Virginia Center for the Creative Arts: What Makes a Place Special?

Posted By on December 10, 2014

The fine folks at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts are harboring me once again.

I’m working. Editing and thinking about where to put music in the film, and what music. I’m “composing” temp music, which means I spend a lot of time noodling on the guitar, since the soundtrack will be guitar based. You’re surprised, I know.

I’m more than halfway through the residency and it’s been very productive. But instead of showing you the fruits of that productivity, I’d rather show you what makes a place like this special. Oh sure, it’s bucolic and serene, but I realized a long time ago that if you are in the most bucolic and serene place on the planet but surrounded by the wrong people, that place isn’t so special.

Here then, what makes this place special.

The previous resident left a few things on the studio cork board. I kept this poem, since it spoke to me.

Reconcile by Sarah Vap

Joining the poem on the cork board is this—


—given to me by friend Jane Deschner Waggoner. “For your corkboard,” she said. The dog reminded her of photos she had seen on my Facebook page. It does look like my old friend Bruno.

Also, there’s this—

Nectar of the Gods

—which writer Paula W. gave to me when she found out I coveted a blue one (and accidentally “borrowed” it from a forgiving fellow, Roger K). I love this red one though and I think it will be with me for a long time.

In the lunch room some lovely person anonymously taped this list of local birds spotted to the refrigerator (next to three anonymously penned poems about mac & cheese)—

Birds of VCCA

One day after lunch, Caroline W. took a bowl of shells that sits on the table and spread them out before me.

Shell reading.

Several people began interpreting the shells and what they meant. The reading was inconclusive and my future not clearly peered into, but we had a lot of fun all the same.

My future writ in shells.

I have fallen in with three other artists who sing and play musical instruments. We play some nights for our fellow residents. That’s my contribution to this new and temporary family. I know I’m getting the better half of the bargain.


Let my friend Jessica Rosner sum it up. This is her writing on a wall inside the VCCA telephone closet, where fellows are encouraged to make marks, leave impressions, whatever.

Jessica Rosner


Thanks 2014

Posted By on November 27, 2014

The following people have shown kindness toward my artistic endeavors or inspired me. Most are people I’ve encountered this year, some from years past. I am grateful for even the smallest interaction, because sometimes even the smallest interaction can make a huge difference, in a work of art, in a day, in a life. Here then, the people who have made a difference in 2014. Thank you one and all.

Cat in a paradeAudrey Ward, Marisa Anderson, Meagan Patrick, Starsha Jordan, Marianne Midori, William Bailey, Kamaren Suwijn,Harry Gantz, Sarah Cobley, Dance in Devon Festival (UK), Gene Gnesin, Kristy Harding,  Paper Tape Magazine, Rob Venusti, Mary Toepfer Dolce,  Andrew Moore, Stephen Moore, Tina Moore, Jay Moore, Forrest Wynne, Sharon Wynne, Don Wynne, John Tilley, Juan Morales, Pilgrimage Magazine, Louis Dallara, Jamelah Rimawi, David Licata (the glass artist, not me), Craig Stevens, April Roth, Cathty Anne, Debra Zimmerman, Mike Poppleton, Marion Poeth, the Act Your Age Festival (NL), Gayatri Martin, James Carnahan, Susan Gellin, Beth Thielen, Michael Eder, Glen Steinmacher, The New York Public Library, Andrew Altenburg, David Cerchio, Kara Collier Ibañez, Courtney Harge, Sarah Corpron,  Tina Schumann,  Stephen Budner, Cecilia Petit, Rory Jobst, Jessica Rosner, Alison Victor, Tammy Faye Starlite, Martha Graham Crackers, John Lott, Duane Andrews, Shanti Grumbine, Laurie Marsden, Virginia and Will, Evan Gluck, Daiken Nelson, Helen Axcelson, Jack Axcelson, Wayne Olsen, Bob Stein, Bruce Ward, David Garratt, Barbara Bernstein, Jeff Martin, Pete Pazmino, Lucy Rosenthal, Dong Li, Sophie Barbasch, Paula Whyman, Lisa Carey, Yong-Wook Chung, Joshua Kendall, Caroline Allen, Jody Hobbs Hesler, Roger King, Rachel Breen, Aaron Stepp, Lauren Marie Taylor, Sylvie Courvoisier, Kenny Wollesen, and Drew Gress.

