Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Tension! Tension! Tension!

A conversation on how tension and taking a second look at your writing can give it more HECK YEAH!

In working on an alternative future feature-length screenplay with writing partner Tom Mercer, I recalled something I had been talking to comic book artist Rick Arthur about. Rick, a great writer in my opinion, and I have had long conversations on tension. At the time, I had been working on a different script and in trying to "up the stakes," I wrote a scene that happened to have a similar fight to a later scene. I suppose that other people, looking at the recent crop of lack-luster action adventure films, would have left it as was, but I knew the earlier fight would take away from the later one and worked hard to fix them. Thankfully, I was able come up with a solid solution that achieved all the plot points, but in a different way. This reminded me of one of the talks Rick and I had about Star Wars: Episode II Attack of the Clones and suggestions he had for the gladiator scene (you know, the one with the three beasts who were to eat up Obi-Wan, Anakin and Padmé.) Lately I've been rolling my eyes at films like Pirates of the Caribbean II and III and X-Men III for they're trade-in of story for special effects and because the films failed to utilize their genre roots. Attack was also guilty of this and Rick told me it was because they attempted an homage to gladiator movies, but didn't do the classic arena scene justice. As he and I talked about, it also showed gross negligence in not seizing the possible tension nor the possible plot points. Not to droll on about the Prequels, but I almost wish I could somehow redo that scene to show how it could have worked. Hopefully Rick doesn't mind me mixing in his ideas in the following description of how I might change such a scene...

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Frozen River: A Film Funded by the Kindness of Forgotten Strangers

The humble beginnings of the award winning feature film and the amazing crew it was founded on.

Making independent film is hard. Damn hard. When starting out making their first films, most filmmakers have little money and have to rely, at least partially, on the kindness of strangers. As anyone who has tried it knows, without a substantial budget it's difficult to afford to pay your cast and crew. I know this from personal experience. I've been lucky enough to have had individuals willing to stand in the cold and the heat to aid me in such endeavors. And I've tried my best not to forget them. The crew of Frozen River I'm afraid, was forgotten long ago.

It has been a long time since I aided the first narrative film I've ever known to shoot in the region I grew up in. I was reminded of the shoot by an interview by Liane Hansen with Frozen River star Melissa Leo on National Pubic Radio's Weekend Edition Sunday. Leo makes mention of the short film (of the same name) which was shot back in the winter of 2004. The progenitor of the Sundance Film Festival Grand Jury Prize winning feature, also written and directed by Courtney Hunt, was filmed on locations in and around the Akwesasne Mohawk Nation in Northern New York. No, you won't find it on IMDB even though it traveled the festival circuit and won funding for the feature at the IFP film market. From Hunt's website:

"The film premiered at the New York Film Festival in 2004, and went on to screen at numerous other festivals, including the Los Angeles Film Festival, Nashville, Williamstown, and the American Indian Film Festival in San Francisco."

There isn't anywhere on the internet that I know of where you read about the twenty-eight-plus crew who largely volunteered their time. (The names I know are listed at the end of this article.) You also can't read about Upstate Independents, a filmmaker's organization in Albany, NY, where Hunt asked for and received free help and crew, including myself, from its members. You can't find anything about the months of preparation done by Debra, Al and Amanda, Hunt's intrepid pre-production team, to gather a crew in what can be easily considered a remote location. Being originally from the area, I helped to connect them with the local high school and businesses.

As is customary in indie film, the agreement between Hunt and I was in return for working on the short for free, I would receive lodging and meals during the shoot, credit and if the short ever garnered her a feature film deal, I would be amongst the first to be called to work on it for pay. This was the same agreement given to the entire crew including those who were paid at a discounted rate. To my knowledge, none of the members of that crew were ever contacted when the short won Hunt funding. The only individuals I know from the short to work on the feature, were actors. I've also never seen the short. There was one screening that we were told about, but that was too long a drive for me to make. In all, I received three emails from Hunt early on, but that was it. One of them thanked us for our hard work, which I did appreciate. But, I would have appreciated if she had honored our agreement a whole lot more.

"Courtney wrote and directed Frozen River, the short film, starring Melissa Leo and Misty Upham, which was shot in sub-zero weather on the Canadian border in Upstate New York."

Yes, it was cold. We filmed for five nights in all. We shot outside of Massena at Bob's Motel, over near Hogansburg at the Wolf Pack, down near the St. Lawrence River off Garrow Rd. and actually on the river ice. For those of you who are unfamiliar, a normal shift on a film set is twelve hours. Sid, our tough, prideful Gaffer, Ryan, our towering bright Key Grip-turned-First Assistant Director and myself, the lone Grip were the first to arrive in the early afternoon and the last to leave the set in the wee morning hours. The three of us put in more hours on set (sometimes working over 15 hours) than anyone so, yeah, it was cold. Eddie, Ryan, Sid and myself also drove the trucks. The food on the shoot was fantastic, though. I wish I could recall Melissa-the-Chef's last name. The Production Assistants who helped her were also awesome. Actually, everyone was awesome. Camera, Grip and Electric, Art, Production... everyone.

Through all the frigid, long hours no one complained. Not a one. Ryan was even sick, yet he soldiered on. The next to last night when we filmed at the old camper, I recall looking around at all the crew who occupied probably a sixty-foot radius around the car we were filming in. Each of us dressed in at least three layers of clothing waited patiently and quietly standing steadfast in the cold. I realized; here we were in the middle of the night, in the middle of no where, standing on inches of snow and ice, freezing our asses off, for over twelve hours a day... mostly for free. I was astonished by the kindness of all of these individuals to do this for someone they don't even know-- at least not well. That's when I realized how many films like this rely heavily on the kindness of others. There were even a few times when the dedication of the crew was brought into question (not by the director), but there was absolutely no questioning our dedication and Hunt later told us as much. Through it all, the crew just kept doing their jobs silently and respectfully. Hunt did tell us many times how much she appreciated our efforts and what an awesome job we were doing. We shot a lot of film and from what I heard, the footage was amazing. Therefore, I cannot believe there is any performance-related or other legitimate reason why none of us received any word what-so-ever about the feature (if even to tell us somehow the situation barred her from bringing us on.) I am proud of my efforts on the short and enjoyed working with that exceptional group of people. It is only the lack of follow-through that I have any issue with. And not really for me, but for the entire crew from the students from St. Lawrence University, to the long time pro's from around the Northeast. They deserve recognition for their great effort and their contribution to getting the feature funded. At the least, I feel it's time their existence was known. Unfortunately this is a similar story to countless others in independent film, but luckily I have the ability do a little something to ensure these folks aren't totally forgotten. Hopefully knowing about this will encourage future filmmakers to honor their agreements and give their crew the credit they deserve. The following is a partial list of credits for the short film Frozen River. My thanks to all the cast and crew for their camaraderie and excellent achievement on the frozen border of a great Nation.

Frozen River (2004)

Written & Directed by
Courtney Hunt

Produced by
Don Harwood
Courtney Hunt

Director of Photography
Marc Blandori

Edited by
Tony Grocki

Line Producer
Debra Pearlman

Production Manager
Amanda Brooks

First Assistant Assistant Director
Al Halstead

First Assistant Assistant Director
Ryan Gates

Script Supervisor
Kevin Craig West

Second Assistant Director
Deb Shufelt

First Assistant Camera
Eddie Rodriguez

Second Assistant Camera
Jill Maouf

Sal Martarano

Key Grip
Ryan Gates
Mark Sasahara

Ben Alpi

Sound Mixer
Martin G. Kelly

Boom Operator
Bret Lafontan

Location Scout
Tim Schneider

Props Artists
Len X. Clayton
Andy Dorr
Chuck Robeland

Prop Master
Josh Wyman

Kristin Edwards

Key Production Assistant
Mike Camoin

Assistants to the Director
Patty Mason
Amanda Crowley

Production Assistants
Tim Gallivan
Travis Wyman
Etienne Gupta
Brian Willmert
Micah Warren

