Eugene Delacroix once famously said, “To be a poet at twenty is to be twenty. To be a poet at forty is to be a poet.” Maybe Delacroix’s sentiment explains one of my favorite lines from the screenplay, “Inside-Out, Outside-In.” It comes from a seemingly unimportant scene when movement theater director Nathaniel Quinn, alone on an empty, dark stage, mutters aloud, “Enter Stage Right. A young man, filled with hope, crosses to the most beautiful woman he’s ever seen.”

Once spoken aloud, Nathaniel chokes back tears, knowing the statement embodies the polar opposite of his current state of mind. “Inside-Out, Outside-In” follows a man whose experiences with corrupt Hollywood, whose personal and professional failures have robbed him of the hope of outer achievement so brightly felt in younger years. But nonetheless, he has become – despite himself – the real deal “poet” as he approaches middle age. And that, in itself, is its own strange comfort, providing the fuel for his march towards a destiny that the screenplay documents.

Making a movie like “Inside-Out, Outside-In” feels like war and a spiritual revival all at once. War because the sheer number of tasks and daunting resources required demand strategy, stamina and allies. Spiritual revival because the work being created isn’t simply an objective science project about someone else – it’s you up there and every decision reflects, in some way, your own conscience and authenticity. Sometimes the two are linked. During the crazy lead-up to our staged reading of the piece, our event planner Louise Miclat asked me to write something for the program. I quickly turned to our Fatelink mission statement, adjusted it a bit and Louise threw this into the program, “Hunter Lee Hughes founded Fatelink, a production company whose mission is to create compelling stories and empower others to tell their own…”

I didn’t give the statement a second thought until after the reading was over. We had too much drama unfolding to waste time on philosophy. Our original cast member for Adrian Quinonez as ErnestoAbhaya was forced to drop out less than a week before the reading due to a serious illness in his family. Finally, two days before the read, we found Adrian Quinonez to play the part. I thought I was done with last-minute cast changes, but at around noon on the day of our performance, I lost our “Dorothy,” one of the lead roles, due to a last-minute unavoidable scheduling conflict. The actress was near tears explaining things and I did my best to reassure her that we’d be okay. Downing my coffee at the PaliHouse hotel in West Hollywood, I immediately walked out in a panic…and forgot to pay my bill.  Luckily, I didn’t get far before realizing my mistake and went back, just in time to preserve my relationship with the waiter who’s down for me to order one cup of coffee and park there for two or three hours at a stretch.

As I paid the nearly abandoned bill, I realized that I wasn’t at all convinced that we would be okay, not just because we were down an actress. We never even ran the entire script at our two rehearsals. We built a pre-show that involved ten actors doing living theatre that seemed risky for a screenplay reading. Some had asked, “What is this? A table read? A staged read?” I tried to explain it, “Nathaniel’s a performance artist so we have to create a screenplay reading that reflects that…otherwise, we won’t embody the character and it won’t work. We have to create our own performance art to connect them to our story.” Some people got it. Some people faked it. And some “got it” but seemed to think there wasn’t enough time to pull off such an intricately staged experience.

I scrambled my rolodex looking for an actress. This one’s too old. This one’s too young. This one’s too big a bitch. This one’s not tough enough. For anyone who’s ever had to replace an actor on the day of the performance, I’m sure you appreciate the special kind of anxiety that accompanies the experience. Finally, scanning an old phone list from the master class at the Ivana Chubbuck studios, my adrenaline pumped an extra wave of holly1hormones when I saw her name – “Holly Elkjer.” I immediately called and offered the part. Must’ve sounded like a crazy man in the message. Within a half hour or so, I received a phone call back, “Hunter….you know I haven’t acted in a year,” said the ever-modest Holly. “You’re in,” I shot back. It was already 2:30 p.m. Our show started in less than six hours.

Holly studied at the Ivana Chubbuck Studios for at least five years, consistently doing excellent work. She cared deeply about her work as an actress, but not necessarily for the traditional Hollywood machine that might’ve made her an acting success. Maybe the veneer required for that sort of ascension clashed with her South Dakota upbringing. She also spent a lot of time painting, with the results intriguing enough that I felt confident that she could have a career as a visual artist if she found connections to the right group of people. But I also could imagine the fine-arts set easily overlooking a woman whose values and spirit strove to find a traditional life as a wife and mother, despite the hardship of doing so in the narcissistic breeding grounds of Los Angeles. Still, Holly tried, on all fronts, and at least has been rewarded for channeling her sharp eye into a hairstyling career at a top notch salon in West Hollywood.

