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Director’s Blog

Killing me

Friday, March 16th, 2007

Here are the things that are killing me with this process:

1. Not knowing what the hell I’m doing. I’m trying to read as much as I possibly can about distribution, financing, marketing, festival strategy, and 10 other topics…but books and online forums only go so far against the need to actually make something happen in the real world.

2. Having to act like I know what the hell I’m doing. I’m fundamentally inclined to be straight up about what I know and what I don’t. But that doesnt seem to be the most productive strategy in finding everything I need to find right now.

3. The fear of what I dont know. Its hard not to be paralyzed by the thought that one little thing I fuck up now is going to totally screw me later…whether that’s finding the right lawyer, the wording of deals with potential investors, what I choose to submit in order to meet a deadline, etc.

4. Rejection: ITVS, TDF, and the Garrett Scott Development Fund in rapid succession over the past couple of weeks.

5. Money: I’m broke, and the choices between finding money to keep postproduction moving and to pay my bills are getting a little more dicey each month.

6. Continued uncertainty about the film we’re actually going to have. We’ve been building scene by scene, but it still feels a long way from a coherent whole. There is a big part of me that really needs to see it all start coming together, that is growing very impatient with the process that I know I just have to trust.

7. Still not being sure all this is worth it. The more I learn about the distribution and broadcast opportunities out there, the more I wonder about the capacity of established structures to reach the audience that I really care most about: urban teens. Seems like its cliche to make a doc about inner city kids, but a totally foreign concept to try to make a doc for inner city kids.

Waiting on ITVS…

Thursday, February 8th, 2007

Fucking grant cycles. Still waiting to hear if we made it to the second round of ITVS’ Open Call. Feeling more conflicted by the day. Of course, I really want the recognition of advancing, not to mention the continued possibility of all the money they could throw our way. But the longer the wait, the more time I have to think about where I really want First Person to go. The whole reason I wanted to do this film, what has guided my approach from the beginning, was the belief that the vast majority of “inner city public education” docs are fundamentally problematic in their approach: they focus on an external
intervention in people’s lives, rather than the people themselves. These films might garner critical acclaim or go over well with audiences who naturally relate to those doing the intervening. But they fail to speak to young people, and they fail to provide young people with a resource that is valuable and meaningful in trying to figure out their own lives. Rather than providing examples of how other young people perceive the conflicts they face and how they choose to deal
with them, these documentaries inevitably reinforce a narrative about good-hearted outsiders struggling against the fucked-up circumstances of the inner city to help kids “make it out” by overcoming the supposed deficiencies of their families and communities.

In general, I can make myself feel good about trying to make a film that runs counter to this typical cliched approach. But at the end of the day, I find myself craving the support and approval of the structures that historically support all the films that I am hoping to provide an alternative to. At the end of the day, I’ve checked my email 10,000 times hoping for word from ITVS. As a first-timer, getting broadcast and distribution feels like an incredibly huge hill to climb. Before I kill myself trying to navigate the road up, I wish I could get clearer in my convictions as to whether this is even the right hill to be climbing.

Back in Action

Friday, January 26th, 2007

Sorry for failing to keep the Video Gallery and the blog updated. I’ve been totally wrapped up in preparing a handful of proposals. In the last month, we’ve submitted to ITVS, the Toronto Documentary Forum, and the Garrett Scott Grant Program of the FullFrame Festival. Preparing both the written materials and especially the sample reel for ITVS is a mutha.

If nothing else, we should get a rough idea for what First Person’s ceiling is. I had breakfast with Steve last week, and he’s still hoping to become an international celebrity off of this whole experience. His goal is to walk into Blockbuster and see a poster of himself. After three years of trying to tamp down such expectations, I’ve kind of given up. But its difficult, because I really have very little sense of what is a realistic set of outcomes for this film. As Sharon has been assembling scenes, its been unbelievable to see this thing I’ve held in my head and heart for years start to come to life. For better or worse, its beginning to shape up like the movie I wanted to make.

ITVS gets a couple thousand proposals and only funds about a dozen. Actually getting money from them is the longest of long shots…right up there with Steve’s Blockbuster fantasy. But the top 30% of projects make it on to the second round. Whether or not we make that cut will provide me with a much clearer direction of where we should eventually try to take First Person. In the meantime, its time to get back to the grind of maintaining the website, building the outreach efforts, and assembling the rough cut.

First Person finds a friend

Sunday, December 10th, 2006

I don’t like to admit it, but I’m pretty much a hater by nature. I can always find a reason why something–anything–isnt good enough, doesnt go far enough, or doesn’t sit right with me and my, shall we say, particular sensibilities.

This is especially true for documentaries dealing in one way or another with “inner city life.” As soon as I see that establishing shot of the housing projects with the people screaming and the sirens blaring and the lost souls & stray cats wandering aimlessly around, I’ve already pretty much written off the next two hours of my life. Of course, I’ll sit through them, if for nothing else than to fuel my self-righteousness. As a certified hater, nothing provides me with motivation quite like having a nemesis, real or imagined, out there.

But sometimes, very occasionally, I’ll watch something that just feels right. That grabs my heart. That resonates with my understanding of how people actually operate in the world. That forces me to walk in the shoes of someone whose life is seemingly unlike my own–and then knocks me over the head with realizations about myself. That I genuinely enjoy.

Four years ago, when I was trying to determine if First Person was going to be a feasible project to undertake and trying to figure just what the hell I wanted to do, I saw Love and Diane and had the chance to participate in a seminar led by director Jennifer Dworkin. Its an unbelievable movie, very powerful in how it lets a set of very difficult external circumstances unfold entirely through the perspectives of the film’s subjects, and then builds on that by letting Diane and Love reveal their extremely rich internal lives through voiceover narration and incredible verite scenes. When I saw it then, I knew that in many ways, that was what I wanted to do, that was the kind of movie I wanted to try to make.

At the time, I was also very much inspired by Dworkin, who was a firsttime filmmaker who had clearly made the film not for the money (certainly), and not to win awards, and not to build her reputation as a filmmaker, but because her heart wouldnt let her do anything else. Just the fact of her doing what she did, how she did it, was motivation that I very much needed.

I watched Love and Diane again last night. I was a bit nervous that I wasnt going to like it as much after the four years I’ve gone through trying to pull First Person together, that it wouldnt still resonate with my sensibility. Turned out there was no need to worry. I was totally sucked in almost immediately. There’s just so much that feels immediately relevant to First Person–the scale of the film, the way people and places are established, the use of voiceover, the blending of disparate types of footage. I think that First Person will ultimately employ a very different visual style and pacing and will trace some very different emotional arcs, but anyone wanting to get a sense for how First Person is striving to communicate the lives and internal worlds of our six kids should check this movie out.

Just recently, I came across a message from Dworkin on a listserv and took the shot of emailing her. She’s been very kind and indulgent in responding thoughtfully to my many questions–everything from preparing scene selects for ITVS submission to knowing when to draw the line with how much of the director’s own intervention is appropriate for inclusion in the film. Its really difficult to express how valuable this type of information and advice is when you are getting it from someone whose sensibility you trust. Knowing someone is out there who has created a standard I want to live up to is a much stronger motivator than the self-righteousness that usually pushes me along. And it comes at good time.

Cure for pain

Tuesday, November 28th, 2006

Watched the last two video diaries from my kids today. On a day when I’ve been totally paralyzed with wondering how I’m going to raise another $50-75K; with needing to find a graphic designer, an AfterEffects whiz, and a clearance supervisor, all before Xmas; with the boatload of footage I need to log; and with a million other things, they were a total breath of fresh air. The tapes were from Shalisa and Malikka, both of whom really crack me up. I dont know how they do it…for three years, I couldnt get either of them to say 10 words in an interview. Leave them alone with a camera, though, and theyll talk for 45 minutes straight.

Especially with these last tapes, though, its not just what they say that really gets me, but the need they have to say it. Its really striking…watching two 18-year olds trying to cram every last anecdote, wish, and profound insight they can muster into a 60-minute tape…its like listening to someone’s last words, except you know you’ll see them next week. But watching these tapes and seeing how far we’ve come (believe me, when I first proposed the whole ‘video diary’ concept, it was a room full of blank stares and crickets chirping) is definitely the best treatment for overcoming the fear of how far we still have to go.

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