Karl: Today is July 25th, 2014. This is my first time at Jinpachi on Santa Monica Blvd., and I’m here with my new friend, Betsy Kalin.
So Betsy, how old are you? You’re welcome to approximate if you wish.
Betsy: I’m 44.
Karl: What is your current relationship status?
Karl: How long have you been married?
Betsy: Since early May.
Karl: What? Congratulations! That’s wonderful!
Betsy: Thank you. We’re really happy.
Karl: What was that like, how did it go?
Betsy: It went great. We got married at the beach. It was really beautiful.
Karl: I think that’s the best way to do it. So what do you do? What is your occupation, or occupations?
Betsy: I am a filmmaker, and I’m also an animal communicator.
Karl: Where to start…
Karl: Let’s start with your films… Why don’t you walk us through some of your work.
Betsy: My most recent film is East LA Interchange, and it’s a documentary about Boyle Heights in East LA. It looks at the history of the neighborhood and also how the neighborhood was impacted by the freeway system. The biggest freeway in North America was built right through the neighborhood and displaced thousands of people.
Karl: How was this project born?
Betsy: The executive producer liked my work – his family is from there, and he always wanted to do a film. Boyle Heights should have had a million films already done about it – it’s such a unique and interesting story. I love the history. I just thought it was really fascinating.
Karl: How did you choose the people to feature?
Betsy: That took about two years – research, talking to people… Exactly the same thing you’re doing. We’re portraying the neighborhood as a character so we want to find representative people. We needed to shape a city through the people who lived there. I spoke to three or four hundred people. You have to decide who is going to tell an interesting story so we had to pick people who are comfortable speaking about their history and their lives and the neighborhood.
Karl: Has it been an expensive project?
Betsy: We’re still fundraising for the documentary. We don’t have all of our finishing funds yet. We’ll be done this fall if we can raise the finishing funds for post. People can contribute through our website, bluewatermedia.org, and it’s tax-deductible.
Karl: What is the most interesting film you’ve worked on?
Betsy: They’re all my babies. I love them all.
Karl: How did you get into filmmaking?
Betsy: I was an artist, so I painted and did drawings. I took photography in high school. Then video came out and I loved it. That was the genesis, and by the time I was in college I was studying film.
Karl: Why not painting?
Betsy: My mom is an excellent painter, so if your mom’s already a good painter…
Karl: I understand perfectly. Where did you go to school?
Betsy: Undergrad – I went to Columbia.
Karl: Oh, nice, what a place to study film!
Betsy: It was fantastic. Annette Insdorf, Molly Haskell, Andrew Sarris and James Schamus…
Karl: What a time to be there.
Betsy: Yes, it was awesome.
Karl: So, you’re the first animal communicator I’ve ever met, so please tell me about it.
Betsy: I started a business called Animal Babel. Basically I’m a translator for people and their animals. I communicate with animals and translate for people.
Karl: I grew up with pets and can imagine this is a booming business.
Betsy: It’s good. I’ve always wanted to do something in a helping profession but I was always an artist, so I would make films that would help people, or brought about awareness… Now I’m able to help people directly.
Karl: You must love animals.
Betsy: I love animals, they’re so happy. After I talk to them, it feels as if they’re giving my heart a hug.
Karl: How did you discover this talent? Do you have to work at it?
Betsy: I’ve been training for years. One day I was at a friend’s house, and I got this image of spaghetti with tomato sauce, neither of which I eat. There were people around, so I asked them, “Does anybody want spaghetti with tomato sauce? I have no idea why this image just popped into my head.” My friend said, “Oh! The cat! He really likes spaghetti and tomato sauce! It’s his favorite thing. Whenever I’m cooking I put a little bowl down for him.” So, I said, “Well, the cat wants some spaghetti!” And that’s when I figured out that I could communicate with animals. And then I started training.
Karl: How? I mean… Where does one even go?
Betsy: It’s energy work.
Karl: Spiritual, meditative?
Betsy: All of that. There are teachers in schools that help you.
Karl: Can you just google those schools, or…
Betsy: I was already connected to the spiritual community through my film Hearts Cracked Open, so I just found a teacher that I had already known and respected and I just started working with her.
Karl: Who has been the most interesting client you’ve had?
Betsy: They’re all interesting. Every single one is unique and interesting. And they all come for different reasons. Some people come because their animal is really sick and has health issues, and they’re not sure if they need to put the animal down. They want me to communicate and find out what’s going on with the animal. So I have saved lives, which is really rewarding. It wasn’t that they were sick, they actually had some other issue going on that they were able to communicate to me and that solved the problem.
