Life Hacking: Mr.Robot

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In the bustling industry of film and television there exists an endless series of meetings, mixers, and other networking events that seem like a never ending game of ring-around-the-rosie.

Should I take BG work on Tuesday or should I go to a networking event? I think this time I’ll pass up Waldron's email for work on a pilot as an East Village pedestrian. I need to try and meet people that can help make my next film happen. A writer and director who isn’t writing or directing is a pretty miserable creature, which means I have two choices: get to work or perish. 

Unfortunately, not every day feels like a “Go get ‘em!” kind of day. That's why I occasionally send myself reassuring text messages and write notes to myself. Above my closet mirror, I taped a postcard of a painting that hangs in the Musée  d’Orsay.

On it, I wrote with a Sharpie:

 

Pretend you’re good at it.

 

I need to encourage myself. If I don’t I’d probably spend most days hiding from the world underneath my blankets (and I have a lot of blankets) and only venture outside to go to The Strand bookshop once a week because The Strand is like my version of church and I don’t want to mess with the book gods. Just imagine if deceased writers like Oscar Wilde and David Foster Wallace became furies in their afterlife and the reason why so many of us have at least half-a-dozen existential crises before the age of thirty is because Jean-Paul Sartre and Simon de Beauvoir are having a bad day?

Hey! Stop giving me an existential crisis Jean-Paul!

My crisis this week isn’t so special (Can I do anything right? I’m not even good at having crises). It’s just your basic wake-up-in-the-morning-feeling-like-a-failure bullshit.

I was feeling like this when I was on the set of Mr.Robot. The difference was that on Mr. Robot, I was supposed to. I portrayed a down-and-out, nine-to-five kind of fatigued figure in a crowd. I made it into the shot, getting a sad look from Rami Malek (how beautiful is he?) as he goes on one of his internal monologues about hmm, let me guess? The hypocrisy of the world and how we are all just microchips in the greedy money machine.

 Mr.Robot Season 3, Episode 1

Mr.Robot Season 3, Episode 1

That was an overnight shoot that we began as soon as the sun went down so it actually felt like the daily grind. The dirty, dingy, dehumanizing grind. We shot two scenes that night. The first scene involved me dressed as a somewhat homeless, homeless person. Don’t ask me what that means exactly, you know you’ve seen those folks sitting in a cardboard box and watching videos on their iPhones. I didn’t have an iPhone but I did have an old chair and some unshelled peanuts. In the scene, a peanut went in and the shell got spit out. Every take, yum peanut, gross shell, ptooey. I think I almost hit Rami once as he walked by. It was good preparation for being a miserable New Yorker in the masses of other miserable New Yorkers.

And, as always, my mind starting running ahead of me and it got me thinking about what we do when we feel like we are lost in a sea of people. How do we keep ourselves motivated? How do we survive the rat race?

 

Is there a way I could hack my life?

 

Life Hack (noun) Any trick, shortcut, skill, or novelty method that increases productivity or efficiency, in all walks of life.

Thanks Wikipedia.

 

Now, I’m not talking about life hacks like turning tennis balls into key hooks. I’m talking about how to go through this one life we’ve got, not feeling like a total fucking asshole loser. I’m talking about how making what you want to do what you actually do.

Sure, I’ve had the occasional “I want to go to Ireland, I’m gonna buy a plane ticket in the middle of the night!” moment. I can get behind Shia LaBeouf, I get it, BUT, and there’s always a BUT, how do those moments become sustainable, active, life practices every day? 

Because, if you're like me, you are going to be all too familiar with the way most mornings usually begin:

I wake up to my alarm. I hit snooze. My alarm goes off again. I hit snooze again. And again. And again. And again. 

Hell, I program multiple alarms just to give myself snooze time. If I’m not on set, it takes a lot of snooze hits before I get out of bed. Sad but true. I used to bribe myself with juice. I love juice and if I want juice then I have to get up. Usually this works but who am I kidding? As if I’m adult enough to have more than half a stick of butter, a couple of packets of soy sauce, and one shriveled up old lemon in my fridge. And even if I do have juice, just because I get out of bed doesn’t mean I’ll stay out of bed. It’s a constant battle with myself because in this life, and in film and TV whether you’re an actor, a writer, a director, a designer- anything- there are so many others doing what you want to do, other artists that get great opportunities, high paying projects, and magazine interviews, that it often feels too difficult to be the unrelenting underdog. All I need to make my next film is $250,000 (a lot of money but a very low cost for a feature film) but there are other indie filmmakers that have much higher budgets and a lot easier of a time finding financing than I do. If a filmmakers biggest concern is deciding if they’re going to take TriBeCa’s offer or SXSW’s offer for their film premier, then fuck them. 

