Kelsey Cooke grew up acting professionally in Hollywood, signing with her first agent at the age of 7. She earned her Bachelor’s Degree in Theatre Arts from Vanguard University and pursued a Broadway, TV, and Film career in New York upon graduating. Her work eventually brought her back to Hollywood, where she co-founded thisishardtoread productions and is an award-winning producer, writer, and actor in the award-winning feature comedy/mockumentary film RE-OPENING. Favorite career highlights include: LIFE PARTNERS (Tribeca & Sundance Film Festival), BLACK NOVEMBER (Vivica Fox), PAN AM (ABC), ROYAL PAINS (USA), BAD TEACHER (CBS), and THE VERONICA MARS MOVIE.
Kathleen Cooke: OK full disclosure – you are my oldest daughter and the new Influence Women Nashville Chapter Director. I could tell lots about you…but I’ll let you tell us a bit about yourself.
Kelsey Cooke: I am co-founder of thisishardtoread productions with my husband, Chris. We create comedies with heart. I’m a producer, writer, director, and actor – not necessarily all at the same time, hah! I began in the industry as an actor at 7 years old in Hollywood and came up through the industry working not only in LA but after college in New York, working on stage and Broadway musicals before moving back to LA in 2013 as an actress and producer.
Kathleen: How and why have you gotten involved with Influence Women as the new Nashville Chapter Coordinator?
Kelsey: I recently moved to the greater Nashville area for the main purpose of collaborating with like-minded industry professionals. I was tired of waiting for some “big break” that would never come, and after producing my own feature film during the pandemic, I realized the Hollywood industry is so much bigger than the box we put it in. Nashville was the place where I felt called to create a movement with people who feel the same way. I know the multiple challenges of a career in the media and entertainment and the importance of collaboration with the right people and having a community of people who support each other not only in their work but in their faith.
Kathleen: When is the Influence Women Nashville launch, and what’s happening?
Kelsey: We are going to start gathering women on November 9th who are excited to get involved with our mission – to bring women in the industry together who want to encourage, uplift, and empower each other and align their media career with their faith and values. Let’s get to know each other and think of others who would also like to have a local community of creators. Please reach out if you would like to be a part of this initial group.
If you want to connect with Kelsey and Influence Women Nashville, reach out to her at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Living a life surrendered to Christ guarantees that we will be different from others. We will talk different, think about our world uniquely and make counter-cultural decisions. How do we navigate that journey when it can often make us feel like outsiders? Read this month’s INNER VIEW with Hope Lyda as she invites us into her own process with embracing her unique talents and identity.
Hope Lyda is an author, writing coach and companion, spiritual director, and senior development editor. She’s worked in faith-based publishing for more than 25 years and has accompanied more than 120 writers through the process of finding their voices and expressing their hearts on the page.
Hope considers it an honor to help writers shape their messages with engaging structure, tone, and pace. She also companions them with spiritual insight and inquiry, so they draw from their experiences and beliefs to deepen those messages. She has authored more than 35 books (combined sales over 1.5 million copies), including the bestselling One-Minute Prayers® for Women and more than 15 other books in the One-Minute Prayers® series. Hope has penned a few novels as well as several devotionals such as What Do You Need Today? and Life as a Prayer. Her book My Unedited Writing Year—a gathering of 365 prompts—combines her passions of writing and spiritual direction to invite others to explore life, faith, and creativity.
Kathleen Cooke: What’s the one thing you’d like to share with women that God has recently taught you?
Hope Lyda: As my husband, Marc, and I walked toward the group gathered at a local picnic area, I was regretting saying yes to attending a Saturday event where I wouldn’t know anyone. We drifted from one subgroup to the next until I got in the queue for my chicken, potato salad, and can of soda. The lunch line—complete with plastic-gloved helpers—kicked in my grade-school angst. Where would I sit? Who would I talk to? I checked my watch and chastised myself for being so uptight. Had the day ended there, that would’ve been my life lesson: I am who I am no matter my age!
