----------------------------------------------- */ ----------------------------------------------- */ ----------------------------------------------- */ ----------------------------------------------- */ ----------------------------------------------- */ ----------------------------------------------- */ The Fabulous Adventures of Astera: Writer/Actress for Hire: November 2005

The Fabulous Adventures of Astera: Writer/Actress for Hire

Meet Astera (aka: me), a star in her own mind. Our plucky little heroine has embarked on not one but two difficult, low-paying career paths: writing and acting. Witness the menial jobs! The unreasonable demands! The quirky friends and family! And the glimmer of success just ahead! Through it all, Astera maintains her core beliefs: 1) She is destined to be fabulous 2) Everything is more fun with a cocktail.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

L.A. Nostalgia

Don't tell the NorCal lovers, but sometimes I miss L.A. It's very strange...most people from the San Francisco Bay Area actively dislike Los Angeles. The Pater Familias (aka my father) grew up down there, and he hates it and calls it the armpit of the state. Geographically speaking, I think Fresno is closer to the armpit of the state, but I digress.

Granted, there is a lot to dislike about L.A. You've got all the typical reasons that people usually mention: the smog, the traffic, the superficiality, the sprawl. There is also the fact that there's no center, which is related to the sprawl, I suppose. But it's not all bad. There are people that I miss, and there are actually certain things about the city that I miss, too. Here are a few examples of what I liked about L.A.:
  1. My SoCal friends.
  2. Tailgating with friends at UCLA football games. (Go Bruins! Beat $c!)
  3. The half-sour pickles at Canter's Deli.
  4. The sweet smell of pittosporum trees in the winter air. This tree has tiny, tiny white flowers and they perfume everything with a haunting fragrance...that is, until the next stinky truck rolls by.
  5. Being close to a plethora of entertainment options, from bars to movie theaters to stand-up comedy to a huge variety of restaurants.
  6. Better shopping options: everything from mega-malls to walking street malls to famed avenues like Melrose.
  7. Mongol's Mongolian Barbecue in Westwood. This tiny little place wasn't the most sanitary place to eat, but I loved choosing my meats and vegetables and a huge pile of noodles with my choice of sauces at varying levels of spiciness and then having the grill masters cook it all up on a giant, flat wok. It was cheap, too.
  8. The Samuel French bookstore.
  9. The combination of cheesiness and glitz along Sunset Boulevard.
  10. The Lakers. I only went to one game at Staples Center, but it was fabulous.
  11. The proximity to the ocean. (Mr. Pink will laugh at this, because he doesn't think I like the beach, but I liked knowing it was there. The beaches up here are usually cold and windy.)
  12. The jacaranda trees in bloom.
  13. Liquid Kitty for specialty cocktails and Q's for free pool on Sunday afternoons. I am a terrible pool player, but it's fun when you don't have to pay for it.
  14. The UCLA campus and the Sunset Rec center and swimming pool.
  15. Random 80-degree days of sunshine in January.

But like almost everyone else, I disliked the traffic, the smog, the dirtiness, all the homeless people in Santa Monica, and feeling like the world revolved around "the industry." Still, there are things to like about L.A. I think I'm overdue for a visit, so I will have to save up my money, hop in my Prius and take a drive down there. Maybe after the holidays. Maybe I'll get lucky and catch one of those 80-degree winter days!

Monday, November 28, 2005

Holidaze Are Here Again

Despite the fact that Christmas decorations have been in stores since before Halloween, I refuse to believe that the holiday season really starts until after Thanksgiving. And now it is upon us.

Here's what I did for Thanksgiving:
1. Helped make wine (see the other blog)
2. Drank a bunch of wine
3. Made a huge Thanksgiving feast
4. Ate a huge Thanksgiving feast

And here is the paradox of Thanksgiving: it takes three days or 24 hours or some such nonsense to prepare a full Thanksgiving meal, and it's over in...what? Half an hour, maybe?

I brined the turkey for a full 24 hours, spent nearly two hours getting some onions to carmelize and boiled assorted turkey parts for stock for about three hours. Then, the day of, I made onion dip and crudite, onion tarts, a cheese and cracker platter (Mr. Pink helped), and mini sausages. And those were just the appetizers! There was turkey to roast, potatoes to mash and biscuits to bake. I'm not even counting the several hours that I spent grocery shopping. Thanksgiving is exhausting, but the resulting meal is delicious. Still, next year, I might just stick with the appetizers. The onion tarts were particularly well-received. And the onions are cooked for so long that they don't really give you onion breath. Here's the recipe:

  1. Slice four large yellow onions very thinly (it helps if you have the little slicer attachment for your food processor)
  2. Dice two strips of bacon and cook in a large, deep pot until very crispy
  3. Add the onion slices and a teaspoon to the bacon fat and cook over medium heat for about 15 minutes
  4. Toss in a couple of tablespoons of balsamic vinegar and keep cooking onions until they are very soft and golden. Don't forget to stir! (It may take as little as 30 minutes or as long as 2 hours for the onions to sufficiently carmelize)
  5. Add a tablespoon or two of your favorite herb, such as rosemary or sage (if your favorite herb is known as Mary Jane, well, that's probably not the best choice)
  6. When all the moisture has cooked out of the onions, remove from heat
  7. Add an egg and a quarter-cup of heavy cream
  8. Spoon mixture into mini phyllo tart shells (in the frozen dessert section of your supermarket)
  9. Bake for about 10 minutes, according to directions on tart shell package
  10. Serve hot and enjoy!

Although this dish is time-consuming, it's not very complicated. And it makes an impressive presentation, so if you ever need to bring an appetizer to a holiday party, give this a try.

What was your favorite part of the Thanksgiving meal? And what are you thankful for? I'm thankful for friends, family, a warm home, California sunshine, my husband and champagne. Here's to happy holidays.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Say It Isn't So!

I just read that Alias will end in the spring! This was one of my favorite shows. Granted, the plots were preposterous at times, but I loved the drama, the intrigue, the wigs, the costumes. I guess JJ Abrams is too busy with his other hit series, Lost. And it is sort of ridiculous to have a pregnant spy. And they never should have killed off Vaughn (ah, but is he really dead? Death is never a sure thing on Alias). But still, Sidney Bristow, my girl heroine, I will miss you.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

A New Blog

Since I've been spending so much time in the Napa Valley lately, I decided to start a new blog...Napa Navigator. It's still in its infancy, but I expect to be adding lots of information about the wineries and restaurants that I like to frequent. Feel free to add your own suggestions!

The Big Flop

At the end of October, I was cast in a murder mystery. "Why are you just now sharing this fabulous story?" you may ask. Well, because it doesn't exactly have a fabulous ending.

Before I got this part, my experience with murder mysteries was severely limited. Once, when I was visiting Washington, D.C. with my mom, we went to see a play called Shear Madness. It was set in a hair salon, and one of the characters had perpetrated this crime, and the twist was the the audience got to vote on who they thought did it. It was pretty funny. Then, for a friend's birthday one year, a big group of us went to see a murder mystery in the San Diego area. That was a big mistake. It was in a restaurant that clearly used to be a Denny's, and the murder mystery started at, like, 5:00, so we were there with all the senior citizen early-bird special diners. The show was incredibly hokey, and the food was even worse than what you would find at Denny's. This was the first time that Mr. Pink had met all my friends, and for some reason, he decided to order the veggie pasta instead of chicken. He's not even a vegetarian. Anyway, that turned out to be the biggest mistake of the night. What he got was spaghetti with a can of Veg-All dumped on top. Totally unappetizing. The chicken was dry, but edible. For dessert, we had red Jell-O topped with Redi-Wip. The actors were all playing gamely along, but the show was just silly. I felt kind of sorry for them.

So, fast-forward to my experience as a player in a murder mystery. I had some trepidation, but I was going to get paid, so I figured, how bad could it be. Well, it wasn't quite as bad as the San Diego production, but it was close. The first time we did it was for a group of students up at Sonoma State. At first, they seemed to be pretty into it. My character's name was "Helen Hywater" and I was mingling with the crowd and getting some laughs. But as soons as the free food was gone (spaghetti--no Veg-All, though), the students fled. So, we were left playing to a half-empty, exceedingly brightly-lit room. And it was sort of a ludicrous script about dueling archeological societies. I did, however, get paid at the end of the night, and it wasn't a bad fee for a couple of hours' work.

The next time the guy called me, he said we were going to do the same show, but it would be even better because we had already practiced it once. And, we were booked for three consecutive shows, which meant a nice chunk of change for me. So, I agreed to do it again. This time, things went terribly awry.

First of all, the audience was made up almost entirely of men. Now, I know I can't speak for all men, but in my experience, men don't willingly go to see murder mysteries. They usually go because their wives or girlfriends drag them along. Second of all, all these men were computer geeks, all in town for some big conference. So, they had been taking seminars all day and were just looking forward to drinking and relaxing with their buddies at dinner. The murder mystery was presented as a "fun surprise," so none of them even knew what they were in for. Also, there were guys there from all over the world, so many of them didn't speak the best English. Finally, one of the cast members didn't show up. Ever. We had to get one of the banquet staffers to read her part. First, the staffers wanted me to do it, but in a character-driven murder mystery, where someone is supposed to be the guilty party, it's a little tricky for one person to play two parts.

