Wednesday, February 25, 2009

This is a post that I wrote a few weeks ago but couldn't publish as the nominations (we knew we were a possible Finalist for Audience Choice Award) for the 1st Annual Streamy Awards weren't public.  It meant a lot when I wrote it, though, so wanted to share during this hectic week.  Thanks for everyone's support of me and 'After Judgment'- it means so much:


Permit me a moment of your time to indulge in a quick but poignant what if.  Do you let yourself go to that pesky place and ask yourself the what ifs? Mine is coming from the release of "Watchmen", and the notion that I could possible watch my webseries win a coveted Streamy Award. Huh? Sorry back track. "Watchmen" opens this Friday. This is a movie that could be one of the most prolific films of 2009 or even the decade. Don’t forget that Zach Snyder is the 'visionary directory of 300' and that these are graphic novels that have already left a lasting mark on pop culture by creator/writer Alan Moore and his dystopic view of an alternate society.

So what’s my 'what if'? Well I was up for a role in the film. It wasn’t huge but it was a big scene with a few pages of dialogue with the veritable Billy Crudup (as Dr. Manhattan). I auditioned on tape along with a few hundred other actresses in Vancouver and then found out a few weeks later that I had a callback and would be auditioning for Zach Snyder himself; he apparently ‘liked my look’. Now I had seen ‘300’ already, knew of the Watchmen series and was cognisant of what a huge deal this movie was. The callback was also at the tail end of a three month stint in Vancouver where I had yet to book a job. I went to the callback, had a magical experience in the cavernous sound stage, where I met and read (and was re-directed numerous times) by Zach and his producing partner wife Deborah and walked out of there truly believing I had booked the part. There were three other women there besides myself- that was it. But it didn’t happen- after a phone call to my agent, I was simply told ‘that I wasn’t in the mix anymore’.

What if I had booked that role? My agent in Vancouver most certainly wouldn’t have dropped me, and consequently neither would my fancy LA manager. I probably would have stayed in Vancouver longer or kept popping up for weekly stints, inevitably wrecking havoc on my personal life. And I honestly don’t know if I would have shot "After Judgment". I really don’t know. I was so desperate to prove myself as an actor that that one significant booking might have derailed my growing focus towards writing and producing, and I would be still trapped on the hamster wheel that is auditioning. Zach and Deborah’s one little decision, a minuscule blip on their radar, had massive, massive ramifications on my life. I feel like I’m watching Michael Caine in "Mr. Destiny" show John Belushi how not hitting the home run in high school changed the entire course of his life.

Am I crazy to have these thoughts? Maybe booking the role wouldn’t have made that much of an impact on my life, but for dramatic story sense, I’d like to think it would have. I think it’s also ironic that the foundation of the Watchman story line is an alternate reality where Richard Nixon stayed in office and won the Vietnam war- there’s a 'what if' for you. Where would I be today if I had booked it? Would all my acting dreams have been answered? Would I feel that I had achieved a certain level of success because I was part of Warner Bros. tent pole film? What about the little things? Would I have still started blogging? Would I have gotten back into acting class and found a little gem of a play that I hope to produce, not to mention the laundry list of film/tv project ideas that I have on the go. Or would Zach Snyder have taken an interest in my tv series idea, whilst I bonded with him on set, so I would have had the best of both worlds? What if, what if, what if? STOP.

I sit in my house, in front of my laptop with piles of paperwork and post it notes around me, a year and a half after learning that ‘I wasn’t in the mix anymore’. I look at the possibility of seeing "After Judgment" exposed to the mainstream media because we’re potentially nominated for a Streamy Award and it looks like it will be a huge event. I look at the possibility of finding sponsorship for Season 2 and a whole world of opportunities that have opened up because I stomped full-force into web producing. I look at these words I have just written and force out a cleansing breath heavy with painful 'what ifs'- it is time to banish them- because they are pointless what ifs. Because in this place where I sit now, there is only the what is.  

And what will be.  

