past the shattered door

If you're unlucky enough to have an event that can engender PTSD - in my case the events surrounding my brain tumor diagnosis in 2005 - then I am so sorry. You'll work for years - running, meditating, therapy - to modify, mollify, blunt, ignore all subsequent manifestations but the event has such force and power that all your improvements and updates will just be blown into the wind, plywood to a hurricane, bandages to an amputation. Rising in different forms: depression, anxiety, panic attack. Sometimes a combination. Beware triggers they say. For me trigger is not being able to get in touch w/ M, who in more than one way is my lifeline and conduit to outside world. Due to recent iphone update which rendered cellular function kaput M's phone was working intermittently and so we jerry-rigged a fix for but the fix kept not holding. Sunday night she went to reading and was out late and I couldn't get in touch w/ her b/c of this issue with phone. She couldn't receive calls/texts or make them. N was running fever and suddenly out of medicine so my original impetus was innocent enough: ask her to pick up medicine on way home. But it just so happens that sick kids is another sort of ptsd trigger for me (something or other about the betrayal of the body, of the inability of us to rely on anything b/c we're just one event away from a shitstorm) and lo and behold, after trying several times to call and text her, it began:  slow implosions, getting faster, getting closer with each passing minute. An interior dialog of panic/don't panic, while a series of dark looping images whirled by. The don't panic voice was akin to a stewardess telling everyone to stay calm when we can all just look out the window to clearly see imminent fire, explosion, oblivion b/c this plane is going down.  I absolutely right-now had to get in touch with her. I knew she was at after-party at some place so I tried getting a hold of the people she might be with. No dice. I texted a couple individuals. Nothing. It began rising up from the floor, this blackness, encircling my stomach, my heart and lungs. I looked up our car insurance so I'd have the license plate and VIN number to tell the police when they came. Headlights flashed by on the trash can on the street. Just the passing bus. I began checking alerts on my phone, seeing if there was anything horrific-fireball-on-the-interstate wise. I began thinking when/how to tell the kids. When/how to tell her mother. Text from a friend dinged in: they saw her leave an hour ago w/ K.The clouds parted and Oh sweet Jesus, thank fucking god. I called K, no answer. Texted K, no answer. FB messaged K, nothing. And just like that all the light quickly vanished. Breathe. Deep Breath. Breathe. Deep Breath. Somewhere inside I knew I was overreacting. We'll laugh about this in a couple days. How ridiculous I was that night. Ha ha! I tried to keep coming back to Occam's Razor: she and K probably went for drinks and got to talking. But then the alternate timelines came roaring in and they were equally plausible razors: she gave K a ride home and perished on the way/perished on the way back/lost control of the car in the industrial part of town w/ no one around but skeevy meth-heads and her phone isn't working, oh god. it's fucking midnight. Red alert. urgent. I couldn't just stand there waiting in my pajamas. I put on pants. I went out into the front yard, looking up and down the street, looking for light, listening for engines, heart pounding, throat constricting. Text from friend dinged in: have you heard from M yet? let us know when she's home. Great, now they're worried too dumbass. I went back inside and, feeling at absolute loss and b/c I couldn't just stand in the kitchen hyperventilating or picturing the next morning when I'd tell the kids, went down to my office, sat down at the keyboard and started writing an email to her with trembly fingers, partly to document what I was feeling and give form to it, and partly to say goodbye. We had just had our first solo night together in 7 years the night previous and had an amazing time (drinks/movie/live music/pinball/no kids/laying in bed reading the sunday ny times!) and the screenwriter in me couldn't help but see that narratively this would be them moment in the movie that it would all end due to unseen, dark forces. Element of surprise. Let your characters think they're safe. Of course, this is it. This is how it ends.

Is it possible that this whole time that I've held the brain tumor and all that surrounded it in the rearview mirror, as something in the past that I was done with, not knowing that it still enveloped me? That it gave me just enough wiggle room to allow me to think I was free? Does the attendant insecurity, negative self-feelings and corollary emotions which I've just long presumed lay within me actually have their sources at the point of impact? And isn't this a freeing thought in some regard? That the reasons I still feel myself wrestling with these forces across the years owes nothing to my own limitations and everything to the sheer force of the event. The running, the breathing, the meditating, the therapy, the too-many-beers - all just shape-shifting bandages for my amputated limb. Should I just let go entirely, submitting in whole to these forces? So much effort would be instantly alleviated if I'd just accept that: You don't have the upper hand here. 

I was on the third sentence of the goodbye email when lights came through the window. A car in the driveway. I stood to look out the window. It was M. locking the car and beeping the alarm and striding across the grass oblivious, like a normal person home after a night out. It was getting close to 1 AM. I walked upstairs and cracked a beer to help me calm down before catching her up on the events of the last couple hours.


uncollected thoughts on crowdfunding a movie

just wrapped up my 4th crowdfunding venture. [ran 3 for The Black Sea (one a success, one a fail, one in-the-middle)]. The latest was done to support my next feature film Sister/Brother. I am a big fan of the concept and spirit of crowdfunding but less a fan of the actual doing, which runs counter to my default personality setting which is more or less to be quiet. I don't want to ask people for support in general, much less for something that I've taken years to write and assemble and that has legitimate meaning for me creatively, emotionally or otherwise because a) it could fail b) I am exposing myself. In fact after The Black Sea I promised myself I would never crowdfund again because the experience was so draining and unpleasant even though the movie would not have been made without it. Some of this feeling - that I'd never crowdfund again - was ego and some was the mistaken presumption that for a second-time filmmaker with a developed screenplay with actors and key creative personnel attached finding capital would be a smoother enterprise this go-round. Not the case. Though the film played at several festivals and had small group of followers, no magical doors opened and no money magically rained down from the sky as a result. No well-heeled or hungry bulldog producer sought me out to shake me by the shoulders and promise me s/he wouldn't sleep until this movie was made and in the world.

And so last fall I applied for a battery of grants from a wide spate of foundations, thinking I could patch a couple (maybe even a few) together to maybe get a whisper of a spark of motion with which to approach investors - and came up empty on all of them. Every single one. This was deflating naturally but I have served on enough grant panels to know the competition is fierce and the inevitable projects - meaning the ones that appear to be getting made regardless of the success of the grant - are favored. And it became clear that without some money already in that funding a narrative feature via grants is not a sustainable idea.

And so after some interior deliberation (and especially because MAKING A MOVIE > waiting for something/someone to allow you to make a movie) I decided to go for it. The people at Stowe Story Labs agreed to be fiscal sponsor. Plus, Seed & Spark was launching the second year of Hometown Heroes and I thought perhaps I could piggyback on that for some additional motion. I had raised 32K on my first venture for The Black Sea and this was going to be less, 25K, so how hard could it be really? Some well-timed, well-meaning tweets, a steady but not-too-intrusive-or-annoying FB presence, some emails to former contributors and the money should come fairly easy. Except no.

In the 6 years between my first crowdfunding foray and this one, several things transpired.
- Everything online became immediate right-now loud, look-at-me turbine engine of white noise
- Crowdfunding in general became ubiquitous ("Help Me Pay This Dude to Pack my Apartment!")
- Crowdfunding for your tiny indie movie became ubiquitous
These all conspired to run counter to my expectation of how things would play out.

Day One was good. Some of the people I was counting on came through. Then day two we hit plateau and moved into a nothing-nothing-nothing-drip-nothing-nothing-nothing-drop rhythm that continued for ten days and which began to grind me down, activating a rising whirlpool of negative sensation, ultimately causing me to question the validity of the project, the validity of the campaign, the validity of me as filmmaker, and at darker moments, me as person, charting the trajectory of various failures in my life and allowing them to feed/sustain a terrible narrative in my head that I've been working for years to unravel. Why did I do this again?

