Fast Forward Friday with Donna Kaz

For this week’s Fast Forward Friday, we interviewed  New York based writer-director-choreographer-activist Donna Kaz. For the past 20 years she has led Guerrilla Girls on Tour with performances that address social issues and prove feminists are funny. Her new eBook, PUSH/PUSHBACK 9 Steps to make a Difference with Activism and Art (because the world’s gone bananas) can be found at ggontour.com and  donnakaz.com,

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

I am a multi-genre writer and I work in nonfiction, poetry, stage and screen. Currently, I’m working on a play set in New York City in 1981 at the beginning of the AIDS crisis.  It is based on my experiences of living through that era and losing so many friends to AIDS, specifically a very close collaborator who directed my first plays. The play is called The Docent, and had a first read with American Renaissance Theatre Company in NYC in February.

I am also still very involved in my work as a member of the activist theater group Guerrilla Girls On Tour.  Usually, at this time, we would be touring to colleges around the country with lectures, workshops and performances but since COVID-19 we have had to pivot to virtual workshops and artist talks. Our third Art of Activism Poster Making Workshop will be offered via Zoom on June 26.

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

My mom was very creative and had an amazing sense of humor. My dad made beautiful things out of wood and I spent a lot of time in his workshop.  I have also been inspired by the work of Yoko Ono, Gloria Steinem, and others who have made it possible for women in theater to have a voice on stage, like Deborah Randall of Venus Theatre and Lisa McNulty of the Women’s Project Theatre.

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

Realizing that creating art takes many steps, some of them slower than others, and you often have to be patient to allow inspiration to enter.  I have found that making art is a process and that putting time into thinking about an idea is often just as important as executing that idea.

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

I would like to share some links to some organizations doing important work within the theater community right now like The Broadway Advocacy Coalition, using the arts for social change; Honor Roll, an advocacy group for women playwrights over 40; and Guerrilla Girls On Tour’s Blog featuring womxn artists called  On Being a Womxn Artist.

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

Remember to celebrate your successes, even if they seem small. Keep putting one foot in front of the other. Believe in yourself and your ability.

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

This is such a great question, especially during this self-quarantine year. If I could, I would be in a crowded theater, either involved in a production or sitting in the audience watching some great new play or musical.

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

Living in a world which oppresses and marginalizes women is the biggest obstacle I can think of. Patriarchy has to go.

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

I read, write, listen to music, cook, and try to connect with nature whenever I can.

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

 I think of my past as something I have worked hard to accept so rather than letting it go I would like to answer this question in a different way. I could never really “let go” of the violence and abuse that is in my past – the trauma of surviving domestic violence and sexual assault.  For me it is more a question of how to accept what happened to me. In order to make peace with my past and move forward I first realized that it was impossible to change what happened. I came to accept the fact that I am who I am because of my past. The way forward for me was to acknowledge what I have gone through and that has made me stronger.

Q: What is your favorite piece of art?

I am drawn to activist art and work that inspires change such as the artistic responses to the murder of George Floyd like LA artist Nikkolas Smith’s portrait of Floyd; and Houston street artists Donkeeboy and Donkeymom who painted a powerful mural in Houston’s Third Ward.

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

Michelle Obama. I’ve never met her but whenever I see her speak I feel like she’s talking to me.

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

Helping to change the face of theater to include the work of more women and artists of color.

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

Feminist.

Q: Where would you most like to live?

Hawaii. It is a beautiful and magical place.

Q: What is your idea of success?

I wrote a lot about this in my memoir UN/MASKED, Memoirs of a Guerrilla Girl On Tour.  This is from the book: “Getting cast in a theater production or a movie or having my play produced does not make me an artist. Art is in me, lives in my soul, the vibration inside fights a way out to make stuff up. Nobody has to buy this stuff, this art, or look at it, or produce it. It is art because I am an artist and I made it up. If it is the truest stuff I can make, it is a success. Not to say that getting money for your art is not okay. It is. But it is no longer the criteria by which I identify myself as an artist. I am success. I am a success. My story is at the end of a pencil poised over an empty page. I picked the pencil up. And wrote.”

Q: Final Thoughts? 

Thank you for this opportunity to connect with other creative people. 

Fast Forward Friday with Rachel Feldman

For this week’s Fast Forward Friday, we interviewed director-writer-filmmaker-producer Rachel Feldman. This past season she directed multiple episodes of Blue Bloods, Criminal Minds, and The Rookie, As well as the pilot and full season of The BaxtersFeldman is the recipient of the Ravenal Grant and an Athena List winner for her feature screenplay Lilly, based on the life of fair pay activist Lilly Ledbetter. To learn more, visit her website.

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

I’m answering these questions in the time of the COVID-19 virus, hunkered down, “safer in place” in LA, wondering how and when our future will return to us.

I’m a mid-career director and screenwriter. I work as a director primarily in one-hour television dramas, and I write pilots and features in a variety of genre.

I work on many things at once, half-baked swirls of imagination juggling in front of me, so that I can grab at any one of them as desired. But the jewel in the crown of my slate is a feature film based on the life of fair pay activist, Lilly Ledbetter, the woman about whom President Obama named his first piece of legislation. I learned about Lilly’s story and optioned her rights, then wrote a screenplay that was an Athena List winner and the recipient of the NYWIFT Ravenal Grant for female filmmakers over 40. It’s been a seven-year journey so far and I’m not stopping until this film is complete. It’s a beautiful and important story and will make a deeply emotional and enlightening movie. 

When I first began shopping the project, the responses were similar, “We can’t make a film with a female protagonist. It’s impossible to make a feminist/political film. We might be interested if we could hire a male director.”  But I’ve stuck with this because Lilly’s story is so important. Her story is my story, and yours. It’s a film for this moment in time and for girls and women around the globe. #IAmALilly

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

Pushing back against the patriarchy is my motivation.  And making a great film. The injustice and inequity women face in every aspect of life must be shouted from the rooftops until things change. Certainly, in the past few years, post #TimesUp and #MeToo, certain aspects of our culture have become more enlightened, but Lilly’s story is the narrative of one woman who made a difference for others. Her life’s arc is brilliantly compelling. I’m a filmmaker because I know in my bones that the best way to make change is through compassion. I’m eager to share this woman’s remarkable journey through cinema, it’s rich dramatic fodder. Think about Norma Rae, Silkwood, Erin Brockovich, The Insider, or Spotlight – these were about important subjects but they were also brilliant movies.

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

There are so many. Anyone who has survived injustice moves me. The righteous struggle is a theme about which I’m continually interested. But at heart, I’m a romantic and the daughter of a movie lover whose taste influenced mine.  The golden age of Hollywood, grandiose movie musicals with high production value including sets, costumes, lighting, great acting —these are the elements that get me excited.

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

My imagination is always working on many stories simultaneously. I gestate these pods of character, plot, and theme often for long periods of time before they become realized on paper. I liken this process to playing with dolls, a preoccupation that was the genesis for my story making in a primitive form. After a while the plot will focus and I will be compelled to write things down either as an outline or sometimes a first act spills out of me fully formed, and then I stop and have to figure out the rest.  I have always felt that I had a weather vane to the zeitgeist, I feel the collective unconscious often before it comes into social clarity.  But I am also motivated by image. I draw, I shoot pictures, and sometimes the way something looks evokes feelings that will send me flying into a world fully formed with characters and plot.

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

I have 16 projects in my slate that I’ve built up during the past 20 years in several different genres. The industry at large is not a fan of writers who have different voices. The conventional wisdom is that you should focus on one kind of material and for the most part, I do love a twisted, psychological thriller. But I also write musicals, comedy, and romance.  I wrote a science fiction screenplay more than 30 years ago and just reverse engineered it as a YA novel. I’m looking for a publisher now.

But no matter the genre, girls and women are and have always been my protagonists and promoting a progressive world, filled with challenging convention is a constant.

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

That I’m often ahead of my time with regards to stories that interest me. It’s sometimes a decade or more until the industry begins to make shows from concepts similar to what I had tried to pitch when I was told that no one was interested. 

Also, my imagination is my dearest companion and I’ve been living with her for as long as I can remember. I’m a grounded person, a responsible mother and wife, but the images and ideas in my head are vibrant, palpable, and easy to access when I need them.

