Tuesday, March 18, 2008

A Week In The LIfe Of This Filmmaker

March 6th through Sunday, March 16th, 2008

All right, so it's longer than a week. You should know by now that I rarely follow the rules - especially the ones I set for myself. In any case, I felt the need to reach back to Thursday to include HD Expo. Also, it was simply a busy 11 filmmaking days and I wanted to get it all in. What I'm highlighting are activities/events/moments beyond my usual routine of doing various and sundry FA activities, fund-raising (for FA, 5 Minute Film School and film projects), correspondence with filmmakers, development of projects, finishing of other projects and hanging out with my dog, Yatahey.


Thursday - Manned our table at HD Expo. It is essentially a small, but organized, professionally-run trade show at the Beverly Hils Hilton dealing with all things HD. Companies setup small booths to demonstrate their HD wares to the filmmaking public. And, by filmmaking, I use that in the broadest sense to include corporate video clients, game-showers, reality-show producers, etc. It's like a mini, focused NAB. We had a lot attention at our booth but it was mostly from an over-abundance of FA volunteers. Still, enough people drifted by to fill out a few pages of our sign-up sheet. Tough to know, however, who will really bring something to FA. Will they bring vibrancy to our filmmaking community? Will they bring a professional work ethic? Will they bring creative vision? Or will they simply bring a grip truck full of neurotic tics, needy questions and never-to-be-fulfilled fantasies?.....Only time will tell.

I like checking out the new technology, but discussions of workflow and codec make my head swim. I like to know what is possible and that's about it. Fact is, there has been accessible technology to make great-looking films for quite awhile, now. They're just making it better and cheaper. As I often say, in the end, it's not the technology but the ideas that will distinguish us as filmmakers.

Friday - Did a lot, but can hardly remember it in the face of a very strange phone call I got from a former FA member-turned escort-turned porn actress-turned screenwriter (ala stripper-turned-screenwriter and flavor-of-the-month Diablo Cody). She needs help with her script and wanted me to hook her up with my pal Sean Hood, who she remembers to be a talented writer (and she's right). Before I could respond, she was offering me all kinds of XXX action if I engineer the hook-up with Sean. She assured me that as a porn performer she's tested regularly and offered a web address so that I could see her in all her glory. What?! This sorta thing doesn't happen often and kinda throws one for a loop. I begged off her generous offer, of course, but couldn't help thinking about what an extreme example this was of the numerous daily intersections of sex and commerce that exist in the film industry.

Saturday - Hammered out a proposal for one of our FA sponsors. Actually, it is a follow-up to the original proposal with details about the size of our community and the amount of anticipated exposure they'll receive through FA and 5 Minute Film School. If you ever find yourself in a position to solicit sponsorship or even investorship, it is NEVER enough to just have a good idea. You have to clearly express how this good idea will benefit your intended contributor's goals/interests. To do that, you have to have clarity about what those goals and interests are. And you also have to be specific about how you will achieve those goals and interests. Earnest promises are empty without a clear plan of accomplishment.

Sunday - Got up early to open up the FA office for a young filmmaker from Palo Alto who is casting his new film here in L.A. And when I say young, I mean young. He's a sophomore in high school and came with his Dad. But he's clearly a very smart kid and serious about his work. With a kid that young, you don't expect the work to be too deep or complex (that will evolve), but you hope for originality. For a kid that young to be making films at the level he is making them is pretty amazing, but the ambition that drives the effort and the one that drives originality are very different.

Monday - A great screening at our Echo Park Film Center - our friends and partners in collective/community filmmaking. It is such a great space and has such great energy that it almost doesn't matter what we show there for it to be a great night. But the work, as always, was compellingly eclectic. And the discussions afterward were very inspiring and invigorating. We show mostly FA films, but also present films we like by L.A.-based filmmakers. This time, we showed Ari Gold's short from 2000 "Helicopter". Great film. Curious to see his first feature, "Adventures in Power" which just screened at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival.

Tuesday - I have a friend who's a very accomplished, talented artist who wants to do an archive piece of her current exhibition. But she wants to do it in a very expressive, subjective fashion so that it communicates the true energy of exhibition. Because, sadly, filmmakers are often involved with so much that has nothing to do with true creativity, a project like this is very exciting. So, I'm helping out and rounded up a handful of D.P.s for her to meet with. As I thought, they all responded the same way I did - with excitment and enthusiasm.

Wednesday - Went to Van Nuys, where the production office is for "The Revenant", the feature we are producing in April (keeps getting moved back, but this should be firm now that we are fully cast). Had to have a roll-up-your-sleeves discussion about the script and budget with the director/writer/producer, Kerry. He comically/cynically called it an intervention. He's a funny guy, but not entirely joking - or wrong. But when someone has such a clear and grand vision - a vision you truly want to support - you are ultimately faced with the realities attached to realizing that vision with the resources we have available. Kerry has been great about it all, but it's still a tough place for all involved because a true creative being does not want to compromise one bit on their vision. And as a supportive producer, you don't want them to compromise at all. But you want to make sure you can make the film. So, this is where the rubber meets the road. Where the dreams MUST become reality - real numbers, real deals, real days, real locations, real resources, etc. Kerry decides to look at cutting some things, but doesn't feel too good about it. I don't blame him, but I don't see another choice unless some last minute funding shows up.

Thursday - Had dinner with Paul Bales, formerly head of SAGIndie, now working with The Asylum. He's a great guy - among the "industry" people with whom I've worked that I really like and respect. The Asylum is a Roger Corman-esque studio that cranks out straight-to-video films with staggeringly low budgets. I thought we had it down at FA, but how they do it is nothing short of magic. Some of the titles are hilarious as the latest trend is to ride in the wake of high profile studio films with no-budget fare - sorta like they do in porn - with titles like "War of the Worlds 2: The Next Wave". But could be a great place for an up-n'-comer to cut their teeth on a feature. Maybe slip in some really creative stuff. Look what it did for the numerous Corman-ites.

Friday - Big call with a partner/investor in our for-profit company, FA Productions. He's unafraid to risk his own money, but we need far more than he can handle. So, he's busy trying to round up a big chunk of money for a slate of films/projects. But right now, we are facing one of the worst economic crises we've faced in a long time, about which I would be completely oblivious if not for hearing it from his perspective. In the short term, it makes investors a bit panicky and, therefore, conservative. But we're hoping that it all actually works in our favor as media is a bit recession-proof. In fact, it is where people go when they are completely bummed out by economic woes.

Saturday - Filmmaking-wise, tried not to do a damn thing. Needed a day to clear my head and do nothing. Almost succeeded. Still answered a bunch of work emails and further sketched out a new short.

Sunday - Our sponsors, Canon, did another HD Camera Training at the FA office. This was the first one I attended. And although I was busy managing it and doing other work, I checked in often and enjoyed listening to all that the camera can do. From my slightly removed perspective, I couldn't help but appreciate how far cameras have come and what amazing tools they've become - in a way that is more difficult for me to do at trade shows, where I am just blitzed by information overload. I still tune out when it comes to really techy stuff, but I did get an idea of what's capable. And it's plenty. From a camera perspective, no excuses not to be making a film.

I was heartened to see a good turnout for the training. It's good for us that people understand how to use their filmmaking tools. But the sense of community a nice turnout creates it is even more important. It was a fitting end to a dynamic 11 days and filled me with a sense of gratitude for, and appreciation of, the filmmaking life I've worked hard to create, but I am, nonetheless, fortunate to lead.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Live It Up and Write It Down

My life is like a bad t.v. movie. I want to turn it off, but I'm too curious about how it's all going to end. - A friend who wishes to remain anonymous

I don't know why I love that quote, but it always makes me laugh. However, I guarantee that friend's life, although truly bad, is far more interesting than a bad t.v. movie. Because it is fully-lived and authentic.

Filmmakers, especially beginning filmmakers, are notoriously film-referential. Meaning, their stories, conflicts, special moments, visual techniques, etc. are drawn from other films. Or, perhaps worse, their films reference their limited life experiences and awarenesses. I simply cannot watch another first-time filmmaker's film about filmmaking. And so-called "successful" filmmakers are no better, they just have the resources to borrow from the life experiences or artistic perspective of others. They also have the resources and/or are more skilled at warming up tired stories and archetypes with cutting-edge stylistic flourishes.

That's why I am often drawn to the work of a different breed of first-time filmmakers - the ones who aren't so obsessed with movies that they have nothing more to add to their filmmaking than low-grade mimicry. There are many poets, artists, photographers, authors, teachers, lawyers, bricklayers and more who are more compelled to express a unique and personal vision than they are simply in love with the idea of making a movie. Cinema just happens to be the medium that best expresses that vision. Their work may lack the technical polish or mastery of craft that you see in the work of experienced filmmakers, but they have two things that no amount of resources and no level of expertise can ever hope to achieve - originality and soul.


In a previous blog, I explored the development of original ideas. And I've often championed the power of poetic logic and the concept of the crucial oddity. Although these things are often birthed by something within us that defies definition, they are almost always nurtured by life experience. The genesis of imagination is every bit as mysterious as the genesis of universal existence, but like the universe itself, there is definitely something that fuels imagination's expansion and evolution. And that is, quite simply, life experience.

Now, I've certainly met people who have such deep and expansive imaginations or such unbelievable sensitivity (or both) that just a small bit of experience - or a lot of reading - takes them a long way in developing original ideas and concepts. But that is not the case with most of us. Most of us need to go out and see things, smell things, touch things and most importantly FEEL things. We need to unleash our curiosity, unfurl our antennae, unbridle our sensitivity and uncensor our obsessions.

But we do not do these things without reflection. That is the challenge of any artist/filmmaker - to simultaneously feel/experience things deeply while at the same time allowing oneself to observe them, drinking in sensual, pyschological and emotional details. And that's not so easy without either getting completely "lost" in these experiences or, by contrast, being unable to fully invest in them. That's why I tell people to live it up, then write it down when you have the chance. Journaling is a great way to catalog life experiences and impressions. Let things happen, then when you have a reasonable chance, record it in a journal. And that journal doesn't have to be a pad of paper. It can be an audio journal or a video journal. Writing works best for me, but whatever works best for you will do the trick.

However, there are a couple of things to keep in mind. Let go of the idea that you need to catch it all. It is impossible to catalog every great thought, moment, idea or feeling that may pass through your body. If you are able to do that, then I guarantee you are journaling way too much (and thus not fully invested in your life). Whatever you manage to capture will be more than enough to work with in your films. Don't obsess on what you forgot, focus on what you have. And, anyway, if anything is worth applying to or being in your film, it will return to you...again and again.

Secondly, don't create a judgment about how you journal. It may be like a diary or blog. It may be like a newspaper report. It may just be snatches of imagery or ideas. It may be poetry or a song. It can be newspaper/magazine clippings or it may be small creative projects like a photo collage or video art. Everybody expresses themselves differently and journaling is a form of creativity in itself. However, don't turn it into such a "project" that you then stop yourself from doing it regularly.

I often journal with intention. Meaning, I will have a germ of an idea that sprang from who-the-heck-knows-where, then I will pull things from the world around me that may (or may not) be relevant to that idea. And I will pull them down by writing in a journal, clipping out articles, noting news reports, marking passages in books, taking photos, downloading images - all sorts of stuff. When I do this, connecting events and images to meanings and story then, for me, becomes an organic process. As I begin to develop the idea, all of this material naturally finds its way in or out of the idea - expanding, defining and deepening it.

Not incidentally, this kind of work also helps to clarify for yourself who you are as an artist/filmmaker. The types of ideas and images that constantly re-appear for you - or about which you are openly obsessed - will tell you a lot about who you are creatively and help sharpen your artistic focus and over-all vision.

And the good news is that if you never make a single f***ing film, you will, at the very least, have lived a life. And the journaling may simply help you understand and/or appreciate it. So live it up and write it down! And in the process, allow yourself to truly experience this crazy world into which we have all mysteriously appeared and, from which, we shall, just as mysteriously, disappear someday. My goal - which my ego demands - is to leave behind a legacy of films that will enrich the mysterious journey of the lives I am now sharing and the ones I'll leave in my wake.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Free Canon HD Camera Training at Filmmakers Alliance

Event: Free Canon HD Camera Demonstration

Hosted by: Filmmakers Alliance
When: Mar 16, 2008, 6:00 PM
Location: FA Offices

1030 W. Hillcrest Blvd., Inglewood, CA


Sorry for the vacation...

Haven't posted in over two weeks. So Sorry. Life n' stuff. I'll catch everyone up tomorrow as well as summarize some things I've learned during this hectic time.

In the meantime, I leave you with this bit of video. It was posted by my friend Sean Hood on our Cinema Lovers Unite! facebook page. He says you can learn as much from bad acting/filmmaking as good. That may be, but all I think I learned from this is that every time I see it, I can't stop laughing.