Interview – Roger C. Memos: An enlightened (and filled with light) man

What can I say about a man I met only recently but already feels like a kindred spirit?

Turns out… quite a lot!

You may remember Roger from my shameless teaser found HERE.

But there’s MORE!

First of all, I’m tickled pink that I have yet another enlightened man to interview for this space. This is a man who said to ask whatever I wanted… and treated every question (even the one about self-care) seriously and with respect.

This is a man who could have said, “Oh, I’ve been asked this a hundred times. Here’s what I said to so-and-so: ____________ (fill-in the blank from a newspaper or journal interview [there have been many!] or IMDb)” and I would have been happy. But he didn’t do that! Instead, he mentioned he’d been asked this question a few times in his life and went on like it was the first time… kindly and thoroughly.

This is a man who could have acted as if he is better than me… certainly more successful… and would have none of that. He treated me like I was his contemporary and friend.

This is a man I respect and have grown to care for…

This is Roger C. Memos:

1. As an Emmy-winning Producer, Writer, Director, and Documentary Filmmaker (Phew!) you have been doing what you love for the last 20+ years. Were you the kind of kid who made movies at home? Did you always know you’d be doing this?  If not, what did you think you’d be doing when you grew up?

Growing up in a fairly small town in New Hampshire, movies had a profound influence on me. They transported me to another world which, at the time was a blessing. This was especially true in my teenage years. I was living in a group home, one of 18 children. I was miserable much of the time- and movies were my escape. And let’s not forget television. The 1970’s were sort of a “Golden Age” for sitcoms and variety..”Mary Tyler Moore Show” “Bob Newhart”..”The Carol Burnett Show”.. all lifesavers… I remember walking to school singing “” you’re gonna make it after all..” the theme to the “Mary Tyler Moore Show”. I didn’t know how I was going to “make it” but I knew instinctively that these shows – and Hollywood was my ticket out of misery.

I suspect that anyone who had a miserable childhood glommed on to thoughts of going to Hollywood to prove that they could “make it in the world”. Look at Marilyn Monroe. Classic case of escaping reality.

When I was applying to colleges, I discovered that many large universities offered degrees in radio, television and film. I applied to one such program with The University of Wisconsin. I was accepted but didn’t go because there was a recession going on at the time and I felt it was too expensive. So instead, I attended Keene State, one of New Hampshire’s state universities and got my degree in special and elementary education. Even though, in the back of my mind, I knew I wanted to go to Hollywood, I knew that realistically teaching would be a more practical profession for me. I did come from the tail end of that generation where we felt that our only choices for professions were nurse, secretary or teacher.

Upon graduation, I did land a teaching job in my home town of Nashua New Hampshire. It was a horrible job – in an inner-city school. I remember telling the kindergarten teacher on our third day of school that I was miserable and that after the school year was over, I was going out to Hollywood to go to film school. She was shocked…

Long story short, I was fired after 33 days on the job. It turns out that the person who took over my classroom had her Masters Degree, which is what they required for the job in the first place.

It was at this time that I finally became “honest” with what I wanted to do with my life. At the time, I was living with my best friend Brian’s family. I could tell they were disappointed in me but I came clean with them. I told Mrs. Ackerman that the only reason I went into teaching was because I felt like I needed to “pay back” society as I had been a foster child for 18 years. I was never really happy. I DID enjoy my teaching training in school but my real goal was to be a screenwriter or sitcom writer. I will always be indebted to Mrs. Ackerman for telling me that she always felt that I should be in the arts. She was the first person to really believe in me- which gave me the courage to pursue my dream.

It took me a few years, but I was accepted to film school at Loyola Marymount here in Los Angeles. Film school changed my life. I soaked up all the knowledge I could in two full years at LMU. I worked on everyone’s TV and film projects. I thought going into film school that I wanted to be a screenwriter. I came to realize awfully quickly that a screenwriter’s life is not easy… Not that producing is any easier, but I worked my way up to where I am now. The bottom line is that I know I have been divinely guided to the people and places I have worked. There have been lessons learned .. and dreams realized.

2. Who were your artistic influences throughout your career?

I have always been attracted to artists who have the gift not only to entertain but to inspire and educate as well. It’s not that I feel every film or TV program should teach us a lesson or indoctrinate us on an issue, I just find I am attracted to those who are well-rounded artists who instinctively know how to tell a story. I’ve mentioned Carol Burnett. I love her because she works from a place of “joy”. I love Norman Lear because he has the gift of raising awareness through his shows, but the shows are entertaining at the same time. I will say that this is something I took away from my degree in special/elementary education. That need to “help” others, to write something will resonate with the underdog and those ignored in society.

When choosing work assignments, I try my best to attract good people and good projects. When you love your job and who you work with, it makes ALL the difference in the world. When I’ve taken jobs just for the money, nine times out of ten, it was a thankless experience.

