Good Luck: Or How Ellen Pompeo Wound Up in My First Film and What Does That Have to Do with A Life’s Work

Ellen Pompeo by Beowulf Sheehand

The other day I watched an excellent web series called Planet X, directed by Jacob Hensberry and written and produced by Jake and Ken Cook. I know Jake, so I emailed him and complimented him, his cast, and crew on a job very well done. Jake replied, “Thanks so much! Really glad you enjoyed it. We certainly worked very hard on it and I got pretty lucky with my cast.”

I was about to blast off an email scolding him for using the word “luck.” Luck seems to me a dismissive word, as if talent, drive, learning, hard work, and stick-to-it-ive-ness had nothing to do with success. After all, he and Ken wrote the parts, had people in mind, did some casting, held auditions, and made choices. “Luck, if there is such a thing,” I was going to write Jake, “favors the prepared.” But I didn’t write that email because my timer went off reminding my that my clothes were dry.

As I folded my socks, I thought about luck and casting, and I remembered how Ellen Pompeo wound up in my first film, 8 1/2 x 11. (Watch it!) We were about to cast the film and I had a look in mind for “Human Resources Woman,” but not a specific actress. One night, I was watching television and a Visa commercial came on. It featured a young actress who looked and acted exactly like what I imagined this character to look and act like. I turned to the woman I was living with at the time, K., and said, “That woman would be perfect in the film!” K., who was a make-up artist, said, “I just did a shoot with her yesterday. She seemed really nice. I have her number. I could ask her.”

 

Ellen Pompeo in 8 1/2 x 11
Ellen Pompeo in 8 1/2 x 11. Photo by Beowulf Sheehan

She did. Ellen auditioned (this was 1999, before she was on Grey’s Anatomy and before her break out role in Midnight Mile) and she was fantastic.

So, luck. Think of all the things that had to happen in order for Ellen to wind up in 8 1/2 x 11. Ellen has to get cast in a Visa commercial and it has to run as I’m casting my film. I had to be watching TV (which I rarely did/do). I had to be with a make up artist who just happened to recently work with Ellen and become friendly with her. Ellen had to be amenable to auditioning for a goofy short film about going on job interviews. These are just the first things that come to mind. I could follow this thread back in time a long, long way.

So, luck? Maybe. Had I not seen Ellen on TV that day, some other actress would have been cast and who knows what would have happened then? I was very happy to work with Ellen at the time. And yes, I felt lucky, too. But that luck is different from the kind of luck one feels looking back. Maybe luck is something you see in the rearview mirror.

Which brings me to A Life’s Work. I know I am lucky to be making this film, with the fine people who are in it and the exceptional people who are making it with me. But I have a feeling when it’s done (when? WHEN?!?! by the end of 2015), when I look back at it, I will be astounded at just how lucky I was.

How about you, feeling lucky?

Photos of Ellen Pompeo on the set of 8 1/2 x 11 by Beowulf Sheehan.
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What’s A Life’s Work about? It’s a documentary about people engaged in projects they won’t see completed in their lifetimes. You can find out more on this page.

We recently ran a crowdfunding campaign and raised enough to pay an animator and license half of the archival footage the film requires. We need just a bit more to pay for licensing the other half of the archival footage, sound mixing, color correction, E&O insurance and a bunch of smaller things. When that’s done, the film is done! It’s really very VERY close!

So here’s how you can help get this film out to the world. It’s very simple: click the button…

Donate Now!

… and enter the amount you want to contribute (as little as $5, as much as $50,000) and the other specifics. That’s it. No login or registration required. Your contribution does not line my pocket; because the film is fiscally sponsored by the New York Foundation for the Arts, all money given this way is overseen by them and is guaranteed to go toward the completion of this film. Being fiscally sponsored also means that your contribution is tax-deductible. So why not do it? The amount doesn’t matter as much as the fact that you’re helping to bring a work of art into the world. And that, I think, is really exciting!

Questions? Email me at d a v i d ( aT } b l o o d o r a n g e f i l m s {d o t] c o m[/color-box]

 

Unlikely and Sneaky Inspiration

8 1/2 x 11 star Paul Albe

The other day, as I ranted to a friend about the state of the economy and my unemployed status, I remembered a commercial that aired in 1971, when I was a wee-little boy. Here it is!*

*[The clip I originally posted was on Youtube, then removed and so hasn’t been here for a couple of years. I was contacted by M. who, after a few email back and forths, revealed that he was the commercial’s art director! He pointed me to the Vimeo video. Thanks, M.S. ]

At the time I thought it was hilarious. Just as you don’t need to know physics to find Coyote and Roadrunner funny, so too I didn’t need to know the social commentary it delivered. President Lincoln at an employment agency! What a gas!

I hadn’t seen this commercial since it originally aired. When I watched it for the first time last week, I was struck by its similarities to my first short film, 8 1/2 x 11, made in 1998. Click here to watch it. (By the way, if you’re a fan of a certain medical drama that airs on ABC, you may recognize a certain Meredith Grey.)

The idea for 8 1/2 x 11 came to me one humid summer evening. I had spent the day going on job interviews — I think three or four of them — and that night, in the shower, I tried to scrub them off me. I couldn’t. They ran through my head, but in a strange way; they had merged into one mega-interview that I couldn’t separate. I thought that was kind of funny, so I wrote a short script. When I showed it to my friend RM he suggested I direct it. I had written screenplays, but never thought of directing a film before. One thing led to another and I wound up directing and co-producing the film. You have RM to blame. And whoever handed me that Orangina on the stifling set, but that’s another story.

Here’s a screenshot from the commercial–Lincoln’s hands fidget with his hat.

Here are a couple of storyboard panels. We shot the hands but never used it in the film. I’ve put boxes around the relevant notes on the right panel.

Here’s another screenshot from the commercial.

A messy eater.

Here’s a screenshot from 8 1/2 x 11, featuring the amazing actor, Paul Albe.

A messy eater.

I didn’t have the commercial from 25 years earlier in mind when I wrote or storyboarded, nor when we shot or edited the film. I wasn’t thinking “homage.” And yet, there’s no denying that this commercial made an impression and was somewhere in my consciousness. After all, I still remember it.

I mention this because I am always struck by how things stay with us. You really never know what that thing will be. It can be a trivial thing, like a commercial that influences how a short film is shot, or a significant thing, like a beautiful voice that transfixes you and steers you to your life’s work, or a history tidbit learned in grammar school that leads you to make a documentary 40-odd years later.

Do you have a similar story you’d like to share? Something from your youth that you’re still carrying around? I’d love to hear it.

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What’s A Life’s Work about? It’s a documentary about people engaged in projects they won’t see completed in their lifetimes. You can find out more on this page.

We recently ran a crowdfunding campaign and raised enough to pay an animator and license half of the archival footage the film requires. We need just a bit more to pay for licensing the other half of the archival footage, sound mixing, color correction, E&O insurance and a bunch of smaller things. When that’s done, the film is done! It’s really very VERY close!

So here’s how you can help get this film out to the world. It’s very simple: click the button…

Donate Now!

… and enter the amount you want to contribute (as little as $5, as much as $50,000) and the other specifics. That’s it. No login or registration required. Your contribution does not line my pocket; because the film is fiscally sponsored by the New York Foundation for the Arts, all money given this way is overseen by them and is guaranteed to go toward the completion of this film. Being fiscally sponsored also means that your contribution is tax-deductible. So why not do it? The amount doesn’t matter as much as the fact that you’re helping to bring a work of art into the world. And that, I think, is really exciting!

Questions? Email me at d a v i d ( aT } b l o o d o r a n g e f i l m s {d o t] c o m[/color-box]

[cross-posted on extracriticum.com]