Twenty years ago, I had the extraordinary privilege of meeting the screenwriter William Goldman, who passed away today. His death reminded me of the generosity and respect he afforded a completely green writer and left me with that sense of loss from what could have been.
So my short film ACID TEST premiered last Sunday as part of Literally Short Film Festival’s “Local & Fresh” Selection of Texas shorts and I think it went really really well. A short write-up on it is found on the film’s website blog and includes a post about our cast-crew-contributor screening that occurred the week before. So I thought I would use this opportunity to express the anxiety of launching into festival season.
AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!! As a filmmaker, it’s hard enough just to get your film off the ground and into production. Then it’s another beast to get it through post. Then you have this thing, this video file, that you want people to see and you look out into the vast ocean of content and opportunities and you realize you are but a molecule of H2O. And while getting your film picked by a festival is completely out of your hands, there’s all this strategizing and connection-making to get noticed, to get a waiver or a discount…
I feel like I’m in high school all over again trying to get noticed by the popular crowd. Trying to catch the eye of the kid I like. Strategizing how I’m going to lose my virginity. Do I just get it over with? Or do I wait for someone I love? And what will people think of me once I’ve done it?
ACID TEST has been selected to play at the Literally Short Film Festival here in Houston as part of their Local & Fresh selection of Texas shorts. We are honored and excited to launch our festival season by premiering at a festival where we can celebrate with our family, friends, contributors, and community at large. The Festival Director and fellow filmmaker friend Lorís Simón Salum is a supporter of ACID TEST and I’m so pleased to be included in a festival that celebrates its Mexican roots since the mother character in ACID TEST is Mexican-American.
Making movies is telling a story through pictures, performances, words, and sounds. I began this journey into movie-making through visuals first when my father taught me how to develop photographs when I was in 1st grade. No, before that, I started ballet like many pre-schoolers and started learning about physical movement and performance timed to sound. Eventually, I began writing and falling in love with the written word. I would rewrite and rewrite letters to pen-pals until they were perfectly worded and that the words fell on the page in a visually interesting/impactful way. I began taking piano lessons.
But learning all these techniques does not give you story. For story you have to live. You have to understand, or at least seek understanding. You have to engage in relationships and the world around you, expand what you know and try to look through another’s eyes…It’s a never-ending quest to find story, to write story, to tell story because you are constantly learning and experiencing and framing…
Add to all that the variables of performance, location, crew, equipment, luck, and making movies becomes a miraculous feat when one is completed. A study in controlled chaos. You have to tell a story using the visuals you capture, supported by the sounds you captured and/or design.
So here is a story of how I started discovering my eye.
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?
Today was my last day at work for the Southwest Alternate Media Project (SWAMP) as their Program Coordinator. It’s the first job I’ve ever quit without some other reason like “I’m moving to another state.” Moreover, unlike my predecessor in the job, Michelle Mower, who left the position because she was pursuing full-time filmmaking, I’m leaving for a full-time job that’s not in my field. It’s the proverbial day-job and I guess I had hoped that through my work at SWAMP I would eventually be able to leave the day-job behind.
But life happens, schedules change, finances shift, and I couldn’t work at SWAMP and work my flexi day job and take care of things like…my kids. It was too much. And what was going down the drain? My creative projects: my writing, my films.
So I’m walking away from a job in my field that I enjoyed having, that put me in touch with the larger filmmaking community and taking a risk that I will balance my life and focus once again on my own creative juices. I’ve spent a lot of time in the last couple of years fostering everyone else’s. And I enjoy that immensely, but I also need to foster myself.
Truth be told: I’m scared. It’s all on me, no hiding anymore. Time to see if I can make things happen. I don’t expect overnight inspiration. I’m looking for day-in, day-out work building toward something I can be proud of.
Thanks to SWAMP for the support and inspiration I needed these last 7 years. Not just the 2 I worked as Program Coordinator, but the 5 I was a Board Member.
I never really thought I’d make this kind of decision. It’s kind of like when I decided not to move back to Los Angeles after my divorce. It was the right decision, it was the necessary decision, but it was also just a bit bittersweet.
Since March/April of this year, I’ve been putting together the program for the 9th Annual Business of Film Conference presented by Southwest Alternate Media Project (SWAMP) and Texas Accountants and Lawyers for the Arts (TALA). As the Program Coordinator for SWAMP, I organize this event (contact speakers, create panel lineups, coordinate travel…etc), with the advisement of a small committee and the help of my Executive Director, Mary Lampe. This past Friday and Saturday, all this hard work was realized.
There were about 75 attendees, 33 speakers, and 10 volunteers/staff. And while Houston isn’t known for its filmmaking, there IS a lot of filmmaking going on and I know a ton of people who make films but were not at the Business of Film Conference. I would love to know WHY. I know that life can sometimes get in the way and people have other obligations. But there just seems to be a disproportionate number of people who don’t come for other reasons. So instead of hammering into people why they should come, I’ll explain what I get out of this particular Conference, and why it’s important for me to attend.
I’m starting a new initiative to get this website rolling!
Welcome to MOVIE MONDAYS! I will also be having WRITING WEDNESDAYS and PHOTO FRIDAYS. Check in each week to see new posts regarding these topics.
So for my inaugural Movie Monday post, I want to focus on learning to make movies at film school versus on the job.
Today, August 5th, is the first day of a Teen Filmmaking Camp run by the organization I work for Southwest Alternate Media Project (SWAMP) which is a great resource for indie filmmakers and people who want to see independent films and support indie filmmaking. It’s a 5 day intensive program for kids ages 13-17 where Day 1 the kids learn the basics of story and come up with their script, Day 2 they break down the script into what they need to shoot the project and who will do what, Days 3 and 4 are production, and Day 5 is post. They screen the films for family and friends at the end of Day 5. Phew!
This all got me thinking, what is the “best” way to learn how to make movies? Ultimately, there is no best because what’s best for me might be the worst for you or impossible to do because of money or family or whatever. But people still argue the point and I’m sure with this list of film schools, there is further argument as to why USC is “the best” and the others are somewhere else on the top 25 list, or not on it at all.