Friday, May 28, 2010

Human Scrapbooks

On being a scrapbook...

It's Memorial Day Weekend 2010.

I'm about to start my tenth year in NYC later this summer. It's a thought that only recently hit me in its full affect as I've been doing some rewriting on "Things" and some other projects. It's funny to think of a decade anywhere, let a lone a town where nothing seems to remain the same for ten minutes.

I remember stumbling out of the PATH station on 23rd and 6th Ave, garbage bag of clothes, sunglasses firmly tucked on my face. I was only a mile and change across the river from this place I'd been a thousand times before but something inside told me living here would be so different...

In retrospect I guess that's a pretty big understatement.

I forgot how much I loved it. A friend recently described the city to me as, "...your bitchy, selfish girlfriend.  She will treat you like shit and make you feel worthless, but when it comes down to it, she is loyal and will forever and ever be there for you."

Despite my time in NYC I'd been a bit of a gypsy, leaving for months at a time to fop about Europe and teach English/backpack my way through Asia.  Even with the occasional reprieve from the pounding this place loves to dish out in it's own personal way, I had been totally burned out on this city and probably life in general in the dust of making ...Around. Everything felt toxic and the ghosts of memories that were on every nook and cement cranny, even good ones, became a bit overwhelming.  I fled to the complete opposite to NYC to figure things out and get a chance of pace, to the city of Angels.

I enjoyed my time there, however surreal it was. The weather, the beach, the nature and the difference from NYC. The laid-back energy and vibe of the people. I recently heard Los Angeles compared to Diet Peach Soda in the context that someone once thought it would be a good idea, it had no nutritional value and no one's quite sure who's actually buying...

I think its quite easy to take shots at a town known for it's lack of personality and substance, where everything is fake including the palm trees (it's a desert) and the sun shines 360 days a year but there's a tanning salon on every block in a collection of spread out neighborhoods, people living in their automobiles navigating the gridlocked 405 and the bars close at 2am--

Blah-bla-blah. Its no so bad. It's not evil.  It's also not New York... it is almost the complete opposite. Some people live there for exactly that reason and others shudder at the thought. Different strokes for different folks.

I can tell you where the first seed of returning to NYC, even for a simple visit was implemented...

I was sitting at a bar on Franklin and Gower, imbibing and being anti-social while a CD of Elton John's greatest hits seemingly played on endless loop. It was here I ran into Claire, a development executive, painfully adorable with large almond eyes and strawberry hair pulled back into a bun. Only thirty, though in her eyes and the way she knocked back her selected cocktail gave way that she sacrificed most of her twenties to the city and it's particular trials and tribulations towards "making it".

Through a conversation with the bartender about something or other that I inadvertently chimed in on, we had introductions and I was informed she was meeting a "date". It was something she wasn't took excited about, in fact I'd say she had just strapped on her "get this over with as quickly and painless as possible" hat and had begun devouring vodka tonics.

After about three of those her aforementioned date--who shall from here on out be referred to as Junior CAA agent-type Douche--stumbled in, juggling his fancy phone and extending himself for a too soon and too long hug. Other than his attire that saw him drenched in Kenneth Cole and his jittery demeanor and malapropism speech patters that were probably equal parts cocaine and nerves, I couldn't help but notice he had a unique odor. I say odor because it seemed to be the cause of too much cologne, overactive sweat glands and a high-protein supplement based diet.  Spikey-haired washboard abs at the simple price of smelling almost acutely medicinal seemed like a steal at some point, right?

Suffice to say, Claire's looks did not match enjoyment or optimism as he immediately launched into his day and what's been "going on at the office" lately. The sentences ejected through grinding teeth that I could make out, when I didn't catch Claire subtly wiping her face (yes, he was a spit-talker!), sounded like an audio recording of the recent trades, and Junior CAA-agent-type Douche would occasionally inject himself or just his thoughts and agenda into it.

I tried hard to focus on my drink and brood--a Spaltro specialty, passed down for generations from my Irish ancestors--all the while having to hear painful forced conversation, "jokes" and be on the peripheral receiving end at failed kiss or caress attempts.

Junior CAA agent-type Douche quickly checked his fancy phone and excused to himself to deal with a call he "absolutely had to take", half-nerves and half-self importance.

The sigh of exhaustion and relief that emanated from Claire just about overtook the sounds of "Rocketman".  She caught a quick smile from me that I tried my damndest to suppress... honest. I sipped my Scotch and nodded.

"Save me", she laughed and grimaced at the same time, returning with gusto to her cocktail.

"Awful, huh?"

"Another fifteen minutes I might commit seppuku"

"Don't you have to be dishonored first?"

"Huh?" She scooted a lil closer and I twirled around the residue of my hooch du jour.

The bartender, as if on cue, placed two shot glasses down in front of us, quickly filling them with brown goodness.

"Seppuku...  It's usually when someone is dishonored and they can't deal with it, so they kill themselves."

“Jesus. I’d actually be up for some ‘dishonoring’ tonight… but not by HIM”. She made the ick face and literally let her hair down from her bun. It hung down and glided along her olive skinned shoulders, encasing her face like a beautiful portrait. Painfully adorable.

We cheered and did our shot. She wiped her mouth and contemplated before sipping her cocktail again. Douche's conversation lingered at least another twenty minutes, which we filled with back and forth banter, inappropriate humor and many more drinks.

Claire, far less sober, soured at the sight of what looked like Douche finishing his call and lighting a cigarette in front of the glass window outside. He almost leered at us and waved. He was SO COOL!

"Save meeee", she repeated in almost singsong.

"You could just ditch him, you know." I wasn’t even trying to be co. It just made the most sense. People sometimes need reminding that the fine line of social grace is quite narrow and covered in broken glass, sometimes it just makes the most sense to flee—Plus! She was painfully adorable and interesting, even more so after the last drink and I was drunk and no longer even attempting a cool brood and it wouldn’t be the first time I asked a cute, strange girl in a bad situation to just flee with me and—back to focusing on her.

"I could just... I couldn't... just... I could just ditch him, right?" A wry and mischievous smile begin to curl on her lips, a movie of her ditching the douche flickered in her head.

"Tell him there was an emergency you simply HAD to take care of..." I grinned placing my hand on her shoulder and seeming most concerned.

She smiled. I'd been listening.

We left the bar and walked a bit through the balmy evening as everything around us but the 7-11's and all night Chinese cum Donut shops. Her studio was not far away and she invited me in for a nightcap.

I will go into the intricate details as a gentleman never kisses and tells. I'm far from a gentleman, but the play-by-play of how looks turn into gazes, bodies shift closer, caresses into first kisses, and etc... It’s all common knowledge, old hat and sidestepping the point of this interlude.

We were strewn about on her insanely comfortable mattress, legs dangling over side. She lit up a smoke and we engaged in the kind of talk that should probably start out an evening between two people and not really be the afterthought of an intimate encounter. Hey, sometimes it's just more fun to work backwards, or I've found.

I picked up her unique details here and there she scattered like breadcrumbs in the forest through bursts of questions, answers and non-linear statements. She was from Indiana (a Hoosier!) Played the clarinet. Never watched TV. Owned every album by Talk Heads. Loved her mom and hated her dad. Was indifferent towards her cat that seemed to want to join into our discussion time and time again.

I'd already mentioned my filmmaking quickly. It's not exactly something that needs any more detail than that in a town where everyone from the guy who rotates your tires or rings up your Red Vines has cinematic aspirations and a spec script about a doctor being chased by CIA for his accidental cure to HIV to dust off and sell some day.

I told her about other stuff. The city. Family. The Station--

"Like a train-train station?"

--Moving along to traveling, teaching English, making the movie and selling it, deciding to get out of dodge and-- the unique way the story becomes a rollout of misadventures.

"Don't you ever get tired of being a scrap book?" 

The question jarred me ever so slightly, never having been presented in quite such a concise and dead-on query. Her probing, large and almond eyes were all I could see in the dark... or maybe that was the cat again...

I didn't stammer. I didn't say a word, lost for any kind of response. My processing must have been caught in the moonlight by her and mistaken for hurt.

"I'm sorry", she started, taking my right hand and rubbing it a bit. "…what I meant's  you've been all over the place at this breakneck pace and done all these things... It's all great, it's a lot and I can see why you'd be burned out... but to come here or go anywhere else... what's the summation of it all?"

A quick kiss goodbye, an exchange of information and a "maybe see you sometime when I’m not swamped at the office" from her and I began a sobering walk down Hollywood Boulevard towards the house o' broken hearts down on N. Fairfax in West Holywood.

I stepped over the many names encased in stars, some familiar and some long forgotten, now the ultimate irony of becoming a worldwide success in show business and someday all it ever becomes is your named on a star that is walked over constantly. Just looking around Mann's Chinese the feet apparently belong to an assortment of junkies, runaways and failed actors dressed like Batman passed out in their own vomit or molesting Tomb Raider...

These were the human scrapbooks of different time periods. People that had been famous or part of pop culture and now were just faded memories, regardless of all they had done and accomplished.

I was shaken and confused as to whether it was because Claire suddenly asked or had I simply been asking myself the same question all along, just never dared to ask it out loud?

The question would continue to pop into my head for the remainder of my time in Los Angeles. It looped almost as much as that fucking Elton John record as I sat in LAX awaiting my highly unexpected return flight to NYC.

When I returned I was working freelance jobs and still trying to figure out my place here. It was kind of like two long-time lovers who'd broken it off and were trying to make another honest go-around out of what could easily be a fool-hearted attempt at a quick, drunken fling. I was neither here, nor there.

It's now with this project and other things, time to have healed I'm learning to really love this place again. Even when it's falling apart at the seems from financial and social decay, and kicking the ever-loving shit out of me, its more inspiring and encouraging than it ever has been.

I see the magic of this place reflected off the skyscraper towers casting shadows over this island of people and the frantic pace with which they run towards whatever fate their lives are taking them.  The beautiful sounds of a boom box blasting a song that reminds you of dancing at a house party and trying to be cool in front of the cute neighborhood girl in some great, far gone Summer.

I had to come back to this place and rediscover it to make this next film. To finish what I started when I first came here ten years ago. "Things I Don't Understand" is definitely a NYC story, but its focus is on Brooklyn and a particular neighborhood of that. The heart of it though pulses like the music from the boom box of a young passerby, echoing over what it takes to be and stay here, to make a home and unique family.


I know what you're thinking. "Isn't this supposed to be a production blog??!!!"

Where's the stats and notes, casting information and location pictures! Can I get a Goddamn poster or funky slogan that sums up the film in a nice little package? How about mentioning the movie or...

Easy. Easy, kitten. It's ever so early in the game, there will be a time and place for all that and I like to think of this time between you and I as a bit of a combination platter of work and personal.  It's the peanut butter cup. Everything's connected and I’ll be clearing out the attic while filling in the blanks of making the movie. I’m a human scrapbook and I’m about to share…

Till next time… enjoy this life and this amazing city. And if you’re in La-La-Land, please buy Claire a vodka tonic from me and tell her, “yes… it’s exhausting. But it’s also never boring”.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Director seeks actors: Aquarius, likes long walks on the beach...

"Here we are now/entertain us" - Nirvana

One thing I've begun to notice in my experiences casting is its uncanny similarity to dating. Now I'm not really a big "dater" at all or fan of the idea of trying to nudge and find chemistry over drinks, meals or awkward social situations, but I can see how the two are related. When meeting and engaging someone new you can be instantly hit with things that interest or attract you to them, sparks of characteristics that reveal the lovely idiosyncrasys that you find intriguing and you wish to probe further.

As I pour over recent video submissions for "Things" I'm reminded at how overwhelmed and pleasantly surprised I was casting "...Around" a few years ago. A large group of talents really stepped up to the plate and delivered vastly brilliant and different work. A majority of them found their way into the film in some role and others I've kept in touch, looking for new opportunities to work with them down the road.

I find now, much like I did then, the initial reaction as you see each person is how great they are and how excited you are with what they bring to the table, the inspiring limitless possibilities of how you can mold and work with that to elevate it even further. Then the sudden overwhelming dread of having to decide between all these talented and vastly unique people... until you realize that the decision isn't going to necessarily be based on them being able to perform or having such great abilities, but if they serve the story, the project and particular role you are trying to fill.

Yes, much like in the game of dating, someone can be all kinds of wonderful and attractive... but just not "the one". Unlike dating I'm excited to keep meeting and finding the right mix of new and old talent for this project.

Friday, May 21, 2010

"Things I Don't Understand"

I’m known to have once said, “beginnings are tricky, and they set the tone and pace for what’s to come. The most important part in telling any story is knowing where to start”. I’ve also called myself a “shit story-teller” so bear with me as this, being the first, will probably all over the place.

So, I made this movie once a long time ago, almost three years to be exact. It's been a journey from that time to where I'm sitting as I type this right now. There was the expected financial fall-out from taking on such an endeavor, self-financing a highly personalized autobiographical film and love-letter to NYC on 40 credit cards (no, seriously...) at the dawn of the worst fiscal credit crisis and recession in our times. Then there was the unexpected financial fall-outs, the bad or non-existent sound mixes, the second chances, the angels, the underground fighting, the giving away of the movie to protect it, the deep and dark depressions, the leaving the city for Sunny LA, the house of 30 people, being "uncle David", taking new chances, forging new relationships, coming back to NYC, toiling in a hipster Vatican, summing up the last ten years of my life since first moving to NYC and my film, getting out of debt and now.... making a new film.

"Things I Don't Understand".

If "...Around" was autobiographical in it's story and characters, then "Things" is 10x more personal in a different way. "...Around" was a love-letter to the city of NY, to the people I knew and to myself at a certain age. It was my ode to finding oneself and the idea of what "home" is to people in every way. To all that it could be when we allow ourselves to have it... to take chances on others and ourselves. To love unconditionally and go for the things we aspire to even if and especially when hey are firmly out of grasp of achieving.

"Things" is different. In a lot of ways it’s almost a spiritual sequel to “…Around”. It’s characters slightly older, slightly more jaded and fucked up, still dealing with the financial uncertainties and social awkwardness of finding the balance between growing up and giving up. Some who have read it thinks it deals with death, and it’s a fair assessment. I see it as dealing with life. What it means to truly be alive.

It’s an obsession into the darker parts of our lives, the things we don’t care to talk about in public for concern of the looks we’ll get and the notions that will be debated.

If my first film was about “home” then this one is about what happens when the idea of “home” we’ve built for ourselves is threatened. When we lose or feel ourselves losing the things that are familiar and dear to us, whether they’re a person, a place or thing and how that affects us. Do we fight, do we flight and who do we become when we’re standing amidst the ashes of all that we knew and cared of? Are we a stronger and better people for having fought the good fight and gone through this experience, littered with souvenirs and fond memories of things past or are we resentfully venomous and with contempt, wishing we’d never had in the first place?

The film is also a story of faith and spirituality during personal crisis coming from a pretty hard-lined atheist and whiskey and women fueled lapse Catholic altar boy who’s obsessed with notions of devotion, forgiveness and rising to the occasion in the face of adversity. Christ, that would look ridiculous on a poster, huh? No wonder even those in Hollywood who loved it gave me the silly rabbit look…

The story of Violet Kubelick and her motley group of roommates as they are forced out of their protective and self-destructively private worlds to confront what they’re most afraid of, to save themselves and each other and know what it s we truly have as we’re on the verge of losing it… and dancing vaginas. Large, plush dancing vaginas.

Oddly enough the earliest version of this story started out a long time ago after an experience with hospice care. The original version featured just two characters from this script and mostly took place in one room. I scrapped it, not really having a clear vision, story and also feeling not up the challenge financially or had grown spiritually enough as a person to give it any gusto.

Time passed and “…Around” became my first feature-film idea. It was during a time of exhaustion and personal loss a year after wrapping the film that “Things” called to me again.

I gave up my film on October 11, 2008. Seriously. In order to protect the film from the mounting debt that would eventually swallow me and prevent it from ever getting any kind of distribution, I signed away any rights to the film and it’s copyright or financial gain to two trusted friends, thus also signing away my very identity.

I can say all this now because I've settled up all debts with debtors making me a "free" man in the financial sense. This won’t come back to haunt me or those who were kindly enough to take the burden of carrying my baby across the finish line while I got nailed to a cross and they were prepared to “Judas” me if necessary. All for the greater good.

I gave away my movie to protect it from the financial anarchy surrounding me, thus cursing me to a kind of limbo state where I could not be “David Spaltro” for over a year. I had to live off the grid, ducking creditors and unable to simply file for bankruptcy, all the while still striving and pushing my film for those who worked so hard on it and those that I loved dearly. I believed in it and I believed in them.

I was beaten up, broken, without a film, and any light in the tunnel was simply the train on its way to crush whatever remained. I was not in a happy-go-kitty kind of mood at all. I’m pretty sure I wrote an angry hate letter to NYC, it’s inhabitants and imbibed a lot of alcohol… a lot of alcohol. Lost in a brown, slushy and deliciously aged hazed of alcohol. So much alcoh—well, you get the point.

In the midst of all that I began writing “Things” again, fleshing it out and adding characters and arcs. I wasn’t planning on producing or even showing it to anyone when I started. It was simply a way to let out the pain I couldn’t vocalize or deal with internally… I was using it as my release. I was writing…

Something until really tonight I’d truly missed doing…

When I was a small child and my family had no money I still took pleasure in the simplest thing. Having a blank notebook or some sheets of paper and some markers or pens. That's all I needed. I could entertain myself forever, endlessly conjuring comics and character, scenarios, stories, doodles and ideas.

When I was in school a lot of teachers weren't huge fans of me. They'd catch me writing or doodling and not simply admonish or punish me for it. They'd bring me up to the front of the classroom and read whatever I had written out-loud or show off whatever drawing I was doing. They mocked it front of the class and told me it was awful, that it had no merit or skill.

I could almost write them a thank you note. A very bitter and acidic thank you note, but one none-the-less. I wasn't discouraged. I wrote and drew 10x more than I ever did and each time they'd do the same thing; make a spectacle of whatever my production for the day had been and me. But I'd write more and draw more than I ever would if they didn't. I got better. I practiced.

One day in particular a piece they had me read a loud.. They couldn't even mock it. They simply told me that I should be focusing on my studies and to sit down. Call it a small personal victory.

I continued writing as a ritual. Outside of sleeping through classes and working a night job at a convenience store my senior year of high-school, while looking across the river on the hood of my car during breaks at a future that lay head in NYC, it was my only other activity.

I remember staying up all night to write with fervor stronger than any creative bursts or insomnia. I wrote and I wrote and I wrote... just to write. For the sheer love of writing. For myself. For no one. Just to write. I loved hearing the click of my fingers on the keyboard set up against any background music swirling around the thoughts and images in my head. The wrist cramps from scrawling on endless yellow legal tablets were pains of joy and creativity. I'd often set up some coffee and chain-smoke and get lost. I didn't even feel like I was writing. I felt like I merely a spectator as something else happened, a communion between the page and the some bitch goddess muse above.

Somewhere along the way I just sort of stopped. I didn’t have anything left to say or just didn’t feel like saying it. I was consumed by other things, bit by the travel bug and swayed by the fight of the making of a film.

And I miss it. I've missed it a long time but I've hidden from it and made excuses. I don't want to do that anymore. I don’t want to mistreat my gift.

It goes far deeper than just not feeling like a master of the “comma” sutra. Writing was my therapy, my catharsis and my outlet. I’ve been hiding from it and the things gurgling up inside, even in private because of the fear of what might come out. It’s been choking me and eating me up inside. I’ve had a strange sense of an emotional rollercoaster beneath the surface, a pendulum swinging to and fro, picking up with intensity and speed until it’s become a bit destructive.

I wasn’t sure why. And then it simply made sense.

A wise woman drunkenly said an inherent truth, “don’t right something down that you don’t want anyone to remember”.

Well, maybe it’s time to remember. To share.

So, this is my chance to try and get back into it, to capture the making of a film from the ground up. Raising funds. Casting. Producing. Shooting. This blog will be me chronicling the making of “Things I Don’t Understand” from this day forward until our first screening and all that happens to me in-between it. At it’s best it’ll be an entry and day or no less than three a week, no matter how crazed or horrific it gets…

Things will be brutally honest, unedited and unfiltered. I type this while sitting completely stark naked... well, no. Not really. But you get the idea.

I also warn those with sensitive reading proclivities that my spelling and grammar has always been atrocious, even when I was a more frequent key-pounder. If anything those muscles have completely atrophied and I'll probably be writing in some sickly bastardized have normal King's English and post-modern computerized text type. ROFL! ...well, no. Not really. But you get the idea.

As I finish this I’ll be working on a new draft of “Things” tightening some stuff up, digging into older drafts and working on a dreaded 3rd act that slam bangs to a finish when it should organically breathe into it. I’m also reviewing actor submission tapes, corresponding with DP’s and preparing the initial fundraising events and ideas. I’ll try to keep all further entries more one-track and concisely coherent now that we’ve become acquainted or reacquainted. I’ll event share some adventures from my days in Hollywood and taking meetings with earlier drafts of “Things”.
Don’t be a stranger. Stop by anytime. I don’t sleep.
The good fight, yeah?