Monday, September 30, 2019

Working on Both Sides of the Cinematic Fence on MARCY

... Or: "How I Learned to Enjoy the Craft of Film-making both in Front and Behind the Camera without Blinking an Eye."

This past spring, I received word from a friend of an indie film coming to the Hudson Valley of New York.  The film was MARCY and it was written by an established and gifted author of TV and film, Daniel Freudenberger.

Eager to audition, Daniel and I exchanged emails.  I sent him my headshot and resume and he invited me to a closed audition with other invited actors. 

The only catch was that, being a New Yorker by way of a recent move from Hollywood, Daniel wasn't sure where the best places to audition were AND, funding the indie film he wrote with his own money, he was on a tight budget.

In upstate, New York, we know all about independent films with tight budgets.  Those of us film-makers who live, as many a New York City native might call, "up there," because of family or jobs or because of our love for mountains over skyscrapers, are used to having to either scrape by with less or make more out of nothing but ideas, determination, loyal friends and passion, are used to coming up with locations on the spot or bartering for costumes in exchange for a role with lines.

We live, eat and breath film-making with dreams of just practicing our craft for a non-union (much less union!!!) wage and, in between those dreams, we do what we need to do to get the job done.  That does not mean that we're not qualified or caring to earn our keep in the film industry, it simply means that when the money isn't there, you find other ways to have a bountiful crop in spite of the lack of rain.

So, when this amazing writer/producer/director turned to me for help, I kicked into gear with nary a thought of the consequences.  A film called and I needed to listen - even if that meant taking off my "actor" hat for a minute to put on my "producers" hat.

The director needed a place to audition.  I called my friend, the exceptionally brilliant Artistic Director of Stageworks Hudson, Laura Margolis, and asked if we might use her space at the theater.  She agreed, and we suddenly were connected with more talented actors to chose from for the film, as well.

I brought in my friend, actor, costumer, now location manager, Steven O'Connor.  Steven was tried and true - a trusted friend who I knew would rise to the cause without a second thought.  He helped me help Daniel with setting up the casting and, when Daniel ran into issues finding locations for MARCY, I called upon Steven, who was much more native to the Capital District Region than I and great with people, to perhaps find help out with locations.

Did he ever come through!  Steven found not only one or two locations, but nearly 15 (or more) in all.  

In the meantime, I set about finding out what crew members on Daniel's team were missing, filling those blanks with some of the best, most hard-working local crew members I knew.  They had to understand that we were on a tight budget and I had to sell the film and its worth to them so that they would make the allowance for a lower pay.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

My Role in the Film Hobo Heyseus and Getting Inside the Directors’ Heads

I had the great opportunity of auditioning for, landing and playing the role of “Florence” in the movie, HOBO HEYSEUS, this past May.

This intriguing indie feature, written by JoshuaOwens, Tracy and Jon Russel Cring, and directed by Jon Cring, offered all of the elements I love and look for in film-making: a great script, brilliant talent and, above all, people who truly care.  At the end of the day, love goes a long way when attempting to create something in collaboration with a whole battalion of individuals, whether they be film production crew, producers, actors, or editors.

As an actor, I’m always looking for those roles that are just slightly left of center, complex, complicated, yet real.  “Florence” was exactly that kind of character – she was the tough, weathered, frustrated grown daughter of a challenging old man, and she refused to back down to him, no matter how much she loved him, nor how much he may have tried to bully her into submission with his dominant patriarchal values.

What drew me to this film?  The script.  Plain and simple.  I'll tell you one thing: Tracy, Josh and Jon know how to write.  I loved the compelling scenes and characters that the script had to offer and was flattered to be considered for such a great role.  That script gave me something to chew on and, as an actor, that was like putting honey in front of a bee.

In prepping for a role, I find that researching and questioning everything is essential to getting to know your character.  It’s like putting together the scattered pieces of a puzzle or solving a mystery.  Who is this person? Why does she say these things and what happened to build her up to his moment?

