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 206 (on marriage, MY marriage)

I guess we all go through a lot of ups and downs in a day, certainly in 206 days of struggling to figure out a course of action.  But, tell me frankly, don't I look fun? 

photo by Sean Fox

photo by Sean Fox

Don't I look like I'd be fun to be married to? 

Mr. Green has a different opinion:  "My attitude toward you ranges from fascination to hatred."  Then he followed up in a mild, distracted way: "I woke up hating you." 

Go Big or Go Bust: Day 183 (When a psychic predicted that Mr. Green (my current co-writer) would become my husband)

Years ago, decades ago in fact, I went to see a psychic who lived and worked out of his apartment in Riverdale in the Bronx.  He'd been recommended by my psychic friend Julia Wolfe so I knew I was going to get my money's worth. 

His name was M.B. Dykshoorn and, having lived for most of his life in The Netherlands, he spoke with an accent.  The walls of his office were covered with plaques from police departments around the world in recognition of the crimes he'd helped to solve with his psychic powers.  He wore a dark suit and we sat (when he sat) in black leather chairs like at a shrink's office.

I'd recently decided that I wanted to have children and so was intent on getting married.  The central problem was that I didn't even have a boyfriend.  Mr. Dykshoorn assured me that I would meet my future husband within eighteen months and that he'd be from 'across the water, probably the UK'.  He also mentioned that this man would be a film producer.

About a year later, I met Mr. Green.  Because he was a scientist/professor and not a film producer, I wrote him off as 'not the guy' and wasn't even sure I wanted to waste time going out with him.  My friend Nicki advised me to "Date, don't mate."  Have some fun, get out of the pressure-cooker.  She convinced me that if I didn't loosen up with the earnest search, I'd blow any chances that came my way. 

Within six weeks Mr. Green won my heart over and went on to help produce my feature How To Be Louise, and to co-write The Louise Log.   Though Mr. Dykshoorn had predicted that he'd be from 'across the water, probably the UK', Mr. Green was living across the East River in the then obscure enclave of Williamsburg.

In case you missed the closest thing we've ever had to a viral video, here's one (3:10) about my experience of crowdfunding which amassed over 900 views in less than a day and prompted Emily Best to tweet: "Get this man an agent".  (She was referring to my co-star Mr. Green.) 

Go Big or Go Bust: Day 155 (You spot it, you got it.)

Mr. Green awakened me at 5:30 this morning in a rather unpleasant way.  He was snoring.  I managed to be a good sport and not go ballistic or storm out of the room with my pillow, giving him the silent treatment as I have in the past.  I actually even stayed in bed, going back to sleep a number of times until finally at around 7:30, unable to take it anymore, I leapt out of bed, accidentally dragging the top sheet with me like a live Greek sculpture and shouting (without anger) "Marriage is so GREAT!  Everyone should be married!"

I would actually say I owned the room!  So what if there were only two of us in it.  I could have been on a stage with a massive audience.  I was so fully myself and my feelings.  (And not mean.)

And then later on, Mr. Green and I got into a little bit of a row, me taking the point of view that rocks have consciousness. 

Now I don't mean that rocks have the same consciousness that we do (á la inanimate objects like Chairy in Pee Wee's Playhouse) but I'm sure they have some kind of consciousness and it all came together with this new obsession of mine: this rock is totally 'owning the hill'.   So I'm thinking, Oh yeah.  There's an expression which has often been turned against me.  This time it's in my favor: "You spot it, you got it."