Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Reflecting on 2008

Hope that you are feeling good about who you are and the blessings that you have in your life. This is a special time of year where we all reflect on who we are and what we have been doing over the past year. I've been doing a lot of reflecting on my life and where I am going. This past year has been an active one for me. Before I write about this year, I believe it is important to go back a couple of years to put everything in it's proper perspective.

I believe it was in late 2005 and early 2006 where I was determined to finally and completely finish my first feature screenplay. No more fooling around. I had finished my first feature screenplay back in early 2001, but that one was written with 3 close friends of mine. I had read all the books I could on screenwriting. I had written short stories, treatments and kept starting screenplays that I couldn't finish. By this time I had also made at least 15 short films.

The thing that was burning me up, just killing me, was the fact that I couldn't finish my own feature script. As I think about it now, I am not sure how many feature projects I started and just couldn't finish. It makes me agitated and sick when I think back to it. You know what I mean? Just having something in your life that you want to overcome so bad, you work at it and you work at it and you just cannot get over the hump. There's no way around whatever obstacles that are in your way. That feeling that no matter what you do, it's just not meant to be.

Well, that's where I was emotionally at the beginning of 2006. I had this huge void of not being able to finish a feature screenplay, let alone the making of an actual feature film. I vowed to myself that it was time to break through those barriers. Whatever obstacles were within me and whatever obstacles were to come, I would break through. At least that's what I told myself. I felt confident, so confident that I even made a bet with another filmmaking friend of mine who was working on his own feature script. We made a friendly and motivational bet as to who would be the first to write and finish his screenplay. Neither one of us likes to lose, so the bet was nice additional fuel we both needed. I am sure you are probably wondering what we bet? The loser would buy the winner the DVD of his choice.

I had enough motivation without the bet so I just knew I had just won myself a free DVD. The idea I was working on then was a very commercial movie that would probably have a lot of mass appeal. It was an Urban Comedy of sorts. If you got someone like Nick Cannon or Marlon Wayans or someone like that to play the lead role, it would have a great chance to do very well. Not too many people know about this idea. I had come up with the idea back in 2003 and it was way ahead of it's time. I was plugging away on that script everyday.

I forgot to mention that my screenwriting friend had a head start on his feature over me. I didn't care, I felt I would still win. I wasn't quite sure if he would even finish his, I knew I would finish mine, so therefore victory would be mine. Well to speed this up, my friend won the contest. I ended up buying him his DVD. Right now I can't remember what it was.

As for that screenplay I was working on...I didn't finish it. Now let me clarify. I still believe I can finish that screenplay. I made the decision to stop writing that screenplay as I came to pivotal juncture in my filmmaking career. I realized that I was working on a story and film that would cost millions of dollars to make. Meaning the most likely path I would have to take once the screenplay was finished would be to somehow find a way to sell it. That means dealing with agents and producers and all the like. Then beyond that, there would still need to be millions of dollars to see the film to fruition.

Here's the bottom line. I wanted to make my own film. I realized the screenplay I was working on wasn't the best way to make that happen. You see what I really wanted was a screenplay that if every studio in town passed on the script, I could still go out on my own and make the movie. As I came to that realization it put me back to ground zero. I once again abandoned one of my scripts. I once again started a script that I didn't finish. And I once again felt those old demons come haunt me. Those thoughts that I would never achieve anything. The feelings of being a nobody. Of not being able to overcome my own obstacles. Not being able to get over that same hurdle. The frustration would not go away.

You are not going to believe where this story goes next. I am laughing right now as I think about it because it is just plain ridiculous. Obviously I couldn't shake the frustration of being back to ground zero again, but I wasn't going to give up either. That was not an option. Fortunately in previous years two stories/scripts I worked on had the potential to fit into the criteria I was looking for which was mainly a project that I could film myself if worst came to worst or maybe more appropriately if best came to best.

I chose the story of the two that I really wanted to tell. It is a personal story to me. One that I care a lot about. One that is simple, but I believe is entertaining and has the potential to be powerful. This story was really coming along. And then something miraculous happened. I finished the first draft! What an amazing accomplishment that was. To finally overcome my own roadblocks and see something through like that was extraordinary for me. I know you could be thinking, "it's just a screenplay, what's the big deal?" Well for me, this was a giant leap forward in a long journey.

So yes, I finally got over that major hurdle but almost never is a first draft of a screenplay the final draft of a screenplay. There was still plenty more work on my part to really bring the story together. I began to orchestrate table reads with actor friends of mine and test the material. I was on my 8th draft of the script and it still wasn't quite where I wanted it to be. But I was as close to making my first feature film as I had ever been. I kept reworking the material, trimming it, strengthening conflict, improving dialogue, etc. My mind was starting to go into Pre-Production mode. I cannot tell you how hungry I was to make my first feature film. I was starting to taste the experience.

I am sure by now you can guess what happened...I abandoned the project.

