The success of Wonder Woman and the live action Beauty and the Beast has generated a great deal of discussion about women in cinema and woman-centric narrative. A Variety article pointed out, though, that despite record box office, women, “made up only 7 percent of all directors working on the 250 highest-grossing domestic releases in 2016. That represented a decline of two percentage points from the year before.” Without getting too heady or too political, I need to point out that women’s narratological problems start off long before a screenplay gets optioned by the studios and directors are hired. It starts in high school, with the ways we are taught narrative structure.
If you’ve been watching my Instagram lately, you will have noticed someone has a gripe against a guy named Vinnie. 😉
I was back on the set of James Balsalmo’s The Litch this week and I was again impressed by James’s wizardry, this time with masks, snot fabricated from cottage cheese and blood from chocolate syrup and food coloring. It was a messy, fun, albeit, occasionally odorous time. It’s amazing what creativity we have when we use it and James is a truly creative fellow.
This week, I got to have a fun part in The Litch, directed by James Balsalmo of Acid Bath Productions. It was a high-spirited, improvisational shoot. Coming out later this year, the film also stars Tom Sizemore, the legendary Lloyd Kaufman and fellow scream queen Genoveva Rossi. James is creative, collaborative and fun and I told our manager Matt Chassin that he was like the “Christopher Guest of horror”. This is sure to be a fun horror comedy.
Armin Nasseri of Seeking Valentina fame was also on-hand helping with our scene. It was great to have his positive energy there. I can’t wait to see it debut on the big screen later this year!
LIKE The Litch on Facebook to get all their updates!
There’s some cool promo art coming out for The Spirit Room, which I worked on last October.
Here’s me as the character Peggy Wiley! Can’t wait to share this amazing short with you!
“To weep is to make less the depth of grief.” HENRY VI, PART III
It’s true that actors suffer for their art. We go to countless auditions, get told no more often than yes, among many other grievances. Actors are bettors. They gamble on themselves constantly, each day, in the name of their art and their talent.
As someone who’s experienced this twice, there may come a time in your acting life where you may be on stage or on set and someone you love dies. The thespian’s motto is “The show must go on.” Yes, it does, but sometimes it may not be in your long-term best interest for it to go on with you. Sometimes, though, the time on stage or on set may be healing.
The first time this happened to me, I was 17 years old and performing in a community production of Othello Though it wasn’t a professional production, I treated acting as my profession. My grandfather died a week before opening night. My mother spoke to director on my behalf and his response to her was, “Is she still going to be in the show? She’s really talented.” It was about the show for that director, not necessarily what could be done to keep me in a safer space. When I came back to rehearsal, it was weird. Fellow cast members didn’t know what to say to me or how to act. I didn’t hold that against them. It’s hard to know what to say when someone close to you has someone die. I was very close to my grandfather and though legally almost an adult, I had a hard time coping with all the feelings.
The second time this happened to me was six months ago. My godfather, whom I held in high regard, died unexpectedly. We had been talking on the phone a lot in the six months prior. He was going through stuff. He was in mourning himself and then took a sudden turn for the worse. I was in the middle of filming a short film when I heard the news of his death. I let my director know what was going on via email and he was very kind and compassionate. He let the cast and crew know that I had a death. Everyone was very kind. He worked around my schedule so that I could leave the state to go to the funeral. He was a true professional.
Both times, at least to me, there was no discernible impact to my performance. I got on stage and set and executed the director’s vision to the best of my ability. However, I can tell you that the earlier experience with the death of my grandfather has followed me in some not-so-healthy ways. When I saw another production of Othello five years after my grandfather’s death, I was in tears most of the play. I had this deep association of Othello with my grandfather’s death. I saw Othello two years later and I was just angry the whole time. I had to go because of the drama academy I was enrolled in required me to go. I am hoping time will help me shed my baggage with Othello.
Here’s some advice to you if you are acting and lose a loved one:
- Don’t feel pressured to do or be more than you can handle. Ask for an understudy if you need one.
- Evaluate where you are in the processes. Are you in first rehearsal? Final dress rehearsal? Are you filming for one day? Thirty?
- How much responsibility do you have to your family? If you are in charge of making funeral preparations for the loved one, take a long look at what you can handle or sustain. Funerals are very messy to plan, even under the best of circumstances. You may be able to take a week or two off your production or have the producers change a shooting schedule, but there’s not really a do-over on a funeral. If you have responsibility to your family, focus on your family first. Above all, the funeral is to help you find closure and if you have any doubts, choose to focus on the funeral.
