Almost There

Almost There

I am approaching the finish line.  I knew it was coming but it still feels surreal.  The film is done. It is now with the color correction and sound mixing experts.  While they are performing their magic I am working with the team to create the movie poster and the electronic press kit that will be a part of each film festival submission.  We will likely submit to ten or more film festivals around the country. Then we will wait.  It will be late fall or early winter before they contact us with a yay or nay.  Pins and needles time.

Two and a half years. I have had a few misses during this time.  The picture above was one of them. I was being filmed for a possible opening sequence in the Beyond Sixty Project.  It was scripted.  I just couldn’t do it.  They were my words, more or less, but I couldn’t string them together and sound like me.  I would make a lousy actress.  I cannot imagine ever learning to memorize a script.  Maybe I am selling myself short, but I don’t think so.

What I have confirmed is that I do best when I am in conversation with people or when I am just talking naturally, about any subject.  It was the same way in my previous job. When giving presentations to groups, small and large, I would usually have note cards to ensure I covered the necessary topics but did best when talking from my heart.  As long as  I was passionate about the subject it usually went very well.

There has been a tremendous amount of passion associated with this film.  I feel so lucky to have production partners that share the feeling with me. I still work best in collaboration with a team of highly talented people. I could not have done this without them.

Several people have asked me what it feels like to be at this juncture.  It’s hard to explain but I can tell you that when I watched the last cut of the film I became very emotional when the credits rolled. It was the first time I had seen the credits and it was an overwhelming sensation to see all of our names scrolling to music that gets me every time I hear it.  It may sound corny but it’s true.

The biggest lesson learned through this process is that we are never too old to try something new.   I am in awe of all the women I interviewed for the film.  They have such unique stories and I am better off for spending time with them.  Their commonalities are clear.  They are resilient and they are continuing to remain relevant as they age.  They are not willing to call it quits and hunker down into their golden years.  They have a confidence that allows them to say no to things they do not want and a boldness to step out and try new things.  They expect some failures along the way but chalk that up to experience which adds to their resilience bucket.

Where we all go from here is unclear, but as my friend Sara says, if you are open to the unknown things can happen.

Back to work. I hope you have a wonderful day.

Peace and Love,

Melissa

 

 

 

Inspiration

Inspiration

By now, if you are following my story, you know the short version.  That one day I took a detour from my usual routine and the end result was a day on a movie set with M Night Shyamalan.  Seemingly, the main impetus for leaving the comfortability of my corporate career and becoming a filmmaker. But there was more to it than that.

The grainy picture you see above was my true inspiration.  Let me explain.

When I won the bid to spend the day on the set of Shyamalan’s The Visit, I was contacted by the young woman in the middle, Jenn.  At the time she was the Shyamalan Foundation’s Executive Director. She and her colleague Joanna, who is not shown above but also plays an inspirational role in my leap, were the first people to contact me about the logistics of my upcoming day. They hung out with me on the set and our conversations were rich. These conversations have continued since that first meeting in March, 2014 and today I consider each a good friend, despite our age difference.

Shortly after my incredible day on the set I received an invitation from Jenn to come to an event that would feature a young woman they supported through the foundation. Eager to learn more about the Shyamalan’s work I jumped at the chance. That evening I met the third woman in the above picture, the one on the right, Katie Meyler.

The Shyamalan Foundation supports the grassroots efforts of emerging leaders as they work to eliminate barriers created by poverty and social injustice in their communities. Katie Meyler is one of those leaders.  Katie is the Founder and CEO of More Than Me (MTM), a leading education network in Liberia.  She started MTM in 2009 in an effort to find the most vulnerable girls in Liberia and get them into school. She was 27 then.

That night at the foundation event I sat in the front row listening to this thirty-something woman tell us her story and her dreams, through her poetry. We connected that night in a big way and it was at that moment that all the little fears I had about jumping ship and becoming a filmmaker were washed away. I have never been inspired as much as I was by this woman. We have remained close and have had deep conversations about life and love and dancing…she is always dancing!

Since starting MTM, Katie has not only helped to transform the educational network in Liberia, but has gone on to work with the Ministry of Education to add 8 private partners running over 200 schools impacting over 50,000 children.  She was named 2014 Time Magazine person of the year for her efforts on the front lines of the Ebola crisis.  The list goes on.  Her story is inspiring not just because she has achieved so much but because she achieved it on her own, with no money in her pockets, just a lot of love, fierce energy and big dreams.

