Who the HECK are you?

Here it comes. You’re at a party. You don’t know these people. You walk up to someone and start a conversation. Then the inevitable question: “What do you do?”
Full. Stop.
You’re thinking, “Well gee… it’s complicated. I used to be a lizard food chef, but I quit doing that  and now I’m learning how to do reptile psychology. Oh and I also like to walk dogs for people… What am I? What am I? What do I say?”
TLB* gives you his vote. “You can’t say you’re a lizard therapist. What will the Fraud Police (coined or at least popularized by Amanda Palmer. ) say?”
First of all TLB doesn’t get a vote.  Second of all you are what you make of yourself. You’re done with lizard chow. You are helping fearful lizards find their inner calm. Go ahead and tell it and see what happens. Don’t be afraid to introduce your future self to the world.
“I’m a film director”.
*The Lizard Brain

Curse You, Inspiration

Dammit. Now I’m all inspired.
I just finished a nine month class with a herd of <insert not overused, and deeply meaningful adjective here> directing students. As I said in my previous post, I’m really going to miss seeing these people all together in a room having insightful conversations. But that’s the sad part and I did that already.
The happy part is that these people are all into Making Good Art. From Steampunk scifi theatre to children’s theatre to gangster stories to deep dives into relationships and social issues. It’s so inspiring. It’s SOOO cool. I’m going all fan-boy over it all.
I want to start a project with each and every one of them. All of them. NOW!
Let’s see, human cloning isn’t ready yet. I still need sleep (even though whenever David is in the thick part of a project, he tells me that “Sleep is for the weak”). Having minions is sorta frowned upon in this modern age. There’s no way… AAAAAAAAH!!!!! My heart is going to explode! (maybe my Lizard brain will explode… that might even be handy in a way).
OK, breathe.
This is a good problem to have. When I left my programming career, I did it because I wanted to be around more people. I was tired of working by myself staring into a screen most of my day. I want people to be an integral part of what I do. It’s happening. I will stay connected with this group. I will help them on their projects and invite them to be a part of mine. No, I can’t do it with all of them right now. But I’m in this for the long haul. They are the start of a growing network of people who support each other in the creation of quality stories.
How can I help?


All projects must end.
And with that comes separation from something meaningful. That is, of course, assuming you made it meaningful. The more I invest in something the harder the separation is. Sure, I’m usually ready to move on when I finish something big — that’s not the separation I’m talking about.
Putting my heart and soul into something is hard, emotionally complex and connected. It’s that connection that I love. It’s the emotional charge that makes me feel a part of life and creativity. It’s rush of solving challenges that feeds a big part of me.
I’m about to finish a 9 month program on directing for stage and screen at the UW. The class has been fantastic. Richly experienced instructors + students who are smart and already established in aspects of theatre or film made for a stimulating and enriching environment. I’ve met new friends who I want to keep in touch with (and collaborate with). Ending the class means I’ve finished my final project. So much finality coming together in one place.
I’m sad. It has meant so much to me and my journey into story.
Now what?
I’m sitting here holding my lizard brain and assuring it that this ending is OK. (It doesn’t believe me). The secret, I think is to first allow TLB a little time to be sad. A short time to acknowledge the passing of a milestone.
OK, time’s up.
Now it’s time to jump further off the cliff and leave the safety and push of the educational structure. It’s time to take on a new project and throw all my new found chops at it. Time to find more collaborators for the growing circle.
Where did I put that script?

