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.

Fast Forward Friday with Meredith Edwards

For this week’s Fast Forward Friday, I am thrilled to interview the uber-talented and extraordinary director Meredith Edwards whom I’ve had the honor and delight to work with in bringing Bite Me, to the world.  Bite Me, a subversive romantic comedy about a real-life vampire and the IRS agent who audits her, premiered at Cinequest in March, and was just awarded Best Feature Film at the Victoria Texas Independent Film Festival. The film will be released both theatrically and digitally on May 6th through the Joyful Vampire Tour of America.Her first feature film, Imagine I’m Beautiful, took home 12 awards on the film festival circuit, including five Best Pictures and Best Director. To learn more, visit www.meredithedwards.com.

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

The second narrative feature I directed, Bite Me, a romantic comedy about a real-life vampire and the IRS agent who audits her, is starting a three month theatrical tour across the US in May after premiering at Cinequest in March. I’m excited that the world finally gets to see this wacky, heart-warming film. I just made a huge move from NY to LA, so now that I’m officially settled in, I’m back in my creative cave. I’m focused on writing at the moment, which has been really fun. I’m developing a television series called My Twelve about 12 women who’ve been chosen by God(dess) to heal the world. I just finished writing the pilot. I’m also in the midst of creating an online course, The Conscious Creative Incubator,  for artists to create and complete their projects in a conscious way. Conscious living is very important to me.

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

Across all projects, the inspiration is always because I truly believe in the message or mission that it serves. For Bite Me, it’s about bringing all of us together, that as much as we think we’re different or outside of one another, we all just want to be loved for who we really are. For My Twelve, it’s to empower us to heal ourselves, first, if we want to heal the world, and to trust our inner guidance, that God(dess) lives within all of us. My online course is to inspire artists to fulfill their creative purpose by pursuing (and completing!) their passion projects. I believe we are all meant to live the highest possible creative manifestation of ourselves in this lifetime. Imagine if everyone on earth was doing that; imagine how different the world would be!

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

Oh, I have so many, but most of them are spiritual teachers like Eckhart Tolle and Marianne Williamson (who is running for President! #Marianne2020). They changed my life. Wow, tears come to my eyes just thinking about it, WHEW! They are earth angels. They are living their creative purpose in a way that I aspire to live mine. As far as directors, my favorites are Baz Luhrmann and Darren Aronofsky. When I watch their films, I’m totally strapped in and taken on a ride through a whole new world that’s beautiful and magical and disturbing and heartbreaking. It’s thick and invasive and colorful and painful and awesome. Their films course through my blood and my bones, they levitate and transcend my trite human experience into something more. They are true visionaries. I want to make films like that! Escaping through film and music is such a beautiful privilege. It is truly therapeutic and has the ability to change someone’s life and an entire culture.

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

My life! Haha. It’s like one of my favorite quotes by Anton Chekhov, “If you want to work on your art, work on your life.” That is so true. I think what’s so delicious and therapeutic about art is that you get to pour all your human woes into it. But, ultimately, I’m just trying to live out my creative purpose and give back the best way I know how. That’s what I’m here for. That’s what I think we’re all here for. I think making art is part of that mission for me. And also empowering others to find theirs.

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

It’s something you have to be really mindful of, otherwise it will pass you by. I work really hard on trying to remain as present as possible during the creative process so that I can really see, hear and experience my surroundings. As a director, especially, you have to have all arms, eyes, noses, ears, mouths on deck, because things are moving at lightning speed and you’re in charge of molding it in the best direction for the mission of the project. So, when I’m present enough to feel the creative flow happening all around and within me is when I know I’m living in my vision. But, also, simply when I’m enjoying what I’m doing. It should always involve joy, otherwise, what’s the point?

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

I bet a lot of people say, “I would just be doing what I’m doing!” and while that’s partly true for me, if I’m honest, I’d have my own television network! I’d also have all the resources, time, talent and money to create the narrative feature that’s been in my heart for years, but needs big resources. I’d also be sitting across from Oprah on Super Soul Sunday talking about the aforementioned.

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

Time. It’s always time. I never seem to have enough time. But, I’m a very careful, detail-oriented, perfectionist. I can always find some way to make it better. I’ve been this way since I was a kid, it’s just part of my nature. Though, over the last several years I’ve made a conscious effort to work on these qualities and expand my comfort zones, and I’m way more flexible than I used to be! This is why I actually really love and need time limits, constrictions and deadlines, otherwise, I’d never turn anything in. I’ve realized having people on my team who are masters of time and efficiency is key for me.

