Thursday, June 30, 2016

30 Before 30: Day 11 - Inspiration

Sometimes as an artist you're inspired... other times you're fighting for something creative to spur inside of you. It doesn't matter which of those times it seems to be, I've found that as an artist even when I'm not inspired I have to find a way to create something.

Yet, some of the best work does come out of inspiration because that's when the art just flows. Recently I wrote a short story (just over 8,000 words) which I'm estimating to have taken me no more than about 6 hours to write (typing of course). I was very inspired at that time. At other times I already have ideas and just have to figure out exactly how to get them out and work through it. And at other times I'm limited by a number of factors and something is created through two.

Two of those things came out of the limitations of my time studying at the Los Angeles Film Studies Center in Spring of 2009.

The first was what I now use as my production company, "Whimsical Pictures." Nothing embodies the sense of me and what kind of stories I love more. Whimsical fantasy, even in real life life, tends to be a bit of the direction I take. It's not officially licensed no one else has it that I've found and I stamp it on everything I've done since 2009. I also have an official page on IMDB for it so I'll consider that official enough for now.

The second thing that came out of it was this short film that I created (later re-cut to flow a little better) called "Beyond the Mirror" which had many correlations to and the feel of Alice In Wonderland:

It follows a girl as she goes through a mirror into another world, after being approached by Death, so discover herself again. It played with opposites of Life and Death and was very philosophical. I also have a feature script written for it that I would love to make one day. For now, the short will have to suffice.

When the inspiration does strike, it's splendid. When it doesn't, I just keep fighting.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

30 Before 30: Day 10 - 21st Birthday

When I turned 21 there were a few memorable things that happened. Now, at this time I was in my first relationship and I'm pretty sure by that time (if I remember correctly) things were already beginning to go sour. Although I remember she was there on my birthday (which I spent in Kansas) I honestly don't remember anything that happened between us that day. Which means that either anything that did happen was not important to me or the good that happened outweighed the bad. All the same, that's not to say I didn't love her, but I think it's very much possible to love someone and continue in a destructive situation.

But enough life learning for the moment. Onto my 21st birthday!

I was back from college over the summer in Lawrence and one of my favorite bands at the time, Emery, was playing a show there in my hometown. Now, it wasn't a typical show, it was a live acoustic show... on my birthday. Suffice to say, I of course had to go.

If I remember correctly the show was at the bottleneck, which I have honestly only been to a few times.

I went with a few friends at my girlfriend. Two of these friends are men who have stuck with me since 7th grade (I still find it amazing we became friends back then) and even though we don't talk a lot these days, they're still there in my life and it's like not much has changed (because a lot has actually changed).

Well, since I was 21 that meant I could now drink. Being the good kid that I was, I had never drank before this day. So they decided to get me a drink at the concert. It was nothing crazy and in fact nowadays I would say it was quite week, but hey, things were different then. If I remember correctly that drink was a Smirnoff ice. I did enjoy it at the time, though my drinking tastes have changed drastically.

There was one thing I didn't think about, though, and that was that my mom wanted to buy me my first drink. Well, after all that she's done for me (which, trust me, is a lot) to say I felt guilty doesn't even begin to explain it. Unfortunately, that's a moment I'll never be able to take back.

But it seems that's the nature of life. You do things you wish you could of done differently and learn from them and move on. Maybe being back for my 30th birthday will make up for a small part of that day. Maybe not.

All the same, spending that day at a concert with two of my best friends is a memory well worth having. And it's nice that the entire concert was recorded live and put onto the special edition of their next album, "I'm Only A Man", which isn't their best by far but still enjoyable.

Thanks to Michael Pollock for suggesting I write about that day. And thanks to him and Isaac Bari for sticking by my side through all these years, even if it's been from a distance.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

30 Before 30: Day 9 - Desperation Doesn't Work

In 2005 when I first arrived at college I was going through a multitude of new things. I had never lived away from home before, started from complete scratch, kissed a girl, had a girlfriend, figured out everything on my own, etc. And being a hopeless romantic and little bit out of touch with reality, I found that whenever I would see friends hooking up with other people early on I would be a bit jealous and envious because what they had I wanted. Granted, in talking to my roommate at that time,
he informed me that being in a relationship wasn't always what it looked like and that I should be patient. Of course, I wasn't exactly patient but looking back, the truth is that I was desperate to be in a relationship and to find a woman.

