Archive for the ‘mentor’ Category

Get Re-Connected to Your Why

Wednesday, March 1st, 2017

Often, we spend so much time talking about strategy, that we neglect some of the fundamentals.  So, I’m going to spend a few minutes today talking about one of the most important things in your career, your motivation behind your goals, also known as your Why.


Your Why can look a lot of different ways.  You can be passionate about something.  You can identify with something.  You can have a dream or a desire or a love.  But, if you’ve been working on a project or goal for a while, chances are your Why has gotten buried a bit under the day-to-day demands.  The problem with this is that when we aren’t connected to our Why, it gets harder and harder to do the things we need to do toward our goal.  We feel unmotivated and we’re not sure why.

So here are 5 steps to reconnecting with your Why.

  • Go back to the first time you wanted to do what you’re doing. It could be the first time you ever wanted to act or write or direct or paint or produce.  Visualize that moment in time.  Where were you?  What were you thinking, feeling, doing?  Who were you with?  Close your eyes and recreate as much of that moment as you can.
  • What did that moment call up in you? A desire to do what?  Put that into words as clearly as you can.
  • Was there a change you wanted to make? A contribution?  Something you wanted to give or to share?


It Takes a Village Pt 2: Lessons from an Olympic Gold Medalist

Friday, May 27th, 2016

I am writing, as promised, to share about the Saturn Returns process.  As we gear up for our shoot in June I’ve been learning so much!

A few weeks ago I wrote about the concept of “It Takes a Village” to make a movie like this one.  Well, today I want to share one of the places that concept led me to and the wonderful lesson I learned.

In the spirit of “It Takes a Village” I’ve literally met hundreds of people who I’ve shared the film with. And by meet I mean actually sit down and have a meeting.  It would be tempting sometimes, as I talked about in the last blog, to get frustrated and feel like “if only I can do my art!”

But, once I embraced the concept that building the village is as much a part of the creative process as the director’s prep, some wonderful things really opened up for me.  Here’s one of them…

I was introduced to the amazing Kelly Clark.  If you’re a Mammoth-lover or Mammoth-local, you know that she is the most successful snowboarder, man or woman, of all time.  She won her first Olympic medal, the gold, in Salt Lake in 2002.  Now, 12 years later, she is still the one to beat.  She’s the only woman who can throw a 1080 (3 turns in the air) in competition.  She came in 4th in Torino, bronze medaled in Vancouver, and then competed in Sochi.  I’ve been fortunate enough to become friends with her and we had a terrific conversation a few weeks after she came back from Sochi.

If you didn’t watch the half-pipe competition, here’s what you have to know; the conditions in the pipe were terrible.  The weather was really warm and the organizers couldn’t keep the pipe frozen.  It kept melting and then refreezing when they put chemicals on it.  The result was a combination of slush, ice and lots of bumps.

I’m not a snowboarder, but as Kelly told me, when you ride down and then up the pipe, you have to “carry a lot of speed” to be able to do the tricks.  If you don’t go fast enough, you can’t throw tricks.  If the conditions are bumpy and irregular it slows you down.  Also, if you land on a bumpy wall, you are a lot more likely to fall then if you land on a smooth wall.

So, with all this knowledge, here’s what Kelly shared with me.  She fell five times before her last finals run.  She fell every single training run.  She fell in a qualifying run.  She fell in her first of two finals runs.

She also told me that she almost never falls.  By way of comparison, the week after the Olympics she competed in another event and didn’t fall the entire week.  She barely put her hand down once in 15 runs.  This gives you an idea how bad the situation at Sochi was.

And here’s what I heard her share.  She kept getting back up.  Even after her first finals run, she fell and she got back up.  On the world’s biggest stage, in primetime, with more then 3 billion people watching, she fell… and she got back up.  And then she won a bronze medal.

I saw her a few weeks ago and got to talk to her some more and hold her medal.   She said that this medal was the most special of all the medals that she’s ever won because of how hard it was to win it.


I was incredibly inspired by Kelly’s story for a couple of reasons.  First, we hear all about how getting to the Olympics and competing on the world stage with the best of the best involves sacrifice and hard work.  But, when I heard the details of what Kelly went through I really heard something I’d never heard before.  The sacrifice and hard work involve not just runs in the pipe, workouts and travel away from your family.  The sacrifice I saw was the sacrifice of ego.  The sacrifice of the easy way out.  The sacrifice of feeling good.

