authors, creating character, creative inspiration, family, Life in General

The Waiting Room.

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I finished a draft of a new book and got it out to my agent this week, now he submits to publishers and we wait. This is always a strange limbo-time for me, when the book is picked up, I will go back to work on edits with the editor, about a six month process on and off. It’s time, I know, to start a new book.I’m not person who can not work or create constantly, but I don’t yet know what that story will be. Right now it’s a fleeting suggestion, a chalky outline, a wild bird without a cage. I think I see it! No, it’s flown too high. There it goes, disappearing into the thick tangle of my mental forest, where tangents shoot out in a thousand directions like tree branches, and vague concepts are still dripping with Spanish moss and the path is overgrown with ferns and lichen. I cannot sneak up on it. I cannot trap it, I can’t even see it clearly yet. No matter how hard I peer and strain, no binoculars will be able to pick that avian idea out  and watch it preen until it’s ready to show itself.

What I need is more patience, and I need it right now!!

So, I’m waiting, kind of. I’m waiting even as my brain works, sorting ideas, paying attention to the world around me, watching behaviours, feeling empathy, mixing traits into characters, mentally testing words and scenes.  I think of this time as an empty space that needs to be filled. We can fill that time and space with junk and busyness, or we can be zen and keep that brain space open with meditation and different creative endeavours. I try to do both, which is so me.

I have kids, husband and extended family, so a certain amount of my time will always go to their needs. I like that. I love to cook and care for my home, volunteer at school, and plant in the garden, and I’m grateful for a small bit of open time to do those things, but it’s so easy to  get overrun with a thousand errands and little activities, that pretty soon your are like a hoarder, with your ‘house’ filled with junk that isn’t of any value. Having a list of things to do, and getting some of them accomplished,  gives you purpose, of a sort. But writers, who regulate their own time must be vigilant! It’s far too easy to let your life be hijacked by those week-eaters, those endless tasks, those…we’ll call them mandatory or flippant activities. Some of them are must dos, some of them are fun, and some of them are great little goals, I don’t deny that, but they aren’t what we do.

Like most very active people, I suck at waiting. If I have to stand in line I recite back monologues, or entertain the people who are getting old near me. It gives new meaning to the phrase captive audience, they can laugh at my jokes or leave, which moves me closer to the postal worker. Either way, it’s a win! I have to fill that time and space with thought and laughter, or at least a few isometric butt tucks.

Then there’s that position that sends a thrill through us, when people lose that glazed, I hate my life expression, and perk right up. That, of course, is when you are NEXT. “I’m next!” you start shifting your feet, and feeling special, like a dog who hears the lid of the treat jar. You start salivating, I’m almost there! Sometimes I let someone else go ahead of me so I can still be next.

The best thing about waiting is finding an opportunity to explore. Whether you are exploring an idea, a space, a neighbourhood, or a period of time, there are always options for the curious. Which…I am.

That’s why this floor invited me to skate. Would I slide in my socks? Do I risk a jump or are the lighting fixtures too low? What can I do right  now with this space and time?

Anything you want. Dance, hum, make up a limerick, ask someone to tell you something about themselves, relate, share, but most of all…fill it, even if it’s with silence and stillness.

We’ve got this one life this time, never wait, BE.

I’ll be waiting for you!

Shari, June 4th, 2016.

authors, beauty, Entertainment, Life in General

Between.

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We call them goals. Those things we work toward and sometimes achieve. These ‘goals’ can be benchmark moments, work successes, projects finished, even amount of money made, and they can be good to have, but they are not now. What is now is everything in between, now is life.

I’m thinking about that today because I just finished a first draft on a new book. That doesn’t mean anywhere near done, but it’s a goal reached. I need to give it another day or two before I can go back and edit more because I need some space from it, I need it to be new when I read it again. And I have a movie out, which means some promotion, but though the film is new to viewers, it’s two years old to me. (Yes fledgling filmmakers, it can take that long for post and distribution.)

If you think about it, we’re always between something. School years, relationships, holidays, vacations, meals, moves, birthdays, work projects, and even, or especially, the big one—birth and death. Now, being between doesn’t mean we’re waiting. If you think about it, there isn’t any such thing as waiting, you just are where you are doing what you are doing right now.

Me? I took a wonderful hike along a stream, made breakfast, will spend most of the day catching up on reading for fellow authors that I’ve promised notes to, snuggle with my husband, work in the yard, and right now, I’m talking to you. All of these are things for which I’m grateful, the book is waiting to be read, critiqued, edited, changed, and smoothed, but it is hovering out there, and while it floats, while it waits to be morphed into final form and read, I’m doing something else.

Mostly breathing, which is good.

Someone asked me in an interview recently what I liked specifically about acting and writing. My answer was the same for both—connection. I write to offer others a ride into a world they would never experience, and when someone grabs on and feels the wind in their hair, then I’ve done my job. When I’m on stage and the audience is leaning in, breathing with me, they are sharing the emotions and struggles of my character. It’s magical.

