The Green Bench Film

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

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

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

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

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

the gravity of values and time

interstellar
Opens wide Nov 7

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is Home?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

faith & art

arch of titus
Arch of Titus, Rome

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

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

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

Arc de Triomphe, Paris
Arc de Triomphe, Paris

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

faith & art

arch of titus
Arch of Titus, Rome

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

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

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

Arc de Triomphe, Paris
Arc de Triomphe, Paris

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

home and diving deeper

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

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

What does the film need?

nebraska-movie-junesquibb
June Squibb in NEBRASKA

Last night I attended a SAG Foundation event with Tracy “Twinkie” Byrd, who cast Fruitvale Station, and John Jackson, who casts Alexander Payne’s movies, including Nebraska. Nebraska was a ten year process. Novels, films, plays… they are often difficult things to get right, difficult to complete, to fund, to get out in front of an audience.  Even, maybe especially, the casting process, like much of the rest, is full of intangibles. Who can say why one actor comes through on film or is right for a role? They both mentioned a spiritual component to casting. And an intuitive one.

When he was asked about his day-to-day work casting, Mr. Jackson said he continually asks, “What does the film need?”  It sounds simple, but I find myself returning to it. It’s a great question for anyone in a creative endeavor: for the writer – what does the book or story need? for the improviser – what does the scene need? for everyone on a film – what does the film need? It helps take the ego out of the process and puts the focus on to the final product, where it belongs. It is a question of service and as such, one of love. Love for your fellow artists, for the audience, for the process, and for the work itself. You can watch their interview along with dozens of others at the SAG Foundation website for free!

What does your work need?  It is a question that will return you to your passion when it fades, to your purpose when you lose sight, to the story when you wander off. It is worth revisiting every day. Asking “what does it need?” will keep you honest.

Something else to ponder is this from Emma Thompson. As with Mr. Jackson, I keep coming back to what she says: