under the radar

Go Big or Go Bust: On Pitching and the Burning Question: Do You Have to be Cool to Pitch Successfully? (Part 2 with Brené Brown)

(This post is a continuation of Wednesday’s. The first paragraph is repeated from that last post.)

I spent the rest of the next six years trying to become the most popular girl in the school. I’m not sure if my classmates would agree that I succeeded but I did get elected to a lot of positions. And I felt popular! Hey so what if I barely graduated?

The bad news is, appearing ‘cool’ (at least to myself) didn’t solve anything. If you scratched the surface, I was still as insecure as ever. And so this need to be ‘popular’ followed me to college where, even I could see that I wasn’t going to have the time or the energy to win over enough people to make a dent.

So like water changing its shape to get around a rock, I changed mine. I took on a whole new goal and identity and lived (with some righteousness) as an unknown, outsider ‘real’ artist. Hey, it’s cooler, actually, to be under the radar than to be mainstream. I majored in art history and could even give you a few examples.

This was all well and good … until I wanted to make a second feature film. You can get away with making a no-budget feature when you’re willing to live and work like a guerrilla film maker. With a baby, there was no way I could pull that off. But to get financing from the powers that be in Hollywood, you have to ‘know people’ or put time and energy into meeting them. And for that, your personal cool has to be tested by jumping through some pretty extreme hoops.  

One of the great benefits of aging is tied to the great downside of aging: you realize you’ve only got so much more time and if you don’t get it now, you might just never get it. This awareness brought me squarely face to face with the fact that I didn’t have the courage (or the finances) to take on Hollywood in the way I would have to to get financing. Pitch meetings require a) relationships b) proximity to LA and c) more cool and courage than I had.

This is why I ended up making The Louise Log. Because I could. A one-hour tape cost $3 and I could do all the jobs (except acting) myself. I didn’t have to pitch or deal with anybody. I didn’t have to be cool. All I had to do was convince one person (eventually more) to do something on camera. In this case it was to convince Christine Cook to go to the farmers market, buy some vegetables and sit in a cafe. I immediately put myself on a schedule of cranking out an episode every month which ratcheted up the pressure and turned The Louise Log into the equivalent of intensive psychodrama therap. I was going to have to work out my issues.  

Asking asking ASKING for help, for favors, for more help and more favors and then running out of subject matter and having to resort to … taking lines right from my journals?!!  I was working at least 12, often 19 hour days and even with my ox-like strength and stamina, the experience pretty much broke me-- in a good way. It forced me to face and reveal a lot of stuff I’ve always kept well-hidden. Who knew that this stuff was the material of my life’s work? Listening to Brené Brown’s The Gifts of Imperfection this past week, I’m realizing that a lot of us are ashamed of who we are and that it’s in talking about it that we accept and get over it. And, as everybody knows, self-acceptance is the basis of true cool. Some people are lucky and are born into circumstances which instill them with a sense of their basic worth and worthiness. And then there are the rest of us.

I can’t say that I feel like I’m ‘cool’ today, but in fact, at my age, the expectations are a little different. I’m operating from a basic acceptance that I’m not cool and so what. And I’m determined to do what’s necessary to get into the rooms to pitch. I have The Louise Log as proof of concept and you as proof of an audience. And as my friend and colleague Jessica Arinella pointed out, it might not be that hard, the right people may appear, the right opportunity may just show up. In a nutshell that's how things worked with The Louise Log -- meeting Victoria Trestrail and Mathilde Dratwa on LinkedIn, Julie Clark Shubert on facebook. What's the likelihood of that??

I’ll keep you posted as I start taking the steps toward pitching our fake reality series to television.  Stay tuned…

If you can't resist this 'best t-shirt ever', click on it. 

If you can't resist this 'best t-shirt ever', click on it. 

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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.  

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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.