Category Archives: FilmProd

The Black Panthers and the Second Amendment

“Victory attained by violence is tantamount to a defeat, for it is momentary.”Mahatma Gandhi (1869 – 1948)

Not quite my farm life in rural Wisconsin

Not quite my farm life in rural Wisconsin

As a writer, I find myself delving into all sorts of things I never imagined I would as a young girl growing up in rural Wisconsin. There were about 12,251 people in my hometown and not a single one of them was black. Not one. I don’t remember any brown people, either. While there were a few Asians (doctors and their families), the people of color were primarily Native American. And they were generally discussed derisively. Growing up gay in the upper Midwest was (and still is) challenging. It made me sensitive to what it means to be the other, the outsider.

The Civil Rights Movement, The AIDs Movement and the Women’s Movement were a big deal to me. I sang the Desiderata and Abraham, Martin and John at the top of my lungs. I marched. I chanted. I volunteered. I burned for the Apartheid Movement. As a child, I believed we were making the world a better place for everyone. So, it will probably be no surprise that the events in Ferguson and plethora of postings about the current state of the Civil Rights Blackslide has me distressed.

I’ve spent the last three years researching the Symbionese Liberation Army and the women at the heart of that tragic movement. During that research, I discovered that the Gun Rights Movement and Second Amendment Insanity is firmly rooted in the Black Panther Movement of the 1960’s. The Black Panthers on the Capitol StepsOn May 2, 1967, Black Panther leader Bobby Seale led 24 men and six (6) women carrying .357 Magnums, 12-gauge shotguns, and .45 caliber pistols to the state capitol in Sacramento. Citing an obscure state statute which made it legal to carry loaded weapons if the were not concealed, Seale said, “The time has come for black people to arm themselves against this terror before it is too late.” Decades of abuse at the hands of unchecked police brutality, the Panthers decided to take up arms.

The Pathers’ efforts provoked an immediate backlash. Republicans in California eagerly supported increased gun control. Big-Man-Elbert-Howard-Black-Panther-Party-founding-member-oakland-1968 Governor Reagan told reporters that afternoon that he saw “no reason why on the street today a citizen should be carrying loaded weapons.” He called guns a “ridiculous way to solve problems that have to be solved among people of good will.” California passed the Mulford Act prohibiting carrying loaded weapons but the spark had be ignited.

Founded on November 17, 1871, The National Rifle Association was primarily an organization for sportsmen and hunters until the Black Panther actions of the 60’s and early 70’s. In 1977, Wayne LaPierre joined the NRA and, over the next two decades, lobbied and catalyzed it into the overwhelmingly powerful organization that it is today.

Film Gobies

In the marine world, there is a special group of fish that survive by cleaning the dead skin and parasites off other fish. Wrasses, cichlids, catfish, and gobies are among the better known marine cleaner fishes. The film industry has its own Film Gobies.

Gobie Cleaning Up

They circulate in the industry waters, trolling for aspirants and wannabe’s who are searching for the “super secret path” into the world of the film elite. There are screenwriting seminars offering to “make your script stand out from the rest.” There are pitching seminars to teach you how to “captivate producers and get your film into development.” There are seminars on how to find an agent or manager to sell your work and “create a bidding war” for your material.

The Film Gobies are, in fact, an industry of their very own. The amount of money and time spent trying to break into the industry must rival the amount actually spent making movies. Everybody has an idea. Everybody has a script. Everybody is looking for an edge.

Last night, I got to thinking about how crazy it would be if every industry had a Gobie industry like the Film Gobies. In Wisconsin (where I grew up), I would have been seeing seminars like “How to Make Your Cornfield Stand Out from the Rest!” I could have gone to a workshop on “Negotiating a Better Market Price for Your Milk.” I might have even been able to go to an intensive on “Getting a Better Grain Broker to Maximize Your Profits.” Maybe there would be better pricing for farm goods if such workshops were available. Maybe farming would be a respected and sought after job. Now that I’m thinking about it, maybe the Gobies are performing a valuable service! Maybe they’re keeping the fringe element busy while they’re building their skills while simultaneously elevating the overall skill level of the general pool. Maybe everybody needs a Gobie.

Waiting …

This entire business is rush, rush, rush followed by lots of waiting. Waiting for people to read it. Waiting for people to pass it on to the next person. Waiting for financing. The entire film business model is completely illogical (to quote Mr. Spock) but if there’s a better way to do it, no one is aware of it. Maybe it’s working with creative types. Filmmaking is group art. It’s hard enough to keep one artist on track much less a cast and crew of a hundred or so. Long, long time ago, in the moviemaking dark ages, Studios took over filmmaking and tried to make it run more like a factory. And that’s exactly what they churned out, cookie cutter movies with few sparks and even less artistry. So, now, we all struggle within this crazy system, trying to get something — trying to get anything — made. The people that figure it out often do quite well. They make film after film (hence the reason we’re so excited to be attached to two accomplished producers).

