Tag Archives: #VideoblogsFilm

Reason for #VideoblogsDialogue Grant Age Limit

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Hi, Everyone! Thanks to all who have spread the word about the #VideblogsDialogue. I wanted to write a quick update on why the $1,000 grant (which is the centerpiece of the prize package for the cost) is for entrants age 18-24 only. We’ve received some questions about this rule, so from now on this post will serve as the answer.

Before I get to that, I’d like to reiterate that anyone can enter the contest, for the chance to have their submission included in the credits for The Videoblogs. The main goal here with the contest, as it is with the film itself, is to talk more openly, more often, about mental health.

As for the age limit, it was put in place because the next big goal of this contest is to “pay it forward” and help younger artists who might right now be where we (the producers) were a few years ago, both a bit afraid to dive into this sort of material but also low on resources and in need of mentorship.

Of course, we encourage artists and filmmakers of all ages to produce new, courageous work about difficult subjects like mental health. And, to be clear, you may reach out to either Rebecca or me at any time, on social media or email, with any questions you feel we might be able to answer if and when you’re ready to Make Your Thing. Also, this site is full of essays (and a growing list of podcast episodes) containing testimony and resources about how we’ve navigated the last several years of our careers as filmmakers.

But it’s often a little harder for younger artists to scratch by. We wish we could award an ever larger grant, or many grants, to people of all ages. And maybe we will someday. Perhaps in the future we’ll be able (or find it helpful) to grow or change the contest. For now, though, we believe we’d be of the most service by focusing the most effort on tomorrow’s artists, who are in the process of inheriting the world we’re giving them — one not without hope, but where we need more dialogue on mental health.

We hope anyone outside the age range for the grant will still consider submitting a video, and/or supporting those brave younger artists who are currently sending their videos to the contest. We sincerely appreciate ALL OF YOU who take the time to visit our site, follow us on Facebook, and just generally spread the word. It all helps the cause, I think.

If anyone has any follow-up questions, please feel free to ask here or on Twitter.

A Pair of Shorts: New Screenings

Well, hey! I’m excited to announce that both The Confession and Multiverse will be screening next week!

The Confession will be playing at IndieWorks in Manhattan, which is awesome because that’s where Rebecca De Ornelas and I met the film’s Director Jaclyn Gramigna, when Multiverse screened there at the same time as her short, Downtown.

This month’s IndieWorks is on March 16th, at Subject NYC. Doors open at 6:30PM and screenings start at 7:30PM.

Director Jaclyn,  Lead Actress and Producer Rebecca, and Lead Actor Jeremy Plyburn and I will all be in attendance. So, if you haven’t seen the film yet, come on down and watch it with a group. If you have seen it, come on down anyway and watch it (and all the other great shorts) with a group.

Multiverse will screen as part of the Cinema Club screening series in Brooklyn, as part of their 50th program, “Handshakes but Headaches”. I’m just guessing, but I think we might be part of the “headaches” portion of the program 🙂

Cinema Club takes place at Videology in Brooklyn, and screenings for this month’s session will start at 8PM on March 17th. Lead Actor and Producer Rebecca and I will both be in attendance.

I really want to show you my shorts. If you like them, you might like The Videoblogs, too.

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The Videoblogs Dialogue: Now Live!

When Rebecca and I were in the early stages of planning The Videoblogs, we met at one point with Gary Chou at Orbital in NYC. We’ve come to treat that meeting as a special one, because Gary listened to our plans (which we’ve mostly followed and are still following) but challenged us to see if we couldn’t take them a step further.

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By now, if you’re a reader of this site, you know that we’re making The Videoblogs to contribute to a greater dialogue on mental health in America. And while the hope is that the film itself will become a part of that conversation, Gary’s challenge helped us address a lingering feeling that we weren’t quite taking our plan far enough, in terms of creating a project that not only sparked conversation but encouraged an interactivity that more closer mirrored today’s rising tech-enabled general culture — and its positive potential, more than its dangers.

We’re leveraging and addressing, with The Videoblogs itself, new technologies and new technologically-affected ways of living. And yet the overarching thematic message that we’re seeking to put forth with the story, in these terms, is that we can reach out through the screen to connect, not only virtually, but as a gateway to more of the real-life interaction upon which the human spirit fundamentally subsists — even as technology is making the rest of what goes into subsistence easier and more accessible.

In concrete terms, Gary pushed us to consider how we could take our message and apply it to an active, real-life, two-way solution. The idea greatly appealed to me, as I’ve grown increasingly frustrated by the broadcast-only structure of legacy long-form storytelling. And Rebecca took the challenge head-on. After some back and forth with Gary, we started working to plan The Videoblogs Dialogue in parallel with the production and release of the film.

It took some time to get going (we’re bootstrapping indie filmmakers after all!), but now it’s here. And I’m very excited and very proud and thank Gary and Rebecca for their roles in making it a reality.

Special thanks also to Paul Gilmartin, Grace Parra, Ashely Esqueda and Alice Spivak for lending their time to the contest and the cause. Their early commitments to serve on the jury for The Videoblogs Dialogue helped us gain momentum in the early days of planning, and even though it took some time to get the contest together and now launched, we continue to remain grateful for their help.

And of course thanks also to:

  • Project UROK, an official partner in the project, and an organization that does amazing work encouraging people to talk more openly and honestly about mental health
  • Co-sponsor Seed&Spark, a forward-thinking company that helps empower film and media storytellers, and promotes community and interdependence in the independent film industry
  • And co-sponsor Big Vision Empty Wallet, a film and media incubator that encourages and supports filmmakers working in today’s tech-enabled environment and champions diversity in storytelling

More below. But all the information, including how to enter the contest, can be found on the site for the film. I look forward to seeing what entrants submit. Let’s (safely) talk about this stuff.

thevideoblogsposter (1)The Videoblogs Dialogue is a user-generated video contest, in which participants submit their own videoblogs (3 min or less), pertaining to themes of mental health and/or personal struggle. Participants aged 18-24 are eligible to win a $1,000 Cash Prize and Mentorship package, to be put towards the creation of their own short film on mental health. Anyone age 18 and up can enter for the chance to have their videoblog included in the closing credits of The Videoblogs.

