It’s All About the Rs and Ds!

Hello all, hope you had a great Thanksgiving! I sure did. It was lovely spending time with my family, although my sister-in-law and sister were both gone abroad this year.

Anyway, I’ve got a few exciting updates for you.

1) We had another mini-screening for QLN at the December Mitten Movie Project, organized by Connie Mangilin and Jeff White. QLN was shown with many other wonderful Michigan-made shorts, all audience choice winners from previous months, and I got to see some amazing pieces with my friend Grace Anne Rowan starring. The only award given out that night that I know of was for best short film, and that went to Chuck Grady’s The Point. Congratulations! It will air on Comcast’s Channel 52 Wow in the Troy area of Michigan for the next month.

2) My friend, Treasure Groh, a brilliant writer for Real Detroit, had decided to start a new series with her editor about, you guessed it, the film industry in Michigan!

Front page of Real Detroit--Cindy Chu

Front page of Real Detroit--Cindy Chu

Knowing that I’m an aspiring actress, she interviewed me for the first piece. You can read it here, and if that’s stopped working, here’s the text of it:

Michigan’s Film Industry
By Treasure Groh
Dec 1, 2009, 12:55

Michigan’s Film Industry
A 101 Guide To Getting Started

Michigan may be the last place anyone expected to go Hollywood, but we have (minus the pretense). Now, studios, film classes and acting workshops are sprouting up all over metro-Detroit for people hoping to land film gigs. This ongoing series is designed to help you break into the business. We will examine the classes, the news, the politics, the tax incentive controversy and the films slated to be made right here in Michigan … and maybe, just maybe, help you get a job in the field.

Let’s start with the basics. Jobs are coming, slowly. The chances of nailing a big movie role by being discovered at a café are slim (even if you do nail the producer). You need to start with bit roles — roles as an extra.

But if your talent isn’t as “talent,” there are schools to help you gain knowledge as a grip or colorist — but we’ll tackle that topic in another issue.

What’s the cause of the newfound film enterprise of opportunity in our own backyards? It may be that 42 percent tax incentive that Governor Granholm granted the film institutions for producing product here (money is always the bottom line in Hollywood). Still, the very things that Detroit society has come to hate have also lured filmmakers in: burnt out and abandoned buildings with glorious architecture.

With so many movies being filmed here — some of which have included Whip It, Gran Torino and the HBO original TV series Hung — how does one break into this newly adapted form of employment? There are many different avenues to take, from Craigslist ads to agencies and everything in between. So if you find yourself itching to take a crack at the newly bustling Michigan film industry, read on.

Where to Start
If you haven’t had any previous acting or production experience, it’s best that you get out there and flash those pearly whites. And if they ain’t white, get them lasered. We’re serious. Get yourself out there and keep your name and image relevant. School productions aside, there’s an unending supply of acting seminars and workshops geared to meet your specific needs.

You can think unconventionally or follow the lead of others like you: “I took a one day seminar with Steve Blackwood (he was on Days of Our Lives) and an audition seminar with Marnie Saitta, who is the casting director with Days of Our Lives,” says Cindy Chu, an aspiring actress.

This seminar was brought to the public by the Michigan Actors Studio (michiganactorsstudio.com), which plays a big part in providing workshops to aspiring, as well as seasoned, actors. Though the seminars are not free, keep in mind that they often run weeks at a time, giving you more experience for a cheaper price than, say, Juilliard would.

While Chu admits that not all seminars are created equal, you should do what you can with what you have. Remember to check the site often, as classes are bound to fill up quickly.

Earning Your Chops
Now that you’ve learned a thing or two about the business, you’re ready for some roles, right? Wrong. Before you bother a casting director with your whimsical dreams of stardom, it’s best to get a few headshots. At this point, portfolios aren’t necessary because you don’t have any experience (yet). But once you have that pretty little card with your face on it, you can finally start looking for casting calls.

It can be a daunting task searching through all the pages that Craigslist has to offer, but it’s not in vain. “Any time it says ‘extras wanted’ or ‘actresses wanted’ and then it’ll talk about the Internet and partial nudity, I never pursue any of those,” Chu says with a laugh. The Michigan Film Office (michiganfilmoffice.org) is another great resource when looking for jobs, workshops, college class listings and other news about productions coming this way.

Though it shows drive and ambition to find your own jobs, you may also opt for an extras casting site. “You go in and give them your stats, so whenever a film is coming in and they’re looking for extras they’ll look and see if you fit the descriptions for background work and stuff,” Chu advises.

A good extras casting site is Real Style (realstyleonline.com). For a small, one-time $15 fee, Real Style will hook you up with a profile — you’ll go in and take a picture; and they’ll keep you in their database when casting directors are on the prowl for fresh talent.

Another road you may take is a talent agency. When you have enough material for your reel, you can start submitting to such agencies in the hopes of being signed and getting an agent. Doubly exciting, being signed to an agency means that you are good enough to have an agent and you’ll also get help from said agent in booking auditions.

Don’t just take the high road and expect to be cast in a movie right away. Take some time and scour local theaters for stage productions as well. “If someone wants to get into it I would say audition for your local theater groups and participate in Student films,” says Chu.

Working on a student film, as Chu did for the film Qing Lou Nu, may be tricky, but the experience will pay off in the end. As for stage productions, even if you don’t get the part don’t get discouraged — you now have an audition under your belt and may be better able to spot your strengths and weaknesses.

If you find that booking films is a little harder than anticipated, try another avenue. Working on a local crew does wonders for your networking capabilities and allows you to work closely with the people of production so that they will better recognize your face the next time they’re in need.

“When you work with someone and have good chemistry with them on the set and you’re a team player, they’ll definitely remember that in the future and wanna help you out,” says Chu, who was a wardrobe intern for the film Whip It.

Where to Go From Here
After you’ve soaked up all the skills needed to begin a career in film, it’s important to realize that you won’t always get paid. While Chu states that you should get paid, she admits that, oftentimes, it does not happen.

“A lot of people are upset because some of the films haven’t followed through but have asked for free extras or say that they’ll do a raffle for a prize and then they don’t end up dong the raffle,” Chu says. If you’re booked through a site such as Real Style, you will get paid for all of the work you do. If you approach a project on your own, be prepared for the unfortunate situation of potentially leaving with empty pockets.

From here, continue to use the knowledge and experience you’ve acquired. Even if you’re not working, take seminars and workshops during your dry spell so you don’t get rusty. Take advantage of every opportunity the blossoming Michigan film industry is offering you. Continue to hone your craft and be the best among your peers.

Who knows … some day you might just find yourself acting in an airport with George Clooney.  | RDW

And the best update of all for the year, I think:

3) Last Thursday I received a call from Pound & Mooney Casting about a gig with Red Dawn, directed by Dan Bradley. They needed a Chinese female actress for an extra role with a “99.9% chance of being upgraded”. I immediately said I would do it, at which Cathy Mooney told me that the extras casting from the film would be in contact with me about going in for a fitting. I ended up getting a phone call from Ryan Hill, the head of the RD extras department, and we made an appointment for me to go in to their production offices that evening for a fitting and to sign some initial paperwork. Later on, I got my call time for the next day. Friday morning, Janet Pound called me to tell me she had seen my short film at the Mitten Movie Project and loved it, so when the call went out for this potential role, she made sure I was resubmitted from my earlier audition with them for the part of “Checkpoint Soldier”. That felt great, to know that the one huge role I’ve had so far was quite instrumental in this turnaround of events. I had given up hope of ever being in Red Dawn after hearing they were almost wrapped and there hadn’t been many roles for Asian women in it. Well, eventually on Friday, I was called to set with my co-star, Dwight Sora, an Asian actor from Chicago, and I figured I was at best a featured extra. I don’t want to say what I did in the scene here, since I don’t know how much I’m allowed to elaborate, but when we wrapped that night, I was told I’d probably be needed back Monday and they would let us know. Sunday I got notice that I probably wouldn’t be needed but they wanted me on hold in case things changed. Monday, I got a call saying I’d been upgraded to a supporting role and would have to fill out some contracts when I went back to set. Tuesday I was on hold again. Finally, Wednesday, I went back for my second scene, and was excited to see that there was a trailer on the honeywagon with my name on it! It was shared, but still! My first trailer! And inside my trailer, my paperwork awaited. I signed my first Taft-Hartley, and I believe that it means I’m now SAG-eligible. Yay! It was a great day on set, lots of “fire in the hole”, tons of action, and it was much warmer in the buildings than it had been on Friday. My first SAG feature film role…and in the biggest action flick shot of the year, I do believe!

Cindy Chu & Red Dawn trailer

Cindy Chu and Red Dawn trailer

All in all, 2009 has been a great year for me, and I think I’ve made some very satisfactory progress in my goal of becoming a professional actress/ film professional. Not bad for under a year and a half of actually actively pursuing this career. This last role has afforded me the financial capability to take some classes in 2010, and that will include a film acting class, and perhaps also some sort of martial arts course. After speaking with one of the professional stunt men on Red Dawn, I think it only makes sense to at least learn the basics, being a Chinese-American actress and all. At best, it will be the deciding factor in me getting some role over another actress, and it’s a great skill to have in terms of self-defense and also my constant pursuit of learning new things.

Currently, I am also doing the P90X workout program. I’m just starting week 2 and already feel some physical changes inside. I feel that I’ve been making better choices in my diet, and like I have more energy. The first week, though, wow! I was sore every day! The workouts can be pretty challenging, but I’ve already improved my endurance and coordination in the past 9 days, and can’t wait to see what kind of changes it’ll bring for me physically. I’d like to drop a size by my birthday in February! For the most part, though, I just want to know that I’m well-conditioned, and to be healthier and have better stamina overall. No hibernating for me this winter, I’ve got roles to land and a lot of work ahead of me.

I look forward to 2010 with nothing but hope.

Thank you for reading,

Cindy

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