Friday, November 05, 2010

All Over NYC

I ran into the makeup artist I worked with in July at church the other day. This was for the print job I did and the first photos went up live on the company website for about a month.

I mentioned to her about the website and she said, "Oh, I just talked to someone about it and the billboards are up all over Penn Station, Grand Central and Times Square."

"What," I said, "I was just there! But I never made it to those places."

Now maybe I'm just paranoid, but because I had to ride subways and trains during the entire stay, I kept thinking people were looking at me. My wife denies anyone even noticed us, however. She's probably a more reliable witness, so I'll defer to her.

The makeup artist also mentioned the billboards are somewhere near Union Square in SF, but I have no idea where you'd look.

It's actually an odd, surreal thing to see yourself in a poster or billboard out in public view. There's no ego or pride in this at all. In fact, it's mostly embarrassment because you never look as good as you hope or think you do. And since it's blown up so big, you see flaws in your face that you never seen before, even after all the Photoshop corrections have been made.

A few years ago, someone spotted huge photos of me all over a bank in a busy part of Boston. She saw my mug smiling at her from hundreds of feet away and the closer she got, the more she laughed. Since she was in my improv class, I'm presuming she was reminded of one of the skits we worked on together.

I don't want to sound bitter here, but I think for being so widely seen, I'm one of the least successful print models ever. I mean, shouldn't I have something to show for all this "fame"? Shouldn't this somehow parlay to my commercial acting career or to something more substantial?

Well, if not, then I'm just gonna have to live with the idea that somewhere out there in the world, at any given time, is my big face, smiling for all the world to see... and I hope you don't find it too offensive to view.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Union vs. Non-Union Auditions

As noted before, I'm in that special category with the union where I can do non-union stuff without fear of penalty or reprisal. I can't argue for or against this category as it does carry some sort of stigma, especially with union members who haven't done this. If they figure out you do non-union stuff, they really can't do anything to you except talk crap about you, but you can expect that from most actors anyway, friend or foe.

I had a non-union audition last week, which I felt was pretty well executed. The project shoots next weekend up in San Luis Obispo. As it's non-union, I don't know how I'd get up there, other than the production company hiring a bus and taking the actors up there. If I had to drive, I wouldn't mind, unless they don't pay for the extra effort. But see, that's non-union. If it were union, you can bet they'd fly you up, and probably first class, which you could trade in for a cheaper seat and keep the difference. Being a weekend shoot, you'd get paid overtime, if not double time, plus per diem for incidentals.

Most union commercials are shot during the week, although I've done at least two on a weekend and they were very lucrative. Many non-union commercials are shot over the weekend because, well, they can and don't have to pay you one extra cent for it.

Today, I had a union audition, which I also think I did a decent job at, carrying the confidence I felt from the non-union audition into this one. Confidence is priceless, and I guess that's another good reason for doing non-union. You compete against mostly novices, the casting director knows you're union and knows you have experience, thus often recommending you to the client. But occasionally, you'll get cast in something that airs nonstop nationally and everyone thinks you're getting paid each time they see it. That's the really sad part of the equation. But I really do like going into an audition knowing that I have an edge over the competition. And I guess that's why I continue to see much more experienced actors, ones like Daniel Dae Kim, at auditions for national commercials: because they know they have an edge over the competition.

Tomorrow, I have a callback for the non-union job. I'd like to think I'll kick arse in that one.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

I'm a Filmmaker!

Well, sort of. You be the judge...

This first one is something I made on It refers to a stock that me and a few buddies have been following over the past two years. And it's a never-ending saga, hence the title: Wall Street: Wamu Never Ends.

Below is the promo video I made. It hasn't received the church's blessing quite yet; red tape and all, y'know? Well, since the program starts next Wednesday, I thought I'd post it anyway.

The actor is Brian Park and the voiceover is by Michael Kim. Sorry for the rough quality of the edit, but that was kind of the point of the vid. I really do need to study up on editing, among other things. But thanks for watching...

Monday, September 20, 2010

2,000 Complaints!

