Friends, fellow filmmakers and big fat fakers

paparazzi 1Photo by Christopher Labadie Photography

There is something really sensational about the human spirit – how we live in a constant state of renewal and restoration. Think about all the times you have been screwed over, hurt, betrayed, taken advantage of, lied to, left behind, heartbroken, cheated … by friends, colleagues, family members, trusted elders …  but have you stopped trying? Have you stopped your heart from loving or from exploring the possibilities of what other love exists? I don’t know a single person that could answer yes to these questions in truthfulness.

We are chemically wired to seek out connection and fellowship with other souls. Our body physically responds to touch and emotional encounters in ways that science nor logic can deny that we are literally constructed to share our lives with one another in unity. This is where the pitfall of organized religion comes in and acts as a trap to mankind. Any person, power or organization that teaches you that you are somehow incomplete or lacking if you do not depend on them is an inhibitor and damaging to your soul. Because we are constantly in this state of seeking, so many people falsely claim to have or be what it is that you seek and out of desperation or hope, you grasp onto it, wanting to believe you have finally found your home, your church, your life partner, you dream job, or whatever it may be.

The issues is in the source – if that thing or person is lost, destroyed, does not live up to expectation (which is the most common reason for depression clinically is unmet expectations) … then what becomes of you? You who have aligned yourself to this force to be fed some sort of spiritual, mental or emotional nourishment to sustain your own life-source? You die and wither like a flower starved of water.

If you’re like most of us, you barricade yourself in a room for a bit, pig out on Ben & Jerry’s, a few bottles of wine or maybe some vodka depending on how serious, cry, rip some shit up, throw away anything that causes recollection of said person, place or thing and then emerge from your cave claiming to feel like a new person; rejuvenated, reignited and ready to go.

You’re not new though, you are a collective of everything you have ever experienced and everyone you choose to encounter and allow into your life path. It is how you let these pieces shape or impact who you are. I’ve never believed in forgetting or not acknowledging your past because of this reason – your past is your foundation, the building blocks of the pillar that is you. Given everything that gets thrown at you in life, the fact that your pillar is still standing (it may have a few gouges or scratches here and there and some missing paint or cracks) but the simple fact that it is indeed still standing, is quite phenomenal.

I love very deeply. I love my parents very deeply. I love my God very deeply. I love my acting very deeply. I love a man very deeply. I have to be extremely careful of those whom I trust and whom I allow into my life on a deep level because when I love you, you have so much power to effect my world. That’s just not a risk I’m willing to take lightly anymore the older I get.

I’ve had a few circumstances that arose in my life over the last year or so ( health scares, love woes, etc.) where I get in my car and I drive around and say “I have no one. Everyone I know is a business contact; an acquaintance.” It’s a very hallowing realization to understand that if I want to call someone at 3a.m. to talk about the audition at Good Faith or that film set we were both on two weeks, ago I’d have my of the litter, but if I need to talk to someone about how I may have a hole in my heart and that’s what’s been causing my migraines this whole time, then who the heck can I call?

I made a devout promise that I would begin working on developing healthy, viable relationships. I am blessed to say that I have a few ladies in my life that I’ve known since Kindergarten, one even from preschool. I don’t come to her nearly as often as I should, but every time I do I feel welcomed home (usually with wine) and warm and comfortable – like putting on a cozy sweater. It doesn’t matter how much time has passed or what guilt my conscious has racked up with sins, I know I can be myself with her.

My best friend lives in Texas. She was one of those people that you meet and your energies just collided and mesh. We connected immediately and although I’ve never had a sister of my own, I would say that I love her as my own flesh and blood and would protect her at any cost. We have this unspoken anger with one another because both of us are entirely too stubborn for our own good and don’t like initiating or asking for help or love so we constantly await the other one to make a move – it’s a lot like a long distance chess match done through the mail actually. I wish every day she would move back and that I could have her near to laugh with. The relationship, the distance, the life circumstance may change, but the love never does.

