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.

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    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.
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    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?

-Satu

 

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.

-Satu

gandhi-quote.-in-a-gentle-way-you-can-shake-the-world.

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.

-Satu

Stay Connected.

I feel paralyzed from the evil things people do. The young men of this country are growing up thinking that they are entitled to a woman’s life. What made them believe that the world owe’s them anything? It stuns me that I don’t have an answer, other than “please raise your children better.”

It started with Columbine. I was in high school in North Carolina at the time. Our teachers made us recite the pledge of allegiance. They started flying flags in each classroom. I refused to say the pledge because I am an atheist, and I had the support of my classmates who supplied me with sections from the constitution saying that I did not have to recite it because “under God” was added later, much later, as we know, in the 1950’s. My teacher was disgusted with me, but I’m not a sheep. I was sent to the principal’s office, but I just went home. No kid with an automatic rifle was going to challenge my human rights, and certainly not my 12th grade German teacher. Patriotism. You’re either with us or against us. United we stand by our guns.

Here’s what happens today after a school shooting: drills for 1st graders hiding under desks. Assemblies with touchy-feely sentiments about “community”. It’s all part of the cycle. How do we treat and identify boys and men who have these issues? Why are things like Gamer Gate happening? What is causing these people to flip out?

Girls, Women: No one owns you. No one is entitled to you, your life, or your body.

Is it the larger cultural patriarchal landscape that is to blame? As creators, we have a responsibility to tell the truth and create great art. Are video games just entertainment? What percentage of the population has the ability to separate reality from virtual reality? What is effecting these young men so strongly that is different from everyone before Columbine? Is it the imperfect stew that is America? Are video games more violent today than they were back then? No, they are just more realistic.

The persona you put on the Internet is not who you are in reality. The distance we are creating from each other grows. If Twitter deleted itself today, we would recover. All of those connections would be lost, if you had not reached out to meet in person. Gone. And it would not effect us at all, because it’s virtual. It’s a presentation of the self.

Time to get out of your house and start connecting with people, lest you retreat farther into the shell of your protective plastic persona.

Stay connected.

Those Trying Days…Keep That Head Up!

From the red carpet events, to the photoshoots, and pool-side soirées, an actress’s life can be exquisitely glamourous. The stories of “over-night successes” and finding the “diamond in the rough” romanticize the thespian’s life story and uplifts us all to dream the impossible dream. As an actor, the idea that we must lift everyone’s spirits is somber when we ourselves need to be lifted out of our own malaise.

Today I spoke with my father. Here is a man who never stopped working a day in his life. The apple falls right from the tree and straight into the office, in this case. He excitedly proclaimed that he is slowly working on his new book about electrocardiology research. I feel happy for him and tell him about eBooks if he was interested in publishing his previous work which exists in blog form, Diamonds from Finland (poems from Finland’s poet laureate, Eino Leino, translated by my father). He says happily that he prefers hard copies for such a thing. I agree.

It’s time to visit family as I only see my father once a year, and my mother a handful of times as she is the only one who is able to travel. My father had quadruple bypass surgery back in 2010. The surgery made his life immeasurably better. He is turning 82 in December, and as my dear mother softly reminds me with the occasional morbid e-mail that he is getting on in the years. I miss them dearly, thousands of miles away. I have never lived this far away from them, but I have been on my own since I was 17. I miss them now more than I ever did.

I finally got a survival job going on today. This will buy me [some] time to focus on selling my show, Queen Gorya. In the meantime, I will focus more on writing and completing my existing projects for my film company. Like my father, there is always another project brewing. I have a sneaking suspicion this will be the case until my death bed. “And another thing…check the drawer by my bedside table. There you will find a script…”

Phone calls to family are bittersweet. I am happy to hear from them but sad because I miss them terribly. Sometimes I am cross because the actor’s life is taxing and so often discouraging. I relent to bring them down with my lack of real news, but I can’t not talk to them just because I’m sad. As a good friend once said, “No one understands show business, but the people in show business.” Bits and pieces falling together to form the elusive and ever changing puzzle that is my destiny. I will control what I can, and keep others believing in the dream. I honestly can’t wait until the day that I hear some incredible news, if only to share it with my father and mother on a video call. I never want to make them cry, but in the case of exuberant happiness, I will gladly oblige.

