Choosing The Right Director For Your Production

Through Make Your Own Break I’ve produced and consulted on dozens of independent film and theater productions, generally working with actors and writers looking to create a calling card to get their work noticed. Oftentimes these creatives are at a loss when it comes to choosing the right director for their production.  The first thing I usually suggest is to start with the people you know and have access to. Talk to your friends, peers, classmates and colleagues. Have any of them produced their own productions? Or have they worked on any independent projects with a director they loved? Reach out to your network and  you may be surprised at what you find.

Needless to say, if you are in “the industry” you are probably going to the theater and film festivals frequently to stay inspired, to stay in the loop, to support your friends  and to network. Even if you don’t have a project on the go, take note of the work that resonates with you and start building relationships with the people you want to collaborate with. That way the connections are already in place for when you need them. Read theater, festival and film reviews.  It’s not only important to experience the director’s work first hand, it’s also important to see how the work lands on others.  Reviews are also a good place to find out about directors you are not yet familiar with.

If you find someone whose work resonates with you while at an event or festival, talk to them, talk to the cast and producer(s) if possible.  Find out as much as you can about their experience,  process and philosophy. Collaboration is not only about liking someone’s work, it’s about compatibility and being able to work closely together to breathe life into a story. No matter how talented a director may be, you need to work with someone who gets you and is on the same page with your vision. 

There are several things to take into account when selecting the right director for your production: what is the genre of your piece?  Comedic? Dramatic? Classical?  Movement based? Improv based? Experimental?  What stage of development are you at?  What are the needs of the production?  What is your budget? Keep in mind you may not want to approach a director too early on before you have resources to move forward with the production, they may not take you seriously. However, you do want to put feelers out early enough to gauge their rate so you know you have enough in the budget to cover their rate.

There are so many factors involved in putting up a production that talent and passion are not always the deciding factors for who you hire – many times relationships are. What kind of resources do they have to bring to the project?  Do they have relationships with actors and crew?  Access to equipment? venues?  press?  distribution outlets?  

When putting my solo show together I initially asked an acting teacher of mine to direct me, he was fabulous and I loved working with him. As things progressed I found the perfect theater for my needs, willing to let me perform on off nights when their main productions didn’t have shows to keep my costs down. The owner of the theater and I started chatting and it turned out I saw a play he directed at another venue a year prior, and LOVED his work. I asked him if he’d be interested in directing my show and we negotiated a deal on the spot. A lump sum that included 1) the theater rental for the show, 2) his direction and 3) two weeks of rehearsal time in the small theater space (the venue had 2 spaces). Because I was able to make a package deal with one person who was now invested in my production (putting his name on as director),  I saved a considerable amount of money, rather than having to pay 3 separate people – a director, a rehearsal space and a theater. I regretfully informed my acting teacher of what transpired, and he understood the situation completely. Although I felt bad, we hadn’t negotiated any rates, dates or details so it was early enough for me to go in another direction without breaking a contract or destroying a friendship.

We all have different goals with our artistic endeavors, before you begin your search you have to be clear on what you intend to accomplish with your production.  The more clear you are, the easier it will be to align with the right people. One thing that has always led me towards success is this – don’t overlook the ‘low hanging fruit’ – the people you already know and have access to. Sure the dream is to work with Spielberg or Tarantino but don’t forget there are so many talented people out there just like you, that just haven’t had a shot to prove themselves yet. Finding a team of collaborators that you can grow with while supporting each other is always worth the investment. Look how many superstars always work with the same people over and over again, it’s not a coincidence they stick with the friends who supported them before they were superstars. 

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What’s In A Name? 

My solo show “Year of the Slut” was a hit on stage. I performed the show in Los Angeles and New York City and even won an audience choice  award for the production. I had no problem purchasing ads in The Village Voice and Time Out NY. I actually had the title first and wrote the show around the title. “Year of the Slut” instantly grabbed people’s attention and was enough to get them out of the house into the theatre. I was proud of how clever and catchy it seemed to me and at all the reactions I got when people heard it.

After the show’s success in New York I was encouraged to adapt the story into a novel, the title was so compelling people said they would buy the book based on the title alone. Fast forward to October 2018, I launched my debut novel “Year of the Slut” on Amazon and Kindle and was overwhelmingly excited to be a published (albeit self-published) author. I hired a marketing manager to help me with some social media ad campaigns. This is where it all went south.

