A Dreamer Walking

Turning 30!

Posted in Personal Philosophy by Jacob on November 4, 2019

I’m at another milestone. I’m 30. Just turned it yesterday. I made the mistake of looking back at a blog I wrote 9 years ago when turning 21. HOLY COW! I was talking about feeling like I don’t have much time then?!?! And now, with hardly any big achievement to attach my name to I am nine years older. Maybe the best choice now is to give up. This whole, “follow your dream” thing is just not working out very well…

Sorry, I’m being a little facetious. In all honesty, I’ve hardly ever considered giving up. This dream I have is just too precious. Sure, there have been times where I haven’t seen my direction as clearly. There have been times where I’ve slowed way down. And, there was once a time I really did think about dropping a big part of my dream because the weight felt too heavy to bear. Yet, one of the things I am most proud about is my ability to get back up and continue to plug away.

A good question might be, if you have been pursuing your dream all this time why the hell are you not farther at such an old age? Well first of all, my parents would be offended; I’m not that old! And sure, it would be nice to be working on bigger projects, getting some recognition, or at the very least living on my own by now. But despite the fact none of these things have happened, I actually feel a weird sense of accomplishment at this point in my life.

It hit me when reading my “Turning 21” piece that I don’t feel the sense of time going by as quickly as I once did. I feel like I am where I am supposed to be. The reason for this? Well, because I have not been dawdling. If there is such a thing as being cinematically ripped, I’m that. I know this comes across a bit pretentious, but I think this blog speaks for itself. I know cinema. I understand the nuances to what creates great story.

Even now, when my time is spent working on writing scripts, filming and editing projects, and working a thirty five hour a week job, I have continued to build my knowledge on cinema. I keep track of my hours and I still average about 10 hours a week studying. The notes I have are countless. The books filled with highlights and the in-depth analysis on films, along with a continual dedication to looking into the corners of the world of cinema is something I am extremely proud of. (I SWEAR one of these days I will even dive into the French New Wave).

One of the reasons I am hovering over this part so much is because most of the work is NEVER SEEN! I don’t really need it to be seen. I am fine never having anyone read the 25+ notebooks filled with notes on commentaries, interviews, and “making of” documentaries. I am okay with people thinking I just listen to music rather than listening to countless hours of downloaded film and story analysis. They don’t need to know the details. But, selfishly I wish they could be impressed by the effort a little. You know, like those people at the gym who drool over the guy who adds the extra twenty pounds to each side and can still pull off the lift like it’s nothing. Or at the very least, a recognition from those who think I have been twiddling my thumbs, that this type of “exercise” takes its toll, even though it has its benefits in the long run.

The reality is if I were simply doing film studies these days you would have great cause for concern. Luckily my 20’s have witnessed some other developments. I have started to actually film projects these last five years. In fact, I’ve managed to work on A LOT of projects. The only issue: very few have been published and the ones that were haven’t gotten the traction they deserve. Yes, I have some responsibility in not marketing my own work, or at the very least not partnering with people that market well. Yet, there are more than a few examples where when I provided a high quality product the producers failed to do their job. What can I say, small towns aren’t made for marketing film.

The inability to finalize three documentary passion projects has been the biggest disappointment of my magnificent 20’s. I would love to have someone else to blame. I do wish I had more help in the trenches. But the man with the vision is the man who is responsible to lift the dream off the ground and get it across the finish line. Who knew dreams were so heavy? They are important stories to tell, covering some fascinating people and difficult situations. And I am still determined to get these projects done.

The reason I bring up these projects is not to simply complain. Due to the personal nature of these projects, and never having enough money, I’ve needed to participate in each aspect of production. I have been the director, shooter, and editor of most of the pieces I’ve worked on. The lens stopped being a figurative symbol to me. Instead it’s become a physical tool I needed to figure out in order to produce images equal to those I’ve written so much about. Putting the concepts explored on this blog into physical practice has been a crucial stepping stone.

After excelling in the use of the physical process of filmmaking these last few years I chose to try to tackle the thing that scared me the most in the film business… WRITING! Um… you have cause to be confused here. I mean, you can accurately say, “Isn’t that one of the first things you managed to tackle?” “I mean isn’t “writing” what this blog is all about?” “Aren’t you writing at this VERY MOMENT?!”… :/ … You might be on to something there. Yet, though I have been willing to publish these pieces through the last ten years, I have never counted myself a good enough writer to express myself in a professional way. At least, I have not counted myself strong enough in the form of writing to bring my actual stories to life. Of course, I am now talking about screenwriting.

Screenwriting has been the most intimidating aspect of all of cinema for me. Like some of my great influences in the medium of film – such as Pete Docter, Martin Scorsese, or Steven Spielberg – I thought maybe I could get away with never really needing to know how to write scripts. I could just find someone to do it for me. It’s fair to say I have just as much of an excuse as any of them. I have been clinically diagnosed with dyslexia and you will hardly be able to find a dyslexic who is known for their magnificent writing skills. It does happen, but dyslexia is a medically diagnosed reading disorder where translating their natural visual thinking into the written word is extremely difficult. I’m embarrassed even now. Despite looking through and editing these pieces multiple times before publishing them there are constantly [ ] I end up missing. The whole challenge of figuring out when to use “then” rather then “than” has proven to be the bane of my existence….Case in point.

Despite this struggle, or maybe because of it, this last year I decided to challenge myself and see if I could write a script for one of my story ideas. After a solid 30 page story I decided to go even bigger. I’m proud to say I have finished a very strong first draft of a feature script and am in the middle of writing my second feature. Figuring out a way to use a weakness – such as the struggle to write well – and turn it into a strength has not been easy. But the sharpening of my writing skills through this blog and my dedication to thinking in great detail about the themes and nuances of my stories, have produced scripts I can genuinely say I am proud of. And even more importantly, this new found skill has given me yet another way to find success in the film industry.

These three ventures during my 20’s – developing my knowledge of cinema, applying those insights into the physically shooting and editing of film, and forcing myself to overcome my reading and writing struggles to literally produce scripts for my stories – have all been indescribably helpful in allowing me to pursue this great dream I keep talking to you guys about. Yet, what towers over everything can hardly be described as anything to do with storytelling or cinema. Or, maybe I could describe it as having everything to do with those things. The magic sauce in any good story or profound image is the ability to translate one’s life experience into one’s work.

As Akira Kurosawa put it, “I’ve forgotten who it was that said creation is memory. My own experiences and the various things I have read remain in my memory and become the basis upon which I create something new. I couldn’t do it out of nothing.” The man is right. The life experiences I’ve had in my twenties are vast and deep. I walked with a friend through his struggles with alcoholism and deep depression. I acted as a meditator and person of council over the past six years as my parents processed through divorce. And, I have tried my best to be a strong mentor for my younger sister who just now is starting high school.

The amount others have walked with me through my struggles is significant as well. I’ve faced three significant surgeries: open heart, wrist surgery, and a hip replacement (I swear I’m only 30). Without the kindness of family and friends I would have been homeless multiple times. And then there is the toll of the vision. Something I couldn’t possibly bear all by myself. These life experiences are the building blocks of great storytelling. Having the the type of people who allow you to examine yourself rather than close yourself off, makes all the difference.

There you are. My short argument for why these last few years have not been a waste. Why my 21 year old self was not completely right about his insistence on getting on with making movies and becoming famous. Success in the film industry needs to happen simply as a way to get some of my bigger ideas off the ground. I’m not in this in order to become famous or rich. I am in this because I absolutely must figure out a way to tell these stories. All this said, I do feel with my 30’s comes the need to take the next step. I am ready to break through.

What must happen next is the thing I am most scared of. You may find this funny, seeing how much time I just put into arguing my case for being prepared. But I do not see preparedness as a direct correlation to success. There are aspects of this “movie making” thing I don’t know if I can figure out. The biggest one being the ability to show my worth to the right people. How do you get that right producer to check out your script? How do you promote a documentary piece so it will be given funding? What does one need to do in order to have his well researched and thought out insights on film, read by a broader audience?

I’ve put so much time into preparing myself for this journey. Yet studying film, developing projects, and writing scripts is NOT enough. Simply doing those things would be a waste if I don’t eventually have others with whom to share the vision. I believe now is the time to forge those relationships. I have been standing on this edge long enough. Studying its terrain and building up strength to fly. Heck, the view is magnificent. But I have not been called to only be an observer of the view.  I will never forget the path that has lead me here. But the vision is calling me and now is the time to leap. Now is the time to demand recognition and cast the vision so others will contribute. In some ways how this happens is still to be figured out. Yet the fear of not knowing enough or having a strong enough vision is gone. It is time.

Production Log – The WALL

Posted in Personal Philosophy, Production Log by Jacob on February 6, 2019

A great number of artists who are asked about creative blocks simply say, “I don’t let it happen to me”. And of course my first instinct is to call BS. Everyone gets creative blocks. You know, that wall stopping you from seeing any solution to your story? At this very second it’s looming over me, taunting me for my profound lack of inspiration. I am in the middle of a very difficult sequences for my documentary. I will be sending this edit out to people who can have a huge influence on whether I get funding for the project and I need to make a great first impression. The core idea is there. I know I have the characters and moments to make something wonderful. The dilemma is to be able to connect the dots, so one moment builds into another and each character is fully realized.

Honestly, I feel like screaming and throwing my head in the ground. My current solution of simply staring at the screen, doesn’t seem to be much healthier of an option. Neither is working on an edit when I know I don’t have a strong direction to take. The brain needs a break sometimes.

The mind is an interesting thing. We actually don’t do our best thinking when we force our brain to go specific directions. Left to its natural tendencies, the brain will choose the easy way out. When you combine that with our over stimulated world we live in, creativity can be completely choked out. What happens when we are pushing ahead is we usually follow a specific route that ends up being far more instinctual than inspirational. Rote memory and planned layouts are what most mind’s want to rely on. Technology only helps us with that laid out path. Heck, when writing emails now my computer gives me suggestions for my next several words. Ironically one of the greatest defenses I have to this layed out world set before me is my dyslexia. Dyslexics struggle with rote memory. We usually take twice as long to understand how to follow a step by step process or memorize a planned layout. To put it simply, dyslexic’s mind’s can’t stay focused as easily. We want to break away, try to connect dots that sometimes are just not there.

There are times where the wondering brain finds an unnoticed solution to a problem. There is a reason 20% of entrepreneurs are dyslexic, despite their struggle in the school system and the fact dyslexics make up only 10% of the population. Not every idea an entrepreneur comes up with succeeds. In fact, if you ask them they would tell you most fail. Yet if an entrepreneur comes up with one great innovation out of 10, they can be extremely successful. There is a reason some of the great creative minds in our history were considered to be dyslexic, this includes Albert Einstein, Pablo Picasso, and Steven Spielberg. Spielberg particularly has spoken about the numerous ways his dyslexic tendencies have helped him as an artist. Few know however, they almost got him thrown out of the film business entirely. At one point in his career Spielberg was known for going over budget and way over schedule with his film productions. The most famous example was Jaws, where a planned 55 day production schedule ended up taking 157 days. Granted, this had a great deal to do with a malfunctioning shark, but his next two films, Close Encounters and 1941, were also way past schedule and budget. His crew talked about how Spielberg kept getting new ideas for scenes. Mid way through shooting a scene he would think of a better way to shoot it. One could only imagine how hard it was to keep up with the constant bouncing around of the man’s imagination.

