Colleen's thoughts on writing, directing and coaching, and her unique take on life itself!

Thursday, December 31, 2009

True champions are not bags of douche

When I coached actors, writers and directors - I advised them: what good does it do to strive to be a champion at anything (I'm all about having a championship mentality) if in your private life you are a bag of douche (trans: douchebag)?

Get your act together.

Abusing drugs, alcohol, sex or being the slave of any addiction will ultimately undo all the good you've achieved or want to accomplish in your work and with your life.

Lacking integrity - lying, cheating, using performance-enhancing drugs, stealing, taking advantage of vulnerable people around you or with whom you work (or worse, who work for you), whatever, will ultimately undo all the good you've achieved or want to accomplish - even if that does not sound "fair".

The bottom line is that if you are an addict, if you lack integrity, if you hurt or destroy others to either "protect" yourself or in a misguided attempt to get ahead, you are broadcasting to the world what a genuine loser you are - regardless of your scorecard on the golf course, stats, popularity, wealth or box office numbers.

It's not just a matter of disappointing fans and people who may believe your hype - it's a matter of you knowing in your heart what a bag of douche you are. At some point you will sabotage yourself - your relationships and your career - because deep inside you "know" you don't deserve all the accolades and money coming your way.

You "know" you are not really worthy.

Well, listen up, because here's the truth: you DO deserve all the accolades, adoration and (possibly) money coming to you from brilliant performances and fairly attained achievements.

But until you clean up your inside act and live life in a way that makes you feel good about who you are as not only as an artist or student or professional or on the job, but as a person, a parent, a partner, a businessperson, a friend, whatever - you will be the cause of your own undoing sooner or later.

And believe me, once the yarn starts to unravel, all those you have wronged in the past who were too frightened or obsequious to speak up will pitch in to pull it apart.

As I put it, if you don't take care of the inside now, the more you appear to succeed, the worse the downfall when self sabotage sets in.

Interestingly, those who chose to continue abusing alcohol, drugs, etc., moved on - insisting that their "private life" has nothing to do with their art or craft.

Actually, it does - but in more subtle ways. Like addictions cut us off from our feelings, and the artist is all about exposing emotions. Lots of great actors and musicians, for example, have gotten clean and sober to enhance their work and their lives.

And may she rest in peace, stories of Brittany Murphy's drug abuse and body issues hurt her personally and professionally - ultimately killing her. She was never able to find ways to truly love herself - much as she was loved by her fans, family and friends.

The process has to start early, because without that early start, awareness can be harder to come by. Like becoming so egotistical you can't understand the injurious or destructive effect on those with whom you work or live. Ego maniacal behavior only makes for a desperate, delusional dragoon.

Bernie Madoff, for example, long considered a financial "star," is so out of touch with his humanity he feels literally NO compassion for those whose lives he ruined (some even committed suicide) by stealing their money, or even a shred of regret for what he's done. None.

Madoff's biographer Andrew Kirtzman said that was his greatest from his research.

Imagine all the engineers of US "health care" industries that make their billions from finding ways to deny the claims of their sick clients - people who have paid them over the years to "protect" them - causing more physical, emotional and financial pain.

The very people they were hired, and well paid, to "protect." Going on to actually cause the deaths of so many paying "clients" for which they will remain forever unaccountable. Except, one day, to themselves and a Higher Power if they believe in one.

Yet Madoff, like those under the heat lamp of scrutiny for their inhumane actions, want us to empathize with them, don't they? Have pity on them for perhaps losing a job - something millions of Americans are suffering this moment. Losing their lifestyle. Their money.

Worst of all - the greedy businesspeople in certain multinational corporations who have lost all contact with their humanity. Whose insatiable greed coupled with an undeserved sense of entitlement make them believe they should be paid many millions of dollars just for breathing.

In the end, it won't matter if they've been seen as generous contributors to great and worthy causes, or how much their progeny achieve after them, when who they are turns out to be a bag of douche. Alas, that reputation will still be their legacy, no matter the other accomplishments. Just ask Joseph Kennedy if you happen to encounter him in hell.

Seriously, what good does it do to be the worlds greatest ... most famous ... whatever, when as a person you are a bag of douche?

