I Did It

At the beginning of 2016, I had one main goal: to write every single day this year.

I did it.

Almost.

I wrote 363 out of 366 days this year. I missed getting my writing done on three days: My sister’s wedding (I was the maid of honor and was up for something like 18 hours, going nonstop), a day in early December when I was working as a PA on a reality TV show, and another day about a week later when I was very ill.

But only missing three days out of a whole leap year is pretty darn good. I’m proud of myself for sticking to it.

At the start, I was confident in myself, but with my busy schedule, I wasn’t sure if I would make it. I thought I would miss a day long before July 30. Looking back at how often I had made excuses to not write in the year plus since film school, I wondered how I would push back against all the excuses I managed to come up with time and again.

The plan was simple. I created a document on my computer and called it my writing log, then typed in the date and the project that I worked on each day. The execution was just as simple. Find some time, open up a project, and write. Or revise.

So 2016 started and I started writing. And I didn’t stop. Yes, I missed three days, but after I missed a day, I kept on going.

I revised a feature screenplay that I started in film school, strengthening the story. I revised a short film and went on to direct it in March. I finished a feature that I started in 2014. I wrote the first draft of another feature. I started yet another feature. I revised a short film with my friend Max. I wrote numerous comedy sketches. I worked on some fiction, blog posts, and articles. The vast majority of the days found me screenwriting.

Some days I wrote pages. Some days I wrote sentences. Occasionally, on very busy days, I wrote or revised a few words.

No matter how much I wrote each day, I made so much progress on so many projects over the course of this year. That is why writing every day matters. And to think, I used to hear about people writing every day and scoff at the idea, wondering how anyone found the time. How silly I was.

Going into 2017, I’m not sure if I will write every single day again. I know I want to. I have forged a strong habit to make time for writing. I absolutely intend to keep that going and to continue to keep a log. The only leeway I plan to give myself is on holidays or vacations or times when I’m with family. Those days, if I have down time, I’ll write, but if not, I won’t stress over it. Either way, I’m gonna keep moving forward.

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Writing Every Day

Normally, I don’t make New Year’s resolutions, or at least I don’t strictly hold myself to resolutions I make at parties or around the dinner table on New Year’s Eve. At the very least, I usually resolve to write more often. Often, that doesn’t happen.

For the first eight months of 2014, I was still in film school and got a lot of writing done—feature screenplays, a TV spec, short scripts—because it was assigned and therefore had built-in deadlines.

At the end of that year, I moved back to Wisconsin. When 2015 hit, I got two jobs and poured most of my energy into balancing them. Yes, I still made time to network and work on a handful of film projects, and yes, I wrote from time to time.

Ultimately, though, as I looked back on the year in December, I realized that I had spent a lot of time not writing. Instead, I wasted time and made excuses.

I worked both jobs today.

My friends want to hang out.

I’m going to a film festival.

It’s ten p.m. and I just got off work.

I’d rather spend time on facebook before work.

Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

It’s easy to make excuses. I looked at all the time I spent on social media, or complaining about how I never had time to write, or doing anything instead of sitting down for 30 minutes before I left for work or after I got home and writing a few sentences, and I realized that I had plenty of time to write. And despite my busy work schedule, I had that time every day.

So as 2015 drew to a close, I quietly resolved to write every day.

Over five months later, I haven’t missed a single day.

I don’t hold myself to a certain word or page limit each day. With my current schedule, that would be very hard to achieve some days. But I write something every day. Some days, it is one sentence. Some days, it’s a little revising work. Some days, it’s several pages. Most days, it’s something in between.

I hold myself accountable by keeping a writing log on my computer. All I keep track of is what project(s) I worked on each day. I still have days where I feel tired, or work a lot, or get distracted by social media for hours. I still make myself write on those days.

I have wondered if something will happen that will trip me up, or if a day will come when I find an excuse to skip writing. For example, in March, I directed a short film that shot for two days. I wondered if I should allow myself to skip writing because I was directing a film that I had written. Does doing something creative that is not writing allow me to take a break from writing? Not this year. In the future, it may. The truth is, on the days that I was on set for 12 hours, I still felt compelled to write something after I got home. So I did.

