You may recall that sometime last November we put up a request for questions to be passed on to author, voice actor, comedian, and card shark Wil Wheaton. Seven months and many adventures later, Wil has responded in depth to the excellent queries Slashdot users put to him. If you're curious about what's kept him, what it's like to be a Teen Titan, or how to use the LCARS User Interface, read on for his responses.Before we begin, I want to sincerely apologize for taking so long to get these questions answered. Since these questions were submitted to me seven months ago, a lot of things have happened in my life, and my free time went from 1d12 - 4 hours a day to 2d4 -3. (Yes, I realize that means I can occasionally have negative free time in a day. Believe me, I know.) I lost two companion animals, worked on CSI, didn't work in a play, insulted the Star Wars nerds, got a crippling case of mono that effectively means 2005 will be two months shorter for me than everyone else in the world (except those who couldn't do a damn thing for two months because they were so sick), and started a writing job that actually pays me a little bit.
All these questions were very thoughtful and interesting, though, and I wanted to give equally thoughtful and interesting responses to them. I hope it was worth the wait.
by SeaDour (704727)
Looking back from where you are today, Mr. Wheaton, what would you consider your greatest achievement that you take the most pride in? Your work as an actor? Your widely-acclaimed blog? Or maybe your published memoirs?
And, on a related note, are you anywhere close to where you expected you'd be by now?
Wil Wheaton: "Where I expect to be now" is a concept that's constantly changing for me. For a long time, I wanted to Prove To Everyone That Quitting Star Trek Wasn't A Mistake by the time I was 30, but once I started my blog, I proved it to myself, which I ultimately figured out is the only opinion on the subject which was really that important. There was a lot of freedom in that discovery, so even though I'm not where I thought I'd be as an actor, and I have no idea where to expect to be as a writer, I've learned that the true joy in life comes from seeing the path, staying on the path, and enjoying where you are at this moment.
It's hard to talk about what I think my greatest achievement is, because I feel like I'm seriously jerking off . . . and if I'm going to do that, I'm building a wishlist and charging memberships.
But feeling proud (without being prideful) is something I can talk about. I don't think there's anything wrong with taking an occasional step back to reflect on the things you've done, as long as you don't do it all the time and talk about it in Slashdot interviews. If you that, you're a total dick.
Anyway, I'm incredibly proud of my first book, Dancing Barefoot, even though I recently read it, and I would like to do a serious bugfix upgrade. I published it myself, marketed it myself, and it was the first real risk I've taken in my adult life. I had a lot of help, from a lot of people, and the whole experience is something I will always be able to look back on fondly. I am also proud of Just A Geek, because I think the writing is better, and I grew a lot while I wrote it . . . but the way O'Reilly handled its publicity and marketing (and me as an author) was so frustrating and upsetting, it's difficult to look back on that experience and feel good about it. Mostly, it feels like a missed opportunity to me, and that's a drag.
At the end of the day, though, I'm grateful for the opportunities I've had, and I hope I've made the most of them.-------------------------------------------
by Anonymous Writer (746272)
One of the things that fascinated me about Star Trek: The Next Generation was the attention to detail in set design. I'm aware that Michael Okuda [startrek.com] was responsible for a lot of the design work, like the LCARS [wikipedia.org] interfaces for example (also referred to as "Okudagrams"). There was just an underlying subtle feel of logic and innovation behind it all that appealed to the computer nerd in me.
The touch screen interface standard was one; touch screens are an ideal graphical user interface because you don't need an indirect input device to manipulate the interface. I've actually read somewhere that NASA considers it to be a useful idea for manned space missions because it allows a user to access a whole range of controls with a simple touch screen, saving on space and weight when compared to the equivalent in physical controls. The PADDs [wikipedia.org] were also a novel concept, resembling current PDAs and tablet computers. The LCARS interfaces also had recurring elements, like a round one I've read was nicknamed the "spinner", that looked like a control for 2D or 3D manipulation, kind of like arrow keys on a keyboard.
I also noticed that everything - devices, bulkheads, panels, containers, etc - all had the same kind of labels on them. They seemed like a standardised system for doing things like handling inventory, like barcodes. And there was a consistency across the board, the way they were also used as signs on doors and also appeared as LCARS interface elements. I've noticed that they've used them in the Star Trek: Enterprise series as well. (I've also read that they sometimes had jokes [ex-astris-scientia.org] on them visible only to the cast during filming.)
Since you were working on the set, you must have had a lot of exposure to what went on behind the scenes with regards to the design process. And as a self-confessed geek [amazon.com], you must have had some interest in that part of the production. Was there an actual working concept behind LCARS as a real graphical user interface? What can you say about the fictional LCARS that would be applicable to real operating systems and graphical user interfaces? And what about those labels- were they based on a realistic system of organisation and management? What kind of concepts were the set designs based on, and how much detail did they get into regarding those concepts? I was just wondering how much of it all was just aesthetic and how much of it was based on real logic.
WW: From 1987 to 1989, I spent about fifteen thousand hours up in the art department, asking Mike Okuda and Rick Sternbach questions just like yours, because I wanted to make the technology on TNG as real as possible. If you'd asked me at the time, I would have sworn that it was because I was so dedicated to making the show as good as it could be . . . but the truth is, I did it because I was a geek, and it was super fun to hang out with really smart and talented futurists who didn't treat me like the idiot teenager I was.
There was a balance of logic and aesthetics, if I recall correctly: Logic for the writers and actors, and aesthetics for the producers and audience. Some of the things you described, like the "spinner," just looked cool, and made it look like things were actually happening on the ship. (All that was done with polarized film, I think.) But everything was absolutely designed within a logical structure. For example, I remember Mike telling me that the Enterprise computer system was all about the software, so the design could very logically be the same, even if the consoles were supposed to do very different functions, with the same style and color scheme all over the place. This was also financially prudent, because the art department could quickly duplicate the same series of buttons if they ever needed to. According to the writer's bible, the LCARS always knew who was talking to it, and what functions that person usually needed. The idea was that Geordi would usually need engineering functions available to him, so the LCARS would wake up wherever he was, and the keys would reconfigure themselves appropriately. Wherever Wesley went, he'd get access to /usr/bin/outsmartthegrownups and /usr/lib/dialogue/stupid. What I find interesting about this is that this sort of thing is very plausible today, with RFID in badges (or communicators) and things, but TNG was doing it in the late 80s, when digital watches were still a really neat idea.
One of my favorite things to do when I worked on Star Trek was walk through the sets when nobody else was around, just so I could study the graphics. I'm sure you know about the giant Enterprise schematic in Engineering, but for the one person who doesn't: The huge cutaway view of the Enterprise is filled with little graphical inside jokes, like a hamster wheel where the engine should be, only two restrooms at opposite ends of the ship, NOMAD from the original series, and a few other things that we all figured nobody would ever get close enough to see . . . until one director (I think it may have been Paul Lynch, who liked to yell "Energy! Energy! Energy! Energy! And! And! And! And! And! ACTION!" at the beginning of each take) wanted to do a shot that started close on the cutaway, swept across it, and pulled back into a two shot of me and Brent. When he watched the rehearsal, and saw that there was a giant duck decoy and a "Speed Limit" sign in the middle of his shot, he was pissed. I'm sure the art department felt bad about that, but we all had a god laugh while they reblocked the shot.
If you watch any TNG episodes where I send the ship to warp speed, you will notice that I always use the same series of commands. I don't know if anyone else cared about it as much as I did, but because I was such a huge geek, it brought a "playing cowboys and indians" element to my job. When I went to Star Trek: The Experience in 2001, which I recounted in Dancing Barefoot, one of the first things I looked for was my initials on the security panel, and some other inside jokes on the science stations. After confirming that they were there, I sat in the CONN, and sent the Enterprise to warp 6, using the same series of commands I'd used for years on the show. It was pretty cool.
by vjmurphy (190266)
Since you are doing the voice of Aqualad on Cartoon Network's Teen Titans, how different is that experience (voice acting) compared to in-the-flesh acting? Are all the other actors voicing their characters at the same time you are? Is there a lot of experimentation, ad-libbing?
And did you have a choice of characters to play? If so, Aqualad? I mean, come on, his power is to swim and talk to fish. :)
WW:I absolutely love being Aqualad. I think he looks cool, they always give him great things to do, and I've been able to give him a very distinct attitude and voice: he's a prince, you know, so he's sort of aristocratic when he deals with the other Titans, and he gets annoyed when anyone doesn't respect what he calls "My Ocean."
And I'm incredibly lucky that I have that job, because the voice over community is the hardest secret handshake to learn in the entire industry. As hard as it is to get hired for on-camera work in Hollywood, it's exponentially more difficult to get hired for voice work. It seems like it would be easy: You just walk into a booth, record your lines, and leave, right? Wrong. The great voice actors are not just doing silly or interesting voices: they're actually acting using only their voice. They can't use their eyes or their bodies to convey emotion or intention, so giving a subtle but powerful vocal performance (like Kevin Conroy on Batman, for instance) is much harder than . . . well, than it sounds. Once someone proves themself as a voice actor, they will work a lot, and there's very little turnover.
We record Titans in a pretty big studio at Warner Feature Animation. There are about a dozen chairs lining three of the four walls, with music stands (for scripts) and microphones in front of them. The fourth wall is a huge sound-proofed glass window that separates us from the room where the director, writers, producers and engineers sit. I usually sit between Scott Menville (Robin) and Greg Cipes (Beast Boy) . . . though when I work with John DiMaggio (who plays Brother Blood, but is best known as Bender from Futurama) I always get a little fanboy and try to sit next to him. I've noticed that many of us adopt certain postures when we do our character voices. Scott always stand up, and usually clenches one fist, Greg usually crosses one leg over the other and fiddles with a pencil, and I sit up straight, with my hands on my knees. I don't know why we do these things, but I know that I can't do Aqualad's voice unless I'm sitting in that posture.
