On the commute home last night, I had a moment of feeling life's shortness and sweetness-- something so rare for most of us (surely for me). It made me feel amazed that we aren't always living the lives we want to lead. Maybe it's babbling, but it's genuine babbling from someone who doesn't really like self-help sections.
I was interview by Frankie Frain on Discount Film School-- one of my favorite filmmaking podcasts around. Lots of insights and fun banter here:
Sound Mastering on a budget-- DONE.
Our sound is MASTERED! Thanks to my good friend, John Coursey. He is a bandmate in our project High Hearts, a fellow organizer/activist, and he mastered the sound of Broken On All Sides too. It's awesome to have good people around you, with a wealth of talent from copyediting to music-making to sound mastering. My friends have been critical in the making of this film, and I couldn't have done it without them. John especially has always been really supportive of my artistic work-- especially when I went out on my own and just focused on touring and organizing around Broken On All Sides for a two year stint (2012-2014). My musician friends (my band especially) just wanted to see me succeed, even while I'm sure they were a bit jealous they couldn't be doing the same (stuck in day jobs rather than focusing 24/7 on work they loved/were best at). Well, my two year stint ended, not nearly making enough money for us to live on and plan to start a family. But among our friend circles we have enough resources and talent to really continue making ambitious projects like this one, even as we're "desking by day." And I'm really thankful for that.
John hasn't mastered films prior to Broken On All Sides, but he's done his fair share of high quality home recordings for bands he is in. Without a budget for sound mastering in either film, he's been happy to step in and help out. And we're so glad he did. The sound is really crucial in this (or any) horror film. I'm so psyched at the level we've been able to accomplish on almost no budget. John is going to share his experience and technique doing the no-budget mastering in our Making Of A Dark Souvenir, a doc that has tons of behind-the-scenes footage of the process of making this feature film. Sign up on my mailing list so that you can get free access to the doc and see all the good tips from John and me and others...
I can't wait to see this in a theater with good sound and projection, and be in the audience as everyone jumps!
"Where do I know you from?..."
A divorce mediation client of mine looked at me puzzled when I ran into her one night at a restaurant. "Where do I know you from?..." "Alpha Center." Her expression changed as she remembered: I'm the person helping her end her marriage to her husband. She wasn't embarrassed, which was nice (I would have been). She said she didn't recognize me out of context, we shook hands, and I took her table as she left.
But that got me thinking about how hard it is to see people, especially during the work hours, as full human beings. I'm lucky that my job is full of awesome co-workers who really encourage "water cooler talk" that is deeper on many levels. We exchange hopes, dreams, outside hobbies and activities, and occasional political banter. We talk to a certain extent about the tribulations in our everyday lives. We all get along pretty well. But I think that's pretty unique.
I have had a few clients who have googled me prior to signing on with me as their attorney-mediator for divorce matters, and of course they find the many political and art projects all over the internet. I'm thankful to have a boss that isn't worried about any of that stuff, but is supportive of me doing all kinds of things. That could be a worry for many people. Also thankful to have clients who find these multiple other dimensions of me and are interested, excited, and inquisitive. One of them recently said, "I found all your causes!" Another was interested in my films. I also have had a few clients hint at the fact that they'd like to take me out for a drink (not in a romantic way, but in a celebratory "thank you for helping us get through this" kind of way). It would be interesting to see where our conversation led us: I'm sure they wouldn't want to talk about their divorce the whole time. I know so much about them, so I'd find other things to ask about, their jobs and hobbies. And we'd probably wander into my personal life, hobbies, my family, my other interests. Would they be excited to hear of my filmmaking pursuits? My political activism? Or would they be weirded out, or think "how does he have time for all this??"
I'm not sure how I have time myself, but I'm rarely someone who's idle. Neither is my wife Karen. We also don't waste a whole lot of time (I don't play video games, I don't often get too lost in cat videos on YouTube, and we don't go out that much). If I slow down too much I get depressed. A nice quiet Sunday morning, like this one, time for reflection is different-- that is healthy and helpful for an occasional respite (although see Depression post from last Sunday, a totally different feel). But I need to do lots of things, somehow it keeps me more productive in each sphere of my life. I'm wondering how that will change when we have a child-- I think all the spheres succumb to the focus on the child, at least temporarily. And that's fine. That's life.
I am someone who will always be political, and always be making art, among many other things. My politics and my creative thinking always coexist to a certain extent, but sometimes art just needs to be made for art's sake. As humans we are multidimensional: Over the last many years I've been deeply active in criminal justice reform (as I'll continue to do), I'm preparing to start a family with my wife, I'm in a relatively new "dayjob" doing divorce mediation, and I'm making the scary movie I've always wanted to make. It is a juggle to balance it all, but they shouldn't compete with each other. I can't stop doing art, it helps me function and cope with the horrors of everyday life. Art is like therapy in that I need to use it to process life experiences or I'll lose it. But I never 'drop' my politics. There are politics in the undertones of this film, although not in your face-- I've tried to approach the story from a feminist, socialist perspective with real, 3D women characters, diversity in characters was important to me (hence the Black psychiatrist character), and also there are allegories throughout the film on deep political issues within the American Jewish community-- but more than anything it is a slow-build, horrifying story of a young couple haunted by an ancient evil some of you may know.
"Where do I know you from?" could be answered in a number of ways---
I'm your neighbor.
We're working with the same adoption agency.
You were in the audience at my last screening.
We presented on a panel together on criminal justice reform.
We presented on a panel together on divorce mediation.
My band opened for your band.
You're a fellow, full human being.
We are steady gaining new unique visitors to our website, but have yet to get people signing on to our mailing list [update since writing this: we've had our first sign-up!]. I'm trying to build an audience that is interested in the process, behind-the-scenes, and rooting for the artists behind the work. That way you'll be interested in following us to the next movie we make, and it will be easier to stay in touch with you, ask you for feedback for future projects, get you involved with the making of them, and give you unique access to the process along the way.
So in order to get people signing up, we are implementing a trick we learned on #FilmTrooper podcast from Scott McMahon: give people a free gift (one they'll actually want) in exchange for signing up on your filmmaker email list. So, I have been trying to complete a "Making of A Dark Souvenir," which I thought I'd include on the DVD (and still might), but I thought this would be a nice giveaway for sign-ups since you'll get to know me as the filmmaker better, you'll see how I've made a #NoBudget film, and you'll get to learn more about the movie itself.
We peeked on Thursday with 90 unique visitors per day, which is awesome! It's steadily grown. And I think this blog has really helped. I'm able to post different blogposts to A Dark Souvenir facebook, twitter, and sometimes instagram accounts (I say sometimes because I'm still not sure the best way to share blog content on instagram pic posts, ideas??). Anyway, I'm happy to know people are finding our website and looking at it.
Oh, by the way, I built the website for free throught Weebly.com. I know there are a million easy-to-make template websites out there, but this was what I learned on and I am used to it. I paid something like $60 for 2 years of my domain name adarksouvenir.com and the rest was totally free. I highly recommend it. It's a little clunky but you get used to it, and you can see all the different content I've been able to post. One thing I worry about is that this blog is connected to this site, and perhaps I should have started the blog through a "real" blog site, so that when I move on to the next project the blog remains the same. Still, I'll have the email list for that, so go sign up now for your free gift (the Making Of is almost done), and that way you will move with me to my next project.
Signin off for now and getting ready for Valentine's Day...
It's Women In Horror month (as well as being Black History Month), so I want to highlight the women in our project and their incredible work.
KEISHA HUTCHINS is a good friend and a wonderful songwriter and singer. Her "Train Song" appears in an early scene of A Dark Souvenir to set the stage of the "happy home" that is more like a house of cards. Keisha's music is not horror music; Train Song is a really happy and fun and catchy tune that I absolutely love. It's regularly stuck in my head, and I'm so happy to share it here with the world. Keisha is an elementary teacher of music by day, living and working in New York City.