LA Times reports that the Better Business Bureau is warning models of scam agencies that charge upfront for headshots or portfolios, yet offer few actual auditions. Over the past 3 years, the BBB has collected over 2,000 complaints. I'm surprised, however, that it isn't in the tens of thousands.

Back in my hometown in the Pacific Northwest, I went to a couple of these kind of agencies that required me to pay for photo sessions. That was part of the deal. No photos with their photographer, no chance at representation.

Unfortunately for those in Seattle, the opportunities are slim to none, so the agencies got away with it. I even went to an audition where the photographer wanted to charge me for "test" photos. I went for it, and yes, I was stupid, but at least the photos were decent. How much did I pay? $65, which was a decent amount of cash about 20 years ago. I've talked to a few others who came to LA from other hometowns and they had similar stories of checking out their local agencies, only to find they would pay more in upfront fees than they would ever make from bookings. The lucky ones saved their money and moved straight to LA. The unlucky ones wasted a few years getting had.

Recently, a neighbor asked me in the gym if I did some acting and he explained that he was thinking of getting into doing commercials on the side. I gave him my usual tips on headshots and getting an agent, but he was hesitant to do it because he had no experience. And then I told him to try it anyway.

About a couple weeks later, I found myself in the unusual position of having to direct a promo video for my church for one of the ministries I serve in. This may seem like small potatoes to you, but to me, the opportunity to challenge myself like this was too great to pass up. Plus, the HD camera I'd use would cost a would-be filmmaker quite a chunk of money. I somehow (God?) got the opportunity to write, direct, cast, shoot and edit my first video since college.
My neighbor also happened to go to my church, so I asked him to star in the promo. We shot it on Friday and I'm now in the process of editing — well, learning to edit — it. We'll see how it goes. I haven't directed or edited anything since college, so the learning curve will be huge.

But this video is a perfect example of how someone just starting out can get some experience under their belt. One, I needed an actor eager and willing to work for free. Two, you need some tape to show an agency, or just something to put on your resume. It's a win-win. As long as you're not doing something exploitive, don't worry about getting paid for it. If this person makes money on it without your talent release, you have cause to sue, given of course that this person actually makes money on it.

If I can get the video done by this week, I'll post it here.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

First Union Job Since Being Back in Action

I got booked on an industrial video that shot last week. These are vids that are instructional in nature and used to illustrate various work and corporate situations. I've done a few for Von's and Safeway, as well as one where I was supposed to have a Chinese accent, so I donned my best Bruce Lee impersonation.

This one was for a pretty established company that sells its videos to companies on a piecemeal basis and then pays its SAG actors a small percentage of the proceeds. So yeah, there's a potential residual income involved.

How much did I get paid for the gig? It was a half-day booking for me: about $306, plus $19 for the wardrobe I brought in, and a "plus 10%" for my agent. But I was there a total of 2.5 hours, 1.5 of which I spent reading a book I brought along, just in case. Makeup took 10 minutes, changing 10 minutes. I shot for about 40 minutes, did the scene about 5 times with another person in the scene, and then the director wrapped.

At then end, just before wrapping, there was something they had to record that my AD friend called "wild sound" or "room tone." Everyone stands still with the mics hot and they record about 30 seconds. And sure enough, about 25 seconds into it, some wiseguy farts in the background. Man, I almost lost it.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Praying for Bookings

It's been a number of years since I've done this, and definitely things have changed, people have changed, casting has changed, audition notices have changed.

So when I see actors who I haven't seen in years tell me "You haven't changed a bit!" I get a little suspicious. I mean, sure, thanks for the compliment, but you can't tell me age has actually been so kind as to not have had any effect on me!

But there is a difference, and I'll be frank about it. When I started this blog, I had little clue about how long I'd last in this business. In fact, this was just a little experiment of mine to see how "the other side" did it, meaning the actors versus the writers. I still consider myself a writer first and foremost, and an actor not second but probably tenth in the grand scheme of things.