Continued thanks to these people (2013), these people (2012), these people (2011), these people (2010), and these people (2009).



Mercury Joe: A Childhood Dream Realized

Posted By on November 4, 2014

When I was kid way back in the 1960s, I had a ton of G.I. Joes. My prize possession was the small space capsule, just big enough for Joe, donning his foil suit and helmet with visor, to sit in.

Here it is in the second half of this one-minute commercial.

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Like any child with a toy plane or spaceship, I really really REALLY wished it could do what the real thing did, with my doll inside. (Toy Story, anyone!) Running around the kitchen table with it in my hand while I made guttural blast off sounds was fun and all, but it was a little lacking. Oh, if only that capsule could actually leave the atmosphere and orbit the Earth, if only Joe could go for a space walk and experience zero gravity; it would have been the next best thing to experiencing it myself.

Eventually, I put away the G.I. Joes, and so too wishing those scale models were functional. You could say along with childhood, I left a certain kind of imagination behind.

But not everyone abandons that certain kind of imagination. And that’s a very good thing.

Here then is an example of someone who never lost that spark. Mercury Joe is a rocketry project dedicated to sending G.I. Joe (and other figures) on the ride of their plastic lives in a replica Mercury capsule. I don’t know the Mercury Joe people, but it’s safe to say they get a great deal of joy out of doing this. I’ll bet part of that joy derives from achieving a childhood dream.

You can watch the preparations and launches on YouTube. It’s great fun.

Here’s the Mercury Joe website.

Words More Sustaining Than Money

Posted By on October 14, 2014

Words Keep Me Going

Thank you, generous gentleman. (I blurred his name because he’s a private sort of fellow.)

You can make a tax-deductible donation, too. While you’re there, why don’t you leave a note.

Hiatus for the Blog

Posted By on August 27, 2014

This is post number 501, and it feels like a good time for the A Life’s Work blog to go on a hiatus. No no, don’t cry. It’s going to be okay…

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For four years and eight months there were an average of two posts a week. The last six months production dropped to half that. And right now, I feel like I’ve said all I can about the process of making A Life’s Work. Right now I need to devote more time to finishing the film and less time to blogging about finishing the film.

I’m not exactly sure what this hiatus will look like. I’m thinking when there’s something new to report, I’ll write about it, so every once whenever, the blog will stir.

And in the coming months there will be things to report, make no mistake. The edit is getting very close. There is most likely a residency in my future. Declaring “locked picture” will be a huge step and you can be sure I’ll write about that. As well as about the real post/finishing stuff (sound mixing, color correcting), and working with the composer. There may be a crowdfunding effort, and if that happens there will begging on the blog, or blegging. And then there’s getting the film out there, and and and… So this isn’t the last word about A Life’s Work. As my father would have said, “You can bet on that.”

I want to thank you all for reading, for commenting, for sharing, for liking. A special thanks to all the folks who went that extra mile and were guest bloggers, agreed to be interviewed, and conducted interviews on the blog’s behalf. All of you folks have been amazing.

If you’re a regular reader who hasn’t subscribed, now might be a good time to do so, that way you won’t miss any upcoming posts.

If you’re new here, feel free to poke around, contact me ( d a v i d {at] b l o o d o r a n g e f I l m s (d o t} c o m  ). If you want to write a guest post, drop me a line. I’d like to have more of that on the blog and am open to all sorts of things — photos, art, nonfiction, fiction, poetry. Just drop me a line and we’ll work it out.

If you haven’t liked the film on Facebook, now might be a good time to do that, too. I hope to feed that page with more stills, videos, words, links, etc.

And of course, you can always support the film financially and emotionally.

Thanks again.

Until soon.



A Good Idea

Posted By on August 20, 2014

Speaking of ideas, here’s a good one: write emails to people (friends, people you’ve fallen out of touch with, friends of friends, complete strangers, anyone, really) who work in fields you’re interested in pursuing and ask them for professional advice.

David Licata and Kyu Nakama. Working.

David Licata and Kyu Nakama. Working.

