The Last Week

Lately, I’ve been replaying the last week before Los Angeles went into lockdown in my head, trying to remember what I did, who I saw, what I had entered into my calendar that would soon vanish. Those final fleeting moments of normalcy before schedules and routines would come to a screeching halt. 

I remember planning to go to a Tame Impala show at the Forum, but having friends in Europe warn me not to because a wave was coming and the US was simply not ready. I remember stopping at the DMV en route to lunch with a friend in Culver City. Obtaining my California driver’s license is something I have grossly procrastinated, but my Canadian license has expired, forcing me to finally take the road test I’m required to do and, well, that’s not happening any time soon. I remember meeting a friend for coffee on Abbot Kinney at one of my favorite spots, a happening place that typically has a line out the door, but has since shuttered due to the COVID economy. I remember it was pissing rain that day and I had to run down the street to my next stop to pick up some semi-conservative threads in preparation for the new job I was starting the following week. Clothes that haven’t seen the light of day as I’ve been working from home since day one.

I remember going for a hike in Malibu and feeling uncomfortable on the trail because folks weren’t really grasping “social distancing” yet – a term that would soon be forever branded into our brains to commemorate the year the world shut down. I remember contemplating going for a drink to celebrate St Patrick’s Day, but feeling tentative about being in a crowd. And then, on March 16, our mayor issued a “shelter in place” order and the rest is history.

My husband and I have been so incredibly fortunate throughout this wild, historic journey. Healthy, employed and still getting on rather well considering how little time we have to ourselves these days. Any time things get tense, our little dog lightens the mood. We have beaches and boardwalks to bike along and beautiful state parks and despite living in a metropolis that’s home to ten million people, it’s easy to space out and stay safe. The ability to spend time outside most of the year is the sweetest luxury imaginable. As challenging and mentally taxing as this time has been, it’s not lost on me for a second how lucky we are.

What’s been tricky, though, is the separation we’re feeling from our family. Flying back to Canada is of course possible, for Canadian citizens anyway, but the logistics make it feel so out of reach. Flying feels very high risk, particularly when you’re traveling from one of the busiest airports on the planet. We could pack up the car and drive the two thousand plus kilometers home. But necessary stops along the way to use restrooms in random towns that have, perhaps, not taken the spread of the virus as seriously, feels risky too. What was once a quickie 2.5 hour flight feels as achievable as climbing Mount Everest.

Despite missing our loved ones madly, I’m not so sure I want things to return to the way they were pre-pandemic. I like working from home, spending less on eating out and learning to cook outside of my limited repertoire. I prefer to be in nature and not having to put much thought into my wardrobe. I like that the simple pleasures of picking passion fruit from a neighbors garden or jumping in the ocean or kicking back with a good book and a margarita are the highlights of my week now (maybe they always were?). While I’ll be quick to hop on a plane home, head back to the theater or take in live music again the moment it’s safe to do so, I think the simplicity of life in this moment is something I’ll savor long after lockdowns have been lifted.

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Words Alone Won’t Help but Silence is Worse

It doesn’t really feel like there’s an appropriate way to address what’s happening in our city and in this country. Since moving to the US five years ago, I’ve tried to listen and observe and be patient in my hope that things might shift towards true equality, people over profits, a clear path towards change. Change the country seems so hungry for.

It’s hard not to be swallowed whole by the endless cycle of hateful content that is broadcast in real-time, every day in the palms of our hands. It also feels a little empty, posting and reposting messages of support to the communities consistently impacted by all of this hate on social media, as if to say I’ve done my part. But there doesn’t seem to be an alternative to simply using words to show the love and support I have for everyone suffering out there. Not nearly enough, but better than being silent.

To our beautiful black community

What would American culture be without black culture? Some of the greatest filmmakers, musicians, artists, entrepreneurs, the very things that define the best bits of American culture are produced by the same people who are consistently oppressed. The same incredible, resilient people who are continuously targeted and terrorized. Words are never going to be enough, but I stand with you and I’m sorry the seemingly endless cycle of hate continues.

To our police force

I appreciate that you put your life on the line every day and your job is not an easy one to execute. But there’s just too many examples, too many videos, too many murders to ignore that something needs to shift immediately. Let’s not use excessive force against the people protesting the atrocities carried out by your fellow law enforcement, but instead turn your attention to the assholes who are destroying our city.

To the brave protesters

I’m in awe of your determination and because of you, someday, the change everyone is so desperate for, will materialize. Because you made it happen. Because you risked your lives and made your voices heard. Forever in your debt and eternally grateful for your sacrifice.