We’re running this contest to contribute to a greater dialogue about mental health in America, and to encourage tomorrow’s artists, filmmakers and performers to bravely engage with what have classically been labeled as difficult subjects (depression, anxiety, trauma) with an ultimate focus on hope.


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Hiring: Assistant PMD, The Videoblogs

After the lab, we will set our sights on completing the film and gearing up for next steps.

Team #VideoblogsFilm is on the lookout for an Assistant Producer of Marketing and Distribution (PMD) to join marketing and distribution efforts for our independent film about mental health in today’s busy, tech-enabled environment.

Do you…

  • Feel strongly about advocating for a greater dialogue on mental health in America?
  • Have experience and a great interest in independent film, or a comparable art form?
  • Have room in your schedule to commit to performing specific administrative and research tasks, on a weekly basis, beginning ASAP and continuing through May 2016 (possibly beyond)?
  • Want to gain experience in the marketing and distribution of a truly independent film?
  • Want to establish a working relationship with hard-working producers who release a film at least once per year?
  • Live in the NYC area?

If so, please review the job responsibilities below. Apply via the instructions at the bottom of this post if interested in the position.

Responsibilities

  • Maintain and update project calendar, keep core team on track with deadlines
  • Set meetings, take notes, work with core team to update business plan(s) as appropriate
  • Under direction of Producer of Marketing and Distribution (PMD), research and catalog list of potential partner organizations, on national and local (US city) level
  • Under direction of Creative Producer, assist in research and outreach tasks related to The Videoblogs Dialogue
  • Help coordinate screenings in several cities
  • Assist PMD with digital release strategy implementation
  • Other administrative tasks

Compensation and Timeline

  • $250/wk, from start to May 2016
  • Flexible hours, mostly remote work
  • Potential for continued employment with this project
  • With good performance, strong consideration for larger role in next project produced by same core team

This position is project-based. The weekly amount of hours it will take to perform will depend largely on how long it takes to effectively and efficiently meet deadlines. The Assistant PMD will not be expected to work full-time, but will need to be able to perform tasks on a weekly basis and respond to emails and calls in a timely manner.

Application Instructions

  • Please send a brief cover letter to mdibiasio [at] outlook [dot] com, summarizing relevant experience, your interest in the position, and what your goals would be in performing the role of Assistant PMD.
  • Attach a resume (in PDF form only).
  • Also, at the end of your cover letter, please identify the last great book you read, and include a one-sentence reason why you loved it. Alternatively, you may also tell us about the last great meal you ate (and why you loved it).

Applications that do not follow these instructions will be sugar-shamed and then deleted. We look forward to reviewing your applications!

 

 

What I Liked This Week: Hustler Edition

No. Not the nudie mag. Not even the iconic film.

This week, I’m highlighting three resources I stumbled upon, or sought out, that helped me hustle. As in work. Hard. Quickly. Efficiently.

Fractured Atlas Space Finder

It took me all of five minutes to find a space and book it. That's how it should go.

It took me all of five minutes to find a space and book it. That’s how it should go.

I did not know this existed. It’s fantastic. From Fractured Atlas:

For artists, the process of finding work space can be frustrating and inefficient. Meanwhile, venues have limited resources to spend finding new renters. Earned revenue is critical for creative venues yet many rental spaces are tragically underutilized. Through the SpaceFinder program, Fractured Atlas is increasing visibility of rental options, helping artists find the space they need, and helping venues promote and rent their spaces.

What happened was that I needed a space to record my Coffee with Creatives interview with Rick Younger (Coming Soon).

When I meet people in the city, especially when they’re doing something kind like meeting me to talk, I like to try to find a place or a space that’s easily accessible to them and either halfway between where we’re both going afterwards or at least fairly close. This time around, I was in a bit of a rush to find a spot, and didn’t know of too many spaces, off-hand, that would be quiet enough to record a podcast. The Space Finder allowed me to find something, quickly. It’s a great resource and I appreciate that it exists.

Filmmakers, actors, performers should check it out.

A Different Kind of Meditation: An Analysis of Word of Mouth (WOM) Marketing

Up is down and down is up.

WOM starts with doing something different.

I believe I stumbled upon Lincoln Murphy’s great Medium piece on WOM via GrowthHackers.

Anyone interested in authentically building an audience, and then smartly and honestly growing that audience, would do well to read it. Murphy specializes in Software as a Service (SaaS) but rightly points out that his observations apply universally to most companies.

I’d take that further, and hitch it up to the “Filmmaker as Entrepreneur” argument, to include anyone whose work would and does benefit from WOM.

The biggest take-away, in my opinion — WOM starts with a great product. From there, it’s about talking to your audience, and asking them what they like and want. It’s about participating in a relationship — not simply selling.

I shared the post with Seed and Spark’s #FilmCurious crew, and people seemed to agree with me that all this is relevant to what we do. For me, that seems to prove Murphy’s point.

Speaking of the #FilmCurious…

Click the image to read a transcript of the chat

Click the image to read a transcript of the chat

This conversation couldn’t have been more appropriate for me. First, contributing towards a new and more equitable business model for indie film is my greatest obsession after contributing towards a greater dialogue about empathy and equality (through storytelling). In addition to that, after bringing The Videoblogs to Big Vision Empty Wallet’s (BVEW) 2015 Distribution Lab — I and the #VideoblogsFilm team are now working hard to iterate our business plan, finish the film, and get it out into the world.

