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?

Filmmaking is for Warriors: Our Greatest Weapon

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Here’s a question for you:

Before the use of social media, how did we know what filmmakers believed on certain important topics?

Here’s another one:

If I didn’t tell you outright, would you be able to guess what I religiously believe? What about politically?

Last question:

Is it important for you to know these things about me in particular or the filmmaking world in general for you to watch my films and appreciate them?

Debates swirl through our Facebook feeds. Name-calling and bullying abound. Twitter is increasing the source of hate-speech and calls to hurt specific individuals. It’s now fun to disagree with people so much that you now define them as your enemy and must mount a personal vendetta against them.

So in this war against your “friends” and followers, what weapons do we filmmakers use to defend our ideals, morals, point-of-view, personal convictions and desires? What do we have in our arsenal that has the ability to reach not just the American people or your neighbors or that guy you hate on your social media field? How can you be heard and understood and shown compassion for your differences rather than crucified?

Our most powerful weapon is our driven desire to make films. Real films. Films with heart. Films with action. Films about change. Films about the past. Films about the future. Films about people. Films about the galaxy, the universe, the stars.

Pick up a camera. Look through that lens. You see the world differently than any other person. And you have the opportunity to give that view to the world, to wield a weapon that has succeeded in changing the views of a nation (Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?), keeping the political policies of a nation (Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, AKA, one of the main reasons we still have the filibuster in the USA), connecting social injustice with audiences that wouldn’t normally choose to watch “that type” of film (District 9, apartheid), and showcased the bitter and painful struggles of war (Saving Private Ryan, Apocalypse Now, Black Hawk Down), protecting the innocent (Hotel Rwanda, The Book Thief, Shindler’s List, Argo) and making the ultimate sacrifice for the greater good (The Passion of the Christ, Harry Potter Series, The Iron Giant, Hercules).

Your weapons as a filmmaker can include social media. You can definitely impact people through the impersonal inter webs. But your impact will be greatest in the stories you tell, because the stories we tell show far more about our character and our beliefs than the brief words we spout on social media.

“Movies touch our hearts and awaken our vision, and change the way we see things. They take us to other places, they open doors and minds. Movies are the memories of our lifetime, we need to keep them alive.” ~Martin Scorsese (quoted from here)

“I always want to make films. I think of it as a great opportunity to comment on the world in which we live. Perhaps just because I just came off The Hurt Locker and I’m thinking of the war and I think it’s a deplorable situation. It’s a great medium in which to speak about that. This is a war that cannot be won, why are we sending troops over there? Well, the only medium I have, the only opportunity I have, is to use film. There will always be issues I care about.” ~Kathryn Bigelow (quoted from here)

“I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to express the views of black people who otherwise don’t have access to power and the media. I have to take advantage of that while I’m still bankable.” ~Spike Lee (quoted from here)

“I’m never going to be shy about anything, what I write about is what I know; it’s more about my version of the truth as I know it. That’s part of my talent, really — putting the way people really speak into the things I write. My only obligation is to my characters. And they came from where I have been.” ~Quentin Tarantino (quoted from here)

I have a voice here, and I’m using it as a secondary weapon against my world. But my primary weapon is my films.

I dare you to watch through my films and comment with what you think I believe religiously and/or politically. Start with this one, and let me know how far ya get before you have some ideas.

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!

Fail the System: A short film with a long process

I’m working on the short film for October. I’ve been working on the short film for October since…June 12th. Originally I wanted to write a short about a very controversial subject that I have never seen in a film. But when I started writing Working_Title Red I realized that I had to have a primary storyline that was more accessible to a general audience.

I wanted to write a drama. So I started doing research on dramas, especially dramas that were dialog-driven, which is not the way I have been writing for years. The above show was recommended to me. I watched A LOT of it and found that the representation of family drama is the best I’ve seen onscreen.

This show, Broadchurch, was also recommended to me as a quality drama. It’s about a small English town that experiences the murder of an 11-year-old boy and struggles to come to grips with the reality. It is one of the most cinematically beautiful stories I have ever seen. The editing is superb, the acting is flawless and the writing is arresting.