This week, we’re starting the rewrite on our second feature script. The most important thing I’ve learned in the last 2.4 years, keep writing. Do not stop to wait and see if the deal turns out. Don’t wait for who’s reading it to get back to you. You’ll go bonkers. Absolutely bonkers. Instead, keep working on creating great material. That way, you’ve got something more than a blank stare to offer if they say, “Hmmmm, I like the writing but I don’t know if I can find the financing for this. What else have you got?

On a personal note. My son proposed to his girlfriend, Jamie, over Thanksgiving. He got down on his knee in a park in Barcelona, Spain, and asked her to marry him. She said yes. They’re thinking next spring since he’s working on a film in Costa Rica this spring. More waiting.

Webisodes aka The Web Series Phenom

Everyone has been discussing web distribution since my first Sundance Film Festival in 1996. I swear! There has been a panel on alternative forms of distribution at nearly every Sundance for the last fifteen YEARS. Serious film producers would always turn up their noses and say disparaging things about web content.

“No one is making any money at it,” they would sniff. “No serious filmmaker would consider such a thing.” After 15 years of promoting and prognosticating, it seems like Web Phenomenon is finally here.

At last year’s Power Premiere, I met the delightful Susan Miller. A terrific writer with a boatload of credits, she talked about her web series ANYONE BUT ME. It sounded like a fun concept and the series is now heading into its third season. It has over 4 million views worldwide and has been awarded with: 4 Streamy Nominations & Best Actress Win; Webby Honorees for Drama & Writing; 4 Indie Soap Awards; AfterEllen’s Visibility Award.

This last weekend, Meredith Baxter mentioned her latest acting gig. The web series WE HAVE TO STOP NOW with Cathy DeBuono and Jill Bennett. Two therapists on the verge of divorce discover the relationship book they co-authored is on the New York Times bestseller list. A reality show/documentary film crew moves in to capture the “magic” that made the book so successful. Comedian Suzanne Westenhoefer starred as their distressed therapist in season one. Now, Meredith Baxter is joining the cast for season two, as a rather odd therapist who doesn’t want the clients to talk too much during their sessions.

You may recall I was the production manager on a feature film called GIRLTRASH: All Night Long that Angela Robinson, Alex Kondracke and POWER UP developed from a Showtime web series. To understand more of how that series became a feature, you can take a look at the GIRLTRASH Blog to get the inner workings of that process.

Jamie Lieberman (Alec’s girlfriend) went to school with a bunch of people at Emerson (in Boston). They developed a web series that has now been picked up by Warner Brothers. Starring a bunch of young unknowns, DOWNER’S GROVE is a funny slice of life in a boring, small town.

There are a lot of plusses to making your own web series.

Webisodes tend to be short. Three to six minutes in length. You don’t need a huge budget or massive time commitment to put them on. You get to create your own characters in their own world. You don’t have to wait for a production executive to give you the green light. Since they tend to avoid risky projects, you can go out on a limb and prove the merit of your idea. Web series tend to build rabid fan bases that become their market for future stories. I have noticed that many web series reach out to their fan base for funding. Some sell subscriptions to support the series. Others get traditional advertisers to back their projects.

The biggest negative to a web series is the one faced by everyone in this business. Being wildly successful is a long shot. You have to invest a lot of time and money and creative energy in a project that may not go anywhere. If you’ve got a great concept and can serve a loyal market niche, you can have a life devoted to creating stories you love for people who greatly appreciate them. And, if you’re really lucky, they may catapult you into the big time.

Three Months Later

I haven’t blogged since we finished writing the Sally Hayfron script. I don’t know if I could say exactly why I stopped writing then. I just did. Now I look back on it and wonder if I should keep this blog going anymore.

When I was teaching animation, filmmaking, art and design, I’d post about indie films, festivals, books and other resources. There were several hundred people checking in regularly to see what was new and exciting in the field. Ironically, according to my internet stats, there are still several THOUSAND hits to this site every day. I guess that’s what happens when you have seven years of content on a site AND a lot of the content is about Sundance and indie films. Search engines help people find the unusual things they’re seeking whether I’m actively promoting it or not.

I moved to the LA area a year ago to work in film. It seemed like the logical progression for me. In that time, I worked on three films. A MARINE STORY (which played at OUTFEST this week), ELENA UNDONE (which screens at OUTFEST tomorrow night) and GIRLTRASH: All Night Long (which is in post production now). My writing partner, Pam, and I finished the feature script on Sally Hayfron. We started working on a pilot. And, I joined a writing group to have a structure for the novel I’ve been trying to make myself write for the last fifteen years.