So with a film out and a book pending, I do not rest. Or rather, I gather my strength from nature, family, my husband/lover, the joy of cooking, planting, creating a life of beauty and happiness. Like everyone, I have had times when it was hard to be happy, when there was stress and pressure and people trying hard to tear me down, but they never do. At fifty-five I’ve been through enough crap enough times to know that that will pass. I know now that I will move on to something else, that all my worrying and unhealthy responses do not make the difficult times pass more quickly. All it does is make it seem to take longer, and I’m busy with right now.

When I first moved to LA, I was so broke I couldn’t afford a bed. I slept on a couple of coats piled on a hardwood floor. But everyday, I would take a walk, I would find a flower, even a pretty weed, and take it home and put it in a clear glass bottle that had once contained some fancy soda. I would watch the light through the windows move across the room. I would let the elegant notes of Billy Holiday and Sarah Vaughn dance through my apartment, and write, and revel in the time alone. That’s when I first learned to meditate, and that has enriched my life beyond measure.

I may have been between jobs, between friends and relationships even, but I was glad to be there. I remember one day in particular, I went to the grocery store with about twenty bucks for food and started singing along to the music they were playing. An older man joined in, and next thing you knew we were dancing (with our carts no less) in the aisles of Ralph’s. It still brings me joy to remember that moment.

That’s why I’m ecstatic to be here. It leaves me thinking, what adventures come next? What quiet beauty or exchange with someone will I experience today? At what do I choose to look? And more importantly, what do I see within it?

Look for the moon on the water, see the wind tremble the pines, enjoy the mischievous smile on a child’s face while they play, notice someone taking a moment to be kind, strangers conversing, laughing together, take in compassion and love and humour.

You have an infinite number of choices, but really, to be happy, what choice do you have?

 

Shari, April 3, 2016

 

 

 

 

acting, creative inspiration, Life in General, New Novels, writing

Leap of Faith

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Jumping in.

And so…I find myself beginning a new book, which leads me to the question, “Where does inspiration come from?”

The truth is I don’t know. I don’t know who the characters will be, what they will say or do. I don’t know the plot yet, I don’t know if the message I want to get across is worth a plug nickel. Hell, I don’t even know what a plug nickel is.

Which means that the simple answer is— The best place to find inspiration is to start with what I don’t know.

Powerful words. “I don’t know.” That simple phrase means that the world is open, that you are ready and eager to learn. It means that you have questions and curiosity, that you are still open to be filled with wonder, to be surprised, delighted, to not judge, to wait and see.

To take a leap.

If you already know everything, or pretend to, you can learn nothing.

In truth, those words, “I don’t know,” have been a game changer for me. Earlier in life it seemed so important to know everything, to be right, to be knowledgable, to appear wise. Which meant, I wasn’t. “I don’t know” set me free.

I know of one author who titles every new work, “Shitty first draft.” This gives her license to just get it all down, then she can go back and make it an ‘acceptable first draft’ and finally, ‘a really good first draft.’ After that, well, as we writers know, the editors will have at it.

I don’t label my drafts, I’m still too timid to put the word ‘shitty’ at the top from fear it might seep down into my work. Silly, I know, but there it is. Words mean something, they have power, so when I start listing ideas for a new novel, I put them in a file titled, “The Best Book Ever.” A girl can dream.

I learned so much from the acting process about improving, enriching and ‘fleshing out’ characters that I don’t fear my first tentative, feeble efforts will not improve. As I learn a part, let’s say, Viola in Twelfth Night, I begin to understand what the words that were written by the great bard really mean, to me anyway. As I go through the rehearsal process, I absorb the emotions and feelings of the other actors and as their characters come to life, they inform mine. My homework and history inform me, the stage informs me, the words themselves inform me, and mostly, the emotion takes hold.

It’s the same with writing. Though in this case, it is the emotions that are finding the words and story to express themselves. Either way, I must leap, dare, jump and throw myself into the ether, from which all things come. And I trust that, while I might hit the ground really hard and roll, I’ll probably land safely, in a new place, unknown to me before now, and if it’s a good place, a place worth visiting, I will share it with others.

This is like life, whenever I think I need to change or try to understand someone and their (to me) bad behavior, I have to remind myself that I haven’t lived their childhood, I haven’t woken up from their nightmares, I haven’t listened to whatever abuse was heaped upon them, ergo…I cannot, ever, understand them. All I can do is honor their journey, understand that their limitations are not the same as mine.

We all want to connect, to be understood. It’s why most of us write, or act, or play music. We want to connect, to be heard and understood. But in truth, we don’t. We relate, we appreciate, we sympathize, but we do not ever fully understand. Our adventure belongs to us, it is unique, and so is theirs.

And that’s okay. It’s better than okay, it’s brilliant. It’s what makes us unique and more than that, it’s what makes us need each other. Our journeys and our paths are different, but our need for other humans binds us all.

We are alike, but we are not the same.

Isn’t that wonderful? It feels like it to me, but then I don’t know how you feel about it.

Shari, October 15, 2014

Acting & Experiences, creating character, creative inspiration, mental illness, writing

Trigger Happy

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Did you know you have pathways in your brain? Learned reactions to physical and mental stimuli? Isn’t that fascinating?

Here’s how it works. When your senses perceive something, (and perceive is the operative word, as we all perceive things differently) Certain chemical and electrical responses trigger in you brain and receptors open up, creating a kind of path that becomes the path most traveled. These receptors create different physical results, fear, tension in the neck, nausea, well-being, whatever it may be. We learn these responses, in fact, we memorize them, and if we don’t alter them, we loose the ability to take the path less traveled.

Now, I’ve reduced this to a ridiculously simplified version of the science, but being neither a physicist nor a neurosurgeon, I have to use the cliff notes, as it were. And here’s where it gets interesting for writers, actors, and well…humans.

For both writers and actors, these reactions to stimuli are what we would call ‘character traits.’ As an actor, you can use this to develop a much more rounded character to fill out your role. As a writer, you can actually explain, or intimate how past reactions control your character now.

For a human, to change those patterns we have to un-program and retrain ourselves. And this is difficult, we’re dealing with long term chemical and behavioral training. Pavlov’s emotions, let’s call them. In the case of the famous doctor, he would ring a bell, and the dog salivates. In someone who was abused as a child, the sound of people shouting may trigger an intense panic that has nothing to do with the actual situation at hand.

Our triggers are many, but every once in a while, we hit one that rests at our core. For me, the idea that I never can do enough, be good enough, that I should have to take care of everyone and everything that comes up, and if I don’t, I’m not good enough, that I’ve failed, is a biggie. Of course, it’s impossible, I’ve set the stakes too high to ever win at that one, so that particular ‘bell’ is no longer useful to me. This response is too ingrained to fix with conscious reasoning, knowing I have this issue doesn’t stop the reaction. I’m a puppet and the strings are tight.

So I went to someone who could help. I worked with a woman who does a procedure called ‘tapping.’ She is a therapist, and versions of this therapy are used to help soldiers with PTSD and people with childhood traumas. We talk about what the frustration or feeling is, identify where it is in my body, name it, and then she proceeds to talk about it, by having me repeat and reaffirm a different thought process while ‘tapping’ at different random spots on my face, hands and arms. The tapping interrupts the programmed response, allowing new pathways to open.

It was amazing. And I think it helped me quite a bit. But the point of this blog is to talk about those pathways and how they define characters, just as they define us as people. Isn’t that what we want from our performance or our fictional characters? I know I want them to ring as true as possible, and to be distinct from each other.

Let’s take some examples. Let’s say I’m playing a character who has a certain phobia, say, fear of dogs. Now, something, at some time, triggered and trained this character to behave that way. So, when I create my history of the character, (and this is acting homework, it has nothing to do with what is written in the script) I would include one or more experiences where I was bitten or other wise frightened by canines, and my body learned the response of breaking into a sweat and tensing for battle every time I hear a dog bark.

Or…let’s say….I’m writing a character in a book who is loving and motherly. I create a history for her where she grew up around lots of siblings and extended family and there was constant laughter and noise. This woman would sit at a restaurant and hear children bickering at the next table and it would create a real warmth in her chest because her conditioned response to the sound is happiness and safety.

Those are simple examples, but do you see how this kind of thing is influencing your life? How can you use mental triggers to round out your characters? Try an exercise where you have two people meet, and they both have very different reactions to something that happens to them. If you stick with the ‘why’ they behave this way, you will find that they are distinct from each other, and it will open new avenues of how they understand, misinterpret, or relate with each other.

This process will also help you deal with difficult people in your life. On of the hardest things to do is to not take it personally when other people treat you badly. But it isn’t about you, it’s about them.

When people can sense the restrictions that their emotional past puts on them, they can sometimes, through exploring it deeply and feeling it fully, change it. This is called an epiphany, and it is one of the peaks of a character driven story. And that is a very useful tool. But stay aware, it’s not going to happen just because someone else tells them they are wrong. Oh no. People will die rather than be wrong, so they will fight to justify and prove they are right, even if it means continuing to be deeply unhappy. People have to come to life-changing revelations on their own, from inside.

So for today, be quiet for a moment and feel what’s going on inside, then ask yourself what that is, the first answer will not be the one, keep asking, and you’ll find it. Then notice how that reaction, physical sensation responds to different situations as you go about your day.

Fascinating stuff. I love acting and writing, but mostly I love being human and connecting with others. Wouldn’t it be lovely if we all understood the strings that bind and control us, because only then can we cut them and braid a stronger connection with ourselves and others.

If you stick with this, not only will your characters fill out, but you will begin the process of understanding that greatest paradigm in your life. You—and all that has gone into making you unique.

Hey, maybe you should write your story!

Shari, September 11, 2014

Life in General

An Energetic Life

 

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Drawing joy and strength from the beauty around me.

Recently, and not for the first time, I had someone contact me and ask about maintaining what appears to be my high energy level. (Thank you Whitney.) It is true that I always seem to have had more than my share of energy, hence my propensity for running, jumping and climbing trees when I was a kid, my nickname, The Shari Action Doll, when I was modeling, and now, in my fifties, my delight in playing hide and seek with the kids for hours on end.

I have always found it easier to maintain a more productive schedule when I can stay active, and as a writer, that isn’t always easy. Yes, there are days when I can write for eight hours and feel annoyed when I have to interrupt the flow for something as mundane as food or a bathroom break, but those days are not the norm. Usually, I find it best if I write in the morning, preferably after a hike, and use the afternoon for editing or reviewing because my rpms seem to slow from a roar to a casual idle. If I don’t do some kind of physical activity before I begin writing, my endurance drops drastically. The human body was not designed to sit behind a computer screen, it was designed to walk, to run, to hunt, to gather, to keep moving, and so we should.

I also have days when I’m dragging. When, mid-hike, I could lie down and take a nap. When, regardless of deadlines and desires, I simply cannot find the strength to create or even take much of an interest.

But those times are usually caused by some kind of depression brought on by general bad behavior of the world around me, or someone specific, even me when my ego or anger gets the best of me. I cannot, for instance, watch the news and then go to sleep. Meanness, cruelty, aggression and apathy all affect me adversely and strongly. I’m super sensitive to stupidity, selfishness and rudeness, as though I have allergies to mean people, and confrontations drain and exhaust me much the way a fever or a flu would. That does not mean I won’t meet those challenges and take them on, just that it costs life force to fight evil, especially in ourselves.

Getting away from the greedy suck of depression, for me, has several steps. First, acknowledge it, and the effect it is having on you physically. Do you feel weak? Are your shoulders an inch higher than they should be? Does your stomach burn? Pay attention to identifying those effects and spend a few minutes thanking your body for those warning signs and then let them go by saying, “Thank you, I get the message, but I don’t need this anymore.” The second, and most important step, is do something. Anything that is active. Watching TV or talking on the phone do not count. Pot a plant, walk to the mailbox, even going out to lunch can be good, though medicating with food should be an exception not the rule. Next, count your blessings, be grateful for all that you have. If you don’t have much right now, be grateful that you have the intelligence and consciousness to be able to observe that, and line up your possibilities. Finally, set yourself a project or goal and make some small step toward it. Want to write a book? Write 20 ‘first lines,’ or make up two interesting characters out of people you know. Want to get in shape? Spend ten minutes walking in place or do some leg lifts while you are on the phone. It doesn’t, and sometimes shouldn’t, be a big or daunting first step, just something small but pointed toward your final goal. Just plain turning yourself in the right direction can be a huge step, and the fear of taking that step is often the only thing that keeps us from accomplishing our goals. It feels good to start.

Now for a few ways to keep up that energy.

 

  1. Cut back on caffeine. Go ahead and have that morning cup, but that’s it! No teas, sodas, or caffeine rich foods for the rest of the day. On top of depleting your adrenal glands, which means you have no adrenaline when you need it, caffeine interrupts your sleep patterns, and a good night’s sleep is crucial to energy.
  2. Eat well. Plenty of fresh vegetables and fruits, grains and low-fat protein. Eat smaller portions, (digesting heavy foods makes you sleepy) and eat more often to spread the fuel evenly through your day.
  3. Exercise. I cannot over-accentuate this enough. It does not have to be a excruciating trip to the crowded gym, no special equipment is required, and exerting yourself until you drip sweat, puke, or pass out are completely absurd. You need to move, to make your blood flow, to increase your heart rate until you can’t complete a full sentence, but can still hold a conversation. If you do something active for even 20 minutes a day, you will have twice as much energy. Don’t forget that a few stretches will help you keep in touch and check in with your body!
  4. Do what you love. Even if you have a job that seems to suck the soul from your body, take some time during your day to do something you love. Cook a simple recipe, stare up at the clouds, knit, polish your car, what ever it is, find something to look forward to, and if it’s something creative and productive, all the better!
  5. Hug, kiss, have sex, laugh and sing. All of these things, done in a loving sharing way, help eliminate stress and increase endorphins in your body, so you feel better, so you do more. If you are not in a relationship try putting on some music and singing from your gut. Just belt it out. If you want a quick fix, try this. Sit down, put on hand on your stomach, just below your belly button. Now, make a sound like, “Huh, huh, huh!” from there, forcing out the air. Keep doing this and eventually, I can almost guarantee, you will laugh. The physical action stimulates the response that normally results in that physical action. Just like smiling releases hormones into your body that make you feel good.

All righty then. There’s a few ideas, but I want to add this—sometimes you have to eat macaroni and cheese, cry, and go back to bed. There are times that all of us are just overwhelmed and need to hunker down and heal and rejuvenate. When you are sick, you have to pamper yourself and give your body the chance to channel its energy into healing. It’s the same sometimes for stress, depression and even lethargy, but don’t wallow!!

It’s very important to put things in perspective. The next time you allow your grievances to resonate too loudly and too long, recognize that you are identifying with being a victim. Not good. You are not a victim, you are the boss of you. Take those bitchy little complaints, make an appointment with them, and keep it!! When the allotted time come, sit those annoyances, fears and or worries down, and tell them they are not allowed to interrupt your fabulous life. After that, every time they coming knocking on your mental attitude, tell them it is not their turn and close the door. They don’t get to take up all your love and energy.

The bottom line here is, take care of yourself, look at the bright side, and do what you love!

Wishing you luck, direction, and the energy of bouncing ball!

 

Shari, April 3rd, 2014

Acting & Experiences, creating character, Entertainment, writing

Walking on Water.

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So, you want to write a book or make a film? Welcome to two of the world’s most popular clubs! We’re so pleased to have you as a member!! Ours is an inclusive club, one where the process means as much as the result. Where the novices are every bit as respected as the ‘successful.’ Are you ready?

Did you know that water represents the subconscious in your dreams, and in this blog, by the way.

If you just want to be famous, well, that’s a different organization. Not much value in the process there. I do not belong. You will pay dues for this club as well, make no mistake, though the monthly newsletter, “Pay Attention to Me!” is unreadable for anyone with creative aspirations. But, I digress.

There are two perspectives on ‘creative success’, at least two. The first is how we define ourselves to others, and the second is what brings us contentment.

So, if you are just starting out in…say filmmaking, you will probably be more focused on the world view of you, being recognized and lauded. Outward gratification. If you’ve been in the business for 30 years, you are more likely in a position to pursue projects that truly mean something to you, you may have more freedom to express your uniquely creative voice and not care as much how the world will perceive it. Inward gratification.

Ironically, perhaps, it is almost always those pure expressions and visions from the inside that strike us as an audience with the most force, and go on to stand as classics or examples of the highest quality.

If you want to make a film, write a novel or a screenplay, produce a play, or any number of other creative projects, what’s the first place to start?

Precisely because you are starting out, the tendency is to look out. What is popular? What will people like?  What will make me look good?

Whoa, put on the breaks, screech to halt, back up and let the engine idle for a minute. If it were possible to  know any of those things, every single book, film, play, and song would be a smash best-seller.

But they aren’t. Mmm…it’s a mystery.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. All you have to offer is you. The only thing that you can give—that no one else has to offer—is your voice, your vision, your work. Trying to reproduce someone else’s style, art, or visual expression will only create a cheap, and most likely inferior, imitation.

Obvious, right? So, how do you begin? Some of the best advice I ever got when I was first writing was, “Write what you would like to read.” Frankly, I didn’t have the skill to write what I truly loved at first, because I loved some of the very, very best. A good goal, but a difficult place to begin. So. As a warm-up, I chose to write what I loved on a lighter, entertaining level. My first books are designed and written to be fast-paced, exciting, funny, and page-turners with complex characters.

Now, what I want to write is different, I want it be original. I want to get into the brain of my characters and share their lives, thoughts and feelings, their very unique view of the world with you. And I want to do it with language that speaks beyond the definition of the word. I want to write mountains and tantrums and storm clouds and fits of laughter. I want to express the embracing arms of your own bed after a difficult day, the screaming inside when a bully gets away with it, a feather caught in an updraft.

So what is your goal? What do you want to read, see, hear? And more than that, how do you want to say it? I’ve offered exercises for writers, on starting characters, scenes and stories in different blogs, and some of them really work for me. Just scroll through my past blogs and you will find them.

Screenwriting/filmmaking is a different beast by nature of outlay. By that I mean both monetary expense and group participation. You need equipment to make a film, you need a crew, you need to feed that crew, you need to rent expensive editing facilities and experts in color correction, the list goes on and on. And, you may have a very clear vision of the shots you want and how to put them together, but you will still have a director of photography and an editor with brains and visions of their own. To ignore their contributions would be wasteful. Qualifier— though there must, on any film, be someone with final say. Too many cooks…. But be careful, very careful, not to let your ego deprive you of what your team has to offer.

You begin the film process by  writing—or finding—a script that resonates somehow for you, something that offers, maybe not a new or unique story, but at least a unique point of view. Next, you interview people until you find the ones who understand your vision and will support and add to it. That’s how you begin the long road of film production. And when you find those people, keep them close, pay them fairly, let them contribute, and  give them the credit they deserve. Conversely, if they moan, complain, talk behind your back, or otherwise hamper the overall production, cut them loose—with blessings. Just like in your life.

Both the arts of writing and filmmaking begin with a vision, one that should be your own, not a compilation of other’s people’s ideas. Learn from, borrow suggestions, and practice examples of the greats in your chosen field that you admire, of course!! If it weren’t for Tom Robbins, P.G. Wodehouse, and Jane Austin, I wouldn’t be a writer, because I wouldn’t love books and words so much. But I can’t be them, I can’t write them, I can only admire and gently reflect some of the things I learned from them.

