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Wednesday, May 27, 2015

'BACK TO ONE' by Shayna Matthews

Shayna and her husband in costume (we hope)
"Back to one, people!"

Back to one. A short, simple sentence I was unfamiliar with, until my husband and I fell into an invitation to participate in a steampunk-western movie shoot. After a full day of shooting, the phrase has been pounded into my brain until I began moving to the rhythm of the words: back-to-one.

I like the meaning behind this phrase. As our director, Ron, placed the extras, we gleaned the meaning behind the phrase. No matter where we were by the end of the scene, this was the spot we were to return to, this was our beginning. And so we did. Shot after shot, take after take, action was called, and after the cut, we all went back to one and did it again.

"I'm ready for my closeup, Mr. DeMille."
A logical place to start over from, the beginning, is it not? Let's face it, how many times during the course of our lives do we go "back to one"? I do it every day, a hundred times a day while writing my novels, and I know I am not alone. Words form sentences, sentences into scenes, scenes into chapters. Like movie-making, fictional writing is a slow, tedious process. We must first have creative vision to foresee the story, followed by the drive to carry it through. We must prepare for constant obstacles, face them, and react accordingly. If a scene falls flat, or the tone not quite right, we as the writer, or we as the director, must recognize any flaws and start again. Go back to one. Do it again. And again, until the scene is caught like the magic of a midsummer's firefly in a bottle...glowing. Perfection is key, for no self-respecting author, director or actor will go forth with work that we know isn't "quite" right. It isn't fair to our audience, let alone ourselves. Going back to one teaches us patience, builds our character, strengthens our grit and determination to follow our dreams.

Standing in the summer sun for hours in a dusty "prop" town, wearing layers of clothing, I contemplated what led me to this point. Thirty-three years of living history reenacting teaches you to deal with the elements. I have camped during summers so brutally hot that all the photographs taken showcased a golden halo of heat and steam hovering over everyone's heads. To the opposite extreme, we suffered in camp donned with every scrap of wool we could find, bundled masses of blankets chipping ice out of canvas water buckets, and huddled so close to the campfire we melted the soles of our shoes. We endured whatever was thrown at us, just as our ancestors before us. Call us insane, but the thought of going home early never even crossed our mind. We got up every morning, went back to one, and chipped that blasted ice out of the water buckets. And the kicker is, we always had far too much fun!

On-camera perfection isn't easy, you know.
Now that I think about it, a little sun, dust and sweat on a movie set was nothing, even while wearing all that clothing. Some call it "costuming" - I call it attire. Those layers of petticoats, bustles and long sleeves, they are a part of me...more so than the jeans and t-shirts I wear in-between events. I needed that familiarity, for as comfortable as I am in period attire, I am that uncomfortable in front of a camera. I tend to freeze, to resort to inner flight. And yet, I refuse to allow my insecurities get the best of me.

The opportunity arose to become a small part of someone's creative dream, and my husband and I jumped at the chance. I was surprised to find, if I can set aside the fear of the camera, it wasn't so difficult from the inner-workings within my own world, and that I share with my husband. We reenact American history. Not so different from taking cues from the cast and crew on a movie set, and as for writing? The only limits in "building" a fictional story are those you set within your own mind. I refuse to set such limits. When told I cannot do something in my passion of western fiction, I question, why not? Aside from the limit of accuracy in dealing with a traditional historical fiction, anything is possible.

Every herd must have a leader.
A year ago, if someone had told me I would have a story published, an ever-growing friendship with a group of talented authors, and a promising outlook on future books, let alone catch filming fever by playing a role as an extra, I would have laughed. Yet, this is the path I set forth with in mind when I first picked up a pen and began to write - with the lofty dreams of published works, and of the best of those works to be showcased on screen. Lofty goals, some say. Unapproachable dreams, I have been told. Certainly, if one begins a journey with such reservations, they will not go far. I believe if you work hard enough, fight the battle toward conquering your own fears, and work your way up the ladder toward your own chosen destiny...anything is possible. Work for those dreams, and as I learned through observation on set from a talented director with a beautiful vision, if something isn't quite right, if you fall down, get back up, dust yourself off, and go Back to One.

What are your "Back to One" experiences?


  1. Shayna, you do have a way with words. Back to One. I have never thought of this before but you are so right. Back to one is going over and over in a scene until you get it just right. And how many times do we do this when we are writing? Over and over again. Congratulations on being involved in the movie making process, who knows maybe someday you'll envision your dream as putting your novels into movies. If anyone can do this...I think you can.

  2. Hi Barb! Thank you so much, your kind words truly mean a lot to me. The director kept saying "Back to One" as as we acted the scene, turned, and did it again and again, the meaning behind the phrase really struck me. I loved it. My husband and I are both rather hooked on the filming process now, and I've made it my mission to work towards seeing my own stories on film, whatever it takes. Big dreams...Back to One. Thank you, Barb!

  3. I have to commend you and your husband for taking on this challenge. I am too insecure to get out in front of a camera.
    I guess we all start each day "back to one." I don't know that my day is full of going back, but, I go back to one or back to the drawing board every time I rewrite or change something in my WIP. I certainly do that frequently. I don't know about perfectionism. It can get a person in trouble sometimes when someone begins to believe they are never good enough. There just comes a time when one feels they've done the best one is capable of and let go.
    I enjoyed reading about your new adventure into film. I liked your subject of "going back to one." Excellent food for thought. Loved the pictures.
    I wish you all the best, Shayna.

    1. Thank you, Sarah. I held a lot of inner fear over those cameras, and looking back, I think I could have done a far better job, but considering it was my first experience on set, I dare not dwell on what I could have done better. I learn for the next time. Perhaps perfection is the ability to do your own personal best, and then let go. Interesting thought on perfection, Sarah, thank you.

  4. Movie sets are fun, and if one is open, a great learning experience. It seems to have been for you and for that the world can be grateful. Now you will have even more to offer the world in you writing and other artistic endeavors. Congratulations and continue having "fun" Doris McCraw/Angela Raines

    1. Thank you, Doris! I'm so glad it was a warm and positive experience, I'm sure there are some which might not have gone over quite so well. Having fun, enjoying life, taking on new's what I'm about. Hopefully the world will be as ready as I am, lol!

  5. Shayna, what a great post. I enjoyed seeing these pictures. And what a great adventure! I know this must be really exciting. I like the phrase, "Back to one." That is so true about how we keep going "back to one" to make sure we have it right.

    Thanks for sharing your exciting times with us! I hope we'll see more!

    1. Hi Cheryl! Thank you so much! It really is exciting, I'm learning to look at every new opportunity as an adventure while building my resume, so to speak, and having a blast while doing so. ;-)

  6. Great post Shayna!
    Back to one. I think we do it every morning when we wake up. :-)

    1. Hi Kristy, and thank you so much! Yes we do, don't we? I know I go back to one constantly on my WIP...far more than I would like to. ;-)