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Saturday, November 29, 2014

Revision: What a Slow Agonizing Pain in the Tuckus!

Interviewer: How much rewriting do you do?
Hemingway: It depends. I rewrote the ending of Farewell to Arms, the last page of it, 39 times before I was satisfied.
Interviewer: Was there some technical problem there? What was it that had stumped you?
Hemingway: Getting the words right.
– Ernest Hemingway, The Paris Review Interview, 1956

I put this quote here to start this post about what I feel is one of the most laborious and difficult tasks a creator has before him or her: that of refining, editing, and revision. Why is it so hard? If the answer were universal and easily applied, I'd publish a self-help book for writers and be a millionaire. Countless people already try this.

So, I can only speculate on my own difficulty with revision. I consider my "weapon" of choice to be that of narrative filmmaking, but I have produced quite a bit of prose and a bit less of purely visual art. Each process has its own revisionist pains, and all are experienced differently. But as writing for me is part of both prose and the early stages of filmmaking, (and it's what I've been doing the most of lately), I'll have to give more perspective on this as the wounds of revision are fresh and nasty.

1. Starting.
Starting is hard. Staring everyday (and I mean everyday of the week) on the same project is harder. For me, it's about the tension I often feel as a writer, when just sitting down at my computer, and that nagging critical inner voice starts to creep in to set standards that are beyond expectations. She's like the mean coach in middle school PE that made us tweens run a mile while she was sneaking puffs on her Marlboros. That little critical voice is a bitch, so some meditation sometimes helps before writing. Ten to twenty minutes, while my two cats battle it out over laptime. (I wonder if the Buddha had the same problem.) While trying to meditate and avoid feline distractions, I attempt to recognize the voice and the tension, and actively say "I see you, you little cunt," which seems to sometimes be a good way to mute the inner critic.  Also, a few glasses of red wine, or any available tasty alcoholic beverage, will usually put that critic right to sleep, and (unfortunately) me a short time after.

Toni Morrison
2. Choosing.
You've gotten all the way to the "finish line." (Yay, open up that bottle of Andre if you are a poor artist like me, but if you have the means, go for the Krut Brut Vintage, 1988.) There are now words on paper that was once as white and bare as a Little Debbie Zebra snack cake. Notes from your trusted colleagues are available. Now what? Well, it's time to pick up your machete and "kill those darlings," hack them to tiny bits and shove them in a garbage bag. This I think is inevitably easier to do with script writing than with prose. There is so much liberty in prose that I feel does not exist in narrative filmmaking, and a definite page number limit for screen plays that isn't really as stringent for prose.

So. What's working? Can you actually identify it? Why is it working? Keep that.

What isn't working? Why does it suck? Does it need to be in this draft then? No? Then delete that shit!

Sometimes I can't answer these questions. Sometimes I am just too close to the script or story, that I just can't choose. I find that putting away the draft for a little while, a week or longer, and starting something else creatively is immensely helpful. I've had lulls between drafts where I've written other things or gotten back into photography, certified myself in Pomeranian dog grooming techniques (joking), etc. as a break from wordsmithing. Coming back to the script or novel after this hiatus has allowed me to really see things that I was not able to see before hand. A nice vacation to a foreign country is also a great distraction from the burdens of your craft, but unfortunately, not in this woman's budget. Alternatively, for the ultimate poor artist's tip for creative perspective, you can do what I sometimes do, and put away your drafts for a decade or more, and then return to them. (For more details, I've already blogged about my file cabinet repository below.) A word of caution: sometimes it's rather humbling to see the crap that was spilling from your printer when you were in your fresh 20s, and it might make you forlornly question your current abilities as a writer. Hopefully, some little gem will be amongst the wasteland of your mind. A hard little diamond nugget shining through the poo.

Here's a nice Neil Gaiman quote on this idea:

“The best advice I can give on this is, once it’s done, to put it away until you can read it with new eyes. Finish the short story, print it out, then put it in a drawer and write other things. When you’re ready, pick it up and read it, as if you’ve never read it before. If there are things you aren’t satisfied with as a reader, go in and fix them as a writer: that’s revision.” — Neil Gaiman
Neil Gaiman

For How to Eat Pho, Martha Lynn returned some very big questions for my main characters that I could not answer for days. I'm clearer on the answers to these questions now, but it's still not all there. I can say that in these moments of frustration, at the point of tears, just putting something out there, as outlandish as it may be, at least gave me something to shape and form. A sculptor cannot sculpt without clay, even if it's homemade playdough. So, give yourself some words, even if they would make a sixth grader think you are dumb, so you can do something with them.

