in the thick of it

Yeah, so it’s a clich√©. 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. ūüôā

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.

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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. ūüė¶ Damn. Why aren’t there enough hours in the day? Well. Somebody wish me luck.

 

James

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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?

one little mistake

So I know maybe I got a bit personal. Some things you just need to get off your chest. As a writer, I work things out best when I write them down. Stories. Problems. Whatever. I didn’t work anything out yet, but I feel a lot better.

I meant to put something up yesterday. I was even thinking about it as I was shopping yesterday evening. Then I got home, and I was thinking about it some more. And then I forgot. I kept forgetting today, and when I¬†did remember, I thought about ignoring it. Give up the blog. For me, it’s still more of an exercise than anything else. But I’m in the process of changing my habits. I don’t know about anyone else, but I need to exercise the new habit for a while before it feels natural.

I started some sort of 30 day cleanse last Friday. It’s pretty intense, considering the kind of things I’m used to eating. No more flour, at all. No more sugars. Nothing fried. No egg yolk. No more red meat. Well, maybe once a week or every two weeks. Cut down on the dairy to once a week or so. And that’s pretty much my entire old diet. Sandwiches, pizza, cheeseburgers, fries, juice, spaghetti, curry, hot dogs, eggs, bacon, tacos, cookies. Ugh. The list goes on, and I’m getting hungrier as I think about it. Now I eat vegetables, mostly raw, fruit, chicken, fish, turkey. I take my coffee black. (I actually haven’t tried coffee black yet. I’m scared.) It’s… not terrible. I seem to enjoy fruit and raw veggies a lot more than I thought. I miss the other food a lot less than I thought. The hardest thing, though, is eating more frequently. I need to eat at least four times a day, and I never ate more than twice. It’s annoying. And I’m exercising everyday. Just aerobics, though, no weight training. (I hate aerobics.) For somebody with¬†ZERO willpower, I’m doing pretty good. But I’ll be honest. I’ve slipped up already, and I feel pretty bad, too. Not just mentally, but physically. Why? I guess because I’ve actually lost a bit of weight. That’s got me more excited than anything.

We need to have goals. I know what my goals are for the cleanse. Confidence. Without that goal, without repeating that to myself almost every hour of the day, I would’ve given up by day three.

We need to have goals. Especially as serious writers. I don’t know how the casual writer does things, but for those of us with a writing profession in mind, we set a goal for ourselves. Finish that book. Write that screenplay. Query the hell out of it. Meet new writers. Go to that networking event. Tell somebody about that story you’re working on (or have finished). Convince a friend to beta-read it. Goals goals goals.

My goal? Finish editing my book. Of course, I’m definitely going to look for an editor to work on it as well, but I want to give it my own pass before that happens. I’m still ironing out some kinks in the narrative I missed during the first few drafts. I’m taking a closer look at my character arcs. I’m even examining the effects of my POV fetish. But after that, my goal becomes to query my book. I will find an agent, and that agent will help me find a publisher and a market. That’s what it comes down to. Without those things constantly on my mind, I would’ve given up on the effort months ago. Because it’s hard. Damn. It’s so annoying, taking a magnifying glass to every word on the page. (My book is 500ish pages.) I’m actually about to work on the last chapter, as far as narrative wrinkles and wordsmithing go. I’m still back in the first third when it comes to my word trim and light proofread. But I’m getting there, and I’m growing more confident about it.

I’ve even set another goal, closely tied to the first one about losing weight and gaining confidence. I’m planning a week-long trip to LA. I’m hoping to go end of September, beginning of October. There are a few people out there I want to see, and there are a few things I want to do, maybe even a few meetings to set up. (Come on, confidence!) So I’m saving some money for that. And I’m getting in shape. And I’m working on my social skills a bit. With friends, with co-workers especially. I’m talking to more of them more than I have since I started. It’s hard, but it’s getting a little easier with time and practice.

Writing the blog… now that may take more time to settle into. I guess it’s mostly because I never know what’s worth sharing. I am always thinking about things, but most of it makes very little sense, even to me. Why do you care to hear about any of it? That’s the biggest mystery to me. I don’t know why anyone reads this, but I’m glad someone does. But even if no one did, I would still work at this. Because the goal isn’t to gain a ton of followers (that’s always nice, though). It’s to make this a part of my daily ritual, a regular event that I do because I¬†need to do it, not because I¬†have to. (Does that make any sense? I hope it does.)

One of the most important lessons I still remember from film school is to¬†write. Duh, you’re thinking. But I mean write a lot. Write always. Write everything and anything, even if it’s not something you intended to write before. Don’t stop yourself, don’t discourage yourself. Push yourself, not just in writing but in all things.

Push yourself. And while you’re at it, maybe push me a little?

don’t mind me, i’m just taking up space

Sometimes you look back on your week and wonder where all the time went. I don’t work a lot. Well, I mean 35 hours a week is a lot to me, but there are a lot of people who work much more. And I don’t really have any hobbies. I started working out, but that doesn’t really eat into my schedule. I write. Okay, now that takes some time, especially since I spend more time thinking about what to write than actually writing. I watch TV. Occasionally. Hell, I’ve only seen the first two episodes of this season’s The Walking Dead! (I watch other shows, I’m just being specific about that one.) But we come to Friday, and I try to figure out why I felt like I accomplished so little. And why I don’t want to do anything else for the rest of the weekend. Like write this post.

But here I am, running on fumes–creatively. Let’s see what happens.

I’m a really quiet guy. I mean, really quiet. In the past, I have been accused of being a (real-life) lurker. I prefer to think of myself as practicing to be Batman. I stand there, all quiet, and no one realizes I’m there until they turn around and whoa! Hey, sup? No, I haven’t been here long. Yeah, I know I didn’t make any noise. Maybe I should wear a bell around my neck?

My quietness extends even further. I don’t usually say hi to people, family, friends, strangers, acquaintances, anyone. Why? I don’t know. I just don’t. If someone says hi to me, sure, I’ll reciprocate. I’m not a dick. I just… seem to be one sometimes. It’s hard for me to fill the space with words whose only value is social. Hi. How are you? What have you been up to? How do you feel? Etc. How other people manage to do that on a regular, several times a day basis completely blows me away.

What it all comes down to, though, is that I leave a very light social footprint. Not sure what I mean? You’ve heard of carbon footprint, right? And you’re familiar with the concept of a footprint in general, I assume. Social footprints, then, refer to people’s general awareness of your existence in a normal social setting. I’ve gone to parties without anyone even noticing I dropped in. I swing by an old haunt, and nobody sees me. Seriously. I’m Batman or something.

I wouldn’t even qualify as an extra, if life was a film. You notice the presence or absence of extras, even if you don’t really notice the extras themselves. (Sort of like black holes. You don’t see them, but you know they’re there by the effect they have.) Now let me be perfectly clear. This isn’t a rant. I’m not complaining about anything. I’m just pointing out a recently-discovered realization. I’m okay with being the ghost in the room. Except when I need to actually make my presence felt. Then it gets tricky.

Writers need to self-promote, and they need to be bold about it. Even audacious, I daresay. Would-be authors or screenwriters just can’t be bashful when talking about a project. I’m pretty sure I covered this on a previous post, but it bears repeating.

Interestingly, this also has some storytelling application. Your characters need to serve a purpose. They can’t just sit there on the page, taking up space, doing nothing. The hero, the love interest, the villain, the foil, the audience. If you find a character in your story that doesn’t play a part, then you should think about cutting him, her, or it. Or even better, combine said character with another character of middling value to make a character of higher value. This happens all the time in adaptation from one medium to another. Book to screen writers learn how to do this, because cinema places an even higher premium on storytelling room. (Ironically, cinema also maximizes the use of background. That is, extras and characters who appear on the screen as, well, background.) If you can tell your story, beat for beat, theme for theme, without a certain character, I suggest you seriously question whether you keep that character. For first-time authors, (maybe even second-time authors), word count has some importance. Not a ton. Don’t start ticking off words like calories. But I think the old adage of “less is more” applies in storytelling. It definitely does in screenwriting. Write big, but write with economy. Don’t use a cast of ten when a cast of five can serve the same exact function.

Don’t get me wrong. I love ensemble casts. Six characters was perfect for Friends. Game of Thrones definitely wouldn’t be the same story with a more traditional-sized cast.¬†Parks & Rec,¬†Community, even Downton Abbey all depend heavily on a rich ensemble. On the other hand, Lost could’ve definitely been improved by some belt-tightening with its ensemble run amok. And Heroes. The list could go on.

We writers have something to say, right? Try to make it count.

i don’t need confidence, i have a badge!

Okay, so that’s a lie. But I was just thinking about something a buddy told me a few days ago. Project confidence, and people will respond to it. If you lack confidence, people will sense it. Nothing mind-blowing, I admit. It’s a lesson I’ve heard over and over, but these days I think of it in a different way.

I’ve always thought that self-promotion was a dirty word. Conceited people self-promote. Hacks self-promote. People without talent or… or shame do that. And maybe those sorts of people do. But they’re not the only ones. Genuine, talented, good people also self-promote.

How will anyone ever know what I do as a writer? Or care about as a writer, if I never mention it? I have always wrestled with telling people about something I achieved or was striving toward. I wrote a story that my friend turned into a feature film. I helped him edit it and produce it. I finished a second novel. These are achievements. But I never talk about them. People don’t know. Or those that do have experienced me communicate that to them via reluctant whispers, a dirty little secret I’m afraid of being judged for.

It’s wrong.

I’m extremely proud of¬†A Shallow Grave (yes, please check it out on IMDB or at the official page–if it’s still up http://ashallowgrave.com). I think the story is pretty damn good, and I’m blown away by my friend’s single-handed efforts to turn it into a reality. Of course it has its flaws. So what? It was made. It was screened¬†at a theater! It received a standing ovation.

I’ve written a book, and I’m in the process of querying it with different agents. I don’t talk about that, either, and that’s… just… unacceptable. It’s a fantasy book. It’s a great read. Someone will pick it up, I’m sure. But only if I talk about it. Only if I can speak of it with¬†confidence. Which brings me back to my original point.

Speak with confidence, all you creative types. It’s the best calling card you can ever have. Better than anything you can fit in your wallet. Speak with confidence and with¬†passion. With enthusiasm. Like you really want to share it, because you really want to share it. Right? This is me talking to myself, too. I’ve always relied on the enthusiasm of others to get the word out about what I’ve done. Doing it with my own voice is a new exercise, but an essential one. I’m gonna start self-promoting, and that’s not a bad thing at all.