I didn’t write this blog post to brag, but to simply say that if you want to do something creative, you can work toward it every day if you put your mind to it, and, most importantly, if you hold yourself accountable.

Last year, I would tell people that I was “working on” several projects. What I meant was that I had several projects that I had started but not finished. I hadn’t touched most of those projects in months.

This year, I am literally working on several projects. I have some features in the works, as well as short films and a web series. I’m collaborating on a project with another screenwriter. I revised a feature film that I started in film school and sent it to the PAGE Awards screenwriting competition. I have written countless pages.

Most importantly, despite getting distracted from time to time, I don’t want to stop writing.

A Year Removed from Vancouver

A year ago, I left Vancouver to move back to my hometown of Madison, WI.

A few months before, when I was still in film school, this had been a viable option. My main options at the time were to:  get a work permit and stay in Vancouver, move to LA, or move back home for a few months to get organized before I moved somewhere else.

As soon as I graduated, though, this changed. I didn’t want to leave Vancouver. This was where I had made my first short films and where I had written my first feature screenplays. Vancouver was a hub for film production and a beautiful, progressive city. Besides, most of my friends were staying. We were a group of young filmmakers eager to help one another succeed.

My study permit allowed me to stay in Canada for three months after my graduation, and I figured I’d have a work permit and a job in no time. Unfortunately, as some of my other non-Canadian classmates and I found out, the process for securing a work permit after graduation from VFS (a private school) was not simple.

As fall set in, my mom urged me to just move home, but I resisted. Moving home meant failure, admitting defeat. I wouldn’t be able to make movies in Wisconsin.

I went to bed with my thoughts whirling one night, but in the morning, I knew my mom was right. My study permit was up at the end of November, only three weeks away.

I looked at one-way plane tickets, but couldn’t bring myself to buy one. I had recently sent a feature script of mine to a producer and was hoping that he would get back to me saying that he wanted to produce it, and that would be my reason to stay in Vancouver.

On Halloween, I told my friend and former roommate, Shelley, that I had decided to move while we were standing on the sky train in ridiculous costumes, heading to a party. Shelley was surprised, but understood. At the party, I talked to TJ, a fellow American, and Cristina, from Mexico; they were still looking into work permits but knew it was a long shot. They would likely move home soon, as well.

The next day I bought my plane ticket.

Two days before I left, I went to dinner with my friends. It wasn’t the expected reminiscing about our year in film school. Instead, we played a film trivia game for most of the night and enjoyed one another’s company.

On November 20, I woke up early, packed up the rest of my things, and got my luggage ready for my 8am cab to the airport. I didn’t have time to so much as write a Facebook post saying goodbye to Vancouver and my friends. Having said most of my goodbyes in person, I quietly left the city behind.

In Minneapolis, I was greeted by my sister and a real Midwest winter. We went to dinner and talked about my plans, which were muddy at best. That night, as I went to bed in her guest room, I felt hollow. I didn’t know when I would go back to Vancouver, or if I would ever live there again. My optimism had momentarily left me.

The next day, my sister and I drove to our aunt’s house in northern Wisconsin for the beginning of deer hunting season. Not having a job, I was able to relax and spend the entire nine-day season there, with my parents and extended family.

Back in Madison, I relaxed into the comforts of home and family. I reconnected with some old friends. I went back to the yoga studio where I had done my teacher training. I began to rediscover the city that I grew up in. I went to a film networking event at the end of December, and began to make connections in the Wisconsin film industry, which is much bigger than I thought it was.

When I first got back, family members and friends would ask if I missed Vancouver. A year later, they still ask from time to time. The answer is: yes, of course.

Of course I miss Vancouver. It’s a beautiful place, where I made amazing friends, created art, and began to discover myself as a writer and filmmaker.

Even though they seem silly when I see others post them, it felt odd that I had never posted a Facebook status saying that I was leaving and that I would miss Vancouver and everything about it. After I got home, though, I realized that not posting anything might have seemed like I didn’t miss it, like I didn’t care about the place and people I was leaving behind. And that wasn’t true.

I think of Vancouver all the time; all types of things will trigger my memory. But I don’t dissolve into a puddle of tears every time. I smile. I still keep in touch with many of the friends I made there. I know I will go back eventually, to visit or to film something. And, as I’ve said before, I know that not being there doesn’t mean I won’t write or make films.

The Minneapolis Underground Film Festival

In July, I finally received the final version of my short film, Smile, Baby. Once I had the final film, I submitted it to several film festivals and created an IMDb page for it.

Then I waited to hear back from the film festivals. I knew that my chances of getting into all five of the festivals that I had submitted to were low, and I was expecting that the first news I heard from any of them would be that my passion project was rejected.

At the end of August, I was surprised to see that I had received a message from the Minneapolis Underground Film Festival. I was expecting to read something like, “Thank you for submitting your film. Unfortunately, we cannot accept it at this time.” Instead, I learned that the festival had accepted Smile, Baby and the film would be screened in early October!

I received the message on Monday and I had to get all of the materials–on set photos, a director’s statement, a screening version of the film–sent to them by Friday. It was a bit of a scramble, as I was working both jobs and preparing to write for the 48 Hour Film Festival that Friday, but I managed to get everything ready and sent it to them in time.

Eventually, they sent me the schedule for the festival, and since it coincided with my day off from work, I decided to drive up for it. Seeing as it was the world premiere for Smile, Baby as well, I figured it would be strange to not be there.

The day before the screening, I drove up to the Twin Cities after work. I stayed with my sister in St. Paul (thanks, JB) and the next day we headed over to the St. Anthony Main Theatre in Minneapolis. The theatre is in a cool, historic part of town, just across the Mississippi River from downtown Minneapolis.

The St. Anthony Main Theatre

The St. Anthony Main Theatre

Excited and nervous

Inside, we got our tickets and went upstairs, where I grabbed some programs and posed for a red carpet photo.

 Posing on the red carpet!

Posing on the red carpet!

At my insistence, we had arrived extra early, and at first, my sister, her boyfriend, and I were the only ones there. Shortly before the program started, a few more people showed up. The festival organizer opened up the theatre and we went inside. A couple more people showed up. We all made up an audience of seven people, or eight, including the festival organizer in the projection booth.

Smile, Baby was the second film in the program of shorts, and as soon as it started, I got nervous. Even though the audience was small, it always makes me nervous to share my work, ultimately because I worry that no one will like it or understand the message. Of course, I’m still proud of my work and I think that Smile, Baby is a solid film. After it played, I was able to relax again and enjoy the rest of the films. Some had strong messages, others were funny, some needed a little more development, but they all had some redeeming qualities.

After my film program, I didn’t have any plans aside from driving home, so I hung around the theatre for a bit. The next showing was a documentary, and I was one of two people in the audience, which made me feel a little better about the audience that Smile, Baby got. After the documentary, I hung around again and struck up a conversation with the other audience member. She had a short film that was in the next program, and she had travelled from Chicago to see it. That made me feel better about driving up for one night. Alex, my new friend and I, posed for a red carpet photo together and then headed back into the theatre.

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Filmmaker Alex Heller and me

After that screening, I bid Alex farewell and headed home.

Even though I was only there for a short time, and the audience for my film was small, I am really happy that I got accepted into this festival and that Smile, Baby has officially been released to an audience. Going to the festival and posing on the red carpet made me feel like a legitimate filmmaker.

Check back for screening updates. This is only the beginning of Smile, Baby‘s festival run!

A Year After Film School

I have officially been out of film school for a year. (Well, a year and a month and a couple days. Who’s counting?) The burning question all my blog readers most certainly have is this: What have I done since I graduated from VFS last August?

After moving back to Wisconsin and doing…mostly nothing for a few months, I started writing current event articles for Geek Happy Network, teaching yoga at Prairie Fire Yoga, and working part-time as a manager at Teavana. It’s a packed schedule, but I dig it.

I found time to work on several film projects over the last few months. In April, I helped out as an assistant director on a local music video produced by Project Famous Films. In early August, I was a first camera assistant for a locally well-known web-series entitled The Ethical Slut. At the end of August, I co-wrote a short film for Madison’s 48-hour film project. Unfortunately, I was only able to be there for the writing and not for the filming due to my work schedule, but I had a lot of fun working with my co-writer, Max, and I think my team made a fun film, which you can watch by clicking here.