That’s where the director fits in.  A good director will have all the answers ready for you.  A GREAT director will work with you to discover the answers together to find the perfect fit between your personality and that of the character written on paper AND, if you’re running into road blocks as the actor constructing your character, a BRILLIANT director will help guide you (without telling you “how to be” or what to do.)

I enjoyed the privilege of working with a fantastic director in Jon Cring.  There was never a moment that he was not there for me to answer questions or explore options – he actually LOVED that I reached out to him to involve him in that process.  As a result, I was able to construct a character in Florence far beyond what was written on paper and deliver what my director dreamed of on set for the screen.  

Further, because we had done both of our “homework” on the character far in advance of the scene on shooting day, the actual work was more fun with room for experimentation.
I told Jon after working with him, “Thank you for allowing me to find the best actress within and pulling out things I did not think I could achieve in my performance;” and I meant every word. 

A true, brilliant director is a leader who sees the best in you even when you’re sabotaging your self – and he/she guides you and supports you through the inner doubt toward something greater.
I cannot wait to see the results for HOBOHEYSEUS

“Florence” was a wonderful character to mold, and I look forward to seeing “her” on the big screen. 
Until then, as I wait with abated breath, I thought that I would allow my readers to get to know the directorial team of Jon and Tracy Cring, as well. 

Jon and Tracy Cring live, eat and breathe film – a rare breed of married lovebirds who get along and collaborate both in work and play.  Please note, I’ve not edited a single word or syllable from their responses to my questions; it’s as honest a “he said/she said” as you can get in the world of film.


1.)    What did you want to do when you “grew up” when you were five? 

I wanted to be everything. I was really curious and constantly into everything. At three years old I recited the entire biblical Christmas story from memory and could mimic back entire sermons, so I kinda liked acting. I hung out with my Dad in the garage handing him tools while he worked on cars, built things, invented things, so I wanted to be an inventor. My Mom was poetic and verbal... a stay at home Mom decorating, cooking, making my clothes so I wanted to be a designer and a dancer. My Grandfather was a Painter, Potter, and Photographer and inspired me. By ten years old I was recording little movies on my Grandparents VHS Camcorder and showing them at family events...most of them starred my Barbies. In high school I loved the week we studied genetics so I read every book in the library on the subject, but was better known for my artwork and writing. I had a ceramic mosaic embedded into a building at Riverwalk Park in Chattanooga, TN, and some short stories and poems were published in a young writers magazine. When I turned eighteen I won a film festival in LA which was a short I wrote, directed, shot, and edited with all the characters played by the same actor. That pretty much did it.

2.)    What are your biggest regrets?

Not going to film school. Not going has given me a unique way of looking at things because I learned from projects, hands on, but I feel like I could have saved myself from mistakes early on. I put myself through film school by watching all the movies I could, reading scripts, reading books about scripts and making sixteen feature films. 

3.)    If you could do one thing all over again, what would it be?

 Meet and marry my husband sooner. 

4.)    What type of movie is on your “To Do” list?

 A Disaster Movie. I love destructo-films! I've seen "Twister" (Jan De Bont Dir.) about 150 times. 

5.)    Who are your favorite actors?

GerardDepardieu, Kate Winslet, Ciaran Hinds, Audrey Tautou, Toni Collette, MichaelShannon, Jimmy Stewart, Olivia de Havilland, Keira Knightley, CharlotteGainsbourg, Paul Newman, John Cazale, River Phoenix, I love Actors so very much, this is only a surface list... not to mention Meryl, Pacino, Hanks...I can go on and on. I even respect Keanu Reeves!

6.)    What directors do you most admire?  Loath?  Why?

Admire...Brian De Palma, Francis Ford & Sophia Coppola, Catherine Hardwick, JohnHughes, Tony & Ridley Scott, Amy Heckerling (She's a hit when she hits and a big miss when she misses!) These are the Directors who've made some of the films that I can not imagine my world being the same without. Highest praise may go to Lars Van Trier for The Kingdom and Krzysztof Kieslowski for Three Colors Trilogy which I discovered in a shockingly vast foreign section at my local video store in little Soddy-Daisy, Tennessee. I remember watching The Kingdom and thinking, I wanna do that. 

 Loathe...Michael Mann, McG, Brett Ratner, Tyler Perry...Honestly Michael Mann doesn't deserve to be with the likes of McG, but I just see the Mann style so heavily on every film he does, and I'm not that into it. These Directors are concerned with appealing to the most base audiences, I find little art in their work. 

 7.)    What single event, if there were one, would you say influenced you the most to bring you here today?

 So I had won equipment as a prize at a film festival and I guess I suffered from the pressure of making a follow up success...ha! I had been teaching myself to use the camera and editing equipment, but lacked inspiration for a story. I worked as a phone surveyor, and this would be stand up comedian I worked with asked me to read some of his stuff. I read it, editing and punching up jokes as I went and handed it back to him. He would have been offended, but he liked the revisions. I told him it might be better as sketch comedy and I could film it, maybe make it into a TV show. We made eight episodes and while there was never a second season of "Street Walking," it formed a friendship based in creativity and respect which turned into the love of my life.  

8.)    Where is “here” today?

 Here...I am so happy to be here, not just at the precipice of so many passion projects, but alive, in this time, making films. This is the most exciting era since the 70s for film, technology and innovation, the death of celluloid... I wake up in a dream every day and wonder what will I learn today?

9.)    What is it like working and living together as a couple?  Does being a couple make it easier? 
More difficult?

The only time we fight is when we are apart. People close to us would agree with that statement. We both strive for honesty and equality in our relationship. We have the same conversations everyone else does...what's for dinner, you take the dog out, who didn't flush the toilet? I know so many people who are struggling in the business and their partner works in the 9-5 world. I can't imagine trying to explain the pitfalls and triumphs to a significant other who has no clue how challenging it really is and how much you have to give straight out of your heart to perform on the job. People look at me and think I have it easy. I wake up when I want, I take a nap if I want, I get to watch a movie at 11 a.m. if I like. I look at them and hope they get the same enjoyment from doing something they love, and remind them I sacrifice all the normal stuff for the hope of doing something extraordinary. Having someone by your side, pushing you, applauding you, and picking you up is invaluable. Stephen King often writes sweetly about Tabby, his wife, she's a writer too, and he trusts her because he knows she has talent and good taste. I feel the same about Jon. 

10.) What is your current mantra in life?  Has is changed from what you once considered your mantra?  Why?

 If you ever want to see me get angry, tell me NO. I hate no. I refuse to hear it. I will drive you crazy asking why and coming up with new ideas, so don't even bother. My poor parents, I bet I was a challenging kid. I think my mantra would be and has been on some level for a long time "Shut up and do it". You may suck at it, you might find a hidden talent. I mean it in an everyday way too, do everything you can to jam pack as much into a day/week/month/year as you can. I think I would add "and keep doing it" to that. You have to have consistency in this business and just as a musician gets better the more they play, I believe a filmmaker does also. 

11.) Which one of your characters, as writers, do you feel reflects you the most?

I write a little piece of my life and my viewpoint into every character. What I've seen, what I've heard, how I felt. I don't have enough talent to just make it up. I just keep writing me. (I mean that in the least egotistical way possible!)



1.)    What did you want to do when you “grew up” when you were five? 

Five? Wow! My Father was on the road with a Gospel group called Soul Purpose. So, occasionally, he would take me on the road to tour with him. I would run the reel to reel tape deck and sometimes Dad would write skits for my brother and I to perform onstage.So I guess the easiest answer is I wanted to be a performer like my Father singing, playing, acting, and making people laugh. As Rush says "living in the Limelight, the universal dream." Everything I have done has sprouted from the seed of not being content to sit in a crowd.

2.)    What are your biggest regrets?

I love film but not always film philosophy "Love means never having to say your sorry" yeah right."I don't believe in mistakes." but they sure believe in you. "There are no regrets." BS. I have many. My brother dying, my early relationships, what an Ass I was from sixteen to twenty-five lol. I definitely regret not writing sooner. Not trusting more people in my early career. Its interesting though I find the one thing you never regret is risk.I love regret. It keeps you aware of what could be missed.

3.)    If you could do one thing all over again, what would it be?

I would remake my first twelve films. I did it under this idea of twelve feature films in twelve months. I just wish that I would have been brave enough to make them better than I did. They are mostly good with a couple bordering great but I didn't make the little changes,edits,choices,and fight the important fights. I would also help Tracy edit. I've finally started that process and we come up with awesome ideas together, things we would never have dreamed of separate. Not being part of the edit was laziness on my part. Truly.

4.)    What type of movie is on your “To Do” list?

All of them lol. I am not a genre snob at all. I would love to do a Western, an action film, Erotic Thriller, Lovecraftian Horror, Amish Porn....

5.)    Who are your favorite actors?

Al Pacino, Robert Duvall, Dustin Hoffman, Ben Foster, Michael Sheen, Martin Sheen, Kurt Russell, Meryl Streep, Karen Black, Emma Stone, Julie Christie, Lily Taylor,....the list is endless. I love actors who can play character parts and the occasional lead. 

6.)    What directors do you most admire?  Loath?  Why?

Some directors have perfected one part of the craft. For example no one shoots a film like Kubrick, Lumet is amazing with actors, Lucas understands audiences, De Palma is the mood master, Lynch will twist your sensibilities. Here are a few that are the whole package.

Coppola - He made some of the greatest films in history in different genres
John Carpenter - Horror will always get the shot straw for film aficionados but he writes, scores, and directs some of the best "Popcorn" films ever.

David Cronenberg- A true independent. Study his career to see how to turn your vision into great art.
Of course I haven't mentioned the directors of the 40's and 50's Capra, Hitchcock, etc. The 70's style speaks to me and I tend to concentrate there. As far as loathe, I just hate when a film wasn't directed. It's like watching a ship run aground. BTW I love Michael Mann, which Tracy hates so it is very subjective.

7.)    What single event, if there were one, would you say influenced you the most to bring you here today?

My marriage without a doubt. I never had the confidence that I would find someone and didn't know how fucked I was without them, LOL. Every "artist" needs a partner. No one can fill every void in themselves. Van Gogh had his brother and Michelangelo, his lover. Jesus needed twelve for God's sake. How many bio pics feature the unsung hero (Hitchcock, Amadeus). It takes two as the song says. Tracy and I finish each others thought but still surprise each other everyday. I am not saying everyone needs to work with their spouse. But find someone to bounce off of dammit. Even if its a Cocker Spaniel.

8.)    Where is “here” today?

I began this year wondering how it could top last. It already has. Here is shocking, intimidating, and staggering me with a new adventure nearly every day. Here is the sky being the limit but loving my scars when I fall from it. Here is fun baby!

9.)    What is it like working and living together as a couple?  Does being a couple make it easier? More difficult?

What Tracy said was true, we only fight when we are too far apart. I have friends that work all day separate and go to bed at 9 because there kids are up at 6. so they see each other 4 hours a day when they are tired and cranky. Now that sounds hard. No thanks man. I am incapable of not running my own show. I am a terrible employee and I have the termination notices to prove it. I only get cranky when we are not making something, planning to make something, or have a direction in which to march at least. You can be a God creating from inception and letting it evolve until it surprises you. That is a giddy life.

10.)  \What is your current mantra in life?  Has is changed from what you once considered your mantra?  Why?

Give people more than they ask for or deserve. Nothing is more important than Happy. If it doesn't make sense stop promoting it. Be entertaining. Let people be, if they want your product they will order it from you.

11.)   Which one of your characters, as writers, do you feel reflects you the most?

I would honestly have to say "Hobo Heyseus" our newest film. I love the anti hero. Coolhand Luke, Billy Jack, Doc Holiday....I wanted to write a film with Josh Owens and Tracy with a complex lead character and  spiritual overtones. I believe the carnal and the divine is where all lasting art meets. I guess that's me. Well, not divine, but searching. We'll see if the audience can be entertained by my search. Shock and Awe now that's great film-making if you can get pull it off.