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.]

Monday, September 2, 2013

Yesterday My Trader Joe's CLOSED.

Yesterday my Trader Joe’s closed. I can’t believe it, I just can’t believe it. How on earth does a grocery store close? It’s such an integral part of your life in a way you completely take for granted. I’d been shopping at my Trader Joe’s for the past 12 years. It was around the corner from me, and around another corner from a Ralph’s. I would often do the one-two punch. Stop at TJ’s for veggies and meat, then to Ralph’s for toiletries and everything else TJ’s was above carrying. Like individual slices of cake. Or trashy magazines. Or your favorite national brand cereal. But I digress.

Anyway, since I’m a dude – a dude with no kids – I found myself at Trader Ming’s a lot. I mean, it was often several days a week. I always told my friends I shopped like a Frenchman. By only buying enough food so that none of it will go bad, I’d be back at the store in two days. Or less. Besides, there’s no need to plan for the week when your store is around the corner and you can be back in 20 minutes or less. Don’t want the salad you have? Go get pizza dough! You know what I mean. Or I’d find myself wandering the freezer section and stumble upon vegetarian Pad Thai. Or crab cakes. Or arctic char! I don’t know about you, but there would be no way in hell that I’d peruse any section aimlessly if it weren’t so close to home.

By being there all the time, the employees got to know me. I’d be at the check stand with frozen broccoli, mandarin chicken and quinoa and the cashier would say something like “Have you tried cooking the chicken in the oven longer than the directions tell you to?” Of course I hadn’t. “The chicken gets all crispy on the outside and it. is. sublime.” They were looking out for you. I would never have found out that the mahi mahi burgers work extremely well with BBQ sauce and cucumbers. BBQ sauce and cucumbers! Who thinks of that shit?! They did. And they told you because they knew you. They really knew you.

The store is closing because one of those ubiquitous mixed-use projects is being built on the land. You know, s few floors of apartments with retail on the first floor. The first floor will not be a Trader Joe’s, even though that would be a killer idea. This is the second time this has happened in the past year in my neighborhood: tear down a grocery store and add more residents to the area. LA city planning is brilliant! If that wasn’t bad enough, there are at least six of these huge projects being built within a half mile radius of that location – none of which have grocery stores planned. The whole things kind of makes me feel like Meg Ryan at the end of You’ve Got Mail, which is weird because I normally feel like Dave Chappelle in that movie [all aware of what is really going on], which is weird because in She Loves Me I feel like the Tom Hanks character. Ha. But at the end of the movie, Meg Ryan’s character says she’s sad about her store closing. And she knows that some writer will chalk it up to it being a testament to the city, and how it’s always changing and that’s what the city is. But she just doesn’t want her store to become something depressing, like a Jamba Juice or a GAP. If mixed-use projects were being built in the 90s, she would’ve said that. Ho hum.

Also – it deserves to be said that Trader Joe’s is not without its fair share of problems… I mean – they will discontinue an item without any fanfare or warning. And it will be something you buy every time you go grocery shopping! Back in 2006 they discontinued the Milk Chocolate candy bar with Raisins and Pecans. They kept the dark chocolate version, but never brought back the original, better version. I was shocked, shocked that they would neglect me like that. Also around 2006, they tried to discontinue the Mushroom Turnovers but that caused an absolute riot from their customers and they were forced to bring them back. They’ve been back ever since. And let’s not pretend that the checkstand experience is anything close to efficient. It’s so bad that I’m astonished when a cashier has their game on. And the parking! It’s said that no matter what Trader Joe’s you’re at, the parking lot is awful. And it’s true. Unless it’s worse. The funny thing about this TJ’s was that the parking lot was decent. Well… decent for a Trader Joe’s. But it wasn’t lot on us, and we were grateful.

I went to Trader Giotto’s twice this week. As the shelves slowly became empty, they’d take them down completely. It was eery and airy, a taste of what was to come. It eased you in. As I was at the checkstand, the cashier gave me a meaningful look and said “It’s the end of an era.” “We’re going to miss you guys,” I said. “We’re going to miss being here,” she said. “Well, good luck to you,” I said. And she looked me in the eye and she knew I meant it. “Thank you,” she said, returning the feeling.

On the final day my Trader Joe’s was open, I decided to go one last time. I didn’t even need anything. I just wanted to be there. They were giving away hot dogs at the entrance. Hot dogs. It reminded me of being a kid, growing up in the south. My grocery store would have hot dogs and hamburgers on the grill outside every Saturday. I had a hankering for pizza, so I got the fresh pizza dough (which is fantastic) and some toppings. It’s funny, that pizza dough is what made me fall in love with TJ’s in the first place. I knew I could get veggies anywhere, but excellent and fresh pizza dough? Game changer. And that led me into discovering their spaghetti sauces. And then their cheeses. And their dairy. And their bread. And their pre-packaged salads that come with a fork. And the wine, let us not forget the wine.

At the checkstand, the cashier – who has worked at that location for more than eight years – asked me what TJ’s I’d be shopping at from now on. I told him and he said, “Good, I’ll see you around then.” I sighed. As I walked out the door, there was a greeter saying hello and goodbye to everyone entering and leaving. He held his hand out for me to shake. I wasn’t surprised. “It really is the end of an era,” I said. “It really is, he said.” We had real eye contact. There was nothing more that needed to be said; everyone was feeling the change.

Seconds later I was in my car. And just like that, I was gone.

And now, something from the xx to send us on our way... ;)

[© MMXIII MD TOTAL all rights reserved.]