Interview with actor/manager Chi Muoi Lo by Suzanne 5/25/21
This was a very interesting call! It went on for quite a while…unfortunately, I had to end the call for another interview.
Here is the audio version of it.
Suzanne: Why did you decide to make a video series about acting?
Chi: …I’ve been frustrated for 20 years. You know, I own a company called Element Management. I bought the company. So, you know, every year used to be nine schools they consider the Ivy League school for actors. I went to one of them called ATT – Yale, Julliard, NYU, Temple University, Carnegie Mellon, but the problem of those most pseudo schools is, every year they would have a showcase in New York and Los Angeles, and the power to be would go there to watch the show, and that’s how you’d get discovered if you got the goods and all that. But the frustrating thing is that I started realizing that even the school that I went to, I was at the right age to go to it, but everybody else wasn’t. I was like, 18 when I went, but it was a master program. So, suddenly a school like Temple University, NYU, Juilliard, no, actually, Yale, ACT. So, those schools are master programs. So, your career is over before it begins when you graduate from these schools, because it’s a young business, and if you’re going to start out your career, it should be around 21, and hopefully, you get the maturity and the training there, that would be ideal. So, it’s very frustrating.
And then, the reality is, they don’t talk about the business. You spend – you know, you talk about USC, the last time I checked it’s $268,000 to get your four year degree, and when you come out, it’s an undergraduate program, which is good, but when you come out, kind of your career is over. I mean, when you come out, you don’t know anything about the business, how to break in, how to get your SAG card, how to do anything about it.
And the reason you know nothing about it has to do with the people who are teaching can’t teach the business, because they never made it, or they’re not in it. So, you can’t teach something you don’t know. Like, say for example, I use as an example so you can understand what I’m talking about – death. We all kind of know what death is. We see it on TV; we read it. We know somebody who it has happened to; we see it in films and all that, but do we really know what death is or the grieving of death or the nuance that death comes with? No, not until somebody who is close to us [dies]. Like my mom died two years ago. And then, you realize what death means, the five stages. Do you grieve? How long is the grieving? You realize, you know, it never ends. You miss the person, and somewhere along the line, you have to have acceptance and all of that. So, sort of same thing with the acting business. You cannot teach something if you never experienced it. If you don’t do it, if you’re not out there doing it, or you never succeeded, or you don’t know –
The changing environment of show business is drastic sometimes. Like 2008 with the crash, but they were in the process of changing the industry. We changed to digital; it used to be hardcopy, like people who submitted picture resume hardcopy but never tried to change into digital to submit everything online. And the guy who owned a breakdown service literally monopolized the entire industry. He’s sitting on a cash cow, I would call it.
But anyway, there were 30% of actors that [were] dropped. I mean, they just couldn’t understand how to change over work, because when they were 35 or 40, they didn’t know how to deal with internet or how to transfer a resume to that thing. And the agency business and the manager business does not work either, because you have so many clients, and they couldn’t take care of them. So there’re tons of working actor who just got dropped and had no representation. And it took them a while if [they] applied for representation. So, those are the changes like that, and they are so drastic and so dramatic, that if you don’t teach these things, then people don’t know, and that’s the problem with the schools.
So, I wanted to do this six years ago, and I taught like the classes three times only, and I’m not a teacher. Really, I did it for my clients, and then, literally, I just got bored talking about it over and over. And then somebody gave me an idea. They said, “Why don’t you put it on tape? Then, you never have to talk about it.” And I said, “Good idea,” and then suddenly, once I started the process, it just got bigger and bigger and bigger. It became seven episodes, and over 12 hours of everything about the business, nothing about the craft. You know, I think the craft is being taken care of. So, nothing about the craft. So, you can get this thing at masteringthebusinessofacting.com. And I didn’t want to charge that much money either, because I think the kids already have been – I’m going to use a slang word – screwed over, in this education already. I just did not want to charge more than $199 or whatever to get this seven, episodes, twelve hours of information all about the business on every aspect of business. And it covers three different kinds of actors: the one who want to break into the business, the working actors, and the rising stars.
Suzanne: How many people have bought into your program so far? If you can say?
