Film and TV veteran starts summer film workshop at WWU

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDMay 28, 2014 

Mel Damski, Cascadia Film Workshop

Film and TV veteran Mel Damski, 67, is launching the Cascadia Film Workshop at Western Washington University this June.

MEL DAMSKI — COURTESY TO THE BELLINGHAM HERALD

Film and TV veteran Mel Damski, 67, New-York born-and-raised, hasn't been in Bellingham long (he moved from the Los Angeles area to La Conner five years ago, and came to Bellingham last July) but he has jumped right into the film scene in town.

He is launching the Cascadia Film Workshop at Western Washington University this June, with four courses offered over a two-week period: acting for the camera with Lou Antonio, cell-phone cinema with Karl Bardosh, screenwriting with Mike Pavone, and Damski's own course, introduction to directing.

Damski also writes a blog, ifMelrantheZoo.com, for the La Conner Weekly News, using his expertise from his first career as a reporter.

Question: When did you become a reporter?

Answer: My uncle, Harry Rosenfeld, was the editor of the Washington Post supervising the Watergate investigation. My grandfather, Paul Damski, was Max Schemling's boxing manager in Berlin, Germany. So drawing from both branches of the family tree, I went to college on a football scholarship and was sports editor of my high school and college newspapers.

After graduation, I became a sports writer for the Suffolk Sun and then a feature writer for New York Newsday.

Q: What sparked your interest in film and TV, and in directing?

A: When I started hanging out with Joe Gelmis, the Newsday film critic, I thought it might be fun to be a critic. When I left Newsday to go to graduate school, on the first day of my first film class, I realized that what I really wanted to do was direct. Me and a lot of other people.

But I was accepted as a directing fellow at the American Film Institute, made a very good short film, and was immediately hired to direct a popular series, "Barnaby Jones." That led to "MASH" and lots of movies and episodes and even an Oscar-nominated documentary.

(Last week I had a breakfast with a kindergarten friend who says I was bossy, er, a natural leader, from the get-go!)

So I found the perfect profession for a person who loves storytelling and enjoys commanding a small army of very passionate and creative people.

Q: How can aspiring actors and film and TV writers get into the business?

A: The entertainment industry is becoming much more democratic. For one thing, you can shoot and edit a movie on your cell phone and create a portfolio without having tons of money. For another, there is a strong push for more diversity in a world that has been dominated by white males.

Three tips:

Don't just watch TV and movies: Study what you are watching; learn from their mistakes and be inspired by their successes.

The theater provides a wonderful background for actors; it's a great place to take some time to develop your craft so you are well prepared for the helter-skelter world of a film set.

For everyone on a film set, no matter what their job, they have to remember three things: story, story and story. Every creative decision should be informed by the storytelling.

Q: What is the Cascadia Film Workshop?

A: It occurred to me that not everyone can afford the time or money to go to film school, so I've wanted to create an elite summer film workshop for a long time. I was just waiting for the right time and the right place.

The time is now because I've just finished eight years as the producer-director of the television series "Psych." The place is Bellingham, my new hometown, because it's a college town with a very creative community with a very large number of artists per capita.

Q: What brought you to Bellingham?

A: Having done my time after 40 years in Los Angeles, I needed to live in a healthier environment with clean air and a stimulating, eclectic population. My five kids are grown and I could live where I wanted to, and I fell in love with Bellingham.

Every day I turn down a different road and find another fabulous part of town.

I love living in a state that believes in marriage equality and had two women senators and a woman governor all at the same time!

And there is a synagogue here, Congregation Beth Israel, that was founded by Lithuanian Jews in 1908. My father was born in Lithuania! That had a lot to do with my moving to Bellingham originally, and I'm so glad I did!

CASCADIA FILM WORKSHOP

June 16-20

Western Washington University

360-650-3308, wwu.edu/cfpa/cascadiafilmworkshop

Reach Margaret Bikman at 360-715-2273 or margaret.bikman@bellinghamherald.com.

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