Bio: Pam Ferderbar was born and raised in Wisconsin, the only child of two loving but quirky parents who fostered her creativity by setting a place at the table for Pam’s imaginary friend, Dokka. After graduating Marquette University with a B.S. in Journalism, Pam worked at Ferderbar Studios, the family advertising photography business where she honed her skills as a TV commercials director, and was paid to play with imaginary friends called actors.
In 1994, Ferderbar moved to Los Angeles where she directed commercials for Microsoft, Wells Fargo Bank, Bally’s, ITT and others, and in her spare time wrote screenplays such as Bob Dylan Stole My Wife,for which she is currently seeking financing for a Wisconsin-based production. In 1998 she wrote the novella Feng Shui and Charlotte Nightingale, sparking a bidding war for the movie rights. New Line Cinema purchased the rights in a record-breaking $800,000 deal, and a few months later all the executives on the project were fired and Pam’s movie was shelved. Classic #CharlotteMoment. As Charlotte would say, “It wasn’t my fault!”
After completing a novel based on the novella Feng Shui and Charlotte Nightingale, Pam returned to Wisconsin in 2013. Pam’s father Tom Ferderbar, a student of the great Ansel Adams and a master photographer himself, tutors Pam in the art of photography. Pam is working on a second Charlotte Nightingale novel and a companion book with reader’s “Charlotte moments” complimented with illustrations and Pam’s own photographs. Pam and her friend Dokka continue to play.
Pam blogs for the Huffington Post. She is a member of the Writers Guild of America, the Directors Guild of America, and the Coalition for Photographic Arts/Milwaukee where Pam serves as Vice President and Exhibitions and Events Chair.
Zephan: Pam Ferderbar was born and raised in Wisconsin. The only child of two loving but quirky parents who fostered her creativity by setting a place at the table for Pam’s imaginary friend Dokka. After graduating at Kent University with a BS in journalism. Pam worked at Ferderbar Studio’s. The family advertising photography business where she honed her skills as a TV commercials director and was paid to play with imaginary friends called actors.
Now she did so many amazing things since that time that I am going to reveal to you in just a second. But I am just going to say Pam blogs for the Huffington Post. She is a member of the Writers Guild of America, The Directors Guild of America, and The Coalition for Photographic Arts Milwaukee where Pam services as vice president and exhibitions and events chair. Thanks so much for being here, Pam.
Pam: Thanks for having me, Zephan.
Zephan: So there’s a huge part of your bio here that has so many amazing things that I left out specifically because I want you to take the credit for this. I would love for you to share just a little bit of your time in Los Angeles and some of the things that happened there and then we are going to jump into this great conversation that we had just a few minutes ago on happiness and where your life’s happiness and fulfilment should really come from.
Pam: Well, thanks. Let’s see, I moved to Los Angeles in 1994, left a lucrative family business, which was the advertising photography, but I also gotten us into video and film production and was doing TV commercials in Milwaukee and Chicago. And then I moved to L.A. thinking how hard could it be to go from there to directing feature films. Uh, that didn’t work out quite as I thought. I mean, I marched into Sony Studio’s and I was nobody. So I did sign with a bi-coastal production company and started directing commercials all over the country, and one day I met a man who was to be my mentor, Melvin Sokolsky.
In the sixties Melvin was a fashion photographer, very famous fashion photographer. Did a lot of work in Vogue. At any rate, he took me under his wing, and he said ”You know if you really want to tell stories, long stories, you know make films you have got to get out of the commercial business because that will just suck your soul right out of you. You know you make a lot of money doing it and it just will never”—so, like a fool, I said “Okay, Melvin” and I quite directing television commercials and then like a year went by and I thought “How do you make a living now?” And I wrote a short story called Feng Shui and Charlotte Nightingale based on a news piece I had seen about these huge corporations like Kaiser Permanente, Sony, Disney who were hiring Feng shui practitioners not only to re-tool sort of existing spaces but to work with architects on new projects that were being developed. I started doing research on feng shui and—just that I couldn’t get this out of my head, this idea of feng shui. Because I hate clutter, I like things very organised and I have always wondered “Why I want to put the plant here instead of over here?” and this was all sort of revealed to me when I started doing my research on feng shui.
