Monday, December 15, 2008

I Love Show B'dness

Last night, I was standing on the cold concrete floor of some factory closed for the week end listening to an Oklahoma sleet storm attacking the metal roof, and watching the last of the principle photography on another movie - not mine. The writer/director/lead had just dried himself off, changed shirts and donned a coat. His last scene was outside in the sleet... in a T-shirt. The opening scene for his movie. Now he was trying hard to remember what shots he absolutely had to get before he shut everything down and went into post production mode. It was midnight. And I thought... what is it I like about this movie making stuff again?

A week ago, I was in Michigan catching a Rosie Thomas show (an RT Christmas tour must become a tradition if Christmas is to continue as we know it). I stopped into a Barnes and Noble just for fun and pre-ordered a copy of "Treasure Blind". "That should be arriving on February 10th," the clerk announced knowingly. I thanked him and grinned all the way out the door. I also found it on the radar of the Lifeway Christian Bookstore, although that clerk said, "To be honest, I've never heard of 'Treasure Blind' before." I knew that, but it made me think about things. Our little movie was about to be sitting on the shelf next to real movies. I wonder if it will find any friends. Anyone to eat lunch with? I hope somebody likes it. What if no one does? What if it's a big lonely failure? What is it I like about this movie making stuff again?

So anyway, I'm working on my next script. It's agonizing, and draining, and ultimately frustrating. I love it. I just can't explain why to any rational or sane person. But I take comfort in the fact that, if you're an artist of any kind, you totally get it.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Movie Making in Real Life

I'm delighted to be able to bring you up to speed on some exciting developments for Treasure Blind. It seems other people like it too. What do you know! Beginning in February of 2009, Treasure Blind will be introduced to the world with the phrase, "from the producers of Left Behind: the Movie". Yup. We have signed a deal with Cloud Ten Pictures from Ontario and they are already busy with new artwork, some dressing up of the edit, and planning the promotional campaign through Koch distributors. Isn't that amazing? "The Lord has done this and it is marvelous in our eyes," as David said. We're very grateful, very excited, and ready to begin work on the next one. Whoa! Did I say that? It's true though. And to begin with, I'm headed off to a weekend screenwriter's seminar in two weeks to sharpen those nerves before heading into the next uncharted storyland. Can't wait.

Looking back, it was an education in so many things: film making of course, but also working with people of all types - easy to difficult - and mostly, trusting the Lord. It was a daily exercise of faith to literally give up my movie, to give it back to the Lord. "If you want it to never be made... but I can make that work if I just... if you want it to be made, it's okay with me. It's your movie, Lord. I'm giving it to you right now." That was literally a daily ritual from the first day of shooting to the day we mailed it to Canada. And what a great lesson! The truth is - as you already know - everything belongs to God anyway. Any success comes from God alone. His plan for me and my life is by far the best plan because He loves me, knows everything, and has all power. So giving Him the movie everyday was just a reminder to me of what was already true. But the result was unexplainable peace when the computer crashed to blue screen without explanation. Or when the hard drive quit working the day before it was due in Canada. Or when the worst storm of the season is forecast for your last possible day of shooting. I knew that peace because I reminded myself that it was all God's problem, not mine. It was His movie. And by the way, He worked all those problems out just fine. He's God, you know. I just hope I can apply what I've learned about movie making to real life.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Waiting: Not For The Faint-Hearted

I remember saying to Marybeth as we would pull away from the house on shoot days, "I just want to make a good movie." Although her constant reassurance did little to assuage my self doubt, I love it that she kept trying. "Just wait," she'd say. I've been waiting. I'm tired of waiting. Many times a day, I wonder if I should go on. I wonder if I can. Then...

Something worth waiting for came from the New Strand Film Festival in West Liberty Iowa where Treasure Blind won "Best Screenplay". West Liberty, Iowa is a "hip" small town about 20 minutes from Iowa City where the University of Iowa Hawkeyes live. To say these folks might be civic minded is like saying the pope might be catholic. Watching the townsfolk interact is a lot like watching a family reunion. The West Liberty family reunion. There ought to be T-shirts. The town reflects their closeness too. The old Victorian style homes are well maintained and tidy. The town center is being restored little by little. The two biggest sources of civic pride are the newly remodeled library and the New Strand Theater. Both buildings were modernized while preserving the architecture and character of 19th Century Americana. The asphalt put down on city streets in the 60's is being taken back up and cobble stones are going back down. And naturally, the Film Festival was the big event in the community, so everyone was there. Treasure Blind was scheduled for Sunday afternoon. Some parents complained that the puppet show was scheduled for the same time and their kids wanted to see the treasure movie. The puppets were cancelled. The old theater was full when the high tech super strong projector began spewing our little movie all over that big screen. The room grew instantly quiet. But then... chuckles. Giggles. All in appropriate places. This audience was more engaged than any in my experience. Youngsters and adults alike. When Henry felt his way down the hallway and turned into the treasure room, someone gasped, "Oh! The gun!" When Jack slid into the back seat of the taxi and spat, "Hello, Dad", I heard someone in the middle of the room say, "Uh oh." It was wonderful. The gasps, the giggles, the sniffles were all soothing music to my critique-battered ears, and it didn't stop until the final flicker of light faded into darkness. Then the applause and whoops and cheers. I was actually feeling self-conscious. The emcee stood. His first words were, "So, tell me again why a movie like this can't get a national release and we have to watch the pap that Hollywood puts out there." A bit over the top perhaps, but I drank it down desperately. It was like anti venom to a snake bite victim. The Q & A went on and on with honest questions couched in praise until it had to be stopped to make time for the next movie. Several asked to buy their own copy of Treasure Blind. It was a welcome gift of healing for my tattered self confidence. I was renewed.

Even more good news upon arriving back home. A distribution offer. An approval from The Dove Foundation. Another award from another festival. And probably the biggest boost of all, a simple sentence from my executive producer: "We need to start thinking about the next one."

I still struggle with letting the story spill out onto the page without phantom critics leering over my shoulder tut tutting their disapproval, but maybe that will improve by act two. I'll have to wait and see.

It was Isaiah the Lord prompted to say, "They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength." By His strength I didn't quit. I won't quit. I'll just wait.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Some Things Even Blind Men Can See

My reading this morning was in Hebrews 4 and Psalm 63 so my lesson to myself for the day is to look for the Lord (be alert to what he does around me today) and then boldly pray for mercy and grace. When I jot down these lessons to myself every morning, I seldom know how they will be reinforced throughout the day - only that they will be. Today has been no exception. Treasure Blind played last night at its first festival - Barebones International Film Festival, Muskogee Oklahoma. A good crowd laughed at the right time, wiped away tears at appropriate moments, and applauded heartily at the end. For the first time in many months, I just sat in a dark room and watched my little movie - smiling. I still like it. After being criticised for nearly every element of the movie from music to wardrobe, from writing to acting, from lighting to camera moves, I still like it. It was so pleasant to just sit there and enjoy, and remember writing and rewriting, arranging the sets and locations, building the taxi, recruiting the actors, asking for money, finding the crew and getting them on the schedule, shooting, reshooting, looping, editing, shooting more, editing, editing, editing... man this was an enormous job! An impossible job. Simply miraculous that it ever got started, let alone finished. But there I was, sitting in the dark, watching it. Praise the Lord. I was also smiling because that morning, I had received my first offer for distribution from an honest to goodness reputable distributor. He said he watched it, and he liked it. After so many passes and no-thank-yous that I was feeling like a door to door evangelist with bad breath, I had a real offer. What a day! Thank you Lord. When the movie ended, many went out of their way to shake my hand, eyes still teary, and tell me those wonderful words: they liked it. Only the Lord could have done that. See him? Today, I traveled back to the world's friendliest film festival for a panel discussion of Best Actor nominees. Best actor? I didn't even acquire this habit until mid life. How can I be on this panel? Oh yeah, the Lord. See him again? But just before the panel convened, I got a call from a second distributor - an even bigger one. So many "good and perfect gifts" coming from his hand. I would be blind to not have seen him today - but then, in my default mode I am blind, right? Thanks Lord for reminding me to watch for you today. Thank you for your mercy and grace that cures my blindness. And thank you for the movie. I like it. I really like it.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Some Things Never Change... Thank God

