If You Want a Happy Ending…..

My favorite quote is by Orson Welles; “If you want a happy ending, it depends on where you stop the story”. No doubt he was giving this advice to other filmmakers and storytellers, but I remind myself daily that it has tremendous influence on how I want to I live my life and that has helped form my personal story or my legacy. It can be easy to understand the philosophy behind that quote, but much Happy more difficult to apply. But, it has enabled me (to paraphrase my good friend Sky’s film title) to live a life well lived.

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking these days because I’ve been holed up for a month like the rest of us. That can be a good thing and a bad thing, but in my case it has been beneficial. It’s made me hit a big “pause button” and I think that was the universe giving me a message that was probably there all the time, but I wasn’t listening. As John Lennon wrote, “life is what’s happening while you’re busy making other plans”.

At the time that most of my “neighbors” in NYC and NJ and beyond went into quarantine, I had already been in self-isolation for two months editing my latest feature documentary Like A Woman – a film about women who are working in male-dominated professions – because it was a topic I knew quite well. Like A Woman Poster smallFor the majority of my career, I have been the only woman at the table. So, I wanted to use my storytelling skills to create awareness and make the change that I wanted to happen. As spring was right around the corner in NJ and I was ready to release my film – the world changed, not just for me for everyone and it is forever changed. It sucks, but it wasn’t the first time in my life that I had to switch gears and it has never been easy for me in my profession, because I a woman I had to try harder.

Anyone who knows me, knows I’m not the easiest person to know but I’d like to think I’m worth it. I’m a glass half full (at least) kind of person. I have to believe in possibilities to be able to survive. I have to have hope and something to look forward to. With that said, after procrastinating for two weeks and really doing absolutely nothing, I made a list this morning of things I CAN do. Here are a few things I wrote down:

Like A Woman – I hope to hire a musical composer to create a score for the film. It will make it more powerful and have more impact. More importantly, I have decided not to proceed with entering the film into film festivals. It’s just bad timing and maybe that’s a blessing in disguise. Thanks to Travis Keyes and Katrin Eisman for their encouragement and that was desperately needed. I always thrive on encouragement but I can honestly say, I really need it now. They reminded me that “content” was golden these days and it’s being consumed like never before. So, I will let go of the film festivals because I sense that’s not the approach I need to take. Instead, I will pursue offering screenings (for a fee) for conferences centered on women and young girls. No doubt these conferences will be virtual for a while and I am able to stream the film and even set up a virtual Q&A via platforms like Zoom. And the film will actually have the ability to reach more people. I suppose one could say that I put my ego aside, that is customarily stroked with the film festivals and have put my emphasis on getting the film “out there” to inspire women and girls who need a lot of inspiration these days. And the stories of the amazing women who are in my film will surely inspire, which is the ultimately goal of this film.

And the film will have the ability to reach more people. As far as marketing this new film to the conference planners, I am extremely fortunate to have some prestigious  credentials with my last film Opening Our Eyes.If, you’d like to see the full film, you can see it here.

 

 

There is one film festival that I will still pursue to get in

to and that is the Santa Barbara Film Festival that hopefully will take place in January 2021. I will always have a close connection to Santa Barbara because that’s where it all started for me, at least as far as my career. After a yearlong backpacking odyssey around the world, I drove to Santa Barbara from New Jersey and attended Brooks Institute. As one of six women in a school of 600 at the time, it was my first experience in a male-dominated environment. It’s where I met my husband, Tom Kelly. And it’s where some of my best memories were made and I’ve have been blessed with decades of unbelievable memories and experiences since then. My years in Santa Barbara were my foundation.

Conteur ProductionsI started this side business a long time ago. It was my first venture into the retail world. We shoot family story movies. We capture one’s family stories through interviews with their loved ones, while they are still here to tell those stories. We then scan their priceless family photos

Groleau children at school, Upper Peninsula, Michigan School children – 1930’s

and digital their old family movies and/or videos, along with newspaper clippings and other documented mementos and make a “Ken Burns” type film to preserve those memories for future generations. It all began when my mother passed awayIMG_1906 and I realized that I would never hear those family stories that she told around the dinner table and her infectious giggle as she told them. It also led to me discovering a part of the family I never knew about – but that’s a story for another time.