But God had a bigger lesson…
Marc and I sat down across from a couple. Between bites of my finger lickin’ meal, I spoke with the woman. Even before introductions, we knew we had something in common…this was an event for the blind—and we were there with our blind spouses. She is new to the journey. I’m not. But I’m far from used to it. My heart softened as I recognized her wide-eyed expression of overwhelm. I encouraged her, shared resource info, and we talked about the difficulties of caregiving for a loved one. Two hours later, we were still chatting when my husband motioned for us to go. I laughed and confessed, “I really didn’t want to come.” Her eyes lit up, “Same! I am so grateful I came and that you were here. I really needed this….you just don’t know.” (more…)
Sometimes self-centeredness can look like striving and having an internal hyper-focus on yourself. If the focus is on you, you, you, then there might be a need for readjustment. Read this month’s INNER VIEW with producer Amanda Ashley Miess as she shares how she took the attention and pressure off of herself and put it where it belongs… back onto God.
Amanda Ashley Miess is a writing, producing, and directing triple threat who has over ten years of experience working in almost every facet of filmmaking. A creative storyteller and idea generator, she’s had her hands in film, TV, and digital media and has worked for some of the most influential names in the industry, including Jerry Bruckheimer, The Walt Disney Studios, and Warner Bros. Amanda has developed, produced and directed a host of digital kid-led variety shows for big brands such as Disney Princess, DC Kids, and Polly Pocket, with some videos reaching well over 1 million views. She also co-directed the Pure Flix mini-series The Power Couple, starring Alexa and Carlos PenaVega. She is currently a Senior Producer at Little Dot Studios, an award-winning digital content agency and media network owned by All3Media. A graduate of USC, she has also made several short films, including festival winners Silence Is Olden and Remember Me, winner of 9 awards at LA’s 168 Film Festival. A kid at heart with a strong passion for making influential content for today’s youth, Amanda loves to do anything a 12-year-old would do…. including but not limited to dancing, backflips, board games, crafts, and making goofy music videos.
Kathleen Cooke: This industry is about “hurry up and wait.” How have you learned to wait on God and embrace His peace?
Amanda Ashley Miess: Has God ever “recently” taught you something that He’s actually been bringing to you layer by layer for years? I have! He is so patient. After spending way too much time trying to earn people’s respect and affirmation in this industry, I am finally starting to embrace the fact that I only need my Lord’s approval. I literally have a Google Drive that is 98% full with unproduced scripts, pitch decks, and story ideas. My Lord has shown me that my value comes from Him alone; all my giftings are from Him and are for Him. He will open the doors in His way and in His timing.
One vision He showed me years ago that I’ll never forget: I saw a dog pile of people clambering on each other to reach one key dangling from the ceiling. This is what succeeding in the entertainment industry often feels like. As I stood to the side, watching them climb over each other, fighting for that one key, the Lord told me to instead walk forward towards a small door that was shaped like me. Only I could fit through it, and I was the key. I have spent many years striving to reach that prized “key” hanging from the ceiling and have grown disappointed in God and my abilities when I have not obtained it. Recently, He has instilled in me a newfound peace and purpose. Even if I don’t have all the answers and I am still learning what my true purpose is in this industry, I know I am exactly where I need to be, and I know that even through the mundane, He is using me to bring His Kingdom on earth.
Kathleen: What do you do when it seems like God is silent and you can’t connect to Him?
Amanda: The times I feel most disconnected from God are when the enemy gets me to look at my human efforts and believe that my works aren’t good enough. Even in my spiritual walk, it is easy for me to believe that I am not praying hard enough, reading the Bible long enough, fasting enough, or ministering enough. I start to believe that nothing I do is ever good enough, and so I give up. That’s when I have felt like God is silent, or I am not close to Him. I think that I need to improve my relationship with God and work harder at loving Him and serving Him. But the truth is that if I believe what Jesus did on the cross puts me in right standing with my Heavenly Father, then I am in right relationship with Him right now! Even if I’m not “feeling it,” I am connected. I am pleasing to Him. Every little thing I do for Him or every thought towards Him counts. He is still moving in my life, and progress is being made. When I remind myself of that truth, connecting with God is easy. He’s right there, and I’m right there with Him. (more…)
Meet Kelsey Guerra, the new coordinator for Influence Lab Women Nashville!
