No Waiting: Filmmaker Christina Raia

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After a bit of a break, Coffee with Creatives is back and ready to inspire you in 2016. The first episode of the new year is with Filmmaker Christina Raia, who I first met on Twitter and then in person when Multiverse screened at Indieworks in NYC.

Christina is a prolific filmmaker with an intense work ethic. In addition to discussing the path that led to her first feature film Summit, we also discuss:

  • The many ways in which an artist can be boxed-in, in career terms, and how to help make sure that doesn’t happen
  • How we as artists change during, after, and across projects
  • Why she doesn’t like waiting before moving on to a new film or series
  • The experience of wondering if her $20,000 feature (Summit) would collapse entirely, during every day of its two-week production period
  • Learning to be vulnerable, and how that can help you (and any team members working with you) to, for instance, stick things out in sub-zero temperatures
  • In regards to her web series, Kelsey, how to achieve distribution success by reaching out to your base, or core audience

Great talk, hard-working, generous filmmaker. Summit is available now. You can find out more about Christina and her work on her site. Happy Creating! More great guests coming soon! If you enjoy our talk, please share it on Twitter or on Facebook.

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

 

The Arc of 2015: In Good Time

The following was written a few weeks ago, while I was away for some R&R in the woods. That was the only way this year’s update was going to happen.

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Winter 2015: Just add snow. Also, I’m destined to become a mountain man.

The Setting: New England Winter

I’m sitting, propped up by pillows and legs outstretched, on an old firm couch in a guest house above a garage on a farm in rural Connecticut.

The temperature outside is at freezing point, but it’s warm inside. I woke up just in time to watch the sun finish rising out the three large windows that face the forest that surrounds the properties.

New England winters mean something to me. I grew up with them. Despite the bitter cold and the ice and the snow typical of the season in the region — I usually enjoyed them. Especially  I enjoyed them when sleeping somewhere surrounded by forest.

I’m here with my wife, who’s out running right now. I already made myself breakfast and ate it. I’m on my second cup of tea. This weekend is a necessary time-out, and not the only one I have taken this year.

This house is small but perfectly designed and artfully furnished. The couch I am on runs alongside a set of window perpendicular to those through which I watched the sun rise. Now the sun shines upon the large table where we ate dinner last night.

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I have to say, I aced the cook on this rib-eye.

A pair of blue jays have been fluttering around the giant, stately bushes outside. I can see the main house from here. It’s large and also stately but in an un-obsequious way. The owners seem kind. We’re here, probably, for a few more days.

A fly is buzzing around and I’m pretending not to care. That sort of thing is easier to do here.

I had planned, in view of this setting and circumstance, to continue with the new fiction piece I have been working on. It’s a story that I have been wanting to explore for a long time, but hadn’t up until recently been able to start. Now it’s started. Not only that, I am happy to be engaged with it. I can see, now, why I left it in its prior uninitiated state for years. The time wasn’t right.

No, that’s wrong. It would be more accurate to say that the time hadn’t arrived yet.

Musings on Time

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This book rattled my brain. I like it when that happens.

I have been thinking about time, recently. This is partially a result at having read Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Dispossessed, and also Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman: Overture. Both books, in their ways, jab at popular notions of time.

I worry about time a lot. I used to worry about it a lot more. I would like to worry about it even less.

A good portion of the lessening can probably be attributed to aging. What “they” say, as far as it concerns me personally, at least, appears true. I worry less now than I did in my twenties.

I can see and feel my body aging, now. This has been both a new cause of a concern and, at the same time, an clear indication of my powerlessness against time.

Contrastingly, in career terms, I have lately begun to accept that, at thirty-one, I am mostly still considered young. There are still days when I feel like I should be “further along” by now, or that I “should have” accomplished “x” or “y” — but I try to respond to such ideas with self-compassion and a plea for personal patience.

When I still felt young, which was still going on as recently as three or four years ago, I was, as I have said, much more obsessed with time.

