Shit happens...

This has been quite the month. I was on hold for 3 U.S. Nationals, and an episode of a tv show and none of them has worked out. The commercials went a different way, and the part in the tv show got written out, and the one that looked like a sure bet wasn't.

I spent the entire day on set today waiting to shoot my commercial. I was processed through hair and make-up, did the blocking for lighting and then waited to be used. The only problem was I never was. The spot had 4 customers in it and today when I showed up there were 6 of us. My spidey senses went off immediately, especially when the storyboard showed only 4 customers. 4 not 6. But nobody was talking to the talent and we were left to chat amongst ourselves and trade the inevitable horror stories of shooting and being cut out and receiving that little letter in the mail, that says, sorry no residuals for you, you've been downgraded. I've never received one of those letters, but all day, I had this weird feeling that my time might be coming up. And after almost 8 hours on set, being lit and then led out outside, it seemed I was right. As I stood outside of the location with my fellow actor, we heard the ad company say over the walkie talkie, about 4 feet behind us, "the two principals that aren't in the shot right now...they can be released." And then as if we didn't hear, the production assistant walked over to us and dragged his thumb across his throat indicating, that we were "Cut."

It was a pretty crappy move, and when he asked if there was anyone else that hadn't been used, I replied, "no we are the only two that haven't been used all day." His reaction made me think that I should have just kept quiet, but it was true, and there was no reason or explaination, except, that the director had decided that "the shot looked crowded with 6, and didn't want to pay us anything more." Nice.

After signing my contract and being told that "at least I made easy money", I thought to myself how it wasn't easy. Sure it's more than most people will make in a day, but it's just one day, no residuals and then again when most people are told that they have a job, they don't go into their office and find that there is no desk for them after all, and are sent home. It's a strange business and all I could say to the production assistant was that I just wished that they had done their casting before we got to set. Because that's what today was really about...keeping options open, putting together the look of all of us on the day was cheaper than having another session and taking the time to do it right in the first place. We weren't people, we were colors and ages and sexes and they had older blond, younger brunette, 30's African American male, 20's Caucasian male. They didn't need a late 20's Asian professional guy and a mid 30's Jewish/Italian woman.
We didn't do anything wrong, as we never even had the chance. Sigh.

Of course apart from all the embarrassment of celebrating a job that goes away...I wondered is there a lesson to be learned? Should I not have told people about the work? Was I being punished for celebrating? Was there something greater on the horizon? A sign?

Well, like a book that doesn't find a publisher, a screenplay that is optioned but never made or a job that is booked that never happens...I think that the answer is that the only thing that we can really be responsible for, is the production and quality of the work. I gave great auditions and those auditions got me called back and put on hold, and even booked...but the rest, what the market is looking for, what the demographics are, what the networks want, the publishers want, the studios want, those things are not up to us. We can't control any of that, all that we can do is keep on. Keep on being as brilliant as we can be and move on, try as hard as we can and leave the rest up to fate, the Gods, the universe or even some ad company that can't make up it's mind...but none of that has anything to do with the work. The work is the only thing that is up to me and when things go great, fantastic, and when they don't, it's just important to remember that sometimes...shit happens.


Early riser...

I am an 8 hour sleep kind of gal, I can do 7 or less, but I don't like to. Not to say that I haven't had fantasies of myself getting up at dawn to practice my yoga, go for a run and be at my desk typing away by 7:00 am, cup of coffee in hand. In my world the 7:00am becomes 11:00 or 1:00 or 1:30. There is that thing called life and obligations and auditions and responsibilities and the fact that some days no matter what the time I just stare at my computer screen and think...hmmm...what intelligent insights does people magazine dot com have for me today?

Sometimes it's easy to be creative and sometimes it isn't, but no matter what, one has to try. Creating is a job, as much as I would like to just follow the muse, I think that my muse would just lead me to the couch with a bowl of chocolate covered frozen yogurt and a glossy magazine in hand. Delicious for sure, but not the best strategy for producing new pages. And so whether my job starts at 7:00 or 11:00 or 1:30...I must clock in and work at finding the inspiration that lies deep, sometimes too deep, within.

Of course rising early for a gig is a much easier matter, the inspiration is already provided, I know exactly what I have to do, it's just show up be brilliant and wait for the check in the mail. The hard part is over. The hard part was getting the job. And so tomorrow I will rise with the sun and head to Venice Beach and bring to life the efforts of some other writer who labored over this script, wanting to nap on the couch, but stayed at the keyboard instead.


Friday...Fittings and First Drafts...