Special Thanks
(This is a list of people I would think need thanking)
St. Regis Mohawk Tribe
St. Lawrence University
Upstate Independents
Thomas Mercer
Katsitsionni Fox
Salmon River Central School
Bob's Motel, Massena, NY

(photo: Ben Alpi (rt) and Kevin Craig West, courtesy Jill Maouf. )
Anyone with corrections, additional information or photos, please comment and let me know!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

A Quick Word for Those in Waiting

A quick note to those of us interested in one day having a relationship, but are still sitting on the sidelines and to those who are trying to get back on that horse.

If you truly want to share your love with someone, don't wait. You will make mistakes. You will fail. You will cry. It will hurt sometimes. But it is also one of the most glorious, fulfilling and exciting things you'll ever have the pleasure of doing. Risk is an unavoidable part of life. You're scared of what could happen, that's totally understandable. You're afraid of failing or of succeeding. Why would someone be interested in ME? How could someone totally be into just hanging out with me? Want to love me? Care about what I do and what I think? What if all they want is my body? To tell you the truth, it is kind of weird, even shocking, to realize someone is content just to stare into your eyes. But, when it's genuine, it's amazing. So, you've put a lot of thought into this. You've convinced yourself that you have too many quirks to succeed. You're too busy to cultivate a meaningful relationship. Well, what if you're wrong? Reality is always different from what we predict. It will surprise you how much so, actually. You'll surprise yourself, too. As you think back to all the reasons against having a relationship, I'll bet you honestly feel at least a little differently about most or all of them if not outright disagree with some of them. We all need to take our own time in life and love. No one can criticize you for doing so no matter your reason and it's probable that the time you're taking to learn about yourself will really help when/if you choose to take the plunge. If you don't want to have a boyfriend or girlfriend, that's totally cool. But, if you're reading this, you're at least considering it. The reality is if you truly wish to share the infinite love you possess with another, you'll be kicking yourself the longer you wait. We don't have an infinite amount of life and it would suck if you didn't get to experience a loving relationship or didn't get to share it for very long. Besides, it's too difficult to find a good match to delay! Just be sure that no matter what you're not holding yourself back out of fear. Fear will limit you and for absolutely no good reason. There are people out there looking to pass their unhealthy habits on to you. That's a nice way of saying there are people who want to use you. That's scary, but you can protect yourself by being vigilant and realistic. If you do get hurt, use the experience to firm up your defenses and to improve yourself. Trust your gut, but don't let fear hold you back. Be honest with yourself. Forgive yourself. Love yourself. Love is always inside you and no one can take it away. We all have quirks, issues and foibles. You're not abnormal, you are unique. You have power and independence. You can do anything that you decide to do. You may have to modify your methods along the way or perhaps your goals will change some, but nothing can stop you if you're dedicated. Society would have you believe otherwise, but the self is important. You are important. You are capable. You are beautiful. You are good. And, you are not alone.

Good luck out there!

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Friday, October 3, 2008

Silver Lining Now Distributed by Ouat Media

Project: Silver Lining
Silver Lining Website
Runic Films Website

It's my humble honor to announce that Silver Lining has been signed with international distributor Ouat Media. After seeing the film CFC Worldwide Short Film Festival, Ouat's great representatives contacted me. And I couldn't be more thrilled!

Ouat Media [pronounced "what"] is a global media distribution specialist based in Toronto, Canada. Ouat Media’s mandate is to be the premier short-film aggregator and content provider for broadcast, internet, mobile devices and all other newly developed media outlets. Stay tuned to find out where Silver Lining will be next! Many thanks again for all the fine folks who helped this film come to fruition.


