Reflections On Quarantine Film Making

Today, I was reminded that art is alive and well. The Hollywood industrial process has been under tremendous pressure. The indie film world, also slowed, is still at work too, even though COVID remains with us. I say this because I’ve been judging the Quarantini Film Festival, a monthly fest founded by Dana Olita that supports and awards filmmakers making socially-distanced short films during this difficult time.

Quarantini Film Festival supports the indie film community during the pandemic with access to online screenings and awards.

I have learned and been reminded of a few things while judging the Quarantini entries:

  1. Art finds a way. I’ve seen some great films submitted to Quarantini Film Festival. Where there’s a will, there is a way, even under un-ideal circumstances.
  2. Sometimes, constraints embolden our creativity. Doing a lot with a little is part-and-parcel of low budget film making, but the constraints indie filmmakers are creating under are unprecedented. I’ve seen amazing creative risks taken on screen in the last three rounds of the Quarantini Film Festival. Some hit and some missed the mark, but when business-as-usual goes out the window, we have to ask what’s possible. I’ve witnessed tremendous creativity under the pressure of the pandemic.
  3. The pandemic has many people committed to speaking their truth, directly or indirectly. I’ve seen heart-wrenching drama shorts, contemplative docu-dramas and wicked comedies that all hit home. All of us have a story to tell that’s part of this larger pandemic narrative.

The truth is many film festivals and the whole culture of film festivals going forward is uncertain. Theatrical exhibition is still difficult and frankly, unobtainable in many areas. Your larger press outlets like Variety, Deadline, The Hollywood reporter, et al, are only really covering the larger festivals that have film markets. That gives sort of skewed picture of the filmmaking landscape in general. Indie filmmaking is alive. Indie films are being shown. It may not be on a large screen, but you can get your work out there on online fests like Quarantini. Seize the moment. You’ll never know what you’ll learn, how you’ll grow or who you’ll impact.

The Moving Image

I’m in the midst of editing “The Central Authority“, which is my first feature collaboration with co-director Armin Nasseri and co-producers, Nasseri, Dana Olita and Matt Chassin. Shooting and editing during the pandemic has been challenging, even as we use existing technologies to make a fully-socially distanced feature film.

Yesterday, Armin and I were in the midst of editing a great scene starring horror queen Genoveva Rossi. Genoveva plays an artist of some renown in “The Central Authority”, sort of a female Bob Ross. We allowed the actors a great deal of freedom in this movie and much of the movie is improvised. Genoveva came up with a profound truth about her character and art itself. She said, as her character Gwen Ross, “Art is about getting a reaction out of people, good or bad.” That was just what I needed to hear yesterday.

I have come to the epiphany that a moving image, a movie, must move. It must move us through time and space, but more importantly, it must move us–emotionally, spiritually, philosophically. That, for me, is really what a moving image, a motion picture, is–something that moves us.

Armin and I continue to work on editing the movie, taking each challenge as it comes, editing virtually now. It cannot be glossed over that as we edit this movie, we are also witnessing the massive social movements against police brutality into account. We are moving as a society and as a consciousness.

I’ll continue to update you on The Central Authority as it moves forward. Thank you for your support of our work and we look forward to releasing “The Central Authority” soon.

Self Care for Artists During Self-Isolation

Sometimes, after years of being in the arts professions, we have to get reacquainted with ourselves.  We are not the actor, the dancer, the comic, et al, we were a year ago, much less five or ten years ago.  Hopefully, we’ve grown.  Sometimes, we have growing pains.  With arts imperiled by corona virus, artists of all disciplines can lean into this cultural and social pause and do some self-care.

fashion woman notebook pen

Photo by Negative Space on Pexels.com

Starting last year, I went through a period where I felt I needed to take stock.  One of the things my self inventory yielded up was the need to forgive and release past experiences on stage and screen.  #MeToo and #TimesUp have us sharing our stories, and I also came to the conclusion I needed to re-write, by releasing and forgiving, my narrative of myself, particularly in my profession.  I also needed release negative, defeating beliefs about “how things are”.  This is what I came up with for myself:

“I release myself from all past and present pain in acting.  I release myself and surrender times of overwork, over-stress, humiliation, body image issues, hurtful and invalidating comments and all other pain and trauma I’ve experienced during my life as an actor.

