Mr. Green

blog: the oh so elusive gift of surrender

(Click on 'BLOG' in the navigation and then scroll down for Part 1 of this blog from April 4 )

So when Mr. Green chose to not rush in and prop me up with the sort of platitudes I really wanted to hear (“You can do this! Of course you can do this!”) I was left to face the goddam abyss.

Like any sane person with options, I spend as little time as possible there and my active mind raced for a getaway plan. I could justifiably blow off a little steam shrieking at Mr. Green: “Thanks for kicking me when I’m down!” etc. But in a moment of grace, or was it blind panic at the gravity of my situation, I said nothing. I sat there staring blindly into the middle distance.

To let it all go and ask someone else to write the darn script - oh dear. My past life of writing ‘collaboratively’ flashed before my eyes. My stomach seized, there were stabbing pains in the chest and meanwhile my mind soared at the thought of the freedom and carefree hours.

But maybe I have no choice.

It actually felt like I was cracking into two, along a vertical fault line.

While the soup in the bowl in front of me got cold, the oh so elusive and precious gift of surrender bloomed in my interior cavities. Twenty-four hours earlier, the Runes (thank you, Mudd Lavoie) had advised: (Perth) "Let go of EVERYTHING - no exceptions, no exclusions. Powerful forces of change are at work. Becoming whole….”

I got up from the table and went out for a two hour 'walk' storming and sobbing all around lower Manhattan. (There's 'surrender' and then there's an extended version for people who really like to suffer.) The walk, complete with brilliant sunshine and 40 mph gusts of Arctic wind, cleared my head and I realized that I’m willing to do whatever is necessary.

Since then, I’ve written an outline and am studying scripts of other television episodes. And even though my mind always feels locked against this inscrutable concept of 'structure’, something opened that afternoon.

Three days later, the insight about 'structure' is a little fuzzy, but I'm holding on to a friendly feeling about it and to some kind of faith that I don’t have to be so scared. Facing the abyss has its own rewards. In case my little story doesn't convince you, take a look at the script for the pilot of Breaking Bad. 

blog: the emotional uproar of a writer in the throes of a rewrite

So this incredibly interesting Numerologist told me I’d be stepping into a 100 mph zone in April. With my literal thinking, I naturally figured he meant I’d be flying off to LA (at 500 mph) and meeting all kinds of people, pitching up a storm.


Well at least not yet. For now, my version of the 100 mph zone is emotional. I generally have a very long fuse, slow to feel and even slower to act on feelings. But as of the last few days, clear the road. I’m in an emotional uproar. Cycling through the highs and the lows, infuriated, sobbing, storming around lower Manhattan on a two hour ‘walk’, frantic at having wasted five weeks on this rewrite and knowing I’m capable of wasting seventeen years. Except that I won’t because I’ve already done that once.

Being ‘old’ (I’m not old) is serving me. I don’t want to waste any more time.

With Mr. Green sitting across the table at lunch yesterday, I resisted biting his head off when he blew a Golden Opportunity:

Me (scared)  Maybe I can’t do this rewrite. Maybe I’m just not capable of it.

Mr. Green     Well maybe you can’t. Maybe you need to let someone else do the writing. What did Hitchcock say? “When the script has been written and the dialogue has been added…”  You’re really good at dialogue. And your ultimate objective is to have a show, right? Or is your ultimate objective to write a script by yourself that’s good enough to get produced?

It’s a testament to how totally freaked out I was that I didn’t pick up my end of our considerably large and heavy dining room table and push it at Mr. Green. (Believe me I wanted to write “break it over Mr. Green” but it’s just not in the realm of possibility. If you want to see what I’m talking about, the table co-stars in episode 32)

(to be continued)

Pretty sure they're not the kind of 'amazing things' that the people who paid for this banner were imagining...

Postcard from my brain

I recently heard about Everything is Copy the new documentary on HBO by Nora Ephron’s son, Jacob Bernstein. Apparently Nora Ephron used that expression, that everything was material for her writing, up to and including her messy divorce from Carl Bernstein … until she got cancer. When it came to cancer, Ephron told almost no one and avoided using the experience as source material for anything.

Well I totally understand Nora Ephron’s inclinations. I’ve long thought of my life, the emotional as well as the physical, (and Mr. Green’s, when he’s willing to let me use it) as ‘copy’. Yes, it’s often been exaggerated or transposed (hey, I’m not a housefly), but I haven’t wanted to talk in this blog about my recent bout of being a little under the weather. (emphasis on ‘a little’)

The fact is that this extremely minor blip in my generally excellent health is not even worth talking about. But between it, the cure for it and my battle-to-the-death with this rewrite, I’m exhausted, feeling bouts of hopelessness and seeing the glass half destroyed.

As this is supposed to be a ‘reality blog’, now you know the hard dull facts of why I’ve recently made myself scarce. Thank you for your patience. Please don’t feel you have to prop me up. I'll be roaring back. Soon. 

blog: a clip from the beleaguered Mr. Green's breakfast this morning

There's not much to tell you about my progress in getting this pitch going. I sit here day after day, crazed with urgency and bent over the keyboard finishing and re-finishing this rewrite of the pilot.

In the meantime (this is supposed to be a reality show after all) here's 24 seconds of poor Mr. Green bearing up under the tribulations of married life. My favorite part is when he tries to reason with me like I have a very limited intelligence or am three years old.

A Stormy Story Conference on the Rewrite for the Pilot Episode of the TV Series based on The Louise Log

patiently transcribing Mr. Green's notes on the rewrite

patiently transcribing Mr. Green's notes on the rewrite

I’ve been nose to the grindstone this week working in a very focused and disciplined way on the rewrite. And this is thanks, in large part, to the excellent suggestions you made on the fb feed last Friday. Thank you again!  I had some bonafide breakthroughs and am feeling very very excited, so much so that I've recently switched songs and am now listening to The Cranberries’ Zombie on repeat.

One of my co-writers, Mr. Green, (who actually is kind of overworked) carved out the time tonight to read the draft and to sit down with me to discuss it.

I asked him for a simple summary of his reaction to the new draft. He obliged me.

 “It’s very much closer and is a lot funnier.” I asked him to elaborate. “No I can’t do that.”

He's very good with the boundaries, a fact which sometimes angers me.

“I don’t like your attitude.”
“Well I don’t like YOUR attitude!”

We managed to make it through all twenty-nine pages, me carefully taking notes on every one of his (often excellent) suggestions. And then Mr. Green pushed me over the edge. He asked if I’d ‘make a deal’. Having been married for a while, I knew where he was headed.

All week, in gratitude for the time and energy he was eventually going to give to this story conference, I’ve been catering to Mr. Green, peeling his oranges and even accompanying him today on one very long and boring errand. His ‘deals’ usually have something to do with chocolate. Tonight I flatly denied him. No deal. I didn’t even want to hear the terms.

Knowing that this was going to be the subject of tonight’s still unwritten blog, Mr. Green responded: “Well you know what? Everybody’s going to feel sorry for me and you’re going to get a lot of comments because my wife won’t walk to the store with me to get a little piece of chocolate. Imagine! A husband can’t get his wife to take a walk around the corner to satisfy his chocolate addiction.” 

Mr. Green likes to say things two times.

Sometimes I have to make hissing cat noises to hold my ground with Mr. Green.

Sometimes I have to make hissing cat noises to hold my ground with Mr. Green.

This one's personal - and all about change (Part 1)

When I told Mr. Green about what had happened the other night, his reaction was:

“Annie, it’s unbelievable. I’ve never heard of anything like this happening, especially not overnight.”  

I reminded him that it hadn’t happened ‘overnight’, that it had happened instantaneously. He choked out a dry little cough of the inexpressible:  

“I know. I heard you. I was trying to give you the benefit of ‘overnight’. Instantaneous is … incomprehensible.”

To keep this blog going, I’ve had to write about pretty much whatever’s going on in my life. It’s a special bonus if it’s related to my effort to get The Louise Log out to a wider audience but I don’t always have something newsworthy.

What happened the other night was so personal that I’ve been hesitating to write about it here. Thinking that maybe it’ll be worthwhile for someone else, I’m forging ahead.

As anyone who’s ever watched an episode of The Louise Log might imagine, a lack of self-confidence, has been the bane of my existence. I’ve tried ignoring it and acting as if I feel sure of myself, I’ve tried affirmations, I’ve read every self-help book that ever caught my eye, I’ve gone to psychics, I’ve gone to therapy, I consult the I Ching and The Runes. It all helps.

But it’s all felt like band-aids: I’m a broken person pretending to be okay.

(Trying to keep this blog to 250 words so please check back on Wednesday. And please don't hesitate to click on the 'Like' button under the photograph for something instant and delicious ...  If you want to Share, please hit the 'Share' button right next to the 'Like'. Thank you!  \o/ )

Me at about five years old.

Me at about five years old.

The pilot episode you need to make the leap from tv online to a tv program

To make the leap from tv online to a tv program on cable or Netflix/Amazon, you need a few things. One of them is a script for the first or ‘pilot’ episode.

On my watch, ‘improving’ the script for the pilot episode had ballooned it up to a bloated mess. Luckily, I have brilliant co-writers In William M. Hoffman and Mr. Green. But we could never all be in the same place at the same time, so they each gave/sent me notes when they could and with them sliced the script down to a svelte two-thirds of its former self.

For the past week, I’ve been at my desk trying to build it back up to the half-hour length it's supposed to be, which is why I don’t have stories for you tonight of being back out there “knocking em dead” with my pitch.

You can be grateful that I’m not including a picture of the experience, me bent over my desk, the tearful, blotchy face, the used kleenex littering the desk and floor. This writer-in-action is neither glamourous or exciting to look at.

Instead, here’s a picture from after today’s story conference, confidence in life and self restored. Mr. Hoffman, Mr. Green and I sat around a table at a diner and although they made recommendations for more slashing and clarifying ... there was much more. We howled with laughter, we whispered so people at the next booth wouldn't be able to hear. I got so excited, I knocked over a pitcher of milk which Mr. Green and Mr. Hoffman mopped up sort of the way they mop up my 'structural issues' (they never call them that) never mentioning what they're doing and all without breaking stride in their brainstorming.

I'm being guided by two angels.

(Just below the photograph is a late Valentine's Day present from me to you if you click the Like button ...  And if you want to Share this, please just hit the 'Share' button right next door. Thank you!  \o/ )

Go Big or Go Bust: Ready or Not, Here I Come With My Pitch

Now that I've memorized this pitch and gotten the go-ahead from both Mudd Lavoie and Mr. Green, I'm unstoppable. Sheila invited me up to her place:

Scott listened to half of my pitch in person and then the whole thing on the phone.  Roni came over here and let me try it out on her.  Mr. Green told me to stop practicing, that I was going to ruin it.

I never took the obedience vow when we got married so Mhairi Morrison and Holly Payberg of Feathers & Toast and I pitched to each other over Skype. As you can see, we had fun.

L to R Holly Payberg, Mhairi Morrison and me, the wee person over in the corner

L to R Holly Payberg, Mhairi Morrison and me, the wee person over in the corner

There's still more writing and memorization for questions I may have to answer but it feels like I'm in the home stretch.

I'll keep you posted.

Meanwhile, early Valentine's Day present from me to you if you scroll down a little and click the Like button ...  (this is just a picture of it.... the one to click is a little further down the page)

And, if you want to leave a comment and run into any problems, here is advice from the people who run Squarespace:

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Thanks for checking in and cheering me on!



Go Big or Go Bust: This Pitch is Getting Real

Bursting with good news.

I pitched the two minute version of the pitch to Mr. Green last night. He started off looking at his lap, looked up tentatively a few times and finally LOCKED eyes. He thought it was good, even very good. He said I ‘had’ him.

This afternoon, I pitched the two minute version by Skype to my friend and coach Mudd Lavoie. She threw both arms in the air and shouted “I LOVE IT.”  Then she gave me the two thumbs up.

There are a few more things to organize and then ... I’ll keep you posted.

Screengrab of the elusive Mudd Lavoie giving me two thumbs up after I pitched to her over skype

Screengrab of the elusive Mudd Lavoie giving me two thumbs up after I pitched to her over skype

Go Big or Go Bust: The Practice Pitch (Part 2 - with mystery professional *Lynn*)

And so last Friday morning I set off to meet Lynn, someone I’ve known for almost forty years during which time she has worked in top positions in Development.

When I was trying to make the leap from shorts to a feature, Lynn was the one who suggested that I give her a call each day before I’d sit down to contemplate the ream of blank pages I would have to fill to write a feature film. She further encouraged me to give her a call five (or two hundred) minutes later, whenever I finished. Without her support and encouragement, it’s an open question if I would ever have made “How To Be Louise”.  

And so, sitting under this auspicious grouping of photographs, I explained that after Thursday night’s pitch fiasco with Mr. Green, I was going to try to wing it, abandoning all the preparation of the past weeks and flying by the seat of my pants.

Lynn chuckled and encouraged me to give it a shot and so I dove off the high board, (this is a metaphor) pitching the essential short summary (the so-called ‘logline’), relating it to my own life experience.

Lynn listened, beaming at me with love and acceptance even when, after the opening summary, my pitch became somewhat scattershot. There were some good moments and at these Lynn nodded and called out ‘YES’. There were also a number of weak moments which began to overwhelm the good moments and so, after a while, I ground to a halt, admitting that I had lost my way.

We sat for well over an hour while she brainstormed what directions I might take, what points seemed essential and in the meantime, she came up with evocative and hilarious language to get the substance and the tone across in the fewest number of words.

She reminded me that this pitch was going to be a work in progress, that the people I’d be meeting would also have suggestions on how to improve it and that it might be a good idea to set up a camera on a tripod and practice practice practice it.

It’s funny that I left feeling neither elated or dejected as I’d imagined I would.  Instead I left with clarity that this job is a big and new challenge which has mostly to do with letting go. It has to do with radical self-acceptance and with figuring out a way to connect the points I need to make to my life experience so that it comes out as naturally and effortlessly as an anecdote.

Naturally I was so thrown by going out to do this first serious practice that I ran out the door leaving my house keys in the house. There’s certainly at least one telling metaphor in that ... the deciphering of which will have to wait for another day.

Check back on Wednesday to hear about TODAY'S meeting! And if you got even a shred of pleasure from reading this, please scroll down and click the Like button. I love that. 

Go Big or Go Bust: The Practice Pitch (Part 1 - with Mr. Green)

Before I launch into the story of today’s FIRST EVER serious (practice) pitch, I have to tell you about last night.  

I was getting myself and my many pieces of paper (never a good sign) organized for the morning and realized that I should try the pitch out on Mr. Green.

Because I didn’t have my pitch solidly memorized— okay, it was no where CLOSE to memorized— (but only because it was so well written and rewritten)— I had to mostly read it to Mr. Green. 

photo by Julie Clark Shubert

photo by Julie Clark Shubert

Of course I didn’t read it in a dull or flat way, I looked up frequently, my face bright and animated, my voice modulated and full of excitement in all the right places. And when I’d made it all the way through, Mr. Green and I locked eyes. He looked away, shook his head and looked back, locking eyes again: “Terrible.” he went on, “It’s TERRIBLE. NO ONE is going to listen to that.”

I was too stunned to react. Lucky for me because it looked like Mr. Green had more to say.

“It’s a comedy, right?” (as if he didn’t know) “It sounds like a tragedy! It’s not funny. At ALL. Tear that up!”

It was eleven o’clock at night. I actually like to be in bed at ten thirty.

Mr. Green suggested that I approach pitching in a completely different way. Instead of writing up a-script-to-memorize following a so-called ‘pitch template’, he asked if I could tell it conversationally. “You know the story inside out, it’s your story. You can do this!”

Amazingly, with my first pitch meeting scheduled in less than twelve hours, I was able to go to bed and fall right to sleep.

(to be continued on Monday)

(immediate and gorgeous early Valentine's gift if you click the 'Like' button below)


Go Big or Go Bust: Plaster Jackets, My Rogue's Gallery

So to wrap up this saga, I wanted to show you some examples of this 'plaster jacket' in my work from 1990 and 2010. I had no idea what it meant at the time but couldn't resist using it. Who knew this image would turn out to be a message to me about myself, just like in a dream, where everything (allegedly) represents the dreamer.

"How To Be Louise" (1990)  Maggie Burke and Mr. Green         Dir. of Photography Vladimir Tukan

"How To Be Louise" (1990)  Maggie Burke and Mr. Green         Dir. of Photography Vladimir Tukan

"How To Make Matters Worse: The Louise Log #22" (2010)           Pascal Yen-Pfister is under there.

"How To Make Matters Worse: The Louise Log #22" (2010)           Pascal Yen-Pfister is under there.

Go Big or Go Bust: The Story Behind The Making Of This Web Series Trailer

Over a year ago, Marion O'Grady pointed out that in order to properly spread the word of this show, we really should have a highlights reel (AKA trailer) which would give someone unfamiliar with The Louise Log a sense of all three seasons of it. 

I figured that, with help, I could slap something together over a month, maybe two.
Ever hear the expression: "Many a slip twixt the cup and the lip"? There were so many false starts I've lost count. I had no idea what a huge undertaking it would be -- or maybe I did which is why I had taken on this mad challenge.

Anyway, with suggestions from colleague Mhairi Morrison of Feathers and Toast, help from the soul of generosity, superfan Marie Pope, who organized a focus group of people unfamiliar with the show, hard-boiled feedback from marketing coach and consultant Mudd Lavoie, Seed&Spark CEO Emily Best and finally from Mr. Green, I am THRILLED to finally present the final result.

I am beyond grateful to Julie Clark Shubert for letting us use her delicious song “I Want To Know You”.

But just so you don't get the wrong idea, getting the material cut was only the first step, one which took about a year, more actually. Next there was the fun of going back into old hard drives. I was determined to find the original files which are of higher resolution than in the episodes I had uploaded to YouTube.

Too bad there aren't any pictures of super-tech me (NOT), surrounded by hard drives out of their boxes, all with their different power cables, plugging them into my old computer which was limping along with my only copy of the editing software used to cut most of the episodes.
Mr. Green was subjected to the extremes of my moods: alternately exhilarated that I'd finally figured out the proper way to extract and/or compress files, or plunging into the depths of depression, certain that I would never be able to master this much less finish the job.  It was way over my head. It was going to eat me alive.

It's thanks to Patrick Carey of the Apple Store at West 14th Street's third floor that you're getting this trailer instead of dark reports about me. Patrick saved the day regularly for months and there's not an ounce of hyperbole in that.

I hope you enjoy this trailer. And if you do, please share it!  Thank you! 

Here are two links for easy sharing:          

PS Click on the white arrow in the middle of the 'comedic brilliance' video screen and then, for a bigger video player, click on the white 'flower' just under the words: "Meet Louise". 

PS Click on the white arrow in the middle of the 'comedic brilliance' video screen and then, for a bigger video player, click on the white 'flower' just under the words: "Meet Louise". 

