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From the Little Apple to the Big Apple to Hollywood

Meet filmmaker, Chelsea Murphy

By Freddy Moyano

Local actress and filmmaker Chelsea Murphy stars in the feature film Yucca Fest.

Chelsea Murphy, a seasoned actress, script writer and producer now living in Los Angeles said she has been acting forever. Though Murphy has strong Northeast Wisconsin ties, born and raised just down the road in Appleton.

She said her acting endeavors began on stage playing Mary in a manger scene at St. Pius X when she was a child, which led to her getting the acting bug.

Several years later, at a summer film camp in New York City when she was 17, Murphy said she learned the basics of stage acting and how it differs from screen acting – learning techniques like learning finding your mark and your light.

“I developed a new film vocabulary,” Murphy said.

In theater, she said, you have to be very “big” so even the people in the back row can see and hear you.

“I quickly learned the camera (for film acting) is so up close and personal it can even read your thoughts on your face,” said Murphy.
She said her time at Appleton North High School gave her the chance to meet mentors that helped build her passion. Murphy said she owes a lot to Ron Parker, the high school’s theater program director, who immersed her and her classmates into social issue-themed plays.

“Every year, Mr. Parker asked his class what they thought the most prominent issue was and the group would eventually write a black box theater-style play, based on that issue,” Murphy said.

One of the reasons the plays were so impactful, she said, was that Parker allowed the creativity to come from the students.
Murphy said her mother, who used to take her to shows at the Weidner Center for the Performing Arts in Green Bay while in her younger years, was another significant influence.

“I can trace a big part of my passion for storytelling and acting to being exposed to those experiences at the Weidner Center,” said Murphy.

After high school graduation, Murphy moved to the Big Apple where she studied at the New York Film Academy (2011-12).

“I fell in love with New York so hard from back in summer camp that I made a promise to myself that I would be back one day,” Murphy said.

A move to Hollywood followed shortly after. In 2013 Murphy said her role in Au Naturel (a short film by Denise Khumalo) was a turning point in her career.

“It was pretty serendipitous,” she said. “Denise’s original actress for the role fell through and we had known each other since our time at New York Film Academy. She asked if I could help her, so I had to quickly memorize the script and jump on the opportunity.”

Over the next few years, mostly with some TV series appearances and lead roles with other prominent short films, Murphy split her Hollywood life with summers with family back in Wisconsin.

“The film industry used to go pretty quiet in the summer until it would peak back up in the fall with pilot season,” Murphy said, adding that in the last two years, filming seasons were disrupted by the pandemic.

Murphy said during the pandemic, besides finalizing her debut as film director with Yucca Fest (a recently completed feature film that premiered at the iconic Chinese Theatre in Hollywood), she also had time to write.

“I found myself writing a lot of poetry and digging out my old poetry creations from childhood,” Murphy said. She said she recently completed a poetry book called You Should Read Me Near the Sea, which will soon be available on Amazon.

Murphy said she also loves writing scripts, which she either ends up acting in and/or fully producing. Her first one was Itanglish (2015), a comedy where she explored the challenge language barriers can present, out of a relationship she herself experienced in the past.

Among the most challenging roles she has performed in her career, Murphy said her role as Rachel in Infinitus (a sci-fi short by Madison filmmaker, Cameron Currin) was one to remember.

“My character was trapped in a bunker,” she said. “Not having other actors to play off of was a welcome challenge that really let me exercise my imagination.” She said the experience made her realize the importance of building chemistry with a scene partner.

An example of good screen chemistry, she said, was her role in Okay Tomorrow, (2020 directed by Tyler Chadney), a short she wrote about depression and grief which premiered in Green Bay last year.

Murphy said she never saw herself as a director. She said she believes some of that is from not seeing a lot of female directors growing up.

“When Meddle Media asked me to direct Yucca Fest, I was very surprised,” she said. “They were already working with a great cinematographer, but they wanted a cast director. It felt so natural, so I am thankful to them for seeing that in me.”

Yucca Fest will screen in Milwaukee at the Film Girl Film Festival in the coming weeks.

Murphy believes Wisconsin offers more great and affordable set locations for filmmaking.

“In LA or New York, if you want to film in a restaurant or office it costs so much money and involves so much paperwork, but in Wisconsin most businesses I’ve found are eager to help for a very low rental cost or even for free as long as their business name is listed in the credits,” Murphy said.

Her advice for Wisconsinites who may be interested in acting, is that networking is a key factor.

“Get involved in the community,” Murphy said. “Join social media groups and casting sites, apply with local agencies. Ask questions and when you get on set ask even more questions! Wisconsinites are friendlier than many folks I have worked with. I am happy to lend a helping hand.”

She also said she has a new perspective on Wisconsin then she did before she left.

“When I left Wisconsin in 2010 there was no market for acting,” Murphy said. “I came back home recently, and was so excited to see how the area has completely taken off. There is a real eager and excited energy in Green Bay and the Fox Cities that truly does feel like it’s gearing up for something.”

She also said the dairy state is full of hidden talent.

“I think Wisconsin is a great place for people who want to get into acting,” Murphy said. “There is a lot of raw talent. Local commercials are blooming… Madison and Milwaukee are filming a lot of shorts and there are some great festivals in the area. I think it’s a good spot to be in with a welcoming, artistic community.”

As for what her plans are in three to five years, Murphy said, “Right now I’m really relaxing and being kind to myself after the effects of the pandemic.”

“I know acting and storytelling will always be a part of my life,” she said. “I don’t think I could run from it even if I tried. It’s part of who I am. I see myself coming back at full force when I’m refueled and maybe even producing some of my own ideas, including some documentary ideas I have.”

Freddy Moyano is a film critic as well as an award-winning filmmaker and actor. He was raised in Madrid, Spain and moved to Wisconsin in 2002. He has called Green Bay home ever since.

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