Monday, April 6, 2015

NEW_MUSIC / Niamson

Need some fresh new hip hop music in your life? Then I give you Niamson, straight from the BX, the Boogie Down Bronx. Like many kids who grew up being musicheads, Niamson and his friends would use instrumentals and a tape recorder and make music. Whatever it takes, you know? Can’t ever stop some kids with talent and desire.

Niamson is talented enough to have caught the attention of Dame Grease (whom you know from producing tracks for Diddy, Fath Evans, DMX and the Ruff Ryders and more), who gave him an internship. Niamson feels he learned so much from Dame, but especially core basics on how to put music together, format tracks and build records.

The first track I want you to check out is More Than a Little [feat. Danny Light]. The song has Niamson wittily telling a story of love at first sight over a sample of Michael Jackson’s I Can’t Help It. Here it is:

But don’t start thinking that’s all Niamson can do. Being a huge fan of music, he appreciates all genres and doesn’t feel it’s necessary to limit himself to one drama. Check out another track of his, Queen of Hearts [feat. Tony Wink & T.R.U.T.H.].

See what I’m talking about? Niamson compares his songs to watching a film. He’s got a beginning, middle and end and always focuses on the story. Personally, I think he’s going places. Make sure to check out more tracks on his soundcloud!

[© MMXV MD TOTAL all rights reserved.]

Monday, December 2, 2013


UPDATED 12/12/13: MNEK has been nominated for a GRAMMY AWARD for the song "Need U (100%)", recorded by Duke Dumont ft. A*M*E* and MNEK! Things are clearly looking up for MNEK!

In the middle of a particularly brutal heat wave this past summer, someone tweeted saying they had heard a cover of Janet’s “That’s The Way Love Goes,” at a spin class by a male artist and stated it was incredible and he needed to find the recording. I figured he should’ve asked the spin teacher, but I’m glad he didn’t because I knew immediately that I needed to hear this cover and I also knew immediately that I was going to love it. I happened to see the reply with the answer and I jumped on over to Soundcloud and I discovered I was right! The cover is amazing.

The artist is MNEK [full name Uzoechi Osisioma Emenike; pronounced M.N.E.K., not M-neck], a 19 year old British/Nigerian singer/songwriter/producer/remixer from South London. You know how everybody’s got to have nine jobs in 2013. Luckily for us, MNEK is awesome at all of his. I spent the next hour listening to other stuff on his Soundcloud page – there are so many wonderful things going on in his music.

The tracks have a definite 90s R&B/house/chill vibe, but they also sound modern as fuck. That 90s feel is less “remember when,” than it is “this is where I come from, but we’re here in the present.” And then there’s his voice! His. Voice. This man is sangin. And he’s not the usual clich├ęd tenor that rides above pop tracks, his is a full, soulful baritone. His voice is a refreshing change that completely surrounds you, lifts you up and gently sets you back in time for you to keep dancing.

Right now, he’s got a track with Gorgon City, “Ready For Your Love,” that’s burning up airwaves over in England, and is sure to get into the hands of DJs here in the states soon. Check out both the original and the refix, they’re worth it.

He’s got an album coming soon, with a single next year. In fact, MNEK just released a mixtape, "Mixtape, Vernacular", giving an overview of some of his influences and snippets from new tracks. Seems like MNEK is about to make the big leap. OH and before I forget – he’s covered Jennifer Lopez’ “Waiting for Tonight." Jeez Louise. This track is one of a few JLo songs I legitimately love, so it’s crazy that I dig this cover so much. Check it!

[© MMXIII MD TOTAL all rights reserved]

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Simplicity and Truth.

Recently, I had the honor of going to a screening of a feature I performed in at a film festival here in LA. We shot this movie over two years ago, so I was not only was I keen on finally seeing it, it would be good to see the cast and crew again. Plus, the festival took place at a movie theater where I used to work! Seeing myself on screen at the theater I used to work was as awesome as it was trippy.

