One More Week!

The lead characters of “Isn’t It Romantic?” Danny Kresky (me) and his wife Diana (Cooper Campbell).

Only one pre-production meeting remains for my short comedy, ISN’T IT ROMANTIC?  That will be this Tuesday, October 9.  Then, next Saturday, October 13 shooting begins.  I’m excited, thrilled and ready to go.  My team and I have worked hard to prepare and we are ready.  A movie set is an unpredictable place where one needs to be ready to react to sets of changing circumstances.  That’s where careful planning comes in.  As my director of photography says, the object is to turn total chaos into mere chaos.

This project has been a blast right from day one.  Don’t get me wrong, I’ve expended a tremendous amount of both physical and mental energy and had a few anxious moments, but thus far, directing a film is what I had hoped it would be.  One of my major reasons for shooting this film was as a learning experience and I have already received quite an education.

I feel so much more comfortable with all of the many tasks a director must perform than I did at the start.  I have always been a fast learner and that is proving to be true in this endeavor.  My newly acquired knowledge encompasses a number of different aspects of filmmaking, both technical and creative.  I’ve also become better at blending the skills and personalities of a group of diverse people.

This is perhaps where I have learned the most and where I surprised and impressed myself the most.  My team features a number of true alphas, people with very strong personalities and opinions.  That is exactly how I wanted it.  Those are the types of creative individuals who make the best contributions to any project.  Solid ideas and no fear at all about expressing them.  It is much harder to manage and stay in control of that type of group, but the results are well worth the effort.  I’m a guy who loves a challenge and it feels great to know that I did gain the respect and take the lead of this powerful group.  I feel like I fought my way to the leader of a wolf pack.

I’ve got a great team behind me.  I feel I am on top of my game.  Feeling confident and able to handle anything.  It’s going to be a great little film.  The first of what I plan to be many.

 

Melancholia: Why My Skies Are Always Gray

Things continue to progress nicely for ISN’T IT ROMANTIC?  Tomorrow, I’ll finish my shot list and storyboards and Sunday afternoon, I have a meeting with my director of photography, editor and first assistant director.  We’ll put together the schedule for each day of shooting.  Once we have that level of preparation, the shoot will go smoother.  We will be better able to handle any curveballs that may be tossed our way.

Other members of my team met today to work on set design, wardrobe and props.  I have a team of dedicated and talented individuals who believe in this project every bit as much as I do.  Just about everything is in place.  Of course, one thing that we can’t control is the weather.  We can only hope it cooperates during our exterior scenes.

Shooting in October in the Northeast will give us the beautiful colors of fall on the trees.  The final scene of the movie takes place outside, and there are numerous trees on the private estate where we’re shooting.  It should be beautiful, especially for a film about romance.  Naturally, we are hoping for no rain and mild temperatures.  Personally, I am also rooting for gray skies.

A bright, blue sky with a  few puffy clouds is the standard “perfect” weather scenario.  But I’ve seen enough movies in my day to know that a gray sky with a little haze adds a much more romantic feel to a movie.  It’s wistful, just a little melancholy.  It adds a dreamlike feel to the film.  After all, movies are often compared to dreams, and they sure as hell are nothing like real life.

I love gray skies in real life as well.  I feel as though they are the backdrop of my life.  They define my most common mood.  Blue and sunny doesn’t cut it, nor does dark and stormy.  Just gray, with the sun occasionally looking like it will break through, but it never does.  Melancholy.  That’s me.

I’m in a reflective mood tonight, so bear with me.  I know I’m rambling, but that’s my style.  I’m just throwing my thoughts down.  I’ve always loved going to the movies.  It’s about escape for me.  In the darkness of a movie theater, I am able to get my mind off all the things I don’t want to think about.  It’s the only place that happens.  It’s what I hope my films can provide for someone out there like me.

It’s often a difficult transition when the movie is over.  I watch a comedy where the smart, funny guy wins the girl; beats the really good looking jerk.  It’s a good feeling.  Then the lights come up and I look at the empty seat next to me.  It’s back to reality, where things like that NEVER happen.  Melancholy.  Gray skies.

Now, I’m directing my first film and also playing the lead.  I’m playing a married man with an amazing wife.  It’s more escapism.  That will never happen to me in real life.  What will it feel like when we’re finished with the film?  When reality rears it’s ugly head again.  No matter how well this film does, deep inside, I won’t be truly happy.  I will never be.

I’m very fortunate in that I’m a tough little bastard.  This would destroy a lesser man.

Woody and me: We’re not the same guy

Let’s change it up a little today and talk about something not directly related to ISN’T IT ROMANTIC?  We’re visiting the location house today and holding auditions in New York tomorrow, so there will be plenty to report on after the weekend.  Instead, how about if I discuss my filmmaking idol, Woody Allen?  Particularly how we are different.

As I related in the articles on my background, I grew up in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn, the same neighborhood that produced Woody.  In, fact, a great number of film legends came from Flatbush, but that’s another story for another article.  Woody of course, is a big hero throughout New York, and especially in his home neighborhood.

I also told you about the short story I wrote in fifth grade about the suicidal cafeteria clock that won me a creative writing award and which numerous teachers compared to Woody Allen’s work.  It made me even more aware of him and I have followed his career religiously since then.  The stand up albums, the films, the plays, the prose.  I’m intimately familiar with all of them.  I couldn’t help but be influenced by his work.

There are other great writers who have affected me.  I’m a huge Neil Simon fan.  I love the late Nora Ephron.  Both have had a major impact on me.  Mel Brooks, and more recently, Larry David are other writers who I’ve emulated to a certain extent.  But no one has affected me as much as Woody Allen.

His work continues to inspire me and I’m jealous of the incredible situation he’s in.  He gets funding and distribution without having to show anyone a script or even have a title!  He makes the movies he wants to, with little outside interference.  I’ll never have that, but, hey a guy can hope.  Despite my great respect and admiration for the incredible Mr. Allen, if it were possible, I would not want to be him.  No matter what, I desire to always be me, a unique individual.  It’s something I strived for as a comedian and now, as a writer and budding filmmaker.

The truth is that the similarities I have to Woody are not things I’ve tried to affect.  We do have some things in common other than Flatbush.  I tend to be drawn to heroes with whom I can identify.  For example, I am honestly a very neurotic person.  I always have been.  That element of my work is like Woody’s, but it is genuine.  All writers invest themselves into their work, but some do it to a much higher degree.  It’s always been instinctive for me to do that, right from my stand up days.  Woody does it too, which I’ve always admired.  But I deal with personal issues because I need to, not because he does.

The differences.  You may find this one interesting.  Woody is Jewish.  Despite my last name, I’m not.  Most people, because of my name and the type of comedy I write, assume that I am Jewish.  My grandfather was, but he married an Irish Catholic woman and my father was raised Catholic.  My mother comes from a Dutch/Swedish Lutheran background.  What does that make me?  Confused and racked with guilt!  I was raised Lutheran, but long ago rejected my faith.  I’m agnostic.  Who knows if there’s a God or not?  But if there is, I’m convinced every religion is wrong.  Anyway, my characters to a certain extent have some typical Jewish traits, but not like Woody’s, since my protagonists are based on me.

Another very big difference.  Woody Allen was a professional gag writer at the age of fifteen.  By seventeen, he was in NBC’s young writer’s program.  He has spent his entire adult life at, or near the top of the show business world.  That’s the world his characters inhabit, the upper strata of literati.  I’ve only known the lower rungs of the ladder.  I never made it to “The Tonight Show” or Letterman.  My characters have a blue color sensibility, even the successful ones such as ISN’T IT ROMANTIC?‘s protagonist, acclaimed writer/director Danny Kresky.

Although we grew up in the same neighborhood, Woody Allen and I are a generation apart.  He’s a year young than my mother.  (Exactly a year, they share their birthday, December 1)  To paraphrase a line from his MANHATTAN, I grew up with television and the pill, he was World War II.  It makes a big difference.  My references and my outlook on many issues differ because of it.

The Flatbush I grew up in was very different from Woody’s nice, lower-middle class, blue color neighborhood.  In the 60’s and 70’s Flatbush was dangerous and crime ridden, once of the worst neighborhoods in Brooklyn.  My father was mugged at gunpoint one night. I had a younger brother and sister to protect, so I fought constantly.  In that neighborhood, you either fought or you ran, and I don’t back down to anyone.  Thus, my protagonists don’t have that nebbishy quality that Woody’s do.  They can take care of themselves because I can take care of myself.  Which leads us to the final difference.  I’m a fighter, not a lover.

A big part of Woody Allen’s persona, right from his days as a comic, is his problems with women.  He deals with it in a very funny way to which I could always relate.  It’s just as big a part of my persona.  However, with Woody, it’s an act.  Come on.  The guy dated both Diane Keaton and Mia Farrow.  Mia was once married to Frank Sinatra for God’s sake! And Diane Keaton was with Warren Beatty.  Woody’s on his third marriage.  This guy has no trouble getting women.

I’m the real deal.  Only one good relationship ever in my life, and I blew that one.  I haven’t been on a date since Clinton was in the White House.  First term.  Women don’t like me.  Well, that’s not entirely true.  I make a great “friend”.  Nice guys.  We’re always the friend.  But no woman wants anything to do with me as anything more.  When I write those characters there is great authenticity.  I’m going to die alone.  I’ve accepted that.  Sorry, Woody.  You’ll always be my idol, I’ll probably never be the artist you are.  But in the failure with women department, you’re not in my league.

Anxiety, Insomnia and Depression: The Neurotic’s Toolbox

The dates are set.  We got a sound man today and the crew is just about complete.  We have a casting notice out for the roles we need to fill.   Production is a mere eight weeks away.  I’m excited.  This is a long time dream.  I’m working everyday to prepare.  And my anxiety levels are rising.

If you’ve read some of my other posts, you know about my dysthymia, aka neurotic depression.  It’s something I’ve had all my life, but only became aware of about five years ago.  I can feel when it’s kicking in and deal with it.  But it’s always present and I have to be vigilant.  Does it hamper my day to day activities?  Absolutely.  My phone call phobia alone has cost me numerous opportunities.  But, there are ways to make it work for me.

Anxiety produces energy.  When I’m feeling anxious, I can’t sit still.  I pace.  My always fast mind works even faster, achieving incredible speed.  Physically, it’s healthy.  Panic attacks burn calories.  Hyperventilation is great for cardio.  The key is to channel it correctly.  Anxiety often causes people to overeat, smoke, drink and use drugs.  I put the excess energy into my work.

Screenwriting and filmmaking require creative problem solving.  With my mind in hyperdrive, ideas fly out of me.  I throw them out twenty at a time.  Most of them are no good, but that’s okay.  Eventually, the solution comes, and it comes quickly.  Plus, mental anguish and personality disorders are funny!  They are a great boon to any comedy writer.

Another issue I deal with is insomnia.  I haven’t slept through an entire night in months.  I was taking Benedryl.  Two of them generally knock me out within an hour.  But, I didn’t want to get addicted to them and they sometimes aren’t that effective.  I just can’t shut my mind off at night.  So, I don’t.  I just take a series of cat naps throughout the night.  Less sleep time means more work time.  I study films, I write, I make lists of things I need to do the next day.  The feature script I’ve been rewriting, FACADES will be shot in Singapore. The production team is in Asia.  There’s a twelve hour time difference. Perfect!  They email me in the middle of the night, I get the notes, make the revision and it’s done before morning.  Sleep is for suckers.

Tied into my dysthymia is excessive worry.  It makes me cautious.  That can be a very positive attribute.  I check, double check and triple check everything.  I obsess over details.  Exactly what a director needs to do in preparing a film.  There is much less chance of me missing something small when I can’t stop thinking about the little things.

Today’s world can be a very difficult place in which to live.  There are very few of us that don’t have some kind of issues.  They can cripple you if you let them.  But if you can embrace them, realize they are part of what makes you unique and special and turn them to your advantage, you can achieve greatness.   (This post is only slightly tongue in cheek.)

Writing vs. Directing

Now that I’m going full steam in preproduction on ISN’T IT ROMANTIC?, I’m getting a pretty good taste of what directing is like, at least in the early stages of making a film.  Unlike writing, which I both love and know I can do, directing is uncharted territory.  I’ve studied it, analyzed films for years and I suspect it’s something I will be able to do with at least some competence.  Of course, I won’t know that for sure until I get a number of movies under my belt.

I’ve been thinking about the pros and cons of each job.  Both are vital to a successful film.  Although many filmmakers do both, they do require two different skill sets.  I’m hoping my directing chops will develop as my writing has.

For me, writing is almost all pros.  I absolutely love it, couldn’t imagine not doing it.  I’ve always said that I am first and foremost a writer.  Sitting down to begin work on a new screenplay is the start of a long, tricky but very enjoyable adventure.  The great thing about writing a script is that it’s just you, your laptop (or typewriter in Woody Allen’s case) and your imagination.  Anything you can conceive of is fair game.  Finish the script and let somebody else worry about getting it on the screen.

