Category Archives: Entertainment Industry Musings

The Invisible Sh*t (whose name is fear) That Holds You Back

It’s funny how much stuff can affect you. I’ve talked (and written) about this incident a lot – a journal entry when it happened, an essay in college, a blog post now – but sometimes seemingly innocent things blindside you with their importance, and this experience clearly has become (for me) a bit of a meditation on the nature of fear and, darn it, if I’m not still learning from it. Here’s the latest I’ve come to understand:

My alma mater. Go Camels!

Many years ago I participated in an outward bound-type of outdoor orientation program before starting college — a sort of pre-orientation orientation (sponsored by the school) to my freshman year. You know the kind of trip – take a bunch of about-to-be college students, take away their watches (so they’re on “nature’s time”), pile them into a bus, drive them up to the woods (hmmm, this is actually starting to sound like the beginning of a horror movie, but it wasn’t like that, I swear), hike them into some remote location, teach them to build lean-tos (no tents for these overprivileged teenagers), and have them participate in a randomized selection of outdoor activities that are meant to foster self-confidence and bonding – activities like caving, and white-water canoeing, and rock-climbing. I LOVED IT. No kidding, the trip was amazing! I remember being excited and exhilarated, and, yes scared, but that fear manifested more as excitement and exhilaration than as fear. The thing is that with the rock climbing and the caving I definitely had those moments of “oh shit, I’m totally gonna die” and that was super scary but the feeling was very recognizable as fear. I could look at it and say, “Nope! That ain’t going to stop me! I am DOING THIS!” and, you know, I did it. I climbed the rock. I paddled the canoe. I plunged into (and emerged from) the cave.

(SIDEBAR – I should mention, if you’re anything like me, these particular caves were not the kind of caves you picture when you think “cave.”

Less “ooh look at this spacious cave we’re ‘exploring’…”

 

And more “Holy Crap, these are two enormous slabs of rock that have been here with this tiny space between them for, like, since the dawn of time, what if they choose right this exact second to shift?”

You know those wide open spaces where you stand around with a group and say, “ooh look – stalactites, stalagmites.” No, siree, Bob! This was more of a wedge-yourself-into-very-tight-spaces-between-two-enormous-prehistoric-slabs-of-rock-hope-you’re-not-claustrophobic-and-if-you-weren’t-going-in-you-will-be-coming-out-oh-and-by-the-way-it’s-freezing-wet-and-super-muddy-caving-with-a-capital-C-CAVING kinda thing.)

 

Yup, this…

 

But, I digress. In the end, whether caving or rock climbing, the fear was clearly, you know, FEAR, and so, it was (well, not exactly easy to disperse but) at least identifiable as fear and therefore face-able. But then came the high elements course and the fear I experienced during it was a whole different animal. It was invisible. It wasn’t identifiable as fear. It was more easily named indifference.

“What’s a high elements course,” you ask? Well it’s a sort of obstacle/ropes course, about 50 feet in the air, suspended from trees.

An example of a High Elements Course

This is that wire walk thing I was trying to describe.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nowadays you’ve seen things like it on American Gladiators, and other shows of that ilk, but at the time I’d never even heard of such a thing, let alone been expected to participate in one. These courses can be constructed in different ways, but basically, it’s a series of challenges comprised of logs, ropes, and wires suspended in the air. This particular one had an incline log, a balance beam log, a wire walk thing (two horizontal wires – one about 5 feet above the other – suspended between two trees) where you walk on the bottom wire and hold the top wire for balance, a series of ropes hanging from a wire between two trees where you had to cross from one tree to the other by transferring to each rope (Tarzan style), and, lastly, a platform with a trapeze (which, spoiler alert was too far away to reach even if you really jumped for it).


Staples in the trees between each challenge…and a sense of how high up the course is.

For the whole course you’re belayed (harness and safety ropes) and you traverse the course with your teammates yelling encouragement from the ground. Sounds great, right? What could be scary about that, right? I mean, how could it be scarier than rock climbing or rappelling or white water canoeing, right? Even 50 feet in the air, in the rain with all the surfaces slippery as all get out, right?

Wrong.

See, here’s the thing. I didn’t think I was afraid at all. I just had zero interest in doing the course. What it boils down to is that all of the other challenges – the rock climbing, the caving, the canoeing, hell, even the zip lining, I had heard about before. I was ready for them. I was expecting them. They were “things people did.” Even if it was just to face the challenges of nature, or just to get an adrenaline rush, all of these things were things that made some sort of sense to me. Yes, they were man’s attempt at conquering nature but in a practical way – “I need to get from here to there but there’s a cave, or a river, or a mountain in the way so I’ll crawl through that cave, or canoe down that river, or climb that mountain.” I mean that makes sense to me. But this? This arbitrary man-made construct suspended 50 feet in the air? Uh yeah, that made exactly zero sense at all. Especially in the rain.