3. Knowing when to stop.
My co-producer wants to pre-film a "perfect" draft of How to Eat Pho. Well, this will never happen. There is no such thing as a perfect script, because defining perfection is a subjective thing. Your mom's idea of perfection is not yours (hopefully). This is why, no matter what anyone says about your work, it's up to you to figure out when it's "ready." If you are constantly revising, based on what everyone is saying about your work with whom you share it, you will have lost the core spirit of your writing, its energy and vitality, and you'll have something you no longer recognize. It's like over-whipping a batch of mashed potatoes until they become a sticky and pliable mound of starchy goo.

So, after all this stupid ranting I've done here, sometimes it just comes down to doing it, avoiding these stupid "how tos," and just practice, practice, practice.  And remind yourself when you are ready to light your script or novel on fire and wish it to slowly rot a painful death in the recycle bin of hell, that everything, even the process of revision, as much as it sucks, will end.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

What Puppets Are Teaching Me...

In my previous posts, I've been writing about my next feature project, How to Eat Pho, a black comedy that (for now) is about three distant sisters who have to get their shit together long enough to throw their dying ex-porn star dad his last birthday party. One sister is a mid-aged B zombie film director, one is an ESL teacher with a penchant for BDSM and vintage porn, and the youngest is a rather untalented but starry-eyed solo puppeteer.

I'm fortunate enough to have started working through the second draft with writer Martha Lynn Coon (Ring, Rip, Rent) who is serving as the dramaturg. While drafts are being reviewed, I've been thinking through the visual style of this story, trying to wrap my head about how I want to present these scenes. The last few years of my life have involved a lot of thinking about the artistry of film, how I feel it is more or less confined by standard coverage practices (wide shot, medium two shot, close ups, etc.,) and the structure of the traditional narrative. With the exception of the horror genre, I've discovered that film is largely expected to present reality, with a small twist of artistic license. A very small twist. I think this is largely a reflection of the era in which film was born. Other art forms, such as puppetry, have so much more stretch and wiggle room, I'm jealous. Of course, lots of directors go imaginatively beyond this (Jarman, Greenaway, Lynch are a few), and I've been wanting to find out what is my specific imaginative "stretch" for this film.  I'm lucky one of the characters, Annie, is a puppeteer, as this gives me ample rich territory to work with.

So, I started making puppets. My first ones. Inspired by Austin's own puppet troupes from Glass Half Full Theater and Trouble Puppet, I traipsed around fabric stores and Loews, gathered lots of wood, cloth, googly eyes, and began to assemble my versions of the characters, thinking that I might give some scenes a go as a solo puppet show, as told by Annie. My little puppets aren't that great, and I would never do a live performance with them, but they do the job for letting me get inside Annie's head a bit, and see what a scene looks like, through her point-of-view, performed by puppets that are her family members.

It's been a strange challenge, as a film director, to try to step into the skin of a puppeteer. I'm sure if there are any puppeteers actually reading this, they are laughing when I say it's hard to jump from one character to the next, remembering that each should have their own style of movement, voice, and not lose their face from the "audience" (a camera run by Jorge Sermini.) My brain tires easily I have noticed, from this step outside of my normal creative sphere. Ultimately, this is really good for me.

As it took me a while to build the entire cast of this film, (using everything from painted juice bottles, to cubes of wood with googly eyes, to the more complicated ones where dowel sticks were cut and jointed together with eye hook screws and string, faces completed with Sculpy) we have just started filming the scenes. I am interested to see where this puppet journey takes me.

I do want to introduce a puppeteer I have learned about by reading a great book by Eileen Blumenthal called "Puppetry: A World History," This woman is Theodora Skipitares and her work blows my mind. It borders somewhere between the closely aligned worlds of childhood storybook imagery and adult nightmares. She's worked with many prominent composers, and puppeteers in other parts of the world. She is now working with Greek myths. I will include some of the images here.

I am working to find the film equivalent in my own work, of how her stagings and works strike me.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Coffee stained napkins and stickie notes: the big black file cabinet as my Wunderkammer

If you step into my work space/office, one of the many things you will notice is a large black file cabinet, hailing from probably the 1960s and having been used by who knows how many disgruntled secretaries with carpal tunnel and bad beehive hairdos. I bought the thing at a used office supply store down on East 5th before the East Side of Austin was a trendy place for hipsters-to-be to spend their ample free time in training to graduate with degrees in coolness.

