Issue #7 2021
Featuring Actress, Model, Best-Selling Author, Entrepreneur, and Cabaret Singer
PHOTO: Courtesy of Irene Michaels
Cover Photo: Irene Michaels Publisher
Lon Levin Editor at large
Jade Dressler Editor/Contributing Writer
©2021 Levinland Media All Rights Reserved
“Change is the one thing in life
“It is the glistening autumnal side of summer. I feel a cool vein in the breeze, which braces my thought, and I pass
with pleasure over sheltered and sunny portions of the sand where the summer’s heat is undiminished, and I realize what a friend I am losing.” – Henry David Thoreau
“ENOUGH?” The Editor expresses his feelings and poses the question about how much is enough.
IRENE MICHAELS Page 6 Entrepreneur, Actress, Model, Writer and Businesswoman. A winner at anything she undertakes. KEVIN BRICKLIN “SOFT PRETZEL MAESTRO” Page 12 Entrepreneur, Marketing-Savvy businessman. Kevin traded his Warner Bros day job to follow his passion. MARK VALADEZ, MULTI-TALENTED PRODUCER Page 17 Multi-talented Mark clues us in on the origins and plots of the hit show “Queen of the South. STACEY BENNETT AND SHARI BELAFONTE
Well known actress/model and Producer Shari and her marketing and producing partner Stacey formed a production company called Rowan Moon.
LESLIE COBER, ARTIST : A LOVING TOUCH Page Leslie’s mural is the work of a master artist at the peak of her powers RAINA “RI” ANDERSON A master photographer and printer and a helluva circus performer too!
“To say it was a beautiful day would not begin to explain it. It was that day when the end of summer intersects perfectly with the start of fall.” – Ann Patchett REAL CREATIVE MAGAZINE is a subsidiary of Levinland Studio ©2021 All rights reserved. Lon Levin/Real Creative Magazine (RCM) All content is the property of RCM and cannot be copied or used without the expressed written consent of the publisher
“The artist is nothing without the gift, but the gift is nothing without work.” Émile Zola
Photography by Lon Levin
The $20,000,000 Beverly Hills pool... Is it enough?
my opinion Enough \ i-nuf
by Lon Levin
: occurring in such quantity, quality, or scope as to fully meet demands, needs, or expectations So you want to be a creative person? A writer, artist, actor, architect or musician? It’s not an easy path and without great drive you may not reach your goal. However, I think the bigger question is how much success is enough for you? I remember I conversation I had with my father back in the early 70’s. I was still in school and like most people my age I had a healthy mistrust in our government. Nixon was president, there were riots in the streets of Los Angeles, and the Viet Nam war raged on. My father was a very prominent and successful entertainment executive.When the subject of how much did I think was a good salary I said my goal was to make $100,000 a year. That would be enough for me to feel happy. My father laughed and told me “Good luck!” After I graduated I started my journey as a freelance illustrator. I made around $8000 my first year in business. To say I was dissapointed would be a huge understatement. The next year wasn’t much better. My dreams of making big money started to fade into a harsh reality. I couldn’t support myself or my wife-to-be. I had to be practical. My step-dad offered a lifeline, I could come to work for him in the building business where my design skills would be an asset and I could learn how to run a construction job from the ground up. And I was soon to learn that was literal. My first job was to water proof concrete block walls which would end up one day being walls to a condo garage. It was over 90 degrees in San Diego the day I started. There was no one else working the site except my step-brother, Craig. He handed me a traditional mop and a bucket of a thick, black tar-like substance and said “Let’s do it brother!”
After a few months into the job I had learned how to lay slabs with rebar, install plumbing, run a cut off saw and assist with rough carpentry. I also learned I had enough of the building business and not enough of being an artist. Almost daily I gave myself illustration assignments to create a new portfolio. It felt like forever that I worked in construction and sales of 156 condominiums. On a year to the date of my first day on the job I quit. It would take me another three years of odd jobs, learning art direction at night and creating a killer portfolio I got a job that would change my life forever. I was hired as an art director for 20th Century Fox’s theatrical division. I thought this is good enough...for now. To make a long story short I spent the next 20 years climbing the ladder of jobs until I was head of an art department for Warner Bros. Worldwide Entertainment and I was making well over the $100,000. Oddly enough it wasn’t enough. After all, I was trained to be an illustrator. I decided I had reached the point where I needed to pursue what meant something to me regardless of the finances. For the next ten years I followed my desire to illustrate children’s books, learn social media, create a daily cartoon and paint. I didn’t make much money but I was happy with the journey. Something still gnawed at me. I was happy doing what I was doing but I wasn’t really making a impact on anyone’s life but my own. That’s when the idea for a newsletter called The Illustrators Journal took form. It started small, I got a few illustrators to talk with me about their artist’s journey. Soon I was doing four issues a year then six. I was helping others learn how other artists had become successful I had found my purpose...It was enough. It makes me recall a saying by Socrates. “Smart people learn from everything and everyone, average people from their experiences, stupid people already have all the answers.”
IRENE Interview by
As an entrepreneur, philanthropist, and accomplished equestrian, Irene made it a priority to lead an active and healthy lifestyle. This ultimately led her to the development of I On Youth Collection by Irene Michaels™, an anti-aging skincare product line. On
a personal note, Irene enjoys spending time with her animals,
whether it be at home or her barn.
cy and exceptionalism in riding, she’s earned her honor in the equestrian community. ride in prestigious hunts globally.
When I was a little girl, I would sit on my front porch watching my neighbors pass by, and I’d say, “Hi! What’s your name?” And when I’d get my answer, I’d go on to inquire, “And what do you do?” I must have been six years old. My mother used to tell me, “Oh, you’re going to be the next Ann Landers.” Ann Landers, the syndicated advice columnist who appeared in newspapers across the country, was big at the time. And then, there were the many hours I spent on the phone as a young 7
This distinction enables her to
When did you first think about what you wanted to do as an adult? What kind of kid were you? Where did you grow up? What or Who were your influences?
“Claire said that I had that sparkle, and I believed her. So I kept on studying.”
girl, listening to my friends’ problems. My mother would say, “Irene, you’ve got to take all that creativity and compassion and put it to good use someday.” And that is what I have done my entire life. As a child, I was very inquisitive and creative, and I loved playing make-believe. I was curious and adventurous, and I have stayed that way my whole life. My cousin, Kathy, was very creative as well, and when I was in middle school, she invited me to come along to one of her dance lessons. Now that was something I had no idea about. But I was ready to give it a try. My mother bought me tap shoes, and together we took a bus to the studio. And I started taking tap lessons. I had no idea of what I was doing, but on that first day, I fell in love with dance. So I started taking lessons along with my cousin, and long after she had stopped, I continued. Actually, I still take tap lessons.
and was so impressed that, after a while, she took me under her wing and made me her protégé, paying for all my training. For the next decade, she taught me, I learned, and I went on tour with a young dance group. We worked in state fairs and all kinds of parties, private parties for prominent people. Claire said that I had that sparkle, and I believed her. So I kept on studying. Eventually, I ended up in an off-Broadway production, and I kept on dancing. But as we all know, a dancer’s life as a dancer is short. At thirty years of age, a dancer is generally considered washed up. I did some dancing until I was almost forty. So I was very, very lucky. In my twenties, I was asked to do a modeling gig. I knew nothing about modeling. So of course, I said, “I’d better take this opportunity.”
What I learned in those early lessons was that I have dancing in my blood. I’ve wanted to be a dancer ever since, and I have spent much time learning and studying dance. One time, as I was doing some exploring, I met a woman by the name of Claire Powell. Claire owned a studio in the city of Chicago called Powell Academy for the Arts. I came from humble beginnings, but I knew one thing: I wanted to take a bunch of classes and become a professional dancer.
I jumped at that opportunity, and in a short time, maybe one year or so, I became one of the top ten models in Chicago. I was in several local magazines, and I won several beauty contests. I was given the title of Miss Photoflash in the first such contest I ever won. Over time, in moving forward from dancing and modeling, at age twenty-seven, I decided to open my own modeling agency. Within one year of opening, I had around thirty-nine employees. I specialized in fashion shows, and I was on a pretty good roll.
