4 Goods and Bads of Moving to LA

hollywood-sign-mulholland-highwayI wrote this article for Ms. in the Biz.

I’d say more about it, but I think it speaks for itself.

That is all.

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Noir… now what?

I recently wrote and registered my very first feature screenplay (eeks!). It’s an absurdest, comedic noir. The main character,msmatthewson Margaret Mathewson, already has a twitter handle (@MsMatthewson). I registered with the WGA, it’s pending with the patent office right now, and I sent myself a copy. I’ve been sending copies to a few friends of mine who may help me produce it.

But I’ll be honest. I have no idea what to do next.

I know it needs money. Real money this time. I want this script to be done right and I’m tired of calling in favors from all my creative friends. Of course I’m grateful to even have creative friends who I can call in favors from… but I want this sucker to be done right. I want to be able to pay people so they bring their A-game. I want to be able to pay myself at least a little so I can spend more time concentrating on creating a great product rather than doing it in my (spare) free time.

Like I said, I want it done right.

And like I said, I have no idea what to do next.

But here’s the thing. I like not knowing what I’m doing. I like a good challenge. I like to be out of my comfort zone. And I like learning.

So I’ve done the only thing I can do… set up an action plan and a list of goals and start. I’ve got a list of books that I know are helpful to learn independent film production. I know some resources on the web that I can look up to learn how to learn more about film production. I can ask around and reach out to people. I have a goal for when I want to start production on this thing. And it’s coming up. Which means I have to figure out how the hell I’m gonna get the money to do it.

But I’ve done this before. Many times. So this is just another one of those times. I know it’ll take a lot of steps and a lot of hard work and a lot of uncomfortable moments where I’m out of my element and a lot of note-taking and reaching out and learning.

And I can’t wait.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a movie to figure out how to produce.

Gym Discovery

discoveryThere’s a gym in Hollywood I don’t frequent, but I’ve gone a handful of times. Part of the reason I like LA Fitness in the first place is because there are lots of locations so I can go to different places depending on what side of town I’m on.

The Hollywood gym, which is right in the heart of Hollywood just steps from the stars on Hollywood Boulevard, is one I go to on occasion. Part of the reason I don’t frequent it is because I didn’t see a free weights section. I figured there probably was one, but I never looked too hard. I just stuck with the easy to see machines and simple cardio.

But the other day… I kept walking. I walked down a hallway I’d been near before and decided to just keep going.

Why didn’t I do this before? I didn’t want to look like I didn’t know where I was going. But the truth is, I didn’t know where I was going. And the more important truth is, nobody was paying attention to me. And the most important truth is, even if they were paying attention, I don’t care about the opinions of strangers.

And there it was.

A huge free weights section I’d never seen before. A giant chunk of the gym that I had never before discovered. I was like Christopher Columbus (because there were already tons of people there who clearly knew it existed but I felt a weird sense of ownership because I found it for the first time myself which doesn’t really make sense but I felt proud anyway).

Lesson learned: Never stop exploring. You never know how you’re limiting yourself until you push the existing borders and boundaries of the world around you.

Also, every gym probably has a free weights section. So just keep looking.

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.

Making Dreams Come True

I don’t have a fairy godmother. Because I don’t need one. I’m lucky enough to have amazing people around me who can make magic.

I’ve mentioned a few times I’m currently producing a web series called The Other Client List. This basically came out of the fact that my friend Arye and I had kept in touch from our Groundlings Basic class for several months. One day, we’re sitting at a lunch and mention we should just produce our own work. We should do a web series.

And from that, an exciting partnership and adventure was born.

I spent a couple months writing it. I’d never written screenplay scripts before. I’d always done sketch which is much more lackadaisical in formatting. And easy to fix as you rehearse. But screenplays follow a distinct format because they’re the foundation upon which so many other creative brains are going to build. So I did my best. It’s not perfect… but it’s close. And I certainly learned while doing it. And after a couple months, we had 10 scripts.

Then we were lucky enough to find a creative, focused, hard-working, and hilarious director/DP, Erik Boccio. Who has a great team of people who can help it all become real. We asked for money from friends and family, raised over $4,000 and are currently in the process of filming it every time we can get everyone together.

It’s wonderful. And magical. And I’m learning so so so much. Because this is what I want to do. And the best way to learn how to do it- how to really do it- is just by going for it.

So many extremely talented friends of mine are joining in for roles in the process. And Arye and I are turning out to be quite the complementary team.

And it’s fun. God it’s fun. Did I mention it’s fun? We’re all working our butts off and spending money and time we don’t have… but it is so much friggin’ fun.

And it’s good. It’s going to be so funny. It’s absolutely invigorating to get to see the words I pulled out of nowhere and gave to characters that I made up in my head actually come to life and tell a cohesive (and hilarious) story.

It’s magic. And I’m loving it.

And I’m so grateful to every person who’s helped make it a reality so far. I know it’ll be successful. It’s going to be such a good product- I can’t imagine how it wouldn’t be.

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Hollywood Pretty

It’s no big secret that I belong to LA Fitness. I typically go to one main gym nearest to me. But I like having the convenience and ability to go different locations in the city depending on my day’s schedule.

