Hobbies. Find other things are fun and get you excited without expectation of return. It’s so easy to get tunnel vision — especially as a freelancer or on high-stress jobs with constant turnovers and tight deadlines, so having reasons to get out of your head and out of the work are always key. I need more hobbies. But I also really love what I do, so if I’m feeling the burn coming on, I might tweak the motivation and write something just because, or work a little harder on being extra creative on an instagram story, or even just pick up that camera and shoot a small something. I write and think and memorize lines best on my feet. Living in West Hollywood is perfect because I can listen to a morning meditation as I walk to Runyon Canyon, hike the trail and walk back home. All before 8:30 AM. Ideally. That time is just for me and the best starting point for a full day of writing or auditioning or shooting. I try to do this daily, even if it’s just for ten minutes or a quick one around the block.
As a part of my interview series with popular culture stars, I had the pleasure of interviewing Sarah Stunt. Sarah has been working in the entertainment industry for many years. Having gotten her start in music videos, she has since worked with prominent writers, directors and producers as a writer from pitch to production on a full and varied slate of projects. Having studied and trained as an actor, she brings her creative voice to the page, creating narratives that come from grounded and authentic places. She loves this work.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Thank you for having me! I can’t remember a time when writing and performing wasn’t something that I wanted to do. There never really was a solid interest or passion for anything else, and since performing in my first play at age ten, I’ve been hustling to be a full time creative maker. I’m not an extrovert by any means, but there’s something that happens when you’re “in it,” whether that’s on screen, or behind the computer screen. I love living in this sort of peripheral, getting lost in imagination, seeing a new world evolve that feels completely real. I am constantly wooed by the process. I guess I’m a bit of a romantic.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started this career?
Years ago, I was on the hunt for new representation and was bumping up against a lot of rejection because I had sort of become the “music video girl” without much experience elsewhere. It began to feel like I would never catch a break; all I really wanted was the chance to be rejected for a real reason, like I wasn’t good enough or the right fit instead of getting rejected without even having a chance to show them otherwise.
A friend introduced me to her agent — who vetted me with uncertainty immediately — and when I started to feel like she was losing interest in my personal pitch, I flipped the tables and made her an offer. I suggested that she try me on, send me out on an audition, and let the casting director’s feedback help make the decision to sign me or not. I think she was impressed with my gusto because she agreed, and days later I was sitting in front of a room full of casting people, doing my best “bad gang girl” for a brand new series. I couldn’t tell if I did well or not — I’d blanked on the whole audition by the time I walked out of the room — but I got a call back. And then I was put on hold. My first major audition and it came down to me and one other girl. I was elated — but not gloating — yet. If anything, I’d proved that I could show up and do the work. Whether “they” wanted me was another story. After anxiously waiting to hear back, I finally found out that the role went to the other actress. And that was OK, especially since I was invited to join the agent’s roster after all. But here’s where it gets real good and to be clear, I know that this is super rare and I am extremely lucky.
The producers called my (new) agent back and officially offered me the job after their first pick ended up not working out. I mean, I feel terrible for her but also so incredibly thankful that I pulled that kind of faux swagger off, got an agent and my first guest starring role.
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?
For whatever reason, “camera left/camera right” has always tripped me up. I know the difference, I know it’s a direction from the viewpoint of the camera, but everytime I hear it, I clam up and forget everything. It’s like how I do math… I can’t. There have been two occasions as an actor that I remember clearly, mostly because I ended up getting hit with the camera both times. The first was during a fight scene, the second during a soccer match. NOT the DP’s fault — totally mine — but I guess that’s the biggest lesson. Trust your instinct, go with your gut, you know more than you think. OR the lesson is that I am completely uncoordinated and can’t follow directions well if I’m in a high-action scene. My last name STUNT really isn’t indicative of my abilities…
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
The whole industry has really shifted its focus onto diverse and female-centric stories. I think inherently I’ve always leaned towards telling stories from the perspective of marginalized people and communities and it’s nice that people in the industry are beginning to recognize the value of this kind of storytelling.
I was born in Toronto, but my mother and her family were born in Pakistan and India. As a “first and half” generation kid, I’m especially interested in telling narratives from this place. I’m working with an amazing producer on a comedy series called Junglee Child, a sort-of retelling of my life as a kid growing up in this very confusing, very awesome mixed family. Sharing memories and reimagining “what ifs” through this kind of serialized writing has been so much fun and I’m excited to see where it goes.
I’ve also just completed a short called Cupcake, which I both wrote and starred in with a partner. It’s a really cute and fun story about a couple whose relationship is on the literal road to ruin. Working in this capacity as a writer and actor and pseudo producer was an amazing experience, albeit completely daunting and overwhelming. I learned so much from this project, namely that I love to be busy and stressed with things I’m passionate above.
In the pipeline, I’m also working as a writer on two episodics, a serial anthology, a limited series and a docuseries, all of which are centred around strong and inspiring women in both fiction and history.
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 privilege and opportunity to meet some really fascinating people, some through random experiences, others through mutual friends and family members. My uncle used to work with pretty high-profile clientele; we once dropped in on Linda Evangelista and her then partner Kyle MacLaughlin’s Christmas Eve dinner with her family (she grew up in the same small town that I did). When I was a kid, one of his clients once called my house looking for my uncle who was visiting; he’d given him our home number (pre cell phones and pagers) to talk shop. I answered the phone and when he asked to speak to him, I pointedly told him that he couldn’t come to the phone and to please call again. He did, moments later, and introduced himself as Steven Spielberg. I was unmoored by this reveal, but we did end up having a conversation about how my mother was currently in labor with my soon to be born sister and how now really wasn’t the best time to chat. If only he had made that call four years later instead when Jurassic Park was all the rage and the beginning of my movie magic dreams started to unfurl.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
Hobbies. Find other things are fun and get you excited without expectation of return. It’s so easy to get tunnel vision — especially as a freelancer or on high-stress jobs with constant turnovers and tight deadlines, so having reasons to get out of your head and out of the work are always key. I need more hobbies. But I also really love what I do, so if I’m feeling the burn coming on, I might tweak the motivation and write something just because, or work a little harder on being extra creative on an instagram story, or even just pick up that camera and shoot a small something.
I write and think and memorize lines best on my feet. Living in West Hollywood is perfect because I can listen to a morning meditation as I walk to Runyon Canyon, hike the trail and walk back home. All before 8:30 AM. Ideally. That time is just for me and the best starting point for a full day of writing or auditioning or shooting. I try to do this daily, even if it’s just for ten minutes or a quick one around the block.
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. 🙂
I’ve always wanted to have my own multimedia development company with an arm called “The Division of Vision” or something like that. I’d love to help people create their own stories, whether that be through mentorship, equipment in kind and or education opportunities, regardless of age or background. It’s so hard getting your foot through the door, and it’s true when they say you just need one break to start the ball rolling. I want a year round, open to all, entry into the industry without expectation of personal reward or return. I guess it’s more like a collaborative enterprise where we’re all learning and creating together.
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 had told me earlier to practise gratitude because it’s so easy to focus on the negatives instead of appreciating the positives of each moment. You have to look for it sometimes, but when you find it again, it’s always worth it.
- I wish someone told me that time means nothing and everything. Learning to slow down and enjoy the day to day makes the race against eventuality feel more fulfilled.
- I wish someone told me to care less. That sounds weird, I know! But the truth is, caring about the things you can’t control or what you may or may not being doing right according to someone else, gets in the way of enjoying the process.
- I wish someone told me that everyone is just doing their best. Believing that everyone is trying to figure “it” all out the best and the only way they know how, helps rid negativity or unwarranted assumptions when things don’t go your way.
- I wish someone told me to go with the flow and loosen up the reins on expectations. Sometimes it’s better and healthier to accept the journey as it comes instead of trying to control it at every turn.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“And now that you don’t have to be perfect, you can be good.”
— John Steinbeck, East of Eden
I try to remind myself that when I go into an audition room — no matter how prepared I am, how well I know the lines or the character — my only job in that moment to make sure I’ve left an impression on the casting director, so that they will bring me in again, and again. The right job will come when it comes. The same goes for writing. I agonize over screenplay format, constantly wonder whether my beats or plot points are falling into line with standard practises. But when I remember that it’s what’s in the story that counts, the world that I’ve created that they’ve come to see, the rest falls to the side. There’s no such thing as perfect. Good is best.
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 feel guilty for sharing this, but I’ve never had to fight for my passions or drive to be heard or accepted; I’m one of the rare few who has been constantly supported without question by my family and friends. People in the industry though? That’s a different story…
I’d never be here without the motivational push from my parents, the forever cheerleaders I’ve met along the way, the casting directors who gave me my first jobs, the producers who entrusted me to make their ideas into stories. I’m so lucky and grateful that their unending help is what makes me want to continue to succeed.
I’m also grateful for the people who have doubted me. I still carry the seeds of uncertainty with me. I still remember the day that agent told me that I “wasn’t the right fit for film and TV” or that acting teacher who asked me how old I was, then said (condescendingly), “You should know by now.” I think about them and the others often. And it’s not about me having an “I’ll show you” revenge mentality; it’s about taking it all in, letting it go, and listening to the truths from those that I trust most.
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. 🙂
I want to have a weekend getaway with Brene Brown, Jay Shetty and Gary Vaynerchuk. I’d like to listen to the three of them share their views on life and work and the ways in which they’d approach every and all rhetorical situation that comes up in conversation. From Brown’s anthropological and research-based background to Shetty’s motivational woo speak and Vaynerchuk’s tell it as it is entrepreneurial mojo — this combination would be equally hilarious and insightful.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational!