Friday, April 29, 2011

Magic Carpet Ride

This is my second year to volunteer with the L.A. Asian Pacific Film Festival, and boy did it start off with a bang! I showed up at the Director's Guild of America headquarters in West Hollywood, expecting to help with crowd control for the festival's opening night premiere of "Fast Five", but was placed at the front of the red carpet to assist with celebrity arrivals instead!  I was handed a list of names and photos of the people that were scheduled to walk the red carpet.  The list was a "who's who" of Asian American cinema, and I only needed to glance at the list for a moment to digest who was going to show up.  These were the actors that I had been following as a teenager while stuck in Texas, wondering where to even start my pursuit of acting.  There was no need to study a list of my own heroes, so I neatly folded it, placed it in my pocket and eagerly awaited the first arrivals for the red carpet.

I'm not usually one to get star struck, but I couldn't help but smile when the likes of Kelly Hu, John Cho, Brian Tee and Sung Kang walked past me on their way to be blinded by a barrage of flashing cameras.  I wanted to whip out my cell phone and snap photos of everyone, but professionalism is always first in my book, and I was here to do a job.

It was very inspiring to just be in the same room with all of these talented people.  In my eyes, they are pioneers of Asian American cinema.  Even with all of their major successes, they were still gracious enough to come out and support the community to keep that trail that they've blazed full of budding artists.

If you ever find yourself low on creative juices or you've hit a wall with your art, go to that which you love so much: film festivals, art walks, gallery openings, book signings, conventions, coffee shops, concerts, and the list goes on!  Immerse yourself in the world that drives you and I'm sure you will very quickly find the fuel you need to keep that flame of passion lit.

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Thursday, April 28, 2011

Worn by Natasha Sanchez

Contrary to what the title says, this blog entry is not about a collection of clothes coming from the closet of one Natasha Sanchez.  Instead, it is an example of an artist poking the box to completion and producing an entertaining piece of written art.  Ms. Sanchez is already an accomplished interior designer, with her work seen in some of Las Vegas' most luxurious hotels and casinos, but she can now check off "become a published author" on her "things to do before I die" list with her recent release of "Worn", available on the Kindle or Kindle app via

Worn is a short psychological thriller set in New Mexico during the 1930's.  The story follows Ana, a young leather master and shoe maker, as she and her grandfather struggle to survive during the Great Depression, where robberies, lootings and murders are all too common.  Ana's nightly dreams foreshadow the events that are to come; or does she make them a reality all on her own?  The source of her best shoe collection just might send a chill down your spine.

The book is well written and easily digested as one engaging event leads to another.  The relationship between Ana and her grandfather is warm and comforting, at times reminding me of the days I spent with my grandfather in my youth.  Natasha has carved out a strong character with Ana as she is only 18, but knows very strongly what her heart desires.  Ana, like many of us, has dreams of moving to California to make her fortune.  The book doesn't focus so much on the physical surroundings of 1930's New Mexico, but rather the unfortunate events that each individual has to overcome to survive.  Worn is the first book in the trilogy, and I'm sure when your finger swipes across that Kindle or cell phone for the last page, you'll be chomping at the bit for parts two and three.

Where Natasha found the time to write and edit a book while designing/marketing/pitching for her own design firm, I will never know.  But the main thing to take away from this post is that she produced something and she shipped it.  As an artist, it's important not only to produce something, but also to make it available for the masses to enjoy.  It would be a shame if great art never made it past your front door.

Keep producing and shipping, my friends!  The times of large record labels/publishing houses/movie studios are gone!  Make your art and share it with the people!

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Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Meat Puppets Make The World Go 'Round

Have you ever noticed the random people in tv shows and movies that fill a room and bring "life" to the scene? They're called background actors or extras. The term "extras" isn't used so much anymore probably because it sounds unimportant and degrading. On the other hand, I don't think the term "background actor" should be used either because walking back and forth while out of focus in the distance doesn't count as acting. With that being said, I'm emotionally preparing for my scene where I walk back and forth, out of focus, as a Chinese restaurant waiter. What's my motivation?! Oh, that's right: $64 for 8 hours; ie, minimum wage.

