Go Big or Go Bust: On Going With The Goddam Flow

With everything that’s behind and ahead of me in wanting to get this pilot in front of the right people, I’m pin balling through every phase of the emotional wringer.

And then early Saturday morning, I had a dream. It was just around daybreak when a person’s lucky to be able to get back to sleep, much less have a dream.

A 20-something, Middle Eastern-looking woman and I were talking in the hall of a building at 14th St and 8th Avenue. There was nothing fancy about the way she looked or dressed but she radiated a beautiful strength and confidence. She mentioned that she meditated two or three times a day for an hour each time and was cutting back on the people she sees. She mentioned that ‘Henry Fun’, who is dying, is one of them. It felt like I was not someone she’d be making time for.

And so I drifted off in thought, thinking about what a pity it is that I’m not a sitting meditation person, that this is obviously why she’s so strong and confident and I’M NOT. And suddenly, I remembered something I was supposed to be doing and let out a whole body cry of frustration.  

She looked at me with a look of wonder and horror, as if to say: “How old ARE you, anyway? THREE?”

In that flash, I got it, something I’ve been struggling with for decades. This is what self-will run riot looks like and I don’t have to fall victim to it anymore. I can let go. I can get into the darn river and go with the goddam flow.

Go Big or Go Bust: New Efficiency Model - The Darkness Before the Dawn (Part 3)

Before continuing with this saga, I want to backtrack to explain the difficult beginnings of making my first feature, How To Be Louise, which was eventually invited to be in the Dramatic Competition at Sundance. To this workaholic, the astonishing fact is that it wasn’t effort but rather surrender which made it possible.

Lea Floden as Louise with (l. to r.) Michael Moneagle and William Zimmer

Lea Floden as Louise with (l. to r.) Michael Moneagle and William Zimmer

As a young artist in my twenties, I had a clarity that my life would be devoted to art.  I had no interest in being married and less than no interest in having children.  Anyone can see that children are a huge distraction not to mention expensive, noisy and so demanding that, unless you have a lot of help, you can forget about your own agenda.  Why would any woman with a dream shoot herself in the foot by having a baby, GOD FORBID more than one?  

And then I turned thirty.  Like a rogue wave, the biological desire to have children turned me upside down.  I decided to try to find a man.  And then one day, I surprised myself by flirting with a handsome guy who held the door for me as I walked into the wonderful artist-run restaurant that used to be on the corner of Prince and Wooster in Soho, FOOD.

Fast-forward to the year before we shot How To Be Louise, I was newlywed to Mr. Green, the man I’d met at FOOD.  Yes, I’d wanted this husband so I could have children with him but I dared to believe that if I could get my career going before having a baby, there would be enough money for help so that I could ‘have it all’: I could have a child and continue to pursue my dream of making indie films.

One May afternoon, en route to the post office to mail off a film to a film festival, Sara Driver and Jim Jarmusch crossed my path, their rolling luggage behind them.  They were headed to JFK to go to Cannes with Down By Law.  Not long after, I saw Spike Lee on the nightly news.  He was outside the theatre where his first feature She’s Gotta Have It was playing.  They were developing international reputations.  They were getting paid.  I decided that if I was ever going to turn filmmaking into a career and have children, I’d have to figure out how to make a feature.  

But I didn’t have any obvious source of funding much less the connections or the chutzpah to pitch: the budget for my feature would have to be on a shoestring.  My first two shorts had been inspired by What’s Up Tiger Lily and Rose Hobart: they were made by recutting rejected lab prints in the editing room where I worked.  I’d go back to that idea!  And I’d shoot some new material with an actor or two and intercut that to make sense of the found footage.  All I’d need was a few thousand dollars.

Louise Smells A Rat  (1982) was made by duplicating a few shots from  The Poppy Is Also a Flower  starring Senta Berger and Trevor Howard and intercutting them with newsreel footage and a shot from Phil Silvers'  Sergeant Bilko .  Original subtitles and music by Johnny Ventura made it into a different story.

Louise Smells A Rat (1982) was made by duplicating a few shots from The Poppy Is Also a Flower starring Senta Berger and Trevor Howard and intercutting them with newsreel footage and a shot from Phil Silvers' Sergeant Bilko.  Original subtitles and music by Johnny Ventura made it into a different story.

There was a particularly discouraging afternoon when I took my place in line among scores of others to present my proposal for a measly $300 grant.  I’d brought my own projector, assembled a 16mm sample reel from rejected lab prints and faced what felt like disparaging and hostile questions from this Brooklyn arts organization.  

Soon after, reading in bed on a Sunday night, tears started leaking from my eyes.  I’m not a person who cries easily, but the steepness of the cliff I was trying to scale and the difficulty of the challenge was suddenly clear.  “What is it, Annie?”  I answered Mr. Green with sobs and more and louder sobs, eventually losing all control.  “What am I supposed to do?  Give up this idea of making a feature?  Should I try to get a job at an advertising agency and make a lot of money?  Or have a bunch of kids?  I can’t take it anymore!  I’m getting bitter!  I’m stuck!”  Mr. Green put his arm around me and I cried myself to sleep, confused.  I felt broken.  

And that night I had a dream that changed my life.  I was in a low-ceilinged kitchen right out of the 1950’s.  There was a witch in the kitchen, her hair was wild and she was intense, pointing a long skinny arm and finger off into the distance.  She was forceful: “Don’t stop now!  You’re almost there!”

I woke the next morning with a new confidence.  Suddenly I could take the big and little steps to get going.  And that message from the witch carried me through the next four years it took to make this film.  

As I write this, I’m still scratching my head over the fact that the power came to me after a total breakdown and surrender.  It was only after letting go of all my self-discipline, strength, force, will and control that I had the clarity and felt the confidence to do the job.  That it was in allowing myself to be overwhelmed by the utterly corny and embarrassing fact of ’feelings’ is a lesson I’m still trying to learn today.  (to be continued)  

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Go Big or Go Bust: Day 193 (What I dreamed last night)

I was in the front part of a ho-hum grocery store, possibly in Chinatown.  The ceiling was low, it was clean but not at all fancy and there were lots of regular NYC people shopping, young, schlubby, a mixed group.  Before I could even go in to start shopping, someone asked me about The Louise Log.  It very quickly turned into something like a Q & A but with people giving testimonials about how much they love the show and identify with the characters.

I'm, naturally, having a total heart attack of joy.  I LOVE YOU PEOPLE!  You are justifying everything about me and my whole life! 

And then someone asks if I have a card, and I'm relieved to discover a handful of business cards in my pocketbook.  But it turns out that some of them are only a portion of a card, the wrong shape and with only partial information on them as if they were cut improperly by the printer.   I throw those back in my pocketbook and hand out the whole ones to anyone who wants them.  I

'm practically dying with happiness but trying to keep cool.  I resist shouting, "DO YOU KNOW HOW MUCH THIS MEANS TO ME??  DO YOU KNOW THAT THIS IS JUST ABOUT THE HAPPIEST DAY IN MY WHOLE LIFE??? (next to the birth of my kids, you know, that level of stuff which could compete).  I resist throwing my arms around every single person looking my way.  (Of course some are just shopping and not paying attention.  Naturally.  As life must go on and this is New York City.)

The manager of the grocery store comes over to me.  I know he's the manager cause he's pushing a broom.  He's stocky, handsome and looks like he might be East Asian.  He smiles at me and mentions that he's already 'sexing' every day and if he watches the show, he'll probably need to even more.  He gives me a lecherous smile which, naturally, totally freaks me out so I give him a very bright smile and say, "Well, if you watched the show you'd know that I'm a happily married woman!"