32/52 ALWAYS WORTHY
The more specific your work is, the more universal it becomes to an audience. Amberlee Colson is a Los Angeles actress who wrote, produced and starred in this film after developing her central character in a one-woman show that played to sold-out audiences at my old stomping grounds, the Meta Theatre, back in 2010.
When Jules Jensen, a quirky aspiring actress about to turn thirty, finds herself still struggling to make her dreams come true, she takes drastic measures to stand out. Only when her life completely unravels, does she figure out who she truly wants to be.
Colson raised much of her micro-budget through Kickstarter and shot in homes and outdoor locations around L.A. So much of her story is familiar to me–both in sad and hilarious ways. The Bar Method classes, the street sign spinners, the bleak casting offices, the dog-walkers, the joggers, the narcissists…it’s all captured with pitch-perfect precision and, therefore, becomes universally entertaining.
Colson enlisted her friend, Marianna Palka, to direct. I first became aware of Palka as the subject of the HBO short documentary The Lion’s Mouth Opens. It was short-listed for an Oscar and has been nominated for an Emmy. I watched it on my phone while eating dinner at an outdoor cafe and was openly sobbing in public by the end. Palka’s first feature, Good Dick, screened at Sundance and is next on my list. I’ve become a fan of this Scottish woman who is a fantastic actress as well. She is on the frontier of indie filmmakers who are creating good content for very little money with a close-knit crew and going the way of self-distribution. She’s so inspiring to me, as is Colson.
Amberlee is a gifted performer, capable of hilarious comedy and heartfelt drama. This film is a terrific vehicle for her talent and I loved seeing that, once again, an actor can create opportunities that hold their own in the industry. With a great script and solid production values, there is no need to spend millions of dollars in order to make a compelling film. Please do support these gutsy women. You can watch the film on Amazon Prime and other streaming services such as iTunes and Google Play.
23/52 SEQUIN RAZE.
It’s summer and ’tis the season for The Bachelorette and the Lifetime cutting-edge satire of such shows- UnREAL. If you’re a fan of UnREAL, as I am, then you won’t want to miss this short film that was the origination for the series.
The writer/director of Sequin Raze–the short film that took the 2013 SXSW film festival by storm–is Sarah Gertrude Shapiro. Shapiro was bound by a contract that transferred her from a different reality show to nine “miserable” seasons on The Bachelor. Her experience as a producer on that show was the basis for her short film, which was created during the AFI Directing Workshop for Women.
The film follows a jilted contestant on a Bachelor-type show and the morally conflicted producer who stops at nothing to get the footage she needs. Anna Camp plays the contestant and she gives an amazing performance that showcases her range as an actor. The film is beautifully directed and shot, capturing both the glowing glitz of the reality show and its gritty underbelly.
I was able to see a screener of the film a few years ago when a friend of mine was prepping an audition for the first season of UnREAL. I was an instant fan and thrilled to find out that the film was becoming a series. Incidentally, the Director of Photography for Sequin Raze–Ava Berkofsky–wound up shooting my short film, HARMONY, so it was nice that I was already a fan of her work when I met her. And, since then, I’ve become good friends with one of UnREAL‘s Season 1 writers and another actor acquaintance of mine (the fantastic Lindsay Musil) is absolutely killing it in a recurring role on this season, so I feel pretty attached to the show. The series has garnered incredible critical acclaim and rightfully so, as it gives two amazing women (Constance Zimmer & Shiri Appleby) the opportunity to play complex, meaty characters that are rarely available to female actors over 30.
I’d been wanting to see the short film again for years and it’s finally become available for free online, thanks to my favorite Short of the Week website. Enjoy!
Last night two agents sat in on my acting class and gave me quite a shift in perspective.
The past few years have been incredibly difficult for me career-wise. Each year I have made small, steady steps forward; I’ve trained consistently in my craft, I’ve produced work I’m proud of, I joined the union, I have theatrical and commercial agents who hustle for me, and yet I haven’t worked in a long time and I rarely audition. All around me I see men of my age and talent range working and auditioning constantly while the women in this age range, unless they already have a ton of credits, waste away waiting for crumbs.
