Los Angeles, Wild Card

All in a Day’s Work

I opened my Facebook account to find that I had a new message waiting for me. It was from Anayo, one of the guys I had met working on set a few weeks ago. He had told me about a project that he was going to be directing, so I wasn’t entirely surprised when I read his note: “how is your schedule looking like tomorrow? would you like to help me out during my auditions and help coordinate my actors coming in?”

Continue reading “All in a Day’s Work”

Los Angeles, Wild Card

Stars and Seagulls

Are you an actress?

I have been asked this question at least two dozen times since my arrival in Los Angeles. I have answered in a variety of ways, from a flat “No” to hemming and hawing about my experience in theater.

But I’ve learned that it is just best to say: “Yes, I am.”

Continue reading “Stars and Seagulls”

Los Angeles, Wild Card

Who Wants to be on a Game Show?

We walked into a room from the seventies. The walls were covered with neon panels, accented by Christmas lights and hippie-style flower cutouts. For all its cheesiness, though, the room was vibrating with energy. People were being ushered to their seats by a swarm of red-coated assistants. The camera crew was hurrying into place. Several interns, distinguishable by their youth and general fluster, were running back and forth across the stage. Then, as if to complement this picture, a man in a deep purple, velour blazer came out on stage to greet us.

Continue reading “Who Wants to be on a Game Show?”

Los Angeles, Wild Card

Beginning Over Again

“So what did you earn your degree in?”

I always hesitate before answering this question. For the past month, my parents have introduced me as their ‘new college graduate.’ Their friends smile and pay their due diligence by asking me this simple, straightforward question.

Seemingly simple, I should say. I often wish I could respond with “Education” or “Business” or even “Biology”. Those one-word responses have the most obvious correlations to actual careers. Adults know how to respond to those majors; follow-up questions can easily be contrived, like “Oh! What medical school will you be attending in the fall?” or “What company are you going to work for?”

But then, there’s me. Always beginning with a qualifier: “Actually, I studied Biblical Archaeology and English Literature. And I also squeezed in a minor in International Relations.”

Total garble.

Not only is it a mouthful, but it is also nearly impossible to respond to. A furrowed brow and a slight frown are often all I receive for an endless few seconds. “So, are you going to graduate school?” is one of the better rejoinders. Most of the time, however, I face a more direct, skeptical response:

“What exactly are you going to do with that?”

Here, I have a choice: I can defend my scholastic decisions and elaborate upon the many potential careers of an archaeologist/writer… or I can tell the truth.

“I am moving to Los Angeles and hope to pursue a career in film production.”

Clearly, there are some loose wires fizzling in my brain.

But isn’t that the point? I am a loose wire. I don’t have my future all neatly tied up. I’m crackling and sparking and willing to take on anything that the future sends my way. My parents always told me to pursue my dreams (be careful parents, your kids might actually take your words literally)… and Hollywood is one of them.

The media has always held an allure for me. I have witnessed its dramatic impact on American culture, as well as the perceptions and stereotypes that Hollywood creates for people abroad. Film is art, and it is art made up of myriad forms of communication. I want to be one of those voices speaking into the media. I want to produce films that tell the truth, to craft shows that attempt to tell a story with depth, stories with meaning. I have no desire to chase glamorous acting roles; I want to be behind the scenes, putting it all together.

Doubtless, the road ahead will be rocky, but the challenge is one I’m very willing to take on. Speaking of the road, though, I have big plans for my move out West. I will be driving out with my good friend and recent film director, Ten. Yes, like the number. Ten has never been out West and I do not enjoy driving for long periods of time, so we are going to stretch out our journey: see the sites, visit old friends… and film a number of short films.

I will be updating my blog regularly from here on out. Check back often for roadtrip videos, travel stories, details of the “job pursuit”, and all things crazy in California. Please keep us in your prayers!

“And so with the sunshine and the great bursts of leaves growing on the trees, just as things grow in fast movies, I had that familiar conviction that life was beginning over again with the summer.”

(F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby)

Books, Wild Card

Hunger Games is Not a Love Story

Somewhere in our hyped up world of pop-culture, somebody decided to compare the insecure fawnings of Twilight characters with the “love-triangle” featured in Suzanne Collins’ best-selling novel The Hunger Games. At first, I was amused by the tweens giggling in line for the new movie’s midnight showing, wearing shirts that read: “I need Peeta like I knead bread”. I was less than thrilled, however, when I returned to my college campus and found that most conversations concerning the Hunger Games centered on Gale’s hotness or the frustrating lack of development in Peeta and Katniss’ relationship. Really? Are love and romance the only themes of value in this movie?

Peeta is not simply the kinder, gentler foil to Gale’s brooding manliness. The question we should be asking is not who should Katniss choose, but what she should choose. You see, Peeta and Gale are not real, embodied characters; instead, they are representations of opposing responses to violence in society.

Katniss lives in an impoverished community, oppressed by an ostentatious group of individuals in the Capitol. While all of the main members of the cast exhibit resentment towards this authority, Peeta and Gale embody contrasting ideologies: idealism and realism.

Peeta is determined to “be himself” and not allow his values to be compromised by the capitol “culture” or “sponsors”. Peeta finds creative ways to fight against injustice, from his small act of beneficial bread-giving to joining forces with the enemy to protect Katniss. Peeta desires peace, and he uses his charisma, eloquence, and steadfast heart to win people to his cause.

I was interested to hear friends complain about how “weak” and “pathetic” Peeta appeared in the movie. The irony, of course, is that Peeta was physically stronger than every other Tribute in the Games. He chose, however, to resist dominating others with his power. He chose flight over fight, disguising himself with paints and hiding away in the woods. Was this cowardly? Or worse— unmanly? Peeta’s idealism often makes him seem foolhardy, but it also shows him to be selfless and self-sacrificing in the face of extreme difficulty.

Gale, while not featured prominently in the movie, still has enough face time to take on a more aggressive, realistic stance. “You know how to hunt. Show them how good you are,” Gale tells Katniss before she leaves for the Games. He encourages her to fight and not to give up. In the books, we witness Gale taking on a leadership role among the rebel forces, focusing his energies on weapons and traps with which to attack the Capitol.

Yet, Gale even admits, “They just want a good show, that’s all they want.” Having children fight one another in the arena is simply another way in which the Capitol gains power by winning at their own game.

The most disturbing violence in the movie is certainly Rue’s death. This child, this picture of innocence, is brutally murdered before our eyes. But why is her death more upsetting than the deaths of Clove or Cato or Foxface? They are all children, and, more importantly, they are all very capable of violence. Was it not Rue who inspired Katniss to drop a hive of trackerjackers on the unsuspecting group below? No one is exempt from the reflexive violence that lies simmering in our human nature. It is a choice we must make: whether to act on this impulse or not.

Ultimately, Katniss must decide how she is going to respond to the tyranny of the Capitol. During the powerful (but rather rushed) climax of the movie, Katniss is faced with the choice of killing Peeta and going home, or finding some other way to “win” the Games. In a moment of inspiration, she uses the poisonous berries to break the Capitol’s dominance. Katniss is willing to sacrifice her own life, if it ends the cycle of violence perpetuated by the Hunger Games.

Gale wants to win. Peeta wants peace. In the end, Katniss chooses to win on her own terms. These are important distinctions, and they have nothing to do with “true love”. So please, let’s stop getting all googly-eyed over the cute boys, and let’s start engaging with some of these powerful issues that this movie brings to light.

Wild Card

Fire and Ice

I’m delving into something a little out of my comfort zone here, so bear with me.

I always sign up for one “fun” class per semester, trying to take full advantage of my liberal arts education here at Wheaton College. The Communications department has been of particular interest to me, both for the variety of interesting classes and the applicability of the skills learned in them. This semester, I chose a class simply called “Gender”. Each week we cover different facets of the ‘gender issue’. We’ve examined the history of gender studies, memorized facts about 23 different groups associated with the Women’s Rights Movement, discussed gender identity and how we are imprinted with certain frameworks as children. We even read the latest breaking news story about the child, Storm, who is being raised ‘genderless’. It is truly fascinating to see how gender penetrates everything from psychology to language to physical behavior.

I’ve tried to keep myself at a distance from this deluge of information. I have no desire to get caught up in the whirlwind of the feminist movement, but I also do not want to be manipulated by the media. After just one month of Gender class, I find myself being more cognizant of the stereotyping and fixed mindsets. The topic of class today was gender in media. At one point,  we were going systematically through the most popular network television shows and listing out how the characters either fulfilled or overcame particular gender roles. For example, we realized that on “Dancing With the Stars” the women were always scantily clad (no matter the body type) and were judged solely on their skills and appearance on the dance floor. Men on the show, however, seemed to be able to get away with two left feet, as long as their personality charmed the audience. An interesting double-standard.

My personal ‘light bulb’ moment, though, came when someone brought up the show “Revenge”. I have been an avid fan of this new show over the past few months and love the strong, female lead character, Emily. “Oh good! She’s breaking gender roles by playing an aggressive female instead of the victim,” I thought. Seconds later, though, another piece fell into place. While the show is driven by Emily’s vendetta against the rich folks in the Hamptons, there are often times when her strategic plan seems to fall apart. Without fail, she turns to males to help her out of sticky situations (Nolan, Jack, her samurai guru). The role of protector and wise authority is continually left to men.

Will I quit watching the show? Of course not! But it is incredibly interesting (and sometimes disconcerting) to filter out the messages that the media infuses into every program.

One issue brought up in our textbook really stayed with me. A study was conducted that attempted to discern the role that the internet played for each gender. It found that men were more likely to use it as an instrument to conduct affairs and get things done. They were more likely to upload videos and send short, succinct messages to their peers. Women, however, used online resources as a tool for building relationships. Women participated more in social networks, online forums, and in the blogosphere. Not only were they more actively engaged with people online, they were also looking for feedback. The author claims they were “actually working out what they thought and wanted to do in the process of blogging or chatting online. In other words, social media were platforms for them to actively construct identities and get response from others” (Wood, 264).

So is that what I’m doing right now? Am I in the process of being whittled down to my true self as my blog-audience critiques my thoughts and travel tales? I suppose to some degree it is true. I’ve considered this blog an outlet, and something of a honing mechanism, for my writing. But, it’s not a diary; I’m not spilling my darkest secrets. I am sharing things that I find interesting, in hopes that others will agree and engage in a particular topic with me. Thus, I hope that I manage to forgo the “active construction of identity” that my textbook attributes to female bloggers. My blog is not me, just a wild tangent of my mind.

I do think this blog post proves some of the gender stereotyping correct, though. The word “succinct” is rarely on the tip of my tongue. I’ll leave that role for the men.

Books, Wild Card

Happy Endings

“Amazon is intent on completely destroying the publishing industry.”

My English professor dropped this bomb at the beginning of our Senior Seminar class last week. Fifteen of us sat doe-eyed around the large table, shifting in our seats uncomfortably as we tried to take in his assertion. We all had one, maybe two or three, books in front of us. Tucked up under the table, our bags and backpacks overflowed with more. In the back of our minds, we knew that technology was slowly edging into the reading market. But were Amazon and other electronic book vendors draining the lifeblood of the publishing industry? My personal guilt over owning a Kindle, which I thought I had permanently suppressed, suddenly bubbled to the surface. I quickly reconciled my conscience by reminding myself that several others in the class were proud parents of e-readers as well.

Owning a Kindle has never, ever changed the way I feel about books. My Kindle is convenient, but the slim screen has never provided me with the same sense of enjoyment as holding a crisp new book between my palms. Books have scents, cover images, margins for notes, pages on which I can underline words that grab my heart. Could anything ever truly replace books?

Amazon thinks so. Some of the statistics my English professor provided us with were astounding. Purely on the business side of things: if a writer enters a typical contract with a publishing company, he is looking at receiving between 10-15% royalty. If this particular writer, however, decides he doesn’t need a hard copy of his book (or an editor or producers or marketers) and simply wants to make his book available on Amazon.com in electronic format, he will automatically get 70% royalty. 70 PERCENT. Apparently, that’s what happens when all the middlemen get axed.

And speaking of the middleman, think of how efficiently Amazon is replacing professional buyers. E-books will never sell out! Of course, this unlimited access to material will undermine the laws of supply and demand. But libraries everywhere are already installing measures to limit the amount of electronic books lent out at a particular time (yes, you’ll still have to get in line when the latest John Grisham hits the shelves).

I feel whiplash from the force with which technology has accosted the literary world. I am shocked/awed/dazed… but not entirely appalled by Amazon’s takeover. Part of me is intrigued to see what sort of side effects this new stage of literary evolution will produce. I am completely at peace with the conveniences that technology has brought about. My bag is always ten pounds lighter, now that my Kindle has replaced my usual load of books. Of course, I will never give up my personal collection. I adore books– the feel, the smell, the memories contained between the covers. I’m a librarian, for goodness sakes!

And so it seems that everything boils down to this: are we, the literary audience, captivated by stories or the books in which they are featured? Is it really all about the “packaging”? I like to think there is something. Something beautiful and salient between the pages. It makes me wonder… did anyone ever regret the loss of the scroll? or of the artfully illuminated manuscript? In all fairness, books are a far cry from their literary predecessors. What makes us so fond of these machine-made and mass-marketed things?

While these questions are interesting to ponder, they are hardly foremost in my mind as I turn the page at the climax of a novel. Maybe it is appropriate to have a preference for “packaging”. But page or screen, codex or scroll, as long as I am completely captivated by the story, I will be content.

Wild Card

Portals, Swords, and Dunkin’ Donuts

As I step out my front door each morning, bracing myself for the cold wind that rises with the sun, I am keenly aware of the winter that is swiftly approaching. I try to memorize the landscape: the sharp green grass, the leaves tie-dyed with the colors of fall. Winter’s blanket will soon obscure it all.

The end of the warm weather brings an annual end to several of my pursuits. Golf season already seems a figment of the past. Our Conference tournament was played over a weekend of glorious sunshine (unfortunately, the sun did not seem to inspire my golf game). But now those hours that our team spent practicing and competing have been left vacated.

And what to fill them with?

I have always felt the lure of the silver screen. Theater productions were a highlight of my high school days. My mother chooses the most embarrassing of times to bring up the fact that I hosted some small television spots on the Golf Channel, but I remember the joy that those moments brought me. So, when I spotted an announcement on a Wheaton bulletin board for Class Film auditions, my heart jumped a little.

While Class Films might not garner any notoriety in the outside world, here at Wheaton they are a pretty big deal. Every year, four films are written, directed, filmed, and edited. They are then presented at “Class Films Night” in late April, at the end of the school year. Edman Chapel is packed with students, eager to witness their friends on the big screen. The movies are roughly 40 minutes long and tend to cater towards Wheaton campus topics and humor. Last year, our class produced the first ever musical—complete with 7 original songs on the soundtrack. It was cute, fun, and the songs were incredibly catchy (think High School Musical). I danced in the background of a few of the musical numbers, but did not try out for any sort of real role in the movie.

I was acquainted with the director of this year’s film and emailed him about senior auditions. He promptly replied to my query and sent me an audition script to look over. The script was different, to say the least. The characters were throwing magical balls of light and discussing portals to distant worlds. My nerdy, sci-fi/fantasy side loved it. Needless to say, I tried out and (after nearly two weeks of intensive auditions) landed the part of Ariel, one of the lead roles in the film.

The intensity of the auditions might have tipped me off to the magnitude of this project. But, to be honest, it was not until I found myself in the gym day after day with a trainer being worked into shape for my role that I realized how serious this film truly was. The commitment of the cast and crew has rubbed off on me quickly; I have completely attached myself to the film. I spend hours in the gym during the week, lifting weights, boxing, practicing my sword skills (oh yes, did I mention I have to wield a sword?). Rehearsals are on Thursday nights with our cast director, Dan. Wednesday nights are production meetings, which I attend and record minutes during. The weekends are for shoots. We are racing the weather at this point, trying to get all the outdoor scenes  filmed before the snow arrives.

This was the last weekend that we knew for sure we would have decent temperatures. So, we set aside all day Saturday and Sunday for our epic ending battle sequence. We recruited ‘extras’ to dress up in battle garb and hosted ‘combat training’ lessons for them to get comfortable with the weaponry.

Saturday morning, I arrived on set at 8 AM. The costuming had been a little behind schedule, so that morning was the first time I donned my full battle gear. I pinned the green garment to my shoulder and across my waist. My tribe’s insignia was painted in gold at the top of my arm. The leather headdress was just plain cool. Belt and boots completed the ensemble, but the best accessory was my sword. It was made of wood, but painted with a metallic sheen to look just like a silver blade. The pommel was green and gold, and the handle was wrapped with bronze. The Lord of the Rings soundtrack began playing in my head as I swung my weapon casually through the air.

While the thrill of the costumes and set never quite wore off, spending two days in full-time warrior mode was rather exhausting. We had choreographed all of the key duels, but there were numerous improvisational fights with extras that took all of my concentration. Unfortunately, my sword took on a life of its own. The crew began to jokingly call it “Lip-Splitter”, after I gave one girl a bloody mouth and then conked a guy on the side of the head. I apologized profusely and made sure that they were taken care of. By the end of the day, however, all of the cast, including extras, walked away with bruises and headaches.

There is some truth to the idea that physical involvement provides a stronger emotional bond, though. As the crew began to pack up for the day, I picked up the “behind-the-scenes” video camera and had fun interviewing the extras still mingling around the set, eating donuts that had been kindly contributed by Dunkin’.

“It was so fun!” the underclassmen gushed.

When asked what the highlight of the day was, the overwhelming majority declared, “Fighting!”

As the day dimmed, the cast and crew began to disperse, displaying their bruises like trophies and their cuts as glorious battle wounds.

470 “takes” in 48 hours. That was the official tally from the weekend. It was an accomplishment in itself, but there is still so much work to be done! And schoolwork to get back to…