God has also brought other people into my life in the most unexpected ways. I stayed with Mary Lynn Kelly when I first moved out of my home when separating from my ex husband. Mary Lynn is a glowing spirit, always looking for expressive ways to create and enhance the world of those around her and took me in graciously under her maternal wing. Wendy Killeen is probably the most selfless single mother of 2 that I know as well as an unsung hero. She gives so much and asks nothing in return. Wendy is the kind of person who inspires me. I read in my book series which I often make reference to, that whenever you meet someone new, the question you should ask  yourself is “How can I be a gift unto this person?” Most people operate on the opposite basis, asking “What can I get out of this other person? How does this benefit me to befriend or spend time socializing with this individual?” Wrong. So wrong.

That’s where my fellow-kind comes in. I have over 2,000 “friends” on Facebook. I talk to dozens of different people on any given day whether it be on a film set, IM, at an audition, mixer, screening, rehearsal, work or what have you. I constantly have people coming and going from my life. I made a mistake very early on when first starting out in this career path, believing that all of these new people I was meeting were  now my new friends. I am a very open person and a very trusting person  so I shared bits and pieces of myself with these people. Bits and pieces that these people doused in gasoline, shoved into a cannon and then proceeded to fire at will as ammo at me when it benefited them to do so.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve opened up to someone honestly, thinking that I was in a safe place to do so when I hear the next day that this same person turned around and said I was a diva or a bitch and used my words (which they originally agreed with) to turn a director or manipulate some other like party against me. Ouch. Seriously, don’t do that! Let me cry, let me be a loner a set, think I’m a bitch, fine – but don’t fake -friend me. That’s just mean. I recently got the advice never to trust another female in LA. Don’t let another female ever take you to an audition, pick you up from an audition, look at a script or side you are working on, or know anything about who you’re dating or your personal life. I don’t think that rule only applies to the ladies la la land … just sayin …

Granted I still believe in my gut that most people are genuinely good and are also looking for a deeper connection. I think that most believe because you may share a mutual interest in film and acting that those seeds should be enough to bloom into a beautiful, fruitful tree if watered and cared for. Ideally, this should be so and fresh , full gardens of shared passion should be cultivated, but that requires both parties to operate on the same level.

I do think that there are some people though, that are nothing but big fat fakers. If all you want from me is for me to work in your film for free, or for me to write up a press release for you or perform some other business-related task, here’s a novel idea – JUST ASK ME. You don’t have to go through this entire bs process of befriending me. It’s a waste of your time and mine, we are both adults and understand the nature of our industry and how cross-promotion works, so why not be forthcoming about it?

I’ve seen it all before, where people fake an interest in who you are because they feel if they don’t, you won’t grant them certain favors that they are in need of. I know the process and I’ve seen it all. There are guides available even, on how to do this  like a skill set – when you meet someone don’t start off by directly asking for a need or a favor or a contact or referral, instead introduce yourself, compliment the other person, let them know qualities you admire about them and if anything, ask them how you can be more like them. These individuals will feel so appreciated that eventually they will volunteer information and services without you even having to ask. That’s the beauty of the system. Even with people I know, they write to me and start with a compliment or some sort of formality so I scan to get to to the part where they are asking me for what it is they actually need. So silly.

I’m feeling bitter at this precise moment because a new business connection decided to drop me like a fly after it escaped my mind that we were scheduled to hang out. He sent a cold text saying “Best to you in your endeavors.” Wow, alright dude, if you choose to operate in those closed off terms and with a policy of unforgiveness and lacking of understanding, then perhaps I’m not interested in fostering a relationship, professional or personal, with you anyway. Dan Dice once said, and I think it is true, your friends will be your friends no matter what. Those true beacons of light will guide you home no matter how much you have messed up, how far off the path you strayed, how lost you got in the wilderness; they will just always be there. That is a friend.

You see, something interesting happened to me while at the Jerome Indie Film and Music festival which taught me an invaluable lesson and exposed a dark, dirty area of myself to … well, myself. I had a very close encounter with my ego and I didn’t like it. I’m ashamed to admit to this, but I feel most may have experienced similar things. I’m dating an actor, a very multi-talented, dynamic, handsome actor who happened to have multiple features screening in Jerome. I prepared myself in advance that this would be his event and I would be support to him, his date and company. I didn’t realize how deeply it would impact my confidence and sense of worth. I felt like a nobody, after all, in this industry you are only as good as your last film. I’d see everyone going around talking about their work, proud of their shorts and their roles, smiling and beaming but I just couldn’t shake my feeling of uselessness. I suddenly desired the invisibility cloak from Harry Potter, more than anything several times throughout that weekend. In fact for the very first time in years, when people started asking me what I do while I was out there I denied the fact that I was even an actor.. I kept saying that I was a writer. I felt to lowly, too non-existent to own the title of actor. I remember feeling that same way when I first started out 2 years ago or so, and I remember my mentor pulling me aside and saying “Melissa, no one will believe you’re an actor until you do.” Since then whenever someone asked me “Oh what do you do?,” I would reply with forced confidence and a smile “I am an actor” until I did start to believe and it felt comfortable on me. Fake it till you make it, right? Until now at least …

When we went back to the room for a wardrobe change in between events and my sweet man started to express his love for me and I didn’t feel worthy of it. Who was I? A nobody, and this fantastic creature in front of me is trying to give me his love. Why? I don’t deserve it. Suddenly flashes of this cycle rippled across the back of my mind and I realized with extreme clarity that this is what we do. We allow others to dictate how good we feel about ourselves. What a terrible, ugly thing. Because these others don’t know us, they don’t know our hearts or our true value, these others know our characters, know the roles we play, know the public personas we exude at events, know shadows of us and yet they are the ones that determine our good days and our bad days? I looked him in the eye and expressed what I just came to terms with and he agreed that this was something that we both were indeed guilty of and needed immediate action to rectify. It became so clear to me why professional actors keep their real, authentic lives locked behind closed doors – because it is precious to them. It became clear to me why the emphasized needing family and people in your life for a support system, because it does not matter how many fans or awards or Facebook likes you have – the world is a fickle and unfair force. If you place your life in their hands you can be God one day and the sacrifice for the upcoming God the next. But to give your heart to those that find you always worthy, no matter how long it has been since you were cast in a lead role or how big of a success of big of a flop your last film was, or how many people recognize you; that is where you will find the core of love and it is only from there can you receive it’s true blessing and healing powers. It is only there can you share your life with someone without fear of falling too deep.

The Lovelost – Ready to Hear You – Music Video by Running Wild Films   http://youtu.be/ddsow5cukks

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An actor’s growing pains: It hurts so good

melissa farley 57Photo by G Rockett Phillips

 

I don’t know why I’m writing this now … I’ve been staring at a computer screen for about 14 hours and I haven’t eaten today. Everything feels fuzzy and raw, but I couldn’t seem to not write.

I just got back from L.A. and for the first time I am feeling a bit discouraged. It’s not for any particular reason except for perhaps I’m realizing how daunting of a commitment it is that I’ve chosen to willingly accept upon myself. Sort of like marriage except I don’t get a big shiny diamond ring out of it.

On Saturday I was scheduled to attend a workshop and open audition for Dan Ireland who directed “Jolene” and I was nervous. No I mean like really nervous. That kind of nervous where my stomach hurts and I get a knot in my neck and I don’t talk to anyone or am on like a 10 second time delay on responding because I’m so in my head about everything. I felt awful about this particularly because it consumed the whole rest of our trip. Michael Alvarez and I were actually on a studio tour of Warner Bros. Studios because that’s what we do in LA – cheesy touristy stuff because well, why the hell not? It’s fun and we might as well now because when I live out there I know I will not be spending money on anything other than Chef Boyardee products and toilet paper and a thousand dollar rent. So we were sitting there, waiting to enter this theater and see 90 years of film and television and live sets and all I could think was “Here I am desperately trying to get in these doors, not as a cheeseball fan but as my day job and what if it NEVER happens?”  You see, I’m guilty of being a “what-if-er” Imagine how exhausting that can be to those close to me. I sit there and ponder each and every possibility from the best to the worst and usually I dwell on the worst.

This is a bad habit of mine. I spoke to a friend yesterday who does the same and this whole last week she’s been working on exiling negative thoughts from her mind on entry, flipping it to a positive outcome and verbalizing that immediately to give power and validity to the thought. She said her whole outlook has changed, her attitude is improved, her burden feels lightened and her energy levels are even higher. Could be a whole sammich of bologna but I’m willing to take a bite … I don’t mind bologna every now and again.

