Life happens

Since my last blog post, I mentioned very briefly that we were in the middle of pre-production, soon to be going into principal photography on a project I’ve been fairly quiet about this year. I made a comment about how I didn’t really want to talk about it until we had our first shot off so I could have actual proof we were making this happen.

Unfortunately, my intuition of keeping quiet was well trained and not having made any promises to the rest of the world about what was to come was the right choice. For reasons outside of my control, outside of anyone’s control really (and really more of a larger problem in the way our entire system is structured), we had to put the breaks on the project entirely. It’s something I hope we can return to in the not too distant future, but due to the circumstances we found ourselves in, there was no practical way to move forward. I’m deeply disappointed that all of the work I and my colleagues have put into the project will have to sit on ice, but there are powerful lessons to be learned and practiced from something like this.

We may not get to see our work fulfilled this time around, but there’s a reassurance in our ability to plan and execute with what resources we currently have available. I like to see this as a crash course in preparedness, like a mock production where we set plans under very strict, “abstract” guidelines. Everyone needs to continually practice their craft if they plan to improve and grow. Now that my pre-production and development muscles are thoroughly stretched, we can go into our next project with the same energy carried over from the last.

Thankfully, we have a small handful of projects that were ready to go, so to speak, so the plan now is to jump straight into those as a means to keep that momentum we built up the last four months up instead of letting it falter under the disappointment of how things turned out on the last project.

Life happens, and you have to just keep pushing forward in the face of adversity. Onward and upward.

-Alex S.

  • Photo credit: Brenden Noll
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Straight Into Darkness

I’ve been on an emotional roller-coaster this last week or so the likes of which I never knew existed.  For a multitude of reasons that I won’t go into here.  Partly because it would take too long, and partly because some of those reasons involve other people and I don’t want to detail anybody else’s personal life.  Suffice to say, I’ve been feeling totally out-of-synch with everything around me.  With my work, with the era we live in, and with people I love.

Until a couple of days ago, I would just wake up wanting to call it a day.  I felt there was nothing I could do, no one I could speak to, nothing I could create that would make a difference, my feelings and my worldview were just too far removed from everything I saw.  I had no sense of emotional direction, no feeling that there was anywhere I could turn to gain lasting solace.  Nothing meant anything.

Everything around me just disappeared into a black hole after promising peace and failing to deliver.  Death seemed like a viable option, because hey, I was dead already, what difference would it make?  No one would miss me anyway.  I was too behind-the-times and too emotional to be of use to anyone.  Might as well pack up and spare everyone any further dreary nonsense.

Well, I haven’t packed up, and I’m not going to.  The universe itself will tell me when it’s my time to board the shuttle, that’s not up to me, nor should it be.  The only option I have, the only option any of us have, is to persevere.  I want to tell everyone who reads this: Hang on.  Life is difficult, and there will be hurdles, sometimes a million of them will be thrown your way at once, but no matter what, you have to keep on.  Keep moving forward, and doing everything in your power to maintain your resolve to live.

Suicide is not a choice.  It’s a sickness, but it’s a sickness we can do something about.  It doesn’t have to be terminal.  We all need to continue, otherwise, we’re wasting our greatest gift, and the greatest thing we can give others.

I’m currently writing a short screenplay that I hope to film this summer with my friend Bianca Raso.  An opportunity that’s one of the many wonderful gifts in my life.

King County Crisis line:

866-427-4747

-Ben J.

Personal Exploration through Art

I don’t intend for this entry to be focused purely on our film-making ventures. This time around I want to tackle something a little more personal, something that’s been sort of itching in the back of my head for a while now.

(though, the one quick thing film related update I will touch on is that we are getting closer to shooting a project I’ve slowly been trudging through the trenches of pre-production for, and once we get a shot off during principle photography, I’ll feel like we can justify talking about it publicly).

Since this time last year, and more consciously during the last 6 months, I’ve focused directly on creating more art and exploring new mediums that practice alongside Fresh Cup’s film projects. Sketching and painting became my newest muses because of this, and have equally been the most liberating and positive choices I think I’ve made alongside with attempting to live a less sedentary lifestyle.

This brings me to what’s been on my mind; personal exploration during the act of creating art. I remember when I used to draw as a teenager, I’d get frustrated by the process and give up easily, never letting myself build skills and foundations. But at the time, there’s a chance a part of that blind frustration came from what comes out of the process. I think this might be synonymous to why I listened to music or ingested other forms of media nearly 24/7. I preferred to escape instead of look inward on myself. That’s not to say art isn’t an escape in a way, but being active vs. reactive, the results tend to leave behind a longer lasting sense of satisfaction I feel.

