Friday, July 27, 2012

Music, Love, and the Hollywood Bowl

I took myself out on a Me Date last night --

Thibaudet Plays Ravel, one of a series of Classical Thursdays at the Hollywood Bowl. The Ravel pieces were spectacular, I went to hear some of my absolute favorite pieces of music, including:

Before I was acting and writing, I was an instrumentalist - piano and clarinet. Performing music was the thread of my life growing up - I played in the marching band, a concert wind ensemble, and a regional youth orchestra. I had private teachers throughout my childhood. I wore clarinet t-shirts. I was a total music nerd.

Even though there was plenty of angst around practicing and those damned stressful solo festivals, I look back on that period of my life with great fondness. Music education gave me so many opportunities to grow as a person and be shaped by discipline.

Going to the Hollywood Bowl for classical concerts is a wonderful reminder of my childhood music life --

Because there's nothing like sharing the gift of music with 18,000 other people! The evening was magical, like every evening at the Hollywood Bowl. I soaked up the notes with a huge smile, remembering tidbits of my former life - like how the audience isn't supposed to clap if the conductor's arms are still raised between movements and how the soloists get to stand for their own applause before the entire orchestra stands.

I loved growing up in music and I look forward to introducing my someday children to this love. Not in a tiger mom way, but even so, being first chair clarinet in so many ensembles was pretty damn sweet.

I miss it.

Were you a music nerd growing up? What did you play?

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The Hump Day Update: Controversy Edition

All of my good artistic intentions were overshadowed this past week by controversy. Here, there, everywhere. Angry people en masse!

First there was the casting controversy over La Jolla Playhouse's production of The Nightingale - set in China, dressed like China, with no Chinese actors. Bullshit. Drove down to see the show and participate in a heated post-show discussion. Will blog about that later...

Then there was the tragic theater shooting in Aurora, Colorado. A horrible, horrible event that inspired some people to question the need for increased gun control and inspired others to viciously attack those people.

Seriously, the comments on any news item about the theater shooting became a hotbed of hatred. Celebrities like Andy Richter and Jason Alexander tweeted their opinions and practically got death threats. It was awful and exhausting.

Controversies continued to pop-up - Daniel Tosh told a rape joke that pissed people off, Celeb Boutique tweeted a tasteless ad for their Aurora dress, The Jim Henson Company severed ties with Chik-fil-A over their anti-gay stance - and ALL HELL BROKE LOOSE ON THE INTERNET.

So attempting to write in the midst of the emotional shitstorm of words and anger swirling around me was difficult. I stayed away from my laptop as much as possible this past week to maintain some semblance of sanity.

Louis CK says it best around 3:59 in this interview on The Daily Show. I'm not avoiding these controversies as much as choosing not to engage in counterattacks. Everyone is entitled to their opinion. Attempting to convince people why their opinion is wrong doesn't interest me.

I prefer to read, listen, and consider what I can learn from a reasonable discussion. And then moving on with my life. And that's what I'm doing.

My best friend's newborn son was in the NICU all week - my energy and thoughts were much more devoted there. He's finally home now. And life goes on...

Feel free to share your opinions with me below - I welcome them all!

Thursday, July 19, 2012

A Handful Of Sand

Guest Blog by Christopher Tillman

Imagine you go to the beach and pick up a handful of sand. You then have to transport this sand from where you are to somewhere else. No matter how hard you try or how careful you are, the handful of sand you have at the end of your journey will never be the same one you started with.

This is what it is like to write and produce a movie.

I recently finished production on my second short film as writer/producer. (That feels good to say.) Getting the first one done was a sheer act of will. After you finish, the question is - "Can I possibly do it again?" The answer is yes, but all the stuff you thought you learned on the first one doesn’t help you the second time around. You have to learn everything all over again.

But with the help of some very talented and wonderful people, I was able to make it through the second production and wind up with a film that looks nothing like what I imagined it would.


That last statement is a bit of a Rorschach test. Do you read me saying that the finished film was nothing like I imagined it would be as positive or negative statement? The truth is, it’s not intended to be either. It’s just a statement of fact. It is not the movie I saw in my head while writing. That’s the nature of working in a collaborative art form. And make no mistake, movies are a collaborative art form.

One day while shooting I heard the director say, "Alright Andy take your shirt off and get oiled up for the next scene."

What? Excuse me?

I wrote a cute and innocent story about unrequited love and the director is oiling up the lead actor like a Chippendales dancer! But we were on a tight schedule and a small space and I didn’t think arguing with here on the spot was going to be a good use of time. "I’ll just make her cut it later," I thought.

Then I saw it later. It was neither sleazy nor salacious. It made perfect sense in the context of the movie and was actually a nice touch that I hadn’t thought of. The director always had the whole picture in mind.

It’s difficult to pass off your handful of sand. You think you can carry it better or if you do hand it off, you want that person to carry it exactly the way you would. But it’s just not possible. So you look for someone who cares as much about your handful of sand as you do. And you trust.

Because it’s not the other person you’re really worried about. It’s your handful of sand you’re worried about. The original one you picked up. You loved that handful of sand and that’s what you wanted to have at the end. But no matter how careful you are and no matter how hard you try it’s not going to be the same handful of sand you have in the end. Once you accept that, the journey becomes easier.

Christopher Tillman is an actor, writer, and producer. Follow him on Twitter at @christophertill

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Funny Asian-American Ladies

Let's be clear - I know funny.

I've been watching stand-up comedy since the days of Comic Strip Live! in the 80s. I dated one of the best stand-up comics in Boston and saw hundreds of shows in the best comedy town in the nation. My bar is set sky high when it comes to stand-up and there are very few comedians in Los Angeles that have made me genuinely laugh.

So I was a little skeptical going into Dis/orient/ed Comedy last Saturday, an all Asian-American female stand-up show produced by my friend Jenny Yang. When you're talking Asian-American female stand-ups, only two have really made me laugh ever - Margaret Cho and Amy Anderson.

Boy, was I in for a treat --

The evening started with a happy hour and community mixer with some of the organizations that co-sponsored the event --

And then the show began.

HOLY S*#T. These ladies were FUNNY!

Ten comediennes in the line-up, each one more hilarious than the last. A solid, solid show! Clear, unique voices, total confidence on stage, and funny, funny jokes. Seriously, if you missed this show, you missed out!

They're taking the show to Seattle next - hopefully they'll do an encore show in Los Angeles. Congrats Jenny - the show was a hit!

Monday, July 16, 2012

Money Monday: Know Your Score

Do you know your FICO score? Do you know what a FICO score is?

Yeah, it's a grade that tells the world your ability to be financially responsible. Higher is better --

Getting your FICO score should cost around $16 from one of the three credit bureaus - Experian, TransUnion, Equifax - but if you followed my advice from last week's Money Monday about free credit reports, you only paid $8-$9 to get your score along with your credit reports.

Now you know your FICO score! How do you improve it?

The same way you improved your grades in high school - with hard work! Start by paying all your bills on time, paying off any delinquent bills, and working toward lowering your total credit card debt.

I remember an old co-worker telling me the way to improve my FICO score was to incur some debt - buy stuff I can't afford and start carrying at least a $5,000 balance on my credit card - and then start making regular payments on time. He said it was working for him. When I told him my credit score was already an 805, he shut up about it. Incur debt to show I'm financially responsible? Cracker, please!

Check out Suze Orman's article about getting and improving your FICO score for more information.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Visiting San Diego, Not Comic-Con

I went to San Diego yesterday for dinner with friends who were attending Comic-Con. How much did I see without a Comic-Con badge? Plenty!

I began my mini-adventure by hopping on Amtrak at Anaheim - a very smart suggestion from a friend. Easier than departing from Union Station, plus free parking and a cheaper train ticket. Genius! (Though apparently I should have splurged for the Business Class ticket because Joss Whedon was on the same train!)

The walk from the train station to the Con was filled with surprises. I came upon this amazing mural --

Alongside a long line to get into The New Children's Museum for an Adventure Time experience. This show is crazy popular - Lumpy Space Princess is my favorite. Finn watched over the festivities --

Came upon two giant exhibits set up in a parking lot - one for A&E's new miniseries Coma --

And an outdoor cookout / game experience promoting The History Channel. The History Channel at Comic-Con? Okay...

Walked by the most clever piece of outdoor advertising I've ever seen --

And a few fake Wilfred dogs --

Before finally arriving at the heart of Comic-Con's external activities - San Diego's Gaslamp Quarter - overrun by banners and advertising --

Filled with hired actors handing out flyers and promoting whatever. A bunch of hospital patients sending people to the Coma exhibit in the parking lot --

I spotted the Swamp Thing! (At least, I think that's what he was...)

This was as close as I got to the Con --

Finally, I set out for my first destination - Tr!ck2ter! A pop-up shop featuring small run and limited edition books, fine art prints, toys, clothing, and more.