This pandemic has also made me realize that when things get back to a new semblance of normal, there will be a real desire for this service. But, it will also be different. I will probably do more remote interviews via Skype or Zoom, rather than get on a plane and have face-to-face interviews with people wearing masks. I know that I can get a more professional product with a well lit and professionally shot interview with good audio. But, I also know that we have all gotten used to a new aesthetic with Zoom conferences and news reporters broadcasting from their home studios.

I know this blog is long but I want to thank everyone who has always believed in me, the ones who give me a call when I seem to need it most and my real friends and FB friends who have helped to fill this current void in my life and to Tony Bennett for his beautiful song Smile which has helped me through some dark days. I want to leave you with some wise words from my 93 year old Aunt and I hope it helps you as much as it has helped me.

  • Q: You lost a child when she was 27 years old to cancer. What advice do you have for parents who have lost a child? (I will include all the people who have lost their loved ones during this Pandemic)

Let the tears flow, let it all out. Feel all the pain. I cried for four years straight. I cried for her son who wouldn’t have his mother. Before that, I never felt old in my life. But I felt old when Patty died. I was 52 when that happened.

  • Q: You raised seven children and they all get along, how did you accomplish that?

            We traveled from base to base and they got along because they needed each other. I also kept family traditions. We ate every breakfast and every dinner together. We accepted each other for who we were that day. And whatever you earned, that was yours. I let them fight. That’s where you’re supposed to fight – with your family. That’s where you learn to adjust to the real world. I never killed their curiosity. Kids want to come to you – not the other way around. No one is short on love.

  • Q: Last words?

        What women can’t do physically, we can figure out mentally. Most difficulties aren’t catastrophes.

Here’s a snippet of my family and where I come from and I’m so very lucky.

Hang in there everybody and stay on the side of the glass half full.

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What’s the Worst Thing that Could Happen?

I was always the “new kid” in school. My family moved more than 10 times before I graduated from high school.  We weren’t a military family, running from the law or in the witness protection program. My Dad was moving up the corporate ladder, our family was growing and it just set up a series of moves.

Being the perpetual “new kid” forced me to take risks every time we moved, forming new friendships, adjusting to new schools, dealing with the inconsistencies in the curriculum from school to school, and learning

gail and wagon
Me, taking a stand in the new neighborhood.

new neighborhoods and the local culture.

In my early years, I was not the one who was initiating “change” or deciding to take a risk – my parents were. Nevertheless it made me the person I am.  As a child I was learning that it was OK to take chances and in fact, it was a good thing. But I also knew that we were not a “normal” family and at times I longed for a life that was less transient and more like the families I saw on TV.

I look back at my upbringing and Roller skaters jump over teammates, Tokyo, JapanI believe that the greatest gift my parents gave me was to teach me that it was OK to take chances.
And in fact when I was afraid to take a risk, I remember my Dad asking me “What’s the worst thing that could happen?” To be honest, I never really thought of anything that was all that bad.
So, is it any wonder that someone like me would opt to go around the world with my daughter, traveling to remote places on six continents, and live out of backpacks for 99 days while creating a movie?

Erin and Gail, Peru
Erin and Gail and children of village along Amazon River, Peru

I was actually going to do this by myself until I received an email from my daughter telling me that she wanted to quit her job and sublet her apartment and go with me.

At first, it surprised me when she said that she wanted to do this with me.  She had only been working for a year after graduating from college and was lucky to have a job. But she was willing leave her life as she knew it, apartment, take a trip around the world for four months and face looking for employment upon her return. Then I realized I shouldn’t be surprised at all, she too had grown up with the notion that “taking a risk” was normal.

These days, I see young people growing up in a society that has been so over litigated in an attempt to make our lives more risk free that it seems like we are teaching our children NOT to take chances. Losing or failing is looked at as a bad thing and that instead everyone has to be a winner.  It seems that fitting in and becoming part of the status quo is what we should strive for rather than being unique or original.  The problem is, if everyone thinks and acts that way, innovation will die.  No on will dare to be different.
In the last few years, I’ve probably had to face more rejections than I’ve had to over my entire career, or at least it’s seems that the way.  On the other hand, I have had the most incredible experiences and successes of my life.  To be honest, I’m scared to death just about every day but I grew up thinking that was normal and that came with growth. Thanks Mom and Dad for giving me the courage to spread my wings.