Life is weird, each year has been full of unique absurdity that becomes further obfuscated through an ever evolving internal lens that interprets the world around us. The last few years have been especially so, with personal growth acting as a beacon. These days, the vehicle driving me to that beacon are the lessons that the process of making art teaches me. The importance of organization and use of time, paying attention and appreciation for the little details, attempting to remain a student for life and above all else, patience. You can’t take life without a dose of balance, so it’s more like patience is balanced against appreciating how little time we may actually have left. You aim to achieve a goal but you don’t rush to the end, so that you can come out the other side with the best possible result.

The part that has felt the most profound is how these values become a part of everyday life. I feel this is about to start sounding sappy (or preachy, so forgive me), but to put it simply, life has never felt as full as it does today. Between the influences of my wife, art, career goals and just enjoying the process each day, I feel more motivated than ever to continue the momentum I’ve started up since last year.

This time last year especially, as I was still pulling myself upward out of a dull, irritating and painful depression. The sort of depression that feels like navigating a maze at the bottom of a dark chasm. The sort of depression that feels insurmountable no matter how you shift your perspective. But actively seeking out to make visual art despite of emotions has done something other potentially therapeutic acts haven’t been able to do, give me a headspace where I could really get to know myself and my more inner thoughts, the ones that loom but hardly face you eye to eye. The introspection gained while engaging in the process vs. the result made it so I had to listen to my internal voice a little more, and hear what it’s trying to communicate.

I hope to allow this shift access to how I approach making films as much as any other visual art. I took up other mediums as a way to inspire and exercise my visual vocabulary, in hopes that getting into that mental mode becomes just that much more effortless and harmonious.

Thanks,

– Alex S.  

Development/Mysterious Behavior

I feel like over the last few months my project update posts have been fairly derivative of each other, in that there’s a looming shadow over some of the projects we are working on. For some it’s that it would be too early to make any announcements or post updates on the status of these projects (and while I’m not superstitious, I don’t want to jinx the progress we are making) or say too much too early. The other projects come down to the post production process being slow, arduous and honestly fairly uninteresting to talk about. Unless we start making tutorial videos, most aren’t curious about dealing with a difficult color grade.

But the good thing is that things HAVE been moving, and I feel like once some of the gears are further in motion, we’ll have more things to share consistently. I wish I didn’t have to be so vague for now, but it’s the closest I can give to a tease.

On the bright side, I’ve been practicing my patience a lot more as of late. Good things take time and require you to respect the process it takes to get there. Until then, we’ll just keep plugging away at these exciting endeavors. Stay tuned 🙂

  • Alex S.

Creative Momentum – Starting 2019 Off Right

Photo credit  @ Martin Vlach

The above image is something I came across in the midst of research for a new project I’m working on, and it’s been on my mind since. Art moves us in ways that often avoids expression through language, and can only truly be derived by feeling and intuition. It maneuvers around our ability to articulate meaning through a limited scope, and transcends us to multiple plains of emotion.

This particular photo stands out to me not just in it’s simplistic beauty but in what it awakens inside me. It’s sort of the opposite of how I’ve been feeling, which is why I find stumbling across it to be at a perfect moment of inner reflection. I’ve recently pulled myself out of a chasm of depression, and at this moment in time I’m just relishing in the reignited flame that was snuffed by the downward spiral I had recently endured.

I was in a state similar to the figure in the photo, free fall into the unknown, into something much larger than myself. But now that I’ve had time to lay in the grass, resting only arms length away from the chasm, seeing this image only reminds me of why I love to create visual works. When something like this speaks to you, it awakens something that cannot be ignored and must be nurtured. It reminds us of our experiences, past and present and what the future might bring.

The transition into 2019 might have been the most appropriate new year to date to relate to the idea of rebirth, of a newly energized sense of self and creativity. I ended the year creating more visual art than I had in any previous year, which has become a very big part of my day to day life and a source of my overall fulfillment. So to start off a new calendar year riding this creative high, I feel many good things to come.

It’s very early in the process, but I’m to be collaborating with some really amazing people over the next few months and I think the art that we make in the process is really going to turn some heads. Between some future music video work and some shorter, more snackable content in the pipeline, I think you’ll soon see why I am so excited and feeling a surge of creative energy. But until then, there’s a lot of work to be done so that we can guarantee these things make it from being in my head to a screen near you.

Keep on keeping on,

-Alex S.

2018 Retrospective

As the year comes to a close, and the work schedule begins to slow down, I’ve had time to do a lot of reflecting on this last year and begin planning for the year ahead of us. Creatively speaking, 2018 has been a very fruitful year full of opportunity, challenge and growth.

The first half of the year was almost solely dedicated to shooting and editing Way Out of Here so that we could meet deadlines for festivals, which took a lot out of me internally as any passion project might. It’s such a personal story full of emotion and old trauma that by the time we had called the film locked on all ends, I felt both relieved and drained simultaneously. It’s an awfully conflicting feeling, and since then I haven’t really been able to to write much of anything.

Earlier in the year I discovered an interest in painting and digital photo manipulation, which in the downtime between film projects has become one of my main outlets. Since then I’ve found myself focusing heavily on creating more visual related works over writing, which I feel plays on my strongest attribute as a storyteller and artist. This doesn’t mean I’m hanging up the towel when it comes to writing, but given these personal revelations I foresee more room for collaborating with other writers so that I may really emphasize my strengths as a visual artist.

As a whole, the goals looking forward are to continue my growth as a visual artist over being a writer/director, to continue establishing a visual language and aesthetic. We have some potential projects in the works I’m very excited to put out in the world, though still too early to talk about explicitly.

I’m also proud of Way Out of Here’s reception so far in it’s limited screenings. Having it screened at Hollyshorts was a truly humbling experience and I’m stoked for the future opportunities it has. Thankfully, we get to close out the year knowing our film will be screening in early 2019 at the Mammoth Film Festival in California, so be on the lookout for more information as it comes out.

With all of that said, I’m happy to end this year feeling inspired and to enter the 2019 empowered and with a sense of vigor.

Let’s make next year count, and to further boundless creative opportunity! Keep on keeping on.

– Alex S.

 

Short Late Fall Update

As the weather gets colder and the days shorter, the film production world here in the PNW tends to come to an active crawl. This means that while the world of freelance video production thins out for a couple of months, there needs to be something to fill the gap. Thankfully, there’s always busy work for to us to fill our time with, especially since we won’t be jumping back on set for a Fresh Cup production for some time as we work through post production on a couple of projects as well as maneuvering Way Out of Here around the festival circuit.

The next couple of months I’ll be editing together a new demo reel alongside doing some very much needed touch ups on one of my previous short films, Burden. Some of you who have been following our journey for some time now know this film had been shot some time ago, but due to priority’s of other projects and work, really giving this film the post production polish has fallen under the radar.

I had completed the last cut of the film in early 2017, but didn’t have the means to give it the proper sound treatment the film most definitely needs. Thankfully, alongside some tweaks to the cut of the film, Burden will be getting the attention it deserves this winter so we can hopefully start to bring it to you all in the coming months on the festival circuit. Stay tuned for updates on that front.

– Alex S.

The Film Will Speak to You

I’m 25, so to hell with this advice.  I’m not preaching, or trying to say I’ve gotten to the essence of cinema, or anything goofy like that, I’m just sharing something that I’ve learned that I feel might be able to help a few filmmakers in my position.

As a film director, one of the most reductive things you can do is ask “why”.

OK, so let me explain.  As an artist, you need to know your theme, your baseline, what your characters are about and what you want you overall visual style to convey, but the minute you start thinking in terms of what any individual shot is about, or why cut here, or why is that object in the frame over there, than you’ve killed your creativity.  You’re no longer making art, you’re doing math.

The way you tell whether something is right is simply by feeling it, does an idea or an image light your soul ablaze, make you jump for joy?  Well then, that’s the idea you go with, and if anyone asks you why you want to do it that way, just tell them that this is where your gut, or the universe, or God or whatever you want to call it has taken you, and they’ll eventually come around, even if at first they proceed with some reluctance.

A good film needs to be like visual music, flowing like water from a very clear source.  Worrying and nitpicking is no good in anything in life, at least that’s been my experience, but it’s especially bad in filmmaking, because cinema needs to be about being in the moment and sensing what reverberates with you, what moves you, and if you try and manufacture something that’s moving, it just won’t work.  On my last shoot, I got bogged down in “why?” several times during the preparation, I was constantly worrying about what every shot was saying, rather than just letting the film speak for itself.