Whenever I could afford it, I would go to Claire’s studio after school and take classes, paying for them with money in an envelope, or even in coins, whichever I happened to have available. She felt that I had something
“At the height of my career, I was thrown through a car windshield shattering the entire left side of my face.”
What kind of kid were you? Where did you grow up? What or Who were your influences? I was a very driven, adventurous, and restless little girl. I grew up in Chicago and have lived in the city most of my life. I loved playing make-believe and old-time glamour queens at that time were my idols…Grace Kelly, Ava Gardner, Vivien Leigh, I loved her fire. Tell us how your background played a part in your choice to be an actress/producer? And did your stint as a dancer/model factor into that decision? I was always interested in dance since I visited the first tap class that my neighbor took me to. It was love at first sight. I loved the art form. I also loved the choreography and directing the kids in class, which told me I could become a producer. I didn’t become a producer and writer till later in my life, but why not. It was creative and I loved creating. How did your career shift happen (actress to producer/ entrepreneur)? Over time, in moving forward from dancing and modeling, at age twenty-seven, I decided to open my own modeling agency. Within one year of opening, I had around thirty-nine employees. I specialized in fashion shows, and I was on a pretty good roll. And then, at the height of my career, something horrible happened. One day, I was thrown through a car windshield in an auto accident, shattering the entire left side of my face.
I sustained a blowout fracture in my eye, along with acquiring 1500 stitches. There went my beloved modeling career. It took me over three years to get better and regain my confidence. It was a great deal of work and a big challenge and a very sad time for me. However, by the end of three years, I refused to be defeated. Hitting the ground running, I turned my interest to music. I always was fascinated by all aspects of the arts, whether dancing, acting, modeling, and now music. I loved any artistic form of expression. At that time, I started guitar lessons, and I still take them today. Within six months, I was also singing and taking a few acting lessons. And I had an audition in Los Angeles! A friend had submitted a photograph of me from my modeling days because a studio was auditioning for a role on “General Hospital.” It was quite a popular TV soap opera at the time. I flew to LA, I did the audition, and lo and behold, I got the role, which just happened to be a recurring role as a nurse. I was so fortunate, and I moved to LA and stayed there for a few years. I learned so many tricks of the trade during that period. My face was still not right due to the damage incurred in the accident. Even so, I was on “General Hospital.” I learned to stay away from certain angles, and I did a lot of research on certain makeups to find ways to cover my scars. It took me probably a good five or six years to find the right combination. Over the years, I appeared in several feature films and on stage in various theater productions. My career later shifted from working in front of the camera to behind the camera as an entrepreneur and producer. I formed two production companies that produced 9
promotional events for corporations, hotels, and convention centers. I built the Showtime modeling agency from the ground up and managed to keep it running flawlessly for over two decades. Eventually, this is the path I took—to become a beauty and luxury lifestyle expert. As time passed, I decided to write. I was getting older and had met a lot of challenges in my life. I had experienced so many life lessons— in beauty, glamour, tragedy, and back. I wasn’t acting on camera or doing much dancing any longer, or not even much modeling. So I decided it was time to chronicle my experiences first with the website which naturally lead into the book. Has the evolution of technology and social media affected your career? YES, in fact, it has enhanced it. Where else can you get so many eyeballs on you within seconds??? How did “I On” come to be? And how did you grow it to become what it is now? How involved were you and are you in the development of your beauty products? “I On…” was easy, since my name is “Irene”, I could use that on many things. I On Beauty, I On Luxury Lifestyle, I On the Horse, It seemed natural to develop a brand based on my name…The “I” in I On The Scene – that’s me!!! My website I On The Scene came first in 2008, which developed into a massive authority site with over 50 contributors. It was only a matter of time given my beauty experience and background, with all the tricks of the trade that I’d acquired in covering my scars from a life-changing car accident, and with all the celebrities I had met, that I decided maybe I’d just develope my anti-aging
experience and background, with skincare line with my dearest friend and business partner, Suzanne Tripaldi. After consulting with a beauty industry icon. With her input, we started the development of an antiaging product line, which we called I On Youth Collection by Irene Michaels™. We all want to be youthful. I want to be youthful, so it worked for me. How perfect, I thought, I On Youth. In furtherance of the “I On…” brand my book, “I On Beauty – Living Beautifully and Luxuriously Beyond 50,” was published in October of 2020.
“Who doesn’t love
How do you determine what materials and/or ingredients you’ll use in the design of products? I have enjoyed a career in the entertainment industry for decades. Being so often in front of the cameras, I have gleaned a lifetime’s worth of beauty tips from stars, public figures, colleagues, and friends. I am often asked how I can maintain my looks so well at my age. Not only does this make me feel great—who doesn’t love a compliment? But it also gives me the chance to help others feel great. I love seeing women shine when they feel beautiful. A solid skincare routine should be seen as an investment in yourself. Yet, it can be difficult
to know where to begin. The truth is, when it comes to skincare, there aren’t secrets. It’s science, and in this information age, the research is available to you. The difficulty is in separating fact from fiction. Some products are overpriced and overhyped. We have all tried expensive products that promised miracles and didn’t deliver the results we expected. Thankfully, that is where you can benefit from my experience. I have been experimenting with beauty products and all their various ingredients for more than thirty years. Exploring the beauty counters for a product with hyaluronic acid, I found many options, but I wasn’t in love with any of them. I probably brought home over fifty samples
of products, and over the course of a few months, crossed them off my list one by one. They were either too heavily scented (and naturally, you don’t want anything competing with your signature fragrance) or didn’t absorb well into the skin. Some had only a small amount of hyaluronic acid in them at all and left a strange, flaky residue. Others had impractical applicators. I saw an opportunity here. If I couldn’t find what I wanted, I knew there would be other women in the same boat. With Suzanne’s direction, I developed the I On Youth Collection by Irene Michaels™ Roll-On Serum. Containing hyaluronic acid, this deeply hydrating compound holds up to 300 times its weight in water on your skin, leaving your face richly moisturized for all-day comfort. The serum also nourishes tired skin, increasing the rate of cellular renewal to reveal a refreshed, more youthful complexion. And this roll-on serum can be used on more than just the face. This serum includes another natural component found within the skin called sodium PCA, which helps protect the skin from future damage by increasing its resiliency. And the addition of antioxidants such as vitamins C and E has the effect of reducing oxidative stress and damage to skin and can stimulate new collagen growth. Overall, this serum is exactly what was missing from the beauty counters and from my beauty routine. It has exactly what you need and doesn’t have an inflated price to pay for all the things you don’t. This new formula is paraben-free, which I believe is extremely relevant. Skincare should be wholesome, not toxic. In February 2016, Life & Style Weekly magazine called I On Youth Collection by Irene Michaels™” Roll-On Serum a “Miracle in a Bottle.”
I am especially excited that the serum comes as a roll-on. The serum’s stainless steel roller is cool to the touch and allows for precise application so that no serum is wasted. It is so much more convenient than a dropper or spray especially when you’re jet-setting all over the place. How has the business of beauty changed from when you first started out? What advice do you give to young entrepreneur who want to pursue projects like you have? The truth is while BEAUTY has always been a significant part of my life, I only entered the business of beauty with the development of I On Youth Collection by Irene Michaels™, which began in 2015; therefore, I do not feel I can accurately comment on the changes in the industry other than what happened as a result of the pandemic. However, my advice is relevant to any industry Never give up, despite any downfalls. The road one travels is a long road sometimes rocky. But it is the journey that matters. Love yourself. And be kind. Keep motivated. Keep engaged. You’ll be, well, just like my name—Irene: I will, Rewire not retire, Engage, Never give up, and Endure. How has your family been affected by your career?? My family has always been a loving and giving family. They have supported anything I wanted to do as a child and as a young woman. My parents are both deceased for some time now so unfortunately,
they cannot share with me my current success. And of course, my wonderful husband, Arny Granat, supports all of my efforts. What do or did you do to promote yourself? What exciting projects are you working on now? I continue to try and find new avenues to seek out to share with other women and men my lifetime experiences. I am a very social creature so I entertain a great deal and always am making new friends and acquaintances I work very closely with my dearest friend, Suzanne Tripaldi, who acts as my Agent, Personal Manager, Director of Operations, Public Relations Manager, but most of all she is a sincere person who cares about me and my career. My current focus is promoting my international bestselling book, “I On Beauty – Living Beautifully and Luxuriously Beyond 50”, and the roll-on serum from I On Youth Collection by Irene Michaels™ both of which are available for purchase on Amazon. I recently was a guest on Rita Cosby’s new show on 77WABC and was a Teller for USA Today’s Storytellers Project. Upcoming I am the lead feature in CS’s Dynamic Women Issue coming out in September and I have speaking engagements booked with women’s expos and antiaging conventions nationwide. I have also returned to music with a cabaret show – look for it on a stage near you! How do you feel when you’re riding your horse? Tranquility, peace, and a grand sense of well-being are all the things I feel when I ride my horse.