I never felt able to keep up. I never believed I was going to get to where I wanted — had –- to go.

That’s changed. It’s changed for a few reasons.

Withdrawing from Time’s Pull

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This journal has been a great “next best thing” sub-in for morning pages.

First, while it’s still a battle I lose for hours and days and sometimes weeks at a time, I committed some time ago to working towards presence.

Nearly every day, I write this sentence out as an affirmation in my Five Minute Journal:

I am present, mindful, grateful and kind.

Also every day, I second-guess myself, wondering whether it’s “right” to affirm both presence and mindfulness. It could be argued that they’re the same thing. But I still do it, every time. And, today, I think I know why.

My affirmation of presence is a reminder. That, whether I believe it or not, remember it or not –- I am here. This is a fact I have had difficulty believing and facing in the past, despite its more than obvious truth. We are all, always, here, until we’re not.

But do we always feel that way? Do we acknowledge it? I don’t, not always, or often enough.

Sometimes, honestly, it hurts to be here. My own mind, the internet, social media, TV or films or books — even my work — they offer a welcome reprieve from the difficulty of acknowledging the pain that sometimes seizes my heart when I consider the sheer power and responsibility of being here.

And I don’t mean to suggest there’s not joy in that knowledge, too. But, for some (me), the process of courageously pursuing that joy can become a loaded one with its own potential to overwhelm.

Still, presence is truth. As such, it’s impervious to regret. That makes it work fighting for, to me.

Mindfulness, on the other hand, is the path by which I seek and access truth. It’s how I come back to the present, and to myself, when I’m obsessing over the past or worrying about the future.

Worrying about the past and the future is a normal, natural thing. Arguably, these anxieties even hold some utility, when indulged in a balanced way. Even when I’ve found myself worrying too much (and thus slipping from mindfulness) — I try not to judge myself. It’s part of our nature to “leave the planet” in spots.

It’s the coming back that really counts.

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The wife and I went for a hike. Found this. Felt good.

That’s why, I think, I started this post the way that I did. I was settling into life, in the moment.

This can be a delicate process, when writing, or creating. Creators face a difficult balancing act during each engaged act of genesis.

Creativity, unsurprisingly, is much like sex in this way. It’s about both being fully in and outside the moment, extending outside the body through the body.

Acknowledging Time’s Power

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The view from the exact spot wherein this was written. Cozy, right?

Now, obviously, we cannot be creating constantly, just as we cannot be constantly having sex. Reprieve from the realities of friction and fluid depletion, social order and sustained healthy living — these necessities preclude such behavior.

While time conceptually may be much less harsh and villainous than we often consider it to be, in cosmic terms it’s still one of only a few primal ruling elements of our lives.

However, also in cosmic terms (we’re keeping topics small today), time can be viewed simply. It proceeds and we ride its current, unable to do more than pretend at stopping or going (in relative terms) at spots along the way.

This is why, when caught up by concerns of time — I turn to gratitude.

Gratitude as a Perspective on Time

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Cannot begin to express how grateful I am for this little hairy genius.

Gratitude is about perspective — about taking a particular view of one slice of time, at one such stopping point or another, and appreciating it.

I am fortunate to be in this house, at this time, writing this –- to you. I know this. I appreciate it as a captured, treasured moment of grace, an example of the exact relationship I seek in this world that speaks to my needs and wants as a person.

Often, though, in the busyness of trying to do and be more, all the time and in the midst of so many others doing and being their own things…I forget it all. I forget the moments of grace, I forget what I know to be true about time and life and the importance of remaining in the moment with my feet on the ground. I forget it all.

Being an artist, for many of us, is not a choice. Finding an audience, however, is a privilege. One that needs to be cultivated, earned, and sustained.

So, as 2015 gives way to 2016 — I say it again. I am not only grateful for the life I have been given and have built, but also for you. I am grateful for your time, support, and for the occasional commiserating moments we have shared and which I hope we’ll continue to share in the future.

