She’d thought of everything. She was ready.

Except she would never be ready to face her past. Chicago was her destination, but also the pit of her fears. She’d left this city behind eight years ago for a new life alone. A new life away from the news reporters and double takes from passersby and thousands of people who knew her name. A city that hated her.

A boy had died. The man she’d loved and supported had killed him – done horrible things. And even though she took no part in any of it, she wasn’t considered a victim. She should have known, should have seen something, should have noticed the boy’s baseball uniform in her trash can, should have recognized the monster in her bed. She was to blame.

The trial had been swift – the city’s judgment even swifter. He went to jail and she went into hiding, desperately trying to avoid the dark stares of recognition, the notes left on her windshield, even in the snow, and the deep silence from her circle of friends, which had stepped aside and closed back up without her, revealing how little they’d truly cared about her all along.

So she did what any reasonable mouse would do. She ran away. To Portland, where she could hide in the cold and be anonymous. Where the hipster heartline of the town wasn’t up to date on true crime of the last decade so she could get gas for her car without people coughing so she could look up and accept their expressions of hatred.

She became the quiet girl at the office who never went out for drinks and brought her lunch every day. She let her work speak for her, so when the conference in Chicago was announced, her boss chose her for the honor.

She’d cried for an hour in the handicapped bathroom. How to get out of it, how to explain without explaining, how to refuse without drawing attention. There was no way.

So she was sitting on a plane, flying toward the fire, preparing to spend three days at a booth where thousands of people would look at her, put two and two together, and usher her back into her nightmare.

Click to read City of Fear, Part 2

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Article Roundup

Note to self - the next time you get rejected by a potential manager, do not get drunk at your writer's group in front of people whose opinion you value. It will feel very embarrassing in the morning. Very.

A few articles I wanted to share --

TV Pilots 2012: The Complete Guide
A comprehensive list of all the pilots getting produced by the networks this season, along with updated cast lists.

Inside the writers room: Top scifi TV writers reveal tricks of the trade
Fantastic nuts and bolts advice from genre writers, including the always awesome Jane Espenson.

The Nine Trends That Are Dominating the 2012–13 Pilot Season
Alas, pilots about Hawaii did not make the list...

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Laser-Focused Writers

Don’t just say, “I want to be a writer.” Say, “I want to be a TV writer.”

This was just one of many pieces of advice dispensed at last night’s information session with Frank B. Gonzalez, Director of Talent Development Programs at Disney | ABC. The event featured a panel of current Program Writers and a load of information about the Disney | ABC Writing Program, how to submit, and what makes a successful candidate.

Here’s the gist as I heard it:
  • Be a great writer
  • Be passionate & confident in interviews
  • Be socially ready for the writer’s room
All of which is accomplished through having laser focus on one goal – becoming a working TV writer.

The Disney | ABC Writing Program is incredibly competitive – in part because it pays $50K a year plus full benefits – but also because it actually places its graduates on writing staffs. It’s not for people with a passing interest in TV writing. It’s for people who are committed to breaking in and pushing their career forward. There are only 8 slots each year for a combination of drama and comedy writers.

Sitting in the audience listening to all of this, the thoughts swirling in my head were, “Yes. This is what I want. I’m ready for this. Bring it on. Let’s do this!”

Do I have a new spec script to submit this year? Nope – not yet. Deadline is June 1st – plenty of time right?

I’m not worried. I have laser focus. I can do it.

Other excellent, no-brainer pieces of advice from last night:
  • Allow yourself time to devote to the application. Don’t knock yourself out of the running by forgetting one or more of the required components.
  • Writing is also reading – read as many TV scripts as you can and read the trades to keep up with the biz
  • Watch television! If you tell them you don’t watch television, your interview is over
  • Think about your logline as a writer – what is your brand? What makes you different from the next guy? What do you bring to the table?
  • Your spec should have the sensibility of an ABC show – they’re immediately trying to think where they can place you in the Disney | ABC family of shows
  • If your spec script makes it past the first round, you’ll need to produce two more writing samples – get that portfolio together now!
  • You’ll be pitching yourself constantly throughout the application process – get comfortable being an open book
  • Don’t spec a first year TV show – it takes time for a show to get established and for an audience to get to know that show. Spec a network show that’s been on at least 2 seasons or a cable show that’s been on for 3 seasons.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Student Film Shenanigans

Last week, in the midst of my pre-production hell for the FOX project (that eventually got cancelled), I acted in a USC graduate short film.

