Worldwide Premiere of the short film “A Tree. A Rock. A Cloud.” at the Manchester International Film Festival Adapted and Directed by Award-Winning Actor Karen Allen
Award-winning actor, theatrical director, and writer, Karen Allen (Raiders of the Lost Ark, Animal House, Starman, The Glass Menagerie, The Perfect Storm, Year By the Sea), has directed her first film based on the Carson McCullers’ short story, “A Tree. A Rock. A Cloud.” The film will have its world premiere at the Manchester International Film Festival on March 5, 2017. Allen will also be a featured speaker on the Women in Independent Cinema Panel taking place at the Festival.
2017 marks the 100th birthday of renowned author Carson McCullers. Written when she was just 19, “A Tree. A Rock. A Cloud.” is set at a roadside café in the early morning in spring of 1947. A young boy and an older man meet by chance. The man relates a luminous tale of personal heartbreak and loss, and of his hard won understanding of the nature of love.
For Allen, the story made a lasting impression many years ago. “I came across this story when I was in my early 20’s. As a young actor I was drawn to Carson McCullers as a playwright and novelist at first, and then began to read everything she’d written that I could get my hands on. ‘A Tree. A Rock. A Cloud.’ always loomed large for me among her many short stories; it is a quiet, subtle, mysterious story. It sneaks up on you and has stayed indelibly etched in my imagination all these years.
Allen’s film stars veteran actors Jeff DeMunn as The Man (The Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile, TV’s The Walking Dead) and James McMenamin as Leo, the owner of the diner (TV’s Orange is the New Black). Making his film debut is Jackson Smith in the role of the Young Boy.
To bring the story to life on film, Allen surrounded herself with many established film professionals. Academy Award nominee Kristi Zea was the Production Designer (The Departed, Silence of the Lambs, Philadelphia, Goodfellas, Broadcast News). Cinematographer Richard Sands has designed lighting and/or shot over 35 films and 47 television movies with directors such as Steven Spielberg and Francis Ford Coppola. He is also the lighting designer for photographer Gregory Crewdson. Producers on the project are Allen’s East Coast Manager, Brian Long, and independent film and visual effects producer, Diane Pearlman. Shooting took place in the bucolic Berkshires hills of western Massachusetts over 6 days. With its natural beauty and perfect interior location, Allen was able to shoot quite near her home and use many of the talented professionals who live and work in the area.
The film is currently being submitted to festivals internationally. It will also be shown at celebrations of Carson McCullers’ extraordinary life and writing under the auspices of the Carson McCullers Center at Columbus State University in Columbus, GA, and in the newly acquired McCullers Center in Nyack, NY. Screenings will also be held in NYC and Rome, Italy with educational and literary institutions. Allen hopes to highlight McCullers’ influence on generations of writers, most particularly women in the 20th and 21st centuries. As she sees it, “The story is flooded with the raw, tangible beauty of the natural world, set in contrast to the complex, intangible yearning for love in the characters’ interior worlds. I stayed very close and true to the story Carson McCullers wrote, as I wanted to illuminate in the film the characters she has so beautifully drawn in the pages of this story. I’m thrilled to be bringing this incredibly sensitive and original story to audiences all over the world”
Set in the beautiful and culturally vibrant city of Portland, Maine, Bluestocking Film Series is an exclusive showcase for films that pass the Bechdel Test and feature fascinating, multifaceted female protagonists who drive the story and lead the action. Artistic Director Kate Kaminski says she founded the series in 2011 because she wants to see more films produced that explore women’s lives, experiences, and relationships with each other.
Think about the last movie you saw. Now ask yourself:
1. Were there two or more (named) women characters in it?
2. Did they talk to each other?
3. Did they talk about something other than a man?
These three simple questions are called the Bechdel Test. Once you start applying the test to the films you watch, you will notice that even in the year 2014, there is still a long way to go to see as many women characters in movies who are portrayed as strong and complex as their male counterparts.
By introducing these international shorts to cinema-loving audiences, the Bluestocking also promotes and nurtures talented, emerging filmmakers who, Kaminski says, “have the potential to influence the future of entertainment.” This year’s selections ‘in competition’ range in genre from dark to light comedy, intense drama to heartwarming coming of age stories. “The female characters around whom these films are centered are as various in age and type as they could be,” Kaminski says, noting that there are films in the program that touch on themes of ageism, racism, and gender questioning as well.
Bluestocking Film Series is the very first festival in the United States to receive Sweden’s ‘A’ rating. The brainchild of a consortium of Swedish cinema activists, the rating is intended to inform consumers that a particular film passes the Bechdel Test. According to leading A-Rating activist Ellen Tejle, “the goal of the [Swedish] ratings project is to encourage the telling of more female stories and perspectives.” The Bluestocking shares A-Rating status with blockbuster Hollywood films like VERONICA MARS, BEFORE MIDNIGHT, DIVERGENT and CATCHING FIRE.
The Bluestocking (formerly biannual) has been steadily growing since it began in 2011 and has gained visibility and support by initiating and developing connections with others who are working for better representation of women in film in front of and behind the camera, such as Marian Evans of Wellywood Woman blog (http://wellywoodwoman.blogspot.com/) Seed&Spark (http://www.SeedandSpark.com), and many others.
