My Friday Five Dollar Experience

I really enjoy my Fridays and especially now because I go to IFP Chicago’s Filmmaker Friday event on the lot of Cinespace. That’s the place where all of the big television shows are shot in Chicago and going there always gets me amped up about shooting a film or as the kids would say “it’s lit.”

There’s a feeling I get right before I get on the lot though. I think wow, my people that live right outside this huge entertainment hub are struggling. As I was making my right on 26th St I had to drive around a stalled car. A black man was trying to start the car and an older black man was going to try and push it. I felt I should help but I was going to the event and I wanted to meet the director that was going to be speaking AND I didn’t want to be pushing an ’84 Beretta down Roosevelt when it’s 88 degrees. So with that bearing down on me like white guilt, I decided to stop at a Walgreens to pick up some stuff and there was lady lying on the ground asking for money. I told her I didn’t have any cash on me and went inside the store. As I stood in line for what seemed like an hour because there was only one cashier, I was thinking all this time I could have helped my brothers push that car. So I decided when I made my purchase I would give $5 to that woman outside. And it would make me feel good to help someone out, it’s a win-win.

Outside I see the woman standing by a bike and I give her the money. She thanked me and the fellow she was talking to was a bit older and had a cane. The woman said something to the effect of “see I got this money because I’m a good person” with a few expletives thrown in. So as I’m walking to the car they begin to square up on each other and I’m thinking I’m going to have to jump on this man for fighting a woman. So I watch them and I brace for the moment I have to subdue this older gentleman with a cane. As they argue I realize that the man isn’t a woman beater, although he did say he would “whip her ass” she was about to steal the bike. I gave my money to a bike thief! When the man went inside to warn the people in the store their bike might “get got” the woman yells at him calling him the f-word.  Wow, she’s definitely not constrained to the social constructs that have occurred in the past few decades. Instead of scolding her about her homophobic slur and stealing a child’s bike. I just thanked God I didn’t jump a crippled good Samaritan and get hold off to jail. So I zipped off to the event.

The speaker at the Filmmaker Friday event was Lori Felker, she makes experimental films. She talked about two of her films, one is a doc called FUTURE LANGUAGE: The Dimensions of VON LMO, it’s about a kinda obscure rock artist from the 80s. She showed the opening and he’s pretty out there. He’s a cross between Ozzy Osburn (during the reality show) and Charles Manson sans the murdering part. Before watching her films I thought experimental films were just films that didn’t obey the rules of cinema but it’s much more. It’s knowing the rules and choosing which ones to break. So in the doc, she recorded for eight years. Felker said that other documentarians told her she should close the film with a concert that she could help put on. She said no because she wanted to capture the truth, and I agree with her. The truth is more powerful and obviously more real.

The next film was a called Discontinuity, very funny film about a couple that’s lived together for six years and the girlfriend, Tabitha comes home from a funeral to a house full of cats. What Felker was playing with is, you guessed it, continuity. It plays hilariously because of the cats. It’s not new, because Jean Luc Goddard does this in Breathless but to use jump cuts in a comedy is really funny, in Breathless the jump cuts are more drastic but really love what she did in this film. If you have Fandor you can see it.

Discontinuity Short Film

What I got from this talk is that we need to make work from things we love, Felker loves music and she’s made a doc about one of her favorite artists. As filmmakers, we should do the same thing. Just make something that you would like and don’t worry about the reception because if you don’t make that film about that artist that you love and no one else makes that film then the world loses. The more time goes by those artists will be forgotten and you as a filmmaker are in an important position to document what that artist was like. I think it’s important for all filmmakers but especially for minority filmmakers. We have to make sure our vision is seen by the future generations.

What I Learned

• Make work about things you love.
• Learn more about film genres you haven’t seen and so you can grow your knowledge base.
• Help the first person you see, so guilt doesn’t make you give money to a bike thief.
IFP Chicago

Filmmaker Friday

Lori Felker

 

Exubia

Five years ago I shot a short called Exubia, it was an idea I got when I thought “if there were a pill that would make you happy forever, would you take it?” I was really excited to make this film, I was fortunate enough to get a producer to help me put it together.

