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Taking Chances by Telling Stories

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Deborah Smith_(1)One of my role models in elementary school was the cartoon adventures of Ms. Frizzle. Maybe because she made learning and exploring the world so much fun, but probably because I loved her favorite saying: “Take Chances, Make Mistakes, and Get Messy.” As children we inadvertently take these messages to heart, but as we get older we start to play it safe. We compare our actions to others, follow societal trends, and stop getting messy. I believe that Hollywood, as a persona, has also stopped getting messy.

I talked about taking entrepreneurial risks in relation to finance; risks that have a ROI (return on investment) attached (read article here). But what about the risks that aren’t related to finance? What about the risks that have to do with the stories we tell? ­Do we take risks there or just play it safe?

Inside Acting’s latest interview is with writer and performer, Dael Orlandersmith, who discusses how film and tv have stopped taking risks with their storytelling. After listening to this interview (find it here), I began to think about the movies I have seen this year, and the nominations handed out during award season. I want to clarify that I understand that Hollywood is a business, and must appeal to the masses to recoup costs, and I truly loved many films this year. I think Birdman was genius, both in story and cinematography, Wild importantly centers around a strong, female protagonist, and both The Imitation Game and Theory of Everything tell the story of essential historical figures. Of course, these are all big budget films that are still essentially Hollywood in style.

Short films and Indie films take more risks and yet are often ignored for it. I do not have an overarching answer for how we can support these filmmakers, besides doing the obvious: watching and sharing these stories with others. In light of this recent terrible tragedy in Pakistan, I am reminded of what Malala Yousafzai said after she was shot last year while attending school, “My weakness died on that day.” Her message speaks to the fact that this opposition to her education only made her stronger and more determined. I am inspired by her message of perseverance and strength in the face of her adversaries.

It is times like these when I feel eternally grateful to have received an education in a safe environment and be allowed to follow my passion of telling stories. It is times like these when I also feel that I am not doing enough. If our ammunition is our storytelling, when will we kill our own weakness and find a strong message to tell?

I know many of my friends are taking chances, and I hope their risks start to be recognized and applauded for the important sociological lessons that they share. As far as my contribution is concerned, while I search for my own chances, I promise to watch more little known films this year and celebrate their risks, and I challenge you to do the same. Take Chances, Make Mistakes, and Get Messy.

Deborah Lee Smith

About Deborah Lee Smith

Deborah Lee Smith is an award-winning actor, producer, and founder of “More Than You See”, a non profit organization dedicated to sharing stories and resources surrounding the daily struggles of mental health. Recent projects include “Here Awhile” starring Anna Camp (Pitch Perfect), and “Last Three Days” starring Robert Palmer Watkins (General Hospital). Deborah is also a regular contributing staff writer for the entertainment website “Ms. In The Biz”.