Acting & Experiences, creating character, Entertainment, Shakespeare

The Insane Reality.

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They say the road to insanity is a lonely one, so why do I need so many people in my head?

Paranoid schizophrenia, the disease that my character in “Scream at the Devil” suffers, is a fascinating, and very frightening form of schizophrenia.

In my research of this disease, I realized very quickly that as laypeople, we often misuse and misunderstand mental illness definitions. A schizophrenic is one who suffers a long-term illness that causes them to loose touch with reality (a psychosis). A Paranoid schizophrenic loses touch with reality and has symptoms that are specific to paranoia.

For instance, two of the traits most often associated with paranoid schizophrenia are—1. hearing voices, and 2. delusions, almost always of a harmful nature.

Not surprising, in our very predominately Eurocentric Christian-American society, the number one voice heard by schizophrenics is Jesus Christ.

The number two is Satan.

So, beside the obvious questions that raises about the mental health of people who insist that they have an inside line to the Almighty, and know better than the rest of us what ‘God’ is thinking, it gives me a starting point.

The voices can be one, or they can be many, they can tell the person to do things that can be harmful to self or others, they are most often critical and make cruel comments about the person who ‘hears’ them. They can talk to the individual or about them. I’ll be inviting quite a few personalities into my head, distinct individuals that I am creating now.

The most common delusion is that the individual is being singled out for harm. The government is targeting them, or a co-worker or mate is poisoning their food.  These delusions can result in aggression or violence if the individual believes they must act in self-defense against the imagined harm. Some of my past drug addiction is working for me here. I would sometimes not sleep for days, and I actually thought that the police had tunnels around my house, and I would imagine people in shadows. I can sit still down, quiet my mind, and clearly recall those feelings, though they were more than 30 years ago.

So now I begin the work of building this character and her decent into this kind of horrifying madness. I cannot build this person the way I would usually create a character. No relative past history, experiences that create current emotional responses and behaviors will have any bearing, no logical reaction to reality can be prepared.

Which leaves me with two things: Sensory work, and Transference.

Sensory work, means that I need to create an intense fear (or other emotion) of something that isn’t there. Well, it isn’t there on set, but in my mind it is very real and very present. Fortunately, the screenwriter-director has done his homework and so mine is much easier. Something is moving under the carpet? In my mind, with a good bit of focus and preparation, I can make that a river of acid that will fry off my skin, or a huge snake that will wrap around me and squeeze until I choke. Sensory work.

Transference means I move a reaction I would have to one thing, onto another. In the script, my husband is trying to get me to take my medication, I put myself in the place of swallowing  a piece of glass that broke off a juice cup when I was six. Transference.

It’s remarkably similar to being a paranoid schizophrenic. They believe it, I have to believe it, even though it isn’t there.

They say that the only way to understand someone else’s journey is to walk a mile in their shoes. I’m about to cross a continent, and believe me, my compassion for the people suffering from this cruel disease is profound.

How do I respond to a voice no one else can hear?  The answer, of course, is that I have to mentally speak that voice, yet detach it from my own consciousness.

Deep, I have to go deep.

I’ve done ‘crazy’ before. I’ve played parts that are delusional, with visions of grandeur, and insanity caused by extreme guilt or obsession, but that’s different. This woman is in a constant hell, a long hallway with less and less windows, fewer and fewer glimpses of light or sanity, and no way out, or back.

Am I scared? Actually, I’m having a blast.

Roles like this don’t come around all that often, believe me, I’ve done a whole lot of acting work, and maybe two percent of it has been well written. Mostly stage, of course, where you have the option of choosing the best of the best.

But Lady Macbeth’s journey into insanity is quite different from Miriam Jones’. Lady M. is driven to suicide by horrible actions, and their consequences, that she herself put into motion around her, Miriam is dealing with actions put into motion by the machinations of her own brain.

Inside out. Outside in. For the first time, I’m starting a character at the end of her journey, and working backwards. I feel like I’m in a Pinter play, only far more twisted.

And here’s the thing. The real goal in acting is to do all the homework, be completely emotionally and mentally and physically ready, and then, forget everything and just react.

And then there’s that element that the director has so beautifully interwoven into the story.

