Thursday, December 31, 2009

Top Ten for 2010

Tomorrow starts a new year and a whole new decade.

I remember when 1990 rolled around. It felt so odd to think of writing a year without an eight in there somewhere. Then Y2K came around with its threats of everything going haywire. (Ten years later, I still giggle about how my friend flickered the lights at midnight to scare us.) New Year's Eve celebrations have varied greatly for me over the years, from quiet evenings with close friends to huge parties with lots of strangers and noise. The common factor among all of them, though, are the people with whom I spend the evening celebrating. Good friends and family members make the night memborable and fun, and I have no doubts this evening will be the same.

As I follow conversations online about milestones in the lives of my friends during the past 10 years, I am reminded about how excited I am for the next 10 years. Right now I am a 28 year old girl with a lot of big dreams, on the path to making a lot of them come true. What a gift it is do be passionate about your life's work!

So, without further ado, here are the top ten things I'm looking forward to in 2010, as they relate to our film:

10
Working with our crew, and adding more members to our crew

9
Finishing a rough cut

8
Adding music, graphics, animations and archived footage to make a director's cut

7
Event planning, marketing, social media and web efforts

6
Screening the film with small, select groups

5
Screening the film with larger, select groups

4
Finishing the film! YAY!

3
Hosting film premieres that are open to the public

2
Fundraising activities for the film and the Montagnards

1
Starting the filmmaking process all over again!

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Feeling Free

The term 'brain dump' isn't really an attractive one. It's a harsh term with no frills. That is, unless you're the one doing the brain dump. When you're emptying your mind of information, it becomes a rewarding and beautiful word.

For the past two years, so many thoughts swarm around in my head, buzzing and bouncing around distractingly. I find myself walking much lighter these days, though. Each brain dump leaves me feeling more and more free to oversee the entire project. Free to delegate to the talented and generous volunteers joining our little army. Free to trust them and highlight their strengths and support. Free to make the film better and more successful.

On Monday morning, I mentioned over breakfast with some power women the recent addition of a PA. Their eyes lit up in recognition of such a critical role being filled. Our PA's name is Jessica Kent, and she has proven to be a rock star in such a short time. I've given her many of the details from the past two years, and she is helping me sort through everything to make the finish line seem much closer than it did a few months ago. I feed off of her energy, and find joy in talking with her about the film regularly.

It's incredible how each new day brings the gift of another person interested in our project. This morning I met with Brian McDonald (@bmcd67) to talk about marketing strategy. He, too, was full of energy and ideas. Later we shall divulge everyone's role to the full extent.

It can be overwhelming at times. The weight of the entire project. The thought of shaping a truth about a group of people. And the gloriously overwhelming sensation of having someone join your cause and march by your side.

MLK Day is next month, and I recently saw a photo of him talking to the crowds with the Washington Monument in the background. What a wonderful feeling it must have been--to be surrounded by so many thousands of people that believe in the same truth! Everyone fired up about making a difference, and making our nation better. It may seem like a lofty comparison by far, but there are more similarities than you might think.

Our little film is about justice and human rights. A group of people still fighting for freedom. Still in need of our support. Hoping that we can forget the sound bite world we live in, just for a few moments, and listen to the story of their people. Or, perhaps, leverage the tools that have helped make us a sound bite nation to make change happen for our abandoned allies, the Montagnards.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Marketing Manager

We're looking for marketing support, folks. Let me know if you have anyone in mind, or you would like to join our team.

We want to wrap the film in the next few months, and will use this time during post-production to get a marketing manager up to speed. We have someone potentially helping with strategy, so this person will help us execute the many ideas we have, add in their own, and help build momentum for the film.

Here's the post for the position:

Independent Documentary in need of Marketing Manager. This is a volunteer position, but you will receive film credits, experience, publicity, and having a hand in sending a positive message out to the world.

Duties will include but not limited to:

*Working with the director's ideas and adding new ones in attempts to figure out ways to execute them on a zero dollar budget

*Working with the team (cast and crew) to make sure all are speaking the same message with regards to the film

*Wrangle in and help oversee all efforts in social media, promotions, events, etc.

*Work with events coordinator to promote any screenings, fund-raising events, and general awareness of the film.

*Coordinating coverage of events with appropriate media outlets.

We are looking for someone with at least 5-7 years of Marketing experience, filmmaking experience not entirely necessary but interest in entertainment a plus.

Please include resume with cover letter.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Reshooting Interviews


With the many people joining forces with us to wrap up the film, I grow more and more confident that we can finish it in the coming months. What a great joy it is to have the project gain such momentum with the help of so many of my friends. It's a little army of people going to war to finish it, and that is incredibly rewarding.

Today I sent messages to three of our cast members, requesting more time with them. The original interviews were shot in standard format before we upgraded to an HD camera. Having two different formats in the final film just won't do, so we're setting up to reshoot those interviews. The audio from those tapes was terrible, too, so this will make post-production infinintely easier, I believe.

Sending those emails helped me appreciate how much I have learned since those interviews were shot. I know much more about the equipment, camera angles, lighting, audio, and subject matter. That experience "in the trenches" gives you confidence to move quickly. I know that I can go reshoot the interviews with no hesitations, capture what is needed, and come back to the office to digitize the tapes and drop that footage in the timeline right where it is needed.

