Saturday, October 6, 2012

The Road ( So Far...)



I've been walking a particular road for the last four years and in the last six months it's taken me all over the country again. Now, after a simple phone call the other night, a few signatures on some contracts and some upcoming decisions it'll be coming to an end.

Four years ago on October 8th 2008 I was torn apart from my experience finishing and attempting to get "...Around" distribution, my life was in limbo and the entire world seemed to be on the verge of economic and social ruin or renewal. I watched a presidential debate in a bar, sipped scotch and had whatever little belongings i'd whittled down in my trusty black messenger bag. I found an old journal with a leather cover and inside were some notes and pages for a potential thesis year film during my time at SVA...



It was from January 2003 and  titled "Configuration" and involved a character named "Bethany McNeil" (the original "Violet") who was doing clinical social research for a post grad doctorate and was interviewing an unnamed girl dying in a hospice and their questions and conversations on the notions of faith, spirituality, the after life and love. She had a best friend/roommate/former love interest named "Parker Foley" There were some notes about a potential love interest-side story involving a mysterious man of Islamic descent who worked in a bike shop near her that would eventually morph into the "Parker-storyline" as well as post-911 racism and fear of terrorism. There was a quirky french rocker named "Pierre" (no... seriously) and the earliest forms of "Gabby" was named "Lana" and she was a much-older and retired performance artist and professional bar fly. It's definitely the seeds of what TIDU would become, especially ten years ago and written by a then 20-year old me... but also is weird finding even four years later again, having seen the film more times than I've seen my own reflection and living it with so long, to see how my process as a writer works from initial idea, plotting, re-writing and changing over time...


It's been making me think about the new valentine-story and how that's shaping as well as the perspective of time and experience affecting the work...

It's now four years later, October 6th 2012, and  I find myself coming to the end of a very long journey and starting what, according to some vedic astrology in a year of rebirth, will be a phase of writing and creating as well as living transition.  I have seen some miracles in the last year that I never could have expected with the film and how it's played across the country, the honors it's won and those who put so great work into it have received.  Soon it will be released quietly out into the world... and the hopes that an audience will find it much like it has on the circuit and spread it and the great work of so many.

We achieved the dream. And now...

I'll be completely honest in that I don't know what my future in the world of filmmaking will be. I love it and storytelling with all my heart. I love molding and working with people, the collaboration of getting in it with a cast and crew and bringing pages to life.  I'll never feel more at "home" or comfortable then when I'm sleep deprived amongst 20-30 other people on a manic set trying to "get it done". It's the only time anything makes sense even amid the chaos and hardships. I don't know if I'll ever transcend what I do or if I'm meant to, whether or not "they" (whoever "they" are) will ever let me play in the big sand box. I've made a lot of peace with being fine either way...  I have a few passion projects and ideas I've always wanted to do and if the opportunity to walk those roads came I'd saddle up and ride forward... I don't know if those will be a reality.

But I do have one more story to tell and one more road of four years or more to walk. "Wake-up In New York" completes a full-cycle for me as a storyteller but also in becoming an adult. I started "...Around" officially on my 23rd birthday when I told myself I'd just go out swinging and trying and make a movie and "Things" was me a few years later simply trying to prove I could do it again, have faith in a friend and learn from my mistakes.

The new story is me telling a love story. It's an honest to goodness sometimes sweet, sometimes painful love story. The other films have dealt a lot with relationships, sometimes romantic but not in this particular way. It's about growing up and changing and how time and unmet expectations affect us and those around us. The theme of home runs throughout all my previous work and this story does so in concentrated form because it boils down the essential idea that I don't find home in places I find them in people. It's been painful to write and painful to work on because it's honest in a way I don't even know if I'm ready to be, which is usually fertile ground for any art. It's also bigger in scope and structure as well as technical skill to achieve. In short while there will be a Christmas scene that will top the TIDU Thanksgiving scene in more ways than one and be true to my voice... there will be no dancing vaginas, comic crutches or asides. This will be the most different and adult thing I've ever tried to do. I'm excited and scared as shit to finally really dive into it...

So today a new cycle begins of writing, creating and whatever the future brings. TIDU is finally wrapped and ready... And a new road is taking shape....

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Family Albums and Waking-Up In NY


It’s been awhile again…

I’ve seen more than I remember and I remember more than I’ve seen in my time in this place, but I wrote it all down.

Well, I used to write everything down….

I had a journal book that had more than scribblings of thoughts, journal entries, jokes and dirty limericks. It’s had napkins and nick-nacks, photos and cartoons, business cards and strange souvenirs.

In the Spring of 2009 during one of my many “transitory”-living periods, a locker I kept that “memory-book” in was broken into and the contents, including a box of photos and other things, were destroyed. All the moments and memories would exist only in what I had committed to my mind, which while in many ways a steel trap as only a writer can recall, isn’t the whole story. Many things were lost or altered and I couldn’t get them back.

I haven’t kept a journal or book like that once since that time. If nothing is permanent then why begin and try to keep it? The closest I’ve ever come has been this production blog and, lets be honest it’s been pretty spotty at best, especially in the last year.

A few years ago I made a proclamation to start this blog and about the year of pre-production through post on TIDU. I thought I was ending a journey with making this last film and instead I was just passing through an awkward middle.  This journey and process doesn’t end with Violet and Co. riding off into the Greenpoint sunset having grown, changed and processed the meaning of life and death for themselves after all. It turns out there’s actually a whole lot more left in the well.

I have one more story to tell.

I mulled over the idea of hanging up the gloves after finishing “Things”.  I sacrificed many things to bring to fruition the two films that came. I’ve pushed myself and I’ve pushed those I work with to the brink of exhaustion in the pursuit of something greater. I put in jeopardy or sacrificed friendships, relationships and other life opportunities in the determined battle to see each one of these missions out. I’ve put the stories first and the last one took more than I ever thought I’d have to give. As much as I love the final product and many of the experiences, some I’ve even yet to have with “Things”, there’s a lot of dark and pain tacked onto it that I hated ending it with but at the same time was far too war torn to conceive of doing anything after it.

I was going to take a back-seat, sort out my life and my future and any filmmaking or storytelling would either be as a hobby or I’d be consulting others on how best to get their babies off the ground and stay sane (as much as one can) during the process. I was going to drink beer, watch hockey, do some traveling and let things come as they may. I was going to be a David on the wind and find serenity in every second of it as a civilian.

Besides there are so many ways to express one self creatively that isn’t making a film and a lot of them I enjoyed. I could always write, could always doodle or find a different way to tell the stories that might come to me. I had nothing left to prove to anyone and a majority of those I hadn’t were never going to offer it. I’d made peace with what I’d accomplished and how I had gone from A to B, side swipes and zig zags included. I also realized that, ambitious as I can occasionally be, topping taking on the meaning of life and what happens when we dies in the spectrum of my work would be a bit of mountain to climb and would take the right kind of story nipping at me.

Then it called. It screamed. It clawed.

I’ve been working on something the last few months and in a lot of weird ways it’s been working on me.  Writing has always been, even at it’s most difficult or blocked, a therapeutic and cathartic experience for me. This was something different altogether I had never experienced before. This was the refilling of my soul and my purpose. It started as I began working on a draft of a half auto-biography, half-how-to-make-an-indie-film book for a potential publisher, with little sparks, niggling of ideas and overall concepts as I walked around the city running errands or drunkenly stumbled late at night. It echoed behind music from a bar jukebox or in every sip of middle of the night “miracle wishing” scotch. It’s been keeping me up at night or literally waking me as I try and write and sharpen it and make it cohesive. And it’s only been in this last week that I’ve gotten a real understanding on what story I’m actually telling.

I’ve always affectionately referred to my previous work as “valentines” or “love-letters” to New York City and they have been. They’ve also been to the people I’ve known and to my own experiences in this place over the last ten years and change, whether that is strictly autobiographical like “…Around” or emotionally and philosophically so like “Things”. I watched both of them recently, in succession and I saw what they truly were for maybe the first time. Far removed from the creative process, the pressures, the memories and the films themselves I could finally grasp that they were my new journal and memory book. They were my personal feelings and creative ideas captured but also the memories and passion shared with every single person who ever had anything to do with them both onscreen and off.

They’re my true family albums.

I can tell you this is truly and completely the final chapter in a process that started with “…Around”.  In many odd ways, while it’s light years from that first film it’s also very much in that vein and it’s energy. It’s about the desire and innocence of youth and first coming this place, the almost nuclear creative energy that surrounds it and those who are lucky enough to inhabit.

At least that’s where it start… and goes beyond any growth that made its way into “Things”. It’s more than just the final tale in a trilogy, but it’s coming full-circle to everything I’ve been trying to say for the last seven years.

 It’s a sequel, it’s a remake, it’s a reboot, it’s a reimagining, it’s a spin-off, it’s--

“Wake-Up In New York”



I’ve been asked a few times in the last few weeks just exactly what the new story is…

At it’s core it’s a love story, but as anyone who’s ever really been in love before—whether it’s a person, place or thing--that means there’s going to be pain, there’s going to be transition and there’s going to be a lot of midnight reflection.  It’s a love story over ten years between two people and between two cities, between the art of storytelling, writing, and a quest for home and family. It’s about soul mates and muses, sometimes hostile and toxic and how that changes, about how relationships affect and alter us for the better and the worst. It’s about the moments we keep deeply in our hearts, replaying over and over as well as the ones we can’t wait to bury or spend hours trying to rewrite or wish had never happened. It’s about the words we can’t take back and the actions that define everything we’re about to become. It’s about growing up and how everything, every feeling makes that change from having many layers and possibilities to sometimes being very black and white. It’s about creating and destroying and finding the balance between our dreams and our realities. It’s the passing between friends, lovers, surrogate family and important strangers. It has a science fiction and narrative twist to it wholly different then any of the other two films but complements them completely.

It’s also about “that moment” for all of us in our lives. We all have one.

There’s a moment that happens in the thick of it all when you start to wonder when you began living someone else’s life. In April 2011 I was sitting in a dark bar wondering just, “what the fuck had happened?” and on the completely opposite end of the spectrum I found myself standing on an auditorium stage in April 2012 in Colorado Springs asking myself the exact same question.

I’ve never won an award for filmmaking or anything really. I’ve been lauded personally and professionally, received a few honors, pats on the back and critical favoring but have never been presented with an award. I certainly didn’t see the honor that I humbly received at the Indie Spirit Film Festival coming, one that belonged not just to me but every person that helped in the smallest to largest way to bring this story to life. I stood there under the bright lights, accepting for all of us, silly grin and whatever pep-talk cum acceptance speech-“go out and fight”-thing I usually babble about…

I got back to my seat, smiles and nods from those in the audience I’d gotten to know while at the festival over the last 48 hours, and stared at the strange award in my hand. I could tell you I was trying to figure out how I’d get the potentially flight risk and sharp glass object through security at two international airports and I wouldn’t be lying… but I had a more honest thought going through my head.

I was back to the evening of my 23rd birthday, sitting alone in front of a pint in a dive bar and a blank page of the lost memory-book. It was the night I made a vow to be in production on my first feature film a year later never knowing all the winding roads and faces that would await me. Never believing I’d really be able to successfully do it or be sitting in an auditorium in another time zone with an award for my second one. I just wanted to know that I gave myself the chance to have an “at-bat”.

That same reflection and returning to the place we started, truly knowing it for the first time and using it to move forward. That’s what the soul of this new story is really about.

It’s the most complicated thing I’ve ever tried to do narratively but more so after banging out a very raw and rough and long first draft in March it’s been the hardest to work on of any of the previous screenplays. It’s personal. It’s extremely personal, uncomfortable, revealing, honest… and these things and the feelings are all the signs to me that maybe I have something special again. Something worth fighting for and telling. Something I haven’t done before.

So, Summer 2013 I’m ready to get the band back together and go into the fray one more time.  It’s chance to reunite with just about everyone I’ve had the joy to create with, some I’ve been meaning to and brand new faces to family alum. I’m going to bring every last drop of me to it and make something that no one has ever seen before. I’m going tell a truly original New York story (this time with a slice of LA) one more time with the people I care about and believe in. I’m going to make a valentine to the previous valentines by upping the ante in the production value, the storytelling and the set experience. I’m going to go out with my fists up and my heart full and some old but refined tricks up my sleeves. It’s my real swan song because even if I make another film after this one… it’s going to for someone else, by someone else but never like these three.  This is how I say “goodbye” and “I love you” one more time.  This is how I make something not just good, great or that holds up years from now. I want to make something that gets better with age and has more meaning.

I'm going to complete a draft of the script later this month to send off to a few people and start the process and a year long and change journey.

And I’m going to be writing about it here. Again.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Epilogue


"April 21, 2011"

It's a little over nine months since I last wrote here. A lot has happened in the last nine months since that last entry, film and life related, and I've been scared to sit down and try to. Its not because it was overwhelming to try and play catch-up but because I always meant for this place to be an honest detail of making a film and all that surrounded it; good, bad, ugly and always personal to the point of uncomfortable. It was almost a ritual of just sitting down and plainly stating what was going on with the production through all it's phases, sometimes on a day-to-day basis or simply putting up stills from production and letting images tell the stories I didn't have the time or the words to. It was meant to keep the information flowing and also help ring out some writing rust.

I can remember why that date where I last left off has significance other than being the last entry. It's because it's when I had my ultimate moment of weakness and came close to doing something I never thought I would. I almost gave completely up.

It was the tail-end of Week 3 of shooting "Things I Don't Understand" and I hadn't slept in ten days. Now normally when someone says they haven't slept what they're actually referring to is extremely minimal or poor sleep, maybe an hour here or there, or naps.

Nope. I hadn't slept in ten days. Not a nap, not a wink and there was absolutely no amount of caffeine, Red bull or drug stimulant that could fix how physically and emotionally exhausted I was at the moment that day. There was the usual expected and unexpected stresses of making a feature film, especially as complicated with as many nuts and bolts as this project in the time frame and for the budget we had, but I was also juggling a bit of a personal crisis at the time on "off-hours" (as if such a thing exists during production) that forced me to go above and beyond 24-hour man.

And so there I was sitting in this dark and damp corner of a bar in Greenpoint that had been our location for the past two days. I'd spent at least 12 hours daiy trapped in that little corner because of positioning of equipment and the tight space of the bar, in the dark, sitting and staring at a monitor and trying to keep focused and alert. I nodded off for the first time in ten days(passed out, really) during lunch time.

It didn't just make sense. I "didn't understnad".

I had an amazing cast and crew that were pushing daily to achieve the unachievable. I was pushing myself harder than I ever had, because I had to in order to lead and get things done, because this was a real chance for something great. We were here on the playing field with an opportunity to tell this story with all the players I wanted, to have faith in a friend to carry the ball and live up to their own promise and abilities, to make a home and a family for people to do their best work.

If the rumbling of anticipation and excitement for making this all a reality were any indication it should have been the most joyful month and experience. The hitch was I'd been depleted at this point and it felt miserable. It was grueling. Every day was hard whether it was dealing with some new issues, having to kick and push someone further and put them in uncomfortable situations because you knew they could overcome it, or just not sleeping and knowing all the things that were going on and being responsible.

Then something in me just broke.

I thought about calmly taking off my head phones, getting up from my little dark corner and walking out into the early afternoon April sunlight and not going back inside. I'd keep walking and not look back and figure out a destination when I arrived at it or when some body of water or landscape prevented me from moving any further.

I managed to walk back in and go a few more rounds and whole other week. I found a way to do the thing I always did, that an old parental figure once referred to as "being professional". It doesn't matter if you're beaten, licking you're wounds and want to throw in the towel. It doesn't matter how hurt you are, if you're going to make it through or whatever emotional molotov cocktail is brewing inside. It doesn't even matter if you're spirit is really broken. You go back, you put on a smile and you do it and do it well. Professional. Be a solider.

I did just that and put on the smile and fought through another week and any other incidents that popped up. The final "cut" had been called in the early hours of April 30th and it was over. I soon arrived home at my current apartment that still, even after a few months, looked more like an office then any kind of home and sprawled out on my mattress for an hour's rest before attending to a personal matter.

My eyes wouldn't close and there was a ton of fear that I hadn't done my job. I'd gotten through it and manage to hold my own but that the work wasn't there and it would suffer for it. I'd let everyone down in the end and crushed me a bit.

I slept-walked through a wrap party the following evening, fueled on muscle memory and prohibition styled whiskey. When I returned back to the "office" I sat at my lap top and prepared to update this page... the last date kept flickering at me and I couldn't do it. I didn't want to write or update or talk to anyone. I wanted to curl up into a ball or lay down on the ground and bleed through the cracks.:

I'd decompress the first week of May after the shoot wrapped, somewhere between mini-comas, gratuitous intoxication and reflection-land. A visit from a dear friend across the pond forced me out of my cave into some sightseeing and open dialogue I began cutting and reassembling the story as a form of catharsis to reconnect to it and reignite my love for it. And I found it in the performances and the work of the great crew. I cut and I cut and I cut and I showed it around and re-cut. I spent the summer working on that film and going back to construction in the Summer heat during the early hours. There was something oddly full-circle about my days digging and lifting with cool sweat down your back and then going

We had our first big test screening on June 30th and it went over great. Evaluation forms helped trim some more baby fat but overall the cut of the film connected with the varied age and gender audience and they all got the story and the meaning. I knew that there was still work that had to be done giving it a proper sound mix and color correct, but I was closer than ever despite all that had come earlier to telling a story exactly as I had set out to.

A post facility that was going to give us a gratis color correct found themselves temporarily imploding and unable to help us on any particular deadline or to the terms they'd implied months previously. Festival and personal deadlines were on the horizon and the flame out of a producer on the film had held up our SAG bond and various other funds that would have helped us.

The lovely and talented Grace came to the rescue as I probably had a bit of a mental breakdown in front of her. She, with a bit of an inspirational and motivation talk, prompted me to keeping fighting, so I'd reach out to anyone and everyone I'd ever known or helped in an effort to raise 5k to get a color correct done in time and make our deadlines.

I sublet my place and spent a month living and work "...around" and out of my old school's library, raising the money and working on the film with the ├╝ber talented Blase Theodore of Contact-Post DI who gave us a deal and really knocked it out of the park. Because of the consistent and well-done job lighting the film the balancing of it took no time and at all and we were free to play with effects and do fine details on the film.

We raised the money we needed and then some thanks to the generosity of people involved with the film, old friends, strangers and those who believed in this story. We managed to get the sound mixed and the incredible score mixed in, the boys of Creative Mixing once again going above and beyond the job at hand.

I spent October, which should have been time to finally decompress, dealing with a bit of attempted extortion from one of the most sad, jealous destructive individuals I've ever encountered and made the mistake of ever including in this project. Because of some of the personal ridiculousness I'd encountered while making this film and and a bit of exhaustion towards the last leg of completing it I almost believed they had the power to ruin all the work and effort of so many good people.

Then I realized who I was. I was the guy who's been taking a sharpie marker to life's plans for me since I could remember, who bounced around train stations here and abroad, made any concrete floor my home, charmed the devil and stood up to every bank in the country. I'd taken some pretty big fish in my day so I held on to my resolve and fought them tooth and nail. They eventually undid themselves with their own bluff and insanity exposing just the kind of individual they really were.

Since then the flame out and bailing of a friend and person who worked on the film and the nightmare of undone paperwork and unmet responsibilities caused the holiday season to be one of going through an endless of paper trail or trial of will to get things done on time. I’m not even sure we’ve completely sorted all of it out yet and what that will mean for the immediate future, but I’ll handle it like I’ve handled the rest, with the support of those who are in my life and a little bit of old-school "Doyle" ethos.

We’ve been getting extremely positive reviews and it’s great to see your family being appreciated in that way, that all the hard work and belief you had is being understood and welcomed. I believe this the thing that’s going to open doors for a lot of people and I can only wish them the strongest faith and fullest hearts as they chose to walk through them.

On January 24th I celebrated my 29th birthday looking for a mellow night and was surprised by a gathering of a group of friends and family involved in this journey. It was maybe the best and most unexpected present I could have received and was better time and more appreciated then any of them could know. It’s those kind of moments that maintain you resolve in the face of all that’s daunting on the horizon and who you work for.

And on the same night the other grand present was testing the incredible Blu-ray of “Things” on the giant screen in Auditorium 1 of the Landmark Sunshine. I got to see my own work hold it’s own after a long war to get it done on a giant movie screen. It’s sounds were booming down the hallway long after I left the theater and I couldn’t contain the smile on my face when I realized I once snuck into that same theater, without a home or a reason, to see a screening of “Adaption” almost ten years earlier. A very odd full-circle.

Tomorrow night is a reunion, a celebration, a vindication and an end. It’s the end of a journey that I could say was the last four years of my life or the last ten, but more than likely it’s been my whole life. After the last year, the struggles and that particular day in April in that bar there isn’t a whole hell of a lot left that scares me, except maybe the moment I hit that stage to introduce the film. That moment is something I've been rapidly gravitating towards and maybe a bit terrified of my whole life.

Every ending is a new beginning and starting it right is the challenge and the goal. A swan song and a new road all in the same evening is what it’s going to be. A rebirth.

I'm going to change things up a bit with the re-opening of this page. I'll give updates on the film and it's upcoming festival screenings, promotion and eventual distribution. But I'll just be writing again... what's going on, old war stories and anecdotes and what's coming up next.

For the road ahead...