Gavin Hood – Practical Advice and Inspiration from Eye In The Sky Director

Gavin Hood is climbing the ranks in the film industry, having directed some popular movies with tenacious morale.

I first noticed him after watching Eye in the Sky, which is about the disputes of modern warfare. I was thoroughly impressed. I don’t remember the last time I was on the edge of my seat for the duration of an entire movie. When I realized he’s a fellow South-African, I was intrigued even more – I have to admit I’m a bit biased…

The more I found out about him, the more reasons I found to acknowledge him and his work.

Gavin Hood is the kind of filmmaker who is in the business for the right reasons.

He is driven to create current and applicable content which is entertaining at the same time. When asked why he chose to direct Eye in the Sky, he commented: “It’s completely current and it’s about what’s really happening in modern warfare and it has elements of black comedy and farce that are grounded in real life.”

His choice to cast Helen Mirren (the role was intended for a male lead) as Colonel Katherine Powell was very strategic. He didn’t want to box the movie in as a war movie for guys.

He recounts saying, “I want it to be a movie about war but that it’s a conversation starter for men and women about a subject matter that I think is very topical.”

He’s also a filmmaker who works extremely hard to get where he is right now. When asked to give advice to aspiring filmmakers, he shared, “Unfortunately, […] there’s this notion that you can become famous and rich very quickly. It’s a curse I think. […]

The way you make it is by getting good at making films.

There’s no shortcut; just study the craft and practise and hopefully you’ll eventually connect with an audience. And if you don’t connect with an audience, you won’t have a career in this business.”

Hood with Barkhad

It took a while for him to gain international recognition. Even though he wanted to be an actor, he followed his father’s advice and “took his big mouth and studied law” though he only practiced it for 4 months. He was already 30 when he actually started studying screenwriting, cinematography and directing.

Although he knew he was always going to go into film, he doesn’t regret having studied law, instead he recalls, “it trained me in terms of thinking and story and conflict and moral and ethical questions.”

He continually emphasizes the importance of making films in order to connect with your audience. He himself is drawn to stories compelling him to think. “I personally, with my background of being a lawyer and growing up in the turbulent times of the 80’s in South-Africa, I tend to be drawn to […] stories that somehow challenge me in a moral or ethical way.

“Don’t tell me what to think, but present me with something morally or ethically challenging.”

He started small by making short films; The Storekeeper was one I remember seeing in Middle School. It left a big impression on me, not only because of the dilemma it presents, but because it was so close to home. It was a South-African story which could be understood universally.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UoAONuFrjtU

This is another thing I appreciate about him; he bloomed where he was planted. He started where he was and then expanded, instead of limiting himself to the small South-African film industry.

Tsotsi was his breakthrough film which garnered him an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film in 2006 – a film I highly recommend by the way…

It was again, an authentic story, but one exploring universal humanity.  

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s-cQHJm25qI

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wikqd0aUVkM

“I really believe that we focus so much on differences and not enough on similarities. Most people, on a very basic level, have surprisingly similar needs. The need for companionship, dignity, love. And when these basic needs are not met, you find individuals developing a very distorted sense of the world.”

By now, he has other popular movies under his belt like Ender’s Game, X-Men Origins: Wolverine and Rendition.

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I celebrate people like Gavin Hood and believe there are many more like him out there who we simply need to discover.

Fellow filmmakers and actors, let us strive and work hard to tell stories worth telling. Stories that challenge people in their thinking to fight passivity.

Gavin Hood, I thank you for being an inspiration and persisting with a tenacious and creative spirit – all the best to you for your future projects!

Written by Annette Lange.

Participation Awards and How to Have Tenacious Creativity

BY BRENDEN BELL

I don’t know if anyone truly transitions into their adulthood with the mentality that they’re ready for whatever life has to throw at them. I most certainly did not.

 

Achieving adulthood was a messy, prolonged labor for me, and in some ways, only now is she starting to crown.

 

I made a major career change into filmmaking five years ago and it has taught me so so much about life and what my place is in it as a Millennial.

 

While I’ve never been given the titular “participation award” for anything, I understand the concept. I’ve expected great things to happen to me without actually sacrificing time and investing hard work into something. It’s the double edged sword of growing up in a culture of instant gratification.

