When The Panic Goes

Me, in The Shadow World.

Me, in The Shadow World. Waving “Hello”.

I’ve been reflecting a bit, lately, on where I’ve ended up — in my life and creative career. In many ways, things feel good. The Videoblogs is in post. I’m still proud of Multiverse. I have a new script in the works that I’m very happy with even if I’m also, as usual, terrified of finishing it.

Dreams are beginning to materialize into goals. This is good, because goals can be whittled down, aimed and launched.

Multiverse has launched and landed. The Videoblogs is in the air, even if its riding a slowed-down trajectory warped by limits of time, budget, scope, intention. This new project feels especially sharp in certain terms, but it’s shaped differently than anything I’ve ever done before and I don’t honestly know how or if it’s going to fly. Beyond that, it’s been a fun project to develop.

But, sometimes, I still struggle. Freeze up. I lose faith, or clarity, and I’m left feeling like nothing is going to work out. I feel stuck. I get depressed.

I know that this is normal, by now, when you’re pursuing a path through the arts, and so I don’t (usually) obsess over things at such times. Yet these reflections, I think, have also revealed something new, recently, that I hadn’t noticed before.

Even when things get tough, now — I don’t stop working.

In fact, I’ve arguably felt more dedicated, more focused. I feel a presence within myself that is both new and old, gently pushing me to at least get a little done each day. The old part of me approaches the task with innocence, reminds me that creativity feels good. The new part reinforces the idea that any progress is good progress, and kindly reminds me to appreciate my own work.

One recent night, this combined presence made me stop on the way home from work and put an hour in on revisions of the aforementioned new script.

That hour calmed my shit. And I moved the script forward.

It used to go differently. Historically, I would have tortured myself with excuses, and/or imagined difficulties. I would have lasso’d or found my way into the middle of any drama within radius, so as to have a reason…to run. I would run until a sense of separation from myself (which is what happens when I don’t write in particular) grew too unbearable, whereupon I’d finally capitulate to the intense need to keep creating.

Then there would be a writing binge. Accompanied by other binges.

Things are different now, and I wanted to share these thoughts because I’ve had to remind myself of why and how I’ve felt different, lately.

I have come to treasure a new, simpler relationship with myself, and my craft as it relates to that self. As a result of the last several years of trying and failing and learning, both in career terms and personal terms, I’ve come to feel protective of this new perspective and process. It’s not perfect but it’s less complicated.

I still feel anxious. The dread still comes, in waves. But, increasingly, I don’t panic.

Just a few days ago, someone was panicking (and directing his panic at me) and…I just didn’t want anything to do with it. He was worried about something, which was his choice. He asked if I understood why he was concerned. I said that I did but that I just didn’t feel like panicking about it. The conversation ended when he literally walked away.

I’ve felt that brand of anxiety before — still do, sometimes — and I sympathize with anyone who feels he or she can only proceed that way in order to get things “done” or “fixed”. But I’m learning there are other ways — asking for help, and/or expressing our fears major among them.

Panic used to be the only path I knew to take on my way to work. Now I’ve embraced other paths, like routine and patience.

I don’t miss the panic. I embrace, instead, the steady, daily urgency. But this is not to suggest that it’s always easy.

Say what you will about panic, but it does get people moving. I don’t judge myself for the years of fuse-lit stress. I had a lot of pages to burn through that just needed to be burned. Similarly, I think I needed to live fast for a while…maybe…just to keep on living. The way that it’s gone was probably always the way it was going to go, for me.

And even now, when the panic goes, it can become disorienting. After all, if all we ever know of forward motion comes from being driven by panic, how are we supposed to know how to achieve the same effect, once calm begins to assert itself in our lives? Won’t the whole system come crumbling down? Won’t a steady pace feel unnatural, slow, wrong — when we’re used to speeding, dead-ahead, towards The Goal?

Well, yes. Though, in my experience, the process of destruction and re-creation isn’t always so dramatic as it feels it’s going to be when we theorize about it at times of anxiety. This is mostly because, as I established above — we aren’t actually speeding in a straight line, when we’re panicked, are we? We’re speeding, then screeching to a halt, then pivoting and changing directions, or turning around, or attempting an impossible back-flip, or any combination (or repetition) of all these things.

