Take Faith for Yourself, Give Them Skepticism

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Often, the correct course of action is not one that we wish to take.

We resist. Understandably so, in many cases. A course of action suggests change. Change can be (often is) scary. There’s more certainty in what is known.

There is also more pain and sadness, in my experience, in ignoring the call for change. More general disquiet.

Dissatisfaction. Resentment. Anger. And yet, it often takes much suffering, and/or one big sign of the need for change, for many of us to finally take that action.

This is okay. It has to be, I think, if we are to at all improve at narrowing down this cycle.

Growth, obviously, comes up often on the podcast. I had a nice talk about gaining experience, about the importance of forward motion and learning, with the guest for this week’s coming episode. And when Leah Bonnema came on the show, she similarly stressed the importance of “going to work every day”.

All of this to say, I still have room to improve. We all do. Good work begins with the small stuff. I think I’ve been showing up in this way for a long time.

But the big, risky actions? Those can be difficult. But, to again echo a guest on Coffee with Creatives (Laura Goode) I think much of this seeming bigness is illusion. Smoke and mirrors and words both smooth and stinging.

When we choose to make art, which invariably also does cost money, we do not do so thinking of the money first and the art second. But when you aren’t an artist, or acting completely as one within a financial or social transaction, certain additional realities must be dealt with one way or another.

Despite my general practicality, and the cautiousness with which I usually ration my optimism, it surprised me, in recent months, to find myself being misled by various third-party partners, as we went about completing The Videoblogs.

Perhaps this was naive. To again echo Laura, who found it far easier to raise extra money to finish her film after it was accepted to the Tribeca Film Festival — the truth is that most people are conditioned to seek pre-sanctioned, external validation before they commit their full energy to something.

That’s not necessarily unfair. It’s a difficult time for commitment. There is, seemingly, a never-ending stream of options, sometimes even flowing back and forth in time, vying for our attention and resources.

And, so, as storytellers, we have to prove ourselves. Constantly. In order to provide evidence that we are worth The Risk — of money or time.

Still, I think that’s mostly garbage. It’s short-sighted, and arguably cowardly.

It seems to me that, out of fear, we have defanged true risk in our society. We’ve broken it down into pieces, seeking to understand and control as much of as we can — because we’re desperately afraid of failing.

I know I have done this. But I’m growing weary of it. The deconstruction destroys the construction, in a way.

Should we be smart? Prudent? Strategic? In taking a realistic view of the aforementioned market saturation (for content especially) — I would have to say yes.

But to only lean on these preparations, to give them so much disproportionate weight, and to thus unsteady and rob the counter-balancing power of the risky idea at the core of an enterprise — this to me is folly.

A real risk costs much, and yet nothing. It reveals no certain answers in terms of prudence and strategy, instead promising growth and experience, if faithfully executed. It is deeply personal. It draws its power from sources we can barely identify of explain.

Inspiration. Passion. Faith. With these sources of power, a true risk becomes easy to make. If and when we remember to believe in the risking itself, and not only outcomes.

A risk is a story. We need to protect our stories. Their true worth is not measured by intermediaries.

Intermediaries have far less power than they’d have us believe. It can become difficult to remember this, as they massage messaging and make promises or suggest futures that they have no real influence over.

They are struggling for survival as much as we are, if not more so. They likely feel just as frightened or desperate. And I pity them, somewhat, for that — because they aren’t dealing in pure stories. As a rule, they must mitigate risk. To do this, they must find, be shown, or invent evidence. We’ve seen, in this country, how badly that can backfire.

Whereas we, the storytellers, might find flashes of solace — in the knowledge that we are attempting true change.

This is part nineteen of a thirty day trial, during which I am writing and publishing a post every day. No refunds. Comments welcome and encouraged!

Day 01: Struggles and Wonders and Dying in  Chair

Day 02: Fear, Panic, Identity and Anti-Focus

Day 03: Purple Sky of Towering Clouds Over a Far-off City

Day 04: Circle Up and Laugh

Day 05: On The Future of Labor

Day 06: Appreciating Difficulty, Harnessing its Momentum

Day 07: The Word for World is Earth

Day 08: It’s About The Dreaming, Not The Dream

Day 09: Moments of Presence: CWC Interview (Writer Laura Goode)

Day 10: Simmering Little Wrath of The Annoyed Man

Day 11: Tragedy, Remembrance and Wonder

Day 12: A New Light Borrowed or Discovered

Day 13: Productivity Tips for Anyone Prone to Overwhelm (Like Me)

Day 14: Legitimately Va-goo

Day 15: Sex-Bleating and Cat Vomit

Day 16: The Waiting Place

Day 17: 6 Ways to Bring Balance to the (Artistic) Force

Day 18: How to Decide What to Make Next

 

How to Decide What to Make Next

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For the past few months, I have been working hard on a script for a new film I’d like to make. In recent weeks, I hit a bit of wall with it.

To sum the main issue(s) up simply — the concept and story represent quite the tall order, in terms of development. It’s not that I don’t feel up to the task, it’s that I don’t know if I’m up to the task right now.

Maybe I’m just learning something all filmmakers begin to learn, once the first feature is out of the way.

I have the general framework of the next re-write built. When I think about moving forward, though, I get tired. I don’t know that I have what I need in the tank, right now, or enough space in my brain from day to day, to tackle a project that’s a bit heady and which, as a scifi piece, is going to require quite a bit of ground-up creative detail.

This has upset me a bit. But I believe I am starting to accept the circumstance.

Nothing prevents me from proceeding with this project at my own pace. At the same time, it could just be that it’s not “next”, as I had imagined or hoped it might be. Is there a chance that might change? Of course. But, in the meantime, we must keep moving.

I started tossing around another idea, for what to make next. It didn’t seem to quite fit, but I let the general parameters behind it ride, from day to day. I kept them in the back of my brain.

And then it happened — I ended up starting in on a new script. It’s different than the original new idea. It feels, as the one before, like it might be next. Again — that could of course change.

What doesn’t change is that I can still take my time. Independent filmmakers hold few advantages. Time can be one of them. How might I be feeling now if large sums of money were already committed to the first script I brought up in this discussion? Might I have tried to force it to work?

Perhaps. Then again, also, when there is money there tends to be more room to do things fully and steadily. I look forward to that day.

On the other hand, a lack of deadlines or resources can quickly lead to making excuses. I don’t worry about such stasis nearly as often as I used to — and I tend to think it’s a useful concern, these days — but I do think that it’s important to keep making work and to keep getting it out there, especially in today’s artistic/economic climate.

I wanted to share all this because I think I would have been feeling much more anxious if I hadn’t attempted patience, and instead of forcing the issue — tried to listen and to let go. That’s what allowed a new possibility to bloom.

I have to constantly remind myself of this. My long history with this sort of existential/career tension came up in the most recent episode of Coffee With Creatives.

I am not the steward of any one story. I’m a storyteller.

This is part eighteen of a thirty day trial, during which I am writing and publishing a post every day. No refunds. Comments welcome and encouraged!

Day 01: Struggles and Wonders and Dying in  Chair

Day 02: Fear, Panic, Identity and Anti-Focus

Day 03: Purple Sky of Towering Clouds Over a Far-off City

Day 04: Circle Up and Laugh

Day 05: On The Future of Labor

Day 06: Appreciating Difficulty, Harnessing its Momentum

Day 07: The Word for World is Earth

Day 08: It’s About The Dreaming, Not The Dream

Day 09: Moments of Presence: CWC Interview (Writer Laura Goode)

Day 10: Simmering Little Wrath of The Annoyed Man

Day 11: Tragedy, Remembrance and Wonder

Day 12: A New Light Borrowed or Discovered

Day 13: Productivity Tips for Anyone Prone to Overwhelm (Like Me)

Day 14: Legitimately Va-goo

Day 15: Sex-Bleating and Cat Vomit

Day 16: The Waiting Place

Day 17: 6 Ways to Bring Balance to the (Artistic) Force

 

Moments of Presence: Writer Laura Goode

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Laura Goode and I studied Creative Writing together ten years ago, and have several mutual friends, but had never really met or talked shop — until now!

Check out the latest episode of Coffee with Creatives to hear Laura’s take on such topics as:

  • How to juggle multiple projects, of varying genre or medium
  • How to find ways to get credit for stuff you’re going to do anyway
  • Why it can be a blessing to fail early — or a curse to succeed early
  • Why she took two years to develop the script for her indie feature film, Farah Goes Bang, along with the film’s director and co-writer Meera Menon
  • The process of raising over $80,000 in production funds for Farah Goes Bang, in the earlier days of Kickstarter
  • The fallacy of the lottery ticket mentality in film, literature and elsewhere
  • Respecting political conservatism within a liberal-friendly narrative, and
  • How a five year fight with a friend led to the publication of Become A Name, her first book of poetry

If you enjoy this episode, read Become a Name, watch Farah Goes Bang, and follow Laura on Twitter.


