Saturday, February 26, 2005

What a Mind Blower

If the brain is a muscle, I think I just did a thousand pushups, one-armed, clapping. Huh?

Anyway, I had my first Cold Tofu workshop and, wow, I give those improv guys some serious props. Turns out that Aaron isn't a beginner. He's been at this improv thing for about 9 years now. My bad for getting the information wrong.

(Sorry for the outdated street lingo. I'm just in one of those moods right now. I'll soon shake it. It's just I'm having, well, a funky time with women right now. And well, I'm not gonna talk about it. So, if you detect the subtext, that's where it's coming from.)

I don't know if I'm good at improv, but I sure had a blast. My brain can start to slow when I'm down on blood sugar, so I carbo-loaded just before the class. And I continued to drink some Smart Water throughout. Purple is my favorite. We did various exercises, some of which I'm familiar with. Basic Improv 101 stuff. But the scary part is you're in a room full of strangers doing this stuff. That's some intimacy, right there. One of the participants is a former Nisei Week queen and another one is on the current court. Both are pretty easy on the eyes. There was one chick there, though. Pretty to look at, painful to work with, excruciating to listen to. I'm betting she drops the class. If not, it's gonna be a helluva time for the instructors.

I also had a rough brain week due to the freelance client I took on. I just don't know if this one is gonna last. Too much work for way too little dough. But I am learning something about microbiology and microimmunology, if that counts for something. On Friday, though, I had to explain what nucleic acids were. Nucleic acids? I'm just a dumb actor!!

Today, I filmed a short flashback scene for an indie film I've been working on for the last 18 months. It's one of those things where the filmmaker works a day job, so he tries to get things done on weekends. It's difficult to do, but at least he's doing it. We put on some army clothes and played soldiers in a sandbox at the park against a green screen. Afterward, he gives me a DVD to take home. It's got all the stuff we've already shot. Pretty cool, man. That's how you get an audition reel.

I had a very slow week, audition-wise. I think I went to one or two print auds, though. The last one was on Thursday, the day after the improv class. Even though it was just a print aud, I felt a little more alive in front of the camera. Funny how a class can do that.

Well, tonight I'm gonna work the brain in a different way. I'll probably lose a bunch of brain cells in the process. Just gotta let go of this funk I'm in.

Monday, February 21, 2005

Butterflies and Shame

So, it's Monday now and I'm thinking ahead to Wednesday and the night of my first improv workshop at Cold Tofu.

Trying something new has always been both exciting and terrifying at the same time. And I guess this is why I do it. For the sheer thrill of it. It's my way of bungee jumping off a bridge over a canyon. I've never really had the acting bug. But the adrenaline rush -- now that's something I like.

One thing that I know will work against me is something I can blame my mother for. I know, it's a cliche to blame your parents for your worst traits, but this is something that is actually a good trait. My mom taught me shame. Or, in my case, not to bring shame to her and the family name.

If there's one trait that works against you in Hollywood, it's having a sense of shame and decency. No comic could possibly be funny without somehow shaming their mother or family name. It's a given.

I hadn't really thought about it until yesterday, when I went to a club called Avalon on Vine. Braving the pouring rain and flooded streets, I made it inside, had a few drinks and even danced a little.

Admittedly, I'm a little shy when it comes to talking to chicks I've never met. It's something I've worked against since I was a child. And it's the reason I took my first acting class -- to get rid of the shyness. Once, I mentioned my shyness to a friend and she laughed at the irony that I had become an actor.

Anyway, where was I? Oh yes, the club. Even after a few drinks, I can still be a bit shy, but the inhibitions are loosened. So, before I can stop myself, I've already said what I probably would have been embarrassed to say under normal circumstances.

The point of all this is that, yesterday, I saw this guy who I had "lent" some money to. Truthfully, under the pretenses of us doing a writing project together, I loaned him some money. He told me that when his situation cleared up, that I should ask for the money back. I never did...until yesterday.

So, today, I started thinking about shame, about what my mom ingrained in me, and about this class I'm scheduled to start in a few days. It all sort of makes sense now.