To the rioters

How could you? How could you destroy our neighborhoods? How could you loot and vandalize small businesses that are barely getting by? How could you, during a pandemic in which we are still in the thick of, spread hate and violence when our city is at its most vulnerable? WHO are you? Not the Angelenos I know and love.

This photograph by Charles Fretzin hangs in our home here in LA. We found it at the Sunday flea market at Melrose and Fairfax, a neighborhood that’s been ravaged over the past few days. To me, it always felt like it represented the complexities of this city. Floating, a little bit lost, a little bit lonely with no real way through. But it also reminded me of a Rage Against the Machine album cover, “The Battle of Los Angeles,” signifying there was reason to hope and reason to fight back.

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Sending so much love to anyone who has been injured over the past few days while peacefully protesting – it’s because of you that, someday, this country will be a safe and equitable place for all.

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Things I Learned About Being a Director…After Directing My First Film

It’s been nearly a year since I put the final touches on my first film. A year since I decided to quit my job to write and be an artist fulltime. A year since I decided to face the financial unknown in the pursuit of doing what brings me the most joy, for all of the minutes of each day. It feels like just yesterday that the CMO (that’s chief marketing officer for folks outside of the corporate realm) was helping me into my Uber, with my dog and desk chachkies tucked under each arm. And now here we are, with directors around the world wondering when they’ll be behind the camera again.

I’ll say this for our current health crisis – I’ve had a lot of time to think. Despite starting a new job a few months ago that has reclaimed those 50+ hours per week I gained when stepping away from my career last year, I’ve been thinking a lot about how to move forward while hunkered down for several more months (in California, anyway). A few of the projects I wrote while on hiatus I’d really like to direct. And acceptance that a return to normalcy (whatever that means) isn’t at all on the table until a vaccine has been developed, has evoked an overwhelming desire for preparedness. Not from a place of stockpiling toilet paper or filling our pantry, but from a place of wanting to be ready when we’re able to collaborate in person again.

I learned so much about directing while on set, and even more while cutting and finishing my film. Looking back, I leveraged every resource I had to try and prepare to support our cast, and some of it was helpful. I enrolled in classes, conferences and seminars here in LA. I attended lectures delivered by accomplished directors. I did Ron Howard’s masterclass online (which, in retrospect, I would highly recommend Judd Apatow’s instead). I met with friends who have produced films and asked lots of questions. I asked around to try and get myself on set to shadow a director, to no avail, so instead stalked Jimmy Kimmel’s team around Hollywood as they shot silly segments for his show (luckily, they happened to film near my office). I held a table read with actors in LA and flew to Vancouver (where we shot the film) to have a table read with our cast. I created detailed shot lists and met with my DP to talk about what I was envisioning. Yet, none of this prepared me for what it takes to bring a story to visual form. And certainly, none of this helped me to prepare for how to work with actors.

So, if you’re preparing to direct your first film while we wait until it’s safe to do so, here’s some things I intend to do next time around that anybody can do from the comfort of their own quarantine bubble:

  • Analyze your favorite performances – watch films of a similar genre and make note of all the things you like. Every director I’ve heard speak has referenced how they were influenced by other directors and sometimes lifted the techniques of their fellow filmmakers.
  • Create a visual shot list – in addition to the detailed shot list you’ll provide to your camera department, use imagery to explain your vision, provide inspiration and examples to your DP. Pinterest is a useful tool for finding film stills and scene shots.
  • Beef up your character breakdown – dive a bit deeper into the motivations and obstacles each character is facing, but give your actors the space to create, try different variations and own their performance.
  • Create a scene breakdown – this will help explain the tone, what the characters might be thinking if there’s minimal dialogue, and help your actors feel immersed in the world you’re trying to create.
  • Virtual table reads – I can’t stress enough how helpful table reads are when you’re in pre-production, as this will help to refine your dialogue and make it sound more human. It’s also a forum for your actors to float ideas around how to deliver their performance and see the story come to life in its entirety.
  • Virtual rehearsals – if you’re on a tight indie budget, rehearsals with your cast are kind of a luxury, but quarantine or not, try doing it virtually. Google Hangout works well as the camera automatically switches to whomever is speaking.
  • Virtual meetings with your DP – review the shot list and scene breakdown, capture his or her feedback, ideas and input and adjust accordingly – this is the person in charge of the visuals of your film and your key collaborator!
  • Don’t let the minutiae of pre-production overshadow your creative process – if you’re also producing your film (like I did while working full time), it’s easy to let the many moving pieces of production suck up all your energy. Allocate time to ideate and prepare creatively as well.

When I look back to shooting our first scene, and literally not knowing when to say action or cut, to our final day of filming and feeling much more comfortable in my role, it goes without saying – directing is something you can really only learn by doing. Surround yourself with a great crew, be positive, be open and willing to pivot and above all else, make your actors feel safe and supported.

Any directors out there with additional advice, please share in the comments!

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Reflecting on Community While Happily Quarantined

I’ve been thinking a lot about gratitude and how to write about it without sounding like every other knucklehead in Los Angeles clutching their mala beads or exploiting this sacred practice to peddle premium kombucha. A perhaps cynical segue into self-reflecting on all the things I’m grateful for that seemed so trivial a few short weeks ago, but sarcasm is one of my greatest coping mechanisms and, if I do say so myself, gifts.

I’m a loner at heart, which always seems nuts to my inner tribe because I can be very outgoing amidst close friends and family. But if I don’t know you, I won’t go out of my way to engage, so all this social distancing is sort of a dream. While sarcasm is one of my gifts, embracing isolation may be my superpower. There have been periods of my life where I’ve spent months alone wandering the globe, and most recently pausing my career for 9 months to focus on writing. If it weren’t for my dog getting me out for walks and that nagging voice in my head that forces me to hit the gym, it’s fair to say I would have inadvertently been in self-quarantine before this crisis ever christened our shores.

Despite my leanings towards introversion, I do appreciate a sense of community. And in our neighborhood, that may be what defines it against other LA county enclaves. I miss our Sunday midday-to-sundown drum circles on the beach. I miss watching our local roller dancers and skateboarders entertain the crowds. I miss the usual boardwalk characters, who make a living by simply being a bit offbeat. I miss watching – and participating in — the weekly electric bike parade from Venice to Santa Monica complete with mobile DJs and boom boxes. I miss people watching and stealing snippets of an overheard conversation or a look between lovers to add color to a character in a script.

I miss live music, almost desperately. Nothing represents community to me more than the communal pleasure of people coming together to let go and revel in something that’s sole purpose is to evoke a sense of joy.

But more than anything, I miss the dark and eerie bar I write in. I miss my bartender who calls me Mrs. McDonald (my married name, something only he and my mother would do). I miss the smell of whiskey and bitters and freshly sliced citrus. I miss the regulars and the tourists who stumble in off the beach by accident and are delighted by her history. I miss my favorite doorman who’s always reading hyper-intellectual novels while he passively cards patrons as they pass through the door. I miss the entire ritual, something I’ll never take for granted again.

Look, LA has admittedly rubbed off on me. I have a symbol tattooed on my wrist that is meant to be the universal marker for gratitude, for fuck sake. But I’m a spiritual person and have always engaged in daily gratitude rituals. In this moment in time, though, they feel more meaningful than ever.

Venice Beach Drum Circle

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The Upside of Rejection

Rejection comes in many forms, doesn’t it? It’s sending a message to your match on Bumble to notice you’re suddenly unmatched seconds later. It’s having a recruiter view your LinkedIn profile for a dream job only to never hear back. It’s making eyes at the cute guy across the bar to realize he’s eying up the woman (or man) standing behind you. It’s wanting a snuggle from your dog and having them prefer to curl up with your spouse. Okay, that last one isn’t really rejection. Maybe your spouse has bacon in their pocket? Probably.

Point is, rejection is all around us. All the time. And it can feel end of times horrible. Like falling down a dark hole or being buried alive. Or, it can uncover something really meaningful. Without sounding too sunshiny, which is not really my style anyway, I’ve been thinking a lot about the latter.

But first, here’s the thing…

Show business is fucking tough. It’s likely that doesn’t come as a surprise to most people, hence why most people don’t pursue it. Aside from the financial instability that comes with chasing something so volatile and elusive, there’s an emotional side to it too. Pouring one’s heart and soul into something, in some cases pulling from very personal experiences, all in the name of creating art that could one day reach a receptive audience is the holy grail. I’d like to think it’s why most people do it. But in order to reach that holy grail, to come even marginally close to making a viable living as a screenwriter or director or actor or any other discipline that involves storytelling, you have to get really comfortable with the word no. Or, no thanks. Or, I’ll pass. Like, having someone rub your head while telling you a story, comfortable. Like, laying in a hammock on a hot summer’s day and gently swaying in the cool breeze, comfortable. Like, having Betty White hold you and tell you everything is going to be okay, comfortable. Comfy.

I’ve always been told, the best way to break in (if you’re a screenwriter) is to just keep writing! And this is 50% sound advice. You need to build up your arsenal of polished projects. You can’t go out into the entertainment market with only one script. You need several. Most literary managers will suggest a minimum of four projects. And not first drafts either, those little babies need to be fully baked. You need to engage script readers, pay for industry evaluations, host table reads, have friends read your material, edit, rewrite and repeat. As this writer/director aptly put it on TwitterEditing is the slow process of losing your fucking mind so that the characters might have their own.

AMEN, sir. And this is only step one. Once your babies are ready to be released into the cruel cruel world, you ­– as their creator – must hustle and network and foster relationships (meaningful relationships) and pitch and schlepp your wares around Hollywood until someone sees something in your project that previously only you could see. Until you get a YES. This could come in many forms, of course. It could be a yes to reviewing your material. Even better, a yes to producing and/or financing your material. Or a yes, I’d like to option or purchase your material. All of that is a delicious crack into the unbreakable bubble that seems to surround this industry.

Since leaving my job in June to focus on screenwriting full-time (or as long as my bank account would allow), my metaphorical babies felt ready to be revealed last September, and so the door knocking fully commenced. Two features and two pilots (both with series bibles). In the past few months I’ve been dedicated to networking, meeting new friends for coffee, leaning on existing friends to introduce me to producers and managers and scheduling as many pitch meetings as I could manage. I’ve also been submitting a short film I wrote, produced, directed and self-funded to film festivals across North America. Here’s the part of this blog post where I bust out some stats…

Rejection by the numbers

Number of meetings I’ve secured with potential literary managers – 2

Number of literary managers I’ve signed with – 0 (you only need one, btw)

Number of film festivals I’ve submitted to – 27

Number of festivals that have said no thank you (so far) – 14

Number of film and television projects I’ve been pitching – 4

Number of pitches I have delivered – 19

Of those pitches, number of development execs who agreed to review my material – 6

Number of dev execs who reviewed my material and decided to pass – 2

As you can see, a lot of grinding needs to take place in order to bump up your odds and find that one YES to kickstart your career. Not that the hustle ever ends, even if you come out of the gate with a financial or critical hit. But it definitely helps.

Here’s the secret to all of this, tho

Returning to my initial point about uncovering something meaningful amidst all this rejection – FEEDBACK. With each and every no, I’ve received some really constructive and helpful advice. Ways to elevate my stories, pick up the pacing, develop my characters, possible plot twists and ways to drive home what my protagonists have at risk but also what motivates them. It’s made me a better writer.

So, if you’re a screenwriter and you’ve made it this far (in this lengthy blog post but also in your own creative process), I can’t tell you how life changing a regular dose of rejection can be. It could be the very thing that helps you sell your first script.

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Will the Real LA Hipsters Please Stand Up?

I’ve never fancied myself a hipster. Never once have I made coffee by way of pour-over vs. my durable DeLonghi espresso machine. I don’t sip alkaline water from a bottle with an amethyst protruding from it’s base nor do I support white 90s Reebok sneakers worn with floral frocks.

By definition, I always felt that I rated rather low on the hipster spectrum quotient. Per urban dictionary, “hipsters are people who try too hard to be different by rejecting anything they deem to be too popular. Ironically, so many other people also try too hard to be different that they all wind up being the exact same, so hipsters aren’t actually different at all.”

I assure you, I’m the only woman in my neighborhood wearing zebra print H&M stretch pants, a worn-out rock shirt and Adidas slides while walking my dog each morning. Zebra print, not because animal prints were haute this year, but because I find them slimming. A rock shirt, not because it’s still trendy (mom word) but because I a) actually went to the show or b) worked in the music biz for a minute and got tons of free shit. Adidas slides, not because they were considered poolside chic a few years ago, but because I’ve wrecked my achilles tendon from walking around barefoot and need some sort of arch support.

Hold up. Is it happening? Am I blending into the very psychographic segment I’ve always lovingly poked fun at? The same people Portlandia brilliantly portrayed as moody millennials who essentially morph into the same, ethically sourced character? Am I actually okay with men wearing wingtips without socks?!

It dawned on me, while walking my dog in the aforementioned outfit this morning, that maybe I’ve bought into all this shit. Did I mention she’s a rescue*? From the same place Olivia Wilde and Jason Sudeikis adopted their dog? God help you should you enter an LA dog park with a pure bred, for you will be socially ostracized the same way one might if they were wearing a MAGA hat (in our neighborhood, anyway).

We live in Venice, which over the past 10 years has transformed from gangbanger territory to THEE place to be seen whilst nibbling on gluten-free avo toast. Our home is outfitted in macramé, mid-century furniture and what feels like a forest of potted cacti. We even took desert chic to the next level by purchasing a plot of land near Joshua Tree.

I’ve adopted rituals like charging my crystals in the sun, sleeping with rose quartz and placing citrine in my locally made hemp bralette before pitching development executives my scripts. I have a clairvoyant tarot reader instead of a therapist and I’ve traded americanos for cold brew and creamy nitro.

