The Great and Wonderful…Filmmaker

This link was posted on my Facebook:

I wasn’t that interested in the kid who met Loki, aside from the fact that Loki is one of my favorite villains of all time and Tom Hiddleston seems like a very nice guy in real life.  But I read the article, because I was wondering why this picture was an Internet sensation.  I’ll let you read why…

…Done?  Okay, so the reason I’m sharing it is to highlight this part of the story:

“Just then, a quiet-spoken gentleman walks over. “Chris, sorry, I need you for one more shot.”  The gentleman looks at my son and apologizes. “Sorry, little buddy, I need Captain America for a minute.” This is the only time during the entire story that I am jealous of my son and beside myself that I wasn’t there. One of my writing idols, Joss Whedon, has just spoken to my child.

My wife apologizes for taking up their time, with Whedon and Evans smiling and assuring her that it is fine.  Then she takes a picture with Chris Evans’ mom, who was instrumental in making this meeting happen.”

This kid and his mom got to meet Joss Whedon because he was carrying a Captain America shield and he was cute.  He didn’t even know he was meeting a story genius.  A filmmaker who successfully shattered all expectations by shaping a movie that made people laugh, cry, and get really, REALLY angry all in the space of a few minutes.  A man who put out a movie that links 5 other movies and will be part of the backdrop of at least 4 more, yet still maintains itself as a stand-alone story, completely accessible to anyone off the street.

Joss Whedon.  The writer/director of the best movie this year.  That I saw 3 times in the theater, 1 time in 3D.

It makes me wanna hang out in New York.  Or at least follow nerd websites more closely.  Sigh.

No worries, even if New York and Hollywood are hundreds of miles from where I live, I can still enjoy the genius that is Whedon right here.  Why?  The Avengers is technically still showing in a theater 30 minutes away, fifteen or so weeks after it opened.


No Worries

Last year at this time I was readying myself to fly across the planet, past the land down under, to a smallish country that many people in the USA don’t even realize exists.  I had all my camera gear and favorite clothes and even my iPad.  I had a plan and a guide book.

I landed in New Zealand.

New Zealand isn’t a ritzy place.  It isn’t glamorous or celebrity obsessed.  It isn’t rushing around or busy.

Its…calm.  Laid back.  Up to date and yet rustic.  They eat fresh fruit and “veges”, milk and cream, meat and bread.  They take great pride in their coffee shops and most of them don’t own coffee makers, but do pour-over coffee instead.  Why do I mention pour-over coffee?  Because it makes only one cup or so.  It takes time to make each cup.  They don’t leave it on a burner like we do here, because they make time to do it fresh.

They keep and wash throw-away plastic plates.  They love to go “tramping” which is really just walking in the wilderness.  It is almost expected that young people tramp and camp from one side of the country to the other before heading off to college or a “real” job.  They don’t crowd celebrities, choosing instead to graciously and quietly host actors such as Tom Cruise, protecting him from the press and paparazzi that followed him from the States.

I loved New Zealand.

The first thing people say, if they have heard of this country, is, “Was it beautiful?” or “It’s so lovely there!”  I agree.  It is lovely there.  But not because of the scenery.  The scenery is fabulous–that was my first view of the ocean.  In the small North Island–about the size of the state of Virginia–you can experience every major wilderness.  Moutains, forests, fields, deserts, beaches–all within a few hours drive.  The pictures I have of the Rotorua Red Woods are…stunning.

Let’s get back to the coffee.  I am a creative person–writer, filmmaker, theater teacher, artist–so it’s expected that I consume a large amount of coffee.  This is what the coffee looks like in NZ:

This year I don’t know all that my autumn and early winter holds, but I will be missing New Zealand, its coffee, its gorgeous culture and its laid back attitude.  Here’s to all those Kiwis (native NZ folks) and their awesome differentness.

Your True KC Tour

Tour Kansas City, with me.  No, I don’t think that will fly.  I don’t know enough about the signature places in KC, even though I’ve lived here since I was 1.  But let’s try a list and see.

There’s the Kansas City Public Library, The Nelson Atkins, The Country Club Plaza, Union Station and The National WWI Museum at Liberty Memorial.  I could take you to Union Station and tell you eloquent histories of my best friend’s birthday party where we got reprimanded for sliding down the banisters.  Or I could show you the incredible Italian architecture of The Country Club Plaza, where I once led a group of chain mail clad actors to film a medieval melodrama.  Or I could show you the Public Library…that I’ve never actually been to, even though I attended college a few blocks away.

See what I mean?  Awful tour guide.  I can make amends though.  Let me tell you about three of my favorite things in KC.

Where can you buy restaurant food out of a tent, peruse Steampunk jewelry and forest paintings, and spin the Art Museum wheel to win a t-shirt?  The Plaza Art Fair of course.  It’s the seasonal bit of awesome that I wait for.  And my mouth waters for.  This spectacle of art drew 240 artists last year.  And it’s free to wander.

Around the same time is another festival, which draws art from a far-flung era.  Be prepared to chat with gypsies, dance with strangers, wave a giant turkey leg and scream for the villainous knight at a joust.  No one could mistake the KC Renaissance Festival for anything more modern that the 16th century.  The best part of the festival is that you are encouraged to dress up, whether you want to be a pirate, a princess or a blue alien from that 2nd highest grossing film of all time.

My third pick may come as a surprise.  A lot of cities have facilities to enjoy art projected onto a massive screen while munching on unhealthily salted snacks.  But Kansas City has over 20 movie theaters, including art theaters, drive-ins, first run and a $2 theater.  I’ve heard KC is a tough crowd when it comes to movies.  If you want to relax hardcore, we’ve even got theaters that offer armchairs and dinner.

Here’s the perfect KC day:  You attend either the Ren Fest or the Art Fest, then retire to the new Bond or Bourne movie at a nearby theater.  Don’t worry about finding a theater—there’s a Cinemark on the plaza and a Phoenix by the Ren Fest site.

That’s all for your tour today.

Tap That

Remember back in the 90s when a pet meant a miniature, digital keychain?  Yup, I’m talking about those Tamagotchi dudes.  Or maybe the Nano Pets.  If you don’t remember, or you just didn’t have one, these were animated pets in a tiny screen half the size of an average cell phone.  The owner had to feed, play with, and meet other needs of this kitty or puppy or alien or thing-that-looks-like-a-hamster-but-we’re-really-not-sure.

I had a Nano Puppy.  The casing was pink.  I kept forgetting to feed it and it died.  A lot.  But I loved that puppy.  What happened to that, anyway?

My brother had a boxing guy.  Now that I think about it, that’s kinda creepy.  But the boxing Nano pet had the capability to fight with other boxing pets.  You could hook the screens together and watch them go at it.

That was for kids.

It’s not like we have phones now that lean against each other, you tap, and they exchange pictures or anything.  That would be too Nano Pet.  I mean, haven’t we moved past the 90s?  Aren’t we leaving our childhoods behind?

Maybe not.

We now have digital pets called Samsung, Nokia, Apple, LG, and Motorola.  They need constant attention.  They ping when you need to text them, buzz when you need to check a Tweet, bip when you’re behind on that pesky Words With Friends.  If you don’t care for these needs, your social life will die.

And that’s not as easy to restart with a click of a button.

On Filmmaking

When I tell people I’m a filmmaker, they automatically ask me my favorite movie.  This is a stupid question.  Why?  Because I’m a filmmaker.  I spend a lot of time analyzing, watching, making and critiquing films.

That means I love movies.

Not, I love a movie.  Multiple.  Lots.  And I think that my movies will add to the world of films.  I have films in my soul, ready to be loosed on humankind.

If you find yourself inftroduced to a filmmaker and struggle with a topic, this one is safe: what type of movies do you like?  Or maybe, what genre is your favorite?  I like the question, who are your favorite directors or filmmakers?  I have ready answers to all these questions and they are fun to answer.

Another question that I caution you about is this, what is your next project about?  Here is the problem; a) they are a newbie filmmaker and won’t want to share any information with you because they think you will steal it, since their idea is the most original, amazing thing ever (which is probably not true, but maybe they know that deep down and don’t want to hear it), or b) they are a seasoned filmmaker and want to give you a complete rundown of their project because they’re so psyched about it.

There is a c as well; they are seasoned so they give you a logline and smile.  This is called the elevator approach, and it makes filmmakers and polite people happy.  I learned this approach from a media teacher who told us to keep our project summaries short enough that they could be shared in an elevator, because you never know who you might be stuck with.

Okay, so if you do ask me my favorite movie, I will give you a short list.  It might sound something like this; Pride and Prejudice (2005), Harry Potter 3,4, and 6,  Star Trek (2009), Inception, The Avengers (2012), The Truman Show…And that’s where I’ll stop.  My list may change in a few months or it may just get re-arranged.  I think this is the case with most filmmakers.

Regardless of whether or not you ask a stupid question, it is good to see the interest.  Filmmaking is a real job that requires real skill and sometimes a great deal of schooling.  I do know movies at this point, which is why I have a terrible time choosing just one.

48 Hours

The 48 Hour Film Project (  Some might call us crazy, others might call us genius.  We are the people who write, film and edit a movie in 48 hours.

This past weekend the Kansas City 48 boasted 300 participants filming all across the city.  That sounds like a high number, but I think it was well under the real amount.  21 teams were signed up for the project.  My team had 5o people, counting actors.  If every team had 50 people (many might have had more or less) that’s 1,050 people involved in films this weekend.

My team drew sci-fi.  I cheered and ran around the room.  I promise I’m a reasonable adult.

Every team draws a different genre.  Every team is given the same character, prop and line of dialog.  All of these things are unknown until 6:30pm, Friday.  They have until 7:30pm on Sunday to create a movie that is between 4 and 7 minutes long.

You learn to write fast and have ideas ahead of time.

I co-wrote a sci-fi script with a playwright, which was weird and slightly advantageous.  If screenwriters are supposed to be good at writing images, playwrights should’ve mastered the art of dialog.  Together, we formed a slightly eccentric writing team that was able to produce a 5 page script before midnight.

An alien script, too.

Shooting commenced at 10am on Saturday and ended by 9pm.  This is actually an average day for filmmaking, but that night was anything but average.  The editors worked through the darkness.  I went home and slept.  When I returned on Sunday morning to our H.Q., I found that the majority of the film was done.  Some touch-ups and tweaking would improve it, but it didn’t look like 7:30pm would be an issue.

Then I discovered how much we had to go on special effects.

Sunday became a very long day of waiting.  I was a writer for this project.  What could I do to help speed up the editing?  6pm rolled around and we were still exporting.  6:30.  Still exporting.  7pm.  The director and producers ran out the door and sped to the drop-off point, burning a DVD in the car on the way, no time to double-check the film.

They made it with 3 minutes to spare.

Then they watched the film.  I was gone at this point.  I couldn’t take the waiting anymore.  I was safely at home, ready for some Olympics.  That’s when I got the texts.  “The sound is messed up and they forgot the subtitles.”  “Some of the scenes were cut off oddly and they cut out the line.”

They cut out the line.  That meant we were disqualified from winning.  You have to have all the elements to win.  Our dreams of Filmapalooza were dashed.  Dead.

48 hours of little sleep, little food, little down time and we were left with…what?  No chance for the prize?  I guess so.  But we did make a movie.  And with some corrections it’s pretty kick-butt.  Not to mention it’s still being shown with all the other finished films from this weekend.

Thinking back to the moment when we were given sci-fi, I have to smile.  All that cheering and excitement.  All that planning and writing and filming and editing and chatting and laughing and racing…48 hours of film.

I wouldn’t miss it for anything.

Location, Location, Location

I was in the Apple Store the other day with a minor problem.  In the course of fixing my minor problem, I witnessed another woman being introduced to an iPad.  She was new to the whole touch screen thing and didn’t have a clue of the capabilities of the digital tablet.

Like a good Apple employee, her helper explained the process of registration, etc.  She even mentioned the Find My iPhone app.  Basically you register your device—iTouch, iPhone, iPad, Mac—and if it is connected to wifi or 3G, the app will search for its location and then give you a map on your computer of its exact whereabouts.


Okay, cool.  That’ll successfully guard my iPad from thieves and moments of forgetfulness.  Even better, you can send a text to your phone which makes it beep, helping you to find it in your messy house.

I’m thinking about how this can be exploited—because everything can be—and it hits me that not only will the Apple Corporation be privy to my location EVERY DAY, but I can totally leave my phone in my mom’s car and track her movements.  I still think she’s going to estate sales behind my back.

That is, if I had an iPhone.

I hate to get all conspiracy theory on you, but isn’t it a little scary to know that a billion-dollar company can track your movements?  But maybe I’m a little behind the game.  All cell phones have the ability to give your general location to the police as long as they are on.  A few years ago they tested this by finding a kidnap victim in the suburbs of KC.

The real question is, which is more alarming: The police knowing where you are, or Apple?

Up To Date

Kansas City.  Everybody wants to sing a song in my face when I say where I live.  The lyrics, “everything’s up to date,” always bothered me.  Sure, the song was written a while ago.  But come on, we don’t even have a subway.

When I was a kid I used to tear apart old computers.  Don’t worry, I didn’t do it alone.  I enlisted the help of my little sister.  My dad worked on computers, so we always had a victim.  First you pull off all the metal parts hiding the cool stuff, then you smash things until you reach the cities.

Yes, cities.

Tech people might call it a motherboard, but to my buddy and mine’s imagination it was exactly the place tiny people lived.  See, that miniature, black, square was a house and that long blue rectangle was Wal-Mart.  Or maybe a train station.

Like Union Station.

Not long ago I was attending an event at a movie theater in Olathe.  The line of movie-goers waiting admittance was twisty, lawn-chaired, and long.  From their couch potato positions I guessed these people had been waiting a long time.  I surveyed them like a good nosy person and discovered something fascinating.

Almost every single person was reading or playing a game on a digital device—cell phones, smart phones, Nooks, iPads and Kindles.  Huh, I thought.  I didn’t even bring my iPad 2.  Gazing at the crowd of digital junkies I had a light bulb moment.

Kansas City was totally up to date.