general

We Compose Our Stories Like How We Compose Our Lives, Part 2

Continuing with the reveal of the “development playlists” …

In addition to thinking about what songs could illustrate a certain scene or state, I also made some guidelines that would take advantage of my personal music collection and not weight it toward a certain artist or style.

One condition I had was that an artist would appear either once or in all three.  Slowdive, Tearwave and Vangelis are examples of this.  The Cure, Joy Division and Gary Numan may appear twice, but each provided the titles for each of them.  For an example, The Cure provided the title for On Nights Like This and thus Joy Division and Gary Numan appear in the playlist.  The only exception to the “all or nothing” rule was with Harold Budd and Brian Eno providing “First Light” and “Failing Light” on the On Nights Like This playlist.

There are a few songs that I always intended to be the actual cues for the scene.  There are also a few that would become a potential cue.  There are finally a few that would lead the way to a potential cue.  I’ll leave it at that for now =].

See the playlist for All That We Are (more…)

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We Compose Our Stories Like How We Compose Our Lives, Part 1

I’m someone who likes to listen to music whenever I do things.  This also applies whenever I write (like several writers and even screenwriters).  I find that having music helps inform, inspire and gauge what you are doing, especially when you have a sense of what it should be.

When I was developing each story, its characters and its script, I would listen to a playlist I designed specifically for that potential film.  It maps the general arc and each song reflects either a particular scene or a character’s state of mind.  They provided for me the means of experiencing the journey and the world of these characters, their lives and their choices over a span of time.  In turn, I hope that this transferred onto the page and potentially on film.

These next few posts will cover those playlists I made and used for the writing and development stages.  I have included, wherever possible both the iTunes and the Amazon links (both US stores) for the individual song and its corresponding source (either the exact one I used or its closest readily available one).  The links in the artist column will direct you to their official page/site (or barring that, their Wikipedia page).  I also included a brief explanation about the song’s “function” in the story as well as any other relevant information.

See the playlist for On Nights Like This (more…)

We Compose Our Stories Like How We Compose Our Lives, Part 3

Concluding the reveal of the “development playlists” …

The songs were all sourced from my own personal CD collection (yes, I still buy those) that’s in turn transferred onto my iPod (affectionately called “i-djproject”). As a musical artist myself, I appreciate any and all support so I can continue doing what I enjoy doing and, in turn, can provide the fruits of my own labour for you, the listener. I know this sentiment is shared by all artists as well. Please support them as much and as often as you can. If you do this naturally, thank you.

See the playlist for Walk in Silence (more…)

In the Creative Garden (or: Every Endeavour Has a Starting Point)

First off, I apologize for the extremely long absence. I can’t say at this point that I am going to be writing something regularly because I want this to be about quality and not so much quantity. I know others can do it and maybe someday I will also. But in the mean time … I offer this.

So what brought all of this? What drove me to write three feature-length scripts, which I would like to turn into three films?

The story actually begins in 2005. I had graduated from the College of William and Mary and was in that “post-college/pre-employment angst” period. For most people, the plaguing question is “What” as in “What are you going to do?” For myself – and I’m sure this is true for many a creative type – the plaguing question was “How” or “How are you going to do it?” And I was never absolutely sure how I was to achieve any and all creative aims I harboured. Furthermore, I was trying to start an adult life, meaning finding a job where I can support myself and leave the nest. And then other preoccupations and unresolved grief that only arise when everything is not going well. But I’m not one to twiddle thumbs and wait for something to happen. All it takes is planting seeds and with enough care, persistence and allowing of outside elements to work its own magic, it can sprout and become something. So that’s what I did and what I’ve always done: looked for and catch those ideas like fireflies.

One such idea was On Nights Like This. I knew right away the general story structure: starts with a breakup, then goes through another relationship and it’ll end where it “starts.” In time, other elements will come into play such as what episodes will occur during the story and who the characters will be. The first attempt occurred during the first half of 2006 and it ended being nothing more just a vague outline, a few scenes (with differing degrees of completion) and a scattering of notes here and there. The second attempt – November 2006 – used a different approach and this time it was a novel. The original intent was to write the novel and have that be script (no or little attempt to translate it into the screenplay format). While the first and second acts were flushed out, it was still not complete. And a third attempt in June 2007 took whatever I wrote and actually transformed it into a script and again it was not complete.

During all of that time, I went through a lot. I had a music project called The Spangle Maker initiated on May 2006 and through its evolution spawned two EPs, an LP and several singles by October 2009. I also had a spotty day-job career in order to support myself and my endeavours. I was also a choir director at Protection of the Holy Mother of God Orthodox Church in Falls Church, VA. Finally I made an effort – and succeeded – in moving from the familiar landscape of Virginia outside of Washington, DC for the unfamiliar landscape of greater Boston. And I even found time for some love … and some more loss.

2009 was a tough and bleak year. The move was not as smooth or graceful as I would have liked it to have been. Without some steady income, it was hard to get around and truly settle. New problems piled on top of old problems and I felt as if I were stuck deep in this endless mire with no hope of rescue. Also I felt more and more disenchanted with working on music as a career path. While I still enjoy making music and I haven’t given it up, I also felt that making new music is a futile and useless gesture. So once again – as I always do – I was tending the creative garden by planting seeds.

In October, I revisited that idea and all of its previous incomplete attempts at writing a finished product. Suddenly it became very clear that this is what I need to do: finish what I began so long ago. And in this period of rediscovery, two seedlings were planted and they would become All That We Are and Walk in Silence. After working on notes and final formulation for a month and then less than a month in actual scriptwriting, I finished the first draft of On Nights Like This on 11 December 2009.

The first half of 2010 was spent working on two more drafts of On Nights Like This (its final draft was 18 June) and working out the storyline and the characters for All That We Are and Walk in Silence. The second half of 2010 was spent actually writing three drafts each of All That We Are and Walk in Silence and its final draft dates were 10 November and 21 November respectively. And while 2010 was marked with turbulent episodes and seem to continue the 2009 depression, working on these scripts and getting to know these characters provided a much needed oasis from the raging storm.

Things are a lot better than they were a year or two ago. However there’s always room for improvement. And in the meantime, I tend the garden and all that is in it. This should at least explain why I’ve been silent for a long while.

P.S. I could always use some assistance (of one sort or another) with tending the garden =]

Stand on the Shoulders of Giants and Perhaps You’ll Be in Their Company Too

Tonight is the 83rd Academy Awards. While I don’t own a television and I have no interest in watching the broadcast, I am monitoring the live feed as the winners are announced.

I have mixed feelings about the Academy Awards in general. While I appreciate recognition of good works within the various trades, the Academy Award is not the only indicator of greatness. There are plenty of other accolades one can accrue: the Golden Globes, the BAFTAs, the various critics awards, the various guild awards and of course film festivals. And of course there are plenty of derision one can receive as well: the Golden Raspberries, a negative review and the scorn of your friends responding to the news via [insert favorite social network here]. Finally there’s the “well-deserved” factor: either you won for the right one, you won for the wrong one or the wrong one won over the right one. So you either scream with excitement or you scream with damnation … either way your throat is sore like many a football fan three weeks ago.

For myself, I just appreciate good work wherever it is, no matter if awards were given or not. After all, there are examples of films that never due got their due at the time of release but then accumulated great attention afterward. In 1994, there was one film that was nominated for seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture, but didn’t win a single one. But a year later, it was the top rental in the United States and currently it sits fairly comfortably as #1 on the Internet Movie Database’s Top 250 Films. In 1942, another film was nominated for nine Academy Awards, including Best Picture, but only won one (Best Original Screenplay). But in 1998 (and again in 2007), it was #1 on the American Film Institute’s “100 Years … 100 Films.”

The point is not to like something just because it won this award or that accolade. It should connect with you, inspire you, motivate you, challenge you and perhaps even take you to a greater height from where you were. Yes it’s great when it wins something or gets this much attention. But wouldn’t you like it any less if it didn’t get that one award you were hoping it would get?

Now all of that being said … I look at these awards and do think about where I was, where I am and where I would like to go.

I was, for a long time, a dedicated viewer of film. For a long time, it was entertainment but something I really enjoyed, though I didn’t always understand why. But then as a teenager, I began to see it as something more than just mere entertainment. I started to notice it more as an art form and that you can dedicate to it like an artist much in the same way a painter does using paint, a photographer does using a camera and a composer does using music. Finally in college, I began to consider more the possibility that I could do it as well and I didn’t have to depend on people miles away from me to make something.

In order to get to that point, I too had to stand on the shoulders of giants. If there was one person whom I could call a “cinematic father figure,” it would be Stanley Kubrick. While it’s easy to “like” him for the films he made, it’s not easy to like him for his personality that has become legend and exaggerated myth. While others may have called him “obsessive” or “control-freak” or “perfectionist,” I see someone who was very passionate about film and wasn’t going to settle for mediocre. He was the first one who taught me that if something’s worth making, it’s worth making very well. Over time there are other directors as well: Paul Thomas Anderson, Wes Anderson, Michelangelo Antonioni, Darren Aronofsky, Stan Brakhage, Robert Bresson, Carl Theodor Dreyer, David Fincher, Jean-Luc Godard, David Lynch, Christopher Nolan, Yasujiro Ozu, Akira Kurosawa, Preston Sturges, Andrei Tarkovsky, Orson Welles, Billy Wilder, among so many others. In all the films I’ve ever watched – from the ones I liked to the ones I didn’t, from the ones I thought were great to the ones I thought were downright awful – I’ve learned something and I think that is what made me what I am now and what I hope will take me further.

Right now, I stand by a great accomplishment of having finished three feature-length scripts within a year. This was someone who only wrote a script once before but never took any type of screenwriting course or never thought of himself as capable of writing something that others could read and enjoy. This was also someone who was battling his own personal depression due to by very heavy circumstances and situations, both outside his control and due to his own fault. [And no, I didn’t end up writing something like Anti-christ, though interestingly I saw it during that time]. And while it was quite therapeutic for me, I wrote it with the intention of making them. So it was important for me that they were written and were written to the best of my ability. And so with some persistence, dedication, a bit of outside help and yes plenty of time, I did it.

And now, I still want to make them and am doing everything I can to make it happen. The best comparison I could make is with Boriska in Andrei Rublyov (dir. Andrei Tarkovsky, 1966). Boriska is around twelve to thirteen years old, whose father was a bell maker but died due to plague. But he manages to convince emissaries of the Grand Prince (of Moscow) to commission him to cast a grand bell that most seasoned bell makers would deem impossible due to Boriska possessing the “great secret to casting bells.” Acting purely on faith and a certain naïveté – and yes there are some prayers to the Theotokos involved too – he immerses himself and directs the casting of the bell. In the end, it’s successful and this even inspires Andrei Rublev, who at this point took a vow of silence and vowed never to paint ikons, to take up ikonography once more.

So for me, I would like to be able to cast this impossible bell and all I have is faith, courage, some proven talent in other areas, and yes some naïveté. While it will be nice to get an accolade or two for my efforts and the efforts of future collaborators, what would really be nice is to be able to stand amongst the company of those who inspired me to do this in the first place. Maybe someday I will don my own tuxedo and walk down the red carpet and be “entertained” by the hosts. And perhaps I could even be called down to take home a statuette of my own and say “thank you” in total shock. But the accolade that will be the most important for me is to say: “I made it. And I made a film or three too.”

What Is My Motivation b/w What I Can See and What I Can Say

What Is My Motivation?

Filmmaking is a risky venture. You put so much money into it expecting a return that mostly doesn’t come immediately or even not at all. Paradoxically the more diverse films are, the more fragmented a large pool of people are and thus it’s difficult to bring as many people as possible to see what you’ve done. So why do it at all? Just like any other medium of art, it stems from a desire to express something meaningful to a larger world.

For myself, I think these three are worth making because they are worth seeing. First, I think of myself as an artist, who has used music in the past and now wants to use film as well. The desire of an artist is to share something of himself to the world at large, whether it’s about a specific moment in life or just about life in general. But these are not just some personal expressions or fictional retelling of my life … far from it. This is about six different and imaginary people who live their lives and form three different intersections. In their choices and actions, they comment in their way about the way we relate to each other, especially in a deeper and more intimate manner. This is something I think is not explored enough, especially in cinema as it is often sacrificed for the sake of expediency or laziness.