I embrace a vibrant, creative life that I love, where I do the acting work I’ve always wanted, needed and been called to do.  I am a happy and healthy artist who’s thriving.  I love communicating verbally and non-verbally to the best and peak of my abilities.

I release all negative, harmful, self-defeating patterns and thoughts around acting.  I am a sane, healthy, happy, holy person who makes art.  I am loving, kind and compassionate and that radiates throughout all my performances.  I honor my unique needs and challenges and honor the needs, challenges and contributions of others.  I am here, now, today, firmly rooted in the reality of my chosen profession.”

Artists, if you’re not already, utilize this valuable time.  Practice, create, innovate and experiment!  So often we’re too rushed and rely on technique and well-honed skills and don’t have the precious silence that cocoons inspiration.  There are gifts in this experience.  It’s also a great time, to challenge your beliefs and get present to yourself, the artist today.

Questions to ask yourself:

  1.  What assumptions do I make about myself based on my age, gender, etc., in my field?
  2. Do I have a teacher, coach,mentor in the arts, that I have hurtful memories with?  What did they say or do?  What toxic lesson did I learn from that?  How do I re-frame this to empower me, now, today?
  3. What are my culture’s harmful beliefs about my arts profession?  Stereotypes?
  4. What are my family’s harmful beliefs or invalidating comments about my arts profession?
  5. What do I feel I lack as an artist?  Discipline?  Depth?  Re-frame that belief.
  6. What do I truly desire for myself in my arts career?

Identify patterns.  Re-frame your beliefs to empower you.  Claim the power in the present–whatever the present may bring.

May you be happy, safe and well, now and always.

 

A Little Glue, A Little Paper, A Lot of Insight

At certain pivot points of my life in acting, I’ve needed a hobby where I didn’t have to perform.  For me, decoupage has been a place to exercise my right brain, create and decompress without feeling the need to “do it right” or impress.  I’ve done a few good pieces over the years, including a shelf, a glass table top, vases and now these votive candle holders made from the Oui by Yoplait jars.

Things I’ve learned from decoupage:

decoupage jars1.  Tissue paper is very delicate.  It tears easily, especially when wet.  It needs a light touch.  A light touch is often the right touch in life too.

2.  Sometimes the dye of the paper bleeds.  Don’t worry about it.  The things you can’t control are often the most beautiful.

3.  The most interesting patterns have more colors.  Add a little color to your life!

4. The magic of decoupage is in the waiting for the piece to dry.  Once it’s dried, you actually see it.  Before it dries, it’s a wet mess.  Patience pays.

5.  Edges first!  It’s much easier when you attend to the edges first and then work to the center, especially on household objects.  Parameters are important.

6.  It’s okay to “fail” or it not be what you were expecting.  It’s just a little tissue, a little glue, a little water and a little time.  Failure in decoupage is allowed for me!

7.  Especially on clear glass, yellow paper and white paper don’t show up as easily and may need to be double layered in order to “pop”.   Sometimes, you have to make the extra effort to really show something.

8.  For me, decoupage is about creating a mood or bringing color to an intention.  When I bring intention and attention, decoupage is not longer just a crafty thing to pass time, but it’s a way to meditate.

9.  Once you start decoupaging, your relationship with paper may change.  You start to re-purpose envelopes and scrap paper.  Use the unusual to create the unusual.  

I think every working artist feels pressure to perform in their field.  Sometimes, the pressure to perform hems in our sense of play and risk.  When I’ve felt I’ve been at a pivot point, I’ve turned to decoupage to give me permission to play and experiment without fear of judgment.  What’s your hobby?  How does it help you?

 

 

Development Hell

If you’re an industry person, you may have heard this term or used it–development hell. Development hell refers to the often chaotic, messy, frustrating business of getting a script ready to go into pre-production.  No script comes to a producer perfect and camera ready.

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Draft 1

We like the script, but there are few things that we need to change.  Here is what we want changed:  add this character, expand another character, take away the annoying mom character–and can you get this down to 90 pages?

Draft 2

This wasn’t what we had in mind.  You know,  I had this really great idea for some comic relief at the beginning, since it’s a heavy drama…

Draft 3

This is a mess.

