The fact is, the more of the business interest you control, the more creative control you retain. Period. Full stop.— Emily Best
If you don’t already know Emily Best, I have good news for you. Not only is she my guest for the latest episode of Coffee with Creatives, she’s also probably out there, right now, traveling the country and engaging with creatives in-person and online and via her company Seed&Spark.
It’s what she does. As we discuss on the show, Emily is out there working to help create a new creative middle class. She and her colleagues at Seed&Spark have a mission and plenty of ideas, and they’re eager to talk with and help you.
These are only a few of the reasons why I place Emily among the most inspiring and respectable people I know. She’s a force. It was a delight sitting down to talk with her for an hour about the practical realities of crafting authentic art — and how to keep crafting it — in today’s ever-changing socio-economic environment.
Topics covered in our talk include:
How a college paper on a body modification web site, years spent running restaurants, and more years spent observing c-level executives do their thing — combined to form the foundation of what would become Seed&Spark
The challenges of achieving a return on investment (ROI) in today’s film environment, and how they can be overcome in service of a sustainable creative career
The fallacies inherent to waiting to be picked
How audiences really get built (digging into Louis CK as an example to duplicate)
Separating the definition of a fulfilled creative life from dreams of fame and fortune
Sitting down with yourself and/or your collaborators to honestly answer the question of what you really want
How new technologies can enable storytellers to root out and combat systemic inequalities
The dangers of being too precious about your work (process can be product)
I also asked Emily to name one thing that any creative could do in an hour to advance their career. She gave an excellent answer. If you enjoy our talk, please share it on Twitter (I am @MichaelDiBiasio and Emily is @EmilyBest) or on Facebook.
As reminders, you can also subscribe to Coffee with Creativeson iTunes and support the podcast on Patreon.
The above represents a stated wisdom across a number of business sectors.
Perhaps you’ve heard a version of the statement before. For any of who haven’t, the idea is that, when considering the creation of a product, the delivery of a service, or the management of a project — that quality can only be achieved if either quite a bit of time is taken (in situations of low budgeting) or an appropriate amount of money is spent (in situations of timely delivery) in producing whatever is being produced.
We won’t even discuss fast and cheap and not-good as an option.
Why do I bring this all up? Because I believe — even in regards to filmmaking, which is a costlier artistic pursuit (in theory) than, say, narrative fiction writing — that this adage is out of date.
I believe one can produce a quality product quickly and cheaply — with some qualifications.
Limits must be strategically set to assure quality can be achieved.
Experience must be leveraged, as an asset, to help offset lowered costs
Cheap must be redefined at scale
To bring a practical example into the discussion, know that I bring all this up specifically in regards to my campaign to get THE CONFESSIONfunded, shot, and delivered to its audience — quickly.
The Confession, once finished, will be shorter than Multiverse (about 7 min). That’s one limit. Also, it was specifically written (as was The Videoblogs) so that it could be shot on the go in New York City. When we shoot it, we will be cruising the streets — in daylight — which means we don’t need additional lighting. There are only two main characters in the piece.
Something I have learned about limits, after so many years of indie filmmaking — is that you empower yourself by setting as many of them ahead of time as possible. By narrowing our focus with The Confession, we’ll allow the actors to dive deep into the story material for those few minutes when they’ll be on screen.
As I mentioned, it took me some time (and some error) to get better at proactively setting limits. Still, by now, that experience boosts the quality of most projects I put together as a more seasoned filmmaker. Beyond this, however, the cast and crew we’ve brought on board for The Confession will be bringing years of their own experience to “set” when we shoot. That’s a given on many films, however — we’ve stacked the deck with The Confession. In the name of quality and speed.
It can be hard for talented artists to band together and create something, these days. Production funds are often in short supply. Many of us have spent years pitching in personal funds, and sacrificing job opportunities, for the chance and time to string together a catalogue of good work. We squeeze tightly to what little time we have to eke out The Next Thing.
Crowdfunding helps enormously to allow each next thing thing to come, usually by combination of continual hard work and sacrifice (on our part), and the ability to pay certain hard costs, by the good-faith generosity and support of the audience.
But I believe there’s a middle ground. I believe — with the right respect for limits and on an appropriate scale — that a group of talented collaborators can come together for a day to make something fun and special, and then get that well-done, finished thing to supporters within a reasonable timeframe. It just takes a refreshed definition of cheap.
Cheap Doesn’t Have to Mean “Low Value”
When you infuse a product with the blood of experience, and spend time smartly defining some limits, so that specific areas can be adequately explored, a great amount of value is brought to its genesis that cannot be defined in hard dollars.
In today’s increasingly tech-enabled, and hyper-connected environment — it’s relatively easy to produce good work speedily. The trick is the labor.
We all deserve fair wages. I believe that. I also believe in respecting the truth behind any self-given creative endeavor.
No one’s making us go ahead with The Confession. Under all practical definitions, I probably should be resting, or focusing more completely on The Videoblogs, or Coffee with Creatives, or the new script I’m writing.
But you know what? I want to make it. I really, really do. I think the project is fun. I’m excited to have less responsibility, as Jaclyn Gramigna produces and directs. I’m looking forward to speeding through something, with no strings attached other than the making and delivery of the thing. I need to offset the hard work and the seriousness of The Videoblogs and the podcast with a dose of the non-serious but no-less universal.
So what do we do? What have we done? Well, as many of you know — we’ve gone to our audience for help.
This is not new, either for me or in general. Crowdfunding, as I mentioned, is most decidedly a thing. But even as our experience with The Videoblogs illustrates, crowdfunding in such a direct way — 1) You pay us to bring our knowledge and experience to work towards the creation of the product (film), and 2) We go immediately into delivering it — that doesn’t usually happen. Most of what we’re looking to raise goes directly to scheduling cast and crew for the day, to help us more easily and more quickly bring you a quality, funny little film.
Fast. Cheap. Good. You can only pick two.
I want to break that rule and try something different. It feels like the right move. Several people have joined in by now, but we don’t have a lot of time left to fund The Confession.