I got called in to work as background for an untitled sports radio sitcom, filming at the CBS studios in Studio City. Being inside of a sound stage on a big studio lot is fun, but the real fun is meeting your fellow background actors aka "the crazies".

Background actors, or meat puppets, consist of an eclectic bunch of people, most of them being professional background actors. And by professional, I mean that they work 5 or more days a week, 12+ hours at a time, and strive for nothing more. I've met people that have no intention of being in the entertainment industry except for working background. I personally don't get it, but I guess if you're going to be making minimum wage anyways, working background isn't too bad. The days are long and boring, but you can hardly call this working. You sit around most of the day, waiting for a scene that needs atmosphere, you get at least 2 free meals, and you have a plethora of snacks at the craft services table.

What really gets me is that background jobs aren't that easy to get. You have to really hustle and call in to the booking agencies; some people even hire calling agencies to call on their behalf. But if you're going to put this much effort in, why not strive for something more?

I love watching female background actors endlessly primp and apply make up only to have their back to the camera or be asked to walk back and forth outside of camera range. Speaking of make up, where is the make up lady? I'm feeling blotchy. Oh well, time for another trip to the snack table. I gotta keep my eyes low so I don't accidentally welcome conversation from one of the "crazies".

Not all background actors are crazy. It's just that the majority of them are really quirky and extremely socially awkward. Half the time, I'm expecting Chris Hansen from "To Catch A Predator" to pop out and announce himself during one of the many inappropriate conversations.

Here is an actual conversation that I overheard between my new friend Felix, dressed in an all black, hipster-ish ensemble, and a post-op Courtney Love look-a-like:

Girl: "I like your outfit..."
Felix: "Oh, this?  It's just all black, but thank you!"
Girl: "It's cute."
Felix: "Did you see my shoes?" (They're 2 different colored leopard print sneakers)
Girl: "Yeah! I had to ask the security guard a few times what this homeless girl was doing on our set, but now that I've seen it more, I like it a lot!"
Felix: "Thanks?"

True story.  I'm not able to make that up in my wildest dreams.

While many background actors are wildly awkward and socially inept (see above), they are still people and should be treated as such. Many times while on set, background actors are treated as second class citizens. They're shuffled around without a clue about what's happening, referred to as flies as they hover over the snack table, and jammed into barely inhabitable holding areas with zero amenities. Usually, they're just left to fend for themselves. The cast and crew get chocolate dipped marshmallows, exotic fruits and gourmet cakes and pastries as snacks.  What do the background actors get?  A paper towel lined basket of pretzels and a small spoon to scoop them out.  During lunch, the background actors aren't even allowed to sit with the cast and crew.  We're all humans, right?  People often say that actors are a dime a dozen.  Well, you can light a stage and turn on the sound, but without actors, an empty stage can be entertaining for only so long.

The moral of the story: Be nice and value everyone around you, especially the "little" people.  It takes all of us to make the world go 'round.

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Monday, April 25, 2011

The U.S. needs more Donnie Yen!

Why isn't Donnie Yen a much larger star/actor in the United States?  He's got the looks, he's an amazing martial artist and he's got the acting chops to carry a film.  But somehow we got the smurf-like Jet Li, whose voice is as threatening as Miley Cyrus', and Jackie Chan, always the accidental hero, who after more than 10 years of living in the U.S., I still can't understand the words that are coming out of his mouth.  Now don't get me wrong, I love Jet Li and Jackie Chan (although I love the Hong Kong film versions of themselves more), but isn't it time we had a martial arts action star that this generation can get behind?

I recently went to see "Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen", starring Donnie Yen.  If you've seen the trailers, it looked awesome!  It was an opening night showing at the Laemmle Sunset 5, Friday, 7:20 pm.  There should have been a lot of people there, right?  Wrong.  There were less than 20 people, half of them were from the martial arts school that gave a demonstration before the movie, and I was the only Asian American male there.  That's right, not even the martial arts school had an Asian male studying there.  The sifu (teacher) was actually Caucasian.  

If you're like me, then you hopefully have found a couple of things wrong with that scenario.