So as I sat there and stewed in my pensiveness I thought, “Maybe this is a good thing that I’m nervous.” (I just broke thought and started thinking about beef stew because I wrote stewed… and hot dogs, and fried bologna sandwiches. Mmmm I think it’s time for a quick Ramen break. Oh the life of an actor) Ok I’m back, belly-filled and ready to go. Where was I? Oh yes, good to be nervous – It’s been some time since I have been really good and nervous and had my feathers all ruffled for an audition in Arizona. My first audition that I did a hardcore prep for was for the role of Anne Boleyn. I worked with a private coach for months on Boleyn’s actual speech or more so prayer, she delivered before her execution. Michael Cortez was the coach and I would refer anyone to him in heartbeat but he has since relocated to New York City. I remember sitting for hours with him sometimes just working on one sentence. I would repeat a word over and over again until it was no longer repeating a word written on a page, but it was my own and it would organically originate from within. Often I’d leave our sessions exhausted and frustrated because I felt I could never fully let go to the level that was needed. Talk about a mental and emotional workout.

The second audition I prepped heavily for was a short film called “Micah” The character was of a young, extremely intelligent woman who had been dealt a cruel hand in life, losing almost everything except her younger brother who she battled to have custody for, but her addiction to drugs hindered the process. I walked in a hot-mess; hair all disheveled, black eyeliner smeared around my eyes, dirty clothes and I smoked as many cigs as I could in the 15 minutes I waited for my audition and listened to “Mad World” on my earphones. All the other girls walked in looking so beautiful … it didn’t matter, at least not this time.

In all fairness if I took myself seriously and you as a filmmaker took yourself seriously, I would handle each and every audition with such attention, care and time but alas things are pretty casual in the good old AZ. Most often I get a phone call or FB IM asking me if I want to be a part of a project. Don’t get me wrong, as an actor this is an honor and a privilege. When first starting out it is always a hope that one day you’ll get to the point where you no longer are required to audition, but people will just know your name and your work and want you. I do find it quite odd though when I am contacted by folks I’ve never worked for that operate this way, who say that they received a suggestion from a friend as a testament to my abilities. That’s always a HUGE compliment to be referred, however, and not to liken actors to take-out food or anything, how many times have you been to dinner with a friend and they ordered a dish and raved about how amazing it was when they had it before so you order the same thing. The waiter sets the plate down in front of you as you stare at the culinary masterpiece, utensils clamped in tight fists ready to pounce, your mouth salivating in eager anticipation at the promised food orgy that awaits your taste buds from your friend over yonder across the table. You take the first bite and … It’s … Ok. Definitely not the best thing you’ve ever had in your mouth. Just ok. Well, what if you think that about me???!!!! I hate that situation because then I’m walking on set with this little twinge in my side thinking “Ok Melissa, you have to deliver. This guy has heard of you and you have to live up to the standards that were set..” No pressure. I have to find  a way to let go of those nerves or find a way to channel and use that nervousness into energy for the performance, that’s my responsibility as an actor. Now that I have a demo reel, I usually insist someone watch it before they work with me just to insure that they at least get to sample the goods before they buy it.

So as I’m sitting there, waiting for my audition, feeling like I swallowed sour milk, I began to appreciate how bitter-sweet this moment is. Here I felt I had just arrived at a place in my professional career where this whole nerves nonsense was behind me and I go and throw myself right back into the rodeo. But, like growing pains, that means that my little wings are expanding and I am moving into a new realm that will challenge me, push me, make me uncomfortable and force me to be brave, do more, go further, take risks and be bigger, badder and better than I have ever been.

Am I ready for this? Gulp.

Well no, but is anyone ever really ready? I forge on anyway and return to my method – allow myself 1 minute to explore the fears and doubts and insecurities and then once that minute is up, I release them to the universe and plunge in. While I’m still navigating back and forth, I hope to apply what I learn in other markets, here locally. It is often when professionals from outside markets come in and introduce new practices, that people perk up their ears and jump in on the conga line. I feel like a sponge out there. My heart is open, my soul is willing, my mind is free and I want to absorb all that I can. I feel there is so much I don’t know. So many skills I don’t have, so many people I haven’t met, so many methods I haven’t studied, so many business practices I am not familiar with, so many industry standards that I simply don’t do for whatever reason. Now is the time and here is the place to merge that gap between LA and PHX.

