Wednesday, December 31, 2008

For Those of You Just Joining Us...

If you are new to all this, you can catch up with how "Smalltimore" unfolded from the very beginning, on my previous blog that I kept for the last year, while the REAL name of the movie was under wraps so nobody would scoop me:

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Yay! New Blog!

I am totally and absolutely drained, body and mind; but spirit and soul... my cup runneth over.

Saturday was The Big Day. The screening of the rough cut of, "Smalltimore," at the Creative Alliance. Some of the invited audience arrived before I even got there, almost half an hour before the doors were supposed to open. A steady stream of arrivals put my mind at ease immediately. It is such a blur, I'm not sure who arrived very first, but I do know that Russell DeoCampo (owner of the Wind-Up Space, who let me film there for two whole, long days) was among the first dozen. He was smiling almost wider than I was, and hugged me three times. More smiles and hugs every time someone new walked in. Everyone was so excited, and excited for me. It was so beyond any previous experience I could compare it to. I've had my "moments," before, at my annual Christmas party, or when I have had photography exhibits, or the group art exhibits I organized in 2006. But this was on a whole other level. This moment encompassed an entire year of my life. I wrote the first draft of the screenplay four years ago, and spent a good year just on the rewrites, but that was work in patches, when I felt like it. But honestly, from mid-December of 2007, my entire existence has been consumed by this project. It has changed my work ethic, my social circles, my whole life. It has changed me, as a person. That is certain.

As each of my actors, and artists, and friends who loaned me their homes and businesses arrived, I was so happy I could have burst. People kept asking me if I was nervous, but I wasn't, at all, which was sort of but not entirely strange. Before my holiday party, or an exhibit, I'm always a bit mad and I can't relax until I see a good crowd has arrived. I put a lot into those events and they have always come off successfully. I think maybe why I wasn't nervous was because all of those things have always gone well, and if I combined all the effort I put into all of them together... it wouldn't be a fraction of what went into this movie. And because this time, it wasn't just about my effort, my party, my success. There were SO many people that were a part of making this happen.

I thanked as many of them as I could in some opening remarks I gave before the screening. Starting with the people who loaned me their homes and businesses, Bill Dougherty (Dougherty's Pub), Russell DeoCampo (The Wind-Up Space), Lynn Hafner (Dionysus Lounge), Charles Lawrance (Fin Art), Phil Baty & Ron Peltzer, Caren Shelley, Greg Mirkin, and Steve Shen. Then the contributing artists, Caren Shelley, Jillian Jenkins, Allison Pasarew, Oletha DeVane, Leslie King-Hammond, Ellen Burchenal, Linda DePalma, Charles Lawrance, and Joyce Scott, as well as jewelry artists Caren Shelley, and Wayne Werner. Wayne made two custom pieces especially for the film. Getting to the nuts & bolts of the operation, my Director of Photography Michelle Farrell and her crew; my Production Crew headed by Production Manager Rebecca Clear Dean, who, among other duties wrangled the extras and an army of Production Assistant interns - and I absolutely did have to single out my "A Team" among them, Regina Guy, Corey Dillon, and David Sarmiento. These three were the first on board, the ones who were there every day, first in, last out, always did any crazy thing I asked of them with a smile on their face, in short, setting the bar for the other interns incredibly high and leading by example. And Charlie Anderson, of Stratatek Studios, who was my personal tutor on Final Cut Pro (editing), and who is not only a great teacher, but a VERY patient man.

I gave props to my amazing cast, whose onscreen chemistry was largely due to their genuine offscreen chemistry. From the greenest among them (for several, it was their first such project) to vets like Joyce Scott and Cheryl Scungio, they were all true professionals and a pleasure to work with. I have so much to say about each of them that I couldn't even BEGIN to do if we were going to get around to watching the movie, but I am going to profile each of them individually in this blog in the near future, so make sure to check back.

The soundtrack, which is not set in stone (and I met several new people at the screening who handed me their CDs and want to be involved) but will definitely include the work of T.T.Tucker & the Bum Rush Band, Joyce J. Scott, Jennifer Swartout, and Niki Lee.

