Monday, September 22, 2014

Directing My First Film

I am coming off of the most wonderful weekend of completely new feelings which meant...I had to blog.

I come from a long background of theater and stage work. But recently, I knew I wanted to shift gears and move into the world of film. One would think there are many similarities between these two arms of the entertainment world, but there are numerous differences as well. In theater, you rehearse and rehearse in order to get everything to come together and flow in this non-stopping fake reality that we create in front of the eyes of an audience. For a good 2-3 hours, you are immersed in that world. For film, you plan and plan to make sure you cross every 't' and dot every 'i' so that you can come together on set, work moments out of order, create magic that is fleeting and then the moment is gone as quickly as you started. Some may find my comparison trite, but it's sort of apples and oranges. 

Sure, I was able to bring my background to this new platform - but boy did I learn much along the way. I assembled an amazing team combined of people that have been doing it forever along with those that (like me) came from theater or were completely new to the experience. What we were able to accomplish in just two days was (if I can be so bold to say) so inspiring and gave me a new appreciation for so many people involved in film. 

Here are just a few things I'll take with me from this experience:

1) From now on, I'll never look at credits of the cinematographer the same way ever again. You need one that has the eye of an artist, the patience of Job, and can fulfill a director's vision while bringing his own into play. Jeff Turick was all of that and SO much more. He brought an incredible professional team to our project and I am forever grateful.

2) Make sure you choose an AD that has been doing this for years, can answer your question before you ask it, and has a voice that can be heard down the street. I had that ten fold. 

3) When looking for your designers, you want those that are confident in their abilities, but also not afraid to shift gears if you ask them. A production designer that thinks of so much more than simply set design; instead thinks of everything that is happening around the production on set. Costume, makeup, and hair pros that work as a well-oiled machine not only doing amazing work, but getting those actors to set on time. I think I was spoiled my first time out of the gate.

4) There can never be too many people willing to be production assistants on set. Those extra hands can come from producers who (like you) want to see the most amazing work accomplished (and to stay on schedule); high school filmmakers who long to make this a career and will give their all to assist in any way they can; the people who own the home you have invaded as your location; or even the photographer who changes hats depending on what he is needed to do. Not a single complaint was heard from the awesome people we had filling those spots this weekend. 

5) Never underestimate the power of food on a set and how it can aid in a pleasant atmosphere - keeping everyone motivated. Lucky am I to have had Craft Services that took us from breakfast to dinner and everything in between! Sweets, healthy food, hot meals…and not one Pizza in sight!

6) Casting is EVERYTHING on a film set. It's all about getting in and getting out. So you want to utilize actors that can turn it on quickly, give you exactly what you want (no matter the amount of takes) and can amaze you over and over with the heart-wrenching acting choices they make. My cast was all of that and more. At times, I felt as if they didn't even need a director because they were just THAT good.

I'm thrilled to be a part of this industry and to continue learning all that I can. Moving from production to post-production brings on so many new challenges and adventures. And naturally - more money is needed to continue to work towards completion (so yes, a crowd sourcing project is in our future). I will continue to work hard, learn much, and realize that I don't know it all: but it sure is fun to be 45 and still gaining new knowledge.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

The Many Faces of Joan Rivers

The past few days, I have had moments where I just find myself crying as if I have lost a family member. I keep trying to figure out why the death of Joan Rivers has affected me so much, but as I take to social media - I see that I'm not alone. 

When I left home at 18 years old, my then girlfriend (still best friend) made me a mixed tape of songs that also included a portion of a Joan Rivers routine. That friend was showing then how laughter gets us through tough times, (ours was the fact we were going to be thousands of miles away from each other). I lost all of my grandparents by the time I was 19 and it hit me this past week that Joan Rivers
was like the Jewish grandmother I never had. The one that would keep you laughing, give you advice (in a no-holds-barred way), and oddly enough - one I turned to each week. Like the new generation that only knew her because of Fashion Police on the E network, I'd tune in each week to hear what she'd have to say about what someone had worn to some event that most of the country would never attend. Or I'd log onto Youtube to see her web series interviewing people from her bedroom. Her's was a sense of humor that while not for everyone, always made me laugh with a 'did she really just go there' type of response.

But even more than the laughter, I loved the realness of her. The softness you could see if you ever watched her on her reality show, or the documentary on her life or even at times when she appeared on the Apprentice. All of these showed another side of this hard working woman that constantly gave back.

As someone who believes strongly in paying-it-forward, this woman did it all the time. She would tell the younger generation of comics and entertainers to give back to their public. Stop and talk to fans. Answer a question for the media. And help out those less fortunate. What she did for God's Love, We Deliver  for the past 25 years is incredible. The woman was talking about AIDS (and doing benefits for those suffering from it) long before entertainers were afraid to even be associated with the word. 

I am amazed by the amount of work an 81 year old woman was doing weekly when I find I am tired by Wednesday. Her schedule would wear anyone out. But she wasn't slowing down. She reinvented herself over and over from comic, to TV host, to spokesperson, business woman - the list goes on and on. Inspiring for any entrepreneur that believes in constantly learning and doing something new (and spoke volumes to this particular entrepreneur). 

I think the reason so many of us are having problems with her death is that she wasn't sick. She was at the top of her game. A routine procedure wasn't supposed to take down the hardest working woman in entertainment. And yet life can turn on a dime. There are no guarantees and we do not always get explanations. But we can learn to live each day to the fullest. To not put off something we may have wanted to do. Watching her life is a great example of how to go after your dreams and not put anything off.

One of the few photos I've kept in my office from 2002 
Yes, Joan Rivers had many faces (and I'm not talking about the plastic surgery). I'm talking about the entertainer, the mother, the grandmother, the philanthropist, the entrepreneur, the woman that left us too soon when she still had so much more to give.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Through the Rabbit Hole of Indie Filmmaking

I've fallen through it and I'm not sure I want to climb back out.

It all started three years ago when I was interviewed about my first published book PROUD PANTS and asked if I'd ever make it into a movie. I recently went back and saw that I had answered that perhaps it would work as a short film.

As an exercise, I wrote a small screenplay based on that book - but was juggling too many projects to give it much thought. Than I wrote a feature screenplay based on the book Missing by Drake Braxton when director Lois Munoz Merka wanted to turn that book into a film. I continued talking to friends about indie filmmaking. I watched and I studied. I attended a crash course on filmmaking and returned to the small screenplay I had written, threw out most of the characters and created an intimate six page script. I said to the universe I was working on a screenplay and pre-production was born.

I am now three weeks away from the actual shoot for MOTHER and every day my respect and my excitement for the industry grows. True to my pay-it-forward attitude that I love to do on social media, I thought I'd share some of what I've already learned.

1) Don't dream it: live it. If you want to do something, make it happen. However you can go about doing it. For me I need to tell more and more people so I'm held accountable to following that dream.
2) Surround yourself with smart people. I'm directing my first film. Sure, I've been a stage director for years, but I've assembled a team of people that know what they are doing in this medium. An amazing cinematographer, an assistant director that has done much more than I have, even a PA that spent this summer in the NYU Film School. We can always learn from those around us.
3) Surround yourself with people you trust. My years of working in the theater means I have a background of collaborating with very talented people that I know and trust. By bringing them on in crew roles means I do not need to have an aneurism over every single element of filmmaking. Let the costumer do what they do best. Trust your set designer to dress the location in a vision you both share. It will ease your stress factor tremendously!
4) Don't underestimate pre-production. There is only a finite amount of hours in a day for your shoot. Do everything in your power in pre-planning to make sure things run smoothly. I'm aware something may not go as planned - but meeting with crew members, rehearsing with cast, answering questions of everyone as they arise will hopefully allow me to concentrate on telling the story while on set and everyone else will be handling their own areas.
5) Make sure and enjoy the process. Being on the set for our short film (or any film) is the smallest part of the overall picture. If that's the only part you enjoy, you're in for a rough time. For me the process (in any project) is where I learn about myself while collaborating creatively with others. I love it!