Chi: A lot. We actually did [better] than we imagined. What’s fascinating about marketing in the what we call [unintelligible] ecommerce, I guess…Yeah. So, it’s fascinating how you use Facebook, Instagram, Google, you know, they only target the people who have interest in this business. So, imagine, in the old days, if you are advertising something, you pay millions of dollars on TV, and half your audience are never reached; they don’t need it. But this is specific. It’s not going to target somebody who’s interested in nursing, interested in skiing or anything. You have to be interested in show business or have somewhere along line…[They use an algorithm] I guess, so they can know who you are. So, when you go to Google, or you go to your Facebook or whatever and that, those ads will pop up.
Suzanne: It’s the same on my site, we have that kind of Google Ads with targeted advertising.
Chi: Right. So, we did really, really well for just basically three months. We launched like February 23. But my intention is I think we could make a deal with this school that’s very interested in it already. And I want to start in high school, because I went to high school performing arts, and also then definitely undergraduate, because you cannot teach the craft and not talk about the business. The business is 60%, but you can take a bad actor who knows about the business and understands the business, who will have a better chance of succeeding than a great actor who doesn’t understanding anything about the business.
Suzanne: Right. Now you used to be an actor, and then you became a manager, so what prompted you to make that move?
Chi: Well, I am I’m still an actor. I just love to act. Acting is my favorite talent of them all. I’m an actor, writer, director, producer and [have] my own management company. So, I’m about to produce a TV series. It’s seven seasons, 13 episodes, called Life in Threes. It’s inspired by a true story, really, really great. I’m very excited about it.
But being an actor, the change over has a lot to do with I just [understood] the business really [quickly], because I’ve been into acting since I was 10. So, there’re a lot at of mistakes I made as an actor, but I succeeded at a very young age. I worked a lot.
[Like,] I just graduated on a Saturday, came down here on a Sunday. There was a writer strike. After three months it was over, and I worked like like crazy. I think it only took four years, and I got my own TV show, but I was guest starring all over the place. I think I was tired of it, and then my show came along.
But I’ve worked a lot, and the mistakes I made, and I think, again, I talk about it, and mastering the business of acting, I wish I had guidance. I managed a few, I only managed five people. I personally only managed five people, but my other people manage other people. But I personally have managed five people and these people made a lot of money. [I could] just sit on my ass and make tons of money right now because they’re all working. But I wish I had someone like me, guiding me, and I look back and I say well, “Would you be able to find somebody like you?” And the answer is probably no, because – let me be clear here, so that people don’t think I’m a pompous ass here. I don’t know anything about how to change a tire. I don’t know how to do oil change, and if you ask me to clean my house, I don’t know how to do that. I don’t know anything about how to operate my computer without my assistant. I don’t know how to fax [anything] if it’s new equipment. If it’s equipment I’ve used before, sure I would know how to do it, but I’m a terrible driver. I’m a walking stereotype. So, you can name all that, but this is one area that I can say that I really know what I’m talking about, which is the acting business and the acting stuff.
So, when I was starting out, I wish I had met someone who I really could trust and believed that they could guide me, and could gladly say, “Chi, what the hell are you doing? You’re 27 years old. You don’t need to direct a movie right now; wait until you’re 40!” So, that was a mistake I made, as an actor. There was no reason for me to direct a movie when my career as an actor was on the rise. You know, “Finish the series, make big budget movies and all that, you know…wait for the right project to come along.”
This discrimination – being an Asian actor in Hollywood is not easy [for] someone like me, how I look, my height, and all that. I usually get jobs that are really tough to get, and they’re strong acting jobs. So, visually, I don’t look like your typical, whatever you want that to be, because I’m almost like a leading man trapped in a character body.
So, in a way, when I directed the movie, it took me five years out of the game. And when you’re five years out of the game, some people think you’re just dead. So, in two of those years I had to promote the movie and get it into the theaters. Now we made money [on the movie] called Catfish and Black Bean Sauce; we made money and all that, but the problem comes – then I decided, to answer your question about why it matters, I bought the management company, because I wanted to control half the information, but then I discovered that I’m actually good at what I do as a manager. I could understand the business and all that. And when you have success, and you know what you’re talking about, it’s how you make things happen. People will listen to you.
So, that’s what I wish I had, but I don’t think anyone at that time would be that aggressive. And you have to understand, the agency business and the management business is a bunch of crap, in a way. So let me tell you – do you mind if I tell you about the agency business?
Suzanne: A little bit. Yeah, go ahead.
