Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Red Rover, Red Rover

Hey! Why are you still reading this? Come over to the new blog, www.steelcorsetproductions.blogspot.com! Please become a follower (eww, that sounds kinda creepy) and RSS it! Happy New Year!

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Moving On

Wow. Two years! Two years since I threw myself into all this, full force. Five years since I wrote the first draft of the script. 16 months since production on "Smalltimore" began. One year exactly since I screened the rough cut. 8 months since the (near) finished product (made a few small tweaks since then). 7 months since our first festival. 5 months since our first award. And four years exactly since my friend Thom, whom "Smalltimore," is dedicated to, died.

I am exhausted, and this is going to be very short. I have been sleeping like a log for the last several nights, now that my plate is nearly cleared. Giving myself a little break before the next big push forward, pursuing distribution, begins. Big screening is past, DVD is available for sale, almost 200 are already in circulation! Christmas is over, have low-key plans with friends for New Year's Eve... time for a little breather.

This afternoon I took my Mom and my brother to see "Dreamgirls" at the Hippodrome for their Christmas present, and I just got back from spending a couple hours at The Havana Club for Kelly Coston's birthday. My hair smells like cigars, but it was worth it to hang out with Kelly and Cheryl for awhile. I really do love that they turned out to be such great friends to each other, as well as friends of mine.

Tomorrow night I will see some more Smalltimore friends, Tucker and the boys et al will be playing at the Cat's Eye Pub in Fells Point for the 4th Annual Thom Hickling Memorial Party, and Phil Calvert promised to meet up with me there. You should join us!

Sorry this is a rather boring post, but it truly is just me winding down after a very long haul. There is still a lot more that lays before me, many miles to go, many challenges to overcome, and I hope you will keep following me through them. Thanks to those who have become my regular readers, and thanks especially to those of you who have been with me from the very beginning (or have gone back and read from the very beginning to catch up!). I look at my blog stats every day, and it is very gratifying to see so many repeat viewer, and viewers that spend a long time on the site. Eases any guilt I have for being long-winded :)

This is my final post on this blog. I have holiday company for a few more days, but soon I will make my first posting on the new blog, www.steelcorsetproductions.blogspot.com. Please add it to your RSS feed and continue on my journey with me. Two years into it, I still learn something new every day, and I am not expecting that to change, ever. I absolutely love that!

I hope all of you are having a fantastic holiday season, and whether 2009 was good to you or if you cannot wait to lay it to rest, I hope you all have big things to look forward to in the New Year, I hope that you have created or are creating great opportunities for yourselves. I myself am looking forward to laying my head on the chopping block - over and over again. Hold my hand?

Monday, December 21, 2009

What's Your (Guilty) Pleasure?

Soooo, let me just preface this by saying this was not my fault. I blame the blizzard. See, Channel 23 was SUPPOSED to be broadcasting the Steelers game at 4:15pm. BUT, since the Ravens game got pushed to 4:15 so the Chicago Bears had time to get to town, I couldn't see the Steelers game (except for the amazing last two minutes of it!). So, I was innocently flipping channels and landed on - "Top Gun". The Volleyball Scene, no less. Gay, straight, whatever, you all know what I am talking about, don't even lie.

I remember very specifically the first time I saw "Top Gun", in the theater. It must have been the summer after my brief stint at the University of Pittsburgh (having already received the highest honors in my double-major, Pool and Quarters). It was two of my best friends, Lauren and Ace (both of whom I am very happy to say I am still in touch with), and I, and I think we went to a weekend matinee at the dive-y theater in a strip mall on Route 30 in Latrobe. Volleyball Scene on the big screen? Oh, yeah... If they re-released it I admit I would go pay to see that.

Not too bad on my 42" screen neither. So I lingered. They were all there... Iceman, Hollywood, Wolfman, Maverick... Goose, thankfully with his shirt ON... I was transported back to my slack-jawed youth.

This, however, was the first time I was seeing the movie as a filmmaker. Since I had come in late, it wasn't much longer until the worst part - when Goose dies. It still makes me cry. Say what you want about "Top Gun". Yes, in retrospect it was quite possibly the most homo-erotic movie ever made. Brokeback Mountain has nothing on Fightertown. But Goose's death scene still holds up, the montage that follows is heart-wrenching, and no matter how much I hold it together up until that point, when Meg Ryan touches Tom Cruise's face while she smiles and cries at the same time and his jaw twitches while he tries not to lose it, I do. I honestly think it was the best acting either one of them have ever done.