This is one type of douche bag------>

It is not to be confused with a bag of douche or douchebag:

Don't misunderstand.

I'm not saying that audiences will shun bags of douche, because in some cases it makes them more like freaks in a fishbowl to glare at, and people will pay for that.

Exposed bags of douche can actually make us feel better about our own sorry lives.

I am saying that if you want to live in a way that makes you feel good about yourself and proud of your achievements and hang around people who understand, love and care for the real you - do right by yourself. Start the process early if you want to bring attention to yourself because the pressure only grows as you succeed and there will be many attempting to dethrone you.

If you know you've been a bag of douche - to yourself and others? Now's the best time to turn that around.

Find ways to make you feel worthy - of love, money, adoration, whatever you seek or whatever good comes your way. Because when you are genuinely in touch with your own worth - you experience the worth of others and seek to continue to enhance not only your own sense of well being, but theirs.

I'm fortunate.

I know people in the public eye (I hesitate to use the word "celebrity" because I think of celebrities as those who have done nothing worthwhile to actually deserve attention; the folks I know are hard working, down to earth, accomplished individuals) who are not bags of douche, who have integrity, who live positive lives, who are devoted parents, friends, siblings, artists and humanitarians whose souls shine for those who know them privately as well as their adoring public because they, at some point, cared enough to learn how to take care of themselves - their minds, their bodies and their souls.

And the world is a much better, richer, well entertained place because of them.

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Sunday, August 02, 2009

Shot sheeting - Part Deux

Following up on my initial missive on breaking down every single shot I see in my head and writing each down in a list format that I call "shot sheeting" is also called "shot listing."

I just finished the completed finessed version of my script for my next planned feature, THE LONELY GOATHERD and the shot sheets for it almost simultaneously.

For the first pass, I just want to get the "bread and butter" shots on the list, so now's the time to polish and compress what I've written so the filming process can be streamlined and my ideas clearly conveyed to the cinematographer (also called the "DP" - Director of Photography), editor, production designer and everyone else who will read them in the creative collaboration.

Chances are any or all of these professionals will come up with ideas that enhance my vision so profoundly - that I replace pages over which I languished and labored with the new notes provided by these brilliant collaborators.

The DP and I may decide to re-do the shot sheets together based on the vision and all the other work we've done - watching other films for references, discussing emotions, tones, style and effects.

These same conversations take place with other collaborators, individually and together. We need to speak each others' language, understand one another and the way we like to work.

There's more - after I work with the actors, I take into consideration the notes they've made, worked out the blocking (where actors move in the scene) and if they have notes that will enhance their performance, the portrayal of their character, the scene and the film itself - I will listen and if they work to elevate the visual, verbal performance, I'll incorporate them.

It's important to be open to everyone's thoughts, but remain clear about what does and does not work to maintain the film's vision. I say yes to everything that enhances, improves and elevates; I say no to anything that doesn't build on what's already there.

I stay true to the vision of the film, without ever feeling like I have to say yes to soothe someone's ego; I'm not afraid to say no - but I don't want to lose a chance to punctuate a performance with a smart word, movement, shot, prop, whatever has been thoughtfully proposed.

I explain my decision - why I think the idea works - or not. People usually light up and listen closely when I give specifics of how a new thought is "brilliant" and fits right in; their eyes glaze over after I say, "Good thought. But in this case it won't work-- (because the antagonist needs to see it coming and- yadda yadda)"

After "won't work," they tend to have better things to do; few discussions ensue.

But they always come back and back with ideas because when someone gives me an idea that works? It really is brilliant and they can justly feel their thumb print is in the production.

I love working with people who know more than me - so I can learn new and different whatever it takes to make a better film. I'm pleased to say that others in a position to know more have told me they've learned from me as well because I tend not to work the way they've encountered previously.

I always tell the people with whom I work - I'm more interested in making a good film than being "right." The vision is the only thing to work for -- not ego or doing things the way they've always been done.

I know there are directors who are very dictatorial and rude, but the reason I'm so completely, totally and critically anal about pre-production and preparation is so I can relax, and remain open to seeing and inviting all the creative opportunities to enhance the vision during the actual production of the film - whether they come from me or someone else on the production.

