Cole Porter. Aliens. Me.
What is the common denominator here? [Answer] My experience filming Independence Day: Resurgence (IDR), the sequel to the beloved Independence Day from 1996.
Booking the role of Flight Officer #3 on this sequel has hands down been the most exciting experience I have ever had on set. Never before had I been this close to world-class special effects, pyro technics, and exploding walls. I had the opportunity to work alongside actors I deeply respect –Jeff Goldblum and William Fichtner – and alongside local actors I, also, respect – Monique Candelaria, Stafford Douglas, Nate Warren, and Robert Washington. My fellow flight officers and I worked on set for a week and cherished all of it, creating a bond that felt as unique as believing we were truly fighting aliens. Albeit, this tale is more memorable because of working with Mr. Goldblum. He is as eccentric and playful as you may have read about him. Between takes he would play instrumental music from his phone right next to his ear, waltz with background actors, and read to me theories about child development from a psychology book he has stashed just within in reach. He was mesmerizing, silly, and damn impossible to figure out his next move. I learned this first hand, that’s a pun you’ll get a minute…keep reading. During the close-up camera coverage of my character’s lines, which involved reporting intense losses for our troops, I felt a calm hand placed on mine in the middle of my delivery. This hand was out of sight of the camera frame. This was Mr. Goldblum’s hand. Kind of stricken by this never before rehearsed moment from the other camera angles, I sorted myself milliseconds. I allowed it to become a way for my character to get grounded with the high stakes. Was Mr. Goldblum:
a) providing comfort to my character,
b) testing my actor spontaneity, or
c) f*cking with me?
It’s all of the above. Either way, it was an excellent practice in staying invested in the circumstance and using what the moment provided.
But that wasn’t the only surprise I had on set.
Actors typically sit in cast chairs to wait to go on set (see below). Cast chairs can be a quiet corner, the place to nervously go over lines, awkwardly wonder if any of the other actors will talk to you, and eventually an oblivion of waiting. However, the void of sitting in the cast chairs had a whole new meaning once Jeff Goldblum joined us. When we finished filming scenes with him (including his hand placed on mine moment) we were instructed to wait in the cast chairs. Mr. Goldblum didn’t go back to base camp and wait in his trailer, he waited with us flight officers in the cast chairs. Then the next moment, he asks if any of us can sing (!) Most all of us nod yes (totally true), and then he asks if we know Cole Porter (less nods, but still YES). With Goldblum himself leading, we started singing Night and Day, which then transmuted into songs from Man of La Mancha, then other show tune melodies ( which were all for the better with Nate Warren’s harmonizing and keeping the key). We were making a musical review with Goldblum, in the cast chairs on set of IDR. Upon our jovial and impromptu performances, a production assistant comes kindly, but swiftly over to Mr. Goldblum’s chair. He whispers something, Mr. Goldblum nods, turns to us and says "show’s over." It was exhilarating and so equalizing to search for the same singing notes as my friends and Mr. Goldblum.
Recently, my IMDb credit for the film was just reduced to (uncredited), which means my lines were cut. Definitely not heartbroken, as this is the part of the plight of the actor cast in a project vs. making a project. I am still looking forward to catching the scenes I was in, knowing what happened between the takes created an unforgettable and maturing chapter in my film career. The rumors have been flying around that the film may come back to shoot in NM for it’s third installment.
For now, I will brush up on my mezzo-soprano range for the next cast chair musical review and beyond.
Independence Day: Resurgence opens worldwide 6/24/16. Go see it and support an immense project that hired many local actors and crew in New Mexico.
The infamous cast chairs!
Your favorite hospital drama is back for a third season, this summer on Wednedays nights 10/9c on NBC! Wondering where your beloved Nurse Heather Bardocz is on season 3? Be patient, I come back midway through the season, until then, enjoy my best of moments from seasons 1 and 2 in the reel below. Tune in tonight to see the part two of the sensational season opener. Thank you returning fans for tuning in, you are the best! Please share the show with your friends and help us get a season four!
