Monday, September 30, 2013

Free Career Advice! (Just Buy Me a Boba, Please)

I love to help. Giving is in my blood. I volunteer, I donate, I live to serve. It's what I do.

That's why I write this blog - to pass on some of the information I've amassed in my career. As I continue to learn, I will continue to share what I know.

And I do it happily! I do it because I want people to succeed. I want to make sure people avoid the bad stuff. And I want to help people get started the way others helped me get started.

But my time is limited. You've read my Hump Day Updates, right? I'm constantly juggling acting commitments, writing projects, volunteer work, and some semblance of a personal life.

So though I would love to respond to all your requests to "sit down for coffee and pick my brain," I simply can't. I wish I could, but I also enjoy sleeping.

If you have a question about your career, email it to me and I'll try to respond to it on my blog. Send me five questions if you want! I'll do my best to come up with some answers.

And may I please make a humble request? If I do choose to carve time out of my day to meet with you in person to share career advice, please consider buying me a boba. Or a chai tea latte. Or some Chipotle.
I still consider myself an advanced beginner, but I'd like to think my time and the knowledge I have to offer is worth a few bucks.

You don't have to. I'm still happy to give what I can to help you out. But boy, it would sure make me feel appreciated and acknowledged.

Plus, I just really like boba.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Fiction Friday: Love in the Time of Ninth Grade, Part 1

I'm participating in NYC Midnight's Flash Fiction Challenge again! In each round, we're given a genre, a location, and an object that must be used in a 1,000 word story. In my first round, I was given Romance / A Haunted House / Marshmallows. This is my story.

Derek Nordvall was the most anxious student in the ninth grade. He could often be found double- and triple-checking the padlock on his locker or rambling a ten-minute answer to a simple question from the lunch lady.

On this particular autumn morning, he was fidgeting in the grocery checkout line. His mother looked at him with the patience only a parent can master. “What is it, honey?”

Derek slapped his thigh with adolescent angst. “I forgot to get marshmallows for the haunted house. Steve borrowed his cousin’s marshmallow guns so we can shoot at kids coming through the entrance – that’s our station – and I was supposed to get the marshmallows.”

“So run and get them.”

“But we’re next in line!”

“I’ll make them wait. You know I can.” His mother winked at him.

Derek nodded and took off. He knew exactly where the marshmallows were. But when he got to the candy aisle, he stopped in his tracks. Amanda Winters was standing ten feet away, inspecting the chocolate bars. The dilemma startled him. How to get the marshmallows he needed with the most beautiful and perfect girl in his class standing in his way. “Oh no,” he thought in despair. When Amanda turned to him with a smile, he realized he had said it out loud.

“‘Oh no’ what?” she asked.

“Uh…” Derek’s mind swirled, but he forced an answer. “Oh no…Je-llo.” He reached over and picked up a box of Jello mix from the shelf. Amanda chuckled at his randomness.

“That’s funny.” She selected her perfect Snickers and walked toward him. “Derek, right?” Derek bobbed his head, still holding the Jello box. “Well, see you around, Derek.”

Her smile melted into him and he let out the breath he’d been holding. As she walked past, he felt a sudden burst of strength. He turned and yelped, “Haunted house!”

She stopped. “What?”

“Um…the marching band is putting on a haunted house at the Fall Festival tonight to raise money for uniforms. It’s only five dollars. You should, like, come.”

Not the most eloquent pitch, but it made Amanda’s perfect smile return. “Sounds scary. Thanks.” As she disappeared around the candy corn display, a feeling of serenity swept over Derek. He had talked to Amanda Winters and survived. Life was good.

Click here to read Love in the Time of Ninth Grade, Part 2

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

The Hump Day Update - Fall Fling Edition

How is it September already? Where did the summer go? Here's what I've been up to as the seasons change --

• Been pitching a new one-hour drama project around town - different from the one in my last Hump Day Update. Also can't talk about it, but here's a hint --

Plan B, a short film I produced for director John Lopez, screened at the Burbank Film Festival. Had a great time at the after party listening to the Tim Russ Band. (Yeah, Tuvok from Star Trek: Voyager). Next up for Plan B is the Ojai Film Festival and the San Diego Asian Film Festival!

