Today’s episode of Coffee with Creatives is with Writer/Director Chris Bell. Here at mdibiasio.com, we really like Writer/Directors named Bell.
Chris is a talented and hard-working filmmaker who I met on Twitter. In this episode, we talk at length about how important it is as a creative to:
Have a sense of purpose
Build a body of work
Treat your artistic endeavor as an inevitability
Stay true to your path, even when facing challenging odds
Chris’s first film, The Winds That Scatter, recently won Best International No Budget Feature Film at the Korea Indie and Expat Film Festival. It has also played at the Madrid International Film Festival and at the Northside Film Festival, where it premiered. You can find the film on Facebook here, and/or follow Chris on Twitter.
As he explains in this latest episode of Coffee With Creatives, Rick Younger identifies first and foremost as a Comedian.
But you may have also seen him in commercials, on The Today Show (as a panelist on Guys Tell All), or on stage in New York City — acting, telling stories, or singing.
Among other topics, Rick and I talked:
The importance of finding your own path and voice as a creative
The phone call from Tracy Morgan than helped Rick gain new insights into his writing and his act
How he and his wife have begun to share their experiences, as an interracial couple, to foster more dialogue (through art) about race
The awesomeness of working on a film set with the likes of Harrison Ford and Diane Keaton
I wanted to get this episode out a little earlier than planned, so that listeners in and around the NYC area, who dig what Rick has to say, have time to check out his upcoming show (aptly named The Rick Younger Show) on Friday, July 10th. I plan on being there, so join me and we’ll laugh at Rick and then later we can high-five.
Thanks to everyone who has been listening to the podcast so far. It’s been a fun and rewarding new enterprise. As a reminder, if you’re enjoying the show and want to show your support, you can become a monthly supporter on Patreon, can make a one-time donation via PayPal, or — and this is the best way — you can share a link to this page (or to your episode(s) of choice) via iTunes.
Until next time, Coffee Heads.
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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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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.
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
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…
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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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
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.
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.
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.
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.
Hey, Kids. I’m going to keep the intro brief — because this latest Coffee with Creatives is a bit longer than the last. I’m still experimenting with format. What you’ll read below is more of a direct transcript of the podcast version of the feature, which doesn’t yet exist. I am working on it. Most likely, we’ll continue this way for a several more weeks, until I can figure out how to work the podcast into my schedule and cover its costs. More on that later.
I had a great talk with Collin Schiffli, for this installment. Collin directed the South by Southwest (SXSW) ’14 Award Winning film Animals, from a script by friend and collaborator David Dastmalchian (also the male lead in the film). It can be a tough one to watch, but I really enjoyed (and definitely respected) the courage and authenticity Collin, David, and team brought to the story.
Here’s a transcript of our talk. I hope you enjoy it. Let me know what you think about this format. If it’s too long — we may end up keeping things this way for now, anyway. But, eventually, there will be audio as well.
Animals is currently available on VOD — and still in theaters, in some cities. Per the film’s site:
Bobbie and Jude are a young couple living in their broken-down car parked alongside Chicago’s Lincoln Park Zoo. Their days are a continuous ritual of theft and scoring until they must confront the difficult truth of their relationship after one of them is hospitalized.
Check it out if you like what Collin has to say. Thanks for reading.
*Note: Italicized text is Michael speaking (probably for too long)*
What’s your primary mode of creative output?
I grew up wanting to do this forever: wanting to make movies, wanting to tell stories. I think it kind of extends from learning how to articulate my passions and my desires through visual media. You know, I love to draw, to paint and to kind of watch things on TV and movies — just anything visual I love to try to recreate it myself and turn it into my own world, you know?
I think as I got older and started realizing that filmmaking to me was a way of combining all aspects of these parts, and using that to express myself and articulate my desires and my passions of wanting to spread messages, tell stories that are relatable and communicate ideas. Things that don’t necessarily do as well just speaking through spoken word. And I think that kind of why I ventured down this road and why I chose this as my medium to express my — not necessarily only my ideas — it’s much more that I don’t just want to pass messages constantly. Just finding ways to relate, even if I don’t know what that is exactly what that reason is — if that makes sense?
Yes, sure. I like it. I like your answer because instead of just saying filmmaker you kind of dove into the whole visual storyteller thing.
Yeah, I know it’s a lot, but it’s really — I think “filmmaker” encompasses that. I don’t like to say “Director”, I guess is why I am giving that whole answer. Of course, I love directing. It is my main thing. But that filmmaker side, that “all-encompassing” way of learning to collaborate in all those arts, it comes together as one.
I agree. I kind of came around — many, if not the majority of filmmakers feel this way but, I came around the same way to “Storyteller” for sure. Over time definitely “Visual Storytelling” felt like the best way to…I shouldn’t say just visual because, obviously, it’s film. There’s a lot of aural work too. I did notice even very early on in Animals, the sound design is very sharp and there is especially in the first half a lot of music.
What are you currently working on?
I am finally putting Animals to rest in a way, letting it do its own thing now that you have it living and breathing. It’s out there and of course I am wrapping things up.
Now I’m turning my attention and focus to a couple different projects. I’m definitely someone who wants to have my hand in as many things as once — trying to see which track goes first really, because you never know. It seems like I am doing one thing and that’s going, and suddenly it comes to a halt and the next thing is going and you just kind of hop from one to another.
But I am working with my brother who is a screenwriter, his name is Brandon Schiffli. You can probably Google him or find him on Facebook if you want to find out more about him. We kind of, in a way, want to do that “Coen Brothers” approach of filmmaking, eventually, and so we have our projects. One in particular — I won’t go too into detail. It’s actually a step up. It requires a little bit more of a budget so it explores more of a fantastic world, kind of diving in a little more to I guess a “marketable” place — not that that’s our goal but a wider audience concept type of film.
That’s kind of the way we want to go. Also, on the side, David and I want to keep working together, and always do, and he’s got a project that’s similar to Animals, but very different in ways. It dives into sensitive subject matter and deals with poverty again, on a totally different level. We have that. We keep bouncing back and forth. Whichever one takes off first.
Can you briefly summarize how the film came to be, how you got involved, how the ride has been?
Dave and I met in Chicago. I went to school at Columbia College and he had already graduated, he is a couple of years older than me. He basically was still living in Chicago, was getting back into the acting scene which, at the time, I didn’t know what he was getting back into. For me, I thought that’s what he did. He was an Actor and I didn’t know at the time that he was a recovering heroin addict, had fallen off of the face of the Earth and finally was recovering and was getting back into acting. He had landed a role in The Dark Knight.
When I first connected with you and your brother on Twitter, I think it was because of one of your Producers, Amanda — we had been following each other. And I saw — that’s how I found out about the film. It’s funny because just the week before I had re-watched The Dark Knight just to refresh myself while I was working on a script that had some ambition with such a big scope and size. And I remember watching that scene and feeling like…this guy is bringing everything to his short scene. Like, this is a guy who has a lot going on. It was really great seeing that you guys had this project.
What you said is exactly what I felt when I originally saw the movie. Subconsciously, when you are watching that movie — and I saw it a handful of times in the theater, and I don’t know if I was really saying this to myself thinking “there is something about him, there is something going on for such a small role” that felt so pertinent and, sure enough, weird fate I guess…
…I was doing a project my senior year and it was a short film, and he was fresh in my mind and I was like “I wonder if we could get that guy?” Not knowing anything about him, not knowing who he was, and he seemed perfect for this role. And sure enough he was still in Chicago and said he would love to work on the film and he came out and he did it and we hit it off. We moved out to LA at the same time and kept working on little projects and staying in touch until a few years had gone by and he said: “Hey, I have a feature film and I would love for you to look at it to see if you are interested in it” and I said absolutely.
I was definitely curious as to what it was going to be about. Like I said we had connected so well and he was really making some good progress in the acting world and when I read the script I was really actually thrown. Because…a drug movie…that is so specific. Like, do I really want to be associated, especially my first film, with a drug-type movie which is really a genre in itself.
So I asked him: “Why do you want to film this story?” And that’s when he told me and he opened up and I was very shocked but he said: “This was my life for a while.”
It was almost too surreal to grasp. At first I thought it was crazy. You know, for us, in terms of our friendship — that really brought us closer and I think that’s what I needed to really get on his level and be as genuine and honest as I could. That was about three or four years ago.
It took us a while, in between jobs and on off-hours, we kept working on it — refining the script and figuring out how to raise money. Finally it came about and all happened at once, two summers ago. Once we did get the money it all snowballed. It was from the ground up. Me, Dave, and Dave’s girlfriend at the time (now they are married) — it was just the three of us and my brother would help once in a while. We worked from the ground up trying to make it all come together.
Animals has a very immediate feel to it — which makes a lot of sense, given the story and subject matter. Was that apparent early on in the screenplay?
It was apparent. When I first read it — he wrote many drafts. I was brought on very late in the game, so he kept it very to himself over the years of writing. I think the final draft that he landed on, and felt comfortable sharing with people, pretty much is the draft we shot.