And then I woke up in the middle of the night, one night—and I know this is going to sound so goofy, but this character, this terrible disorganised badly done by, train wreck of a girl named Charlotte Nightingale sort of popped onto my shoulder and said “You got to write me down. You got to write down this story.” And for six days and nights I wrote this 42-page short story. At the end of which, I started handing it out to friends and acquaintances and total strangers and saying “If you read this and you like it and you know anyone in either the book world or the film world, could I ask you please to pass it on?” And a few days later the phone started ringing and low and behold a bidding war erupted for the film rights to this short story.
It was absolutely the most intense time. I mean it was 48 hours and thing—in the end Newline bought the film rights for $800,000 I got paid half of that with the other half to come with when they began principal photography and then they hired me to adapt the material to a screenplay. In the middle of that process—and Charlotte has the worst luck in the world. So, you know, #CharlotteMoment because in the middle of that process of writing the screenplay all of my executives at Newline got fired. Because Time Warner merged with AOL and I think Time Warner owned Newline or AOL did whatever, and all the new executives came in and wanted to clear the decks and start fresh with their projects.
Pam: Yeah, it was very disappointing. It was a nice a really nice pay day, you know, that initial—but disappointing that my Charlotte wasn’t going to see the light of day. And then a couple of years ago, just before I decided to move back to Wisconsin, I was clearing out files and hard drives and whatever I came across that short story and I thought you know the bidding war was really quite intense, everyone wanted a piece of it. I got a personal phone call, from believe it or not, Madonna, from Sandra Bullock, who wanted this for their production companies.
And I thought “There’s some there, there” and that little girl, that Charlotte Nightingale muse actually came back and we wrote it—and I say “we” because she seems so real to me. Probably it’s an alter ego type of thing but I wrote is as a full length novel, and back it went into a draw while I was trying to sell my house and get ready to move back to Wisconsin to be with my family who need a little help. My mom had broken her back. And I came back and as I was unpacking of course the hard drives and disks and everything else. I thought “You know…” and I sent the very first query email that I had sent out to a publisher. I got a response that same day and the woman I had written to said “Please send me the first 5 chapters” and by the end of the day she had sent me a contract. So lightening maybe can strike twice. I am hoping 3 times because now Newline is interested in possibly dusting this off again.
So fingers crossed. It is a very, I think, uplifting tale about—it’s a fable really, about how when you are down on yourself and you walk with your head down all the time, geez, it seems like the glass is always half empty and your luck is terrible. And whatever it is in your like that elevates you. Whether it’s just someone that pays attention to you, is kind to you or self-determination. You wake up one day and say “I have had enough of this, people walking all over me” or if it’s the result of something like feng shui or mitzvah or prayer or voodoo that makes you throw your shoulders back and change your attitude, and then your life changes. So—I don’t answer that question in the book because for me the jury out. It might be a combination of all those things. I don’t know.
Zephan: Yeah. Well, it certainly sounds like a big theme of it is the power of thinking positively and staying in a positive mind set. And I am sure that a lot of that has played out in your life to allow you to go on all these amazing adventures. I mean I don’t think many people get these type of opportunities if they’re hanging their head low all the time and I’m sure you certainly have experienced what life is like when you do that and what life is like on the other side of it when you keep a positive mind set.
Pam: Absolutely, and I—speaking to that, I would have to give a huge shout-out to my parents because they were such great advocates my whole life and very supportive and just the ideal parents in terms of fostering my creatively. When they saw that was a direction in which I was moving, they never said “You should try to find something that’s financially more viable,” or—you know what I mean. A lot of parents would be “You should go to law school. You should go to medical school. You know should learn to be a CPA,” but they said “If that is your love, your passion, you feel that is where your life is taking you, you should do that.” And that gave me a lot of confidence so most of the time—not all of the time, of course—my shoulders were back and I head was up, that’s when you can really see the world in all its glory and also the cracks and the pavement you might want to avoid, but I have fallen into those as well.
Zephan: Yeah, well, absolutely. Well, let me ask you this: How can people either shift back into positive mind set or at least try to stay as optimistic as possible and when they do fall down? Because, I mean, it’s inevitable that this is going to happen in life. Like I always tell people that my life is a series of very high highs and very low lows. And if you look at that deal that with Newline Cinemas when they first purchased the right to your story, that was probably a very high high. And then to hear you know that they had been bought out or in the transitioning, they had done a huge shake-up, to find out that it wasn’t going to happen, that definitely has to be quite crushing in a sense. So I’m quite curious, how do you stay as optimistic as possible and how can other people do that?
