Go Big or Go Bust: on Steve McQueen. And Me. And The Power of Less.

I have to interrupt this story of making my first 16mm feature (for under $80,000), of traveling with it to the competition at Sundance and to Berlin and thinking that I would then sit back and preside over a bidding war between hot indie distributors.  Please check back for that on Friday.  Today I’m burning to tell you what's going on right this minute.

For the past couple of months, I’ve been practicing a new form of meditation.  Inspired by The Power of Less a book which my friend and collaborator Victoria Trestrail sent (written by the same guy who has the wildly popular blog Zen Habits) I’ve been doing an eating meditation.  Instead of my bad old ways of eating at my desk and chewing as I continue to work, I’ve been sitting at tables with and without other people and keeping the focus on the moment.  I love to eat.  I never make time to meditate.  This is a win win situation.  I’ve been surprised at my ability to stick with this.  It feels like the foundation of a new way of living and I’ve been feeling a calm and a focus and a peace I’ve rarely known … until a few days ago.  Suddenly, I’m eating at my desk again.  I run up and down to the basement throwing in loads of laundry as I chew and then back to the computer.  “I have to!  I’ve got to get this finished!”   And I don’t seem to be able to get my inner bull back into its pen.  

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A few weeks ago, Mr. Green was watching the Saturday night movie on our local PBS station, Channel 13.  He’d missed the opening credits and wasn’t sure what he was watching.  The star looked sort of like Paul Newman, sort of like Steve McQueen but wasn’t as handsome as either of them.  I never sit down to watch television for fear of losing a day but soon found myself sitting next to Mr. Green on the couch.  Even though this star was not all that handsome, he was compellingly, quietly and naturally so intense that I couldn’t take my eyes off him.  

Eventually it became clear that this actor was indeed Steve McQueen.  And later we discovered that it was Steve McQueen in Bullitt.  

I wanted to see the beginning (and it isn’t streaming on Netflix) so headed over to the public library to check out the dvd along with two biographies of Steve McQueen for good measure.  Who was this guy? And how had he learned to channel this intensity, this incredibly rich inner life.  He seems like a genius.  I figured he probably went to Harvard.

Well from the little I read of one of the biographies, I think old Steve was a middle school drop- out.  He may have had the worst childhood of anyone ever.  Abandoned, neglected and abused, he lived with his mother who worked as a prostitute out of the bedroom they shared in Indianapolis, surrounded by the rail yards, open sewers and … hog pens?  The author of the biography was definitely making the case that the source of the rage that powered him and his performances was his childhood.  

Long before fast food, he was known as ‘Big Mac’ because of his larger than life appetite for life and his habit of hoovering down food like an animal.  He’d tear through a meal with a cheeseburger in one hand and a piece of pie in the other.  Shooting a scene with him, Karl Malden (who had famously worked with Brando) was quoted as saying that McQueen scared the daylights out of him, springing at and attacking like an animal.

I think seeing Bullitt and reading about Steve McQueen put me in touch with my own raging, impatient inner animal, an energy which is generally channeled into maniac workaholism.  The frustration of being an artist under the radar makes me mainline work like a crack addict.  NOW

I just wolfed down a bowl of lentil soup as I typed.  More about all this soon.  


Go Big or Go Bust: New Efficiency Model - Surprises at The Berlin Film Festival (Part 7)

Having a projector bulb burst five minutes into the screening of your first feature film and watching a very influential person get up and leave the room should be high on any filmmaker’s list of Things To Avoid.  I tried to put the recurring image of Richard Pena, Director of The New York Film Festival, out of my mind.  But there he was, in instant replay in my head, over and over, and over, rising from his seat and heading for the exit. Fortunately, we had our big screening still ahead of us, in the Panorama section of The Berlin International Film Festival aka Berlinale.

Official Trailer (2:07)

I’d seen How To Be Louise so many times, I did not need to watch it again.  But the chance to see it anonymously, surrounded by hundreds of film lovers, was too tempting an opportunity to miss.  What if they didn’t get it?  What if they booed?  What if, God forbid, they walked out?  Heck, I'd already weathered that.  It would be instructive.  It would be a once in a lifetime experience.  And it would be important to know if and when they didn't 'get it'.

To my joy (and great relief) none of my dark fantasies came to pass.  They LOVED it.  They laughed everywhere I hoped they would and then some.  Their applause over the final credits sounded like thunder.  I was beaming.  My face hurt from smiling.  The Berlin Festival crowd got our film.  I couldn’t wait to tell Mr. Green.  

After spending a good thirty minutes mastering the basics of German pay phones, I rushed to call him with about three pounds of Deutsche Marks.

On the fourth ring he answered: “Oh Annie.  I’m so glad you called.  Where are the long pants?  For Frank.  I can’t find any clean long pants.”   The demands of life with the one-year old I’d left him to take care of were much more pressing than my news and I think Mr. Green listened to only part of my recap before he cut me off with a quick congratulations, signing off to get back to his charge.

Frank, age one

Frank, age one



I headed for the airport with invitations to more film festivals but again without a distribution deal.  But I left Berlin having connected with a lot more filmmakers.  And the more peers I met, the more I realized that my plan and vision were extremely naive.  Here I figured, I’ve done my part, I made the film.  Come and get it.  A lot of these other filmmakers were taking a different attitude.  They were planning on spending a year on the festival circuit.  My idea of hitting two or three festivals and finding a distributor started to seem laughable.

(to be continued)

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