In an industry where so many creatives are becoming multi-hyphenates, it can be intimidating to those who have always defined themselves with one specific label. Up until about six years ago, I deemed myself strictly an actor and had no interest in exploring any other means of storytelling. Whether I liked it or not at that moment, the truth was I had been a writer and director my whole life (my parents had hundreds of VHS tapes to prove it). But I was not a child anymore, and the pressure I put on myself and my work lacked the freedom and creativity I once had as a seven-year-old barking orders and dialogue “on set” to my little sister. I was fearful of stepping into new territory and expanding my creative endeavors. Somehow, I thought it would diminish myself as an actor: I had worked so hard to pave the way for an acting career, why would I give all that up to start trying to be a filmmaker? Would that not begin to spread myself too thin?
However, once I looked that fear in the face (with the encouragement of friends and my acting coach and mentor, John Rosenfeld), it became very liberating. Sitting with friends and collaborators and writing stories together started bringing genuine excitement to my creative life again. I was not sitting around waiting for my agent to call or skimming the breakdowns to find characters I was excited to play. I was actively participating in creating those characters and stories that I had so longed to portray as an actor. Acting had always been my first love, but the reality of being an actor is that there is so much out of your control: you do the work, show up for class, prepare for auditions, and continue to build relationships within the industry, but just because you are well prepared, talented, and excited about a role does not guarantee you being cast. And the most incredible part about beginning to write for myself and my friends was that we could lean into the characters and stories we wanted to tell. We could let our points of view start to shine through the pages we wrote.
On set of "Oh, Baby!" and "Yours are Mine" Photos by Jamie Goto & Cat Gwynn
Let me be incredibly honest: none of this has been easy. With each new project you continue to learn more about filmmaking, more about your individual style, and how you collaborate with others. Most days on set I feel like I am soaking up every bit of knowledge from others that I possibly can, especially behind the camera. It has become very exciting and freeing to admit I know nothing, and yet also have the burning desire to continue to learn every single day. And it has easily been some of the most rewarding work I have ever done in my life. To reflect upon coffee shop writing sessions with friends that turned into months of preproduction, to filming, to festival circuits – it all happens in a whirlwind, and it can be a wildly fun ride.
To any actor that may be considering beginning to write or make films, I encourage you go for it with vigor. Your voice is uniquely yours, and the world needs it. Lean into the stories you have always wanted to be a part of, and let it flow. The words do not always fall freely to the page, but when they do, it can light you up creatively in ways you would never expect. Surround yourself with great people who lift up your work, dive into the collaboration with others, always be willing to learn, and be ready to watch the magic happen. It can be glorious. And the truth is, every element of your storytelling will inform the other. My acting drastically improved and became much freer as I leaned into writing and directing, and vise versa. The creative expansion I had been so terrified of had done the exact opposite of what I feared.
Funny how that works.