Thursday, February 19, 2009

Friends With Benefits

Honing, honing, honing... I have these bursts where I can't stay away from editing and then days when I'd just rather sleep than think about it anymore. It is really coming together, though. I have put it in front of a few more people whose opinions I trust - Namely Eric, again, and now Stacie Jones-Gentzler, a local Producer/WonderWoman with Black Ink Films. Got some good feedback from them and made some more adjustments. Eric is especially great with this because he, good friend that he is, sat down and watched the whole thing with remote in hand, pausing and taking notes down to the details of FRAMES (split seconds) that he thought I should add or subtract to tighten things up. Out of probably a dozen very specific suggestions, I took his advice on all but two of them. Stacie's notes had mostly to do with sound, which I am still working on. I am glad that I have taken on that demon by myself, I have learned a lot, though probably the hard way. If a real sound engineer looked at the way I have jury-rigged some of the sound to fix problems, they would likely wonder what the hell I am doing. But, on the cheap, because I am pretty much COMPLETELY out of cash, I have found ways to patch things together so they are at least not completely jarring to the ear. Also I have three of the actors coming in on Monday to loop a few scenes that are virtually unsalvageable without doing so (God bless them!).

Collaboration is such an important part of the process, and one I really enjoy. Learning something new every day is one of my favorite things about filmmaking. I don't think any of the things Stacie or Eric told me needed to be fixed surprised me, and certainly none offended me. Especially the tiny details that Eric picked up on - these scenes bugged me but I wasn't sure how (or if) I could fix them. Sometimes you are so close to something it is hard to put your finger on the problem. You have to trust other people, and fresh eyes.

Not to say you should bend to everyone's whim. Eric, Sean, Michelle, have all made a lot of suggestions I have implemented. And each have made several that I said, no, we are going to have to agree to disagree on this one. These are three people with VERY different tastes. You can't please everyone, and never should try to. You'll just water everything down.

On Saturday, Valentine's Day, I crammed 15 people into my living room to watch an updated version of Smalltimore, though i have a newer version still nearly completed. I cooked dinner, champagne & truffle mushroom risotto, that turned out pretty damn good if I do say so myself. Several people brought other accoutrements, including my friend Elizabeth bringing homemade chocolate chip cookies (so fresh that the chips were still gooey!) and my friend/star Cheryl bringing homemade and hand-decorated heart-shaped sugar cookies. She told me she noticed a big glop of red icing on the back of her underfoot cat in the midst of this little project. Have I mentioned that Cheryl is my own Lucille Ball? She just cracks me up.

It was really nice to have my living room carpeted (literally) wall-to-wall with my friends, watching the movie. Of course, they are a partially- biased audience, but the laughs and the silences still help me to judge where it needs further tweaking.

Other cast members who were guests were Phil Calvert (Thom), Kyle Holtgren (David), and Kelly Coston (Mel). Phil has been my friend for several years, and Kyle was more of a friend-of-a-friend before being cast in the movie, but is my own friend now. Cheryl and Kelly I hadn't known before all this, but as they were leaving after our very fun night together, I said to them, this is one of the things that really makes me happy - that we can do these things, that we are friends, to whatever degree, now. There are so many people I can say that about who worked on Smalltimore, Michelle, Regina, loads of people, certainly all of the cast I am on good terms with. And that means something to me, as I told Cheryl and Kelly on their way out. It makes me feel like I did something right. I am sure there are times they were frustrated with me, and sometimes me with them, on the set, but we have a mutual respect and just enjoy each other's company, I think. Maybe I am wrong, maybe they are just sucking up to me to be in my next movie :) . But (a) I don't think so, and (b), if that is the case, that is a big fat compliment as well.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Darik Bernard, as Darik

To answer your first question, no, the character was not originally named Darik. In the screenplay he was first called Brad, named after someone I had a crush on at the time that I wrote it. By the time we were filming, that crush had long since dissipated, and my dear but sometimes annoying friend/big brother/Executive Producer Tom Kyte thought (mistakenly) that I had named the character after my college boyfriend, who was Tom's roommate way back in that day. So, in order not to have Tom give me grief for the rest of my life (at least about that; he finds plenty of ammunition without me handing it to him), I decided to change the name of the character. Plus, Darik just doesn't look like a "Brad" to me. I started thinking about it, and then I started over-thinking about it, and then I was like, screw it, he looks like a Darik, just call him Darik! And Darik was very happy about that, so problem solved.

Darik came to the first round of auditions at Baltimore Theater Project. The actors received a brief description of the characters and I let them choose which they would try out for. Darik tried out for (bi-sexual) Bentley and (gay) David. Something that happened over and over in these auditions - straight men who could not convince me that they were gay - and Darik was one of them. However, in one of the sides he was given he had to act as if he were drunk, and that he did very convincingly! So when I contacted him later to tell him he didn't get a scripted part, I told him I wanted to write him in as a drunk guy, and he was pleased as punch to do that.

(Side note: In the future, if I am directing a scene where a character is supposed to be drunk, most likely I will actually get them drunk, because few sober people are as convincing as Darik was.)

