in the thick of it

Yeah, so it’s a clichĂ©. It’s a good one!

It’s an apt one. A little over a month ago, I began work on my next short film project. As I said in a previous post, I pretty much had to go back to the drawing board with my team and my vision. It was a big deal. It still is a big deal, but it’s not as horrible as I thought it might be. Not at all. My new director doesn’t have a ton of experience, but she doesn’t let that get in the way. I’m really excited by what she’s brought to the table, and I can’t wait to see her grow. I even picked up a very driven cinematographer. I had no idea what a joy it could be to work with someone like him. In film school, we were all developing our eye, so… although I had worked with a few, it wasn’t at all like this. It’s the core of, maybe, a new team. I don’t want to get ahead of things, so I’ll leave it there. Maybe a new team. 🙂

As for the project itself. Wow. I have never felt more outside my comfort zone and in the deep. Being a producer sucks–and it’s awesome. I have so many people to talk to, elements to draw together, people to hire, fire, and placate. It’s a great experience, and it’s definitely stretching muscles I never thought to develop. On the flip side, I feel like I’ve lost a creative step in the process. I’m a little less involved in the actual production than I’m used to, because my head is overloaded with all these strange logistical concerns. (Not the least of which involves my ever-expanding, non-existent budget!) Forms upon forms to organize, get signed, keep together. Last minute brushfires to put out (they don’t have an 85mm macro lens anymore!). Outsiders to bring in only to learn shortly thereafter that they might’ve spoken in haste and really don’t have time to get involved.

That’s one of the hardest lessons. I already knew that people aren’t always reliable. You prepare for that. But sometimes it hurts when certain individuals you were really counting on just don’t come through because of… reasons. It reminds me a little of what happened over the summer, and some might say that I’m asking for it when I don’t take a firm stand on the issue. Just tell them they’re fired! Or write them off. Definitely don’t beg. It’s true. I could be tougher. I have been tougher, but it’s those lost relationships I miss most and wish I hadn’t lost.

Well. I’m learning.

Meanwhile… I suppose this would be a good time to plug? Sure. Let’s plug.

So my new short film is called “The Lazarus Bridge.” It’s about a young woman who’s dealing with a very unique, very difficult client at work on the day of her mother’s funeral. It stars Meghan Bordeaux (find her here, here, and here) and Matthew Hallstein. It also co-stars Isaiah Grass (catch him here, here, here, here, and here) and Journie Kalous (see her here and here). A truly gorgeous and gifted cast. And it’s directed by Crystal Contreras, a very passionate and talented filmmaker on the rise, I assure you. Our first shoot day is done and behind us (hopefully behind us), and it looks pretty damn good so far. Our final two days are this weekend, and I’m sick-excited (mostly sick) to see it come together. If anyone is interested–and, of course, you are ;)–you can check out some of my company’s work on this and previous projects.

Instagram

Twitter

Facebook

I’m still working on an official webpage. (Anyone know a good web designer?)

It’s been exhausting so far, and there’s a lot left to do (post-production, anybody?). And then, of course, NaNoWriMo is about to start too. 😩 Damn. Why aren’t there enough hours in the day? Well. Somebody wish me luck.

 

James

when things don’t quite work out

So where did we leave off? Ahh yes. On a high note!

Well. Summer came and it’s slowly on the way out. Shot, edited, and promoted the company’s first short film, That’s my D*ck! And in retrospect, I feel as though I should’ve included a disclaimer. It’s not a porno, it doesn’t have nudity, it doesn’t even have swearing (I think). It’s not offensive in the slightest. It’s just a play on words. But I didn’t say any of that, so more than a few times I got the troll lash for pushing what people thought was a porno. Lesson learned!

Not so long ago, I had a particular vision for my film company. That vision, alas, has become muddled in the last several days. I’m looking at starting from scratch (with the exception that I now have a short film under my belt and some hard-earned experience). I’m no stranger to failure, few of us are. Trying and failing is easy. It’s the getting back up to try again that’s hard.

It’s coming up on ten years soon, since I decided to steer myself toward a future in filmmaking. I’ve made a few strides, I’ve second-guessed myself a million times, I’ve screwed up even more than that. But I can only do what I think is best. I’ll miss some of the relationships that have been lost, definitely the friendships. But I can’t let the setbacks get in my way anymore. I’ve spent too much of my life nursing old wounds and sulking over past failures. Not this time.

Ever since I started writing seriously, I’ve been hyper-critical of my own work. If I don’t think it’s the best I could do, then I don’t feel especially accomplished even though I finished it. This was a problem in film school. I never owned the work that I wasn’t proud of. Maybe the hardest lesson I can learn from all of this is that I need to stand by my work. Even if it’s bad. And as I read in another blog, especially if it’s bad. I have permission to make… not-good stuff. But I can’t step away from it or pretend that it doesn’t exist.

I produced That’s my D*ck! It was a hell of a ride planning for it and shooting it. It was a slog editing it. And I don’t know what to say about the end product except that I’m proud of it. I didn’t show that before. I didn’t know how to. But I am proud of it. And I’m very proud of all the people who helped make it possible, and there were many.

Own your work, good or bad.

Get back up.

And move forward with confidence.

Are you listening, self?

so what do you do? me? i’m a writer

Going to try some visual aids. Don’t get used to it.

Sunday was an extremely busy day, involving a great deal of socializing far beyond anything I’ve done since college. Technically, the socializing was all business related but at my level of filmmaking, the notion of networking-by-hobnobbing makes it hard to tell the difference.

Trust me, we are all working hard.

Trust me, we are all working very hard.

Let’s see… meet with a hip-hop artist/producer, check. Then meet with a fellow filmmaker/assistant director, check. Follow shortly after by birthday dinner at an upscale (by my standards, anyway) restaurant with people I’ve never met before, check. And wrap up with an impromptu pre-production meeting at a friend’s house. Oh, and there may have been falafel and nausea-inducing hookah somewhere in there.

like here

like here

Sunday was a twelve-hour day, chockfull of all sorts of interactions and project planning that I imagine a full-time filmmaker does when he’s not filming. It was exhausting and emotionally terrifying for an introvert like myself. And with the exception of a few social hiccups, I loved every minute of it.

these guys may not have exactly observed the love

these guys may not have exactly witnessed the love

It was a day of introductions like “I’m a musician,” “I’m an actress,” and “I’m a producer.” And while I’m 99.9% sure none of us actually do those things for a living, what we said is absolutely true because we were describing our true selves. It was the first time I ever found myself in such an environment, where everyone was so unafraid to reveal that much about who they really are. We spoke of ourselves as we saw ourselves. As creatives. As artists.

Maybe I’ve been a writer and a producer all along. Maybe I’ve just let society, internet trolls, and my own negativity tell me otherwise. That I’m an office temp, or a security guard, or an unemployed sad sack. It’s that old argument of when a writer can call himself a writer. Does he have to be published first? Does he have to be paid enough to support himself? Or is he a writer when he gives himself over to the craft–and writes?

I think… well, no, I want to believe that it’s a matter of belief. I am what I believe myself to be, not what I do to earn a paycheck. Of course, there are probably some exceptions (I’m not an astronaut, for example), there are some caveats. And, in the case of writing, elitists and jerks the world over will be quick to judge and strike down anyone who dares assume the mantle of “writer” in the name of professionalism and butthurt. You know what I’m talking about. Friends and family members who want you to be more practical, think more practical. Mortal enemies who say you haven’t jumped through the right hoops yet.

No, I’m not a paid writer, or a published writer, or even a professional writer. But I’m a writer, dammit. I remember a moment at that dinner when a young woman asked me what I did. Without even thinking about it, I told her I was a writer and producer. And I didn’t feel the least bit silly or phony.

writers, directors, musicians, oh my!

writers, directors, musicians, oh my!

Because that’s my true self.

Oh. And here’s some cheesecake from the dinner.

because cheesecake

because cheesecake

when the feedback you’re hoping for isn’t the feedback you get

No, no clever title this time, though I admit this may still confuse some people.

When I went to film school, I had a lot of big story ideas I couldn’t wait to translate to the screen. I’d been writing for so many years, fantasizing about my stories appearing on TV or film. I’d spent days, then weeks and months developing characters and story arcs… maybe I was a little light on theme, but the hope of further developing my ideas pushed me to step way outside my comfort zone twice and move across the country to attend film school.

If you ever hear someone say that filmmaking is a collaborative art, it’s completely true. And in some ways it isn’t. Unless you’re gifted with superhuman speed, stamina, and masochistic tendencies, you need other people to work alongside you–a cast and crew. When we’re talking professional (Hollywood or “indie”) productions, there’s really no way around that. You just can’t make a film by yourself. But when I say that filmmaking isn’t collaborative, I mean that as the designated “filmmaker,” the person with the vision and the need to make this film (whether that makes you the director or the producer), it’s really all on you to push and make sure you succeed. Like with writing in general, it can be kind of a lonely road. Your vision guides the shape the story takes. Your perseverance steers the project through the inevitable tough times. (Yes, I know all about the studio system. Let’s not pop open that particular can of worms.) It may be that you’ll invite others to participate in your storytelling process, of course, but the product should reflect what you want. Don’t look to someone else to make those final creative decisions, because you’re the filmmaker. (There’s a really great text called The Independent Filmmaker’s Law and Business Guide: Financing, Shooting and Distributing Independent and Digital Films
by Jon M. Garon
that describes this concept of a “filmmaker” in its opening chapters.)

Unfortunately, I didn’t take this lesson to heart while I was at film school. Despite all my hard work, I never fully “owned” my productions, and the quality suffered for it. And for as long as I was in school, I never really understood why. I never even noticed the problems on set, or during post-production, not until it was too late.

My classmates saw it but if they knew the real reason why, they didn’t say. Despite that, they still saw more clearly than I did. They pointed out the obvious, of course. (Obvious in hindsight.) Visually, a lot of my work was a mess. I couldn’t argue with it. But I was sure the story, the script, was solid at least. Feedback on that part was minimal. Neutral. Needless to say, I was crushed. It wasn’t until I switched from a Directing concentration to Screenwriting that I finally started to received the kind of feedback I was looking for.

Except it wasn’t the feedback I was hoping for.

My professors–and especially my thesis committee–and I didn’t see eye-to-eye on my scripts. Technically and lyrically, they had nothing but high praise. Thematically and otherwise, well, I can only hope that they just didn’t get what I was trying to do. Whether they did or not, though, the feedback was discouraging. In the words of one professor (whose opinion means a lot to me), “It’s beautifully written, but I just don’t see why I should give a shit about these characters.”

Those words, even now several years later, have never left me.

it’s a wrap… sigh

Yes, I know it’s cliche. Forgive me.

This past weekend was crazy, stressful, exciting, tiring, sweaty, and truly productive. We shot and wrapped my film company’s first production. A short film, some might even call it a skit. I call it a milestone. I was sure up until the day of that something would go awry and we’d have to cancel it. And with the one exception of a missing piece of equipment, it went off without a hitch!

Yes, friends. I am in that post-production (but not yet post production!) glow, and now it’s time to kick my social media campaign into gear. With that said, here are some key links I hope you all check out and decide to follow:

http://www.facebook.com/dancingwombatproductions

http://www.vimeo.com/dancingwombatproductions

http://www.instagram.com/dancingwombatpr

http://www.twitter.com/dancingwombatpr

By the way, my company name is Dancing Wombat Productions. 🙂 Why? Well… the short answer is I like wombats. Look them up. They’re odd and adorable and can probably claw your face off if you’re not careful. The longer answer is that the “Dancing” part of the name is a dedication to a friend of mine who died not long ago. She had dreams and hopes, and we worked together briefly on helping each other pursue those dreams and hopes. I never want to forget her, and I want my efforts with my company to help honor her.

Finishing principal photography on this project is the culmination of months of work, despair, wallet-emptying, and stepping way outside my comfort zone. I made a lot of connections with people I never thought I’d meet. A talented and easygoing director. Fantastic actresses. A jack-of-all-trades musician and production crewer. And other people have supported me in this endeavor in so many ways. My mother, various friends, even some co-workers. There are so many people who deserve credit, without whom I would never have gotten to this point.

Hah. This is starting to sound like an acceptance speech at an awards show, isn’t it? Alright.

This whole thing is all the crazier considering the writing projects I have going on at the same time. My work on my manuscript is being taken to the next level with a very skilled editor. Plus I’m working on another manuscript I hope to self-publish sometime this year. It’s been such an uneven month for me. I’m a pretty impatient person, and sometimes it’s felt like I haven’t been doing anything or getting anywhere. And there’s plenty of areas in my life where that is still the case. But in this one area, this creative area, I’m beginning to see results and I can barely believe it. Of course there’s so much more work to do on this first project alone, but… no one can ever tell me I haven’t done anything ever again.