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

 

 

 

Confessions of a Binge Watcher

Confessions of a Binge Watcher

 

According to a recent survey conducted for Netflix, 61 percent of TV streamers regularly engage in binge watching.  The definition of binge watching is viewing between two to six episodes of a show in one sitting.  It appears to be consistent across age demographics.  Is this a new cultural phenomenon?

I have never been a joiner of clubs but I believe I am a card carrying member of this one.  It all started a year ago when I was recovering from a terrible bout of Shingles. I was truly immobile and had great difficulty sleeping so lying on the couch at all hours became my place.  My husband brought us into the here and now with a subscription to Netflix and I was off to the races.

The first and most obvious joy of watching a series through Netflix or other streaming channel is there are no commercials.  With the advent of the DVR we learned to watch “taped” shows so we could fast forward through the never ending commecials for the pharmaceutical of the month. According to MarketingCharts, an average hour long TV show is 36% commercials.  It feels like more to me but I will go with the experts.  For me, there is nothing more distracting to a storyline than commercials, the ultimate disruption.

I love listening to stories and hearing the whole story so I can drink it in and let it envelop me.  It’s like reading a really good book where you can transport yourself into the story and you can’t put the book down until you are finished.  Ever have that experience? Binge reading, binge watching, kind of the same to me.

Back to Netflix and their season at a time approach.  I love it.  Netflix has given me full control over how I will watch the series of my choice. I can watch two or three episodes in one sitting or spread them out as long as I want.  From wonderful British series to the many shows produced here in the US, there is a tremendous amount of choice in programming.

I had never watched the televised series of Breaking Bad or Homeland until this year. I knew they were touted as some of the best on TV but when I had a more demanding work schedule I just didn’t get around to it.  I watched Breaking Bad over a couple months recently and can’t imagine watching it any differently. And I caught up on Homeland to bring me up to this season.  Both incredibly well done series. Admittedly, they left me breathless at times due to the intensity of the storyline but they definitely transported me.

There are people in the television industry that feel binge watching is a bad thing, arguing that TV loses its power if we don’t watch it at a moderate pace.  There is discussion that sensory overload from watching too many episodes in a short time may confuse the ending or leave the viewer with a sense of loss and sadness that the show has ended so abrubptly.

I don’t know about you but I have none of the above concerns and I think binge watching or marathon watching is an option that fits nicely with some people.  It’s a personal choice.  Just like reading a book.  Some people devour them in one sitting and others take months or a year to finish.  Luckily for all of us we have expanded choices.

I did binge Grace and Frankie this weekend, thus the reason all this was on my mind.  It’s a short series of 30 minute episodes and easy to binge in between cooking, grandkids and weekend stuff.  It didn’t disappoint and I feel fine this morning.  No sadness over the end of the show, no confusion from over stimulation.  Thanks Netflix!

Wishing you all a great week ahead and maybe even a little binge watching.

Love, Melissa

 

 

 

 

 

 

International Women’s Day

International Women’s Day

On March 8th the world celebrated women, commemorating the movement for women’s rights.  The United Nations celebrates women with a theme.  This year the UN theme is “Women in the Changing World of Work: Planet 50-50 by 2030.” A message from UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres stated that women’s rights today are being “reduced, restricted and reversed.”  As the economic gender gap continues to widen, Guterres calls for change by “empowering women at all levels, enabling their voices to be heard and giving them control over their own lives and over the future of our world.”  The sixty-first meeting of the Commission on the Status of Women began today and will run through March 24th at the United Nations.

Outside of the UN, the theme heard for this year’s International Women’s Day is “Be Bold for Change.”

I am sure you read about or maybe even participated in “A Day Without A Woman” last week.  Many of the women who participated were part of the Women’s March on January 21st, the day after President Trump’s inauguration.

Not just here in the U.S. but throughout the world women took to the streets to stand in unison on International Women’s Day.  They all have one thing in common and that is a sense of urgency surrounding women’s issues and rights.  Each country surely has its unique set of circumstances but there is commonality among all the women when it comes to equity and the human rights of women.

The day is also designed to encourage reflection on the progress women have made throughout the years .  It is important to have knowledge about the history of the women’s movement.  If you have a clear understanding of the history of women’s struggles for equality then you can better understand the uncertainty and fear that many women have today.

I have actually heard women say that a protest for equality is ridiculous. I heard that exact remark while sitting in a restaurant recently.  Two women were sitting at the next table next to me. They were about my age. They looked fairly well to do.  I made the assumption they were educated.  So what was it that was making them react negatively to the recent organized protests?  I did not lean over, introduce myself and ask. Instead I remained in my seat with my salad and I am not totally ashamed to say I continued to listen to them.

The dominant one did most of the talking and in a voice that made it easy for me and other patrons to hear.  The thrust of her conversation was around abortion and the need to abolish it. I think her friend may have disagreed a little but was overshadowed and only made a few protest noises while trying to change the subject.   The subject eventually changed to equal pay and the less dominate woman became more animated and offered her opinion as to why women should not necessarily get paid the same as men for the same job.  Her reasoning did not make sense to me but I tried to see it from her perspective and just appreciate our difference of opinions.

There is so much more to it than just the discussions surrounding abortion rights or equal pay.  I sometimes think people tend to compartmentalize one issue that resonates with them without fully vetting the wholeness of the situation.  Maybe it is human nature to do it that way, I don’t know.  That said, to all the women of the world, my wish for you is that you live in peace and be valued every day for all that you offer.

“I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own.”- Audre Lorde

 

Off the bookshelf:

The Women’s Liberation Movement in America, by Kathleen Berkeley

Half the Sky, by Nicholas Kristof

When She Woke, by Hillary Jordan

We Should All be Feminists, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

A Call to Action, by Jimmy Carter

A Thousand Sisters: My Journey into the Worst Place on Earth to be a Woman, by Lisa Shannon

 

Peace and Love,

Melissa

 

 

 

 

 

Women and Black History Month

Women and Black History Month

I watched last night as Viola Davis accepted her best supporting actress Oscar for her performance in Fences. She is the first black star to win an Oscar, Emmy and Tony for acting. Bravo!

Oscar nominated film Hidden Figures star, Taraji Henson, who plays the role of Katherine Johnson, brought the real NASA physicist Katherine Johnson out on stage.  Johnson, now 98, made history as one of the first black women involved in the space race during the 1960’s. The film, an adaptation of Margot Shetterly’s book, tells the story of a group of NASA engineers, all black women, and how they computed the math that sent John Glenn into orbit. Henson, along with Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monae did a fabulous job of making this piece of history finally come to life on the big screen. If you haven’t read the book or seen the movie you should do both. My favorite film this year.

Throughout time there has been a long list of black women who have fought for freedom, made political and business history, and continue to fight for their right to inclusion and diversity in society today. In this country and countries throughout the world, black women continue to play a critical role in the past, present and future of our history.

A few that come to mind for me:

Hattie McDaniel was a 1940’s actress and radio personality.  She was the first black woman to win an Oscar for her performance in Gone With the Wind.

Rosa Parks, one of the most influential women in the fight for racial equality, refused to give up her seat on that Montgomery bus, leading to the desegregation of buses across the country.

Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf is the world’s first elected black female President and Africa’s first female Head of State. Liberia has continued to move in a better direction since she took office. Ms. Shirleaf helped my friend, Katie Meyler, build her first school for girls in Liberia.

Maya Angelou was an actress, screenwriter and director who became a legendary poet and award-winning author. Her book, I Know Why The Caged Bird Cries, remains one of the most inspiring autobiographies of all time.

Dame Eugenia Charles, better known as Mamo, was the first female Prime Minister of Dominica. She was a tough woman who survived a coup led by the Ku Klux Klan and went on to reshape her country.

Madame CJ Walker, born to slaves in Louisiana, became the first black millionaire businesswoman with her successful line of hair care products. Her philanthropic efforts included donations to the YMCA and NAACP.

Dorothy Height, one of the organizers of the 1963 March on Washington was the only woman seated on the speaker’s platform.  She spent decades working for racial equality and women’s rights.

Ella Baker held posts with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and the NAACP during the Civil Rights Movement.  She helped to organize the 1961 Freedom Rides, fighting segregation and promoted black voter registration during the Mississippi Freedom Summer of 1964.

This is just a short, very incomplete list of the many black women who have made significant contributions in history.

In the United States, Black history month is an important part of our nation’s tradition helping to create awareness of the historic challenges African Americans have faced and continue to face today. But, should we only be reminded of this rich history during the month of February?  There are a number of museums and institutions that offer a year-round opportunity to learn more about our African American history.   As Morgan Freeman once said, “I don’t want a Black history month.  Black history is American history.” He makes a very good point.

Peace and Love,

Melissa

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thanks Zac

Thanks Zac

Making a film is an amazing experience. Sometimes I feel like I won the lottery.  To learn something new at my age is exhilarating and exhausting in a good way.  This past year has been a tremendous opportunity to test myself, make mistakes, correct them and feel a great sense of accomplishment.

I just got back last night from Arizona where we filmed the Sun City Poms, a rather famous cheerleading group, all between 55-85 years of age. It was a long trip with a major flight delay getting out of Philly, but we made it in time to get some sleep and wake up early for our first interview of the day. Actually a rooster woke us all up at 4 am, but that’s another story!

Traveling with an experienced crew is awesome.   I travel with a Director of Photography, a Second Camera person, a Sound Mixer and a Production Manager. Each plays an integral role in the filming of the subjects and uses multiple pieces of equipment to ensure we get exactly what we need. I can’t begin to describe the amount of equipment that goes into a film shoot like ours.  I wish I had taken a picture of it all gathered together in the many shipping containers, special cases, etc.  Hours are spent packing, unpacking, building and dismantling cameras and other equipment.  It is a major process for each crew member.

Zac, one of the owners of Expressway Productions, is our Director of Photography, or DP. He has been with me since the beginning of the project and truly understands what I am looking for when interviewing the women.  He manages the rest of the crew to ensure lighting, sound and alternative film shots are capturing all possibilities.  Aside from that he is the “King of B-Roll.”  That stands for background footage.  No matter where we are, or who we are shooting, there is ample time set aside to capture film footage related to the subject we are covering.  A most recent example: picture me driving a 12-Passenger van/bus (the kind that almost needs a ladder to enter) slowly through the streets of Sun City, AZ with a huge camera set on a tripod, touching my right shoulder and completely blocking my view to the right.  The lens is pointed out the front windshield and is capturing the neighborhoods, the orange trees and the senior citizens on golf carts.  This goes on for an hour or two until Zac feels we have enough footage. On occasion he asks me to stop and he hops out, grabs another camera for a close up shot of a sign he likes.  Little pieces of this footage will make it into the film.  I love waiting to see what catches his eye.

Zac is a perfectionist.  He does not quit until he gets the lighting just right or the shot framed exactly as he wants it.  I watch him.  He’s watching the light fade to night and he is springing into action to go outside and secure a light panel against a picture window.  That amount of light coming in through the blinds keeps the lighting consistent and we go on. By the end of the filming, forgetting about the panel,  I am tricked into thinking it is still light outside.

We ended our second day of filming in AZ with the Wickenburg Rodeo Days Parade.  Two and a half miles. Zac, Ian and Sean walked, jogged and ran the distance getting shots of the Sun City Poms from every possible angle. Sometimes they wore harnesses that held their heavy equipment, sometimes not.  They kept up with the 80 year old baton twirler and the rest of the Poms, with an average age of 74, performing to the tune of Achy Breaky Heart. It was quite a sight. I don’t know who amazed me more, the Poms or our camera crew.

I have no doubt that when I begin editing the many hours of footage from Sun City it will all be good and once again I will have trouble choosing what to use in the segment. Stay tuned!

Thanks Zac, for being a great partner and a truly exceptional DP.

Have a great day!

Love, Melissa

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There is Something About Vermont

There is Something About Vermont

I have lived in a number of states and climates throughout my lifetime. I have been fortunate to have visited all but two states in the U.S. and several different countries. That said, I feel justified from an experience standpoint to say “there is something about Vermont.”  Those of you who know me have often heard me say I wished I was still there.

My family moved to Vermont when I was entering 10th grade.  I wasn’t happy about it then as you may imagine. Coming from a more urban area it was an adjustment. Walking into a new high school, (Go Rutland Raiders!), not knowing anyone, registered about a 7.5 on my anxiety scale.  Luckily I have the kind of personality that allows me to walk up to strangers and introduce myself.  Luckier was the fact that the first people I approached were kind and curious about the new kid.  It did not take me long at all to form friendships and get introduced to my new town.

At some point during this introduction I looked up.  I can’t remember the exact moment but I stopped thinking about what 15 year old girls think about and I noticed something. I saw the staggering beauty of the mountains that formed a circle around the town.  It was foliage season and the colors were spectacular.  The air seemed cleaner than what I had been used to and there was a slowness that existed around me that felt comforting.  It was like my breathing became slower there.  I actually recognized that at age 15, so there must have been something special going on.

Life went on, as it does, and I left Vermont for other places but came back twice and not because my family was there.  The second time I returned they had already moved away themselves.  I came back because I could breathe better.  I say that as a state of mind, not that I have breathing issues! It always felt safe and was a place where I could collect my thoughts and figure out my plan.  The combination of the natural beauty, the people and the simplistic way of life still suits me well.

Why then didn’t I stay?  Lack of opportunity for me back then was the real kicker.  I had two children I was going to have to put through college someday and the prospects of advancing my career were limited.  Add to that long, hard winters.  I was not financially equipped at the time to have the appropriate vehicle to live where I was living. Being semi-off the grid (only wood heat) in a drafty old farmhouse at the top of the mountain is a challenge in both winter and mud season.

Each year it took 9 cords of wood to heat the house using two woodstoves and I became adept at helping to split and cut wood. It was hard living but it was glorious.  Our view, all the way to the New Hampshire White Mountains, was breathtaking in every season. The kids could cross country ski out the door for as many miles as they wanted to.  The four room school house they attended had some of the best teachers they would ever have. My friends were the best.  There were locals and those who had come from all over the country because they too had felt that special something. I felt pretty rich then even though I had no money.

But it wasn’t to be forever given my nagging desire to grow and expand my future opportunities.

My last exodus from the Green Mountain state was 33 years ago. Seems I have lived a couple of lives since then.  I still go back, not nearly as often as I would like, and still dream of having a little house there that I can escape to.

Each time I go, as soon as I cross the border into Vermont, I take a deep breath and feel the same calmness wash over me that I felt 51 years ago when I was a sophmore in high school. It’s pretty magical and I have met others who say they have that same experience.

I get to have the feeling again this week as I drive north, entering into Vermont on Wednesday.  This time I will bring my work with me as I will be filming a woman in Lamoille Valley for the Beyond Sixty Project.  I can’t wait to get up there with the crew and hang out on Lake Elmore for a couple of days and take in the winter scenery.  Anticipating the feeling I will get is already making me smile.

I hope you have a place you can go to that gives you peace and calm.  Sure is worth the journey. If you haven’t tried Vermont I highly recommend it!

Love and Peace,

Melissa

 

 

 

Resolutions

Resolutions

Whenever I hear the word resolution I think of a new year.  I imagine you do as well.  It is something we grew up with.  It was common to have any number of people ask what you would resolve to do in the new year.  I suppose it makes sense as we have flipped 12 pages of the calendar. What better time to promise yourself something than in a new year?

The Babylonians did it as far back as 2000 B.C. They had a new year festival where they pledged to be loyal to their kingdom and promised to appease their gods. The Romans did it too, every January.  Did you know January is named after the Roman god Janus, a two-faced god they believed could view the past and future simultaneously.

Each new year brings us the hope of renewal and betterment.  What could I do in this new year to improve upon the last? As a kid I stated my resolutions out loud.  It was usually something like do better in Math or keep my room clean so I won’t get yelled at.  Those resolutions didn’t work out so well.  I maintained my average status in Math and my room stayed pretty messy until I moved out on my own. As an adult the resolutions moved to get more exercise and lose weight.  By the way, lose weight is the number one resolution made every year by millions of people.  Why is it so hard to keep these resolutions?

According to the Journal of Psychology, about 50% of the population makes resolutions each new year.  The top three resolutions include exercise more, lose weight and stop spending money you don’t have.  Did you ever notice the run on gym membership adverstising December through February?

The 50% making promises to themselves have a high failure rate.  Why?  Are our aspirations set too high?  Are our behaviors so patterned in us that we don’t know how to or cannot change them?

Making a resolution work requires more than an affirmative statement.  It requires behavior modification and focus. This is something not every human can do on their own, sucessfully. Did you know you actually have to create new neural pathways in your brain in order to change your behavior patterns?   I made resolutions kind of willy-nilly and did not pay close attention to the behaviors I would have to change in order to succeed.  I knew nothing about neural pathways.

Maybe if I had a math tutor and committed to an extra couple of hours of study each week I could have been above average in math!  Not sure what would have helped in keeping my room cleaner other than paying my little sister fifty cents to clean it for me. Losing weight was sometimes a bit of a success but not consistently.  I continued to ignore the behavior changes that would be necessary to get real with my situation.

Maybe the word resolution is too big and scary.  Should we do away with it and try something kinder and gentler?  How about using intention or plan instead?  Help me out here.

I have some intentions and plans in this new year but they don’t have an end date.  I will not fall into the trap of giving myself a specific timeline to complete or measure my successes or failures.  All intentions and plans will be based on lifetime goals and changes.  I will ask for help if I need it and begin each day with a quiet meditation reminding me to be focused in the present, not yesterday or tomorrow.  That is how I started today. It’s not feeling like a resolution but rather a path.  I suppose sometimes I will go slowly and sometimes I will run and maybe even stop for a bit, but I don’t plan any reverse action.  I am reading about how to rewire my brain so that my neural pathways are connected properly and will let you know what that’s all about!

I hope whatever resolutions, intentions or plans you have made in this new year come to you in good time.  Be kind to yourself.  It took a while to create you and your behaviors.  It may take a while to adjust the things you want to change too. Ask for help if you need it.  If you have been successful in creating new neural pathways to change your behaviors I would love to hear from you!

I am excited about 2017.  I hope you are too and wish you a wonderful year filled with good health, new experiences, love and lots of laughter.

Have a great day!

Love,  Melissa