We start out by reading the entire episode top to bottom, with the director reading the action. We get a few notes during this read-through, but mostly it's to help us track the entire episode and warm up our voices. When we're done, we take a quick break, and then we start the episode. We go scene-by-scene, occasionally stopping to re-do a line here or there. We are not given an opportunity to ad-lib very often, simply because the scripts are very tight, and have had to get approval from a lot of people before we finally sit down to voice them, though occasionally if a line isn't working for some reason, we'll get the nod to play around a little bit and find something that does.
A typical episode takes about two hours, and when we're done, the director and producers play back their "pick" takes from the session, in context, and usually bring a few of us back in to "pick up" a few lines here and there. They edit all the takes together, and send the final product to the animators. Several months later, we come back into the studio to clean up anything that may have made sense when we recorded it, but doesn't work in the context of the final animation. We also record all the "OOF!" and "URGH!" and "THWOCK!" sounds for our fights at this time, so we match the action on the screen.
A couple of weeks after this session, the episode usually hits your television.
The effect of movie piracy on the actors
by kevinadi (191992)
Ok I've been itching to ask this to a real actor who also happens to be a geek.
You know MPAA's been suing left and right claiming downloading movies are damaging to the industry as a whole. As an actor in probably the most popular science fiction series ever, how does piracy or file sharing affect you and your bottom line?
Does what the studios say about piracy is total bull? Or is it the truth?
WW: I think it's bull. I've only had profit-sharing in one movie, and according to the studio it never made a profit *cough*bullshit*cough* . . . so even if it had been pirated, I wouldn't have been affected by the loss of revenue. To be honest, piracy hasn't hurt me as much as creative studio accounting has. If people pirated my Monolith Press books, or my audiobooks, I'm sure it would hurt my bottom line because I'm more directly connected to the revenue stream as the publisher.
I don't know more about this than anyone else who has google news and some free time, but as far as I can tell, piracy doesn't affect movies that are still in theaters. The copies you find for sale on street corners are laughably bad, and there is no way they're going to replace studio-released DVDs. On the other hand, piracy becomes a problem when those studio-released DVDs are copied not by people like me who just want to use DeCSS so I can watch a DVD on my Linux machine, but by organized crime in Asia. I'm no expert, but it seems like the MPAA would get a much bigger return on their investment if they stopped going after college students and went after the factories that turn out legitimate movies by day, and switch over to pirated material at night.
Personally, I don't download movies, or music, or anything else (except purchases from iTunes, or artist-approved concerts via Bittorrent) because I believe it's stealing. I'm not going to lecture anyone about it, but if I like something, I pay for it and support (however minimally) the people who made it.
Child Actor Prodigy Success
by statusbar (314703)
It seems that most child actors end up growing up to be crack-heads, drug-dealers, low class porn actors/actresses, and/or dead from bullets or drugs.
How did you avoid all that mess? Was it easy or hard to avoid? Was there a point in your life where you had to make a conscious choice? What would you say to other child actors to help them avoid the pitfalls of early fame?
WW: I think not being on Diff'rent Strokes had a lot to do with it.
Thank you. Tip your waitress, and don't forget that you can play Keno right at your table! Come back for the late show . . . it gets a little blue.
In all seriousness, I think most child actors end up as you described because they believe all the hype they hear as kids. When I was a kid, it felt good to hear from everyone that I was the next big thing, and I was always the golden boy, and that I'd never lose the light in my eyes. Did I know it was all bullshit? Right after Stand By Me came out, and I'd done some interviews and dealt with some "Hollywood" people, I did.
Something kids and their parents (and all actors, really) need to remember is that Hollywood is always looking for the next big thing; and that rarely means the next amazing-but-undiscovered actor. In this business, a talentless whore who gets fucked in grainy night vision is more valuable to the networks than a talented actress who has spent years studying and honing her craft. That's the reality of Hollywood in 2005, and if publicity and fame is more important to an actor than the work, they're going find a void in themselves that can only be filled by sweet, sweet heroin. Or late-night erotic thrillers featuring Shannon Tweed and Lorenzo Lamas. See, fame comes from without, and the joy of performing comes from within. Actors can always perform on stage (or start blogs) if they can't get work in TV or movies. They probably won't get fame, but they'll get the joy of performing.