Study your favorite filmmakers, directors, photographers, writers, set designers, and include them all!! Of course.

Then let it go and see what bubbles up. The ideas are there,  as is all your attention and research, under the water you’ve peered into so intently, but you need to be above that, walking on the water. You are an amazing creative force, the Great Spirit, (however you define that, Creativity, the Universe, or that somewhat polymorphic entity, ‘God’) made you unique and it is your journey. If you choose a creative life, your path is to unleash your power and your talent. So that we can all revel in it, and thank you for sharing it with us.

It’s all there, just below the surface, trust it, swim in it, and let it hold you up.

Shari, October 20th, 2012.

Life in General

Sleep and Other Luxuries.

The glorious bedroom of the Medici suite at the Fairmont on Knob Hill.
The glorious bedroom of the Medici suite at the Fairmont on Knob Hill.

Well, it’s official, the film “Scream at the Devil” is, as they say, ‘in the can.’ Though of course, ‘on card and logged into the computer’ is more accurate these days. It’s strange to make a film without actual film, but hey, times change. And speaking of change, and time, I have a new book to write!

We had a blast during the shooting, and when it was over, well after dawn on a Saturday  morning, I went to bed, leaving the crew to whoop it up around my pool until all hours of the early afternoon. For the next few days, I took my daughter to school, and then went to bed again. Now I’m up in San Francisco and I’m still not sure when I’m supposed to sleep or get up, mostly though, it’s really nice to get into bed.

Especially in a suite at the Fairmont, a little congratulations gift from my amazing mate. Let me tell you about those five star sheets. If you are a man and you are not a biker, a swimmer, or a cross dresser, then I’m sorry, because you will never know the joy of that egyptian cotton on freshly shaved legs. Mmmm. It’s, frictionless, and yet, so fluffy.

Writing is a solitary business, except for editors, of course, and there’s nobody to screw up your work with bad lighting or silly sound design. But a film is another animal, (perhaps ‘zoo’ is more the mot juste) and it isn’t over when we call wrap! Now we get to put the film together, shot by shot, and add in special effects, sound and music. This, my friends, is where the movie is made or lost. It just doesn’t matter how good my performance is if the the editor has no sense of timing or drama. I can manifest all the fear of Satan I want, but if the composer puts a spritely polka underneath it, the tension, we can assume, will be lost. Post production, almost more than the visuals themselves, tell the audience where to look and what to feel.

So once again, I come back to the refrain that a film is something we do with a group of people and no one person is more important than any other. I did have one ‘actor’ experience on this film, where the actor thinks that it’s all about them, and I swear I wanted to stab them. Perhaps that’s because I was holding a butcher’s knife at the time.

Here’s the deal, do not—ever—show up on a set without knowing your lines and call yourself a professional. What would people think if the camera assistants showed up, and then began to figure out how to pull focus? You would fire them and get someone who knows what they are doing and doesn’t waste everyone’s time.  When you keep fifty people waiting while you get your shit together, whether that’s knowing your lines, or building up to a emotional point, you have not done your homework, and you are not good at your job.

Period.

In any other job, you would be ostracized at least, and eventually fired if you did it more than once, yet in film, actors are coddled and even ‘bad’ behavior has come to be expected and accepted by the unwitting crew. Not that anyone behaved badly on “Scream” far from it, we had a terrific group of people and I’m lucky to have a bevy of new friends, but you get my rant, uh, drift.

One of the things I’m most proud of in my acting career is the fact that almost every director I’ve ever worked with has worked with me more than once. There’s been a few I declined to work with again for a variety of reasons and, I’m sure, a few of them who are more than content to continue in their careers without me, and that’s fine. Personalities happen. But I hope to hell I was on time, prepared, and easy to work with. It’s my job to make their job easier, not harder, to Serve the Piece, and the most important thing to remember in a film or TV  show, or play, or any job actually, is—Am I doing the best thing for the overall result? For the Company? For the charity? For the school? Whatever it is you do. The question should never, ever, ever be—Is this the best way to get more for me?

Because it isn’t about any one person. Just like life, just like families, offices, countries, just like…fill in the blank. We are in this together.

I had a wonderful, exhausting, exhilarating, draining, and heartfelt experience with this group of people, and I’m so glad to have met all of them. It was my first experience where most of the cast and crew were younger than myself, and it was really very cool to be the ‘mom’ to everybody, and to see so many of them at the beginning of what will be very long and rewarding careers.

As far as the sleepiness is concerned, it’s understandable. Just consider this; not only did I work 13 hour days, or nights, as the case may be, but I put myself through an emotional sieve. To recreate all the insanity and sorrow, I went through the equivalent of five funerals, four near-death experiences, and a week’s worth of cocaine paranoia.

While I hope you have experienced none of these things, if you’ve been through even one, you’ll know how exhausting it can be. No wonder the sheets at the fabulous Fairmont are singing me a lullaby.

