Five Questions With Filmmaker Karen Weza

Beautiful Sunset Film PosterDriven. Passionate. Multifaceted. Relentlessly pushing boundaries. Karen Weza is a force to be reckoned with. As an actress, she is known to take direction very well, which transmutes when she wears her Director’s hat. With all of Karen’s projects she has been versatile: Writing, Acting, Producing and Directing. While it is challenging to act and simultaneously direct, Karen loves a challenge and is always striving for greatness.

Karen Weza is grateful to have worked, so far, with some of the best Directors Hollywood has to offer including: Multiple Primetime Emmy Award Winning Director and Producer, James Burrows [Cheers, Frasier, Will and Grace, Mike and Molly], Daytime Emmy Award Winning Director and Producer, Jason Zada, [Take This Lollipop], and Multiple Award Nominated Director and Producer, Justin Lin [Fast and Furious, Annapolis, and Better Luck Tomorrow].

Karen is a well-trained actress, first taking Stanislavsky based classes at The Studio Theatre Acting Conservatory, D.C., then upon moving from the D.C. Metro Area to Los Angeles, California, she attended the prestigious Playhouse West Repertory. One of her teachers at Playhouse West was Mark Pellegrino [Lost, The Tomorrow People, and the movies Capote, and The Big Lebowski].

Born and raised in Hawai’i, Karen grew up frolicking on O’ahu’s breathtaking beaches, and maintains her small-town work ethic: “Be well-prepared. Professional. Work hard. Be easy to work with. Laugh. Work as a team. I love learning and empowering myself! Always listen to your gut. Your instincts are one of the greatest assets, especially creatively. And like the U.S. Marines’ motto states: ‘Adapt and Overcome!’ Last, but never least, have integrity. Your actions speak louder than your words.”

Karen is currently taking Second City Improv classes, which will only help to further free Karen’s Creative Self from standing in her own way. Watch out, world!

Karen’s film, Beautiful Sunset, is playing at the 2015 GI Film Festival.

Where are you from and what is your film background?

Hello. I was born and raised in Honolulu, Hawai’i, and grew up loving and respecting nature, frolicking on O’ahu’s breath-taking beaches, and thoroughly enjoying all of the beauty Hawai’i has to offer.

For my film background… I am an Artist, foremost. I have always loved creative writing as an outlet. I had an amazing English teacher, Mrs. Lumpkin during high school. She always challenged us. English was my favorite subject, next to art classes. Then, in college, I also had an exceptional professor named Mr. Robinson. He was the first person, I recall, that told me I was a talented writer. With that compliment, I felt empowered. Maybe I could become a professional writer? Maybe something of mine could actually get published? It is amazing how good teachers really make a difference in the lives of their students.

I have always wanted to act, ever since watching soap operas with Mama, and reenacting TV commercials in front of the bathroom mirror throughout childhood. As an adult, I began by training as an actress at The Studio Theatre Acting Conservatory, Washington, D.C. Then, upon moving from Virginia to Los Angeles, California, I attended Playhouse West Repertory.

I had my heart set on attending the esteemed Playhouse West ever since I was back home in Hawai’i, and I had watched an interview on television with Ashley Judd. She mentioned the school. I knew that it was where I needed to go to train properly.

I always loved Ashley’s acting. I was blown away by her performance in “Kiss the Girls”. What about “Where the Heart Is”? Stellar work. You would all most likely recognize one of my instructors at Playhouse West as the talented Mark Pellegrino. He was the oh-so-intriguing “Jacob” on the hit TV show “Lost”.

Being this driven, passionate, creative artist, I had stories I wanted to tell. What better vehicle of self expression than to produce my own work? There is something extraordinarily empowering about being a “Jacklynn of All Trades”. That is what title I strive for: I write, I act, I direct, I produce, I edit. I am constantly learning. Sure, it is challenging to simultaneously act and direct, but I love a good challenge! There are no failures; I learn by doing. I am [hopefully] improving with each endeavor. Ha Ha!

Who are your biggest influences in film? And please explain briefly why.

Oh gosh. There are no shortages of inspirational filmmakers for me. However, because I am multifaceted, and relentlessly pushing my boundaries, they include Artists wearing various hats:

Tom Hanks. He is most likely my favorite male actor. Like the phenom Meryl Streep, what can’t they do? Those two actors can transform themselves completely! Though, I do believe they have not been in a movie together, yet. Dear Hollywood, make this happen. My mind would be blown.

Recent years, Tom Hanks has been producing quite a lot of work in partnership with the incredible Steven Spielberg. Spielberg’s directing is timeless. You have every body of work from the classic The Goonies – “Goonies Never Say Die!” – to the heart-wrenching Schindler’s List. No matter what, Spielberg’s films take you on an emotional ride.

There are a number of directors I would be over-the-moon to work with. If I were to list them all, and why, it would be a long list.

Top screenwriter for me would be John Hughes. I am so sad that he is not around to bless us with more creations. Pretty in Pink, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Christmas Vacation, Home Alone, etc… Hughes’ work is filled with completely relatable humanity.

Recently, January 26th, 2015, I lost my beloved Dad to cancer. The night before he died, while he was resting, I lay next to his hospital bed, and the movie Sixteen Candles was on. My favorite of John Hughes’ films. I made the comment on Facebook, “The teenage girl trapped in my mushy, romantic heart still can’t wait for Jake to lean across, and kiss me over the cake.”

Hughes brings us all together with his story-telling. No matter where we come from, we can all relate to the pains of growing up, the awkwardness of family life, finding love. That is Universal: The Truth; Authenticity of it all. His movies are hilarious! We laugh, because we have all been there. Hughes lets us laugh at ourselves.

What was the hardest part about getting this film made?

“Beautiful Sunset” was a very hard story for me to tell. I am a former wife to a United States Marine. He was my best friend, and deployed to Afghanistan. The day I kissed him goodbye at LAX airport was one of the most painful experiences of my life. There is nothing like that feeling. You look into their eyes, and your soul tries to capture every line on their face. Your brain tries to take a picture of their eyes, their smile. The feeling, the touch of their embrace. When you are married to a Service Member, sending them off to war, you never know if you will ever see them alive again, or in one piece. Though my friend lived, he did not return to me.

This story meant so very much for me to tell. I felt like this aspect of war is not talked about very often. I had to be brave as an Artist and put myself through these gut-wrenching emotions as an Actress. Then, in the Editing chair, watching it over, and over again was torturous. Yet telling the story I absolutely HAD to tell, there is catharsis in that. That is priceless. I hope it moves everyone.

What do you want viewers to take away with them after watching your film?

Freedom Isn’t Free. Innumerous lives have been lost, or forever altered by war. The lives of Service Members, their Spouses, their Dependents, Service Animals…Countless lives. ALWAYS say your “I Love Yous”. You never know what tomorrow will bring. Seize every moment. Try not to take anything for granted. We all do. But try not to. Time with your loved ones is priceless.

What is a fun fact about you that would surprise people?

I am scared of the dark. Though, I am getting better and better in time by pushing myself. However, if the lights flicker, or the power goes off suddenly in the room I am in, there is a bit of panic that runs through me. Where is my flashlight?

Beautiful Sunset, directed by Karen Weza, is playing at Angelika on May 23, 2015. Click here for tickets.