Kindness as The Ultimate Expression of Time Best-Used

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We were able to shoot The Confession due to the kindness of our audience.

Kindness, to wrap up, represents the ideal state I wish to arrive in, on those rare, joyful occasions whereupon I am able to remove myself from time.

It’s the core appreciation of life, and of living, that feeds my beliefs. Probably, it fuels all the work that I do, that I have always viewed not as my own, but as something rooted in more primal, fundamental life-stuff than can be claimed as having originated in a single, struggling human.

Struggle As The Space Between Accomplishments

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I found a kitten this year. Here he is struggling to get away from Rebecca.

Struggle is the final key word, here.

Prior to writing this, I had been struggling to determine the appropriate lens through which to review the prior year.

Two years ago, on the first anniversary of this site, I remarked upon an arc of what I viewed as progress — observable inroads made against the injustices of the day. Last year, on its second anniversary, I celebrated a productive year of movement. Those posts have as much to do with my own natural evolutions through time, and through self-discovery, as they do with the conditions, histories, and developments of which my experiences are but a part.

Now, it’s three years later. The Videoblogs will be coming out (relatively) soon. It’s possible I’ll be compiling my first book of fiction as that happens. The podcast continues to grow. Time moves on and I try to ride its currents and appreciate its mystery, rather than pretend there’s a damn thing I can do to control where it takes me, when or how.

If you had said to me, three or four years ago, that this is where I would be, in this exact place in the woods, settled firmly in this moment, taking some time off with the woman I love in the midst of a years-long pattern of being in constant touch with all of you, who have supported my endeavors for years (via both your attention and your direct patronage), perhaps I would have been pleasantly surprised — but I also would have believed it.

This is because, as I am learning, time is much less measurable than it seems, or than at least I had thought.

It helps to set goals and mark progress, but change more often occurs, I am finding, via a day to day commitment to more courageously pursue those truths which compel us. The pursuit is the important thing. Everything else is at best a nice detour or a short break, but more often an unnecessary distraction.

Time is not containable. That is its beauty and our privilege.

Thank you for your continued readership, listenership and support. You are loved and appreciated. I wish you the best for each of the days that make up the new year.

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Coffee with Creatives: Send Questions!

Screen Shot 2015-06-08 at 9.57.33 AMI’m running an experimental episode of Coffee with Creatives this week, which will take the form of an informal Q&A on topics related to creative productivity. There’s a frequent and understandable overlap between this overarching topic (which acts as the backbone of the show) and filmmaking and writing (my vocations) — so I’ll answer some questions about these subjects as well.

We’ll see how the episode goes. If it does well enough, and/or there seems to be a demand for an occasional Q&A segment, I’ll build it into future plans.

So, please send any questions I might be able to answer. If you have any questions you aren’t sure I can answer, ask anyway. I’ll try to source them out for you, whether by reaching out to previous guests, tapping my network, or going hunting.

Feel free to leave your questions here, in the comments, or on Facebook or Twitter. I’ve copied samples of what has come in so far below.

Please send your questions by 10PM on Thursday, 9/17.

Questions for Next Episode of Coffee with Creatives

  • What’s the right length for a short film script? What genre should it be?
  • Does the creative mind ever stop and rest?
  • When writing a story, what would be your advice on how to show a trait or theme, as opposed to explaining the same to the audience?
  • How do you know when you’re being hypercritical or when you’re just not into a story anymore?
  • How do you get past the self-criticism phase of writing?

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Breaking Rules: Fast, Cheap, and Good

Screen Shot 2015-09-08 at 7.45.00 PMFast, cheap and good. You can only pick two.

The above represents a stated wisdom across a number of business sectors.

Perhaps you’ve heard a version of the statement before. For any of who haven’t, the idea is that, when considering the creation of a product, the delivery of a service, or the management of a project — that quality can only be achieved if either quite a bit of time is taken (in situations of low budgeting) or an appropriate amount of money is spent (in situations of timely delivery) in producing whatever is being produced.

We won’t even discuss fast and cheap and not-good as an option.