Pam: Oh, that’s a tough one. Both of those situations were extreme ends of a spectrum, in both cases in kind of like being punched in the gut. You know, on the plus side it was a good punch in the gut. But on the other side it was the solar plexus where it just takes the air out of you. That’s a really good question, how to stay optimistic. And it’s the fight or flight instinct in us that I think brings you back to that optimism because I—personally I don’t think playing in the middle Which isn’t to say I would want to be bi-polar, which I understand it is the high highs and the low lows but I think there’s sort of an equilibrium you can achieve, still pushing for the highs and trying to get out of the lows as quickly as possible. The middle, I don’t know that people move a lot when they are in the middle, so there’s—for me at least, its inspirational to me to be on the low end of things because I like—you know, when you’re optimistic people treat you differently.
Pam: And I am a very social creature, so I like to be out and meeting people. And of course I want them to like me. And when you are optimistic, you, I think, come from a little more position of power people like that. Everyone gets along, people tend to respect you, and they don’t step on you as much as when you are in the low end of the spectrum with your head down all the time. There are people in the world, sadly, who seem to enjoy seeking those people out and abusing them. So, for me, just knowing that I don’t feel good when that happens, it makes me angry, its makes me question humanity—and I am aware of that now that—not all I have to do, but the main thing I have to do is throw your shoulders back. Who was it, Elizabeth Taylor said “Put on a little lipstick, pour a drink, and get the hell out there.”
Zephan: Yeah, that’s certainly a big part of it. You just have to kind of get about doing it. Everyone wants to know the secret to happiness and the secret to happiness is just putting yourself out there and seeing where you land. And wherever you land, just going from there. You know, we talked about a little bit before we even got onto the recording here about happiness and money doesn’t necessary equate to happiness. And landing such a huge deal like that, I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about—you were sharing with me how there are some people that make way more money and there is no correlation to happiness.
Pam: Absolutely. And coming from Los Angeles, I made wonderful, wonderful friends, very grounded friends there. But as a writer and a television commercials director, and I’m all so a photographer, I observe people a lot. And it was quite an interesting study because I have never in my life in Milwaukee certainly encountered such a huge contingent of wealthy people. Not rich, wealthy. And so many of them were unhappy and bitter and not what you would consider really quality human beings. And I started thinking about “What is happiness?” because how many times do people say “Money doesn’t buy happiness but I’m sure like to try.” And I think yeah you can observe people with a tremendous amount of money and you see how unhappy so many of them are, I think you start to realize that that’s a weird focus to have and if that is your definition of happiness, 99 9/10th percent of us will die unhappy people.
So—and there’s this huge cultural thing, it seems like, in the last several years where even the poor segment of our society is now kind of saying money equals happiness, and they aspire to that when then they’re missing the whole point of life. Which is to have these things inside of you that truly bring rewards. It sounds corny like Tuesdays With Morrie, but I think at the end of your life when you look back you’re going to say “Geez, I wish I had a few more bucks in the bank.” You’re going to say “I wish I had kissed someone more, or loved someone more, or taken that trip, or just paid attention to the last sunset.”
So it was very valuable being in Los Angles and just being able to observe this culture of money equals happiness. You know the thing when I made my deal, and that was quite a windfall, but I would have to laugh because so many people said to me “Oh, Pam, it’s like winning the lottery” and I said like “Except that I didn’t just walk into a 7/11 with a dollar.” Because my whole life had taken me to the point of being able to write that story. It was such a high, and I was suddenly in this other stratosphere—and not by any means that it made me wealthy, but wealthy people were paying attention. And they do sort of surround you and they want you to be one of them, and as soon as the deal fell apart, poof, those relationships evaporated. And I’m not kidding you, like phone calls didn’t get returned, invitations got rescinded, and it’s not like I got caught doing something untoward, it was just that this huge corporate merger caused this thing and I went back to being nothing.
And I suppose I licked my wounds for a little while and I was down about it, but then I realized that that was a false happiness. And I am not a religious person at all; I like to think that I’m spiritual in my own way, so the idea of false happiness isn’t necessarily I was looking for a God or something like that, I just realized that “Boy, that happiness comes from inside of you,” and so that external thing of suddenly all these people and inviting me to all these fancy parties and you know, and having money and be able to buy a house and stuff was—it wasn’t what made me happy. At the end of the day what made me happy was that someone, and it turns out that a whole bunch of people, really liked that story.
Now, sadly, I think a lot of them really liked that story because they thought that it would make them a lot of money. So it took a while before I realized that it is the kind of story that will not only, perhaps, make people money, that’s a side issue. I believe it will make people happy to read it. And that’s what I went back and wrote it as a novel and the feedback has been, for me it has made me happy because, people are finding a very inspirational letter in it which is interesting because it is very broad humour and it’s not preachy or in quotes, spiritual at all, it’s a wild ride, it’s a screwball comedy at the heart of which is this message about what is happiness? Where do you find it? How do you get it?
