A Small Crash In The Night

Well, Furious Faithful — where to go from here?

As established by last week’s post, things have changed around here. No more weekly links. I have put on the blinders.

There is only The Mission, from here on out, until the day Sophia The Great is loosed upon the world — because Sophia The Great is my greater contribution to the task of doing what I feel needs to be done, saying what I feel needs to be said, here and now. To make the damaged world we live in a little more recognizable. So we can start to talk about it, together, with a little more honesty.

That sounds dramatic. It should. I’m about to spend the next few years of my life working to shepherd the creation of a story forged in fury, fear and sadness. The script feels done, which is always the hardest part, until the next one comes along.

Now, we begin to work on strategy. Planning. We begin to seek help, we pursue collaborators — we do everything possible to provide the story with what it needs.

So, where to go from here? What happens to this space? Can it persist, without all the links, that lead to the latest news of American social dysfunction? Can our relationship persevere, without the complementary links that shine a narrow light on small beacons of hope?

At what point does it all become a distraction? At what point do we ask ourselves — why all the chatter? Why don’t we just fucking do something about this already?

Well, it’s not as simple as that, unfortunately.

We live in strange times. We live — a few steps outside of life, don’t we? What do we experience more viscerally than our entertainment? What is more important to us than our television shows, our music, our celebrity culture, our businesses, our devices? Is it our families? Our friends and lovers? Do we even experience ourselves, on average, in a direct way?

I don’t know. I feel often as if it’s a chore, to live a life kept in one piece. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that I feel compelled to craft a story about a podcaster — about a lonely, disaffected young American who turns to a medium where you speak out alone, or with a few friends, to an unseen audience of other lonely disaffected souls wandering in the dark along their own fractured timelines. I think we arrived at this pre-condition through a series of civil failings. The individual in America, in my opinion, is in certain ways more alone than he or she has been in a long time, tracing back through our history.

We are so often…so very isolated by our divided lives. I do not know that we are yet completely capable of mounting the sort of action that is needed to change those things that so desperately need changing in our country, in order to rescue the present and future from the iron grip of the past and those who own it.

But I think it’s worth noting that I, and I think a few of you as well, believe it’s possible. I think it’s worth recognizing that there is a desire for a better world out there, here in America and throughout the globe.

Power is power, and to fight those who wield it unjustly, we must foster an equivalent power of our own. This cannot be achieved without community action, and community action cannot be adequately empowered without enough empathy and enough courage and trust to render obsolete the divisiveness that keeps us, in so many different ways, split from each other — at the same time that our plight is for all purposes the same.

We need to talk. If we must start dumbly, then we must start dumbly. If we must proceed carefully, because we are afraid and because there are real consequences to revolt — then we must proceed carefully. Fear diminishes with time and distance. It becomes less grave when shared.

I’ll go first. I’m afraid I’ll fail. I’m afraid I’m not strong enough or smart enough or lucky enough to see my contribution through. I’m afraid I’m wrong, or crazy.

But I’m fucking going for it anyway. Because they want us to be afraid. It allows them to hold onto the power. It allows them to keep shouting down the truth, smothering it with money and lies. And that pisses me the fuck off. Life needs breath. If we smother it — or allow it to be smothered, consciously or unconsciously — with so many blankets of falseness…well, what happens then? What happens to the animus of life? How do we move freely and without fear when weighed down, and suffocated? How do we adequately reach out to each other for help?

By calling out in the dark. By feeling around for a hand to grasp.

Where to go from here? Anywhere. Wherever. Just not here. Or backwards. The Furious Romantic isn’t going away. Never again.

I’m making Sophia The Great because I want to talk. I want us all to talk. On a large level, about large, uncomfortable, difficult and delicate subjects. I want to talk to you. I want to help you. I want and need your help.

I suspect, if we succeed even a little, that something special will happen. I don’t have particularly high ideas of what that might mean. The film may end up nothing more than a small crashing sound, heard in the distance in the black of night. So be it. At least they’ll know — on all sides, in some small way — that we’re here.

Revolutions have been started with less.

Perhaps that last part is a little dramatic. What can I say? I’m a dramatist.

Thanks for reading. I love you for it. Have a great week.