A few weeks later I attended the Stonehenge auditions at the Creative Alliance. Darik was there, and did a very dramatic but subtle monologue. I was surprised and impressed, and started to see him in a new light. I emailed him soon after and asked him to come to the callbacks, to audition for the role of Brad. I was having a hard time filling this role, which was weird because it is one of the less quirky, more straightforward characters.

Darik did a very good job and landed the role. I asked him why hadn't he auditioned as Brad or Tony in the first place? He told me, "I just really wanted to be gay!" He had never played a gay role and thought it would be challenging as an actor. I liked that attitude, because I can't TELL you how many actors dropped out of the auditions because they didn't want to play a gay or bi-sexual man. Isn't that why they call it acting??? It's not like this was porn or anything. Raise your hand if you are secure in your manhood!

Darik is a real sweetheart and easy to work with. During our days of rehearsals, Cheryl Scungio turned everyone on to a little trick called, "hugging it out". If she was in a scene with a person she had never acted with before, she would hug them for a minute so they would quickly establish a connection. Darik really liked this concept and it seemed to help him. He kept campaigning for me to alter the script so they could kiss it out, but I stood my ground.

Anyway, Phil Calvert was not at rehearsals on the first day, so he didn't know about "hugging it out". Thom (Phil) and Darik (Darik) had a scene together and are supposed to be good friends. So Day Two of rehearsals we are going through this scene, and admittedly it was a little flat. Darik stopped in the middle of it, looked at me and asked, "Can we hug it out?", walked up to Phil before I could answer and gave the rather confused Phil a big bear hug. I found the whole thing to be hysterical and I wish to god I had been taping so I would have caught Phil's expression on film! I had to explain "hugging it out" to Phil, we had a laugh about it, and I tell you what, the scene worked a lot better afterwards.

Darik has a big, beautiful smile and can be a warm teddy bear or a jealous, brooding, wanna-be boyfriend. His size and stature made him the perfect adversary for Tony (and remember what I said about trying to find tall, muscular guys? Darik is another one of the very few you'll find in this area). But the thing I love most about Darik is his almost childlike enthusiasm. He just LOVES acting and he gets SO excited about it. I am confident that some day he will realize his dream, and play an amazingly gay gay man.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Third Time, Getting More Charming

The strangest thing happened a couple of days ago. I started editing, taking a third pass at the movie... and I am not even at the threshold of a deadline!!! I mean, there is one coming up pretty quick, but it is not even the 8th hour, let alone the eleventh. Hmm, I wondered, what gives?

Well, it is not that hard to figure out, really. It is, I am, all about the music right now. Recently Libby, "Lazerbitch" Picken and The Degenerettes joined the cause, and I couldn't wait to find a spot to fit their tunes into. Then on Saturday I went to see The Remnants perform at Cat's Eye (they are there again on 3/27, you must go!!!). Tom Boynton, their singer, songwriter, self-appointed Benevolent Dictator, sent me several shout-outs regarding the movie during their sets. I don't care who you are, having the band say your name onstage is a good feeling, not to mention boku cool points. (Do people say "boku" anymore? Damn, I may just have sent myself into negative points...)

It is simply astounding the difference that music can make when it is perfectly paired with a scene. It is hard to figure out the sound levels, so I have been watching other romantic comedies that have bar and restaurant scenes to help me make educated guesses. Another lesson learned... don't forget that if there is supposed to be music in the background, have your actors talk loudly during taping (when you, of course, have silence in the background).

But what has been happening this week has been very cool... I find myself actually craving to watch a scene that I know I have found the exact perfect song for, when as of just a few weeks ago I was pretty sick of looking at the whole thing and was getting bored of it. But now I have found yet another challenge, another puzzle, and as the pieces fall into place I find it immensely satisfying.

Another facet of that satisfaction is me wanting to make dead certain that all of these musicians who have gotten on board are, in the end, absolutely proud of being associated with "Smalltimore." That, in regards to the actors and crew, was a driving force during the first months of editing. I hadn't expected or thought about that happening again with the musicians. But it is just what I needed to happen.

I think it was seeing Tom onstage saying my name (now I just have to get him to say the name of the film :) ) that did it for me. I've known his music for a decade and have such respect for him and his talent. To see him so tickled, and proud, when I told him I want to use at least six of The Remnants songs, well... it touched me. He hasn't seen anything more than the trailer, and he barely knows me, and he agreed whole-heartedly to do this. I can't let him down.

The last week and a half have been lots of fun, I have been out almost every night, catching up with friends old and new (and the Steelers kicking this period off by winning the Super Bowl for me - that's right, just for me - didn't hurt my mood one bit). I have been so far off the grid for so long, or at least it feels that way, that I was afraid that when I finally came up for air that all my friends would be mad at me or have forgotten me altogether. It has been quite the opposite, and additionally my social skills have not seemed to degrade at all, so that is a good thing. Gives me hope, because I need to get back to business soon, but I can see the light at the end of the tunnel, and then it will be time to start narrowing down the festivals to submit to. It is all good, and though my sleep patterns have still not quite recovered, when I do find myself watching the glow-in-the-dark stars on the ceiling over my bed fade in the wee hours, I am often aware there is a smile on my face.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

The Wire

As in, "Down to the..." I did manage to submit Smalltimore to the Maryland Film Festival on the final day possible. Since my wireless still wasn't (and isn't) working, and my parking lot was a sheet of ice so I couldn't move my car, I had to walk my freezing butt half a mile to the Enoch Pratt Library and stand at a computer to submit through, then walk another half mile or more to the main Post Office building so I could get it postmarked that day.