Sunday, February 22, 2009

The Golden God

Boy I do miss the days when the Academy Awards used to be on Mondays, do you remember that? That was back when I worked at William Morris and my headset still had a cord. Around lunchtime, the motion picture agents, still hungover from Ed Limato’s Saturday night ICM party and rife with dirty gossip, would start barking at their assistants to wrap up their phone sheets (well at least return the important calls) and make sure that they were on the appropriate party lists. They would pace up and down the hallways, cell phones to their ear, tuxes half on (most of the agents by my office were male) yelling to find out if the wife was ready at home and if the car was on the way. Once all the tuxes left around 2pm, we assistants got to leave early; half day because of the Oscars! I loved the frenetic energy that doused the WMA hallways as we peons shut down our computers, locked the inner sanctums, then headed out for cocktails- imagining the day when we would be on our way to the red carpet or better yet the Vanity Fair party afterwards.

Today is Oscar day…whoohooo.

That’s about as much enthusiasm as I can muster. I’m pretty non-plussed over this Gil Cates manufactured, ad-driven (though barely this year) and already predicted (click if you want to see the supposed winners) event. The stars, the gowns and glitz, even the announcement of the winners don’t emotionally resonate with me this year. As an actor now, yes, I admit to having those random moments of visualizing myself on the red carpet, and better yet, at the podium receiving my statue, giving my perfect acceptance speech. Yes, I would like to hold that little golden man in my hands and feel the world’s approval of my artistic talents (or the studio’s publicity machine) raining down on me. But as soon as those images pop into my head I banish them to the ‘bad ego’ part of my psyche. This award, or any award, isn’t why I entered this field of storytelling.

So, the capricious grey sky today pretty much reflects my mood towards watching the show. Except for one little ray of light peeking out from the ominous clouds, one golden cuff that is shackling me to the telecast. I could try to break free but what’s the point. The world’s newest heartthrob, an actor who has spawned more websites, facebook fan pages, and 6 ft cardboard cutouts than any other actor in history, (I’m assuming for theatrics sake and taking into account that the internet wasn’t around when James Dean was alive) will be presenting. Robert Pattinson aka Edward Cullen aka king of the crooked smile and floppy hair will be walking on stage…to present an award…at some point (I’m assuming towards the end to keep us all glued). Cue the screaming.

I step back and just shake my head. I mean what madness has swooped down and bewitched so many of us that the man-child’s 30 second presence could actually make one want to watch the entire awards show. That is insane! Ever since Hitfix confirmed that he RPattz would be presenting, I’ve followed the digital trail. Twitter feed @RobPattznews is the best for linking to the up-to-the-minute news and pictures of his mundane (but still dreamy because it’s him doing them) activities since arriving in LA. Lunch with his agent! Walking to his car! Wearing a white t-shirt that shows off his biceps! Revealing his hair and weird beard! Honestly it’s mind boggling that this young British gent inspires such mass hysteria (though I do have some theories). He is undoubtedly Hollywood’s new Golden Boy. Golden Boy meet little Golden statue- say hi! “helloo”. (yes, just like in the Biology class scene).

Why am I once again embarrassing myself by talking about my Twilight/ Robert Pattinson obsession? Because it actually ties back to a (legitimate) topic that I have been musing over for the past few months, ever since two tidbits of Hollywood development news struck my interest. Movie stars are a dying breed.

Baz Lurhman is supposedly set to direct a new adaptation of ‘The Great Gatsby’. I love Fitzgerald and have read the book numerous times, and have recently dipped into a bio book about his Scribners editor Max Perkins as well as the Hemingway book ‘A Moveable Feast’ that details the adventures the two authors had while together in Paris. Fitzgerald’s characters are a mirror of his flawed genius and tell stories in a sprawling, colorful and tempermental time in our history. And I love Baz: ‘Moulin Rouge’ changed my life (that's another post) and his visionary approach to storytelling inspires the way I try to approach this business.

My first thought, well after my general feelings of glee and how can I be a part of this production, was who will play Gatsby? Jay Gatsby is an iconic figure. Golden, glorious, yet ultimately desperate for love and imbuded with ambition- heavily flawed. I loved Redford in the role, even if it was just the way his golden hair was backlit like a halo. I believed him in his na├»ve bravado and smug 'host with the most' persona and bought it when his vulnerable, deep obsession with Daisy exploded. Who could capture that tricky combination of qualities on screen? Ummm, hmmm, any ideas? No one is really coming to mind (not adding Rob into the equation). Nikki Finke even posted out that question but the myriad responses only confirmed my sneaking suspicion that there is no one in Hollywood who is right for this role of Gatsby. It’s not about acting, it’s about the being.

