Personal Statement Brief Bio
I was giving a talk at a university some time ago and one of the students asked me how I planned for the career I have. In this business, careers often happen when you aren’t looking: if you’re lucky enough, they happen while you are doing things you love and are good at and you hardly ever realize you’ve even made a career. At least, that’s how it happened for me.
When I was 5, I decided I wanted to be a writer but as writers didn’t make any money, I figured I would be an actress first to accumulate wealth so I could go be a writer. By the time I graduated university, I had been a performing actress for 12 years. Not surprisingly, I was faced with the very grown-up realization that acting (for me) wasn’t going to pay the bills either.
I opened a specialty cheese and wine shop in Seattle, WA (Brie & Bordeaux). To abridge a rather complicated story (but one that is pretty funny, so buy me a drink sometime if you want to hear it), I ended up writing movie reviews on the front window of my store. My (thankfully positive) review of A Thousand Pieces of Gold got noticed by the filmmaker who happened to be walking by during a screening a few blocks away.
As word of my reviews spread (Seattle really is a small town), I started getting invited to press screenings, and when I sold my store a few years later I had a new plan: if I always had wanted to be a writer, then for heaven’s sake, I needed to go be a writer.
Being rejected twice from the Writers’ Workshop in Iowa (lesson #1), I used the money from the sale of my store to get a different kind of film school education—I traveled the world, hopping from one film festival to another.
When I say the Berlin Film Festival was my film school, it truly was. But so too was the outdoor cinema in remote, northeastern Nepal, the film project I tried to sell in St. Petersburg, Russia, and the NYU thesis I produced in Moses Lake, Washington. I had read Uta Hagen’s advice to actors, and so wrote “writer” as my occupation wherever I went, having actually never written anything.
Returning home to Seattle in 1993, I started working (ahem, volunteering) at KCMU Radio (now KEXP) as their copy writer and weekly film critic. Amazingly, I was a writer. I had been right that writers didn’t make any money, but at least I was one.
By the time I returned to the Sundance Film Festival in 1994, a bad audio recording of my radio interview there with the boys from BackBeat (lesson #2) ended up being the writers’ break I needed—the interview instead became my first article for MovieMaker Magazine. I would spend the next six years as a columnist and editor-at-large for them.
Being gainfully underemployed as a film writer in Seattle also had unexpected advantages. During the 1993 Seattle Int’l Film Festival, which I covered as an official member of the press, I interviewed nearly every visiting filmmaker and saw close to 100 festival films. My presence at the festival caught the eye of the staff, and I was offered the job of festival publicist in 1994, with the red carpet, World Premiere of Braveheart and the attendance of Mel Gibson as my trial by fire (lessons #3-150).
I have a filmmaker friend who hates it when people write about themselves on the web, and abhors the concept of blogging/tweeting/facing/spacing. I want to take his aversions to heart here because really this long blurb about how I got started is only of interest to my mother…unless you are an emerging filmmaker yourself wondering if someone else’s path might hold a key to your own.
Without this support, I can’t say for sure I would have achieved what I have achieved. If, in some way, this web site or my experience can offer that kind of support to someone else coming into the business, I would be honored. If we can also encourage a dynamic conversation that benefits the greater artistic film community: all the better.
And if you are like my friend and abhor personal statements, but have made it this far, then thank you for allowing me my “Ted Baxter” moment.
I’d love to live up to that reputation.