We had the good fortune of connecting with Joelene Crnogorac, Kelly Frye and Mika Gonda – the creative team behind the female comedy web-series “All the Way to the Top”. We’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Joelene, Kelly, Mika, we’d love to hear about how you approach risk and risk-taking?
JOELENE: I see risk as essential for growth. Even though risk taking doesn’t come naturally or easily to me and actually makes me poop my pants a little, I force myself to take calculated leaps. I have done it in my personal life and in my career. My husband and I made the decision to move across to the other side of the world from Australia to Los Angeles (when our son was only 2 years old) to pursue our careers and dream of living in a different country. We had no network, no community, but forged our way and created a very rewarding and fulfilling life for ourselves. Took another big leap with making “All the Way to the Top” which was a case of so many “firsts”. Crowd funding for the first time. Writing, directing and producing something of this scale for the first time. But we did it. And are so proud of the finished product. There is such empowerment up for grabs with calculated risk taking. It’s all about belief. It’s about backing yourself. And succeed or fail, it’s worth it every single time.
KELLY: Big question! I am definitely somebody who jumps off the cliff hoping the parachute will appear, but it took pushing myself and getting used to that feeling of not knowing if something is going to work out for the cliff jumping to become a given in my life. All the best things in my life, both professional and personal, have come from saying yes before I thought I was ready. All the hardest things in my life have also come from saying yes before I thought I was ready, but experience is a wonderful thing to possess and I do not regret one ‘risk’ I have taken in life. I now look for opportunities that scare me and run toward them. There’s actually a book I’m reading right now called ‘Mindset: The New Psychology of Success’ and the author, Carol Dweck, goes into great detail about a growth mindset vs a fixed mindset- it’s a fascinating read that goes right into the opportunity for growth when a situation seems scary or like a ‘risk’ but how rewarding those scenarios usually end up being. I highly recommend the book.
MIKA: I feel like risk taking is essential, sometimes whether we want to or not. Change is hard and can be scary but what’s on the other side can change you forever. I had never produced before joining the All The Way To The Top team. I was nervous with how little I knew about producing, But I did know, deep down, I wanted to try. I needed to try. And I loved it! Before the reopening of The Pico, I had never run an arts space/theatre before. I had no idea what would go into this work. Day to day. But I had a feeling and I just followed that. It has been absolutely life changing. Bumps along the way, and I’m sure more to come, but taking the leap, following my gut, has lead me to where I am.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
JOELENE: I have been involved in film-making since I was 13 years old when I got my break playing Linda Twist in the popular Australian kids show “Round the Twist”. I have grown up on film sets which is a rather unique experience, which has provided me with a unique perspective and insight into the business. I was a kid in a grown up world, telling stories alongside fellow creative and colorful characters. I have been doing it so long, I have had the time to be intoxicated by it, fall OUT of love with it, be blasé about it, and then fall back IN love with it all again. Like any creative endeavor, the business of film-making is a roller coaster ride of highs and lows. There has been profound, soul fulfilling experiences of creative connectivity, but there has also been bouts of unemployment, self doubt and self criticism. My experience has bred in me a tenacity, stamina and endurance that I am incredibly grateful for and see as an asset that sets me a part. I’ve learned to back myself. That my experience and skills are valuable. That my voice is worthy. To that end, making “All the Way to the Top” with Kelly and Mika, is what I am most proud of to date in my career. We didn’t sit around and wait for someone to help us or give us permission to make our show. We did it ourselves, on our own terms, in our own way. And had an absolute ball doing it.
KELLY: More big questions!! Well, I think I’m the only person who can bring all of what my life has been up to this day to any given character. I’m the only Kelly Frye there has ever been and I believe I’ll always be the only Kelly Frye, unless cloning really takes off. I think every person has an incredibly unique human experience and if they use all of their experiences to fully embody a character on screen or stage then that’s one very interesting, unique spirit we’re watching perform! I can only hope that I get out of my own way when I’m bringing a character to life. It’s easy to let nerves, overthinking, doubts, and fears get in the way of a stellar performance.
In terms of what I’m most proud of? The career I’ve built and the people I’ve collected along the way. I knew nobody in the business when I graduated college early to start acting and honestly, I had no idea what I was doing, but I’ve come quite a long way from that 21 year old who took a leap of faith hoping the parachute would open! It hasn’t all been smooth sailing, but every situation has been a learning experience and a growth opportunity. For overcoming challenges, I always ask myself and the people I trust the most for constructive criticism. What could I have done better in that scenario? Where did I not bring my best self and how can I make sure that I do the next time? I feel so bad for baby actor me who wanted to be perfect 24/7- it’s not possible!!! It’s not possible for anyone! Even Meryl Streep! We are always learning, evolving, growing, building new, beautiful texture into our abilities as an actor and as a person. I’m always looking for new tools to add to my tool belt, as a person and as an actor.
MIKA: For me, I think being flexible in my art has become my priority. I had a plan when I was 17. I was going to be an actress and the rest would be history. But as I grew, my dreams evolved. At first, I wasn’t ready for them to change. It took a long time for me to be comfortable with the idea of myself and my future being different than what I had imagined. But my heart and my passion grew and has lead me to where I am. My 17 year old self never would have guessed it would be running a multipurpose arts space and producing film and television but here I am. I am so happy and grateful that I allowed myself to grow. I love what I do with all of my heart. Everyday is different. I’m so excited for the future!
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
JOELENE: As I’m Australian, I’ve had plenty of friends visit me in Los Angeles, and it always involves a version of the following: hike one of the canyons (usually Fryman), a trip to the Getty which is just breathtaking every single time, a trip to the Griffith Observatory (every visiting Aussie needs an obligatory pic of the Hollywood sign), eating at any of the following places; Bao, Cascabel, Gjelina, Little Doms, gelato at Fatamorgana, seeing great improv and going to the Crazy Uncle Joe show at The Groundlings, and finishing up at The Dresden Room in Los Feliz for some Marty & Elaine piano bar action.
KELLY: I LOOOOOVE playing tour guide!! I’d start with a protein shake from EarthBar in West Hollywood and drive my visitor out to Temescal Canyon for my favorite LA hike. We’d then head to the Malibu Farm at the end of the Malibu Pier for lunch with a view. I might drive them up to Neptune’s Net, because we’re already so close and that drive is breathtaking. If we could magically freshen up on the road then I’d stay on the westside and take them to Scopa or Copa for dinner. The rest of the weekend would be filled with a Hollywood sign visit (duh), Marvin, Petit Trois, SushiBar, Sugarfish, Izakaya, El Coyote, El Compadre… so many ridiculously good restaurants in LA. If there was a movie or concert playing at Hollywood Forever then that would be a must. And, of course, Hollywood Bowl or The Greek. Annnnnnd, a comedy show and museum visits… they may have to stay a month to take it all in! #ILOVELA
MIKA: Ohhh!! I love LA. I love LA so much! To be totally honest my itinerary is exactly the same as Joelene and Kelly. All of the hiking and all of the eating and a day trip to Santa Barbara, The Hollywood Bowl, Griffith Park. All of it. I love LA!!
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
Matt Moore – Improv for the People Jennifer Tanksley-Coss – photographer
Lesly Kahn – acting coach
Ceri Bethan – meditation teacher
Elke Osadnik – US career coach
Roman Zenz and Jennifer Tanksley-Coss