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Tuesday, 28 December 2010

2011: Our Odyssey


2011 is the year. It's the year we reach for the stars and storm forth into each day, dedicated to making everything happen. Yes, we say this every year, and yes, we lose steam after two weeks. But not this time. We have this thing now, we have this community; we are filmmakers, and writers, and bloggers, and actors and camera operators and a million other things and we are getting good at supporting each other with our creative pursuits. Now is the year that we turn it on full-time. We're gonna keep working and trying and creating till 3am and we'll stand in freezing fields at six in the morning figuring out how to get the boom mic to work when all the batteries are dead. This is the year for it. 

Sometimes we're gonna lose confidence and sometimes we're going to feel worthless and sometimes we're going to feel convinced that we're talentless. But things are different now. We've found people online and slowly but surely we find people in our communities who get it. They like talent and they like coloring things in and they like cameras and they like how words magically gel together and they like YOU and they like ME. We need to stand up for each other and stand up for our art and stand up for all the things we've achieved, are achieving, and will be achieving. We need to be confident and we need to be aware that when failures happen, they teach us more than our successes will and they make us come back stronger the next time. But from now on, next time is right now. And it's right now every time. It's not next year and it's not in five year's time. 

Now is the time to write those movies. Now is the time to get cast in a dream role. Now is the time to get your favorite movie star to be in your movie. Now is the time to take that class, to read that book, to email that producer who scares you a little, to blog like crazy about all your favorite movies. Now is the time. It's now. And we're all here for you and we need you to be there for us. Because we want to make movies that express who we are and what we're feeling. We want to do what we love, and meet people we love, and feel the love of audiences and friends and people who GET IT. GET US. You are those people, we are those people. We are here because we know a movie isn't just a movie. That feeling you get when Andy Dufresne crawls through a sewer of shit isn't just a movie. That feeling that rises in your heart when getting the train to a meeting while the theme to Forrest Gump plays in your headphones isn't just a movie. That feeling you get when a cinema audience laughs at your one-liner isn't just a movie. It's more than that. What we do, how we feel, and how we make others feel and how they make us feel -- that's the stuff that makes life worth living. That's what gets us up in the morning. And this year; we're focusing on that. 

Are you signing the pledge? You don't need to sign with a pen or hand me any money.. you just need to keep showing up, and keep supporting people, and keep sneaking food into cinemas, and keep loving what you love and keep standing up for it. Are you with me?

Care to share?

Thursday, 23 December 2010

Reflecting On John "LEO MCGARRY" Spencer

"Johnny,  it seems we hardly knew you. We love you, and we miss you."
-Martin Sheen.

We were fortunate to get some poignant, adventitious glimpses of Leo McGarry -- some of John Spencer's finest work -- in episodes that were originally screened after the unexpected death of the actor who played him, John Spencer. As if by pure luck, John's performances in his final episodes are some of the finest in the history of THE WEST WING. But looking at his acting career, you realize: it has nothing to do with luck. John Spencer was always getting better, as an actor. Leo McGarry was his masterpiece.


This week I have had the privilege of talking to Eli Attie, who was a Supervising Producer and Writer on The West Wing. Here's what he had to say about John.

"The West Wing had an extraordinary company of actors. Not typical TV actors, the people who move to LA as teenagers to primp and pose and become stars, but deeply serious actors, who had honed their craft in NY theater and were unbelievably dedicated to the process, to the work itself. John had spent decades in that world, and even among our great, great cast, he had a weight of experience, a way of owning his place in a scene, that was in many ways equivalent to the authority Leo had as White House chief of staff. His role was unquestioned. There was an accumulated strength and wisdom to John's acting. Some actors find their way to a performance; John knew precisely what he was doing from the first take, always. Like Leo, there was no room for stumbling around. And no need."

At the beginning of Episode 10, in Season 7 - the episode begins with Martin Sheen addressing the audience, and sharing the news that we would be witnessing the final few months of John Spencer's work. The episode that proceeded this statement was one of Spencer's finest. The Santos For President campaign was running out of patience with Leo McGarry-- who was stumbling over simple questions whilst rehearsing for the Vice-Presidential candidate debate, with the staff worrying over his health and ability to fulfill the role. 

It's a heartbreaking episode because we see the powerhouse of Leo McGarry, for the first time in seven seasons; looking extremely vulnerable. He looks this way until the final moments when his performance in the debate outshines all expectations; and we (and his staff) realize he's been manipulating the media the whole time. This episode is a shining example of the brilliant complexity that Spencer brought to his work.

"I went to the small wake that his family held in New Jersey right after he died. Just a few of us made it; the weather was awful. It was my first Catholic wake, and as the tradition dictates, there was a big corkboard covered with family photos of John throughout his life. In his West Wing days, his face was like a novel--so much complexity and depth of expression. Simple reaction shots of John, while the other characters were talking, could tell as much story as the words.  And looking at that board, I remember thinking: he had that same amazing character actor's face when he was six, he was just waiting to grow into it. Which might be why his career really came alive later in his life."

John's final two episodes on The West Wing were a fitting tribute to the man - which is especially moving considering this was never their intention. Episode 12 of Season Seven was written by Eli, and featured a remarkable scene between Leo and President Bartlet (played by Martin Sheen). Of course, Eli Attie wasn't to know that this would be their final scene together; but we can only thank the Gods that these two wonderful men got to share the screen one final time. There was something powerful about seeing these two masters (fictionally, as characters, and in reality, as actors) on screen together. They compelled me and held my attention in a way so few can. I wrote about this in my previous article about the show, "They brought a gravitas; a weight, that you rarely see in television, or in life. We need them. They represent the type of leadership and eldership we all need, within our selves and from those around us."


I asked Eli, "On screen; Leo had a real gravitas; he was an elder to those around him. Could the same be said of John Spencer?"

"I think on an acting level that was true, absolutely. Just in terms of age and experience, both Martin and John had that kind of gravitas, a very well-earned respect from the whole cast and production. But personally, I think of John as someone who was always laughing and joking, would always greet you with a hug--a more openly emotional person than Leo. Leo quite literally had the weight of the world on those shoulders. John could afford to be looser, more casual, more of a thoroughly creative spirit. John was an artist, after all, which I don't think Leo could ever have been, or would have fully understood."

