Wednesday, July 1, 2015

REAL Hollywood at Etheria Film Night

If you happened to read my previous post, then you know I traveled to Hollywood, California last month to attend Etheria Film Night at the Egyptian Theatre, a festival that showcases the best emerging female directors in film. 

I was invited to cover the event and help interview the recipient of the 2015 Etheria Film Night Inspiration Award, Jane Espenson, the iconic TV writer of such hits as Once Upon a Time, Game of Thrones, Torchwood, Firefly, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Battlestar Galactica Husbands. (To see my interviews, click here.) 

Jane Espenson (left), Zach Van Norman, Diane J. Reed

Naturally, I was beyond honored to attend, not only because it's a common fantasy in our culture to "walk the red carpet" for a bonafide film premiere, but because it allowed me the opportunity to peek behind the magic curtain of the Hollywood film industry and meet the kind of people who actually create powerful works of cinema and television.  

What I discovered took me by surprise...

By attending this event, I stumbled across the REAL Hollywood. Not the glossy version we buy tickets to see in giant-screen movie theaters, but the hardworking, rubber-meets-the-road Los Angeles populated by people who labor day and night to make the best visual media they can--and who encourage others to do the same. 

During the interview with Jane Espenson, for example, I did not encounter a hatchet-wielding network diva but rather a very humble and gracious woman who is brilliant beyond ordinary human parameters. I honestly wonder if she's a fairy godmother sent to earth to remind us of the depth and complexity of the human spirit through her magical wand of creativity (she's particularly known for writing damaged, multi-faceted characters). Jane Espenson even wore a shimmering blue gown, reminiscent of the Blue Fairy from the TV show she writes, Once Upon a Time. 

Why was this such a twist? Because somewhere in the back of my mind (in spite of my fangirling giddiness) I was expecting Jane Espenson to bear a heavy weight of soul armor. It's hard for me to imagine competing with the "big boys" of Hollywood to write television scripts for so many years without becoming gruff, defensive, or downright aloof (is it any secret how tough this glittery world can be?). Yet the exact opposite was true: Jane Espenson came across as kind and even vulnerable, an individual who carefully examines the intricacies of the human heart before she writes. And this is where her inspiration and true artistic power lies: She's never lost touch with the deepest and often most difficult emotions, no matter how arduous the road might be, which is why the iconic characters she's molded (such as Buffy Summers, the female Starbuck, Mr. Gold/Rumple, Nathan Fillion, and Cheeks) resonate so strongly with American audiences. When asked if she's drawn to writing these "renegade outsiders", she replied in a thoughtful way that pointed more to their wounds, saying,  "Absolutely. Strong characters that overcome obstacles and triumph, despite internal damage. I mean, these characters aren't just beleaguered, they're internally damaged. Starbuck has a lot of damage in her, even Buffy has a lot of damage in her. I think one of the reasons Amber [Benson] was asking me about why Buffy has resonated so much more than other projects is because people see themselves as a character like that. People don't see themselves as a perfect hero or heroine. But every little boy or girl can see themselves as Buffy." 

The imperfect hearts we all have in common.

What I find the most beautiful about Jane Espenson's writing is that she embraces the conflicted, hidden place inside all of us that feels hope, pain, courage, alienation, bitterness--and yet still dares to dream. It's no wonder we clamor to see her TV episodes, because she writes about US, our frailties and strengths, in a way that makes us feel more validated than reviled (even if her characters do sometimes wear futuristic clothing or possess otherworldly powers). To me, this cuts to the heart of her particular brand of magic. 

Similarly, I was bowled over by the kindness, creativity and artistic integrity of the female directors I met. Prior to Etheria Film Night, I was invited to go to lunch and dinner with several directors, and they were incredibly down to earth, yet highly passionate about their art. These women are graduates of top film schools who work in studios by day as experts in editing, sound, special effects, lighting, 3D technology, and of course, as film-project directors. But by night and weekend, many of them crawl over glass to make their own independent films, hustling for funding, hiring fabulous cinematographers and actors, and directing projects that artistically match the highest bar of cinematic vision. 

