Two Cities

Filmmaker and director of Evolution of a Criminal, Darius Clark Monroe continues to pursue excellence in cinema.  His latest short effort is a poetic look at a well decorated Katrina survivor that has been commissioned by Time, Inc. as a part of a six-episode docu-series called New Orleans, Here & Now.  Monroe’s Two Cities follows Dr. Mtanguiliza Sanyika on a harrowing walk through the New Orleans’ Lower 9th Ward ten years after Hurricane Katrina wreaked havoc on an already economically challenged city.  The visual accompanies Dr. Sanyika’s auto-biographical interview that narrates his academic rise and the effect that Katrina played on his life.

Monroe made a successful attempt at creating a dual experience for the visual and the auditory.  The lens is very lyrical as the viewer drifts along each image.  There is so much motion that it feels as if Monroe has lifted you in his large arms and carried you safely over the ruptured grounds of the current Lower 9th Ward.  The visual can survive without sound.  It’s that beautiful, thanks in major part to Monroe’s longstanding Director of Photography, Daniel Patterson.    Not only does Patterson’s eye make a marvel of a depressed canvas, but Dr. Sanyika’s voice is so mesmerizing that one could listen to his speech in darkness and imagine an eruption of colors.  There is much character to his voice.  In Two Cities, there are two different experiences occurring for the human mind, accompanying one another so well that the 13 minutes spent watching this concise exposé falls no short of transcendence.

Watch Darius Clark Monroe’s Two Cities on Entertainment Weekly here:

Straight Outta Compton

The “ghetto bird” peruses the sky with its bright eye detailing the wide avenues and spinal network of alleyways in South Central Los Angeles.  A cavalcade of “LA’s Finest” precede the rumble of door busting tanks with smiling faces painted on the noses of the rams.  The color wheel is completely exploited, though we always seem to return to two of the most pivotal and dangerous colors on the palette.  It’s hot.  It’s dark.  It’s sunny.  It’s loud.  It’s exciting.  It’s brutal.  It’s Straight Outta Compton.

Had Selma been released 7 days later, I’d be able to say that 2015 has been the most explosive year for films that revolve around stories concerning the Black community.  Alas, Selma was released on December 25, 2014.  No matter though.  Straight Outta Compton kicked the doors of expectation right off the hinges.  Many predicted a success, but how many could have foreseen a success to this magnitude.  The film, directed by F. Gary Gray, returned an opening weekend box office number of over $60 million.  The numbers continue to rise and as of August 18, 2015, a mere four days out, Straight Outta Compton boasts a whopping domestic total of nearly $75 million.  It is the largest weekend opener for a “Black film” in the history of cinema.  Even if we considered films with a Black lead, there are only three that top it:  I Am Legend; Rush Hour 2 and Hancock.  A bit of a side note, Chris Tucker is the Black lead in Rush Hour 2.  Tucker made his cinematic debut in F. Gary Gray’s first feature film, Friday.  Many things come full circle.  Anyhow, Straight Outta Compton is the 5th biggest August debut ever and 7th biggest R-rated debut of all time, as reported by  Needless to say, this movie is HUGE.  After the 2 hours and 27 minutes spent watching the truncated timeline of classic Hip Hop group N.W.A.’s rise, demise, evolution and legacy, I personally feel like everyone involved deserves this historic moment.

What a ride!  Caution; there are some spoilers in my review, though it’s difficult to spoil history that’s been so heavily covered.  When the movie begins inside of a dilapidated trap house in Los Angeles, there was risk of stale tropes and a cliche start to the common Horatio Alger story.  Then F. Gary Gray does something that immediately pulls the viewer in.  He raises the tension and the sense of vulnerability at the same time.  This is Eazy-E’s beginning and he’s a fast talker, but he’s not above danger.  He’s not completely safe.  If it’s not the trapped mouse in a house packed with mangy looking felines, it’s the whistle from outside alerting those in the ring of fire that a new enemy is swiftly approaching:  the LAPD.  That’s when all Hell breaks loose.  It’s a raid.  Wood is splintered.  Glass is shattered.  Bodies fly in a multitude of directions.  Our hero narrowly escapes.  That is what the city is and the movie so accurately portrays that energy.  This is not a quiet film.  The beginning tells us everything we need to know; and that is a group of characters find themselves in many rooms together and things get hot, noisy, chaotic, sweaty, dangerous, and tight within one quarter of their lives.  It happens that fast.  For our protagonists, Straight Outta Compton looks at close to ten years of their lives.  For the audience, it’s 2 hours and 27 minutes, and I am so sure that when the surviving members look back on the times, that it pretty much feels that way to them as well.

A lot feeds into the success of this film, marketing and publicity being a couple of huge factors.  As far as the product is concerned, the performances are superb.  The cast of Straight Outta Compton is rounded out by fresh faces: among them are Jason Mitchell as Eazy-E, Corey Hawkins as Dr. Dre, O’Shea Jackson Jr. as Ice Cube and Neil Brown Jr. as DJ Yella.  Aldis Hodge, a not so fresh face but still on the blossoming side of his career, plays MC Ren with so much gravity that he totally nails this dangerous Hip Hop artist that is a bit more weathered in the streets than his group mates, with the exception of Eazy-E.  Paul Giamatti, who gives an inspiring performance as Jerry Heller, anchors the entire cast with his impeccable dexterity, experience and energy.  He’s just as much alive as the musical soundtrack under the concert scenes.  When Heller describes the nature of business during his final meeting with Eazy-E, Giamatti has a hundred million things occurring behind his eyes that it seems he’s one bad sentence away from melting into a tsunami of tears.  In the same scene, Jason Mitchell as Eazy-E has his work cut out to remain unwavering and steadfast on his mission to place much distance between him and an advisor that has taken the roll of a father figure in some respects.  It is strikingly clear that Mitchell’s performance does not lose itself in the supposed gangster persona of Eric Wright (Eazy-E).  Mitchell succeeds so well in his job of transitioning from severe Crip affiliate to a young man holding onto his last rope of life.  He never loses sight of the fact that Eazy-E, as well as the other members, were still very young when they began and young adults when it ended.  No scene visually describes it more so than when Eazy-E falters in the studio during the recording of “Boyz-n-the- Hood.”  For all the brass it took to walk into that red zone at the start of the film, the not so simple task of recording one lyric on beat in front of his friends makes Eazy-E completely self-conscious.  When the most stirring moment in Eazy-E’s life is portrayed on the screen, the scene is a torrent of emotion thanks in part to Mitchell’s handling of such a demanding task.  It is absolutely the most heartrending part of the film.

Corey Hawkins does a great job of being the glue that ties the narrative together as Dr. Dre.  If Eazy-E is at the center of the N.W.A. story, then Dr. Dre expands the scope of the narrative.  Hawkins captures that magnificently as he responds to the dangerous avenues being navigated while perfecting the art of musical creation.  There is risk in every moment.  There is loss at every turn; whether it be the loss of his daughter, the loss of his brother, the loss of his affiliates or even the loss of a hurtfully estranged friend.  Hawkins processes it all and plays the pressure that amounts when a young man loses the strength to reconcile it all.  The breakout performance is given by O’Shea Jackson Jr., son of O’Shea Jackson Sr., also known as Ice Cube.  Jackson Jr. is absolutely comfortable in his feature film debut and embodies everything that makes Ice Cube famous for being the person he is.  Jackson Jr. exhibits the intelligence, intuition, attitude, bravado and brawn.  There were a couple of moments where the actor’s effort could have used a bit of lightness but it is abundantly clear that Jackson Jr. loses himself in the uniqueness of Ice Cube’s presence.  In Cube’s contract meeting with Heller, the actor may have pushed a bit hard, opting to overhaul playing any slight moment of softness, but it did feel as if this same choice was spot on during Cube’s interrogation of Priority Records executive Bryan Turner.

Speaking of hard, another breakout performance was Matthew Libatique’s intoxicating cinematography.  Libatique is well established but he brings something completely fresh to musical biopics.  There is a perfect balance of his commercial eye with his highly attentive independent sensibilities.  The movement of the camera had so much energy yet still maintained a sense of calculation.  By shying away from fast paced whip pans and driving the dolly, Gray further beefed the value of the music.  The marriage of sound and cinema is rarely as exhilarating.  The bass of the music directs inner movement and placing the lens next to the mouths of those performing intensified the sitting experience.  One has to fight the terribly difficult battle of not committing a theatrical sin by remaining in the seat rather than hitting the aisles and taking the feet back to 1989.  It is the music many of us remember.  It is the percussive aggression many of us remember.  The THUMP Duh THUMP THUMP that escaped our speakers on hot summer days with the windows down in blood curdling traffic just to let the next man know that you aren’t the one to mess with.  Stay in your lane and I’ll stay in mine.  It’s that body shake noise that ends the night with a pressing need for a third shower.  I embarrassingly wanted so bad to hold dialogue with the screen but such an impulse would have been criminal during an early day screening in a room built to hold 250 people, but at present, held 10.  What is this movie in a room full of people?  What is that response like?  What is that experience?