I just booked a U.S. National Commercial which is great news, the bad news is that I have a wardrobe fitting. Fittings stress me out. With nothing more than my sizes and a picture of what I look like the wardrobe stylists will go shopping for me and put together a selection of a dozen outfits or more which we will polaroid and I will model before the ad agency who will talk amongst themselves while I stand and listen to them debate which outfit looks the best. A persons wardrobe can tell a lot about them and in a campaign that is going to cost millions of dollars to make and took months to come to fruition, nothing can be taken for granted. Will skinny jeans be too hip? Is black to somber? Will a sweater limit the season this commercial can be played? Are chino's more young mom looking, or would capri's be a better choice?

It is all about the details and the details are what bring things to life. Whether it's in a commercial, or on the pages of a book, it's the specificity that counts, that turns a common tale into a unique one and draws the reader in. I don't mean never ending exposition or the abuse of adjectives, I mean having a clear picture in mind and knowing just what it takes to convey it.

This morning the ad agency and I will try to put together a look that brings to life the image of a frustrated mid-level office worker waiting in a long line at the lunch counter. And this afternoon as I work on a draft of a new essay I will try to bring to life the image of myself as an earnest and worrisome 3rd grader who has the world on her shoulders.

I think changing outfits is definitely the easier of the two!


Personal Essay Writing...

I have been working on a collection of personal essays. After studying personal essay writing with Rochelle Jewel Shapiro and Caroline Leavitt at UCLA, I discovered that this style of writing is something that I have been doing my whole life, without ever really calling it, what it is.

I have always enjoyed mining my own life for all it's strange and wonderful events, and turning those events into anecdotes to amuse my friends and colleagues. Of course often times the amusement came out of something that was once painful, and the idea that these experiences could be transformed from heart ache to laughter was not only cathartic but reassuring. No longer would I have to hide my rejections or embarrassments, now I could display them as the little gold nuggets that they were!

One of the things that happens of course when you go back in time searching for the hidden treasures of your past, is that you are forced to relive some of these events and well that can be uncomfortable. If there is one thing I know for sure...I certainly do not miss my middle school years. I'll take being the other side of 30...any day.


Young Storytellers...

Kids have such great imaginations, and The Young Storytellers Program helps them put those great imaginations to use. The program goes into a public school that wouldn't have any additional funds for arts programs and works with kids who want to try their hand at writing a screenplay. For 6 weeks volunteer mentors show up once a week for an hour to work with the young storytellers, helping them turn their ideas into pages that will eventually get acted out at "The Big Show" by professional actors.

Last night I had the pleasure of performing at "The Big Show" and it was fantastic. After playing a bunch of warm up games with the kids, the actors take their seats on the stage and introduce ourselves. The kids area allowed to ask us questions as they try to decide who might be the best person to cast in their show. Some of them cast really quickly, others nervously debate back and forth between actors until finally deciding who to hand their scripts to. When all parts are cast, they take their seats in the audience and we actors bring their characters to life with our scripts in hand, either as parts in their play or as extras or sound effects. The best part is watching the faces of these fourth graders as they watch their scripts come alive. They are nervous, and excited, and making sure that you say their every word as it is written, and when the narrator of the script reads aloud the final "The End", the smiles that explode on their faces as they bow to the thunderous applause of parents and friends is priceless.

To learn more about this great program and volunteering, please checkout...www.youngstorytellers.com


Alvin Ailey...

Wednesday night I celebrated my birthday downtown watching the opening night performance of the 50th anniversary celebration of the Alvin Ailey Dance Theater, and boy was it SPECTACULAR.

There was a documentary about the history of the company and Mr. Ailey, featuring the his protege and now head of the company, the amazing Judith Jameson. It talked about the new Ailey Dance center that is open in NYC and how it is continuing Alvin's dream of bringing dance to the people, with it's summer camps and training programs and drop in classes for the public. It was amazing. And there was a special piece just for the opening with Sweet Honey and The Rock, an outstanding soulful all female a capella group, that also sings all it's songs for the hearing impaired...a George Faison choreographed number set entirely to the works of Otis Redding...and of course the piece de resistance...Revelations, which had a ten minute standing ovation. Magnificent.

There is something so powerful and profound about dance. Dance moves me in an entirely unique way. There is the story, the music, the sheer physical will and grace and strength of the dancer as they fly though space, carving out a narrative that is not just intellectual but emotional, physical, primal. I am often moved to tears and always, always, inspired. I leave with a renewed belief that anything is possible, that magic is real and I want to be a better artist, to work harder, to create, to move people in the very way that those remarkable men and women move me... with out ever using a single word to do so.


Pretty in Pink..

This picture is of our dining room after my husband painted it pink! As you can see it is really pink, and really pretty and we wanted something fun and I think we got it. Our fabulous set designer neighbor downstairs gave us advice on the color and rearranging this room, that wouldn't quite come together. There were just too many elements, and so we took the carpet out changed the light and repainted and decided to make the room a fun place that showcases the unique flea market pieces that I refinished myself and the small art collection that we love. It was great advice...I mean this guy was a set designer for Ugly Betty before it moved to NYC!! Lucky me.

The blue painting is a picture called Youth that my parents gave to me from their own home for my 30th birthday, I had always coveted it, and the beautiful black and white photograph was a 35th b-day present, taken by my friend the fabulous director Gail Harvey. (Her show The Line is getting great reviews!!! Check it out.) It is of an old man, standing on the streets in NYC, holding balloons and offering them up to someone above that we can not see.

I love that these pieces are placed together, one old, one young, celebrating youth and age and the fact that a sense of wonder and magic never gets old. Age is a funny thing, and of course as today is my birthday, I am thinking about it. Do I feel 37? What does 37 feel like? In some ways I feel all the years of being a struggling artist, (even when working there are struggles), and in other ways I feel so young as there is still so much that I want to do and accomplish. And I feel a wisdom, a comfort in knowing who I am and how I got here, and for the most part genuinely liking myself, and I say this without any smugness, as there were a lot of years that I could only see what was wrong with me, and I am glad those days are gone.

Today I am going to spend the day writing, talking to friends long distance, trying to convince our landlord to let us transform the dirt pit out back into a backyard and then tonight my wonderful husband is taking me to see my favorite dance company in the world... The Alvin Ailey dance company, followed by moules et frites and wine at a great little brasserie. Fabulous!!

This year I wish for all the things I continue to wish for, health, happiness, love, laughter, safety, prosperity and peace for myself and all my loved ones...for more love and compassion and tolerance everywhere, and for me personally to find that great literary agent, and great publisher who will publish my debut novel, a recurring role on a tv show, a string of long running US nationals and for the writing to just pour out of me!! Oh yes, and a big Pinkberry with extra carob chips...please.


Crazy Days...

These are crazy days, and not in a heady sort of carefree anything goes tie dyed bell bottom way. No these are crazy days as in everyone I know is living under a cloud of doom and gloom thanks to the recession, the crazy economy and the publishing industry going to the shitter. As an actor it is strange to watch the publishing world do to itself what the world of film and tv has done in the past and suffered dearly for...paying salaries that are impossibly huge to so few that it there is nothing left for anyone else, and the expenses are often too great to make up.

Right now in the world of publishing only a few people are getting paid a massive upfront of 5-10 million for the novels, which if not recouped can wipe a publishing house out.It also means that there is no money for left to spend on anyone else..like new up and coming authors or even established authors. And if the publishing house fails to regain it's losses and closes, that means that there is one less possibility for the countless number of other writers who are looking for an outlet.

It is scary, because right now it is hard to get anything published and if this trend of paying too much upfront to too few continues, there will be fewer and fewer opportunities for everyone else.

Now don't get me wrong. I do not think that the decision lies solely with the artist,I think that the people at the top have a greater responsibility, and I think that artists should get paid handsomely for their contributions and yes if they can get millions...great! I would like to be in that situation! But maybe spread it around a little? Maybe smaller up fronts and bigger back ends...a bigger percentage of the royalties?

Spread the risk and spread the wealth. I truly believe that there is plenty to go around and I don't mean in a way that everyone just gets by...I mean I believe that there is the possibility of great abundance for many, not just a few, but I don't believe that rewarding only a few will keep either the publishing, or the entertainment industry very healthy for very long.

My fabulous writer friend Caroline Leavitt has been having this very conversation for a while now on her blog...go check it out! www.carolineleavittville.blogspot.com


Scream writing...

Screenwriting is a humbling thing for me. And I know why, it involves formula, or structure or a template or format, or any other word that says that there is a particular mathematical no fail make sense way of doing things. Sigh. Math was never my strong part, neither was structure. I am a feeler, an emoter, a feel the wind and let it move you kind of gal. Now of course I am also a savvy business woman, or else how on earth would I have a career in show business, which as the ol' cliche goes, has a lot more business than show in it.

I wrote a novel, jumped at the chance of doing so, although I had never written anything longer than 50 pages before, and trusted fully that I would figure it out. Why? Novel writing feels more organic to me, story is story and a novel gives the writer the time and space to allow that story to unfold. When I talked to screenwriting friends of mine they all said the same thing..."A novel? Oh I could never...that seems so hard...so long..." I admit that I soaked up the admiration all the while thinking inside..."A screenplay? How the hell do they do it? The horror! The horror!"

