Rance Howard – Acting As My Friend

As I stood on a fork in the road that would soon separate me from the actor standing next to me in the scene we were shooting,  I suddenly became aware I was not really acting with this man beside me, but simply just reacting to this quiet moment between us.  That state of being we as actors strive to attain via years of mechanical exercises and mental mind games.  But at that moment, I relied on absolutely nothing to feel the sense of loss and hurt I was to express in the scene; it was just there.

Rance Howard always had a habit of making me work that way over the 15 years I had known him.

I first met Rance in the old west.  Or at least an independent-film facsimile of one in 2002.  I had long followed the career and lives of Clint and Ron Howard, but only by the time I had my first screenplay produced in Tucson Arizona, The Reckoning (retitled Ghost Rock), I had learned of the vast career of the family patriarch, Rance Howard.   I was aware of him by name, as my indie filmmaker obsessed youth was spent studying all Roger Corman films and had always noted the senior Howard’s name after “written by” on the poster for Ron Howard’s feature film directing debut, Grand Theft Auto.  But until I began this new production with director (and friend) Dustin Rikert, I hadn’t realized how much the apples had not fallen very far from the tree.

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(Rance Howard and Michael Worth walking the tracks of Vermont on the set of Apple Seed)

Walking across the dusty western set we had temporarily revived to film our overly ambitious $300,000 martial arts-western, I met Rance with his then recent wife Judy.  Their hands wrapped in one another (an image that would rarely change any time they were together) he approached me with a copy of my script in his free hand and said “Mr. Worth, I want to thank you for including me in this fun picture”.  I know I must have smiled because to have someone with close to a hundred films under their belt call my first produced script “fun”  made the kid in me very proud.

Rance was quickly gaining the reputation as the most prompt actor ever in history, at times waiting through ungodly heat waves for his next scene rather than across the set in his trailer.  His character was a small one, the lovable Cash, a fatherly figure to the brothel owner played by Adrienne Barbeau who gives up his life to a very mean Gary Busey to protect his friend.  But it was not a role he simply walked through.  Script always in hand, he remained at the ready, his part as important to him, if not more so, than the many around him working in the above the line credits.

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Rance Howard and Christa Sauls as assassins in Killing Cupid, 2005)

By the time I was directing an extremely experimental action film (the budget now 20% of what the previous film Ghost Rock cost), shot on super 16mm short ends titled Killing Cupid, I actually wrote Rance into the script as an ostensibly retired assassin named Zeke who was now obsessed with Bruce Lee exploitation films and running an old hotel.  A few years later he attended a screening of my film God’s Ears and we just both happened to be going to the same Beverly Hills’ restaurant afterwards.  His son Ron and his wife were with he and Judy and I walked over to introduce myself, and tell his son how stalworth his father always was on a set.  Ron Howard smiled and said, “I like to hire him on my films to show the other actors how it’s done”.

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Michael Worth, Lance Henriksen, Dustin Rikert, Rance Howard, Karen Kim and Craig Wasson hanging out on Sasquatch Mountain (2005).

When opportunity presents a struggling filmmaker with writing a Sasquatch movie for the Syfy channel, he accepts.  And so with Devil on the Mountain (later rechristened Sasquatch Mountain) I immediately thought of a role to turn the journeyman character actor Howard into leading man hero as Sheriff Harris Zeff (my stepfather’s name).  Granted there was only so much muscle to stretch on a film like this, but don’t tell that to Rance.  He quickly became the man to watch in the film and was no surprise I had him survive the Bigfoot Massacre as the possible sequel would not have been as good without him.

It was on that Flagstaff, Arizona set that a story began to take shape in my mind.   Inspired by classic road trip movies such as Bound For Glory and The Last Detail, I once again undertook the cathartic exercise of transcribing inner musings on life in the form of a road journey and decided my cinematic co-pilot was going to be Rance.  The story was titled Apple Seed, not only named for the small town destination of the two characters, but for the pearls of wisdom the two discover along the road.  Like the ubiquitous Los Angeles filmmaker, I shopped it around town for a decade, even once agreeing to shoot it for $85,000 if they would just let Rance and I shoot it immediately (yes, I was preparing to dust off my DSLRs).  But dead ends on this road trip movie were becoming common place.

