Me interviewing Woody Harrelson at the After the Sunset junket (NYC, 2004)

Humble Beginnings

I was recently involved with a Buzzfeed video as a subject testing Caribbean cuisine. I got to check out the studios and get to know some of their staff: highly diverse early 20-somethings. As I was wondering what each of their stories were in how they got this gig, I began reflecting on my humble beginnings from the perspective of an “elder millennial” in showbiz and journalism. It’s funny how different we can be when only separated by 5-10 years.

Just before I ran the Kickstarter for my indie pilot, “Queen Gorya,” I was a guest on a panel at the 2014 San Diego Comic Con featuring indie content creators. It was me, a YouTube star, a YouTube employee, and a cosplay weapon designer. The entire audience was there to see the YouTube star. A few months after the panel, the YouTube employee invited me to come see the YouTube Space. My thought going in was that I was going to be asked if I wanted to use the space to shoot content for my channel. Then the question came up: “How many subscribers do you have?” then I knew the “tour” was over. I’ve never had a huge YouTube following despite starting a channel shortly after YouTube began. I did have a solid following on MySpace, but then… you know. So I thought, “Okay, I’m here because YouTube is trying to develop talent by generously giving them the resources to film higher caliber content. Only they just want their own stars, they don’t want to make new ones.” The studios were mostly empty, with the exception of a few spaces being rented out by Felicia Day for Geek and Sundry.

Flash forward to the day after International Women’s Day: I read an article about “YouTube Funding Women Creators.” This is definitely a step in the right direction.

YouTube’s femme-focused foray, launched ahead of International Women’s Day on March 8, comes as studies show Hollywood continues to lag in employing women directors and depicting female characters and that pay gaps persist between men and women in the biz.  

This quote from the Variety article is partially irrelevant because YouTube is fostering their female content creators for the purpose of gaining more exposure on YouTube alone (with no plans to connect out because once you make it in Hollywood, who needs YouTube?). I’ve had this discussion with several creators and filmmakers (not YouTubers) in that YouTube may be missing the mark by overlooking raw talent in favor of their own stars. It doesn’t seem to be part of their mission to curate rising talented filmmakers by creating stars in their space. Instead, they are plucking existing YouTube stars, capitalizing on their existing success, and thereby making the company look good because diversity.

This is the generation where followers and subscribers matter to the industry. I suppose it matters if you have nothing else going for you. But if someone had only 200 followers and a sensational short film I wouldn’t care about subscriber count, I would do everything I could to make sure people knew who they are and to watch their work so they can make more work. But that’s the fundamental difference between YouTube and Vimeo. Vimeo doesn’t even have follower count on your main profile page. Why? Because it’s irrelevant to the quality of the content you present.

The more I thought about it the more it baffled and angered me. “Why wouldn’t they take me on when my content was clearly way higher caliber than any of the low-quality churned out content we see from YouTube stars? I actually have the chops to be a real filmmaker and YouTube wants to give these kids power and equipment they barely know how to use?” 

And then I had the astonishing revelation that I did have my shot at a “YouTube Space” when I was just starting out. It was called “Public Access.

We could shoot anything we wanted that didn’t need to be censored.


Captain Schoolgirl with Satu Runa and Will Finan

It was my first audition after I moved to New York City a month after graduating from college. I was lucky. It was minimum wage, we could eat all the pizza we wanted, and none of us had experience. Us kids hung out all day at the studios in Jersey City brainstorming skit ideas and writing content for our entertainment programs.


On set of The Adventures of Captain Schoolgirl at Comcast studios, Jersey City, NJ. (Our public access playground)

We were entertainment hosts covering all the most fun high profile pop-culture events of New York City, and occasionally flying out to Los Angeles on the movie studio’s dime to cover press junkets of big movie premieres. It_was_awesome. This was my YouTube Space, fostering all of my creative skills. It’s where I learned how to use Final Cut. It’s where I learned how to produce content. It’s where I got my feet wet as an entertainment journalism interviewing celebrities and acting in comedic skits that my co-hosts and I would write and direct. It was everything I needed to set me on the path towards being a film director, producer, and actor. And my boss took a chance on me- a former music television intern with zero experience as a host. Just the drive (and a good image).