Last year I wrote a post about an email I received from a friend’s brother asking for advice about starting out as a filmmaker. In that email, the author, Kyu Nakama, who was about to start his sophomore year at college, also asked if I had or was aware of any film-related internships/summer jobs. At the time, I didn’t. But, I wrote in an email that September…

IF, come springtime, you’re looking for an internship, drop me a line. I can’t promise anything because who knows where I’ll be, but right now I’m making little films and podcasts [for a big university here in NYC], and it’s possible we’ll be looking for someone for the summer. Again, who knows, but it would be worth sending me an email in the spring.

Hope you’re doing well.

To which Kyu responded…

Hey David,

That would be amazing! I will definitely shoot you an email again during the spring. You have no idea how honored I feel to be thought of for this opportunity!

I hope all is well with your work as well!

Thanks again,

Kyu Nakama

Great email. Courteous. Enthusiastic. Professional, with just the right of amount of personal touch (mentioning my work).

When spring 2014 came around I asked my boss if we could hire an assistant over the summer. Turned out we could. Kyu and I exchanged some emails; he had enough knowledge of Premiere, a flexible schedule, and a ton of interest. We called him in for an interview and he impressed us both. And he was kind of stunned that the job actually paid! (We need not go into what this says about the industry’s habit of not paying people.) Kyu was hired in June and has been doing a stellar job as an assistant to the multimedia specialist (me!), editing, shooting, and researching. He’s creative and smart and has done a lot of great work for the department, moving projects along nicely. I think if you asked him he’d say he’s learned a few things; if you ask me I’ll tell you I learned a lot because I’ve never really been a boss or had an assistant, not really.

Good advice is worth repeating: write emails and letters to people. Be polite, be positive, be smart, be inquisitive. Maybe flatter a little, but don’t go overboard. It got Kyu a pretty good summer job, and he will get a good reference from me for as long as he wants.


Take My Advice, Don’t Take My Advice

Letter to a Young Filmmaker on ExtraCriticum

[cross-posted on ExtraCriticum>]

Ideas: The Good, the Bad, and the Other

Posted By on August 13, 2014

I recently came across this note in one of my notebooks. In my scrawl:

Go with tighter shots and more cramped framing for subjects that have less time, i.e., older subjects. Younger subjects have more time, + therefore more space.


The A Life’s Work notebooks.

I wrote this many years ago, perhaps before we began shooting. My notebooks are full of such scribblings. Early on I was talking to an editor about the film and excitedly rattling off a slew of such ideas. The editor, who is also a director, said, “You have a lot ideas, and that’s good, but you have to remember that you can’t use all of them.”

He spoke the truth. Having a lot of ideas is good; make no mistake, it’s better than not having a lot of ideas, but how do we know which ideas are good and which are stinkers? First, it might be helpful to group ideas in a few classes:

  • bad ideas that are just bad  (ex. using fingernails on chalkboard as the main instrument for a soundtrack)
  • bad ideas that are bad for a current project but might work elsewhere (ex. no talking heads, not a single one for the entire film!)
  • ideas that are not doable because you lack the resources (ex. fancy animated sequences)
  • ideas that conflict with other ideas you are using (ex. shoot in black and white, no shoot in highly saturated colors!)
  • good ideas that are simply common sense  (ex. conduct interviews on camera even if you don’t intend to use talking heads)
  • good ideas that have been internalized since the beginning of time and are so common place that no one thinks of them, but when they dawn on you they seem like brilliant ideas (ex. I had an idea that we would shoot A Life’s Work using only three camera heights, one seen as if you were reclining on your side, one as if you were seated, one as if you were standing. I thought of these points of views as the way Buddha would see things, based on artistic representations of him.  Well, duh, this is pretty much how every film is shot. [In fairness to me, when this idea “came to me,” I was watching a lot of films by Yasujiro Ozu and I was thinking of his tatami angle, which is actually him being practical and shooting the Japanese equivalent of a family seated around the dining room table.])

Defining the good, the neutral, and the bad is all well and good, but sometimes, in the midst (mist?) of the work it’s difficult to recognize what kind of idea I’m working with. I can trust my gut, but to steal a line from High Fidelity, sometimes my gut has shit for brains. Time away sometimes clarifies things, but taking a break from the project isn’t always reliable and sometimes it isn’t an option. For me, the most helpful thing is to have people around who know what they’re doing and will tell me what’s what. I’ve been blessed to have such folks in my life, and I’ve thanked them many times before, here and in person, but to everyone out there who’s engaged with my work and offered honest feedback, a hearty thanks for telling me when things suck, when things don’t, and when things just need a little massaging. I hope you trust me enough to return the favor some day.