Sunday, February 20, 2005

Star (Trek) Sightings

Recently, I went to a couple of AMPAS screenings. These were for the foreign film category and I have to opine that it is such a rip-off that films like House of Flying Daggers weren't included in this lot. (For more on this, read )

There's a few reasons for this, the main one being that most of the AMPAS membership is either white or Jewish and they're all over 60. Over 60!! Knowing this, it's easy to understand why many of the films in the Best Picture category are not "coming-of-age" stories but "past-my-prime" stories: Million Dollar Baby, Sideways, The Sea Inside, As It Is in Heaven.

I'm not sure if he's over 60, but I ended up chatting with George Takei at one of these screenings. Yes, he played Sulu in the original Star Trek. I've met George before when I worked at a magazine but he didn't remember me at all. He asked if I was an actor and, like I usually answer, I said, "Occasionally." Then I refreshed his memory about the magazine, to which he expressed his sympathies about its demise.

The funny thing is, I had just gone to a casting a week before for an MBNA credit card commercial where I had to look like "an original member of Star Trek." The audition called for a mock turtleneck shirt and black slacks. My hair was on the longer side, so it was easy for me to obtain that '60s look. While waiting in the lobby of the casting office, I took a picture of myself with my camera phone. Not exactly Sulu, but not bad either.

I didn't get the commercial, but I kept the photo. I don't know why, but I just couldn't get myself to show it to Mr. Takei. It was one of those momentsa: You have one chance to do or not do something. I chose to not do it, and I think I retained both my and Mr. Takei's dignity in the process.

We did have a discussion about tea, however. As part of my interest in samurai (many were tea masters), I had been reading "The Book of Tea," by Okakura, and showed him the book. He hadn't read it but asked if I could give him a synopsis. A synopsis of the Book of Tea? It's not a long book, but if you could ask the author, he'd probably say that his book itself was a synopsis.

Anyway, I told Mr. Takei that I could not summarize the book. To which he said, "Perhaps that is why [the magazine I worked on] folded."

Ouch, Mr. Takei. Put that thing on stun, why don't you?

Acting Class

The last time I took a real acting class was in college and that was, well, a long, long time ago. People ask if I study and I say that I'm too lazy to study. (See my profile about this.) Well, it looks like my lazy days are over....

Last Wednesday, I went to a free performance by Cold Tofu, one of the oldest improv groups in L.A., and decided to enroll in their Level I workshop starting this coming Wednesday. It's an 8-week course and costs $240. As acting classes go, this is a relative bargain.

What inspired me most to take this class was that I knew one of the main performers, Aaron Takahashi, who happens to be teaching the class. I worked with Aaron last year on a low-budget movie and he was one of the film's very dedicated, but uncredited, extras. After seeing him perform, I know that his days as an extra are over. This guy has SKILLS. Plus, he's just naturally funny. You look at him and you smile or laugh. That's a gift or talent that you just can't learn.

Anyway, taking a class is something I've needed to do for a long time. I'll let you know how it goes.

On other fronts, I just scored a new freelance client. This one allows me to work from home on an independent contractor basis (they don't take any taxes out). So, it looks like the pressure from lack of unemployment income has pushed me to be productive after all.

As I said, it looks like my lazy days are over.

Thursday, February 17, 2005


Oh, forgot to mention I had a pretty busy week so far with auditioning. Yesterday, had two print auditions and the day before had a commercial casting for, which happened at a place called Westside Casting.

At the commercial casting, I went in with a good-looking happa (half Asian) girl. The unusual thing is, the casting guy proceeds to do several rehearsals off-camera with us, saying, "I want you guys to get this right before we shoot it." This was highly unusual for a first-round casting, but a bit encouraging, since he's almost saying, "I think you guys can book this, so let's make this a good one." Afterward, the guy admonishes me to NEVER wear the shirt I was wearing because it had half white and half blue, making my face too dark due to the automatically adjusting iris of the camera lens.

First off, there are many ways to respond to this type of advice. Often, an actor will brush it off as criticism and want to tell the guy to go fly a kite. (Well, something like that.) But I've been reading a lot of samurai books lately and I believe I responded correctly and with immediacy: "Thank you very much for the advice."

In this business, professionalism counts about as much as good acting.

Too Short and Ugly

I have a Friendster account, under my real name, of course. Recently, a girl in Korea has been emailing me every day or so about different things. I mentioned to her that I did some "modeling" for some Korean companies and she wanted to hear about the experience. So, here's what I wrote (BTW, her English isn't very advanced, so I adjusted mine to accomodate):


There is some suspense (fun and excitement waiting) in modeling, I think. They dress you, put makeup on you, then take many pictures. You feel very silly and wonder if they are going to be ugly. Then one day, you see yourself in the newspaper. Big ad. And then you wonder if people will THINK you are ugly. =D

Unfortunately, you never find out what people think. And then, one day, someone wants you to be in another ad. Then you think, "I must not be so ugly after all." Then you see the ad and you think, "Gosh, I REALLY look ugly." But for some reason, they keep using the ad and you see it everywhere: phone books, newspapers, posters. You want them to stop using it but they do not. People tell you they saw your ugly ad. Terrible feeling...


Truthfully, I'm not physically the model type. For one, I'm not very tall. Not short, but just not tall in the traditional model sense. That's why I refer to those things as "doing print," not modeling. Print jobs don't often require a certain height.

The job I referred to where the ad appeared everywhere is an actual ad that I see from time-to-time in Korean phone books and newspapers. It's for a hospital and I'm on the beach with a wife and kid. The wife, who was very beautiful in the photo and in real life, is actually an inch taller than me. Plus, I weigh more than her. So, with the kid on my shoulders, I was always sinking into the sand. She, consequently, had to dig her feet further into the sand to make us look about even.

A long time ago, when I was a serious writer and editor at a magazine, I'd see a few models come through the office. A couple of them asked if I did any acting or modeling and I just laughed off the suggestion. For one, I always thought I was too short and just not handsome enough.

But you should know something: everyone, no matter how tall or good-looking they are, thinks the same thing. Plus, some of the busiest actors and models are also some of the most average-looking people in the business. You'd never recognize them on the street, even though they work ALL THE TIME. That's because some companies want someone who is experienced but not recognizable.

But just remember one thing: Being too ugly can work against you, too, just as being too beautiful can. The key, I suppose, is to be not too ugly, and not too beautiful. And that fits pretty much the majority of us.

Sunday, February 13, 2005

Chinese New Year

I've been calling it Chinese New Year for so long that I don't know how to reference it any other way, but anyway, Happy Chinese New Year, everybody, especially all you casting directors out there. Please, don't go on strike!!

If you haven't heard, the casting directors want to be recognized as a union by all the movie studios and production companies. This usually means that they want to negotiate as a collective group for those all-important residuals. The Writers Guild has them, Directors Guild too and, of course, SAG pioneered them, so, why not the casting folks? I dunno. Can't argue for or against it. I just don't want the makeup folks and the caterers thinking they're getting a piece of the ever-diminishing pie, too.

Changing the subject, I went to an audition yesterday for a print job. Saturday castings are pretty rare, but they do happen. This was for Philip Morris, the cigarette company. I've been to this casting place twice before, both for Nokia print jobs. The first one had a potential payout of 75 big ones!! I say "potential" because they pay you a $500 fee for the shoot and then if they decide to use your image, they pay you an additional $7,000. I went to the callback for that, was put on hold for 2 weeks, causing some stress in my work schedule, then was released with a "thanks, we really liked you, but we decided to go in another direction."

The last Nokia job I auditioned for would've paid about $3500. Considerably less, but this apparently was just for the Miami market. Anyway, I went in and the Nokia folks must've remembered me because they put me on hold immediately but didn't require me to come in for a callback. I started to get pretty excited at this point, since I figured I was a shoe-in. So, I get this call from my agent, and she says, "They said, thanks, we really, really liked you, but we decided to go in another direction."

So, according to my calculations, that casting place alone is running a potential deficit of $10,500. This Philip Morris job pays about $1500, but I don't care if they have me come back 3 times. I'm not going to book it.

Call it superstition, or just bad feng shui, there are some places where I don't book jobs. However, there are some places where I book an unusually high percentage also. I won't name those places out of fear of jinxing my luck there, but that is sometimes the case.

Lately, I've been thinking about my superstitions and the idea of luck. Not too deeply, mind you, since I'm merely just an actor here. But I'd have to say that I've been on a bad luck streak for the past 7 or 8 months.