Another movie from my young adulthood has been playing non-stop on the TV Guide channel - "Dirty Dancing". If I didn't know it backwards and forwards before, I do now. I do think it is a great movie, and there is a line that I have borrowed from it for 20 years:

"I carried a watermelon?"

Remember that? The first time Baby meets Johnny? She is so flustered, that is all she can think to say, and then he walks away and she repeats the line, incredulously berating herself. When I meet a hot guy and say something ridiculous, upon retelling the story to my girlfriends, I follow up with that line, and they all know what I am talking about.

Like "Top Gun", "Dirty Dancing" takes me back. I was living in a two-room studio apartment with my then boyfriend, later husband, even later ex-husband, in Pittsburgh. I don't think I saw it in the theater. We had HBO so we watched it probably ten times. Our relationship had some (loose, and non-dancing) parallels to Johnny and Baby's. He was only a year older than I was, but with more life experience. Even at 20, I was still pretty naive (I know, hard to believe, right?). We were very young and very happy. Not really worried about where life would take us. Just happy to be together, and not thinking that anything could ever be more important than that.

I could tell you lots of stories like that, about which movie makes me think about what period of my life, and I am sure you have many similar stories. These blasts from the past have made me think about how I, and others, will think of "Smalltimore," 20 years from now. It is already a little dated for me, as I wrote the first draft five years ago, and parts were based loosely on what was going on in my life at the time. Life is not as dramatic as that for me these days. Well, I guess it is, just in different ways.

When I was writing the script, I purposely left out any political remarks or other statements or scenery that might date it. The first draft had a reference to Murphy Brown, and someone who read the script, who was about ten years younger than I am, had no idea what that was about. While I was watching "Top Gun", it was the soundtrack that really dated the movie. Every other aspect of it could be taking place right now. Remember? "Highway to the Danger Zone," "Playing With The Boys," etc... It made me think about my own soundtrack. I think it is going to hold up over time. So much of it is rockabilly... a little techno, a little hip-hop... and some beautiful ballads, some of which I first heard ten years ago, so I think they will last.

Something in "Dirty Dancing" that made me smile and think, "80s", even though the movie was supposed to take place in the 60s, was Jennifer Grey's permed bob. Which, incidentally, looks remarkably like Kelly McGillis' 'do in "Top Gun"!

When I was teaching my pre-production class at the Creative Alliance a week and a half ago, I was talking about soundtracks, and how in this town there is no excuse for a bad one. I gave a few examples of bad soundtracks, like, "He's Just Not That Into You." One of my students asked me if I thought this, and other production value things we were talking about, really mattered to the average movie-goer, or if only filmmakers noticed these kinds of things. Yes, I certainly notice these things more now, but these are the types of things that can pull you right out of a movie. I explained it to her like this: I grew up in the restaurant business. When I lived in D.C. I managed a four-star restaurant in a posh hotel. It is easier now, but for years it was difficult for me to really relax when dining out, because I notice everything. To this day, I know when I am in a very good restaurant - when I don't pick up on things like mismatched silverware, or the waiters thumb touching the food on the plate as he serves it.

The devil is in the details. When I am so wrapped up in the story that I forget I am watching a movie, then I know it is a good movie. There are so many things that can pull you right out if that, though. Bad acting, bad lighting, blatant continuity issues, scoring that has nothing to do with the mood of the scene, dialogue that doesn't ring true... just everything.

Anyway, this is just pure stream of consciousness today. I did see snippets of "Dirty Dancing," again yesterday, and I did finally notice something that I have never seen before. When Baby first says, "I carried a watermelon," then it cuts to Johnny's face. He gives her a strange look, walks away, then it cuts back to her and she says the line again, to herself, "I carried a watermelon?" Between those two lines, while the camera is on him, you can see Baby's profile but you are focused on Johnny. Next time you see this scene, watch her instead - you'll see that she mouths, "I carried a watermelon?" before you hear/see her say it again. Now it is always going to bug me. And now it is always going to bug you!

