Rejection isn’t fun

Last week, I met with an agent for across the board representation. They’re a smaller boutique agency with less than 100 clients, located in a giant glass monstrosity of a building on the west side. I had exchanged a few emails with the agent prior to going in, and she had been direct to the point of being a little scary. But I wasn’t scared. I remember getting my first agent when I was 16 in Atlanta and just feeling completely terrified of him. He talked really fast. He cussed sometimes, and my virgin ears couldn’t figure out how to handle it. He talked really, really fast. I still speak with that agent from time to time, and now I can talk as fast as he does. It makes for confusing phone conversations.

So anyway, I actually found this new agent’s directness encouraging. This was business. No games, no drama – I can deal with that, easily. I didn’t spend two years fielding calls from angry film producers as an executive assistant for nothing, right??

I go in, I’m introduced to the agent, and she starts asking me the standard questions. Somehow between me telling her about my collegiate theater experience and her asking questions about my type, we end up chatting for 40 minutes about the horrors and pitfalls of the industry. We’re laughing and sharing jokes and crazy anecdotes, and she’s running behind now and has another person to see but she keeps talking to me instead. I forget I’m talking to an agent.

Finally, we wrap up. We thank each other for the time, and I’m feeling really good. I’m so sure she loved me.

This morning, I get an email from her saying that she unfortunately can’t offer me representation at this time, and I feel totally defeated. What went wrong? Was I too chummy? Did she watch my reel after our meeting only to realize that I suck? What happened?

I wrote her back and thanked her for the meeting and asked if she could give me any thoughts as to how I could improve in the future, either to land representation with her or with someone else. She emailed me right back – a long paragraph – saying that the only reason she didn’t take me on is because of her inability to successfully market ethnic actors in the past. She said she loved my look and my energy, but that she just couldn’t figure out how to sell me. Well. I suppose that’s infinitely better than if I were just a terrible, terrible hack of an actor.

I’m really thankful that she cared enough to write back, even if we didn’t end up working together. She encouraged me to not change anything about myself, but to instead find an agent who knows how to market people like me. We wished each other luck, and now I’m moving on.  It was tough to be rejected by someone I really thought I had scored with, but that’s okay. There is always something next, and I’m excited about whatever that is.

In other news, I have my first meeting with a potential client for my event production business later this week, and the pilot for my webseries is 90% done. Even though it’s easy to get down momentarily from setbacks like these, it’s difficult to stay down when you’re creating something.

 

Other Ventures

Okay, so I have a reel. I have a new headshot. I even have a  new car that doesn’t break down every four feet. Everything acting-related is up and running, and life is jolly. On the downside, I’m still working a boring 9-5 to pay the bills, and it’s a real hassle weaseling out of it at 2 in the afternoon to attend auditions halfway across the city. I started feeling restless at the office, wondering when I’d be able to break out and spend more of my time doing things that I’m passionate about. There’s only so much reddit you can browse on any given day at the desk after all.

So, a few months ago, I started turning some gears and taking the initiative to start doing things I love. And I have to say I’m pretty happy about it 🙂

For one, I’ve gathered a small group of trusted writers to start a webseries. It’s kind of crazy, because we’re spread out all across the U.S.. some of us are in LA, one was in Boston for some time, another is filming in Atlanta, and yet another just moved to New York. Despite the distance, we’re all jazzed about the ideas we’re coming up with, and our shared google doc is going crazy with comments and ideas and color-coded character bios. We webcam once a week and so far, we have a solid concept and some great characters to play with. Next stop – writing the pilot!

For another, I’ve just launched my own business. HURR?? How did this happen?? When I was in college, I served at executive assistant at an indie film company founded by Benjamin Bratt, his writer brother, and their former talent agent, and at the same time was producing collegiate theater. Being in the middle of theater and film production constantly PLUS sharing a work space with a very talented and successful event planner (check out Swisher Productions, she’s bomb) made me sort of fall in love with production in general. Acting was my first love and kind of like my middle school boyfriend who gave me my first kiss, I’ll always have a special place in my heart for it. Unlike that middle school boyfriend though, I actually want to keep acting in my life for good from now on and I know acting won’t tattoo itself in honor of me or threaten my friends with physical violence. Oh, young (and really terrifying) love.  Anyway, what I was trying to say is that acting may have been my first love, but producing is truly the second and (possibly??) greater.  Making the jump from theater and film production to event production was not a wide leap at all, and there’s so much opportunity for creativity in this market. After much research and faux-philosophical musings while watching Project Runway and contemplating the direction of my life, I banged out a business name, logo, and website in under a month. Holy shit, this is happening. With much ado and twirling of batons, I present Zebrafish Events at www.zebrafishevents.com!!!

Cue FIREWORKS! GLITTER! A THOUSAND DOVES EXPLODING FROM A DIAMOND CANNON AND SPELLING OUT “ZEBRAFISH” ACROSS THE NIGHT SKY!

I’m really excited. I have no idea how I’m going to get a client, but by god am I going to try.

 

Best 4 Shows on TV Right Now

In the past 10 years, we’ve seen the quality of TV climb to the point where it’s almost as well-respected as film. Gone are the days when A-list stars would scoff at the notion of appearing on the small screen, and the evidence of that is all over cable television with a number of shows being headlined by big names. Unfortunately, that’s somewhat sad news for us struggling actors, because that means the lead roles that would have gone to no-name, but solid working actors are now being passed over their heads to the stars, and supporting or guest roles that may have gone to newer actors are now being given to those solid working actors. It’s a trickle effect that lands newer actors in the deepest puddles, making it even harder for us to climb up. But this post isn’t really about that, because even though the blossoming of quality television has some drawbacks for folks like me, I love me some great TV and I’d rather spend the next dozen paragraphs talking about that.

I’ll admit that I am very picky when it comes to what kind of television I’ll watch. A show can be a big investment – not of my money, but of my time; so if I’m going to commit myself for the next however many seasons/years of something, it better be worth it… and I mean delicious, lick-the-screen, sex-in-the-retinas kind of worth it. And whaddya know – here are 4 shows that I would totally bring home without even taking them to dinner first:

GAME OF THRONES

All the badassery on GoT is supplemented by these really cute direwolves.

Can it be? Is this the first full-on fantasy show that is getting serious accolades and recognition? It might just be, and here’s why. Even the “I don’t do fantasy, it’s lame” people have to admit that there is nothing stereotypical about GoT. In fact, it’s so raw and so uncompromising that it even makes you forget that it exists in a fantasy universe. The pilot opens with a few terrified scout-type ranger characters fleeing (pretty unsuccessfully) from some kind of mysterious, anthropomorphic ice demon. Sorry, we don’t know anything more about these villains at this point, only that they’re scary as hell and will free your neck from the burden of having a head. And then, the show “forgets” that magic exists at all. No more ice demons. Just gritty, very real characters living in a bleak world that looks very much like a medieval Europe.  It’s not until the season finale when (SPOILER ALERT) exiled princess Daenerys emerges from a bonfire with no injuries and three baby dragons that you remember that this universe contains sweet ass magic and lots of it.

GoT pulls no punches. No character is safe. Fans were dropkicked in the face with this realization when (SPOILER ALERT) the series’ supposedly main character played by headlining actor Sean Bean was abruptly and brutally killed off in Episode 9.  Children, sweet old grandmothers, fluffy puppies, whatever – no one is too innocent or too important to be killed off, and it’s that suspense that keeps the stakes high.  Even for those of you who didn’t appreciate the gorgeous, sprawling fantasy epic that was Lord of the Rings, you’ll be really hard pressed to not enjoy the sexual, violent, politically tense, backstabbing collection of brain-drugs that is Game of Thrones. Season 3  starts on HBO in March 2013.

BREAKING BAD

Bryan Cranston + underpants

I have some beef with AMC, mainly because The Walking Dead and The Killing are, frankly, embarrassing.  What keeps me from setting AMC headquarters on fire is Breaking Bad. This is not the type of series I would go for normally as it’s missing the kinds of fantastical elements I typically enjoy , but seeing Bryan Cranston on the cover of Season 1 in his underpants was kind of intriguing. I like Bryan Cranston. I like men’s underpants. Might as well give it a try.

Turns out, there’s way more to it than Cranston walking around the desert half naked. Premise: a high school chemistry teacher finds out he has cancer. In order to get his family through the obscenely high medical bills and to keep them going in the event of his death, he teams up with a former student to cook and deal meth.

This show is tight. I’m not quite sure how else to describe it. Most other series have strong episodes, weak episodes, entirely mediocre seasons… not Breaking Bad. Every single episode in the 4 seasons released so far is strong, compelling, and smart. The plot and pacing are practically flawless, and the character development makes your heart hurt. As I said, tight, as if this show were wearing spanx; nothing is there without a reason, everything is planned, and it all unfolds with meticulous precision. It’s tragic and hilarious at the same time – which I imagine is hard to do when your show is about a dude with cancer.

The antagonist of Season 4 is one of the best I have ever seen on television (or in a movie, for that matter), ever. I won’t say more than that, but watch it and you’ll understand what I mean.  Breaking Bad is SO CLOSE to being a perfect series. Season 5 just started on AMC.

MISFITS

Five juvenile delinquents in for a world of hurt.

Misfits is about a group of young delinquents who are stuck doing community service as punishment for some petty offenses.  Suddenly, a mysterious and violent storm moves in over the city, giving our heroes…. SUPER POWERS. YEAH, SUPER POWERS.

I feel like if this show were on an American network, like the CW or something, it would be so lame and overwrought with genre cliches. BUT because it’s handled with the subtlety and realism that British TV does so well, it’s a whole different animal. This show is so funny, and I don’t mean slapstick, “hey I’m making a joke now so prep the laugh track” funny.. it’s funny because these characters are just so hilarious in their own right, and the situations they have to deal with are just unfortunate and ridiculous (I mean in the good way).

Plus, not all the super powers are “good” in the sense that they are useful or accomplish anything of significance. Sometimes, the effects of the storm can be likened to having a miserable medical condition, so it’s not like these characters’ lives are automatically improved. Fact is, they’re just a group of clueless social deviants who find themselves tied together (and they’re not even necessarily on friendly terms with each other) because of this common shared experience. The visual style of  this show is unique and very edgy (in fact, I hear the crew built their own camera lens just to achieve this specific look). The acting is superb and chemistry between characters is vibrantly dynamic. Easily one of the most entertaining and well-written shows I’ve seen in years. Go check it out on Hulu!

SHERLOCK 

Sherlock, Watson, and their awesome wallpaper

Another British show that I am OBSESSED with. What’s even better is that the time investment isn’t as high, as there are only two seasons so far and only three episodes per season. Yeah, why WOULDN’T you watch it?

We all know the story of Sherlock Holmes at least a little bit. However, this version of literature’s most impressive master-sleuth puts a different spin on the titular character than, say, Guy Ritchie’s films starring Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law. Downey’s Sherlock was a prankster, often drugged, and quite socially adept. The Sherlock in this television show, played by Benedict Cumberbatch (say that 5 times fast), is a little more misunderstood, socially incompetent, and waaaay too delighted with murder to be considered completely sane.  His only friend, Dr. John Watson, is portrayed perfectly by Martin Freeman (the guy who’s about to BLOW UP as Bilbo Baggins in The Hobbit), and together, these two guys have the most interesting fun anyone could possibly have with crime. Add a completely psycho insane master-villain Jim Moriarty (played by Andrew Scott) who in my humble opinion is on par with Heath Ledger’s Joker in terms of childishly horrifying villainy, and you have a series that is more fun to watch than a couple of harp seals doing handstands (I just saw this at the Aquarium, and lemme tell you, it’s hard to beat).

Oh, and I almost forgot to mention: its takes place in modern-day London. You would think this would take a lot of the charm out of the oh-so-British Sherlock Holmes, but it doesn’t. At all. Writers Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat are HUGE fans of the original book series by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and have taken great measures to keep the spirit of the original alive in their adaptation. Everywhere, you can see nods to the books that translate perfectly into a modern-day setting. One of the best example is when in the books, Sherlock deducts that the owner of a watch is a drunkard because of the scratches around the watch’s mechanical dial (when the  owner tries to wind the watch, he keeps missing the screw because he’s drunk. causing the scratches). Modern-day Sherlock makes a similar deduction by concluding that the owner of a certain cell phone has a drinking problem because there are scratches around the power jack.  It’s endlessly entertaining to watch this show bring these classic characters into the technology of 2012.

So there you have it, guys – my favorite four shows that are still ongoing.  They’re mostly available on Netflix or Hulu, so go watch them if you haven’t already! They’ll make your face bleed from sheer awesomeness.

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Don’t Get Jealous! Get Awesomer.

Recently, I emailed an acting blogger I enjoy about giving her take on how to deal with professional jealousy. Here’s her lovely response:

I only have one thing to add:

Sometimes, despite our best intentions and all the joy we have for our friends’ success, it’s impossible to be not be jealous. So let yourself be jealous. The worst thing is to get trapped in your head: you feel jealous of someone else, you feel stupid for feeling jealous, you try to make yourself feel less stupid by somehow lessening the importance of your friend’s success (“yeah, she got that TV role, but the show’s not even funny” or “she booked that indie movie role, but she’ll slip back into obscurity after it comes out”), you become frustrated at yourself because you know you’re being a jerk about it… and the sad!feelings spiral out of control until you’re a cynical mess with shifty eyes who grumbles a lot.

So, admit you’re jealous. And then move on. Take that jealousy and transform it into an action plan; figure out what you’re not doing that maybe your successful friend is doing, and be inspired that your friend’s success is now proof that the impossible isn’t actually impossible. Recognize and appreciate that your journey and your friend’s journey will be different. Own it.

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The Cone of Shame

“I do not like the cone of shame.”

Sometimes, having other humans know that you’d like to be an actor is like wearing a cone of shame. You’re all having a nice time or whatever, and then someone decides that you’re being too eager because you keep humping all the acting opportunities. So then he neuters you and  makes you wear a cone so you won’t lick at the wounds of your acting career, but really, the scorn that he fastens around your neck just makes you feel really, really stupid.

Yeah, so that’s actually a pretty ineffective metaphor – mostly I just wanted to draw a dinosaur wearing a cone…But some parts of it make sense.

Even when I was a teenager and going out on my first commercial auditions, I always hid it from my friends because I was afraid of the scorn they’d send my way. It’s like I had to apologize for being an actor, or that I had to make it seem less than it was because I was embarrassed. Even in college, if someone asked about it, I’d illegitimize my own efforts, like “Oh, you know, acting’s just a hobby, just something I do on the side. I’m not, like, serious about it” – because I couldn’t stand the idea of them pitying my longshot efforts and my failure, were I to fail.

Sadly, that attitude paralyzed me and made me too afraid to pursue acting for a good 2 years or so. I returned to acting on one condition (made to myself): That I would be really, really proud of myself for trying, and that if anyone asks, I’ll say “Yes, I’m trying to be a working actor” without being ashamed of it, without letting their skepticism choke me. I know a lovely person who said something along the lines of “I don’t like some people knowing I’m trying to be a writer/director, because I’m skeptical of my own talent sometimes, and I feel like if my friends were to know, they’d recognize me as a poser.” I wonder if we all think we’re posers sometimes, pretending to be actors/writers/directors/producers/whatever, but terrified inside that we’re not actually talented enough to call ourselves those things.

I think it’s all in our heads. I think that kind of insecurity is crippling (I’m a pretty good example of that) and I hope that more of us can do what we love without having to feel embarrassed about it. In fact, this blog – talking about my experiences and reacting to the industry – is my way of being proud of what I’m doing. I think it’ll stick this time.

