I’m Crazy about Mental Health

Despite the tongue-in-cheek title, this is a serious subject about which I care deeply. Sadly, there is still a stigma attached to mental health issues which prevents many people from seeking the help that is available. The world is not an easy place to navigate and there are very few individuals who could not benefit from some type of therapy and/or medication.

I know this first hand. As I have mentioned in earlier posts, I suffer with dysthymia, a mild form of depression. I have had to deal with it since childhood, although it was not correctly diagnosed until about ten years ago.

Although mild, dysthymia is debilitating. It’s often connected to social anxiety, as it is in my case and causes a lack of enthusiasm and anhedonia, an inability to experience pleasure. When I’m in the throes of it, I have no ambition and become lackadaisical. Accomplishing any task becomes extremely difficult. Because it so mild, it very often goes unnoticed and can last for months or even years.

zoloft

I am happy to say that it can be controlled. I spent about ten years in therapy with an excellent counselor and I’ve been taking Zoloft (pictured above) for about three years. I have an occasional downturn, but not nearly as frequently or as drastically as in the past.

I am now able to be the best version of myself. I’m more productive in my chosen craft of filmmaking and in all other aspects of my life. I can recognize the onset of a bout of depression and curtail it before it sets in.

The point of this post is: if you have any type of problem with depression, anxiety, phobias, any type of mental illness, don’t be ashamed of it. It’s your brain chemistry, not who you are as a person. Diabetics take insulin, people take pills for their hearts. The help is out there and if you need it, seek it. Be proud that you are dealing with a problem that is not of your making. Be your best self. Live the life you want. I did it. You can too.

Since I am a filmmaker, I will throw in a bit of trivia. I used the obscure word, “anhedonia”. This was the original title of the film, “Annie Hall”. United Artists insisted on a title change because of the fact that very few people are familiar with the word. They tried ads that included a definition, but who wants to get a vocabulary lesson in an advertisement?

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Hello Darkness, My Old Friend

Those of you have followed my blog since the beginning. (I know, that’s a very small number. It’s probably zero) know that I suffer with dysthymia, or neurotic depression. I’ve had it since childhood but was not aware of it until it was diagnosed about seven years ago. Since that time. I’ve been able to recognize the symptoms and learned to pull my self out of it. It’s not easy and I have to fight it constantly, but as time has gone on and I’ve examined and adjusted my life, I’ve gotten more control of it.

I have not had a bout of depression since January of this year. That’s an extremely long time for me and it shows great progress. That streak has come to an end as darkness settles over me.  I know, that’s a little melodramatic, but hey, I’m a fiction writer. I’ve put myself into a position that I should have known enough to avoid. All of us have a number of different roles we play in life. We’re not defined by any one aspect of it. Our occupations are a big part of that, but we are also sons and daughters, parents, siblings, spouses, friends, co-workers. We have hobbies and passions. All of these things add up to make us the unique people we are.

There is a phenomenon of which I am very aware. Sometimes, people will define themselves entirely by one aspect of their life, usually their job. When things are not going well in their work, and that is inevitable from time to time, they feel like failures as human beings. It’s a fallacy and it can lead to depression, especially if you are predisposed to it, as I am. This is the situation in which I have placed myself.

My entire world pretty much consists of my writing and filmmaking career, so when that’s not going well, I have nothing to fall back on. It’s where I am now. It’s really sucks because I am completely aware of it but I feel powerless to change it. There is nothing going on in my life right now except for MY SPIRITED SISTER. The campaign has slowed to almost a halt and I’m doing everything I can to change it. It’s not really working. My only escape is the one I’ve always had; going to the movies.

Thank God for films. Movie theaters are my sanctuary.  The one and only place I can forget about the mess my life is and become absorbed in another world. If it were possible, I would love to enter a movie and live there, like in Woody Allen‘s THE PURPLE ROSE OF CAIRO. The difference being that I wouldn’t come back out of the film. I would stay there.

People talk to me about movies all the time and I’m amused by how many people think their life stories would make a great film. It’s natural to feel that way, but I have no such delusions. Nobody wants to see my story. What would I even call such a film? I think that if I made a movie about my show business career I would title it, FROM HERE TO OBSCURITY. A film about my love life would be called LESS THAN ZERO. Amazing how I can bang out these joke titles but I struggle to come up with good ones for my actual work. I’m so lucky I have Cooper to work with.