Yes, despite wearing my favorite Legg's pantyhose under my jeans and praying to Snoopy just before going to an audition, I just can't seem to get out of my rut!

A girl offered to test the feng shui on my place recently. I'm thinking of taking her up on it. But I am sort of perplexed about it. For one thing, even though I haven't worked for a while, I actually haven't NEEDED to work for a while also. In fact, yesterday, I just got a pretty good-sized check for a non-union commercial I did over 4 years ago. Four years ago! They've been sending me checks every year, always unexpected, and always when I needed it most. And if you've read my first two posts, you'll know that I'm playing it cool with the finances until April when my next unemployment checks start rolling in. I also got another cable use fee for Ford. So, even though I'm not rolling in the dough, it's not like I'm begging for loose change either.

I just talked to an actor friend who worked on the series finale of NYPD Blue for an outrageous amount of money. He had a slow period, too, for a while. He's the one who told me about praying to Snoopy.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Bait 'n' Switch

I just went to a casting at a place called Castaways on Beverly. It's a well-known studio and I've been there on many different occasions.

So I'm there for a Mastercard print audition and I see a few other Asians there. But it's not quite clear whether this is an Asian-specific casting, since I see folks from every race there. Perhaps they'll be doing several different ads with different races.

A guy who I've seen around at these things starts to do what a lot of actors/models tend to do, especially when work begins to slow down: Ask if everyone else has been slow.

The conversation goes something like this:
"So, how's things going? You've been going out a lot?"
"Oh, here and there."
"You know, I haven't gone out for a commercial since December!"
"What about you? Have you been going out, what, every week? Two times a week?"
"Oh, no. Not me. Not two times a week. Maybe once a week, if I'm lucky."
"Yeah. It's been slow."
"Man, I gotta change my agent. I booked five commercials last year and they don't even send me out!"
"Wow, five, huh? That's pretty good!"
"Well, I didn't make any money off of 'em."
"Yeah, well, I booked a few jobs last year and saw the contracts, right? So, this one job says we don't need you for the general market anymore. We just need you for the Asian market. So, we're not going to pay you the $3,000. We're paying you $1,200."
"Yeah. I did this one job for XXXXXX and they said it was just a small job. Turns out, I'm in 50 magazines nationwide! I got $2,000 for that!"

At this point, I'm thinking that if I agreed to do a job for $2,000 and they put my image in 50 magazines, then that's what I gotta live with. Print models don't have a union, so they rely on their agent to protect them. Also, print agents tend to make 20 percent commission off you, and 20 percent from the hiring company. That's a pretty big chunk of dough! The 20 percent extra is something I don't understand. It seems that extra 20 should go to pay for my commission. But no, I gotta pay that too.

Anyway, the guy mentioned something that I've heard of and have actually been burned on before. A company sends out a casting for a job that pays N dollars. But once you book the job, they tell you something has changed and that you'll only get M dollars. You're thinking, "Well, I still booked it, so why not? Okay, pay me M." Problem is, many ad agencies know they can get away with it. Why? Because they've GOTTEN away with it.

Why do they do it? To get the best pool of talent, you have to offer a nice-lookin' carrot. Later, when that carrot changes to a smaller carrot, you still got the best pool of talent to choose from. See? Bait 'n' switch. Not only do advertisers do it on the page, they do it in the casting.

Okay, this sounds like sour grapes, doesn't it? Well, it is. And as I'm sure someone has said it before: Sour grapes make the best whine.

Monday, February 07, 2005

Superbowl Ads

I sat with a bowl of chips, some barbequed drumettes, Rolling Rock and Heineken (in a can) and watched the Superbowl with about 50 million other people around the country. (Oh yeah, I had some friends in the room as well.) And while we all watched a pretty good match (and some screw-ups by the Eagles coach), there was the main attraction for me -- and I'm not talking about Paul McCartney's medley of songs (many of which, by the way, are owned by Michael Jackson).

