How I’m Becoming a Filmmaking Multitool!

Cross-posted from the Kickstarter update, and YES I’m going to harangue you again to help support it HERE:

The last six months have been really transformative for me. Not just as a writer, but as a person. I’ve stopped thinking of myself as The Writer who ‘just writes,’ and started turning myself into the creative person who’s a multitool.

I’m taking a short filmmaking class (and just snagged the lead role in one of the films we’re making), and I’m hoovering up every bit of information I can get, about lighting, camera angles, blocking, storyboarding, sound… The class doesn’t cover editing, so I’ve asked the director/teacher for a Dropbox dump of all the video and sound files from one of the films (about 4 minutes long), and I’ll “figure it out myself” and learn to edit on my own. I have Camtasia Studio, and the Internet tells me that Lightworks is both free and awesome.

And hey, I’m a fast learner – I went from knowing jack shit about audiobooks or audio period, two years ago, and now I’m finishing up my fourth audiobook as narrator, editor and producer, all self-taught. This is how I roll! Will my first edit of a movie be an award winner? No. But I’ll be able to compare my edit to the teacher’s, and see what I did wrong, or right, and develop from there.

I want to break into the movie business, obviously. And to defy the odds against an LGBT writer over 50? Well, I better have more in my arsenal than just writing. I figure, the more I can do, the better my chance of breaking in. If I meet someone talented who’s doing a short film? I’ll audition for it, if the role is right. If I can’t get the role? Hey, I can do sound, work camera, edit… see what I mean? As I’m learning, the business is about connections, and opportunities, and luck. The more you can do, the more you can “make your own luck.”

I started taking acting classes last November, which I’d decided to do to improve my audiobook narration (and because like many writers I had no social life!). I found myself really committing to acting, and beyond that, growing as a person.

When I started on-camera acting, as an aging Person of Chubbiness, I was SO SCARED of the camera, because it “added ten pounds,” and because I have a fake eye and the camera made me look all googly. I hated seeing myself on screen because, like most people, I suddenly thought, oh my god this is how everyone else sees me, I’m such a fool to think I looked any better than that.

But, I learned, it’s not the camera that adds ten pounds – it’s the lighting. When you’re in the real world, most light is overhead, which casts shadows, including, you know, a jawline. In the movie world, the lights are directly on you at a 90 degree angle, which, if you’re overweight like me, washes out the few natural shadows you have. Of course, if you’re chiseled and hot, your cheekbones and jawline make their own shadows in any light, thus they’re the people who the “camera loves.”

Over the last six months, I’ve learned a lot. Yeah, I used to say “the camera hates me.” That I was always going to “look ugly” on film. That’s why there are so very few pictures of me around! But now, I’ve learned that I can control how the googliness of my fake eye shows up on film, by controlling the angle at which I face the camera, the motions of my head, to the point that, on a good day in front of the camera, even I can’t tell it’s fake.

And what I really learned was that, you know, you gotta own who and what you are in front of the camera. If I can make a funny froggy face with my double chin, and add a pompous professorial voice being all “humba-dumba the quality of the artist’s work, humba-dumba,” you know what? Even if it makes me look irredeemably undateably fat, if it gets a huge laugh? I gotta go for it. If the camera and I can work together in that situation, well, I’m okay with that. Yes, it’s true, no man will ever want me when he sees that face 🙂 but hey… if I get a paycheck out of it? Or even just a laugh from my fellow actors? Why fight it? Why just frown or be nervous? Doesn’t that in the end look worse?

Now, that said, that’s who I am today. But I’m starting to lose some weight (now that this six month winter is fucking over, and honestly I can’t move to LA soon enough, and shoot if you must but goddamn it, me and my SAD really miss the drought). And I’m making some other visual changes as well.

Right now, I have a biker stache, and a buzz cut, and I’ve auditioned for some commercials, and… yeah. I’m starting to get it, why I’m not cast. I’m 54 years old, and I’m not “biker” or “blue collar” enough for the buzz/stache to work for me as a castable type. So my other option is to become “Truvago guy,” or the like.

I know I wasn’t cast for a recent commercial for an upscale resort, for one reason: I need to look like a rich person. You know, not “Mr. Moneybags” but one of those well groomed, fit, slow agers you see in Viagra or Cialis commercials. The ones in Patagonia and North Face, rolling out of their spankin’ new Mercedes with their nine million dollar skis. So, what I need is short but not buzzed hair, a fit enough body, or at least not fat. No stache.

What I’ve learned over the last few years in my writing career is that you can do it your way, and maybe make some money, or you can bend enough to put your spin on their way. Not to cut yourself to fit the template, but to make the template work for you. You can’t just ignore their way. I can keep “my look” and never work, or… and you know? It’s just a look. I can cut the hair off, or grow the stache back.

My new publisher and I discuss ideas before I go to work on my next novel. Would I love, love, love to write a novel about a film historian and a bad boy director who go on a quest for a lost “gay movie,” made in secret in the 1930s by the gay and lesbian studio employees, right under the nose of an ultraconservative Louis B. Mayer type? FUCK YEAH! But, my publisher says, that Hollywood isn’t a trope that sells right now, so…

Now I’m working on a novel about a West Point senior cadet, and his romance with an Iraq veteran who’s an Iran expert in the DoD, as they investigate a State Department official who may be an Iranian spy… This idea came out of a chart I saw, that showed that the most popular subgenres in romance were College, Military and Sports. So I just laughed and said to myself, “Fine I’ll write a West Point football player who gets involved in international intrigue!” And then I said… Oh shit! That’s a great idea! So I get to work on something that will sell, that’s also something I want to do. Right now I’m deep in the research on both West Point and Iran, two things I knew nothing about before now. And that’s fun.

I’m doing all this because… I want to work. I want to make money as a novelist, I want to work in the industry, as an actor, as a screenwriter, as who knows what. (And with the Dark Lord and his minions about to demolish health care, I’m gonna need a serious bag of cash for my pre-existing condition meds.)

And let’s face it. People who work in a visual medium make visual judgments, even on people who are working behind the scenes. If this Kickstarter gets funded, hey, I’m off to Hollywood (okay, Burbank) at the end of June! And I’m going to be pitching this script to industry pros, and you know what? If I look good doing it? I can erase some of the ageist odds against me, for starters.

And another advantage I have now, thanks to acting class? When it comes to pitch meetings, I’ll be “good in a room.” Most writers aren’t good presenters. They haven’t stood in front of a room (never mind a camera) and dazzled their audience. (In fact, most “literary” writers feel like they have to bore their audience to be “taken seriously,” maintaining a steady somber NPR drone throughout their readings, but anyway…)

My acting classes have boosted my confidence, and my ability to read an audience and change my tone, and I’ve got, if I say so myself, personality.

And all this adaptation has made me more flexible when it comes to criticism. I got that “consider” on the first draft of my first script, and yeah, instead of getting all defensive and depressed about the feedback, I’m taking a good look at it and saying, yeah, I gotta do that, you’re right. What I’ve learned in acting class is that sometimes you can deviate from the written lines, as long as you get to the “truth of the story.” If I failed in the novel to really make Tom and Jamie’s story as good as it can be? Well, here’s my chance to fix it.

Oh yeah PS! The Kickstarter is now at $930 in ten days! Whoo! But please tell your friends, families, perfect strangers, etc. about it. And ALL money over the $2k goal will go to Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America!

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