Life as an Artist

It's been over ten years since I had a full time day job. Over the past decade, I've made a decent living as a teacher, freelance writer and web designer/video maker. It's a good life style because it allows me to make a decent living while pursuing my art as a writer/filmmaker. But the thing I hate about this lifestyle is that it's tough. You write and write with the goal of making something, seeing something happen, but it's such a long and slow process, it's easy to wonder if you're doing the right thing. I often wonder what I would feel like if I took a full time job at some sort of TV/Net venture, like say a Current TV. Maybe I'd like having salary, or knowing that something I put my work into will actually show up on TV. I've had several offers over the years, but I always find that I have too much freelance work, work as a teacher, or writer to do the full time job thing. These questions are my doubt seeping in sometimes, like maybe getting some nine to five deal will solve all the doubts I am sometimes plagued by. It's easy to be doubtful in this field, too, because there are so many subjective factors that go into having success. I had a friend who once actually asked me if there would be a day when I would quit, just forget about this and "do something else." But you see, the problem is, I don't really know what else I'd do. I would write books, maybe some articles (something I already do), but in terms of like being a project manager at a company or something, I'm just not sure about that. Maybe I'd enjoy it. At the moment, I am excited about shooting this movie, which we are doing in October, no matter what. I also have some new scripts that I think have potential, but again, it's a slow process, getting these out and seeing what might happen with them. I guess as artists/creative people, we just have to be extremely patient and have a lot of faith that the projects we sow will actually one day lead to other projects and more ideas.


Raspberry Bushes

So, I planted some raspberry bushes in my backyard, just to experiment a little, like the main character in my upcoming film, Raspberry Magic. It's pretty hard to grow raspberry bushes in LA, esp. because it doesn't rain that much. But mostly because I haven't been the most dedicated grower in the world. I thought the bushes would look a little happier with all the rains, but they kind of look sadder than ever... It would def. be impossible to grow berries on these sad little plants...


Crazy Days

The past few days have been a whirlwind, mostly because Megha and I were heading up to SF for a big investor meeting which subsequently got moved. But we decided to go up to SF anyway--I went bc my sister was out for a residency interview and Megha went up to see her sister, too. I thought it would be a pretty laid back weekend, but things went a little crazy bc of all the bad weather out here on the west coast. We got in much later than expected on Friday, but then Sunday when our flight was two hours late, I flipped out because Megha and I organized the Institute for International Film Finance speaker series for this month, and of course, it was happening that evening at five. It was all well planned, but we cut it really close getting back into town, and then to the venue. When I say that I flipped I out, I don't mean that I went ballistic in the airport or anything, but I did basically burst into uncontrollable tears for a seemingly ridiculous reason. Looking back on that moment, it seems kind of silly, but I think sometimes when you schedule too many things back to back without any wiggle room, this is what happens (to me at least). I also think I was a little overwhelmed with having gotten into a car accident a couple of days earlier. The accident wasn't bad, and actually, the girl who I hit had no damage. But my car was pretty banged up, which I was really upset by. Anyway, lots of interesting film meetings coming up... I hope this will be a week of calm and balance, unlike the last one.


Screenplay Structure

One of the most difficult aspects of leaning screenwriting is understanding basic screenplay structure. I don't mean learning some formula like the stuff Robert McKee advocates, but I mean understanding the general ebb and flow of how drama works, how you create tension and the general dramatic beats of a story. Structure is especially crucial in screenwriting, as opposed to a novel, because it is such a bare bones medium. There is very little room for wayward plots and storylines that don't feed into the main idea. I used to go in circles with plot and inevitably end of writing myself into a very confusing and dark corner. But now, I find that I have a certain rhythm to my writing, that I understand how it works. Everyone is different, but for me, I use a very rough structural model by figuring out the setup, inciting incident, climax and resolution. I have some story beats in between and I do a lot of character work. Then, I basically pound out a first draft. My first drafts are really shitty, but I find that the only way for me to write a screenplay is to write the actual screenplay. I know some writers do extremely detailed plot outlines, but I find that if I try to do this, I end up scratching the whole thing. I also like just getting into the draft because there is a process of discovery for me--I learn more about my characters and they go in places I would never have thought of in that first draft. Then, it takes me many more revisions to really get it right and polish it. I'm sure some writers do fewer drafts because they get their ideas together in the outline, but having gone through many different methods of trying to make this plot thing work, I've found that this process works for me. I say this because I feel like I'm getting to a solid draft of a new script, and the process has been much more fluid for me than in my past work. I am sure that I'll have other pieces which take me forever, but it was nice to understand my own process and be able to write more efficiently this time.


On the Hustle

Now that it's mid-January, we are back in full swing hustle mode on the film. I've been talking to all kinds of investors and even a few actors. There are some very promising developments on the horizon... The really exciting thing is that my DP, Jeffrey Chu, has been in town, so we've had a chance to sit down and really discuss the visual aspects of the film. We've been talking about what the color palette will look like for the movie and just the general feel. I want to go with colors that are a bit more subdued, that feel like realism, more like an old 16mm film than say something that is higher contrast in terms of the colors. I've always been pretty hardcore about shooting the movie on 16mm film, but the DP thinks we should explore the possibility of HD, so I am going to take a look. I am not crazy about the look of HD for dramas--I feel like it works well for comedies or even thriller type pieces like Collateral, but I like the color palette of film better. We'll see how it goes, it's more important to make the film than anything else, and Jeffrey is an excellent DP, so I'll be open to the possibilities.


Acting for Directors

This weekend, I took an "Acting for Directors" course with Judith Weston. I found it to be an excellent class, especially because Judith is a no frills teacher and didn't waste time on any BS, she went straight into a series of intense exercises which dealt with improv. and accessing emotions. These classes were invaluable to me as a director, but I also believe that they were helpful in terms of my writing. On some level, as writers, we are actors. When we create characters and bring them to the page, we are playing many different parts in order to make each character authentic and real. I find many of the exercises actors do to be extremely helpful in accessing deeper emotions and getting into a frame of mind which helps me dig deeper, especially improv. I would recommend all writers, especially screenwriters, to take at least one acting class. I also enjoyed Judith's class because all of the other students were directors working in different capacities--some came from commercials, others from music videos, etc, and most people had a feature project at some phase. There was a really exciting synergy in the class, which I haven't felt before in taking workshops around LA. Judith also gave some really specific and clear tips on working with children. The class got me super pumped to move forward on my project!!


The New Year!

I'm back in LA after ten days of complete chill time with the fam in NC--lots of eating good food and watching movies. Usually when I'm back in NC, I start to feel a little restless, but this time, I felt pretty content with being lazy. I guess that was an indication of just how burnt out I was at the end of December. Now I feel refreshed and ready to move forward with everything. In the few days I've been back in LA, things have been moving full force ahead. I met with our DP to discuss Raspberry Magic in depth, and the producer and I have a number of meetings coming up. We've also got some very exciting actor attachments on the horizon! I'm stirring creatively, which is great, there are so many things I want to do like develop a web series (I have a great premise!), plus so many new scripts to write. But it's tough to do everything so I'm going to focus on the feature (of course!) and my other scripts that are coming together. I'm also writing a new piece of flash fiction every week--it's been a great tool in terms of pushing my writing. This weekend, I am taking an intensive course called, "Acting for Directors." The class is a bit pricey, but it's well worth it. I really like Judith Weston because she is not pretentious and doesn't waste any time pimping her own resume. She does a series of intense and focused acting exercises geared toward directors. They are nerve racking, especially for those of us who are nervous about being vulnerable in front of other people, but it is really a great way for me to expand my process as a director both technically and creatively. I am generally stoked about the new year and am looking forward to busting my ass and making shit happen!