Chat guests Jon Reiss and Adam Leipzig were very helpful, and gave a lot of great advice during the chat. As usual, the #FilmCurious crew also brought their own juice to the discussion. I brought fruit punch. It may have been spiked.

Good read. Get on it.

And have a good week.

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The Videoblogs Selected for Big Vision Empty Wallet’s 2015 Distribution Lab

After the lab, we will set our sights on completing the film and gearing up for next steps.

After the lab, we will set our sights on finishing the film and gearing up for next steps.

Hey, Team #VideoblogsFilm!

Rebecca and I are excited to announce that The Videoblogs has been selected to participate in Big Vision Empty Wallet’s 2015 Distribution Lab.

From BVEW’s site:

The goal of the program is to provide producers with the tools, information, and relationships they need to secure distribution deals for their films and be prepared for distribution.  Official education partners VHX and Seed&Spark will be instrumental in educating participants so they can optimize their projects to receive lucrative distribution deals and also plan for self distribution as a means to maintain ownership and make a profit, not as a last resort.

We’re very excited for this opportunity to better prepare for the eventual distribution of the film, to work with BVEW, VHX, and Seed&Spark (and other groups and pros) on our strategy, and to meet and engage with the other lab participants.

Here’s the announcement, that includes a bit more info, and links to summaries of the other selected projects: http://bigvisionemptywallet.com/distribution.

Thank you, again and as always, for all your help with making this film happen. We’ll continue to keep you posted on our progress.

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Shooting Your Own Script? Watch For These Mistakes

Woah. Photo credit: Rebecca De Ornelas.

Woah. Photo credit: Rebecca De Ornelas.

As announced (via a fun video) in my previous post, I recently completed a rough cut of The Videoblogs. In editing the film over the course of the past several months, I have observed a few things about the relationship between the script and the footage that I want to share, in case any might help other writers or filmmakers (particularly Writer/Directors) who are planning to shoot their own script or considering this option.

It’s a path I recommend, though it’s not easy, and while The Videoblogs is my first feature I have come across some of these same lessons before, while producing shorts and a featurette (try to avoid ever making a featurette). Some or most of the below are potentially even unavoidable, but I think any way we can learn from even “normal mistakes” can help lessen the scope or impact they might have on the end products (the films) in the future.

Similarly, none of these observations are new, to experienced filmmakers especially but, really, anyone with a prolonged relationship with project work. I went into the edit aware that I was going to be creating a different version of the film that was shot, which was itself different from the version that was written, which was itself the best I could do to translate thoughts and feelings and pictures that were banging around in my head…onto the page. Still I think looking back and comparing what was written to what (so far) appears to be landing in the actual film is a useful exercise for growth.

Also, The Videoblogs is as much an experiment in sourcing out (or honing) a contemporary model for quality low-budget filmmaking, as it is a sincere effort at making art and getting it out there. So another reason for taking this time to share these observations is out of the hope that they may be helpful to anyone thinking of doing the same now or in the future.

It always helps to hone a script to the point that time and money can be saved, or better directed towards the right material that will ultimately make it into the film. But in the (very) low-budget sphere, these sort of savings arguably have a larger impact — they can be the difference between pulling the whole thing off at all. More than filmmakers with higher budgets, independents need to truly maximize every second and resources in order to arrive at the best possible version of the film.

Along these lines, I think the best way to report on my findings is to direct my “advice” to someone who has a “final” draft of their script and is on their way to production — though much of the below can be considered at any time after the first two or three drafts. A lot of what I’m about the dive into is about making the script better — which is an obvious priority but not always one we’re able to face up to, even when we’re rewriting with this sincere intention, and especially in cases when the director and writer are the same person.

As a sort of aside, while getting trusted feedback during rounds of rewriting should always be part a script’s journey — in my experience it’s extra important for Writer/Directors (or Writer/Producers) to arrive at as honest an estimation of a script’s strength and weaknesses as possible, separate from your own ego, via several rounds of peer review. I’ve even realized lately (more on this below) that I still need to get better at this personally. So please understand that I include myself  — especially my younger self — in the “judgments” contained within the following two paragraphs.

To be blunt: I long lost track of the amount of times I have started watching independent films in particular (even those with a healthy scattering of festival laurels) and stopped very early on in the running time. Almost always, it’s because of “bad” writing (more accurately, unfinished or polluted rewriting). Many times, I’m left feeling like the filmmaker either isn’t a writer (if they’re directing and writing), didn’t trust or adequately challenge the writer (if they’re just directing, and collaborating with a peer) and/or didn’t do his/her project justice by seeking out tough feedback, either by going through that difficult process personally or by seeking out the opinions of peers who will challenge them (I have found that employing both strategies is best for me).

Not all advice is good, and not all advice has to or should be taken. But definitely it should be sought. And in the very low-budget, self-propelled indie sphere, no one is going to force you to chop away at your script, especially as late as the month before production — at which point everything can often feel too much like a moving train, imbuing the risk of changes with a disproportionate charge of fear. Table reads and rehearsals are a good way to start doing so, however, because good actors often have a more direct feel for what’s working on a character and dialogue level than readers, (or even some writers who are too close to the material), but I’ll get to that in a moment,

Anyway. On to it.

Watch for under-confident writing

At several points while editing, I noticed our talent struggling (valiantly) through certain scenes or parts of scenes. Their performances weren’t bad in these instances — our cast is talented and stocked with hard-working pros — but in observing these shots or sequences against others that definitely worked, I found what I believed to be the difference. It was the writing.

Rehearsal smoked out some extraneous material.

Rehearsal smoked out some (but not all) extraneous material. Photo credit: Zach Nading.

