LIMITING DECISIONS

When asked about the secret of his success and long career, actor Michael Caine answered: “I have a policy.  I never listen to anyone explain why they can’t do something.  I don’t want to be convinced by them.”

How often do you encounter people with such negativity that it influences you?  Have you ever been driving with someone who said, “We’ll never find a parking spot”?  Next time that happens, turn to them and ask, “How do you know?”  Sometimes people decide things that limit them without even thinking.  And in that limiting decision, they have created a negative energy that surrounds them—and you.

On a movie set, when someone shouts “it’ll never work” or “we don’t have enough time” just tell them to leave the room.  There’s no reason to be in that kind of environment.  I like to think, “there’s always a way to make anything work” and “there’s plenty of time.”  One just needs to be creative.  And it’s super difficult to be creative when you’re making a limiting decision about something.

I taught one of my consulting clients about how he could make a short film.  Months later, I learned that he had indeed made his short, and that the film was accepted to screen at the Cannes Film Festival.  Isn’t that wonderful!  I’m fairly certain he didn’t make any limiting decisions along the way.

If you’re a worry wart and are often creating difficult situations even more difficult, it might be hard to grasp this idea.  But, it would be really beneficial to never operate with any limiting decisions.  Try removing the following words from your daily dialogue: can’t, won’t, never, don’t.  It’s a really fun exercise.  My favorite was going a whole week without saying the word DON’T.  Instead of telling someone what you don’t want, you’ll find it is always easier to tell someone what you DO want.

The subconscious mind cannot process negatives.  Don’t picture a blue tree.

What did you picture?  A blue tree!  And even if you immediately changed the color of the tree, you pictured a blue tree even when I told you not to.  Don’t imagine a baby crying.  Don’t imagine a birthday cake.  Don’t imagine an orange rose.  More of the same.  Whoever decided the billboard should say “Don’t drink and drive” is an idiot.  It should read “Find a sober driver.”

Anyway, when it comes to communication—whether on a film set, within the binds of a screenplay, or in ordinary day-to-day life—think about what you’re saying.  Are you telling people what you WANT?  Or are you telling them what you don’t want?

WORDS AND IMAGES

Roberto Rossellini, the director, and Isabella’s father, once said, “Do you know how many words it takes to adequately explain an image that will register, in your mind, the total meaning in a split second?”

Let’s think about that for a moment.

I don’t know the answer to his question, but my first thought is that it would take an enormous amount of words.  There are endless ways to describe something.  Those of us who have studied scene analysis from already completed movies know that a simple five-minute scene might take an entire day to film.  Stepping back another level, we examine the script for that scene and discover it’s only a couple pages long.  And when we examine the script used during the filming, we discover how little of what we see on screen had been previously written.

Films are made up of pictures, which spawn emotions and tug at our full understanding of feelings and perspective.  Even when the viewer is looking at the same scene, each person will be watching it from a different history.  People come from different backgrounds, different upbringings, and each have different viewpoints.

There are only a couple reasons I can see for a screenplay.  One is to communicate to the actors what they will say and (to some degree) where they should stand, move or sit.  Although the director, or each actor, may change that to suit the actual location of filming, or rhythm of the scene when its played out.  Another purpose for a screenplay is to keep track of the skeleton of the story.  If the skeleton is solid, and the foundation secure, the scenes themselves might end up in any number of possible outcomes.

It is totally possible to shoot a movie without using a traditional screenplay.  If you intend to do this, my advice is to work with really great actors.  Especially if they have any kind of writing background or improv coaching.  Actors Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy joined their director Richard Linklater with Best Screenplay Oscar nominations for the BEFORE SUNSET and BEFORE MIDNIGHT movies because they made those movies in this fashion.

I’ve recently started working on a similar project and am extremely excited to experience what it’s like to work in a world like that.  There is something ultimately freeing about it, and that excites me.