CAST (in order of appearance)

Christine Cook
Muhammad Akmal
Fatima Elias
Kenneth B Goldberg
Jesse Epstein
Sheldon Horowitz
Jennifer Sklias-Gahan
Pascal Yen-Pfister
Senami d’Almeida
Tom Tinelli
Mathilde Dratwa
Leer Leary
Morgan Hallett
Everett Quinton
Joseph Franchini
Danusia Trevino
Marie Christine Katz
Ann Imig

“I Want To Know You”
written and performed by
Julie Clark Shubert

“Steady Now”
written by and used with permission of
Victoria Trestrail

Marketing Concept/
Mudd Lavoie

Marketing Strategy
Beth Tallman

Sound Mixer
Chris Leone

Sound Editor
Laura Hanna

Special Thanks
Patrick Carey

Executive Producer
Marion O’Grady

Written by
Anne Flournoy
Mordecai Green
Sandra Vannucchi

Created, Produced
and Directed by
Anne Flournoy

Go Big or Go Bust: Getting Ready for a Flurry of Activity (BONUS: hear Mr. Green learn from Matthew McConnaughey)

It's the season for hibernation ... but I'm going in the other direction - I'm coming back to life! After almost a year of thrashing around and trying to figure out the next step, I've got a plan

Here's a (2:00) clip to start the ball rolling.  More soon.   (Please click the 'Like' button and be instantly rewarded for your big heart.)

Go Big or Go Bust: Six Top Tools for Creative Work in the Digital Age

This blog was started as a way of keeping you, dear reader, up to date on my efforts to get The Louise Log  out to a wider audience.  (The urgency to reach more viewers is financial - this show needs to become self-sustaining in order to continue.)  

I thank you for giving me a wide berth as I’ve gone down meandering paths into my past life, trying to see if there’s some obvious pattern at work here and, if so, how I might be able to break it.

The good news is that, in spite of me and my personality still at the helm, we have a very exciting plan in the works which I’ll be able to say more about in the next week or so.

Until then, here’s some of what I’ve learned from making this show.  

I used to routinely face a wall of anxiety too tall to see over and too wide to get around.  The only possible way to deal with this is, obviously, was avoidance, otherwise known as procrastination.  As you may have read, in what is by any standards an epic mastery of this approach to life, I managed to stretch out the rewrite of the script for my ‘second feature’ for SEVENTEEN YEARS.  Making The Louise Log  taught me a number of tools to deal with this demon.  

Tool #1 is limitations.  Having ‘wasted’ so many years on one miserable script, I was like an over-primed pump ready to explode.   It helped that I was fifty-five years old and well aware that people start dying at that age.  So before mine got me, I started to set my own deadlines.  Mr. Green had been writing a blog once a month for years.  I decided that I’d make one video a month.  

Tool #2 is a variation on Tool #1: Start where you are with what you have.

In film, I’d worked with Camera Operators and Directors of Photography.  I knew nothing about shooting and less about video.  Furthermore, in 2007, no self-respecting filmmaker was shooting video with a camcorder and putting it up on YouTube.  Fortunately, as previously outlined, I had the gift of desperation.  There was the family camcorder which, guess what?  Like cell phone cameras, camcorders are point and shoot.  A two year old could press the two buttons and probably get something worth looking at.  

I’d worked as a film editor and had always been intimidated by video editing.  Apple’s imovie is so simple, two year olds can now edit the video they’ve shot.  I went to the Apple Store’s One-to-One sessions and learned imovie until I broke it with overly complicated sound tracks.  Then I learned Final Cut Pro.  

Which brings me to Tool #3: Baby Steps

If the first episode had been with more than one actor, I probably would have broken out in hives and cancelled the shoot for not being able to breathe.  

But by the fourth episode I was working with two actors.  By the fifth episode,  there were four actors (two of them children), props, several shots crossing the very busy Seventh Avenue and a rented location (the local public school),  

By episode forty-three we had four SAG actors in their underwear, a fifth (fully clothed) SAG actor 900 miles away on Skype and a crew of five.

Tool #4: Practice Makes Perfect.  Well, yes and no.

On the one hand, working constantly, my craft exploded.  I learned more making The Louise Log than in making all my other films combined.

But a great thing about digital technology is that you don’t have to get it right the first time.  Or even the seventeenth.  For Season One, we didn’t have a professional sound mixer on set. The sound for the first seventeen episodes was whatever the camcorder picked up.  In the episode in the Principle’s Office (12), the air conditioning noise was so invasive, it ruined an otherwise strong episode.  Yes we had to lose thousands of views, but we took down the original uploads of almost all the sub-par audio, dubbed them and re-uploaded a lot of Season One.

Tool #5: Collaborate and Ask For Help

Digital technology makes it possible for one person to do almost every job.  Please don’t ask how I know this.  Unfortunately, the chances of a one-person project reaching a wide audience are greatly diminished.  If only for the (extremely important) fact that the marketing and promotion will be easier if a lot of people are involved and invested, work with a group.  

Tool #6: Story Trumps All

Make sure the script is strong or make sure you have the leeway to salvage it in the editing if it isn’t.  A voice-over saved us more times than I can count.  

Don't miss out!  Special bonus delivered INSTANTLY if you click the 'Like' button. 

Go Big or Go Bust: the challenge of finding distribution for a NY indie film (Part 11 of 11)

(I’m reprinting the last two paragraphs of the last blog post for context.)

Jackie Raynal, who had been on the crew of early Godard films I had loved and watched at her Bleecker Street Cinema, was the first to call.  She loved the film and wanted to invite Mr. Green and me to her Central Park South apartment for drinks.  It was all very understated, all very restrained but I’m telling you, it was a love fest.  Jackie is French, Jackie is sophisticated, Jackie is a woman.  Jackie felt that people in France would go crazy for this film and she and her husband were interested in talking about launching it at the Bleecker Street and then distributing it.  

My first New York apartment had been just off Bleecker Street.  I’d gone to art school in Paris.  The Bleecker Street Cinema was my favorite downtown movie theatre.  It was all coming together.  

I never heard from Jackie Raynal again.  Nor did I ever hear from Lucky Red.  The Fort Lauderdale Festival sent press clips which included two wonderful reviews of How To Be Louise on two different days in The Miami Herald.  I clung to them.   

It was a hot July that summer in New York, hot and humid as I remember.  Ralph McKay the director of Jonas MekasAnthology Film Archives on Second Avenue in the East Village had called to ask me to come over to talk about the possibility of screening HTBL.  I stuffed myself into a pair of black jeans as I was going to the East Village, after all, where a tough version of cool trumps even the weather.  Or so I figured.  

Ralph McKay was not at all what I expected.  He was young and gentle and seemed more like an artist than a businessman.  He and Jonas Mekas wanted to give HTBL a month long screening.  (!!)  They thought the film would do well and build an audience and they wanted to open it on a Thursday.  Most films in New York City opened on Friday so this would make a bigger audience and longer reviews more likely.  And, Ralph McKay assured me, this was just the kind of film that Vincent Canby of The New York Times, a friend of Jonas Mekas, would love.  They would do everything they could to make sure Canby came to the press screening.   We wouldn’t have to pay for a four-wall.  We wouldn’t have to buy ads.  And if we got a good review in the Times, I could go back to Dan Talbot and his offer from New Yorker Films.  Indeed, all my dreams were coming true.

Anthology Film Archives, New York City

Anthology Film Archives, New York City

I went into high gear designing and having a poster made up to plaster downtown New York.  The poster came back not looking anything like a movie poster but I figured that by getting a strip to paste over the top and another strip with all the credits to paste over the bottom, we could salvage it.  And in spite of the cat and Frank and glue all over everything, a handful of our old crew and I hand-pasted headers and footers and made up a gorgeous black and white poster.

On the day of the press screening, I got a call from the Anthology.  Vincent Canby was in the hospital.  He wouldn’t be at the press screening.

The next morning, on the day of our opening at Anthology, I heard NPR’s Neil Rosen give HTBL a very positive review live on WNYC and rushed out to get the papers.  The New York Post had given us three stars and called it “very sexy”.  After reading the first few lines of the review in The Times, I called Lea Floden who had starred as Louise, and shouted them at her into the phone: “A Judy Holliday character who seems to have fallen into a Jean-Luc Godard film.”  Lea, in Los Angeles, had already read the review and told me to take a deep breath. 

Caryn James, who had reviewed it for The Times, was not a fan.  In fact, her ‘review’ seemed to veer into personal attack territory.  “Anne Flournoy, who wrote, directed and produced this low budget film ... sometimes pulls back to suggest an arch superiority … “How To Be Louise” quickly becomes a low-energy exercise in directorial attitude…”  Ow ow owww.  

The New Yorker Films deal was contingent on a good review in The Times.  Our hopes for distribution, which only five minutes before had seemed well-founded, were suddenly bleak.

The audiences at the nightly screenings at The Anthology grew over the month but they never filled the house.  The review in The Times put a pall over everything.

My artist energy and whatever free time I had went into writing the script for ‘the next film’.  Mostly I was focused on all that goes into keeping a family clean and fed and the job of raising two children.  Telling other mothers at the playground that I was a filmmaker began to feel like a fiction from another lifetime.  Time after time, I wrote and rewrote my script with notes from producers, with notes from friends.  On good days I was certain that all this would come to something.  On the many bad days, I swallowed the bitter pill that my life as a filmmaker was over. 

Seventeen years later, in a summer of desperation, The Louise Log sprouted out of my experiences of marriage and motherhood and my fear that if I didn't set some deadlines for myself, I'd never finish anything again.  I'd make one video a month.  Six months later I 'finished' the first one.  It was supposed to be a one-off thigh slapper and it was anything but.  It was dark.  It was a meditation on mortality and wasted time.  Armed with some self-knowledge at this point, I realized I could spend the next seventeen years bringing it up to my standards.  I uploaded it to YouTube on the last day of the month which happened to be the last day of the year.  People in my address book wrote that they loved the actor (Christine Cook) and asked for another one with her. Thrilled at the response, I did one video a month for four months in a row.  But I was running out of ideas as everything I had was in that script of so many rewrites.  With Bob Berney and Mr. Green's encouragement, I decided to shoot and throw this enormous effort up on YouTube for free.  It became the basis for episodes 5-17 of The Louise Log

In 2013, The Sundance Institute launched How To Be Louise online and to celebrate that, we had a screening at Indiescreen in Williamsburg. 

And that's my whole, never-before-told, story.

What did I learn from all of this? 

I leaned the importance of working on what I love and with people I respect.  That way, regardless of artistic or commercial success or failure, I’ll have used whatever (days, years) it takes, feeding my soul.  

And I learned that 'failure' is not necessarily all bad.  In the clear light of twenty-five years later, I think this ‘failure’ may actually have been my lucky break.  With my tendency toward maniac workaholism, if I’d had the option of a career when my children were small, it’s possible that I might have managed to avoid the life-changing experience of that surrender historically demanded of mothers.  Had I been busy as a bee with my big career, I doubt that being completely broken by the loneliness, the drudgery and the exhaustion of motherhood would have been anywhere on my agenda.  In avoiding that, I might have also missed out on the great love of my life, of and for my family.

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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.  

Screen Shot 2015-10-28 at 15.55.22.png

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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Go Big or Go Bust: New Efficiency Model - The Berlin Film Festival (Part 6)

After having the ‘World Premiere’ of How To Be Louise at the Sundance Festival (trailer below), I flew from Salt Lake City to Newark to pick up one year-old Frank at my parents in New Jersey. 

(2:07) trailer for How To Be Louise starring Lea Floden as Louise and Bruce McCarty

On arriving at my parents, guess who didn’t recognize me?  Guess who wouldn’t even look at me?  Choking back tears, I wallowed in heartbreak until my mother suggested that I pull myself together.  

Frank and I headed back to Brooklyn to join Mr. Green who had arrived from Japan to meet with students in his lab and to take over with Frank.  Having schooled Mr. Green on what he needed to know, I set off for our European Premiere.  (Premieres are a very big deal in the world of film festivals.)

Having never been to Berlin, I didn’t know what to expect but my hopes were high from what I knew from Kurt Weill, Lotte Lenya, Marlene Dietrich, the Bauhaus and Max Beckmann.  I was not disappointed.

The Departure by Max Beckmann

The Departure by Max Beckmann

In spite of it being a bitterly cold February with the usual icy streets and sidewalks, the mood of the city was jubilant: the Berlin Wall had come down just two months earlier. Lea Floden and I stayed in a small hotel and had schedules packed from morning til night. We went to a festival party in a high-ceilinged room hardly bigger than an over-sized living room.  The draw was neither movie stars or film producers, but rather the Soviet Army marching band in full uniform. They played Swing Era music with lots of brass and I can't find the words to describe how explosive, how loud and incredibly exciting it was.  It was like the music was coming from inside my body.

And then there was Berlin. On one of my forays into the streets around the festival, I came upon a pharmacist who seemed to be trapped in the 14th century. The pharmacy had large windows through which I could see that it was a jewel box of exquisitely functional wood work - shelves, drawers, cabinets and mirrors. But it was the pharmacist himself who made my jaw drop.  He wore a perfect white lab coat and his white hair was cut in an impeccable Prince Valiant bob with a page boy curl.  This vision eventually inspired Everett Quinton’s character Ethelred’s hair in Season 3 of The Louise Log.  

Everett Quinton in the Prince Valiant wig - (We didn't have the budget for the curl of a pageboy.)

Everett Quinton in the Prince Valiant wig - (We didn't have the budget for the curl of a pageboy.)

Lea and I met up with some other filmmakers who were taking a trip over into what had been behind the Iron Curtain ninety days earlier.  The drab and barren-looking architecture and the looks on the faces of the people in East Berlin were in striking contrast with the opulent and free feeling of the western part of the city.  In the guarded way the East Berliners looked around (or didn’t look around} while sitting on a bus or walking past us on the street, it was clear that decades of a repressive regime had affected them.  

I spent most of my time in Berlin at the festival, walking in one direction or the other of a very long hallway in the building which housed The Market.  It was easy to meet new people and find old friends.  Our friend and long-time champion Lynda Hansen who organized American Independents in Berlin was there and we met Josef Wutz, a producer and actor and many others I've lost touch with. 

Like everyone, we had a few screenings set up at The Market.  As you might expect, The Market is where the business happens in modest screening rooms for small groups of people in the industry.  A very nice bonus of Market screenings was the Sign-In List which was handed to the filmmaker after the audience had been seated.  I was thrilled to see that a number of film festival directors were at our first screening, including Richard Pena of the New York Film Festival.  My first short had screened at New York before he was the director and I held my breath imagining that my first feature might be invited too.

Less than ten minutes into the screening, the bulb in the projector burst.  Eventually the lights came up.  Some time later, a technician poked his head in and asked for our patience in several languages.  There was complete silence in the room.  I was in the back row chewing off my nails.  After a few more minutes, Richard Pena got up and left. 

(to be continued)

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Go Big or Go Bust: New Efficiency Model - Sundance A Cautionary Tale (Part 5)

In November, we left for Toyonaka outside of Osaka, ‘the business capital’ of Japan.  Normally I would have been a nervous wreck, figuring that I’d lose myself, my focus and any film momentum I might have gathered now that I’d be a faculty wife in exile in suburban Japan.  But with my new status as a successful filmmaker with a feature in competition at Sundance, nothing could stop me.  Or so I thought.

Lea Floden as Louise with Michael Moneagle and William Zimmer

Lea Floden as Louise with Michael Moneagle and William Zimmer

From the minute we arrived in Japan until the day we left, my love for our lodging, the Guest House of Osaka University, its minimalist architecture and heated floors, never diminished.  On the contrary, the charm of my new social situation wore off faster than the jet lag.  

Mr. Green came home from his first day at the lab, his eyebrows raised, “These people work twelve to fourteen hours a day!  I’m not going to get into that.  I want to enjoy you and Frank and our time here.”  I raised my inner eyebrows.

Within the week Mr. Green was working twelve hour days.  Hey, I’m not a pathetic person clinging to her husband’s arm, I’ve got stuff to do too.  I’d soon be leaving for Sundance!  I set out to lock in a babysitter a few afternoons a week so I could collect my thoughts before setting off on the festival circuit.  

At eleven months, Frank was a terror on all fours.  He knew he wasn’t allowed in the refrigerator but as soon as its door swung open, he’d dash over at his top speed crawl, lace little fingers between the wires of a shelf and pull himself up to standing, shrieking with delight.  For extra fun, he’d grab things off the shelves and hurl them into the room.  

My first inquiries about getting some relief were to narrow-minded traditional types who tipped their heads to the side and screwed up their faces.  “Babysitta?  In Japan, babies stay with mother.  Or grandmother.”  Seriously? I thought to myself.  Get a life.  Weeks into my search for a few hours of relief, I realized that I was up against something a whole lot bigger than I’d ever be.  According to everyone I asked (this was 1989) I would not find anyone willing to watch the kid if I scoured the entire country.  Peoples’ best suggestions were that I take him to Baby And Me Swim classes.  I’d meet other mothers, too!

I turned to dark chocolate and more and more coffee trying to bring my energy up so I could make do on less sleep, getting something done while old Frank recharged his batteries.  Unfortunately, the stimulating effect reversed and made me more tired than ever.  

Heck, I figured, what’s there to do to ‘get ready’ anyway?  We didn’t have the budget for a publicist.  Lea Floden would join me in Park City and we’d do the best we could.

One month before setting off for Sundance (and dropping Frank at his grandparents in New Jersey) I started giving him more bottles of baby formula and weaning him from nursing.  He was eleven months old and though I’d loved this incredibly tender and intimate part of motherhood, it had to end in order for me to go to Sundance alone.  A measured tapering off would spare both of us the misery of going cold turkey.  One afternoon, watching his beautiful profile, peaceful and confident as he nursed, he pulled off my breast and looked up into my eyes, his mouth full of milk. He cooed at me with such love, the memory of it is a high point of my life.  

Note to filmmakers who haven’t been to Park City: before you go, read up on how to prevent altitude sickness.  “Headache, fatigue, nausea, loss of appetite, shortness of breath … the common symptoms of mild altitude sickness can be similar to a bad hangover.”  I knew about this and I thought I took precautions.  Maybe I didn’t do enough.

In Park City the festival organized for me to stay in a condo with other filmmakers. They all seemed to know each other and to sleep in ripped t-shirts. I remember one of them looking me over in disbelief (and what felt like hostility) in my nightgown and housecoat. Here I’d made it to Sundance and now was going to feel alienated … because I wore a nightgown?

Jet-lagged, with the altitude sickness and now feeling ostracized by my immediate peers, I wasn’t in top form to face the career opportunity of my life.  Legendary PR man Mickey Cottrell and Doug Lindeman and I exchanged cards on the bus to a screening and Mickey said he’d heard good buzz about How To Be LouiseClaudia Lewis, young, hip and smart, sat in front of Lea and me at a screening.  She’d worked on Drugstore Cowboy.  She encouraged us to stay in touch.  

Pretty much the rest of the festival is a blur.  There were parties.  There were lots and lots of people all of whom I knew i should at least be trying to connect with.  But how do you do that?  Especially when you feel tense, when you feel needy.  Opportunities were certainly all around and just as surely slipping through my fingers.  I was anxious, wanting to try but not to try ‘too hard’, and always feeling in the wrong place at the wrong time.  Roger Ebert and Steven Soderbergh were on the judging committee. I don’t remember ever even seeing them.

We had our packed screenings which seemed to go well and after them our Q&A’s where there were lots of questions.  People approached me afterwards, people with cards from companies I’d never heard of, saying they’d like to talk about distribution and television sales.  Naturally when I glanced down and saw that neither Sony Pictures Classics, Miramax or Orion Classics were on their cards, I'd smile politely, knowing that our film was destined for greater things.  Lea and her husband Dan Bonnell convinced me to leave Park City for twenty-four hours to go skiing at Powder Mountain and get our feet back on the ground.  When we returned to Park City, I went back to crash at the condo only to find someone else sleeping in my bed.  Hmm.  Sorry Mick Jagger, I’ll have to disagree with you here:  You can’t always get what you want, you get what you get.  

I left Park City for the airport without having talked distribution with anyone.  

(to be continued)

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