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

Jerome Indie Film & Music Festival the next Sundance? Founder says “One day, Sundance will want to be like us”

Jerome end finalFounders Toni Ross & Jason Ryan with Actor Michael Alvarez and I

Full full photo gallery please visit: http://sheacorridor.azcentral.com/photo-gallery/arts-culture/110121-jerome-indie-film-music-festival-next-sundance-founder-says-one-day-sundance-will-want-be-us#image1

Someone in our community set out to accomplish something amazing, and through this one woman’s selfless efforts and vision, we have all benefited and shared in great celebration of that which we all love and that which unites us. Toni Ross suffered an unimaginable loss with the passing of her son, but from her loss, she was able to create something truly beautiful. It is always scary to embark on rebuilding something from the ashes, but like a Phoenix and so fittingly, from the heart of the Phoenix and Arizona Film Industry, the Jerome Indie Film and Music Festival was born. There were many a time I observed people, on more than one occasion, stop  to take in the scene around them – the energy, the camaraderie, the spirit, the passion of the artists spilling into every crevice, corner, theater, fire station, shop, restaurant, bar and hill top of that quirky little town of Jerome, and these people were moved to tears. The festival is already being compared to Sundance, and I am honored to be a part and in attendance of the start of something so significant, not necessarily because of just what the festival has the potential of growing to become, but because it was an endeavor done from the heart and with the purest of intentions.

I cannot praise the staff and volunteers enough for their tireless dedication and commitment from sunrise to sunrise of each passing day of the festival. Despite heat, massive crowds, unexpected dilemmas and any other force of nature or human; these souls devoted time, sweat and a genius level of coordination, organization, planning and an artistic touch to keep the festival running smoothly. The staff often missed the social events and functions (often due to exhaustion most likely or prepping for the next day) which I took to be a huge testament to their level of professionalism.

Part of the grand appeal of this particular festival had to do with the environment, I almost certainly believe as well as the approach of executing a complete festival immersion with not only just multiple venues for film screenings, but also by including panels, interactive screenings, meet & greets, mixers, gala events such as the one put on by Rangelo Productions and more, all in a town that is rich with history, natural beauty and is in itself a true testament to pioneering a path of independence and artistry. While some slammed the festival for being another typical, over-hyped local fest, I think it is a huge accolade to our film community that so much of the work included in this festival was done extremely well. I was not aware that so much solid, impressive work was created and birthed at our local level and it was encouraging and igniting as an artist to witness such excellence originate here. In fact I was extremely inspired after seeing one event in particular, Bill Pierce’s forbidden films of Arizona as well as some of the featured highlights such as Cathedral Canyon.

A huge congratulations goes out to the filmmakers and the winners of the first Jerome film award ceremony for your mastery and your ability to tell cinematic stories in a powerful and sincere way. There are so many individuals and specific experiences I could dwell on for hours expressing thanks to or for, but I will part with this, I am proud and in love with the heart of our Arizona artists and filmmakers and I think we have finally found the perfect, ideal expression of what we have to offer in the Jerome Indie Film and Music Festival. Thank to you everyone who was willing to do what others never dreamt of, who gave their money, their time, their work, their expertise, their bravery and their ingenuity to create something so entirely unique and break out into a new frontier for all filmmakers. This is a legacy left behind for a loved son, by a mother whose love won’t ever quite, and it is the future for generations of filmmakers, artists, musicians and film-lovers for a lifetime to come.

AWARD HIGHLIGHTS:

The Rising Spirit AwardSPEED OF ORANGE – The third film from acclaimed storyteller Justin Hunt, The Speed of Orange tells the story of an ordinary family living in an extraordinary world.  The horse racing team of GHL, which rose to domination in the 70s and early 80s, is a true journey of humble beginnings, unparalleled success, and the unavoidable confrontation with mortality. Told by the people who lived it, The Speed of Orange, and the story of GHL, will make you cry both tears of laughter and of pain, all the while showcasing the elements of fear, ambition, family, friendship, loss and redemption. The Speed of Orange will undoubtedly take you on the ride of a lifetime, right out of the gate, all the way across the wire.

Best  Documentary Feature: Music City USA – Nashville is an area rich in culture, inspiration and pride. Resilience unlike many have seen, yet it is known primarily for its music. Did the people inspire the area, did the music inspire the people, or did this special place on the globe inspire them both?

Best  Documentary Short: The Ghost of the Cuban Queen Bordello  – Reaching beyond the historical and ghostly walls of a famed southwestern bordello in the 1920′s, a turbulent love affair unfolds, revealing the story of a cunning harlot and her selfish lover. Together their tale of fame, fortune and murderous deeds spans decades from Story Ville, New Orleans to the speakeasy’s of San Francisco and comes to rest in a small mining town in the wild west of Jerome, Arizona.

