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.