Using Complexity to Make Things Simpler

Well there goes another closely held misconception.
I finished a film shoot this last weekend. My directing partner Pearl and I are producing scenes from Betrayal by Harold Pinter for our final project in a class. Film shoots are complex beasts full of a million details that must be dealt with on a tight deadline.
My typical approach has been to muster myself and do it all myself. I might get a friend to help. This technique is flawed: It’s too much for one or two people to handle. Of course, my assumption is that bringing more people on board would just add more complexity and make things harder.
This weekend, we took a different approach. More People.
It’s a time honored approach for successful people. Lot’s of folks have figure this out. I feel a bit late to the party, but like in all things you don’t hear advice until you are ready to. I was ready.
For this shoot, we recruited a DP, Production Designer, Craft Services, Grip, Script Supervisor, Sound Engineer. A lot more people to keep track of and keep focused and happy.
Then the magic started happening. We could tell Karen what our visual goals were and she grabbed a bunch of details off our backs. We could tell Matt what kind of “look” we were after and he grabbed off a big blob of worry from us. We asked Shawna and Marilea to keep the crew happy with snacks, drinks and food and then we didn’t have to worry about all of those things. Gabriel kept us organized. Arnold and George unloaded even more crap from our mental load.
When it was my turn to direct my scene, I noticed something that had never happened before. I had time to focus on what was important: Doing Good Art. I could connect with the actors. I could think about the big picture (haha) instead of getting mired in “trivial” details. I got to the end of the day and I wasn’t tired to the bone like usual with these kinds of days. Instead, I was energized. I was grateful.

Method Method Who Has the Method

In starting to learn a discipline like filmmaking, the focus seems to be on the methods people use to do the job properly. In class last time, the teacher brought books she had made and used in her directing projects.


The class (including me) poured over them — we were starving for a glimpse of the correct process from on high. Questions flew about “What does THIS mean?”, “What does this color do?”, “Do you start numbering over in each page or scene or what?”.
I found myself wanting to have these books and the gold they contained for reference in the future. I didn’t trust that I could remember how things were done! TLB* skittered across the landscape and reminded me that I suck at learning. He didn’t really have anything helpful to add.
I see two things wrong with all this.
First of all, there is no right way. It’s good to look at the techniques of those who’ve been there before. It’s good to understand how “The Industry” does things if you are going to work with industry people. BUT, the real thing is to figure out a system that supports your way of doing things — your needs in creating your Art. This will likely (dare I say “should”?) change for each project you do. Look at the past, yes, but cherry pick what you need.
Second thing is that there is not a right or proper way to do Good Art. There is only your way to do your art. Purists that tell you, “you are doing it wrong!” are stuck. Fixed in time and space. They are listening to their TLB’s.
Get out there. Do your Good Art. You have the Method that works because it’s custom made for you.
*The Lizard Brain

First First Rehearsal or Crossing the Great Divide

Morning breaks. I’m thinking ahead to the day. Today is the first rehearsal on my first “Real” film.
It’s just a scene from a play, adapted for the screen. It’s just a class project. It’s Pinter for god sake — a playwright that is known for putting major meaning between the lines. I’m just a techie for god’s sake– what am I doing pretending I’m literary. I’m sure these experienced actors will expose me for the sham I am.
There’s The Lizard Brain (TLB) talking again. “Geez dood. Give it a rest.” I tell it. It slinks off. I know it will be back but I take the opportunity to greet my actors as they arrive. This part, at least, is familiar. I’ve been to parties before…
Now we are sitting at the table. This is where the rubber hits the road. I have to cross the great divide. I’m sitting on the “tech” side of the ridge. On the other side are people who love text and digging and reaching down to a meaning deeper than the obvious. I couldn’t possibly be one of those….could I?
We get rolling. Pearl, my uber-literary friend and directing partner, comes prepared with all kinds of wonderful, probing questions about the scene and the characters. Questions that seek the core of the twisted relationships that inhabit this script.
TLB pops in. “I told you…”. I hiss at it and it goes back to it’s rock. I kick back and observe. It’s what I do when liberal arts majors are in the room talking about stuff I didn’t think about. Nerdy people need not apply – or contribute.
But wait… someone was talking about jumping through serial relationships and the emotional landscape of it all. I think back to college when I was a serial boyfriend to a string of women. I understood this. I had something to say about this. Do I take a risk and reveal this about myself and tie it into the discussion. Yes. I jump in and open my emotional self to the analysis. Help! I’m not in my comfort zone!
The actors respond. They jump in with related stories from their pasts and we connect to the play in a deeper way.
Woah. I’m suddenly feeling very literary. It was… fun.

