When I first moved to Los Angeles to be an actor, writing was something that I really thought of as a hobby and directing was something I hardly thought about at all. Yes, I had gone to the New York Film Academy for filmmaking and had made three short 16mm films there but to be honest, the real reason I enrolled in the program was to figure out how to be a better film actor. The directing aspect just seemed incidental. And as much as I enjoyed my time in that program, I was still 100% focused on acting when I came to Los Angeles. I had no idea what the term multi-hyphenate meant and it never occurred to me that in my time working in Los Angeles, that I would become one. And what a difficult relationship I would have with figuring out what that meant and if it was really a good thing.
Three years ago, I was on the film festival circuit with a feature film I wrote and directed, “Golden Earrings”. The project was born out of a time when I first moved to L.A. and my friends and I were making a lot of short films and putting on one acts in black box theatres just to kind of keep our creative juices flowing as we sorted out an actor’s life here. A lot of these projects we did, I either wrote or directed or did both. Really, just out of necessity. Someone had to and I had opinions about things, so why not. But then one project lead to another and suddenly, I found myself on set of a feature film that I was directing and I was gobsmacked. How did this happen? I’m an actor, for goodness sake. I don’t really belong here. It seemed like madness.
When we were on the festival circuit for the film, I would have a lot of people or fellow filmmakers come up to me and talk with me about filmmaking and distribution and all of these director-type things, thinking that I was just a filmmaker like they were. And again I remember thinking, how did this happen? I’m an actor, for goodness sake. I’m not a filmmaker. But they didn’t know that. They didn’t know how I’d made the film or why. So I found myself in conversations about distribution models and screeners and reviews and “world premieres” for months and months. And frankly, after a while, despite “Golden Earrings”success, it wore me down. I felt like I was becoming more of a filmmaker than an actor. And I noticed that the film was where I was putting all of my attention. I wasn’t getting as many auditions suddenly and when I would get them, I would be really tired and unfocused at them. Thinking about this review we’d gotten or why can’t we make this stupid Pro-Res file. And I would leave an audition knowing I’d done less than my best and that is never a good feeling. I realized that I had thought I could sort of dabble in this whole writer/director thing on top of my acting career and it would be fine. Better, even. But, I found that, for me, the more focus and attention I put towards the film, the less I was putting towards acting. I wasn’t putting in the daily hours that you need to make any headway, but yet I was putting a lot of hours into the film. And I started to get resentful of it. I began to equate this whole writer/director thing with being less of an actor. Like that saying, “jack of all trades, master of none”. So I decided once “Golden Earrings” wrapped up, I was done. No more of this crazy multi-hyphenate nonsense. I want to be an actor and I will devote myself to that 100%.
Well, like all brilliant plans, this one had a flaw. During the whole festival experience, I saw a lot of movies and my head started to fill with lots of creative scenarios and scenes and it all had to go someplace. So, I started to write. A lot. I worked for about 9 months straight on a feature film noir that had sort of been a dream project of mine. I wrote an action feature for a friend and I wrote a horror feature because I had seen something on Animal Planet that revolted and then inspired me. And I wrote about a half dozen short films. While at the same time, I started to re-focus on my acting career. And this time, it all seemed to work. I started to work a lot more as an actor, I got better representation, I started to take classes again. And I felt like I had time for all of it because the writing I could do entirely on my own time. It’s just me and a computer. And I thought, a-ha! This is the the magic formula. I can be an actor-writer. This is the multi-hyphenate that works for me. No more crazy director stuff. Just focus on writing and acting and all will be well.
And once again, like all brilliant plans, this one had a flaw. Curiosity. Stupid, stupid curiosity. Last year, when I wrote a web series called “Misdirected” and gave it to Lauren Mora for consideration, in the back of my mind (assuming she liked it and wanted to do it), I knew a certain conversation might be forthcoming. Because I had directed Lauren in Golden Earrings, I knew there was a chance she’d ask if I wanted to direct “Misdirected.” I hadn’t really thought about that when I was writing it, but once it was in her hands, I suddenly realized this conversation might actually happen. And in the beginning, it put a knot in my stomach. I flashed back to all the difficult things about “Golden Earrings”, the times where it consumed so much of my life, where people I’d meet wouldn’t even know I was an actor and how it seemed to separate me from acting so much. And I thought, oh, well forget that. I’ve discovered a sweet spot with this whole actor-writer thing. Who needs all that hassle again? But then there was something. I knew it but was just too scared to really say it. But the more I thought about it, the more I knew it was true. I wanted to direct it. I was curious. I was curious to see what it would be like to direct again. Was “Golden Earrings” just a fluke? I felt like I had grown as an artist, but would I be any better a director? How would I handle directing a serialized comedy compared to directing a psychological thriller? All these things I wanted to know. And because Lauren did indeed ask me the question, I came to discover the answers to all of them.
The main discovery for me was how I could, depending on how I set up the conditions, work as a writer, a director and an actor. It’s not as impossible as I thought but I just have to be wary of certain things so I’m not making a sacrifice that will make me deeply unhappy. Not being a producer on the project made it much easier for me. Especially not having to be responsible for the life of the project once the directing is done. Directing something with far less content to shoot & edit made the process even easier. And frankly, having more confidence in what I was doing. Directing “Misdirected” was such a joy because I felt way better about the process of directing. I felt more confident to try things, let the actors try things and work on creating a fun and creative shooting environment for my cast and crew. And I think the results are up there on the screen. I think there’s a wonderful on-screen energy to “Misdirected” and working on it really rounded out what the term “director” meant to me in a much healthier way.
When I talk to other actors about being a multi-hyphenate, I still think it’s a bit of a cautionary tale. Being a working actor is such a difficult thing, especially in a competitive environment like Los Angeles. You have to scrap and fight for every TV guest star or three lines in a studio feature. And I think it’s very easy to take your eye off the ball. Yet, I think having side projects where you are putting yourself out there, are also very important. It allows you to practice your craft, meet and work with new people and show the business what you can really do beyond two lines on “Mad Men”. But I think you have to find that sweet spot in the middle. After all, there are only 24 hours in a day and I think you succeed where you put in the most hours. And it’s very easy to let that side project take over most of those hours. But figuring out a balance that works for me has made me more comfortable with the term actor-writer-director. Just as long as actor comes first.
Born and raised in Sacramento, CA, Marion Kerr received her B.A. in Drama from UC Irvine, studied in London and at the New York Film Academy. She’s appeared in numerous films, commercials, plays and tv shows. Favorite film credits include the Keri Russell thriller “Dark Skies”, a short film about the Bronte sisters, “Lines” and Sabi Pictures’ “Heart of Now”. Favorite TV credits include CBS’s “Criminal Minds”, “How I Met Your Mother” and a national “Heineken” commercial directed by Todd Haynes (“Mildred Pierce”). She also wrote and directed the award-winning feature film, “Golden Earrings” and the comedic web series, “Misdirected”. Check out MarionKerr.com for more details.