Continuing on that last point, I’m concerned about the state of cinema at present. While I’m fully aware about the long standing story of art cheapened for a “quick buck,” it seems that nowadays, it’s been worse. Most of the films made and released on a wide scale currently are sequels, adaptations or the ever-more popular “reboot” or “reimagining.” And sadly, they are just one of them. It begs the question: “is there anything new?” Can’t we dare to venture beyond the comfort zone and explore into uncharted territory?

Granted there is nothing new under the sun and it’s presumptuous to think that it can ever be refuted. But the wonderful aspect about human imagination is that every story can be reduced to some thirty-odd basic plots, we find ourselves telling these same stories yet with many different combinations and results. I refuse to believe that after ten thousand years or so of doing this, we somehow reached a point where the well is now dry. While it’s easy to believe that nothing really happens in the end, the fictional Robert McKee in Adaptation. said it best (via a rant =] ):

“Nothing happens in the world? Are you out of your fucking mind? People are murdered every day. There’s genocide, war, corruption. Every fucking day, somewhere in the world, somebody sacrifices his life to save someone else. Every fucking day, someone, somewhere takes a conscious decision to destroy someone else. People find love, people lose it. For Christ’s sake, a child watches her mother beaten to death on the steps of a church. Someone goes hungry. Somebody else betrays his best friend for a woman. If you can’t find that stuff in life, then you, my friend, don’t know crap about life! And why the fuck are you wasting my two precious hours with your movie? I don’t have any use for it! I don’t have any bloody use for it!”

And so I would add – though may not as colorfully as fictional McKee did it (for now) – “why aren’t we talking about more things? Why are we content with just a narrow band instead of a larger spectrum?”

So the point is that I simply want to see this happen. I believe in these stories and I believe in these characters. I love them dearly as both brainchildren and the dearest of friends. And why should I keep at all to just “something in my head” or a “nice thought experiment”? Why shouldn’t they be given life? Why shouldn’t they be given wings?

What I Can See and What I Can Say

So far, my experience in filmmaking has been very minimal. I’ve been an extra formally and I’ve appeared in a few odd-and-end efforts by others. I’ve written not only these scripts but another one way back in 2005/2006 called Omvendelsen. But other than that, I have nothing directly related to filmmaking. I’m trying to rectify this gap as best as I can as I go through life: surviving day to day, making things better for myself and others in my own small way, etc. But I also don’t believe in just being idle while everything comes to some kind of fruition. The key is always persistence right?

Combine persistence with a sense of ingenuity, you can come up with something that can help convey a vision, which is the essential element for any and all film directors. For myself, I’ve done this in taking the time to write the script, complete with actions and dialogue. Privately, I’ve been adding my own annotations and supplements to convey more details about particular characters or scenes or the film overall to the appropriate personnel. And every now and then, I let something out to a larger public about how I see it.

In this case, I’ve travelled around Boston – which is something I end up doing anyway – and tried to “see the film.” This was of course very important in writing as it depended on being able to visualize a location and therefore visualize how characters would interact in that space in addition to how they would travel along the path you’ve envisioned them to traverse. As I was completing the scripts (and even long after completing them), I took as many opportunities to take as many different pictures as I could of the various locations I had in mind for each of the three. These are all at the very least an aid in visualizing the story at various points as best as one man could.

They can all be found here (in chronological order by each story)

As things develop and/or I have the time to say more and add more, I will do so in due time. Until then …

Onward and upward … DJP

Some Slight Rearrangements

To make things more concrete and less abstract, I’ve included summary pages (under the “About” page) for each of the three films. They include a brief summary (think TV listing or DVD back cover material), synopsis (much more detailed, emphasizing key points in the story), a list of the characters and their role and a link to the scripts. For fun, I’ve also indicated the source of each title.

As time goes on, I hope to have more explanations about the characters and how I see this for anyone who is interested at all in helping me make this possible. I’ll also continue to improve this space to make sure information is presented clearly and well. Stay tuned for more.

Onward and upward … DJP