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.

Blue Jasmine

This past Saturday, I got to indulge in my yearly pleasure. I saw Woody Allen’s latest film, BLUE JASMINE. Going to the movies is, for me, one of the great joys of my life. A Woody movie is a treasured event. His latest did not disappoint.

I’m not a critic, so I’m not going to go into a lot of detail. A full analysis is not the point of this post anyway. That aside, BLUE JASMINE ranks with Woody’s best. A truly great film and that’s not hyperbole. The performances were top notch and Cate Blanchett was outstanding in the title role. So much so, that I will make a prediction: Ms. Blanchett will win the Oscar for Best Actress this year. You heard it here first, folks. I also would not be the least bit surprised if Woody received his sixteenth nomination for Best Original Screenplay, maybe his fourth win. A Best Picture nomination is also a distinct possibility.

The truly amazing thing about the movie is that the protagonist, Jasmine, is not at all a likable character. She’s a spoiled, entitled “did nothing to earn it but marry a rich man” socialite who has fallen on hard times. Despite that, she is sympathetic. You really do feel for her. I attribute that to script, direction and the performance.

This film is also not quite like any other that Woody has done before. It contains flashbacks, monologues and the usual obsessions, things we’ve seen many times. But there is something unique about it as well. It really inspires me that after all these years, he can still surprise me like that and find a way to enter new territory.

Like many of his best movies, it also beautifully blends drama with comedy. There are many scenes and lines that are laugh out loud funny, but there is also great pathos, with scenes that are disturbing and sad. This is what I aspire to. Cooper and I want to make films that create this balance. After all, life is both funny and sad and I feel that art should reflect that.

As proud as we are of ISN’T IT ROMANTIC? , it is pure comedy. It’s funny, but featherweight, a pleasant diversion with no real depth. That’s okay. Movies are supposed to entertain and I would be happy to make another like it in the future. But we have things to say and we really want to make films that entertain and illuminate.

MY SPIRITED SISTER is written that way. After seeing BLUE JASMINE, I am more inspired than ever to make this film and take a big step forward as a writer and director. I just hope we can get the funding. The Kickstarter campaign could use a boost. This is a great project and Cooper and I are really passionate about seeing it happen.

Publicity!

There are a number of areas in which we are aiming to improve our performance on our current film.  One of the most important is publicity.  I did make an attempt at this on ISN’T IT ROMANTIC?  It was the reason, after all, that I started this blog.  I never really got the hang of it though.

Early in preproduction, I had a member of my team assigned to handle our social media.  He had some problems with his computer but honestly, was not making much of an effort anyway.  For this individual, filmmaking is a hobby, just a way to satisfy his curiosity about how movies are made.  I ended up handling all of it myself.

It’s not difficult, just time consuming and with everything else a director must do, there isn’t much time left over to really do the job effectively.  I also was new to both Facebook and Twitter.  I have done considerable studying and also have learned from my past experience.  I’m trying to manage my time better and make room for PR.   I’m off to a better start on MY SPIRITED SISTER. 

With our IndieGoGo campaign going live next month, it is crucial to get the word out about the film and our crowd funding goals.  I’m much more adept with social media, for example, in the use of hashtags.  I’m doing a much better job in reaching more people.  This time around, I am also using traditional media, as recommended by mentors I trust.

I contacted the arts editor of the Danbury, CT News-Times and a reporter is going to write a feature article.  He’ll interview Cooper and me about our lives as independent filmmakers and also about MY SPIRITED SISTER.  It will be a great way to reach out to our local community and let them know what two of their fellow citizens are doing and how they can be a part of it.

I’ve also booked an interview for us on a public access television program in West Hartford.  I’m very excited.  I did a fair amount of television in my stand up days, public access and interviews on local news stations.  It’s a lot of fun and I’m very comfortable doing it.  We’re also planning to book our three young stars on the show in a few weeks to help give the campaign a boost at the midpoint.

It’s very exciting and I’m proud that we’re taking such big steps forward.  We’re hoping to raise a significantly greater amount of money for this film.  We want to make a better movie and would love to be able to pay everyone involved at least something for their efforts.  We’ll also be able to rent more and better equipment and have a bigger budget for set design and wardrobe.