Bio: Kelsey grew up acting professionally in Hollywood, signing with her first agent at the age of seven. She earned her bachelor’s degree in Theatre Arts from Vanguard University and pursued a Broadway, TV, and Film career in New York upon graduating. Her work eventually brought her back to Hollywood, where she co-founded thisishardtoread Productions and is an award-winning producer, writer, and actor on the award-winning feature comedy/mockumentary film, RE-OPENING. Favorite career highlights include LIFE PARTNERS (Tribeca & Sundance Film Festival), BLACK NOVEMBER, THE VERONICA MARS MOVIE (Vivica Fox), PAN AM (ABC), ROYAL PAINS (USA), and BAD TEACHER (CBS).
Kathleen Cooke: Tell us about you! What’s your story, and what do you do in the media and entertainment industry?
Kelsey Guerra: I am co-founder of thisishardtoread Productions with my husband, and we create comedies with heart. I’m a producer, writer, director, and actor – not necessarily all at the same time!
Kathleen: How and why have you gotten involved with Influence Lab Women as the new Nashville Chapter Coordinator?
Kelsey: I recently moved to the greater Nashville area from L.A./Hollywood for the main purpose of collaborating with like-minded industry professionals. I was tired of waiting for some “big break” that would never come, and after producing my own feature film during the pandemic, I realized that Hollywood and the industry is so much bigger than the box we put it in, and Nashville was the place where I felt called to create a movement with people who felt the same way.
Kathleen: When is the Influence Lab Women Nashville launch, and what’s happening?
Kelsey: We are going to start with a small gathering of women at the end of October who are excited to get involved with our mission – to bring women in the industry together who want to encourage, uplift, and empower each other. Let’s get to know each other and bring together others who would like to have a local community of creators and industry professionals.
Reach out to me at: email@example.com if you would like to be a part of the group. Once we have a core group of women, we can expand our reach to others who would also like to join us for a larger launch in January 2023.
Where do we get the confidence to push forward, take risks and negotiate without fear? Is it found in us, or in something bigger than ourselves? Read this month’s INNER VIEW as author and producer Victoria Slater shares about rooting herself in the “certainty of God”.
As the daughter of an Air Force officer, Victoria Slater spent her childhood traveling the world and gaining a passion for travel and world culture. She attained a BA in Theatre with minors in Business and French from Wright State University in Ohio, but spent a few post-college years working in chemical defense research. Yet, a lifelong dream to work in the film industry egged her on to Hollywood where Victoria worked over twenty years in the industry; she was also delighted when her new career took her back to foreign lands.
She spent a year in South Africa for TransWorld Pictures as a Production Executive and Director of Development, where she oversaw and negotiated distribution deals for the production of many feature films.
Victoria also has been part of the production teams on several independent and studio feature films and television series, including Twentieth Century Fox’s disaster film Volcano, Paramount’s Star Trek VII Generations, and Baywatch. She has also produced high-end projects ranging from commercials to short videos for private resorts and members-only clubs with the boutique post-production company, Moving Pictures, co-owned with her husband, Ken.
She is a proud member of the Producers Guild of America, where she served on the Board of Directors for nine years and chaired the mentoring program for over seven years. In 2007, Victoria was awarded the prestigious AP Council Commitment Award for her service to the PGA.
Victoria published her book, How To Negotiate Without Freaking Out, to encourage women to become better and braver negotiators. She loves God, her husband, and her two very spoiled little dogs. These are her non-negotiables.
Kathleen Cooke: You had a long and significant career working in entertainment. Looking back, what is the one thing you’d say was the most significant thing God taught you about the industry?
Victoria Slater: God taught me that He is in control. I have recently been reflecting on my past efforts to promote our business or my career that yielded no fruit. Yet projects seemed to come out of “left field” (aka from God). We have been very blessed and have done well, but I can never point to my efforts for our success. Now in making efforts to promote my book, I turn to God and ask, “what should I do?” A friend reminded me of the biblical passage in Luke 5:4, where the disciples had just returned from a night of fruitless fishing.
Jesus told them to put out into the deep and let down their nets for a catch. At first they argued with Him, but then did what He told them to do and took in an abundance of fish. That is what I am trying to do now – not go on my efforts but look to God first and follow His direction.
Kathleen: If you could tell your 20-something-self something that you know now, what would you tell her?
