Saturday, December 15, 2012

Daily Work Schedule

I have problems with time management. Anyone who knows me at all knows this. In an effort to improve productivity in my career, I've been trying to get in 40 hours a week. It's been tough lately with the wedding and now the holidays, but after some inspiring quotes from writers about their work schedules, I'm taking a stab at re-imagining my daily routines.

1. Wake up at 6am as often as possible. Have breakfast and coffee, check emails, fart around on the internet, read, but only for the first hour of being awake.

2. After an hour to get myself moving around, do exercise and yoga. Go to the gym for cardio on the machines at least 3 times a week. Yoga every day, at least an hour.

3. Check audition notices first thing. Then again in the afternoon. Then again before bed.

4. After exercises and working on tuning my instrument (dance practice, vocal exercises) get right to projects. Prioritize them in order of deadline, then what's easier and faster to produce, then work on longer term/more complex work. Start no later than 10am.

5. Meditate after lunch if possible, or when getting home after my day job and before dinner.

6. Spend 1-2 hours looking for an agent, but no more than that.

7. Read more. Find time when I'm unable to function creatively instead of wasting time on the internet.

8. In the evening spend an hour or two on some of my other creative projects, like my writing or sewing.

9. Try and tidy the house in the morning, possibly after exercising, and at night before bed. Put things away as soon as I'm done using them. Also at this time, work on any tasks on my to-do list that are just mundane life stuff, like paying bills.

10. If I'm not doing anything in the evening, like going out with friends or seeing a show or IN a show, be in bed by 10pm. No internet after that.

11. No more facebook games. I can play on the XBox if I've gotten at least 20 hours of work done by Wednesday. Oblivion and Skyrim are best played in the afternoon and before dinner, especially if I'm spending a lot of time fighting undead. 

I'm going to try to implement these guidelines now, as much as possible, but hopefully they will be in full effect by the new year! I'm almost done with my holiday preparations, so that should be easier to do. Too bad my day job is so busy right now! But things there will calm down in the new year, and I can concentrate more on acting and being organized. Productivity is hard. I'm hoping that more meditation and a better sleep schedule will help. Also, I want to get my place in better order so that it's more conducive to basically clean and organize my junk. When everything is everywhere, it's harder for me to think, but also harder to get my ass moving around and cleaning. It's a vicious cycle.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Why I do Student Films

I hear, once in a while, people complaining about acting in student films. To that I say, why NOT do a student film? Obviously, when you're like me and just starting out, you'll take anything you can get. I don't submit to roles I'm not comfortable with, but just the fact of the production team being students is no reason to turn them down, and here's why:

Students usually have access to a studio with equipment. That means your little short or independent feature has things like, cameras, lights, and more than likely, a crew. In my experience, these things add to production value and make your footage look better.

Sure, you aren't getting paid. Or at least not much. Still, they usually feed you at least. Plus you get footage for your reel, and if you don't have a long list of credits under your belt, that's pretty valuable. Sometimes copy can be really hard to get from a director. For some reason, they just want to hold onto it and never let you see it or have it. Even after the editing process, which admittedly takes a while, it can be tough. They have "other things to do" I guess. Or even better, they lose it! But students usually have things like deadlines, and often help with editing, so it's a lot easier to get your hands on that precious, precious video.

Yes, it's a bunch of amateurs who may or may not know what they're doing. But they also have teachers and mentors helping them out, keeping them on track, and advising them when they get stuck. I know more than a few "self-taught" film makers who find themselves stymied because they don't have the benefit of this knowledge on-set, which can cause delays and issues with production.

It's fun. It's, like, really fun. Students are passionate about their projects! Everyone involved is excited, and committed to the cause. They haven't been kicked down enough to hate what they do yet, and they aren't full of ego. They also aren't unrealistic, because they have been told what they should expect on a set.

This is all coming out of my most recent experience shooting a short film at LACC. I had a really good time, I felt like the director had a cohesive and defined vision, the professor was really nice and helpful while at the same time gave the director free reign, and for all intents and purposes, I felt like I was on a real set, with real film-makers. And it felt great to be a part of that. I can't wait to see how it turned out!

