There’s a lot of work that goes into making a movie – short or long – and I know it’s a choice I make to do it, especially when it’s outside of my day job that keeps me and my children alive. Yes, I would love to be able to do this as my job full-time, but it’s also incredibly freeing to choose which projects to do and when. And no matter how much is going on at my day job, I am constantly, constantly, working on a creative project. I don’t see filmmaking or writing as “work” even though it’s hard. I don’t see it as work even though I know sometimes I’m sucking at it. To me it’s like breathing – it’s part of my autonomic system. It’s in my DNA.
That knowledge was something I discovered when I dropped acid as a teenager and came home after a concert with hours more to go in my trip. All I wanted to do was write things down. I was a wildly moody teenager (or maybe that’s just being a teenager) and writing about the world and about what was going on in my head helped me survive from one day to the next. I truly believe that writing saved my life, and as it saved my life it became my life. So no matter what I’m doing, every day, I’m writing or reading or watching something that expands my knowledge of the world, of myself, of people, but mostly of storytelling. The goal changed as well from simply surviving to the next day to producing something for someone else to enjoy.
Recently, I wrote a short film about this moment in my childhood. ACID TEST will be in production at the end of January. So the question is: Why this project? Why now?
We are producing the upcoming short film ACID TEST about a teenage girl who drops acid at a concert only to go home and confess to her parents what she’s done with four more hours to go in her “trip.” Set in 1992, the story is about teenage rebellion and parents’ unconditional love and was inspired by difficult personal experiences.
I’m currently casting for an upcoming short film that I’ve written and will direct. As a writer/director, I both love and hate the casting process. I love it because I get to try on different faces and voices and bodies to the characters and words I’ve had dancing around in my head; I hate it because I have to pass judgment on people based on face value. It always makes me think how hard it must be to be an actor, putting your face and your body out there for a quick judgment without knowing you or your abilities or your passions. I couldn’t do it, and so I admire everyone who is bold enough to throw in their hat, and I want to tell each and every one of you “Good luck!” and “I wish I could take all of you!”
At the same time, I see a number of ways that actors are shooting themselves in the foot with their submissions. Websites like Backstage.com or Actors Access allow you to submit more and more to peak a casting director’s interest, but MORE IS NOT ALWAYS BETTER. So here are some things, obviously based on my own opinions and experience, that I would like to offer as food for thought when you submit:
When my daughter was around 3, she created what my father liked to call “Confederate Graveyards” (don’t ask me why) because she would line up pillows from around the house in a row, stick every doll face down on that pillow, and then cover them entirely with a blanket. The thing was, that’s how she napped in pre-school – you would lay down on a little mattress and the teachers would cover your entire body with a blanket. So my daughter wasn’t burying her dolls, she was putting them to sleep for their naps. I couldn’t find a picture of one, but she had around 10 dolls, so you can imagine the mounds lined up in my living room.
I don’t remember playing with dolls much, and I’m not a very girly-girl, but for my daughter, dolls are a living thing. In addition to putting them down for naps, she also did circle time and taught them like she was taught at her Montessori pre-school. I once opened up her closet to find 3 dolls in the back corner. When I asked her why, she said that “They were bad” and were being punished by getting stuffed into the closet. She didn’t seem to understand that maybe they had paid for their crime.
She’s going on 9 now and her imagination still astounds me. She has full-on conversations. Each doll has its own personality. My daughter teaches her class of dolls and stuffed animals, which now numbers in the 40s. I know have a step-daughter who’s 10 and she is equally (often more) intense about her dolls and play-acting. Like many girls, they have an obsession with American Girl dolls, the bane of any parent’s existence save for Disney. And the American Girl Doll stores are so crafty and clever about playing into this obsession: Come eat with your doll at the cafe! Get your doll’s hair styled! Hers-and-hers outfits so that girl and doll can match (swimsuits, pajamas, dresses, t-shirts, shoes…)
You would think with how much the girls love these dolls (and with how bleeding expensive they are) that they would treat the dolls like they were made out of porcelain and keep it tidy.
Such is not the case, at least not with my girls. They are everywhere in my house. Often lurking behind some corner or in a chair where I mistake that hair for an actual child/person. They freak my sons out, staring at the boys from their perch. Sneaky, sneaky little devils.
Enjoy the horror.
One winter when I was around 10, on the road back to DC from Montreal, the weather forced us to stop overnight. In a hotel room with a street lamp right outside our window, casting shadows everywhere, my father turned on the TV and watched NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET. I was supposed to be asleep in bed, but I wasn’t. And so I watched and would be afraid of Freddy Kruger well into my adult life.
Wes Craven terrified me as a child, and yet from everything I’ve read about the man, he seemed so unassuming, so quiet, and so nice. There was something about this sensitivity, his intelligence, and his quiet yet forceful dedication toward storytelling and filmmaking that I always respected and admired. He was part of the flashiest section in the flashiest field and yet he seemed anything but. It’s a testament to the imagination. He is our generation’s Hitchcock.
RIP to a man who made nightmares real and revolutionized and inspired horror films.
Ruby by Cynthia Bond is about Ephram Jennings who in his 40s finally finds the strength to go against the sister that raised him and the community that supported him to pursue his childhood love of the local crazy Ruby who is shamed as a godless whore corrupting the good men in a small black town in Texas during the 60s. Through various character vantage points and flashbacks, we learn the harrowing and complicated history of the central lovers and their community, which includes unflinching accounts of child rape, murder, and physical abuse, set within a spiritual war between Christianity, a form of Voodooism, and simple human decency.
I am so glad that I read Ruby by Cynthia Bond. Given the subject matter of the book, “glad” would seem like the wrong word, but this book fed a piece of my soul, and for that I am grateful and, yes, glad. Given the subject matter of the book, it would seem like a “hard” book to read, something I wouldn’t easily consume, something that would take me a long time to get through. But Cynthia Bond has a way with words and a way with story and she wrapped her words and her story around my mind and my heart and my soul and took me down this path, little by little, until I couldn’t turn away from the horror, but became a witness and therefore part of a possible solution. What is the solution? Hope. Acceptance. Not turning a blind eye. Not shying away from truth.
It’s summer in Florida; people said not to go. But due to various scheduling restrictions, we had no choice. We had to go to Orlando at the end of July and do Disney and Universal with the mob of everyone else. I think we did it right overall, but the highlight of the trip, hands down, was Harry Potter Land in Universal Studios Orlando.
“Why?” My brother asked, astounded (and possibly disgusted since he hasn’t read any of the books and only saw the movies under familial pressure). “You’ve traveled around and seen real castles and real towns and real beauty, but you act as if nothing compares to Harry Potter Land.”
He was right: nothing compares. I can tell you that Prague is the most beautiful city I’ve been to and still go googly-eyed looking at the Hogwarts Castle in Hogsmeade. They are two completely different things. One is borne out of history and survival. The other is borne out of the imagination.
Love is Red is the story of a serial killer with a mysterious purpose attacking New York City and the woman who becomes his ultimate prize, the one he pursues for his final kill. Told in alternating POV, the story is gripping, scary, thrilling, and very sexy. The writer uses the second-person voice for the serial killer’s POV which is a stroke of genius. It makes the reader culpable by making us sympathize with and understand this monster. From the very beginning, we get the sense that the serial killer is omniscient, he just reads people too well, and while he’s somewhat cavalier and sadistic when he goes in for the kill, it never gets gruesome or graphic or crass.
It’s one of the strongest openings I’ve ever read, a real shot of adrenaline straight to the heart.
The serial killer feels emotions through the senses, much like Death views human souls as colors in The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak. The descriptions in Love is Red go beyond seeing a particular color to include sounds, tastes, smells, and feelings.
“Terror is the color of under the bed, it is the color of bone marrow and the color of chalk, it wails like sirens, it hums like wasps, it thuds like an MRI machine, it tastes of sweat, it tastes of metal, it tastes of rising bile, it feels like the scrape of cement against skin, it thumps like a pounding heart.”
Chapter 11 is almost entirely a key to the map of all the emotions: “Love is red…Anticipation is aquamarine…Ambition is orange, the color of a traffic signal…Anxiety is light blue, the color of varicose veins…” It is possible the descriptions could have been trimmed, they do verge on the edge of indulgent, but it is such sensual writing (literally) that it feels like a mini daydream in the middle of a nightmare. Truly exquisite.
The woman he’s ultimately after, Katherine, shows up in the second chapter with her first-person voice telling us about the date she’s on. It’s so relatable and she’s a bit on the sarcastic side, which I personally love. She finds herself drawn to her new boyfriend’s best friend, who is dark and distant, and is clearly the serial killer. She tries to ignore all the hysteria about the serial killer’s latest kill, how no one knows how he gets in, how there’s not a trace or a clue to his identity. She wants to live a normal life, she wants to find a man to love, but even in that she fails as she’s torn between the good, sweet, funny, respectful David and the enigmatic, boundary-crossing, lustful Sael.
I can only speak to my experience, and I hope to go again to build from this experience. I’m sure some of this info will change for the next year, but the gist of it will probably remain. I think so much depends on your expectations and goals and how you adjust to the reality when you arrive.
Going into the trip, I imagined Cannes was going to be a glamorous and elegant event all around, filled with celebrities right and left. Having lived and worked in Hollywood for a few years, especially on studio lots, I thought that by gaining entrance to this invitation-only event, that I would be treated like I belonged in this crazy world of movie-making.
Why am I always looking for approval and validation?
Have you heard of this book Black Moon by Kenneth Calhoun? Go read it. Right now. Yes, I mean right now. It’s about how insomnia becomes a viral plague spreading across the world pitting those effected against the few remaining who can still sleep and dream. It makes you wonder how real is your reality.
Written in some of the most beautiful prose I’ve read in a long time, this poetic, haunting, exceptionally told story follows three main characters in a end-of-the-world saga that feels so real, so subtle, so scary without any zombies, vampires, or otherworldly creatures to blame.
In the end, there are no answers, and that was fine with me. The ideas sparked by this book rang so true and while I want to know more, to know why, to know what will happen after “the end,” I am thoroughly satisfied with this book. And that’s a hard thing to accomplish.