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

Monday, March 10, 2008


Over the next few months, there will be more good news about my work; it looks like everything is coming together at last, "it" is happening, wheels are turning - and for once they're all moving in the same direction.

When you hear about these things, they may look and sound "big," but the fact is neither me nor my life has changed - except I'm doing more of what I ordinarily do and have done for several years, and I'm getting paid to do it.

If any of what you might hear sounds like an "overnight" discovery or "success," that is the farthest thing from the truth. As my family, friends and colleagues can tell you, I've steadily and constantly worked to perfect my craft (an unattainable goal, btw) and to create work that cannot be denied as being good, if not great.

Despite the ridiculous financial challenges I've faced, I've always considered myself successful because I have been doing what I love, understanding how to improve it while being true to myself and eeking a living doing it!

And that state of near poverty was of my own making.

Not only did I refuse to give in and get jobs I knew would distract me from my writing and directing, several years ago when I apparently won a writing contest held by a notable studio, moving to LA and being paid by the company to work with them was part of the "win."

I said I could not move to LA. At the time I had several personal and financial obligations here, and one of the people interviewing me from the studio went *ballistic.* She said I was blowing the opportunity of a lifetime, my name would be Mud, etc.

Honestly, if I thought I had the *most* remote chance of winning the competition I would not have entered my script. I just wanted to see if the script did "anything" - or if I was kidding myself deciding to become a full time screenwriter.

OK, that question was answered - in a way that made me work that much harder on my craft.

And I've worked on projects in LA, and love working there.

I just can't *live* there.

Seattle is my home, the Northwest is my element. I always want to remember why I write - many screenwriters in LA have forgotten why they write because they're working for money - they have to; I want to maintain my low key lifestyle - one I can always afford, even if disaster strikes; I want to continue to be able to be minutes away from a great hike and a couple hours from the ocean as well as enjoy looking out my windows to see trees and wild flowers. I live in a rare, surrounded-by-woods, cabinesque home in north Seattle.

I'm happy to say that one of the other people on the interview panel for the studio called me later, telling me if she could help me in any way, she would be happy to. Our conversation was to be confidential. I tried to keep track of her, but the last I heard she had moved to two other studios. Gosh, a vocation with as little job security as broadcast journalism!

I've experienced dire financial states, fought an extended bout of breast cancer and suffered through many a sleepless in Seattle night wondering if I'd make that month's bills and rent.

Fortunately, my landlord was very understanding all the months I wasn't able to continue my full coaching work load, and therefore all my monthly rent payments because of several surgeries, chemotherapy and radiation treatments. I'm still paying him back, with interest, and should be able to pay him off by the end of this year.

If you haven't guessed, my problem is that I like to do things my way. I'm not a "my way or the highway" person. But I am a "my way means we're into quality, doing it in a way that is professional, always raising my game, teaching me what I don't know and geared to raise your game as well." And independently. For better or worse, it seems that a clear vision without a million cooks trying to add their own seasonings in an attempt to "improve" it with that well known shallow "sensibility" only to make money works well for me.

Let the audience be my judge and jury.

I continued to screen everyone I coached - despite it cutting back on the number of clients I accepted (and therefore the money). I know most acting teachers accept the money of anyone who walks through the door. I just can't do that.

I also continued to fire folks who didn't do their homework or pursue an acting career seriously (actually they fired themselves) - especially living in Seattle, where everything takes longer anyway. Quality has to stand out and there are some really sound, proven ways to achieve that high quality.

I want everyone I coach to succeed - and do all I can to help them in their quest; sometimes I have to admit I was a bit too zealous in that quest. Heaven knows I'm not perfect, but my actors got work and their lives were profoundly and positively impacted.

My coaching practice is limited now because I'm working full time on The Whole Truth production and developing our next production.

Shoot dates for TWT are firm now - beginning in September for a 6 week SAG production in the state of Washington. Executive Producer Gary Allen Tucci and I are from this area and want not only to support the area's filmmaking industry, but its economy and reputation.

We're already planning the distribution of our film and other productions.

I'm writing this because I need to let people who will hearing about my work soon know that this has been a years-long, day after day pursuit of quality and craft, of writing hours every day not because I "had" to, but because I can't *not* write.

I produced, directed and wrote 16 short films to increase my skills and insights, I haven't had the time and I'm not really skilled in marketing them. I've worked on building relationships with industry people who are the real deal and whose values are similiar: respect, solid communication skills, a deal is a deal, keeping our word, no surprises.

I've belonged to a professional screenwriters' online group for some ten years - watching all of us bloom, one at a time. At least one of our members has written *blockbusters* and is one of the best people you'll ever meet.

I don't have an agent.

Most people think the situation in which I find myself is a miracle. But a long time client/friend told me, "You know, the way you live, the way you work, the way you think - I don't consider it a miracle. I knew something like this had to happen sooner or later."

By that he means I've been squirreled in my cabin writing and coaching and making short films with a plan. To do it independently, living here, with an execptional executive producer, to work with folks here and in LA or anywhere else the script, story and characters take us.

While the hope is for success of all our projects, this is not about money. It's about story and character and working with people who know what they're doing; who care about telling a great story in the best way possible on film for a reasonable budget.

And of course the proof is in the pudding. We have to make a film that you will love to see and would enjoy watching over and over again. My work is all about the audience - if you don't like it? Doesn't matter how much work we've done, how serious we were, how much money we had in the budget.

It all gets down to love. I love what I do, the people with whom I work, the script, the vision of it on the screen and audiences laughing themselves silly and crying at what they see and hear. Hopefully enough people will want to see it to enable us to continue doing this for a couple hundred years.

For all of you who have been with me through this journey over the years - thanks so much for being there, for never giving up on me and most of all for (to quote about a dozen movies and books) "loving me just as I am!"

Love you back!

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Friday, March 23, 2007

Are you happy? (part deux)

Responses* to yesterday's happiness essay were twofold:

First fold: spot on! Great blog! So true!

The second fold is the subject of this blog.

It's the concern that sometimes we indulge ourselves in the delusion that happiness is an excuse to do nothing. To simply accept everything going on around us no matter how dysfunctional, abusive or empty.

Um, no.

Genuine happiness means we know and are pleased with who we are, how we treat others and are treated and how we live. That doesn't happen if we passively let life happen without participating, therefore letting life itself pass us by.

In fact, the reason I believe that happiness should be such an important component of our lives is because when we are happy - we are true to ourselves, we're energized, we excel, we are industrious, we are caring, generous and loving, we are forgiving, we do what we were put on earth to do - for ourselves and others.

Fundamental happiness is created when we dig in, discover who we are (our true identity) - like and even love the person we find - recognize our life's passion, determine how we want to live, the type of people with whom we want to surround ourselves and how we would define our personal state of joy.

None of which necessarily comes easily or without cost.

True happiness takes courage.

Don't like your job? It's making you unhappy and you wish you could quit. Think of the courage it takes to speak up, to try creating a more positive atmosphere, better personal interactions and performing tasks in a way that would not only make you happy but please your coworkers and boss?

Most people would rather stand by and allow whatever miserable developments take place - and remain unhappy; quitely accepting a miserable working circumstance; waiting nervously to be laid off or transferred.

The worst dilemma takes place when there is a buyout.

A medium-sized local company - where employees were over the moon happy - was bought out by a very large company with the promise that the healthy positive working culture would continue as usual.

Loyalty and hard work were supported 100% by every employee at the company being bought out because they were included in all decisions that would affect them, people were allowed to be creative and were actually rewarded for speaking up about problems they saw or were concerned would grow. The very reasons the company grew so much, so quickly.

The pitch was that the financial support from the mega-corporation would only boost business, create more possibilities to be innovative, expand the number of employees, yadda yadda yadda.

I warned someone working at the local company that the buyout corporation has a wretched reputation of being greedy, cold, inconsiderate of non-executive employees and having serious customer service problems.

Despite that, my friend told me they were "guaranteed" that the fantastic working conditions, creativity and freedom at the company would continue. As usual.

Ouch. I knew avoiding the truth would leave everyone consummately unhappy. The mega corporation has a reputation of not just buying out companies, but of crushing them.

Sure enough, the megacorporation changed a healthy working environment from literally feeling lucky to show up for work (on time) into fear; employees no longer felt important or part of the process but just lackys expected to execute orders - and not very interesting tasks at that.

Mega corporation executives who knew nothing about the smaller, successful company or its culture were placed in key positions and dragged it down rapidly with their inappropriate rules and treatment of the employees. And last, but not least, these formerly happy workers found themselves fielding ridiculous customer complaints they never had to deal with as part of the original business.

The quagmire: whether to continue unhappily, to challenge The Powers That Be (which was seen as useless or they may be seen as a "complainer" or "troublemaker") or to quit.

Having experienced a genuinely healthy, happy working situation before the buyout, the vast majority quit.

Not everyone found employment right away - some remained happily unemployed until they could find a new position at a healthy enterprise; some became entrepreneurs, creating their own businesses - willing to ride the rough tide as they worked to establish themselves pursuing their passion.

In short, they loved themselves enough to find their passion, to love what they do, who they are with and how they live.

If simply showing up to do the tasks assigned for money so you can go home and live a rich, rewarding life makes you happy? Kewl. That's your definition of a happy life and you're living it!

Of course the same is true of relationships.

It can feel way easier to live from day to day without paying attention to your needs, wants or desires; without paying attention to your partner's needs, wants and desires; or without paying attention to your relationship's needs, wants and desires.

While you might present yourselves to the world as "happy," you know exactly what is going on behind closed doors.

I don't feel lonely. That is, I don't need to be around people to feel OK or not alone.

However, the only time I did feel lonely was when I was in a dysfunctional relationship. I felt extremely alone and unhappy.

It takes tremendous courage to step up and discuss these matters because it may mean the termination of the relationship.

True, but it can also work the other way. It can strengthen the relationship if both people are equally as invested in the relationship - finding new ways to make each other and themselves comforted and happy.

I confronted a relationship in which I lost trust - a relationship I did not want to lose, but the thought of being treated in a way I experienced as neglectful, untruthful and disrespectful was worse.

The relationship ended.

After grieving its loss, I found myself surrounded with people I not only trust, but who treat me very well, indeed.

I've also discovered happiness is dynamic.

The more we understand it, the more successful we can become at re-defining what happiness is, how it feels and what it looks like.

Being in touch with ourselves and our feelings can give us the courage to seek what we need to be happy - finding and living our passion and enjoying the company of others who share those values.

Caveat: The one person whom I have known to never recover from trauma and unhappiness is the adult who loses a child. No matter the age of the child, no matter the reason. To them, I can only say I hope you find some comfort in this lifetime before you, hopefully, join your child in a more peaceful, loving place.

*Please feel free to respond to my blogs by clicking on "comment." Thanks for the emails - they are wonderful! But feel free to share your thoughts with the community as well. Incredible readers from 68 nations read my blog!

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