Thursday, June 18, 2015

The Road to Success Lies in You

Hi everyone! It's been a while. For those of you who don't know, my husband and I are expecting our very first child this October - a baby boy!!! We are beyond excited...this also explains why I've been so absent from the blog these past few months. Pregnancy is a wild ride!

Today, I felt inspired to write a blog after seeing a post on Facebook about encouraging kids to read for the sake of their standardize test scores. Seeing something like this saddened me, angered me, and all around just made me think about the pressures from society my child is going to grow up in. I am grateful that I grew up with parents who didn't believe test scores and school were the be-all end-all, and I am happy that Gwith and I will raise our son exactly the same way.

I don't believe tests and school are the way to success. My belief is that passion, enthusiasm, and drive are what make you a successful person, which is why encouraging our children in their interests at a young age is far more important than anything else. For those of you who have read my past blogs, you know I dropped out of high school at 16 years old (read my story here). This was not an easy decision for me, or for my parents, but it was undoubtedly one of the best decisions made in my life. When I flashback to the day we decided I needed to leave school, I can still picture myself sitting on the floor, shaking in tears from the depression and insecurities school had taught me to feel. I felt helpless, stupid, and like I had no control or ability to make decisions for myself. That was the day it all changed. After crying in my mom's arms, she asked me, "Do you want to drop out of school?" Tearfully, I told her yes. While it was a struggle for my parents, they didn't show that to me. Without any hesitation, my mom saw the pain I was in and agreed with my decision. I originally planned to study online and take my GED...but life got in the way. Instead, I continued teaching myself what I loved: film editing. I was on Final Cut Pro daily, fine tuning my editing skills and learning the ins and outs of the program. In many ways, I still felt insecure and incompetent thanks to many years of my experiences in school. However, film editing was the first thing I knew I was able to do and helped me believe in myself. I created plans for an editing business and worked on a few corporate training video projects, but at 18, thanks to my parents, I ended up with the experience of a lifetime - an experience that taught me greatly about passion, hard work, and management. In December of 2008, my sister, a friend, and I, wrote a TV show pilot script called "Little Blossom". My parents loved the script and encouraged us to create it. Of course, I don't think they realized at the time what that meant...In January, I had built a website for our project. By the end of the month, we had advertisements for actors out on Craigslist, Colorado Screen Actors Guild, and had contacted numerous talent agencies in the Denver area. Throughout February, we began auditioning actors for our ambitiously sized script. When I say ambitiously sized, I mean, when we do a project, we never think small. We go straight to big. Not big. Huge. Our production required 40 actors, at least 15 background extras, a camera crew, makeup crew, and 15 various filming locations.

The audition process alone was life changing for me...and I can safely say, we had no idea how many people would find out about our "little" project! Before we knew it, we had days full of auditions with actors flying in from Florida, New York, Los Angeles, and Las Vegas. As three young women ranging in age from 18-21, and all looking about 15, we were beyond nervous that we wouldn't be taken seriously. As we prepared for our first day as casting directors, we put on our business suits, our serious faces, and walked in to the office that would be our audition room for the next month or two. As the auditions passed and the days continued, we really got the hang of what we were doing...and over time, we realized that the actors coming in were far more nervous than we were. I spent years assuming that adults looked at me as an insecure little girl. The moment that changed was when we had a 45 year old man come in to our audition room, shaking throughout his audition, because the three of us made him that nervous! I will never forget that day. I'm not going to lie, it was a pretty good day! Over the weeks, I stopped thinking about "will these people take us seriously?". I had a job to do, actors to hire, and I could care less. We were interviewing actors for parts ranging in age from 12 to 65! If anyone had a problem with us, that was their problem, not ours.

After the audition process passed and we had a full cast, we began writing contracts, release forms, etc. It was my first experience looking at legal contracts! I learned quite a bit about what the language in those and what needs to be added, removed, etc. As the summer arrived, my mother and I set out to find our various filming locations: the most challenging being a school for exterior and interior scenes! I fell in love with the outdoor layout of a school and we contacted them immediately. Unfortunately, they came back to us with a ridiculous contract. My mom couldn't understand half of it and as I read through, I realized it gave us liability for anything that happens on the grounds, whether we're there or not! I highlighted the line for my mom to read and we realized, as much as I loved the location, we had to find another school. The school we ended up at didn't have the layout needed to film the opening shot as I had hoped, but we made do with what we had!

Throughout June and July, we began holding rehearsals. During the rehearsals, we directed our various actors on their roles and prepped them throughout the summer. In the meantime, my sister Raishel, friend Rhiannon, and I, shopped for clothes for our cast and props for the sets. With filming right around the corner (our first day was August 1st!), we had to hustle. A couple of days before filming, one of our actresses got her character's attire and didn't approve. Her character was a flirty, sexy, high school student who wore shorts skirts, high heels, and tight fitting tops. The next day, she informed us that she had taken it upon herself to shop at some very expensive stores to buy "sophisticated" attire for her character and expected reimbursement. Needless to say, with only a couple days before filming, we had a decision to make...and the decision was easy. We had an ensemble cast so we cut her entire character (and yes, she was a lead!), out of the script, rewrote scenes, added a few scenes for other characters, and fired her. I had never made a decision so quickly in my life...but we had no time to cast someone new and we weren't going to let her do whatever she wanted! This taught me that no matter what issues arise in business, there are always solutions if you think fast on your feet.

Promo photo from the set of "Little Blossom" (August 2009)
Filming was a hectic and wild ride. Some days, we would wake up at 4:30 am, return home after midnight, write the call sheet, and do it all over again. It taught me how to work on very little sleep, how to schedule, and ultimately, how to manage. As the days continued on set, my sister and I co-directed the actors every day, repeatedly tried to teach the "professional" camera crew how to film (we quickly found out they weren't as professional as they said!), and tried to keep the makeup crew from having breakdowns when things fell behind. One day, a couple weeks into filming, we had our largest scene yet. We had about 25 people at a house, waiting to film a scene. The house was owned by our cameraman and he was supposed to have set up the set and scene in advance...but that hadn't happened. Instead, our cast was waiting around throughout the day, for him to finish setting up the scene. My sister ended up having a breakdown (As luck would have it, our ambulance had arrived for a scene and the paramedics were still there and able to check that she was okay!). My dad had flipped out completely and left, and my mom and I remained to deal with the exhausted cast members who were crying and having meltdowns, a fussy makeup team constantly getting angry and asking us when things would be done, and a lazy camera crew...I don't like to call people lazy but every time we went to check on them, they were sitting down and chatting while everyone waited for them to finish their work! It was probably the worst day of my life but somehow, I managed to do everything. I still don't actually know how, but I did.

After a month of filming, we finally wrapped production. A month or so later, my family left for our vacation to Australia and New Zealand, which is where I met my wonderful husband (read our love story here)! Upon our return, I went straight to editing the show and we continued into post-production, renting out a recording studio to record ADR for noisier scenes. In April of 2010, we were ready to premiere the show!

Photo from the premiere (April 2010)
Unfortunately, at the end of the day, we didn't have the connections or knowledge of the entertainment industry to bring the show anywhere. At the time, it was hard to acknowledge that, but in the long run, I don't think that experience had anything to do with pitching and launching a network TV show. It ended up being a major confidence builder that taught me about the strength I never knew I had.

That experience was the reason that when Gwith and I opened our restaurant, Aroha, last year, I knew we could manage it. I'm not sure if I had continued in school if I would have the confidence and self-respect that I have now at 23 years old. Maybe I would've found it eventually, but I tend to doubt it. Not everyone needs to experience a giant film production to find their confidence. The point is, we all just need to find something. Some people find their confidence through good grades and the school system...and that's awesome for them. However, some us find it through our creative outlets, our athletics, or our passions for helping people and making the world a better place. Society places far too much importance on school being the only outlet that can mark success. At the end of the day, only we can mark our own success and believing in ourselves is what gets us there. Grades are just a mark on a piece of paper and no reflection on our intelligence and work ethic. If grades and school truly marked these things, then by all standards, Gwith and I wouldn't be capable of being where we are today.

I hope as our restaurant builds in success, that one day Gwith and I can obtain the funds to continue forth with another big dream of mine. I was lucky enough to have parents that could fund my dream of "Little Blossom" and help me towards my passions in life. My dream is to begin a foundation one day that can do the same for other high school drop-outs like my husband and I. I would love to make other peoples dreams a possibility and help them build their confidence and abilities by letting them learn to write business plans, obtain the funds for their businesses, and gain management skills, or pursue their goals as artists, or any other career they dream of succeeding in. I truly believe that if more people were encouraged and helped on the paths they dream to take, they'll get there.

Believe in yourself and anything is possible.