Don’t you love seeing work or a dream progress?! "Willow Creek Road" started out as homegrown idea and blossomed into what I called a “handshake heard around the world” as I spoke to the project’s creator Jenna Ciralli during the earliest planning phases.
Jenna discovered me and our friendship through a casting director in Montana, Tina Buckingham. In our first conversation, Jenna and I hit it off like two long lost souls that had a million things to catch each other up on. Down to my toes I felt goosebumps telling me this was something pretty dang badass.
We would not meet face-to-face until about six months later. Through phone calls we got to know each other. As she developed her idea, she shared grace to allow me to help her make early decisions in formulating the short film. As more people came on board, I felt changes in the script and vision that took every ounce of faith I had to keep putting one foot in front of the other! Jenna, myself, and her stepbrother Bayard moved forward to create a video for Kickstarter that supported this project’s beginning pre-production into its filming.
"Willow Creek Road" changed a ton in it’s direction, filming, and editing shaking every inch of my creative DNA until I finally surrendered into what this project wanted itself to be. The film secured me a solid supporting actress role as Joey along with earning an Executive Producer credit for fundraising, behind the scenes support, and assisting with visibility of the project and its progress. The friendship and sisterhood that’s grown between Jenna and I from walking through the fires of creation, to communicating through hard stuff, and encouraging each other, is priceless. Truly, its become a warm embrace of feminine heart energy that continues to grow into other projects, uplifting talented women, and shaping our courage.
Through Jenna’s heralding and pressing “Willow Creek Road” into the light, our film has become widely received at film festivals around the country. In this journey, I’ve stepped into my voice, thoughtfully shared my perspectives, learned to put my pride in check more and more, improved acting skills, and fallen in deep admiration for filmmakers, actresses, and actors crafting their stories. Remain on your path, stay in faith, and keep choosing actions that make your work, creation, life, and love progress!
BOZEMAN International Film Festival
MINT Film Festival - Billings, Montana Photographer: Kenneth Jarecke
South Dakota Film Festival, Aberdeen Photographer: Greg Gilbertson
Most recently “Willow Creek Road” played at the Oxford Film Festival in Mississippi. It’s slated for viewing at the Seattle International Film Festival March 7, 2019 and March 16, 2019 at the New Filmmakers Film Festival in LA, and at the Maryland International Film Festival. It will premiere in the Holly Shorts Monthly Screenings in Hollywood in April 2019.
The film has received accolades for cinematography, best actress-Jenna Ciralli, and has been a festival choice for award at the MINT Film Festival and Monmouth Film Festival. (Full list of awards and film festivals can be found on my under my Pics tab-Film for Willow Creek Road on my website!)
I’m taking my own advice, even as I write this. Celebrate and allow success to integrate into your bones. It calibrates you for more of those experiences and helps spread your wings in what you are creating in life. I am excited to take this experience forward into more auditions and continued exploration in producing film.
Much, MUCH loves xoxo
PS You can track our film and its progress on the Facebook page! (Search: Willow Creek Road Film) or just click on our film name to take you right to it!
The fear of being misunderstood and criticized has driven many of us long enough. We want what our soul desires and to share our talents because it lights us up. No more explanation needed.
I posted pictures earlier this summer I was cautiously pleased with, and that changed…
On a rainy June day I dragged an old crate out of my closet and dumped it into a glorious colorful smear onto my living room floor. There were pictures of plays I’d done, play programs, photo shoot pictures, class certificates, and behind the scene photos from creative adventures. They felt like they were from a lifetime ago. With good warm fuzzy feelings in my chest and conflicting loud voices in my head, I grabbed the back of my neck to rub a thundering ache of thoughts away.
Rifling through paper remnants of accomplishments I had forgotten about, my fingers whisked by some black and white photos that took my breath away. My eyes watered and softened, holy hot hell, I thought.
