Today we'd like to introduce you to Courtney Paige, LAFA's lead judge in October.
Courtney, thanks for joining us today! You are very prolific and have worked on a large variety of films and shows as an actor and as a director. How did this all begin for you, and what were some of the important milestones in your career so far?
Thank you, so much. I started my career in Vancouver as an actor and the most important milestone for me was probably my role on E! Entertainment’s show “The Arrangement” as Annika. The show set the tone and triggered my 0.1 visa to move to Los Angeles which was also a big milestone for me. I’ll be applying for my green card soon with the hope to stay and further my career alongside the amazing filmmakers and the people I’ve met here.
Can you name a couple of filmmakers that inspire you? What do you like about their work?
I love Quentin Tarantino, Derek Cianfrance and Martin Scorsese. The artistic elements coincided with commercial viability, amazing cinematography and stories are what I love. I recently discovered an amazing filmmaker named Wendy Mcholm. She won the spirit award last year at Sundance. I am actually getting involved in her next film, “Fuzzy head”
Having worked in film, tv, and commercials, is there a medium you feel more at home with?
I love everything, but film resonates most with with me.
Let's chat a bit about your role as Annika in The Arrangement. How did that come about, and what were your main takeaways from this production?
I was actually about to give up on acting after a seven year struggle. I trained so hard and would watch all of my best friends I came up with land roles and shows. Just as I was about to give up (the following day) my agent got the audition request and begged me to go. I was about to leave for a vacation to Los Angeles and my friend and I were driving so we wanted to hit the road. My plan was to come down, clear my head and decide what I really wanted to do. At the time, I was leaning more towards focusing on writing. I had done so many auditions where I got close, but wouldn’t land the role and it was very taxing. I agreed to go, but told her this would be my last one for a while. After the audition she advised me not to leave town incase there was a callback shortly after. The next thing I know, they were sending me to network for approval. It all happened so fast, but I booked it and truly feel it was a sign from the universe. I was only supposed to do the pilot, with a possibility to recur. I ended up being in eight episodes. It was such a pleasure to work alongside the actors I met and directors I learned from. The show taught me that with this industry, you really never know what’s next. You just have to be grateful for the things that do come your way. Those are the things that are meant for you. I ended up moving to LA after the show wrapped after all. I still write and feel lucky to be able to do both.
How do you prepare for an audition, and is it different from preparing for a callback?
I like to figure out what type of shoes my character wears. Once I know how I can walk as that character, then I step foot into the role. I’ll read the material about 7-10 times without judgement. Next, I usually breakdown the scene, get off book and throw it all away to leave room for something organic in the room. I like to do the same thing in an audition as a callback. I may prepare a little more or dig a little deeper, but I tend to not do anything too different as I feel if they’re calling you back, they liked what you did the first time. If they have notes or a re direct, typically they’ll let you or your agent know.
Butterscotch, your directorial debut, earned you the Best First Time Director award at LAFA earlier this year. How did you get into directing? Do you feel your experience as an actor provided you with some valuable insights when approaching director roles?
Yes. Thank you so much! It truly was an honor. I always thought I’d direct later in life. I never expected it to happen this early on in my career, but I’m grateful it did as I now feel its really what I love to do most. When Andrea Bucko and I were writing, I had such a clear vision of how I wanted it to play on screen. We have a similar acting background, so with that she really trusted in directing her, given the extreme vulnerability her character needed to have. It also has a heavy subject matter, so we were quite precious with our decisions. She played a role similar in theatre and wanted to convey that on screen as did I. I think having a background in acting definitely helped before stepping into directing. Technical directors have taught me a lot, but there’s nothing like working with an actors director. When directing my feature film this spring, Dylan Playfair and Lochlyn Munro, two actors whom I really admire both gave me compliments about my directing. It really reassure me that I’m on the right path and it’s never too early to step into something you feel you’re ready to do.
What was the most challenging part about directing Butterscotch?
I was also playing a supporting lead role. Given it was my directorial debut, perhaps just directing or playing a smaller role would have been easier, but what fun is anything easy. Our budget was also lower than we would have liked. We had a lot of limitations with that. On the budget we had, some say you’d never be able to tell. Our cinematographer, Darren Miller provided us with so much. Without him, we wouldn’t have been able to make the project at all, so we are very grateful. We are considering raising a bit more to shoot a few more scenes. Originally we had hoped to turn the short into a feature, so I would love to explore that down the road as well when Andrea is open to it.
As a director, what is the most important thing to do on set?
Communicating individually with your actors, cinematographer, AD and producers to make sure everyone is on the same page. All artists are different and it’s important to have conversations before hand and during production so you know what their boundaries are. Everyone should feel safe and excited to play their role.
In your opinion, what do you bring to the table that makes you so much in demand? Apart from talent, of course... what else is super important in order to get hired in Hollywood?
I’m flattered you think that. I don’t know a single artist who would admit they’re in “demand” haha. I have days where I feel I’m not being hired enough, but I feel every artist feels that way. Even Oscar winners have spoke about one-two year gaps in no work at all during round table discussions. One of the things I suppose that makes me in demand is that I demand to always be creating. When it’s slow, I write a new script or start a new project. I reach out to filmmakers to collaborate or craft up a concept. I think it’s important to stay healthy, not only with your body, but your mind. You never know when Scorsese or Spielberg will come knocking- so always be prepared. That’s my two cents.
The experiences from sets and auditions you picked up along the way are invaluable. What advice would you give to young actors who aspire to follow in your footsteps?
I always advise artists to start in the theatre first. I think it’s so important to truly read plays, study the craft and know why it is you want to be an actor. A lot of actors get into this industry and feel empty and chase fame or this long road to an unhealthy validation. You must know you are in this career for the right reasons, or this industry will eat you alive. It’s one of the toughest industries to work in. I would only suggest taking acting on if you feel in your heart and gut that it’s the only thing you could possibly imagine yourself doing. It’s such a rewarding and thrilling job, but it’s definitely not easy. I would also advise having a strong mentor and coach, but make sure you keep a strong head on your shoulders and know when you’re getting co dependent with coaching. At some point, (earlier the better) you need to trust your own instincts. My favorite coach, Larry Moss says in his book “no one is coming to save you” and that’s always resonated with me about this industry. Hollywood is a place where your instincts need to be so strong and you need to be tough as nails, but also vulnerable at the same time.
You were invited to the LAFA committee based on your broad experience, talent, and expertise, and we are very fortunate to receive your insights. Leading the October panel, you've reviewed the work of many indie filmmakers. While some films were exceptionally well made, others didn't make the cut. In your opinion, what are the main ingredients of a memorable film?
I am truly honored. I really loved being on the panel. It was so inspiring to be behind the scenes and on the other end of it all. Cinematography is a big thing for me. You can really tell when projects put their heart and soul into something. The type of camera, lenses, good lighting and acting go a long way. The stories with diversity, unique storylines and something that pulls on your heart strings also. “Ruby Baby” was the one that really stood out for me.
Do you ever feel intimated by a project? How do you overcome this feeling?
I’ve actually never felt that way. I don’t think there’s any need to feel intimidated by a project or an artist per say. At the end of the day, material is material. Artists are vessels in storytelling and if you remove yourself from it, you can truly honor the story and filmmaker.
What is your favorite film of all time?
That’s hard. I actually have few. I love “The Sound of Music,” “Batman the Dark Knight,” and “August Osage County”.
If you could choose a dream project, what would it be, and why? Who would star in it, who would be directing and what's your role in it?
I would direct and co write an academy award winning feature called “Door to the Moon” co written by Quentin Tarantino. Starring Christoph Waltz, Isla Fisher, Leonardo DiCaprio, Joaquin Phoenix, Penelope Cruz, and Viola Davis. The film is a new world order government conspiracy and the B lining story is about mental health and animal extinction.
What's next for you?
I’m actually co writing and directing a feature called “Neon Candy” we are sending Taryn Manning an offer tomorrow. Siena Oberman and Gia Rigoli are producing and Kimberly Hunt will be joining me in the directors seat so I can play the supporting lead role.
Is there anything you wish to add or anyone you wish to thank?
I would love to thank our partners at Neon Cinema Films, especially Aftab S Chauhan who made our first feature possible! Also, big thanks to LAFA for the recognition.