Minus the one shelf that contains tax files and school loan documents and other boring adult crap that will be tossed into the garbage when I die, the file cabinet has been the repository of most of the creative work I've done, at least, what I've been able to put on paper as sketches for future projects, ideas, snippets of things, works-in-progress. This includes napkins from the 90s when I was struck with an image for a painting, or an idea for some weird performance art thing involving roaches and water tanks (this was back when I was younger, more ignorant, and living in NYC of all places where you could do that stuff...kinda.) It also includes all of my scripts, bad and good, lots of not so great poetry, and prose.

Of all the items in this file cabinet contains, prose eats up most of the realestate. Why have I kept it all? Because even when I was a teenager, spouting out piles of stuff, I felt that I would find value in it at some point. Well, I have been wrong about a lot of things in my life, but for this I finally got something right. Many many years later, I often find myself digging through these files for new ideas, looking at yellowing pieces of paper, old coffee-stained napkins from my cigarette-smoking days of writing with friends in Mercer Street cafes or other East Side (NYC) coffee shops. It's strange to read these words that I don't recognize as having ever belonged to me, but to know them as having come from my hand at some point in the past. I was a better writer at 19 than I am now. I am not sure why this is, although I'm starting to speculate why and will talk about that in a future blog. For now, I think part of it was that I was a bigger risk taker then, a girl who had lived most of her life to that point, in a public education system that was more about babysitting bad kids than giving a lift to intelligent kids who showed some interest in learning. I was amazingly bored and didn't even know it, and not challenged by anything in middle school or in high school.

So, what happens when you take this kind of kid from Pueblo, Colorado, to one of the most stimulating cities in the world? Her brain is going to go into overdrive and write every bit of anything that passes through her skull. It was a feverish two years of capturing all of that, and realizing, even before turning 20, that it would take several human lifetimes to make all of those precious gems of ideas into solid and real works of tangible art to be experienced, and that most of these napkins of ideas would end up disintegrating over time, probably lost upon my death (wow, I've mentioned death twice in one blog post now), the idea gone and useless.

At one point a few years ago, I impulsively painted white sperm all over the file cabinet, as a metaphor for human conception. Most sperm are lost along the way, but only one will be, possibly, successful.

Despite the tragedy of this (not the sperm, but the ideas, there are too many humans on this planet as it is, and not enough great art), I'm still glad I have kept all of this writing and idea collecting.

My prose has been the more interesting parts of all this mental barf. And the more films I have watched over time, the more I have sensed that some of my favorite works have been adaptations from novels, or plays. I have longed at times, to have the luxury to write a novel first, then do a screenplay from this. Why didn't I? Well, I've only made two feature films, and both had very pressing deadlines, which made this novel-writing luxury a bit of a problem.

However, as I have been working on this third script, I don't have the same deadlines looming over me like an impending cold front. I don't have a lead actress arriving in a month and staying for five weeks. I don't have a remote Caribbean hotel open for me only during the off-season. And as I have been reading both Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Chuck Palahniuk on my bus commutes, and although different in styles, they have reminded me of revisiting the magic of language, the prose writing I used to do so freely when much younger.

So, about a month ago, I started writing a novel version of the screenplay I'm working on for my next film, How to Eat Pho. As it's easily been about four years since I've written prose, it has been a shaky start. I have "written" two novels before, and when I say that I mean, writing the first draft in word count. I did minor revisions to them, and let them go into my black file cabinet. That is not writing a novel. Revision is the most major part of any writing project.

But it has been a very enlightening process to be writing prose from a screen play that is in a second draft. For one, I know where I'm going, which allows me to explore the path I am on, without getting lost in the forest. I am also spending so much time with these characters, understanding their histories in the most detailed of ways, discovering their important life moments, and the crappy ones too. I've been into Shakey's Pizza with them on an awkward date where one tells his wife he is now a porn star. I have been in a dingy apartment watching a stack of newspapers get knocked over by an anxious chihuahua and squash an old puppeteer who had dreams of working on the TV show, Fantasy Island. It's also been fun to be writing from the perspective of the lead character's puppet, whom I've named Mr. D. An intelligent sarcastic cat-like puppet from the mercados of Ciudad Juarez.

Will I actually do the right thing and finish this novel? I'm not sure. It's easy to get lost in the myriad of projects I have my fingers in, and this novel idea for Pho was just meant to be an exercise in discovery for the film, and I'm also knee deep in landscaping my backyard. But if the delight and laughter I am getting while writing, all by my lonesome late at night with my cats sitting around me like faithful dogs, is any indication, I'd have to say yes. And I'm doing it right next to that massive black file cabinet.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Puppets, Porn, and the Artist's "Skin"

In one porn-research filled week, I crammed in Behind the Green Door, The Devil in Miss Jones, and Deep Throat. I’ll admit. They all had something redeemable about them, and the psychedelic moment in Behind the Green Door had me both laughing and delightedly creeped out by the scoring. I do wonder how much of this film influenced aspects of Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut. There are some rather uncanny similarities. Would Kubrick have watched porn? Does this even matter?

I have more vintage titles on my research list, but need to put them aside to delve into the world of puppets.  Annie, who might be considered the protagonist in this story, is an unskilled puppeteer, who none-the-less has a unique eroticized take on Romeo and Juliet. I hope to learn a bit about building puppets, but first need to choose what sorts of puppets Annie is using. I’ve never worked with puppets, and my memories are filled with Mr. Rogers and Jim Henson, obviously limited in scope.  But luckily Austin is home to some great puppet theater, where I can learn and watch.

I’m working on the second draft of this 127 page script, in the tricky part of revision. It comes down now to clarity, good decision making, and being willing to take chances. How does one balance risk taking while also trying to sort through choices for making good decisions? It’s a precarious place to be balancing. I am taking a lot of risks with the script, thus far, but could take more.

Once of the biggest setbacks I think any modern creator faces right now is how to depart from everyday adult concerns and the hectic pace of modern life. I find it impossible to create deeply and meaningfully when my brain is in “adult” mode. I have been reading a bit about this problem for the artist, and revisiting my interests in meditation.  For the artist, meditation is only one step. There is also the “shedding of skin” we have to do. Meaning, riding ourselves of the personas we naturally carry in our jobs and how we present ourselves to our colleagues, etc. Nothing with any artistic merit will result from creating with these shallow representations. They are there to “get the job done,” but because we wear them so much of our waking day, we often forget to take them off.

For me, luckily, it’s not too difficult as I have purposely avoided making my living in a corporate workplace.  But, I still grocery shop and drive in traffic and pay bills and do all the other things adults do, so, I still have to shed some skin. I am finding ritual before creating to be essential to transition into the mind of my creator self. To loosen up my brain, I often will draw stream-of-conscious types of figurines with my copic markers, or stream together random bits of spoken jibberish. Georgia O’Keefe, and others, painted completely nude. Others use drugs and alcohol and while it’s easy to condemn this, I am guilty to this day of having many moments of revelation due to the amount of red wine I’ve consumed. I cannot be overly critical of this approach as humans have for so long been interested in substances that alter our minds, for spiritual or creative purposes. There are theories that suggest that the early cultivation of wheat was for making primitive beer, not bread as we like to think. Any way you look at it, artists must have a good warm up session before they sit down (or stand up) to create. Athletes do, so should creators.

As I nitpick over aspects of this script, one thing that seems essential to compelling cinema is how much the filmmaker is distorting and reinterpreting reality. I sadly feel most films still stick to the language of their genres a little too hard nosed for my tastes, especially first time filmmakers. Cinema is a wonderfully expansive and endless tool to create with, but I see so much of the same coverage, and same types of hearts in stories, same characters (I’m guilty of these traps too, which is why I can talk about them). What are other ways to push a story forward without dialogue? “How to Eat Pho” (the working title of the piece I’m doing now), has a lot of dialogue, but it is just that this film requires it. A challenge I have is, how do I want the essential information in this dialogue to be worded? What can be cut? No word should be there unless it is needed.  Good dialogue is amazing to hear (Shakespeare, Noel Baumbach's Kicking and Screaming, Ingmar Bergman) but taken for granted, and difficult to create. It’s easy to just write how we talk in normal day to day life, but this is unnecessary in cinema. Cinema allows us to craft and shape elements of life into a more interesting, cohesive, and artistic whole. To take an expression, a statement, an emotion, and represent it in other ways.

