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 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.

 

 

Will the real critic please stand up? Oh wait that’s me!

big redPhoto by G Rockett Phillips

“You cannot discredit truth. Truth is truth, and it can neither be proven or disproven. It simply is. The wonder and beauty of my message cannot and will not be affected by what people think of you. Indeed, you are one of the best ambassadors, because you have lived your life in a way that you call less than perfect. People can relate to you – even as they judge you. And if they see that you are truly sincere, they can even forgive you your ‘sordid past.’ Yet I tell you this: So long as you are still worried about what others think of you, you are owned by them. Only when you require no approval from outside yourself can you own yourself” – An uncommon dialogue – Conversations with God Book Three by Neale Donald Walsch

This was God’s answer to Neale when he beseeched God to pass the torch to someone else to deliver the message of what God wanted to communicate through him in the form of the written word, because he felt too unworthy, too imperfect and that his history would taint how the message would be received. I related to this, in fact my gut flipped over and my innards cried out in glorious symphony that they knew this internalized self-torture all too well.

There is a song and a prayer I listen to and murmur regularly throughout the day “Break every chain.” Spoken words of others, condemnations, bad energy, darkness – all very really things that can create a virtual prison or holding tank for our souls. We cannot create when we answer to others, we are not free when we answer to others and we are not who we are fully intended to be when we answer to to others.

I kept seeing this quote float around the internet by Johnny Depp over the last several weeks:

“Just keep moving forward and don’t give a shit about what anybody thinks. Do what you have to do, for you.”

At first I thought “Shit yes!” and then I thought “Well how easy is it for HIM to say that? He’s Johnny freaking Depp?” It wasn’t always easy for him though. Like so many of us, he had to make the difficult journey to stardom, struggling with poverty, raising a family, taking risks that most would probably consider unwise or irrational considering his worldly responsibilities … but he did what he said, he kept moving forward and gave not a single shit about what anyone said or thought. Ok, perhaps he gave one shit, I mean the man is human after all,  but not a big enough one to let him stop moving.

Nearly everything I do in life, I do it with the expectations and possible judgements of others in mind. Should I post that picture, people might think it’s too sexy? Should I take that role, people might think less of me? When someone is mad at me or things are in turmoil, it may as well be the end of the world to me. Not being liked or wanted is probably one of the worst things to me – it consumes me. It does not matter if it’s my mother being disappointed in me for spending the night at a boy’s house even though I’m a 27-year-old woman or if it’s a complete stranger who just looked at me oddly for a passing second in an elevator. My moods, my self-worth are completely dependent and determined on outside circumstances and I suffer for this. There lingers a disturbance in the force that disrupts my workflow, my thought-pattern, my emotional responses and my focus.

Most people don’t perceive me this way. Why? Well because of the billion pictures I post of myself on FB and all the talking up I do of my own work, so clearly I must be a confident if not self-righteous diva? Rubbish. The only reason I started an Instagram account was to deal with looking at my own face. True story … when I joined pretty much everyone was posting pictures of their faces or food, not really a whole lot has changed, but I mean that was literally all you’d see. So I thought to myself one day that I would force myself to take a picture every day, post it and look at it. Sure enough it got easier and easier to accept seeing myself. Now I don’t cringe every time there’s not a photoshopped, professional photo of me flying about the highways of the inter webs. One small step toward victory of self-acceptance. But did anyone else perceive it that way? Probably not. Should it matter how they perceived or received it? No, it shouldn’t.

I fear that if people knew just how little self-confidence I had they would be shocked. I took a new age approach the other day and I said that every morning and every night I would stand in front of the mirror and stare into my own reflection and say the words “You are beautiful. You are worthy. You are deserving of love.” I got through that just fine but as soon as I attempted to switch the word ‘you’ to ‘I’, I couldn’t do it. The water works started and I wept as I forced myself to say those words, lips quivering, chin all crumpled up like a tossed love note wadded in an unwanted ball in the trash, eyebrows pinched together with tension … and as soon I did finally finish stumbling through the mantra (it felt like it took 10 minutes to say 11 words) I let my head drop into my hands and I cried for the lie that I told. I just lied to myself. The only thing that brought me out of this Soap Opera drama moment was the fact that I immediately thought of the youngest son on “The Middle” who after he tells a lie he puts his head down in shame and says aloud in a whisper the lie. Ha … oh sweet comedic relief. Brilliant.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FTflLZcUea8

So many of my issues go back to the way that I was raised. There have been scientific studies done that our brain is trained to interpret love, the acceptance and receiving of it, as well as self-worth and self-image in our first through sixth year of life. We don’t even have to maintain the exact memory of what caused these associations, but your brain literally takes an imprint of the chemical reaction that was released when you originally processed the situation and it stores that away into a file so that every time you are faced with those feelings of love, acceptance, etc; the same chemicals and hormones are released. This creates a pattern, which determines our behaviors and views on love.

