While she’s starred on HBO’s Entourage and in the recent films The Madness Within and Cinema Rebel, actress/director/screenwriter Tessa Farrell is feeling the frustration in Hollywood right now due to the Writer’s Strike, but is optimistic that big changes are on the way for the industry.
As someone who made headlines as the “Co-pioneer of smartphone filmmaking” and has won countless awards, Farrell has seen all sides of the entertainment industry and gave us an exclusive interview about her insights into what changes need to be made going forward to allow for new projects and success stories like hers to have a shot.
1. How do you feel about the current writers strike and how so many in Hollywood are obviously being affected by it?
I know it’s frustrating for many people. On the flip side, it’s important to view this as an exciting moment because it’s evident we’re on track with optimizing the functionality of the Hollywood system to keep up with ever-evolving advances in technology that change the way content is consumed.
Growth follows growing pains. As Hollywood moves through this growing pain, it’s vital the WGA and AMPTP, well, everyone involved in creating entertainment for that matter, remember we are all on the same team, fighting for one goal… and that is to create the best content possible for this country and the world.
One of the many challenges with this strike is there are different opinions based on different experiences from people who serve different functions. For a solution to be reached, all sides must be willing to fully understand the other’s needs, frustrations and desires and take those into consideration during negotiations.
Unanimous, unconditional respect for each other is required as well as a thorough recognition of everyone’s contribution to the creation of content. Writers need studios to provide resources required to take a script to a screen. Studios need writers to light the match and create a story that’s worth telling and developing.
There is something else worth mentioning though… a potentially dangerous element to this strike that seems wise to not take lightly is the recent involvement of AI in creative writing.
It is understandable studios are drawn to, or at least pondering on the idea of utilizing AI for creative services as a way to reduce overhead costs. A major risk with this, besides developing the perception of a reduction in value of a human writer, is the possibility for severe ramifications down the line that result from altering the hierarchical structure of humans and AI.
Subjectively impressive creative abilities of AI don’t compare to intrinsic capabilities of human writers. Humans are spiritual beings of flesh, organic matter with souls, homes to raw complex emotions with a limited time on this planet. There is a beauty and dynamism to what humans can create that AI cannot replicate.
If we look at this strike as an opportunity for Hollywood to fine-tune employee function and satisfaction on all edges of the spectrum while updating system modalities to match recent changes in technology and a mindful navigation of the pandora’s box that is AI, Hollywood is given a chance to set an example for other industries and champion an imperative time in human history.
2. As someone who wrote her own film, what is the overall writing process like for a feature?
Well I’m a unique case because I’m a director turned actress turned screenwriter turned director turned producer turned film auteur. Scripts I’ve written are roles I want to play… kinda like I’m the Taylor Swift of movies.
I use a different process for commissioned work than I do for originals. For the script I was hired to write based off the book “Paralyzed But Not Powerless” by Kate Adamson, I read the book several times, took note of moments I felt were the most cinematic, put those into a standard hero’s journey plot structure along with other necessary plot points then occasionally created moments that metaphorically represented where the character’s where in their journeys.
For originals, the idea often comes to me randomly… in a vision or dream. Although sometimes a story pours out like a waterfall and I find myself struggling to type fast enough. It then usually becomes a free for all and the process I use changes depending on what best serves that specific story. It could be plot beats on note cards or a large dry erase board or a simple freestyle dive straight into a script.
3. What have you been doing during this down time in Hollywood?
I’ve been taking this time to study the works of my predecessors, fully recover from the making of Cinema Rebel, spend time with family, go on adventures, play at Disneyland and of course polish a few original scripts I hope to get produced when the strike ends.
4. What changes would you like to see made in Hollywood overall in the future?
With the #metoo movement, BLM and woke era, society is warmed up to the demands for evolution. Hollywood has made progress in reflecting these trends by producing content that supports unconditional acceptance, gender and racial inclusion, cross-cultural understanding and the importance of non-judgment.
To continue Hollywood’s progress towards ending certain injustices, the cord that feeds the breeding grounds for these injustices must also be cut. Otherwise, we’re putting a bandaid on a wound that requires stitches.
One policy I have personal experience with that, if amended, may help reduce sexual harassment is the “referral only policy,” specifically with talent agencies. When I was new in Hollywood every male talent agent, manager and producer I came in contact with, except for two, used their ability to “give me a referral” or make an exception to their referral only policy solicited sex and/or romantic relations beyond a professional relationship.