I think that I avoided becoming a regular on Cinemax's late night boob-a-thons because even when I was a kid, I quickly figured out the difference between the kids (and their parents) who wanted to be Actors, and the ones who wanted to be Movie Stars. I never wanted to be a Movie Star, and the ones who did annoyed the hell out of me. They were the ones with the obnoxious stage parents, and we were the ones who just wanted to learn our lines and do good work. When we all grew up, guess who turned out okay, and guess who is selling his teeth on eBay? Okay, if I can drop a name for a second: I am lucky enough to have a signed copy of the book Sideways. When he signed it, Rex Pickett wrote,All that matters is the work. I think that's important and useful advice for anyone who gets into a business that mixes art and commerce. If the attention becomes more important than the work, you're boned.
What kind of movie would you make?
by chadjg (615827)
Let's say that you come into posession of a large ( $100,000,000) stack of money and you have a burning desire to make a movie that you know your fellow geeks would enjoy; what would it be?
What is missing in most movies today, if anything? Is it possible to make a geeky movie that has a chance of commercial success? Are we stuck importing Japanese anime?
WW: I absolutely hate that what passes for Sci-Fi in movies much of the last ten years is really just the action movie formula with laser guns and rockets instead of machine guns and motorcycles. So if I had a pile of money, I would make a Sci-Fi film based on a classic novel, like [insert your favorite title here. There's no fucking way I'm picking one, and dealing with the ensuing flamewar]. I would love to do American Gods or Sandman, and my dream is Watchmen as twelve two hour episodes: the first 90 minutes would be the main story, and the last 30 minutes would be Hollis Mason's book, and Tales of the Black Freighter. I'd also like to do Preacher or Fables. Okay, those are mostly graphic novels . . . but can you honestly tell me you wouldn't want to see Sandman? (If it was done right, without Vin Diesel.)
I believe that there are two vital things missing from the film industry today: the first thing is a willingness at the studio level to take risks. As Hollywood's consolidated, and studios have been bought up by multinationals who don't make movies as their primary product (Seagrams, Sony, etc) the industry has become very risk-averse, and if you're not willing to take risks, how can you be truly creative? That's why we see the same old dogshit repackaged year after year. The head of a studio can stand up and say, "We made you X dollars with Mega Crap Blockbuster last year, and this year, we'll be giving you Mega Crap Blockbuster II: Electric Boogaloo! Lindsey Lohan is attached, so we'll make 2.5X dollars!"
The second thing missing from movies is even worse: story. We say it all the time: "If it's not on the page, it's not on the stage." When a studio spends 20 million dollars on some currently-hot celebrity and pays the writer 50K . . . well, we get what they paid for. Since most geeks are smarter than the average bear, we have slightly higher standards for movies (and I'm not even talking about the film geeks, who both terrify and impress me) so paper-thin stories tend to annoy us more than the average audience member. We need someone to step up and be to 2005 what Robert Evans was to 1970. Okay, have I managed to come off like a total elitist film snob yet? On the off chance that I haven't, I'd like to once again observe that Tom Cruise is one of the most over-rated, worst actors in history, and Michael Bay should not be allowed near a film set for the rest of his life. Or at least the rest of mine. Jon Favreau is a fantastic actor who should write and direct more, Lorne Michaels should stop trying to turn unfunny three minute sketches into unfunny 90 minute movies, and where, for the love of god, is my generation's Steve McQueen?!
Hrm. Looks like I crossed the line from elitist film snob to never working in this town again.
Uhh . . . let's see if I can get this back on track before the goon squad shows up: I think there is a silver lining here for geeks. Lord of the Rings proved beyond any doubt that it's possible to make geeky movies that still appeal to a broad audience, as long as there is a director with a clear vision who understands and respects the material. Lord of the Rings had both elements I think are important to successful movies: the studio took a huge risk, and Peter Jackson worked with amazing screen writers to bring one of the greatest stories in history to the screen. This tells me that there is some hope for us geeks. We could see a resurgence of geek-friendly movies that actually reward our intelligence (ie: more The Matrix, and less Catwoman). And if not, there's always Firefly on DVD.
Fame and accessibility to the public
by H_Fisher (808597)
While many celebrities try to isolate themselves from the public as much as possible, except for talk show visits and the like, you've taken the route of being much more responsive to your fans and the world at large - openly posting to sites like Slashdot and Fark, blogging, and all the while being very open and honest about your opinions.
That said, (a) Do you ever regret doing so? and (b) Do you think it's fear of unstable people, overwork, or a holier-than-thou attitude toward the proles (or a combination of the three) that keeps other celebs from being as visible, open, and honest?
I say this because I'm amazed at the down-to-Earth nature of those like yourself, J. K. Rowling [jkrowling.com], and others who aren't afraid to speak out for what they think and feel. With technology, one may wonder why others might not do so.
WW: It's tough to answer your question without coming off like a total douche, but I'll try: I think you see most celebrities carefully choosing who they talk to and what they talk about because a lot of their value is based on the mystique their publicists can create for them. In other words, some actors play a role when they're on the set, and another when they're talking to Oprah. I prefer to keep my acting limited to the set, and because I have a blog, I can speak for myself, so I don't really need or want to participate in the Mainstream Entertainment Media.
In real life (like, not on The Internets) I'm a very shy and private person. When I'm out with my wife, I really just want to be left alone, and I feel pretty uncomfortable when I get into big crowds and stuff. But I think I'd feel that way whether I was an actor, or not. I don't think of myself as a celebrity, either. When I hear someone called a celebrity, I think of someone who gets special treatment, never waits in line, and has had sex with Paris Hilton. And I wish my blog wasn't constantly framed as a "celebrity blog." When I hear "celebrity blog," all I can think of is a PR tool that's run by a publicist, and I make a conscious effort to ensure that WWdN is not like that. I am also a little weird about people who read my blog, or my books, and think we're best friends. Unless your name is Darin, and you've known me since 9th grade, we're not best friends. It means a lot to me that there are people who enjoy reading the stuff I write, and I've heard from a ton of people who read Just A Geek who identified with the struggle, and the journey, and the angst, and stuff. That's really awesome, because as a writer and actor, I hope to affect people with my work in one way or another . . . but I do those things because I love the creative process and I love performing. I don't expect anything in return, but I am intensely grateful that I can earn a living doing what I love to do, which just happens to be a fairly high-profile job.
Politics and Hollywood - from WW's perspective?
by Zondar (32904)
We in the non-Hollywood scene see a fair number of outspoken individuals on one side of the political spectrum, a few on the other, and it *always* gets press anytime anyone on either side speaks out about any political issue.
Having seen it from the inside, how pervasive is politics in the workplace in the projects you've been involved in? Is it something that comes up every once in a while, like the rest of us, during office discussions... or is it something more "tangible", where you basically know where everyone around you stands - and you'd better hope you either stand the same way or don't say much?
Have you ever felt pressure from someone with regard to politics? Have you ever felt that your political viewpoint would affect your chances of working on a project?
WW: First off, I don't think that there's anything wrong with anyone speaking their minds about political issues, especially in the current climate. It deeply offends me when I hear someone telling an actor, musician, or other well-known artist to "shut up and sing." The real outrage, I think, should be directed squarely at the douchebags in the mainstream media who ignore the Downing Street Minutes, but show the fucking Runaway Bride in a split screen with the Michael Jackson trial every. Goddamned. Day.
Sorry. What was the question? Oh. Politics. I've never felt any political pressure or seen politics be an issue on the set; we're just too busy trying to complete the schedule so we have time to nail our hookers on the way home from work.
Thoughts on the future of Enterprise
by Skyshadow (508)
Okay, let me start out by saying I'd understand if you don't keep up with the new Trek shows, and if that's the case you should chalk my question up to being those of a truly pathetic geek and possibly make "magic xylophone" [simpsoncrazy.com] jokes about it.
That said, if you do still follow Trek I'd be curious to hear your thoughts on the progress of "Enterprise" given your status as someone framiliar with the entertainment industry (esp. as it relates to this particular line of shows).
I have been so impressed by the last two seasons (except the Nazi arc at the start of this season) that I'd go so far as to group them with some of the best episodes of season 3 TNG. The characters are finally starting to fill out, the plots have gotten away from the standard "it's the Borg again!" horseshit and they've even had relatively decent dialog.
I get the impression, however, that it's not going to be enough to save the series based on the timeslot it's been relegated to. While my TiVO stays in Fridays even though I don't, I can't believe that even Trek fans regularly stay home Friday nights in sufficiant numbers to save the show, not to mention all the people who stopped watching in season 1 or 2 and won't end up flipping past sometime to give it a second chance now.
Is "Enterprise" as doomed as I think it is?
WW: Well, between the asking of this question and my finally answerng it, Enterprise was cancelled. Despite a massive "Save Enterprise" effort, Paramount decided to tell Enterprise about the rabbits one last time, and walk her behind the shed.
I know this will be unpopular, but I think it was time for Enterprise to go. I also think that it's time for The Simpsons to go, and I thought that even Seinfeld went on about 12 episodes too long. I'm a firm believer leaving the audience wanting more.
Ron Moore wrote some wonderful comments about the demise of Enterprise on his Battlestar Galactica Blog (which I wish was called "Galactiblog,") where he basically said that Star Trek was being returned to the care of the fans now, and it's up to the fans to see where it goes next. I agree with that, and I think that a break from being in production will give the next generation (har. har. har.) of Star Trek creators an opportunity to get some perspective on Star Trek, and let whatever the next thing is return to what made Star Trek so great: Captains who bang green chicks in mini-skirts.
Women et. al
by DarkHelmet (120004)
I know this is one of those things that was asked to Gabe and Tycho of Penny Arcade, but as Ashley Judd's first on-screen kiss, do you have any advice on finding women? ;)
On that matter, what do you think priorities should be in looking for that sig. other?
WW:Well, I went out and conducted a very serious scientific poll, and I discovered that strippers and pornstars are turned on by guys in Think Geek T-shirts with Slashdot IDs between 129188 and 129190. Hope this helps.
