“Have short term, not just long term goals”, With filmmaker and actress Dana Marisa Schoenfeld

Have short term goals. Most people have a long-term career goal — “I want to be a working actor, I want to be a film director, I want to…

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Have short term goals. Most people have a long-term career goal — “I want to be a working actor, I want to be a film director, I want to be a producer… but do the small steps to reach the larger goal. What do you need to do today to take the right steps towards achieving your long-term goal? When you accomplish the daily tasks, it makes life more manageable and suddenly you have arrived at a much bigger goal without even realizing it. Also, it’s always fun to cross something off your To-Do-List!

I had the pleasure of interviewing Dana Marisa Schoenfeld. Dana is an award-winning filmmaker and actress. She founded her production company, Main Sequence Entertainment, in New York City in 2016 and creates original and cutting-edge projects. Dana spent years in production working on hit television shows in New York City, before she was awarded a two-year scholarship through the Screenwriting Expo to study screenwriting in Los Angeles. Dana has written feature length screenplays, TV pilots, one act plays, and short films. She has produced a multitude of short films, pilots, and web series. She recently wrote, directed, produced and starred in the award-winning pilot, EAST. East won Best TV Pilot at the Hoboken International Film Festival (2017), Best Web Series at The Big Apple Film Festival, Best Pilot for a Web Series at the Los Angeles Independent Film Awards (April 2018), and Best Pilot for a Web Series at the Las Vegas Action on Film Festival (August 2018). Dana was also honored with Best Actress in a short for EAST at the Las Vegas Action on Film Festival, and she received the Rising Star of Tomorrow honor. Dana’s short film, SASHA, was an official selection at the London International Filmmakers Festival, The Austrian Independent Film Festival, The Big Apple Film Festival, The Los Angeles Independent Festival Awards, the Nice International Filmmakers Festival, The Chelsea Film Festival, the Las Vegas Action on Film Festival, and The Hollywood Dreamz Festival. Dana won Best Director for a Short film at the Nice International Filmmakers Festival, The Los Angeles Independent Festival Awards, and Best Producer at the Los Angeles Independent Festival Awards (June 2018). Sasha also received an Award of Distinction from Canada Shorts Film Festival. Her short film, Swiped Right (co-produced with Lydia Fiore) which Dana Penned (based on an idea by Fiore), Directed, co-produced, edited, and co-starred in, has won numerous awards including Best Director for a Short Film at the Las Vegas Action on Film Festival, The Audience Choice Awards at the Williamsburg Independent Film Festival, Best Home Grown Comedy from The Garden State Film Festival, and Best Editor (Dana Marisa Schoenfeld) at the Long Island Independent Film Expo. Dana also directed the short film, “Cayenne Pepper,” (executive Produced by Natalie Roy, Jen Rudolph, Peter Elias) which is an Official Selection at ITVFest and “The Handy Man.”

Thank you so much for joining us! What is your “backstory”?

I am delighted to be here! My backstory is varied and filled with adventure and experience. When I graduated from the University of Michigan I thought long and hard about what I wanted to be when I grew up. 🙂 I realized that if I chose to work in an industry that I loved, work would never actually feel like work — and I would enjoy every minute. At that time of course, I was a bit naïve, just because you decide you love something, doesn’t mean it will love you back! It took many years to achieve some success, but it has all been well worth the wait.

I have been working in the entertainment industry for many years and recently began creating my own content. I began my career as an NBC Page and have had incredible opportunities on a variety of great projects. I have done it all — been a production assistant, a writer’s assistant, a script coordinator, an associate producer, a lead actress, a director, a producer, a writer, an editor… I am basically in love with creating and find so many exciting ways to work. Writing, Directing, and acting are my three biggest passions.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your acting career?

When I was 22 years old, I was working as a waitress in a restaurant on Sunset Plaza in Los Angeles, and Kevin Spacey walked in. I nearly flipped out — but somehow remained composed and approached him. I was so in awe of his work at that time (obviously way before the whole #MeToo movement) and I told him the truth — I had recently graduated from college, moved to Los Angeles, and wanted to study acting. He was very polite and asked me if I wanted to join him for dinner. I was over the moon — I get to have dinner with Kevin Spacey and talk about my acting career??? OMG. I asked him a bunch of questions about how he got started and advice about what I should do. He told me that I needed to only focus on my craft and the best way to do that was to go study acting in a small town, perform regional theater, and hone my craft. And that when I was ready, the industry would find me. I thought that was brilliant advice, and I was so grateful. One week later I left Los Angeles. I didn’t take him up on the small-town adventure (boy do I wish I had) but I had a new perspective about the work I needed to do.

Then of course there was the time when I was working as an NBC Page and I was sent to pick up John Goodman from a feature film he was screening to take him to present at the Espy Awards… but that’s a story for another time.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?