Now I could go further into what it was like to sit in a movie theater I worked at and sat in a million times, but I want to skip forward to the part that is helpful for everybody, not just my ego, haha!

We shot this movie two and a half years ago on the Canon 5D. I had never shot a big project [yes it was a low budget indie, but far bigger than a short or a web series] on a DSLR, so I didn’t know what it would look like on a big screen. I was skeptical. But for no reason – the picture looked glorious! Nice crisp colors, great usage of depth of field. It’s a testament to our DP and the way our DP and director communicated with each other. And this was on a 5D, two years ago – things will just keep looking better.

In the time since we shot this project, I’ve grown a lot as an actor. Partially because of having shot this project, you know? I am definitely proud of my performance, but while I was watching it, I was aware that it was me from two years ago. Here’s what it made me grateful for: That I worked my ass off; I didn’t phone it in at all. And that I kept it simple and truthful. Doing your absolute best on set is the only insurance you have about your work standing the test of time. Keeping your performance simple and truthful will insure that nothing gets in the way of the telling of the story. No matter the proficiency of the artist, being truthful always looks good. Truth is what audiences are yearning to see. So when it’s two years down the road and you’re finally seeing it on screen, you can say to yourself, “Self, I know I’ve grown since then and might make different choices today, but I definitely can’t complain about what I was doing then. Everything is in the right place.”

And here’s why that matters for more than just your ego: you will have to sign off on your work later on down the road. No matter how many years after a project was shot, you very well may have to stand in front of some people at a Q & A or in a theater lobby or at a press junket and your job will be to sell the project. And you will not be able to instill any sort of confidence in the buyer if you aren’t proud about your work and positive about the experience.

Who are the buyers? Everyone is a buyer. I don’t just mean film execs and other industry executives – I mean the audience as well. Those are the people who will remember you when your next indie film pops up in their town and your name is the only name on the cast list they recognize at all. And your confidence – or lack thereof – at a Q & A may be the deciding factor of whether they want to see you in something else or not.

The last thing I wanted to mention is a story I’m only including to highlight how important it is to be a collaborator on set. Film, TV and theater are all collaborative arts. We’re all depending on each other to bring our collective best to the table to have the story told as well as possible. There was one scene in this movie where our director wanted us all to improv. He didn’t want us to come up with entirely new dialogue or take the scene to a new place, he wanted us to come up with ad libbed reactions to the things characters were saying. Awesome. Except for one actor. This actor was in two scenes in the movie and for some reason wasn’t into my ad libs or me. In this scene, said actor had two lines and in the second scene had none. Two lines might not sound like a lot, but it’s definitely more than enough to be a presence in the movie that the audience remembers. Hell, I only had six scripted lines in the entire movie and as on screen for 10 minutes!

We started to shoot the scene, and it was great. All of our improv lines were working and were funny and were really helping to sell the relationship between the characters. But on the second take, this actor said their line and then said the line I had improv’d in the first take before I had a chance to say it again. Whaaaaaaat?! I was a little surprised, but not completely. I’ve dealt with this before; I already knew the score. Everyone else kind of looked around at each other like “Did that just happen?”

In this situation you have three choices. You can talk to the actor directly and try to work out the problem. This is the least desirable way to fix a problem because you will be in direct conflict with your scene partner. Two: you could talk to the director. If it’s a big deal, this is definitely the way to go. But if it’s small, then you’re only going to be thought of as the person starting a problem. Even though the other person “shot first.” Three: you can say nothing and move on.

I didn’t say anything; I didn’t complain. I just mentally said “Bring it. You wanna play? Okay. Not only am I am actor, I’m a writer. I can come up with funny reactions to things all day long.” And I did. But get this: on every take, this actor would steal the line I improv’d in the previous take before I could say it, and on every take I came up with something new and funny to say. And that’s how we shot that scene. At one point the star of the movie even glanced over at me and smiled slyly. Yes.