Due to the word slut the book was censored from getting any ads approved on all social media platforms and we couldn’t find any way around it. We tried for months. How can you sell a book when you can’t advertise? We couldn’t. I was able to get into some chick lit book promos that send eblasts directly to their subscribers, but that was not a viable solution, without access to reaching a wider audience with Amazon, Facebook and Instagram ads it felt impossible to get the word out beyond my friends and family. I was even turned down by two publicists because of the title.

After about a year of struggling with the title, my colleague Stacy Dymalski ( suggested I change the title. My entire body went tense at this suggestion. I had the title before I even had the story, and the title was why the show was so successful (at least that’s what I believed). First of all, I couldn’t wrap my head around the idea of changing the title, it fit too perfectly with the story, and second I didn’t want to! I was beyond resistant. Sure I believed the show was good, but that doesn’t matter if no one comes; people came to my show because of the title. I felt the book’s success was dependent on the title, only I was wrong, the title was a huge obstacle standing in the way of its success. It took me some time to realize this.

It was January 1st 2020. My book was dead in the water. I was in the middle of rereading Napoleon Hill’s “Think And Grow Rich” as I do from time to time and was already a few chapters in. That morning when I opened the book I was finally able to accept the message I didn’t want to listen to…The chapter talked about an author that couldn’t sell his book and ultimately decided to change the title. That one change allowed the book to become a huge success. It was too much of a coincidence that on the first day of the new year that was the first thing I read. 

I got over myself, I got over my ego and I got over my attachment to my title. I got over my idea of how I wanted things to be and took a good look at what was. I remembered the statement ‘you can be right or you can be happy’ and meditated on that for a while; fighting for my title was a fight to be right, changing the title to make way for success would be letting go to allow happiness (or success). The title change also meant an entire rebranding was in order and this would be costly, new artwork, new domain and website, new ISBN and the list goes on. I resolved to do what I had to do for the book’s success. 

It took a while, I was able to come up with a title I was happy with, got all my ducks in a row and re-launched the book in November of 2020. I was able to purchase ads, work with a publicist and in less than one year “Year of the What?” was a #1 Best Seller on Amazon and awarded the Literary Titan Silver Book Award.

I learned a lot of valuable lessons in this process, the title that made the show successful on stage is what killed the story in print. This is a challenge I never would have anticipated. Had I not been open, persistent and flexible this book would still be dead. Thanks to some wise colleagues, Napoleon Hill, and getting over myself I was able to turn a failure into a success.

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Love It Or Leave It

Let’s face the facts: most artistic endeavours don’t lead to fame, fortune and flashy cars. A lot of the time, when it’s your first production or first mounting of a new piece of writing you’re ahead of the game if you just make it to the finish line ( i.e. a live performance for theatre or a final cut with sound, score and a credit roll). And without that first finish line you will never get to your second, third, fourth, fifth and eventually find your success in a steady creative career that pays and maybe even create that masterpiece you dream of making which is why you got into this industry in the first place.

Many productions never make it off the ground and out of the ones that do only a small percentage actually make it to a fully realized production, be it a play or a film.  I have lost count of how many readings I have been in that never went beyond a reading, or how many independent and student films I have been in that never made it through post. Then there are the ones that were completed and never went anywhere: the films that never made it to festivals or got distribution, the plays that came and went and left no lasting impression on both the audience and the critics.

The only thing you are guaranteed when you get involved in a production, is the experience of doing it;  of creating, of putting a team together (or being part of a team), of lifting words off of a page, of sculpting a world, of breathing life into a character and ultimately adding something to the universe that did not exist previously. If you are not  turned on by the creative experience alone why do it? You won’t always get paid but you will always learn something and you will always grow as an artist, no matter the outcome of the project. Is that enough? From my almost 20 year experience as a writer, performer and producer I can say sometimes it is, and sometimes it isn’t. Do you love the script? Do you love the people you’re working with? Do you love the role you are playing or your job on the production? If you don’t love it, why do it?

Producing is hard work, stressful, aggravating at times, time consuming, life engulfing even; you will make many sacrifices and it takes months/years to see a production through completion.  As the producer you set the tone – you are the captain of the ship and your crew will fall in line.  They will feed off of your attitude, your energy, your stress, your passion, and your enjoyment.  No matter how many hours you have been slaving over script changes, coordinating schedules and chasing funds, you have to have fun with it, you have to enjoy it. Because that all trickles down into the attitudes of your cast and crew.

As a performer you will spend more of your life out of work and trying to get work than you will ever spend on stage or on set. But if you love it, you will find ways to stay in process every day so when those few and far between opportunities come your way you are in shape and ready to go.  Many performers don’t realize class is the acting gym and if you take time off for extended periods of time you get stiff and out of shape. Are you in class? If classes aren’t accessible to you at the moment are you reading plays and scripts regularly? Are you part of a community that keeps you inspired? 