- Photo: Lon Levin
KEVIN Bricklin What kind of kid were you? Where did you grow up? What were your influences?
I grew up in Philly until about 10 years old, then we moved to Scottsdale, AZ. I moved back East to finish college (D.C) and then moved to North Jersey before moving to LA in the ‘88. I was the class clown. Tell us how your background played a part in your choosing to be a children’s educational producer ? As I said I wanted to be in the TV business. So when I moved to LA I took whatever jobs I could. I worked at temp agencies doing accounting for studios and then became an assistant for a VP for Henry Winkler’s company (Winkler and Daniels) on the Paramount lot. From their I went to Harvey Comics, the publisher of Casper, Richie Rich, Hot Stuff and many other famous comic, where I started in Marketing, then to Director of Production to finally the Publisher. How has your experience in the entertainment world influenced your approach to West Coast pretzels? Certainly my experience with licensing and brand marketing helped me understand the importance of building brand awareness. How did your abrupt departure from WB Global Publishing affect you?
The creator of “West Coast Pretzels give us a few tips about starting a business from scratch.”
It was an easy transition for me as I had started West Coast Pretzels as a home permitted Cottage Food Operation the year prior to being laid off. What was your process in creating and setting up your business? A lot of research on whether I should purchase an existing business with built in revenue or start from scratch. 12
has returned I am once again pitching breweries, restaurants, food trucks and hotels to purchase our pretzels, pretzel dogs and pretzel buns. And lastly I am looking to bring the pretzels to the people using a food delivery truck to sell on the streets. We wont make the pretzels in the truck rather we would bake and sleeve at the bakery and sell pre-packaged pretzels, drinks and Philly Water Ice.
Tell us a little about West Coast Pretzel and where the idea came from? How has it performed over the years and did it reach your expectations?? I had the idea since I wanted a real soft pretzel which you cannot find in LA nor the West Coast. The mall pretzels are not real lye dipped, vegan pretzels. They are what I call sugary donuts. I started the remodel of a former KFC just as covid was beginning and we opened in July 2020 in the midst of Covid. So my expectations have changed and I have had to pivot to be more retail focues. But overall I think we are doing as well as can be expected for a new food business startup. How has your family been affected by your career change?? Good and bad? I have tried to make it a neutral effect on them. But overall I think it has been positive. What kind of advice do you give people who want to pursue projects like you have? If you have the means and the patience then I definitely would recommend it. However I have always had an entrepreneurial bent and am not afraid to just go for it. What do or did you do to promote yourself? What other exciting projects are you working on now? I use both Facebook and Instagram to promote the business and use both platforms for advertising. I do use linkedin but those posts are geared abit more towards the business aspects rather than the selling of the product. 13
Interview by LON LEVIN
When did you first think about what you wanted to do as an adult? Were you encouraged or discouraged by family, friends, teachers, mentors?
an after-school creative writing workshop taught by a local published novelist named Mort Castle, the first honest-to-goodness professional writer I’d ever met. I’d heard about authors, but I’d never actually met one before. They generally weren’t around my neck of the woods. Seriously though, it was quite a formative experience for me, because I started to learn about writing as a craft. I learned how to dissect a story, I learned about structure and characterization, about style and technique… I was also very fortunate to have passionately supportive parents, who loved the creative arts themselves, and who encouraged my ambitions and pursuits
I fell in love with storytelling fairly early on. I was a big reader from an early age, and I was also quite a movie buff. A big part of my bonding with my father was centered on going to movies. I was an only child, and I began to develop a very fertile imagination. I began writing short stories in junior high, but it was in high school that I started to find formal instruction and some focus. A teacher talked me into attending 17
“I was heavily influenced by the cinema of the 70s, by the great screenwriters of that era” Tom Fontana, David Chase, and David Simon have since really brought it to full flower. They were most certainly influences. Tell us how your background played a part in your choice to be writer/producer? I think, ideally, a writer should mine their life and personal experiences for material, and certainly, where you come from, how you were raised, is often what shapes your voice. I guess I was driven, in some part, to write about the people who raised me, who I grew up with. It’s not always in the literal sense. Sometimes, it’s more metaphorical. But I felt a need to illuminate the world I knew personally, that I didn’t always see portrayed in popular culture. I guess the best way I could describe it… You see movies about Chicago, you always see the same go-to landmarks, but it’s not necessarily reflective of the Chicago I grew up in, which wasn’t quite a John Hughes movie. I saw stereotypes portrayed of Mexicans and Mexican-Americans, and again, it bore little resemblance to the world I knew. So, I guess you could say, I sought validation of my experience, my family’s experience, in the world of fiction… There’s eightmillion-stories in the naked city, here’s one of them you might not have heard. That kind of thing.
What kind of kid were you? Where did you grow up? What or Who were your influences? I grew up in Chicago. A working-class background. My Dad was a steelworker and later a police officer, and for a time, I considered going into law enforcement myself, but I always knew in my heart-of-hearts that I wanted to write some day. Mort Castle was a big influence in that we stayed in touch throughout the years, and he mentored me in how to pursue a career in writing. He got me some work writing comic book scripts while I was in college. I adapted a Stephen King short story for a graphic novel anthology called Masques, which marked my first publishing credit. Also by this time, I had begun writing screenplays and teleplays on spec. I got a hold of some scripts and taught myself the form. I was heavily influenced by the cinema of the 70s, by the great screenwriters of that era like William Goldman and Paul Schrader, filmmakers like Michael Mann, Oliver Stone, Martin Scorsese, of course. And I drew a lot of influence from the novelists I really loved, people like Richard Price, Heywood Gould, Vincent Patrick, Pete Dexter, and James Ellroy, many of whom were also screenwriters. Insofar as television, I saw that in recent years, by the time I was beginning to enter the industry, TV was quickly supplanting feature films as the preferred medium for the kind of stories that spoke to me and fired me up as a writer. Steven Bochco had started innovating the medium for long-form storytelling in the 80s, with Hill Street Blues, and guys like
Did you start as a writer and make a career shift to producer? I broke into TV as a writer. There’s a hierarchy in episodic television that starts with Staff Writer, the entry-level position, then ascending through Story Editor, up to producer-level – Co-Producer, Supervising Producer, etc. Those are the titles, but they’re still writers first and foremost. As is the custom with most shows, even the staff writer is called upon to venture into the crazy, frenetic, wholly unpredictable world of the set to produce their particular episode. It’s the other part of the job, apart from writing, and you start learning it pretty quickly from the doing. It’s about being there to answer the inevitable questions that come up about tone or character motivation. It’s about making sure the showrunner’s vision for the episode is being fulfilled, it’s being their eyes and ears on set while they’re back in the Writer’s Room in L.A., dealing with a million other things. Sometimes it’s about reworking a scene or some dialogue on the day of. To that extent, it’s about staying fluid. Always about doing your part to make sure an episode comes together. I started on Queen of the South as Executive Story Editor and was eventually promoted in later seasons, first to Co-Producer, then Producer, but my primary function on the show has always been as a writer. 18 16
Has the evolution of technology and social media affected your career ?
and she deserves a lot of credit for developing Teresa’s arc, not to mention embodying her on screen in such an indelible way. It was just a great synergy of an actor and her character, and it was about just as lucky as we could have gotten.
