Spending My Summer With Ryan Murphy et al

Hello gang! I hope everyone is having a wonderful summer.

On June 15th, I met with a mentor of mine for coffee in the Hollywood Hills. As countless luxury cars pulled in and out of the parking lot, I told him that I needed some help and direction in the TV literary world. He’s a literary manager and also a fellow Vassar graduate. I’ve known him (and his wife) for several years now. I’ve been to a few events they’ve hosted from Christmas gift-wrapping parties for needy families to casserole parties to a writers retreat at the Sturtevant Camp in Sierra Madre, CA.

I told him that I needed to navigate the TV literary world with more focus and clarity because I was a little bit all over the place. I also asked him about how to obtain a literary manager. We spoke for a while and he gave me a lot of homework to execute that would help me get more focused in this area, more focused on which literary managers would be best for my writing voice and to discover opportunities for minority writers such as myself.

After taking pages of notes, I was excited to tackle the homework he gave me. One of the homework assignments was to identify 25 TV shows/movies that I would have killed to work on as a writer. He told me to create a spreadsheet and to include different columns of information for this homework assignment.

Side note: At the time of our meeting, I could only identify two TV shows that I would have killed to work on as a writer LOL.

After our meeting, I immediately got to work. I started watching lots of TV shows and movies to find my voice in them. Does this TV show or movie sound like my voice? Does this TV show or movie sound like what I’m interested in writing? I would watch at least two episodes of each TV show to see if I would add it to the list or not. I typed in specific genres that I was interested in. I looked at recommendations from Netflix, Hulu and IMDB (i.e. if you liked “Black Mirror”, then check out….) Next thing I knew, my list of shows started to grow.

When my list grew to 15 shows, I hit a wall. I was like, “There is no way I’m going to find 25 TV shows/movies.” I emailed my mentor and asked, “Is 25 a hard number? Or can I have less than that?” I asked him this question knowing fully well what his answer would be. I knew that 25 was a hard number. And that he gave me 25 TV shows/movies to push myself, to explore and to think outside of the box. He emailed me back and he confirmed everything I already knew. So, I recommitted to hitting the magic number of 25. And I’m glad I did because I didn’t want to take any shortcuts. I wanted to fully comply.

On July 27th, I hit the magic number! When I found my 25th show, I cheered! I was so happy and ecstatic. It took me almost a month and a half, but I got to spend my summer with Ryan Murphy, Ava DuVernay, Steven Canals, Tanya Saracho, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Ryan O’Connell and so many other amazing creators!

I discovered/reconfirmed a few things in this assignment:

*I am interested in the following areas for TV: urban dramedies; stand alone sci-fi episodes; comedies where the lead character is truly an outcast.

*My writing heart resonates with half hour TV shows.

*When it came to identifying movies, urban dramas made the list. Although, I also love comedic apocalyptic films like Shaun of the Dead and The World’s End (both written by Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg)

*ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE! When I saw the amount of creativity in each show, the storylines, the kind of different/dynamic leading characters, etc., I realized that ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE! There is an audience out there for any show and storyline. There is no way that my own TV series can’t be picked up. All of the shows I watched (whether they made the list or not) reconfirmed that my series has a place on TV. No one can ever tell me that there isn’t an audience for my work after seeing all of the TV shows and movies I’ve seen.

So, ladies and gentleman, here are the 25 TV shows and movies that I would have killed to work on as a writer because they resonate with my writing voice. In no particular order:

  1. Pose
  2. Black Mirror
  3. Pen15
  4. Room 104
  5. Electric Dreams
  6. Weird City
  7. The Twilight Zone (the reboot)
  8. Special
  9. Bonding
  10. Shrill
  11. Difficult People
  12. Schitt’s Creek
  13. Ramy
  14. Barry
  15. Atlanta
  16. Fleabag
  17. Vida
  18. When They See Us
  19. Tales of the City (the reboot)
  20. Looking
  21. Moonlight
  22. Gun Hill Road
  23. Quinceanera
  24. Roxanne, Roxanne
  25. Culture Shock (part of the Into The Dark series on Hulu)

Another Day, Another Pilot Written

Hello Artists!

I just finished writing a new half hour pilot! I shared it in my Professional Development Program 3.0 class at the Richard Lawson Studios to hear it out loud and get feedback on the characters and the storyline. I’m excited for this new series!

And to reiterate the point of my blog, Chasing The George, it’s to include people on the journey I’m on to carve out the career that I want (and to provide industry advice along the way)

So here’s a few of the things I have planned to Chase The Ambulance, to Chase The George, with urgency and intention:

**Write the second episode (Which I started doing on March 2nd!)

**Write the third episode

**Carve out an 8-episode bible for season one

**Submit the pilot episode to writing competitions to use as leverage and attention

**Secure a new literary agent

And there’s more administration planned around my new series. And remember that all of my career administration is directly pulled from my Declaration of Independence (aka business plan)

With all of the streaming platforms that are currently out there and that are coming out in the near future, I will get a development deal.

Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, Apple, HBO, etc…………………

Demo Reel Tips

A demo reel or a theatrical reel is a collection of short scenes that showcases your best work as an actor. It lets the viewer know what you’ve done, but more importantly, it shows them the kind of characters you can play. A reel can also be used in the voiceover world, the music world, the directing world, the producing world, etc.

The following are tips I have learned and applied for myself and have shared with others in my artistic community.

**Your reel should be concise and to the point for maximum impact. Your scenes should be 30-35 seconds max. Nobody will sit through a 5-minute, 7-minute, and in some cases I’ve seen, a 10-minute reel! Too freaking long! Trust that people are actually smart and intuitive. They get your casting and your ability to play the part in seconds. Each scene on a reel should give the person watching it just enough to leave them wanting more. Find the “heart” of the scene where you’re shining as your character, where we see the height of what’s going on, hook your viewer with that section and then move on to the next scene.

**Don’t use multiple scenes from the same episode or film in your reel. We already saw you as the U.S. Senator in “House of Cards” or “Scandal” in the beginning of your reel, so we don’t need to see you again as that same U.S. Senator later on in your reel. Similarly, if we already saw a clip of you as a detective from one show, we don’t need to see you playing five other detectives from five other shows on your reel. We got it the first time! You’re a detective! Are the other five detectives going to be vastly different from the first detective we saw? Don’t be redundant. Get to the point. Show us other castings. I think people do that to show off the number of credits they have. They want to show that they have been on numerous network shows or feature films. Remember: Quality vs. Quantity. Things will all look and sound the same if you put five detective scenes on your reel. Pick your best detective scene and let people go to your IMDB page to see the rest of your credits.

**Production value! If you’re just starting out and want to create your reel or if you’ve been in the business for a while and want to update your reel, you can generate your own material and shoot it yourself. Shoot it with high production value so that it can stand up to things that were professionally shot. And for me, production value includes:

  1. Utilizing a great camera.
  2. Utilizing great sound equipment.
  3. Utilizing great lighting equipment.
  4. Having a small crew of people who are proficient with 1, 2 and 3. Also, having a small crew that can assist in other areas such as production assistance, script supervision, a first AD, etc.
  5. Writing a scene that puts you in your best, strongest light. A scene that brings out your great acting work. Going back to a scene being 30-35 seconds max, the rule of thumb is that one full page of text usually equates to one minute of screen time. So write a half page scene for your reel and keep the scene focused on you since it’s for your reel.
  6. Rehearsing with your scene partner to carve out the performance.
  7. Creating a simple, yet effective, shot list. Because this scene is for your reel and it’s to showcase you, a medium, dirty over-the-shoulder shot will do the trick! A dirty shot is a shot that contains some physical intrusion, usually in the form of a body part from another actor, like their shoulder, head, hand, leg or waist. The director may want to make the shot dirty to simply give a sense of distance between the two actors.–actinganswers.com

Here are two examples of a dirty over-the shoulder-shot:

This particular shot keeps us focused on you. It’s your reel. You’re the star. If you want to keep the shot static (where we don’t cut back to the other actor) then make the scene shorter. In this way, you lessen the risk of people losing interest in your scene since it has no one to cut back to. And because of the way the above shots are framed, you can set up a nice and simple production design in the background that gives us a sense of where we are.

**When you edit your reel, find the musical rhythm and flow of it. Is your first scene light and fun and then the rest of your reel alternates between dark and light scenes? Do you start your reel with something light and end it with something light? Do you have three procedural scenes next to each other that need to be broken up by a scene from a different genre? Depending on the scenes you’ve shot, you will arrange them on your editing timeline in a way that creates a musical rhythm and flow.

**As you play the scenes on your editing timeline, make cuts as needed. Going back to a scene being 30-35 seconds max, when you look at an entire scene you’ve shot, find the heart of the scene. Feel where the in and out points are in your 30-35 second clip. I’m really good at feeling the in and out points of a scene. As a dancer and as someone who loves music, I can feel where the scene should begin and where it should end. My body does this physical motion of when it feels the scene should begin and where it should end. I hope that makes sense LOL.

When I look at someone’s reel, I’m good at saying, “End the scene right there. Don’t go past that moment.”

Hope these tips help you!

Why The Fuck Am I Here?!

It’s always interesting how the topics for my blog entries come up. Sometimes I know ahead of time what my next blog entry will be about. And other times, the topic hits me a day or two before Sunday’s deadline. Today’s blog entry is an example of the latter. I really didn’t know what I wanted to share in terms of my artistic journey, my process, my career wins or my career strategies…until a good friend of mine texted me today and said, “I just got off the phone with Michael. I’m trying to realize what my true raison d’être is. I need some guidance.”

I proceeded to offer my guidance in this area and shared my raison d’être to help her see an example of one that is personal and that resonates. And then it hit me that I would love to share my raison d’être with you all!

Raison d’être translates into “reason for being; the reason for which a person exists.”

I study at the Richard Lawson Studios and one of the cornerstones of the teaching is for students to have and be empowered by their own business plan. At the RLS, we call it a Declaration of Independence or DOIN’ for short. It’s a vital document for all of us to have because it’s the guide and plan of attack for our careers. Every business and organization has a business plan that they follow so that they can build, evolve, thrive and succeed. What most actors fail to realize is that they are a business too and must treat themselves as such. The DOIN’ keeps an actor/artist on track with the help of different components like postulates, goals, policies, administration plans, affirmations, etc.

All of these components are vital, but the most important one is the raison d’être. That is the first component you see in the DOIN’ template. Why? Because it’s your reason for being! Your reason for being on this planet! The reason why you get up every day to pursue the career of your dreams and not a career in another field. Your raison d’être is the engine for the entire DOIN’ and the engine for your life. Your raison d’être sits at the top of your business plan and influences everything that comes after it.

Now, I know some of you may feel a little daunted or overwhelmed with the concept of raison d’être. If someone came up to you and asked you what your purpose and reason for existence on this planet was, could you answer that? I mean, what a big, intimidating question! Can you look someone in the eye and tell them with confidence what your reason for being is? That’s a tough one! That can set some people inward. That can set some people into a crisis. That can scare some people away and make them judge or doubt their entire lives: “Oh my God! Who am I?! What am I?!”

My intention with today’s blog entry is not to scare you away. Rather, my intention is to inspire and to get you to ask the next question in your own discovery of your raison d’être. Unfortunately, I can’t give you a timeframe of how long that will take. It may take someone a few years to discover their raison d’être or it may take them a few days. Or a person may have already known their raison d’être since they were born. But one thing is apparent: when someone is clear about their raison d’être, you see it. You see it in everything they do, everything they touch and they are driven by it.

Look in your universe and identify someone whose raison d’être is clear. I can list many examples from Richard Lawson to Madonna to Angelina Jolie to Jesus Christ. Hell, I’ll even give a shout out to my ex. He’s a hair stylist and when I would see him work, whether it was at the salon or on set, I could see and feel his passion and joy. And in turn, every person that he came into contact with also felt his passion and joy. I could see his craftsmanship and how he treated everyone like a star. And in turn, every single one of his clients left feeling like a better person. He was BORN to be a hairstylist and he’s clear about WHY he does hair: To make people feel confident, rejuvenated and beautiful on the inside and out.

It has taken me a few years to discover my own raison d’être. It has taken trial and error, asking the next question and taking an honest look at what I’m interested in, who and what I’m turned on by, what I’m attracted to, what makes me light up, what infuses me with energy, etc.

My raison d’être influences everything from my postulates (self-generated truths; predictions) to the TV series and feature films I write to the scenes I put up in class to the people I want to work with. It influences the way I dance and the way I act (both onstage and off) For those who know me really well, you will see ME reflected in my raison d’être. You’ll know why I am sometimes eccentric and left of center; why I’m drawn to sexuality and sensuality and unconventional relationships in stories; why I’m drawn to and collect certain types of artwork; why I like to be subversive on an intellectual and primal level; why my stand up comedy is so wrong it’s right; why I am drawn to the masculine and feminine sides of me; why I hate middle-class thinking and behavior. You’ll get what makes me get up every day to pursue my career.

In a nutshell, I was put on this planet to open the closet door. And not just in terms of LGBT stories, but stories that people are uncomfortable with and don’t want to talk about. Let’s open that closet over there and talk about that gritty thing inside of it. Open the closet door to a different form of beauty. Open the closet door to different stories and faces. Open the closet door to wake people up and think! I’m drawn to the fringe and to the unconventional. Give me The Weinstein Company, HBO, Showtime, Netflix, Fox Searchlight, Annapurna Pictures, Sony Pictures Classics, etc. They push the envelope and are not afraid to get dirty.

SOME of my favorite films of all time include Fruitvale Station, Precious, Soldier’s Girl, Transamerica, Black Swan, Dallas Buyers Club, White Bird In A Blizzard, Gun Hill Road, Birdman, Normal, The Fighter, Raising Victor Vargas, Zero Dark Thirty, I Like It Like That, Quinceañera, Inception, Lars and the Real Girl, The Rocky Horror Picture Show and all of Quentin Tarantino’s films. Different, ground-breaking, bold, daring, unconventional, raw, gritty, unapologetic.

Here is my raison d’être:

I was always in love with film since I was a kid. I loved how magical film was in transporting people to another place, in teaching people something, in making people feel. However, I didn’t see myself up there. I didn’t see anyone who looked, sounded or acted like me. My experiences and stories were left out. Art is global and creates change faster than any other profession. Therefore, through acting and writing, I will infiltrate mainstream consciousness and bring a different perspective and experience to the table in order to open the “closet door” to people. By opening the closet door, I will expose the world to different sides of life with the hopes of enlightening people and changing their perceptions so that at the end of the day, they learn about, accept and celebrate each other equally as human beings.

I hope to hear from some of you about your own raison d’être!

Work Ethic Is A Bitch

Now let’s just set the record straight: I work hard. Always have, always will. Why?

A) I’m Latino, it’s in our DNA. Although, like I mentioned in a previous blog entry, this is one Latino who is not mowing your lawns or cleaning out your pools. Okaayyy. And as a Latino, a minority, I have to work twice as hard as my Caucasian male counterparts. Interesting fact: Did you know that SAG-AFTRA classifies everyone, except for Caucasian males, as a minority?

B) My mother instilled the value of hard work at a very young age. She wanted her children to achieve more than she did. As a result, she was incredibly militant when it came to our homework. She set the tone right away in pre-kindergarten. She wanted to make sure that we were turning in professional, excellent, clean-looking work. And I say “clean-looking” because all of our homework was hand-written on paper with a pencil.

When I was in elementary school, I would always do my homework at the dining room table. I had my Mead composition notebook and #2 pencil. And God bless my mother, because in order to save money and cut down on costs, she would buy me the generic, non-name brand pencils with the cheap erasers. So, if I ever had to erase a mistake, I was fucked because the eraser would smudge the graphite across the word or words I was trying to erase. The cheap eraser never made a clean erase. My mother would come over, see the smudge and then violently snatch the paper off the dining room table. She would then crumple it up in my face and say, “Do it again! You’re not turning in this mess to your teacher!”

My mom never pushed us to perfection, but rather, to excellence. She crumpled up the paper because she knew I could do better. That I could present a better product to my teacher. Was this smudge-filled homework the best work I could turn in? If not, then go back to the drawing board until I created the best work possible. And that philosophy has stayed with me throughout my life. As Richard Lawson would say, “Do Your Best And Forget The Rest”. Did you do your best? If so, great. Now forget the rest.

C) I wasn’t born with a silver spoon in my mouth. Nothing was ever given to me (except hand-me-downs LOL) I worked hard for everything in my life.

So, I work hard. Anyone who knows me knows that.

But MAN, working hard is a bitch. Work ethic is a bitch. This year alone, I’m averaging about 35 hours a week into my career. I hate being the nerd who misses out on countless events because I wanted to stay in and get this scene in my screenplay just right. I hate being the geek who has to schedule his best friend or family member into a 30-minute slot because I have an audition that I’m still carving out. Or because I have a second round of communications I need to draft up and execute for my target list of management companies. Or because I have rehearsal. Or because I have hours of relationship map building to administrate and execute. Or because I’m working on a pitch for another TV series.

I just turned down an invitation to hang out with a hot ex-military guy this past Friday night because I wanted to front load my career administration for the week instead (Friday is the start of the week for me) When I front load my work, then the rest of the week flows beautifully. But again, he was a HOT EX-MILITARY guy. Damn you work ethic! Work ethic is a bitch!

The Friday night before (August 7th), I was up till 12am re-cutting my dramatic reel to make it a stronger representation of my acting abilities. I spent three hours not only re-cutting my reel, but also fixing all the sound levels from one clip to the next to make sure they were all even and consistent. I wanted to make sure that I was creating the best product possible to send out to managers.

