Just Make Films: Coffee with Creatives “Bonus” Episode

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I scare the quotes around “bonus” (did it again!) because my talk with Sundance award-winning filmmaker Diane Bell has already been released in text form.

I decided to re-release it as an extra podcast episode in case anyone missed it the first time around, wants to revisit some of Diane’s great advice, and/or feels like hearing my side of the conversation.

As I said when I published the text interview — I think Diane is great. If you haven’t yet listened to what she has to say, particularly about focusing on process (as opposed to results) and about not waiting around for permission or (certain forms of) outside validation to make films (or any art) — I would recommend you do so.

Thanks to everyone listening! If you’re getting something out of the interviews, please consider contributing to my Patreon campaign for the podcast.

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What I Liked This Week: Hustler Edition

No. Not the nudie mag. Not even the iconic film.

This week, I’m highlighting three resources I stumbled upon, or sought out, that helped me hustle. As in work. Hard. Quickly. Efficiently.

Fractured Atlas Space Finder

It took me all of five minutes to find a space and book it. That's how it should go.

It took me all of five minutes to find a space and book it. That’s how it should go.

I did not know this existed. It’s fantastic. From Fractured Atlas:

For artists, the process of finding work space can be frustrating and inefficient. Meanwhile, venues have limited resources to spend finding new renters. Earned revenue is critical for creative venues yet many rental spaces are tragically underutilized. Through the SpaceFinder program, Fractured Atlas is increasing visibility of rental options, helping artists find the space they need, and helping venues promote and rent their spaces.

What happened was that I needed a space to record my Coffee with Creatives interview with Rick Younger (Coming Soon).

When I meet people in the city, especially when they’re doing something kind like meeting me to talk, I like to try to find a place or a space that’s easily accessible to them and either halfway between where we’re both going afterwards or at least fairly close. This time around, I was in a bit of a rush to find a spot, and didn’t know of too many spaces, off-hand, that would be quiet enough to record a podcast. The Space Finder allowed me to find something, quickly. It’s a great resource and I appreciate that it exists.

Filmmakers, actors, performers should check it out.

A Different Kind of Meditation: An Analysis of Word of Mouth (WOM) Marketing

Up is down and down is up.

WOM starts with doing something different.

I believe I stumbled upon Lincoln Murphy’s great Medium piece on WOM via GrowthHackers.

Anyone interested in authentically building an audience, and then smartly and honestly growing that audience, would do well to read it. Murphy specializes in Software as a Service (SaaS) but rightly points out that his observations apply universally to most companies.

I’d take that further, and hitch it up to the “Filmmaker as Entrepreneur” argument, to include anyone whose work would and does benefit from WOM.

The biggest take-away, in my opinion — WOM starts with a great product. From there, it’s about talking to your audience, and asking them what they like and want. It’s about participating in a relationship — not simply selling.

I shared the post with Seed and Spark’s #FilmCurious crew, and people seemed to agree with me that all this is relevant to what we do. For me, that seems to prove Murphy’s point.

Speaking of the #FilmCurious…

Click the image to read a transcript of the chat

Click the image to read a transcript of the chat

This conversation couldn’t have been more appropriate for me. First, contributing towards a new and more equitable business model for indie film is my greatest obsession after contributing towards a greater dialogue about empathy and equality (through storytelling). In addition to that, after bringing The Videoblogs to Big Vision Empty Wallet’s (BVEW) 2015 Distribution Lab — I and the #VideoblogsFilm team are now working hard to iterate our business plan, finish the film, and get it out into the world.

Chat guests Jon Reiss and Adam Leipzig were very helpful, and gave a lot of great advice during the chat. As usual, the #FilmCurious crew also brought their own juice to the discussion. I brought fruit punch. It may have been spiked.

Good read. Get on it.

And have a good week.

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Coffee with Creatives: Boy Turns Into Dog

Edward_PomerantzEdward Pomerantz taught me screenwriting.

I took his workshop two or three times while working through the Creative Writing Program at Columbia University when I was there. Eddie helped me adapt my first published short story into what would become my first film, Over Easy. That film wouldn’t have been a success, and I may not have “caught the bug” after making it, if I didn’t spend an entire semester workshopping the adaptation with Eddie and my classmates. His passion for writing and, more than that, about authentic storytelling, is infectious. I was very glad that he agreed to come on the podcast.

This episode was a pleasure to record. Eddie has had a long and varied career as a screenwriter, novelist, playwright, and teacher. He also recently directed his first film, La Comida, which has so far played at four film festivals.

Topics we cover in the conversation include:

  • The necessity of having a clear reason for telling each story you sit down to write
  • The importance of only taking writing assignments you can make your own
  • The parallel importance of not looking down at an assignment that can be made your own with a little thought and consideration
  • Why Eddie believes Robert McKee ruined screenwriting
  • The differences between writing something and directing something
  • Listening to the needs of the story, rather than trying to force something to happen
  • “Keeping the ball in the air” as long and as effectively as possible
  • Bringing an element of danger into your work
  • And much, much more

Beatriz De La Cruz stars in La Comida, a funny and poignant short Written and Directed by Eddie.

Beatriz De La Cruz (La Comida)

It’s basically a crash course in how to leave it all on the table, in service of whatever it is that your story needs. I hope you like the interview.

Please feel free to drop a note in the comments if you have anything to add, or have any follow-up questions you’d like to ask.

You can find more about Eddie at his site: http://edwardpomerantz.com/.

Coffee with Creatives is also available on iTunes.

What I Liked This Week: Hill People Edition

In NYC, this space would cost $3,000/month.

In NYC, this space would cost $3,000/month plus utilities (oxygen surcharge).

That is my wife, Rebecca, about as happy as I have seen her. I like that, which is part of the reason why…

Redwood Forest

…the first thing on this week’s list is the Armstrong Redwood State Preserve in California. We took a short trip there this week with family, hiking a short loop among a forest of towering redwoods — many of which are over one-thousand years old. That’s amazing. And amazingly humbling.

To get there, we took a shortcut (via GPS) that led us through some hills. At one point, in those hills, we discovered a large community of people living essentially in the middle of nowhere, about halfway between the nearest town and the forest. They seemed nice. It was an eclectic group of tree-hidden homes.

Rebecca wants to move in with the redwood forest hill people and I can’t say some part of me wouldn’t enjoy it. I am back in New York now, which from another point of view might seem equally insane as a choice for a home.

Venice Beach

Photo credit: Rebecca De Ornelas.

Photo credit: Rebecca De Ornelas.

We drove down from northern California to LA before flying home, to see some more family and to flash through the city for a day of tourist-y activities. We checked out the Hollywood Sign and even made a quick stop by Grauman’s Chinese Theatre — but one of my favorite jaunts during our whirlwind stop in LA was our walk along Venice Beach.

I was disappointed to discover that there were no studio executives handing out money at the top of the hill. I feel misled.

I was disappointed to discover that there were no studio executives handing out money at the top. I feel misled.

When we got to Venice Beach, the sky was overcast and we were tired and had just been in traffic for an hour (which means we had only been driving for about half a mile). It was getting late in the afternoon and we had a few more stops planned and a lot more traffic ahead of us. I think we were both a little cranky.

But the walk (the actual locomotion of it) and the unique character of the boardwalk and its unique brand of artists and salespeople, quickly improved our mood. We watched the goings-on around us, sampled some street music (and paid for it by dropping some cash in the performer’s guitar case), declined some other street music, and stood by to observe a unique performance that I’m probably going to write about in a different way, soon.

Much like the forest, but also in a very different sense, it felt like a reduction of America. On the one hand, we had a sampling of the vast natural landscape upon which everything we know has been and is built. On the other, along the boardwalk, we witnessed a mixed-bag of what all that has become. It’s not all bad, either, what’ve we’ve become (to be clear). In many ways, it’s just what we’ve got.

Subconscious Energization 

On second thought, it could have just been the cookie.

I am so on board with this cookie.