There, I’ve done my venting. I don’t know if it will help or not, but I’ve got work to do. I’m a fighter and I always battle until the end even in a losing cause. The campaign ends this Friday. We need $6660 in pledges or we lose what we have. So, if you’re reading this, and if you haven’t already pledged, take a look at our Kickstarter campaign, choose a reward and really consider becoming a part of it. It really is a great project. Do it for my partner and our three young stars. Do it for the great team of people who believe in this project and are working so hard to make it happen. Do for yourselves, so you can  be proud to be a part of something special. Don’t worry about me. I’m a survivor. I love the darkness. It’s my muse.

The Rough Cut Looks Good!

Danny smiles in at Diana with the reflection of the inn they've traveled to in the car window.

Danny smiles in at Diana with the reflection of the inn they’ve traveled to in the car window.

Another big step forward in the filmmaking process.  Over the weekend, I completed a rough cut of ISN’T IT ROMANTIC?  It is, admittedly, a very rough cut.  I don’t have the sound we recorded, only my editor has it, I used the in camera sound, which is of inferior quality.  I also only have a basic knowledge of editing techniques, but I must say, the cut looks “pretty darn good”.  My co-writer agrees with me and in fact, the words in quotes are hers.

We are very excited.  My editor has twenty years of experience and is creative and talented.  When he does his cut and we polish it, using the quality sound, color correction and other post production techniques, we’re going to have a very good film.  It will get into festivals.  There is not a doubt in my mind.

This is quite different from how I felt just a few weeks ago when I was having panic attacks worrying about the quality of the finished film. At that point, I hadn’t gotten a look at everything we had and was experiencing the type of self-doubt many artists go through.  Now, with all of the footage at my disposal and sufficient distance from production, I have a bit more objectivity.

I’ve been making efforts to promote the film as well.  I’m posting updates and outtakes on IIR’s Facebook page and on YouTube.  I’ve also been adverting it on LinkedIn.  We have several festivals targeted so far.  SAG has invited us to submit it to their short film showcase.  We’ve also been invited to submit to a film festival in Wales.  That is quite exciting.  Another venue is the Love Actually Film Festival, which takes place in Ridgewood, NY on Valentine’s Day.  It’s specifically for short films about love, sex and romance.  It’s right up our alley and I really hope to get into that one.  It will give me something to do on Valentine’s Day other than celebrate the fact that February is half over.

Status Update

It’s been almost a month since production wrapped on ISN’T IT ROMANTIC? and quite awhile since I’ve posted.  I guess I’m overdue to bring everyone (okay, the three of you that actually read my blog) up to speed.  We’re still in post production and there is a considerable amount of work to be done.

I’ve gotten a look at the footage.  We’ve got some good stuff, but there are some gaps in coverage that will take creative solutions to make the scenes work.  I’m not happy with myself for allowing that to happen.  Granted, this is my first film, but it’s difficult.  I set very high standards for myself and it bothers me when I don’t live up to them.  My editor is confident that we can work around the problems.  He has over twenty years of experience and is very creative and talented.  He’s also a good friend who helps me stay calm when I start to freak out.

I”m a neurotic mess much of the time.  It’s very helpful in that I feel it’s the source of my creativity and talent.  It provides me with energy and inspires original story concepts.  It also makes me crazy sometimes.  For example, I find my performance in the film to be abysmal.  Other members of my team tell me otherwise, that I did a solid job.  My editor used the words, “Pretty damn good”.  Most actors don’t like to watch themselves and it’s so hard to be objective when watching oneself.  Nonetheless, watching me in a scene with the experienced and terrific actors in my cast looks to me like a high school pitcher trying to get major league hitters out.

I think part of the problem is I can’t buy into my character, Danny Kresky.  I look at the screen and I don’t see Danny.  I see me.  It makes everything else hard to buy.  I can’t get into the story because I know I’m not a highly successful writer/director (and probably never will be).  I’m not married to an amazing woman (and definitely never will be!)  I know, I should be looking at the overall story, but it is hard.

On the plus side, the sound is very good.  Poor audio is one of the major problems independent films face.  I hired a very good sound man and eliminated that issue.  I had two beautiful locations, four of my five main actors were excellent and my background actors were terrific.  We also had an excellent script from which to work.  As my idol Woody Allen said, “Experience has shown me that if you have a good script, you can do a miserable job of directing and still get a pretty good movie …”  I didn’t do a brilliant job, but it certainly wasn’t miserable either.  I did pretty well, I thought.  So I think we will end up with a pretty good movie.