Katie makes you see that any obstacle or fear can be overcome, and that with true passion you can move mountains. I thank her for reminding me of that regularly.  I thank Jenn for knowing I needed to meet this woman.  I thank Joanna for bringing me to Zac, my film Director for the Beyond Sixty Project. I thank all of them for encouraging me, supporting me and offering regular doses of inspiration. They give me a deep and important connection to our marvelous younger generation.

Back to the picture above.  It was taken May 27, 2018, late at night in Rincon, Puerto Rico. After Katie’s marriage to Theodros, also known as Teddy the Bush Doctor. Teddy works along side Katie and MTM to develop school-based healthcare programs in Liberia.  They are one dynamic duo. I remember when she met Teddy and said she thought he was “the one.”  He was and he is.  I have never met two people so perfectly matched. I am sure the universe was waiting for just the right time to place them in the same location. I look forward to watching them as they continue to make their mark on the world.

In my lifetime most of my inspiration has come from people I have read about. Usually people who were older than me and for the most part, people I would never meet. But then one day back in March of 2014 I took the detour and all that changed. I still look back at the chain of events that day and all that has come after it and wonder.  What would I be doing right now if I had not made a change in my routine that day?

I hope you always take the detours.  You just might find your inspiration along that unknown stretch of road.

Peace and Love,

Melissa

 

Move Over Martha

Move Over Martha

Martha Stewart is a name almost everyone knows.  Maybe not the younger generation but certainly everyone in my sphere. I spent many an hour reading her magazine, watching her old cooking shows and leafing through her many books on how to set the perfect table or how to bake the perfect pie.  Martha has been around for a long time and has remained a well-respected brand despite the fact that she went to prison for five months for lying about her sale of ImClone stock.  I’m not sure that bothered me as much as three things that have always bothered me about her.  Well, maybe there are four.

The first was during a show when she was demonstrating how to make a special decoration.  She actually looked into the camera and directed me to go up in the attic and fetch the box of buttons I had been collecting over the years so I could pick out some gold and silver ones.  At the time I was living in an apartment with no attic access and I did not have a box of collectible buttons anywhere in the apartment.   The second time Martha was in her home in Westport, CT showing the viewers how to make the perfect Christmas wreath. She suggested we go into the backyard to cut some pine boughs from a tree.  You guessed it, I didn’t have any pines or firs, just maples and birch.  I was in trouble again and I remember talking back to the television that time. The third time I was in New York City on business and while I was waiting for my meeting to start I was looking out a window in the high story building I was visiting.  Lo and behold, there was Martha Stewart in one of her studios getting ready for a show. The buildings were close so I could get a pretty good view.  I watched as her staff prepared the set for whatever it was they would be making and caught a minute of an animated Martha yelling at the staff about something I could not hear.  Something was amiss and it gave me pause. It made me think about the fourth reason I had been turned off by this tremendously successful business woman.  She seemed to have a bit of a mean streak and an air of indifference about her. Not warm and fuzzy.   I hear she is hanging out with Snoop Dog now, so maybe all the above has improved.

Now let me get to the reason I am saying move over Martha.

Who watches HGTV?   They have given us a variety of how-to shows focused on home renovation. I became a fan of Fixer Upper for the five seasons it aired.  You may know the show that starred Chip and Joanna Gaines, a young couple from Waco, Texas.  He’s a real estate pro and builder and she is a designer.  They are parents to four, soon to be five children. They take houses that need a lot of help and make them into someone’s dream home.

Chip and Joanna both graduated from Baylor University in Waco.  They say fate brought them together and they began remodeling homes immediately after they were married. They didn’t have much money and they were frugal with their choices, slowly beginning to build a business.

Fast forward several years and they have built a brand named Magnolia that includes a real estate company, construction company, design firm, residential subdivision, a couple of bed and breakfasts, home store, bakery, warehouse store, restaurant, seasonal magazine and have both authored books, the most recent being Joanna’s cookbook, Magnolia Table, named after their new restuarant.  I failed to mention they have a homeware line in Target and now have their brand on rugs, pillows and furniture.  All this, in a short time, while raising four children with a fifth due in several weeks.  Out of breath yet?