Straight Outta Compton is a political movie.  It is not a simple biopic about an insignificant musical act.  The injustice shown in this film is so current that I began to feel my temperature rise.  The biopic dealt with a theme of police brutality in the inner city communities of color.  This film, about a Hip Hop group that grew to prominence in the late ’80’s, placed a camera on activities that are currently being exposed in St. Louis, Cincinnati, Detroit, New York, Chicago, etc.  The list goes on.  The list has always went on ever since the establishment of the sharecropping system.  The brutality is parasitic activity against the mental stability of an entire community.  That energy is one of the threads of the film.  The LAPD overexert their power and abuse the young Black men physically, mentally and emotionally.  On top of that, the nature of the music industry does its fair share of manipulation and advantage play.  The men specifically in this Hip Hop group are abused and they respond with abusive language and actions.  Life for them becomes savage and the first use of protection, if not fatal action, is vitriolic language.  This is oppression at its finest.  What’s amazing about this film, as well as the group themselves, is that they brave the response.  Safety is a constant issue but rarely a choice.  The LAPD brutally finger our protagonists and throw them to the ground, N.W.A. answers with “F*ck the Police.”  Police threaten arrest in another state if the song is performed on stage, N.W.A. responds by literally saying “F*ck the Police.”  The oppressive abuse is filmed and shown to the masses.  They are vulgar activists in a vile sort of Black Panther spirit.  Both cut from very similar cloths.  Both immortalized as a result of their relationship to policing tactics in California.  The viewing is inspiring because it reinforces the idea that we as a community are not obligated to accept the mule treatment.  We do have the legal right to fight for civility and exercise our freedom of speech.  We do have the right to rise up against an abusive establishment.  If nothing has changed in 25 years, then we have a responsibility to seek better and force the change ourselves.

For all the praise of the film, an honest look at the narrative would suggest that the marginalization of Black woman does continue on the big screen.  I have some interesting thoughts about this topic.  Interesting to myself anyway.  Yes, an injustice has been done to Black women with this film.  The misogyny can’t be overlooked.  More so than that, the exclusion of women can be considered harrowing.  If I knew nothing about the group and saw the movie, I’d walk away thinking that a few of the members added important women to their lives later in their careers.  Going even further, I’d think that the women that they did find weren’t that important to the process as it evolved.  That would be all good if it were true.  Ice Cube’s wife randomly pops up in the movie with no introduction.  It was so jarring that I thought I may have missed a very short scene prior to her sitting with Cube and Bryan Turner.  One scene in which maybe she was sitting around in the studio and had a one liner or anything.  She dropped in the movie with no real purpose to pushing the narrative other than the point that the real Ice Cube, the Executive Producer of the film Ice Cube, has to go home at the end of the night.  In reality, Kimberly Woodruff has been a part of Cube’s life since the late 80’s.  In the film, she pops up as support to tell him that he’s doing well in his decisions.  Nicole Young, Dr. Dre’s wife, has an even less essential role.  Ultimately, as far as the film is concerned, she’s simply the only girl that doesn’t sleep with him, and therefore, she’s the real thing.  That’s about as deep as we get with her.  She is also Dre’s current wife.  But during the time that the movie covers, Dr. Dre should be dating R&B singer Michel’le.  Tamica Wright, Eazy-E’s wife, has the most important role as she deals with financial matters.  She comes in late and there just isn’t much time to explore her but at least her character pushed the narrative.

I’ll say this.  I’m not surprised.  I was never surprised.  I never thought women would have a large role or voice in this story.  Maybe I should be somewhat ashamed for further supporting that behavior.  Concerning the group that’s in question, some horrible things have been said about women.  God awful things.  They weren’t concerned about the plight of women when they were teenagers and to be honest, I don’t think they’ve fully reconfigured all of their views as adult men.  Going even further, I don’t think any of them ever intellectualized their views on women.  I couldn’t imagine they’ve ever thought that deeply about it.  The music that they made was a complete product of their environment.  To really go into some of what they’ve said and a lot of what they’ve done just may have been a completely different movie.  It would take a truthfully intelligent analysis of the treatment of Black women by Black men in impoverished settings to get at the root of N.W.A. because I believe they were living in their times.  When I was a kid, all of the boys thought the pimps were the dopest because they had women and money.  When our parents were teenagers, the Blaxploitation films with the pimps and naked women in it made all of the money.  Then they turned around and told us how those were their favorite movies and the men were killing the women “bitches.”  Then our parents’ parents were witnessing the medical revolution that showed women actually enjoyed sex and could have orgasms.  Who would’ve known?!  WHOA!!!  The mental and physical abuse of the Black woman is a pathology that needs a very serious look.  As far as this film is concerned, I believe Dr. Dre’s relationship with Michel’le would have made for a more complex and interesting character than we have in the present movie.  It does get dangerous for a couple of reasons though.  One very surface reason is that Michel’le would have been difficult to cast and play with some seriousness.  Maybe if she weren’t current with the R&B Diva’s then the task would be a bit simpler.  Fact is, I’ve never seen anyone with Michel’le’s unique octave.  Never in my life.  Maybe the direction of the project steers clear of reproducing Michel’le’s voice and stick to her story.  That’s a option.  Thing is, Dr. Dre never made amends with his past.  He moved on.  As awful as it all sounds, he literally moved on.  And what’s even worse is that N.W.A. was made extremely popular by saying the worst things a man could say about a woman.  Then Ice Cube left N.W.A. and continued to woman bash.  Then Dr. Dre left N.W.A. and made The Chronic and proudly sang the chorus, “Bitches ain’t shit but hoes and tricks. Lick on these nuts and suck the dick.”  He sold over 5 million albums in its current day.  What does one do with that?  I don’t know what I’d do with that.  Maybe I’d try to find a way to make a statement but the statement in real life was so clear; there is a community of Black men with such a low impression of Black women that groups of men have become millionaires through the use of denigration.  And N.W.A. were the progenitors of that.  And that becomes a different movie.  And that was the movie that the producers decided not to make because the producers happened to be the actual progenitors of that language in Hip Hop. They shied away from it.  They feared it.  They told the story they wanted to tell.  And this could be because I’m a guy myself, and I won’t shy away from that, but I wasn’t dying to see it either as I watched the movie that was presented to me.  I related the forces they were fighting with the forces that are a huge issue for me today.  If the movie wasn’t completely honest with the women that were present during the rise of N.W.A., it was very current with the social atmosphere of this country.  I feel bad for the women that were there and not represented.  Do these men deserve to be taken to task for the exclusion of women in this film?  Absolutely.  They made the choice and they must man up when asked about it.  But we do have to consider what is shown, how much of it is shown, and at what point it becomes a different movie.  We watch films to nestle under redeemable characters.  Abuse is a serious topic and I’m not sure if there were many women associated with N.W.A. at the time that weren’t abused.  I don’t know how I’d keep the spirit of the existent product, show the truth about their abuse of women and redeem them while blasting the lyrics about sexual abuse.  I’m not sure if F. Gary Gray could either.

P.S. the “Bye Felicia” scene was irresponsible and cheap.  I do feel that way.  Leave it out or go further.  The way it is right now is all laughs.  Or in a sparse theater, kind of awkward.

On a less pressing note, and like all biopics, squeezing so much material in so little time raises many questions.  The timeline during the second half of the movie wasn’t as clear as the first half.  Ice Cube’s part became less interesting once they all survive the beef.  Dr. Dre’s falling out of favor with Death Row materialized well but his exit appeared too easy and very swift.  The film perfectly added cynical danger to Suge Knight’s character but it fell somewhat flat when dealing with Dr. Dre’s departure.  Eazy-E’s story remained strong and well connected throughout though it wasn’t clear how long in actual time he suffered toward the end of his life.  Eazy-E famously dies of AIDS.  The question I had was how long did he suffer symptoms before he was forced to see a doctor?  By watching the film, it could’ve been anywhere from 2 years to several months.  What about Eazy’s wife, Tamica Wright?  Also, Eazy’s death was a very publicized moment that changed the course of how HIV was viewed in the Black community.  I personally don’t feel the movie correctly explored how big Eazy’s death was for the country.  We move from that to Dr. Dre’s exit of Death Row.  Eazy’s death was truly a pivotal moment in transforming the way heterosexual lovers viewed the virus; before the death of Eazy-E, as his line in the film expressed, the HIV virus was still primarily attributed to the gay community.  This unraveling of sorts hints at the pertinent bond and charisma that the actors had when playing off of each other.  The scenes are that much more powerful when they are together.  Each actor is still strong enough to keep the audience invested in every character’s solo journey, but what translates off of that screen when they are in the same room is mesmerizing.  It was as if they’d known each other their entire lives.  It just happens that Jason Mitchell is given most of the meat in the second half as the film slowly becomes Eazy-E’s tribute.  With all of that said, I believe this is truly a powerful movie.  I’d love to experience it again.  I think it encapsulates a difficult as well as a magical time for so many of us.  I wasn’t old enough to understand the things that were shown and said, but N.W.A.’s music filtered through the halls of my home.  Their voices brought about an energy indicative of a good time in South Chicago during a period of extremely violent unrest.  They are so full of controversy, and so troubling, and so bold, and so raw and so live.  Straight Outta Compton truly is a beautifully complicated piece of work.

