Film Stories: Being Seen, Part II

In so many ways, the making of Indie Kindred has mirrored what the film itself is about. It was born in friendship and conversation, and so many people helped make it better than anything I could have done on my own. 

It's vulnerable to ask for help--we all know that.  But imagine taking your first attempt ever at a movie trailer (which you can feel is not quite right) and showing it to your friend who has just finished showing his film at Sundance.

Imagine playing it for the trainers at the Apple store, who are so not your target audience, and looking out the window and pretending you are somewhere else entirely while it plays, so as not to climb out of your skin. 

Think of sending your first cut to other film friends--to a screenwriter in L.A. and someone who used to work in programming at the Tribeca Film Festival. 

It is so hard. 

And yet, all these people were able to reflect the work back to me in a way I really needed--so I could see where it was and where it needed to go. 

It was fine before. But it is so much better on the other side of a collective wisdom.

We must let ourselves and our work be seen to get there. 

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Film Stories: This is the story.

In college I called it my "friend alarm". It was this internal radar system that would signal when I met someone who was somehow kindred to me. Like Katie, the girl at the video store who always commented on my selection of foreign films.

But with story, the internal signal feels more like a sonar system, pinging back softly when it's encountered something that's meant to be woven into the tale. 

It can happen in unexpected moments, when I am sitting in front of a fireplace with dear ones and there is so much love and a contentment draped over us and I feel it: This is the story. 

Or it happens months before I even have a camera to catch it, across the cafe table from a friend. Out of all our conversation, my mind sticks to one place and lingers there for weeks.  

This is the story. 

It's difficult to explain, and I imagine it's not easy to teach because for me it's an intuitive experience, rather than an intellectual one. 

I collect them all--the images and sounds--like squares of fabric and then I sit back and look for how they fit together, what pattern and design will hold them all. 

And then, like a quilt-maker whose materials are ideas and narratives and possibilities, I stitch them all together. 

 

Film Stories: Being Seen, Part I

We were sitting in a beautiful kitchen while our daughters played upstairs, sipping tea and telling each other true things about or life. She was a professor at the NYU Film School. (Of course she was.)

And then there was that dreaded moment--she asked what I did. 

And I told her. 

And then she did something I never expected: she got excited, and intrigued. Here I was, right in her kitchen: a self-taught artist. 


I took him to lunch, hoping for some advice. It was one of those moments when your dream still feels fragile, like just one un-believing person might kill it. 

We were new friends, and I still couldn't even tell him all I did. I vet people slowly, I said. If I tell them one thing I do and they don't freak out, then next time I might tell them another one. 

But I was clear: to bust out the whole laundry list at once would make me sound like a lunatic. 

Today I was telling him just one: I wanted to make a short documentary film. 

And bless him, he had no idea where I was coming from or what skills I did or did not have. And yet he did not look too dubious when he said, Are you shooting it yourself? 

Yes.

And then he gave me a tutorial on DIY film equipment options (and saved me over $1000). 

 

Film Stories: Anne

I started the way we so often do--by looking for someone with more talent to pass the assignment off to.

Don't get me wrong--there were some moves I suspected I had, like being able to locate the story and weave it together. But doing the shooting and filming myself--well, honestly it didn't even occur to me. I was smitten and in awe of what other artists could do through the lens. 

And I knew one of them would be perfect.

That's when I reached out to Anne, essentially in the hopes that she would make this movie for me, I mean with me. Anne is woven most tightly in our kindred fabric and we were excited about the idea of working together, but our logistics would simply not line up.

I was walking down the sidewalk to my daughter's school when it really sank in.

I had to shoot it myself.

But here we are, a year later.  When I look at what Anne and I have made since then (my first documentary done, and Anne's screenplays written and her short film just submitted to a festival), it only confirms what I was reluctantly seeing at the time.

We needed to do our own work.

And it was time to do it.

Film Stories: Famous Enough

I try to check in and notice when and where ego creeps into my work--I'm always scanning to check for it even loitering around the edges. 

This includes my concern about whether the work is good/bad, or if people will like/dislike it (really: me) and even that competitive voice that wonders if it is better than/worse than what someone else is making. 

These are not concerns that I am interested in working from or standing in. These are thoughts I usually send packing. 

Except for this one day. 

I don't remember anything happening to trigger it--just me, standing in my kitchen and thinking of my friends and colleagues.

We all have this in common: aspirations of fame are not the engine driving our work. There is a sense of calling, a sense of serving the work which we have been given to do, and a sense of surrender and trust around what should happen to the work when it leaves our hands. 

At least on our best days. 

We create exquisite offerings for niche audiences or communities that gather alongside us. 

And usually, I'm fine with that. But on this particular day, these thoughts came: What if we don't ever become famous enough to attract the attention of the right person to recognize and tell this story--this important, beautiful story--of how we are creating together? It needs to be a documentary. 

And I will confess to a moment of despair, with things like Odds and How Things Are Likely To Go looming large. 

I've never really written any kind of DIY credo, but that doesn't mean one hasn't been forming internally through the years. One of its tenants could go something like this: You don't have to wait for someone else to see what you see, to send you and invitation or stamp their approval.

If you see something that needs to be made, make it. 

That was my solution. I would tell the story myself. As ludicrous as that sounded to me, from that moment on I could not shake it. 

Film Stories: Away We Go

I remember seeing Away We Go in the movie theater with my husband. We were catching an early matinee while the kids were in school, and at 10:30am on a Wednesday in Union Square most of the seats were empty. The few people that did join us were older, the color already drained from their hair. 

The movie started, and we laughed. And no one else did. That's such a strange feeling. I leaned over and whispered to my husband, Why aren't they laughing? 

At first I tried that thing where you hold the laughter in, only to have it erupt out of me a few seconds later, by which time it was truly inappropriate. 

After that, I just let myself go, to laugh or to cry or to be however I was in each moment. 

There have been maybe a handful of movies over the years that have not just moved me, but rearranged me, as though some internal tumblers shifted and fell into a new place. This was one of them. 

I felt choked up as we left the theater and I fumbled for words. 

If I could do that--make a movie that leaves people present to the beauty of life and the possibility of love--then I might actually consider writing one. 

It wasn't because I wanted to get into the movie business--in fact, it was despite my desire to stay out of it. That moment, that feeling or experience was what I wanted to give someone--where the gratitude of being alive crashes over you and the miracle of having one another hits you in the chest and you grab the hand next to you and hold it just a little tighter. 

Something moved from background to foreground that day. A dream took one big step closer.