My short film, Smile, Baby got accepted into the Minneapolis Underground Film Festival and will screen on Thursday, October 8th at the St. Anthony Main Theatre! I am going to Minneapolis to see its world premiere and I am so excited! I have submitted the film to six other festivals and I look forward to showing it at many more.

Writing wise, I have not been as busy as I’d like to be, but I still have several projects that I am working on. I have a short film that I am working toward getting produced within the next few months. More on that later! I also have some feature films in the works. My biggest struggle is creating a writing regime for myself. I really need to start writing more often and not making excuses to not write, which is incredibly easy to do.

But those excuses end with this blog post. No more excuses. It’s time for me to eliminate distractions, put in the time, and let the words flow. It is time to write. Now and always.

Favorite Movies of 2014

I wanted to wait to post this until I had seen all the best picture nominees and critically acclaimed films of 2014, but since it’s already March and the Oscars are over, I figure I shouldn’t wait any longer. So the following is a list of my favorite movies from 2014, not including, of course, the ones I haven’t seen (WhiplashThe Theory of EverythingNightcrawler, Still AliceFoxcatcher, Maps to the StarsMr. TurnerInherent ViceInto the Woods). My top films are in no particular order.

***

Boyhood

I loved this movie so much I didn’t want it to end. I suppose that’s the mark of any good movie. Even though Boyhood is two hours and 45 minutes long, I got lost in the story. Writer/director Richard Linklater filmed it over 12 years, which is an amazing feat that should be applauded. I wanted it to win the best picture Oscar, but alas, the Academy did not agree. Boyhood is a character-driven story about the ups and downs of life and growing up. It’s beautiful.

Mommy

I’ll try not to gush too much about French-Canadian auteur Xavier Dolan and instead focus on the 25-year-old’s fifth feature film (you read that right). Mommy doesn’t follow your typical three-act structure, but it works magnificently as a beautiful character-driven film. It tells the story of a mother raising her violent teenage son by herself and a mysterious neighbor that helps them out. The performances are outstanding and no doubt the film’s greatest strength.

Unbroken

I read the autobiography of Louis Zamperini–written by Laura Hillenbrand–a couple of years ago. The book is amazing, and I highly recommend it. Zamperini was an Olympic runner and a World War II veteran. During the war, his plane went down over the Pacific, and he and one other survivor floated on a raft for over 40 days before being captured by the Japanese. They spent the next two years in a POW camp until the war ended. Angelina Jolie directed the film adaptation, and she did an amazing job. The fact that she wasn’t nominated for a best director Oscar or that the film didn’t get a best picture nod is an outrage. Unbroken tells a stunning and inspiring story about survival against all odds. And, no matter what happens in your life, if you keep moving forward, nothing can break you.

Gone Girl

I read Gillian Flynn’s novel before I saw the movie. The book and film are both amazing, and I think the movie is a very faithful adaptation. Flynn wrote the screenplay, which probably helped. One thing that stuck out to me was how amazing the casting was for every role. Director David Fincher no doubt contributed to the amazing performances, not to mention that his actors are all very good. But the casting team definitely knew what they were doing here. Also, I really really really wanted Rosamund Pike to win the best actress Oscar.

Obvious Child

Writer/director Gillian Robespierre’s film is simple yet profound. It tells the story of a woman in her twenties (played wonderfully by Jenny Slate) who gets pregnant and, unprepared for motherhood, decides to have an abortion. Unlike a lot of comedy/dramas, Obvious Child works that genre slash very well, with many lighthearted comedic moments mixed in with more serious conversations and feelings that a woman faces when considering abortion. It doesn’t try to make abortion funny, but it also doesn’t send the message that getting an abortion will ruin your life.

The Imitation Game

This film tells the story of Alan Turing, who helped to break the Nazi code known as “enigma” with his invention, a machine which eventually became the modern computer. Unfortunately, Turing was persecuted after the war for being gay and ultimately committed suicide. Benedict Cumberbatch plays Turing very very convincingly. The film is moving and inspiring, despite the sad way Turing’s life ended. I loved the musical score, and Keira Knightly’s performance is amazing. At the end, there were title cards with facts about World War II and Turing’s life, and the one that struck me the most was this: historians estimate that breaking enigma shortened the war by two years.