There were two major problems with how I felt at the time.

1. I was desperate and that's a key to disaster.

2. I didn't understand what a healthy relationship involved. And when that is not understood then a relationship can go south quickly.

In those years I was a hopeless romantic. I would still say I'm a romantic just not with the hopeless portion. I only spent about 2 or so months of the beginning of my time at college single and when a connection did form with the first girl I dated, I was still too scared to actually asked her out. Instead, we mutually agreed to date (after what looking back on it feel like some ridiculous hurdles).

But, alas, I found myself in what would be to date the longest relationship I've had that turned into a 6 month "puppy" phase and a year and a half of essentially marriage without being married. When it ended, after having had many discussions with a college pastor at the time about different things in that relationship he said to me, "You've learned in two years more than most people learn in seven years of marriage."


Well, at least I know I learned a lot from it. At least, I hope I learned a lot that I retained.

Since I don't have any readily available pictures from that relationship (rightfully so) I have instead provided what is perhaps the earliest picture taken from my time in college.

What I have learned, though, are a couple valuable lessons for my self over time when it comes to me and meeting women.

1. It's not just about physical appearance but even more so about their personality.
2. I can tell easier nowadays if there is a definite chemistry with someone (for the most part, sometimes I still fail).
3. Sometimes that person is the person you least expect.
4. Things often don't work out for one reason or another.
5. That person you connect with often appears at the most unexpected place or time and usually when you're not looking and especially when your not desperate.
6. Confidence in yourself really helps.

That's at least what I've found. Maybe it's not all exactly right but that's what I've found to be true.

Now, if you haven't heard it, go look up "Haven't Met You Yet" by Michael Buble.

I love that song.

And I think it applies.

Monday, June 27, 2016

30 Before 30: Day 8 - We All Get Starstruck

I don't really get star struck. I've met a small chunk of celebrities and haven't gotten tongue tied or froze. I met members of my favorite bands, became friends with Doug Jones, worked with Bradley Cooper, Cameron Crowe, and Joel Gretsch, and met Jim Beaver. All of this seemed fine.

Then last summer I had a job catering carnival cart food. I would say it would somewhere in the middle of how much I enjoyed it out of my jobs but it gave me opportunities to see a lot more of Los Angeles and on one particular day a chance to get onto the set of Castle (which has now completely finished).

I had wanted to get on set for a long time, except of course as an actor. This will have to do. That day the production had hired out a New York style hot dog cart for the shoot and my entire job was to make sure the cart was set up and operating fully. This meant that I probably had less than an hour of work, giving me plenty of time to chill on set, watch the shoot from a distance, and have a lovely chat with a security guard that day.

Then in the middle of the day I was walking to one side of the church where filming was happening and as I walked down the sidewalk Nathan Fillion was walking towards. Now, this man is one of the actors on the top of my list to work with someday. But on this day, as I got near, instead of greeting him in some way, I made eye contact, sort of nodded (I think), and kept on walking, having completely frozen.

I guess no matter how normal that world becomes to us, there is that one person that makes us star struck.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

30 Before 30: Day 7 - Away From Home For the First Time

I think I have always been an interesting personality, certainly not the typical apple of the bunch, and when I was younger I was terrible with directions. Horrendous would be a better word. I lived in Kansas and one time when I was going to visit friends at Kansas State University I spent an hour driving .... looking for the entrance to the the highway, which I had completely passed.

So of course, you might imagine that when I first left home for college myself that something would go wrong. I was driving from Lawrence, KS to Palos Heights, IL. I had never lived on my own before and had also never driven such a great distance on my own. The drive is a little over 500 miles and going 5mph over the speed limit it takes about 9 1/2 hours.

I made the first mistake of deciding to drive overnight, mainly because I wanted to arrive during the day for move in. After some shed tears and goodbyes, I set out to the highway in my '88 White Honda Accord. This time I found the highway.

The drive was mostly fine as the highways themselves are pretty straight forward, especially the interstate. I drove through Iowa and then across Illinois. A few hours in, I nearly hit a chicken crossing the interstate. Yeah, that was unexpected. I imagine that on a country road, not the interstate.

Then somewhere around 6 hours or so an intense fog came through to the point I could barely see in front of me. Other cars zoomed past me at the speed limit and at around 3 or 4am I pulled over into a rest spot and took a nap. After about 45 minutes it cleared and I headed on.

As I neared my destination, I missed my exit. Then when I turned around and got off an exit I went the wrong way on the street. Then I had to turn around. I stopped multiple times looking at my atlas (this was before I had any access to GPS).

I finally made it to the college campus.... after about 11 hours of driving.

Thankfully, over the years my navigation skills have improved greatly. I also have access to GPS. And I don't get lost very much.

The decade of your 20's can be a good time to learn.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

30 Before 30: Day 6 - Training as an Actor

Finishing at Strasberg this week was prove of a incredible transformation of me as an actor. But I didn't start out there. When I was in Junior High and High School I would make movies with friends and on my own and act in them. Honestly, in those days I was terrible. I enjoyed being in front of the camera but I had no idea what I was doing. That's probably a big part of why I don't show many people my early work.

I wanted to get into theatre in High School but every year after my first semester doing Marching Band and Soccer I would decide I didn't want to take up all that extra time the second semester. So I never got involved.
Then I entered my time doing an undergraduate degree at Trinity Christian College and my first semester, my roommate (who had done theatre) one day told me they are always short on men and that I should audition.

So I did.

And I didn't get cast.

"That's alright," I told myself. "I'll help out behind the scenes." And so I helped out on stage crew. The next semester they were doing a production of "The Miser" by Moliere. Of course I still wanted to act but ... certain things didn't allow for me to audition or to do much behind the scenes.

So then came my Sophomore year. The main production only had 5 characters but they started up doing student directed One-Act plays so I decided I would still audition. However, I gave myself an acting out.

"If I don't get cast in anything, I guess I shouldn't be an actor," I told myself.

And I got cast in a smaller role of a guard in a One-Act play called "The Valiant." Most of what I did was walk in, react, and say "Yes, ma'am" in various ways. But I was determined to own it and that is when my real training began.

The next semester I continued to audition and I was in my first full length stage play, playing the role of Mr. DePinna in "You Can't Take It With You." During this role I realized how seriously I wanted to be an actor. In the end, I decided it would make more sense to completely shave my head for the part rather than wearing a bald cap (my roommate Pete Turner helped convince me in this decision in the end by shaving his head as well.) And as you can see, I was basically half naked for a scene in the production. I went on to play Antigonus in Shakespeare's "The Winter's Tale," Nicola in "Arms and the Man," and Warnock Waldgrave in "The Nerd." I feel I can really attribute a lot of my early growth and training to John Sebestyen, who still teaches at Trinity, and really helped me gain a lot of initial knowledge.

My training continued in on camera classes in Hawaii and has truly made strides at Strasberg. One of the big things I have learned is that actors need to continue training in one way or another, otherwise they get rusty in their craft and an actor needs to be on his game for when the right role comes along. I wouldn't be the same actor today without the training that I've had.

Oh, and confidence. Actors should really work on their confidence if they don't have it.

Friday, June 24, 2016

30 Before 30: Day 5 - Looking Back on Strasberg

The past two years, which has basically been the entire time I've been back in Los Angeles, my time studying at The Lee Strasberg Theatre & Film Institute has been nothing less than an adventure. It was really only because of my Army service I was able to attend the institute and my time there has changed me in more ways then one. As I rocket towards that dirty thirty I must say that near the end of my 20's my time there has been a bit of a rock and foundation in my life as I wade through the insanity of this city.

There has been a lot of drama, both inside and outside of scene work, and I have made many friends who have come and gone from the school, many of whom have returned to their native countries for one reason or another. And as it usually goes, I try to keep up with some of them but find it becomes incredibly difficult. At this school people come and go, something that I've gotten quite used to in my 20's. I still don't like saying goodbye, though, so instead it's always something like "Until next time" or "I'll see you again." Maybe I won't. But hopefully I will... unless I don't really like you. I only have so much energy to give away.

I've gone an emotional journey at the school and it started rocky. The first semester had an extremely unfortunate incident occur that shook up the entire school and certainly didn't help with my already severe depression as I transitioned out of the Army and into this city. Though I was able to learn and understand overtime how I operated and how my emotions have affected me over time and what causes many things. A lot of this is due to the sensory work that is part of the core work of Strasberg. That and relaxation exercises, which were important for my tense body.

But more than anything I found something that I haven't had most of my life: self-confidence.

This has led to friendships I wouldn't have otherwise because I learned to speak up and care less about what other people thought about me. Taking this long to find it, though, it seems at times has made it take longer to find out I connect with certain people. People that I would want around longer but may be leaving sooner. When you find those people you connect so deeply with it's hard to let go and even harder to say goodbye.

So here I am today, after my last day at Strasberg. I didn't think I would be sad but a part of me is. Mostly because I realize how big of an impact this school has had on my life and who I am as an actor. The teachers and many students there have helped me to grow as I continue to discover who I am.

But life continues to move forward. Others will come and go. I will meet knew people and continue to meet with ones I knew. The forward momentum doesn't cease to exist because I have finished. This is just the start of another adventure and my good friends know how much I like a good adventure.

But today this is for all of you who I've made friends with at Strasberg, whether you're still in Los Angeles or not. I've created memories with many of you and am grateful for those friends who have come into my life.

Remember, you are loved and you are not alone.

Enjoy your adventures while you have them.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

30 Before 30: Day 4 - Catching up on TV

It seems I have missed Day 3. I suppose these things happen, especially when other elements of life take over. And it seems the reason I forgot yesterday is the reason I'm writing about today: catching up on TV shows. This post will be quite brief today, I think.

In this instance it happens to be Penny Dreadful.

This show just ended this season and I just picked it up. I'm nearly at the end of season 2 and I find it quite fascinating. There are far too many shows out there to keep up with but this Penny Dreadful is interesting in it's combination of classic literature and horror elements. For those who abhor nudity, this is a show to avoid. But it's writing is intriguing and the stories fascinating. The use of mythology is also quite intriguing.

There are so many shows I still have to catch up on and I've realized in my late 20's that I have to prioritize what I watch and that there are certain genres I prefer and should keep up with before others.

But in time, I will catch up with the others.

In the mean time, I'm sure in the next couple weeks I will finish Penny Dreadful and I do recommend it.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

30 Before 30 - Day 2: Enlisting

What better way to continue than to reflect on the day that changed my 20's (and my life) forever.

The day I enlisted in the U.S. Army. The left - the day I came back for Christmas after three weeks of initial training only to return two weeks later.

When I was in high school there was something fascinating to me about the military - but I didn't want to be in it. Ever. In fact, I said I would escape to Canada before I ever joined. This was in 2005. Fast forward to 2010. I hadn't found work in Los Angeles, went back to Chicago for a final semester to complete my degree, couldn't find work there, and moved back to Kansas at the end of 2009 where I then continued working part time at a minimum wage job at a movie theater, living back in my old room in my parent's basement in my mid-twenties.

Even though I had an absurd amount of student debt (thanks student loans!) I first thought I should apply to a graduate program in my hometown. In the midst of this process (which was ridiculous and I wasted time taking the GRE) I was approached by a friend who was planning on joining the U.S. Army. Well, it was more like I approached him. One day Paul McPheeters was talking about the ASVAB (the 
Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery), the initial standardized test the military uses to gauge different areas of competency for jobs. Having no idea what this was and being curious, I started asking questions. After a small chunk of time he said to me, "You seem to be pretty interested in this. Maybe you should come into the recruiting office with me."

So living in the basement of my parent's home with a part time minimum wage job, I agreed without a second thought.

Within the week I was walking into the decision that would change everything. I sat down and they had me take the practice ASVAB. With that underway, I decided I should pursue this further and they scheduled me to take the real ASVAB. I hated it just like all standardized style tests but I was excited about future possibilities and this was an open door. And one that I really didn't fully understand.

Initially, having a college degree, I attempted to go in as an officer. It went better than I thought at the first board but I had never been more nervous in my life. They still saw something in me they felt was leadership material and sent the papers up. The problem was at this time they had set up a second board, one that only gauged off of paperwork. This was the real problem. And that is where it didn't go through. 

I was stuck in Kansas and I knew I didn't want to stay. I was meant for bigger things. I could wait six months and try again or I could enlist. I was stubborn and impatient. So I enlisted, thankfully as a higher rank still (E-4/Specialist) thanks to my college degree and went went in the direction of military intelligence (35S-Signals Collector/Analyst) and signed an 8 year contract (3 1/2 years active duty) and garnered a Top Secret Security Clearance (yes I can keep secrets well). But I did have to give up the possibility of any other citizenship. The U.S. doesn't want other countries having their secrets used against them, after all. Nothing would ever be the same.

Five months later (November 2010) I would ship out to basic training. That was the worst and most important experience of my life so far. And then I would hate my life for three years in a solitary confinement cell with no window (the barracks) for three years in Hawaii. But on the bright side, at least I got to see things like this cool little fantastical creature.
I still found a way to have adventures!

Monday, June 20, 2016

30 Before 30 - Day 1: LAFSC

To all you wonderful readers,

I hope you can get something out of these ramblings... as I hope that I can as well.

I wish I could say I came up with this idea myself but truth be told, I borrowed it. The idea is I'll be attempting to write everyday for the next 30 days leading up to the day I turn 30 (which should be the day of the final post), my aim being to recount my 20's as I head into the next decade. I took this idea from Chris Krebsbach, who I met back in 2009 while doing a semester at the Los Angeles Film Studies Center. She recently did a 40 before 40 listing of blog posts and that is what gave me the idea. If you want, check out her blog at the link below, and in honor of where the inspiration came from, my first post shall be about LAFSC.

2009 was the year I graduated... a semester longer than it should have taken. Sometimes you just have to learn those lessons. Had I not failed some of those science classes (you might want to know science and math were never my forte) I would have graduated immediately following my semester in Los Angeles. But in January 2009, I ended up in my ultimate destination for what I felt was going to be the time in my life I would make it big. I was 22, naive, and a bit more lacking in life experience than I ever could have realized. I should probably also add that I was quite lacking on the side of confidence.

But the Los Angeles Film Studies Center and my short 6 months in Los Angeles would quickly change all of that. Between my internship at Mandate Pictures, 2 of my own short film projects, another project I fell from producer to production assistant on, and continually crushing on girls (oh, college), I certainly starting seeing life (and the film industry) in a different light. Let's start with the bad shall we?

 One of the projects I was required to be on I ended up as a producer. Having been given an option to write down our top choices for roles I thought, "Hey, lots of directors produce! I should get the experience!" But as soon as I was thrown on the project... it down spiraled fast. First, I still believe on a small short film project, it's difficult to find enough jobs for 3 producers. I felt the limit should be 2. This still gives me no excuse for my shortcomings. In the process of all this, my focus drifted to my own two short films for the semester and when the time came to be on set for this short film, what did I do? I sat on set reading "Watchmen." You read that correctly. I failed miserably, hardly did anything to help as a producer, and read on set instead of assisting in any possible way I could. I learned that lesson quick when I was demoted to production assistant.

Here's the short story on that one. I failed. And then I learned how to produce, or at least somewhat.

So, now for the good times. Mandate Pictures ("Juno"), where I interned, was a trove of behind the scenes information inside a production company. On the last week the executives and assistants even had a special meeting with the interns where they could ask them any questions. Not only did I see inside the process from development all the way to post, I got a wealth of opportunities to read current scripts circulating through the system! At the same time, the internship was going nowhere and I didn't try very hard and therefore I don't think I was terribly "successful" in that venture either.

Through that semester came two short films, one of which was very confusing story wise because of my lack of experience and short amount of time. The second, which I am very proud of, is called "Beyond The Mirror." ( This little short started what I use as my current "production company" (it's not currently registered...) called Whimsical Pictures on all my projects now. In this time I found what encapsulates the way I think and the kind of stories I generally love to tell. Every project since has been listed under Whimsical Pictures, including on IMDB.

And crushing on girls. Well, that was college. Hmmm... I guess that's actually just guys, except my mentality has changed over time. I'm not overly self conscious like I used to be or extremely nervous around women that I like. Yeah, that was college. I had A LOT of growing to do. And over time I did just that. Somewhere along the way I found my confidence (mostly).

I think that was in the past year.

But Los Angeles helped to start understanding what it means to be a real filmmaker who wants to work in the interesting. And I failed... a lot. After that, do you know what I did? I got back up again because that's what you have to do to be successful. Never give up. And that's what I've done. Not even the Army stopped me.

But that's for a later post.