 

Why Everyone Should Travel

 As I prepare to head out of the country next week I’ve been thinking about why I travel. I’ve been a bit of a rolling stone most of my life, moving 10 times before I graduated high school and pursuing a career as a professional photographer which has taken me to over 100 countries.

Gail at the Great Pyramids 1971
Gail in Egypt 1971

I think if I ever had to give up traveling I would wither and my spirit would die.

Here are my top ten reasons that I think every American (and other citizens of the world) should travel:

  • It gives you a much better perspective on our world rather than just experiencing it virally. Let’s face it, when you are an armchair traveler, you are getting someone else’s perspective.
  •  It makes one grateful for what they have. Many, if not most Americans are very privileged but don’t really have an understanding of that because they isolate themselves in their own environment.
  • You get to be a true diplomat for your country. When I’m traveling I try to give people from other countries and cultures a more realistic idea what an American is beyond our government’s policies and how we are depicted in the movies.
  • It creates lasting memories of importance or at least memories that last longer than buying a consumer product.
  • It teaches you a lot about yourself. When you travel things don’t always go according to plan. You get to see how you handle stress in situations beyond your control.
  • You learn how to communicate. Many times you don’t understand the language and you learn to read body language and pick up people’s vibes.
  • You meet people you would never get to meet at home. It makes you less fearful when you get to meet people from other lands.
  • As a photographer my camera has given me access to incredible experiences that I have shared with the world.
  • You can affect change.
    Gail showing video to children of remote Amazon village, Peru
    Gail with children in small village along Amazon River, Peru

    When you travel you realize that regardless which country you come from we are all part of the human race. We all share this planet and we are all stewards of keeping it healthy.

  • It brings wonder to your life. I have had many awe- inspiring moments and not all of them were at typical tourist sites. Some of my greatest memories are the simple conversations that I’ve had with people all around the world.

Check out some of the images that I’ve captured from my journeys. www.kellymooney.com

10 Things Freelancers (Photographers & Filmmakers) Should Do in 2017

Marathon swimming, East River, New York City

Be optimistic – I’m going to start with the hardest one of all, because it’s really difficult to be optimistic these days. But I find that if I can maintain a positive attitude and turn my thoughts to what is possible, I actually open myself up to more opportunities in my life, instead of creating more roadblocks.

Be open to possibilities. – Be more flexible in how you perceive things and who you are. Change is always happening, but it’s usually gradual. Most people don’t take notice until “change” forces their hand to act. It’s always better to be proactive than reactive so embrace “change” as an ever-present fact of life that creates opportunities for those who are open to seeing them.

Collaborate – Photographers are very independent creatures and collaboration is not part of their norm. As the “photography” business continues to change, photographers will find that collaborating with other artists will make their own businesses stronger. There is so much more to running a business than there used to be. While social media marketing has opened up numerous possibilities, it can also be overwhelming to a solo photographer. You can’t do it all. Work with people who can bring out each other’s strong suits.

Diversify – I’m not quite so sure why so many photographers are so rigid in how they define who they are and what they do. Having a “style” is great, but the trick is to not to be so narrowly defined by that style, so that when styles change, you don’t find yourself obsolete by your own design. It’s kind of like being type cast, where your audience or your clients can only see you in one way. Diversifying might be creating a whole new niche of your business. I recently created a business niche that is more geared toward the retail market. We create high end “Ken Burns” style family biography videos to preserve a family’s legacy with personal interviews with ones loved ones combined with old photos and home movies.

Concentrate on “the story”– I had the opportunity to speak with a lot of still photographers and filmmakers this past year and I began to notice a difference in the conversations I was having with each. Most times, filmmakers would be telling me a story, whereas still photographers would be telling me how they executed a photograph, or essentially telling me the “back story” of the creation of the image. It’s all interesting but “the story” is the bottom line – if that doesn’t come through to the viewer – the rest doesn’t matter – including how it was executed.