“What if I told you that everything you think you know about the world is a lie? What if I told you that history has never been the story of humanity and the earth has always belonged to ... others. Would you really want to know?”
That’s the burning question asked in THE TESLA FILES — a sci-fi short drama by screenwriter, director and storyteller Alan Wartes. The story-world of this film looks and feels like the one we’ve always known, but Maggie Levant’s search for the lost secrets of Nikola Tesla spins it on its axis until nothing about reality seems as it once did. This script is presently a finalist in the 2016 Nashville Film Festival Screenwriting Competition — along with another screenplay by Alan Wartes, a feature called THE BOTTLE BUSINESS.
Principal photography is slated to begin in mid-May in Gunnison, CO.
I made a pinky promise to myself to define my worth by the work I create. To go beyond the comfort of my agent calling me for an audition, but to step into the world self-proudcing my own directing and writing this year. Now, I can officially check off my 2016 bucket list: solo directing a short film! This month I co-produced with Amy Baklini, Lauren Myers, Elizabeth Dwyer Sandlin our film Pinky Promise for the 1st ever Flicks4Chicks competition.
This competition which came out of the non-profit Harvard Square Script Writers and Women in Film international, allows teams the entire month of April to make their 10 min short film with a scenario provided by the competition, so teams cannot pre-write their script. What is so exciting on top of what we accomplished was the set was overwhelmingly female. It's rare for the set to have one man, it's usually the other way around, and that's exactly what we did. The one gentlemen, Mikael Ayele, was so versatile- 2nd camera and acting! Our team was superbly skilled, focus, and creative. More to come on #PinkyPromise, stay tuned!
Producers: Amy Baklini, Lauren Myers, Elizabeth Dwyer Sandlin, Catharine Pilafas
Director: Catharine Pilafas
Writer: Elizabeth Dwyer Sandlin
Director of Photography: Alana Smithee
1st AD: Catherine Ames
AdditionalCamera: Mikael Ayele
Script Supervisor: Charee Savedra
Sound: Laquie T.N. Campbell
Editor: Lauren Myers
Prop Master: Barb Odell
Make-up Artist & Hair Stylist: Genica Lee
Music/ Score: Kate Quinby & Le Chat Lunatique
Set Photographers: Barb Odell, Clarissa Yvette Dubois
ASTRID...Frances Lee McCain
JOLIE…...Elizabeth Dwyer Sandlin
Denny Alff, Amelia Ampuero, Rick Galli, Jessica Haring, Kate Hollander, Charles Price, Café Fina Santa Fe
I just wrapped on the feature film, 2 Years and 8 Days alongside Kayla Ewell (Vampire Diaries) and Ryan Merriman (Pretty Little Liars). I played a wise and calm marriage counselor. Really excellent AD and crew! Loved getting to know miss Ewell - she's the real deal - kind, open, and gifted with the craft of acting.
To top off the fun, it was shot in Roswell, New Mexico! Here is a list of the very gifted cast and crew on IMDB.
New Mexico Filmmakers Conference, From left: Michelle Bolin, Christine McHugh, Joan Golden, Me, Catherine Fridey, and Vivian Nesbitt.
You think you have a grasp on the kind of art you want to create or the artist you strive to be. But, until I served on the board of New Mexico Women in Film (NMWIF), I realized I was living in an artist’s limbo. Around the table at NMWIF board meetings, I was surrounded by women who albeit excelled in various positions in the industry, all walked the walk of producing their own work. In the era of new wave media, filmmakers and particularly actors are encouraged to create their own content. Not me. Here I was, like a lot of actors, waiting for my phone to ring; waiting for the work to come to me; waiting to be picked on the team. It was in a moment of inky low-self esteem, I had an awakening - I was my own team and needed no permission to get started directing and writing my own stories. I belonged around the table, and my censor wanted me behind walls designed to keep potential growth just far enough out of reach.
