Contributed by Jennifer Gordan Thomas
When Shay asked me if I’d contribute to this month’s blog on diversifying artistic outlets, I jumped at the chance. I’m in the process of producing a feature film. My first. Though I’ve produced shorts and I edit film and video, most of my career has been spent as a theatre person. I am also a woman in her 40s. My chances of “success” in this arena are, percentage-wise, pretty low. That’s why I’m doing it. “Diversifying” or as I like to call it, “trying new things” is an essential component of who I am as both an artist and a human.
In 2008 I acted in a short play written by Mac Rogers. It was a 10-minute play called SPIKE and sci-fi in nature, in true Mac Rogers form. I loved it. I also thought it would make a great film. I kept saying "Hey this would make a great film" and for some reason no one did anything about it.
Fast forward to 2 years ago. I'm stagnant, I'm annoyed with what I'm auditioning for, I have no agent, and I'm having a heated conversation with actress Angela Dee in my car. She tells me I should write my own stuff. I'm immediately indignant. I'm a red head and don't tell me what to do. I am most emphatically NOT a writer. Angela says, "Well, then you're going to have to produce for yourself because you're a woman in your 40s and that's the game." I was furious.
After I stopped being furious, I asked Mac if he'd be interested in developing SPIKE into a screenplay. I had been thinking about it for years and why not? Thankfully, Mac agreed. We first developed what is now called THE SPIKE as a web series, and then made the bold decision to just go for it. It is now a feature length screenplay and it's really good. So, we have a good screenplay and we could stop right there and that would be a pretty big accomplishment. I helped develop a feature film. I’ve done something I’ve never done. Cool.
But no, we won't stop there. I'm going to Executive Produce this. And not only that, I'm going to play a lead role. I must be nuts. That's what I tell myself every day. "Self", I say, "You're nuts. What makes you think you can do this?" I tell myself to shut up. I tell myself I've produced, directed, and acted in dozens of plays. I edit. I’ve produced shorts. I tell myself that I am a storyteller and this is just that, only on a different scale. I know that my skills at finding the right people for the project, assessing strengths, team building, financials, trusting my gut, trusting in others, communicating clearly, and knowing a good story when I see it, are all I need. ALL of these skills were acquired through my experiences in the theatre. I say these things to myself every day. We've only just started pre-production and I've been working on this for 2 years, so this is a long conversation I’ve been having with me.
Producing a film is very different from producing theatre. Think about what goes into producing a play with a 3 to 4 week run...and then multiply that by 3 to 5 years and add at least 40 other collaborators. It takes a long time to make a feature film, but if you have a story you want to tell, and it fits the medium of film, you should do it. Should artists work in multiple mediums? Should artists diversify? I’m not a big fan of “should”, but yes, absolutely. There are people who will tell you that the best way to succeed (whatever that means) is to find one thing you do really well and just do that. That’s not for me. I want to stretch my wings. I like to test my abilities. Life is short, so why not try all the things you want to try? Diversifying, working in multiple mediums, can ONLY make you a better artist. Diversifying allows you to test the boundaries of your abilities, and testing the boundaries of your own abilities actually *causes *you to grow.
I want to be the person who’s surrounded by masters. I honestly want to be low man on the totem pole on everything I’m working on because I want to get better. I want to be challenged. Practicing art in multiple mediums allows you to get better in almost all ways: artistically, spiritually, and humanly. And I can promise you that on your deathbed you will never say, “I’m so glad I never tried different things”.
Check out THE SPIKE website...