Go Big or Go Bust: Down To The Wire with Thanks to Sam Smith and Razia Iqbal of the BBC

I frequently listen to the BBC World News on the local NPR station which broadcasts for an hour starting at 9 AM on weekdays. But when I flicked on the radio the other day, expecting to hear the reassuringly authoritative and professional voice of Razia Iqbal reading the news, I was surprised to hear music. And it wasn’t just a sting of music at the end of a story, the music went on and on. Double-checking that the radio was set to WNYC, I figured the BBC must be doing an interview with a musician and went about cleaning up the kitchen.

But when Razia Iqbal finally did come on, her voice was hardly recognizable. She was irritated to the point of petulant: “Well I have no idea why we had to listen to such a long piece of music there!” and then went back to reading the news.

I was dumbstruck. Listening to this woman for years, I have never heard anything even approaching personal emotion, much less unprofessionalism. But before I could dry off my hands to Google Image her, she was back, a dark and almost nasty tone in her voice: “And now we’re going to listen to even MORE of that song!”

The song, The Writing’s On The Wall by Sam Smith, continued. And as I listened to the passionate (soaring and cringing) finale, the lyrics ripped my heart right out of its safe little cavity behind the ribs:

(selected lyrics)

How do I live?
How do I breathe?

Tell me is this where I give it all up?
I have to risk it ALL!

It occurred to me that higher forces had interfered with poor old Razia’s broadcast and I considered shouting at the radio: THAT WAS FOR ME, RAZIA!!  I NEEDED THAT!  Because in fact, I’m so scared about this imminent pitching thing that I’ve been bloodying my fingertips ripping off anything that resembles a hangnail.

I know I’ve got to give it all up, whatever IT is. The control I guess. THE FEAR. I’m trying to psyche myself out asking: “What’s the worst that can happen?”  I’m not actually ‘risking it all’ … cause even though it FEELS like I might die of fear or humiliation, I’m not going to die.

Leave it to another filmmaker to stun me with his crazy logic, my old/new pal Joe who knows first-hand about the path that lies ahead of me: “If fear of pitching holds you back, then it's your life purpose to go and do it anyway no matter what. No matter what the result or fear in doing it.”   

My first serious practice pitch is on Friday.  I’ll let you know how it goes. Check back Friday night. (Early Valentine's appreciation to all who click the 'Like' button below ... RIGHT NOW.)

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Go Big or Go Bust: On believing that you're good enough (Part 4)

Because I’d been struggling with building an audience for The Louise Log and because being on panels is one of the few free-bees that exist in the world of marketing a web series, the producer in me went to war with the scaredy-cat.  “Go. Just GO.”

I remember my feet acting on their own, stepping down from the sidewalk onto the street to jaywalk and paying no attention to the silent scream in my head: “Hellllllllllllllllllp!  Help me!  HELP!”

The next thing I remember is an inexplicable and bizarre feeling of having a vertical version of a barcalounger type chair:

pressed against the back side of my body from shoulders down to my knees, pushing me, all the while supporting me, as I zoomed toward the front entrance of The Paley Center.  

(dramatic recreation)

Once I have to actually function in the moment, like pulling open a door and asking a person which way to go, I seem to be able to manage.
And so I got to my seat on the stage and the panel went off without a hitch. People laughed at the right places. I learned things from the others, I even remember enjoying myself. And after it, Matthew Kirsch one of the best people in web series, introduced himself. How could I have let fear stop me from all this?

To quote Mr. Green (on his flaws of character): “I’m capable of anything.”

Back to 2016, after writing up Part 1 of this blog, the memory of the phantom barcalounger never even crossed my mind. For days I was relishing the new looseness and freedom from the plaster jacket in my back before I remembered the feeling of the barcalounger pressing into that same area.

It’s so obvious that the common elements seem to be:

a) extreme discomfort

b) surrender (which leads to:

c) asking for help

d) feeling

e) getting help from an inexplicable source  

Sounds like I’ve only gotten to a) in the recipe to get me out the door to pitch.

