The Green Bench Film

The Green BenchI wouldn’t write the flash fiction the same way today.

A few years ago, The Green Bench was one of those rare writing events that arrived whole. Adapted into a short film, it’s a different story. The first draft I wrote was a literal adaptation – too one note, too depressing. The blessing and (if you’re not with the right people, the curse) of screenwriting is that it’s a collaborative process. Fortunately, I’m with the right people and they’ve been invaluable in shaping the film. If you’d told me even 6 months ago, I’d be writing, producing and acting in my own short film…well, beware of being coached by Craig Archibald. You may find yourself stretching into new territory.

For the short, I did more research and we had the great, good fortune to connect with Dr. Stephen Marder, an expert in schizophrenia (you’ll see him in our promo reel, coming soon). As a result, my language is changing. For example, like most of us, I don’t say “diabetics” or “arthritics” when referring to people with those diseases, so I’ve started paying attention to not using “schizophrenics” or ‘bipolars” etc. to categorize people either. Am taking far more notice in the script of the illness as it most often presents itself and not what we see on the streets – that’s a tiny percentage of the most severely ill. Despite what many movies and TV shows depict, visual hallucinations are rare. Most people with mental illness can function and many do very well. There are many high functioning CEOs, physicians, attorneys and so on with schizophrenia and other illnesses. But the stigma keeps the success stories in the shadows and this time around, I paid far more attention to the stigma and humanizing the person with the illness. Because it is an illness and should be regarded in the same way as diabetes, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis or other physical illnesses. Thanks to the collaborative process, the film version takes the audience along with the main character through the onset of her son’s symptoms.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m still proud of the flash fiction and it was loosely inspired by a real-life incident I’d heard of some years back, but for film, especially with its additional visual impact, I like the step back to the beginning, to the onset, to hope, to empathy.

We start crowdfunding soon on IndieGoGo for a shoot early next year, intending to go to the festival circuit. I want you to contribute to our budget (and you can be sure I will let you know our launch date!) We need to do everything we can to diminish the stigma and let families know that others share their journey.

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the gravity of values and time

interstellar
Opens wide Nov 7

Last night, I was very fortunate to attend the SAG-AFTRA screening of INTERSTELLAR at the IMAX Chinese Theater. Don’t worry – absolutely no spoilers here. If you like Chris Nolan’s work, you’ll enjoy the movie.

One note: there was a Q&A after with Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway and Jessica Chastain. McConaughey told us they did not use green screen – Nolan had sets built, which is pretty astonishing looking back on the movie. I think the entire audience assumed it was green screen. It is definitely worth seeing in IMAX.

My big takeaway? Chris Nolan has respect for his audience. He doesn’t preach, he doesn’t condescend – he trusts the intelligence of the audience. I love that in any artist. He presents multiple viewpoints with clarity.

I’ve been considered this in light of the differences between film and television. The time constraints are very different – the actors in Interstellar had months to work on their characters. Chris and Jonathan Nolan did not need to turn the script out in days or weeks, but Jonathan Nolan does have those constraints on Person of Interest. Perhaps this is more about considering time in a new way – it is important when you as an artist explore other viewpoint with intellectual and emotional honesty. That’s missing in a number of shows on network television and in some movies, both in drama and comedy.

A small example: in comedy, funny and sad go together, but if there is a persistent undercurrent of bitterness – not a bitter character, but infused in the work, it wears on the audience. It’s not where most people want to stay. Is this another way of saying play to your audience? No. Just respect them and layer your work.

mcconaughey
seriously, how could I not include a picture of this man?

What do I mean about considering time in a new way? Take time out to explore your own value system. Seriously. Get away from your normal routine. Go on retreat. Shake things up. Know your values and take a serious look at a few other systems, especially ones that you are genuinely unfamiliar with or for which you have strong negative feelings. Once you are clear and have enough information to refrain from proselytizing, your work will be deeper and richer – we all know when an artist has respect for us. You may not hit it every time, but if your intention respects us, we love you for it.

Dead Weight

Image
Get yours now!

Why do we write certain stories? There are probably as many answers as there are writers. Growing up, I wanted to write a novel – I finally realized it was a question of when. I had to start or it was never going to happen. At the time, I was enamored of scuba diving and wanted to explore that on the page. Daydreams, what ifs, fragments of overheard conversations, curiosity and a few unknowns go into the mix when I’m writing (more of a pantster than a plotter).

I remember the chlorine-scented moment at our first pool-side scuba class when I realized I was really going to have to do it myself. That moment of whoa! helped me write the novel. No one was going to put my tank on for me, no one else could breathe for me or take that giant step off the deck or monitor my gauges. I was responsible for my survival. Yes, you dive with at least one other person and yes, you learn what you are doing before you enter the ocean, but in large part, as under the sea, so in front of the screen. Taking a leap into the ocean helped me to start and keep putting words on the page until I had a book. And with both, once I was into it, the fun took over.

Diving the giant kelp forest off Catalina Island feels like flying. It’s so beautiful. Seals came up and blew bubbles inds scuba diving001 imitation of those from our tanks. Shafts of sunlight danced through giant stalks of swaying green as bright orange Garibaldi darted in and out. It’s a magical experience and I wanted to give that to readers, plus a “what if” experience of things going to extremes.

What dead weight have I shed? The dead weight of awful generational patterns and anger at my damaged and capriciously cruel mother; certainly of relationships that did not work out. I shed the dead weight of behaving as if my time here is unlimited.

For the month of June, I’m offering my first novel, DEAD WEIGHT, for 99 cents via Smashwords. Please buy it! Thank you.