STRUCTURE is the best word I can use to describe prepping for something like this.  Each scene has a purpose.  Every scene in a movie starts at 1 and ends at 3.  There will always be a 2 in between.  Of course you can just decide whatever is the most obvious way to get from 1 to 3 and use that, but you might find there are several ways to move through 2 that will still lead you to 3.  So why not film the alternative 2’s and decide in the editing room which one works the best?

Sometimes there is no time or budget for this kind of filmmaking, and I understand that on certain days during your shoot you might not have that kind of ultimate freedom.  But my suggestion is to find that freedom whenever you can.  And remember that freedom is what makes a truly independent filmmaker.

My First Review: DECEIVED

When I was asked if I would write a monthly film column for Aftertaste magazine, I jumped at the chance.  What could be better than having a real platform (as opposed to my non-public living room) where I’m invited to share my experiences, joke about my enlightenments and make a fuss of my frustrations!  But then the inevitable happened – the months just kept coming, one after the other.  Sooner than planned.

Last week I attempted to turn on my computer and it simply did not go on.  After two and a half unpleasant hours of tech support, I learned that my hard drive had failed.  It was gone.  Dead.  And there was nothing I could do about it.  They would gladly ship me another one, but unless I had any back-up discs, everything on the hard drive had been killed.

I began to panic and rapidly search for ways to somehow see if any of my previously unpublished articles, unread screenplays, storyboards, poems, or recipes could be salvaged.  Maybe I could get back my address book, expense report, emails, or find out if all my FIRECRACKER marketing materials were still alive.  But on Tuesday, my outlook changed.

After lunch, I began to feel an overwhelming sense of relief.  Perhaps I’d only been hungry, but it felt like a total burden had been lifted.  So I elected to just get rid of it altogether and order a new computer.  I didn’t care if all of my documents were lost!  I was suddenly hungry for a new beginning!  I chose DELL because I don’t like the cult over at the other place – where people think they are better than others.  Plus, DELL has better customer service.

Then I thought – if starting fresh feels this incredible – I might as well throw everything away!  I gathered a bunch of big black trash bags and got to work.  I only had a couple of days before my new computer would arrive – so there was no time to waste!  Out went the folders, the papers, the pictures!  Away with the demos, the tapes and the discs!  I did keep some items of value, however.  The Plez Letters got their own box, but everything else was history.  My history. And there was no reason to keep any of it.  I still have my memory!  When I’m old and lose my mind it won’t matter anyway!

I couldn’t believe all the crap I had.  And it was all crap I thought was important!  Did I really need to keep the screenplay to a film I’ve already made?  Did I really think I would listen to those unsolicited CDs?  They’ve sat there unheard for over a year!  When I’m eighty, will I really want to sort through that box of high school memorabilia?  Who in their right mind really *needs* that unsightly stack of FLAUNT magazines?  They didn’t review the “Wamego” documentary anyway – so fuck ‘em!

When I finally made it through all the crap in my office, I decided the furniture needed to go next.  Out to the curb.  Then I decided to get a much better set of storage units.  I found some inexpensive systems at TARGET and spent another day assembling them.  Re-storing, organizing and shelving only the important crap felt great.  And by the time I finished getting the office back together again – the new computer arrived.  It’s awesome. Jet black – really fast – with a big flat-panel monitor.  Delicious!

I am now a firm believer that all seemingly horrible events are only truly horrible if we want them to be.  And in the end, if we want to turn them into positives, we can if we choose to.  Though no one ever does, it seems to me.  Usually people are so trapped in their misery that they never want to escape it.

Which brings me to DECEIVED with Goldie Hawn.  This woman (Adrienne Saunders) really reminds me of one of my family members.  She’s direct, unafraid of confrontation, and honest.  It’s a refreshing version of the typical woman-finds-out-her-husband-isn’t-really-her-husband movie.  What’s this version like?  Well-crafted and smart.

Maybe it’s just the clever way Goldie Hawn plays the role – but I sensed that there was little that could provoke her to curl up in the corner and shake with fear.  No matter what happened (the guy at the museum is dead, there’s some Egyptian necklace causing all this commotion, her apartment is broken into, her life is a total wreck, her dead husband really isn’t dead, etc.) she never cowered.  This woman was upset because she’d been lied to.

