Drop The Phone, Drink Tea, Sling Words

Don't f*ck with Dottie.
Don’t fuck with Hildy.

I made a mistake this morning. I used my phone immediately upon waking up.

Sometimes I make this mistake, when I’m tired. Sometimes I make it on purpose, if it’s a Friday, and I don’t have the energy or the desire to fight the urge. And it is an urge, isn’t it?

Here’s the thing about what I did — it drives my brain off in a bad direction, to start the day. When I grab my phone, I’m turning to an artificial source of temporary distraction, when what I really need is to accept the reality of where I am in the moment — whether I like that place or not.

Artificial just doesn’t cut it, most of the time.

I know that my day goes better when I don’t touch my phone for hours, except to start playing some music (new Kaiser Chiefs!) or a podcast (MDWAP is all). I feel better, I avoid the poison of FOMO, and I get a fuck of a lot more done in the morning.

I’m not saying all this to beat myself up. I realized what I was doing this morning, and I stopped. I returned to what’s important — drinking tea and slinging words.

No, I’m sharing my “failure” as a gentle and affirming reminder — I’m better when I move.

A lot of good can come from our ability to connect at any moment. I know this. I spent years making a film about it. But, often, it’s the important work we do in those interstitial moments, between virtual connections, that make life worthwhile.

The irony isn’t lost on me, that I’m sharing this on a blog, and that a plurality of those reading are likely to be on their phones right now. Still, that doesn’t mean we can’t reflect upon the idea and try out a reset — less distraction and yearning, more focus and being.

So, on we go.


profpic_squareMy name is Michael. I am a Writer and Filmmaker 
of hopeful stories for complex people. Lately, I have been sharing some reflections and stories every morning. Once per month, I send a special note to those on my email list. They get exclusive stories and advanced (sometimes free) access to my work. You can join this exclusive group here. Thanks for reading.

5 First Steps To Take Before Making Your Film

Here I am, eleven years ago, with no idea what I have gotten myself into.
Here I am, eleven years ago, with no idea what I have gotten myself into.

A question came up during yesterday’s (wonderful) Live Chat for The Videoblogs, that I thought I would re-address in a bit more detail here.

The gist of it — how to get started making your first film?

There are plenty of good ways to answer this question. There are many great resources out there outlining the basics of any one facet of this noble, unwieldy endeavor.

Knowing this, and also knowing that it matters more to me to tell a good story than craft a perfect picture, I focused my answer on an attempt to pre-hack the biggest challenges that are likely to come up in pursuing the coveted first film.

As such, my recommendations tend towards sustainability and focus, rather than process or technique.

Process and technique can be filled in beforehand with research and experimentation. Or you’ll learn by failing and re-starting at certain points in your journey.

But these are the top five pieces of advice I might have, at present, for anyone starting their first film today.

1. Understand the situation you’re getting yourself into

PA Puppy can't get a Grip.
PA Puppy can’t get a Grip.

The planning and execution of a film is a very large undertaking. Even if you’re starting small — issues or challenges or requirements are going to come up that you never expected. You will be tested.

I don’t think that filmmaking is for everyone. There are a lot of people out there working to write and/or direct their own films…who don’t seem happy. There could be several reasons for this, but chief among them could be that the idea of filmmaking is a lot more glamorous that its reality.

I’ll have more to say about this in a moment, but the reason I bring this fact up first is because I really do think that the best way to handle the difficulties of the task is to first acknowledge and accept that it’s going to be difficult. If we’re fighting ourselves at the same time that we’re fighting to get the film made…both self and film will suffer.

There are other ways to engage your sadistic side than deciding to commit years of your life to the foolish endeavor of bottling and reshaping a slice of space-time using magical machines.

If you still can’t help yourself…

2. Have a system of self-care in place

Once or twice a year, I go to the woods.
Once or twice a year, I go to the woods and find a big stick.

I have written much about this already. I will keep writing about it. Again — making a film is very hard work. Often, when we’re starting, we’re working within constraints of time, money and all the rest that comes with the responsibility of everyday living.

I’m still working on this part.

The fact is, you could sacrifice everything for your film and emerge very pleased with the end product.

Doing this, however, might leave you at the same time irrevocably embittered by the process you just went through — or dealing with an poisonous buildup of entitlement.

Because you poured it all into the work and then had nothing left to sustain your actual life, your relationships, your next project.

It’s the live to work or work to live dilemma.

Because it’s so beautiful and fulfilling, art-making can muddy up our perspective of the pursuit — but the fact remains that making a film or writing a book or whatever…it’s still work.

We’re not built to labor around the clock. Inevitably, when we try, breakdowns commence.

It will be hard.

Those who find their way towards filmmaking tend to overwhelmingly be high-functioning perfectionists, often with reserves of (not unhelpful) arrogance to call upon for that extra juice (“I can bottle space-time!”).

But knowing or learning or carefully exploring our limits, with an eye on longterm personal and career health, will make the journey and the film that much better for you and everyone else involved.

3. Have a reason

For The Videoblogs, our reason was getting out and talking about mental health in America.
For The Videoblogs, our reason was getting out and talking about mental health in America.

This piece of advice is only third because I’m supposing that most people reading this, and/or taking my words seriously, already have a compelling reason for pursuing filmmaking (or any one film).

But, if you don’t, think long and hard about whether you can find a reason, or whether the one you think you have is strong enough to sustain you when chaos or despair descends on your production and your life, despite all of the warnings and precautions outlined above and below.

In my experience, you need this reason. On some days, it will prove the only thing capable of keeping you going when you want to quit. Why this film, and now?

4. Have a plan

I held at least six separate positions during production of The Videoblogs. Why? Because it had to be done to keep things moving.
There’s a reason this image serves at the backdrop for the Coffee with Creatives logo.

Hang with me here, for a second.

Obviously, if you’re intending to make a film — you’ll need a plan. There’s no way it comes off without one. Even if your plan is to keep things loose, there’s a lot of preparation that you need to do to allow that possibility on set.

Still, I’m not really talking about the how. That’s all up to you. It’s just hard work.

What’s just as important, however, is that you have a plan for: 1) Fitting the giant disruption that is the making of a film into your daily life, and 2) Ensuring that the giant disruption leads to worthy results.

To address the first, I’d recommend doing some serious, honest work to prioritize what needs prioritization, with an eye on what’s realistic. Assume everything will take twice as long, and be twice as difficult, than you might expect.

Ensuring worthy results, to be clearer, means having a distribution plan. Ideally, a few of them.

At minimum, know how to get the film to your core audience, no matter how small or local. These are your first champions.

You will need them. Respect this relationship enough to put the work into it. Think about how your film can serve your core audience, and how to make it convenient for them to participate in its distribution when the time comes to push your project out into the world.

5. Be willing to be patient

It will take years -- but the hard work and the waiting are usually worth it.
It will take years — but the hard work and the waiting are usually worth it.

This last suggestion is as much for me as anyone else. The reality of filmmaking is that it takes an enormous amount of time. If we do our job well, this enormity ends up hidden to general audiences.

The way most people experience entertainment is to consume it, quickly and ruthlessly.

Behind all that quickness and ruthlessness, on the side of the consumption of content, there’s slowness and a methodical attention to detail that is required on the part of the content creator.

If and when we cheat, to get things done faster or to “just get them done”, we endanger the sanctity of this relationship between creator and audience, as manifested by the creation.

If we are lazy at any point, or give in to bitterness or despair and shortchange any one part of the completion of a film, we risk dooming the entire endeavor.

On the flip side, we can obsess too much, and risk burning out in the vocation, or on any one project. It’s a delicate balance, that really only begins to make sense over time.

Conclusion

Filmmaking is a beautiful, noble, privileged pursuit. It’s brought great purpose, joy, and meaning to my life. Pain and disappointment have also entered the equation at points.

If and when we can find a real reason to move forward truthfully with a project, and so proceed with it while taking care of ourselves and respecting our audience — then we can enjoy and thrive under the vocation.

Best of luck to anyone mad enough to give it a try.


profpic_squareMy name is Michael. I am a Writer and Filmmaker
of hopeful stories for complex people. Lately, I have been sharing some reflections and stories every morning. Once per month, I send a special note to those on my email list. They get exclusive stories and advanced (sometimes free) access to my work. You can join this exclusive group here. Thanks for reading.

Dear Self: You Are Not Garbage

shutterstock_133599371

 

I woke up cold, in a little pain, and more than a little cranky. It’s dark outside, there’s a lot of wind and rain, and I didn’t want to get out of bed.

