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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.
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.