That being said, I do plan on approaching the next script in a manner I never have attempted: create the script as a series of images first, then write it without a word of dialogue, to see what alternative methods I can locate without using the crutch of language.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Some Advice from Dolly Parton, One Awesome Lady

I'm going to share some advice I've read from Dolly Parton's auto-biography, "My Life and Other Unfinished Business." I think it's great advice for anyone in the entertainment "biz." She's also just a swell spunky gal.

Here goes:

"If there is one bit of advice I could give to young people trying to break into show business, it would be this: Don't assume that the people on the inside know what they're doing.  He may have a big office and a fancy suit. He may have the power to hire you or not. But he probably has no idea whether or not you have any talent. Even if he has an opinion, he probably has to clear it with guys in event bigger offices with even more expensive suits (and even less of a clue). There's a joke around Hollywood about a writer who runs into a studio executive over the weekend. 'What did you think of the script I turned in Friday?' the writer asks. The studio exec answers in all seriousness, 'I don't know. So far, I'm the only one who's read it.'"

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Research, O What Strange Paths Thou Shall Lead Me Down

Any writer worth their salt spends a good deal of time doing research on the topics their story is exploring. Of course, this is only my opinion as I'm sure there are the rare types of writers that just hop right into their story and what comes out is gold. I'm not that type of writer. The world is full of critics who are just dying to make you look stupid in the goal of making themselves look smart, although they themselves have never and will never create anything in their lives. They feel better about their sorry lives by trying to make the artist feel bad. Critics and their useless diatribe is a different topic for another day. My point being, if you've done your research, you are more entitled to defending the way you have presented your story.

My current film is dealing with a fictional character who was a very sought after male porn star at one time in the 1970s and 1980s, during the so-called "Golden Age of Porn." This is the father of three sisters, a man who is much older now, but loved his job of being an entertainer in one of the most economically stable forms of mass entertainment there has ever been. As I have watched maybe three adult films in my entire adult life, I can't just jump into the world of pornography without trying to have some understanding of it. So, let's just say my research for this film has been quite interesting up to now. I watched Debbie Does Dallas quite recently, and had a few good chuckles, along with some "crap that's nasty" eye shielding moments, and was humming the music to the film the next day. I did not expect that part. I understood more about how people around this time period took care of their bodies, and what was considered sexy. Body hair was apparently quite popular when Debbie Does Dallas was being made, as were visible bikini tan lines on what I would consider a "normal" female body (no amplification/reduction of parts.) In contrast to what porn stars look like today, it's a night and day contrast.

It's extremely difficult to do internet research on pornography without being bombarded by sites assuming I'm a horny male and trying to get me to use my credit card. I often wonder how professors whose careers are about pornography studies (yes, it does exist) deal with this. One has to be very careful about what they are typing in the Google search text box. I am also having a difficult time trying to locate more confessional biographies about what it's like to work in the adult film industry. The people that work here are still people, and have lives outside of their work. I'd love to know more about what drew them into adult films, why they continue to do it (beyond the money, at least for the women), the pluses and minuses, how they've dealt with raising families, or their parents' and friends' perceptions of them. Most people on the internet, I've noticed, go one way or the other when talking about how they perceive porn stars: either find it extremely shameful and chastise the adult film star or they glorify it in the sense of something like this (albeit with typos): "Yeah, man. I'd totally date a porn star. That sh*it is hot."

I'm following a male porn star on Instagram, (and the only reason I am on Instagram, my iPhone already consumes too much of my attention on a daily basis) and am delighted by his photos of himself with his two young children, doing normal dad-kid activities like going to a park and eating ice cream. This is the stuff that I also must understand when crafting my script about three sisters and their porn-star father. My fictional characters had moments like this real life porn actor. But as sex is such a huge and tricky topic for American culture, especially when it comes to art trying to make a statement or show it, something simple like a man and his three daughters becomes highly complicated when the man is an ex-porn star. There is just so much conflict suddenly. It's my job as a director to try to understand all sides of this life, and avoid stereotypes as much as possible. This is a tricky task, as my research has already shown me that getting a honest straight forward picture of this world is not easy.

Up next on my film queue: Deep Throat.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Diving deeper...

When it comes to deadlines, I can work both ways. Without a deadline, it's hard to keep the energy on a project going. However, without an imminent deadline, there is more time to explore. This is also sometimes problematic. There can be the problem of not knowing when to stop, when to finally just commit to whatever script you have with you, and shoot it and make it work.