How do you decide which ideas are best for you?




The Probabilistic Universe: A Clip

Posted By on August 6, 2014

The Probabilistic Universe

Here’s a clip I’ve been working on. As the title of this post suggests, it’s about how chance and the unexpected can play a major role in what we find ourselves doing, the discoveries we make, and the passions that fill us.

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I’ve always thought of this clip as kind of the equivalent of a sidebar in a magazine article. Will it make it into the finished film? Don’t know. Some pertinent information is contained in it, but the whole thing? Maybe I’ll flip a coin to decide.

Another coin decision: When Tarter says “We … we? Jocelyn Bell and her thesis advisor….” Cut the “We… we”? Right now, I like it.

I’d really like to know what you think of this clip, since it’s quite different than the other clips up there. And please feel free to like it, share it, comment on it, etc.  You know I always love hearing from you.

You can help finish A Life’s Work. Yes, you! Donating to the film is easy and all amounts ($5-50,000) are welcome and appreciated.  More than $1,600 has been given to the film so far, and that without the big hyped up push of crowdfunding.

In addition to monetary help, there are many ways you can support A Life’s Work. Why not consider being a part of  the film’s growing community?

New Writing: 12-Bar Blues in Pilgrimage

Posted By on July 30, 2014

A story I wrote, 12-Bar Blues, is in this fine publication.

You’ll find a short story I wrote, 12-Bar Blues, in this fine publication.

I’m very pleased to announce that one of my short stories, 12-Bar Blues, has been published by Pilgrimage. Right now, it’s only available in print. Consider ordering a copy and showing your support for this fine literary journal. Though the Pilgrimage Press website needs updating to include this issue, you can still order it by going to this page and entering Volume 38, Issue 1. It’s $7.00 per issue and they accept PayPal. There is talk of an updated Pilgrimage website that might include some of the stories and poems they’ve previously published. If/when this comes to pass, and if 12-Bar Blues is one of the stories they publish online, you can be sure I’ll let you know.

In case you’re new here, I’ve been working on a short story collection in addition to the documentary, A Life’s Work, and this is the fourth story in that collection to be published. Personally, I like this one the best so far.

If you’re interested, here’s the story’s convoluted history. I began writing 12-Bar Blues at a residency, Playa Summer Lake, in February of 2012, but a key component of the story goes back to the fall of 2010 and another residency, Blue Mountain Center. It was there that I came across a hand-crafted classical guitar. (You can listen to me try to do the guitar, and Chopin, justice.) That guitar was the inspiration for making one of the characters in the story an apprentice to a luthier. And I suppose I could take this story even further back, since it is a sequel to There Is Joy Before the Angels of God. (Published in The Literary Review in 2010 and begun prior to 2007 [I know I worked on it at Jentel, a residency I attended March-April 2007]).

Now let’s jump forward. In March of 2013, while at Ucross (another residency), I picked up the story again and thought it was close. I sought feedback and received suggestions from friend and valued reader Jessica Roth. I revised it and submitted it to three journals over a few months time, including Pilgrimage, which had put out a call for work for their “Grace” issue.  I thought 12-Bar Blues fit that bill perfectly, but Pilgrimage had other ideas; they wanted it for their “Labor” issue. Who am I to argue, it fits that bill well, too.

If you should read 12-Bar Blues, or any of my work, I invite you to let me know what you think, ask questions, start a dialogue, whatever. I try to keep the links current, but sometimes things get kerflooey (I believe only a third of Camera Obscura is posted, for example). If you can’t access a piece, email me and I’ll hook you up.

And now here’s Pilgrimage by R.E.M.

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Get Thee to an Artist Residency: Advice from an “Expert”

Why Artist Residencies

Falling In (and Sometimes Out of) Love, the Filmmaker Way

Posted By on July 24, 2014

Not that long ago I went to an event near my home, Midsummer Night Swing. It’s put on every summer by Lincoln Center. They erect a dance floor in one of the plazas, invite some amazing musicians to perform danceable music of many genres (swing, merengue, salsa, disco and more), and let the paying public on the dance floor while a whole other dance scene takes place beyond the dance floor. There is a lot of joy concentrated around Lincoln Center when Midsummer Night Swing is happening.

