10 Things I Learned by Making a Movie

I’m sitting in the airport lounge at LAX looking out over a rain soaked tarmac – in a mellow mood. One of those rare days when nothing really needs attention. I ran into a friend on the flight out from EWR to LAX , who had noticed that I hadn’t been writing as much of late. That’s true enough, for a couple of reasons but the simple answer is I just didn’t feel the urge.

I started writing when I needed to sort things out in my head or I happened to be thinking or experiencing something that seemed worth sharing. At times, I suppose I get very personal – that’s what I have been told. That’s comes with sorting things out in my head.

Today, I’m thinking about what brought me to LA and that is the fact that I made a film – a 76 minute documentary. I‘ve never had any formal training in the way of film school, although I have often fantasized about going to NYU and getting my Masters in film. But in the interest of time, at this point in my life – I did what I’ve done a lot in my life and that is , I just decided to “do it” – in this case, make a film.

So what did I learn?

1. The story is everything – it’s everything.
2. It IS possible to make a good film without a big crew and a Hollywood budget and lots of gear.
3. You have to have desire – when you have a small crew and a tiny budget, you do a lot more of the work yourself – so you have to be passionate about what you are working on.
4. Festivals are competitive – at least the “big” ones. Are they important? They are as far as building awareness, especially for a narrative film. For me, a festival provides an opportunity to interact with an audience and get feedback. I didn’t make this film to keep it a secret.
5. The film will take a lot more time than you can imagine, especially if you don’t have a big budget.
6. There is a cinematic language and necessary ingredients to any successful film – one being – a film needs contrasts and opposites or opposition.
7. PR and marketing is essential and most filmmakers do not dedicate enough money toward this end.
8. There are so many paths to distribution these days – DVD’s are dying out and VOD and downloads are taking their place.
9. It’s almost unheard of for a filmmaker to “own” their content – most have partners and/or investors – active and otherwise. I can’t tell you how many times, eyebrows have gone up when someone asks me who owns the film and I tell them, “I do”.
10. A film is never finished – but there comes a time when you are ready to let go.

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Just Say Yes

This past weekend at ASMP’s SB3 conference in LA, a young woman came up to me and said that I had given her an “ah ha” moment.  I asked her why and she reminded me of what I had said at a panel discussion the evening before.  A photographer had just told a story of how he saw himself in very specific terms as to what type of photography he did – he saw himself as wearing one hat.  But a client came to him with a job that didn’t fit into his norm and so he turned it down.  Then the client came back a few days later in desperation and asked him to please reconsider and he did.  The job ultimately turned into a lucrative and regular gig and he learned a powerful lesson and that was to open his head up more to possibilities.

I was in the audience and the moderator asked if anyone had a response to this story.  I said that I was really into saying yes more at this point in my life and career and that when I did, the universe was opening up and really great things were happening.  I could go on to list a number of examples of some good things that have happened but the point here is that negative energy breeds negativity and positive energy breeds hope and change and positive results.

It’s pretty tough these days to stay positive, with the photographic industry in a state of flux and the lackluster economy but it’s not impossible.  Some things I have found that help me stay positive are simple to implement in your life and others take a bit more practice.

  • For starters, stay away from the groaners and moaners who spend their time complaining.  That negativity is contagious – so get as far away from those people as you can.
  • Find something you do like and cultivate that passion.  It will show.  You’ll start to talk about it and people will be attracted to you because of it.  That attitude is contagious as well but is an attitude that you want to “catch”.
  • Embrace learning.  Growth always has hope and hope will renew your spirit.
  • Learn to let go of the things that don’t work out.  God knows I have had to abandon many expectations but I try to move on and replace them with new ones.
  • You can’t control what others do to you but you can control how you react. Empower yourself with that thought.
  • Think good thoughts in those moments right before you drift off to sleep.  When you are sleeping your subconscious takes over and if you have positive thoughts running through your head just before you go into that subconscious state – that is what will be reinforced.
  • When you are feeling low and nothing seems to be working – find something that is working and be grateful for that.  And know there are certainly others in the world that are far less fortunate than you.
  • Always remember that life is the greatest gift of all.  Embrace it, cherish it and make every day count.

When you say yes, you at least have a chance at a positive outcome.  When you say no – you’ve closed the door.  My reward that weekend was knowing that I gave someone an “ah ha” moment. Who knows what may come out of that?  What a powerful thought.  What a powerful word.

There were all kinds of “ah ha” moments this past weekend in Los Angeles at the SB3 conference.  There’s another SB3 conference in Philadelphia coming up – February 25-27.  Come and join others who embrace the positive notion of growth, hope and change.

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And Me Without My Camera

I flew out to LA on Friday and had a free afternoon before giving a seminar the next day. I had packed light.  I was only in town for a short stay and most of it devoted to my presentation. So I left my cameras at home.

I was staying in Santa Monica so when I got into LA that Friday afternoon  I headed to the Santa Monica Pier. It was the quintessential California day – weather wise bringing back a lot of memories from when I used to live in Santa Barbara. For anyone who has ever been to the pier you’ll understand when I say it was like a circus of vibrant visuals.  Within a matter of minutes I was regretting the fact that I didn’t have a camera. And then a funny thing happened – I started recording the visuals in my head and using words instead.

  • Colorful bumper cars against a bright green wall that vibrated in the late afternoon light.
  • Two men crossing paths each recording their own observations with their mobile devices silhouetted against the glare of the sun on the water.
  • Garry King  “on the scene” the street musician doing his own thing pumping out smooth sounds that drifted off in the wind.
  • A man who looked like Santa Claus and sounded like Cat Stevens singing the House of the Rising Sun, quickly followed by I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas.
  • A fisherman  weathered and alone.
  • A 400 lb mime painted silver and pulling his pedestal down the pier behind him.

Today as I headed to the airport in my rented hybrid car an old flatbed pick up, era 1920’s pulled up beside me at the light. For an instant I locked eyes with the old Mexican gentlemen who gave me a quick smile and I thought to myself – and me without a camera.

Maybe it’s time for me to get an iPhone.  If only the phone part was better.

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