EDIT: The Seed&Spark funding campaign for this film has been launched! Go here to watch our (not at all embarrassing) pitch video. Every dollar helps!
As has been discussed here already, the process of completing The Videoblogs has been as exhausting as it has been amazing. (Lately, it’s been mostly amazing again, but more on that in the near future).
To recap — there have been two primary difficulties I’ve faced since we wrapped, and additionally as we and I have continued with the work of finishing the film.
The first was the fallout from working so hard, for so long, to not only get a feature film shot but a super low-budget feature film that takes on the heavy subject of mental health. On a personal artistic level, I followed up production by focusing primarily on crafting a no-holds-barred superhero spec script. In retrospect, I think the idea behind that was to have a ton of fun, and to explore a story without restrictions of scope or budget. (It was a true blast to write that one).
But I actually want to talk today about the other challenge, which requires a bit more unpacking.
Something happened to me over the course of the last few years. I’m not going to go into the details yet again, but suffice it to say that I crossed over to a place where I can (need to) share work here, frequently, such that you and I can keep up our relationship.
All that is a long way of confessing that, while completely understandable and necessary, it bothers me a bit that it’s been about a year since I shared a film with everyone. And, realistically, The Videoblogs won’t be out until next year.
So, what do we do?
Well, here’s something else I’ve learned over the years…
Lesson: Smash problems together
Problem:The Videoblogs, while amazingly fulfilling, has created the need for a change of pace, a little fun, in its wake.
Solution: Make something fun.
Problem: We haven’t commiserated over a large-scale creative thing since last year, when Multiversewas released at our party and then on this site.
Solution: Make something at a manageable scale, and share it immediately.
So. That catches you up as to why Rebecca and I have decided to make The Confession, a new comedic short film that we intend to fund, shoot, edit and release before the end of the year.
Lesson: Greater collaboration leads to better work
Also, we’re introducing a few other lessons into the making of The Confession.
We’ve teamed up with the talented Jaclyn Gramigna, who will be directing/producing. I have to focus my directorial duties on The Videoblogs. Also, we’re aiming with this film to create a situation where collaborators are wearing one to two hats each, versus the “usual” three or more.
I like Jaclyn’s work, and we’re excited to collaborate with her.
Lesson: (Educated) guerilla-style fits us best
When we realized that The Videoblogs would only happen if: 1) I served as director of photography for the film (saving time and money) and 2) We shot guerrilla style — I spent a ton of time testing out all the research and experience I had gained over the past several years. I also grilled Daniele Napolitano, the man responsible for the beauty of Multiverse, on how to max out my camera, over the course of a three-hour drive.
The idea behind this, despite certain limitations, was to achieve photographic results that measured up to the overwhelming majority of what you might see in a well-done indie film today. I’m happy to say that — with the help of Alex Hollock and others — that we seem to have achieved this goal. We intend to shoot The Confession the same way, with the same cameras, and with even more knowledge that we had going into The Videoblogs.
Lesson: The film is (equally) about both artist and audience
I have already sung the praises of crowdfunding. I’m singing them again, now, not only because we need your help to make The Confession, but also because — this is how I would like to ideally operate.
By now, we feel confident that we can deliver a quality film. The products of the past ten years (Over Easy, Sex and Justice, Multiverse, The Videoblogs) hopefully provide evidence of that. What I would love to do with The Confession is to do it all again — we make an entertaining but quality film, via your support — but also, in doing so, to prove a very simple point.
Where there’s a good team and a receptive audience — there can also be a squarely even exchange. With few parties in the middle complicating timelines and ballooning costs.
We seek your support in making The Confession, so that everyone can get together for a day in September, get paid a (nominal) wage to shoot something fun, and then quickly deliver that fun thing to you, who by then will hopefully have made it happen.
On that note…
Lesson: The most efficient way to get things done well is to pay a fair cost for them
We’ll raising funds to make The Confession on Seed&Spark. The campaign will run for two weeks. If we’re successful in raising the $2,000 we’re looking to raise, we will be able to focus more completely on quality — and on getting the film quickly to you, first — by paying the decent wages listed in the campaign Wish List, feed everyone for the day of shooting, hold our collaborators schedules for the few but necessary hours we’ll need to get it all done, and (if all goes well) submit to a handful of film festivals after we deliver to you.
If you decide to contribute even a small amount, you’ll be securing a first look at The Confession, and making a statement in favor of paying artists (directly) to make their work and share it (directly) with you.
All things told, it’s a modest experiment, with a (relatively) modest financial goal attached.
If you can’t contribute at this time, that’s totally cool. But we’d love your support spreading the word on social media, if you’re on board with what we’re doing. Please be on the lookout for Tweets, Facebook posts, and that sort of stuff.
This could be another step in our ongoing, (healthy and uncomplicated?) relationship. And if it works, maybe we’ll try it again next year.
A short drama (with some humor)
Writer: Michael DiBiasio / Director: Jaclyn Gramigna / Starring: Rebecca De Ornelas
Jacob just spent the night at Ellen’s for the first time. The still-new couple wanders into Brooklyn the next morning, to hang out. Jacob acts strange. Ellen wonders why. A confession is coming. And it’s not what you expect.
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.
It and so many similarly strong words, especially in American popular culture today, are wildly overused, and too often leveraged outside the narrow subjectivity with which (in my opinion) they could otherwise more appropriately be applied. I’d call all this an epic bummer, but in honesty it’s an easy thing to shrug off.
Still, I bring up the point to help introduce my recommendation of musician Amanda Palmer’s The Art of Asking…because rarely have I felt so compelled to “drop the e-word”, with confidence, outside the realm of eating, drinking, sleeping, and luvvvvv-making.
Obviously, not everyone is going to agree with my choice. But, speaking primarily to the aforementioned audience(s) of art-makers and art-lovers, here are my personal reasons for advocating for the book — and Palmer herself, since she’s an interesting personality on her own and identifies first and foremost as a singer (I have been also listening been listening to her music for weeks, which I similarly recommend).
The Art of Askingprovides an unparalleled level of context for the contemporary relationship between art and people (or art and life)
Early in the text, Palmer remarks upon how what we’re witnessing right now, in terms of the relationship between art and artist (especially in tech-equipped indie circles) is in actuality a return to The Way it Used to Be. Artists create, put their work (and themselves) out there, and the audience returns the favor by giving some part of their own selves (be it in the form of money, time, etc.), simply and directly — if and as there’s an authentic connection made in the process.
That’s how it used to go early on, and for a long time, in human history. Various forms of progress and change shifted that relationship, such that several intermediary systems rose to prominence, which weren’t (and aren’t) necessarily bad but, nonetheless, today, can cause complications, introduce impurities, and/or create distance in the otherwise mostly direct artist-audience relationship. Today, now that individuals on the whole are much more broadly and immediately connected than ever before, and now that new (relatively) cheap funding, distribution, and communications systems exist than ever before, it’s not only once again possible for the artist and the audience to remain in a more direct, on-going relationship — it’s also easier to cultivate and keep up that relationship than ever before.
That doesn’t mean that, on the part of both artist and audience, that we aren’t still (on the negative side) facing challenges posed by the still-dominant machinations and gate-keeping fears of the aforementioned intermediaries, or (on the positive side), that there aren’t mutual advantages to those sort of relationships (and plenty of good people working, in various capacities, for intermediaries) — it just means that everyone today can perhaps be kept more honest and more focused on what’s important.
I’m paraphrasing Palmer there, possibly with a little bit of my own beliefs and observations sprinkled in, but the important point is to recognize and accept that, with the right attitude and a lot of work and patience, things can be better — for independent artists and their audiences in particular.
Within this context, Palmer embodies (literally) and carefully guards Authenticity and Trust as the most crucial elements of the artist-audience relationship
The Art of Asking is mostly written in the style of a memoir. Longer-tenured admirers of Palmer than me probably already know that she doesn’t shy away from getting (literally) naked in front of her fans (given certain conditions that she takes careful pains to point out in the book, while also providing context for such decisions). Such occasions don’t always go well, her courage in this aspect does not come without its share of suffering, and in the text she frequently (and with typical transparency) gives voice to the doubts such “bad” stories spark in her mind.
Still, Palmer does a much better job than I ever could ultimately deconstructing not only why such “setbacks” (I’ll let the book itself substantiate my repeated use of scare quotes) are necessary (and illuminating). She provides much evidence for — and a lot of useful commentary on — the observable truth that, after opportunity, the next thing we all need for this sort of arrangement to work, in the best possible way, is an unyielding commitment to trust not only in the work but each other.
Palmer never claims that things will always go perfectly, even in filling in useful back-story to her successes. But she does do an excellent job consistently reporting on the dialogues she has had both with herself and trusted friends in sourcing out the right thing to do, as often as possible, as she stumbled through especially her early career on the way to a better and more comprehensive understanding and respect for how this all ideally might work on a regular basis. The stories she tells in relaying this process are not only intellectually accessible, but emotionally so as well — which sets Palmer apart especially in today’s unfortunately less-emotionally forthcoming social landscape.
Palmer’s narrative provides an accessible road-map for success
Riding off that last point, it can be tempting in this environment (I’ve been tempted myself) to take an honest goal like that of Palmer’s book (which to me seemed to be: “teach and attest to the benefits of trust, kindness, and vulnerability”) and warp it into something more broad and self-serving.
Especially in what sometimes seems to be rounding out into The Age of Tech, advice of the “road-map” sort, nudged towards gathering greater numbers (versus forming real connections), seems to proliferate further every day.
That’s not to say that all the lists and guides out there aren’t without value, or that they’re all guilty of crossing some arbitrary Authenticity Line, or should be faulted for failing to see that most of what provides value to people begins by engaging with them on an honest, emotional level. It just means that, for instance, when Palmer maps out her path as herself, in context, while constantly guarding and respecting The Point — it becomes that much easier for a similarly minded, or near-similarly minded (I’ll probably never get physically naked for you) individual or small group to internalize her journey and absorb her lessons in a much more useful way.
This road-map is revealed to be (and simultaneously evidenced by) the aforementioned Authenticity and Trust
Obviously, I admire Palmer’s approach with the book, and her execution, as much as the content. I bring the sort of cyclical nature of her testimony up as a separate point because of how accurately it mirrors how important both authenticity and trust are to the artistic lifestyle (or to living a fulfilled life in general).
It took me so long to build up the courage to begin sharing more and more of my actual self in my work. As documented here, it’s also been frequently terrifying, sharing more and more of that work, more widely.
I’m eternally grateful for my audience. I hope you know that. I hope you also know how essential you have been (continue to be) to my work and my own growth. We’re in this together. I’ll keep trying to keep it honest.
For anyone still struggling to build up the courage to start down a similar path, or who could use a boost (I needed one) — read The Art of Asking.
Palmer makes it clear that indie success takes not only talent but (a fuck-ton of) hard work
While this definitely isn’t a criticism, Palmer often speeds quickly through commentary about how much work things took, at many different stages in her career. She seems to take it as a given — which really isn’t a bad thing, for the most part, especially since she clearly also “plays hard”.
Most of the useful stuff delivered by the book in this regard arrives while Palmer is monologuing or dialoguing with friends, not in a direct way but more often reflectively, in the wake, for instance, of first sharing an anecdote centered around a particular challenge, or a normally-occurring instance of doubt.
Again, possibly, this is because she’s just that used to the amount of work it takes to succeed in the way she has. Reflection may also be a healthier approach than the more typical American, “process and power-driven” work approach (I can tell you from experience that adopting this approach as an underfunded indie will burn you out). Her attitude appears gentler, more patient, and more directly caring or forgiving of how hard it can be than someone like me, who might allow lingering faulty programming to relay a similar lesson via more a blunt admonition like “you better be ready to work”.
That caution is in fact true, but because Palmer is so forthcoming and thorough in her testimony, she doesn’t have to address the reader so directly in these terms. As I said, she does detail her struggles, and it does become very clear how hard she works — in the book this all just happens in the process of her telling her story.
Especially to today’s entitlement-prone younger generations, her approach provides not only a valuable lesson but a valuable method of delivering that lesson.
The book does not shy away from pain, even in mostly relaying stories of wonder
I hinted at this above, but it’s worth mentioning more specifically.
One of my favorite recurring patterns in the book is Palmer’s willingness to share the bad with the good. She utilizes the space provided by her narrative, in addition to whatever she did in the moment (usually talking to a friend), to find a way to come to terms with why pain is part of the artistic process, just as it is part of the process of living.
Again speaking personally, I’d add that this is a hard lesson to learn, and one that arguably never stops asserting itself. Still, I have found in recent years that doing exactly what Palmer does — talking and sharing and avoiding isolation or self-pity as often as possible — works wonders.
I believe it’s particularly important that we exhibit patience throughout each instance/cycle of this process as well.
The pain of others screams at us, every day, from the headlines, in real life, and even on our social media feeds. As artists (and as people), it can be hard to remember that our job isn’t only to absorb and soothe such pain. Neither does it help anyone to focus solely on ourselves, in this respect.
The healing comes from the sharing, and the connection.
The central narrative isn’t just the titular subject, or Palmer herself, but the vulnerability and love that must be shown in order for art, and art-relationships, to work in today’s socioeconomic environment
Long-time readers of this site are probably used to me harping on the following point — but I’m going to keep repeating it for as long as I feel it still needs to be made.
More than any other crisis we’re facing, here and now in America, the gap or decline in empathy — between any of a number of (sometimes arbitrarily) defined groups, and within and across the individuals that make up those groups — seems to me to be hurting us the most.
Empathy is the basis from which all progress begins. Even when it seems incomplete, even when finding it seems to take forever, any progress on this front, at any level — is good for everyone.
No matter what sort of progress or social change an artist or an individual is compelled to chase, empathy will always be the most powerful vehicle we can “employ”. It is that authenticity, that trust, that connection — all wrapped up into one mysterious-but-essential universal concept.
I use the scare quotes around the word ’employ’ there, because (especially now that I’ve absorbed Palmer’s book), I believe it’s more helpful to think of ourselves as vessels, in this respect, than as an agent.
Conclusion: How The Art of Asking has Affected Me
I’ve written quite a bit, so I’ll wrap up, but in support of that last point I wanted to end with some personal testimony on how The Art of Asking has affected me on a personal level.
First, as I mentioned, it has strengthened and renewed my gratitude towards anyone who has supported one or more of my projects, who has ever visited this site, who has even taken a moment to click through to anything I’ve done and given it a quick glance. As I have said before, I simply would not be here, making art and chugging forward, without all of you.
I also emerged from my read of Palmer’s book with a greater sense of clarity, in regards not only to the worthiness of the path I am on, but also the necessity to continue to be transparent and supportive of the artistic and personal communities to which I belong.
And, finally, I have been acting with more kindness, just in general, as I have gone about my day-to-day life.
I don’t feel more kind, as a result of reading The Art of Asking. I’ve always been a fairly kind person. But reading the book — particularly at this stage in my life, wherein I’ve been putting so much effort into both “cleaning house” and being me — has helped me slow down and act upon feelings of compassion, much more often than I have otherwise done in recent years, without hesitation or judgement.
There have been plenty of available reasons, for me, in the past, to remain guarded, to follow the lead of any of a number of fears, and/or to keep barreling forward in pursuit of The Mission.
It can become especially easy (sometimes, unfortunately, even necessary) to do this while living and working in New York City. There’s just too much going on, everywhere, constantly, to remain vulnerable for too long of a stretch, or in certain environments wherein to do so at all would be potentially too damaging to the self. There are times when you simply need to establish and respecting healthy boundaries to protect your health and general happiness.
But, still, lately, I’ve been realizing (and, to be truthful, finally listening to the pleas of others in this regard) that it’s time to slow down again. The Mission isn’t a career level, or an accomplishment, or even the realization of a specific project. It’s not even the work itself, or the drive to keep doing it and sharing the result.
The Mission is serving others. It’s chasing that empathy, by showing — and showing faith in — the kindnesses we mostly all feel, but might for so many, often understandable reasons, hesitate to show.
So, I’ve been doing what I can. I’m trying to support other artists, more often. I’m trying to keep up on taking care of myself, more consistently, so that it’s easier to approach others without agenda. I’m making eye contact with strangers and asking how they are, and I think they can tell that I actually care about their response.
Mostly, I’m doing little things that take a minimal amount of effort even if they cost me a bit more in terms of vulnerability and trust. I’m realizing, as Palmer’s book and life story definitely sets out to prove, that The Art of Asking is just as much about giving — and meaning it, and being unafraid to keep on meaning it — than anything else.
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I’m going to try to keep this brisk, if not short, because I’m always in a hurry lately because I want to keep moving.
Movement, as revealed by the title of this post, is a key word to the coming discussion.
Last year, I wrote a piece titled The Arc of 2013: The Beginnings of The Pushback. The gist of its messaging can be summarized by restating my belief that, last year, people began boiling over and finally fighting back against social injustices and unsatisfactory socio-economic conditions. If I spent most of 2012 expressing anger in this space, when confronted with these realities, 2013 was spent consolidating and channeling that anger.
Riding off of that, I believe 2014 was about using that anger as fuel for movement. This year was about making moves.
It was fucking hard.
But…damn…did it feel good.
During some recent, rare downtime, I spent a few hours customizing that cute little Facebook Year In Review Thing. For the fuck of it, really.
What I realized, upon doing so, however, was that I had not only achieved my year’s goals, of shooting a feature film and mostly surviving the process — but I had also put out quite a bit more than that, in terms of work. After so many years of toil, in a word, I finally began to grow.
So, yeah, I put out more work than ever before, this year. More importantly, though, I diversified my work more than ever before as well.
Traffic to this site increased over 130% from last year, despite a 20% drop in the number of posts from the previous year.
