Well, kids, for anyone who missed the news — this is the last episode of Coffee With Creatives. At least, it’s the last one for now. I have decided, after much deliberation, to put the show on indefinite hiatus.
But I couldn’t have asked for a more perfect guest to bring to you for this occasion.
Nathalie Sejean is a champion of creative entrepreneurialism. She provides indispensable service to creatives, via her newsletter (Sunday Interestingness) and site (Mentorless.com), and is currently in development on her first feature film (In Five Years).
Check out our talk to hear Nathalie testify to the power of:
Turning to books at an early age (and, later, to bookselling) to jumpstart her interest in learning and storytelling
The advantages of building a skill set, while avoiding perfectionism, by moving from experiment to experiment
Leveraging daily creative challenges to source and iterate ideas over time
Showing your work, and why this is a crucial action
Keeping yourself accountable and taking continuous action — while staying humble
Fostering virtual communities
Transforming virtual relationships into real life meetings
Repetition, and how it serves not only output but quality and growth
An effectively employed and genuinely considered newsletter
I’m glad to be ending this endeavor on a high note by sharing this episode with you. Definitely follow Nathalie on Twitter, and sign up for her email list. You won’t be disappointed.
As for me, I am going quiet for a while. But you’ll hear from me soon. It will be a growl from a mountain.
Thank you for your listenership and readership. If you want to stay in touch, reach out anytime. Or sign up for my email list. I’ll likely keep active there, for now.
You can also listen to Coffee with Creativeson iTunes.
My name is Michael. I am a Writer and Filmmaker of hopeful stories for complex people. My first film, The Videoblogs, about mental health in the age of tech, is available on iTunes. I’m currently working on my next film and also a novel. Once per month or so, I send a special note to those on my email list. They get exclusive and advanced (sometimes free) access to my work. You can join this special group here. Thanks for reading.
I’ve known Tom DeNucci for a long time. It was great to finally get him on Coffee with Creatives, and he does not disappoint in this latest episode of the podcast.
If I took one thing away from our talk, it’s…the power of action. No matter what you’re trying to do as a creative, if you keep moving forward, with a parallel focus on learning through experience (and from mistakes) — you’ll grow. And results will come.
Other topics that come up in my talk with Tom include:
His involvement (and appearance) in the Martin Scorcese produced film Bleed for This
Starting as a background actor, and watching everything everyone does on set
The crucial importance of attention to detail
Digging in as a regional filmmaker, in spite of stereotypes and challenges
Getting your movies (or creations) seen
The benefits of keeping up a rotation of projects and goals.
You can find Tom on Twitter. Bleed for This is currently in theaters.
As reminders, you can also subscribe to Coffee with Creativeson iTunes and/or support the podcast on Patreon.
As one half of Big Vision Empty Wallet and Big Vision Creative, Alex Cirillo has worked on numerous projects in film and TV. Along the way, she’s gained a ton of useful knowledge that’s sure to be of interest to the budding, stuck or striving creative.
In this latest episode of Coffee with Creatives, I sat down with Alex and discussed:
Getting a head start in film by studying it in high school, and how the early support of a teacher helped Alex realize she might be on the right path
Building a network by working different gigs and internships
The importance of relationships to growth and success
The benefits of being a small team, and reasons for intentionally staying that way
Finding a way to make things work
Approaching film and TV as a media for both social change and vagina jokes
The most common mistake filmmakers make in pitching their projects
Stick around to the end to hear Alex’s one piece of advice for how to leap forward in your project or career. It’s simple, actionable and effective. Enjoy.
You can find Alex on Twitter, and learn more about Big Vision here.
As reminders, you can also subscribe to Coffee with Creativeson iTunes and/or support the podcast on Patreon.
A question came up during yesterday’s (wonderful) Live Chat for The Videoblogs, that I thought I would re-address in a bit more detail here.
The gist of it — how to get started making your first film?
There are plenty of good ways to answer this question. There are many great resources out there outlining the basics of any one facet of this noble, unwieldy endeavor.
Knowing this, and also knowing that it matters more to me to tell a good story than craft a perfect picture, I focused my answer on an attempt to pre-hack the biggest challenges that are likely to come up in pursuing the coveted first film.
As such, my recommendations tend towards sustainability and focus, rather than process or technique.
Process and technique can be filled in beforehand with research and experimentation. Or you’ll learn by failing and re-starting at certain points in your journey.
But these are the top five pieces of advice I might have, at present, for anyone starting their first film today.
1. Understand the situation you’re getting yourself into
The planning and execution of a film is a very large undertaking. Even if you’re starting small — issues or challenges or requirements are going to come up that you never expected. You will be tested.
I don’t think that filmmaking is for everyone. There are a lot of people out there working to write and/or direct their own films…who don’t seem happy. There could be several reasons for this, but chief among them could be that the idea of filmmaking is a lot more glamorous that its reality.
I’ll have more to say about this in a moment, but the reason I bring this fact up first is because I really do think that the best way to handle the difficulties of the task is to first acknowledge and accept that it’s going to be difficult. If we’re fighting ourselves at the same time that we’re fighting to get the film made…both self and film will suffer.
There are other ways to engage your sadistic side than deciding to commit years of your life to the foolish endeavor of bottling and reshaping a slice of space-time using magical machines.
If you still can’t help yourself…
2. Have a system of self-care in place
I have written much about this already. I will keep writing about it. Again — making a film is very hard work. Often, when we’re starting, we’re working within constraints of time, money and all the rest that comes with the responsibility of everyday living.
I’m still working on this part.
The fact is, you could sacrifice everything for your film and emerge very pleased with the end product.
Doing this, however, might leave you at the same time irrevocably embittered by the process you just went through — or dealing with an poisonous buildup of entitlement.
Because you poured it all into the work and then had nothing left to sustain your actual life, your relationships, your next project.
It’s the live to work or work to live dilemma.
Because it’s so beautiful and fulfilling, art-making can muddy up our perspective of the pursuit — but the fact remains that making a film or writing a book or whatever…it’s still work.
We’re not built to labor around the clock. Inevitably, when we try, breakdowns commence.
It will be hard.
Those who find their way towards filmmaking tend to overwhelmingly be high-functioning perfectionists, often with reserves of (not unhelpful) arrogance to call upon for that extra juice (“I can bottle space-time!”).
But knowing or learning or carefully exploring our limits, with an eye on longterm personal and career health, will make the journey and the film that much better for you and everyone else involved.
3. Have a reason
This piece of advice is only third because I’m supposing that most people reading this, and/or taking my words seriously, already have a compelling reason for pursuing filmmaking (or any one film).
But, if you don’t, think long and hard about whether you can find a reason, or whether the one you think you have is strong enough to sustain you when chaos or despair descends on your production and your life, despite all of the warnings and precautions outlined above and below.
In my experience, you need this reason. On some days, it will prove the only thing capable of keeping you going when you want to quit. Why this film, and now?
4. Have a plan
Hang with me here, for a second.
Obviously, if you’re intending to make a film — you’ll need a plan. There’s no way it comes off without one. Even if your plan is to keep things loose, there’s a lot of preparation that you need to do to allow that possibility on set.
Still, I’m not really talking about the how. That’s all up to you. It’s just hard work.
What’s just as important, however, is that you have a plan for: 1) Fitting the giant disruption that is the making of a film into your daily life, and 2) Ensuring that the giant disruption leads to worthy results.
To address the first, I’d recommend doing some serious, honest work to prioritize what needs prioritization, with an eye on what’s realistic. Assume everything will take twice as long, and be twice as difficult, than you might expect.
Ensuring worthy results, to be clearer, means having a distribution plan. Ideally, a few of them.
At minimum, know how to get the film to your core audience, no matter how small or local. These are your first champions.
You will need them. Respect this relationship enough to put the work into it. Think about how your film can serve your core audience, and how to make it convenient for them to participate in its distribution when the time comes to push your project out into the world.
5. Be willing to be patient
This last suggestion is as much for me as anyone else. The reality of filmmaking is that it takes an enormous amount of time. If we do our job well, this enormity ends up hidden to general audiences.
The way most people experience entertainment is to consume it, quickly and ruthlessly.
Behind all that quickness and ruthlessness, on the side of the consumption of content, there’s slowness and a methodical attention to detail that is required on the part of the content creator.
If and when we cheat, to get things done faster or to “just get them done”, we endanger the sanctity of this relationship between creator and audience, as manifested by the creation.