Cut to a few weeks and I read a post about a new Steve McQueen biopic in development. Steve McQueen! What can I say- the name says it all. His characters spanned the genres, from a ramblin’ gamblin’ man in "Cinncinnati Kid" to a steely detective in "Bulitt" to a slick playboy thief in "The Thomas Crown Affair", not to mention his western and war movies. His characters all jumped off the screen and attacked you with their realism and raw intensity. He was sexy in his stillness, the way he drank his coffee at the opening of "Bulitt". He, for lack of a better term, was a manly man but, much like Newman, could steep his characters with dose of silliness and levity. Most importantly, he always let his characters’ vulnerabilities peak from beneath their masculine surface. In short, he was the most watchable man on the planet. (Still have to rent the "Getaway" can’t believe I’ve never seen that film). So who on earth will play this super man? Apparently Brad Pitt is front runner (he owns McQueen’s mugshot) and Colin Ferrel and Daniel Craig have been mentioned. I am a Clive Owen fan but he’s not right. And more importantly, this film is supposed to be about McQueen’s younger years, late 20’s, early 30’s. None of the previously mentioned actors, except Colin Ferrel are even close to that age! And no one possesses those on screen McQueen qualities at that age, I'm sorry, no one.

So it seems like (and definitely point it out if I’m wrong) there aren’t any young male actors that are taking up the torch of movie icons past. No one seems to have the 'presence' to step into the shoes of Gatsby or McQueen. But in the same breath I don’t think actors like Brando or James Dean could ever survive today’s onslaught of press and paparazzi. The demons and darkness that made them infinitely watchable would be aired out as dirty laundry on everyone’s Yahoo home page and quickly lead to their destruction. Those who are succeeding today in Hollywood are smart and saavy, keen to play the publicity machine and maneuver the red carpet. That move allows them a career but it drains them of mystery, of authenticity- don’t you agree? Young stars know that the red carpet and pics of such are the life blood of their career…if they can get on enough websites and into tabloid mags, it gives them currency, enough so that studios will put them in more films. 

The mass hysteria around Robert Pattinson makes me believe that he is different. He doesn’t court the media but he doesn’t punch cameramen in the face either. He lets them co-exist with him, if they can actually find him. I can’t imagine how many events he has been invited to since Twilight came out but he’s made his requisite Twilight premiere appearances and then jetted back to London to hang out in pubs and show up at open mic nights. He likes his music, likes his buddies and seems very committed to his job as an actor. He also seems to like to say ‘no’ to the Hollywood machine. And that makes him even more appealing. As @RobPattznews messaged me, ‘Rob has that Beatles and Elvis quality’. My husband shook his head in staunch disagreement but I quite agree.

So I will watch the Oscars tonight, not care if I see Brad Pitt, George Clooney, or lord forbid Zac Efron or the Jonas Brothers on the red carpet. I’ll feel genuine happiness towards those who win because it definitely is a great achievement (even if we do already know who does). And I will gleefully scream (with my inside voice) when Rob walks out on the stage. Oscar will have its golden moment. But it’s future is pretty bleak.

Monday, February 9, 2009

How noble in reason, but how infinite in faculty...

"You see things; and you say, "Why?" But I dream things that never were; and I say, "Why not?""

We’ve come to a point in our collective experience as a society, hit from all sides by a flailing economy, that we are resigned to hunker down. We’re working hard, glad if we actually have a job to work hard at, stashing any excess cash under the mattress (as banks, of course, can’t be trusted anymore) and just keeping our head down so the recession monster can’t come and snatch up our heavily mortgaged house. The tags of our daily life are now ‘surviving the downturn’, ‘weathering the storm’ and ‘simplifying your lifestyle’. It is certainly not a good climate for day-dreaming. "Day dreaming?" you laugh. You know, going inward, allowing the sub-conscious to take flight, throwing off the shackles of the mundane world, like we do while we sleep, but only you’re actually awake. But these days if someone were at their desk and caught staring off into space, the office collective would probably shake it’s head and silently confirm that if someone had to go- it was going to be the day dreamer. Why? Because not actually ‘doing’ something physical, not indicating the ‘work’ that you are doing with your body, is more often than not seen as doing nothing at all. We’re by-products of the Industrial Revolution and the Puritanical settlers of this country. The enlightened didn’t jump on the first rickety ships to the New World, the workers, the builders, the farmers looking for a better life, enslaved under the ruling thumb of the imperialist governments, did. When the going gets tough, that historical arch-type, the one who laid the concrete foundation for this powerful nation, is who we are supposed to become again. It’s time to work, not think...or at least if you have to think, think hard!  Ugh.  

"The source and center of all man's creative power. . . is his power of making images, or the power of imagination.

My husband often catches me staring at a wall. After years of doing this he still seems confounded by it. No, I’m not solving some quantum physics problem in my head (though I’d like to be able to). Usually, I’m staring at the wall because I’m creating an image in my head that satiates my need for aesthetic beauty. I love interior decorating and design so I imagine what my house could look like if I had a willing handyman and a five figure remodeling budget. Regardless of that not being a reality, in my head I’m still reconfiguring our furniture layout and changing the wall color, if only just one wall so that it would be more of an accent and increase the depth of the room, helped by the addition of the large William Sonoma Home mirror that would be purchased and hung horizontally. Then there would be the new built in sofa type bench along the side windows that would make our dining area feel more like a lived-in library than a regular dining area that rarely gets used. (I think dining tables and chairs, propped there in a middle of a room with no other purpose than a random dinner party or an extra desk is stupid and eerie). But there’s no possible way that my husband can peek into my mind and know that I am visualizing and crafting this image (but he does however comment that the house looks nice after I've clustered the angular Picasso prints and our montage of black and white Parisian prints together to contrast with the gilded mirror.)  So instead he just waves his hand in front of my face until my focus comes back to the show we’re watching, or until I bat his hand away and growl, "I'm thinking!", which is usually the case. 

Just to state the obvious, I like to put my brain to better use than just creating a virtual page out of the now defunct Domino magazine (grrrr dumb economy).  Whatever I am working on, I always try to take myself out of that I have 20 things on my list to get done! state of mind and coax my brain to just freely focus what I am trying to achieve, whether it's a marketing strategy for 'After Judgment' or the integral scene that will link the secondary plot to the main narrative on our tv project.  When I achieve this focus, there is a LOT of staring into space going on.  But then intense scribbling and typing usually follows.  I like to think and I really like my imagination. It's a trippy place to visit and I have recently started to become a frequent traveler and embrace it’s vastness and it’s power. I think that the power of the imagination needs to be championed...because it's infinite.

I happened to watch three movies this weekend that inspired me to continue musing on the topic of creativity and now the power of imagination: 'The Diving Bell and the Butterfly', 'Coraline' and 'Man on Wire'. Each of these stories and their cinematic representations are unique; all of them represent a ‘first’, either in the content of the story or they way in which they are told. The first and most meaningful to me was 'The Diving Bell and the Butterfly'. Jean-Dominique Bauby or Jean Do, as his friends called him, wrote a personal memoir having only the use of his left eye to communicate. Seriously, I know! This sounds beyond the realm of truthful human experience but it is indeed a true story. This movie rocked me to the core. As any good filmmaker can do, one is made to empathize and connect with the protagonist. But in this case, director (and artist) Julian Schnabel takes it to a nauseating and claustrophobic extreme by breaking the fourth wall and giving the audience the experience of being Jean Do as he wakes up from his 20 day post-stroke coma, only to discover his condition of being completely paralyzed with a fully-functional brain, or ‘locked in’ as it is called. Kathleen Kennedy, during the commentary, acknowledged my initial revulsion at being put through this visceral experience…I honestly didn’t think that I could handle it. My active, imaginative brain quickly placed myself in that very predicament, as if I was deep into character study, and I began to weep, going crazy in the ‘what would I do’ if something as horrible as this were to happen to me or a loved one. But then, out of the claustrophobic darkness the film had thrust me into came a bright relief - a sweeping overhead shot of a snow-covered mountain peak interrupted by the movement of a small dark figure carving long serpentines down the powdery face. This was Jean Do, living life both as he had before but also in the now. He was free in the moment, in his mind.  Then he fluidly moved to his memory of a beach, to feasting, to lovemaking; he let himself experience them all in his mind, as freely as if he were there rolling in the sand with his lover, waves crashing over him. This was the moment when he allowed his fully-functioning brain to become a portal to the larger than life experiences that he had already had and still wanted to have. He gave himself over to the power of his mind. He countered the oppressive feeling of the diving bell, the metal diving suit that trapped him motionless beneath the water, with that of a winged creature, free to escape the confinements of the mortal world.