Last Tuesday, I had some time to sneak into the LA Fitness right in the heart of Hollywood. It’s literally located on Hollywood Boulevard feet away from The Chinese Theater and tons of other Hollywood landmarks.

And it is filled to the brim with actors and pretty people.

Everyone around me was beautiful. They’re in excellent shape, perfectly proportioned people with amazing skin, hair and teeth who love to watch themselves workout in the mirror. So they were clearly actors.

When I went to the cardio section, half the treadmills were filled with magazines and the other half were filled with highlighted scripts for people memorizing lines.

I even recognized some people I’d seen on TV and other’s I’d worked with around the city. So. Many. Actors.

But these are my people. I’m an actor at heart too (despite the thousand other things I also love doing). So I workout because I’m trying to look good. Sure, it feels nice to be in shape and it’s important to me that I stay healthy… but I really want and need to look good to help catapult my career. And having tons of beautiful, in-shape people kicking their butts around you is excellent motivation.

Plus! The Juice Bar even comes equipped with the ability to give you your own eating disorder! I got a post-workout shake that gave me food poisoning later that night! I totally puked up everything I ate the whole day, which inched me a little closer to my goal weight! Thanks, LA Fitness Hollywood Juice Bar! Now I know how easy it would be to be bulimic (just in case eating right and exercising regularly aren’t good enough)!

Push it

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I may be pushing myself a little this next month.

I’m on a roll. I’m more motivated than I’ve ever been- and more free to follow through on that motivation than I’ve ever been. The result… I’m putting too much on my plate.

I’ve always been an overachiever. I have a tendency to burn the candle at both ends of the stick. I know this about myself. I accept it. I’ve never really understood what boundaries are in any sense of the word.

I assume I can do anything, so I just put my mind to accomplishing something, and I do it.

In some ways, my blind stubbornness serves me. I tend to produce. A lot. And in producing a lot, I improve a lot. I learn by doing and because I do a lot, I learn very quickly.

In other ways, it works against me. I can find myself razzled and spread out. And I’m very often thrown off balance because I get so obsessed with any number of projects and deadlines I’ve arbitrarily created for myself. And in the midst of it all, I add more. I’m not a balanced or interesting person when this is happening. I get tunnel vision and it’s hard to get out of it. I repeat myself because my experiences beyond the imaginary world I’m living in are limited for the time being. I’m not the best friend or partner during these times. I get so focused on what needs to be accomplished, I tend to overlook everything else. I don’t return text messages in a timely manner (if at all). I don’t tend to call you back. I don’t want to go get coffee and chat. All I want to do is go into my little bubble and create.

These phases don’t always last very long. Partly because they’re emotionally and physically exhausting to uphold. But when I’m in them, I’m completely immersed. No coming up for air.

I don’t know why. It’s in my nature. I’ll probably always do it. I enjoy it. It makes me feel the most alive.

I often joke that if I have 1,000 things to do, 998 of them will get done. If I have 1 thing to do, it will not get done. I will do anything but that one thing. So I keep a long list of to do’s to make sure I get things ta-done.

November will be a month where I know in advance I’m pushing my limits. Here are just a few things on the docket: I’ll be performing in two sketch shows with Second City which will require some rehearsal and prep time of course, four stand up show cases which will require keeping my skills and sets sharp and almost daily open mics, a short film, two podcast episodes, a few segments for a potential pilot, writing/starring/filming/co-producing a web series, and writing a novel on top of all of it and recording/editing/uploading daily vlogs documenting the writing journey. And, if I’m lucky, more things will be added to that list.  All in the span of one month.

Meanwhile, I’ll be keeping up this fabulous blog, my Femoir blog, and working out regularly.

Did I mention I have a full-time day job and spend most weekends babysitting? That, too.

The most wonderful time of the year will be especially wonderful if I can pull off the miracle of accomplishing all of the above-listed stuff.

I’m going into the abyss. I’ve already started by descent. My apologies for my temporary absence. I’ll see you again in December.

Wish me luck.

Have you ever found yourself so completely focused on a particular project, that you let so many other things fall by the wayside? Do you care when this happens? Do you notice it? CAN YOU HELP ME?

Angelina Jolie showing off new “sexy” side in upcoming movie, “Salt”

After years of comedic, sidekick roles where she was often kept out of the spotlight and her beauty was covered with dull makeup, Angelina Jolie is finally coming out of her shell with her new movie “Salt.”

Known for her comedic- rather than sexual- prowess, moviegoers everywhere are anxious to see how Jolie holds up in an action movie where she will be more dependent on her looks and sexuality as never before.

In “Salt,” Jolie plays a mysterious agent with a shady history and unsure loyalties. The role will require Jolie to slim down, appear more muscular, and change her hair color several times- three things the actress has never had to do before.

“I’ve always been so dependent on my comedic skills,” Jolie commented. “Becoming sexy will be the challenge of a lifetime.”

The somewhat frumpy Jolie has been slowly getting made over by personal trainers and makeup artists alike. Most professionals agree that, thanks to modern technology, she could possibly be seen as having leading lady potential in this film.

It’s a chance to transform her comedic image into a sexier one. And Jolie will pounce on it…sexily.