In a scene with John Heard, who plays her husband, she asks, “Why didn’t you just tell me?”  It was the way she said it that gave me the idea if he’d been honest with her from the beginning – she might have even helped him!  But he lied to her and seemed more interested in denial.  Big mistake.  Sure, it isn’t ethical to participate in jewelry fraud, murder, and pretending to be someone else – but the bigger problem is hiding it.  In the same scene (I think) he asks her, “Wasn’t I a good husband? Didn’t you feel loved?”  Clearly, he had parents and neighbors who taught him it was more important to look the part of Happy American than it was to actually be one.  Like there is some sort of shame associated with being anything else.  Sound familiar?  (Not familiar to films like this. I meant, familiar to our entire culture.)

I must make special mention to Thomas Newman about his score: Please, Mr. Newman, get off that goddamn xylophone or whatever the hell it is.  The theme for “Six Feet Under” is fine – but not every movie needs to sound exactly the same.  (Obviously “Six Feet Under” was scored years later – but still.  You scored DECEIVED over twelve years ago.  Enough is enough!)

On my street we believe it’s always better to be honest about something than it is to deny it.  No matter what it is.  Because it will – mark my words – come up at some point.

If you’ve killed someone, stolen some priceless treasure, faked your own death, and have problems with your mother – just get over yourself and be honest about it.  There are people who can help you.  Maybe not the 95% who will judge you, condemn you, or blame you for not living up to their expectations – I’m talking about the other 5% who will be supportive and understanding.  (This is the same 5%, it seems, who favor the separation of Church and State.)  If you make the choice, however, to deny it and pretend nothing happened – well, you will have a miserable life and die unhappy.

If you feel like the whole world is against you, or your life changes dramatically, simply eat something spicy and you’ll be fine.  You might even find the courage to do away with all that crap and move on.

(Originally published in Aftertaste Magazine, 2004)

So you want to be a screenwriter?

You’ve decided to write a script and make it big.  You’ve found a great story that, for some reason, you think other people want to read (or see for that matter).  You’ve written it and are now ready to shop your script to producers and directors.  Shopping your script is the first mistake, which I shall address on another day, but if you are determined to have someone else make your movie – there is something you should know.

Not only has The Industry become lazy and formulaic when it comes to storytelling (and you’ll have to comply as well), it is now imperative that every screenplay must look and feel identical.  Coming up with a good idea to write about is one thing.  Coming up with a good idea people are willing to pay for is another.  But the most important thing – the thing they never tell you – is that you MUST BIND YOUR SCRIPT LIKE EVERYONE ELSE!

Never mind the story.  Never mind the content.  It’s come down to this: If your script does not have those common, unsightly and second-rate brass “brads” attached to the top hole and bottom hole – your project is worthless.  They will tell you that only amateurs go to Kinko’s.  Because “everyone” knows you MUST OBEY THE RULE OF THE BRASS “BRAD”!

Never make the horrible mistake of placing it in a three-ring binder.  And never, ever, put “brads” in all three holes!  Because “everyone” knows you’re supposed to only use the top hole and bottom hole.  A writer I once knew told me his script was returned unread because he’d placed a “brad” in the center hole.  As ludicrous as this might seem, this is no joke.  It’s really happening to people.

Most of Hollywood can’t understand how to read something unless it has these brass fasteners.  But let that be a lesson.  Do I really want to work with people who are obsessed with the binding and not interested in my cast, financing, marketing plan or that seemingly, from their point of view, irrelevant part known as cinematography?  Come to think of it: No… I don’t.  I want to work with people who can understand pictures and sentences, too.

On my street, I bind scripts professionally.  I love the look and feel of it.  The appearance says: QUALITY.  DISTINCTIVE.  IMAGINATIVE.  And those emotions happen before reading the first sentence!  Going one step further, I like to include photographs and sketches that assist in setting moods and atmospheres – the kinds of things that separate a motion picture from a novel.

Still, it doesn’t do any good.  Several years ago, a woman named Elizabeth called me from Miramax and said she was excited to read my script.  I made the horrible mistake of sending it to her.  Several days later, she telephoned and told me, “It’s perfect for Dimension, so I sent it to them.”  I was livid because she was passing it around without my approval.  I asked for her to return it at once.

I received the script the following day.  When it arrived, I found it had been completely dismantled.  The crucial photographs were removed from the script, and the binding was replaced by those stupid second-rate brass fasteners!

Now, it’s not like I only had a few pictures.  I’d actually placed one on every other page. So it was clear to me that someone had wasted an entire afternoon going through the script page by page and removing 125 pictures.  Isn’t that silly?  They had to make it look like all the other scripts in order to understand it!  Also, I looked up on staples.com and those stupid “brads” are called “standard punch brass fasteners.”  So next time you hear a dimwitted industry executive say “brads” you will know the extent of his or her mental capacity.

There is something to be said about going against the norm.  Doing things in an unorthodox manner separates you and your material from the millions of people and scripts milling about the basin.  But for some reason – fear of not fitting in, perhaps – most people will continue to worship the “brass brad mentality” and end up looking like everyone else.  Sure, they’ll fit in.  But no one will see them because seven million other people have done exactly the same.

My advice?  If you feel the need to write something clever – simply eat something spicy and the feeling will pass.  You’ll be much happier in the end.

(Originally published in Aftertaste Magazine in 2004.)

LET IT BREATHE

Great screenplays write themselves.  Great films shoot themselves.  Your job as a creator should be to never question a signal, or inspiration – just go with it.  And use your eyes, ears, and then, if you’ve appreciated and respected your creation, it’ll all be there.  The skill is to not interfere with it.  Give it some room to breathe.

A sentence like, “Listen to signs from the universe” might sound hokey but I’d still advise it.  If you’ve written a scene to take place inside a garage and no matter what you try, no one will let you film in their garage, simply change it.  If you fight it, the fight will wear down the natural flow and keep you from seeing what is truly supposed to be there.

When you’re writing a script and you hit a stumbling block, move on – go to another scene.  If you’ve outlined your story and developed a clear structure, you can simply skip around.  If you’ve foolishly started writing without a clear structure in place, stop whatever you’re doing and develop the structure before going any further.

If you’re a songwriter, and the lyrics just aren’t coming to you, put in some working sounds that may or may not even be actual words.  Maybe they’re just noises and sounds, vowels, that you can place words upon later.

Realists have a more difficult time than the rest of us, because they get bogged down with the laws they were raised with.  Or laws that have been pounded into them by society at large.  Water is wet.  The sky is blue.  Neither may be actually true, but we are taught they are.

Letting go of the trappings in the world around you and allowing yourself to FEEL what you feel is a really hard thing to do for most people.  But, I assure you, that once you get the hang of it, it’ll be easier and easier.

In my own work, I can see the differences between projects where I’ve opened myself up to the universe and let all the pieces fall into place, or on the projects where I’ve forced it to much.  It’s taken me a decade to finally tap into something I can’t understand, and which is hard to communicate.  But it’s there.

They say, “Write what you know.”  And likewise: film what you know, sing what you know, dance what you know and paint what you know.  Of course that’s wonderful and always enjoyable but it’s also fun to push yourself a bit into an area you don’t know.

People ask me what inspires me to make a film.  The answer truly lands in what I’m interested in learning next.  I’ve never made a proper horror film.  Or a western.  Learning how to do that is exciting to me.  I’ve never made an erotic film.  Having to learn about what makes eroticism work is a challenge.  Especially if it’s a kind of sexuality I know nothing about.

I consider myself as a mad scientist in a way.  Wanting to combine different genres, or starting a movie off in one tone and then ending in another.  Like CASSEROLE CLUB, where we began with tongues planted in cheeks, then half-way through twisted the tone and moved into something serious, heavy and utterly devastating.  I also love movies that stick in the same tone throughout, like FIRECRACKER, or OCCUPYING ED.