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

I have a very stable spiritual practice that keeps me connected to my creative self. (I believe these things are one in the same, spirituality and creativity.) This includes, but is not limited to, meditation every day, yoga, journaling, using creative visualization to activate my imagination, and listening to lots and lots of music which is my most transcendent, favorite thing.

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

The root is always fear. And fear rears its head in many ways, but it always comes back to fear. Though, I think fear can be useful because it often points you in the direction you’re meant to go. The hard part is establishing a healthy relationship with your fear, so that you can work with it rather than letting it control you.

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

Helping others find and live out their creative purpose. Or, an impactful film, show or network that influenced a culture to be more conscious, awake and connected with themselves and each other.

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

Inspired.

Q: What is your guilty pleasure?

Wine. Also, cheese, and chips and salt. I don’t know why all my guilty things go in my mouth, what’s that about? I prefer listening to books on Audible than reading with my eyes. Is that something to be guilty about? I don’t just prefer it, I downright love listening to books and podcasts. I love to doodle, draw, and take notes while I listen. I guess I’m an aural learner? Oh, car service.

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

Oh, bless. I would just give myself a hug and look into my eyes and say, I’m so proud of you. I love you. You’re gonna be great. Have fun! (I like to say these same things to myself now at 33, haha.)

Q: Where would you most like to live?

I’m proud to say I am living exactly where I want to be! I am living in my dream home right on the beach. Literally, the door to my building opens to the sand. I remember before moving to LA coming across this place and thinking it was so out of reach, just a fantasy, and now I wake up here every day. I am so grateful. Also, Bali. It’s by far my most favorite place on the earth (that I’ve been to).

Q: What is your idea of success?

Fulfilling your creative purpose here on earth. You know if you are because you will feel fulfilled, alive, joyful, and at peace.

Q: What is your idea of happiness?

Laughing, sunshine, presence.

Q: Final Thoughts?

Great questions, thank you! It was a transformative experience just answering these.

Fast Forward Friday with Kathleen Wallace

For this week’s Fast Forward Friday, we interviewed Kathleen Wallace, a creator-writer-producer and an actor in the web series The Evagelists and the upcoming Settling Up. She is also the founder of Seanachie Communications, a storytelling company. She was in the world premiere of Dennis Lehane’s Coronado, which was a New York Times Critic’s Pick. To learn more, her website at www.kathleenwallace.com.

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

At the moment, my primary project is the OKAY Initiative, which currently consists of a music video for a song called OKAY as well as covers of that song done by as many varied voices as possible. We hope to eventually expand the OKAY Initiative to an online emotional health resource center for teens and their teachers.

The video is a journey of finding the confidence to connect and talk. It starts with Ally not interacting with the song or with the messages that pop up on her phone. Slowly starts to look at the messages on her phone and mouth some of the words. Eventually she is able to sing directly to the camera. Finding the courage to articulate what she is feeling does not magically solve everything, but it is, as she sings in the song, a way toward being okay.

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

The inspiration for this project is Ally Reichard, the student from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School who wrote the song OKAY. When I first spoke to Ally about possibly doing a music video, she spoke of wanting to help as many people as possible. In the song, Ally articulates beautifully that it’s okay to not be okay. We hope that through this project we can shift conversations around emotional health  and help remove the stigma around not being okay, especially for teens.

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

I grew up wanting to be Katharine Hepburn. (And Wonder Woman.) I think from an early age I connected with her independence. When I grew older, I learned of how she took control of narratives and of her career, and then I really wanted to be her when I grew up.  

I had the great pleasure a few years ago of being on a podcast with Jeff Gomez of Starlight Runner, a transmedia storytelling and creative design company. The way Jeff conceives of storytelling – the many approaches we can use and integrate, the many ways in which we can use storytelling to impact society – is profoundly inspiring to me and deeply influential.  

There are also lots of women in entertainment who inspire me now. I want to build on the work of women like Shonda Rhimes and Ava Duvernay who lift up so many through the stories they tell, they way they tell them, and the doors they open.

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

My deep belief that artists have the power to shape and improve our world through our work.

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

Settling Up is a web series about two former college roommates who end up living together again in their late 30s. Think Two Broke Girls meets The Odd Couple. High-powered but broke, Alex needs a roommate after divorcing her husband for lying about wanting to have children. Darcy, a poor grad student who can’t seem to finish her dissertation, needs a safe place to live after discovering her boyfriend was cheating. They are each other’s yin and yang, best friend and worst task-master, who push each other to to settle for nothing less than the best.

When you’re tired of settling down and settling for, your only option is to settle up.

We’re finalizing some paperwork and making some small changes and aiming to have it released late this Spring.