With my first feature, "In the Shadow," we HAD to be shooting in Puerto Rico right when hurricane season was starting, or it was no shooting in our location in Puerto Rico at all. This gave me and my collaborators about eight months of writing and pre-production. Ultimately, unless you are one of the few filmmakers out there where this is ALL you do with your day for those eight months, I don't think it is enough time to really get under the skin of your story.  With my second feature, "What's the Use?" we made the risky decision to take the challenge of jumping into a story with only five weeks of writing and pre-production. Mainly due to the availability of the lead actress, in addition to the challenge of seeing where this led us. After going through multiple revisions in post for a long time in my opinion, I will stand by my current mind set that there must be ample time in development in order to really get a story going in a good direction.

Working on my third feature more fully, now that we're pretty much ready to send "What's the Use?" into festivals and see what bites, I don't have a pressing deadline to follow. This is the first time I've been able to explore a story more fully. As I said in my last post, I pushed the plot on note cards and a rough synopsis to a good ending, which in itself deserves a small trophy. Stepping back, I realize I need to understand these characters better. My initial synopsis had some very defined visions of who they are. Of course, this is because it's coming from my own limited understanding. I did not grow up with a porn star dad, and I'm not really like his daughters or his wife that much. But now it's time to really get into these people's minds, pick out the dirt, and dance with them a bit.

As an exercise, I went back and wrote a good solid twenty pages or so of their history. How did Barry, the ex-porn star father, get into the business from his humble beginnings as a high school boxer in San Antonio, TX? What did his wife, Vera, do and think about this? Why did their three children become who they are as adults: a struggling puppeteer with a propensity for laziness, an ESL teacher with a closeted fetish for vintage VHS porn titles, and a B slasher/zombie femme-core film director with a dislike for men? Why was there so much animosity between them (Let's face it. A film is boring if everyone gets along. But I need to know WHY they don't like each other.)

Strangely enough, I started to find these characters in my dreams, roaming through my head while taking the city bus somewhere, sensing them around me like tiny pleasant ghosts. On a completely impulsive note, I started to write a play about this strange family. I never have the intention of staging this thing, it's really just an exercise to see how this medium frees up my brain and where it takes me. (My background is in theater, when I was nine and discovered that I liked hamming it up on stage. That only lasted 10 years, thankfully!). Just how every person smells different or has their own fingerprint, writing a stage play about the same characters and story is nothing like writing a screen play. I find I take more risks with dialogue and transitions in stage plays than I do with screen plays. I allow the actors to do things in a stage play that you don't see them typically do in a screen play. At a few points, the damn thing became a musical. What?!? See what I mean?

Today, I have been collecting images based on the "essence" of the character. Meaning, if you had to select some images from Google and present it on a timeline for five minutes, what search words would you type in to find for images for yourself? What sort of slide show would you make about yourself?  Images of mountains? Dalmation puppies? Spaghetti carbonara? Chronic jock itch? My own time line would just be five minutes of cheese and cats.

I'm pushing it a bit further by calling on some of my earlier "acting exercises" I used to do in high school when I liked theater more than everyone, even boys. This requires getting into the skin of the character, speaking as them, answering questions on a piece of paper about why they are who they are. I'm going to record it and place these images and the audio on the timeline in my editing program. So, it becomes a narrated slide show of sorts. I've never done this for a character and I'm excited to see how close it gets me to each of them, especially the ones that are not as likeable. I think the biggest problem with creating unlikable characters, which I'm all about, is being able to latch on to them in some way to avoid making them one sided.

So, excuse me while I open up Final Cut Pro and start importing my odd collection of slasher movies, feminist writers, and other odd bits. It's time to get into the mind of Conti, the femme-Nazi B-slasher zombie film director. Here's to you, Valerie Solanis and Jess Franco!

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

End of the Tunnel, but the Trip Ain't Over Yet

After several weeks of carving out a few hours a few days a week of completely uninterrupted writing time, I have finally fleshed out the entire rough outline for this next feature. I'm calling it, "How to Eat Pho" for now. Although Pho has little to do with the meat of the story.

I find one of the difficult parts of creating when one doesn't have a lot of time to do it during a normal day is making the energy shift from task oriented adult thinking to more relaxed, playful and open thinking, more akin to the way a child might be in a sandbox full of toys. It's nearly impossible for me to stop the breaks on the former and move immediately into the later. Yeah, it sucks, but who said being a grown up is much fun?

