We had the good fortune of connecting with Mary Lou Sandler and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Mary Lou, how has your perspective on work-life balance evolved over time?
When I was younger in life and career, all I wanted to do was WORK! All I could think about was work work work! I missed events, ruined relationships, and missed out on the memories that would have lasted way longer than the money in my bank account. Then I started getting physically sick and the doctors couldn’t figure out why. About 5 years ago, I read “Year of Yes” by Shonda Rhimes and I was forever changed by that book. If Shonda Rhimes can have a work/life balance with everything that she creates, then why can’t I? I learned from her life lessons by first not working past 7pm and then by not working on the weekends unless it was impossible to reschedule. I also started doing more things for ME like emotional healing retreats, working with life coaches and gurus, and making my own self care a priority. The importance of a work/life balance isn’t just about me but also about the relationship with my husband. We recently joined what I like to call a monthly weekend couple’s camp (Eden World) where we work with coaches along with other couples every month to deepen our love and connection. It’s taken a while for me to get into this groove of ME FIRST, however, with the tools that I have now, I have learned how important life is rather than what my work is. I now work less and get paid more, which helps me to create more care for myself and the community around me.
Having a work/life balance has led me to my other passion which is bringing people together. Therefore, our house and studio is always buzzing with things like Buddhist meetings, women’s circles, men’s circles, Shabbat dinners, and our free monthly acting class (Actors Helping Actors) to give back to the acting community. And I do all of this while continuing to be the principal photographer and cinematographer for our photo/film studio, 3 cubed studios, LLC. This all has made me one happy camper.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
Once a working actress, dancer, video game stuntwoman, and fitness competitor & cover model, I am now a professional photographer/cinematographer/director and I own 3 cubed studios, LLC with my husband, Justin. My focus is to inspire others through my work as a filmmaker and writer. One of my upcoming projects is: writing/directing/producing my first feature documentary film “Caregiving Cancer: The Silent Heroes (caregivingcancer.org). After caring for my husband through his cancer, I firsthand saw the need for an informative film such as this. The next step is financing and putting together our filmmaking team. I am also writing a book based on my life and overcoming obstacles as a survivor of childhood and adulthood emotional, physical, and sexual abuse.
We’d love to hear what sets you apart from others?
What sets me apart from others is my experience on both sides of the lens. Once I realized that, it gave me an opportunity to capture people from a totally different perspective. I do a wide range of photography and cinematography, however, my favorites are one-on-one portrait photography as well as video interviews. And because I spent most of my life in front of the lens, when I decided to go behind it, I knew exactly what my subjects were experiencing. This may include the excitement of being on camera and performing as well as fear and insecurity. From a technical aspect, I know how to bring out the best angles and composition. From a personal aspect, I know how to connect with my subjects and put them at ease so their authentic self can shine through. Furthermore, I love creating a safe space that leads to a great final product and an enjoyable experience.
With all of the work I’ve done on myself over the years, I feel I am that much more qualified to help others. And often, my photo sessions go beyond just clicking the shutter. I don’t just do a “shoot,” I create an experience. And the way in which I capture my subjects is where I don’t just take a photo of them, I feel a photo of them. My number one favorite thing in life is to connect with others on a deep level, peek past all of the walls and the things that we try to hide, and to go deeper and really see someone so that others can really see them too. Many of us spend most of our lives trying to hide how we really feel and what we really want to say. I really want to bring that out in my photos whether it’s joy, sadness, anger, rage, pure love, or sensuality. I want to see it. I want to feel it. And YOU is what I want to capture. I truly want to see you, the real you, and have others see you too. I work with my clients to get them there. I also really like to tussle up my clients for that not so perfect look just for our own pleasure. I usually suggest this if it’s feeling right at the end of our shoots as a bonus.
What are you most proud of?
I would say what I am most proud of professionally, is the book I published called “The Beard Book” (thebeardbook.org). I have always had this talent of seeing popularity before it happens, whether it’s trends in style or real estate. I saw the beard craze coming a few years before it hit and so I photographed over 100 men, their beards, and their stories and published a book to benefit breast and testicular cancer… “Beards for Boobs and Beards for Balls.” It took almost 3 years to shoot, write, design and publish that book and it tested me on every level. I must’ve had the right idea because other books came out during my process and were more famous than mine, which at the time stung like a gigantic bee and almost made me quit, but I kept going and I finished it. Still, as far as I know I am still the only woman–and woman of color–that published this type of book and that is also something to be proud of. And I wouldn’t have been able to do any of it without help from my husband Justin Sandler (text & editing) and my forever friend Tasso (design and layout). I met so many lovely people, learned a lot about the beard competition community (which I never knew about before), and photographed most of the men in the book backstage at competitions. It also taught me the most valued lesson of all… Do this for you. Do this for the passion of the idea and for the experience. Enjoy the ride, relish in the pride of accomplishing your goal, and really take a moment to feel deep into that feeling before you move onto your next project. Take a pause and feel… “I DID THAT!”
I am also proud of the fact that I am the founder and creator of www.femalefilmmakers.org ”Together to Empower and Employ Each Other” est. 2016.
We are a collaborative group of Female Filmmakers with a mission to mentor, hire, and support one another as well as to provide a safe space to share information with each other such as: grants, news, employment, etc. We are inclusive of Female Filmmakers in ALL POSITIONS of Film, TV and Media. To join our Facebook group to engage with fellow Female Filmmakers visit: facebook.com/groups/FemaleFilmmakers.org
As of now we are a large Facebook group community, however, I am looking for others to collaborate on this endeavor to go beyond an FB group so that we can help more women in the industry thrive where they have been often overlooked.
What are you most excited about?
After our first film went to 21 festivals and won 5 awards… my husband was diagnosed with an aggressive cancer and needed immediate treatment and multiple surgeries. During this time I was thrust into the caregiver role with no prior knowledge of how to do any of this as well as dealing with the shock, grief, anger, and all of the other emotions that come with caring for the one you love. This experience also taught me that resources are needed for caregivers as they are rarely talked about. This mission sparked my next film project (www.caregivingcancer.org). With over 1.7 million new cancer cases per year, friends and family assume the role of caregiver without any prior knowledge of how to do so. “Caregiving Cancer: The Silent Heroes” reveals the reality of cancer, provides valuable resources, and gives a voice to the often-voiceless caregiver.
With each new cancer case, a loved one is often thrust into the role of a caregiver. Sometimes called informal caregivers, they are unpaid individuals (spouses, partners, family members, friends, or neighbors) involved in assisting others with activities of daily living and/or medical tasks. These caregivers suddenly find themselves in this role without any prior knowledge or training. They’re often overlooked and overworked, making sacrifices in their own lives, and remaining silent — often leading to caregiver burnout — as they are suddenly caring for someone other than themselves. Sometimes, the patient survives. Other times, they do not. In either case, at some point, the caregiver’s duties are no longer needed. When this happens, the caregivers are frequently left dealing with the aftermath of guilt, sadness, anger, and grief — with no idea how to cope with those emotions. One of the hardest parts for both patient and caregiver is just returning to some kind of “normal” life.
Now cancer free and healed from our experience we were about to go into production again when the world and our business had to shut down in early 2020 due to the pandemic. We are extremely excited to be able to start production again very soon, defying the odds once again to help create something that will benefit millions of caregivers and their loved one’s cope with cancer.
How did you get to where you are today professionally?
This is simple… I lived my life and loved what I was doing. One day, I no longer had to struggle and everything just flowed. I now know that, no matter what, I am taken care of. This is something I sometimes wish that I learned earlier in life where I wouldn’t have spent so many years focusing on the struggle because contrary to popular belief… Artists don’t have to struggle in order to make art or in order to enjoy life! Life is not work, even if it’s your passion. Go see that thing, travel to that place, date that person, say yes to that other thing! Work / Life balance where you can create memories is the key to happiness.
Was it easy?
My answer to that question is… if it’s easy, is it worth it? When we start new things we learn by failing forward. I can tell you this… if you keep moving forward it does get EASIER!
If not, how did you overcome the challenges?
I used the knowledge that I’ve been using since birth which is… Everything always works out. I’m still living and breathing and therefore I can try again or try something different. As one of my mentors, Patty always says… “Life is a surprise party!” Also, due to my grandmother making me do mind numbing puzzles growing up, my brain loves puzzles. So when obstacles arise, I get excited about seeing all of the different ways on how I can go around the obstacle and overcome it.
What are the lessons you’ve learned along the way?
I once wrote an article in the now archived blog Ms. in the the Biz:
Stop Asking for Credit and Start Giving Yourself Credit! (http://msinthebiz.com/2015/07/20/stop-asking-for-credit-and-start-giving-yourself-credit/)
This topic has been coming up again lately years later and I find that interesting, so I will put this here as it is coming up as a reminder for myself as well. Here is an excerpt from my article:
“Stop asking for credit & start giving yourself credit! Do not give to receive… give to give! I am not saying don’t work for free doing your art and what you love, I am saying that if you are going to do something for FREE do it because you WANT to, not because you want “credit.” When you do things genuinely to GIVE, then the value far outweighs the cost in someone else’s life as well as your own.
