CONVERSATIONS IN LA, the dark comedy from East Coast native Anne Marie Cummings (creator, writer, director and star) and Immediate Vision Productions tells a modern-day story about a young Hispanic man (Gustavo Velasquez), who’s already had a fair amount of sexual experience and is genuinely searching for a meaningful relationship whose world collides with Michelle Macabee (Cummings) who is dealing with career transition, pet loss, and menopause. On the surface, CONVERSATIONS IN LA is about finding what makes us feel alive, whatever stage of life we’re in, but beneath that, it’s a story about self discovery and finding who we are without the influences of those around us.
BELLA sat down with Cummings for an up close and personal conversation…
You are involved in many aspects of the production world; acting, directing, writing, etc., which is your favorite?
Great question! While I think of my work as an actress-writer-director, as one…if I had to choose, it would be writing. This is where everything comes together in my mind, and then on the page. This is where I get to make my mark with my ideas and vision. For me, so much of what I do is about the message I put out there. I’m drawn to art of any kind where there’s a strong message. I’m not interested in writing and stories for the sake of pure entertainment. I like to create timely stories and characters who certainly entertain, but are grappling with difficulties we all understand and face. The more personal I get as a writer, the more I know viewers will identify.
Tell us about Conversations in LA, what inspired you to create this project?
I believe all writers write from a place of pain. One of my favorite quotes by Ernest Hemingway is: “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” So, I write because I have to write. I write because this is how I work through what life throws my way and what I see. If you look at any artists work, particularly writers and painters, look at their personal lives right before they made a painting or wrote a book.
My favorite painter – Jackson Pollock – he was living on a quiet farm, isolated, in love, painting in a barn when his drip paintings came to life. When I moved to Los Angeles two years ago, I was in a mindset of having just lost my dog of 15 years. She died and when she passed away, I felt like a part of me died. So my character – Michelle – grew from that particular event in my life and brought me back to life – so to speak. And then moving to Los Angeles – with dry heat and lots of sun and ocean – after living in freezing New York for decades, gave me an immense amount of drive and energy to bring this project to life in my own way. For me, I think of “Conversations in L.A.” as my drip paintings – this work is me at my best as an artist. I’m sure I’ll keep growing and the work will be on a bigger scale, but there’s something raw about this material, and certainly very real.
Also, having been a theatre actress, director, producer, and playwright, most of my adult life, it was my theatre experiences that helped me develop the style of “Conversations in L.A.” – a one-shot series. So the evolution of this series was completely organic. I didn’t have to stretch to find the visual style and expression for the cinematography. That was ingrained in me, with my vision as the creator of the series.
You were nominated for an Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Digital Daytime Drama Series, how did that feel?
Wonderful. It made me cry because I’m one of those artists who’s in this for the long haul and for the right reasons. I’m not doing all this for fame and fortune. I started taking acting classes when I was six years old. I took myself to auditions when I was fifteen. I auditioned for plays as a young adult, choosing and selecting very carefully the roles that spoke to me. I started and ran two theatre companies in my life so far. I’ve taken risks with my vision as a director, often drawn to an avant-garde approach and ways of doing things differently. I’ve worked on my writing – having had plays Off-Broadway – for the last 30 years.
I’ve also been the kind of artist who needs to do something, whether it’s act, write, direct, because I have no choice. When something moves me, I do everything I can to pull my resources together to bring that to life. So when I received the Daytime Emmy nomination for Outstanding Lead Actress, on one level I wasn’t surprised, and on another level, I couldn’t believe it was real. I’ve been doing this for so long without any acclaim and feeling satisfied without it, that getting it was, and still is, like chocolate chip brownie fudge ice cream, for breakfast!
You foster a baby elephant named RAPA through David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust in Nairobi, Kenya, is wildlife conservation something you feel passionate about?
Thank you for asking about that! Yes! I do! I feel passionate about all animals and I’m strongly for wildlife conservation.
First, what I love about animals is their innocence. They all fascinate me – whether it’s a squirrel in the park or a bird flying by. They make life beautiful!
But elephants are almost extinct and we humans do things that we don’t need to do – such as poaching. I understand this need for jewelry, but I don’t like to see an animal killed for it. What then happens to the baby elephants when their mother is killed for her tusks? That baby elephant often dies within 72 hours without its mother’s milk.
An organization such as the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust rescues those baby elephants, if they’re lucky to find them alive, and then keeps them alive in their baby elephant orphanage. Each baby elephant is given its own caretaker, and how they survive is by receiving a special milk formula that took Dame Daphne Sheldrick, the founder of the organization and a hero, years to figure out. The orphaned elephants also stay alive by relating to the other baby elephants that are there. They need each other and have to feel part of a unit in order to live. Once the elephants are old enough, they are reintegrated into the wild, in a protected area of Kenya.
I’m also passionate about sharks. Rob Stewart’s documentary, “Sharkwater,” is a film everyone should watch!
Any fun projects coming up in the near future?
Season Three of “Conversations in L.A.” is currently in pre-production! This project isn’t finished yet. While I have other projects I’d like to do and waiting for the green light on – like my culinary romantic comedy feature called “Eat Bitter, Taste Sweet” being directed by two-time Primetime Emmy nominated director, Wendey Stanzler – this one is really IT for now and it takes all of me to do this.
As I’ve gotten older, but with still a very youthful spirit, I realize that it’s quality, not quantity that matters. One of my favorite poets, Mary Elizabeth Frye, is known for only one poem in her life – just one. That’s not to say that I only want to be known for “Conversations in L.A.” – I’m just saying, I don’t think about being popular by always having my hands in something, always producing. As a creator of content, rest and doing very little is so important in order to recharge and then create again.
How do you define beauty?
I love this question.
Our culture is obsessed with promoting beauty as an outside thing. Our bodies, our faces, our skin, our perfect breasts, perfect legs, and so on down the line. And while a beautiful body is nice to look at, a beautiful body is just that, beautiful. But beauty, for me, is the way a person walks, talks, moves, their energy, their smile, the way they listen, the way they think, how they think, what they think about, what matters to them, the questions they ask, what they do with their lives, how they help others, how they inspire. This list is endless, but I’m sure you get what I’m saying.
I always love it when I see people’s reactions when I tell them that no, Michael Fassbender and Brad Pitt do not do it for me. They’re like, “Whaaaat?” And I’m like, “Yep.”
For more on Cummings and her projects, visit her website here.
Photo Credit: Conversations In LA/Immediate Vision Prod.