Filmmaking is for Warriors: Teaching

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“Do you know any famous people?” the tiny child asks me.

“Famous people?”

I don’t know what else to say. I’ve been a filmmaker for 10 years, but most of the people I know aren’t plastered on the cover of People Magazine. I do know some actors who have been plastered all over the billboards in Kansas City, which is pretty cool. Mostly just because those actors are totally awesome, and it’s nice to see them achieve new things.

Inevitably, it doesn’t matter if I have an answer to her question, because there’s a half dozen more questions flooding my way. I wave my hands at the brood of small people and do my best to change the subject back to the class I’m teaching and away from my filmmaking career.

Teaching.

I started teaching theater and acting when I was 19. I shouldn’t have, really, because I had no idea how to teach. Those first few years my head was under water and the kids drowned with me. I’m sorry, kids, I didn’t know what I was doing.

But like Dory the fish said, “Just keep swimming! Just keep swimming!”

So I kept pushing my way through teaching, class after class after class. I taught basic and advanced acting, improv, film acting, film production, costumes, musical theater (as a sub, ’cause I don’t do music), black box and radio theater. I’ve assisted in directing shows. I’ve subbed for ages that I would never have chosen to teach – 4 year-olds are not my buddies. I’ve taught subjects I knew very little about and had to research – radio.

And then I was burnt out. And I didn’t want to do it anymore.

Kids take a lot of energy. Kids need a lot of attention and help. Kids are SO MUCH FUN TO TEACH.

Plot twist.

I love teaching. I love talking to those kids. I love playing games with them and seeing them grow. I love seeing how kids learn to rely on each other in theater. I love seeing how theater changes lives for the better – confidence, friendship, coordination, memorization, basic theater skills, communication, trust, loyalty, diversity and a host of other things. I’m sure people learn this stuff in sports, too, but I was a theater kid so I can’t speak to that.

I had a screenwriting teacher who loved his job. He really did. He loved interacting with his different students. I had another film teacher who loved her job. She was the most understanding teacher I think I ever had, always open to giving students a second chance to learn.

And I think to myself, why don’t more people teach?

Because every single person who loves teaching, also hates it. At the end of the day you feel wiped out, left for dead and drained. Your job is to push other people into greatness, whether that is in theater, writing, math, science, robotics, music, computer, filmmaking or military training.

People push back.

Sometimes they do it on purpose. Sometimes they’re just too scared, as some of the 8-year-old students in my class the other night.

The better you are at being a teacher, the more you hold yourself accountable to the things you are teaching. Your students are pushing back, and you are learning more than them.

That’s a cliche. I hate that cliche. It’s obnoxious. Obviously if you’re teaching a child multiplication, you already knew how to multiply. Duh. That kid didn’t teach you that.

But while you were teaching multiplication, that kid was teaching you patience, kindness and long-suffering, because that kid’s probably an aggravating little dude with a numbers complex that needs a reality check.

I subbed for a theater class this week and last. I haven’t taught in a very long time. It was hard work corralling all those little people. I was hungry and my throat hurt and I wondered why I would put myself through all this when I was still in my month of recovery.

But when I went back last night to teach, the kids told me I was an awesome teacher. Their words, not mine.

And I thought, I love teaching. Why don’t more people do this?

12 Months of Movies: August

August happened…A while back.

I think I’m losing my momentum. It’s been a rough summer. The fall is turning out very well, and I have little good reason to be delayed in making or posting my films, but I am. I am.

This is something that turned out maybe not like I wanted. And I’m not exactly surprised, but I shall let you decide how you like it.

As always, feel free to comment with feedback, suggestions or projects of your own!

52 Weeks of Creative: Week 22

I thought it was about time that I give you an update on another one of my New Year’s Resolutions: Long boarding.  So Kevin and I went out to long board.

Enjoy.

As always, feel free to comment with feedback, ideas or projects of your own!

52 Weeks of Creative: Week 20

We finished a film.  By we, I mean DefineFast Productions, not the royal we.  I am not royal.  I’m not the royal type.

This took a while to get situated for the Internet.  Originally I had forgotten some things from the credits.  I’m totally sorry about that–these things happen when you’re under a time crunch.

I will say that this film was difficult.  I hope to not make a film this hard for a long time.  Maybe not ever.  But I’m glad we made it.  It was a learning experience.

If only all of our learning experiences could be fun.

I give you the long-awaited, Wooden Bullets: Sacrifice.

As always, feel free to comment with feedback, ideas or projects of your own!

52 Weeks of Creative: Week 17

I really, really, really want to not be doing this anymore. :p  WHY?  You say.

1.  I don’t have any ideas.

2.  My life has gotten complicated.

3.  I like sleep.

And really, the ultimate reason;  IT’S JUST SO HARD.

But, we carry on.  I’m not a quitter.  Never have been.  Never will be.

This week we finished a film.  THE film.  What film is this?  Well at the end of March we entered a month-long film contest called The Fiery Wheel-O-Rama.  We were given the genre Vampire Movie, the location A Car in the Woods, and 5 plot points of which we needed to pick 3.  We used:

1. Broken fingers.

2.  A menacing phone call.

3.  A heart attack.

And then they gave us a month to make a film.  Now, this isn’t like the 48, at least, it shouldn’t be.  We’ve done that, here.  But writing, filming and editing a movie in that time frame is still really difficult.  Not bad.  There is no complaining here.  I had an excuse to make a film and have it screened in front of other filmmakers.

Bring.  It.  On.

Preproduction went well.  I wrote a version of the script, thought it was too violent, and rewrote the entire thing.  We had an advantage in this genre, actually, because I wrote a feature last year that was a vampire film.  It was meant to be a web series that when edited together made a feature.  So all the characters, the crime world of vampires, the look and feel and motivations and backstory…All that was done.  I just needed an original plot line for a new short film.

My fear throughout this whole process was that it would be too complicated or only understandable to me and the other people who’ve read the feature.  I wanted to create something that felt like it was part of a greater story and a greater world, but I didn’t want the audience to feel like they weren’t part of the experience or get confused.

You tell me if we succeeded.

The morning of the shoot was early.  But optimism ruled.  We had amazing actors, great equipment, and my crew was ready to do the whole 14 hour thing.

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Then I got a call from my lead actress.  She was sick and unable to come.  There was no way around it.  We couldn’t postpone, we didn’t have time.  I couldn’t bring in another actress that short notice.  We didn’t have time to bring someone new it, anyway.  The light’s only good for a certain amount of time…And it was getting away from us.

So I took a deep breath and stepped in.  I knew the work better than anyone.  I’m the right age and gender.  I didn’t have the look I had wanted–I’m not Italian in any way.  And my personality isn’t as suited to the original version of the character.

But things can be changed.

Directing and acting at the same time is really, really, really difficult.  It’s hard to pay attention to everything that needs attention.  Also, method acting isn’t conducive to happy set experiences.  Why?

We were making a dark film.  Bad things happen.  The same emotions that I needed for the character would come out as I was directing, even if me as a person wasn’t really supposed to be feeling them.  I needed to be sad, grief-stricken, upset, angry, determined, conflicted, in love, fearful…and let a man I had just met drag me all over the woods.  My friends watched all this with rising unease.  I don’t act in films.  I have a history of theater and stage performance, but that ended 6 years ago.

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I had an advantage though.  I knew exactly what I looked like in the view of the lens.  I knew exactly how big my facial expressions needed to be and exactly where to stand or move to stay onscreen.  I am used to cameras and lights and people all around me on set.  I am comfortable with my friends and their various jobs.

I know, this doesn’t sound like acting at all.  But on-camera acting is all about the environment.  You may be a great actor, but if you can’t act in the environment of people in your face and staying within the boundaries of the lens…You can’t act for movies.  A lot of time you’re imagining the entire scene.  There’s no actor sitting there for you to react to.  There’s no woods or gunshot or blood.  It’s the actor’s job to make the audience believe that all those things are real, and are really there.