If we are lazy at any point, or give in to bitterness or despair and shortchange any one part of the completion of a film, we risk dooming the entire endeavor.
On the flip side, we can obsess too much, and risk burning out in the vocation, or on any one project. It’s a delicate balance, that really only begins to make sense over time.
Filmmaking is a beautiful, noble, privileged pursuit. It’s brought great purpose, joy, and meaning to my life. Pain and disappointment have also entered the equation at points.
If and when we can find a real reason to move forward truthfully with a project, and so proceed with it while taking care of ourselves and respecting our audience — then we can enjoy and thrive under the vocation.
Best of luck to anyone mad enough to give it a try.
My name is Michael. I am a Writer and Filmmakerof hopeful stories for complex people. Lately, I have been sharing some reflections and stories every morning. Once per month, I send a special note to those on my email list. They get exclusive stories and advanced (sometimes free) access to my work. You can join this exclusive group here. Thanks for reading.
For the past few months, I have been working hard on a script for a new film I’d like to make. In recent weeks, I hit a bit of wall with it.
To sum the main issue(s) up simply — the concept and story represent quite the tall order, in terms of development. It’s not that I don’t feel up to the task, it’s that I don’t know if I’m up to the task right now.
Maybe I’m just learning something all filmmakers begin to learn, once the first feature is out of the way.
I have the general framework of the next re-write built. When I think about moving forward, though, I get tired. I don’t know that I have what I need in the tank, right now, or enough space in my brain from day to day, to tackle a project that’s a bit heady and which, as a scifi piece, is going to require quite a bit of ground-up creative detail.
This has upset me a bit. But I believe I am starting to accept the circumstance.
Nothing prevents me from proceeding with this project at my own pace. At the same time, it could just be that it’s not “next”, as I had imagined or hoped it might be. Is there a chance that might change? Of course. But, in the meantime, we must keep moving.
I started tossing around another idea, for what to make next. It didn’t seem to quite fit, but I let the general parameters behind it ride, from day to day. I kept them in the back of my brain.
And then it happened — I ended up starting in on a new script. It’s different than the original new idea. It feels, as the one before, like it might be next. Again — that could of course change.
What doesn’t change is that I can still take my time. Independent filmmakers hold few advantages. Time can be one of them. How might I be feeling now if large sums of money were already committed to the first script I brought up in this discussion? Might I have tried to force it to work?
Perhaps. Then again, also, when there is money there tends to be more room to do things fully and steadily. I look forward to that day.
On the other hand, a lack of deadlines or resources can quickly lead to making excuses. I don’t worry about such stasis nearly as often as I used to — and I tend to think it’s a useful concern, these days — but I do think that it’s important to keep making work and to keep getting it out there, especially in today’s artistic/economic climate.
I wanted to share all this because I think I would have been feeling much more anxious if I hadn’t attempted patience, and instead of forcing the issue — tried to listen and to let go. That’s what allowed a new possibility to bloom.
I have to constantly remind myself of this. My long history with this sort of existential/career tension came up in the most recent episode of Coffee With Creatives.
I am not the steward of any one story. I’m a storyteller.
This is part eighteen of a thirty day trial, during which I am writing and publishing a post every day. No refunds. Comments welcome and encouraged!
There are two ways to look at this, since I don’t know where each road leads. I can worry about turning and heading down the wrong path, or continuing down one that it would have been better to turn from. Or, I can close my eyes and breathe, and then decide to try my hand at luck. To follow the wind, so to speak.
The first reaction doesn’t appeal to me. Though that doesn’t mean I haven’t incrementally tried it on, by nature of being human.
The second sounds nice, but I have trouble consistently showing the faith it requires. There’s always that voice, prodding me with the question: “But what if it doesn’t work? What if we’re wrong?”
At this point, while I still do worry about these questions, it’s not completely a case of fear of embarrassment. Age and experience has helped to mostly defang that avenue of paralysis. I can’t help how my work might be received. I can only do my honest best to tell an authentic, heartfelt story, and to give it a fair chance in the world.
No, more often, I worry about making the wrong choice because of a fear of lost time. And thus the double-edged sword of age and experience is revealed.