Despite how much I want to believe that there must be some similarities, I came to also realize from talking to a friend that recently moved to LA, that it doesn’t matter how much money you have, the job you have, any of it … it is inevitably different and it is a huge lifestyle change. Forget adapting to altering factors of the industry, life itself is just different there. I knew of a student who for his senior thesis project was going to write and compile a manual for actors planning on moving to LA about everything you’d need to know – places to live, banks to use, casting agents to see, a priority listings of what to, everything. I don’t know what ever came of that as it was years ago. He either probably got defeated himself or he managed to survive and then like so many became territorial and opted not to share his insights with others to keep his advantage. That’s pretty common out there it seems; everyone seems to hold their cards pretty close.

I have learned that Craigslist is your best friend out there for casting and for finding amazing places to live whereas out here I’d only use Craigslist if I had a death wish. Also I learned that I better get used to the whole “Pay-to-Play” mentality, or actually allow me to correct myself, as my friend Kevin put it better “Pay-to-ask-permission-to-play” mentality. It’s like paying to put in a lineup to be chosen to play volleyball. I can see where that would get extremely frustrating when you’re already struggling for basic survival and things like food or I don’t know maybe gas at $4 plus a gallon to get to the auditions if you actually get one. A positive is that you’d get really good at knowing your type! Unless you’ve got money to burn or access to Mummy and Daddy’s bank account, you’re not going to submit yourself to just anything and everything. Instead you’ll become aware of what you actually have a shot at landing. It can be a cruel reality check perhaps when you may have to downgrade yourself from 90210 hotness level to like the awkward best friend of the leading man that sticks cheetohs up his nose for entertainment, but hey, at least you know you stand a chance at booking something!

A lot of actors don’t seem to have an issue finding representation right away as there are so many talent agents out there, but usually the first agent you sign with is more like a stepping stone and a way in. It should be accepted and appreciated as such. I heard several times on this most recent trip some news that us transplants might actually have one advantage over native LA actors and that is our ability to freely and regularly work out here. The owner of a studio and my friend who edits demo reels for a talent manager both said that most of the demo reels they see come through are absolute ish. In fact, the studio owner said he would rather tell most to just say they don’t have a demo reel instead of showing what they do have. This is encouraging! For actors just starting out it seems that we have a higher quality of level of demo reel material with better production value and stronger performances. This may be because most actors out there can only do student films for non-union work or book extra work which really isn’t applicable for a demo. I received multiple compliments from LA contacts including above-mentioned studio owner and this is just my first go at it, but it is a HUGE relief to know I’m moving in the right direction in regards to my footage.

Demo Reel: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sa2Wct0EIJk

Also, not to go too mom or conservative nun on anyone, but oh man is the threat of ending up in porn real for attractive women! I was just talking to Nicole Randall about how legit agents and managers out there actually take issue with you or even won’t sign you if you’re not willing to do full nudity. And the opportunities are ample if not virtually everywhere – like every third person you meet shoots porn. They are always extending offers, the money is usually decent and the promises usually sound really, well promising. Just say no to being a ho. This is a career shift that you can’t easily retract or redirect off of that path and if you have a sensitive moral conscious, it may not be one that is easy to let go of either. It can seem hard to decipher at first because again, like I said, a lot of legit film and filmmakers out there feature nudity or explicit sexual content which is very different than our local scene where this is a rarity, so all I can suggest is to trust your intuition and listen to that all-knowing inner voice. If you don’t feel a peace about the project or the people involved don’t do it.

Don’t make the mistake of assuming that just because you’re in LA that every opportunity is legit. There are still scams out there; places that have no deeper invested interest in you than to empty your pockets, fraud agents and directors or filmmakers that aren’t nearly as big as they claim they are. Lucky for us in the age of technology it is usually just one quick Google search away from discovering the truth. Don’t also make the mistake of assuming that just because an actor is from LA they are a good actor or that by moving to LA you will suddenly be a better actor. They are just an actor that happens to live in LA and so now do you. LA does not have an magical powers to instantly convert you from sucky to award-worthy, it is just a land filled with vast opportunity. It is still up to the individual to take advantage of what is available and work on their craft. Once I understood that, the environment became a lot less intimidating. Truth is, there are a lot of bad actors out in LA. So I figure I have to be better than at least half of them, right?