• Played a doctor (what else?) in a USC student film opposite the lovely and talented Pamela Marie Hobby, who I met on the Photographs of Your Junk shoot. The fake belly button on her baby bump was cleverly achieved with a piece of tape.

• Fall television auditions have resumed! As has getting in shape for Early Retirement - more news on that soon!

• Kicking off another year volunteering with Break the Cycle and WriteGirl. If you're a teacher, administrator, etc. in Illinois, Oklahoma, Texas or New Mexico, you can get the new Start Talking toolkit for FREE to educate youth about dating abuse.

Also, check out the profile on my volunteer work with WriteGirl in Los Angeles Magazine!

• Went on a writers retreat to Lake Arrowhead at a 3-story cabin I found on Airbnb. Ah, fresh air and creativity.

Here's a tip - when renting a cabin for the weekend with six other people, don't forget to bring salt and pepper, extra paper towels, and fresh dish sponges - especially if you're grossed out by old ones!

Looking forward to a fun and fulfilling fall!

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Finding Your Idea's Fitting Format

Ideas come to me in my dreams, fuzzy but fully formed. I open my eyes in the morning, reach for my phone, and type up the details and images before they slip away.

When I start to flesh out my note fragments and the idea begins to expand and take shape, the first question I try to answer is this --

What is it?

That is, what is the best format for telling this story? Because every idea has multiple possibilities for execution - a play, a film, a webseries, etc. But there's usually one format that will really make the idea sing.

Asking this question is useful, because you don't waste time trying to shove a square peg into a round hole.

Years ago, I wrote a synopsis for a graphic novel that I later turned into my very first TV pilot script. It was too serialized to be a useful sample during that era of procedural television, so I put it in a drawer.

But trends in television change fast and now everyone is buying serialized pilot ideas. So I dug up that old pilot to see if I could rework it into a fresh, serialized concept.

Again, I went back to that question - what is it? How does this story want to be told? Could I make it into a compelling series, or would it be better as a graphic novel as I'd originally envisioned?

After two weeks of beating out character wants and plot twists, I had my answer --

It's a screenplay! That's really the best format for keeping the stakes high as the story unfolds. And unfortunately, I need to focus on TV scripts right now, so that idea has gone back in the drawer.

So if you find yourself struggling to make a screenplay or stage play or piece of fiction work, ask yourself if the story could also be told in a different format. Because a change of format may be just what your idea needs to come to life.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

The Right Time to Move to LA

Another question from a blog reader!
I feel like it's probably every aspiring actor's first instinct to move to LA, as it was mine. However, I already live in a city with a smaller but rapidly growing film industry - Atlanta.

Since finishing law school this summer, I've been auditioning like crazy and have booked lead and supporting roles in several low budget productions so far, trying to get a demo reel together to show to some agencies, and I plan to take every acting class I can in the next year.

As I'm sure you know, many Hollywood movies and television shows are filmed here now. After getting an agent, I want to start shooting for small roles in these productions and hopefully some stronger roles in cool independent films.

Moving to LA at this point would be pretty crazy, right? While Atlanta is not a small pond either, I do figure I have a better chance at getting noticed here and then working my way up to bigger things than I would if I just cold moved to Los Angeles.

What's your take on this? When is the right time to make the move? Is there a right time?

~ Barrett
Thanks for your thoughtful question, Barrett! Atlanta is definitely an up and coming market for entertainment production. It's the Hollywood of the South!

Your dilemma is one I know well, having also started my acting career in a regional market - Boston.

The wisdom making the rounds among Beantown actors back then was - "Don't move to LA (or NY) until something takes you there." - i.e., an agent, a film role, etc. Sound, logical advice. Like you mentioned, why leave a pond where you're booking for a larger pond in which you're the little fish?

Alas, I was not a big fish in Boston. I was blessed to work on a handful of student films, indie projects, and industrial videos to get my resume started, plus take a few acting classes to build my skill set, but I was not booking anywhere near what my colleagues were.

I was juggling four children's/educational theater jobs just to make ends meet and getting told over and over after stage auditions that they liked my talent, but weren't going for "ethnic." As an Asian-American actor, I realized I would have much more opportunity working in TV and film, and that meant moving to LA.

So I think the bottom line is this - go where the opportunities are! For me, that was LA. If you're finding enough opportunity in Atlanta to keep you satisfied, then stay. When you reach a point where what's available to you is not enough, then go where you can find more opportunity. You'll know when the time is right.