Why was there such a poor showing for this movie?  Was it because it was an international movie that was subtitled?  It's in the heart of West Hollywood, so location isn't an issue.  Was there not enough marketing behind it?  Are people not a fan of martial arts movies anymore?  I know that last statement is not true because epic period-style martial arts movies are garnering much acclaim at many international film festivals.  So what happened?  I thought the movie was awesome.  I literally said "oh sh!t!" probably 3 times within the first 10 minutes of the movie, just due to the badassery that is Donnie Yen.  But where was everyone?  What kind of message are we sending to Hollywood with this lack of support?  "Legend of the Fist" grossed $26 million overseas, but only made a measly $11,000 on opening weekend in the U.S.

Many of my fellow actors complain that there aren't enough roles for Asian actors.  They also complain that many movies are being "white-washed" to star Caucasian actors, even though it's an adaptation of an Asian film. But can you really blame Hollywood?  People forget that Hollywood is a business.  If it doesn't make money, they're not going to do it.  Why would Hollywood make an Asian-centric movie if only 10 people are going to show up to it?  There are 10 million Asian Americans in the U.S. according to the 2000 census, but with the way we're supporting the arts, you'd think there were only 1,000.

So get out and support what you're passionate about.  Be active in the community and show them that you have a voice and that you matter.

A great starting point would be the L.A. Asian Pacific Film Festival, starting April 28th!  It opens with "Fast Five"!  I'm volunteering for the festival so come find me and say hi!  Tell all of your friends to come and enjoy the festivities.  When I tell my friends about the Asian Pacific Film Festival, the typical response I get is: "But I'm not Asian."  So?!  Just because the word "Asian" is in the festival title doesn't mean that you have to be Asian to attend!  The festival features films from Asian filmmakers, hence the title, but that's where the "Asian" part ends!  It's a film festival, people!  Support the arts!

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Friday, April 22, 2011

Failing Forward

The hardest part about an acting career in Hollywood is getting an acting career started.  People get their breaks in different ways, but I know for a fact that I won't get my break sitting at home, waiting for my agent to call me about an audition.  I've been taking my career into my own hands by networking and getting myself "out there", but it still isn't enough because I know what I know and I don't know what I don't know.

I've got the idea in my head that a manager would help get me noticed more.  Right now, people in the entertainment industry don't know that I exist; and if they do know, they don't really care.  Having a manager to help me on a more personal level might open more doors or at least get me some more introductions to the people who matter.  Basically, I'm looking for someone to take me under their wing and build me into a unique brand for Hollywood to ingest.

I began my pursuit for a manager by sending out letters to two managers that I had some sort of connection with; I've either met them before or knew someone who knew them.  One of the managers called me right away.  We spoke briefly on the phone and set up a time to meet in person the next day.  I was given some material (2 scenes from the newest Wonder Woman series) to go over and would be performing during our meeting.

So far, so good, right?

I go into the meeting, having never stopped rehearsing my lines, even while driving.  I knew that since I've never booked anything significant, a lot would be riding on my performance.  We chat for a few minutes; pretty typical "why do you want to be an actor?" and "why do you want a manager?" questions, and then proceed to perform the material I was given.  I had all of the lines memorized, but I still held onto the script as a security blanket, keeping me relaxed knowing that I could look down for the words at any moment (I only had one evening to learn the lines and craft out a performance).  The scenes went off without a hitch.  It ended with me singing a few lines from Green Day's "September Ends" (the script called for it), to which the manager softly replied "... beautiful."

We finished with a small Q&A about the management company and how they operate.  Pretty standard fare.  I was told they would discuss the matter and be in touch with me shortly.  I raced home, mostly to beat the traffic, but also so that I could get a thank you card off to the post office before they closed.  How cool is it to meet with someone and then get a snail-mail thank you card the next day?

The next morning I received an email from the management company, thanking me for coming in and for the work that I put into preparing for the meeting, but ultimately, they would not be able to take me as a client.  They are streamlining their operation and refocusing on their current client list.  The note also went on to say that they aim to provide the highest personal service to each of their clients, and if they have too many people depending on them, then they can't guarantee that service.  I sent back a quick reply, thanking them for the email and for their honesty.

But what was the Universe trying to tell me?  Do I need more acting training?  Did they not want to represent me because I'm not a "cash cow"?  I've noticed that a lot of agencies and companies are "streamlining", which is a nice way to say "if you're not making money for us right now, we're dropping you".  If everyone is only holding on to their star players, who is helping to develop the B-team?  Gone are the days where companies had a section dedicated to developmental clients.  We have to develop ourselves and be at our best so we can be at the right place at the right time when that mythical "break" comes.

Most people would say that I failed at obtaining a manager.  While that may be true for this particular instance, I think I've only "failed forward".  Now the management company knows who I am, they can put a face and a personality to the name, they know I'm not crazy (this is VERY important in our industry) and now I have an open line of communication with them.  They might remember me in the future for a role that's being cast or I may approach them again in a year's time to update them with my achievements.  Maybe they'll want to work with me then.  The fact that they even responded to my unsolicited letter means that they saw something in me.  I know many actors that send out hundreds of packets/emails and never get a single response.

As long as you're putting one foot in front of the other towards your goal, it's impossible for you to go backwards.  The only ones moving backwards are the people standing still while you march towards your destiny.

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California Dreamin'

Sunset at Venice Beach

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Thursday, April 21, 2011

The Art of Parking

If you've spent any amount of time in Los Angeles, then you know that parking is a nightmare. If you want to park close to your destination, you're probably going to have to pay, on average, $10 to park in a crappy, dimly lit, unsecured lot.  If you're lucky enough to snag one of the three spots in front of your destination that hasn't been designated for the valet or taxis, you end up feeling like an illiterate child as you try to decipher the numerous signs telling you when it's ok to park there.  This is my interpretation of how the parking signs read:

"No parking on Tuesdays and Thursdays before 1:12 pm and after 3:39 pm and on the third Wednesday of the month, except after Labor Day on an odd numbered year before 4 pm."

Did you get that?  No?  Well guess what.  Here's a $75 parking ticket for you.

My girlfriend calls me the Parking Genie because I'm usually able to pull off some Rockstar parking, but it's much less magic and wishing and more preparation and planning.  Google Maps is my best friend when it comes to finding parking.  I use the satellite view to see if there are cars parked on the street and if there are, I'll use Street View to see if there are parking meters.  Sometimes I can even see the parking signs that tell me when I can or can't park there.  I always carry some quarters in my car because you might find a parking meter 20 minutes before they shut down for the night.  You can park all night for 50 cents!

I've found that two blocks is about the farthest that people are willing to walk to get somewhere.  If they can't find parking within two blocks, they just end up valeting or paying $10+ to park.  Thankfully I have a girlfriend that isn't afraid to walk a little bit.  By parking just a couple blocks away, you've saved yourself enough money to buy an extra drink or get an appetizer or get that large bucket of popcorn.

You know what else I think is funny?  In a 6 level parking structure, everyone is circling around and fighting for parking on the first 2 levels.  You do realize that there are elevators on every floor that drop you off at the entrance, right?  While everyone is fighting for that first level parking spot, I've already parked 10 steps away from an elevator and am on my way to enjoy my night, stress-free.

Here's my Parking Genie tip of the day: In the city of Los Angeles, yellow loading zones are OK to park at after 6 pm, Monday through Saturday, and all day Sunday.

So don't let the paid parking lots or the meter maids deter you from going out and adventuring in the great city of Los Angeles!  The city has so much to offer!  Fight past the Universe's Resistance for you to have fun!

Share your parking tips or secret parking places in the comments below!

Update:  I had a friend who needed real proof about the loading zone regulations because hearing it from my mouth isn't good enough.  How about from the mouth of LA DOT?

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Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Downtown LA Art Waddle

I somehow stumbled upon and noticed that there was going to be an art walk in downtown Los Angeles.  I looked at the date on the digital flyer and noticed that it matched the date on the lower corner of my screen.  "Guess what?" I yelled to my girlfriend, "We have something to do tonight!  And it's cultural!"

After arriving in downtown and circling around for almost 20 minutes looking for (free) parking, I realized that everyone else had the same idea too!  Why not go to an art walk?  It's free, it's a gorgeous evening and you can be a little more cultured (or at least pretend to).

There were sooo many people at the art walk that it made it almost difficult to enjoy the evening.  There were times when it was so crowded, I could only waddle as if I were in the middle of a dance floor in Las Vegas on a Saturday night.  Have art walks become too "mainstream"?  I remember the days when "art walk" meant that a bunch of galleries and museums would be open to the public on a particular evening and the sidewalks didn't seem any more crowded than any regular night.  Now the art walks are sponsored by large companies, complete with giveaways, samples and endless viral marketing.  Has commercialism finally made its way into the art scene?  Can we have nothing for ourselves anymore?!

The food trucks have already "sold out" to commercialism.  What used to be secret, "in-the-know" roaming dispensaries of deliciousness have now become twitter-whores with giant Brisk Iced Tea ads canvasing an entire side of the truck.  With that being said, the only reason I have twitter is to follow these food trucks and I love getting free iced tea with my food.  =)

The art walk wasn't entirely a bust.  I got to see some great art and found myself saying "I could do that too!" or "I've thought about doing something like that.  I should be an artist too."  Well, the difference between me and the people exhibiting at the art walk was that they were doing it.  They were making the things that made them happy while I only talked about the idea of making things.

Be careful not to fall in love with just the idea of doing something; fall in love with doing it.

Here are some pieces of art that made me smile:

The Magic Is Gone
Girl On Girl On Girl Action

Let's Get Toasted

The End Is Near

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Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Poking on Facebook is easy. Poking in life is difficult.

I just finished reading two books, back to back.  For someone that reads slower than a snail crawls, this is quite an accomplishment.  Then again, the books were written for quick and easy ingestion; something for you to finish reading and get off your ass and do something with the new knowledge you've gained.

Poke the Box

The first book that I blasted through is called "Poke the Box" by Seth Godin.  This is a great book for everyone that is aspiring for something greater.  The basic message is this:  DO IT!  Just GO.  Put one foot in front of the other and do what you aspire to do.  Don't look back.  Don't spend so much time preparing for the perfect launch.  Expect failure.  Expect lots of failure.  But the important thing is that you keep DOING.

I consider myself a pretty driven individual, self motivated, blah blah blah, but even I gained a lot from reading this book.  Starting/initiating is important, but you also have to keep starting/initiating until you finish!  If you're trying to write a novel or screenplay or paint a painting, you have to start every single day until you finish.  Basically, don't just initiate the "start"; you have to initiate the "end" too!  I think everyone should read this book, just like I think everyone should work at a restaurant once in their lives.  It'll change your perspective on many things.

The War of Art

The second book that I inhaled was "The War of Art" by Steven Pressfield, author of "The Legend of Bagger Vance".  This book focuses on a phenomenon called "Resistance" that prevents us from achieving our goals.  Resistance is always around us and comes in many forms.  It comes from within ourselves, from our friends and from the Universe.  It's important for one to recognize Resistance and then take a baseball bat to both its knees.

We've all battled Resistance from the day we were born; we just couldn't put a name to it.  Like G.I. Joe said: "Knowing is half the battle."  Pressfield goes on to define what it means to be a "professional" and even touches on the more abstract idea of muses. Find your muse, become a professional and start your never-ending tour of duty against the Resistance.

I decided to read these books based solely on the recommendation that these books were inspirational for artists.  I had no idea what the books were about.  I just wanted to ingest more creative information as my adult life has been pretty much devoid of any creativity.  I found it interesting that both books were basically touching on the same subject: STARTING THINGS.  "Poke the Box" tells you to GO, and "The War of Art" tells you why you don't GO.  You are your biggest fan and your biggest saboteur.

Go start something.  You have the Universe's permission and support.

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Follow the pink rabbit

Can anyone guess where this pink corridor is located?

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Monday, April 18, 2011

No job is "really" secure.

This is my parody of the uncertainty and unpredictability of the entertainment industry.  No one is ever a "shoe-in" and job security is just something we say to make ourselves feel better.

The Headshot: Rinzler

The Resume

Tron 3 Auditions

The Competition Arrives?

"Edging out" the competition

Casting Director: "Is the guy on the left taller?"

Crashing The Audition


Booked it!  Meet the new Rinzler!

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