About three years ago, I met the right woman, well, Mrs. Right, and she got me thinking about what I believe in. And so I got baptized, in my 40s, in front of a great big congregation at a great big Christian church.

And so, now, I pray in Jesus' name for just about everything I do and hope to do, and that includes auditions, bookings, headshots, you name it, I pray for it, and then I thank the Lord for it afterward in gratitude. It's a crazy thing, well, for me anyway, knowing how big a selfish wretch I was before all of this.

In the 2 months since I've been back in the game, I've had at least 2 auditions each week, 3 callbacks and 1 booking for a print job that I can't really disclose. NDA sort of stuff, ya know?

What do I pray for? I don't often pray to get the job. I just pray for a really great audition, and I pray for God's beautiful light to shine down on me during it, so that I can look my best. But when I get close to the booking stage, that's when I get to being specific.

I just saw a couple of films as part of my Film & Theology course after church on Sundays. One was Stranger Than Fiction and the other was Book of Eli. I highly recommend them, no matter what you believe.

And if you should be curious about how I came to this crossroad, you can find me one place every Sunday, and I'll probably have some time to tell you all about it.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Maybe I Should Rethink This

I got new headshots done and put a couple of looks up on all my casting sites last Thursday. Then on Friday, I got two notices from my agent for auditions on Saturday. Say what?!

The first one was for a promo commercial for a cable channel and the second was a print audition. Both castings were on the west side and around the same time. Score!

But here's the problem: I got to the promo audition at 3:45 expecting to be finished before 4:40, the time of the print audition. Unfortunately, the casting was running late, and there were 10 people in front of me. To make matters worse, we were all supposed to run our lines with someone who would play our son—and only a couple of kids showed up!

I kindly asked the casting agent if I could run to the next "appointment" and come back, but she snapped, "We're only running till 4:20." I looked at my watch and it was 4:10. Great. So I'm pissing off the casting lady and I'm gonna be late for my 4:40, because there's no way she's getting through 10 people in 10 minutes!

I have to say that it's a good rule not to worry, even when you're running late. Because when you worry, you're bound to piss off someone. And if you piss off someone, just don't let it be the casting agent. Fortunately, she was too busy to even remember what I had said to her, and she was perfectly pleasant while running lines with me on camera.

The print audition was at the Barrington Recreation Center, which I've been to for a softball tournament. Unfortunately, there are 2 Barrington Rec Centers, a block away from the other. I got confused and wandered around in the parking lot for half an hour before a pretty woman in a red dress smiled and asked if I was there for an audition. She pointed the way down the street and totally saved my butt.

By the time I got signed in and stood in line, I was a good 45 minutes late. But it didn't seem to matter. A dozen people got in line after me.

After the auditions, I was famished. My wife was in Orange County visiting her parents, so I told her I was gonna get a burger and beer at the original Father's Office on Montana Street. If it's in the early evening, it's a good bet you can find a seat there and I did, right in front of the TV at the bar. I was so happy, I even ordered a side of fries.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Back in Action! Out of Retirement!

Seriously, I'm back in the saddle again! Wasn't really expecting it this soon, but I'm back in the trenches, next to the other aging Asian guys, trying to make a living out of this thing. And, oh, am I ready for it...

Then again... the headshots. OLD! My casting sites, wow, there are now three of them they use regularly. Casting Frontier, LA Casting and Actors Access. These things take forever to set up. But I sent an email to my old agent (Bobby Ball Talent Agency) asking if they were interested in submitting me again. Amazingly, they gave an enthusiastic YES!

Unfortunately, my first commercial agent, Brandon (Brando) Olech, passed away last summer at a fairly young age. He was great. The coolest guy ever. Gave me some of the best advice in the world, and was always encouraging, to say the least. He was representing some rock bands, the last I heard. I'll miss him.

I'm trying to schedule some quick headshots with my photographer buddy, but he hasn't returned my text yet. He likes to do that to me for some reason. Go figure. He's another aging Asian guy.