Social media has certainly raised my profile and that of a number of writer-producers I work with. It’s put faces to the names for a lot of the audience. It’s also functioned internally within the industry as a great networking tool. What’s more, social media platforms have revolutionized the promotion of all kinds of shows, including Queen of the South. Over the last five years, the show has amassed a loyal following, much of it manifesting as this very vocal online community that has done quite a bit on its own to promote the show in its fifth and final season. Through live-tweeting and other promotions, the producers and some of the cast have interacted with the fans in a way that was really unheard of even ten, fifteen years ago.
How did the pandemic affect you and the cast of Queen of the South ? Well, the pandemic delayed production of our fifth season. We were about a week into filming on the first episode of the new season when the shut-down happen ed. That was around March of 2020. We were finally able to resume several months later in the fall. It was pretty crazy, and of course, new safety protocols were put in place when we did resume filming. So I think it was an adjustment for everybody. Safety was paramount. I also think it had the effect of making us all step back and appreciate. When the season finally wrapped earlier this year, and when the episodes began airing… It felt special and precious.
How did “Queen of the South” come to be? And how did you grow it to become what it is now? Queen of the South is based on a widely regarded novel by the Spanish author Arturo Perez Reverte. It was first adapted as a highly successful Spanish-language telenovela. Then in 2015, producer David Friendly got together with Fox 21 and the USA Network to reboot it as an English-language series. Scott Rosenbaum was the original showrunner, then Natalie Chaidez took the reins in Season Two. I didn’t become involved until Season Three, when my good friend Ben Lobato, one of the original season one writers on Queen, who I had worked with on two previous shows, introduced me to Natalie, who read and liked my material, and invited me to join the staff. I’ve been with them ever since then, through this final season. When Natalie left to do other projects, Ben became showrunner alongside Dailyn Rodriguez. Scott and Natalie laid the foundation for the mythology of these characters, then Ben and Dailyn built that out in some daring new directions, growing the show that it’s become, that’s struck a chord with its audience. Alice Braga, she is so good and believable in her part and the arc of her development is as smooth as can be. What do you attribute that to?
Alice Braga has a thriving international film career, and came to the show out of that world. I wasn’t privy to the show’s development in that early stage, or the process of putting together that core cast, but landing her was a huge get. Alice had a strong affinity for this material, based largely, I believe, on her love of the book. She was dialed into the character of Teresa Mendoza on a very deep level almost from the first. Alice was also an executive producer on the show, 18
How do writers such as yourself get involved in decisions on the actors/writers/directors you’ll use in the production of a series?
My parents were retiring as my career was finally starting to gain some traction, and they relocated to Southern California. I think it was very exciting for them, and in a lot of ways, it changed their lives as well… One of my most precious memories will always be of seeing my onscreen credit for the very first time while surrounded by my family. The cheer that went up in that room… It was gratifying, and they shared in it! What do or did you do to promote yourself? What exciting projects are you working on now?
Well, we have great casting directors, in Los Angeles and also in New Orleans, where we were filming. The show runners hire the writers and directors. Ben and Dailyn took care to assemble a team of writers who really complemented each other’s strengths. And we have a number of mainstay directors who’ve been with us throughout the show’s run and have a real feel for the visual language of the show. And of course, each new season, new voices come in.
For me, networking was key. This is a business based largely on relationships. On my first show, I developed relationships with people that I’ve continued to work with. What’s interesting to see now is that there are some great online communities of working creatives in the business, utilizing social media as they seek to boost each other… As to future projects, I’m developing a couple of new series pilots. One of them is based on a pretty successful series of thriller novels, and we’re pitching it to networks this summer. But at this early stage of the game, I can’t reveal too much beyond that.
How has the business of TV changed from when you first started out? What advice do you give to young creatives who want to pursue projects like you have? Well, it remains a highly competitive field, of course, and there are so many factors that go into building a career, some that have little to do with your actual ability, and more to do with how well you network. I was fortunate in that I came in at a time when a number of programs had sprung up that mined for new talent and sought to afford them access to the industry where they might not otherwise have it. I got into the ABC-Disney TV Writing Program, then called the ABC-Disney TV Writing Fellowship, and that’s what got my foot in the door and exposed my material to agents, managers, executives, etc. It was all about getting on the radar of people with the ability to hire. The best advice I can give for a creative is to create and polish that great piece of work that can serve as your calling card, then get it seen wherever and whenever possible. If you’re a writer, write that script you feel most passionate about and make it as polished as possible. Then get it out to the competitions out there, like the Warner Bros. Writers Workshop, the new program that Universal just put together, etc. If you’re a filmmaker, make that short film and get it out to the competitions and festivals. If you’re an actor, there are showcases. These days, there are great training and mentorship programs out there for those that want to produce. A quick internet search will reveal opportunities you had no idea were out there. But what’s really important is to always have that portfolio ready, the samples of what you can do, ready to show when those opportunities do come up… Finally, one way that the business has changed in the last couple of years, as streaming platforms have become so dominant in the world of scripted entertainment, there are so many new streamers out there with a need for content, which makes for more opportunities.
What are your ultimate goals and how they factor into your life? I want to continue to do work that I’m passionate about, that makes me feel fiercely proud of myself. I would like to get into feature films at some point, and longer-term, I would like to get back to my first love of fiction and write a novel.
How has your family been affected by your career? I’ve been very fortunate in that my family has always been super supportive. That’s no small thing. 19
Belafonte Stacey Blancett by Lon Levin When did you first think about what you wanted to do as an adult? Were you encouraged or discouraged by family, friends, teachers, mentors?
Shari Belafonte is an American actress, model, writer and singer. The daughter of singer Harry Belafonte, she began her career as a fashion model before making her big screen debut appearing in the 1982 drama film ”If You Could See What I Hear.” She is best known for her role as Julie Gillette in the ABC drama series Hotel from 1983 to 1988. She later went to star in the Canadian science fiction series Beyond Reality (1991–93). Belafonte also released two studio albums in 1980s, and acted on stage in later years. A short while ago she met Stacey Bennett, a marketing, public relations and project management specialist. They formed a production company called Rowan Moon.
Shari- My grandmother gave me my first camera when I was 4 years old. I was a tomboy growing up. Climbing and hanging out of trees. Getting into all kinds of mischief. Before ADHD was a household term, I was the poster child for it. The camera kept me occupied. I won’t say I was brilliant as a child photographer, certainly not in the beginning. I won’t say I’m brilliant now. But, I do capture moments that take my breath away and quite a few that others repost on their social media pages, which is very flattering. I should really remember to put water marks on some of them, especially the trademarked ones. But, I’ve always been fascinated with “telling a story,” like Ansel Adam’s and Richard Avedon, and no question that most of their photos are worth thousands of words, and sometimes mine seem to capture people’s attention too.
Now, they are always on the move, pitching projects and coming up with new ideas but they were gracious enough to grant us an interview.
Stacey - I would love to say I had it all figured out, but I was a dreamer. I lived in a fantasy world filled with music. I would spend hours daydreaming about what my life was going to look like. It did not even come close but what it did for me was give me steppingstones to try. The most important thing I think my family 21
favorite movie is the ‘Philadelphia Story.’) But, my real idol through my teenage years and my hardest years was Joan Collins of ‘Dynasty.’ I really do believe she shaped my personality more than anyone. I lived my life in the movies and television. My favorite time of the year is the Oscars. Tell us how your backgrounds played a part in your choice to be an actor/writer/producer?
Stacey - Nothing in my background played a part. I fell into this role by accident and just ran with it with my motto of “No Fear.” But my favorite motto is “I want to be a work in progress until the day I die.” I believe my marketing, public relations and project management will play a key role as I get more into the world of producing. How did you meet and what made you decide to start Rowan Moon Productions?