What is interesting is that it is often in our areas of weakness that we are able to bring the most strength and healing to others. Many people who suffer from extreme physical and medical conditions are some of the most powerful prayers and healers of illness that I have ever witnessed. The women in my spiritual healing class are an ideal example of this. Karen, our fearless leader, suffers from chronic pain, has had several bouts with cancer, almost died from believe it or not allergies, and the list goes on, but she has had one of the most incredible ministries working with terminally ill cancer and HIV/AIDS patients and has seen countless miraculous healings. Dr. Souki, a former prostitute, drug-addict, alcoholic, criminal; travels the world-changing the lives and hearts of victims of sexual abuse, victims that may have died without her testimony or known worse fates, but I just learned that she herself still deals with depression, health complications and suicidal tendencies.

So why are they chosen to give such messages of strength to the masses? Because they are open. Because they have love and compassion despite what they were exposed to. Because they are and represent the masses. They are no better, no more perfect, they are just empty vessels asking God to replace all of the damaged, broken places with his love so that they may share that love with others.

I worry, always that my past mistakes will come back to haunt me. That one day I’ll awaken to the mob of accusers at my front door and be thrown into a public interrogation of who do you think you are questions before an even more public execution. I worry one day someone will say how crooked my nose is or how short I am and how I have no right to model. I worry one day people will expose my history of adultery and use it against me to say I am not good person. I worry that people will figure out that I’m not really a good actor at all, just somebody totally in love with doing it …

Love – love makes things possible that otherwise wouldn’t be. I’ve been working on a feature lately and I will say this quite honestly. My worst work is when I go in my head and begin to question if I’m doing it right, if I’m remembering my techniques, if I’m acting as good as so-and-so, if people will like it, if I’m being too dramatic or theatrical. It is when I let go and follow my initial gut impulses and act from the heart, that it is pure. It is then that I trust my own work. It is very similar to getting in touch with your inner or lost child. Children have no per-conditions or hesitations about responding. If they are scared they scream, if they are tired they yawn, if they think something is silly they laugh, if they are afraid the cry … It is not until they are told by the world that these actions, these natural responses are not acceptable or appropriate so they learn masking techniques to cover those responses and behave as a mature, cultured adult should.  Such a shame. Acting is in most all cases, responding honestly, so how can we make that delivery if we are not honest with what we feel in that moment and our brain is bombarded with worries or concerns about how we will be perceived?

There have only been 1-2 roles where I felt I was able to be honest 99% of the time and I have to say,  when I heard negative criticisms or not the best of reviews, it did not affect or phase me in the slightest. I was sure of what I did and I understood the core of where it originated from. Mr. Critic doesn’t have to like it, I do. It’s me and it’s honest.

Critics, everyone is a critic. Here is the definition of critic:

Definition of CRITIC

1
a : one who expresses a reasoned opinion on any matter especially involving a judgment of its value, truth, righteousness, beauty, or technique

b : one who engages often professionally in the analysis, evaluation, or appreciation of works of art or artistic performances

2
: one given to harsh or captious judgment

Origin of CRITIC

Latin criticus, from Greek kritikos, from kritikos able to discern or judge, from krinein

First Known Use: 1588

I had an interesting conversation with a fellow actor last week about how nobody prepares you for receiving comments regarding your work, good or bad, it can be an awkward or uncomfortable thing.

When people praise you, you always wonder if they are just saying that because they don’t want to offend you or hurt your feelings or maybe they weren’t even really paying attention. Or even if they do come to you with sincerity, how excited should you be about it? If you go too far you could be labeled full of yourself or proud or cocky, but if you are too modest you can be labeled insecure or unsure of yourself.

When people do come to you, or you hear of negative comments said behind your back or perhaps it is public review, again, how do you respond? How much stock do you take in their criticisms? Usually there are constructive bits and pieces that you can take away and use to better yourself, but there have been reviews that have totally wrecked actors’ careers. A lot of sensitive souls can’t stand all of the backstabbing that takes place because they take everything for face value – clearly if they said it, they meant it. We often don’t take time to consider their possible perspectives or angles coming from jealousy, envy, pettiness, competitiveness or any other such lowly places. How easily and freely too we allow people to act as critics and assign value that they do not possess to our attributes.

