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Advice for 2010 Grads Coming to LA; 15 things

The Bitter Script Reader posted some advice about how to survive to move to LA.  I tried to comment over there and it won’t let me, but this is what I said.

1) Get settled so that you’re as comfortable as possible — living out of boxes makes everything seem transient. Have roommates or whatever, but make sure that you’ve got a space, however small, that is yours. Spend some time driving around the city and getting to know places. Find the studios. (Have a car!)

2) I really love Glendale, it’s safe and cheapish. Frogtown is super cheap. North Hollywood is becoming a lot safer, the parts closer to the 134 are totally fine for a single girl to live in.

2) I would say you probably need at least 7k in the bank before coming out here and at least two finished scripts and some outlines for more. Basically, you need enough money that you can go several months without making much money at all and enough written that if you’re too discombobulated to write, you’ve got something to work with. I applied for internships and jobs for 6 months before I moved out and it still took me 3 months to land a part time paid gig, though I did have an internship lined up.

3) Apply to every job you can find, do things for free, take an internship in the industry if you can afford it and then work at whatever you can in the rest of the time. It doesn’t matter if it’s an industry job, making contacts of all sorts is important, life experience, all that jazz. I’m not super social and I don’t like to drink, but working on other people’s projects is a great way to meet people and learn useful skills.

4) Find something else you can do in the industry besides writing. Can you edit? Can you gaff? Find a way to make yourself useful. Pursue every avenue. Learn to script supe, that’s easy and low impact.  Find something you like to do that isn’t writing.

5) A lot of people would say find a writing group. I personally am not in one, but I have a large group of friends who I can get advice from. Writing groups are pretty useful if you don’t have that.

6) Apply selectively to contests, but do apply. I’ve definitely gotten contacts from agents and managers and earned some street cred by placing in contests people had heard of.

7) Mandy.com, realitystaff.com, and craigslist are your new friends. I personally don’t really like the UTA job list, but it’s out there too.

8) Figure out a way to make your commute worthwhile. A voice recorder is great if you can think outloud for writing purposes. I listen to a lot of audiobooks.

9) Do things that have nothing to do with film because people who only talk about film are boring. Read books, magazines, go do stuff that’s got seriously zero to do with film and then you’ll have something interesting to talk about. The reason Hollywood loves young blood is because they have experience outside of the Hollywood system and they haven’t quite yet been turned into normal LA people who can only talk about themselves and movies.

10) Write genre scripts that can be produced cheaply if you’re really out to make a sell.

11) Don’t ever be a douchebag. Don’t have a temper. If you talk shit online, don’t use names.  (Unless revealing scam artists!)

12) Conversely, if you’re working for free, you have the right to be treated well and to learn something from the experience. Don’t be afraid of anyone. And don’t be afraid to speak up for yourself, just don’t be aggressive. Along these lines, know how much you should be getting paid, even if you’re not being paid that. This is useful info.

13) Be on the look out for scams. Not all competitions are worthwhile. Not all agents are legit. If someone asks you for money upfront to be your agent, that guy is a scam artist. (google Eddie Kritzer)

14) If you’re a lady writer with a girly name, I’d recommend using your initials. That sounds terrible, but there’s genuine gender bias out here and I’m super lucky that all the other Ashleys out here are guys. This is especially true if you’re replying to internet ad, because internet people are super creepy.

15) Give yourself deadlines so that you’re not constantly second guessing yourself and make sure they’re reasonable. I, for example, haven’t always been totally sure LA is the place for me, but I’m only allowed to seriously think about moving during the month of August. So I don’t dwell on it in general.

(I never had a problem with the tap water, don’t know what people are talking about)

Hollywood: Not for the weak

I very rarely get into anything particularly personal on this blog.  One, because it’s public, and two, because it rarely seems relevant to my career, which is the focus here.  But sometimes the personal and the public are a bit intermixed, and that’s what I want to talk about.  My health versus my career.