Karl: So Betsy, walk me through the process… Does someone walk into the office with a sick dog or…
Betsy: Not at all. Because this is a psychic practice, it’s telepathic. So I can do it over the phone. So literally they just call me and I tap in and start talking to the animal.
Karl: Are you receiving images?
Betsy: Images… Feelings… And words. Some animals can talk in complete sentences which is really freaky. I mean, I’m from Connecticut, this is weird!
Karl: No, I can only imagine. This is an ability people only dream of having so it’s amazing to discover something like this in yourself.
Betsy: It is a great gift, I just didn’t know at first what to do with it, and that’s where the training comes in. You realize you’re just there to help. It’s not even really you doing it, it’s spirit doing it, and the goal is to help and heal.
Karl: Do you get these visions from people too?
Betsy: Yes. You can. It’s wild. But I like working with animals because so few can do that, and the animals are so appreciative when you speak on their behalf.
Karl: I have a close friend who always told me that she likes animals more than she likes people.
Betsy: *laughs* I like people too!
Karl: No, I’m not saying that’s you, I just mean they’re probably a lot more charming than a lot of people you meet.
Betsy: There are a lot less complications. When they say something, they say it. There’s not all of this other stuff going on underneath the surface. What you see is what you get and what they say is what they mean.
Karl: When you’re walking down the street, are you picking all of this stuff up?
Betsy: I try not to — that’s not healthy.
Karl: Has your gift affected your relationship?
Betsy: It affects everything.
Karl: Do you find yourself staring at your wife for visions and trying to figure out what’s going through her head?
Betsy: No! And don’t you do that to your wife or your kids either!
Karl: I might do that to people if I could, purely out of curiosity.
Betsy: I look at things in a positive way – things are happening in a way that is meant to help you in your life. That is how I see my relationship and is how I live my life.
Karl: Do you have to know anything about the animal before you tap in?
Betsy: Nothing. The client just says, “I’d like to communicate with my animal.” So I check in with the animal and usually what the client wants to talk about is the first thing the animal talks about. It’s very helpful with behavioral problems, like if you have a cat that’s peeing indoors. If you ask them, “Why are you doing that?” They’ll say, “I’m scared to go outside. There’s this cat that’s really mean and is bothering me. If you go outside with me then I won’t pee in the house.” There you go. That’s the issue. You might have to walk the cat but… We walk dogs.
Karl: Do you find them to be so exuberantly excited when they realize that you can understand them?
Betsy: When I’m in the room doing a reading on a dog, even if they’re agitated before, they will suddenly lay down and start to look all dreamy. Their tail will go up and down and they look so happy and relaxed. I work a lot with rescued animals because people want to know what their pasts were like. Once I was talking with this woman and she was asking me about her dog’s past, the dog kept coming over to me, and then going over to her, and then to me, and then to her… He was saying, “Oh my God, now you know, now you know, now you know…” He was so happy! They communicate with us all the time, they’re just not being understood usually.
Karl: Our reaction is, “Why are you barking so much?!”
Betsy: And their’s is, “I’m trying to tell you!”
Karl: At the heart of it, you’re a relationship therapist.
Betsy: That’s exactly what it is. I did a reading for this woman recently who had a cat that was really sick. He was doing these behaviors that were making him sick, so I had to tell him, “You’ll get sick, don’t keep doing this. You don’t want to feel the way you’re feeling now.” I had a friend who went over a couple days later, and she said he was a different cat. She said, “He used to run from me. Now he comes over to curl up with me and snuggle.” His behavior completely shifted.
Karl: You must get stories like that all the time – results that you see. Do they have to call you back often? Is there a lot of “repeat offenders?”
Betsy: Sometimes. I offer packages for people who have a serious behavioral issue that they want me to keep working on. Animals are like people, we don’t break our habits overnight. Sometimes it takes one session, and sometimes it takes two or three.
Karl: Do you encounter many stubborn animals that just don’t want to deal with it?
Betsy: Well, you can’t tell them what to do. You can’t say, “Don’t do this!” You have to explain why you don’t want them to do that. Then they get to say, “Well, I want to do that because…” And you have to find a middle ground.
Karl: I think your skills could also be incredibly useful with babies, primarily infants. Parents would pay a lot of money to have someone like you communicate with their newborns.
Betsy: Though I don’t have kids, I adore them. They’re really fun to play with.
Karl: I would imagine kids love you.
Betsy: They do, they can be so creative. I can live in the imaginary with them.
Karl: Do you like to go out much?
