Today we’d like to introduce you to Erin Leigh Neumeyer.
Hi Erin Leigh, so excited to have you with us today. What can you tell us about your story?
Storytelling is incredibly powerful. It can literally change the way we see the world and how we interact with it and each other.
That’s why it’s so important that we choose to tell stories about every kind of person and experience. That really gets to the heart of what storytelling means to me and why I love it so much. It’s a way for people to connect, escape, build worlds, explore ideas, etc… and most importantly, understand each other more fully.
I try to spend at least half of my time focused on stories that create a dialogue around important issues or observe and comment on situations that I think other people can relate to. The other half I spend on things that make me laugh or that I deeply enjoy.
Like a lot of artists, I didn’t take a straight path to writing, directing and acting. Growing up in Florida and Upper Michigan, it wasn’t considered a real career and there certainly weren’t more than a couple of women writing and directing that I knew about. I studied acting several times along the way and even majored in theatre briefly at Northern Michigan University and at University of Colorado in Boulder but always went back to a corporate-style job with some regular paycheck and a sense of security.
It wasn’t until I was in my late 20’s and married that I convinced myself that working as a storyteller was a worthwhile career and that’s when I convinced my husband to move to Venice Beach, California. That was probably the best decision I ever made. I love it in Los Angeles and especially on the Westside near the ocean and mountains.
We all face challenges, but looking back would you describe it as a relatively smooth road?
Pretty quickly after we moved to California, we also became pregnant with our first child, which was wonderful personally, but severely slowed down my pursuit of an acting career. When I was about three months pregnant, I heard about a now defunct organization called Group 101 films. Their whole mantra was “No Excuses” and it’s still one of my go to phrases whenever I need a boost. Basically the concept is, everyone has crazy personal lives, busy work schedules and family and friends they want to spend time with – but if you want to get your movie made you have to make it a priority or it isn’t really all that important to you. Each month you were assigned a theme and had four weeks to finish a 5 min or under short film and show it to your group and discuss it. This was in 2005 so it was the beginning of decent consumer grade video cameras but they still recorded to mini-dv tapes. What I’m saying is that most of the projects weren’t shot on a cinema camera, but they were decent for the time. I finished six films in six months, and during the final one, I was eight months pregnant! It was awesome!
I tried to continue making films once I had children but I just didn’t have the support of peers in the same situation and I didn’t live near family or friends who could help with childcare. Then my second child was born with a rare form of epilepsy and that became my priority. Obviously a lot happened in those 16 years but I didn’t make much forward progress in entertainment until a couple of years ago when I started writing and creating my own content with my kids.
Spending time with my kids making art has been a lot of fun and really helped me get out of my own way. Kids don’t have all the clutter and self-doubt that adults have. Ideas just pour out of them. For example, the title of our latest film for the Easter Seals Disability Film Challenge came from the kids. I was like, “We need a cool but kind of obnoxious band name,” and they were like, “Ultraviolet Rain!” It was perfect. They wrote the song the film is based around in an afternoon. “Cookies Are My Soul” is about a kid who only wants to eat cookies and is inspired by the fact that my daughter developed Type 1 Diabetes at eight years old and she really wishes she could eat sweets without worrying about it, like other kids her age.
My kids have really taught me to just go for it, not to deliberate too long and not worry about what other people think… Someone once told me that “Imperfect Action was better than Perfect Inaction.” It’s really true. Once I stopped asking for permission and waiting for validation, my career took off. Just this past year, I acted in a feature film, shadowed a director, took still photographs on a movie, won a filmmaking contest and a director’s chair from Filmcraft LA and shot a short!
As you know, we’re big fans of Thunder Tally Media. For our readers who might not be as familiar what can you tell them about the brand?
I started a production company called Thunder Tally Media to be the umbrella organization for all our creative projects with a focus on making positive social change and giving opportunities to women in an industry that is predominantly male. It houses my photography business, Erin Leigh Photography as well as our Podcast, “Breaking Big”, and our film and new media projects. You can see the latest there at www.thundertally.com.
My photography business has been around for almost 20 years. Currently, my focus is on family portraits, actors and events, with the occasional small school picture day. I’ve worked with USC, photographed products for commercials and Amazon. You can see some of my work at www.ephotola.com or www.erinleighphotography.com.
Because my daughter has two disabilities, we started taking part in the Easterseals Disability Film Challenge (DisabilityFilmChallenge.com) It’s a terrific 5-day challenge that helps make disability more visible and I highly recommend any filmmaker out there to take part, especially now that there is a virtual component so you can participate from anywhere in the world!