Anyway, at least the food was better this time, and the lights were kept lower, so it wasn't quite as obvious when the crowd slowly started filtering out the exits. At intermission, one person at my table said, "Intermission is French for cocktail!" and off he went, never to be seen again. There was a raffle with cool gadget-y prizes at the end of the night, and you had to be present to win, but even that wasn't enough to get people to stick it out. For some of the prizes, they had to draw three or four names just to find someone who was still in the room!

The next day, we all got an email saying that the rest of the performances had been cancelled. We weren't supposed to be paid until the third performance, but luckily, I had taken the producer up on his offer of a partial advance. So, at least I was paid for one night's performance. But I don't know if I can suffer the humiliation again. And a big part of the problem is with the script. I mean, honestly, who cares about archeology? A sex scandal or something, now that would be motive for murder. But archeology, not so much.

So, a word of warning...if someone offers to take you to see a murder mystery, get all the details first. Some can be good. And copious amounts of liquor will probably help, so, at the bare minimum, make sure alcohol will be served.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

The Perils of Fast Food

Well, this ought to teach them not to eat at Taco Bell!

Monday, November 07, 2005

California Love

Sure, there are a lot of things wrong with California right now...air pollution, traffic congestion, ridiculously high home prices, a fatuous governor. But on Saturday, Mr. Pink and I rode our bikes across the Golden Gate Bridge and down through Fort Mason to the marina. The sun was shining, the sky was blue, the air was warm and the bay was filled with sailboats.

Moments like that make me loathe to leave California, despite what this NYTimes.com article might say about people leaving the Golden State for better lives in Missouri. Missouri? Really? Doesn't it get really cold and snow there? My one year in Chicago has taught me that I will never again live somewhere where snow is a way of life, not something that you just go to visit on the weekend.

Anyway, I secretly hope that more people do leave California. Maybe then Mr. Pink and I will finally be able to afford a house.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Torture...We're Just Like Them

Here's what I don't understand: If Vice President Cheney's assertion that the United States does not use torture is true, then why is he pushing to exempt CIA agents from legislation that would ban the "cruel, inhuman or degrading" treatment of prisoners? Read the AP story here.

To me, his actions undercut his credibility. How can we believe his statement that "the United States doesn't engage in torture," when he clearly wants CIA agents to have the option to torture prisoners? It makes no sense at all. Aren't we trying to fight terrorism? If we engage in torture, won't that simply incite terrorists to further acts of terrorism? It seems as if we are no better than they are.

And don't even get me started on the Las Vegas mayor who wants to cut off the thumbs of graffiti artists. It seems that we're becoming more like Iraq, with limited freedoms and excessively harsh, cruel punishments for criminals. I thought the plan was to have them become more like us...you know, a democratic, humane society with equal rights for all and an opposition to cruel and unusual punishment. How can we espouse democracy there when it seems to be a sham in our own country? Essentially, Mayor Oscar Goodman seems to think we should just disregard the Eight Amendment.

The Bill of Rights is slowly being shredded, and very few seem to notice or care.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

It's A Little Sad...

...when you work at home and you're sitting by the phone waiting for people to return your calls and brainstorming for new pitches and new clients and the highlight of your day (at least until your husband comes home) is going out to get the mail. It's even sadder when all the mail brings you is election ads and advertising crap.

I think I am going to start writing letters to my friends. But they'll probably just email me back, and then I still won't get any exciting mail.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

No More Extra Work!

I was a sucker.

That's the only way to explain it. After my frigid 14 hours on the "Memoirs of a Geisha" set, I had vowed that extra work wasn't worth it and I would not do it again. That was last January. But lo and behold, when the people at Beau Bonneau came calling, I allowed myself to be sweet-talked.

I was in Florida, on vacation when it happened. They got me while I was having dinner at a delicious Japanese restaurant, where I was eating shabu shabu and drinking some fruity mixed drink called a "Lotus Blossom" or some such. Anyway, I was relaxed and receptive and in an agreeable mood. So when I got a message saying that I had the look they wanted for a "skybox" scene in the new Will Smith movie, "Pursuit of Happyness" (no, I don't know why they insist on spelling it wrong), I was eager to return the call.

Me: "Hi, I'm returning a call about extra work for a skybox scene in the Will Smith movie?"

Them: "Oh, great. Thank you so much for calling us back. We've been looking through a bunch of pictures, and we think you have a great look for this scene. It's set in 1981, and it's an upscale group, shooting in a skybox at a 49ers game. Are you available?"

Me (feeling reckless): Sure!