Maybe she’s not crazy.

I like to apologize in advance to the entire cast and crew of “Scream at the Devil.” Putting myself in that place won’t always be easy, and even though, at my very deepest, most distraught insanity, some level of me will be going, “Whoo, this is fun!” I know that the crazy will leak somewhat. It always does. And I’ll be extremely vulnerable on set. That’s why the director’s first job, on every set, is the protection and well-being of everyone there. Stress out and start blaming or bitching, and I’ll withdraw. Tell me your issue calmly, and I will work with you.

I promise.

If you need me, I’ll be in my padded cell.

Shari, January 16. 2013.

Life in General

Dream Scream Team

 

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Me, my husband, Joseph Stachura, and one of the film’s wonderful actors, Marco Neves, at a film festival for Joseph’s film “Redemption” held in the iconic film location for so many great westerns. Ironically, the images that define ‘the American west’ in movies like “Fistfull of Dollars” are mostly from this location in Spain. I know, right?

Putting together a film crew, cast, and post-production team is something most people will never do, which is a good thing, because it takes more work, finesse and time than most humans have the patience for or the endurance to survive. Lots of people think they could make a movie, but actually doing it, from setting up contracts with lawyers, creating LLCs, dealing with countless union contracts, finding exceptional people for countless jobs, and managing the entire thing, (not to mention raising the money, and finding distribution) is very similar to setting up a multi-national corporation while walking a tightrope and appeasing over a hundred, overly-sensitive, creative ‘types,’ in a high wind. 

Fun right?

One of the things I like the most about working on a film is the always unique combination of personalities and talents. And each and every one of them from the ‘star’ to the production assistant who works for free for the experience and learning, is equally important. 

Think I’m wrong? Try to make a movie by yourself. That’s what I’ve always said to actors who behave as if they are more important than anyone else on set. 

What helps us in this ‘peopling up’ process is what I refer to as our ‘calling card.’ this is primarily my husband’s amazing body of work. As the writer/director, each person from the Director of Photography to the wardrobe designer, from the accountant to the set painter looks to him and his ability to make them look good. 

Last year, Joseph released the film “Redemption.” A film made with very little money, the assistance of many friends and cohorts, lots of passion, and very little sleep. It’s wonderful. Based on the heart and quality of that film, we were invited to many film festivals, at several of which the film won top honors. 

But what impresses people the most is Joseph’s, (and my, on a much smaller scale) theatre background. Producing over 300 shows in nearly 20 years, building a working company of actors, directors, set-designers, producers, etc tells people who know what to look for that this is a man with an awesome talent, the perseverance of a saint, the charisma to lead, and the sheer will-power to ‘get it done.’

And, on a personal note, (’cause it’s my blog) he’s the most romantic man I’ve ever known. He makes me feel like a treasure every single day, would kill to protect or care for our girls, and works his butt off to provide not only a home, but memories and life experiences for us. And it is an honor to collaborate with his very rare combination of business sense, technical skill and artistic ability.

Damn, I love my man. 

But what is most rewarding, at this point of pre-production, is the fact that based on the script, and Joseph’s vision of the film, people are clambering to get on board. They can see that this project will be something special. Not something thrown together like a prefab McMeal you know people will eat no matter how tasteless, but a viable, uber-creative project that they are hungry to be a part of. 

Now, nobody is going to get paid top dollar to work on this potential heap of art, yet we’ve had people from top films knocking on the door because they’ve heard about it, and seen what we’ve both done in the past, well mostly him. It’s the director that counts in the industry, I have no illusions about that. I believe, even in this cynical, reality show world of canned ‘entertainment’ that artists are bleeding for a project they can be enthusiastic about, contribute to, and ultimately be proud of. 

And these people know that Joseph, and I, will be proud of them, will expect their best, will value and trust their contributions. A film is a group project with a dictator. Without an overall decision maker with a master view, you would end up with mush, but with someone who can pull the best from everyone involved, you end up with the best of everyone’s best. 

I’m so excited, and tired already. I don’t think Joseph has had a full night’s sleep since we started in earnest, and he won’t until the movie is finished post-production and delivered to the distributor. That will be months from now. 