I remember reading that Alejandro Jodorowsky required rituals for his creative process. So I created one. For me, sitting totally still for about ten to fifteen minutes, then stretching and inviting creative energy into my space worked quite well. I also turned off my phone. I had several different colored note cards and colored pens. Lots of tape and scissors. Music good for thinking. Cats.

With all of this around me, and making a ritual transitioning from the normal energy of the day to that amazing creative explorative space became quite easy. I found all sorts of new and unusual little nuances in the direction of this story. Life size puppets. Time traveling whores. Speedos and clove cigarettes and apparitions from people still alive. Lots of things opened and I was able to get past an area in my initial idea that was a huge block.

So, the twenty page synopsis is done. This is a small feat, but now I must go back and shape and refine and start asking questions of all these little visions and ideas that popped up. This is the harder part, in some ways, because it requires making a lot of tough decisions, or sitting back down and exploring an alternative for the same story concept.

So...onward ho....

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Stuck on "act one..."

I'm staring off at the wood grain of my desk, with droopy eyelids, even my cats are sleepier than I am.

I'm stuck in the twilight zone of "act two," for lack of better terminology. I find the classic act structure rather confining, but it's an easy way to refer to sections of a script. I've had the first part of the three sisters-porn star dad idea pretty much ready to go for a while now. I just don't know where to take it. I'm attempting some exercises I learned while consuming as many playwriting classes as I could take while in college with the amazing Suzan Zeder: make up as many possible endings as you can, and make them as wild as you can make them. Or even better: write the area like you were another playwright. I find this one really frees up some choices. I did one at the time as Irene Maria Fornes and I did not recognize myself in what came out. Try it, you writers out there, if you have not already. It's really a great liberating exercise.

Making choices when writing is a mini death. Some things survive, others must be buried. But choosing what is executed and what remains alive is very stressful. The "what ifs" are almost constant. A director's power is in the decisions they make, I would say about 98% of the time (the other 2% is luck or lack there-of.) When one is writing what they will end up directing, there is the added pressure of making sure you are choosing the right thing. But how do you know? When you are behind the nimble keypad, while the rest of the world is asleep, and you are the only one pushing yourself forward, ignoring your internal clock, where do you go? At the end of the day (or night), what tidy little inn will you find yourself in, tucked away, trying to sleep, while the muse complains constantly about the poor executed creative nymphs she has dumped on your plate? One's stomach is only so big.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

New Project, New Ideas, Old Habits

Now that the house moving and renovation has settled a bit (kinda), I have resolved to start blogging a bit more regularly about another feature I'm working on. Right now, it's a black comedy (why do I keep gravitating to these things!!) about three sisters and their old ex-porn star dad. I have other ideas in the works, as usual, but resources and time and life's realities make this most likely to be the best option for me right now. Not that I'm complaining, this is a really fantastic idea and when I talk about it to others, it always gets a good chuckle.

I started the initial idea while drinking wine after a late night catering shift almost a year ago. I was alone in my apartment. Things were pleasantly quiet as I typed away on my old Mac laptop. I started it as a fiction project, but it soon became something more than that. With some occasional revisits this last year, I have decided tonight to begin looking it over again after this several month "house-hiatus" I like to call it. My challenge as always is to put everything aside and give myself uninterrupted time (no kitties on laps, no text messaging, no checking email, no rendering something on some other film project) to truly focus on this exploratory phase. What is this story about? Who is it about? Why am I telling it?

My mind keeps wandering to method and technique as opposed to what I should be writing about. I tend to do that as a director and filmmaker, probably because most of my filmmaking time is using technology to capture and create things, rather than just raw story telling without the use of a computer. I will be crafting story over the next few months, working with actors who don't mind being part of the development process and me showing a cheap camera in their faces to capture the scenes we shoot together. Reading a script is one thing. Seeing it even on a crappy camera is another thing entirely, but provides invaluable insight into what is and isn't working.

I do know this: this is like athletic training. One has to give focused immediate attention and effort now, even after a long hard day's work, even when tired after taking care of all your other domestic and work chores, even when everything else in the world is competing for your attention. Finding those silent quiet moments when the rest of the world is asleep is sometimes I feel the reason I still wake up in the morning.

So, the spring breeze blows cool through my new studio room where my cats are fast asleep, the red wine flows, my script is open, my notes are before me, the white board clean and empty, note cards at's time to dive, and dive deeply.

