Persevere

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There are two quotes from Winston Churchill that I adore. The first:

When you’re going through Hell, keep going!

And the other:

Never, never, never give up.

It’s almost like Winston was a screenwriter/filmmaker. Because the fresh hell of our craft is how incredibly difficult it is to get anything made and/or seen, and how very long even the simplest project is to get made.

You hear stories of how many years films take to get to into production. I try to block those from my mind. Really. I don’t want it to be the norm that a film takes five to eight years to get the money and into production. It’s painful to think about. It is also reality. There will be many close calls and letdowns; you have to expect those, unfortunately. And, when they occur, you have to persevere.

I won’t bother telling you how long it’s taking us to get Black Coffee made. I am fortunate enough to have on the project people as stubborn and passionate and I am, determined to get this made. I will tell you that, even when you think a project is dead, it can come back to life. All it takes is one phone call, one email to tip that first domino and get everything falling into place. And that’s what seems to be happening with another project that’s merely three-and-a-half years old.

Of course, nothing is certain until the ink is dry and the check has cleared, cameras roll and post is completed. But it is perseverance that makes it happen. Writers can never give up. Filmmakers have to keep going through Hell to get their projects made. It’s a special kind of crazy that drives us. And it’s all for one little word: Yes.

Watch Yourself

Film still from The Way We Were

There was a very interesting post on Salon which posed the question: Does Hollywood hate adults? Which is what many movie-goers have been asking themselves for the past, oh, decade? Well, I’ve certainly been asking it for the last five years.

At dinner parties, I’ve always been the one to argue that film is still art, in spite of its commerce, and in spite of the manufactured “blockbusters” crammed into multiplexes. It’s supposed to make you feel, think, question and wonder, not simply serve as a vehicle to escape.

I was fortunate to have a childhood in a time when effects-laden hits (Jaws, Star Wars, E.T., An American Werewolf in London — remember that one?) co-mingled with thought-provoking films (Silkwood, Sophie’s Choice, Ordinary People, Kramer vs. Kramer) and adult-driven comedy (Blazing Saddles, Animal House). The advent of HBO brought these films (in repetition) to my living room. And while I don’t doubt the effects-laden films and comedies would be made today (they are probably in development to be remade, as a matter of fact), I think the people behind the thought-provoking films would have a hell of a time getting them funded let alone to the screen.

The error Hollywood has made repeatedly is assuming what the audience wants. Hollywood thinks along the lines of genre and foreign sales. Yes, foreign markets dictate much of what and who we see on the screen. Yet, what Hollywood has often failed to acknowledge is that the American film audience likes variety. Big films along side small ones. Smart films to counterbalance the silly. They also don’t consider that adults would like to go to movies without their kids (or, for those of us without children, to films that don’t draw kids). Grown-ups would like to talk about what they just saw, and that is so much easier to do when you don’t leave the theatre deaf from the bombastic sound effects.

As a screenwriter, I write smaller, more personal films. But that does not limit their genre. I’ve written dark comedy, romantic comedy, suspense, drama and psychological thrillers. But the important factor for me is the characters. Because, as much as we might want to escape into a film, I believe we also want to relate. We want to see ourselves — either who we are, who we’ve been or how we hope to be — on the screen. Which seems to make the road to getting the film into the cinemas harder than it should.

I’ve heard many adults say, “There’s nothing for me to see at the movies.” Which kind of feels like a punch to the gut to me, and I’m sure every other independent filmmaker who is struggling to get their work to an audience. Because, even if you are fortunate enough to get the funds to make your movie, getting it into theatres is another struggle. We haven’t quite gotten to the point of finding a good way to a strong on-demand release and “direct to DVD” has that unfortunate stigma. That leaves the independents to carve the new terrain. But, sometimes, it’s good to look back before moving forward. Hollywood should take a look at its past to understand where its future success will lie: films for a more sophisticated audience. Because it does exist. And it is hungry for content.

The past decade has been so tumultuous for America (and the world). And, unlike the Great Depression, we aren’t longing for escape on the silver screen. We are seeking connection. We can find that in laughter, as well as tears; in a small story or an epic. We want to watch ourselves and hope to see that we will be okay. We will triumph. We will love and succeed. We will laugh about it. We will come out the other side better than we were before. Mostly, we want to be understood. And wouldn’t it be great if Hollywood got that?

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Update: I am currently crowdfunding my film, BLACK COFFEE, on Indiegogo. Please, check it out. The campaign runs through 15 October until 11:59 p.m. Pacific Time.

Hymn

Until you look back, you may not realize how profound certain relationships were on your art.

It was senior year in high school went we finally, formally met. He was a photographer, sure of that. I had way too many ambitions to know what I was, but I was attracted to his focus, his certainty, his determination.

He was the first boy to kiss my hip. The innocence in which he did so is why I remember it so clearly. It was a baptism to us both. After many afternoons bleeding into early evenings, showing me contact sheets and pointing out why I was right or wrong in choosing the best composition of the shot, what he gave as flirtation was truly giving me my eye, an education. He really did show me the light. And the shadow, as well as the alignment. This is what every cinematographer I work with is secretly beholden to.

You never know when or who will give your your eye or your ear or your voice, but I’m sure you will remember when it was bestowed upon you. It wasn’t when we were holding contact sheets that he assured me I had a view. It was many weeks later, when “work” was no longer between us, when he placed his seventeen-year-old lips on my hips of the same age, that was when I knew he saw my eye, too. It was not just the attraction between us, but the common eye that made it special. He was truly an artist. And his love of me made me feel I was an artist, too.

Let’s remember, we were seventeen. And his favorite film at that time was FX. He appreciated the foreshadowing.

Less than two years later, he would be dead. That only made the gifts he gave me in that short time all the more profound. I feel I owe a debt to him, a need to show the world what he taught me in that precious space. I remember the last smile he gave to me, shortly before he was gone. It was in a video store, where he was renting a movie. I was behind the counter. Before I could say hello, he was gone.

Films were his second passion, after photography.

It was this time of year that I last saw him. It is this time of year I’m reminded of all he taught me. It was this time of year I came into my own as a filmmaker at CalArts. It is this time of year I am most inspired.

You never know, until you look back, who will be among your greatest inspirations.

D will always be one of mine.