Oh Captain, My Captain

I don’t typically write a post like this in my director’s blog. But this blog has morphed into something other than just a chronology of film-making; rather it has become the place where my life gets reflected in relation to this work, or how this work gets reflected in my life. So I think I’ll break with my usual and write this post, because I feel a need to get the words out and this seems the best place to do it.

Yesterday we learned that Robin Williams died, likely taken by suicide. I am stunned, shocked, saddened, numbed, outraged. Sometimes I feel the tears come and yet they don’t really fall. I feel awkward wondering how is it possible that I could be so affected by the passing of someone I never actually knew? He was a comedian; actor; personality; mystery. I’ve no idea what his personal life was truly like, or what his character contained. I only know what I saw…I only know the ways in which I was influenced.

And that’s the part that keeps coming back to me – while it is true I never really knew the person, I do know the ways in which I was influenced by that person.

Can I imagine my life without ever having the presence of Robin Williams in it? Actually no. I first saw him in Mork & Mindy…Ok, quite possibly the role he may have wanted us all to forget but that was where I and so many other people noticed this way-out-of-the-box personality. In truth, he was one of my first crushes. Granted, I was all of 5, so it was one of those innocent little kid kinds of things where you just stand in awe of someone. Curiously enough though, I still to this day find myself more drawn to someone who can make me laugh over anything else. Have you met my husband? Proof enough.

Where would I be without Dead Poet’s Society? Hitting me at those critical teenage years, how else would I have come to embrace the phrase, “carpe diem,” and run amok in the woods with my friends as we reenacted scenes and lines and imagined ourselves to be superheroes. We believed we could overthrow all nasty, tyrannical, oppressive baddies while looking great standing on top of a desk. We were nuts. Most of all we were inspired.

Am I about to say that everything he did was inspirational? No. Mrs Doubtfire didn’t make me want to change my life. But it did make me laugh and cry, all at the same time. The World According to Garp is still one of my favorite films and I secretly enjoyed Moscow on the Hudson. Popeye sucked but Toys was bizarrely enjoyable. Good Morning Vietnam and Good Will Hunting will always remind me that being outside of the box is the best way to live.

Now because of the manner of his death, there has been much written in just the short 24 hours after the announcement about depression, mental health, cries for help, suicide, and on and on with the endless list of how tragic it was that he may have succumbed to an illness. He could’ve prayed, he could’ve reached out, others could have noticed, no one saw it coming. He battled drug addiction and major depression. Who knew the clown was so down.

Ok, really, I did. And so did everyone else who has ever stood on the edge of society. To have a wit and social criticism as sharp as Williams’ means you have come to intimately know the ills and injuries of the world around you. Laughter and pain innately go together, because the only way to make meaning out of insensible suffering is to mock it, laugh at it, diminish it to the absurdity that it is. Williams stood simultaneously within and outside of social convention, and what some will call madness is also his genius. He was intentional schizophrenia at its best.

I’ve read some posts (I read too much) that talk about humor as a mask for mental illness. I’ll grant that as a possibility. However I will also oppose my mental health brethren on this point. I see Williams’ loudness, humor, boldness, and veracity as those things that stand against the position of mental illness in his life. He could laugh in its face as if to say, “See, I am not all addiction and depression. You are just one part of me, and I am many parts more.” What he gave to all of us is what needs to be remembered and held close to be used as the shields and swords that battle the confining labels of mental illness, of diagnosis. We are not DSM-V codes. We are people who can laugh and cry, all at the same time. Being ill doesn’t mean I can’t also be well.

I don’t know why he suicided. I don’t think anyone will ever know why, in spite of the rampant speculation that will take place now and for a very long time. Will I get angry at the thought that suicide could’ve taken another of our wonderful, crazy spirits that burned way too hot and bright while it was here? Will I fear that suicide and depression will try convince more of us to forget our fight and take us away? Yes. But I also remember when Williams said comedy was the ability to test where the limit is, and sometimes you have to cross it to know it’s there. You’re one of the bravest people I’ve ever seen, and I’ll always remember that. I don’t know if you’ll ever know how many people were affected by you, but we all know the void that is now left in your place. No one can fill it. And I will miss you.

 

Crying, By Sam Taylor Wood

 

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Flying ACES

my co-director following directions, as usual
my co-director following directions, as usual

Hello and goodbye Denver, location of our first test screening.  We’ve managed to scrape together the first 16 minutes of film, viewable here:

https://vimeo.com/76463274

Well sort of…you need a password which I will  hold on to with tooth and claw at this point. Largely because it’s not a finished cut, so it isn’t fair to be truly “public” with it. But given the spirit of archiving, I thought I’d at least make mention of it.

We had about 20 people at the showing, a range of students and professors with interests in social justice-y related topics. In the aisles included a former professor of mine which is always a curious place to find myself, speaking as a professor to once-former professors. At any rate…the showing was a definite success. I was of course my usual bundle of nerves…we’d given a different presentation earlier in the day which produced almost no nervous energy from me at all.  Much more consistent with my “day job”, which means it’s the kind of getting up in public and speaking about stuff that I’m used to. But showing the film is a very different experience, it is as I said to the audience, “like showing you my baby and waiting for you to say my baby is ugly.”

So I sat and watched the clip and at times permitted myself to look at the audience…and saw that their attention was caught, no one was looking away, no one appeared about to fall asleep. When the clip finished, it was silent, and of course I feared this meant they were about to say, “is that it?” But rather they said,

WE WANT MORE.”

Uh, ok…that was cool.  Feedback included loving the pace of the clips, the intersection of photos with story, how the stories really took center stage…People commented on the authenticity of our interviewees and liked that we included multiple sections of identity. One person made it a point to tell us it was his favorite program of the entire conference.

Two of our interviewees were with us – Bryan and Lance, who didn’t really get to say much but also apparently didn’t need to say much. Some stated how important it was to hear stories like Bryan and Richard’s,

Captain courageous.
Captain courageous.

because they were making real what others have thought, and they didn’t find them to be the “bad guys” but rather very honest and courageous. I think Lance was told about a dozen times about his genuineness coming through, and even Lance saw that it can be good for others to see his feelings on his face.

We're gonna make you a star!
We’re gonna make you a star!

It was a serious roller-coaster of emotion for me, on the one hand feeling hugely exposed and vulnerable to criticism and yet also having to be on stage, putting on the act of the presenter. It was exciting, scary, thrilling, raw…simultaneously wanting to hide under a blanket yet shout with joy all at the same time.

So at the end of all things, after everyone left, I put my head down and wept, because really it was just the thing to do. So much finally washed off of me that I could have that moment. But the fullness of that is a post for another time.

And Assemble

Sort of…we’ve got draft scripts ready for the feature and film being digitized, so I think this means we’re ready to go.  Met with our illustrious editor, Salwa, who is helping us figure out the next steps. Still need to get music, still need to get stills, still need to shoot a few cover shots…but basically ready to begin editing. Wow. All should be on track to meet our October deadline of a short clip for presentation.

Already having to plan ahead for things like distribution and marketing. This has lead to website creation, editing of pilot videos, another desperate grab for cash…We were rejected by Austin Film Society’s documentary grant, leaving us (still) poor and having to find ways to make the film on the cheap.  Anyone want to work for free? Come help us on the film!

I haven’t been updating this blog much recently…largely because the work of the film is taking all my creative energies I think.  Oh yeah, I still have that “day” job, the one where I stand in front of people and teach.  Plus I have my other job where I help two little people grow up into big people.  So the plate is very full. As some have noted, making a film is like a full time job…I’m ready to drop the “like a” part and say, “yes, it is a full time job.” Perhaps some day I’ll get paid for that full time job.  For now I’m trying to not have a stress-related nervous breakdown.