What about the flip side?
by Short Circuit (52384)
In your response to a comment titled "Usenet," from the previous interview, you make it quite clear that people hating you for being Wesley pisses you off. Do you have anything in particular to say to the people who like you for being Wesley?
WW: Thank you. I wish I'd known you were out there in the alt.wesley.die.die.die days.
by Keebler71 (520908)
Would you let your own children enter the tv/film industry? Why or why not?
WW: No. Children need to be children, and part of being a child is being irresponsible, occasionally moody, and playing every chance you get. When a child becomes an actor, they are expected to be professional, enthusiastic, and focused on their work at all times. That's unrealistic, and it takes a huge chunk of their childhood away.
by Magius_AR (198796)
I'm a longtime reader of WWDN and I know you're big into poker. Is there any chance of you making an appearance on Celebrity Poker on Bravo? It'd kick ass to see you on there in action ;)
WW: I played in the World Poker Tour Invitational the Commerce Casino earlier this year. I started out at a table with Tom Everett Scott (who went on to finish third), Mena Suvari, Willie Garson, and Gus Hansen. I played very aggressively in the first couple of levels, and built up a pretty respectable stack.
Sometime during the third or fourth level, this guy moved to our table, right next to Mena. He was clearly star-struck by her, and he started talking about Celebrity Poker Showdown a lot. Mena gave me that "save me" look and said, "Have you played on Celebrity Poker Showdown, yet?"
I told her that I'd asked Bravo a few different times if I could play on the show. The first time, they told me that they were full for the season, but they'd keep me in mind for the next season.
"The next season came around, and I contacted them again," I said, "and this time they told me, 'We're sorry, but you're not a big enough celebrity for our show.'"
I looked at my cards: AJd in middle position, in an unraised pot. The table was playing insanely tight, so I raised it the 3x the BB figuring I'd take it right there. It was folded to Willie Garson, who was two seats ahead of me. He called and said, "Are they nuts?! They had Carrot Top on the show for Chrissakes!"
The flop came J-x-x with two diamonds. I checked.
"Oh, thank you," I said. "That makes me feel so much better."
Willie bet about 1/3 of the pot. I figured my jacks were good, so I bet whatever would have put him all-in, hoping he'd call with a non-diamond Ace-high or a flush draw, and he folded.
Eventually I got busted out by Amir Vahedi when my short-stacked 55 ran into his pocket tens. Oh well, that's poker.
I'd love to play on Celebrity Poker Showdown, and I've let them know that . . . but whoever books the talent over there has made it very clear that until they go through their A-listers, B-listers, C-listers, and whatever list Carrot Top is on, I'll have to wait.
Even though I played like a donkey on the WPT Hollywood Homegame, I managed to finish third, so when the first and second place finishers couldn't play in the $25,000 World Poker Tour Championship at Bellagio, I got to go in their place. Holy shit, man! Can you imagine a $25,000 freeroll, against a field of only about 500 players, with a shot at 3 million bucks?! Of course I went . . . and suffered two BRUTAL beats to get knocked out about 100 places short of the money: I raised UTG+1 with pocket kings to 3X the BB, which was 1800, I think. It's folded around to this guy in late position, who re-raises me to 6000. It's folded to me, so I re-re-raised him to 20000. He went all-in, I called. He turns up AQo, and I was very happy . . . until the flop came Q-Q-x. That fucker took most of my T140,000 stack from me on that hand. Two hands later, I get pocket kings again, so I raise it, get re-raised by Annie Duke. I push, she turns up AKo, and rivers the ace to bust me. I went from 7th in chips to drowning my sorrows in Newcastle in three hands. It was tough, because if I'd won against that AQ, I could have folded into the money, and even made a few moves to seriously compete for the final table.
During the week at Bellagio, I got some coaching from my friend Lee Jones, who is the manager of Pokerstars.com, and author of a fantastic book called Winning Low-Limit HoldEm. (Full disclosure: that's an affiliate link. If you sign up with PokerStars, and use referral code wilwheaton.net, I'll get some points. I'm trying to get enough points to win some army men or a new dirtbike.) I also became friendly with Phil Gordon. Between Lee's coaching and lots of great advice between levels from Phil, my game improved dramatically. I got to talk with Greg Raymer after I busted out, and he told me that poker is a game of decisions, and you just hope to make more correct decisions than your opponents do. He thought I'd gotten my money in good, and made the correct decision both times. When I got home from Vegas, I decided to test that, and find out if that one tournament was just a fluke, or if I could actually make consistently better decisions than my opponents. So I studied the crap out of Dan Harrington's fantastic book, Harrington on Hold'em, and started playing almost nightly on PokerStars, which is the only online poker site that I can play on Linux I'm running Wine 20050524 on Sarge, and it supports it right out of the box. Well, I discovered pretty quickly that I could, indeed, make better decisions, more consistently than my opponents.