As reminders, you can also subscribe to Coffee with Creatives on iTunes and/or support the podcast on Patreon.

You Just Have to Listen: Actor/Producer/Writer Rebecca De Ornelas

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Full disclosure — I am President of The Rebecca De Ornelas Fan Club. I would probably hold this title even if I weren’t married to her.

But, honestly, this is a full-on, serious, peer-to-peer interview, like all the rest on Coffee with Creatives. If you’ve seen the work Rebecca and I produce together, you know we don’t mess around or play favorites. If anything, we might hold each other to higher standards than others who we don’t know as intimately.

That’s one way in which we grow as creatives, to speak for myself, at least. We choose partners, professional or otherwise, who inspire and challenge us.

In this most recent episode of the podcast, I talk to Rebecca about acting (and producing, and writing) in both artistic and career terms. There’s a reason Rebecca is the first person I go to with any questions about my own work, process, and, often, just about life in general. She knows her shit. Now you can get a peek at the approach and expertise she brings to each of our collaborations, and to her additional work in theater, and as a writer.

Topics we hit upon in our conversation include:

  • The importance of listening, to the process of creating a compelling character
  • Stumbling into acting after years as a dancer
  • Deciding to stop something, even if you’re good at it
  • Undoing prior training that’s no longer serving you
  • Why young actors don’t have to say ‘yes’ to everything
  • How meditation has saved her life, and changed her work
  • Why she likes getting older
  • Combatting feelings of inadequacy, and the advice a friend gave her that has helped in this respect

Have at it, kids. If you enjoy what Rebecca has to say, why not check her out as Margaret in The Videoblogs. You can also follow her on Twitter.

As reminders, you can also subscribe to Coffee with Creatives on iTunes and/or support the podcast on Patreon.

Keep Your Artist Alive: Actor Phoebe Allegra

Phoebe as "Vee" in The Videoblogs.
Phoebe as “Vee” in The Videoblogs.

I have had the pleasure of working closely with Phoebe Allegra. If you haven’t already seen her in The Videoblogs, you’re in for a treat with this episode of Coffee With Creatives.

Among other things, this conversation touches upon:

  • The daily work of building a character
  • The importance of honesty on an off screen
  • Acting as a way to escape, and/or experience new and different aspects of life
  • Choosing NYC over LA
  • Parsing industry feedback
  • Separating your self-worth from career highs (or lows)
  • Approaching racial and gender identity from a place of honor

We definitely dig way in on all those subjects in our talk. Phoebe works hard and has a great attitude. Her enthusiasm is infectious. Enjoy. You can find Phoebe on Twitter here.

As reminders, you can also subscribe to Coffee with Creatives on iTunes and/or support the podcast on Patreon.

Convergence and Grit: Screenwriter, Strategist, and Festival Programmer Brad Wilke

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Brad Wilke freely admits that his life path has been non-linear. After attending West Point and making short films while in the Army, and with stopovers in graduate school (where he earned two Master degrees) and tech — he’s now the Co-Founder of Smarthouse Creative, a PR and marketing strategy firm in Seattle. And that’s just one of his jobs.

Though we’ve yet to meet in person, Brad and I have chatted about filmmaking and screenwriting over the course of many “micro-conversations” on Twitter. It was great to have him on the podcast for a longer form talk about such topics as:

  • His opinion that many problems actually could be solved by money
  • Contrary to this last point — the fundamental importance of happiness and lived experience, as separate metrics that can and do eventually converge to create (sometimes surprising) opportunities
  • Resilience and grit, as virtues necessary for long-term growth
  • How he approaches programming for film festivals, and what problems sink most films (HINT: It’s almost always a story/script issue)
  • The concept of Minimal Viable Product (MVP) and how this start-up term can be applied to creative pursuits

Smart, nice, thoughtful guy. Check out our conversation below, or on iTunes, Stitcher or Google Play. You can find Brad on Twitter and elsewhere on the web.

As reminders, you can also subscribe to Coffee with Creatives on iTunes and/or support the podcast on Patreon.

 

Keep Getting On Stage: Comedian Leah Bonnema

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This episode with Leah Bonnema marks several firsts for Coffee with Creatives. Leah was the first guest to bring eggs to her recording, and the first to decline to leave after the episode was over. She was also the first guest to asks listeners for new appliances and renovations to her apartment, kitchen and shower.