They were the Superbowl ads. Those sometimes hilarious, oftentimes bizarre, 30 seconds of infotainment that occasionally leave an impression of what they were trying to pitch. (Way too many damn Pepsi ads in the first half, eh?) But I wasn't watching just for the entertainment aspect -- nay! I was hoping (desperately) to see some sort of footage of me driving a Ford Five Hundred in one of the many Ford ads that aired. After all, they did sponsor much of the first half.

Well, it looks like I won't see a Superbowl-sized residual check any time soon. Boo hoo... Guess I'll just have to be content with the holding fees, cable use fees and occasional other fees that SAG charges the advertiser. Sure, I know, I did one day of work and it keeps paying from time to time. I also know that these checks mean that Ford wants to exclude me from working in any other car ad.

Well, there's always the NBA All-Star game.

Friday, February 04, 2005


Oh, I forgot to mention that just because you're not the best in your field doesn't mean a studio won't hire you. They just won't pay you what you think you're worth. Why? Because there's that unvalued benefit of working for a movie studio and, not to mention, also SAYING that you work for a movie studio.

In realilty, most of the folks at movie studios are not the best in their field. I'm sure I'm not. In fact, they're probably regular folks like you and me, happy to be working there and collecting a paycheck, and being the talk of the family Thanksgiving dinner.

You might even get a couple of free DVDs every now and then too.

Working in the Industry

Since I've been talking about being an actor, I thought maybe some people might be more interested about working in the entertainment industry such as at a movie studio. I got my start as a proofreader at an ad agency that did movie ads, posters and video packaging. It was a great job, paid a bunch of dough (since I worked a lot of overtime) and I got to be an expert proofer at this kind of thing. Worked with every major studio in town, also, which gave me sort of an "in."

But, you know, I get bored easily, so I saved a bit of cash and quit the job to be a freelancer and an actor. After a while, I started to get really broke. Then 9/11 happened and I got a little desperate. So, I applied at a temp agency and they got me an interview at a movie studio. Doing what, you ask? Proofreading and copywriting video packaging and distributor catalogs. It was actually much easier than the ad agency proofing job because the workload was far lighter and the work hours were way more manageable. Plus, they didn't seem to mind me heading out for an audition every once in a while.

Technically, I was a part-timer. But there were some periods where I would work for several months straight without time off. Most often, I would work for two weeks, then have two weeks off. That was pretty nice because I had the two things most people wish for: money and time.

Like I said before, movie studios can pay a lot for guys like me. But they have to be able to justify your paycheck. That means a couple of things: One, you have to be the best in your field. That way, if an exec asks why they're paying you so much, your supervisor can just say, "He's the best there is." And two, I always liked to justify my working there by saying that I was actually SAVING them money by protecting them from lawsuits and costly production mistakes. And it was true, because I did save their asses a few times.

But here's the thing. If you want to work in the entertainment industry, it's easy. Just be the best there is. Period. Hollywood studios are SOMEWHAT colorblind as long as they think they're getting the absolute best talent for the money. So, if you're in accounting, IT, MIS, marketing, PR, or whatever, you have to, at the very least, talk a very good game about how great you are. Then, when you're on the job, you gotta show how great you are. Otherwise, your ass is back on the street and you're never getting hired back.

Of course, there are those who just talk a good game and actually aren't very good. And, for some reason, they do just fine. You can also go from studio to studio, because every studio is in competition with all the other ones. In fact, I knew an exec who was great at getting jobs, but he was lousy at actually doing the work. By the time his seniors started to question his work, he was already moving on to another studio. This is a guy who typically made six figures.

Now, if you're really desperate to work in a studio and you don't have many skills on your resume, there's always one thing you can do. But I swear, it's the lowest of the low. Nobody wants this job. The turnover is so high, there's a revolving door for them. What are they? Executive assistants. Their job sucks. Absolutely the worst job on the earth, below sweeping elephant dung. But there is one reason and one reason only why you should do this job: because one day, you want to be an exec.

Okay. So I'll end this by talking about the mailroom. You know what they say: You gotta work the mailroom and then move up. Well, it might work that way in the agency system like William Morris, but it doesn't work that way in a studio. Nobody hires the mailroom guy, and nobody sleeps with him either. Why? Because he's the mailroom guy. And besides, once they're trained and can remember who everyone is, do you really want to hire somebody else to replace him? No way.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

The No-Name Game

It kinda sucks being a no-name male actor in Hollywood. For one thing, you don't have tits that every male producer/director/casting agent/agent/actor wants to feel up. Yeah, that sucks.