There's no doubt that our next production will be an adventure, but I also know that it'll be easier to do in much less time. It's like learning to walk...one step at a time.

Photo credit: Charlie and EG Long

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Hope, Love, Joy & Peace


My family decided not to exchange gifts this year. As a result, we have been much less frantic with the holiday season. We're not stressed about going shopping, competing for parking spaces, going elbow to elbow with others at the mall, or overextending ourselves financially. We have found ourselves in a perioed of great contentment, despite everything being so not perfect. What a blessing it will be to actually practice the "presence over presents" rule, and enjoy how blissfully messy our lives are right now.

Work on the film continues with great speed. Our filmmaking family continues to grow, and I feel that is one of the greatest gifts Santa could bring. Many hands make light work, for certain. And with each person that joins the team, I grow more and more free to focus on what must happen to get it finished.
My wish for you, my friends, is at least a few moments of hope, love, joy and peace--no matter what holiday you're celebrating this time of year.
Photo credit: EG and Charlie Long

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Moving Forward


We are moving forward on many things, all of which are most exciting. These past few weeks have seen a great resurgence of progress related to the film, for many reasons. We have had a number of people join the team of volunteers, and for that I am most grateful.

I'm starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel...

Super 8 Adventures Continue

Bulbs for the film projector arrived earlier this week--just one piece of a stream of delightful news. Finally, finally, I would be able to view the mystery Super 8 footage from Vietnam.

So yesterday, my fella sat down with me to test out the new bulbs. I was excited, nervous and anxious all in one breath. He tested out one bulb, but nothing happened. So we put in the second bulb, and still nothing happened. Alas, there was no way to view it film.

What a disappointment! I had so hoped that we could start viewing the footage! I can't tell you how sad I was that the bulbs were not the source of the problem. When I turned it on the first time, the bulb worked and then made a sound like it had blown out. To find out that it was something else, means it is not a simple solution and not likely we can do the conversion ourselves. This means we'll have to find someone to help with it.

For about an hour, I called around to find out about repairing the projector, renting another one, and having a company do the digitizing for us. As it turns out, repairs to projectors of such an age are highly unlikely unless you do it yourself. (You'd have to buy another one for parts, take it apart, and tinker until it starts working. A time-consuming, expensive option.) Renting another projector to view the film is not a likely success story, either. The rentals are hard to find to say the least. Conversion companies are starting to look like the solution, as much as I have been avoiding that route to save on production costs.


Companies like Flicko's take your old media and convert it to new media formats. They scan 35mm slides, make VHS tapes into DVDs, and so on. I spoke with Gary, the owner of Flicko's in Cary, by phone last night and told him about the project. He took the time to explain his process, help me think through working with him, and guess at how much it would cost (without seeing the film to know for certain.) So I stopped by today to talk more with him, perhaps peek in on a conversion in progress, and get a more accurate estimate for our specific project. He was most gracious in talking with me about the specifics, our documentary film, and even my background and why I was working on the film. He took a look at the footage I brought in and provided an estimate, all the while hustling to keep up with holiday demands.

Since we're on a zero-dollar budget, I decided to wait on conversion. He was pretty busy with demands relating to the holidays, too, and since we're not in an immediate rush to have it in our hands next week, I'll reconnect with him in January. In the meantime, I will continue working on a route by which we can convert (or at the very least view) the footage we have available.

If anyone reading this has access to digitized film from the Vietnam War (specifically the central highlands, or of Montagnard/Special Forces activities), a means by which we can convert our footage at no cost, or connections to anyone who can help, please let me know via email: camwatts@gmail.com. We would be most appreciative of the support!

Friday, December 18, 2009

Good News Keeps Coming

These past few days have been utterly amazing. Support for the film keeps coming, and those that have joined the team are carrying it forward with such ease and expertise. I'll have a more formal update soon, but for now I must simply say, "Wow!" It's great to have so much wonderful help. I never cease to be amazed by what a few talented people can do, and I am absolutely ecstatic about 2010.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

A Quick Look Back


Today is one week away from Christmas Eve Eve, and it makes me feel that the year has gone by in the blink of an eye. My how time flies these days. Is this part of growing up, getting older, having more responsibilities? Or did time always go this fast?

In the past year, we've
  • wrapped production
  • digitized all the footage
  • transcribed all interviews
  • scanned / collected nearly 1,000 images
  • brought on about 5-8 new volunteers
  • started the process by which we digitize Super 8 film
  • started the editing that will lead to a director's cut
The editing has moved slower than I had hoped for so many reasons (my AC went out, then my heat went out, I got sick, Matt and I couldn't meet, the list goes on), but I am confident that pace will pick up again now with the addition of a few more volunteers. Matt has been working with me on the editing for quite some time, and I look forward to having his continued help editing the film. It's going to be a great final product!

This time of the year makes everyone look back for a quick thought about the past 12 months, how quickly they passed by, and what exciting things await in the next year. I know that 2010 will be, quite possibly, one of the best years of my life. We'll finish this film, share it with others, and make great things happen. I never cease to be amazed with the great things that happen when a incredible, passionate people come together.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The Response

Thank you all for the overwhelming and immediate support! I am so humbled and feel so lucky! In the past few hours, we have had an incredible amount of support from local folks. What a wonderful community!

