Sunday, March 15, 2009

The Importance of Focusing

(I took this photo in Koblenz, Germany, in 2002. This and other photos of mine can be seen in "Smalltimore". You can see more of my photos at I thought this site had been deleted a few years ago, but it is still up!)

Ugh, my eyes are crossing. Today I dug deeper into the glorious Without A Box website, looking into the details of about 150 festivals to see if "Smalltimore" would be suited to them. That may sound like a lot, and I have been working on it for about 4 hours now, but that is just the tip of the iceberg. I have thousands to go, literally.

I did find quite a few possibilities along with some tempting long shots. I am looking through them in the order that deadlines are coming up fastest. I think when I get through the first 300, then I'll stop and sort through the ones I have picked out as "maybes" and decide if I want to submit to them or not. The average submission fee is about $35 for earlybird, $50 or more for last minute, so it adds up fast. I've already submitted to 18 festivals to the tune of about $1000, so I am about tapped out and need to start becoming very selective.

I received a congratulatory email (about the Heart of England Film Festival) from my friend John Wood who lives in Germany. He used to live in Baltimore and was one of my closest friends here. He reminded me of one of our favorite moments together, in the context of, "who woulda thought it?", me becoming a filmmaker.

I think it was in the autumn of 1999 that I for some reason became very interested in photography. I had always taken lots of photos, but never with a manually operated camera. I wanted to learn how to do that, and how to develop and print my own photos, so I signed up for a weekend class at MICA. John loaned me his trusty old Minolta, and after receiving my first homework assignment, he spent an afternoon with me down at the harbor taking photos that played around with the depth of field. I had only ever operated a point-and-shoot camera before, with automatic focus.

We were on Light Street at Baltimore, and John stopped at the McDonald's to grab a burger. A block south of there, he unwrapped the burger and used a City Paper box as his table while I took a picture of him. I quickly pointed John's own camera at him and clicked the button, snap went the shutter. John asked, "Did you focus?" I replied, "I need to focus?"

I love that story.

Once he showed me how to focus, I actually took a very cool pic of him eating that burger. My instructor liked it a lot. I spent the next few years taking thousands of snaps, setting up my own darkroom in my kitchen, organizing solo exhibits and later group exhibits with some artist friends, and have sold many of the photos I took during that time, including the one above. It is one of my favorites, and John was also with me when I took this. It is titled, "The Wheels of Fortune." I was visiting John and his wife Anja while they lived in Trier, Germany, and we took a day trip to Koblenz. We saw these three little girls whose mother let them run around naked in a fountain on this hot summer day. They were so cute, and I loved the juxtaposition of this tiny, carefree girl and her tricycle with the wrinkled, scowling old man in his wheelchair.

Last year I sold all of my darkroom equipment in order to put that money towards the movie. I had lost my passion for developing photos (it is expensive and time-consuming) awhile before that, though I still love photography itself. So now I have a much more expensive and much more time-consuming passion! But at least with filmmaking, it is not me working alone in the dark. I enjoyed the solitude of that, but I am now enjoying the camaraderie and collaboration that is filmmaking.

One of the other big differences between photography and filmmaking is that photography is much more of an instant gratification; filmmaking is somewhat the exact opposite. I have always thought of myself as an instant-gratification kind of person. But here I am. I wrote the first draft of the script more than four years ago. I took a long break inbetween, but I have been working hard and continuously now for almost two years. And still have work to do.

The point is, you never know what you are capable of, but if you truly have a passion for it, as well as patience and perseverance, you will likely succeed. Filmmaking, like photography, is not brain surgery. It is something to be learned, and something with which you have to be using several different parts of your brain at the same time. And it is definitely something that if you don't love it, you're not going to do it well. It's just too much work to plow through if you are on the fence about it.

1 comment:

  1. The burger-munching photo, you'll be pleased to know, has a place of pride in our living room...

    Glad you learned to focus.

    Interestingly enough, the little code-word thingy I have to type in to post this comment (I forget the technical word for those things) is 'subleast'.

    If that's not a real word, it definitely should be.