It doesn’t get easier, at least not for me. I cringe and get butterflies, no that’s too pretty of a term, I get downright sick to my stomach when reading reviews of my films or when I invite people to come see my work but I have tried to get into the habit of keeping several key pieces in mind.

1.) You cannot please everyone. I used to think that if you are good, I mean really stinking good and phenomenal at what you do, no one can dispute the fact that you’re good. Sort of like the quote about the truth from above. Not true when it comes to acting. I for example can very much respect Mr. Leonardo DiCaprio and acknowledge the fact that he is a talented actor, but I personally am not his biggest fan. There is something about his style that doesn’t quite appeal to me. Clearly that does not mean that he is a bad actor nor that I even think he’s a bad actor, just given the choice between him or Javier Bardem, I’d pick Bardem every time. His acting style appeals to me. This is my opinion which will clearly differ from yours or his or hers.

2.) You are you and no one else acts like you do. So often I’ve had someone come up to me and make comments like “You are a really good actor but I thought you were crazy emotional in that one scene.” or “Why didn’t you cry in that scene?” It used to really bother me because it felt like I did something wrong, but there was this day that I was working on accents with Michael Alvarez and listening to a practice CD and he gave me a really cool word. He said that when he first started practicing accents it used to really bug him because he didn’t sound like the guy on the CD no matter what he did, and then one day he realized he never would because that is just his voice. Nobody else has his voice and nobody else will sound like him. You take the technique and you make it your own. This same philosophy applies to full performances. Just because my friend Sarah would have broken down in full tears on a scene doesn’t mean that I would. I acted honestly for me and that is all I can do. Often times you look at the greats and it is those slices of them that are so uniquely them that shine through in their work and set them apart from all others. I’ve watched so many actors give safe performances and I find myself using the word “generic” to describe their choices or “average”. They weren’t bad, but there was nothing special about what they did. Don’t be afraid to let your you-ness come out in all of its glory. Be bold, be strong, be unapologetic with your work.

3.) Very rarely do people write bad reviews without being specific about what it is they don’t like. I read them a dozen times sometimes looking for things I can use to improve, but the truth is, you have to be honest with yourself about well … yourself. I am my own worst critic, even more precise and exact than the toughest of critics. Nobody knows me better or is closer to my work than me. I can watch a scene and in a matter of seconds pick out 10 things I could have done differently to make it stronger that most people wouldn’t give a second glance to, but it blasts out at me like a rocket catapulting into my brain. This used to torment me because I felt like I failed, but now I am just grateful for these opportunities and I am extremely open to watching my own work, because I can take those things and apply them to future work. For example on indie sets out here we often don’t have a person dedicated to continuity, so that is something I have become particularly aware of now because I’ll watch myself and notice my nails were long there and short there, or I had my hair one way in this shot and slightly different in another, or even my boobs will look bigger depending on what bra I wore under wardrobe that day … little nitpick things that can make subtle but firm difference in the character. Physical acting has never been a strength of mine so when I did a short recently I really dissected it and the choices I made of why it didn’t fully translate the way I had hoped. Most of them were really simple fixes, small movements, but I just wasn’t aware of them until I had to work through them

4.) Which brings me to this point – learn by doing. Never be afraid to take a role and never apologize for your work. Put in the time, the research, the training, the effort to be as good as you want the role to be. After you see the finished product, it is a very useful tool to reflect on what worked, what didn’t, what to prep better next time and so on, but as long as you gave it everything you knew to give, there’s no reason to feel ashamed of your work and you simply have more tools to show up with the next time around. Einstein as well as so many of the other great minds understood that you learn from failures. Even if you fail one hundred times, you just learned 100 ways how not to do something … but DO IT. Classes, training, coaching, that is all really crucial to growth and development, but there is nothing like being thrown into the trenches and fighting for your survival as an actor.

5.) Trust yourself. One thing Kevin Phipps told me once when I was nervous about delivering a desirable performance, is that he cast me because he trusts me completely. You already have the role, someone gave you that gift of trust, so honor it. They didn’t hire you to act like someone else or give a performance similar to another actor, they hired you to do what is that you do.

6.) Be gracious. Be awkward. Be whatever it is you feel, just be sincere. I hate it when people pretend like they are bashful when receiving compliments when you can tell they are just eating it up inside, but I LOVE it when you compliment someone and they are genuine in their response. I have a few friends that are not what I would say “business-oriented” so when you talk to them about their work it’s not all cookie-cutter bullshit – if they are surprised you like their work you see the light in their eyes start to glimmer and they start to bumble up their words out of excitement or if they truly felt like they did bad, they’ll say it “Wow thanks, I didn’t feel too confident about that one, but I’m glad you enjoyed it.” It’s refreshing. Think too about meeting celebrities, how much of a turn-off is it when they act like they know how awesome they are and are dismissive of your adoration? But then you talk to someone like Guillermo del Toro whose heart is probably as big as his tummy, and you are overwhelmed with appreciation for how much he appreciates you – little, nobody you, for no reason at all other than the fact that you took the time to tell him how much you love his work because he understands that if it weren’t for you loving his work, he wouldn’t have any work at all.

7.) Not everybody is a critic. They may think they are. They may act like they are, but they are not. Critics are meant to be a people of fair and equal judgement for a purpose of assigning worth and evaluating; not a furnace of a personality waiting to fire up the BBQ and pick your bones dry. There are such critic, yes, but they do not work toward improvement or the common good, so their assessment is simply not needed. Do not give people that power over you. Trust, listen, reflect and make changes based on only those whose opinions you value.

The more I put these blogs out here, the more I promote myself, the more work I do, the more critics I get. Just last week I found out that some folks apparently had some not very great things to tell a local, well-respected director and it has been parading around in my noggin every since. Who are these mystery murderers of my career? Why would they say those things? What did I do wrong or what did I do to them? Then I started thinking, how am I supposed to survive out in a big, competitive, cut-throat market like L.A. when I let someone in a local scene so easily pull on a thread and unravel my sweater?

I won’t. A shift and a change is needed. I need to stop putting others thoughts, opinions, words and feelings above my own. This goes against so much of what we are taught because it is seen as selfish, but if we always choose our highest self – the self that is in fact selfless, honest, kind, brave, and truthful, then in walking such a path, we will in turn be a positive force of light and love to those around us as well as ourselves because in our highest truth there is no desire to hurt another or ourselves, there is no desire to lie or deceive, there is no desire to cheat or to steal from another, there is no desire to degrade or devalue – it is not a commandment, it is just self-evident.

I want nothing more than to like myself, more than I want you to like me. Because if I can’t like myself, why would I believe for a moment that you would like me? It all starts from within. My acting is always about birthing a character from internalizing and evolving it from the inside out. If I put the same amount of effort of creating a film character into developing my own personal character, it would be an ultimate mastery of the self. No more using social media for validation, no more comparing myself to the beautiful people, no more ripping myself to shreds when a negative word is spoken or glare thrown in my direction, no more underestimating my own abilities or passions. Again, with love, with God, all things are possible. It’s like I have all of these holes in me from where I’ve let people penetrate my spirit with their cruelness, intentional or not, and instead of trying to cover them up with band aids or pretending they don’t exist at all, I want to fill them up with love of self. Let’s let go of our transgressions, let us release the negativity, let us loose ourselves from the bonds of the expectations of the world and let us take a walk on the water.

This film is AMAZING !!! Well of course you think so, it’s your film.

Time to take the trash out…

Melissa Ann Marie Farley Full Body

This theme has been shoved in my face the last few days as the Arizona Film Community is all abuzz with festival season. Just this morning I read a post on Facebook about one of the huge issues within our local film industry is the fact that everyone is blowing smoke up each other’s butts and saying everything is great when it is really just okay. It’s like we are all willing to bow down to the Gods of mediocrity. Also directors or writers are calling their own films “inspiring” or “brilliant” Of course you think that, it’s like your baby. Every parent thinks their child is the most beautiful, intelligent, talented, earth-shattering thing that exists. Right?

 

Honestly I’m not sure. I tend to fall on the opposite end of the spectrum, which in all fairness isn’t quite healthy either. I’ll compliment the poop out of someone else and in addition to that,  working in my particular field of business, you are trained to be extremely aware and apt at choosing your words carefully. Often you won’t hear me say general compliments like “You’re a great actor” or “that film was incredible” but instead I focus on the details.

I find what that person is actually proficient at i.e. “Wow, when you cried in that scene it was extremely touching. I truly felt for you.” – it’s a specific compliment. Oh drat, Now that I’ve given my method away I feel everyone is going to start asking me “Okay yea, awesome you found a good moment but what did you think of the film as a whole?” eeeep I don’t know if I’m ready for that. Oh well, I was told by a fellow forger of truth that once you take the first step of this journey, there is no return. I feel as if I’m about to embark on an epic Lord of the Rings Journey, but I swear my post won’t feel as long.

Anyway back to what I was saying, this concept of loving your own work is a little foreign to me. Normally I beat myself up. I can pick out every single little thing I did wrong, could have done better, why did I wear that, look there, say it that way, and on and on and on. I’ve actually believed on multiple occasions that I’ve ruined films. I rarely invite friends and family to see my work at screenings because of this reason and creating a demo reel was a brutal experience for me. So no, I personally am not the kind of person that says “I am the best actress in AZ and my performance will blow your freaking mind.” HA, I even giggled when I wrote that just now. Tehehe

But the more I look around the more I realize there do seem to be some super-inflated egos here. The only reason I feel justified in saying this is because of a conversation I had with someone I greatly respect just before the A3F screening and he said it in a way that I could not deny it. I asked him, “So what have you done here that you feel is good work.” To which he looked me straight in the eye and said, “Nothing.” but it was the following statement that turned on the light bulb for me. He said that when he compares anything he’s done or seen here to films in theater, there is nothing here locally that even comes close to being good enough to be shown alongside them and there is definitely not a local film or for heaven’s sake one he’s even been in himself that he’d ever choose to watch over one that he sees in a theater or on TV.

The reason this was an eye-opening moment for me is because I never even compare work out here to what is being produced on TV or in theaters. Without even knowing it, I was subconsciously lowering the standards of quality  to justify the level of low-quality work that gets created in this market.

This is a very disturbing realization. How can we expect other markets to take us seriously when we don’t even take ourselves seriously? With the digital technology and tools we have today there is no reason a film can’t at least look pretty or sound audible and clear. Takes a bit of money and time invested into the proper equipment and software, but there is no excuse for it.

Also, the CORE of a good film starts with the writing. How dare you write something and not have it looked at by another set of eyes or two or three or four even, for editing purposes and for creative input. You limit yourself greatly if you think that just because you took one script writing class and made a 3 minute short that 200 people on YouTube watched that you can’t benefit from an outside perspective. There are teams of people that work on scripts or people who ONLY write scripts in Hollywood as a full time job and were trained to understand things like marketability and story structure and innovation. I realize there can be the rare burst of inspiration and genius, but if you whip up a feature script in 4 days and say you’re ready to shoot next week, that is not impressive to me. That is sloppy and that is someone who is willing to take something that should be a draft and make it a final product.

A weak excuse I often hear is that we don’t have any reputable resources out here capable of taking on such tasks, or if we do they are not willing. LIES I TELL YOU. Two people come to my mind immediately, Josh Mathieson and Steve Briscoe, but I know there are many more. It takes a bit of research, again, not something a lot of filmmakers are willing to do, but they are here and eager to offer you a higher level of expertise.

As an actor I’ve always been insulted when directors cast friends in their films or are more concerned about the “look” of a character than anything else. Why? Again I ask Why? Why? Why do you cast a girl in a drama who can’t cry so she has to hide her head in her hands during an emotional peak of a scene, why do you hire a man who isn’t a trained martial arts expert or not offer him training to be a lead in an action film, why do you cast a kid who looks 14 to be a CEO of a company…? Explain it to me? I’ve seen it happen where someone will book something, they post it on Facebook and then people start to see it everywhere, the name of the person, not even the project itself, just their name floating out there in virtual world, and all of the sudden this person is a booking machine. People are followers. If they see that “everyone else” is working with said person, clearly they have to as well! Yes, clearly.

Good god man, open your eyes. Just because they are in 4o student films and every film festival or student film showcase across the valley and willing to take on every free project listed does not mean they are good at what they do. It means that they do a lot of stuff.  Numbers do not equal value. Quantity does not equal quality. Your actors are your tools for telling your story. They are what the audience relates to, lives the experience through, understands, feels, mourns for, roots for, loathes entirely or wants to see thrive or die. This should not be an after-thought to you.

Great actors though cannot save a poor script and a great script cannot save terrible actors. It is a beautiful co-dependent relationship. Regard them with equal respect and importance and be deliberate, almost to a fault and proceed with extreme caution when casting. I challenge you to be bold with your choices and TAKE TIME – watch demo reels, find their links to work, talk to folks who have worked with them and if you really want to hire someone solid, take a month, eat less fast food or stop paying money to see other peoples’ bad films out here and keep it in your own pocket so you can offer to pay the poor actor a few hundred dollars for their hundreds of hours they will pour their life into birthing  your baby.

I was on set yesterday having a conversation with an actor and filmmaker that I most respect and he said something that I wish I had a trumpet nearby to pull out and blow a victory song. Getting paid does not make you a professional. I repeat, it is not about the money. It is about the mindset. It is when someone who is backed by a paycheck or not, stands up and says “I refuse to operate on an amateur level anymore. I will run this set as a professional and I will expect the same level of commitment from each and every cast and crew member that is on my set.” Some of the most professional sets I have ever had the honor and privilege of being on had no monetary compensation, but their sets are operated like well-oiled machines, everyone is treated with respect, the work is treated with respect, the art is treated with respect and in the end it produced a respectable film.

Everybody is afraid to say these things though. I’ve learned nobody wants to say they don’t like anything for fear of burning bridges, myself included. Well gosh, if I say I didn’t really like that film or that person’s work then clearly I’ll never get to work with that person and they are friends with this other director so I probably will never get cast in any of their films either, so I better just shut up, smile and join the choir of the masses with false praise and adulation. – insert Stepford wives smile here –

What purpose does that serve our community as a whole? When we do that, we allow filmmakers to keep functioning at a level that is unacceptable professionally because they are operating under false pretenses fed to them by us that their work is good. It is a catch 22.

Here is my big BUT moment though. I don’t condone angry rants or ripping others to shreds. Everything must be done and said and critiqued with a spirit of love and growth. You must come from the intention of improvement, not of making others feel inferior or incapable. Encourage new methods, give honest feedback on films, talk to the directors about their visions to try to understand what they want to communicate, look to the elders of the community who should in my humble opinion offer guidance and mentorship to those just starting out. Work as a community to help one another. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve told directors about other females because I felt they would be great for a role. Gasp, yes I know, but this is a competition. That’s all fine and dandy, but if I can help make this film better by not being in it and passing the torch to someone else then cheers! All the better if they remember it and return the favor one day, but if not then at least we in AZ made something GOOD!

The other thing I would encourage is take the time to develop and devote yourself to a craft fully. Yes Barbara StreisandWoody Allen and Clint Eastwood were able to write, direct, produce and act in their own films but my God, they are legends. It’s not always better to be doing a million different things and I implore you to ask yourself why you feel compelled to do it? If you are honest, I have  a funny little feeling in the bottom of my tum-tum that it comes down to ego.

When it is really about the art you will be desperate to do whatever it takes, to work with those better and more skilled than you, to bring in any resources you can to make it the best that it can be. Stepping aside to welcome a brilliant force to propel the film forward would be an ultimate honor for you, not a threat. I think about Walt Disney who was extremely candid about the fact that he didn’t have the strongest abilities for animation or drawing or business, but he was phenomenal at finding and surrounding himself with people who could bring his visions out of his brain and onto a piece of paper, or film reel or even into an entire world-wide industry. He wasn’t afraid to dream, he wasn’t afraid to let people into his world to make it bigger and he wasn’t afraid to face challenges head on with resourcefulness, resilience and persistence.

Don’t expect the idea of a big Hollywood studio coming in to AZ to save our industry here either. Yes it will provide more grand exposure and it will supply people with employment opportunities, but it will not do what people think. They will still bring in LA actors to play the major roles and people from LA to fill all crucial crew positions. Us lowly AZ filmmakers will be featured extras or extra helping hands. It is the reality. It would be silly for you to assume otherwise. I would welcome a studio here with open arms because I know that it would provide regular work for some people, more opportunities to audition, network and expand your contacts. But never forget this is a business. They are in the business of making movies that will sell and they have a formula to do just that. They will most likely partner with local universities and schools to create some sort of educational program or internship. This will be absolutely ideal for film students here as it will give them the opportunity to learn practical experience on a set and have some major titles under the belt on a resume. It will also be ideal for the studio because it is cheap-to-free labor. They will most likely work with Good FaithTime  or some of the other casting agents her locally to facilitate casting needs for extras, featured extras, maybe even a minor role here or there, but the beef of the burrito will still be gobbled up by their own talent.

They have no reason to come here and expect to be able to pull from our pool of talent because we haven’t shown them that we can swim in the adult pool yet. Let’s take off our floaties AZ Film Community! Stop just dipping your toe in the water or playing around in the shallow end; let’s all dive in head first. Besides, everything is more fun, when you’re wet…

Let’s give them something to Bite into!