It is easy to love it when you are backstage with a full house, or sitting in your trailer going over your lines for a guest star role on a TV series, or when doing a Q&A after a festival screening.  But the key to success is this: you have to love it in the wee hours of morning when you are scrambling to meet deadlines and struggling to stretch your shoe string budget even further than you already thought impossible…You have to love it (your creative work) even when you get nothing out of it if you ever expect it to love you back.

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When the Big Picture Feels TOO BIG

Photo Credit: Dan Grinwis

Taking on a production of any scale can be overwhelming, be it film or theatre, especially when you are at the beginning stages of development and fundraising. Things can feel even more daunting if you are also juggling other jobs, auditions, rehearsals, family and the demands of everyday life. I have learned a few skills to keep me from getting too anxious and help me stay focused.

1) Break the big picture down into much smaller pieces that are manageable by writing a list.  When you look at the entire project sometimes it seems like there is so much work to do and so many things to remember, the mere thought of it can be paralyzing. List the tasks: creating a budget, fundraising, making a production schedule, hiring a team, insurance, legal documents (permits & contracts), marketing, publicity, graphic designs, website…Think of this first list as a table of contents for each chapter of your production bible. There will also be documents for each task listed and lists within your lists like your team for example – (director, producers, crew, wardrobe, scenic design, technical team, music department, casting etc.) Think of these more focused documents and lists as chapters in your bible. The lists will keep evolving throughout your productions so expect to revisit and revise them on a regular basis.

2) Breathe.  You can only accomplish one thing at a time. Once you have the “big picture” broken down into manageable size pieces, now is the time to set production/shoot dates and for a film project a deadline for the final cut. It’s hard to hire people and move forward with anything when you don’t have solid dates set. Dates also light a fire under you to get a move on things. Dates turn an idea of making something into the reality of a production. As for post production for a film, set a solid deadline for festival submissions/public screenings and stick to it! Live performances are a different beast than film productions because the show must go on as they say; but film productions still require just as much energy and attention in post production as they do during shooting. In my experience many indie film productions don’t plan past the shoot and things get off track in post.

Early in my career I worked on countless productions (both on and off camera) that never set deadlines beyond the production and sadly many many of those projects were never completed. It’s astonishing to me how many film/video productions are abandoned in post 2/3rds of the way through because of poor planning, running out of steam, stamina and finances. Sadly indie film projects are abandoned more often than they are finished. 

3) Map it out! Once you have a clear list of tasks, show dates/shoot dates and a final cut deadline, create a road map of what comes first and then next to get your project off the ground. Arrange a realistic timeline on a calendar marking specific dates of when certain things need to be addressed or completed by. Put everything on that calendar; that calendar (road map) along with your priority list(s) will become your production bible. I advise scheduling every meeting, phone call, rehearsal, e-blast, etc. on that calendar. When you look at what needs to be done in a step by step manner on a timeline it all becomes more manageable.

Make a map so you don’t get lost.  Pace yourself so you don’t run out of steam.

Setting deadlines months in advance and communicating with your team on a regular basis will keep you on track the entire process. Of course there is room for adjustment, yes sometimes other projects (or life events) come up and take priority. The more prepared you are for a production, the more likely you are to make it to the finish line no matter how much life gets in the way.

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Art vs Ego – Help Your Friends

I had been with a theatre company in the East Village for 2 years when the producer left the company. I was asked to step in as producer. I didn’t want to do it, I was 22 and at the very beginning of my acting career, I said no the first couple of times it came up (I had stage managed a couple shows at the company and as it turned out I was pretty good at taking charge). Finally when asked yet again I inquired “if I produce the play can I still be in it?” The director stated there were so many actors in NY that he could cast but so few people #1- willing to produce and #2 – able to pull it off. “Well, that might be true, but if I’m not in the play I have no incentive to produce because all I want to do is perform.” We came to an agreement that I could still be in the plays I produced. That, in a nutshell, is how I became a producer in the East Village at 22.

My first show was a disaster. I couldn’t handle the stress and all the responsibility on top of being part of the production. I was kind of a mega-bitch to everyone because I didn’t have the maturity or experience to deal with the pressure; but a door opened in front of me, I walked through it, and my life is forever changed because of it.