Now… aside from giving, we also must value ourselves and make an income. Therefore, set your value and unless you really want to… do not settle for less. And… if you don’t want to, you don’t have to give away your talents to anyone. Whether you are a newbie or an old pro… It really is ok to say NO! By knowing and valuing your own self worth, people will respect you more.” BY MARY LOU SANDLER ON JULY 20, 2015
(Interesting… that it is almost the SAME DATE 6 YEARS AGO as I am writing this! WOW! I love when things align like this!)
What do you want the world to know about you or your brand and story?
I am the most resilient person I know! To have been through what I’ve been through in life and still smile and feel so much joy almost every day is such a blessing! I know the world is magic and you can have whatever you want! Yes really! That’s why my friends call me “Magical Mary Lou.” Careerwise, as I get older I’ve been feeling the pull to work less and less with heavy equipment and to go deeper / inward and be surrounded by those that want to go deep / inward. I also feel called to mentor others. So my story is ever-changing. That’s what’s beautiful about our time here… we can change and choose to be anything. My future choice is to retire by opening up a healing center for trauma and sexual assault / abuse / trafficking survivors. My goal is to bring in different therapists, healers, coaches, and healing modalities to help them transition and heal. Because of my own herstory… I know firsthand that this kind of healing center is very much needed. I am very much invested in making this my legacy.
I personally can’t just be just one thing or have one career in this lifetime. I want to experience as much personal and professional pleasure and help as many people as I personally can while I’m here. My life goal is to also leave a legacy that helps others far beyond my time here.
Thank you Shoutout LA for this opportunity to share and be truly seen on a larger scale than my little life bubble. This has been a truly liberating and fear stirring experience writing this. It is a reminder to keep doing things that push my comfort zone! This alive-ness feeling is EPIC! Thank you! With great gratitude, Mary Lou Sandler
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
Whether it’s a birthday or a friend or family member coming to visit, I will most likely take them on an adventure like this…
I drive the scenic route from Mulholland to Stunt road and stop at the top to see the view. Then we head down to Malibu and up PCH to Leo Carrillo State Beach. We also may stop by the Malibu Shaman for some crystals and incense. If it’s early enough on the way back, I take Topanga Canyon and stop by Hidden Treasures thrift store to try on the greatest thrift store items ever! On another day I may take them to Westlake Village to the Karma Baker for vegan donuts and desserts.
Our favorite restaurants are Sun Café, Crossroads, and Gracias Madre. A new vegan Mexican food place opened near our house in the valley and thank you to the gods for hearing my prayer! We love Sugar Taco in Sherman Oaks! For the yummiest ice cream, I recommend Dali Lama (not far from Sugar Taco). The best pizza by far is the Chicago deep dish pizza at Masa of Echo Park. And for another dessert option on the eastside of L.A. (and not far from Masa) would be Donut Friend for more vegan donuts! Ok now I’m hungry!
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
WOW! There are so many people to thank and dedicate my life transformation to. It started back in 2012 when I began taking personal responsibility for healing the triggers & trauma in order to live my life fully! I came from a life of abuse and have been on my own since I was 13 years old. Since then, there has been a lot to unpack and to relearn. We really cannot do this life alone. We thrive in a tribe! I am forever grateful to the following outstanding humans….
Erica Gimpel, for bringing Buddhism into my life which sparked a deeper learning into self that led to the rest of the healers and transformers below. (www.imdb.com/name/nm0319826)
Here are some of my transformational coaches and healing retreats…
John & Patty Tierney (transformwiththetierneys.com)
Judith Shama Malin (in loving memory)
Laura Goodman (instagram.com/theshamelesswarrior)
Marsh Engle (marshengle.com)
LA Mother (now closed)
Robert Kandell (robertkandell.com)
Greta Hassel Grace (redtentlosangeles.com)
Liza Boubari (healwithin.com)
Ron Kochevar (mechanicsofspirit.com)
Jessica Lynn Johnson (soaringsolostudios.com)
Regena Thomashauer (mamagenas.com)
Nita Marquez (nitamarquez.com)
Sierra & Rono (edenworld.org)
Last but not least, my husband Justin Sandler as he has stood by me through all of this for the last 12 years together… www.justinsandler.com
Photos by Mary Lou Sandler of 3 cubed studios, LLC