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Holy Cow, I Made My Wedding Dress!

It's true, I finally got married! It's also true that I made my own dress! For the record, I do not recommend this. It was a ton of stress, and while I saved a lot of money buying fabric direct from merchants in the garment district here in LA, I was still sewing it the night before the wedding, and had to rush to press the front of the hem that morning. So, yeah. Really hard job when you're also planning your wedding, and oh yeah, working like ALL THE TIME.

But let's discuss how I made it happen!

When I was thinking about what I wanted in a dress, I started by looking at what other women were wearing in Wiccan/New Age/Pagan weddings, since that was what I was planning for the ceremony. There is a big emphasis on Medieval and Renaissance design. A lot of people seemed to have bought their garb at Ren Fairs or something similar, and many weren't in white. I had long decided to forgo a veil in favor of a flower wreath. One of the paintings that really inspired me was this one, from around the 15th century:
I especially liked the pick-ups in the front of the dress on the right! I was also heavily influenced by Neo-Classical art, Pre-Raphaelites, and of course the work of John William Waterhouse. I took the opportunity of a trip to visit my family in DC to take a camera to the National Gallery of Art. I also thought a lot about the practicalities of the dress. The wedding was in Idaho in October, and the weather there can be unpredictable. I decided it needed to have sleeves, but that the neckline should be off the shoulder. Here's a photo of the design I came up with:
I started looking at patterns, and of course I had to adjust my design. I decided to go with a combination of Vogue Patterns V1095 and V2842. I also used a skirt pattern from Simplicity. Here's the design I came up with, using these patterns:
It changed quite a bit because of the needs of the pattern. I added pick-ups in the front, and made the sleeves bell-shaped.

I decided to do a mock-up in muslin before cutting anything expensive. I bought two contrasting shades so I could tell the difference between the lace and the satin. Here's the result!
I decided I would use whatever lace I had as an overlay on the bodice. The pattern called for a straight cut along the bottom, but I thought it would look better pointed. As I mentioned, I went to the garment district for my materials. I got some good deals too, because they don't mind haggling down there! I bought some beautiful satin from Michael Levine in a color called "candlelight" that had a beautiful glow to it. I had a hard time finding something with a low sheen, but I was trying to get a fondant effect. This stuff looked like cream! I had decided a while ago to use ivory instead of white, which I think worked out well with my skin. The easy part was first, the main satin dress:
After that, I used some beautiful hand-beaded bridal net. It was really hard working around the design, and the inside of the dress is a nightmare, and I made it too big at first in the bodice, and the under-skirt dynamics were tough because it was so heavy and I ran out of time, but this is the final product!

(Huge thanks go to Israel Shirk of Avalanche Photography, and Alysha Cox who did the flowers!) Again, the bodice is a little big, but it's fully boned and laces up the back. Michael Levine was my source for steel bones which I used in the back lacing for support. And of course, it was a beautiful day for a wedding, with a clear sky and warm. I was so worried we'd all freeze, but it was actually pretty hot out! Anyway, I'm really proud of the finished product, I think for someone who's really only an amateur, this turned out really well. I got a lot of compliments and people couldn't even believe I made it myself! That's a win in my book.

Monday, August 6, 2012


No, I'm not talking about the things you get on Christmas and Birthdays, I'm talking about STAGE PRESENCE!

Now that I'm concentrating on film, it seems like a trickier prospect than it used to be. I was preparing for an audition recently, for a project I really wanted to do, so I asked my amazing acting coach Joel Asher to help me out, maybe give me some pointers for the sides I was given. He said something to me that really made me stop and think, and that I often think of when I'm working on a scene. He said "the acting is there, you just need more presence." Basically what he's talking about, as he explained, was that special X Factor (no, not like the show, but yeah kind of that), that "star" quality that people sometimes talk about, where you walk into a room and all eyes just naturally gravitate toward you. They HAVE to watch you.