So, if you’re one of those people who only notices the actors in a production, and have fallen into the habit of crediting them with it’s success or blaming them for it’s flatness, look again. See the way the colors of the room don’t exactly match, but beautifully compliment the wardrobe? That’s the art director’s choice and contribution. Does that blue dress and the cold ‘starlight’ add to the sense of loneliness in a sad scene? Give the credit to the costume designer and the Gaffer, (lighting director). The way the camera begins to move in on the actors face when they realize that they are in love, so that we are drawn into their joyful amazement, that’s an emotion created by the director of photography. When one actor says a funny line and before it’s done, we cut to an eyebrow lift from the supporting actor, which tops it off, the editor knows what he or she is doing. And it is the director, on a small film especially, who chooses and empowers them all. 

And on and on. I love this whole process and I love being a part of it. 

Meanwhile, on top of setting up meetings and overseeing design choices, I’m devouring books on schizophrenia and it’s processes. I’ll talk about that journey next time. It’s not possible to create a character with normal, linear history or straight sensory work when that woman is insane. 

Or is she? 

Mwuh, ha ha ha hah! (that’s my evil laugh)

Gotta go help set up a green screen for behind the scenes interviews tomorrow. 

Such a glamorous life I lead. 

Shari, January 11, 2013. 

 

Acting & Experiences, Entertainment, family, Life in General, parenting

A New Window of Opportunity.

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Good morning and Happy New Year! The champagne bottle is in the recycling, the caviar has been consumed, the candles extinguished, and, I admit it, I didn’t even make it to midnight. And now I’m up, before eight, my brain churning with all the things I want and need to do.

But it’s not like the panic of past years. I know now, at 52, that even the annoying stuff will get done, no matter how much I put it off and sweat over it, so I might as well just get to it. The difficult things will be endured, passed through, and learned from, and I’m looking forward to the challenges.

I’ll have books being re-released, new ones coming out, ideas still unformed to spur me on to new, unimagined novels.

I have daughters to care for, laugh with, hold when they cry, encourage, remind to be ladylike, kind, brave and fair, tutoring to arrange, school functions to chair, and so much to learn about parenting. It’s an ongoing process.

And I have a movie to produce and act in. I’ve done so much theatre in the last few years, but I’ve taken a break from film and TV to raise my daughters. Now, with one in college and one going into high school, I can finally spend part of my time back on a set.

I’ve already started working on the character and emotional life of Miriam Jones for “Scream at the Devil.” I’ve been immersed in research about schizophrenics, mental hallucination disorders, and the effects of the medications used to treat them. The physiology of these things are fascinating and the torture these people endure is both heartbreaking and profound. Equally fascinating are the dynamics of their relationships with the people who love them. All of these will be explored in the film, with a sinister twist—What if she’s not crazy?

What I’ve discovered is this; whether or not the fear and depression are real or not, the emotions that accompany them definitely are.

Which takes me to my next step. How does fear affect me? I notice a tingling on the back of my hands when someone cuts in on me on the freeway, a tightness in my neck that won’t go away when I do sensory work on seeing things moving under the rug, things that want to hurt me. My whole body senses the exhaustion from the constant voice in my head telling me that I’m not good enough, that someone, or something, wants me dead.

It’s one thing to watch and observe, it’s quite another to take on the emotion and the weight of mental illness. As actors and writers, we do these things, we have to. If we don’t feel them in our very cells, then they won’t be true.

And then, by the grace of all that is creative, we can put them away and go back to our ‘normal’ lives. Take a bath, shake off the evil, find something to laugh at until our strength is restored.

My New Year’s wish is this ultimate release for those who are suffering from depression and paranoia. I can imagine what it might be like, because I have to, but I can also put it aside. They cannot. Science is making big strides in helping these people, and that gives me hope. It also makes me wish I had gone into medicine so that I could contribute. Who knows, maybe I’ll go back to school. That’s what a New Year is for, possibilities.

Me in college. Ha! Wouldn’t my daughter just love having a new dorm mate. “Hey Roomie!”

The thought makes me laugh, but she might not be so amused. She loves me dearly, but I don’t think she wants to share a bunk bed with Mama.

