Middle of the Map

That beautiful view is the city I love.  And I am ready to move on.  I love Chicago like I love water in 90 degree weather.  I truly do.  The city of hard hope is at the epicenter of who I am and everything that I stand for.  The fact is that what I’m after and how I envision myself getting it doesn’t exist here for me.  I feel a bit disconnected from the artistry that I was once a part of and I’m here in transition.  I am keeping myself busy while here but my financial plan of escape has yet to pick up like I mapped out.

I am currently producing a feature film, directed by Ytasha Womack.  That has kept me active in regards to the language of cinema production.  I am grateful for that.  I desired to shoot a short film here in Chicago and I am still playing around with that plan in regards to my financial setback.  Do I invest money in the project or invest everything in the exodus?  I am leaning towards using every dollar I can accumulate into a migration plan.  That leaves me with no new project as I change scenery but I am in desperate need of a transition.  Yes, Chicago has its own artistic hub.  Yes, people are shooting film here.  I don’t believe the investment market is here because Chicago was never a large production center.  The films I see being produced on an independent level are working on headache budgets.  I consider them headache budgets because it becomes a headache to put something of substance together because the money is funny.  And it’s a shame because there is so much talent here but Chicago appears to be a very local market.  Local and loyal, which is beautiful, but I desire to work at a different capacity.

This is just a little air off of my chest.  I have been getting some great comments about the feature film that I penned and am working on a few lab applications, especially the Sundance screenwriters’ Lab.  This would be a great blessing and confidence boost as I am feeling like I exist on an isolated island.  I chose this path of course, so there are no complaints.  Just me constantly checking in with myself by way of absolute honesty.

Stray Dogs

Watch this quirky and very tight short film directed by Minka Farthing-Kohl.  This film reminds me of the epic appeal of simplicity.  One location.  An intersection in some industrial part of Brooklyn, NY.  Four actors.  Amazing cinematography and a clear vision.  Stray Dogs, for me, feels like a comment on how surreal living in NYC could actually get.  Any mundane moment has the potential of being grandiose.

Check out this write up by blogger, Katie Metcalfe:

The performances bring a great mix of familiarity and eccentricity and they communicate as much through nuance and facial expression as they do with dialogue. To me, Stray Dogs feels like many films I’ve seen before, yet completely original at the same time. Within seven minutes, the director succeeds in leading us seamlessly from the completely banal to the utterly bizarre and unthinkable.

Live Screening TONIGHT!

Sleep Google +-1

#SLEEPtheMovie will screen live on http://itsashort.com tonight at 8pm CST/ 9pm EST.  Please follow the directions below.  I’m suspecting most people that find this post will be new members of http://itsashort.com and so you will follow the NEW MEMBERS instructions.  The screening event is in support of the FOCUS initiative directed by Free Spirit Media, a Chicago based organization geared toward the fostering of youth led media and digital narratives.  Please visit Free Spirit Media by clicking http://freespiritmedia.org.

To see the live screening, please follow these instructions…

New Members of Itsashort.com

Register here: http://itsashort.com/users/new

Use promo code: film

Check:  Premiere Ticket while registering, it will take you to the ‘Purchase Ticket button’.

Buy a ticket using the paypal platform.

If you have paypal, sign in, if you don’t have paypal, no problem, choose ‘guest’ or the button that says click here if you want to pay by credit card. Follow these instructions.

Get your ticket (means buy your ticket) and you will be directed to the Premiere Lounge.  The premiere will begin this evening at 8:00 PM CDT.

Returning Member or Artist:

Login in: you will be taken to either the Lounge or the Lobby.

Click on the Browse button.  Click the Yellow premiere button in the shape of a star;

It will take you to the ‘Purchase Premiere Ticket page if you don’t have a ticket.

Click Premiere Ticket: you will be directed to a paypal portal.  Buy your ticket and you will be redirected back to the Premiere Lounge. The film will begin at 8:00 PM CDT.

FOR THE LIVE Q&A IMMEDIATELY FOLLOWING THE FILM…

Keep your eyes on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Google Plus, Free Spirit Media’s pages or this blog.  You will receive the link for the Q&A once the film premieres.  Look out for #SLEEPtheMovie to see the director and actors reconnect over our love for this shared experience.  REMEMBER:  @don_con, @MeekleyProd, @itsashort, @fsmtweets  #SLEEPtheMovie !!!

SLEEP on ItsAShort!

Founder of ItsAShort.com, Christine Boulware, will host a live screening of SLEEP this Thursday (4/09) at 8pm CST/9pm EST.  Interested viewers must visit http://itsashort.com and create a profile.  A link will be provided and the cost to view is $2.  A live Q&A featuring director, Donald Conley, and the two lead actors will immediately follow the screening of the movie.  Viewers will have a chance to submit their questions live.