But regardless what story you’re telling, my advice is to be open to letting the creation have its own life force.  Give it some room to morph, grow, and breathe.  You might just find that it grows into its own amazing being.

Works of art are like children.  And as a parent, it’s most responsible to let your children develop into who THEY are.  It’s irresponsible for you to make them who you want them to be.  Take a step back, and open yourself up to the possibility that they just might have their own voices and their own energies.  And if you can learn to respect them, you might be surprised at what they become.

DESIGNING MOVIE POSTERS

When it comes to design, there are no rules.  But there is such a thing as bad taste.  Bad taste on purpose can be a great way to communicate your product—especially if it’s a campy satire.  But if you’ve made a gothic horror or character drama, you don’t want to have crappy looking artwork.

There’s a tendency in the movie business to create Key Art that looks like the latest hit.  There’s also a tendency in the movie business to create Key Art that is totally misleading, just so that company can make a buck when the film is released.

My film FIRECRACKER could be cataloged as a Gothic horror.  But it is far from a horror film.  But the distribution company had the idea of marketing it as a horror film, with blood dripping off the letters and so forth.  That was a horrible idea.  I fought them, and got them to release the film with the Key Art I had designed, which communicated more honestly about the atmosphere and tone of the film.

My film CASSEROLE CLUB could be cataloged as a drama, or character study.  It has some campy moments (it takes place in 1969, so the costumes and art direction lend itself to looking campy even if the subject matter isn’t funny at all), and might have some sexual situations, but there really isn’t anything “sexy” about it.  The distributors for that film wanted to market the film as a “sexy” and titillating soft-core exposé.  I thought that would be a horrible mistake as well because the people expecting to see a sexy and soft-core movie would be totally disappointed.  But why did they want to market it that way?  Because sex sells.  That’s why.

My thinking is: if you want me to make and then sell you “Babes & Bikini Bingo: Summer Camp” or “Haunted Carnival, Part 3” I’m happy to do so, but don’t do something dishonest by marketing a movie that isn’t the movie.

When you design your movie poster, it’s important to remember that although different fonts can sometimes look cool, they do not look cool when you place them all together at the same time.  I always cringe when I see a design that features more than two or three different fonts.  It’s a dead giveaway that the designer just discovered Photoshop when you get the sense they had an urge to use EVERY font they could find.

I try and keep fonts simple and usually only use two.  One font is used for the main title, and another for actors names, blurbs, and other copy.  I try and make sure that the font I use for the main title is not used anywhere else in the design.  Using it more than once diminishes the impact of the main title.  So I always find a complementary font to use for everything else.  Remember: less is more.

With regards to the image or visual art, think about a memorable moment in the film and use it.  Before someone sees your movie, they don’t know what that image means, but after they see your movie, next time they see the artwork, it’ll remind them of your movie.  I try and avoid showing something if it’s giving too much away.  Like, if your movie is a murder mystery you probably wouldn’t want to show the killer on the cover holding a knife, because it would ruin the viewing experience.  But maybe if you wanted to throw off the viewer, you would show each character holding a weapon—then the viewer won’t know whodunit.

Saul Bass was a great designer of movie posters.  You might want to look him up.  His designs were far from the traditional Key Art you see today.  But, in this world of the Black Market Punk Rock Film Distribution, Key Art that is actual Artwork might be the perfect idea.

IN WITH THE NEW

Each New Year’s Eve I try and be in bed as early as possible.  My favorite thing is to celebrate by having a great dinner and having a really nice sleep.  That way, I can wake up feeling refreshed and focused, ready to start the first day of the New Year in clarity.  It’s also quiet—no calls or emails to answer—because most everyone else stayed awake waiting for midnight to roll around, and are likely still asleep.  It’s really a wonderful way to start the year.

2013 was a wild ride, to say the least.

In January I produced and directed my 13th feature film – a romantic comedy from Jim Lair Beard’s acclaimed screenplay OCCUPYING ED.  It was a welcome diversion from the pain of being blind-sided, betrayed and abandoned by my partner of 14 years two months earlier.  I was dreading the new year, but with the help of a new film and some great new friends, I managed to repair the broken heart, keep my spirits up and navigate into a new future.

While I was producing the new film, I completed my previous movie, FAR FLUNG STAR, which was filmed in Hong Kong.  Critic Richard Uhlig calls it, “a Visually-stunning gem, a NORTH BY NORTHWEST for the digital age.  This caper film doesn’t let you rest for a second.”  What a compliment!  You can watch the film here: www.Vimeo.com/ondemand/farflungstar

FAR FLUNG STAR premiered at London’s Raindance Film Festival in September, where I met up with my mom’s cousins Karen and James Lowther.  Karen is an author (her amazing new book THE PERFECT CAPITAL is out now), and James is co-founder of M&C Saatchi, one of the world’s largest ad agencies.  The Lowthers invited me to stay at their country house called Holdenby.  It was magical.

While in London I also taught my first Masterclass on Maverick Filmmaking to actors and aspiring filmmakers.  Teaching is an inspirational experience and I’m looking forward to doing it more frequently.

I also traveled to Santa Barbara, the wilds of Maine, Paris France, and even down to Texas (where I spent a surreal weekend at a festival with my friend Jane Wiedlin, her man Travis, and Rutger Hauer and his wife).

2013 also brought the passing of my dear friend, the legendary Hollywood actress Karen Black.  Karen starred in several of my films and became a dear friend to me over the years.  While losing her to a rare cancer was heartbreaking, reflecting on her amazing life and career and the fun we had together has been inspiring.  Karen planned her own funeral, and it was the first funeral I’ve attended that was actually fun!  Sure, everyone was moved and in tears, but the stories we all shared were hilarious and everyone was laughing out loud.  To have known Karen, and to have had the privilege of being one of her “insider” friends, has made my life immeasurably richer.  Though I will miss her, the support and encouragement she gave me will live with me forever.

I come to the end of 2013 feeling renewed and invigorated.  What started off fairly depressing has ended with much hope for the future.  Between several new film projects, some commercial work with 502 Media Group, the new teaching gigs and a new editing suite featuring the latest in technology, I’m raring to hit the new year with gusto and with creativity cooking on all the burners.

Join me!  There is no better time to finally put that pen to paper and write that script you’ve always wanted to.  Start a new project!  Travel and see something magical and expand your horizons!  Eat a wonderful meal with friends and dare to dream the impossible.  There is proof all around you that those seemingly impossible things are just within reach.  So grab them.

SANTA THE OPOSSUM

When I was a little kid, maybe four or five, I was obsessed with opossums.  I knew instinctively that the opossum was my power animal, so I was just completely obsessed with them.

At four or five years old, I was taken to visit Santa at the mall like any kid.  When Santa asked me what I wanted for Christmas, I simply said, “A possum!”  He was confused, concerned, and looked at my parents with a “What the hell am I supposed to follow that with?” look.  Imagine what my parents were thinking.

As the days crept closer to Christmas, my parents likely engaged me with ideas of practical toys and things to put on my list to Santa, but I wasn’t hearing any of it.  I was totally convinced he would bring me an opossum.

How it all happened, I’m not entirely sure.  But when I woke up on Christmas morning and went to fetch my stocking, I found that Santa did, in fact, bring me a beautiful taxidermy of an Opossum!  I named him “Clarence.”  He was divine.

Later, I learned that my parents went on a wild goose chase to have Clarence trapped and eventually stuffed.  Luckily we lived in Kansas, where opossums run around eating berries and otherwise keeping to themselves.  Opossums here are friendly and lovely.  They aren’t like big city possums, which can be rude and cranky.

Clarence lived at my mother’s house until I had a house of my own.  Now he holds court in my dining room, watching over dinner guests and keeping an eye on any mischief.