It is a great pleasure to welcome Paul, Phil, Jessica, Alena, Chris and Lisa to the team. As we move forward, I'm sure you'll hear these names mentioned here many times. I am so grateful to have the help! It is certain that this project will move forward much faster and more smoothly with their kind support.

We are still in need of volunteers, so don't hesitate to connect with me if you are interested (or know someone that wants to help). Projects of this size can only be done with the help of many, many people. If you want to help but don't see anything on the list that fits you, send me a message and we'll find something fitting. There are many things to be done, for certain.

Volunteers Needed

We are looking for help with our documentary film, in the form of additional volunteers. If you, or someone you know, is interested in being a part of our documentary film please share this post with them. If they want to volunteer something other than what is listed below, I welcome a more in-depth conversation. Feel free to connect via email, Twitter, LinkedIn, phone (919.229.9357), etc. with ideas or support.

Those interested in these positions should be ready to learn about the Montagnard-Special Forces story, be committed to the project, and work directly with me on a daily/weekly basis as required. We understand that circumstances change over time, but seek people committed to the project's success to the end. We hope to have the project finished in the coming months, and seek the following support in order to help it move along faster.

Currently, we are seeking the following:
  • Video Editor(s)
    We're looking for support from people who know how to shape a documentary story using Final Cut Pro on a Mac platform. Matt and I are currently editing the story, but in order to speed up this process I need the help of additional video editors. This person either has their own equipment, or is willing to use the equipment we have available. Someone who can work 4-6 days a week would be ideal.

  • Production Assistant
    The project has grown a great deal since it started in March 2008. To help manage all of the details, I'm looking for the support of a production assistant who will partner with me to keep things moving forward. This person must be reliable, trust worthy, attentive to details, obnoxiously organized, a self-starter, and ridiculously motivated. The volunteer position would presently require only a few hours a week with a set schedule and list of tasks; however, as the film nears completion, the production assistant may gain additional opportunities (coordinating screenings and Q&A sessions, for example).

  • Communications Coordinator
    We are currently in post-production, but when the film gets closer to wrapping I will need the support of someone well versed in coordinating all communications efforts: writing press releases, talking to the media, creating fact sheets, making phone calls, answering phone calls, etc. This person is the ultimate diplomat, has unbelievably great etiquette in person and on the phone, enjoys writing/editing, responds to inquiries in a timely manner, isn't afraid to make cold calls, and wants experience working with the news media. We will start working together now, in preparation for the completion of the film. At that time, the level of time required for this volunteer position may grow.

  • Social Media Assistant(s)
    Someone equally fascinated with the world of social media is ideal for this position. They think about Twitter, Facebook, blogging, RSS feeds, SEO, link building, and more all the time. This person really understands the power of social media, but is also a savvy writer. They know the rules of the game, seek a chance to practice what they've learned, and want to share what they know about social media with certain members of my cast/crew. Analytics and measurable results excite this person, and they want to report these figures to me on a regular basis because they are thrilled with the work.
If you have any questions about any of the previously mentioned volunteer positions, please let me know. We are growing the team, and want to work with only the best. It's an unpaid gig right now, but will most assuredly lead to big opportunities down the road. This ain't the only film we'll be makin'. ;)

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Super 8 Kodachrome Film


Now that we have almost all the scanning of 35mm images and prints completed, we're moving on to the archived Super 8 film. Surry supplied me with about 18 rolls of film, many of which are labeled as footage taken during his time in Vietnam.

I've been reading about the process by which you digitize the film online, and think we might be able to do it ourselves--although I confess it makes me a little nervous because we could potentially ruin some of the film just by handling it. We could take the film to a place that does this for us, but with 18 rolls of film, I believe that process will not serve us well. We would have invested in digitizing film that may never make it into the final movie, and some of it may not even be related to the project. So instead we hope to watch the film, then digitize it, and select the clips we want before investing time and resources that could be wasted.


We've ordered new projector bulbs and will hopefully be able to view the footage very soon. I'm anxious to go through the rolls of film, as I think they will lend a great deal to the movie. Once we find the clips we want, we'll focus on digitizing those clips. It'll certainly be a process, but one I am looking forward to completing because I know it will be critical in telling the story of the Mongtagnards and their relationship to the Special Forces.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Vietnam Vector-Based Art


While searching the web for unrelated vector-based art today, I found a free download of Vietnam War images. (For those whom don't do design work, vector simply means you can manipulate the image or make it huge without degrading the resolution of the image.) For those interested, here is the link to vector-based illustrations of an A-1 Skyrider and a CH-53 Sea Stallion: http://www.vecteezy.com/vf/1227-Vietnam-airplanes.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Moments of Minutia

With every project, there comes a fair amount of minutia that must be handled. This project certainly has seen its share.

This past weekend I got some sort of 24-hour bug, and also had no heat in my house. Since the temps in Raleigh were near 40 degrees F, it was a bad weekend to go without heat! My heat is now back on, thanks to the help of my lovely and talented hero called Mom, and the bug has since found a new home. My friend told me this morning that he had similar symptoms: terrible headache, muscle weakness, general feeling of wanting to void one's stomach, and an overall need to just sleep off the bad feeling.

As with everything in life, there are moments of emotion and moments of mundane. Nevertheless, the project keeps moving forward.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Slide Scanning Complete (Maybe)

Today should mark the completion of slide scanning; at least, the completion of scanning the slides currently available. When we first started, collecting archived images was of great concern. But thanks to the many folks involved with our project, we will have--what I believe to be--more than enough. We have, roughly, one thousand images now digitized.

The final count will likely be greater than one thousand, as some of those counted include multiple photos. For example, below is a scan of photos provided by Mike Benge. There are four photos on the page, purely for the sake of speeding up the scanning process. These photos were scanned on location in Washington, D.C., so my main focus was capturing them. Scanning the photos on location provides peace of mind to the person loaning images, and I can give them back immediately without the risk of damaging or losing someone's personal effects.


Should we need additional images, particular members of the cast have offered their collections for scanning. At the present time, however, I think we have what we need. Once we have a first cut of the film completed, I might revise that opinion and request an afternoon of scanning. Charlie and EG Long have a very impressive collection. They served as missionaries in Vietnam, and Charlie worked hard to improve his photography techniques. Below is one of the many images they provided.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

The Great Surry Roberts

Surry is the producer of this documentary film. It was his idea to capture this history, to share the story and to express the mutual respect and adoration between the Special Forces and the Montagnards.

Surry served during the Vietnam War where he (and other members of the Special Forces) came to know the Montagnard people. Surry has a passion for history; not only studying it but capturing, sharing, and making it available to younger generations. He knows that studying history enables preventing future mistakes, which is one of the very themes of our film: preventing the mistake of abandoning our allies.

Here is a photo of him during his service, which my friend Brian Thacker scanned. Many more words about Surry's dedication, wisdom, guidance and passion will be written, I'm sure. But for now, as progress on the film continues, a mini-dedication and expression of gratitude must suffice.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Scanning Continues

We have an impressive collection of images, thanks to the many folks involved with this project. I am so excited to share a few of them with you here, all of which are from the collection of Surry Roberts.

As the "To Be Scanned" group quickly becomes the "Scanned" group of images. It's exciting to have such a stellar, growing collection to document the relationship between the Special Forces and the Montagnards. While the voices of my cast play, I scan and edit images. It is very rewarding work.


This last image depicts the drinking of rice wine, which is customary among Montagnard tribes.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Dec. 1, 2009

On the door of my home office, I have listed the next 12 months and what must be accomplished in order to finish the film. I have a team of volunteers helping, so I'm not doing it alone. The project moves forward oh-so-slowly. I feel like I blinked and 12 months have passed.

The good news, though, is that we are almost finished with scanning 35mm slides. We have had a mountain of images to digitize. Now that almost all of them are scanned, I feel good in checking something off the list. Dealing with OfficeMax and the scanner troubles seemed like such a waste of time, and I'm so glad to have that over with now. Matt and I are setting up more editing sessions, too. Surry and I are meeting this week, so I look forward to reporting our progress.

If you want to help with the film in any way, please let me know. It's a big project, and one that cannot be completed alone!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Veterans Day

Today is Veterans Day. There are many words said today to honor veterans: those lost, retired or still fighting. Some take is as a holiday and think not about veterans. For me, it is a very personal day of remembrance and celebration.

My grandfather was a very proud Marine until the day he passed away. He served during World War II, marrying the love of his life on 5 July 1942 in his uniform. Between the two of their families, seven people fought for freedom and each one came home safely.

Today I find myself working on this documentary, a film about Vietnam Veterans and American allies. I watch what is happening at home and abroad, how things are changing, how we can go about our day hardly impacted by today's war, and I work feverishly on the project to get it finished. The day that we share it will bring me such peace.

It is a humbling experience, and one that brings with it a great responsibility: telling the stories of veterans, past events, lives impacted by 40 years of fighting for freedom, and the unfortunate acts against our allies that continue in Vietnam and the United States today. I take one step at a time to work on the project and bring it closer and closer to completion.

For the chance to work on the project, I will always be grateful. My contribution is so minor compared to our veterans, and I hope that it will honor them, make them proud, and help others understand them a little better. It is a great story of love, courage, bravery, sacrifice and honor.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Fort Hood, TX (follow up)

Mike Benge, one of the cast members for our film (about the Montagnard people who allied with the U.S.A. during the Vietnam War), sends me emails regularly about what is happening in the community. He has been passionate about their plight for so many years, and you can hear the injustice against the Montagnards in his voice when he speaks.

Moments ago, I received an email from him about the Fort Hood, T.X., shooting. One of the victims was a Hmong-American. Here is a press release with more information: http://media-newswire.com/release_1105606.html.

"Private First Class Kham Xiong has accomplished his honorable service to our great nation, the United States of America, I salute him and his fellow soldiers at Fort Hood killed in this terrible shooting," Colonel Wangyee Vang said on behalf of Lao and Hmong veterans from Minnesota and across the United States.

(Media-Newswire.com) - St. Paul, Minnesota, Fresno, California, Fort Hood, Texas, and Washington, D.C., November 10, 2009 - The nation’s largest ethnic Hmong and Lao veterans organization is saluting Private First Class Kham Xiong and the other 12 victims of the Fort Hood shooting in Texas. Memorial services will be held in Texas today for the shooting victims attended by their families, President Barack Obama, the First Lady Michelle Obama, and Members of the U.S. Congress, including Rep. Betty McCollum ( D-MN ) of St. Paul, Minnesota.