Victoria: “Pride goeth before the fall.” I look back on many opportunities I lost because of pride. I was given an incredible opportunity early in my production career when I was sent to South Africa as a production executive. When I returned to the States, I was a bit puffed up and turned down jobs that seemed a step back but would have led to much greater experiences. I cringe when I think of my poor judgment because I was so prideful.
Kathleen: We often aren’t honest with who we are and how God has wired us. We negotiate with Him on what we want (our will) and what He wants (His will). How can we become that authentic person and accept what He has called us to be and do?
Victoria: I love Psalm 139, especially verse 14 (NIV), which says, “I will praise You because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.” I love people who dare to be their wonderful, unique, authentic selves. It can be hard sometimes. We are, by nature, herding animals. But I find people who are authentically themselves are the most fun to be around. So, I strive to be honest and authentic with everyone I meet. And let my unique sense of humor and intellect shine through, for “I am fearfully and wonderfully made.”
Kathleen: I love that. Especially because of the last half of that scripture, where David (the writer of Psalms) acknowledges the confidence that inward knowledge gave him. A career in media, entertainment, arts and leadership can be one of risky choices and uncertainty. Where did you find your certainty and confidence as a high-level executive making many strategic influential decisions in Hollywood?
Victoria: I was around twenty-five years old and had just broken up with my first serious relationship. We had been together for four years, and I was devastated. I was living in Dayton, Ohio working in government research on chemical defense. A friend saw how heartbroken I was and got an Air Force captain to invite me out to lunch. At that lunch, he started talking about God. God?! I didn’t want to hear about God. I wanted to be told how pretty I was. On the way back to my office, this Air Force captain asked me if I wanted to accept Jesus into my life. To this day, I can remember the feeling of standing on the edge of a precipice. If I accepted the offer, I would be jumping off a cliff. I wasn’t ready. So, I declined. Shortly after this, I was in Arizona on vacation. I was heading to California and couldn’t sleep, still upset over the breakup.
I took a walk in that arid climate and started to talk to God, and I had the overwhelming sense that He loved me and would take care of me. I accepted Christ into my life that night.
The Air Force captain will never know how much he influenced my life. You never know how God will use you to influence others. His confidence and certainty of who Jesus was in his life influenced me, and I couldn’t stop thinking of his invitation to know God personally in my life. And it’s God’s certainty living in me that still allows me to keep my confidence in Him as we continue to live in growing, uncertain times today.
Register Now for the Influence Lab Webinar with Victoria on Tuesday, August 23rd at 5:00pm PST!
The Art of Negotiation: How to Grow Your Confidence
Sometimes the most important person to be truthful with is ourselves. It’s important to look honestly at how well we keep boundaries, where we’ve rooted our identity and the motives of our hearts. Read this month’s INNER VIEW as we dive deep with Andrea Polnaszek into some core truths and the ways we navigate them imperfectly.
Andrea M. Polnaszek has written many books and is the co-creator of multiple films alongside her sister, Alexandra Boylan, as part of The Boylan Sisters Entertainment company. Andrea’s most recent movie, The Greatest Inheritance, with her accompanying book by the same title, is a study of Ecclesiastes. The film wrestles with the theme, “There is a time for everything and a season for everything under Heaven.”
Andrea is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and has spent her clinical career helping children and their families communicate their feelings. She earned a bachelor’s degree in social work at Gordon College, a Master’s in Social Work, and a certificate in Theology from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
Kathleen: As a filmmaker and writer, you come from a unique position as a licensed clinical social worker with an understanding of the human mind and our choices. What has God revealed to you on how we can make better choices that will sustain our careers and lives, especially during the disruptions of a pandemic?
Andrea Polnaszek: I had the opportunity to write a book and devotional about Ecclesiastes and specifically spent much time meditating on Ecclesiastes 3. During an unappreciated time, global pandemic, I felt like folks around me, including myself, were asking questions like: “Why?” “What do we do?” “I don’t like this new life?” While exploring the idea of – what season is this and what is God teaching me in this season…God brought a surprising insight.