Now here’s what matters. I wasn’t hurt or disappointed or salty. I was just frustrated that someone would bring that kind of energy to set. That kind of energy is the opposite of collaborative and it only serves to help tell the story less well. And you know what? The director might not catch it on set, but when they’re pouring over all the hours of footage it will become loud and clear.

So picture me, sitting at the screening when this scene comes up. One of my ad libbed lines makes it in – and it gets a laugh! Huzzah! The scene finishes and the story moves on and the selfish actor’s lines were cut completely! And in the other scene, that actor had no lines anyway. They were relegated to the background! Now, I know that gloating isn’t a good look so I’ll keep it classy. It just goes to show you that it pays to be collaborative, and people will notice when you’re not. Period.

But for the record: I am Jack's smirking revenge.

So what was it like to see a movie at my old workplace where I dreamed about seeing myself on screen? It was fantastic – I had a visceral reaction. The entire day leading up to the screening felt magical. Every thing was going great until I got out of my car in the parking lot to the theater. All of a sudden I was nervous! Why? I got warm and had to remind myself to breathe. Luckily I was early and had time to sit down and chill out. And then just like that, everything was fine. We watched the movie, and I even got to take part in the Q&A afterwards. It was beyond rewarding to stand in front of a packed theater and see on people’s faces how much they enjoyed it.

And that line-stealing actor? I went up to them in the lobby saying “It’s so good to see you again.” And this actor glared at me and walked away! Ha! So awesome.

[© MD TOTAL MMXIII all rights reserved]

Monday, October 7, 2013

I Turned Into Someone Else

9:30 on Saturday morning in early October and it’s already 85 degrees and steadily climbing. There I am, sitting in my car, which is parked where Wilshire bisects MacArthur Park near downtown. I’m parked directly where the park’s bridge is – the bridge Anthony Kiedis sings about in Under the Bridge. This morning, the park seems nice, it doesn’t look like a place junkies would go to trying to score. Maybe it’s the heat?

I’m there to shoot a scene in a short film. On the corner of Wilshire and Alvarado, I will be dancing – alone – on a busy Saturday morning. And this place is jumping. There are already a hundred pedestrians passing by every couple of minutes. And there’s one problem: for some reason on this morning, I just don’t feel like dancing. It is before 10 on a Saturday morning after a long week, after all. Dancing in ninety-degree sun wasn’t what I was feeling. What I wanted was pancakes and Netflix. As I sit in the car, I remind myself that whatever feeling I feel is always the same feeling the character is feeling – it’s just created by the story.

Once it’s close to my call time, I head on over to the corner where we are to meet. Introductions and hand-shaking and small talk warm me up. Luckily, my scene will be up first.

I’ve brought my headphones to listen to something – anything while we setup and in between takes. The character I’m playing is meant to be dancing to music in his head so there won’t be music playing while I’m dancing. On a busy street corner on a Saturday morning. I had been mentally preparing myself, but you just don’t know how crazy it’s going to be until you do it. Now get this: for the first setup, the camera will be across the street. I’ll be really alone, like alone for real. This was gonna be a straight up situation.

All of a sudden I felt like a prostitute working the track.

My director calls action on the first take and I start dancing. The energy on the corner changes immediately. The people walking by are affected by my dancing. And I get it; it’s weird. There’s some dude dancing to no music like it ain’t no thing. I had thought people would be “over it,” but no. This is not normal. Some people stop and stare, a few even take pictures with their phone. And I just had to keep dancing. I felt a strange mix of armor and freedom. Once they’ve already started to stare, there’s no longer a reason to hide.

After a couple of takes, I loosened up a little. And as soon as I loosened up, people started to interact with me, even getting in my face. Now I’ve performed in a lot of plays and musicals, sung in choruses and played in orchestras – I’m no stranger to live performance. But I realized then and there how protected you are in a theater. Even if the theater is so intimate that you can lean over and unwrap an audience member’s piece of candy you are still protected. No one is going to hop up on stage.

Having people getting in my face was even more liberating. People we making faces at me and smiling, no one was sending me anger or hate – they were clearly having such a fun moment that they had to let me know. It almost felt as if people felt a need to show me that they, too, were full of love.

My adrenaline was going through the roof.

We moved on to close-ups and coverage and my brain was starting to get tired. It’s funny, when dancing to music your body gets tired, but when dancing without music your brain gets fatigued having to make everything up – you’re not being led by the beat. And as soon as my brain got tired, we were done.

As I drove home, I felt as if had just learned so much about myself. About armor and freedom. That what protects you from the judgment – even if the judgment is only coming from yourself – the armor is hidden inside the expression of what you’re doing. The lack of barriers or boundaries becomes the armor and you just let go. I left feeling completely different than the person who drove there that morning. I left feeling like I turned into someone else.

And I'm not looking back.

[© MMXIII MD TOTAL all rights reserved]

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Bonnie the Great!

I first found out about Bonnie Gillespie a few years ago when she was a judge at a monologue slam put on by my alma mater. I was dying to know what working casting director had time to come judge our event. I remember thinking “How on earth am I going to find out more about her?” So I googled her and found the treasure trove that it The Actor’s Voice. Holy Shit. If you don’t know - The Actor’s Voice is a column Bonnie writes for Showfax that breaks down the business side of things for actors. I mean, she breaks it all the way down. To the ground, y’all. It’s that serious.

For the next few days, I went into a worm hole of reading her earlier articles and was blown away. About a week later I looked at showbiz differently than I ever had before – and I’ve never looked back.

Before long, I bought the 3rd edition of her book, Self Management for Actors. It is a bible for all actors, whether you have an agent/manager or not. Not only is it filled to the brim with excellent advice and quotes from industry professionals but it also lays out advice on specific subjects such as character type, headshots, mailings, how to get on the radar of casting directors, and even what clothes to wear [and not wear!] to auditions. It also talks about specific things to do to – like making a show bible. What it does is help actors who are willing to do the work develop a business plan so they won’t remain stagnant and jump to the next tier.

This kind of information completely clears the mystery that surrounds the business of acting and reminds us that we have so much more power than we think we have and that we are in control of much more than we thought we were. The book is so good that acting schools put it on their reading lists. Schools even hire Bonnie to come to their city and do workshops live and in person. Hell, even Team Tom Cruise has SMFA on their list of acting resources on his website – and it’s the only book on the business they put on that list.

Before I had the book, I had thought I was ready to perform in films and on television, even though I hadn’t performed in a while. Hahaha. With the help of her writing [and serious self-reflection], I realized not only was I not ready to perform at that level, but I wasn’t really even ready to have an agent. So I spent a year doing plays, web series and small showcases. And you know what? Thank god I did! I was able to make strong choices and fail in the safe space of rehearsal, not in an audition room. Or worse – on set. That would not be the best way to be remembered by industry professionals. Instead, I was able to re-acquaint myself with my technique. All the while, I was getting stronger as a businessperson to make sure my tools were in place and that I was ready when the opportunities came. To quote the ever-prolific Jay-Z, “I’m not a businessman; I’m a business, man!

And when I did finally get repped, you know what happened? I signed with an agent I was excited to work with, and who was excited to work with me. We understood each other; we had flow. And did I book? I booked the second audition she sent me on, and it was for a guest star role on a hit sitcom. I can honestly say I wouldn’t have booked that [and many roles after] had I not spent/still spend time with Bonnie’s wisdom.

Before you get your credit card out, don’t buy the book just yet. Bonnie is busy writing the fourth edition right this second. YES. And she needs your help. For the book to be in print – and we want it in print, to be able to highlight passages and write notes in the margins – she’s set up an indiegogo campaign to pay for the publishing of the book! As of right now, it’s a third of the way to its goal. Your donation would be instrumental in keeping this book in print and up to date with the current realities of showbiz.

The best part? The perks! Any donation $25 and over includes a hard copy of the book itself, which btw, is cheaper than the third edition cost on Amazon! Seriously. Check out the perks, you won’t be sorry. In fact, maybe you’ll be so happy that one day in the future you’ll be standing on a stage, holding a shiny award and you’ll feel the need to thank Bonnie for all her awesome advice!

Crazier things have happened…

[© MMXIII MD TOTAL all rights reserved.]

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Carmen Carrera. Showgirl.

I have loved the work of Steven Meisel ever since I realized I loved fashion photography. Back in the 90s, he used to shoot for US magazine – this was before it became the tabloid it is today. Back then, US could be counted on for legit interviews and the cover story was often shot beautifully by Meisel. Really, they even published a whole book about it. I remember feeling like he had a way with his subjects that made them more comfortable than they seemed to be in other sessions. His pictures were just more revealing. You felt as if you were actually getting to know the person in the picture, even though you were aware they were telling a story.

You’ve probably seen a lot of his work. Especially with Madonna. This early pic of her is famous, and the most interesting part of it is not how scandalous this was back in the 80s, but the look in her eye.

But the pic that first made me want to remember his name was from another Madonna session many people haven’t even seen. Again, it’s the look in her eyes. You instantly feel insanely close, even though you know they’re just telling a story.

The pic itself is a tip of the hat to Marilyn Monroe’s final photo session. This pic of Madonna manages to capture the Marilyn session, the sadness we feel about that, and also feel completely new and exciting.

So when I heard that Meisel was working with Carmen Carrera – the former Rupaul’s Drag Race contestant-turned-trans Burlesque performer, I knew I had to look out for it. Luckily, Meisel and Carrera would be shooting for W magazine, which is known for having the best photography in the fashion magazine world. Unless you said Vogue, then no could argue with that. But no one could say Vogue’s photography is better, either. But I digress. On Drag Race, Carrera was astonishingly beautiful – traffic stopping, walking into walls beautiful. She wasn’t the best contestant, but her look was always on point. The house down.

Before y'all call me crazy, I'm not comparing Carrera with Madonna. Come on. It just happens that my favorite Meisel pics happen to be of Madonna. Got it? Anyway... Meisel perfectly captures Carrera’s beauty, and puts her in the setting she deserves. In the pic above, what Carerra is wearing is the main attraction - all fuzzy and futuristic. But when you zero in on the look on her face, you notice how hopeful she looks. Where is her purse? I guess if all you needed was a cell phone and a cup of coffee then you'd be all carefree too. especially when you know that your coat will be in fashion when we finally start going to Mars. But what kills this pic is the fact that you get a sense of her personality, and all she's doing is walking with a coffee.

Anyway, Meisel and Carrera clearly had a blast shooting their spread for W, and we even get a [very] short film from the shoot! It's gorgeous bubbly fantasy romp or burlesque. You know me.

Enjoy yourself.

All photos © Steven Meisel. This is just a celebration of his work!

[© MMXIII MD TOTAL all rights reserved.]

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

For what it’s worth.

It’s been over a week since the VMAs, so I know the entire internet has moved on so far they’re already halfway to Saturn by now, but I just had to write this. And it is, of course, about MILEY. Depending on what you think of her [and none of us – no matter what we thought of her – think the same of her after that performance] you either heard angels sing or hellish screams when you read her name.

Just about every thing has been said about her performance: people called it crappy, racist, sloppy and embarrassing. For the record I thought it was entertaining and problematic. It did seem to use the big boned black women as accessories to her “deviance,” which is something to think about. But it could also be argued that Miley was celebrating big boned black ladies in an arena where they have never been celebrated, at least not sexually. I don’t know which was the intention, so I kinda feel this is one of those times where we just have to be aware of both possibilities and the social ramifications of both.