Of seventy-five entries received for the 2014 season, eleven films were selected by Kaminski with able assistance from two discerning judges. One of the judges was Ellen Tejle, Director at Cinema Rio in Stockholm, Sweden, who says, “I get so inspired by The Bluestocking Film Series and their work to highlight films with complex female characters – I’m so excited to be a judge this year.” Joining Tejle was Amanda Trokan, Director of Content at the crowdfunding site Seed&Spark. Trokan has worked at the Film Society of Lincoln Center and is also a screener for the Hamptons International Film Festival.
This year, two filmmakers will walk away with cash prizes for winning the Audience Choice award by blind ballot and one filmmaker will be chosen to receive a Best in Show award.
By providing a place where films about women and girl characters can be celebrated, Kaminski hopes to fuel and encourage writers and filmmakers to invest in complex female protagonists at least half the time. But with regard to the Bechdel Test , she cautions, “it’s not enough to make a film that passes unless the impetus is to express a deeper understanding of what it implies about the importance of women’s conversations.”
The 2014 Bluestocking Film Series Official Selections are:
HANNA (Joel Stockman, Sweden – World Premiere)
CABBIE (Brian C Miller Richard, Louisiana – Maine Premiere)
THE RUN AWAY (Penny Eizenga, Canada – World Premiere)
CRYSTAL (Chell Stephen, US/Canada – Maine Premiere)
KIMBAP (Alex Kyo Won Lee, New Zealand – US Premiere)
GRACE (Liz Cooper, Australia – Maine Premiere)
RAWHEAD AND BLOODY BONES (Merry Grissom, Los Angeles – Maine Premiere)
STICKS AND STONES (Chloe Dahl, Los Angeles – New England Premiere)
GRETCHEN (Carin Bräck, Sweden – US Premiere)
DEAR SANTA (Maura Smith, Massachusetts – Maine Premiere)
THE RAPTURE AND GRAMMY GWEN (Brittany Reeber, Texas – East Coast Premiere)
Also playing, out of competition, will be Madeleine Olnek’s award-winner COUNTERTRANSFERENCE and two surprise shorts to be unveiled at the screening.
Filmmaker Maura Smith will be making her second appearance at the Bluestocking. “As a filmmaker, [the series] is a favorite of mine,” she says. “Attending the festival is a creatively invigorating experience, and one that offers viewers the chance to see the work of talented filmmakers from across the globe. I am thrilled to be a part of the Bluestocking Film Festival once again this year.” Smith’s film BETTER DAYS screened at the spring 2012 Bluestocking.
Faren Humes whose award-winning film OUR RHINELAND screened at the fall 2013 event, says, “The fest features programming with female protagonists by some of the industry’s best up and coming filmmakers. I was honored to be a part of the lineup.”
The Bluestocking Film Series is happening on July 18-19 at Space Gallery (http://space538.org), 538 Congress Street, Portland, Maine. Come for the weekend and enjoy the best days of summer in Maine and and two memorable evenings of short films featuring complex female protagonists.
For more information about the Bluestocking Film Series, contact Kate Kaminski (bluestockingfilmseries@gmail. com). Watch trailers for past and upcoming events at bluestockingfilms.com.
We’ve been following Worcester-based producer Kristen Lucas and her journey to bring the feature-length comedy short GIRLS NIGHT OUT to the big screen.
When Kristen Lucas and co-screenwriter Rufus Chaffee finished the feature length script for GIRLS NIGHT OUT in November of 2012, Kristen was not content to wait for someone to come to her. She wanted to bring GIRLS NIGHT OUT to life her way. Lucas is the founder of the lifestyle brand and movement “Respect Her Hustle” so no one is surprised she was willing to hustle for it.
After holding a table read of the script, Kristen said, “Hearing the words come to life, we knew we had something great- we thought the best way to drum up interest in the project would be to get the characters on screen to show people just how funny this world was.” Lucas and Chaffee quickly wrote an eight page short based on the characters and situations in the feature length script and with Chaffee set to direct and Lucas to produce, they started assembling a team.
First the auditions. With characters based on real people, Kristen knew she had big shoes to fill, but after a series of auditions that December an amazing leading cast was assembled: Molly Kelleher, Jami Tennille, Erin Olson and Sam Pannier. Co-Producer Barbara Guertin was instrumental in helping to find a few of the supporting male characters, by recruiting some actor friends of hers, Peter Husovsky and Jeff La Greca. Local actor Kevin Peterson rounded out the cast by playing Officer Pecs (for obvious reasons).
From table read to audition all the actresses were able to meet their “real-life” counterparts creating a unique pre-production process. “It is every actor’s dream situation,” said Molly Kelleher. “The chance to observe and talk to the actual person my character is based on helped my process of developing Jo. I felt comfortable stepping in her shoes and authentically bringing the character to life.”
Lucas also called upon Jennifer Dunlea for fashion styling and close friend Lisa Roche (upon whom one of the “girls” was actually based) for hair and makeup. Lisa said of the shoot, “It was such a great experience creating looks for each character, especially when I could incorporate elements from the actual personalities of the women who inspired the script. The small differences between a power business mom (stylish but no nonsense) and an insecure neglected wife (trying to impress, but ends up looking like she’s going to a prom) were so fun to explore and translate to the screen.”
Dunlea, echoed this sentiment, using different colors and dress styles to define the distinct personalities. “In a short film format, you have even less time to get across what you are trying to say and who the people are- we needed people to ‘get’ the characters right away and have their wardrobe demonstrate who they are,” she said.