- Reach out to your director and/or producer. If it’s to hard to talk about it, send an email about what has happened and what you may need. If you have a manager, ask them to help you work out the issues with production. Focus on your healing.
- Do not push for emotion. You are likely maxed out. You are an instrument. Don’t break your instrument. If you’re not feeling it, don’t force it.
- It may not be a good idea to bring a recent death into your scene work. I’ve seen this really mess folks up. It’s going to be time before you go through those stages of grief and bringing something in that’s too fresh and too raw may harm your psyche more than it helps your scene. It’s not brave to dredge up something that you are unprepared to handle. It is brave to assert your healthy boundaries.
- Care for your body and care for your spirit. Acting is already hard, with a great deal of little disappointments. Having a death cloud you doing what you love is a real downer. Take extra care of yourself. Enlist a friend to check in with you from time to time. An actor friend who you trust is a great choice.
As actors, we constantly search for emotion. We study emotion. There will be times when our life on stage and screen may be impacted by a death or other tragedy. Above all else, “…to thine own self be true,” and care for yourself in your time of loss. As an actor, you are your instrument, you are your truth and you owe it to yourself to care for yourself as best you can in your time of loss.
Peruse this article from the Austin Business Journal on the debate on film incentives in the state of Texas.
If you’ve ever done a professional film budget, the often invisible costs of making a movie are massive: permits, feeding people, putting cast and crew up in hotels, renting vehicles, supplies, location fees. A film of any scale involves a massive infrastructure, often localized, to support it. The last budget I prepped, I had to price out renting a local herd of goats, feeding said goats and the cost of a local wrangler and stable fees. It’s this detail and minutiae that really make the cost of film what it is–and profitable for locals that can cash in on it.
I really want to film in Texas. Why? It’s my home state. It’s where many of my stories are. It’s what I know. I probably won’t. Texas’ neighbors have better incentives. I want to do something for my community and filming could bring massive influxes of money to a very economically vulnerable area.
When I was asked at the San Antonio Film Festival why I hadn’t spent more time filming in my home state, I said at the time that, “It was not where my opportunities were, where my education led me.” I keep returning to that question. Here’s another reason why, one I couldn’t quite articulate in the moment:
The state doesn’t commit to its film community.
Why should I commit to spend potentially millions of dollars in the state?
Movies aren’t made overnight. They are long-haul projects. It may take a screenwriter a year to get a camera-ready draft. It may take us a year or more to get funded. It may take us several months of pre-production, which will likely involve traveling back and forth. We try to hire locally qualified people for the crew. We will be in your state 30-60 days just filming, 12 hour days and paying for food and hotels and ancillary services, like dry cleaning, local assistants, etc. We may be in your state several months after that if there’s a great post-house. We may spend money on a Texas premiere if it’s a Texas subject.
The stability of state’s commitment to arts funding matters. It’s a risk management consideration. If you’re always threatening to pull a plug on your incentives, it’s not enticing.
The counter-argument is that film jobs are temporary jobs and that is true to a point, but if you invest in creating a community, the jobs will keep coming. Just ask Atlanta. It seems there are some in government that would much rather have its denizens chained to an overabundance of low-paying retail jobs than branching out into a more highly skilled, better paid, film position.
I think it’s very shortsighted of the Texas legislature to nix film funding. You could film almost anything in Texas, such is the geological and architectural diversity. This is a whole state issue, not just an Austin or Dallas concern, where much of the film making takes place. There are many areas that could benefit from more filming. And frankly, it’s unnerving when New Mexico is standing in as Texas on film. It’s happening more and more often.
There’s a poster on the wall at the UTLA Center, an older poster, red, of all the great films made in Texas, which was a promo poster done by the Texas Film Commission a few years ago. I hope they have to update that poster soon, with new, great films being made in Texas, but the legislature must seize the opportunity.
Today, I had the privilege of emailing back and forth Dr. Diane Dusick of the Inland Empire Media Academy, regarding their upcoming film festival. This year will be the third year in a row that I’ve been a judge of their student film festival.
I think student films are vitally important to the future of film making, perhaps not the individual films themselves, but the validation that young cinematic voices need to thrive in the very competitive film industry. How many times have I hears someone say, “It’s just a student film?” Often.
“It’s just a student film” negates the fact that the student has chosen a career path in film.
“It’s just a student film” negates the artistic voice of the student, even if that voice is still trying to find itself.
“It’s just a student film” lowers our expectations and does not explore the struggle all film students have in making their first works.
It’s a battle to make a film, even for a pro, even for someone who’s made hundreds. How do we create pros? How do we foster professionalism in filmmaking? Though schools, through mentoring, through sharing.
This is why I support student film.