…remember to smell the flowers. Literally. Go to a park or somewhere in nature, breath, listen to some birds for a change, think of nothing, let yourself just be. You can find at least 15 minutes once in a while. It really helps.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Caroline Gombé. Caroline Gombé ‘s international career includes credits in film, TV and theatre in both the US and Europe, working with prestigious artists on both sides of the ocean. Some of her credits include Vedic Nights (2018 — postproduction), Club Dead (Hulu 2016), Janie Charismanic (Hulu 2016), Digital Physics (Amazon 2016) and a recurring role in the Nickelodeon TV series Alien Dawn (2013). Caroline holds an MA in Acting Performing Techniques at UCONN and a BFA at The National University of Theatre and Film, Bucharest, Romania. Since 2017 Caroline Gombé is Artistic Director of Bucharest Short Film Festival.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Imoved to the US with a scholarship in 2008 after 4 years of acting career in Romania.
I am the first black actress in Romania so I constantly worked after I graduated my undergrad. I was in the first (and only, so far) production of the musical “Chicago” at the National Theatre of Romania for 3 years and did many other projects in the meantime (stage, film and TV).
Then during grad school at UCONN I was in the stage productions of the Connecticut Repertory Theatre, it was part of my scholarship. After I graduated I moved to New York and started working almost immediately.
But by 2012 due to some issues with my Artist Visa and my Equity status my work had to be focused more on film and tv, mostly independent. Working in the independent environment in both New York and LA opened up a new world for me that touched my creative side.
So during hurricane Sandy, when I literally had nothing else to do — no electricity, so no phone, TV or internet — and couldn’t get out of the house, I started thinking what would I do if I created my own project. And then I started writing it. With pen and paper.
That’s how I started this new career path I am on right now: filmmaking.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started this career?
I think in order to make movies (write, produce, direct etc) you have to watch a lot of film, to learn film, to understand the world you want to be in.
Funny thing, the moment I decided I want to do that, things started unfolding in that direction.
First in 2014 I started teaching acting in a film school, New York Film Academy. I’m still teaching there in their Summer School Program. It’s a bliss to work with students from all over the world. I learned so many things about how acting, performing arts or just art in general is done in different part of the world: South Africa, China, Russia, Brazil, Argentina, South Korea, Oman. I also started to understand film technically due to the way the program is structured.
Then at the end of 2016 I started working with Bucharest Short Film Festival and since last year I am the Artistic Director of the festival. Every year I am watching 300+ short films. I would have never imagined there are so many excellent, fabulous short movies in the world. I thought it is so much harder to tell a story, both in narrative and visually, in a short time. But believe it or not the best short films I saw are the shortest (5–12 minutes).
And recently, this year while at Tribeca Film Festival, someone told me about a place in Brooklyn where you can learn how to pitch your projects, Bric TV. I have been going there since May to every session or panel about pitching they’ve had. I’ve learned so much: they’ve had amazing guests and a very clear, honest, engaging and inspiring way of presenting the facts.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
It’s not really a mistake it’s an “insubordination” moment that changed my life in a way.
I was working in a musical theatre in my hometown, Ploiesti. It was the premiere of my first show with them, part of the National Musical Theatre Festival. I had a dancing moment with a singer. Before that, there was dance moment with big hats and one dancers’ hat fell on stage. When they finished the hat remained on the stage. There was no transition between moments, so no one could clear the hat. The singer entered and started to sing ignoring the hat. I entered the stage and I simply couldn’t help myself, I took the hat and played it in my act. The moment got big applauses. After the show I was ready to defend my decision to the director and choreograph of the show, Marcela Timiras, who was very strict. But she came and congratulated me for my choice and told me no one knew the moment was not supposed to be like that. We won the best show award in the festival and many other awards. And the hat stayed in the moment for the rest of the run.
I learned to always trust my instinct on stage, to trust the stage, it always “tells” you what to do. I also learned that you can’t ignore the audience on stage, they see the “mistake”. But unlike in real life, when you find a solution they are happy to applaud it and to consider it a good moment completely forgetting the original “mistake”. So the “mistake” actually becomes an opportunity.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
Recently I have worked on two projects, both original video content, both written by me, one a comedy/drama on immigration, the other a comedy/fantasy on art. I’ve recently started submitting and pitching them to different networks I have access to. I also started thinking of the team I would like to gather around these projects.
And of course next month, in December, Bucharest Short Film Festival, it’s films watching time, I love it!
Who are some of the most interesting people you have interacted with? What was that like? Do you have any stories?
One of the most interesting artists I had the chance to work with is the legendary choreographer Dianne McIntyre. It was my first show after I graduated grad school, at Crossroads Theatre. I was playing several characters and one of them had choreographed appearances all throughout the show. Dianne McIntyre was the choreographer of the show. The director, Ricardo Khan introduced me to her. She is so full of grace, so endearing, such a wonderful person. And then he and the rest of the team left and let us work together. She started creating, with me, trying and building and sweating. I don’t know when the time passed. I think it was 3–4 hours, with a short 10 minutes break. When Rick came back my entire choreography for the show was done. It was an amazing rehearsal with a unique artist.
Another interesting encounter that came to me, probably because I’ve just watched the Quincy Jones documentary on Netflix: I worked in the film “Vacuums”, shot in Bucharest, Quincy Jones was one of the Executive Producers. It is a stomp movie, a lot of big scenes with choreographed fight moments. The cast of stompers was big, we were rehearsing outside in an open space in pairs organized in lines. I was in one of the last lines from the entrance. We were fighting with long wooden sticks so it was loud. Suddenly, line with line the sound of the sticks started to drop, until we all automatically stopped — more than 40 people. I couldn’t see the entrance but it didn’t look like something happened. And then a whisper came from the front: “it’s Quincy, Quincy Jones!” The air literally just got heavier. The entire day was different, the only thing that went through my mind was: if I get to shake his hand it’s gonna be the same hand that had shaken Michael Jackson’s hand, and Dianna Ross’s and Ray Charles’ and Frank Sinatra’s and…. I did meet him later at the cast party and shook his hand, I remember him being such a lovely presence, very natural and funny, but he does carry an aura with him, it’s hard not to be at least a little intimidated.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
Stay connected to the world you want to be in. If you can’t perform or work in your industry now, watch, learn, ask, go out there, meet people, get inspired, listen, find your way, find your door.
And remember to smell the flowers. Literally. Go to a park or somewhere in nature, breath, listen to some birds for a change, think of nothing, let yourself just be. You can find at least 15 minutes once in a while. It really helps.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
My great influence person would start a “Good News Channel”. That would be my “movement”: a channel where you only get good news, real news, every day. I am so sure the amount of good things happening in the world is equal to the amount of bad things. I understand why we need to know about the bad ones, but the good ones aren’t in the news at all. And I think in this moment of our history, we, the humans around the world, desperately need some good news, some good collective energy.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
1. “Here: 1 million dollars, make your own project!”
2. You will never be ready for or done working on a character/a project/a script
3. It never gets easier
4. You will love Uggs
5. It’s ok to change your mind
There are no specific stories, they’re kind of an every day group of passing thoughts.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Learn to deal with the valleys. The hills will take care of themselves.” Count Basie.
One of my hardest struggles as an actress and teaching artist is the downtime. I make a real effort to stay positive, creative and focused, but somehow it still gets to me once in a while.
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 have already mentioned some people who have been part of my journey. I would add my manager Richard Rosenwald and Carol Bruner from RRA who have been with me and stood by me for 7 years already. Richard saw me playing Sophie in “Ruined” at Unicorn Theatre in Kansas City MO (which is my 2nd favorite city in the US so far). Then I met him New York and he became my manager.
I would also like to mention the amazing dialect coach Leigh Dillon who I started working with when I was shooting for “Alien Dawn” (Nickelodeon 2013). She has a very efficient technique of teaching dialects and accents starting with pure muscularity and placement of the sound and then applying the changes on the text. It helped me immensely then, and it keeps helping me ever since because I have the recordings of her sessions with me and I can practice whenever I need to. She’s a wonderful human being, it’s a pleasure working with her.
And of course “Smoke & Mirrors Collaborative” and Zoey Martinson, my friend, collaborator and petitioner for more than 5 years. I met Zoey while working in the same show I met Dianne McIntyre. We stayed friends and soon after I started my collaboration with her company.
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this. 🙂
(There is a Hollywood actor or two I would like to have breakfast with — just kidding! J I’m never awake for breakfast, unless I work)
At this moment in my life I would really like to have a meeting with Shonda Rhymes or Boots Riley.
I am fascinated with Shonda’s techniques of building strong fascinating stories and create such complex characters. She’s one of the people who changed the way television is done in the 21st century.
“Sorry to bother you” is definitely my favorite American movie this year: the visuals, the idea, the storyline. Boots Riley’s artistic vision is fascinating, it’s fresh, unexpected, intuitive, honest, truthful, very smart and funny, crazy brilliant. And the way he worked the characters with the actors is unique.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Facebook : Caroline Gombé https://www.facebook.com/Caroline-Gomb%C3%A9-479636895408300/
Instagram: @carolinegombe https://www.instagram.com/carolinegombe/?hl=en
LinkdIn: @carolinegombe https://www.linkedin.com/in/caroline-gomb%C3%A9-a8415018/
Twitter: @CarolineGombe https://twitter.com/CarolineGombe
Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational!