Archive for the ‘Invest in the Movie’ Category

It Takes a Village Pt 2: Lessons from an Olympic Gold Medalist

Tuesday, May 27th, 2014

I am writing, as promised, to share about the Saturn Returns process.  As we gear up for our shoot in June I’ve been learning so much!

A few weeks ago I wrote about the concept of “It Takes a Village” to make a movie like this one.  Well, today I want to share one of the places that concept led me to and the wonderful lesson I learned.

In the spirit of “It Takes a Village” I’ve literally met hundreds of people who I’ve shared the film with. And by meet I mean actually sit down and have a meeting.  It would be tempting sometimes, as I talked about in the last blog, to get frustrated and feel like “if only I can do my art!”

But, once I embraced the concept that building the village is as much a part of the creative process as the director’s prep, some wonderful things really opened up for me.  Here’s one of them…

I was introduced to the amazing Kelly Clark.  If you’re a Mammoth-lover or Mammoth-local, you know that she is the most successful snowboarder, man or woman, of all time.  She won her first Olympic medal, the gold, in Salt Lake in 2002.  Now, 12 years later, she is still the one to beat.  She’s the only woman who can throw a 1080 (3 turns in the air) in competition.  She came in 4th in Torino, bronze medaled in Vancouver, and then competed in Sochi.  I’ve been fortunate enough to become friends with her and we had a terrific conversation a few weeks after she came back from Sochi.

If you didn’t watch the half-pipe competition, here’s what you have to know; the conditions in the pipe were terrible.  The weather was really warm and the organizers couldn’t keep the pipe frozen.  It kept melting and then refreezing when they put chemicals on it.  The result was a combination of slush, ice and lots of bumps.

I’m not a snowboarder, but as Kelly told me, when you ride down and then up the pipe, you have to “carry a lot of speed” to be able to do the tricks.  If you don’t go fast enough, you can’t throw tricks.  If the conditions are bumpy and irregular it slows you down.  Also, if you land on a bumpy wall, you are a lot more likely to fall then if you land on a smooth wall.

So, with all this knowledge, here’s what Kelly shared with me.  She fell five times before her last finals run. She fell every single training run.  She fell in a qualifying run.  She fell in her first of two finals runs.

She also told me that she almost never falls.  By way of comparison, the week after the Olympics she competed in another event and didn’t fall the entire week.  She barely put her hand down once in 15 runs. This gives you an idea how bad the situation at Sochi was.

And here’s what I heard her share.  She kept getting back up. Even after her first finals run, she fell and she got back up.  On the world’s biggest stage, in primetime, with more then 3 billion people watching, she fell… and she got back up.  And then she won a bronze medal.

I saw her a few weeks ago and got to talk to her some more and hold her medal.   She said that this medal was the most special of all the medals that she’s ever won because of how hard it was to win it.

I was incredibly inspired by Kelly’s story for a couple of reasons.  First, we hear all about how getting to the Olympics and competing on the world stage with the best of the best involves sacrifice and hard work.  But, when I heard the details of what Kelly went through I really heard something I’d never heard before.  The sacrifice and hard work involve not just runs in the pipe, workouts and travel away from your family.  The sacrifice I saw was the sacrifice of ego.  The sacrifice of the easy way out.  The sacrifice of feeling good.

She kept getting back up on the board and riding down the pipe, fully aware that she might totally bite the dust, look stupid and fail in front of 3 billion people.

And here’s what Kelly’s story has in common with making a film.  I can’t say that I’ve fallen 5 times at the Olympics, but I can say that I’ve been rejected by hundreds if not thousands of people in the five years I’ve been working on Saturn Returns.  I’ve gone to meeting after meeting and been told no.  I’ve been told yes and then no.  I’ve had people tell me yes for three years or even five years and then tell me no.  I’ve had people question my sanity, my creativity, my judgement, and more.  In short, I’ve bitten the dust, looked stupid and failed.

Turns out the keys to getting a movie made and winning an Olympic medal aren’t so different.  You can’t win if you don’t get back up and ride again.

By embracing the it-takes-a-village concept, I got to hear Kelly’s story and get inspired to get back up and keep going another day.  And now I get to share it with you.

I hope it inspires you, too, to keep going even when you fall repeatedly.

Please consider supporting our indiegogo campaign and going on the journey with us as we make the film.  Lots of cool ways to participate!  Only 6 days left!

It Takes A Village

Friday, May 23rd, 2014

I am writing, as I promised, to share about the Saturn Returns process.  As we gear up for our shoot in June I’ve been learning so much!

One of the things I most want to share has to do with the idea of team.  Now, you probably know that I spend a lot of time talking about team building and leadership in my various classes and coaching.  Today I want to talk about something a little different.  To borrow from Hilary Clinton and the Nigerian Igbo culture, I want to talk about the idea that a project (or your career) “takes a village.”

You might have heard me talk about the idea that nothing of any scope or magnitude in life happens alone.  We can’t even procreate by ourselves, right?  Yet, this business can be extraordinarily isolating if we’re not careful.  We write alone.  We go to auditions alone.  We sit at our desks making calls or sending emails alone.  When we get to be a part of a group making something, it’s often short and fleeting, preceded and followed by a lot of work all by ourselves.