These are triggers for depression in almost any human being, but my brain still sometimes has a tendency to take the excuse of such triggers and double down on the resultant feelings.

This morning, because I  also slept late — on a Sunday before a Monday off — I started to beat myself up a bit.

The dog had gotten into the trash. Because I hadn’t taken out the trash when it was full.

Not her fault. Annoying, but not a big deal. Still, instead of making a note to take the trash out sooner next time, I turned the annoyance on myself.

Why didn’t you take out the trash sooner this time?

I ambled to the kitchen to make tea. We’re almost out of tea.

Why didn’t you get more tea?

Yet there is still tea enough for a few days. Then the cat started yelling for food. She does this whenever she is awake. And she had a late dinner last night, so it really wasn’t much of a problem that she was going to be eating a late breakfast today.

You don’t take good enough care of the cat.

I made tea. There was only one clean mug, and I usually make tea for myself and my wife. These things often happen after a busy week working and art-making in New York City.

Why didn’t you do the dishes? You’re dirty. You’re a dirty garbage-person.

I cleaned a mug. Our sponge needs replacing soon. Of course, this morning, my brain interprets this as something I failed to do earlier.

Nice job. You didn’t do that either. Dirty sponge for the garbage-person. Fitting.

By now, I suppose you see the pattern. These are all minor things, and none of them a big deal. But they roll down the hill of my head and combine forces and gather momentum.

Shut up. Stop complaining.

So, what to do in this situation? Do I just give up the day?

No. Not anymore.

I can’t do anything about being tired, in pain, or the shitty weather (except maybe rest). I can’t do very much about yesterday’s mistakes — except let them go and forgive myself for them. I can do something about the dishes, the tea, and the sponge. One task at a time, when it’s reasonable to do so.

Still, my self-worth does not depend — definitely not completely — on any of these things. More so, it depends more on how I defend myself against my own reaction to my “mistakes and failings”.

Right now, for the rest of today, you can watch The Videoblogs for free. I mention this because I made the film as a means of contributing to the conversation about mental health in this country. Which is what I’m trying to do as well, in micro, right now.

Mental health isn’t something we talk about enough, on average. Later today, I’ll be talking about it a bit with some collaborators and fellow storytellers. I’m sharing these details about what sometimes happens inside my head, because all of it just happened — because it seems important to keep talking.

Especially because I’m a man, it’s important. Men have some catching up to do in the department of squaring up to our feelings.

It’s not weak to struggle with your sense of self-worth. It’s human. What’s less human is to externalize “negative” feelings about ourselves by diverting them into attacks or mistreatment of others.

Anyway, I’m feeling a little better now.

First — once I realized what was happening — I stopped. Paused. I breathed.

I thought about the rain, and decided to employ a practice that has helped me in the past, also called RAIN. The more I do this the more effectively and efficiently it works.

Then I started writing. That always helps.

Thanks for reading. Feel free to comment, here or on social media, if you have anything to add to what I’ve said. And please join us later today if you’re available to participate in the Live Commentary of The Videoblogs. The event is free.


profpic_squareMy name is Michael. I am a Writer and Filmmaker
of hopeful stories for complex people. Lately, I have been sharing some reflections and stories every morning. Once per month, I send a special note to those on my email list. They get exclusive stories and advanced (sometimes free) access to my work. You can join this exclusive group here. Thanks for reading.

 

TOMORROW (10/9): Watch The Videoblogs for FREE! Then, Let’s Chat

vbcomm

Happy Saturday, Monsters and Sprites! I don’t know why ya’ll are mythical, today.

Actually, I do know why.

I have great faith in you. I believe in you. You are magical beings that sustain me over the internet, and in real life. There’s no rule that says magic can’t exist, and pass back and forth between people — even in a world where seemingly everything has become a statistic.

The magic persists.

On that note, I want to make sure anyone who is a general fan or tolerator of my work knows about tomorrow. What’s tomorrow?

Tomorrow brings a Live Group Watch and Commentary Event to you, over the interwebs. We’re set to watch The Videoblogs with a group around the country (maybe the world!), in partnership with Nick Savides at the nsavides podcast, Producer Jenna Edwards (April Showers), Writer/Producer David Paterson (The Great Gilly Hopkins) and more cool people. The event begins at 230PM EST.

The event is free, we’ll be releasing The Videoblogs for free for the day, AND there are over $500 worth of prizes for participating. One of the prizes comes from me. I will read the script of one lucky victim — I mean, winner — and follow that up with a consultation.

Other prizes include a 30 min interview with Nick on his podcast, and a consultation package from Jenna, who seems like a pretty badass producer.

The reason I bring this up in the context of magic is because…well, this is what The Videoblogs is about. Strangers connecting online in the pursuit of something better.

Does that mean that I think watching The Videoblogs will make you better? Maybe!

I wouldn’t have made the film if I didn’t think there was a chance. But, to reiterate, it’s not really about that. It’s about a few sturdy handfuls of us (or more!) getting together, taking a real look at some real issues, and bonding over a mutual desire for greater hope.

I’d love to see you there. If you haven’t yet watched The Videoblogs, and want to participate, it might be most helpful to do that today, if you can. As always, you can rent the film on iTunes.

You can also watch it here, for free. To be honest, it’s a lot more helpful to us when you rent (or buy!) the film. But if you can’t do that right now, or want to sample it first, or live outside the US — go for it.

Have a great weekend, my mythical friends. Trailer!


profpic_squareMy name is Michael. I am a Writer and Filmmaker
of hopeful stories for complex people. Lately, I have been sharing some reflections and stories every morning. Once per month, I send a special note to those on my email list. They get exclusive stories and advanced (sometimes free) access to my work. You can join this exclusive group here. Thanks for reading.

The Dangers of “The Project Wheel”

practice

 

I have been itchy lately. I don’t mean in the pants.

What I mean is that I want to make something. Direct something. Shoot something. This seems to happen every year around this time. The Videoblogs, Multiverse, The Confession, all were shot in the fall.

I’ve got an idea. A random one. Again, this is how each of those projects came about.

This doesn’t have anything to do with the new script, or the other new script. It’s a separate thing. That has concerned me a bit — am I just spinning The Project Wheel?

I don’t think so. It’s an understandable question. But I’m not sure my situation is any different now, as a completely independent filmmaker, that it would be if I were taking meetings. The Videoblogs is done but still out there, so the question naturally occurs as to what is next.

At the same time, I just can’t manage a production of that scale, at such an effectively high budget (at least in terms of labor) right now. I can’t fit it into my life, and I won’t sacrifice my health again.

And yet staying in the creative mindset is healthy for me. So, what to do?

I think it might be best for me to do what I’m doing here, with this daily blog post experiment. Namely, to jump in. To fit the idea into the space, and give it the resources, that I have. Nothing more, nothing less.

Writers write, directors direct, I’m a writer and director.

The Project Wheel only becomes a danger if and when we turn it but never let it stop to rest on one idea, that we then execute. Or if we constantly change the face of the wheel. There will always be fears, and/or legitimate challenges in the way of completing a thing. We can’t let fear rule — I want to lead with an open heart.

But Simon Taufique and I spoke about this on the podcast. People — the audience, decision-makers and gatekeepers, collaborators — are always looking for new and different things. We need to keep on creating, not only for ourselves but for our careers.

So, I’ll probably scratch the itch. Glad we had this talk. More later.

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

Day 01: Struggles and Wonders and Dying in  Chair

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

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

Day 04: Circle Up and Laugh

Day 05: On The Future of Labor

Day 06: Appreciating Difficulty, Harnessing its Momentum

Day 07: The Word for World is Earth

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

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

Day 10: Simmering Little Wrath of The Annoyed Man

Day 11: Tragedy, Remembrance and Wonder

Day 12: A New Light Borrowed or Discovered

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

Day 14: Legitimately Va-goo

Day 15: Sex-Bleating and Cat Vomit

Day 16: The Waiting Place

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

Day 18: How to Decide What to Make Next

Day 19: Take Faith for Yourself, Give Them Skepticism

Day 20: All I Need Is My Lamp and My Dog!

Day 21: Why I’m Writing and Publishing, First Thing Every Morning

Day 22: The Routine Dance: Rewards and Perils

Day 23: How to Be Better: Perspective and Self-Compassion

Day 24: Still The Finger, Silence The Vlog

Day 25: A Light Chill Wind in Early Fall

Day 26: The Case for An Open Heart

Day 27: How Can I Help? CWC Interview (Composer/Producer Simon Taufique)

The Waiting Place

the-world-is-all-gates-all-opportunities-strings-of-tension-waiting-to-be-struck

 

I find myself at a crossroads in my work.

There are two ways to look at this, since I don’t know where each road leads. I can worry about turning and heading down the wrong path, or continuing down one that it would have been better to turn from. Or, I can close my eyes and breathe, and then decide to try my hand at luck. To follow the wind, so to speak.

The first reaction doesn’t appeal to me. Though that doesn’t mean I haven’t incrementally tried it on, by nature of being human.

The second sounds nice, but I have trouble consistently showing the faith it requires. There’s always that voice, prodding me with the question: “But what if it doesn’t work? What if we’re wrong?”

At this point, while I still do worry about these questions, it’s not completely a case of fear of embarrassment. Age and experience has helped to mostly defang that avenue of paralysis. I can’t help how my work might be received. I can only do my honest best to tell an authentic, heartfelt story, and to give it a fair chance in the world.

No, more often, I worry about making the wrong choice because of a fear of lost time. And thus the double-edged sword of age and experience is revealed.

I love The Videoblogs. I’m proud of the film. But I beat myself to crap making it, at such a low budget and while living in New York City and working a full-time job. Beyond not knowing if I could pull off such a feat again, physically — I just don’t want to do it that way again.

I’m working on a few new ideas for the next film. One is big and heady. It’s been bending my brain a little bit, thinking of how to make it work on paper. To make it work as a production is going to take a much bigger budget than we had for The Videoblogs. I’m not sure I’m ready for that, yet. I very well could be, but that script needs to be RIGHT before I’ll move on producing it.

The reality is that it’s only been a few months since The Videoblogs came out.

There’s no hurry. I have other ideas I’m poking at, for smaller films, there’s a silly concept for a short and simple comedic web series I might want to try, and I somehow also have the first draft of a book of fiction waiting for me to re-write.

I’m forced to confront the reality that my fear of lost time is just the same old fear of being wrong, dressed up in a new skin suit it liberated from an innocent soul after its last round trip to and from the hell that it calls home.

Hah. Demon humor.

But, seriously — binary thinking is often a trap. And that’s what I want to address today.

It may be true that I’m at crossroads. Or, it may be true that I feel this way, and will feel differently a few years from now. Regardless, I don’t think what I’m going through is so simple or pat a thing as staring down various paths, from an intersection, and attempting to source out which way to go.

This manner of thinking might be too rigid for me. I might have outgrown it by now, even if I still need to slough it off to make room for a newer, fresher outlook.

I’m into skin imagery today.

Anyway, it could be that every road has its charms, holds its own opportunities. It’s equally possible that I’m meant to set up camp, right at the intersection, and hunt small game and live in a tree and howl at the moon for a while.

Perhaps there will be loincloths. Who am I to say?

During the course of this post, in my mind’s eye, the backdrop to the crossroads has morphed from desert to forest to jungle. This could be reflective of my current ambiguity, or of the proper aimlessness I am in this moment best led to inhabit.

For so long, I have treated myself rigidly, in terms of having to decide what to create next, how and why — right now.

When I have relaxed, and focused instead on the day-to-day, I have been gifted with ideas like Multiverse, The Videoblogs, the book.

And then there is the simple fact of the last sixteen days.

What I like about writing here daily is the immediacy of it. The simplicity. It’s uncomplicated. I’m a writer — I write. I share what I’ve written, then I do it again. Is each post perfect? Far from it.

But the pursuit feels pure. That’s what I’m starting to believe I need to wait for, not the next project that feels the least “wrong”, but the one that feels the most right. This has always been when I have known to move forward.

It’s not a crossroads at all. It’s a waiting place.

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

Day 01: Struggles and Wonders and Dying in  Chair

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

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

Day 04: Circle Up and Laugh

Day 05: On The Future of Labor

Day 06: Appreciating Difficulty, Harnessing its Momentum

Day 07: The Word for World is Earth

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

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

Day 10: Simmering Little Wrath of The Annoyed Man

Day 11: Tragedy, Remembrance and Wonder

Day 12: A New Light Borrowed or Discovered

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

Day 14: Legitimately Va-goo

Day 15: Sex-Bleating and Cat Vomit