Stacy Hammon & Kayley Viteo

And I must confess that this blurry picture above (blame my bumbling photography skills) is one of my very favorites from Etheria Film Night, even though they rolled out the classic red carpet for stars to stroll upon while flashing sparkly smiles. Why? Because it features Stacy Hammon and Kaley Viteo in an intriguing hazy darkness, two women in film who are also organizers of the event. Stacy informed me that she likes to think of herself as the Wizard of Oz, one who prefers to remain behind the curtain (or camera) where no one can see her, rather than absorbing all the limelight. And damned if it wasn't nearly impossible to snap her picture! All night I felt like I was attempting to catch a butterfly, for Stacy was constantly on the move and reluctant to draw attention, preferring to generously showcase the talents of others. Below is a better photo of her in her natural element behind the camera (from Katie Wallack's terrific article "I Don't Like To Be Scared, But Maybe I Should Be" for the online magazine Ms. In The Biz). 

Stacy Pippi Hammon, 15 Till MidnightDisciples, Model Hunger
(Photo credit: Wolfgang Meyer, used by permission of Stacy Pippi Hammon)

Likewise, it was difficult to capture Heidi Honeycutt as well, another organizer of Etheria Film Night, who was so elusive I felt like I was trying to photograph a snow leopard for National Geographic. Heidi, Stacy and Kayley darted to and fro with almost supernatural speed throughout the event, making sure everyone was happy and ready to view some of the finest films directed by women all over the globe. I finally caught Heidi and strong armed her into this selfie below, where she graciously talked to me for a few minutes about her excitement over the films. 

Heidi Honeycutt, editor of MovieMaker Magazine (left)

Once again, these are women who prefer to be in the background creating and promoting fantastic cinema, to the point that they even fashioned Kayley Viteo buttons with her picture on it for people to wear, since she managed to be as stealthy in her monumental support of Etheria Film Night as a shadow-seeking phantom.

Anyone who manages to spot Kayley Viteo at 
Etheria Film Night gets a special prize... ; )

So what did I think of the films that debuted at Etheria Film Night

Pardon me for gushing, but they were stunning!! 

One of my favorites was Shevenge, directed by Amber Benson of Buffy the Vampire Slayer fame. It hilariously chronicles the slumber party of embittered wives Sam, Taylor and Charley as they empower themselves by plotting outrageous revenge upon their inadequate and/or malicious husbands. It had me snort-laughing so loudly I began to worry about being carted away from the Egyptian Theatre for disturbing the peace.   

Another film I adored was Sheila Scorned, written and directed by Mara Tasker and featuring fantastic actress Laine Rettmer, whose gritty portrayal of a psychopathic stripper bent on survival rivals the best films of Quentin Tarantino. Honestly, this movie left me screaming "SEQUEL! FRANCHISE PLEASE!" because I could watch Sheila navigate and dominate her grim underworld with enormous guilty pleasure for at least 4 more installments. You go, girl...

And talk about gritty, I was completely unprepared for the gore and mayhem of Gigi Saul Guerrero's El Gigante, which to me made Texas Chainsaw Massacre look like a Sunday picnic. Yet I couldn't help loving this film! Okay, so maybe it made me dead bolt my door, lock all windows, and check under the bed when I got back to my hotel room that evening. But this over-the-top, ghastly film left audiences nearly wretching in fear, and it was directed by a genre-bending woman! Who says chicks can't make horror films? There are no nuances here--just an all-out, carnage-filled bloodfest, but the director magically made the audience sympathize with her main-character Armando and his tragic, bloody plight to protect his family.

Don't let the pretty face and pink heels fool you--
Gigi Saul Guerrero of Luchagore Productions
can direct horror movies that will scare you witless

But by far my favorite film of the night was Godel Incomplete, an exquisite time-travel movie directed by Australian filmmaker Martha Goddard and featuring luminous actress Elizabeth Debicki in a delicate, highly-nuanced performance. This cinematically lush film, about a brilliant contemporary particle physicist who, through her scientific experiments, meets with physicist Kurt Godel at various points in time, nearly brought me to tears.  The core of the story here is Godel's Metric which was left unfinished in his lifetime (1906-1978), but which points to a theory of "timeline curves" that might allow for the possibility of time travel. As the characters slip in and out of time, yet deeply connect, I found myself utterly transported by this ethereal and wonderfully-crafted film, wishing it could go on all night.  How filmmaker Martha Goddard created this kind of alchemy in only a 15-minute movie proves to me, beyond a shadow of doubt, that magic is real . . .

