I come from a theater background. I fell in love with storytelling, characters and snappy dialog at an early age, but it was the variations on the human condition that fascinated me. Through film and television, I am able to explore storytelling through a different lens (pun intended.) I was interested in being able to save my work and share it with a broader audience since theater is ephemeral – of the moment and then gone.
What a wonderful way to get involved with film-making! How long have you been involved with filming and/or directing?
I went to the theater as a child and immediately went home and started producing small shows for the neighborhood, so I guess you could say I’ve been doing this my entire life. I became serious about drama in high school when I auditioned for and was accepted into the Academy of Performing Arts High School of Chicago. I went to college and received a BA in theater and then got a scholarship to a conservatory to study at AMDA in New York. I toured for two years as the lead in Freaky Friday and then went on tour for a year with Jekyll and Hyde before getting cast as a voicing actor with the National Theater of the Deaf. I had performed in around 75 regional theater productions before moving into directing/producing full time.
I directed my first show in Atlanta when I was 19, but was always producing independent projects when I wasn’t performing. I ran several different improvisation/sketch theater groups in different cities, and founded a theater group called the Young Players Ensemble that had performances all over the world. The group got the attention of HBO who was interested in creating a documentary about us narrated by Sharon Stone. That was the formation of my production company Worldplay, Inc. in 2005 which went on to produce SEE WHAT I’M SAYING: THE DEAF ENTERTAINERS DOCUMENTARY. I started producing television in 2005, working with shows on CBS, TLC, Court TV and the History Channel as well as being hired to create original content for Current TV. I moved back to film full time when I was selected by Steven Spielberg to appear on his television show ON THE LOT on Fox. He chose 50 directors out of 12,000 applicants for the show. I received a lot of encouragement from Garry Marshall, Carrie Fisher, Jon Avnet and Brett Ratner who were judges on the show, and I received a first look deal with DreamWorks. I consider myself a “closet writer” since I don’t like to write for anyone but myself and I prefer to focus on directing/producing. Once in a while my work gets out. My first short play that I wrote in my 20’s ended up being produced at the Actors Theater of Louisville and was nominated for a Heisman Award. It went on to be produced at the Looking Glass Theater in New York City. I also wrote a solo autobiographical show, The Girl from Nowhere which was produced in Los Angeles for a sold-out run at the Hudson Theater and was invited to be part of Edge Fest. I have written articles and reviews for newspapers and was published with a collection of work in Helsinki.
You have been involved with directing and filming for a long time. If you can, we’re interested in knowing more about any exciting projects you have coming up that you would like to and can share about.
I am working to get NO ORDINARY HERO: THE SUPERDEAFY MOVIE out into theaters Fall 2014 with our distributors, and excited about my feature film HANK AND LARRY, a buddy road trip comedy. I have some other projects in the works that I will announce if/when they become finalized. The one thing that most people don’t realize is that for every project that happens, there are a dozen that never make it for various reasons. No one ever talks about that. I am extremely selective about the projects I become involved with, since once I sign on, I will them into existence which sometimes takes years of work. Ask me this question again in 3 months.
Deal! I’ll ask you again in three months about your newest projects! What fuels your passion for directing?
If I can visualize a story and it touches me in some way, I have an ambitious desire to share the story with others. I am very much an “actor’s director having been an actor myself, and I enjoy working with actors to create strong performances. My job is to create a safe space where an actor can trust me to create their best work and to stretch them artistically. My greatest joy is to see potential in an actor that they can’t always see in themselves, and to see them take their work to new places.
As somebody that is experiencing a “journey” in life through Hollywood, how do you feel about it?
Journey is a great word. It has been a challenge to trust my artistic voice and to journey to new places. I don’t fit into the typical “Hollywood” profile – if there even is such a thing. I am attracted to new work with a fresh point of view instead of cookie cutter projects that look like everything else. I also pursue mainstream work since it is all a balancing act. I hate being rejected and turned down for jobs, but that is just part of the process. I don’t enjoy raising funds for new projects, but that is part of being a producer. I love being a director, whether it is figuring out a shot with my cinematographer, working with my composer to find the soundscape of a film or the explosion of laughter when a comedic actor nails a scene. I just love that.
I think the fact that I am working doing what I love means that it has gone extremely well.
Experiencing Hollywood, how hard would you say it is and why?
It’s extremely hard. It’s balancing various personalities with everyone’s individual strengths and weaknesses, needs and fears. It’s tough to consistently be selling myself, whether it is to convince a distributor that I have an audience for my film or an investor to come on board a new project. But I get to wake up every day doing something that I love, and that is priceless. I get to affect people by introducing them to new stories, ideas and actors, and that is extremely fulfilling. So yes it is hard, but I could probably think of a dozen jobs that are much harder. Digging ditches? DMV employee? Being a bodyguard in Afghanistan? I have nothing to complain about.
What are some obstacles you feel you face within the industry?
I do indeed. One of the obstacles I face is being a woman in this business. I was in denial about how real discrimination is against directors who are women until I experienced it. I do believe I can direct anything – action sequences, war movies, car chases or whatever typical “male” subjects that are in a script. Ultimately it comes down to how well something is produced, how audiences connect to the story and the final execution of the project.
As much as I detest asking this question, I think it’d be good for people to know how you feel. Working with people from our community, does it intimidate you?
At the beginning I was very intimidated being a hearing person working with films featuring deaf actors, and was (rightfully) challenged every day. I am grateful, as it challenged me to work harder to make sure that deaf crew members and deaf consultants are hired not only on my projects but for all projects. I continue to educate Hollywood on the importance of hiring deaf actors for deaf roles, encouraging casting directors to cast deaf actors in “hearing roles” and to always hire a qualified deaf consultant when working on any project that involves deaf actors. 10.What attracted you to working on Deaf based TV/Film? I toured with the National Theater of the Deaf with some of the most talented actors I had ever met. They inspired me to want to work with them and to create work that would compliment their talents. I am not interested in most deaf storylines that I see on film and television. I am more interested in projects that features characters that happen to be deaf.
So, tell us a bit more about your life outside directing and Hollywood!
I live in Burbank with an adorable Jack Russell dog named Charlie. My 2014 New Year’s resolution was to have a themed dinner party every month with a different group of friends for a year. This gives me the opportunity to try out new recipes and to actually sit down with people to connect through conversation over dinner. I feel connection is a struggle in Los Angeles, and feeling isolated is a challenge. I value meaningful conversation, although the last few dinner parties it was laughter that connected us. January was all of my neighbors and friends in Burbank and Indian food; February was an all-ASL dinner and Italian food; March was friends from New York with a St. Patrick’s dinner theme; April will be all women directors. I have some ideas for the rest of the year including a storytelling party around my fire pit in the backyard with s’mores and a cookie decorating party for the holidays.
This all sounds lovely! What are some exciting accomplishments you’d like to share with us?
Weird to talk about myself in an article but here goes. One of my proudest accomplishments includes completing two triathlons to raise funds for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. I try to continue to keep active, mostly with yoga at Yoga Blend. Other things about me: I was a singing wench at Renaissance Festivals; I have performed as a fire eater; I have been skydiving and loved it; I have been to Burning Man and loved it; I have 3 younger sisters; I lived in 30 cities before I was 30 years old; and I was in the Wes Craven film Wishmaster as a screaming tree. You can find out more about me at www.HilariScarl.com
Thank you Hilari! I loved your film, “SEE WHAT I’M SAYING: THE DEAF ENTERTAINERS DOCUMENTARY” and look forward to seeing more work highlighting our community!