Khara Campbell won the Grand Prize for Screenplay at the Rhode Island International Film Festival for SEAHORSE. I got to meet her at the RIIFF Film Forum sponsored by the Rhode Island Film Festival and hosted by its Executive Director Steven Feinberg.
I knew our readers would want to know about her, so I arranged for that to happen. You’ll find her unique, verbose, and captivating. The article basically contains her answers to almost every question I asked her. I could not have written it better.
She will tell us how she wrote the book first and then adapted the screenplay. “With passion, heart and powerful storytelling, Khara Campbell gives us our next great Boston story of love, life, and inspiration. Campbell’s knack for seamlessly mixing pop culture, modern romance and big picture life perspective is refreshing and heartwarming,” according to Dave Wedge, New York Times bestselling author.
She has returned to Boston after being in LA for seventeen years. She learned the business while she was there from top to bottom. But something happened and she felt a need to return to Massachusetts. She named her newly formed production company Mass Exodus honoring that special something that brought her home.
Read how she readies, along with her producing partner, her SEAHORSE screenplay into production in the manner she would like it to grace the silver screen. Yes, she sees it as a full theatrical release.
When the major Covid Pandemic took hold, a shutdown took place, across the United States, and in most other Countries.
The shutdowns of schools, businesses, and government facilities created challenging times for everyone. People began to work from home, and parents began to home-tutor their children. Everyone was affected by this pandemic. Individuals now had to wear masks and keep social distancing. Everyone was encouraged to begin taking vaccines and regular Covid testing programs began. Supplies on store shelves began to dwindle. Tough times were ahead. Take, for instance, the film and entertainment industry, where my colleagues and I experienced shutdowns, and mandates. Strict guidelines were being developed, and put in place, before anyone could return to work. This affected all of us who work in the business because in most cases production basically shut down.
It was almost a year before production opened again. So, when it did, I knew that we would need to learn to cope with the new, and necessary changes. As an actor, my return to the business came, only when I felt it was safe enough for me to get back to work. As soon as that happened, I began to confirm “Yes” to my availability requests that came in from Casting Departments. During the hiatus, I honed my acting skills, getting myself into shape, painting, and creating personal vision boards, which became packed full of ideas. Visions of home-improvement projects began to float in my head.
Coping with all the changes became necessary. There was less time for socializing. So, basically, most of us spent more time at home with family. We worked on a myriad of projects around the house. We now had the time to do an array of domestic projects, which included inside/outside repairs to the house, and tons of purging, donating, and organizing household items. Perfect projects to tackle while we were housebound. We used some of our pent-up energy setting up a new Gazebo, doing yard work, planting flowers in the gardens. It kept us busy and supplied well-needed exercise. Our outings were basically for food shopping, stocking the shelves, so we could cook meals and eat together. This became our new norm. That is, until the mandates were lifted.
I remember how excited I was when I was able to begin booking work on several new productions. It happened for me during the last quarter of 2019, and beginning of 2020. when CHILI and the TV Series Julia came online. By then I had updated my resume and my photo galleries for casting. I took lots of selfies, bought a new computer, turned in my old cell phone, and managed to get everything up and running. I discovered that during Covid, it was necessary for me to cut back on social events and on travel plans. Reinventing myself has always been a way of life for me.
So, here’s what I did during Covid, in terms of work. I authored articles for IMAGINE Magazine. One of the articles I wrote was about Lau Lapidus, and her workshops on voice-overs and book narration. That was an exciting project. Before Covid, I was a guest on many television shows, including Messier’s Mantra, in Seekonk, MA, the Charlie Flannery Show, in Taunton, MA, and the Boston based, John F. Fahey Show. After several Shows with John Fahey, John, and I began to appear together on many Local Access TV Shows, as guests, where we would promote former Mayor Ray Flynn’s book/screenplay, “The Accidental Pope.” We would also have discussions about the film industry, and the benefits of the film tax credits.
Then Covid hit and our television appearances came to a halt. So, John Fahey and I turned to radio where we become guests. Aside from promoting the book, Evelyn encouraged me to tell her audiences about my experiences in the industry, and how I have managed to reinvent myself, throughout the years. Voice Overs, Book Narrations, Radio Podcasts, and Zoom Workshops/Performances became more relevant than ever before. They served us well during the Pandemic. They supplied us an exciting and necessary means of communication.
Director-Actor Sharon Squires contacted me about a new Shakespeare Zoom Performance project. I had worked on her Julius Caesar project as an actor playing a small but significant role as the SoothSayer. The project was successful. Sharon was ready to develop a performance of MacBeth. She was familiar with my artwork and was interested in having me create innovative sketches that would be introduced as background throughout the Zoom performances and keep the attention on each of the actors, as they spoke. Imagine, a Zoom performance of a Shakespeare play. How wonderful!
I also belong to a group called Actors Unite. We’ve been working together in person for several years on creating, reading, and filming content for ourselves that included script writing/reading, filming, and working to improve our auditioning techniques. Then the Covid pandemic made it necessary to discover another venue. Charlotte Dore and Doug Weeks created an effective Zoom platform. Both are very gifted people. Charlotte is a remarkably successful actor and puppeteer. Doug is also a talented actor and manages communications for the group. Doug and I were featured background on a small Globe Lobby scene in the award- winning film SPOTLIGHT. The participants of Actors Unite concentrate on helping each other to improve upon their skills. I love the positive and creative Zoom concepts that resulted from Covid. I believe Zoom is a great solution for those not able to gather in person. I hope we never lose concepts such as Zoom, and we continue to develop them. The Summer of 2019, before production came to a halt, I worked on FREE GUY starring Ryan Reynolds, and in Summer of 2020, Ryan returned to Boston again, this time, with Will Ferrell, when the Musical film, CHILI, was filmed.
And finally, Adam Sandler’s HUBIE HALLOWERN movie was released in October of 2020. Again, production became scarce and with Covid on the rise I personally was not yet prepared to accept work. So, I missed the opportunity to work on several 2021 award- winning films projects CODA, DON’T LOOK UP, and THE GILDED AGE. By the time Season two of the TV Series Julia came along (late 2021) I felt comfortable returning to work, particularly since production standards were in place. That’s when I began submitting again to casting directors. I was chosen to work on a number of TV and film productions, which included Julia 2, I WANNA DANCE WITH SOMEBODY, THE BOSTON STRANGLER, and Stephen King’s film SALEM’S LOT.
More recently, in 2022, there was more work that included THE HOLDOVERS, and CHALLENGERS. When I returned to work, The first thing I noticed was the “New Norms” that were needed to work and to be on set. PCR Covid tests, and in some cases daily Covid tests became necessary. A requirement on set is that everyone, including Cast and Crew, wears a mask. You wear your mask for every minute you are at home base. The only times you can take your mask off is when you’re eating, or filming. It’s always “mask off” while filming, “mask on,” while not. It’s the policy, and everyone is required to follow the rules.
I spent an entire year pretty much isolated from my friends. So, having work again is wonderful. I’m so happy to be back at work. I love the industry and always wanted to be an actor since I was twelve. I knew that I wanted to work in the film industry, and I’ve been in the industry since 2006. I’ve been a SAG Member for ten years and I sat on the board of directors up until the end of 2018 when I decided to retire from the Board. I served from 2018 to 2019. The fear of coming down with Covid kept us wanting to stay sheltered.
What I was able to do was concentrate on building upon my attributes. I now have, what I call, Covid hair. As I mentioned earlier, in the article, the pandemic inspired me to grow my hair out, from brunette, to natural Gray and silver. The change would require less maintenance. It also gave me the advantage of applying for a variety of roles that I would not normally audition for as a brunette. I’ve also been working on my wardrobe, as I’m organizing my closet and storage space to accommodate my needs. I have been donating and getting rid of clothes that I do not need to the shelters, throwing away clothes that I’ll never wear. When I work on productions, I usually get my booking text and call time, between 8:00 and 10:00 pm the night before I am supposed to arrive on set. That is when I put my wardrobe together with care. I begin to select my clothes, hats, jewelry, and shoes and whatever else is requested by the wardrobe Department. I wash and clean everything and place it in a carry bag, including my makeup along with personal needs. I would need to have my hair washed and set so that the Hair and Make Up Departments can help me develop my “look,” my character. That is the way I do it.