So raise your glass of orange juice, and say a January first morning toast to 2013. It will be filled with joys, sorrows, fears, excitement and the great unknown.

Bring it.

Shari, January 1st, 2013

Acting & Experiences, Entertainment, Life in General

That Part’s Got My Name On It!

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This is me skating in an episode of “Freddy’s Nightmares” the only time I got to use my skating on film, stick with me, it relates.

There’s a story, I don’t know if it’s true, that Jack Nicholson was the worst auditioner of any actor alive, except for Dustin Hoffman. He would screw up one audition after the other, and tell his agent, “Don’t worry, we’ll get the next one.” He finally started making sixties drug movies with his pal Peter Fonda and the rest is history.

This makes sense to me. Auditioning is a different art than acting. The best actors love to rehearse, delve in, research, build characters. That’s not what you do for an audition, you just don’t have time. Most auditions happen within a day and are a five minute shot with the casting director. Of course, you have to be able to act enough to perform the scene required of you, but the circumstances and skills required to get the job, versus do the job, vary by leaps and bounds.

When I was younger, I was a competitive ice skater. I trained in many places, but I spent a year in Lake Placid, NY, my high school sophomore year. Now, at that time, Dorothy Hamill was the  US champion. Her coach, Gus Lussi, never put on skates. But he was the highest paid, most sought after coach in skating.

The mens champion, Gordy McKellen, had just retired from competition and was also coaching in Lake Placid. I still remember Gordy yelling at some poor, untalented student of his, “Step, step, jump, land!! It’s so easy.” Well sure, for him. He had remarkable ability and a natural talent for the athletics of skating, but knowing how to teach it, is a different thing altogether. Champions do not make the best teachers, and by the same logic, the best actors do not necessarily give the best cold readings.

Here’s how an audition goes, for film or tv, anyway. Your agent calls, gives you the time, place and the material, usually the next day. Sometimes you can get the whole script, but often it’s just a scene, and a brief character description. You work up the part, make some blind choices about how to play the scene, go in, wait, walk into the office, say hello, read the scene across from the casting assistant. Hear, “Very nice, thank you.” And you leave.

Very seldom does anyone ask you to repeat the scene, make a change, or even check to see if you are capable of making the adjustment. So what is their decision to take you to the producers based on? Your random choices. All you can do is hope they liked the way you fumbled through it that first time. And of course, that they thought you ‘looked’ the part.

I have never been on a movie or film set that did only one take with no rehearsals or direction. Yet, that is generally how the actors are cast. Any decent director would never take the first cold read, run-through as the final, on-film  product. That would be crazy.

There are several aspects to securing the role that are unrelated to working on a set.

One. You have to keep your nerve. This is crazy important. Especially as the ‘narrowing down’ of actors for the parts go on.  You may return to audition for a part, several times for an increasing number of producers, directors, studio executives, ect. Then there can be a screen test, network approval, etc. I’ve been through a casting for the remake of “Charlie’s Angles” that went on for three months culminating in a full day of 25 amazing actresses for four parts waiting all day in a theatre room to be called in, in different combinations, to read for over 200 people. Nerve wracking. The pressure builds with each step closer you get. “Maybe today will change my life, and then again, maybe it won’t.” Ironically, this series was never made, though the casting process did make Tea Leoni a star.

Two. Standing out in the crowd. This casting director will see fifty women today for a sexy executive. Every one of them comes in in a slick black suit with a short skirt. Not me baby, I would come wearing jeans and cowboy boots, with a jacket, a suggestion of business on top. Sometimes this works, sometimes it doesn’t. But I’ve been told by more than one casting director that they remembered me for it!

Three.  Be amusing and fun to work with. Okay, who do you want to spend three months in Italy with, the difficult actress who refused to sit down when you invited her to do so, or the one who sat, made a joke about the energy-sucking chair and then got on with it? I’ve actually been told I got the job because I came in and took care of the director, made sure everyone was comfortable and happy. Sure, they liked my look and my performance, but I have no doubt that ten other women, at least, could have done an equally good job on that part. Different, but good. I once went in for a role with the name of “Sherry.” When I was done reading, I held up the script and said, “This part’s got my name on it.” The producers all laughed, and I was booked to do the scenes with Rob Lowe.

