June 04, 2018

An Author On the Set of Star with Queen Latifah, Maegan Good and Evan Ross: To be a Star, You Must Surround Yourself with Stars

Networking makes the dream work, and I can't say that enough. It's so important to meet and greet people that are bigger and brighter than you are in the hopes that you can learn how to shine just as big and as bright. And, what better place to meet people that are shining brightly than on a nationally shown television network. To sit among actors and actresses that have already made their spot in Hollywood and that are attempting to climb even greater heights is an excellent way to learn how to do the same for yourself. I always believe that to learn to be successful you have to surround yourself with success, and I could not get anymore successful than surrounding myself with the cast of Stars on Fox Network, and with veterans in the entertainment field. To see them live, and close, and in person working in a professional environment would be the necessary step I needed to help me focus on attaining my dreams. So, when I received the opportunity to be an extra on the show, of course, I signed up to be an extra on Lee Daniel's latest hit series Star, and I will say I was easily impressed, mesmerized, and star struck (pun intended). It was easily one of the most highlighting experiences of the year.

Of course, as always, I brought my book. I think its pretty well-known that when I am on set-- I am never just an ordinary background actress; I am an author, bridging connections and trying to find a person to pitch. What better place to pitch your novel idea, than a film set filled with other writers, directors, actors, and those with connections that can further your career. In life, it is never about what you know-- but it is always about who you know, and who better to get to know than a person who has already made it to where I am trying to go. So, once I received the call, I packed my three best outfits, my three best books, and hit the road to Atlanta, Georgia to meet greatness with stars in my eyes.

My first advice to anyone that is trying to use a film set to network is to stand out and do your research. The night before appearing on Star, I re-watched all the episodes of Season 2. I paid careful attention to what the cast were wearing. I wanted to look like I belonged, like I was a part of the cast, like I was an insider. I wanted to "look the part" and looking the part is half the battle. I knew that when I stepped on set, I would be in a sea of people all striving for a spotlight. Most people are going to wear either the skimpiest outfit or the craziest-- and I wanted to do the opposite. Sometimes, the best way to stand out-- is to simply fit in.Thus, I choose a sequin blazer, fitted jeans, nice flats, and I wore my hair straight. I patterned my makeup a little edgy with dark lipstick, which is signature for the show and big hoop earrings. I was very urban, but catchy. Based on the responses from my look when I arrived set, my outfit was the perfect match for the show.
My first advice to anyone that is trying to use a film set to network is to stand out and do your research.
After donning my outfit, I rode to Atlanta and arrived to set 30 minutes early. What awaited me was a long line of extras being shuffled from the parking lot into a tent that was several miles away. Of course, I took this as a great time to network. I always treat every person as an opportunity to share ideas, exchange information, and learn more. You never know who may be in the crowd. One woman I spoke to happened to be an aspiring film producer who had done quite a few indie films. As we exchanged information, I had no idea she would become my best friend quite literally. Her expertise in the film industry as a crew member, a film student, and an aspiring producer would literally help me navigate the entire set as though I was a pro. She was my first major connection, and she was a resourceful one. In fact, she is currently creating the promos for each of my novels as we speak, so this connection was definitely a great one.

Nevertheless, by the time I made it to set, I had made several friends. Some were older, some were younger, most were carried in their professions-- but some would prove life changing. However, I will get back to that later. As I set in the tent looking at the styles and clothing of all the extras, wardrobe approved my sequin jacket and actually fell in love with it. They were the first to make a comment on how cool it was-- and it made me feel as though I had chose correctly. Next, we were off to hair and makeup for a quick picture, and to gel my edges down. Then, we were walking behind a production assistant to the set. Of course, we were all freezing, the sun was out, it was noon, but the PA's didn't care. They barked orders for us to line up, to get in our places, to follow directions and to listen. Some of the PAs were nice and some weren't, but they were all in a hurry to get things done, and they were not interested in answering questions.
I always treat every person as an opportunity to share ideas, exchange information, and learn more. You never know who may be in the crowd.
However, this is were my new found friend came in-- because she had so much film experience. She literally whispered in my ear the answers to my questions before I had time to ask them, which was nice. She was charming, beautiful with a nice smile-- and she was literally saving me from embarrassment at every term. Words like holding, reset, back to your ones, and picture up-- were all new for me. I was thankful that she would explain them with ease. Opening yourself up to new people can many times lead to unexpected successes. If I had never networked with her, made friends, or exchanged information-- I would never have had the opportunity to learn from her tutelage and improve my experience on set. Being open, willing and flexible to other healthy relationships-- it can be the difference between success and failure.
When we reached holding, we were in a bar, and we were all guessing what scene we were going to be a part of. From the colorful beads, rainbow colored decorations, and colorful Mardi Gra mask-- I guessed a pride parade. However, let's be honest-- I had read the information on the email. I already knew it was a pride parade, but it seemed that I was the only one who read the email invitation thoroughly. It's important to make sure that you read a packet thoroughly before going to an event. Ignorance is not always bliss, and knowledge can give you a really clear edge over the crowd.

However, as I was sitting there chit chatting with all these various ladies from transsexuals, to strippers, to everyday housewives, to educators, I was having a ball-- I was surrounded by people and I was navigating all types. You can't be narrow minded when networking, and you never know who is sitting next to you so remember to treat everyone with a decorum of respect. There were ridiculously funny and entertaining. In fact, during the course of the conversation, many of the ladies were discussing stealing someone's jacket. I stopped long enough to listen to hear them jokingly reveal that the jacket they were planning to steal-- was mine. I was elated, that I was receiving so many compliments and notice from a simple jacket.
 Being open, willing and flexible to other healthy relationships-- it can be the difference between success and failure.
Once we were out of holding, we were introduced to the Assistant Directors who led us to our places. One director in particular pointed me out, and my new found friend came along with me-- along with a few other ladies. She led us to the middle of a street that was blocked off by false police cars and had a huge black bus waiting in the middle. She looked at our group and said "Are any of you guys friends for real?" Of course, Iesha raised her hand immediately.

"We are," she shouted, and I couldn't help but laugh. Not only was she knowledgeable, but she was quick to take advantage of an opportunity.  This is a necessary skill set when networking; never turn down lucrative opportunities because you never know where they may lead. The director nodded her head and lead us to a corner in front of a stand in, which was a young woman with a badge on her shirt. Iesha explained that a stand in was meant to reserve the spot for one of the actors as they filmed. I nodded, but I couldn't help but wonder who the young lady was "standing in" for. The director than explained that when we were given our cue, we were to pantomime or pretend to dance and have fun a this Mardi Gra parade for the first scene.

As we stood there listening to the director give us our directions and going through rehearsals, I suddenly found out who was meant to fill the spot behind me. It was none other than Meagan Good. The actress from Think Like a Man, Stomp The Yard, The Unborn, and so many other films.  It took so much will power to not gush, or ask her for photographs, or spaz, but I controlled myself. However, after much joking around-- I finally got her to interact with me. She discussed her dreams of directing films one day, and I was able to sneak in my dream of becoming a New York Times Best Selling author. And there you have it, we were two people on the road to our dreams, but she seemed a lot closer to hers than I was. I wanted to show her one of my novels; however, it was time to pantomime our dancing scenes again-- and I never got the opportunity.

Yet, I was still able to establish myself as an author, and I still remember the look of amazement on her face. I was now not just another face in the crowd, and who knows, if I ever see her again-- maybe she'll remember that moment. However, one of the biggest things I took from her that day was her kindness. Her willingness to take pictures with fans, even in the middle of a busy work day, her willingness to let someone she never met kiss her on the cheek (while we have a flu epidemic going on mind you), and her ability to speak to someone-- who for all intents and purposes was a "nobody" to her about her books. Meagan Good was simply a good person, and good people can achieve a lot. She was thankful, kind and willing to talk to everyone-- no one was beneath. Stars don't have to struggle to shine; they don't have to diminish those around them to stand out; they are bright all by themselves; yet, a true star is kind enough to share the sky with others.
I suddenly found out who was meant to fill the spot behind me. It was none other than Meagan Good. 
Regardless, the role I had been given by the director was simple. Iesha and I were to be friends crossing the street in front of the other actresses which included a star stellar list-- Queen Latifah as Carlotta, Jude Demorest as Star, Ryan Destiny as Alexander Cane, Brittany O' Grady as Simone Davis, Evan Ross as Angel, Luke James as Noah Brooks, Stephan Doreff as Bobby Dean and Lance Gross who has just received a reoccurring role on the new season. Regardless, they would all be climbing down from a bus, and we were to cross in front of them pantomiming our new found friendship along the way, which was  lot harder than it sounds. On the first take, we did great. The second take, I think Iesha bumped into Queen Latifah, and nearly died. I couldn't help but laugh, as I had came close a time or two. The third take, we somehow got separated and had to regroup, on the fourth take, we ended up going in a completely opposite direction, on the fifth take, I was worried that our small part would be end up on the cutting room floor (if they even still had a cutting room). Regardless, by the 20th time, we made sure to stay out of the stars way, because they definitely wouldn't stay out of ours.

In the process, I was able to say hello to Simone, or Brittany, and catch the attention of Evan Ross. He was nice enough to speak to me every time he saw me, which happened to be quite often. We kept crossing paths the entire day. In fact, he even noticed my jacket and rubbed it to see if the colors changed (which it did by the way), and we even made a couple of jokes together. Of course, my new friend decided to embarrass me in front of him, by gushing on our impending wedding day (Evan is already married by the way) within ear shot (like right behind his back) and get me a couple of dirty stares. However, overall, he was probably the nicest (and handsomest) of all the cast members. Also, who knew my jacket could get me so much attention, especially a compliment from Diana Ross's son and Tracie Ellis's little brother. However, I was never able to stop smiling and drooling enough to discuss my novel with Evan and pictures were out of the realm of possibilities. Yet, who knows? Maybe, we will cross paths again and he will take a picture with me and my novel. Or, maybe when he was rubbing my coat-- maybe he left a little bit of his star power on me. Regardless, it was nice to be noticed.
Stars don't have to struggle to shine; they don't have to diminish those around them to stand out; they are bright all by themselves; yet, a star is kind enough to share the sky with others. 
Finally when night came, I got to watch Evan and Brittany in action-- acting out a volatile scene of her slapping Angel and the cops coming along to impose a small racial undertone. Although, the cop car broke down a few times-- the moment was mesmerizing. Watching Lee Daniels in action, redirecting, coaxing the scene he wanted, changing the lighting and making sure he got the perfect shot was absolutely magical. I honestly believed he was the real star of the scene-- from behind the camera he worked small miracles. During this time, I had another small part of walking my friend home. I imagined, the TV seeing me in my sequin jacket fade into the night behind Evan as he sat-- hands tied behind his back on the sidewalk. It was nice to be a part of something-- although by this time my feet were hurting and the tiredness of the day was starting to settle in.

Image may contain: one or more people, night and outdoorAgain, when Evan and I crossed passed-- he always had a ready smile for me. It was almost a running gag by this time. "It's always you--" he said commenting on how he always saw me when he looked up, and I would smile and gush-- only being able to answer "yes" followed by an embarrassingly school girl giggle. However, the weirder part is that I didn't want to seem like I was stalking the man-- so there were times that we crossed paths that I would not look up or pretend not to see him-- so he wouldn't think I was some crazed fan out to bask in the glow of his stardom. I am not sure if that was more awkward. However, as awkward as that seemed, I was upset at myself for not speaking to him as I was able to speak to Megan Good. So, I figured this was something I needed to work on. Not only did I need to network with women-- but I also needed to learn to navigate the world of the opposite sex. Yet, the awesome part again is that out of sea of faces-- pretty girls with high skirts, low cut tops, boys with designer clothing, and flashy jewelry-- I was the extra he noticed. There had to be close to a hundred extras on that set, yet I was noticeable; I stood out by blending in. In fact, during one small moment while I was sitting on the bench waiting for my scene-- a passerby asked me "Are you an actress?" There were 10 other extras standing around me, but he looked to me, and asked me was I apart of the main cast.  Sometimes, the universe gives you signs when you are on the right path in life, and I definitely felt that my being noticed was a sign for me to keep going. I was beginning to look like who I perceived myself to be.

Finally, when the scenes were over, and my pantomiming dance moves, and pretending to walk home a drunk friend were done-- I was left with many memories. I honestly wished I could bring my students on set, so that they could experience what I had experienced, and what I had experienced was a life living your dreams. I had experienced a collection of people working hard doing what they loved the most. I had experienced a small taste of success and stardom right there in Atlanta, Georgia. I had saw the possibilities that were available to us all. As I walked back to holding, with the night crowding in around me, I thought about what it would be like just to have one of my books being produced. I thought about the stars that could play my characters, and the director who could bring it to life. I thought about my future, and how great it could be if I just keep working hard at it. I solidified in my heart that one day I wouldn't be the extra on set, that I would be the writing consultant working closely with the director and turning my characters into household names. Don't stop believing, I thought to myself.
Sometimes, the universe gives you signs when you are on the right path in life.
Regardless, when the night was over I road home on a natural high. I watched the wrap up one scene, and move to another, and even end the day. I watched people doing what they love for a living. That's what I wanted to do. I wanted to do what I loved-- all day, everyday. I wanted to be like the Stars working with the gifts and talents that I was given to create ultimately my own brand, image and fame as a author. I wanted to be my own star added to a night sky that had room for us all. However
, in order to be a star, I needed to place myself in the midst of them-- I needed to be surrounded by stars. As they adage often says, birds of a feather flock together.

When I arrived at my home, I knew I needed to do more than simply network. I needed to start forming relationships and bonds that would elevate me to the next level. Maybe, a little of Evan Ross's star power had rubbed off on me. Maybe, I was a small star, beginning to shine.

Dawnell Jacobs is the author of The Shade of Devotion, Brains Not Included, Black Magic, and The Monsters of Within: Heart of Darkness. She has also published a self-help book Your Story Matters: Leaning How To Be The Author of Your Destiny. You can find all of her books on Amazon, Kindle, Nook, and Barnes And Noble. She is also a motivational speaker to young audiences. She uses her personal journey to inspire hope and change. All pictures and entries in this blog are subject to copyright laws. ©Dawnell Jacobs 2018. 

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