Friday, August 27, 2010

So now what???

A week ago today, I clicked the "Upload" button on my first fan video -- "You Renegade Vamp". These past seven days, I've taken a step back from the project to work on other creative stuff, see friends, look for a job, catch up on errands, lose my cell phone, find my cell phone, recoup from all of the above, and ask myself the big question: "NOW WHAT???"

Putting up the video felt like a big accomplishment. As an artist, so much of your creative and career progress is unquantifiable. There are certain milestones -- booking a role, performing in a play, premiering a film, getting a paycheck, getting a project funded or green lit. But these come rather rarely even for somebody seemingly successful. So much time in between is spent brainstorming, generating, pursuing, asking, and doing all sorts of inane little tasks that feel like they have nothing to do with anything glamorous or passionate or fun. The payoff could be years away or never. We throw out millions of messages in a bottle, never knowing who might find one and how they might respond. This week, I got my response. In fact, I got many -- basically all positive. The YouTube hit counter is up to 263, which is pretty darn good considering I don't yet have an online following, nor the technological know-how to make a video viral. And a few of them could be Buffy actors or maybe even Joss Whedon himself. Who knows?

Once I got the video up, I thought, "This isn't so hard. I can totally do it again!" Looking back, it was a long process that involved many steps. It was daunting, time-consuming, and exhausting, but it all seemed worth it in the end. Now, I'm back to the daunting phase. In actuality, the next one will be easier -- both because the melody is more fleshed out and because I've done the whole process before. Nevertheless, thought of it leaves me weak in the knees. One big blessing about blogging: accountability.

As I mentioned before, the next item on the agenda is my song for Drusilla entitled "Wherefore Art Thou Juliet?" It was inspired by meeting Juliet Landau at the Thrilling Adventure & Supernatural Suspense Hour a couple of months back. Since the next show is September 10, I figure it would be a good deadline for the next release. Tom Lenk is one of the guest stars so there will be many Buffy fans. Maybe Juliet will be there herself. More than anything, it's a good excuse to get my butt in gear. Now for the nuts and bolts...

The biggest and scariest thing on the To-Do List is finding a musician collaborate with. Myke Wilken did an awesome job last round. This time I need a pianist. It's a pretty simple melody with a 50s doo-wop style chord progression and one key change in the middle. If someone has a digital piano with MIDI, I think we could pound it out in one sitting. Since I'm beyond broke, it would need to be somebody who would be willing to donate a few hours of their time (I could return the favor with a home-cooked meal or some awesome vegan cupcakes). I have a couple of people I could ask, but if anybody out there has the ability to help or knows someone who does, please shoot an e-mail or Facebook message my way.

In the meantime, I'll do what Barbara Deutsch calls "throwing your hat over the wall." The idea is that you throw your hat over a high wall, which is sort of a metaphor for your future. You don't know what's on the other side, and you may even be scared to find out, but now that you've thrown your hat, you must find a way to get there in order to retrieve it. In this case, it means finding the perfect Drusilla quote to put on the T-shirt I'll wear in the next video. So the next time I write an entry in this blog, be prepared to see that T-shirt.

Thus, I lay the groundwork for my next song and video to appear. As Kevin Costner says in Field of Dreams, "If you build it, he will come." I doubt W.P. Kinsella could have ever expected his baseball quote to apply to a love song for a psychotically sexy vampiress, but such is the power of manifestation, right?

Saturday, August 21, 2010

The Big Day

I came home to this image late Thursday night. I admit most of it’s my doing, but the little red Post-it -- stuck on by my roommate Larry Leong -- pretty much says it all. That's basically been my reaction to this fan piece every step of the way. RED FLAG! RED FLAG! RED FLAG! inscribed with a big bold WHAT?!

I can't tell you how many times I balked on the idea. Love songs to demons and vampires from a network TV show seven years out of date? What was I thinking? To be honest, I don't know. I told the idea to a couple of people in hopes of getting some validation, which would allow me to make logical sense of the whole scheme. Some snickered. A few nodded quizzically in that "Some people juggle geese"-type of way. Maybe they really were on board. Maybe I was projecting all of my doubts and insecurities onto them. Either way, there was no rationalizing this one. I had to follow my gut.

So there I was Thursday night, scrubbing the chalk marks off my makeshift Buffy T-shirt with Shout Wipes, bleary-eyed from an intense evening of rehearsing and recording, almost too deliriously tired to be nervous about my promised next-day release.