This hasn't been a big problem for me in theater. I'm pretty good at owning a stage space. But I'm also more confident on stage, as opposed to in front of the camera, and so I think that even though I'm making good choices, being honest, and acting well, I'm not capturing the audience like I should. Confidence, of course, is really hard to learn. Especially when you get to the stage in your "career" where you must must must do a project soon or you think you'll never work again! At least, that's what I've been feeling like. I said to Joel, "I really want to do this project." He said, "good." Then I thought about how desperate I was feeling about getting something, anything, and I said it again. And he told me that the second time my face just lost everything. I suppose that was the difference between thinking how much fun I would have doing something I could really get behind, and thinking how shitty it feels to be out of work this long.

See, that's the real killer. That's the confidence sucking feeling that drains your presence. Part of getting it back is preparation. That's actually a huge part. The other part is trusting. I've always been better at trusting other people rather than myself. I work on feeling that "glowing" feeling whenever I think of it, so that one day I'll just embody it and it will be real and natural. Until then, I prepare as much as possible, give myself some affirmations, and dive in.

There's an anecdote in John Lithgow's book Drama: An Actor's Education, that describes an early audition at the Phoenix Theater in New York, in which Meryl Streep is auditioning. She comes into the room, introduces herself, and changes her shoes...and blows them away. His description of her charm and then her transformation is an excellent example of the kind of presence I'm looking to cultivate. And while for some that may be natural, and it may have even been natural for me at one time, it is also something I must now hone and develop. And I think I can. Lithgow describes the audition as the last she ever had to do, and I think I can believe it.

I mean just look at her...she always had that light!

By the way, the audition went really well. There were two roles I was reading for, and one was a sort of surly nurse. In my head, she had a cigarette hanging out of her mouth. I wasn't sure at first if I should use a prop, but when Joel saw me do the scene with the cigarette, he said "there she is!" I went ahead and used it for the audition (not lighting it of course!) and I had the casting directors laughing like crazy! I didn't get a call for the role, but later they re-posted it on actor's access and the age range was higher, so I think I just wasn't as old as what they were looking for. And that's okay, it's just really gratifying to know that I did my very best. Next time, I'll get it for sure!

Also, I finally got a haircut, and now my hair matches my headshot again!

Monday, July 16, 2012

The Actor's Fund

Today I discovered something I wish I knew about when I first moved here, The Actor's Fund.

I was alerted to this group by a friend at work who is also an actress, and she showed me some of the job listings they provide, so I decided to check them out. I went to orientation today.

Basically, they are a safety net for anyone in the entertainment industry. They can provide financial aid, health insurance, career counseling, and a lot of other social services. They also have a job board that's full of jobs that are specifically useful to the needs of people in the industry, such as being really flexible with scheduling. A lot of their financial aid is only available to people who have actually been making money in the industry, so I don't qualify, but anyone can have access to their career services, counseling, training, and social workers.

When I say the financial stuff is for people working in the industry, keep in mind they aren't really demanding a lot. For most things, it looks like you need to have made at least $6500 per year for at least 3 years in the past 5 years. Or, conversely, $5000 per year for at least 10 years in the last 20. So they are certainly sensitive to the uncertainty inherent in the business. They are also housed in the same building as the SAG/AFTRA offices, so, convenient!

If you're like me, and not quite making money off of this whole showbiz thing, they have a lot of great resources. Classes for career development, skills for survival jobs, and support groups for various types of people. There is an AA group that meets there, as well as Under-earners Anonymous. They have computers available for job searching if you can't afford internet at home, and they will get you onto Westside Rentals without having to pay the fee if you're looking for housing. The career counseling seems to be geared toward finding a survival job, a sideline job, or a parallel career, as well as transitioning out of the business if that's what you've decided to do. They don't really offer anything in the way of networking or finding jobs within the industry, but if you just need to pay your bills, they're the place.

I urge anyone who is having issues with their career, or living in LA, to check them out. They are super nice, and they really get what it's like to be in the entertainment industry and what our needs are.

By the way, they were started in 1882 by Edwin Booth (brother of John Wilkes Booth), as a service to help actors get buried in sacred ground, something few people in the industry could afford at the time, and they still offer burial services.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Making it Work

I am in two new videos on youtube now, one on my channel, and one on my friend's channel. The video I posted on my channel is a bit of comedy experimentation, using the stages of grief. I really feel like the class I'm taking at Joel Asher Studio has helped me connect to characters and material.