Monday, September 29, 2008

Republicans + Bailout Failure = Political Theater

House Republicans Effectually Say Pelosi Speech Caused Them to Put US Economy in Jeopardy.

Today, the US House of Representatives failed to pass a $700 billion rescue of the financial industry. After the vote, House Republicans held a press conference. I was expecting solid complaints about the bill and how it wasn't ready yet. At most, I thought I'd hear some ideological rhetoric about Socialism. Instead, a succession of three Representatives lead by minority leader John Boehner said a speech late in the process by Speaker Nancy Pelosi sounded too partisan and thusly, the bill lost support from Republicans. All I have to say is how stupid do they we think we are? They repeated that this is problem has no party affiliation so she was in the wrong. Ironic. The Someone delivers a speech that you think is too partisan so, you act partisan in return? The last of the trio, Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA) stated, "Clearly, there was something lacking in the leadership here." Clearly, the lack was in the Republican leadership since they felt their sensitive sense of pride was more important than the American people.

Reading portions of Pelosi's speech, she said "...tells us only the costs of the Bush administration's failed economic policies--policies built on budgetary recklessness, on an anything-goes mentality, with no regulation, no supervision, and no discipline in the system." The rest of the speech spoke of Democrats leading the way to change, but I didn't see anything solidly bashing Republicans-- or even naming them. So, House Republicans chose to go against their President because the Democrats delivered an anti-Bush administration speech? Democrats side with Bush and Republicans side against him? Certainly pigs are flying. So, as outlandish as this all sounds, one then searches for the real reason for this. Well, all of the Republican "nays" were from Rep's who are embroiled in tough reelections. At a time of very high news viewer/readership, these politicians chose to make headlines. What I surmise will happen is after they make this splash, they'll demand some cosmetic changes to the bill and it will pass easily. Then, of course, they will be the saviors of the American taxpayer. Simply political theater. Too bad you don't get your money back if you don't like the show...

Here are some very general points as to why this isn't a "Wallstreet Bailout," but a shot in the arm to save our economy. This situation was started by banks taking on exceedingly (stupidly to the extreme) risky loans. It really doesn't have much to do with the other companies on Wall Street, just with banks and investment firms who bought up tons of those now toxic loans. In time, these loans will be foreclosed on, currently at a rate 6,000/day, and all this money that was supposed to be there will not. So, banks are afraid to borrow from each other-- they don't know who's infected with toxic loans. That's step one. Next, they won't give loans to businesses including small business loans-- something many businesses need to exist. Then, they won't give personal loans like home loans, car loans or student loans. The last step is banks will fold. No credit equals no money in your ATM. It also means a global recession. The last US recession was not fun for anyone, myself included. Company spending freezes, wider wage freezes, more massive layoffs and whole companies failing. In other words, if this bailout doesn't pass, then life will tough for everyone, not just Wall Street or bankers. Let's not forget the thousands of homeowners holding onto the other end of those toxic loans. This bill means the government will take the loans and renegotiate them and more people will get to keep their homes.

From what I'm hearing from top analysts and investors like Warren Buffet and Jim Cramer, this is a good deal with sufficient protections for the American people (including if bailed-out companies will have to pay back the difference if this doesn't work fully.) Cramer even said he wished he could get in on it since it's the quintessential buy low-sell high scenario. The taxpayer may even make money on the deal.

One last bit of irony. Before the shenanigans after the bailout vote failed, minority leader John Boehner gave an emotional speech where he pleaded with his colleagues to vote yes with him. Maybe they will when this bill comes up again... because it will.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Tiny Bubbles - Has America Gotten Too Greedy?

The "Internet Bubble." The "Housing Bubble." What bubble will burst next? If we know an industry is getting artificially inflated, why don't businesses or investors take steps to prevent a burst? Is it blind greed?

The debate about the positive and negative aspects of big business and big government aside, there has been an obvious trend where whole industries have rocketed to new heights and crashed utterly. This, some say, is all part of a free market system. If that’s so, why is our government taking control of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac? It would seem that deregulation to "empower" the free market has done little to improve performance. If anything, it's showing that companies are uninterested in protecting consumers or giving them what they want. They're out for themselves.

Over the last ten years, regular hard working Americans have again started to question the actions of their employers. Some are asking how they, the forces on the ground, can see consumer buying trends change. Even inexperienced market-watchers and investors are asking why their peers or companies invest in stocks, real estate or loans that have no reason for being hot or solid investments. If laypeople can see it, why can't the heads of corporations or banks? In some ways, these companies are small countries. They have a president, a cabinet, budgets larger than many countries, citizens who work for them and in some cases they own the infrastructure of whole cities. With teams of lawyers, they lobby legislation, loop-hole around taxes and can crush anyone who tries to bring them to court (or at least make it unfeasible financially.) What they don't have is a system of checks and balances and without government regulation, they've proven time and time again, they're willing to choose fast money over ethics.

The Internet Bubble
Internet companies of the late 90's were young, hip and providing virtual products. If all your products are virtual, what is there to invest in? This is one fact I think many companies couldn't avoid and since they ultimately couldn't prove their value, they failed. Investors were out to make a quick buck and inflated the stocks of hundreds of companies only four years old. They paid the price, but unfortunately so did hundreds of thousands of employees who lost their jobs. The climate that followed was one that said Americans didn't have the know how and thousands of foreign programmers and other tech professionals were imported and continue to be to this day. Are the multitudes of American programmers that bad? I'm not so sure about that. Are foreign workers willing to work for less and work under worse conditions? I'm not sure about that either. What I do know is even laypeople knew the risks investors were taking were bad bets. The writing was on the wall, but the bubble was still allowed to grow and pop. Companies that survived like Amazon, provided a real service with tangible goods. Google, the most famous virtual goods provider, is almost a fluke, but survived by offering solid advertising model while helping you efficiently find what you were looking for in the vastness of the net. Also, they stayed private longer and it doesn't seem like their sole objective has been to make money (at least considering how well they treat their employees.) These companies also continually diversify and try to improve their business. They also listen to their customers. Unlike the American auto industry.

The SUV Bubble
I don't know if any reporter has said it yet, which is odd considering their penchant for attaching "gate" and "bubble" to things, but what's happening to GM and Ford can probably be called the "SUV Bubble." The corporations were making upwards of $30,000 per SUV sold. With a markup like that, who wouldn't want to keep that going? The majority of consumers were still buying cars though. And as gas prices began to climb as early as 1999, American automakers continued to concentrate their business on SUVs. They have tried to blame their woes on the retirees (you know, those people who brought their corporations to new heights and to whom they promised pensions), but the reality is the pension model works just fine as long as the company doesn't make poor choices. The poor choice in this case was they actively ignored the trend toward hybrid vehicles like the Toyota Prius and hybrid flavor of Honda Civic. GM even made and then scrapped their popular electric car. The writing was on the wall in big letters if not since the 1970's, then in the several years before the decent of these corporations. There was even a palpable resentment of drivers of monster luxury SUVs by much of American culture and around the world-- isn't it reasonable to assume that if you offer a product that a lot of people actually hate and find unsafe might be a reason to reevaluate your product line? I think the only answer here is the relationship that exists between a company and a consumer. A company usually offers a product to fill a customer's needs or wants. If the customer agrees it does the job, they're happy to buy the product. If they don't think it fits the bill, the product fails. In modern times, this has changed to where a company tries to convince the consumer they want or need a product. That's not entirely a bad thing, it's sales after all, but when the company tries to dictate what the consumer should want, that's going too far. American automakers are guilty of this and the results are clear.

The Housing BANK Bubble
The unprecedented investment in housing was also obviously inflated. We knew that house pricing was shooting up for no good reason. Folks were making incredible amounts of money many times faster than in the 1990's. Investors and want-to-be investors flipped houses they never intended to live in and get rich quick courses taught you how to do it! Well, booms bust just like London's housing market did almost two years before our crash. The writing was on the wall and we all knew it. Worse than investors though, were banks. Stories about the sub-prime loans began surfacing even before the crash. No interest for a year or more, then over 20% interest? Anyone who knows anything about credit would call that a terrible loan. Banks weren't going after you though, they were going after people outside of the know. They went after folks without credit or with poor credit and told them this was their best chance to ever own their own home. And who doesn't want their own home? Now worldwide, we're paying the price for these practices. Why around the world? Because banks sell off your loan many times over. (Other banks around the world also offered sub-prime loans and are also failing because of it.) America will continue to see the worst of it since we hold the bulk of these bad loans. Record foreclosures have been chosen by the banks instead of renegotiating their loans. Some have been renegotiated sure, but only a small percentage. I'm not an expert, but this might be because they sold your loan off and so they've locked themselves in. Not only have these actions aided greatly in the devaluing of the American dollar, they stand to cause the economic downfall of our country. Some may ask why terrorists haven't attacked us since 2001. Perhaps it's because their objective was to ruin our economy and either they're succeeding or we're doing the work for them.

The US Government Bubble?
The government to the rescue of the banking industry. I have to wonder how many people realize that the government's takeover of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (which isn't actually a bailout because they are actually taking control) is essentially the federalizing of our banking system-- growing the government, the exact thing the Bush Administration says is wrong. Not only is the American taxpayer expected to pay for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, we're now expected to pay for the failure of the banking industry. WAKE UP KIDS! Are we a democratically elected republic or Socialists? The healthiest governments today perhaps have a balance between Democracy and Socialism, but no healthy government keeps writing checks it can't cash and it certainly shouldn't be taking over any industry. It was bad enough when this administration cut taxes and obviously went into debt to do so. Now we're allowing the government to put the burden on a couple more future generations. As a nation we really have to ask what's going on here. The taxpayers should not be used to rescue reckless business practices. Unprecedented has been used all too many times recently to describe government and business. These bank takeovers are most certainly unprecedented events worth a whole lot of attention.

All of these events are obvious signs of failed policies and a lack of ethics in government and business. Not only big business, but right here at home. Investors, employees and business owners who might be your neighbors. On one hand, citizens all over the country are willing to follow blindly as long as their niche is safe and on the other hand are a growing number of Americans unable to defend their economic future because they're too busy trying to feed their families. Altruism does not exist. Communism proved that. But, I think as a nation we respond very well in crisis and we honestly look to help our fellow humans when they're in need. Unfortunately, this crisis isn't as apparent as a tsunami or hurricane. This is cancer. Slow to develop and hard to detect. We must change our ways and I know for a fact that swapping out the man or woman in charge will only change so much. We all need to participate. Regular citizens have the power to change the fate of a nation. We're not stupid! These are not complex issues, they're events we can see clearly. Information is available for you to read yourself without the filter or slight of hand. Stop supporting candidates and start addressing the issues you know are important. Mobilize your community and bombard your representatives with letters. Make sure the mainstream media knows about news they haven't reported and if they did know, pester them for a reason why it wasn't reported. All of these mechanisms are supposed to work for on YOUR behalf. The only caution I have to make is you may have to set aside some issues for now because they're quagmires that will only delay our progress. Anti-flag burning amendments are meant to distract from the real issues. This is for survival friends. This is the big time. If you like keeping your standard of living, your privacy and want to help those in need, we have to act now.

Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Broadcast with a Silver Lining

June 10, 2008
Project: Silver Lining
Official Website

It's my pleasure to announce that Silver Lining has been selected as one of the short films to be broadcast as a part of the TVFilm series on WMHT PBS Television. WMHT is located in NY's Capital Region and is the only full-service public broadcaster serving eastern New York and western New England. TVFilm is a six-episode series spotlighting filmmakers from our region. Silver Lining will be broadcast on the TVFilm premiere on Thursday, June 12th at 10pm and will repeat the following Saturday at midnight.

This just in: Watch the extended interviews from TVFilm (including mine of course) at their website. (Adobe Flash Player required) -Ben

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Why is “Professional” a Dirty Word?

Since when did “professional” become a bad word? Since when did it mean unoriginal, uncreative, overpriced, inflexible and/or elitist? Why are professional methodologies so immediately rejected in today’s marketplaces, businesses and creative endeavors? If you undergo years of training or you have several years of experience-- that’s a bad thing? Being involved with a number of industries, I see it more and more. If a professional mentions industry standards, professional methods or structures or even accepted practices they get immediately rejected or even insulted. It's happened to me many, many times. Let’s say you own Cogswell Cogs. You want to design a new cog so, what’s the first thing you do? Create a computer model? Let’s go 3D, Wooo! Sorry, but when did the first step of problem solving become model a solution? HUFF! That tired, old, dusty, outdated, outmoded and certainly high-horsed ‘5 Steps to Problem Solving” can’t apply to our new, totally different, techno-world! To coin another ancient phrase, balderdash. Since you’ve admitted/found that there is a problem/need for this new cog, why wouldn’t the next thing be to define the problem? Why wouldn’t you talk about the need for this cog and what it should accomplish? Then perhaps you should use a low-cost method to envision the cog... perhaps even use... a... pencil. NOOOOOOO!! Graphite must be bad for the environment or something because no one seems willing to allow sketches anymore. The brain-pencil (or pen) connection is scientifically proven to engage the brain more fully than a keyboard and mouse. I’d wager even a tablet or other pen-like computer input device is still not as good as the real thing, but that’s me. Still, that’s not our focus here.

Let’s look at it a different way. A number of people have said to me that they’re proud of their success without training or experience and with less-than-professional tools. That’s great. I’m glad that anyone can pick up a tool and make something that allows them to express themselves and maybe even gives them a measure of success. That's freedom. I guess my problem is many of these people think their success means they’re suddenly da Vinci, a master at their craft. In many cases, they fail to realize the other factors that added into his or her success. Let’s say one of these folks is named Pat. Pat, who is without training or experience, has gathered a small team and together they’ve built a house using tools and materials afforded on a shoestring budget. A week after completion, the house is still standing and everyone in town loves it. It’s not totally level, but that’s okay. Genius! It doesn’t meet all the codes and standards, but that’s fine. Brilliant! Pat made it on a shoestring so, that sort of thing is understandable. A Marvel! Against these great odds, this house is a towering achievement of the layman who has conquered those terrible professionals! What Pat hasn’t told people, or doesn’t realize, is the team pulled all-nighters and worked for reduced rates without overtime or for free. Pat also doesn’t mention that some of them were actually trained carpenters who showed the team how to fill in the cracks when the pieces weren’t flush. Pat doesn’t admit that the project was a house of cards and at any moment, were it not for the kindness of others, the project would have failed. And, were it not for the vigilance of Pat’s team, someone could have been hurt or killed if the house of cards had fallen. Nope, Pat jumps from rooftop to rooftop yelling that s/he’s a visionary. Pat also doesn’t realize the ramifications his house has on the industry. Other folks in the town also want to make houses on a shoestring and complain when the (evil) professionals quote them prices ten times what Pat’s house cost. How DARE they! Soon, the professionals have to lower their rates to get any work and try to find ways to cut costs. The townspeople are unapologetic. They know you can cut costs because pros are SO overpaid and they saw that all you have to do is get cheap unskilled laborers like Pat did. And of course you don’t need to use quality tools or materials; you’re a pro and can work miracles! Wait, wait, wait. So pros are miracle workers and so they should be paid half and forced to work twice as hard? What is going on here?!

Folks, “professional” is not a bad word. Working your ass off through rigorous training doesn’t automatically mean you can’t think outside the box. Years of experience doesn’t mean you’re old and don’t apply anymore. Would you expect some untrained person to be as consistent as Norm Abrams? Just because Norm has been in the business for decades, does that mean he can no longer function? Have you watched This Old House? Mastery of one’s craft takes a lifetime. It doesn’t mean you have to know everything, but it does mean you know who to ask. And I don’t see why being good at what you do and knowing a solid, proven methodology is such a horrible concept-- to the point of insulting professionals for merely suggesting to Pat that s/he might want to look before leaping. And, being nice people who care about their craft and whose latest project is their calling card, they take it upon themselves to make it work. That my friends is eking by, not a mandate. Yes, it may work out in the end at least to an extent, but the means matter. The means matter because they always have longer lasting ramifications. Ramifications beyond that one project and perhaps even into our everyday lives.

This is not an attack on layman or on independent endeavors. I don’t think you need a huge corporation to do... well, much of anything. I’m actually a firm believer in partnerships and localizing. What I’m saying is there is a standard that should be sought and fought for. The standard is the challenge. If we keep lowering the standards and slapping down anyone who strives to exceed them, we hurt ourselves as a people. These habits bleed into the rest of our culture. This goes for high school math brains to musicians trying to share their music. It also goes for anti-social artist types and mighty athletes. It’s not the accolades that matter; it is the progression of the human race. Striving to be a pornstar college dropout Heroin addict? That’s a goal? Being the person with the most hits on Myspace or most friends on Facebook is a goal? Posting pics of your cleavage and of you and your friends getting drunk is bucking the system? As long as you have the latest cell phone, all is right with the world? What the crap is going on here? Would you want to go under the knife of a surgeon who believes a few mistakes here and there aren’t so bad? This devolution is occurring because people are lowering their standards for everything. This may be because a growing mass of people are becoming evermore lazy and wish to satisfy whimsical and shallow desires ASAP. I want, therefore I am. Is that what we're saying?! Perhaps I should have entitled this “Why is REALITY a Dirty Word?” Face up, anything good takes time and effort and you never do anything totally alone. If you want something really good, open your mind and heart and listen to a professional who might know a thing or two about what you’re trying to do. Even if that pro is a psychologist. And when you’re done, be realistic about what the final product is and strive to do better next time. And PLEASE strive to pay people an acceptable wage or make it worth everyone’s while somehow. All I ask is that you don’t use professionals as mindless tools, keep your promises and don’t ask anyone to sacrifice their integrity to complete your project. We’re all in this together. Making adjustments for safety, courtesy or quality doesn’t make it any less your baby. And lastly, give credit where credit is due. Not only make sure you have everyone’s name spelled correctly, but if someone on your staff was key to the completion of your project, let people know. Acting like you did it all alone will only harm you in the long run. If you can loosen up on the reigns a little, you’ll find you still stay on course and it’s a more rewarding ride.

That’s enough metaphor for one day! Thanks for reading. Please share your opinions and experiences. I mean that! Also, please take some time today to hug a professional. They need hugs, too.

Monday, February 4, 2008

"Indies at the Madison" Success!

Many thanks go out to all the great folks who came out for "Indies at the Madison," a week-long showcase of independent short films from local Albany, NY filmmakers. Our show actually out performed all six Hollywood films at the Madison Theater over the weekend. Silver Lining was one of the films featured along with shorts by Jeff Burns, Kevin Dobies, Joy E. Reed, Michalina Almindo, Frank D'Andrea and Terry J. Field. Click here to see the trailer and for more info check out our Myspace.

For more info on Silver Lining and to see the official site. For more info on Runic Films and to see full credits from the film, visit

Thanks again intrepid indie-goers!


Writer/Director, Silver Lining