Something happened to my brain over the past week or so. After a little bit of catching up (mostly in regards to the podcast) for the first few days of my California trip, I settled into a routine of waking up early, meditating a bit, having breakfast and coffee and then…vacillating between chill-out time and different (moderate) physical activities. I also watched my cousin get married to a good dude in the middle of it all, which was wonderful.

But the relative liveliness of it all got into my bones. I jogged. I floated down a river (twice). I hiked, on a few separate occasions. There was a lot of movement and not a lot of thinking.

The effect has been a profound re-energization of my subconscious. I woke up this morning with a lot of hope for the near future, and a lot of passion for trying out new ideas, for growing this space and improving it organically, and generally turning back to a more active and experimental mindset, following the necessary monomania of making a low-budget indie film.

It feels good. Be on the lookout for more stuff. Let me know if you like it. Don’t be shy.

And have a good week.

What I Liked This Week: Mental Health Edition

I’m out on a porch, overlooking the Russian River in Healdsburg, CA, and the sun is shining and the birds are chirping and I have coffee.

It’s been a good, if hectic, week. Life feels charged, lately — in a positive way.

Facing Up To Mental Illness

The back of the shirt reads:

The back of the shirt reads: “…and so are you.” Because mental illness affects us all.

This first thing I liked this week, that I want to bring to everyone’s attention, is Campaign to Face It, a smart, modest, bold initiative to help combat the stigma with which many contemporary societies still view mental illness, addiction, and other conditions associated with mental health.

On June 5th, I and my wife joined with many others in wearing t-shirts designed to help call out this stigma. I wore a shirt that identified me as someone who has struggled with mental illness, and I shared a photo captioned with that same message to social media channels.

I’ve been saying for a long time that it’s important that we talk about mental health. The campaign felt like a simple but effective way to do so safely, personally — by joining with others who sought to prove by their own admissions that they stand behind this same message.

As I wrote that day, I’m mostly doing better now, after struggling for quite a while with prolonged bouts of depression. It’s been a long road, that won’t ever end. But there’s help out there. If you’re ever struggling with your mental health, reach out to someone.  You’re not alone, and most people are kind. Help is out there, and you don’t have to be any more ashamed to ask for it, if you’re suffering mentally, than you would if you had a broken arm.

And, if you’re ashamed anyway — still ask for help. It’s okay. No one is perfect and shame can cause a lot more damage.

Big Vision Empty Wallet Distribution Lab

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Rebecca and I brought The Videoblogs to Big Vision Empty Wallet’s 2015 Distribution Lab this week. It was a fun and informative experience. We learned a lot, met some great people, and emerged from the various meetings, scheduled by BVEW founders Alex Cirillo and Dani Faith Leonard, feeling re-energized about finishing the film and getting it ready to go out into the world.

Related to that, BVEW recently announced a new initiative to combat issues of diversity in film. It’s an important cause, that I very much support, so go check it out especially if you’re a filmmaker.

Down Time, Family Time

My grandfather is a boss at bocce.

My grandfather is a boss at bocce.

I’m here in wine country for my cousin’s wedding. After the busyness of starting the podcast, writing a new story, attending the labs, rushing to make the flight, and scrambling around San Francisco to fill a short day there with some sightseeing — it feels good to sit here and sip coffee and feel the sun on my face.

Also, I haven’t been able to spend much time with my family over the past few years. It’s been great to see everyone. I had a good time running around San Francisco with my parents and Rebecca. I’m having a good time here, now, with my grandparents and aunts and uncles and cousins.

This is important stuff. I’m going to get back to it.

Have a good week.

Photo credit: Some nice guy from Spain who took direction via hand signals.

Photo credit: Some nice guy from Spain who took direction via hand signals.

Coffee with Creatives (Podcast!): Fried and True

Hey, Coffee Fiends.

I write this dispatch from a hotel “business center” which is really just a bench behind where they serve the free coffee. It’s 7AM (I’m in San Francisco) and they just ran out of coffee, so I don’t know what’s real anymore.

Never mind. They replaced the coffee. We’re good. Back to the task at hand.

Coffee with Creatives is a podcast now. As you may recall, it seemed early on that this was the better way to go. Also, some people wrote in directly stating that a podcast version would make it easier for them to absorb the interviews. I do want to make things easier for you.

This week’s inaugural podcast episode is with Street Chef Sang Hoon “Heezy” Lee, of Zhà Pan Asian, winner of the 2014 Best of Market Vendy Award. We’re best buds, and had some fun, but we also talked seriously about the process of creating a quality product, and how to strategically grow while maintaining that quality. It’s a good conversation.

Don't let this fool you. Heezy is actually totally cereal about cooking.

Don’t let this fool you. Heezy is actually totally cereal about cooking.

I believe Coffee with Creatives is now on iTunes. That may be the best and most efficient way to listen right now. The show may not come up in search for a few more days, though, while it’s still new.

You can also listen right here:

Please share the episode if you like it! I would love to keep growing Coffee with Creatives, and that’s the number one way it’s going to happen.

Zhà's popular Asiancini taste about as good as they look. They also serve Korean Fried Chicken and Waffles.

Zhà’s popular Asiancini taste about as good as they look. They also serve Korean Fried Chicken and Waffles.

One last note — I am already having a blast doing this, but running a professional podcast like this does cost a bit of time and money. I am covering costs, will continue to do that, and the show will always be free…

…but if you enjoy the podcast and can afford it, please consider becoming a monthly supporter of the show on Patreon. Alternatively, you can make a one time donation by heading over to the Coffee with Creatives tab above, and contributing via PayPal.

Here’s a fun video about the whys and hows of all that:

I’m technically on vacation now, so I’m going to go drink more coffee and try to find a non-hotel option for breakfast. You’re all beautiful flowers. Yes. Even you, dude.

Fiction: The Jogger

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The Jogger had only been The Jogger for eight minutes.

For those eight minutes, The Jogger felt amazing. He had once been an athlete, had even found intermittent joy in athletics (mostly when there was no pressure to win). During those brief early moments of movement, it had felt right to ignore reason (which told him to pace himself) in deference to the rediscovered joy of simply going. Life felt simple — perfect.

As the ninth minute approached, he devolved (his words) back into A Walker. After about two more minutes had passed, spent breathing and checking in on the seriousness of a number of bodily alarms (no emergencies), he returned to being The Jogger again. Then, once more, he had to walk.

This was his first jog as a man over thirty.

The ease of those first moments, of this “first” jog, that muscle memory had afforded — they gave way to the reality of his condition. Not only was he “jumping in” as a non-twenty-something, but, more and more time, in recent years, has been spent sitting behind desks, at computers. And had he taxed his body in other ways, for too many hours at a time, for too long.

His feet began to ache. Their bottoms burned a bit, from the sudden, foreign friction, as well. The Jogger wore rough old socks, and new sneakers that had hardly been broken in at all, despite a few days of warm-up speed-walking with the dog.

The Jogger thought about the dog, while fending off the decision to become A Walker again. He wondered if he should or could have brought her.

He quickly decided against it. She couldn’t be trusted to keep pace without pulling away against the leash, potentially running ahead of him and into the street. His path, which he was letting the cross-lights dictate as he wove among the relatively quiet, tree-line streets in his Brooklyn neighborhood — there was still too much traffic.

And there would bikers, at some point. Men and women on bikes. Even before he became The Jogger, he had learned to regard bikers with distrust (to put it mildly).

Some were probably fine people, but the majority seemed all too prepared to skirt the city’s traffic laws, to constantly take risks with their lives. They too often risked the lives of others, as well, in the opinion of The Jogger.

After over a decade in the city, he had long ago lost count of how many times he had almost been hit by a bike. It had only gotten worse during The Reign of Bloomberg — especially in Manhattan, where The Jogger worked. Bloomberg had liked bikes. He’d made more room for them. The Jogger wasn’t against this; he hardly understood it. Bikes didn’t affect him directly. But there did seem to be more bikes, and except for the dumbly moving CitiBikes (which often moved in slow motion, under the direction of tourists or inexperienced citizens “just trying it out”), they seemed hungrier for human flesh.

The Jogger was conflicted on the legacy of Bloomberg. Manhattan seemed to no longer belong to most New Yorkers, but the cause and effect appeared complex and unclear.

To be fair, much of what ailed The Jogger’s New York (he was a transplant) was not unclear.

The Jogger decidedly believed that his city and country could take better care of its general citizenry. But he also saw the world getting smaller and faster, every day, and wondered just where the threshold began to fall between meeting the needs of globalization, of leveraging the ability of capital to bring speedy change and growth and progress, and the responsibility of each individual to himself and his closest neighbors.

He knew that much was out of proportion, politically, and in terms of the national power dynamic, which had all but consumed local dynamics as well, through politics and via the media. But he also felt change occurring slowly beneath his feet. It’s pace couldn’t yet match that of money and fear, but The Jogger had hope.

He couldn’t quite identify any concrete solutions. Things still felt too big. His younger self, as younger selves are meant to do, had bristled against the clear injustices of it all, had responded with anger and indignation.

But, now, he kept his head down, and he worked. He fought, from his own corner, and sought to match what progress he could identify. Indignation, he had discovered (without much surprise) was mostly a trap. He found motion — any motion, honestly undertaken — a much more effective reaction than anger, when met by examples of personal endangerment and social injustice.

Such as the threat of bikes.

The neighborhood where The Jogger lived wasn’t, on average, considered completely safe. Some areas were safer than others, depending on what block you were on, the median income of the residents on said block, the rate of gentrification on your street and its related effects on police presence and strategy. But, generally, The Jogger still felt his life was more likely to end via bicycle than gun.

He walked again. For two minutes. Then he jogged again, then walked again, and continued back and forth in this way until twenty minutes had passed.

That had been and would be the goal. Twenty minutes. He wished to remain focused on the process, on the more important benefits of exercise, and not some competitive standard of results.

He went home.

***

The next morning brought soreness, but The Jogger had slept well and had actually been expecting to wake up in worse condition than he had. After a long day at work, he returned home legitimately looking forward to His Second Jog.

His wife made him run earlier than the night before. Someone had been shot and killed on a nearby corner, twenty minutes after the jogger had passed it.

He exited his building and nodded to a few neighbors sitting outside in lawn chairs. One had brought out his dog. The Jogger pet the dog quickly, toggled a workout playlist on his phone, and, when he saw the crossing light begin to count down across the street, started jogging.

The Jogger considered his route, but he was not afraid of being shot.

***

A delivery man on an electric bicycle almost hit The Jogger, who leveraged his resultant anger to run faster, for a while, before quickly burning out and slowing down to a walk.

It was day three of jogging. Earlier that afternoon, The Jogger had remarked to his therapist that he was proud of his ability to slow down and take the walking breaks, in between the quicker-paced jogging. He expressed a sense of being more in tune with his body than he ever had in the past, despite not being completely satisfied at present with his endurance or shape.

During stints of either jogging or regular weightlifting, in his twenties, The Jogger had been narrow and unforgiving in his focus. As opposed to what he was doing now — the twenty minutes of exercise, almost every day, without attachments to pace or distance — he at that point in his life would have set a minimum distance and a minimum duration of his run. Then he would have pushed to scale those minimums up, sooner and faster than was healthy. Looking back, now, he realized that this had removed much of the joy from the activity.

He did not talk with his therapist about his anger towards bikers.

Despite this growth and maturation, however, The Jogger still wanted to learn, and to get the most out of his runs. He focused, on this third occasion, on finding a pace whereby he could begin to shrink his intervals of rest, even if his intervals of higher exertion were less pronounced.

The Jogger’s wife had months ago summarized for him an article she had read, the core concepts of which had made sense. He had entered into this new stint of jogging with the advice in mind. The gist of it was to run until you could hear your breath, to then pause, and walk, until you no longer heard your breath — and then to repeat this pattern for as long as you can or would like to proceed. He found the advice helpful.

The jogs had not been going perfectly, though. He had been growing consistently irritated by the propensity of the stopping and starting to cause his earbuds to pop out. It broke the flow of the activity.