Because as I've said before, I'm still open to working for free if I can get something out of it - experience, contacts, and/or fun. This project offered all three.

A quick photolog of my experience so far --

This was my third acting job in a year shot at a defunct newspaper office in Los Angeles. Sad, sad wastelands of desks and office chairs:

The production designers dressed up the set quite well, including giving me a green screen - literally.

The background extras near my desk were hilariously entertaining - creating a whole separate storyline amongst themselves. There were several torrid love affairs and a murder plot going on. It's easy to have fun when those around you are having fun.

For a student production, these guys had a ton of equipment - including a $30K camera package from Panavision that was won in a competition.

I had one big scene with the lead actor Jonathan Runyon, seen below as the director watches closely on the monitor --

At one point the director took over the camera himself for my coverage. This is what was staring me in the face for my closeup --

Going back for my third and final day sometime this week. The best part? I'll be working with Roger Bart, who I met at the stage door of Pasadena Playhouse just last month. I told him I looked forward to working with him someday, and now that day is almost here! Isn't life wonderful sometimes?

Monday, March 26, 2012

Money Monday: Vehicle Value

As an actor, your most valuable tool is not your voice. Or your looks. It’s not your ability to break down a script or the list of foreign accents you can pull off.

Your most valuable tool is your car.

Because if you can’t get to the audition or the fitting or the job, you’re not an actor.

Especially in a town like Los Angeles, which is made for cars and not for pedestrians. Public transportation exists, but it’s not a feasible alternative for actors who need to be anywhere at a moment's notice.

So it pays to be smart about your car. Increasing your attention to your car will help decrease your maintenance costs and hassles.

Here are a few tips for taking care of your car life so that your actor life can work:

Don’t Ignore Those Weird Sounds – Investigate immediately! That awful squeaking sound you’re hearing when you turn the corners could mean it’s time for new brake pads. Stop by your local tire place ASAP or you could be shelling out much more on new brakes and rotors.

Get Your Oil Changes on Time – You do not need a new pair of UGGs. Your car does need an oil change on a regular basis or you’re screwing your engine. Check your owner’s manual to find the recommended number of miles for your car between oil changes. Don’t go by EZ Lube’s 3,000 miles assumption – for many cars, you can wait 5,000 miles between changes.

Become an Eco Driver – Slow down on the highway, idle less, and empty that trunk. Follow those and other best practices laid out by sites like Eco Driver and you’ll definitely increase your car’s mpg, which means fewer trips to the gas station. And with today’s prices, you’ll be glad you did.

What is your favorite car maintenance tip?

Sunday, March 25, 2012

WonderCon 2012: Nerd Retail Heaven

Ah, the retail paradise for fans that is WonderCon! (Or any sci-fi comic book convention, for that matter.)

After a year of not buying anything, I was looking forward to letting my wallet roam free and capture some geeky gems. There was really something for everyone at WonderCon.

Firefly fans like me could find everything from quirky, funny buttons like these from QMx --

To a detailed model of Serenity herself, also from QMx.

There was stuff for fans who like their tchotchke straight out of the show --

And stuff for fans who like their tchotchke with a little bit of humor --

And stuff for baby fans!

I saw plenty of stuff that made me smile, like this t-shirt that reminded me of playing video games with my brother --

But in the end, here's what I came away with --

A gorgeous print from super talented artist Nidhi Chanani. Her art is beautiful and sweet, often featuring multi-ethnic couples and animal prints worthy of any baby nursery. I chose this print because it reminded me of writing with my own notebooks --

Found more smushiness in Jeff Thomas' characters Pon & Zi - two monster-like characters who actually share a deeply romantic connection. One of my favorite prints --

Though in the end I opted for this bookmark, which just made me laugh --

This button was a must-have from Just Jenn Designs - Nerd Love!

Another fabulous piece of original art, this time from Katie McDee, who it turns out I met at a wedding shower years ago! Love this Harry Potter --

Also picked up two books from Brandon Easton, my fellow Pitching Diversity panelist --

The second book was co-written by Anthony Montgomery, also known as Ensign Travis Mayweather from Star Trek: Enterprise. The logline was the best --

Finally, a few booths with charity connections caught my attention. Picked up this book for a $5 donation to Autism Speaks --

And participated in the Chopstick Pull at the California Browncoats table with proceeds going to The Trevor Project --

I didn't win the prize, but I walked away with a new pair of chopsticks! Score!