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

I would be the CEO of a thriving production company with multiple productions going at once in features, television, and branded media. I’d be a media mogul supervising a network of storytelling and storytellers. My company name is Dollface Films. Why? I’m from NYC, doll! Dolls were my first actors. And for me, my love of movies and my love of humans is all about the face. Hello there. 

Q: What have been big your biggest obstacles in achieving your vision?

1-The conventional, copy-cat thinking of an industry/business that considers itself creative.

2-Dysfunction, patriarchal Hollywood.

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

I’m a very playful person and fortunately so are my husband and kids. I sing, dance, make-up voices and bad rhyming schemes, I draw and doodle. I take a long walk every day in a lovely park with large trees and open space. 

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

People pleasing. What a big fat waste of time.

Q: What is your favorite piece of art?

I love a great, classic song. The melody, the lyric, the concision of thought and feeling in one lovely and clever bite. Cole Porter, Irving Berlin, The Gershwins, Rodgers and Hammerstein/Hart, you get the idea.

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

I’m not good at this kind of question.  My mother was a nut case, difficult and mentally unstable, but she brought me into this world and survived so many of her own demons. I don’t exactly admire her but I’m grateful to and for her. She was my first fan – and also my first troll.

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

Being a filmmaker who makes beautiful films that move audiences in profound ways. 

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

Persistent.

Q: What is your guilty pleasure?

I don’t feel guilty about my pleasures.

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

Stop worrying about what you look like. Okay, you have big thighs and frizzy hair, just wait a few years,hose attributes will be trending!

Q: Where would you most like to live?

Living in a charming village in France by the sea is a nice fantasy.  But my imagination and my ability to sink into story has taken me far and wide.

Q: What is your idea of success?

Not worrying about money. Not having to wait for others to trigger my projects.

Q: What is your idea of happiness?

Being with my husband and kids on a tropical isle with live music and fruit drinks. Or being on a smooth-sailing set, making movies and calling “Action!” 

Q: Final Thoughts?

Agents and managers. The gatekeepers of who gets in and who stays out of the creative wheel is a disastrous system. Celebrity is the single most valued commodity in Hollywood, not talent, not skill, not profound, original thinking. After that, sales agents and the perceived value of actors is the next poisonous system that prevents progressive voices and inclusive filmmakers from thriving. 

Fast Forward Friday with Tonya Pinkins

For this week’s Fast Forward Friday, we interviewed the multi-talented, Tony Award winning actress-writer-director Tonya Pinkins.  She has been nominated for three Tony Awards, winning for Best Featured Actress in a Musical for Jelly’s Last Jam, and has won the Obie, Lortel, Drama Desk, Outer Critics Circle, AUDLECO, Garland, L.A. Drama Critics Circle, Clarence Derwent, and NAACP Theater Awards.  She is known for her portrayal of Livia Frye on the soap opera All My Children.  She is also the host of the Broadway Podcast Network’s You Can’t Say That! https://broadwaypodcastnetwork.com/podcast/you-cant-say-that/

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

I am working on expressing as much of the radiance of the divine as is destined for me this incarnation. Tangibly that looks like producing, writing, directing and acting in a socio-political horror film about the 2020 election starring Ruben Blades, Cathy Curthy, Kathy Erbe, Luba Mason, Colby Minifie and Jake O’Flaherty called Red Pill. I am also writing my next horror film Match.die, and then I am in edit on a series of 10 minute plays and songs that were produced at the Tank in 2019. They plays are about the ways women oppress one another and each play or song models a way to heal the wound. And then there is my novel The Angry Fat Black Woman Who Devoured The Earth and my travel memoir about walking the 100 mile west highland way in Scotland. It’s called A Woman’s Walk on the West Highland Way and it’s WILD meets 50 Shades of Grey.

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

I am always creating multiple projects simultaneously. It is what I was born to do. I have four children. Egon Weiner said, “The only appropriate response to abuse is creativity,” so the harder life has hit me, the more creative I have become.

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

My artistic heroes include George C Wolfe, Eve Ensler.  Larry Kramer, Jane Fonda, Ivan Van Hove, Sam Mendes, Colmon Domingo, and Lin Manuel Miranda.

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

I have a spider comedy/horror trilogy called Blaracknophia. Yeah, its about black people’s fear of spiders and people’s fear of black people.

