Lost in Stories: Writer/Actor Vanessa Shealy

Screen Shot 2015-09-03 at 4.46.02 PM

Today’s Coffee with Creatives interview is with hyphenate Vanessa Shealy, a Writer and Actor (and Producer) fresh off a successful (but still ongoing!) Kickstarter for her co-created indie comic, Couri Vine.

We had a great conversation about:

  • Falling into acting as a release11828619_10153272990012284_7680790401937617824_n
  • Getting lost in stories (in a good way)
  • Dreams as composite maps of experience
  • The usefulness of having something to prove
  • Preparing to enter a new medium
  • Imbuing superpowers with character, just as often as you go about doing the opposite

If you enjoy what Vanessa has to say, and want to grab yourself a copy of Couri Vine, head over to the Kickstarter page for the project. You can also find Vanessa on Twitter.

This episode is also on iTunes.

602066_10100681300095942_1773576913_n (2)Like my style? Subscribe to my list for advanced/exclusive (and free!) access to new (creative) content produced by yours truly. I send one email per month.

Coffee with Creatives: Meeting in Isolation

IMG_7512
Amos converses with lead actors Ryan Egghold and Jennifer Damiano.
Hello, Coffeeheads! Thanks for coming by, take a seat! Isn’t that comfy?! It’s made of goose!

It’s not goose. But clearly I have some pep today. This morning is the first morning wherein I’ve felt decently healthy, after nearly a week of being down with the sickness. On that note, please forgive the audio (and voice) quality of the intro and outro for this otherwise informative and humorous episode of Coffee with Creatives, with Writer/Director Amos Posner.

Amos’s first feature film, B-Side, was released last week on iTunes and other platforms. I enjoyed it, and in addition to talking about the specifics of making the film, we also touched upon such related subjects as:

  • The importance of making mistakes on a small scale before jumping into something bigger
  • Learning from mentors
  • Freeing up your imagination to allows surprises that improve the product
  • How to find and trust key collaborators
  • Adopting new perspectives in the face of what’s been done before
  • The role that Britney Spears’s Toxic played in the genesis of B-Side

That’s a lot of good stuff. Especially that last part. Give it a listen!

Or head on over to iTunes to download to your phone.

602066_10100681300095942_1773576913_n (2)Like my style? Subscribe to my list for advanced/exclusive (and free!) access to new (creative) content produced by yours truly. I send one email per month..

Coffee With Creatives: Podcast Update!

Thanks for everyone who has “tuned in” to the Coffee with Creatives podcast so far. It’s been a lot of work putting episodes together but I’m having fun, the show seems to be growing, and I have some new bonus episodes and some exciting guests lined up for the coming weeks.

On a somewhat related note, I shot a quick video this morning with an important update:

Thanks for watching! Do you feel moved? If so, please head over here ASAP!

Coffee with Creatives is a bi-monthly podcast wherein I interview fellow creatives about their life and their work.

The goal is to engage in a personal, direct way, about practices, resources, and workflows that have helped them produce quality work (and to keep producing it). New episodes go live every other Thursday.

Coffee with Creatives: Boy Turns Into Dog

Edward_PomerantzEdward Pomerantz taught me screenwriting.

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

Beatriz De La Cruz stars in La Comida, a funny and poignant short Written and Directed by Eddie.
Beatriz De La Cruz (La Comida)
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.

You can find more about Eddie at his site: http://edwardpomerantz.com/.

Coffee with Creatives is also available on iTunes.

We Ate A Lot of Brisket: Austin Film Festival Recap

Sunshine makes smile time.
Sunshine makes smile time.

When we were in the late stages of preproduction on The Videoblogs, Rebecca and I realized that we needed to get away. Any endeavor as large and as exhausting as the making of a film requires (in my opinion) that we (the endeavorers) pay a little added attention to self-care. I have learned that this involves not only sleep and a focus on general physical health but also making plans to relax (or it’s not going to happen).

This is necessary not only because it’s just true — but because no one wants to burn out or blow up at a crucial moment during whatever project it is that you’re working on. That sort of refutes the idea that it’s truly important to you. If it’s important, you have to respect the journey enough to know that the journey can’t continue or “end” if you don’t put your best self forward in the journeying.

So we completed some important late-stage tasks as best we could, and two weekends before our first shoot date we booked a last-minute overnight trip to Long Beach. We informed the rest of our team that we were going to be out of touch for two days and I even asked Rebecca to change my email password so I couldn’t work. She performed the task with glee.