Leah’s funny, but she also works hard. I’m thrilled to share this conversation with you, after last month’s unexpected hiatus (I got busy). Here’s what we covered:

  • How audiences differ, and why it doesn’t completely matter
  • What to do when creativite work becomes a slog (get through it, go home, eat something)
  • The process and difficulty of working at night, and then using your days to get more work (and vice-versa)
  • How to let go when you find yourself obsessing too much about the business side of art-making
  • Making the decision to go full time as a comic
  • Giving everyone your pile of dicks
  • How and why to avoid comparing yourself to your peers
  • Why our society needs more of a certain type of murderer

To get more specificity on that last one, you’ll just have to listen. You can find Leah on Facebook and Twitter. Glad to be back producing the show. Thanks for listening!

As reminders, you can also subscribe to Coffee with Creatives on iTunes and/or support the podcast on Patreon.

 

Show What’s Inside: Musician Mike O’Malley

Mike02I met Mike O’Malley in a bar. I was having a Sunday afternoon pint, he was working his sweet musical magic. I liked that magic so much, that after putting some bread in his jar (always put bread in the jar when you like the music!) I decided right then and there to try to write him into The Videoblogs.

He agreed to the proposal, I became a fan, and recently I asked him to come on the show to talk music, songwriting, and:

  • The virtue of impatience, in the learning process
  • How awful men can be (combatting “bad masculinity”)
  • Getting attention on your terms
  • The taste of that first free burger, given in trade before a gig
  • Touring with six dudes in a sweaty van, or six sweaty dudes in a van
  • How anger can become a way of avoiding conflict (and growth)
  • Attending the craft (do the boring stuff)

Check out Mike’s music here. Look out for his upcoming Indiegogo campaign.

As reminders, you can also subscribe to Coffee with Creatives on iTunes and/or support the podcast on Patreon.

 

Laughing at Apocalypse: Kimberly Dilts

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I first heard about Actor/Writer/Producer (storyteller) Kimberly Dilts and her work when I stumbled upon a Film Specific interview with Kim and her husband about the Tugg tour for their film Angel’s Perch. We later connected on Twitter and struck up a fast (remote) friendship.

This interview gets personal — and quickly. Kim and I both open up about the struggles that sometimes come with creating, and/or being a creative. The physical toil. The mental. The spiritual. There is talk of only being able to move a toe while in the midst of a production (you’ll have to listen to find out whose toe).

Other topics we strike at in the conversation include:

  • The Vulnerability Wave
  • The difference between bootstrapping a project in your 30s, versus your 20s
  • How Kim fell into theatre, as a means of finding her tribe and following her broad curiosity
  • Turning to independent work as a result of frustration with the gatekeeper culture
  • Telling yourself yes
  • Learning through pain and running towards fear
  • And, appropriately, given the title of the episode — laughter as a means of coping with the world

Really enjoyed this talk. Check it out and be sure to let Kim and/or me know what you think on Twitter or right here. You can also follow Kim’s film Auld Lang Syne on Seed&Spark.

As reminders, you can also subscribe to Coffee with Creatives on iTunes and/or support the podcast on Patreon.

 

Go for It: Director Joshua Caldwell

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Director Joshua Caldwell got tired of waiting for permission to make his first feature film and decided instead to gather what resources he could — including his past experiences as a filmmaker — and then he and his team just went for it.

When I first “met” Josh on Twitter, we were already on a similar path with The Videoblogs, however I was impressed right away by the quality (and sheer existence) of his $6,000 feature film, Layover, which was shot a few years ago but would soon lay the groundwork for the next stage of his career.

As we talk about in this episode, it’s no small task to complete a feature film at all, never mind doing it successfully on a barebones budget.

But taking a big career step takes more than just the desire and the means. It especially takes more when those means are limited. In this episode, we also touch upon:

  • Joshua_CaldwellHow and why directing can be an all-encompassing art
  • Why Josh turns more often to books, than movies and TV, for inspiration
  • Navigating Hollywood when there is no real, specific path to success
  • The importance of moving on to the next thing
  • What filmmaking is about more than anything else — “actors performing in front of the camera”
  • How writing down your vision can help you move forward over time

This talk should be of great help to aspiring or early-career filmmakers, or really anyone who’s ready (or wants to be ready) to take on his/her first big project. Feel free to ask follow-up questions in the comments or on Twitter (Josh, me).

As reminders, you can also subscribe to Coffee with Creatives on iTunes and/or support the podcast on Patreon.