The final episode that John appears in, is the first episode where Donna and Josh kiss. The Santos team are celebrating gains in the polls; and they are all in high spirits. We see a brief shot of Leo, in the mix -- and it steals your attention. There he is, full of life -- not only do we see Leo McGarry unusually happy, but we see a glimpse of the John Spencer that the West Wing crew knew, the artist and creative spirit that Eli just described. It's touching. It's only a couple of seconds -- but it's a more moving few seconds than most TV shows manage in their entire runs.


The episodes that followed dealt with the death of the character, Leo McGarry, which was made more real and emotional by the fact that we were mourning the death of John Spencer, too. For us, as viewers, it was deeply sad. For the cast and crew of The West Wing, they had lost a close friend. In some strangely poignant and beautiful way, it made for some of the greatest television ever made. But it also meant an end for the show.

"One of the reasons there couldn't have been an eighth season of the show, in my view, was John's absence.  When I think of that final run of episodes, dealing with Leo's death, and of course John's as well, I think of Brando in the final scene of The Godfather Part II. he's not actually there, but you feel his power, you feel the life-force that he was, and everyone is still reacting to him. John's death left a gaping hole in the middle of the show, a cavernous vacuum, and the rest of Season Seven was largely a reaction to that--a memorial to him and to the creative world he helped to shape and lead. So his death of course changed everything. I have a hard time separating the personal aspects--gathering to share memories at his home right after his passing, the wake and the funeral and the memorials--from the writing and filming of those final shows. We grieved through the work."

With thanks to Eli Attie. 

Care to share?

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Divisions In The Film Community

Film lovers have a tendency to be very devisive. Terms like 'film buff,' or 'film geek' - what do they mean? What positive things do we attribute to those terms and what negative ones?

Pretentiousness is everywhere - you can hardly get into a conversation about movies without one person oppressing the other with righteousness and condescension. Does someone who loves Truffaut love films more than someone who loves 'Big Mommas House 2' or do they just love Truffaut more? Why does it matter?

Care to share?

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

A SHORT STORY - "Learning From Experience" - By The Kid In The Front Row

LEARNING FROM EXPERIENCE
A Short Story
By The Kid In The Front Row

Tom Hooper arrived at Leonard & Stone Publishing four minutes before his appointment. Any later wouldn’t qualify as early, and any earlier would mean sitting awkwardly in the waiting room at one of the biggest publishing houses in the country. Although Tom was an expert at sitting awkwardly, he did his best to avoid it. This time, he was comforted by the fact that four minutes from now Richard Leonard would be giving the go ahead to publish Hooper’s masterpiece.

Fifty six minutes later, Tom was invited into Leonard’s office, which was almost as big as Grand Central Station. ‘I like your writing,’ said Leonard, with about as much enthusiasm as someone with very little enthusiasm, ‘but the violent mugging scene isn’t believable, and the rest of the book depends on it.’ Tom knew he was right. His only experience of a mugging was when his sister’s best friend, Paula, stole his Hanson CD twelve years ago and only gave it back after a steep ransom.
‘It needs energy, it needs realism. It needs pain. This is a moment that changes his life,’ said Leonard.
‘That’s why I used the words torment and agony,’ offered Tom.
‘I don’t buy it. You need to fix it.’
‘I agree.’
‘What are you doing tonight?’
‘Seeing friends.’
‘You don’t have any friends.’
‘I’ll start tonight.’
‘You’ll finish tonight. I’m showing it to Stone tomorrow afternoon.’
Tom knew instantly that this was impossible, which is precisely why he agreed to do it and promised to have a new draft with him by the morning. Richard Leonard was famous for pulling shit like this, and Tom was famous for nothing, which is why he decided to do as he was told.

He sat in front of his typewriter for two hours without doing a thing. Probably because the typewriter was broken and had been for eight years. Tom liked sitting in front of it because it made him feel like a writer whereas his laptop made him feel like an underachiever, as did most things. How the hell was he going to write a realistic mugging?

Braggard lurched awkwardly against the wall, as the mugger swiped the documents from under Braggard’s nose. The mugger turned back towards him and smashed him in the face with a hefty punch, which was painful.

A book published by Leonard & Stone was the key to all his dreams, but it could disappear in a matter of hours. Maybe the mugger could be carrying a gun and shoot Braggard, he thought. Tom went with this idea for a while, before realizing it would compromise the next chapter, where Braggard wins an Olympic gold medal. It’s time to give up, he figured; everything I write is pathetic. Maybe the kids who live on the Fretton Estate should write the story, they’re great at robbing people of their belongings.

Tom was suddenly inspired. He closed his laptop and immediately reached for his coat. Four minutes later he was entering Fretton Estate and flashing his expensive wristwatch which was a gift from his ex-girlfriend, Sally Wiseberg. He turned and headed immediately down Fretton Lane, better known as Death Lane to the locals. He looked around, determined to be robbed at knifepoint. This was the key to getting his creative juices flowing. He looked around – nobody was there. A good sign, he figured, something is definitely going to go down.

He heard footsteps behind him. YES! This is it. A young guy who can’t have been older than fifteen stopped him in his tracks and said, ‘do you realize you’re walking down Death Lane at eleven at night?’
‘Yes. I fancied a walk,’ said Tom.
‘Give me your money.’
Tom thought about it. To just hand over the money would be the end of the ordeal, which wouldn’t exactly bring out his inner-Shakespeare. ‘I need the money to buy my girlfriend a present,’ said Tom.
‘Shut the fuck up and give me your money.’
Tom was only fractionally frightened, but it was an improvement. Things were bound to get worse when a giant-of-a-man stepped out suddenly from behind a van.
The man looked at the little teenager and then looked at Tom. He was holding a knife. ‘Allow him,’ said the giant-of-a-man, ‘He didn’t mean to come down here and he needs the money for his girlfriend,’
‘Wow, that’s very kind of you,’ said Tom.
‘If we ever see you down here again, this knife here is going right through your fucking body.’
Tom was petrified, which in turn made him absolutely delighted, which confused the two men as Tom had a beaming smile on his face.
‘Did you hear what I said?’ asked the not so friendly giant, which snapped Tom back into reality.
‘I did. Thank you.’
‘Get the fuck out of here,’ said the little one. And Tom was gone.

Braggard came to the sudden realization that his life was at risk. Two masked gunmen held their weapons to his face. His head began to sweat, his hands began to shake, and it dawned on him that he may never see his children again.