Now, what about you? Please share your own “dead weight” experience in the comments (play nice).

What is Home?

theres-no-place-like-home
“You’ve always had the power…”

Okay, this isn’t the post I’d planned, but that happens a lot in writing, film, life….

The most powerful and enduring stories are about going home. When we are too long away from home, we describe ourselves as sick with the longing for it. Dorothy to Odysseus, quests and walkabouts; Shakespeare notes it in Henry V, act 4, sc. 8: “…to England then: Where ne’er from France arrived more happy men…”

What is home? It can be a residence, a family group or a birth place. Home is charged with all kinds of meanings, usually positive, but if you or your character grew up in an abusive home, those associations might repel you or them from the very concept of home. You see how stories can spin out very differently if you look at how you and how your characters relate to “home”? Just writing this, I’ve noticed I quit breathing. The town I grew up in has fond memories; the house does not. Home sweet home was the one I created later in life. What is your relation to home? How does it inform your writing or acting? How do your characters relate to home? It’s worth exploring, especially if you get stuck because it is such a rich vein. As Maya Angelou said: “The ache for home lives in all of us, the safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned.”

Never did find my notes on Dorothy Allison’s lecture on Home she gave at Antioch, L.A., and had to go out of town longer than expected. Ms. Allison may well have told us to put away our notebooks and just be there. In any case, I did find this quote from her:

Write the story that you were always afraid to tell. I swear to you that there is magic in it, and if you show yourself naked for me, I’ll be naked for you. It will be our covenant.             

and this nearly hour long video on the writer’s voice (the sound improves about 7 minutes in). Enjoy.

 

faith & art

arch of titus
Arch of Titus, Rome

“Back of every creation, supporting it like an arch, is faith. Enthusiasm is nothing: it comes and goes. But if one believes, then miracles occur.” ~ Henry Miller

What does that quote mean to you? Do you have faith in being an artist, a storyteller? The best people in film, TV, improv and comedy, regardless of their daily task whether behind or in front of the camera, above or below the line, are part of the storytelling tradition. Writers write for many reasons and the best ones keep writing, regardless of its reception. Artists keep going.

Our Level 7 improv teacher at iO West gave us the on-going homework of writing out a list of things we love every day. I like it because it goes a step beyond gratitude (or it can). If you’ve been doing a gratitude journal for awhile and are in the habit, try making lists of things you love. I’ve done these assigned “love lists” using the alphabet, 5 senses, 25 things, 10 things… whatever method strikes me on any given day. It’s the spirit of “Yes, And…” which, as you advance in improv, takes on a spiritual component. Yes to life, yes to moving forward, yes to uncertainty, yes to the next thing. It is the essence of the life of the artist. In a lifestyle filled with uncertainty, rejection, isolation, and so on, it’s focusing on the yes, on the love of creating that can keep you going. Because no matter who you are, at some point, the going always gets hard.

Arc de Triomphe, Paris
Arc de Triomphe, Paris

And yes, I will find my notes on Dorothy Allison’s lecture!

home and diving deeper

surrealHouseBelow is a TED talk from Elizabeth Gilbert on success, failure and the drive to create. In it, she discusses “home,” something I heard Dorothy Allison also talk about in a memorable lecture a few years ago at Antioch University, Los Angeles (will look for my notes to include in the next post).

This dovetails with a dream workshop I did. Any artist will tell you of the power of the unconscious – even while too many leave it untapped. It pays to spend time diving down to access images and dreams that enrich your work. In that 5 hour workshop, I got it, really got it, that we can never escape our shadow, our traumas, our wounds – we can heal, certainly, yes and yes and yes, we should heal for our own well-being – but the scars remain and there’s purpose to that, because whatever happens, whatever it is that you believe keeps you from your creative vitality is also the fertilizer for that very vitality. We need both… we are both. Darkness and light. Yin and yang. Dormant and blossoming. We stand at the midpoint between failure and success and Gilbert tells how she keeps her equilibrium:

The needle and the damage done…

936full-philip-seymour-hoffmanThere’s something about the passing of a master in a field you’ve been trained in that pierces the heart – not in the same way as family or friends of course – but out of a bit of knowledge about the journey, the work, the struggles, the process, the lifestyle. There are so many writers and actors who struggle with mental health, with addiction, with depression, statistically more than the general population. I saw it at grad school when Marcos Villatoro lectured on mental illness and creativity – the room was overflowing and nearly everyone either had bipolar or loved one with it or a related disorder. God knows, I’ve known a lot of addicts, some in my family. I am sad at the passing of Philip Seymour Hoffman. And terribly disheartened by the comments I’ve seen blaming him. All bets are off when opiates are in the picture. Rehab is no cure, not for alcohol, sure as hell not for heroin.  To say PSH was a talented actor is an understatement. Not everyone beats addiction. Not by a long shot. It’s not about willpower. Not solely. Do you think he wanted to leave his children? Doubt it. I’m sure he was looking forward to the next thing with them, the next event with his loved ones, friends, the next role…

There is so much about addiction we do not know. We do know people sometimes turn to drugs not just for kicks, but to cope with undiagnosed mental illness, biochemical imbalances, mysteries. Rehab does not always work. Not every junkie or drunk is a selfish bastard. Most are deeply wounded souls looking for balm, for relief. They may well behave like selfish bastards while under the influence. Oh yes. Still, they deserve our compassion and our help. Yes, they have to walk that road alone and every day is a choice. Just remember before you pick up that rock of condemnation, sometimes the monster… the disease… the addiction… wins. And the rest of us lose someone loved, someone talented, someone who probably would have stuck around if they could have found a way.