If only I could program fairness as easily as I program my alarm. 

It’s precisely this issue that connects to me to Mr. Robot. Institutionalized credentialism. Having your work be less about talent and more to do with where you went to film school, which grants you received by which organizations, and which festivals you’ve screened at, especially your premier. Now this would all be okay if these credentials were obtained purely based on the quality of work. While some industries might function that way, film and TV do not. It’s about who you know that can get you into these institutions. I’m not saying every film festival operates this way, many do not, but the big ones that could actually get your movie distribution, do. If anyone thinks that films chosen to screen at these festivals are chosen solely based on merit, you are sadly mistaken, mon ami. 

It’s more than frustrating and the silly parables about getting your foot in the door and knocking on doors usually leads to broken toes and bleeding knuckles.

What do I need to do to get some attention around here? Hiding under my duvet definitely won’t work.

 

Help me out here guys. What do you do when you’re feeling loserly?

 

What does your internal monologue say?

 

Showing Myself and the SAG Conundrum: The Greatest Showman

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What is making me feel like a stupid little turtle that just wants to stick my head back in its shell? Could it be that a part of me wants approval?  From who? And why? In what form does this manifest itself? Is it an attention thing? I pride myself in being a for real background person in every sense of the word.  So why do I feel this weird, confusing desire to be noticed?

It’s January 2018 and I’m all washed up.

Not really though, I’m being dramatic.

BUT

For some reason I haven’t been booking any work and am in a dry spell so miserable that it is eating through the walls of my mind until my head bleeds all slimy mucus and swampy green into the glass of cheap wine that keeps chaffing my lips.

This shit happened last year too so… I guess this comes as no surprise. The only difference was that in January 2017 I was in my OK30. OK30 is a thirty day period where performers who are SAG (Screen Actors Guild) eligible can take union jobs without having to join the union. Once those thirty days pass you have a choice: either join the union (which means you can no longer do any work that is non-SAG but you make more money and get treated a little less like cattle) or you don’t join the union (and cannot take any SAG jobs but could get speaking, non BG, roles in indie non-union films without competing with Hollywood actors like Michelle Williams.)

This brings me to the SAG conundrum:  

I was made an offer- I could work nine days on a feature film called The Greatest Showman. Finally a nice big chunk to make up for lost time BUT half of those days fell just out of my OK30 and casting would only cast me as UNION or NONUNION for all the nine days. Initially, they had me booked to do nine days NONUNION and I told them I would be joining SAG as soon as my OK30 was up so… well, then they said they would have me as UNION all of the days. These dry spells get so crunchy that I file my nails every time I brush lint off my shoulder so...

To join or not to join?

When Hamlet delivered his famous, endlessly parodied speech he was holding someones skull and feeling real shitty about EVERYTHING. Also, people were plotting to murder him. He could have used some good union protection.

So, I answered my conundrum. I joined SAG and I ended up working more days than I was initially booked for and doing BG on The Greatest Showman paid off nearly the entire SAGAFTRA initiation fee.

But these gaps in time aren't fun or easy because the questions demand to be answered: Why am I not getting work? Am I old milk? Do my photos make me look like shit? Do I look like shit? Am I being blacklisted for writing this blog? WHY AM I NOT WORKING?

Even last year, after booking work, the feeling was hard to shake. I was by crafty on The Greatest Showman and there were two or three production crew folks having a conversation about all the private set drama. There I was, right in front of them, hearing everything. If I was anyone significant they wouldn’t have had their conversation with me there- and don't get me wrong, I like hearing this shit talk. I don’t want to not hear it. And, often I like being a wallflower. I like being unnoticed, being noticed makes me nervous- but then… I get sad when I’m unnoticed. It doesn’t make sense! I do want to be noticed. I do! Notice me!

Dear God, the only thing I hate more than feeling this way is having people know I feel this way.

But that's what this is- this honest, vulnerable admission, this forum; a place where I voice thoughts I’m sure everyone has at some point in their life. Those feelings that sometimes pop out of nowhere no matter how old or mature we are, and make that douchey little kid that often lies dormant in us say "Hey! Hey! Come talk to me! Look at me! Like me! Love me! Tell me how great I am!" 

I've always had difficulty going up to people and starting conversations but sometimes I have to do my best even when I don’t feel my best, even when I feel like a little turtle. To speak even when silence would be more comfortable. To risk appearing like I want attention when not risking anything only leads to feeling insignificant. To make that decision of "to be or not to be?"

I grab a Twizzler and say to these guys, “Wow, you love the shit talk.”

“Oh, sorry, didn’t see you there.”

I’m wearing a twenty pound, corseted, hoop skirted, bronze ball gown, so yeah right you didn't see me; you just didn't think I'm a person and not a living set piece.

A PA comes in.

“Hey Christine, can I have you on set?”

Gladly.

 

 

P.S. I'm really grateful to Grant Wilfley Casting (especially Nikita) for getting me through the SAGAFTRA process in such a helpful and financially supportive way and am a happy member of a fantastic union.

Bittersweet Beings: Sweet Bitter

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You know you're on a miserable set when you wish someone would call in a bomb threat just so you can leave. 

I'm in the Marmara Hotel on Park Avenue and it feels like I'm being forced to watch a Sex and the City marathon. That might mean different things for different people. For me it means that I feel like Van Gogh'ing both ears and getting all Oedipal on my eyeballs.  

A couple of weeks  ago I had returned from Dublin for the second time in two months, and ready for the new year with a new point of view. Being in Ireland really woke me up to something that I've always known but have often forgotten:

Art is not about the bullshit attention, the fame, the glitter.

Save the sparkles for your wardrobe.

Unfortunately, we here in the bountiful, boastful, U.S. of A. love having shiny things, but does that mean that our everyday existence needs to be shiny as well? And what does that even mean?

As I’m changing into my costume (I’ve never worn leggings as pants before but okay…) I overhear two girls talking:

-Oh. My. God. This is such a nice hotel!

-I know! I ran into Laura Dern in the elevator and she was with a guy carrying her bags and said oh, I’m here for a few days, they’re doing work on my apartment.

-Wow!

-Yeah, it’s like she just stays at a [luxury] hotel while she’s getting apartment renovations. I’m like wow, your life looks so nice!

 

THIS IS A PROBLEM.

 

In this scenario, Laura Dern is envied because she has a comfortable, luxurious-type lifestyle (as far as we know) but why isn’t she envied because she’s gotten to play amazing roles and be a part of movies like ­­­­­­­­­(insert great character/ movie here)? Why is it that she’s being glorified by strangers in an elevator for staying at a fancy hotel? Guess what? She’s not at this hotel because she’s Laura Dern, she’s at this hotel because she has money- anyone with money can stay at hotels.

WHY ARE WE PAYING ATTENTION TO SUPERFICIAL SHIT?

WHEN DID LIFESTYLE BECOME MORE IMPORTANT THAN LIFE?

Art shouldn’t be about Instagram followers or getting your picture on magazine covers like many of the people we see raking in massive attention across social media and news outlets. How often do amazingly talented artists go unnoticed and how often do we see celebrities with no real substance getting opportunities and being basked in the bright lights? I know I'm not saying anything new here, anything that hasn't been said before, but I think it needs to be said again.

We should be noticing the quality and not the celebrity because if we don't do that then we are creating celebrities, not artists. Of course there are many great actors and filmmakers and artists of all kinds that get well-deserved praise for their work, but then the articles and interviews with them describe what they’re wearing or what kind of salad they’re eating (and why is it always a salad!?) I want to read an interview where the focus isn’t some shallow representation of some gorgeous celebrity! Why do actors need to be more good-looking than good at acting? Because they make a good photo? Because people want to look and not learn? Because we like salads?

Would we rather know what designer someone likes to wear or what one of their most challenging moments in life were? Would we rather see an actress smile than hear her opinions of the film industry?

You don’t have to smile. I've been not smiling for a long time.

 Not smiling since the 1980's

Not smiling since the 1980's

As I'm waiting out this overnight shoot, longing to hear those two magical words from the PA while trying to keep myself out of the BG conversations about shampoo and talent agents and shit-all-nonsense, I'm feeling pretty fucking angry, because it seems like everyone who stepped into this location actually became part of the world of this TV show, and to sum up the world of Sweet Bitter, based off the book of the same name by Stephanie Danler, here's a review from Goodreads:

"One of those books that reminds you that the characters are kind of terrible and the plot development predictable only because their real-life counterparts are the same."

If you look up "being" on Thesaurus.com, you will find a word listed as an antonym to being, as the opposite of existence, living, presence, reality.

That word is "deadness."