True to my word, immediately following my last blog entry, I picked up my guitar to practice the melody of my song. In that moment, I realized that there was no way I'd ever be able to work out the new chords, let alone play the ones I already had. The not-practicing-for-years had rendered my fingers unable to withstand the steel strings for a sustained period of time, and my chronic repetitive stress injuries (the reason for not practicing to begin with) made my left arm throb beyond belief. So scratch that idea. But now I had to find someone to help me with the music. Would anyone be available on such short notice? And even if they were, could we actually pull it off?

My singer-songwriter friend Myke Wilken valiantly came to the rescue. It worked out well because he had recording equipment in his apartment, which meant we could lay down a guitar track for me to take home and do the video recording separately. (Thank goodness for that because the video was an ordeal in itself! More on that in a bit...) There were several kinks to work out -- getting the timing right on the first verse (which was slightly different than the others), distinguishing the verse accompaniment from the chorus, and the biggest obstacle: the bridge. How could we ever get this done? Where would we even begin? We fumbled; we riffed; we strummed a few chords that shouldn't have touched the song with a 10 foot pole. Myke came up with some wonderful little musical moments which gave the piece more character than I could've imagined. We did indeed come up with a solution for the bridge. (My favorite part is chord he plays on the lyric "blonde," which he learned from his friend but didn’t know the name for. We ended up calling it "H”.) We recorded, recorded, and recorded until we got it right. And six hours later, I had my melody all perfectly packaged in a cute little iPod-friendly file.

I woke up the next day, still slightly tired but giddy with anticipation. After taking a walk (my usual morning ritual), I began the preparations for the video shoot. Anyone who's in film production knows that setting up a shot is far more time-consuming and labor-intensive than the viewer would perceive. And even though this was supposedly a "quick and dirty" operation, a certain amount of prep was necessary in order to get the thing looking and sounding decent. I had to find a place in my apartment where the lighting was good; clear a space to perform, a space to set up a tripod, and enough space to walk between the two; put on some light makeup; and conduct a few test shots for lighting, camera placement, and sound.

From there on out, it was all me taking my mark, pushing play on the iPod, and wailing at the top of my lungs to my neon pink Canon PowerShot, which I imagined to be the sexiest bleach blonde bloodsucker I'd ever seen. The first few takes were all about getting the jitters out, eliminating the extra facial expressions and body movements, and telling the simple truth. Last Monday, I had worked the song in my acting class with James Eckhouse, and he really helped me extract the essence of the story. Once the butterflies settled, the work I'd done with James really started to kick in. After another round of recording, I thought I might have my song. But looking at the playback, I realized it was way too somber and serious. During most of the takes, I didn't even crack a smile! In class, I’d excavated all the layers of the piece -- deep ones, dark ones, angry ones, scary ones. It was a useful exercise, but this was a youtube video. I needed to find the fun. As I'm sure you can see in the final product, a lot of the gritty stuff remains, but there is definitely an element of joy. I kept coming back to the phrase "I want to hate you, but I can't, you renegade vamp." I harbor all this resentment toward him because he is everything I am not supposed to like. But in the end, he melts me. And that, I came to realize, is the essence of the piece.

It's also the essence of my feelings toward the project. I went in fighting myself tooth and nail. I wanted to hate the idea, but I couldn't. And even when I knew I had to follow through, I was consumed by self-doubt. Should I do it? Should I not do it? What if it's too completely ridiculous to comprehend? Well I've got news for you, Karuna -- it IS!!! And you're just going to have to deal. I’ve got to embrace the silly like I embrace the fan girl. This is who I am and how I roll. I've written the thing. I’ve recorded it on video for the world to see. Now, all I have to do is own it.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010


It's 1:43 AM on the morning of my birthday. I type alone at my laptop in my quiet Canoga Park apartment, enjoying the temperate aftermath of an uncomfortably sweltering day, head spinning from good conversation, healthy contemplation, and orgasmically delicious hot chocolate.

Perhaps it's the new-friend-factor, or the birthday-making-you-see-things-bigger filter, or the fact that my delicate constitution reacts to chocolate in the same way other people might react to some ecstatic mind-altering drug. Whatever the case, I feel the interconnectedness of things. The way we interweave and overlap. My world getting cozier and more expansive all at once.

