(I guess this could also be titled: Why I stopped writing for Hollywood, part 1.)
(I guess this could also be titled: Why I stopped writing for Hollywood, part 1.)
Sometimes things just come together perfectly. A year ago, in February, I brought together a group of six extremely talented young women to make a music video for a song on the about-to-be-released Matt Ryan record. Everything about “(I Just Died) Like An Aviator” rocked. It’s one of my favorite shoots, one of my favorite videos. You can watch it here.
Then, last Wednesday, I read that Matt would soon be releasing an unadorned acoustic version of the same album. He sent me a copy, and I immediately turned on the acoustic “Aviator” and before the song was over I knew what I had to do.
The texting began. I started with my Matt Ryan-impersonator Chloe Barczak as she would have to carry so much of the idea I had in my head. She was in. Then co-producer Charlotte Beatty to handle the organization. And the first video’s guitarist Carina Begley, as the guitar was (except for a few piano notes at the very end) the lone instrument. An acoustic version of the same team, so to speak.
Then I told Matt we were again making a music video of “Aviator.” He never even asked what we were planning, and instead got American Songwriter Magazine to agree to premiere the video sight unseen. He sent me the chords and even a video for Carina on how to play a few of the guitar parts.
By Friday of last week we had a schedule and a location. The same location as the original video. We all met at 8:45 AM on Sunday, loaded up my Jeep with almost all of my gear, and drove the two tenths of a mile to the home of Dean and Shellye.
As Carina got used to the feel of my Martin acoustic, Charlotte and Chloe helped me set up lights and camera. By 10:30 we were filming, buzzing from a lot of Willoughby’s coffee, Coke-a-Cola, and salted-caramel Orangeside Donuts.
But this time around Chloe and Carina had their work cut out for them. My concept was to present the video in one long take. No cuts. Just a perfect performance and some precise rack focusing. No sweat.
We worked on blocking the first half dozen times through, as Chloe worked on her emotional delivery. She felt this version of the song was really sad. Desperate. Depressing even. Both Charlotte and Carina agreed. I was not about to argue.
We got the blocking just right, the lighting perfect. And by the twelfth take I started noticing tears in Chloe’s eyes. That was when I knew we had something special. We knocked off one take after another, with barely a pause between, and she nailed it. Take sixteen was fucking brilliant. Take eighteen was perfect. We did a few more. I had a B-camera rolling just in case my impossible one-shot idea would not work. And after the twenty-fourth take we wrapped.
I got home around 1:30 PM. I copied the footage onto a drive as I put away the gear. Then I started editing, going back and forth between takes 16, 18, 12 and 24…but ultimately the fucking brilliant won out. It would be take 16. I added titles, the slightest color correction, some film grain, and I exported the timeline. By 4:30 PM I texted Matt, Chloe, Charlotte, and Carina a private viewing link for the video.
This is what Matt Ryan wrote to me after seeing it for the first time: “My god she’s killing me. I seriously have tears in my eyes. I love it. Breaks my heart. It’s beautiful Please tell them I love it. Thank you for thinking to do this.”
His appreciation was appreciated.
Matt stripped down a beautiful song, and allowed us to do the same to the original video. But this video is unadorned in other ways as well: void of ego, attitudes, rude people (unlike most of the rest of my past few weeks, hell, unlike most of the world we live in). It was just four people working together, all doing what they need to do, having fun doing it, turning a beautiful song in a visual work of art.
Thank you to Chloe, Charlotte, and Carina, my brilliant cohorts on this project. Thank you to Dean and Shellye for again letting us invade their home. Thank you to Matt Ryan and American Songwriter for the blind trust.
And here it is: American Songwriter Magazine
Sometimes things just come together perfectly.
I spent a good portion of the past three weeks shooting WHO IS LYDIA LOVELESS?, which will be either my 13th or 14th completed feature film (depending on whether this or PIZZA, A LOVE STORY is completed first), and while I could share stories about the candid and amazing interviews with Lydia and her bandmates, or what a thrill it was to watch them record their new record, how freakin’ funny they all are, or even just how damn nice everyone is, I will instead share this.
The tale of the broken neck.
My crew arrived in Lydia’s hometown on Columbus on Sunday, June 14th, just in time to see Lydia and company perform at a free show. But because of the ridiculous lack of cover on the stage, and the fact that is rained virtually every day I was in Ohio (and apparently always does in June), the show was a disaster waiting to happen. Gear got wet, sound issues abounded because electronics don’t like getting wet, basically it was a cluster fuck on the part of the promoter.
When everything was finally working, and there was a break in the rain, an extremely frustrated Lydia and company managed to pull off their song “Wine Lips” (sweetly dedicated to a young fan), and a small part of another song before the clouds let loose with a torrential downpour. Ben moved fastest, getting his upright bass under a tarp. But as one of the dozens seemingly “in charge” of the event ran onto the stage and cancelled the concert, Lydia, completely frustrated by the events, threw her beloved Telecaster to the ground in anger.