"My cocoon becomes less oppressive, and my mind takes flight like a butterfly. There is so much to do. You can wander off in space or in time, set out for Tierra del Fuego or for King Midas's court."

At this point in the film my breathing returned to normal and I just reveled in this enlightened man’s quest to tell his story and live and love in the rare moments that he had left on this earth, mostly because he gave himself over to, well himself.

The other two films that I was lucky enough to see this weekend were ‘Coraline’ and ‘Man on Wire’. ‘Coraline’, the exquisite marriage of Neil Gaiman’s imaginative story and Henry Selick’s rare talent for directing within the confines of stop-motion animation left me giddy - as if I were six again watching ‘The Wizard of Oz’ for the first time. This film was the first product out of Phil Knight’s studio Laika and it was a 3-D masterpiece, first of it’s kind. Who knew that a nine and a half inch model puppet and her adventures into an alternate universe (that keenly played upon her boredom and disconnect from her parents) could affect me on such an emotional level. Then there was ‘Man on Wire’, a documentary about tightrope walker Phillipe Petit and ‘his artistic crime of the century’. Through this film I learned about a true artist, malleable athlete and manic visionary who engineered and performed the first and only tightrope walk between the tops of the World Trade Centers. What most struck me about this story was Phillipe’s initial vision and how he turned it into a reality. The first time he read the news story about the Towers being built (they were simply foundations and a set of plans at that time), he immediately believed that his purpose was to walk between their peaks. And when I say walk, there is nothing pedestrian about his movements. He danced on this taught steel wire, dipping, kneeling, gliding, even laying down horizontally, balancing 1400 feet in the air (as well as making the cross eight times!). As he could see it in his mind, he accomplished it, but after years of planning and preparing.

So what does this mean for all of us. For me, these films inspire me to go further, that I can accomplish more, that my brain is capable of creating more. Not to get all ‘The Secret’ on you but I wonder what we could all accomplish if we were given the permission, or even mandated to stop and just focus inward, let our imagination take over and give ourselves over to where it takes us. We are all capable of imaginative thought, regardless of our artistic temperament. Joseph Campbell, in his epic 'Power of Myth' interview with Bill Moyers, believes that all humans share the same source of imagination as it is "grounded in the energy of the organs of the body and these are the same in all human beings."  What if we allow for our natural impulses to be acknowledged and not squashed by a better ‘work ethic’ and the to-the-minute adult responsibilities. I’m not talking about encouraging pointless fantasies to engulf and override our day (though nothing wrong with fantasies here and there) but rather stepping back and acknowledging the power of our imagination to tackle some of the issues and problems that we all now face. 

Do I know how? No, of course not, and if I did I’d at least be making money off this blog, but why don’t we all, just for fun, STOP for a moment. And then Breathe. Think of what your personal roadblock is right now. Identify it. Then create the ideal. Watch yourself as you walk through it, live it, make it tangible. I can tell you that mine brings a smile to my face every time I access it. And then tell yourself that you can indulge in that ideal image whenever you need. It might identify some elements of your work and life that you are not giving yourself over to, that your mind will instinctively flutter to, like Jean Do’s butterfly. So go see ‘Coraline’ (support innovative filmmaking!), rent the other two films and relish in the delicious treat that you have between both your ears. What a piece of work is man...indeed.  Be back soon.

All Things T