I’ll admit it. I had given up on film, forever. I was 37, had two toddlers with special needs, found myself living in the middle of Central Pennsylvania and handled mindless data entry for my husband’s family business. My high haired, heavily made-up, mini-skirt wearing days were over. I traded in auditions for doctor’s appointments and pageants for Pampers. I wrote letters to medical assistance instead of writing screenplays. I merely existed in a self-imposed, parental prison until one day, a film set, set me free.
A friend was looking for extras to appear in the Bradley Cooper Blockbuster ‘Limitless’ (Dark Fields as it will always be affectionately known to all us crazy extras). My husband encouraged me to submit my photo. I laughed and stated, “I can’t.” – me, a born spotlight seeking show pony claiming immediate defeat. I couldn’t even recall having muttered those words before. But there they were, dangling in the air like embarrassing, old Christmas lights you’re just too tired to take down.
My children’s young and enthusiastic home health aide, Maya, proceeded to berate me for what seemed like an eternity. “You should do this. It’ll be fun. I’ll take your picture!” she squealed excitedly. “You always tell the boys that they can do anything they put their minds to.”
Ugh. There it was, the awful truth. I had been preaching to them for years. My son Jett, diagnosed with autism, I had told could be president one day and my beautiful little boy Dane, born with cerebral palsy, I had promised would walk if it killed me. But there I sat, devoid of MY dreams. All I had left was theirs. In that single moment I understood the true weight of ‘Leading by Example’.
Searching the house for a blank wall to pose against, we held an impromptu photo shoot. Maya taught me to pose just as she had learned on the ‘Tyra Banks Show’. I felt 37. I uploaded the picture and we waited. The phone rang. I felt 17. To my surprise, the news was good.
The next 24 hours were a whirlwind of excitement. I barely made it to the local Target to shop for a ‘muted’ wardrobe, whatever that meant. Why had I always assumed all Targets were open 24 hours? My husband mapped my way including a satellite picture of the parking lot I was instructed to park in. At a very cold, dark, three o’clock in the morning, I awoke (as if I’d even slept!) to make the long three-hour trek to Philly. The teamsters and I had a 6am call time and no way was I going to be late!
The day was a magical blur of lights, camera and action. I fell right back into my genuinely excitable, Midwestern “Hi! Nice to meet you!” mode. Bet it was hard to identify the newbie huh? I was so excited to be there and so sad for the twenty something’s that already seemed so burnt out. Just wait til they had to stay up with a crying infant all night. They’d learn what burnt out really is!
Bradley Cooper was friendly, gorgeous and always just out of arms reach. (Well you can’t be greedy when that experience alone is enough to change your life forever!) I was thrown into the back of a cab with another extra and came out with a fast friend. Not the kind of friend that you find on facebook and then never see again, but the kind that becomes a part of who you are.
After several arguments with my GPS, and an excited, most likely incomprehensible phone call to my sleeping mother, I drove home with an insatiable fire in my belly. My family greeted someone else at the door that night. Someone better. My mother-in-law looked knowingly at me and said, “You’re going to do this again, aren’t you?”
I woke up the next morning and made an appointment to have headshots taken. I wrote a resume, combed Craig’s List, scheduled auditions and quickly landed roles in several features. I was actually directed by Caleb Deschanel in a Health Care commercial! Best of all, I began writing again.
I leapt out of bed each morning. My energy seemed boundless. Not even six months later I had been tortured, dismembered, disrobed, disembodied, clubbed, slashed, electrocuted, had a pie thrown in my face… and loved every second of it. Unfortunately, the three-hour drive to the big cities was killing me (literally this time!)
I decided to take charge and take chances. Why keep going to bright lights? I would bring them to me! I had never felt so fearless or been so happy. I was older, wiser and I had Google! Less than a year later my husband and I created our own production company. I wrote, produced and directed my own feature film. On December 3rd 2011, CAVEAT premiered to almost 700 people and we are beginning a festival tour next month.
My husband served as the graphic designer, web developer, music supervisor, and technical advisor and in the eleventh hour filled in as my lead male ‘Jeremy’. His reviews have been fantastic! (In all fairness, he had a great director). My mother-in-law was our production accountant, my father-in-law our executive producer and original score composer. My four-year-old son Dane wears his “Wagon Pullee” IMDb credit proudly and enthusiastically asks when Mommy is going to make another movie because he, of course, will be starring in it (he’s actually a featured character but please don’t tell him that!). Group 13 has already started production on that very movie, POINTLESS.
I wish I could bottle the energy that I was transformed by that day. I often hear “How in the world did you make all that happen in such a short time?” The answer is actually quite simple. Live each moment as if it were already a memory. I’ve made it my mission to show my boys that with confidence, creativity and surrounding yourself with talented people, anything is possible. No matter where you are, who you are or how old you are never ever, give up.
Julie Ufema is a Writer/Director/Producer living on the Rich Coast Coffee compound in Lewistown, PA with her husband, in-laws and two amazing boys. She and her husband Jason co-own Group 13 Productions, a production company specializing in feature length films and creative web series shot in Central Pennsylvania.
You can see more than any one person could ever want to know about her at: www.julieufema.com and have a look at her first feature CAVEAT at: www.caveatmovie.com. For more information and a sneak peek at her next feature POINTLESS go to www.facebook.com/Pointlessmovie.