As a newbie hungry to get work in Hollywood, I went to several “meetings” with talent agents, managers and film producers. These people refused to meet me in their office, demanding we meet at a coffee shop, restaurant, or would simply text me late after business hours. During these “meetings” there always came a point of me realizing ‘Wow, this person has no intention of actually working with me… this is a date. I’ve been catfished.’
Benefits of a referral only policy, like the ability to instantly filter out thousands of submissions, seems to come at the cost of keeping sexual harassment alive and potentially robbing the world of new artistic geniuses.
If every talent agency, big and small, has at least one person who’s sole responsibility is to discover the next superstar, those artists with undeniably work ethics and carefully crafted God given talents, this could pave way to a decrease in sexual harassment cases while simultaneously elevating the performances of artists over all, existing and new, because now there is a spotlight on how good you are, not just who you know. It seems likely if performances can talk as much as rolodexes, we would see a noticeable improvement in the caliber of entertainment overall.
With the current climate of dwindling theater ticket sales, it seems to be in the best interest of audiences that Hollywood returns to utilizing the power of indie cinema. Right now, studios are very hesitant to acquire indies for distribution because of a focus on distributing in-house content but as the global economy struggles to bounce back from the pandemic, people want and need content they can relate to in addition to glamorous blockbusters. Distributing one-of-a-kind, against-the-grain, powerhouse indies may help studios bridge the gap between production expenses and box office revenue.
In addition to being an avenue that could aid in restoring financial health, indies are often vehicles for voices that need to be heard and result in pieces of art that exemplify the epitome of creative storytelling to make up for a reduction in budget.
With Hollywood’s proactive efforts to tackle racism and sexism, it’s time to also focus on reducing ageism. Hollywood has made steps in this area with recent films like 80 for Brady and Book Club but there are far too many jokes and comments still being made in major films and streaming series shows that shame people for their age.
Not only does this go against nature because everyone ages, it’s what makes us human, but it has extremely damaging short and long term impacts on viewers.
Evoking shame in a viewer has subconscious consequences that can surface in the form of road rage, violence, domestic abuse, etc. If content shames people, indirectly or otherwise, it may be inadvertently feeding these societal ailments.
If Hollywood puts more attention on reframing what it means to grow up by highlighting that it’s an honor and privilege to live our lives the longest possible, this will have lasting ripple effects that positively change lives. By shining a light on the future, people are inspired to work harder, smarter, and be more involved with friends, families and communities. Taking ageism seriously and addressing it through entertainment may directly improve the wellbeing of humanity.
5. Why are American-made movies and actors the best ever?
It’s inspiring how there’s now even more outlets for content consumption and creation. The expansion upon traditional Hollywood, with Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, etc gives artists of all levels opportunities resulting in a rich array of content for the viewing audience. By broadening the range of production budgets and adding exposure to even more creators, the entertainment industry has more opportunities to make an impact domestically and worldwide.
6. What’s next for you?
Coming out of my freelancing period, I’m building a team of the right representatives and focusing on finding Cinema Rebel’s home for distribution.
Cinema Rebel has funny ties to Warner Brother’s Barbie movie so it’d be cool to see it released around the same time.
Back in 2017, shortly after I let go of an agent and manager (they didn’t have the resources to get consistent quality auditions) I created a teaser for the Barbie movie. It was at Sony at the time with 6 screenwriters attached and no leading lady. Since I was already shooting a silly web-series called Barbie Rehab, it fell comfortably in my wheelhouse.
I couldn’t get anyone to watch the teaser as a freelancing artist so when Warner Brothers and Margot Robbie took over the project I transformed the teaser into something original and incorporated it into the plot of Cinema Rebel.
7. Any final thoughts you’d like us to include?
I’m realizing Cinema Rebel is becoming more than just a movie and there’s a reason it was made at this point in time. Cinema Rebel now appears to be a symbol. A representative for this pause in Hollywood.
Cinema Rebel, emphasis on the word “rebel,” is a movie made entirely absent the traditional Hollywood system. A film fueled by the resistance of submitting to flaws in conventional filmmaking. A refusal to stay in darkness. A victory over fear, pain, doubt and rejection.
Cinema Rebel isn’t pretty and it’s not meant to be. It’s real, raw, and human. Daring, bold and says what needs to be said… like a strike.
Turns out Cinema Rebel may be the love letter Hollywood needs and an invitation for evolution to further heal and improve the greatness that is Hollywood. An invitation to enter a new Golden Era… a Platinum Era… where everyone involved in making entertainment is taken care of as we work together in harmony and help each other shine the brightest.