Being an author or a screenwriter can be lonely. Working on stage or film is such a collaboration that while nervous of how things may go - I wouldn't trade it for anything. Yes, I've fallen headfirst down the hole and I am grateful to all of those tumbling down it with me. We're going to make a powerful film about family while creating our own family at the same time.

BTW - my blogs may not be as plentiful the next few weeks, but I will definitely update people after we get through the next phase.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Off-Broadway Play is Much More Than Its Title

Wow. Sex With Strangers. No, I don't mean the actual act. I mean the new play by Laura Eason (first seen at the Steppenwolf Theater in Chicago) directed by David Schwimmer running at 2econd Stage Theatre. What a smart, thought-provoking, funny and clever duet of a play. Olivia is an author who has retreated to a vacant inn during a snow storm only to find that Ethan has also made a reservation for the same weekend. The strangers have much in common and we quickly learn that Ethan has read her work and already feels he knows her. Yet Olivia knows nothing of Ethan who is a 20-something blogger and rising star in the literary world because of his book: Sex With Strangers. The setting is perfect for these two strangers to get to know each other - and they do…or they think they do.

Schwimmer keeps the play moving and playwright Eason keeps the audience guessing and questioning what is going to happen next. But the real chemistry is found between Emmy Award winner Anna Gunn and Tony nominated Billy Magnussen. These two light up the stage in a way not always found in a two person play. And I'm not only talking about their sexual moments…I mean the pauses between lines, the delivery of Eason's witty banter - I found myself falling for both of them. Ms. Gunn captures so much in her performance as a woman on the edge of turning 40 who feels
she has already lived it all. You sense her resign and yet she is pulled into the exuberance of the young energy of this other writer willing to show her a new world. I loved Mr. Magnussen when I saw him in Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, but he shines even brighter in this role. There is an ease about him and the way he turns a phrase on stage that you continue to turn and say "he's adorable." A realness to his delivery that is also multi-layered as you question his sincerity and motives. That's a sign of a great actor when he can constantly keep you wondering.

A writer myself, I was pulled in to so much of the themes in this play from fear of people reading your work to staying up with the ever change world of publishing and books and the question of 'who are we' in the vast world of the internet and social media. The show's website talks about ambition and reinventing one's self, but there are so many more layers to uncover with this piece. Sometimes, it's just easier to talk to a stranger - to open ourselves up to someone new in a way we could never do with our friends. And when you realize there may be something gained from this newfound relationship…well how are you to handle that? 

This play will keep you thinking about it long after the curtain comes down. But you need to get there soon as it's closing by end of August. I did notice some well known Broadway producers in the audience the night I attended. Let's hope they are thinking of moving this show. It definitely deserves to be seen by more.    

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Well That's a First

There is a reason people always remember their first. Think about it for a moment - we all talk about first steps, first words, the first time we did "X". The first time is an exciting time because it's all new to us. New is an adventure plus we're not sure what to expect. First can also be full of uncertainty with a slight fear of the unknown. But it's how we approach those firsts and react to them often determines if we want to return to that particular thing again.

It's been four years this month since I wrote my first blog and I never knew if I'd continue doing it. That first blog was about getting published in an anthology and the excitement I felt from experiencing it. Now over 48 months and 81,000 hits later on this blog, I continue to share my opinions and feelings over many different topics. But oddly enough - many of those blogs have been about Firsts. Seeing my book on Amazon for the first time. That first review I read of my work. Walking into a bookstore and that overwhelming feeling of seeing my book on the shelf. Or the first time I visited a certain city or place.

Sometimes we experience something that we don't want to try again (ok, I won't give examples of those - but we all have them). I still honestly believe I learn during those experiences too. 