I often feel a little resentment because “kids today have it so good” when it comes to opportunity. I feel like we missed out on the “viral revolution” by about 5 years. Despite having a 16 million viewer reach with Comcast, we wanted more. We made one of our skits into a comic book and web series (a few years before web series even existed). We didn’t know how to elevate it to the next level, so we put it on MySpace, got a healthy following, then MySpace disappeared, and we had all moved on to new projects and jobs. When I look at today’s job opportunities, there are several “content creator” jobs for almost every company that wants a social presence. They want medium quality disposable content. But I’m just not that into YouTube channels. In fact, I can hardly watch them. That’s a generational thing, even though I am part of this generation.

I was looking around the Buzzfeed studio and watched the early 20-somethings do their thing. I wanted to help them get better lighting. I wanted to help them use the cameras properly. I wanted to give them a simple solution when something went wrong. I kept silent because I was there as a guest, and they did not want any kind of input, being the young know-it-alls that they were (hey- guilty of the same thing right here). All I could think to myself was, “I could do this so easily. I have done this. If I was just graduating today, this would be my job.” But there is one thing stopping me from pursuing an online “content creator” job: That time in my career has passed. I’ve been there, done that. I am creating higher caliber and traditional film. The mediums that speak loudly to me are the mediums that we watch the best narrative TV programs on, and the best feature films. This is what I am meant to do, now, despite my humble beginnings as a skit and pop-culture news writer/host for public access. I have come a very, very long way. I applaud the new generation for pushing forward and making their silly videos, just like we did a decade ago, and the generation before us. These little skits and bits are gateways to greater things. It’s how we learned. Ten years from now, these kids will leave it behind and focus on creating meaningful art. So, jealous I shall not be, for I have paid my dues long ago.

Time to finish that screenplay. I have big plans, and yes- it involves Vimeo.😉

Satu Runa
Writer/Director, Actor. Former entertainment host/content creator for Comcast, Jersey City.


Captain Schoolgirl (character I played for our Comcast public access show), 2006

But What Do You Really Want?

You can’t go on Twitter or Facebook without at least 50 articles outlining the issue of “diversity in Hollywood.” If we are focusing purely on casting, what is it that we really want to see on the big screen?

When it comes to diversity, television has film beat. The only issue is that while TV casts boast highly diverse leads and guest-stars, they almost always fit in the stereotype box of race. Not necessarily the portrayal/performance of the race in question, but moreso the visual representation of the race in question. When I am called in to audition for any role, I briefly scan the competition in the waiting room and decide if I have a shot or not or if I was called in because of my skin and hair color, or the box that was checked under “ethnicity.” Sometimes I’ll be surrounded by beautiful brown-skinned Indian women with long braided dark hair wearing saris, other times I’ll be in the company of sleek, sophisticated ethnically ambiguous Middle-Eastern/Mediterranean types. Occasionally, for a drama series, I’ll be competing with different ethnicities in order to fill the “this role is ethnic and it doesn’t matter which kind” box. In the end I must wonder if the companies who make the final decisions utter the words “well last week we had an Asian so this week we probably should have a Latina instead.” More often than not, the smaller parts are on a roulette wheel of chance in terms of who gets the part after callbacks. With good reason. But for this reason, I think that diversity initiatives actually hold specifically mixed-race and non-stereotypical actors back.

I continue to write and produce content that I may act in to showcase my skill, but in the interim I keep auditioning for everything I am eligible for in order to get my foot in the door. I am grateful for every solid audition that comes my way. But I am constantly analyzing and wondering if there is a way to improve the diversity initiatives in casting to broaden the spectrum. While casting breakdowns continue to only have the five top ethnic choices, so long as they feature someone black, Asian, or hispanic- they pass the test. Meanwhile, a whole lot of “others” get shafted and will never get booked unless by pure luck or a specific vision by the writer. I was lucky enough to book a co-starring role on a prominent TNT procedural which was one of the most positive experiences I’ve ever had on set. I applaud the casting directors and producers for having an inclusive show featuring all types of people in their cast on a weekly basis. I only wish all shows would reflect America this way, perhaps they may be more successful in the end for doing so. But it’s rare that I get called in for this sort of thing because my type is rarely called in at all, since we fall outside the usual race-box.

Actresses like Eva Longoria and Priyanka Chopra face a similar wall in the beginning of their career because they were considered “not ethnic enough” to give studios a pass for diversity. This includes all mixed-race actors. Yes, there is a box for that too, but it’s a miniscule category with fewer roles than Asians (who have the smallest number of representation across the board for media).

So what do we really want to see up there, in the lights? With the controversy of such films like Prince of Persia and Gods of Egypt where the predominantly white cast is playing parts that are not of their race, this is a hot topic among Hollywood players and audience members alike.  My firm belief is that, within the realm of TV and film, an actor should be allowed to portray whatever role they are able to portray. This, to me, means two things:

1) They must have the talent to play the role well, and

2) They should have the look to believably portray the part.

I am not in the camp that believes one must actually be what the character is in order to play the part, but I absolutely believe there should be more roles reflecting all parts of humanity and society. I never want to limit actors to the point that they are only allowed to play roles that are exactly what they are. NOTE: I’m bias, because, should that be the case, actors like me would never work. As far as white-washing is concerned, I believe Gerard Butler as a Greek, but not as an Egyptian. As for Scarlett Johansson as Motoko Kusanagi, I think she looks like the character and has performed similar roles and is more than capable of playing the part- the part that is not necessarily Japanese, as it is indeed an android- however, if the entire cast is white-washed, then we have a problem. As with every film, it is a case by case basis and every individual will have their own opinion about it, and most certainly there will be outrage just as much as there will be excitement.

What we should demand is more inclusion. Keep writing the parts as unique and different as you can. The actors vying for the parts will prove themselves worthy, and the studios, (who will hopefully work on being more in touch with society and not so close-minded when it comes to race in casting) will cast accurately and efficiently.

I live for a day when the outrage subsides because the studios listened (to some of it), but also made qualified and careful casting decisions that A) Reflect society’s POV today and B) At least make an effort to cast somewhat appropriately when it comes to race. All we need to be as actors is look the part and play the part. We don’t necessarily have to be the part in all cases.

When I see a woman on screen kicking ass, I feel good. When I see a woman of color kicking ass on screen, I feel better. I dare the studios to connect with me, because I represent a pretty large piece of the pie.



Brunette Ambition

Trying to find your place in this world is a daunting task, even when you are certain of your destiny. When there are hurdles left, right, and center, one must ask: Am I on the right path? Is this what I’m really meant to do?


That brunette ambition. It’s all over my face. #werk

Having an unshakeable dream is a beautiful thing. But as I’ve come to notice (particularly after reading Sophie Amoruso’s “#Girlboss“) beware of your dream becoming your obsession. We’ve all heard the stern warnings of those who came before us “don’t let life pass you by.” In the end, I want to look back at my career and life and feel like I did enough. But I imagine that no true artist feels that way. Not the ones who created until death, anyhow.

When an actor has been plugging away for a certain number of years (let’s say, the proverbial “takes 10 years to make it,” or even 15. Shoot, maybe 18, professionally?), there is a time when you start analyzing and piecing together your career and seeing what the next big move is. Particularly when, from your perspective, it’s been moving far too slowly and there are several things out of your control (casting directors, the right agent, managers, publicists, lawyers… and so many other crucial “team members” that not every actor can afford to keep the machine going). A radical change is necessary. Sometimes it’s a bold haircut. Sometimes it’s a total 180. Sometimes it’s a different kind of performer skill. And other times it’s swimming into other creative areas in the field.

I can’t begin to express how thankful I am that I began with a B.A. in Communication Studies, studying such courses as philosophy, art history, film production, and documentary filmmaking. I’m thankful that I worked in TV production for my internship and then after my internship. I’m thankful that I kept up my filmmaking skills before and after drama school, so that when the despair of post-drama school creative voids set in, I was prepared to write and direct two short films and a pilot. Because after 7 years in New York and 5 years in LA, I needed these skills to make my bold entrance as a writer, director, actor, producer. No one is going to write that incredible part for me, at least not yet. I’m at the mercy of sub-par character descriptions and dialogue at the no/low-budget level. A great script is one in a million (okay maybe… a thousand). And the number of actresses that get to say those precious words are few and far in between. So here goes, I’m giving it a(nother) shot. I’m writing my own destiny.