Looks like I need a deadline.

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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 212 (on the unlikely path to my Oprah moment of surrender)

I've known for a while that I have to be beaten to a pulp before I give up.  And I have Good News.  In spite of my bull-like ability to dig in my heels and resist surrender, compounded by my oxen-like strength, everything seems to have shifted. 

Was it the no-see-um bugs who invaded my studio and brought me to a new level of gratitude for the little things in life like a bug-free bedroom?  Or was it the almost-nine divine hours of sleep last night which put a less desperate spin on the fact that Plan B seemed to be stalled-out-in-the-starting-gate if not in active implosion.  Whatever.  My forty-eight hour temper tantrum has dissipated like a morning mist.  I worked in a workman-like way all day and then dragged Mr. Green off to the swimming hole. 

After a vigorous swim upstream battling the current

After a vigorous swim upstream battling the current

We returned home to a surprise:  it's possible that, in surrender, I too had my Oprah moment.  No, Spielberg didn't call to offer me a part but I wasn't hoping for that.  Instead, I heard from someone who I'd figured was speaking for everyone in the industry in writing off The Louise Log  (and me) without the courtesy of even a rejection email.  He'd injured his back soon after our first exchange, had been loopy on heavy pain killers ever since and thought he'd emailed. 

I did see a bird near the house, this morning, with a vividly blue tail.  THE BLUEBIRD OF HAPPINESS??  Hmm.  Probably more like the no-see-ums of happiness. 

Go Big or Go Bust: Day 169 (The good news is that it crushed and broke me.)

So it turns out the psychic was RIGHT.  Yesterday was great... just not for any of the reasons I was hoping or expecting. 

I like to think that at my age and in my line of work, long-married and the mother of at least two and possibly four adults, I'm some kind of grand pooh-bah of emotional maturity.  Well the last thirty-six hours took me down a peg (or ten).  Apparently I'm also human ... which by definition means 'flawed'.   

Yesterday the brick wall of a personal future toppled down right on me (disappointment, fear, hurt feelings and anxiety).  The good news is that it eventually crushed and broke me. 

I have long experience with surrender.  Mostly I fight it off with all I've got and 'win'.  (NOT.)   But regardless of whether it's forced on me by inner or outer circumstances, an actual surrender is gold to someone as strong and willful as I am.  To the extent that I couldn't follow my usual path (suppressing everything in the interest of efficiency with work), I experienced a bona fide miracle.  I felt free - free of ambition, free of desire for anything more than honestly expressing myself.  And the wholeness of this experience was delicious beyond words. 

Storms come and storms go.  Maybe next time I'll remember to stop fighting everything that doesn't look like 'my plan'.   Letting go would be great but 'we're' not at that level. 

no filters

no filters

Go Big or Go Bust: Day 141 (on getting a little sick of myself and ... hope!)

I have an admission to make: though I started off very gung-ho about this Go Big or Go Bust blog, my feelings about it are changing.  One of our kids asked what it's all about and I had to be honest.  "I'm not sure anymore. I'm getting a little sick of myself."   

And then just this afternoon, at the post office, Lynn Singer, whom I've known but have rarely seen for thirty-plus years, was in line two people ahead of me.  Eventually we got to talking and she mentioned the multi-media experience she's about to launch online.  She was practically pounding on the table you're supposed to fill out your forms on: "Thoughts create reality! We're all hugely creative beings! Our job here is to unblock the mind and spirit." How could I not get excited: "When can I buy it??" Lynn was a little vague: "Soon." It's called Breaking Into Brilliance

So tonight I'm thinking that my job may be to recognize that The Louise Log is already big, that I don't have to struggle and slave away to get somewhere. My job is to let go of my age-old idea that scrimping and saving and working my fingers to the bone is the path to success. I thought I had let go if it ... with all my great affirmations. Guess there's room for improvement.