Ah well, in the meantime, a little clip from my new fun show to watch (well new to me, thanks to Netlfix) Black Books. This clip highlights excellently the absurdity of writing:

Happy birthday

Hey, I just realized it’s almost been a year since I started this blog. Wow! That means a year of film business. What have we accomplished:

  • interviewed 15 people
  • made a pilot film
  • interviewed 8 people
  • submitted 3 grants to date
  • been rejected by 1 grant
  • had 3 public showings of pilot
  • had 1 private showing of pilot
  • had 1 production assistant graduate (boo)
  • hired 1 new production assistant (yea!)
  • accepted to show feature in October
  • made an official website for the film
  • had David Epston say he likes the film AND…
  • still broke.

Donations? Tips? I’m about to set up a lemonade stand. Either that or I have to learn how to score my own film. Will dance for food.

And it’s time to go again

Two showings and the beginning of clipping scenes later…We find ourselves diving back into creating the assembly.  I’ve only looked at my first transcript today, and finding out yet again that I am so desperately in need of a break.  Wait, I just had one.  Ok, I’m desperately in need of being lazy.  So completing one transcript today was, actually, pretty good.

My laziness at the moment is more a need to just stay far away from it all.  Went to England (again) and literally being far away was great medicine.  Well, I suppose that’s a very positive reframe for drinking in pubs.  But it was good, even in spite of the few nasty bits that had to be dealt with.  So I came back, regretfully, because coming back is a reminder of what is still here, and I guess it’s true you can’t really run from your problems.  I would like to perhaps shove my problems into a deep bin and tell them all to stuff it, though.

England was our first real showing of the pilot, in that we used the pilot for the purpose it was intended: to stimulate conversation.  We had an audience of about 35, and most were not in the film.  Even though we had students there who knew people in the film, for many it was the first time seeing it and it is still one step removed from actually being in the film.  We did get discussion.  It was a good start.  And I was proud to see what our students could contribute, because darn it they have all grown and learned and can really fly.

We also had our own cast party upon return.  Unfortunately only about half could make it, but it was still nice to commemorate the work and visit with people I hadn’t seen in a while.  It is interesting to hear how the film has influenced their lives, again in ways we could not have anticipated.  So in that sense the film is a definite victory, because if it somehow shaped them to know themselves better, or gave them courage to be who they are, then it has all been worthwhile.  Some saw fit to offer me some praise, which I didn’t expect or know what to do with, but I admit that was kinda cool.  It can help to have people notice that you are actually doing something.

Our group. Our funny little social justice group that has become a group as a result of being in this experience together.  Now that I never saw coming.  That is probably why it has been hard to decide if I should stay or go now [cue music] because I feel those connections and in many cases obligations.  But at the same time, some of that is coming to an end.  I’ve come to terms with the idea that my leaving will probably be a disappointment to some.

I still don’t know where I’m going, and now I find myself re-asking the question of whether or not academic life is really meant for me.  But I suppose this is where the ups and recent downs come into play: I’ve been reminded that teaching for me was always about the students.  I love being there when someone “gets it” or grows or takes on a new challenge.  I like seeing what people can do when you tell them they can instead of they can’t.  To see someone embrace and enact their potential is thrilling.  What I’m left with though is if I can tolerate the bullshit that is academics to see the part that matters.  So much of academics just doesn’t seem to be about that, and in many cases is the antithesis of it.  So we’ll see.  Do I stay in academics because clearly some need the kind of message I teach? Or do I just go do it in another way?  Who knows.

But the end will come.  And I think I’m also ok saying that.

Parrhesia.  I do it a lot.

Revvin’ it up

On hiatus?  Maybe.  Sort of.  That other part of my life called “work” has had me busy since we wrapped the interview filming.  Now we’re getting back into it – Salwa is shooting cover material, and we’re about to sift through the transcripts to make the script.

Some significant happenings: Shannon has graduated (hooray! and Boo!) which means she has moved on from the team…although I think she is willing to come back, especially if we can scrounge up some money to pay her.  This means I’ve also brought on a new assistant ala graduate instructional assitant, Bryan.  Yup, someone else who is in the film, who has been on camera and now has to figure out what it means to be behind the camera.

Bringing him up to speed led to an interesting insight – we have done a lot in a short amount of time!  Shannon, Emily, John, and I have been in on this film since the beginning.  We are at a point where little needs to be explained, we just do it.  So bringing in a new person meant explaining a lot of what I hadn’t needed to explain….and that meant really looking at what’s been done.  Bizarre.  To look at everything that has really gone into this production offers some interesting perspective on the whole experience.  And we’re still not done yet!

So now gotta go through the transcripts.  The image of the final film is actually taking shape in my head which is an odd sensation.  We’re submitting more grants.  The work goes on…

Although I must say it is some of the most enjoyable work I’ve done to date.  Making the film hasn’t really ever felt like work.  Granted I’ve gone through innumerable amounts of personal bullshit as I’ve put the microscope on social justice (and therefore in-justice) in my life…but still the film itself does not feel like work.  I can see why people get hooked on this sort of thing.  It is fun and educational and challenging and in the end you might even get paid for it.

Still contemplating large life changes? Yes. But I’ll be patient enough to wait until the film is done. In the meantime, found this excellent commencement speech by Neil Gaiman.  “Make good art” is the bottom line.  Inspirational words at a time when I am needing some reminders that not  knowing what I’m doing is actually a good thing:

 

Visibility

2736682-screen_shot_2012_12_04_at_4.06.21_pm_middleI realize I didn’t blog after day 2 of interviewing.  I think I needed a break, really.  Plus day 2 required some pausing, for lots of reasons, power outages included.

Oddly we found that even though we’ve done an entire round of interviewing, we are still having to learn as we go.  Day 2 showed us that we can’t over-direct these interviews.  In other words, we both had times today where we tried to make something happen, and it just didn’t work.  Thankfully my interviewee was fairly easy, in that she didn’t need much from me.  However interviewee #2 needed more to set the stage, and that became a different matter.  So in the end, that interview probably didn’t go as well as we all would’ve wanted it to.

The plus side of this is that now we find ourselves at day 3, and we’ve figured out a few things.  I found that when I’m in the interviewer chair, I need to abandon the idea of being the director.  I can still “see” the scenes, but trying to direct and interview at the same time was something I just couldn’t switch between.  So this time I gave that up and just turned to J whenever I wasn’t certain if I needed to do more or less.  So I could put my full attention on the interviewing part, which helped me conduct a much more relaxed interview.  Plus I could focus on creating the conditions for the interviewees that would help them be most honest to themselves.

But in art there is life…

My last few weeks have been roller coaster whirlwind upside-down topsy-turvy timey-wimey discombobulation.  It’s been one of those moments in time when I can see the convergence of many different paths, and the decisions that get made will determine major course changes regarding my future.  And of course, social justice just has to be a part of it all…again.

What’s the short end of it?  I’m so tired…I’m so tired of being in a place, an environment, a region, a climate that continually tells me I don’t belong.  When I speak out, I’m told to shut up.  When I stand up, I’m told to sit down.  When I succeed, I’m told it’s only because others allowed it to be so, and when I fail, I’m told it’s all my fault.  I’m the wrong gender, the wrong color, the wrong political party, the wrong background, the wrong religion…it just feels like this all the time.  No, not everyone is a jerk to me.  This is what it feels like when the dominant discourse is against you.  And I’ve been living this for about 7 years now.

So I went on a job interview.  And what did I learn?  That there’s a whole other place where people actually wanted me – read ME, with all my attitudes and positions and skills…the things that are seen as deficits here were seen as assets somewhere else.  Sure there were some reservations…(you just have no idea if a place is the “perfect” fit in a 48 hour time frame) but they seemed to be interested in me and also seemed to think I was capable of doing the job.  Oh yeah, this was a place that has higher expectations than where I currently live – yet there was no concern about my ability to make or exceed those expectations.  In my current situation, I mostly get from others that they don’t think I’m capable of, well, emptying my own trashcan it seems.

But alas, it was not to be…I had to say no for a variety of important reasons.  I was gutted.  They were sad and I was sad.  And then they had to go say it: “You’d make a great contribution to any department.”  I nearly cried on the phone.  Then I hung up and cried a lot anyway.  To think that somewhere I am the right gender, the right color, the right creed…I just don’t fucking know what to do with myself.

And then I had to come back to the reality of where I live, and now I feel more suffocated than I did before.  It’s like that damn scene in Dark Knight Rises where he tries to get out of the stupid pit.  I could see the sun…I almost made it to the top.  Fucking rope grabbed my leg and I fell down.

Why does it really hurt though to fall?  Because, as I finally have put words to it, I went from being visible, if only for a moment, to again becoming completely unnoticed.  And it’s not that I want recognition or fame, I don’t want to be “idolized.”  I just simply want someone to notice me as a human being.  To even notice that right now, I feel like total shit.  For someone to say, with some degree of interest, “are you ok?”  would show me that maybe out there someone does actually care what happens to me.  That my life and my abilities can actually get “seen.”

It sounds a little strange because I have students who comment on seeing my work, and what I try to do for them.  And that does matter.  But they never get to see what happens in the background.  They don’t know, and really they can’t. So there is a whole part of me, and my existence, that really doesn’t get noticed.

And I’m so tired.  This past week I fell down and I did not want to get back up.

And that’s what I had to deal with when I went in to interview today.  I knew I would hear people talking about oppression, about dealing with this very thing…and I was afraid of it.  I was angry about it.  I was ready to bawl my eyes out over it.

So after a long venting session, I told myself that I’ve gotta do what I tell my students to do…don’t walk into the room and pretend all that shit isn’t on me.  Don’t force it out of the space.  Don’t pretend I’m ok.  Instead, walk in there fully aware that I’m raw, that I feel these things, that I’m bothered, and simply allow myself to be completely in that space.  And then I put all my energy towards being completely present with the person talking to me.  Don’t fight it, don’t squirm, just let the wave come over me.

The trick to standing in an ocean, by the way, is to stand perpendicular to the wave, brace, and then release.  Inhale, exhale. When the wave hits you, it picks you up, then carries you back to where you started.

That was me today.  I heard both interviewees talk about things that hit so close to this.  Lance talking about being invisible, being tired, of not wanting to take it any more.  Bryan talking about seeing the hurt he’s caused others, not wanting to let them down, and hoping they know how much they’ve made a difference in his life.  I don’t know if they noticed me tearing up or not.  I didn’t care though, I let the wave come to me.

I think the interviews went well.  I still wanted to cry afterwards.  I’m also thinking of redo-ing my own interview, because it was crap and I think I need to answer the same questions we’re asking everyone else.  Maybe it is time for me to add my voice in the film.

Why do we fall…

(shut up bruce wayne)

IT IS OFFICIAL

Drum roll please………

Here is our pilot film, completed, ready for viewing, with music and all:

Much celebrating and hand clapping all around.  Wow!  In some ways I can’t believe it’s done.  I know it’s the film-before-the-film, but still, there was a lot of work that went into this and we’re all very proud.

It was an exceptional learning experience.  And I am so hugely attached to everyone in this film now…it is amazing how this project became so much more than just the finished copy.  Really, this film itself became the stand for so many.  I’m seeing that be translated into people’s motivations for continuing in the feature…so in some ways, just the fact of the film being made is what matters.

Our only downside is that Julie’s video for some unknown matter was subject to the gremlins in the machine.  We couldn’t use any of it in the pilot.  Boo to technology.  So we’ve put in a slide featuring her words to at least try to keep her in this.

Onwards and upwards!

Time to get crackin’…

Happy new year!

I have managed to put together a slideshow, thanks to iPhoto, of photos from the film interviews.  I’ve realized I need to do more to help describe the feel and visualization of the film.  I don’t have the right language for all this film business, but I can try to draw a picture…So here it is.  As J mentioned, it actually seems more like a tribute video, but hey that works too.

(Note – had to remove this because youtube didn’t like me using copyrighted music.  Besides, it’s out of date anyway.)

Oh yeah, he wanted a shot of me at the end, but since I made the slideshow, I get to make those decisions 😉  Also fyi, music by Ennio Morricone, from what else but Legend of 1900, A Mozart Re-incarnated.  Chose this music because it always makes me contemplative.

I will next try my hand at a short iMovie.  That may be a bit more of a process, since iMovie apparently hates me.