When I first moved to NY to pursue acting I always wanted to be the lead. It didn’t matter what the project was, I always wanted to be the star, have the most lines and be the most prominent character in the piece. By the time I was 24 I was producing my 3rd play in the East Village, our biggest production yet. I finally had a handle on the producing thing and for the first time I was cast as the lead in a production, only I didn’t want the lead. I wanted a supporting role that was way more interesting and super funny. Playing the lead (ingenue) role was kind of boring, she was pretty flat compared to the over the top cast. Somewhere there was a shift, it was no longer about having the biggest part, it became about the process and the artistry of creating a memorable character and pushing myself beyond what I was comfortable playing. It was no longer about my own ego, it was about becoming an artist.

After I started producing, much of my perspective about acting shifted, I started looking for jobs on productions I got cast in. I had one day of work on a horror film and asked around if they needed help behind the scenes and was hired to work in the props department. Another film I was cast in I ended up the associate producer and that paved the way for me to become a film producer in addition to producing theatre. I was able to put my ego aside and genuinely wanted to learn what it took to run a production.

After moving to Los Angeles I was in an acting class and had the privilege of watching a classmate working on her solo show in class. I was so impressed with her charisma, her humor and the universality of her story I approached her after class asking about the production and ultimately offered to help produce the show. At this point in time I had produced several theatre and indie film productions but I would only produce on two types of projects: projects I was in or projects that paid my rate (producing and production management became a way for me to support myself while I continued to pursue my acting career). This was another shift, there was no role (nor any money) in it for me…and yet I still had to help get this production off the ground because I believed in it.

In my early 20’s it was all about me or my ego. Over the years the more I dove into the creative process, it has become less about me and more about working on good projects with passionate and dedicated people. If you are like me, and nothing in the world turns you on more than ‘making something out of nothing’ then put your ego aside and just keep creating; help others create even if you are not the lead, or if they don’t have a role for you this time around. In the film and theatre world we can’t accomplish much on our own, we need to be part of a creative community where we nurture and support each other’s work.

I continue to help my friends and colleagues when I can; volunteering my time, expertise and feedback helping with everything from script development, production logistics and on set. I am 100% aware I would have never gotten any of my own productions off the ground had it not been for friends supporting me, donating money, providing their time and energy, locations, equipment, contacts and kind words of encouragement. I’ve had actors fly themselves out to work for deferred payment, network TV directors work for free and bring on a team of volunteers, studio space donated. For every time I’ve put my ego aside and helped another creative, I’ve had ten times the support come back around to find me in a similar way.

Help your friends if you believe in them/their projects, even if there’s nothing in it for you. Volunteer as a production assistant, in the wardrobe team, or as a background actor (not every day and not for everyone, but for the ones you believe in). Work behind the scenes, it might do wonders for your work in front of the camera or on stage. I guarantee you will always get something out of contributing to a production: a new set of skills, new connections with other creatives, or even simply learning ‘what not to do on your next one.’

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Process Makes Perfect

“Great scripts are not written, they are rewritten, and rewritten and rewritten” is a statement Robert Downey Jr. made at a Q&A after a screening of Sherlock Holmes at the Director’s Guild of America a while back. He was responding to the question ‘how long in advance do you start memorizing your lines’. He emphatically retorted something to the effect of “why would I memorize lines that I’m not going to say?” and continued on about the process of rewriting a script and how for Holmes lines were still changing the morning before the scene was going to be shot.

With film, you’ve got to get it right the first time, once you shoot it, that’s pretty much it, you’ve blown your load and your budget. And try as you may, script problems can’t be fixed in post, you’ve got to get it right before you shoot it!

I’m all about script development. When I’m working on a film or theatre production, be it as a writer or a producer, there are many development steps I insist on before moving forward with a production, like table readings. staged readings, zoom readings and writing workshops. There are many writing groups where writers get together and share pages and ideas before their script is completed. There are other collectives that are always looking for new works to read on their reading nights like We Make Movies (NY and LA), Naked Angels (NY) and WildSound (Toronto). Even if you are not in one of these major cities many of these collectives stream readings and accept scripts from anywhere, and they work out the casting on their end. If you don’t feel ready for a public opinion you can simply have a few friends over to read the piece in your home.

With theatrical writing it is crucial that you hear the writing out loud with different voices. Especially if you’ve written a piece for yourself, I advise for the reading to have someone else read your part, that way you can listen to your writing and see how strong it is without your delivery. Sometimes things look good on the page but when you hear the dialogue it can sound clunky and unnatural. Even when you are in the production stages of a film (since there is rarely a rehearsal period) I would suggest at least one table read with your full cast if possible.

The beauty of theatre is the luxury of time for process and development. If something doesn’t work one night, you can change it the next night, and you get to see how it lands on the audience. You can go over this process of trial and error with the writing, directorial and casting choices, props, wardrobe, there are no limitations on what you can try one night and then throw out the next night. This is the difference between a good piece of theatre and a life changing event in the theatre.

When I first mounted a workshop of my solo show Year of the Slut there was one joke that just wouldn’t land. The director didn’t like it in rehearsals but I pushed to keep it in. After two performances and no audience response I knew I had to cut it, and so I did. The show went on to have two more productions over a two years and each time the script went through revisions and re-writes to push the production to be tighter, clearer and a more solid piece of theatre.

A few years ago I saw a play that was held at the Hollywood Fringe Festival. I first saw the piece opening weekend, and then again for the last show. A friend was starring in the play so I was privy to hearing snippets of the process and how the show literally changed every night; new blocking, new scenes, scenes cut, actors cut…Literally in two months of performances the same show had never been performed twice. Even at last night’s closing performance there was a new scene inserted. I’m not a reviewer nor do I want to give a critique of the piece, I simply want to comment on the process involved with being great. The first time I saw the piece I enjoyed it, the writing was good and the cast was solid. Last night’s performance, after having 2 months of process with an audience, went beyond my expectations – the pacing had picked up, the holes in the story were filled in, there was more dynamic action and it was all seamless.

In November of 2019 when I was working on the play With a Little Help…It’s John Belushi in New York City my director invited me to see a preview of the LAByrinth Theatre Company’s production of Pulitzer Prize Winning and Tony Award nominated playwright Stephen Adly Guirgis’ new play Halfway Bitches Go Straight to Heaven. I was excited to see actors on stage with script in hand for one of the scenes, because this legendary writer was taking full advantage of this process to get the play right. That is one of the reasons new plays have a preview period, to work out the kinks in the script and the story and the performances. Gurgis was re-writing all through rehearsals and previews to push his work to be great, and that’s why he is one of the great playwrights of our time.

Don’t be afraid to play with the work, try new things, let it breath and go through the process to develop your writing, characters, conflict. Push yourself to be great in your work, it doesn’t deserve anything less than everything you have.

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When Things Go Wrong…It’s Usually Right

At this stage of my career with almost two decades of performing and producing under my belt one of the most important things I’ve learned is that when things go wrong, or seemingly wrong, it’s usually to push you and the production in the right direction.

When I was producing the first workshop of my solo show Year of the Slut I had the perfect theatre picked out, I had my dates all picked out (February, what better months for a racy rom-com) and was deliberating between a few different directors I knew who would work within my budget. Suddenly as we were getting deeper into December everything started falling apart. I lost the theatre I had my heart set on and the director I was hoping to work with was less interested than I had hoped. About a week before Christmas I was scrambling around like a mad woman looking for a theatre that was available in February and could work with my shoestring budget. Then one Saturday afternoon, on the eve of their holiday party, I stumbled into TheatreTheater on Pico and La Brea, about 10 minutes from where I was living at the time. The space was perfect for what I was looking for. I chatted with Jeff Murray, the owner, as he showed me around and we discussed some of our past work. It turns out I had seen a play he directed and it was spectacular!  In my next breath I blurted out “you have to direct my play!” And there it was, I found my space and my director in one shot and was able to raise more money by securing that space and that director (to cover the extra costs), after completely stressing out for weeks about how I was going to pull off the project and put the pieces together…all the things that went wrong pushed me into the right theatre with the right director.

A couple years later I partnered with a friend to write something, we had no idea what it was going to be. After about a month we had a 6 episode web series completed, Dumpwater Divas, and 80’s dance spoof. We had written all the roles for people that we knew and wanted to work with. After doing several readings and rewrites one by one the actors we created the roles for dropped off the project for various reasons, some getting other roles, some simply not interested in it. Being that the roles were written specifically for those actors I had a hard time wrapping my head around the idea of casting other people; but in order to move forward, we had no choice. We held auditions and ended up finding some extremely talented performers. We shot all 6 episodes and it turns out that the actors that we ended up working with went above and beyond my expectations, basically they brought the roles to life in a way that I couldn’t imagine having anyone else in those roles. After the fact, I’m so grateful I was forced to find new talent that brought our vision to life in ways beyond what we ever imagined. The actors we ended up working with fit the roles better than the ones we wrote them for.