Setting the stage.

When I finally was able to shoot this film, a lot was going on in my life personally. I had no real income and I lost my apartment, I shouldn’t say lost it because it’s still there today, they just wouldn’t let me live there because I wasn’t paying them the agreed upon rent.

I got an internship at the Atlanta Film Festival which I loved working. I was walking 45 minutes to the train then an additional one hour train ride. My phone was off so I was using a Google Voice number, if you were lucky enough to call me when I was near WiFi you could talk to me but there was a three-second delay. It was like talking to a reporter during a war but, I wasn’t in Afghanistan, I was in Lawrenceville. Fun times.

So when did I decide to shoot my film? A week before the festival, because I’m an idiot and I love stress.

This film was made with love, I couldn’t pay anyone, everyone did it because they wanted to help me make this film happen. Even though no one was being paid I did have to feed people. A week prior to the shoot I didn’t have enough money to get food and money I was expecting fell through. Two days prior to the shoot I told Antrone, one of the actors in the film, I was going to have to cancel the shoot. I wasn’t going to have people working 8 hours and not have food for them but the film gods were watching over us and I got a check with back pay from the film festival. We were ready to shoot and we did. Did everything work perfectly? No, we had a day where we shot for 24 hours straight! It was crazy! No one was being paid but they stayed and I am so grateful for the cast and crew I had. Exubia isn’t a perfect film but I am proud of what we were able to produce. My producer Lynnette White-Pierce who was able to get an awesome crew of people to dedicate their time to make this film.

So now I’m putting together another crew, I’m excited because I will be making some short films, three to be exact. They will be back stories to the characters in my feature film.

Making films is f#@king fun! Please let me know what you think of the film, good or bad. I would love the feedback.

The Journey Begins – Writer/Director Discipline

This year I’m shooting a short film, I haven’t done one in five years and I’ve been itching to shoot one since we wrapped on the previous one. Back then I had a lot of things going on, and I’m really surprised that I was even able to do it. I’ll talk about that process in another post. What I’d like to share here is discipline.

I went to a party this past weekend and there were a lot of artists there, I was talking to one and he said he wanted to get back to making films but he just didn’t have the inspiration. I think inspiration is like a spark, it can only get you so far.

A spark can’t keep you going through the scriptwriting process, it’s a marathon, not a sprint. That initial spark or idea is great but you can’t ride that to the end, you need discipline and grit. There will be days that FO REAL LIFE is saying “aye, you need to handle this first” WRITE! It doesn’t matter your situation, we all have issues that we have to fight through and yours may be waaaay worse than mine, it doesn’t matter, you’re an artist and you have to get your work out no matter what’s going on around you. So you have to make time to write, just like you make time to go to work. We’re playing a long game, we can’t let these temporary things stop us from producing our work. In filmmaking, the script is the foundation the film is built on. You have to put as much time into this as possible.

This process of getting up and writing is hard and some days I don’t feel like doing it. So this is how I do it on a good day, I wake up at 5:30 a.m. brush my teeth wash my face and think to myself as I look in the mirror, “damn I’m getting old.” Then I listen to NPR’s Up First to get my blood boiling over something Trump did. Then I journal, I write three things I’m grateful for, sounds a little Oprahy doesn’t it? Then I write about whatever is going on in my life and make coffee for my lovely wife and I go into the garage and write. I bought Highland 2, a scriptwriting software that’s really dope, you can set a timer and once I’m done writing it tells me how many words I typed. I listen to jazz or classical music when I write, I don’t know if it helps but it feels good and that’s what counts, right? So once I finish writing I go for a run for about an hour. I hit the shower and head to work.

I have to stay consistent with this process because this is the only way I can get better. There is always a reason I can’t write but if I truly want to make the best work I can make, then I need to put in the work. I look at my script and short film as an important milestone in my career. I can’t half-ass it to be my best, I have to whole-ass it. So I would like to welcome you to walk with me on this journey to make a film.