While trying to raise money in Oklahoma (Rance’s hometown state), I ran across a local woman who had a first-time script she wanted to get made called Broken Memories.  It was a touching drama about a man trying to deal with his father’s Alzheimers and I knew it would suit Rance to a “T”.  I returned home with a dual Howard script package I was now trying to pitch for us.  As it turned out, a couple years later it would be Memories I managed to sell first after I was given the guarantee my key element, a certain R.E. Howard, was a part of the package.

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Michael Worth talking with Rance Howard through a scene in Broken Memories)

As a professional actor first, when it came to directing I like to always find what the instincts of the actor for a character are first before I try and steer it in any sort of direction.  With Rance and his role of Jasper, a struggling 80-something year old trying each day to re-establish himself in life, his instincts for the role were clearly all that was needed.  Watching his salient passion for working was my daily reminder to cherish each job and each opportunity with all you can muster, as each and every one is unique and never to be repeated.  One day, when an actor was running behind about thirty minutes, my efficiency instincts kicked in and using the same camera set up (a phone call that was about to take place) I asked Rance if he was willing to improvise a phone call.  I gave him a scenario: talking to an ex neighbor from his youth who is clearly many years removed from those days, but whom he talks to as if it was just yesterday.  He jumped at the challenge and came up with a string of pearls that I was able to jump-cut through in the editing room and created one of my favorite moments in the piece.

When screening the film at festivals in early 2017, Rance’s love of 17 years Judy had just recently passed away from the disease that he had portrayed so passionately in Memories.  I decided while at The Sedona International Film Festival to shoot a short documentary of him processing this moment in his life (titled Love In One Act).  He expressed so clearly that moment of letting go of something you have held on to so dearly before, that moment so many of us have to face usually more than once in our lives.  And it was that “moment” that also happened to be the very heart of the story Apple Seed.  So, while spending that weekend exploring with him his emotional journey in life, I was reminded me how important it was becoming to get Apple Seed made sooner than later.

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(A short documentary shot by Michael Worth while at the Sedona International Film Festival)

In July, in a moment of what felt like pleading desperation (secretly all the moments in this business feel like that), I handed the screenplay over to some executive producers I was working with on another project.  I gave them a budget I had devised that was far less than many low budget films I had done over ten years ago but I felt it was time to “get this show on the road” now.  And three days later, what is always the most beautiful music to any filmmakers ears, I heard the words: “green light”.

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(Rance shopping on Melrose Ave for Apple Seed wardrobe)

Two months later,  we would be shooting day 1 on Apple Seed in the small town of Kingman Arizona.  Just prior to traveling, Rance and I had spent a day shopping vintage stores for an outfit he would wear throughout the film (a vagabond, road trip movie usually marries you to one outfit so you better enjoy it).  I was looking for something that would differentiate him from the other cast; something classic, timeless and red.  “Red” as I told him because his character, Carl Robbins (my great grandfather’s name), would also function as a kind of pulse and heart to the story.   Sometimes passionate, sometimes warm and sometimes filled with unstable energy, but always the engine that fuels the body of characters around him.  He smiled through my explanation as we walked through a Melrose store, nodded his thoughtful head and said “I can do that”.

And he would be so right.

In those first few dusty days in the Arizona heat, a strange reunion took place between five of us:  Adrienne Barbeau, Jenya Lano, Dustin, myself and Rance.  The five of us, all working together again for the first time since the film Ghost Rock where we all met exactly fifteen years ago to the day in this same state.  The first of many interesting cosmic  circumstances that followed our production across the U.S.

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From L to R: Adrienne Barbeau, Michael Worth, Dustin Rikert and Rance Howard sharing a 15 year anniversary of their last shoot together on Route 66 on the set of Apple Seed.  Note Rance’s ever present script, loaded with notes.

Watching this 10 year old story begin to take shape from my mind as a writer and into my hands as a director has been one of the most illuminating and satisfactory moments in this business.  Not because every scene reflects the long imagined vision, not because every frame lived up to my hopeful standard of aesthetics, but because the cast and crew embraced the story and the task with a kind of care and passion most directors can only hope for.  And at the center of it, that “heart”, was Rance.  A few of us already knew him, but it would not be long before everyone grew to love and cherish him.  His presence on set was never one of entitlement or expectation, but of artistic servitude and gratitude.