So, when it came my turn to do the course, the guide was all, “Jessica, you’re up.” And I remember just thinking, “nope. I’ll pass.” I think I even said, “nope. I’ll pass.” When he insisted, I explained (very rationally, I’m sure) that I just didn’t have any interest in doing the course. He said, “there’s no reason to be afraid,” and I was shocked (SHOCKED, I tell you) that he would even consider it. “I’m not scared,” I said. “I just don’t see the point.” I was, no kidding, 100% certain that I was not afraid at all. I told myself I was indifferent. I told myself it was pointless. I told myself it was an arbitrary man-made construct and there was absolutely no reason I needed to participate in it. I was pretty self-righteous about it too, to be honest.

I told myself that if I was scared, I would feel, you know, scared. So, I resolved not to do the course. In the end, I was, in fact, the last person in my group to do it. And the only reason – the ONLY reason – I even stepped foot on that first log was because my guide (whose name I can’t remember but who I do remember was ridiculously cute in a Teva-wearing, “no outdoor challenge is too much for me” kinda way) asked me to just try the first challenge as a “personal favor” to him. So I did (because I never could resist doing a personal favor for a cute guy) and by the time I was up the log I realized that there were only two ways off the course – either freak right the fuck out and have to be lowered down to the ground like a goat in a sling (sorry, Jurassic Park reference), or just finish the damn course. And, not wanting to be the goat I just finished the damn course.

And here’s what I discovered at the end when I was leaping off the platform to grab the too-far-away trapeze. Number 1: I was absolutely sure that I was going to catch it. Number 2: harnesses hurt your crotch like a son of a bitch when they catch all of your weight. And, Number 3: there are all kinds of fear.

Sometimes you see your fear coming. Sometimes, you grab your fear by the throat and wrestle it to the ground. Sometimes, you outsmart your fear by consciously pretending it’s not there. And sometimes, it really feels like it’s not there. It masks itself as indifference and with that indifference it’s really easy to just ignore it and move on to the next thing. BUT, here’s the danger with that, and, by the way, here’s the point of this entire blog post (way to bury the lede, right?): If you think you’re indifferent to it and you ignore it and move on to the next thing?  Yeah, in the end I’m sure it will be fine. That next thing will be great and you’ll move along a little less brave and none the wiser BUT, you’ll miss it. I will say that again because it’s important – You. Will. Miss. It.

You’ll miss that big, beautiful, juicy, amazing, life-altering, wonderful feeling. Because, even though I didn’t catch that trapeze (and even though that harness hurt!) for that millisecond, when I jumped, I was SURE I was going to catch it. I was absolutely POSITIVE it was in my grasp. I knew it was impossible AND I knew I was going to do it. I believed wholeheartedly in that – in the possibility of the impossible. And even though, in the end, I didn’t actually catch the trapeze (because, big surprise, physics always works) that feeling never went away. From that moment on, that feeling turned out to be a new truth for me: The impossible isn’t just possible it will happen. If you push, and you try, and you believe, and you face your fear – IT. WILL. HAPPEN. And, I would have missed it. I would have missed that lesson, that understanding. And I never would have realized that fear is insidious. Fear can stop you not just cold, but also kinda lukewarm. You need to guard against it and you need to be vigilant because that thing you’re calling indifference? Yeah, most of the time, it’s just fear in indifference’s clothing. Don’t let it stall you. Don’t let it stop you. Don’t let it rule you.

So what does all this have to do with production? I mean this is a blog post on a production company’s website, after all. Well here’s the deal…this job is hard. This industry is hard. We work and we struggle and we face our fears in the hopes of success and wealth, yes, but also because we are compelled to tell stories. We’re compelled to reach people. If we could do anything else in the universe with as much joy as we do this, we absolutely would. Hands down! No one – NO ONE – would choose this if any of us had a choice. I mean there’s no two ways about it. This struggling thing? It sucks. But it’s also who we are. And when something comes up professionally, you think, “Oh, big scary thing. I’m knocking that puppy down.” I think we all do that. But, what I’m saying here is, sadly, that’s not enough. Because sometimes the big scary thing isn’t big and scary at all. Sometimes we look at it and think, “yeah, I’m just not interested in that right now. I’m going to go watch reruns of West Wing instead.” And that’s the danger. We get lulled into that place of, “but I’m tired. I’ve been doing this for years with varying degrees of success, and I just want to binge-watch Netflix right now.” I hear you. Believe me. And you want to watch West Wing for a day, a weekend, hell even a whole week? Go for it, you deserve it. BUT, after that day, that weekend, that whole week, I am telling you – Put on that harness, hook up your safety ropes, do the favor for the cute guy, and just Get. On. The. FUCKING. Course. Here and now, I promise you it will be worth it. I promise you that you will be rewarded for it. In fact, I promise you – I PROMISE YOU – that if you climb up that first log and you get onto that damn course, in the end you will jump for that trapeze with all that you are and you will float down from the trees KNOWING for a fact that the impossible is yours for the taking.