KAREN MESHKOV is the star of A Dark Souvenir and the co-producer (and my wife). Her work in the movie as an actor is awesome, especially considering I dragged her into the project kicking and screaming (not literally). She is not a horror fan, and she works probably 55-60 hours a week for her family's eyeglass business. So there is little time and energy for other things. Many people can relate to that, I know. But she is a very creative person when she makes herself do it, and it makes her feel good (but it's hard to make oneself do). She did lots of acting in High School (where we first met) and college, but soonafter became disillusioned with the competitiveness of the business. It lost its fun. And life took over, the rat race of adulthood. We are trying to balance the rat race and our personal health and growth, and we are getting better and better but still have a lot to learn. We learned on this project that we can work together well, we can pull off a LOT in little time and with not too much energy drained, and it feels good to accomplish projects.
ZEINA NASR is the driving force behind (and one half of) FEZANT and FOR NOW (both of which appear on the soundtrack of A Dark Souvenir). Zeina's music, songwriting, and singing are incredible. She is a friend and an awesome person. She lives in Oakland, CA. You have to go and listen to these haunting, human songs-- triggering all kinds of emotions and imagery: Fezant's "Assignation" and "Recognize the Signs" and For Now's "Fool" and "Finally" are in A Dark Souvenir.
BROOKE WILLIAMS is a supporting actor in A Dark Souvenir, playing the role of Dr. Sarah Hutchins. She is a really talented performer (she's also an incredible singer, check out her music website). It was a pleasure to work with her, especially since she's been my friend for many years and we'd never collaborated together before. She was often what I call a "one-take wonder," because we may shoot a closeup of her doing a portion of the scene and she only has to do it once because it's perfect. We are going to include some rehearsal and behind-the-scenes of this scene in our "Making of A Dark Souvenir" video.
My All-Time Favorite Horror Movies
At risk of getting it wrong and looking like an idiot for leaving off something fabulous, I am just posting this here and now, and will add to it! Here is my list of favorite horror films...
Texas Chainsaw Massacre
House of the Devil (new film, instant classic)
Friday the 13th Part 2
Weird, eerie, not-totally resolved thinkers
Pontypool (check out our friend Max Gardner's review)
Hour of the Wolf (Bergman)
Ils (“Them” French)
Cache (not exactly horror, but suspense and wonderful)
Found footage jumpers
Paranormal Activity 3
Quarantine (I know, kill me, I like the american re-make better for once, although Rec is almost as good)
Seriously fucked up, watch once then never again
The Seventh Continent
A little corny, and Fun
28 Days Later
30 Days of NIght
I don't like "Torture Porn" so none on my list.
Sitting here on a Sunday morning, and feeling a little hopeless, a little dead. Art is something that keeps me going. Life is hard, and it only seems to get harder. Like kids who start off on the teacup ride, then graduate to the mini roller coaster, and keep going, except that sometimes it feels harder to feel the highs, the lows keep piling on, and the seatbelt doesn't seem to work anymore. Or maybe I feel it all more deeply with the passing of time. Or sorrows are never quite fully buried and they pile on top of each other, so that the weight of one meaningless slight sends shocks through every other loss and tragedy. It's like the ground gets farther away, the dips become lower. Creativity can be a way to keep oneself from falling off the ride.
But depression is crippling and it's blinding. I've heard artists talk about it before-- that depression takes away the very tools needed to fight it. It makes you want to sleep all day, you want to watch TV, or do nothing. And that makes you feel worse for not doing anything productive. And then you can't do anything productive because you feel worse than you did before. Even worse, you blame it on other people. I sometimes have great anger in me, and I have no idea where it comes from. I feel like I'll explode, and I release it in unhealthy ways on my spouse, the one person who is truly walking with me in this dark place.
I'm always able to catch myself before being too mean, too angry, too hopeless-- I know that Karen does the same to me at times, and we have the elasticity to take some of that excess pain as the other shakes it off, like a dog in the rain. But what truly keeps me from falling off the edge is creative expression. Even writing this now makes me feel a little better, and it's nothing brilliant. But it's a release.