Leigh Kiernan | Photographer
My mind spun backwards years ago into the time frame the pictures were taken. I was new to town; my support system was nearly non-existent. The life I'd experienced up to this point made me absorb limiting ideas and snarky or jealous comments people would toss my way. Not knowing I could question what I was hearing, I multiplied that gross feeling energy inside myself. It felt like the world around me automatically assumed that if it looked pretty, then it had no problems, struggles, and was supremely confident. The way I appeared and the way I felt did not match. In my search for answers, I constantly explained my puzzling mental mess and the gravitation tugs in my soul to people that inquired and to those people that were in my corner. Often receiving dead end responses, I felt so confused about what I was discovering in myself. My belief system was on autopilot and like a high powered vacuum cleaner sucked up every poor quality story outside myself that held me back and pushed me down. With few good internal tools and meager positive reference points, I clung to those external negative narratives like the last life boat sinking with the Titanic. It’s no wonder the modeling I attempted didn’t go anywhere…
If you could go back in time to encourage your younger self, wouldn’t you just bear hug yourself and verbally impart mustard seeds of self-worth, self-esteem, confidence, and belief in yourself? When these photos were taken, I couldn’t see, feel, or believe I was capable of the creative story calling me from my soul. Nor did I really know how to value what I had, elevate or support my talents, and share them. So I thought, anyways.
Reflecting on these pictures and past accomplishments, I began to feel a fiery pride in every pore. of. my. skin.
Hot tears leaked down my cheeks. Feeling weirdly dizzy, I saw my younger self from the outside looking in. I realized this younger self didn’t know I’d learn to snowboard, mountain bike, travel all over the country, and some places outside of the U.S. I didn’t know I’d discover acting and be cast in over two dozen stage productions, act in six independent films and a dozen film shorts, attend film acting classes in LA and Portland, model for photography, make new friends, and have many more creative adventures! I didn’t know I’d experience the resilience of making a life after a heartbreaking failure of marriage and friendships and relationships, handle my borderline eating disorder, be a scrappy single mom living hand to mouth, or be with my dad through his cancer and passing. I’d also go through so many other life challenges that would bring me to my knees… only to heal, rise up wiser, stronger, and even more gorgeous in spirit. The younger self I saw in those pictures didn’t know or believe the power of my creative and life story resided within me -in words I say to myself and those that I chose to live.
When I sense a wild heart discontent that makes me feel like my teenage self who skinny dipped in the wooded lake areas of Minnesota and smoked cigars after too much whiskey, it’s time to take that feeling and grow. Digging deeper in myself these past months to own my life story, talents, and evolve acting skills with more radiance and confidence, I grabbed that old crate of pictures. Mining through the photographic bones of my past, I was looking for clues to open a vulnerability to myself I had long shut down.
Connection to others is messy, wonderful, often unpredictable, and confusing. The connection with myself is no different. I’ve tried so hard to keep connection compartmentalized, all neat with little bows. As you might guess, that, just doesn’t work.
After too many months of comparing how I’m vulnerable with myself to how other people do it, I figured out, as usual, I need to do things my way. Vulnerability, a seemingly elusive transparency that allows other people to see us --how we really are and also how we see ourselves. My vulnerability is messy, sad, nonsensical, funny, curious, and is often embarrassed to ask for help. My close friends, some family, and a few random human angels have been saying, ”you got this” and have graciously offered safety, listening ears, wisdom, and patience to help stabilize my floundering struggles.
As I rediscovered the amazing inside myself in these pictures and programs of shows I‘ve done, I felt myself appreciate my accomplishments for a minute, and then pretend I didn’t see them. It was a splendid (and friggin’ exasperating!) never ending game of hide and seek. I hide myself… from me.
Leigh Kiernan | Photographer
I have a deep need to hear sweet external encouraging words about myself and the artistic story I’ve been creating. These pictures (and programs), however, made me focus on words I’ve said and say to myself… Why have I had one hell of a hard time creating remarkable words consistently inside myself so I can hear them clearly AND believe them? I don’t have a perfect answer. The best one seems to be that I’ve had a paralyzing fear of being criticized or misunderstood so I stop owning my natural & cultivated talents, intelligence, and experiences -and pretend they don’t exist.