She kept getting back up on the board and riding down the pipe, fully aware that she might totally bite the dust, look stupid and fail in front of 3 billion people.

And here’s what Kelly’s story has in common with making a film.  I can’t say that I’ve fallen 5 times at the Olympics, but I can say that I’ve been rejected by hundreds if not thousands of people in the five years I’ve been working on Saturn Returns.  I’ve gone to meeting after meeting and been told no.  I’ve been told yes and then no.  I’ve had people tell me yes for three years or even five years and then tell me no.  I’ve had people question my sanity, my creativity, my judgement, and more.  In short, I’ve bitten the dust, looked stupid and failed.

Turns out the keys to getting a movie made and winning an Olympic medal aren’t so different.  You can’t win if you don’t get back up and ride again. 

By embracing the it-takes-a-village concept, I got to hear Kelly’s story and get inspired to get back up and keep going another day.  And now I get to share it with you.

I hope it inspires you, too, to keep going even when you fall repeatedly.

Please consider supporting our indiegogo campaign and going on the journey with us as we make the film.  Lots of cool ways to participate!  Only 6 days left!



What is it time to let go of?

Tuesday, October 13th, 2015

What is it time to let go of?

If you’ve been following me at all, you might know that I recently undertook a massive move with my family. My husband Gregory, who works in television most of the time, has described himself as a “FedEx package.” Meaning he gets shipped off to all sorts of locales for work. In the last two seasons months alone it’s been Mexico City, Savannah, GA, Atlanta, GA, Chicago, Toronto, Virginia, and Vancouver, BC. I might be forgetting one or two.

This is largely the result of runaway production. And since it’s unlikely to change in the near future, a few years ago we started strategizing a family move to a place where he’d be able to go to work in the morning and come home at night.

And so on August 1st Gregory, myself and our twin 5 year olds Niccola and Allegra all got into a u-haul pulling a car trailer and car alongside a mini-van packed to the top. We drove for three days and then crossed the border into Canada and pulled up at our new house in Vancouver.

Because Gregory was on the television show Fear The Walking Dead, the organization and packing largely fell to me. As you can imagine, it was a cathartic and confronting experience. We had lived in our townhouse for 11 years and in that time had gone from being a married couple to a family of four.

Over and over again I found myself asking the question, “What can you let go of?” And this question brings me to today’s blog.  (more…)

Summer Reading to Inspire & Educate You…

Monday, August 12th, 2013

Summer is well on its way.  Okay, soon to be over!  But, this blog about books to educate and inspire you has been on my mind for a while, so here it is.  These books are good any time of the year…

My favorite book on Acting:  The Year of the King.   
This is hands-down my favorite.  And, I’ve read them all.

What do I love about it?  First, it’s incredibly practical.  Antony Sher really lets you into his head for his process.  He explains his challenges with the crazy amount of lines he had to memorize, for example, and how he conquered them.  He delves into moments that he doesn’t understand and how he makes sense of them.

Second, it’s quirky and funny and very authentic.  His voice is unblemished by any façade.  Third, the journal-style approach with his wonderful sketches is unlike any other acting book out there.  And, he humanizes one of Shakespeare’s great anti-heroes, Richard III, a man who tests most everything human.  If you haven’t read this  book yet, I highly recommend it!  You’re really in for a treat!


Unlock the Power of Mentorship

Tuesday, May 7th, 2013

This month we have a guest blog from longtime client Michelle Cuneo. She knew that mentorship would be a good thing, but had a hard time actually getting into action on getting a mentor!

So, with the idea that she would write about it and help others, she took it on, and, wow, did having a mentor rock her world. Read about it below and then go get one yourself!  Let me know how it goes in the comment section below!

Love and Success,



 My Coffee with Catherine

by Michelle Cuneo

Learning about mentors…

Why get a mentor? ‘Cause mentors rock! The most effective mentors are those who help you see what you didn’t know you didn’t know. Yes, you read that correctly. We don’t know what we don’t know. Getting to the next step in your career seems easy once you’re there, but what about trying to get there!? We have no idea what the right action is or if it will work.