I've had the opposite though. Have you ever had a time when you felt bad, so you set out to do a painting or a drawing (thinking it would make you feel better), but your painting ends up sucking and you feel worse? That has happened to me for sure. You're stumbling for an antidote, you grab it and drink it, and just as you think it may be working you see in your hand that you drank the wrong potion. You're worse.
Well, the point is to try something I think. Even painting something shitty puts you in a different place than having not tried. And you're produced something, your body has moved and created something. You've gotten out of your head a little. Maybe that's it. You're sitting, sleeping, watching TV, eating. Nothing in your shitty little head is coming out, it's just all festering in there. But if you get up and stir the pot a bit, open the lid and let some of the pressure off, that usually makes it a bit better.
I used this movie A Dark Souvenir to release some of the pressure from everyday life that is just so goddamned hard. I used it as a way to meditate on it. I also was able to throw in some bigger picture ideas that make me feel a little outside of myself. I've always found that activism, thinking about the world, thinking about wide community has made me feel less sorry for myself. 'Woah is the world' can actually be quite an uplifting experience for depressed souls. I found activism after my mom died from cancer, after 9/11 and the U.S. wars that followed. It was some hint of meaning and hope to tie together the crumbling world.
It becomes hard when you are separated from people though. Being around active, hopeful community is good. But there are many times in this isolating modern life where you can't be. There is fake online community, and you can get some comfort from it but it can also leave you feeling even more wanting and isolated. Art is the piece for feeling outside yourself when friends can't do that for you. I think it is. And it's very important to balance creative work for one's mental health along with connection to friends and family. I feel thankful to have made many creative works-- music (although less so now), paintings (although rarely ever now), movies, and writing.
A filmmaker guest on Frankie Frain's podcast said that it helped his depression to see his creative work all around him. To have in those dark moments movie posters for the films he had completed was a light in the darkness. For an artist, making sure to hang one's work is important (usually not a problem because we also tend to be a bit self-obsessed too).
There is so much to do in life. But it all just becomes meaningless without perspective. Work, grocery store, coffee, food. Work, errands, coffee, clean. Work, grocery store, sleep, tv. And maybe it's also true that a lot of our jobs' output these days is harder to see how it positively impacts our communities. I do think about Marx's theory of alienation and how it impacts our psyches in the modern world. Especially for people in and out of work, or not working at all. I imagine creativity to be so much more useful for people in those positions, and they are perhaps the least encouraged to do something like that. The bottle too often becomes their search for perspective or meaning.
Could there be a way to bring creativity workshops to those who need it most? I also recently had the idea of building a program in senior citizen communities that would be a workshop on filmmaking-- and we would write, produce, and edit a film all with elderly people. Wouldn't that be fucking cool? Well, I think I've rambled enough and need to do some work on this fine Sunday morning. Thanks, I feel a little bit better having blurted this out. Won't re-read and edit, at the risk of it making me feel shitty again.
It was really hard to make a feature film on no budget, with no crew, and little time. But we did. It took lots of creative planning, re-writing, and improvising. I want to try to let people in on the process, and give some detailed breakdowns of how the story was written, re-written, how the production was changed based on circumstances presented to us, how I changed scenes (and wrote new ones) to adapt to what was actually going on in our lives (we moved twice before we had finished shooting important scenes in the houses we moved OUT of!), and how I made post production work using what I had and getting some great visual and sound effects through iPhone recordings and editing/effects in Final Cut Pro 7.
This is the first video in that series, and to start I'm just describing how I changed the original idea of a scene that was impossible under the circumstances into the scene in the movie that is very successful and pulls off the same basic concept without the need for extra actors, props, costumes, effects, and more time. I hope you enjoy.
I've been listening to lots of great filmmaking podcasts over the last several months:
I realized they mostly contain two glaringly opposing messages, and I talk about it in this seflie commute car video! (Also check out this awesome thumbnail pic-- I kinda look like I'm in an awesome music video.)
Filmmaker, artist, lawyer, activist, animal-lover, and soon-to-be adoptive parent. Here, mostly talking about the making of A Dark Souvenir.