And now, back to mom-hood, and writing. I owe a sequel to “Invisible Ellen” by the end of year and I’m not really sure what that will be about yet. Multiple careers are a blast, but I do sometimes feel like I need someone to turn me in the right direction. Point and shoot. It’s a question of focus, but only of that. Even as I write this, I feel ideas forming, stories lurking, and plots unfolding. The blurriness is starting to clear. Oh, there she is, Ellen, and she’s beckoning, “Come on, lazy bones, write me!”

Gotta go, darn, I’ll miss this duvet.

Do what you love until you are exhausted, and then, let yourself rest, you earned it.

Shari, June 12th, 2013.

Life in General

Two Good Reasons to ‘Scream.’

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My makeup artist’s station. I’ll spend a good bit of time here!

And…they’re off!! Day one of principle photography of “Scream at the Devil” was a gem. We got some amazing footage, and I finally got to sink my teeth into an amazing role. 

I love emotional work, but I have to be honest, I never really cared for the melodrama of the soap work. It was just too prefabricated for my taste, not to knock anyone else’s guilty vice! I know many people love the genre and with good reason, it’s a blast to get involved in the long running stories, but as an actress, it was my least favorite medium. 

One of the things about film work that I love is the fact that you shoot out of order, it sort of isolates the scenes so that I can focus on that moment, but this may be the most challenging version of that I’ve ever taken on. Now imagine this; I’m playing a schizophrenic with multiple ‘episodes’ of dementia. So, sometimes I’m lucid, but often I’m not, it runs like increasing waves. Add into that that we shoot per location and supporting actors who are scheduled in. In other words, all my scenes in the kitchen with Eric Etebari will be shot in one day, all my scenes without him—another. There are kitchen scenes throughout the movie. Tony Todd, who plays the compassionate police detective, is only working one day, so we shoot all his scenes on Tuesday, beginning, middle, and the final shot of the movie. 

Just keeping track of what wardrobe I’m in is a challenge. (Thankfully not mine, that’s the wardrobe department and the script supervisor’s job.) Then I add in my emotional roller coaster ride, estimating which loop-de-loop I’m jumping on and off on. At last I have a point of reference to work off for the rest of the filming. I know my level here, therefore, I can gauge my level there

And it’s a blast. I’m tearing through this ride with my hands in the air whooping. It’s been a long time since I’ve worked on a film set, and I wasn’t sure I was eager to go back, but at one point I just looked around at all the craziness and people and equipment, and frenzy and thought, “This is fun.” 

A couple of my favorite moments: I was standing near the kitchen counter in wardrobe,  barefoot, and I accidentally knocked a glass off the counter, it smashed all around me. The gaffer, (lighting director) shouted, “Don’t move” So I stood, frozen on one leg, as he crossed to me, wrapped his arms around my thighs and lifted me. He moved me to safety and set me down, like I was a light stand. It was hysterical. 

The FX designer, was watching the video playback of an effect we created where my spine expands, this is the guy who has worked on every movie from Jurassic Park to Men in Black, to…well, you name it, and he actually shuddered a little and said, “That was really creepy.” So funny. 

There are notes all over location that read things like, “This is a home, be respectful. Pick up your trash.” etc. There are signs on doors that read, “Wardrobe” “Makeup” etc. On the camera department, where they keep the incredibly expensive lenses and cameras, the printed sign reads, “Camera department, No admittance by anyone other that Camera Operators.” Underneath it, scribbled in pen, someone wrote, “Except Shari, she can go anywhere she wants.” 

I love those little things. It made me laugh, and it’s so fantastic to work with a crew filled with enthusiasm and talent. My husband is truly remarkable in the way he inspires and complements everyone, it’s why he brought so many people up through his theatre that have gone on to great things, but still love theater arts. The crew is watching him work, realizing they can trust him beyond their own vision, they are watching the monitor and muttering that it already looks like a 5 million dollar movie. 

Sure, people get tense, the testosterone runs high, I have to remind the first assistant director, (whose job it is to run the set)  that I’m working here and they need to settle down and stop shouting at everyone to hurry right before I have an on screen melt-down. But ultimately, we are all working for a common goal, what a wonderful feeling. 

And it’s so cool what you can do with more creativity and energy.

So, a short blog today, as I have a script to study and an insane week coming up, but here’s my note for today.

Do it. Be creative, learn your craft, be ready, positive, and always, always be a part of the solution, not the problem.  Stop shouting, don’t blame, fix, listen, look for ways to help, not just in the job assigned to you, respect everyone else, and enjoy it. 

Put your hands in the air, raise your eyes, and shout at the sky, just for the joy of it. 

Shari, May 12, 2013. 

Acting & Experiences, Entertainment, Life in General, makeup

Creating the Mood.

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That’s me and makeup artist extraordinaire, Patti Denney, who is making me look beat all to hell. And I love her for it! She’s so good that the bruises actually hurt when I look at them. Patti did my makeup for 3 years on Y&R and she’s still there, head of the makeup and hair department, so I was fortunate to lure her away for this shoot. I was also glad to reconnect with such a loving and wonderful woman.

