Monday, November 30, 2009

UnchartED Waters

[Me at Dingman's Falls in the Poconos, near Mikey's cabin. Just cuz.]

Well... this is a feeling I don't quite know what to do with. I am finding myself... relaxed. There is nothing at this very moment that I should be doing, or need to have already done. My computer is tied up right now, burning DVDs from the duplicator, so I can't get online. I am typing this as a text file and I will cut and paste it later. I am actually kind of bored at the moment. I don't have anything to... stress about. Except, you know, my credit card balances, but they are what they, and hopefully I can put a big dent in them and recoup some of that next week. But right now... the Charles Theater is reserved for the screening. The Wind-Up Space is reserved for the DVD Release Party afterwards. I don't think I mentioned it before, but when I first called Russell DeoCampo, owner of The Wind-Up Space, about a month ago to see if the date was available, it wasn't. Another group who regularly holds events there had something scheduled for that evening. But, they are friends of Russell's so he did me a gigantic favor (he offered, I didn't ask) and called them and got them to reschedule on another night (since the date at The Charles was locked), which they graciously agreed to do. Russell is awesome like that.

All the graphic design stuff is done. That was A LOT. I drove Kyle crazy for more than two weeks. He put together the (two-sided) postcard, the poster, the DVD disc art, the DVD cover art, and the movie ticket stub art for me. His reward in Heaven shall be great. I just picked up the posters and postcards today, and ordered the DVD covers and tickets. They should be ready by Friday. Tomorrow I will start plastering the town with the posters and postcards.

I did put out a press release with a DVD screener at the beginning of the month to the local publications (The Sun, City Paper, Urbanite, Baltimore Magazine) but haven't heard anything back. I am sure it is too late for the magazines, but maybe the papers will still put out a review for me this week, so keep an eye out. Can't hold a gun to anyone's head. I hope at least one of them will come through for me. I do have an interview on Maryland Morning (WYPR) early next week, can't wait for that!

And most importantly, since this is a DVD Release Party, after all, I am well into the process of duplicating DVDs. Refer back to the maxed out credit cards. But, I have to believe I will recoup that. Filmmaking is like religion, there are huge leaps of faith at every turn. With all the people that were involved in the making of "Smalltimore," and others who have done me "Smalltimore" related favors since, I probably have to hand out about 200 DVDs just to keep my promises, before selling a single one. And based on all the people that have been asking me for months when they could buy one, I hope to sell a couple hundred more on top of that. So by the time I am up to around 400 or so DVDs necessary... only made sense to buy a duplicator myself. I still have to make 50 or so DVDs of The Red-Headed Menace on top of that, for the people who worked on that production and have been waiting to get their hands on a DVD. I'll admit I am a bit proud of myself for figuring this little machine out! It has become my new best friend. Sometimes it decides to stop cooperating, but if I am nice to it, most often I set it all up and then go about my business and I come back later to be rewarded with a stack of DVDs, burned, labeled, and ready to go. It's lovely.

So that's almost everything! When I get the DVD covers from the printer, Cheryl Scungio (Gracie) and Kelly Coston (Mel) have volunteered to come over and help me put everything together. Demanded to help would probably be more accurate. When Cheryl came over for the photo shoot for the promo art, she told me she would help and volunteered Kelly as well. This past Friday Cheryl stopped by to drop off payment for a slew of theater tickets (she recently told me that she had not allowed any of her friends to come to the May 3rd screening at The Wind-Up Space, because she couldn't be there), plus some DVDs and posters. She wagged her finger at me and said, "You better not let me find you buried under a mountain of jewel cases!" It'll be fun, having her and Kelly over. I'll get some wine and we'll knock the whole thing out pretty quickly and talk about boys.

