Placing a Red Bow on Downton Abbey

Why Some Stories Don’t Need a Reboot

“So,” I said, turning to my friend as the credits rolled up the movie screen. “Did you like it?”

Lady Mary cThe “it” I was referring to, was the movie adaptation of Downton Abbey, the British TV series broadcast as part of PBS Masterpiece Theatre. The series ran for six years, following the lives of an aristocratic family and their domestic servants. It was standard Masterpiece fare, character-driven and rich in visuals and dialogue along with being a guilty pleasure. Think, The Crown meets The Young & the Restless.

My friend’s reply was typical Lady Mary. “It wasn’t great, but good enough. It felt like a longer version of one more episode.” My friend and I were a good dichotomy for the typical target audience for Downton Abbey. While she was a loyal royal watcher from the beginning, I came along late in the game, with a hard-binge of six seasons on Amazon Prime. Knowing its audience, the movie trailer didn’t pretend to market itself as a vehicle for anyone who wasn’t already a fan of the TV series.

But should Good enough be an acceptable review? Why is it that movies seldom capture the essence of that unique story that catches fire with readers and viewers? Too often, the magic of a carefully drawn-out story just doesn’t lend itself to the 2-hour adaptation on the movie screen.

Let’s look at another story that caught fire several years ago, when journalist, Jeanette Walls wrote of her life, in the memoir, The Glass Castle. This book spent over 260 weeks on the New York Times Best Seller list, and it’s hard to find a book club that didn’t devour this classic, or a reader who didn’t bond with the story on some level. Yet, when the movie version of The Glass Castle finally debuted, starring a strong cast consisting of Brie Larson, Woody Harrelson and Naomi Watts, the story fell flat, perhaps suffering from having to leave too much heart on the editing floor.

Sometimes, we should leave the best stories in their original packaging. It is a rare instance when the written word transfers so eloquently to the movie screen. To Kill a Mockingbird comes to mind. But more often, the result resembles my feelings when turning off the TV after viewing El Camino on Netflix, a movie picking up immediately after the last scene in the incredibly rewarding last episode of Breaking Bad. While it was nice to see Jessie, our anti-hero again, did we need to revisit what was already the best ending ever for any TV series?

And yet, it can certainly be argued that the best movies come from successful screenplays. Local author, Bonnie Jo Campbell has been touring the country as the film adaptation of her novel, Once Upon a River makes an appearance at many film festivals. We can only hope it pays a visit soon to our area.

Here’s a thought… maybe some endings are best left alone, even if it was nice catching up with the Crawleys and the downstairs staff in Downton Abbey. I wonder what the gang from Mad Men has been up to?

Heidi McCrary is a writer and a regular contributor to Women’s LifeStyle.
Look for her debut novel, Chasing North Star in September 2020. Follow Heidi at https://heidimccrary.net/ and https://www.facebook.com/HeidiMcCraryAuthor

Me and Ed

The story of being a movie extra

A few years back, a movie was filmed in West Michigan. Produced by our famous Holland son, Hopwood Depree, this independent film stars Ed Harris and Jennifer Connelly along with Amy Madigan and Julia Robert’s niece, Emma Roberts. The movie also starred a town-full of local folks known in the biz as extras.

Lester CohenHow cool would that be, I thought as I read the open casting call for extras for “Virginia” by TicTock Studios. Who wouldn’t want to be an extra in a film, starring Ed Harris and Jennifer Connelly?  All it takes is one day of work so how hard can it be? Soon after, I received the confirmation email…

YOUR CALL TIME FOR “VIRGINIA” ON MONDAY IS 6AM. PLEASE BE SURE TO BRING YOUR WARDROBE WITH YOU WHICH INCLUDES A PANTS SUIT IN SUMMER WEIGHT FABRIC, 3 BLOUSE OPTIONS, AND APPROPRIATE SHOES. YOU WILL BE PLAYING A TV FIELD REPORTER. 

Monday, 4:01am

Rising before sunrise, I pick up the instruction sheet one last time, and read it.

NO BLACK, NO WHITE, NO YELLOW, NO RED. NO LOGOS, NO HIGH CONTRAST STRIPES SEASON IS SPRING/SUMMER. LOCATION IS A BEACH COMMUNITY.           

If I’m correct, this leaves me with the vibrant colors of blue, brown and grey. Going through my closet, which consists of different shades of black, I choose a navy linen suit jacket which is perfect for a beautiful summer day. Never mind that its October in Michigan and the forecast is rain with a high of 42°.

Navy blue…my summer black. OK, I’ll admit it…I’m geeked.