In this way, panic’s false promise reveals itself. Panic isn’t the tonic it purports to me. It offers unspecific, largely unfocused perpetual motion in the guise of A Way Out. The insidiousness of the compact is that, while panic has you launching and twisting and starting and stopping — there’s no way to tell for sure whether or not you are in fact heading in the wrong direction. It wasn’t until I accepted that I had been “moving” too long without arriving anywhere, until I began learning to subsequently pause and look and listen and inquire — about myself, as I would any other external influence in my life — that I began to realize my “error”.

When the panic goes, we can take advantage of the resulting calm to begin building something more permanent, something that couldn’t have structurally withstood the sharp redirects or the sudden snapping halts that used to characterize our panicked state.

The change isn’t painless. Some days, I feel like I’ve lost a friend.

Panic drove my survival for so long — arguably drove me to write and to create in the first place. Sometimes I even give panic a call on the old land line and we end up hanging out, because few things ends perfectly — and then I wake up with a hangover or a foreboding sense of disappointment and I remember why it’s better for me to make the decisions about what to do and for how long.

The tricky things about panic is that it doesn’t come from a bad place. It comes from an understandably human place — a place of fear. But then, because of fear, panic leads us to a place that at its worst is assuredly bad, and at its best assuredly not good.

And, finally, panic has a charge to it — doesn’t it? There’s a bit of a high that comes with the sense that The Situation is Desperate.

But the reality is that it’s usually not. And the high gives way to a crash, and maybe, yeah, in the end you have a stack of paper or some other Piece of Art — but at what cost? And is it possibly as good as it could be if our truest, most focused self wasn’t completely engaged in its making?

I don’t buy the “necessary suffering” line of thought. Especially not anymore. I get that a hard life, that hard times — they often bring dynamism to the lives of people who subsequently (if they’re lucky) end up feeling compelled to expunge what they’ve experienced, absorbed and processed via some form of art. Having been through this myself, I get that panic is often going to be the first car to pick you up on the road.

Still, as I get further from a place of panic, I am coming to appreciate other, purer, more natural ways of proceeding through life, as I follow what compels me.

I try to write every morning, now, six days a week. Sometimes, it’s still hard, and I end a day without having gotten much done. But every page that gets written, every minute spent on a film, is one more than nothing, which is more than I was able to get done on a daily basis during previous years of my life that were ruled mostly by panic.

When the panic goes, I remain. That can be scary. But it’s real.

I like that it’s real. It makes me happy, much of the time. Even when it doesn’t — there’s at least no regret. And a bonus to all this is that panic finds it increasingly difficult to find new footholds the further I get from the belief that I need it.

I’ve been worried, over the course of these last few weeks, about not feeling panicked. I questioned my dedication, the righteousness of my projects, my points of view. I returned to constantly-revisited patterns of wondering who or what I was, in the broadest terms, because, despite all of the above, the distorted lens of panic has warped my vision after all these years. I struggled to understand how I could say that I cared — if I wan’t panicked.

And then, slowly, one routine at a time, I began rededicating myself to pause. I’m still struggling with it a bit. I probably always will. The whole process has and will continue to take patience.

At the moment, I understand this. I’ll probably forget it next week.

But that’s okay, too. I’m going to continue to worry, I’m going to continue to get anxious. Dread may come and go.

But I don’t have to panic.

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Multiverse Screening at Videology on 11/17

"Do you know what you want?"

“Do you know what you want?”

Just a quick announcement, for any interested NYC/Brooklyn area friends, that Multiverse will be screening at Videology this coming Monday, 11/17, as part of the bar’s LOCAL FILMMAKER SHOWCASE. The screening is for Short Shorts (tee-hee) and it begins at 8PM.

I unfortunately can’t make the screening BUT if you attend: 1) I have been told they have great nachos available, and 2) Let me know, and I will find a way to get a free copy of A Night Alone in My Dread out to you as a token of thanks.

We Ate A Lot of Brisket: Austin Film Festival Recap

Sunshine makes smile time.

Sunshine makes smile time.

When we were in the late stages of preproduction on The Videoblogs, Rebecca and I realized that we needed to get away. Any endeavor as large and as exhausting as the making of a film requires (in my opinion) that we (the endeavorers) pay a little added attention to self-care. I have learned that this involves not only sleep and a focus on general physical health but also making plans to relax (or it’s not going to happen).