Because I have such a deep love for anything and everything, “Old Hollywood”, I’d have to say that so many of the producers, directors and writers from the Golden Age of Hollywood are my ‘mentors”. Again, I am attracted to those producers and writers such as Robert Riskin (“Meet John Doe”), Earl Hamner (“The Waltons”) and Charlie Chaplin who could entertain yet inspire us all to be better human beings. Writers and producers who believe in the inherent goodness of all men, women, children on this earth. Any producer who shows characters who rise above adversity and prevail is what I love best. Show me the humanity in the darkest of places. It can be found. A few years back, I saw a feature documentary that dealt with laughter and humor inside concentration camps. Who knew? But It lifted my spirits- and gave me a new perspective on a dark dark topic. There’s a light always burning deep in the hearts of even the coldest people on the planet. Look at the Grinch!!!

The key is to dig deep. I love a film or TV show where themes of redemption and forgiveness prevail.

3. What (or who) led you to Marsha Hunt? I am absolutely captivated by her story and also the both of yours together. You treated her story with such respect and compassion. It came through the screen! Please tell me you’re friends outside the camera.

I met Marsha in 2001. I was associate producer on “Darkness at High Noon”, a PBS documentary on writer-producer Carl Foreman and his personal journey through the Hollywood blacklist. The focus of the film dealt with Carl Foreman’s contentious relationship with producer Stanley Kramer during the making of “High Noon”. img_0900

As Marsha was also making a film with Stanley Kramer right before “High Noon”, she was asked to come in and tell her own personal story about her “run-in” in with the company publicist George Glass and the blacklist.

Long story short, Mr. Glass told Marsha that she needed to take an ad out in the Hollywood trades, stating that she was once a Communist but now was repentant. He then went as far to say that if she didn’t do this, that the American Legion would protest and that she wouldn’t be in “The Happy Times”, which was the film she had signed on to be in.

img_0899I was simply horrified at this story (as well as other stories she shared about being blacklisted). Right there and then, I knew I had to tell her story. I was also in awe of “The Way We Wore”, a coffee table book she put together about her life as an actor and model in the 1930’s and 40’s. I spent many years trying to pitch a documentary based on this marvelous book, thinking that this was the way to get her story on television.

It was only after seeing a documentary (A Note of Triumph: The Golden Age of Norman Corwin 2005) on Marsha’s dear friend, Norman Corwin in 2005 that I realized that I HAD to tell Marsha’s whole story. The focus of the Corwin documentary had to do with his activism during WWII and his push to produce a patriotic radio show.

Driving home that night, I gave myself permission to be truly honest. The truth was that it was easier to do a film about an acting career than it was to talk about activism. The whole topic scared me. I also thought that perhaps people might find this aspect of her life “boring”. I was scared that I would just end up showing a “laundry list” of her achievements on the air. Once I made the decision to show all aspects of her life in the film, I was less frightened. Ironically, after a thousand screenings of the film thus far, I would have to say that most people are affected by and remember her activism! For many, it is their favorite part of the film so, go figure… 

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And yes, I’m happy to say that Marsha and I are very close. I speak with her at least once or twice a week. She was very involved in the making of the documentary. She’s very special to me.

4. Do you have some advice to up-and-comers in the film industry? 

I often get asked by friends and family to speak with young people who are considering coming out to Los Angeles. When this happens, I listen and I answer their questions as honestly as possible. One thing I do stress: I would never tell someone NOT to come out because every person is different and everyone’s story is different. There are so many variables involved in moving out here to work in this business. Truly, one can only learn by coming out and deciding for themselves if it feels right.

Shortly after I graduated from film school in1983, I was still a bit homesick. So I decided I was going to move to New York City and “make it “ there. I had a dear college friend who needed a roommate so I moved into her apartment. Every day, I would take the train into the city. Work was hard to come by but I did manage to get ‘temp” jobs. Well, it was obvious to me very early in the process that NYC was NOT the place where I was going to “make it”. So with my tail between my legs, I went back to Los Angeles.

I waited tables for many years before I finally got my act together and got my first job as a researcher on a TV series. That first research job led to my first “big” research job at “Entertainment Tonight”. One job led to another. I slowly moved up the ladder from researcher to associate producer and then finally, to producer.

One thing I would say to up and comers is to take your time and enjoy the process. Act like a sponge and soak up all the knowledge and skills as you move up the ladder in your career. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Find a mentor who will be there for you.

If you should be stuck in a boring day job where you might be frustrated, don’t despair. Honor that creative side of you by maybe taking an improv or a writing class at night or on the weekend. Anything to keep the creative juices flowing. Anything to remind you that you ARE an artist.

adversity pix poster 150 (1) (1)After years of working on everybody else’s documentaries, I finally took the plunge and directed and produced my own feature documentary. I was 43 years old when I thought about making the film and I was 49 years old when we finally started principal photography on the documentary. I won my first award in the business in 2005 at age 48 (a Daytime Emmy for producing on “Starting Over”). So all of this takes TIME. Try not to rush things…In my experience, things work out better when you “go with the flow”.