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Cancellation Roller Coaster

At first, I was confused.

After almost two weeks of pre-production hell, scrambling to get what I needed to produce my short film for the CAPE/FOX Digital Marketing Initiative, everything was finally ready to go. I had just locked my last location as I headed over the Sepulveda pass to pick up the lighting equipment.

Then I got the call.

FOX wanted me to cancel my shoot until certain liability issues could be resolved. What what what? Craft services was already packed in my trunk!

They explained that while they appreciated all the work I’d already done, they needed me to take a step back until they could figure out how to better support and protect us (and themselves).

My first instinct was to be agreeable and accommodating. I let them right off the hook, took the next exit, and started making calls. I called my director, cancelled my locations, unbooked my beautiful actors, and told the equipment rental houses I wouldn’t be picking up after all. Everyone was sweet and understanding – what could I do? The situation was out of my hands.

I finished my last call just as I arrived at the opening night of the LA Film + Music Weekend for a quick turn on the step and repeat...

...and to see the opening night film Take Me Home before the final festival screening of the last film I produced, Misusing Irony.

As I sat in the theater, I could feel my adrenaline starting to drain. I’d been racing toward this weekend for almost two weeks and now it was over. I felt like I was coming down from a sugar rush. When I finally hit the bottom, I honestly didn’t know what to feel.

Sadness crept in first. Everything was set. I was going to have another project under my belt and it was going to be a blast. I sank into disappointment as I shoveled popcorn into my mouth.

Then, over a prosciutto pizza at Rocket Pizza, anger hit me right in the chest. FOX waited until 4 pm on the Friday before my shoot to tell me to cancel? Seriously? They’re lucky I hadn’t already picked up my equipment or I’d be demanding they reimburse me! Ridiculous! I slammed the table for emphasis as I railed and ate.

Finally, while watching Misusing Irony for the final time on the glorious big screen at the Downtown Independent – a theater Christopher and I always dreamed would show his movie – I shrugged and let it all go.

I didn’t have to cancel because I wasn’t ready – FOX wasn’t ready. And with more time to prep and more support, my project will surely look better and go more smoothly. This type of production hiccup happens all the time in Hollywood.

I wasn’t cancelled – my production was just postponed. I laughed and enjoyed the rest of the screenings, went home, and crawled into bed knowing I didn’t have fifty things to do in the morning. I could just sleep. And I did.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

My Week is Cray Cray!

WonderCon 2012 was...wonderful. Delightfully nerdy, much more manageable than Comic-Con, and wildly enjoyable. I came home on Sunday night exhausted and exhilarated, but ready to write many, many blog posts about my experience.

And then Monday happened.

Or I should say, Monday brought the reality that I have five days of pre-production before shooting my winning video project for the CAPE / FOX Digital Marketing Initiative. Five days! That's it! Crap!

So now I'm in the throes of pre-production, hunting for locations, searching for crew, and generally stressing about a million and one details that need to be locked down by Saturday morning.

Plus I'm acting in a USC graduate student film for two days this week, so that's even less time to focus on my shoot. Argh! When it rains, it pours!

Until I catch my breath, here's the WonderCon overview:

The Pitching Diversity panel went beautifully -

I saw some hilarious geekiness -

And saw the best baby stroller ever -

Friday, March 16, 2012

My Geeky Con History

Today, I'm doing something I've dreamed about for years. I'm speaking on a panel at WonderCon! It's called Pitching Diversity - 1:30pm in Room 208, hosted by Wide Lantern. Stop by if you're at the Con!

Why is this a big deal for me? Because I love Cons! (Short for Conventions - often referring to sci-fi and comic book conventions.)

In 2005, I was introduced to the geekfest extravaganza called Comic-Con and I've attended every year since. I don't dress up, but I do revel in the fandom. I ask questions at panels, I browse the artist booths, I buy nerdy tchotchke - I love it all.

So getting to be on the presentation side of a Con event is really exciting for me, even though WonderCon is a smaller event. I'm looking forward to a robust discussion about diversity in film and television - and taking advantage of that all-access pass.

Here's a brief look back at my Con history -

In 2006, I spotted Joss Whedon and proceeded to blubber like an idiot about loving Firefly and how I thought there should be more visionaries like him running Hollywood. He was nice enough to pose for this picture - don't I look adorkably giddy?