This video was all improvised, using the bare skeleton of the idea of a girl dealing with a break up and going through the different ways that we all deal with tough times.

The video on my friend's channel is a character created for a particular sketch. This is also improvised, and involved a bit of serendipity, as most experiences working with animals tends to be. I was lucky that a friend of mine offered me her cats for this, and I think it really adds a lot to the character to have her (as a cat lady) in an appropriate environment.
 There are, of course, more videos coming in the series for This N That. I'm really excited about the project, and here's why: Everything is bite sized. It's ambitious in that there are a lot of things we want to do, but at the same time I feel like here is plenty of content that we can make quickly and with little money, to start building an identity and a following. The worst thing for a group to do is stagnate, and go a long time with no new material. Peach Market Productions, the banner under which This N That is being produced, is being really smart with producing small, easy to manage projects for now, so that all the work is well done and available quickly. I'm really looking forward to seeing what we can do! Everyone involved is really talented, and really focused.

I am, I must admit, very influenced right now by Felicia Day. If you aren't familiar with her work, she started a series called The Guild. She is an actress who wasn't doing the work she wanted to do, so she went out and wrote it for herself. I have a lot of respect for someone who can just go out and DO. And it's paid of for her. The series is now sponsored and bringing in some money, which has afforded the group better production value, as well as their new channel Geek and Sundry, with a lot of mini shows celebrating all things nerd. Felicia Day herself has garnered enough attention to be a main character on the epic series Dr. Horrible, a guest role on Supernatural, and the lead in Dragon Age: Redemption, a series about one of my favorite role-playing games. The lesson here is pretty obvious...if you make it, the work will come. A lot of people have found success using the pro-active, make your own work method...Good Will Hunting is probably the most famous and lucrative example. But being a working actor means more than just making money. It means always having a project. No one is interested in someone with nothing going on. Even if the answer to that constant question, "what are you working on?" is "oh, this project I'm writing with a friend of mine," it's way better than saying "oh, nothing right now. Just sitting at home, waiting for the phone to ring."

On that note, I've also been going to Manager/Agent showcases, mostly through ActorsWest. I understand that it's ultimately a paid audition, and at around $40 I can afford to do it once a month. It's certainly less expensive than some showcases. But I can't help but wish I was getting more feedback from the agents and managers that attend. I feel like I would be getting a lot more for my money if they would critique my audition, and give me some clue as to how I come across to people who don't know me, and how I can improve. That is, after all, what I hope to get out of the experience, other than a chance to audition for an agent. I just think it would be more legit if I was getting this kind of feedback. Watch this space for more videos! And let me know what you think of these!

Monday, January 16, 2012

Character study

A while back, I saw an episode of Saturday Night Live hosted by Steve Buscemi. His opening monologue discussed his new role as a lead on Boardwalk Empire, and how it took forever to get out of doing character roles.

This got me thinking, though not about landing the lead in a hit tv show. If I was to do character work, what would I do? A recent audition opened up thoughts of "folksy southern waitress." I feel like I look super cute in glasses, so why not "cute nerdy girl?" I could probably do "un-cute nerdy girl" too, but pride suggests I attempt the former first. I also get compared to Zooey Deschanel a heck of a lot lately, so maybe "funny, indie, geeky girl" is a good direction.

I've also been thinking a lot about sitcoms as a direction. I feel like I'd be really comfortable with a format that seems to draw a lot of conventions from theater. I know I'll never be Angelina Jolie, or "the hot chick," and action star doesn't seem too likely either (though I wouldn't turn it down!). Why not embrace my face, and try to suit my career to the strengths I have? The only problem is, I'm not sure what those are! It'll take a lot of soul searching and experimentation, I'm sure, but I think now that I'm back in the classroom, that may become easier. I also think that cementing a "type" for myself, as vomit-inducing as it is to my inner artiste, would be a huge advantage in commercial work. We'll see.