The Evagelists is a mockumentary/comedy web series about evangelists for feminism. (Take the “n” out of “evangelist” and you get “evagelist”.) Sister Mary Beyonce is on a mission to make the world more vagtastic and spreads the good word through documentary-style videos about their vagenda as well as through PSAs such as “10 Things to Do With Your Female Characters Besides Rape Them.” You can lean more about this project here: www.TheEvagelists.com.

My brain also keeps wandering off to Good People, a nascent, hour-long drama series in the vein of Broadchurch and True Detective. It’s a procedural that uses the central mystery as a stealth way of addressing the demand side of human trafficking.

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

When I most feel that I’m living in my vision is when “happy accidents” happen, when it feels like the world is conspiring to help me out. One recent example of this is from this past Fall when I went to a conference completely unrelated to the OKAY Initiative. I met multiple powerhouse people (impressive in not only their accomplishments but also in intelligence and compassion) whose interests aligned with the OKAY Initiative and who are now advisors for the project. Serendipity – or living in my vision?

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

Showrunning Good People and Settling Up Season 2. I’d also be creating transmedia stories.

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

“Shoulds”. Listening too much to all the things I was told I should be doing and not enough to what I knew in my heart to be true.

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

Not enough! I meditate twice every day which helps me stay focused on what is and isn’t important and stay connected to my creativity.  

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

Self-judgement born of fear. Being afraid of not being talented enough, smart enough, prepared enough, etc.

Q: What is your favorite piece of art?

Just one?! Every time I hear the finale of Turandot I get chills and have to stop what I’m doing. It never fails.

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

Two people: My parents. I know it’s cliche to say, but it’s true. My parents raised my siblings and me to live so that our presence on this planet makes the world a better place. A lesson they taught by example: My father was an English and drama teacher and my mother is a retired nurse for a school for special services. After my father passed and my mother and I were going through his papers, we were surprised at the size of the folder of letters from charities to which he gave regularly – no matter how they were doing financially. I hope that I embody the best of them and that I make them proud by living their example.  

And I should note that my parents’ lived values came from their parents who lived the same values. I come from a long line of people of whom I am very proud.

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

Using narratives to make the world a more inclusive, compassionate, connected place. I believe to the core of my being that we can change the world by changing narratives, that this is both our gift and responsibility as storytellers.

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

Wannabe-Wonder-Woman. (If I use hyphens that counts as one word, right?)

Q: What is your guilty pleasure?

British mysteries! I have always loved solving puzzles and started reading Agatha Christie when I was in elementary school. Mysteries are essentially puzzles in narrative form, so they merge two loves of mine.

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

If you get others’ approval, awesome. If not, no worries. The more you seek validation externally, the less you will find. Be secure in yourself. You will make mistakes, and that’s okay. It’s great actually, because you can learn from them and get better and better.

Q: Where would you most like to live?

I really do love New York City and where I live now in my beautiful, pre-war apartment uptown. That said, I am a water baby and dream of living near the ocean. Somewhere clean and quiet and abundant in natural beauty that also has a thriving arts scene and a diverse, inclusive community. Still searching for that place.

Q: What is your idea of success?

Having a positive impact on the world.

Q: What is your idea of happiness?

Contentment in the now.

Q: Final Thoughts?

Many thanks to Joanne for the chance to do this. It’s been a beneficial therapy session!

Also, what we do as artists, as storytellers matters. Think of the amount of time people spend with stories, whether they are songs or plays or film or TV or a painting or … The stories put into the world shape our understanding of it and our place in it. What we do in creating those stories, that is noble, important work. It matters. And I honor all of you who are doing the work.

 

 

Fast Forward Friday with Cornelia Ravenal

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For this week’s Fast Forward Friday, we interviewed the multi-talented award-winning writer-producer-filmmaker-visual artist Cornelia Ravenal. Her work has been performed at Lincoln Center, the Kennedy Center and regional theaters, published in magazines in Asia and the US, and screened at international festivals. For more information, visit www.wildernessfilms.us.

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

I’m working on several projects, each at a different stage. I never know which is going to move forward or when, so I have to keep teeing them up. These are the most current:

MOVING STORIES, a documentary I produced and co-created, premiered at MoMA last year and has been in almost 40 festivals to date. I’m still working daily on it, because we’re in the marketing, distribution and social impact phase.

As a writer, I’m juggling a few things. My script ON THE BLADE won a spot at the Writers Lab funded by Meryl Streep a few months ago. To push that forward, I recently wrote the script for a “proof of concept” short that my husband and filmmaking partner, Mikael Södersten, will direct.  We’re now strategizing how to shoot it.