I remember at the beginning of all this (two years ago now!), Sean Stanley, who was my rock, my consultant, and my sounding board throughout pre-production especially (but through to present day as well), asked me to answer a long list of questions honestly including, "How much are you willing to sacrifice for the project? Are you willing to max out your credit cards? Sell your belongings? Suck the proverbial dick?" I said yes, because I knew that was the right answer. I didn't think I'd actually have to do all of that, though. I was really good with my credit cards then, had good-sized limits but most of them had very small balances, and actually I only had a few at the time. So my credit was really good, which helped me to acquire a few more cards. And every single one of them is maxed out right now, and they lower my limits whenever they can. I had three yard sales over the summer, ruthlessly culling everything from my wardrobe to my book collection. And last year I even sold off my dark room equipment, every bit of it. No regrets. And the dick? Well, I don't know what to tell you about that. I've certainly kissed some ass. But that is necessary at some point in any area of business. I don't have to pucker as much now as I had to in the beginning, when I was largely dependent on the kindness of strangers. And that's nice. Most of it now is just making sure that I take the time, even if I have to make the time, to appreciate everyone who helps me along the way. I really do try very hard not to let any of that slip through the cracks, and let people know how much their support means to me.

I can tell you this, as I sit alone in my apartment, staring at stacks of DVDs and hoping I can find a $20 bill in an old coat pocket so I can go out for a couple beers at some point this week: I am happy. I mean, I am usually a pretty happy person anyway, but, above and beyond, I am really, really happy. I can't go anywhere without people hounding me about the screening, and everyone seems genuinely excited about it. If there is one thing I love to do, it is to throw a great party, and I know that next Wednesday night is going to blow anything I have ever done out of the water. I can't wait.

The other evening I thought to myself, is it maybe just a little sad that I don't have one special person (i.e., boyfriend) to share this with right now? I mean, it is just a whole lotta happy and that would make it even better, wouldn't it? But, funny enough, I knew right away, no, that wouldn't make it better, I've just seen too many sappy holiday commercials lately. This is way too big to share with just one person. This doesn't just belong to me. It is a triumph (yea, I said it) for so many people that worked so hard to make this happen, and I am especially proud of the artists and musicians and cast who gave everything of themselves to help me manifest this image of our Baltimore. The finished product is so close to what I wanted to show the world, the Baltimore that I love, that I would be hard-pressed to tell you what I would do differently. When my friend Adam from L.A. saw "Smalltimore," he actually got misty because he said, "While I was watching it, I was thinking, wow, that must be what it is like to have a big group of friends. You don't have that in L.A." Last week I was on the phone with one person from my big group of friends, my friend Ken, who was helping me to make some beer connections for the party. Ken had seen "Smalltimore" at the May 3rd screening at The Wind-Up. He said, "I never got a chance to say... so proud," (Ken gets misty, too). He paused for a moment and then said, "It's... us!" That was probably the best review I possibly could have asked for.

I have had a few people, very few, but they are out there and their opinions are valid, who did not like the movie, and even a few who did not like it a whole lot. That's okay. It would be statistically impossible for that not to be the case. Sometimes it is hard to shake off a scathing review when you have put all of your heart and soul into something, but it is part of the whole that cannot be avoided. What makes me able to shake it off is that I don't have one special person to share this with; I have hundreds (literally - watch the credits - and that's just the tip of the iceberg) of special people to share this with, because they are all a part of it. They are the people that made me fall in love with Baltimore. And they are the same people that sometimes make me remind them why they themselves love Baltimore. And that's why I made this movie. It's... us!

Friday, November 27, 2009

Cold Reality

[DVD label designed by Kyle Holtgren. I have 82 of these babies hot off the press!]

In the immortal words of Roseanna Roseannadanna, "If it's not one thing, it's another..." Yesterday before heading to my uncle's for the family feast, I finally figured out how to work my very expensive DVD duplicator. It can make up to 50 in a batch, and once it gets rolling it only takes about 7 minutes to burn a disc. It was so nice to come home after several hours and have a lovely little stack of them waiting for me! I burned 70 yesterday, and it prints the labels (above) at the same time. I already had a dozen made, sans label, that I had burned from my laptop because I was starting to panic that I would never figure out the DVD duplicator. So last night I was so proud of myself, set the duplicator up to run another batch of fifty, made sure the first one went through correctly, and fell asleep very shortly thereafter to the sound of the next few finished DVDs dropping into the basket-holder-thingie. Then I woke up this morning to a grand total of FOUR completed DVDs and a message on my screen saying, "THE PRINTER IS NOT RESPONDING TO COMMANDS." Oh, AND no heat in the building. The very old, very draughty building.

