You are currently browsing the tag archive for the ‘The Jen West Quest’ tag.
Things are going splendidly here in Wilmington. I’ve already had several epic adventures and have also gotten a lot of solid work/writing done. One of the coolest things I’ve experienced so far is getting to ride down Cape Fear with the crew at Walkerworld Organic Artist Retreat. My new friend Allen owns it, and literally built most of it by hand. It’s a little hideaway mini village about 20 minutes outside of Wilmington. I felt like I was entering a unique movie set as we drove up (down a dirt path in the middle of nowhere). The purpose of this specific trip was to take a boat ride on his newest invention down Cape Fear – four boats welded together complete with a grand piano, monster grill and bonfire. About 50 people boarded with food and drinks in-hand for several hours worth of solid floating. It was so freakin’ awesome – a once in a lifetime experience. He puts some of his structures up on AirBnb, so if you ever head this way you should check it out.
Vero came up for a visit yesterday to spend the weekend with me! I was so happy to see her face in person. Once she arrived we immediately hopped a bus to Wrightsville Beach, which is about 15 miles away. It was gorgeous outside – sunny and cool. We discovered quickly though that the bus didn’t actually take us all the way down so we had to walk a good 2 miles to where we wanted to go. That was all good until we realized that I also left the bus schedule on the bus, and that where it actually let us off wasn’t a true stop. So, we were literally stuck. Once we decided to head back we hiked the two miles to our original spot and fortunately for us made a new friend who gave us a ride back to town. Today on our way to breakfast he passed us in his car again… a small world!
Today we are going to explore the historic downtown part of Wilmington. I can’t wait to show her all of the vintage clothing stores and locally owned businesses. Tonight there is a big art walk as well, so that will be a lot of fun. My assignment today is to find an outfit to wear the Cucalorus Oscar red carpet party on Sunday. :)
As for a progress report, there is much to share! I have made a daily/weekly breakdown of what I need to write in order to accomplish a full feature screenplay while I am here. This week I made tremendous progress on story elements. I am excited about the direction it is going in. I am also working very hard on the secret project that is taking place in Birmingham in roughly two weeks. For most of the week I faced a pretty big obstacle but finally overcame it yesterday thanks to the kindness and generosity of others. Birmingham is full of talented and giving folks who want to see things happen.
As for our short film in April (titled Little Cabbage), we are still working on a few key things in order for that to happen. We are THRILLED that a someone who James and I both admire has agreed to be in the film as the principal character. She is fantastic… blows my mind that we will get to work with her.
That’s pretty much it right now as far as updates. I miss James a lot and our fur babies. However, I couldn’t be in a more welcoming city to temporarily call home. It is inspiring here and there is still so much to discover. I am very lucky to be in Wilmington for this time.
Sometimes I think a week flies by, then when I start doing my weekly post I realize just how many things can happen in such a short amount of time. Since my last entry an ice/snow storm hit our home in Atlanta, Valentine’s Day happened, my birthday was celebrated, and I moved to my new temporary home in Wilmington, NC for a creative residency. At this moment, I am sitting in a little coffee shop on a corner not far from where I am staying watching the rain drizzle down while the sun shines brightly. The wind has been strong since there is a storm coming our way. It is a beautiful Friday morning!
James and I made our journey up on Saturday, and were promptly greeted with a small party that Cucalorus put on. I met my new roommate Mandi, who is working on a gun control documentary during her stay here. She is from the UK and super fun. James and I spent the weekend together for my birthday, then he headed back to Atlanta on Tuesday morning. That’s when it became very real for me that I would be spending the foreseeable future here on my own. This week has mostly been about finding a writing routine, places that I feel comfortable, and establishing relationships. I feel like I am going to be able to get some important work done while I am here.
As most of you know, my biggest priority while in Wilmington is to finish writing my feature. This is closely followed by two other creative projects that will happen during the time of my residency – one in March (still secret), and my short film in April. I will fly to Birmingham for the first, then Atlanta for the second. I had a wish of perfecting my ability to multi-task projects while I am here… and looks like that is going to come true. James and I are double teaming these things from two cities, and I have a feeling I am going to be working my brain to the max every second that I am here. That makes it extra important to schedule my days, to make sure everything gets its due attention. Lots of irons in the fire, and I would have it no other way!