Rubbing the teary mess off my face and closing my eyes, I felt a strange but awesome prompting to bless and honor my younger self. My shoulders unhooked themselves from my ears and a delicious buttery sense of pride made me grin ear to ear. I had followed my intuition. I started pursuing a form of artistry (modeling) and I didn’t quit exploring, living, learning, achieving, falling on my face, and getting up regardless of what life threw at me or choices I made to discover myself as an artist. That, was SO brave. Declaring this to myself deep down, I sensed I had planted a flag on the moon that no one could take away.
Discarding narratives that do not serve my soul as I keep finding my way as an actress/artist is bold and courageous. I am meant to do and be something here on the planet; I am worthy, have valuable talent to contribute, and to share. It takes guts to admit this to ourselves, feel it deeply, and to allow ourselves to really fall in love with believing we are totally capable of creating from the story in our soul that guides us.
Self-vulnerability that recognizes and accepts our own assets, whether we are born with them or have cultivated them, feels somewhat magical and may be the missing ingredient in your own internal narrative.
There are two basic stories we tell ourselves in our own head: you suck (fear) and/or you are capable and wonderful (love). Putting those traits and experiences you consider brilliant about yourself into the love story you tell yourself about you… is brave self-vulnerability. I feel embarrassed, and silly sometimes, with how long it’s taken to put way more of my personal story building power inside myself.
I’m giving myself the warm bear hug I needed and still need now by evolving my beliefs about myself through mindset shifts and energy changes in my spirit. Using these transformations, I’ve been swapping out old narratives in favor of improved ones that support me.
It’s interesting and surprising how posting those pictures recently, now with support of good friends, family and some life experience, helped me start rapidly re-scripting even more of my emotional narrative from the ground up. Being recently inspired by a quote from Brené Brown’s book Daring Greatly, “When we bury the story, we forever stay the subject of the story. If we own the story, we get to narrate the ending.” has helped strengthen my focus inside myself.
Having boosted importance for narrating my story internally (with support for it from the outside) and owning what I’ve done so far is what these pictures clarified in me. They re-lit a sparkling fire of passion as an actress and emboldened my artistic voice to continue creating more vulnerably with all my talents and experience.
I’ve waited for the right time. I’ve waited for someone to allow me to feel and or tell me how begin that narration. I’ve waited for someone to answer the 'am I enough question in my story.' I’ve waited for critical narratives to stop and waited for other people to ’get’ what I’m creating. That narration begins, and began, when I decided it did AND it is what I desire it to be. No more explanation needed.
Regularly I restock my joy, peace, and passion for life. This month has found me in the mountains and also in a workshop immersed in acting study with Nancy Gabor. It’s been a month of reflection and deeper discovery for what makes my soul sing brighter with more confidence and freedom. It’s been a month of finding more patience with myself as I learn to level up my craft of acting. And honestly, it's also been a month of getting a bunch of house and repairs done! Plugging back in with fresh eyes and energy to press forward and upward to the next level.
I hope you’ve found some time to really take in the miracle you are on this planet. Lots of love and peace xo
“Useless” was slated to film late summer 2017 but due to Montana wildfires, production was wisely rescheduled. Link for info: "Useless" (Facebook)
Rolling back to early 2017, I submitted video auditions for two speaking extra parts and was cast in one of those roles. Presently, being based in Montana, I’ve been developing a better process of submitting auditions. Definitely made me feel excited to be cast from one of those videos and doubly excited to work with Tombstone Film & Production Company LLC on their film!
Earlier this year, productions let me know the film was still a go and scheduled to film May 2018. They also asked if I would be willing to step into a solid featured part. Of course, I said, “Heck YES!”
Photo credit: Sydney Resel
It's empowering when you can create a vision from your heart, follow steps & paths, handle the stuff that comes up, and then feel the joy of creating with a team of artists. It’s taken awhile for this little overachiever to fall in love with the whole process of making anything happen in my life really. No footstep ends up being useless when I feel the joy, wisdom, and connection around me. Those feelings invite me to notice and discover what’s next as I trail blaze my way towards my dreams and value each person, skill building, and experience more deeply.
Keep on dreaming & doing those things that make your heart sing. Bless the world in positive, loving ways like only you know how. xo
Curiosity rather than running. Patience rather than pressing forward. Stillness rather than busyness. Peace over struggle. People tell you to get out of your own way, “just be yourself.” What a gift when someone stays with you, allows you to find your way to yourself, and holds space to just… be. Being seen and leading fully and completely as yourself is a vulnerable choice. Being in front of your camera has taught me so much. Thank you Dennis! Digitalmontana Portraiture
Art feeds my soul. I received a creative writing assignment to write about a teapot at the retreat I went to a couple weeks ago. (Thanks Allyson) Was inspired to finished it this week!
Everybody goes through a funk now and then, where the inside of you doesn’t feel like it matches the outside. This quirky poetic story revealed itself to me as I allowed my imagination to re-plug into my creative juice. Onward towards those things that make you shine bright, feel alive, and bless others. *PG 13 for language
It’s really hard to move when you don’t have actual feet. Hopping up the sand dune hill on my single footed porcelain base with decoupage flowered body, I hate flowers by the way, I abruptly halt. My lid clatters along the rim of my brain. I see a three hundred sixty degree view of perfect blue sky meeting a thin, crispy, dark-lined horizon. Vanilla colored sand stretches out as far as I can see. With no breeze, an abyss of church silence, and the smell of the sun baking my white flowery shell, my desire to go one more hop is almost gone. When will this god-forsaken desert end?! I’m lost, thirsty as hell, and insanely lonely.
I’m on week five hopping out of this dessert. Fuck. I can‘t remember how I got here and I’ll die if I stop now. I’m acutely aware I’ve got one last drop of water in me. The paint has peeled off what I used to call eyes; the two dots I have left keep scanning the horizon for something, anything that’s different. The horizon dances in the heat taunting me to flop over and fly the white flag. Hearing a mirage of trumpets playing taps, I start spinning around and around to locate them. “Ouch, ouch, OUCH!” My spout and handle hurt and feel like peanut brittle that could snap with one more wrong move. My belly aches for the water dancing from that silver long necked source. I’m supposed to be steeping tea to provide relaxation. I’m supposed to be giving water to little girls in fancy imitation tea parties. I am supposed to be able to give… give anything. Give everything. Offer life giving water! A resolute shield forms around my last morsel of hope. Must. Keep. Going.
I hop one hop at a time when my energy recharges. It’s taking longer and longer. The sun snickers at my dying attempts as it plays I spy and passes 10, 11, 2, and 5. Night is coming. A reprieve.
Pointing my spout upwards, I sip in water I imagine that’s in the air. With a dry scratchy giggle, I change direction and do it again. Ha ha ha… I’m losing my lid! Laughing out loud now, I try it again. Hopping around in circles, I inhale and blow out green, pink, and blue, bubbles, sparkles, polka dots, and confetti. Twirling faster and faster with a strange feeling of doom, I let out a huge devilish snort. I see a funny shaped black thing. Double blinking and twice more, it doesn’t disappear.
This one has a life of it’s own.
The dark shape is gliding above me now at about 15 feet and playfully dive bombs me rolling me to my side. Springing up onto my base and preparing to fight, a shiny black feather drops at my feet. My bleary eyes finally focus. A spectacular fat raven circles above me in the sky cawing the most beautiful sounds I’ve ever heard in my life. The continual cawing excites me over the moon. I start having seizures of hopping and hoarsely screaming, “SOS. Pick me up. Stop! I need help. Pleeeeeasssse land!”
It flies off at high speed and my hopping just can’t keep up with it. Over and over I yell in a whispery raspy voice, “Wait! Come back! Don’t leave me! Take me with you!” Running out of steam, I fall spout down in the sand sobbing, weeping, and wailing from that place where deep grief lives. Water poured out of my eyes.