The Law of Conservation of Complexity

Ok, here’s a weird little observation about complexity.
I’ve noticed that as you get better and better at something, the perceived complexity of what you do stays constant even though the actual complexity increases. Learning stuff adds repetitive tasks to muscle memory and reduces understanding to patterns. The pattern matching and integration of skills decreases your perceived complexity. Then, since we are gluttons for making things hard again, we add more detail or steps or features to what we are creating or doing.
It seems as a creature, it’s really hard to allow things to just simplify. Is that too boring?
{Astronaut photograph ISS016-E-27586 is provided by the ISS Crew Earth Observations experiment. The image was taken by the Expedition 16 crew, and is provided by the Image Science & Analysis Laboratory, Johnson Space Center.}

Making Mistakes… er… Rework… er… Honing Your Art

In the process of preparing for production of my latest project, I used storyboarding and shot plans to help me understand text of the story and clarify the visuals I would create. I found a lot of reasons to delay starting… I had never approached a story in quite this way before so I obviously knew squat about how to do it right. (so my lizard brain told me).
After cleaning parts of my studio, making (another) cup of coffee, creating handy drawing template — basically anything except starting in, I ran out of excuses and dove in. The first time through was hard. I was trying to wrap my head around what needed to happen here. I clawed and chiseled my way through and finished it. “I’m done! Yay!!!!” my brain said.
And then it stepped back and looked at what I had created. Good grief. I had created a horribly complex set of shots! I had added shot breaks where the story didn’t need them. My shots were basic and boring. I had way too many camera setups to accomplish in a one day shoot. “I’m NOT done! Booo!!” my lizard brain said.
The next morning, after more lovely distractions, I dove in again and simplified the shots. I was able to eliminate several camera setups. My shots got a bit more interesting. My brain declared victory once more!
Until I read a chapter out of “Film Directing Shot by Shot” by Steven D. Katz that screamed relevance to me. My scene is a dialog between two people. Chapter 9 of this book was how to work with dialog between two people. Hmmm. Timing is everything. I read through this chapter and the NEXT day I attacked it again armed with new tips and techniques.
I chained myself to my chair (luckily this chair was on my back deck on the first truly sunny and warm day of the year.) and redid the sequences and storyboards a THIRD time. Good grief. I finished it just in time to take it to class to get feedback.
At class, I got some more great tips. I plan to refine it one more time before we go into rehearsal for a grand total of four versions of this one scene.
I learned some things here: Each time I did this I had to go further into understanding the deeper levels of the story. Each time I worked it, the imagery got stronger and stronger and supported the story better. This was because I understood the story better and learned more about how to use the camera to tell the meaning. And I got faster at drawing!
I need to keep reminding myself that this (perceived) repetition is a necessary part of the process of creating art that is worth it. What looks like a “do over” is in fact the process of building up the layers of your art to create something with depth and relevance. Skipping this leaves you with less, and in this case, less is not more.

Rubber is Hitting the Road

I’m in a directing class over at the U. It has opened my world. The teachers are uber-experienced theatre and film directors. The first two quarters we learned about the structure of a good story and what makes actors tick. This quarter, things are getting real.
We have picked a scene from a play and are producing it for live performance AND for film. I’m partnering up with my good friend Pearl Klein to produce scenes from the same play using the same actors. We’ve picked a drama named “Betrayal” by Harold Pinter. The text in this play is deceptively simple. It reads quickly, but upon re-reading you start to see patterns and subtext that runs deep. People are betraying everyone including themselves. Juicy!
We have a cast, we have a location and now we are doing all our pre-production work. Schedules, paperwork, script breakdowns, storyboards, and design. We are starting to roll a very big ball.
Stay tuned,

Caving For Amateurs

I’m at the entrance of a dark and deep cave. I have companions, but they are at the entrances of their own caves. You can only go in a cave alone, y’know. It’s very personal and customized just for you. The demons and creatures of the cave are special to you. Very special.
“The Cave” is the part of the story where a hero is facing the biggest problem or challenge they have to face in the story. It’s the point where something has to die, something else has to emerge and the hero moves boldly into the new world.
I’m moving into the New World of film making and storytelling. A very old and fearful part of me has to die. A creative and playful part of me has to emerge, take charge and define my new path.
This blog is a journal of my path into this new world. I will expose my process, my progress, my fears and my breakthroughs. I will invite my companions to do the same here. Join me.