Braggard took his wallet out of his pocket and handed it to the men, and then made his way to Olympic archery training.

It was an improvement. But the second paragraph was pathetic. Tom glanced at his bookshelf, wondering if there was anything he could steal. Nothing came to mind. The writing was still not good enough and there was no way Richard Leonard would publish something with such a weak middle section. Tom stared out of the window, bitterly disappointed with his limitations as a writer. He could only nail it perfectly when it was something he had been through – which is why his short stories had been published seventeen times on guyswhocantgetgirls.com. He sat down with a small coffee and came to the sad but true realization: he would not be able to write something he did not have any experience of.

Tom stepped out into the night again and strode valiantly into Death Lane. He had a confident posture and a gleam in his eyes that said I am going to write the best book you’ve ever seen! He gasped for air desperately as a blade suddenly ripped through his clothes and plummeted into his back. His life hurtled through his mind as he found himself spinning and falling and suffocating. His head smacked down on the ground as the giant-man and little teenager sprinted off into the distance.

Some time later, his eyes gradually opened – he made out the blurry figure of a streetlight. A pain ripped through his entire body. He could barely move, but barely was enough to move his left leg and push himself up onto the curb. For the first time in his life, he was conscious of his breathing, probably because it wasn’t happening. He desperately swerved his breath around the painful parts of his body; it was like a magical dance that allowed breath by only using four percent of his lungs. A crazy thought popped into his head: I can make my way home. I can use this in my novel.

He gulped down a glass of water the second he got home. An insight, true or not, had come to his awareness; I am not going to die. He knew that if a writer is not dead, then they must continue their work. He sat down by his laptop and took a large, and painful breath.

The masked gunman stepped towards Braggard, who turned around, startled. The gunman smacked him in the chest with the corner of his gun. Braggard thumped down on the floor and felt a jolt of death ripple painfully through his body. He thought of Mandy, his High School sweetheart, with her golden blonde hair and mild disdain for his personality. The gunman continued to beat him, leaving Braggard for dead, but still with an outside chance of making the Olympics.

Tom was delighted with the paragraph. It had pain, it had truth, it even had emotion and a glint of the character’s romantic past. Tom smiled to himself, and continued writing.

The gunman then reached into Braggard’s pocket and took his phone, wallet, and documents. This was bad news for Braggard, who needed the documents for the Olympic committee.

Tom sat there despondently. Partly because of the awful writing, and partly because the right side of his body was numb and the left side of his body was leaking blood quicker than Usain Bolt can run the hundred metres. Tom had two options. One was to phone an ambulance and save his life, the other was to keep typing away at the keyboard in the hopes of finishing what could end up being his one-book-legacy, given how quickly his body was giving up on him. Should he call for an ambulance? Or should he remain in the warmth of his own home and finish his work?

He stood at the end of Death Lane – staring down the street. He’d always been a believer in positive thinking and visualization. He felt a sense of calmness, ease, and joy due to his inner belief that the giant man and teen would definitely steal his belongings this time. That was all he needed to finish his story.

They couldn’t believe their eyes. ‘Is that really him, back for more?’ asked the unusually large one.
‘Let’s finish him off,’ said the nervous teen.
‘You’re so violent.’
‘He might call the police,’
‘Let’s talk to him,’ said the giant.

Tom stumbled forward, gripping on to a nearby lamppost – it was the only thing that was going to keep him standing.
“Why are you back?” asked the giant-man.
“Am I meant to be afraid of you?” said Tom,
“You’re not looking very good. You should go home.”
“I think you’re scared of me.”
“Scared of you? We nearly killed you.”
“For no reason. You didn’t take my wallet or anything.”

The giant brutally hit Tom in the skull faster than a wine cork flying into the kitchen ceiling. Tom was out cold.

He came around, eventually. He was surprised to be alive, but more than anything; he was concerned that he didn’t have enough material for his novel. He reached with his right arm to feel for his wallet. Actually, his arm didn’t move, it was broken. Instead he began screaming, due to the dull pang of horror that shuddered through the underside of his arm. The pain was too much to bear – but he fought on, and managed to figure out where his left arm was and how to use it. The wallet was gone. The watch was gone.

As the documents were ripped from Braggard’s hands – the sensation of scorching pain screamed through his body and soul. The last thing he expected to feel at this moment was loneliness, but that’s what he felt. Laying there in the middle of the dark alleyway, he felt the same loneliness as when Mandy left for University, and the same loneliness as when his Father disowned him all those years ago. When someone takes your possessions in the dark of night --- you are one thing, alone. But you are comforted by the fact that it’s something you know extremely well.

Richard Leonard stepped out into the foyer and looked at the pretty receptionist. “Have you seen Hooper?” he asked. She pointed to the sofa, where a man, somewhat similar to Tom Hooper, was sitting there in a daze; looking like he’d just escaped a large explosion.
“Everything okay, Tom?” asked Leonard.
“I’ve written the pages.”
“Are you OK?”
“I’ve done the fucking pages,” whispered Tom.

They were in his office. Tom didn’t even remember walking in there. Maybe he’d blanked out for a bit. “I have good news Tom,” said Leonard, “we’re going to publish this baby. We love it.”
“We really do,” said a woman who appeared from nowhere and looked exactly like Catherine Zeta-Jones, “it’s a masterpiece.”
Somehow, from somewhere, Tom managed a smile. He’d made it. This was his moment.
“One thing though,” explained Leonard, “We’re going to go with the original version after-all. Thanks for trying, but the new draft is a little too realistic for our liking.”

Tom sat there in silence. There was a buzzing in his ears and the vague chance that he hadn’t heard what Richard Leonard had just said. Either way – he was now a published author.

Care to share?

Monday, 20 December 2010

The Home Alone Conversation

KID
Did you watch it?

CARL
Yeah.

KID
Are you going to watch the second one?

CARL
Yeah, probably, but it's longer.

KID
And it has the bird woman.

CARL
I hate the bird woman.


KID
Everyone hates the bird woman. Shall I edit her out?

CARL
What do you mean?

KID
I'll do an edit of the film and cut out 
the bird woman.
 
CARL
Will it make any sense?

KID
Do you care?

CARL
Cut out the bird woman.

KID
Anything else?

CARL
Can you add stuff in?