During the film festival, I was able to snap pictures of a few of the multi-talented individuals who attended Etheria Film Night below. If you have a minute, do yourself a favor and click on the links at the bottom of each photo to see some of their gorgeous filmwork or to learn more about their contributions to the world of cinema.

Director Celine Tricart, 3D specialist, author, 
& creator of opulent & magical award-winning films (left) 

Rebekah McKendry, college professor of film, 
podcaster for Killer POV, staffwriter & marketer for Fangoria

Morgan Faust of BroSis PicturesFaust Films
award-winning director of the enchanting fantasy Tick Tock Time Emporium 
(showing off her pregnant glory--gotta love the motorcycle boots ; )

Actress Kelly Stadum (lead role in Breaking & Entering), 
& Benjamin Friedberg, producer of the award-winning film Speak Now 
& co-founder/president of InkCrayon Pictures (right)

And what was my final impression after Etheria Film Night? Does Hollywood indeed represent the boulevard of broken dreams, as has often been claimed, or can it really be a place to create art that stirs the soul? What the women filmmakers at Etheria Film Night taught me is that when you put yourself in the driver's seat to tell stories that truly move others, the road inevitably leads to the shadowy chambers of the human heart, where great beauty--and often great terror--lies. Whether or not these directors become world-famous will never change the fact that they make films that linger in their audience's minds (and quite possibly their dreams) long after the last credits roll. And when you least expect it, they might even make you see the "real" Hollywood (along with other fascinating "realities") in a whole new way...

And that's pure magic.

Photo credit note: All images on my blog are either my own or were gleaned from pictures in the public domains of popular social networks like tumblr, facebook or pinterest. If you own the copyright to any of these images & do NOT want them used publicly, please contact me & I will take them down immediately! : )

Monday, June 1, 2015

Diane J. Reed Goes To Hollywood!

As many of you know, I've conducted over a dozen interviews with the cast & creators of television's hit fantasy drama Once Upon a Time (to read my interviews, click here). Never in my wildest dreams, however, did I imagine that I would be asked to walk the red carpet! Enter the Etheria Film Night at the Egyptian Theater in Hollywood on June 13th, which honors innovative women in film & television. I was recently invited to attend this event with a special VIP pass.

The Egyptian Theater in Hollywood, California

Detail of a fresco on the Egyptian Theater

Fortunately, I will get the chance to help interview Etheria Film Night's main honoree, Jane Espenson Jane Espenson will be receiving an award for her writing contributions to many of the most popular television shows ever to hit the screen, such as Once Upon a Time, Buffy the Vampire SlayerFirefly, Game of Thrones & Torchwood.

Jane Espenson, Writer & 
Consulting Producer of Once Upon a Time

There's only one problem. As a writer, I spend most of my time in my darkened writing cave (a small office where I draw all the blinds), rarely surfacing except to take an afternoon jog, after which I sit down at the computer & pound on the keyboard for hours until my day is done. Since I live in the mountains of Colorado, more than likely I'm wearing hiking boots, an old pair of jeans & a faded cotton sweatshirt.

Hardly the life of a glamorous starlet...

Although at first I was quite flattered to be asked to attend the Etheria Film Night (& my husband insisted that I go, since walking the red carpet is a "bucket list" opportunity for many people), within a few days reality began to set in. 

And I became petrified.

Oh god, I thought, Hollywood is famous for being the land of size 0 women! This is not a town that is kind to middle-aged chicks with children who spend most of their time at a desk (not in the gym or with personal trainers) like me. On top of that, I refuse to try botox! All at once, those high school prom jitters that I thought I'd outgrown came rushing back with a vengeance. What if I look like a troll compared to the movie industry people? Will anyone be nice to me? And good god, how on earth do I find the right outfit?

Something tells me I won't exactly  pull off the same kind of entrance as Charlize Theron at Cannes, complete with flash-bulb popping paparazzi & an Oscar-winning boyfriend at her side in the form of Sean Penn.

And I'll admit, I'm as guilty as sin. Yes I'm one of those obnoxious women who's glued to the television screen during award shows, drooling over the gorgeous gowns & comparing notes with girlfriends about who we think deserves the title of "Best Dressed."

Like this charming & ethereal number worn by Lily Collins, star of the fairy tale film remake of Snow White titled Mirror, Mirror. Wouldn't this outfit be perfection for the Etheria Film Night? Of course it would! Except that I don't look like Lily Collins, and I'm probably old enough to be her mother. 

Yikes! All my life, I've been drawn to (okay, maybe obsessed with) the old glamour of Hollywood, but not for the reasons that you might think. Whenever I gazed at pictures of Vivian Leigh, Grace Kelly, Elizabeth Taylor, Sophia Loren, or Catherine Denueve, what I saw in their faces was something beyond the glossiness as dictated by studio heads & a score of lighting & makeup professionals. Particularly as a young woman about to make her way in the world, every time I looked into their eyes I perceived a raw kind of female power. Each woman stared straight into the camera lens as a force to be reckoned with. Never mind their perfect features, lithe figures, and acting talents. They looked like the kind of women who would never take no for an answer, and if we were lucky, they just might rule the world.

Vivian Leigh. I mean seriously, 
could you say no to her?

Grace Kelly, The ultimate Ice Queen.

Elizabeth Taylor, wearing makeup from
 the film Cleopatra that entirely suits her.

Sophia Loren, the eternal goddess

Catherine Denueve, a free yet 
forceful spiritI even own her hat.

These women were my paper dolls as I was growing up, and they helped me to imagine the kind of woman I might become. One who lived life on her own terms & who never apologized for her talents or her power. Nevertheless, the idea of walking the red carpet myself was entirely nerve wracking for at least a month, until I leafed through an old book I have of my favorite women in film. After gazing into their frank expressions, the idea suddenly hit me: just be yourself. That's what these women excelled at best! Okay, so I'm not a size 0 (& I refuse to apologize for taking up space). I'm not twenty years old, and I certainly don't have a stylist or a publicist. Since I'm closer to Julia Roberts' age, with twin children like her, I looked to her for a more contemporary role model of sophistication & glamour. 

Would that I had that smile & those legs! But what I love about the above photo is that Julia Roberts appears elegant yet comfortable, as at ease with the photographers as she is with her own soul. No matter what happens on that red carpet, she looks like she will have a great time, because she long ago learned the secret of life, which is internal value over outward validation. Now that I had acquired an image in my mind of glamour without being fussy, I set out to find an appropriate dress within my price range.

Hello, Ebay! No, I don't have thousands of dollars to spend on an up-to-the-minute couture wardrobe, nor do I have the personal phone number of Karl Lagerfeld, the designer for Chanel. So to my mind, the next best thing is a secondhand dress by a known designer, acquired through the internet magic of Ebay. What I found was a lovely silk Ralph Lauren gown in my size that is in a flattering black hue, a lot like Julia Roberts' outfit.

Naturally, I had to find shoes to match, so I searched Ebay for something glitzy & fun, and I came up with these glittering, black high heels.

I'd like to add that these are the HIGHEST heels I've ever tried on in my life, and I'm not altogether convinced I won't fall. So I added skid resistant pads to the bottom soles of the shoes to hopefully not take a nose dive while in Hollywood. 

Luckily, I will be attending the event with some friends who I'm counting on to (1) catch me if I trip on the red carpet, and (2) help me make this event as fun as possible, regardless of how clumsy I might turn out to be. After all, I'm a gal who normally wears hiking boots. 

What do you think? Do I have the right stuff to take on Hollywood? Give me sparkly shoes and a dapper hat, and I'll give it a try : ) 

And if you're in the mood for my overly enthusiastic video on walking the red carpet, check out my YouTube clip at


The interview with Jane Espenson was lovely! Her creative spirit brims with light & she simply could not have been a nicer person. I felt truly honored (& in awe) to be in the presence of her monumental talent. Below is a "selfie" we took on June 13th in Hollywood, 
& you can view the video interview by clicking here.
(And yes, we really did share popcorn with her! ; )

Jane Espenson (left), Zach Van Norman, Diane J. Reed

Photo credit note: All images on my blog are either my own or were gleaned from pictures in the public domains of popular social networks like tumblr, facebook or pinterest. If you own the copyright to any of these images & do NOT want them used publicly, please contact me & I will take them down immediately! : )

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Beautiful Dreamers

I have a secret...

I am a veteran dreamer. From way back. When I was in second grade, I was seated in the rear of the classroom at a separate table & told to color with crayons while the rest of the children learned to read. My teacher deemed me "simple" & unable to keep up with the class because I frequently appeared lost in thought, as though I'd traveled to another realm. 

And she was right. 

I was in another world. But what she didn't realize is that I was actually quite busy.

In my mind, I was visiting new lands & holding conversations with creatures who had wings & engaged in fascinating adventures that stretched the limits of reality. I remember how difficult it was for me to focus on rote learning, particularly since my mind was always spooling at the speed of light. By the time I turned seven, I had my subtle daydreaming technique down pat--all I had to do was fold my hands in my lap, tilt my head a bit & let my eyes drift to the side, and my spirit could escape from the classroom entirely. No one could tell I was lost in imagination, because I kept a vague smile on my face to make it look like I was listening. 

This habit had negative consequences on my school work, of course. And you might think I would have become discouraged by the teacher's assessment of my intelligence. I knew full well she thought I was dim, because another student came up & informed me that I was seated at the "dumb" table. The teacher heard her words & didn't argue.

Cool! was my reaction. I get to color! Not only did I get to dream, I could draw whatever I'd imagined & then take it home to show to my mother.

Thank God I had the kind of mother who always told me I was smart & creative! It never occurred to me to internalize anyone else's assessment of my abilities. And what my mother gave me, along with her consistent & enthusiastic approval for creativity, was her undying faith in possibilities that bordered on magic. While others might have recommended medication or behavioral therapy, instead she saw a little girl whose soul was big enough to try and embrace all the beauty in the world.

Now, in middle age, after finishing several college degrees, holding jobs, and checking off many things from my bucket list, I still find that the creative dreamer in me--that girl who loved to look at the world as full of wonders--is what I like about myself best. And I actually think it's what makes me the most beautiful inside. Forget the fact that I adore makeup, have too many shoes, and love to snag retro-bohemian clothes on eBay. What makes me feel the most luminous within is viewing life the way my mother taught me: As a world brimming with light, beauty & promise, where nothing is impossible.

And I have a confession to make: I see people that way, too. I get so excited when I meet everybody. They're all so beautiful! Each one a spark of energy I've never encountered before! In truth, I'm the kind of person who has to sit on her hands to keep from hugging everyone in sight--even strangers. Over time, I've had to learn to reign myself in because I scare people. A couple of my dearest friends "get it" & are gracious enough to run around with me in the woods every spring, hugging all the trees & greeting the new flowers. My little boys, of course, enjoy it too, and we prance through the forest crying "Welcome!" to every blossom we encounter. They're only here for a short time, don't you know? And surely they deserve to be celebrated. Especially with a lovely picnic blanket & tea set... 

So call me the April Fool & I'll wear the crown with pride. For me, this dreamy tendency makes each day enchanting. Like you, I continue to do laundry, go grocery shopping, cook meals, and fulfill all kinds of household & career obligations. But I never fool myself for a minute that such activities help me "get ahead." In my heart I'm already where I want to be. If I can run my hand through a child's silky hair, listen to his or her fanciful stories, feel sunshine warming my skin, smell new blossoms & hear the gentle rustle of wind through trees, I've "arrived". And as spring temperatures warm the earth beneath your feet, I hope you'll be foolish enough to take off your shoes & socks once in a while & feel its stirring beneath your toes, maybe even letting it trickle down to your soul. When you do, I hope you'll lie back on the grass & take some time out to visit with the most beautiful part of yourself--that part of you that knows how to dream. How to revel in the wonder & mystery of life, & how to let your spirit soar to wherever it wants to go. You never know, you might just find that it carries you to where you've always wanted to be after all...