My career coach Shawn Tolleson, does a mentor workshop in Jump Start™ and in her Audio Course How To Open Doors. I took the class a few times and thought, What a great idea! I had heard the success stories, even helped my accountability partner, now husband, land a great mentor. Getting from great idea to actually reaching out to be rejected–or worse, having someone say, “yes I’ll mentor you!”–was keeping me from fully taking all the steps necessary to intentionally and fully make this happen.

I was so glad I had someone to coach me through the process. Shawn has a whole workshop dedicated to ways to reach out, how to write the most effective request letter and the rules of the game, such as paying for coffee/lunch, protecting their time and never ever asking anything from your mentor besides advice.

With Shawn’s tools and coaching, I felt ready to reach out to my potential mentor: Catherine Dent.

Why her?

I had met Catherine Dent (series regular on FX’s The Shield, currently with a nice arc on The Mentalist, plus 50-odd other great film and TV credits!) at an event. Immediately, I recognized her career path as one I would like to emulate, so I felt like she could be the perfect mentor. I reached out right away, but meekly; it took two more years to make it happen. In that two years, I felt I did everything I could to further my own career and realized, if I was going to reach goals, I was going to need to talk to someone with a different vantage point on my career, someone who could remember what it was like to be where I was and then share the steps she took to get to where she is now. I needed a mentor. I turned to Shawn again for coaching and to forward my letter on to Catherine. I then followed up.

She accepted!

Now what?

I felt intuitively that Catherine would be a great a mentor, but what would she mentor me in? I needed to get clearer about what my long and short-term goals were. What did I most want? I ultimately want to be a series regular on a Showtime or HBO series. THAT’S WHY MY INTUITION WAS POINTING ME TOWARD CATHERINE DENT: with her experience as a series regular on a hit cable show, she’d be perfect!

Now that I knew my long-term goal, what was my short-term goal? It seems like the journey for many actors is booking costars, guest stars, recurring roles, and then the coveted series regular roles. I had booked a juicy costar on the Season One finale of United States of Tara, but I hadn’t had a co-star audition since then. Choosing a short-term goal of three co-star auditions and one booking over the course of three months felt good because it was in line with my big goal, and it met Shawn’s criteria for goals: not impossible, not predictable, but the sweet spot in the middle, a breakthrough.

Preparing for our meetings:

I developed a very clear, three-month plan to reach my goal of getting three co-star auditions and one booking. I asked Catherine to meet me three times over those three months, 30 minutes per meeting. I prepared questions and refined them to make sure I was getting the most I could from our meetings. I also employed Shawn’s suggestion about meeting structure to help focus our time together. Her suggestion was to make the 1st meeting about the mentor, the 2nd about me and the 3rd for whatever is left unanswered.

So this is my journey and the changes my mentor inspired me to make…

Meeting #1

For our first meeting, we met at a cool coffee shop in Silver Lake. I was a little nervous; it felt more like an interview. I had my list of questions focused on her, her life, career, steps up the ladder and even family life. Catherine was open and honest and inspiring. She said, “an unwritten goal is just a wish.” She spoke of “No regrets.” and waking up in the morning to know “I have possibilities in my life.” But she also spoke to the possibility of never working again. Sound horrible? It actually felt very freeing. It’s a possibility. There are lots of possibilities, and just speaking to the fear seemed to dissipate its power.

I loved how she spoke about the work, about being fully committed, commanding the room and showing them, “this is how I would like to do the role.” With my being focused on an eventual series regular, I really wanted to know what that felt like. Catherine said, “Yes, it is game changer. You feel very special, very lucky, but it IS NOT LIFE CHANGING. No job is life changing.” This was important for me to hear because I’ve gone into every audition hoping it would CHANGE MY LIFE! Again, freeing–auditions don’t “change your life” and I could just let that go.

I learned how important it is to work with a team. She acknowledged that it takes a big chunk of your income but that you need to “have as many people as possible waving your flag.”

She also encouraged me to take advantage of every opportunity. She told a story about Paul Newman on the set of Nobody’s Fool inviting her over to the house for a BBQ. An afternoon with Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward! She didn’t go and wishes that she had, but the lesson has been take all open doors, walk through even if you’re terrified. “Yeah,” I said, “But you must be really confident…all the series…all these jobs”. “No, everybody’s terrified,” she said. Could this be true!? We talked about confidence and how the greatest minds of the world struggle with this. “You’ve got to walk through fire, you’re more alert and aware then.”