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Know Your Type: (Not) Starring Vanzilla

Stegosauruses always get the best roles…

When I decided that I needed to put a reel together, I started out by writing several different scenes (I know, some people say that self-producing your entire reel is cheating, but it has its advantages) for myself, attempting to show an interesting range: Flirty!!Me, Sarcastic!Me, SoSerious!Me, etc… and when I finished I was pretty happy with it. But the further I got in actually getting these scenes produced, the more I felt that most of these were a mistake. Why? Because every scene – despite them being only about a page long in dialogue – implied that my character was the lead in this hypothetical film. The truth is though… I’m unlikely to ever be cast as the leading lady in anything.

I’m not saying it’s impossible… I mean, hopefully someone out there would find me endearing enough to let me run amok as a the lead in their project.  However, on the whole, my “look” isn’t exactly leading lady material (when was the last time you saw an Asian chick starring in a RomCom?), and not recognizing that would only be doing myself a disservice.

Secret Agent Man on Backstage West wrote an article recently about the power in realizing and exploiting your type: http://www.backstage.com/bso/advice-secret-agent-man/how-to-land-representation-1007478562.story

So who am I? I’m the sarcastic best friend to the leading lady. I’m the feisty roommate. I’m the cynical coworker, the skeptical classmate, the king pin in a Mexican drug cartel (if only). But yeah, basically, I think it’s important that I really hone in on what I’m best at (which is being faux-bitchy and providing uncomfortable truths) and sell myself as that – at least for now. There’s plenty of room to stretch and grow once you get more work, and I hope to do that someday… but until then, I’m happy going with my strengths.

So, I rewrote most of the scenes for my reel.. they still show different facets of myself, but they’re styled in a way that clearly make me out to be a supporting character – and I think that’s a good thing. And for anyone who’s still shaking their head at the fact that I’m self-producing my reel… well… I’m fortunate in that my darling boyfriend went to film school and actually has pretty awesome equipment (heh… heh…heh). As long as it looks legit, a self-produced reel is probably better than 3 minutes of theater clips cobbled together.

Just a couple more weeks, and my reel will be FINIS. Then I’m going to go spout some endearing sarcasm at an attractive female friend about how her leading man isn’t good enough for her (you know… for practice!).

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Theater of Awkward

Firsly, HAPPY AMERICA DAY. May you find plenty of things to beer batter in celebration of our country’s freedom 🙂

Now onwards, to a story that left me feeling all kinds of weird:

I arrived an hour early for a theater audition yesterday (it being LA, I figured July 4th traffic started by like.. June 25th, so I left extra early). I step into this small but cute Hollywood theater space to find a cast in the middle of rehearsals for another play. Before I know what’s going on, I’m being dragged to the back by the theater owner, a script is thrust into my lap, and I’m told that I “might be put on stage as soon as Friday because an actress in this play dropped out.” What?

I go along with it. I read a few scenes with one of their cast members, and they seem to like me. The theater owner insists that my decision to jump into their production 3 days before opening night or not will have no bearing on the audition I actually came here for – no pressure, no pressure, he says. 5 minutes later, they have me on stage in front of the cast, and we’re blocking. Seriously, WHAT is going on? Even though I was really confused, I had fun with my character and went pretty balls to the wall with it. They seem pleased. Unfortunately, I notice a few things I’m not too crazy about: it’s 3 days to their opening night, and they’re still blocking. Some of the actors aren’t even off book. I get the feeling that this show won’t be that impressive, just judging by how unprepared they seem. Next thing I know, the director is telling me that I need to be here Friday at 6pm because I’ve just been cast. Congratulations!

HURR?? I don’t know what this play is or what it’s about. I don’t know how long it’s running, and I don’t know how many nights a week it’s being performed. I’d like just a few minutes to think this over, please, and I ask for as much. The smile disappears from the director’s face. He looks at me like I just ran over his tulips or something and says “You know what, nevermind. Give me the script back. I don’t have time to think.” It’s awkward. I shuffle up to him with the entire cast’s eyes on my back, hand over the script, and sit back down. He dismisses his cast and leaves without another word to me. 

Girls start showing up for the audition I came here for in the first place. Even though the owner had said my decision to participate in their soon-to-be-opening play would have no bearing on my audition, I seriously believed otherwise. He was pretty rude to me when I merely asked for a few minutes to think over whether I could realistically participate, as if I should be on my knees and thanking him that he was willing to cast me at all. I ended up not staying for the audition I came for.

There was a part of me that was like “Just audition. Just go with it. Get what you can get.” But you know what… sometimes, it’s just not worth it. I know that the “desperate actor” stereotype is well circulated in this town, but that doesn’t mean I have to subscribe to it. I may not be the most talented person in the universe, and I may be thirsty for a role, but I am not willing to put my name on something that I’m not proud of, and I won’t let anyone treat me like I’m not good enough to want quality work for myself. I do deserve quality work and at least a modicum of respect from people that I’m working with. 

So I’ll continue hunting for more auditions and great work that I can be really excited about and proud of. Otherwise, what’s the point of trying to be an actor at all?

 

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Race traitor! Anglicizing my stage name

It’s me as a dinosaur in a rice hat.

So I’m standing in this tiny reproduction shop waiting for my new headshots to be printed and, typical of many printing places across LA, there are headshots plastered all over the walls. I’m gazing (kind of longingly) at a photo of Daniel Glover when the headshot next to it catches my eye. It’s an Asian lady, but her name doesn’t sound Asian at all. My brain cannot seem to handle these contradictory pieces of sensory information. My eyeballs are telling me she is indisputably Asian, but her name is .. well… hella white. My initial reaction of “Oh, look here, a pretty Asian lady” makes way for new conclusions like “She could totally be hapa” and “Yeah I can see her playing a lead in a romantic comedy, for sure!”

Basically, even though this actress was Asian, the fact that her listed name was so very un-Asian convinced me in under 8 seconds that she didn’t have to be relegated to specifically minority roles like “owner of Chinese apothecary” or “fobby tourist.” Is it possible that this manipulation of perception happens to CDs too?

The answer is most likely yes. There are tons of ethnic actors and musicians who have changed their birth names to widen their market appeal (see Kalpen Suresh Modi, who changed his name to Kal Penn, or singer Kamaljit Singh Jhooti who changed his name to Jay Sean). I’m going to go ahead and jump to the conclusion that yes, anglicizing your name can be helpful in getting you in the door when before, a CD may have glanced at your name and passed you over for being “too ethnic.” So for minority actors such as myself, the question becomes: In an industry that tends to marginalize Asian-American actors, does anglicizing my name indicate that I’m “selling out” and stripping myself of the heritage that I should be proud of?

Many would argue that yes, this would be selling out. Changing your stage name from Chong to Chesney is perpetuating the idea that Asians (and other minorities) can’t survive in this business as who they truly are, but instead must conform to a majority standard. So not only do non-Asian industry professionals not believe that I can sell tickets, I also don’t believe that I can sell tickets! How seriously depressing. So what are we to do? Keep our birth names and give ourselves one more potential disadvantage when there are still a thousand other disadvantages to face?

I’ll say now that I have changed my stage name. I’ve found that my very Asian last name was often mispronounced, and yes, it made me uncomfortable to think that I might be passed over for roles I could be perfect for just because some white guy behind a desk thought I might be too ethnic. Maybe this makes me a coward or some would even say I’m a mild brand of race traitor – but I think it’s being smart in a business that demands you take every edge you can. In the end, I took two common Asian surnames and combined them; the result was a name that could easily belong to an Asian, but could also imply I’m of mixed heritage. I tried my best to compromise, and I’m happy with what I came up with.

So for those of you who are thinking about changing your name for the reasons discussed above, don’t beat yourself up over it. Take into consideration what your friends, family, and agent(s) have to say, but at the end of the day, only you know what’s best for you. I know for me, changing my name didn’t make me any less proud to be Chinese, and I will take off my shoes at the door and reuse tea bags until the day I die!