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(The cast of characters: Rance, Dasha Chadwick, Worth and Sarah De La isla)

Our roles as a kind of transient, surrogate parent and child quickly took on a life of its own for both of us.  As we mimicked in a manner the physical journey of the story via our mobile production, Rance and I spent many hours driving the picture car, a 1967 Mustang, from the Nevada border ultimately to a mere few miles from the Mexico border, all the while discussing the growth and wisdom we have each embrased through this artistic endeavor we had chosen.  Though the 5th time we had shared the screen together, this time we both explained we were finding the working relationship that felt the most ideal.

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(Rance Howard and Michael Worth on the road in Apple Seed)

At one point, I brought my 95 year old accidental-thespian of a grandmother to play a role in the film.  For many years I had felt she and Rance would make a great on screen pair and luckily I made the call to bring her into our small fold.  It would be the one time I managed to convince the rather by-the-book Rance to attempt a more improvisational approach to a scripted scene.  My grandmother, her memory also one in jeopardy, was not able to retain a sequence of dialogue and so I relied on careful off camera prodding and the actor’s instinctual connecting to get the job done.  And it was a joy to watch.  The two actually meet for the first time on camera, their exchange an almost unrepeatable moment caught on camera, a moment I was very proud and happy to facilitate and now be able to always recall.

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95 year old Lois Stewart (Worth’s grandmother) and Rance, share a poignant scene together in a small retirement community in the town of Sierra Vista, Arizona.

Our caravan made it’s way to Vermont where the last leg of production would conclude.  Our first day was spent filming on a running train.  Rance and I spent several hours, moving past the gorgeous fall painted landscape as we began to once again talk about life and even the lake creatures he recalled near his home as a child.  I gave my cinematographer Chia-Yu a tacit “roll” signal and began to capture the moment of these stories from Rance as even in my best writing moments I could never mimic the truth of.  The two characters, wayward travelers on a cross country journey, once again took on real life as we both laughed at this unusual field of work we had chosen.

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The crew and cast of Apple Seed spend a day shooting on a working train, replicating as much as possible the reality of the two men’s adventure.

Towards the final days, several other actors joined our troupe, including Esther Anderson, Sarah De La Isla, Jennifer Kamstock and Rance’s long time friend and one time neighbor, Robby Benson (I count myself as a life long fan of Ode To Billy Joe).  I continued to feel that this film was cast by the gods as I could not have handpicked better collaborators.  One in particular was the actor playing Rance’s son; Clint Howard.  With the advantage of a lifetime of rehearsal, Clint came on for a long one day shoot as prepared and as passionate as his father.  Much of their scenes I had played in a small lakeshore home where the two moved as characters around sensitive topics and each other in a carefully choreographed sequence between actor and camera.  As an actor myself, working between them was a powerful sensorial experience, but as a director, stepping back and watching them pace each other in one of the pivotal moments in the story ranks as one of my favorite days on set ever.

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Rance and Clint Howard rehearse a sequence together in a scene from Apple Seed.

Some film shoots feel they drag on forever, but a rare few feel like they end way too soon.  Even though you know the footage has been shot, the money has run out and the crew needs to go home, you want it to continue on.  This was one of those.

So on one of those final days, I found myself standing on that fork in the road with him.     Our dialogue was now feeling less a prepared script and more just an organic part of the moment.  With the sun falling over the hill, the two of us staring quietly at the other while the camera rolled, I could tell we both felt something similar.  That thing.  That moment where you can’t actually tell if it is good or bad, but you just know it is you and your partner and the absolute truth.

After the scene wrapped,  Rance walked over to me, put his arm on my shoulder and said “you know Michael, that was a good one.  I just felt it”

I did too Rance.  And I will always thank you for that.

AS Tree Road

  • Michael Worth – November 28, 2017

 

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“Catfish Blues” brings in the New Year with wins; Best Feature and Best Actress

Grizzly Peak Films’ comedy drama and last years Big Island Film Festival Audience Choice winner has opened up 2017 with several more festival honors.  The Hollywood Verge Film Festival announced its winners for 2016 and Catfish Blues managed to take home Best Feature Film as well as a Best Actress win for its 94 year old star, Lois Stewart.