SAG has invited us to submit it to their Short Film Showcase.  So glad we did it under a SAG contract for a number of reasons and this is now another.  It’s free to enter and if we get in, there’s a free screening at the SAG office in New York with a Q and A with the director and producers after.  That would be really nice exposure for us.  There is also a local film festival that we are almost sure to get into.  So, there are things to which we can look forward.

In the meantime, I am once again attempting to market my feature screenplay, SOUL MATE.  It’s a great script, the best thing I’ve written to date and I’ve got to get it on the screen.  If I have to, I will shoot it myself one day.  I’ve also started work on a new feature with my writing partner.  I’m very excited about that too.  We have a good story concept and our work on ISN’T IT ROMANTIC? has shown both of us that we are capable of great things together.

Sorry for the long layoff on the updates.  (Like anyone is paying attention.)  I’ll keep you apprised of new developments.  Hopefully, we’ll have a finished film sometime early in the new year.

Gray Skies Part 2

My favorite sky over the beauty of autumn leaves.

In an earlier post, I discussed how I prefer gray skies in films and in life.  In just six days we resume production on ISN’T IT ROMANTIC?  Weather permitting, all the shooting will be exteriors and that includes the climatic final scene.  There is a hurricane that is supposed to move through our area early next week.  We should see quite a bit of rain.  It’s supposed to be gone well before we shoot on Friday.  I certainly hope so.  But, I so badly want it to leave the overcast behind.

I went into this in a fair amount of detail in the other post.  However, I went for a long walk this morning and took a good look at my surroundings.  I snapped some photos with my cell camera.  I’m in another one of my melancholy moods.  Not depressed at all, and honestly, I’m in really good spirits overall.  I’m very pleased with the way the movie is going and excited to get back to it.  I’ve also started a feature screenplay with my writing partner.  We’re off to a great start and I am very excited about that project as well.  My future abounds with possibilities.  It’s just the contrast between what’s happening in my movie, to what happens in my life.

As I looked through the haze at the warmly colored leaves under the gray expanse of clouds, I thought more about why this atmospheric condition affects me the way it does.  Why do I associate love and romance with what other people would consider dreary weather?

More beautiful foliage under a melancholy sky.

Fall for me, has always been a melancholy time of year.  Summer is my favorite season and seeing it end makes me feel a little sad.  As a child, summer was a season of freedom, and although I loved learning, the return of school was a loss of that freedom.  So autumn has always made me a little blue.  Over the last decade or so, I’ve grown to really appreciate the beauty of the changing leaves and even enjoy the brisk cooler weather that fall brings.  Also the anticipation of the start of the holiday season beginning with Thanksgiving.  Still, though, the sadness lingers.

I was originally planning to shoot ISN’T IT ROMANTIC?  in the summer.  For financial and logistical reasons, that wasn’t possible.  I’m glad it worked out that way because I’m much more satisfied with the story taking place against the backdrop of fall.  Today, I dug further into my thoughts and feelings and came up with more reasons for why I like overcast days.

What do people think of when they hear the words “love” and “romance”?  For many, I suppose it’s reasonable to say they would think of a spouse or significant other, the person they love.  Others might think of traditional symbols, hearts, flowers, candlelight, moonlight.  I’m sure weather wise,  most people think of the warmth of the sun, blue skies and clear nights, traditionally happy conditions.

I can’t think of a significant other when I hear those words because I don’t have one.  I’ve never been married and I haven’t had a girlfriend in a long, long time.  To be perfectly honest, it’s unlikely that I ever will again.  So for me, romance is an abstract concept.  Actually more than abstract, it’s fictional.  It only exists in literature, plays and films.  Only in my dreams.  That’s what gray, hazy and overcast days do.  They impart a dreamlike quality to everything.  That’s why I need that in my film.  It’s pure fantasy, a dream.  I need it to look that way because what happens in the movie is so implausible.  It could never happen in real life.

It’s such an important part of why I do what I do.  I’ve always had little fantasies.  We all do.  I just need to play them out someplace.  That’s why I write and why I’ve started making films.  I have all this stuff inside of me, things that I feel uncomfortable sharing.  I have to get them out.  If I put them on the screen, it won’t change my life, but at least I can do something positive with them.  Entertain people and maybe make a slight difference in somebody’s life.

Keep your fingers crossed for me.  No rain on November 2, but please give me my gray sky.

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.