What I Liked This Week: 4/27/13 (aka Remember The Mission)

Furious Faithful. It’s been a long week. The script for Sophia The Great, as well as several supplemental materials about our general production plan, went out to several fellowships and contests and support programs over the last few days.

As some of you may have read on The Facebook or The Twitter, this was a surprisingly delightful experience for me. I wasn’t entirely prepared for that to happen. Again, I think partially it happened because I’m in a much better place this days, in terms of coping with (and channeling) The Fury, but I also think it’s also another indication that this project is The One.

I want to be able to temper my excitement so that I don’t become disappointed — but this assumes that I would become disappointed, say, if Sophia puts a goose egg on the scoreboard in terms of the aforementioned applications. I can’t say this wouldn’t happen, if a goose egg were to drop, but I also don’t think I would entirely care. Sophia is happening, whether we get major help from Deciders or not.

The last thing an independent filmmaker should do is wait for permission. Waiting doesn’t help make films. This isn’t to say it’s always a good idea to just vault ahead and produce something — which is why the next step is to draft a clear and clever, studied and concrete plan for producing Sophia soon and on the cheap — but it still feels good to know that all the “paperwork” I filled out this week…I filled out because I truly believe in what we’re doing, and am merely trying to convince a few influential deciders to help the cause.

Perhaps this is why it was so comparatively easy to fill out all the applications this time around. I’ve completed most of them a few times before, when I was similarly convinced I was ready to make The Leap, with other projects. I wasn’t.

I think I am now, and part of the reason why is because of all the previous work I’ve put in to past projects. But…it’s also…again…something about Sophia feels special. I believe I’ve earned her, but as some of you may know I am also a big believer in the mysticism of creativity, in the idea that a story is more a living thing that is born out of an intersection between circumstance and the labor of the creator…than something that is merely crafted. I said it in one of the applications — at this point, I feel like Sophia’s servant.

I don’t think this is at all a bad thing. In fact, as if this outpouring of words weren’t enough to convince you — this feeling is the first and biggest thing I liked this week.

I’ll keep the rest as short and as sweet as I can. Perhaps not always sweet. Life is sometimes very bitter — just ask David Simon:

  • I liked this blog post by David Simon, wherein The Wire creator condemns Your American Congress, following the failure of said Congress to pass new gun control legislation. Simon more eloquently and more expertly eviscerates our Reprehensible Representatives in his post than I did in mine (but you can still read mine).
  • Similarly, I liked this article by Josh Barro at Bloomberg News, illustrating a perfect example of the core injustice of our bifurcated society. The short of it: one particular symptom of the sequestration forced into existence by the inability of our Do-Nothing Congress to come to a compromise on all sorts of political and economic issues — because Republicans in Congress in particular refuse to compromise on anything, because they don’t give half a shit about anyone who isn’t rich — was dealt with swiftly and effectively this week. Congress did something! Do you know what they did? They passed legislation offsetting the effects sequestration had on aviation. Do you know why they did this? Because politicians (and other rich people) fly a lot, and so the flight delays caused by the forced budget cuts were having a negative impact on their lives. None of the cuts that affect those of us who aren’t rich — those of us whose lives are more seriously affected by such cuts — were addressed. And they won’t be. Because our government no longer operates for The People, at all.
  • On a lighter note, I liked Nametag Day, which is just what it sounds like. It’s a initiative based solely on the goal of putting name tags on as many New Yorkers as possible on June 1st. As I said on Twitter, I think this is a simple, actionable thing to do to help build community. Check out the site if you are an NYCer and volunteer to help if you can. Follow Nametag Day on Twitter here.
  • I like The 4-Hour Body. I had been interested in experimenting with Tim Ferriss’s “body re-composition” cookbook since listening to this episode of WTF with Marc Maron (which you can check out for free if you want to get an idea about what it’s all about). I finally got around to implementing a majority of the “small changes” in diet and behavior Ferriss advocates, after adopting only a few to great effect, initially. It works. I’ve lost weight (mostly fat), my energy level is up, and I feel great. Some of what The Four Hour Body suggests you do is a little strange, and/or seems tough (like cold showers!) but…again…it works.
  • I like the new original Netflix series Hemlock Grove. The first episode is very confusing, but engaging nonetheless. From there, the show gets better. It has a sort of Twin Peaks, B-movie vibe that it — importantly — embraces responsibly and smartly rather than resorting to irony or lazy homage to its numerous influences. The show has its imperfections, but it’s well-thought-out, and the storytelling is not lazy. The look and tone appear similarly cultivated (and contribute greatly to the success of the series), the writing is at many times extremely “fresh” — oftentimes adopting and exploiting established tropes before cleverly subverting them in pursuit of its own ends — and most of the performances are impressive. Rebecca and I had little knowledge of the show beforehand, and no expectations, but we’ve watched almost all of the first season by now and are enjoying it immensely.

