…I think the movement has already been created, but I’d like to keep up the momentum of diversity on-camera and behind-the-camera in entertainment. We need more diversity of every kind, from storytellers to crew members, to create an industry that reflects the real world.
As a part of my series about pop culture’s rising stars, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Kathy Kolla. As a writer/director, she’s been lauded with accolades for both her narrative and documentary films, including a recent award for her directing from the L.A. Live Film Festival, given for her project “Plastic Daydream,” which is currently airing nationwide on the ShortsTV cable network. She answered our questions from her home in Los Angeles.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?
I grew up in a fairly traditional environment in Michigan. It’s a wonderful place, and my upbringing and family gave me a solid base from which to grow. Michigan is great in the summer, with lots of natural beauty, and I often miss my family members who still live there. But I don’t necessarily miss the cold winters.
Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?
Working as an actress when I first arrived in Los Angeles, I had the pleasure of actually being on a few shows with women directors. Seeing them lead the entire production was inspiring. It made me think that it was something I could actually do. As someone who has always been a storyteller with a love for the visual, I also realized that directing could be an ultimately satisfying outlet to help create beautiful and interesting worlds — to create something that might help audiences see new perspectives and bring up important questions.
Can you tell us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
There are so many interesting stories throughout my career, it would be very hard to pick just one. Something I was thinking about that lends itself to a recent story, however, was how audiences really feel like they know the actors they see on TV. There’s something in our brains that when we watch someone perform on screen we think we’ve met them in real life. An anecdote I experienced the other day was when I ran into someone I thought I knew. I couldn’t quite place where I knew them from, but I introduced myself and acted as if I had met them on multiple occasions. And they acted like they had no idea who I was! I asked where we’d met before and was answered incredulously. I thought the whole thing was really strange. Why were they pretending they didn’t know me? It was only later I realized I’d never met them at all — they were on a reality TV show I’d been watching recently!
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?
During production of my first film, out at a remote film ranch in the high desert of California, I left behind a prop after we wrapped. It was only after returning to the prop house the next day with the rest of the props that I realized it was gone. The issue was, the prop was a rubber log, meant to look like a real log, and it was left in the desert somewhere among real scattered debris — each piece more beige than the next! It was a quite an expensive rubber log! Luckily, after searching, it was finally found and returned safely to the prop house. Lesson learned was to always have a good prop manager to keep an eye on these things.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
I just finished a pilot for an episodic series I created called “Mayhem of the Mind.” It’s suspenseful and unnerving and funny all at once. We’ve got some interest for distribution already, and I’m exciting about shooting the next episode.
We are very interested in diversity in the entertainment industry. Can you share three reasons with our readers about why you think it’s important to have diversity represented in film and television? How can that potentially affect our culture?
1. The real world is diverse. Film and television should reflect the wonderful diversity that we see in reality on the streets every day.
2. Seeing diversity can lead to more understanding. Viewers learning about different cultures or different points of view through diversity in entertainment will develop a more understanding worldview.
3. Increasing diversity on screen could help people realize that we’re not so different from our neighbors. We all have hopes and dreams, and experiencing diverse perspectives through entertainment could bring us together as one.
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. Branding: Since entertainment is both an art and a business, it’s important to remember that one must consider themselves a “brand” and promote themselves, even if it feels awkward at first. Once you have a team behind you to handle public relations and marketing, you can let them do it, but when you’re starting out, you have to do it yourself.
2. Networking: In some ways, the old saying “It’s who you know” does ring true. That doesn’t mean you have to act insincere or be someone you’re not, if you’re an introvert or you feel uncomfortable networking. But you’ve got to make connections, friendships, just general relationships that can benefit yourself and your connections. Film is a group effort, it takes teamwork, and so you need to find team members.
3. Learn to accept criticism: Artists can be sensitive people, but constructive criticism can be more valuable than praise in many instances. Learn to accept criticism and learn from it.
4. Don’t take rejection personally: It’s a numbers game. We’re heard this all before, but it’s important to remember that you may hit a lot of roadblocks before you achieve your goals. When you get rejected, try to remember that it has a positive connotation. Rejection means you put yourself out there, so if you got rejected it means you’re actually trying. You could avoid rejection all together by not taking risks or putting your art out there, but that’s not going to help you achieve your dreams. So rejection is a step on the way to achieve your dreams.
5. Put your ethics first: In Hollywood there are definitely people who will lie, cheat, steal, do whatever they can to get ahead. That won’t bring true success or happiness in the long run. To achieve a long-term, sustainable career, always put your ethics first. Honesty is a core value that Hollywood needs more of.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
Remember to save some time for yourself. Often this industry will place immense demands on people. And typically, artists use their driven nature and love of their work to keeping pushing through by putting in long hours to perfect their craft. But you’ve got to also set aside time for yourself, to let yourself unwind. Maybe that’s going on a hike, maybe that’s meditation, but it’s something that shouldn’t be overlooked.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire 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. 🙂
I think the movement has already been created, but I’d like to keep up the momentum of diversity on-camera and behind-the-camera in entertainment. We need more diversity of every kind, from storytellers to crew members, to create an industry that reflects the real world.
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?
The singer Johnny Mathis is someone I’m grateful towards. I had the pleasure of directing a Public Service Announcement in which he spoke about the influence of Nat King Cole on his own art, and just being in Mr. Mathis’ presence was inspiring. Seeing how he carried himself was a lesson in sophistication. He also wrote me a letter of recommendation shortly afterwards, which I’ll always treasure!
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“To achieve great things, two things are needed: a plan and not quite enough time.” — Leonard Bernstein.
This is a quote from one of the greatest musical forces of the 20th Century, Leonard Bernstein, known for composing the music for West Side Story and for being a prolific conductor. It’s a great quote that I believe rings true. A person must have a plan, obviously, but sometimes it’s the pressure of a deadline that gets the adrenaline going, and perhaps even sparks the fire of imagination to create something you otherwise wouldn’t, if you had all the time in the world. Some of my best work has been done on a deadline.
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 just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
I’d like to have breakfast with Kathryn Bigelow, who was the first woman to win an Academy Award for Best Director. I’d like to know how she’s accomplished what she has. I’d also like to know if winning an Oscar was a goal she’d been aiming for, and how it affected her to win the award.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Follow @KathyKolla on your favorite social media platform of choice!
This was very meaningful, thank you so much!