The idea is that while I'm making this film a dozen times in my head before I meet with my collaborators, after I meet with them and share my vision/ideas, I expect them to come in with ideas of their own and begin the process I genuinely love - collaborating.

One thing about collaborating - the buck always stops here. For example, if the set designer comes up with an idea of putting egg shells on the floor so they crunch with every step and I don't carefully consider whether that genuinely enhances the vision/production, and come up with a very reasoned answer - and the egg shell idea BLOWS? I can't come back and "blame" the set designer.

It's still my decision.

Thus, the more transparent and grounded the vision, the better the decisions AND, honestly, the better the ideas that are passed my way from all the collaborators working on the film.

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Sunday, August 10, 2008

Five lead actors are cast!

Unfortunately I can't tell you about anyone but Eric Roberts (see below) because their "deals" are not finalized yet.

Agents try to get the best deals they can for their clients, while budgets can only be stretched so far. So it's a little dance they do, these two negotiators, keeping in mind whether the actor is very enthusiastic about the role.

The agent can go to the edge of the production company's budget while preventing the production company from saying, "We can't afford him/her," and going on to someone else if their actor really wants the gig. Or the agent can pass if the actor is not all that thrilled with the role or film to begin with.

Meanwhile, the production company tries to figure out how they can afford as much as possible for the actor in the deal, up to the point of sacrificing, say, *film* we need to shoot the story.

Our producer and attorney do the deals, keeping me up to date with how negotiations are going.

I need not to worry about the dealmaking because I'm too busy putting the film together in preproduction - where films are actually made.

We need our terrific actors to arrive and feel safe, knowing that everything's going smoothly at our end; that all the filmmaking elements are in place, leaving them free to perform more briliantly than ever before - trusting the director to skillfully lead their characters so they can relax and successfully tell their stories for appreciative audiences.

As soon as I can name names and show you their photos, I shall - it won't be long!

Meanwhile, I've also started casting local performers; they will blow you away with their performances. In a little more than a week I'll be seeing the majority of local talent to fill supporting roles.

I'm so proud of this project. What makes it so terrific for me is that everyone involves believes in the script. A script that many, many people still don't understand. But they most certainly will when they see it onscreen!

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Thursday, July 17, 2008

Casting in LA ...

Was a supreme pleasure and a completely wonderful experience.

I had the time of my life.

Casting director Rick Pagano, who is well respected in Hollywood, and his assistant Russell Boast, could not have worked harder or more dilligently - speaking with agents and managers and actors and others involved with the actors' careers. Noted producer Toni Wells-Roth helped us out with camerawork (wow!).

One observation I must mention: there is an extremely serious problem with agents who don't really do their jobs or do them well, and I'm including folks working with "top" agencies.

Several had *no* idea how to contact their clients (wrong emails, phone numbers), or that their clients were currently working, or in some cases made no effort to send the script or even contact their clients requested by Rick for this project. In some cases they made an appointment for their client and then cancelled it because they did not contact the client.

One very well known actor who is a good friend of my producer (actually our casting director and producer know a lot of great actors) said he was never contacted by his agent. When his agent was contacted (who made an "appointment" for his client to meet with us), the agent had *no* idea his client is currently working on a mini-series at an out-of-LA location. He's coming to Seattle to meet with us soon.

In the case of most actors we auditioned or met with (at a certain level of fame/work, meetings are held in lieu of script readings or auditions - though certain very top professionals still ask to read), they are at the top of their game and crazy about our project.

Some sensational actors dropped by to meet even though they knew they weren't right for this project, but know we have several more slated so wanted to get together with us in person. And believe me, we kept careful notes on everyone we saw.

One well known actor with whom we had a meeting said the industry is now run by "second rate" agents who don't do their jobs, don't know how to do their jobs or can't do them very well - and the people suffering are actors - at all levels.

S/he added that the situation is cyclical -- that their incompetence will only be tolerated for so long before there's a big shakeup, when the system will change again.

In some cases, the agents only want big paying deals for their clients so they can make big fees, regardless of the quality of the work.