It’s also one of the most depressing things I’ve ever watched and I had to take it in parts to better deal with the emotions it brought on (I don’t like watching things that make me that sad, but it was very good).

The following images I found as a reference for very good cinematography composition. The DefineFast Productions film will employ this kind of style.

So what is Working_Title Red about? Well, it became Fail the System, and it is about a sister and brother who work together to outwit a devious college professor and deal with some serious relationship issues. Yes, a drama. With dialog. Although it is not as dialog-driven as something like Gilmore Girls.

Since Your Sister Sent Me, a short film DefineFast made in 2013, I have not made anything this intense as a large-scale project. The cast and crew is currently being assembled for this and I am excited to see it become a reality.

Just a little info into the process of making a short film. As always, feel free to comment with feedback, critique or projects of your own!

A Word on American Universities

I attended the University of Missouri-Kansas City.  I liked my school.  It was a gorgeous campus, great facilities, good teachers, mostly helpful administration, located not far from my home…I enjoyed my time there.

But it didn’t teach me how to make money.  It didn’t teach me how to get a job.  It didn’t even teach me how to make a good resume, something I learned the hard way when attending an internship brunch and a potential employer went on a rant and wrote all over my resume the things that were wrong.  There’s few things more intimidating than the representative of a TV station telling you how stupid students are getting with their resumes when you’re attempting to impress him.

Didn’t I spend over 5 years and thousands of dollars paying someone else to teach me something as basic as how to craft a good resume?

“Did they teach you about working with clients?” I asked my co-worker about an internship she did in college.

“No,” she said.  “I wish I had learned that…”

She majored in Graphic Design, focusing mostly on print and drawing by hand.  She told me she wished she had focused more on building websites and digital art.  Apparently we both graduated with ignorance, not knowledge.

Here’s the thing though, I knew that I didn’t have to go to college.  I knew that college was just a way to get to where I wanted to be.  I made a calculated decision–based on my introverted nature–that college would be the better option to prepare me to get to Hollywood.  I didn’t think I would get paid more.  I didn’t think it would be easier to get a job, per se.  In fact, I knew that it was in my future to be at working-class income (possibly lower-class, depends on your point-of-view).

Because I was pursuing art.  And really, how many people make a lot of money at art?

BUT.  I did expect that my university would provide a magic list of steps to take to get a job, equip me with a list of all the jobs (like real companies) that I could apply to, and/or automatically place me on the radar of top people in the media and film industry (like Disney, Pixar, Bad Robot, J.J. Abrams, etc).

Why did I expect this?  I have no idea.  I honestly don’t know who told me that.

Why do people keep expecting magic to happen when they just spent 4, 5, 6, 8 years working, studying, testing, writing, running to class, forgetting their parking pass, going into debt, paying a parking fee, staying up all night to fail a test, drinking too much coffee, watching boring class-required movies, eating ramen, lugging brick-like textbooks everywhere and hating their teacher who just assigned that stupid 7-page paper over the weekend?  Seriously.  Why do we expect that after all that–college–we should hop out of school and be ushered into the job force within the week?

Yeah, I paid a lot of money.  Yeah, I’m qualified to film and edit live events, commercials, web videos, training videos, short films, long films, competitive films; write papers, books, screenplays, blog posts; take orders, directions, feedback, and criticism and not DIE (honestly, I’ve not died once from too much work).  But did that entitle me to walk off the podium at my college and into a steady, paying position at a company within my expertise?

Why do we assume that getting a job shouldn’t require work?

I don’t know.  I know that all that time I spent sitting alone before class I should’ve spent chatting with the teachers, staff, anyone, about jobs in Hollywood, how to build a nice-looking resume, and how to sweet-talk a producer into letting me hold lights or equipment on set for a film.  And I should’ve been making calls, sending emails, messages, snail-mail, whatever, to companies and directors and producers BEFORE I graduated and let them know how awesome I am and that they should consider making me part of their team.

I mean, that’s kinda how I got into college.  I pursued it and they couldn’t say no.  I also paid them a lot of money, but hey, I want Hollywood so that might come with the territory.

But I didn’t know.  No one taught me that.  Or maybe they did, and I just wasn’t paying attention.

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!