And twerking… There was a lot of talk about how the idea of Miley twerking was racist. Ummmm, what? How is Miley twerking more racist than saying that twerking is only for black people? Or how is Miley twerking more racist than the idea that twerking is an expression of black culture? I even got into some conversations with people who demand that we think twerking comes from traditional African dance. Again: ummmmmm, what? Twerking comes from strip clubs. I mean, does the story go “one night, between lines of blow, a stripper got the idea to bring traditional African dance into her routine on the pole.” No. It does not. Some stripper somewhere decided she needed something to help get more dollar bills thrown at her so she decided to shake it a little bit extra as she slid down the pole, or as she slid into a split and humped the floor, or as she did a handstand and shook it while she was upside down. It’s a pretty easy to understand that it’s the natural-if-exceptionally-creative choice one would make when you are limited to an idea of shaking it to begin with. And yes, the result looks similar to some traditional African dances, but that does not make it the same, nor does it mean that’s where it came from. Kinda like how white gold, silver and platinum all look the same, but they’re not.

None of all that was surprising to me at all. I could not believe three things – the first was the idea that her performance was sloppy. That’s what Miley wanted the performance to look like, and they all performed it perfectly. It is extremely difficult to make things look bad, everyone – no matter of their ability – has a natural tendency to try to make things look good. But with her performance, and that tongue, every single move, expression and reaction was performed perfectly and with absolute perfect timing. I’ve been calling it “Miley’s DGAF Ratchet Realness,” and on that scale, that shit was hilarious and awesome and most importantly, fun. But I have to admit, I don’t have a problem with sex, nor do I have a problem with an adult woman expressing her sexuality – it’s hers to express, after all – so these things don’t tend to bother me. And that tongue, my god that tongue, really sells the whole idea well.

The second aspect of the audience’s reaction that surprised me was that people seemed to forget what it’s like to be 20 years old! He performance might as well have been called “MTV’s Spring Break!” Because that’s exactly what their Spring Break show used to look like. Actually, you’d have to tame their Spring Break show to get it to look as relatable as Miley’s performance. People were shocked, shocked that Hannah Montana was acting this way. They could not believe it. And they also couldn’t remember when Miley first performed her hit “Party in the USA,” at an awards show back in 2009 on a stripper pole. She was sixteen. And there was an uproar then! People were shocked, shocked that Hannah Montana was acting this way! As a sidenote, at that performance she didn’t use the stripper pole the way strippers pole dance. The way she was dancing on it had an innocence that brought to mind the playground, not the strip club. She looked like a kid swinging on the poles that support the monkey bars, which we all did. But get this… since she was sixteen, she also looked too old to be playing around on the playground, which immediately brought sexuality into the mix, however innocent the choreography looked. Talk about blurred lines.

The other thing no one talked about that surprised me was the lyrical content of her song. “We Can’t Stop,” is a song about expression, about being who you are no matter what people say about you. One lyric says “Remember only God can judge ya, forget the haters, ‘cause somebody loves ya…” Why, when the entire country was judging a musical performance, did no one examine the lyrics? When I think of the lyrical content and ask myself “what would be the strongest choice to express the lyrics,” I think the strongest choice would be to perform something that the audience would have the easiest time making a strong negative judgment about. We all know she definitely did that, that’s for sure. And when I think of it that way, for me, it becomes art.

As for commerce… You have to give it to the girl. While everyone was talking trash about her, the week after the VMAs gave Miley Cyrus more twitter followers, more facebook likes, the single she performed had major sales gains, her album pre-sales had major sales gains, her music video for that song was the most watched video on Vevo that week and is the most watched video on Vevo today. Interesting, huh? It seems that it’s best to not worry what the people are saying, just put a value on engagement. Or as the old adage goes, “No publicity is bad publicity.”

I'm pretty sure that's the definition of "Ratchet Realness."

[© MMXIII MD TOTAL all rights reserved.]