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The coming-of-age story follows young Dylan (Max Tadman) who spends a summer with the small town resident Helen (Stewart) as they search for lost animals but ultimately discover their lost selves.  The film also received nominations for Best Comedy, Best Screenplay (Michael Worth) and Best Director (Junior Bonner).

The film is available for rental and sale on iTunes and Amazon.

God’s Ears available for digital purchase and rental on Vimeo!

The multi award winning film “God’s Ears” (VisionFest, The Big Island Film Festival, Las Vegas International Film Festival) is now available for streaming rental and purchase on Vimeo.com.  Use promo code “autism” for the month of July and get $1 off the purchase price.

God’s Ears Out Now

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Written and directed by Michael Worth, this touching indie love story follows two people whose lives should have never intersected finding themselves together on a road of discovery.  The film stars Margot Farley, John Saxon, Tim Thomerson, Mitzi Kapture-Donaue, Lois Stewart and Michael Worth.

God’s Ears will be available on Amazon streaming later this month as well.

Michael Gross and Michael Worth to Attend “Our Father” Screening on The Big Island May 22!

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Making the festival round this year to much acclaim and film awards is the touching and intense short, “Our Father” from filmmaker Linda Palmer.  Screening at The Big Island Film festival, The film stars Michael Gross and Michael Worth as father and son, who while struggling through the parent’s dementia discover more about each other through flashes of painful memory.  Both actors have won Best Actor awards for their portrayals, Gross nabbing several over the course of the recent year.

The film screens Friday, May 22 at The Fairmont Orchid, Hawai’i – Plantation Estate – behind the tennis courts.  Both the Michaels will be appearing at the screening and the duration of the festival.

Worth is returning to the Big Island Film Festival where his film God’s Ears won the Jury Prize in 2011.   Our Father also stars Eileen Grubba, David Topp, Julia Silverman, Ally Isseman and Aaron Stall.  Written and directed by Linda Palmer.

The film is also currently screening at the Emerging Filmmakers Showcase at the Cannes Film Festival and upcoming South-side Festival in Philadelphia.

The film’s trailer may be seen here.

Our Father trailer

Fri, 5/22 7:30 p.m. #1 Festival
Our Father (0:21)

Grizzly Peak Films Launches Youtube Channel

Grizzly Peak Films’ youtube channel launched today with the World Premiere of “Seeking Dolly Parton” and the current production of “The Butterfly Guard”.  The goal of the channel is to display all the video content (trailers, clips, behind the scenes, festival coverage, etc.,) of the company in one convenient place.  Please subscribe to the channel for a chance to keep up with the series of releases and productions in 2015 and beyond.

Below is a small clip of the cast and director in rehearsal before shooting “Seeking Dolly Parton”:

Principal Photography Wraps on “Broken Memories”

Michael Worth directs on the set of Broken Memories

Michael Worth directs on the set of Broken Memories

Ivan Sergei, Rance Howard, Cerina Vincent and Kelly Greyson Stars in Romantic-Drama

Los Angeles, CA – “Broken Memories,” a romantic-drama directed by Michael Worth (“Enchanting the Mortals”) has officially wrapped principle photography. The feature film, shot throughout Southern California, stars Ivan Sergei, Rance Howard, Cerina Vincent and Kelly Greyson.

The screenplay was written by Frankie Lauderdale and is produced by Kassi Crews through Broken Memories, LLC with Gary Levinsohn (“Jack Reacher”) as executive producer. “Broken Memories” enters into the postproduction phase at Digital Jungle and is on track to be released in 2015.

“Broken Memories” is a romantic drama that follows a son, Levi, dealing with Jasper, his father who is suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. While Jasper fights everyday to remember, Levi is trying to forget and put the past behind him. As the father’s state continues to decline, the family welcomes a beautiful and somewhat mysterious caretaker named Maggie who’s presence helps to heal old family wounds.

Director Michael Worth started his acting career in film before landing the role of Tommy on “Acapulco HEAT.” In 2002, he began to write, produce and direct his own projects. “God’s Ears” is his first feature film as director for which he has received Best Director as well as The Domani Vision Award For Emerging Talent in New York. Most recently he directed “Fort McCoy.”