KID
I'm not shooting a sequel, I'm just cutting out
the boring bits.

CARL
Could you add in the Fuller Pepsi bit from the first
movie and the scene when he's running away
from the van full of teenagers?

KID
What van full of teenagers?

CARL
When he's wearing leg braces.

KID
That isn't Home Alone.

CARL
I didnt say it was.

KID
You want me to do an edit of Hone Alone 2 with
a scene from Forrest Gump?

CARL
It'd be fun.

KID
This is quite a lot of work and it'll make no sense.

CARL
Then keep the version with the bird lady.

KID
I'll put in Forrest with the leg braces.

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Previously, On THE WEST WING

Because of Chandler Bing, we're all a bit better at delivering a funny line. Because of Frasier, we're able to say "that's your subconscious feelings" and have people believe we know what we're talking about, and because of Ally Mcbeal we're able to feel a bit more comfortable with the crazy inner-lives we lead. That's what our favorite shows do, they show us the way, they give us permission to be our deepest selves.

THE WEST WING represented an idea. It's about 5.30am wake-up calls. It's about dedicating who you are to something bigger than yourself. It's about loyalty and doing something that matters. It's about working weekends and having dinner at 11pm on a Thursday night in the office because you have to get things done, because if you don't the world isn't going to operate properly come the morning. 



We're inspired and in awe of who they are; not because they're the fictionalized leaders of the American government, but because they're us. They're all of us on January 1st when we make resolutions to get up earlier, to update our Resumes, to work so hard on our projects that we're almost going to explode. The West Wing is about people who had one rule: to stand up for the very best. They represent this incredible part of us that we're often too shy or conflicted or embarrassed to be. 

The Presidency of George W. Bush scared the hell out of all of us. Hundreds of thousands of people were dying in Iraq, New Orleans was under water --- but in The West Wing's President Bartlet; we had someone who kept us sane. It's not just escapism-- it's reminding ourselves that we're still human, that we still care, that there are still people in the world who offer hope. We were reminded of the hope within each of us, again and again and again. 

I recently finished watching the entire show, again; and found myself loving the final two seasons. Many people criticised everything that came after season four, because Aaron Sorkin  had jumped ship. At first, I agreed with that; but now, I don't feel the same way. Don't get me wrong, Aaron Sorkin is my favorite television writer, but I still love what came after. The final years of The West Wing had a real weight to them. We had been together for seven years. That's a long time. Some of my friends I've hardly looked at in the eye for years, some of my family I haven't spoke to in months; but for many hours every week I am present in the moment with Josh Lyman, CJ Cregg and co. That's what happens when you love a show; you're there with them. You clock in more hours with them than you do with almost everyone else in your life. 
It's not just a DVD you switch on and off. It becomes more. We watch characters mature over seven years (in the show's timeline). It's not just about the people running about on screen, and you sitting there in your pyjamas. It's about the space in between. You can't say that Friends was just a TV show. We all drink coffee differently now. We all find New York cooler than we did. We all do the Ross Geller hand movements. That's what happens. It's a big deal. 

The West Wing gave us Josh Lyman - the master strategist and campaigner. He'd do anything for you. It gave us Sam Seaborn; who at first glance was just a pretty-boy with some talent, but on closer inspection he was someone who would give you a verbal ass kicking if you dared betray him, his friends, or his country. Toby Ziegler was that cold, horrible old man that you hate to work for; but pretty soon you realize he's as dedicated and as ethical as they come and there are no barriers that will stand in the way of him doing what he perceives to be right. And then there's Leo McGarry, the one with the experience and the know-how and the mind and the heart to steer the ship exactly where it needs to go. These are all processes that we see and feel within ourselves, but sometimes it's hard to believe in them. But they showed us the way. 


I have absolutely no reservations in saying, without doubt, that I believe The West Wing to be the greatest television show of all time. It raised the bar. It invented a new bar. 

The final season was tough. We could see it was ending. President Josiah Bartlet, Leo McGarry and CJ Cregg were a lot older than when we began-- but they brought a gravitas; a weight, that you rarely see in television, or in life. We need them. They represent the type of leadership and eldership we all need, within our selves and from those around us. They're who we want to become. And people kept turning up who we hadn't seen in years, Amy Gardner, Sam Seaborn, Ainsley Hayes, Joey Lucas; they're people who we knew from earlier seasons. They felt like friends. We could feel life had changed and people had moved on, yet they still had such unique bonds between them. It makes you think about your own lives and how much things have changed, and leads you to question whether you've held on to those bonds as tightly as they did in the walls of the Bartlet White House. 

The West Wing was deadly serious. The West Wing was silly and hilarious. The West Wing was all about the work. The West Wing was all about relationships. The West Wing was all about us. 

Care to share?

Still Searching

A Guest Blog By Simon Peters

There are certain moments in your life when you realise you’re empty. You have them. It’s not for me to say what they are. It could be looking on Facebook and seeing that your first girlfriend is married with two children. It could be looking at yourself objectively and realising that any task you have so far set yourself has been left unfulfilled. No matter what it is, it’s a mirage. You think you are empty because you think everyone else is fulfilled. You think you’ve failed because everyone else has succeeded (and they can spell succeeedddded). You think being married is a goal you’ve always had, but one that you haven’t managed. You think you’ve always wanted a child, because other people who have a child seem fulfilled. You have a nagging sense that you’ve failed at something, but you’re not entirely sure what at…

The simple fact is that, whenever you feel down, whenever you feel unfulfilled, whenever you feel EMPTY, you have to realise… It’s because you are still searching. Find what you want to do. What inspires you? What are you good at? What do you like? Ask these questions. Answer them. Act on them. Some people need a job/husband/baby/new console…What do you need?

The answer is… Well, that’s up to you. If you genuinely ask the question, you’ll know how you want to spend your life.

Ps: if you can’t answer these questions, it’s because you’re not really trying. Don’t answer ‘What inspires you?’ with ‘I know people are inspired by this…’. Don’t answer ‘What are you good at?’ with ‘People have said I’m good at this…’. Don’t answer ‘ What do you like?’ with ‘Everyone I know likes this’…

GENUINELY answer the questions for yourself, about yourself, using yourself as a barometer.

The strange thing is, that’s once you know the answers about yourself, they aren’t important.

You end up just wanting to help others ask the questions…

Care to share?

Sunday, 19 December 2010

JESSICA BENDINGER Screenwriter Interview

JESSICA BENDINGER knows a lot about writing. You can't come away from an interview with her without being inspired. Her first credit as a screenwriter was the hit movie "Bring It On" starring Kirsten Dunst. Jessica's other screenwriting credits include "First Daughter" and "Aquamarine." 

 "Stick It," in 2006, was her first film as a writer/director. There'll be many more to follow. She was also brought in as a writer during the 4th Season of "Sex & The City." That's a lot of work for someone whose first screenplay credit was only ten years ago. But when you speak to Jessica, it's not hard to see why she's been a great success.


Let's begin with the most important question--- what is your favorite movie and why?

I think trying to identify your favorite movie is an impossible task for movie lovers because we are drawn to movies based on what mood we are in at any given moment in time. So my favorite movie changes, any minute of any day of the week, depending on what my mood is. However, some of my favorite moves are Diner, American Graffiti, Lawrence of Arabia, and Bad Santa!! It just depends on the day and my mood.

What do you love most about screenwriting?

I love the freedom of this career, and I use that freedom as a part of my process. I thrive on it, but have the ability to reign it in and generate concrete, timely results if I need to. Somebody once said to me, “Hard work is for people without talent,” but I think you need both. You need talent, but you still have to know what lights you up and what will get your butt in front of the computer whether there’s a paycheck involved or not. I do know the more I write, the easier it is to write. The less I write, the longer it can take to start the car. I mess up all the time, I fall into patterns and struggle to stay conscious, integrated and connected, but I’ve learned to relish the harder stuff for the clarity that follows.

The percentage of women screenwriters in Hollywood is still very low. What thoughts do you have on this, is it getting better?

I honestly don't know if it is getting better. Probably better in TV than in film. I believe that the hours and the solitude are too crazy-making for most people - men or women. I'd be curious to see the numbers of Hollywood versus the rest of the job population. How off are we? I need to see a power point.

I feel that when screenwriter's write about women, there is so much to explore, because we are still more likely to see the journey of a man when we go to the cinema. Would you encourage writers to be more diverse in regard to gender - or do you think people should stick to whatever comes naturally?

I think you should be true to who you are as a writer. I don’t think about diversifying at all. It never even occurred to me. In a weird way I know I'm branded that way, this female empowerment writer, but really, writing is writing to me, and I write what I am most interested in and am most enthusiastic about.

You are credited as one of four writers on "The Truth About Charlie." How was the experience for you; what was your involvement like?

I didn't think the movie should be adapted, to be honest. I was dubious, and I'm not sure I was totally wrong. I did the first pass when Will Smith was attached to star with Thandie. Will dropped out, and Jonathan wanted to have a whack at the script on his own. That's the extent of it.

Of the films that you've written - have you been mostly happy with how your work has been portrayed on screen?

Bring It On and Stick It because they are my original ideas from start to finish, are my babies. The other work - rewrites - is a more detached animal, because you are repairing someone else's work.

"Bring It On" was a very big success. Were you expecting this? What effect did it have on your career?

I was not expecting it, but it was delightful and very gratifying. I have been working steadily ever since, so that's been awesome. It’s great to have created the mother ship of such a huge franchise. That’s hugely flattering and very validating, certainly. When I created it, I suspected it would have an audience. In a full-circle moment, I actually went to a psychic who told me it was going to be a really big hit. It was called Cheer Fever, at the time. He also was very specific about how it was going to be successful, which was interesting. He said it was going to have a huge cult following after its initial release, which is what’s happened with the DVD sequels.

You did some work on "Sex & The City" as a creative consultant. Could you share a bit about what your job entailed?

All that means is I was a writer on the show. It was my credit for working 1 day a week vs. 5 days, as I was coming off Bring It On at #1 two weeks in a row, and very busy/in demand with movie stuff. But Sex & The City was a blast! Season Four was a good time to join the show, because they were coming off a ton of criticism from the end of Season Three (drag queens on a rooftop, anyone?), and they were ready to ventilate the world of the show with some fresh air. It was really fun to get into the skin of the characters, but we had to bring all our personal stories to the writers’ table. We were expected to be brutally honest about experiences we’d had or had heard about, so inevitably everyone’s voice got transfused into the mix. We were like a giant dialysis machine. No — wait! A giant blood bank? A bone marrow transplant? Oh, just pick your own transfusion-y analogy and run with it. I think the new blood challenged some of the old "rules" they had for the first 3 seasons, and it brought a new gravitas to the show that was amazing.

You made your directorial debut with "Stick It" - how was the experience for you?

I loved it and learned so much from it. It is very challenging to shepherd a 28million dollar asset to the finish line successfully. You make huge sacrifices to usher an experience like that through your life when you don't know all the variables. It is an all-consuming, all-encompassing, exhausting trade-off you make. There are wonderful rewards, but also huge drawbacks personally, physically and emotionally. Although “Stick It” was my first stab at directing a feature, I'd directed music videos first. Having a background in Music videos was great because it taught me how to stay out of the way, for one. I think first-timers make the mistake of trying to exert too much authority on set, and that’s absurd. You are working with cast-members and crew members who have logged more hours on sets than you will ever log as a director in your lifetime. Therefore, hang back. Observe. Stay out of the way. If you’ve done your job, by the time you get on set everyone is doing theirs. Directing is an amazing opportunity to experience collaboration on a massive scale. You get to work with these very specific craftsmen who have vast reserves of experience. It's incredible.

Do you want to do more directing?

Yes, definitely. I have two projects in the works. The first is the adaptation of my novel, The Seven Rays. And the other is a music-driven movie.


I often share a view on this site that, sure, you can read screenwriting books- but more than anything, you need to find what works for YOU. Is this is a view you share?

Totally!! There are many ways to come up with ideas, write outlines and birth screenplays. The biggest journey we all have is finding out what works for us, and the beauty of that is that it will be so radically different for everyone. I believe in following my enthusiasm, my curiosity and my fear. Not necessarily in that order.

Finding the discipline to write features is tough. Even people who call themselves screenwriters and dedicate their lives to it find it hard to sit down and do the work. Why is this? And what advice can you give?

Writing features is tough! You have to involve so many other people to get it from being the written word to being a screenplay and most people don’t survive that process. It’s really kind of rigorous and it rewards people who aren’t necessarily the best writers but they are the best at the process of screenwriting, which is this really unruly social and political process. I think I have charted the waters of writing in Hollywood by trying to have a really unique point of view. I love what I love and I’m unapologetic about it. What works for me is to be true to myself, and trying to write the movies, books and TV shows that I want to see. Hollywood is very much a geo-political, commodity-driven economy, and that truth can really stop/impact people in lots of ways. Make sure qualified readers with genuine critical discernment are giving you notes. If you don't have access, then pay for it with a reading service if you can (Script Shark, ScriptXpert), etc. Just write for the joy of writing and the joy of expressing and cultivating your craft. Very few scripts get made. Make it your business to relish the process of writing so you got something out of it besides a movie. The world is a better place when people have something meaningful and happy-making in their lives, so do what you love and do it as much as you can.

We haven't seen any films that you've written for a few years now. I know that you were busy writing and releasing a novel, but now that's done- what can we expect to see from you in the coming years?

I’ve been busy writing my next original movie, which takes place at a Berklee School of Music type of place. My mother is a musician and my dad was in advertising and wrote jingles, and I grew up very much in the margins of the music business, so this movie is a love letter to the more working side of show business. It’s less the American Idol and Glee version of that and more what happens to people who really explore it as a career and how hard that is. It takes place at a music conservatory college and follows four different students with different majors in music. I’m really excited about that.

And, I’ve also co-written music for a long time, so I’m also co-writing a solo album for a new artist. That’s very gratifying. It’s so nice to work in three-minute chunks, after having worked on movies and novels. Songs are a really sweet vacation from such a long form. My dad was a jingle writer, so it’s really in my blood. I never did it seriously because my parents did it professionally, so I was always daunted by that. I’m having fun working on other people’s material, where I don’t have to be responsible for the whole thing. I just do my part of the song, and then I get to hear the finished product. It’s really nice.


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Saturday, 18 December 2010

L. A. After Midnight - A Fantastic New Film Blog

Don't you love it when you find a new favorite writer? Or a new friend? Or a new place to go visit every single time you get a chance? That's what you hope for when you discover a new blog. Writing a blog is easy. Writing a good blog is fairly easy. But writing something that matters; something that's important; something that makes life better is a trickier thing, and I'm jealous of those who can achieve it.

L. A. After Midnight is written by Dennis Bartok. At the time of writing, it has only three blog posts and four followers. But that will change very soon. I love film, and I'm passionate in my own way. But I love it when I see somebody else who is passionate; but entirely in their own unique way. And passion for film jumps out at you the second you visit this blog. The things Dennis is writing about and covering are fascinating in themselves. But what makes it vibrant and important is the voice behind it.

In the post Ken's Tuesday Night Film Club - he allows the spirit of Ken (his subject) to be the voice, along with the amazing images. His article Future Of Film Projection In Jeopardy? simply and effectively makes you care about something that two minutes before you probably didn't, or at least didn't to quite the same extent. And the Lost Film Theater In L.A.'s Chinatown is exciting because; for us film lovers, old closed down, derelict cinemas represent something symbolic, something important and touching that we can't quite put our fingers on. But when Dennis writes about it and shows us, we get a bit nearer to it. We feel it.


If you get in on the act now; L.A. After Midnight will be like that band who you saw in the basement of some dive when only six people knew about them. But that opportunity won't be there for long, because if this guy keeps blogging; he's gonna be a writer that everyone who cares about film is going to know about.

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Jingle Blogs

This guy in Dear Old Hollywood goes around LA looking at old film locations and buildings and offices and his blog is really quite fascinating. Salty Salutes has a way of talking about your favorite bands and singers, yet somehow knows all their songs that you never knew existed, despite spending your whole life collecting all their obscure tracks.

Scarlett Cinema: Women In Film Criticism is a blog I'm still figuring out. I must like it, I keep visiting. And although the "Dude who is the Godfather of film blogging Award" normally goes to John August, Ken Levine should also be considered. He's written for pretty much every TV show you've ever loved, and is not afraid to tell it how it is.

Sex In A Submarine is not something I've ever tried, but it is a blog I read. The guy who runs it has written a heap of films you've never heard of, but after ten minutes on his blog you'll do your best to change that. Simon & Jo at Screen Insight love movies, and do a great podcast, which regrettably I get around to listening to enough. But they're awesome, and they watch a lot of movies; and deserve a bigger audience than they're getting. So go be a part of it and you can be the cool ones who were there before they went mainstream.

I normally dislike blogs where the author has a giant image of themselves in the header. But Chris Edwards makes up for it by the incredible service he is doing to silent film at Silent Volume. And not only that, but there's a woman who writes poetry about silent movies, how cool is that? Have a look at Silent Stanzas.

After all that you'll be fed up with movies, so go take a look at Hyperbole And A Half. She's the most hilarious, creative and original blogger I know. Incredible. And let's end by being happier. Gretchen at The Happiness Project has been road testing every myth, method and idea about happiness for over a year; the results are inspiring and helpful. 

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Friday, 17 December 2010

48 Year Old Divorcee Blogging About Plants

I struggle with those blogs where people just ramble about whatever comes to their minds, do you know the type I mean? They post pictures of their cats and they give out "Most Fluffy Blog" Awards to their friends who have names like Deirdre and Marlene. But, as a change of pace; I figured I'd just write a blog without knowing what I'm going to say, and see where it ends up. I won't be blogging about my cats, because I killed them.

I've never owned cats, don't worry. I never even saw the show. I watched 'THE TAKING OF PELHAM 1 2 3' last night, that's the remake, not the original. I know we're meant to claim that remakes are the devil; but I'd never seen the original and this film I enjoyed. I'm not an action film guy. A few cars blow up and buildings explode. Great. But why should I care? But '..Pelham' was good. It had characters I cared about. This is what I need from an action flick.

1. A deadline. 
i.e. Get me the money, otherwise your family dies.

2. Someone who wants to get it all over so they can see their kid again. 
i.e. I need this to be over, so that I can finally be a good Dad to Little Billy.

3. Plausibility.
i.e. Don't have two guys running around shooting each other for two hours and end it with one of them suddenly inventing a phone that doubles as a ham sandwich, which poisons the bad guy, who suddenly announces that his ham allergy is deadly. 