So there’s the list for this week. Except for one last thing.

Again and as always, I liked you this week. The Furious Romantic Returns eclipsed 500 visits and 1,000 page views recently, at the same time that a small group of new readers wandered over from Twitter — and I’m sincerely grateful. It makes the fight easier to know that you’re out there with me, and it gives me hope for the future. We need hope as much as we need to “get angry and speak up” — we need to know that there are others who want more and better things for themselves and their neighbors than what we are currently getting from the here and now.

Have a good week, Furious Friends. This last one wasn’t the easiest for me, despite all of the above (it’s stressful emailing a snapshot of your soul to strangers), but it helps me remember the mission when I talk to all of you, and see that you’re reading.

So, yeah. Thanks.

Ravaged Heads for Everyone, or, The Alchemy of Expectations

The live-reading of Sophia The Great went extremely well. Much like our experience producing Multiverse, the end-result exceeded expectations. I could get used to this.

Before I move on to sharing some notes about the experience, a word (or a thousand) about this same topic: expectation.

Historically, I have had an unhealthy relationship with expectation. Even still now, I periodically need a metaphorical slap in the face (self-inflicted, or inflicted by Rebecca) when it comes to tempering my expectations for…a certain project, a certain phase of a certain project, a certain step towards a certain phase of a certain project. I go into so much detail because…I believe the relationship between action and expectation has a particular sort of significance for an artist — though the lessons I have learned (and continue to learn) about maintaining a healthy balance, in these terms, probably translate to matters of day-to-day life as well.

To be clearer: I think my work has started to sometimes exceed my expectations because…I’ve lowered my expectations. To a degree.

To anyone waiting to pounce on such an idea (pounce away, ideas don’t feel pain, idiot) this may seem a sign of weakness. To such a person, lowered expectations might mean compromise. A lessening of The Vision. What I’m describing…it may sound like acquiescence.

And it is. I have begun to more regularly acquiesce to that voice I’ve made reference to before, that says: “You can’t do it.” Because that voice is right. None of us will ever be able to “do it” in quite the way we imagined. A lot of people are okay with this (as they should be). Too many people, probably, are too okay with this (they could try a little harder to form better expectations for themselves). But all of us, to a degree, struggle to reconcile our part in such daily transactions — between what we expect for ourselves and what we are able to realistically do. It may even be a particularly American problem, or an acutely generational one, in the terms I’m so far using. When we expect the reality of The Screen, and instead get reality itself (which, worse than failing to be clean and/or glamorous, is plagued by manmade unfairness and these days seems often arrested in a state of depressed, perpetual stasis)…the loser, in the end, is us.

Obviously, I’ve walked this road. Seemingly, I’ve decided to abandon it. So. Why and how?

Again, it’s a delicate dance. Especially for an artist. As a filmmaker in particular, I need my lofty expectations. They drive two of the most basic tools a filmmaker/artist needs in order to succeed. They provide you with enough Crazy to think that it makes sense to struggle for years for the right to enlist others to help create and/or spread your vision — that this is a reasonable idea (most times, it’s not). Additionally, high expectations can push you at times when nothing or no one else can. In independent film, especially at the level I’m at, this is almost all the time. But the idea becomes more tactile as you progress through a production, for instance — all the way to the end of the finished product, which in my case is a film. I expect this essentially false, moving snapshot I’ve created with the help of all these people — to momentarily replace reality in the minds of the audience. It’s a contradictory notion, in terms of expectation. Because for this to happen, everything needs to be perfect.

And that’s the trouble spot, when it comes to expectations. That’s where we come back around to the necessity of responsibly dealing with the inevitable letdown that comes from riding them as far as they’ll take us before we inevitably get bucked. Expectations always represent a losing hand. It’s part of the deal. Expectations aren’t human, they never tire, they rarely stop. We are human, we do tire, and we must stop — occasionally. All we can do, in the face of these truths, is learn to know our limits (after we’ve found them) and keep showing patience, as we work “tirelessly,” “endlessly,” in pursuit of a finish line we can always see, always feel, but never reach.

So, there it is. That’s where I’m at lately. To succeed in any way, we have to first admit defeat. It will never go as perfectly as you imagined.

And as long as this realization isn’t repurposed as an excuse (don’t do that), the knowledge can become liberating. I don’t know that it’s something that can really be taught, so much as understood, perhaps after a series of “failures,” but I thought this was worth mentioning. Because it’s important to me that readers understand what I also have to continually force myself to accept — that when I say my expectations were exceeded because they were lower, what I really mean to say is that my expectation that everything would go perfectly, right away, was lowered to a more healthy (but still appropriately crazy) expectation that everything go extremely well, and land in a satisfactorily elevated place, as I chase perfection during any one step, of any one phase, of any one production. Eventually. When and where it ultimately counts.

One more important point to all this is the importance of asking for and getting help. From family, friends, co-conspirators, collaborators — whoever.

The formula for an expectation, when broken down in its simplest form, is comprised of some admixture of elements from within yourself, combined chemically by you only in the abstract. To be made energetic, it must necessarily be broken back down into the stuff that makes up your expectation, so that these elements may be distributed through the world around you that are seeking to affect (whatever size that world may be). This requires you to take measure of that world, so that you know exactly how much energy to exert and how to appropriately handle it and when.

To do this, you need help. In externalizing our expectations, if we ever do, we are opened up. The aforementioned process necessitates this vulnerability, just as the unbearable complexity and exhaustiveness of it necessitates assistance.

The alchemy of creating an external event that elicits an emotional response (I’m still speaking mostly in artistic terms, so let’s say we’re talking about a shot, a scene, a film) is too monumental a task for an individual. Distributing its parts, after the idea has been formed within you, so that they may be turned tactile and enter the world, assembling those parts once this is accomplished — all of this represents an overwhelmingly heavy and complex set of tasks. It’s too much for one person, or a handful of people, to accomplish on their own. Not to mention the fact that an expectation is built from ideas, which have a habit of acting less like puzzle pieces and more like viruses once they’re passed around — if they’re strong ideas. Strong ideas breed more (sometimes loftier) expectations. This is how it should be.

Finally, to “complete” the process, you must recombine the ideas that formed the expectation that spawned more ideas that together became The Task. I’ve tried handling this step (mostly) alone before. It doesn’t work. I tried it, and it unhinged me. For years. The work also suffered. Which made the failure all the more devastating.

Bringing the discussion back onto the ground level, I’d like to thank Rebecca, for co-producing the reading of Sophia The Great in her spare time, at the same time that she was taking Sophia as a character very seriously in preparation for the event itself (and Sophia The Character is not a wee little bunny). I’d like to thank all the actors and audience members who donated their time to help us pursue perfection with this script and project. Perhaps you had no idea that the aforementioned process had already ravaged my head. That we were taking it so very seriously. Or perhaps a similar process was ravaging your head. I hope so. This is why we do it. The goal is more ravaged heads. Ravaged heads for everyone.

So, finally, the important question. What did we learn?

