This week we bring you multitalented WMMer Darrow Carson, writer of TUESDAY MORNING (which will be screened at the Pasadena Film Festival this coming Thursday). With an infectious spirit and impeccable work ethic, the consummate artist has taken part in several WMM productions, including the popular short films EMPTY (2011) and AUNT LENA (2014). Meet Darrow Carson.
WMM: Where are you from, what is your background, and how do you think that informs what you do as a filmmaker?
DC: I grew up all over the world. Born in San Francisco, where I spent the first three years of my life. After that, Portland and Astoria, Oregon until I was six. Then we moved to Istanbul, Turkey for two years. Then Albuquerque, NM, London, England and Reno Nevada. When I was ten, we moved to Sydney, Australia for 3 years. I finally ended up in Santa Clara, CA, where I finished high school and started my interest in theater. Because I was always the new kid in school, in a completely new culture and environment, I became a very good chameleon, learning how to fit in very quickly. This skill became very useful as an actor. I also grew up telling stories about where I came from because people always wanted to know. I began to see the world in stories.
WMM: When did you know you wanted to pursue your craft as a career? Were you supported in your dreams to become a filmmaker?
DC: My craft and career started as a dancer in high school. I was really good at tap dancing, and ended up in a professional production of “Anything Goes” with Chita Rivera. From there, I was encouraged to take acting classes. So I auditioned for ACT in San Francisco. I fell in love with acting.
WMM: Did you study anywhere in your field? Where? Any notable stories/experiences/peers/teachers?
DC: ACT was an amazing and enlightening experience. My world opened up. I was there at the same time with Annette Bening. I got to study with some amazing teachers like Bill Ball and Sydney Walker. After ACT, I continued my studies with Sonia Moore, a direct disciple of Stanislavski. I moved to Los Angeles in the 1990s and performed with Los Angeles Theatresports for a few years. I continued acting and decided to return to graduate school. I got an MFA from CalArts in 1998 and then moved to NYC where I founded a theatre company. The great thing about CalArts was the encouragement to explore other things than acting, which I did. I began directing and writing at CalArts. I was explaining an idea for a play to one of my classmates. He suggested I write it, so I did and it won the New Plays Competition and received a full production. I had no idea I had the ability and skill to write but thanks to my friend’s suggestion and to CalArts, I discovered I did. Then my mother died. It was a life altering experience which I had to write about. But in my mind, it wasn’t a play, it was a screenplay. So, I did my best to write it. But as good as the story was, the format was terrible. I was fortunately studying with Shirley Knight at the time, and she agreed to read it and to help me with it. After that, I submitted it to a few screenwriting competitions and it placed in three of them. Feeling empowered by my newfound skill, I decided to move back to Los Angeles.
WMM: What else do you do besides your craft? Day job?
DC: When I moved back to Los Angeles in 2008, I fell into a temp job at Disney in Home Entertainment. That job led to a permanent position as a Marketing Manager. It is not anything I imagined for myself, but it has been a gift I am grateful for.
WMM: What is the lowest budget you have worked with? Highest?
DC: Lowest budget… free. Highest budget… for stage, full LORT production… for film, as an actor I’ve been in full studio feature productions and a $60K independent film. As a writer, I’m guessing a few thousand dollars.
WMM: Describe your first foray into professional film making? First screening? First show?
DC: The first film I acted in, was an independent film in San Francisco. There were six actors and three filmmakers, all working together. It was an ensemble piece that ended up in four film festivals around the world. It was exciting to make but not a very good film. The second film I acted in was a bit more professional, really well directed, acted and filmed, but the script was weak. It was a huge lesson in having your script strong before filming. And one of the downfalls of an actor writing a script for themselves to act in. They tried to save the film but it couldn’t be saved because of the bad script. It ended up playing in only one film festival.
For me, I would say the most exciting experience in my long career as an actor, director and writer, was seeing the first play I wrote being performed. To witness all these actors, set, design, lights, costumes and audience come together to share in an experience all because I wrote it down on paper. Awesome!
I had the same feeling in seeing my first short film being made. More so being on set as it was filming, than seeing it in a theatre. It’s humbling and overflowing with gratitude to see everyone come together over an idea I wrote.
WMM: What is the most stressful situation you have found yourself in as an artist? Most rewarding? Most memorable?
DC: Directing theatre in New York was the most stressful experience and also very rewarding. Most memorable, again my first play being performed.
WMM: What are your current project(s)?
DC: I am currently working on the feature script about Nick and Simone, two characters from my first short film, EMPTY. And I am beginning the first idea stages of a play about the story of my father and me.
WMM: How has WMM influenced / shaped / supported you with this process/project?
DC: WMM has been an invaluable part of my journey. I brought my first short script, EMPTY, to WMM, people loved it and one of the members, Jonathan Montepare loved it so much he offered to produce it. We made it, it got into Dances With Films 2012 and I got to see my first script realized. I also worked on my feature script about my grandfather’s escape from Manila in WWII, and I finally finished it with the help and feedback from the group. Then, my second short script, TUESDAY MORNING, made the first cut of a WMM competition, it was read and Chad Kukahiko asked to direct it. I have been really fortunate to have had both my short scripts made into films all because of We Make Movies. I am grateful.
WMM: Who are your biggest influences? (directors / writers / poets / whomever)
DC: I’m not really influenced by big name directors etc. I’m more influenced by the people around me. My grad school mentor, Craig Belknap, my acting teacher, Phil Bennett, and currently my fellow artists like, Kayla Morrisey, Pamela Dunlap, Jaimi Paige, and Tara Samuels.
WMM: What are your top 5 films? Who are your favorite 5 actors? Top 5 directors? Top 5 pieces of lit?
DC: I don’t really have lists like this. But I can list some things I really enjoy, like the silly comedy of “Young Frankenstein”, the deeply moving slice of life films like “Love, Actually” and “Crash” (not the Cronenberg piece) and the concise play writing of Harold Pinter.
WMM: What is your favorite project you have worked on and why?
DC: Working on TUESDAY MORNING with WMM was awesome. It was so great for me to learn how to continually fine tune the piece down to the essentials, especially with the dialog. Cut cut cut.
WMM: What would you change if you could, about your career trajectory?
DC: I wouldn’t change a thing. Life has been a journey of growth and exploration. I never would have found writing if I hadn’t first been an actor and director. They both created a space and knowledge base for me to write and bring my stories to life. I never would have been able to write dialog, if I hadn’t been an actor and I wouldn’t have understood story arch without having been a director. I believe these two skills are what makes writing relatively easy for me. I stress the word relatively. (ha ha)
WMM: Any advice for filmmakers?
DC: Do it because you love it. Don’t do it for fame or fortune or else you’ll be sadly disappointed.
WMM: What is your favorite thing about WMM? Why do you come, or did you come?
DC: I love the support and encouragement, the positive energy and the commitment to taking action. WMM is a group of doers, not talkers.
WMM: If you were stranded on an island for 6 months, what 5 items would you wish you had on your person?
DC: An iPad with wifi and Netflix, a really good pillow, endless supply of food and water, my husband, a shower.
WMM: If you were not doing what you do now, what would you want to be doing?
DC: Traveling the world and writing.
WMM: What’s next for you now?
DC: If only we knew…
WMM: Describe yourself with 3 adjectives.
DC: Joyful, loving, trusting.
WMM: What, other than your craft, brings you joy?