And so, for now, I leave you with two of my favorite motivational memes:

You CAN do the thing…so just go do it.

-Jessica

Confessions of a TV Fanatic…

Ok, so this is a long post. Like, a really long post. Sorry about that. But it turns out, when you’re talking about your passion, it’s kinda hard to keep it short. Feel free to jump to the links and/or skip to the end (that’s where the really important stuff is, anyway.) :) -Jess

As many of you know I have been a television fanatic my entire life. In fact, my life is defined by the shows I watch now, was watching then, will be watching tomorrow.

There are the shows of my childhood that I watched religiously with my sisters – Quincy, Eight is Enough, 240-Robert, Simon & Simon, St. Elsewhere, Remington Steele, Riptide – the list goes on and on and on.

Then there are the shows I watched on my own as I got older. In junior high it was Miami Vice – I still remember the conversations Colleen and I had at our lockers about Crockett and Tubbs.

There are the days in high school and early college where I was obsessed with Twin Peaks and Northern Exposure. (And yes, I’m well aware of the Northen Exposure episode that did an homage to Twin Peaks.)

The night during freshman year college spring break, when I had come home from a bad date in an awful mood and my dad had known the only thing that would pick me up – a Star Trek The Next Generation marathon where we watched a full videotape of 6 episodes, long into the night.

 

The ER fanaticism (particularly in those early seasons) when my aunt called with a family crisis during the ER season finale and I not only didn’t pick up the phone until the commercial break but when I did pick up, the first words out of my mouth were, “Aunt Irene, you know it’s the season finale, why are you calling NOW?” (yup, that story is legend in my family – most of the time I’m a very good niece, I swear.)

After college I had moved on to The X-Files and there was the taping mishap when, during Jen and Kelley’s rehearsal dinner, thinking I was safely recording the season finale, I left the television unattended, went to the dinner under the tent in the backyard and discovered (days later) that halfway through the episode someone, (who shall remain nameless), had changed the channel to a Red Sox game! Not even the Yankees! Not even the post-season! As you can imagine, in the days before dvrs that was a rough one!

There was Highlander and Gilmore Girls and Due South and FarscapeThirtysomething, and I’ll Fly Away, and Party of Five, and Chicago Hope. In recent years it’s been The Wire, and West Wing, and Friday Night Lights, and Doctor Who, and Breaking Bad, and Mad Men, and Orphan Black, and Justified, and ANYTHING from Joss Whedon. There have been shows that barely lasted a season and there’s been that old stalwart, Law & Order that lasted for 20 and of which I never missed an episode. There are dramas and scifi, and action adventure, but there’s comedy too: Newhart and Cheers, and Friends, and Sports Night and Scrubs, How I Met Your Mother and Modern Family, and Happy Endings. There’s even an animated show here and there - Aqua Team Hunger Force and Family Guy, I’m looking at you (though admittedly, I’m not nearly as obsessive over animation.) The shows  go on and on too numerous to name them all, but the one uniting factor for all of them has been my obsession and family, and friends are all used to me starting out conversations with “That reminds me of this one scene in…”

When I get hooked on a show – I watch it all, in order – I do not miss an episode. Yes, there are the shows I have a casual relationship with – I’ll drop in, enjoy an episode every once in awhile, but those are rare. There are even the shows I hatewatch (again dropping in and out of them), BUT if I’m committed, I’m committed and I can’t let them go. My love for my shows defines moments of my life and Holy Good Lord, the things I’ve seen on TV! It is true that I place my defining career moment – that moment when I knew I wanted to be a director – as my first viewing of a film (Star Wars, to be exact – yes, when I was like 6). But if that was the moment I new I wanted to be a director, the moments that honed that realization, and cemented that decision; the moments where I began to really understand what a director is, and what kind of storyteller I wanted to become, those moments are too numerous to keep track of and stretch through decades of capital M Moments of television where a TV show blew me away, made me excited, made me think, made me laugh out loud, made me cry, made me who I am (warning, spoilers abound in the bullet points below):

