You CAN build your own career. If you’re not aligning with your representation or you are having a hard time finding someone to rep you, you can actually create your own career. If you are a filmmaker, find a way to shoot your story. If you’re an actor, find a way to share your voice with your friends and create a short film. (Remember, short films can even be a minute or two! They don’t have to be monolithic projects!) Create your path and forge your own way. Be busy and stay the course.
As a part of our series about Filmmakers Making A Social Impact, I had the pleasure of interviewing Michelle Tomlinson.
From New Mexico to Los Angeles, from the stage to the camera, the film industry is home for Michelle Tomlinson. Michelle is an actress and filmmaker who loves the promises that humanity holds for the present and the future.
Thank you so much for doing this interview with us! Before we dive in, our readers would love to get to know you a bit. Can you share your “backstory” that brought you to this career?
Thank you so much for the interview! Once upon a time, when I was a little kid, I was a dancing tree in Missoula Children’s Theatre production of Snow White and I think that’s when I first fell in love with this industry. Add Video Productions in high school in Los Alamos, New Mexico, and then a BFA in Theatre Performance from ENMU in Portales, NM, and a beautifully long journey in Los Angeles, and here we are!
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your filmmaking career?
When I was directing the comedy, Deeply Superficial, there was a line of dialogue that one of our leads tripped and flipped over and it wound up being one of the most hysterical blooper moments ever. I thought I was going to pass out from laughing so hard. As the director, it’s nice not to have to worry about breaking character when you practically suffocate from silent snort giggles.
Who are some of the most interesting people you have interacted with? What was that like? Do you have any stories?
A million years ago, I worked at a post-production sound facility. Dwayne Johnson came in for ADR on a film he was in and I wound up meeting him and talking about giant trucks. (I used to have one when I was a kid in high school) Before I knew it, he tossed his keys my way and told me I could go check out his truck and take it for a ride, if I wanted. So, I took his keys and went out to his truck and the hood was as tall as me! It was the most beautiful and gigantic black truck I had ever seen and I definitely chose not to drive it, even around the corner, as it was right at Wilshire and San Vicente and the last thing I wanted was to wreck The Rock’s truck! He was incredibly kind and very gracious.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
I’m working on the post production of two films right now: EDGE and REDEMPTION. They’re both very inspiring to me. EDGE is a documentary which explores the importance of Native American language preservation and REDEMPTION is a narrative written by James Charleston which explores the root causes of sexual assault and various solutions.
Which people in history inspire you the most? Why?
There are so many, I could lose count trying to list them. From Rosa Parks to Ani DiFranco to my dearly departed friend Carolyne Barry and my Dad — there is a lot of inspiration that runs through my veins on a daily basis.
Two inspiring filmmakers to me are Ava DuVernay and Kathryn Bigelow. Ava DuVernay’s documentary, “13th,” was one of the most amazing docs I have ever seen. Absolutely enraging and enlightening and wonderfully shot and executed, I was mesmerized the entire time. Kathryn Bigelow’s “Hurt Locker” was a phenomenal film and she wound up winning the Oscar against her ex husband, James Cameron. I gotta say, that is pretty inspiring!
Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview, how are you using your success to bring goodness to the world? Can you share with us the meaningful or exciting social impact causes you are working on right now?
My two main projects right now definitely have meaningful social impacts woven with them. In the documentary, EDGE, we are discovering the importance of preserving Native American languages and how when a language dies, the way of life for an entire people dies and the impacts of those deaths. We aim to inspire folks to learn their languages and pass those sacred languages down to their youth so their culture remains intact.
REDEMPTION raises a lot of questions and awareness about the possible roots of sexual assault and different solutions to try to heal human beings from sexually assaulting each other. It started out as a one man show, written and performed by James Charleston, and we made it into a film shot over Zoom during the pandemic. It’s a powerful piece that’s performed by three heavy hitting actors.
I’ve also recently become familiar with the Non-Profit, She is Hope LA. The organization is run by powerhouse Tisha Janigian and directly benefits and uplifts single moms and their children by empowering and educating women to be able to re-enter the work force and work themselves out of the poverty that 80% wind up enduring. Being a single mom myself, and having to work myself up out of a pretty serious situation, this organization is close to my heart. I am supporting She is Hope LA with a gift certificate from myself as an acting teacher for the Fundraising event coming up in November.