Dancers at Midsummer Night Swing.

Dancers at Midsummer Night Swing.

I started attending Midsummer Night Swing when I first moved into this neighborhood. It inspired a screenplay, Wigs by Coco (1999), that was set in the then burgeoning swing revival scene, and later it inspired Tango Octogenario (2003). I went several nights this year, but anticipated tango night most of all. I had hoped I would see an old friend, Alex Turney, one of the stars of Tango Octo.

And I did. Alex is in his 90s now, not as spry as when we filmed him and his wife, Jean, who died several years ago. But he was still on the dance floor. I yelled his name and he and the person he was with, an attractive woman of about 40, turned. (Alex is beloved and has many people who check in on him and take him where he needs to go, whether that’s a doctor’s appointment or a milonga.) They found me on the perimeter of the dance floor — I was not one of the paying public. He didn’t recognize me at first, but when I repeated my name and added “the filmmaker” it came back to him. He began to gush about me to his companion in superlatives that make me uncomfortable. But what touched me most was when he began quoting lines from the press materials I used to send out. (Alex requested every little Tango Octo thing that I created, postcards, poster, stills, press kit.) Alex said, “’the portrayal of seniors as active, vibrant, and independent is a much-needed antidote to the stereotypical representations of America’s graying population.’ Who writes such a beautiful thing? Can you believe it?” Alex is quite the sweet talker.

David Licata, producer Tom Razzano, choreographer Nancy Turano. Seated, Alex and Jean Turney

David Licata, producer Tom Razzano, choreographer Nancy Turano. Seated, Alex and Jean Turney

I once heard Alex say, “Tango is a three-minute love affair.” One might say the same thing about making a film. You work very intensely with people, you share meals, war stories, secrets, and then suddenly it ends, and you’re on another set with another crew where it happens again. It lasts longer than three minutes, but it’s still pretty brief. I’m not sure if people who are born with that tendency gravitate to the profession or if they become that way because of the profession. This happens with documentary filmmakers as well, often with their subjects. Filmmakers woo them to be in their film, lavish attention on them, making them feel special. We share our secrets with them and get the subjects to share their secrets in front of a camera.

And then we leave. And what’s worse, the trust we established with our subjects is violated, because we reveal all those secrets to the world, edited in a way they can’t control with moving pictures over their words they did not intend to be there. It’s part of the deal, and if you can’t stomach it, documentary filmmaking is not for you. Sometimes I have a difficult time stomaching it.

Anywho, note that I did write “some.” I know many filmmakers who develop lasting relationships with their subjects and crew. I happen to think I’m one of those filmmakers. Alex Turney and I, we are bound for as long as life will allow. He knew that and expressed it once he saw the finished film at New Directors/New Films. We don’t see each other frequently, and mostly that’s my fault, but judging by the way Alex held my hands that night, frequency isn’t an issue.

It’s the same with the subjects of A Life’s Work. I like to think that we will be linked for a good many years and, in my fantasy world, the subjects are also entwined, though they’ve never met each other. (Yet!)

This tight bond the work creates, it’s one of my favorite things about filmmaking and compensates for the less savory aspects. I don’t know that I’d do it if that weren’t part of the deal.

Coda: I started writing this July 17. On July 18th, I was surprised to learn William Swearson was stopping in NYC for a couple of days. I met Will on the second SETI shoot in 2007, while he was spending his summer in the SETI REU program (Research Experience for Undergraduates). I offered him my couch and he took me up on it. Will is one of the students I stayed in touch with and he contributed one of the most moving posts on this blog. We had a swell evening full of good food and stimulating conversation.

Coda coda: On July 19th I received an email from someone putting on a tango event in NYC on July 20th. They wanted to screen Tango Octogenario. Alex Turney was to be present and I was invited to attend. I did. It was a small affair. Alex and I sat in the front row, and afterwards answered a couple of questions. When it was over I said goodbye, hugged Alex, and as is his way, he kissed me on the cheek. I love that.

Here’s Alex and Jean and I after I called “that’s a wrap” (there is no sound) and a clip of me thanking Paolo Soleri for sitting down to speak with me.  You can read more about this clip in this post.

See also: The Most Wonderful Thing in the World