Anyway, there's a point hidden deep within all of this: I guess I played well enough in Vegas, and in my online games to get the attention of people at PokerStars, and they invited me to join their team. I am still shocked that I get to be in the company of Greg Raymer and Tom McEvoy . . . but I'm really looking forward to being photographed between Isabelle Mercier and Evelyn Ng! They're buying me into the $10,000 NLHE Main Event in the WSOP, as well as a few other events this year. If you're a PokerStars player, search for user "WilWheaton" and maybe we can play together I like to play the 10 +1 MTT SNGs. If I have the time and bankroll, and enough people are interested, I may try to put together a weekly geek/blogger 20+2 tournament.
How to be a "real" actor/writer/speaker/artist?
by Silas (35023)
Hi Wil. I know you're not about dwelling in the past when it comes to your acting career, but I did want to say that I think "Young Harry Houdini [imdb.com]" is an oft-overlooked film that you should be very proud of. Okay, so maybe I was only like 10 when I saw it, but as an amateur magician it really had an effect on me, and I thank you for your role in it.
A related question then: What advice can you give (beyond saying "be born with raw talent") to folks like yourself who see themselves as creative types with an interest in acting, writing, speaking - the public arts, if you will - but who also don't want to tread the over-worn path of mainstream media and every other Hollywood actor-wannabe? You seem to have done an exceptional job being a part of the underculture - sci-fi TV, self-publishing, blogging, small theater, etc., so it would seem you have some insight into how to participate in these arts without becoming corrupted by the process of getting involved.
WW: Thanks for your kind words about Young Harry Houdini. I am very proud of that film, and I think it's a shame that Disney hasn't released it on DVD. It's a great little movie.
A very quick story about working on that film: I had several scenes with Jose Ferrer. He played a snake oil salesman who I (as Erich Weiss) traveled with around the Old West. During the journey, Erich discovers that he's got real magical powers, which he uses to eventually become Harry Houdini.
We were filming a scene that took place late at night, around a campfire. Near the end of the scene, Jose was supposed to get up from the fire and walk into the wagon that all of our characters used to get from city to city. Well, during one take, someone forgot a line or something early on in the scene. So Jose stood up, and ad-libbed something like, "Well, I'm off to bed! Good night!" As he walked into the wagon. The director cut the scene, and when Jose came out of the wagon he said, "I'm so sorry, my dear, but there was a long silence, and I felt compelled to fill it."
At that moment, I learned how important it was to be present in a scene, even if I wasn't talking, and when to fill the silence, or just let it hang there. To this day, whenever there's a silence in a scene, I feel compelled to fill it.
The short answer to your question is: Create something, and release it yourself. You don't need anyone's permission, and the traditional rules about distribution just don't apply anymore.
The long answer to you question is: First, create something for yourself. You asked about acting, but this applies to a book, a 'zine, a website, a web-comic, a short film . . . whatever. Don't wait for someone else to give you something to do, or give you permission to do it. Just create something that you are passionate about.
Go ahead, I'll wait.
Okay. Most of this answer is going to apply to writing, because it's where I've had the most experience in doing it myself vs. doing it the traditional way, but it's easily applied to creating in other mediums. Here is the most important thing I can tell you: You do not need the so-called traditional channels of distribution to get your work to an audience, and you'll probably be happier and more successful by not going through those channels. I've done it both ways, and self-publishing and distributing was more fun, more creatively satisfying, and much more financially rewarding than the indescribably frustrating process of doing it the other way. This is the best advice I ever got from a fellow author, and I'm thrilled I can pass it along:"Nobody is going to work as hard as you are to promote and sell your work. Books sell as well as their authors promote them, and don't expect anything from your publisher after the book is turned in."
When I wrote Dancing Barefoot, I had a lot of the concerns I think you're referring to in your question: I just wanted to create something, and give it to an audience. I didn't want to experience the same process of begging and rejection, ultimately culminating in some form of (what often feels like) selling big parts of my soul that I have experienced my whole life as an actor. I knew that there was an audience for my work, and because of The Internets, I had a way to reach them. So I learned all I could about self-publishing, asked lots of people lots of stupid and not-so-stupid questions, and came up with a way to publish, market and distribute my work on my own terms. This had a couple of huge benefits, that should appeal to any creative person: I could let the audience decide if the material was worthwhile or not, and I had complete control over the way my work (and by extension, I) was presented to the audience. When I went the "traditional" way, I didn't have that control, and it was endlessly frustrating. O'Reilly insisted, against my advice, on marketing my story as a Star Trek book, which it clearly is not. I warned that they would alienate an enormous potential audience of non-Trekkies with that plan, but my pleadings fell on deaf ears. Unfortunately I was right, (Barnes and Noble won't even stock Just A Geek I've never seen it in a single store. According to a store manager, "Star Trek books just don't sell after the first week.") Just A Geek was abandoned shortly after its release just before Christmas, no less before it ever got a chance to take off. I worked on that book for two years, and poured ten times more energy into it than I put into Dancing Barefoot, and I was rewarded with a frustrating, depressing experience that I will never repeat.