I was invited to perform a funeral service for the first time. The woman who had passed had struggled with mental illness for many years before her death. Her family felt they had lost her many years before she died. The process of preparing for the funeral provided an opportunity to remember. Looking through pictures and reminiscing reminded everyone of beautiful memories. This insight caused me to ask: Why do we wait for funerals to share a eulogy? So, I have begun to tell people what I appreciate about them in real-time. I have spent some time thinking about happy memories and sharing those with others. The experience has brought me new insight into what the Joy of the Lord looks like. I believe that joy is born in gratitude. And a heart of thanksgiving is a gift from God alone.
Theodore Roosevelt said: “Comparison is the thief of joy.” God has brought me to a place of hard-fought contentment – accepting that there is good and bad in every season and that He is over it all! I would say that when I look at all that the last few years have thrown at me – the joy of the Lord was my strength. God revealed to me the importance of disciplining myself to put Him first.
Kathleen: It’s not the normal screenwriter’s path to come into the film business from a clinical social worker background. Many might struggle with their career goals and identity and lose their way. Yet God seems to carve us uniquely into His plan and purpose. Why is knowing who you are in Him the essential choice?
Andrea: Boylan Sisters Entertainment just finished principal photography on a movie called Identity Crisis. I have done a lot of thinking, meditating, and studying on this issue. Our culture seems to be telling us that unique needs to be named and that our core identity or “created in the image of God” can or should change. I struggle with this conversation because when I talk to people wrestling with gender disphoria and questioning their sexuality, I see genuine concern, discomfort, and a deep sense of longing to feel whole.
I was one of those teenagers and young adults who always wanted to be in a different stage than where I found myself. I wanted to be grown, married, and have children. I was convinced that when I became a wife and mother, those feelings of longing would be fulfilled. My life experience has taught me that every new stage of life comes with new questions and the opportunity to have even more longing. Different is more than OK. God has created us with an array of personalities, gifts, and various appearances.
I struggle with staying at peace with whom God made me. Ten years ago, when I wrote a book about rest and openly wrestled with being disappointed with God, I took the next step toward being at peace in my skin. I don’t always stay at peace, but I do find that if I am disciplined to be vulnerable and stay real with others and myself, I find the peace that passes understanding.
Kathleen: To sustain ourselves in our 24/7 world, we must have boundaries. But often, we don’t draw the right boundary lines. What’s a boundary you struggle with within your work and life?
Andrea: I am a recovering people pleaser. I find that when my boundaries go down, my people-pleasing increases. I am a lifelong student of John Townsend and Henry Cloud’s book, Boundaries. I discovered the book when I was at a very low point as a pastor’s wife. I found myself sad, lonely, and resentful. This book taught me the difference between walling myself off and having a fence with a gate. The key was that I had control of the gate; I could open it or close it. The Boundaries book reviews each of the main areas of your life – family, marriage, kids, work, church, and family of origin. I often use the book as a reference going back to it to read just one chapter on whatever area of my life I am struggling in.
The biggest lesson I have learned is that when I let my guard down and allow what I think other people want to overtake me, I need to pause and adjust my boundaries. In the past, I would think, “If she would just do this, then I could feel this.” Learning how to hold healthy boundaries has freed me from the thought that someone else can make me feel a certain way. It has caused me to focus on what I can control and what I am responsible for.
I am currently watching the TV series The Chosen for the third time. One of the things that I am struck with by Jesus’ example in that depiction is that He spent time with God and followed what God wanted, not what others wanted. He paused regularly to seek what His Father had for Him. I wish I could say I do this all the time. I don’t. But, I’m a work in progress, always striving to notice how I feel and how I am behaving and stopping to invite God to inform me who I am!
Kathleen: We all impact others’ lives. What’s the one thing you’ve learned about influence?
Andrea: Influence is a BIG word. With the rise of social media, becoming an “influencer” is sought after. For me, I feel it is a heavy weight. As soon as people are watching, whether online or off, I immediately get cocky and say something I don’t really believe. The thing I have learned about influence is that it is very important to be wise. My heart’s desire is to use my influence to give God glory, and I don’t mean that in a cheesy or churchy way. I mean that I struggle with a form of pride that is connected with “getting credit” for what I do.
When I find myself caught up in getting what’s due to me, I have taken my eyes completely off of God and how He has intended to honor me and chosen to focus on how I want to be seen. Influence is something that should be guarded and treated with great respect. For me, I must put my eyes on Jesus so that He is influencing me first before I am influencing others.