For me, a lover of chaos in rock and roll it was a beautiful way to begin the trip. My 5th Lydia show, only a song and a half long. And as me and my crew walked back to the rental Jeep in the pouring rain, I couldn’t wait for the interviews to begin.
And this story might have ended there…
Until the next morning when I get to Lydia’s and Ben’s home, and checking out her office where the first of many interviews would be filmed, I picked up the Tele, making some stupid comment to Lydia about how indestructible they are. And then it became obvious. I noticed. She noticed. Fuck! The neck of her favorite guitar was cracked. Not a small repairable crack. But cracked through and through on the headstock.
Now in my life I have certainly put my foot in my mouth many times. But I don’t think I’ve ever felt worse about calling attention to anything. Here we are about to begin the interviews, while I can see how truly upset she is about her guitar. I felt terrible, even though I played no part in breaking it.
In the end of course, the guitar was quickly fitted with a gorgeous new neck. The interviews were everything I wanted them to be and more. I learned for the 1,843rd time this year to think before I speak. And Lydia posted this on her Facebook page with a picture of the new neck: “New neck for my main squeeze. My guitar tossing days are over #trymeditationforanger #onepunchloveless #whoamikidding”
I even got to take home a little souvenir.
I don’t really collect much memorabilia anymore. I have a few items from my favorites bands (y’know, The Mats, Archers, Wilco), but none of them have the meaning of this broken neck.
It sits now at the entrance to my office, the first thing I see every time I enter.
And it truly does represent the most rock and roll way imaginable to begin this film.
It’s been months and I apologize.
First off thank you to everyone who made the “Who is Lydia Loveless?” KickStarter such a success. You guys rock. As will this film. We’ve set up a website here.
As I write this I’m listening to the gorgeous 6-LP “Live at Carnegie Hall” box set from Ryan Adams. While I haven’t been in love with Ryan’s newest records, live he still astounds. And live solo, he takes your breath away. This is a truly magnificent record.
We’ve got a lot of film news. Getting ready for the “A Dog Named Gucci” sound mix. The closing credits song, which I’ve been hinting at for over a year is done. It’s beautiful. It will make you cry. Dean Falcone did a brilliant job of bringing together this amazing collection of vocalists and musicians. He’s my music producer of the year. Wait until you see the list of people involved. Wait until you hear the song! Where and when you can see the film will be announced soon. Keep an eye on the website.
And if you clicked that link, you noticed that we are throwing our second documentary film party in New Haven this June. Yes, NHdocs returns. For three days this time around. So much bigger! Admission is still free. If you are in Connecticut, come and enjoy a collection of amazing documentaries.
Yes, “A Dog Named Gucci” is screening…but immediately before it we will present the World Premiere of the trailer for “Pizza, A Love Story,” our upcoming documentary on the holy trinity of pizza (Sally’s, Pepe’s, Modern). Time to get excited.
We’ve also got two new films that we’ll be announcing soon…one that takes us back to Minneapolis, and the other…well, let’s just keep that one a secret for now. Let’s just say it’s very “smart.”
All for now. Thank you for reading…
A little rant, and hopefully if you’re reading this, you already know better. But perhaps you know someone who should read it. If so, do every festival programmer a favor and pass it on.
As you may or may not know, I am co-director of the NHdocs Film Festival at Yale. We are planning our second event for this June, and just signed on to FilmFreeway so people can submit their films.
Now, despite it stating that we were seeking Connecticut films and/or films from Connecticut filmmakers only in THREE different spots on our page (take a look HERE), out of the 12 films that were submitted in the first 24 hours, all were disqualified because the filmmakers didn’t bother reading the rules. Not a one had any connection to Connecticut. Not even in the most remote way.
Not here is something to take to heart, because it is an absolute fact. If you have ever submitted to a festival without reading the rules and regulations, you are a fucking idiot. Period. End of story. I would smack you upside the head and break your camera if I could.
If you have spent all the time it takes to actually make a film, you should be looking for the right home for your baby. Sort of like finding the right college for your teenager. You should read everything there is to know about any fest that you’re considering. Look at what films have played in previous years. You should feel in your gut that yes, your film is a fit, and that the programmers will like it. You still might not get accepted, but at least you’ve done your homework.
If you don’t, you are wasting everyone’s time.
I reached out to a few of my programming friends this morning to vent. And every single one said it happens all the time. Many do not read the rules, or care what the festival is looking for.
If you’re one of these idiots, shame on you. You’re officially too stupid to make another film. Time to go back to bagging my groceries.
Recently saw a list of ten zero-budget filmmaking tips on the Raindance Film Festival website. And while I thought most of the tips were solid, I felt they needed tweaking, and a few were off base. Here is my reworking of the list taking into account that zero budget filmmaking is what do.
1. The Story is Everything — If your script sucks your film will most likely suck. If you don’t have some idea of the story you’re trying to tell as you begin shooting your documentary, your film will suck. And most importantly, if you don’t know how to tell a story in the editing room, if you don’t understand basic filmmaking principals like the three act structure, you film will ABSOLUTELY suck.