This tells me that the diversification and focus paid off. Since this was mostly a Year of Creative Content, it also tells me that you like it better when I make things and share them than when I just write about what I think or how I feel about society or politics or the whatever bullshit is being slung at us by the media on a given day.
Along with the traffic increase, my family (that’s how I think of you) grew as well, on Twitter and on Facebook and in terms of my email list. I feel honored to be able to say that. Truly.
But, what happened? What made the difference?
Heading into 2015, I wanted to identify the answer(s) to those questions, not only so that I can repeat or expand my efforts but so that others who are interested can attempt their own journey using any methods that might similarly apply.
So, in defiance of the intro to last year’s post, which included a mild critique of lists — here’s a list of what I did in 2014 that I believe made it a year of movement. Following the list, I’ve also taken a moment to reflect broadly on what I’ve decided to aim for over the course of the coming year as a result of what I’ve learned since launching this site and rededicating myself to professional development and growth.
Multiverse Completed and Distributed
You’ve probably heard enough from me about this, but I’m still thrilled that Multiverse has been so well-received by most people who have watched it. Also, I feel validated by the decision to let the film speak for itself. While I ultimately chose to submit it to some standard festivals after the fact, I think it was the right decision to debut Multiverse to those of you who are in New York, as lead-in to The Videoblogs (more on that exciting event in a moment) and to then push it out online to everyone else during the ensuing Videoblogs funding campaign.
Did Multiverse become a viral hit? No. It was never going to become that. Realistically, more than anything else, Multiverse was something that I had to do to break free from some lingering difficulties in my life. I continue to take pride in how it came out, to appreciate the contributions of my collaborators and all our crowdfunding supporters, and I’m heartened every time someone reaches out after seeing it to tell me that they feel (or have felt) the same way. A film’s life is never fully realized until people start watching, and when they do, despite the many months of struggle and fear and confusion leading up — all the work and the sacrifice become worth it.
Comedic Voice Let Off Leash
I had a great time this year experimenting with comedic writing. It’s something I used to do when I was younger, which I lost my passion for as I got older and more cynical. Jokes always make it into my films, somehow, but riding off the end of 2013, when I collaborated with The Motel Staff on several holidays videos, in 2014 I decided to brave the waters in a more direct way. This resulted in a few sketches and a five-minute set of stand-up that I did, which was a blast in itself and lead to this post about how I am The Wolf. The effect of all this was that: 1) I proved to myself that I could do it; 2) I rediscovered how much I like making people laugh; 3) I met new people who would prove to be invaluable collaborators later on in the year.
I returned to my roots in another way in 2014, by writing my first short story in over seven years.In drafting, that short story became something longer than a short story and shorter than a novel. Despite it’s slight stature, A Night Alone in My Dread became a major accomplishment for me. I was not expecting to write fiction this year. The fact that it happened, and that hundreds of people read my little book — I can’t begin to express how grateful I am. To put this in perspective, my creative output took the form of narrative fiction probably 90% of the time for most of my life, up until I started making films almost ten years ago. In many ways, this aspect of the year feels like renewing an old friendship.
Produced, Crowdfunded, and Shot The Videoblogs
I don’t understand. I’m being honest with you about this for the first time. I don’t understand how The Videoblogs happened. It’s still hard for me to process, that as I work to finish transcoding and organizing footage, and syncing picture to sound — that soon I’ll be editing a feature film that I wrote and directed, and that YOU made happen because you believed in us.
You’re fucking beautiful. That’s all I can say. What? Where am I?!
Became A Professional
I’m not sure when this happened, either. I just know that it did, and that I’m extremely grateful. Why do I feel like a professional, now — when I’ve been “making stuff” for years?
Partially, I think I just started bumping up against “minimum time served”. Ten thousand hours and all that. Another big help was The Artist’s Way. But the biggest difference, I think, came from accepting myself and my circumstances and building my work flow around that.
What does this mean? For me, it meant looking at the reality of how I work best, and what the conditions are that I have to work within, and finding a system that works within those “constraints”. Because I struggle still, on occasion, with anxiety and depression, this system also had to take things like daily mental toll and daily mood into account.
What did I come up with? I write in the morning — something I had never done before. I get up earlier than ever before (usually) and focus on self care for an hour or so and then I write as early as I can in the day. My goal is an hour of writing. If I get through thirty minutes, I’m okay with it, not only because it’s still progress but because, on most occasions, I end up getting more done later in the day as well, which results in multiple hours of progress that probably wouldn’t have been possible without that earlier healthy start.
And I don’t restrict myself to a single project. It’s too much pressure. When I did that in the past, I ended up obsessing and the work suffered. Instead, now, I turn to whatever project or outlet seems to need my attention for that day. In short, I learned for myself what many more accomplished artists than me have said before — that I had to start treating my art like a job. Not only has my art not suffered as a result of this decision — as the above proves — it actually began to thrive. Despite being born and growing up inside the stormy hair-cave that is my head.
Why We Move
I began by saying that I wanted to outline all of that so that I can keep up on my efforts, and also to share them with others, in case my testimony could be of some use. But, getting back to the idea of movement, there’s another reason why I wanted to take stock of the year.
This is far from over.
Much of what saddened and frightened me in recent years is unfortunately still going on in the world today. I’m not going to recount any of it, because I’m not sure any longer that doing so is at all useful.
Instead, I want to keep focusing on movement. On grassroots efforts. Somewhere along the line of shepherding all of the above artistic efforts, this year, I realized something. I realized that nothing is going to systemically change, politically, economically, morally or conscientiously — until I change. Until we change.
So much of life is about perspective. And we’ve truly lost perspective as a society, in a lot of ways. We know it, most of us know it, but we don’t seem to be able to deal with it.
It doesn’t matter how this happened. It doesn’t matter if some of us can talk more confidentially about how it did, or are more certain about how to fix it, or whether you believe one argument or another or none of them at all.
What matters is that we talk through things, so that more of us, in more places, can begin once again to see life as it is rather than what we’ve been told it’s meant to be.
