It was early in 1994 when the call came in. The Montel Williams Show wanted me as a guest to discuss the “Tonya/Nancy” fallout. Naturally, I was beyond thrilled, excited and, yes, nervous. But I had just launched a figure skating magazine and was eager for all the promotion I could get.
I remember like it was yesterday the days leading up to my first TV appearance. The call with the producer going over details of the planned show. Their booking of my flight to New York and my hotel. In the end I drove to the city the day before as a snowstorm threatened to cancel flights from Worcester. I couldn’t believe I was in New York as a guest on one of the most popular syndicated talk shows of the time. The taping went great and the rest as they say was history – over 15 years of TV appearances around the sport of figure skating (the total count is around 300). Because they wanted me on that show and because I said yes, it launched my career and created a brand in the process. Someone reading this is now asking how much I was paid in cash. The answer is simple – zero. It was exposure.
Throughout my career the one thing I have endeavored to keep is an open mind. When an opportunity presents itself the first thing I look at is the exposure. Is it going to look good on my resume? Might it lead to something else? Will the footage be worthwhile? Perhaps the most important – will I have a good time. Sure, the compensation package is a consideration. But currency shouldn’t just be measured in dollars and cents. Each “gig” is cumulative. By simple example, many high profile “non-cash” TV appearances led to a $2,500 an episode paid gig as a Judge on FOX’s Skating with Celebrities.
Unfortunately, what I’m seeing in this industry lately are closed minds unwilling to see the big picture. An actor, who I booked on a paid gig last year, recently took to social media to call out a listing they saw about how actors apparently weren’t being compensated. Instead of ignoring the posting they thought it was a good idea to take their “vent” to social media to get like-minded people to agree with them. I have seen other similar postings or have heard of those brought to my attention. These actors believe they’re doing the industry a service when in fact they just expose themselves as nonprofessionals. What’s curious about some is that they are represented by reputable agents. Do these agents know what their clients are doing on social media? Sadly, they don’t think about the possible fallout from defamation or that they have now branded themselves as troublemakers. Believe me when I tell you, producers, casting agents, directors and employers look at your social media before hiring you for a gig or a job. I now understand why some of these folks have painfully thin resumes.
To quote Paul McGill in my favorite book A Woman of Substance, “We are each the authors of our own lives, Emma. We live in what we have created. There is no way to shift the blame and no one else to accept the accolades.” Whether I’m creating a project or considering the opportunity to work on one, I always look at career “currency” and how it will increase my brand. This is all about leveraging one project after another. The one thing everyone wants in this industry is to be noticed. I think it’s best to be known for ones accomplishments rather than complaints.
I’m now thinking to myself, what if I said no back in 1994? Would my career have launched? Who knows. But one thing I do know is this is an industry of endless opportunities. It also doesn’t hurt to have a little bit of luck and being in the right place at the right time.
With posts for crew on New England Film, Stage 32 and the official website (casting for actors to follow soon), the Serpentine project is moving forward. While it’s always great to work with new people, I naturally reached out to those I’ve worked with on Justice Is Mind and First World. As so many of us see in this industry, it’s about established relationships while expanding your network. Yes, there are those I have worked with for years, while I know there will be new people I’ll meet thought this project.
So while I work on establishing a crew and securing locations based on a general idea of when we are going to shoot, there is the casting of the skater to play Suzanne Wilson. This is unlike any other actor I have ever cast. Not only does this skater have to have a “nationals” or “worlds” quality, but there is also the interest and ability to act along with necessary enthusiasm of making a film.
As one elite skater I talked with this past week rightly asked, “How long does this take to film?” As this skater has been a part of a nationals and has competed internationally, sure they have seen TV cameras. But that’s a one take show. I explained the wide, mid, close and insert shots. The camera angles, lighting, sound and, depending on a variety of factors, several takes of the same scene (personally I don’t believe in more than four). In short, it can be a bit overwhelming for a novice as it is a repetitive process.
While the “Search for Suzanne” continues, my advice to anyone that wants to get involved in this industry is to visit a set. Perhaps the easiest way to get involved is to submit to student films at local colleges that offer film programs (they always need people). Some say to be an extra in a “big movie” but I don’t agree with that as the nuances of the process are lost when you are part of a cattle call. Student films can be a lot of fun and a real eye opener. Just remember as they are student films it can very much be learn as you go and the end result can vary widely and wildly. I’ve been involved in some excellent student films and others that I will never post!
But as they say it has to start somewhere. My first TV appearance was on The Montel Williams Show in 1994. A very nice production assistant knew it was my first time on TV and pretty much told me what to expect in terms of the process. I promise you, the more you see the process the more things you pick up. After a while you learn what everyone does and why they do it.
Speaking of acting, one of my favorite museums Battleship Cove hosted a World War II event yesterday with various exhibits and reenactors. Not only is it a great history lesson, but the passion these actors have for their craft are truly Tony worthy.
This past December my good friend, writer and soap opera expert, Gerard J. Waggett, pitched me to John Fahey to appear on The John J. Fahey Show. Where did the pitch happen? At a bus stop where they ran into each other (they originally first met at their local library).
It reminded me of the time I mentioned Gerry to a literary agent I met during my first TV appearance on The Montel Williams Show back in 1994. That introduction resulted in a multi-book deal for Gerry. How did I get on The Montel Williams Show? My business partner at International Figure Skating, editor/writer Lois Elfman, heard about the upcoming “Tonya & Nancy” episode and pitched me to one of the producers. I’ll never forget the day I was set to travel to New York for the taping. They were going to fly me from Worcester to the city but inclement weather prevented it. So what did I do? I got in my car and drove in the bad weather to New York. A TV camera was waiting!
This is an industry that is built on long-term relationships. People that you work with on your first projects that you continue to work with because you can count on them and know their work. Case in point Adam Starr. I first met Adam when I was publishing magazines. One of the first videos I produced was a promotional video for my company (I need to get that VHS tape digitized). With Adam as director, along with Lois as one of the producers, we went on to make First World. For Justice Is Mind the actor that played the President in First World returned as George Katz in Justice Is Mind. As for Adam Starr? He produced over 170 special effects for the film.
No sooner did I arrive at BNN (Boston Neighborhood Network) for the live broadcast of The John J. Fahey Show, when I saw Tomek Doroz at one of the control stations. Tomek was Justice Is Mind’s digital imaging technician as well as a production assistant. He was also instrumental in securing a couple of our locations (we had our church and junkyard!). Needless to say when I gave him a clip of Justice to play during the show I was giving it back to the person who was not only the first person to see footage being created for the film, but also to make sure it was OK from a technical point of view. The network continues.
I have always found cable access stations a great way to reach a targeted audience. One of the first cable access stations I was on was Crown City News in California back in 2007 where I talked about First World. I met host Anthony Smiljkovich through Jillian Barberie at the local FOX station. And where did I meet Jillian? When we both starred on FOX’s Skating with Celebrities. Although Jillian couldn’t make the Los Angeles premiere of Justice Is Mind, Anthony and his boyfriend were there along with First World star Angelina Spicer.
Of course, one of my favorite cable access appearances was on Plymouth’s PAC-TV for Justice Is Mind. Arranged by Gail Sullivan who plays Helen Granger in the film, they did a wonderful job promoting our screening at Plimoth Cinema and presenting the concept of the film. Gail, Mary Wexler (who plays Judge Wagner) and I had a great time that day reliving the early days of the film.
Friday night’s broadcast of The John J. Fahey Show could not have gone better. In addition to showing an extended clip of Justice Is Mind, I talked publicly for the first time on TV about my political thriller SOS United States. What I particularly liked about the show was the live format. I’ve always enjoyed doing live TV over taped because you are truly in the moment with no worry about being edited. Of course you have to watch what you say! One of the highlights was when a caller phoned and praised Justice. Indeed, it’s about introducing your projects to new audiences.
Although John will formally post the show on YouTube, Vimeo and other platforms, I see one intrepid viewer already did. You can watch the show at this link for…