The Lao Veterans of America, Inc., Lao Veterans of America Institute, Center for Public Policy Analysis, Lao Hmong Human Rights Council, Hmong Advance, Inc., Hmong Advancement, Inc., Laotian Community of Minnesota, United League for Democracy in Laos, Inc. the Center for Public Policy Analysis and a coalition of Lao and Hmong veterans and non-profit organizations have joined with Dr. Jane Hamilton-Merritt in honoring Pfc. Kham Xiong and expressing condolences to Mrs. Kham Xiong and his surviving children and family.

Private Kham Xiong and many of his family were natives of Minnesota's Twin Cities where there are large Lao Hmong communities in both St. Paul and Minneapolis. U.S. Army Private First Class Xiong was a Hmong refugee born in Thailand following the communist takeover in Laos and Hmong exodus at the end of the Vietnam War.
The press release continues here: http://media-newswire.com/release_1105606.html.

Fort Hood, TX

My shoulders shake and tears uncontrollably race down my cheeks as the Fort Hood, T.X., memorial service begins. The bagpipes start their cries, and the President and First Lady walk down the steps. It is the silence leading up to the bagpipes, and the sights of wounded soldiers taking their seats that makes the music so powerful.

Moments earlier, I read an email from my uncle in S.C. about the many family members that served our country since tomorrow is Veteran's Day. My grandmother is at her house, resting quietly as she grows weaker and weaker with age. The many wounded and mourning families in Fort Hood, T.X., take their seats and the bagpipes begin to play. The weight of it all finds its sweet release, and my tears can no longer be restrained.

I'm sitting in a waiting room shedding tear after tear. All of the moments of this life, and those lives that came before mine, seem to pause in the air around me and reveal how truly connected they all are. My life. The lives of my family members. The lives of strangers in Fort Hood, T.X., and their families.

One of my cast members states in his interview that we are all connected. He states that everyone is someone's cousin. We are all family, when it comes down to it. This brings me comfort as I weep over the loss of people whom I have never met.

My heart is with them.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Progress Continues

Last week Brian came over to help scan in images for the film. He made it through an entire stack of Surry's photos, and even did a bit of image processing to make the photos look better. What a huge help!

While he worked, I covered the door to my home office with brown shipping paper to write notes about the film. On it is listed the steps we must take to get to a director's cut, as well as goals for each of the next 12 months. When the director's cut is ready, we'll send it to the folks working on the next steps: Patrick for animated graphics, AB for music, and Todd for branding and marketing materials. There are so many more steps to complete.

Tonight, Matt is here working on slide scanning. He is a champ! We spent about an hour trying to work through an error message the scanner kept giving us, and he finally got it working. His timing could not have been more perfect, too. After such an ordeal over getting a scanner that works, I was quite willing to throw it through the window tonight. But he got is working and is now cruising along.

Needless to say, this film will be completed soon--and only because of the wonderful people helping us make it to the finish line.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Offers for Support Continue

I never cease to be amazed by the overwhelming support from friends and family as it relates to this film. We have been working on it for quite some time, and the offers to help keep coming in. It is the only way something like this happens, for certain.

Brian Thacker, an improviser/marketer/entrepreneur, just called me to offer help in scanning. Not only did he offer his own scanner, he is coming over tonight to work on the project with me. And while writing this, another loaner for a scanner has come in from my friend Paul. The network of people helping make this film grows daily, and it is a sign of so many wonderful things. I am so humbled by the continuing stream of willing volunteers to make it take shape.

There have been moments of solitude while working on this film, and others of loud and outright joy about it. Oh, how anxious I am to share the final product with everyone! I ache to say that it is finished, and available on DVD! I ache to send invitations to screening events in Raleigh, Chicago and D.C. I ache to host a wildly exciting fundraising party, where celebrations of finishing the project can be heard and felt from blocks away.

But aching doesn't get a project finished. And being hopeful about the outcome doesn't get you one step closer to wrapping it up. Sitting down and working on the thing is the only way to get it finished, and I am happy to have clarity of thought to make that happen. The past few months have seen a lot of change in my life. A lot of change. And so the project has not seen as much progress as I wished for it.

My friend, Doc, who has helped me with sage advice and digitizing tapes, told me many months ago that post-production is a great roller coaster of emotions. How right he has been! This part of the project has been so challenging for so many reasons.

Surry and I were riding in the car one day, and I laughed at how challenging the process has been. How foolishly I was to think that it could have been finished in merely a few months! We have poured our blood, sweat and tears into this project, for sure. While driving past the Irregardless Cafe with Surry, I sighed a breathe of relief at the thought of doing a second film. How much easier that one will be, now that I have learned so many lessons the hard way. How much simpler it could be to start and finish a second documentary, now having had the experience of working on this first one.

It is days like this, where support floods in, that I am able to keep my head down and focus on finishing this project. Therefore, one of my next posts will include a projected timeline for finishing the film. It will be done.

My cup runneth over.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

OfficeMax - Part II

On Tuesday, I wrote about the time wasted with OfficeMax in relation to a failed scanner. The photos and slides from Vietnam will be used in the film--only if we get them scanned properly.

After several hours on the phone with customer service representatives, one of whom blatantly hung up on me, I was finally escalated to a woman named Vivian who finally seemed capable of finding the answers I wanted to hear. She connected with the scanner manufacturer, had them send me a new one, and gave me a ticket to mail the faulty one to California free of charge. But I'm stuck with a phone bill that is twice what it should be, and an extra trip to drop of the faulty scanner when all I wanted was to return what I bought from the store originally.

It's unfortunate that it took several hours, and five OfficeMax representatives to finally find a mildly-satisfying resolution. Shouldn't the response, "Here's how we can make this right," be the first one? You would think so, but I suppose OfficeMax doesn't empower its employees to handle the situation right out of the gate. They have to stick to policies so they don't get fired, and even phone center supervisors are willing to hang up on a customer before extending some level of understanding and support.

Years ago, I read a book that highlighted Van Eure's customer service. If you're not familiar with her name, she helps run a little place called The Angus Barn here in Raleigh, N.C.--one of the nation's most successful restaurants with $10 million plus in annual sales. What can OfficeMax learn from Van Eure? The commandments of customer service, for sure. Not only does she get it, but she empowers her employees to help the customer as well.

One of the sections from Eure's chapter has stuck with me for many years. The book is Nine Lives: Stories of Women Business Owners Landing on Their Feet by Mary Cantando with Laurie Zuckerman. Here are excerpts from the book that I continue to enjoy:
This focus on the customers rather than the trappings of the business is the hallmark of Van's managment style. and she has learned that hiring the right employees is the foundation of customer satisfaction...it is not uncommon for Angus Barn managment to interview 100 applicants to fill two positions. From dishwasher to office staff to head chef, each applicant faces elaborate reference checks and a series of interviews. Then, before a job offer is made, everyone involved in the decision must give a unanimous thumbs up. A safecracker could break into Fort Knox more easily than a mediocre employee could get on the Angus Barn payroll. As a result, all 240 employees wear their Angus Barn employment badge of honor. And, once they make it in, they guard the door to ensure that the next employee meets the same high standards...
Each night those employees are put to the test. With an average of 900 customers a night and all the variables that go along with each order...it's just a matter of time before a slipup occurs...
Delivering a medium when a medium rare was ordered is bad enough, but the kind of slipups that Van hates the most are those involving special occasions like somebody's birthday or graduation party. Her approach in these situations is never to ask, "What do you want me to do for you?" but rather to say, "Let me tell you what I'm going to do." Then she always does more than she promises.
OfficeMax, if you are listening, please take a note from Eure's thoughts on management and customer service. Not only am I holding a grudge about your representative hanging up on me, I am angry that my phone bill is more than twice what it should be this month. You've ignored the opportunity to make things right. I'm fairly easy to placate in these situations but you have failed me many, many times this week. You, clearly, don't get it.

We're moving towards a society that engages with one another on a very personal basis using many different tools. Seth Godin writes about this in his book Tribes, "The tactics are irrelevant, and the technology will always be changing. The essential lesson is that every day it gets easier to tighten the relationship you have with the people who choose to follow you."

"Van has learned that people just want to feel special and small personal touches go a long way," Cantando writes. You have a huge opportunity in front of you, OfficeMax, but some part of me doubts that you'll capitalize on it.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

OfficeMax

For several hours I have been going back and forth with OfficeMax and the manufacturers of a scanner I purchased from them. Matt, one of our editors who's proficient in digital imaging, had planned to come over tonight to work on scanning images that will be used in the film. What a battle has ensued with OfficeMax, instead.

Here's what happened (as briefly as it can be told):
  • Bought a scanner in March 2009 for digitizing archived footage from Vietnam
  • Set up the scanner last week for use by Matt to digitize the large number of images
  • Realized that the scanner was not working properly (added a weird green light to each image)
  • Called the manufacturer to find out if it could be fixed, or needed replacing
  • Called the local OfficeMax store to find out about returning the item, and was told they have a 14-day return policy, don't carry the scanner in the store anymore, and I have to talk to the manufacturer
  • Talked to the manufacturer call center rep, who was very helpful, and confirmed that they could replace it but I have to pay the shipping fee
  • Angry that I couldn't return it locally and would have to pay for shipping it, I called the OfficeMax customer service center; was told about the 14-day return policy again and that I would have to talk with the manufacturer
  • Escalated my call to a supervisor who was incredibly rude, told me there was no one else that could help, and then proceeded to disconnect our call after telling me she was going to hang up on me. (Is that their policy? To hang up on customers instead of helping them?)
  • Called again, spoke with two people, and then finally left my name and number for another supervisor (after about an hour of waiting, explaining and talking)
  • Finally received a return call from a supervisor who is supposedly going to help me get a new scanner.
These are the little things you never see on film, aren't they? The little battles you fight in the attempt to wage war in finishing a feature-length film. And they are never seen on film, because they're insignificant if the final result is achieved. The behind-the-scenes ordeal for simply getting a scanner that works is of little importance if we have a final film with digitized original photos from Vietnam.

I am appalled that OfficeMax has a customer service representative who blatantly hangs up the phone instead of transferring the call to someone who can provide assistance. What started as a simple and very straightforward matter has become an inordinate waste of time and resources for both of us.