 

It’s conditioned me to believe certain things about the nature of life and how I should be treated. Hard work that allows years to create something is an extremely unattractive prospect indeed.

 

Working in film has helped me recognise some of those tendencies within myself, and how to combat them.

 

It’s OK to Fail

 

This may sound like a strange point, but hear me out.

 

I think the biggest lie behind this idea of participation awards is that failure is not an option. You always win even if you fail.

 

A failure without the consequence of failure sets up an unrealistic expectation in the child that they will always win. So, when an adult inevitably fails at something and feels the consequences of that failure, they will not be emotionally equipped to deal with that failure.

 

The way I learned filmmaking is the “kick you in the deep end of the pool and hope you swim” style of learning. As you can probably guess, it involved a lot of missteps and some straight up failure.

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To this day, I fail in some small way at my job every day.

 

When I first began this work, those little failures would kill me. I would forget to post something on Facebook and feel like I didn’t belong on the team anymore. The more I failed and was still trusted with work, the more I understood that it was OK to fail as long as I owned up to it and made it right.

 

I am now more comfortable with failure and happier for it. It has positively impacted every area of my life and has made me more OK with taking risks, because I know that failure is a normal part of life and doesn’t have to be the end of a story.

 

Romanticising the Adventure

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I fell in love with the idea of being a filmmaker when I watched the behind the scenes of The Lord of the Rings. The level of camaraderie and pure creativity they all appeared to have was intoxicating, and I wanted to be a part of it too.

 

I romanticised the idea of being a filmmaker and struck from my memory every mention of “years of development”, “failure” and “nervous breakdown” that I heard. Filmmaking was a grand, enjoyable adventure one can go on with their friends.

 

When I went on the journey of making a film myself, I had a rude awakening. It’s a lot of hard work. You don’t always like the people you work with. The thing you thought was your passion becomes the very 9 to 5 drudgery you joined film to avoid.

 

If people are handing out awards for showing up, it’s easy to come to believe you don’t need to put in a lot of effort in order to get what you want. This was most definitely the case for me when it came to filmmaking.

 

Everyone in my generation has a dream, but few want to put in the day to day work needed to achieve those dreams.

 

What Then Shall We Do?

 

What’s left to do? How do we as a culture set aside our participation awards and become tenaciously creative?

 

Being OK with failure and being willing to put in a lot of hard work are both part of the equation. However, I think the biggest solution is embracing pain and suffering as a normal part of life.

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So much of life as a Millennial is about finding ways to avoid or subvert painful and vulnerable experiences. If we want to be successful in our craft, we are going to have to be ok with discomfort and pain in order to get what we want.

 

I’ve wrestled a great deal with what separates a child or adolescent from an adult (or what should, more than age or higher brain function).

 

I’ve decided it’s someone who is willing to suffer in order to see their goals met in their career and and to see their family succeed and thrive. The adult suffers so that the family can be at rest and enjoy.

 

It is those who are willing to suffer and never give up that are truly triumphant and deserving of awards and our respect.
Do you have a dream and failure or life has gotten you down? I hope this article gives you some inspiration to take that next practical step to make that dream a reality. Dust yourself off and become the tenacious creative that you can be.

Live Presently, You Must

Written by Keaton Evans.

Ask the impossible, Yoda does not. Related directly to acting, this is. How it is I will, er, can show you… ah, forget it.

If you are as much of a Star Wars fan as I am, which I guarantee you’re not, you might remember the scenes from The Empire Strikes Back where Yoda is training the ever-growing Luke about the mysterious ways of The Force.

I think he has some key insight into what it’s like to live in the moment and how to concentrate. The Dagobah training scenes are rich with all sorts of sagely small green humanoid wisdom. But here I am going to translate some of the key ideas and show you how living in the moment will greatly reward you as an actor and how you can even do this on a busy set.

Listed below are some techniques I like to use to help me live in the present. They are quick and easy and shouldn’t take you any longer than ten minutes.

  1. A quiet place, you must find

Did you notice in Episode V how Yoda greeted all his neighbors on his daily walk to the local Dagobah supermarket before he met Luke? No? Neither do I. In fact we never see another sentient soul on the entire planet besides our little green friend.