I know he changed some subtle things. Once I got on board we talked about stuff. For the most part, when I had read it and as we worked on it, it seemed like — my goal for any film is for it to feel as natural and as grounded as possible ,especially because I think I want to make bigger films.
I do want to make films that have elements of fantasy, or sci-fi, or things that are a little outlandish — and I just love when you can make those feel so grounded that it seems like it exists in the world. I think a part of that, for me, is making it feel immediate and having it have that “in the moment” feel, as naturally and as authentically as possible.
I was very happy that the script had that. The script was written in a way that it was cyclical, the lives of these characters in general is so — their everyday is so in the moment. It’s: “This is what has to happen every day. There is nothing else. We get up — we do this. We try to get money, we score and we do it again.”
For me, especially, not knowing this world, and seeing that movies — usually they glorify it or make something about it seem super-cool. Or else they’re preachy and over-the-top. I wanted to strip it down and make it feel — you are literally in the moment with the interactions of these characters. Just something that is very present and it is happening on the fly. I want to find that in other films. I think this film, especially, the story and the nature of it — he had written about this cyclical thing. In the script, originally, they went to the projects even more. They almost did it too much. I thought: “We don’t need this. We get it at this point that they keep doing this thing over and over. So I think we tried to shave all of that back. Does that answer?
It does. I am in post on my first feature right now and we took a really — it was one of those decisions where we decided that we had to keep moving. We wanted to make something. I am kind of used to…I am very DIY, low-budget, self-taught. We raised 20K and we did it. I am still not completely sure how we pulled it off, especially in NYC, but we tried to make it in a similar way. To make a grounded, immediate film, but naming and embracing our constraints to keep things simple, in certain terms, so we could explore things very deeply in other terms. When I was thinking about how to talk about this, I actually wrote “immediacy” and “simplicity” right next to each other. While it seemed, in your film, there was obviously a bigger budget, when I was trying to think about it in terms of putting myself in your shoes as a filmmaker, in terms of coming up with questions, I was wondering — this is my follow up question…
Do you feel like you and your talent were able to dig deeper, in terms of performance and photography/editing because of the constraints afforded by that immediacy?
I think that is one-hundred percent it. I think you are right. Taking that and applying it to all of those facets, to all of what we need to accomplish with our DP — in a way it was cool. I don’t know if I realized it at the time, but like I said — I want that feeling for so many other things.
Even in a different situation, I think I would have found a way to include it anyway. I think it was a way for all of us to understand the world and to make it not just to make things as cost-effectively as possible — but because there are those strengths that you have.
You are always going to have constraints on low-budget things. It’s better to use that not as a crutch but as a helping hand, to apply that way of thinking, even in the way all of us approach a scene or a moment, like when the actors approached the more-difficult matter.
It’s about trying to make it feel in the moment, but still feel big and cinematic, but still also intimate and simple and small. All of us, luckily, after at least a week of filming — and as much pre-production as we could get going into it — once you experience doing it, it’s like: “Wow. We do have to rely on this in-the-moment approach.”
After a week of shooting, I think we found our groove, being on the same page, especially Dave and Kim. In terms of acting, I think it helped their awareness of what they are doing. It helped surround them, made it more authentic and more believable.
Yeah. I thought they had a great chemistry.
That was tough to find — that was the biggest thing, their chemistry. We had no time to rehearse, so we kind of, we got them on the L one day and said: “Go ride it around together and go explore the city.”
But that was the closest we had to rehearsal. In a way — we plucked everyone out of LA and dropped them right in Chicago — and I think sometimes that works to help melt things away and immerse everything in the world.
What’s on the cutting room floor?
I have been revisiting that question a lot lately. The first cut, actually the assembly cut, was three hours long! I can’t even believe it. Most indie films that I worked on, up to this one, in different positions as an extra hand for films — their assembly cut is usually barely over 90 minutes. So it made me nervous.
You want to be able to cut things out and still have a movie without re-shoots or having to rely on too many re-shoots. I am sure it is going to be different on every project, for different reasons, but somehow our movie was three hours long and a lot of the stuff, thirty percent of the stuff I couldn’t wait to get rid of it because it was stuff that was fine in the script but then on the day — and there are a lot of reasons for this — on the day of the shoot the acting or something just wasn’t clicking, we stuck with whatever we had and it was the stuff that I thought: I want to get rid of this, it feels like an amateur movie or just something else.
So thirty percent of that got cut out pretty quick. In order to get it down towards 90 minutes, what we did — it happened overnight in a way. You should talk to my older brother — I keep forgetting you guys talked. He knows story structure so well, on screen. Better than me and he was like: “Here. This scene needs to happen so many minutes in, this other scene so many minutes in…”
That gave me the five to ten full moments that need to happen quicker. For example, they need to be shooting up for the first time in the diner at minute ten. At that point in time it was happening at 35 minutes. I thought: Man! That’s cutting out so much. But you just have to know that there is nothing to lose. You can always go back and put it back in.
The second we did that, it immediately cut it down to 90 minutes. The process was a blur. Looking back, I almost don’t remember, because it is such a stressful time. The whole “killing your baby” thing — all it came down to was getting to the story. Dave always makes fun of me because I say this and it sounds like I am bashing his writing because I don’t word it very well — but it’s almost like the script was a whole bunch of moments put together instead of necessarily being in a Hollywood structure or format, for lack of a better word, where there are act breaks, all that stuff.
It seemed, in a way, that with all of that stuff we were re-writing the script and cutting out what we should have when we were filming. Like we had this part where they sat down and were talking to a priest. They go to the church and they pose as wedding guests — there is a scene right there where the get caught by a priest and then he brings them back to the office and in a way it was kind of like a Ron Howard scene where he sums up the movie. It seemed like we weren’t ready to sit down and have this scene right now. It was only twenty minutes into the movie, and this isn’t really a movie that has this, but it was a pretty good scene and if we ever get a DVD out hopefully I would love to have that to be on as a deleted scene or something. But, yeah, it just felt like a different movie and that was the criteria in chopping things out and sculpting it. What doesn’t feel like it belongs? In indie films, especially, it is so hard to make it all feel so consistent. Because you still have low budgets and you shoot where you can and you get what you get, but I think you should whittle away the stuff that feels like it belongs in something else.
With my assembly, at least for this one — I would do the assembly cut for a scene and I would come back the next day and cut it down. So my assembly ended up becoming more like a complete rough. I think we are at 96 or 97 minutes and I have been away from it for over a month now and we are trying to be see if 90 is possible. I don’t want to force it, but we will see. I like talking to other filmmakers who have recently just been there, too, because this is my first time editing something on this scale and it has been a little intimidating.
Sure, of course. How does it feel to get away from it for so long and come back to it? Did you feel that helped clear your mind. Because that seems like it would kinda be a great feeling. Is it still fresh, or…
So, the first thing is that I actually physically blew out my elbows from juggling editing with my daily screenwriting with my day job. So that was part of it. But, also, I had a turn a couple of years ago where I started finally doing work that was really coming from the heart and from who I am as a person. And at that time I also started learning that I just need to take some time and space and take breaks. Usually in the indie sphere you are always struggling for cash and time and doing so many things, so it overlaps with that as well. I thought: let me take this time and this opportunity when I can’t afford an editor to just take a break and rest. But also spiritually, emotionally, and mentally — it is all still very raw for me. So I think it is two things. One is taking that break and I have talked to a few other filmmakers, and trusted friends who have read scripts in the past, who are probably going to help do a virtual — maybe combined with a physical — not a test screening but a round of review. Tell us your immediate thoughts and tell us what you think of this cut. I want to get — I do care more about getting it right for the film than right for my own anxiety about how it might go, so I guess we will see.
It’s so fun to just grow. That’s how we grow. We have to keep watching each other’s stuff and relying on each other’s eyes.
I have been surrounded by plenty of helpful people — and many were older so I think that really helped. But, now I just think: listen as much as you can. Who cares. Let everything else go for a second and hear what has to be said.
Yeah. It took me a long time to get to this place but I think it feels good for the work and the audience and everybody.
What do you get the most joy out of, and/or what would others say you’re best at, not including the above? Creative or otherwise.
That’s so interesting. I am actually grappling with that question a lot. It’s hard. My whole life, I have always been filming and goofing around, making movies and editing, and that was always my go-to hobby, in between things. Now I am almost doing that fully, 24/7 — I edit to pay the bills out in California, and it’s so weird to be doing all that 24/7.
I almost have to ask myself — what else do I do!? What else can I do now, to be a hobby outside of this stuff. This use to be my hobby and now it’s crossed that line where it is both. And you do get burned out and I get burned out a lot but you always get reinvigorated when you see some movie or some indie film that blows your mind and you think: “Oh! this is way!”
You go through those ups and downs. It is hard. I don’t know. It is kind of the same thing, but drawing and painting is soothing for me. And it is weird, so weird and bizarre — but I like food. I love exploring food and I am not a cook at all but that is an escape for me and that is a whole separate world. But other than that, at least at this time in my life, there is nothing else and I feel like I need something else.