  • when the camera goes slo-mo in that one episode from Highlander when Richie realizes what he is now;
  • when Carter comes into his own and takes charge of the ER in a crisis;
  • when Bob Newhart wakes up next to Suzanne Pleshette at the end of Newhart;
  • when Buffy whispers her guidance to Dawn before she takes that leap;
  • when Picard joins the poker game;
  • when Lorelai realizes her feelings for Luke;
  • when CJ gets the goldfish from Danny;
  • when Niles’ ironing his pants turns into a 10 minute, absolutely brilliant bit of farce;
  • the kaddish for Uncle Manny in Northern Exposure;
  • the Galactica falling through the atmosphere of New Caprica
  • the lawnmower in Mad Men;
  • the goat fight in How I Met Your Mother;
  • Jayne’s hat in Firefly;
  • the locket in Farscape;
  • the chair flip in Alias;
  • the bullet in Fringe;
  • Doctor Donna

Moments on top of Moments on top of moments that have moved me and stuck with me but more than that made me stop and think “wow, I want to be a part of that! I want to be responsible for these moments for other people.” Honestly, it’s why I’m a director – for the moments.

So, why am I telling you this? Why now? Why wax rhapsodic about my TV obsession on a theater blog? Well here’s the thing you may not know: this company was never intended to only be about theater. If you watch the music video I made a few years ago, you’ll see I titled it a “Going to Tahiti Production”. You see, I LOVE theater (obviously), but from the beginning, I never intended for GTTP to only do theater. Always always always I have been finagling, to make a film or, better yet, a TV show. So finally we come to the point… finally, the television obsession and the directing thing are starting to collide. Finally I’m making a TV show. To say that it’s a dream come true doesn’t begin to cover it…and honestly, it’s also not accurate, you see, the dream can’t come true – I can’t make the show – until the money is in place, and, though we’re going strong we still have a looooooooooong way to go with that. BUT, I’m closer now than I’ve ever been.

“But it’s a web series, Jess. Didn’t you just film a webseries that’s in editing now and is supposed to be released in the fall?,” you say. Well, yes, I did and it is, and it will be. And yes, technically Farm Story is a web series in that it will first air on the web. And it being a web series allows us to afford to make it. BUT, Terri and I have big plans for this little series. You see we’re not making it like people normally do a web series, we’re making it like a regular ol’ tv show. What we’re doing is filming our very own tv pilot – an hour long drama for a six episode first season. Yes yes yes, it will be distributed online first. But after that, who knows? We have the first 3 episodes written. We know the arc for the remaining 3 episodes. If all goes according to plan, this won’t be a little project. This will be the first season of a multi-season story. If all goes according to plan, this is the next 3-7 years of our lives. Don’t get me wrong, GTTP is not abandoning theater, not even close. In fact, Molly will be doing a workshop production of a new “beyond words” theater piece this summer. And GTTP will have a full production slate through the 2014-15 season (in fact, stay tuned for announcements about that) BUT, GTTP is growing and branching and every day getting closer to the production company I envisioned when I first started out.

The reason I’m making such a big deal about Farm Story, (and you can read all about the development of the project and all the latest happenings on our Farm Story blog) is that this show is our biggest endeavor yet. Our biggest budget by far (50K). A completely new medium for us. Farm Story is a completely crowd-funded, donation-based show (that’s right every dime for this show is coming from donations from y’all). This is locally-grown TV. No big Hollywood studio yet. No big Hollywood money yet. Everyone on this project is either working for peanuts or volunteering, Terri and my folks are cooking some of the meals – are you beginning to see the picture here? We literally can not make this show without the support of all of you. So, I know I’ve asked before but now I’m going to ask for more. This is one of the most important (and terrifying) things I’ve ever done. So, whaddya say? Wanna help us make a television show?

So, with that in mind, if you’d like to make a tax-deductible donation to Farm Story and be a part of this revolutionary, locally-grown TV thing we’ve got going on here, go to the donate page of goingtotahitiproductions.com for instructions; OR, if you want to donate through our crowd funding site, RocketHub, and get rewards for your donation, go here. Truly truly truly, EVERY little bit helps. And, if you can’t donate right now, please spread the word. I also highly recommend checking out the video on the Rockethub page, where you can learn even more about me (as if you need to after this blog post), Terri, and the project; not just because I made the video and I think it’s a damn fine l’il movie, but because I think it conveys the spirit of what we’re doing.

So, yeah, basically – Theater is cool. Going  to Tahiti Productions‘ new theatrical season will be announced in July/August. TV is cool. GTTP is making a show. We need money and support to do it. Jessica is a crazy television junkie. Thanks for reading.

Going to Tahiti Productions is a sponsored project of Fractured Atlas, a non-profit arts service organization. Contributions for charitable purposes of Going to Tahiti Productions must be made payable to Fractured Atlas only and are tax-deductible to the extent permitted by law.