Now, PELHAM, as I'll call it now, did have a few plausibility issues, but I enjoyed it! It was in New York, it was gritty, it was fast. It had the dancing guy from the 70's shouting "Motherfucker!" a lot. Great stuff. 

"JULIE & JULIA" is a good movie. It captures a different New York. It's the Nora Ephron New York. It's funny; on the making of thing on the DVD one of the producers says "This is a different New York to what Nora's shot before, it's gritty." Gritty? really? Just because there was a Pizzeria in it? It's hardly "DO THE RIGHT THING." Now that's a good movie. In fact; now I think about it -- Spike Lee and Nora Ephron are both very similar in that they draw you into their worlds. They make you care. They can have a fuckawful story but they get away with it; because they've wrapped you up and welcomed you into their worlds. They've put the heating on, they've made you coffee, and you don't want to leave. 

Julie Powell; as a real person, and as a film character; is really a great role model for success. She had a target which would test her. She had passion for something. She had a role model. And she worked her ass off. Her character spoke a lot, of feeling like Julie Child was in the room, and of having conversations with her as she cooked. To many, that sounds insane; but to anybody who wants to do anything extraordinary, it's the most normal thing in the world. Napoleon Hill was preaching that back in the day in his success books. It works. Unfortunately, I thought I was visualizing Billy Wilder in my imagination, but it was actually Bill Wiseman, from Barnsley, UK; who is currently unemployed and suffering from gout. Make sure you visualize properly.

With all this talk of movies set in New York, I should mention Woody Allen. I watched "ANYTHING ELSE" the other day. I love it! I hated it for a while, but on watching it a few days back I remembered that I actually love it, I just convinced myself I hated it after everyone said it was terrible. But I dig it. Sure, it sucks in so many ways and is a rehash of many past works. Woody was also clearly struggling with big changes in crew; this was the time when he was having to come to the realization that even though he'd had people willing to fund his New York movies all through his career, that was no longer going to be the case. 

But I love this film because; Woody knows comedy. More than that, Woody Allen knows Woody Allen's style of comedy. And if you are a big Woody fan, you'll find lots to love in this movie. There's nothing better than a scene with Woody going over the top and panicking. There's nothing better than a straight line, followed by a cut to a scene which results in huge laughs. There's nothing better than Woody making a joke about being Jewish. There's nothing better than seeing Woody Allen convince another character to buy a survival kit (which includes not only a gun, but water purifying tablets.) Watching Woody Allen is just a pure joy, if you're into that kind of thing. If you're not, you'll suffer. But don't worry, pretty soon after this movie, we all started suffering, again and again.

I am rambling. This isn't good is it? I will now write a paragraph in the style of a 48 Year Old Divorcee.


MJ emailed me. He wanted sex again. I just realized MJ has the same initials as Michael Jackson and some people think he isn't dead. What if it's him? What if he gets me pregnant? Would it really be his or would it be Macaulay Culkin's? F called. GH-N-Q didn't call. I was sad. I bought a Dicksonia Antarctica for the garden. It's so beautiful. N got the garden in the divorce, so I don't know where I'll put it. I'm so lonely sometimes. It reminds me of the time FB told me he wanted some. I thought he wanted a threesome with me and I. That was my fantasy, me and FBI. But it wasn't the case. He did want some, but not sex. He was after my Sasa Palmata. I told him the soil in his garden wouldn't be right, plus it didn't have adequate shade.

Anyways. I watched "SLUMDOG MILLIONNAIRE," too. I like Freida Pinto. I like the movie. I liked it more this time on DVD than I did in the cinema. The hype was so big then because I could hardly see the film on the screen; it was like there was some big giant sign in front of it say "OMG, THIS IS THE BEST FILM EVER!". That's why I didn't see "THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT" for ten years.

I'm going to stop typing now.

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Cinema In SAUDI ARABIA

In November 2010, I wrote an article called Cinema In Your Country, where I asked everyone to share a bit about how movies are seen and perceived in their own countries. The post got some wonderful replies in the comments, and many  of you also contacted me by email. I was particularly intrigued by some emails I was getting from Saudi Arabia, where cinema's don't exist. I had no idea this was true; and invited Fatma M-Z, who lives in Saudi Arabia, to tell us more about it from their own perspective. 

Written By Guest Author Fatma M - Z

In Saudi Arabia, people don't need cinemas to follow and know about the international film industries like Hollywood, Bollywood and other foreign movies because they already know a lot about them.

Although there is no such thing as movie theaters all around the big kingdom, still, most people love movies and watch them the whole time. And to tell you the truth, young Saudis are big fans of Hollywood productions and they are following the movies box office regularly. And some are serious movie addicts.

If you are wondering how we get access to movies, DVDs and video tapes, then I'll tell you that our resources for movies are either movie stores, which are available everywhere, or through internet websites.

I think the reason why there are no movies shown publicly here might be because most of these movies seem to carry concepts and ideas that don’t suit our cultural traditions and Islamic beliefs. Generally speaking, the Saudi society is conservative and believe in preserving its Islamic traditions and life-style from vanishing by external factors and I believe that there is nothing more important than keeping one's identity and true belonging as long as it doesn't harm anyone else.


Some people think that the government is the one who is responsible for the absence of cinema in Saudi Arabia out of its strict intolerance but this is not true. Actually, the government has nothing to interfere with citizens's own affairs and they hold a neutral side; but they prevent this thing out of fear of opposition from people and once the majority of people accepts the establishing of cinema houses, nobody will mind as long as the movies shown are modified to suit the different variety of ages.

In the meantime, the actual change has started taking place in the big cities as mini cinemas for children as well as big 3D documentary films that are presented every weekend to entertain and educate both children and adults, and consequently, I think that big cinema houses will exist in Saudi Arabia very soon.

To be accurate and even in my presentation, I run small interviews in my college where I asked many girls about their opinions of the absence of cinema here. Most of them said that although they don't see why it is not here, they don't feel that it's necessary anymore because they have other alternatives and they get used to seeing movies at home.

However, some girls insisted that it's totally unfair and there should be cinema's for them to meet with their friends and watch movies together while others said that although young people demand its existence, we must respect the ones who don't as it's not a life or death issue and they mentioned that they don't see what difference will it make whether they watch movies inside their houses or out of it. 

Lastly, I believe that such changes are going to happen as the world is now getting more and more similar every day.


Big thanks to Guest Author Fatma M - Z, for speaking up and sharing some views from Saudi Arabia!

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Thursday, 16 December 2010

Actor/Director MELANIE MAYRON Five Question Interview

MELANIE MAYRON is a Director and Emmy Award winning Actress ("thirtysomething" - Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series 1989.) Her latest directing project is MEAN GIRLS 2. With over thirty years of experience in the industry, on an incredibly diverse range of projects - a five question interview was never going to be enough. But that's what makes it fun! Enjoy!


If you could only act --OR-- only direct; for the rest of your life, which would you choose and why?

Oh God, that's a tough one. I mean, once an actor, always an actor, right? But when I direct I seem to act out all the roles in my head in order to figure out how the characters would move in a scene so I can determine where to put the camera and how to exactly set up a shot.

I find I use more of myself and my talents when I direct, so maybe I would say directing... but it's a tough call because I LOVE to act.

How is directing for film different to directing television?

Directing for film and television is pretty close to the same. I mean, staging scenes with a camera is the same. That said, television is smaller screen than the screen in the movie theatre so in television I would shoot tighter shots and use more close ups than a film... but in a film I would do really wide shots too, and just in general frame everything much wider, so you see more of where you are and you see more of the actor's bodies.  And use the close ups more sparingly. So when you are in close on an actor's face you are there because it is a moment when you really want to be close to them.

There are a lot of people who were really passionate about the first 'MEAN GIRLS,' do you think the sequel will please them or is it for a new, younger generation? 

The first Mean Girls was very sexy and a bit more risque than this story. This story however has a bigger and more universal theme behind it, which is about friendship and betrayal. That is the sort of thing that everyone can relate to on some level. And it is geared more for the teens and tweens as the casting was all actors from ABC Family, The Disney Channel and TeenNick shows... Although some of the stars are from 90210 and Desperate Housewives too.

The film industry is insanely difficult to be successful in-- do you think there are certain character traits that separate the successes from the failures?

No. None. It is a crapshoot whether you get anywhere here. There are just so many very gifted people that come to Hollywood to try to realize their dreams, that the reality is it is luck, karma, destiny, whatever you believe.  But you do have to be motivated. And passionate about what you want to do and say.

The ratio of men-to-women in Hollywood, especially in Directing, is still a giant gap. Do you see this changing? What can we do about it? 

I suppose so. I do see more women's names on projects and I always want to look them up and see who they are. Slowly it is changing, although it still seems like there are only a few women on directing rosters say, in the episodic television world. Certainly more women are directing film and that is wonderful to see. I think to change it would be probably if there were more women in executive positions at the studios that would be looking for more women to direct. That would be nice.

Mean Girls 2 was shot in July in Atlanta. It will air on ABC Family on Jan. 23rd and be released on DVD in February 2011.

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Tuesday, 14 December 2010

ONCE: Raise Your Hopeful Voice

"ONCE" gives us permission to do everything we want to do, and say everything we want to say. It was shot on a camera that is below the accepted industry standards. It starred people who'd never acted before. The lighting was terrible. It was about an Irish guy and a Czech girl singing acoustic singer/songwriter songs. It was only 83 minutes long. It didn't have any major drama, or twists, or explosions. It didn't have that cool-indie-film-vibe. 

"ONCE" didn't have a deceptive trailer, it didn't have an A-list cameo, it didn't have a twist ending, it didn't have a clever marketing campaign, it didn't have a dedicated social media team, the director didn't claim to be the "next" anyone or anything.


THE FILM HAD HEART. That's what it had and it's what it has. It's a film that people love and adore and need. It's a film that people watch when they're all alone at 3am. It's a film they watch with the family on a Tuesday night. It's a film they watched tucked up in bed with their lovers on a cold Sunday evening. It reaches everyone. It reached Steven Fucking Spielberg. All because it has heart. It has heart over everything. The camera shakes a bit? The heart is more important. The music isn't as catchy as a well-constructed soundtrack? It has heart. It got an Academy Award because of that heart. 

"ONCE" is proof that we can do it, we can make the movies we need to make and say what we need to say. We can make obscure movies about musicians in Ireland. Of course, we gotta know what we're doing. People with heart make bad movies all the time; but they also make good ones. This movie proves that if we make something astoundingly great, that's enough. It sounds obvious but - we get too caught up in all the junk; thinking about making things that are 'marketable' or 'original' or 'surprising' -- we get further and further from writing and making "ONCE". We become a confused mix of a director like Crowe making "ELIZABETHTOWN" when really if we follow our hearts we can be Crowe making "SAY ANYTHING."

"ONCE" is magic. It really is. The songs are so meaningful, the look in Marketa's eye is so beautiful and the tone of Glen's voice is beyond soulful. And it carries you away into its world for 83 minutes and it has nothing to do with what anyone is taught in film school, or has drilled into them by producers - it's the work of heart, and soul, and hard work, and experimentation and simple honesty. Simple honesty - what a thing. So rare. But what a wonderful thing. How can we get more of that into our work? We can watch "ONCE" a million times. Look at that moment in the film on 15mins 35seconds; the two characters share a look; I don't know whether it was improvised or directed or an accident. Whatever it was, it says everything. It says wow we sound amazing, and it says wow I'm falling in love with you and it says wow, this movie is gonna be awesome! It's the most honest look in the history of cinema and it came in a split second in a little Irish movie that almost nobody ever heard of but in the end the world heard of because it was so honest, inspiring, and unique.


If you want to write a 'hot' script, or you want to impress Hollywood; that's great! I'm excited for you and I would love to see your movie when it's done. But this is about the people who have it in their hearts to tell something simple and small. Because, actually, there aren't a lot of books or blogs or anything that support that. It hasn't been modelled for us enough. And of course, when it is; sometimes the movies are so small we hardly know about them. But "ONCE" exists. It's there. It inspired people the world over, it touched people, and yeah; it made money. It happened because a writer/director and a small crew and a dedicated producer and a wonderful cast made it happen, and they believed in it. They did the night shoots, they worked for little pay and they believed in something they couldn't quite see. It exists. For those of you who have projects in you that are like this; don't hide from them, don't bury them, don't believe there isn't a place for them. The world wants and needs these movies. 


If you haven't already; you can read my interview with "ONCE" Producer MARTINA NILAND right here

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