SLEEP revolves around a single tragic morning that changes the lives of two young brothers.  SLEEP stars Gregory Barnes, Eric Shalah Ruffin and Mia Y. Anderson.  The runtime is 11 minutes.  ItsAShort is a digital platform for short form media creators to distribute their work.  Founder and creator, Christine Boulware, believes in the mission to create spaces where short form narrative and docu media projects can meet a built-in audience and benefit financially.

Ms. Boulware and the director of SLEEP, Donald Conley, are partnering together for Thursday night’s screening in support of Free Spirit Media, a Chicago based youth organization that focuses of strengthening the voices of underserved young artists interested in digital media.  Proceeds from the screening will be donated to Free Spirit Media in an effort to further update the organization’s equipment needs.  Free Spirit Media, a recipient of the MacArthur Foundation grant for non-profits, was founded by Emmy Award-winning producer, Jeff McCarter, and is located at 1327 W. Washington, Suite 103B, Chicago, IL 60607.

Evolution on Netflix

After making its world broadcast premiere on the PBS backed Independent Lens, feature-length documentary Evolution of a Criminal, directed by Darius Clark Monroe, is now available for streaming on Netflix.  If you are a Netflix subscriber and have not seen this magnificent personal recounting of an unlikely criminal act committed by an honor roll student, please search for Evolution of a Criminal and let the director know how the story has impacted you by tweeting to @daclamo.  If you are not a subscriber to Netflix, well one, you should get on that to view some inspiring original content, and two, Evolution of a Criminal can still be purchased for ownership or rent on iTunes.  I associate produced EOAC and this is my first feature film on Netflix.  Very exciting!

“You and I and You”

Terence Nance has yet again created the most beautiful visual poetry for The Dig’s ‘You and I and You.’  On one location, a brown skin couple is forced to give up a young soul and is hunted by mystical beings that reside in the woods and move by way of interpretive dance.  The video is brilliant, as is Mr. Nance.

Draft Down

Yargh!

Look above.  That’s exactly how I feel.  I’ve finally completed another draft of TEZ, which was about two and a half years in the making.  That sounds outlandish.  That sounds like I haven’t put any writing work in.  Some of that can be held as valid but for justified reasons…for the most part.  I had taken a hiatus to work on another script.  I went to graduate school to study drama.  I’ve traveled different countries.  I flirted with LA for a month.  I suffered a small bout of undiagnosed depression in NYC.  I’ve been occupied.  But now I have put one more draft to rest.  I have my handpicked eyes giving it a look over.  I stand to receive my notes and now I’m on to the next.

What is the next, you ask?  Interesting question.  I can honestly say that I don’t entirely know everything that comes next.  My first priority is the Sundance Screenwriter’s Lab.  The application opened this past weekend and closes in early May.  It’s not a convoluted application but it does take some creative thought as to become a desirable applicant.  There’s Tribeca All Access in September.  That application will be a beast, complete with realized budget and execution plan.  That’s something on my plate for the summer.  I have a product now that could land me into some screenwriting colonies if good enough.  Screenplay competitions that could possibly yield a dollar or two.  I have some good prospects for where to send it.  What about the next step for getting the story off of the page?  Great question.  I haven’t found the answer for that one either.  Well, somewhat but not exactly.  I understand that the best way to produce a film is to look yourself in the mirror late one night with a glass of whiskey in hand and tell yourself that you have to and you will make the movie.  Then pre-pro starts the following morning.  Or in many cases, the following Monday.  Outside of that, I need a team to put this thing together.  I need a producer and I need an actual budget.  As of current, I don’t actually even have a budget to get me through a good day at the grocery store.  Though that’s only a small hurdle.  I have this intimate story on hand about a Black family in the South.  The themes revolve around religion, lost time and death.  I think it’s a beautiful story.  An investor’s most pressing question will surely be “How in the Hell do you plan to make my money back?”  To which I shall answer with shrugged shoulders or an overconfident acclaim that Black people will support it.  I wish I could say all people will support it.  Maybe I’ll just have to direct the living Hell out of it to make it a Sundance darling, then maybe, just maybe more than Black people will support it.  Anyhoo, I need money!!!

Also, there’s the opportunity the conceive and beat out another script for a different story entirely.  Then I’ll have two scripts on my hand, which isn’t a bad idea.  I have the time and the opportunity.  I have been toying with a Thriller idea, which would also take a small scale but not ultra-small scale budget to produce.  I do have an ultra-small scale idea that I am looking to write.  So here’s the game plan:  I could write the Thriller as a business move and keep that under my armpit for the moments when some slick haired executive asks me if I have something else, or I could write the intimate story as a project to whip into production and beat out.  That would be the calling card.  There’s the “What else do you have,” or “The calling card.”  Calling card does sound lovely, doesn’t it?  Calling card is also small and still takes the hustle of getting someone to invest $50K.  The thriller would be interest bait.  Maybe even a spec sell.  I wouldn’t necessarily be sold on directing it if someone wanted the project and not me.  It’s not really my Rocky or anything but I think it’s an interesting and timely concept.  I won’t go into it here on the blog but this is something that’s been brewing in my mind through the second half of 2014.  Let’s just say that the idea has been inspired by recent events of police brutality.  I guess this is just me rambling off my thoughts at the moment because I am so happy to have finished a draft of TEZ and to take a much needed break from a story as personal to me as that one was. Cheers to that.

Selma: the not so review, review

Selma

Five minutes after the last frame of Selma transitioned into the rolling credits, I realized that I was still in my seat. I had yet to blink. My cheeks were sore and my eyes were moistened red. Selma had altered my perception on what the art form of cinema had the power to change. The catharsis I experienced while watching a representation and reenactment of my heritage shifted the manner by which I wanted to interact with my peoples. I stood and witnessed the silhouettes of other moviegoers exiting their respective rows and I realized that I loved each and every one of them. I wanted to hug them all. I began to think about the violence in Chicago and the revelation saddened me. Many of us were disconnected from the love and the spirit that the Diaspora invested within itself since the beginning of time. I weeped for those lost in a sea of spiritual oppression and for those scarred by the flames of aggression. I wanted to hug those suffering their afflictions. I assessed my Niece and Nephew, whom I brought to experience this cinematic gem, and I was concerned whether or not they were aware of the importance of seeing Selma. I did not know if they got it, or whether Selma was digested as just another film about Martin Luther King Jr. and the Black experience. They had no questions. They assured me of their knowledge of history. That was all well and good but the real query was…do they know their present? I mean, do they really know the times of their adolescence? Did they process just how similar the images in the film were to current images of violence committed against individuals of color at the hands of authority figures? Were they able to wager just how stagnant American race relations are? I feared how the wake up call could potentially affect the way they may communicate with and build fruitful prospective relationships with Caucasian peers but I came to the understanding that balancing consciousness with condonation had always been the pill that people of color were forced to swallow.

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This Is It

So no.  I’ve not gone Hollywood.  But yes, I do see a future here.  I am 90% certain that I will transition to Los Angeles.  The other 10% is open to whatever random opportunity that may arise.  Such an opportunity that I’d be crazy to turn down.

So I was on a bus departing Downtown LA heading to San Francisco and I just sat in my thoughts.  I received a text from a friend of mine saying that she made it as a semi-finalist in a TED Talks contest that would allow her to travel the world and take part in conferences organized by the organization.  I felt proud of her large vision.  I mean she’s young, beautiful and doing it.  I got to thinking about this idea of big visions.  It was the first time life felt large to me.  I was in a large land.  I met some large people, both literally and theoretically.  And people were not afraid to consider the idea of large money.  I saw opportunity that presented itself in a different way from NYC.  Yes, in some aspects the life is more difficult than NYC as far as traffic and parking  and accessibility.  The nightlife is not as happening as NYC.  Relationships aren’t maintained as well in LA as they are in NYC.  Those were the negatives that made LA this place of anxiety for me.  When I thought about it, I was already halfway there.  I grew up in Chicago.  I grew up in a driving culture.  When the winter hits, no I don’t want to hang out.  No, I don’t want to travel.  Yes, parking really sucks.  I understood those anxieties.  I get angry.  I curse.  I rip the steering wheel apart.  I get over it.

I have been seduced by the large vision.  This city is not about the independent filmmaker.  NYC is.  Yet, the city does not define what an independent filmmaker is.  I am a filmmaker of color, so chances are I will begin my feature career on an independent level.  What LA does is attract this sense of something larger.  The independent film is complete, now how much leverage does this product get me?  How far can I take this story?  How can I monopolize this opportunity to the most profitable and highest degree.  There is no independent market.  I mean, there is, but LA is like no, theoretically there is not.  What exists is your small movie in the entertainment business.  How do you bring home the trophy?  How do you get the girl?  I never asked myself these questions in NYC.  When I was there, the questions I asked myself was how do I get this project off of the ground.  I rarely concerned myself with striking gold by digging with a toothpick.  I was an artist living as an artist.  LA wants to know if I’m Basquiat.  My job is to figure out whether I am Basquiat or not, and if I’m not, how do I place just the right amount of light in my corner to shine?  In other words, how does everyone’s children get fed?

I enjoyed my years in NYC.  The city gave me a back bone.  NYC made me a bonafide bullshit detective.  I can sniff and point it out.  There’s no other place on Earth like it.  There’s no point in hoping that I have a comparable experience in LA.  That would be setting myself up for failure.  You can’t get NYC anywhere except NYC and that’s the risk of leaving.  That’s why NYC has this desperate hold onto people’s hearts.  She whispers in the ears of her admirers, “You know you’re going to miss me.  You know there’s no one on this green Earth that can ride you like I ride you.”  And we get sucked in because no one fucks us like NYC.  No one says, “You can’t afford to be here but I’ll give you dollar pizzas and two dollar dumplings and dollar PBR’s and drumming in the park and 24 hour trains and 48 hour energy.”  So once one can accept the fact that LA is like most other large American cities where you land in the middle of it and there’s no party going on, then decisions are clearer.  And one can begin to appreciate the fact that there is a city that offers the beach and the mountains in the same day.  A city that offers little change in climate but multiple close cities of actual interest that offer a change in environment.  A city that actually offers peace if you so desire it.  I am not in love with LA.  But LA is practical.  The industry is set up here and for the most part, the industry has little interest in changing.  That seems bad except for understanding that we at least know the game.  People are here and working.  On the ground.  Not on the 54th floor.  People want to talk film here.  They want the next best thing.  They want successful material.  They want to continue overlooking the ocean.  Most of the time, that means avoiding color.  But LA has a community of successful people of color.  And even that is inspiring.  I look forward to adding one more to the batch.

Sunny L.A.

All of it isn’t pretty.  Actually, most of it isn’t pretty.  Not during the day.  The city of Los Angeles.  I’ve been here for two weeks now.  I flew out to participate in the Drama UK Showcase which was a conglomeration of scenes and monologues performed by American students that studied drama in the UK during the 2013-2014 school year.  The entire week of workshops and rehearsals were absolutely amazing.  I couldn’t have asked for more, unless asking for more actually meant getting representation and immediately booking the next best thing.  Amir Korangy and Alex Feldman, both faculty members at the Theatre of Arts College, put on a damn good show.  Not only did I refresh my knowledge of the industry and gain invaluable insight as to the specifics of pursuing a career in Los Angeles, but a tiny light illuminated itself over my handling contemporary text.  The second after I performed my monologue, the thoughts behind the words became crystal clear.  Funny that it happened after I delivered the monologue and I’m hoping that some semblance of ease and familiarity were exhibited.  But I was made aware of imperative truths that will be essential to me down the line.  I was one of 27 performers and very lucky to have been a part of so much talent.  God bless the rest of the cast and I do wish them the very best in this industry.

I am now making the rounds in Los Angeles, reconnecting with old contacts and meeting new ones.  I am also taking this city in for what it is.  A networking magnet and a structural cluster fuck.  I told my boy Tahir Jetter that I’d give him the scoop on how this city operates and if the transition from NYC is worth the trouble.  This is really my personal and not so expert evaluation of course.  I’m here for another week.  Next week will be full of networking and reaching out for as many coffee hangouts as I can possibly get.  After that, I will be able to speak on whether or not Los Angeles is the move to make when one is at a certain level in his or her career and looking for something that he or she feels is lacking in current circumstances.  We shall see.  I’ll say this for now, I am slowly becoming impressed.  Not with the city itself.  But with the opportunity.  I had a great conversation with Nardeep Khurmi, a beautiful director and great friend of mine.  Nardeep, a man that can sell winter to the devil, gave LA the pitch that I believe I needed to hear.  The pitch began with, “Look, if you’re looking to love this city, you can stop looking right now.”  He asked me to consider whether I love NYC for the city itself, or if I’m in love with the past.  Meaning, could I live without the city or am I holding on to times shared with the people I love.  Then we talked about what a city could possibly offer.  His main pitch…”Have you ever sat on a train in NYC or sat in a restaurant or sat in a park and met anyone of influence that showed interest in my endeavors?”  I thought about that for while.  Well, no.  I’m silent on trains.  I read at parks.  And I have never met the executive producer of who, what, when and where at any restaurant in NYC.

So, as I take this next week on, I will only look at LA from the viewpoint of how the conversations surrounding my art are evolving.  I will tell myself that lifestyle is secondary because if I don’t do that, then the never ending list of positives and negatives will only get longer.  Here’s to you, Tahir, and to anyone else who is struggling with the decision to leave the hustle and bustle of NYC for the sun tanned boulevards of Los Angeles.  You shall get my answer in a week’s time.