I was so impressed with them and that I began to look for cracks.  I mean, could they really be as loving and funny and real as they seem to be ?  I was struck by the Magnolia brand and how quickly it had grown.  Knowing a little bit about running businesses it amazed me that they could be so successful in such a short period of time.

My husband, who watches little television, did watch this show with me, also in awe of what they could do with each of the homes they remodeled. You couldn’t help but enjoy an hour with Chip and Jo. Their quirky personalities and obvious love for what they do and for each other draws you in.

I wanted to experience the brand first hand so my husband and I flew to Waco, Texas to check it out.  We stayed a few days and really enjoyed our visit.  The bluebonnets were popping up and the weather was pretty nice. The food was good and they have a Mammoth dig site.  Pretty cool to see. Waco is situated about halfway between Dallas and Austin. Home to Baylor, it has about 130,000 residents and sits on the Brazos River.

We hit the Silos District first because it was mid-week and I wanted to get into the Magnolia Home Store before the weekend crowds.  Chip and Jo bought the Silos, pictured above, and an adjacent warehouse which is the store.  It is fantastic. Very large, beautifully decorated and well managed.  It was late morning and I would guess there was a crowd of about a couple hundred people milling in and out of the store.  The main check out line had at least ten registers with two employees per register.  Same scenario at the front registers.  And get this, in the back of the store FedEx has set up shop right next to the shipping bays.  The FedEx truck is there throughout the day picking up the hundreds of boxes to be mailed. How smart is that? If you spend $100 or more Magnolia pays for the shipping. I forgot to mention the greeters at the door as you enter.  I hear if you go Saturday morning Joanna’s mother may greet you.

I needed to find someone to talk with and I settled on a woman behind the jewelry counter. She was about my age.  There was more than one “senior” working in the store. She was lovely and she was more than willing to answer any questions I had.  She loves working for Magnolia and says Chip and  Jo are very interested in employee suggestions to improve the business and overal customer experience.  While I was looking at the jewelry she noticed I had to lean down to look at the pieces and asked me what I thought about the antique wood display table.  I told her I thought it was too low and would take away from people’s view of the jewelry.  She agreed and said she would make a suggestion to Jo to add height to the table or change it out. She also said, what you see on tv is real and the couple is authentic and caring and have been a tremendous asset to the city of Waco. I bought a leather and brass necklace.

If you do get to go to Waco and you are at the Silos you will notice there is a very large grassy area in between the store and the silos.  It is a community gathering place, a theme of Joanna’s, with permanent food trucks, dining pavillion, and garden shop.  They have lawn games for the kids, music playing and comfortable seating.  We hung out there twice and were amazed by the friendly atmosphere and the number of people that use it.

Then on to Magnolia Table which had just recently opened.  Chip’s dream of owning a breakfast joint has come true.  They bought the historic Elite Diner (Elvis ate there) and transformed it the way Jo transforms old buildings. Perfectly.  There was a wait to get in, but while you wait you have choices. You can go to the Take Away Market at the end of the restaurant or stay outside and grab a coffee from the Magnolia Coffee Kiosk and hang out at community tables under the pergola until they text you that your table is ready.  The food was fantastic, the service excellent and the organization of the staff was like that of the Home Store.  We went into the Take Away Market and I struck up conversation  with an employee there, a woman older than me and very interested in learning where I was from.  She gushed about how blessed she felt being able to get a job at her age in such a wonderful place, and like the woman at the store, told me that Chip and Jo treated everyone like family and took very good care of them, always seeking out their ideas. She went on to tell me about the countless things they have done to improve the community. It was definitely a theme.

Then we found Waco Tours.  In one of the Fixer Upper episodes they renovated a house for a bachelor from Waco. His name is David Ridley.  Do you remember that episode?  Since then David got married and opened Waco Tours.  He credits Chip and Jo for the opportunity. Since Fixer Upper first aired tourists have been flocking to the city. There was no organized tour operation to showcase all Waco has to offer, so David took a risk and started Waco Tours.  The tour runs 2 1/2 hours and was great.  We got the lay of the land, lots of history and confirmation that none of us would be there on the tour bus if Chip and Jo had not made the impact they have since Fixer Upper first aired.

These two people have created hundreds of jobs, given back to their community ten-fold and maintained a fairly private home life.  I am impressed with them as people and with their brand.  I think Martha has some serious competition.

If you haven’t seen HGTV’s Fixer Upper check it out.  They are showing re-runs of all seasons.

Peace and Love,

Melissa

 

 

 

 

 

Women’s History Month

Women’s History Month

To all the women out there, this is your month.  The 2018 theme, Nevertheless She Persisted, could not be more appropriate.

I am sure you’ve heard the phrase, especially if you are connected to social media.   It came to life during Mr. Sessions’ confirmation hearing for Attorney General in early 2017. If you watched it on TV or saw a replay you will remember that Elizabeth Warren, D-MA, was protesting Sessions’ confirmation and reading a letter that Coretta Scott King had written in 1986.  Mitch McConnell, the Senate Majority Leader, used the phrase nevertheless she persisted  after attempting to silence Warren during her reading.  Within moments feminists latched onto the phrase, flooding social media with the hashtag. I get it.  No one wants to be silenced when they have something important to say. No matter how you feel about the chain of events leading to this phrase, it sure became a loud battle cry.

The 2018 Women’s History theme of persistence celebrates all women who are fighting all forms of discrimination against women. Whether fighting for equal pay or against sexism in all its forms we need women and men who persist.  Persistence is what helps to create change.

It is always good to be reminded that women did not get the right to vote in the United States until 1920. It took more than 70 years of persistence for that to finally happen.

Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucy Stone were persistent women.  Thank God for them and all the persistent women who came after them.  Whenever I stop to think that it is possible I could have lived in a country where I was not allowed to vote because it was assumed that I as a woman was not concerned with politics or because my husband would represent me, I shudder.   I thank each and every persistent woman who spoke up, went to jail and filed lawsuits that would benefit me and all my sisters.

Today, we continue to be persistent about things like equal pay and sex or gender discrimination in the workplace. It is hard to believe that in 2018 these still exist. The Equal Pay Act of 1963 made it a requirement that pay scales be the same for identical work. Fast forward to 2015.  Women only earned 83% of what men earned in the same job.  Some more persistence is needed here wouldn’t you say?

Then along came the #MeToo movement in 2017. The magnitude of widespread sexual assault and harrassment, especially in the workplace, was brought to the forefront where it has always belonged.  Women from all walks of life are now feeling empowered to recount their stories.  I have my own #MeToo stories and almost every woman I know has one or more. I believe the intent of this movement was to shed some light on the magnitude of the problem.  While that worked thanks to social media I am conflicted with the end result.  Is it that we have to show one million examples before it is acknowleged as a problem?  Our culture has allowed this to go on since the beginning of time.  I am not sure that the sharing of these stories of Facebook and Twitter will change that culture.

Let’s be persistent in our conversations with men in power, our brothers, our husbands, our sons, our grandsons and our male friends.  They have to be included in our discussions about equal pay, equal rights and how we want to be respected personally.  I feel very fortunate that I have men around me who value women as their equal and support their need for persistence in having these important discussions.

Women have come such a long way from 1920 when first allowed to vote. We are doctors, lawyers, scientists, astronauts, and CEO’s. Think about what it has taken women to reach these milestones. It is a remarkable showing of strength, determination, resilience and persistence.

My life is easier thanks to all of the women who came before me. I hope that I have been able to do my part in ensuring the generations behind me have it even easier.  I hope in the remainder of my lifetime I see a shift that finally brings wage equity. I pray the sexual harassment culture that has been accepted for so long is toppled.

Happy Women’s History month to all of you strong, beautiful women. I am grateful to be a part of the tribe.

Peace and Love,

Melissa

 

 

 

 

February, Facebook, Fake News

February, Facebook, Fake News

February.  It has been a brutal month so far.

Just days ago, on Valentine’s Day, 17 people died while doing whatever they normally do on a Wednesday at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.  The families and friends of the victims are settling into their grief right now, forever changed.  Just like the people of Rancho Tehama Reserve, North Park Elementary, Umpqua Community College, Marysville Pilchuck High School, Santa Monica, Sandy Hook, Oikos University, Chardon High School, U of A Huntsville, Northern Illinois University, Virginia Tech, West Nickel Mines School, Red Lake, Appalachian School of Law, Columbine, Thurston High School, Mitchell Johnson and Andrew Golden, Heath High School, Pearl High School, San Diego State, Frontier Middle School, Lindhurst High School, University of Iowa, Stockton schoolyard, CSU Fullerton, Olean High School Kent State, Mesa, University of Texas Tower, have done before them.   I remember all of these incidents.  I hope I never hear of another.  I hope my grandsons feel safe and will be safe throughout the rest of their years in school.  I hope your family will be safe.

I just took a break from Facebook.  I have to keep my personal page in order to have my Beyond Sixty Project page, but I really needed a break.  Do you ever feel that way?  I know Facebook entered into a global fight against fake news about a year ago, but I am not sure how well it is working. To me, most of the fake stuff is easy to spot.  For starters look at the source.  Then fact check the stories before sharing.  What I have learned is I can do a better job of creating a more effective ” filter bubble” for what I want on see on my Facebook feed and I can stop reading the comments attached to some of the topics.  Negativity, hate and disrespect has become the norm for so many.  It saddens me greatly.

I love social media for the connections it provides.  I am able to connect with film people all over the world through Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.  I have access to tools and information I need for my project instantly.  I am able to maintain a connection with family and friends who live far away through text or social media as often as I want.  I have been reunited with people I care about through social media.  It is mostly a beautiful thing.

In a world filled with tragedy and sad news there are ways to reset yourself without going into hiding and I have been experimenting.  I began meditating each day.  15-20 minutes is all I can do without the restlessness setting in, but it is refreshing and helpful in shooing away the negativity.  I use some of the music from Canyon Ranch, where I first learned to silence my mind (Alice Boyd!).  When the weather is good, taking a mile walk around my neighborhood while listening to music has been a big plus.  Lastly, baths.  I have a big soaking tub and have been using it quite a bit this winter with some salts or bath tea.  20 minutes does it for me.  These examples are simple but I have never been good at doing them routinely and I am glad I am now. Maybe in older age I am finally becoming wiser?

It is good to reset rather than turn off don’t you think?  I am constantly looking for new and improved ways of changing how I assimilate the negativity of the world in my daily life.  If you have any suggestions I hope you will share them.  The older I get the more I realize how important this is. So please tell me what you do!

I am looking forward to February ending.  It will end on two positive notes.  My eldest grandson, Adam, will become a teenager this weekend.   Thirteen years I have known this incredibly wonderful human.  We will celebrate him and be very thankful.

After a bit of a break I am now back full swing into editing the second rough cut of my film, looking forward to all the final steps we need to take before I can report we are done!

I hope you end your February on a positive note or two and do whatever self-care you need to keep on marching and smiling.

Peace and Love to all,

Melissa

 

 

 

 

 

 

And Just Like That, 2017 Turned Into 2018

And Just Like That, 2017 Turned Into 2018

Have you noticed that each year seems to go by faster?  Apparently there are scientific explanations as to why it feels that way.  One explanation is based on our experiences and how often we repeat them.  Think back to when you were a kid and list all the “firsts” you experienced.  First time you rode a bike.  First time you drove a car.  First time you flew on a plane.  Like many experiences in life, they are repeated.  Again and again.   The psychologists say all our firsts are so exciting that we make incredibly vivid and lasting memories of each.  As the years go on, and we repeat each experience over and over, they don’t make the same impression they did when we were younger.  Everything becomes a fleeting and fast series of every day motions.  Maybe some of this relates to how 2018 showed up so abruptly.

Here it is and I am reflecting a little on 2017, as most people do.  My second year retired from Genex.  My second year as a filmmaker.

I don’t miss my old job anymore but  I do miss some of the people and have done my best to stay in touch with them. So far it’s working and I like to imagine they will always be a part of my life.

I love my new “job.”  I am getting better at it.  I have made a few mistakes along the way and have enjoyed learning to correct them.  My film is now in the rough cut stages, very rough cut!  I screened it with people in or related to the film world recently and received very positive and crucial feedback.  It was nerve-racking watching them watch what we had cobbled together.  I wanted them to like it but I also wanted someone to talk honestly with me about the rough spots, and they did.  What a great group of individuals.

Now we are working on those rough spots for the second rough cut. Hopefully soon we will be ready to find some comfort in a final cut and begin to plan for final processes including color correction, sound correction and music scoring.  I try not to think too far ahead regarding distribution but those discussions are looming.  I am staying focused right now on completion and shushing the little voices in my head screaming, “who is going to buy this??”  I am not sure where it will end up but it has been a true labor of love and a learning experience I never thought I would experience.