We fear the unknown, but really, we are already living in the fear, so why not try the alternative?
I joined the board in March 2014 and by May of 2014 I solo directed and produced my first project. My husband, Adam, is stud and a great writer. His first novel, The Vendetta of Felipe Espinosa, was about to debut and he asked me to produce a book trailer for the publicity push. Book trailers are all the rage these days – think theatrical or even documentary style for one-three minutes in length. Even though I had never worked on a book trailer or directed film Adam knew I could do it. I thought about my fellow "Sheroes" on the board would say to me: “Duh, Cat you can do it. So just go do it.”
Whenever an idea or creative venture scares you, that means you should do it.
I was thirsty to to direct film, and here was the opportunity to serve my deep desire, but was personal to my life with my husband and his career! I hired a director of photography, wrote out a shot list/ story board, scouted locations, including a Ranger’s Legacy Equine Rescue, discovered where to find 1860’s costumes, and did it! The director bug has bit and I can faithfully say I have continued to direct film.
Started directing, what about writing? Just so happens that they very organization that encouraged me direct, also has the Athena Screenwriting contest every year. Writing was a crucial corner in my creative path that I had not rounded. Although I wrote a thesis in college, I wasn’t required in my theatre program to even write so much a monologue. I have never written a screenplay either and it scared me to try – so that’s the clue I needed to do it. I joined the Albuquerque NMWIF screenwriting group to learn more about the process and read other writer’s work. It’s a wonderful and diverse group (thanks, Mary Darling) that really has taught me so much that applies to on and off the page. It’s year two of the competition and I am getting ready to hit the submit button for the second year in a row.
Serving my two year term on the New Mexico Women in Film Board will have an enduring affect. I’m certain it will continue to show up in all that do. How I talk about women in media, how I read scripts, how I assemble my production team, how I think about my community are all for the better because of my time on the board. Being the Co-Chair of Marketing and PR was all about social media and creating flyers – which was challenging and fun. But the most vital take away from the board was that all I have to do is YES myself and my ideas.
Currently, I am in Pre-Production for the Flicks4Chicks screenwriting competition t the non-profit Harvard Square Script Writers. We have the entire month of April to shoot a film with a situation offered by the competition. We have an all female crew and I am proud to be directing. This is really an abundant time of my life.
Thank you Women in Film for teaching me how to say YES back to myself.
In the era of pre-sold ideas, rise of streaming services, and the new golden age of television why does it matter who wins at the award shows? You may scoff at the idea of a trophy deciding what is good or what could have been touted with the title of the best. I understand how subjective it is, however, I believe it matters. Especially in ways we love to complain about. Producers are admitting to Hollywood Reporter, Deadline, or Variety how hard it is to get financial backing for original content. Leonardo DiCaprio confesses that he could not get The Aviator made now, and is shocked that The Revenant came to fruition. Thus, if the Academy and other award circuits take notice of films like Mad Max Fury Road, that recognition does helps break the cycle of what studios will put their money behind. A conversation is created around why these films don't fit in the mold the Academy holds steadfast to. After all an Academy nominated stamp means an awful for foreign and domestic sales.
It is a great sign that the Academy is taking steps to change how they operate; ten nomination slots now for best picture, for example. Yes, they could use more diversity in their nominations, and I think we will see it. I mean, if we have witnessed a black president, gay marriage legal, and American grown and sold weed in a state near you, we will get the diversity back into the movie industry. Call me an optimist? Because I am.
In 2015 I was chosen to be on the SAG Award Nominating Committee. This opportunity is randomly bestowed, and I took it seriously. What an immense privilege! And what an immense amount of movies to consume. Of the thirty or so screeners and digital downloads I was sent, I watched about 90% of them. (Still need to watch Lady in the Van and Mr. Holmes).
What a spectacular year of movies. In fact, the box office had one of it's best years on record. My list below is of nominated films for SAG and just films I loved from 2015. Will you be watching the Oscars this weekend? I will.
The 2015 honorable mentions: Inside Out, It Follows, and Spotlight.
1. Mad Max Fury Road
There is nothing like this film, and that's how it's designed. This film is literally breathtaking. It makes you think about taking a breath in admits the action. A formidable task to do considering George Miller has taken out the space between moments. It's a series of fuses going off at orchestrated times and you are apart of the most brilliant fireworks show you have ever seen. One of my favorite aspects of this film is that no character is wasted. Everyone is necessary. Especially the females. Really this should be called Furiosa's Fury Road; Charlize's character forwards almost all of the action. For that matter, all of the other female characters are nothing like the traditional archetype of the damsel would suggest in most action oriented tales. Every time you watch it you will never tire of the character's insatiable will to survive, how the practical stunts were executed, because it is imeless.
2. The Revenant
I thought I had never had a cinematic experience like Mad Max, until I saw The Revenant. My thirst for wilderness and abstract magical realism are impeccably met with this film. For a film that's primarily understood in it's visual relationship to mother nature, the dialogue is succulent. Tom Hardy has more words on screen than Leonardo DiCaprio, and you find yourself wanting to gnaw on these trappers thoughts of mortality and God. You learn the language of DiCaprio's eyes and you feel his heart break at the turns of fate. Alejandro Iñárritu choreographs shots that get the maximum amount of action before they cut to a new angle. You feel exposed and exhilarated. You are hanging on as long as the characters must hang on. The film's beauty shots are supported in full by the narrative. It's more typical you must sacrifice one of those over the other. Not here. This is an epic journey you will remember. Watch it with a blanket; I am cold every time I watchthis story.
Youth would never had been a movie I'd see in the theatre. It was mailed to me as a possible SAG Award contender. Unaware of director Paolo Sorrentino's work, I watched this film with little understanding what it was about. Some may still feel that way after watching it. However, I felt transcendence. Not a connoisseur of art house films, I am not even sure if this is one of those, I felt this film. Maybe that's what art house films do in a slow burn kind of way. You feel close to characters because you are alongside them in their most intimate manner through the small acquaintances and long time friendships. The piecing together of images on screen don't totally explain themselves in a linear fashion, but are understood as the layers of skin the story wears. Recapturing the love of life and what fuels creating art are constantly held up to the audience as a mirror.. This film was brave enough to discover itself. I can't remember the last time I've seen that.
This film works because of the female protagonist, played by Emily Blunt. Originally set to be cast as man, I cannot imagine it having the same punch and spitfire with a man. The film (like most Hollywood pictures) is mainly a cast of men, so we aren't in any shorted, but what we experience through Blunt is different. To be clear, it's something we don't know already like we are accustomed to with most thriller-action-dramas with a male lead. Nor does the film soften it's scope of perspective because Blunt is a woman. Director Denis Villeneuve's masterfully created this world where we see justice struggling to look humane no matter the gender. This violent and horrific border tale is irresistible and unparalleled in it's pace. The actors live moment to moment with ease and fluidity that you root for them, even when you question their hero status. Thank God a film made in New Mexico shined in the box office last year. They hired so many locals actors, too. Let's keep it up.
5. Straight Outta Compton
Growing up with a brother who listened to all the rap availanble in the 90s gave this film nostalgic quality for me. It was thrilling to hear the early beats and rhymes of the forging path of gangsta rap and west coast hip hop. A style of music that would become an anthem for the voice of youth rising up from police brutality that led to the LA race riots. There are so many moments on screen that feel completely real and authentic. The opening scene is about a drug dealer check-in made me so anxious and uncomfortable; something was going to go down and there was no upper hand. The film sets up how these young men could live out their lives: on the street or in jail. Considering, they were already living the alternative, why not dive into their music? I thought this film would be better recognized for it's direction and acting by the award circuits. It's a beautiful testament to the rise of the new generation of musicians and pop culture. Even if you don't dig Tupac and Easy-E, you should watch this and educate yourself how this mainstream phenomenon we call rap music came to be.
