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!


How I Secured An Agent In 6 Weeks

In June 2015, I had 4 agent meetings in 2 ½ weeks. And not just any old agent meetings. These were agents that were on my target list. By June 30th, I signed a year-long contract with one of them. The length of time it took me to secure a new agent was about six weeks. Let me share what I did.

In mid-May, I received an email from my former agent saying that they were dropping me. I had been with them for a year and I sensed that the writing was on the wall because our year-long affair didn’t produce any results. I won’t sit here and point fingers and blame because I’m all about learning from the lessons and applying them to the future.

So, I didn’t have representation. I felt naked. I felt like I was starting all over again. This was the first time in years that I didn’t have representation. The prospect of starting all over again was daunting at first. But then again, I love rising to challenges. I definitely knew that I didn’t want months to go by without having representation. I knew that I wanted to secure great representation in a short period of time.

The first step in assembling my dream team was to be clear about and to identify the type of relationship I was looking for. I had to be clear about the relationship I was going to have with this agent(s) for the next six months to a year. It’s no different from online dating. You set filters and parameters in terms of what you are looking for. You are very specific so that your search results yield close to or exactly to what you’re looking for. So if you’re going to be that specific when it comes to online dating, why not be as specific as to who you are going to have on your team for your career? Or as my teacher and mentor, Richard Lawson, says, “Who is on your career bus?” I reached out to my friends and shared with them what I was looking for–and if they liked their agents, could they refer me.

I knew that I wanted to create a career marriage, a career partnership, between myself and the other agent(s). Where there would be accountability, communication and hustling. Where I would receive their support and belief in my vision and dreams. I think it’s important and vital that an agent supports a vision that an actor has for themselves. And that the agent is willing to say, “Yes and…” and “Have you also tried this?” and “How about exploring this over here in order to help get what you want?” An agent that loves actors who are pro-active in their careers and administrate it on a daily basis. An agent who loves actors and loves what they do.

The second step I took, after I identified the type of relationship I was looking for with an agent, was to go on IMDb Pro. Not sure how many people are aware of this, but just as IMDb has a “Star Meter”–which ranks every single person in their database according to their popularity for the week–they also rank companies. When you log onto IMDb Pro, there is a link that says “Company”. Click on it and you will see a drop down menu which ranks agencies, management companies, production companies, etc. I selected “Talent Agencies”. At the time of this writing, the top 10 agencies included CAA, ICM, UTA, WME, Paradigm, Gersh, APA, etc. Now, looking at where I am in my career, my skill set as an actor and my credits, I probably would not be targeting these agencies. However, if I had an undeniable product that HBO or Showtime or The Weinstein Company wanted to acquire from me, then I would call any one of them for a meeting and representation.

So I knew that my target had to be boutique agencies who have working actors. They’re not A-listers, but B-listers who work all the time. And so I knew that I would start looking at agencies within the rankings of 75 to about 400. I didn’t want to look at agencies with rankings beyond 400. I didn’t want to look at any agency that had a ranking of 1,000, 2,000 or 3,000 because it makes me wonder how much pull, clout or influence they have to make a phone call and/or get me into the doors of different casting offices. **If your experience has been different, please let me know. But that was the policy I created for myself.

Another element important to me was to find an agency that was SAG-AFTRA franchised. “A ‘franchised agent’ is a person, firm or corporation that has entered into an agreement with SAG-AFTRA under which they agree to abide by certain rules and conditions when dealing with performers who work within SAG and AFTRA’s jurisdiction.” (taken from the SAG-AFTRA website) This ensures that the agency is working with your best interests in mind as a union, professional performer.

Now here comes the tedious part. Here comes the work. But when you do the work, then everything else flows quickly. Don’t believe me? Again, refer to my first paragraph and see how quickly I got an agent…because I put in the work. I clicked on every single agency on the list between rankings 75 through 400 and looked for a few things. I looked at how many agents the agency had. I looked at how many clients they had: Too many clients, I may get lost in the shuffle. I looked at some of their clients’ credits to see what they have booked. I looked to see if the agency had a website. If they did, I visited it. It helps when they have a website because it gives me a personal insight into their company. When I would visit the agency’s website, I would look for their mission statement, their company philosophy, “what we do”, “who we are”, “about us”, “about the company”, etc. Again, think of online dating. You read through a person’s profile to see if their statistics, their bio, their status speaks to you and what you’re looking for. If any agency didn’t speak to me and what I was looking for, I would move on to the next one. The agencies with mission statements or company philosophies that resonated with me, I entered them onto an Excel spreadsheet and took notes.

So once I compiled my target list of agencies that spoke to me and what I was looking for, I started crafting cover letters for each one. I wanted to make the letters specific to the agency that I was writing to. This is where I would refer to the notes that I jotted down next to each agency. If there was something cool or unique that stood out on their website, I would include that in the cover letter as well. I made the cover letters short, but effective. Remember, these are agents. They are incredibly busy people who don’t have the time to read a very long letter. All day long, they are on the phone pitching their clients, going through the breakdowns and submitting their clients on many projects, taking meetings, negotiating contracts, working out conflicts and receiving tons of submissions from other actors as well.

This is where the six-week journey began: The first round of emails went out on Tuesday, May 12th. The following Tuesday, May 19th, I followed up by mailing out a round of postcards to my target agents that said I was seeking a new dream team. A week later, Tuesday, May 26th, I followed up with another round of emails to my target agents. The email communication was slightly different since it was a follow up. That same day, I heard back from three different agents. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the answer I was looking for. They each informed me that they already had someone like me on their roster and so they didn’t want to create a conflict of interest. They were very nice and thanked me for reaching out to them. A couple of them even encouraged me to follow up in six months to see if they still repped the same person.

Later that same week, I started getting the answer I was looking for. Two agencies reached back to me and wanted to schedule a time to meet for next week (which puts us in the first week of June.) So that first week of June, I had two meetings set. When the first week of June arrived, I also received another request from an agent to meet the following week (the second week of June.)

I knew that outflow equaled inflow. That because I kept up the momentum, I finally started impinging on their universes. That’s three meetings right there. The fourth and last meeting I secured, interestingly enough, was an agency that I had somehow skipped over. On Saturday, June 13th, something compelled me to go back to the agency list on IMDb Pro. I did, and boom, I ran across this particular agency I somehow missed the first time around. When I clicked on their website, I was blown away by the company’s philosophy that actors need to treat themselves as a business. They want actors who are professional and who go after the careers on a daily basis. I was like, “Hell yeah! How did I miss this agency?!” I composed an email and sent it out on Monday, June 15th. Tuesday evening, I received a request from the owner of the agency to meet on Friday, June 19th.

To recap so far: First meeting June 2nd. Second meeting June 4th. Third meeting June 11th. Fourth meeting June 19th. Roughly 2 ½ weeks starting with the first meeting on June 2nd.

What I discovered in each and every meeting was the importance of being yourself. Because inevitably, the question that every single agent asked was, “So tell me about yourself?” That’s a question that’s hard for a lot of people to answer. People get tripped up on that question. But because of my training with Richard Lawson, and understanding the principles of politics, personality and craft, I was able to be myself and talk about myself. And not about being an actor. They know that. I talked about topics of interest with charm, humor and irony. I talked about growing up in Brooklyn when Brooklyn was the place you wouldn’t be caught dead living in. I talked about my ethnicity and how my older brother would call me a “dumb Rican” (I’m Dominican and Puerto Rican). I didn’t talk about my acting first because I knew that we would eventually get to that.

Which leads me to my next point: When the acting discussion eventually comes up, you have to know your product inside and out. Be prepared to tell them what you want and see for yourself. Be prepared to talk about your casting. Be prepared to talk about why you’re at the level you’re at in your career.

Your resume better be clean and professional. Your headshots better be clear and professional. You better have a monologue ready. You better have a scene prepared. You better understand the state of the industry today. You better understand writing and how to create content for yourself a la the Lena Dunhams, the Tyler Perrys, the Cristela Alonzos, the Mindy Kalings, the countless Youtubers, etc. You better know how to put yourself on tape for an audition as more and more casting directors are requesting taped auditions.

These agents wanted to see that I was clear about my product. These agents wanted to see that I was not green or inexperienced, pleading for a job. Pleading for them to hold my hand and do all the work for me. Because the reality is that they want you to do the work. You are a business. You are supposed to clock in and clock out like any other business. And many actors don’t seem to understand that. Every agent said to me that the actor is supposed to do the work. It is our job to be in class, to keep our headshots up-to-date, to understand the business of show business, to understand and utilize social media, to hustle, etc. When you come into the room with confidence, with life force, with your guns blazing, they appreciate that. Even if at the end of the day they don’t sign you, you at least booked the room and you’ve made an impression on them. They can look back and say, “This person is clear about what they want and they’re not new to the game. They’re serious about this business. They’re in it for life.”

In the end, two of the agencies passed on me. One is actually a manager who is deciding whether to take me on as an actor or as a writer (she’s currently reading two of my television pilots.) And the fourth agent–the one who I somehow missed the first time around on IMDb Pro–offered me representation on Monday, June 22nd. He was very excited to offer me representation and gave me up until June 30th to look over the contract, sign it and then get it back to him.

And there you have it. Well, my experience at least.