I’m also in the middle of a first draft of a thriller, a dark, modern retelling of the story of Adam and Eve. But I took a break from it last week to write some marketing materials for comedy called THE INtiMATES for a producer in LA. Otherwise, I’m waiting for notes from another producer on a comedy called A MIDSUMMER NIGHTS MOOSE STORY; as soon as I get those, I’ll dive into the rewrite. In musical theater, I’m writing lyrics for BOYNTON BEACH CLUB, a musical that goes up in a regional theater this fall.

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

The documentary is about an acclaimed NY dance company that goes to India, Romania, Korea and Iraq to teach the tools of choreography to at-risk and often traumatized youth. When I first heard about the work they were doing, as a former journalist in India, I knew it was a story that had to be told. And as a trauma survivor myself, I know firsthand the power of the arts to heal.

The musical … when composer Ned Ginsburg and Susan Seidelman asked me to write lyrics for a musical based on one of her films, I jumped. Susan directed DESPERATELY SEEKING SUSAN, which had a big impact on me early in my career.

The scripts I’m writing all have personal connections. ON THE BLADE is inspired by the true story of a brutal hazing at an Ivy League school; it came out of my husband’s experience. Two of the other scripts explore marriage, one comically, the other as a thriller. And MOOSE was inspired by my experiences living in Sweden. It’s about a hapless American who gets lost in Swedish Lapland on the way to the wedding of a Facebook friend. (Not that this happened to me. But close.)

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

I’ve been inspired by many people. When I was a teenage songwriter, my artistic inspirations were Joni Mitchell and Laura Nyro. Several careers later, I look to legions of women filmmakers for inspiration: directors like Jane Campion, Ava DuVernay, Angelina Jolie, Jill Soloway, Patty Jenkins, Kathryn Bigelow, Greta Gerwig and Lynne Ramsay; actor-producers like Elizabeth Banks, Jessica Chastain, Viola Davis, Penny Marshall and producers like Gale Anne Hurd and Christine Vachon.

All this said, the artistic hero who has had the biggest impact is my mother. She’s a painter and art historian who made a career for herself at a time when there were many more obstacles than there are now. She continued to paint into her 70s and to write into her 80s. She’s continually curious about the world and is inspired to create daily.

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

The work itself. I like making something out of nothing. I’m really stimulated by the process of creating and of problem-solving in words, sounds and images.

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

I started out as a performer and I still sing. I recently pinch hit as a studio singer. After I sang with a jazz quintet in Sanders Theater several years back, I promised friends I’d make a CD.  I’ve been putting it off for a while, because of the demands of other work, but plan to do that this year, if only for family and friends. I’m also a visual artist. My work has been in a few gallery shows, including a solo show in Sweden.

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

Anytime something I’ve made gets up out of the crib of creation, gets to its feet and walks on its own tells me I’m living in my vision. That’s as true for finishing a first draft of a script as it is for seeing a musical or film on its feet.

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

There have been so many barriers to entry and advancement over the decades that I’ve been working, it’s hard to say. If I hadn’t encountered them, I might have made the natural transitions from writing to show running to creating TV shows or directing feature films.

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

Fear, both conscious and unconscious. But the biggest obstacles have probably been all the barriers to entry and advancement. Any woman reading this knows what forms those can take. But when I think of obstacles, I tend to think of solutions. So, one way I’ve dealt with professional barriers is to create groups to empower myself and others who may be dealing with the same things. The most recent, which I started 5 years ago, was for women producers. Fifteen of us met once a month in my living room. It’s since become WIP (Women Independent Producers), with close to 60 members..

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

There are so many things I enjoy creating that I’m rarely not in my creative self. But in the last several years, one of my projects has involved an overwhelming amount of non-creative work, so I’ve had to fight to stay connected. To stay connected, I prioritize the time to create. I minimize distractions. I make deadlines for myself that I stick to as rigorously as deadlines from outside. I put the work first. I turn down invitations. I don’t pick up the phone. I create a cocoon. I’m fortunate that my husband is also a writer-filmmaker-producer, so often, we’re in the cocoon together.

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

Fear.

Q: What is your favorite piece of art?

The paintings of Hieronymus Bosch. The life’s work of photographer Sebastião Salgado. Stravinsky’s RITE OF SPRING. Brahm’s violin concertos. The works of choreographers Ohad Naharin and Pina Bausch. The musical, FIDDLER ON THE ROOFwhich I just saw again, this time in Yiddish. (Best production ever!) Too many films to count, although right now, it’s the Yorgos Lanthimos film, THE FAVOURITE, which is transgressively brilliant.