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Composite Cards – Tips

I was on the phone with my commercial agent, and he said that thing that I really dread hearing: “We need to build a new comp card. How soon can you shoot?”

The reason I dread that request so much is because photoshoots are expensive!! Actors already hate getting headshots done because of the price, so having to pay for 2, 3, 4, or even 5 different looks can really rape your wallet.

For those of you who don’t know, composite (or “ZED”) cards consist of images printed on 8.5″x5.5″ cardstock. Usually, your headshot and name are on one side, and 2-6 other photos of you + size info are on the other side.  My agent’s given me a slew of random tips on comp cards over the years, which I’ll list here! After that, I’ll share some ways I’ve gotten the photos without paying the soul-sucking price:

ADVISED!

1. Try to show as much range as possible across all your different looks. Hit both ends of your age range.

2. Here are five “categories” you should try to hit in your shoot, if possible:

  • Headshot – this is commercial, so give it a genuine smile.
  • Body – all of you should be in this shot, no cutting off the top of the head or the feet! If you have a rockin’ bod,  showing that off will be to your advantage. Don’t be skanky though! Be tasteful.
  • Lifestyle – in this shot, feel free to accessorize and interact with your environment… maybe you could be window shopping, or playing with a labrador, or tossing a volleyball on the beach.
  • Professional – Suit up! Show that you can be a convincing lawyer, secretary, or teacher.
  • Fashion – This isn’t necessary for everyone. If you could convincingly be in a fashion ad, then go for it. Something sleek, edgy, and high-fashion shows that you have the chops to do the Vogue spread.
3. Mix up your facial expression – try not to smile the exact same way in every shot.

4. A good rule for any photo,  especially for headshots: Don’t just stare blankly at the camera and smile. Think of something that makes you laugh or recall a great memory you’re fond of.  When you are actually thinking about something that makes you smile, the light and laughter comes through in your eyes and transforms the photo.

5. It’s very easy to sit in a pose and keep a smile plastered on your face as the photographer clicks away. What you get is a series of photos where your smile looks forced and somewhat pained. Tell your photographer what’s up, and have him count to 3. Look down, recall a great memory, and when he finally says “3”, look up and flash that smile. Way more genuine!

6. Find a photographer who’s willing to work with you and have fun. Some photographers charge you a certain amount for a certain number of frames, and that’s just not worth it. Don’t forget to interview different photographers, check out their portfolios, and even find examples of photos you like so you can show him/her what you’re looking for.

NOT-SO-ADVISED

1. Don’t take any photo that would embarrass your mother. Ladies, don’t go topless. That seems obvious, but my agent’s told me a decent number of horror stories about models who thought going topless in a shoot with just their hands or hair covering their assets would help them somehow.

2. Lighting is everything. If your photographer doesn’t have any sort of lighting set up (lights indoors, reflector outdoors), then maybe try someone else. Bad lighting can make a very attractive face look pretty tore up.

3. When you get around to actually picking your photos, don’t try to choose them all by yourself. Get the opinion of as many people as possible, including the photographer (assuming you don’t have an agent already). Ask your boyfriend, girlfriend, or mother, but be aware that they might not be looking at the photo with the same eye as a client or an agent. Remember that this is a marketing tool, so check out other comp cards to get a better idea of what looks marketable and what doesn’t. If you DO have an agent, he or she will likely pick the photos for you.

So now that I’ve talked for a bit about how you can do better during and after the shoot, I’ll share ways I’ve personally gotten good photos without forcing myself to eat potatoes and ramen for a month (if you have the money, go for a professional photographer. The following tips are only for those who really, really can’t afford pro photos):

SAVE YO PAPER

1. Photography students. You probably know one. If you don’t, check out Craigslist (though of course, take the necessary precautions). They won’t be as good as professional photographers, but they’re usually very willing to keep shooting until they get it right because they want great photos to put in their portfolios. It’s possible the shoot will result in crap photos. Don’t give up. Try someone else. Try another one after that. Chances are, if you’re both willing to work together and experiment, you’ll get at least a few great shots.