The film was originally scheduled to be shot in February of 2013, but a record 30-inch snowstorm postponed the one-day shoot, which was eventually filmed in March with post-production completed in May. As Kristen put it, “I was able to pull together a talented team to support the vision; the best of the best. It takes so much work to make things happen in this industry, but they all supported me and my passion for GIRLS NIGHT OUT making it much easier than I even dared to hope for.”
Within hours production designer Rebecca Sumner converted a community center into the setting: a police station. All the props necessary to replicate the scene of an interrogation room and police observation area were assembled. The cast of seven and crew of ten went to work.
“We walked through the front door at 7 am to set the scene, coordinate hair and makeup and start shooting,” said Lucas. “At 3 am we walked out with all our footage. It was a huge accomplishment.” Cinematographer Dee Wells added, “We had a lot to do and not a lot of time. Without the teamwork on both sides of the camera, we never would have finished, let alone get the amazing look and feel that we had envisioned.”
After principal photography was complete, industry vet Don Packer of Engine Room Edit took on post-production responsibilities. In addition, Don brought in the talented folks from Soundtrack Boston and BrewHouseVFX, who created the eye-catching title design. Says Packer of the GNO team, “They’re the top of the heap in my book. I was thrilled at the opportunity to work with Kristen and the Goldilocks crew – it was a collaborative effort from the start; they brought me their best work and honored me by allowing me to do what I do best. I totally appreciate their dedication, creativity and style and I’m really happy with the end result.”
For more information about GIRLS NIGHT OUT, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Kate Sheridan is an actor and writer living in central Massachusetts. In addition to a B.A. from Holy Cross, she has trained in comedy and musical theatre at The Second City Chicago and North Shore Music Theatre, respectively. She is a regular contributor to Crazytown Blog (http://www.crazytownblog.com) and can be found on Twitter at @ahhkatesheridan.
A Discussion with Joan Debow about a Women Owned & Operated Entertainment Payroll Business
By Carol Patton
It just doesn’t get any more complicated than operating a payroll service for the entertainment, production, and advertising industries. Most of us can’t for the life of us get our arms around it in scope especially when you consider every client and their needs are different, guidelines and rules change regularly, and each client brings not only what they do, but the corresponding union(s), the performer(s), and the multiple government roles including insurance to the table all of which need to be satisfied. Who could or would intentionally want to tackle a situation like that?
However, if you are a producer, production company or advertising agency and you don’t have an accounting department the size of Price Waterhouse you need this service and its attention to a myriad of details most creative types do not want to think about.
It must be a daunting task, but to find out more about it, I knew the person to talk to was Joan Debow, an Account Manager for ARTPayroll and in the biz for over twenty-five years. ARTPayroll is a woman owned and operated entertainment, production and advertising payroll service that serves the country with multiple locations from their headquarters in Tamworth, New Hampshire.
According to Debow, ARTPayroll, “Acts as employer of record for tax and workers compensation insurance purposes for temporary employees, i.e. actors in commercials, industrials, movies, and live theater, and also for crew for all types of production. We advise and consult on Union contract compliance for example SAGAFTRA, American Federation of Musicians, IATSE, ACTR and Actors Equity. We provide Broadcast Business Affairs services including estimating production and residual costs, commercial traffic and network clearance of commercials.”
ARTPayroll provides these services for ad agencies, recording studios, production companies, producers of movies, commercials, industrials, live production, live music contractors, small legitimate theaters, even companies that hire crew for trade shows, etc.
Emily Erskine is the president and owner of the company. Joan describes her this way, “Patient, and gentle. Knowledgeable and experienced. She’s very intelligent and has an incredible eye for detail. She has been in the business for a long time and has a vast memory bank of anecdotal and historical contract knowledge.”
Joan continues, “This is absolutely crucial in the area of contract expertise and it’s practical applications. She is very responsible and sensibly cautious. We disburse a lot of our clients’ money and we need and want them to know it’s secure with us. Emily is very attentive to the security and soundness of ART and has fostered it’s safe growth in an ever more complicated arena.”
ARTPayroll goals are to tailor their services to meet their client needs within the purview of their business. Joan says that includes “becoming our clients’ ally while assisting them with their payroll related business matters. This often includes attending to an infinite number of details and matters that have some scary financial and legal ramifications making our clients’ job easier. ART’s motto is ‘Complete Support From Start to Finish’.”
A typical day in the life of Joan Debow and her Account Manager counterparts in New Hampshire, Massachusetts, California and New York, starts with assisting with the talent costs starting at the story-boarding process, production and all the way through the media plan. “I estimate costs for a specific job or I may be asked to project the costs of an entire annual campaign. I’ll advise clients on ways to cut costs and stay in compliance within the requirements of the contract. I process the talent contracts by computing the hours while abiding by the complicated wage provisions. There are complicated overtime and night premiums and scary things like ‘Meal Penalties’.
“You really need to know the ‘when the moon is blue’ intricacies of the contract to pay people correctly. Productions have many varying degrees of difficulty in this regard. Once computed, I enter them into our computer system which pays the talent, but also sets them up in a program to process residual payments as the commercials go into use. I interpret client media plans, and process the appropriate residuals payments on the basis of that information. I field and negotiate resolutions of union claims and talent contract disagreements. Some where in all of that I talk to many, many first time movie producers about payrolling their lowbudget movies (which I then payroll, which is more an act of support to newbies in the community than it will ever be lucrative).