Stacey – I was working for a magazine out of Germany and we decided to do a magazine show where I would interview different people and I reached out to Shari’s Manager at the time because she (Shari) has graced over 6 covers of Vogue Magazine which I believe makes her tied with Beyonce. I wanted to talk to her about her fashion experience. Our conversation lasted over two hours and there was so much information I decided to make a documentary. Our documentary ‘In The Know With Shari Belafonte’ won the San Diego Black Film Festival 2019. We also won an ‘Award of Merit’ from the ‘INDIEFest’ and showed at ‘Capitol City Film Festival’ in Houston and the ‘International Black Film Festival’ in Nashville. It was a great experience for me to be at those film festivals and meet film makers from around the world. During this time Shari convinced me to come into the world of producing and we started working on projects and making the rounds before COVID hit. Now the world is opening back up and I used the times during COVID to get everything ready i.e. our decks, email contacts and zoom meetings to get budgets and ideas solidified for when things get going.
gave me was a safety net to know they had my back. I was always able to fly with practical conversation and reminded me never to take away my dreams. That happens still today. This has allowed me to move through many mediums and picking up skill sets that come in handy in any profession I choose. My life is filled with no fear and it is very freeing. What kind of kid were you? Where did you grow up? What were your influences? Shari- I spent most of my high school years in the dark room, rolling dozens of film canisters in the dark. Printing and anticipating that moment when the picture starts to develop. Nothing close to Adam’s or Avedon except once in a blue moon, but Now, it’s instant. Technology has taken a bit of the anticipation and awe away, none the less, stories evolve from those “snapshots,” and a moment in time is captured for posterity. And, let’s face it, smelling like developer was not the most attractive thing. I always wanted to be “behind” the camera, and took acting classes primarily to understand the process the actor goes through. Ending up “on” camera as much as I have was kind of a fluke. I never thought of myself as being pretty, but someone told me “you could make money” doing commercials and print ads. I liked that idea, and that’s how it all began.
Shari –Stacey and I met when my manager at the time set up an interview with her for what was initially supposed to be an internet interview. We shot for a few hours and she later decided to turn it into a documentary. Over the past couple of years we
Stacey- I was very shy and introverted. I am born, raised and currently reside in San Diego, California. I grew up admiring very strong women on the silver screen such as Katherine Hepburn (My favorite and 22
I felt we needed to go beyond just kids of musicians. Following in famous footsteps is often quite daunting.pathetic to being a scion than I am. But, I felt we needed to go beyond just kids of musicians. Following in famous footsteps is often quite daunting.
became friendly and shared a passion for storytelling. An acquaintance of hers had lunch with me and he brought up the idea of a show about kids of famous musicians, but abandoned it. Stacey always loved the idea and asked me if I wanted to develop it with her. It seemed natural enough. No one is more sympathetic to being a scion than I am. But, 24
must be separate. I want media for my clients to come to my pages and see my work and promotion of my clients and will want the same for ‘Rowan Moon Production.’ You will find very little if any personal posts on the professional pages of mine.
Has the evolution of technology and social media affected your careers? Stacey – Having a background in Marketing and then becoming a Publicist, I take social media very seriously. I set everything up from the beginning and use it as a job and extension of my website only. I think it is important to have both a professional and personal social media and they 22 25
The name Rowan Moon is so unique. How did you come to that name for your production company?
Tell us about the projects you’re working on? Shari and I currently have four (4) Projects we are working on. What I like to say is the decks are done, producers are in place, and they have been submitted and talked about with possible partners. It is never a good idea to discuss projects when they are in early stages in talks as leaks can ruin what you have set up. But I will make sure that our social media pages are always current to reflect what we can announce and what we put out there. You must always protect your projects all the way.
Shari - Rowan Moon is a combination of who we are. I’m half Irish/Scottish/English and live for Celtic music and lore. Stacey has a “thing” about the moon. The Rowan Moon name suggest nurturing ones dreams and desires and symbolizes strength and wisdom and a time for new growth. So, Stacey picked that name and I acquiesced. Stacey - Shari and I really spent some time on our name. I feel it is very important to reflect both of us in the name. I am a Moon Baby, and I knew I wanted Moon in the name. A Rowan tree definition is the ‘Tree of Life’ and its background touched on Shari’s heritage and when we came across the ‘Rowan Moon’ which just happened a month ago, it was magical to say the least. I too love the name and am very happy that we choose this as our beginning.
Shari -The second season of “The Morning Show” drops (starts to “air”) September 17th. In the meantime, Stacey and I kept polishing the presentation for a few projects that either I had started or ideas she came up with that I’d put my “spin” on. We tossed the ideas around with a couple of friends who are also in the business and connections and introductions were put into place. I think, as tired as my “Zoom” account must feel, a lot has been accomplished over the past year, primarily cause we’re all stuck in one place and don’t spend hours just getting to meetings or lunches. In many ways we’ve been much more productive. Fingers are crossed we’ll continue advancing the stories we’ve yet to tell.
How did the pandemic affect you and your business? Shari - Staying at home during the pandemic wasn’t much of a change for Sam (my husband) and me. When we’re not on a set somewhere or shooting property (we have a company focused on shooting real estate for realtors), we’re usually home with our dogs. I write a lot, watch a lot of TV and movies. And, I was still working on “The Morning Show” throughout these past 18 months. That was a bit exhausting because of the extreme Covid protocol that we were put through. Two days before, we’d get tested and then on the day of the shoot we’d be tested again. Masks were issued and stayed on till you heard “Rolling.Speed.Mask off...” and then, we’d do the scene and the second it was done, “CUT. Mask ON.” Sanitizer stations every 25 feet. Areas roped off for eating. Social distancing fully enforced by roaming Carbon Health medical techies. It took some getting used to, but we got through
How has your family been affected by your career? Stacey – My family has never been affected by any of my choices. They have always been right up front and gone along for any ride I take them on. I think secretly they love what I do and how I am always changing things up. It keeps life interesting. And they get to meet cool people in the process. My mother is one of my travel companions and she is really loving all of this. I believe if my grandparents were still alive, they would be cheering me on. Now my niece and nephew get to see what I do and the films I have made, and they like it as well. What do or did you do to promote yourself? ≠cey - I started designing clothes in 2010 and wrote a book and then went into film making. I released three documentaries in six years and learned how to work the media. People started seeing what I was doing on social media and started coming to me for help in publicity. Because I moved through multiple mediums in 10 years my media list is very extensive, and my friend/clients are in all walks of life from Broadway producer, animal sanctuaries, actresses, films, and artists. When you have clients from all over and you yourself are all over the map you learn to think outside the box. I am still carrying forward all the hard work I put into learning my business
Stacey - My company (Media and Communications) went down for the year. There was no room with COVID and the elections to get any media coverage for my clients. How do you determine what actors/ writers/directors you’ll use in the production of the series/movies? Stacey - We will not as there will be production meetings with our partners and our casting director will decide who we can get for the show out of the list that is developed. It is very exciting to be a part of this from the beginning and work as a team with Texas Crew Production. 26
What are your ultimate goals and how do they factor into your life? Stacey – I would love to put projects out in the world that mean something and are fun and entertaining. I am a big documentary fan and would love to someday work in that area as well. I have learned to stop setting goals in my life and be present where I am at and let what comes to be open doors and get another journey going. I never know from day to day what is going to present itself to me and I LOVE that.
“I would love to put projects out in the world that mean something and are fun and entertaining.”
Stacey Blanchett and Shari Belafonte above.
“I am still carrying forward all the hard work I put into learning my business.” 27
Written by Lon Levin
When did you first think about art as something you wanted to be involved with? Were you encouraged or discouraged by family, friends, teachers, mentors? Article by Leslie Cober My favorite part of being a professional artist, is that you never know what the next day will bring or where exactly your creative path will take you, or who will call you the next day with some kind of creative endeavor, or what that endeavor might entail.
I’ve created illustrations for an assortment of companies for decades. In addition to the traditional illustration assignment, often my favorite assignments come from “out of the box” opportunities….creating visuals and room design for private events, creating posters for important unity, climate, and world issues, designing and building elaborate parade floats, illustrating and designing a series of French soap, repurposing designer boxes and vintage album covers for solo and group exhibit, and most currently a favorite…outdoor murals.
