Cupcake Sized Success - The New Zealand Table Read

I consider myself a very fortunate individual.  I consider myself a hard working individual.  I consider myself a successful individual.  GASP.  Yes.  I’ll say it again: I consider myself a successful individual.  And this is why.

 

Pursuing a career as an artist has offered me an exceptional platform in which to learn full and honest self acceptance and dare I say it, love.  It is a life course designed to challenge a person’s trust in self, resilience and self discipline.  It can be rigorous; time and time again we see examples in history of brilliant individuals who went unnoticed and unpaid during their lifetimes only to be appreciated in the years after their deaths.  All of this to say, it may sound pessimistic but I find that the best way to find happiness in the pursuit as an artist is to appreciate the doing, the moment, the tribe created around the work rather than the potential of a pay out.

 

Don’t get me wrong, money makes it possible for the art to be done more routinely, to reach a greater potential, if not a greater audience.  But we cannot control whether or not the money comes in.  We can, however, put our efforts in celebrating the act and giving respect and props to those that act alongside us.

 

A number of years ago I wrote a feature film.  It has been the vessel in which I’ve learnt a number of elements surrounding independent productions.  It’s my passion project, my heart spot, the piece I am most excited to see to come to life.  

 

I am entirely grateful for the experiences the writing of this script has offered me.  I’ve had the chance to step out of my comfort zone and travel on my own to attend workshops, using the project as a means of exploring different elements of production, post and distribution.  Through these workshops, I’ve met a number ofbrilliant individuals, sparked many-a wonderful conversation, some which still keep going.  Most importantly, it gave me a way to find a path so that I had a sense of direction moving forward.  There are still many-a-learning spots but I feel confident in my road.

 

Recently, my feature film project (entitled The Last Caribou) was selected by the Writer’s Guild of New Zealand to be brought to life at a table read.  This was the first time that I’d heard my project read aloud from front to back, and with professional actors to top it off.  This was a really neat experience for a few reasons that I’ll briefly outline.

 

The first was the joy in hearing jokes land and warm moments sit at the spots I’d hoped they would.  There isn’t too much else to say around this other than it feels good.

 

The second is a little tougher to explain but it goes a little something like this: because I’ve been sitting with this piece for so long, I know the characters, the environment and the challenges inside and out.  That’s not to say that there isn’t room for a tweak or two, but where we are, where we’re going and who “we” are is clear to me.  The major work has come in smoothing out the road the leads from start to finish.  

 

When I heard the story spoken aloud, along with the immense joy mentioned previously, it felt like a series of cogs set into place.  All of the problems I was having was pacing seemed to stand out in red and the solutions, most taking place six scenes back, stood up and waved.  In three days, I had a new draft sketched out, alleviating some of the problems that I’d had an impossible time with previously and an idea of how to work out the rest.  

 

The last joy was the simple fact that before I had turned thirty, my work had been read in an international arena.  And not any arena, one of the two countries that I am most eager to do work in at some point in my career.  I so admire the tone and style of stories that come out of that country, it was truly an honour to have my work read there.

 

To be completely candid, I cried when I heard my work read.  While grinning like an idiot.  It was a small step, but the journey to that little place was huge and the friends I encountered, the experiences I had in relation to that work: unforgettable.  

 

So here’s to celebrating cupcake-sized successes.  And savouring every last bite.  

True North, Strong and Free

 

 

Cozied up next to the northern tip of Great Slave Lake sits a little city like no other.  Small in size with insurmountable tenacity, Yellowknife is a beautifully archaic mash up of metropolis and off the grid living.  Growing up, I figured that was the image that was meant to come to mind when the lines “True North, Strong and Free” were belted out every morning over the intercom during the playing of our national anthem.  What a place.

 

It is a city with a bustling arts and film community.  The movers and shakers up there work themselves to the bone creating an industry where there wasn’t one before.  This year was one of great recognition for them as it marked the 10 year anniversary of the Yellowknife International Film Fest.  

 

In the last six months, I have twice had the pleasure of heading home to Yellowknife to volunteer for these fine folks as a way of supporting their efforts.  It was time well spent.

 

My most recent venture north was to offer my assistance with their Dead North Film-making Festival.  This is a unique incentive that supports local film makers while inviting artists from the south to explore Canada’s North as a venue for creating and displaying their works. 

 

I landed home at 12:30 in the morning on Friday February 24th, 5 hours after the festival kicked into gear.  From Thursday the 23rd through Sunday the 26th, horror shorts created in Canada’s coldest climate were aired at the Capital Theatre.  Local musicians were showcased nightly and artist collectives work together to create unique and vibrant spaces for late night events to be held at.  Q&A’s were held during the day alongside workshops, giving those who traveled up to the festival opportunities to chat with other film makers and pick up a few tricks and tips.  An awards gala was held, this year live-screened for anyone who wasn’t able to attend and I assure you, the feeling of communal support and congratulations was palpable as epic trophies were handed out for different notes of excellence.

 

In the dead of winter, there is an undeniable warmth that this incentive brings to the community: this is where much of my desire to give back to these groups is bread from.  Yellowknife is a wonderfully unique city, a diamond in the rough - indeed.  But it is far from reach.  If you stretch your hands high enough north on the map, you might tickle the water that reaches its shores.  It can be expensive to get there and expensive to leave.  For many, and for large chunks of my psyche, this solitude is sanctuary.  

 

Getting through the long winters, though, requires a subtle connection to a community, a tribe of sorts or something to look forward to.  The cold and dark can be a sobering experience for some.  With these things in mind, it becomes clear that the individuals who run the northern art and film incentives up in Yellowknife aren’t only building an industry, they are providing outlets and community engagement in an environment that so benefits from these types of activities.  They are getting people out of their houses in the dead of winter to assist one another in creating works of art.    

 

I have often said that I feel blessed to have been raised in the North.  I can assure you, I feel an even greater sense of respect and gratitude returning to that environment as, oh what do they call it… right.  An adult.  A part of my heart will always graze the lands I grew up in and with it, a massive amount of respect for the artists and collectives who are diligently poking holes in the dark so that the northern lights might shine through with more ease.

A Special Shout out goest out to:

Western Arctic Moving Pictures, Artless Collective, the Dead North Film Festival and the the following five individuals who made it possible for me to leave work for 2 days to go home and volunteer:  Jennifer Clement, Darren Borrowman, Kim Tough, Kris Neufeld and Andres Soto.

   

     

Why I decided to Direct a Play

Why I decided to direct a play.

Most of my work as an independent artist has fallen into the realm of visual media or film.  I have studied, read and workshopped in different capacities to sharpen my ability to translate an emotion, theme or comment into a frame using a combination of composition, lighting and specific imagery.  What then, you might ask, compelled me invest half a year in time into directing a play.  Well, let me indulge you.

One:  The play was good.

I was invited onto a project that was already up and running when the original director had to step off.  Three quarters cast, I would assist in finding the last team member before moving into the rehearsal process.  The play that we were casting for was John Patrick Shanley’s Four Dogs and a Bone.  Both comical and honest, I was eager to direct such a well written piece of work.

Two: Cold Winter Nights

Vancouver is a lovely city.  But the winters can be grey with breaks of sun being few and far between.  Autumn had just started to transition the city from warm to washed out and the idea of finding sanctuary in a studio space a couple of nights a week as the winter passed over was a welcome thought.

Three: Expansion of imagination

I think one of the biggest challenges as a Director is helping your actors fill the scene with what is needed without telling them what is needed.  As the individual standing outside and framing the scene, you are able to identify what is working as well as what layers are not yet present, or need to be expanded upon to maintain the overall flow of a story, arc or character.  The difficult part is assisting your players in finding these discoveries and these elements on their own, in their own recognition as the character, without telling them what it is they are looking for.  In agreeing to direct four individuals through this process over a 6 month period, I would have to stretch my own imagination to find different ways of expressing specific scene or story requirements.  And I have.  Whether through developing different exercises to have the coupled scene partners engage in, or research assignments that play into the rehearsal process - indeed, even my dialogue and specificity around giving direction has slowly shifted.

Four: Trust

I am good at what I do.  The more I trust, the more it’s true.  

And the more my actors trust me.  It’s a beautiful cycle that I knew would challenge my belief in self and challenge my ego’s need for outside validation.  My actors need to feel that I trust myself so that they can put their trust in me.  

Right now I sit at the halfway mark between starting the project and curtain call.  I couldn’t be more proud of how I’ve grown and more eager to see where my strength brings me by the end of this theatrical adventure.       