I hear you. Especially when you’re — it’s a very delicate balance — I feel like I put so much effort in on a daily basis towards sanity and physical health, just juggling the two tracks of paying the rent and making the movies.
It’s rough. It’s a rough line to be battling. Obviously there are millions of other worse things. But, you know…
What’s the biggest challenge you have faced, or are currently facing, at this point in your creative career? How have you addressed it?
My biggest challenge is always trying to just make ends meet and at this point in time to keep stepping up to the next level in my career that is pushing me to that next stratosphere of filmmaking. Whether it is getting into — I don’t know if I will ever be a studio film maker but I live in Hollywood and am trying to enter that world of bigger filmmaking. The challenge is trying to constantly — I do have an agent and a manager, now, which is very amazing and I never thought that would come about, and from this movie it came about. It is all very new to me and it’s still something I am learning and trying to deal with, with how to get them to understand what I am trying to do as a filmmaker.
And the challenge is getting in these rooms — but it’s amazing that I am getting in these rooms, with companies that are making real movies, you know movies that we all see with real actors — it is all so surreal to me. Not that our movies aren’t real, but…that next level of professionalism.
The challenge is the expectation of getting around and getting my name out there and showing my ability and showing my work ethic and I am at that next level but I am still not being paid yet. I am showing animatics and little storyboards and sequences to further a pitch or a project. That I am doing with my brother and what not. And it still doesn’t seem like I have stepped into that level.
There still isn’t money. And that’s not what I want but that’s the challenge of being able to keep distancing myself from these jobs or the editing jobs or the various jobs that I do that are freelance things that just take your mind away from that bigger world. But I still need them so I’m caught in between, where I don’t feel like I am past that — how to pay the bills. And I know we all deal with that and maybe we won’t get past that but it would be nice to not have to be working around that.
Like you said — you’ve got to balance it. You come home from a day of editing and somehow have to edit. And my manager will ask: “Can you throw together a tone reel for this concept?”
Well, I am doing that now. I am editing and I am editing, and it is very soul-sucking and that’s the challenge, is how to balance it all. There is always going to be that balance. Even hanging out with friends and family. How do you meet people? How can you just think — how can this person help me? And if they can’t — move on? How do you not have that attitude and remember to be in the moment. You’re always trying to get to that next place. But sometimes you are in that next place already, it’s just about keeping your head grounded and focused and not necessarily worrying so much about where the next paycheck is coming from and to keep plugging away.
I like that, and I can see how it would be especially a bigger challenge in LA, especially meeting people. I feel like the last couple of years…I feel very fortunate to have…starting from online, which is a theme of my film, in a way…but it’s been wonderful to start meeting people and forming an authentic connection. I think everyone in our business…as you grow older and become a professional of any sort you become — everyone is going to need something from other people. But other people are going to need something from us. It’s like always a basic human thing. So, I think that there are — you know I have been on both sides of it. Someone who has been hiding behind fear — like: I’m not doing that bullshit…the art will speak for itself…and, also…trying too hard to impress people. Just generally worrying too much about that. What you are saying, it is true. Not just staying grounded but staying authentic is hard. Especially when you care so much. Being patient about allowing that to happen on its own, as you meet more people that you jibe with.
Yes, absolutely it is a very patient process. And you just have to remember that. It is so hard.
It’s one of the most frustrating things about an otherwise fulfilling job that I love — which is how huge films are and how long they take and then within a career how hard it can be to keep growing and keep scaling up, and just because of how much money it costs and how many moving parts there are and how much competition there is and how much saturation there is in the market. You have to really develop a thick skin which is ironic because you have to be permeable to the art.
There are so many back-and-forths, on all different levels.
This screenplay that I was working on, when I was rewatching The Dark Knight — it’s a super hero spec and the two main characters — one is a Sue Storm type and she is all about blocking off the world from her. And the other is a guy but he’s a Kitty Pryde type, where he is physically permeable. As we were talking, I thought: there might be a couple of metaphors going on with that.
Even if it that is accidentally coming out for you, it is awesome.
What’s the biggest mistake you’ve made as a creative?
I’d say the biggest one is…growing up…we are in that generation where you wear all of the hats and you have to take every role because that’s how you started. That’s what you do. And you slowly get more wise and involved in what you are doing, in your process, then you start meeting people who aren’t just your friends, people who have that knowledge that you don’t have, and want to combine efforts with them. And for me I think the biggest mistake has been underestimating how import the collaboration process is. Especially film, it is such a collaborative process. Everyone always says that. That it’s a collaborative Process. And you always think: “Yeah, yeah..I know.”
But when you finally really do it, you realize how valuable everyone’s time is and what their talents are, and what their abilities are, and how they can elevate your weak points, and you realize basically how important it is to rely on these people and know that this is what they do. They can just elevate your work. I think throughout the years the biggest mistake has been taking on everything with a hard head — not arrogantly. I don’t think I have ever been someone who says: “My way way, or the highway.”
At the same time you get angry. You have that chip on your shoulder. You hear so many stories growing up about George Lucas and everyone who has been depressed by someone, and are always repressed — the artists are always the victims. I think that’s always gonna be there. I think I am always going to have that frustration, but I think my mistake in the creative process has been taking on too much, trying to take on too much, and finding ways to make it my way. Now, letting that go, especially having been on my first film, where I had to rely on so many people — it’s learning to let go of that. Keeping a strong vision of myself and keeping my voice intact, but at the same time knowing it’s okay to not be the ultimate puppet master or whatever. I think that’s always been it for me. It all circles to that anger. Whatever anger I have my mistakes always stem from that.
When you were talking I was recalling…my wife, we work together to produce our films and she’s a really talented actor so usually when we are assessing our resources I will write either the main role or one of the main roles specifically with her talents in mind. So we have shot three projects together and the feature was our third.
We were on set, on the first week, and it was the first…things were going pretty smoothly but I think it was our first…gratefully…the first time we fell behind. It was the first time there was a problem. A real problem, which was…we were shooting in a location that let us in for free but they were open and we were shooting during a very sleepy time for the most part at this cafe and they were great about turning off the music, and we had a corner to ourselves and the sound guy said we could manage it.
Still, there were a lot of challenges because of that. And it was becoming clear that we had to reassess either our shoot schedule or cut some stuff or both. So I got overwhelmed for the first time and I stopped and I asked a friend of mine — who is also a filmmaker, he was doing what you were saying before, he was on set lending a hand, kind of a consulting producer on the project helping when he could and he was our A.D. for the day — and it was one of those moments on set where you know everyone is looking at you and you have to make a decision.
And the decision I had to make was to stop and put a pause on everything and I asked him for help, to have a side meeting as an A.D. Eventually, we handled it. We ended up talking to the owner and we went back and caught up. We were ahead a couple of days later and we went back. We finished the cafe stuff and it worked out fine. My wife came up to me later and said — and it was a touching moment for me — and she said: “I’m really proud of you for asking for help.”
Wow. I know that feeling and it’s amazing that she recognized that. That must have felt amazing.
It’s probably because she has been harping on the point for a couple of years.
Right, of course. So true. Exactly what I am talking about.
What general mistake(s) do you sometimes see peers make, that you wish they’d address?
Having worked now — not as the director — on a lot of projects, of all sizes, you do see what people are doing. Your friends and your peers and your non-peers…people you strictly work with on that project alone. And you are around them and you’re seeing their process and you think: “How would I do this differently?”
And there are so many thought processes going on but you know: I am a hired hand. I don’t really have a say. And I keep my mouth shut. I would never jump out and say something, depending on what type of people I am working with. But, there are so many projects where I would just look and think: “Man!”
I wish I could say — this is all you gotta do. From an outside perspective. From someone who is not attached.
Are you talking about being more proactive about seeking objective feedback?
Exactly — people don’t think to do that. Really stepping outside of yourself and disconnecting yourself from your project. Disconnecting yourself and getting an objective point of view. I know a lot of people who are so hard-headed about all of that. It’s like they take on the burden of it all so personally, and it’s their vision and their thing, and their everything, and I just want to say: “Man — step back for a second and disconnect.”
I think it’s hard, and likely that the project is going to suffer from that scenario. Not a hundred percent likely, but, it is something even in my own work — I have striven to make changes in my personal life the last couple of years. I think that I used to have this fear that if my film isn’t the most important thing in my life right now, I am not doing it justice. What I have found, and what I have heard other people also say — people with more experience, for sure — is that it’s actually the opposite. It’s not that the film is any less important. It’s arguably more important, if you are taking care of yourself in such a way as that. So that this film isn’t about you it is about the film.
Absolutely. And I think it should be about the film and not about you. You should make your personal life separate from the movie and all of the inner workings of what is happening in your daily life. They are separate, for sure. It should strengthen you, you should learn to strengthen that side of yourself in the process. And I know that — we all want to have that — we hear the story of Apocalypse Now and you want to get lost in this jungle of what we are doing and make it seem like this big important thing that we obsess over. That is not all that matters. As you get older and start maturing you start realizing that, and seeing that what you are doing is important and you want to make it important. But everything else around it has to be equally the same or it is going to suffer.