This is necessary not only because it’s just true — but because no one wants to burn out or blow up at a crucial moment during whatever project it is that you’re working on. That sort of refutes the idea that it’s truly important to you. If it’s important, you have to respect the journey enough to know that the journey can’t continue or “end” if you don’t put your best self forward in the journeying.

So we completed some important late-stage tasks as best we could, and two weekends before our first shoot date we booked a last-minute overnight trip to Long Beach. We informed the rest of our team that we were going to be out of touch for two days and I even asked Rebecca to change my email password so I couldn’t work. She performed the task with glee.

It was an important reset. And when it was over we realized we were probably going to need another one after production. One evening, we discussed visiting Austin, since we had been wanting to visit for a while, and when I came home from work the next day there was a mailer from the 2014 Austin Film Festival waiting for us at home. We took that as a sign and booked some cheap airfare, a reasonably priced room on AirBnB, some film passes for the festival…and that was it. We finished shooting the film and just barely recovered in time (it takes a long time to recover from an indie shoot, especially if you have to get back to a day job when it’s over) to make the trip. We went with simple aims — to enjoy ourselves (in and around the city itself, as well as at the festival) and to milk our less-than-ample hill of “post-first-feature” cash to pay for coffee, bus passes and a meaty mess of delicious street truck grub.

Well, we just returned from our short stay in Austin for #AFF2014 — and I’m so glad we went. Here’s a recap of what we learned and experienced:

Sadly, the tiny train tracks did not lead to a tiny village full of tiny food trucks.

Sadly, the tiny train tracks did not lead to a tiny village full of tiny food trucks.

Austin is great. Coming from New York, we enjoyed being in a city and yet at the same time being able to quickly leave the busyness of downtown in order to swim, drink free beer (on Saturdays), linger outside at a coffee shop, etc. We can do this where we live in Brooklyn, but streets are obviously smaller and more densely packed. And it’s not 90 degrees and dry in October. I also liked that people weren’t scurrying everywhere all the time. Or complaining much. It felt good to move at a more human pace. People in Austin also wave and say “hello” and seem to mean it. It took me a while to get used to that.

Also, as Rebecca observed, it was nice to see so many generally fit people casually walking/biking/jogging/skating around in no particular hurry. Although we wondered how so many Austinites could remain fit with all the delicious food around. Speaking of which…

The food was as good as the girl is adorable.

“We ate a lot of brisket.” That’s a quote from Rebecca. We did indeed eat a lot of brisket. And a decent amount of pulled pork. And pulled chicken. And other forms of meat and sweets. The famed food trucks of Austin did not disappoint. My favorite spots we were able to hit up were Valentina’s (for tacos and BBQ sandwiches) and Lick, where I inhaled a cone of dark chocolate ice cream made with sea salt and olive oil and then strongly considered doing it again immediately. I wish we could have eaten more.

Woah. Thank you.

Team #VideoblogsFilm appreciated the opportunity to meet some of our supporters IN REAL LIFE.

Hugs, IRL. I made it a point ahead of time to try to make tentative meetup plans with a few special Twitter friends (and #VideoblogsFilm supporters!) who were also going to be at #AFF2014. In retrospect, I should have done this with even more people. Maybe next time. Happily, though, Team #VideoblogsFilm was able to finally meet Seed and Spark Super CEO Emily Best (along with S&S Community Manager Nicole Malek), as well as #VideoblogsFilm supporter (and writer) Jenni Prange Boran and #VideoblogsMonologue collaborator Asmara Bhattacharya. This felt special, given that our film is about moving from isolation to community — via reaching out through tech.

Something, Anything. This is a feature, Written and Directed by Paul Harrill, that we made a point to see at the festival. I was excited to discover that it was playing, since I used to frequent Paul’s website on DIY filmmaking years ago, and had also remembered seeing that the project had been selected for IFP’s Narrative Lab, which seems like a very cool program (and a necessary one). The synopsis of the film itself appealed to both of us:

When a tragedy shatters her plans for domestic bliss, a seemingly typical Southern newlywed gradually transforms into a spiritual seeker, quietly threatening the closest relationships around her.

The film didn’t disappoint. It was quietly observed, very well shot, and the performances were all great. More than that, I loved the quiet bravery of the story. It’s not a popular choice to make a small, quiet film about spirituality. Not in the face of a contemporary American cultural environment that more often eschews spirituality in favor of “easier fixes”. Without spoiling anything, it was also wonderful to see a film push against the equally incomplete notions that love can act as a replacement for belief in the self or that life direction is something that can or should be just “stepped into.” I don’t believe either of those things to be true — not now — and it was heartening to watch a story unfold that made me feel less alone in these terms.

I will be reminding everyone again in a few months, but Something, Anything will be opening theatrically in NYC in January. See it then, if you can, or find out how to watch it in whatever other ways it becomes available.

Animation is hugely admirable. Another highlight of our #AFF2014 experience was the Animated Shorts Program. I don’t have much more to say than that. Rebecca and I both were just blown away by how good, and how inventive, and how flawless the animated shorts were — and we tip our hats to the filmmakers and filmmaking teams who make the choice (if it is a choice) to go down that difficult path.

Something that bothered me, though, about the shorts that we saw…was that a lot of them originated from outside the US. That in itself doesn’t bother me, and I don’t mean to suggest that the berths weren’t deserved or that the filmmakers who were accepted to screen shouldn’t be commended (we enjoyed all the films) — but many of the projects seem to have been supported by the governments of their countries of origin. Maybe I don’t know what I’m talking about (it’s a small sample size, I know), but it made me wonder how much more difficult it must be to create complex animated work independently here in the US, where artists don’t seem to get the sort of institutional support that other countries offer. I’d be interested to hear what others think. Still — the animated shorts slate was full of admirable work that made me feel like a bit of a slacker.

Women in film are arriving. All the Twitter friends Team #VideoblogsFilm met at #AFF2014 were women. The protagonist of Something, Anything (the excellent Ashley Shelton) was a woman. Many of the Writer/Directors of the animated short we saw — women again.

I am well-aware of the problem of equal representation in our industry. But the sense I get, at least from what I have observed in my career to this point — is that change is coming — from the ground up. Maybe that’s not perfect and maybe we still have a long way to go but I don’t think this is an incorrect observation. And it’s good news.

And that’s it. It was great to get away for a few days to relax and recharge. And now, to follow-up on what Rebecca reports below…it’s time to get back to work.

The Grace of The Crowdfunded Indie Film

Lead actor Rebecca De ornelas "records a videoblog".

Lead actor Rebecca De Ornelas “records a videoblog”.

As many of you probably know, we wrapped production on The Videoblogs late last month. Years of general preparation and months of work for this specific production culminated in a few weeks of shooting. Overall, I’m proud and happy to say, things went very well.

Also, some temporary stress-related weight gain aside, I also made it out of the process fairly unscathed (if a bit exhausted). This is good. This was a goal.

I’m almost as happy about how generally smooth it all went as I am with the fact that it happened at all. As promised, I will write more (relatively) soon about the entire experience of making the film, but for the moment I think it’s worthwhile to reflect once again at how grateful we at The Videoblogs feel to be in this position. It’s taken a lot of hard work, but we seem to have squeaked things out by prioritizing what’s important (story, performance, and the health of ourselves and our collaborators) at the expense of, say, a more expensive equipment list or a more elaborate plot structure. In all seriousness, it was a production engineered for and by both its cast and crew…and its audience.

For instance, as an example of this relationship at work…

More than once while shooting The Videoblogs, a cast or a crew member thanked me for something simple like providing a decent meal.

We mostly ate large turkey legs while on set.

First of all, it surprised me greatly to hear that there are still producers and filmmakers out there NOT providing decent meals. “Feeding your team well” is the second most basic rule in filmmaking after “make sure to have a camera”. Not only is it the decent thing to do – it’s just not smart to keep working while anyone (including you) is hungry. Even when pushing to complete a scene. I’m not even going to waste any more time talking about this.

Except to say that I didn’t accept the thanks – not personally. I explicitly made sure to recognize our supporters on Seed and Spark instead.

They (or you, as the case may be) deserve the thanks. And I want to talk for a moment about what that means not only to me personally but on a larger level.

I’d like to put forth the notion that a crowdfunded film isn’t only “cool” and “disruptive” but, also –- graceful.

For me, it felt more invigorating to credit our supporters for the means to make The Videoblogs than it did to accept the thanks myself.

Because the thanks don’t belong to me. They belong to you — to anyone and everyone who has contributed to the film in any way, whether monetarily or by spreading the word. Even by reading this or other posts on my site, you’re helping me and my collaborators to keep moving.

Woah. Thank you.

Woah. Thank you.

Last month, I accomplished one of the major dreams of my life. I successfully shot a feature film that I’m proud to stamp with my name. I don’t even have to edit it to know that. I don’t need any more validation than what we’ve already received by reaching (eclipsing) our goal on Seed and Spark – until it’s time to deliver the film to this same group. I am thrilled to be able to continue my journey as a filmmaker by bringing a cut of The Videoblogs to our supporters as soon as possible.

Beyond ideas of validation, the crowdfunding process is also fun. It’s my favorite sort of fun, too. Mischievous fun. Because, by so many (false, cynical) measures — this should not have worked.

It was not easy shooting a feature film for $20,000. I know people have done it for less. I salute them until my arm falls off, and then I salute them with the other arm until it too falls off.

Still, The Videoblogs is a rouge’s film. I feel fairly confident saying that (whatever it means). We bit, scratched, and clawed to eke it out over the course of a limited number of shooting days. Everyone on the cast and crew, and all of our producers, sacrificed to make it happen. I’m immensely proud to have come out the other side mostly intact. I still can’t feel one foot, sometimes, but as long as it continues to work for now I think I’m good. Right?

But back to the mischievousness. And the grace.

They are one in the same, as far as I’m concerned.

I know the journey isn’t over, by a stretch, but I can’t help it. I feel as if we (all of us) have gotten away with something here.

The Videoblogs isn’t special, by crowdfunding standards. We gave it a try and we thankfully seemed to have pulled it off. But, damn, does it feel good to be doing this in true independent (interdependent) fashion.

Regardless of how the rest of this plays out, I and my team are privileged enough to be making a film — to say it again — for our audience made possible by our audience.

That’s powerful. And beautiful. And it feels right. In today’s difficult indie film environment, it even feels…graceful.

I thank you. Not for the last time.

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Videoblogs Update: A Walk In The Sun

Our three leading ladies for the film.

Our three leading ladies for the film: Masha King (L), Rebecca De Ornelas (C), Phoebe Allegra (R). Photo by Zach Nading.

I just got back from a walk in the sun.

We begin shooting The Videoblogs in two days and I was able to go out and enjoy a walk in the sun.

This is not to say that things haven’t been busy. They have been. It’s been a long few months, and definitely the last two weeks have been a dash.

But we are in very good shape heading into Monday. And this is mostly because of all of you.

Thank you, once again, for your support — both financial and moral. We’re excited to begin this crucial leg of the journey.

I feel very fortunate. If you had told me a few years ago that I was going to have enough peace of mind to take a walk, get a bagel and a coffee, and then take my time on the way home to enjoy and appreciate life — two days before shooting my first feature film — I wouldn’t have believed it.

Has it all gone perfectly? No. But I’m not even sure I had any perfect expectations this time around. All I know is that, soon, Monday is going to come and we’re going to be on set shooting our film. We’ve done as much work as we could do, prior to now, to set things up as best as we could to squeak out something special. We’ll see how it goes.

Again, it couldn’t have happened without all of you. And it definitely couldn’t have happened without the wonderful cast and crew we have on this project.

It’s a privilege to be working for and with you all. More soon.

- Michael

The Videoblogs Monologues, Part 4: “Ramona”

Hello, wonderful readers (and Videoblogs supporters).

Here is the final installment in The Videoblogs Monologues. As a reminder, these videos were crowdsourced and produced as examples of what we’re aiming to accomplish with “Phase 2″ or our project, which has been renamed The Videoblogs Dialogue.

More info on that here.

Also, today is our last day of funding for the film. We’re hugely grateful to be over 100% funded on Seed and Spark. But any additional contributions still make a difference and are appreciated. Reasons as to why can be found near the bottom of this post.