I have for the last few months been really struggling with extreme fatigue, dizziness and nausea.  This isn’t totally out of the norm for me, I have several chronic conditions which often take the wind out of my sails: allergies, asthma, depression and hypothyroidism.  Any of those on their own is usually manageable, but they pack a bit of a wallop all together.  On top of this, I’ve been to the doctor a half-dozen times since this started and they’ve tested for everything they can think of and they can’t find anything wrong.

This last week has been totally lost.  I was so fatigued that I cannot actually remember most of it.  It is extremely frustrating.  I manage to go to work which fortunately is a very low energy sort of job, but I struggle even there.  I haven’t managed to do much editing because I stare at the project and get overwhelmingly tired or motion sick.  I basically come home and lay down.  Last night I went to bed at 10pm and got up today at 1pm; it’s not yet seven and I am barely awake.  Obviously it is quite difficult to be productive, in writing or in anything else, when you’re that exhausted.

Film and TV are not careers for people with low energy.  If your personality doesn’t naturally exude the sense that you’re on speed, it’s a really tough business to be in.  It is probably a miracle that I got through the two years of film school with as little collateral damage as I did — one broken bone, one major case of bronchitis, three total emotional breakdowns, and three months of vomiting for unknown reasons that led to my current state as a vegetarian.

I could imagine nothing worse than letting my health dictate what it was I could and could not do with my life.  But sometimes, especially after weeks like this, it’s very difficult to believe that it’s not going to do just that.  Sometimes it’s hard not to go to the dark place and wallow in self-pity.  Hard to remember that this is just my struggle, and, though it’s different for each of us, it’s never easy.  I want to be able to offer advice to others, to make it and say, “See, my health didn’t stop me, and it won’t stop you!”  But all I know is that right now it’s really hard and sometimes fighting to survive in the film business just sucks.

But here is something nice, from a fellow writer at myothercareer.wordpress.com

InkTip: 3 months in, first Script download

My script has been up on InkTip since the beginning of September.  Today, for the first time, it was downloaded.  The logline has come up in someone’s search 94 times, 34 of those hits were from LA Feature Film Academy.

Today someone at LA Feature Film Academy actually downloaded it.  Anyone know anything about them?

Other stats: My resume has been downloaded once, the synopsis three times, the script once.  Interestingly, though one person looked at the synopsis twice, no one’s looked at any two of those, let alone all three.

Lost Weekend

I had a weekend that was no good for writing. I’ve set myself a deadline of end of Thanksgiving holiday for a rewrite of Bible Con and a Polished first draft of Dyke for a Day. I had time to work on it this weekend because all of my editing projects are floating in nebulous waiting for other people to do things. But I didn’t work because my shoulder is messed up. This didn’t make it impossible to write, but it was really uncomfortable to sit in front of my computer or look down. It’s still killing me. Maybe I should start dictating.

Instead, I just watched a lot of Christopher Hitchens. I try to imagine the God/No God debate from the other point of view and find I just cannot. Cannot imagine it. I suppose I am like Hitchens, I never lost my faith, I just realized I didn’t have it. I was eight, I found all my teeth that I’d lost in my mom’s room (why she kept them, I don’t know). And there it was, proof that there was no tooth fairy. And that meant no Easter Bunny, no Santa Claus, and no Jesus.

I am going back to Columbia, SC this weekend. Doing the red-eye Wednesday night/Thursday morning. I’m seriously considering trying to raise money and film my feature in SC. I think it could be done for a modest budget, and I think the idea of a Native Daughter shooting in SC is something that could raise some money. I have a lot of connections there, including with the university. I hold secret hopes that somehow I could tie it into the university and get a lot of young people involved with the production. There aren’t a lot of opportunities in film in South Carolina.

Maybe I’ll get some writing done on the plane. We’re going to not put odds on this.

I started watching Jeeves and Wooster. I highly recommend it.

First Act: Complete

First acts are probably the easiest. And I write short anyway. This one clocks in at exactly 22 pages, written in just over a week. 9 days coming out to over 2 pages a day, though that’s certainly not how it was written. 12 last weekend, 10 this weekend. Nothing like my 15 page a day peek last summer, but then, I have a full time job and several part time gigs.

