Who do we deem worthy of attention?

[Dorothy Michaels’s screen test]

Rita: I’d like to make her look a little more attractive, how far can you pull back?

Cameraman: How do you feel about Cleveland?

Tootsie (1982)

I find myself in a curious position of power and influence these days.  I get to hire actors and actresses, artists, writers and engineers, for our Socratica productions.  The most visible of these, of course, are our on-screen personalities.  We cast people for their warmth and believability –  their chops as actors – and not because they are “hot.”  So far, we have cast people in their 20s, 30s, and 40s, from a wide variety of backgrounds, who all bring something different to the table, and who speak a variety of different languages (so far we’ve recorded videos in English, Spanish, Portuguese, French, German, and Russian, as well as videos for kids).

It’s got to be harder and harder for actors and actresses in Hollywood, when the definition of beauty and who is even considered for a role seems to get narrower every year.  Moms? Dads? High-school kids?  Cops? Lawyers?  Astronauts?  Vampires?  All these people are cast to be stunners, and it’s the same 20 people (or their look-alikes), seen over and over.  Are these really the only people we want to see on our movie screens?

A few weeks ago, I saw a touching video clip from actor Dustin Hoffman, who realized how many people are simply “written off” based on their physical appearance when he dressed as a “plain” woman for the movie Tootsie.

I’ve read some cynical reactions to this video clip, but I for one wish more people had this much of a heartfelt experience seeing life from someone else’s perspective.  As Henry David Thoreau wrote:

“Could a greater miracle take place than for us to look through each other’s eyes for an instant?”



The same person inside.

Lifelong learning means learning for everyone – not just learning for people under 18, or under 22.  When I was a grad student at Princeton, some of the local Princeton Township elders used to sit in on the classes I was teaching, and my undergraduate students used to grumble good-naturedly about the oldsters taking all the good seats up front.  But inherent in their ribbing was the idea that they didn’t quite believe that someone in their 60s, 70s, or 80s could really benefit from learning something about molecular and cell biology, or immunology, or biochemistry.  What are they doing here! their sidelong glances all seemed to say.

We want our work at Socratica to truly be for everyone – not just the small segment of the population in their full flush of youth.  Socratica is for everyone who wants to learn, and that means everyone.

My sweet mum used to tell me (when she was in her 50s, 60s, and 70s), “I still feel like I’m 18.  I still feel like exactly the same person.”  But then she would remember that she used to catch herself looking at her own elderly mum, and find herself wondering “What is she thinking? What can she be feeling? Does she still have dreams?”  Her own mother seemed hidden behind the mask of old age, even though my mum knew my grandmother must still be the same person inside, just like she was.

How many times are elders dismissed as being “the other” and not having the same powers of thought and sensitivity as younger people?  It’s particularly a problem in the United States, I think. We are so in love with youth that we forget that most people are not young.  But if we can’t get over this prejudice that makes us think that only the young deserve our respect and attention, maybe we can start to remedy the inequity by reminding ourselves that we never lose that young person we were once.  We are still that person inside, no matter what happens to our hair and our skin.

There’s a stunning series of photos by Tom Hussey, called Reflections, that illustrates just what I’m thinking.

rl05rl01  rl06rl02rl09

More beautiful images on Tom Hussey’s webpage



Hotter Than the Sun

arri hot light

arri hot light (Photo credit: roger_ipa)

We’ve been filming our Socratica videos at night after the sun goes down, thinking it would be cooler.  And it is, of course, but even the darkness and the cool of the desert night can’t compete with the fierce fiery fury of our ARRI lights.

We film in a small green-screen studio with enough light for an entire house – the entire green background must be evenly lit in order to be able to digitally remove it and put in whatever background we want later – so that means using very large, very bright lights – two giant ones for the green screen, another couple big ones in front on the actor, a little one in the back (the “hair light”) .   I knew lights were inefficient, and gave off a lot of heat as well as light – I’ve known this since I was a kid, doing plays under hot lights on a stage – but this is the first time I’ve been trapped in a room with so many of them shining right close to me.

One of the perks of growing up in LA is access to movie studios.  Remember when you used to hear “filmed in front of a live studio audience” all the time?  That was me. I used to go watch TV shows being filmed for fun, and I could never understand why the sets were freezing.  Now I get it, I really get it.

Next job:  looking into properly sealing our garage-studio and installing industrial-strength air-conditioning.