“I talk to many producers hiring union talent for commercials and/or industrials for the first time. This is a lengthy process because it requires a thorough vetting of their production so nothing that costs money in a union talent budget is overlooked. Since they’re doing it for the first time this requires clarity and patience on my part, and theirs, so as to keep them from being overwhelmed, giving up, and running away! It can appear harder to pay talent than it really is. When a producer has decided to produce ‘union’ it’s because they are looking for something by way of performance, but it is more expensive and requires a financial commitment. My job is to help make that as easy as I can and also help the client be as informed about their responsibilities as they need to be, to uphold this legal agreement they have made with the talent,” that’s all in a day work says Joan
Clearly it takes extraordinarily special people to do this expansive, all encompassing, yet intricate work. Joan uses words like “Hard-working, steadfastly gentle and consistent to describe MaryJane Beattie, an ARTPayroll Account Manager in New Hampshire. “Very smart, kind and dedicated…wise beyond her years,” is what she says about Jonele Desperalta who works in Long Island, New York.
About Melissa Ferraro who does traffic, commercial clearance, and account management Joan says she’s a woman of few words meaning it as a compliment, has a mind like a whip, super quick and super efficient. Melissa works on the North Shore in Massachusetts.
Account Manager in Los Angeles, Shira Uslander, is another extremely smart and careful young woman who has come to ART in the last two years and jumped in full force with some of their largest and most demanding accounts. Her words are intelligent, detailed and very hardworking. Boryana Marquez, Account Manager also in LA is the newest member of the team. Experienced in the Commercial Contracts arena, this is no small thing since the contracts are very complicated. “Efficient, attentive and kind with her clients. Very pleasant and easy to talk to. A really good fit for ART.” according to Joan Debow.
The rest of the team Tracy Edwards, Susan D’Agostino, Jonathan Brady and Pamela Havell are all in Tamworth, New Hampshire at ARTPayroll’s headquarters.
Owner Emily Erskine, has this to say regarding staff, “Recently, I had a client share with me that he has worked with a many number of payroll services, but really wanted to work with us because Shira, his main account rep was nice, funny, not easily flustered and a pleasure to work with. This is the type of response that I typically hear regarding other staff as well.”
In addition to all the efficiency factors according to Joan, “You also really need patience because if you ask anyone who knows they will tell you the contracts can be frustrating and confusing. I was mentored by ART’s founder Jim Deaderick and in time I gained a good understanding of the nuts and bolts of the commercials, industrial/ non-broadcast contracts, and a little about the theatrical contract.
While ARTPayroll appears to be quite client-centric, if your are a performer you are provided with the ease of mind that you will be paid properly under the law or union contract. Performers receive the benefits of employees such as tax withholding, FICA contributions, unemployment and workman compensation insurance. And you have secure online account access to all of your ART payroll records. Plus a friendly, helpful staff willing to answer your questions with the belief that helping the artist saves their producing clients the added work of addressing those needs.
Speaking of questions, here’s one for the books: “We’re going to have a live goose in our White Sale commercial and we need to know what we have to provide and pay the goose? Is there a Union for geese?”
“Thing is, there sort of is a ‘union’ for animals. It’s the Humane Society, and the SAG and AFTRA contracts do have provisions about the humane treatment of animals along with provisions for humane treatment of actors, singers, dancers and stunt performers.” I knew Joan Debow was the person to talk to. She has all the answers and all kinds of odd-ball details stored in her head, a vast computer system, a super secure hard-working website and a great company network, to boot.
Carol Patton is the founder and publisher of IMAGINE. Her company goals are to grow the industry, keep the film tax credits she introduced to New England intact and get the word out about New England as a great place to produce.
Cameron Chapman is a New England native, born and raised in New Hampshire and Vermont, with a four-year stint in Virginia during her high school years. The geography of the places she has lived have greatly influenced her work, with most of her screenplays and other works of fiction set in either New England or the South.
First and foremost, Chapman is a storyteller, regardless of the medium. She started writing screenplays in college, and has been interested in filmmaking since childhood. She has completed one short film, THIS IS ALL YOU LEFT ME, and has just wrapped up production on a music video. She has been a huge fan of music from Randy Travis to Lynyrd Skynyrd to ZZ Top since grade school and she finds producing music videos incredibly rewarding.
After writing a couple of very bad scripts in college she dropped it for around ten years. Shortly after she stopped working full time Cameron picked up screenplay writing again.
Earlier this year Cameron took her script, TWO IN WINTER, to the Stowe Story Labs, a workshop for writers with film projects tucked under their arms. According to David Rocchio, Director of the Stowe Story Labs, “Cameron was a wonderful presence at the Labs. She was quiet, determined and talented. We were lucky to have her and I can’t wait to see her work over the years!”
Now Cameron is in full swing development of her film project
At its heart, TWO IN WINTER is about risk, told through the gritty reality behind every glossy love story.
Katy is forced to return to her childhood home for the holidays after almost a decade away when she finds out that her mother is very sick. “Home,” though, is a run-down farmhouse in a remote part of Vermont, inhabited by these eccentric longtime residents who have become a makeshift family to one another.
It’s not until Katy lands in Vermont that she finds out her first love, Jerry, is living at the house—or rather, in a trailer in the back yard. And of course no one’s bothered to tell him she’s on her way there, either.
The two of them had the kind of wild, reckless love that only two teenagers who’ve never had their hearts broken are capable of. It’s not the kind of thing that just goes away.
To further complicate things, Katy has a great job and a nice apartment, and is in a stable, if boring relationship that looks perfect on paper.
Jerry, on the other hand, is unemployed, was recently homeless, and might be a drug addict, and he’s not about to apologize for any of it. At the same time, he’s a nice guy and a talented musician (with no ambition).
Everyone at the house is opposed to the two of them getting back together, including Katy and Jerry. They know it makes no sense and yet they’re drawn to each other.
It leads to some bad choices on their part, which are only made worse when Katy’s boyfriend joins her for the holidays. This forces her to make a choice between the safe, comfortable life she’s forged for herself, or risking everything for the sake of a reckless, passionate love affair that’s doomed from the start.
She knows that if she chooses Jerry, she’ll be giving up everything she’s always claimed to want. It’s not just risking her heart; it’s risking her entire life.
Cameron says, “The basic premise—woman comes home after years away only to reconnect with her lost love—is pretty common in romantic comedies. But in virtually all of those films, the old flame has become successful while the girl was gone. That’s not the case here. Jerry’s more of a loser than he was when Katy left. So there’s no easy decision here. It’s not a choice between two successful guys, or two successful lives. It’s a choice between having a comfortable life or struggling for everything, every day. But it’s also a choice between someone she might be happy with, and someone she knows she absolutely, passionately loves.
“And that’s what sets it apart from other films,” she concludes. “It’s the gritty reality behind the romantic comedy.”
“The inspiration for TWO IN WINTER largely came when I was out listening to a local band a couple of years ago, says Chapman. I looked at all the people surrounding me and instantly knew there was a story there, just begging to be told. I couldn’t shake the feeling for weeks, and kept mulling it over in my head, trying to figure out what kind of story the location and the characters demanded.
“During this time, I also had an intensely personal dream that gave me further character inspiration.
“Besides all that,” she adds, “I’m a huge fan of romantic comedies. But we all know how unrealistic they are. So I wanted to create something that showed the gritty reality that all these nice, sweet love stories would be in the real world. Because the truth is that the guy who was a loser in high school is just as likely to still be a loser ten years later as he is to have turned his life around and become a success. But that doesn’t make him any less attractive.”
Chapman sees the budget for TWO IN WINTER in the $1-1.5 million range. Chapman is currently the only attachment on the project, serving as writer, director, and producer. She is searching for a coproducer and other crew, financing, actors and distribution.
To follow Cameron’s first feature film in development, see the links below:
Erica burst on the scene a little over four years ago and before she herself knew it she was shooting her mouth off at esteemed casting director Angela Peri at Boston Casting while fighting for the role of Tar Eklund in the Micky Ward story brought to the screen by Dorothy Aufiero.
“I stepped out of line,” Erica told IMAGINE, “got in her face, swore at her, gave her a look and demanded a part in the movie! I had my first call back!”
Sweet, funny, beautiful Erica McDermott said what? “Looking back,” she says, “and having more insight on how this business works, I’m not sure I would ‘mouth off’ to a respected casting director if I were put in the same situation today, but it paid off for me that day. After what seemed like a hundred long auditions, I was offered the supporting role of Tar Eklund in the Academy Award winning movie THE FIGHTER, and she will forever be known as the ‘fighter sister with the big hair’.”
Where did she come from? How did she get here? I asked her to tell me her story
“I was born in Cambridge and I lived there and Somerville through grade school. In the 6th grade I moved to Merrymount, a neighborhood in Quincy Massachusetts. My parents married at a very young age, had me at a very young age and are still happily married today. I am an only child and I love it! My Mom and Dad sacrificed quite a bit to give me the best opportunities growing up. I watched my mother go to night school for years to become a nurse, and after graduating from Archbishop Williams High School in Braintree I decided to follow in her footsteps. I graduated with a baccalaureate degree in nursing from Salem State University in 1995.
“My first job was at Pembroke Hospital where I worked in the Pediatric Psychiatric Inpatient Unit. A couple of years later I transitioned into the specialty of Pediatric Traumatic Brain Injury and became the Director of Medical Services at a residential facility in Boston. During this period, I was responsible for the overall healthcare of children that had suffered traumatic brain injuries. Needless to say I gained some serious perspective on life during this time.
“Shortly after marrying my husband, Bob (who works in the investment management industry) we moved to Nashville Tennessee. We lived there for nearly four years. I worked as a float nurse in several of the big hospitals in the city. What a cool place to live, and as newlyweds it was a great to be in place where we knew no one because it forced us to learn to count on each other – I think this is one of the reasons we are so happy after almost fifteen years!
Right after 9/11, Bob accepted a position in NYC, and we moved to southern Connecticut. I had both of our girls, 13 months apart to the day, at Greenwich Hospital. My new career was ‘stay at home Mom’ and I absolutely loved it! We moved ‘home’ in 2003, and settled on the South Shore. We’ve been here ever since.
“When it came time for both kids to be in school full day, I decided it was time to go back to work and started interviewing at local Pediatric Medical offices. It was right around that time that I received a call from my friend Barbara who told me about a stage show that she was pulling together to benefit a local charity. She insisted I come talk to her and the others . This is when everything started to change. I mean, I love to make people laugh, public speaking has never bothered me, and I did take part in exactly one school play in Middle School…. but acting as an adult?