1/10 – Update:

Apparently everyone else thinks I should be in the slideshow.  So I’ve been over-ruled (-turned?) and have conceded to a pic of myself at the end.  Awwww, made John cry 😀  He thinks it’s weird for me to smile at that, but I was hoping this would affect people, and there it is.

Nearing the year’s end

I looked back over this blog and realized it has been over a month since I last posted something.  This seems to have been for two reasons: 1) we finished the interviews and I took a much-needed break from it, and 2) I’ve been crazy busy.

I currently have the flu, or some version of it, or a sinus infection, or strep, or some combination of all those things, because it’s the end of the semester and all the viruses that have been trying to invade my body finally can because I’m physically exhausted and mentally collapsed about a week ago.  Such is the professor’s life. The last month has been ridiculously hectic.  Oddly enough this feels like a semester where the courses and such, for all their difficulties, went very well.  It’s just the rest of life that has been taking up all my available space.  On the plus side, we went to Berkeley for David Epston’s workshop.  JB and I thought this would be a good way to re-energize us into developing the next round of interview questions, plus get us in a narrative state of mind (cue the Billy Joel music?).  It did all that and then some.  Fabulous experience.  Got all vulnerable and let Epston interview me for a demonstration.  There was a part of me that thought, “fair dues.”  I’ve been interviewing people all semester so might as well pay back some Karma and get in the chair.

Our film team also met recently to figure out who might make the “short list” for spring interviews.  This part of the process is, quite frankly, no fun.  The hard part is we have 15 interviews with 15 different people who all have something lovely to contribute.  Narrowing down the interviews feels like picking people for the dodge-ball team.  So we had to remind ourselves that this isn’t about who is the more valuable person.  It just isn’t physically possible to keep all 15 in a 60 minute film.  Not even a 90 minute film.

BUT – I do still find myself rebelling strongly against the idea of only having 5.  I just don’t think I can tell this story with 5 people.  Why?  Because I think 5 reduces it to exactly what I don’t want, a single story.  I think we just don’t quite know how to do it yet with more than 5.  I can’t get past the notion that when I do put all these stories next to each other, you get one very large narrative that has tremendous power.  That power comes from not being able to predict the stories, not being able to categorize anyone – that all the stereotypes and expectations get challenged very subtly and effectively because you’ve got no two identical stories.  Similarity does not equal same.  Nuance and shades of difference provide the true relief against the stereotype.

With that said, we put ourselves to task to create the “8 people we want to hear more from” list.  Here they are, presented in no particular order:

  1. Becca
  2. Jonnie
  3. Gaby
  4. Mandi
  5. Vicki
  6. Julie
  7. Murray
  8. ?

Ironically, we didn’t fill that 8th spot. Or more accurately, we had probably 5 people we rotated in and out of that spot.  But it was interesting how once we started talking about it, the 7 above clearly stood out.  Our reasons seemed to be simple: stories were easier to connect to; descriptions were easy to visualize; the person “filmed well;” they portrayed feelings which helped you, as audience member, connect more.  Here’s our list of maybe’s (no order again):

  1. Lance
  2. Jessica
  3. Rachel
  4. Greg
  5. Emily
  6. Richard
  7. Bryan

And one out: Shannon, but only because she has opted out.  What’s interesting is most of the reasons for being on the maybe list had to do with the four of us having differing reactions to their interviews.  For example, a couple of us may have been drawn to a story while the others weren’t.  Or we found the story presented in a way that was too “cerebral.”  Or the interview itself was a little more challenging – challenging in that we had to get more creative in terms of getting people to open up or get out of their head and such.  So basically there just wasn’t an overwhelming agreement amongst the 4 of us.  We’re in the process of making specific notes, so we’ll see what happens to this list when we all get back together in january.

I also had this little side thought of making my own short featuring several of the white interviewees.  Largely because one thing that stood out to me was how Whiteness was a relevant presence but not a clearly defined experience.  Without asking them to talk about whiteness, our white interviewees discussed multiple aspects of whiteness, and I think that’s interesting. Perhaps once I can figure out this stupid iMovie thing I can make that myself.