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?

52 Weeks of Creative: Week 32

This was a wonderful project.  We spent a day filming Cody getting chased all over a park.  We learned a lot and I am happy with the result.

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Sometimes equipment has technical difficulties.

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The Egg Chase Scene

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

52 Weeks of Creative: Week 25

I hope you don’t hate me, at this point, for subjecting you to yet another week of creative.  I hate myself a little for making me do this, but I’ve learned something new every time, whether it had to do with art or creativity or patience or perseverance or just relaxation.

My life at this point isn’t as open as it was when the year began.  I have a new job I started in January.  I have a fiancé, and a wedding to sorta coordinate.  I have a group of good friends who meet every week–what an amazing idea.  I started long boarding, and oil painting.  I’ve now seen all of Veronica Mars, including the new film, and am almost through seeing it all for a 2nd time.

Every week something crazy happens, I swear, like a schedule change or a sick person or a dude shows up at my house before anyone else has a right to in the morning and proposes beside a fluttering cloud of balloon asteroids.

And I love it.  (And him, just in case you were wondering.)

So sometimes I forget that I have this blog and this commitment.  Sometimes I get to Saturday and FREAK OUT.  But I’m not giving up.  Nope.

(That’s the dad from Veronica Mars, just in case you were wondering.)

This week I filmed my dog.  I got a new lens and I thought, hey, I’m gonna go film outside.  The thing about being outside by my house?  Rory is there.

So Rory is my actor.  Rory’s telling a story.  Everything you see and hear is purposeful, in case you were wondering.  Let Rory tell you this story.

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

p.s. yes, Rory is named for the Doctor Who character.

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 21

My original project for this week stalled.  Mainly because =cough= google drive =cough wouldn’t upload some footage.

So helpful.

I ran home to check the upload, saw that after 6 hours of trying, the footage had frozen at 35%.  A little confuzzled on what I should do, I spent the next 20 minutes furiously checking through my Pinterest craft ideas to find something that I want to do and actually could do.  Even after picking, I spent the next 10 minutes running around my house trying to find my elusive keys.  And you wonder, how did I get home without them?

I drove someone else’s car and used someone else’s keys, of course.

I set out with my supplies to my sister’s house.  “Hey!” the general consensus when I walked through the door.  Everyone gathered in the living room to begin playing that ultimate nerd game, D&D.  I settled in on the couch to listen and sew.

You can do both at the same time, I promise.

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“What are you making?” Stacey asked.

“A whale.”

“Ooooo.”

“That looks like one of those creatures!” Bethany commented.

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“It’s a whale,” I said.  I sent her a scrunched up look of consternation.  “I’m making a whale.”

Hours, dice rolls and grenade explosions later, I held up this:

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“It’s a zombie whale!” Patrick exclaimed.

Great.  I hate zombies.  So I gave him a beard.

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“He needs a top hat, like Abraham Lincoln!” Joshua said.

“Yeah, then he’ll be Whale-ber-ham Lincoln!” Shelby said.

I made him a top hat.

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I’d like you to meet, Whale-ber-ham Lincoln.  Now go back to fighting trolls, space gang members or mages or whatever your campaign throws your way.  And may the dice be ever in your favor.

As always, feel free to comment with suggestions, 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 12

EDIT:

Here’s the link to our Indiegogo campaign: Keep Coming Back.

A looooooooooooooong time ago I received an email from a school friend of mine.  She was wondering if I would be interested in revising/rewriting her screenplay.  Basically shehad written out her story of how she had gotten out of a life of drug addiction.

So I did research.  And I talked to a paramedic.  And I listened to her descriptions.

And I rewrote and wrote a screenplay called Keep Coming Back.

We of course wanted to produce the film.  For my 12th week, I made a promo video for the project.  This is us, talking up our project, which will shortly be live on Indiegogo.com.

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 3

Okay, I made it to week 3.  But I didn’t do this project alone, not by a long shot.  I worked with 6 of my very favorite people, some of whom were in the first films I ever made.

Here’s what we did:  I wanted to film a fight scene, because I haven’t done that legitly.  Filming and editing fighting is a little different than other filming and editing.  It’s supposed to be more frenetic and alive, giving the viewer a feeling of being in the action or alongside the characters.

I wrote a basic script outline, based off of an old project that involved sword fighting and elvish clothing.  I say OUTLINE, because it was more like guidelines than a real script.  We got half-way through fight choreography and decided to kill off a character.

I think I like guidelines.

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Paul shot nearly all of it, and didn’t drop my baby.

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Kevin allowed me to put lots of makeup on him and try on totally absurd costumes.

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Anna choreographed all the fighting, and also fought our villain, Cody.  Cody was a trooper with all the stuff we made him do.

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Lindsey did script supervision, a coffee run, some makeup and other magical things behind the scenes.  And Sarah let me get all in her face and then was tied up for a few hours without complaint.

We made some mistakes.  I know this.  There are some shots we should’ve gotten, some sound that could’ve been better.  If we’d had the time we could’ve learned the fighting a few days before and really been dangerous.

But overall, these people did fantastic.  Not only did they devote an entire Saturday to run around in elvish clothing and fall down in the melting, icky snow, but agreed to put it all on camera.  I was very impressed that all 4 of the actors learned this fight in a few hours.  And even without lines, I know exactly how they feel.

Special thanks to my boss, Jeremy, because he allowed us to use a lot of his equipment.  When I told him we were filming sword fighting, he went a little pale, but trusted that no swords would be hitting any of his lenses.  Thanks for trusting me, man.  We didn’t let ya down.


This was my absolute favorite day of filming.  Ever.  In over 7 years.  These are my friends, and also, apparently, my crew.

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