Category Archives: Productivity

Go for It: Director Joshua Caldwell

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Director Joshua Caldwell got tired of waiting for permission to make his first feature film and decided instead to gather what resources he could — including his past experiences as a filmmaker — and then he and his team just went for it.

When I first “met” Josh on Twitter, we were already on a similar path with The Videoblogs, however I was impressed right away by the quality (and sheer existence) of his $6,000 feature film, Layover, which was shot a few years ago but would soon lay the groundwork for the next stage of his career.

As we talk about in this episode, it’s no small task to complete a feature film at all, never mind doing it successfully on a barebones budget.

But taking a big career step takes more than just the desire and the means. It especially takes more when those means are limited. In this episode, we also touch upon:

  • Joshua_CaldwellHow and why directing can be an all-encompassing art
  • Why Josh turns more often to books, than movies and TV, for inspiration
  • Navigating Hollywood when there is no real, specific path to success
  • The importance of moving on to the next thing
  • What filmmaking is about more than anything else — “actors performing in front of the camera”
  • How writing down your vision can help you move forward over time

This talk should be of great help to aspiring or early-career filmmakers, or really anyone who’s ready (or wants to be ready) to take on his/her first big project. Feel free to ask follow-up questions in the comments or on Twitter (Josh, me).

As reminders, you can also subscribe to Coffee with Creatives on iTunes and/or support the podcast on Patreon.

 

Learn to Bleed: Producer Eddy Vallante

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Indie producer Eddy Vallante got his start working on The Sopranos, and has been working diligently to chase (get it?) his own version of that level of creative success ever since.

Eddy and I grew up minutes away from each other in Rhode Island, but didn’t meet until a few years ago. We’ve swapped many tales of bloody indie producer battles since. Check out this latest episode of Coffee with Creatives to hear about:

  • How Eddy and his collaborators pushed their short film, Epilogue, out online, resulting in over 200,000 views on Vimeo and other channels (h/t Andrew Allen, Jason Sondhi)
  • How his early days working as a Production Assistant on The Sopranos laid the foundation for his future as a Producer
  • Why he and his partners at Amalgamated Picture Co. decided to put all their years of experience and maximum resources into one short (Epilogue)
  • Why and how it can be hugely helpful to bring productions out of major cities like New York and Los Angeles, and bring the work (and jobs!) to other regional communities friendly to film (such as Rhode Island)

We also talk about how much we love our awesome wives. If you don’t think that’s
important, then you must be new to the podcast and blog (which is totally fine, welcome!) because around here we love love.

Eddy is a good dude working on cool stuff. Follow him on Twitter for updates or to ask him or me any follow-up questions.

As reminders, you can also subscribe to Coffee with Creatives on iTunes and support the podcast on Patreon.

No Waiting: Filmmaker Christina Raia

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After a bit of a break, Coffee with Creatives is back and ready to inspire you in 2016. The first episode of the new year is with Filmmaker Christina Raia, who I first met on Twitter and then in person when Multiverse screened at Indieworks in NYC.

Christina is a prolific filmmaker with an intense work ethic. In addition to discussing the path that led to her first feature film Summit, we also discuss:

  • The many ways in which an artist can be boxed-in, in career terms, and how to help make sure that doesn’t happen
  • How we as artists change during, after, and across projects
  • Why she doesn’t like waiting before moving on to a new film or series
  • The experience of wondering if her $20,000 feature (Summit) would collapse entirely, during every day of its two-week production period
  • Learning to be vulnerable, and how that can help you (and any team members working with you) to, for instance, stick things out in sub-zero temperatures
  • In regards to her web series, Kelsey, how to achieve distribution success by reaching out to your base, or core audience

Great talk, hard-working, generous filmmaker. Summit is available now. You can find out more about Christina and her work on her site. Happy Creating! More great guests coming soon! If you enjoy our talk, please share it on Twitter or on Facebook.

As reminders, you can also subscribe to Coffee with Creatives on iTunes and support the podcast on Patreon.

 

Space Cops: Comics Creator/Writer David Gallaher

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Comics Creator and Writer David Gallaher got his first job in the industry by faxing a six-panel comics version of his resume to Marvel.