I love The Videoblogs. I’m proud of the film. But I beat myself to crap making it, at such a low budget and while living in New York City and working a full-time job. Beyond not knowing if I could pull off such a feat again, physically — I just don’t want to do it that way again.
I’m working on a few new ideas for the next film. One is big and heady. It’s been bending my brain a little bit, thinking of how to make it work on paper. To make it work as a production is going to take a much bigger budget than we had for The Videoblogs. I’m not sure I’m ready for that, yet. I very well could be, but that script needs to be RIGHT before I’ll move on producing it.
The reality is that it’s only been a few months since The Videoblogs came out.
There’s no hurry. I have other ideas I’m poking at, for smaller films, there’s a silly concept for a short and simple comedic web series I might want to try, and I somehow also have the first draft of a book of fiction waiting for me to re-write.
I’m forced to confront the reality that my fear of lost time is just the same old fear of being wrong, dressed up in a new skin suit it liberated from an innocent soul after its last round trip to and from the hell that it calls home.
Hah. Demon humor.
But, seriously — binary thinking is often a trap. And that’s what I want to address today.
It may be true that I’m at crossroads. Or, it may be true that I feel this way, and will feel differently a few years from now. Regardless, I don’t think what I’m going through is so simple or pat a thing as staring down various paths, from an intersection, and attempting to source out which way to go.
This manner of thinking might be too rigid for me. I might have outgrown it by now, even if I still need to slough it off to make room for a newer, fresher outlook.
I’m into skin imagery today.
Anyway, it could be that every road has its charms, holds its own opportunities. It’s equally possible that I’m meant to set up camp, right at the intersection, and hunt small game and live in a tree and howl at the moon for a while.
Perhaps there will be loincloths. Who am I to say?
During the course of this post, in my mind’s eye, the backdrop to the crossroads has morphed from desert to forest to jungle. This could be reflective of my current ambiguity, or of the proper aimlessness I am in this moment best led to inhabit.
For so long, I have treated myself rigidly, in terms of having to decide what to create next, how and why — right now.
When I have relaxed, and focused instead on the day-to-day, I have been gifted with ideas like Multiverse, The Videoblogs, the book.
And then there is the simple fact of the last sixteen days.
What I like about writing here daily is the immediacy of it. The simplicity. It’s uncomplicated. I’m a writer — I write. I share what I’ve written, then I do it again. Is each post perfect? Far from it.
But the pursuit feels pure. That’s what I’m starting to believe I need to wait for, not the next project that feels the least “wrong”, but the one that feels the most right. This has always been when I have known to move forward.
It’s not a crossroads at all. It’s a waiting place.
This is part sixteen of a thirty day trial, during which I am writing and publishing a post every day. No refunds. Comments welcome and encouraged!
This is part ten of a thirty day trial, during which I am going to write and publish a post every day. No refunds. Comments welcome and encouraged!
This is a story about principles and how they carry over from outside the realm of business.
I was at the physical therapist a few days ago, settling up with my co-pay after an appointment. I have to go to physical therapy now, after producing The Videoblogs on nights and weekends for almost three years. My shoulders, arms and elbows — among other things — are all messed up from overuse.
The elevator opened and someone appeared next to me. A man. Talking on the phone. He stared at the receptionist, with a look on his face that said: “I shouldn’t have to say anything.”
No greeting, no words — not even for the person on the other side of the phone. No — this man’s simmering little wrath was most important for the moment.
The receptionist, to his credit, didn’t completely take this shit. Not for the first time, I felt sympathy for the tired hordes of battle-weary medical administrative staff — the main buffer between a cold and exploitative major industry and the people constantly squeezed and tossed around by that industry.
The man said his name. His annoyed expression deepened.
“The name of the person you’re here to see?”
It’s a big office, with a few different sub-specialties practiced. Still, I’m not sure the receptionist needed to ask that. I think he asked out of vengeance.
I decided I liked the receptionist. The annoyed man gave the information requested. The act seemed to almost cost him his life.
The receptionist thanked the man — who resumed talking on the phone — and then indicated that he should wait in the reception area, to the side of us. The man went.
During all this, I was waiting patiently for an issue with the computer, that was preventing me from paying, to get resolved. But I was also amused by The Annoyed Man.