I think about next film opportunities often.  I have a couple of ideas and I think they are good ones.  I have met and talked with a number of experienced film directors from around the country and have learned so much from them.  I wouldn’t mind tagging along with a couple of them as they make their films,  Each person has a different approach and seeing that in action is how I learn best.  I will let you know how all that pans out.

So here I am in January of 2018 reflecting.  2017 was a good year.  Aside from a pesky case of chronic Lyme Disease I am ok.  My family is healthy.  My grandsons, almost 13, 9 and 7 are active and funny and I am so lucky to live near them.  John and I went to Venice and the Austrian Alps this summer which was amazing.  Then I topped off my birthday week seeing the total eclipse of the sun in Ravenna, Nebraska.  Whoever thinks that is a non-event, not worth traveling for, hasn’t done it.  It was John’s dream and I tagged along and was blown away by the experience.  I will do that again if I can!

My partnership with Expressway Productions in Philadelphia is strong.  We had a good year together.  We are both feeling positive about the film and excited to make it to the finish line.  We ended the year at Expressway’s 7th annual holiday party.  The theme was The Magnificent Seven (Western).  John and I are now proud owners of some pretty cool western gear.  If we go to Shyamaween later this year you will be able to pick us out in  the crowd pretty easily.

The Philadelphia Inquirer did an interview and gave the film some press.  Thank you PI!

Outside of my personal sphere it has been a pretty troublesome year.  Disturbing politics, fake news, #MeToo, fires, earthquakes and hurricanes have taken their toll.

At this writing, over 100 days since the hurricane, about a third of the population in Puerto Rico is still without power.  Try to imagine that.  I know of people who lost property in the CA fires.  I know of people who lost their homes and cars in Houston.   When I hear people complaining about the weather being too cold or the inconvenience of a snowy day or week all I can think about is how lucky we are to be where we are and to recognize that inconvenience is nothing compared to what so many people are going through.

So long 2017.  You were hard on a lot of people.  I hope that 2018 will be a kinder and more gentle year for everyone.  I wish you good health and lots of laughter as we make our way through 2018.

Thank you for sticking with me and The Beyond Sixty Project.  It means a whole lot to me.

Peace and Love,

Melissa

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Take the Detour

Take the Detour

Many people have asked me how I made the decision to leave my decades long corporate career and jump into to something so completely different, especially at my age. The answer is, I took a detour one day and it led me to where I am right now.

I had been to a particularly depressing meeting about Social Security Disability on Capitol Hill.  I was lamenting the whole way home about the lack of progress this group was making.  I say that as a fact.  I had been visiting Washington D.C. regularly over the years to work with groups that were trying to improve the Social Security Disability Program. The meeting I left that day in March of 2014 was a replica of the many meetings I had attended previously.  Progress and postivity was not in sight.  I was frustrated and certain that nothing much was going to change in my lifetime.

Instead of returning to work I needed an escape and called a good friend that I had not seen in about a year.  She only lives 7 miles from me but my work schedule and her busy family schedule made the year fly by.  When I called Laurie she agreed to grab lunch and asked me to ride with her to pick up her youngest daughter from school and drop her off at the horse barn.  I was up for anything that didn’t include work that day and was excited to get to spend some time catching up.

Little did I know that would be the day that changed my life and set in motion one of the most exciting times I have experienced.

It was a cool, overcast day in early March.  The drive up to the horse barn was eerily beautiful with some slits of sun breaking through the dark navy sky.  It looked like there could be a storm coming any minute.  As we drove up the dirt road Laurie pointed to an old stone farmhouse set back down a long dirt driveway lined with craggly trees on each side. She said she thought someone must be making a movie there because every day when she traveled this same route she saw big lights and lots of commotion, and knew the house had been empty for a long time.  Sure enough.  There were dozens of large film lights inside a barn and numerous vans and people milling around the area. Laurie’s instincts were correct.  I mulled over the scene and wondered who might be filming there as we dropped Grace off at the barn.  We headed back down the road and I asked Laurie to pull over as we approached the farmhouse.  I took a picture of the driveway.  The way the light was hitting the trees along the driveway was beautiful.

I had a feeling I knew who might be filming there and threw out a name.  M. Night Shyamalan. He films in PA.  He is into the spooky/thriller genre.  This looked like a good spot for one of his wildly dark stories to unfold.

