Friday, December 28, 2012

2012 Video Distractions Roundup

These are the best of the best - the videos that I watched over and over all year. The awesomeness is obvious --

What were your favorite YouTube videos this year?

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

The Hump Day Update: Holiday Hiatus Edition

You know how it is – Christmas cards to write, sugary treats to make, and a slew of errands to complete before traveling for the holidays. No really, I’ve been super busy!

Ugh, excuses. I’ll return to regular blogging soon. Expect a renewed commitment to daily posts when the new year hits. Until then, here’s what’s been happening in my world --
  • Got the stamp of approval from my agent on my sci-fi pilot outline, so I’m going to script. The goal is to have a readable draft done by New Year’s Day. If I can do that, I’m treating myself to a new pair of jeans. You heard it here first.

  • Started Kristen Bell’s #30DayHomies fitness challenge on December 1st – you can track my progress by following me on Twitter. Call it a headstart on the inevitable New Year’s “get in shape” resolution, plus prep work for my role in Early Retirement next year. Haven’t missed a day so far!

  • Became completely obsessed with this a cappella holiday tune from last year’s Sing-Off winner Pentatonix –-

  • Received a slew of screeners and scripts for the WGA Awards – more than I can watch! One of the big name screenplays will probably win, but I’ve been loving the scripts for smaller indie films like Silver Linings Playbook and Friends With Kids. Looking forward to seeing Looper and Celeste and Jesse Forever before voting.

  • Had a month full of WriteGirl! Two writing workshops (in which I wrote poetry!), met my incredible mentee, and had a blast at Drag Queen Bingo Charity Night at Hamburger Mary’s in West Hollywood. I love this organization so much!

  • My small parts in two episodes of Grey’s Anatomy finally aired. My small parts in two episodes of Don’t Trust the B-- in Apartment 23 should air in the new year – I’ll let you know as the dates approach!

  • Got another rejection letter from my first round of literary journal submissions. Immediately submitted to two new journals. Onward and upward.

  • Pulled together a few scenes to submit to the NBC Diversity Scene Showcase. I didn’t get in as an actor, let’s see if I have better luck as a writer! One scene was modified from a one-act play that I’d completely forgotten I’d written until I found it on my hard drive. Better than finding a twenty in an old pair of jeans!

  • Shot a corporate industrial video with the awesome Sunil Malhotra. We were complete professionals, expertly improving the most ridiculous job interview ever before snapping into the written lines. This is us with the director --

    Truly, I’m impressed we didn’t ruin any takes with our shenanigans. We both agreed if it were a sexual harassment industrial, we never would have gotten through it without breaking down into a puddle of laughter.

  • Wrote several PSA spots for an ad agency about mental depression. Really fun work, despite the subject matter. Hope the client is pleased!

See? Told you I’ve been bu-sy!

Finally, here’s my 2012 holiday card to all of you – here’s to a new year filled with love, career success, and joy!

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

A Scolding from a Master

This deliciously blunt rant comes from director Arthur Penn, best known for directing The Miracle Worker and Wait Until Dark on Broadway and Bonnie and Clyde on the silver screen. First posted on Follies of God by James Grissom, this piece speaks for itself. Enjoy.

In Defense of Friction

"I do not want to know another thing about what a nice guy or gal someone on the stage is: This is entirely irrelevant to me. Some sort of desperation has crep t into our theatre--all of our arts, really, but we're discussing theatre--where we feel a defensive wall is erected around the meretriciousness of our work by highlighting how hard someone has worked; how many hours they've put in at the soup kitchen; how many hours they spent researching the aphasic mind in order to replicate the actions of one; how many ribbons sweep across their breast in support of causes; how much they love their lives and how lucky they feel to be on Broadway!

There is very little art, but there is a great deal of boosterism. Fill the seats; buy a T-shirt; post something on the Internet; send out an e-mail blast.

I'm in my eighties, and I think I should have left this earth never knowing what an e-mail blast was.

I saw a play recently that was festooned with understudies: Not the actual understudies, but the hired, primary actors, all of whom performed (if that is the word) precisely like a competent, frightened understudy who got a call at dinner and who raced down to take over a role. No depth; no sense of preparation. These were actors who had learned their lines and who had showed up. And that is all.

I spoke to the director afterwards. By all accounts a nice and talented and smart guy. I asked him why a particular part in this play--a Group Theatre classic--had been given to this certain actor. He's a great guy, was the response. Prince of a fellow. Well, perhaps, but send him home to be a prince to his wife and children; he is a shattering mediocrity. But nice and easy counts far too much these days. Another director told me--proudly--that he had just completed his third play in which there wasn't one difficult player; not one distraction; not one argument. Can I add that these were among the most boring plays of our time? They were like finely buffed episodes of Philco Playhouse: tidy, neat, pre-digested, and forgotten almost immediately, save for the rage I felt at another missed opportunity.

All great work comes to us through various forms of friction. I like this friction; I thrive on it. I keep hearing that Kim Stanley was difficult. Yes, she was: in the best sense of the word. She questioned everything; nailed everything down; got answers; motivated everyone to work at her demonically high standard. Everyone improved, as did the project on which she was working, whether it was a scene in class, a TV project, a film, or a play. Is that difficult? Bring more of them on.

Is Dustin Hoffman difficult? You bet. He wants it right; he wants everything right, and that means you and that means me. I find it exhilarating, but in our current culture, they would prefer someone who arrived on time, shared pictures of the family, hugged everyone and reminded them of how blessed he is to be in a play, and who does whatever the director asks of him.

Is Warren Beatty difficult? Only if you're mediocre or lazy. If you work hard and well, he's got your back, your front, and your future well in hand. He gets things right--for everybody.

No friction. No interest. No play. No film. It's very depressing.

I don't want to know about your process. I want to see the results of it. I'll gladly help an actor replicate and preserve and share whatever results from all the work that has been done on a part, but I don't want to hear about it. I've worked with actors who read a play a couple of times and fully understood their characters and gave hundreds of brilliant performances. I don't know how they reached that high level of acting, and I don't care. My job is to provide a safe environment, to hold you to the high standards that have been set by the playwright, the other actors, and by me. I hold it all together, but I don't need to know that your second-act scene is so true because you drew upon the death of your beloved aunt or the time your father burned your favorite doll.

Now the process is public, and actors want acclimation for the work they've put into the work that doesn't work. Is this insane? Read the newspapers, and there is an actor talking about his intentions with a part. I've pulled strands of O'Neill into this character, and I'm looking at certain paintings and photographs to gain a certain texture. And then you go to the theatre and see the performance of a frightened understudy. But a great gal or guy. Sweet. Loves the theatre.

Every year or so, I tell myself I'm going to stop going to see plays. It's just too depressing. But I remember how much I love what theatre can be and what theatre was, and I go back, an old addict, an old whore who wants to get the spark going again.

I don't think we can get the spark going again because the people working in the theatre today never saw the spark, so they can't get it going or keep it going if it walked right up to them and asked for a seat.

It's a job, a career step, a rehabilitation for a failed TV star or aging film star. I got a call from one of these actresses, seeking coaching. I need my cred back, she said.

This is not what the theatre is supposed to be, but it is what the theatre now is.

I don't want to just shit on the theatre: It's bad everywhere, because it's all business, real-estate space with actors. It's no longer something vital. I used to think that the theatre was like a good newspaper: It provided a service; people wanted and needed it; revenue was provided by advertisers who bought space if the paper delivered, but profit was not the motive--the motive was the dissemination of truth and news and humor. Who goes to the theatre at all now? I think those in the theatre go because it's an occupational requirement: They want to keep an eye on what the other guys are going, and they want to rubberneck backstage with those who might use them in the future. But who are the audiences? They want relief not enlightenment. They want ease. This is fatal.

I talk to Sidney Lumet. I talk to Mike Nichols. I ask them if I'm the crazy old man who hates everything. You might be, they say, but you're not wrong. They have the same feelings, but they work them out or work around them in different ways.

The primary challenges of the theatre should not always be getting people to give a shit about it. The primary challenge should be to produce plays that reach out to people and change their lives. Theatre is not an event, like a hayride or a junior prom--it's an artistic, emotional experience in which people who have privately worked out their stories share them with a group of people who are, without their knowledge, their friends, their peers, their equals, their partners on a remarkable ride." ~~ director Arthur Penn

I love this. A scathing indictment of modern day showbiz priorities that I'm guilty of embodying myself - get hired, be liked, rinse and repeat. Color me respectfully scolded, sir.

For more fabulous insight from creative legends, check out James Grissom's blog Follies of God.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

The Revolving Technology Door

Look who came home today!

"I spent seven days at the laptop repair shop and all I got was this stupid new LCD display."

I have to say, this last week was painful without my laptop. No Microsoft Office, no Final Draft, no Photoshop - what's a multi-tasking creative hyphenate supposed to do? I was like a manufacturer without a factory. No bueno.

Thank goodness I got this miracle of technology over Thanksgiving break --

That's an iPhone 4, baby! I have officially entered the 21st century. And I love it. L-O-V-E!

Of course, getting a new phone meant it was time to say goodbye to my faithful Sony Ericsson TM506. You can see the ghostly image of my new Hello Kitty case in the reflection --

I sent it off to be recycled to support the National Council Against Domestic Violence. If you have old, unused mobile phones or other digital electronics hanging around your house, consider donating them to support their programs - it's a win win!

And with that, my revolving door of technology is closed for now. New blog posts to come soon!