If you have read all of this, you are probably saying to yourself, "no! say it ain't so." Or "what the hell is wrong with this guy?" That may be more likely. I hardly believe it myself, but it is true. I abandoned that project. Here's what happened.

It was August/September of 2007. I'll save the details of this part of the story for another time and space. But during this time is when the first ideas for "Night Before the Wedding" flooded my being. And I do stress 'flooded'. I am not even sure I can put into words how the thoughts for this new story just took me over. It wasn't just thoughts in my head, it was like a downpouring into my soul. I mean I was being bombarded with these thoughts and ideas. Of course I was writing them down.

Then it was decision time again. This was part of the reason why I could never finish a screenplay in the past. Because I would be in the middle of finishing one and ideas would come for another. So I would start writing those ideas down and I wouldn't finish my earlier screenplay. And it would happen again and again.

That same thing was once again threatening me getting started on my first feature film. I started to hear the voices of those old demons returning in my head.

And a new debate began. A new battle with myself. It was kind of a 'bird in the hand versus two in the bush' kind of thing. With these new ideas that I had to write down, I was envisioning something that I believed was very fertile. Something I hadn't seen before. Like the screenplay I was already working on, it took place in one location and it was something I could film.

I decided that I had to explore these new ideas that wouldn't leave me alone. I decided to put down my screenplay that was 92% done. I wanted to get as many of these new ideas down on paper as I quickly as I could and see if it was a viable project. The main thing was for me to do it as fast as I could and see how far I could take it.

In three weeks, I finished the first draft of what was to become, "Night Before the Wedding." I had never written anything that fast before. Somewhere in that process, I decided that "Night" would be the first feature film I would make. The rewriting of 'Night' continued into January of 2008. Then I began to put together table reads where I gained valuable feedback from my actors which found it's way into the rewriting process.

So what happened in 2008? Not only did I finish my screenplay for "Night Before the Wedding," I went ahead and made the film. The whole process from start to finish has been one of the most consuming and challenging things I have gone through in my life.

And those challenges and struggles are by no means over. The film is now almost complete. And for right now I am in a weird place. I'm kind of in limbo as I head into the new year. I have strong aspirations for the film as any artist would have for their work. I also know that it is such a tricky ballgame.

Right now, nobody knows who I am. They know nothing about the film. They often say that making the film is the easy part. The true test is when you have to market it and sell it. So it won't be getting any easier for me.

My mind is racing back and forth so fast I see that I am already getting ahead of myself. Even before I go into full marketing mode, I am still trying to assess what the value of my film is and what kind of impact it can have. I have slowly begun to get it into the hands of a couple of industry folks to garner their opinion to see how it measures up. These are people who don't know me and my work.

We have also submitted the film as a 'work in progress' to the South by Southwest Film Festival. It is considered the #2 Independent Film Festival behind Sundance. There is about a 1.5 to 3% of being accepted. Decisions will be announced by February 13th which is my good friend Daniel Sol's birthday (Daniel is Co-Producer and has a small role in the film) so we will see if there is any luck on our side. This will give us some sort of indication how the film stacks up against others in the film world. Hope you can put me and the film in your positive thoughts and prayers.

All right, time for me to start wrapping this up. I did get a little indication about how the film may fare last night. Karen and I had some friends over to celebrate the holiday. A few of them were asking how the film was coming along so I decided on a whim to just let them see a little 'preview' of the first 25 minutes of the latest version of the movie. As a matter of fact, one of the friends came up to me just before I put it on. Said he had to get up early the next day and was going to be leaving. I told him I was going to put 'Night Before the Wedding' on for a little preview if he could stay a little longer. He said 'what the hell' and stayed because of his curiosity.

I wasn't really anticipating showing the film but thought some reactions and feedback could be helpful. After the 25 minutes was up, I turned off the movie and kind of said, 'well there you go. there's a preview of how it is coming along.' My friend who had to get up early the next day yelled out 'what are you doing? turn that back on.' He was hooked and didn't want to stop watching. Same went for the rest of the room. Everyone wanted to keep watching. What was I to do? I put it back on for them. Of course these are all people that know me and some of the actors from the film were there but it was still kind of cool that everyone wanted to continue to watch the film. So I ended up screening the entire thing.

Not only that but it lead to a two/three hour follow up conversation and stories related to the contents of the film. I know it won't always be like that but it was very cool.

I have started a fan page for "Night Before the Wedding here on Facebook. If you would like to stay updated with the latest news, updates, and when and where you may be able to see it, please visit the page and click on 'Become a Fan'


I wasn't expecting to write all of this. Hope you can take something away from this. I wanted this to lead to the fact that I am now going to start an official blog that chronicles my filmmaking journey. I don't know what to call it though. As soon as I come up with a name, I will get it going. If you have any suggestions for a name, please let me know.

I wish you the best on your own journey. I am also wishing you the merriest of Holiday seasons. May you enjoy an enriching and blessed 2009 and beyond.

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