One thing you may be feeling at this moment is I’m getting away from the original point of this post. I mean, how is Spielberg going over schedule the same thing as me not being able to get past my most recent creative wall. I must say, this is a brilliant example of just how my dyslexia tends to work. My English major mother, who homeschooled me, would have a permanent palm mark seared on her forehead from the amount of times I would simply make a leap from one paragraph to another with no explanation on how I got from one destination to another. This really is what leads to the most devastating creative blocks for me. I need to be able to connect my narrative for my audience. It doesn’t matter how great my idea is, or even how many great ideas I have, if I am not able to walk one through my journey I’m sunk. Spielberg was lucky to have multiple creative colleagues to hold his hand, the greatest counter to his creative leaps is his editor, Michael Kahn.

To get to my main point, creative walls can be described as anything keeping you away from telling your story. With Spielberg his overlong productions were getting in the way of telling his best stories. 1941 is a huge narrative and tonal mess, due to Spielberg losing sight of where the heart of his film was. With his next film, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Producer and good friend George Lucas made Spielberg promise he would produce the film on schedule and on budget. And with far more action and many more locations than Jaws, Spielberg shot the movie in 73 days. Did he need to sacrifice his creativity for this? Well, I wouldn’t suggest that to the millions of fans who consider Raiders to be one of the greatest action films of all time.

So what is it? Does one just need to bypass their creative walls by forcing themselves to stay on schedule? Or is needing to acknowledge the block part of being creative? The reason I write these things is to figure out the answers myself. I believe Spielberg found a balance. Though most of his production schedules are quite short these days Spielberg does still use techniques to give himself time to take a break and allow that wandering mind of his to work.

One of my favorite stories of Spielberg’s was when he was asked why he edited his movies on film for so long. Where most filmmakers went digital in the mid to late 90’s, Spielberg was editing with scissors and celluloid during Lincoln, which came out in 2012. He said after watching a scene he would always have edits for Kahn to make. He would point two to three things out and then take a walk. Twenty minutes later he’d come back and they’d go over the next problem. When editing on a computer Spielberg would go through a similar scene. He’d make his suggestions, pointing out two to three things, and before he even got up the edits would be done, the editor ready to move on. The big difference was due to the immediate nature of digital editing Spielberg didn’t have time to wonder. He didn’t have time to search out those suggestions he’d made in his head and explore potential creative ways to solve the next ones.

We have a greater ability now, than ever before, to stay stimulated. We live in a world of instant gratification where if you run into a wall you can simply look up an app for how to get through it or around it. But what if the point of creativity is climbing those walls? What if the wall itself is one of the most crucial aspects to creativity? Following a laid out route is easier, but I believe the crucial ingredient to creativity is the new. The new is inherently difficult to embrace. I have run into numerous problems in my stories, I have done enough research to know ways to get through the problems. Yet, when I try to simply get through the problem I end up neglecting the nuance of the situation. My characters in my stories have similarities to characters I’ve seen in the past, but they are not the exact same. There is a great difference between inspiration and imitation. The techniques I use to connect the narratives and build upon moments, have been inspired by my studies into other great filmmakers, but I’d be doing a great disservice to my story if I simply copied them.

True inspiration comes from facing the WALL. The wall simply represents the unknown. It represents those aspects that are unique about your characters and your story’s arc. I understand the temptation to bypass the unknown for the familiar, but storytelling’ lifeblood comes from the unique aspects you bring. Embrace those things. Then you must figure out the path. As the creator, you are there not only to find the new place but also build the path. This is such a difficult dilemma since these two aspects rarely compliment each other. Yet one of the most brilliant aspects of filmmaking is the collaborative nature of the artform. You don’t need to be great at everything, you simply need to find the people to understand the vision and help get us there.

(This is a new series I am going to be doing as a way to avoid getting back to the heavy lifting of finishing my Paxson Documentary.)

 

 

The Written Word

Posted in Personal Philosophy by Jacob on July 29, 2018

I can’t tell you how many posts I’ve started saying how I’m going to resurrect this thing. Heck, I even ended up posting a few updates where I naively proclaimed, “I’m Back!!!”. Yet compared to where I was in the golden day of blogging, averaging one to two blogs a week, I’m nowhere close. There are 101 unfinished drafts for this blog. What a waist of words! You must understand however, the goal never was to get popular and have the masses read my words. I’m not ashamed to admit blog popularity was never the goal.

Being open to public scrutiny was the main reason I published my work. I wanted to tie down the numerous ideas and philosophies I was researching about cinema.  A strong persuasive essay requires a clear thesis backed by research and in-depth perspective. And in the end you must be able to present, in a clear and potent way, a conclusion you believe in. In essence this blog was a testing device, to see just how much of the things I was researching were being digested. Not just so I knew them, but so I could express them to others in my future filmmaking career.

Writing was never something I felt led to do. And due to my dyslexia it’s always come at a huge mental and emotional cost. I think in pictures. Visual language is what has always come naturally to me. So needing express myself in code – where the ideas and philosophies are entangled in this complex network of the written word – has never felt satisfying. I always know I could say it better. Yet, the written word does have it’s positives. Compared to the messy nature of capturing images, writing allows me far more control over my narratives. Each word can have a precise meaning, so I can have more surgical control over the points I make. Needing to translate the images in my head into a different type of language is also valuable. I even feel capable enough to write a screenplay, something even the greatest dyslexics in my profession, Steven Spielberg, Joe Wright, and Martin Scorsese, never had much confidence in.

The bottom line is I will always struggle to get each word out there, especially in a way that makes everything come together. I just looked up to my top paragraph and am racking my brain on how to tie everything up, so what I started out saying can connect to the thoughts coming out of my head now. Lets face it, this post is in dangerous territory of becoming number 102 of the forgotten drafts. But I am writing here and now to articulate how important I believe it is to continue with things you are not always comfortable doing. Learning in the way of the written word is healthy even for a dyslexic like me. Not because I think I will ever become the greatest writer. But rather, because writing still is a unique way of communicating; bringing insights and forcing discipline in a way I would not be able to through more natural formats.

