Tuesday, October 21, 2014

What to Do When You Don't Fit A Mold

Recently we were having some painting done in our home and the painter was having the "what do you do?" talk with my husband. It's easy for him. Radiation therapist.  All nice and neat in a tight box. The man asked about me and Anthony started saying I write books and directed a film. Then he stopped,  looked at me helplessly and said, "what DO you do?"
 
Everyone wants it spelled out so concisely. Business cards. LinkedIn. Even Facebook if you are creating a public page that requests your title or industry. They are looking for a one title job. But what if you can't be placed in a box?

Late night TV and talk shows are full of it. This actor has written a children’s book. That actress has a clothing line. This person opened a restaurant after doing reality TV. More and more, people can’t be labeled by one title.
 
It got me thinking. What am I?
 
Author
Speaker
Director
Theater Manager
Filmmaker
Producer
Business Owner
Entrepreneur
Publisher
Advocate
Storyteller
 
Not to mention husband, son, brother, uncle.
 
It's so hard in today's world to choose one thing. I think what all of those have in common is that I'm most happy if I'm creating something. Anything. That doesn't make me an inventor and yet that's what industry that would be assigned in one of those "please pick one" lists. It can be creating new programs at the theater I manage, creating a story for a book, a film, or encouraging someone else in their dream...but that feeling of creation is passion to me. Perhaps it's about what I'll leave behind. The mark I'll make. I'm not sure, but I know this: if I'm not learning something new...I'm dead. So I'm also a student! Not that I'd ever want to quote Taylor Swift, but I heard this on the radio as something she recently said and it made perfect sense. If you are the smartest person in the room, you're in the wrong room. 


Disclaimer: I was watching Julie & Julia again this past weekend where her husband told her not to put a fight of theirs into her blog. Just to be clear, I checked with my husband first before outing him in this blog.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

The Phases of Filmmaking

If you are around the film industry at all or just a lover of movies, you always hear about preproduction, production, and post-production. Each phase carries their own weight and I won't go into details on what each entails because you can buy a book to read up on that. I will talk about what these phases mean to me personally when I'm directing a project. 

In preproduction, you plan and you plan and you plan. You are looking for people that you know you can work with, trust their judgment and utilize their assets to help you get to that point of production. You doubt yourself and your abilities. You wonder if you are crazy. But you have those people around you pushing your forward. I was extremely lucky in this phase.

In production - you are shooting your film. It's what many say is the smallest portion of the entire process. Once again, I was sooo lucky in this phase and even blogged about it once it was over. It was an amazing time and I instantly had that sad feeling that one gets when something ends. I was going to miss these people - that family that you create and spent time with - even if it was for only two days on our shoot.

But then we jumped right into post-production and a completely different part of my brain went into use. It's as if you start to market the film before it's even done. Yet you must if you are trying to raise funds to finish the film: people need to KNOW about it which means marketing.

You want to ride the creative wave of the project while raising money so you start putting together your post-production team. Editors, composers, songwriters, design teams - this is when you begin to sift through resumes and reels hoping you can find the right collaboration for your project. While I was so sad when the production part ended, being involved in this portion has rejuvenated me all over again.

Our music team is incredible. I can't wait for people to hear what Mikey is writing as an original score and the song that Nicki has written for the closing credits. 

The producers that are helping with fundraising have been top-notch and with 20 days left to go on our IndieGoGo campaign, we are 83% towards our goal.

And then joining up with an editor that understands your sensibilities and connects to the story…that doesn't view it as "just another job" - words can't express how much I've loved working with Rob the past two weeks. (A film director/writer as well as an editor.) I feel just as in sync with him as I did working with my DP Jeff during the shoot. The work an editor does by compiling all of those scenes, enhancing moments by making different decisions, and painstakingly searching for the perfect sound to bump a certain moment - it is all incredible. I am so excited about our rough cut and yet I know he still has more work to do - which means I'll be over the moon when I see the finished product!
Rob Moretti - Editing MOTHER

I've said this film has been a labor of love for all involved and that has been true from start to finish. I think people bring their own stories to it - their relationship with their own moms - and that is perfect for this particular film. People have been touched from the first phase through the last and I hope that continues as we contact festivals and get this film out there in 2015 for all to see.

What a ride…and it's one I know I'll be taking again.




Sunday, October 12, 2014

Was My Youth Really That Long Ago?

This is Our Youth, the play by Kenneth Lonergan playing on Broadway at the Cort Theater is not MY youth. Sure, I was living in New York City by 18 years old. The same decade in which the play is set (the 80s). And I would have many evenings with friends where we would sit around trying to solve the problems of the world and talk about what we would become in 5 to ten years. But my issues were not solved by rich parents or smoking pot and doing drugs to take me to another state of being. I understand that angst and was looking forward to reliving my past in some way/shape/form with this play - but for me, form is truly lacking in Lonergan's play.

I realize that the NY Times wrote a love letter to this play when it opened, but if you click on the comments it is amazing how many people say they left at intermission. I actually had 
a different experience. I walked in and saw the incredibly accurate set designed by Todd Rosenthal and knew that I have loved Anna D. Shapiro's direction in past productions. I was actually enjoying the three performances in Act I. All three actors (Michael Cera, Kieran Culkin and Tavin Gevinson) bring wonderful energy, characterization, and voices to these characters. Cera makes you care for his character that has been kicked out of the house by his dad (and he has stolen some of his father's money). Many say he always plays the same character, but his line delivery evokes laughter and feeling from an audience. The same lines said by someone else would be very different. Culkin is wonderful as the (what appears to be as he is older) - the aging druggie who believes he is a great business man. And Gevinson may be new to acting (I actually loved her in the film Enough Said - but more know her as the child prodigy who became big as a fashion blogger), but holds her own against these two. Each actor has such a distinctive sound to their voice that I found that element so appealing and different in this show.

However, the play itself (which is a revival of a late 90s Off-Broadway play) is in need of more of a plot and an editor. It becomes repetitive in dialogue and in direction. I am well aware that not all plays need to be piled with huge plot lines to pull in an audience, but if it is going to be so small - I would have preferred this to be one of those 90 minute plays that doesn't give an audience an escape plan at intermission. I was laughing all through the first act and wondering where it would go in Act 2. And then it simply slowed down to a halt. While the audience's Saturday night laughter continued into Act II, I almost felt a collective loss of the audience where everyone checked out when Culkin's character went on a drug-induced tirade when it felt as if the show should be winding down. And it didn't. It went on and on and on.

Perhaps that is the theme that Lonergan was going for. That our youth is never ending and we can't tie things up  quickly with a pleasant ending for everyone. Unfortunately for me, this play could have been called Three Good Actors in Search of a Better Play.



Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Curious AND Spectacular

There are times when you go see an award-winning London transfer on Broadway and you fear it won't hold up to the hype. I mean, Enron was a hit in London, but didn't do so well in NYC. But the moment that The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time started (and I let go of the fact that some accents seemed to go in and out), I was instantly transported. Directed by Marianne Elliott that brought us another gem War Horse and based on the novel by Mark Haddon, the play follows the life of a 15 year old boy who tries to solve the mystery of who killed a neighbor's dog. I was curious if I would be pulled in to the story since I had not read the book. I have heard from friends in the autism community how much they loved and related to the book and I'll admit - I saw signs of my own godson up on that stage. But I think even without a personal connection to the spectrum (which, btw, is never mentioned in the play), you can't help but be captivated by how inventive the storytelling and staging are in this production.

You get on a train that never stops - especially for the lead actor played brilliantly by Alex Sharp who just graduated from Juilliard this past May. He never leaves the stage, he fully embodies this character of a teen that doesn't like being touched and is on a quest to solve a mystery. He never goes overboard into "Rainman" territory or "Gilbert Grape" - he makes Christopher is own person and yet I know many parents out there that will see their own child on stage. I read one review that seemed to be longing for a Lifetime movie and wanted more emotion. However, that is part of the amazement of it all - the lack of emotion for those that fall on the spectrum and Mr. Sharp plays it impeccably. 

I don't want to say too much about how inventive the staging is, but let me just say the ensemble is used as more than actors - they are EVERYTHING and choreographed in ways one is not used to seeing in a play. A special shout out to the actors portraying the teacher and the father - both of which were standouts for me. The lights, sound, sets all add to the magic as we crawl inside the mind of this teen and experience the world through his eyes.

I understand we all bring our own backgrounds when we attend the theater and anyone that knows me as an author understands I have a connection with autism, but even without that - you will be blown away by how this evening is handled. If I had anything negative to say - it would be I wish it were a tad bit shorter…if not for the audience, for that poor actor working his butt off every night on stage. But hey, I'm sure he'll be up against some heavy hitters come Tony time next year: and he will deserve to be there.

Friday, October 3, 2014

A Visit to The Country House


I love to walk into a play and not know what to expect. That's what I got going into the Manhattan Theater Club's latest commission of a play that was worked out in LA before coming to Broadway. The moment the curtain rises and we see a beautiful home in the country for one to escape the noise of a big city, we are transported. If you see many plays, you may also know that once you see people arriving for a weekend, things are bound to go terribly wrong. 

In Pulitizer Prize winning playwright Donald Margulies' play The Country House, a theatrical family has come together on the anniversary of the death of a 41 year old woman - a woman that connects everyone in the house. The matriarch (played brilliantly by Blythe Danner) is a star of stage and film and has decided to return to work after a year off from grieving the death of her child. (She has a great line about there being no more Broadway stars - only film star that now do stage.) Her granddaughter visits from college, a depressed uncle is asleep in his room, the widower arrives with a new girlfriend, and mom has invited a hunky TV star to spend time with them to round out this crazy weekend. 

The play is full of laughs - what many will consider inside theatrical jokes - and moments of poignancy as well. You may attend the show realizing that the author is paying homage to Anton Chekhov in the structure and themes of the plays, but it's not a prerequisite. Actually, I felt doing this hindered the play to actually move and go somewhere. Too many moments are spent making fun of theater (remind audiences we are sitting in the theater watching...theater) and less time spent unraveling the layers in these interesting people's lives. (I might add that last season's Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike played Chekhov homage masterfully while still feeling fresh.) 

All the actors are wonderful on the stage and doing all they can with the characters they have. I must give the most kudos to Eric Lange who brings so much pathos to a rather unlikable son. Who am I to tell a Pulitizer Prize winner how to tell his story, but boy I wish the story had been constructed differently. The beauty of a 'drawing room' drama (or in this case, dramedy as it's also comedic) is dealing with what is going on underneath what all is being said. But while we get hints of it in this play, it never quite gets there for them to unravel. (And some things that are brought up are not really addressed in Act II.)  Unfortunately, it doesn't feel as if the stakes are high enough for this self-centered bunch of performers in this family. The largest stake happened a year prior when Kathy died. And then it takes forever to get to the punch of the ending of the play where (for me) it really started to take shape. The relationship between mother and son and how the death of Kathy affected them all is the story I thought we were going to see. Too bad for the audience that Margulies wants to stick too closely to Chekhov instead of giving us a unique take on age old problems of sense of belonging, family competition, success and failure.

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.