After almost twenty years of working on Hollywood Films, the most common question I'm asked is what famous people I've met.
My answer always revolves around the stories I remember, more so than how famous they were.
For instance, I ran into Kirsten Dunst at a cafe while we were filming the multi-Emmy award winning television series, Fargo. She was with Jesse Plemmens and I was with my young daughter. I could see she was tired, but she took the time to carry on a conversation with my little girl. This just made her day.
Or the story that Billy Bob Thornton wove around french fries on set one day after finishing his scene. Trying to pick myself up from the floor from laughter afterwards.
Or the day that Jean Smart arrived to start her role on Fargo. Her mission was to meet the person who had adopted their daughter from China just like she did - and then we spent the next 20 minutes gloating about our girls, oblivious to whom else was in the room, sharing "old mom" stories together.
Or the personal time I spent with Farrah Fawcett’s assistant who was her close family friend, and the kindness she extended in friendship. And the time we spent talking on the phone after Farrah passed. And Farrah's kindness when she found out I was a sculptor, as she was one too.
And the magical magnetic field Brad Pitt seemed to emanate as I could literally “feel” his presence anytime he was within close distance, whether in our production office halls or on set. Bumping into him in those halls and excusing myself. That calm face and deep blue eyes. Remembering that deep Jesse James stare while looking over my way on set one day. He was still in character, as he crouched still for the talented Oscar winning cinematographer, Roger Deakins, to light him on the set.
Even getting to know Don Johnson’s and Melanie Griffith’s son Jesse, while he worked in our office to pay for his University studies, cast as a “younger” Don in Don’s film - and pouring over their family albums for images that could be used to fill the set.
Realizing too late that the senior I was sliding past and trying not to squish, in our cramped craft service hall, was none other than our principal actor Chris Cooper, from the “Bourne” series, looking over his eyeglasses at me in quiet inquiry.
Or listening to Don and Kiefer Sutherland’s voices interacting behind me during set lunch in the lunch tent as we all ate together in that small space.
Arranging Heather Locklear for a photoshoot and hearing the sweetness and lilt in her voice.
Watching Colin Hanks burst into our offices in costume, proclaiming "how do I look?".
Laughing at the string of side bursting jokes and commentaries of Brad Garrett who spent some time with us in the Art Department.
Asking Academy-Award-Nominated Tim Roth if he would autograph a photo for my husband who was a big fan. Tim sent one back with a custom message on it just for him. After giving him a thank you note, his assistant sent a text : “Tim says Thanks for the thank you note”. Noted.
I remember the day we installed vinyl in some windows of a location we were transforming into one of our sets. We were doing a photoshoot with Martin Freeman on the other side of the room, to create images we could use to populate the set. As they worked, the youngest vinyl worker turned and said, "I have to keep pinching myself to remind me that I'm in the same room as Martin Freeman!".
While working on a Spielberg mini-series, I came across a discovery in my research which contradicted our script. As I went to our director's office to let him know, he said "Have a seat. How do you suggest we re-write the script?" Sergio Mimica-Gezzan was our director. He was Steven Spielberg's first A.D. in many of those early movies such as Shindler's List, Minority Report, A.I., Saving Private Ryan, The Lost World : Jurassic Park and so on. I learned something that day about humility in those who are great. Sergio was a writer-director.
And then there was the time I was on set, and Mark Harmon (NCIS) sat beside me on a set bench, followed by Makeup, to trim his nose hairs before the next shot, looking my way with his wide grin. And the time he sat in my seat in the lunch tent after I went up to get more, just to see me blush.
Those are the names I remember first.
Because they revolve around stories.
Kirsten went on to win an Emmy nomination for her acting in Fargo and so did Jean. Kirsten also won a Golden Globe. Brad Pitt won the prestigious Volpi Cup for Best Actor at the Venice Film Festival for his film. And as lovely as these things are, it's the meeting as authentic people that creates meaning in this life of ours.
It's the stories that linger.
This is what my work is about. The stories.
I'm particularly drawn to the intersection where stories meet humanity.
In the Stories of the Series, "We Are All Water", I examine the intersection where figurative work meets Video Documentary to tell the stories of new immigrants to Canada who’ve experienced difficult journeys.
One of the Lost Boys of Sudan tells his horrific journey as a child through what has been described as one of the bloodiest civil wars in the 20th century. A man from Cambodia finds his story as a child in the child torture camps during Pol Pots regime too difficult to tell and so we talk about his mother's experiences instead.
In the Photographic Series titled, "Lines are Blurred, Evidence Fades, Old Breath Remains", I investigate the intersection of monumental societal change and the social impact of the rebuilding of the former East Berlin. Residents reside in homes of rubble amidst massive modern reconstruction.
And then there is the Photo Series called, "From Houtongs to Hi-rises", which is a commentary on the disappearance of centuries-old communal living in China, with the mass destruction of Houtongs in the cities, as they become replacedwith the isolation of modern apartment living.
More recently I investigated the story of grief, which is a common story that connects us all - this narrative conceptual sculpture series is called "Letting Go".
It's the stories that connect us.
A final note on teaching Post-Secondary
Flexibility and the ability to learn ongoing as things change, is a cornerstone skill needed for our industry and I believe is also necessary to teach post-secondary design. Our industry is always changing and the ability to be flexible and to project where we’ll be tomorrow, is beneficial.
I emphasize research with my students, coming from a film background and from agency work. I push them to arrive at something that is unique, strategically sound, and based on rich content. Some students are more thorough than others but it is the regular application of it that eventually leads to success.
I enjoy passing on my own appetite for what’s new, what’s innovative, into the post-secondary learning environment. I encourage students to explore, take a risk, and to base their ideas on research with good strategic thinking. Creating curriculum that encourages and allows for this, I believe is a vital part of it.