I am going to polish it up and send it to the manager guy sometime this week. Although it’s a first draft kind of, it’s not really.

I first wrote out the idea as a short film, which I shot 2 summers ago. Then, last summer, I wrote out a 4 page treatment and character profiles. And then, last fall, I did 40 index card outline. And then I hand wrote it the last month. So the typed version is not really a first draft, but it still feels fresh, new and exciting.

Hopefully I can get some feedback before I send it off to more judgmental eyes.

Tomorrow, the editor starts on the show I’m working on. I’m hoping to get to know him at least somewhat.

Sometime this week I need to meet with the actress whose reel I’m working on. She has some notes on it. Unfortunately, for what she’s paying me, I can’t afford to spend much more time on it, so hopefully when we meet this week we’ll be able to put it to bed.

I also need to finish this assembly/rough of the short I got last weekend. I’m about halfway through, but I wanted to be done tonight.

I also wanted to have the pilot for this web series written. I just need to sit down and bang something out, even if it’s crap, to get it off my plate. I’m just having a hard time drumming up enthusiasm for a 3 page script. It’s so little to work with.

The web series that I worked on and was going to post supervise and edit isn’t going to be happening. The deal they were getting was just unmanageable, which is a shame.

I have no idea what I’ll be doing as a job come Nov. 2. I spent the day e-mailing back and forth with my G.G.Aunt Margaret. I’m learning a lot about my family history and it’s all very cool and strange at the same time.

Tonight was the last night of my antibiotics for my weird strep, which the doctor thinks may be the cause of my severe fatigue and dizziness. Thank God, because I’m having to really focus on keeping it down. Nothing like knowing you can’t throw up because you’ll lose your medication.

Obviously I’m still a bit bummed on the Nicholl Snafu but I’m excited that there are possibly going to be phone calls this week. I really should have busted my ass to get a new draft of Bible Con done, but who knows, I may have gotten rid of whatever made it SF material.

And their cock up (sorry, too much Gordon Ramsay) was good in the sense that I broke 200 visitors in a day by posting it. And I discovered a few new screenwriting resources because message boards linked to me and sent traffic my way. DoneDeal and Zoetrope, if anyone is curious. I’ve never been much a part of the online screenwriting community because I know so many writers in the flesh, but it could be a cool avenue.

And if I haven’t said it before, Greg Beal is a class act — he’s everywhere online apologizing, explaining, and taking people’s thoughts into consideration. I’m really impressed with him. Now, if he could get some different people working the phones…

Jack Finlay: Obituary, note from the Film School, and his sister

From the FSU Mailing list:

Am so sorry to have to share with you news about the death of Jack Finlay, who has acted in many, many student films, always ready to help out as an extra or in a major role. His contributions to our films and his happy smile will be missed.

Following is an email I received from his sister, Leslie, with a bit of information beyond the obituary which was run in the Tallahassee Democrat. As you will note in the obituary (url listed below), his family has recommended that memorial donations be made to the Film School. Addresses are also listed if you want to contact his family by mail or email, and there is a guest book on the obituary site.

Meryl

Subject: Death of Jack Finlay

Hi Meryl,
Scott Holstein has suggested that I send to you a copy of Jack’s obituary in case you think it appropriate to include something about his sudden death last Sunday Sep 20th in the film school newsletter.

The medical examiner has declared that Jack died of hypertensive cardiovascular disease. Apparently he had a heart attack, stroke or aneurysm. He had brought his good friend and our cousin, George Wurster, to the film school to audition when he was stricken. Campus police used the resuscitator paddles on him and brought him back. The emts and ambulance took him to the hospital, but Jack didn’t make it. He died at 4:13pm.

Here is the link to the obit in today’s Tallahassee Democrat.

The funeral is Saturday, Oct 3, 2009 at 11am, at Culleys Meadowwood Funeral Home on Riggins Road in Tallahassee.

Thank you!