Industry Rule #80…Money Gets Involved & People Are SHADY

I’ve recently received my first significant contract lesson dealing with people on the independent scene.  This is a situation where I did draft a contract but it was not as extensive as it could have been.  I did not cover myself in scenarios where an independent project does not work out after committing so much time.  The lesson of the month is that wording is everything.

After exiting the stage from a 6-month engagement with a low-budget independent Afro-futurism feature film set in Chicago, I attempted to negotiate a reduced rate for the time spent helping the project on its feet.  I had a very interesting conversation with the director whose business acumen and knowledge of putting together a movie, in my opinion, have come into full question.  A few things were made clear to me.  One, there was no respect in regard to individual lives committed to the project.  Two, she viewed her film as an opportunity for me to meet the people she knew rather than a project that was in need of good professional help.  Three, the director has a backwards philosophy on what it means to work in independent film.  I will omit numbers in this description but I will discuss a specific moment that was debated.  I made a statement comparing the reduced rate she chose to pay me with two weeks of minimum wage.  This is after 6 months producing and re-producing a project that kept hitting a wall due to the investors.  This new rate is a quarter of my initial promised wage if the project wrapped production.  Now, mind you, I did not request my full wage after quitting.  I took several hundred off the first offer and was willing to go as low as half.  But there’s something about being paid an amount that says more about a person’s perception of value than it does about the amount of work put in.

The director made some interesting statements about hours not being considered on the clock when working in independent film, as if I cried about not being paid by the hour.  Then the director spoke on independent film as if it’s this thing that people get involved in for no pay, all for the righteous sake of putting one person’s vision on the big screen.  Independent film is most definitely not a gold mine.  Independent film is where the artist’s soul is fed, even if the pockets aren’t packed.  It is that indeed.  But independent film, like film on any level, is a business.  There are parameters.  There are numbers.  You choose a number.  You work much harder than what that number says you are owed.  Than you work harder than that.  And people show their respect and value for that if they have integrity.  I didn’t get involved with an independent production for the numbers.  If that were the case, I would never have accepted a producing position that was being paid half the rate of the Director of Photography.  Especially when the project and most involved with the project are non-union.  This was a project that began with 85 pages, 26 characters, 12 days to shoot and all for under a 20K budget.  It needed assistance.  So think 6 months on that, location scouting, casting, meetings, hiring crew, scheduling, script notes, insurance, new budgets, an Indiegogo campaign, canceling shoot dates, hiring new crew, budgeting again, crew meetings, rehearsals, equipment, new negotiations, filtering all personnel concerns, rescheduling again…and all for one minimum wage check, which was worded to me as “based upon the work completed.”  That right there is a matter of value and integrity.

I say all of this to put the matter bluntly; when negotiating contracts, I’ve learned to cover Murphy’s Law.  If it can happen, it will happen and one must be prepared.  Find the real value in each scenario and fight for that on paper.  With the way that I felt after that phone conversation, I now know that contracts are there to make sure that everything is a legal matter rather than a street matter.  LoL.  In a different life, for a different person, this could have easily been a street matter.  There’s no secret how much work is put into an independent film.  It’s no secret that most independent films fail to see fruition because the funding isn’t there.  We as professional artists have to remember that time is time and value is value.  That’s why the contract is so valuable.  An in-depth contract.  I truly wish I’d covered every base on how I spent my time.  Especially for a project that did not involve me on the development level, which means I did not start in the creative room.  My time was requested to help organize things.  So yes, time and numbers matter.

Bravery to Claim the Day

Above is a picture of Bree Newsome, fellow filmmaker and NYU alum, after she had bravely and boldly taken down the Confederate Flag from over the state capitol of South Carolina.  Bree is an activist who found the stride of her purpose after the murder of Trayvon Martin in 2012.  She began organizing marches, documenting them the best way she knew how, and leading a vocal charge on social media.  Today she will be immortalized as the woman of color with enough gall to scale the state capitol pole and commit a crime for the good of our nation’s soul.  She is a pest to bigotry.  She is a hero to the countless U.S. citizens that opposed one of the most common symbols of oppression the United States knows.  I applauded her efforts after awakening to her triumphant news this morning.

Seeing this image mean’t so much to me because I decided to reclaim my day.  I have been working as a producer on a feature film set here in Chicago for the past 6 months.  This was not a film that I collaborated on, rather I was hired to assist with the organization efforts.  We were initially scheduled to begin production at the end of May.  As most independent films experience, financial matters pushed the production dates.  I won’t go into detail about the production on this blog but I slowly realized that I came to Chicago for a specific reason.  That reason was to save funds for a transition to Los Angeles.  While doing so, I was to be creatively prolific in whatever medium was viable, whether that mean’t acting, doing improv training, or directing another short.  Then I got involved with this project for a chance to be a lead producer on a feature film and for the extra money.  It seemed like a great idea.  Unfortunately, I found myself wrapped up in somebody else’s vision.  I had my own thoughts and concerns about the project which were forwarded.  Little heed was paid to my ideas which was unfortunate but I believed the project would go on to fruition.  And it may still do so but without me on board.  I had reached a point where I felt like a driver for hire.  Traversing whatever routes were determined by the higher powers regardless of the best financial decisions and my respect for the form of filmmaking.  I felt there was a slight disdain for the process of those that have studied the art of making films at the collegiate level.  That’s nothing new.  There’s always this tension between film schoolers and those that have learned through natural progression.  It is what it is.

But most of all, I felt that there was little regard for time.  That was the issue that ultimately broke the camel’s back.  Time is so precious and as I approach my 30th year on this Earth, time has become even more valuable.  When I looked at the day and how I spent every hour, very little time was going to my personal development.  Especially since I was attempting to mold guerilla level filmmaking into something that it is not.  I wasn’t learning.  I wasn’t growing.  Unless one considers growing frustrated as a part of personal growth.  The project was not a bad project.  The project simply was not a fit for me.  On this day of reclaiming my life, the largest lesson I have to look upon is that I must be much more cautious about handing over my time.  That’s a great lesson to learn.  Now I will be a much firmer person.  And I will be much more divested in myself.  And much more divested in what I truly believe in.

Amen to that.  And amen to Bree Newsome!

The Anatomy of a Riot: A Pathology of Desecrated Spirits

Baltimore is burning!  Ferguson is burning!  Detroit is burning!  LA is burning!  Chicago is burning!  America will burn.  That was the song of my spirit as I lay paralyzed from the bottle of pent-up rage that bled past the mouth yet again.  My television danced between various media coverage of the current unrest in Baltimore.  My eyes were the only living thing in me as they received images of militarized police, a pained community, bewildered Caucasians, exploitative politicians, mothers with haymakers, inept city officials and an empty stadium.  At times, the smoke was a thick curtain of dark matter.  A young man, Joseph Kent, was abducted live on CNN.  Masses of young people led by emotions ran in and out of broken stores with signs in one hand and rocks in the other.  The bravest of men and women stood ground on a front line walled up shoulder to shoulder with so-called authority figures padded in black riot gear.  Baltimore mayor, Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, and her council team dismissed the rioting few as “thugs.”  President Obama disparaged the current unrest as being an unfortunate riot led by “criminals” and “thugs.”  Senator Rand Paul diagnosed the unrest as being a response from “fatherless children.”  The misguided rioters were acting ill out of anger and desecrating their own community rather than allowing the justice system to work as one would expect it to work.  And of course the ultimate checking of poor behavior on the part of Black and Brown peoples, “What would MLK do?”

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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 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 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

To see the live screening, please follow these instructions…

New Members of

Register here:

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.


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, Christine Boulware, will host a live screening of SLEEP this Thursday (4/09) at 8pm CST/9pm EST.  Interested viewers must visit 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.