Alec got a job with Sony/Screen Gems working on visual effects as part of The Creative Cartel team on the film PRIEST. He’s still working there. All in all, it’s been a pretty eventful year. We’re both still learning a lot.

I remember doing a personal growth workshop a few years back. One of the things they kept saying over and over again, “You don’t know what you don’t know.” Having been here in Movieland for the last year — seeing how major films are made, meeting and greeting new people, networking with industry insiders — I was unaware of how many things I did not know. And we’re still learning. Oy.

Sally Hayfron Mugabe

I have spent the last two years of my life learning, thinking and writing about SALLY HAYFRON MUGABE. I have absolutely fallen in love with this woman. It all started when we were in Zambia in 2006 working on BAD TIMING. We went up to Victoria Falls and everyone was cautioning us not to cross over to the Zimbabwean side. They told us the economic and political situation was desperate; the people were dangerous. Staying at TAITA FALCON LODGE, the owner and his wife told us about how Robert Mugabe, the President of Zim, had changed after his wife died. “The death of Sally Hayfron was the death of Zimbabwe,” they said.

The romantic in me latched onto that story and wouldn’t let go. Imagine that. A love so powerful, an entire nation knew when it was gone. It took a couple of years before we could really start looking into the story. My writing partner and I were busy on the Zambia projects and then THE LAND OF REFUGE (about the Mormon Colonies in Mexico). We had to finish those before we could delve into the story about Sally. Being the dyed-in-the-wool romantic, I have always believed that “more is possible” when you find the “right person.” Would this story be an example of the real power of love?

After two years (and 120 pages), I can honestly say this story is even more amazing than I had imagined. Born in Ghana in 1931, SALLY HAYFRON was a teen when her homeland was gaining its freedom from the colonial British empire. A bright, inspiring, compassionate woman, Sally fell in love with Robert Mugabe, a visiting professor from what was then known as Southern Rhodesia. At that time, about 5 million blacks were governed by 270,000 whites. They were not allowed to vote. They were restricted in where they could live and work. They had virtually no schools. And, they were not allowed to own land designated for “whites only,” which comprised over 45% of the nation (about 90% of the best land).

Sally willingly went to live in this land, to help the citizens gain their freedom. Robert soon rose to prominence in Rhodesia’s National Democratic Party. As civil unrest grew, whites retaliated by electing Ian Smith as Prime Minister. Smith promptly declared independence from Britain and jailed all opposition leaders, including Robert Mugabe, who spent 11 years in prison. As Sally traveled the globe seeking support for his freedom, a bloody civil war consumed the country. Finally, in 1980, Southern Rhodesia was able to hold its first free election and Robert Mugabe won it in a landslide.

Sally was a tireless champion of the common people. Over the next decade, she encouraged the construction of schools and hospitals (many in places they’d never been before). The more I learned about Sally, the more amazed I was with all she had accomplished. Especially when I learned she had suffered from kidney problems most of her adult life and spent the last EIGHT YEARS of her life on dialysis. She traveled the world with a medical assistant in tow to manage her health care. Sally died on January 27, 1992 at the age of 60. Ironically, she was born in the first African country to gain independence from Britain and died in the last.

To this day, people in Zimbabwe write songs about AMAI SALLY (Mother Sally) and how they wish she were still alive and caring for her people. So do I.

(Photo above: Robert and Sally Mugabe depart from Andrews Air Force Base, 26 September 1983)

Kathryn Bigelow Ain’t Hurtin’

I became a fan of Kathryn Bigelow in 1988. She wrote and directed a horror film that I just loved. NEAR DARK starred Bill Paxton, Adrian Pasdar and Lance Henricksen. There was a lot of press about the director of this little film. They said she had saved a lot of money shooting the film because she did NOT shoot cover shots of every scene. She saw the film so clearly that she skipped covers on the scenes she knew she wouldn’t use them. It was a remarkable film.

I also loved Bigelow’s POINT BREAK and BLUE STEEL. Great films that elevated the cache of Patrick Swayze and Jamie Lee Curtis.

Now, Bigelow may become the first woman to be recognized with an Academy Award for directing for THE HURT LOCKER. A film about the Iraqi War experience that some critics are calling the most realistic film about this war. Jeremy Renner also garnered an Academy Award nomination for best actor. An extraordinary film, to be certain.

Bigelow deserves to be recognized for her work, not because she’s a female director but because she’s an extraordinary filmmaker who made a powerful film.

