#CreateYourOwnWork: 5 Questions with Sarah Elizabeth Grace

unnamed-11. Who are you, and what do you do?
 
I’m Sarah Elizabeth Grace, and I’m an actor and writer.
 
2. #CreateYourOwnWork: what does that mean for you?
 
The hashtag #createyourownwork means so many things to me! Creating your own work puts you in the driver’s seat – you can cast yourself in the role of a lifetime. I find I’ve created my own work when I’m in between gigs and I have a halfway-decent idea for a show.
My first foray into creating my own work was when I wrote and performed a one woman show called “Mental Nudity” in 2013. It was an hour-long romp about the trials and triumphs of growing up, where I read from childhood diaries, used puppets, and sang along to ukulele. It was produced at the PIT Underground and Standard ToyKraft.
After steadily performing in various films, TV shows, and theatrical productions, I hit a dry spell in 2016. That’s when I began to write “More”, my first multi-character, full-length play. I was sick of not being considered for certain parts, so I decided to write my own. I also wanted to create more nuanced male characters, and address addiction in a way that wasn’t a total cliche. After several readings in my living room, “More” went through a playwriting lab and had its public reading debut at the Drama League Studio in October 2016.
In my post-election rage, I also wrote a hour-long drama pilot about a post-apocalyptic matriarchal society where all the men are dead. That was fun!
Now, “More” is being produced as a fully staged production at the Secret Theatre’s Unfringed Festival this August and I couldn’t be happier. I’m in a play that addresses issues I’m passionate about, and I’m playing a role that was literally made for me!
 
3. What have you gained by creating your own work; on the flip side, what challenges have you faced?
 
In creating my own work, I’ve gained a sense of autonomy and purpose. I’ve booked the job already, so there’s a sense of confidence that comes with it, too. It’s nice to get hired for outside projects, but producing your own work brings a substantial sense of accomplishment.
The challenges of creating your own work is that, when you’re writing, there’s no deadline! Then when you get into production, the financial and logistical aspects can be daunting. I could say that there’s a challenge in handing over the material to the director and other actors, but I’ve been very fortunate to work with kind and talented people who I trust. Having a few cheerleaders around when you’re creating your own work is essential!
 
4. What do you think is the most important skill for a creator building his/her career from scratch?
 
Dedication.
No one is watching you or keeping you accountable when you’re building something from scratch. Always have a game plan on how you’re going to finish a portion of the work you have ahead of you. Know what your strengths are and where you’re going to need extra support. Go to a coffee shop if you have to (like me!), have an accountability buddy, join Facebook groups of other artists, go support others’ work, have breaks, eat good snacks, drink lots of coffee…basically, use the tools you need to use in order to complete it.
Anything can be done as long as you take it one step at a time.
 
5. Which project of yours are you proudest of?
 
I am immensely proud of “More”, from the words on the page to the casting to what we’ve discovered in rehearsals. I love challenging the meaningless mainstream, white, patriarchal expectations. None of our actors would necessarily be cast in our roles if we were following Hollywood standards – especially me. This is a realistic play. Our characters are flawed people who are trying the best they can, like a lot of people in this world, and we thought the people onstage should reflect reality.
“More” runs at the Secret Theatre August 13, 18, 23, 27, and Sept 2nd. Tickets can be purchased at unfringed2017.bpt.me

#CreateYourOwnWork: 5 Questions with Kiwi Callahan

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Kiwi Callahan
1. Who are you, and what do you do?
My name is Kiwi Callahan, and I’m a documentary filmmaker. Right now, my work tends to be focused on minority rights, labor, and immigration, but I’m interested in literally everything.
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2. #CreateYourOwnWork: what does that mean for you?
For me, the concept of creating my own work is a relatively new addition to my life. I was an actress for a long time, and people were constantly telling me that I needed to be producing my own content, but I had no idea what to do about it. I was primarily a musical theater performer, and since I didn’t compose, write lyrics, or write dialogue, I had no idea where to start. It wasn’t until I started to venture behind the camera and focus on telling unscripted stories that were happening in real time that I began to understand what kind of work I wanted to create. When I started producing documentary shorts, I felt a deep sense of ownership in my projects that I had never felt as an actress. I realized that, as actors, we tend to come in to the creative process when so many of the storytelling decisions have already been made, and while I felt ownership of my character and acting choices, it wasn’t enough for me anymore. That shift happened about 5 years ago, and to be honest, I’m still figuring out exactly what I want to focus on. In the mean time, I’m enjoying the satisfaction of finally knowing what kind of storyteller I’m supposed to be.
 