Why do I bring this all up? Because I believe — even in regards to filmmaking, which is a costlier artistic pursuit (in theory) than, say, narrative fiction writing — that this adage is out of date.

I believe one can produce a quality product quickly and cheaply — with some qualifications.

  • Limits must be strategically set to assure quality can be achieved.
  • Experience must be leveraged, as an asset, to help offset lowered costs
  • Cheap must be redefined at scale

To bring a practical example into the discussion, know that I bring all this up specifically in regards to my campaign to get THE CONFESSION funded, shot, and delivered to its audience — quickly.

The Limits

IMG_1639 (1)The Confession, once finished, will be shorter than Multiverse (about 7 min). That’s one limit. Also, it was specifically written (as was The Videoblogs) so that it could be shot on the go in New York City. When we shoot it, we will be cruising the streets — in daylight — which means we don’t need additional lighting. There are only two main characters in the piece.

Something I have learned about limits, after so many years of indie filmmaking — is that you empower yourself by setting as many of them ahead of time as possible. By narrowing our focus with The Confession, we’ll allow the actors to dive deep into the story material for those few minutes when they’ll be on screen.

The Experience

As I mentioned, it took me some time (and some error) to get better at proactively setting limits. Still, by now, that experience boosts the quality of most projects I put together as a more seasoned filmmaker. Beyond this, however, the cast and crew we’ve brought on board for The Confession will be bringing years of their own experience to “set” when we shoot. That’s a given on many films, however — we’ve stacked the deck with The Confession. In the name of quality and speed.

It can be hard for talented artists to band together and create something, these days. Production funds are often in short supply. Many of us have spent years pitching in personal funds, and sacrificing job opportunities, for the chance and time to string together a catalogue of good work. We squeeze tightly to what little time we have to eke out The Next Thing.Screen Shot 2015-09-08 at 3.23.12 PM

Crowdfunding helps enormously to allow each next thing thing to come, usually by combination of continual hard work and sacrifice (on our part), and the ability to pay certain hard costs, by the good-faith generosity and support of the audience.

But I believe there’s a middle ground. I believe — with the right respect for limits and on an appropriate scale — that a group of talented collaborators can come together for a day to make something fun and special, and then get that well-done, finished thing to supporters within a reasonable timeframe. It just takes a refreshed definition of cheap.

Cheap Doesn’t Have to Mean “Low Value”

When you infuse a product with the blood of experience, and spend time smartly defining some limits, so that specific areas can be adequately explored, a great amount of value is brought to its genesis that cannot be defined in hard dollars.

In today’s increasingly tech-enabled, and hyper-connected environment — it’s relatively easy to produce good work speedily. The trick is the labor.

We all deserve fair wages. I believe that. I also believe in respecting the truth behind any self-given creative endeavor.

No one’s making us go ahead with The Confession. Under all practical definitions, I probably should be resting, or focusing more completely on The Videoblogs, or Coffee with Creatives, or the new script I’m writing.

But you know what? I want to make it. I really, really do. I think the project is fun. I’m excited to have less responsibility, as Jaclyn Gramigna produces and directs. I’m looking forward to speeding through something, with no strings attached other than the making and delivery of the thing. I need to offset the hard work and the seriousness of The Videoblogs and the podcast with a dose of the non-serious but no-less universal.

So what do we do? What have we done? Well, as many of you know — we’ve gone to our audience for help.

This is not new, either for me or in general. Crowdfunding, as I mentioned, is most decidedly a thing. But even as our experience with The Videoblogs illustrates, crowdfunding in such a direct way — 1) You pay us to bring our knowledge and experience to work towards the creation of the product (film), and  2) We go immediately into delivering it — that doesn’t usually happen. Most of what we’re looking to raise goes directly to scheduling cast and crew for the day, to help us more easily and more quickly bring you a quality, funny little film.

Fast. Cheap. Good. You can only pick two.

I disagree.