Wicked cool! I heard about it from the tweets of artist Nidhi Chanani, who was selling her wares there too --

I picked up a few treasures before heading to meet my X-Philes friends for dinner - more on that in the next blog post!

Maybe next year I'll venture into the Con again. Still too burnt out from previous Cons to even think about it. The goal is to return when I have a project of my own to promote. Better start writing!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Acting Headscratchers

Otherwise known as a short list of things that make me go hmmmm... (Anyone else remember that song?)
  • Actors who say, "I never watch TV." - They say it with pride too! That's like a mechanic saying, "I never drive cars." If you're an actor, you're supposed to know the shows before you audition, plus you can learn from watching good actors act. And you get to watch TV and call it research - why wouldn't you take advantage? (Also in this category, actors who say "I only watch reality TV." Ick - why?)

  • Wardrobe: Smart Casual - I'm used to being asked to audition in "business casual" or "dressy casual," but lately I've been seeing requests for "smart casual." What the hell is smart casual? How a rocket scientist dresses on her day off? (And yes, the rocket scientist is a woman...)

  • Actors who won't go to their auditions - Real story: Overheard a guy at a party getting drunk and griping about how his acting career was going nowhere. His friend said, "Didn't you tell me you had an audition for CSI tomorrow?"

    "Yeah," the guy muttered bitterly. "But I'm not going."

    "Why not?"

    "Because I'm not going to get it. I'm totally wrong for the part. It's just a waste of my time."

    I should have leaned over and said, "Sounds like your acting career is going exactly where you want it to go!"

    People are dumb.
Do you have any acting-related headscratchers to share?

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

A Writing Recital

My writing class / creative home Relax & Write holds a recital every year where writers share favorite pieces with friends and family. It's a lovely afternoon filled with words, food, and love. (Much more enjoyable than the piano recitals of my youth!)

What does a writing recital look like? Well, we started with an always epic potluck spread --

Then settled in for the readings to start. The most friendly, receptive audience ever!

I volunteered to read first - why not? Pattie was apparently ready to laugh --

Though I chose one of my sadder pieces to share with the group. A fiction story about love lost to cancer. I moved myself to tears, which was slightly ridiculous yet completely awesome.

Then I rejoined the audience to relax and enjoy the rest of the readings. I remembered some of the pieces from when they were written in class - some almost a year prior! We laughed, cried, and clapped loudly.

It was another beautiful and memorable afternoon with these wonderful writers. I'm so blessed to have these incredible spirits in my life!

Until next year...

Monday, July 9, 2012

Money Monday: The Real Free Credit Report

We've all seen the ads --

But guess what? ISN'T FREE! It's a ploy to get you to enroll in their credit monitoring service, which costs $16.99 a month after a 7-day trial. Boo.

To get an actual, real, absolutely free credit report, use Thanks to federal law, the big three credit bureaus - Equifax, Experian and TransUnion - are required to give you a free credit report every 12 months. And is the only place to get them.

You'll give the site personal information to get your reports, but never any money. They'll walk you through getting your report from each of the three credit bureaus and ask you questions to confirm your identity along the way - it's like taking a quiz on your life.

Once you get your credit reports, check them carefully for errors and inaccuracies. Are there accounts that shouldn't be there? Addresses you never lived at? If you find anything funky, follow the FTC's tips on how to dispute credit errors.

But you don't have to take my word for it - visit the Federal Trade Commission's page on free credit reports or check out Suze Orman's article "How to Get a Free Credit Report that is Truly, 100 Percent Free."

(Bonus round: As you're getting your free credit reports, each credit bureau will offer you a chance to see your FICO credit score for a small fee - usually around $8-$9. I recommend getting at least one, especially if you've never seen your FICO score. It's good to know where you stand, and you won't find a cheaper opportunity to see your score. More on FICO scores in next week's Money Monday!)

Friday, July 6, 2012

Pitching for Television

This is how I used to think television was made --
  • Writers write scripts
  • Agents submit scripts to networks
  • Networks decide which scripts become TV shows
Boy, was I wrong.

The television creation process starts with pitching! Everybody pitches - writers pitch to their agents, agents pitch to production companies, studios pitch to networks - and these pitches are almost never scripts at this point. Just ideas.

Because everyone wants to develop an idea with the writer from the ground up - have their hands in the script and characters as they're being formed - to ensure a successful final product.

The odds are tough - here's the estimate I've heard about network television --
  • Networks will hear around 500 pitches
  • They'll buy 50-60 pitches to develop into scripts
  • 8-10 of those scripts will be chosen to shoot as pilots
  • 2-3 of those pilots will be greenlit to series
Still, plenty of writers will take those odds, because it takes less time to develop a pitch than it does an entire script. I have firsthand knowledge of the pilot development process and I wouldn't mind doing it again myself.

That's why I went to this event at the WGA last week - Successful TV Pitching in Today's Marketplace --

The room was packed with writers eager to learn more about selling a pitch. There was even an overflow area set up in the next room with a live video feed to accommodate more eager writers.

The panel was comprised of television writer superstars - Hilary Winston (Happy Endings, Community), Elizabeth Craft (Secret Circle, Vampire Diaries), Michael Oates Palmer (The West Wing, Rubicon), television executive Gina Girolamo (SVP of Alloy Entertainment), and producer/pitching consultant Bob Schultz (Great American Pitchfest, Below Zero), moderated by Melinda Hsu Taylor (Touch, Falling Skies).

The panel gave the room amazing information about shaping your ideas, delivering your pitch, and working with production companies and studios.

I already knew most of the information presented thanks to personal experience and my years of pitch training in the CAPE Pitch Lab, but I heard great stories and learned a few new things --

I finally learned to distinguish production companies from "pods," i.e. - production companies headed by non-writing executive producers that function autonomously within TV studios, working with writers to develop and produce projects. For example, Timberman/Beverly is a pod at CBS Studios.

A few more great takeaway tidbits --
  • You're not just pitching the project in the room - you're pitching yourself as a partner they want to work with - they're not just buying the idea, they're buying you

  • It's not enough for a comedy pitch to be funny - they want to know why they're going to fall in love with the characters and follow them for 8 years

  • Never go in with a bad title! (Liz Craft said she and her writing partner Sarah Fain would rather pitch something as The Untitled Craft & Fain Project than go in with a bad title again.)
The first audience question of the night summed up what we were all thinking - how do you get a pitch meeting without an agent or manager? The answer was simple - you don't. You need an agent or manager with relationships to set up meetings on your behalf.

So if you're an aspiring television writer, keep working on those scripts to get a fantastic agent - and get ready to pitch!

Thursday, July 5, 2012

My Independence Day Writing Marathon

Rather than get sucked into one of the many July 4th marathons on TV yesterday, I decided to have a marathon of my own - a writing marathon!

No Internet access, no running of errands, no TV breaks - just 10 straight hours of words on the page. Here's what the day looked like --

10:00 AM - Commenced writing!

12:00 PM - First two hours flew by! I worked through two pilot pitches I'd been procrastinating on all week. I was invincible!

12:30 PM - 15 minute lunch break - ate while reading this article about Katie Holmes taking on Scientology over my roommate's shoulder. Fascinating stuff!

1:30 PM - Found myself noticing the need to vacuum and thinking about how to hang pictures on my wall - distractions! Bad! Push through, push through!

2:30 PM - 15 minute power nap. This is my super power.

3:00 PM - Halfway through my 10 hour marathon! More than halfway through my pilot pitches too - 4 down, 3 to go. Switched it up by doodling on my comics class homework. --

6:30 PM - Looked up and realized I was at the home stretch - only a few hours left and I was still jamming away on ideas. I was a productivity machine!

8:00 PM - Concluded my first ever writing marathon! It's amazing how much work you can get done when you don't allow distractions or procrastinating. I immediately felt like this is how I should spend every day. We'll see if this level of commitment holds tomorrow.

I celebrated my success by hopping on the Internet (at last!) and checking email, Facebook, and Twitter while watching Fourth of July specials on TV, including this absolutely fierce performance from Amber Riley of Glee --

Learned that in San Diego, a computer error caused ALL of the fireworks to go off within 30 seconds. Hilarious!

Epic fail! Hope no one in San Diego got too angry about it all. A Facebook friend rightly pointed out - if that error happened in Boston, people would have rioted!

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Happy Fourth from a Fanilow!

I love Barry Manilow!

No, not in an ironic way. I love him in a lose my voice screaming, sing along because I know all the words, cry my eyes out like he's Elvis kind of way. He's been in my heart since my childhood. I am a Fanilow!

So of course I had to celebrate July 4 (a day early) at the Hollywood Bowl with the man who writes the songs. This was as close as I could get --

Still a fantastic show - I sang along with every song, waved my red glowstick in the air, and yes, cried my eyes out. Then cheered at the fireworks!

Barry closed the evening with a patriotic anthem I first heard after 9/11 - it's been a favorite ever since --

Happy 4th of July!