Over the past decade the shoot for my short film Details fell through at least six times with six different teams, with different directors, different actors and different visions. I knew I had a solid script because initially each director and actor I sent it to was immediately on board and then let’s just say ‘life got in the way.’ By the timed I decided to make the film in 2018 the piece had been showcased on stage (it was originally a one act play) several times both as a heterosexual piece and as a lesbian piece. It was exciting to play with the script through the lens of sexual fluidity of the characters. Over the years of failed attempts to get the film going I kept flip flopping between making the film with a male and female or two females, since the piece was quite universal in the way it depicted a relationship and could work with any couple regardless of gender or sexual identity.

At the end of 2017 I was in Rome for an acting workshop and a few of us were sitting in a beautiful hotel lounge overlooking the city chatting about projects we were working on or developing. One lady mentioned she would love to produce something and asked if I have anything in development. I pitched my latest incarnation of my vision for Details, which had become quite sophisticated over the years as each production of it fell through. At this point the vision was an experimental film shot several times with several different couples (straight, gay, lesbian, trans) and intercut into one piece. The group unanimously agreed this project was worth undertaking and gave me the confidence to once again move forward with a production. The lady who asked for the pitch became one of the producers on the shoot.

I’m not a director, at least I wasn’t until this production. It was never something I was interested in exploring since I didn’t believe I had the skills or vision to pull it off. Sure, I’ve directed readings of my work, children’s acting workshops and plays as I ran the children’s acting program at Edgemar Center for the Arts for two years in Santa Monica, then was the Performing Arts Director at an Elementary School in Encino; but I never counted children’s theatre as being a real director.

Due to the complexity of my vision for this experiment I took on a role I never intended to and directed the film myself. I couldn’t find a trans actor when going through the casting process so I cast and androgynous lesbian in the trans role, however she backed out a few days before shooting. I also had a close friend cast in one of the female roles, who booked a national commercial three days before the shoot and of course took it (as she should, cha-ching!) So now I was down two actors with three days until the shoot. Rescheduling was not an option due to logistics, it was no or never or this script would never get produced, I just knew it.

At this point I took a deep breath and centered myself, I reminded myself what I already knew, that everything was going to work out the way it was meant to. I knew plenty of talented actors and replacing the female role wouldn’t be an issue. On the other hand, I wasn’t going to make myself crazy trying to find a trans actor I wasn’t able to find even when I did have ample time to cast, so I let it go. I had enough on my plate as a first time director (who was also the writer, producer and in the film) there was no sense in forcing things to happen at the cost of not preparing properly, then the entire project would be a bust…yet again. So, I rolled with the punches.

It turns out, everything worked out perfectly. We had just enough time to shoot the piece with the actors we had, anything more we would have had to rush (more than we already were) to get through the shoot at the cost of quality and continuity. All the actors who showed up were colleagues I’d worked with before, including Jeff, the director from my solo-show, and Monica, an actress from my web series. I didn’t anticipate this being an issue prior, but once I was on set it was a relief to have supportive friends along with me for my first attempt at directing who were patient and believed in me, beyond just being there for an acting gig.

For all the times Details fell through in a ten year span, I have to say every time things went wrong it was to push me to get it right. The vision of the piece was meant to evolve from a linear film with one couple to an exploration of sexual fluidity with many couples. I was meant to direct the film (and step into the role of director moving forward in my career). All the actors and crew involved were the ones who were meant to be my creative partners. 

Details went on to screen at the Festival De Cannes Court Métrage and The Cambridge Film Festival in the UK. I can’t imagine the film would have garnered the recognition it did if any of the previous attempts would have succeeded. It had to go wrong all those times, so I could get it right.

I guess one of the biggest things I’ve learned as a producer is not to fight with the universe; every time when things have gone off track (or off the track I thought I should be on) It was only to push me into a better place, the place I was meant to be.  Projects are never “easy” in a traditional sense, but when the timing and team are right things sail forward smoothly with a special energy that lends itself to making MAGIC!

“When you struggle against ‘this moment’ it’s as if you are struggling with the entire universe, because the universe is as it should be”

–The Seven Laws of Spiritual Success, by Deepak Chopra

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The Money ‘Ain’t Coming ‘Till You Get Moving!

As an artist the most frustrating thing for me used to be when I was in between projects…or more accurately out of work. In the first decade of my creative journey, even in a good year I spent more time “out of work” than working as an actor, writer or producer. Most actors understand that we will spend more time looking for work, auditioning and submitting than actually creating, especially before we hit our stride…I don’t know about you but spinning my wheels trying to convince people to hire me was not why I got into performing in the first place.

Within my first year of living in New York City I got into a small theatre company in the East Village; we only did new works, most of which were written for the core members of the company, one of them was even published – Galaxy Video.  After about two years with the company I stepped in as a producer, with no experience.  Over the next two years I produced 3 original plays from the script development stage to full scale productions, the experience was invaluable and set me on a path I never expected.  

Almost two decades later I have over forty independent film/digital and theatre productions under my belt as producer.  Thanks to my writing and producing skills I learned to take control over my career because I have the power to create projects for myself and to spearhead productions for others.  

My first tip for any frustrated artist would be CREATE YOUR OWN PROJECTS!  If you write, partner with directors and performers. If you are a performer, make friends with writers and directors and so on. There are so many talented people just like you that haven’t had the right opportunity to showcase their extraordinary ability.

In my experience the #1 thing that stops artists from moving forward with a project or an idea is funding, or more accurately lack thereof.  Many artists wait until they have funding in place before they move forward, or even talk themselves out of starting all together because they can’t see how their vision could ever come to life without funding in place or the right connections.  I can only speak from my experience, but I’ve never waited for funding.   Every project I’ve ever produced (where I was in charge of fundraising) the money always came once the project got going.  If there is passion, enthusiasm and momentum things always begin to fall into place. I’ve always worked with the “if you build it they will come” philosophy.  Yes, I am a total dreamer, that’s why I live in the creative world where anything is possible!

It doesn’t cost anything to write (alone or with a partner) or to get a group of actors to read a script in a living room (or on zoom).  The way I work the living room is my creative space, because although I don’t get to be on stage or in a studio every day, I do get to be creative in my living room as often as I choose.  It’s also a great place to get others excited about your work, on your turf and on your terms.

Once you have a solid script and a group of performers who are excited about it, invite some other friends or colleagues to listen and give feedback – get them excited about the project too!  This is how you get momentum.  Reach out to as many people as you can for advice and tips, at every stage of your process, it’s a great way to let people know you are working on something.  Look up theatres or writing groups to see who hosts reading nights where you can read a scene (or the entire script). Many theatre companies or industry groups do weekly or monthly readings and are always looking for content (i.e. We Make Movies LA  & NYC, Naked Angels NYC, WildSound Toronto just to name a few).  These readings are a great way to open up your network, find collaborators, get more people excited about your project and to be part of a creative community of like minded artists.

The key is just start, take the plunge and put your work out there.  It’s amazing how much support you can find in unlikely places and how the right people always seem to appear at the right time. The money won’t come to you until you go as far as you possibly can without it…and then somehow, it will appear.

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As Good As GOAL

Nothing in the world excites me more than making something out of nothing; creating new characters, stories and worlds in my mind, on then on the page and then lifting them off of the page and breathing life into them. This is why I do what I do. I am an admitted theatre nerd and almost love the process of creation more than the actual performance.
Over the years I have learned the importance of setting goals for my projects. Yes, of course, everyone wants to make bank, get recognition and have the project open doors for more work and lucrative creative opportunities.

That being said, the more specific your goals are for your film or theatre production, the more likely you are to attain them. There are many different reasons people want to mount a production: to showcase your writing or performance talents, to get representation, to establish a calling card, to get exposure, to go to festivals or tour with the project, to make a profit, and even for the sheer joy of creating something to see how it lands.

When I decided to shoot and direct my short film Details I called some colleagues and asked if they would be willing to join me for an experiment. I didn’t call it a film because I had a lofty creative vision and had no idea how it would turn out and if it would even work as a film. I was very clear in my own mind and with my entire team that this was a creative experiment and I was not about end-gaming with this specific production. Details was also my first time directing a film so I didn’t have huge expectations for the outcome; I was also wearing all the other hats (writer, actor, producer), so it truly was an experiment of sorts, for my vision, for my ability to direct and for my juggling skills.

To my surprise and delight the experiment was a success, Details went on to screen at two major international festivals (Festival De Cannes and The Cambridge Film Festival UK). This process validated my artistic vision and also showed me that I can in fact direct, something I was never particularly interested in before, nor did I think I was capable of. I do believe my goal of experimentation is what allowed me the freedom to create without the pressure I would normally put on my work. This freedom of creativity and process is what ultimately made the piece a success, I wasn’t focused on the outcome because that was not the goal.
Once you have a clear goal in mind that will determine several factors in terms of timeline, budget, team and so on. For the film Details we had a micro-budget because I knew it was an experiment and understood there was the possibility there would be no final product, so I budgeted accordingly.