Chi: It’s a scam. It’s an illusion. So, let’s let’s break it down to two tiers. Okay, the first tier [is] CA, ICM, William Morris, and Endeavour. Second tier is Giersh, Innovative, APA, Abrams, or now they call themselves Eight Threes, whatever. So, at the first tier, CA, you have 5000 clients, and you have 100 agents. 100 agents cannot take care of 5000 clients. They can’t. It’s impossible. So, the people who make money are being taken care of. So, you can literally take care of 1/3 of your clients; the rest you really can’t. So, you bullshit around until people figure it out. You know, it is what it is. That’s why they say you will get lost in these places. Then you should go to second tiers. Like you take Giersh. You cannot have 22 agents to take care of 3000 clients, so, the same thing, and sometimes they make fake auditions.
Suzanne: What do you mean, fake auditions?
Chi: They make fake auditions and give them to their clients and pretend like it’s a real audition.
Suzanne: Really? Wow.
Chi: Yeah! I know…I mean, last year, even including this year on forward, it’s all self tape. Self tape has been around for seven, eight years. Last year and this year, it’s all self [taping].
So, a client can [unintelligible] “Oh, you got one?” “We got you one. Here’s your audition,” this and all that.
And then, you get all excited and the role looks so right for you, and you put your energy and time into it. You get your coach. You put it on tape and all that, and you send it in, and you give it to your agent. They say, “Great. Let’s see where it goes.” It [goes] nowhere. They pretend to download it, so you don’t know where it went.
And the reality, so what’s the problem? Okay, so let’s just say you are an actress in your 30s and the role was so right for you, and you’re so excited and all that, and you let’s say you’re a white actress, but what you don’t realize is the break that I sent you only had [unintelligible] they could get the listing enough to produce it and casting, and the storyline, what the story is about. But what you realize, if you look deeper into the breakdown of what they sent you, is the age is missing, and the ethnicity is missing. So, you’re 30 something, but they’re really looking for a 20 something year old character, and you’re white, but the role is for a black girl.
Suzanne: So, they faked it. Yeah, I see what you’re saying.
Chi: So, even if it’s real, they didn’t know and call you in for it. Even if it’s a white role and the character [unintelligible], they didn’t call you in. So a lot of people, like I have kids that I manage who are saying, “Gee, my friend Michael got a lot of auditions. I don’t know how he gets so many auditions.” I say, “Really? Okay.” But you know, I get suspicious. Even the watermark doesn’t even say his name, because it’s a fake audition. The watermark doesn’t say your name? If you’re name’s not on there, then it’s a fake audition. But they have to do it, because, like what I said, you cannot cater to 3000 clients when you have 22 agents. You can’t!
Suzanne: Well, you answered a question before I even asked [you], so that’s good.
Chi: The manager problem is this. Managers these days, you’ve got to be very careful, because the old school managers are a dying breed. We consider ourselves old school managers, and we charge 15%. But…there’re more managers than agents now, and each company pops up out of nowhere, and then you look deeper into it and you realize, “Oh, there’re a bunch of agents who got fired or decided to quit their jobs and form a management company.” So, here’s the problem with it. You cannot be a mommy; you cannot be a daddy until you become a mommy. So, what I call an agent is a “daddy,” and a manager’s a “mommy.” And so if you’ve been a daddy for 15 years, your personalities are set, and you can’t switch to be a mommy or think you can be a mommy. You don’t know how to be a mommy. You bring every skill set that you had as a daddy into a mommy’s job, and it doesn’t work, because what is called managing, managing the actors for a job, you are not just sending them out on auditions. So, these people are [unintelligible] clients only like 10 minutes or whatever and all that, because they don’t know how to operate as a manager, because, what did they do? They bring these skills; they have like 60 clients. You can’t be a manager and have 60 clients. You’re an agent. And of course you charge 10%, but then you get all the perks of being a manager. You can produce; some people can get 15%. You get residuals, which an agent can’t get. If any manager has over 30 clients, I say they’re not real good managers. You can’t.
Suzanne: So, you were talking before about, you’re not a teacher, and you put this video series together. So, did you ever foresee that maybe you would ever, like tour around the country giving talks about acting and getting people to sign up? Or is that not something that you were interested in?
Chi: I tend to do two Q&As a year. They have two packages. One is for the seven episode 13 webinar, and every year, there will still be changes, you know, like I talk about COVID now. Then, there’s going to be new stuff and all that. So, I would add on. I would tape a day to talk about seven to ten segments and then add on two Q&As every six months. So, then it’s a three hour thing. And then we will add onto that every year. So, people can opt in to the lifetime which is $100 more, or $299, and that will be a lifetime for life. And then every year you get new information from mastering the business of acting. And it should be that, because things change all the time.
Suzanne: So, that’s on all online?
Chi: It’s online, all online, and yeah, I think I can promote this thing for two more months, and then after this, I think I’m ready to go to my next project. I just can’t. I’m not a teacher nor am I one of those people. You know, I think a teacher is somebody who is very nurturing and has a lot of patience. That’s not me. And I think it’s a wonderful thing when people can teach.
Suzanne: Okay, what is your next project? You have an idea yet?
Chi: Oh, no, no, I have it. It’s called Life in Threes.
Suzanne: Your series that you’re talking about?
Chi: Yeah, it tells a story about an 85 year old Chinese woman with early stage dementia, who moves into a nursing home in Philadelphia in order to take care of one last piece of unfinished business before the disease gets the best of her. It’s there that she [becomes] friends with a young Caucasian orderly and a African American nurse. She helps them to make sense of their lives as she recounts the story of her life’s journey that begins in China, moves on to Vietnam, and ends in contemporary America.
Suzanne: And are you basing this on a relative of yours?
Chi: My mom.
Suzanne: Your mom. Okay.
Chi: Yeah, it’s a true story about my mother [unintelligible] especially an epic story that spans seven decades, while three lives unravel in the present. So, it’s a story about three characters, and each season is a decade. So it [starts] in the 20s.
Suzanne: That sounds interesting.
Chi: Oh, it’s the four years that…I was able to write it better when she passed away. It’s something I’d been wanting to do for a long time. I didn’t know how to. It’s basically Joy Luck Club meets This is Us.
Suzanne: Yeah, okay, I can see that. I have two more short questions for you before I have to go on to another call I have. So, I saw that Tyler Christopher is one of your clients. I’m a longtime fan of his from watching the soaps. So, what’s he doing now?
Chi: He’s in Indiana, and he’s waiting for a role right for him. [He] have to come back out. And you know, this year is really tough if you’re not in town. It’s just really, really tough to be able to do what you need to do, but he’s doing well. And he told me he’s ready to come back, so get him a role. I said, when everything’s calmed down, we’ll definitely do that.
Suzanne: Okay. Well, I’m looking forward to seeing him on my TV again.
Chi: Yeah, it’s crazy how he made a lot of money on the soap. It’s very rare that people can make the kind of money on a soap.
Suzanne: Yeah, and now I have a slightly more serious question. It’s seems like Hollywood is hiring more people of color, including Asians, for not only acting roles, but writers, directors and so forth. Do you think they’re making real changes? Or do you think it’s kind of a passing fad, and they’ll try to revert back to their old ways.
Chi: I think the change will stay. Here’s the reason why. Not only the pressure and the reality of the world is changing and all that, it has to do with with – and it’s good news and bad news for American minorities. It’s a global market. So, if you look at, let’s just say film is an easy way to talk about it. So, if you look at it, it’s a global market, and you’re going to need to represent everything globally. So, if you watch a movie, like Wonder Woman or anything like that, you’ll see they will cast people from different countries. Like, have you seen The Martian?
Suzanne: No, I haven’t.
Chi: [For] The Martian just somebody just came up with the idea, you know, we need to connect the Chinese into this movie, how do we do that? So, they add just one little storyline that they are going to need a Chinese rocket booster into the storyline, that the Chinese are going to help them out. By adding that storyline, before they even shoot a frame, they will guarantee themselves $150 million that will pay the bills [unintelligible] the budget. So, right there, you can understand why the global market is forcing the change. So, is the [unintelligible] true? Yes, it is. And it’s a little harsh right now.
First of all, Caucasian actors – and usually, like I remember, I have to take one of my clients, the kid that I’d nurtured for 10 years, and I want him to hear it. Because, you know, I’m busy with the mommy, and you know, he’s your child, sometimes they don’t listen to you after you’ve been with them for a long time. So, I forced him to listen to an agent that we were signing, a big agent. I said, “Tell him what’s going on with the market and understand what’s going on.” So, he said, “[unintelligible] really simple.” I said, “Okay.”