The end result will be the poster-‘one sheet’ for the movie “Scream at the Devil,” shooting in February-March. The poster will be me, disheveled and evil, with an image of the Devil over my shoulder with his giant arms wrapped around me.

But to get there, I’m standing naked in a small studio in Burbank, trying to remember how to hold my own body so that the CGI artist can place the scaly limbs strategically around me. It’s awkward, and I’m so grateful that the only people there are Patti, my husband, and the photographer, John Dlugolecki, who is a long time friend. These basic shots are never to be seen on their own, only as finished composites, so trust is a big issue here.

There are several factors that are important in creating this kind of image. First, we must remember that any shoot, movie, photo session, etc, is the product of many people sharing and expressing their mutual talent. In this case, my husband, who is the brain trust behind the film and the image, the photographer, who must light in such a way that the photo can be easily worked with as well as capture just the right image with maximum impact, the makeup artist, without whom, we would all be far less, uh, watchable, the CGI artist, John Eddings who will create and insert the Devil himself, and finally, me, who must emote the correct feeling and make the image play.

It’s a group effort, as you can see. And it’s fun to be a part of it.

Of course, that still leaves me naked on a white backdrop. Trust is a huge issue. These images will never be seen individually, only as a part of a composite artwork. Still…I’m a mom! So I’m really grateful to be working with these special, talented people who understand and respect the process.

Choosing how a movie character will be brought to life is always a group decision. First, the writer creates the character, then the director and casting director choose a person to play that part. Next the hair and makeup and wardrobe and art department all step in for input. The art director will select and create an overall look for the film, colors, motif, setting, etc. The Gaffer will set the mood with lighting and depth, the Director of Photography will decide on angles and how best to portray the story,( I equate this job to a theatre director creating stage picture, both inform the audience what to look at, focus on). Next, makeup and hair do everything from making us more beautiful to horribly ghastly. A good makeup artist helps with everything from red-rimmed eyes from weeping to aging bruises; red at first, turning purple on day two, to yellowed and green in subsequent days. Amazing really. And then there’s the post production team, that can do anything from making me cry blood to walls breathing. I can’t even tell you how important editing, sound design and music are, but I’ll try, a bit later.

I’ve always been in awe of the conglomerate of talent on any film, theatre or television production. What has alway angered and frustrated me is when actors or sometimes directors seem to have the attitude that their job is not only the most important one, but the only one that matters.

I’m calling BS. Sorry guys. Try making a film by yourself and see how that works out for you. No camera? No script? No lighting? No sound? Ooh, you’re not so good looking and talented now are you? Hard to impress others when you don’t have a project to be in, I would think.

And moving on to the good-looking aspect. One of the best things I ever did for myself as an actor was learn to look ugly. I mean this in two ways, physically, and emotionally. Being raised in the south by very cultured parents, ‘ugly’ was a term for ‘behaving badly’ and was decidedly unattractive and discouraged. Fast forward to a scene where I have to be a total bitch, yikes, hard to access, my upbringing is telling me ‘don’t go there! Be nice!’ Conversely, after modeling for years, being physically attractive was how I earned a living, so being ugly was scary, scary. Especially in a society that so highly values youth and beauty, mistakenly, I believe.

So what did I do? I went to a scene study class and worked and worked on playing the Hunchback of Notre Dame until I was slack jawed, drooling and dragging a half-paralyzed body across the stage.

The result? My fellow students just plain liked me more. Weird right? But it makes sense. They respected my choice, and saw me as more than the ‘blonde’ chic in the class and I was accepted as someone who truly wanted to act, not just be famous or glamorous. To me, that’s the point.

Rejoice! Worth from the inside, instead of out. I fell in love with it.

As a writer, I think that process helped me flesh out my characters more. I can easily resist the inclination to make a ‘good’ character sappy or one-note. Everyone has good and bad in them, and finding and isolating those traits is like a treasure hunt for me. I can let even my heroine behave ‘ugly’ because she gets in bad moods too, or resents being pre-judged by others, or is just plain pissed off. And as for the bad characters, well, I can go so much deeper if I’m not afraid of the dark.

This initial photo shoot is just a beginning. But it’s exciting to get started, and it will be fun to share the process as well as the finished result.  But bear with me, making a film or writing a book are not quick fixes. They are long, arduous processes, filled with cold days on sets, hair pulling during plotting and edits, and frustrating hours on the phone with distributors and agents or lawyers. It can be hard and lonely, so I welcome you on this journey. It’s like having a travel buddy. Thanks!

I hope your days are filled with creative endeavors that fulfill you. It might be a long project like a screenplay or a painting, or it might be baking a birthday cake for a friend or painting a wall in your house a color that speaks to you and your guests. It might even be placing a single flower in a windowsill so that the sunlight hits it just right. Creativity brings the soul joy, and it can be a very simple act, or a lifelong pursuit.

Whatever it is, may it fill you will wonder.

Shari, October 31, 2012