Today I won’t say, “I’m back”. Writing on this blog could still be a “once in a blue moon” thing. But I am making the commitment to continue to throw those letters out there and force them into tangible words, and those words into tangible sentences. They may simply belong to the stories I am developing or scripts I’m writing. But, who knows, some of them may continue to end up on this site, exploring the ideas and philosophies of the visual medium I love so much. No matter where they go, this blog and those who support it, have been the reason I feel confident in any of my writings today. For that I am very thankful.

Say Something!!!

Posted in Personal Philosophy by Jacob on December 18, 2016

The greatest mistake the educated make is believing our intellect produces meaning. By itself, intellect is empty. Infact, from my experience my intellect often tries to get in the way of meaning. Far too often what is valued the most is the way something is written or a painting rendered. We become so caught up on the ecstatics we neglect to see the shallowness of what is being said.

When it came to the visual arts, I was a natural talent. I was able to draw better than most in my class and I was fantastic at composing a shot. There are few who like talking composition or lighting more than me when it comes to filming. Honestly, a good portion of my blog is about speaking about brilliant compositions or ways artists apply the tools of their trade. If you look far enough back, you can see pieces of photography I did. I consider a good portion of them well done for my age and yet looking back on them they seem to be missing any kind of substance. They are simply pretty pictures I took strictly on a conceptual level.

When it came to writing, I was a hot mess. I’ve already explained it many times, but holy crap did I suck. There was no understanding of grammar, spelling, or structure. Even now there is no distinct style to the way I write. You can easily call my writing straightforward and at times… boring. However, my senior year of highschool I had a teacher who insisted my writing had a huge amount of potential. The reason had nothing to do with spelling or grammar. She simply told me she felt I had something worth saying.

Because I could not rely on my natural skill as a writer I was forced to find motivation through what I was writing. As a dyslexic I find writing to be emotionally, mentally, and at time even physically taxing. So there needed to be a purpose to every essay I forced my hands to type. And as you can see in this blog, I found a purpose. I was able to put writing in the place any medium of art belongs, strictly as a tool to express myself.

Our thoughts, ideas, and convictions are what art is really about. Who we are is what we must express to the world. When it comes to working with the camera it’s much harder for me to realize this notion. I make the mistake of thinking the way I choose to frame a picture or control the light is what makes my work stand out. And I’m not alone. I can’t tell you how excited my fellow peers get when they see a new camera or are able to use a new visual effect. Just look how many different types of materials Leonardo da Vinci experimented with. It’s only natural for the artist  to appreciate his instrument. Yet the goal can never be to create a piece in order to highlight the tool you are using. The goal to art is to say something; to create something which takes on a life of it’s own.

Nothing disguises meaninglessness more than a pretty picture. I was fooled by my own talent in the visual arts. Writings greatest gift to me could easily be the humbling experience of being bad. With every word I am forced to think about the actual reasons behind what is being said. In today’s world we have more powerful tools to express ourselves than ever before. Let us dare to say something with these tools.

 

I’m Back!!!

Posted in Personal Philosophy by Jacob on December 11, 2016

How to start…

I have been blogging for a long time. For those who once followed this blog, you might know the reason is due to the fact that I once used this as a testing device for my education. I wanted to study filmmaking and found traditional education lacking. There were many reasons for this, but the greatest reason was the education system didn’t know how to handle me very well… nor I it.

What I ended up doing was studying on my own. I chose to self educate and use this blog as a testing device. Though mostly due to my dyslexia I consider writing akin to stabbing oneself with a pencil a million times, my English Teacher of a mother taught me writing was also one of the best ways to test if you really understood a subject. In order to create a good essay you need to grab your audience’s attention with how you introduce your subject. You must be able to support your argument in the body of your essay. And in the end you must be to bring everything together and come to a conclusion worthy of an audience’s efforts in taking the time to read your piece.

Now I won’t argue I was good at any of this stuff when I first started (nor much better now…:/), however I was convinced I had a view worth exploring. And though this has never been the most popular blog, I consider the 270 entries I’ve so far written to be one of my greatest achievements. This blog represents my journey in understanding both the medium I love and my personal voice.

My journey however eventually took me in another direction. Instead of being stuck with the unnatural obligation of writing each week, I replaced the pen with a lens and began to actually put all my developped views to the test. I returned to college for the purpose of applying what I had already learned. In the process I made the discovery that learning should never have an end. I am proud of the connections I’ve made in college and consider many students and professors critical to furthering my education. Yet the journey to actually producing my own material in the medium I love, has begun. And I’ve given myself little time to write about it.

This is where this specific blog entry comes in. I wanted to acknowledge I’ve been gone for a while and avoided an aspect of my education I consider to be more difficult. My plan is to start writing consistently again. Honestly, I’ve tried to write many things the last few months, but as you can see they haven’t been able to make it to the finish line yet. There is a curtain excitement that comes with hitting the “publish” button. It’s that idea you consider your work worthy enough to be experienced and scrutinized over. I can not promise to create the kind of material I was at the hight of my writing career (if I had one of those ;), but the bottom line is I want to start to test myself in this way again.

Writing is a beautiful artform. It has helped me in so many ways become a better filmmaker. Through writing I’ve discovered my identity as an artist and a human being. My hope is I can continue to discover new things about myself and filmmaking through the continuation of this blog…and maybe even give you something worth thinking about.

My Hero

Posted in Personal Philosophy by Jacob on March 12, 2015

This is my fourth attempt. Maybe it’s because I didn’t really have a good outline. But I know I don’t really believe that. Outlines have never been much use to me. But, most of the teachers in my life didn’t really care to understand how I learned. For most of my teachers, writing always needed to follow a specific process which I was never able to walk out well. Honestly, it is pretty crazy I can write in any kind of legible way, at all.

If I am going to accomplish this unsung hero paper I think I need to throw the rules out the window. I am not going to concentrate on a thesis. I am not going to follow an outline. And, I am not going to give a crap about whether or not I am using proper grammar… wait a second… okay, out of respect to my unsung hero, I will try to use proper grammar. The bottom line is, the only teacher in my life who got through to me about how to write a proper paper and express my ideas in a comprehensible way, was my Mom.

My Mother homeschooled me for the first thirteen years of my life. Sadly after telling people this I have a huge urge to explain exactly what “homeschool” was for me. I get this feeling few people have respect for the concept. Let me explain in the best way I know how. When I eventually entered the public school system my mother taught English at my high school. My older brother and I would have friends come to us and ask how we could possibly survive living at home with the monster we called, “mother”. She was a taskmaster in the classroom and she bled all over the papers her students turned in.

Yes, I know I need to explain, “bled”.

So let’s start with the origin story. One of the great unsung hero’s in my mother’s life when growing up was her Grandmother. Great Grandma Ferguson was not the typical kindhearted grandma who always had fresh baked cookies when you came to visit. She was an independent woman who wanted to do something valuable in the world at a time when society said her job was to stay at home and take care of her house and family. World War II allowed her to break away from traditional roles. She taught English in North Dakota after she was married and had her own children. When she and her family moved to Montana she worked outside the home and opened a woman’s sweater shop. Great Grandma had an expectation for excellence and the determination to contribute to society which she wanted to pass on to those she cared about the most, such as her granddaughters.

My mom told me about the times she used to send letters to her Grandma. Where the typical Grandmother would take the letter and post it on the fridge or tuck it away in a treasured envelope, my Great Grandma would send them back… corrected. She would write all over my mother’s page, pointing out the grammar errors and suggesting ways to make the piece of writing stronger. This instilled a passion in my Mom that she has since passed on to me– the desire to express herself well. Where many would simply give up and stop writing, my mom became bound and determined to become a better writer. It’s no surprise she went on to teach English. She has always claimed she wasn’t the greatest at English, but my Great Grandmother instilled something in my Mother I believe she wanted to share with others.

So now we get back to the blood. When correcting papers my mother uses a red ink pen. She covers each page with notes and corrections and then sometimes has the gall to say, “You did well”. No wonder she became known as a “taskmaster”. I told most of the students who complained to me that the red ink was from the actual blood of her veins. I always felt the red pen was used for dramatic effect and when you first look at her corrections one does feel quite overwhelmed. Most students felt my Mom graded their papers too harshly. Those who were used to getting “A’s” on all their papers began to realize my Mom required more than proper grammar and correct mechanics. I remember her going over dozens of papers and spending forty-five minutes to an hour grading each one. She graded content, dictation, organization, and style. Now, imagine all this dedication going to just four students rather than dozens. That is how homeschool felt for my siblings and me.

Sure there were weak areas where my mother wasn’t the greatest teacher. However, by no means did we get away with being lazy. When homeschooling during my grade school and middle school years my mother concentrated less on English and more on developing a sense of independence in her children. She encouraged us to work in the areas we were strongest. She quickly realized all my siblings learned differently. She knew an hour of physical activity was necessary for my older brother if she wanted him on task when sitting down for math later in the day. She knew some one-on-one time with my little brother would make him more enthusiastic about spelling afterword. She understood I would be much better at understanding material if I verbally talked about it rather than simply read about it in a book. For some reason my Mom gave us extra time during recess when we wanted to continue playing pretend. Little did I know at the time, but playing pretend would do more to get me started on a career path than any class I ever took. Suffice to say, I left home feeling confident in myself, understanding I had many gifts to give the world.

You would think we would be fully ready for public school when it came around. My first year out of the house was 8th grade. I need to admit, my 8th grade year is in hot contention for being the worst year of my life. The problem was I didn’t know how to play by the system’s rules. It didn’t take long for the school system to decide there was something wrong with me. Actually, three out of my mother’s four older children were diagnosed by the school system as dyslexic. Because my siblings and I had a difficult time with reading and spelling we were immediately considered as less then. I was put into a class for the mentally challenged. Every minute felt like a bombardment of patronizing explanations from my teachers. My counselors spoke to me like I was some kind of lazy drug addict who didn’t know how to put one foot in front of the other.

My Mother would constantly meet with counselors and teachers to explain exactly what “dyslexia” meant. Unlike the vast majority of the teachers, mom did her homework when her children were diagnosed. She quickly realized dyslexia was NOT a disability. Rather it was simply a different way of thinking. She constantly needed to explain to teachers her kids did not need to be given easier material or be treated as if they were less than. What was needed was an understanding that dyslexics don’t think linguistically as much as they do visually, interpersonally, bodily kinesthetically, verbally, and aurally. When she spoke with my History teacher about my dyslexia and was bluntly told, “I don’t think your son has the capacity to understand my material”, my mom knew she needed to step in.

I was desperate to get out of the system. When I asked if my mother would consider homeschooling me my senior year, she jumped at the opportunity. What she didn’t realize was she was speaking to a kid who went through four years of mental abuse by the school system and wasn’t interested in traditional education. Not only did she need to deal with an insecure kid who questioned everything having to do with formal education, she also needed to deal with a school system and a father who felt she was making a major mistake. In fact, my grandfather told her quite bluntly she would be ruining my life if she chose to homeschool me again.

All this is what makes my Mother the hero I am determined to one day have the world recognize. It’s a moment you usually only see in the movies. The time when everyone else says it can’t be done. When the person who needs to be saved is all but gone. It’s here my mom came into my life and changed it forever. I went from a D grade student who didn’t know how to write a proper sentence to a 3.5 GPA college student who is now blessing you with the masterful piece of writing you see before you. My mom did not teach me by demanding I play by her tune or the school system’s tune. She worked tirelessly to figure out how I thought and what I felt. And, she used my strengths to build upon my weaknesses.