Wild

Based on Cheryl Strayed’s memoir about hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, Wild is a lovely film about a woman working through grief. Reese Witherspoon and Laura Dern deliver great performances under the direction of Jean-Marc Vallee. The movie uses the protagonist’s long bouts of time alone effectively, incorporating voiceovers and flashbacks quite well. Ultimately, it’s a very pleasurable viewing experience.

Cake

If you’ve heard about this movie, chances are it’s because of Jennifer Aniston’s powerful dramatic performance. And if you know anything about me or what I tend to write about, you’ll understand why I love this film. Cake tells the story of a woman suffering from chronic pain who becomes obsessed with the suicide of a woman from her support group. It’s a compelling film with a stellar cast.

Birdman (or: The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

This film has a large and well-known cast that delivers. The score features mostly drums, which is a nice touch that fits in perfectly with the film’s tone. My main criticism is that toward the end, it seemed as though the filmmakers had no idea what they were saying. The script could definitely be stronger. But I greatly enjoyed this film, its subject matter, its characters, and its cinematography. I don’t know if it should have won the best picture Oscar, but I will say that it didn’t not deserve it.

Two Days, One Night

This is a French film starring Marion Cotillard. It starts slow, but once the story gets going it pulls you in close. The story is simple: a woman recovering from depression wants to go back to work, but her co-workers are going to vote on whether she gets to keep her job. If she doesn’t keep her job, the other workers will receive bonuses (or so they’ve been promised by the boss). The movie starts on Friday, and over the course of the weekend, Cotillard’s character goes and talks to all of her co-workers in person to try and persuade them to vote for her to keep her job. Some co-workers want to keep her on, while others really need that bonus money. The compelling part of this film is that I was cheering for the protagonist but at the same time I could understand where the people who needed the bonus were coming from. This makes for a really strong script and a great movie made with few resources.

What am I Doing with my Life?

I graduated from film school six months ago. So what have I been doing since then? Not much blogging, obviously.

I spent the first three months wandering around Vancouver, applying for jobs here and there, and writing when the mood struck me. This sounds boring, but it was actually pretty fun, considering I could see movies or hang out with my friends whenever I wanted to. We even had a couple of writing workshops, which was fun in addition to being useful.

After failing to secure a work permit (which is nearly impossible for Americans who graduate from VFS) I moved back home to good old Wisconsin at the end of November. The worst part was going from Vancouver’s tropical-seeming 30-degree fall to Wisconsin’s freezing dead of winter. But the weather wasn’t that hard to get used to since I’m a native and because it’s colder here, so we have better methods of staying warm: wool, fires, down-filled comforters.

I spent the first few weeks home reading and going to yoga classes. I also started making some film connections here, thanks in part to my cousin, Tony. I even made these nifty business cards!

Here's my card

Here’s my card

I’ve been reconnecting with old friends, which has been really nice. It’s so interesting to see someone after a number of years and notice how both of us have changed, yet we still have things in common.

I have also been writing, of course, though not as much as I’d like to. I’m working on a number of scripts at the moment, and in January I started writing articles for my friend Mike’s website, Geek Happy Network.

I got a part-time job selling tea a couple of weeks ago, and so far that’s been going really well. And in March, I’m going to start teaching yoga at a new studio in Prairie du Sac. I’m so excited!

Other than that, I’ve been seeing a lot of movies (gotta keep up on what’s out there) and getting ready to promote my short film “Smile, Baby.” A Madison production company, Frozen Stage Films, is going to host a screening of the film on March 15 at 2pm at the High Noon Saloon. After that, my lovely producer Amanda and I will be sending “Smile, Baby” out to film festivals. I’ll share more details as soon as I have them!

I’m also working on another short film that I’m going to make this year. I have a full script that I’ve rewritten several times, and I also have an actor who’s interested in being a part of it. So the next step is getting crew on board. I’ll share more details soon on that front as well.

So in conclusion, despite the cold and the snow, I’m doing things. And it feels good.