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

I had a moment on the set of Red Pill where I realized that the thing I wanted most, which was to have a team, and the thing I have never wanted, which was to be a leader because I feared leading people astray, were inextricably intertwined. I have really successful colleagues but I had never been able to initiate a project with them. Yet here I was making a movie. I had a team and I was the leader. It was an epiphany. I had to trust that I would not lead them astray.

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

I would move from creative expression to creative expression. Write a piece of non-fiction, then a fiction book, Then run off to do a concert, then direct a film, act in a mini-series, write a Broadway show, travel and give away a lot of the wealth I accumulated from the success of my creative endeavors.

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

I know the value of my art and in the time when I came up and the way I was brought up I was allowed to be as smart, talented and ambitious as my heart desired. I had to fit into other people’s ideas of what i was. It has taken me a lifetime to step into what is inside of me and risk expressing it without fear or shame.

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

I would let go of the fear that pride goeth before the fall and have allowed myself to know that I was good rather than having to be faux humble for fear of inviting God’s wrath.

I would also let go of my screen addiction, which has slowed down my progress. I waste so much time mindlessly swiping pages.

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

I want to be know for defying every odd and becoming one the of the most successful creative artists in the history of creativity. And that isn’t on a fame scale. It is on an artistic expression scale.

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

Indomitable.

Q: What is your guilty pleasure?

I am a sugar addict. But food is my sex.

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

I would say: “Stop trying to do it the right way. Do it your way and it will be right for you, which is the best any of us can do.”

Q: Where would you most like to live?

I like mountains over the sea. So Bali or Mexico. But I have not traveled enough to say definitively.

Q: What is your idea of success?

There are many kinds of success.

I am successful at being authentic to my being.

I want to to be successful at magnetizing the resources to create any and everything I can imagine at the highest level possible.

Q: What is your idea of happiness?

Happiness is wanting what you have and having what you want. Doing things because you want to, and not doing things because you don’t want to and requiring no more explanation than that. Having the resources to live, travel, meet, and experience everything your heart can imagine. Being able to share your wealth and help others.

Q: Final Thoughts?

I don’t know how much time I have left. I hope I bring into the world all the stories that fill my heart. I hope I have left the world a better place for having been here. I know I have been blessed. I hope I have been a blessing.

Fast Forward Friday with David Kessler

For this week’s Fast Forward Friday, we interviewed writer-producer David Kessler.  His most recent project is the drama Minamata, starring Johnny Depp, about the photojournalist William Eugene Smith which David adapted from the book of the same name.  It will have its world premiere at the Berlin International Film Festival in February 2020 and will be released theatrically in fall 2020.

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

Hopefully my next feature film after Minamata will be Dreamers, the story of John Lennon’s five-year immigration battle with the USA. Until recently, I was working on a story about a cult from the 1970s but had a falling out with the author of the book about it.

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

Literally 21 years ago, in 1999, I sent a fax to Lennon’s lawyer, thinking it would be a great film. I didn’t hear back but did reach out again 17 years later in 2016 when he had a book coming out about the case. I suspected there was a story there – a beginning, middle and end, and a hero (Lennon and his lawyer) and an enemy (Nixon and Hoover). Little did I know how rich and moving the story was. The lawyer became a father-figure to a Lennon who had been abandoned by his own father and how the case led directly to DACA.

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

Writers, in no order: Dan Fogleman, Billy Ray, David Koepp, Steven Zaillian, Aaron Sorkin,. Musicians: The Beatles, Paul Westerberg, Graham Parker.

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

Minamata, to to be released this fall, is about mercury-poisoning in Japan in the 1970s. It will premiere at the Berlin Film Festival in a few weeks.

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

When I was on set in Serbia for Minamata, watching Johnny Depp say my lines in an office dressed as I had described in my script.

Additionally, when Paula Wagner – of Mission Impossible I, II, III; The Last Samurai; Marshall and now a producer of Dreamers – told me to my face I was a “great writer”.

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

Writing and producing a ton more screenplays.

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

True-life subjects’ disinterest in working with me – nos, unanswered e-mails and letters, difficult managers.

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

Parental expectations.

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

Minamata

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

Quirky.

Q: What is your guilty pleasure?

