Wednesday, December 02, 2015

Everybody Be Cool


That's the problem.

Fear of the known.
Fear of the unknown.
Fear of being different.
Fear of being the same.
Fear of God.
Fear of no God.
Fear of death.
Fear of life.
Fear of each other.
Fear of ourselves.
Fear of things we don't want to talk about.
Fear of things we shout about.
Fear of being called out.
Fear of being found out.
Fear of being judged.
Fear of being ignored.
Fear of losing power.
Fear of the dark.
Fear of the light.

We're not evil, we're scared. We're tiny, barely evolved creatures who haven't existed on this planet long enough to have any idea what we are doing. We're frightened of our own shadows. And as a result, we take it out on each other. Daily. Every time we look around, someone has let fear get the better of them again,. The fear has made them lash out with primitive violence, like a cornered animal. We like to think that just because we have computers in our pockets and footprints on the moon that we're smarter than we really are. The truth is, we don't have the answers and it petrifies us. To the point where we become capable of perpetrating unspeakable violence and horror on each other. When people let fear dictate their actions, things like the Holocaust, 9/11, Columbine, Ferguson, San Bernardino, and Orlando happen. And fear of the "next time it happens" will only cause us to mistrust and misunderstand the person next to us even more, which will only make us more afraid of each other, and the cycle of violence will start all over again. We have so far to go as a species, with so much potential, but the only way we are going to survive is to realize that we are all a part of something bigger, and we are all a part of it together. More guns won't fix our problems any more than less guns will. Stock up on assault rifles and armor piercing rounds if you want, or round them all up and melt them all down into paperweights, the outcome will still be the same. Guns or no guns, as long as we let fear rule our lives, we will continue to find new and creative ways to kill each other.

The only way any of this will go away is to stop being afraid.

People will say I'm naive for believing this, that human nature will never overcome our neanderthal-like desire to attack the things that terrify us. No, we can do it. We just choose not to. Instead of choosing to accept a different point of view, we massacre people in Paris. Instead of choosing to be tolerant of a different system of belief, we round people up into camps and exterminate them. Instead of accepting people who love who they love, we slaughter them inside a night club. Instead of sharing, we hoard. Instead of inviting, we shun. Instead of listening, we refuse to hear. We are all to blame for perpetuating systems of fear that spew rhetoric claiming one side is better than the other, that only people of this particular skin color or that particular view of the universe are valid. We're doing it wrong. All of us. And we need to stop. We need to take advantage of the gift of self-awareness that we've all been granted and stop acting like animals.

We need to stop killing each other and start acting like human beings.

It's not going to be easy. It's not going to happen overnight. It may not happen in our lifetimes. We are fighting against thousands of years of tradition, myth, dogma, and rhetoric. We live in a time when the best leaders we can find only care about telling us who and what to be afraid of. We live in an age of online screaming matches and an "us vs. them" mentality that has seeped into every corner of our lives. But it can't be allowed to continue. If it does, we are doomed as a species. The Fermi Paradox will be proven correct and we will become the cause of our own Great Filter.

Friday, August 07, 2015

Under One Roof

In this house...

I watched a lot of Netflix.

I grilled a lot of steaks.

I threw parties.

I made a movie.

I kissed the love of my life for the first time.

And I asked her to marry me. 

I will always love this house for the things it gave me. 

But most of all, I love that it gave me a home.

And wherever she goes, I follow.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Music Composed and Conducted by...

James Horner is dead. To say I am heartbroken is to say water is wet. He was not necessarily a household name, nor was he someone I know or have even met, but his death hits me like a thunderbolt. Horner was the composer for too many film scores to name in full, but just a cursory glance at his resume speaks volumes about his talent: Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. Titanic. Aliens. Field of Dreams. Braveheart. Apollo 13. Avatar. The Rocketeer. An American Tail. All classics, all with scores overflowing with richness and vibrance, the music soaring with urgency and emotion. Horner had a style that was instantly recognizable (and some critics would say almost to a fault), but that is what drew me to his works. His score for the 1980 Roger Corman-produced Star Wars-knockoff Battle Beyond the Stars was a watershed moment for me. It was the first score I remember humming outside of a movie theater that wasn't part of George's much larger and more recognizable space opera. Sure, I was drawn to the Williams-esque cues that tried hard to evoke the same sense of space fantasy grandiosity on a much smaller budget. Horner would later mention in an interview that it was his least favorite score because of the tiny, inexperienced orchestra he had to work with. But to the 8 year-old me who heard it first on the big screen, it sounded plenty epic enough. From that moment on, whenever Mr. Horner's name appeared in the credits, my ears took notice. As I got older and began developing a deeper appreciation for films, I sought his scores out. I scoured the movie boxes at the video store I worked at to find his name. I tried to find magazine articles or book mentions of him, which was no easy task in the pre-internet days. In high school I used to keep index cards in my desk where I would write down the names of films I discovered he had written the scores to. So many weird and wonderful films, some great, some terrible, but all possessing his trademark sound. Brainstorm. Krull. Deep Impact. Willow. Glory. Off Beat. batteries not included. 48 Hours. Volunteers. Once Around. Cocoon. Class Action. Searching for Bobby Fischer. Whenever I visited a new town, I would venture to their mall's music stores and flip through the soundtrack section in the hopes of finding an unheard Horner score to add to my collection. I probably own close to 30 of his 100-plus scores, some to films I've never even seen. But I know their music like the back of my hand. I can't pinpoint exactly what it is about his music that affects me so much, it's all subjective, but it just does. His music has inspired me, moved me, enriched my life, and touched me in a way that great art is supposed to. I've spent countless hours listening to his music, and it has always been a dream of mine to write a film worthy of his music and have him grant me the honor of writing the score for it. Sadly that will never come to pass, but his staggering body of work will continue to inspire countless film lovers and filmmakers for as long as there are movies. Thank you, Mr. Horner. It has been an honor listening to you. 

Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Gone Phishing

This morning I got a phishing email that was sent from an old friend's obviously hacked email account, so I decided to have some fun. I just wish I could see "Kim's" reactions to my replies.

From: Kim Fagan (and her hacked email account)
To: Michael S. Cunliffe
Sent: Tuesday, March 3, 2015 7:23 AM
Subject: From Kim Fagan.................Help

I really hope you get this fast. I could not inform anyone about our trip, because it was impromptu. we had to be in Philippines for Tour..The program was successful, but our journey has turned sour. we misplaced our wallet and cell phone on our way back to the hotel we lodge in after we went for sight seeing. The wallet contained all the valuables we had. Now, our passport is in custody of the hotel management pending when we make payment.

I am sorry if i am inconveniencing you, but i have only very few people to run to now. i will be indeed very grateful if i can get a short term loan from you ($1,950). this will enable me sort our hotel bills and get my sorry self back home. I will really appreciate whatever you can afford in assisting me with. I promise to refund it in full as soon as soon as I return. let me know if you can be of any assistance. Please, let me know soonest.

Kim Fagan, M.D.

From:  Michael S. Cunliffe
To:  Kim Fagan
Sent: Tuesday, March 3, 2015 10:28 AM
Subject: Re: From Kim Fagan.................Help

I can't believe you have the nerve to ask me for help after what you did the last time we saw each other.  Have you no shame? I REPEATEDLY screamed our safe word and you continued to use the bullwhip. You ripped my heart into a thousand pieces and you have the gall to ask me for money? I might be willing to help you and give you one last chance if you tell me you are sorry and that you'll give up the crazy dream of becoming a professional tennis instructor. You're a doctor, Kim, you don't just throw all that aside like you did with me. And I know you went to the Philippines for your sex re-re-reassignment surgery, don't lie. You need cash so you can get that third penis you've always wanted. Fine, I will help you, but only because I want to see you dress like a lumberjack this Christmas. Where should I send the money?


From: Kim Fagan
To: Michael S Cunliffe
Sent: Tuesday, March 3, 2015 10:56 AM
Subject: Re: From Kim Fagan.................Help

Thanks for the prompt response...You can have the money wire to us via western union, All you need is the name on my passport and present location below:

Name: Kim Fagan Location: 1618 .M. hiron street Cruz 1004, Country: Manila Philippines
Once you are done with the transfer kindly get back to me with the western union Money Transfer Confirmation Number (MTCN)to pick up the money with my valid passport and get back home on time, Let me know if you are heading to the western union NOW?