Goals often change or evolve once the ball is rolling, projects can take on a life of their own and very easily run away from you. Once you are caught up in the excitement and have a team who is equally enthusiastic you might want to do a bigger production, get more money, get into a larger space and sometimes it gets overwhelming. That is why if you have a clear goal in the beginning it will keep you grounded and focused on the task at hand. Details turned out better than I could have dreamed so once we had a final edit my goals evolved, I wanted to get it out into the world so began submitting to film festivals, that was the new goal.

Another example of goal setting is my solo show Year of the Slut, I wrote the show for one reason – to find theatrical representation. In two years I did two showcases in Los Angeles spending very little money, then was accepted to a festival in New York City. I had a successful Kickstarter campaign and raised $4000 to cover my travel expenses, accommodations and pay for advertising and publicity. Now that the show was going to NY I had different goals. Having been an off-off-Broadway theatre producer I knew what had to be done once I got to NY. Before I set my fundraising target I had accounted for buying ads in the Village Voice and specialized publicity materials. The new goal was to get reviews and as much exposure as possible.

With Year of the Slut I never achieved my initial goal – to find theatrical representation. However, I won the Audience Choice Award at the festival and was approached by a literary agent who was interested in a novel adaptation of the show.

When I first started working on Year of the Slut I never dreamed it would go to NY, let alone win an award and never in my life did I expect to be writing a novel. Although things didn’t work out with the literary agent who was initially interested, I was already off and running with the novel adaptation. Countless rejections from traditional publishers and lit agents, five versions of the novel, three editors, two launches, one title change and almost a decade later Year of the What? is now available in print, digital and audio almost everywhere books are sold.

Not only are the goals important…I would say it’s just as important to be flexible and open to whatever opportunities come your way, even if they were not the ones you were hoping for.

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Magic In The Living Room

“If you can ‘bring it’ here, you can ‘bring it’ anywhere”

Several years ago a friend suggested I write myself a one woman show as a vehicle to showcase my talents as a writer and performer.  I had been acting for years already and was frustrated;  I knew I had so much more in me creatively but wasn’t getting the right opportunities to show it.  I had written a few scripts and produced quite a bit  for other people (I ran a theatre company in the East Village in my early 20’s then got into film production) but  a one woman show sounded daunting.  Previously that year I helped two friends produce their solo shows, Latina on the Loose and Mamafied; watching them in their process I was convinced that a solo show was something I would never do, I knew I was good, but not that good. Then one day riding horses in Agoura Hills a friend insisted that if I was really serious and really had what it takes I needed to create a vehicle for myself, a solo show. specifically tailored to showcase what I can do and to invite Hollywood professionals to let them know I exist.

So I did.

I wrote the show in my living room.  Once I  resolved to sit down and write the words flowed quite easily.  I’d transform into the different characters as I wrote, sometimes standing up and physicalizing how they would stand and move around, how they would speak, and what expressions would be on their faces, then sit back down racing for my fingers to keep up with my mind as the characters and stories took on lives of their own.  Every morning for months I woke up excited to get back to work, to my creative space…during that time my living room became the most exciting place to be because of all the magic happening there.

The theatre, for me, has always been a sacred space that lends itself to magic.  Same with a rehearsal space, dance studio or film studio, hell even a friend’s apartment staged and lit with cameras set up can have that feeling.  All these places have one specific function, they are all spaces designated to creativity.  There is a specific language, respect and rules of conduct for each one of these places and the pressure is on, there are expectations and consequences that help drive a performance or result.  The stakes are high and time is money.

In the process of creating my solo show I learned that my living room is my creative space.  I learned a new kind of discipline where the most important person I needed to show up for was myself.  No scene partner, no coach, no director, no audience, no one to entertain or be accountable to…except myself. While I was creating my show that was the first time I was truly fulfilled as an artist – for the first time in my career I was inspired, creating and exploring daily, pushing myself further than I had ever imagined and most importantly, I was impressing myself with the stuff I came up with.

I worked on Year of the Slut in my living room for a few months before I shared it with anyone.  That living room is where several readings and rehearsals took place before I took  pieces to my acting class,  then there were more living room readings and rehearsals before I raised enough money to work with a director and get into a theatre.  The project eventually did move beyond my living room and has been on stage in NY and LA. Like in the movie La La Land, none of the Hollywood professionals I intended the show for showed up, but things I never imagined did happen, the production went on to win an award in New York and is now the novel Year of the What? But where it ended up isn’t the point, the point is to begin, even if all you have to work with is a living room.

If you can make magic happen alone in your living room – you can make it happen on any stage (or set) with anyone!

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