Here’s another little golden nugget that got exposed, with all that bad floating around out there, you will be considered a hero if you walk into an audition and you are actually good! The casting agents will probably feel like giving you a crown and a cape and a bouquet of fresh daffodils and daisies. Why? Because they want you to be good, in fact their job depends on it. They have to go to the production team and show that they have secured quality talent, if they can’t do that then it is their butt out the door. As soon as their current film ends, they are scrambling for their next project just as we are and the more they consistently prove their worth and ability and finding good talent, the more they work and trust me, they want to work. So change up your perception a little bit and don’t see these guys as judges with sourpuss expressions and powdered wigs waiting to condemn you, look at them as fans cheering you on in the stadium hoping that you’re going to knock it out of the park! Again, a lot less intimidating. 

Well, I feel like this post was thoroughly weird, but I have to admit, I don’t feel as defeated after writing it so I’ll consider it a form of self-therapy. Anybody want to take up that idea of writing a “Newbie Moves to LA” book because I would love to have that available. Any takers? Anyone? Come on … Until then, I’ll continue to stretch my legs a little bit, dip my toes in the water and refuse to stop growing as an actor and as a human being. Through pain comes healing, through fear bravery is born, through adversity character is built and through exploration of unknown territory comes discovery of untold treasures.

 

 

REJECTION. It never get’s any easier, but you can learn from it!

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I’ve read all of those acting and audition workbooks, manuals and how-to guides. I’ve talked to countless professors, mentors, professional actors. I’ve recited it over an over and over again as a personal mantra. “Don’t take rejection personally.” But when it really comes down to it, I so DO!!!! Each and every time I have an audition and I don’t get a callback I often dwell on every little detail, option, vibe, misplaced hair, etc. that could have caused them to not like me. This process was recently intensified when my best friend and I both auditioned for the same film project. He got the blessed callback and I did not. Needless to say I was bitter, jealous, wounded and completely thrilled for him of course, but I couldn’t help but wandering, “What the heck was wrong with ME? Why didn’t they like ME?” When discussing this with literally anyone who would listen to me, a few plants, inanimate objects and my pugs; everyone kept throwing out the classic cliché of “You probably didn’t have the right look for the part.” or “It has nothing to do with talent! I’m sure they just hired someone’s second cousin twice removed or something.” Riiigggghhhttt . . . . Here’s the thing, as ridiculous as it sounds they may be right. You could remind the director of his cheating ex-wife so he crosses you off the list as soon as you walk in the door for all you know. It wouldn’t matter if you gave a performance that Kate Winslet would be envious of, you still wouldn’t get the part. So this is what I suggest to my fellow “approval-seekers” aka actors:

 

1.) Be as prepared as you can possibly be. Respond to all emails even if it is just with a “Thank you for confirming the details, time, location, etc.”

2.) Read the script and have it memorized. Even if they sent it to you earlier that day, do your best to memorize it. Still bring a copy of the script with you.

3.) Follow ALL directions. If it said they want you to say your name before you begin then state your name. It will show them you are attentive to detail and follow instruction.

4.) Have a few different styles or approaches picked to try reading it different ways. This will either show that you have range or reflect that you can take direction.

5.) Be prepared to change it up! If they ask you to put your hair up, deliver lines while walking, stand on your head, whatever DO IT!!!! As long as it is appropriate though.

6.) Stay relaxed. Just walk through those doors and have a good time. Often times they will cast you based on how easy they think it will be to work with you. Plus making a good impression is NEVER a bad thing. So what if you bombe that particular audition. If they love your personality they may just ask you back for a different project!

7.) This is the hardest for me: DON’T DWELL. Walk out of that audition with confidence. Take a quick inventory of what went well, what could have gone better and what surprised you so you can learn and know what to change for next time then release it into the universe.

8.) No grudges. Keep an audition log to remember who you have met and what company/organization they are associated with. Always be gracious and positive to all staff involved with the audition process. They may remember you, good or bad.

9.) If you don’t book a lead but are offered a background artist role and it will be a good networking opportunity, take it! Learn on set, develop contacts and relationships with people and work hard. Who knows where it may lead.

10.) Remember you are doing this out of love. Yes, the money, financial gain, worldwide fame and perks are a close second, but acting should always be with purpose and passion. Don’t lose that.