I know I mostly talk about good things on my blog, but just like anyone else, I have disappointments and obstacles to overcome. With bigger projects comes more responsibility too. That’s why I think it is important to celebrate the good things as they happen. I find that if I stay the course and keep hope, things usually work out (and rarely as originally imagined). A big part of each day for me is facing insecurity head-on. Am I good enough? Am I smart enough? Can I actually do these things? The answer has to be, YES.
And a last thought – how cool is it to get to live and create in these amazing southern cities? Birmingham, Atlanta and Wilmington. One day I hope to add a few others to that list in the region. New Orleans always has a piece of my heart, and so many others yet to be explored. When I was growing up I had dreams of New York City… little did I know that equal opportunity was right outside my front door as an artist. A chance at greatness can be created no matter where you are.
I’ve been looking for this feeling ever since 1997 – the feeling of fear, change and immense excitement. When I was 18 years old, I boarded a plane to Chicago as a fresh high school graduate to attend summer sessions at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago. This may not seem like a big deal to most – lots of kids leave at this age for school. But I knew something was different, I knew my life would never be the same. My time as a child, the oldest of four, living in a small suburb of Birmingham was coming to a close. I was following a dream to be an artist… any kind really…and was taking the actions to make it so. In Chicago I interacted with so many kinds of people from all over the United States, and the world. My horizons broadened ten-fold in a matter of days. People teased me for my southern accent, but in a charming way. I knew I was different too, just like these other creative souls surrounding me. I wasn’t a minority any more. In fact it was there that I learned that I would have to work very, very hard in order to stand out.
I find myself with this same feeling, right this very second. Last week I announced on Facebook that I got accepted in the Cucalorus Film Festival creative residency program, where I will spend 2.5 months developing and writing my first feature film. More on that in a minute! Also at this time, two other potential world-changing projects are happening – one scheduled for mid-March (which we will talk about closer to time), and then our next short film Little Cabbage, to be filmed in late April. Big things are happening for both, due to the amount of work that James and I have already put into them. These things don’t happen on their own. They have to be born in the mind, then acted upon, pursued, then fought for (repeatedly). I am ready to take on these monster challenges.
I have a feeling my time in Wilmington, NC for my creative residency is going to start a new joyous chapter. James takes me up this Friday… only four days away! My 35th birthday is also next Monday, signaling a true beginning. What are my plans with this feature? I will submit to the Sundance Screenwriters Lab again (last year I submitted a feature that I later decided wasn’t the right first project for me). No matter what though we hope to make it in the first part of 2015. I also want to develop other concepts that I have for features down the road, start perfecting the art of working on more than one project at a time.
That’s it for now… please send all good vibes our way as we cross your mind in the coming months. Know that James and I are working our tails off to make some big things happen… and we’d have it no other way.
Can anyone name that quote without Googling it first? It is one of my favorite movie quotes of all time.
Since my last posting, a few big things have happened. Today is my last day with my job in Birmingham, I am leaving on great terms and starting new adventures that I am excited to share soon. All good things… some so exciting that I might jump out of my skin. With any change though there is always a little fear. However, this train is moving in the right direction.
Both cities close to my heart – Birmingham & Atlanta – went through a significant weather event this week. On Tuesday, just as I was about to catch my bus back to Atlanta, my ride to the station called to tell me that the snow falling in Birmingham was quickly turning into ice, and that cars were sliding all over the place. What was supposed to be a dusting for the Birmingham area turned into 1.5-2 inches of snow & ice right in our front yards (as a visual here is someone ice skating the streets and another sledding at almost 30 mph). The horror stories from friends across the city trying to get home that day are too many to count. I was fortunate in that I didn’t have to move at all… I was safe and sound at my parents’ house (who also hosted my friend Sarah’s family who was stuck in her office downtown – my mom & dad rock). In fact, I made the one mile walk to and from Vero’s house that day just for a little quality snow time with my girl. Atlanta also had a disaster on their hands… while they knew to expect snow, the city officials didn’t properly prepare for it and bad decisions were made. It is all too much to rehash here, and you’ve probably seen the stories a thousand times since then. These events will never be forgotten, nor the giving & courageous souls who went out of their way to make someone else’s life a little easier during that time. I finally made it back to Atlanta late last night.