As I've walked into new territory the past year with filmmaking, I'm experiencing many firsts again. Trepidation. Excitement. A few let downs. It's all part of the package. Yet again, I find myself taking notice of each of those first moments and filing them away in my memory bank. I don't ever want to forget that feeling one gets when they see their film listed on IMDB,  an actor reads their screenplay and gives amazing feedback, or you get the exact right collaboration of people together to work on a project.

Think about some of your firsts. Take time to remember how it felt and allow yourself to enjoy it again. We all deserve that jolt of excitement now and again.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Young Filmmakers Get Their Moment

Can you remember when you were in high school and someone told you that they believed in you? You could accomplish whatever you put your mind to? Today I got to witness that first hand when a group of very talented high school students screened their final film projects at The Angelika Film Center in NYC. 

A very special young lady in my life was accepted to this prestigious summer program offered by the Tisch School of the Arts at NYU. I have watched her creating films for years, but the past 4 weeks she has been immersed in living the life of a non-stop filmmaker. Traveling the city to different locations. Acting as director, DP, editors - these students do it all. Today they each had a short film they had written and directed, but also worked as teams on music videos and would help out on classmates projects serving in numerous roles.

Greg & Filmmaker Natalie
As I watched the talent that filled that room - students that had traveled from all across the country to be there - it hit me how lucky they each are to have people that believe in them. These are teens that live/sleep/breathe creative arts! Not a field that all parents can get behind and yet each of them are chasing their dreams and got a chance to live it. (And to have their film screened at the Angelika, I hope each of them knows just how amazing that is.) Not only do they have the support of their families, but the faculty that spoke today left such wonderful words of wisdom for these budding filmmakers.

Natalie is heading into her senior year of high school and I can only believe this has changed who she will be this final year of her school career. I'm sure her mind (as well as the other students there today) will all be thinking about what happens after high school, what film school they'll get into, and dreaming of that moment they win their oscar.

I know I can't wait until that day I see her accepting her first award as I'm sure there will be many in her future.

Congrats to all of the young filmmakers today! It was awesome to experience this with you.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Summer Vacation Thoughts

It's no secret…I love to travel. I've been doing it for years. To see new sites, enjoy different cultures and yes - to rest. But I've also always loved the community you get when visiting a B&B or a small Inn. So different from a large hotel chain, you actually get to know strangers during breakfast. Talk about likes/dislikes. Where people are visiting from. It's all part of the experience. 

I've been visiting Provincetown off and on for several years and here are some things I've learned on my current trip to Cape Cod.

1) Just because a place felt small and intimate on a previous visit doesn't mean the staff, the guests, and the experience will be the same. Do your homework to find the place that best suits your needs. That place that had the community of a B&B may now be so large that guests are just one of many. (And socializing among the guests takes a back seat.)

2) I am not 22. Vacation late night drinking means a zombie day the following day. I should no longer think I can do that to my body and it won't revolt against me as revenge.  

3) One can only walk up and down Commercial Street in P-Town so many times during a week. It can get old. So plan day trips to go somewhere else on the Cape for a change of scenery.

4)  Wow. The Cape is one place I can really relax and let go of regular life. I have caught up on so much sleep this week. Amazing. Next week I hit the ground running, but for now - it has been heaven to be able to wake in the morning and allow myself the luxury of falling back to sleep.

5) Everyone will claim to have the best lobster roll, clam chowder, (fill in food here). Just go with it and know they all mean well.

6) Provincetown caters to different groups of people with different theme weeks. Be careful choosing or you may end up there during "Men Who ReFuse to Shave Their Backs" week. For us, it was "Family Week"…and as much as I love kids, it was a very different trip up and down the street than what we're used to in the past.

7) Piano bars are great places to meet new people when you are in your 40s and older. I can't stand at a dance club, listening to thumping music and think I'll be able to hear what someone is saying. But joining in on a 70s song or a show tune with a stranger opens one up to fun communication.

8) When all is said and done, I could still see myself retiring here at least during the summer months. Maybe one day.