From there I walked down to the Inner Harbor, just cuz I COULD, now that I had met my deadline. I burned a gift card at Barnes & Noble, had lunch, and cabbed it home.

One of my purchases was Carrie Fisher's new autobiographical, "Wishful Drinking." I read the whole thing that evening, which was not a big feat, it was less than 200 pages and a pretty quick read. It was good, but having read her novels I was a little disappointed. She is my favorite author. Yep, Princess Leia, believe it or not. She wrote "Wishful Drinking" after going through electro-convulsive therapy (which she now swears by, despite it erasing huge chunks of her memory). She has spent most of her life as a mess, so I am glad for her as a person that she is finally feeling better. But as a writer... I think she was better when she was miserable.

That's the way it seems to go for most artists, though. I know that I usually do my own best writing when I am terribly upset or depressed. My problem, artistically speaking, is that I am hardly ever all that upset or depressed. But I have been told that I am a good storyteller. It took me a long time how to figure out how to tell a long, good story (i.e., write a screenplay) without suffering much for it. Well, maybe that is not the right way of putting it. Many of the storylines in Smalltimore are based on my own experiences, and not all of them were fun to go through. But I think (hope) I have successfully found a way to put a funny spin on even the tragic moments. Time and audiences will be the judges of that.

I have been listening a lot lately to one of my favorite local bands, The Remnants, who are on board to be on the soundtrack. I first got to know their music within my first year of living in Baltimore, over a decade ago. My first friends in Baltimore, Joe, Chris, and Bradley (aka The Wine Guys) used to take me down to the Cat's Eye Pub in Fells Point to hear The Remnants and other live music. I have never seen a bad band there, and there is never a cover charge.

Until a couple weeks ago, I only owned one Remnants CD, "Double Wide", but now I also have their latest works, "American Grit" and "As/Is", and just yesterday received in the mail "Songs for Sale", which I bought online at It usually takes me listening to a CD the whole way through a couple times before I know if I like it or not, but it doesn't take me long to warm up to anything by The Remnants. It is all good stuff, but my personal favorite is still "Double Wide", probably largely due to those tunes taking me back to my early days in Charm City. Maybe I am just remembering things the way I want to, but I feel like I didn't have so much responsibility then, just regular work stuff and the rest of my time was spent having fun. That is what "Double Wide" sounds like to me, too. Those songs are either just plain fun, like, "Ain't Got a Lot," or some of them are very sweet ballads, my favorite being, "Take This Ride."

Some reviews I have read online about "American Grit" tout this CD as The Remnants' most personal and most political work to date. It is rocking good stuff, with a lot of energy and musical depth. Almost all of the songs are at a pretty quick pace, but I prefer the slower ones, and on this CD I think my favorite is, "Everything's Good," though I really love, "Happy, Too" as well. A lot of the songs on "American Grit" make references to the war(s), politicians, etc, but not so much that they are depressing or anything.

I don't know what I am trying to say here, because Tom Boynton (who writes all of The Remnants' songs) kind of disproves my earlier point, as his pre-9/11 stuff is just as good as his post-9/11 work. I prefer the non-political songs, because for me, music is an escape from the crappy things in life. But as an artist, and especially as a writer, I understand the need to express it. I very recently came across a journal I started immediately after 9/11. At the time, I couldn't really talk to anyone about it, it was just too much. But I wrote about it, a lot. Some people exorcise their demons by painting, dancing, working out, whatever. I write. Reading over those things that I wrote seven and a half years ago... I had forgotten how much it hurt, how engulfing those times were, how black, and bleak. Writing it all down was what helped me to forget that pain, but also what helps me to remember it.

I'm not sure how this all connects, I am just being very stream-of-consciousness right now, because, for a short window, I have the luxury to do so. I still have many, many hours worth of editing to do on my next pass at Smalltimore, but I am taking a little break this week before hitting it again. Last night I went to the CAMM Salon/CineLounge at the Creative Alliance, saw some friends and met some new contacts, and then afterwards went out for drinks with my friend Kerra. It was almost like I had a life again! And tonight I'll see Eric for a bit, tomorrow sushi with Greg, Thursday Allison Pasarew's art exhibit at Dougherty's, Friday drinks with Caren at the Wind-Up Space, and Saturday, guess what, The Remnants are playing at Cat's Eye again! So, you should come out take a listen for yourself. Don't forget to bring some bills for the tip jar (don't be stingy, you get in for free!) and to buy a CD if you are so inclined. I promise you will not be disappointed!