I’m continuing my reverse jinx efforts. Two weeks ago, I wrote about my indecision about which feature project I wanted to put my energy into first. Two things have happened since. First, the script pitch for one of the projects went really well and a company requested the script. They loved the script too and may be moving forward on it. But they also said it would take time. There’s a follow up in a month to have a final decision. Good news, but who knows. The second thing that happened is that I’ve made my decision: I want to make Title Redacted (The coming of age with a supernatural twist one).
Part of me hopes that this blog post becomes an elaborate reverse jinx. One of the projects I’m going to talk about is being pitched today. If it sells, it not only makes a decision about which film to do first easier, the sale would also make that next film possible. But honestly, that’s highly unlikely.
“How long have you been doing this?” I dread when I’m asked some form of that question. Do I gloss it over or do I go into it? I’m never sure.
In the summer of 2004, I was on my way to grad school for film at Chapman University. I had sent my security deposit, had my classes assigned, and was planning my move from Phoenix, Arizona. But before I left, I was working a summer job that required a road trip to Albuquerque. Then things changed.
There was an accident. A blown tire. Our van rolled a couple of times. I didn’t walk away unscathed. Shattered 1st metacarpal, chipped elbow, fractured scapula, and a broken neck were the largest issues.
While in the hospital, they wanted to operate to fix my thumb. I was hesitant but agreed. That morning, not one, but two IV’s popped out. I took it as a sign and decided to wait until I was back in Phoenix to have the surgery.
When I returned to Phoenix, I found out that my neck injury wasn’t just a hairline fracture, it had slipped in such a way that the x-ray didn’t look pretty. Had I gone through with the thumb surgery earlier, the anesthesia tube probably would’ve hit the spinal fracture and paralyzed me.
I had a spinal fusion surgery to fix my neck and then a surgery to put a couple of pins in my hand to fix my thumb a few days later. Undeterred, I still thought I could make it to Chapman. It was August and I was going to be in a neck brace and cast through October. Since I couldn’t drive, I looked up bus routes to see if it would be possible. Then I had a follow up appointment for my neck surgery. I had an infection in the repaired area. It was so bad I needed another surgery to clean it out and make sure the instrumentation hadn’t also been infected. That would’ve caused major issues. I was stuck in the hospital for the next several days fighting off a fever. I made it through okay, but it meant more time in the next brace and required me to take it easy, stay indoors, and rest. No school for me.
After the cast came off my hand and the brace came off my neck, I had several weeks of physical therapy. I couldn’t lift more than a gallon of milk for a year. I couldn’t walk for very long without my neck starting to hurt at first, but I kept at it. By the time I made my way back to California the following year, the money I had saved up was gone, I had no car, and no money. I crashed on a friend’s couch and in Violet’s dorm. I worked at a Seattle’s Best inside a Border’s, which helped me regain some physical strength. I’d hide in the back and sit on a crate when I could because standing for an entire shift was exhausting and painful.
By the end of that year, Violet and I found a place and jobs. A year after the surgery, I received the all clear to resume all normal activities, except for riding a motorcycle or playing football. Not that I ever did either of those. It took a while to start digging out of the financial hole I had been in because of the accident. Two years after the accident, I should’ve been graduating. Nevertheless I was happy to be at a point where I finally had a life returned to normal.
I kept writing during this time. Writing actually helped me through a lot of it. But the film industry seemed miles away. I slowly crept my way back into it though, PA’ing on a couple of sets, joining NALIP, and then finally shooting a short in 2007. I worked my way up to Production Coordinator and UPM on a couple of small projects while focusing on writing. Then I grew tired of waiting for my projects to get made as a writer and that’s what led to initial creation of the Chutes & Ladders web series.
There’s a balancing act done for the sake of sanity between chance and fate. What an awful, unfeeling world we live in when we win lottery level odds to a bad situation. But fate is different. Maybe things happen for a reason. I renewed my relationship with some family members and old friends and strengthened it with others. It strengthened an already strong drive and gave me a fresh perspective to appreciate the moment. Who would I have been if it hadn’t happened? Would that me be a weaker person? Who knows.
That’s where Chutes comes in. It’s about the choices we make when we don’t think we have a choice. A man from the future has a collection of photos that reveal his fate as well as the fate of others. No matter what he does, the events in the photos happen. How long would you fight that before giving in? What does it say about your character if your actions are already written? When seemingly little events happen to Alex and Olivia that put them on a course with Vikram, is that fate? A lot of little events have to fall into place for a big one to happen. You can go crazy playing those events over and over in your head and feel helpless to them. But that doesn’t mean you’re not in control of your actions. What happens when Alex and Olivia decide they want to take control, photos be damned? What can change and what can’t? That’s what drives Chutes.
The same forces are playing out right now in our Kickstarter campaign. So many little events that lined up against us, our own actions included. A lot to be learned. Are we going to shrug our shoulders and call it a day? Or are we going to look back at all of the little events, good and bad, that led to the creation of a movie? Things can happen for a reason when you make them. Right now, this can be the story of how a project died, or it can be one of how a project overcame challenges to succeed. In hindsight, one way or another, it will look like those events were meant to be.
Maybe the universe deals the cards. And maybe they’re the house that, in the end, always wins. But regardless of the hand you’re dealt, you control how you play it. You can be dealt pocket kings and blow it. You can bluff your way to a huge pot with a 2 and a 5. But you get to decide how to play those cards, and how to make the most of them, if you so choose.
Working styles are like Mario Kart characters – they’re all a little different and they all have their strengths and weaknesses. I think the key to successfully maximizing your Mario Kart ability and not getting lapped by everybody (*cough*Keith*cough*) is to know and use those strengths properly. In Mario Kart, I’m a Yoshi kind of driver. But in real life, I’m a Bowser.
What does that mean, exactly? It means I need some ramp up time. I’m slow to get going, but once I do get going, it’s like a heavy boulder picking up speed down the mountain. The problem with Bowser is that the slightest misstep and he come to a dead stop. Then you need to go through the slow start all over again. This is exactly how I work – it takes me forever to get going, and once I stop, I have to start the long process all over again.
Sure I’ve tried to be “more productive” with my time. I’ve disconnected my internet or gone to cafes without internet, but I guarantee I will find a way to stall or distract myself when I need to write. And rather than go straight through my to-do list I will go A.D.D. for as long as possible. But at a certain point, something will click and I become the most productive person ever. Once I reach that point I can keep going until the sun comes up (and often do).
Now I had a couple of options. I could fight my natural tendencies, or I could embrace them. It’s not healthy to stay up all night, but it’s also not realistic to think I can sit down and be productive at the snap of a finger. The stalling is a part of my process. When writing, I work things out in my head while daydreaming and procrastinating before putting hand to keyboard. I plan around this – I set aside enough time to work my way into things. I know I’m going to need it if I’m going to get anything done. I’m fooling myself if I think I can sit down and do 30 minutes of writing cold.
The Kickstarter campaign has been similar. Once I got going the first week, I was absorbed in it. Then I got sick. That was that sudden stop moment. And with the clock ticking, it took a couple of days to get going again. The starting and stopping has been frustrating and something I hadn’t anticipated. With better planning maybe I would’ve had some content to plug in during those stop/slow start moments. Violet certainly filled the gap well during those times though.
Good planning keeps me from hitting those starting over points. Since our mid-campaign stumble, I’ve been able to keep going. Not necessarily at the pace I would’ve liked, but at least not running into a dead stop. You learn your working style, adjust, and make the most of it. And if you work off momentum, you hope you don’t hit a banana peel. Or your own green shell. It’s always your own green shell.
We put a lot of planning and preparation into our campaign. But it’s hard to know exactly what you’re up against in a crowdfunding campaign until you’re actually in the middle of it. People often say there aren’t enough hours in the day, but it’s incredibly frustrating to literally not have enough hours – to watch one day end and the other begin while still trying to fit in work for two jobs.While we had some setbacks, such as getting sick, or the emotional blow and physical limitations of Violet’s broken foot, there are a lot of people that I’m sure have cleared greater hurdles on their way to a successful crowdfunding campaign than the ones we have faced.
The general trend with Kickstarter is that people either make just enough to hit their goal, or make hardly anything at all. There’s not really many in between that. I think that’s because people who don’t hit their goal either A)Don’t understand crowdfunding and leave their campaign page for dead the moment they launch it, or B)Recognize the overwhelming odds against them hitting their goal at a certain point and cancel the campaign.
We learned quickly to narrow the focus of our audience and in hindsight I wish we had done so in our original pitch script. We’re falling short because we either haven’t reached our target audience outside our network, or our project isn’t resonating with them. Or both. Hopefully not both. But we think there’s a lot of headway to make into reaching potential audience and there’s still time to do that. We also haven’t made a dent into our 2nd degree of contacts. Friends of friends aren’t backers. We have a lot of likes and I’m hopeful that we can make a case to convert them to backers in the time that remains while we continue to reach new people. On the bright side, there are a lot more “wow, he/she is a backer? That’s awesome” cases than there are, “I can’t believe he/she hasn’t backed yet,” ones.
When I was in high school, I went on a ski trip during Christmas break. It was only my second time skiing, so while I picked it up pretty quickly, I was still very much a beginner. But I just had to try some black diamond moguls. I was in over my head on the course, and to make it worse, it was right below one of the ski lifts. I wrecked every few moguls the entire way down that course. It was painful. But I was determined to finish that course, and in the end I did. And maybe if I had waited until I was a more experience skier, I would’ve left my first mogul course with fewer bumps and bruises. But if you’re going to advance, you have to dive in sooner or later. It would’ve been easy to take off my skis and walk down the mountain, conceding defeat. That’s not me though.
When you dive in, you might get laughed at. You might get hurt. You’ll probably fail. It shouldn’t matter. You keep going until the end of the course. I do. I’ll see you at our finish line on Friday, November 2nd. Battered and beaten, but successful.
When 2012 began, I was very overweight. I had reached a point where enough was enough and decided to do something about it. After a friendly bet, a changed diet, regular running, biking to work, and walking places I used to drive, I lost 40 pounds by May. My long-term goal for the year to reach a healthy weight was 50 pounds, but once I won the bet and reached a comfortable number, I stopped a lot of the good habits I had formed over the first 5 months. It was easy to feel comfortable with where I was even if it wasn’t my final goal. There was a crossroads – I could either be complacent or I could continue being driven toward my goal. I’m going to stay driven.
I went for a run earlier this evening and was extremely tempted to stop early. During the first five months when I was focused on weight loss, I would run anywhere from 3-5 miles, but always at least the 3. Since then, I’ve run more than 3.5 miles only once and only more than 3 a handful of times. It became very easy to hit 2 miles and call it a day, feeling proud of myself just for doing anything at all. Sometimes, that’s not enough though. Tonight I finished a 3.1 mile run. I really want to finish off those last ten pounds and I’m not going to get there by settling.
I also want to make a movie. A science fiction feature film, to be exact. Chutes is all I’ve been thinking about all year. Our Kickstarter campaign launched Sunday afternoon. I have been touched and humbled by the people who have backed our project so far. But it’s not enough. We have a lofty goal of $28,000 because that is the minimum it would cost to get this thing shot. Now, given the support received so far, it would be very easy to take that same complacent attitude. “Well, it was a tough goal, but we tried.” It would be very easy to take away the support we’ve had to feel okay with defeat. But that’s not what’s going to happen.
It’s the early stage of a marathon, where the realization of how far this run actually is sets in. That moment of panic when you’re not sure what you’ve gotten yourself into. But you weather that, calm down, and keep going. We’re not even at the point of the marathon where we hit a wall. We’re just getting started. And until that counter says no time left, I will be pushing as hard as I can. The difference with this Kickstarter though, unlike my nightly runs, is that I won’t be crossing the finish line alone. There will be a whole lot of people with me by the end of this campaign. If you’re reading this, I hope you’ll be one of them.
That’s right, our web series site is live. Check it out here —> http://www.chutesladderswebseries.com
We also have a Facebook page. https://www.facebook.com/pages/Chutes-and-Ladders-Web-Series/212414365465674
Our first teaser trailer will be going up next week. If you’re a fan of what we’re doing, please like us and be sure to follow those pages for updates about the web series.
I took a week off from my day job to get things going with the web series. The plan was to use most of the week for prep and then start shooting at the end of the week – Friday, Saturday, and Sunday would be our first three days. I thought that would be plenty of time, but it took every spare second to make sure we were ready by Friday morning.
The toughest decision we had with our limited budget was what crew we were going to have. Since my focus hadn’t been on production the last year or two, there weren’t many crew friends I had kept in touch with enough to ask for volunteer work. We also wanted to avoid too big a crew. We were working with clamp lights in one location with a handful of actors. We had a situation where we were fortunate to not need a lot of people to get by. So there had to be some cuts.
We had a sound guy , Victor David, who will also be creating our score, we had a friend, Andrew, who was on break between reality shows who would be our sole gaffer/grip, we had Violet, our makeup/hair/wardrobe/production design/production manager, Datta, who was a Producer, but also acting, Ritchie, who was our family PA, and I would was DP’ing as well as directing. From there, we made the decision to hire a Script Supervisor rather than a First AD. We could only afford one. Since there wasn’t much crew and I had already done the scheduling, we thought it made more sense to go with the Script Supervisor. I’m editing the thing too, and with everything else going on, we needed good continuity and good notes. We really needed that organization in the madness.
In hindsight, next time we will bite the bullet and hire a few more people. There were times we really missed having an AD. The first day (which I’ll cover in more detail next post), we simply did not have enough people. Datta had to hold a blanket up outside a window on a day he was filming. Producer or not, it’s never good to have to ask an actor to do that kind of work. For the next shooting days, we added a couple more people, but what really made a difference is that our little crew that could really got the hang of working together. By day 3 we were fast and efficient. But it took finding that right mix of talented people to pull that off.
Back to prep. Those days leading up to filming were filled with small errands that added up thanks to LA traffic. Driving out to meet up with potential crew, then driving to the read through, and then back ate up a ton of time. Having a checklist to get through all the tiny things was priceless. Without that list, so many things would have been overlooked. Next time, the one thing I will have for sure is a Production Manager and help for those prep days, so that I’m not making a shot list between runs to Home Depot and putting together the craft services table.
Next: Part V – Production Begins