I’m feeling proud of myself.  I’ve always picked things up very quickly and that seems to be holding true thus far for my filmmaking career.  My confidence is at a very high level and my self esteem has never been better.  Pretty good for a neurotic kid who never went to film school.  Like my fictional counterpart from ISN’T IT ROMANTIC? Danny Kresky, I’m no ordinary schmuck.

All about me questionnaire

I know, my posts have been few and far between lately.  Sorry.  ISN’T IT ROMANTIC? is just about finished and I’ve been busy working to promote it, as well as seeking out suitable film festivals and other avenues of distribution.  I’m also working on two major writing projects as well brainstorming ideas for my next film.

I came across something that may interest my minuscule group of readers.  I found it on the one of the excellent blogs I follow, “shoegaze and cats”.  It is a questionnaire designed by Ania.  I think it’s fun to learn about the writers I read, so I’ve decided to post my answers to the questions here.

1. What are your values/priorities in life?

I value my family and close friends.  Honesty with others and myself.  I want to constantly grow as a person and to reach my full potential.  I want to continue to express myself through the medium of film, entertaining and hopefully enlightening others.  Maybe if I’m fortunate, there will be one person out there I can touch in the way that my favorite filmmakers have touched me.

2. What is your zodiac sign? Do you match its description?

I’m a Gemini and it’s uncanny how closely I match its description.  At the risk of sounding less than humble, I am intelligent and creative with a very fast mind.  I’m spontaneous and impulsive, very good at improv and extremely energetic.  I also have dual sides to my personality, kind of a light and dark, yin and yang kind of thing.  More on this in the introvert/extrovert question.

3. Do you have a pet? If you do, what kind of a pet is it?

Yes, I have a cat.  I never came up with a name for her, I just call her Kitty.  Very original, huh?  She’s very independent and keeps to herself most of the time.  She only wants attention on her terms, but she’s very affectionate sometimes and keeps me company.

4. Are there any quotes you particularly like?

There are actually two and they come from somewhat bizarre sources.  The first is, “It’s fun to have fun, but you have to know how”.  It’s from Doctor Suess’ “The Cat in the Hat”.  I remember it from childhood and I think it’s so important to have fun whenever I can.  The other is from “Amazing Fantasy # 15” the comic book that launched Spider-man, one of my heroes.  “With great power, there must also come great responsibility”.  That’s the original quote, it was altered in the Sam Raimi film.  Corny, I know, but I truly believe it and it’s one of the guiding principles of my life.

5. What song would you pick up as a soundtrack to your life? If you cannot choose one, take several :)

This is tricky.  I would have to choose an actual soundtrack, with different songs for different aspects of my life.  In terms of my work as an artist I would choose Annie Ross’ “Twisted”.  It’s an obscure jazz tune that Woody Allen used under the opening titles of DECONSTRUCTING HARRY.  If you’re curious, you can find it on YouTube.  Basically the song is about my analyst thinking I’m crazy, but I believe my eccentricities are a sign of genius.  I recently told someone this and she thought it was a little self-absorbed.  I have to say I agree with that, but I’m a confident guy.  At least when it comes to my talent.

Another song that I’ve always loved that has a place in my life is Cole Porter’s “I’ve Got You Under My Skin”.  I prefer the Sinatra version to Frankie Valli.  Over the last year I went through a pretty intense experience.  I was insanely attracted to a female friend.  I seriously have never wanted a woman more in my life.  The lyrics of that song matched how I was feeling exactly.  Especially the part about “the warning voice that comes in the night and repeats and repeats in my ear, don’t you know little fool, you never can win”  I didn’t win the girl of my dreams (no surprise there) but I did confess my feelings to her, she was really understanding and we became closer friends because of it.  Very cool.

6. Who are the most important people in your life?

My son would be first.  He’s a terrific kid, a bio-chem major.  I’m very proud of him and we have a great relationship.  My mother and brother.  I am very close to my family.  They are so supportive of everything I do.  Also my writing partner and co-star on ISN’T IT ROMANTIC? She is by far the best creative partner I have ever had and I can honestly say, the movie would not have been made without her.  We plan to continue to work together.  We’re a really good team.

7. Do you believe in life after death? If yes, how do you imagine it will look like?

I don’t.  For that reason, I don’t want to be buried in a suit.  What am I dressing up for?  Put me in something comfortable.

8. What are your greatest passions/hobbies?

Naturally, first would be film.  I love writing in general, especially screenwriting and now that I’ve experienced it firsthand, I love the entire filmmaking process.  I also love music and reading and sports, especially hockey.  Philosophy is something I’m passionate about as well.  I love to ponder all of life’s deepest questions.  I will never have the answers but it really is all about the search.

9. If you could choose any job in the world, which one would you choose?

It would be exactly the career I am pursuing, writing and directing films.  I also plan to find the time at some point to get back into stand up comedy.  I really miss it.  I could not be happy if I wasn’t expressing myself creatively.

10. How do you like to dress? Do you stick to a particular style?

I wear what’s comfortable.  I am the least fashionable person on the planet.  I don’t begrudge those who have a style.  To each his own, but I have never believed that clothes make the man.  Who I am is not something I can put on and take off.  I’m very low maintenance.  Besides, it’s doesn’t matter what I wear, nothing looks good on me.  I’m just not an attractive person.  Not physically anyway.

11. What’s your most favourite book/writer?

Tough question, there are many writers I admire.  Since the question mentions books, I will go with my favorite novelist/short story writer, Ernest Hemingway.  I got hooked in high school and reread his work all the time.

12. Are you more of an extrovert or an introvert?

Ah, back to being a Gemini.  I can be both to an extreme degree.  There are times when I am in social situations and feel uncomfortable.  I will just blend into the background, not say a word and no one even knows I’m there.  Other times, I can be the absolute life of the party.  I talk to everyone, joke with them, make them feel comfortable.  It was something I was proud of when I shot the movie.  My actors all commented on how I made them feel appreciated and on my warmth.  Fascinating aspect of my personality and something I don’t have a lot of control over.

13. If you could perfect one of  the skills you already have or dream of having, which one would it be?

Interesting question.  I am tempted to say my writing.  I’ve always said, I am first and foremost a writer.  But I am very confident of my writing skills and I work to improve them all the time, quite successfully.  So, I  would have to say my business skills.  Right now, they are pretty much nonexistent.  But to be a successful filmmaker, I have to get really good at promotion, networking and raising money through investors.  I’ve got to be a salesman.  That is one of my goals for this year, to improve those skills.  I’m actually doing fairly well so far.  To perfect them would free me to make the films I want to.  Nice to think about.

14. Do you have a role model? Is there some historical figure/celebrity/family member you admire?

I don’t model myself on anyone, I like the fact that I am, like everyone in the world, a unique individual.  I do have a number of influences but to single out one is very easy.  Woody Allen.  I’m talking about the artist, his personal life is not something I would emulate, but it is none of my business.  I admire the way he always strives to grow as an artist, trying new things.  I like that he is not afraid to fail and that he makes the films he wants to make and serves no master.  It’s what I strive to do myself.

15. What do you usually do to lift your mood?

Music is very helpful.  I love jazz and there are a number of recordings that make me feel good.  There are also movies that I watch that can snap me out of a funk, and now that includes my own.  Not that I’m saying it’s on the level of the others, just that I am proud of the accomplishment and it reminds me of what I am capable of doing.

16. What are your top 5 websites that you visit daily or most often?

My GMail account, I get tons of emails and many of them are important.  My film’s Facebook page and Twitter account because I am still promoting it.  IMDBPro.  I love researching films and filmmakers.  LinkedIn.  It’s a great networking site.  I’ve gotten work from it and found people to help with my projects.  My profile was one of the top 5% viewed last year.  I’m learning!

17. Where would you live if you could choose any place in the world?

My hometown, the greatest city in the world and the center of the universe, New York. (Okay, I’m just a little biased)  It’s such a great center of culture and the arts and I feel more comfortable there than anywhere.  I still live very close and get into the city all the time.  But I’m going to move back when I can finally afford to.

18. Do you like your flat/house or would you like to move somewhere else?

My place is okay, but it’s small.  I would love to have more space.  I’m here for financial reasons, but I am working very hard to change that.