Kim Fagan

From:  Michael S. Cunliffe
To:  Kim Fagan
Sent: Tuesday, March 3, 2015 10:28 AM
Subject: Re: From Kim Fagan.................Help

I don't think you're hearing me, Kim. I'm not doing this for you, I'm doing it for your soon to be attached penis(es). So you better appreciate all the money I am going to send you. But I need a sign, a gesture, SOMETHING that lets me know you still care. Unless you can prove to me you still love me, you won't be getting any of this money. I await your response.


From: Kim Fagan
To: Michael S Cunliffe
Sent: Tuesday, March 3, 2015 11:38 AM
Subject: Re: From Kim Fagan.................Help

Yes I love you very much...I am freaked out here at the moment. Please keep me posted with the transfer details once done.

I owe you alot

Kim Fagan

From:  Michael S. Cunliffe
To:  Kim Fagan
Sent: Tuesday, March 3, 2015 11:58 AM
Subject: Re: From Kim Fagan.................Help

Oh, come on, Kim, don't take that dismissive tone with me. You know full well it's that kind of abuse that makes me hate you. You don't want to turn out like your mother, do you? I didn't think so. I suppose I should be honest with you. Your mother told me right before she died that she never loved you, she always wanted a son and you were her biggest disappointment. But I kept it from you because I know how hard you would take it. But then again, you're always strong, you can handle anything. Which is why it is so odd that you would send me a message for help. I think I need to teach you a lesson. You need to get out of this jam yourself. It might be hard for you to see it now, but this is for your own good. Anyway, I don't have time for this, I'll be leaving the country soon, I have all that Nazi gold to bury and the corpse of Eleanor Roosevelt to reanimate. Have fun in the Philippines! I'll send you a postcard when I find that Vietnamese prostitute that stole my soul back in the 70s. She still insists that she doesn't have it, but I know she does, I showed it to her before I put on the tooth fairy costume and robbed that old lady of her meth. Ironic, no? Meth makes you lose teeth, Kim, but you know that better than anyone, what with the dentist you strangled to keep her from blabbing about the inheritance money you swindled her out of. I don't blame you, if I saw a couple of incisors coming at me in the dark after all the LSD we took, I'd strangle anything that moves. It's like that time in Mexico when we crashed your car into the monastery and burned all the monks to keep warm. Good times, Kim, good times. Can't put a price tag on those memories. They're worth a lot more that $1950. That should be payment enough, don't you think?


From: Kim Fagan
To: Michael S Cunliffe
Sent: Tuesday, March 3, 2015 12:04 PM
Subject: Re: From Kim Fagan.................Help

Now you shouldn't see this as a and i know i will need my passport ID to pick up the money at the western union outlet. I told you my present predicament and you are there asking me questions. my return flight leaves in couple of hours from now and am seriously having problems with the hotel manager. He has never been nice to me since the day i got mugged.

I want you to know its me and FYI i will never give my password to any one. I'm writing to you now with bruises all over my head. Kindly head out to the western union to wire the money to my name and my present location so that i can sort out my bills and start coming back home before i miss my return flight. I promise to pay back as soon as am back home today.

As soon as it is done, Kindly get back to me with the western union confirmation details. 

I owe you a lot.

Kim Fagan

From: Michael S. Cunliffe
To:  Kim Fagan
Sent: Tuesday, March 3, 2015 2:04 PM
Subject: Re: From Kim Fagan.................Help

Okay, you're right. It's not a joke. I'm sorry for making fun of you. I can understand how hard it is to deal with your situation. It reminds me of that time in Guam when we carjacked that busload of school kids and used them as human lawn darts. We tied the littlest one to that sharpened pole-vaulting pole and launched her into the air with that catapult we made with the bungee cords and the last nitrous oxide tank we hadn't used up. You lit the fuse with the one burning monk that was still on fire and we watched as our makeshift missile shot straight into the sky. It arced over the refinery, then plummeted back to earth, where the pole landed with a loud "SHLURP" into the soft mud of the riverbank. Next time we have to remember to tie the kids to the poles with their heads pointed away from the pointy end so that they land right side up. Ah well, live and learn. But I'll never forget that drunk homeless guy who saw the whole thing and called the cops, which pissed you off so bad you shot him with the German Luger you stole from the fat Armenian guy back at the opium den. Worst MLK Birthday ever. And I'll tell you the same thing now that I told you then, when it comes to black tar heroin, Guam is not a buyer's market. I don't know why I let you convince me otherwise. I bet the bruises we got from the beatings we endured on that trip are just like the ones you have now. See, Kim, it all comes full circle. Life's funny that way. Look, I could go on for days about the adventures we had together, but you've got a plane to catch. I was going to send you the money through Western Union, but I wasn't sure if you wanted US dollars or Mexican Pesos? I may have to go the bank if you need the Pesos, but I know how much prettier you think their money is. Actually, would Swiss francs be okay? I still have that big stack of them you left on my nightstand right next to the skull of Danny Kaye you got me when I graduated Phoenix University. Just let me know which you prefer!


From: Michael S. Cunliffe
To:  Kim Fagan
Sent: Tuesday, March 3, 2015 4:44 PM
Subject: Re: From Kim Fagan.................Help

You didn't respond to my last email, is everything okay?  I still want to send you the money, just tell me what currency you need it in!


From: Kim Fagan <>
To: Michael S Cunliffe <>
Sent: Tuesday, March 3, 2015 5:21 PM
Subject: Re: From Kim Fagan.................Help

please all needed is $1950…

Kim Fagan

From: Michael S. Cunliffe
To:  Kim Fagan
Sent: Tuesday, March 3, 2015 10:48 PM
Subject: Re: From Kim Fagan.................Help

Okay, Kim. I’ve given it a lot of thought and I’ve decided that this will be our last correspondence. It’s not me, Kim, it’s you. You’ve just become so distant lately. Your last minute jaunts to far-off destinations, soliciting people for money at all hours of the night, getting smacked around by abusive hotel managers… We used to dream about those things together, Kim, don’t you remember?  All those crazy late nights we spent smuggling fake Levi’s jeans into Russia to in the late 1980s.  There we were, a thousand miles behind the Iron Curtain, freezing our asses off inside some dingy tractor trailer in subzero temperatures just so we could scam those poor Ruskie teens with knock-off 501s we got wholesale from that gypsy woman you used to know back in Tangiers. I looked over at you in the night air, with nothing between us and the harsh Soviet wasteland except a cracked windshield and said, “When we get back to civilization, I’m booking the two of us a one-way ticket to the Philipines!” But that dream never came true, Kim. Once we got back to the U.S. you took our life savings and gave it all to the Scientologists.  Sure, you reached OT Level 9, met Xenu, and can bend spoons with your mind, but did you ever stop to think what would do to me? My body thetans were never going to be able to keep up with yours, you have too many midicholrians. And those drunken orgies at the Celebrity Center were murder on my soul and my liver. I don’t know what hurts more, the fact that Tom Cruise still calls you, or that John Travolta still pronounces my name correctly.  But I don’t have to rehash all the details, you know damn well this is what forced us apart. And now, here we are, decades later, and you throw it in my face that you are out there enjoying our shared paradise with somebody else. I guess I should have known that Reagan’s America was too good to last and when the Berlin Wall came crashing down, so did any chance of us making it. You were once the Glasnost of my heart, but this is where I draw the line. Say goodbye, Kim, and say goodbye to my $1950. You will just have to find your way home alone. As we all do. 


Sunday, August 31, 2014

The Card in My Wallet

I've wanted to make movies since I was 5 years old.  My parents taking me to see Star Wars in the summer of 1977 saw to that.  At the time I had no idea what exactly that meant, but the combination of light and magic I saw projected on that movie screen in Asheville, North Carolina 37 years ago flipped a switch in my brain and I've never been the same since.  Pretty much every decision I've made up to now has in one way or another been influenced by that event.  Said outloud, it sounds absurd that a movie with a giant walking carpet and a bad guy with asthma could influence someone so profoundly, but it happened.  Of course, it wasn't until college when I really began to understand how the business of movies worked.  They didn't just conjure themselves out of thin air and arrive at the movie theater (or video store) by magic.  All those names in the closing credits aren't there for nothing.  Making movies takes people, and usually a lot of them.  When I finally had the opportunity to work on a real film set, I learned very quickly that even the smallest of films have a million moving parts, and if any one of them is out of whack, the entire thing can collapse.  No one sets out to make a bad film, but it's really easy to do if you're not careful.  But, despite the fragile nature of the pursuit, and the scarcity of economic resources required to undertake such a voyage, somewhere in the Summer of 1996 I committed to paper a vow that I would be undaunted by the challenges that lie ahead and that I would someday realize my childhood dream and make an honest-to-George motion picture.  In color, no less.  I was inspired by a TV profile of Jim Carrey, who at the time was the highest paid actor in show biz.  Years before he became the biggest star on the planet, when he had first moved to Hollywood to realize his dreams, he climbed to the top of Griffith Park and looked out over the city, vowing to himself that he would make it.  He took out a piece of paper and wrote himself a check for one million dollars "for acting services rendered."  He then slipped the check into his wallet, promising himself one day that he would cash that check.  And of course, we all know how that turned out.  So, in the spirit of Mr. Carrey's positive thinking, I wrote out a promise to myself.  Nothing as lofty as a million bucks, but a vow nonetheless that I would actually do it.  At the time, I was working at Eastdale Mall in Montgomery at the 8-screen Carmike Cinema next to the Sears.  By the time I left I had become a projectionist there, but my initial job was standing in the lobby and announcing from the intercom what movies were seating.  Because I stood next to the velvet ropes that blocked the lobby from the hallway, the position was called "The Ropes."  Eastdale 8 was the first theater in town with a THX certified sound system.  It was, at the time, the crown jewel of the Carmike theaters in Montgomery.  What better place, I thought, to premiere my own movie?  So, in the early morning hours of June (I've always been a night owl), I put pen to paper and wrote out the following on an index card:
Sunday, June 30, 1996
3:35 AM

I, Mike Cunliffe, will in 5 years, return to Eastdale 8 Cinemas, and announce from the ropes to a crowd of friends and family that my movie is now seating.  Thank you and enjoy the show.

Then I signed it, folded it up, and put it in my wallet.  Now keep in mind, I had not even written a script yet.  I didn't even have a story.  I certainly didn't know I was going to pay for it.  And up to this point, the only real experience I had in the film business was cleaning up the theater after Braveheart let out.  So giving myself only 5 years to make good on the promise might have been a bit ambitious.  And once I realized (very quickly) that it was going to take a bit longer that that, I just left the index card in my wallet.  I had to shore it up with scotch tape over the years, and retrace the faded lettering to make it legible, but it has survived numerous washings, wallets, and whatever else I could throw at it.  It's like a good luck charm, a motivator, and a reminder all at once.  I sometimes forget it is there, but I'll catch sight of it when I'm buying groceries and all the reasons why I want to make movies come rushing back, even if only for a microsecond.  And a week ago, after more adventures that I can recount here, I got to finally make good on the deal.  Okay, so the movie theater I used to work at doesn't exist anymore, and it took 17 years instead of 5, but I finally got to show a crowd of family and friends that the silly 5-year old who fell in love with movies in a galaxy far, far away could make one of his own.  And in color no less.  I can't put into words what it was like to be in that theater that night.  I'll never forget it as long as I live.  It made everything worth it.  Everything.  And I am overwhelmed with gratitude.  To so many.  For so many reasons.  But mostly, I am proud. Of the film, for sure, but also, I'm proud of myself for seeing it through.  For not giving up.  For not letting the fear and the doubt and the calendar discourage me.  It's been the hardest thing I've ever done.  And I wanted to stop a thousand times.  But I didn't.  Because I wrote to myself and said I wouldn't.  It took me longer than I thought it would, but if I've learned anything on this crazy adventure it's that dreams don't have a time limit.  They really can and do come true. 

Monday, April 08, 2013


I'll never forget the day I met her.  It was a humid, overcast morning in September, 2002.  I was headed to work at WAKA TV-8, the local CBS affiliate in Montgomery, Alabama.  I put the key in the ignition of my car and started down the road.  But I quickly realized that something was amiss.  The normally cold and refreshing air from the air conditioner was blowing warm and unpleasant in my face.   I could just feel it in my gut that whatever might be wrong with my car, it wasn't going to be cheap to fix.

WAKA shared a property line with the Montgomery Saturn dealership.  My parking space at work literally faced rows and rows of Saturns for sale just a few dozen feet away from the station's satellite dishes.  So on that fateful September morning, instead of pulling into WAKA's lot, I pulled into the Saturn service bay.  The mechanics opened the hood, prodded around, and told me that my air conditioner was kaput.  The cost to fix it would be at least 3 times what the car was worth.  And anyone living in Alabama knows that come spring, the heat inside a car without a working air conditioner is akin to riding around in a sauna for 5 months.  Unwilling to face that prospect, I turned and looked out at the dealership window and spotted a shiny, silver-blue sedan sitting in the corner.  I turned back to the sales guy and said, "I'll take that one."

A few hours later, after a quick test drive and a lot of paperwork, I drove off the lot in my brand new 2002 Saturn SL-2, complete with CD player, power locks, power windows, and working air conditioner.  My initial ride in my new car was fairly short, only the few hundred feet from the dealership to the WAKA lot, but the new car smell filled my nostrils and the music was cranked up.  I showed off my new transport to my fellow co-workers, then went up to my office to catch up on my work for the day.  It was only a few minutes later, a half hour at the most, that my office phone rang.  The voice on the other end was Robin Citrin, the location manager for the film Big Fish.  Weeks before, I had interviewed with her for a possible job on the set of the movie which was in pre-production in the city.  She was calling to tell me that the film had officially been given a green light by the studio and that the job was mine if I wanted it.  I was to start in 3 weeks for a 7 month shoot.  I had to pick my jaw up off the floor.  In the span of a few hours I went from having a broken air conditioner to owning a new car and getting a job on a Tim Burton movie.

That was just the beginning of the adventures of Loretta and me.  Yes, my car was named Loretta.  It's a reference to a line in Monty Python's Life of Brian ("I want to be called Loretta and have babies").  I don't know why that line stuck with me, it has absolutely nothing to do with cars, but it just seemed like the right name for my car.  I never called her that in public, but when we were alone, she was Loretta and she was my baby.  My car.  There was the Betty Page air freshener that hung from her mirror, the rapidly fading Daffy Duck that sat in the rear window, and all the other quirks and eccentricities that she possessed.  All cars have their own unique personality and Loretta was no different.  And in the nearly 11 years I owned her, I got know her very well.  She was with me every single day on the set of Big Fish, taking me to and from all the magic and wonder that I witnessed on that film on a daily basis.  And after the film wrapped, she was my ride to Los Angeles when I moved away.  She was forced to endure the slog of the trip that is Texas, the miles and miles of dirt, oil rigs, and Whataburgers that you have to suffer through to get to California.  But she never complained, she just hummed along and kept me on the right course, with cool air and loud tunes the whole way.

Loretta survived 4 years of L.A. traffic, safely navigating the 10, the 101, and the 405 the entire time.  She drove me up the Pacific Coast Highway to watch the sunset over the ocean countless times.  I took her to every movie set I worked on and she always got me back home, even when I was bleary-eyed and exhausted from another 15 hour day.  She was there for me when I moved back to Alabama, she was there during my marriage and all good times that came with that, and she was there for me during my divorce, helping me literally pick up the pieces of my life and move forward.  She took me to on trips to visit family at the holidays, to weddings, to funerals, to the biggest moments of my life and the lives of the people around me.  Maybe it's silly to wax poetic about an internal combustion engine with 4 doors and a radio, but my car really did mean a lot to me. She was the place I collected my thoughts, the place I listened to music only I wanted to hear, and the place where I often did my best thinking.  We take it for granted, but when you think about it, you really do spend a lot of time alone in your car.  It's one of the few places where you get to be alone, inside your own little bubble of sanity that only you and the car know about.  Loretta knew a lot about me, that's for sure.  She saw me at my best, my worst and all points in-between.  But she never said anything, she just kept her wheels on the road and got me home at the end of the day.

She wasn't perfect.  The windshield washer never worked right, and the driver's side window wouldn't roll down.  And like all cars, despite regular oil changes, tire rotations, and tune-ups, she just got to be too expensive to maintain.  When she started having the symptoms of a major problem last week, I took her to the Tire Pros downtown and it was clear her time had come.  It was sad cleaning her out and saying goodbye, but life moves on.  It's just a car.  And by this time next week I'm sure I'll have another one to carry me around.  I'm not sure what kind of car it will be, and I don't know what kind of adventures we will have together.  I'm sure they will be just as amazing and strange and unpredictable as the ones I've had with the last one.  But I'll always look back fondly at my time with Loretta.  She was with me during some crazy days and even crazier nights.  I've never been much of a car guy, but I'll sure miss this one.  Thanks, Loretta.  I hope your rest in peace is rust-free.

Monday, February 04, 2013

Sounds Like A Movie

Trying to make a feature-length film is just slightly less complicated than landing a man on the moon, and when you're trying to do for practically no money, you might as well be wearing a blindfold.  Not only are you attempting the impossible, but you're doing it in the dark.  But, if you just keep fumbling around and aren't afraid of tripping over yourself, eventually (hopefully) you find your way.  Even though the script for It Is What It Is was written with an ultra-low budget in mind, it still requires some money bring it to life.  And trying to raise money for any movie is always an uphill battle, not matter how big or small that movie may be.  The trick is to not give up and not get discouraged.  It's like trying to break down a brick wall with a rubber mallet.  It feels like an impossible task, but with enough patience and perseverance, eventually the wall comes tumbling down.

Going into this project, I knew that raising the funds was going to be the problem, the problem that has derailed so many other unfinished films before it.  Way back when I was in college and was first thinking of making my own feature films, the tools required to shoot a movie were insanely expensive.  The cost of the film stock alone could be tens of thousands of dollars.  And the cameras that use that film stock aren't cheap to rent either, plus the costs of processing the film after you've shot it.  So even if you're just making a film about two guys having dinner in a room, you're already hundreds of thousands of dollars in the red before you shoot a single frame.  Thankfully, advances in digital technology over the last 15 years have done a lot to to level the playing field, making it possible to shoot feature-quality footage at a fraction of the cost of film.  But you still have to rent cameras, lenses, lights, and microphones just like every other movie.   Not to mention the props, costumes, location fees, and all the other unavoidable costs associated with making a film.  And then you have to hire talented folks who know how to use all that stuff to shoot the film itself.  It may be a lot cheaper to make movies now than it once was, but it's still not free.  You have to pay for it somehow.  

Since the rise of social networking, crowdsourcing (through sites like Kickstarter and IndieGoGo) has become the go-to method for raising funds for independent films these days.  And while many films have funded their productions this way, it's hardly a slam dunk.  Many more fail than succeed.  We fell short of our own initial crowdsourcing goal this past fall.  That said, the support we did receive was truly humbling and there aren't enough words to express my gratitude and appreciation for the folks who donated to us.  The show of support from friends, family, and even total strangers only makes me determined to finish this film even more.  We don't quite have enough to film the entire movie yet, but we're well on our way, and the only thing to do is to just keep hammering away until we knock down the entire wall.

To help in that effort, we're holding a fundraiser on February 28 at Avondale Brewing Company to try and raise the remainder of what we need to shoot the film.   There will be great food, great beer, and some amazing local music.  Some insanely talented Birmingham musicians have been kind enough to lend their talents to the cause and will be performing that night.  Their music will also appear in the film, which is so exciting I can't even begin to tell you how happy it makes me.

I first became familiar with Delicate Cutters through local filmmaker Chance Shirley.  Not only is he a talented film director with two feature films under his belt (Hide & Creep and Interplanetary), he also plays drums in the band.  Their music is a perfect blend of bluesy southern rock that just sounds like Birmingham to me.  And they are incredible live. Their music plays a big role in a major scene in the film and really captures the spirit of the movie.  Plus, we are going to shoot a cameo of the band performing live in the film.   You can see the new music video for their song Tilt-A-Whirl right here:

Delicate Cutters - Tilt-A-Whirl

The first time I saw Gabriel Tajeu perform was at Artwalk weekend last year.  He started into his set on the outdoor stage that Saturday afternoon and I stopped in my tracks.  His music instantly conjured up images in my head of It Is What It Is.  The song he started his set with sounded like it had been written for the movie.  I was knocked out by his soulful blend of pop and R&B.  I immediately tracked him down (i.e. stalked on Facebook) and somehow convinced him to contribute some of his music to the film.  And not only is he a great musician, he's an even nicer person.  One of his songs features during a very emotional and significant turning point in the lives of two of the main characters in the film.  Here is a video of Gabriel performing live at BAAM Fest:

Gabriel Tajeau - BAAM Fest

There's a lot more in the works, and come hell or high water this movie will get made.  Having talented  folks like the ones above contributing to the film just makes me more confident than ever.  If nothing else, this movie will have an incredible soundtrack!  For more information about the Fundraiser, check out our Facebook Event right here:

It Is What It Is Fundraiser - February 28th at Avondale Brewing Company

Avondale Brewery also features prominently as a location in the film, so it wil be a great night for folks to come out and get a sense of what the movie is all about and meet some of the talented people working in front of and behind the camera.  Even if you can't make it out, invite your friends and help support local filmmaking!