During Covid, I gave thought to my routine, and to some of the guidelines that I usually pass along to the young actors and new people on set when they ask for advice. I have always enjoyed mentoring others. It’s something I have done consistently for many years. It’s my way of giving back and being grateful for all the opportunities that I have been given during my lifetime. I decided to jot down what I have learned from my experience and pass them along, in this article. These are the rules I try to follow: Booking calls/texts usually arrive between. 8:00 pm and 10:00 pm. I may not not get to bed until after midnight. I set my alarm according to my expected call time. If it’s a very early call time I may set my alarm for 3:00 am or 4:00 am, so I can take a shower, wash and set my hair, make sure my clothes are clean and the bags, Passport and SAG card are all in order. That way, I can be on the road in time for the 6:00 am call time. This routine usually works out for me. When you love your work it makes it all worthwhile.
These are some of the guidelines that I follow, while on set. I would like to pass them along to the reader. The professional way to behave will be noticed. It is important to keep your eyes and ears open, and to follow instructions from the Director and the Production Assistants. And, for goodness’s sake, never look at the camera, unless told otherwise. Always pay attention to consistency. When they cut and reset you must always go back to your mark, stay on your mark, unless told otherwise. Never try creeping up to the camera. It makes sense. If you are not on your mark, when the camera rolls, it is difficult for the editor to connect the shots. Remember, time is money.
Finally, I would like to close with a comment about the ever so important Massachusetts Film Tax Credits, which have drawn so many new and returning productions to film in Massachusetts and other New England communities, including Rhode Island. Massachusetts is extremely fortunate that the Sunset Provision was recently eliminated. Thanks to so many people who have worked hard to make it happen. Carol Patton, Publisher, and Editor of IMAGINE Magazine, is one of those people. Bravo, Carol Patton for your insight and vigilant promotion of our Film and Entertainment Industry.
May we get safely through this Pandemic now that the Mandates are lifted.
Elaine Grey is a SAG Actor, Director, Producer, and guest writer for IMAGINE Magazine. Ms. Grey is also an avid Artist and Photographer. She and her family are longtime residents of Watertown, MA. Elaine can be reached on her Facebook page, as Elaine Grey or via email at Evgrey@aol.com.
Adaptive Studios, which recently rebooted HBO’s Project Greenlight with Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, has acquired the rights to Astral, a dramatic thriller digital series created by Canadian filmmaker and actress Sonja O’Hara.
O’Hara (Amazon’s Creative Control) is also set to act and direct in the short-form series, a rare inclusion for indie episodic acquisitions. O’Hara, who is a speaker this week on the Indie TV panel at SXSW, said, “This is the time to be a female filmmaker and I’m excited to collaborate with Adaptive Studios to bring this provocative, inclusive, feminist story to life.”
ASTRAL is a provocative digital series that follows three unfulfilled millennial girls who share an out-of-body experience in a packed subway car and are scouted to attend an exclusive academy of Astral Projection.
About Sonja O’Hara:
O’Hara landed the overall deal by meeting Adaptive‘s VP of Development, Digital at ITVFest (the Independent Television Festival) in Manchester, Vermont, a boutique festival for the world’s best indie creators and executives, where O’Hara’s previous series Doomsday won “Best Series”.O’Hara previously created and starred in Doomsday, a critically acclaimed web series she made independently (see the first two episodes on Amazon Prime). Her pilot was awarded “Best Series” at ITVFest, HollyWeb Fest and Brooklyn WebFest and was nominated for the 2017 Streamy Award and the 2018 Indie Series Award. She also won “Best Director” at the prestigious New York Television Festival and was chosen as one of the “Ten Filmmakers To Watch” by Independent Magazine.
Adaptive Studios, the studios behind Coin Heist (Netflix), has made a push into digital content with the launch of The Runner for Verizon’s go90. The upstart studio that has put an emphasis on short-form content for digital platforms, has closed a $16.5 million Series B round of funding, led by AMC Networks with participation from Atwater Capital. Adaptive’s partners to date have included HBO, Netflix, Verizon, Miramax, FX Networks, YouTube Red, Fox Animation, 21 Laps, Lionsgate, Gunpowder & Sky, Bona Fide Production and Blackpills. The series will be executive produced by Perrin Chiles, TJ Barrack, Marc Joubert, Stephen Christensen and Kate Grady.
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: