Fear drives everything I do creatively. I’m constantly examining my fears, letting them get the best of me, cowering beneath them, until I feel like I’m suffocating and I have no choice but to jump in and face them head on. But even then, the fears never subside. I’m never left fully blissed out in my creativity, confident in what I’m doing. God, I wish! Nope, I continue to wrestle with fear. Sometimes I can give them an ass-whooping (hey, I grew up in the South…) and other times they lead me to do things I’m not so proud of, like yelling at someone that doesn’t deserve it or laying in bed longer than I should. So fear is my game. My friend and my enemy. And one thing I do know: fear tells me exactly where I need to go. Most recently it lead me to my most recent project, PARTY POLITICS, a short political satire, directed by Philipp Wolter and written by Jocelyn O’Neil and Todd Morris.
A Little Back Story
In the fall of 2011, I started attending the Occupy Wall Street rallies in NYC. I was really moved by what I was hearing and experiencing at the rallies: voices finally expressing all of the frustrations with the economy, the imbalance of wealth, the lack of healthcare and education. It was a mix of emotions – inspiring, sad, touching, frustrating. And necessary. Someone was taking a stand! And I felt so small in this sea of hopefulness. I started wondering what I could do. How could I be of service?
These rallies also coincided with a need in myself that had been growing louder and louder in recent years: to do more meaningful work. To shed light on social issues. To share, to teach, to learn. To think bigger than “me.” To leave things better than how I found them.
I started talking about OWS to my filmmaker friends. What did it meant to them? Why aren’t we DOING anything? And ultimately, PARTY POLITICS came out of those conversations.
The Nuts and Bolts
My husband, Philipp Wolter and I have a production company called FilmGym. We shoot films (so far short dramatics), music videos and commercials. He writes and directs, I produce and we’re both actors. In addition to these projects, FilmGym also hosts short film screenings and a monthly screenplay workshop to create a community amongst independent filmmakers in NYC.
In the fall of 2011, I decided to challenge some of the writers in the screenplay workshop to come up with 15-minute Occupy Wall Street inspired pieces. This lead to the development of something I call FilmGym DOGMA, which was the direct result of my desire to create work that takes on a deeper meaning. DOGMA’s mission is “to make provocative films spotlighting the political and social issues of the day that are skipped over or sanitized by the mainstream media.”
By January 2012, we were workshopping four OWS inspired short scripts. I chose one to go into production, based on how simply we could shoot it. That’s another goal of FilmGym DOGMA: simplicity. What I liked about PARTY POLITICS is that it was one location and we could shoot it in one night, and could include a lot of actors. FilmGym has a strong community of actors and filmmakers and this project was a great way to involve as many talented people as we could.
Another big factor in my wanting to shoot this film was that we could do it in a single camera move – a là Paul Thomas Anderson. I was really excited about attempting this from a filmmaking perspective. The story is told mostly from a waitress’s point of view as she caters a surprise birthday party for a former corporate dude who’s recently been fired and become an Occupier.
The Real Reasons
Ok, yes, it was the simplicity of the shoot, yes, it was the appeal of a challenging camera move. But there was the bigger reason to make this film: its message. Being from Alabama, living in NYC for the last decade and having a European husband, I’m used to hearing a lot of different political views. What has become alarming to me is “America’s growing inability to logically and intelligently discuss today’s most important issues.” This quote is so well put that I’m borrowing it from PARTY POLITICS’ writers, Jocelyn and Todd. We made this film in the hopes that “through humor and satire we can help loosen the grasp on our dogmatic beliefs and rekindle healthy, good-natured debate.” Again, borrowed from Jocelyn and Todd.
There were then of course deeper fears that I needed to face. I needed to commit to work that is politically vocal, but it made me feel much more vulnerable than I’ve felt before. I needed to lead a team of producers when I wasn’t always sure I had the right answers. I needed to take a bolder stance in the work I was making. Thoughts of people that I might alienate or offend, even within my own group of co-creators, plagued me. I had to remind myself of something I’ve learned along the way: the things that scare you the most are the things you need to do.
Doesn’t that suck?? But this where your gold is. Going into those scary places helps to create opportunities for deeper human connection. And it usually leads to good, stimulating conversation.
I could go on, but I’ll leave you filmmakers out there with this: It’s easier to drift towards the middle of the road. To make films that only scratch the surface. In this economic climate, it’s easier to want to do something more mainstream for a bigger audience. But at what cost? If along the way, you’ve watered down your opinion and beliefs, and subsequently your story, then you’re not doing the audience or yourself any favors.
It’s my hope that FilmGym DOGMA’s future films will continue to challenge my artistic self, the other artists involved and the audiences we reach. Party Politics is just the first step for me as a filmmaker along that scary, yet beautiful path.
As Ethan Hawke once wrote: Without fear, how will I find courage?
Amen, Ethan. Amen.
Michelle Glick is a New York City based actress and producer. Michelle has performed in theatrical productions in venues such as The Upright Citizen’s Brigade, The Actor’s Studio & The Cherry Lane Theatre. She also tours with her autobiographical solo show, “Asian Belle.”
Her films have screened at film festivals such as The Hampton’s International, The Los Angeles Asian American Film Festival, Sao Paolo International and SXSW. Most notably, she took the lead in the feature film “Exposed,” which won the Best Feature Film Award at the New York International Independent Film Festival.
Through her production company, The FilmGym, she’s helped bring to life award-winning films such as “The Bridge,” which won awards on both the national and international levels, and “The Sea Is All I Know,” starring 2011 Oscar winner Melissa Leo (The Fighter) and Peter Gerety (The Wire). Both films officially qualified for the Oscar race. FilmGym DOGMA is her latest passion, whose focus is “to make provocative films spotlighting the political and social issues of the day that are skipped over or sanitized by the mainstream media.” “Party Politics” is the first film to evolve out of DOGMA’s agenda. She is represented by Don Buchwald & Associates. For more information in Michelle, please visit Michelleglick.com and FilmGym.com.