Mentorless: Story Fabricator Nathalie Sejean

nathalie-sejean-photo-by-gizem-evcinWell, 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 Creatives on iTunes.


profpic_squareMy 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.

We’re All Growing: Producer Alex Cirillo

image1As 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 Creatives on iTunes and/or support the podcast on Patreon.

How to Decide What to Make Next

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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!

Day 01: Struggles and Wonders and Dying in  Chair

Day 02: Fear, Panic, Identity and Anti-Focus

Day 03: Purple Sky of Towering Clouds Over a Far-off City

Day 04: Circle Up and Laugh

Day 05: On The Future of Labor

Day 06: Appreciating Difficulty, Harnessing its Momentum

Day 07: The Word for World is Earth

Day 08: It’s About The Dreaming, Not The Dream

Day 09: Moments of Presence: CWC Interview (Writer Laura Goode)

Day 10: Simmering Little Wrath of The Annoyed Man

Day 11: Tragedy, Remembrance and Wonder

Day 12: A New Light Borrowed or Discovered

Day 13: Productivity Tips for Anyone Prone to Overwhelm (Like Me)

Day 14: Legitimately Va-goo

Day 15: Sex-Bleating and Cat Vomit

Day 16: The Waiting Place

Day 17: 6 Ways to Bring Balance to the (Artistic) Force

 

The Waiting Place

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I find myself at a crossroads in my work.

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!

Day 01: Struggles and Wonders and Dying in  Chair

Day 02: Fear, Panic, Identity and Anti-Focus

Day 03: Purple Sky of Towering Clouds Over a Far-off City

Day 04: Circle Up and Laugh

Day 05: On The Future of Labor

Day 06: Appreciating Difficulty, Harnessing its Momentum

Day 07: The Word for World is Earth

Day 08: It’s About The Dreaming, Not The Dream

Day 09: Moments of Presence: CWC Interview (Writer Laura Goode)

Day 10: Simmering Little Wrath of The Annoyed Man

Day 11: Tragedy, Remembrance and Wonder

Day 12: A New Light Borrowed or Discovered

Day 13: Productivity Tips for Anyone Prone to Overwhelm (Like Me)

Day 14: Legitimately Va-goo

Day 15: Sex-Bleating and Cat Vomit

Keep Your Artist Alive: Actor Phoebe Allegra

Phoebe as "Vee" in The Videoblogs.
Phoebe as “Vee” in The Videoblogs.

I have had the pleasure of working closely with Phoebe Allegra. If you haven’t already seen her in The Videoblogs, you’re in for a treat with this episode of Coffee With Creatives.

Among other things, this conversation touches upon:

  • The daily work of building a character
  • The importance of honesty on an off screen
  • Acting as a way to escape, and/or experience new and different aspects of life
  • Choosing NYC over LA
  • Parsing industry feedback
  • Separating your self-worth from career highs (or lows)
  • Approaching racial and gender identity from a place of honor

We definitely dig way in on all those subjects in our talk. Phoebe works hard and has a great attitude. Her enthusiasm is infectious. Enjoy. You can find Phoebe on Twitter here.

As reminders, you can also subscribe to Coffee with Creatives on iTunes and/or support the podcast on Patreon.

Convergence and Grit: Screenwriter, Strategist, and Festival Programmer Brad Wilke

Brad Headshot (New)

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 Creatives on iTunes and/or support the podcast on Patreon.

 

Go for It: Director Joshua Caldwell

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Director Joshua Caldwell got tired of waiting for permission to make his first feature film and decided instead to gather what resources he could — including his past experiences as a filmmaker — and then he and his team just went for it.

When I first “met” Josh on Twitter, we were already on a similar path with The Videoblogs, however I was impressed right away by the quality (and sheer existence) of his $6,000 feature film, Layover, which was shot a few years ago but would soon lay the groundwork for the next stage of his career.

As we talk about in this episode, it’s no small task to complete a feature film at all, never mind doing it successfully on a barebones budget.

But taking a big career step takes more than just the desire and the means. It especially takes more when those means are limited. In this episode, we also touch upon:

  • Joshua_CaldwellHow and why directing can be an all-encompassing art
  • Why Josh turns more often to books, than movies and TV, for inspiration
  • Navigating Hollywood when there is no real, specific path to success
  • The importance of moving on to the next thing
  • What filmmaking is about more than anything else — “actors performing in front of the camera”
  • How writing down your vision can help you move forward over time

This talk should be of great help to aspiring or early-career filmmakers, or really anyone who’s ready (or wants to be ready) to take on his/her first big project. Feel free to ask follow-up questions in the comments or on Twitter (Josh, me).

As reminders, you can also subscribe to Coffee with Creatives on iTunes and/or support the podcast on Patreon.

 

The Confession at BAFF’s 2016 Made in New York Filmmakers Showcase

confI’m pleased to announce that The Confession will be screening on February 13th, as part of the Big Apple Film Festival’s 2015 Made in New York Filmmakers Showcase!

We’re in the first block of shorts playing at 11AM at The Producer’s Club Theater, 358 W 44th St, New York, NY.

Director Jaclyn Gramigna will be at the screening, so feel free to say “Hey” to her afterwards if you decide to attend! Tickets will be available beginning Thursday, February 4th, and also at the Producer’s Club box office on the day of the screenings.

Many thanks to the Big Apple Film Festival for screening the film! And thanks again to our supporters on Seed&Spark!

The Confession

Writer/Executive Producer
Michael DiBiasio

Director/Producer
Jaclyn Gramigna

Executive Producer/Lead Actress
Rebecca De Ornelas

Lead Actor
Jeremy Plyburn

Check out the remaining credits for the film on IMDb!

602066_10100681300095942_1773576913_n (2)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).

The Videoblogs Dialogue: Now Live!

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

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

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

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

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

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

And of course thanks also to:

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

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

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

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


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 I send one email per month (sometimes less).

Learn to Bleed: Producer Eddy Vallante

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Indie producer Eddy Vallante got his start working on The Sopranos, and has been working diligently to chase (get it?) his own version of that level of creative success ever since.

Eddy and I grew up minutes away from each other in Rhode Island, but didn’t meet until a few years ago. We’ve swapped many tales of bloody indie producer battles since. Check out this latest episode of Coffee with Creatives to hear about:

  • How Eddy and his collaborators pushed their short film, Epilogue, out online, resulting in over 200,000 views on Vimeo and other channels (h/t Andrew Allen, Jason Sondhi)
  • How his early days working as a Production Assistant on The Sopranos laid the foundation for his future as a Producer
  • Why he and his partners at Amalgamated Picture Co. decided to put all their years of experience and maximum resources into one short (Epilogue)
  • Why and how it can be hugely helpful to bring productions out of major cities like New York and Los Angeles, and bring the work (and jobs!) to other regional communities friendly to film (such as Rhode Island)

We also talk about how much we love our awesome wives. If you don’t think that’s
important, then you must be new to the podcast and blog (which is totally fine, welcome!) because around here we love love.

Eddy is a good dude working on cool stuff. Follow him on Twitter for updates or to ask him or me any follow-up questions.

As reminders, you can also subscribe to Coffee with Creatives on iTunes and support the podcast on Patreon.