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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.
I skipped a week….I am so sorry! Life is busy – two weekends ago James and I headed up to Tennessee for the Indie Memphis Film Festival. It was great fun and we had a successful screening for Bubble! Even though we played on Sunday afternoon at 5:30, we had a full house and good feedback. There are screening times at fests that can be worrisome for attendance, but this felt like it could have been a Saturday afternoon block. I think that speaks volumes to the overall festival attendance and enthusiasm for the films they had. Many filmmakers came from all over the country (and even internationally), so we saw several familiar faces. It feels good to show up to a city away from home and have a reunion with some of the people you most admire. Keeps putting fuel on the fire for future film dreams.
Last weekend we hosted the West family Thanksgiving at our home in Atlanta! This was the first major family event I’ve ever done this for, and I’m grateful James was there to help execute it all. We even made a 14 pound turkey! :D Everyone brought a dish, and each immediate family member was present. When we sat down to eat, 15 mouths partook in the feast we all helped create together. I don’t know if I say it enough, but I am so very fortunate to have the family that I do.
This weekend James and I head to Wilmington, NC for our last film festival of the year – Cucalorus (which was just named one of the 25 coolest film fests by MovieMaker Mag)! We are going out of 2013 big… it has been such a kind year to us. Bubble will hopefully restart screenings in January (fingers crossed!) and continue well into the summer/early fall of 2014. As for future projects, my sights are still set on a prequel short in March/April, and I hope to start production on my first feature by the fall. Lots of work to do! I can’t wait for each and every second of it.
I am really enjoying my Atlanta/Birmingham love affairs. Atlanta is treating me so well…I am constantly energized by the city’s pace and culture. There are endless neighborhoods to explore, and countless interesting people to meet. The cool thing about being here right now in my life is that I can walk into a coffee shop and not know a soul. I am a stranger to nearly everyone. Whereas in Birmingham – I rarely meet new face. But that is also what I love about Birmingham, it’s crazily tight-knit community. Both cities offer a little something different for me right now, and I need each in different ways. The most beautiful thing of all is that only a two hour stretch of highway separates me from one or the other. I feel like I am closer to the life I’ve always wanted more than ever before.
Last but not least…. I chopped my hair!! I don’t have any decent pics yet, but I promise to post some soon on Instagram in the next few days.
HAPPY HALLOWEEN!!! I hope your week has been full of scary movies and spooky happenings. We’ve had a sick kitty in our household for the past few days which makes me sad, but she seems to be on the mend. And just in time for Indie Memphis!
This will be my first-ever trip to Memphis, which is pretty unbelievable. Erik Jambor, one of my original indie filmmaker heroes (and co-founder of the Sidewalk Film Festival), runs the fest. When I moved back to Birmingham from Atlanta in 2004-ish, my grandmother cut out a snippet from The Birmingham News that announced the inaugural Sidewalk Salon (the monthly meetings that still happen to this day). I remember being so nervous when I showed up by myself, not knowing a soul and basically pretending like I belonged there. The small space was full with about 40-50 people, eager to hear what Erik had to say. That was a defining moment in my film life. Soon after I officially met Sam Frazier, Kelly Marshall, Mongo, Bear, Andor and Hugh Merrill. When I decided to make my first film Piece of Cake in 2006, Erik was one of my biggest cheerleaders. I needed that support more than he realized. I don’t know where I would be without the opportunities his pioneering spirit enabled for filmmakers like myself.
We’ve done several fun Halloween things this year. This past weekend we hosted a Halloween Twelve Supper at our house. I made brains (steak tartar) inspired by the word dead. It was delicious! However, I don’t think calling it brains was necessary as a scare tactic, as eating tartar is usually terrifying enough since it is basically raw meat & eggs. If you ever make it at home, the key is to get the highest quality meat you can and never let it get warm during preparation. At first I tried to chop it by hand, but our blender ended up doing a much better job. :D Tartar is especially good with homemade salty potato chips. mmmm
Last night we went to a big pizza dinner with some ATL friends, then headed over to a nearby bar for costume karaoke. Even though I wasn’t the first one to turn in a song, I was the first to be called up to perform. Eeeks! I sang Time Warp to a dude in a dress playing the organ. So much fun.
So I have a plan of attack: I am definitely leaning towards doing a “prequel” short film called Pink in the spring leading up to a feature that I want to initiate in late summer/early fall of 2014. I’ve already started work on the short film script, and then will dive immediately into the feature script thereafter. I feel really good about this plan. But as we all know, life nor art ever goes as expected…which can be the best part of all.
I couldn’t let this week slip by without writing a blog post… especially after the epic weekend I spent in Pepin, Wisconsin for the Flyway Film Festival! I flew up with my dear friend & filmmaker Rebecca Pugh, and it was an adventure right from the start. Neither of us really knew what to expect from the fest itself (though its reputation is fantastic) or from the town/state we’d be visiting. When I thought of Wisconsin, CHEESE was always front and center. :) And while it didn’t disappoint in that respect, there is so much more to love about this great place (like PIE). Pepin and Stockholm are right on the edge of Wisconsin and the Mississippi River, with Minnesota on the other side of the water. We must have come at the perfect time as the leaves were electric yellow & orange, and it was just chilly enough to break out your favorite heavy coat. The communities supporting this fest go to great lengths to make visiting filmmakers feel welcome and at home. Rebecca and I stayed with an amazing painter named Barbara McIlrath, who lives in a charming farmhouse bordering fruitful cornfields. She fed us plenty of cheese upon arrival and gave us warm snuggly beds to sleep in. Barbara is the best!! From the opening night party/award show on Thursday, we were surrounded by filmmakers of all types and kinds. Especially of note about this fest is its abundance of female filmmakers and industry-types. I was so inspired by the caliber of great minds around us. Flyway also takes great interest in films that use crowdfunding to make their project happen. Sometimes I have a troubled mindset when it comes to asking my friends, family and community to support my ideas and dreams, but I left there feeling much different about the process. When I returned back home, I easily had 20-25 new friends to add to my network. This is the most valuable thing that could ever happen to a filmmaker at a fest! Thank you Flyway for being so freakin’ awesome. And last but not least – Bubble and Behind Me’s short block on Friday night sold out! I would say standing room only, but there wasn’t even that. What a great feeling. Three female directors too out of the eight (shout-out to Kim & her film Deal Travis In).
This weekend we will be staying put in Atlanta, as next weekend we will be taking off to Indie Memphis, then Cucalorus just two weeks later! These southern fests also bring a lot to the table, and it will be my first time visiting both Memphis and Wilmington.
I have been thinking a lot about my next steps in indie film. I feel strongly that my next story to tackle will be Mad, a true story about Nellie Bly taking on the bigger-than-life assignment of going undercover in the Blackwell Island Insane Asylum to document on reports of abuse and neglect. She was only 20 years old at the time in the mid 19th century. I am considering though doing a short film leading up to this life-changing assignment to help me pitch it as a feature for grants and funding. I have a unique spin in mind while telling her story. Randomly enough, Nellie’s nickname as a child was Pink. So I am considering incorporating elements of my short story, also titled Pink, that I wrote earlier this year into this storyline. It will add some fantastical elements with a hint of surrealism. So the question is: do I do another short, or dive straight into the feature? Either way, I think writing the short can only help me flesh out the story for the longer version. I also want to approach some potential investors to feel out their interest on both avenues. Eeks! I promise to keep you posted, as I am moving forward with great focus.
This morning I write to you from the fine services of Megabus…. hahaha. :) I am currently on my way to Birmingham from Atlanta to do some work and see family & friends before heading out to Wisconsin for the Flyway Film Festival! Rebecca and I will travel together as both of our short films are playing in the opening night shorts block on Friday. It will be good to spend some time with her, as we’ve been a busy couple of bees for the last few months. I finally got to see her movie a few weeks back, and it is fantastic.
I finished up my script treatments for Bird and Mad this past week, which I am very proud to report. Now that I’ve completed them, I’ve realized it is pretty much a no-brainer that you would need treatments to present/pitch a film concept to any third-party. Not only that, but it really helped me flesh out my concept for Mad before diving into the screenplay itself…which I plan to do next week. I am excited to start getting feedback on them.
Here are my loglines for both just to give you a quick sample:
Ollie Bird, an aspiring Broadway actress, is a performer in Brooklyn’s brothel district in the early 20th century when she crosses paths with a beloved friend who alters her life to Storyville, New Orleans, where her dreams become farther and farther out of reach.
Eager to cover female social justice issues, 20-year-old Nellie Bly quits her mundane reporting job and takes on the high-risk assignment of going undercover in one of New York City’s most notorious insane asylums in the mid-19th century to document the mistreatment of its patients. Based on a true story.
Since Bird is already written, I am all ears on how to get it out into the world and read by the right people. While at the Flyway Film Festival, I will be taking part in a workshop where local actors will act out five pages of the script that I choose. In the very near future I want to do a full table reading either in Birmingham or Atlanta as well to listen to the spoken dialog and get feedback.
Our new pup Cilantro is fitting in perfectly with our little family. The kitties are warming up to her (Azza is a big fan) and our routines are adjusting accordingly. It is no small feat incorporating a dog into your life – there are so many things you have to be prepared for. They need plenty of love, attention and exercise. After seeing all of those sweet faces at the Atlanta Humane Society that needed homes it’s hard to believe that anyone buys pets anymore. I am a big supporter of the Don’t Shop, Adopt! campaign. If you are looking for a new pet for your family, you should consider rescuing! They will be forever grateful, and you will be forever happy.
Last night I woke up around 2:30 a.m. to let our new dog, Cilantro, out to pee. I kept thinking to myself, man, it really stinks in here…maybe this dog has some other business to tend to outside. I let her out, and she just stares at me. No pee. No poop. After a few minutes of looking at each other in the dead of night, I decide that she’s had her chance. We head back up to the bedroom, and the smell is still there. I tell James that our new dog is the stinkiest I’ve ever met, then proceed to fan the door of our room to get some of the odor out. Then I step backwards into the biggest pile of poop known to man. I swear I almost vomited on the spot. My foot was covered, and I was pissed. :) Lesson learned: patience and kindness at 2:30 in the morning is a great virtue. Her accident was probably caused by eating people food, another lesson learned.
So we have a new dog!!! :D Cilantro originally hails from Chattanooga, TN, and was transferred to the Atlanta Humane Society in April of 2012. There she was adopted to someone who kept her for a year and a half, then the next thing that is documented is her being picked up by Dekalb Animal Control about two weeks ago. We saw about 30 dogs before we walked by her little doggie cubicle, and her face struck us immediately. She is kind, sweet and fun. Her documented name is “Matilda” but James had other plans. From the moment I met James he has always wanted a dog. We’ve waited a great deal of time to make sure it was the right moment in our lives for her to come into it. While we do have busy schedules, this month was the best opportunity to welcome her to our home. No more pets for our family though… we’ve reached maximum capacity!
Speaking of life happenings, last Friday I did one of the coolest things I’ve ever done – ride in a yellow biplane around Atlanta! I should have been scared to death but instead I was relaxed and eager. James purchased a ScoutMob deal for the rides a few months back but weather stood in our way in the past from taking advantage of our tickets. Monday was the perfect day – sunny, very few clouds and temps in the 70′s. Feeling the open air on my face as we flew higher and higher, above the tallest buildings and highest flying birds, was a magical moment. I can’t wait to do it again one day! This particular yellow plane we’ve watched dozens of times while lying in Piedmont Park, so it was extra cool to be in the reverse position of looking down on others gazing at the sky.
This week I am determined to get some significant writing done. Last night I made a good outline of my second feature screenplay, and it is now ready for me to start fleshing out. I’ve given myself a deadline of this Friday to wrap up Bird (my first feature script), at least for the time being. I thought I had a firm deadline with the Atlanta Film Festival Screenplay Competition a few weeks ago, but turns out I have a little more time. But the sooner I can get it to them, the better. I also have several others that I want to send it out to this month. Even if I don’t receive any recognition for the work I’ve put into it, it will be a great stepping stone for this next story I am working on. I have a good feeling though about Bird, this story definitely belongs to someone to make into something beautiful. My goal by next week is to have a treatment completed for my newest story so I can start presenting and pitching it.
More good news for Bubble – we’ve been accepted into the Indie Memphis Film Festival!!!! So many exciting fests coming up and opportunities to engage with other filmmakers. This is one of the biggest things I live for.
October is here, one of my favorite months of the year! It marks the first full month of fall and Halloween is just around the corner. October is turning out to be a very busy time – in the most positive of ways. James and I have started an eating program and we are about 10 days strong into it! He got us both Fitbit bracelets which syncs up with MyFitnessPal and MapMyRun. I have my settings to lose 1.5 pounds a week, and so far it’s been much less difficult than 2 pounds (which I always did in the past). I still get hangry, but not as bad. :) Counting calories is definitely the way to go. Fitbit also tracks your sleep at night, so it’s been fun to see not only how long I sleep, but also how often I am awake or restless. If any of you join, find us!
I am trying to be more active in general. I’ve started biking as often as possible (inspired by Vero) and James and I try to walk or jog every day. I find that I am using my car less and less. I hope I can continue this new habit as the weather turns colder. As I moved some of my stuff I found several pieces of athletic winter gear which might be helpful when the time comes.
These days I am much less hyped up about major athletic goals. In the past I would set the bar for myself higher and higher, completing two Half Ironmans and other similar things. I think a lot of that changed when I injured my knee from over-exercise about two and a half years ago. It’s an injury that will never go away, though I know there are things I can do to make it less of an issue. At the moment, it prohibits me from going over 3-5 miles when running… especially on steep downhill terrain. Sometimes I wonder if that was fate stepping in, allowing me to devote that time and energy to other things in my life. I still love to exercise, but not anywhere near the intensity that I used to. Now I do it for health, fun and relaxation. But who knows, maybe the bug will bite me again one day! I have a feeling it will. I love a good challenge. I can’t imagine my life in the future without a good triathlon or race to train for.
I really, really miss the Northwest. I know we were there at the perfect time weather-wise, but dang I loved it so much. I think it was the mountain ranges… so different from the landscape of the deep south. While talking to my friend Jason Dominy the other day, I realized though that it is pretty perfect here. We have fairly temperate weather (minus the hot summers), sunshine year-round and lush green everywhere you look. He’s a huge cheerleader for Atlanta, and rightly so. And while they are hard to compare, I think Birmingham is its own mighty treasure. The deep south boasts strong creative communities on the rise – it’s an exciting place to be right now. I’m proud to be a southerner.
Azza the kitty is almost triple the size of when we first got her! Her and the Baby Kitty (not a baby) are the best of friends these days. I am so happy to have my little family.
Happy fall!!! I am so glad this season is here. We celebrated the first day right with some Terrapin Pumpkinfest, football on the TV and all of the windows open. It is so cool living by an active trainyard and hearing all of the strange sounds it makes. They go on through the day and night – clanging, banging and beeping. You would think it would be a tremendous annoyance, but instead it is soothing. I love trains and industrial type factories, so this is the perfect environment for me. From our top porch you can peer down into the yard and see a wide variety of box cars in bright colors. Also on the wall that separates us from the yard is a long stretch of graffiti art, which is highly organized. Very unusual and unique.
We have great news! Bubble has been officially selected for the 2013 Cucalorus Film Festival, which will take place in Wilmington, NC from November 13 – 17. You can view all of our acceptances so far on the Bubble website. We are hoping to announce a piece of good news this week as well, and even more in the near future. If our fall/winter goes as planned, we will be traveling around as much as possible to screenings. It is a high priority to meet other filmmakers, see other independent films and learn as much as we can before taking on our next projects.
I’ve officially found a title for my feature script… which is still subject to change depending on what the future holds. It is simple & descriptive. You ready to hear it? :) It will be called, “Bird”. I also have a title for the second script I am currently working on, but will hold that one tight until I get farther along. The first competition I will be submitting Bird to in it’s entirety will be the Atlanta Film Festival Screenplay Competition. I plan to turn it in by the regular deadline this weekend. I am excited to see how it does out there in the world all by itself. Here is the official short synopsis:
A young performer from a New York prostitution district in the early 1900′s gets uprooted from her life in Brooklyn and pushed toward Storyville, New Orleans in the height of the ragtime movement. She is faced with the challenge of following her dreams despite the obstacles that she must face in the process.
The other script I am working on is also a period piece, but will be easier to make with the means I have available. It is on a topic that I’ve also researched for years. Yesterday I made the first short outline for it and today I plan to dive even deeper. I feel very connected with it’s heroine. It is a story I feel completely comfortable taking the lead on as a director as well, because the subject matter is clear to me. I have a strong feeling that I will be able to write this one faster than Bird, so I think a goal by the end of the year is a likely possibility. The fact that it’s based on a true story is also very helpful.
When I find myself bored or without things to do, I am so lucky to have a pastime like writing to fill the void. When I write, I feel like I am exercising a muscle that is getting stronger and stronger by the day. In the past, I would have never even thought to say the word writer in reference to myself, but I can now officially claim that title I feel. I do have weaknesses though, especially in the ways of technical skills. But I think I’ve crossed over the line to where that isn’t really an issue anymore. Grammar can be fixed. The storytelling skill is what I value most and is the hardest to come by. How wonderful it is to get lost in your own head, with the only limitation being your imagination.
I seem to be prone to an active life, which I have no complaints about. In the last week I’ve made my new home in Atlanta, been to Cincinnati to hang out with James’ family while attending the Cincy Film Festival and am now back in Birmingham for the better part of the week. This Friday & Saturday we will be in Columbus, GA for my mom’s birthday (HAPPY BIRTHDAY Jamiejean916!) before finally heading back to Atlanta for some rest and kitty time. I do love movement and activity, but I also love quiet and stillness. Despite outside appearances, I actually think I have a good combination of both right now. Plenty of things to look forward to, while enjoying the here and now.
In the coming weeks I will finally be done with my feature script… at least until another phase is entered. I have a new idea of what I’d like to do with it: While still submitting to script competitions & the like, I want to open myself up to the possibility of having it optioned by another party to create. There are several reasons for this… #1, it is going to be super expensive to make. #2, I actually have a story in holding that I think makes more sense as my feature directorial debut while being easier on the wallet. I am equally in love with both stories, so between the two I think one will be the jackpot. I plan to start writing the second script in the next few weeks, and will take the rest of the year to complete it. I hope in the coming months a clear direction presents itself. I would love nothing more than to enter into preproduction on a feature film in 2014.
Speaking of film, we have some more exciting news for Bubble later this week! It was so much fun to go to Cincinnati for their festival and to hang out with James’ family. We spent most of our time in their backyard by a bonfire in the cool fall air. I got to try several local staples like Skyline chili, Grippo’s potato chips and UDF’s strawberry malt. They took me to the school where James played baseball and I got to see his Papaw’s house. It was a great trip.
Kitten Azza and Baby Kitty (not a baby) are becoming better friends! The hissing is down to a minimum and there are hints of potential playtime in their near future. Azza came down with an upper respiratory infection that she is finally feeling better from. Her sweet belly is fat with food and her fur is fuzzier by the minute. She is going to be a great cat. I think her and Baby Kitty will be good companions, as Baby Kitty is very young at heart. :)
This week I want to focus on eating healthy and getting regular exercise. With all of this moving around I need to establish a routine for my body. I hope in the coming weeks I can find some balance again with these things. All I know is that exercise makes me feel like a million bucks… and who doesn’t need that in their life?