19. What do you carry in your bag?

Being a guy I don’t carry a bag but in my pockets I carry my wallet, my keys, my phone, my money and a small picture of my son as a baby in a lucite case.  I keep my cash in a separate pocket and not in my wallet because when I was a child my father told me that people from New York never put money in their wallets.  I don’t know how true that is, but he never did and neither do I.

20. Which countries would you like to visit?

Italy for sure.  France, England and Sweden.  I have family in Sweden.  I would love to visit Japan too.

21. What’s your biggest dream (if you can tell, of course)?

To be able to make whatever films I choose.  Making a lot of money and winning awards would be nice, but as long as I can make them, I would be happy.  Since we are talking dream here, I will throw this in.  I would love to win an Oscar, preferably for Best Original Screenplay, but Best Director would be cool too.

22. If you won the lottery, what would be the first thing you would buy?

I can think of a few things, but the question is the first thing.  A ’63 Corvette Split Window Coupe.  My favorite car of all time.  I’ve loved them since I was a kid.  Very impractical, but you’re supposed to have fun when you win the lottery.

23. If you compare yourself five years ago and now, what has changed?

I’ve made a lot of progress in that time span.  I am much more confident.  I am actively and aggressively pursuing my dreams and goals now.  I’ve made tremendous progress in dealing with my depression and anxiety issues.  I am happy to say that I am in a much better place.

24. Do you speak any foreign languages? Would you like to learn any in the future?

Language fascinates me.  I speak Italian fairly well and some Spanish.  There is a growing Latino community in the town I live in and I like to make small talk in Spanish when I can .  As I stated earlier, I have family in Sweden and I do know a little Swedish.  I would love to become fluent.

25. What are your biggest strengths and your biggest weaknesses?

My strengths:  My intelligence, talent, sense of humor, determination, toughness, compassion and ability to read people.

My weaknesses: My temper, impulsiveness at times, my difficulty making phone calls (getting better though) reluctance to ask for help even when I need it, procrastination, inability to focus and the way I sometimes skip meals and sleep while working on a project.  Not healthy.

26. What skills do your friends ask you to teach them? What kind of advice do people turn to you for?

I’m proud to say my fellow writers often ask me to read and critique their work.  This goes back to my stand up days when my comedian friends would always ask me to write with them and wanted my opinion on their material.  Other filmmakers also ask my opinion on their movies.  My brother is great.  He looks up to me and asks my advice on many different things.  It’s a good feeling to be respected and I love helping him.

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.

Happy Birthday Mom and Woody

Today, December 1st, is a significant day for me.  It’s the birthday of my idol, the comedic genius, brilliant writer and director, Woody Allen.  It’s also the birthday of Audrey Rothbart, who gave birth to a comedic genius, brilliant writer and on his way to becoming a brilliant director.  Yes, I’m talking about my mother.  Let’s face it, you have to admire my trademark humility.

My brother, my son and I celebrated with my mother.  We got her a cake, cards, some nice presents and bought her dinner.  She’s a terrific person and is just happy to have her family around her.  She is a great mother who pretty much raised her three children alone.  She always made sacrifices for us and encourages me constantly.  I admire her strength.  My father passed away a little over a year ago and she has handled it much better than we could have anticipated.

As far as Woody goes, I celebrated with a mini-marathon.  I watched ANNIE HALL, HANNAH AND HER SISTERS and MIDNIGHT IN PARIS, the three films for which he won Best Original Screenplay (ANNIE HALL also earned him Best Director) at the Academy Awards.  Later, I’m going to watch MANHATTAN because it’s my favorite film of all time and I don’t need an excuse to view it.

There is so much to be learned from watching great movies and reading well-written scripts.  (You can learn as much, if not more, from watching terrible movies and reading awful scripts, but today is about celebration.)  I have other influences, the main ones being Neil Simon and the late Nora Ephron, but Woody is first.  Always.

So happy birthday, Mom.  Your oldest appreciates everything you do for your family.  It’s good to know that even if everyone else hates ISN’T IT ROMANTIC? you will love it!

Happy birthday to you too, Woody.  Love your work, all of it.  Not just the films.  Thanks for inspiring me and showing me that a short, homely, neurotic guy from Brooklyn can succeed with his intellect, talent and wit.

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.