My mother gave me my voice. For this I am eternally grateful. The most unbelievable part is she is willing to do for all her student what she did for me. She devotes her blood, sweat, and tears to helping others learn who they are and how to express themselves. Sadly, in the vast majority of cases all she gets in return are frustrated students who feel she is too tough on grades. I can hardly stand it. But my mom, well, for her it is not about praise. The true hero only has one goal, and that is to help the other. I know of no person who helps others better than my Mom.

Free Film School!

Posted in Uncategorized by Jacob on August 4, 2014

I am sad to announce I am taking a blog break. I know it probably looks like I already took a blog break. I mean come on! I was on such a role for a while posting a paper every week or less for several months. But then summer came. The time I was supposed to be the least busy I ended up doing a bunch of things. Only half of the stuff I ended up doing was really productive, but the bottom line is I have really let down the few followers I have for this blog and I do apologize for that.

So I will be taking the rest of the month off and then try to maintain a post a week from the beginning of September to the foreseeable future. I thought I would leave you guys however with a bunch of links to really productive information and study material for those interested in the foundations of film and storytelling.

Filmmaking:

  • Cinephilia and Beyond: This might be the most valuable resource out there for all things film. Cinephilia is on a unstoppable mission to find as many interviews, articles, and documentaries on filmmaking around the internet. If you have a particular filmmaker in mind just do a search on Cinephilia’s site and you will most likely find a huge archive of information. P.S. you should also follow Cinephilia on Twitter!
  • DP/30: My advice is for you go get a pen and paper and start taking notes on interviews. David Poland has been able to accumulate hundreds of hours worth of interviews of some of the biggest names out there. His subjects range from actors, writers, directors, and sometimes a popular Cinematographer or Editor. Because of the length of his interviews (majority of them going 30 min or longer) Poland is able to go into much more depth then an average interview has time for. Poland studied filmmaking in collage and has a deep knowledge of it’s history which only helps raise his interviews to another level.
  • The Treatment: Elvis Mitchell is yet another great interviewer who is determined to go beyond the common insights a writer or director gives in most of their interviews. You can also find Elvis’ more recent interviews free on iTunes.
  • 35 MM: Here is a Vimeo group that collects tones of Vimeo videos dealing with film. These are a little more hit-or-miss but there are certainly some gems worth looking into.
  • Steven Benedict Podcast: How this guy isn’t known by every cinephile out there is beyond me. Though considerably short compared to other material I linked to, Benedict is a true student of film and gives deep insights on each one of the movies he goes into. My suggestion is you download his podcasts on iTunes and listen to them while on your way to work or something.
  • [micro] TUTORIALS: Here you can find a vast archive of film production tutorials. [micro] is determined to provide you with a wealthy amount of free information to get started in digital filmmaking. Their subject matter ranges from pre-production through post-production and will give the beginning film student many hours worth of material to study in order to make his or her first film.

Animation:

  • Deja View: This is the sight of the famous animator Andreas Deja. His knowledge of animation history (especially Disney’s history) is superb. As the lead animator for classic characters like Jafar from Aladdin, Scare from The Lion King, and Lilo from Lilo and Stitch its obvious he has a vast understanding of the principles of animation and with everyone of his posts he goes into more and more detail about those principles and the animators responsible for creating them.
  • Temple of The Seven Golden Camels: The author of this blog, Mark Kennedy, is a storyboard artist for Disney Animation. Unlike most animator blogs I visit, Kennedy is determined to go into detail about the nuances of telling good stories. His focus usually is storyboarding which basically means he goes into all kinds of different principles of animation- staging, costuming, action, design, etc… Though sometimes long winded it’s obvious Kennedy knows his subject matter and he provides valuable insight in each one of his posts.
  • Splog: Sadly this blog hasn’t been updated since February. However, I am sure you will find enough in the archives to keep you busy for several months. Michael Sporn and his artists give a much more well rounded example of the history of Animation and many of the blog’s posts go into great detail about well known and long lost pieces of animation through out it’s rich history.
  • Podcasts: Rather then pick one of these I thought I would just link to several of them. Here are several valuable podcasts on animation I have listened to through out the years. Each one features interviews of people working in the field of animation and are quite valuable for anyone interested in going into the field themselves. I will post the links to their sites but the majority of the podcasts can be found also on iTunes. 1. The Animation Podcast 2. Spline Doctors 3. Speaking of Animation 4. iAnimate.

Writing:

  • Writing Excuses: Each fifteen minute podcast carries a wealth of information about writing and story structure. The podcast is also extremely entertaining and quite humerus. The four hosts are all well known authors and have a great chemistry with each other. They are usually able to cover a lot of ground with the little time they have. The podcast has also been around since 2008 and thus has a huge archive. I suggest you subscribe to their iTunes page; they post a podcast consistently every week.
  • The Q&A with Jeff Goldsmith: Here you will find interviews all kinds of writers across the medium of film. Jeff Goldsmith is a wonderful interviewer with a great upbeat attitude. Best of all is he knows story and the questions he asks are always informative and allow us deeper into the creation process. His lengthy archive can be found on iTunes as well.
  • Scriptnotes: John August and Craig Mazin are two established screenwriters in Hollywood and every week come out with a full hour long podcast covering all things writing. The two personalities work wonderfully with each other and they also at times have guests who share their personal insights on how to be a screenwriter in the daunting world of Hollywood. Not only do these guys have good screenwriting advice they go into the politics of working in Hollywood. Here is the link to their iTunes page.

Film Criticism:

  • The /Filmcast: This is one of the most enjoyable podcasts I listen to weekly. The hosts, David Chen, Devindra Hardawar, and Jeff Cannata are all bonafide film geeks who love talking movies. David Chen is one of the best hosts out there; someone who can just be himself while keeping a strong grasp on the conversation so it doesn’t get out of hand. I listen to these guys more for entertainment, but occasionally they can provide some fantastic insight on the film premiering that week. And due to their “What have you been watching?” segment I occasionally hear about a really interesting film I would never have discovered on my own. The best way to listen to these guys is via iTunes.
  • Filmspotting: This is the modern day version of Siskel and Ebert. Though maybe not quite as oppositional and competitive the two hosts, Adam Kempenaar and Josh Larsen, do a wonderful job expressing their thoughts on the latest movie of the week. Rather then go with the typical blockbuster Adam and Josh usually concentrate on more Independent films. A common visitor of the podcast is the famous critic Michael Phillips who was also a common visitor on Roger Ebert’s Ebert Presents show. The show is now known for ending with their top 5 list which allows the audience in on just how vast these critics knowledge of filmmaking is. This is by far the podcast with the largest archive, just recently celebrating it’s 500th episode. This is also a great podcast to listen to on iTunes.

Well there you have it. These links have turned out to be invaluable in my pursuit to becoming a great storyteller. It’s just a small example of how much you can learn for free outside the realm of a collage. I hope you enjoy and feel free to leave a comment if you have links to more valuable filmmaking resources!

Hamburgers and Hotdogs

Posted in Uncategorized by Jacob on June 27, 2013

Many of my friends give me a hard time about my simplistic choice in foods. I am perfectly fine with eating a peanut butter and jelly sandwich seven times a week for lunch. For dinner I want a little variety. I mean seven days of just pizza would get a little old. I would like to have a hamburger every once in a while and maybe some chicken wings on special occasions. Keep in mind the hamburger must be plain and if the pizza has more then just peperoni I am likely to throw it out. Let’s just thank the gods we have more sophisticated eaters then me. Cooking is an art form and there are people who spend their whole lives working on making new types of dishes for the eater to enjoy.

If you are a follower of my blog right about now you might be wondering if someone hijacked it. This blog is about storytelling and filmmaking, not food. However, it is easy to equate a good chef to a good filmmaker. Both are often described as artists and both profession’s main purpose is to satisfy the audience. However the audience is not always the best judge of what they want. As audience members we usually tend to fall back on what we already know. I say my favorite food is pizza because I don’t know any better. I have tasted but a small fraction of what is out there, yet rarely am I willing to venture out and eat something different.

The executive producers of the movie business know that we as audiences want something we are familiar with. And that is what they give us. We are given the same kind of love stories, with the same kind of action sequences, and the same kind of heroes again and again. Why should we expect anything else when sequels and reboots are making the most money? Look at the top five grossing movies of this year (2013), all are either sequels or reboots. Today’s audience is asking for the ordinary even though the medium has never been more able to give us the extraordinary. We have greater artists in the medium of film today then we have ever had.

It’s as if we have the greatest chefs in the world at our disposal and all we have them make is hamburgers and hotdogs. Sure they could make some damn good hamburgers and hotdogs, yet their talents are for the most part wasted. At the end of the day it is the audience who calls the shots. We choose what the industry makes. How long will it take for us to get tired of seeing the same kind of characters and knowing the ending of the movie far before the story is finished? Are we going to be willing to go outside our comfort zone? Will we dare to discover something new; something that could give us a greater insight to our lives and this world?

I am entering the medium of film knowing the audience wants a curtain type of movie. I will appease the audience and follow the narrow guidelines they require me to walk. I am willing to do this because I have seen artists do great things with a limited amount of creative freedom. But I will not continuously retread common ground. I will give you my version of the hamburger and then I am moving on. I want to experience new foods and new ingredients. I want you to experience something new as well. Shakespeare was not the last original storyteller, just as the hamburger, in all its glory, is not the greatest culinary achievement.

 

Personality Filmmaking

Posted in Personal Philosophy by Jacob on December 9, 2012

There was once a time when film was seen as no more then a medium for interesting magic tricks and simple sight gags. In fact some of the founding fathers of film, such as Thomas Edison, saw little future in the medium. They thought it was going to be a passing fad, an attraction that could not hold but a few minutes of an audience’s attention. This makes me question how many great inventions failed due to lack of vision? In the last century film has progressed from a passing attraction to a fully developed entertainment, an entertainment that has both thrilled and inspired billions. Film’s success has not just been achieved through the revolutionary technical developments- developments such as sound, color, and computer generated visual effects- but also an ability to dive deep into human nature and give us thorough and diverse looks at what makes us who we are.

When film went farther then simple magic tricks and sight gags the audience started to really get interested. Filmmakers like Edwin S. Porter and later D.W. Griffith brought to the medium thrilling stories which began to entrance a much broader audience. Slowly in the mid to later years of the silent era of film we began to see characters who had individual personalities. The personalities we saw in some of these characters were so impacting audiences kept coming back to see them in action. The most revered of these personalities in the silent days was Charlie Chaplin’s Tramp character. The Tramp was a hopeless romantic with a heart of gold. Chaplin was able to capture his audience’s hearts by being vulnerable with them and making his gags and stories speak to the essence of his character. He was one of the first to perfect personality storytelling; where the audience goes to the film just as much for the characters as the story.

Walt Disney was another one of the visionaries to take a hold of personality filmmaking. While all the other cartoons were making shorts revolving around characters with little personality doing funny and abstract gags through the freedom of animation, Walt was hard at work defining his characters and revolving the humor around their individuality. One of the  prime examples of this was the 1933 short The Three Little Pigs. In the short Walt and his artists were able to show district personalities between the Three Little Pigs and the Big Bad Wolf. While the pigs represented the innocents of America, and through the third pig, our nations determination to work its way out of the great depression, the wolf represented the evils of the depression and its determination to sink the American spirit. Immediately audience members were able to connect with both the good pigs and the bad wolf. The characters personalities allowed the audience to get more involved with the story and made the short one of the most acclaimed of all time.

In Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs Walt took personality animation several steps forward. He created in each one of the dwarfs an individual makup which not only progressed the story but also gave the audience a deeper connection to the whole. Through just the names of the dwarfs a tremendous amount of personality is suggested. All the characters’ actions and gags were processed through their personality. A character like Dopey had an innocent type of humor which came from his oblivious view on the world while a character like Grumpy made the audience laugh through his negative and stubborn opinions. Walt took the basic outline of the Brother Grimm’s Snow White story and got rid of all the excess material in order to concentrate more on his characters’ personalities. A lot of Disney’s Snow White story revolves around simple things we see in every day life; an average day at work, cleaning the house, washing up for supper, and a festive dance.  These events are made entertaining through Disney’s wonderful ability to entrance us with his characters, individuality. Characters like Dopey and Grumpy are engraved in our imaginations because of how they conducted themselves in these seemingly ordinary situations.

One of the most influential series in this last decade has been the Bourne Trilogy. Literally hundreds of action films began to adapt the Bourne film’s hand-held, tightly cut, film style because of the movie’s success. However, the film’s success did not come from the specific way it was shot. The power of the series came from the filmmaker’s devotion towards the title character, Jason Bourne. Although the movies had tons of high quality action, it was the character behind the action that drew us in. In the first film Jason Bourne learns to see himself as more then just a military project. In the second film Bourne is forced to come face to face with the sins of his past. In the third film Bourne sets out on a journey to understand what made him choose to become who he was. All these stories revolve around Bourne’s search for humanity. The action in the films gets its strength through the audience’s invested interest in Bourne’s personal story. We know the struggle Bourne goes through when he is forced to kill, when he loses those who are close to him, and when his past won’t leave him alone.

The moments I remember in film are when William Wallace yells “Freedom!” at the end of Braveheart, when Jefferson Smith says “I guess this is just another ‘lost cause’ Mr. Paine” in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, and when Raymond Babbitt touches his forehead to his brother Charlie in Rain Man. These moments touch my heart because of what they say about their characters. The filmmakers spend the whole movie connecting us to their characters so these moments at the end of the film are able to truly impact us. Stories must be about the character. Don’t make your stories so big you lose their humanity. During it’s production Walt Disney’s first feature film, Snow White, was called by many “Disney’s Folly”. People thought it wasn’t possible to entertain an audience for more then an hour with a cartoon. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs succeeded because Walt did not consider Snow White a “cartoon”. To Walt the characters in his movie were real. They had interests and feelings Walt and his artists spent countless hours trying to understand and defend. Because these characters were real to Walt they became real to us.

Create stories that go beyond the imaginary and become real. The characters in your stories can not be in place just to move the plot along.  They must go beyond cliche’s and speak to the individual. The protagonist, villain, and secondary character, who only is seen for a few minutes in the film, can become unforgettable if you spend enough time figuring out who they are. Give us a reason to come back. No matter if they are made by drawings, in the computer, or through an actor’s performance, you need to create characters with personalities and passions so real they can live in the imaginations of millions.

A Ball

Posted in Uncategorized by Jacob on September 18, 2012

I give you a ball. What you do with this ball could easily tell me how good of a storyteller you are. Here are a few questions I want you to answer. What kind of ball is it? who has the ball? And most importantly, what is going to happen to the ball?

You can turn the ball into a basketball and have a basketball player shoot a basket with it. I personally would call that a bit cliche and uninteresting. You can make someone throw the ball into someone’s groin area. Many would call that funny! But, is it any more original or less cliche? A lot has to do with why he threw it in someone’s groin. You also have the ability to do nothing with the ball. You might think, “This is stupid and I am going to stop reading now”. Well, it is fine with me if you deny this perfectly functioning ball (that I already created for you by the way) and leave. However, choosing to leave just might be contributing to the trapped situation you are in. Some people never end up writing anything because they are too afraid of what others might think, don’t have enough time to put pen to paper, or are not confident enough in themselves to believe they have anything worthy enough to say. Well, I have something to say………….”DON’T BELIEVE THESE LIES!”. As an individual you should always have something worthy enough to say. Don’t worry about what others say, even the harshest criticism could be used for good. And, if you don’t have the time to be creative I very much question why you feel you should still be living. Let me quote acclaimed screenwriter Aaron Sorkin in saying, “The difference between Page Two and Page Nothing is the difference between life and death”. You might also argue a “ball” is too small of a thing to interest anyone. Why create stories about balls when we can create stories about huge battle ships, missile shooting robots, and blood thirsty warlords? I guess my only reply to this argument is, “bigger does not always mean better”.

With this ball you need to go farther then “cliche” and have it be more then  just an object to set up a cheap sight gag. Creativity is a personal thing. You want this ball to say something about who you are and what you think of this world. How will you make the ball personal? I would turn it into a baseball. Why a baseball? Because I grew up playing the sport. I was a pitcher. There is a lot of emotional connection I have to the game. Maybe it could be the last game ball my character won before he called it quits. Maybe it could be the baseball my main character was given after being denied trying out for the big leagues. “Before you come back I want you to get to know this thing”, the scout says tossing the rejected player a baseball. “If you like it so much I want you to throw it so nobody could hit it”. There, I just set up my whole story within a few lines. I am dealing with a lot of emotional elements, all of which are represented in the baseball. The ball represents the game he loves, a rejection, and a challenge that the main character doesn’t know whether or not he can fulfill. For the rest of the story I could use the ball as a reminder to why my main character is working so hard to become a great pitcher.

Great storytellers do not need to take us to a galaxy far far away or show a situation where the life of mankind is on the line, in order to interest us. No grand monster, clever plot twist, or epic action scene will impact an audience more then a personal story. All a good storyteller needs to do is make even the smallest of objects and situations personal and insightful. If you believe yourself to be a good storyteller I challenge you to make a lot out of something small. Create interest where many would say there is none. My favorite thing involving a ball is baseball. I challenge you to show me a better one. You have the power to do what ever you want with the ball. Don’t think about doing something nobody would ever think of. Don’t think about trying impress us with your story. Just think about why it matters to you personally. Believe me, if it matters to you at a foundational level it will matter to someone else as well.