-Satu Runa (“I am still trying to get used to your name”- PMR)

Actress and Director, Satu Runa

Actress and Director, Satu Runa. April 10, 2014 Glendale, CA

photo by Michael Moriatis

 

Anxiety, Depression, and Showbiz

It was a somber news day as the world learned of the passing of Robin Williams, the thrilling, electric, and magnetically gifted comedian, movie star, and voice actor.  I am more comfortable calling this man a real Actor, because he was every reason to pursue becoming a performer of the stage, big and small screen.

Tonight I am watching “Patch Adams,” the 90’s drama-comedy about a med student who finds himself in a psychiatric facility for treatment due to a suicide attempt.  This film affected me deeply, as did most of Robin’s films.  Mrs. Doubtfire, because Sally Field reminded me of my mother. What Dreams May Come, for it’s ultra powerful morbid subject matter and depiction of what it is like to loose someone to suicide. And of course, Hook, with the unforgettable line, “Life is an awfully big adventure.”  To lose an incredibly gifted and enigmatic talent such as Robin Williams is astonishing, particularly to suicide. Many performers suffer from manic-depression or bipolar disorder, amongst several other personality disorders (namely histrionic and borderline). I studied psychology in high school at a college level and took what I learned for gospel. As I dive deeper into the entertainment industry myself, I am time and time again investigating the behavior of several beloved performers who have decided to end their lives. It fascinates society, and it fascinates me. I am compelled to study the early deaths of celebrities and artists.

I have studied the lives of Marilyn Monroe, & Heath Ledger among others.  I have been pursuing a successful career in show business for some time, so I completely understand the heartache one can experience, and the toll it takes on the heart, body, and mind.  I’d be a liar if I said I never felt feelings of anxiety or depression directly related to my career choice, but I am left with the question so many others face: to take medication, or to face the storm without it? I recently had Lasik surgery, which involves taking a Valium to relax the nerves. I couldn’t help but relish the feeling all day, despite my eyes being freshly cut. For the first time since I could remember, I felt completely relaxed. Other than a full body massage or a full day at the beach, the Valium eliminated any stress, worry, fear, or panic. Accompanying the lack of these feelings was a lack of any feeling. Nothing mattered. “Anything goes”. I was happy to float along and enjoy my complacent afternoon. There’s the rub with psychoactive medication: while it can help some people be themselves, it’s also possible that it can rob you of your true self by snuffing out any charisma or edge your personality might naturally have. I could easily see myself abusing this drug if given the chance, because it allows you to go beyond forgetting your troubles and cares and just completely “check out,” which so many of us need on a regular basis (ie., why people have horrendous phone addictions, which is essentially checking out from life while playing games or [ab]using social media).

I understand how one can become addicted to psychoactive prescriptions which is why I am avoiding them. Things can become very stressful in anyone’s life, but in that of an actor’s life, we must manipulate our vulnerability, emotions, and body so that we turn our feelings on and off when we need them. The trick is that it’s more difficult turning them off, than on. There is more training focused on “opening up” and letting go, reaching a nerve and exposing it raw, than there is for protecting your psyche and soul in the process. Perhaps drama schools should intentionally focus on the “protection of the psyche”, as certain acting work requires deep psychological experimentation, experiencing trauma, and believing it.

For actors and others who experience depression it’s important to recognize that it absolutely can be possibly balanced through medication. More importantly, like in Patch Adams, we must work with the disease/disorder, not against it. We must never forget that there is a person behind that disorder.
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And laughter is the best medicine. Thank you Robin. I feel better already, when I see your face.


-Satu Runa

www.twitter.com/saturuna