There are obviously some agents who take their work seriously and do a good job -- they were spoken of just as positively as the others regarded so negatively.

Enough about that.

The very up side is that the actors with whom we interacted were amazing, terrific and top professionals. They worked so hard on the material to bring their characters to life - screwball comedies are the most work of any genre by all concerned.

Each brought something that only they could bring to their character.

They're making my work of selecting the right person for each role incredibly difficult - which means they did a splendid job. The harder my job, the better the cast.

Some of my choices are going to surprise audiences, and quite honestly a couple people (very well known) came in to speak about doing extremely "against type" characters (unlike anything they've ever played before, unlike the persona they appear to be normally or the characters they've played in the past).

One well known actress from a very popular dramatic TV series did her very first comedic performance in her audition for the lead and absolutely WOW'ed us. She did a brilliant job, looked fantastic, and what's so exciting for me is that she loves the script and the role. Very impressive.

I can't tell you how rewarding it was to hear so many of these top pro's tell me how much they loved the script! Most importantly, I couldn't hear a wasted word in the dialogue. Whew.

A good sign is that everyone who read it felt very strongly about the script - they were either head over heels in love with it, or they absolutely hated it! I think those who didn't like it will feel very differently when they see it up on the screen.

Even our producer was pleasantly surprised when actors who understood the script and characters breathed hilarious life into their scenes.

I enjoyed most audition performances so much - extraordinarily talented, skilled artists did such magnifienent interpretations - that the experience was downright heavenly for me. And I let them know it. I'm not one of those directors who holds back her enthusiasm or appreciation.

After all, these are artists who have shared a part of themselves they'll never get back; they worked hard on their audition scenes and deserve credit and praise where it's due.

It's easy to see why these actors are employed as much as they are. They deserve it. I was proud to be in their company.

Mind you, if anyone shows up unprepared or without doing their homework? I also let them know how I feel. But that was not the case, so I was able to shower actors I met with appreciation and affection.

Our producer, Larry Estes, is a former studio executive and lengendary producer in the field of indie films. He is well known and highly regarded by many working actors who came in to say hello - he now lives in the Pacific Northwest. I was proud to be in his company - I could see the admiration and fondness these artists held for him as they hugged and spoke to him warmly about families, kids, the past, pets, work and life in general.

I was treated to some fantastic stories of show biz past and present by Larry along the way. Another highlight of the trip.

Larry and I met over dinner with our estimable editor Stephen Myers (he just found out the Pixar documentary he edited is nominated for an Emmy!), who has worked with classic comedic filmmakers like Carl Reiner. I showed him my shot sheets along with overhead drawings -- floor plans -- of camera placement, character and camera movement.

After scouring my work, Stephen sent me suggestions for insert shots and editing sounds. The very things that make the difference between work well done and excellence.

Thank you to every actor who came by to meet and perform for The Whole Truth (Gabe, I owe you a little stuffed skunk); decisions will be made soon because cameras roll the third week in September.

Interestingly, we set out to cast three lead roles in LA and came back considering actors to fill 6 roles. We'll be meeting with a few more actors here and in Vancouver, B.C. as well.

Next big step after that: local casting in Seattle for another lead role and several supporting roles with Stephen Salamunavich at Complete Casting, which I know will be just as much fun. Every role is written with a scene to steal included.

We'll also be opening a production office, then bringing production folks in the next few weeks.

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Friday, April 04, 2008

The script is finished!


The Whole Truth script is off to the unit production manager (UPM), who's breaking down the budget and shooting schedule.

Now I'll go to work writing my next feature, Ghost Hound, and we're getting the crew together for The Whole Truth.

As soon as the budget and shooting schedule are up, we roll our sleeves up and it's off location scouting and putting all the pieces of the preproduction puzzle together so we'll be ready to have a great time shooting the film.

I've been drumming up good will around Seattle, telling people I'll be shooting a fun feature this fall in case they want to help us out, since we'll need lots of extras for a couple scenes, and we want real Seattle-ites mixing it up with actors so it's fun for the whole city.

We're now looking for a great, experienced Director of Photographer who hopefully has working with comedy in his or her background; we're shooting 35mm film. We should find him or her soon.

