90 Days to Disappointing Glory

Over the past 90 days, I embarked on a little self challenge. I did an acting self tape every day. Like, every day.

My goals were plentiful, but the main focus was improving my self tape skills and making it something that I just do easily and without questions. There was also a technique for self tapes that I learned not long ago that I wanted to keep sharp (especially because I wasn’t going to be in classes for a bit).

I had a ton of travel on my schedule. I had plenty of other things on my plate. But I did it. I did a self tape every day. For 90 damn days.

Yet, the title of this post as the word “disappointing” in it. Why?

Well, my friends, that’s because my quiet goal was actually 108 self tapes every day. It’s a weird number, but any of you yogis out there know that 108 is a magical number of transformation. I quietly told myself 90 would be amazing. But I figured by the time I got to 90, I’d be able to just keep plowing through to get to that strange and wonderful 108.

That wasn’t the case.

Instead, I found I was often phoning in the self tapes. Sometimes, it was by necessity. I would be traveling and simply didn’t have ten minutes to set aside to get on tape. There were other times my travel plans went awry and I thought I’d have time and I didn’t. I was in about 20 states on the east and west coast and plenty in between (some multiple times) over the course of these 90 days. So, for me, the fact that I could keep up the commitment to putting myself on tape every day no matter what was totally worth it.

But by the end, I was drained. I was physically exhausted and creatively pretty numb. I still kept up my self tapes but I was phoning it in. The last self tape was me doing one line from a movie (a famous line, to be fair). I tried to give it my own spin. I was simultaneously rewriting a feature script I’ve been toying with for years that I finally have the motivation to redo. So, again to be fair, I wasn’t doing nothing. I just wasn’t focused on the tapes.

And when that magical 90 hit, something in me said “We’re done.” Not that I won’t do more tapes, I actually have made some promises to writers that tapes are coming (and if those writers are reading this, they’re coming!). And I really enjoyed the exercise and, for the few real self tape auditions I did get sprinkled in there, it certainly made it easy since I was already in the groove.

But part of me feels like I failed. I set out for a certain number and I didn’t do it. This is a habit I have of setting myself up for something pretty intense and then often petering out just before the finish line. That’s why and where the “disappointed” comes from.

I let myself wallow in this for about a day. And then I looked at the body of work I had accomplished and listened to my own instinct which is begging me to spend more time focusing on some other projects, and I accepted it. Though these tapes didn’t take a ton of time, I wasn’t devoting the type of energy in the end I needed to devote for them to have any benefit. But I was going through the motions, which is something I’m not a fan of.

On Monday (day 91), I took a long look at myself in the mirror and asked if we were doing this. I knew the challenged of the week ahead and the focus that has been begging for me to put it in other places. I know this weekend I’d be heading off to celebrate my husband (who helped me do these self tapes no matter what his chaotic schedule and despite the fact that he is not – at all – an actor). He’s celebrating a major career goal and the last thing I want to do is ask him to pause time from his own celebrations to do my thing for a minute. We’ve done a lot of my thing over the past three months. We can take three days and do his.

There’s an ambitious part of me that’s angry I didn’t finish those last 18 days. And the funniest part is, a lot of my actor friends are beginning their own self tape challenge in May. So it’d be a great time to get motivated by other likeminded people do to something like this and follow through.

But I’m on my own journey. And I’m learning from every major accomplishment, minor victory, and overly ambitious disappointment. I appreciate things most when I actually focus and follow through. And sometimes that means pulling focus from one thing to have energy to focus on another, rather than trying to half-ass a bunch of things simply because I said I would.

90 days of self tapes, especially given my atypical travel schedule, is something to celebrate. Other people’s challenges and journeys are their own. I can let them inspire me and need not worry about missing out on them. In the interest of balance as a human and creative person, it’s okay to tap out now and still revel in the glory rather than berate myself for the misses.

 

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The Talented Mr. Abdi

For the past couple days, various news reports have announced that the very talented, Oscar-nominated actor Barkhad Abdi is reportedly “broke” and living off per diems Sony Studios provided throughout awards season. (Click here for the report from The Hollywood Reporter)

People are outraged. They’re upset that this great actor could be a part of something that made so much money and was so successful and somehow as financially sound as his multi-millionaire peers.

Something about these articles rubbed me the wrong way. And I’ve been thinking about them a lot. And I finally figured out why I was so bothered by all the outrage.

Here’s the thing… Hollywood is f*#@ing tough.

I think it’s wonderful a talent like Mr. Abdi got the opportunity to have a huge break and possibly make a career for himself. And in no way am I writing this to question or undercut this man’s obvious talent. He’s a great actor and deserves lots more opportunities to shine onscreen.

But let’s look at some of the realities of the situation:

It was his first major film

He got lucky. Really lucky. Like, really really lucky. He is a very talented man with a gift who happened to be in the right place at the right time and was handed the perfect role to show that off. That happens. Rarely, but it happens. And when it does, it’s the start of a career. The first step in what can become and extremely successful and lucrative career. He was compensated a fair amount. And he continues to be compensated. Yes, he lives off a per diem and needs help from his friends to make his dreams a reality. I live off a day job and get help from my friends all the time to make my dreams a reality. That’s called started an acting career. It can be years of tough work. Even after you get big breaks. Just look at any average actors long-spanning career. It’s filled with little breaks, big breaks, and a ton of tough shit in between.

Tom Hanks was the box office draw, not him

I think people are so upset because Mr. Abdi was playing opposite one of the most successful box office stars of our generation. And he did a stand out job. There is no denying it. But Tom Hanks is the star. Tom Hanks is the household name. Tom Hanks is the reason the movie was financially successful. Sony is not going to pour millions of dollars into a movie about a guy barely anyone has heard of starring a guy nobody has heard of. That’s not going to happen. Studios care about making money. They’re a business. It’s a good business decision to have Tom Hanks be the star. And while Mr. Abdi has and should be rewarded for the excellence with which he portrayed his role, he is not the reason the movie was a financial success. Tom Hanks is. Plain and simple.

In ten years, assuming Mr. Abdi can consistently be the star of several financially successful blockbuster hits, then he should share the lucrative financial rewards (aka “points on the backend”) with someone like Tom Hanks. Or even five years from now. Or even three major movie hits. My point is, Tom Hanks has earned his keep. Of course he made more money in the film. He’s the reason the film made money.

Mr. Abdi lived and worked outside Los Angeles. He recently decided to move here and pursue his dreams, riding the coattails of this huge amount of publicity and success. Good for him! I’m happy for him! I hope he has lots and lots of success. But it won’t come without lots and lots more work. And probably lots and lots more poverty. Because this is LA, baby. Rent is high and actors plentiful. Your best bet is to do good consistent work, find people you love creating with, and do it for the love of creation. If you’re lucky (and smart about it) maybe you can turn that into a lucrative career. He’s certainly at a major advantage right now to do so. But careers are not made overnight. Great performances can be rewarded, but you have to consistently prove yourself before people will begin believing that you’re worth what you say you’re worth.

Hollywood does not reward pure talent alone. It can recognize it, as is the case with Mr. Adbdi, but that doesn’t mean the most talented people automatically get exalted to consistent big screen hits and stardom. It’s a weird and incalculable, usually unmeasurable, series of factors that make someone a star. Many times, being in the right place at the right time is a major fact that needs to fall into place. And Mr. Abdi got that. But after that, there’s a thousand weird things that need to continue to happen to keep your career progressing. Don’t ask me what they are. If I understood it, I wouldn’t be eating two day old chicken for lunch in my studio apartment before heading to spend hours at a day job that has nothing to do with acting. All I know is that it seems like consistent good work, a positive attitude, likable personality, inexhaustible work ethic, and overwhelming desire to create are eventually rewarded.

At least I hope so.

He is not a “casualty” of the system

One of the articles reporting on Mr. Abdi wrote that he may become a “casualty of the Hollywood system.” I would have thrown my computer across the room if I weren’t so poor and dependent on it for all my creativity at the moment.

Because here’s the thing- he’s not even close to a casualty. He’s an exception.

There’s a big ass difference.

If he becomes just another actor struggling for roles and working every day towards that next break to prove himself again, he won’t be a casualty. He’ll be a regular working actor.

The casualties of Hollywood are the people who give up. The people who come to LA with stars in their eyes, get worn down by the constant hardships and rejection and move back home. They’re the people who have lived and worked in LA for 20 years without ever getting their major breakout role and become so downtrodden they give up on their dreams. They’re the people who lose all their money to the constant scammers who prey upon them and give up on their dreams before they’ve ever even started. They all couldn’t take it and gave up on their dreams. Those people are the casualties.

Mr. Abdi is an exception. In his first role, he got to play opposite a major movie star in a blockbuster international hit movie and was nominated for several awards. That’s exceptional. If nothing ever comes from his career, it can still be considered a success. He was nominated for an Oscar. An Oscar. He can never be a casualty of Hollywood.

If I haven’t yet made it clear, this has nothing to do with Mr. Abdi’s talent. He’s awesome. I wish him nothing but success. This tirade has to do only with the assumption that just because a person is talented and made a good movie that Hollywood should automatically reward them. It’s never been the case and it will never be the case.

Besides, he was at every major awards season ceremony with huge movie stars who knew him on a first name basis and praised him for his work. If that isn’t rewarding, I don’t know what is.

Careers span decades because the creation has to continue. People become stars because they deliver consistently great performances over long periods of time.

Besides, if Mr. Abdi really is broke, that doesn’t make him any less of an actor. If anything, that makes him just like all my other extremely talented and extremely broke friends. Welcome to the club, Captain. Time to get to work.

10 Things I’ve Learned About You, LA

I live in the beautiful Los Angeles where I daily pursue my dream of getting paid to play make-believe. In the two years I’ve lived here (combined with the several years I’ve been honing my skills on stage and on set), here are 10 of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned to date:

1. Learn how to say no.

This lesson has not only been the most challenging for me, but it also seems to be the most rewarding. The beautiful part of Los Angeles is that there are so many projects happening at any given time and so many wonderful people to work with. The tough part of Los Angeles is learning which projects you should be working on at any given time and which people will best serve you in this moment.

I have an extensive background in improvisation. My brain is hard-wired like an improviser. My immediate reaction to most circumstances is “Yes!” Combine that with my polite midwestern nature and you get a formula for a person who does not understand the concept of “No.”

But I’m learning it. Just because someone asks you to do something doesn’t mean you need to do it. Even if it’s a cool opportunity, you need to listen to your gut and decide if it’s best for you in this moment. Just because everyone else seems to hop aboard one wagon doesn’t mean that you need to take the same trail. There are always plenty of opportunities available. And if you miss one, there will be another. You need to leave yourself open to doing what’s absolutely best for you in that moment. And that means learning to say “no.”

Plus, there are a lot of people here (and everywhere) who prey on people who just say “Yes” to everything. You need to learn to protect your open spirit so it can say “yes” to the right people, not just the first ones to ask.

2. Don’t be afraid to say yes.

Having said all that about the ability to say “no,” don’t forget the power of “yes.” Oftentimes, we turn down opportunities out of fear. We don’t meet up with people because it might be awkward. We don’t make that leap because we don’t see the net that will catch us.

Well, I say “Leap and the net will appear.” I say it, but I didn’t make it up. John Burroughs did. But I agree. And so does every great risk taker who’s ever made any difference in this world.

Sure, there’s a good chance you’re going to fall flat on your face by saying “yes” to something. There’s a good chance nothing will come of some meeting. But there’s always the possibility that you’ve planted a seed that will grow into something beautiful in a future you don’t yet see. And even if it doesn’t, you’re a better and stronger person for facing your fears head on rather than excusing yourself from taking risks.

3. Bring something to the table.

I just wrote a 10 episode web series. My partner and I are currently working on producing it. We’ve been meeting with lots of different people to create a team to help us produce it. In the process, I’ve been able to bring onboard a lot of friends I’ve met over the past couple years who’ve helped me out a lot. I’ve met a fantastic director/DP who’s going to be helping us out. I’ve been in talks with people from all angles of production that I wouldn’t otherwise have an excuse to meet. I’m bringing something to the table by creating a foundation upon which so many other creatives can build. And I’ll have something (awesome) to show for it when all’s said and done.

So rather than just meet with people and blow hot air back and forth, do something you can talk about. Create a project you can collaborate on. Have something you’re invested in that you’re proud to show. Show you’re an active part of the creative team, not just a fan on the sidelines hoping the coach runs out of active players and starts calling in random fans.

As they said in the 90s, “Don’t just TALK about it. BE about it.”

4. Everyone has their own agenda.

The sooner you learn this, the sooner you can go back to loving people.

People seem to get upset when they meet with others who don’t respond exactly they way they want them to. Or they get upset when someone seems to take advantage of them. I believe it’s important to understand that every single person you interact with wants something from you. And you want something from them. It’s an even exchange.

Once you understand that, you can embrace every interaction for what it is- rather than what you wish it were. The commercial agency you’re meeting with wants to make money. They want you to be a person who makes money for them. They want you to prove to them that you’re worth their time and attention. In exchange, you want an opportunity to audition for major products and campaigns. You’re not there to make best friends with your agents. You’re there to prove you can do the work and make them money. And they’re there to prove that they can get you enough opportunities to help you.

Everyone wants something. Everyone has an agenda. If you can understand how (or if) you fit into someone else’s agenda, you can save yourself a lot of heartache.

Why didn’t the casting director call you back? You didn’t work for the part this time. You’re not a bad person. You’re just not right for them right now. And that’s a-ok.

Why didn’t that guy you’re really into want to be with you? Because you don’t fit into their life right now. They have their own problems and issues and you don’t help to solve them. You’re not a bad person. You’re just not right for them right now. And that’s a-ok.

Why did that person I trusted take advantage of me? Because you thought they didn’t want anything out of the interaction so you trusted them too much. You’re not a bad person. You’ve just learned a valuable lesson that everyone wants something. And that’s a-ok.

Even if someone does something out of pure altruism, they’re doing it because that altruistic act makes them feel good. And that’s a-ok.

5. Just because someone says it’s a pig doesn’t mean it’s going to produce bacon.

If someone asks you to work on a “pilot” for them, it doesn’t mean that it’s actually a pilot. It could just be an idea for a show they have that they want to make into reality with your help. It could be a great pilot that gets picked up and makes you a star. Or it could be a waste of time. Go with your gut.

If someone says they’re a “manager,” who can help you with your career, it doesn’t mean they have any knowledge of the business or any connections that could help you at all. They could catapult you to the next stage of your career. Or they could just want to walk around Hollywood telling people they’re a manager. Go with your gut.

If someone says they want to “collaborate” with you on a project, it doesn’t mean that they actually want to join forces. It could mean that you just got really lucky and a person with more knowledge and connections has decided to help you out because they have a great feeling about your talent and future. Or they could just want to get in your pants. Go with your gut.

6. Time is your most valuable currency. Spend it wisely.

Eventually, you’ll run out of money. We all do. Why do you think I blog so much? I need something to do from the comfort of my own home that I pay too much in rent for.

I used to give my time freely and spend money wisely. But when I ran out of money, I realized I don’t have the liberty of spending my time freely anymore. It’s one of the only resources I have unlimited access to, but it’s not unlimited in itself. If I overextend, the projects that really do need my time don’t get enough of it because the projects that don’t need my time are sucking up too much of it.

This goes back to point #1. Learn to say “no” to things and you’ll have more time to spend wisely on the people and projects that serve you best.

7. Most people don’t suck.

You hear a lot of complaints from people (especially in LA) about how many people here “suck.” I respectfully, wholeheartedly disagree.