 

   

An hour with Rachel Talalay

This past Saturday, with great thanks to the Director’s Guild of Canada and the council at VIFF, myself and other local film buffs filled the theater at the Vancouver International Film Centre to hear Rachel Talalay speak in regards to her experience as an internationally acclaimed director.  This was part two in the Master Class series put on by the DGC and VIFF.  

Rachel’s resume is mighty impressive and I want to outline some of her credits before we keep on about what was discussed in the class.  This will give you some context around the topics and gives me a moment to brag about sharing space with this kick-ass woman.  

Rachel, like so many people who have found their niche in film, started out on a very different path.  Born in Chicago and raised primarily in Baltimore, Rachel studied applied mathematics at Yale and worked as a Computer Programmer at John Hopkins University before getting involved in Film.  

Some of her early credits as a Producer include the 1988 rendition of Hairspray, the third and fourth Nightmare on Elm Street and Cry Baby.  Believe it or not, her Directing credits are even more impressive and I’ll only list a few or we’ll never get to Saturday’s event.  Rachel can be credited for bringing the cult classic masterpiece Tank Girl to life.  This makes her one of the most bad-ass women to currently walk amongst us.  She was also the first American to be asked to direct an episode of Doctor Who and was the first female to direct an episode of Sherlock.  The woman is a power house.

Rachel walked onto the stage at the Vancouver International Film Centre with an air of humility and warmth.  Despite her notable list of accomplishments, there was next to no ego that accompanied her in the spotlight.  She seemed kind, approachable, grounded and really hard working.  She was like a real-live human being.  Over an hour, she shared her experience as a Director and gave the audience some great advice and strong words to walk away with.  

The audience had a high ratio of women film makers, some of whom had been jaded by the lack of equality represented in the industry.  Rachel found a dignified way of navigating these topics while directing the conversation away from a “man-hating” zone and into a place of putting priority on what we can do together as women to slowly change the stigma.  As I sat, I felt incredibly fortunate that I was entering the industry at a time when a push for women was present.  To hear about a time when women weren’t being let into the work environment, and even more insulting, that it was being put to them as a favour (“these guys don’t know how to work around women, trust me, you’d be happier not to be put in that environment.”) is appalling.  A world of gratitude and thanks goes out to the hard working trail blazers that made it possible for me to walk into a job today without having to immediately fight for my worth as a result of my gender.  It’s not perfect yet, Rachel explained in a simply-stated undramatic way.  For example, she noted that in her experience, a man with less experience can walk onto set with little to no plan of action.  He can ask the crew and his team for ideas before moving into set ups and it is seen as “collaboration”.  If a woman were to walk onto set with the same mind-set, she would be seen as “unprepared” or “incapable”.  She understood the frustration that accompanied this but refused to let it jade her experience.  At the end of the day, she would walk away from a project with more know-how then those who came unprepared and no one could take that away from her.

For a few minutes, she also discussed the destructive and competitive nature that can arise between women who are fighting for the few opportunities that get handed our way.  One visual I found to be particularly strong was that of a crab sitting in a boiling pot.  If there is one crab in the pot, it is screwed.  It can’t get out.  If you add a second crab to the pot… well now we’re talking, now we have a chance.  But so often, rather than helping one another out, we scramble to step over each other, wanting to be the first out.  The crab who was used as a stepping stool then pulls the other crab back into the pot, not wanting to be left behind.  This is something that needs to stop.  If we work together, we can pull each other out of the pot.  No one needs to be left behind in a pot of steaming death.     

She spoke of preparation.  I’ll mention one quote because I found it particularly fitting.  Rachel said “I love prep.  Because at some point, the project is perfect.”  The little control freak that hangs out in the corner of my mind loved this quote and laughed heartily at it’s honesty.  Prep, she explained was about creating back up plans.  Because the fact of the matter is, you will never have enough time and something will always go wrong.  

Rachel is an individual who has worked hard to get the opportunities she’s had.  The credits she’s acquired did not land in her lap without effort.  She pushed for projects she wanted to be involved in and took every project as an opportunity to learn more and put more in her tool belt for future use.  It is through her history of doing that she has developed this specialized skill set.  One that allows her to think critically and outside of the box to effectively solve problems and create dynamic stories that genuinely use the visual aspect to enhance the emotional telling.  She is a woman without excuses and on that note, I’ll end this entry with my favourite quote from the afternoon.

On attitude and taking on a project:  “This is the assignment.  And your job isn’t to make excuses for why it can't be done, but to figure out how to do it.”