Acting for the camera is also best when the actor feels safe.  Acting is inherently vulnerability.  You are letting other people see all your emotions, real emotions, even if those aren’t the exact ways that you as a person would normally express them.  Again, I had an advantage over other actors because hey, these were almost all of my closest friends and my boyfriend.  No matter what went down–and some of this stuff was so difficult that my friends found it hard to watch–I knew that I was safe to express everything that needed to be expressed.

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We started the day at 7:30am.  We finished at 10pm, I think.  We took over a week to edit.  We turned it in on time.  The screening happened.

Then I made a trailer.  Soon we’ll post the whole film–it’s about 9 minutes long.  But here’s the trailer:

As always, feel free to comment with feedback, ideas or creative projects of your own!

52 Weeks of Creative: Week 11

PLANET COMICON.

AKA, we waited in line for my friend to get his picture taken with Jewel Staite.  From Firefly.  And Stargate: Atlantis.  Who turned out to be really nice.

What does Planet Comicon have to do with my creative project?

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I made things for it.  I posted the skirt a while ago.  And that was my hat before I finished it.

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And here we are at Planet Comicon KC, costume all finished, even with things added to the skirt I made a few weeks ago.  I had a lot of help with it, though.

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I like nerds.

Things learned at Comicon:

1.  Sometimes you will be surprised by the Foxtrot creator, Bill Amend, and turn into a blithering idiot.

2.  Will Wheaton is super nice.  And likes small children.

3.  If someone in your small group of 3 sees someone they know every 5 minutes, you’ve probably got too many nerd friends and shouldn’t change a thing.

Feel free to comment with feedback, ideas or share your own creative projects!

52 Weeks of Creative: Week 5

You thought that maybe I wasn’t posting this week.  That maybe I chickened out or got distracted or wiped out on my longboard.

Well I did wipeout on the longboard, (that’s not me though ^).  But I’m fine.  Like him, I know how to land dramatically.

This week I decided that the world, you actually, needed a bit of an introduction into the art of writing for the media.  I work for a company that creates commercials and web ads (also other things media related), and I’ve trained extensively in writing.  I guess you could call it a strength.

So I wrote a TV ad this week.

I’m really fascinated by the ads that are able to tell an entire story in such a short amount of time.  The ads that at the end you almost want to clap or cry because in those brief moments you were able to see into the human experience in a funny or touching way.  Yesterday the Superbowl brought us a Budweiser ad about a puppy who is best friends with a Clydesdale.

Some of the group around me found this ad very sweet.  I’m sure that the makers thought that this would cause sales to go up.  (I thought it had creepy subliminal messaging contrary to the song in the background.)  Why did they create this ad in the way that they did?  Well, let’s chat about that.

Fact #1:  Ads exist to cause people to spend money on the product.

Fact #2:  Ads are supposed to be geared toward the specific people who might want/need the product. Example: diaper ads are usually geared toward women between the ages of 18-35, who are pregnant, or just had a kid (or adopted).  I say usually, of course.

How do you get people to take notice of your particular product?  First you find out who wants/needs it.

If I’m a gourmet coffee company, who drinks gourmet coffee?  This isn’t the moment where you get judgy.  Generalities are just what they are–generalities.  It is accurate to say that most people under the age of 14 don’t drink coffee.  So I’m not likely to write a commercial to entice 6-year-olds to drink my company’s coffee.

I choose to market my coffee to adults between the ages of 17-35, who might be skaters, hipsters, artists, careerists and dreamers.*  Okay, now what?  What do those people like?  What do they value?  What do they relate to?  Who do they relate to?

These questions will help me as the writer determine how to craft my ad.  Because I know a lot about this “category” of people (I’m in it), it’s easier to imagine what they will or won’t like, and the images to which they will relate.  Of course, I also know that this group of people is EXTREMELY diverse.  I could write a funny story, like the Allstate commercials with Mayhem, or the Budweiser ad with the chainsaw man.  Or I could go for beauty and realism, like the Honda commercial about how today is pretty great.

There’s a lot of options.  But as long as I know my audience, I can move forward with my idea.

One of the harder parts of writing ads is the length.  There are different venues for ads now, which allows some companies to expand on the length.  Like Hulu.  Hulu ads can be 90 seconds long (or longer), which is on the long side of advertising.  I like them for that reason–they can tell more of a story.

I had trouble making my ad short enough and still conveying everything that I wanted to convey.  It’s about 90 seconds long, and I bet it could be edited shorter if it needed to be on TV or in front of a Youtube video.  If I make it this year, I’ll post the results.

Until then, here’s a mock ad that I made.

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*Just because an ad is geared toward a certain audience doesn’t mean that it won’t appeal to people outside that audience.  The special thing about the Superbowl Budweiser ad this year is that it seems to appeal to a much wider audience than they usually go for.  Keep this in mind when you write your own ad.

JDtR Mission: Arkansas PART 1

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JDtR or Just Down the Road, is the TV show on which I crew.  By crew I mean I run camera, sound, carry things and occasionally boss people around.  I enjoyed the bossing around this last experience, but I found out that my muscles are sad.

Really, really sad.

But let’s start at the beginning, shall we?

I’ve worked on JDtR since the fall of 2012.  For those of you who know your stuff, that means I’ve been with the show for about a year.  Through the show I’ve been able to film shark fishing, stand-up paddling, people jumping on trampolines, airboats going 50+ miles per hour, manatees, dolphins, beaches, the Kennedy Space Center and a famous barbecue competition.  I’ve met Guy Fieri, a NASA astronaut, tons of awesome entrepreneurs, PR people galore, and really the nicest people around.

I have a fun job, eh?

Last week we set out to Arkansas to bring the gorgeous Southern state to TV stations nationwide.  We have a 5-person team and we piled into a 15-passenger van with all the equipment.

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Our first destination was Hot Springs.  We made it without much incident, except some possibly disturbing dancing in the van and an annoying betrayal from Darth Vader (our GPS).  After a good night’s rest we geared up for some zip lining at Ouachita Bend Adventures.

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Yep, I even had my camera.  But before you wig out, just know that the big camera didn’t actually come on the zips with us, we had smaller ones for those.

Zip lining took my breath and words and balance away.

……..

Exactly.

The closest word I can think of for the experience is this:  EPIC.

Taken by our guides at Ouachita Bend Adventures before we zip lined.

Taken by our guides at Ouachita Bend Adventures after we zip lined.

Stay tuned for more JDtR missions and links to the show!

Football vs. Affluence

I have nothing against people with lots of money.

Okay, maybe I do.  Forgive me, please.

It’s not that I don’t think that he or she has a right to that money–I’m an American through and through.  If you work for that check, hey, it’s yours.  And if your parents worked for that check and gave it to you, hey, it’s still yours.  You have a right to your money and I have a right to mine.

I have a problem with “rich” people who are also high on themselves.  Just because you have more money than I do doesn’t mean you’re better than I am.  You’re not.

On the flip side of that, just because I have less money–dude, I’m a filmmaker–doesn’t mean I’m better.  Get off your high horse you artists out there.

So.  Why am I talking about money?  I’ve been filming high school football games.

The first week, I filmed at a school whose media booth was literally falling apart.  I mean, there were parts of the floor that were so cracked I was afraid to set down my back pack.  Or my foot.  The stadium was modest, but well-cared for and well-filled, despite the stifling heat.  Really, they pushed the kickoff back an hour because of the heat.

This suburb in my city isn’t the most affluent.  Okay, they struggle a bit.  I think of the residents as average, but I come from one of the lowest income areas of Kansas City.  Here’s the thing:  This high school cares about their football team.  I’m sure they were instructed in the game to the best of the school’s ability.  The team didn’t lack uniforms or equipment.  The game was the event, nothing else.

The 2nd week I filmed at a school that intimidated me with its sheer size.  I mean, the media booth was HUGE and brand new and amazing.  Except there was this window that refused to open and then it refused to stay up….Anyway, this was an affluent suburb.  The kinda place where everybody drives a new car and sends their kids to dance and band and JC Penny and whatever else and thinks nothing of it.  Even with all those dance outfits that cost like $75 for one performance.

It’s okay to have that kinda money.  Really.  Money isn’t happiness or fulfillment or success necessarily.  A “poor” person can be perfectly content with life.