It goes back to the advice my friend gave me: As a creative person, whether you're an author, musician, actor or filmmaker, you will end up working harder than anyone else to promote your work, despite the promises they make to you before the contracts are signed. So why give up creative control and an enormous share of the profits when you're going to do most of the work anyway? Why bust your ass to make someone else rich? There isn't a stigma attached to self-publishing (or performing in a small theater, or distributing your performance on DVD via the Internet) like there used to be, because more and more people are coming to understand that the audience is an enormous collection of little niches, and every single one of them can be served by small presses or indie distributors. So if you don't want to participate in the soul-crushing aspects of the entertainment industry, you don't have to. Self-publishing (or self-producing or distributing, or whatever) is risky, but it's the best way to participate in the arts without being corrupted by the process of being involved. Of course, you must have some inherent talent to create good work, but your question implies that you've already got that part of it worked out. I'm trying to show you how you can take your talent, use it to create something, and then take your creation to an audience.
- You want to publish a book? It's easier than ever to create an e-book with free software like Scribus and OpenOffice.org, and use a service like PayPalDownloads to deliver it.
- You want to release your music? Garageband will host your files and connect you with people who want to hear you.
- You have a great idea for a play? There are 99 seat Equity-waiver theaters in every big city in America.
- Don't want to shop your brilliant short film to myopic studio buyers who are just going to steal your idea anyway? Produce it yourself! Film it on digital video, edit it on your Mac, and create your own DVDs.
- When you've got a physical product to sell, PayPal will process payments for you and create shipping labels you can print, or you can use a service like Yahoo Shopping to do your fulfillment.
by identity0 (77976)
It occurs to me that you're not much older than I am, and probobly younger than most people on Slashdot. Do you ever find yourself wondering, "What will I do with the rest of my life"? Do you have a plan for your life, or are you just making it up as you go along?
Does having had a career and achived fame(at least among us geeks) at a young age give you a different outlook on life than the rest of us young folk, who are just getting out of school and looking to start a career? And any advice to us geeks seeking a family and job would be appreciated : )
Oh, and on a lighter note - you may be a famous actor and author, Wil Wheaton - but I still have a lower Slashdot ID than you! Take that! : )
WW: I'm not trying to sell books here, I swear, but much of your question is answered in Just A Geek. (Contrary to what you may have heard, I managed to sneak in stuff between the endless Star Trek stories that people in their late 20s to early 30s may be able to relate to.) But since you waited seven months for an answer, I'll see what I can do: When I was younger, I always assumed that I'd be an actor for the rest of my life. I liked acting, and I didn't totally suck at it. But when I hit my late teens, I worried that I may not be as good an actor as I thought I was, so I took some time off. That long and winding road lead to the Where's My Burrito? Geocities website, which eventually lead to my blog, Dancing Barefoot, and the Star Trek book. Along the way, I discovered something very important about myself: I still enjoy acting, and I love to perform for an audience . . . but it's the creating that I love, and writing allows me to create much more than I can when I'm an actor-for-hire.
See, as an actor in television or movies, I ultimately have no creative control over what the audience finally sees. All I can do is create a character, wrap him around me like a second skin, and hopefully bring something unique to the performance. It's incredibly satisfying when it works on the set, but there are so many elements in filmmaking that are out of my control, what I hoped to create on the set and what makes it to the audience can be two very different things. The music, the scenes before and after, the editing, and about a hundred other things that have nothing to do with me can all come together with disastrous results. And all the preparation in the world doesn't mean anything if the any other actor phones it in, or the director is incompetent. It's also very weird to be a few weeks shy of my 33rd birthday, and a veteran actor. About 80% of the time, I've got more experience than most of the people I work with, even if they're ten or twenty years older than I am. What's actually kind of upsetting is that all that experience counts for very little when you get right down to it, and I still lose jobs to people who are less experienced but currently "hot" according to Hollywood. But that has actually helped me find and stay on my Path: I love writing, I want to be a writer now *and* when I grow up, and I can't think of anything else I want to do with my life. Besides, I'm never going to make it onto This American Life as an actor.
It's going to be a challenge for anyone to balance career and family, and as far as dispensing advice for fellow geeks about that . . . I don't think I'm qualified. Unless you're hoping to have a successful acting career stall out, become a blogger, and start writing books. If that's your thing, I can help you out, Mister-I've-Got-A-Lower-ID-Than-You.
WW: Well, it looks like I'm finally finished here. I'll read this thread (at +5, you Los Angeles Times Wiki-trashing idiots) and I'll do my best to karma whore^H^H^H^H^H^H^H answer any follow-ups that may occur.