Modern Detective’s Toolbox: Facebook

I don’t know how anyone can hide in the digital age. The fastest way to ferret out anyone or anything has got to be Facebook. I’ve been testing this on my writing projects lately. I’ve spent days and days researching in libraries, scouring historical society holdings and sifting through government records in search of “the truth” about a character or a story I am working on. It can be very satisfying to find some new nugget in these Herculean quests but I have found there’s a much quicker path to greater rewards. It’s Facebook and the internet.

Two years ago, I started researching a project on Robert Mugabe. I wanted more background information on his family, his wife and her family and their children. There was so little published that hadn’t been “sanitized” by the Mugabe government, I just couldn’t find anything that felt “real” about any of them. So, I went to Facebook and entered the family name and the country of their birth. Up pop several people who looked like they were probably related. I send off several Facebook messages (because you can do that even if you aren’t friends). Lo and behold, I get an answer from someone who can get me to the 98-year-old mother of one of the key players in the story … AND the woman is still alive. Seriously. The mother was still alive. Talk about access to real nuggets of truth. It was like the discovery at Sutter’s Mill all over again.

Today, I wanted to get in touch with some filmmakers and artists in Zambia. I’d met them in 2006 when we were there filming BAD TIMING. The phone numbers weren’t working and I needed to reach them pronto. Two were easily located on Facebook (name + country = target acquired). Another did not have a Facebook account. No worries, her niece has one. A couple of messages were exchanged and within 30 minutes, I had her current cell phone number. A quick Google search gave me the number for the National Arts Council as well. It also reminded me of a wonderful director I had wanted to remember to contact about the film she recently completed. I discovered she’d been to the Berlinale and was featured in a documentary. And, it had her email and telephone. Naturally, we’ve been corresponding all day!

GIRLTRASH Hierarchy vs. Anarchy

Making GIRLTRASH: All Night Long was like being in the military. To be blunt, working on ANY film is like being in the military … minus, perhaps, the threat of a mandatory stop-loss at the conclusion of your tour of duty. Even though it is common, at the wrap of a film, to find a lot of film crews that “re-up” for subsequent film projects because these specialized teams have developed a level of trust, respect and safety in working together. I am certain many of the GIRLTRASH crew will work together, again.

GIRLTRASH is a POWER UP film. POWER UP is the only 501(c)3 non-profit film production company and educational organization in Los Angeles. As far as I know, it’s the only non-profit film production company and educational organization in the world. In their commitment to education, POWER UP has a Mentee Program that allows POWER UP members become part of the film crew and acquire the necessary skills to continue in a film production environment. Over two-dozen women and men joined the Mentee Program on GIRLTRASH. People came from as far away as Singapore, Australia and The Netherlands to work on the film. In the continental U.S., there were mentees from DC, Tennessee, Arizona, and New York.

They were divided into three teams that rotated through all of the key positions on a crew so they could gain experience in every area. They rotated through the AD Department, Craft Service and Transpo/Float. They were generally the first in and last out every day. I was impressed and amazed at their level of commitment and determination.

Their training began with a PA handbook and a meeting. The learned how to be a S.T.A.R (by being swift, tactful, aware and resourceful). They learned Set Etiquette and Walkie Etiquette. They learned to bring extra socks, extra jackets and notebooks. They learned about networking and set politics. They learned about hierarchy.

There is a clear chain of command on a movie set.

The AD department sends out the call sheet and communicates who and when everyone is to be on set. NO ONE else gives out call times. The AD department also communicates with the cast. The First AD is the “king of the set.” He/she is responsible for the smooth and efficient operation of all departments so the director can “make his/her day.” The Second AD supports the first AD in marshaling the crew quickly into position and communicates with the cast. The Second Second AD manages all of the paperwork including the call sheet, the sides, SAG paperwork, the G’s and such.

The G&E (Grip, Gaffing and Electric) department powers the set. The Key Grip, Best Boy Electric and team will run cables from the generator throughout the set to power the cameras, lights, and audio equipment. The Gaffer will bring in the gear to modify and adjust the lights (scrims, screens, flags and so on).

The Camera Department and Audio Department are pretty obvious for most folks. The Camera Department includes the DP, the 1st and 2nd AC. The Audio Department includes the sound mixer and boom operator (or, as I inelegantly referred to him one evening, “the Boom Dude”). Other obvious departments include Art (production designer, art director, and prop master); Make-Up and Hair; and Costume/Wardrobe. On set, you learn that you don’t touch anything in another department unless you’re asked to or you ask first.

The Transportation Department moves all of the trucks to the proper locations each day AND makes sure that all picture vehicles are on set AND provides shuttle services for the crew on the days that the staging lot is distant from the set or the crew is in motion (process trailer or tow dolly).

In addition to the production mentees on GIRLTRASH, there were mentees in Camera and G&E. The mentees learned a great deal by working on a professional crew AND provided invaluable support and assistance to the entire GIRLTRASH crew. As the Production Manager for the film, I was intimately aware of contributions and learning gained each and every mentee.