Wait! Water!! There is water is IN me. How can I capture it?! Heaving heavy sighs until I am laughing hysterically, I start tossing my tears into the sky and capturing them in my spout. I dance and twirl on my one footed base until my stomach hurts from my strange laughter and crying. My eyes relax; I have collected enough water in my belly to continue my desert escape.
With new intent, I squint in the direction the raven flew; night is starting to settle. In a dazed stare, three yellow squares vaporize out of the darkness. Rapidly shaking my head back and forth, I smell a wisp of wood smoke. My heart leaps out of my teapot!
The energy of a dozen horses powers me. I start hopping gingerly toward the hope of those lighted windows. Anxiety filled me knowing this discovery would bring change. In my teapot gut though, I know I can impact the scale of that change if I move toward that light.
On this day, I felt strong, capable, and smart. I felt like a hero.
(*PG13 for strong language*)
In my definition, a hero is a person who, from the damnable chaos inside themselves, will keep reaching and fighting for their soul’s light & purpose, and putting their best foot forward in real-life action benefiting others and themselves.
My acting friend, Ryan, asked for help creating a visual storyboard for writing a screenplay. He asked Kelly, another actress friend, and me to create our costumes for this steampunk world he was crafting and hired our friend Mary at Queen Elizabeth Photography. On the photo shoot day, we headed to an old ghost town on a cold, windy, almost snowy day in late October.
Mine and Kelly’s characters were part of a hero crew dismantling the power of a community leader who was smitten with his thirst for supremacy. Ryan’s character was a wild card capable of swinging in a direction that would serve him most until he found love that helped ground him and he also found two female warriors willing to fight with him.
Often my creative projects provoke self-reflection. Recently, this project triggered another wave of reflection, only this time in regard to national news headlines and resulting discussions going on around me. One of those discussions being definitions of male and female qualities each of us has inside ourselves and how we receive or reject those qualities of others based on the gender of the person expressing them. I appreciated how my friend Ryan was creating female characters that would be victors in this story rather than victims and creating lead character men that were vulnerable and making their own paths.
Ryan imagined a story where the power of goodness was being wielded by two capable, steampunk, Robin Hood style, female mercenaries. Kelly and I crept, ran, carried our weapons, planned and executed our strategies, and looked for clues until we came upon Ryan’s character. Ryan’s character was sneaky, charismatic, and deeply troubled. Our triumph was defeating the darkness leader who was causing much deception and confusion and also helping Ryan’s character convert his efforts toward goodness.
Battling weather elements, our photographer valiantly directed and allowed us time, space, and creativity to set up scenes to capture the best images. We successfully shot a series of photos that became a platform of ideas for Ryan to write his screenplay.
Experiencing this photo shoot renewed my fuck yes appreciation of my own heroship and also my enjoyment of the fun of creating mutually respected heroship with open minded people! Ryan was developing his screenplay with characters that were real, flawed, strong, and individually intelligent. This led characters to be confident and dare I say sexy; not because his focus was on portraying that, but because that visual evolved out of the expression of who they were being!
When a guy will be hospitable about a woman's independence and support her strength, I feel impressed with his ability to manage his pride (brave choice!) and his ability to be inclusive when creating heroship. This shared heroship creation is the beginning of a stronger recognition of how we can more fully own all parts of ourselves regardless of gender, and with that, create some pretty epic life, art, or love together! Regardless of gender every human being needs to feel and own the male and female aspects of their own heroship. Wouldn’t it be amazing if we could be open to receiving that multifaceted male and female awesomeness from each other not based on the gender expressing it… but because that is who we are?!
Celebrating and building female strength is not a new concept and it’s at the forefront of thought lately. It's progressive. It's courageous. It's now. A woman does not want to take away from what a man needs at a very instinctual level! She wants to have her part in it, be recognized & credited for it, and have her sexuality be respected in a way that feels good to her! Women as a whole do not fear or want to disown their sexuality but that is not all of who we are! Our heroship qualities are deep, powerful, intelligent, sensual, and nurturing to name just a few!