It comes to this, once you hit a certain level where producers and casting directors trust your work, casting and success in acting, is brutally random. I know people who are brilliant actors, but who will never make a living at it because they don’t even have a good agent and can’t get the audition! I know certain actors who are brilliant at auditioning, but who will never perform that scene one iota better than the way they did it on the audition, but until people catch on…they get the parts!

But not Jack and Dustin! Cold reading? Not their forte. But give them a couple of weeks and a rehearsal or ten, and watch them soar!! The saving grace for them, of course, is that they don’t have to audition any more. That’s good news for us, we get to see more of them.

I know I haven’t given any real advice about this process, just a dose of reality. So I’ll end with this story.

I was in acting class with Luke Perry when he was auditioning for “Beverly Hills 90210.” We were supposed to be working on a scene together that week for class. But he was also doing what’s called, “final network approval’ for the show. That means they are down to the wire, in this case, Luke and only one other actor were left. I called him to set up a rehearsal and Luke said, “I have this audition for Spelling tomorrow, and I’m so nervous about it that I don’t think I can do anything else, I can barely breathe.” Boy, I could relate.

So I said to him, “Listen, you can’t control wether you will get the part, or if they’ll like your choices, but you have the chance to do what you love, to go in and act, then you have to walk away.”

There was a short silence, and then Luke said, “I think you might have just saved my life.”

Luke got the part, became a huge heartthrob, tv star, did the cover of Vanity Fair, etc. But what most people don’t know, is how he got it.

He and the other actor, both went in and read, and they were asked to wait while the producers discussed their fates. After a grueling 20 minutes, the casting director came out of the office and addressed the other actor, who’s name, appropriately for this story, I cannot remember, let’s call him Bob.

“Bob,” the casting director said, “You gave by far the best reading.”

Luke’s heart sank, but he steadied himself to congratulate Bob. But before he could, the casting director turned to him and said, “Luke, you got the part.”

Aaron Spelling just liked his look better. They could both act.

Wow. Don’t you  just know that’s a story Bob’s been telling for the rest of his career.

So, get in there, make strong choices, don’t beat yourself up if you aren’t psychic enough to guess what they wanted, just be yourself, act, enjoy, and go have coffee with friends before acting class.

Success is random, enjoy the journey.

Shari. November 4th, 2012

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

Acting & Experiences, Entertainment, Life in General, New Novels

I’m Feeling a New Look.

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But not for me, of course. I’m too addicted to my torn jeans and flannel shirts, it’s like wearing my bedclothes for work. I need a new look for my first book which will be re-released in, hopefully, three or four weeks. So, here’s the deal. If anyone wants to take a shot at designing a cover that I can actually use, I will give a prize of $200 to the one I choose!! For all you fabulous, budding designers out there, your next four tanks of gas could be on me! More if you’re smart enough to own a hybrid.

First, read the opening chapter of “Loaded” on my website. I will make sure it’s up and posted on my website by tomorrow, or the next day at the latest. Second, take a look at the original cover above. Third, bear in mind that this will be primarily for an ebook, so it has to be readable in a thumbnail. Fourth, make a latte and be creative!! Fifth, send a mock up to me in a email through my website, sharishattuck.com. Anyone who sends an entry will receive all three Callaway Wilde ebooks as soon as I get them up and figure out how to do that!

Most of you authors will know that the publisher gets total say-so on your covers, you have very little to do with it. Oh sure, they ask your opinion, and then completely disregard it. This is a first for me, picking the design I would like. My first two books’ covers were so-so. I loved my third cover for, “The Man She Thought She Knew,” and then both of the Greer Sands series designs I thought were much more striking. “Eye of the Beholder” and “Speak of the Devil.”

 

This is the movie poster, box cover for a film I did.

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It’s funny, after years of modeling and then acting, seeing my image in magazines, on billboards, and movie posters, seems somehow less personal than my book cover. I suppose that’s because beneath that cover is my vision, my work. An add for lipstick or a magazine cover, is the photographer-designers-art director’s vision. I was just a prop. And of course, for movies and TV, it’s another character I’m selling. For example, this week we are shooting the new poster art for “Scream at the Devil” the film my husband and I are producing next year. It won’t be a beauty shot, and that’s cool. I will be portraying a very disturbed, possibly possessed, woman and that’s what we want to show. It’s the character that must come through. Fun, but not really ‘me’ if you know what I mean.