Problems certainly do occur while working on a script.  There are days when long hours of work produce nothing useful.  But, they are solvable using primarily the imagination and intellect.  Coming up with a solution for a scene that’s not working or a great bit of dialogue or a character is immensely rewarding.

The only downside I can see to writing is that it can be a lonely road.  Don’t get me wrong, there are many times I need to be alone with my thoughts, but truth be told, I really do spend too much time by myself.  Part of keeping my dysthymia in check is interacting with other people regularly.  Collaboration helps.  I have recently formed a writing partnership with my co-star and co-writer on ISN’T IT ROMANTIC?.    She and I have great respect for each other and our personalities mesh well.  We also have talents that complement each other.  I focus better when working with her too.  It really negates the only con I can come up with.

As to directing, the only experience I have so far is in preparation, so my opinions are not fully formed.  To be fair, another factor is the fact that we are on such a low budget that I am doing things that on a big production would be somebody else’s job.  For example, location scouting, breaking down the script, acquiring props and doing all the hiring of crew and casting without help.

It is very hectic.  Often, I feel as if I’m forgetting something and much of the work doesn’t feel very creative, no matter how important it is.  There is a big upside to all this.  By necessity, I am in regular contact with a fairly large number of people on a daily basis.  I’m meeting new people all the time and having more contact than usual with people I already know.  It’s truly wonderful.  Great for my dysthymia and sometimes awkward social skills.  I’m actually making phone calls now and it is getting just a bit easier.

There is a big leadership component to directing too.  It is up to me to set the tone for the production.  I need to show my team confidence and that I can handle anything that may happen.  I’m really enjoying that and I feel as those I am rising to the occasion.  It’s providing me with moments of self revelation as I push myself to do things that previously made me very uncomfortable.

I’ve also experienced an interesting phenomenon.  In my reading, studying and discussions with experienced directors, I have learned that in analyzing a script to prepare it for production, a director will find many layers, themes and interpretations that the writer was not even aware of weaving into the script.  I was assured that this is always the case, even if the director himself or herself had written the script.  While I didn’t doubt this, I was a bit skeptical.  After all, when I write a script, I know every nuance.  Or do I?  Amazingly, as I read ISN’T IT ROMANTIC? repeatedly, looking at it with a critical eye and finding my characters’ true motivations and digging into subtext, I found things I didn’t realize were there.  Remarkable.  Taking off my writer’s hat and putting on my director’s hat changed my perspective.  It was almost as though I was reading someone else’s work.  Putting the story on paper and planning to shoot it in three dimensional space with real human beings are two very different processes.

Conclusion:  I will always be first and foremost a writer.  I am sure I will never direct somebody else’s script.  But so far, I am enjoying directing.  I’ll have to reassess after I’ve finished the film.  I don’t know if I will want to direct everything I write, but I feel it is something I will want to do from time to time.

More Telephone Anxiety

My good feelings from finding our location have not lasted long.  My stupid telephone phobia is going to hold me back for the rest of my life.  I don’t know how to fix this.  I’ve struggled with it for years.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I had a great opportunity.  A writer/actor with solid connections wanted to give me a paying gig punching up the comedic dialogue in his scripts.  He has a short he is working on right now.  He also showed interest in my feature screenplay, SOUL MATE, the best thing I’ve ever written and a story I very much want to see on the screen.  This is the kind of thing that could move my career forward considerably.  Except it’s never going to happen.

He tried to call me four different times and I never answered the phone.  I never even considered it.  I just rejected the calls without a thought.  What is wrong with me?  He was very patient in the messages he left.  I explained the problem to him in an e-mail.  He was much more understanding than I would have expected, but he did say we have to speak to each other at some point.

I tried to call back, but I just couldn’t.  I blew another opportunity.  It’s so self-destructive.  I may not get a chance like this again.  I really don’t know what to do.  And it scares me.  A lot.

How am I going to make this film if I can’t make a simple phone call?  I have a million things to do to prepare for the shoot.  Many of them will involve speaking to people on the phone.  I’m incapable of it.  When I hired the line producer to do our schedule and budget, I did it all through e-mail.  I told the music clearance service that I couldn’t talk on the phone and could only communicate through e-mails.  Somewhere along the line, I won’t be able to get away with that, just like in my ghost writing opportunity.

I’m doomed to a life of failure because of a completely ridiculous phobia.  I am such an idiot.  This just confirms to me that if there is a God, he has a cruel sense of humor.  Why give me all this talent and all these neuroses that block my use of it?