I feel some men who reject and diminish a woman’s strength, intelligence, or power may be unwittingly insulting themselves because some of our strength, intelligence, and can-do attitude is the result of learning from strong, capable men! Go men! Men who share in celebrating and promoting female strength in their own and shared heroship are helping create new ways for women AND men to be admired and appreciated!
Believing and expressing your own unique heroship is confident, sexy, impactful. When it is used with good intent, it can SO help boost self-esteem, worth, and faith to create for yourself and others in life!
There is hope and grace in opening conversations about current headlines and the growth that we need to be brave enough to do. Both public and private stories being told are SO important and part of a larger wave of change coming from many, many brave generations before us!
Hells yes and cheers to a renewed love and acceptance of your own inner hero and to being inclusive in creating shared heroship in life together! We need male AND female heroes that are open-hearted, capable, strong, intelligent, and inclusive who are putting their best feet forward to spearhead change and make 2018 a KICKASS, amazing year!
Thanks to my gracious writing editors: Rachel Riitano & Jaime Lue Inflore
On this mountain skyline is a rock formation we affectionately call, “The Sleeping Giant" because it looks like the profile of a giant man sleeping on the horizon. As you settle your eyes on the center of the picture you’ll see his chest and continuing your eyes to the right, you’ll see the profile of a face with a very pointed nose.
I took this hike several weeks ago after our first heavy snow. The crisp air bit at my skin, snow crunched under the footfall of my boots, and I could almost hear the forest breathing. Experiencing the quiet of the woods sets my heart at ease and fills my soul with peace. This late day view was especially pretty with pale blue and plum colored skies. This simple moment felt perfect. I appreciate my mountain time.
Tonight, sitting in a very messy house after a week of Thanksgiving activities and flicking through pictures on my phone, I hear the hum of my furnace. I smell leftover pumpkin pie spice in the air and the aroma of an evergreen candle burning. There are piles of laundry and a mountain of dishes to match. I feel my heart melt into a warm happiness. Snowboarding, shopping, conversation, laughter, working a ton of schedule logistics with all the people I call family, cooking (my pumpkin pies ended up being a big challenge to cook right!), and of course, eating… are only some of the activities of my family’s holiday this week. I appreciate my family time.
Deep in thought as I flick through pictures, I feel how much I value my family. I allow myself to feel light with the laughter we shared. I greatly appreciate my family’s good health and their ability to make life happen in positive ways. I allow the feeling of belonging to grow and expand in my heart. I appreciate how generous each and every person was bringing food to the many meals we shared. Even though this little snowboarder would have LOVED more snow, I appreciate our mild weather making it easy for people to travel. I treasure the place that I live and the communities of people I create with and care for.
I keep coming back to the Sleeping Giant picture and the moment I captured when I was alone on the mountain. Simple, clean, crisp, and neat describe that moment. The moments I experienced this week were messy, funny, complicated, honest, and loving. No one picture I snapped could encapsulate all that took place and the feelings we experienced.
The moments of this week have left me with a giant amount of appreciation for my life that feels alive and bubbly. Appreciation can be experienced SO many different ways. I found appreciation for strength of character, critical thinking, and problem solving at times when my life has had epic sized family and personal crises in health, emotions, and finances. When my life feels picture perfect navigating with ease, support, and independently, I’ve found appreciation in celebrating accomplishments and light feeling moments. I’ve come to appreciate my solitude when I climb mountains, create amazing feelings of confidence and value in myself, and share those feelings through encouragement to others.
This Thanksgiving, I am appreciating the great imperfect but yet beautiful mixture of people, experiences, feelings, challenges, solitude, and things that make up my life experience.
In sharing my heart and growth through blogging, stories, and poetry, I have faith you'll find possibility, empowerment, and inspiration to create like a champion in your own life.
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