Before all of the snow – James and I did a whirlwind tour of Montgomery (for a fun film fest!) and Birmingham for his birthday. Earlier that week James had a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle party in ATL, which was a huge hit. :) Before he left Birmingham we also did a table read of our next short film. We got fantastic feedback and ideas, which I’ve already started to incorporate. My goal is to wrap up the next draft today and send off to my final round of readers. I’ve already spent a significant amount of time developing this story, and I think it will pay off. It is so important to get this right since it is the lead-in to our first feature. Thank you to everyone who has laid eyes on it already and provided such valuable insights. Our goal is to shoot in April… so we have many things to get in the works ASAP. We are starting to crew up, storyboard and cast in the coming weeks. We are not sure just yet where we will be shooting this movie, so stay tuned. We have ambitious ideas and a good story to work with. Send us plenty of good vibes as we move forward…. any and all are appreciated.
This week I was honored to be included in the Birmingham 100 project, created by the big-hearted Kenwyn Alexander. Right now it mostly lives online, but eventually will be a beautiful book and also video. Kenwyn’s hope is to capture the essence of the folks who have made an impact on Birmingham in significant ways. I was really happy and surprised when he first reached out to say I was among some of those people in his mind. Thank you for including me in this experience Kenwyn.
I’ve written a short script that I’m very proud of!! I believe it is my best work yet and it’s a great lead-in to the feature I’m currently writing. It is exciting to work on a project again with DIALOGUE. Both Crush and Bubble were action-based stories with only foley sounds and a musical score (by the badass known as Ted Speaker). It worked well for those projects, but now I want to work with conversations and tone through voice interactions. A valuable lesson however came from working on films with no dialogue: I got to exercise the rule of “show, don’t tell.” Film is a visual medium. It’s more of what the character does, than says, that tells an interesting story. Otherwise you risk insulting the audience, boring them to tears or even worse – losing them entirely. My first short in 2006 suffered from mediocre dialogue. Now with these two “silent” films under my belt, writing in character’s voices is a little bit easier.
Something else that’s helped me in bettering my script writing abilities are technical books. While I have to force myself sometimes to open up my “how-to” literature on screenwriting, I always learn something new by taking a little time to read about other’s mistakes and advice. My current read is Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat… and I love it. Thanks to James for giving it to me for Christmas.
Speaking of “show, don’t tell,” isn’t that good advice on other fronts as well? I sometimes worry that I talk too much about what I’m going to do (aka, things that haven’t happened yet), but I like to think I have a good track record of doing what I say. Plus, it energizes me to share with others. I also equally love hearing about YOUR hopes, ideas and passions. Ultimately though, it’s what you actually do (and to what degree towards your vision) that really counts.
Our good friend Meg shared these ideas/thoughts below with me from a talk she attended recently. Maybe you can use one or two to propel you forward this week:
In the chaos of transformation, the things we don’t need break away and the things we do stay. Don’t try to hold on to things that inhibit positive change.
Be intentional about what you want. Do not settle.
Be the person you want to be ten years from now, right now.
Refine and define what you want.
How do you know it’s Christmastime? You immediately eat something sweet after brushing your teeth in the morning. You consume Baileys like it’s somehow good for you. It’s totally normal to eat dinner at 1 a.m. and go straight to sleep. Pastimes include watching Christmas Vacation, Home Alone, Love Actually, A Christmas Story and ….sitting. You have approximately 1,000,000 things to do before December 22, then absolutely nothing to do until January 2nd. Life as you know it no longer exists and you’ve officially entered the holiday time warp.
This post will be short today as I’m in Cincinnati with James’ family for the holidays! I was hoping for snow (it’s the “north” after all and isn’t that what happens here in December?) but alas no white stuff. It did drop about 30 degrees this morning, so at least it feels like winter. :) This is the first Christmas I’ve not spent with my parents in as long as I can remember, so I was a little sad about that. But it’s OK, I will see them for the new year and I spent two AMAZING days in Birmingham this week. I did a whirlwind friend tour (but still didn’t get to see everyone that I love) and spent time with family. It was wonderful. Cincinnati is turning out to be a great time, and new traditions are always special.
GUESS WHAT?? I am almost done writing my short film! And, my feature outline is shaping up nicely. I’m going big on these, I have some great casting ideas (some of whom have already expressed interest). Also, this week I was approached by a dear friend about writing and co-directing a separate feature project in 2014 that would already have funding mostly in place. It would be an honor to work with her, so we will see how it all unfolds. It would be a more contemporary story (very different from my own), which makes me excited. I am jumping in folks, 2014 is the year.
Have you ever thought about the fact that our bodies can make other human beings? Well don’t, because it will completely make anything else you ever do seem very trivial. Not only that, but these days you can give birth to a large object and virtually feel no pain. Yesterday I got to witness such an event. My first nephew, Owen, came into the world mid-afternoon and I was lucky enough to be there to see it happen. My only other live birth experience was with my niece Anna almost four years ago. There is a magical moment when you hear that first cry…almost as if a new soul is screaming out in joy. It is the closest thing I can think of to a true spiritual experience. Well, that and the end of a life. That too is a powerful moment like no other. What a gift it is to be here in this body, with so many loved ones.
Do you ever feel like you are having flashbacks from your future self? I do often. I can hear a little voice in the back of my head saying – enjoy this moment. Enjoy who you are. Enjoy the daily struggle, because no matter how hard it seems…one day I will want it back. The music, the trees, the coffee shops, my mid-thirties self… I am literally living a dream. Remembering that makes me want to stand up and dance.
Speaking of dancing – we’ve officially purchased our Bonnaroo tickets for 2014! Even though they haven’t announced it yet, I feel like I am going to love next year’s lineup much better than 2013. So many bands that I adore have released new albums, it is almost a no-fail situation. (Knock on wood.) On that high note, we did get a few bits of sad news last week. Bubble didn’t make it into a few fests that I was really hoping for. BUT, that’s ok. We have many more pending, and our festival experience so far has been pretty epic. It’s competitive out there. I thrive on the challenge.
Speaking of which, I am very close to having my short film first draft completed. Working on this short has also made me start structuring an outline for the feature. I hope to start writing that as well in the next week. If I stay on schedule (no if!), I should have close to 15 pages by December 31st. Very exciting. 2014 is going to be a strong year.
December is always an important month of the year for me – as I spend most of my time thinking about the new year ahead and what I want from it. I also always reflect on the year I am leaving behind. Did I accomplish all that I wanted to? Did I make the best of all my opportunities? Was I happy? I am happy to say that 2013 was a very, very good year for me. Of course there were challenging times and moments where I felt stuck, but by a large percentage it was overall pretty fantastic. I made another short film that I am super proud of, went to many great festivals, made tons of new friends, made Atlanta a new home (in addition to Birmingham), got two new babies (Azza & Cilantro), and now officially get to see my love more days than not. My family is healthy & happy. I couldn’t ask for much more really… yet, I am ready to push myself once again in pursuit of my dreams.
So the question is: What do I want out of 2014? I want to make the films I know I am capable of writing & directing. I am so close to reaching that next level of understanding. After spending a year watching the films of peers who have immaculate talent, I feel I am ready to give my new insights a go. It’s all very complex – making a story come to life with the means you have available. Making a film into true art. Making a statement of meaning. I feel I now have a story that I can work with, that I identify with on a deep level. I am so very grateful that I wrote a feature this year, even if I didn’t choose to make that particular script. It was fantastic practice and I learned so much from my mistakes. And there were many. It was worth the months I spent on it to become a better writer. Now when I see a feature I recognize arcs, character development and style more. I have made some new goals for myself:
1. I will watch at least two films a week, a mix of studio and independent.
2. I will read at least one feature script per week.
3. I will spend eight hours outside of writing to work on planning, future story dev, character dev, and marketing.
4. I will write ten pages a week on whatever project I choose.
With this timeline, I will have my short film complete by the beginning of January and a solid few drafts into my feature by July. I am going to document all of these hours in my Google Calendar to hold myself accountable. I realize though that things sometimes change, and if that happens I will adjust accordingly. Having a plan, even if it gets modified, is the key to success.
I pretty much have my short film concept complete, and partially written. Now I just need to figure out how that fits into my feature film. Is it a prequel, or is it a piece of the narrative? These will be the fun things to figure out. The more challenging aspects will be fundraising, but I am trying to look at that with a new eye. I have a few good ideas up my sleeve. More on that soon.
I have big plans, I hope you do too.
I left you all with a cliffhanger on Friday!! Well, all’s well that ends well. I am sticking with the Nellie Bly story (yay!)…. BUT, I am making an interesting plot twist. Instead of the film being about Nellie, it is going to be focused on one the patients that was there during the time she came through Blackwell’s Island Insane Asylum. I’m not going to say much more than that until I finish up writing, but I feel extremely good about this new direction. In fact, I think it will be better. I am still going to do the prequel short based on this undisclosed main character early next year. I think it’s more important than ever for me to find my voice through a short before taking on the feature – and that’s what I hope to accomplish with this next one. I still plan to start preproduction on my feature before the end of 2014. First things first though – and that’s the writing. Another great reason to take this direction is that I will have a lot more creative freedom with the narrative. This person may have existed, but not much is known about her. She is a blank canvas in a setting of which I am now very familiar. Many thanks to James, Meg and Wendy for the conversations over the weekend about this new approach. Not sure what I would do without such great (and knowledgable) sounding boards.
This past weekend I went to visit my sister Christy in Columbus. I love hanging out with all of them…her little family is so sweet. Her home is nestled in a very beautiful part of the woods with a lake in her backyard. It is peaceful and welcoming. The girls and I watched lots of movies, ate popcorn, and played. Christy’s third child, Owen, is due in just a few weeks!! My first nephew. My heart could explode!
Upon my return to Atlanta on Sunday, I went with some good friends to see the Hunger Games, followed up with a tour of the set of President Snow’s House (the Swan House)! A lot of the Hunger Games were filmed in this city. The Swan House being one location, and the Goat Farm Arts Center (District 12 set) was another. It’s crazy watching a big Hollywood film seeing things that you’ve walked through a million times. The Goat Farms Art Center is one of my favorite places in Atlanta. It is kind of an artist commune, and very hard to describe visually. It is literally a farm-type structure right next to downtown. Very odd and wonderful. The Swan House is giving tours of the many sets they provided for the film – you can buy your tickets here. They have a lot of photos from the production up as part of the tour. It is worth every cent.
For Thanksgiving, James’ mom and dad will be coming down from Cincinnati! We can’t wait to host them and stuff them alive. :D Looks like a little snow might fall tonight and into Wednesday morning – eeeks!! That makes me really excited. Doesn’t sound like it will stick, but will be fun none-the-less. I hope your Thanksgiving is full of love, comfort and dreams. I will be taking advantage of this time to get some writing done!
In the midst of writing my first paragraph of my blog yesterday, I got a tweet back from Brooke Kroeger, author of a biography on Nellie Bly . If you’ve been reading my blog of late, then you know that I had planned my next film projects (a short and a feature) around the life of Nellie Bly for 2014. I got some disappointing news – there is a film casting as we speak in LA also based on her experiences at the insane asylum. This is all very strangely timed… as last week I got another tweet from someone doing internet research on Andrew Sheffield, asking if I was still planning on doing a film on her story. When I first started blogging under a different URL & premise about four or five years ago, she was my main focus for a feature film. Andrew, a woman named after her father, was also put into an insane asylum, falsely accused of being crazy. While Nellie Bly was an undercover reporter with a 10 day timetable, Andrew stayed for a much longer period of time under tragic circumstances. It would be a much darker story. Like Nellie, Andrew also documented her experiences, the biggest difference being that it was through letters pleading for her release (which are now published in a book). So much to think about right now. I am glad that I’ve given myself breathing room before I jump in head first, but I still want a clear direction in the very near future.
We had an AMAZING time at Cucalorus – our very last festival of 2013. I saw some great films – Lawrence Anyways, See You Next Tuesday, The Bounceback, and many fantastic shorts. I missed even more great films that I really regret… especially The Animal Project by Ingrid Veninger. Hopefully I can make this happen soon! I made some dear new friends at this festival, ones that I think I will keep for a lifetime. There is nothing more inspiring, or intimidating, than seeing a really badass independent feature film. They are such monster projects that require supreme creative vision and execution. I left Cucalorus with a tremendous feeling of awe. Thanks to everyone at this fest for having Bubble play with such high-caliber programming. And to our film family – see you in 2014!
This past weekend was also very special in two other ways: It was my parent’s 35th anniversary, and the Lily Bean’s 3rd birthday!!! It’s weekends like this that I wish I had two Jen West representatives. :) My mom sent me the most precious video of everyone singing happy birthday to Lily, and the expression on her little face brought tears to my eyes. So grateful and happy to have all of them.