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

I admire people who lead and inspire, despite obstacles and fears. I think that’s why the first names that come to me are Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King and Gandhi,  for reasons everyone knows. But I’d also have to say: my husband. He treats people with respect.  He’s also extremely ethical. I’ve seen him lead and inspire and take care of people in ways that remind me daily of what it means to be a leader.

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

My creative work.  

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

Resilient.

Q: What is your guilty pleasure?

Exotic ice creams, like rose petal and kulfi.

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

Don’t try to be perfect. Don’t give anyone the power to diminish you. Don’t be afraid.

Q: Where would you most like to live?

I used to have favorite places – India, Sweden, Italy – but these days it’s anywhere I can write. Right now, I’m on a train and that seems pretty good to me.

Q: What is your idea of success?

Being recognized for what I’ve created.

Q: What is your idea of happiness?

Creative exploration.

Q: Final Thoughts?

Gratitude.

Fast Forward Friday with Andrew Moore

For this week’s Fast Forward Friday, we interviewed bass-baritone Andrew Moore. He is working for his MM in Opera at Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers University. Currently studying with Grammy-winning Eduardo Chama, Andrew starred in the Rutgers production of Beethoven’s Fidelio as Rocco, and as the title role of Figaro in Le Nozze di Figaro by Mozart. His previous credits include Mozart’s Cosi fan Tutte (Guglielmo), Ravel’s L’enfant et les sortileges (L’Arbre), Poulenc’s Dialogues of the Carmelites (1st Officer) and Blow’s Venus and Adonis (Adonis).

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

Currently I am preparing for two operas that I have coming up: Gianni Schicchi and Il Tabarro, which will be performed this February. It will be my final lead in my masters at Mason Gross School of the Arts.

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

I really love Puccini and it will be my first Puccini lead as Gianni Schicci. This role is a lot of firsts for me such as a higher range and use of a character voice for Buoso Donati and I’m glad to be doing it now in my final year here.

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

Some of my artistic heroes would be Feruccio Furlanetto (famous bass-baritone); my current voice teacher Eduardo Chama, who inspires me all the time;  my mother; and all of my singer friends who are doing exactly what I am doing, which is going out there everyday and giving it their all.

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

My support from my family and friends. who are always rooting for me and are so proud of the work that I do. What keeps me inspired is that when I see a show or opera and I am reminded that I get to make people feel the way I do when I see a show. It’s the constant love for performing that keeps me going.

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

This summer I will be a participating in four operas as part of in Santa Fe’s Young Artists Program and I am currently learning music for this summer’s season.

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

This past summer I was invited to be a part of the Merola Opera Program where I sang for more than 3,500 people with orchestra . To me, that was a definite sign that I am on the right path.

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

I would definitely want to get into voice acting and be a voice for a Disney animation film or some sort of cartoon show. I love doing funny voices and I would have so much fun doing that.

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

My biggest obstacle right now is my age. The roles that I want to play won’t be for another few years until my voice has really matured. If you were to compare me to a bottle of wine, I feel I am a classic 2016 Cabernet and I want to be that bottle from 1938 that is a rare find and has the best taste.

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

I keep seeing shows and seeing my friends in their shows. This keeps the inspiration in me alive and I am able to remind myself how much I love performing in general.

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

This is a tough question. I guess I would have to say my thoughts that make me compare myself to other singers. It’s a bit inevitable in the business. “Why him and not me?” But at the same time, although this can hold me back at times, I find myself also inspired to push further and become personally better.

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

Lucille Ball because she was told at an early age that she wouldn’t make it as an actress and now she is one the most recognizable actresses of the century. She believed in herself, really made an entire career for her and her family, and was such a wonderful person and a really amazing entertainer.

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

For being me! I consider myself to be one of a kind and I would want to be remembered just as I am.

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

Entertaining.

Q: What is your guilty pleasure?

This isn’t that bad but sometimes after a long day, there is nothing more I love than having just a few oreos and watching really awful, scary movies. It’s something about the really bad acting and predictable story line that makes me entertained.

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

“Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t make it or that you’re not good enough because one day, you will prove a lot of people wrong.”

Q: Where would you most like to live?

Somewhere with a beautiful view and a beach. I’ve grown up by the beach, and water has always been a source of energy and leaves me with a sense of solidity.

Q: What is your idea of success?

Being able to support myself on my own and doing something that I love everyday.

Q: What is your idea of happiness?

Removing negative people from your life and surrounding yourself with those who truly care for you, and you in return, care for them.

Q: Final Thoughts?

Everyday I am still working and striving for something greater. And although I am young, I cannot wait for what the rest of my life has in store for me.