About that Thing I'm Doing (part 3): A Marketing Strategy

Back in the summer of 2008 after a terrible (poker results wise) summer in Vegas, I visited Los Angeles again to see what life was like on the west coast.  I ended up meeting an aspiring actor that I don't even remember the name of anymore, who told me that become an actor is the worst decision you can ever make if you're not totally and completely utterly in love with it.  The odds are so against you really of even making it that you have to love doing it despite the lack of success.  And this was coming from a white male dude.

In New York, a lot of what I heard from teachers and other actors was that going to Los Angeles isn't for everyone.  They would tell stories of people who made the move only to get burned out and return after a few years, and one teacher even went on to say that acting out there isn't real acting.  The theater, they would say, is still the purest form of the art.  And they're not wrong, there's definitely continuity and more of being in the moment when you act in a live performance all the way through, instead of starting and stopping the same scene over and over again for 2-3 minute bursts for a film.

But ultimately film was where my passion was, I grew up watching and being affected by films, and more recently, television.  And part of me felt like the actors who were "burned out" were just making excuses and turning to good old New York snobbery to explain why they came back, instead of just admitting they couldn't make it.  So despite the warnings, I packed my bags and moved out to LA, to find out if I had what it took to avoid the fate of so many of my New York actors who had came before me.

In my years in LA, I figured out quickly (or perhaps, not quickly enough, based on where I am now) what they meant.  There is a difference between wanting to be an Actor with a capital A, and wanting to have a career in acting.  At the heart of it, acting and entertainment is a business, a consumer pays money in some way to see you entertain them.  The bigger the audience is for your particular entertainment, the more money gets made.  Simple economics, right?  Yet most people, myself included, don't really FULLY understand this concept.  In acting studios, you're taught the craft and the life of acting, but you're not really taught about how to "sell" your craft.

There is no one pathway to success as an actor, and because of that, there's no blueprint to really put your head down and follow.  Some gain success by going to an elite acting or performance program, showcasing around town to catch an influential agent's eye.  Others climb the ladder, starting hustling from commercials and co-stars to bigger roles after they've proven they've paid their dues.  Still others slowly build a following based on self-produced content, such as stand up routines, theater shows, or internet videos.  Even the ways themselves are starting to change, as the way we consume content has changed drastically in the past decade.

No matter what, all of these pathways have a similar theme to them, they have to do with being at the right place at the right time.  Uzo Aduba, an Emmy winning actress on the show Orange is the New Black, said she literally decided to quit acting less than an hour before she had gotten a call saying she had booked a role on the hit Netflix show.  For every success story you hear about like Aduba's, you can bet there are thousands of other actors who actually did quit and couldn't wait until the "right time" came up.  You can't act if there isn't a role to act in, and the right role to showcase your talent.

Tom kinda looks Asian here, right?

Tom kinda looks Asian here, right?

After a couple years of LA really being immersed in the film/television culture and how it worked, I realized that the juicy Asian acting roles were going to be few and far in between.  Asians are still seen as outsiders to American society.  The most telling moment is when an Asian person goes to an area without many Asians and get complimented on their English, despite having lived in America their entire lives. The ignorance behind this compliment implies that we just got here, and sometimes, that we aren't here to stay.  Although things have certainly changed in the past few years (at a rate that has been exponential recently), the bulk of roles for Asian Americans are still in supporting ones.  In broader American society, Asians are seen as supporting characters who are backdrops for the true American heroes to succeed (predominantly white dudes).  It's hard to believe, but The Last Samurai was an actual movie that happened only 13 years ago.  A movie where a machine gun literally mows down every last Asian guy on screen but somehow spares Tom Cruise's character in the final scene (making the title apropos!).

But it makes sense.  Films are made from screenplays, and screenplays are written by actual individuals.  No one in the film industry (who's not Asian American) is going to write an accurate story about an Asian American story, because they don't see life from that lens.  No one who lives in Asia is going to do us a solid either, their experiences are different there.

When I first got LA, I was hesitant to associate myself with the Asian American "cause", because I didn't want to be associated with being an activist entertainer.  I wanted to follow in the footsteps of the Asian Americans who had made in in the industry, who had never associated themselves with the "cause".  I think it's because I thought there was a ceiling in the industry for those who made it about being Asian and about nothing else.  As an artist, you don't want to be known as that Asian guy who does Asian stuff.  There was almost a sense of pride when I booked or went in for roles where I would see a bunch of white dudes, it was as if I could compete without being affirmative actioned into the industry.

But I think over time it dawned on me that in order to get a juicy role, I most likely had to create it myself.  In the film industry, people tend to cast at extremes: if you have a certain look that's unique and "in", you tend to get more opportunities to shine.  At the moment from my experience, Hollywood seems to be looking for two "types" of Asian guys, the stereotypical effeminate nerdy Asian best friend, or in an effort to seem diverse and culture-forward, the exact opposite: a hyper-masculinized "sexy" type of Asian man.  The rest, like me, fall through the cracks.  And as I am getting older, I didn't want to wait until the expiration date on my acting career to take action.  As our South Asian contemporaries had done in the Mindy Project and Master of None, I started to write my own content that starred a "regular Asian dude".

I think this is the reason why Louie resonated with me so well as a model to copy.  The show is Louis CK's perspective on life on such a base human level that it is relatable and compelling to anyone without having high stakes, crazy personalities or tragic circumstances.  In my writing, I wanted to accomplish just that, create a relatable and compelling perspective on life that was also uniquely Asian American.  How would I get there?