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…

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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, leave a comment (I’ve allowed comments on all posts), 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.

Related:

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.

a_lifes_work_notebooks

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.

YouTube Preview Image

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.

YouTube Preview Image

Related:

Writing

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

Me on The Unknown Zone Interviewed by Yvonne Delet

Posted By on July 16, 2014

Last year, the brilliant and wickedly funny Yvonne Delet invited me to be a guest on her podcast, The Unknown Zone. I thought at the time that it was audio only. But noooooo! Yvonne also had a camera running. Kind of wish I had known that, I would have been better behaved.

After the show, hugs and smiles, but no $1,000,000 chocolate bar.

After the show, hugs and smiles, but no $1,000,000 chocolate bar. l. to r. Yvonne Delet, David Licata, Gerard Mignone.

The result? You get to see the radio interview! This might horrify you, as I seem to spend a lot of time propping up my head with hand, fidgeting with my ear, and incessantly rubbing a small patch of my neck. My toupee, however, looks fabulous.

Note that the intro to the show is pretty out there and not really indicative of this episode of The Unknown Zone, so if you find the intro is not your cup of tea, stick with it. (I can assure you that at no point in the video will you see me wearing a merkin.) Also note that Yvonne curses like a sailor, so this is NSFW, and if salty language offends you, you might want to skip it.

Yvonne, co-host, Gerard Mignone, and I will talk about chemtrails, fame, money, being a working artist, and of course A Life’s Work. And that’s just in Part 1.

YouTube Preview Image

Part 2.

What we’d do if we retired,  advice to filmmaker wannabes, creative work and happiness, the subjects of A Life’s Work, and dating.

YouTube Preview Image

Enjoy! And let me know what you think.

A Quote About Why You’re Here

Posted By on July 10, 2014

Here’s a quote from writer Louise Erdrich.

Life will break you. Nobody can protect you from that, and living alone won’t either, for solitude will also break you with its yearning. You have to love. You have to feel. It is the reason you are here on earth. You are here to risk your heart. You are here to be swallowed up. And when it happens that you are broken, or betrayed, or left, or hurt, or death brushes near, let yourself sit by an apple tree and listen to the apples falling all around you in heaps, wasting their sweetness. Tell yourself you tasted as many as you could.

Thanks to poet Susan Elbe for bringing the quote to my attention and thanks to photographer Peter LaMastro for letting me use his photograph. You can see more of his work on his website.

Space and Pace

Posted By on July 3, 2014

I’ve been thinking a lot about space. Not as in “outer space” but as in breadth. I’ve also been thinking a lot about breath, about the unconscious breath that occurs between sentences, and about catching one’s breath after a dramatic moment. And of course thinking about the cinematic equivalent of these things.

Part of this is jazz guitarist Bill Frisell’s fault because I’ve been kind of obsessed with his music lately, and Frisell is a master of space.

So many of us get caught up in the pyrotechnics musicians employ. We swoon when we hear/see them play dazzlingly fast passages, playing more notes in five seconds than we can count. Frisell is the opposite. He controls the space between the notes like few other musicians. Not playing notes may seem like an easy thing to do, but trust me, it is VERY difficult to do well musically. Here he is playing the Beach Boys Surfer Girl.  You’ll notice his speech is very deliberate as well. Oh, and you may also notice that his tone is mighty tasty. For my money, he has the sweetest tone around.

YouTube Preview Image
The director watching the brilliantly and deliberately paced masterpiece, "Early Summer" by Yasujiro Ozu.

The director watching the brilliantly and deliberately paced masterpiece, “Early Summer” by Yasujiro Ozu.

This thinking of space, of breadth, and of breath comes at a time when I’m looking at the previous cut and seeing that I have perhaps allowed too much space in it. I always wanted the film to be deliberately paced, to have a meditative quality, to allow the audience to reflect on the moving image before them as they would a painting, to consider what the subject just said as if the subject had just finished reading the last line of a poem. But I don’t want to put people to sleep. I realize we all have different ideas of what “well-paced” is, but at the moment, I’m dealing with my own notions of well-paced, moderately-paced, slow-paced, and too slow-paced. I’m finding that I’m tightening. My concern is I’ll swing too far to the other side of the pendulum. I could perhaps blame my day job for this; it’s there that I put together tight (that’s the goal, anyway), three- to five-minute videos. But perhaps once I get through this cut, I will swing back and feel the need to add more space. Hopefully, eventually, I will find the right amount of space, breadth, and breath, for me, at least.

Any thoughts on finding equilibrium when it comes to pacing? Care to share the titles of films or plays you’ve seen that were perfectly, deliberately paced?

And just because, here’s Frisell playing a bunch of Beatles (Lennon penned) tunes. It’s gorgeous. About 10 1/2 minutes in he talks about seeing the Beatles on TV at age 12 and relearning these songs now, despite the tunes being in his blood. And then he launches into Strawberry Fields. Stick around for the trippy part, where he employs a host of effect pedals.

YouTube Preview Image