“I decided to go try it out, why not, right? This is when I met Lisa Rafferty, an accomplished Director, and writer of a successful show called MOMologues. She wanted some ‘funny moms’ from around town to take part in a one night only performance of her show to benefit our schools. Lisa and I hit it off – and that was the beginning.
“After my first stage performance in MOMologues in 2008, I was offered free acting classes at Plymouth Rock Studios. Lisa had believed in me and encouraged me to give it a shot. When I got to Plymouth I met acting coach Kevin Lasit and at the end of the six weeks of classes he echoed Lisa’s encouragement. Kevin suggested that I reach out to all of the big casting agencies in Boston. I didn’t tell my friends just my husband and parents, and they were also very positive and encouraging, so I did it. It was three or four weeks later I found myself at an open casting call at Boston Casting for a movie called THE FIGHTER. I showed up not knowing what to expect, and when I arrived it seemed there were a million people there! I was there to audition to be a tough girl, for background work. It was then casting director Angela Peri told me I was too pretty to pull off a tough girl.
“I think my introduction to the Ellie Fund was coming into the 2010 OSCAR Night America show, whatever year Avatar was nominated – because I remember the ‘spoof’ IMAGINE produced starring Ernie Boch that year. So funny!
“The Ellie Fund’s then Executive Director, Julie Nation, had reached out to me and some other local actors and invited us to be guests at the only sanctioned Oscar party in Boston, which was a benefit for the Ellie Fund. As fate would have it, Julie and I hit it off, my mum had just won a battle with breast cancer months earlier and my other new friend, Lisa Rafferty, a breast cancer survivor herself, had just finished writing a new “MOMologues” comedy about Breast Cancer called “The Pink Ribbon Overdose”. It seemed like a match made in heaven.
“Julie and Lisa were able to pull together a very cool production of P.R.O. held at the Hard Rock Cafe in Boston. The cast featured Julie and me along with the very generous ladies for Channel 5 Boston; Karen Ward, Biancia Delagarza and Susan Warnick. The show sold out quickly, was so much fun to do and raised some money for a great cause – I was so thrilled to be a part of it.
“Each Holiday Season I take my daughters out of school and the three of us participate in a gingerbread house making event at the Home for Little Wanderers. It’s great to see all of the children interact and spend time together, and it’s also a wonderful opportunity to have my girls experience the rewards of giving their time to others.
“This coming Spring I will be performing in The Vagina Monologues to benefit The Victim Rights Law Center; which is an effort being lead by my friend and fellow ‘Fighter Sister’ Melissa McMeekin (see October 2013 cover story).
It amazes me how much work is here in New England for anyone in the industry. It seems there are constantly big movies with big budgets coming our way. The folks who work hard every day to continue the MA Film Tax credit deserve a huge amount of credit for getting and keeping the momentum going. Thanks to them most of my auditions and reads are right here in Boston, although I do go to LA on tape auditions also. I would love to see successful television series come and stay in New England, which could be a catalyst to bring us to the next level. I expect that New England Studios and their Operations Director Chris Byers and the work he is doing will go a long way to making that a reality.
I love the whole (acting) process. Changing the way I talk, creating character quirks and living my entire day as someone else is such a rush for me. My poor husband has lived with so many different women; he’s really supportive, but sometimes I wonder if it drives him nuts! Sometimes I can stay in character for weeks. It truly is what I love about acting the most. .. it’s not acting… it’s becoming. I suppose what I like least is spending time away from my family, and generally having to keep a very flexible calendar. I always have to reschedule stuff. Just this Spring I had to reschedule a trip to Disney World and Universal with my family. They are so understanding and supportive, I am so grateful. By the way, we just made that trip to Orlando in November.
“Typically, not more than a week or two will go by without me ‘practicing’. Each audition I prepare for, regardless of the size of the role is an opportunity to learn and get better. I don’t think of it a practice but I do look at each role I don’t get as exactly that, an opportunity to get better. It’s often a chance to create a new character in my mind, and contemplate the possibilities and different directions the character can deliver a writers lines. That’s what a I really enjoy about acting – the innumerable choices I get to make.
“More formally, I do participate in many classes and workshops whenever I have the opportunity, be it in LA, NY or Boston – it’s a great way to keep sharp, challenge myself and meet new people – which is something else I really enjoy.
“Something that is really fun, exciting and rewarding – which I’ve had the opportunity to do a few times – is to do an informal table read with other actors. In 2012 I was living in LA during pilot season (Feb-April) and I participated in a table read of STEEL MAGNOLIAS that was pulled together by and included more than a few names and faces we would all recognize, and that was really cool.
I’ll let Engine Room Edits Don Packer sum it up, “I love Erica. What can I say. She’s smart. She’s funny. She’s beautiful…. goes without saying, and she’s a pleasure to work with. Someday I’ll look back and thank the gods that I had the chance to work with her because she’s going to go big time.”
The hash-tag says it all: Respect Her Hustle. It’s the mantra of Kristen Lucas, a Massachusetts producer, as well as the motto for her company, Goldilocks Productions. And, with her first full- length feature, GIRLS NIGHT OUT, in development and a position as Marketing Director for Worcester’s brand new Mass Studios, Lucas is ready to hustle her way to the big time.
Born and raised in Peabody, Lucas started working in retail her senior year of high school, and hoping to move up in the company (the largest off- brand retailer) to a buyer position, she attended Framingham State for fashion merchandising. After an unfulfilling year, she transferred to Salem State to major in Communications and was placed in random prerequisite courses- one of which was a class in television production. Kristen admits she never would have chosen the class for herself, but luckily, she was bit by the bug.
While maintaining a major in Communications, she threw herself into film studies – taking classes in everything from cinema history to filmmaking and even started the first TV production club on campus. When fliers went up looking for help on an NYU student thesis film that was shooting nearby,Kristen hustled–asking for permission to miss her classes for a week to work on the film set. Of the work, she said: “It wasn’t anything glamorous. I was picking up the actors, running to the gas station- but the rest of the time, I just got to sit on set and I really started to understand how a film got made.”
After college, Kristen applied to UCLA for graduate school (at the time, thinking she’d like to direct) but was not accepted. She went back to retail, eventually moving up to the brand’s corporate offices, but stayed active in the film industry with every bit of her free time- hustling to learn the skills on her own. She did PA work for local films on the nights and weekends, co-produced shorts and music videos, and even took vacation time from her corporate job to be a Production Manager on a feature film. “That was film school for me,” Lucas said, “just volunteering, networking, finding ways into projects and learning as much as I could from them.”
It would seem Lucas had the best of both worlds – her marketing job was stable, but still creative, and she was continuing to grow and move up in the film world on the side. However, in 2001, walking through her local Blockbuster, she found herself struck by how many bad independent movies were on the shelves- and how few came from a woman’s perspective. She started to develop the idea for SNOWFLAKE, a drama about a white, female rapper fighting to make it in the hip-hop world (before Eminem’s “8 Mile”) – but when she couldn’t find anybody to write the story, Lucas once again took matters into her own hands.
As a single mother with a four-year-old at home and a full-time job, Kristen decided to attend the graduate screenwriting program at Emerson College. After working for many years on rewrites and searching for funding, she managed to shoot SNOWFLAKE as a short in 2009- and four days after completing the filming,after twenty-two years of working for the off-price retailer, she was laid off.
Instead of caving into the fear of unemployment, Kristen went full-time film, and hasn’t looked back. She has continued production work on music videos, corporate promotional material, and develops her own projects with Goldilocks Productions, especially the promising GIRLS NIGHT OUT. Inspired in part by the misadventures of Lucas & friends’ own girl’s nights, the teaser of the same name won an Audience Choice award at the first Central Mass Film Festival and promises the real, sassy female friendships of “Sex & The City” mixed with the hilarity and ticking clock of “The Hangover.” Like her previous projects, GIRLS NIGHT OUT explores a women-centric version of an already successful formula: “I like to take something you’d expect and flip it – see what it would be through the female perspective.”
Lucas is hustling harder than ever to make GIRLS NIGHT OUT her biggest project yet, working with a development team of experienced producers to secure funding and attach actors for a full- length feature to be filmed entirely in and around Worcester. “I don’t need to go to LA. LA is coming to us. If Worcester is good enough for David O. Russell, it’s good enough for me!”
While the booming New England film industry certainly boosts Kristen’s visibility, her passion and dedication are what really make her stand out. “I love it when someone says ‘let me know if there’s anything I can do for you’. Hustling means putting yourself out there. All they can say is no!” But who could say no to someone like Kristen Lucas?
Respect her hustle, indeed.
Kate Sheridan is an actor and writer living in central MA. In addition to a B.A. from Holy Cross, she has trained in comedy and musical theatre at The Second City Chicago and North Shore Music Theatre, respectively. She is a regular contributor to Crazytown Blog (http://www.crazytownblog.com) and can be found on Twitter at @ahhkatesheridan.
Iris Malloy is a woman with a full life and a zest for living it. Whether it be playing poker and drinking Jack Daniels with her best friends- -the sarcastic, quick witted, daughter-in-law hating Judy, and the quirky, slightly dim witted but giant hearted Margaret–or tricking her teenage granddaughter Ireland into a never-ending attempt to finish a jigsaw puzzle by hiding pieces from her, Iris lives life to the fullest.
So it comes as quite a disappointment to learn she only has a few months to live. Always one to take charge of a situation, however, and believing this day is too important to mess up—claiming that it is, after all, “not just a day in a lifetime but a lifetime in a day”–Iris decides to plan her own “good bye party”. Insisting that her two grown children, uptight Kathleen (whose ex-husband happens to be a bona fide rockstar—showing us that underneath her tightly wound surface lies a free spirit that hasn’t been seen in years) and gentle natured Kevin (with a partner – the ever playful Ethan – he shares his home with yet has kept from his mother) will fail to properly execute her wishes for her final send off she decides to subject them to drills.
Randomly Iris calls to inform them she has just died so that she can supervise as they rehearse her over the top ideas, each time making changes—creating a need for yet another drill. Ethan turns out to become her kindred spirit and her biggest supporter in her antics.
Is she simply a controlling old woman forcing her family to indulge her eccentricities, or is she trying to spend time with her children and know that they are okay before she goes? Whatever the reason, her hilarious and sometimes bizarre requests, along with her crazy antics, somehow manage to bring this family together and provide closure. With the heart and wit of STEEL MAGNOLIAS or BEACHES, filled with humor and heartbreak, FUNERAL
DRILL makes us laugh and cry while reminding us to live each day to the fullest as if it were the only day we had left.