I want to break that rule and try something different. It feels like the right move. Several people have joined in by now, but we don’t have a lot of time left to fund The Confession.

I’d love for you to join us.

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These Are Our Confessions…

Click the image to hear my confessions. They're not pretty.
Click the image to hear my confessions. They’re not pretty.

We’ll my lovelies, here we are. The Confession is now live over at Seed&Spark. Here’s the low-down:

  • Our pitch video is probably the funniest I’ve been a part of, after two other campaigns. If you do anything, check it out to hear some (unsettling) confessions from cast, crew and friends
  • Please note that we’re only funding for two weeks. If you dig what we’re doing, please consider contributing today. Every dollar helps, and will go towards paying creators to makes something fun/funny for you, quickly and directly.
  • We’re a Staff Pick on Seed&Spark. I must confess, we’re honored to have been selected again (The Videoblogs was similarly chosen) and are exciting to be working with once more with the S&S team.

In case you missed it, we also have some cool incentives lined up for our gracious supporters. We’re sending out the first batch in the below two categories today:

ssconf3

If you’re able to help at all, we’d appreciate any and all support. Even if you just like our silly video — please consider sharing on Twitter or Facebook.

Here are some samples you can copy and paste:

TWITTER

Listen to these embarrassing confessions — and then please join me in helping these sad people! http://bit.ly/1NIWzYU

FACEBOOK

Oof. I cringed listening to these confessions. Check it out and then please join me in helping these sad people! http://www.seedandspark.com/studio/confession

Thanks for being cool. I confess — it would really mean a lot to us to make another project for you while we put the finishing touched on The Videoblogs!

What do you say? Do you have 90 seconds to watch our pitch

IMG_1639 (1)The Confession
A short drama (with some humor)
Writer: Michael DiBiasio / Director: Jaclyn Gramigna / Starring: Rebecca De Ornelas

Jacob just spent the night at Ellen’s for the first time. The still-new couple wanders into Brooklyn the next morning, to hang out. Jacob acts strange. Ellen wonders why. A confession is coming. And it’s not what you expect.

The Confession: Applying Lessons Learned

EDIT: The Seed&Spark funding campaign for this film has been launched! Go here to watch our (not at all embarrassing) pitch video. Every dollar helps!

IMG_1639 (1)
Confession — we want to make something for you again. Read to the bottom for the full scoop!

As has been discussed here already, the process of completing The Videoblogs has been as exhausting as it has been amazing. (Lately, it’s been mostly amazing again, but more on that in the near future).

To recap — there have been two primary difficulties I’ve faced since we wrapped, and additionally as we and I have continued with the work of finishing the film.

The first was the fallout from working so hard, for so long, to not only get a feature film shot but a super low-budget feature film that takes on the heavy subject of mental health. On a personal artistic level, I followed up production by focusing primarily on crafting a no-holds-barred superhero spec script. In retrospect, I think the idea behind that was to have a ton of fun, and to explore a story without restrictions of scope or budget. (It was a true blast to write that one).

But I actually want to talk today about the other challenge, which requires a bit more unpacking.

Something happened to me over the course of the last few years. I’m not going to go into the details yet again, but suffice it to say that I crossed over to a place where I can (need to) share work here, frequently, such that you and I can keep up our relationship.

All that is a long way of confessing that, while completely understandable and necessary, it bothers me a bit that it’s been about a year since I shared a film with everyone. And, realistically, The Videoblogs won’t be out until next year.

So, what do we do?

Well, here’s something else I’ve learned over the years…

Lesson: Smash problems together

Problem: The Videoblogs, while amazingly fulfilling, has created the need for a change of pace, a little fun, in its wake.

Solution: Make something fun.

Problem: We haven’t commiserated over a large-scale creative thing since last year, when Multiverse was released at our party and then on this site.

Solution: Make something at a manageable scale, and share it immediately.

So. That catches you up as to why Rebecca and I have decided to make The Confession, a new comedic short film that we intend to fund, shoot, edit and release before the end of the year.