And it is also categorically not the only way to excellence. You look at someone like Nolan who in interviews or testimony from collaborators — or just looking at the product, thinking about the lack of horror stories or the lack of drama behind it all — the guy just works and he comes in under budget and he is focused.
He seems so mechanically professional about everything. It all is so smooth and he makes it seems to easy.
Yeah, and similarly, coming from a different angle, I have heard of a few people who have worked with Soderbergh, and they just basically expressed awe at how self-possessed he is and how calm and focused, and not a jerk or not manic. And it’s hard because maybe that can feed the machine, but…it is complicated, I guess.
What are you most proud of, in your career or in life?
I’d say, very generally, I am most proud of the fact that I stuck to what my childhood passions and dreams were. I am fortunate that it hasn’t changed. My desire of doing this hasn’t changed, which is great. That’s hard enough for some people to just be in different paths. Somehow, my goals haven’t changed. So I am proud of that. Through the crazy ups and downs, and trying to figure out how to get from Point A to point B, generally I haven’t given up.
There have been so many times where you do just question: “What am I doing!?”
It’s the idea, the fact, that I have taken each step, and taken it for what it is, and gone through it, and knowing I got through it. And I am not going to do it the same all the time and I am not going to get ahead of myself. Of course, you are going to get angry or frustrated. Why am I not doing this, or why did that happen, but, just relying on, taking comfort in the fact that I am where I need to be at the moment and not stressing about it.
Otherwise I would have deviated and done who knows what. I am very proud of the fact that one of my goals was to make a feature before I turned thirty. Having accomplished that, I can’t believe it happened. It feels like a miracle to me. Being able to do it in a way that’s hopefully inspiring to others, and finding inspiration in people who have gone before me, and just keeping it all balanced — I am very proud of that. Staying grounded and being excited about it.
I had that same goal and I failed, but I was 30 when I shot mine and I think it was a testament to how I have grown because I just thought: This is fine.
It is fine. You are here you did it! You realize that sometimes those goals don’t need to be as literal, and I guess that’s what I learned from that. Yeah, you want them there somewhere, you want that goal and idea, but you have to remember other things happen. You have to remember that other good stuff that is happening as a result.
How did you evolve to this point of view? Is it mostly experience or do you have a philosophical or spiritual or a practical approach?
It’s definitely all of that. Luckily growing up — I grew up in Indiana so I do have a midwestern viewpoint of the world in some terms. And I know that doesn’t really matter. I have a very different way of thinking from many midwesterners. But at the same time, I grew up in a very connected home that is very put-together. I think the morals and the lessons that I learned from my parents and the people around me, family and friends — I definitely apply that.
I grew up technically Catholic and I have branched out to more — I am very spiritual. I think that my philosophy has come — from even in Animals, I kind of really try to dive into the idea of what it really means to be a leader. I try to think of who are the good leaders, the leaders who set an example and the ones who do the work and seeing them living it out.
When I look back at the people in my life who were like that, parents and grandparents and stuff — they were the people who were youth group leaders and camp life leaders and I was always impressed by them. They were only, say, 26 at the time, and I was in High School. They were 26 or 27, and that’s pretty young, but at the time they seemed so much older and more mature, and in my head they had both a worldly view — a cultured view — but they were also very grounded and had a personal, simple way of looking at things, at how to be an inspirational leader, how to push you.
Those are the people that I try to pattern myself after, and my approach after. A lot of those leaders were all about religion and discipleship and I almost apply that to my approach as a filmmaker. Knowing that you are going out and not just being someone in charge on a film set. You also know what your movie is saying, and how you are going to be a person of influence in the world. We don’t just make movies to reap the benefits of being a cool filmmaker. I think: “How will I be someone of influence? Say wise things?”
In person, I am a terrible speaker, when in front of people. How do you show young people how to be a positive influence to the community? You can do that on any scale. I am trying to always remember that it’s all about relating to people and talking to people and still trying to grasp that myself. Why do I want to be a filmmaker? And after a while it’s not just because I want to make movies. There is something there about being someone of influence — not of power but of humble power. The leaders in history who have really made a difference are the ones who whether you believe in Jesus or you believe what Gandhi did was good or Martin Luther King — I always found myself studying those people. I don’t wanna be pretentious in that matter but there is something in there. There is something important about all of that.
I completely agree. I think the fact that some people, which is fine, some people will make films, because it’s cool or because they like being in charge. It’s normal to worry and want to constantly weigh that against “am I doing the right thing” — in terms of is this egoistic or an egotistical decision or not. I think it’s great. The fact is, that when you are making something on the scale of a film, in terms of all of the resources, the collaboration, and participation — especially in today’s climate, that comes from the audience as well — you are shepherding something that is bigger than you. To do that while looking at leaders who balance that with a equanimous or grounded outlook is useful.
Do you meditate or anything like that?
I don’t. I feel like I am someone who needs to. I found that I present myself, as best as I can, as someone who is very calm and observant. I am not a person in a room who — in film school especially I was the one who never talked. I would listen and participate, surely, but I could never just say: “Well, here is this and that! This is what I want to do!”
And, so, I think because I am quiet I bottle things up and am a person who lets things set in and I try to handle it myself. I think I am someone who needs quiet time to reflect. I don’t know if it is meditating or if it’s exercise. I do live in California and I haven’t found a church or anything, but when I go back home I quickly connect with my friends who still are involved with the community whether it’s church functions or things like that. That is a form of meditation for me. I am still trying to find something gives me that peace of mind.
Especially off of my experience editing this feature — I find editing to be alienating and a debilitating process for me, mentally and spiritually.
I totally agree with that!
I think I wrote about it on the blog — I turned into this cave person.
You lock yourself away and you realize you are not communicating with people!
Where can we find more info about you and your work?
I don’t have Twitter. I have Facebook. I don’t mind people reaching out. I get a lot of good messages from people on Facebook and I am happy to engage with them.
My brother is on social media and he loves that stuff. I am fine with it. I just get angry that I can’t keep up. We’re at Schiffli Films on Twitter and Facebook. We also have a website: schifflifilms.com.
Those are the best way to reach us. Animalsthefilm.com as well, to get a hold of me and Dave. I know Dave is happy to talk, too, and we are kind of a triangle. He is on Facebook. That’s the best way to learn about us and keep up with us.
In terms of the film, it is on iTunes and in select theaters and on Amazon. It will be on Showtime in November and hopefully soon on DVD!
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NOTE: Below is the original text version of my interview with Diane. After our talk, I decided to turn Coffee with Creatives into a podcast. You can now listen to our talk here.
Welcome to the first post of a new, recurring feature here on mdibiasio.com! To skip straight to my interview with filmmaker Diane Bell, click here.
The idea for Coffee with Creatives came to me while thinking about how to solve two problems. As I mentioned in the introduction to my previous post (the first of another “new” recurring feature), the two main goals I have come to adopt with my work here, and in general, is to push for a greater sense of interpersonal empathy and, related to that, to be a better member of the various communities of which I am part.
In addition to providing testimony about the origins and processes behind my own work, I want to more often use this space to discuss the work of others, not only in terms recommending the work itself but as a way to identify practices, resources, and workflows that might be useful to readers. Over the course of the last few years especially, I’ve met (and have formed friendships with) a lot of interesting, similarly-minded people. It’s a far cry from the pre-Multiverse days, and I’d like to keep it up.
Lately, though, with all the pressures I’ve put on myself, to finish The Videoblogs, and to keep moving in general, despite the ongoing challenges of the artistic lifestyle — it’s become difficult to get out and actually meet people (especially online friends from Twitter), even after forming general plans to do so. This, in turn, has also made it harder to commit to doing my part to build community, and to share information here, in the sort of ongoing and more useful ways that to me would be a good complement to the semi-regular essays I otherwise post in this space.
So, Coffee with Creatives is my attempt to find a way to set aside some time to hang out with some cool people, in real life (as often as possible, some virtual coffee-drinking will go on), as well as to take the opportunity during that meeting to ask questions about their lives as creatives, such that you and I can learn some things, and, perhaps, feel less alone as we struggle to create.
And, as I have said so many times before, I believe all of us are fundamentally creative.
From now on, twice per month, I will have coffee with a creative person (filmmakers, writers, musicians, visual artists, organizational professionals friendly to the arts) and interview them based on the same general list of questions as those asked below. Probably, as was the case during this first conversation, other questions will also come up, as my guest and I begin digging into details. For the beginning, especially, I will probably keep things fluid in an effort to find out what format works.
Today’s inaugural post is with Writer/Director Diane Bell, who I met on Twitter during a Seed&Spark #FilmCurious chat. We quickly became online friends, and then met briefly in person when I caught her sophomore feature, Bleeding Heart, at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival.
Diane’s first feature film (and first film, ever!), Obselidia, premiered at Sundance in 2010, where it won two awards. She’s also currently crowdfunding her third film (on Seed&Spark), and her campaign ends TODAY (May 8th). Check it out when you’re done reading, and pitch in or share the campaign if you feel so inclined.