The book is different. I want the sense of the writing, the pace, and the danger to come through.

So get ready, get set, go for it!! I hope a few of you will take me up on this, I love to share the love and offer opportunities when I can. Writing might be a solitary endeavor, but I’m learning that promoting and designing can be a fun chance for collaboration.

So think, wealth, power, mystery, passion, and yes, guns maybe. This book is ‘Loaded,’ in several ways. Loaded gun, loaded with money, loaded with sexual tension and danger.

So good luck, happy designing, and I’m excited to see your art wrapped around mine!!

Shari, 10-22-2012

Acting & Experiences, Theatre

A Brief History of How to Cry.

ImageThere are scripts that aren’t good. There are days when we’re just a bit flat. There are times when even the best actor can’t ‘get into the moment.’ Sensory work for an actor means this; you spend a considerable amount of time locating and creating feelings that that, in a pinch, or when you are acting something badly written, you have a backup.

A sensory exercise might go like this. You are asked by the coach to bring in a picture of a relative who is gone. Someone you loved and knew. You pick your grandmother. You spend time looking at the picture and thinking about that person, the joy they brought you, the love that cannot be replaced, but mostly about specific memories. It is best to back these memories up with senses, that is what you are going for. Remember a specific time your grandmother was making cookies and you felt safe. How did it smell? Was it raining outside or sunny? Was there music playing or the dishwasher running? Was the Christmas tree up, did it sparkle with light? All of these things will bring the emotion of that moment into fullness in you. The sensation of feeling safe and loved can overwhelm you and fill you up, now, years after the event.

Now, you are on a set working with an actor you just met this morning, who is playing your sister and the scene calls for you to share a loving moment. You look at her, she’s a stranger and you feel nothing. But because you have done this specific work, you can take a moment, or prepare before time, to recall that sensory exercise and let the feelings you nurtured for your grandmother well up in you. And before you know it, a real, heartfelt smile is lighting up your face, and tender tears are in your eyes.

The same thing can work for fear, sadness, anger, etc. And it doesn’t have to be a huge, traumatic moment. In fact, better if it isn’t, those are hard to control and your body doesn’t like to feel bad, so it will shut the sensations down after a bit. For years my best recall sensory memory for anger was a time when I was maybe three and my mom took my tricycle for some reason. I recalled it, and remembered her standing on the back ledge, hands on the handlebars, scooting it along. My whole little body was filled with pure, three-year old fury, tense and vibrating, as I ran toward her screaming. I remember the grass and then the sidewalk under my shoes, the smell of honeysuckle in the south, and the sounds of the tricycle’s wheels on the cement. Even writing this now, makes me a bit tense with anger.

I will never forget, when in acting class, the coach worked up through our chosen emotion and then told us to improve from there. I looked at the actor across from me, balled up my fists and screamed, “Get off my tricycle!” There was a moment of stunned silence, and then we all dissolved into laughter.

It seems a silly thing, but it was a moment of pure, unadulterated emotion that I have been able to re-use. A note of caution— Never use something you cannot control. I once worked with a director who told me that he was filming a rape scene with an actress and she had really been raped as a young girl. She got so emotionally upset that he had to stop the filming and send her home. And he thought that was impressive. I was appalled, that is not acting, that is abusive. A director’s number one job is to protect the people who work for him. He failed that day.

I had someone ask me recently to talk about a film I did called, “Hot Child in the City.” It was a fun little thing, made, if I remember correctly, by HBO? during the whole music video craze thing. Now in that movie, I played a bitch record producer who is killed and her sister becomes her to solve the crime.

My work for that was more subtle and harder to narrow down. It was not one of the five emotions. I was raised to be nice to people. Never make them uncomfortable, be a good hostess, encourage people to talk about themselves, and I like living that way. But this character, Abby, I think it was, was not that. So, I had to find ways to think about what I was doing that would work for her. Anger doesn’t play for very long, and bitchiness is not an emotion. So, we go to replacement.

In one scene have to tell a recording artist that his music sucks. Not something Shari would do, but I might tell off someone who had promised me to fix my car, didn’t do it, took advantage of me and ripped me off. So, I look at Tony Alda, who is playing the artist, and imagine him as the slimy mechanic who put substandard parts in my car and charged me top dollar. Now I say the line, as though I’m telling him off. Low and behold, my voice drops, my face hardens and I get through the line with some genuine background.

Making movies and being other people is hard work. Not the glamorous, red-carpet images that most people see and think of. It’s getting up for a four a.m. call, sitting in makeup to look beat to hell for three hours. Waiting on set for ten or twelve hours before you are called on to produce raw emotion. being freezing cold or burning hot and trying to look completely comfortable.

Not soaps, I have three things to say about soaps—level floors, air conditioning, and secretaries. Easy peasy compared to swimming in freezing cold water in a cave, or dragging a body through a muddy rain storm. (I still have back problems from that one!)

It comes down to this. Be prepared, know your lines, be on time, and then…let go, be present, listen and most important…don’t act…react.

Of course you have to be ready before you can let go. Just like in life. Unless you can be okay without something, you will never really have it, it will have you.

For those of you who don’t act, but write. Next time, I’ll turn it around. I like to call it “Acting for the page.”

It’s the same process, but backwards.

Like so much in life. Good advice really, slow down, back up, take a look, leap.

Happy flying,

Shari 10-15-2012

Life in General

Field of Vision

Field of Vision

I promised to write a little more about creating a history for the characters I play as an actress. The idea of writing a history for the role is to create a series of emotional events, loosely based on real memories, to create the emotional responses that the role requires.

Let’s use the movie, “Dead On” in which I play an abused wife who teams up with her lover to kill their spouses. Think, “Strangers on a Train” with a twist.

Now, despite what my harsher critics might think, I am not a homicidal maniac or a woman who would allow a man to abuse me, but Erin, my character, is. So, I have to find a way to link into something real in my early childhood, teen years, etc, that would produce this person. My real memory might not be sufficient, so I have to enhance it.

Let’s take an example. I might remember a time when my mom blamed me for something that my little sister did and my feelings were hurt. That’s the first element, there has to be a real emotion surrounding it. Say, my sister fell down while we were playing and began to cry, my mom rushes in, assumes I hit her, and admonishes me.

Okay, that happened, what happened next in life is, I explained, my mom relaxed and I helped make dinner. But, for this character, I start by writing down the real incident and ‘feeling it,’ (this is sensory work, more on that later) then I change the events afterward but keep the emotion going. My mom rushes in, admonishes me, then she hits me, I watch while my mom cradles my little sister as she makes dinner and I am verbally abused. It can get much worse, I could run away and be physically abused by a neighbor, I could hide in my closet and no one comes for me, the possibilities are endless, but the point is the same.

What happened in my childhood, teen years, young adult, grown up, that resulted in Erin, (my character) becoming a person capable of murder? I have to create that history.

I do the same thing to fill in any spaces in the script. If the story picks up a week later at some point, what happened in that week?

This is especially helpful for film where you shoot the scenes by location, completely out of order. I may have to shoot the opening and closing scenes in the same day! How I use this process during the shooting is this; I go to my notebook, read and experience all the emotional points I’ve chosen, starting with earliest memories and coming all the way up to date. Then I read through any scenes that come before the one I’m doing today, and emotionally feel those as well. I get right up to the scene I’m doing now and put it away.

Now I am emotionally prepared to be the person the screen writer and the director need me to be in that moment.

This is a simple version, of course, and some characters are closer to me than others, but I always have to find the shift in personality, choices, and behavior. Sometimes it’s a step to the left, and sometimes it’s a mile away.

Still, fun stuff! And it works just the same for writing. I find I don’t have to do complete emotional workups for all my written characters, but I have to have a strong emotional base to make them real. It also frees me up. I find my characters saying and doing things that I swear I didn’t think of. That’s really fun!

So, whatever your field is, dig in, enjoy, do it for love.

Shari, 19-10-12