And it was all downhill from there. First, I reported to the wardrobe department for a fitting, where I was given two outfits to wear. One included my own black slacks, a tasteful, if '80s-ish blouse, and a bright red belt. The other was based around a pair of the world's ugliest pants--they were tight at the hips, wide at the legs, made of some scratchy material, and printed in the loudest of loud red-and-green plaids. I was also to wear a tie-neck blouse (again, '80s chic!) and a shapeless red cardigan. This was supposed to be for the tailgate scene. Tailgate scene? It was the first I'd heard of it.

Aside from simply being in an expansive mood, I decided to do the extra work because I figured, how many people can they fit in a skybox? I thought it would be a small group and that I might have a better chance of being seen on screen and that it might not be a very long shoot day. When I heard about the new tailgate scene, that was my first indication that things might not be going exactly as I had hoped. But it was too late to back out now. Beau Bonneau also works with agents to bring people in for commercial auditions, and I didn't want to get a reputation as a flake. And I tried to be philosophical. Even if my face wasn't visible, the world's ugliest pants would make me easy to spot in the movie!

Things went from bad to worse the night before the shoot. I was instructed to call a certain number between 7:00 and 7:30 to get my call time. I called at 7:00. The call time was not yet available. I called at 7:15. The call time was expected to be posted between 7:30 and 8:00. I called at 7:35. Still no call time. I called at 8:00. Nope, nothing. Finally, at 8:15, I got my call time, which was for 5:00 IN THE MORNING! I had to be on set with hair and makeup already done, and even with no traffic, it's an hour's drive from my house to Candlestick Park (I still call it that, even though it was renamed 3Com Park and now it's Monster Park...who can keep up with the changing corporate sponsors?) Anyway, that meant I had to wake up at 3:30 in the morning. Normally, I need eight or nine hours of sleep a night, which clearly was out of the question. Nevertheless, I tried to get my things together and go to sleep immediately, so that I wouldn't turn into a bitchy, sleep-deprived maniac on the set the next day.

The smartest thing I did amongst all this stupidity was go to Target and buy some silky long underwear. It is mighty cold at 3:30 in the morning, and it's not much warmer at 5:00 when all you have to shelter you from the elements is a plastic tent. No heaters. Just a tarp, basically. Breakfast consisted of scrambled eggs (I hate eggs) and greasy hash browns. And then it was time to put on my outfit. I stood in line for wardrobe with more than 100 other extras. So much for the small group scene. But wait! The world's ugliest pants and I were not to be reunited. We were just wearing one outfit all day, so it was the somewhat tasteful blouse and black slacks, with the addition of the baggy red sweater. I was glad of that. It gave me some much-needed warmth.

By 10:00 or so, we started shooting the tailgate scene. What did we do from 5:00 to 10:00? Waited around, basically. Ah, the joys of being on a movie set. At least the real actors get to hang out in their heated trailers, not in an unheated tent! Anyway, someone from an acting class I took recognized me, so I started chatting with him a bit. And then he quickly managed to piss off the "extras wrangler" by trying to throw himself in front of the camera during every shot. Finally, she told him that if he didn't cut it out, she'd send him back to the tent. It was time to distance myself and make some new friends. I met up with some new people who told me that they were given the same song and dance I was...skybox scene...small group...great look. We were all fools. Fools, I tell you!

After lunch, we were finally ready to shoot the mythical skybox scene. And it wasn't just one skybox. Oh, no. We filled multiple skyboxes. Of course, the only one you'll see on camera is the one with Will Smith and the other stars in it. The one that magically had no extras!

Once we wrapped that scene, I thought that maybe it would be time to go home. Oh, how wrong I was. We were all herded down into the stadium, where we stood on the sidelines and cheered for the same three plays we'd just seen over and over in the skybox. Was it over then? Oh, no. Then, we went up into the stands, where for the next THREE HOURS, we proceeded to sit in every section of the stadium so that the cinematographers could then "tile" the shots to make it look like the place was sold out. Every section. Over and over again. And after every section, they kept telling us that we'd do "just a few more. Just a couple more. Hang in there, guys! We're almost done." By this time, they'd sent the football players (also extras) home, and we were cheering for a couple of guys tossing around a water bottle.

Finally, 14 hours later, it was finished. Yesterday, I got my check in the mail. With straight time, overtime and double time, minus taxes, I made a whopping $134.72. That averages out to $9.62 an hour, about what I could make working at Starbucks, but infinitely colder and more tedious. And there's no "tip jar" movie sets.

So this is officially it. I am denouncing extra work. I will do it no more. My family and friends are under strict orders to put me on lockdown if I ever consider doing extra work again. I am done. Finished. Finito. The end.