One last quick note…
After recording my talk with Diane, it occurred to me that Coffee with Creatives may be better suited to the podcast format. Some nice back-and-forth went on at points, that I’ve mostly omitted here, because I was pressed a bit for time in getting this out, and also, for now, I think it’s more important to hear what she has to say only, without me interrupting with information about my work that you may already know or can otherwise find here later. I’ll need some additional time to source the podcast idea out, and to see if and how I could make it happen.
But I hope you enjoy the interview. It was a fun talk. Check out what Diane has to say below, and please feel free to ask a question or add your point of view in the comments.
What’s your primary mode of creative output?
I still think of myself primarily as a writer. Specifically, a screenwriter. I also direct films.
What are you currently working on?
The film I’m working on right now is called Of Dust and Bones and I wrote it and am intending to direct it this summer. It came to me really as a reaction to how I was feeling last year. I don’t know about you but I was feeling very depressed about the world. I go through phases. I think the world is getting less violent, overall, compared to the last century, to look on the bright side. But suddenly last year I just felt really like, “This is too much”.
The world was so cruel and so sick and it didn’t seem to be getting better. And in the midst of that I was also having a sort of struggle finishing my second film, Bleeding Heart, which recently premiered at Tribeca. I was really having a tough time and I was really questioning everything.
And out of that came this movie, Of Dust and Bones, which is addressing these questions, like: How do we live in a world that has this terrible problem? (Note: The main character of Diane’s film is a woman whose war-photographer husband died in Syria). And that was the question that was driving me that I felt I had to write something about. For me, I’m definitely somebody who, the things that I write, they always come from that in a sense, like some sort of problem I see in the world that I can’t really process in my own life so I try to process it through a story. So, if all goes to plan, we’ll be shooting Of Dust and Bones in July.
What do you get the most joy out of, and/or what would others say you’re best at, not including the above? Creative or otherwise.
In life in general, I get the most joy out of being present. That is why I write and why I direct. Those things bring me joy because they allow me to access that zone of presence.
I’ve been a longtime practitioner of Ashtanga yoga, for fifteen years now, and that gives me huge joy, as does my meditation practice. And my child. Being a mother. Looking after my little guy, who has given me the greatest joy ever. Because it’s just presence. Children are just little zen masters who wake you up to what’s important in life and what really isn’t, and there’s no doubt that that’s the best thing that’s ever happened to me.
How do you balance a commitment to presence with the reality of how hard it is to produce a film? Do you work hard to keep that goal of remaining present trickling down throughout the production?
For me, yoga definitely informs my approach to filmmaking, in terms of how the focus is on the process as opposed to the result. And during the throes of it, I’m really calm. Someone will visit me on set and say: “Wow, you’re the least stressed”. I guess I have a real clarity when I’m in that situation. I think it comes from yoga because I totally let go of the result.
Because I think, whenever we start thinking of results — that’s when we get stressed out. To me, the result, you don’t control it. You’re never in control of how it’s going to turn out. You’re not in control of how it’s going to be perceived by other people. A film can be brilliant — frequently, brilliant films come out and nobody watches them. It’s a terrible business. Twenty years later everyone acknowledges it’s a brilliant film. There’s no control over any of it.
And I think for me, the relief from that is just not being stressed, just to be focused on the process and what you’re doing. One thing at a time, in a sense.
In my last film, there were definitely challenges with some of the people I was working with. They had some very different ways of working than I did. I’m talking specifically about producers. And it was really hard. And it did push me. What it pushed me to, ultimately, was to really think hard about my process, and how I worked best, how I want to work. I said to myself, okay, this was a mistake, we have different ways of working, maybe we shouldn’t be working together. And I think when you realize that, you ask: What do I value?
For me, that clarified my own path. So I’m making a much smaller film this time because I know what’s important to me and what I want to do. I realize that some things aren’t important. How do I tell stories that I really care about? How do I get to work with people who are in a similar frame of mind, where we can push ourselves creatively to take risks — rather than minimize them, which is the typical thing in our industry.
I think that kind of distress — this is the joy of something like meditation. It can give you that little bit of distance from distress, so that you can assess it in a different way and learn. Certain stresses, you realize that they aren’t worth stressing about. And other things, maybe you say, “Well, this is something we can learn from”. None of us are perfect and we’re always going to have anxieties and difficult things on this path — because it’s a hard path. That’s the bottom line of it. It’s really hard. Sometimes I wonder why we do it. What’s the point?
For me, for each filmmaker, for every artist, you have to sit down and think. What is the point? Why are you doing it? What is it about for you? And when you realize, really, what it’s for — and I’m pretty sure it’s going to be something different for different people — for me I think it’s about that process, and about accessing moments of total presence through that process.
Bizarrely, I think that’s why I do it on a personal level. To have these moments of truth. To try to capture one of those on film. To me, that’s the goal, and what keeps me at it, I think. The things that are stressing us are things we just have to look at and say: Why is this causing me stress? What can I do about it? What can I learn from it?
What’s the biggest challenge you have faced, or are currently facing, at this point in your creative career? How have you addressed (or how are you addressing) that challenge?
I think the biggest challenge has been my own doubt and fear. Especially, I see some people who are incredibly confident, and they’re twenty-two or something, and they already feel like they deserve a huge audience. And I would say I’m the total opposite of that, and started out, just, with such an enormous sense of doubt, but still also with a strange compulsion mostly towards writing.
I think I’ve always been drawn towards storytelling. But when I was growing up I didn’t know any writers or filmmakers. It was so far-fetched. It was the opposite of the culture here, which is like: “You can do it!” It was more like: “Who do you think you are”? And I feel like that sort of doubt crippled me for many years. It took a long, long time for me to sort of work through that in different ways.
I’m gaining confidence now. But it’s hard-earned. Now it comes from focusing on the film and getting rid of the noise. Because fear comes, again, when we’re thinking about the result. Thinking about how people will judge our work. What the responses will be. Instead of just thinking about the work itself and being in the flow of it.
I think that’s definitely been the biggest challenge, because once I overcame that somewhat, things blossomed and bloomed and opportunities arose and films got made. But it wasn’t until I crossed that bridge in my own head — and that was a big bridge to cross.
Where did you grow up?
I was born in Scotland but I grew up in Japan, Australia and Germany. My dad worked in the rubber industry. My parents are both Scottish, from a very working class background. My dad worked for a rubber company. He started working for them when he was seventeen, and he’s a really bright guy and he ended up, when he retired, the CEO of the company.
But, when I was growing up, especially as a woman, the best you could hope for was: “Go to university and get a good job as a teacher or secretary or something like that”. There was definitely not the sort of mindset that said: “Become a writer and make movies”.
[My parents] are blown away by what I’m doing. They can’t believe it.
What’s the biggest mistake you’ve made as a creative? What did you learn from it?
I think the biggest mistake I made — and I’ve thought about this a lot over the last couple of years — I made my first film, Obselidia, completely off the grid. I made it completely out of a sense of frustration.
I had sold a script and had been hired to write two original scripts. So I was making money as a writer, but I was getting frustrated by the fact that nothing was getting made. I would see this project that “was definitely going to happen”…just fall apart. And it was totally out of my control.
Out of that I decided to make my first film and it was kind of nuts. It was a crazy thing to do. I had never directed a film before. I hadn’t even made a short film. And suddenly I was going to make a feature. I just took a leap and did it.
And we did it in such a free way. The whole way that film was made was sort of organic and amazing and it was a great experience and the process was fantastic. The end result was incredible because it went to Sundance. It had no stars in it and we made it for less than 140,000 dollars and it was this incredible thing.
So that was the smartest thing I ever did. To have this leap of faith and courage and just do something. Do it without attachment to results. Because I didn’t do it thinking it was going to get me anywhere, just that I was going to learn to make a movie.
After that, then, I got into the conventional mindset. Getting into Sundance was a great thing, and then it was a terrible thing in another way, because instead of “Let’s just make another movie” — suddenly I had a manager and an agent and started doing all these meetings and I got into this conventional head-space again.
And I remember, after Sundance, I had this other script I had written that was very much like a micro-budget movie, too, and I showed it to a couple of people and they said: “Well, you don’t want to do that, because then you’re going to be stuck in that microbudget world,” and I thought, “You’re absolutely right, I have to do something that’s more ambitious”.
So, I shelved that. And I could have made another movie right then. A year after Sundance, I could have had another movie. And i would have learned so much and would have continued to grow as an artist. Instead I got into situations of development. Exactly what I had made a movie to get out of — I was right back in there. It took me five years to make another film.
And, when I made my second film, it was all sort of conventional. I pitched the idea to someone, and they developed it with me, and then the money came from a production company and it was all done in this conventional way and I was really a director for hire on my own project. It wasn’t really my project. From day one, I felt it was developed in ways that weren’t true to my heart, but I felt like I had to deliver to the financiers. The biggest mistake is getting into that head-space of, for me — and this doesn’t apply for everybody because I think it depends on what kind of films you make, and what you’re about — but for me the biggest mistake is thinking that that conventional path is a better one.
I was in that head-space of, I would love for someone to come along and deal with all the money, and take care of all that, and I could just be an artist for the thing. Instead of, with Obselidia, where I drove, and I made it happen.
With my third film we’re doing that again. The conventional path is not where I belong. I don’t think I do my best work there. I realized the best thing for me is to create my own opportunities and make the work I was born to make, the work that’s in my heart and is true to me, and not do this other thing, which doesn’t feel authentic.
I want to keep making films. I want to get better at it. My last film, also, I learned so much. Even though the experience was a difficult one, I learned that I just want to make another movie, right now, and try to learn from that, do other things differently and learn from that. I don’t want to wait another five years and have made a film that’s not the film I wanted to make. I just want to dive right into something where we can apply the things we’ve learned, and maybe this time I’ll get closer to the truth.
What general mistake(s) do you sometimes see peers make, that you wish they’d address?
I live in Los Angeles, and I know a lot of people who want to make films. And a mistake I see repeated, over and over, is this thing where somebody will have a script, and they want to make a film, and they enter into this conventional path to making a movie. Whereas they have a path to make it micro-budget but they don’t want to do that because now they’ve got an agent who says to them, we’re going to get it to the right cast, we’re going to get it to production companies, we’re going to get a real budget, and it’s going to be huge and amazing. And I see friends, they get excited and the carrot is dangling. “We’re sending it out to Meryl Streep and Patricia Arquette,” and stuff like that. So they think, “We’ll, I’m not going to do it, this micro-budget way of doing it. I’m going to hold out and keep sending it to people.”
And six months pass and they still haven’t heard back from these people and then they finally hear that those people passed, because, hey, they have a lot of offers on the table. And then a year passes and now they’re going out to other people. And two years pass. Five years pass. I’m not exaggerating. I know people who have been trying to get a certain movie off the ground for five years now. And it still hasn’t happened. And I think, if you’d just, at the beginning, had just made it.
At this point it’s five years later and sometimes they can’t even remember why they wanted to make the movie. Five years have passed. They’re in a different head-space. They love different things. They’ve written other things.
I understand, on one hand, what that is, why people continue down that path, with that carrot dangling in front of them. It does at least keep them on that particular treadmill. But, I also think: “Is that validation for your work going to come from other people?” Because I think, in a sense, that’s what they’re seeking. If you can attach some star names, you feel validated or bigger in some sense.
I just try to encourage my friends who want to make films to make films. Not to get on that treadmill where you’re going to spend years of your life trying to make a film. Trying to put it all together. That may or may not happen. And then years have passed and you still haven’t made a film. Whereas, the other path — you make it. You take power for yourself and you do it. And, no, its not with Meryl Streep or Patricia Arquette, but you can find fantastic actors, and you’ll make it, and you’ll grow from it as an artist and you’ll have that natural flow and progression we’ve been talking about. You learn from it, you move on, and you do something better.
That’s one of the mistakes that I see very often. Of course, sometimes it does come together for those people, it does work out in the end. Though very rarely, from what I see.
It kind of kills me. Just do it. If you want to make films, make films. Don’t get caught up in all that.
What are you most proud of, in your career or in life?
Immediately, what springs to mind is my family. Is that corny? It’s really true. My husband and my son — I’m just really proud of the life we’ve been able to create for ourselves and for our little guy. Nothing else matters, in a way.
This is a crowd-sourced question. What’s your process? How do you make time to work? Do you have any rituals you hold yourself to, to get things done?
I am definitely an early riser. Since I have that little guy, in particular, I wake up at 4:30 or 5:00 in the morning to write. I definitely believe I work best first thing in the morning. Later in the day my brains cells don’t seem to function with the same amount of clarity.
I like to create that quiet time to work, to access the subconscious in that quiet time. When I’m writing a first draft I absolutely hold to the rules: “Don’t look back”, and “Write four pages a day, minimum”. It’s just something I’ve always done, and it’s the way for me to get through things.
I find first drafts really impossible. It’s like everyone says: writing is rewriting. Until you have something to rewrite, though, you’re in trouble. So when I’m writing a first draft, that’s my rule. Four pages a day, whether that takes me half a day or an hour. It has to be four. It could be the worst four pages written, ever, in the world, and I just give myself license to write dross. The important thing is that I get them down. I really hold myself to that, when I’m doing a first draft, so it doesn’t take too long to get it out.
That’s the writing part of it. And I think I’m a terrible friend. My friends will tell you that, actually. Because when I am writing something, I disappear. I miss birthday parties. I miss everything.
I feel really lousy about it. Because, when I’m in that space, it’s like giving birth. I just have to let myself be with it. Even with what I watch and what I read, I’m really specific and particular about it when I’m working on something. It just takes over your consciousness. I can’t do social things when I’m in that mode.
It’s just focus. As much as you can dim out the noise, the better. Everything is a distraction. Get the distractions out the window.
Production is like that by necessity, I’ve found. It’s just so time-consuming. It’s just your whole life. There’s no life other than shooting, when you’re shooting. I feel like screenwriting is similar to that, in a sense. You could do other things, but energetically it doesn’t feel right.
Having a child makes you far more efficient. I look back to before I had him and I think — all that time! I wrote my second film three months after my baby was born. And he just turned three. I wrote it over the first year of his life. He would nap, and then, for forty-five minutes, I would sit down and write. It was sort of like: “Go!”
Suddenly, you view every minute like that. Having a child makes you much more efficient. Because they take up so much of your time.
Another crowd-sourced question. How do you balance the artistic lifestyle with the need to make a living?
I think it’s challenging. For me, I was lucky, in that I never expected to make a living as an artist. So I’m always in awe when I’ve managed to make it work.
Over the years I’ve learned the art of living an elegant life with very little money. I’ve kind of mastered that art. If I wanted to be rich I would have become a banker. I’ve followed the path of yoga for many years and just feel like I live an incredibly rich life without a lot of money.
Somehow, between my husband and me, we make it work every month. Certainly, we’re very far from rich. I think you have to become comfortable with uncertainty to an extent. Freelance is like that. There’s no big job security. There’s no pension. You have to be someone who is willing to embrace that. And I always have been. It’s just how I’m wired. I’ve always found the most important thing in life is to be doing what I love to do, more than earning a ton of money doing something I don’t like, so I can buy stuff I don’t really need. That’s never appealed to me.
Having said all that, it’s not always easy. It’s not. Since coming to America, unbelievably, I have made my living completely out of writing and making films. Some years have been better than others, and some have been very slim. But it has worked out and hopefully it will continue. I’m interested right now in the idea of this whole question of sustainable living. It’s very fascinating to me for artists. I’m really interested in it — we’ve talked about it a little bit — in how to use these new technologies to create a different way of life, that is not dependent upon the mainstream corporate entities that exist, and getting work from them, but going directly to audiences.
I’m curious about this whole new model that’s evolving. I should say also that I teach workshops about filmmaking and really the whole model of making your own work from start to finish. From developing a script right through to distribution. It’s really interesting, when people come to those workshops, to hear how they are making it work.
I think right now we are in this exciting place, where for artists, filmmakers like ourselves, there’s a new possibility for distributing our work that wasn’t there five years ago. I’m just at the beginning of learning how to make this new model work, but there’s a potential which has never existed, before which is really exciting.
Where can readers find more info about you and your work?
Our website is www.rebelheartfilm.com. That website sort of encapsulates a lot. There’s a page about the projects, the films, and also about the work we do to help other filmmakers.
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It and so many similarly strong words, especially in American popular culture today, are wildly overused, and too often leveraged outside the narrow subjectivity with which (in my opinion) they could otherwise more appropriately be applied. I’d call all this an epic bummer, but in honesty it’s an easy thing to shrug off.
Still, I bring up the point to help introduce my recommendation of musician Amanda Palmer’s The Art of Asking…because rarely have I felt so compelled to “drop the e-word”, with confidence, outside the realm of eating, drinking, sleeping, and luvvvvv-making.
Obviously, not everyone is going to agree with my choice. But, speaking primarily to the aforementioned audience(s) of art-makers and art-lovers, here are my personal reasons for advocating for the book — and Palmer herself, since she’s an interesting personality on her own and identifies first and foremost as a singer (I have been also listening been listening to her music for weeks, which I similarly recommend).
The Art of Askingprovides an unparalleled level of context for the contemporary relationship between art and people (or art and life)
Early in the text, Palmer remarks upon how what we’re witnessing right now, in terms of the relationship between art and artist (especially in tech-equipped indie circles) is in actuality a return to The Way it Used to Be. Artists create, put their work (and themselves) out there, and the audience returns the favor by giving some part of their own selves (be it in the form of money, time, etc.), simply and directly — if and as there’s an authentic connection made in the process.
That’s how it used to go early on, and for a long time, in human history. Various forms of progress and change shifted that relationship, such that several intermediary systems rose to prominence, which weren’t (and aren’t) necessarily bad but, nonetheless, today, can cause complications, introduce impurities, and/or create distance in the otherwise mostly direct artist-audience relationship. Today, now that individuals on the whole are much more broadly and immediately connected than ever before, and now that new (relatively) cheap funding, distribution, and communications systems exist than ever before, it’s not only once again possible for the artist and the audience to remain in a more direct, on-going relationship — it’s also easier to cultivate and keep up that relationship than ever before.
That doesn’t mean that, on the part of both artist and audience, that we aren’t still (on the negative side) facing challenges posed by the still-dominant machinations and gate-keeping fears of the aforementioned intermediaries, or (on the positive side), that there aren’t mutual advantages to those sort of relationships (and plenty of good people working, in various capacities, for intermediaries) — it just means that everyone today can perhaps be kept more honest and more focused on what’s important.
I’m paraphrasing Palmer there, possibly with a little bit of my own beliefs and observations sprinkled in, but the important point is to recognize and accept that, with the right attitude and a lot of work and patience, things can be better — for independent artists and their audiences in particular.
Within this context, Palmer embodies (literally) and carefully guards Authenticity and Trust as the most crucial elements of the artist-audience relationship
The Art of Asking is mostly written in the style of a memoir. Longer-tenured admirers of Palmer than me probably already know that she doesn’t shy away from getting (literally) naked in front of her fans (given certain conditions that she takes careful pains to point out in the book, while also providing context for such decisions). Such occasions don’t always go well, her courage in this aspect does not come without its share of suffering, and in the text she frequently (and with typical transparency) gives voice to the doubts such “bad” stories spark in her mind.
Still, Palmer does a much better job than I ever could ultimately deconstructing not only why such “setbacks” (I’ll let the book itself substantiate my repeated use of scare quotes) are necessary (and illuminating). She provides much evidence for — and a lot of useful commentary on — the observable truth that, after opportunity, the next thing we all need for this sort of arrangement to work, in the best possible way, is an unyielding commitment to trust not only in the work but each other.
Palmer never claims that things will always go perfectly, even in filling in useful back-story to her successes. But she does do an excellent job consistently reporting on the dialogues she has had both with herself and trusted friends in sourcing out the right thing to do, as often as possible, as she stumbled through especially her early career on the way to a better and more comprehensive understanding and respect for how this all ideally might work on a regular basis. The stories she tells in relaying this process are not only intellectually accessible, but emotionally so as well — which sets Palmer apart especially in today’s unfortunately less-emotionally forthcoming social landscape.
Palmer’s narrative provides an accessible road-map for success
Riding off that last point, it can be tempting in this environment (I’ve been tempted myself) to take an honest goal like that of Palmer’s book (which to me seemed to be: “teach and attest to the benefits of trust, kindness, and vulnerability”) and warp it into something more broad and self-serving.
Especially in what sometimes seems to be rounding out into The Age of Tech, advice of the “road-map” sort, nudged towards gathering greater numbers (versus forming real connections), seems to proliferate further every day.
That’s not to say that all the lists and guides out there aren’t without value, or that they’re all guilty of crossing some arbitrary Authenticity Line, or should be faulted for failing to see that most of what provides value to people begins by engaging with them on an honest, emotional level. It just means that, for instance, when Palmer maps out her path as herself, in context, while constantly guarding and respecting The Point — it becomes that much easier for a similarly minded, or near-similarly minded (I’ll probably never get physically naked for you) individual or small group to internalize her journey and absorb her lessons in a much more useful way.
This road-map is revealed to be (and simultaneously evidenced by) the aforementioned Authenticity and Trust
Obviously, I admire Palmer’s approach with the book, and her execution, as much as the content. I bring the sort of cyclical nature of her testimony up as a separate point because of how accurately it mirrors how important both authenticity and trust are to the artistic lifestyle (or to living a fulfilled life in general).
It took me so long to build up the courage to begin sharing more and more of my actual self in my work. As documented here, it’s also been frequently terrifying, sharing more and more of that work, more widely.
I’m eternally grateful for my audience. I hope you know that. I hope you also know how essential you have been (continue to be) to my work and my own growth. We’re in this together. I’ll keep trying to keep it honest.
For anyone still struggling to build up the courage to start down a similar path, or who could use a boost (I needed one) — read The Art of Asking.
Palmer makes it clear that indie success takes not only talent but (a fuck-ton of) hard work
While this definitely isn’t a criticism, Palmer often speeds quickly through commentary about how much work things took, at many different stages in her career. She seems to take it as a given — which really isn’t a bad thing, for the most part, especially since she clearly also “plays hard”.
Most of the useful stuff delivered by the book in this regard arrives while Palmer is monologuing or dialoguing with friends, not in a direct way but more often reflectively, in the wake, for instance, of first sharing an anecdote centered around a particular challenge, or a normally-occurring instance of doubt.
Again, possibly, this is because she’s just that used to the amount of work it takes to succeed in the way she has. Reflection may also be a healthier approach than the more typical American, “process and power-driven” work approach (I can tell you from experience that adopting this approach as an underfunded indie will burn you out). Her attitude appears gentler, more patient, and more directly caring or forgiving of how hard it can be than someone like me, who might allow lingering faulty programming to relay a similar lesson via more a blunt admonition like “you better be ready to work”.
That caution is in fact true, but because Palmer is so forthcoming and thorough in her testimony, she doesn’t have to address the reader so directly in these terms. As I said, she does detail her struggles, and it does become very clear how hard she works — in the book this all just happens in the process of her telling her story.
Especially to today’s entitlement-prone younger generations, her approach provides not only a valuable lesson but a valuable method of delivering that lesson.
The book does not shy away from pain, even in mostly relaying stories of wonder
I hinted at this above, but it’s worth mentioning more specifically.
One of my favorite recurring patterns in the book is Palmer’s willingness to share the bad with the good. She utilizes the space provided by her narrative, in addition to whatever she did in the moment (usually talking to a friend), to find a way to come to terms with why pain is part of the artistic process, just as it is part of the process of living.
Again speaking personally, I’d add that this is a hard lesson to learn, and one that arguably never stops asserting itself. Still, I have found in recent years that doing exactly what Palmer does — talking and sharing and avoiding isolation or self-pity as often as possible — works wonders.
I believe it’s particularly important that we exhibit patience throughout each instance/cycle of this process as well.
The pain of others screams at us, every day, from the headlines, in real life, and even on our social media feeds. As artists (and as people), it can be hard to remember that our job isn’t only to absorb and soothe such pain. Neither does it help anyone to focus solely on ourselves, in this respect.
The healing comes from the sharing, and the connection.
The central narrative isn’t just the titular subject, or Palmer herself, but the vulnerability and love that must be shown in order for art, and art-relationships, to work in today’s socioeconomic environment
Long-time readers of this site are probably used to me harping on the following point — but I’m going to keep repeating it for as long as I feel it still needs to be made.
More than any other crisis we’re facing, here and now in America, the gap or decline in empathy — between any of a number of (sometimes arbitrarily) defined groups, and within and across the individuals that make up those groups — seems to me to be hurting us the most.
Empathy is the basis from which all progress begins. Even when it seems incomplete, even when finding it seems to take forever, any progress on this front, at any level — is good for everyone.
No matter what sort of progress or social change an artist or an individual is compelled to chase, empathy will always be the most powerful vehicle we can “employ”. It is that authenticity, that trust, that connection — all wrapped up into one mysterious-but-essential universal concept.
I use the scare quotes around the word ’employ’ there, because (especially now that I’ve absorbed Palmer’s book), I believe it’s more helpful to think of ourselves as vessels, in this respect, than as an agent.
Conclusion: How The Art of Asking has Affected Me
I’ve written quite a bit, so I’ll wrap up, but in support of that last point I wanted to end with some personal testimony on how The Art of Asking has affected me on a personal level.
First, as I mentioned, it has strengthened and renewed my gratitude towards anyone who has supported one or more of my projects, who has ever visited this site, who has even taken a moment to click through to anything I’ve done and given it a quick glance. As I have said before, I simply would not be here, making art and chugging forward, without all of you.
I also emerged from my read of Palmer’s book with a greater sense of clarity, in regards not only to the worthiness of the path I am on, but also the necessity to continue to be transparent and supportive of the artistic and personal communities to which I belong.
And, finally, I have been acting with more kindness, just in general, as I have gone about my day-to-day life.
I don’t feel more kind, as a result of reading The Art of Asking. I’ve always been a fairly kind person. But reading the book — particularly at this stage in my life, wherein I’ve been putting so much effort into both “cleaning house” and being me — has helped me slow down and act upon feelings of compassion, much more often than I have otherwise done in recent years, without hesitation or judgement.
There have been plenty of available reasons, for me, in the past, to remain guarded, to follow the lead of any of a number of fears, and/or to keep barreling forward in pursuit of The Mission.
It can become especially easy (sometimes, unfortunately, even necessary) to do this while living and working in New York City. There’s just too much going on, everywhere, constantly, to remain vulnerable for too long of a stretch, or in certain environments wherein to do so at all would be potentially too damaging to the self. There are times when you simply need to establish and respecting healthy boundaries to protect your health and general happiness.
But, still, lately, I’ve been realizing (and, to be truthful, finally listening to the pleas of others in this regard) that it’s time to slow down again. The Mission isn’t a career level, or an accomplishment, or even the realization of a specific project. It’s not even the work itself, or the drive to keep doing it and sharing the result.
The Mission is serving others. It’s chasing that empathy, by showing — and showing faith in — the kindnesses we mostly all feel, but might for so many, often understandable reasons, hesitate to show.
So, I’ve been doing what I can. I’m trying to support other artists, more often. I’m trying to keep up on taking care of myself, more consistently, so that it’s easier to approach others without agenda. I’m making eye contact with strangers and asking how they are, and I think they can tell that I actually care about their response.
Mostly, I’m doing little things that take a minimal amount of effort even if they cost me a bit more in terms of vulnerability and trust. I’m realizing, as Palmer’s book and life story definitely sets out to prove, that The Art of Asking is just as much about giving — and meaning it, and being unafraid to keep on meaning it — than anything else.
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I’m going to try to keep this brisk, if not short, because I’m always in a hurry lately because I want to keep moving.
Movement, as revealed by the title of this post, is a key word to the coming discussion.
Last year, I wrote a piece titled The Arc of 2013: The Beginnings of The Pushback. The gist of its messaging can be summarized by restating my belief that, last year, people began boiling over and finally fighting back against social injustices and unsatisfactory socio-economic conditions. If I spent most of 2012 expressing anger in this space, when confronted with these realities, 2013 was spent consolidating and channeling that anger.
Riding off of that, I believe 2014 was about using that anger as fuel for movement. This year was about making moves.
It was fucking hard.
But…damn…did it feel good.
During some recent, rare downtime, I spent a few hours customizing that cute little Facebook Year In Review Thing. For the fuck of it, really.
What I realized, upon doing so, however, was that I had not only achieved my year’s goals, of shooting a feature film and mostly surviving the process — but I had also put out quite a bit more than that, in terms of work. After so many years of toil, in a word, I finally began to grow.
So, yeah, I put out more work than ever before, this year. More importantly, though, I diversified my work more than ever before as well.
Traffic to this site increased over 130% from last year, despite a 20% drop in the number of posts from the previous year.
This tells me that the diversification and focus paid off. Since this was mostly a Year of Creative Content, it also tells me that you like it better when I make things and share them than when I just write about what I think or how I feel about society or politics or the whatever bullshit is being slung at us by the media on a given day.
Along with the traffic increase, my family (that’s how I think of you) grew as well, on Twitter and on Facebook and in terms of my email list. I feel honored to be able to say that. Truly.
But, what happened? What made the difference?
Heading into 2015, I wanted to identify the answer(s) to those questions, not only so that I can repeat or expand my efforts but so that others who are interested can attempt their own journey using any methods that might similarly apply.
So, in defiance of the intro to last year’s post, which included a mild critique of lists — here’s a list of what I did in 2014 that I believe made it a year of movement. Following the list, I’ve also taken a moment to reflect broadly on what I’ve decided to aim for over the course of the coming year as a result of what I’ve learned since launching this site and rededicating myself to professional development and growth.
Multiverse Completed and Distributed
You’ve probably heard enough from me about this, but I’m still thrilled that Multiverse has been so well-received by most people who have watched it. Also, I feel validated by the decision to let the film speak for itself. While I ultimately chose to submit it to some standard festivals after the fact, I think it was the right decision to debut Multiverse to those of you who are in New York, as lead-in to The Videoblogs (more on that exciting event in a moment) and to then push it out online to everyone else during the ensuing Videoblogs funding campaign.
Did Multiverse become a viral hit? No. It was never going to become that. Realistically, more than anything else, Multiverse was something that I had to do to break free from some lingering difficulties in my life. I continue to take pride in how it came out, to appreciate the contributions of my collaborators and all our crowdfunding supporters, and I’m heartened every time someone reaches out after seeing it to tell me that they feel (or have felt) the same way. A film’s life is never fully realized until people start watching, and when they do, despite the many months of struggle and fear and confusion leading up — all the work and the sacrifice become worth it.
Comedic Voice Let Off Leash
I had a great time this year experimenting with comedic writing. It’s something I used to do when I was younger, which I lost my passion for as I got older and more cynical. Jokes always make it into my films, somehow, but riding off the end of 2013, when I collaborated with The Motel Staff on several holidays videos, in 2014 I decided to brave the waters in a more direct way. This resulted in a few sketches and a five-minute set of stand-up that I did, which was a blast in itself and lead to this post about how I am The Wolf. The effect of all this was that: 1) I proved to myself that I could do it; 2) I rediscovered how much I like making people laugh; 3) I met new people who would prove to be invaluable collaborators later on in the year.
I returned to my roots in another way in 2014, by writing my first short story in over seven years.In drafting, that short story became something longer than a short story and shorter than a novel. Despite it’s slight stature, A Night Alone in My Dread became a major accomplishment for me. I was not expecting to write fiction this year. The fact that it happened, and that hundreds of people read my little book — I can’t begin to express how grateful I am. To put this in perspective, my creative output took the form of narrative fiction probably 90% of the time for most of my life, up until I started making films almost ten years ago. In many ways, this aspect of the year feels like renewing an old friendship.
Produced, Crowdfunded, and Shot The Videoblogs
I don’t understand. I’m being honest with you about this for the first time. I don’t understand how The Videoblogs happened. It’s still hard for me to process, that as I work to finish transcoding and organizing footage, and syncing picture to sound — that soon I’ll be editing a feature film that I wrote and directed, and that YOU made happen because you believed in us.
You’re fucking beautiful. That’s all I can say. What? Where am I?!
Became A Professional
I’m not sure when this happened, either. I just know that it did, and that I’m extremely grateful. Why do I feel like a professional, now — when I’ve been “making stuff” for years?
Partially, I think I just started bumping up against “minimum time served”. Ten thousand hours and all that. Another big help was The Artist’s Way. But the biggest difference, I think, came from accepting myself and my circumstances and building my work flow around that.
What does this mean? For me, it meant looking at the reality of how I work best, and what the conditions are that I have to work within, and finding a system that works within those “constraints”. Because I struggle still, on occasion, with anxiety and depression, this system also had to take things like daily mental toll and daily mood into account.
What did I come up with? I write in the morning — something I had never done before. I get up earlier than ever before (usually) and focus on self care for an hour or so and then I write as early as I can in the day. My goal is an hour of writing. If I get through thirty minutes, I’m okay with it, not only because it’s still progress but because, on most occasions, I end up getting more done later in the day as well, which results in multiple hours of progress that probably wouldn’t have been possible without that earlier healthy start.
And I don’t restrict myself to a single project. It’s too much pressure. When I did that in the past, I ended up obsessing and the work suffered. Instead, now, I turn to whatever project or outlet seems to need my attention for that day. In short, I learned for myself what many more accomplished artists than me have said before — that I had to start treating my art like a job. Not only has my art not suffered as a result of this decision — as the above proves — it actually began to thrive. Despite being born and growing up inside the stormy hair-cave that is my head.
Why We Move
I began by saying that I wanted to outline all of that so that I can keep up on my efforts, and also to share them with others, in case my testimony could be of some use. But, getting back to the idea of movement, there’s another reason why I wanted to take stock of the year.
This is far from over.
Much of what saddened and frightened me in recent years is unfortunately still going on in the world today. I’m not going to recount any of it, because I’m not sure any longer that doing so is at all useful.
Instead, I want to keep focusing on movement. On grassroots efforts. Somewhere along the line of shepherding all of the above artistic efforts, this year, I realized something. I realized that nothing is going to systemically change, politically, economically, morally or conscientiously — until I change. Until we change.
So much of life is about perspective. And we’ve truly lost perspective as a society, in a lot of ways. We know it, most of us know it, but we don’t seem to be able to deal with it.
It doesn’t matter how this happened. It doesn’t matter if some of us can talk more confidentially about how it did, or are more certain about how to fix it, or whether you believe one argument or another or none of them at all.
What matters is that we talk through things, so that more of us, in more places, can begin once again to see life as it is rather than what we’ve been told it’s meant to be.
We cannot become empowered until our hearts are full. Our hearts cannot be full until we feel out the pain that we’re in, nationally and, perhaps, the world over. We cannot begin to heal until we’re sure of what’s happened inside of us and begin opening our mouths to speak about it with one another.
This has been a long time coming. We must continue to reflect on hard truths, must challenge each other to look at things differently, must be patient as everyone exerts his or her right to be heard. Maybe it’s all been going on for a long time. Probably I don’t even have a full idea yet of what I’m talking about. But I’m trying to understand. I’m choosing…to hope.
I guess that’s the main thing that changed for me, this year. I realized that I don’t have all the answers, or even any of them at all. All I can do, as an artist, is struggle with what questions call to me in the loudest voices, present that struggle to you, and encourage and engage in a dialogue.
Here’s to more in 2015. Thank you for reading, and I wish you the very best, for all the days of the coming year.