Director and actor Michael Worth on location.

Director and actor Michael Worth on location.

Ivan Sergei, who plays Jasper’s son Levi, first became known for John Woo’s 1996 film “Once a Thief.” He has been featured on screen in “Dangerous Minds,” “The Opposite of Sex,” “The Break Up,” “Jewtopia” and “Vamps.” His wide spanning career includes television roles on “Crossing Jordan,” “Hawaii,” “Charmed,” “Touched by an Angel,” and “Warehouse 13.” Currently, Sergei can be seen portraying Jack Taylor on ABC Family’s drama “Twisted.”

Rance Howard plays the Alzheimer’s inflicted Jasper In “Broken Memories.” The father of Clint and Ron Howard, Rance has acted in over 100 films beginning with “Frontier Woman” in 1956. He is best known for his roles in “Cool Hand Luke,” “Chinatown,” “A Beautiful Mind” and “How the Grinch Stole Christmas.” In 2013, he played Woody Grant’s brother in the acclaimed film “Nebraska.”

Worth works with actors Cerina Vincent and Ivan Sergei

Worth works with actors Cerina Vincent and Ivan Sergei

Arguably best known as Maya the yellow Power Ranger, Cerina Vincent moved from the small screen to big with prominent roles in the hit films “Not Another Teen Movie” and “Cabin Fever.” After which, Cerina has found much success in guest star roles on most television’s major hit shows including “CSI,” “Bones,” and “Two and Half Men.”

Kelly Greyson is best known for her staring role in the historical drama, “Alone Yet Not Alone,” which screened nationally this summer. “Alone Yet Not Alone,” gained industry wide attention this awards season when its titular song, written by Bruce Broughton with lyrics by Dennis Spiegel, was nominated and then rescinded for an Academy Award. Greyson can also be seen in “Return to the Hiding Place” (www.hide-movie.com) wide-released in February 2015. She is featured in the film “Little Boy,” starring Kevin James, due out in 2015 as well and stars in the upcoming period piece “To Have and to Hold.”

Gary Levinsohn is a Los Angeles based film producer and owner of Mutual Film Company. He has earned a reputation as a highly innovative film financing entity, known for delivering eclectic, high quality films. Some of the titles Levinsohn has been involved with include “Saving Private Ryan,” directed by Steven Spielberg and starring Tom Hanks, which received 11 Academy Award® nominations and grossed over $400 million worldwide; the “Tomb Raider” franchise starring Angelina Jolie, “Deadfall,” starring Eric Bana, Olivia Wilde, and Charlie Hunnam; and the blockbuster hit “Jack Reacher”, starring Tom Cruise. Earlier films include “The Jackal,” “Twelve Monkeys” and “The Patriot.”

A New Star Opens the Heavens

The first time I saw Karen Kim was high atop an archaic hotel roof in the middle of Bulgaria in 2000.

The film I was shooting there was Isaac Florentine’s US SEALS 2, and I knew the actress I was about to meet was playing the very stoic, disciplined Karate expert/ Samurai specialist who was my unsettled love interest in the film. Though as it appropriately turned out, she was also playing that character’s rambunctious and all-be-damned twin sister, so I wasn’t quite as taken aback by her animated entrance into my life.

Her laugh made it across the precarious rooftop of the building long before she did. Her bouncy gait told me she was as athletic as her character’s Bulgarian-terrorist butt-kicking role required, but like her colorful cinematic twin sister, she was also loaded with energetic personality. She sat next to me in her skintight jeans and t-shirt, raised her sunglasses and extended her hand:

“Hi. I’m Karen. I guess you and I are going to be kicking some butt”

That foreign filming experience set the tone of our relationship over the next dozen years: deep, thoughtful conversations intermixed with wild rides through alien streets and alleyways.

And that would sometimes take place before even leaving her front door.

She immediately shattered my perception of the gorgeous ex-cheerleader for the NFL. Granted, my perception of that type was rather vague and still shrouded in adolescent fantasy but she broke through it nonetheless. Her focused intelligence combined with an energetic playfulness made her stand out in a crowd. While shooting in Sophia, we would get lost for entire days walking the tangled streets and the deeper we got spun around, the happier she seemed. She was the tye that enjoyed the promise of her hard work, but also seemed content at times to toss it all away and risk a moment of discovery.