Now I have actually written and produced two short films and I have written a feature length and a spec script, but every time I think of starting a new screenplay I feel like, okay, time to write in Japanese again...it is so foreign to me. Sigh. But I am determined to figure it out, to take the finished product of a movie that I know and understand so well, and peel back it's layers to see how it works.

Maybe I am haunted by the words of my grade 11 advanced French teacher who criticized my ability to understand and speak in french without really ever being able to break it down and write it. He told me that grammar is like math and one had to be good at one in order to be good at the other. According to him it was all formula.

Did I mention my grammar is less than stellar? Did I also mention that he was under 5'4" with a handlebar mustache and liked pleated pants?

In any case, I think these stupid words have stuck and now I am trying to retrain my brain into believing that it is possible. So back to the books I go.

Has anyone ever told you something stupid that you overcame? And does anyone write screenplays well and suck at math?


Blame it on Tina...

Blame it on the fact that my birthday is a few weeks away, or that I am sick, or that after months of submissions, I am still waiting to hear which fabulous agent wants to represent my debut novel and get it published. But this morning I awoke thinking about Tina Fey and how fabulously talented she is, (I watched 30 Rock again last night!) and how successful she is and how hard she must work and I surely never work hard enough and when I am I going to be published and write that darn screenplay that everyone wants and finish that collection of personal essays and whether or not I actually want a baby, because although I am pretty sure that I don't, not because I don't love them, which I do, but because, well my life is much better suited to the furbabies and I don't actually hanker for the human kind and I'm not exactly 20 anymore and my kid would probably have to give up college to change my diapers by the time I got around to having them, and then when I thought that I might just go back to bed and stay there until tomorrow...I wondered where should the twinkly lights on the balcony go...and got up to take a look.

Oh if only it was this easy to distract my brain all the time. Just put up some shiny lights and wait for the worries to go away. Sigh. But they won't go away and the only thing to do is...do. Write, read, audition, hustle, repeat. Just keep at it. I resist saying "keep plugging away", and think that I should say "start charging ahead" instead. I bet Tina charges.

Sigh. Sniffle. Sip. Still sick...but still at it!


Kleenex and Queries...

Well, my family has gone back to Canada...but my Dad was kind enough to leave me his cold as a souvenir. And wine gums and jammies and great laughs and times together...so I can't really be upset! It was a wonderful visit for all of us, and as promised, today I was back at it, writing queries and burning through boxes of Kleenex.

Queries are a strange thing. They take so long to craft and then each one must be personalized and that process can take hours researching the person I am sending to, what they like, what they don't, and what if hopefully any common ground we may share, so that my letter will stand out from the rest. It is a painstakingly long process and every agent, editor, publication, has their own particular quirks. And after all my agonizing over details, I will invariably find a teeny typo that somehow got overlooked, and then I will stress about that for the many weeks that it takes for someone to write me back. Sigh. This is the process. And the name of the game is endurance.

As my Dad always says..."last one left standing wins." But I say that sitting while sniffling counts too!



My family is here visiting and we are having the best time. We are hanging out and relaxing and cooking and eating and reading magazines and paperbacks and renting movies... and it has been just wonderful. We went to the Lake Shrine in The Palisades and walked the beautiful grounds of the Self Realization Fellowship. It is a retreat in the city for those of all faiths and walks of life founded by the late Paramahansa Yogananda, also known as the Yogi responsible for bringing Yoga to the West and the author of the infamous Autobiography of a Yogi. They had a museum with all these great old pictures of him and various Hollywood luminaries and also Gandhi, whom he initiated into Kriya Yoga. It is an amazing piece of history and the free grounds are a wonderful gift to the people of Los Angeles. After that we strolled the beach in Malibu, had dinner at a great Vegan restaurant called Fatty's in Eagle Rock. The next day we hit up the Farmers Market for fresh produce, window shopped at The Grove, Beverly Hills, La Brea and made dinner at home. There have been lots of sweet treats like cupcakes, Pinkberry and Kettle Corn, long walks, laughs, great conversations and the successful hanging of light fixtures!

My parents were determined to give us a housewarming gift, and so now I am the proud owner of a beautiful bamboo tray for our coffee table, water glasses and a brand new ridged skillet, which I am going to grill our veggies on for dinner tonight!

There is a certain kind of comfortable relaxing that I can only do with my family and my oldest and dearest friends. The kind of hanging out where we can all be doing your own thing together. And now that we have a much bigger apartment...we can all do our own thing a lot more comfortably...and our togetherness doesn't have to be... um...quite...so...literal.

We have one more day together and I am going to savor every minute of it. As of Thursday it's back to the office and self imposed writing deadlines!
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