It was an important reset. And when it was over we realized we were probably going to need another one after production. One evening, we discussed visiting Austin, since we had been wanting to visit for a while, and when I came home from work the next day there was a mailer from the 2014 Austin Film Festival waiting for us at home. We took that as a sign and booked some cheap airfare, a reasonably priced room on AirBnB, some film passes for the festival…and that was it. We finished shooting the film and just barely recovered in time (it takes a long time to recover from an indie shoot, especially if you have to get back to a day job when it’s over) to make the trip. We went with simple aims — to enjoy ourselves (in and around the city itself, as well as at the festival) and to milk our less-than-ample hill of “post-first-feature” cash to pay for coffee, bus passes and a meaty mess of delicious street truck grub.

Well, we just returned from our short stay in Austin for #AFF2014 — and I’m so glad we went. Here’s a recap of what we learned and experienced:

Sadly, the tiny train tracks did not lead to a tiny village full of tiny food trucks.
Sadly, the tiny train tracks did not lead to a tiny village full of tiny food trucks.

Austin is great. Coming from New York, we enjoyed being in a city and yet at the same time being able to quickly leave the busyness of downtown in order to swim, drink free beer (on Saturdays), linger outside at a coffee shop, etc. We can do this where we live in Brooklyn, but streets are obviously smaller and more densely packed. And it’s not 90 degrees and dry in October. I also liked that people weren’t scurrying everywhere all the time. Or complaining much. It felt good to move at a more human pace. People in Austin also wave and say “hello” and seem to mean it. It took me a while to get used to that.

Also, as Rebecca observed, it was nice to see so many generally fit people casually walking/biking/jogging/skating around in no particular hurry. Although we wondered how so many Austinites could remain fit with all the delicious food around. Speaking of which…

The food was as good as the girl is adorable.

“We ate a lot of brisket.” That’s a quote from Rebecca. We did indeed eat a lot of brisket. And a decent amount of pulled pork. And pulled chicken. And other forms of meat and sweets. The famed food trucks of Austin did not disappoint. My favorite spots we were able to hit up were Valentina’s (for tacos and BBQ sandwiches) and Lick, where I inhaled a cone of dark chocolate ice cream made with sea salt and olive oil and then strongly considered doing it again immediately. I wish we could have eaten more.

Woah. Thank you.
Team #VideoblogsFilm appreciated the opportunity to meet some of our supporters IN REAL LIFE.

Hugs, IRL. I made it a point ahead of time to try to make tentative meetup plans with a few special Twitter friends (and #VideoblogsFilm supporters!) who were also going to be at #AFF2014. In retrospect, I should have done this with even more people. Maybe next time. Happily, though, Team #VideoblogsFilm was able to finally meet Seed and Spark Super CEO Emily Best (along with S&S Community Manager Nicole Malek), as well as #VideoblogsFilm supporter (and writer) Jenni Prange Boran and #VideoblogsMonologue collaborator Asmara Bhattacharya. This felt special, given that our film is about moving from isolation to community — via reaching out through tech.

Something, Anything. This is a feature, Written and Directed by Paul Harrill, that we made a point to see at the festival. I was excited to discover that it was playing, since I used to frequent Paul’s website on DIY filmmaking years ago, and had also remembered seeing that the project had been selected for IFP’s Narrative Lab, which seems like a very cool program (and a necessary one). The synopsis of the film itself appealed to both of us:

When a tragedy shatters her plans for domestic bliss, a seemingly typical Southern newlywed gradually transforms into a spiritual seeker, quietly threatening the closest relationships around her.

The film didn’t disappoint. It was quietly observed, very well shot, and the performances were all great. More than that, I loved the quiet bravery of the story. It’s not a popular choice to make a small, quiet film about spirituality. Not in the face of a contemporary American cultural environment that more often eschews spirituality in favor of “easier fixes”. Without spoiling anything, it was also wonderful to see a film push against the equally incomplete notions that love can act as a replacement for belief in the self or that life direction is something that can or should be just “stepped into.” I don’t believe either of those things to be true — not now — and it was heartening to watch a story unfold that made me feel less alone in these terms.

I will be reminding everyone again in a few months, but Something, Anything will be opening theatrically in NYC in January. See it then, if you can, or find out how to watch it in whatever other ways it becomes available.

Animation is hugely admirable. Another highlight of our #AFF2014 experience was the Animated Shorts Program. I don’t have much more to say than that. Rebecca and I both were just blown away by how good, and how inventive, and how flawless the animated shorts were — and we tip our hats to the filmmakers and filmmaking teams who make the choice (if it is a choice) to go down that difficult path.

Something that bothered me, though, about the shorts that we saw…was that a lot of them originated from outside the US. That in itself doesn’t bother me, and I don’t mean to suggest that the berths weren’t deserved or that the filmmakers who were accepted to screen shouldn’t be commended (we enjoyed all the films) — but many of the projects seem to have been supported by the governments of their countries of origin. Maybe I don’t know what I’m talking about (it’s a small sample size, I know), but it made me wonder how much more difficult it must be to create complex animated work independently here in the US, where artists don’t seem to get the sort of institutional support that other countries offer. I’d be interested to hear what others think. Still — the animated shorts slate was full of admirable work that made me feel like a bit of a slacker.

Women in film are arriving. All the Twitter friends Team #VideoblogsFilm met at #AFF2014 were women. The protagonist of Something, Anything (the excellent Ashley Shelton) was a woman. Many of the Writer/Directors of the animated short we saw — women again.

I am well-aware of the problem of equal representation in our industry. But the sense I get, at least from what I have observed in my career to this point — is that change is coming — from the ground up. Maybe that’s not perfect and maybe we still have a long way to go but I don’t think this is an incorrect observation. And it’s good news.

And that’s it. It was great to get away for a few days to relax and recharge. And now, to follow-up on what Rebecca reports below…it’s time to get back to work.

What I Liked This Week: 3/30/13

Hello, Furyans — not to be confused with Furrians, which is very different thing. Hello also to any Furyan Furrians — The Furious Romantic Returns is an all-inclusive place.

Apologies for not slapping you with a longer post earlier this week. The Furious Romantic was furiously sick. That sort of Please God Make It Stop kind of sick. You catch my imagery? Put that imagery down! What’s wrong with you?! OMG wash your hands.

A word before we move on to WILTW.

There may be some changes around here, in terms of how these type of posts are populated. In short, I am limiting my time spent: reading the news, scouring the internet for signs of life and death (including Twitter and Facebook), emailing. I am making a concerted effort to free my mind from anxieties that are originating from someplace else. Partially this is because THERE IS ALREADY ENOUGH ANXIETY IN MY MIND. Also, I have a lot of work to do. And a lot of thinking to do, if Sophia The Great is going to live up to her name. Wish me luck. I will report in on my progress down the line, if people are interested. As an aside, I’m also cutting my coffee intake down from 5-6 cups a day to 1 cup on weekdays and 2 cups on weekends. This step alone has left me MUCH less anxious and much more productive.

What all this means for WILTW is that I may be bringing fewer links and more testimony to our weekly discussions and judgements. I think this may end up better for everyone. I will get to report in on Likes and/or Dislikes that are of a slightly more active nature, which seems to me a healthier and more useful thing.

And so, on to it. A few of these items are holdovers from The Days When We Still Read The News*.

  • The Trader Joe’s Lesson: How to Pay a Living Wage and Still Make Money in Retail, from Sophie Quinton at The Atlantic. I think we all know why I liked this.
  • Dick Van Dyke on WTF with Marc Maron. Just a delightful interview.
  • Slacker. Richard Linklater’s classic indie from 1991. Linklater is one of my favorite filmmakers, and Slacker is one of the titles I wrote down on my re-watch list as I begin thinking about how to shoot Sophia The Great. I think I liked it better when I watched it this week than I did several years ago when I watched for the first time. As many have pointed out over the years, sitting through Slacker, ironically, takes some work at points. But, overall, it’s such an original and challenging and engaging piece of art. As I hinted in a tweet after I watched, I came out of this recent viewing disappointed in current indies. That’s not a grumpy old man statement. It’s an honest assessment. There are many fine films being made these days. Fine films. Films that are fine. Good. Nice. Beautiful. But no one’s really arguing about them. I feel like if I gathered five or so friends in my living room and watched Slacker again — there would be a few arguments. A few legitimate discussions, at the very least. This used to be why we made independent films. Groundbreaking/thought-provoking films still pop up now and then, but I don’t know that they pop up often enough. I don’t know that the right ones are yet sparking the right dialogue. About our generation — all of it.
  • Strange moments of sudden inspiration. I was writhing (writhing, not writing) on the couch earlier this week, clutching my stomach and trying to keep my mind right despite the pain and some serious dehydration and some unpleasant flashbacks — when I was struck with an idea. The specific experience I was going through, strangely, sparked a sudden, clear thought, which led to an image, which became a sequence, which became a scene. The scene itself is only tangentially related to what I was going through at that moment, but it was built of genuine emotion from the moment, and I had to write it down. So I did. The scene wasn’t even for Sophia. It was for something that’s been living in the back of my brain for a while, that I’d like to take a shot at sometime in the near future, so I had to run with it. I liked this experience. I took a perverse joy in it. It made me feel powerful, for a few moments, at a time when I was feeling extremely powerless.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. This is why we do it. WHAT IS WRONG WITH ME?! Too much news and coffee, probably.

Right?

Hah. Have a good week.