I revisited the script, upon encountering many of these scenes, and what was not clear to me before production became immediately apparent now during editing — several scenes were buttoned (at the top and bottom) with under-confident writing. I meandered sometimes on the way in to what a scene was about, and/or lingered too long on the way out if it.

Now, partially, this was a byproduct of a purposeful decision (also related to budget) to write a more conversational, real-world script. This seemed a necessity in order for our story conceit (which jumps between videoblogging and real life at many points) to work in a convincing way. However, it doesn’t change the fact that my talent couldn’t find enough of a foothold in that reality at those certain points. And a few scenes (but not too many) didn’t work altogether.

As a student of filmmaking, I know that this happens. It didn’t happen, really, with my short films. It did happen with the featurette. I think the long-form production is just a different animal in this sense, in that the stakes are higher and the demands of storytelling are greater and more complex. Sometimes, it’s just safer to shoot with a bit of breathing room. Still, again, the hope is to create as little waste as possible from production to production. Under-confidence simply doesn’t belong anywhere within a professional product. I don’t mean to suggest that we can or should stop the feelings that inform under-confidence — we just have to guard against them at every stage, in my opinion, to protect the story and the film.

In looking at these longer-than-necessary scenes on paper, it became clearer to me, after the fact, that many could have been cut down. As compared with the majority of our timeline, the cuts were minor. But some material could have been excised on a script level. I could have squeezed a little more juice out of our budget and schedule by facing up to the under-confidence that was padding the narrative. A good editor is going to cut such bloat (I try to be a good editor, even when it hurts my other heads). And, again, a good actor can’t do their job in spots where there’s no soul in the words — though a kind one will try.

Thankfully, none of this was so bad that I was left very regretful about wasting time and money. Regret’s kind of a waste, in itself, anyway. I just want to do better next time.

Watch for over-confident writing

Conversely, I have also made similar cuts, moving from the script to the edited timeline, at points when the writer in me got too confident, and doubled-down on using only the words to express himself, when in fact, in a film, cameras and performances (and the edit) are going to tell the story. These scenes revealed themselves in a similar way as those weighed down by under-confident writing. They were clearly too intellectual for the talent to fully embody, because there was too much pomp in the words and not enough animus.

Lead actor Rebecca De ornelas "records a videoblog".

Some “vlog” entries remain “talky”. We continue to trim them in post. Photo credit: Zach Nading.

Arguably, this over-confidence could also be labelled as more under-confidence (dressed in nicer clothes). There are a few easy questions, that I already have learned to ask myself in drafting (but which could have asked again before shooting) that can help root out such scenes. What’s this scene about? How does it feel? Is it more about me (the writer) than the character? Should something else be here? Does this need to be here at all?

That third question is especially important. It’s hard. We can’t bring ourselves to the table, to write the thing in the first place, without putting ourselves into it. But the aim, in my opinion (and experience) needs to be directed towards the audience. That goes for trust, too. It’s important to remember viewers can (and must be) trusted. Very few people, if any, go into a narrative thinking about your (our) insecurities — but they will be taken out of the narrative if/when those insecurities manifest on screen.

A good story comes from a deeply personal place, but we’re not authentically tapping into that place at points when our words veer into what we think needs to be said. Thinking doesn’t enter the process, in this way, in my experience. Perhaps conscious thought helps with resolving issues of reason or or plot, for pondering major structural or tonal problems that are worth deliberating over, in between writing or rewriting sessions, but then things need to be turned back over (in my opinion) to the subconscious, the muse — the actual writer. The intellect can give directions, and even navigate, but shouldn’t drive the van, for the most part, when it comes to what goes on the page and stays there. I don’t know why the story is in a van. We’ll leave that to the imagination.

To be more specific on this point: I have historically had a tendency, in my writing, to speechify. Multiverse — which is very stingy on dialogue and intentionally broad and open to interpretation in story terms — and, conversely, a lot of shelved, overly-thinky previous scripts, helped a great deal in curing me of this affliction. But a few scenes (and parts of scenes) slipped into production for The Videoblogs that could have been cut. My writer’s ego thought he could sneak them past. The editor in me now scoffs — and they’re gone.

Cut jokes written for joking’s sake

While it was never a tough decision to make, it nonetheless stands that it was still a choice to move forward with a film centered at least in part around depression. We know this will continue to be challenge, heading into distribution.

The joking started in fundraising. We honestly let them keep the donuts.

The jokes started in fundraising. We honestly let them keep the donuts.

In recognition of (and respect for) this challenge however, I made it a point NOT to shy away from moments of humor in the film. The sad and the funny are closely related, and, further, making room for representations of the real humorousness with which difficult moments tend to break…felt like the right thing to do during scripting. In watching the rough cut once through since completion, this appears to have been the right move. The film’s funnier than even I expected. Much of the credit for that belongs to the cast.

Still, especially once the mood of the film begins to lighten — there were some moments when, in drafting the script, I failed to recognize (or accept) that I was disrupting flow by leaving something in “because it’s funny”. Maybe I subconsciously knew this, since, again, many of these instances appear at the bottom of scenes, or safely in between scenes that flow more seamlessly together with the joke removed, but it doesn’t change the fact that some, while funny, didn’t move the story forward or, as was the case more often, actively broke the story’s motion.

This didn’t happen very often at all, but it happened more than once, and, beyond that, jokes tend to be easy to shoot quickly (after getting adequate coverage) and they help keep things fresh on set. So I don’t think it’s essential to go to town with the red pen in this regard. Just something to watch out for.

Scrutinize (cut) expository shots and scenes

Technically, this is yet another form of under-confident writing, but it’s a little different than what I wrote above, since I made this “mistake” on a much larger story level, versus within a scene.

Pretentious Michael explains why the scene simply MUST stay.

Pretentious Michael explains why the scene simply MUST stay. Photo credit: Zach Nading.

One of our longest and hardest days of shooting involved running around the city, on foot and via the subway, with a bare-bones crew of four, for New York City exteriors. We set aside almost an entire day to grab a bunch of quick shots of lead actor Rebecca De Ornelas going back and forth to work. These were meant to be woven into a video blogging sequence as cutaways, in order to break up a pattern of similar sequences that dominate the early parts of the film.

And there, in retrospect, is the first red flag — I wrote those scenes because I was worried about isolating or losing the audience during what’s definitely still a difficult first twenty minutes or so.

The Videoblogs was always just going to be that kind of film. I’m decently sure that a small percentage of people, if and when we distribute the film beyond our core audience, are going to abandon it completely before the first ten to twenty minutes are up (despite what I’m saying, we’re still taking a close look at condensing this material as much as possible). This isn’t because the writing or the performances or the story or the footage is bad, or that we made any major mistakes — it’s just that those minutes are hard to watch. Anxiety and frustration co-mingle into teary stuff. Things get uncomfortably direct. It’s just the way this story had to go.

The exteriors, I think, were written out of a fear of this knowledge, which I think is understandable. Again — I don’t regret shooting them. And I’m still using some of the footage towards different ends.

But the main reason they didn’t work for me, when I started editing, is because they interrupted Rebecca’s work in really bringing her character’s desperate isolation to life. Especially early on, The Videoblogs isn’t meant to be framed around the reasons why the main character, Margaret, feels isolated, or even to provide a context for her mental/emotional state as a whole. Instead, we’re meant to witness (and hopefully relate to) that isolation. Bringing the camera outside of a close observation of this behavior, at all, never mind bringing outside her apartment (which she barely leaves), too frequently — it just doesn’t work.

Finally, The Videoblogs is also a film set very firmly in the neighborhood (Flatbush/Ditmas Park) in which it was conceived, produced, and shot. While Margaret, as so many Brooklynites do, works in Manhattan — this just isn’t a film that takes all of New York City as its world. There’s obviously overlap between a characterization of the city at large, and Margaret’s neighborhood, but moving her too often away from that neighborhood — even in cutaways — proved too much for most sequences. It was overkill. It only could have belonged to a different story.

In Conclusion (Steps to Take Next Time)

To be clear, all of the above, in the context of a first feature, which despite its imperfections is still (in my opinion) coming together nicely — isn’t damning. It would have been great to realize all of it earlier, as I said, to save a very slight amount of time and money. Some of this probably just needed to be learned in execution before I really believed it. I make that point, specifically, because I think there’s an opposite danger in gripping the controls too tightly, as well, before shooting. It’s better to have extra footage, and feel a tinge of after-the-fact anxiety, than to end up with not enough material to craft your story — which is a recipe for far worse feelings.

"You're going to do it again?" Probably. Ugh.

“You’re going to do this whole thing again?” Probably. Ugh.

Still, l think I will take a few extra steps, the next time around, to minimize these sort of mistakes.

We never did a reading of The Videoblogs…

…which at a certain point wasn’t going to happen within our production time frame, but I think they’re always a good idea. It’s not hard to put a reading together and I think that listening in on one, and hearing feedback, would have helped me to see (and accept) some of this stuff beforehand. It’s a cheap way to help make the film better, sooner, trading low risk (except to your ego, which could use the douse, anyway) for potentially high-rewards.

Reach out to trusted next-level peers

On a related note, next time I will work to have a few trusted, last-pass readers available to offer feedback on my “final draft” (the draft that’s going into production). I always seek review several times throughout the life of a script, but I think I could have added one or two more experienced people to the mix this time, later in the game — if only out of respect for the newness of the endeavor. Specifically, I could have been more bold about seeking feedback from writers and filmmakers that are one step ahead of me in career experience (though we’re working to correct this now, with the rough cut). On that note, please feel free to get in touch with me in the future if you’re several months from production on an indie feature and have further questions that I may be able to help answer (after having done it once).

Finally — and this is a lesson that I’m reminded of after every film I’ve ever made — to accomplish all of the above (especially on a slim budget) I want to add it would have helped the film (and script) to have lengthened the production schedule by getting started even earlier than we did.

We started WAY early, because we had high ambitions for the project and literally zero resources other than time and stupid guts (we crowdfunded our entire $20K budget, some of which was spent up front on credit cards during “development”), but we could have streamlined the first feature experience by starting even earlier. Time only gets more costly, the closer you get to shooting. There’s something to be said for deadline, and for the momentum that just starting brings. I wouldn’t change much of what we did. I’d just pay more respect to the breadth and scope of the endeavor that, for almost all of us, not only was conducted on the cheap but in between and around day jobs.

So, I hope all that helps anyone planning to produce their own script soon. While I focused on The Videoblogs as an example, I think some of the mistakes I made would arguably cost a production double on a short — especially a higher-budget “all or nothing” short (as opposed to one which is more low-budget and experimental).

I’m happy to answer any broad questions anyone might have in the comments (or on Twitter), and other creatives should definitely feel free to include any additional lessons you may have learned by which the rest of us may also benefit. Thanks for reading and good luck.

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The Vulnerability Paradox

Margaret (Rebecca De Ornelas) and Vee (Phoebe Allegra) know the value of a short walk in the sun. From The Videoblogs.

Margaret (Rebecca De Ornelas) and Vee (Phoebe Allegra) know the value of a walk in the sun. From The Videoblogs.

Okay — fuck.

It’s been a long winter. It’s been a long winter because it’s been a long winter, but also because we’ve been in post on The Videoblogs since shortly after our shoot wrapped in September. I spent most of October battling a perhaps “normal” post-film depression, logging and organizing footage when I could, and since then have been chipping away at a rough cut that is probably a few weeks from finished.

Again — especially in indie film terms — I realize that a lot of that is “normal”. Considering that we’re close to a Next Big Step (the rough cut) it’s also exciting.

But I am barely keeping it together.

Now, to be clear, I am still keeping it together. As many of you know, I’ve spent much of the last few years striving to be better about self-care, at the same time that I’ve been working to build better habits that have led to increased creative productivity. I’ve also written here about the benefits of having (sort of) learned the hard way to pace myself. But as both the preceding statement and the relatively long period of quiet here on the site might reveal — it hasn’t been easy. I have stumbled and I have briefly forgotten some of the aforementioned lessons (it happens).

I want to spend some time talking about why that’s been the case, for my own benefit as well as, hopefully, that of others who may find themselves in a similar boat now or in the future.

Speaking personally, the hardest part of wrapping The Videoblogs was returning, bleary-eyed, to my standard day-to-day existence, having accomplished a major life goal — of which I was and am immensely proud of and grateful for — but which also exposed my heart to the world in a more widespread way than at any other point in my life. This was the way it had to happen, and I have accepted and continue to accept that. But it doesn’t mean it has been easy. Or that it’s over, for that matter. Despite my vulnerable state, it’s not over by a stretch — the film hasn’t even been seen by anyone yet, except me.

It felt normal when my head took a bit of a dip, following our shoot, because filmmaking is a large scale endeavor with a lot of emotions at stake (as is the case with most large scale endeavors). As I’ve said, I’ve been through it before — though never on this scale — and I’ve luckily met and continue to commune with other indie filmmakers who also go through it all the time. What I wasn’t prepared for, that happened sort of after we wrapped but basically at the same time, was the return of Great Panic to my life.

I don’t know why I supposed, in a general way, that I was done with prolonged periods of intense panic (lingering naivete, perhaps) but I suspect that the condition “caught me by surprise” months after the shoot because I was just…under a lot of pressure…and in a constant state of motion.

The Videoblogs has been a huge undertaking. In a way, as I have said before, it’s a culmination of years of work, learning, research, and preparation. In another, more tactile way, it was and continues to be a big thing with many moving parts operating with very limited resources. As its Director and one of its main Producers, I think it’s understandable that I might have had to commit in the short term to a bit of delusion in order to simply get through those hard parts of the process where the stakes were highest (the months leading up to production and then production itself). Indie filmmaking is a specific form of necessary madness, and it takes a mad person to even try to adequately honor a story with little else but a mash-up of similarly mad souls, a minimal cache of resources, a fart and a prayer.

To reiterate, I went into The Videoblogs with the benefit of years of practice in the technique of low-budgeting filmmaking, with the support of a community of peers to talk to (some of whom thankfully reached out unsolicited with helpful advice when they heard Rebecca and I were tackling The First Feature), and a clear knowledge, based mostly on these things, that the journey was nevertheless probably going to end up as something that would have to be gotten through —  before the experience of it was fully understood.

This does not make either the specific undertaking or me as a person special. I’ll end momentarily with a softer definition, but that’s arguably a partial description of life experience as we know it — some things just have to be gotten through, worked through, to be not only appreciated but respected as the eventual touchstones they may become as we continue on our respective journeys.

Still, I think that, over the course of the last several months, I lost sight of all that, a little bit. As I have said, I think it’s understandable (and forgivable) but I did, in my anxiety, occasionally forget the fact that this was never going to go perfectly, that it was never meant to go perfectly, that there’s time to let it go the way it has to go, and that I don’t and can’t possibly know how this is all going to play out — in terms of not only the film but my life as someone who feels compelled to make films and other works of artistic intention.

Who even wants to have it all figured out, to be done learning, at thirty years old (or at whatever age you are, as you read this)? It sounds nice, when you fantasize about it, but that’s not life. Life’s confusing and messy and surprising and funny and sad and everything else. While planning has its uses, all plans are doomed to fail in some way. As an aside, I’ll have more to say about that soon, in another post I’m working on that more broadly examines the relationship between artist and art, and wherein I’ll attempt to focus on the potential graces of this truth.

For now, I want to end this by going Catholic on you and confessing.

I have slipped, in my zeal to Figure It All Out (Now). I have overworked. I have overeaten, gaining probably fifteen pounds in gummis and cheeseburgers, because post-production is a dehumanizing process that turns men and women into anachronistic junk-consuming bent-figured computer-punching cave people. I have undershared, in forgetting how important it has been for me to keep in touch here and to listen to your feedback. I have let the winter cold and the cold reality of an indie filmmaker’s economic condition serve as excuses for under-socializing. In a desperate fit of existential questioning, I juggled editing with a mad dash of writing — all the while continuing to work full time — and developed nerve issues in both arms.

In short, I went a little crazy. Again. But I am slowly crawling back. Again.

Because that is what we do.

Though it took me some time to acknowledge this, the arm injuries have been a blessing in disguise, serving first as a red light and now a yellow light to work at a realistic pace and scale.

Similarly, in emotional terms, I’m trying to listen to my heart and experiment with a better system of exposing it more carefully — but with the same level of faith — by, for instance, swapping in targeted depth for broad nakedness. It’s no small thing, to risk yourself by putting work out into the world. But when I remember that I’m really only talking to those who will hear me, or really only have to commune with those who are willing and ready to meet me and the work on an approximately level plane — it gets a lot easier.

So I’ve started to feel better, and to behave more responsibly — because all of this, this experience, it’s beautiful, too, isn’t it? We can’t forget that.

I would have to believe in the beauty of the struggle, in some deep way, to do what I do. Again, while I understand what happened and why…now that I’m on the other side of it, I wonder why I ever doubt the results while I’m still engaged in the process. The artistic life, like all kinds of lives, is both struggle and relief, is as much about getting through the difficult times as it is appreciating the good feelings that come from having done that next thing. And I really do want to appreciate this moment. It feels right to do that.

The dirty trick of all this, I think, is that there’s no way of knowing, as mere humans, when things are going to go well or when circumstances are going to test you.

Arriving finally at the vulnerability paradox, I hereby state — until I forget it again — that I understand that when I risk myself through my work, that I must then also try to let go of any fears of potential results. There’s no other way to authentically experience the full rewards of any one endeavor as well as or as completely as any potential damages (which, as I have said repeatedly, come with their own eventual benefits as well).

Up until this point, I have engaged more often in a less fruitful pattern: fearing the risk, eventually building up the courage to take it anyway, then shying (at least in part) from the results of the undertaking. I don’t begrudge myself this past behavior, but the benefit of having so many others on board with The Videoblogs, as both collaborators and supports, is that I am able to ultimately shrug off any reflexive re-defensing of my vulnerable self via the strength that comes with the knowledge that this is not as lonely an undertaking as it sometimes feels.

It may have started with myself and my closest creative collaborators risking ourselves by openly stating that we felt this sort of a story — about mental health and reaching out via the screen and regaining some sense of community in an increasingly stratified and alienating modern world — needed to be told, and it may make sense that in telling it I feel exposed and afraid to move on (in spite of the fact that I am moving on now), but even as I have struggled in recent months I have known, somewhere, that what I was going through was normal, that this particular moment in time, where things were “okay” again, would come, and that I would find my way back here to you. Thus, the only way to assuage the fears that arrived as a result of becoming vulnerable, the only way to ease the defensiveness and the panic at the thought of judgment — is to name these fears and become vulnerable yet again. And this isn’t the last time, over the life of The Videoblogs, or hopefully mine in general, that things are going to happen this way.

This paradox can be wonderful, if we choose to embrace it, because (in my experience) abandoning the compulsion to control outcomes helps us switch perspective such that we may appreciate the difficult times as well as the good. When I remember to do this, to offer a basic metaphor, I find myself able to recall. say, the bitterness of distasteful experiences as adding depth and contrast and fullness to any additional sweetnesses that were there before or are forthcoming. Similarly, any one struggle could be re-framed as a splash of the acidic, for mixing with the sweat of life to add variety and excitement to a day that perhaps seems a little too blankly reduced to extremes of bitterness and sweetness only. I think those metaphors work. I don’t know. I’m hungry.

The point is that though I forgot it for a while, things are going to be okay. I can be patient. I can talk and share and especially I can laugh and shrug and just ride it out and trust the work.

Because that’s really all it comes down to, isn’t it? Do the work and be heartfelt about it and find your own heart in it and share with others and hold your breath and wait and trust and, when it’s all over, when you’re ready — do it again.

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The Arc of 2014: Movement

Vee (Phoebe Allegra) and Margaret (Rebecca De Ornelas) aren't completely on board with Cass (Masha King) for the moment.

Vee (Phoebe Allegra) and Margaret (Rebecca De Ornelas) aren’t sure if this year was even real. From The Videoblogs.

I’m going to try to keep this brisk, if not short, because I’m always in a hurry lately because I want to keep moving.

Movement, as revealed by the title of this post, is a key word to the coming discussion.

Last year, I wrote a piece titled The Arc of 2013: The Beginnings of The Pushback. The gist of its messaging can be summarized by restating my belief that, last year, people began boiling over and finally fighting back against social injustices and unsatisfactory socio-economic conditions. If I spent most of 2012 expressing anger in this space, when confronted with these realities, 2013 was spent consolidating and channeling that anger.

Riding off of that, I believe 2014 was about using that anger as fuel for movement. This year was about making moves.

It was fucking hard.

But…damn…did it feel good.

During some recent, rare downtime, I spent a few hours customizing that cute little Facebook Year In Review Thing. For the fuck of it, really.

What I realized, upon doing so, however, was that I had not only achieved my year’s goals, of shooting a feature film and mostly surviving the process — but I had also put out quite a bit more than that, in terms of work. After so many years of toil, in a word, I finally began to grow.

So, yeah, I put out more work than ever before, this year. More importantly, though, I diversified my work more than ever before as well.

Traffic to this site increased over 130% from last year, despite a 20% drop in the number of posts from the previous year.

This tells me that the diversification and focus paid off. Since this was mostly a Year of Creative Content, it also tells me that you like it better when I make things and share them than when I just write about what I think or how I feel about society or politics or the whatever bullshit is being slung at us by the media on a given day.

Along with the traffic increase, my family (that’s how I think of you) grew as well, on Twitter and on Facebook and in terms of my email list. I feel honored to be able to say that. Truly.

 

But, what happened? What made the difference?

Heading into 2015, I wanted to identify the answer(s) to those questions, not only so that I can repeat or expand my efforts but so that others who are interested can attempt their own journey using any methods that might similarly apply.

So, in defiance of the intro to last year’s post, which included a mild critique of lists — here’s a list of what I did in 2014 that I believe made it a year of movement. Following the list, I’ve also taken a moment to reflect broadly on what I’ve decided to aim for over the course of the coming year as a result of what I’ve learned since launching this site and rededicating myself to professional development and growth.

Multiverse Completed and Distributed

Laughter without voices.

Laughter without voices.

You’ve probably heard enough from me about this, but I’m still thrilled that Multiverse has been so well-received by most people who have watched it. Also, I feel validated by the decision to let the film speak for itself. While I ultimately chose to submit it to some standard festivals after the fact, I think it was the right decision to debut Multiverse to those of you who are in New York, as lead-in to The Videoblogs (more on that exciting event in a moment) and to then push it out online to everyone else during the ensuing Videoblogs funding campaign.

Did Multiverse become a viral hit? No. It was never going to become that. Realistically, more than anything else, Multiverse was something that I had to do to break free from some lingering difficulties in my life. I continue to take pride in how it came out, to appreciate the contributions of my collaborators and all our crowdfunding supporters, and I’m heartened every time someone reaches out after seeing it to tell me that they feel (or have felt) the same way. A film’s life is never fully realized until people start watching, and when they do, despite the many months of struggle and fear and confusion leading up — all the work and the sacrifice become worth it.

Comedic Voice Let Off Leash

I didn't say it was a tasteful comedic voice.

I didn’t say it was a tasteful comedic voice.

I had a great time this year experimenting with comedic writing. It’s something I used to do when I was younger, which I lost my passion for as I got older and more cynical. Jokes always make it into my films, somehow, but riding off the end of 2013, when I collaborated with The Motel Staff on several holidays videos, in 2014 I decided to brave the waters in a more direct way. This resulted in a few sketches and a five-minute set of stand-up that I did, which was a blast in itself and lead to this post about how I am The Wolf. The effect of all this was that: 1) I proved to myself that I could do it; 2) I rediscovered how much I like making people laugh; 3) I met new people who would prove to be invaluable collaborators later on in the year.

Got Fictional

You too can get a hold on some DREAD.

You too can get a hold on some DREAD.

I returned to my roots in another way in 2014, by writing my first short story in over seven years. In drafting, that short story became something longer than a short story and shorter than a novel. Despite it’s slight stature, A Night Alone in My Dread became a major accomplishment for me. I was not expecting to write fiction this year. The fact that it happened, and that hundreds of people read my little book — I can’t begin to express how grateful I am. To put this in perspective, my creative output took the form of narrative fiction probably 90% of the time for most of my life, up until I started making films almost ten years ago. In many ways, this aspect of the year feels like renewing an old friendship.

Produced, Crowdfunded, and Shot The Videoblogs

Cass (Masha King) waits for an explanation as to how this all happened.

Cass (Masha King) is also waiting for an explanation as to how this all happened. From The Videoblogs.

I don’t understand. I’m being honest with you about this for the first time. I don’t understand how The Videoblogs happened. It’s still hard for me to process, that as I work to finish transcoding and organizing footage, and syncing picture to sound — that soon I’ll be editing a feature film that I wrote and directed, and that YOU made happen because you believed in us.

You’re fucking beautiful. That’s all I can say. What? Where am I?!

Became A Professional

The script for my new project, the story of which, I hope, is just beginning.

When The Videoblogs was just a stack of pages.

I’m not sure when this happened, either. I just know that it did, and that I’m extremely grateful. Why do I feel like a professional, now — when I’ve been “making stuff” for years?

Partially, I think I just started bumping up against “minimum time served”. Ten thousand hours and all that. Another big help was The Artist’s Way. But the biggest difference, I think, came from accepting myself and my circumstances and building my work flow around that.

What does this mean? For me, it meant looking at the reality of how I work best, and what the conditions are that I have to work within, and finding a system that works within those “constraints”. Because I struggle still, on occasion, with anxiety and depression, this system also had to take things like daily mental toll and daily mood into account.

What did I come up with? I write in the morning — something I had never done before. I get up earlier than ever before (usually) and focus on self care for an hour or so and then I write as early as I can in the day. My goal is an hour of writing. If I get through thirty minutes, I’m okay with it, not only because it’s still progress but because, on most occasions, I end up getting more done later in the day as well, which results in multiple hours of progress that probably wouldn’t have been possible without that earlier healthy start.

And I don’t restrict myself to a single project. It’s too much pressure. When I did that in the past, I ended up obsessing and the work suffered. Instead, now, I turn to whatever project or outlet seems to need my attention for that day. In short, I learned for myself what many more accomplished artists than me have said before — that I had to start treating my art like a job. Not only has my art not suffered as a result of this decision — as the above proves — it actually began to thrive. Despite being born and growing up inside the stormy hair-cave that is my head.

Why We Move

I began by saying that I wanted to outline all of that so that I can keep up on my efforts, and also to share them with others, in case my testimony could be of some use. But, getting back to the idea of movement, there’s another reason why I wanted to take stock of the year.

This is far from over.

Much of what saddened and frightened me in recent years is unfortunately still going on in the world today. I’m not going to recount any of it, because I’m not sure any longer that doing so is at all useful.

Instead, I want to keep focusing on movement. On grassroots efforts. Somewhere along the line of shepherding all of the above artistic efforts, this year, I realized something. I realized that nothing is going to systemically change, politically, economically, morally or conscientiously — until I change. Until we change.

So much of life is about perspective. And we’ve truly lost perspective as a society, in a lot of ways. We know it, most of us know it, but we don’t seem to be able to deal with it.

It doesn’t matter how this happened. It doesn’t matter if some of us can talk more confidentially about how it did, or are more certain about how to fix it, or whether you believe one argument or another or none of them at all.

What matters is that we talk through things, so that more of us, in more places, can begin once again to see life as it is rather than what we’ve been told it’s meant to be.

We cannot become empowered until our hearts are full. Our hearts cannot be full until we feel out the pain that we’re in, nationally and, perhaps, the world over. We cannot begin to heal until we’re sure of what’s happened inside of us and begin opening our mouths to speak about it with one another.

This has been a long time coming. We must continue to reflect on hard truths, must challenge each other to look at things differently, must be patient as everyone exerts his or her right to be heard. Maybe it’s all been going on for a long time. Probably I don’t even have a full idea yet of what I’m talking about. But I’m trying to understand. I’m choosing…to hope.

I guess that’s the main thing that changed for me, this year. I realized that I don’t have all the answers, or even any of them at all. All I can do, as an artist, is struggle with what questions call to me in the loudest voices, present that struggle to you, and encourage and engage in a dialogue.

Here’s to more in 2015. Thank you for reading, and I wish you the very best, for all the days of the coming year.