It’s easy to take this personally and to let it drag me into a pit of despair, as I’ve written about so many times before. While I can’t compare the time I live in now with how it was before, I can understand how it must have felt for women who weren’t allowed to work outside the home. The feeling of being trapped, of desperation, of untapped energy and potential, is almost too much to deal with sometimes. I feel like a zombie in my own life–forced to earn money, forced to go through the motions every day, forced to be happy for everyone else, while none of it makes me come alive in any way.
Part of surviving in Los Angeles for as long as I have is pretending that the odds don’t matter. Yes, we actors know the stats; we know how unrealistic this industry is but we have to believe that we’ll make it anyway. And for me, “making it” doesn’t include great fame or wealth–it just means work. Somehow, though, the crap shoot we’re involved with doesn’t become real until suddenly it does.
We are addicts and junkies. Everyone we know outside of the industry has bought homes, raised families, taken vacations and accumulated nice furniture and retirement accounts. Meanwhile, we’re still living in crappy rentals in the crummy parts of town, we may never have wanted kids but either way we’ve sacrificed them, our furniture is from yard sales, we forego doctors appointments in favor of classes and headshots, we take shit from boys half our age at shit jobs because they let us leave work to audition. But every time we want to quit, every time we think about doing something else…we just can’t. Nothing else exists. As one 62 year-old female artist said to me: You just have to keep going. That’s all there is. If it’s a choice between clay and ice cream, I buy clay. It’s just a certain type of crazy.
So these agents…they were talking about how much the industry has changed over the past several years now that everything has gone digital. They said, for one breakdown of a mid-30’s female guest star, the casting directors will receive 4,600 submissions within the span of a few hours. Oh. It’s so easy to go into the head space of: I’m not good enough, I’m not young enough, I’m not pretty enough, I’m not skinny enough. And that may all be true. However…
The casting directors don’t really care about your headshots, they don’t open your submission to watch your reel and they may not even listen to your agent pitch. They’re scrolling through pages of actors to find a face they recognize. And they’re culling from lists of the 1,000 actors they already know who are trying to get work. So…yeah…as an average white woman in that age range–the odds are definitely not in my favor. And it isn’t personal.
Our class discussed what we can be doing to help ourselves and the agents feel that it all comes down to relationships. But I was sitting there with a light bulb going off over my head, thinking, This is why you create your own work. I’ve created my own work for years and years. My dream roles and peak artistic experiences have arisen almost exclusively from projects I originated or helped to develop. Again, it’s been easy for me think that I’ve had to create my own work because I’m not good enough for anyone else to hire. But that’s not really it. That’s not it at all. And I have to get over the hang-up of needing external validation for my work because it only gets in my way.
Right now I’m developing a dream feature film role for myself and everything about the process has been exciting and wonderful. It’s all coming together at a much more rapid pace than anything else in my life or career. This project has got to be as valuable to me as any little television one-liner I might beat the odds to book. I can’t get daunted by the uncertainty of how it’s going to get financed and I can’t believe that I’m “less than” because I had to cast myself in order to work.
I think about leaving Los Angeles all the time. But where would I go? It could be easier to survive somewhere else and if the odds really are this bleak, and I’m going to be creating my own work anyway, shouldn’t I seriously consider it? However, at this point, I’ve lived in Los Angeles longer than anywhere else in my life and as someone who grew up without a hometown, I guess this has come to mean something to me. I have roots here and maybe that’s just as important to me as staying in the game. It’s an open question that I continue to ponder.
Regardless, my place as an artist in this industry has started to crystallize. Self-generating work is a long, arduous process and it scares a lot of people away. But I just got a taste of the odds again and I gotta say that developing my own work makes me feel more like the casino owner than a desperate actor losing all my quarters at the slots.