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We wrapped our shoot for “Call Me” on Monday, a music video for St. Paul and the Broken Bones. It’s gonna be damn good. Not because of me, as I was only a small part. It is going to blow your face off because of the sheer amount of talent that we had on set that day… in front and behind of the camera. Every single person in that space did something spectacular contributing to what I hope will have been very worthy of their time and talents. All I know is that what I saw being captured on my little viewing monitor was pure magic.
Anyone familiar with the band members of StPBB know that they will inevitably explode into musical history. When I first approached their managers about the possibility of doing this video for them, I did so with pure respect of their talent and potential. I hoped that what we’d done in the past would be good enough to give us a shot. It was, and they did. This was in early January. I remember getting the “proceed” email before eating Mexican food with some girlfriends and calling James immediately to tell him what adventure we were about to go on next. He was on board, as he always is.
Next – who would we partner with to film this? James and I had found a recent friend in Tyler Jones of 1504 Pictures, who has created several music videos for The Civil Wars and most recently Duquette Johnston (which just won the MTVu music video contest for “Dancing Song”). Lucky for us, Tyler and his partners said yes with enthusiasm.
What about the concept? As soon as the label told us we’d be pitching for their first single “Call Me”, James and I immediately listened to the song and put our minds to the task. I am proud to say that the concept of “Call Me” wasn’t my own, it was a stroke of genius by James. It is perfect for their narrative video debut to the world and for the message of the song.
What followed this was no less than 1,000,000 decisions and asks to folks around Birmingham. This video is made by the city for these guys as a gift of love. I feel the desire to try and name each person and business this project touched, so I am going to give it a stab. But before I do – for those who don’t live in the area and just want to know when they can see it – we expect to have it completed by early April. There is still work left to do!
First and foremost – Janelle Issis. The story of “Call Me” wouldn’t have come to life without her choreography and performance. I knew this role was significant… so I let my mind dwell on it for some time before lightning struck. I wondered, has Birmingham ever had someone represent it on the show So You Think You Can Dance? And the answer was yes – Janelle. She is a complete badass too. She brought every ounce of talent she had to the table and shared it with us. We were so very fortunate to have her play the lead female role. Also, thanks to Jessica Bostany who helped Janelle in all areas.
Here are a few other major key players: Jim Roberson – lighting, special effects, editing, shooting… you name it, he is damn good at it. As a matter of a fact, it is in his hands as we speak! Mike Mazer – who let us use his gigantic warehouse in Avondale to build a larger than life set. So generous and supportive of the creative community. Jason Richardson of Richardson & Associates Construction – are you serious?? You built a 30 foot wide, 15 foot deep, 15 foot tall set…with a kind spirit and giving attitude. Damn bro. Andrea West Richardson of Nesting Interiors (yes, she is my 1st cousin!) – who designed the perfect setting for this video to play out. You will see, and it will take your breath away. Mark Slagle of 1504 Pictures – camera operator and all-around great dude. It was a pleasure to work with you! Steve from Soho Retro – who let us use some of his best vintage furniture. Scott Pyburn (and David Ytterberg) of Harrison Limited – who made the boys look dapper and dashing! Lily Li – always costume design extraordinaire! Lindsay Garrett of Show Pony Productions (shoutout to Maryjane) – makeup lead and dear friend. Shelby McDonald of Beauty Shock (with a BIG shoutout to Jonathan Fowler!) – lead hair and dear friend. Danny Ray Winter of Crestwood Coffee Company – for providing a delicious breakfast! My mom Jamie West – for making a lunch for 35 people that folks are still talking about!! And for countless other ways you support me. Woody Wiginton of FinerGrind Coffee Roasters – for fueling us ALL DAY LONG with The Dark Side blend! David Crump – for providing us with “The Princess”… a beautiful retro phone that belonged to his wife Sandy! Jeff Nixon – for being the guy that everyone wants to hang out with and for making sure StPBB were happy and comfortable. Jake Slaney – for driving all the way from ATL to do playback for us all day, and also letting