It’s exactly the sort of learning that I sought to provide as part of the FilmZambia project in the fall of 2006 when we took 14 students and four faculty to Lusaka, Zambia to create the first feature film in that country. Unlike the POWER UP experience, the FilmZambia students were making films in a nation that had NO film industry. We had to carry everything with us and fashion it from whatever was available locally. The learning curve was steep and the experience required every bit of resourcefulness and ingenuity we could muster. Fortunately, the students were up to it.

I got an email from one of those students today remarking on how grateful he was for that experience and opportunity. Maybe that’s why I gravitated to POWER UP in the first place and why I am so aware of the benefits of the Mentee Program. I think these sorts of experiences are incredibly valuable, equally rare and totally worth having!

Tomorrow, more about the genius of the key players in the making of GIRLTRASH!

Bring Your “A” Game

Producer Lisa Thrasher said it best, “When you come to LA to make films, you better bring your “A” game because all of the best filmmakers are here. Here, you are competing with the best of the best. In some other part of the country or some other part of the world, you can be a mediocre filmmaker and still get films made. Not here. Not in the film capital of the world.”

We were on our way to a V-Day luncheon, an extraordinary event founded by Eve Ensler. V-Day is a global movement to stop violence against women and girls that promotes creative events to increase awareness, raise money and revitalize the spirit of existing anti-violence organizations. Held on February 11, it was attended by Ensler and Charlize Theron, Jane Fonda, Gabourey Sidibe, Rosario Dawson, Dermot Mulroney, Jehan Agrama, Donna Dietch and dozens more film and feminist glitterati. Two extraordinary producers, Midge Sanborn and Sarah Pillsbury, were seated at our table. (They produced DESPERATELY SEEKING SUSAN, RIVER’S EDGE and HOW TO MAKE AN AMERICAN QUILT.) We chatted about Facebook and the challenges of getting a film made in the current market. Tough. So tough.

And, yet, as hard as it is to get a film made, I was in the middle of working on a film for POWER UP. And it was definitely requiring everyone’s “A” game. The film was written by Angela Robinson and directed by her partner, Alex Kondracke. Based on the super successful web series sponsored by Showtime, it starred Lisa Rieffel, Michelle Lombardo, Gabby Christian, Mandy Musgrave, Kate French, Rose Rollins, Clementine Ford, Megan Cavanagh, Jessica Chaffin and Michael O’Connell.

The film takes place in one epic night. It’s about everything that happens to Tyler and Daisy (Lombardo and Rieffel) as they try to get to a “battle of the bands” style competition. They are waylaid by Daisy’s sister, Colby, who has her sights set on hooking up with Misty, the girl of her dreams. The night spins wildly out of control. So, like SUPERBAD, the film takes place in one night. What that meant for our crew is that the film was shot mostly at night. Call times tended to be around 4 or 5pm. We wrapped around 4 or 5am. By the end of the production, mostly everyone was sporting a vampire-like paleness.

It didn’t take long to figure out this was no rinky-dink, college-indie-production.

Even though this was a SAG ultra-low-budget film, it was totally “A” game. Throughout the production, we were moving a 5-ton truck full of gear and a cube truck full of expendables, gear and craft service supplies. The 5-ton towed our generator into position so the Grip & Electric crew could provide stable power to all teams. We had two Panavision cameras, therefore, obviously, two camera crews. We also used a steadicam crew on several of the “club” locations and a crane crew on one amazing traffic sequence. Since the film is a musical, we had great audio guys who had to capture and mix sound AND provide sync playback. We had to have a transportation coordinator just to move everything into place. With this sort of filmmaking, you can’t just change direction on a dime. You’re moving TONS of equipment and nearly a hundred people a day into position.

Some of our more extraordinary moments had to do with our street scenes. We used a process trailer on two days and a tow-dolly on two days. Four of our 28 days were moving … literally. A process trailer has the “picture vehicle” with the cast up on a trailer that is being towed around the streets of Hollywood. It’s a wide setup that requires four (4)! motorcycle cops with you at all times. The tow dolly has the front wheels of the picture vehicle strapped in and towed behind the camera truck. It’s a narrower setup that only requires two (2) officers. It’s like a half-off sale. The tow dolly days were in the Arts District of LA … bright lights and sparkly night skies. I can hardly wait to see it on the big screen. Definitely going to see everybody on their game.

GIRLTRASHED

It has been so long since I blogged, I was wondering if I’d even remember how to do it. As you may (or may not) recall, I joined the crew of GIRLTRASH: All Night Long the Tuesday BEFORE Thanksgiving! Initially, the film was going to be done by December 23. Scheduling conflicts with the cast pushed another week of filming into January … and, then, the rains began and days were added. And it rained more and we kept pushing and pushing and pushing. It was a monumental struggle to get to the finish line. We finally wrapped on about midnight on Monday, February 15, 2010.

As some of you know, I taught digital filmmaking, 3D animation, web design, graphic design and publishing for a number of years in Arizona. I was always looking for information on how to make the TRANSITION from student to professional. The hardest part for “newbies” is that they don’t know what they don’t know. They don’t know what to ask. While I was making the film, I was being mindful of sharing what I learned when I was done. I haven’t had time to write for the last three months but I plan to spend the next few weeks sharing what I’ve seen, what I’ve learned, what I’ve experienced in the hopes of helping those who want to pursue this crazy dream.

At the end of the day, I can say that serving as the Production Manager on the POWER UP film GIRLTRASH has been one of the most amazing and valuable experiences of my life. It has also been one of the most difficult and challenging experiences. At the end of the production, I caught a wicked cold that has knocked me flat for a couple of days now. Sleep seems to be helping. My voice has dropped two octaves. I sound like a sexy 17-year-old boy.

Tomorrow, understanding the crew.

Living the Vida Loca

It feels like a hundred years since I have written on this blog. I’ve gotten involved in a couple of indie films here and with a couple of organizations that keep me burning the candle on both ends and the middle.

As silly as it may sound, one of the MOST exciting things that has happened recently, (hallelujah, PTL) Alec got a car. Jenny Fulle, his boss, was parting with an old GREEN Hyundai Accent and Alec scooped it up. He named the car El Moco (that’s Spanish for “booger”) and we’re both loving it. I have my car back (so I can do meetings now and get to the library and take care of all of the essentials of life) and he can go hang with his friends on the weekends and go on location without feeling guilty. Free at last, Free at last! Thank God Almighty, I am free at last. Who knew freedom would come in the form of a large green moco?

When we first moved, Alec got hired on at Sony Pictures and need a car … since he’d spent three years in Manhattan, he didn’t have a car. Mass transportation is so easy and useful in NYC. So, we decided he would use my car until we figured something out. Fifteen weeks later, the problem solved itself. Since I didn’t have transportation, I took a lot of freelance web work. It seemed clever. Work from home. So, in addition to completing UNDERTOW, a stage play, refining ANNE AND MARY, a screenplay, I’ve been building lots of websites. Some are database CMS sites, others are flash and a few are the vanilla HTML. Marina Rice Bader Photography Here is a sample of what I’ve been working on:

On Friday I met with three fabulous filmmakers: Nicole Conn, Marina Rice Bader and Jane Clark … and took on the website for their new film Elena Undone. I read the script this evening and I’m really looking forward to supporting them in bringing this wonderful story to the screen. Marina is a wonderful photographer; Nicole is the director of CLAIRE OF THE MOON, LITTLE MAN and CYNARA; Jane is a director and producer. More to come.

We HUNG with Colette Burson & Dmitry Lipkin

POWER Couples

 

HUNG creators Colette Burson and Dmitry Lipkin graciously shared their insider insights on screenwriting, series development, and SUCCESSFUL network pitching at a POWER UP workshop. They were profoundly inspiring in their passion for their craft and the joy (and challenge) of bringing their work to an audience.

To be honest, it was startling when they first walked into the room. I thought Kate Winslet and Sam Mendes were making a surprise visit. Seriously, Burson & Lipkin really resemble Winslet & Mendes! Throughout the evening, I kept having the sense that we were seeing the American version of that very creative and powerful British POWER COUPLE.

Burson and Lipkin were originally scheduled to appear at the POWER UP 2Day TV Writer/Producer Intensive workshop in September but were unable to attend. Being the committed, supportive artists that they are, they rescheduled and presented the evening of 22 October at the Production Office of Angela Robinson (D.E.B.S.) and Alex Kondracke (the L word). Their production office was very dramatic — lots of brick, high ceilings, amazing wood accents — trés urban chic. Robinson and Kondracke are previous POWER UP grantees. Being in their space provided additional subtext to an already exciting event. There was a feeling of “great-POWER-UP-connections-equals-great-success” wafting through the autumn air.

burson_coletteBurson and Lipkin spoke about their bumpy road to success. Appropriately, Burson commented that success in the film and TV business is NOT like the male orgasm. “It’s not that you write the perfect script, meet the right person and suddenly your career shoots straight ahead,” said Burson miming something we might see on HUNG. She squinted her eyes slightly and began feeling the area all around her. Then, she grinned and said, “You try this, you write that, you talk to these people, you rewrite again and take another meeting. A career in this business is a lot more like the female orgasm!” Everyone in the room laughed in agreement and understanding.

lipkin_dmitryRussian-born Lipkin was a successful New York playwright who decided to move to LA to launch a career writing for television and film. To get started, he took a class through the UCLA extension to motivate himself to complete a spec script. He shared how he used that script to get an agent at CAA and how that agent got him meetings with producers. After a couple of frustrating YEARS, they asked him to write something original. He did. Happily. Not too long after that, he came up with the idea for THE RICHES. Then, a serendipitous meeting with a new executive at Maverick Studios and a cigarette break with Eddie Izzard led the creation of his first series … which was derailed by the writer’s strike after the first season. See, there it is, the female orgasm. Never a straight shot. (Variety has a nice summary of the path to HUNG for Tennessee Wolf Pack Productions — the Burson/Lipkin brand.) In their downtime during the strike, Burson and Lipkin came up with the idea for HUNG, a half-hour comedy that Lipkin said he was looking particularly excited about because longer shows can become a bit “Balkanized.” So Eastern European, so erudite.

During their presentation, husband and wife shared about the ways they balance their family life (two children) and their work life. Burson also talked about her love of writing about a specific milieu. She gave an example of the changing milieu around the “politics of water.” bursonLipkin Burson observed that over the years, the wealthy have begun to acquire all of the land around water … around oceans, lakes, rivers and streams … making it difficult for the average family to have access to water. They used this in the development of HUNG. Burson and Lipkin decided that main character, Ray, would have waterfront property because it had been handed down by his family, but he would be surrounded by McMansions and condescending, surly neighbors. This increased the dramatic tension for Ray and allowed Burson/Lipkin to explore this shifting “water milieu.”

Similarly, Lipkin explored the milieu of the American Gypsy in THE RICHES, a story about a character born into a family of thieves and con artist who wants to go straight. It was fascinating listening the them discuss story creation and character development.

Burson & Lipkin’s Writing Recommendations:
  • Life is long and your writing will evolve. You want your writing psyche to be fierce as possible to work in this business.
  • Young writers often think they have a writing “style.” This is often just a writing rut. Strengthen your writing by working on new things.
  • Always be thinking: What does the character want that they cannot have and what is he/she doing to move toward it?
  • Know the Dramatic Question for the series, the Major Character Arcs and the Thematic Question for the individual show. Episodes that connect to all three will be more satisfying for the audience.
  • Currency is this town is ideas, we sell ideas, not scripts or shows.
Burson & Lipkin’s Pitching Recommendations:
  • Pitching is a tool for you. It helps you find what is dramatic, exciting and engaging as you speak it to others.
  • You pitch a series thematically. You pitch the story engine and the structure of the typical episode.
  • Practice your pitch. Role play it.
  • Be yourself in the pitch room. They want to know you’re sharp, have a wide range of interests, are well-versed in numerous topics AND you are going to be easy to work with.
  • One way to begin a pitch is to mention well-known incident related to your story to engage the listener (remember a few years ago when a woman was slapping her child in a parking lot and it was discovered she was a “Traveller” … an American Gypsy?) If they recall, continue with facts to deepen your connection to the story, then reveal your characters and milieu.
Burson & Lipkin’s Networking Recommendations:
  • Network, network, network. Luck comes from unexpected avenues from surprising people.
  • As relative newcomers, they spoke to the difficulty in breaking into the industry and, while they want to give people an opportunity, it can be difficult because of the inherent risk of an unknown quantity. They praised HBO, (“God Bless HBO,” they intoned over and over again) for their support for HUNG.
  • People remember. They told an amusing story about a writer they tracked for over TWELVE YEARS because they liked his work.
  • While doing a short film for POWER UP (after she’d already done a feature), Burson joked that there were days she thought it should be called Power Down but went on to say she learned a lot and was grateful for the break.

This completion to the already inspiring POWER UP Workshop was fabulous! I’m looking forward to seeing the couple at the Power Premiere on November 1 … it should be an excellent opportunity to hear more about what they’re up to! Besides, I’m anxious to hear more about their son, Wolfe, a young man with a passion for self-direction already! Couldn’t happen to a nicer couple!

Other posts of interest:
Don’t Read the POWER Up Summaries
Workshop Day Two
Workshop Day One
POWER Up Changed Alec’s Life (and mine, too)

Steve Buscemi Comes to TV

I have loved Steve Buscemi since seeing him as the hapless director in LIVING IN OBLIVION and the inimitable Mr. Pink inRESERVOIR DOGS. The guy is just amazing. Of course, FARGO was my all-time favorite Buscemi flick. So, it’s fun to read that he’s coming to TV. 600full-steve-buscemi

Steve Buscemi, Stanley Tucci and Wren Arthur, the trio behind Olive Prods., have set up their first TV projects: a drama at HBO starring Tucci and an animated comedy at TBS to be voiced by Tucci and Buscemi.

The projects stem from Olive's first-look deal with Lionsgate Television, which is on board to co-produce the shows. The untitled HBO project, written by SIX DEGREES co-creator Stu Zicherman, is a family drama with Tucci as a brilliant, one-time powerful politician struggling to rebuild his career and relationships with his family and friends after being brought down by a scandal.
Zicherman, Tucci, Buscemi and Arthur are executive producing.

GOOD AND EVEL is an animated family comedy for TBS from DARIA co-creator and THE COLBERT REPORT writer Glenn Eichler that revolves around twin brothers Jack Good and Bo Evel. Stolen by gypsy cab drivers at birth and taught how to behave and drive badly.

How POWER UP & FACEBOOK changed my life …

… and to be totally honest, changed my son’s life, too.

puLogoBy definition, POWER UP is the Professional Organization of Women in Entertainment Reaching Up, the only 501(c)(3) Non-Profit Film Production Company & Educational Organization for Women and the GLBTQ Community. Before Alec was born, I had been planning on moving to SoCal to work in the film and television industry. His birth put that plan on hold for a few years. I continued to write screenplays, produce films and teach filmmaking to keep my inner fire alive. I taught 3D animation and learned to composite animated and live action elements to find new ways of telling my stories.

Alec grew up to love film as much as I did and decided he wanted to work in the industry, too. He worked in a post production house in Manhattan for three years to hone his skills. A confluence of events and it looked like we were both going to be wanting to head west to find our fortunes in LaLa Land. Our network in LA was quite small, so I started working on an idea for how to widen our circle of friends and increase our chances of success. How to do that? I felt like Winnie the Pooh … think, think, think.

Then, I recalled my friend had told me about this organization in LA that helped women be successful in the film industry. I had checked their website out years earlier and decided to revisit it. There I discovered the lists for the annual POWER PREMIERE. The Power Premiere is an annual event honoring the ten most amazing gay women (and, now, men) in the film and television industry. I read the biographies of all those women, starting searching the internet and trades for anything I could find. These were the people I wanted to be working with, the people I wanted to be meeting.

I started reading about the POWER UP events and knew I’d be able to meet some of these extraordinary people at these events but there were two problems. The events were every other month or so and I wanted a more enduring, continuing connection. So, I looked up all of the “power people” on Facebook. I could find most of them. So, I figured, what the heck, and sent a friend request.

When I started this process, most of my friends on FB were family, friends, students, fellow faculty, other indie filmmakers AND the folks I’d been meeting at the Sundance Film Festival since 1996. So, I had a good group of creative, artistic, productive friends … just very few that were inside the established industry.

priest_mI was pleased that many of them accepted my friend request. Suddenly the day-to-day professional LA conversation started to be in my daily world. There were several friends and family members (like my son) who were dubious about my plan of action. Then, one day, VFX Exec Producer Jenny Fulle accepted my friend request. (I later looked her up in IMDb and was amazed at her body of film work!) I noticed that people often teased her about her SCRABBLE prowess, accused her of memorizing the dictionary and things like that. So, one Sunday morning, Jenny sent out Facebook general distress call. She wanted to know if anyone was willing to play Scrabble with her. I accepted the challenge and was stomped into the ground. We kept playing. I asked her how she won so often and how her scores were so high. To her regret, she told me, and now I stomp her as often as she stomps me. We do have a blissful Scrabble relationship.

During our games, we conversed about our impending move, Alec’s career goals and my film aspirations. We arranged a brunch to meet face-to-face. Jenny has a son, so I felt completely comfortable bringing Alec along to the meeting. We all hit it off great and a great friendship was formed. A couple weeks later, Jenny called Alec to tell him she knew of a potential PA job on a good film. His resume was tweaked, his dress suit was dry cleaned and an interview was set. Less than two days after moving to LA, Alec had a job working on PRIEST, a multi-million dollar VFX film. It was amazingly lucky.

jennySombreroHe loves his job. The hours are long and the work is hard. He doesn’t care, he loves his job. He loves the people he works with. He loves what he is doing. Night before last, the PA’s on the film got to dress up and be extras on one of the city scenes. You never know which pieces of film they’re going to use in the final edit so Alec may not appear in the film. He said it was cold shooting all night and the shoes were uncomfortable but, I could tell, he was happy with his tiny little moment on film.

Without POWER UP, I never would have known Jenny existed. Without Facebook (and Scrabble), I never would have had the chance to develop a friendship with Jenny and she never would have met Alec. I thank heaven every day for Jenny Fulle and POWER UP. They changed both of our lives forever. Tomorrow, how POWER UP changed my life.

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