Friday, April 4, 2014


I have not blogged in a while. Buying and doing minor renovations to a new house have sucked most of my free time for the last four months. Hanging some of the last of the paintings, I can see (kinda) a bit of a light at the end of the tunnel, just a faint flicker, even as I hear the drip-drip-drip from the front yard faucet that requires a fixing.  Home ownership. Better than renting and making some fat fucker in a Hawaiian shirt richer, but still, it is something that will always require my constantly divided attention.

The addition of another item to my list of ongoing projects has made me reflect again on the nature of time and how we all truly have our own measures of it. No matter what system of clocking time we honor, we still respond to our internal response to time.

I tend to panic a bit when it comes to time. I would not say I am old, but I am definitely of the age where I sense the brevity of things. But I have always been pretty sensitive to the shortness of human life in general, as I had a dance teacher as a 19 year-old at NYU that drilled in to me the importance of "playing hard, working hard" because this is all we have. This short span of human life. I hate that I am where I am and despite being truly dedicated to the strange callings of the "muse," I can technically be considered poor and destitute by most measurements of finances and culture in this country. What can I say except that love will leave you blind and poor? The muse is a jealous high maintenance lover and she will take all of you.

I have a file cabinet full of short stories, novels, plays, and scripts that will never breathe life. I have music on records and CDs that will probably get dumped into a trash pile by my nephews when I die. One's cultural importance can never be guided by the one creating the "culture," but only by the ones that consume it, if they choose to do so. And in that sense, the creator is truly not in control of their destiny.

My point in bringing this up is while I love the new house that I have, love not hearing neighbors practice very very bad bass guitar or play horrible rap at all hours of the day, a house takes the time I feel I sometimes need to be creating. One does not grow as an artist for sweeping and moping cat hair free from their hardwood floors, but having the space and time to let the mind waunder. I never have time to let my mind waunder, to look at a dove taking a shit on my tomato plant and feel inspired. I feel I clamor for this precious "free" time on a daily basis and always lose the race.

I envy those born into support systems they will never recognize as being part of their recognition and greatness. I envy those for who time sits like a fat cherub in the passenger seat of their sports cars, eating grapes and dipping spoons into endless vats of Nutella while shoving bananas into their mouths. My passenger seat is only covered with dirt from the last move, coffee stains from a morning where I awoke too early, exhausted as I always ALWAYS feel, wondering what the fuck is this thing called life that we all are truly addicted to.

Friday, January 24, 2014

The Curse of the Ambitious Woman

I think ambitious women ultimately live more lonely and difficult lives then ambitious men. I think about the countless tales about exceptional men today and in history, many who were married and had children, and were supported by these women who tolerated (as much as we think) their partners traveling, spending countless hours in labs, touring with their works, being involved in politics, etc. Yet, what about the supportive partners of equally ambitious women? Men (or women) who were content to be "in the background," supportive, and understanding of these women's strange callings to very different lines of work? It seems like for a woman to truly go after whatever is her calling in a very serious manner requires work hours and struggles that male partners are less willing to deal with than female partners are willing to deal with. Culturally, it's a bit ingrained in us, of course. I can only think about Mad Men, and that not-so-distant gender/power scenario. Housewife stays home, and the man goes out into the workforce to succeed and bring home the cash. Housewife can take some horse riding classes but other than that, her duty is to support the husband and attend to the children.

I'm certainly not saying anything that is revealing or ground breaking, but as I've spent some time today reviewing my own relationship history, I am reminded that if I were a male, with the same amount of ambition and determination, and work ethic, I don't think I would have gone through the same relationship scenarios. There is nothing I can do about it, except just stop making films. It takes me an average of 4-5 years to get one film out, so slowing down my pace to become a "better woman" only will prolong this timeline. This 4-5 year timeline is the reality primarily because I have to work other jobs to make a living, and I do most of the labor intensive tasks required of the many stages of making a film (producing, directing, writing, editing, color correcting, animating).  I've sacrificed plenty to be doing what I do, and expect to never marry nor have children. (Not that I really want either, so it's hard for me to spout this off as a sacrifice.) But I feel that while most people today are fine with women working, and they say verbally that it's great that ladies are out there being leaders, working their way up into corporate leadership positions, etc. personally, they don't want to be married or in relationships with these types of women. Deep down inside, everyone just wants a nice girl who comes homes regularly and has her weekends free for house improvements, sex, and having dinner parties with friends.