Lesson: Greater collaboration leads to better work

Find out more about Jaclyn: http://jaclyngramigna.com/
More about Jaclyn: http://jaclyngramigna.com.

Also, we’re introducing a few other lessons into the making of The Confession.

We’ve teamed up with the talented Jaclyn Gramigna, who will be directing/producing. I have to focus my directorial duties on The Videoblogs. Also, we’re aiming with this film to create a situation where collaborators are wearing one to two hats each, versus the “usual” three or more.

I like Jaclyn’s work, and we’re excited to collaborate with her.

Lesson: (Educated) guerilla-style fits us best

When we realized that The Videoblogs would only happen if: 1) I served as director of photography for the film (saving time and money) and 2) We shot guerrilla style — I spent a ton of time testing out all the research and experience I had gained over the past several years. I also grilled Daniele Napolitano, the man responsible for the beauty of Multiverse, on how to max out my camera, over the course of a three-hour drive.

The idea behind this, despite certain limitations, was to achieve photographic results that measured up to the overwhelming majority of what you might see in a well-done indie film today. I’m happy to say that — with the help of Alex Hollock and others — that we seem to have achieved this goal. We intend to shoot The Confession the same way, with the same cameras, and with even more knowledge that we had going into The Videoblogs.

Lesson: The film is (equally) about both artist and audience

I have already sung the praises of crowdfunding. I’m singing them again, now, not only because we need your help to make The Confession, but also because — this is how I would like to ideally operate.

Woah. Thank you.
We’re very grateful to our audience for funding production of The Videoblogs, Multiverse, and other films.

By now, we feel confident that we can deliver a quality film. The products of the past ten years (Over Easy, Sex and Justice, Multiverse, The Videoblogs) hopefully provide evidence of that. What I would love to do with The Confession is to do it all again — we make an entertaining but quality film, via your support — but also, in doing so, to prove a very simple point.

Where there’s a good team and a receptive audience — there can also be a squarely even exchange. With few parties in the middle complicating timelines and ballooning costs.

We seek your support in making The Confession, so that everyone can get together for a day in September, get paid a (nominal) wage to shoot something fun, and then quickly deliver that fun thing to you, who by then will hopefully have made it happen.

On that note…

Lesson: The most efficient way to get things done well is to pay a fair cost for them

We’ll raising funds to make The Confession on Seed&Spark The campaign will run for two weeks. If we’re successful in raising the $2,000 we’re looking to raise, we will be able to focus more completely on quality — and on getting the film quickly to you, first — by paying the decent wages listed in the campaign Wish List, feed everyone for the day of shooting, hold our collaborators schedules for the few but necessary hours we’ll need to get it all done, and (if all goes well) submit to a handful of film festivals after we deliver to you.

Rebecca De Ornelas will play Ellen in The Confession. Our Seed and Spark campaign launches on Sunday!
Rebecca De Ornelas will play Ellen in The Confession. Our Seed and Spark campaign launches on Sunday, 8/30!

If you decide to contribute even a small amount, you’ll be securing a first look at The Confession, and making a statement in favor of paying artists (directly) to make their work and share it (directly) with you.

All things told, it’s a modest experiment, with a (relatively) modest financial goal attached.

If you can’t contribute at this time, that’s totally cool. But we’d love your support spreading the word on social media, if you’re on board with what we’re doing. Please be on the lookout for Tweets, Facebook posts, and that sort of stuff.

This could be another step in our ongoing, (healthy and uncomplicated?) relationship. And if it works, maybe we’ll try it again next year.

What do you say? Do you have 90 seconds to watch our pitch

IMG_1639 (1)The Confession
A short drama (with some humor)
Writer: Michael DiBiasio / Director: Jaclyn Gramigna / Starring: Rebecca De Ornelas

Jacob just spent the night at Ellen’s for the first time. The still-new couple wanders into Brooklyn the next morning, to hang out. Jacob acts strange. Ellen wonders why. A confession is coming. And it’s not what you expect.