Many of us have ideas, dreams, and passions, but never manifest it. But you did. Was there an “Aha Moment” that made you decide that you were actually going to step up and take action for this cause? What was that final trigger?
I lost one of my best friends to suicide when I was 13 years old. She was of San Ildefonso Pueblo descent. Her older brother and I have woven in and out of contact for many years. When we were on the phone a couple years ago, he told me about the Tewa language being endangered and that’s where I learned that languages can actually die. Part of what can happen to a people when they are disconnected from their language is an increased suicide rate. He was talking about writing a book to chronicle his efforts to preserve the Tewa language and I kept saying, that’s great! Write the book. Let’s also make a movie. Thus, the film EDGE was born. My producing partner for EDGE is Lori Bowen. If we can play even the smallest part in helping one person come back to their language, then we have done our job.
Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?
I can’t speak for audiences yet, but I can say that I have been greatly impacted through the interviews we’ve shot for EDGE. Each person presents beauty, grace, love, compassion, and strength. I cannot wait to share their stories with you, so you can feel their impact as well.
Are there three things that individuals, society or the government can do to support you in this effort?
Outside of assisting in funding via a tax free donation to New Mexico Spotlight Foundation through our website to enable us to continue our work on EDGE, I have three big words.
Our children absorb everything we say and do. We are their first teachers in this life, and we can choose to teach them how to soar. We did not inherit the earth from our elders, we are literally borrowing her from our children.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
- Our journey into the film industry is like trying to navigate a piece of wet spaghetti stuck to the wall. There are curves. There will be detours. Things will get sticky. Stay the course and keep going.
- When people are hyper critical of you, it’s about them. Not you. There are artists out there who are more interested in spreading misery then kindness and misery does like company, so… Be mindful of those who try to hold you back in the stale waters they themselves chose to reside in.
- You are safe to shine your light! You don’t have to be like everyone else, you really do have to stick to who YOU are and what YOU bring “to the party.” There is so much pressure to be just like everyone else that you can easily get lost in the mix. Needing to be like everyone else is a wonderful lie and you do not have to buy into it.
- You are creative. You ARE creative! I was told by someone close to me that I wasn’t very creative and I temporarily bought their lie about me. It made me temporarily think acting wasn’t as creative as writing or directing or, or, or, or. One day it dawned on me that acting is just as creative as any other medium of art and I had every business telling myself that I was creative and smart. That creativity is something I strive to instill in my acting clients. To recognize your own creativity is one of the most powerful self realizations you could ever have.
- You CAN build your own career. If you’re not aligning with your representation or you are having a hard time finding someone to rep you, you can actually create your own career. If you are a filmmaker, find a way to shoot your story. If you’re an actor, find a way to share your voice with your friends and create a short film. (Remember, short films can even be a minute or two! They don’t have to be monolithic projects!) Create your path and forge your own way. Be busy and stay the course.
If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?
If you envision it, build it. Create it. If you have a message you want to impart on the world, work to make that happen! You get to be the example for your friends and family and other members of society to look towards and follow your lead. Volunteer somewhere. Bring your friends with you. Use your social media platforms to inspire, instead of using it to divide. We need unity, now more than ever before. Our Earth needs us to wake up and come together, as our lives do depend on it.
We are very blessed that many other Social Impact Heroes read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, whom you would like to collaborate with, and why? He or she might see this. 🙂
I would love to collaborate with Ava DuVernay, Kathryn Bigelow, Guy Norman Bee, and Harry Manfredini on future projects. They are each such strong and talented people that have been on my “to work with” list for a long time!
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“The only way out is through.”
Although it’s an incredibly popular quote, the credit points to poet Robert Frost.
I’ve been through a fair amount of challenges, including the death of many close people and my own brief stint with cancer. There are no shortcuts. There is no way “out” of a situation, unless you go through it and then you can reach the other side. And then, you are free.
How can our readers follow you online?
My site: http://MichelleTomlinson.Net
This was great, thank you so much for sharing your story and doing this with us. We wish you continued success!
It’s an honor, thank you so much!