I have several projects that I am very excited about. My television pilot, EAST, which has won four awards for Best Pilot, and I also was just honored with an award for Best Actress, is a project that I believe has universal appeal and is something very dear to my heart. It’s all about stepping into your dreams and no matter the consequences — and of course dealing with the day to day setbacks and journey of what it is like when you set out on the journey of following your heart and your calling. It’s basically a fictionalized version of my life and struggles as an artist and an entrepreneur in New York City. It’s called EAST as in EAST of Hollywood, and it was inspired by my move back east after living in Los Angeles for many years.

Dead Drunk is a feature film that I wrote many years ago and recently just revised. I shot the short version of the film in 2016 and now I am ready to shoot the feature film. It’s a dark comedy about alcoholism that I hope will shed some light on the disease as well as entertain and inspire people. I am currently looking for financing for Dead Drunk.

I am also really excited about my short film SASHA, which I am developing into a feature film. SASHA is an art heist film with a strong female lead. I love creating strong female characters that inspire and empower women. SASHA is a modern-day Robin Hood who can outsmart any of her opponents. She is independent, adventurous, and brave. If you could combine the qualities of James Bond, Jason Bourne, and Thomas Crowne, you’d have SASHA. The short film has won many awards — and I have been honored with several Best Director awards for it. I can’t wait to embark on SASHA’s journey into the feature film realm. I love creating strong female characters that I can play!

Who are some of the most interesting people you have interacted with? What was that like? Do you have any stories?

I have had the opportunity to work with some of the most talented people in the entertainment industry including Emmy and Oscar award winners — so I do have a lot of stories! When I was in my early twenties I worked for the brilliant show creator, Glenn Gordon Caron (Moonlighting, Now and Again, Medium). I was his writer’s assistant and got to listen to him take an idea and develop it into a script. Watching him break a story was one of the coolest and most inspiring jobs. He is a wordsmith. I have also been lucky to work for some incredible writers, directors and producers including Joel Gallen (Comedy Central Roasts, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Stand up to Cancer) and Rob Burnett (Late Show with David Letterman / ED). I worked for Joel Gallen on Stand up to Cancer and watching him direct the live show and learning from the entire team involved with SU2C was an extraordinary experience. The show raised over 100 million dollars for cancer research and it felt so fulfilling to contribute a small part to such a worthy cause. Also — watching directors at the top of their game is simply thrilling for me.

Working for Rob Burnett and Jon Beckerman on the NBC show ED for one season was a blast. I was 25 years old and totally enamored with comedy — so the opportunity to learn anything from these Letterman legends was a treat for me. Rob always made the work environment fun and kept the support staff happy with games and challenges (including a White Castle eating challenge. Yes, that happened and no, I didn’t participate). I was a script coordinator and sometimes got to sit in the writers’ room and listen to the pitches. Rob once gave me the best writing advice — think about the story you want to tell, and then come up with a hundred different ways to tell it. Out of that brainstorming session, you will find the gem that you should write. In other words, don’t take the easy way out, dig deep, explore every angle, find the magic and the authentic way of telling every aspect of the story. I am still working on incorporating that advice!

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

I wish someone told me how young I was at 22! I remember after graduating from The University of Michigan and moving to Los Angeles, I felt this incredible pressure to succeed immediately. I had studied political science and history in college, and it wasn’t until after school that I realized I wanted to be an actor. I felt like I had to catch up on all the years I wasn’t acting. Looking back on that, it seems so silly. I was so young!! So, if you are in your twenties and reading this… relax! You are so young. You have so much time. Enjoy it.

Believe in yourself. Don’t be afraid to create. Don’t wait around for an agent to tell you your work is worthy. If you love it, make it happen. I spent many years writing and submitting my work to agents and managers and getting no response. I never lost the belief in myself but did start to lose hope that I could work in this business. I wasted a lot of time listening to the “no.” It wasn’t until I took matters into my own hands that I started creating my own content that doors began to open.

Positive thinking can change your life. Try to remain positive, even when life doesn’t seem to go your way. If you believe in the positive, the universe might surprise you with positive things and new opportunities!

Have short term goals. Most people have a long-term career goal — “I want to be a working actor, I want to be a film director, I want to be a producer… but do the small steps to reach the larger goal. What do you need to do today to take the right steps towards achieving your long-term goal? When you accomplish the daily tasks, it makes life more manageable and suddenly you have arrived at a much bigger goal without even realizing it. Also, it’s always fun to cross something off your To-Do-List!

Surround yourself with people who are like-minded. Who want to achieve the same dreams, who understand the struggles, obstacles, and the daily practices needed to achieve your goals. Having a support system is key to success and helps me, as an artist, feel connected. I am a part of a very talented group of actors in New York City called The Actors Green Room, founded by Jennifer Rudolph. Being connected to this community and meeting so many people who are now dear friends has been an extraordinary experience for me. It helps make the day to day life of being an artist less lonely. It’s also so much fun to be on set and create magic with your friends.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“To Thine Own Self Be True.” This quote from Shakespeare’s Hamlet has always resonated with me. I think when I really listen to what I need or want, and I approach life or a project in an authentic way that feels true to me, I get the most pleasure from the work, and I am most proud of what comes out of that.

Who do you consider to be your role model for the way in which you have molded your career? What can you share about that person?

My father has always been someone that I admire and look up to. He is a self-made businessman who has always valued education, integrity, dedication, and hard work. He is loyal, honest, brilliant, and somehow manages to still have a sense of humor. When my sister and I were little, he used to wake us up for school singing a song from the Broadway Musical OKLAHOMA

Oh, what a Beautiful Mornin’

Oh, What a beautiful Day

I’ve got a beautiful feelin’

Everything’s goin’ my way

That’s how I like to think of my dad. Sunny, positive, and hopeful.

Where were you in your career 5 years ago? What do you believe has changed in that time frame (personal, with the world, and/or with your profession)?

Five years ago, I had just moved back to New York City from Los Angeles. I came back with a mission to focus on my acting work. I joined a theater company in New York City helmed by Bruce Ornstein called WEDREPCO. I loved being in class and Bruce had been a friend for many years. Bruce encouraged us to write and direct, so we could put up showcases of our work. I began writing, directing and starring in my own one act plays and that became a really exciting time for me. Soon I was submitting my plays to contests and winning! I think that experience gave me the confidence I needed to continue to grow and create content. After that, I began studying more intensely at AMAW (Anthony Meindls Acting Workshop), and I had a career consultation with Jennifer Rudolph, founder of The Actors Green Room (AGR). There was a guy who was part of the Green Lounge — The AGR Facebook page who had an idea to do a 72-hour film challenge. I was one of a handful of people at that time to sign up for that challenge, and I began to create short films in three days. It was my leap from theater to film and tv work and I loved every minute of it.

I think my personal growth over the last five years has been tremendous. I really embraced creating my own content as a writer, director, actor and a producer. Often times I edit my own films as well. I’ve been incredibly lucky to have won awards for my work — which is really just validation that I am following the right path for me.

The world has changed a lot over the past five years. It’s hard to grapple with some of the realities of what’s happening today in our political and social arena. We have taken a giant step backward with certain policies in Washington, and then a giant step forward with others on a more cultural scale. The #MeToo movement has created a positive community of brave individuals who are no longer afraid to speak out about their experiences. And with this fearlessness, comes a new wave of women and men who I hope will be pioneers, instrumental in continuing to help others rise and overcome obstacles.

We always hear about the best advice we have been given. Tell our readers the worst advice you ever received.

The worst advice? Well… that would be to give up! It took me a very long time to begin actually doing the work I wanted to do and during those tough times — especially when it was difficult financially, there have been a handful of people who have advised me to consider a different career — to give up on the dream. That’s always bad advice. 😉 Never give up on yourself.

What are you currently reading that might be something I should try to read as well? Why?

I am currently reading Norm Aladjem’s book, “From Me to You.” It’s the sweetest book comprised of letters and lessons Norm wrote his daughter while watching her grow up. The first few chapters made me cry, and now I’m learning the lessons too!

When you have the time, what do you binge watch?

I rarely have time to watch television these days, but when I do, I have devoured The Crown, House of Cards, and The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel and The Ozark. (Oh, I just binge watched the second season of The Ozark! Amazing.

Where have you traveled that has given you inspiration personally or professionally?

Traveling is a huge passion of mine. I’ve recently done a lot of traveling because many of my projects have been selected into film festivals around the world. Talk about living the dream! I adore Europe. This year I was in London, Berlin, Nice, and Cannes for film festivals. I’ve also done a lot of domestic travel. Traveling to film festivals is a blast because you get the opportunity to meet filmmakers from around the world, and to see exciting films that you never would know about if you weren’t at the festival.

I also adore wandering the cobblestone streets of Europe, stopping in the cafes, chatting with locals, and enjoying new culinary experiences. Traveling fuels my soul, and often times helps me to put life into perspective. Sometimes, just taking yourself out of your daily life to see a new way of looking at the world is the best gif

What would you say we need to know as a society to “move forward”?

I think we are in a very tough political climate right now and it’s not so much “what we need to know” but how can we continue to show compassion for each other and be loving and kind to each other despite our differences.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

I am incredibly grateful to be able to work in an industry that I love. When reflecting on this, I am not sure there is just one person to thank. There have been dozens of people on my journey who had given me the advice I needed when I needed it, or the support or encouragement, or the job, or the smile, or the opportunity to grow. I have learned from many people and to single one out doesn’t feel fair, although all the people I have talked about in this article have helped me in some way or another. I have an incredible group of friends who have always offered support, laughter, or a fun adventure. Each step of my journey has been filled with people who have encouraged me in some way. I would say, of course, above everything else, the two people whom I owe everything to are my parents. They laid the foundation for me to have the education and self-esteem to work towards my goals. in my heart of hearts, it is my mother and father whom I am most grateful for.

What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?

@DanaMarisaSchoenfeld (Instagram)

Dana Marisa Schoenfeld @Dschoenfeld (Twitter)

Facebook: Dana Marisa Schoenfeld

Company: Main Sequence Entertainment

Originally published at medium.com

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