2. Location Location Location — you can find amazing locations for free or for very little money. It’s why I so often shoot at the Hotel Duncan in New Haven. Even the bare walls have character. But a plain white wall in your dorm room is not a location for a film, any film. Not even a film about a person stuck in a dorm room. It will only make yours look like the product of a high school hobby.
3. Capture as Much Footage as Possible — video is free. You can shoot for hours. Get the extra take, then the one after that. Get coverage. Give your editor something to work with. You’ve already put in so much time into this film, and you’ve only just started. Shoot more, then shoot more after that. (And as an addendum to that, learn how to use your lights. You can light a scene beautifully with one light. I’ve done it hundreds of times. Play with shadows. What’s unlit is just as beautiful as what you can see clearly. Study old photographs. Watch old films. Do your fucking homework.
4. Sound is King — it’s more important than your image. And no, you won’t be able to fix it in post. ADR is really expensive. Most unprofessional actors suck at it. And if you’re doing a doc, well then you’re completely fucked without good sound. Try to never shoot outside. If the mic has to be in the frame in a doc, no one cares. We care about what the subject is saying.
5. Great Music Can Save a Scene — there are so many cool bands out there in the same situation as you are. Find the music that’s appropriate for your film from a great unknown, approach them nicely, and ask for permission to use it. You might be surprised at the answer. And you will definitely be shocked at how the right music can make a good scene great.
Matthew Ryan wrote this haunting theme song for my film BROKEN SIDE OF TIME in exchange for me creating a music video for a song from his next album. A win-win situation no matter how you look at it.
6. Get Organized — I’ve argued that making a feature film is the single most difficult thing to do in the world. And I do believe that. There are a thousand things that can go wrong, and if you aren’t organized. If you aren’t ready, well, then you’re pretty much up the proverbial creek. You have seconds to make a decision. And this decision making happens a hundred times per day when filming. If you don’t have everything else under control, if you are not organized, then give it up now. Go back to talking about making a film at the coffee shop, because that’s all you’ll ever do. Know every shot, visualize the edit in your head, know when the street outside will be noisiest, when the sun is setting, etc. and so on. Be an all-knowing God, because after 30 minutes on set, you’ll realize you’re not. But you’ll at least be glad you tried.
7. Your Friends Can Not Act — Neither can your mom, your girlfriend, or your high-school play director. Hire real actors. Do a proper casting. And I’m not talking union here, but people who’ve done it before. There are tens of thousands of them out there. Otherwise you’ll have one bad line delivery after another, and we’re back to high school project.
8. Build a Following — social media is free. Work it. Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc. Find like-minded people. Tell them about what you’re doing. Compliment what they’re doing. Share their links. It works both ways and takes a long time, but if you show respect, you’ll earn respect, and a retweet from someone with 100K followers can help a lot. (And please, if you’re using KickStarter, absolutely back a bunch of projects before your ask for funds.)
9. You are a Filmmaker, a C.E.O., an Accountant, a Publicist, a Salesman — Unless you can afford to pay people to take these positions, it’s up to you. And trust me, you can’t afford to pay anyone. You are the only one who can guarantee the job gets done correctly. Filmmaking doesn’t stop at the wrap party. A film will become a two, three, maybe even four year commitment during which you wear all those hats and more. Like I said before, the hardest job in the world.
10. There’s No Such Thing as Luck — It’s work. A lot of hard work. But if you truly feel there’s nothing else you were put on this earth for, and you’re willing to put in 10 to 12 hours a day, every day, for years on end (not an exaggeration, kids), then it’s also the most rewarding job in the world. Just don’t expect to finish your film, get into Sundance, and be entertaining four-picture deal offers from the majors. You’re more likely to win the lottery.
Back in 1995 I wrote a script called MOSH PIT which did quite well for me. It was optioned by the powers that be in Hollywood. Not one, but two major stars were attached to it (one a very recent Oscar winner), and it looked as if it were going to get made. But, as it often happens in Hollywood, the script died in development hell. That story is long and convoluted, and perhaps one day I’ll tell it. But in the end all rights reverted back to me.
Hey, I got a couple of very nice checks out of it (one for the original option, and another for the renewal). And we were even able to option it again a few years later under the new title LEFT OF THE DIAL, named of course after The Replacements song.
I think about this script often. I like it a lot and I know it’s also one of my wife’s favorites. It was in many ways inspired by her record store managing job at the time, and some off-handed comments she would make on her worse work days.
But after Columbine and Newtown, I know this is a script that probably could now never get made. But it is nonetheless a good read.
So I present it here for your pleasure. Basically anyone who’s ever worked retail and had to deal with an asshole boss and asshole customers will appreciate the very dark humor.
Please remember it is copywritten 1995/2014 and WGA registered. All rights are reserved. No copying please. But if you have to balls to turn it into a film, please drop me an email.