Over the years, she became not only one of my closest friends, but one of the most stalwart parts of my filmmaking team. After SEALS, I invited Karen to be in five more of my films, quickly learning that whatever I offered to her, she would become that part, embracing it with the same importance and passion that I had written it with. She got those characters, even in ways that I didn’t. And she got me. I realized that during the Christmas of 2005 when she surprised me with a gift of the Criterion Collection’s John Cassavetes’ Five Films DVD set. I had not told Karen that this actor/director became a sort of human road map for my career. She made that connection all by herself. “He sounded like you”, she told me. Though I knew I was far from as skilled, her recognition of my ambition touched me all the same.

Karen’s ability to adapt to our irregular working conditions through many of our independent films including Killing Cupid and God’s Ears, was always a welcomed relief for a director to see in one of his leading actresses. While in the 110 degree heat of Palmdale, Karen, playing a black leather clad assassin in Cupid, would between takes, simply strip down to her underwear, sit on the nearest box and fan herself until the next take. The few outbursts we would ever see from her, always concluded a few minutes later by her typical smile. She would address the small crew saying “Okay, thanks for bearing with me everyone in my girly moment of grief. I love you all”. And everyone loved her back for it.

When she was eight months pregnant, we went up to Vasquez Rocks outside of Los Angeles to shoot some photos of her before she became a fully active mother. She effortlessly moved through the rough landscape (recently turned charcoal black from a controlled burn done in the area) wearing nothing but a shawl; a pregnant phoenix, rising from the ashes. Towards the end while on the rocks and the sun setting in the distance, she moved over to one peak, standing bare to the falling sun and smiled. “Mikey”, she said, as she always called me, “this baby is going to bring me a lot of these sunsets”.

And that was certainly as true as she said. She invited me to her home to take the first photos of them together there. Watching the way that small baby in her hands illuminated her face as if she were holding some brightly burning candle, was the happiest I had ever seen her.

A couple years later, I got a call from her and I immediately heard in her voice something was wrong. She needed to go to a doctor to have some secondary tests done for something she had not yet disclosed. She needed someone to drive her because of the nature of the tests, which may have prevented her from driving home herself. That day, though already aware of the possibility she was suffering from a serious form of cancer, she continued to discuss with me her future and how she wanted to start producing some of our films together. I was the shaken one that day, watching my friend with the tubes and needles protruding from her in the hospital bed even as she joked with the nurses. She continued to talk to me about her plans for a children’s play place she wanted to build for Skyler while I was the one doing my best to remember to breathe. All the while, Karen kept her medical staff laughing and smiling.

It may have been a month later when some of the reality had sunk in with her and we had a long talk about the expectation of her time here. Karen passionately ran through all her feelings and options, extreme as some of them were, all based on one thing: her daughter. Every thought that crossed her mind about being here on this earth or moving on to another place, all revolved around how it would affect her little girl Skyler. The love and concern she had for her daughter was as clear as anything I had seen. And it only grew stronger as her body grew weaker.

Sunday morning, when I was told about her passing the night before, I felt a deep loss along with a simultaneous gain that was almost overwhelming. My conversation with her just the week before was entirely about life. How during so many of our years on this planet, we can easily miss the gift in front of us. The “tool” of existence that allows us to grow and share growth with all those around us.

Our mutual dear friend (and “God’s Ears” cinematographer) Neil Lisk had passed away (also much too early) a couple years before, and we spoke about how it had opened our eyes to the impermanence of our stay here. We discussed how it made us feel, both discovering that living a life to be remembered means we must first live a life WORTH being remembered. And though being an actor is sometimes mistaken as the main stage in which someone can leave that kind of a mark, we both agreed that was far from true. Even the most famous fall into obscurity over time. It is in passing on the hope and the love to others, the gift of self recognition, that is the most memorable thing one can do. Your name and face may one day be forgotten, but the ripples you begin through the most genuine, truthful and simple acts will be the ones felt through the generations for the rest of time.

I see Karen’s ripples have only begun in those around her. And I am one that will be watching them grow for the rest of my time here.

I love you my friend. And I already miss you like crazy.

Mikey