Just a little before 10:30 p.m., I met up with my new friend Mike Kramer at the Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf in Westwood. We met at a barbecue last weekend, and he is easily one of the most fascinating, delightful, inquisitive, affirmative, lovely people I know. He also happens to be one of the writers on Life Unexpected. At this very moment, he's probably packing for his early flight to Vancouver where he'll be spending the week on the set of the show (hanging out with the likes of Emma Caulfield, which I must say makes my inner-fan girl squeal!). We talked about everything from favorite movies, to the highs and lows of creative careers, to those little moments in life that end up wiggling their way into your scripts, which in turn wiggle their way into other people’s lives.

"So I was writing on this show, Rugrats..." one of his stories began. We were standing next to his car, which was parked in front of a hopping hookah bar on Broxton. My face lit up. "I totally grew up on Rugrats!" The theme song jingles in my head as I recall the moment. He told me how one of the episodes was based on a prank he and his brother pulled on his dad when they were kids. I don't remember seeing that particular episode, but was tickled by the knowledge that his childhood experience had poured into an artistic landscape that had infused my childhood experience. We are like spiders throwing out our threads, small creatures weaving wide webs.

I ‘d spent the earlier part of the day bumbling about; eight-legged arachnid climbing up the waterspout. A run out to the craft store for T-shirt painting material; a phone call to arrange a music session; a thread here, a thread there. Here I am in my own little world, freaking out about my fan piece, which at this point is nothing more than an abstract idea. The end product feels a million miles away. My fans-to-be are still figments of my imagination. And James Marsters himself has no idea I even exist.

But somewhere he is out there, sleeping or awake, soon to celebrate a birthday of his own. We share an astrological sign, and that's probably the tip of the iceberg. Innumerable invisible commonalities underscore our existences and have the power to connect us, if only we cast our threads. Bleary-eyed, sleep deprived, and myopic from staring too long and hard at vampire love song lyrics, I cannot clearly see the web. But slowly and surely, I weave.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Joss Whedon Fan Piece Release -- FOUR DAYS AND COUNTING!!!

Monday List of Things to Do:

-Take car to mechanic

-Complete online job application

-Work on scene for acting class

-Write blog entry

-Prep for Joss Whedon fan piece release -- FOUR DAYS AND COUNTING!!!

Okay, back up. What the heck was that last thing? Why such a speedy release date? And what, in the name of everything holy, possessed me to come up with such a crazy idea to begin with???

The plan was born in its first pre-incarnation over a lunch conversation at Aroma CafĂ© with my dear friend, novelist Robert LeMoyne. We are both huge Joss Whedon fans, and consequently find ourselves geeking out about all things Whedon -- especially Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I forget where this particular conversation started; probably a combination of me trying to figure out how to get on Joss’ radar and freaking out about running out of Buffy episodes, which I was completely hooked on. However it happened, the end result was a short film script called Jonesing for Joss. The story was about a fan girl who is in massive withdrawal after having exhausted her Joss Whedon supply. She goes on a quest to hunt down the man himself, only to find that he’s turned into a straight-talking, rifle-toting tollbooth collector redneck who had been brainwashed to quit writing by jealous Hollywood filmmakers who see his talent as a threat. It was cute, campy, chock-full of references that got funnier and more complex the geekier you happened to be. Alas, the story was not destined for release. Along with having plot holes and being too thematically similar to my previous short film, Lifeline, it required casting a huge number of leading actors from Joss Whedon TV shows, which was a little overambitious to say the least. So there went that idea.

It was not my intention to create another Joss Whedon fan piece. Jonesing for Joss was simply one of many movie ideas. I was a filmmaker, not a fan girl, or so I thought. Then, I met Juliet Landau (see previous entry for details) and all of that changed. The memory of meeting her spun round and round in my head. Again, it resurfaced while watching singer-songwriter Mikey de Lara perform a set at a show produced by my friend Aidan Park. Listening to Mikey’s songs, I was struck by a glimmer of inspiration. It wasn't anything concrete or complete. It wasn't even music -- just the words "Ode to Juliet Landau. Ode to Juliet Landau." What did it mean? I hadn't the slightest.

Gradually, an idea emerged. Love songs to all of the Buffy super villains! I could write them, perform them on video, and release them to the public. No big film production involved, no hustling for budget dollars, no waiting on stars I probably couldn't get. Just me, possibly a guitar, and my point-and-shoot digital video camera. All I had to do was get them on paper.

The Spike and Drusilla songs came to me hand-in-hand. Drusilla's song was a slightly fictionalized account of my meeting with Juliet Landau, done in the style of a 1950s doo-wop melody, titled "Wherefore Art Thou Juliet?" (I was a Shakespeare geek years before I discovered Joss Whedon.) For Spike, I wrote a bluesy rock tune titled "You Renegade Vamp."

Shortly after writing the songs, I google stalked James Marsters and found out that his birthday was August 20 (2 days after mine!). Right then and there, I knew what I had to do: record his song first, upload it to the web, and put the link up on his fan site on his birthday. This might give me a few extra hits, but more importantly it would give me a deadline. I come from Japanese and Jewish blood so needless to say I have a bit of a perfectionist complex. But as Barbara Deutsch wisely put it, "It doesn't need to be perfect. It just needs to be done." Sounded simple enough at the time -- get it out there, quick and dirty, no fear, no looking back.

I tremble as I write these words. If writing music, playing guitar, singing [in the absence of a karaoke machine], and blogging about it to the entire universe isn’t scary enough, on top of that I'm supposed to NOT BE PERFECT?!!! Okay, here goes. Off I go to strum some uncomfortably imperfect guitar chords.

Friday, August 13, 2010

You're a fan girl, right?

"You're a fan girl, right?" Doan asked me at the beginning of our Comic-Con swag photo shoot. "Yeah..." I answered cautiously. After giving it a moment's thought, the irony hit me. Here I was, surrounded by superhero movie T-shirts, comic book tote bags, convention badges, and heap loads of random geeky paraphernalia -- all of which I would model and showcase before the day was through. I'll be jiggered if the situation didn't scream fan girl. So why the stammer?

I was only recently acquainted with the term "fan girl", and have had mixed feelings about how it relates to me. I remember very vividly the first time anyone ever called me one. I was standing in line with my friend Robert LeMoyne, trying to get tickets to the sold-out Thrilling Adventure Hour, which happened to be guest-starring Nathan Fillion. So there we were, waiting, when out of the corner of my eye I spotted Juliet Landau, who happens to be hands down my favorite actress on Buffy. I did my best to keep my composure while introducing myself to her, shaking her hand, and snapping a quick photo. But once I returned to my spot in line, I could barely contain myself. By the time my friend Jonathan Reilly, who was photographing the event, came around to say hello, it was all I could do not to hyperventilate- swoon-squeal as I showed him the picture of me and Juliet on my point-and-shoot digital camera. "Aaaww, you're a fan girl!" he said. My first thought was, "Am I really?" (Looking back, I feel like one of those people who decorated her room with rainbows, listened incessantly to the Indigo Girls and Ani Difranco, had no interest in dating guys, and finally one day realized "Holy crap -- I'm gay!" And all of her friends were like "Well duuuuhhh!!! But I diverge.)

So I'm a fan girl. I admit it. What's the big ish? I initially shied away from the fan girl label because to me, it meant being identified solely on the basis of how you related to other people and other people's work. As an actress, filmmaker, writer, and creator, I had always made a point of defining my identity based on my own art. If I approached the people I admired as a fan girl, would they then neglect to see me as an artist in and of my own? And more importantly, would I lose my self-identity as such?

This is a question that extends beyond the world of Joss Whedon geekdom. Living in Los Angeles for a year now, I have had the opportunity to meet and work with people in the entertainment industry whose work I have lovingly followed for years. Maybe it's the newness of the town or maybe it's just my nature, but when I meet somebody who amazes me I get starstruck. Giddy. Weak in the knees. If I'm lucky, something witty, articulate, and poignantly apropos might float from my lips. But then again, I might just stand there stumbling and stuttering like a big buffoon. As a result, my immediate instinct is to repress all of that. Don't tell them how you feel. Don't let them know how much they mean to you. Don't even let on that you know who they are.

I brought up the issue one day in a life-coaching workshop with the incredible Barbara Deutsch. Her advice was simple: "TELL THE TRUTH!" And she was right. I can be a fan AND an artist. I can even be a fan and an equal. And if someone has inspired me; influenced the art I create and the decisions I make; if I truly, deeply appreciate them from the bottom of my heart, why not say so?

I love you to pieces. I have been watching your work since the birth of the time-space continuum. I am totally in awe of what you do. I want to be just like you when I grow up. I AM YOUR BIGGEST F*#@ING FAN!!!