So I decided to let the duplicator have a few hours off while I attend to the heat and some emails I needed to send out, including one more print job (the DVD covers) to the printers. Started making phone calls at 8:30am and just now received word from Pepco (who is supposed to have a 2 hour response time, under our contract, and who has a kinipshin fit if anyone else touches the boiler) that they will be here an hour from now. My fingers, toes, and nose are literally ice cold.

Plus I am still waiting on the delivery of my posters and postcards. I know the job is completed, and I was hoping to receive them on Wednesday. I use Grove Printing and they usually turn jobs around so fast it makes my head spin, but maybe the holiday this week has thrown a wrench in that. I hope they show up this afternoon, I really wanted to get some posters up around town by tonight so they would be up for two weekends before the screening.

I do have some good news, though, in that I have already sold 15 tickets, 5 posters, and 5 DVDs! Cheryl Scungio (Gracie, my lead) stopped by to drop off payment for all of the above, as I put the word out to cast and crew that they have first dibs on everything. Not to worry, I should have enough of all of the above for everyone. If I can get my duplicator to once again cooperate.

I am planning on pre-selling the hell out of tickets, though, so watch this space and/or the "Smalltimore, the Movie" Facebook page to find out where I will be and when, selling tickets. Oh, and next Friday I will be taping an interview for Maryland Morning at WYPR! It will air on that Monday, Tues, or Wed right before the screening. Of course I will let you know when to listen for it!

I have to go chop some kindling now. Hope everyone is having a great holiday weekend!

Saturday, November 21, 2009

The People in Your Neighborhood

[Smalltimore poster designed by Kyle Holtgren!]

I am really starting to get excited now that I have a few more things off my plate, and particularly because some of those things are the layout of the promotional postcard and poster for the screening, which I shipped off to the printers (online) yesterday. By the way, if you need stuff like this, you should use Grove Printing (, they are cheap, their stuff looks great, easy as pie to order online (seriously, if I can do it...), and fast turnaround time. Anyway, Kyle Holtgren (David in "Smalltimore" - he is a man of many talents) is my graphic artist saviour, and if you are making a movie that you eventually intend to promote, you need someone like him on your team. For a living, Kyle designs beer labels for Fordham Brewing, and they are honestly the most gorgeous beer labels you can imagine!

So Kyle is a triple threat - a little acting, graphic design, AND he works for a brewing company! Soooo, when we were filming, Kyle helped land me a few cases of Fordham Brew to use as props in "Smalltimore". Many of the scenes take place in bars, because (a) it is a movie set in Baltimore and (b) it is my movie. So it was quite helpful to have bottles of beer on the bar and tables and not have to hide the labels - a dead giveaway of a low-budget indie.

Another person who came in quite handy in that regard was my friend Ken "Lord of the Beers" Dean, who also happens to be the husband of my Production Manager, Rebecca Clear Dean. Ken tended bar for many years at Sascha's, and he also helped out the production by procuring even more cases of beer from his buddies at Magic Hat. If you watch closely when you see "Smalltimore," you will notice that Gracie always drinks Magic Hat No. 9, Bentley Always drinks Circus Boy (my Magic Hat fave), and Melanie always drinks Lucky Kat.

When making a movie, I am always thinking about production values, and using anything at my disposal - friends who are stunt men, gorgeous mansion homes of people I know, children, animals, artwork, music, whatever... but you also need to think about the people you have in your arsenal for behind the scenes stuff like graphic design, and alcohol supplies. Very important.

Don't be afraid to ask your friends if they would like to lend their special talents to your project. Most often people are not only willing to do so, but thrilled to be asked, because you know what? Making movies is cool. I'm not gonna lie, it is. I can tell you, and I have, about all the little crappy things that go into making a movie that most people don't think about, but even with all that stuff, it is cool, and fun, and I have yet to meet the person who doesn't think so. I used to feel guilty asking people to do things like come be an extra for 12 hours, which probably entails 2 to 3 hours of rolling cameras and the rest of the time just sitting around, often not being able to talk. I still feel a tiny bit guilty, but that usually goes away after we wrap for the day and I tell those people, sorry that took so long, hope you weren't bored to death, and they look at me with their eyes a little wider than usual and their cheeks sometimes a little flushed even and they almost always say the same thing, something along the lines of, no, that was really cool, I had no idea how much goes on behind the scenes, call me the next time you are doing something!

So when you are planning to shoot a movie, even a little one, think about those things, the talents of your friends, and put them to work. My neighbor Joe, a hairdresser, helped me out a couple days on Smalltimore, my friend Lisa, a cosmetologist, did make-up for me on my short The Red-Headed Menace, and a million other examples I could give you. You can't do it all yourself. Just ask Regina Guy, who has no less than FOUR credits in "Smalltimore". I work her ass off every chance I get, and she loves it, loves being on the set, being a part of the collaborative effort, loves being appreciated for the things she does well. If you don't believe me, ask her yourself on the night of the screening, as she will be helping me sell tickets at the theater and then selling DVDs at the party! Because she is awesome like that, as are Kyle, Ken, Joe, Lisa, etc, etc, etc... You probably have friends almost as awesome, put them to good use!

p.s. there will be a VERY limited run of 150 of the above posters for sale at the party. They are 13 x 19 and will be $5 each, so if you want one, snap them up fast at the party, when they are gone, they're gone!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

And Even More Awesome News...

[Will Lurie as Andrew in a scene from filmed in Fin Art, a.k.a. (in "Smalltimore") Moxie Gallery]

Yet another hot happening you are invited to:

Charles Lawrance exhibit at Henderson's Wharf & Fin Art in Fells Point, Saturday, December 12, 6:00pm-9:00pm. Come to an art exhibit in the real gallery (Fin Art) that serves as "Moxie Gallery" in "Smalltimore," just days after the "Smalltimore screening on December 9th!

Here is a production secret just for fans of "Smalltimore, the Movie" Facebook page and the faithful readers of this blog: in one of the Moxie Gallery scenes in "Smalltimore" (filmed in Charles Lawrance's Fells Point Gallery, Fin Art), Gracie says to Bentley, "Do we still have any Charles Lawrance pieces?" The room they are standing in is floor to ceiling paintings - every one of them a Charles Lawrance. Just my little inside joke and "thank you" to Charles for allowing me to film in his gorgeous gallery. Come see for yourself, and meet Charles. I'll be there, too!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Mother of All Line-Ups

[Very happy Madame Director]

I have thrown some KILLER parties in my time, ask anyone, but Ladies & Gentlemen, I have outdone myself.

I am ecstatic to announce that the SWEEEEET line-up for the Smalltimore screening post-party at the Wind-Up Space (Charles & North Ave) on Wednesday, December 9th(immediately following the 7:00pm screening of "Smalltimore" at The Charles Theater) is:

9:15-9:40pm Jen Swartout
9:50-10:15 Lauren Young
10:30-11:15 T.T.Tucker & the Bum Rush Band
11:30-11:55 Reina Williams
12:10-1:00am The Remnants

Don't be late! NO COVER!!! CDs for sale!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Onward & Forward

[I hope to shoot my next short in this building, a creepy old Civil War-era jail. Am I the only one who sees the face of a bald inmate staring me down in this photo?]

Just a short one today, I have loads to do and have been distracted by Facebook and the Pittsburgh Steelers all day, nope, don't wanna talk about it.

The Poconos shoot is shelved probably until March. I need some distance from the piece right now. It is like in football, when your team is rolling down the field on an incredible drive and just as everyone knows you are about to score, the other side calls a time out and it messes up your whole groove. If I tried to immediately regroup and get it done, it wouldn't be good, and I just don't have time to do it well before the "Smalltimore" screening on December 9th, and after that the weather is probably going to make it too difficult, along with some scheduling issues.

So, gotta shake it off. I recently visited a Civil War-era jail that is under renovation. It is a very cool location and I have an open invitation to shoot there. The script has been stewing in my brain since I saw the place, and I believe I will get started on it soon. Just a short, but very different from things I have done so far.

Tomorrow I will be announcing here the final line-up for the "Smalltimore" screening post-party at The Wind-Up Space. If you are a fan on the "Smalltimore, the movie" Facebook page, though, it is old news to you because those fans get the info first. If you haven't become a fan yet, please click the link in the sidebar and get in the loop!

And now, I am off to tackle something I have been dreading but also am very excited about: setting up my brand-new DVD duplicator. There are a lot of instructions. I HATE reading instructions. But I am going to take my time and read them word for word and get this thing rolling. Miles to go before I sleep, piles (of DVDs) to burn before I screen...

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Failure to Launch

[Bar Louis in the Hotel Fauchere in Milford, PA. Sushi pizza here is the ultimate comfort food for me, and it is a good thing. See below.]

I can't even tell you how upset I am. Or rather, was. At least I can see straight now. Couldn't do that for almost three days. Ahhh, so many lessons learned this week. And absolutely nothing else accomplished.

I am still in the Poconos, staring at a sinkful of dishes and a mountain of food, much of it that will go bad if I don't give it away. Less than a week ago I was so far ahead of the game! This was going to be the smoothest shoot ever! Only two actors, instead of my usual cast of thousands, only 10 pages, only three locations, but the majority of it taking place in one house. I had had two great rehearsals with the actors, including blocking, and they had it down pat. I had gone to Sam's Club and put $350 worth of groceries on my card, the only one that isn't maxed out. 3 of the 6 people that were going to be on the shoot are vegetarians, but two eat fish, so what I saved not buying meat I spent on crab cakes and shrimp scampi. Had my car packed to the roof with all of this food, plus props, computer, dogs, suitcase, me... Got up here Saturday night, unpacked all of it by myself, took me about an hour and a half. Eric arrived a couple hours after I did, he needed to shoot some B-roll of a little town up here for his movie. We did that on Sunday, I talked to the grip, Kit, while she was on her way up, and when she was only a few miles away, I got a call from Michelle's girlfriend that she was sick and was not coming up.

No DP.
No gear.
No movie.

No kidding.

I don't really even want to talk about it, but this blog is for you, to show you the downs with the ups. I'm not going to go into detail about how I feel about the whole thing because I haven't really sorted it all out in my head myself yet. People get sick, can't do much about that. Kit was a good sport and I took her sightseeing the next day before she headed home. I was able to reach the actors before they got on the road. They were disappointed, of course. Disappointed doesn't begin to describe how I felt.

Eric had his camera with him but no mic or lights. He would have made the 7-hour+ roundtrip home and back if I had asked him to, he's a good friend like that, to get the gear, but it really didn't matter without a DP, and he couldn't take the next 2 days off work.

After Kit left on Monday, I felt like I needed to stay up here another day just to calm down, regroup, maybe come up with an alternate plan. But after thinking about it, I really have no time to do this all over again before the "Smalltimore" screening on December 9th. It is just too much. The DVD release is the priority now and I can't take my eye off that ball.

I got some emails taken care of and some other stuff related to the screening done, including final confirmations of the musical line-up at the post-party. Details coming soon, I'll save that for when I am in a better mood and can give you the news with the excitement it deserves. I'm calm now but quite depressed about the whole thing, and at the prospect of reloading the car with all this food. Giant pain in my ass. And nothing to show for it. Absolutely nothing.

I haven't felt this terrible since I was in the early stages of pre-production for "Smalltimore". I had been talking to someone about producing the movie for a couple months, I thought we were on the same page, and then he asked for money - money that I didn't have, and even if I did, couldn't see paying for production work. Production is hard work, it is a pain, and takes organization, connections, and patience, but it is not brain surgery. I'm not saying that producers aren't worth paying, I am just saying that I am capable of doing it myself. I wasn't sure of that back then, though, and I was terribly depressed because I felt like the rug had been pulled out from under me. I thought this person wanted to be a partner because he believed in what I was doing, but it was just a job to him. I had gotten myself into the mindset that I needed him to get this done, and some of that was because he made me feel that way, that I didn't know what I was doing.

But after I got over being depressed about the situation, I got pissed off about the situation, and I was determined to get it done and get it done well, so I would never have to be dependent on someone like that, and so no one would be able to tell me that something takes longer to do or costs more than it does because if I did it myself I would know. And now, I do, and other people are asking me to produce for them. I never wanted to produce, I wasn't really interested in that end of it. But here I am.

And where here is, is that I am still dependent, too dependent, on people who know how to operate a camera. That has to change. And it will.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

A Day in the Life of an Independent Filmmaker

[Cheryl Scungio posing for cover art/marketing photo]

7:47am - wake before the alarm. Relieved I don't have to get up until 8:30am.
8:02am - give up on trying to go back to sleep, too many things on the "to do" list in my head.
8:10am - feed dogs. Feed self. Shower.
8:53am - start pulling food out of the fridge to arrange snack trays for actors for today's rehearsals for the short we are shooting next week. Decide to be generous and defrost some shrimp cocktail. Check shrimp and realize it is freezer burnt. Chuck it.
9:16am - Bring food upstairs to where we will be rehearsing. Rearrange chairs and tables to recreate the set so we can start blocking movements. Locate props and bring them to the set.
10:57am - actors arrive. Have an at-length discussion about areas of the script that they are not completely comfortable with yet.
11:12am - choose wardrobe from among the options they brought me.
11:31am - start rehearsal. Very heavy dramatic piece. End up chopping almost a whole page of dialogue. Work it all out until piece is very smooth and everybody is happy.
1:12pm - While showing the actresses how I want them to sit on the floor, I kneel on my skirt at the same time I am standing up and rip a big hole in it. Hike the waist up and pull my top down over the hole. carry on.
2:29pm - Nail the last scene. Everyone is emotionally exhausted. Decide not to over-rehearse, let the actors go half an hour earlier than scheduled.
3:03pm - order via phone the DVD duplicator that I researched online yesterday. Max out two credit cards in the process.
3:37pm - Cheryl Scungio, my lead in "Smalltimore", arrives for a brief photo shoot for DVD cover art and marketing materials. Hilarity ensues.
4:02pm - finally a moment to breathe. Haven't seen Cheryl in months. We catch up, talk mostly about filmmaking and boys.
5:13pm - Cheryl leaves. I hit the computer to email movie stills from "Smalltimore" to Kyle Holtgren. Kyle plays David in "Smalltimore" and he is helping me with the artwork/graphic design.
5:34pm - realize I forgot to plug in my Tom-Tom. Have to hand-write Mapquest directions to Kyle's office in Annapolis.
5:48pm - Cross several items off my daily "to do" list on the dry-erase board on my fridge. Smug sense of satisfaction until I get to the bottom that says "Balto Sign". I was supoosed to take a photo of a sign that says "Baltimore" for the cover art. It is now pitch dark out. I curse daylight savings time, and myself.
5:55pm - change into a skirt that isn't torn.
6:01pm - gather camera, directions, purse, phone, house keys, car keys. Exit house to drive to Annapolis. Cold air hits my feet and I realize I am still wearing my comfy sandals that were fine for rehearsal but have nothing to do with the rest of my outfit.
6:02pm - go back inside, change shoes. Realize I haven't eaten lunch, let alone dinner. Suck down some Bolthouse Farms protein drink. Go back to car.
6:04pm - realize I don't have the cord that connects my camera to the computer to retrieve the photos of Cheryl. Go back inside to get it.
6:06pm - Enter car. Realize that I left the paper with directions on it in the house when I went back in to change shoes. More swearing. Go back in house.
6:08pm - finally leaving parking lot.
6:27pm - stuck in traffic only three blocks from my house for 20 minutes. Somebody drove their car through a railing and onto the light rail tracks. MLK is blocked off. Traffic is a mess.
6:29pm - call Kyle. We decide to scrap meeting in person and instead he will rough it out and send me a proof. Need a drink.
6:45pm - call my friend Elizabeth. She is stuck in traffic also. Also needs a drink.
6:49pm - have made an 8 block circle and I am back home.
6:55pm - It's too cold to walk 4 blocks to Dougherty's pub in a skirt. Realize I have no nice clean clothes because I have been too busy to do laundry lately. Have to choose between cute & cold or comfy & cozy. Opt for the latter and throw on my Steelers sweatshirt hoodie and black jersey pants that usually don't leave the house.
7:07pm - arrive at Dougherty's. Regale my friends with stories of my filmmaking-related financial woes and make them all promise to come to the screening of Smalltimore on December 9th at the Charles Theater at 7:00pm, and also buy several DVDs. Each.
7:40pm - my neighbor arrives with a copy of the press release I sent him because my printer isn't working.
5:59am - wake up on my sofa, TV on. Grab my dogs and go to bed.
6:27am - give up on going back to sleep. Too many things on my "to do" list running through my head.
6:52am - blog.