A 14-day return policy has now damaged OfficeMax's reputation and brand for me. It has caused an unbelievable amount of inconvenience, when I simply wanted to return a faulty product they sold me. The matter could have been resolved so quickly, too! All I wanted was someone to return the money I spent on the faulty scanner, or help cover the cost of shipping it to the manufacturer.

They are supposedly calling me back tomorrow morning with an update. I'll keep you posted. In the mean time, does anyone have a scanner we might borrow?

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

The Ebb and Flow

It truly is a rare gift to do what one loves, and I find myself appreciating this gift every day. There are challenges, of course, but this adventure is one that I hope to never take for granted. The ebb and flow of work on this documentary film continues. I look forward to sharing more progress reports very soon.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Living Your Dreams

All people dream; but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recess of their minds wake in the day to find that it was vanity. But the dreamers of the day are the dangerous people, for they may act their dream with open eyes to make it possible.

-- T. E. Lawrence
It is a rare gift, indeed, to live one's dreams. I feel quite lucky to be doing what I have always dreamt of doing: making a feature-length film. There are times where it is challenging, for certain; but, I can't think of any place I'd rather be than where I am right now in my life. It is a rare opportunity, and one I dare not take for granted.

Stop. Be in the present moment. Appreciate where you are. Then continue moving forward.

Social Media and Vietnam

It could be easy to miss the news about Vietnam arresting bloggers. There's so much that happens in one day. In case you missed it, here is an article about a blogger who just got released, and that explains more: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/8253832.stm. It only takes a few minutes to read.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Tweak or Not to Tweak

Tweaking, tweaking, tweaking. I sit down to edit the film's screenplay, reading transcript after transcript. Then I sit at the computer, moving clips around on the timeline. I'm finatical about how this story is told. To the point where I am annoying myself.

If this clip goes here, it leads to this next one well. People will be able to handle new information if it goes in this order. But this is important, too. No, this should go here instead. Ok, this clip is a little too hard to understand.

The conversations in my head as I edit this film are almost laughable. I debate with myself over where a certain clip should go, who should be seen first, who says the message most succinctly or with the right tone in their voice.

Claude Monet painted the same subjects repeatedly. Different times of days. Studying the light and change in color obsessively. I'm no Claude Monet, but I do feel his finaticism and how it can consume someone.

My dad listens to me tell him these things. That I have been obsessing over it too much, and need to stop tweaking it. Dad tells me, "There's a beginning, a middle and an end to everything. Find the end. Get it finished."

My friend asks about the film, and hears me say something similar. I keep tweaking. Why do I obsessively tweak?! She tells me, "There's no second film if you never finish your first."

Yes, these things I know all too well. I carry them with me daily. The pressure mounts every moment. I so deseperately want to finish this film, and share it with the world. It's pertinent, and timely. It needs to be seen, shared. Not because of anything I may have done, but because the plight of the Montagnards is important. And for so many other reasons.

Tweak, tweak, tweak. I must stop tweaking, and keeping moving on. There is so much left to do, and I must get myself out of the way of progress.

Color is my day-long obsession, joy and torment.

-Claude Monet

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Sacrifice

Some of my friends talk to me about sacrifice. They don't open with that word, but it is at the heart of their rant. It seems our generation feels as if we are owed something, and you see this on the faces of older generations and as creative fodder for films. It's even so cliche that we have the "I hiked 15 miles in the snow--uphill" speech.

But what do my fellow young Americans really know of sacrifice? (We have friends and family serving overseas, so do not let me discount that sacrifice.) We are largely removed from what is happening outside our small, immediate world. My hasty generalization is that we choose to turn a deaf ear or a blind eye to what is happening overseas and in the world because it is a downer. It's not as hip to talk about war, policy, abandoment, persecution and human rights as it is to talk about reality television, fashion, and celeb gossip. At least, not in every social circle. Perhaps the media is to blame for not reporting on it. But that is a chicken-or-the-egg conversation: do they not report or do we not listen and thereby cause them not to report on it?

When I sat down with my Montagnard and Special Forces friends, the sacrifice did not immediately come pouring out. It took time for them to talk about it. Just as a well respected man is not boastful, these real American heroes are slow to show you their pain. Because it is very real. And still very present.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Eastern NC and Vietnam

Centennial is one of my favorite books. The book has always stuck with me, although I confess that I last read it in high school (about 10 years ago for anyone counting). What has stuck with me the most is the story of the land, and the people living on it and from it. The story is both beautiful and ugly simultaneously. I would like to read it again when I have a week at the beach sometime. It’s a good book.

While sitting in the sun Down East this weekend, I found myself thinking about Centennial and how the author uses the land to shape his characters. I have always felt connected to the land in eastern North Carolina, the water that surrounds it, and the wide open skies that embrace it all. Years ago, I was so connected to it that I could predict a storm before the sky darkened and the first drop of rain fell. (Well, perhaps it was the change in barometric pressure more than a prediction.) The land in eastern North Carolina has helped shape who I am and the way in which I live my life. When anyone asks where I am from my answer is always a prideful, “Eastern North Carolina.”

