‘Manifest’ got picked up by NBC to go to series. For those of us that were core, that meant that we were guaranteed work, for the fence people, well that was something else entirely. In addition to the email asking us for our availability in the coming months, we were asked to verify our identity and our presence on the pilot and our selection for the pivotal scene. Apparently we were going to be a plot point going forward so they had given us a specific designation: The Montego 20. What we didn’t know was that the Montego 20 wasn’t just twenty extras, it was only twelve extras and the eight principals.
I very distinctly remember our first day back for shooting. For the pilot we were in shorts in the dead of winter. For the first episode back, I was in a full length shearling coat on an airport tarmac in the middle of July. I loathe everything about off-season shoots. My hair was a helmet that day because of how much hairspray was used to keep it from wilting. To put in perspective how bad it was, even us peons had makeup people making sure we weren’t sweating between takes.
As we were prepping for the first shot of the day, lo and behold who sits down next to me than Julienne.
This industry is frustratingly hard to navigate and falsehoods abound. Everyone talks on set and at any given time you’ll get a dozen different pieces of advice on what to do and how to “make it”. The problem is, to put it bluntly, we’re all at the same exact level. It’s not exactly confidence filling when the advice that you’re getting is from someone who is following it and still has yet to get anywhere. My philosophy is this: acknowledge that you know very little and learn everything that you can from people who have more experience than you. Obviously this is easier said than done due to the cutthroat nature of show business, but I’ve been truly blessed with two mentors who I admire: Christopher Ming Lee and Julienne Hanzelka Kim.
I met Chris my very first day of college. He was my RA and I remember that mix of hyper excitement and nervousness that comes with being a college freshman. I don’t think there was a person on our floor who didn’t adore Chris. He was very much unlike all other Asian guys that I had met up to that point in my life. His perspective and personality were not only refreshing but broke down a lot of preconceived notions for me. Eventually, Chris moved out to California to pursue his passion and I admired from afar and kept up with his work and adventures by reading his incredibly well-written blog. A huge reason for this blog’s existence is due to Chris. When I first started writing I reached out to him for advice, and he tore this blog apart. Chris taught me to divorce criticism from emotion early on, and that singular lesson has served me well in my new pursuit. Taking criticism, especially in a creative endeavor, is incredibly hard and having someone that I trusted being the first one to do that set me down the right path. To this day I read everything that he writes and his articles on Hollywood are not only great reads, but invaluable for learning the business. I still reach out to him when I’m stuck or at a particular juncture in my career. It’s been over a decade since we first met and his mentorship (whether he knows it or not) is something that I reflect upon and use constantly.
Snap back to the sweltering tarmac in July. Julienne sees me and her eyes light up in recognition. She actually remembers my name and we caught up. Yes, we had spent umpteenth hours together filming the pilot, but for a principal to remember and extra’s name was novel concept to me. The clout differential is a bit much, but Julienne as ever was kind and understanding, even when my mind was misfiring during what seemed like the appetizer to heatstroke. I eventually took a chance and asked if I could get her contact information and grab coffee sometime. Not only did she say yes, but then she followed through. Saying you’ll get coffee can be industry parlance for “I’ll never see you again” but being able to get advice from an actor who is on an entirely other tier than you is absolutely illuminating. Julienne spoke to me about being a minority in the industry, about her career and how she navigated those waters, and incredibly how she could help me advance mine. Time after time I reached out to her for advice and she responded not only with an informed opinion, but with patience and goodwill. Her advice doesn’t just come from hearsay but experience. Experience gathered from years in the industry at the level where I can only dream of at the moment, along with perspectives from her peers.
Both of my mentors probably aren’t aware of the profound impact that they’ve had upon me, but without their guidance I would still be lost in the weeds, or perhaps simply more lost than I currently am. They didn’t have anything to gain by helping me yet they did nonetheless. As rough as this industry can be, there are amazing people there willing to help, willing to pay it forward. Both Chris and Julienne had every reason to ignore a kid who had nothing to offer but they didn’t. I am indebted to them more than they know. I’m not entirely sure how to repay them, or if I even can. What I do know is that they’ve taught me to pass down that same kind of kindness to those who ask me for my advice. I don’t know much, but when people ask I answer as truthfully as I can and speak from my experiences with no expectation of recompense. That’s a part of the reason I’ve been so upfront about writing these past few weeks and giving an honest reflection of my past year. I’ve been lucky, yes. But what successes I’ve had is a result of hard work guided by the informed experience of these two people.
As we worked on the next few episodes of ‘Manifest’ I gained a comfortable familiarity with not only my fellow background, but friendships with the crew, and acknowledgement from the principals. It was my first time working core through a season and was a pleasant change from the mercenary nature of BG work.
But, comfortable is never good.