It’s ultimately unsatisfying when you can’t crack the puzzle that is becoming a working actor hitting the pavement during pilot season with the best of them, auditioning 3-5x a week. You feel like you’ve tried everything, every photographer, every headshot, every outfit, every 5th tier agent. But you are simply not even invited to the dance to begin with. It really just boils down to supply and demand, and like any product that the public hasn’t seen before, you need to show them why they need you, why they can’t live without you.

The most important thing I learned since graduating from drama school is that writing is the greatest skill any of us could possess. Because my #1 goal is to be a working actor, I will do whatever it takes that doesn’t involve destroying my moral compass.

Pick up that pen. Ask “What would Bowie do,” and do that.

Time to see about that haircut:)



Executive producer/Director Satu Runa on the set of "Queen Gorya"

Don’t Be a Slave to Your Acting Career: Advice After Five Years in LA

This January marks the fifth year since I moved to Los Angeles from Astoria, Queens. I’ve seen this type of blog several times and thought I’d take a crack at it from the perspective of today’s advice to my January, 2011 self.

  1. Don’t waste time. Start creating.
    I didn’t waste any time when I first arrived. I immediately started working on my music and played a lot of shows solo for the first time (at the House of Blues- a life long dream, and the Viper Room- something I never thought I would do). Within two months I was cast as a lead in a feature film and got a manager. A few months later I got a commercial. But then there was a lot of nothingness for a few years. Few auditions. Fewer bookings. Perhaps it was because I didn’t have the best headshots, or the best representation. Or maybe it’s because of the race problem in casting. Who knows. But what I should have been doing during that time was writing. If there is any advice I wish they had prepared us for in drama school, it’s to write, endlessly.
  2. Avoid the food service industry at all costs. “It’s the only realistic survival job an actor can have.” Never was a bigger waste of my time than working as a restaurant hostess and bartender, all for the sake of “keeping my days open for auditions/having a flexible schedule”. Now, I do enjoy creating drinks and learning about booze (who doesn’t?), but ultimately, bartending was never quite as monetarily rewarding as it could have been. While the intention was to learn mixology so I could have a job and take it anywhere in the world and survive, after all these years working in restaurants- I have a gaping whole in my production resume that could have included perhaps associate producing at a network or production company. Now I must start from “scratch” once more. I’m far more grateful for my recent freelancing experiences as a production assistant on a major feature film.
  3. Don’t produce something you didn’t create unless you’re getting paid. I put two years of my life into a project that I was starring in, but didn’t create. It’s something I believed in and wanted to see the light of day, but after raising the money, after the filming, after everything was done- during a pitch meeting with the writer and another actor I began to realize that no matter how much I was involved or how much work I put into producing it, I could be cut out at any moment because I didn’t create it. Not only that, every time I was pitching the project, once they found out I didn’t create it, the pitch was off the table. Moral of the story- if you plan on putting hard time and energy into a project as an unpaid producer, write it yourself (or as a team).
  4. What Would Bowie Do? And do that. Don’t hesitate on the ideas that keep circling in your mind. It keeps coming back for a reason. Develop it. See it to the end. Dare to be an artist, for heaven’s sake. It’s what you came here to do. Figure out who the fuck you are and be that person, whatever incarnation it needs to be. If you are a musician, embrace that identity. In drama school I had to strip away that musician ego I had spent years building up, and it left me without an identity for years. I’m only now coming back to that girl in a new light and saying “fuck the rules” and “fuck the past (-Man Up)” and moving forward as the person I want to be, not the person casting wants me to be.
  5. Don’t pay for advice. We go back to “fuck the rules.” All the ‘workshops’ this industry offers talent are a waste of time, no matter how many people defend the process- it’s criminal and it sucks. If you want real advice, make solid relationships to industry players and take them out to lunch. Generic advice never helped anyone. Avoid at all costs. “Get a haircut, you look too ethnic.” “Change your name.” “Don’t tell people you’re Trinidadian, they might think you are black.” “Don’t put ‘Canadian-American passport’ on your resume, someone may not hire you because you’re taking all our jobs.”  << All fabulously horrid advice from “professionals” who aren’t even working and thrive off of desperate actors trying to hone their brand. Forget these crooks and talk to people you trust. Take a public poll. Whatever. But be very wary of workshops, career consultants, and any other type of money grubbing lunatics that pay their bills with aspiring movie stars fresh off the boat. Certainly there are great teachers out there, but for the love of the craft and everything sacred, do your research. If you want references, contact me directly.
  6. Shoot with everyone, not just “the best headshot photographers in LA.” I’ve shot with everyone. I taught myself how to shoot headshots because I’d say 1/100 photographers I’ve shot with actually knows how to open me up and also shoot my angular features. The two I can think of shot me for free. The best photoshoots I’ve had were in New York with fashion photographers. I felt more free and thus was more expressive because we were making art.

    Headshots are the bane of my existence and have been a casting problem from day one. I look different in every photo depending on lens/lighting/makeup/attitude of the photographer. So shoot as much as you can, there are plenty of photographers out there that need models. Again, do your research and take a buddy if you need to. It’s not great to be alone with photographers because a lot of them take advantage of young attractive actresses- so ask references first and take a friend. If they don’t want you to bring a friend with you, just say no.

  7. Spend more time getting your reel solid, less time crafting your “Brand.” In the end, you have to deliver the goods. A high percentage of talent is booked straight from their reels without auditioning. If it’s between two actors- the director will probably look closely at the reel to decide. It’s easier to create a brand than it is to create content for the brand, at least for me. I could spend all day editing photos and designing websites and graphics for myself but when it comes to writing a short film that can showcase my skills, it couldn’t get more difficult. I’ve written many, many “scenes” for my own reel, I even started a business producing actor’s reels and made a killing. It honed my writing and directing skills. I could crank out fifteen-twenty scenes for someone else in a day. But to write for myself is the most difficult task, so if you find yourself in this conundrum, partner up with fellow actor-writers and write for each other.
  8. Don’t ignore other opportunities. If something opens up and you are a perfect fit, dare to walk through the door. Don’t say no to opportunities that could be right for you just because “I have to be available for auditions.” My biggest regret is not going to South by Southwest with my band because of that very reason. It would have been the experience of a lifetime, and I missed it because I’m a slave to my acting career. Don’t be a slave. Be an artist. Go where the wind takes you. If you are good at writing, directing, producing, music… pursue those things. Your strengths will dictate your success. Don’t ignore them. Go for it. You never know what path may lead you to your destiny. 

One last bit: Don’t ever forget the things that make you passionate. I want every actor who just got off the bus and is looking for a new apartment, survival job, acting coach, headshot photographer, agent, manager… please read this and heed my advice.  Oh and you’ll notice that everyone has an opinion of what you should be. And when they say “be yourself,” don’t listen to anything else they have to say about you, because everyone sees you differently.

Now crank up Big Data’s “Business of Emotion” and let yourself fly:)

Your actress-singer/songwriter-filmmaker,

-Satu Runa @saturuna

Lady Cops, Fangirls, and Screenplays: Year in Review: 2015

To feel successful and balanced is what I would consider… euphoric. Here is my 2015 in reflection:

  1. I wrote my first feature film and a sci-fi pilot. For the first time in my career, I sidelined everything to focus on generating story ideas. I haven’t put this much focus in writing since my college days studying journalism and creative non-fiction. It seems to agree with me and I will certainly continue this endeavor. I highly recommend the “30 Day Challenge” of writing one story idea/day.
  2. I booked a couple acting gigs, including one on a network TV series. First time shooting at Paramount, a co-starring role on Rizzoli & Isles as a “Officer Shireen.” My character was named after one of their former writers who happens to share the same name as my aunt. All because I mentioned that I am Trinidadian in my IMDb bio. Never underestimate the power of a connection.


    Tenspotting (2015) I have a small but fun cameo in this romantic comedy directed by Patrick Meaney

  3. I designed a book cover for my co-worker, author Kurt Godwin.

    Book cover designed by Satu Runa

    I’ve always loved graphic design and meddled with it since Photoshop 6. This was my first paying gig as a graphic designer.

  4. I worked with Joe Lynch on a Faith No More music video. Still reeling from this one. Got “assistant to Joe Lynch” credit. Fantastic experience, hard work, and worth the time and effort. faithnomorewine2014_638Joe Lynch is a joy to study filmmaking with and a true pro to his crew and cast. SO honored to be a part of this!
  5. I took a Studio Lighting course at Arts Center Pasadena. This was superbly educational and worth it for the studio time alone. I’ve always needed to learn the basic and it was a truly well rounded course taught by Rick Ueda. Can’t recommend this enough.
  6. I attended my first gay wedding (my cousin tells me, while we observe the Celine Dion drag performance and Bollywood dance sequence under the cinematic lighting on the Old Montreal port “This feels like a celebrity wedding” and that it was).
  7. I lost an Uncle early in the year after a fast and short painful battle with cancer. This has been a rough year for my family as his presence was large. He was the most naturally funny person I’ve ever known and a master at being the master of ceremonies at events. Here’s to you, Uncle Z. “Love you every day that there is.”

My favorite selections from this year’s photoshoots:

Concerts I attended:

  1. Skinny Puppy (third time seeing them, still incredible)
  2. Dillinger Escape Plan the biggest release I’ve had in years.
  3. Faith No more (so… so lucky)
  4. Muse (upcoming show in LA) this will be my fourth time seeing Muse and I CAN’T GET ENOUGH.

2016 Goals:

  1. Write an EP and release a sick music video. My first love was piano and any chance I get to revisit this is a blessing. I miss my band days and I hope to play a few shows as it is most certainly a virus that needs feeding.
  2. Write three more feature screenplays and another pilot and act in them.
  3. Take more dance and extreme fitness classes. I want to push the limit with my physique. I want to be on camera and drop some jaws/drawers😉
  4. Produce, direct, and star in my action short. Sicario has ruined me in the best way. Jumping on the film festival circuit with this. And, getting ripped before production starts.

Here’s to a fruitful 2016. If you’re not putting your all in, you won’t get back much. I’m playing with a full deck, are you?



Small World

Today I am confronted with the concept of “cultural appropriation”:

Cultural appropriation is a sociological concept which views the adoption or use of elements of one culture by members of a different culture as a largely negative phenomenon.” –Wikipedia

Just reading the definition (albeit from Wikipedia) shows that it is not the actual act of using elements from another culture, but the act of disagreeing with someone who does- that defines “cultural appropriation.”
As a “bi-racial/multi-cultural” child with parents from two totally different backgrounds, the world I see before me is not only diverse but shared and mixed like a tasty stew. I prefer fusion restaurants. I prefer hyphenated musical genres. I study mixed martial arts. I study bhangra (jazz/pop + Pubjabi folk dance). I admire and strongly connect to the traditions the First Nations and Native American people. I study drama which, by nature, is a product of the sum of all parts: humanity, psychology, culture, and nature.

I understand the strong bitterness associated with the idea of someone “taking” a name, garment, or style that isn’t from their own culture. It can be annoying at times. But culture is a very unique and specific thing. Is someone born and raised in a country that holds descendants from multiple nations, part of all those nations too? What is your culture when born in a place where your genetic/hereditary culture did not originate? What is American, Australian, South American, Canadian, or Caribbean culture without all of the people who helped form these unique countries we know today?

While some incidents of cultural appropriation are most certainly dick moves and flat out racism or disrespect, others are simply forms of expression or admiration in creativity: art, music, fashion, film, food, literature, and design. If someone strongly connects with a culture that is not “their own”, should they be barred from participating? Is culture so sacred that if you are not genetically connected to it that you are not allowed to be a part of it? A “members only” club?

Art is for everyone.

It is a small world. Embracing another person’s culture is better than destroying it.



Watch For the Open Door

I’m amazed at the kind of opportunities thrown into my lap at such a young age. In the beginning, A&R would hand their business cards at me and ask me to send demos. I had a great image. I never had a great music demo made and still don’t. It’s my own personal block (fear). I still have dream producers in mind but it never really happened for me as I was clouded by other career aspirations. Part of me says “if you went down the music path, you would have self-destructed years ago,” but it would have been spectacular. I’m certain now that I will have a slow-burn/steady build career- which is great for longevity, but absolute torture on the soul.

I will make my album and my music video someday. I just wish I could have had my shit together at the right time when it was hot and ready to burst.

If I could tell myself one piece of advice at 17: GET YOUR DEMO RECORDED AND MAKE IT INCREDIBLE. Never make the mistake assuming that opportunity will always be there. It may never come again. BE READY. And never, never, NEVER let someone else’s opinion block you from what you know you were meant to be. Be careful who you listen to. Take advice sparingly, and only from the people you ADMIRE.

Do it.