Life looks and feels different to everyone. Moments that to one person may seem monumental may go unnoticed by another, what causes one person to laugh may cause another to cry and such is life. Sometimes though, there are those who both live and watch, observant and inspired. Lisa Gifford is watching and probably already has a story to tell about it.
“Real life inspires me. I’m very interested in other people and what they do in their real lives,” said Gifford, a writer, director, producer and actress based out of the U.K.
Whether traveling on the railway system or sitting in a coffee shop, Gifford’s ears are in tune, her senses heightened to pick up pieces of conversation that peak her interest.
“I carry a notebook with me to write things down that people have said, not because I’m prying, but you just think ‘wow that’s interesting,’” Gifford explained.
Her latest and most notable project comes straight out of real life. The web series “3Some,” a comedy-drama based in London following the lives of three 30-somethings who are all connected by rather complicated relationships, are stories and characters that have come from Gifford’s own experiences and observations.
“Each of the characters are based on somebody I know or have met in the past in reality but just obviously very much changed,” said Gifford, who admittedly has said that though some of the dialogue in the series are direct lifts of conversations she’s had or heard, she works hard to guard the privacy of others.
“I have had friends come back and inquire about situations. They all joke about it saying, ‘Don’t upset Lisa, she’ll put you in her plays,’ but I would never ever take something someone said that was private and make it recognizable and make it obviously them. It’s a line and it’s a responsibility you have to not steal people’s experiences,” she said.
Gifford, rather than take someone’s story, expands and broadens it, affecting others as she does so, finding that most people do want their story heard.
While the inspiration may come quickly and the talent easy, getting a story heard can be rather difficult. Though today “3Some” sits as the 2014 Indie Series Awards Winner for Best Writing (Lisa Gifford) and Best Lead Actor (Peter Halpin), it waits with some uncertainty as to its future with a second season.
“I’d love to do it straight away,” Gifford said. “I’d like to do it now. It comes down to the nice big funding issue.”
Noting that there are more characters and stories to tell in this series, the future is all up for discussion. Wanting to make it bigger and grow with the story, Gifford and her team are in a constant back and forth of meetings and plans. With the first season of “3Some” having been completely self funded, Gifford and producer husband, Elisar Cabrera, are both well aware of the difficulties that come within the entertainment industry and the hurdles that one must be ready to overcome.
“There’s a lot of freedom with your own web series,” Gifford said. “We were limited by money and that’s it. We were lucky that we had a fantastic crew and fantastic cast. What we managed to achieve was with no money or very little money on each episode. That’s limiting because there’s things you want to do that you just can’t afford.”
Having called in a “million favors” to get the first season made, Gifford noted that they are “out of favors forever” and actually probably owe some now, but said the creative freedom offered on the web was worth it.
“To take it to a better stage you’re looking at making some kind of sacrifice,” said Gifford, who noted that moving from web to cable television or film would require some creative compromise, as everyone is looking for a return on his or her investment. “It’s a balance of finding avenues so that it still stays your vision.”
Though the creative struggle exists for all in the entertainment industry, it is harder for those just breaking in and perhaps even more so for women.
“I hate to wave the sex card but all the figures are there,” said Gifford remarking on a recent report in Directors UK that stated just 8 percent of British directors of entertainment and comedy programs in 2012 were women. “It’s shocking. You go back and back and back and it’s just more and more depressing. I think it’s changing, really slowly, but it is.”
Also a lecturer and screen writing consultant, Gifford has noticed more women enrolling into film schools, often outnumbering the male students in class. As more women leave school and enter the field head on, it is the hope of Gifford and many others that the statistics mentioned by Directors UK will change dramatically and even the playing field, though the struggle to break through is hard for everyone. Gifford herself knows this first hand, having pursued her career in her 30s. However, if anyone were ready for the tough trials that lay ahead in this venture it would be Gifford, as her first foray into the entertainment scene began with a stint with a professional wrestling company. Yes, she’s a fighter, so to speak.
“It started out that I had a friend that was in a professional wrestling company and the company was looking for somebody to be a ring announcer,” Gifford recalled. “I went along to audition for that and I was given the role.”
Working the same time as a hospital manager, Gifford, one of only a few other women, grew a following in the four to five years with the wrestling company. In time she was given story lines of her own and was no longer just an announcer.
“I gave it up because I felt like I had done what I could do,” Gifford said. “I felt like there wasn’t anything else I could do except become a professional wrestler, which I didn’t want to do. I was more interested in acting.”
Inspired by her time in the ring, Gifford reignited her long ago dreams of becoming an actor. Now with a fighter’s spirit she was ready for the challenges ahead.
“I can remember being a small child and writing fairy tale books that I would then make myself and bind and give out to my friends and my teachers and my parents. I always wanted to write and tell stories,” Gifford said. “When I got older real life got in the way and I had to work, I had to earn money and so I forgot about that until I got into my 30s and then it came back. It stayed with me; it had never really gone away. Wrestling was kind of a taste of that.”
Gifford decided in her 30s to go back to university and study acting and writing, but found that she would perhaps face more obstacles now as a mature student as she was consistently told that she was too old.
“It was a tough time,” Gifford recalled. “I’m very bloody minded. The more I was told no, the more I thought, ‘no I’m going to do this; I’m going to find a way of doing it.’ I just thought, ‘I’m not going to be left behind.’”
It was that very attitude that Gifford carried with her outside her studies and degree. Taking things into her own hands, Gifford did not wait for opportunities to come to her and instead created them herself. She wrote “3Some” first as a stage play and with its success knew she could develop it further. More recently Gifford found herself at the Cannes Film Festival promoting “Sweetheart” a short film she both wrote the screenplay for and stars in. This summer she will also be co-directing with Paul Linghorn, who directed the stage play of “3Some,” an open-air production of Macbeth in Abney Park in Stoke Newington, London, where she will also play Lady Macbeth.
“I have a business plan I suppose. I know where I want to be and what I want to achieve, but I’m flexible on how I get there,” said Gifford, who realizes that the entertainment industry doesn’t always offer stability, as its opportunities and availabilities are ever changing.
“You have to be open all the time to new things, that is the thing with this type of lifestyle. There are no plans, we don’t know what’s coming next,” she added.
With that up-in-the-air type of lifestyle comes sacrifice. Gifford, who herself has decided not to have children owing to the pace and uncertainty of her life’s travels, insists that anyone looking to get into the industry must be ready for the challenge and both willing and able to do different jobs. To make a living and get by, Gifford feels it is imperative you have your hand in multiple pots. She writes, directs, produces, acts, lectures, and even performs voice over work, which is her predominant source of income.
“It’s hard to have it all but I chose this life. I chose to do this. The sacrifices I’m making and have made are mine to make,” said Gifford who added the real story behind film festivals such as Cannes or the movies and television shows that we all enjoy is about the thousands of people who work every day of their lives for the industry, all of whom we will never see on a red carpet.
“You have to get good at everything, even being an accountant,” she said. “If you’re coming into it for fame and fortune most of the time you’re going to be disappointed. It’s whether or not you love it enough to make it your life and to be happy that you’re doing it.”
The struggle continues for Gifford and those like her in her field, but to be sure the material grows with every passing endeavor, as she is certain to overhear plenty of interesting conversations on her journey.
“It’s a weird nomadic kind of drifting existence,” Gifford said. “It’s fun; I love it. I quite enjoy the challenge.”