Fast Forward Friday with Harvey Edelman

For this week’s Fast Forward Friday, we interviewed theater lyricist-writer Harvey Edelman, His works have appeared on stage throughout the country, and been part of the Macmillan Publishing Educational Series and the Headstart program. He is a member of ASCAP and the Dramatists Guild.

Q: What are you currently working on?  Tell us about it.

I am currently completing a musical based on the 1933 landmark play Dead End, written by Sidney Kingsley. I began working on this project with my collaborators about 40 years ago … yes 40 years ago. We resumed work on it earlier this year after acquiring the rights to produce it as an audiobook musical, with the ultimate goal of getting it to Broadway. Assuming we complete it and it reaches an audience, the saga of the ups and downs and the making of Dead End could be a book, play, or musical in its own right.

Q: What was the inspiration and impetus for doing this project?

After one of our musicals, On The Air, reached Off-Broadway, my collaborators – composer Neil Fishman and book writer Peter Palame –  and I looked for a project with Broadway potential that we could bring to the ASCAP musical theatre workshop for development. Peter, who had and has, spent his entire life in theater as a performer, writer, director, and producer, suggested Dead End. After reading the play and watching the movie adaptation of the same name, we all saw the possibilities for what we envision as epic, an American Oliver … maybe bigger. Apparently, others felt the same as our ASCAP project was then chosen for a special reading at the Dramatists Guild, where a jury of Broadway legends – Joseph Stein, Stephen Schwartz, Charles Strauss, among others –  agreed that what we had written so far – about half the score – was Broadway worthy.

Q: Who are your artistic heroes – who have had an impact on you and your work?

In musical theater, Stephen Sondheim has always been the guiding light for me and my creative partners. His clever use of language and music to tell a compelling story, and his intellectual awareness of every element of dramatic development is pretty much the gold standard for us. When I first began to write during my college years, writers who saw the world through a different and perhaps somewhat outrageous lens, such as Kurt Vonnegut, Ken Kesey, and Henry Miller, appealed to me the most.

I’ve also been influenced by singer songwriters such as Paul Simon, Joni Mitchell, Bruce Springsteen, and of course, Lennon and McCartney. In recent years, I’ve become obsessed with comedians, who as an artistic group, most closely match the way I view and process the world. The best of them have unique takes on everyday life and cut to the bone on the insanity of the human experience. The comedians I’m listening to the most in recent years include John Oliver, Marc Maron, Woody Allen, and John Stewart, but there are so many more.

Q: What keeps you motivated and inspired as an artist?  

Though I have nothing against praise and adulation, and even making a few bucks, the process of creation is ultimately the most fulfilling. The satisfaction of working with creative collaborators, even with the inevitable artistic disagreements, sometimes heated, combined with ultimately realizing a vision, is always worth the pain endured to get there. The icing on that cake, at least where musical theater is concerned, comes when the material is handed over to talented performers and directors who take what was on the page to another level and dimension.

Q: What other projects would you like to tell us about?

Our recent opportunity to complete Dead End the Musical came about due to the success of our two most recent works, audiobook musicals adapted from our earlier stage works. Spin, the Rumpelstiltskin Musical,  published by Harper Collins, essentially created the category of audiobook musical. On the strength of our script, we were fortunate to cast the legendary performer, Jim Dale, as the narrator, to complement our cast of Broadway and audiobook performers. Released in 2017, Spin has won numerous awards including anAudie for Best Original Work and two SOVAS awards for Outstanding Production in Audiobook and Best Voice Over in Children’s Audiobook. Our latest audiobook musical, Puss In Boots a Musical, published by Harper Collins this year, features Jim Dale returning as narrator along with an even bigger cast. Puss has already been nominated for several awards.

Q: What is one instance of knowing you are living in your vision?

I think everyone has a story to tell but not everyone gets to tell it to an audience. Early in my writing career I got to express my thoughts and feelings to audiences via song and dramatic dialogue but often within a context or with limitations not of my own making. Still, I did live my vision on occasion. I’m reminded of a musical we wrote that was produced at the Passage Theatre in Trenton that dealt with bigotry and bullying. That musical afforded me the opportunity to express thoughts about bullying that my son, about ten years of age at the time, had been experiencing in school. It was the first thing he had ever seen that I had written and it was deeply satisfying for me to share that with him. Our recent projects have allowed me, or I have taken, more writing freedom, more satirical freedom, to comment on social and political issues in an entertaining way, and perhaps, in some small way, change hearts and minds. That is my vision.

Q: If there were no barriers to entry, what is one thing you would be doing?

Once upon a time when my creative partners and I were told Dead End was heading to Broadway, I dreamt of a life waking each morning in my Italian Villa (hey, it’s my dream), and strolling over to my piano to write lyrics and plays while sipping grappa, and gazing out over the Mediterranean. Though I’ve pretty much given up on the Italian Villa, waking each day to write (alone) and collaborate (on musicals with other creative people), would be a nice way to spend most days. For now, I’ll have to gaze at the Hudson, and have a cup of coffee.

Q: What has been big your biggest obstacle in achieving your vision?

The whiny, petty part of me could say that we had more than our share of bad breaks along the way e.g. playwrights reneging on giving us adaption rights, producers developing amnesia during negotiations, theaters suddenly padlocked during the run of a show … you know the usual stuff.  The truth is, not persevering, not committing, not working hard enough to get there … or get there sooner, has been the biggest obstacle. Though we had a share of early success, sometime along the way, the setbacks and time passing combined with a need for financial stability, detoured my creative partner and me. Instead of staying on the narrow, perilous path towards artistic success, we became business partners and turned our skills in audio production towards making a more reliable living. From that point, our creative interests took a Rip Van Winkle snooze, occasionally aroused to take on a project but with no real continuity or ongoing effort. We were shaken from our slumber a couple of years ago, when an associate, milling through our trunk of musical material, suggested resurrecting some of it in the not new, but evolving medium of audiobooks.

Q: What do you do to stay connected to your creative self?

When I’m not working to earn a living, I tend to try to make my free time have some link to creativity. Though I can while away the hours with the best of them, I’m the most content when I’m engaged with lively substantial conversation or reading/viewing books, movies, and the like that have something to say or some lesson to communicate. Though I read and view for entertainment, I tend to deconstruct the material to see how it might apply to my creative process and my vision. 

Q: If you could let go of something that has held you back, what would it be?

Procrastination. It’s amazing how often I need to water my plants (they’re very thirsty) or look out my window for approaching enemy ships. 

Q: What is your favorite piece of art?

Though I appreciate “pieces of art” both modern and traditional, I tend to turn to the performing arts and film when I think of what has influenced and entertained me the most. The movie, Casablanca is one of my favorites as it tells a great human story against a backdrop of changing and significant historical events. Movies such as Dr. ZhivagoRedsSchindler’s List, and Lawrence of Arabia, would fall into this category. These are great entertaining movies with the power to move and influence. My list would also include Groundhog Day, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Chinatown, and Citizen Kane, although there are so many others. Of course, I’m influenced by live theater, musical or not, when it has something to say beyond exciting scenery and costumes.

Q: What person do you most admire, living or dead?

Though there are several people that would make my list, including Nikolai Tesla, Barack Obama, Gandhi, Muhammad Ali, and Leonardo da Vinci, I think I would settle on Ben Franklin. From everything I have read or seen about him, he was not only a Renaissance man of the first degree, but he was also clever, funny, and fair minded, and most importantly, learned from his mistakes and fought the status quo when necessary.

Q: If you could be known and celebrated for one thing, what would it be?

If I could write a musical that truly reached a lot of people and brought them all together while making them laugh and cry, that would be it. I suppose I’m describing a musical theater god, which might be above my pay grade. You did ask though.

Q: If you could describe yourself in one word what would it be?

Not sure one word can describe any human being, but I’ll go with “inquisitive”. I like to know how things work and what makes people tick. In our current sociopolitical climate, I’m extremely challenged by the latter.

Q: What is your guilty pleasure?

Well, I have more than one, but I suppose that playing golf would be my prime guilty pleasure. Its allure is only understood by golfers, while the rest of humanity looks upon the game with disdain, which I oddly kind of get. The only negative I and my fellow golfers generally agree on is that it takes up too much time. Larry David, an avid golfer, has said that if he had used the time he spends playing golf towards other pursuits instead, he’d be first cellist with the NY Philharmonic and speak Mandarin fluently. Occasionally I’m able to rationalize my guilt, like when I recently met someone while playing golf who showed me his wonderful, whimsical watercolor cityscapes which gave me the idea to collaborate with him on a children’s book. So there’s that. 

Another notable guilty pleasure is playing hooky from work or daily life and going to see a movie matinee. It’s tough to beat the joy of sharing a nearly empty theater with other hard core movie goers, draping my legs over the seat in front of me, while armed with a large soda and a jumbo box of Raisinets. 

Q: If you could sit down with yourself 15 years ago, what would you say?

Overall, given my surroundings, and my life’s trajectory, I don’t know if I would have been compelled or successful in steering myself in any other significant direction. As John Lennon wrote (or perhaps paraphrased from someone else), “Life is what happens while you’re making plans.” Or as they say in Yiddish: “Mann tracht, un Gott lacht” ie. Man plans, and God laughs.” (Disclaimer: I Googled the Yiddish). The upshot of it is, I was where I was and was heading in a direction partly of my own making but it was based on choices I had made and the serendipity of life, and I was, and am, okay with the outcome. I probably would have said, keep on going, who knows what’s in store? 

Q: Where would you most like to live?

That is a question I ask myself a lot these days as I’m getting to a point where I can probably choose to live almost anywhere I want. Truth is, no one place would suit me very long. If I lived in the country, I’d miss the activity and stimulation of the city. If I lived in the city, I’d need a break from the activity and stimulation before long. These days, I live in Jersey City, a 5 minute ferry ride from Manhattan, a 30 minute ride to the suburbs/country, and a 20 minute ride to the airport to parts unknown, so this works for now. 

Q: What is your idea of success?

Purpose in life, friends and family you can count on, and getting a tee time at any golf course I choose.

Q: What is your idea of happiness?

I think happiness and success go hand in hand, so purpose in life, friends and family you can count on, and getting a tee time at any golf course I choose.

Q: Final Thoughts?

The hardest thing in life, art, and filling out these interview questions, is being totally honest, with yourself, and with others. For me, it’s a work in progress, but I thank Joanne for the exercise.

Fast Forward Friday with Ryan Lonergan

For this week’s Fast Forward Friday, we interviewed Writer-Director-Actor Ryan Lonergan. He is best known for the films  Kill the Monsters (2018), The Fall of 1980 (2013) and A Thousand Beautiful Things (2005).

Q: What are you currently working on?  Tell us about it.

I am currently working on my first novel.  It has been a much lengthier process than writing a screenplay but very rewarding.

Q: What was the inspiration and impetus for doing this project?

It is not autobiographical but it does deal with many real life experiences I have had and experiences others I know have had. I suppose everything is autobiographical to some degree, but this really delves into things I’ve been thinking a lot about lately.

Q: Who are your artistic heroes – who have had an impact on you and your work?

Too many to list. My favorite book is The House of Mirth  by Edith Wharton. My favorite film is Passion Fish by John Sayles.

Q: What keeps you motivated and inspired as an artist?  

Seeing films and reading books, and watching theatre and television that gets out ahead of my expectations and challenges me by asking complicated questions.

Q: What other projects would you like to tell us about?

Several projects. I have a noir that takes place in 1932 in Kansas City, which is where I grew up.

Q: What is one instance of knowing you are living in your vision?

I’ve had final cut on my films so far.

Q: If there were no barriers to entry, what is one thing you would be doing?

Shooting more films. 

Q: What has been big your biggest obstacle in achieving your vision?

Film financing is always complicated, but there are solutions.

Q: What do you do to stay connected to your creative self?

I read a lot.

Q: If you could let go of something that has held you back, what would it be?

My concern over current political trends and how they negatively impact the arts.

Q: What is your favorite piece of art?

I mentioned Mirth  and Passion Fish. I would also add Howard’s End, both the novel and Merchant/Ivory adaptation.

Q: What person do you most admire, living or dead?

Artistically, I would say Robert Altman. 

Q: If you could be known and celebrated for one thing, what would it be?

Storytelling

Q: If you could describe yourself in one word what would it be?

Persistent

Q: What is your guilty pleasure?

Photography 

Q: If you could sit down with yourself 15 years ago, what would you say?

I would tell myself what to focus on and what not to worry about because most of the advice I received on those points turned out to be incorrect.

Q: Where would you most like to live?

Where I live now in Bushwick but in a bigger apartment. 

Q: What is your idea of success?

Being able to make films and not stress about money.

Q: What is your idea of happiness?

See above plus have a family and give back. 

Q: Final Thoughts?

Grateful to be a part of this!

Fast Forward Friday with Jenn Halweil

For this week’s Fast Forward Friday, we interviewed CEO-Story Engineer Jenn Halweil. A former Electrical Engineer, she launched #GoBeyond to elevate stories of women and minorities in science, technology, and the arts. She has been featured in Forbes, Scientific American and Mic.  For further information, visit www.gobeyondlab.in.

Q: What are you currently working on?  Tell us about it.

I founded an educational media consultancy, #GoBeyond, to create content about women who are doing groundbreaking scientific research. I’ve led content strategy and creation for a number of world renowned brands including Deloitte, World Science Festival and the Geena Davis Institute. As part of this initiative, I directed a 2-min mini-doc called “Woman of Steel”  on the woman who built the Brooklyn Bridge.

Q: What was the inspiration and impetus for doing this project?

My journey began as an electrical engineer. I was fascinated by how scientific and technological breakthroughs could benefit society. I became passionate about scientifically literate and feminist storytelling, when I found myself to be one of only three women in a 200-person circuits class. This passion transformed into a lifelong pursuit as I found myself to be the only female consultant for various technology startups and one of the few women engineers at America’s largest utility company. This motivated me to become involved in science storytelling, or as I like to call it: story engineering.

Q: Who are your artistic heroes – who have had an impact on you and your work?

I love the way Andrew Niccol has been able to tackle social issues through brilliant character arcs and narrative storytelling, and incorporate science fiction and technical elements in a way that doesn’t feel esoteric or soapbox driven. Lord of War, Gattaca, The Truman Show, and In Time are some of my favorite films. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve watched them and the hundreds of conversations I’ve had with friends and family about the really complex challenges that society faces in terms of wealth inequality, surveillance, gene editing and gun regulation as a result. 

Q: What keeps you motivated and inspired as an artist?  

How to translate complex scientific concepts into a beautifully compelling visual narrative that is easy to understand. I want to help the world fall back in love with science and wonder the way Carl Sagan inspired a generation of engineers. JFK inspired scientific revolution with a speech that galvanized us to go to the moon by reminding us that while science isn’t easy we do it because it brings out the best in us as humans. 

Q: If there were no barriers to entry, what is one thing you would be doing?

Outside of finding a million women STEM leaders and sharing their fascinating stories and breakthroughs with the billions of people on this planet … Build a massive science lab to study and repair our oceanic ecosystems, design and build water purification systems, build trash islands like those in Singapore that will rival the Maldives as a destination, create parabolic solar farms, and basically learn more about this wild planet we inhabit. Also probably study moons on Jupiter since they have water and we have a better chance of living there long-term than Mars.

Q: What has been big your biggest obstacle in achieving your vision?

Funding. Let’s get real. I’d love to pretend money doesn’t matter but money to be able to help us reach a wider audience would go along way. As would funding for some of our larger scale narrative / documentary feature length projects. As a feminist, I am constantly thinking about what we can do as women to make sure our crews are paid comparable to if a man was leading; and how we could fund-raise the same way as  our male counterparts, who can raise millions out of a garage when they’re young and hungry and have no experience. I don’t need a million dollars right now, but intros to companies like Ford, GE, Merck, Novartis, etc who have women in STEM initiatives so we can amplify the achievements of the women on their teams would be great! Or even intros to the diversity and inclusion and CMO / CTO folks at NBC, FOX, ABC, etc.

Q: What do you do to stay connected to your creative self?

Hang out in nature and unplug. 

Q: If  you could let go of something that has held you back, what would it be?

Focusing on consistent busy work and small wins instead of working hard to level up impact, audience, and scale of projects. 

Q: What is your favorite piece of art?

I love how Yayoi Kusama used geometric repetition and reflective materials to explore the concept of infinity visually. It’s a brilliant reminder that we’re all made of the same stuff and when we look at one another we’re staring the universe directly in the eyes. 

Q: What person do you most admire, living or dead?

Sally Ride. I feel a strong kinship with this woman in the sense that she was a scientist and explorer but couldn’t be seen for who she was because her calling card became tokenism. Her actual STEM contributions were always secondary to her achievement of being a female astronaut in a male dominated field. It’s a shame because what we should celebrate her for is: the fact that she single-handedy identified the causes of both the Challenger and Columbia explosions; she built the satellite architecture in space that enables our modern communication systems; she was the driving force behind NASA’s focus in studying our oceans and natural climate, Mars, and the upcoming female led moonwalk; and she was a brilliant educator and advocate for young women to be respected and represented in STEM.

Reading her biography is what inspired me to form #GoBeyond, so much so that our early promo video features a modified version of a speech she used to give at science fairs for young girls. The speech always began, “What would you do if gravity wasn’t holding you down?” Visually, the video traces the transmission of information from a group of girls, around the world via satellite, finally landing in space where it is received by an astronaut, to highlight Sally’s contributions to communication, feminism and beyond. 

Q: If you could be known and celebrated for one thing, what would it be?

Breaking the binary stereotype of gender or the idea that a woman who builds, engineers, designs or creates something technical is behaving in a masculine way. It’s not scientifically accurate for two reasons:

If we look at chromosomes and hormones there are more than two genders. We just create a bimodal distribution with two peaks when we plot these because it’s easier visually and also its based on historically sexist social systems influencing the science towards creating a very dangerous oversimplification.

In reality women have been HUGE drivers of scientific and technological innovation. Every modern industrial revolution has been tied to women rapidly joining the workforce but up until 100 years ago, women could not own property, vote, or establish legal individual personhood and so they did not receive the proper credit for their work. 

Q: If you could describe yourself in one word what would it be?

I don’t think there is a singular word that could describe me although a few ex business partners and lovers could probably have some choice words. I guess that would make me ‘ineffable’? (I think this joke plays better when read out loud). 

Q: What is your guilty pleasure?

Coffee, binge watching TED talks and reading Wikipedia pages until I’ve lost entire days. 

Q: If you could sit down with yourself 15 years ago, what would you say?

That bucket list you set out for yourself  – you’ll do it all by 30 except purchase a movie and record store and combine them because movie rental houses and records won’t be a thing anymore. So dream bigger. Put stuff on that list that’s so ludicrous you can’t help but cross it off the list because trying it will be such an insanely fun challenge. 

Q: Where would you most like to live?

One-hundred years in the future where ~ 50% of our world leaders, scientists and creators are women. Our oceans, rainforests, and nature preserves have been protected under a universal climate agreement. We have global electric mag-lev transportation systems, universal basic income and AI / robotic systems that do most of our task oriented jobs. And we’ve established life on Mars and are building towards expeditions on Jupiter’s moons. 

Q: What is your idea of success?

People love that woowoo of happiness, focusing on yourself, learning you can’t control the world and can only control how you respond to it, but F*** that. Change the world. This world has been changed millions of times over for us to bring it to where it is today. So dream of a better model than the one that we have today and chase it into existence even if you have to fight, claw, and start a revolution. 

Q: What is your idea of happiness?

Being surrounded by men and women who respect each other as equal contributors and work hard to discover how to create things that have never been done before and leave the world better than we found it. 

Q: Final Thoughts?

I hope not. Hopefully I’ve got a few more good decades in me before it comes to that!

Fast Forward Friday with Amy Hagan

For this week’s Fast Forward Friday, we interviewed Los Angles based, actress-comedian-fitness enthusiast Amy Hagan.  She fell in love with acting at a young age while doing Missoula Children’s Theatre. She has performed improv at various places around LA and stand up at The Comedy Store. She recently qualified for the Boston Marathon, did her first Strongman competition and is now training for her first triathlon. She is currently working on YouTube videos, and fitness shoots and commercials. Check out her fitness work on Instagram @amyhaganfitnessmodel.

Q: What are you currently working on?  Tell us about it.

I am currently doing a lot of YouTube stuff. I have two channels with friends and one on my own. Coffee Meets Chicks is one I do with my friend Ashley and we talk about different coffee shops in the LA area. The other one I have with my friend Hannah is called Tammy & Candy, we are sisters who are complete opposites who are forced by our mom to make a YouTube channel together. I play a cat obsessed, crossfit lover. The channel I do on my own is just random videos I put together, either about my own life or a random spoof commercial. 

Q: What was the inspiration and impetus for doing this project?

The inspiration behind Coffee Meets Chicks is we always loved going to coffee shops to work on acting stuff so we thought we should make a channel about the pluses and minuses of all the different ones in the area. Wanted to turn something we love (coffee shops and acting) into something that might go somewhere. The inspiration behind Tammy & Candy was Hannah and I love acting and wanted to try and gain a following doing something fun and we both enjoy. My own channel came out of just wanting to have fun and be in front of the camera, I love making people laugh. I get lots of good feedback from my Instagram videos so I figured YouTube videos would be a longer form of those. 

Q: Who are your artistic heroes – who have had an impact on you and your work?

As someone who loves comedy, Amy Poehler is a big inspiration to me. She can always make me laugh in any role she plays. Recently another actor who has inspired me is Timothee Chalamet, I love his dedication to the characters he plays and how he can really transform himself and put himself into the role. Same goes with Eddie Redmayne.

Q: What keeps you motivated and inspired as an artist? 

When I see a great comedy show or a movie that makes me feel something inside, or even just an actor who really got it right in my acting class. That inspires me. When I see those things it reminds me why I am doing this and why I love it so much. 

Q: What other projects would you like to tell us about?

I am very into fitness as well. I think acting and fitness can go hand in hand. I was in a fitness commercial where I played a crossfit athlete. I recently just put together my fitness reel, which showcases me doing strongman, crossfit, gymnastics, and running. I am currently training for a triathlon and the Boston Marathon in 2020. 

Q: What is one instance of knowing you are living in your vision?

When I am not wanting to do anything else in that current moment, I am present and focused. 

Q: If there were no barriers to entry, what is one thing you would be doing?

I would be acting in a comedy TV show as one of the starring roles. That or doing sketch comedy and making a living out of it. 

Q: What has been your biggest obstacle in achieving your vision?

Just getting in the door. I can’t book the big roles without being seen. 

Q: What do you do to stay connected to your creative self?

Doing YouTube stuff helps, also listening to audio books from actors I like, that motivates me. Being in acting class helps a lot and going to comedy shows. My favorite are Groundlings and UCB. 

Q: If you could let go of something that has held you back, what would it be?

Overthinking, I just need to be bold and go for it. No choice in acting is wrong necessarily but not making a choice won’t get you anywhere. 

Q: What is your favorite piece of art?

My favorite thing I have done is a short film called Butterflies & Guppies, I had so much fun and it is the type of role that really showcased me. 

But the art I love is something that takes control of my mind and gets me focused and not thinking about other things. Watching dance, a great movie or a comedy show can do that for me. 

Q: What person do you most admire, living or dead?

There are so many wonderful people who have influenced this world. But if I am going based on acting the first time I felt affected by an actor passing away was Heath Ledger. He was so different in every role he played, I never saw him as the same character. He really knew how to transform himself and be real. He was an inspiration to many. 

Q: If you could be known and celebrated for one thing, what would it be?

That’s a very tough question. Based on acting I would love to be known for the person who always made people laugh and someone everyone enjoyed being around because I was always honest and genuine. In the fitness world I would love to be celebrated for being the underdog who comes out of nowhere and wins races/competitions. Showing people that anything is possible with the right mindset and dedication. 

Q: If you could describe yourself in one word what would it be?

Authentic or Independent, I know it was supposed to be just one …

Q: What is your guilty pleasure?

I don’t feel guilty but I love the CW shows, most people would think it’s a guilty pleasure though.  One Tree Hill is my all time favorite and now Riverdale

Q: If you could sit down with yourself 15 years ago, what would you say?

Stick with learning Spanish, you will want to know how to speak two languages later in life. It will help you communicate with so many people and help book you more jobs. Also, focus on giving everything you got to athletics and acting, get a head start for later in life. Don’t place your focus on all these small activities that don’t really matter and are taking your time. 

Q: Where would you most like to live?

I am from Oregon originally so if I could make a living with acting in Oregon I would choose to live in Portland, OR. Best state ever I believe and super nice people. 

Q: What is your idea of success?

I define success as when you fall you don’t take that as a failure but a growth opportunity, you learn how you can do better next time. Being successful is learning from your mistakes. Having a positive, go-getter attitude and staying motivated and determined when the going gets tough is the key to success as an artist or athlete, or really in life … Because in the acting world you will definitely lose a lot more than you will win so keeping your head up is huge!

Q: What is your idea of happiness?

Doing something you love and being around people who support you each day. 

Q:  Thoughts?

Making a bold choice by getting out of your comfort zone to make a living out of something you love is very life changing. I have learned a lot by living away from my home state. I learn so much each day mainly because I allow myself to feel uncomfortable by trying something new and meeting new people. LA has opened my mind to new ways of thinking. I am excited to see what happens next in my acting career and in the fitness world. So much more to see and accomplish, I can’t wait!

 

Fast Forward Friday with Tara Atashgah

For this week’s Fast Forward Friday, we interviewed Iranian writer-director Tara Atashgah who lives in Los Angeles  Her awards include Best Student Female Director from the DGA, a Student Emmy and an Oscar-qualifying award from the Cleveland International Film Festival. Tara was one of six writers honored by the WGA for the 2018 Feature Writers Access Project. With the same screenplay, Under an Olive Tree, she was also a finalist at the 2015 NBC-Universal Emerging Writers Fellowship. To learn more visit www.taraatashgah.com.
Q: What are you currently working on?  Tell us about it.
Two things and I’m equally excited about both. 
I’m re-writing my feature screenplay Under an Olive Tree, which is an ensemble story set in Israel and Palestine about hatred, love, revenge and peace. It’s inspired by true events and similar to the movie Babel. It recently received a recognition from the Inclusion and Equity department of the WGA, which got me excited and back to writing new drafts.  
I’ve also been writing a spec TV pilot and bible called Affinity with another writer, Amanda Azarian. We’ve been working on it for more than a year now and are close to crossing the finish line. Woot Woot. Our story is a fantasy, drama, mystery about two estranged sisters who suddenly inherit a special power that forces them to work together and discover the truth about an “accident” that split their family apart. It’s really good and I’m not being biased. It’s a show I’d watch and would get hooked on. We’ve arced two seasons and have an origin story thought out for season three. I know writers normally focus on just the pilot script and a bible, but we just couldn’t stop writing. 
Q: What was the inspiration and impetus for doing this project?
The inspiration behind my feature script Under an Olive Tree was the story of Ismail Khatib. He’s a Palestinian father whose 13 year-old son was shot in the head by an Israeli soldier. Instead of seeking revenge, Ismail donates his son’s organs to Israeli kids in need of transplants. Wow …  It gets me every time. I was so moved by this that I started writing a fictional story inspired by Ismail’s decision. I wanted to share both the Palestinian side and the Israeli side. So in my ensemble story set in the heat of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, Ismail and the soldier are only two of the four protagonists. Our antagonist is the news, the politics, the propaganda, and the separation wall that is being built between Israeli and Palestinian territories. There are different storylines happening parallel to one another and at the end, you see that everyone is in pursuit of the same thing… peace. 
Q: Who are your artistic heroes – who have had an impact on you and your work?
There are a few, but I’d like to mention one. Bahman Ghobadi, a Kurdish Iranian director who grew up in a small town with no special advantages or opportunities and ended up being one of the greatest directors of our time in my opinion. He’s created A Time For Drunken Horses and Turtles Can Fly, both extremely emotional films about Kurdish struggles, diaspora and survival; starring non-actors and shot on location. His films, his style and his portrayal of Kurdish lives is groundbreaking. Seeing Iranian filmmakers struggle with government censorships and limitations, and yet finding creative ways to tell a story is very inspiring. As an Iranian director and a half Kurdish gal myself, I’m very proud and inspired by Mr. Ghobadi’s work. 
Q: What keeps you motivated and inspired as an artist?  
The most cliche answer and my forever source of inspiration, people’s life stories.
Q: What other projects would you like to tell us about?
I’m teaming up with my brother Orod, who is an exceptional writer with a ton of great ideas. We are in the early stages of writing a psychological thriller together , and that’s all I’m aloud to say about that.  I’m also slowly editing two short films that I directed last year. One is an Iranian short film about a little Afghan girl and the other is an experimental, fashion, artsy, sexy film that I can’t wait to edit. It’s beautifully shot by my favorite cinematographer, Daniel Rink, who also happens to be the love of my life. 
Q: What is one instance of knowing you are living in your vision?
Nothing grand, everyday activities. Waking up in a household of filmmakers, sitting at my desk writing or editing while someone else is working on a shot list or watching a movie or is on their way to set.
Q: If there were no barriers to entry, what is one thing you would be doing?
Mmm, I’d still be making films. I don’t mind the barriers though, I feel like conflicts and barriers have only made me stronger. It’s good to have them and fail 50 times and finally succeed when you do.  
Q: What has been big your biggest obstacle in achieving your vision?
Needing food and sleep. Sometimes I wish I didn’t have to leave my desk to make food or to go to bed.
Q: What do you do to stay connected to your creative self?
I watch films, docs, interviews, read biographies etc …  I’m also very nosy. I love learning about everybody’s drama and business. I like people watching and imagining life stories for strangers. I’m very observant of people’s behaviors and reactions and create entire character spines off of why he/she blinked. My mind is always creating stories. I’ve been like this for as long as can I remember. So I don’t really have to do much to “stay connected” with my creativity, I’m stuck with it. 
Q: If you could let go of something that has held you back, what would it be?
Honestly nothing. I tend to say and do whatever I want without holding myself back. But holding yourself back isn’t necessarily bad. It’s human nature and an internal instinct. Sometimes I look back at the things I’ve done and I’m like, wow that was a little too “brave.” Finding a balance is good. 
Q: What is your favorite piece of art?
A copy of an original painting from my great-uncle. My Dad’s dad and his uncles were artists and silversmiths. My Dad loved one of his uncle’s paintings so much that he had another Iranian painter, recreate it. It’s a pointillist style painting which is when you use small dots to paint an image. It’s of 5 men dressed in traditional Persian clothes and hats, sitting around a rug making kabobs and eating it. There’s a small dog close to the barbecue watching them.
Q: What person do you most admire, living or dead?
My mom and Oprah Winfrey. 
Q: If you could be known and celebrated for one thing, what would it be?
I don’t want to be known or celebrated for it, but ending juvenile executions has been one of my lifelong goals and a legacy I’d like to leave behind. I mean death penalty is a barbaric enough act, but executing juveniles for WHATEVER crime they’ve committed, is just unacceptable. Unfortunately there are governments that still allow it! When I first heard about this I was so shocked and angry that I had to make a film about it. The short film is called For The Birds it is my portrayal of the last 15 minutes of Atefeh Sahaleh’s life; she was a 16 year-old Iranian girl who was publicly hanged. The film screened at film festivals around the word and won several awards. But ultimately I’d like to post it online and have a campaign against juvenile executions to go with it. I’d like to do what Participant Media does, screen the film, inspire audiences and invite them to partake in positive change. 
Q: If you could describe yourself in one word what would it be?
Determined.
Q: What is your guilty pleasure?
A Harry Potter movie marathon. I’ve only done it twice and dream about doing it again and again. The first time was after I wrapped a short film that I had worked on for a year nonstop all day everyday, so I rewarded myself. The second time was the day after my 31st birthday, which was a 1920s themed party. Whomever was drunk enough to pass out on the couch, stayed there for another day. We ate leftover food and cake, and binged watched all the HP movies.
Q: If you could sit down with yourself 15 years ago, what would you say?
I’d say YES to saying NO – 15 years ago I was trying to convince my Mom to let me go to America by myself to become a filmmaker. I said “no” to staying in Cyprus (the country) to study Graphic Design which was the “closest” major to film … umm nooo! Of course as you could imagine, my mother had reservations about letting her 17 year-old, rebel, daydreamer of a daughter fly to Hollywood. But being the amazing person she was, she trusted me, believed in me and eventually shipped me off. 
Q: Where would you most like to live?
Santa Barbara. Funny story, so after I found my film school in California, I flew from Tehran to LA to SB. I stayed at a motel that night, woke up the next morning and was just blown away by how beautiful SB is. I was so excited to be living there and I called my Admissions Rep “Hi I’m here in Santa Barbara, which campus do I meet you at?” She said “oh, the six campuses in Santa Barbara are for our Photography students. Our only Film campus, is actually in Ventura” …  So then I moved away from SB and have been wanting to return there ever since. 
Q: What is your idea of success?
Getting to a point where you could raise your glass to your mistakes and failures and recognize that they led you to your achievements. Also being able to laugh at your embarrassing career moments. Those are my ideas of success and I hope it happens to me because I can’t wait to make fun of myself for a few awkward moments. Cheers. 
Q: What is your idea of happiness?
Becoming an established writer and director. Bridging cultural gaps and impacting the lives of my audiences with my films. Moving into a house similar to my childhood home; big pool and a BBQ. Eventually creating a family with my cinematographer boyfriend (Honey, you’re stuck with me) and raising smart kids who will care about our planet and the people in it. Continue filmmaking even as a mom. Always writing, always directing and pushing myself to make better and better projects. 
Q: Final Thoughts?
Yes, it’s something that I’ve been thinking about lately. Don’t compare yourself with another filmmaker and copy them just because they’ve had success with something. Everyone has a different route to success. Just because this person got into Sundance with a VR short or that person made a feature for a thousand bucks in their mom’s backyard, doesn’t mean that you have to switch to VR or make a low budget film at your mom’s; or both… a low budget VR feature at your mom’s. Just stay focused on YOUR work. What’s the goal? Picture it and then make your way back to today. What steps do you need to take in order to achieve that goal is what I think we should do. Don’t let yourself get distracted. Don’t waste your time thinking about other people unless they inspire you.