Be authentic – be true to yourself. That means that you have to trust your gut instead of second guessing it. This is hard, especially when things don’t always work out the way you had hoped. Step away from the “noise” and listen to the voice inside.

Fail more. – Rejection is a tough pill to swallow but it usually means that you are either pushing yourself to try new things, you are too far ahead of your time or it just wasn’t meant to be. If you look at successful people you’ll see that most have had failures and rejections in their lives but they stuck with it – instead of letting failure defeat them.

Self-Initiate more projects. – I don’t like to call non-commissioned work, “personal projects”. That co notates that there is no monetary value, and these days just the opposite could be true. With more and more lopsided contracts being presented to photographers for commissioned work a photographer has a better chance to make more money and keep ownership of their work by creating self-initiated projects. But they need to be prepared to work hard. We’ve been working on a project entitled “Like A Woman” where we shoot environmental portraits and a short video about women who are working in traditionally male professions. It is a subject I know all too well after working in the career of photography and now filmmaking my entire adult life.

Forget about the past and learn from mistakes. – You can’t change the past but you can learn from it and then, move on. Look toward the future but make sure you take time to enjoy the “now”.

In the scheme of things, you’re just one small speck in the universe. – I think we all get way too stressed about things that really don’t matter and we let those things control our life. When we become more conscious of that, we really begin to live life.

What I Would Say to my 30-Year-Old Self

Most folks would write about what they would say to their 20-year-old self, but I chose to address myself a decade later when I’ve had some time to experience more of life.

You’ll be OK – How many of us have thought at times that things will never work out? I have survived a lot of experiences that I thought I would never get through. I’ve done some stupid things and made some dumb decisions. Some have taken their toll but I’m OK.

Don’t confuse “young” with “emerging” – It’s common in our culture to equate youth with fresh or emerging. Don’t tell yourself that this will be the only time in your life that you will “emerge”. I was young when I first started out but I am only now “emerging” in terms of my craft. I am creating from a lifetime of experience and my authentic self.

 Business is personal – Relationships are what it’s all about. People will come and go in your life in both business and personal. Be mindful of the relationships that have value and keep those connections secure. As singer/songwriter Don Henley wrote, “you get the best light from a burning bridge”.

Don’t preach to the choir – Don’t just hang out with likeminded people. It’s boring and provincial. Broaden your perspective by connecting with people who are different ages, genders, races or religions. It will bring more understanding and tolerance in your life and others.

Don’t be a quitter – but know when to walk away – I tell folks, “I’m not a quitter. I don’t even walk out of a bad movie”. I’m tenacious and it has gotten me far in my life. At a film festival where I won best documentary, I told a filmmaker that I might have never started to make my movie if I knew that I would still be involved with it, 3 years later. He told me “that’s normal” and then said “you’ll know when it’s time to walk away”. I have found that to be true with all kinds of things – not just making movies.

Make each day count – I’m paraphrasing a bit,

LeonardoTitanic
Leonardo di Caprio, Titanic

but in the movie Titanic, Leonardo di Caprio’s character, Jack makes a remark about making each day count. I love that scene. Life goes by in a blink.

5 Ways to Leap Forward and Get Unstuck

Roller skaters jump over teammates, Tokyo, JapanIt’s February 29th and that means we all get an extra day this year. Let’s celebrate leap year by taking action to leap forward – not just today, but every day this year and every year.

  • Finish something you started. This could be anything from an online course, a book you put down, a personal project etc. I always tell myself that a start is a start to nowhere if you don’t finish it.
  • Identify one thing that you’ve talked yourself out of (for all the right reasons) and take action on it. This could lead to the start of something. After you’ve faced your fear or resistance and have overcome your inertia – follow up with a plan for completion.
  • Toss out one bad habit. It’s easy to fall into a rut with bad habits. Identify one bad habit and change it. Start easy. If you find yourself starting your day in an unproductive manner change it. If you begin your day by checking your emails and then letting it consume your entire morning then start your day by tackling something that you keep putting off before you get distracted by someone else’s urgency.
  • Get rid of the resistance in your life. Are you letting toxic people derail you? Misery loves company but I’d rather hang out with people who energize me than those who bring me down. There are plenty of people on both sides of the misery camp. Surround yourself with those who add value to your life and stay away from those who suck the life out of you.
  • Tell yourself you can. Take notice how often you stop yourself by telling yourself you can’t. Really take note and every time you find yourself in that default mode of “I can’t” – tell yourself you can. You are your thoughts so be careful of what you tell yourself.

