Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Cooking and Editing

I haven't been the main cook in my family since my husband took over that job over 10 years ago when he determined that my repertoire wasn't big enough for his gourmet tastes. Even after kids, he did the shopping and most of the cooking, preparing meals that can be reheated quickly. Turns out that his repertoire of kid-friendly foods isn't big enough for them. So, I've gone back to the kitchen for all of us. Causing me to re-juggle my time once again. I have a sense of what the kids will like and am usually successful when I try something new for them. My husband has thinner skin and gets discouraged after one rejection.

In addition to my added kitchen duties, I'm editing my own feature film and overseeing the edit of a short film that was begun two and a half years ago and only recently finished filming. Each time I serve up a new edit to a test audience in hopes of being finished, I find that the mix isn't quite right. It doesn't quite speak to them, they can't relate, or they are bored. And those are some of the nicer comments. Each time, I lick my wounds and go back and try again. I can only hope that like with the meals I serve to my kids, I will figure out what will appeal to my audience and get to that final cut. If not, like with my meals, I will go back in and try again.

And if you're in the market for good 30-minute recipes that are kid and adult-friendly, I recommend The Best 30-Minute Recipe from Cook's Illustrated. It's become my food bible.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

The week from Hell

Sometimes the universe conspires to tell me that not only can I not do it all, but sometimes I need to do nothing. At least that's how I chose to look at my last week's experiences which included 2 (minor) car accidents.

I should start with my agenda for the week. My husband was going out of town for a week, so I, in my infinite wisdom, did not make any allowances in my schedule for the extra work this would cause me. On the home-front, my duties included shopping for the week, making three healthy meals a day for me and the kids, doing the laundry, getting the kids to and from school and driving them to their after-school activities three of those days, homework supervision, bath supervision and reading to them before bed. On the film/professional front, my agenda included finishing fine-tuning the edit for the 2nd 40 minutes of my film, "In Montauk", supervising the edit of a short film I directed, reading and evaluating about 20 grants for a panel I'm on. Not much, right?

Sunday and Monday went along fine. I did shopping, laundry, got Celine to her ballet rehearsal (mostly) on time despite the space being right on the route for the New York City Marathon. I edited. I started on the grant applications. Tuesday it started to fall apart. Noah got sick. I wasn't feeling that great. Still, I managed to get a little work done, while still not totally neglecting Noah. Wednesday it all went to hell in a hand-basket. I got into a minor fender-bender on the way into the city to see how the edit was coming for "That's What She Told Me." Partially because I was distracted and tired and sick and wondering how I was going to do it all. Obviously, I wasn't. By Thursday, I felt so awful, I wasn't sure I could get out of bed. But get out of bed, I did, then drove the kids to school, took my car to the body shop (where I know them by name), got a rental car and then promptly passed out at home until I left to pick up the kids. Friday I still felt like I had the flu, called my doctor and begged for a prescription for what had turned into a major sinus infection without having to go in. The house was a mess. Michael was coming home. The sink was full of dishes. Did I really want him to come home to a house that looked like a tornado and a hurricane had simultaneously demolished our living space? Plus, despite wanting him to feel guilty about leaving me to such a terrible week, I didn't want him to think that I couldn't handle it. So, in the hour before he came home, I roused myself and attacked the house like a whirling dervish until it was clean (enough). He came home and I breathed a sigh of relief. But, a day too soon as it turns out.

My big plan for Saturday was to make a dent in all the work I still needed to do while the kids were at an all day birthday party. I was medicated, feeling better and ready to face the world. Maybe Michael and I could sneak away to a romantic lunch. Alas, it was not meant to be. On the way home from dropping the kids off at their party, we were side-swiped by a giant truck while sitting at a light. I'm not sure where he thought he was going, considering that the lane he was moving into had oncoming traffic which included a NYC bus. Two hours later, the phone number to call for a police report number in hand, we went on a romantic shopping excursion to Trader Joe's. Then tea. Then picked up the kids. When the truck first hit us, I burst into tears, thinking, "It's all too much." And it was. But from the distance of a day later, I think it's really another wake-up call to slow down a little, don't try to do everything at once and do what Michael does whenever I go out of town for a week to work on a shoot - take the week off.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Am I doing the right thing?

Thursday night I had a screening of the latest rough cut of my feature film "In Montauk." I was trying to get friends who were Mothers and worked outside the home, preferably in a creative field. (Actually, lots of us work at our other job in the home.) Time constraints being a constant in all of our lives, I ended up with an audience of two besides myself. Both friends who'd been witness to the process, who knew the struggles I was having, but also friends who would tell me, honestly, if the film wasn't working.

I particularly wanted this audience because the ending has ended up being controversial. Particularly among my male film friends who, as proper feminist-loving men, loudly voiced their opinions that I was betraying women, betraying feminism and that my potrayal of the lead woman was outdated. And that my strong feelings about how the film should end were getting in the way of making a good, satisfying film.

Needless to say, this screening, for my target audience of two, made me want to vomit. What if I really am the only person who understands why it ends the way it does? What if I haven't earned it in the film?

In a way, it is like watching what other mothers are doing for their kids and wondering if I am doing the right thing. That mother who signed her kid up for the Metropolitan Opera Chorus because he can really sing and loves to perform - should I be doing that for my kids? Or the mother who takes her child into Manhattan every Saturday for swim lessons - why am I not doing that? Or the mother who has a sports-loving daughter who plays basketball, softball and soccer - why aren't I doing that for my kids? Will they still turn out okay? Will they be well rounded? Or am I cheating them by not pushing them to be the best that they can be at one thing? (My kids each study one instrument, take one dance/sports class and one art class).

With a film, though, there is the hope that you will get an audience. That it will appeal to some segment of the population. After all, filmmaking is about trying to communicate something, about trying to touch people. And so I watched the film anxiously with my friends. I chewed on my nails, then stopped as I saw my lead doing that on screen. I twitched. I made notes. I held back from making excuses for every bad cut, poor sound, or temporary music that was cheesy. And they got it. They understood why I ended my film the way I did. In fact, they read more into it than I had intended. They loved it. They agreed that it was the only way to go. And I can breathe easier, without the anxiety that I need to re-conceive the story and re-shoot the ending or risk alienating the very audience I'm trying to appeal to.

As for my kids, the only audience I really care about is them. Whether or not they'll agree that I did the right things for them, only time will tell. And possibly years of therapy.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Film Distribution and Parenting Styles: A working theory

Two weeks ago I attended "The Conversation: A Social Media Event" about getting your films out there, new models of distribution using digital technology. Now you can distribute your films on iTunes (if you go through an aggregator, because they won't deal with independent filmmakers), stream them on Netflix, hulu, Video on Demand. Only the very lucky, very connected or those with big-name stars get the holy grail of film, theatrical distribution. This wasn't about that. There were a lot of interesting stories from filmmakers who'd put their films out there, either for free or for pay; Arin Crumley with "Four-Eyed Monsters", the first narrative feature film to be shown on YouTube and Nina Paley with "Sita Sings the Blues," which won the Gotham Award for "Best Film Not Playing at a Theater Near You" in 2008 who streams her film for free online and makes her money back on ancillary items, including DVDs. Representatives from traditional outlets, IFC and Cinetic both said that they are still trying to figure out how to make money using digital outlets. ( To see a nice summary of the event, see David Tames' blog.) The most interesting thing that came out of the conference for me was, to paraphrase a quote by William Goldman, "[In digital distribution], no one knows anything." Which is not exactly true, but it felt like there isn't one single answer to the best path to distribution. It was more that it is important for filmmakers to understand distribution, how it works, what's available and then forge their own path.

To me, this seems much like the plethora of advice out there about parenting. You can find proponents out there for almost any type of parenting, most in the extreme. There's the attachment parenting promoted by Sears, saying that unless the child is literally attached to your body at all times, you are doing him or her a disservice. I had twins. They spent a lot of their baby years in bouncy seats. They are now respectful, fun, ebullient eight-year-olds that don't seem the worse for wear. There is Overparenting, or being a "helicopter" parent, a label which no parent wants. Unfortunately, I have seen it used by administrators to tell parents (yours truly included) to back off and let them handle it when their child is being bullied. We see how well that worked for Phoebe Prince, the 15-year-old girl who committed suicide after suffering from relentless bullying. And there is a new style that I have witnessed emerging, Hands-off Parenting. Where parents think the best way to teach a child is to leave them alone and let them figure it out for themselves. To me this seems like neglect, but I suspect it's a response to overparenting. I've also seen parents get less lenient as their children get older and start attending schools, where they have to interact with other children appropriately, or risk getting ostracized. All this is to say, that it is ultimately up to parents to figure it out for themselves. Not in a vacuum, but to read the literature, talk to other parents (maybe even their own) and go with their gut.

As I write this, I realize that I have accepted this tenet in my own parenting, but I have yet to accept it for my film. So I will gather information on distribution, use what seems useful, discard what doesn't, and go with my gut.