Next, the "money people", the ones who wrote me very generous checks in order to bring you a much better version of the film than I could have possibly given you on my own (at least not without going into credit card debt for the rest of my life): my friend Tom Kyte - who knew that sleeping on his couch every weekend during my freshman year (my only year) at Pitt would pay off so well? Mark my words, make friends with smart people while you are young, they will be the ones with cash flow down the road... Dan Denning, who lives on the other side of the planet, but on whom one of the characters is based - I'll let you figure out which one for yourselves... my Mom, who surprised me with an unsolicited check, something that meant a great deal to me... Wayne Werner, my friend and one of several triple-threats on this production, as an Executive Producer, a contributing artist, and also Wayne is on the soundtrack via Tucker's band (the other triple threats being Joyce Scott, actor/artist/soundtrack, and Caren Shelley, artist (both sculpture &jewelry)/location/featured extra). And last but not least, my dear friend Mikey B., who not only wrote me a very generous check (and just handed me another one this week) but checked on me every step of the way, gave me full access to his cabin in the Poconos where I acomplished LOADS of work from pre- through post-production, and who was always my biggest cheerleader.

And lastly I explained to the audience the answer to the question that people ask me the most - how the hell did you pull this off, when you did not go to school for this and have never done anything like this in your life? Simple answer: I surrounded myself with people who know a lot more than I do, who were very generous with their time, who allowed me to pick their brains for hours on end, and who were always honest with me, whether it was what I wanted to hear or not. If you read this blog, you are already familiar with them - Al Letson, my dear friend who flew up from Jacksonville to be in one scene, just to give me a little "celeb cred", even though he was in the thick of pre-production of his radio program, "State of the Re:Union," that will start airing on NPR this spring... Sean Stanley, of Magic Wonder Show Productions, who, with his crew, helped me put together the initial trailer (which you can still see on YouTube - my acting debut!), and who spent many lunchtimes over the next several months, helping me tweak the script, and giving me lots of great production advice... Eric Thornett, of Piranha Pictures, who is my favorite sounding board and someone I can count on for anything at all, from moving furniture to blacking out windows to talking me down off a ledge... and finally, full circle back to Michelle Farrell, of Absolute Independent Pictures, who always went above and beyond the call of duty, always had my back and the best interests of the production at heart, and helped me pick up the slack wherever I fell short, just being green to all this, and who always, always found a way to make me laugh just when I wanted to cry (or kill someone).

What I didn't say in front of all those people, because I would have turned into a puddle of mush before their very eyes, is that especially with these people, Sean, Eric, and Michelle, who a year ago I didn't really know, what is really important to me is that they are now my friends, and if this movie goes no further, I have that and it makes everything that has happened so far worth it. That may sound very Hallmark-card, but I could not be more sincere. They are the ones who kept me sane, who propped me up, who got me through, and I will always remember them for that.

I'm not sure how long it took me to say all that, probably close to 15 minutes, but everyone gave me their full attention for the whole time. It was a strange and wonderful feeling, looking out at all these (mostly) familiar faces, people who had contributed in some way, or just friends that I am glad don't hate me for virtually ignoring them for a year. I think there were about 120 people there, it was a pretty packed house. I have spoken in front of much larger audiences than that, when I have been in London at the Awards Night of my friend Matthew's school, Songtime Theater Arts. I've presented an award there each of the last four years, as his "American liaison" that has connected him with Baltimore School for the Arts and Baltimore Theater Project. Those audiences have ranged from four hundred to SEVEN hundred people, and I can tell you that especially the first time (which of course, was the time with 700) I was so nervous that my voice, my knees (which luckily were hidden under a long skirt), and most noticeably my hands that were holding the card listing the nominees, were shaking uncontrollably. Each year it has gotten a little easier, but it is still nerve-wracking.

Saturday when I was in front of all those people, about to throw my creative soul upon their mercy, I didn't feel that way at all. The only thing I was nervous about was that I might get emotional, which is why I didn't go into sentimental detail when thanking everyone. There was so much love and support and camaraderie in that room, I felt like the luckiest person in the world. I'll admit that I did kind of lean on the stage, just in case my knees knocked. But they didn't. Not really. Somewhere in the middle of my little speech, I did think of that night in London in front of 700 people, and how different the feeling this afternoon was. My life is so different now. I am so different now. It is no exaggeration to say that this has been the most amazing year of my life. And I think the next year will have even more to come.