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.

Happy Birthday, Dad

I’m in a pensive mood today.  Today would have been my father’s seventy-eighth birthday.  He passed away on September 3, 2011.  We had a complex and difficult relationship when I was growing up, but I was able to reconcile with him as an adult.  I miss him and regret that he never got to see my first film.

My father loved movies.  Films and sports were the two loves we shared and about which we could always talk.  Even in his last days, his mind not nearly as sharp as it once was, he would enjoy watching a movie with my brother and I.  He couldn’t remember what he had for breakfast that day, but if one of us quoted a line from THE GODFATHER, he immediately recognized it and smiled.

My father was a bright, charming and very funny guy.  There’s no question I got my sense of humor from him and watching him make his friends laugh was one of my greatest motivations for becoming a stand up comic.  He never got to see me perform, the only family member who didn’t, but his friends told me that he used to brag about how smart, funny and talented I was.

I dedicated ISN’T IT ROMANTIC? to his memory.  I think he would have liked it.  He loved comedies and was as big a Woody Allen fan as I am.  It would have been nice to see his reaction had he gotten to see it.  No matter.  I still have my memories.  As I move on to my next film, MY SPIRITED SISTER, I still think of my father and all the times we watched movies together.  There’s a piece of him in me.  A valuable piece.  One without which I would not be the artist that I am.

Happy birthday, Dad.  Thank you for everything.  You gave me much more than you ever realized.


A Few Thoughts on Film in General

The next important date for ISN’T IT ROMANTIC? is tomorrow, April 19.  It is the notification date for the New York Shorts Festival.  I’m really hoping to get into that one.  It’s run by the same group that handles LA Shorts, so I think it would be a boost to getting into that one too, which is an Academy qualifier.  Plus, it’s New York, my hometown, the center of the universe.  I will definitely be attending that one.

While waiting, I thought I would share a few thoughts I have about films.  I was in a discussion on LinkedIn about a blog article that named the blogger’s choice for the top 5 screenwriters of all time.  Woody Allen was number one.  No argument from me.  In the discussion, a gentleman acknowledged Woody’s genius but commented on how he deals with the same themes and asks the deep questions, but has no answers.

The way that I see it writer/directors always have common themes that run throughout their work.  A personality emerges and a connection to that individual is there for the viewer.  It’s common to all great filmmakers who write their own scripts and for film buffs like me, it’s a major attraction to the artist’s work.

As far as not having answers, I don’t think that’s possible or necessary.  When we are dealing with the biggest questions of existence and humanity, no one has the definitive answers.  There are many beliefs, but honestly, who really knows?  I think it’s enough to pose the questions and explore them through story and character, allowing the viewers to draw their own conclusions.

This is how I try to operate.  I’ve only made one film thus far, but if you were to read the other screenplays I’ve written and watch my movie, you would find common themes and concerns.  And no real answers.  I think that’s the beauty of art.


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.


In the Home Stretch

My onscreen directing credit for "Isn't It Romantic?"

My onscreen directing credit for “Isn’t It Romantic?”

There it is, boys and girls.  My actual directing credit, captured from the final cut of ISN’T IT ROMANTIC?  One of my long time dreams come true.  My editor took my basic white letters on black and tweaked it nicely.  The sign is part of the marquee of the Warner Theater in Torrington, CT where we shot the opening scene.  Woody Allen-ish, but my own unique take.  Very nice.

This past Tuesday, we had the first public screening of the movie.  It was for my cast, crew and family and friends.  The film is still not quite finished, it still needs a sound mix and color correction, but we have picture lock and the team was anxious to see it.  We had a little party and projected it onto a screen, the only way a movie should be seen.

It was a nice night, a success.  The film got a good round of applause and we watched it twice.  I got a rush of adrenaline I haven’t felt since my stand up days.  It was wonderful seeing the team again and reveling in our achievement.  Great to reminisce about the fun we had making it.

We had a professional sound mixer who was going to do the mix for free.  He was a friend of my cowriter.  Unfortunately, he had to drop out due to other commitments.  No problem at all.  I am really getting the hang of filmmaking.  Networking is rapidly becoming one of my skills.  I put out some feelers and picked up a number of candidates.  Today, we chose a very good mixer who is going to do the job for a price that fits the budget.  We also received a very generous donation from one of Tuesday night’s guests to pay for the mixer.  This project has been blessed.

Needless to say, I am feeling very good indeed.  I am expanding my skill set and my contacts.  I feel very good about my future in filmmaking.  My cowriter and I are working on a feature length romantic comedy and we also have a short in the works to shoot later this year, most likely late spring or summer.  I am even thinking of shooting two shorts this year, maybe another in the fall.

“ISN’T IT ROMANTIC?” is going to get plenty of festival exposure.  We have already been accepted to one.  We are going to be reviewed by an online film magazine and I am looking into several avenues of distribution.  My goal from day one was not merely to make a movie, but to make a good movie.  Mission accomplished.  I now have something nice to show potential investors for future projects.  Projects about which I will blog.  Can’t let down my loyal fans.

I am truly thrilled.  So nice to finally see that directed by credit. 



Moving Closer to a Finished Film

Me (left) with my editor, Matt Epstein, on location at the Warner Theater in Torrington, CT on Day 2 of production on "Isn't It Romantic?"

Me (left) with my editor, Matt Epstein, on location at the Warner Theater in Torrington, CT on Day 2 of production on “Isn’t It Romantic?”

As I reported in my previous post, the rough cut I put together looked pretty good.  There were a few issues which I was confident I could work out with my editor.  I met with him today and we discussed his  rough cut, which is about 75% finished.  He told me that the early scenes are working well.  That is even better news for the film, as he has twenty years experience, so if he says it works, I can bet on that.

There are two main issues we have to deal with, but we’ve got ideas on how to do so.  First, there is a transition from the set up of the story into the middle section, what in a feature length script would be the break from Act I to Act II.  With the footage I shot, it is not clear to the audience what my protagonist is doing.  Danny comes up with a plan but with the way I shot it, there is no inkling of what that plan is, or that he even has one.  I proposed adding a voice over.  My editor took that idea and expanded on it.

Voice overs are commonly used to patch plot holes in movies in exactly this situation.  It can be a very weak device if not used creatively.  My editor proposed that we add a voice over, not only to the scene that’s unclear, but also at the beginning and end of the story.  Just some brief lines to open the story and then wrap it up.  I love  this idea.  By doing so, we integrate the technique as a part of the film and establish it early.  In that way, the audience will accept it as a method organic to the movie’s style.  I also have to admit that I like it because it’s a device Woody Allen commonly utilizes.  When done well, it’s very effective.

The other issue we have is in the movie’s longest scene.  It’s extremely important to the plot and it involves a passage of several hours.  In the rough cut that I put together, I tried using dissolves between sections of the scene to indicate time passing.  I wasn’t really all that happy with the result.  Dissolves are very outdated and I didn’t get a feeling of hours having elapsed.  The pacing of the scene was much too fast.  My editor has some ideas and is going to experiment by putting the scene together in different ways.  I have great confidence in his ability and I am sure we will come up with a suitable solution.

So, there we are.  We’re getting much closer to a finished film, I would say early January, in time to make the deadline for the “Love Actually Film Festival”, which takes place in the city of my birth, New York, and showcases short films that deal with love, sex and romance.  I think we just might have what they’re looking for.  It takes place on Valentine’s Day, which means that if we get in, I will finally have something to do on that holiday other than celebrate the fact that February is half over!