Betsy: I don’t go out much, I don’t drink, and I can’t be around cigarette smoke. I like to go to bed early, like 10:30. For years, I didn’t even know that I lived in a neighborhood that was really happening at night. I didn’t find out until I had some friends stay with me who go out at night. They said, “Do you have any idea what it’s like here at 1:00 in the morning?”
Karl: So what are some of the things you like to do in your free time?
Betsy: I love to go to movies. That’s my favorite thing. Just went and saw an exhibit at The Hammer. I like to go to the beach, I like hiking, and I like to travel.
Karl: You’re wrapping up a film… You’ve launched a new business… I’m surprised you still have time to do anything else. That says a lot about you.
Betsy: It’s hard. Especially when you work for yourself. You can’t work everyday.
Karl: When did you move here?
Karl: What led to your move? Why LA?
Betsy: I graduated from film school and had already lived in the Bay Area for a number of years. I knew that it was really hard to find work in the Bay Area and it was so expensive so I moved here.
Karl: Was that difficult?
Betsy: No, I loved it. I love California. And San Francisco was a little cold for me.
Karl: Can you describe West Hollywood to people who have never been here before?
Betsy: The reason I love West Hollywood is because it’s a walking area. As a former New Yorker and a former San Franciscan, I like to live in a neighborhood where you can walk around and do all of your shopping. I also like all the city events and programs.
Karl: Do you find the community to be embracing?
Betsy: Yes. And it’s nice to be gay and be in a mostly gay city… And a friendly city. That’s the thing that people freak out about – they don’t realize how friendly people are here. Complete strangers will come up to you and say, “Hi, how are you?” My east coast friends get freaked out.
Karl: Can you describe some of the changes you’ve seen since 1997?
Betsy: The biggest change I’ve noticed is the building. Like my street… A single-family home can get razed so that all these condos can go up. It’s become much more dense.
Karl: How about within the community and the people?
Betsy: You know, not in my world. I’ve been active in the queer community so my world has pretty much stayed the same. The people you see walking around – that’s changed, but they’re not really people that I know, they’re not a part of my daily life.
Karl: How have the people changed? The people walking around I mean.
Betsy: You mean the influx of straight people? Yes, there are more straight people.
Karl: Have we taken over?
Betsy: Definitely not. Have you been to the Starbucks up the street? You guys have definitely not taken over.
Karl: What would you like to see more of here?
Betsy: More arts programs, more arts events, more venues. The City of West Hollywood is pretty good about those things… There’s a gay and lesbian advisory board, there’s a women’s advisory board, there’s a lot of good stuff going on. And I’d like to see more of anything affordable.
Karl: You’re referring to the housing?
Betsy: Yes. I don’t want to get priced out of my own neighborhood.
Karl: How about less of?
Betsy: Leaf blowers.
Karl: Good one.
Can you describe what the area will be like in twenty years?
Betsy: You mean if it hasn’t fallen into the ocean? I honestly don’t know what will happen here. I feel like something really big will hit California. I don’t know what it’s going to be, but I think it might be something really different.
Karl: This really worries me hearing this from you.
Betsy: *laughs* It should. These are issues that I’m dealing with within the Boyle Heights documentary – trying to see the difference in a neighborhood over time. We’re really looking at it from so many different time periods – Pre WWII, WWII, Post War, Korean War, all the way up… You can’t predict. There is no way to know what’s going to happen. Even now, with some gentrification in the neighborhood… You can guess that it’s going to gentrify to a point that it’s going to displace residents, but there are a lot of people in the neighborhood fighting against that. So it’s hard to say.
Karl: Are you happy? Are you going to stay?
Betsy: Yes, I love it. This is the best place I’ve ever lived.
Karl: What advice would you give people following in your footsteps? Up and coming filmmakers… People discovering for the first time that they can communicate with animals…
Betsy: I don’t think that person exists.
Karl: *laughs* Well then what would you say to yourself when you first moved here?
Betsy: “Stick with it. Stick with whatever feels right. In this industry you can’t take ‘no’ for an answer.” I made my own films because I thought, “Well, I can make them. I can do all of this stuff if I need to.” So that’s what I did. I made the work that I wanted to make. And with the animal communication, I had to give myself a pep talk. I had to tell myself, “Okay, this is weird… But find out more about it… Just be open… And see what happens.” And it’s been really fulfilling to be on that path and think, “Oh my gosh, I can really do this. This is a gift that I didn’t know I had, so just get over it being weird.”
…Or maybe I should use the word, “unusual.” I mean, this is California, so it’s much less unusual here.