Cookies, candy, snacks, a Coke.

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

Stay the course. This quote from Steve Jobs has been on my computer probably for that long: “Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of other’s opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.

Q: Where would you most like to live?

I still love living LA – I wish I had known about it way, way earlier.

Q: What is your idea of success?

Making enough money to lead a creative life i.e., no boss, no alarm clock, no structure to one’s day, trapped with unreasonable people and expectations.

Fast Forward Friday with Kerry Carlock

For this week’s Fast Forward Friday, we interviewed award-winning Director-Writer-Producer Kerry Carlock.  Her first feature, Armstrong which she co-directed with her husband Nick Lund-Ulrich, is currently streaming on Amazon.  As a TV producer, She was the VP of Programming for Pie Town Productions,where she oversaw nine series including HGTV mega hits House Hunters and Flip or Flop. Other projects, include the Emmy nominated Trading Spaces and the feature documentary, Pageant, which premiered at the 2008 Slamdance Film Festival.

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

I recently transitioned out of my job as a television executive to focus on my second feature Red Knights Forever with my husband, Nick Lund-Ulrich. We wrote it together and are working toward going into production next fall.

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

Nick grew up in a small town in Western Massachusetts and there was a murder there in 1988. The killer hid in the woods and there was a massive man hunt. They couldn’t find him so they cancelled Halloween-every kid’s worst nightmare and a great set up for a scary story.We really wanted to do a classic adventure movie with girls at the center so we drew upon my 8th grade friendships that same year to create the characters – a trio of girls that dress up as knights to save Halloween.

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

Even though I don’t work in comedy, I really look up to comedians like Lucille Ball, Mary Tyler Moore and Tina Fey because it requires such a balancing act of rigorous craft and free play.

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

This one is totally stumping me right now! I’m going to come back to this…

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

Our first feature Armstrong is on Amazon Prime and I’m also starting a podcast called Okay, Back to that One  that I’m really excited about. I want to talk about resetting my artistic life, get inspiration from other women that have made a similar leap and hopefully create a community that will support each other moving forward.

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

Well, I sure do know what it feels like to NOT be living your vision. Before I left my job, I felt so overwhelmed and emotional all the time. I knew in my gut that I needed a change but it was really scary because leaving a comfortable paycheck is considered insane. But it felt right and I’m glad I embraced the insanity!

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

Making female-centric movies!!!

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

The biggest barrier for us is fundraising so if money grew on trees, you better believe we would be planting elms in our backyard and harvesting cash.

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

I’m the wrong person to ask about staying connected because I’ve been lost for a couple of years! I’m in the process of RE-connecting. I’m trying everything – meditation, books, long walks with my dog, movie marathons, crafting, journaling, road trips. Anything that can jostle my shellshocked creativity into shining again!

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

I care way too much about what other people think of me. I wish I could let go of that need and be more confident.

Q: What is your favorite piece of art?

My screensaver is a painting by Anna and Michael Ancher called Judgment of a Day’s Work. The couple collaborated on the self portrait and in it they are sitting back and critiquing a painting together- probably one of hers. It is sort of quietly feminist and it was painted in 1883! When I first saw it, I suddenly had the vision of what I want my own collaborative relationship to look like.

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

Michelle Obama. I well up with emotion when I hear her talk or smile or laugh or motivate or … she can do anything and I will cry at the very notion that there can be some one so wise and effervescent in the real world.

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

Expressing my self and connecting with others.

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

Enthusiastic

Q: What is your guilty pleasure?

The Great British Bake Off!

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

Impostor Syndrome is real! If I could go back, I’d kick myself and say everyone feels like they don’t belong but don’t let that hold you back. You can do anything!

Q: Where would you most like to live?

I like where I am. I’m proud of the life we’ve built for ourselves and our home feels like a little oasis. But I DO want to travel. Top of the bucket list is Africa.

Q: What is your idea of success?

Making a living creating the projects we’re passionate about… and staying married through it all.

Q: What is your idea of happiness?

Living in the moment and not getting caught up in the past.

Q: Final Thoughts?

Okay, back to that question about staying motivated and inspired— I still can’t think of an answer so I’m just going to say ice cream. Ice cream keeps me motivated and inspired as an artist. And THAT is probably my most honest answer.