As we sat parked on the side of the road I accessed the internet on my iPhone and searched for “M. Night Shyamalan new movie.”  There was an immediate response showing he was currently making a micro-budget film in Chester County.  We were parked in Chester County.  I got kind of excited and talked with Laurie about how I always dreamed of being a filmmaker.  Laurie suggested I get out of the car and go say hello but I knew that probably wasn’t a good idea.  Instead we sat there as I pulled up M. Night’s website.  There on one of his feeds was the exact same picture of the driveway and trees.  His was black and white. We were both kind of spooked by the coincidence and confirmed it surely was M. Night and his crew in the barn with all the lights.

We continued to sit there as I read aloud about the film he was making. I noticed a link to his foundation (MNS Foundation) so clicked on it and was surprised to learn that his wife ran a foundation that invested in leaders who are changing the world with a specific interest in education. Who knew?  We learned more about the work the foundation does and while reading I noticed a red button on the screen that said Charity Buzz.  I pressed the button. The screen filled with M Night’s smiling face and a banner that said “WIN A DAY ON THE SET WITH M. NIGHT SHYAMALAN.”  Seriously?  I had never heard of Charity Buzz, the organization that manages the process of these types of fund raisers, but I was intrigued. The money would go to the foundation.  I liked that.  By this point Laurie was yelling at me to bid. So I did. It seemed at that moment like a sign.

I was in a bidding war the next couple weeks with a Dentist from New Jersey. Each day I would check status and bid a little higher.  The Dentist did the same.  I was wondering how high he would go and wondering the same about myself.  I think my husband, John, thought I was crazy but he was being supportive.  Long story short, I won the bid.  I was at work when the notice came through on my iPhone.  I was beyond excited.  I sent a text to Laurie first and then to John.

Within a day I was contacted by the MNS Foundation Coordinator and plans were made for me to spend a full day on set at the end of March.  The film shoot was at the Philadelphia 30th Street Amtrak Station and I arrived promptly at 6:30 am, not knowing what to expect but assuming I would be put in a chair to watch the scenes unfold.  I was introduced to all the crew first.  One of the cameramen told me what a terrific Director Night was and how he would drop anything he was doing to work with him. Then M. Night arrived. We were introduced and I was immediately taken with his warmth and sincerity. He had never done anything with Charity Buzz before and I suppose was a little reluctant.  He seemed relieved that I did not appear to be celebrity stalker and did not have a script in my bag that I wanted him to read.

I was not put in a chair.  Instead, he invited me to stand beside him as he directed the scenes and was very animated in educating me about the process and what he was looking for in each clip.  He is an amazing Director.  Fascinated, I watched as he directed Kathryn Hahn, Olivia DeJonge and Ed Oxenbould.  One of the scenes was shot on an Amtrak train, rented for the film, and I got to watch this part of the film come to life as we traveled from Philly to Harrisburg and back again.  It was incredible to be in such close proximity to the cast and crew and listen to every discussion.  If you watch The Visit you may see me briefly at the beginning of the train scene when Ed does his “Rap.”

We took a break for lunch and Night and I sat together.  He asked me what I did for work.  I told him and his immediate reaction was a big smile and the question, what do you really want to do?  I didn’t even have to think about it and said, “I want your job.”  His smile grew and he enthusiastically said I should go for it.

That experience and that simple, very short conversation was all it took for me to make the decision to retire from my career and move to my second act as a film director. Why should I not try something new?  I gave an 18 month notice to my company and planned my new adventure during that time. When I said my goodbyes to Genex at the end of 2015 I had decided on the Documentary I wanted to film, had partnered with Expressway Productions and filmed my first three subjects. The rest continues to unfold and the Beyond Sixty Project is in the beginning stages of being crafted into a feature film.

What if I had gone back to work that day after my meeting in D.C.?  What if I hadn’t called Laurie out of the blue and hadn’t been in her car when she drove Grace to the horse barn? What if I hadn’t taken the picture of that long driveway with the craggly trees? What if I wasn’t a curious person and hadn’t looked up M. Night Shyamalan?  What if I didn’t link to his Foundation and click on the Charity Buzz button?

Take the detour.  It may lead you somewhere you would not have gone on your own.  I am so happy to have taken a detour from my usual routine on that particular day.

Special thanks to Laurie for being there and to Night for opening my eyes to a dream that was buried away deep inside me.

Stay tuned.

Love, Melissa