Even while living in Los Angeles and working in the heart of the movie industry, there was one thing Janelle Dolan yearned to have: more time with her family.
She found it in Nags Head.
For 10 years, Dolan was a working union member on numerous films, including the American biographic comedy-drama “A Futile and Stupid Gesture." The Netflix original film made its world premiere at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival on Jan. 24, and was released two days later on Netflix. She also worked on some of the most popular TV shows, including "Brooklyn Nine Nine,” "Jane the Virgin," and the Netflix series “GLOW.”
Set painting — specifically faux painting — is a narrow niche in the entertainment industry. Positions are highly coveted, and hard to come by. Dolan, who has no formal art training, says she fell into the field through a series of serendipitous events.
“I always liked to paint, and my friend was a lead painter (on a series),” she says. “I knew I could do it, but it’s hard to get into the union. It took me two years.”
Dolan loved using her faux painting skills to make surfaces look “like the real thing.” That granite countertop in the sitcom kitchen? Not granite, but wood painted with a granite pattern. The tile floors? Painted on. The fabulous stone fireplace? Fiberglass with painted patterns.
Set painting is demanding work. Although many sets are destined for the recycle bin, paradoxically the finish work is more meticulously crafted than the trim in a $10 million Beverly Hills mansion, she says. The cameras never lie, and they never blink.
“Oh, yes, work on making the kitchen quality on a TV set is way better than in any mansion,” she says. “There can be no light leaks, no visible seams, no nail holes. Every piece must be flush and perfectly smooth. Then, we throw it all away.”
The irony is that when painters do their job correctly, no one notices it. If a TV audience is admiring the sets, then the actors and writers have not done their jobs. For Dolan, the work was “wonderful” — challenging, stimulating, and very good money.
But after a decade in La La Land, the long hours and high stress levels — plus a marriage in 2014 to husband Brandon Dolan, and the birth of their daughter, Mazie — caused her to reassess her career focus.
“After I got pregnant, I decided I just couldn’t keep doing it. I worked 12-hour days, five or six days a week,” Dolan says, adding she was granted an “honorable discharge” from her union, Local 729. “I wanted to be the mommy to my child.”
Her husband, an avid surfer, had been visiting the Outer Banks since 2012. He kept urging his wife to visit, so they made a trip together over Thanksgiving in 2015.
That’s all it took. They “fell in love” with the area and actually bought a house during that visit. A few years later, they made the permanent move, spending six months driving their RV cross country, visiting relatives and stopping at national parks.
Dolan now manages vacation rentals — handling the booking, cleaning, and maintenance. She also has spent the past two years learning to sail. That hobby has let her keep up her faux painting skills, working with Everett Nautical, creating faux teak and faux stone on fiberglass boat fixtures and trim. She can also hang wallpaper, create any faux finish, and tool leather. But what she likes to do most is hang out with her daughter.
“What’s different here? It’s all different. I took a big risk leaving Los Angeles. But I’m grateful that my husband brought me here,” she says. “Instead of being a workaholic, I am able to step back and figure out what is important. That is my family.”
The money in L.A. was better, but that only meant she had more money to spend. Now, she knows the currency that rules Hollywood does not rule her.
“I don’t need a lot of money right now. I’ve learned the difference between ‘needs’ and ‘wants’.”
She also knows the difference between what’s real and what is illusion.
“In Hollywood, it’s all a huge façade. It’s all about fame, credits, money, and who you are trying to impress. Living in the Outer Banks, there is the opportunity to live a simpler life, and to be able to really enjoy the world God has created for us,” she says. “I’m outside more, breathing fresh air and working on my tan, and not in a sound stage. I am really experiencing life now.”