50’ X 30’ Mural Circle Hotel, Fairfield CT Mixed media, acrylic outdoor paint, spray paint, large posca pens, brush 28
grew from the heart to represent happiness. Smaller hearts, birds, butterflies, flying hearts, and thoughtful, kindhearted words such as, love, peace, harmony, and happiness completed the mural. The original sketch was created on velum with micron pen, then transferred to iPad, where I experimented with color. I then presented the sketch idea to the client for approval.
In January I received an email, asking if I would be interested in working on a large outside wall, visible to the community, approximately 50’ x 30.’ There were no theme perimeters. I immediately said YES. I have rarely ever turned down interesting new creative endeavors. My mindset is to never say no if the project is interesting and creatively challenging. I quickly put the assignment on my agenda and requested a start date the first week of May. Warm weather arriving and mass confinement more in control.
I pinned down a company to assist me with the painting at the highest points, but a week before the start, they canceled as their family member contracted Covid19. Fearful of how I would approach this…. I moved forward regardless.
I took a drive to check out the wall. As I stood before it, the large wall looked daunting. I wondered how I could safely achieve painting a wall of this height. The hotel informed me that they would provide a scissor lift, …. not a wonderful thought when one has a history of acrophobia (fear of heights) and the land in front of the mural all uneven, with a wall that dropped off at the end of the lawn.
I recruited my designer son Alex Gentry and family friend Colin Mackay to be my creative assistants. We trained to use the sturdy cherry picker. I quickly overcame my fear of heights. The most difficult part of creating a large mural, is that close up it is very difficult to see the art as a big picture. The grid guided us, as it directed in attaining the line work close to the original line sketch idea.
Given the state of our country and world suffering from Covid19 and social distancing taking place from March, my goal was to create a mural with a happy, optimistic theme. I started sketches, starting with a woman’s profile, but quickly began to sketch a heart. I believed diversity was a necessity on the mural and painting a happy heart would incorporate those elements. The heart was the initial element of the drawing. Flowers
“My favorite part of being a professional artist, is that you never know what the next day will bring...” 29
I gridded out the sketch in proportion to the wall, graphing it into 2’ x 2’ squares. We then measured the wall into horizontal sections, first with a sharpie and then applying painters’ tape at the sharpie line. The brick w all was difficult to paint, but it was easier to measure since the brick lines were easier to follow. The vent at the top center of the wall, was used as the center location to drop the line down the middle. It was particularly important to design the heart correctly. The entire painting would emerge from the heart… the proportions and face of the heart had to be accurate, particularly its eyes, which would make or break the entire painting. We measured the heart out and taped the points. With painters tape we marked every turn, measurement, and placement of the eye sockets, nose, and lips. Referring back to my sketch, I freehanded with sharpie everything else on the wall. That evening I went to my studio space at SPAG Norwalk CT, creating several hand cut stencils. The most important were the stencil circles for the eyes, 10 inches in diameter. Stencil circles for the irises were created as well. I cut several leaf, flower, heart, and music note stencils to use the following day.
The center heart was painted with a roller with Benjamin Moore outdoor Aura paint, in a pinkish red. The eye sockets were left white, the color of the background of the mural, and the eyes were stenciled with spray paint. The eye sockets were then outlined in black posca pen. The nose and lips were then measured from the original grid and painted in black posca pen. The lips were then hand painted with Benjamin Moore paint in a lighter pink color. Completed with an outline smile in black posca pen The remainder of the mural is a mix of spray paint both freehand spraying and stencil. Hand painted, brush areas include the butterfly, bird, and the smiling lip flowers along the bottom. Most of the mural is hand outlined in black posca pen. 32
The hand lettering is initially drawn in posca pen, and then thickly defined with a 1” brush in black acrylic paint. With the help of my two creative assistants, the mural painting took a week to complete. Flower finishing touches at the bottom were completed on the last day. Creating a mural with a positive message has been an excellent and rewarding experience. The public has embraced the art with warmth and enthusiasm. A just-in-time needed message with spring and summer months arriving. 33
Written by Lon Levin
such as Diane Arbus, Sally Mann and Cindy Sherman, and by painters including Hieronymus Bosch, Frida Kahlo and Leonora Carrington.
Tell us how your backgrounds played a part in your choice to be an artist/photographer? I think that I always used photography as a way of orienting myself to what was going on both around me and inside me. Being behind a camera gave me an excuse to hide myself, and also a way of focusing in and seeing things in new ways. I love spending long hours in the dark room with the magenta toned safe light, where I was mesmerized by images floating to the surface of the chemical filled trays.
How did you get started in business and what did you do? When friends knew I was a photographer, they would ask me to make portraits of them, and to photograph events and weddings. I started doing this to make money, but found that my idea of an interesting portrait didn’t usually correlate with their idea of a flattering picture. As I began exhibiting my photographs in galleries I began working as a photographer reproducing art. A lot of my friends were artists, and I lived in art studios all over Boston, so much of my paying work was making slides of artists’ work. I also worked as a
When did you first think about what you wanted to do as an adult? Were you encouraged or discouraged by family, friends, teachers, mentors? As a kid I loved drawing and painting. I was encouraged by my parents, relatives and friends. My mother and her friends were creative and whenever we visited them I was guided through art projects from collage to puppet making, painting and sculpting. What kind of kid were you? Where did you grow up? What or who were your influences? I was an extremely shy kid who loved spending time drawing, spying on other people, and doing cartwheels in the back yard. Until the age of 12, I moved every year or two, from Boston to Pennsylvania to Massachusetts, Minnesota and Connecticut. After that my parents settled outside Hartford, CT and then moved to New York City. I was influenced by books like Harriet the Spy, Betty & Veronica comics, rock and roll, especially the Rolling Stones and The Beatles,and jazz dance. When I started photographing as an adult, I was influenced by photographers 34
Continued photographer at the DeCordova Museum, taught art photography classes at colleges and universities, museums and high school.
but instead used existing photographs which I merged and morphed into new forms in photoshop. When I do go out to photograph now, it is mostly to gather imagery to put into collage work.
Has the evolution of technology and social media affected your career?
Why did you move from America to San Miguel? How did you start up your printing business?
Yes. The changing technology affected my career a lot. When I moved to Mexico in 2005 I was shooting with 4x5 color negative film and making c-prints in the darkroom. As it became more and more difficult to find labs to process my film, I gradually moved to digital. And, I opened a digital fine art printing studio with my friend and colleague Jod Lourie a few years after I moved to SMA. Also, as a mother with two young children, I found myself working on the computer whenever they napped or slept at night. My method of working changed a lot. I began compositing images that I already had to create new forms. I did this more and more, to the point where I almost never went out and photographed,
We had spent the previous 2 summers in San Miguel after an extended road trip together when I was on maternity leave after having our first daughter. So the idea was, yes, we’d go to San Miguel for a year. That year I gave birth to our second daughter in San Miguel, and life here was good. So one year became two, and then San Miguel became home. I started up a printing business with friend and artist Jod Lourie who I met soon after I moved to San Miguel. She had moved here at about the same time as I had, and we became close friends. She was splitting her time between SMA and LA, and she had the idea of starting a printing business. She is an artist and wanted a digital printer for her personal work. Because I couldn’t afford to rent a separate studio space, we decided to use the printer
we decided to use the printer to start a business thatwould pay for the space. The business gave both of us the ability to work on our personal work, and also to generate income. It has also provided a way of experimenting with all kinds of media and led me to create new lines of design products like wallpapers, lampshades, fabric prints, and more.
teacher, Ceci Corona, and asked if she would teach an adult class. She agreed and I signed up. While most of the other moms dropped out, I couldn’t get enough! I loved the feeling of dancing in the air, and learned tricks on the fabrics, the static trapeze, and the hoop. I started adding more and more classes to my week. About a year later Nisha Ferguson, the founder and director of the adult circus troupe, invited me to join. The rest is history. I was a member of Gravityworks from 2009 onward. It became a big part of my life, not just because we trained for 12 hours a week, performed many shows in and around San Miguel, and basically spent a lot of time in trainings and rehearsals, but also because of the community it created. Because the kind of work was fun, specialized, and also dangerous, it required a lot of energy, trust, and dedication. We all became very tight knit, and supported each other through all kinds of personal growths and traumas. It was like a second family.