5:52am

Arriving in South Haven, I find a huge white tent set up on the beach, with a banner that hangs over the entrance that reads, Virginia. Walking in, I’m greeted by a blast of heat blowing in from a generator. Finding a seat among the many rows of folding chairs, I wait for my first instructions. The tent contains a mix of crew members, volunteers and extras, and everyone is chatting, leaving me with the feeling that everyone but me has been through this before. A woman enters, followed by her entourage, and talking stops as we watch her set up the wardrobe area. One by one, we are inspected for wardrobe approval.

“Too black,” she says without hesitation. And with that, I’m whisked into a makeshift dressing room and fitted with my third-choice selection. Once dressed, I’m paired with two gentlemen, and the newly formed News Crew is shuttled off to Hair and Makeup, making the three of us realize we’ve been elevated in status to being officially, Extras. There are those who serve as Background or BG for short. They generally are part of a larger crowd, and meant to blend into the background – hence the name. And then there are Extras, the lucky ones who require hair and makeup and might have a small speaking role. We fall somewhere in between.

DO NOT BOTHER THE STARS. YOU ARE HERE UNDER THE AUTHORITY OF THIS CASTING COMPANY AND YOU ARE TO BEHAVE IN A PROFESSIONAL MANNER.  YOU ARE HERE TO WORK.

8:58am

With my hair now firmly cemented in hairspray, we are shuttled off to yet another tent where we are told to relax and be patient. The temperature outside is in the 40s, so we’re treated with another generator throwing a great amount of heat our way. What we don’t have is food. Seeing how we are the equivalent of cattle on a farm, food will come when the farmhands get around to it. Our tent is bulging with the Saugatuck High School Band, which is also in the movie, with the kids only being scolded occasionally for their loud voices.

And we wait…

12:38pm

News Crew, follow the band!” a crew member yells, and with that, we’re off in another vehicle, riding between the drums and tuba.

We’re driven to North Beach where the beach has been transformed into an ocean-side boardwalk – complete with carnival rides and food vendors. Bleachers are set up and we’re instructed to stand to the side and wait for our cue. I spot Ed Harris sitting in the front row of the bleachers and I take in the workings of the movie set – with cameras rolling on tracks and lights serving as the sun which unfortunately has taken a break today. Hopwood is sitting in the traditional director’s chair, but only stays a moment before jumping off and diving into his work.

And we watch…

“It’s a wrap!” the director finally yells after several hours, and I look at my News Crew. We don’t have to be concerned about winding up on the cutting room floor because it appears that we will not be used.

There is no explanation from the crew other than, “Thank you everyone…We are done for the day! It’s hard not to feel the sting of a broken dream. I tell myself that this was all just for fun and not really important – but the reality is that like many of the others here today, I got sucked into the magical world of moviemaking. How can “Virginia” go on without the News Crew?  Apparently quite easily.

Wednesday, 2:40 pm

Two days have passed, and I’m back to my normal world of a career that pays, overlapping with hustling kids to soccer games and making spaghetti dinners. So when the phone rings and I hear my “Virginia” contact on the other end, it surprises me. “Would you be available tomorrow? You’ll be playing a Mormon leaving church.” Not exactly the sexy label of Field Reporter but just as a soldier is always prepared, I find that I owe it to myself to try it one more time. After all…Hollywood is calling me back.

“I would love to,” I find myself replying. And with that, it’s a repeat of what I can’t wear and a reminder not to feed the stars.

Thursday, 10:38am   

Wearing a simple but elegant Talbot’s dress, I am glad that I dragged a friend with me today. She is more vivacious than me and I smile at the likelihood that she will shine on camera, leaving me, once again, on the sidelines. Per our instructions, my friend and I arrive at our location in Saugatuck and wait for our next instructions.  

And we wait…

1:15pm

Finally, we’re loaded into a bus and driven to Douglas.  It’s a windy day and the trees are bare, with leaves blowing around in typical October fashion. We walk up to our church which sits on a street corner and is surrounded on a beautiful green lawn, without a brown leaf in sight. Our Mormon church is actually a liberal church and we are escorted to the back room. I’m just happy to be riding out my time today indoors – definitely a step up from the tents of the other day.

Soon after, a crew member enters, and we’re escorted to the front of the church and I’m paired with my husband while my friend is grouped with her instant family. Removing my jacket, I stand outside with my husband, shivering as we wait for our next instructions. Amy Madigan is standing in front of us talking to a crew member, and Ed walks past her, proceeding up the steps, passing within inches from me. I look behind me to see my friend smiling broadly at me. I’m in a scene with Ed Harris.

My scene is with Ed Harris!

I cross my arms, trying to warm myself in my lovely short-sleeve spring dress. Suddenly, I feel a jacket being placed over my shoulders, and I turn to see Ed Harris, ever the gentleman. I lift the collar and put it to my nose…nice cologne. It’s quite windy out but the day has suddenly turned sunny and magical for me, and I don’t believe this story can be any better scripted. A crew member comes up to me and suggests that she can get me a jacket, only to be interrupted by Ed, who says, “Just let her keep it on…I’m fine.” When the time comes for him to remove his jacket, he does so with a rub on my back and a, “Are you going to be warm enough?”

“I’ll be great,” I reply. My friend and I exchange smiles and we listen for our cues…

“Background…Action!”

When $10 is Priceless

There’s something about the Petoskey stone. As the artist sat behind the booth, I reached for the earrings, wanting a closer look. And that’s when my phone rang.

“Hey Tyler!” I said, still looking at the earrings. “What’s up?” As my son and I chatted, I turned the earrings over in my hand. “So, I’m looking at these Petoskey stone earrings,” I said, wanting to share my find with him. “And I can’t believe they’re only $10.”

Photo“Hang on, Mom,” my son said. “Don’t go anywhere. I’ll be right back.”

As I stood, waiting, I set the earrings back onto the display, thinking that, even at that wonderful price, I really didn’t need another pair of earrings.

Not long after, my son came back on the line. “You there, Mom?”

“I’m here.”

“Look at your phone. Do you see it?”

Pulling the phone away from my ear, I look at the dark screen. Suddenly, it lights up, displaying a notice from the app, Venmo – which basically serves as a virtual wallet. A notice appears, letting me know that my son dropped $10 into my account.

“Now, go buy those earrings, Mom.”

That’s my boy. And I can’t help but think this would be the perfect Venmo commercial.

 

 

 

 

 

Why he’s a Superhero

Together, my husband and I peered through the windshield as the evening storm whipped itself into a frenzy—chasing concert goers scrambling for the safety of their cars while winds blew gushes of rain horizontally. An hour later, with the delayed concert officially cancelled, we pointed the car for home, dodging fallen branches and darkened traffic lights as we traveled slowly through the streets of Grand Rapids.

As is often the case when you’re married to a journalist, you learn that news never rests, and I took it in stride as my husband took numerous calls as we walked the grounds at the Frederik Meijer Gardens, and I understood when he excused himself to receive more calls as concert goers rose to their feet for encore performances. As the music played, the storm made its way across West Michigan, coming at us like the 80’s rockers taking ownership of the stage before us. Then, quicker than a flash of lightning, we were told to get to our cars…quickly.

But as we headed home, I was less than thrilled to hear my husband tell the person on the other end of the phone that we would be glad to drive to a small town located somewhere east of Hastings to capture weather video.

Hastings. No, a town EAST of Hastings. And I just wanted to get home.

Now, operating as part of a Storm Chaser team, we drove down country roads, talked with convenience store employees, and finally found the designated area believed to be hit hard by the storm—with a flattened barn sprawled across a field. A news team from a another local TV station was already on site, and a young reporter carried a camera as a young photographer fumbled with a small light that lamely threw a tiny beam of light into the darkness.

And that’s when my husband threw on his superhero cape. Politely passing the news crew standing beside the road, he cranked the steering wheel, turning our car toward the flattened barn, threw on the high beams, and stepped out to shoot the destruction with his cell phone. I watched my husband doing what he does best, while the neighboring news crew also watched him, no doubt, having an Aha Moment as they witnessed my husband accomplish in two minutes what they were trying to for the last hour. I KNOW that the moment we drove away, the photographer hopped into his news vehicle and turned on those magical high beams.

That’s my husband, my Superhero. Every single day.

 

Hitting the Pause Button on Your Career

“I’m so done with the 9-5 career,” my friend explains, taking a stab at her salad. She sits back and sighs. “Staff meetings, sales calls, budgets…I just don’t care anymore about climbing the corporate ladder. I just want a job that I don’t have to bring home with me at the end of the day.”

Woman working - CopyShe’s not alone in deciding that the next chapter in her life doesn’t necessarily include power-lunches and clothes that require dry cleaning. So what do you do for a living? is the question often asked at networking events. But, is it professionally acceptable to bag the power-suit and just get a job that doesn’t define us?

While Facebook COO, Sheryl Sandberg correctly stresses in her book “Lean In” that more women need to have a seat at the corporate table, It’s not the only option for achieving a professional balance in life. But there are many factors in deciding whether to chuck the heels and briefcase.

Let’s look at the downside of stepping off the corporate ladder…

  • Most part-time jobs are hourly and pay substantially less than full-time jobs. While we might have a romantic vision of living a simpler life based on a lower income, are you really ready for fewer nights out on the town, and less trips to the café for $7 iced coffees?
  • Like it or not, jobs define us in our culture. Many people can’t fathom why a woman with a bachelor’s degree in Business is suddenly ringing up scarves at the local boutique. Something terrible must have happened, is often the thought that pops up.
  • Working a so-called regular job can sometimes come with a boss who is not only much younger, but also less knowledgeable in the world of business. The reality is, you may be taking orders from someone who has yet to get their first credit card. And YOU will have to suck it up, buttercup.

But there is an upside to non-career / part-time employment, and the benefits can make all the difference!

  • At a regular job, the hamburgers don’t follow you home at the end of the night. That’s right, clocking out at 8:00 means you’re done, not just taking a break until your home, and opening your laptop after dinner to continue working on your current project.
  • Stress levels go way down. For the most part, a regular job is generally less stressful. Gone, are the weekly budget meetings, sales sheets, and cold calls. That’s not to say that all part-time jobs come with less responsibility and goals, but the level is generally less.
  • Designer Hours – OK, the downside of working part-time is that you will generally have to work hours that are less than ideal, like evenings and weekends, but owners and managers will also work with you in putting a schedule together that fits your lifestyle. This can allow for you to be home for your kids when they get out of school, or open up a 3-day weekend. It’s up to you.

At the end of the day, we all need to do what’s best for us. Career vs. job, it’s really about what looks best on you. Here’s a thought … let’s not worry about how our jobs define us.

Heidi McCrary is a writer and a regular contributor to Women’s LifeStyle.

To Walk in her Shoes …

“Maybe you can go over and talk to the mother and son ahead of us,” the golfer called out to me as I started to drive the golf cart away from the couple, who are regulars on the course and not used to waiting for others. “They’re playing really slow.”

woman putting“No problem,” I said. “I’ll ask them. I’m sure they’ll be OK with it.” As etiquette dictates on the golf course, slower players generally allow faster golfers to play through. This is going through my head as I pull up to the mother, and together, we watch her ball careen across the green, before bouncing onto the rough on the other side. I smile before asking her if she doesn’t mind letting the twosome behind them play through on the next hole.

“You know what?” the mother says, watching her son putt. “We were planning on letting them play through because they’re pushing us. My son and I were playing just fine until  this hole. But yes, we’ll let them play through.”

I thanked the mother for her graciousness, and went on my way. It wasn’t until an hour later, as I spotted the mother and son walking off the ninth green, that I thought about the favor I asked of them. “How’d you do,” I asked, expecting an answer falling somewhere in between We had a great round and I just couldn’t hit a ball straight today.

But this mother’s answer was quite different. She stopped and put her hand on her son’s shoulder. “You know,” she said. “This has been a pretty rough day for us.”

“Our dog died today,” the boy added, bowing his head.

“It’s just been a hard day for us,” the mother sighed, packing up their clubs.

“I’m so sorry,” I said. “As a pet owner, I know how heart-wrenching that is. Would you like to go another round … on us?”

“No, but thank you,” the mother said, with a slight smile I hadn’t seen until that moment.

As they walked off the course, I thought about the day they must have had and how we all contribute to making someone’s day worse or better. Let’s strive for better.

Heidi McCrary – Author

What day is it?

Standing behind the counter at a local golf course on a beautiful summer evening, I accepted the cart key from the golfer and wished them a pleasant evening just as the phone rang. Answering the call, expecting the usual questions regarding tee-times and leagues, I was suddenly caught off guard.

Old_Lady_golfer - Copy“Hello,” a voice, obviously an older woman, said on the other end of the phone. “I’m afraid I slept in. Please tell the other ladies on my foursome to start without me. I’ll be in as soon as I can.”

I paused, not sure how to answer this request since there wasn’t a league in progress, and I assumed she must be talking about the league scheduled for the following morning, and included older women golfers. But I was confused how her sleeping in this evening affected her playing the next morning. Before I could respond with something resembling, What?, she thanked me and hung up.

Setting the phone down, I chewed on this one-sided conversation for only a moment before another golfer walked in, diverting my attention back to getting people on the course.

It wasn’t until a half-hour later, an older woman walked into the pro-shop, and I greeted her with a smile.

“Did I miss league?” she asked.

“I’m sorry,” I said, recognizing her voice as the one on the phone from earlier. “I’m not sure what league you’re talking about? Which league are you on?”

“What day is it?” She asked, as I saw her smile diminish, replaced with a look of confusion.

And that’s when, together, we untangled the mystery. This lovely lady had taken a catnap, and upon waking and seeing the clock showing 7:45, thought she had slept through the night, not realizing that it was 7:45 in the evening, not the next morning.

Embarrassed, she thanked me for clearing up her confusion, and sheepishly explained that she was 90 years old. I smiled and told her that it was a mistake anyone could make, and the fact that she was still golfing at 90 was a testament to her strength.

Let’s lift everyone we encounter. A smile with a guiding hand goes a long way.

Heidi McCrary – Author