Friday, December 18, 2009

Taking Stock

Only nine days left of this blog, before moving on to the new one, www.steelcorsetproductions.blogspot.com. Don't forget to add it to your RSS list!

At the moment I am sitting in my office, waiting for a few more people to pick up their copies of "The Red-Headed Menace," the short we made this summer. Of the people who have picked up so far, 75% have also bought a copy of Smalltimore, and I got an email today for an order of 4 more copies. Nope, I haven't gotten any further in the Amazon/UPC mess, but I haven't tried, either. Probably this weekend when we're snowed in.

This time of year people get very strange. Everyone is stressed out in one way or another, and I think this year especially people are feeling the pinch. In the last couple weeks I have had friends who had their car broken into, one even had his car stolen, and last Saturday when I was walking out of the Creative Alliance after teaching my class there, I saw an actual fistfight. You always see strange people when walking around this town, but lately they have been coming out of the woodwork. It makes sense, though. Naturally this is the time of year that people take stock of their lives (and their bank accounts). Some people don't have much to be happy about, and being bombarded with this holiday crap probably doesn't make their lives any easier. That Lexus commercial where the voiceover guy debates whether the traditional big red bow on top of the car, you know, when you are GIVING SOMEONE A LEXUS, is passe or not, really gets on my last nerve. It doesn't annoy me because I want a Lexus, I think they look very boring and aren't half as hot as my 2000 Mustang convertible. It annoys me because it is flat out obnoxious.

I find this time of year a little tough, too, because so many people focus on what they don't have instead of what they do have, and I don't have a lot of patience for that crap. It's almost like everyone got all their gratefulness (is that a word?) out of the way over Thanksgiving, so now they have to focus on the negative. Most of the people I hear moaning and groaning don't really have it so bad. Are you healthy? Have a roof over your head? Friends? Then stop borrowing trouble and realize how blessed you are.

Personally, I am probably going to lose my job as well as my apartment in the next 6 to 12 weeks, through no fault of my own. Due to the movie, my credit cards are all maxed out, and I will likely find myself unemployed during the dead of winter, when people aren't hiring waitresses or retail employees, let alone anything that pays more than minimum wage. I just spent $600 at the vet, and one of my dogs is probably on his way out soon. He is 14, almost completely deaf, and more than half blind. Okay, that part makes me really sad, and now I am crying, but, I will enjoy his company for as long as I can and try to focus on the positive. As for the other stuff, I've been deep in debt before and I've pulled myself out. I have friends and family who won't let me end up living in a cardboard box. I always land on my feet. It is kind of exciting, actually, to see what happens next.

That's what I am likely looking forward to in the coming year, some good stuff, some bad stuff, some challenging stuff. I'll survive it all, I'm not worried. Looking back over the last year, well, the last two years since I really dove headfirst into this movie business, I can honestly say I don't regret a moment or a penny of it. There are events or periods of time, choices I have made or things that have happened beyond my control, that I can reflect on and see that when I came out on the other side of them, I was a different person and I could never again be the person I was before. Like after I moved from D.C. to Baltimore, or after 9/11, or after my Dad died. And definitely after making this movie. It might sound strange, but this experience has been as life-changing as any of those that I mention here. And in a very positive way.

There is not enough bandwidth in the internet to go into every detail of it, but if you have been following me along my journey, you already know a lot of what I am talking about. The bullet points are:

1. I made a frikkin' movie. After I decided I was going to do exactly that, every time I watched a movie and more importantly, all the credits at the end of a movie, my heart beat faster and I felt like someone was sitting on my chest. Look at all those names! How the hell am I going to get 100+ people to help me on this thing? How does anyone EVER make a movie? But, I did it. And there are over 100 names in my credits, too.

2. I'm not scared of anything anymore. Not that I was scared of a lot to begin with (hairy spiders, deep water, and Ann Coulter not withstanding). If there is anything I am hesitant to believe I can accomplish, there is a DVD case within reach that says otherwise. The most surprising benefit of all this is that I am SO much better at meeting and talking to strangers. It's exciting and has opened a lot of new opportunities to me.

3. I accomplished exactly what I set out to do with this movie. I know that not everyone in the world is going to "get it". This is a different side of Baltimore. To outsiders they might think it is the "underground" Baltimore, but if you live here you know it is the every day. My friends as well as strangers I have met at the screenings, the people who are artists, writers, musicians, the creative community of Baltimore - they love it. They tell me I did them proud. I don't have delusions of grandeur that this movie will ever receive a theatrical run (unless I am renting out the theater). But through all the changes the script went through, what I wanted to manifest onto that screen was all there. I am so proud and lucky to know these incredibly talented people, and this very special place where we gather, and I wanted to show that to the world. I believe I did.

4. And most importantly, I found my calling. I had no idea. But now I have no doubt. This is exactly what I am supposed to be doing. And I can't begin to explain how exciting that is.

Anyway... my holiday advice, for what it's worth... try to focus on the positive. One thing that drives me a little crazy about a lot of people in this town is that they would rather complain about their lives than get off their butt to do anything to change it. No one is going to do it for you. Take some chances, be fearless, and don't think you're going to get anywhere without paying your dues. And probably maxing out your credit cards.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The Neverending Story

Man! All I want to do is sell my damn DVD and NO ONE is making this easy for me. I checked out selling on Amazon.com, it SEEMED pretty straightforward. I thought I read all the fine print, but maybe I didn't. I did read the part where it says that they can cancel me for any reason at any time, but I can't cancel them for 90 days. So, fine, I committed to that, gave them my credit card number... all going swimmingly until I try to actually upload inventory. Then it is pages and pages of paperwork (I am trying to do this online because I HATE paperwork)... and the big news is, in order to sell DVDs, you have to have a UPC number. Great googly moogly. Can nothing ever be simple?

So now I am researching how to even GET a UPC (Universal Product Code). And the one universal thing about it is, no matter where you get it, you have to pay for it. The question is, how do I know I can trust the site from which I am purchasing it? Ugh.

I have a few musician friends who sell on CDbaby, I bet they know. I'll check with some of them.

I hate this stuff. I REALLY do. Reading instructions, filing forms, ack, it is like walking uphill through waist-deep mud to me. But, hey. I figured out how to make a whole freaking movie, I can figure this out. It's just not nearly as sexy as making a movie.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Recovery, and Hanging With the Talent

[ My first marquee!!! Very exciting. And many thanks to Alvina Chu for taking this photo, as I barely had time to glance at it. I didn't even have a moment to take a photo of me in front of it! Oh, well... ]

Today was AWESOME. Got up around noon, guilt-FREE. Nothing that needed to be done right that minute. I could get used to this, what do you call it? Breathing? Yea, it's nice.

Yesterday was what I will consider my final big film-related obligation for the year, teaching my first pre-production class at the Creative Alliance. I had seven students and the class ran from 10am-4pm. I really had fun doing it, and everyone was very engaged, asked a ton of questions, and we crammed a LOT of stuff into 6 hours ( 5 really, with the lunch break). If I do it again I will try to have it go til 5pm, the last hour was pretty rushed just to squeeze everything in. I truly enjoyed it, and they seemed to also (hope so!), and I even sold Smalltimore DVDs to 5 of the 7 of them!

I got some dinner on the way home and made plans with Phil Calvert (Thom, in Smalltimore). Poor Phil was out of town for work during the screening Wednesday, so he missed it. Cheryl Scungio (Gracie) was having a gathering at her house last night, and had invited me when I saw her at the DVD release party. Since Phil hadn't been there, I thought it would be a nice surprise to bring him along, especially since Kelly Coston (Mel) was also going to be there. I picked up a couple bottles of wine (the internationally recognized price of admission for party crashers) and went home to freshen up.

Timing out how long it would take to brush my hair, feed my dogs, pick up Phil, and get to Cheryl's at a reasonable hour, I had exactly 15 minutes of time not allocated to anything. I had been up until 3am Friday night, after having attended Mob Television's Very, Very Special Christmas Special at the Creative Alliance and then spending a couple hours finishing work on my class itinerary. My sleep pattern has been screwed up for weeks, I am sure mostly due to the stress of putting together the screening & party, and then the class.

I jumped into my bed, fully clothed, laid down as perfectly as I could in order not to wrinkle my clothing, set my alarm for 15 minutes later, closed my eyes and I was out like a LIGHT. I was out so fast and so deeply that I actually dreamed within those fifteen minutes. All my huge (albeit self-imposed) responsibilities were behind me! For the moment, at least. Maybe through Christmas. New Year's if I am lucky.

Anyway, that catnap did me wonders, and I went to get Phil. On the way there got a call from Cheryl, and turns out she was having a formal dinner party until 10pm and we weren't supposed to come over until then, I had misunderstood (or more likely, forgotten) exactly what she had said at the party Wednesday. Which actually worked out fine because now I had time to stop by Henderson's Wharf in Fells Point, where my artist friend Charles Lawrance was having an exhibit, followed by part II of the exhibit at his gallery, Fin Art (which was filmed as Moxie Gallery in Smalltimore). Phil had never been there because he wasn't in any of those scenes, so it was fun to introduce him to Charles and show him around. Charles does a lot of different stuff, but the bulk of his work are these AMAZING paintings depicting all kinds of fish underwater, they are incredibly detailed and beautiful. And unfortunately, a little out of my price range. But his girlfriend Cherise, had some gorgeous photos of her own on display and I did buy one of those. And, need I say it in this town, I ran into a few people that I know but had not seen in quite some time, I also met some people who know Tucker, and another guy who said I looked familiar, who, it turns out, lives like 3 blocks away from me.

Oh, but a little earlier, I found out via Facebook (the most efficient method of spying on friends and acquaintances, unless, of course, they have a blog detailing the minutiae of their lives) that Johnny Benson (Bentley), who was also stuck at work on Wednesday, was off work and had no plans. So I called him and invited him to crash with us, though I didn't tell Phil so it would be a surprise for him also.

Cheryl's house, as described by one of her friends, looks like it is made of candy. It is simply adorable and perfect, white picket fence and landscaped pond included. Her shed, which of course, looks like an equally adorable miniature house, is heated, so that she can put her cats out there when she has company that may be allergic to them. She thinks of everything.

Phil and I arrived at ten on the dot - and they (about 15 guests) were just about to START eating. Oops. But we brought wine, so they let us in. As expected, everything was perfect. Tablecloths and center pieces and gold liner plates and, I am absolutely not joking, very detailed hand-painted wooden Christmas tree ornaments, each a different holiday scene, tied around each set of silverware with a matching ribbon. And when I say hand-painted, I mean hand-painted by Cheryl. As I marveled at all this, Cheryl's friend James who was visiting from England asked me, "Did you see the pine cone?" I had not, so he brought it to me. What otherwise would have been a strangely-shaped, fat, semi-rounded conical blob of cheese spread had been transformed into what indeed looked like a pine cone. Because Cheryl had painstakingly individually placed almond slices in vertical staggered rows around the cheese lump, from top to bottom. It looked beautiful and it tasted even better.

Kelly was there when we arrived, apparently she was helping Cheryl and James with serving dinner. She looked very pretty and was behaving so... demurely... that one of Cheryl's friends, Reggie, who has met Kelly under more normal (or rather, less normal) circumstances kept giving her a hard time. She held her composure, though. Everyone was rather dressed up, and Phil and I were passable. About 20 minutes later, Johnny shows up wearing a biker jacket, skull t-shirt, at least twice as much jewelry as I was and one of his many signature belt buckles. I love Johnny.

Did you ever see the movie The Fifth Element? It was kind of like that. Suddenly, it seemed, things took a turn. Kelly and Cheryl were being very grown-up before Phil and I got there. Phil and I tried to be as unobtrusive as possible, since we weren't really supposed to be here for dinner, though we were cutting up a bit in the kitchen with Cheryl and Kelly as they carried platter after platter out to the buffet. Then Johnny showed up, and now there were FIVE Smalltimorons in the house, and it was all over but the crying. You know, the crying that happens after you laugh so hard it is the only thing left to do.

We had a fantastic time, and I was really happy to be able to spend an evening with the four of them, especially since Phil and Johnny had not been able to make the show. I know they were feeling little left out, and though they missed a few minutes of the limelight, I think the five of us being able to spend some quality time together instead of in a throng of almost 200 people made up for most of what they felt they missed. It certainly warmed my heart.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Pre-Pro 101

With all the hullabaloo, I have forgotten to mention it lately - if you are interested in seeing how it all comes together (and sometimes how it doesn't), come take my one-day Pre-Production for Independent Filmmakers class THIS Saturday at the Creative Alliance!