Leslie Ruth Finlay

RIP Jack Finlay; I am a horrible person

Jack Finlay, a talented actor local to Tallahassee and a big supporter of the FSU Film School passed away yesterday.  More specifically, he collapsed during the Film School’s auditions and was pronounced DOA when he got to the hospital.  That’s all the information I can find.

My first thought was oh God how horrible.  I know that he’s struggled with health issues, but I think he only just turned fifty.  This is his “About Me” on Facebook:

Been through a lot; maybe more than my share. Got through all the “old man” diseases before I turned 50. I plan to live forever … so far, so good….

My second thought was thank God I wasn’t running auditions this year because I would have freaked out.  I am a horrible person.  Can you imagine that happening while you were running casting?  What if you thought it was part of the scene?  *shudder*  If it was in fact in the middle of the audition, it’s definitely on tape somewhere.  Horrifying.

Rest in Peace

Rest in Peace

Advice: How not to Audition; 18 things Actors shouldn’t do

I acted as Casting Director for the Thesis Films my last year of grad school and experienced the scariest audition ever. I would like to share the story, as a warning to other actors. Do not behave like this. Ever.

We called this actress, MKS, like 2 weeks before we landed in LA. She’d sent in her headshot and we’d thought her credentials at least earned her audition, but she never returned our call. When we land in LA, Scott, the casting assistant, has like 2 messages from MKS. Before we can call her back, she calls again.

She says she doesn’t know what the project is because her agent submitted it (even though she submitted through an actor’s site). So I explained what the project was and she said “That sounds dumb.” But she still scheduled an audition. I warned her that we were without internet and didn’t know how long it would be to get her the sides but that it’d probably be tomorrow.

That night, perhaps 3 hours after the initial call, she called again because she hadn’t gotten the sides yet.

During the next day’s auditions, she called like 10 times. In the last message, she said that she was going to have to cancel because she still hadn’t gotten the sides and didn’t think she’d be prepared, which was a shame because she’d be great for the role. Later in the day, Jess, other Casting Assistant, called her and said that we were in auditions and it would be much later that night that we’d be able to get her the sides. She called again to complain sometime that evening. We sent her the sides that night.

The next day, she was about 15 minutes late to her appt. We went to bring her in and she rebuked us, saying she wasn’t ready. She came in a few minutes later, loaded down with enough stuff to build a tent and give a power point presentation inside it. She set her stuff down.

She handed me her portfolio, which is really more of a modeling thing, not an acting one, but I obliged her by opening it, only to see a picture of her totally naked, full bush. I really wasn’t prepared for that. I immediately closed it and refused to pass it to my other casting staff.

Then she hands us three different resumes, one on pink paper. By each film, none of which have I heard of, “Blockbuster box office hit” is written. Other highlights include her age (19) and her skills (cat-fighting). Also, she put a glove on to go through her stuff, I guess to protect her from the paper.

She can’t find her sides, so I end up giving her my copy, which she takes with her instead of returning. She says that she’s uncomfortable doing something with so much “action acting” in it, which is why she brought some monologues she’d like to do. We say she doesn’t need to worry about the miming, just the emotions. She gets up and starts acting. Stops us a few lines in to start over. Second go through she tries to kiss the reader over the table. When she stops us again to tell us she could be so much better at it, I tell her to sit down before the reader’s girlfriend tests those previously advertised cat-fighting skills.

At some point in all of this she tells us that she’s pretty damn good and is perfect for the role. When she finally makes it through once, we say thanks. She tries to read her monologue and we all collectively go no thanks. She then makes sure we all get her business cards which are just pictures of her half naked jumping with her name on them.

After she leaves, we see her walk by once or twice while we’re holding auditions, like she’s pacing in the hallway, and Jess goes and checks to make sure she can’t find her. Tom and I start writing a horror movie about a crazy stalker actor because the other two say I can’t post the video on YouTube and no one will believe how awful she was. After a couple more auditions, Scott goes to get us lunch, an hour and a half passes, and I have to go use the restroom.

I open the door, and she is there, simply standing and waiting. “I need to talk to you.” Serious shades of Fatal Attraction here and I’m freaking out. But, I decide I really have to pee, so I go into the stall. “Do you mind if I talk to you while you’re in there?”

At this point my ability to not be sarcastic has stopped existing.

Me: No. I guess I can hear you.

MKS: It’s just that, I think I could do a lot better if you let me do this monologue. It’s Orin Ishii.

Me: Well, I think we’ve gotten what we need. The director will certainly be able to see whether you’re right for the role.

This exchange goes back and forth in various iterations. I come out of the stall.

MKS: Do you think I’ll get the part?

Me: Well, to be honest, the director is looking for someone a little bit older than you.

MKS: How old?

Me: Mid to late twenties.

MKS: Well, I know on my resume it says I’m 19, but I’m actually 23.

Me: … ok… well, its not about the number, it’s about how old you look.

MKS: But it’s just that I’m actually 23… let me show you my driver’s license.

Me: I don’t need to see your driver’s license. It’s about how old you look.

She starts going through her many bags.

MKS: Also, I’m sorry for how I look, I just started taking Accutane and it makes your skin break out before it gets better.

She rambles on. I am getting anxious and want to leave. She shoves the license in my face. I take it.

Me: Great. I’ve gotta get back to the auditions.

I hand her the license and start to leave. There are a couple of actors waiting, because I’ve been in the bathroom for like 10 minutes at this point. She comes up behind me.

MKS: Well, if he doesn’t cast me because of my age, that’s stupid. Because I am this character. I am just like her and I am great actress.

With that she leaves.

Lessons Learned:

1. Call casting people back faster than two or three weeks later
2. Don’t lie
3. Don’t call the project stupid
4. Don’t call people 15 times in one day
5. Don’t threaten the casting people
6. Don’t be late to an Audition
7. Be prepared for your Audition; don’t take 10 minutes into the audition to be settled
8. Don’t hand the Casting Director naked photos
9. Don’t print your resume on pink paper
10. Don’t have three different resumes
11. Don’t restart; if you want to do it over, ask at the end
12. Don’t try to physically touch the other reader; don’t try to kiss them
13. Don’t tell people how great you are, they won’t believe you
14. Don’t hang out outside the room after your audition is over
15. Don’t stalk the Casting Director in the bathroom
16. Don’t stalk anyone in the bathroom
17. Don’t talk to people while they’re peeing
18. Don’t lie on your resume

Sick, Job Worries

Ugh.  I partially hope it’s swine flu.  But not really.  I’m just woozy, it’s my main symptom.

There are some cool things in the works career wise, including a web series that I may be able to edit/color correct the entire series and be paid.  I might even get to DP, which would be exciting, I miss DPing.  But, the contracts are in negotiation, so I don’t wanna jinx it by saying too much.  The people are really cool and I’m hoping to get their input on my Nicholl script at some point, probably after the next draft.

Max Adams, the girl who is one of the more famous (and cutest) Nicholl winners and who, weirdly, shares a name with a guy I went to Film School with and who holds the record for worst punishment ever at West Point, is also on Word Press.  I hold secret hopes that this post is about me, though I’m sure it probably isn’t.

There’s some mild chaos at work in my department, I’m hoping it gets resolved in a way that doesn’t lead to me losing my job.  I’d much rather leave for a better job than desperately search for any job that’ll have me.  If you got here because I sent you my resume, hi and welcome!

I’ve gotten nothing but sleeping and lazing about done in the last few days.  I’ve been watching an unbelievable amount of movies and documentaries about Tudor England.  I’d be hard pressed to explain my obsession but I’ll go ahead and blame the fact that I thought I looked like Queen Elizabeth as a child.

swine flu

The Bio

I’m not really sure how people make a blog a destination site.  I guess it’s got to be insightful about the process or something.  Like, writing about work.

I guess I’ll just go for the light introduction.  I got an MFA from FSU in Film Production in 2008.  Before that, I started working on films in Atlanta as an undergrad at Emory University.  The first film I worked on I volunteered for a professor and soon-to-be thesis adviser known as Evan Lieberman.  He’s now in some Yankee state making movies and professing.

Read the rest of this entry

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