Well, maybe I can use these old headshots for a while. Just tell the casting agent I'm having a little cold or something.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Macho Like Helie

The Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Fest begins April 29 to May 8 this year, with films being screened in Hollywood, Little Tokyo and Koreatown. But being so removed from the Asian acting scene, I don't really know what movies anyone should see.

Usually, per the 6 or so times I've been to the fest, the opening and closing movies are the most popular, with a handful of interesting choices popping up here and there.

Author Helie Lee's Macho Like Me just might be one of those choices on May 5. The film stands out to me because I once participated in Helie's writing workshop and even ran into her documentary film crew on at least one occasion.

Helie, as a writer, is one of those live-it-first-then-write-about-it memoir types, and this was before the memoir was even popular. When she went to North Korea via China to rescue her long-lost uncle, I thought she had bigger cojones than anyone with a nut sac, including me. Especially me.

But when she brought up the idea of chopping off her long hair and getting butch for a documentary, I thought she was a bit, yeah, nuts. In fact, I told her so, and I think that probably fed her determination a bit. Okay, so I'm not particularly persuasive.

Now, more than a decade later, her doc is hitting the festival circuit and, frankly, I'm afraid to look. You'd think that after all these reality shows, I'd be jaded enough to watch something like this. Bored even. But no, I cringe at just the thought of it.

Yeah, I know what you're thinking. And I agree: I am (whatever you are thinking).

The festival's Opening Night Gala is at the DGA in Hollywood, and if you've never been to one, try to score a VIP ticket and get up close and personal with your favorite Asian American film or TV star. Believe it or not, there are actually quite a few of them these days.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Polanski's 'Ghost'

It's unusual to go to a public movie theatre and only see Bernie Madoff types in the seats. Landmark Theatre is just such a place, and until recently, I didn't know how they could maintain such a clientele.

Last night, I saw The Ghost Writer at the Landmark, which, other than the Laemmle, is one of the few theatres in the city that show first-run independently distributed arthouse-type movies.

On the way up the escalator from the parking lot, my wife asked why I wanted to see the movie. I said it was because of a review from Kenneth Turan in the Times. She then asked what the movie was about, but I didn't know because I stopped reading the review after the first couple of sentences when he called it "Polanski's best work in quite a while."

After the movie, my wife wondered how the director could get away with filming at all the locations, since it's set in both the East Coast and the UK.

It's a great point, because to put those kinds of limitations on an artist -- i.e., shoot your film only where you can't get arrested -- is amazing. It reminds me of how my dad made me take photos as a young photography student using a manual-everything Nikon F without a zoom lens. I know it's a stretch, but you try shooting cheerleaders at a football game with a standard lens. It just can't be done!

The plot grabs you from the beginning of the movie, with Ewan McGregor as the Ghost as well as the perfect Everyman. Pierce Brosnan was excellent as the Tony Blair-like former Prime Minister Adam Lang, but the most interesting casting choice had to be Kim Cattrall in a British accent as Lang's executive assistant. I am sure her performance will be debated, but in terms of story shorthand, I have to applaud the choice. There's subtext to her role that would be difficult to understand without her actor backstory.

Mr. McGregor's assignment is to ghost write an autobiography for Adam Lang, or rather, to take an autobiography already written by the previous ghost writer and rewrite it. Thus begins both an adventure and a mystery, in which the protagonist unwillingly needs to figure out what happened to the previous ghost and why it happened.

I love how filmmakers these days -- Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds and Woody Allen's Match Point -- build tension and keep it tight until the very end, and Ghost is no different.

As for the Landmark Theatre and getting a seat, well, that's another mystery I'd like to reveal. You just have to know how to operate the system: purchase tickets in advance. How much in advance? Try at least one day in advance, as all the seats are reserved, and no one buys a seat in advance if it's for a seat in the first row.

But here's the thing. Bernie Madoff types get to be that way not because they spend money, but because they save it. So buy your passes in advance at a discount, then physically go to the theatre and use the passes to get the best seats in the house -- one week in advance! It works great when you watch a film and then buy your reserved seats for the following week. In the comfort of their stadium-style leather seats, it's just like having your own private screening room.