With some creativity, some conversation with other filmmakers (thanks David W), and a well-timed-but-accidental-because-it-was-planned-a-year-ago trip to Yellowstone I started to find a path out of darkness. What's the worst that would happen, the project failed at crowdfunding? That's not the end of the project, just of one avenue. As someone once said (or should have said) there are many paths to the mountain. Once I began staring this failure in the face and accepting it and contemplating other ways to get this movie made things became lighter and the path out continued to illuminate itself. Ultimately the project was successful and I reached my goal but it was not without personal impact. The more time that gets between me and the experience the more favorably I'll reflect on it but at present it feels like there was a corrosive in the process, something negative. Those are funny words from a person who just raised 100% of his project and I know there are plenty of less-fortunate projects so maybe I'll zip the lip, dispense with the analysis, and head to these notes:


- don't conflate running a crowdfunding campaign with making a movie. they are not related in the least. you can argue that modern world blah blah hustle hustle self-produce blah blah but they are divergent. (maybe this outs me as old.) There are many people doing this who are great at the flash and sizzle and OMFG YOU GUYS and the funny gifs of cakes exploding or dogs high-fiving but that doesn't mean they can frame a shot or direct an actor or find the heart of a scene in a sudden two-shot because you're losing light. Don't forget this.

- some people will surprise you. they give more than you anticipated or give more than once or are invested in your success without you even knowing it. their belief in you and/or the project will sustain you in the darkness. even when it is quiet, know that there are people in the world who have your back.

- some people will disappoint you. there will be people you are counting on, or at least presuming will support you - in no small part because when they asked for support for their project you were there for them; you gave money and tweeted/FB'ed about their project - who will leave you flapping in the wind. Do everything you can to not let this eat you up from the inside. Chalk it up to them revealing who they are, remember it, and don't dwell or let it fester. I mean, first try emailing them directly and give a gentle reminder or two (we have just 26 hours to go. remember when I gave you fifty bucks for X?)  but then cut them loose and never ever ever support them or their art again. (note: not sure the aspiring buddhist in me agrees with the end of that sentence and I'm still processing/wrestling with it but it felt satisfying to type it out.) At minimum, don't let their lack of response define you or impact your emotions.

- some people who supported you last time won't support you this time: but how can that be? you never know what is going on in someone's life and social media is a murky lens. So when the person who gave to your last movie, emails you back a one-word email (the word: UNSUBSCRIBE) after you sent her a direct email, not a mass email, appealing for support, just shake it the hell off. Maybe your email was annoying or maybe she is contending with darkness of any form and can't deal. Either is okay.

- your best friends are fellow filmmakers: one of the highlights of this experience was crowdfunding alongside a bunch of other projects and watching them navigate similar hazards and obstacles. Talk to them. Celebrate/commiserate together.

- don't do the whole campaign by yourself: even if you've done it before. you need a multitude of voices and you need days when you have nothing to to with it.

- let gratitude be your default setting: no matter the amount you raise or the difficulties you encounter. Treat the $5 contribution with the same level of respect and thanks as the $250 contribution.

- find quiet: if you are lucky enough to find yourself in the hills of Montana in October and the light is golden in the aspens and your heart is open the smallness/greatness of existence will speak to you. This enterprise is so small it will say. It doesn't not have the meaning you are ascribing to it it will say. The meaning lays solely in your movie it will say. It will shake you by the shoulders and promise you that what you really need/want is already inside you and no matter what it won't sleep until this movie is made and in the world.



was home sick a couple days and it - along with recently prepping/shooting project (which took me away from my mildly regular running routine which has obvious mental/emotional health benefits) and immediately afterward prepping/managing a live crowdfunding campaign for my next film (note: crowdfunding I'm reminded can activate a long ribbon of negative sensation dominos) -  drudged up a bunch of ill will and feeling. things i've overcome or worked long at getting tools to live alongside. sort of a fun-pack of depression/anxiety/panic all in alternating registers and currents. Exercise non-existent, meditation, not constant. diet and intake too much bad not enough good. and so i stick these in the front of my mind: remain grateful for what you have. put the focus on drawing breath. reflect on where you've been not where you haven't. don't wait in ambush, don't expect applause.