Lonesome Tree Productions
Today we'd like to introduce you to Paige Smith.
Paige, we appreciate you taking the time to share your story with us today. Where does your story begin?
Like so many artists in the entertainment industry, I grew up enamored with television and cinema. From Saturday morning cartoons to Star Trek to Cheers to SNL, I loved it all and soaked it up whenever possible. My Dad would give us classic westerns on VHS that varied in quality but always expressed themes of good vs evil and overcoming insurmountable odds while living by a code of decency. These themes stuck with me while I grew up in rural Kansas where wide open spaces and freedom to roam and explore were commonplace. In high school, my friend Roy Rutngamlug would borrow his Dad’s big VHS camera and our group of friends would use it to make movies after school. They were mostly spoofs of things we loved, including a couple of westerns, to be sure. There was no way for us to edit back then, so we had to piece the movies together chronologically, scene by scene inside the camera. Little did we know, we were building our storytelling skills while we laughed and worked as a creative team. Once I hit college age, I tried to go another direction but was always drawn back to the desire to create entertainment, so I joined the ranks of the Kansas State University theater department and haven’t looked back.
I’m sure you wouldn’t say it’s been obstacle free, but so far would you say the journey has been a fairly smooth road?
The one thing everyone knows about the entertainment industry is that it is definitely one of the most impenetrable fortifications of all industries, and rejection is a big part of life when you’re trying to find your place in it. While I had plenty of successes to keep me going, the years kept going by. I loved the friends I made and the lessons I learned, but the idea that I would get to do all the things I had always dreamed of were becoming realistically unattainable. The only possible solution to this quandary was to redefine the image of what I thought the industry was. Instead of waiting to be given an opportunity, I would simply make my own opportunity, even if it was a small one. One a time, as much as I could, I started the slow road of piecing together a body of work, enlisting the help of those who were willing to adventure with me. It was a simple idea but certainly not an easy endeavor, and the result was an education in self-reliance and also the acceptance that it absolutely cannot be done alone. That’s led me to the best part about making films and writing scripts, the earned community is the reason it’s so fun and so worthwhile.
Thanks – so what else should our readers know about your work and what you’re currently focused on?
In a nutshell, I try to find as original an idea as possible (which is quite difficult these days with so much content being produced), write a script, put together a team, and try to find a way to get it made. My first love in the industry was acting, so I generally play some kind of role but I don’t necessarily have to if the concept demands something different. I prefer bringing directors on board because I believe it’s important to have another voice as support and also to keep me honest when I’m making a mistake, being a jackass, or need problems solved when I’m out of my depth. I’ve made four westerns with the incredibly talented and increasingly sought-after director, Sean George. He and I speak the same language and I’m in no hurry to go anywhere without him. It’s important to us to make films that resonate with audiences through shared experiences. Even though westerns usually tell stories from a bygone era under extraordinary circumstances, people are still people and our problems haven’t really changed much over the centuries. I believe this idea helps set our team apart from others; a willingness to bend the ‘rules’ and find a tangible way to relate to today’s issues. We still have a long way to go on this particular idea, but we continue to learn lesson after lesson after lesson every time we get to work. The thing I’m most proud of is our ability to create a family setting and provide an environment that allows our team to thrive and make the best possible version of themselves come to light. It’s really quite special and our family grows larger on every project.
Where do you see things going in the next 5-10 years?
To predict where the entertainment industry is going over the course of the next decade is simply something that’s out of my league. Obviously, there’s been major shifts happening quickly in the last decade and the recent and ongoing pandemic has left everyone guessing. Content is king right now, that’s not a secret, but how, where, and why something is received well is an ever shifting sand dune. I’m sure there’s a lot of professionals who have their finger on the pulse of this shift, but I am not one of them. I still have a lot of learning to do about how to market myself and how to gain a foothold on a landscape that is still being formed and reformed as the times dictate. My plan is to keep plugging away at what I do well and focus on why I enjoy it. At least I’ll be smiling as I whirlpool toward oblivion, or scramble up, with skinned knees, to the next crumbling ledge of the journey forward. If I can keep moving upward to bigger and better projects while heeding the lessons I learn along the way, maybe, just maybe I can find myself standing alongside my team on some glorious mountaintop somewhere in this demanding, ever-changing, and invigorating industry.
Shoutout LA Magazine
We had the good fortune of connecting with
Paige Smith and we've shared our conversation below.
Hi Paige, how do you define success?
The older I get, the more I think about what success means to me. When I first started out, like so many creative people in the entertainment industry, success was all about making money and possibly gaining fame. As the years went by, and my knowledge and realistic view of how the business really works became more defined, I thought success was more about being respected and being viewed as a person who does good work. Now, to a degree, I still think that sentiment is an important one. However, as much I’d love to own a new truck or a have nice house; as much as I appreciate the respect that I’ve earned, I think success is more of a personal understanding of myself and my journey. Years from now, when I’m in the rocking chair, regardless of whether or not I’ve made a lot of money, or have earned an abundance of respect, I want to know that I spent my time well, and that I enjoyed the journey that I undertook. That’s a big reason why I’ve taken more creative control of my destiny, and started making my own projects and films.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
For as long as I can remember, I’ve always been drawn to story-telling. I don’t know if it’s due to some mental disorder, or if it’s just how my mind works, but my imagination is always churning out stories, swirling around in my head. As a kid, I tried to write a novel and I even won a creative writing contest, but at some point, my creativity pointed me to acting. I loved the idea that I was my own paintbrush on the canvas of the world. I studied acting in high-school and college, and honed my skills in Chicago, where I made my home for many years. Writing, however, was always something I enjoyed. I was part of a sketch comedy team in Chicago, called The Cool Table, and a closely related theater company called XIII Pocket. Together, we appreciated many years of fun and success, and my acting and writing skills were nurtured by my talented and brilliant friends. As the years went on, people’s priorities changed, but the bonds are still there. Now I have my own production company, Lonesome Tree, that specializes in western films and how they can tell stories about the past and the present, what it’s like to be an American, and how people work together as a society. Making my own stories has been a solution, for me, to the challenges of the entertainment industry and all of the difficulties of leading a creative lifestyle. I can benefit from all of my past lessons learned, to better use my collected writing and acting skills.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
Pasadena is a beautiful place, and I’ve always loved getting lost in it’s neighborhoods; walking around and admiring the beautiful architecture here. There’s also some really fun speak easy’s and outdoor patios here. Outside of Pasadena I would take time to show off Los Feliz, where I’ve also lived. A hike up to Griffith Observatory, followed by dinner at Little Dom’s is a dream of a day, and something I’ve done, often. Manhattan Beach offers a great day in the sun and sand. The oldest part of downtown LA, Olvera Street, has always been a cultural and culinary hit with me and my visitors, who often have no idea it exists. I love the old-school kitsch and tasty margaritas at El Coyote on Beverly. Lastly, I never miss a chance to treat my guests to some libations at my favorite LA spot, Idle Hour, the big, jolly, old barrel bar in North Hollywood.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
I have a teacher named John Rosenfeld that has really pushed me to make my own projects happen, rather than just wait for the phone to ring, and I always make sure to mention him, when I can. His influence on how I view my career path has really helped me evolve, as an artist, and as a person. My family also deserves a great deal of credit. My mom has always supported my career choice, my dad gave me a love of writing and appreciation of western life, and my brothers and my sister have always pushed me to keep fighting and be positive. I also have to give a shout-out to my creative partners, Sean George, Danielle Argyros, and Sal Neslusan for believing in my mad ideas and gladly dedicating their time to helping me realize my potential. My former sketch group, The Cool Table, lovingly showed me that being the master of my own vessel is possible and also really fun. There are so many others I could name, but the list would take more up space than this article has room for. Lastly, I have to recognize Todd and Jenny, my agents at Stewart talent, for sticking by me for so many years and treating me like a family member, rather than a business opportunity.
Today we’d like to introduce you to Paige Smith.
Thanks for sharing your story with us Paige. So, let’s start at the beginning and we can move on from there.
I grew up immersed in Western culture. I was born in raised in Kansas and spent a great deal of my time on our family’s farms throughout the years. My Dad is a western fiction and non-fiction writer and growing up around him and his process put a creative spark in my head. We also watched a lot of westerns. A LOT. I won’t say I’ve seen every classic Western, a few have slipped by me, but I definitely have a broad knowledge and great respect for the western film genre. I actually started my college days as a biology major but quickly knew I was better suited to pursue the arts and transferred to the Kansas State University theater department. After college, I spent sixteen years in Chicago, IL as an actor and sketch comedian and then finally moved to Los Angeles in early 2016. In Hollywood, there’s no shortage of hard workers. I quickly realized that if I was going to succeed here, I needed to work harder and find what makes me, me. Instead of waiting for the phone to ring, I decided to do what I always wanted to do, at whatever level I could. Making westerns is what I have always set as my end goal. So now, that’s what I do! I love to act, write and produce and being the captain of my own vessel is so much more rewarding and stimulating than splashing around in the water, waiting for a lifeboat to come rescue me.
Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
In late 2013, I shattered my right femur and tibia when I was dragged down a cliff in a rock-slide. I spent three months in bed and had to learn how to walk again. Needless to say, I had a lot of time to sit with myself and reflect. There’s something to be said about being taken out of your busy life and forced to prioritize all of the complicated facets of our whirlwind existences. I think a lot of people are experiencing this right now. At the time, I was all over the place with my priorities and my attitude toward them. After almost being killed and being bedridden for so long, I realized the importance of family and relationships as well as the realization that life can be short; shorter for some than others. I also learned a great deal of gratitude for what I have and what I have to offer. After that accident, I worked harder and I loved more and I think I’m a calmer person now because of it. Although I’m sure there are many who would disagree about the calm part, there was certainly improvement from where I was.
Alright – so let’s talk business. Tell us about Lonesome Tree Productions – what should we know?
We make Westerns. As a production company, we focus on the western genre and its unique style. Storytelling is a passion of mine and I have surrounded myself with an excellent team of staunch professionals that excel at their jobs. I’m very proud of the community I am a part of and very pleased to be associated with such an excellent and hard working group of filmmakers, actors, writers, crew members and cineastes. Our third western, ‘Her Name Was No One,’ was tearing up the film festival circuit before Covid shut the world down, and we expect that it will continue to do so when the smoke starts to clear. I believe that with storytelling there is a responsibility to use our voices to tell stories that mean something and say something about today’s world and I love the challenge of using the western genre to connect people to their lives in that world. As artists, we are the mouthpiece of the populace, and we can speak for those who can’t speak for themselves. Our creative minds and big, booming voices make us weapons, and I love taking the opportunity to share stories about our fears and problems, as well as our strengths and victories through the westerns lens.
Any shoutouts? Who else deserves credit in this story – who has played a meaningful role?
I have a teacher and coach named John Rosenfeld that I’ve been studying with for four plus years now. John pushes his students and clients to always be creating and making our own material. This was really helpful in getting me in the groove of believing in my voice and my talents and having the courage to not only risk failure, but to embrace it as a part of the learning process of a creative life. In addition, most of the people who work on my team have come from the community of talented professionals I met at John’s studio.
My good and decent friend, Sean George has directed three of our westerns and I certainly wouldn’t be where I am without him. He’s a big part of my creative life and he’s always the first person I send my scripts to. He is a talented man and is great with actors, loves film making, and is a whiz with finding issues with scripts and fixing them. He and I speak the same language, when it comes to film making, and work very well together. He has been very patient with my demanding nature over the years and I am very grateful for that.
My production partner, Danielle Argyros has changed the way I view film making. Where I used to fly by the seat of my pants and make things up as I go, she has introduced organization to my world, She is very thorough and refuses to let me cut corners or settle for anything but the best. She has a great deal of experience and a wide base of talented professionals at her side who would do anything for her. This is because she brings a level of respect, passion, knowledge and kindness to the game that very few humans have ever achieved, I owe her a huge debt of gratitude and care for her very much.