Sure. It’s a big city. There are a lot of douchebags and biatches. And the embracing of a somewhat superficial culture can sometimes bring out the worst in people. And I’ve met my share of crazies… believe you me.

But for the most part, I’m surrounded by incredible, creative, hard-working, wonderful friends who are nothing but supportive and exciting human beings. Both natives of LA and transplants have proven to be absolutely awesome. I asked a stranger to help me out the other day when I was in a bind. He did so happily and without question. I constantly meet new people who are challenging and wonderful. I have some of the best close friends in this entire city.

The only people here who suck are the ones who are busy complaining about how much the people here suck.

8. You friends and family want to support you… but not all the time

I do shows often. I’m “grinding hard” as they say. I have a great group of friends who will happily come see my shows when I ask them to. And I’m lucky enough to have wonderful family near and far who can help me out of any sort of bind.

I know that (especially my non-entertainment) friends like to come see my shows. But I also know that I’m asking a lot of them when I want them to come to each of my three shows that week. I’m also happy to go see my friends shows. I love how creative my friends are and want to see them in their element.

But time is a precious commodity (see #6), so respect the fact that people will only give so much of it to you. Even your best friends. So don’t abuse their desire to help you. And don’t get upset if they’re not always able to be there.

9. Get over it.

I’ve read that the one trait the happiest people all seem to share is the ability to bounce back quickly from whatever may happen.

So whatever’s going on in your life, accept it for what it is.

Somebody hurt your feelings? Accept the fact that they’re hurt then get over it. There’s too much beauty in the world to dwell on the petty.

Didn’t get that big opportunity you were working hard for? Accept the disappointment then get over it. Let it fuel you for the next, even bigger opportunity. Know that even in not getting whatever goal you set out for, by giving it your all, you’ve already transformed into a better person.

Have to spend three hours in the car every day to get to work and auditions and everything else you’re doing? You’re lucky you have a car to be stuck in, first of all. And secondly, get over it. Listen to a good e-book. Enjoy the fresh air on your face. Make friends with the strangers in traffic next to you. There’s a lot of people who live in LA. A little traffic is the price you pay for living in paradise.

Achieve superstardom at a young age? Awesome. Good for you. Now get over it. You didn’t do it all by yourself. Be grateful to the loads of people who have helped you out and start giving back immediately. You weren’t divinely ordained to grace earth with your presence. You’re a person who got really, really lucky. The world that’s embracing you right now will forget you in a year if you don’t give them a reason to continue to be interested. Keep working. Keep improving. Don’t rest on your laurels.

10. Enjoy the ride.

It’s easy to get caught up in the drudgery of daily existence if you’re not doing exactly what you think you should be doing. You could be frustrated that life isn’t panning out as you expected, so you don’t see the beauty that surrounds you. You’re angry you’re stuck in 6 pm traffic on the freeway, so you overlook the way the colors of the sunset look just behind that silhouettes of palm trees in the sky.

It’s normal to lose sight of this stuff on occasion. But always bring back the perspective. Enjoy the moment. Life is too short, fragile, temporary, and precious to not be preset for every single breath.

The Glamour

I know a life of creativity seems really glamorous. Actors and creative types are often thought of as these beautiful creatures that are demi-gods bestowed to us for a short time for our viewing pleasure.

This is only a slight exaggeration.

I want the world to know, most of my creativity happens either in the early morning when my hair is totally wacky, my pajamas are still on, and my face is funky with lines from sleeping on it the night before OR in the late evening when I’m exhausted from a full day so I’m wearing whatever was closest and most comfortable and often have a washed out face and worn out makeup.

Like right now, I’m getting ready to do a chunk of writing for the upcoming “RESPECT” podcast, and my hair is janky and weird. I haven’t had breakfast so I’m strangely cranky and moody. I’m in PJs I wear almost every night until they’re obviously smelly and unbearable (it’s spandex from my high school volleyball days and a pink “Better Call Saul” t-shirt…sexy). I haven’t brushed my teeth or looked in a mirror (probably for the best).

This is how I look when the magic happens.