Best Music VideoBohemian Rhapsody”- Puscifer  

Best Arizona Film:  Cathedral CanyonA story set in both sprawling modern Phoenix and the fringe, rural polygamist communities of Northern Arizona, this film presents a hidden connection between these two very different worlds that permits the shocking acts of these cults to continue.

 Best Narrative Short: A Day on Bleaker Street  – A Day on Bleaker Street juxtaposes the lives of two neighbors and their assumptions about one another. Each man desires something the other possesses, but is it all that it appears to be from across the street? Is the grass really greener on the other side? Come spend A Day on Bleaker Street and decide for yourself.

Best Drama FeatureShouting Secrets –  SHOUTING SECRETS is a hopeful and heartwarming universal story taking place in a Native American family. Yet, it is everybody¹s story and does not belong to a single race, religion or class. It is a human story of choices and regrets. Funny and heartbreaking, SHOUTING SECRETS tells a story that is at once about the constancy and the fragility of love, as well as the importance of family. SHOUTING SECRETS has won over 20 Awards for best film and audience choice at film festivals across the US and features an all-star cast of Indigenous Peoples including Chaske Spencer (TWILIGHT SERIES), Q¹orianka Kilcher (NEW WORLD, PRINCESS KAIULANI), Tyler Christopher (GENERAL HOSPITAL, THE LYING GAME), Gil Birmingham (TWILIGHT SERIES) and Tonantzin Carmelo (INTO THE WEST). Tantoo Cardinal and Rodney A. Grant from DANCES WITH WOLVES also play supporting roles.

Best Comedy Feature: GHOST TEAM ONEIn early 2012, filmmaker Billy Chen answered a Craigslist ad looking for someone to document possible paranormal behavior. What he found were two sexually retarded friends scheming to impress a beautiful woman who believed their house was haunted.  They were willing to face their darkest fears to get in her pants. She was determined to speak with the dead. No one was prepared for the demon whore they found instead.

Best  Horror ShortIncident on Hwy
Five years ago, newly engaged couple, Jeff Bedict and Kelly Moga, took a trip through the desert from San Diego to New Mexico and mysteriously disappeared never to been seen or heard from again. “Incident on Highway 73” explores the beloved couples final harrowing hours.

Best Horror Feature:  Speak No Evil – Speak No Evil is the story of Anna, a single mother fighting to protect her daughter from demonically possessed children and a town gone mad.

An Oscar here, a Grammy there…But what makes you a real winner?

While I realize the Oscars have come and gone last night, as well as the Grammy’s, I do want to go back in time, not too far, just to the evening of the Grammys to share a thought that occured to me last night.

The host of the Oscars Seth McFarlane began the evening softly mocking the value of even receiving these awards by referencing last year’s Best Actor Jean Dujardin from “The Artist” It is presumed that when you win, all of life’s limitations will be removed from you and all the doors of Hollywood will open wide, but that doesn’t always necessarily happen.

So what does it mean to win an award? It means that you did work that is worthy of recognition. That you created something that affected people in a profound way. That you told a story either through song or film or art that needed to be told and you gave voice to someone who normally wouldn’t or were able to have vision yet to be conceived.

During the evening of the Grammys I attend my very first Grammy Party in Queen Creek. A dear friend of mine, Andre Dre Ducati Payton was nominated in a category for writing and I cannot tell you how proud I was of him. I know the passion and time he pours into everything and to be nominated is such an honor. When you really sit down and think about how many millions of people out in the world are making music, to even be noticed, much less selected as one of the top in the world, is quite astounding. Image

Though Dre didn’t win this one, I looked around that room at all of the people, family and friends that gathered together that evening to support this man’s accomplishment and as his wife stood by his side and thanked every one for coming she said the exact words that already filled my heart. “He is still in a winner in all of our hearts.”

While I’m sure it would be some mean bragging rights to have  case full of Grammy Awards on display, this man had all the winnings any one person could dream of – a loving home filled with happy souls that would forever support him through anything and everything , the wins and the losses, the ups and the downs.

I could tell he was disappointed, who would blame him, but he immediately had a smile on his face and expressed that attitude that got him to this point in the first place. He’s a Grammy-nominated artist and that can never be taken away from him. Plus he’s been getting request after request to work on A-lister’s albums now.

I wish all of the recent winners this year the utmost success and happiness, but I do so hope that they do not lose sight of who and what is really important, not just the little gold man they’ll be locking in their closet. One thing I thought was super cool was that Dre actually had the opportunity to go to the Grammy’s but because he could only take one guest, he chose to stay home to share the experience with all of his loved ones. How awesome is that?

I have no doubt that one day I’ll be seeing Dre up on that stage accepting his award, but I also know that won’t change him a bit and that is what I love most about him!

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