While I consider myself a lighter, subtler flavor of hipster compared to the dedicated devotees of Silverlake, DTLA and Atwater Village, my hipster tendencies do exist. I like being served my activated charcoal smoothie with a positive affirmation. I like listening to Mac DeMarco while journaling my feelings in a moleskin notebook. I like Instagramming #streetart and find it pleasing when my husband grows out his beard. And I guess that’s my healing buddha beads to bear.

*Adopt don’t shop, not because it’s trendy (mom word again) but because it’s the kind and ethical thing to do.

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Groupie is Not a Four-Letter Word

I’ve always mused that I was born in the wrong decade. Or, rather, in my twenties during the wrong decade. If I could pull a Midnight in Paris and pick any era to live during those impressionable years, it would most certainly be the mid-sixties to mid-seventies. And it would be spent cavorting about in a carefree manner along the Sunset Strip and the hills of Laurel Canyon in Los Angeles.

I’ve never taken a Hollywood tour, not even before I became a resident of this mad city. Never climbed to the top of an open-air, double decker bus to drive by celebrity homes or snap blurry photos while bombing down Hollywood Boulevard. It’s not really my jam in any city, especially the one I now call home base. But there is one tour I’ve been dying to indulge in. Less so a tour and more of a curation of rock and roll history and Hollywood lore. Pamela Des Barres’ rock tour has been on my wish list for a long time, and spending an afternoon with Miss P was more mystical and goose-bump-inducing than I ever imagined.

When she rocked up to meet her group of rock revelers in front of Amoeba Music on Sunset, she emerged from her rented passenger van the way an angel might rise from the ether. Dressed head-to-toe in flowing lace and creamy textiles, complete with a shiny star fashioned on her cheek. She literally glows, causing one to question, is it her aura or just the positive energy she omits – or both? There’s something special about this pint-sized pixie of a hippie chick, and I’m not the only one to feel it. Jimmy Page, Keith Moon, Chris Hillman, Jim Morrison, Mick Jagger…her roster of lovers is that of rock gods, all seemingly as taken with her as I was (am, have always been).

I credit my parents for having exceptional taste in music, which turned me on to what I feel is one of the best eras of music and also what I consider to be the golden age of Hollywood. Give me The Doors residency at the Whisky a Go Go and mobs of kids converging on The Strip over pin-curls, red lips and mobster-fleeced movie execs any day. But when I saw Cameron Crowe’s Almost Famous, something inside me bubbled to the surface. His depiction of that era felt so real to me, it was as though I had been there in a past life and was reliving it while watching my worn VHS copy from my futon in my very first apartment.

Fast forward to my first year in LA, and I began to devour autobiographies of that era. Most notably, Rebel Heart by Bebe Buell and I’m With the Band: Confessions of a Groupie by Pamela Des Barres, along with an abundance of supplementary reading (Life, by Keith Richards, Scar Tissue by Anthony Keidis*). This inspired a script that I wrote titled East and West, the story of two young women who struggle to carve out their own paths in life while, unbeknownst to each other, are entangled with the same famous musician.

Joining Miss Pamela’s tour was, in part, a way to research this era I’d fantasized and written about. To hear from THE SOURCE exactly how it felt to be part of that storied time. What it was like to spend time in Frank Zappa’s Laurel Canyon homes (pre and post fire) or to act as accomplice to petty vandalism instigated by The Who’s notorious, late drummer. To be among the first humans privy to the greatness that is Led Zeppelin II from one’s own apartment, as Page and Plant made notes on the arrangement of the music. But it was also to see this great era of Hollywood – and music – through her eyes and spirited storytelling, which pulls no punches, except that tour participants are not to ask who had the largest member and who was the best lover. Fair enough.

Lucky for me, the other folks on our 14-person tour were relatively quiet, so I had the opportunity to ask Miss P all the questions that have been burning inside me for years. Questions like…

Does she think women and the magnetic people of that era, who inspired some of the greatest music of all time, were given enough credit for their contribution as both muse but also soother of souls. Simply put, no way. In fact, she takes credit for inspiring the Outlaw Movement where artists like Waylon Jennings (former lover of Miss P) and Willie Nelson grew their hair out to resemble the rock stars of that era, which evolved into a subgenre of music that combines rock a folk rhythms.

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Gene Simmons credits the GTOs for inspiring his band’s signature makeup.

Her thoughts on Oliver Stone’s depiction of Jim Morrison in his biopic The Doors. While she didn’t take issue with Val Kilmer’s performance, she said the film portrayed Jim as more of a philanderer than he really was and that the casting of Pamela (played by Meg Ryan) was way off, as his real-life partner was a “tough chick.” She also mentioned that there was a lot of suspicion around the cause of Jim’s death among people who knew him, and that perhaps the body was placed in the bathtub where he was found. (Ed. note: no autopsy was ever performed).

Her thoughts on Quentin Tarantino’s depiction of Hollywood in ’69 in his film Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood. She loved it and confirmed he did a great job recreating all the iconic places we see throughout the film, including the Aquarius Theater, which still has the murals Tarantino restored for the film in all their psychedelic splendor. She read us a passage from I’m With the Band here, recounting the time she was rolling around with Jim Morrison in the rafters until he was called to stage to perform (it was the Hullabalo Club then).

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While on the topic of film, I asked her what she thought of David Caffrey’s film Grand Theft Parsons, about the death and burial of her late friend Gram Parsons. She hated it and thought it was full of inaccuracies. Then she remembered a map Gram had drawn her to his home in Laurel Canyon, something she stumbled upon recently in her treasure trove of rock memorabilia, so we cruised up there to take a peek.

How she feels about the terms ‘groupie’ and ‘band-aid’. She embraces being called a groupie and her designation as queen among them, however she’s not down with the negative connotation attached to the popularized term. She doesn’t see it as someone desperate for the attention of a musician, but rather, someone who chooses to exist among them. An enthusiast completely committed to the music, despite having a fling here and there. She hates the term band-aid and doesn’t remember anyone ever uttering the word, although Cameron Crowe recalls Portland-born groupie Pennie Trumbull using it. She and Miss P, along with Bebe Buell, inspired the character in his film.

Current bands or artists she’s into. She loves The Struts and Jack White, although she feels like White hasn’t hit his full potential yet and we’re still in for something groundbreaking from him.

What was it about Los Angeles in the 60s and 70s that inspired and cultivated such incredible artists?! She credits the warmth and chill Southern California vibe for creating a free-wheeling, braless, barefoot and happy atmosphere where people simply felt free to create.

Perhaps my favorite story of all is how Pamela first met Chris Hillman of The Byrds. While standing outside the Whisky one night, her friends were trying to devise a way into the club. The stage door backed out right onto Sunset in those days, so Miss P simply suggested – “why don’t we just knock?” And she did. And Chris Hillman of all people answered the door, and invited her in. And the rest is rock and roll history.

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*The first few chapters of Scar Tissue has some amazing stories on The Strip, Rainbow Room, Sonny and Cher and beyond during the 60s and 70s, as told by a very young Anthony Keidis.

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On Quitting Your Day Job

I began my career many moons ago after living in Australia for a year. While in Oz, I took odd jobs to fund my trip as I made my way around the country, every time I was running short on money or on the brink of begging my parents to pump cash into my account. Server, bartender, cleaner, shuttle bus driver – you name it.

Since then, I’ve had a satisfying professional career and I’ve met some incredible people along the way, many of them lifelong friends. And one mantra I’ve always maintained, no matter what, is to never quit your day job.

This, of course, applies particularly to people who are pursuing something creative or high risk that potentially won’t earn a viable income. I’ve always preached, especially to my creative friends, the importance of remaining gainfully employed while in pursuit of your dreams.

For some, they get lucky early on, and figure out how to blur the lines between day job and dream job. For the rest of us, it’s a delicate dance between committing fully to what feeds your belly while still carving out time for what feeds your soul.

I thought I had this down. While being relatively satisfied in my day jobs, I’ve always made time – dedicated time – to my creative pursuits. For a while it was freelance journalism and about five or six years ago, before moving to Los Angeles, it became screenwriting.

In LA, I’ve worked out a sort of writing schedule or ritual. Every Wednesday and Saturday night, for about two hours, I settle in to my favorite table in my favorite bar in Venice (the oldest bar in Los Angeles) where my favorite bartender has a cold glass of California chardonnay waiting for me. Like. Clockwork.

Last year, I decided to turn one of my scripts into a short film, something I produced, directed and self-funded while maintaining the most demanding job of my career to date. And I discovered how much I loved the experience of collaborating with a diverse group of creatives and the journey of bringing a story from page to screen. Meanwhile, as I was shooting said film, I turned 40. I’m not sure if this is related because I hate the idea of having some cliché midlife crisis, but I decided to quit my day job to develop more projects for film and TV. I guess this was my Ferrari moment?

I’m a writer first and foremost, no doubt about it. I’m happiest sat in the darkest corner of the darkest bar observing and writing. Much like the dark little London pub I’m sitting in right now as I write this. But there is something thrilling about the challenge of directing, working with actors and translating a script into a moving picture.

So here I am, nearly two months in to a self-imposed professional hiatus, having followed none of my own advice and quit my job. My goal is to complete as many projects as possible by the end of summer to pitch, develop or sell. And given I live in the real world and not the fictitious scenarios of my characters, I’ll need to land another day job soon. And that’s okay, cuz a girl’s gotta eat. But I’m grateful I was in a position to give myself the space and time to pursue these creative urges. Even more grateful to have a loving partner who understands and supports me.