3. What have you gained by creating your own work; on the flip side, what challenges have you faced?
My favorite part about creating my own work thus far has been all of the new skills I’ve learned. In needing to support my documentary habit, I’ve also learned how to field produce, shoot, edit, create motion graphics, and interview people for other projects I’ve collaborated on or been hired to create. Every single client has taught me something new, and I know that this will be a life-long learning process. I think the biggest challenge that I’ve faced has been building my network up pretty much from scratch. My first performance as an actress was when I was 8 years old in a community theater in my hometown, and since then, I’d spent over 20 years building up a very wide network of industry connections. I’ve now gone in an almost completely different direction, and have had to start getting to know an entirely different group of people, which can seem overwhelming at times. It feels a little like I’ve lost my tribe. However, I’m very fortunate to have met some incredibly supportive people at the beginning of this journey, and they are really helping to kickstart this networking process for me–hopefully I can build a decent network in less than 2 decades this time. 🙂
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4. What do you think is the most important skill for a creator building his/her career from scratch?
The ability to always keep a “beginner’s mind” when approaching each new project. Always assume that there’s going to be a challenge you’ve never faced before, embrace the opportunity to learn something new, and dive into it head-on.
 
5. Which project of yours are you proudest of?
 
Right now, it’s the latest episode of my web series, Where I Don’t Belong. My friend Oscar Collazos (www.oscarcollazos.com) and I went undercover in North Carolina to pick tobacco for a day with field workers there, and it was an eye-opening experience. We met some great people and we learned a lot, and we’re pretty sure I got nicotine poisoning, so, there’s that. I’m also excited to say that Part 1 has over 3,000 views, which is pretty great for an 11 minute video, I think. 🙂
Official Website: www.whereidontbelong.com

#CreateYourOwnWork: 5 Questions with Anne Hu

 

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Anne Hu

1. Who are you, and what do you do?
Hello!  My name is Anne Hu.  I’m a director, writer, editor, and actor.  For work, I am currently a Senior Producer and Editor at HBO, cutting trailers and promos for their television series and documentary films.  Outside of work, I am passionately creating my own content about our world’s marginalized voices.   I particularly write stories about women and the Asian American experience.  I strive to create work that pushes the boundaries of what a woman can say.  I hope by creating more stories about the Asian American experience, I can encourage more fulfilling opportunities for minorities, behind and in front of the camera. 

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Poster for Anne’s film “Cake”

2. #CreateYourOwnWork: what does that mean for you?

#CreateYourOwnWork means to me creating work that is unapologetically my voice.  #CreateYourOwnWork means to me to be myself, to create work without worrying about what’s popular or what will sell.  It means to create genuine honest personal stories with my vision and perspective.  It also means taking power into my own hands.  Instead of waiting for opportunity to come to me, I feel that creating my own work allows me to not “follow the rules” or “follow the system,” but instead to create work my way.  To take on that much personal responsibility is also a hustle, but it’s a hustle I enjoy.

3. What have you gained by creating your own work; on the flip side, what challenges have you faced?
Through creating my own work, I’ve met amazing people and formed meaningful relationships with those who I have shared values.  I’ve grown through fantastic collaborations with people that share my vision or we share a passion for genuine and unique storytelling.  I’ve also learned to have more confidence in my voice over time and how to get more clear with my voice.  I’ve learned that the more honest I am, the more I am able to connect with people, even if it’s a niche group.

The challenges of creating your own work include financing your own work and finding your audience.  Sometimes as an Asian American female filmmaker, I don’t always know where I fit.  For instance, when I’m applying for film festivals, I sometimes ask myself, “Am I Asian enough?” or other questions about my identity regarding other niche festivals.  These are kind of ridiculous questions to ask of yourself, but in an industry and world that likes to categorize you, it’s inevitable.  But ultimately in the end, I am who I am.  I can not change myself or my work for where it will fit.  I can only create my own work and the work itself will find its home or audience.  🙂

4. What do you think is the most important skill for a creator building his/her career from scratch?
 I feel the most important skill as a creator is communication.  As a creator, not only are you trying to perfect your ability to communicate with your audience your vision or story, but if you need to collaborate with other artists, you need to communicate with them to collectively execute the idea or vision.  

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From Anne’s film “Balloon”

5. Which project of yours are you proudest of?
 Each of my projects have been stepping stones in my career.  Each project has taught me immensely and each have had their unique challenges and accomplishments.  I have my disappointing and proud moments with each project.  Haha.  And I assume this will continue with all my future projects as well.  I am not proud of any singular project.  I’d rather look at my body of work as a whole, and I’m happy with how my portfolio is evolving.