Spotted more celebrities in 2007, including popular genre TV character actor Mark Sheppard. Christopher's the one who looks adorkable in this one:

2008 - The closest I ever came to the Stargate! I think I won an action figure at this booth, which I promptly sold on eBay when I got home.

In 2009, I spotted not one, but TWO Elvis Storm Troopers. Mash-up costumes like this started becoming more and more popular. Also spotted this year - Leisure Suit Boba Fett and Jack in the Box Jedi. Priceless.

2010 was a tiring year - the massive expansion of Comic-Con meant longer lines, more crowding, and heightened frustrations. Still, I managed to snag a smiling picture with two superstars - Mike Adair and Bob Holt, the voices of Hoops & Yoyo!

2011 was my shortest stay to date - just long enough to visit with friends like Todd Stashwick and Dennis Calero, who were promoting their Web comic Devil Inside.

No current plans to attend Comic-Con 2012, but anything could happen!

Have you ever been to Comic-Con in San Diego?

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Let's Hear It

Writing can be a lonely practice. Just you and your words - spinning around your brain, swirling onto the page, then back into your head. Stare at the same words for too long and you're liable to go crazy.

That's why live staged readings can be a valuable tool for writers. If you're stuck or just unsure about how something is working, hearing a script read out loud by actors can give you the fresh perspective you need to move it forward.

It doesn't have to be complicated - just get a bunch of actors together and read your script around your dinner table. You'll catch typos and missed words immediately as well as hear where the dialogue rings false or the action lags.

Actors can also give you great feedback on how characters are coming together and where they come across authentically. Or not. Invaluable feedback - all for the cost of some pizzas and salad.

Yesterday, I participated as an actor in two such live readings of screenplays in progress. The first was for my friend Kimberly-Rose Wolter, who gathered a few friends to read a revised version of her screenplay Knots, which she actually already produced into a feature. Yup, that's her in the lead role too:

She was brushing the script up to use as a writing sample and got terrific feedback from the group. I read the role of the uptight, pregnant middle sister who doesn't believe in swearing. Fun!

In the evening, I head over to Little Tokyo to read pages from five amazing screenplays - all written by members of UCLA's Professional Program in Screenwriting. I was lucky to be included among an Asian-American all-star lineup - Randall Park, Tamlyn Tomita, Clyde Kusatsu, Roger Fan, Beverly Sotelo, and Daniel Blinkoff. (Okay, that last guy was white, but he was still awesome.)

Also a wonderful evening of staged readings that was hopefully valuable for the students. I had a blast reading alongside actors I've admired for years. I can't wait to see these scripts hit The Black List next year!

Another good idea for luring actors to read your scripts out loud - cupcakes from Porto's:

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

I Hate Being Late

And yet I am late. More often than I'd like to admit. More often than any human being should be. I'm late to lunch dates, to clothing swaps, to networking events - I'm late all the time.

This week, I was 15 minutes late to an audition. The WORST.

This role was mine to lose. MINE. Smart, young Asian medical examiner - I should be able to do that in my sleep, right?

Wrong. After rushing in late, I flubbed the lines, tripping over my words, looking down at my sides more than once. It was only four lines - I should have known them cold. I should have taken another minute to settle myself down and prepare before going into the room.

But I didn't. And I blew it.

And yes, I know I'm my own worst critic, but I also know I could have done better. If I'd been on time.

I should have known better than to be late. The easiest thing any actor can do to ensure a successful audition is show up early. Take time to get settled and get focused. I tell actors this all the time.

But whatever reason that has yet to be uncovered by a therapist, I just can't seem to walk my damned talk. And I hate myself for it. I hate the look on my friends' faces when I rush in to meet them. I hate missing the previews. I hate creating stress.

There is no excuse for being late to an audition. Absolutely none.

This particular audition was 23 miles away from my house. Google Maps estimated the trip would take 30 minutes. I left an hour early. It ended up taking me an hour and a half. So I was late.

But that's no excuse - traffic in Los Angeles is always awful. I should be leaving two hours early for everything. But I don't. Because I suck.

Sigh...there's that saying -

Early is on time.
On time is late.
Late is unacceptable.

It's good advice. Don't be like me, kids. Don't be late.

(Yup, self-flagellation is still in high gear...)