Why Playing it Safe is Bad for Business

Gladys Mooney on motorcycle
My grandmother on a motorcycle. circa 1920’s or ’30’s.

Have you ever talked yourself out of doing something that you felt passionate about?

Have you ever bought into others’ advice, even though it was contrary to your own beliefs?

If you answered yes to either question then you are like most of us humans, and you second-guess yourself by buying into your fears.

Now ask yourself – Did anything good ever come out of NOT doing something? Other than stopping yourself from following foolish pursuits that may have put you in harms way, stopping yourself probably never led to a positive outcome. In my experience whenever I stopped myself from following my own instincts, it not only didn’t move me forward – it set me back.

So, why do we let resistance keep us from what we are meant to do? It’s fear of the unknown. And why do we let others’ resistance and fears stop us from taking a leap of faith? Can other people predict the outcome anymore than we can? Just because something didn’t work for someone else doesn’t mean it won’t work for you or me. There just are too many variables that play a part in whether someone succeeds or fails.

I’ll make one prediction – If you stop yourself from pursuing your big idea or even your small idea – it won’t happen.

So why are you letting resistance rule your life? That’s just plain stupid.

Watch this and then ask yourself – what are you waiting for?

 

 

Staying “On Purpose” as a Creative

Have you ever felt like your hours and days are spent doing things that aren’t beneficial for you? I certainly have. I’m sure we all have. But, when I sort through and analyze how and where I spend my time, I realize that even the time I’ve spent on some mundane tasks or my self-inflicted distractions have had merit. Everything, in it’s own way plays a role in our lives. It’s up to us how we play that role.

I’ve been reflecting on this of late, because I’ve been feeling a shift happening in my life right now. I feel a creative surge and energy, fueled by ideas and the technology available to bring them to life. I’ve gone through many creative surges as well as the times when I didn’t have a single creative thought or idea. I’ve learned not to try and buck those tides, but rather go with the flo and recognize it all serves your “purpose”. Here are some things I do to get back “on purpose”:

  • Connect with an old friend. They’ll remind you of who you are.
  • Get away from electronic devices and do something simple – sit by a fire or on a beach, look at the clouds, let my imagination take over.
  • Go with the creative energy when it is present. I have been working on a redesign of our company’s website and have been frustrated by it, excited and totally energized – stay tuned.
  • Have conversations with people. Nothing formal or forced. The best ideas and observations come up organically.
  • Find interesting stories. I love stories – whether I read one in a book, watch one play out in film or listen to one on the radio. A good story provokes thought and that leads to a million possibilities.
  • I don’t stop myself from making a decision because I’m afraid it won’t be the right decision.
  • I remind myself that I’ve made a lot of decisions that didn’t seem like the right ones at the time……but they led me to the right path.
  • I listen to music.
  • I pay attention to small things that most of the time I barely notice.
  • I remind myself, I’m not here long and to make the most of it.

My Top 3 Tips for Photographers and Filmmakers

I’ve had a long career with a lot of successes and failures. Gail in Window1983Here are 3 tips with examples of lessons I learned along the way.

Get rid of the resistance in your life – Long before I became a photographer, I was on a different path. I was studying architecture at Syracuse University. During the summer of my sophomore year, my friend and I went on a hitchhiking journey to Canada. Along the way, we met and stayed with people we met. I remember one such stay very well. It was pouring outside and we decided to just hang out, rather than face the elements. There were quite a few other travelers sitting around the room, smoking dope and talking about what everyone talked about those days – their disenchantment with the war (Vietnam) and everything else that was status quo, when one fellow erupted and said – “I’m sick and tired of hearing the same old complaints – why don’t you all do something about it.” That stayed with me my whole life. To this day, I try to get rid of the whiners in my life and be the one who does something. My proudest achievement to date has been making the documentary Opening Our Eyes, a film about individuals who are creating positive change.