That happened at the beginning of a career that would continue to leverage technology, inventiveness, and hard work towards the co-creation (with Steve Ellis) of comics like Only Living Boy, High Moon, Box 13 and others. In 2015, Gallaher and Ellis also worked for DC Comics on Green Lantern Corps: Convergence.

David and I had a great conversation on this latest episode of Coffee with Creatives — which represents yet another instance wherein a connection began online (Twitter) before graduating to an IRL meet-up.

Among many other topics, here’s what we covered:

  • Participating in the early days of web comics
  • How a background in theatre helped David’s comics writing
  • The benefits of prioritizing productivity over perfectionism
  • How he ended up writing Green Lantern Corps for DC
  • Engineering “holy sh*t” moments
  • Why David wakes up at 4AM
  • The importance of working at your own pace
  • Why it’s crucial to replenish the well

If you like what David has to say, check out his work. And let him know on Twitter!

As reminders, you can also subscribe to Coffee with Creatives on iTunes and support the podcast on Patreon. Both actions help the show (and me) out a bunch. A. Bunch.

 

Empathic Cavities: Emily Best

emilyThe fact is, the more of the business interest you control, the more creative control you retain. Period. Full stop. — Emily Best

If you don’t already know Emily Best, I have good news for you. Not only is she my guest for the latest episode of Coffee with Creatives, she’s also probably out there, right now, traveling the country and engaging with creatives in-person and online and via her company Seed&Spark.

It’s what she does. As we discuss on the show, Emily is out there working to help create a new creative middle class. She and her colleagues at Seed&Spark have a mission and plenty of ideas, and they’re eager to talk with and help you.

These are only a few of the reasons why I place Emily among the most inspiring and respectable people I know. She’s a force. It was a delight sitting down to talk with her for an hour about the practical realities of crafting authentic art — and how to keep crafting it — in today’s ever-changing socio-economic environment.

Topics covered in our talk include:Crowdfunding class

  • How a college paper on a body modification web site, years spent running restaurants, and more years spent observing c-level executives do their thing — combined to form the foundation of what would become Seed&Spark
  • The challenges of achieving a return on investment (ROI) in today’s film environment, and how they can be overcome in service of a sustainable creative career
  • The fallacies inherent to waiting to be picked
  • How audiences really get built (digging into Louis CK as an example to duplicate)
  • Separating the definition of a fulfilled creative life from dreams of fame and fortune
  • Sitting down with yourself and/or your collaborators to honestly answer the question of what you really want
  • How new technologies can enable storytellers to root out and combat systemic inequalities
  • The dangers of being too precious about your work (process can be product)

I also asked Emily to name one thing that any creative could do in an hour to advance their career. She gave an excellent answer. If you enjoy our talk, please share it on Twitter (I am @MichaelDiBiasio and Emily is @EmilyBest) or on Facebook.

As reminders, you can also subscribe to Coffee with Creatives on iTunes and support the podcast on Patreon.

Through The Fear: Novelist Amy Koppelman

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Amy Koppelman started writing before she had any idea that she would one day become a novelist. Three books and one film adaptation later, she now has plenty to share with Coffee with Creatives listeners, especially about:

  • The cathartic, early-stage creative exploits that often later lead to our larger creative pursuits
  • Waiting for the tools needed to authentically address what we’re compelled to address
  • Learning to parse comments and criticism
  • The importance of learning — and then breaking — the rules
  • The difficulty of letting go after a thing is done
  • How and why darkness doesn’t necessarily suggest hopelessness
  • Humanizing mental illness
  • The importance of perseverance

AMyKoppelman[1]It was great to meet Amy, and to talk shop about fiction and the challenges of being a novelist. Her unflinching portrayals of characters struggling with depression, trauma, and other tough subjects — they can serve as a good reminder of how hard things can get for people who we might know and love but not always fully understand. Her discussion of the hopefulness that can often come out of that process, as well, is particularly moving.

Hesitation Wounds comes out in hardcover on November 3rd. For more information on her other books, and/or the film adaptation of her novel I Smile Back, check out her site. You can also follow Amy on Twitter.

This episode is also on iTunes.

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A Constant Hustle: Director Randy Wilkins

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Randy Wilkins fell into filmmaking after injuries derailed dreams of playing major league baseball. In this Coffee with Creatives episode, he and I discuss the details of that journey, as well as:

  • His work for/with Spike Lee, and how that has been a film school in itself
  • Juggling freelance gigs with personal creative work
  • Approaching movie-making as a magical, mysterious thing
  • The impact one or two people can have on your entire life
  • How filmmaking is like baseball
  • What to do when people ask for more (hint: give it to them)
  • Digging deep into a niche (how and why)

Like many guests on the show so far, I’ve been online friends with Randy for a while now, and it was great to hang out with him in person and talk shop for a while.

To learn more about Randy and his work, check out his site. If you like what he’s doing, you can also help him fund the second season of his web series, Docket 32357 on Seed&Spark.

This episode is also on iTunes.

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Dirty Roots: Coffee with Creatives Q&A Episode

I have tried to A your Qs...

As detailed in my previous post, this week’s episode of Coffee with Creatives is an experiment. It’s been busy lately, with The Confession and The Videoblogs both taking up a lot of my time. It wasn’t possible to prep an interview episode for this week. Still, it’s important to me to keep providing useful content on creative productivity.

So, here we are, instead. The idea for this Q&A-style episode came to me last weekend, when I received some questions about making short films on Twitter. After answering on YouTube at that time, I decided to try a Q&A episode of the podcast as well. I crowdsourced some additional questions over the week, and recorded my answers yesterday.

Both the audio from the YouTube video and my new recorded answers are included in the episode. Here are the questions that I tried to answer:

  • What’s the right length for a short film script? What genre should it be?
  • Does the creative mind ever stop and rest?
  • When writing a story, what would be your advice on how to show a trait or theme, as opposed to explaining the same to the audience?
  • How do you know when you’re being hypercritical or when you’re just not into a story anymore?
  • How do you get past the self-criticism phase of writing?
  • What is your process for creating a new story?

Please let me know if this sort of stuff is at all helpful, if I could do anything different, or if you have any follow-up questions.

Thanks for listening. If you’re enjoying the show, please consider making a small ongoing contribution to help me keep it going.

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Breaking Rules: Fast, Cheap, and Good

Screen Shot 2015-09-08 at 7.45.00 PMFast, cheap and good. You can only pick two.

The above represents a stated wisdom across a number of business sectors.

Perhaps you’ve heard a version of the statement before. For any of who haven’t, the idea is that, when considering the creation of a product, the delivery of a service, or the management of a project — that quality can only be achieved if either quite a bit of time is taken (in situations of low budgeting) or an appropriate amount of money is spent (in situations of timely delivery) in producing whatever is being produced.

We won’t even discuss fast and cheap and not-good as an option.

Why do I bring this all up? Because I believe — even in regards to filmmaking, which is a costlier artistic pursuit (in theory) than, say, narrative fiction writing — that this adage is out of date.

I believe one can produce a quality product quickly and cheaply — with some qualifications.

  • Limits must be strategically set to assure quality can be achieved.
  • Experience must be leveraged, as an asset, to help offset lowered costs
  • Cheap must be redefined at scale

To bring a practical example into the discussion, know that I bring all this up specifically in regards to my campaign to get THE CONFESSION funded, shot, and delivered to its audience — quickly.

The Limits

IMG_1639 (1)The Confession, once finished, will be shorter than Multiverse (about 7 min). That’s one limit. Also, it was specifically written (as was The Videoblogs) so that it could be shot on the go in New York City. When we shoot it, we will be cruising the streets — in daylight — which means we don’t need additional lighting. There are only two main characters in the piece.

Something I have learned about limits, after so many years of indie filmmaking — is that you empower yourself by setting as many of them ahead of time as possible. By narrowing our focus with The Confession, we’ll allow the actors to dive deep into the story material for those few minutes when they’ll be on screen.

The Experience

As I mentioned, it took me some time (and some error) to get better at proactively setting limits. Still, by now, that experience boosts the quality of most projects I put together as a more seasoned filmmaker. Beyond this, however, the cast and crew we’ve brought on board for The Confession will be bringing years of their own experience to “set” when we shoot. That’s a given on many films, however — we’ve stacked the deck with The Confession. In the name of quality and speed.

It can be hard for talented artists to band together and create something, these days. Production funds are often in short supply. Many of us have spent years pitching in personal funds, and sacrificing job opportunities, for the chance and time to string together a catalogue of good work. We squeeze tightly to what little time we have to eke out The Next Thing.Screen Shot 2015-09-08 at 3.23.12 PM

Crowdfunding helps enormously to allow each next thing thing to come, usually by combination of continual hard work and sacrifice (on our part), and the ability to pay certain hard costs, by the good-faith generosity and support of the audience.

But I believe there’s a middle ground. I believe — with the right respect for limits and on an appropriate scale — that a group of talented collaborators can come together for a day to make something fun and special, and then get that well-done, finished thing to supporters within a reasonable timeframe. It just takes a refreshed definition of cheap.

Cheap Doesn’t Have to Mean “Low Value”

When you infuse a product with the blood of experience, and spend time smartly defining some limits, so that specific areas can be adequately explored, a great amount of value is brought to its genesis that cannot be defined in hard dollars.

In today’s increasingly tech-enabled, and hyper-connected environment — it’s relatively easy to produce good work speedily. The trick is the labor.

We all deserve fair wages. I believe that. I also believe in respecting the truth behind any self-given creative endeavor.

No one’s making us go ahead with The Confession. Under all practical definitions, I probably should be resting, or focusing more completely on The Videoblogs, or Coffee with Creatives, or the new script I’m writing.

But you know what? I want to make it. I really, really do. I think the project is fun. I’m excited to have less responsibility, as Jaclyn Gramigna produces and directs. I’m looking forward to speeding through something, with no strings attached other than the making and delivery of the thing. I need to offset the hard work and the seriousness of The Videoblogs and the podcast with a dose of the non-serious but no-less universal.

So what do we do? What have we done? Well, as many of you know — we’ve gone to our audience for help.

This is not new, either for me or in general. Crowdfunding, as I mentioned, is most decidedly a thing. But even as our experience with The Videoblogs illustrates, crowdfunding in such a direct way — 1) You pay us to bring our knowledge and experience to work towards the creation of the product (film), and  2) We go immediately into delivering it — that doesn’t usually happen. Most of what we’re looking to raise goes directly to scheduling cast and crew for the day, to help us more easily and more quickly bring you a quality, funny little film.

Fast. Cheap. Good. You can only pick two.

I disagree.

I want to break that rule and try something different. It feels like the right move. Several people have joined in by now, but we don’t have a lot of time left to fund The Confession.

I’d love for you to join us.

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Do Not Crash Into The Closed Bridge

Today's pages written at the Detroit Institute of Arts.

Today’s pages written at Kresge Court (Detroit Institute of Arts).

I pulled up to a closed bridge this morning while working on the new script and thought I would share how I addressed the situation, because I would have liked to have known this was possible earlier in my career.

The below is nothing revelatory. It’s obvious. When you run into a closed bridge — whether there are signposts to lead you or not — you take a detour.

What happened is that I got the idea of where to send my characters next (as I often do) while running around living life. Except, this time, I neglected to write down the idea.

That rarely happens, but it did happen, this time. Always take the moment to write a note. I find that the act of getting it out onto paper or into an email increases the likelihood that I’ll remember it. But, often, especially as I get older and my head gets more crowded and less sharp — if I don’t write it down there’s a decent chance I will forget.

When something like this does happen, the best thing to do, I’ve found, is to (gently) work through it.

In the past, I would have gotten angry and/or depressed. I still did, today, to a degree. But I know it doesn’t pay to crash your car into the closed bridge. I felt the feelings and I accepted them and thought about where to go next.

Here’s what I specifically did to get to the other side of the bridge (the scene).

Within the document, I just started typing, as I normally would, except instead of forcing anything or not respecting the emotional block at hand — I addressed the situation directly.

Where was I sending them next? I knew but the information has slipped from my mind. I can’t remember. Was ____ not around? Did he have something to do? Or was I sending _____ to ____. I think I was sending her to _____. Next time I will take the note, but for now this is a good enough response. I forgive myself for forgetting, and for not taking the note. It’s okay. I will eventually be led to where I am intended to be led. So shall the story, under my direction.

It worked. I don’t even know if I am right about where I was planning to go. As evidenced by the above, I obviously don’t believe it matters. I just went there. The story moves on, and I with it.

Are they other ways to address a similar situation? Yes. But few are as gentle. And when you’re sitting there alone, with the difficult and lonely job of storytelling — I’d propose that many other forms of barreling through, in a situation like this — it can be waste of energy to fight or rely on brute force.

I hope all that helps.