Lots of information will have to be confidential for awhile relating to casting -- but for now, I've listed the colors I think would set off each character in the milieu of the set pieces, as well as listed a musical instrument that I believe represents each character well.

We've got an unbelievable composer aboard - more about him later. He's in LA, but working long distance with composers is not a big deal to me. I've worked with composers in Manchester, England and Toronto, Canada.

God bless the internet and Skype.com!

OK - I'm going to take the rest of the evening off; I have an actors' seminar to conduct tomorrow (Saturday) and an improv group I've been invited to watch tomorrow evening on Bainbrindge Island. I'll give you a review - it reportedly features a remarkable, talented group of performers. I need an entertainment break!

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Tuesday, February 12, 2008

The Hollywood 4-1-1 IRL

Here's a website recommended by my pal, fine actor and all 'round world class good guy Tommy Kendrick, for anyone - writer, director, producer, et al - who wants to work in Hollywood.

It's a collection of interviews of professionals who have and are working there successfully on a daily basis.


For folks specifically wondering what it's like to be an actor in LA, here's an interview he suggests:


Thanks, Tommy!

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Tuesday, May 08, 2007

America's straight, white teeth

I don't know how true this is, but I was told that the way Middle Eastern terrorists identify Americans is their teeth.

They're usually straight and white.

I also heard the CIA has trouble recruiting people to go undercover in dicey regions because the agents have to bung up their teeth to fit in with other populations and Americans generally don't want anyone messing up their cool, consummate chops.

My British friend John says that if 2006 American Idol 3rd place finalist Elliott Yamin had earned the same top spot in the UK, his funky teeth would have been fine and he would have still enjoyed a great career because the guy can sing.

But in the US his uneven bite was apparently considered a career drawback because, thanks to the generosity of a dentist willing to do the work for free, his mouth enjoyed a complete makeover.

His show teeth are now straight and white.

This is not a comment on Elliott's lifestyle nor his fan demographics, just the fascination we American have with our teeth.

On one hand, it's a good thing - the better aligned our bite, the more efficiently we can chew - that's good for digestion, and it's good for not getting junk caught between our teeth. Breath tends to be nicer. And it's good for our facial bone structure.

Cosmetically, I'm sure kids would prefer to wear Ugly Betty braces than have even minor lifelong tooth disorientation that might separate them from the "normal" American schoolyard smile.

On the other hand, my hunch is that we spent billions - unnecessarily - on extra special whiteners and whitening processes, orthodontia and other procedures on healthy, well-aligned mouths to make those smiles absolutely *perfect.*

Some actors I've coached have become obsessed with their teeth. Teeth that are actually fine - or may show a little character. But these actors have been told their dental work has to be perfect to get work.


As a director, I love to see people with natural or even "unique" smiles because all those unnaturally perfect smiles can be pretty boring.

Look at many top stars - women and men - their teeth have personality. In fact, some have teeth *far* from perfect.

Patricia Arquette has a fantastic smile - she looks like a *real* woman.

Kirsten Dunst has a wonderful, normal smile. There are many more stars who perform as they were naturally created because it makes them unique and therefore more interesting to watch.

The key is to be true to yourself. If you can only see yourself being "real" with false straight white teeth, braces-fixed teeth or veneers? Kewl.

But please, don't change your look or smile or get plastic surgery because you think Hollywood only hires certain "types."

Those days are so over.

Believe me, many of the most employed film actors today wouldn't be considered for lead roles ten years ago because their looks are more natural. Today's stars, for the most part, go more for being true to themselves, which includes looking like themselves.

On occasion, a nose job is necessary if you've got a schnoz that takes up half your face and you're going for lead roles.

But remember what happened to Jennifer Grey. After her smash hit film Dirty Dancing, she got a nose job to lessen its size and uniqueness. That left her "prettier," but unrecognizable.

The "character" in her face was gone. She looked like a million other pretty women in Hollywood. Her look, so to speak, no longer stood out and her career was essentially left on the operating room floor.

So you can see what important, life and career-altering decisions these can be.

If it's to help your health, your self-esteem, the way you actually see your personality or originality, to reflect the way you *feel* about yourself, be certain to consult a certified, well-experienced doctor.

If an agent or manager or some other person who is "supposed to know" says you *have* to do anything or everything to your physical appearance?

Um, wrong.

A legion of successful actors have not succumbed to being told by "experts" and "consultants" and others who are "supposed to know" that they shouldn't act, can't act, need to reconstruct their faces, bodies, backgrounds, wha-evah.

Think for yourself.

Understand that boob jobs, straight white teeth, blond hair, and all the other physical add-ons and subtractions may make you look like a trophy wife, but it will also make you look like a million other women in Hollywood and therefore never stand out.

Well. That is unless you're Charlize Theron, who's not only infinitely talented but spectacularly trained; and she's like nine feet tall -- with her legs taking up seven of those nine feet!

OK, I exaggerate.

Her legs are only six feet tall. ;-)

There are plenty of other agents and managers out there.

Take it from the very independent Renée Zellweger, who has enjoyed a spectacular relationship with her manager through a career that has taken her where she wants to go, doing the type work she wants to do - independent and commercial films. She's also kept her own personal, natural smile.

Whatever happened to her, anyway? ;-)

It all starts inside. Who are you? How do you see yourself - your authentic self?

And the most important question: do you love that authentic you?

Because as soon as you love you as you genuinely are - so will everyone else in real life and when you're on screen.

Having said all that, I know actors who look very "ordinary" off screen, but because of their talent, energy and skills? They look positively *awesome* onscreen. Gorgeous, even. They radiate from within.

One actor I coached looks positively and naturally *beautiful* in her headshot. But that's totally not what she looks like in real life.

A big complaint from casting directors is that people send a headshot that really doesn't look like them. (Um, OK, I'm updating mine this year ....)

But in this case - because of the energy and light she exudes from within and her relationship with the camera? That is simply and honestly the way she photographs. So I've instructed her to tell everyone for whom she auditions that her headshot is actually the way she photographs - so they will be sure to test her on camera.

And sure enough, there she is. As she is, she *loves* the camera, and the feeling is mutual.

I can't imagine what she would look like on camera if she started "fixing" anything that makes her look unique in real life.

Honestly? The only thing I believe most actors need to fix is their attitude. Toward themselves and the camera. If we're nervous, pockets of facial tension make us look different than we do if we're relaxed. The camera isn't there to judge us, it's there to love us.

If you're afraid the camera will judge you .. perhaps you're so busy judging yourself - harshly - that you haven't given that love a chance to reflect who you really are.

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Sunday, May 06, 2007

I work with *such* dedicated actors!

As of next week I start my day conducting coaching sessions at 6:30 a.m. (that's in the morning) every weekday morning. Well, except Wednesday, when my actors start coming at 7:30.

These folks have day jobs and my evening slots are full .. not much turnover there .. so if they want a slot...

The vast majority of my coaching sessions take place during the day, so there are days I coach from 6:30 a.m. until 8 p.m.

At least my beloved coachees know I'm as dedicated to helping them as they are determined to become terrific camera actors, performers and writers - especially since I will be limiting my practice at the end of the year because I'm spending more of my time writing and directing since I've joined the professional screenwriters' group and production company headquartered in LA.

And it is very kewl these artists are willing to show up so early to study with me ...

Either I'm the best coach evah, or I'm just plain certifiabl-

Hey! I *heard* that!


Note to self: Get. More. Sleep.

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Saturday, April 14, 2007

SAG franchised agents represent everyone!

For some reason there are really crazy myths and misunderstandings surrounding the biz of show regarding working in films and the "culture."

SAG logoOne of them is that SAG (Screen Actor's Guild) franchised agents can only represent SAG members.

Completely, totally and absolutely not true.

SAG franchised agents can represent anyone. A super agent may choose to rep just SAG members, but theres no rule that says he or she "must" rep only SAG actors.

This rumor doesn't make sense because the purpose of SAG is to increase its membership to represent actors so they can enjoy the fairest wages and working conditions. The way to get more members is to have non-SAG members work with folks who have SAG connections so they can qualify to join the actors' union.

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