The colors and cinematography in this film are reminiscent of the dazzle and allure of Amelie. The period is dreamy and gritty but held together with our heroine's determined spirit. Saoirse Ronan was my favorite female lead performance this season. She holds the weight of this epic cross-atlantic journey on her shoulder with fortitude. At times it is everything the girl meets boy and girl meets another boy saga can afford. However, Nick Hornby adapts the novel so that the words live past the cliche of a girl in love with two worlds and two men. You reside to be ally in all of her adventures, secretly hoping she chooses you to keep her secrets. In the end you just desire her heart to be free in it's love. This is a film I could just pop in at any time, it just feels good.
The marvel of this stop-motion film is how deceivingly simple it is. There isn't flashy camera angles, superior special affects or really anything enthralling about the first twenty minutes. You are watching the character Michael Stone and don't realize how deep your perspective is vested in how he sees and feels his world. The blantant disconnection with his reality and passionless existence for living make you wonder why you are watching him. There are only three voice actors used in the film. It's a brilliant choice because all of the world sounds the same to Michael. Until he meets Lisa Hesselman. Her voice sounds different than the rest and she becomes his angel of passion, renewed virtue and pleasure. In the end his paranoia is really his only true companion he choses to keep close. Director Charlie Kaufman rips the bandaid off Michael's reality and makes for a trippy experience. This film strangely makes you wonder if you understand your life choices and and will ever be understood for them.
8. The Danish Girl
The magnitude of chemistry between Alicia Vikander and Eddy Redmayne eclipses any pre-conceived images that Hollywood has given them. They produce a love in each other that is so radical. It's breathtaking and horrific how their partnership is repeatedly tested. What lengths will they go to stay true? They lay so much bare on screen; their bodies, hearts, and their will. The costume and production design enhance the captivating glances at Lili and Einar. Their commitment to love each other and honor themselves was a revolutionary act, especially in the 1920s.
I put off seeing this film because I knew it would be difficult to watch the betrayal between Gerda Wegener and Einar Wegener with his transformation into Lili Elbe. However, it is this bond of theirs that makes it worth the struggle. Director Tom Hooper gives us equal parts sympathy and terror of the unknown.
9. Beasts of No Nation
I watch a film like this and I am blown away how it is made. Director Cary Joji Fukunaga represents the victims and militia of the African civil wars without holding back. This film feels almost like a documentary in how authentic the villages, roads and people interact. Carl Jung says that children are survivors. These children are surviving with what they have been dealt, it's frustrating that they are reduced to thinking like a beast. Kill or be killed. This story is reminiscent of Kite Runner, in that, these orphaned children are taken under the wing of dark individuals who abuse them to keep them powerless. This too, was another film I thought would receive a more recognition from the Oscars, but it did make the ballot for SAG Awards and Golden Globes. Way to go for Netflix making this it's first original movie, keep them coming.
10. Bone Tomahawk
I love an well done film set in the old west. The word western is usually a right off for a genre, shoot 'em up, twangy movie. Bone Tomahawk will offer none of that. It is a horror story set in the west. It lends itself to lengthy dialogue that creates that slow burn effect that leads to explosive and distinct violence. There are moments when I had to look away, peek around the fingers over my eyes and watch the savagery destruct. You can't undo the the barbaric violence you witness, consider yourself warned. This lesser know film compared to the others on my top ten list may not be on your queue for Amazon but it deserves to be.
Mary Darling and I set out to make a pitch for Project Greenlight. Although out footage for Pipeline Prep didn't advanced in the competition, we are not done. We have a story to tell and we our expanding the footage to make a short documentary focusing on the story of on Dan Garcia. You may know Dan best as the owner of of Garcia's Restaurants. Before he became apart of his successful family business, Dan experienced first hand how schools handle misguided youth and ultimately set them up to a path in another social system: education or prison.
Bringing a little more Xanadu into the world.