Draft 4

Why is the subplot so much more interesting than the main plot?  Should we go a different direction?

Draft 5

We should go a different direction.

Draft 6

Is this too political?

Draft 7

It’s coming together, but we need to find a compelling role for (insert expensive actor’s name here).

Draft 8

Repeat process, starting above.

 

Churchill said,

“If you’re going through hell, keep on going.”

A Tale of a Block & Other Musings

Who You Gonna  Call?  Blockbusters!

Seriously, the Ghost Busters jingle was echoing through my head all through our latest What Women Want Radio Show broadcast.  We’ve all had blocks.  We’ve all been stuck.  We’ve all had that same issue come back over and over again and smack us in the face (or rear).

colleen

Listen to Dr. Colleen Mullen, celebrity therapist, and Jennifer Longmore, intuitive healer, discuss the many facets of being blocked, and most importantly, how to overcome it on this week’s installment What Women Want Talk Radio.

A Tale of a Block.

Once upon a time, in a summer stock theater troupe in a galaxy far far away,  I was assigned to play one of those obscure Shakespearean characters. This was one of those comedic relief characters in the heavy drama right before the king gets killed.  If you are an actor, you know these characters exist in the Bard’s work and they are hard to nail. Mine was the Duchess of York in Richard II.  In many productions of the play, this scene and this character are cut.

Shakespeare Quartos Project

Image from Wikimedia Commons.

Weeks of rehearsal and the director’s input were more about purging the bad choices than discovering the good.  It was trial-and-error and both trial-by-fire AND error at the same time, almost all the weeks of working the scene on stage.   I couldn’t wrap my mind around this quirky character in this equally off-the-wall scene.  People wanted to get to the poetic and tragic death of the king, right?  I was frustrated.

It wasn’t until I owned the character’s block as my block that I did finally break through.

 

Here’s how.

The group I was working with paid special attention to the meter of the verse and had a process of using the verse as the momentum of the emotion.  My meter was irregular.  Great.  Irregular scene, quirky character with irregular meter.  Awesome.  So reading the scene for the umpteenth time, I decided to make her obstacles my obstacles and my thoughts about those obstacles hers.

What was her obstacle?

Getting in the door-literally.  In the scene, the character was locked out of a room.

I decided to improvise using a make-shift battering ram.  Using the sound effect value of the battering ram helped me focus my intentions, beat (literally) the pesky meters and own it.  I made a big, bold choice and it worked for me.

So, not of all of us are going to have to delve into weird characters in the Bard’s world, but we may get handed a sort of surreal set of circumstances.

Tips:

Own the block—cautiously.  Don’t make harsh judgments about yourself.  There’s a language difference between “I am blocked,” and “I am experiencing a block”.  Verbs move you through.  Adjectives might weigh you down.

Identify the most basic part of the obstacle.  What’s your basic objective or intention? Start there and get specific.  If it’s a conceptual block, try externalizing (mind-mapping, modeling). Perhaps it needs to get out of the head and into the body or on paper.

What is not working?  Keep discarding the things that are not yielding the results you want.  Keep at it.  Keep moving.  Don’t let the block weigh you down spiritually or emotionally.

Make a big, bold choice when it makes sense.  If it doesn’t work, discard.

 

Why I Support Student Filmmakers

Today, I had the privilege of emailing back and forth Dr. Diane Dusick of the Inland Empire Media Academy, regarding their upcoming film festival.  This year will be the third year in a row that I’ve been a judge of their student film festival.

IEMA 2017

I think student films are vitally important to the future of film making, perhaps not the individual films themselves, but the validation that young cinematic voices need to thrive in the very competitive film industry.  How many times have I hears someone say, “It’s just a student film?”  Often.

“It’s just a student film” negates the fact that the student has chosen a career path in film.

“It’s just a student film” negates the artistic voice of the student, even if that voice is still trying to find itself.

“It’s just a student film” lowers our expectations and does not explore the struggle all film students have in making their first works.

It’s a battle to make a film, even for a pro, even for someone who’s made hundreds.  How do we create pros?  How do we foster professionalism in filmmaking?  Though schools, through mentoring, through sharing.

This is why I support student film.