Don’t hide your vulnerabilities – It took me a long time before I could tell anyone one of my biggest embarrassments, but when I did it was liberating. I was working on an assignment about Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket for the National Geographic Traveler Magazine. I had made an appointment to photograph Walter Cronkite, who was a well-known figure on Martha’s Vineyard. The day before our scheduled appointment, I called Mr. Cronkite to confirm. This was way before cell phones and email and even before everyone had answering machines and his phone just rang and rang and rang. I kept calling throughout the day and the same thing happened. By evening, I was upset because I thought that Mr. Cronkite had stood me up. That night, I had a terrible feeling. I thought perhaps that when I had re-written my production notes and contact info for the job, I might have written down the wrong number for Cronkite. I had kept my old notes and discovered that I had been calling the wrong number all day. Imagine how horrified I was when I discovered that it was I who had stood up Walter Cronkite – not the other way around. I called the correct number, Walter answered and I was profusely apologetic as I explained the situation. He was kind and understanding and rescheduled and then he said, “Why didn’t you look me up in the phone book?” I replied that I assumed someone of his stature would not be listed.   I learned never to make assumptions. It took me years before I could tell anyone this story. It’s really hard to admit mistakes but when you do, you gain trust.

Be who you are – not who you aren’t – I had just graduated from Brooks Institute and I wanted to pursue my passions. I wanted to be a photojournalist and use my craft to gain access to a world full of stories. Before I enrolled at Brooks, I had spent a year backpacking around the world. I had one camera and one lens and came back with my snapshots and a whole lot of desire. But it was a bad time for magazine photojournalism – Life Magazine had just folded (the second time) and everyone was telling me that if I wanted to make a living as a photographer, I needed to do commercial work. I bought into that and built a pretty good commercial photography portfolio. Then I went to see legendary NY photographer Jay Maisel, a man known for being blunt. He looked at my work, threw a print at me and told me it was “garbage”. Then he asked me if this was what I wanted to do.  I told him no, that I wanted to be a photojournalist but that everyone had been telling me to pursue commercial work. He asked me how old I was and I replied “25” and then he looked me straight in the eye and said, “You’re 25 years old and you’re already making compromises”. It changed my life and I remind myself every day to be who I am and dream big, even though I may have to settle for less.

“Try to have a little more control”

I’ve been spending a lot of time lately purging – getting rid of a lot of stuff I don’t need any longer. I came across a portfolio of architectural drawings that I had made during my days as an architectural student at Syracuse University. Stuck inside the portfolio were graded copies of the drawings with remarks from the professor. The comments were consistent and repeatedly pointed out Gail's college architural renderingsmy lack of “control”.

“Try to have a little more control!”

“Without control of lines and line quality, solution is lost!”

Back then I used a rapidograph (technical pen) for rendering these drawings. Unlike a lot of my fellow architectural students, I had very little training in the way of art classes before coming to Syracuse and my skills as an artist were terrible. Drawing fine straight lines with a rapidograph was my downfall. The ink would blotch or would seep under the ruler or triangle that I was using and my drawing would usually end up being a big mess.

I think my lack of “control” as an artist ultimately turned me away from pursuing architecture as a career. Instead, I changed my path and pursued a career in photography. Today, architectural students use CAD for their drawings and I would imagine that perfecting one’s skill with a rapidograph is no longer a requirement.

I wonder if things would have been different as far as the path I chose, if I had the tools available to me, that we have today? It’s an interesting question to ponder, but ultimately I don’t think I was well suited for a career in architecture and it went beyond the fact that I had poor drafting skills. I was a “big picture” thinker and not focused on the details.

Fundamentally, I haven’t changed. I’m still a big picture thinker. I am able to clearly visualize, my creation or project as a “whole” and know usually know what I need to do to achieve that end, but in determination to finish, I sometimes overlook the details. I’ve trained myself over the years, to not be in such a rush to complete something, that I compromise the quality. I’ve also accepted the person I am – what I’m good at and what I’m not so good at and found that I’ve produced my most gratifying work in collaboration with others.

I will always be a big picture thinker – the bigger the idea and the more possibilities – the more I love it. I have learned to have more control, but I still love to color outside the lines and push the boundaries.

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