January 2013 [Unspecified Date]
Feeling pretty discouraged, in general. There is a lot to be grateful for, but I’m having trouble finding the appreciation.
[I’m pretty sure] my last short film [Frisk] sucked in a lot of people’s eyes…the one that came before, [Close], [some] people didn’t think showed that I could tell a proper story. Two years after Sundance, already, and it already feels like I might not be able to return.
In the process of doing all this, it’s hard to not feel some level of frustration—you tell yourself, “if I work hard, I can do this, if I go to this school, and put in this work, and go to this film festival, I’ll be able to get this, and this and this, for sure,” but what I’m realizing (and particularly after trying to raise money for this feature film these past few months) is that there are a lot more dynamics that go into this whole process than certain meritoriously-oriented expectations might have formerly led me to believe.
I could just need to get better–to improve my writing, etc., and it’s probably true that I do to a certain extent, but…eh….[I’ve got a number of opinions on this and I thought it best to just leave them out for the sake of not seeming like an asshole.]
…At any rate, whatever the case might be, an idea that’s been seeping into my head, these past few years, is that the people at the top of the food chain in the film industry, those who run the studios, really have little to no interest in promoting diversity of any kind—particularly in the sense of whom they are grooming to make today’s movies.
This is one of the many reasons that, in my opinion, most American films pretty much suck, now. We’re not interested in cultivating anything new, we’re fixated on exploiting the old/the safe/the previously-licensed and as a result, it seems that our culture is stagnating,
There used to be a time where there were more people of color on screen, too. I don’t want to harp on this, too long, but it’s really starting to sink in that, most people who hold sway within the industry don’t really care about ethnic diversity, either, whether they’re Black, White, or anything else.
Generally speaking (and this is a hugely sweeping statement based on my interactions here in New York and with a few contacts that I’ve made while connecting with folks in L.A.), it seems that if, these days, you’re trying to make/sell a movie primarily featuring Black people, if you’re talking to certain established American industry producers and distributors, they’ll generally be averse to pushing films that don’t have:
a) a world replete with sympathetic White friends/associates
b) Overt coonery
c) Some kind of culturally exotic/extraordinary narrative quality that presents Black characters as mythical or existing in some alternate reality
d) Some readily digestible, tragic social element of Black life that translates easily into the acceptable lexicon of Black American culture as it is known, today—e.g. motifs of black squalor, repression, death, violence or poverty
e) Some reverential historical moment or lionized figure with which America is already largely familiar, and doesn’t seem too controversial
f) A plot that doesn’t feature a main role that could (arguably) just as well be played by a White person (because, well, why couldn’t you just cast a White person, instead?)
g) Tyler Perry
Although the particulars differ, I would argue that similarly-limiting criteria exists for movies about Latino and Asian-Americans, as well (wherever those movies might be found.)
In terms of talking about Black people, exclusively—potential equity investors and so forth, in terms of trying to get a project off of the ground, aside from our own people’s tendency to throw money at wack-ass movies which we support time and time again, I gotta say–old Black people with money and means, I don’t know what their deal is. Young Black people with money and means, I don’t know what our deal is, either. How is it that we have all of this wealth within our community and no one has managed to start any kind of substantive institution that is geared toward creating a diverse array of content for Black audiences on a consistent basis? …and we’ve got all the blogs in the world talking about music, but not movies.
Then, just think of how many gradations of White actors you see, who you know can get a movie bankrolled—there are no shortage of Paul Rudds, Jeremy Renners, Paul Giammattis, Jessica Chastains, Kristen Wiigs, Emma Stones, Ryan Goslings, Bradley Coopers, Tom Cruises, etc. etc.
…Our bankable stars are Denzel, Will Smith, Tyler Perry and Oprah. Who are we grooming? Who can we groom?
Nobody with any power seems to give two shits about such issues (and if they do, they’ve probably been rendered mum by virtue of not wanting to ruffle any feathers at whatever place that they work) but people of color being able to direct, produce and articulate their own filmed narratives through the Hollywood system, that’s a thing that very much seems to be going the way of the dodo, if it’s ever existed in the first place.
….Then, you have these damn independent film institutions (who, in many ways, have become the arbiters of culture) who are purportedly set up to champion the work of independent artists and up-and-coming filmmakers and I have to say, I honestly have no fucking idea what it is that they are looking for.
There is a tremendous amount of political maneuvering, glad-handing and brown-nosing required on top of needing to have a good script/proposal to submit to such institutions and although my script may not have been in the best of places until recently, because of certain things I’ve learned recently, I have to say that I’ve grown suspicious of whether such organizations are actually living up to their purported missions of searching out and seeking the freshest new voices or if they are just looking to curate a certain kind of thing.
I have grown tired of applying to the same applications over and over and over again, every year, with no semblance of interest, encouragement, etc., from these different institutions and I feel more and more like it’s time to move on.
At the same time, I’m reminded that the most important thing about seeking to be an “artist,” above all things, is to want to make something that connects with people and illuminates some facet of their lives. I never wanted to become an artist specifically for the sake of making money—and though I also never thought that such a thing [profitability] would be a bad byproduct of making art, at the same time, that isn’t the thing that ever made me want to pursue the craft, in the first place.
I think that, perhaps, after a period of having lofty hopes, it might now be useful to return to that moment in time when the reason that I chose to make stuff was not necessarily because I wanted to advance myself or find favor, but because I felt like the thing that I was working on had the potential to be incredible in its own right.
I never stopped feeling this way, don’t get me wrong–I think that when I made Close, there was a certain “I don’t give a fuck what people think about this” attitude and a confidence I had in executing that piece that made me comfortable in the fact that it wasn’t especially ornate in terms of its scale or its production value. I was much happier then.
I’m pretty much thinking that the key to happiness as an artist in this field is to basically….
A – have an idea
B – execute that shit to the best of your ability in terms of your original conception of it
C – put it out to the people
D – learn from your fuck-ups
E – do that shit, again
If you’re talented at all, the money will come. As much as you HAVE to be good, you also HAVE to keep making more shit, and not allow yourself to be hamstrung like some of your peers who refuse to make things because the quality of whatever it is you’re developing is “not good enough right now.”
Quality of production value comes with money, but you cannot just not make work because money isn’t there. You grew up poor, so just bank on money never being there. It comes and goes. But you have to block out what other people are saying, go ahead and keep doing what you do best.
The Long and Short of 4th Quarter 2012/1st Quarter 2013
[I’ve lost the notes from this time period, but suffice it to say, the only things that I succeeded in doing between June 2012 and December of 2012 were:]
a) completing Frisk (my short film) which I shot back in 2011
b) getting a full-time gig
c) starting a relationship with a young woman who I really dug, one which was assuredly bound to crash and burn [long distance shit] (all my fault)
The folks I reached out to regarding All The Wrong Places – producers, people I knew, personally, indie film institutions, etc., didn’t think it was a good idea.
1. Sundance’s Writers’ Lab Didn’t Take It
2. Tribeca All-Access Didn’t Take It
3. Family wasn’t trying to hear it
4. The few millionaires I knew weren’t trying to hear it
5. Producers I talked to were not fuckin’ with it
So there I was.
February 7th, 2013
So I Was Thinking.
End of the 1st ep [for Hard Times] might be a tad weak and could maybe be improved.
What if, instead:
1. He comes home after his session with Nia, sees the pile of bills (and ignores them) crosses to the fridge and grabs his Brita pitcher, pours a drink, finds little carbon particles in his water glass, stares at them curiously (like on some early, weird Walter White shit) opens up his Brita instructional manual which reads “carbon flakes may mean you need to replace your old filter,” discards the manual and drinks from the water glass with the carbon flakes in it.
2. Heading down a slightly dark hallway to his narrow ass bedroom, Derek turns on a light-switch only to find that that shit flickers and burns out quickly, shrouding the room in darkness. Realizing he needs to replace the bulb. Derek – “god damn it.”
Derek in his bathroom, standing atop toilet and sink in an effort to unscrew a bulb from the ceiling for use in his bedroom.
Derek, crossing back into his dark ass (near pitch black) bedroom, climbing atop what appears to be a janky ass desk chair (maybe he’s silhouetted here), and trying his best to reach the lightbulb on the ceiling, above. He teeters. He totters. He feels unsteady. Finally he reaches for the ceiling to unscrew the light fixture once and for all, the shitty desk chair dips, he falls over and busts his ass on the floor, the lightbulb smashing under him. Derek – “fuck!”
Derek, in the kitchen, sweeping particles of lightbulb glass from a dustpan into a bulging trash bag.
Derek, flinging his broke-ass desk chair into the living room, where it topples, hitting a bulging bag of trash near the door.
A light turning on in a hallway– Derek making his way back to his room. Navigating his small ass room in the darkness, we can see that he’s fairly frustrated and quite pissed off, nearly resolving himself to go to sleep as is. But then, looking along a wall, he sees a shadow cast from the streetlight, outside. The shape of his muscles/body, along a wall.
Turning to a little alcove in a corner where he keeps a full-sized mirror he sees a glimmer of light carving a piece of his body out of the darkness/shadows. Then, he raises his shirt and starts to appraise himself, considering Nia’s suggestion. An epiphany.
February 10, 2013
DATING (OR NOT)
[Wrote this for someone I was dating, then, not sure if I ever sent it, or if it was a part of something longer.]
So I was trying to determine the best way to approach Valentine’s Day, given the whole distance situation…
I’m just sorry that I couldn’t be there in person to deliver this kind of message, but I have to say that despite the fact that this time around you’ll be more than 1,000 miles away, I feel just as endeared to you as if you were several fewer hundred miles closer. ;-).
You’re always hitting me up about my day, so I want to make sure you’re receiving the same attention, as much as possible. Thanks for being such an awesome lady, ________, and making me feel loved even though we’re so many miles apart.
[Looking back, I want to believe that this letter was longer. Little did I know that I’d destroy this entire situation with _____________ within the next 6-8 weeks as I moved forward.]