That’s because Yoda (R.I.P.) understood it’s best to be alone when you do any kind of training. Including the training of living in the present moment. Take a page from Yoda’s book. Find a place on set or location, where you are about to film, that is quiet and away from the distraction.

If you’re up on the acting ladder you’ll have a trailer. Find that quiet place. The green room is a great place. The honeywagon is great too, if you have nowhere else.

  1. Your body, stretched it must be

Yoda was also quite the advocate for stretching. Now, while we never see him actually stretch, except for his hand when he lifts Luke’s freaking X-wing out of the mud. Now the stretching we see Luke do is not quite the same as what I have done, although the idea remains the same.

In that quiet place, your Dagobah, as I’ve now decided to call it, the first thing to do is to stretch. If you’re not wearing standard jedi garb then that’s ok. As long as the clothes are not too restricting, you can do the basic stretching techniques.

Try touching your toes, reaching for the sky, or my personal favourite: swinging your arms in giant loops.

Not only is stretching great for getting you relaxed and in the right mindset, but according to healthguidance.org, it also helps warm you up, increases your range of motion, and improves your posture. Stretching has a multitude of benefits. As you can see, and now so can Luke, Yoda knew what he was talking about.

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Do or do not. There is no try.

  1. For success, close your eyes and breathe deeply, you should

Did you notice in the movie how when Yoda focuses The Force he closes his eyes? Well the same goes for training yourself to live in the present moment. I (almost) guarantee that when Yoda was reaching out with The Force he was breathing deeply. If you zoom in on him in the scene where he lifts Luke’s X-Wing you can just see Yoda’s chest (Oz’ hand) move up and down in the same pattern a human would if they were breathing deeply. My point? Yoda was onto something… that genius!

After stretching, pull a concentrated Yoda. Pretend you are lifting something with The Force while your eyes are closed and your breathing is deep. This is great for calming your mind and getting the distractions like the threat of the empire or your friends’ death in Cloud City off your ol’ noodle.

But seriously, according to Harvard Medical School, deep breathing can slow the heartbeat and lower or stabilize blood pressure. It’s great for helping you to live in the present moment.

Here’s a link to the article about deep breathing which goes more in-depth:  https://hms.harvard.edu/

  1. All around you, sounds are. On sounds, focus

Yoda talks about how The Force is all around us. It’s in the rocks, the trees, that possum you saw the other night, even in your very own computation device.

I believe that sounds are all around you. And I know from trying that while you are breathing deeply you focus on listening it makes all the difference in the world in pulling you into the present. Simply listen. Hear the birds, the cars, the talking, white noise, cats meowing, dogs barking. Then after you simply sit and listen to all the sounds, even if they are faint, try listening to only one sound. This will help your concentration. As you have to concentrate on one sound you will learn to concentrate on only one thing, that is your script later when you are waiting for the next shot.

  1. Now the time to focus on your role, it is

The last step in your jedi training, er, present-moment training, is to focus on the most important part of your job: your role. As you have used the instructions of the universe’s most trusted whatever-species-Yoda-is, you are ready to live in the moment and focus not on the distractions around you, but on your character.

In the moments of deep breathing with your eyes still closed, think of the background of your character. Think of their history and relationships. Think about your character’s overall objective and their objective in the upcoming scene. In this way you will be ready to live in the present moment by focusing on your role and it will be that much easier to live truthfully under imaginary circumstances.

The distractions of everything else will fall into the background. You will be able to concentrate on that which is most important.

Through these steps you have found your Dagobah, you’ve stretched your body, you’ve deeply breathed, you’ve listened, and you’ve focused on your character. You journey towards the darkside WON’T be complete now! Hurrah! Suck it Palpatine!

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Pictured: a wrinkled sap who doesn’t live in the present.

Hopefully these steps will help you to live in the present moment and prepare you for the scene you are about to take part in. Well, as they say in Yoda’s swamp town: “bye”!

Zombie On Set! Don’t Lose Your Mind

written by Hilary Dorst

 

Not too long ago it was filming week on our school. All the students were busy running around making their short films. They ran on little sleep and a lot of coffee and tea. At 4 am they staggered through the dark on their way to get the equipment to load up the van. They looked like zombies.

 

What better time to talk about feeling like a zombie than Halloween. Especially as today I feel like one. I probably look like one as well. Early morning driving to set, all the running around and arranging schedules and meetings. I love it more than anything (ok, as far as DOING things is concerned), but it does catch up with me as it does with everyone.

 

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  • 44% suffer from moderate to severe anxiety. That is TEN times the general population.

 

  • Depression symptoms levels are FIVE times higher than general population.

 

  • 59.5% of industry workers have sought professional help for their mental health problems.

 

  • Suicide attempts are more than DOUBLE the general population

 

  • Suicidal thoughts and ideas are between FIVE times higher and NINE times higher than the general population, depending on the industry jobs being done. Road crews have the highest rate.

 

  • Suicide planning is between FOUR and FIVE times higher.

 

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Good mental health is just as important as good physical health, sometimes even more so. Yet people always discuss physical health and strength, not the mental health. It’s a hard topic to nail specifics to help people cope as everyone is different and what works for one person doesn’t work for another.

 

I personally fight clinical depression and anxiety; which can lead to panic attacks, physical pain from forcing myself to do anything, low energy, and a host of other symptoms. I have to take care of my mental health or those things will affect my ability to do my job and my relationships with people. In other words, I’ll be a zombie on set.

 

That will in turn let my team down and I’ll feel worse for it, but filming and the schedule will suffer as well.

 

Quite frankly, that sucks.

 

Every day I question why I want to be in such an intense field of work.  If I can’t even shower one day, how can I type up 30 emails to potential extras for a feature film or motivate others to keep going during long shoots?

 

This is where I need to make certain I’m using whatever tools I can to make sure I can do my job and not let my illness get the better of me; especially with the speed and intensity of filmmaking, which can make getting overwhelmed happen easier.

 

There are many tools a person can use to keep themselves mentally healthy, or to relax and let go of stress. I like to think of them as my zombie fighting weapons. Here are some ideas tools that I tend to fall back on.

 

Break It Up

 

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When I start to feel overwhelmed I need to get away for a moment (not a long one, because that is unprofessional and I don’t want to get fired). I need to get my bearings again and regroup mentally.

 

I do this when I need to go 10-1 or refill my water bottle. I just need those few seconds, or minutes depending on the schedule, to quiet my mind then continue. I’ll look in the mirror and pep talk myself, then get back out there and do my job.

 

I also remind myself that I’m not the only one on set that feels that way. It is so easy to forget that, but it’s an important point to remember.

 

If I’m getting a lot of information at one time, I may need a moment to sort out the important bits from the superfluous pieces. I may say “Let me think.” or “Just a second.” Then I will direct my attention to the individuals one at a time in short order and get the important information or give instructions, then move on.

 

Just Breathe

 

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Breathe in and out deeply, from your stomach not your chest. It helps calm your body, and by calming your body it helps calm your mind.

 

This doesn’t even require stopping what I’m doing. If you practice it enough it becomes second nature.

 

I tend to do it when people are talking, or a shot is being filmed. It isn’t even noticeable to others so it doesn’t draw attention to myself if I’m uncomfortable sharing, or not in a place to share with people.

 

What’s In A Name?

 

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What I am feeling:  I label it and define it.

 

What is causing it? Am I overwhelmed by my tasks? I opt to deal with the most pressing task, then I continue down the list.

 

If I can’t identify the feeling then I can’t deal with it. If I can’t deal with it then the crew will pick up on something being wrong and not know why. As I said before, it will affect everyone.

 

Your ability to define what you are feeling gives you power over it. Is it hard to define? Think of what it feels similar to and then maybe from there you will be able to pin it down.

 

Your feelings are always valid, but they don’t control you. You need to control them. While that is good in theory, in practice it is even harder. Having depression or anxiety isn’t always about your feelings, although those are affected by the illnesses.

 

Sometimes the only thing I can do is choose to put my feelings aside and not let them interfere with my job. The key part is to deal with them later in a healthy way, allow myself to feel them and then work through them. No drugs, alcohol, or other forms of self medicating or trying to feel good.