Upon reading the script, director Ben Proulx noted, “Towards the end, there is one of the most emotionally powerful speeches I have ever read. The words alone genuinely made me cry the greatest kind of tears.”
At a glance perks of producing FUNERAL DRILL are it is budget friendly offering three substantial roles for women over sixty-five – a too often forgotten talented and practiced group of actors who if they want to continue acting are often relegated to filler roles of little story consequence.
An accomplished actor turned writer, Melissa McMeekin has a cast wish list that this writer, who has read FUNERAL DRILL, believes would die for this script and these roles. TERMS OF ENDEARMENT comes to my mind. It’s tagline: “Come to Laugh, Come to Cry, Come to Care, Come to Terms” fit FUNERAL DRILL and its opportunities quite well.
McMeekin picks: to play Iris – Blythe Danner; to play Judy – Kathy Bates; to play Margaret – Carol Kane; to play Ireland – Jeanette McCurdy; to play Blake – the real live rockstar Jon Bon Jovi and to play Kathleen – Melissa McMeekin!
Melissa made the switch from stage to screen just four short years ago and since she has been seen in multiple critically acclaimed projects such as THE FIGHTER, 30 Rock and Boardwalk Empire, working alongside some of Hollywood’s most respected talents. She has played a range of characters in multiple indie films and television ranging from a meth addict to the much loved Megan Duffy-Duffy, a recurring character on 30 Rock.
Last spring she reunited with director David O. Russell on his latest film, AMERICAN HUSTLE. “To get to work with him at all is every actor’s dream” she says of Russell “so I can’t even begin to quantify the level of gratitude I have to have been given the opportunity to work with him twice. He really has a generous spirit and is honestly just fun to be around. I learned a lot working with him and I applied those things I learned to my Knick audition.”
The Knick audition she is referring to is the new Cinemax series starring Clive Owen with director Steven Soderbergh signed on to helm the entire season—and on which McMeekin scored a recurring role. The Knick is set at Knickerbocker hospital in downtown New York circa 1900. She’ll be playing a real person–the infamous “Typhoid” Mary Mallon, an Irish immigrant working as a cook that ended up becoming the first asymptomatic carrier of the disease discovered in the United States.
“I worked really hard on the audition, researching Mary’s life and her story, determining the type of Irish accent she would have based on what part of Ireland she was from—and then driving my family and anyone else I encountered crazy by speaking with it for the whole week I had to prepare”
“It’s both exciting and terrifying,” she said, “to have a director of Soderbergh’s caliber have such belief in my ability…definitely makes me want to bring my A-game.”
What would become the FUNERAL DRILL story took up residence in McMeekin’s head when a friend of hers told her a story of how she knew a woman who would actually call her kids and tell them she was dead to see how long it would take them to go through the telephone tree and alert the other relatives. “I found that hilarious and thought my mom would do something like that and this idea just formed from that. My dad had been diagnosed with a terminal illness and began really going downhill and this story became a way of dealing with that, too, and I couldn’t get it out of my head,” she told IMAGINE. “I would take walks and be writing it in my head and it would evolve and I kept thinking that I wanted to write it; I was just so afraid to do it.
“But, I felt compelled to tell this story. The story’s ever present persistence to be told beat out my fear. Once I sat down to write it all just flowed out of me very quickly. Then I was very hesitant to show it to anybody at all: I felt very vulnerable, more vulnerable than acting the most intimate of scenes.
“I started slowly sharing it and the feedback was overwhelmingly positive and so many people told me that it stuck with them and that it inspired them or made them feel they wanted to really live life to the fullest, many said it was healing to them after losing a loved one, some told me they immediately called their moms when they finished and I was told by more than one person they felt connected to the characters and that they hated saying goodbye when it ended.
“I felt genuine gratitude from them for bringing them into this world with me. I got frequent comparison to STEEL MAGNOLIAS, which I love because I wanted to write a movie that people would go see with their moms and their grandmas and that all the way home they would still be laughing about moments and talking about it. It was incredibly humbling and I realized that I was indeed meant to share this story.
“I am also a huge believer that there needs to be more women driven films being developed. That means more women need to find their voice and write. There is a huge audience of smart, independent, sophisticated movie goers with disposable incomes who want to see films they can relate to–women aged thirty to seventy. And there are amazing actresses over the age of sixty who are immensely talented, beautiful, filled with wisdom that just have these robust, rich spirits about them. I’m very proud of the fact that this movie has three substantial roles for women in that group. And that the movie is very women centric–there are significant male characters, and the men who have read this script have loved it, specifically the dialogue, so it isn’t strictly a “chick flick”, but the leads of this movie are women. I’m proud of that.”
Melissa is open to whatever way the universe sees her film project unfolding. She would like collaboration with a production/distribution company that can bring financing to produce FUNERAL DRILL. She sees it as a $2 – $5 million budget and she would like to see it filmed in Massachusetts, which offers a 25% tax credit. “I’d love to see a female director, and even a female cinematographer. I’d love for it to be very woman driven all around,” she says.
To reach Melissa at AFM call 978 559-1331 or email email@example.com for more information. Melissa McMeekin was also profiled in our upcoming New England actor series this year.
Carol Patton is the publisher of IMAGINE Magazine. She introduced Film Tax Credits to New England in 2002 and wrote a definitive piece in October 2004,which prompted the Governor’s office of Massachusetts to request multiple copies on the double.