I still stand by the mantra of not quitting your day job, but if you can take a little break to give your dreams your full attention, give it a shot. You never know what interesting opportunities may bubble up.

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Everything I Learned as a First-time Filmmaker

Production on my first film wrapped nearly 3 months ago, and it’s taken me this long to sit down and reflect and put into words how it all felt. Not a necessary ritual of course, but it’s how I process things. The swirl of emotion isn’t as raw all these weeks later, but strange things stand out about that day. Like the vibrant colors of the autumn leaves and the rain that waited until the exact moment we packed up to leave our final location. My husband stuffing my pockets with heat packs to then give to our freezing actors. Uttering the words “that’s a wrap,” something my crew had to prompt me to do because the rookie director forgot.

I’m writing this from my favorite cafe in Topanga Canyon. The last time I came here to write, I was knees deep in pre-production, sifting through dozens of emails from prospective assistant directors and lighting techs. I wish I could go back in time for one minute to assure myself that everything would work out better than we ever dreamed it would. But that’s all part of the journey, isn’t it? Venturing into the unknown and all of the anxiety and self-soothing by way of chardonnay that comes with it.

I didn’t go to film school. I studied business and have maneuvered my way around an endless list of corporations over the past two decades. I didn’t know the first thing about producing or directing, but I do know what hard works looks like. I know how to listen and collaborate with people and be completely open to failing. I know what it’s like to work long hours, manage large-scale projects and stay within budget. So I suppose my day job prepared me for the hustle that’s required in indie filmmaking. But I never could have prepared for what the experience would actually feel like. Film school or not, you kind of have to jump in and absorb all the learnings you can. Sink or swim, as they say.

Whether you’re a first-timer like me, or you’ve been at it for a while, here’s my list of personal anecdotes I hope are helpful to someone out there, just as all the hundreds of film blogs and articles I devoured were for me.

Do it yourself. To quote writer/director/producer Paul Haggis, “Please don’t ask me to read your script; what’s important is that YOU believe in it.” I wrote, produced, directed, self-funded and co-casted my film (on top of maintaining my day job) and while I’ve never worked so fucking hard in all my existence, I’m proud to say I made it happen. You don’t need to wait until someone else believes in your project. Get out there and get it done.

Invest in a talented crew. If you’re indie, your budget is undoubtedly tight. I feel you. But, as our brilliant cinematographer reinforced, the only way to successfully make your days is to invest in your team. If you have friends and family who work in film who are open to joining your crew, all the better! That was the case for me and I am forever grateful.

Leverage your personal network. Per above, I was fortunate to fill some of the spots on my crew with friends and family. But remember, not all roles require a background in film. My husband and dad were exceptional PAs/pedestrian traffic facilitators. My mom catered craft services. All of our background actors were friends and family. A friend designed our storyboards while another — who has a background in entertainment — helped me hold auditions and source our cast. More friends helped set up and tear down our set. It takes a god damn village, so don’t be afraid to ask for some help.

Ask questions and be vulnerable. Again, leaning on my personal network, I set up informational meetings with friends of friends who worked in film and production and made no secret of my lack of experience. Don’t be afraid to ask what may seem like basic questions. Be prepared and be mindful of people’s time. And say thank you!

Communicate your vision clearly. I can’t stress the value of over-preparing enough. Create your shot lists well in advance and get feedback from your DP and your editor. Speak simply and succinctly when rehearsing a scene. Provide crystal clear feedback to your actors and balance your feedback with praise, pointing out everything that worked. Film sets are no place for the longwinded, and thankfully, that is not a verbal ailment I suffer from.

Be open to feedback and pivoting. The one thing you can count on in filmmaking is last minute changes. Things will shift to accommodate timing or logistics or a million other constraints you may be facing. We shot in a tiny 16×20 storefront for 2 full days, so I know what I’m talking about. Be fluid and be open, as sometimes an unexpected pivot can lead to a better outcome.

Theater actors make great film actors. This life-changing advice came from a few different sources. One, writer/director Sean Baker, who suggested tapping in to the theater community to source your cast during a Film Independent panel discussion. A few months later, an actor and friend of a friend (thank you personal network!) suggested the same thing, specifically a theater program in Vancouver where I sourced three of our actors.

Most of all, be present. Those 14-hour days go by quickly so try and take a moment to really absorb what’s happening. I’ll quote one more director, Greta Gerwig, who I saw speak while we were in pre-production and these words permeated my subconscious throughout production.

“You only get to not know what you’re doing once. Don’t miss it, because it’s incredibly powerful.”

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Riding in Cars with Americans

I commute to work from Venice into the heart of Hollywood, usually four days a week, to attend to my day gig. Luckily, my employer offers me the magical reprieve of working from home Fridays from the comfort of our little Zen Den, barefoot and braless, just as I prefer life to be.

I have yet to obtain my California driver’s license (oopsie) or a car in which to use said license (double oopsie), so I rely on ride sharing to get to and from work (blogger’s note: I have a driver’s license, just not one for the country in which I currently reside…gimme a break, I’m working on it). Basically, I’ve become incredibly familiar with the various features – base model and otherwise – of the Toyota Prius.

I spend 1.5 – 2 hours per day, 4 days a week, traveling with total strangers, not unlike a train or bus, but slightly closer quarters. Sometimes this is a real fuck job, you guys. Like, if a driver has mild to moderate road rage or their car straight up stanks or they love love love EDM music. For all the time I participate in this shared economy mode of transport, though, most of my rides are just fine. What’s made this style of commuting particularly interesting is the stories I hear from my drivers.

Like the overweight man with barely there bits of slicked back hair who graciously allowed me to bring my 7 lb. dog along for the ride. Our conversation started out light – as any ride share to rider repartee usually does – until we started talking about rescue dogs (which ours happens to be) and how he was on the brink of suicide after losing everything when he failed to maintain the family business bequeathed to him by his parents. An Italian deli that had funded his family for more than two generations. He had adopted a rescue a few months prior and his desire to care for the dog saved him.

Like the cool, rocker chick with tats covering every inch of her forearms who has an adult child but looks way too young for that to be possible. She notices my accent and proudly I tell her where I’m from. Vancouver, BC – mecca of the modern world, if you can handle the winter rain and cost of living. She then reminisces about touring with her band in Canada and recording at Vancouver’s infamous Mushroom Studios, only to have her band’s van stolen while they were in the studio, with songwriting journals and equipment in the back. I wonder if the fucking thug ever read her lyrics or just tossed them away after pawning the gear?

Speaking of Canada, not once but twice now I’ve been picked up by a fellow who resides in Orange County but is originally from Calgary. The only ride share driver to ever pick me up in a pick-up truck. The first time was a trip – pun intended! – as I noticed he was listening to a Canadian hockey match-up streaming from an app on his phone and immediately we bonded. The second time I sat in the front seat (something I never, ever do). Maybe Canadians inadvertently attract one another when residing in foreign lands? I’d like to think so.

The wee little fella who resembled McLovin who picked me up one night from the Directors Guild of America. I have no idea how his wee little footsies managed to reach the pedals, however, he did point out that Justin Bieber was in the car next to us as we waited for the light to switch to green on Sunset Boulevard (blogger’s note: Superbad was written by Seth Rogen, from Vancouver, BC – we’re literally everywhere, LA).

In my many shared journeys I’ve come across some lovely Mexican folks, our resilient North American counterparts, who I have nothing but love and empathy for in this fucked up era of you know who (I’ll never allow his name to grace the pages of this blog). After several drivers cancelled on me trying to make my way up the busy PCH from the Getty Villa, Carlos came through and kind of saved my ass. His English was still a work in progress, but he was keen to listen to my music. We plugged in one of my road trip playlists – the likes of Tom Petty, Led Zepp, Queens and Foos – and Carlos knew all the words to most of the songs. It was a slow grind up the coast that afternoon, but Carlos and I sang along at the top of our lungs and for the first time, maybe ever, traffic didn’t bother me at all.

I had never met anyone from Syria before until Shadi, a handsome young acting student from Damascus, came into view in the rear view mirror. A premiere was unfolding on Hollywood Boulevard so we got to talking about movies and a screenplay he’s working on. Shadi mentioned he always wanted to travel to Canada but had to wait to obtain US citizenship, given his asylum status. I earnestly asked him about Syria and if he still had family there, or if they had all joined him in the US. Everyone but his sister. His family has been struggling for 2 years to get her into Lebanon safely to fly to the US. He then told me the most chilling story of his escape. How his father paid a driver a handsome sum of money to drive Shadi to the Turkish border, a route also known as the Road of Death. Signs line the desert road taunting and terrorizing travelers with messages like “Smile, a sniper is watching.” When Shadi made it to the border he encountered hundreds of families who had sold everything to make the trip only to be denied entry and left stranded, with nothing but the clothing on their backs. Elderly folks, children – it didn’t matter. Shadi remembers a Muslim family being denied entry in front of him and he making it through after the border guard confirmed he was Christian.

As we turned the corner towards our home, I told Shadi he should write a screenplay about his story. He told me he was working on another script about women refugees that he felt was more important to tell.

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