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!

Monday, January 28, 2013

All This Time

In the Fall of 1990 I was a fresh-faced freshman attending my first quarter at Auburn University Montgomery.  Like most 18 year-olds straight out of high school, I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life, and certainly had no major picked out.  Film school was not even on my radar at the time, and even if it was I never could have afforded it anyway  But I always liked getting in front of people and making a fool of myself, so on a lark I decided to take a film acting class.  I figured it would be an easy A for my first quarter and I might even get to meet girls.  Well, I didn't meet any in that class, but I did find out about auditions for "The Night of the Iguana" being held by Theatre AUM.  Encouraged by the professor to try out, I decided to show up and give it a shot.  Dr. Gaines, the head of the Theatre Department and director of the show, for reasons only known to him cast me as Pancho, one of the Mexican houseboys.  It was my first role in a real play with real lines (all in Spanish), and even though I had to dye my hair black and cover my body with brown make-up every night, I embraced the role and my life at Theatre AUM had officially begun.  And one of the first people I met at Theatre AUM was Jim Burbey.  He had been cast as Jake Latta in the show and since neither of us had very big parts, we wound up spending a lot of time backstage just hanging out.  Jim was a lovable lunk, a term I use with the utmost respect and affection.  He was a big guy, with long, floppy hair, piercing eyes, and a wide grin that was always a welcome sight.  And I think even he would agree he was just a few degrees off normal, which is a requirement for anyone who has a passion for performing, and one of the reasons we bonded so quickly.  During our conversations backstage, Jim and I would swap stories about music we liked, movies we loved, and I am lucky to say that after that show, we had become friends.  We would often hang out in his dorm with other theatre misfits and play role-playing games, watch movies, and just be the goofy oddballs that made us members of Theatre AUM.  After that first show, Jim and I spent a lot of time together working after hours at the theatre helping Mike Winkelman build sets, collect props, and do whatever necessary to get the next show off the ground.  One of my fondest memories of those late nights was Jim bringing in CDs to listen to while we worked.  We would often load up the disc player in the booth and let the music ring out across the theatre as we helped Mike bring his magnificent sets to life.  But after my first full year at AUM I decided to drop out, still unsure of what I wanted to do with my life.  But Theatre AUM always called me back, and eventually I made theatre my major, and my life has been ever richer for it.  And it was because of people like Jim.  Jim was like all the other theatre people I have known: eccentric, hilarious, emotional, and wonderful.  He had problems and demons just like we all do, but in the warm embrace of the theatre and the people who filled it, he, like me, found a refuge from the real world and knew that inside those walls, no matter what, he was accepted.  We were a part of a community, part of an amazing world where no one judged you, no one looked down on you, and no one believed you weren't worth including.  Over the years, Jim and I worked on a few more shows together, but real life takes you in strange directions and eventually we lost touch, save for a random encounter here and there.  But thanks to Facebook we did reconnect a couple years ago and it was nice to see that he was still that same lovable lunk I knew way back in the day.  Like a lot of people you meet in life, you take for granted that they will always be there, and to hear of Jim's passing this week broke my heart.  But the memories I have of he and I killing time backstage, telling jokes and swapping stories are some of my fondest memories of my time at Theatre AUM.  Because Jim was a guy who was just fun to be around.   I will never forget one night at the theatre in early 1991, Jim brought in a copy of Sting's album "The Soul Cages" which had just come out.  He couldn't stop raving about it, so we put it on the CD player and let it loop while we painted the set for "The Memorandum."  And from that night on, any time I hear that album, I always think of Jim and the fun we had just being oddballs in the theatre.  Thank you, Jim, for showing me there was a place for guys like us in this world.  For that I will be forever grateful.  See you in the next life, my friend.