The On-Ramp to the Oscars

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NancyOesweinBy Nancy Oeswein


“There’s something in the air in Hollywood; The sun is shining like you knew it would; You’re riding in your car in Hollywood; You got the top down and it feels so good.” Madonna, Hollywood

Now cruising at 30,000 feet, we begin our descent into LAX…that bustling metropolitan airport on the Pacific…moving closer to the center of all things film-related…big lights, sleek architecture, windows down, breath it in.

If you’re a follower of Michigan Movie Weekender,  chances are you have something to do with making movies and with Michigan. If so, I hope you’ll forgive a bit of self-indulgence to find your way hopefully to some inspiration.

This past week, I left behind that dank gray blend of soot and oil and snow at the edge of Michigan’s winter streets for the palms and sunshine of Los Angeles.

I arrived with Calhoun Koenig on a Wednesday, with a calendar barely half full of events and meetings, because almost no one commits to things in advance in LA.

I envy residents that constant organic flow of creative collaborations and serendipitous last-minute gatherings. I feel certain they can smell the desperation of those of us that have to cram months of networking and business into 6 days.  But we make the best of our time when we are there.

We have lovely, helpful friends in and out of the industry and as this is our last trip out before Calhoun moves there, we took advantage of every opening for face to face chats over coffee, interviews, meals or events.

If you haven’t made this trek, be prepared, be persistent, and don’t expect to see everyone you plan to…it’s a different way of life for sure. It’s our third trip in 2 years and it’s getting slightly easier.

Thursday… Pasadena CA 134 to the I-5, Olive to San Fernando Blvd…Burbank…palm trees…balmy 70 degrees February air…so much of the “business” of movies takes place over tika masalas, quinoa bowls, and lattes on lovely streets devoid of dirt and snow.

Every succulent, every Spanish tile, every colorful mural, every backyard lemon tree inspires stories in a way black branches and snowplows don’t for me. But stories come from everywhere and no matter where we find ourselves, we have to carve out the time and fortitude to get them on paper and then carve out the budgets and relationships to get them on film. But I certainly always feel closer to it than brass ring here.

NancyOesweincalhoun and billy at Agramon

Every overheard conversation is about projects and gear and who’s attached and what the shots are.  Sometimes, it’s overwhelming.

Here in Michigan, there are few surprises…everyone knows everyone. But there, it’s like a million colorful electrical impulses and you are acutely aware of how unimportant you are in the big picture. And yet, every lunch meeting, every latte, every handshake, you feel a little more connected to the pulse.

After a 4-hour lunch meeting, and a preparatory trip to the nail salon, Calhoun’s 3-hour scene study class where every actor challenges her, but she rises to it and knows she belongs…lets her know she’s on the right road.

Friday…pass Orange Grove….the 101…West Hollywood…Rodeo Drive…Sunset Blvd….cacti,  songbirds, outfits that would get stares anywhere in MI don’t register a glance here.

The Red Carpet for Agramon’s Gate is glittery with stars of the horror genre. Bulbs flashed from 15 media outlets…lots of hugs and smiles…mostly sincere. Old friends, new friends, connections…you never know who you can help, who can help you…or who will chew your ear for 30 minutes of name-dropping that you could have spent more productively.

In a world where it seems everyone self-identifies as a producer slash director slash actor slash screenwriter, it’s hard to know.

NancyOesweinCalliewithtwofriendsThe film was great, the feedback was great, the questions were relevant and probing. Late-night food after with friends… the only place open in Beverly Hills was a Denny’s…some things never change.

Saturday…Coldwater Canyon…Studio City…that famous LA Traffic!!. Calhoun absolutely loves an 8-hour beginning motion capture workshop at TJ Storm’s studio. In a class again filled with working actors that challenge her, she can see how this town is built for creative growth…no one cares that she is 17, only that she is serious about her craft.

Ventura…to the 405 to the 10  to the Pacific’s cresting waves and Santa Monica…plant-based options abound. Next up is an exciting dinner pouring over my next script and talking collaboration and investment possibilities. Though I’m not making the move with her, in these moments I see myself here, cutting those deals to bring projects to Michigan.

Sunday….101 to the stacks of the Capitol Record Building to Hollywood to Vine…It’s raining and somewhere just over 1 mile…just 5500 feet…just a 1-minute pigeon flight from us…. the biggest stars in the world are hovering, trying to keep their expensive coifs dry under last-minute canopies before walking the press gauntlet into the Oscars. I can feel it in the air.

As I pull off the 101 into Hollywood, I tear up a little. This is becoming so real. We, all of us, work so hard to be a part of telling stories. So much has happened with Calhoun in the past year…that the possibility that she might someday make that final mile trek seems possible in this moment. I  give myself over to it and wipe away anticipatory, dreamy tears.

Later as I watch the coverage on giant screens in a gilded ballroom, I see the faces of over a dozen people she’s auditioned for this year or auditioned to appear with…Spielberg, Van Sant, Ferrell, Affleck, Waititi, Cameron,  de Armas, Tremblay… and even though she hasn’t booked any of those yet….it doesn’t feel so very far away. They are there…and once, they weren’t…once they dreamed of driving up  Hollywood Blvd in a gown or tux just to be in that room. And here we are just that much closer…and yet that 1.1 miles are cavernous…that last mile is the hardest.

We are waiting for the red carpet to open for the Sue Wong Oscar Gala and Fashion Show.  Even waiting, we make new friends. A fashion week producer said Calhoun’s gown I designed belongs on LA fashion week runways and he tracked me down again at that end of the night.

She was offered a magazine spread if we weren’t flying out Wednesday morning. And every press outlet wanted to talk with the girl in the dragon dress. Here we are, breathing the same air, getting just a tiny bit of notice…she’s on the celebrity list of an Oscar Gala alongside our fellow MI friend Harley Wallen, thanks to our friend Jimmy Star.

Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday…a few more meetings, dinners, distributors, potential investors, apartment tours, and a detour to the Griffith Observatory and it’s back along the palm and cacti lined 105 to LAX to home.

Every year, 3,000 people move to LA and just as many leaves. It doesn’t matter what your goals are or if you never get closer than Bakersfield, or even Royal Oak…it just matters that you are moving towards them. It just matters that you are telling your stories, expressing your art.

It doesn’t matter if someone else is closer or farther away. This is the ultimate industry of malt shop dreams, where lives change overnight. But more often than not, the dreams come from hard work, persistence, and turning over every rock, every palm frond on the road to where you are meant to be. Don’t ever stop!Z


You know what… if you’ve taken the time to read this far, you clearly are digging deep in your quest for knowledge and inspiration and I believe in you…I really do!

I know with certainty that someone reading this right now will cross that Dolby
stage one day…I know it. It might be my daughter…it might be me…it might be You!

I’ll leave you with a little advice for filmmakers on any point in their road that resonated with  me, from a book I’ve been enjoying by Warner Herzog, “A Guide for the Perplexed.”

Always take initiative.
There is nothing wrong with spending a night in a jail cell if it means getting a shot you need.
Send out all your dogs and one might return with prey.
Beware of the cliche.
Never wallow in your troubles; despair must be kept private and brief.
Learn to live with your mistakes. Study the law and scrutinize contracts.
Expand your knowledge and understanding of music and literature, old and modern.
Keep your eyes open.
That roll of unexposed celluloid you have in your hand might be the last in existence, so do something impressive with it.
There’s never an excuse not to finish a film.
Carry bolt cutters everywhere.
Thwart institutional cowardice.
Ask for forgiveness, not permission.
Take your fate into your own hands.
Don’t preach on deaf years.
Learn to read the inner essence of a landscape.
Ignite the fire within and explore unknown territory.
Walk straight ahead, never detour.
Learn on the job.
Maneuver and mislead, but always deliver.
Don’t be fearful of rejection.
Develop your own voice.
Day one is the point of no return.
Know how to act alone in a group.
Guard your time carefully.
A badge of honor is to fail a film theory class.
Chance is the lifeblood of cinema.
Guerrilla tactics are best.
Get used to the bear behind you.
Form clandestine Rogue cells everywhere.”


See you in Hollywood!







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