It wasn’t hard to listen in to his conversation as it continued — and that’s when things took a turn towards the personal, and became an example of something I decided I wanted to share, to the (hopeful) benefit of everyone.
This man continued to act rudely on the phone. By the snippets of the conversation I could pick up, since it was now The Annoyed Man’s world — that I was just living in — I soon realized that he works in the film industry.
There was talk of a Director. Of a Project. Of a Studio. Maybe it was typical talk, of a typical tone, for The Industry. But I like to think it’s not. To tell the truth, I don’t have many ways of yet knowing for sure.
What I do know is that I will always remember that man’s face. If I ever see him, in a meeting or at an event, in the future near or far — I’ll remember him.
You’re someone who is rude, and/or disrespectful to receptionists.
We’re never going to work together, if I can help it.
I bring this up because I think it’s a good reminder, not only to do things for the right reasons — The Annoyed Man could, in fact, love film — but to comport yourself with at least some semblance of humility, no matter where you are, and what you’re doing or with whom.
Could The Annoyed Man have been having a bad day? Sure. But there’s a difference, I think, between getting snippy and being a snip. He was a snip.
Further, I don’t know that people who act like The Annoyed Man did, in this case, are going to be able to continue to conduct themselves in such a fashion so often in the near future. For better or worse, we’re becoming a culture who calls out bullshit — as I am doing now.
It’s very possible that he’ll be taken to task for how he is (or sometimes acts) at some point in his life, regardless of what I or anyone else might say on the internet. But the internet is always out there, watching — and remembering, like me — and behind it are more than a few people who won’t tolerate rudeness and disrespect.
We just don’t have time for it.
Perhaps that’s a separate conversation, because I tend to believe too many people are too quick to condemn and vilify online, and in general, these days. But it’s a separate thing to observe and to remember, and to protect yourself (and/or your work and efforts) accordingly.
Brad Wilke freely admits that his life path has been non-linear. After attending West Point and making short films while in the Army, and with stopovers in graduate school (where he earned two Master degrees) and tech — he’s now the Co-Founder of Smarthouse Creative, a PR and marketing strategy firm in Seattle. And that’s just one of his jobs.
Though we’ve yet to meet in person, Brad and I have chatted about filmmaking and screenwriting over the course of many “micro-conversations” on Twitter. It was great to have him on the podcast for a longer form talk about such topics as:
His opinion that many problems actually could be solved by money
Contrary to this last point — the fundamental importance of happiness and lived experience, as separate metrics that can and do eventually converge to create (sometimes surprising) opportunities
Resilience and grit, as virtues necessary for long-term growth
How he approaches programming for film festivals, and what problems sink most films (HINT: It’s almost always a story/script issue)
The concept of Minimal Viable Product (MVP) and how this start-up term can be applied to creative pursuits
Smart, nice, thoughtful guy. Check out our conversation below, or on iTunes, Stitcher or Google Play. You can find Brad on Twitter and elsewhere on the web.
As reminders, you can also subscribe to Coffee with Creativeson iTunes and/or support the podcast on Patreon.
Well, hey! I’m excited to announce that both The Confession and Multiverse will be screening next week!
The Confession will be playing at IndieWorks in Manhattan, which is awesome because that’s where Rebecca De Ornelas and I met the film’s Director Jaclyn Gramigna, when Multiverse screened there at the same time as her short, Downtown.
This month’s IndieWorks is on March 16th, at Subject NYC. Doors open at 6:30PM and screenings start at 7:30PM.
Director Jaclyn, Lead Actress and Producer Rebecca, and Lead Actor Jeremy Plyburn and I will all be in attendance. So, if you haven’t seen the film yet, come on down and watch it with a group. If you have seen it, come on down anyway and watch it (and all the other great shorts) with a group.
Multiverse will screen as part of the Cinema Club screening series in Brooklyn, as part of their 50th program, “Handshakes but Headaches”. I’m just guessing, but I think we might be part of the “headaches” portion of the program 🙂
Cinema Club takes place at Videology in Brooklyn, and screenings for this month’s session will start at 8PM on March 17th. Lead Actor and Producer Rebecca and I will both be in attendance.
I really want to show you my shorts. If you like them, you might like The Videoblogs, too.
Subscribe to my list for advanced (and free!) access to new (creative) content produced by yours truly. I send one email per month (sometimes less).