I left our first meeting really starting to understand how valuable a mentor can be. Catherine was amazing. Having her as a mentor was not only inspiring, it made me feel I was on the right track but with a new perspective. She was someone I could relate to, which made me feel like a series regular role on HBO or Showtime was attainable!

Meeting #2

Our second meeting was more relaxed and casual. By this time, my husband and I had been wanting to start a family, and Catherine gave me great personal advice and good books to read. I hadn’t expected this in a career mentor.

Following Shawn’s structure, our second meeting was more focused on me, and how Catherine would advise my moving forward. I asked if she could look at my materials to see where she thought I could use some work. She was really impressed and thought everything was there and looked good. She said, “We just need to crack this code” to get auditions and therefore opportunities to do what I love. This made it feel like an adventure. She was so encouraging, telling me there were tons of roles per week on TV for Moms and Teachers that I would be perfect for. YES, I can do this!

She reiterated that it’s ALL ABOUT THE WORK. BE PREPARED. BE REALLY GOOD. And then something happened for me that was one of those light-bulb moments. We’ve all heard from acting teachers and coaches that we need to be present in the audition room, and to fully commit. We’re told to do the role how you see it, how you would do it. But at one point, Catherine talked about letting go in the room, be in the emotional state at the beginning but don’t do anything you’ve planned to do just because you planned to do it. She said, “Just connect to the reader and let happen whatever is going to happen. Do the work and let it go.” I suddenly heard that in a way I had never heard it before. She told me that, if you’re supposed to sob on a line, and it’s not there? LAUGH. Do whatever is real in the moment, wholly connected to the other person. Create the space for ANTYTHING to happen. There was something so different about hearing this from an actor’s mouth and the most inspiring part of my journey with my mentor.

It was also one of the most important things for me to hear because, like many of us, I was brought up to be a good girl and do everything “right.” Despite my efforts to get my auditions right, I ended up frustrated. Catherine described what an artist is not: “You can’t care how they want it–otherwise, you’re just a puppet.” So now I strive to just connect and be present. Not even concerned with booking the job but being free and bold enough to DO whatever comes up, giving myself more and more permission each time to trust my instincts and the “crazy” ideas that come to me in the moment.

So there we were trying to “crack the code”–looking at the vast number of co-stars each week and figuring out how to get me seen for them. As I mentioned earlier, Shawn had stressed with us in class that a mentor meeting is for advice only. If you go in wanting anything else, it ruins the relationship because you’re no longer operating from a place of integrity. I’ve found that when you approach someone not needing anything, there is freedom. I was really conscious of this, so it blew me away when, after our second meeting, Catherine offered to help me connect with a manager! This manager is now submitting me, and I’m so grateful. This was a gap I had in my master plan, a gap that my mentor saw and helped me to fill in.

Meeting #3

When it was time for our third and final meeting I was so happy to have a manager submitting me and thrilled with all I was learning, but still struggling to get auditions for the good stuff.

The week before, however, I realized I had resistance to being in front of casting directors because I saw them as gatekeepers trying to keep me out. I felt great on set, but in auditions I felt a lot of resistance. I worked with Shawn on revoking these old beliefs and, shortly thereafter, I was having lunch with a CD friend and then auditioning for his film! Amazing that, when you can heal something, space is opens up.

It was so great to be able to have one more meeting with Catherine, so I could get her take on this, too. She encouraged me to know that CDs are my advocates; there’s nothing I need to prove to them. They need me and need me to be good. I make them look good.

In a new place

So here we are now, I’m taking these inspiring ideas from a working actor to every audition. I have learned so much, I am being submitted, have a whole new way of relating to CDs, and I can call Catherine Dent my friend. I had a pin in me for a Guest Star on a Showtime show, I’ve booked some nice Mom and teacher roles, and my husband and I just welcomed a newborn baby girl at the end of last year.

I still have the goals of increasing my auditions and bookings. But because of my three-month mentorship with Catherine, I feel closer to reaching my goals. I’m clearer about my next steps, more confident, and I have two more people rooting for me: Catherine, a true believer and someone to go to for advice, and my new manager. It’s invaluable to have someone with more experience and the kind of success you aspire to have take you under their wing and look at your career from their vantage point.

I encourage you to go get your own mentor!