I never really had a favorite Christmas movie growing up.  By by the time I was in high school, I discovered Kubrick’s THE SHINING.  I would watch it every year on Christmas Eve.  It’s the best Christmas movie ever.  MISERY came in as a favorite Xmas Eve movie for a year or two, but it just didn’t have the special holiday punch that THE SHINING does.

I have a screenplay somewhere on the back burner based on my family.  It’s a Christmas movie caper, and will be downright hysterical whenever I decide to finally make it.  It’s pretty complicated, and will take a special combination of actors to make it work.

I love the holiday season, and especially the music.  Frank Sinatra and the Rat Pack, Ella & Louis, they all have incredible Christmas albums.  Even Barbra Streisand has a Christmas album (I know, right!?).

I love Christmas and I’m not even religious!  I hope you all have a wonderful time sharing it with your friends and families, regardless of your religion.  And, if you don’t have anyone to celebrate with, put on a good movie and treat yourself to something special.

WHAT WILL PEOPLE THINK? (Part 2 of 2)

Opinions of your film will run all over the place.  You’ll see.  It is important to remember that a person’s opinion isn’t actually communicating to you about your movie, but rather, that person is sharing something about their personal inner self.

If the acting in your film is fantastic, and someone tells you that the acting is horrible, what they’re really telling you is why they didn’t connect to it, or that there’s something about their lives which kept them from liking it.  Maybe it hit too close to home?  Maybe they have a similar history to those characters and those old emotions, buried so deep they can’t even see them anymore, are coming to the surface subconsciously and preventing them from letting those feelings escape.  So they hate the acting.

One person will say they hate the music while another will say they love it.  One person will say the flow of the movie is trance like, while another will say it’s jarring.  One person will say that the writing seems forced, while others will say it feels genuine.

There will be sales agents who say these things too.  It’s pretty common for Hollywood in general to always find something about your movie they hate.  You’ll see.  There will be distribution companies, reps, film festivals, anybody and everybody, who will insist their ideas and opinions are fact—and the funny thing is—they will all contradict each other.

That happens every time I get ready to sell a film or promote it at festivals.  Every time.  And it will likely happen every time for you, too.  So my advice is to somehow learn how to let it bounce off of you.  Keep going.  There will be someone, somewhere, who loves it.  Prepare yourself for an endless barrage of rejection one after the next.  Eventually it’ll all work out.  Keep going until the movie is shared publicly with as many people as possible.

You’ll learn that after gathering everyone’s opinions, you’ll be surprised to see that every element in the entire film will be loved at least once, and also, hated at least once.  For every person who likes this, there will be another who hates the same thing and loves something else, which was hated by the other guy.  This is just how life works.

Learning all that has helped me identify when a project becomes true to my vision and perfect for me.  And that is all I can do.  That’s all anyone can do.

When I share rough cuts of my films with professional editors in Los Angeles and NYC, and other filmmakers, and well-known actors who have worked with some of the greatest directors of our time, their opinions don’t change my own perspective.  I share it with them out of curiosity.  Some people need to hear other people’s points of views in order to help define their own.  I’m not like that.  It could be because I’m more visual, instead of verbal or auditory.  I’m pretty sure it’s all about how the brain works and how each person processes information.

The people who need to hear what other people think so they know what to think are usually the types who hear something negative and try to “fix” it.  But, if they did that every time a new opinion came in, there would be nothing left.  It would be a big black void with some credits playing.  Although, even that could end up gone if someone else didn’t like the font.

Of course, I’m always fascinated in hearing other people’s perspectives of any movie I make.  I’m so proud of a film when I complete it, of course it feels good to feel the pats on the back.  It’s exactly like being a parent.  When your kid makes a good grade or wins a contest, it feels good.  And, likewise, when that kid is bullied, it hurts.  But bullies are out there, and there’s nothing we can do about it as parents.

I’m also aware that, like food, some people may not like the way it tastes.  That’s okay.  Critiques don’t teach me how to be truer to my vision.  They only teach me how to better appeal to the critic.  If I’ve made a risotto with white truffles, and the person eating it doesn’t like Italian food, there’s no way I’ll win them over.  If my objective is to win that person over, I’ll have to make what they like.

If my objective is to have the best Italian restaurant on the block, I need to focus on making the best Italian I can and be true to my vision, instead of worrying about the people who don’t like Italian and would rather eat Chinese.  And, likewise, if my intention is to create a New Wave Italian, classic Italian purists might not like it.

Be true to your own perspective.  And, keep going.

KAREN BLACK

I first met the actress Karen Black in 2001 when I stopped by her house to try and persuade her to star in my film FIRECRACKER.  She knew I was coming, so she let me in.  I was instantly hooked on watching her body movements and facial expressions.  There was something about her entire being that reminded me of a wild cat… like a panther or a jaguar.

She seemed to float on the air, feet never touching the ground.  I would later remember this and encourage the Oscar-winning sound designer Paul N. J. Ottosson to remove Karen Black’s foley from one of her characters in FIRECRACKER so she would appear to subconsciously float, otherworldly through the film.

Karen eventually agreed to star in FIRECRACKER and we went about making the film.  She was an incredible trooper on set.  One of my favorite scenes is when her character Sandra leans out of her gypsy wagon to talk to the young boy.  During filming, when it was time to reverse the camera and get the kid’s shot, it was nearly 5 AM and we’d been filming since long before sunset.  Several people on the crew were worried about getting Karen back to her room so she could sleep but she stood firm, and refused to go.  She wanted to stay and be there to act with the kid who was being filmed.  She was a total pro.

In the years after FIRECRACKER came out, Karen and I remained good friends and I’d look her up every time I was in Los Angeles.  We always daydreamed of another project and when we would be able to work together again.

In 2008, Karen was being honored at the Macon Film Festival and they were to show my film FIRECRACKER, so I was flown in to present it with her.  It was such a lovely town, we decided to make a movie there.  Screenwriter Frankie Krainz had just finished his ode to film noir women in prison movies, and Karen said, “I’ve always wanted to be in a women’s prison movie and no one’s ever asked me to be in one.  Isn’t that peculiar?”  So we decided to make STUCK! together.

At first I’d thought of casting John Waters’ muse Mink Stole as the part of the Next Door Neighbor Lady, and Karen as the bible-beating shooter on death row for gunning down an entire fleet of tax collectors.  Karen really wanted the part I had in mind for Mink, and eventually I convinced Mink to take the part I’d originally had in mind for Karen.  It ended up being a great switch, and both women were perfect in their roles.

One of my favorite moments during the filming of STUCK! came when we were shooting a scene near the end of the film, where Karen’s character is riddled with guilt.  In that room, on the set, we turned to each other after a take and looked around.  It was just the three of us.  Karen, me, and my sound guy.  I made the comment about how amazing this was, this experience.  How intimate and real and honest.  She smiled and said, “THIS is filmmaking.”

I am so very lucky to have been able to work with her and to be her friend.

Last week Karen Black passed away after a long battle with ampullary cancer, a rare form similar to pancreatic cancer.

The days leading up to her death were filled with lovely texts and email exchanges.  One night, I sent her this text:

“I had a cry for you today.  In your honor.  I was sitting in my editing room, which is the same room you loved, on the second floor, with the North facing windows.  And I smiled.  And felt your love and support.  And I hope you can feel mine for you.  You are a treasure.  After work I like to go outside in my yard and look up at trees, see the leaves and the branches.  All those shapes and lines.  You once taught me its important to do that after sitting at a computer.  You also have taught me the gift of collaboration.  I shall never forget those incredible moments creating with you.  I love you with all my heart.  Now.  Next.  And then some.  Cheers, my dear.  To YOU!”

She replied with kisses and was eager to hear about what I was working on next.  It was such a blessing to have had the chance to say farewell to her personally.  And it was so lovely to just keep on going.

Please, everyone.  Take a moment and watch this clip of Karen’s most memorable films.

Our film FIRECRACKER is now streaming on demand.

Dear Karen:  Know that you are loved and will be missed.  Thank you for being one of my collaborators, one of my cohorts and my friend.