But I did discover one way to get really great headshots from the best photographers in the business...with little or no money up front.

First of all, you gotta make friends with him or her. (Yeah, in this scheme, it doesn't matter if the shooter is a male or female.) Then, at some point, you suggest a deal: If you make me look like a frickin' movie star -- give me your A-One best work -- and I book either a national commercial or a major part in a movie WITHIN ONE YEAR'S TIME, I will pay you DOUBLE your going rate. Plus, for each job I book over a thousand dollars, drinks are on me.

All photogs worth their Leitz enlarger have an A game, and they save it for their A people: celebs, execs, people with money, and women (or men) they want to lay. If you're said no-name male actor, good luck getting the A action.

But like that Tarzan cartoon used to say, "If there's a will, there's a way." I liked that cartoon, by the way. You can always figure out a way to get a photog's A game.

Really good drugs would work too, I suppose, but that's not really my thing.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

$15.6 Million

Just heard about that guy who saw his image on a jar of Taster's Choice and is now getting a bundle of dough.

Hmm... I wonder if Owl Coffee ever put me on one of their packages.

Stock Photography

I gotta say that I don't like to do stock photography. There's a few very big companies out there that make a killing on selling stock photos. Two of the biggest are Getty Images and Corbis. Getty has a huge office on Colorado St. in Santa Monica, Calif. that is just beautiful! I've gone there to audition to be one of their stock photo models. Man, that's a raw deal! They pay you, maybe, $300 for a half day. That includes the session and the use of all the photos they take -- forever! And ever...and ever. Without ever paying you another red cent.

Why would you do this? Well, one reason is because you're broke. I'm not broke, but I'm getting there fast. Today, in fact, I just blew a bunch of money on the stock market. I used to think I was good at investing in stocks. Not anymore. I can't figure out why. Nothing I buy goes up. Everything I sell goes up right after I sell it. I buy high, sell low. That's been my pattern, starting, I don't know, in late 2004. Before that, I usually made a little money here and there. Go figure...

Anyway, I got a call from my print agent yesterday saying they wanted me to stop by Corbis to audition to do stock photos. I called back (they had left a message on my voice mail) and left a message on their voice mail saying I don't want to do any more stock photos. Period.

Oh, by the way, I just saw Finding Neverland yesterday and I have to say that you probably aren't interested in going, but if you do, it'll be one of the best decisions you will make this year. It's great. Johnny Depp and what's her name, from Titanic, uh, Winslet, big girl, is in it too. She's good. I saw it at a screening at the Directors Guild (DGA), provided by the fine folks at Miramax. After the film let out, there was a screening right after for The Aviator. I saw it already at an AMPAS screening, but since Leonardo DiCrapio, er, uh, that's a typo, DiCaprio was going to be speaking after, I decided to sit through another 3 hours of, well, another Hollywood movie.

I don't know about you, but Martin Scorcese doesn't do it for me anymore.

Anyway, I gotta say that the second time was much better than the first. And maybe my memory is off, but the first screening I saw seemed different. And longer. So, yeah, I liked it better the second time. But it's still a long frickin' movie.

Leonardo, to me, doesn't have an off-screen presence. But that's not a put down. Many very great actors and performers don't. I saw Robert DeNiro once at the Gap in Santa Monica and barely recognized him, even though he practically walked right into me. I read a book on DeNiro and it confirmed this too: Sometimes, he's just an empty shell. Leonardo isn't an empty shell, but he seems awfully plain in person.

So, just now, just this very moment, I had a revelation. A bit of an epiphany.

Every actor worth his union card has an innate ability to turn it on. To be ON. Every stinking one of them, myself included. Some can be on all the time. They're just that way. But me? I can't do it. Don't have the energy for it. When I'm in a club, I turn it on. When I'm on a date, I turn it on. When I audition for a union job, I really turn it on. And when I do the union job, I turn it WAY on, just thinking about the potential residuals.

But when I do stock photography? I'd really rather just pull the covers over my eyes and sleep another three hours.