Our tech operator Phillip Wheeler highlighted Holly’s script as I sped towards the salon. holly3She warned me that she’d be doing extensions right up until 7:00 p.m. The earliest she could possibly arrive at the theatre would be 7:30 p.m. Just four hours before showtime, I ran in with the highlighted script. As Holly twisted and clipped the hair of a client-turned-theatre-bystander, Holly quizzed me about the character, her objectives, her past history. I answered the best I could, then later sent a text, “She’s one of these ppl who’s trying too hard…”

Thirty minutes before we were scheduled to walk on stage, we were still missing Holly and Rex Lee, (Entourage’s ‘Lloyd Lee’) who was set to play Steven Park, the sharp-tongued talent agent of our leading man. By 7:45, they had both showed up. We quickly ran the entrance and exits on and off the stage and Holly settled in for a ten-minute stretch of trying to understand the script. “Who am I even referring to here?” she asked Marlyse Londe backstage, who did her best to guide the newcomer. Within minutes, we all walked on stage as if this was the plan all along. The show goes on.

You might say the night belonged to Jerod Meagher, our leading man. Jerod – another fascinating human being – has lived in Los Angeles for two years and has spent most of his time training and doing low budget work, in addition to three “day jobs.” He hasn’t even attempted to find an agent yet, believing it more important to develop himself as an actor and man. He couldn’t be more right for “Jason Quinn.” And, wow, did he pull off the performance and prove that he’s more than ready to play on the big screen….and not just in my film. You might say that the night belonged to our two monks from the past life story, Adrian and Gopal Divan, a brand new Los Angeles arrival. Adrian noted that I exhaled dramatically after he nailed his monologue. Going into that part of the script, I realized I’d never even heard him say it and didn’t have a clue what was going to happen. It turns out my trust was warranted. And Gopal also delivered in a big way on a crucial scene, which can’t be described for fear of ruining the suspense of the film. holly2You might say the night belonged to Rex, who consistently elicited laughter with his character’s witticisms, or Marlyse, who startled the audience with her beauty and audacity. You might say the night belonged to Betty Jones, whose penetrating singing voice moved us all. I could nominate almost anyone from the cast, but I think the best case is that the night belonged to Holly, who pulled off a lead role with only ten minutes preparation. I guess, actually, she’d be preparing her whole life, through dreams delayed, hopes revived, skills gained, lost and developed again. As my friend Richard observed from the audience, “Holly came across like sunshine, with her red hair, her smile, her presence. You just can’t deny how genuine she is.”

As I walked her to the valet station after the show, Holly told me that she wanted to return to Ivana’s class and resume her career as an actress. I looked at her, then gave her a hug, no doubt that Holly will be the “poet at 40.”

More than any of us, I guess the night belonged to an idea: whether you are Nathaniel or Holly, whether you’ve been slighted by the industry or rewarded, you have to keep going, do your work and see what happens. And sometimes, something good and unexpected comes along. And that gives you the courage to keep going…a courage that an unknown stranger down the line will need from you.

As I left Holly and walked back to the Bailey’s/Coffee party in full swing, I realized that the Fatelink mission statement I dashed off for the program…had been accomplished without us even really trying.

For the record, here’s the cast list of the first public reading of “Inside-Out, Outside-In” (in alphabetical order): Daniel Berilla, Camille Carida, Marilyn Chase, Gopal Divan, Holly Elkjer, Jason Fracaro, James Lee Hernandez, Hunter Lee Hughes, Betty Jones, Rex Lee, Moira Leeper, Marlyse Londe, Jerod Meagher, Shon Perun, Alexander Popovic, Adrian  Quinonez, Tracey Verhoeven.

We give a special thanks to costume designer Shpetim Zero, technical operator Phillip Wheeler, event coordinator Louise Miclat, volunteer Pete Willink and the McCadden Place Theatre, along with its manager Ken Basham. Additional thanks to J. Parker Buell, Alesandro Piersimoni and Richard Scharfenberg.

Hunter Lee Hughes is a filmmaker and actor living and working in Los Angeles and the founder of Fatelink. His current feature film Guys Reading Poems is touring film festivals and this blog is dedicated to the process of making his second feature film, “Inside-Out, Outside-In.” If you enjoy the blog, please support our team by following us on Facebook, Twitter (@Fatelink) or Instagram (@Fatelink).