But man, the contrast with the first school was so startling that I spent a majority of the game thinking about money and how it changes things.  How it changes people.  You know how you have a group of people who are all middle to lower income and none of them really think about it–even if the level of income is fairly wide.

But then you have a group of high to higher income people and everybody has to show off their nice clothes or their fancy house or their car or their high school football stadium.  And you start to see the pettiness of it all.

Remember, I’m just the videographer.  I just document.  I can’t see into these people’s hearts or thoughts.  I don’t know any of them.  All I know is what I see. And what I saw was two schools from totally different suburbs of one of the most stereotyped cities in America and the vast difference money looked like.

It made me think, do we lower income people have a poor view on higher income people because we judge them only on what we can see?  Like, “This team is gonna be better because their media booth is newer?”  OR  “This team is gonna be bad because the school doesn’t have the money to repair a dangerous floorboard?”

I probably biased you immediately by making the title “Football vs. Affluence” like affluence changes anything.  Football is football and if you can play, you can play.  If you want it there isn’t anything, not even money, that’s gonna hold you back.

I’ve posted my filmmaking story on here and how a lot of people told me I would never make it.  I couldn’t afford the “best” college or the “best” camera or the most amount of time to just make films and not work.  Didn’t matter.  Really.  Money doesn’t change determination, talent, proficiency, and passion.

Rich or poor.  Whatever.

Yeah, there’s a difference.  Yeah, I can see it.  But it’s only as important as you make it.  Remember the group of high and higher income people and their weird need to impress each other?

I ain’t got that need.

Let’s play ball, guys.

The Longest 48 Hours

Tip #1:  Make a film.  You don’t need another tip.  (But if you do, read about it on this blog.)

Over a week ago my team and I participated in the 48 hour film project.

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I think.  It’s all a bit fuzzy.

Friday night my DP, editor, sound guy, co-writer and I drove to the mall where the whole kick-off was supposed to go down.  We tried to relax by eating supper ahead of time, but that didn’t really work for me.  Maybe outwardly I ate food and said words, but inside I was running around in circles and screaming.

Wigging out, as I’m always accusing others of doing.

My DP and I finally made it to the event room, where we stared at a staircase for about an hour until the actual ceremony thing started.  I think we chatted with fellow filmmakers.  I remember laughing appropriately and smiling too much.

Announcements.  Rules.  Blah blah blah I’M ABOUT TO DO A 48 blah blah blah….

THEN.  The announcer guy gave us the elements:

Line of dialog:  Let’s take it from the top (let us take it from the top).

Character:  Celebrity chef Deborah Gordon.

Prop:  A necklace.

Okay, those are all pretty cool.  I mean, a necklace is easy.  That dialog can be worked into anything.  A celebrity chef…I can work with that.

Like good little filmmakers and producers, we wrote it all down and my DP texted it to our editor, because my hands shook too much.  Stupid hands.  I was doing so well hiding that nervousness.  I guess they didn’t get the memo.

“DefineUncommon,” the announcer called.  That was my cue to walk to the front.  I wove in between the chairs and I didn’t even trip.  I reached my hand into a hat (I’m pretty sure it was a hat…) to pull out our GENRE.

That tiny piece of paper flipped open in my hand.  ROMANCE, it said.  Romance.  What in the monkey…?

I made my way back to my seat.  I sat.  I hope.  And I made my DP text our genre.  And I took a deep breath.

I have never written a romance film, I thought.  I just haven’t done it.  How am I going to write one in a few hours?  How am I going to film it?  How can I know that I won’t let my team down because of my inexperience in this genre?

You know what I was doing?

WIGGING OUT.

But my DP leaned over and asked if we were going to keep the genre.  See, we have the opportunity to draw a wild card.  The wild cards are ALL harder than the normal genres.  All of them.  And I said, “I don’t think we should.”

He said, “Me neither.  We got this.  I think we got this.”

I thought of my team:  twenty some people.  I thought of my actors:  half a dozen.  I thought of my editors and my co-writer waiting out in the mall.

And I thought, “We can do this.”

Because the 48, and all filmmaking really, isn’t about one person.  It’s a team.

Jib Operator       Editors and DP

Here’s a trailer for our film: