The Videoblogs Dialogue: Now Live!

When Rebecca and I were in the early stages of planning The Videoblogs, we met at one point with Gary Chou at Orbital in NYC. We’ve come to treat that meeting as a special one, because Gary listened to our plans (which we’ve mostly followed and are still following) but challenged us to see if we couldn’t take them a step further.

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By now, if you’re a reader of this site, you know that we’re making The Videoblogs to contribute to a greater dialogue on mental health in America. And while the hope is that the film itself will become a part of that conversation, Gary’s challenge helped us address a lingering feeling that we weren’t quite taking our plan far enough, in terms of creating a project that not only sparked conversation but encouraged an interactivity that more closer mirrored today’s rising tech-enabled general culture — and its positive potential, more than its dangers.

We’re leveraging and addressing, with The Videoblogs itself, new technologies and new technologically-affected ways of living. And yet the overarching thematic message that we’re seeking to put forth with the story, in these terms, is that we can reach out through the screen to connect, not only virtually, but as a gateway to more of the real-life interaction upon which the human spirit fundamentally subsists — even as technology is making the rest of what goes into subsistence easier and more accessible.

In concrete terms, Gary pushed us to consider how we could take our message and apply it to an active, real-life, two-way solution. The idea greatly appealed to me, as I’ve grown increasingly frustrated by the broadcast-only structure of legacy long-form storytelling. And Rebecca took the challenge head-on. After some back and forth with Gary, we started working to plan The Videoblogs Dialogue in parallel with the production and release of the film.

It took some time to get going (we’re bootstrapping indie filmmakers after all!), but now it’s here. And I’m very excited and very proud and thank Gary and Rebecca for their roles in making it a reality.

Special thanks also to Paul Gilmartin, Grace Parra, Ashely Esqueda and Alice Spivak for lending their time to the contest and the cause. Their early commitments to serve on the jury for The Videoblogs Dialogue helped us gain momentum in the early days of planning, and even though it took some time to get the contest together and now launched, we continue to remain grateful for their help.

And of course thanks also to:

  • Project UROK, an official partner in the project, and an organization that does amazing work encouraging people to talk more openly and honestly about mental health
  • Co-sponsor Seed&Spark, a forward-thinking company that helps empower film and media storytellers, and promotes community and interdependence in the independent film industry
  • And co-sponsor Big Vision Empty Wallet, a film and media incubator that encourages and supports filmmakers working in today’s tech-enabled environment and champions diversity in storytelling

More below. But all the information, including how to enter the contest, can be found on the site for the film. I look forward to seeing what entrants submit. Let’s (safely) talk about this stuff.

thevideoblogsposter (1)The Videoblogs Dialogue is a user-generated video contest, in which participants submit their own videoblogs (3 min or less), pertaining to themes of mental health and/or personal struggle. Participants aged 18-24 are eligible to win a $1,000 Cash Prize and Mentorship package, to be put towards the creation of their own short film on mental health. Anyone age 18 and up can enter for the chance to have their videoblog included in the closing credits of The Videoblogs.

We’re running this contest to contribute to a greater dialogue about mental health in America, and to encourage tomorrow’s artists, filmmakers and performers to bravely engage with what have classically been labeled as difficult subjects (depression, anxiety, trauma) with an ultimate focus on hope.


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The Arc of 2015: In Good Time

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

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

The Setting: New England Winter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Musings on Time

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Withdrawing from Time’s Pull

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

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

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

I am present, mindful, grateful and kind.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s the coming back that really counts.

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

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

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

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

Acknowledging Time’s Power

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

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

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

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

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

Gratitude as a Perspective on Time

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kindness as The Ultimate Expression of Time Best-Used

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

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

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

Struggle As The Space Between Accomplishments

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

Struggle is the final key word, here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

602066_10100681300095942_1773576913_n (2)Subscribe to my list for exclusive access to posts like this one, and advanced (and free!) access to new (creative) content produced by yours truly. I send one email per month (sometimes less).

The Confession Gets the Green Light!

confWell, then!

Shortly after I published this post last night — about why we’re trying to break some rules with The Confession — an Anonymous contributor vaulted us past the 80% funded threshold required to get a green light on Seed&Spark.