I’m also in pre-production on a short film that addresses Gun Violence Prevention called “I’m A Hero” about two sisters on opposite sides of the gun issue. It’s an action-comedy first and foremost that people will be able to enjoy despite political views because it’s funny and filled with great action and stunts. The film is mostly about two people trying to understand each other. My Executive producer is Jeff Vespa (Voices of Parkland, Save Ralph and Chadwick Boseman: Portrait of an Artist) and Fran Kuzui (Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Buffy, Angel, Tokyo Pop & Orgazmo). We have a very talented producer, Tara Tovarek; an Emmy-winning editor, Renee Barron and an incredible team of more than 50% female-identifying crew.
We are partnering with Brady United to help support their initiative to End Family Fire and plan to use the film as a dialogue generator for kids in high school and to be shared widely after the festival run.
This production is also seeking volunteers in several areas including grant writing, publicity, and crowdfunding. If you want to support this film definitely reach out to us. We are actively looking for financing and donations of money and in-kind items to help keep the budget reasonable.
Last year I started recording a podcast called “Breaking Big” where we interview people about their experience in the entertainment industry. I’ve talked to writers, directors, acting coaches and actresses most of whom also have kids in the industry. We are editing them now and will be releasing episodes this fall. Everyone has a different story but one thing is universally true…working in the entertainment industry is not for folks who give up easily!
My children and I have spent a lot of time studying comedy and improv at the top schools so it only makes sense that together we created a web series called “Your Neighbors The Neumeyers” based on the funny moments that happened in our family. It was originally made for Instagram so the episodes were mostly 1 min or less but now that there is IGTV sometimes they are a bit longer and we post them to YouTube as well. It has been an incredible creative experience for all of us. We write, shoot, record sound, act, edit and pretty much everything in-between. Every year we get a bit better at it and I’m really proud of our work. My goal is to bring on a sound engineer, a cinematographer and an editor to take our production quality to the next level. The show is sweet and also a little time capsule of our family – with the exception of my husband who has zero interest in being in front of the camera, which is too bad because I think he’s very photogenic!
Writing for our show gave me the confidence to start making more ambitious projects and validated my desire to direct and consider myself a filmmaker. I joined writers groups and spent time regularly writing, reading about writing and listening to podcasts about writing, all of which said “Writers Write.” So in 2020, I submitted my first truly polished short to a screenwriting contest and I was selected as a finalist. Now I’m wondering why I didn’t even try to submit my projects to contests or festivals before now? So I’m here to encourage you to just do it! It’s a bit crazy and childish, but projects that have won awards or have positive reviews make it easier to get that next job.
The thing I love most is also the thing I also loathe most about filmmaking…it is a collaborative process. It can be really challenging to work with so many people but the fact that everyone has their own perspective, interpretation and expertise is the reason why it’s so rich and satisfying.
Do you have any advice for those looking to network or find a mentor?
Finding a mentor can be a really crucial step in any career. I think the best way is through networking groups, organizations that focus on your industry and through school or workshops. Many organizations have a formal mentorship program.
I keep a list of people that I’d like to work with and look for opportunities to meet them. For example, if they’re on a panel at a conference or teaching a workshop, I’ll attend and introduce myself. Sometimes I meet someone who knows the person I’d like to meet and I ask for an introduction.
The most important thing is to be courteous and respectful of everyone’s time. A great way to do that is to feel out the opportunity and determine if there is a possibility of a formal mentorship or if it’s just a casual friendship where they may be open to having a coffee or virtual meeting to answer questions. Be on time. Be professional. Be positive.
If it is a more formal arrangement, then set up clear parameters and stick to them. Like, if you agree to meet once a month for 30 minutes, then don’t call multiple times a month or push the meeting longer. The conversation shouldn’t revolve only around you. Never bash others or share confidential information. Your mentor may assume you’ll bash them later or tell someone else an inside tidbit they offered. And if the mentorship comes to an end, part ways gracefully.
Over the years, check in with them from time to time and ask how they’re doing or about projects they’re working on. It should be a two-way street. You may have something they are interested in too. I’ve helped several mentors with my photography skills, connecting them to people they wanted to meet and even giving tips on new apps, website management and social media skills.
Finally, a good piece of advice I like to pass along is, if you want to be “Interesting” be “Interested.” To me, this means listen at least as much as you talk and connect on subjects outside of the core area of interest. Like ask about family, other hobbies, trips, etc… If you’re a kind, hard-working person who treats others with respect, you’ll get far in any business.
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Bonnie Holland Photography – for image of Erin, Marleigh and Dylan on solid grey background Cameron Radice Photography – for headshot in black shirt with red flowers. Erin Leigh Photography – for promotional images of YNTN & BTS & Stills