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Prince Dreams

I warmed up on the keys then tuned my guitar. The rest of the musicians were eagerly checking a blackboard with their names written in alphabetical order. Each name had a song written next to it, up to the S’s. I anxiously waited to see which song I would get, if I would get one at all, because if you didn’t get a song selection you were cut from the band try-outs. Waiting patiently, nervous. Did I make the cut? Was I good enough? And there it was. He had chosen “Darling Nikki” as the song I would sing for the band, and play guitar on. All of my dreams had come true with the stroke of a purple pen. Dressed in gold and yellow, he turns to look at me, smirking, black curly cue perfectly coiled on his forehead. I whispered “Thank you” as he strutted off to start rehearsals. #PrinceDreams

-Darling Satu

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“Nostalgiacore” in the Time of Progress

I have a story idea that takes place in the early 90s and I’m having the hardest time getting started. Taking a closer look at what is causing my hesitancy, I find that it’s because the cast would have to be mostly white due to the historical context. To be more inclusive for people of color, how do I proceed?

One thing I’ve noticed about period TV programs is the noticeable erasure of people of color. One could possibly attribute this to a recreation of the “Hollywood version” of history, featuring all white leads, as well as actual history- where the storyline takes place in a workplace scenario where people of color were rarely (if ever) hired during this time. I love well done period TV shows, particularly when it serves as a metaphor for current societal issues. What doesn’t work for me in the constant repetition of revisiting the past in American television: zero people of color in leading or even guest-starring roles. While the country celebrates a return to the 80s genre TV movies with Netflix’s Stranger Things, I’m left wondering: why are we doing this again? Haven’t we fought tooth and nail to push away from all the character tropes of TV past?

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Stranger Things (Netflix)

Turns out people will eat it up. I know, I did too. For a few episodes. But I was horribly distracted by the lack of seeing something “new.” It was familiar, but not in a good way. It reminded me of a time lost, but it also reminded me that there is a psychological desire to cut non-white people out of the creative conversation. I don’t think that was the intention of the Duffer Brothers. As is the case with the Coen Brothers, “[the 80s, white Midwest] is the world we know.” As several smart people have pointed out- are aliens/zombies/vampires any easier to write about on a fictional level, without truly understanding them, living with, or growing up with them?

I’m starved for things like The Get Down. It takes place in the late 70s Bronx borough, and I can’t get enough of it. I was born in the 80s and I listen to every kind of music and I still understand the 70s nostalgia factor. But the show does not solely aim to tickle your easily picked at nostalgia scabs or heartstrings. From what I can tell (and I wasn’t there) it feels totally 70s in every aspect of the sense, but it’s also examining the underbelly from a fantastical perspective (as Baz Luhrmann often does and does well). The music speaks for itself and lives within a cast of highly spirited, talented actors.

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The Get Down (Netflix)

We see familiar faces from a legendary decade, people we’ve since celebrated for their skill in creating an entirely new, much needed musical genre to tear disco apart and destroy the status quo. Isn’t that what revolution is about? Isn’t that what art is about? The show’s format itself rips apart the norm. Baz Luhrmann for television, in it’s second Golden Age (can we call it the Platinum Age already?), co-written by the Pulitzer prize winning playwright, Stephen Adly Giurgis (Our Lady of 121st Street, Jesus Hopped the A-Train, Last Days of Judas Iscariot), the show is bound for a promising recipe of artistic excellence. And it delivers, all of these things: Nostalgia, top class talent, and a new way to recreate that specific time and place through fantasy.

What turns me off about Stranger Things– because it’s replicating, it features all the tropes we are desperately pushing away from. What holds me back from congratulating Stranger Things and anything else like it (let’s call it “Nostalgiacore”): while it remarkably recreates what we love about 80s film + TV, it also clearly showcases things that were wrong about 80s Hollywood, including all white casts with one token person of color, and stereotypical, tropey roles for women and girls. I enjoy period stories showcasing what society was genuinely like, but I do have an issue with revisiting a time in which Hollywood itself was less enlightened. Things that, should we see it in any other program, would make us cringe and trash it to pieces. Being “woke” has gotten to a point were it takes an exorbitant amount of forgiveness to get through certain films of “less enlightened times” and to me, it’s not excusable to recreate our past mistakes. Today, we want to see more from our media. Time to adapt.

Back to my story idea that takes place in a very white part of the country in the early 90s, in a very white “scene”: I’m going to do more research. If I can find the people of color in this narrative, I’d rather include them, especially if they were left out of historical documentation. Otherwise I feel like I’m doing a disservice to progress, and I’ll have to write about something else. The story is important for women (feminist), despite the scene in question being entirely dominated by white women (lacking intersectional feminism). I don’t want to careen the story into present day, but I don’t want to write “another story devoid of color” either, not for me, or anyone else. Especially when my (mixed) perspective includes color.

Have you ever hesitated to write something in the name of progress?

-Satu

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.

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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.

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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.
http://www.saturuna.com

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

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

 

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.

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

Happy Hauntings My Fiends!

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Queen Gorya and Terry “The Wolfman” (actors Satu Runa and Steve J. Palmer)

It’s that time of year!  I find that often during my favorite season of all, autumn/Halloween-straight through Christmas, I have the most work on the table consistently, year after year.  This is the time to create spooky, juicy, creepy, crawly projects and I have some to tell you about!
QUEEN GORYA is my new TV series that I am directing, producing, starring in, and developing.  I am in love with this character and her universe.  It is a dark and mysterious world of the occult and Queen Gorya, horror hostess extraordinaire, is stuck in the middle with her co-host, Terry the Wolfman.  We will be having a Kickstarter campaign launching October 15 to raise money to complete the pilot episode!  I hope she finds a great home because she deserves it!  Check out the trailer for the pilot episode HERE:

On top of this bad boy, I am producing a feature film entitled “The Lunatic” directed by Scott Rosenbaum.  It’s all very hush-hush but we are developing a thriller/horror fanbase and releasing episodes bit by bit until the start of our very own IndieGoGo campaign (it will be fun getting to know the in’s and out’s of these two sites comparatively) November 1.

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Satu Runa, actress “Happy Halloween!”

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Satu Runa

Did a “Halloween” promotional fun photoshoot (as I always do)- check out my latest spooky pics,  I love how they turned out!  Happy Hauntings my FIENDS xxoo- Satu (aka QUEEN GORYA!).