We cannot become empowered until our hearts are full. Our hearts cannot be full until we feel out the pain that we’re in, nationally and, perhaps, the world over. We cannot begin to heal until we’re sure of what’s happened inside of us and begin opening our mouths to speak about it with one another.
This has been a long time coming. We must continue to reflect on hard truths, must challenge each other to look at things differently, must be patient as everyone exerts his or her right to be heard. Maybe it’s all been going on for a long time. Probably I don’t even have a full idea yet of what I’m talking about. But I’m trying to understand. I’m choosing…to hope.
I guess that’s the main thing that changed for me, this year. I realized that I don’t have all the answers, or even any of them at all. All I can do, as an artist, is struggle with what questions call to me in the loudest voices, present that struggle to you, and encourage and engage in a dialogue.
Here’s to more in 2015. Thank you for reading, and I wish you the very best, for all the days of the coming year.
As many of you probably know, we wrapped production on The Videoblogs late last month. Years of general preparation and months of work for this specific production culminated in a few weeks of shooting. Overall, I’m proud and happy to say, things went very well.
Also, some temporary stress-related weight gain aside, I also made it out of the process fairly unscathed (if a bit exhausted). This is good. This was a goal.
I’m almost as happy about how generally smooth it all went as I am with the fact that it happened at all. As promised, I will write more (relatively) soon about the entire experience of making the film, but for the moment I think it’s worthwhile to reflect once again at how grateful we at The Videoblogs feel to be in this position. It’s taken a lot of hard work, but we seem to have squeaked things out by prioritizing what’s important (story, performance, and the health of ourselves and our collaborators) at the expense of, say, a more expensive equipment list or a more elaborate plot structure. In all seriousness, it was a production engineered for and by both its cast and crew…and its audience.
For instance, as an example of this relationship at work…
More than once while shooting The Videoblogs, a cast or a crew member thanked me for something simple like providing a decent meal.
First of all, it surprised me greatly to hear that there are still producers and filmmakers out there NOT providing decent meals. “Feeding your team well” is the second most basic rule in filmmaking after “make sure to have a camera”. Not only is it the decent thing to do – it’s just not smart to keep working while anyone (including you) is hungry. Even when pushing to complete a scene. I’m not even going to waste any more time talking about this.
Except to say that I didn’t accept the thanks – not personally. I explicitly made sure to recognize our supporters on Seed and Spark instead.
They (or you, as the case may be) deserve the thanks. And I want to talk for a moment about what that means not only to me personally but on a larger level.
I’d like to put forth the notion that a crowdfunded film isn’t only “cool” and “disruptive” but, also –- graceful.
For me, it felt more invigorating to credit our supporters for the means to make The Videoblogs than it did to accept the thanks myself.
Because the thanks don’t belong to me. They belong to you — to anyone and everyone who has contributed to the film in any way, whether monetarily or by spreading the word. Even by reading this or other posts on my site, you’re helping me and my collaborators to keep moving.
Last month, I accomplished one of the major dreams of my life. I successfully shot a feature film that I’m proud to stamp with my name. I don’t even have to edit it to know that. I don’t need any more validation than what we’ve already received by reaching (eclipsing) our goal on Seed and Spark — until it’s time to deliver the film to this same group. I am thrilled to be able to continue my journey as a filmmaker by bringing a cut of The Videoblogs to our supporters as soon as possible.
Beyond ideas of validation, the crowdfunding process is also fun. It’s my favorite sort of fun, too. Mischievous fun. Because, by so many (false, cynical) measures — this should not have worked.
It was not easy shooting a feature film for $20,000. I know people have done it for less. I salute them until my arm falls off, and then I salute them with the other arm until it too falls off.
Still, The Videoblogs is a rouge’s film. I feel fairly confident saying that (whatever it means). We bit, scratched, and clawed to eke it out over the course of a limited number of shooting days. Everyone on the cast and crew, and all of our producers, sacrificed to make it happen. I’m immensely proud to have come out the other side mostly intact. I still can’t feel one foot, sometimes, but as long as it continues to work for now I think I’m good. Right?
But back to the mischievousness. And the grace.
They are one in the same, as far as I’m concerned.
I know the journey isn’t over, by a stretch, but I can’t help it. I feel as if we (all of us) have gotten away with something here.
The Videoblogs isn’t special, by crowdfunding standards. We gave it a try and we thankfully seemed to have pulled it off. But, damn, does it feel good to be doing this in true independent (interdependent) fashion.
Regardless of how the rest of this plays out, I and my team are privileged enough to be making a film — to say it again — for our audience made possible by our audience.
That’s powerful. And beautiful. And it feels right. In today’s difficult indie film environment, it even feels…graceful.
I thank you. Not for the last time.
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How did we get here? The short answer is that a generous supporter, in the words of a pal, helped us “kick the door down”. We went from about 62% to 102% funded in an instant.
This was not planned or expected.
Before that, two friends from college had each contributed at a high level, to bring us to that previous point of 62%. What they had to say to me when I rushed out my sincere and surprised thanks — left me in tears.
Rebecca and I (and the whole team) are so very grateful for all of you. I cannot express that sentiment enough.
Thank you. Your support means the world to us. It serves as validation, and a reminder, that the struggle and the fighting is worth it. As I have said before — we promise to bring a great film to you.
So, where do we go from here?
Well, for the next few days, we would still encourage you to contribute if you can.
We’re already operating at a very limited budget level for a feature film. This is not at all a problem and we continue to be grateful to be in this position, but any additional funds past our goal WILL be similarly stretched to make challenges (and they will come) less challenging.
We want you to see the film first. As summarized here, this film is also an experiment in helping to arrive at a model for sustainable, empowered indie filmmaking. Every person who simply “purchases” advance access to The Videoblogs via a $10 or $20 contribution is voting for this model. What does this mean? It means you’re helping us make the films that a growing subset of people want to see but which aren’t getting made by big business. We’re going to get The Videoblogs to you quickly, because you are our supporters. After that, who knows? It could take a year or longer before the film is otherwise made available.
In line with our bootstrapped approach, we have not budgeted much money for post-production (editing) or marketing. This is because I can do most of it if I have to do it. But I am simply not as skilled or as efficient at certain elements of post as a professional editor, colorist, marketer, etc. And, even so, the completion of these tasks cost money. We may have to fundraise again next year for theses stages. I can promise you that if we end up with even a small surplus this time around, it will be stocked away to make that process easier.
It feels awkward to keep “the ask” open for these final days, despite our position, but these are in fact legitimate reasons. We would be doing the film, and those of you who have already supported us, a disservice by failing to be transparent about the fact that every additional little bit still helps.
The urgency, of course, is gone. I literally dreamed of puppies and kittens last night. And a few dead birds, because there are always going to be some dark corners in there.
But, let’s choose to focus on the brightness today. At least in this one regard. That’s not going to be a problem for me, I don’t think. Because all of you have made me proud to do what I do.
Host/Actress/Writer Grace Parra Also Signs On as Juror for Video Contest Centered Around Mental Health and Personal Expression
(New York, NY) – Brooklyn-based indie filmmakers Michael DiBiasio and Rebecca De Ornelas are delighted to announce Paul Gilmartin (The Mental Illness Happy Hour, TBS’ Dinner and a Movie), Ashley Esqueda (Senior Editor, C-NET TV, Tomorrow Daily), Alice Spivak (OnTheRoad Rep, How to Rehearse When There is No Rehearsal), and Grace Parra (“The Collective”, Pretty Strong Opinions) as the first four jurors for The Videoblogs Dialogue, formerly known as “Phase 2” of the filmmakers’ overall initiative to contribute to a greater dialogue on mental health and to advocate for the positive use of technology for personal expression. Bios for each juror appear below.
The Videoblogs Dialogue is a user-generated video contest aimed at helping tomorrow’s filmmakers and performers tackle difficult subjects with an ultimate focus on hope. It’s also a way for DiBiasio and De Ornelas to pay it forward, by ultimately mentoring younger filmmakers in the creation of their own work on these subjects.
DiBiasio explains: “We’re making The Videoblogs because we want to contribute to a greater dialogue on mental health, particularly in America. We think this is needed, and we think there’s plenty of evidence that it’s needed. Beyond that, as people who have benefited greatly from taking the important step of admitting we needed help — we want more people to know not only that it’s okay to do that, but that it may be in everyone’s best interest that those of us who need to are able to reach out without fear of judgment.”
“Still, we realized that just making a statement with the film wasn’t going to be enough. The film itself is about reaching out through today’s communication technology as a bridge to more community in real life. Taking the responsibility of that message seriously, we determined to come up with something more engaging.”
De Ornelas adds: “As you get older and progress as an artist, it’s not enough (at least for me) to just make statements with your art, like: ‘Here’s me! Here’s what I think! Hope you like it!’. Your responsibility changes and grows to something greater than just saying things. We want our work to be part of a dialogue. That connection through art, we feel, is exactly what artists are seeking, and that’s what we are hoping to establish with The Videoblogs Dialogue.”
Gilmartin, Esqueda, Spivak and Parra will join other jurors (including high-level contributors to the film’s funding campaign on Seed and Spark) in selecting finalists for the contest, from which an ultimate winner or winners will be chosen by DiBiasio and De Ornelas. The filmmakers will then mentor and assist the winner or winners towards the creation of their own short film about mental health and reaching out via technology.
In recognition of the possible hurdles that may come up as potential entrants attempt to craft their submissions, DiBiasio and De Ornelas crowdsourced the production of sample videos from a network of colleagues. Here is the latest sample:
Written by Asmara Bhattacharya
Starring Kari Nicolle
Shot by Alex Hollock
Directed by Rebecca De Ornelas
The filmmakers also reached out to NAMI-NYC (National Alliance on Mental Illness, New York City Metro) about The Videoblogs Dialogue, and the organization would like participants to know that:
NAMI-NYC provides support groups and is available to direct people towards any care they may need in dealing with any difficult subjects. Please call their resource helpline at 212-684-3264 or visit their website at: http://naminycmetro.org. Entrants outside the NYC Metro area are encouraged to call The National Information Helpline: 1 (800) 950-NAMI (6264).
The preceding message will also be delivered to all entrants in the contest and will be posted as the first comment on every video for which comments are enabled (at each creator’s discretion).
Paul Gilmartin co-hosted TBS’ Dinner and a Movie from 1995 to 2011, and has been a stand-up comedian since 1987. His credits include Comedy Central Presents: Paul Gilmartin, numerous Bob and Tom albums, comedy festivals and the Late Show with Craig Ferguson. He is also a frequent guest on the Adam Carolla podcast, performing political satire as right-wing Congressman Richard Martin.
Paul was thrilled to be diagnosed with clinical depression in 1999 because it meant he wasn’t just an asshole. By 2003, he realized he was still an asshole and an alcoholic. Since 2003 he has been sober, mostly happy and a tiny bit less of an asshole. He leads a happy life in Los Angeles with a patient, loving wife and two spoiled dogs.
Ashley Esqueda is a geek of many talents: She’s currently a Senior Editor at CNET, hosting the futuristic and fun daily talk show “Tomorrow Daily.” She previously created content for other high-profile online publications, including G4, Technobuffalo, The Escapist, and more. She has a penchant for all things tech, ranging from mobile technology to video games to pop culture, offering a wide variety of knowledge across various topics.
In addition to hosting, she has written a variety of articles, scripts, and punchlines for many outlets, including two consecutive years as co-head writer for The Geekie Awards, an awards show celebrating indie creators in nerd culture. She also sits on the board of Take This, a non-profit charity dedicated to mental health advocacy for gamers and geeks.
Ashley serves charismatic and witty realness in the tech scene, and has charmed celebrities, CEOs, and consumers on red carpets, trade conventions, and the streets. There’s nowhere she won’t go for a laugh, especially at her own expense. In her spare time, she is the Queen of an unnamed island nation and enjoys including one outrageously false fact about herself in her bio.
Alice Spivak began her acting career at an early age, joining Actors’ Equity in 1956, Screen Actors Guild in ‘59, and AFTRA in the early 60’s. Having trained at the HB Studio with Herbert Berghof and Uta Hagen, she was made a teacher there in 1962, and taught on their faculty for fifteen years. Since that time, she has been a popular free-lance acting teacher and coach in NYC, currently teaching Advanced Scene Study Classes while also serving as Aristic Director for OnTheRoad Rep, founded in collaboration with her advanced and professional acting students.
She has acted extensively off-Broadway and in regional theatre (receiving the Joseph Jefferson Award in Chicago in 1975 for Neil Simon’s Plaza Suite). On television, audiences have seen her more recently in Law & Order, Sex& The City, Law & Order CI, and as a regular performer on Sidney Lumet’s 100 Centre Street. as well as television commercials and voiceovers. Her more recent film appearances are in The Waiting Game and Find Me Guilty. and Only The Devil Knows You’re Dead. She has also been seen in Woody Allen’s Stardust Memories and Another Woman. Two of her favorite movie roles were Jenny in Privilege by Yvonne Rainer, which premiered at the New York Film Festival in 1991, and Louise, an American tourist, in An Electric Moon, written by Arundhati Roy, directed by Pradip Krishen, and made in India.
She has coached on numerous feature films, Broadway shows, regional shows, TV mini-series, pilots, etc., receiving technical credits on quite a few, including The Fan, Buck & The Preacher, Harem, Now & Forever, etc. She also taught Film Directing Workshops and was a recipient of the Indie Award by The Association of Video and Filmmakers in 1977. In 1981, she was on the faculty of NYU Film Grad School, teaching the course, Directing Actors. Spike Lee was her student there. In 2003-4, she again taught this course, this time at Columbia Film Grad School. She is co-writer and director of a short film comedy, Working For Peanuts and the author of: HOW TO REHEARSE WHEN THERE IS NO REHEARSAL – ACTING AND THE MEDIA (Limelight Editions), which has received glowing reviews.
Grace Parra is a Mexican-American writer/host/actress based in Los Angeles. She’s originally from Houston, TX and graduated from Columbia University with a degree in Political Science. Screen credits include: How I Met Your Mother, Zeke & Luther, Late Night with Conan O’Brien, Farah Goes Bang, The Bonnie Hunt Show, Greenberg, and many more. You can catch her in commercials for HONDA, OLAY, COFFEE BEAN, BLUE CROSS/BLUE SHIELD, HOME DEPOT and several others.
She’s presently the comedic host of NUVO’s “THE COLLECTIVE” produced by Jennifer Lopez. On the side, she writes and hosts the brand-new PRETTY STRONG OPINIONS WITH GRACE PARRA, where she created her very own political comedy series in the vein of The Daily Show, presenting a POV on all the political and social topics that differ wildly from your Stewarts/Colberts/Olivers. She also hosts live talk shows in LA including PARRA’S PINATA PARTY and “The Really Late Morning Show,” interviewing hundreds of celebrities and creating sketches for sold-out shows on a monthly basis. She created and starred in the webseries FRIDA KAHLO, JUNIOR MARKETING EXEC, a semi-finalist in the 2013 New York Television Festival, and was a cast member in the prestigious 2013 CBS DIVERSITY SHOWCASE.
Grace is also an accomplished TV comedy writer, whose credits include ABC’s Work It, TBS’s Glory Daze, and Disney’s Jonas LA. She recently developed and sold a pilot to MTV produced by Jennifer Lopez and Nuyorican Productions.
You guys really enjoy competition. I guess that can be healthy. Sometimes? 🙂
Seriously, thanks for making our Hometown Battle contest (Cranston Rules!) such a success.Over the past few days, we’ve eclipsed 40% funded for The Videoblogs. But we have just a little over a week left to meet our goal.
Today, we have another friendly competition for you.
I apologize in advance, because today is probably going to get out of control. Everyone remember this is all for a good cause 🙂
Today is The Battle for Artistic Supremacy
Actors vs. Writers vs. Filmmakers vs. Comedians
Now. I know what you’re thinking. How does it help to ask a bunch of equally “financially challenged” professionals to contribute?
Valid point. But I have counterpoints…
Outside of friends and family (but often included in that group as well) no group is as supportive of the arts, percentage-wise, than other artists. This is not a knock on non-artists by a stretch. I think it’s just a little easier for artists to understand just how hard creative pursuits can be. Which is fine. We’re all in it because we want to be.
This campaign isn’t just about the 20K we need to shoot the film
It’s about an idea. One we share with Seed and Spark, which is why we’re working with Emily Best and company rather than another platform.
This is about community.It’s about banding together en masse. I don’t expect any fellow artists to able to contribute more than $20 today.
But that amount was carefully selected. So was the $10 and $5 incentive level.
Today, we’d love to bring in 50 contributions between $5 and $25. More would be great, of course 🙂
What we really want people to do here (a lot of people) is take a leap of faith and buy a copy of the movie before it’s made. We’ve tried as much as possible to make that an easy decision for you. And, again, I promise we’ll deliver a great film to you.
Rebecca and I together probably know hundreds of Actors, Writers, Filmmakers and Comedians. Between the rest of our team, I’m sure we know hundreds more.
It’s beyond moving when we get large donations like the one we got this morning that put us over 40% funded (with a little over a week to go). But, last night, we also got one for $5 that moved me in equal measure
Because that person did what they could AND for that I get to send her my book. Which I love to do. A piece of my soul went into that little book. I don’t know how or why it happened but it did. And the feedback I’ve gotten from those who have read it has been heartening.
So, yes, today is a friendly competition. I will be representing The Writers. We’ll probably win. But that’s not what this is about 🙂
This is about making a statement that small movies (and other projects) about difficult issues — have a right to exist.
If even half of the hundreds of fellow artists who read this today pick up a copy of that book and then share this post — that will push the needle on our campaign forward significantly.
The same rules apply as the last competition. Every dollar counts towards the total. The losers have to admit defeat, and declare the supremacy of the winner, in a video.