  • I learned that I am better at receiving notes and taking feedback than I have ever been in my entire life. I pat myself on the back for this. Not only was I able to listen to critiques of certain aspects/elements of the script, I was able to parse such feedback in such a way as to separate notes into three piles: 1) THANK YOU, BUT THAT IS GOING TO STAY THE SAME, 2) YOU’RE RIGHT, THAT NEEDS ATTENTION, 3) YOU’RE NOT RIGHT, BUT YOU’RE NOT WRONG, THAT NEEDS ATTENTION. From what I can tell from the testimony of other professional writers: this is crucial. Glad to have finally gotten to this point. “It was not easy,” says my ego. Then my ego goes back to his whiskey corner. Or he doesn’t get any supper.
  • I learned that my fears about how the content of the script might be received, were exaggerated by my head and at least partially unfounded. Of course, we only had a small crowd. Counting the actors (who always give useful feedback, in the questions they ask while attempting to get into character, and then frequently after the fact as audience members as well) and the number of invited audience members who showed up, I think we had about 20 people in attendance. I was pretty focused on the actors for most of the reading, but there were more than a few moments when I felt like everyone was paying Very Close Attention. We also got quite a few laughs, which was encouraging. It’s not that I don’t think parts of the script are funny, it’s just that they come from the side of funny that lives on the border of Sad Town. Not only did all this feel great, because many parts of the script seemed to be working, but it was great seeing the actors make the words their own. Something I didn’t anticipate happening (because I was too busy in the leading weeks to think about it) was that, unlike on a shoot (where I am responsible for everything, for every second of every day), at the reading, once it all started — I was able to sit back and be a part of the audience. Valuable stuff.
  • I need help. We (Rebecca and I) need help. As indicated by the paragraphs above, we have learned this lesson already. Still, in the indie game, especially after you’ve been doing it awhile, and more so because of the urgency tasks take on when you’re juggling them between day jobs and regular life — it gets easy to forget. That we all need help. That it’s okay, and often necessary, to ask for help. Suffice to say, it was a little exhausting getting the reading set up. It was exhausting because we’re still working on Multiverse. It was exhausting because we’re also in the early stages of figuring out how to get Sophia The Production kicked off at the same time. It was exhausting because it took writing this post to remind me that everything I wrote about in the paragraphs above…that these lessons need to be constantly considered and learned from…not just recognized on one happy occasion and put away in a drawer. So this becomes our next and newest task, on a couple of fronts. I will be going it alone for a bit longer, with some help from Rebecca, while we prep the next draft of the script. Then we call for help. Oh, but if you have some help laying around, let us know.
  • I learned that I am on the right track. Artistically. More work needs to be done, much more work. But, as I mentioned, there were a few moments during the reading where our actors took over The Words and gave them life and then…the room went still. Quiet. We were arrested — me along with everyone else. There’s no greater feeling in the world. I’ve only ever felt it a few times before, for a few beautiful moments, when Sex and Justice was playing on the big screen and The Drama was coming and people were still and attentive and they cared. Again…this is why we do it.
  • I learned, with stunning clarity and finality, what I have long suspected but could never quite fully believe until now — that I can’t do anything but this. Months upon years of expectation, hard work, collaboration, alchemy. For the privilege of a just a few transcendent moments. That is what we’re chasing. This, as crazy as that sounds, is how it has to be.

This is why we do it.

What I Liked This Week: 1/26/13

In keeping with where my head seemed to be most days (nothing to do with the fact that Sundance was going on without me sad face), a lot of what I liked this week revolved around films and filmmaking. Other items were/are just fun. Fun is good!

  • This post from Reid Rosefelt, a publicist and Facebook marketing researcher/expert, which is essentially about taking a measured, long-tail view of a film and/or a filmmaking career. I have been following Reid’s advice on Facebook Marketing for Filmmakers since he first started diving into the endeavor, and this post locks in on a lot of his main arguments: that filmmakers should be thinking more broadly about how they and their work are perceived (or would be better perceived, depending on how we conduct ourselves) in the age of information. Reid’s advice often strikes a great middle ground between reasoned and impassioned, and I liked this post in particular because I tend to agree with all of it, having reached many of the same realizations in recent months. Most of Reid’s insights probably cross-over into other art forms and the small business world (if you’re an artist, you’re a small business) as well.
  • This New York Times blog post, about how inequality is holding back America’s economic recovery. I like this because it’s the truth, even if I hate that fact that too few people are talking about it. How about we get on that?
  • This picture of a baby Korean Godfather, sent to me by my Korean friend, who was made an honorary Italian-American by my family years ago, and has never failed to live up to the title. I hope to someday take a similar picture of a child of my own, attacking a bowl of kimchi with a pair of chopsticks.
  • The Way Station bar in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn. Not only because the bathroom is a TARDIS, not only because I got to watch an episode each of Doctor Who and Torchwood (underrated!) when I went on Sunday, but also because the people there (staff and patrons) were all pretty chill, and nice. Unfortunately a rarity in the NYC bars these days. I will be going back to The Way Station.

Have a good week, readers. I continue to appreciate your attention and your feedback. As always, hit me up on Facebook or Twitter any time.