Five years ago or whatever, you have a cast. Let’s just say, this is your cast on a TV show. You have maybe four Caucasian actors, and then you add one black and one Hispanic. That’d be your cast. Now the cast is going to be forced to change. Your cast can be maybe two Caucasians, you know, one African American, one Asian, and one Latino. So, literally, half the jobs of Caucasian actors are gone. So, is that something that’s going to stay? I believe so. I think once you start in that direction, it’s hard to change back. It’s the same thing about about gays in America. If you if you look at what happened in the 90s, with with Will & Grace and other shows, Glee, and on and on, I mean, did the writer purposely start changing things little by little? And before you know it, now, the gays are not an issue. But right now, [transgender] is. You know, people have a discrimination towards transgenders. But as a gay man, or whatever, and all that, you know, it’s not that big of an issue anymore, not for the kids. If I’m a high school kid [unintelligible] it’s no big deal.
So, how do you reverse that? You can’t. You don’t. You don’t want to reverse that.
So, I think the #metoo movement did a wonderful thing for women and for minorities and all of that, that it forced the industry to not allow to ask for your quote, that’s by law now. So, by not [being] able to ask about your quote, then they cannot. In the old days, there’s no way a woman could match the money. You know, if you look at like the show called – the Kevin Spacey show – what was that show?
Suzanne: Oh, I know the one you’re talking about. I can’t think of the name either.
Chi: Yeah. So, it took her four years or three years, actually. She was not getting paid what he was getting. He was getting 450 and back in and all that. So, finally the #metoo movement – before the #metoo movement came along, her manager was smart enough to do a TV [unintelligible] on her, and her TV [unintelligible] was much bigger than his, and then pointed out that she’s bigger than he is. And it’s true. Who the hell would like Kevin Spacey? Nobody likes Kevin Spacey. So, she got the same money as he did…So now they put this thing in that you cannot ask about people’s quote. Then you have to pay everybody the same way. Depends on what roles, what position they’re in, in the cast ranking.
Interview Transcribed by Jamie of http://www.scifivision.com
Actor turned Hollywood Manager, Chi Muoi Lo, has taken his 30 years of experience in the entertainment industry and created a 7-episode online subscription series, Mastering the Business of Acting. Hearing thousands of stories of how young actors have been exploited in the entertainment industry, he felt that he needed to share his knowledge in a way that set him apart from other programs offering similar advice. Mastering the Business of Acting primarily focuses on those trying to break into the business, it also includes information necessary for the working actors and rising stars. He has also included insight from industry professionals such as John Frank Levy (4X Emmy Award-Winning Casting Director), Todd Eisner (Talent Agent at 3Arts),Karen Molina White (Actress, “Proud Family”) and Nancy Hower (Director of Startrek Voyager).
Chi covers a variety of topics ranging from:
- How to break into the business
- How to maintain a successful acting career
- The art and business of auditioning
- The new technological advancements that now all actors are expected to be experienced in
Born in Phan Rang, Vietnam, to Chinese parents Chi moved to the U.S. at the age of two after the fall of Saigon. Upon their arrival, Chi and his family were placed in the Indian Town Gap Refugee Camp where they became sponsored by the Jewish League of America and moved to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. It was there that Chi was raised with his nine brothers and three sisters. He caught the acting bug at age 10 and when he finally decided to make the move to Los Angeles to pursue his dream of acting, Chi had the luck he hoped for, booking roles and working continuously. He left his mark with his outstanding performance starring in the critically acclaimed and highly rated Vanishing Son mini-series and starred in MOW Faith of My Father, Sucker Free City and Shannon’s Deal. He has also appeared as Guest Lead on numerous shows such as on “Nip Tuck,” “Cold Case,” “Murder in The First,” “CSI,” “NYPD Blue,” “Malcolm in the Middle,” “Smallville,” “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and many more.
Chi is the owner of the production company, Black Hawk Entertainment and the CEO of the talent management company Allen Edelman Management. His clients include Karen Malina White (Disney’s “I Didn’t Do It”), Steven Krueger (CW’s “Roswell: New Mexico”), Tyler Christopher (“Days of Our Lives”), and many more. Chi’s debut as an actor-writer-director was with the feature film Catfish In Black Bean Sauce and was met with great success and made Variety’s “Top 50 of 2001 Limited-Release Winner At The Box Office.” As a manager, he nurtured the careers of countless clients over the years. Through this nurturing, he has heard countless experiences that actors have shared with him about their auditions, and he has done it all for his clients – pitching, dealing with talent agents and casting agents, negotiating series deals and film deals with studios.
Proofread and Edited by Brenda