I normally wake up at 6am and go to bed at 1am. I hate it. Work ethic is a bitch. I love sleeping. I love my bed. Guys love my bed. Well, they love me more, but they love my bed too. It’s so amazingly comfortable and inviting. You think I want to get up while everyone else is still sleeping? You think I still want to be up while everyone else is sleeping? Sometimes, I’ll drive to a rehearsal or a fitness training in the morning and I’ll see people stumbling out of the clubs.

Work ethic is a bitch.

For the love of God, why can’t I just:

**Dance all day long

**Be at the beach all day long (Well, not Los Angeles beaches…the water is so fucking cold)

**Eat Belgian chocolate pudding from Trader Joe’s all day long

**Drink champagne all day long

**Watch Madonna videos all day long and recreate them…again

**Be on Tindr, Lavendr and Grindr all day long (what is it with these online dating/hook up sites ending with the letter “R”?)

**Hook up all day long

**Have sex all day long

**Travel around the world

**Get a full body massage all day long

**Drive around in a luxury car with friends all day long

**Binge watch different TV shows on Netflix all day long


But then I take a step back and realize that today is Madonna’s birthday. 57 years ago, on August 16th, 1958, Madonna Veronica Louise Ciccone wassent from heaven and was born in Bay City, Michigan.

Madonna NEVER has to work again in her entire life. She has nothing left to prove. She IS the Queen of Pop. She created the template from which all female (and some male) pop stars draw from. She obliterated the restrictions on what women could do and should be. She changed and crafted pop culture. She was the M in MTV. She has more top ten singles (38) on the Billboard Hot 100 than any other solo artist. She has more number one singles (46) on a singular Billboard chart than any other artist. Forbes named her the richest musician in 2013. She is currently worth more than 800 million dollars. She’s about to embark on another massive world tour to support her latest album, “Rebel Heart” (which is my favorite Madonna album of all time now). She evolves. She progresses. She looks forward, never back.

She can retire TODAY. But since the beginning, Madonna has had a powerful work ethic. She is one of the hardest, most professional, most consistent artists out there. She is a work-a-holic. A perfectionist. She oversees every single aspect of her career…down to the earrings a dancer wears to the nail polish that an extra is wearing on her film sets. When on tour, she does a full run through of every show before the actual show starts at 8pm. She’s the first one to clock in and the last one to clock out. 12 hour-plus days. She has more energy than people half her age. Answering a question on how she continues to amass her fortune and not be taken advantage of financially, she once famously replied, “Because I actually read the contracts.”

She directs feature films, runs a clothing and fragrance line, has written children’s books, raises four beautiful children, builds schools in Malawi, etc.

Her work ethic is INCREDIBLE because she is driven by her purpose, her raison d’être (reason for being or existence) She still has so much to say. She loves what she does. She knows her responsibility and power as an artist.

Hmmm, 57 years old and worth more than $800 million dollars? Still relevant and provoking people to wake up and be better versions of themselves? Maybe work ethic isn’t so bad. I mean, do I want to spend all day getting a massage, or do I want to add another hour to my rehearsal so that at the end of the day, I can walk away cleanly because I did the best work that I could do? I’ll take the latter.

Work ethic is not a bitch. Work ethic is my BITCH. I work hard because I love what I do and because I have something to say. I work hard so that everything I present is the best work possible. I work hard so that I can have pride in what I share with others. I work hard so that at the end of the day, I don’t have any regrets or skeletons haunting me saying, “You should have worked harder. You could have done better.” I work hard because the payoff is wonderful.

Work ethic has been my weapon in staying sharp, ready and current. Work ethic has never let me down. The greats are great and stay relevant because of work ethic. Things move forward and happen when work ethic is involved.

With all this talk about work ethic, I can’t leave out the importance of celebration. I have gotten much better at incorporating celebration more and more into my life. To celebrate the wins and achievements along the way. To do my best work and then celebrate. Celebrations remind me of my progress, my journey and my wins. Large wins, small wins, celebrate them all. I have purchased art work, gotten massages, purchased champagne, etc. to mark my wins.

For example, I mentioned earlier that I front-loaded my work this past Friday night. And guess what? That hot ex-military guy reached out again today to hang out. This time, I said “Yes.” I can afford a celebration tonight for the work I did on Friday.

“Holiday! Celebrate!”

Thank you Madonna and Happy Birthday.