Photo credit note: All images on my blog are either my own or were gleaned from pictures in the public domains of popular social networks like tumblr, facebook or pinterest. If you own the copyright to any of these images & do NOT want them used publicly, please contact me & I will take them down immediately! : )

Saturday, February 28, 2015

March of the Cranes

Every March, a miracle takes place in the San Luis Valley of Colorado. The Sandhill Cranes return by the thousands, during early spring on their migration route north, to mate & create their nests. Considered a high mountain desert area & rimmed by the spectacular snow-capped Sangre de Cristo & San Juan mountain ranges, the melting snow from the nearby mountains is enough to create wet marshes in this temperate valley that the cranes especially love for their breeding grounds. 

Yet what lends an even more epic quality to this annual beautiful migration, beyond the return of thousands of cranes (as far as the eye can see), is the fact that this species of crane has been coming to the San Luis Valley in southern Colorado for millions of years.

The phenomenon of these lovers' return is so ancient that it has been preserved in petroglyphs etched by Native Americans throughout the Southwestern U.S. for thousands of years.

Now, anyone who's read my blog or my books knows that I am as sentimental as they come and a sucker for true love! So of course it captured my attention that these elegant birds, who mate for life, are known for having a lovely heart-shaped marking on their foreheads. If you've read my novel Twixt, and seen how much I love the mysterious raven, then you'll understand why the Sandhill Cranes made my imagination soar, and I just had to use them as a symbol for the ancient lovers featured in my new novel Mission Archangel--the magical sequel to Twixt in the Enchanted Outlaws Series that tells the love story of Rose's best friend, Amy Tinker.

So while researching Mission Archangel (which will be out this summer), I took a trip to the San Luis Valley where the novel is set to see the sights, sounds, and in particular, the beautiful arrival of the Sandhill Cranes against the back drop of the Great Sand Dunes National Park and the Sangre de Cristo mountains.

My only problem? They hadn't arrived yet! Despite the fact that I got up at dark-thirty in the morning & toted binoculars to the marsh areas of the San Luis Valley to see them in the freezing cold, there were no Sandhill Cranes to be found. Unfortunately, I'd hit the migration season a bit early in the year, so a little dejected, I went back to my hotel and picked up my husband & sons and took them out for breakfast. My children begged to go to a local skatepark afterwards, so I obliged them, and then I decided to take the long way back to our hotel on a remote country road to show my family some of the spectacular scenery of the area.

To my total surprise, and in one of the most magical moments of my life, the Sandhill Cranes began to arrive at that exact moment! I tear up just thinking about it--as my small family stepped out of our car and looked over the wetlands, the sky became peppered with the dark silhouettes of these elegant birds, arriving by the hundreds, to land in the marsh area. And I'll never forget their beautiful calls to one another as they began to arrive, with that reedy, haunting quality, as if to say, "We're here! We made it! Let the dancing begin!" Because what the Sandhill Cranes do during their mating season is spread their giant, 5-7 foot wings & leap & spiral & float in ornate dances that they spontaneously create for one another, which they began to do as we watched, spellbound, by this natural phenomenon.

My children were just as silent & mesmerized as I was as we watched these lovely birds move in almost a choreographed way for each other, with their striking white and red markings and long, elegant necks & legs.

And even though the cattails & marsh areas were still covered by frost, that didn't seem to deter the Sandhill Cranes as they gathered in huge flocks, sending out their lyrical calls that echoed over the wetlands to herald their annual greetings. 

Because this was a special "research" trip for me to stir up ideas & be inspired to write Mission Archangel, I have to admit I felt especially blessed to catch sight of these birds, and it made me feel as though my novel might have a very auspicious--and even magical--destiny. I hope this novel can measure up to this early-morning sacred moment I was able to experience,  and most of all, I hope that Mission Archangel will remind us all of the eternal beauty of the path of these ancient lovers & their enchanting return to the San Luis Valley.

Photo credit note: All images on my blog are either my own or were gleaned from pictures in the public domains of popular social networks like tumblr, facebook or pinterest. If you own the copyright to any of these images & do NOT want them used publicly, please contact me & I will take them down immediately! : )