us use some amazing lights!!! Michele Forman with the UAB Film Department – for letting us have the opportunity to work with Matthew Henton and for letting us utilize lights! Alison Hulsey – for being THE first person I reached out to about this idea and helping me get to the right people. Savannah Marie Aaron of Everybody’s Buying Vintage – for providing us the beautiful vintage red dress that will be on Janelle! Susan Held of Belk at the Summit – for always being there for clothing needs of any kind. Good People Brewing – for giving us beverages to toast with at the wrap! Angela Karen – for providing some stellar vintage back-up options. Don Lupo – for helping us find tables and chairs so we could do our work better. Paul Mckee – for always being there for us and being a fantastic grip. Daniel Ruiz – for helping in any way you could with a great attitude! And to Mandy of Hothouse Design Studio – for providing beautiful flower arrangements for the set! Other people who helped are Tracy Pharo, Ward Neely, David West (my dad), Dave West (my bro), John & Carmen Rigrish, Brandi Baker, Veronique Vanblaere (Photography!), Lauren Howard, Nick Michael, Chloe Collins, Josh Vasa, Joy Myers and my beautiful Aunt Betty! And big shoutout to the B Metro family.
This past week brought several significant changes in plans – all for the better. We haven’t officially decided, but we are seriously considering moving our short film (Little Cabbage) production dates to the summertime. Actually, if we move it, we have two options: either shoot it alone as planned, or roll it into production for the feature film. If we wait for the feature, it would be much later in the year or early 2015. However, I am inclined not to wait. Summer seems like the logical time and will give us several more months of planning & fundraising. I think making this prequel short is also key in us finding funding for the feature itself. But first we have to find a way to finance the short. Always one of the most complicated pieces of the puzzle to filmmaking. There is always an answer if you look hard enough.
My time here in Wilmington is mostly being taken up by two things: the big secret project planned for March 17 in Birmingham, and writing this feature. That is another reason we may move the short film back a few months, as the efforts we are putting into the March 17th gig are substantial. Little Cabbage is very important and deserves full attention, time and love. I just feel like if we proceed with late April, it won’t get what it deserves. And there is no harm in waiting a few extra months – it will only be the better for it. What we are doing in March can also be submitted to most film festivals, which is pretty cool.
As for my feature, I’ve made great progress this week. It has taken more time than anticipated to develop a detailed outline, which is almost complete. I’ve also found that as I create this longer story, some elements of my short will also have to change. Nothing major, but small details for consistency. As far as writing goes I’ve gotten to page 11. Not bad, but not exactly where I wanted to be at this point. I am kicking it in to high gear and dedicating my full creative energy and time to writing this film.
Wilmington has been so wonderful to me. It is a big adjustment being away from home, both for me and James. James could be the true hero in all of this, taking care of our house alone and all our animals. He is always available for a motivational pep talk when I need one too. Speaking of James – our 2 year anniversary is this coming Monday! I won’t be there to celebrate with him on the exact day, BUT I will be there as of Wednesday the 12th for 6 days. Our time will be split between Atlanta and Birmingham during that time.
Hard to believe where I was two years ago, when I first met him. Vero invited me to a dinner with some filmmakers from Atlanta who were profiling her for a documentary. I said yes, no problem. Who knew that my future love would sit right next to me at that dinner… a then beard-less man with adventure in his eyes. I fell in love fast with his spirit and passion. He is my partner in crime in every way – for work, fun and everything in-between.
ALSO- quick thing, as I have gone way over length today. Vero’s visit was just what I needed! I craved for a piece of home and she filled my heart with happiness. And…as a belated birthday present she bought me a nose piercing.😀 I have always wanted a tiny one on the side, and I got just that. Thank you Vero for making my wish come true. It hurt like HELL, but it was worth it. This weekend my friends from the Flyway Film Festival will be at a beach only 25 minutes away, so I am looking forward to spending some time with them in the sunshine!
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.