That means The Confession is definitely happening!

Thank you, sincerely, to all of our supporters — and that includes everyone who has shared, favorited, and liked social media posts. We’re excited to get the film shot and out to you before the end of the year.

We have a few days left to get to 100% funded. To join the rest of use rule-breakers, click here.

Here are two of the more popular examples of our #FalseAssertion meme, which comes as an incentive for contributing $25…

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TODAY ONLY: Threat of Glass Pre-Release Offer!

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Thanks to everyone who has already contributed to the Seed&Spark campaign for THE CONFESSION. To help keep things moving, I’ve authorized myself to release this special offer.

For the remainder of today, anyone who contributes $1 or more to our campaign will be put on a list to receive an advanced (free) copy of my next short story: THREAT OF GLASS.

THREAT OF GLASS
A literary young man privately deconstructs a street performer’s decision to hold audience attention by threatening a jump into a pile of broken glass.

The story is about 4,000 words. It’s more fun than it sounds! If enough people take me up on the offer, I promise to turn the next draft around within the next week or so. Then, I’ll send it to contributors via email. No one else will get the story until much later.

Here’s how to redeem:

  1. Contribute $1 or more to THE CONFESSION.
  2. When finished, alert me on Twitter or Facebook.
  3. I will contact you for your email address. Or, you can send a note to me here.

Thanks for your time, and I hope to threaten you with glass very soon!

Michael

Let Go: Musician/Artist Cat Tassini

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I met Cat Tassini at the 2013 Bushwick Film Festival, where she was in attendance with Wildcat Apollo bandmate Taylor Eichenseer, a friend and fraternity brother of mine from college.

At that time, I missed the festival screening of Cat’s music video (for one of their songs), but went back and watched it later (and liked it) and we chatted via email afterwards and have kept in touch since. I’m a fan of Wildcat Apollo‘s music, and remain excited about what’s in store for them.

Cat does more than sing and play music — we discuss her multiple artistic tracks — but she also has a great attitude and work ethic. And she brought a thoughtful gift to her recording session, which was kind and pretty cool.

1962652_607165452719041_7917939502026241689_nWhen I learned that Cat was going to be in town (the band is based in Austin), I asked her to come on the podcast. My musical vocabulary and education is severely limited, but we managed to have a great talk anyway.

Topics covered include:

  • Her journey from silence to singing
  • The imperative to share creative resources
  • Her experiments with different art forms and media
  • The difference between working and making your own work
  • The benefits of following instinct
  • Balancing complexity with simplicity
  • How to learn from other successful professionals — podcasts are one way 🙂

Two clips from the band’s first album are included in episode, but you can find more of their music here.

As a reminder, you may also listen to this episode on iTunes. Please subscribe if you like it!

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Cass-ting Announcement: Masha King

I did not misspell anything. Masha King has been cast in the role of Cass in The Videoblogs. Get it? I’m funny.

In all seriousness — it is with great pleasure that we publicly welcome Masha to The Videoblogs family. Rebecca and I have known Masha for a while, and she was kind enough to play a faceless bartender for us in Multiverse when we shot it a few years ago. We were excited to call her in to audition for the role of Cass in The Videoblogs, because we felt it would be a great match for the energy we’ve seen her bring to characters in the past. Masha did not disappoint in her auditions.

Masha will be playing Cass in The Videoblogs. We're excited.
Masha will be playing Cass in The Videoblogs. We’re excited.

Cass is the best friend to protagonist Margaret. Like Margaret, she’s facing a transition period in life, wherein she is growing tired of “working hard and playing hard” — and doing little else. Cass also struggles to recalibrate their close relationship after Margaret “changes” following years of therapy — though there remains a deep bond between the two women.

So, again, please join us in welcoming a major supporting actor to The Videoblogs. Follow Masha on Twitter here.

BIO

Mash King is a Ukrainian born actress who attended the American Musical and Dramatics Academy and has been acting in NYC for the past 10 years. She has been seen in Theatre, Film, as well as national TV, Commercial, and New Media spots. She is a proud member of The Lost and Found Project (https://www.facebook.com/LnFproject), and recently traveled to Russia with them as a lead in COVERS, which won for Best Play at the 4th annual ArtOkraina Festival in St. Petersburg. Other notable projects include Campbell’s Soup, CollegeHumor.com, Investigation Discovery Network, and the IFC Network. She proudly works with The Anne Frank Center, performing as Anne Frank in two ongoing shows; Letters From Anne and Martin and Conversations With Anne  (https://www.facebook.com/AnneFrankCenterUSA). Masha is pumped to be playing Cass in The Videoblogs, and to work alongside such a creative and supportive team. She’s ready for the ride! For more Mashahttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jEehkzbSiLk, @masha_king

 

5 Daily Questions for Maintaining Creative Productivity

This an example of me acing Question 5: "Am I taking time to enjoy life?"
This an example of me acing Question 5: “Am I taking time to enjoy life?”

This January, for essentially the first time, I made a New Year’s Resolution. Two, actually. I decided to set two goals for myself, both of which were born out of my primary obsessions for most of the second half of 2013.

I want to finish at least shooting a feature film before the year is done, and I want to maintain at least a semblance of a balanced, healthy lifestyle while I do it.

Anyone who makes art — or who does any sort of project work in particular — could and would probably tell you that these are ambitious goals. Independent filmmaking in particular, with our lower budgets and our seemingly always empty pockets, puts a great deal of pressure on the human mind, body and spirit. It does this all the time, but the toll is especially great in the months leading up to production. Production itself is often a matter of pushing limits in ways that are perhaps sometimes celebrated, and which we can of course be proud of in retrospect, but which simply are not healthy in either the long or short term. And then there’s the post-production period, which often leaves us facing long recoveries. Physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually — even the addict’s rush that comes with having created, it doesn’t last. The truth is that making art depletes us.

Much of this is unavoidable, especially in the earlier years of a career, as we’re learning the ropes the hard way, as we invariably have to do. But, speaking as someone who has pushed myself too far in the past, I have to honestly say that I have come to the conclusion that, without balance, even art that has been hard-earned — it invariably suffers as we suffer by it, if and when we aren’t careful with ourselves. Limits can be pushed, but they also have to be respected.

For Example: One of The Times I Kinda Lost It

I arguably risked my life one day, for one of my films. Matters of budget and inexperience had led me to a place wherein I had to get my sound mix from New York to my editing bay (basically, a laptop set up in my old childhood bedroom in Rhode Island) — after 12 hours of work with our re-recording mixer. The film was set to premiere in a few days and wasn’t finished. I ended up making the drive alone, after having been awake for almost 24 hours. Towards the end, despite a surplus of caffeine, I couldn’t keep myself awake. It was three or four in the morning when I called my parent’s house (where I was living while making the film) because my fast-asleep fiancee wasn’t answering her cell. My brother picked up. I told him I needed someone to talk me through the last 45 minutes or so of the drive. It was that close. I had caught myself falling asleep at the wheel a few times.

Should I have pulled over to sleep? Possibly. There were a lot of things I should have done. Either way, when my phone battery died after about twenty minutes or so of conversation with my brother, I got desperate. I started talking to myself — loudly. I blasted the radio and opened all the windows and sang loudly. It didn’t matter that I didn’t know any of the words to the songs that play on the radio at three in the morning. When I couldn’t sing any more I came up with a sort of mad mantra, and repeated it and repeated it and repeated it. I rolled down all the windows in the car to let the cold November air inside. In short, I lost it. I went a little crazy. It’s perhaps a little funny now, but at the time it scared me — even if I didn’t admit it scared me.

How To Avoid This?

You can see why I’m eager to not repeat the same mistakes I’ve made in the past, when it comes to navigating the difficulties of making good stuff on the cheap.

As has been pretty well-documented here, I’ve come a long way as an artist and as a person since those days. I’m not even sure I would get to that bad of a place again even without my goal of balance. But I’ve come to treasure what I’ve built for myself these past few years. I still struggle with the repercussions of continuing to fight the good fight, and I still have to wrestle incrementally with my demons. I just lost a small battle to fear and doubt last night. Today, I’m all right, even though I know it will happen again. The key is to take things in stride and to avoid an avalanche.

I can’t afford to fall to madness, at any point, as I get closer to initiating my plans for making my new film (which you’ll hear about soon enough). The endeavor as a whole is going to be hard, and at times it’s going to be a legitimate struggle. I know that. But it’s also something I have to do. I have to make this film. I can’t let this need destroy me.

So, what can be done? What can I do — what can we do — to protect ourselves and our projects from the sometimes debilitating effects of long-term creative pursuits? Similarly, what can be done to protect our long-term creative pursuits from their own debilitating effects on our lives?

I think the answer is no different on the project level than it is on the macro level, as we strive continuously to live another day as artists in the real world.

Here’s what I came up with. Most of this is borrowed.

The Questions

Since the beginning of January, I have asked myself the following five questions at least once each day. Lately I’ve been trying to do this two or three times.

  1. Am I taking care of myself? It took my years to realize that I’m not good at self care. It took time and some outside help and it’s still sometimes a struggle. While everyone is different, I do believe that Americans on average — we don’t take great care of ourselves. Additionally, artists tend to be born out of complicated circumstances — not always, but much of the time. It’s important to my well-being and to my productivity to take care of myself, and to remind myself of the importance of self-care, everyday. How do I do it? Through reflection, meditation, and action. By action, I mean I try to do nice things for myself, no matter how small. Most of the time, this means taking a break or a walk or stopping everything to drink a cup of tea (it works). On a larger level, it means eating healthy on most days and getting enough sleep on most days. Sleep. Is. Huge.
  2. Am I avoiding the important? This is adapted from Tim Ferriss, who recommends in The Four Hour Work Week that we ask ourselves a variation of this question a few times per day (“Am I inventing things to do to avoid the important?”). I have long had my phone set to ask me Tim’s version of the question in the morning, the afternoon, and early in the night. It helps me keep myself focused. A lot of times, I ignore the reminder, because I know I’m on track. Sometimes, I growl at my phone, because I am not on track. Usually, this means I am afraid of something. However understandable the fear may be, it’s almost always in the way of “the important”. That won’t do. Also, an additional note: while this may not align perfectly with the spirit of what Ferriss advocates, sometimes, for me, “the important” is not a project. Sometimes, it’s self-care, or my relationships, or –more on this below — enjoying life.
  3. Have I taken a step towards my goal of making my film? I don’t care how big a step. Every day, I make sure to do one thing to move my current project forward. Sometimes, it’s just sending an email. Sometimes, it’s research. It doesn’t matter. Any tiny thing I do on any one day brings me one step closer to the larger realization of my ultimate goal. This can be easy to forget, when fear creeps in and all we can think about is the overwhelming list of tasks that must be completed to make a film, that are standing in the way of it being finished. This point of view doesn’t work. Trust me, if you aren’t already nodding your head. It’s a trap set by self-sabotage. However a big task gets done, and by whoever — it’s always a matter of steps. We don’t magically float to the top of a tall flight of stairs by staring up at them worrying how we’re possibly going to walk all steps at once. We get there, in time, by putting one foot ahead of the other until it’s over.
  4. Am I being open in my relationships with others? This is perhaps a question that’s aimed more specifically at where I am in my life right now, but I’m sharing it anyway in case a few people might benefit. Also, the question itself necessitates I mention it. Basically, I feel I’ve spent too much time holding back certain parts of myself (again, out of fear) as I’ve interacted with other people, throughout my life. Life goes more smoothly (and my work goes more smoothly) when I kick this propensity and endeavor to just be me. Focusing on openness, I have found, also helps hasten decision-making. I don’t labor over decisions or create as many scenarios in my head when I’m being open with myself and others. I’m able to more fully live in the moment. Daily meditation and informal studies of mindfulness and Buddhism have helped me immensely in this respect. Openness has numerous benefits. There’s room for tact, of course, because not everyone needs to know everything about everyone else, and we all need to protect ourselves sometimes — but I think we’ve suffered enough as people and as a society from the effects of leaving feelings unspoken. The repression isn’t healthy.
  5. Am I taking time to enjoy life? Save the best for last, right? I unfortunately need to remind myself to stop and enjoy life. I tend to work too hard. I tend to brood, when I’m not working. There is not much room for naked enjoyment in either of these default states. Even work that makes me happy — it’s still work. So I have to ask myself this question, at least once per day. When the answer is “no”, I do what I can to correct the situation. Sometimes, again, this means a cup of tea, or maybe a soda or a snack. Many times, it means taking time to read some fiction, watch a movie, or listen to a podcast. Anything that isn’t work and gives me pleasure. That includes going out. I will force myself to go out when I don’t want to, because I know by now to mistrust the feelings and thoughts I get that tell me to do the opposite and stay home and work or brood. Balance has to include joy, for me.

So, there you have it.

Hopefully, some of the above has been helpful. I’d be interested to hear what others are doing to maintain some semblance of balance while working through large projects (I include life in this category). Hit me up in the comments if you have anything to add, or any further questions about how I came up with this list in particular.

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Liberation Through Limitation

I know it’s been quiet, lately, around here.

I’ve been thinking.

I’ve been thinking that – after living – the most important things there are for a writer and filmmaker to do is write and make films.

Much of this past year was spent drafting Sophia The Great. On a script level, the project is almost ready to go. On a practical level, however, it isn’t.

So, I’ve decided to postpone Sophia for a while, for her sake and mine. I’m going to focus on other projects right now.

Here’s why:

  • The script, as scripts sometimes do, grew in scope as I continued drafting it. Sophia still can (and perhaps will) be produced on a slim budget, but I’ve done as much as I can (or am willing) to do scaling back scenes and locations such that they still fit the needs of the story and have yet been rendered as simple as possible, from a production standpoint, so that we can shoot the film within its likely budget range. Still, this range itself is probably outside the realm of what I can come up with at this time in my career.
  • I can’t, at present, spend time and money trying to create more time and money. I get that this is how business works. I get it’s how most feature films get made. And, actually, it’s not that I’m not prepared or willing to do this, or that I don’t have plans. I just don’t want to put so much effort now, while I am still young, burning off a surplus of energy and exhausting limited resources by pursuing possibilities that are just as likely to not work out – or to endanger my vision – than they are to morph into the solution to the problem that is financing. I’m better off dedicating myself to making good art.
  • Relatedly, due to both of the above reasons – I’m just not ready. Multiverse has proved to be a significant step up for me in my development as a filmmaker. It helped me prove to myself that I can do this, in the terms that matter most. To make Sophia what she needs to be, that time and money needs to be there. The story is delicate and nuanced. It requires tact and care. A guerilla-style shoot, which we’d have to embrace to offset budget challenges, might be possible, but not with my life the way it is right now.
  • I like my life right now. I don’t want to give up on it for a year or more to get Sophia made. I know that this would be forcing matters, rather than a simple case of facing the reality of what needs to be done. There’s a difference between making something happen and forcing it to happen. If I went the forced route, I would suffer and the film would suffer and I would resent the film and the job itself and all the work I’ve done to deal with my anger would crumble. All of this is against the spirit of creativity.

None of this means I’m going to stop reaching.

Sophia will happen. Multiverse, and then probably something else, is going to happen first.

I’m actually very excited about a particular “something else” – but I’m not going to tell you what it is yet.

What I will say is that I recently came to the above “hard realizations” more easily than past versions of my angrier self would have expected. I haven’t had much trouble acknowledging that they merely reflect reality – or a reality that I have to accept.

The other side of this reality, however, is that I remain compelled to create. Because that’s what I do. That’s what I must do. It’s what’s necessary.

I have made no secret of my dissatisfaction with the tides of American culture. I won’t spend time rehashing my grievances, or re-identifying the various possibilities that I believe exist, in order to raise awareness and advocate for change. All that can be found in the archive. Click around and have a blast or a good cry.

The imperative to get out there and address what’s hurting us has begun to outstrip the imperative I’ve always felt to not only say something, but say everything — perfectly.

So, I’m just going to keep making things, and then you can start telling me what you think. We can talk stuff over. Start a dialogue.

That’s what makes good art. In all the anxiety of trying to figure what to do next and how, over this last year, I lost track of this crucially important, core fact of creativity.

Films are business. Films require critical thinking and demand practical solutions. But they’re also (sometimes) art.

And art can thrive in the face of limitation – because art is born through limitation.

Thanks for reading. More later.

The Tyranny of The Minority/The Inevitability of Change

I just recently finished reading the Dune Chronicles. Labeled “The Best-Selling Science Fiction Adventure of All Time” the books are in actuality a much more robust exploration of humanity’s trajectory through history than the commonest understanding of science fiction as a genre may suggest.

The ambitious goal of the series, which spans millennia among six books’ worth of stories, is nothing less than a highest-level view of humanity as a collective of interdependent peoples striving together to survive even as they continue to struggle inevitably for power. Delineations dividing one “people” from another are formed on the macro and micro level. The inhabitants of a particular planet often represent one particular race of human, the next planet another, and so on.

Each named planetary society is also split into its own unique factions of citizenry, often comprised of one small aristocratic group that holds ultimate power; another one or two merchant, military, or religious group that hold great influence and the capacity for ultimate power (a middle class); and the workers and/or slaves who keep the machinery of the planet’s society going, and are sometime driven so deeply into the ground or so far out to the perimeter that they eventually become hardened into a powerful force capable of revolution.

Over the course of the series, power changes hands many times, on planets and among them. Much attention is paid, on the part of author Frank Herbert, to the inevitable cyclicality of human political history.

The last of the books, which I just today finished, was published almost thirty years ago. I feel changed, on a deep personal level, after having worked my way through them in only a few months. The philosophical long-view Herbert takes of humanity, built concurrently alongside personal narratives of profound experiential detail, as major players of his imagined future strive to figure out what it means to be human even as humanity continues to cycle perpetually through conflict and power struggle – it’s simply a marvel. Sometimes, to be truthful, it’s also a burden. They aren’t the easiest books to work through – one or two even caused me stress as I continued reading – but they felt important.

I’m going to return to that note about stress in a little bit, but first I want to talk about a phrase I encountered in Chapterhouse Dune, the final book in the series. That phrase: The Tyranny of the Minority.

In context, this phrase helps form a reference to the exploits of a (comparatively) small group of vicious, violent, vengeful people – representing one particular, rigid, narrow, bureaucratically organized belief system – who set about conquering and threatening their way to power over the majority of those other peoples who make up the whole of the books’ primary universe.

Whenever this group is challenged, they retaliate with murderous force. Whenever they gain power, they seek more power. Wherever they suffer defeat, they return in force to destroy everything in sight.

This reminds me of today’s conservative Republicans.

Tomorrow, the federal government will most likely shut down, and responsibility for the hardship this will cause for the majority can be placed squarely upon the shoulders of a loud, willful minority of politicians who, for a variety of insubstantial reasons, would rather see this happen than surrender to the will of the people and to the conclusions of the systems of checks and balances built into what is left of our democracy. This minority, of ultra-conservative Republicans in the House in particular, also appears intent on extending their hostage-taking, extortionist behavior (once again) to a “debate” over the national debt ceiling – a situation which could potentially cause even worse damage to the world at large.

Nominally, Republicans are resorting to these tactics as a means of repealing or effectively crippling or gutting (or at least discrediting) the Affordable Care Act. The details of this situation have been well-covered (though I use that term loosely) in the media.

It’s nonetheless worth pointing out that the Affordable Care Act was: passed by Congress (after much debate), affirmed as the will of the majority (after becoming a major referendum in the 2012 Presidential election, which Republicans lost), and upheld as law (by the Supreme Court). Despite these facts, however, House Republicans in particular have refused to accept reality and move on with the governance of the country (also known as their job). Instead, they waste time and money on efforts to repeal the law anyway, at a time when the rest of us can ill afford to spare much of either essential resource. Having learned the will of the majority, having lost the battle against health care reform, they now threaten us, brazenly invoking our own name as they do it, by refusing to back down, accept reality, and move on to real policy-making and discussion.

Thus we are victimized by The Tyranny of The Minority.

I have read opinions that compare these exploits to those of “spoiled children.” For the past few days, I have tried on similar ideas. The metaphor certainly appears to fit. Denied what they want, Republicans respond by reiterating that they want it. Denied again, they reiterate more loudly and purport to take it anyway by ruining everything else until it is given.

Except this issue is more serious than anything that might involve a child and his or her wants. Children, even spoiled children, often don’t know any better than “demand or destroy.” Adults do know better – even when, under the guise of propaganda and double-speak, they pretend not to know. Self-deception, also, is still deception. Truth still lives underneath.

Make no mistake: conservative Republicans know they are the losers in the health care fight. They know they are a (shrinking) minority. And that is why they are sabotaging everything.

The symbol of past and present power in America is a middle-aged or older white man in a suit, even today, while Barack Obama is President. The symbol of future power in America is not so cut and dry. The white majority is shrinking; feminism thrives; multiculturalism rises inevitably; youth grows up, opens its eyes, and glimpses the injustices, built from the top-down, that continue to plague our society on the whole. Change, the recycling of power – even if its approach is neither clear or broad or fast enough – is assuredly coming.

Our current crop of Republican influencers act as they do now out of fear and desperation. They seek to destroy what they cannot control. They fight health care reform because our legacy version of health care keeps the average citizen tethered to big employers, and/or renders them powerless via the actuality or possibility of steep costs that signify a level of potential financial hardship seldom imagined or experienced in any real way by middle-aged white men in suits.

I said I would return to my observation that the Dune books were sometimes a difficult, burdensome, stressful read. What I mean by this is that I often felt fearful of the consequences of truly considering some of the sadly contradictory human truths exposed by certain passages and sections (and one whole book). But I proceeded through the series anyway. Purely pursued, honestly wrought ideas – they have a way of leading you inevitably towards careful consideration.

I opened my mind and heart to Frank Herbert’s opinions of humanity. This is what we are, for better or worse. Good happens. Bad happens. Always, there are power struggles. Power inevitably corrupts. Always, there are victims. Always, we will wish change could have occurred differently, that fewer could have suffered. Still, change is inevitable. It will be better, if we keep trying to be better. They will lose power, if only because the reins of power, held too long in the same way, by the same hands, dissolve in the absence of adaptation on the part of the rulers, even as the need for Change seizes and alters the hearts of the ruled.

I’ve occasionally grown furious, over the past few days, as I have kept up on the news out of Washington. As is typical of late with me, the fury doesn’t last. I end up only sad, that so many have to suffer undeservedly due to the inability of the few to see the truth for what it is and adapt. I am nonetheless, ultimately, hopeful.

Tyranny breeds contempt. Contempt burns in memory. Bitter memory attaches purpose to change.

If the minority refuses to acknowledge the expressed need of the people for change, let them do their worst with what influence they have left. We will remember. And our memories of such injustices as this unnecessary shutdown, and everything else they have done, will fuel our drive towards a better future – one where the will of the majority is respected, where representation and responsibility mean something once again, and the only aging white men in suits left in power are the ones who acknowledge and respect that the future belongs to the present, as it is…not to some imagined idyllic past that exists only in the minds of fanatics.

Exploring Loneliness: The Questions Behind Multiverse

The below was written on the train ride home from a short business trip.


There are lonelier places in the world than a small hotel room, but I haven’t been in any of them — not lately, insofar as I can remember in this moment.

That’s an important detail, incidentally. Attention to the moment. It’s something I’m learning, trying to learn. Too many of us, too often, myself included – in the rush of livelihood we fail to pay immediate attention to what is truly happening to us and within us as we go on living.

I woke up this morning in such a hotel room. I had slept deeply, because I’ve been sick. Before I could even situate myself, though, I felt it: the void that comes when we are without our usual or most precious tethers to the world. I am traveling for work, so my wife isn’t with me. My pets, obviously, aren’t with me. It’s been a short trip so I don’t have many of my things.

At the beginning of the trip, this lack of attachments was exciting. It was a break from the usual, rather than the removal of the usual from my immediate sense field. I looked forward, only a day ago, to the sensation of Travel itself. Regardless of the destination (for me at least) it’s liberating to simply move from my usual location, temporarily, to another one. This is of course common, even the point, to traveling – unless we have more practical reasons for relocation (such as work responsibilities). The excitement, and the related sense of freedom, however, just did not survive this morning.

This morning, I woke up and felt only – alone.

I recognized the feeling and I determined to feel it. It hurt, but it didn’t kill me. I showered and packed and went to breakfast; all of this made me feel better. Soon after that, I met up with a colleague and then all was well. Even now, as I write this during my trip home, it’s not so bad. There are people around and I know I will be back among the familiar before long. I’m alone but I’m not. I’m not okay but I am.

Loneliness, in general, has been on my mind again, lately, after the rush to complete a new cut of Multiverse over the past few weeks.

Readers who remember our Indiegogo pitch video for Multiverse might also remember that we framed the video around the delivery of its central theme and goal: the film as an exploration of loneliness. At the time, that was about as far as that story went. This make sense – even more so now – because the discussion was at that time only the beginning of a very specific journey, both for me and the film.

I wrote the script for Multiverse about a year ago, in early August of 2012. We produced the project a few months later. At the time, I knew only that I felt compelled to tell this particular story. I didn’t have a full idea as to why its production was such an imperative.

There were a few practical reasons why I nominally “decided” to make the film. First, I was feeling the itch. It had been too long since I had last directed a film. After years spent writing and writing and writing, I needed to create something tangible again. I needed to fully explore a vision. I felt this palpably, struggling to identify, accept, respect the sensation for almost a full week. At the same time, not coincidentally, I was arriving at a crossroads in life.

I had been taking too close a look, at too many parts of myself that I had been avoiding too expertly for years, for anything else to happen. A storm had been built up inside me, had performed its version of restructuring,  and was now dying out, at least temporarily.

In the eerie quiet moments following the departure of the storm, Multiverse knocked. In this way, a project that would traverse over a year of my life erupted spasmodically from the alchemical ether of what probably appeared on the surface, to others, as a normal day. It was a simple thing and not a simple thing. A rush of feeling came, and instead of repressing it, I took out a pen and paper and delivered the rush to the itch.

Regardless of its other qualities – which I do not presume to be able to measure objectively – a truly good script, for me, must retain a level of mystery, even in later drafts. For this to happen, and for the film itself to  earn the right to exist, the writer must be honest, and probably also brave. Speaking only for myself — I just haven’t found any other way of striving effectively towards these goals other than to abandon myself to the story. The same can be said of production and photography.

Still, if we are to explore something, we must become a part of it. This takes time, and it takes trust. I have historically been better at delivering the former than the latter.

The reason I wanted to discuss all this is because I am really just now, as the film arrives at its final stages, beginning to truly understand why I needed to make Multiverse.   

I had the itch – yes. I felt compelled to run towards, rather than from, the deep sensation of loneliness that informed the genesis of the story – also true. But there is a difference between wanting and needing to do something and actually doing it. In this way, over time, Multiverse became a living thing to me…something that needed my help (and the help of many others) to become not just a film or a story but a bold and thriving exploration of life.

To be completely honest, I didn’t think I had it in me. In truth, I probably didn’t. It is a testament to the rest of the production team, and to the cast and crew, that together we were able to scratch the film together over the course of a year. I speak not only of the labor performed by these men and women but also their ideas, their passion, their openness and commitment and creativity. To have crafted a story about loneliness, about a very particular sort of loneliness inextricably connected to a sense of social anomie, through the combined efforts of a group of good people – it’s an achievement of which I am immensely proud.

Still, I’ve been wondering why it took me the full year to truly begin thinking about what this film means. I’ve been thinking about it a lot, in between viewings of our newest cut.

I’m not going to give anything away. But I think I can share some ideas about what Multiverse has come to mean to me, now that a year has passed and I’ve had time and space to watch the film evolve and, subsequently, to further consider its mystery.

I think Multiverse is a warning, to myself and, hopefully, others. I think the mystery that drove me to make the film was that ever-broad, age-old question – why? Specific to the film and its constituent parts – why do we collectively move so quickly, so ceaselessly, so predictably, along beaten paths that show all appearances of having become fundamentally divorced from their humane destinations? Why do we so seldom slow down and feel? Why can’t we seem to do something else?

And then, of course, there are the consequences to consider.

There is a cost to loneliness. It is not just a feeling, and it is not just a personal experience. There is a price we pay, when we collectively fail to admit or accept what we feel, when we feel it. The price gets higher when we actively avoid or mask our private experiences. Multiverse, for me, has become a way for me to teach myself this lesson. I don’t always remember it, but that’s okay. This morning, I felt lonely, but I knew it would pass. I knew all I had to do was shower, pack, and get out among people. I also had to just – move.