In the past, this would have been an opportunity for anger, or, worse, fuel for an excuse by which to pause the jogging until he could find a better headphone solution — which would eventually become a smaller and smaller priority, day by day, until jogging itself had devolved from an active goal to a taboo subject at home.

Instead, now, he chose to experiment for a brief interval and found that if he held the lengthy cord to the earbuds loosely in his opposite hand (from the one in which he held his phone), that the held slack precluded any yanking caused by a sudden change in pace. The tactic would work until he found (bought) a better solution.

By the time The Jogger had figured out The Headphone Problem, and resumed a steady cadence, his third run was almost over.

He paused, raised his phone, and snapped a quick photo of the sight before him.

Dusk was in process. A large corner apartment building stood, tall and atypically alone from its spot beside and above the neighboring bridge that crossed over the subway train tracks. Deep yellow light glowed steadily, invitingly, from a few east-facing apartment windows, as well as from the entrance.  Across from the building was a large, thriving, well-shaped tree. Both were wrapped in warm, soft, purple-pink light.

***

On the fourth day, The Jogger struggled mightily. It had simply been too long since he had last exercised regularly, and on top of that his body seemed to be bouncing back from exertion more slowly than it had in recent years. He chose not to dwell on this. There was no way to stop aging.

Still, The Jogger felt he had to keep going. He did not want to keep going.

His feet, which had been cramping up painfully at intervals throughout the day, felt swollen and heavy. His calves — which he had been stretching, along with other parts, before each run — felt tight. His quadriceps were holding up, but this otherwise balancing factor was offset by the tightness in his upper arms and shoulders. He had been forgetting to stretch his upper body. His knees felt swollen.

He initially lasted only four minutes, on his fourth jog. The early goings-on of the experience were further sullied by the decision of the music app on his phone to sputter consistently, as it failed to buffer a “stock” workout playlist. The Jogger walked minute five, then jogged again. The music continued sputtering in his ears and his thinking became fractured. His mood sank.

He wondered if he was going to fail already. After four days.

Then, The Jogger remembered his reflections from days before. He recalled The Way He Had Been, and re-considered that version of himself.

For all his supposed faults, his previous incarnations had been able to keep going. For the first time in such a context, The Jogger began to recall memories of his earlier self through a lens of compassion, pride — and respect.

He saw himself, fattened and stupefied and depressed, at eighteen, entering the spring semester of his first year of college, having already gained his freshman fifteen (and then some) after only four months. He remembered how he had responded then, by changing his eating habits, beginning a workout routine — and running. On one day in particular, he remembered, he had run five miles, loop after loop after loop of the short indoor track at his college’s gym in Manhattan. It hadn’t even been planned. Something had just shaken loose that day. He felt glad to remember it now.

His current pace got easier. The Jogger breathed deep.

He thought back, also, to a only few years before. He had began running then, at a difficult time in his life, in pursuit of some taste of freedom, to direct an angry and desperate, trapped energy — one that had felt almost demonic — towards an outlet that could hurt no one.

The Jogger had used a treadmill, then. He had really ran. Several times per week, he would rush from work to the gym, would begin slowly — but then he would let loose, with the treadmill elevated, increasing speed every few minutes until his chest burned and the dark thing in his soul slouched back temporarily to its deep, hidden home.

The sputtering of the music suddenly seemed fixable. He decided to check his phone to see what playlists or albums he had downloaded, that had a quick tempo and would play uninterrupted.

Only one. Iggy Pop’s Lust for Life sat waiting. So, that had been the problem. The jog had wanted Iggy.

In the end, the fourth jog went smoothly.

***

The Jogger took a day off from jogging. He went to work, got home, and ate dinner and watched TV with his wife. He took Advil for his knees, went to bed early, and slept well.

***

Saturday arrived. After breakfast and coffee, The Jogger invited his wife to run with him. She appeared surprised, and touched, and accepted. She asked — with some fear in her voice, he thought — whether he would be all right running with her, if she had to proceed at a slower pace than he otherwise would on his own. The Jogger said that it would be fine and he meant it.

He did end up having to keep a slower pace. He didn’t mind. The jog went by much more quickly with her there.

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