Life in General

All the Help I Need.



I spent a few hours today with the costume designer for Scream at the Devil. I’ve worked with Vicki before on many plays, and she actually designed and made my wedding dress for me. She’s an extremely talented lady who will be ‘building’ me several pieces for the movie, but today we came up with a master plan, colors, how my look will degenerate along with my sanity, and the overall look of the character. 

My character Miriam is an artist, and that will be reflected in what she wears. Whenever I work with someone of Vicki’s caliber, I am reminded again of how much help I receive as an actress from the incredibly hard working teams around me. I’ve always had a special place in my heart for these crew members on films. Often, they are the ones who are, literally, in your face while you are so emotionally raw, frazzled and stressed. To have a makeup artist who knows when to keep his or her mouth shut or sometimes offer the pressure of a hand on the shoulder, can mean a good day or a bad one. 

In fact, I’ve seen people fired, many of them, for something as simple as moving around in the actor’s eye line. Now, I’m not one to pitch a fit on set, usually, though I do remember one time, when I was also playing someone losing their mind, and the crew was changing the set up. I was sitting off to one side, rocking, with my fingers in my ears, trying to maintain the level of emotional instability while lights and camera were moved, and I heard one of the grips say sarcastically, “What do we have here, method acting?” 

I unleashed on him. I don’t remember what I said exactly, something along the line of “Shut the fu**” up!” But I do remember the look on his face. He was both shocked and really, really sorry. He had no idea I could hear him, or that he had distracted me, which is a huge no-no. We got through the day, and then he made a special point of coming to apologize to me. I did the same. I would never have spoken to him that way if I hadn’t been in character, already sobbing and vulnerable to the point of breaking. We became friends, both understanding the other, and finished out the film with great mutual respect. 

I’m not a ‘method’ actress. Hell I’m a mom. Can you see me bringing my schizophrenic character home with me? That would be fun while I’m making dinner or helping with homework. “Finish your math or I will kill you! Satan told me to.” 

Doesn’t really work, not for me. I’ve always found that kind of immersion to be indulgent. Besides, movies aren’t shot in order, so what at what level of insanity would I live? Slightly hysterical or full blown delusional? So many choices, so many dishes to smash. 

Characters do, however, have a way of infiltrating your soul. When I finished the last shot of “Immortal Sins,” in which I play a deeply evil spirit called back to life to claim revenge on the ancestor of some one who burned me at the stake in a previous life, I remember going to my trailer and sitting down. As I sighed it out, a heavy, thick layer of emotion lifted off of me, so strong that I sobbed and collapsed back, exhausted. I hadn’t even known I was carrying that much of a pain body until it left me. 

Part of that may have been because the director had been insecure and consequently very difficult to work with. Which brings me back to the crew, on whom I so often rely for my day to day support and sanity on a difficult shoot. 

The costumer on that set was Spanish, were shooting in Galecia, Spain, and she did not speak a word of English, I knew almost no Spanish. Her assistant spoke English, and translated for us, but we often understood each other. We had been shooting in castles in winter and believe me, it’s cold in those stone edifices. So she had found me a sweater, hand knit and super thick, that I would wear between scenes. When the ladies came to pull my wardrobe that last day. I made to hand her the sweater, but I had fallen in love with it, it had been such a comfort in a strange, hard world on a difficult shoot. Our eyes met, and I said, in English, “I think, that this sweater was destroyed in the fire.”

Her assistant looked up from where she was gathering my wardrobe, confused and started to ask what I meant, but the costumer was already nodding and smiling. “Si,” she said, “el fuego.” And she pushed the sweater back into my arms. 

I still have that sweater, and though I can’t remember that costumer’s name, I think of her with great affection every time I see it in my closet. 

So here we go again. I know I will become closer to these people for a few weeks than I am with some of my best friends, and then it will be over, and those people will fade away. 

But I’ll keep the moments, and their support close to my heart, to draw upon, like a warm, hand-knit sweater when I need the comfort. And I will be forever grateful for it, for them, for this. 

Shari February 10, 2013

Life in General

Dream Scream Team


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.