I wish someone had told me to just try to work in the industry in any way, at the beginning especially. Even if you want to act, you will learn by being a PA on a set.
As a part of our series called “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me When I First Became A Filmmaker”, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Tara Westwood.
Tara Westwood was born in Manitoba, Canada. She is known for The Grudge (2020), Law & Order: Special Victims Unit (1999) and Blackjack: The Jackie Ryan Story (2020).
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you tell us a bit of the ‘backstory’ of how you grew up?
Hi! Thank you for having me. People seldom go back to the beginning with questions, so this is already fun. I grew up in Manitoba, Canada. My dad was a horse trainer and we lived in the country. I have two older brothers and definitely was a tomboy who loved sports growing up. I also always loved films.
Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?
I have worked as an actor for quite some time, but was very focused on raising my kids during the earlier years of my career and was able to shift the focus more to working, as they got older. By that time it was a little tough to get auditions for acting jobs I really wanted since I was up against actresses who had much better resumes than mine. A friend suggested that I start to produce so that I could be more in control of parts I wanted to play, by casting myself. After producing a few projects, I decided to make TRIGGERED my directorial debut because yes, I wanted to play the part of Heidi opposite our amazing cast (Isiah Whitlock Jr., Caitlin Mehner and Robert J. Burke), but also gun violence prevention is a topic I care a lot about.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your filmmaking career?
One day during TRIGGERED, there was a huge storm coming in and it was just me and our cinematographer Edd Lukas at the location of our set and he was on a major work call as the weather started to hit. I went outside to try to tie stuff down (the wind was insane) and ran back in to pass him a note that things were getting a little hairy outside, but he had to finish his call. He ended it early and came running out to help me once he looked outside and saw me holding down equipment that I shouldn’t have even been near during a lightning storm. I realize this doesn’t sound funny, but for him to look outside and see his soaked director just trying to literally ‘hold down the fort’ is something we all laugh about now.
Who are some of the most interesting people you have interacted with? What was that like? Do you have any stories?
I’ve been very fortunate to have traveled a lot in my younger years as a model (and now as a filmmaker) and have met many interesting people. When I go to a country I’ve never been to, I love spending time with the local people and hearing what life is really like for them. I think that experiencing other cultures and places and being open to learning while there, can not only teach us and give us an important understanding of what it’s like for people outside of what we see in our daily lives, but increases our empathy as well.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
My friend that suggested I start producing was Ed Vassallo, who sadly is no longer with us. Shortly after that Mara Lesemann asked me to come on as a producer for a feature called Detours. She’d also written it, we’d worked together before and knew that we got along well. Had Ed not suggested I start to produce I wouldn’t have said yes, but the fact she gave me that opportunity, changed my career path. I later produced a few projects with a writer/ director I love working with named Elias Plagianos and he’s so wildly knowledgeable about filmmaking, that I learn a ton from him. Mara and I are now co-writing a feature about medically assisted death (trust me it’s a lighter story than it sounds) and I wouldn’t likely be here at this stage in my career without those three championing me and inspiring me in different ways.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
My dad used to say, “Be able to look in the mirror at the end of the day and be proud of what you see.” Now obviously this had nothing to do with how we actually look, but rather that the person you see has been moral and righteous and is someone you can be proud of. I definitely try to live my life in accordance with that and it affects my daily choices.
I am very interested in diversity in the entertainment industry. Can you share a reason with our readers about why you think it’s important to have diversity represented in film and television? How can that potentially affect our culture?
When we wonder how diversity in the entertainment industry can affect our culture, I think looking at history helps us to understand how important it is. For example, Jackie Robinson was the first black man to play in the MLB and before that no little kid who wasn’t white, had ever seen themselves represented in that league. He changed that. Soon, white kids wanted to play like Jackie Robinson because he was the best. I think it’s so important with all kinds of diversity to have that. Also, we need to find ways to come together as a society and I believe the entertainment industry can help that in this way.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
I have a Gerard Butler movie called PLANE coming out on January 27th, which I’m excited about. Thomas C. Dunn is writing a feature length version of TRIGGERED that I will direct and then I’m co-writing that feature with Mara that I mentioned. My focus is also still acting, so I’m auditioning all the time and up for a few things but we’ll see what happens, fingers crossed!
Which aspect of your work makes you most proud? Can you explain or give a story?
I absolutely love the collaborating aspect of our business. I recently filmed a small part on Fleishman Is In Trouble (the new Jesse Eisenberg show) and Taffy Brodesser-Akner, who is the writer came up to me after a scene we did and said ‘I was tearing up watching you, that was great, good job!” As an actor, for me that kind of moment is what keeps me going; not the compliment, but rather knowing I’ve helped to accomplish what the vision was with the project. Also how TRIGGERED is making people feel so much and gets a conversation going, is something I’m deeply proud of.
Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
I wish someone had told me to just try to work in the industry in any way, at the beginning especially. Even if you want to act, you will learn by being a PA on a set. Also to not allow yourself to set boundaries that are negative and unproven. I always said ‘Oh I’m not a writer…’, but after TRIGGERED was at Tribeca Film Festival, I was invited to submit to a wonderful program they have called ‘Through Her Lens’. I couldn’t submit a short film I just wanted to direct, I needed to have written it too, so I immediately said to myself ‘I can’t write’, but I changed the words in my mind to ‘I haven’t written YET, but I’m going to try.’ Now, did I get accepted into the program? №5 filmmakers did and I wasn’t one of them, but the process of writing that short film made me realize that I in fact can write, so I’m forever grateful to Tribeca for that. I’d also say that young actors should get their friends together and read plays aloud; get out their phones and film scenes (then study them to learn), write and film a short that may not be good enough to do anything with, but will teach you something. Just practice your craft every day in some way, though admittedly I was told that by my teacher Maggie Flanagan. It takes 10,000 hours to get really good at something, so get started on it and have fun! Also, don’t let success get to your head and treat everyone with respect.
When you create a film, which stakeholders have the greatest impact on the artistic and cinematic choices you make? Is it the viewers, the critics, the financiers, or your own personal artistic vision? Can you share a story with us or give an example about what you mean?
Because I raised the money for TRIGGERED (as did our producer Nick Goldfarb), I had no one I had to be responsible to regarding decision making, except for myself and my own vision of it. I know how lucky that is. That said I relied heavily on the knowledge of our cinematographer Edd Lukas, our editor Galia Moors, and co-producer Marie Therese Guirgis while filming and in post, (as well as a producer friend who I really respect and admire) to help guide me to the vision I had. I learned so much from these amazing people and am so glad that they and the people who generously gave us the money to make the film, all love it.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this. 🙂
Oh my goodness, there’s a list of people I admire and would like to have lunch with, so picking one is going to be really tough… I guess right now I’d have to say Kathryn Bigelow. But instead of lunch, can I shadow her while she films and then do a part in the movie as well? That would be a dream come true and I’m sure there would be a lunch involved at some point, so it still fits the question.
How can our readers further follow you online?
On Instagram at tara_westwood or Twitter at @MsTaraWestwood
This was very meaningful, thank you so much! We wish you continued success!
Thank you, this was a lot of fun!
Tara Westwood of TRIGGERED: 5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me When I First Became A Filmmaker was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.