I forgot about my movie for a bit. Mom's in the hospital. She's been sliding down the Alzheimer's slope for several years now, and has reached the level where she requires constant care. We moved her into a "rehab center" after she broke her hip. But rehab implies that a person can follow directions. She can't. So, she probably won't walk anymore. She just exists there from naptime to nighttime. Saturday, she was so groggy that she couldn't even mumble her usual nonsense. We thought maybe they had increased her medicine dosage. Just after noon, they took her to the ER. The story is: an infection had become so rampant that she was getting groggy. I guess that happens. She's now plugged into I.V. antibiotics and is getting better. But here's the thing - in all the flurry of anxious phone calls and interrupted plans, my Mom gave me an unexpected gift. Like she's done all my life. Not only the labor of birth and nursing and diapers and pureed food; not only the shuttles to school and the late nights of homework and ironing clothes and making lunches; not only the long talks and advice and encouragement when I began to raise my own children; not only homemade pies and fresh fruit and vegetables and cakes for every birthday; but she was the one who introduced me to my heavenly Father. Now, she's gone, or might as well be. She's not where I can get to her. She can't form words. Not words that anyone can interpret. She can't understand words when someone speaks to her. She can't think anymore, the wires are disconnected. I imagine her closed up all alone in a blurry noisy world with strange apparitions buzzing in and out of sight. I have prayed since the day the doctor said the "A" word that somehow, God would be in there with her and hold her hand and not let her be alone and afraid. Well, yesterday, as she lay there on that narrow bed designed for everything but comfort, wires and tubes poking her from every angle, she gave me the sweetest gift yet. She prayed. Not gibberish, not all of it, but real words. "O Dear heavenly Father," she said, "We pray that you would..." I couldn't hear that part. "We ask you to..." Missed that too. And on and on she prayed. Had to be 4 or 5 minutes. I just stood there and tried not to sob too hard as tears streamed onto my shirt. I was glad I was facing away from the busy hallway. And then, " the name of the Lord Jesus Christ we pray, Amen." And she opened her eyes and began whispering gibberish again. But from those few wonderful moments, I knew that the loving Lord she had introduced to me 49 years ago was in there with her. When he says, "I will never leave you nor forsake you," it's the truth. Thank you Jesus. Stay in there with my Mom till it's time for her to come home. Thank you that Dad's already there waiting for her. And thank you that you gave me this movie to take to market so you can show me just how much I need you, and thanks for Mom's reminder of just how faithful you are.

Saturday, April 5, 2008


It's amazing to me how quickly I forget, or worse dismiss, someones praise of my movie. Equally amazing is how I will set aside great chunks of many days to dwell on, meditate on, and memorize someones negative comments. This phenomenon I shall call "stewage". Stewage is the reason people don't write movies, don't attempt the great American novel, don't invent alternative energy sources, and don't cure aids. Is isn't that they can't, but they have convinced themselves they shouldn't try. To try would be to become vulnerable. To bare your dearest soul would risk letting someone crap on it. In fact, it would guarantee it. Stewage demands that any sensible person keep his sacred stuff to himself.

Yes, you're right. I did have someone else pan my movie. A friend. Seriously hurts. True, there were positive notes strewn here and there, but I don't remember them. What I do remember are the slanderous strokes with which he casually disemboweled my darling. He accused me of the very sins I vowed to set right if I ever made a movie, tossing me with a hyphenated adjective or two, into the stinking pile of fly-infested losers who should have never been allowed to purchase Final Draft. Okay, over statement. But I will tell you this, I'm in serious stewage. Every time I sit down to work on my new script, I reflect on his words. Ideas that would have been working their way down into the fertile part of my subconscious are being eaten by the ravenous birds of stewage. That's a stupid idea. That's a small story at best. No one will ever believe that. I can't make that work. I can't. I shouldn't. I quit. Stewage.

So, how to overcome stewage? I do know how. It's one of those things I know in my head, but I'm not sure if I can make my heart agree; the way smokers know cigarettes will kill them, but light another one anyway. But here's how to handle stewage. Remember when Peter went fishing after his miserable failure, the whole denial and rooster thing? Remember how he fished all night and didn't catch anything? Then Jesus shows up on the shore and says throw your nets on the other side. He didn't know it was Jesus, but he did it anyway, and it was a huge catch. See, Jesus can make all the fish swim around the nets, or he could make all the fish swim into the nets. He is God. He is the one who determines success and failure for every one of his kids. And the thing is, Peter didn't devote his life to fishing from that point on either. He devoted his life to the Lord of success and failure. So, here's how that all plays out. I shouldn't stew on what anybody says about my movie or anything I do - whether it's negative or positive - because I'm not doing the things I do for them, I'm doing them for the Lord of all, Jesus. And doing anything that way is going to be successful - by his standards, not mine. Peter ended up crucified upside down. A failure? No way. Not in God's eyes. Peter will enjoy the benefit of his efforts forever. So, the way to cure stewage is change my audience. Rather than trying to impress the market, or the industry, or even my friends, I should do what I do as unto the Lord, and leave the results with him. Hope I can do that. Hope you can too.

Monday, March 24, 2008

The Road,Hitting

I gotta tell you, one of the hardest parts of movie making is sending it out to "experts" all over the country and letting them tell you what they think. I'm truly not all that interested in what they think about Treasure Blind, but I do care about how they can market my movie, so it follows that what they think is important to the process. My experience divides the responses into three categories: those who would never say anything to discourage you in any way, those who want to punish you if they weren't swept away from the opening sequence, and then those few who are truly helpful. Thank God for category 3. One example of Category 1 was a famous pastor who was able to compose an entire page of 12 point Times New Roman font and say absolutely nothing quotable. It was amazing - truly an art form. It was a slough of such pap and mushy concepts as may, by itself, disprove the theory of evolution - nothing vital could ever be found in gooey soup. I understand I guess. He doesn't know me. As far as he knows, I could be arrested tomorrow for hanging around the playground too long, and if he's said something supportive of my art, he's going down with me. It's just prudence, but it makes lousy press kit fodder. On the other end of the spectrum, I got a terse email from a 30 something mom in California on an absolute rant. Seems she sat her two pre-teen daughters down to watch this unknown movie with unknown actors and found the writing awkward, the acting amatuerish, the scenes skit-like, and the pace agonizingly slow. After 20 minutes, she was so angry with for inflicting my movie on her and her girls that she decided to exact justice through a verbal flogging. The audience I should target is old people. (Politically awkward comment) But then she concluded her biting stings with, "I hope this is helpful." Yeah, thanks. So, you're saying I just wasted 150 grand on a geriatric skit. I'm so uplifted and encouraged! Thankfully however, there are a few viewers who possess both sanity and sensibility, and pass along some truly knowledgeable criticism mixed with just enough "atta boy" to keep me from throwing in the towel. Once again, thank God for Category 3. The road is still new, and there are many potential markets still ahead, but I'm gaining some road wisdom already. When you start the journey, be convinced of your product - be sure YOU like your movie. Then, whether your critics are blowing pretty bubbles as you pass, or pelting you with rocks, you will be able to steer a course straight down the center line, listening to those few helpful voices, and be well on your way to making better movies. See you on down the road, Jack.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

What Would Jesus Video?

So I had lunch in Tulsa yesterday with my brother. He is just settling into the Central time zone after jetting home from Africa where he taught at a Bible School the last 5 weeks. It was a return trip really as he was headmaster for Rusitu Bible Institute in Zimbabwe for eleven years - just long enough for the nationals to take over things. His eyes welled up when he told me about his former students who now run that institution, and very well. Denominations from all over that tiny nation are sending their pastors there for training. "There's something different about those students," it is said. Other RBI grads pastor churches in surrounding towns and villages, or hold other significant ministry posts in the region. And some teach at the Institute. His pace quickened when he told me how two Bible School students recently jumped the river that marks the border of Mozambique just 5 K away. When Dave was there in the late 80's, raiders from Mozambique would jump that same river and execute raids into Zimbabwe - not always killing, but mutilating children and terrorizing the countryside. Now, Bible School students have gone there to tell them about Jesus. Know what? Many believed, including the chief of that whole region. Now they are all invited to come teach, hold their own Bible School, and establish churches among the Mozambique people. Amazing. After that visit, my brother slogged up to Uganda, to the islands of Lake Victoria. 84 little dots on a lake nearly the size of Superior house fishing camps - the absolute dregs of the earth. There exists no sanitation, no electricity, no running water, no decent buildings, and absolutely no morals. The society of those outpost-ers resembles "the Lord of the Flies" meets "Night of the Living Dead". Violence and raging promiscuity are the norm. Aids infects over 90% of the 40,000 or so huddling there. Dave's missionary friend chose those stinking islands as the place to carry the story of Jesus and His forgiveness of sins. And, after some very hard - ridiculously hard - years, God is transforming hearts and raising up evangelists from among those very HIV infested fishermen. Churches are being established. The light of the gospel is transforming that hell-hole. I asked about the missionary couple: in their late 30's, been just looking around for what the Lord had for them, when they found the islands, they just knew. My brother spoke longingly about his time in Africa, and about going back. Maybe when he retires from his pastorate. That's when I said... I made a movie.

The words echoed in my brain like an empty gymnasium. Suddenly, getting up at 5:30 every day for 2 months to get the day's shooting done, doesn't sound all that important. Working 14 to 20 hour days to try to stay on budget, sounds like the worst kind of tiny-minded ego trip. Arguing with my editor about which lines to cut and how loud to play the music, sounds ridiculous. Indeed, the entire 2 year project suddenly looks perfectly trivial next to investing one's life in 40,000 vile fishermen to bring them the eternal hope of the gospel. It doesn't seem to matter at all compared to bringing the message of hope in Christ to an entire nation where hope was extinguished long ago. I made a movie? So... freakin'... what!

But, sitting there in my pool of self doubt, a couple thoughts floated to the surface like... well, nevermind. First, the Lord Himself worked some pretty incredible miracles before I ever found myself in position to make a movie. He doesn't strike me as one to waste miracles. Secondly, I'm 57 years old. I will never admit this to anyone - only all of you - but I'm a weak old man. Never intended to be, but here I am. I can't go to Africa and live off the land like some Tarzan guy. But... I can make a movie. God equipped me to make a movie. God gave me experience right for making a movie. God provided funding for me to make a movie. God brought together talent, crew, gave me a story... you could say that - this whole movie; God himself did.

So, here's what I learned from listening to my brother. Those missionaries aren't changing lives in Africa, God is. I didn't make a movie, God did. God is doing some amazingly wonderful things in Africa. He is also doing some wonderful things here in Tulsa. God is making his salvation known in Africa by the means that works best there. He is making the same salvation known in Tulsa, but in different ways: one of which is the movie He made called Treasure Blind. Pray for Africa. Pray for Treasure Blind. And give God credit for both. Then, go to , where you can actually buy the movie God made for only $19.95.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

The Brave, The Few, The Movie Makers

I just came from a lunch meeting with a young budding film maker who makes me seriously consider slinking back into my work-a-day world and forgetting about this silly dream of being a movie maker. Why? Because this kid was way smarter than me, he's a stone's throw from getting his MFA in film, he's talented with a camera, has a good eye, has great ideas for smart, earthy stories, is gaining experience every day, and he's a kid! And what's most amazing, at lunch, he was asking me for advice since I have written one - count 'em - one screenplay and directed as many movies. He was looking to me as an expert on the basis of that meager experience. I, of course, cleared my constricting throat and tried my best to sound erudite in my stammering responses, all the while feeling like a complete phony. This isn't the first time either. I have been asked to speak to groups, some in other towns, as a movie producer/director as though I had something important to say simply because I was the guy who said "Action" for a few weeks. Surely these people know down deep that I'm really just a regular schmo who was blessed with a really great opportunity. If anything, they should be asking, "How in the world did you get to do something so fun? It's not fair."

As I think about it though, if we who have been so blessed as to have made a movie will just turn the shiny privilege over, we'll discover a responsibility attached to it. In persevering from pre-production to premier, we have in fact ventured where most have only dreamed of going. It is not nothing. It makes us members of an elite family, and our experience, however mundane and understandable in our honest hindsight, is in fact valuable to those who still dream of the journey. In fact, most will only dream and state intentions, but never venture out of the safety of the coffee shop debate. So, to all who find ourselves looking back at the journey, kudos, my daring comrades! Know that the journey is the value you have to offer. Offer it humbly, because you know how blessed you are, but offer it confidently, because you have bested its perils and completed it. Encourage everyone, knowing that only a few will actually follow.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

What an Idiot!

I want to give voice to my excitement in being accepted into Barebones. However, honesty forces me to admit that until recently, I would look down my Beverly Hills Playhouse-trained nose at the Barebones International Film Festival in Muskogee Oklahoma. Who would even apply? Being accepted would be like admitting that your movie... no, that you are a loser. "Go back to your cubicle and eek out your meager living you artless leming. Your movie is in Barebones! Hah!"

I continue to be amazed at how much more I knew about the black art of movie making before I actually made one. And not only was I more skilled and knowledgable back then, I was quite confident of my critique of other movies - even the big boys. "O, Shamalama-ding-dong camped out way too long on that water glass thing in Signs, ya know? I mean come on, does he think I'm stupid? I get it already. What an idiot!" Or, "That's not James Bond. Campbell's missed the whole concept. What an idiot!"

Then came my own movie, Treasure Blind. My ego went from inflated to realistic to wounded to groveling in about a week. It was great character training, but hard on one's self esteem. I now tip my hat to each and every film maker for the audacity to think that they could do better than all these other idiots, and then having the character to forge ahead and finish when it became obvious that those other idiots were really very good. Congratulations for completing one of life's toughest lessons: making a movie. Or, the alternate title might be, Executed Shot by Shot.

Anyway, on this side of the lesson, I'm now humbled and excited to have been accepted into the fine international film festival, Barebones, and I hope to at least get some positive press from the reviewers to use in my on going search for a distributor. My only fear now is that those reviewers may have never made a movie, and will therefore know so much more than you or me. We're idiots!