 

The Bigger Picture

 

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There are so many times the thing that stresses you out or makes you upset is something relatively trivial, or taking a tone of voice personally when it’s nothing to do with you.

 

Anxiety makes me think I did something wrong when someone’s brief in a reply or something (yes, irrational but that is just what happens). I need to remember they have as little time as I do, or less, and are just being brief because it doesn’t require more information than I’m being told.

 

They say don’t sweat the small stuff. It’s so hard when my body thinks the small stuff is actually big stuff and turns on the fight or flight; or doesn’t have the energy to do small stuff, that’s when I feel like a zombie.

 

I try to remember to look beyond the little moment/small stuff to see what’s beyond. The person who may have been short when giving me an answer needs to set up for a shot in 30 seconds; they’re paying attention to five things at once. It’s not about me, they just don’t have the time to tell me the detailed answer I may want. That is on me to not sweat the tone of voice.

 

One day I may have to be at the pick up location in an hour, completely ready to go. The feeling of painful no energy I have gets 30 seconds to protest and then I’m getting out of bed and getting ready. I have no choice. The bigger picture of the project dictates what I have to do it.

 

Self Care Away From Set

 

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This encompasses a lot:

–  do hobbies to relax

– exercise regularly

– eat properly and regularly

– get outside

– have alone time if you need it

– take a bath

– sleep properly

– take true days off when you can (aka do nothing!! Binge watch tv!)

– take vitamins

– take your prescriptions as needed

– be playful (it’s so much fun, really)

 

Just do things that you know you enjoy, whether you enjoy them at the time or not. Your body will remember you enjoy it even if your feelings don’t.

 

I bring a ball of yarn with me whenever I go anywhere. I usually work on it on the drive to wherever I am going (like set) and back. It’s for me to work on a random square for a blanket or I make a hat. It keeps my hands busy, but in a constructive way. It’s also small enough to make me feel accomplished at something when I feel like I’m failing at my job (which I may not be but it feels like I am).

 

Some of the self care seems like it’s basic common sense, but in the business of film it can be forgotten as time is at a premium and days are long.

 

Talk It Out

 

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Talk to someone you trust. It’s so important. They can see things that you might not and they’ll also be able to help you know if you’re overreacting, or to see things clearly.

 

For me it’s so hard to separate how I feel from what I’m doing. My body and mind see the thing I’m doing as causing me to feel terrible.

 

That is when I need to talk to someone, be it my sister, or one of my close friends and co-workers. I also need them to let me know if I’m off and I don’t notice so I can do what I need to do to stay healthy.

 

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If you like more practical useful things: Get Self Help is a website with tools for cognitive behaviour therapy, or CBT.  CBT is a term used to help you train your brain to not automatically go into crisis mode and help you get some measure of control.

 

Most importantly, if you have symptoms that are interfering with your life, go to a doctor. Talk to a counselor.

 

Remember there is always hope and a way through, you just have to do what is needed (positive ways, not negative) to keep living strong and not end up a zombie.

 

If you are in a crisis call the hotlines in your country.

 

Lifeline (Australia): 13 11 14

Kids Helpline (Australia): 1800 55 1800

Beyond Blue (Australia): 1300 224 636

USA: 1-800-SUICIDE (1-800-784-2433) or 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255)

Canada: 911 No national hotline, however CASP has all the numbers by province and region.

Kids Help Phone (Canada): 1-800-668-6868

 

Wigging Out

written by Charis Joy Jackson

 

Film is hard work. Filled with long days, working under immense pressure & seeing impossible situations become possible.

 

Working with The Initiative Production Company, I get to be a part of this craziness on a daily basis. We’ve been producing short films and features since 2008. It started off with only four of us, crazy enough to dream of a grassroots company where we could create great, independent film.

 

Our first endevour into feature filmmaking was The Umbrella. The story follows Jared Evans who when faced with uncomfortable situations hides beneath an imaginary umbrella.

 

 

The Umbrella had it’s US release in August on Flix Premiere, and it’s UK premiere this past week 6TH OF OCTOBER, I wanted to tell a little known story from working on this film…

 

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It was a Thursday night and the next morning was our biggest re-shoots yet. There was only one problem; our actress for the shoot had cut her hair! During principal photography she had flowing, shoulder length, golden hair. Now, she looked like Tinker Bell; cute as ever, but a big problem for continuity.