Tell us about your circus experience and how that came to be? When my daughters were 6 and 3, I saw an ad in the local newspaper for a performance by the local circus troupe Gravityworks. I took my kids and I loved it. Dance had always been a big part of my life. As a kid I loved gymnastics, I was part of a jazz dance troupe in high school, danced throughout college, and always did some kind of movement including dance and yoga as an adult. In the Gravityworks program I discovered that they were offering kids’ classes, so I enrolled my 6 year old in the classes. I would take her and watch every week, and thought how fun it looked! A couple other moms and I approached the
How did the pandemic affect you and your business ?
In the beginning of the pandemic, my printing business basically shut down. Because all the galleries and museum were on hiatus, no one was printing anything. I did continue printing personal projects for peoples’ homes, and did some scanning of negatives and photo restorations. With the extra time I had, I began some new work such as producing face masks and handbags from my designs and those were both fun new projects. I also did some work for a local film production company, where I created physical and digital film decks which are used to promote creative films. And, I settled into Zoom to teach private photoshop classes and offer online consultations for printing, photoshop work, and digital portraits. I moved my studio right at the beginning of the pandemic, which was a big project, and so spent a good amount of time setting up my new space and settling in. I did a lot of projects during the pandemic that had been shoved to the background, like, updating my various websites, completing products that had been in the works for some time, and creating catalogues and promos for many of my design and art series. I amped up the store on my riandersondesigns.com website and linked it to Facebook and Instagram, and opened an Etsy store.
In my late teens
I wanted to try to become a pro tennis player!”
Do you exhibit your work? How do you prepare for showings? Yes, I do exhibit my work. Before I have a showing, I always edit my photographs by printing work prints, hanging them up on my walls, and deciding which ones work and which ones don’t work. I look at groupings and move them around to see around to see how they should 37
be ordered and which groupings work best. I also like to show work prints to curators if they are choosing the work. I create mockups of the show in Photoshop using room plans for measurements. I generally print and frame at least 5 extra works than will fit so I have the flexibility of moving things around or changing them in the physical space during installation.
mother who spent a lot of time with me to help, and myself. While I hadn’t planned this, I knew that I couldn’t pull myself away to photograph anything else. And, this is what I was interested in. I have always been introspective, and it was only natural that my work focused more and more inward. When my daughters were young, photography shoots were just a part of home life. As they became adolescents, they didn’t want to be involved. This is one of the reasons I turned to digital, and began combining existing photographs to create new work. Now, I ask them if I can use photographs from old shoots and sometimes they say no. My 15 year old does not like to see photographs of her as a nude baby and sometimes I have to exclude photographs from shows. My older daughter is 18 and I think she is proud of being in some of the photographs, even if she doesn’t particularly like the way she looks. She and my younger daughter are both creative, and while I don’t think they will become fine artists as they have seen my financial struggles throughout their lives, I do believe they will both use art or design in their lives. I always took them to my shows as well as to galleries and museums, and their father is also an artist. I don’t think they realize yet how unusual their childhoods have been, growing up with two expat artists in San Miguel de Allende, but since they are growing up it is yet to be seen!
My 2020 had been scheduled with a lot of shows, most all of which were cancelled due to the pandemic. Theses shows are being rescheduled for 2022. These include three solo shows at Casa de la Cultura in Monterrey, MX, a solo show at Museo de la Mujer in CDMX, and a group exhibit at Worcester Center for Crafts. Tell us about the projects you’re working on? My most recent project is called “Betwixt.” It is the latest work that I have exhibited (at Galería Intersección, SMA in 2019) and the work that is being rescheduled for showings in 2022. It is a series of sepia toned digitally collaged photographs. The subjects of these photographs are nests, birds, my two daughters and myself. The work is about the shifting parameters of home. This work has been influenced by surrealism and magical realism that have surrounded my life raising kids as an expat in Mexico. I have created a few new pieces during the pandemic, and am working on some video projections to accompany the prints as well.
What do or did you do to promote yourself? Like most visual artist, promotion is not my strong suit. I have social media pages – insta and fb - to promote my art business, my design business, and another offshoot pet art business. I do my best to send out mailings. I have hired assistants to help me contact galleries and museums. I keep my websites updated but getting eyes there is another skill. When I have shows I find writers/ reviewers to write about them. Today it seems you need influencers to repost so I’m going to have to get my daughters to help me with that!
How has your business changed from when you first started out? What advice do you give to young creatives who want to pursue projects like you have? My art has changed a lot from where I first started out. I started out with 35 mm documentary work. I used to believe that cropping an image was a crime. I didn’t even like to print photographs without a filed out negative carrier to show every millimeter of the negative. Now I work almost exclusively in photoshop, often creating forms that don’t have any semblance of a photograph (for instancemy series of “Mariposas”).
What are your ultimate goals and how do they factor into your life? My ultimate goal is to enjoy my life, to enjoy my work, and to achieve financial stability. The first two are easy, I have a great home, studio, and kids. I love creating and am grateful to be able to do what I love. And, I do yoga every morning and dance many times a week. Doing something physical and connecting with other people is important, and for the last few years I have pursued ballroom dance -- salsa, cha-cha, bachata, tango, waltz, foxtrot, and more. The pandemic has both given me the time and focus to work on the ongoing financial stability part. For me, creating and enjoying my life are easy. Getting paying work rolling in is not as much fun, but this last year has allowed me to focus on getting my various projects into marketable positions.
For young creatives, I would advise doing what has meaning. Do projects that scare you. And do projects that reveal some kind of feeling even if you don’t know what that is or can’t explain it. How has your family been affected by your career?? Well, my daughters have been involved in my art career from the moment they were born. I actually made pinhole photographs of both daughters’ deliveries. I went to grad school when my first daughter was one. While in graduate school, she became my thesis project, along with my 38
GILLISS An Interview with Lon Levin
Gwyn studied theater and play writing at Carnegie-Mellon University, and was an Emmy Award nominated Daytime TV actress with over a dozen contract and recurring roles- as well as appearing on Primetime TV series and pilots. When did you first think about what you wanted to do as an adult? Were you encouraged or discouraged by family, friends, teachers, mentors? As a child, I was very shy and so it was suggested that I try out for a school play. I did in Junior high school- middle school- got cast and loved the experience of performing, the communication with a large audience, the camaraderie working with a cast-all close friends- together to create something fun. It was Fun! And I got over being shy. And when I was 12, I was discovered while shopping with a great aunt. Being very tall and thin I was asked to be a model in a fashion show for a department store which led to a teen modeling career- print work and commercials.
So besides painting- my Mother taught me how to a paint in watercolors- it was my favorite thing to do- paint and act. Modeling was fun and highly lucrative. I was very fortunate to have a mother who not only supported but inspired me. And I had a brilliant Mentor in my high school drama coach- his advice and influence got me into the best drama program at the time at Carnegie-Mellon. What kind of kid were you? Where did you grow up? What were your influences? Besides ballet and art I was a fairly quiet child-no drama. We spent the summers on a cousin’s farm-learning how to grow things - fruits & vegetables, feed chickens, pigs,
S milking cows, running wild in the cornfields. We went fishing and camping, ice skating in the winter, tobogganing, snowball fights - very free as children. We lived in a suburb of Cleveland Ohio, Shaker Heights but all of my friends were wealthy and they and their parents invited me to concerts, theatre and opera. It opened a whole world of the arts that an average child wouldn’t have known about necessarily. My mother took me to museums- I even studied painting and puppetry - we made our own puppets! Tell us how your background played a part in your choice to be an actress? There was a renowned summer musical tent theatre nearby and my parents took me to productions there. I fell in love with the magic of it all, that and being active at school- in every play in high school, cinched it for me. So by the time I had to choose college- I went for the drama program and attended Carnegie.
“My Mother taught me how to a paint in watercolors- it was my favorite thing to do - paint and act”
What kind of roadblocks did you encounter along the way to success? When did you start thinking about helping others become successful? Tell us what you did to facilitate that? How do you feel about being the “Go-to-Goddess of Marketing for Actors?” Everybody in the arts has obstacles- roadblocks...mostly when you’re starting out. Making a living as an actor is impossible in those beginning years-at least it was for me in New York. I married my college boyfriend, a fellow student at Carnegie who was a playwright so it was a double whammy-neither one of us could do our “art” and get paid. It was years and years of free showcases, non-paying short films and struggling to find an agent, get major auditions and break in. That’s the norm for everyone. Luckily I had done commercials in my teens and could find a commercial agent- I was the “pretty, blonde, girl next door, the image for the Ivory Snow girl” for P & G (Proctor & Gamble). When I started booking major market spots, ( and making a lot of money) my agent walked me down the hall to the Theater/TV/film department. Then, I got an theatrical agent. Not because I was a brilliant 41
Continued actress, trained at the best theater school, Carnegie-Mellon with instructors from Yale(same as Meryl Streep), had done a dozen roles in classical and modern plays-NO- but because I was WORKING & MAKING MONEY. Good lesson for idealist-drama-students!!
from it in recent years. The platforms I still post on some I do use social media, although I’ve been gravitating away what regularly are Instagram, Behance, and Dribble. Can any artist thrive if they are not on social media?
They sent me out for more TV - only it was soap operas- daytime and then primetime. And I got Broadway and off-Broadway shows...I spent 10 years doing classical theater in Rep companies from Atlanta to Allentown between TV series. The rest is history- ups and downs, rich and poor- absolutely no security or consistent income but slow progress. You have to be insanely persistent or just insane to choose that but if it’s what you really love- then it works out. At least it did for me. I had over 18 contract and starring roles in two decades... with gaps and unemployment in between. It was never easy...ever.
That's a really interesting question. Given more people are aware of the evils of social media, I'd like to think fewer art directors are sourcing artists exclusively through social media platforms. So I'd like to say yes. Someone, I really can’t remember who it was, suggested during a down time that I teach or coach. Several friends who didn’t have an agent wanted my advice on- headshots, resumes, screentests, auditions, marketing tools, referrals to agents...so I started helping them and then I created a paying program which led to a consulting 42
business. I found that I had a skill in coaching and most actors need guidance and mentoring. My second husband was British so while living a while in England, I attracted British actors and eventually as word spread I was coaching marketing - not acting- to many international actors. The “Goddess” title I think was created by a client being amusing but it stuck. How has the evolution of technology and social media affected your career? SKYPE and now ZOOM have been a boon...I used to see clients in my home office on the upper West side in Manhattan and in Beverly Hills- I had an apartment on both coasts- a true bi-coastal entrepreneur but with clients in Europe, Asia, South America- even Moscow it’s neat to just sit at my desk and chat LIVE on my laptop. How did your evolution from Acting Goddess of Marketing to screenwriter/Producer come to be? And how did you grow your 3rd career to become what it is now? I don’t think anyone grows up dreaming of becoming a business entrepreneur or career coach/ mentor. Things just evolve usually out of necessity and a sense of generosity. Initially I just needed a supplemental income and then I was just helping friends . The writing came out of...I don’t really know. 43
Perhaps it was because I read an article about people mistreating other people and I was incensed enough to structure and write a screenplay about it. Many drafts later, a dozen screenwriting seminars, courses, books, private coaching, YEARS OF REWRITES....the script was entered in my first competition and won! And it won again! Beginners luck probably. Several films , pilots, series later I’m still writing and usually because I’m passionate or angry about something. And inspired. I write really fun characters I love (some I could play), have a good ear for dialogue and have come a long way since that first script. My work has been described -from the last pitch session with Network Exec’s- as “heartbreakingly funny”. It’s a long haul as a writer- harder than getting booked as an actor. Much harder. Right now, 3 projects are in limbo- a prime time series, ENRAPTURED optioned for production in Australia, a comedy pilot, HOT AIR, due to shoot in New York/New Jersey and a comedy film, HEAVENLY HEIST optioned for a British-French production in London. The last year has put these scripts (took me over 10 years to write) on HOLD but still... still, writing is my new love.
“Everybody in the arts has obstacles- roadblocks...mostly when you’re starting out. ”
How did you apply what you learned about acting to the process of putting together films? Well, after over 2000 hours of on-camera work I learned about dialogue and structure, character development, weaving a second and third plot/subplot, beats and more...there is a lot to put together a script- very challenging like building a house or ten houses. How has the business of selling productions/projects over the internet changed from when you started out? What advice do you give to young entrepreneurs who want to pursue projects like you have?
CD’s and DVD’s. His twin repeated ever anecdote about my on-camera comedic moments to his close friends and when I met them they reminded me of the experiences...What laughs! My sister invited friends over where she played back my commercials for entertainment (Columbus is a big test market). My parents always introduced me in the same sentence/breath This is our daughter, she’s a Daytime Emmy award soap star and a New York actress/entrepreneur. My niece, nephews, grandkids and grand-nieces/nephews think it’s all terribly funny but follow me on Social media with constant likes and hearts....
I’m a firm believer that entrepreneurs are born... there’s an instinct to sell things, offer help, give advice, know about stuff that others don’t know about, communicate and relate to people. This can’t always be taught even at Harvard Business school. I attended a program there- the professors had written a ton of best- selling books and taught “case studies” of successful companies-but they didn’t seem to know basic things I knew as a child. I doubt they could have run a business or survived in NYC as I had as an actress. As far as starting out? As an entrepreneur, I started at 8. I had a paper route, getting up at dawn to deliver the Sun Press to 100 households sometimes on a sled in the snow (this was in Cleveland). That was fun. I was voted the best “newsboy “and won an award and a cash prize... Of course I sold Girl Scout cookies but I returned to the same clients who bought the cookies and the newspapers-- door-to-door- with my hand make jewelry and then home-made Greeting cards...and the classic, a lemonade stand with my twin brothers. I had a bank account and I knew how to make money early on. During high school I regularly skipped school to do photo shoots-modeling jobs. I was already an entrepreneur then.
What do or did you do to promote yourself? What exciting projects are you working on now? Outside of writing monthly Marketing Tips on Backstage, the trade publication (following 654,000) and for The Stage (London) as well as my own weekly Monday Morning Marketing Tips I produce a bi-monthly free Wednesday Workshop for International actors on Zoom. I don’t advertise per se -just give free info and offer a free 15 minute career consult for those who have a specific question about working with me as their Mentor/Coach. We have a new Live Stream program on Instagram coming up, actortalk where I interview an industry guest every Friday. And of course I have private clients in my Olympic Gold Mentoring program, and the yearlong ActorPreneur Academy. Monday and Wednesday I do small group coaching-Stragtegy Circle ( $10/week for any actor who signs up). My mission for many decades is to pay back for the career I had by helping others succeed as well. I’m currently producing The International Actors Summit where 24 actors from six countries meet 50 top agents, casting directors, screenwriters and other Industry Professionals from 7 markets - London, Vancouver, Toronto, New York, Chicago, Atlanta, and Los Angeles in a three day on line auditioning/networking Event. (August 13th,14th,15th).
Learning to work hard is the best advice I could give anyone. Being independent- my siblings and I were allowed to go anywhere and do anything -we were used to handling problems ourselves. So my advice? Develop a free spirit, learn to work hard, be persistent and resilient. It’s hard- everything is hard-I just learned to make it fun....don’t follow the rules, well, bend them to fit your situation. The Internet just makes selling stuff so much easier.
How has your family been affected by your career?
Doing what I’m doing now.
My family has been great- my one brother recorded probably everything I ever did on TV- hundreds of
www.gwyngilliss.com/contact firstname.lastname@example.org 44
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w w w. l e v i n l a n d s t u d i o . c o m Lon’s artwork is currently featured in:
• Observica Magazine • A solo gallery show in San Miguel De Allende • Art Fluent’s online show for Abstraction Sept - Oct • LA Art Fair in Bangar Hangar 9/23 - 26 • Biafarin’s online show “Love” which features his art on the show’s poster.
Photo: Lon Levin