Zephan: Yeah, and it sounds like it reflects some of your adventures too, you know, in having this come into fruition, because it has been a twisty, tourney ride to make this happen, so it’s interesting to see how that ties into the story being told there and I guess the best way to sort of round things off here is to ask, what is the best way for us to determine our happiness or I think far too many people are making the mistake that happiness comes from somewhere else. I think that we definitely agree on that, that it has to be internally. Why is it so hard for people to find it though, if it’s sitting right here in front of us?
Pam: Well, I think it’s our culture. I mean, I think if you look at certain tribes in very remote areas of the world, by our standards, they have absolutely nothing, but, they work only as hard as they have to be able to survive physically, so finding food, shelter, whatnot, so the rest of the time they spend with their children and their families, and they are happy. So, I think for us, we are in a culture right now where we are told, jeesh, you turn on the television, you know anything, you pick up a magazine – happiness is having a lot of stuff, happiness is not having lines on your face, happiness is feeling thin, you know, I mean all of these external things that we work so hard to get and we spend so much money and then, you know, you go to bed at night and you think, jeesh, I’m still not happy. So for me, when I think what makes me happy, I love to laugh.
You know, I think, they’ve done all these studies, you release all kinds of endorphins and you know, when you laugh. And, I just look for—and the focus semi-autobiographical in that the weirdest things, Zephan, that you can imagine have happened to me, because people say to me, “you’re exaggerating.” No, I wish, truly, some really weird stuff has happened. And, I have learned now, even while it’s sort of happening, and I’m sure people think I’m demented, you will find me laughing. And it’s not the same as someone getting hit by a bus, and I’m not laughing at the misfortune of others. My own misfortune, I realize, is gonna make a great story. And it makes me laugh, and that’s where I, that’s my happy place, is when I’m laughing, so that was the best I could do in terms of sharing my vision for how people might be happy. Is read my book and laugh.
Zephan: Yeah, well do you see that a lot about you, in other people finding laughter and comedic relief from their own misfortune, you know, I mean, I’m huge with self-defecating humour, when I mess up and in a screwball type of way, I admit it on the spot and kind of laugh it off and just enjoy that it happened.
Pam: Absolutely. I mean, isn’t that kind of the key to life, is not taking yourself too seriously?
Zephan: Certainly. I mean, we were talking about not growing up and how important it is to, you know, you said someone told you to grow up
Pam: Yes. Regularly.
Zephan: And I don’t know if that is really the secret here. I think that’s actually quite the opposite.
Pam: I, you know, I think that people probably have pretty good intentions and when they say grow up, I think they mean, you know, dress for your age, I have a mouth like a sailor most of the time. I can’t believe I’ve gone almost 30 minutes without being bleeped, but, I think they mean grow up in that, you know, just stop acting like a goofball. But if I did that, I would lose also that part of me that has sort of a childlike wonder for the world and the things that happen around me and as a writer and also as a photographer it’s really important that I be able to see the world for what it is and that means with all of that pretence and stuff stripped away from people; so growing up would be the end of my life as I know it. I don’t know, I would then in fact, not that there’s anything wrong with it but have to go become a CPA.
Zephan: Well, I think that you’ve definitely lived quite the adventure so far and there’s so many more to be had. I’d love to share with everyone, just you know, a last little bit about the book and you know, where they’d be able to find more information and to see, I know you blog on “Huffington Post” and things like that, so what’s the best place for people to find more info about you and check out the book?
Pam: Oh, thank you. It’s pamferderbar.com. There’s a blog there, a sample chapter, oh anything you’d want to know. Where you can buy the book, you know, there’s book club stuff, which has been so much fun. So it’s just pamferderbar.com
Zephan: Perfect, and any final just words of wisdom in living a fulfilled life that has like a story like yours?
Pam: I think that no matter how bad things are, you can find the humour in it, so long as you can find some shred of comedy, you can pick your chin up and throw your shoulders back and feel ok about yourself.
Zephan: I think, couldn’t have said it better. And Pam, thank you so much for spending some time with us and talking about, you know, your, I would say, crazy adventures and looking forward to staying in touch with you. So thank you so much for being here.
Pam: Thank you for having me, Zeph, and take care. Have a great rest of the day!