Break a leg, Barrett!

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

The Five Biggest Lessons I've Learned About Writing

I've officially been calling myself a writer for seven years, and it has been an excruciating and exhilarating ride.

Here are the biggest lessons I've learned about the craft of far...

#1 - Writers Write Every Day

When I first started, I'd meet with my then-writing partner once or twice a week, but outside of that, I didn't write at all. I remember her calling me on it one day. Let me tell ya - it did not feel good.

But I knew she was right, so I took it to heart. I ramped it up, inspired by concepts like Malcolm Gladwell's 10,000 hours theory from Outliersand Jerry Seinfeld's "Chain" worksheet.

Now, I definitely write every day. It's why I've been able to complete ten TV scripts, countless pitches, short stories, and copywriting assignments, and tens of thousands of words on two novels in the last seven years. All while keeping this blog pseudo-updated, of course.

Even if I'm just journaling my anxieties or beating out ideas on my Notes app while getting my oil changed, I write every day.

It takes discipline and commitment, but you must do it if you want to call yourself a writer. The more you write, the more you learn, and the faster you'll get better at it.

#2 - There's No Such Thing as Writer's Block

There is such a thing as procrastination and laziness. I definitely have days when I'm not feeling creative or just not in the mood, but I've learned to put my ass in the chair and force myself to get in the zone.

I never let myself off the hook by saying I have "writer's block."

And if I get stuck on a character beat or a scene that's not working, I open my brainstorming notebook and start writing through it. It usually looks something like this --
"Ugh, this character doesn't work! He's too damn passive. He should be driving the action more. Maybe he can be up for a promotion? No, that's dumb. Why would he care? Oh! What if his father is the one who was killed at the beginning?! That will drive him to push her to catch the killer! Done!"
Works every time and never takes me that long. Try it for yourself!

#3 - Your Inner Critic is a Persistent Jerk

He's like the guy who invites himself to a party and then drinks all the good wine. You want him to leave, but he just won't go.

Here's the unfortunate truth - your inner critic never goes away. That nagging self-talk comes with the territory. Writers just learn not to listen to it. (And to lock up the expensive wine.)

My inner critic likes to show up after I've had a light day of writing. It crinkles its nose and shouts, "This crap is all you came up with yesterday?! And you call yourself a writer?! You'll never be Kazuo Ishiguro!!"

My inner critic is very specific.

I've learned not to let him get me down. If he's being especially annoying, I'll open a notebook and let him rant until there are no words of doubt left to spew. Then, I start writing.

#4 - Don't Be Precious About Anything

There's this expression that writers use - "You gotta kill your babies." Not the prettiest of statements, but it speaks to the idea that writers need to stay loose and flexible with ideas.

The creative process is all about flow and allowance. If you hang on tightly to that plot point or character trait and try writing around the rest of your story to make that favorite idea work, you're not in the flow. You're creating dams that will make your piece disjointed and inauthentic.

I've cut many wonderful moments, plot twists, and lines of dialogue out of scripts because they just weren't working. Once I removed the main character who inspired the whole pilot idea in the first place! But it was okay - an amalgam of him returned in a short story a few years later.

So be prepared to let your creative "babies" go. If they're really that genius, they'll come back to you later when the time is right.

#5 - Writers Are The Most Fantastic People Ever

We're survivors together, bonded by experience. We all know it's a bitch to sit down and face a blank page. We have empathy for writer problems and are the first to tell you that you can finish that script/novel/play.

Being in a community of writers has been an incredible blessing in my life. My writer friends share advice about the biz and the craft, listen when I need to vent, offer sounding boards for my ideas, and help me succeed. And I'm always happy to do the same for them.

Because we know jealousy and competition are pointless wastes of our creative time and energy.

Ask ten writers to write a story about a cat and mouse and you'll get ten beautifully different pieces. Which piece is the best is a subjective question with an answer that doesn't really matter. All we care about is writing a story that's better than the last one we wrote.

So don't hesitate to expand your circle of writer friends. We're good people.

(Oh, and writers are also the best drinking companions. There's nothing better than happy hour drinks after seeing the concept of your last pilot get sold to HBO!)

What's the biggest lesson you've learned about writing? Share it in the comments below!