When it comes to Saturn Returns I’ve found myself using the phrase “it takes a village to make a film like this” over and over again.  And while that, in and of itself, has not been a big surprise, what that actually looks like and really means, practically speaking, has been surprising to me.  Here’s what I mean…

It takes a village, and you have to love the village. A lot of actors I meet tell me “I just want to act.”  A lot of writers I meet tell me, “I just want to write.”  Ditto with directors, sound mixers, wardrobe stylists, you name it.

We feel we have a calling. There’s something that we love doing and we’re good at it.  If only all this other junk would just go away, we’d be so much happier and fulfilled.  We come to resent all this other stuff we have to do.  All the people we have to meet, the calls we have to make, the events we have to go to, the hustling we have to do.  Ugh.  When does it all end?

This is the village I’m talking about.  This is the village we have to love.  It would be so easy for me to resent how long it’s taken to raise the money for Saturn Returns, the number of meetings I’ve had that have gone nowhere, the number of people who’ve told me they’ll invest and then backed out, and on and on.  But one of the things that I’ve come to learn is that the village is every bit as much a part of making Saturn Returns as the actual filmmaking.  They go hand in hand.  There’s an idea that you can be a filmmaker without all of this other stuff, but, frankly, I think it’s a myth.  At least in this day and age.  And the sooner we kiss the myth of the pure filmmaker or pure artist, actor or writer good-bye, the better.  It’s like kissing the myth of Prince Charming good-bye.  Hard but so freeing once we do it.

So, my lesson is love your village the way you love your art.  You can’t have one without the other.  It can be hard to love your village, I know.  But, truth be told, some days it can be hard to love your art, right?  Your village and your art demand a lot out of you.  But it’s in the service of something important, something extraordinary, something you’ve dedicated your life to doing.

Gotta love the Village.

On the Creative Process, Part I

Sunday, October 30th, 2011

On the Creative Process, Part I

The mountain that is love defies solo ascent.

This is an example of what my directing teacher Gerald Freedman would call theme. Or, what Lajos Egri would call a dramatic premise.

I articulated this dramatic premise for Saturn Returns after reading about Andrew Stanton of Pixar in the New Yorker Magazine. I was inspired to break out my journal and chip away at my director homework.

I am asked every so often what a director does. This question is usually over dinner, a drink, or at a meeting with someone who is not in the film business. It is an impossible question to answer, certainly impossible to answer over one meal.

That said, it is an important question, and one worth pondering over, writing about, and discussing. For me, the question is an inspiring one. When I ponder it, I want to get down to work.

This series is my occasional attempt to answer the question, “what does a director do?” Each time, I will come at it from the point of view that is where I am in the process. So, tonight, here goes…

Right now, I’ve written the script and rewritten the script many, many times. I’ve also got my producer hat on currently. I’m raising money with the business plan I’ve written, with the help of my producing team, making lots and lots of phone calls.

What that means is that there’s not a lot of directing work going on. But what little I’m doing is critical to the process.

Lake-Mary-Saturn-Returns

Lake Mary, Mammoth Lakes, CA

Basically, I’m looking for inspiration. I’m watching lots of different movies and television, always with Saturn Returns in the back of my mind. In Mammoth, I’m searching for the main house location, driving around town, looking at houses and trying to envision my characters in them.  I’m also looking for other seeds of ideas and images—the sign I pass on the way into town, the way a certain mountain rises above a lake, the shadows of the trees as the sun sets.

And then there is “director homework.” This is where the premise I talked about above comes in. One important part of director homework is asking the questions: What is the movie we’re making? What holds it together? What is the engine that drives it? How can I boil down all my ideas into one or two lines that I can use to convey my ideas to the cast and crew?

I’ve come at this question as a writer. Now, I’ve got to basically clear my head and reapproach it as a director. The answer to these questions will be my guiding principle, my North Star when I make decisions and choices. The more specific I am, the more this homework will serve me when I’m overwhelmed.

So, how did I come up with The mountain that is love defies solo ascent?

Well, first off, I started by asking, at the most basic level, what is the move about? Answer: love. Specifically, in this case, romantic love. More to the point, true love and what is necessary to experience true love.

In this film, our characters think they are in love, want to be in love, and deny their feelings of love. Some of them try to go it alone, immune to the power of love, or so they think. What they learn is that love is bigger than anything they want or plan or design. Indeed, love is bigger than any one individual. They learn that love demands sacrifice. They learn that love can’t be experienced alone.

One of the reasons that I set the movie in Mammoth Lakes and Mono County has to do with the salt-of-the-earth authenticity of the place. In my experience, it really is what it looks to be. People are who they say they are. It’s a place that strips one of the layers of façade. In my film, my characters are forced to confront their real selves.

So, in trying to convey the power of love in my premise, “mountain” captures it well.

Then we come to the verb. The verb is the litmus test. The conflict of the movie is often powerfully captured in the verb of the premise.

In this case, “defy” is a very human verb. So, I’m ascribing human qualities to the mountain of love. And, the verb “defy” juxtaposes solo ascent, a mountaineering phrase, with the concept of love. Basically, you can’t conquer the mountain of love alone.

I find that the best premises paint a picture. The verb conveys energy and conflict. There is a sense of irony in that expectations are confounded.

That’s all for now. For more on “premise” read Lajos Egri’s The Art of Dramatic Writing, or William Ball’s A Sense of Direction. For the article on Andrew Stanton and his work at Pixar, go to NewYorker.com and look for the Oct. 17th issue. It’s a great read.