 

And I was in charge of hair and makeup. Oh dear.

 

Solution? Go to the nearest mall & search for hair extensions, or one of those clips with a fake bun. Not the greatest idea, but hey, it could work… right?

 

It was already 5:30PM, which in Australia meant, the stores were already closing for the day. The director was talking seriously about cancelling Friday’s shoot. Not willing to give up yet, I wrangled fellow crew member Jonathan Proby (or as we call him, Proby), and we ran to the nearest mall.

 

All the while, I was praying the stores wouldn’t be closed yet.

 

Because there’s no excuses in filmmaking.

 

It HAD to work. I didn’t want to let the director down.

 

At the first store we talked to one of the ladies working there. I explained the situation and she cringed. She showed us a few extention options, but all were in the triple digits and we had little to no budget for this.

 

Ultimately, she told us nothing would work, because our actresses’ hair was way too short to support any extensions. I suppressed the knot growing in my throat, thanked her kindly, & left.

 

Hearing that there was no solution really dampened my spirits, and I was ready to give up. Everything was closing anyway, but one look from Proby, who was still rearing to go and I pulled up my bootstraps and pressed on.

 

We entered another store & found something similar but it still didn’t work; the color was wrong, and it was still too expensive.

 

At this point, I wondered if what we needed, especially at the price we needed it at even existed. I kept repeating this phrase like a mantra, “There are no excuses in filmmaking.”

 

We headed to the dollar store, hoping against hope we’d find something there. But our hopes were again dashed and my hair was becoming frazzled from worry. Think Hermoine Granger.

I was desperate now; more stores were closing for the night & we were running out of options.

 

In a last ditch effort, we decided to try the salons. Time was short, so we split up. I headed to the nearest salon and Proby headed to one down the way.

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When I arrived at the salon, no one was at the counter & I had to tell myself to remain calm. Life as I knew it was not over yet. A kind lady approached the counter & asked if she could help me. I smiled,

 

“I have a really bizarre question for you.”

 

“Oh good, I love those,” she said.

 

I sighed and then launched into my story. All the while wondering how I was going to get what I needed, especially at a price I could work with.

 

The lady smiled as I continued to babble incoherently, then excused herself & said she may have a solution. Leaving the counter, she headed to the back of the salon. By this time, Proby had come back from the other salon with no luck.

 

I silently pleaded with God for some kind of miracle; we were out of time.

 

The lady came back to the counter with a box overflowing with wigs of red, black, gold & brown. They were doll wigs. “I have no use for these.” she said, “Maybe they could help.”

 

I took one & looked at it, while she got out a plastic bag & began piling as many as she could inside. She kept telling me how happy she was someone could get some use out of them. She dug in the box for all the blonde wigs & once satisfied she’d given me all of them, threw a few more red, black & brown wigs into the bag.

 

I started freaking out again. How much was she going to charge me?

 

Then she handed me the overflowing bag – free of charge!

 

WHAT?!

 

I was speechless. She was going to give it to me for free? A total stranger? I was speechless.

 

I thanked the lady profusely before making a mad dash back to the office where I gathered my unsuspecting co-worker, Zakk, to be my model as I fiddled with the wigs.

 

Honestly, I had no idea how we were going to make it work, the wigs were still too small for a human head. But there are no excuses in filmmaking, so I kept pressing forward. Afterall, we were given the wigs for free, it had to end well, right?

 

We were all on the edge of our seat, wondering, hoping, holding our breath to see if it was going to work.

 

It took a bit of creativity, but in the end I found a solution and it felt like a Christmas miracle (even though it wasn’t actually Christmas)!

 

This was just one crazy day in the life of making The Umbrella. One I am especially fond of, and one that’s taught me to keep pushing for the best, and loving this crazy adventure called film.

 

For those of you living in the US or the UK, I want to leave you with this challenge; go watch The Umbrella on Flix Premiere and see if you can figure out which scene our actress who plays the character, Aunt Helen is wearing a wig and which is her natural hair.

 

Enjoy!

 

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