One last piece of advice worth repeating. I mentioned earlier that I try my darnedest to “attract good people and good projects”. While it is true that we all need to pay the rent and when you are starting out, you may not have as many options as one who has more credits under their belt. But before you take a job, make sure that you “feel good” about it. Did you ask for a fair salary? Were you offered a fair salary? If not, really use your intuition before you take a job. If you speak up for yourself in the process, you’ll feel a lot better about yourself and the job. Bottom line: don’t let anyone treat you like less than a person on a job. There’s enough inherent stress with the job, you don’t need that added stress. Be willing to leave a ‘toxic’ situation if you are being mistreated.

And again I’d say, not only enjoy the process but TRUST the process. Careers take time to blossom. Don’t give up. Dream big but work hard. All the best!

5. What are your self-care rituals? 

As a person who has dealt with food addictions my whole life, self-care rituals have become a most important part of my daily life. It is only when I don’t pay attention to these self-care rituals that my life feels like I am in danger of falling apart.

Prayer – can’t live without it. Some days I pray more than others, but there is always some form of prayer in my daily life.

Affirmations- I’ve always been a firm believer in affirmations. Again, some days I do more than others but for me, affirmations help to build my confidence and give me courage to face challenges. I do believe in the saying “fake it till you make it”. I don’t always believe in myself- but by saying these affirmations I am plant the seeds of belief. And eventually, I DO believe. On that same note, I do want to say that I allow myself to feel sad or depressed when the feelings arise. As a life long idealist, it is very easy to say “everything is fine”, even when its not. The younger version of me would say this. I would stuff my feelings of sadness rather than feeling the pain. Now I say “this too shall pass”- and I allow myself to feel sad or depressed.

Exercise – While I am not one to go to the gym, I love to walk. I look for stimulating neighborhoods to walk in. It makes exercise seem less like a chore if the view is great. I try to walk every day

Good healthy food – The truth is, as a person who has always struggled with food, I try my best to eat less junk and more healthy food. Some days are better than others but at least I am cognizant now as to what I put in my mouth. I struggle with my weight but today I am kinder and gentler with myself. I may still eat some junk food but I find that if I am kind with myself and don’t get into a “shame” cycle, I don’t eat as much junk food.

I love read biographies/autobiographies of people I admire. I find this helps stimulate my creativity. I mostly read Hollywood biographies because I find that people from the Golden Age of Hollywood inspire me.

6. Bonus Question: I’m only guessing but I’m gonna say it out loud: Do you have a novel in you? I feel like you have a novel in you. Or maybe a memoir? Do tell!!!

I read a LOT of books- and I have to say that I think writing a book is one of the hardest things to do. At least it looks that way to me. Just the thought of doing footnotes makes me nervous!

I could see myself writing an autobiographical play or screenplay rather than a novel. Grammar was never my forte. As you can see, I sort of write free form. I’m sure there are people reading this blog, cringing at my grammar…. My sincere apologies.

When I was younger and more angry at the world, I definitely wanted to write about the pain in my life. But as I get older, I don’t feel that need so much. People tell me all the time that I should write my life story. My mother was bipolar, I lived in some horrible foster homes and ultimately in a group home from age 12- 18. I’ve experienced physical, mental and verbal abuse growing up. Fodder for a good story but who hasn’t experienced this? I don’t feel my story warrants special attention. Perhaps the better story is how I healed myself. We’ll see. I also don’t feel like dragging any more people through the mud. People do bad things. Forgiveness helps. As they say, forgive but don’t forget..

Let’s just say that as an artist, I suspect that I will most certainly do some sort of semi-autobiographical film/TV/Play/media project. I’m always putting it “out to the universe for divine inspiration. When I do decide to do that one special project, you can bet it will be inspiring, cathartic and above all, honest.

Although it’s not a novel or a play, I DO know that one of my goals for 2021 is to start a foundation in Marsha Hunt’s name to carry on her activism. I don’t know all the details as of yet- but it will be a vehicle to carry on her lifelong work with the homeless and world hunger. Right now I am “sleeping on it” as to what the concept will be. I know the foundation will evolve as it is supposed to. Answers come to those who listen…

img_0902When we were playing around with names for the documentary, Marsha suggested that we call it “Caring Matters”. I told her that name sounded like a slogan for a nursing home!

So this much I know…  In honor of Marsha, I DO know that it will be called “The Marsha Hunt Caring Matters Foundation”. More will be revealed as it is revealed to me……

Marsha Hunt’s Sweet Adversity Film Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xZ6T-qlO7w4

Marsha Hunt’s Sweet Adversity on Blu-Ray & DVD https://www.amazon.com/Marsha-Hunts-Sweet-Adversity-Blu-ray/dp/B085K5K64P/ref=sr_1_8?crid=2UYKSCIMO91WX&keywords=marsha+hunt%27s+sweet+adversity&qid=1584054290&sprefix=%2Caps%2C210&sr=8-8  

Marsha Hunt’s Sweet Adversity Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/marshahuntdoc/

 

 

 

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