Like I said before, it needs to be like music, every shot is a note, and the notes need to flow into each-other with ease, by all means, have ideas about the meaning behind the shots, but don’t sweat it if you can’t find the exact words, because the meaning will be there whether you can articulate it or not.  Sometimes, you might not even know what the meaning behind a shot is until you cut the film, and that’s fine, because the meaning is there, it’s just not tied to language, if it was, why make films?  Why not write novels?

The only “why” you need in moviemaking, generally, is “This idea excites me.” That’s it.  The deeper whys and wherefores are there, being dictated by the film itself, not by you, and once you see the film, you’ll realize that what you’d been doing all along, was following the spirit of what the project wanted to be.  It’s my belief that, once you’ve learned to do that (and I’m still very much in the learning phase) is when you’re a true artist.

– Ben Johnson

Beside Myself

This film has been a bumpy ride for all of us.  Re-shooting  alone is a heck of a thing for a short, but reshooting  it with the kind of anxiety we had (weather!) and admittedly a number of things that could have been better prepared, and the ways that the script intersects with my personal life that I’m still unpacking, led to an experience that took a lot out of us, and this may show you why it’s taken me so long to get around to writing about it.

The screenplay for this film is about 5 pages.  Writing it took me six months.  Balancing the needs of a coherent narrative against my desire to make a movie that was dreamlike and “outside time” while also trying to keep it as short as possible, made it probably the hardest of my scripts to write, and more than anything else I’ve done so far, I had to mess up, rewrite, rearrange and whittle-down until I had (and I can say this without feeling egotistical) the exact little gem I was after.  I almost didn’t want to make it into a film, the screenplay by itself felt so self-contained to me that the idea of filming it seemed like a kind of betrayal, but of course it had to be filmed.  It was a visual story, and there was no other way for the seed I planted to grow.

To do this I was blessed with an amazing cast and crew.  Our great cinematographer, Tom Ciaburri, was so on his game throughout the making of the film that I started calling him “Eagle Eye” to myself.  He really knows the mood and tone that I’m going for, and cares deeply about serving the story, so every shot we planned was carefully designed for real emotional impact, rather than to just look pretty.  If I had a central tenant to my beliefs about directing, that would be it, serve the story and create emotional impact.  That would also seem to be Tom’s central belief about camerawork, and I’m deeply grateful to him for that.

A huge thanks also to my long-time friend and partner in crime for this little company, Alex Sylvester.  He’s been so patient as a producer, the quality of the film being his top priority at all times. He went through so many difficulties and jumped through so many hoops to make this re-shoot possible.  Alex and I have been working together for as long as we’ve been doing films, but if his faith in me would ever falter it would’ve been on this project, but it didn’t (well hardly at all), he pushed forward, and made it possible against all odds (as corny as that sounds) for me to make the film I wanted to.  He also helped me structure the script to keep it from being to free-floaty.  Anyway, pal, thanks.  You’ve been really indispensable.  Then again, you always are.

I would be making a real mistake if I didn’t give a shout-out to our wonderful young leads, Jack Lindsey (Sam) and Peyton Pich (Janie).  These kids were everything I could have hoped for and more.  They were both so perceptive and took direction better than most adults I’ve worked with.  I was amazed by their shared talent to express deep and full feelings in just the tiniest gestures, like only the best actors can do, and by the depth of their understanding of the essence of this project.   Thank you guys so much for bringing all that kindness, humor and enthusiasm to the making of this film, I won’t forget it.

Huge thanks to our entire crew.  I can’t name you guys all here, but rest assured, your contributions were essential and are deeply appreciated.  The guys in the trenches like you are the ones who make any movies possible.  Thanks so much!

Lastly, this is a very personal film for me, so I’d like to take a minute to thank people who were not technically involved in it’s making, but who’s belief me and the project gave me the guts I needed to go on with it.  Many, many thanks to my dear friends Stephen Bosch, Emily Ross, and Xoe Amer for being some of my biggest artistic boosters, and especially to Xoe for suggesting that I change the bullying scenes I had in early drafts.  Also, endless love and thanks to my parents, Allen and Jill Johnson, for always encouraging their son to pursue his crazy dream of making films, and thanks to my good friend and colleague Andy Akada, for helping me make Janie a more fully-formed character.

Thanks, most of all, to the main inspiration for this movie, my twin brother Sam.  I know you’re out there, bro, making sure I’m OK, and I want you to know that wherever you are, I love you.

– Ben Johnson

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