Facing My Fears and Choosing to Act
I have a vivid childhood memory of watching my mother standing in front of her french-door closet, next to an ornately cut mirror that she'd hand-painted with a rim of golden leaves. She grabs an item of clothing that reminds her of an ex-boyfriend out of the closet and pitches it on the ground, gleefully exclaiming 'I want to change my life!' When I was growing up my mother was always clearing out the old to make room for change and livening up our Bronx apartment with touches of grace and beauty. I've been remembering that this weekend as I've been clearing my apartment of old clothes, boxes that have been lying around, and over a years worth of magazines. I too have decided to change my life.
It's been a long time coming but I'm finally coming to terms with the fact that I've been creatively stuck for the past few years. I've come up with loads of ideas for projects I want to work on, and I've gone through and created a bunch of them, but I haven't finished them and shared them with the world. I've been holding onto them, keeping them close, buried inside. It's been a long build up for me: a nearly 140 page book of interviews and memoirs that needs edits and rewrites, a solo play that is ready for a fresh round of edits, another solo play that is ready for self-publication, a short film I wrote two years ago and am starting to now get into pre-production, performing in a monologue project for Youtube, an idea for a children's book I started researching and then stopped.
I've recently realized all this incompletion is because I've been afraid. The creative energy that I most want to express I've been using a lot of energy to restrain and repress because I'm scared of what might happen when I share it. I don't like admitting to fear because I'm a strong, independent, self-sufficient woman, but it's real and I want to charge through my resistance to get closer to self-actualization and peace of mind.
We live in a time when it's pretty easy to drum out the noise of our fears. I can tune into one of any number of the TV shows out there, drown it out with music, or turn to things I'm already confident about such as social media. I have done all that a-plenty but what I really want now is to move forward.
Along with de-cluttering and beautifying my home, I'm going to finish these projects I have in limbo, starting with self publishing a solo play I wrote and performed in last year about Jonas Mekas, the 'godfather of avant garde cinema'. I interviewed him and turned that into a 20 minute solo piece called That's How Angels Arranged. I'm excited to share that piece with you soon.
Tomorrow is another chance to make the right choices, the ones that will lead me further into the fear I feel, and closer to getting through to the other side of it. What I fear most is change and the terror of the unknown and yet both are an inescapable part of being human.
“And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.” - Anais Nin
This quote is my mantra right now. There's risk either way, whether I stay fearful or whether I take action towards growth. And so much good could come of allowing myself to blossom. So, here goes. I'll keep you updated on my progress.
A short film I acted in, DAYDREAMING by Eren Gulfidan, is screening at Lid Off Film Festival in Kansas this weekend. It's a surrealist narrative about a woman (played by me) who flees from her office and finds refuge in her unconscious. I had a blast making the film, we traveled by van - true indie film style - to shoot scenes on a beach, in a grassy field, and a motel. We even shot some scenes on the subway - first time I've done that - and I had to learn how to juggle balls for those. I have since become pretty good at juggling (!) and practice on my own. Check out the teaser for the film below!
Daydreaming Teaser from Eren Gulfidan on Vimeo.
I first met the director Eren years ago at an audition I got through Backstage, for a web series called Red Notice, a re-imagining of Dante's Inferno starring two women. I booked the job, and we've continued working together ever since. Currently we have a couple of projects in development and it's exciting to see this short film making the festival circuit now. Stay tuned for updates and more opportunities to see the film!
I attended Crain's Entertainment Summit today in New York City and witnessed a robust panel discussion on why the state's film and television tax credit is so important to New York's economy. The bottom line is that the tax credit hugely incentivizes people to bring their productions to New York, which in turn leads to increased job opportunities for New Yorkers working in the entertainment industry, and bolsters revenue for local businesses. As an actor and a writer living and working in NYC, I am all about that!
The panel included: Scott Levy, Founder & President, Eastern Effects, Inc.; Julie Menin, Commissioner, Mayor's Office of Media and Entertainment; Clyde Phillips, Showrunner, Dexter, Feed the Beast, and Nurse Jackie; Alan Suna, Chief Executive Officer, Silvercup Studios; and Beau Willimon, Creator, House of Cards.
Beau Willimon, there in his capacity as a Writers Guild of America Council Member, additionally advocated for a tax credit to incentivize diversity behind the camera. He and Writers Guild of America East are asking the state to allot $5 million of the $420 million Empire State Film Production Tax Credit towards productions that hire women or minority writers or directors. A few times the crowd, myself included, broke out in enthusiastic applause as he spoke truth to power about how behind we are with diversity when it comes to people behind the camera. As he says, it's our responsibility to the industry and our peers to work towards having a greater variety of people employed.
If we're going to tell stories in NY, the people telling them should reflect the people in NY. - Beau Willimon Click to Tweet
A LOT of stories are currently being told in New York. In the last year 52 Episodic TV shows and 336 movies were produced in NY, according to Julie Menin, the Commissioner for the Mayor's Office of Media and Entertainment (MOME). That is truly exciting and I can't wait to see how that number continues to grow.
The state's film and television tax credit is up for renewal soon, it is currently extended through 2019. To keep tabs on what's happening with the credit and how you can apply for it check out the MOME website.
As an actor I favor playing characters who are leaders, powerful people who are sensual, intelligent, and independently minded. In the 5 years I've been freelancing as an actor I've only come across a handful of roles that meet that description. I'm grateful for the times I've gotten to play such characters, but I want to create more opportunities for myself and other female actors to tell stimulating narratives. I'm interested in taking on more of a leadership role in the generation of creative content, moving my creativity further up the production chain, and well before the audition room.
To help further that interest, for the past year I've been doing social media & writing the blog at Tribeca Film Institute (TFI), a non profit that empowers storytellers with funding for their independent films, teaches film to public school students in NYC, and facilitates film screenings in prisons. Working at TFI I've been able to observe the independent filmmaking world, films produced mostly or completely outside of the major film studio system, and have learned a ton to guide me in my pursuit of greater roles for women.
The following are 10 observations I've made about independent filmmaking in the past year along with lessons learned from them. In no particular order of importance.
While these observations and lessons learned happened during the last year while I was doing social media for TFI, they in no way are meant to reflect the views and opinions of TFI.
Social Media for Actors
I'm damn good at social media, and I love it. What does that mean? After graduating NYU, Tisch School of the Arts with a BFA in Theatre I immediately began developing my social media presence. I read LOADS of books and took LOTS of free seminars and basically surrounded myself with all things social media. I began developing a robust following that to date includes over 17,900 Twitter followers and 45,000 Facebook followers, + I'm verified on Facebook. That puts me at a combined social following of over 50,000. I've since gone on to take on various social media clients, both non profit, creative individuals, and corporate entities. Which has been a really cool, life-changing side benefit, but my initial impulse for engaging with social media was the understanding of how important it is for an acting career. Emphasis on career.
You'll hear people talking about how social media is good for actors, or it's bad for actors, etc... but who cares? Let's be real, it's not as good for you as green vegetables and it's not worse than a drinking habit. Social media is a language, and if you chose not to learn it that's completely your prerogative. No judgement here. Hey, if you get rich and famous maybe you can hire someone to do it for you, but it is a lot more rewarding to learn how to do it yourself.
'But why is social media important for an actor's career?' I'm so glad you asked. For starters many producers, directors, and writers have a presence on social media not to mention casting directors, agents, and fellow actors. That's BIG because it's a limitless resource for you to keep tabs on everyone, interact with what they're sharing and become an advocate for those artists you want to one day work with. Everyone wants to feel appreciated, why not let those people whose work you respect know how much you dig them?
On that note, while the number of followers you have can be impressive to people, know that at it's core social media is not about that kind of bling, it's about connecting and creating a digital community by clearly establishing your voice & engaging with other people and organizations on the social platforms you use.
By the way, if you hate a certain social platform don't use it. For the longest time I only focused on my Twitter and Facebook because I couldn't handle Instagram and wasn't excited about it yet. Now Instagram is my favorite one out of all three! Don't pressure yourself to 'master social media' right away. Play around, have fun, explore, and figure out what the heck you're doing on there to begin with.
I'm still developing my acting career, and I'll be updating my blog with my acting and writing adventures, as well as social media tips. To stay in the know about what I'm up to + get social media mentoring subscribe to my mailing list below.
I'm currently writing for the Tribeca Film Institute (TFI) blog and on Friday October 7th had the pleasure of leading a workshop on blogging at Otisville Correctional Facility, to a group of men who are currently serving time. I've visited the men there in the past to write about the prison's monthly TFI film screenings. The VP of Education Programs at TFI, Vee Bravo, has just started this workshop program to teach the men creative skills such as writing short films, and blogging. I'm thrilled to be a part of it!
I stayed up late Thursday night figuring out how to structure the blogging workshop. It was a unique challenge because the men at Otisville do not have access to internet and some of them haven't for decades. One man has been in prison since 1981, so the last time he was free we lived in a pre-internet world. Blogging is a powerfully democratic tool that only exists because of the internet, ditto social media. A lot of the 'how-to' guides for writing blogs I saw on the web begin with choosing your platform, and frequency of posting, items that aren't applicable to men in prison.
I decided to focus on the basics first, 'What is a blog?' 'What are different kinds of blogs?' and opened it up to the room of six men for discussion and collective brainstorming. The absolutely remarkable thing about the men was how focused they were on the work we were doing. With the short film and blogging workshop combined we were sitting in a room for 6 hours doing intensive thinking and learning. By the end of it my brain was tired, but the whole time the men were focused and interactive and eager to learn. A sight I have rarely ever seen in the outside world, where we're constantly offered new sources of distraction.
Next, I wanted to convince the men they each have a unique voice, and that blogging is an excellent way to share it. I brought the below Martha Graham quote with me. The men immediately began writing the quote down, as soon as I put it up on the board, and while I read it out loud.
Then I asked the men to describe who they are. I started by sharing a bit about who I am, my heritage, the neighborhood I grew up in, my home life and educational background, my skills and passions, and the men wrote a bit about who they are and then shared it with all of us. I did this exercise because all of their experiences, leading up to their time in jail and during their time being incarcerated, contributes to their unique point of view. They have a lot of knowledge and insight to offer the world through their writing. I wanted to be sure they knew that.
Finally I shared sample blogs I curated from the web to give them various differing examples to be inspired by.
Being there, working with them, I felt grateful for the enormous amount of time and freedom I have to write whatever I want whenever I want and post it in a blog. I'm going to commit to posting a blog every Wednesday and Saturday, from now onwards, taking advantage of the freedom I have and the life I've been given.
Right now the plan is for the men at Otisville to write a blog in response to a TFI film screening at the prison, and they'll mail it to TFI where I will type it up and post it to our blog.
- Lillian Isabella
I am an advocate for gender parity in the entertainment world and write, act, and produce with a mind to facilitate that change.