2. Grab a friend AS LONG AS THEY HAVE A PROFESSIONAL CAMERA. If they have at least that, you can work together to stage great photos. Shoot mainly outdoors in natural sunlight, as long as it’s not too bright. To avoid shadows on your face, build your own reflector with cardboard and tinfoil and have another friend reflect sunlight onto your face. Ghetto, but effective on a shoe-string budget.  Whatever you do, do not use a low-quality consumer camera. Agents will be able to tell.

3. You’ve taken some great photos for cheap, but now you have to get them touched up. Editing is expensive.. what do you do?? FIVERR.COM. Seriously. This site has got to be the best-kept secret around, and has saved me ridiculous amounts of money. It’s a site where people sell their services for $5. Most of these services are useless (“I’ll spell out any message in Scrabble tiles and take a picture of it for $5!), but some of them are GOLD. There are talented people here who will touch up your photo for $5, and they actually know what they’re doing.

4. What you CAN’T skimp on is the printing. Make sure that you have all the photos in a hi-res digital format so it can print in best quality. In LA, you can usually get 100 cards printed for around $100, which is a decent deal. I personally recommend Printz Charm’n in West LA.

LAST THOUGHTS

Please keep in mind that comp cards are marketing tools for MODELS, not actors. Yes, you can be both, but be sure to make the distinction between your modeling path and your acting path. If you’re looking for a theatrical agent, don’t send them your comp card!!! Even if you’re a fantastic actor and are just looking for print work to help pay the bills, a theatrical agent will just assume you’re a model and not an actor if they see you have a comp card. In the same vein, leave print work off your acting resume.

Good luck!

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That’s one of my special skills! Wait…

I went to a commercial audition this week for a major bank. Once produced, it will be distributed in Asian markets in the U.S. on a national scale – sounds great, right?

They requested actors who are at least convincingly Mandarin-speakers. Hey! I grew up speaking Chinese, my mom still yabbers on the phone to me in Chinese… I am totally Chinese! I submitted and, not a day later, they called me in for an audition. NICE. And then, I started thinking about this whole thing a little bit more…

Unfortunately, I had no idea what the audition would entail. I wasn’t given any sides beforehand, and they didn’t give any more details in the breakdown. Would I have to cold read sides that were written in Mandarin? I can’t read Mandarin! Would they have me slate and “say a little about myself” in my mother tongue? AHhh! On the drive there, I called up my big sis, who is a fairly better speaker than I am. She helped me remember how to say “Hi, I’m Vanessa. Sorry I suck so bad at Chinese, it’s been a while since I’ve spoken it.” Needless to say, by the time we hung up, I was berating myself for telling the CD I could speak Chinese when I so obviously can’t.

I step into the audition waiting room. 5 or 6 other actors are already there, bantering back and forth – IN MANDARIN.  I take a seat nervously and wait my turn. At some point, I learn that I’m going to have to improvise a scene and I should use as much Chinese as I can. I run as many Chinese sentences as I can in my head. I wilt a little.

Finally, I’m in the audition room. I confess that I’m not THAT great at Chinese, though I can probably manage about 50% of this improvised scene in Chinese. We begin. Within one minute, I can tell that the CD is not impressed, though she is very polite about it. She gives me a second take out of pity and then smiles and says that’s all she needs to see. I walk out of there with a smile on my face, but all my internal organs are grimacing. I didn’t get a callback.

Lesson here, folks? Make sure that if you say you can speak Mandarin on your resume, that you can actually speak fluent Mandarin. This seems obvious, but I know scores of actors who put various talents down under Special Skills in the hopes of at least getting them in the door – but it’s just not the right thing to do. If you can’t legitimately do something, they will find out. And you will look like a moron.

“Mandarin Chinese” has just been struck from my resume, and I already feel like so much less of a poser.

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