#CreateYourOwnWork: 5 Questions with Michelle Leigh

day one 4.jpg1. Who are you, and what do you do?
My name is Michelle Leigh – what I do is a bit….expansive. I have been a Registered Nurse for 17 years, I am a single mom and have run a children’s theatre in my community since 2005. In 2013 I became the unintentional screenwriter.  The story of what is now my film, “More than only,” became that story that would not leave me alone until I completed writing it – it was a story that I knew was a movie script from the first words.
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2. #CreateYourOwnWork: what does that mean for you?
I think our lives in general are about “creating our own work” – we all must find what defines us and what makes us fulfilled and satisfied. When given the opportunity to create something, such as my film, it is a moment that could be a fork in the road – we can decide to follow that thought or ambition and see it through or we choose to walk the opposite direction. Either choice is valid for our own reasons. But for me, this challenge is one I will be forever grateful that I got to walk a journey of both figuratively and literally at times; molding, sculpting, painting, fostering and producing something that is borne from my will to create something I had not before dared to dream possible.
 
3. What have you gained by creating your own work; on the flip side, what challenges have you faced?
 
I would never have dreamed that I would write, produce and direct a feature film. It was absolutely nowhere on my concious list of to-do’s. Taking on the not inclusive list of challenges leading costumes, art department, music supervisor, props & location scout. The entire journey thus far has taken four years – it is to date the most unexpected and proud achievements filled with pure determination to see it through to the finish line.
 
There is always so much to learn and understand about new processes – much you learn as you go – other things if you are given strong and knowledgeable guides (which I found in my DOP, Darren Hartman, https://www.asynfilm.com/ ) who spent much time helping me with the guidance of his experiences and history.
 
4. What do you think is the most important skill for a creator building his/her career from scratch?
Fearlessness. There is no room to allow fear to drive or hamper decisions. There are TRULY no ideas not worth exploring. Once the choice is made to move forward – do it with full commitment. To not do so, or to be afraid is to deny the enjoyment of the journey itself. Each step, each success (or misstep) has something to teach and propel the project along – embrace it all, learn from it and live in the moments.
 
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5. Which project of yours are you proudest of?
More Than Only is my first film – When I look back on the journey that has brought the film this far I can hardly believe that it isn’t a dream. It is out of sheer tenacity that I secured 14 locations, 42 talented actors, 75 extras, achieved the music rights (anyone who has traversed these grounds – bless you!), found a phenomenal DOP who hired a terrific crew. I will always look back on this film – whether I get to do another again or not, and always know I achieved something very rare and special that will hopefully long outlive me and mean something for the genre I have intended this story.
 
 
Update videos and closer up with the cast: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=93Z2NoTrSEI
 
 

#CreateYourOwnWork: 5 Questions with Heather Taylor

Continuing my trend of speaking with indie filmmakers who make strides and get wonderful work done: meet Heather Taylor! I first met Heather after seeing her excellent short film Stitched, which is busily gaining well-deserved notice. Here are Heather’s thoughts on the “twisty, splintery” path to creating one’s own work, not waiting to ask permission, patience, and more.

Heather is also currently crowdfunding for her next short horror film, Pay to Stay, which she describes as “a LGBTQ love story nestled in the heart of a monster movie.” Here’s where you go to help Heather and her team make this film happen!

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Heather Taylor

1. Who are you, and what do you do?

I’m a writer and director working in narratives, docs and interactive projects. When I’m dreaming up a new project, I pick the medium that fits the story the best and I’m always looking for innovative ways to approach storytelling. If I had to pick something I loved the most, it’d be probably be in the world sci-fi/ fantasy/ horror and I mildly obsess about space.
 
2. #CreateYourOwnWork: what does that mean for you?
I’ve always been a big advocate for creating your own work. Since I was in elementary school I was always finding ways to write stories and make my friends act them out (Yes. I was bossy, and I’m proud of it!) That instinct help me create my own work when I moved to England and again when I moved to New York. Without that drive to create, I don’t think I’d be where I am today. It’s important to make your own path and these days the paths are getting more twisty and splintery and oh, so exciting! 
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3. What have you gained by creating your own work; on the flip side, what challenges have you faced?
By creating my own work, I’ve been able to get a lot of insight into what works and doesn’t work. I also never waited to get permission to do something. If I wanted to do it, I did. But it didn’t give me patience. Why wait for someone else when you can make something now. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it has scattered my attention at times.
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Heather on set

 

4. What do you think is the most important skill for a creator building his/her career from scratch?
Can I say patience? I’d combine that with tenacity, a hard work ethic, boldness and really having no fear. At the top is self confidence. You get knocked back a lot so you have to continue to believe in yourself. Also learn what are good opportunities and which ones are time wasters. But your time and creative energy into things you really believe in and don’t look back.
 
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Actress Deborah Green in Heather’s film, “Stitched”
5. Which project of yours are you proudest of?
That’s a hard one – it’s like asking to choose a favorite child out of a huge brood! But I think my choice of writing and directing my series Raptured in under two months in time for the predicted date of the rapture and hitting my deadline was amazing. It really made me realize that when you have a vision and put yourself out there, that you can make anything your imagination can dream up. It also got me a place on a panel at Comic Con talking about creating web series and new work for online audiences. I still can’t believe that happened. Yes. A dream come true.