This weekend I thought about Centennial a few times, as it so beautifully describes the connection between the land and human life. While in Eastern North Carolina, the area in which I was born and raised, I thought of the Montagnards and how their homeland has shaped their lives. They are from the central highlands of Vietnam, although you would not call them Vietnamese.

Oh, how they must miss that land after they leave. So many of them now live in North Carolina, and I can only imagine how much they miss the way things once were in the central highlands of Vietnam. In our interviews, the longing for home is almost palpable.

The history of the Montagnards is directly related to the lands they once inhabited in relative isolation. They knew the land, how to farm it and care for it. It was their livelihood. And knowing that, I now understand how land reform has been used to hurt the Montagnards. By limiting the amount of land available to farm, it limits other things like the amount of food available for the Montagnards.

This is not something that happened once, during the war many years ago. The persecution of the Montagnards continues today. My visit to my own homeland this weekend kept me thinking about the Montagnards, and how connected they are to the central highlands of Vietnam. I get asked frequently if this filmmaking adventure has taken me there. Perhaps one day.

Monday, August 24, 2009

NYC and Charlotte


My improv comedy team, Big Fat & Stealthy, just returned from the Del Close Marathon in NYC. It was a great weekend full of laughs and good friends. We performed at 1pm on Saturday, August 15 at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre. For those whom have never attended, the Del Close Marathon is a weekend of mass consumption of improv shows. My friend tells me that about 1,000 teams applied and 300 were accepted to perform. It's an honor to be a part of such a weekend, and I do hope to return next year (either as a performer or observer). The photo above is of Matt Walsh, one of the guys who started UCBT.

While the weekend was delightfully fun, I did manage to pick up a cold. It has made it hard to accomplish much this week--but it's just a cold. Thankfully, I think I have now caught up on some much needed rest. The cough lingers, but that I can definitely handle.

Today I am in Charlotte, N.C., at a conference called Social Fresh, which is all about social media. Social media has been a fascination of mine for years now, and being in a room full of experts is not something I take for granted. Hearing people talk about their experiments, lessons and best practices has been a great thing. Some of the challenges I have faced over the years are common, it seems. Explaining the benefits, proving return on investment (ROI), and helping people understand how do to it the right way (transparency, collaboration, genuine relationships, etc.). It's nice to be in a room of people thinking about the same things, you know?

And that's the basis for social media. If you don't know what that term means, then no worries. When you distill this down to it's most basic form, it's simply a means by which we surround ourselves with like-minded individuals that we want to communicate with and care to know. Seth Godin calls it a tribe. Which I find incredibly appropriate and it's incredibly relevant in my work on this film.

Today, I have a tribe of volunteers working on the film. When the film is released, hopefully we'll have a tribe of people that want to learn more about the Montagnards, become fans of the film, and help spread the word. When you look at the culture and history of the Montagnards, you learn that the term references a collective groups of different tribes. The Montagnard tribes have different languages and traditions, just like those tribes you see online today.

There are huge connections between these two seemlingly unrelated trips and this filmmaking adventure. The trip to NYC helped me recognize that my passion for film production is undeniable and needed. I know people that want to act, direct, edit--but a producer is needed to make it all happen (on time and within the budget). So, production is definitely the role I enjoy playing. There were a few key discussions that helped me remember this, some of which happened in the van on the way to/from NYC with my teammates.

The conference today in Charlotte has helped me recognize that social media is directly related to the history and future of the Montagnards. On Saturday night, I had a great conversation with one of our cast members, Lap. I am incredibly impressed and energized by his ideas and passion. We talked about preservation of history and how research and books no longer in print might be shared online. What a wonderful idea. I hope it comes to fruition.

There are many great things happening right now. I'm learning a lot every day. And every day, I grow more and more anxious to get the film finished. Here's hoping we can do that soon. No, not hoping. Here's *knowing* that we can make that happen soon!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

15 Minutes

Well, we have about 15 minutes of edited footage now. I am going to sit down with the footage and see how well it all flows together, or if we should make any changes at this point. It's a slowly-moving process, but at least we're moving along. The deadline for a film festival is coming up, and although I don't know that we can make it, I would certainly love to have it entered for the 2010 festival. For the moment, I'm using it as a deadline to help us move forward. Fifteen minutes and counting!

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Talking It Up

Last night one of my friends confessed that she loves talking about the fact that I am making a movie. She says that she gets to live vicariously through me, which seems laughable that anyone would want to do such a thing. I loved her candor and smile as she told me that she seems cooler by association because I'm working on a film. Who knew?!

I share this in order to say that her excitement freed me to completely unleash my own enthusiasm about our project. I found myself dominating the conversation with details about the film and our schedule for finishing it. What would happen after we finished it: distribution, entry into film festivals, screening events. The list of volunteers who are helping me, and how talented they all are. Suddenly, we were all excited and laughing about the possibilities of the future. It was one of those moments, where you know that years from now you'll look back and smile when you remember being younger and surrounded by friends and unashamed laughter.

It has been so exciting to see the anticipation of others for the film. Every day I carry this anxiousness--wanting and needing to finish this film immediately so that we can share it with the world. I feel that it is important for so many reasons, and the sooner it is released, the sooner it can bring awareness to the Montagnards and how closely this history relates to what is happening in Iraq and Afghanistan today. It's a weight that I carry every moment of every day: looking at the bigger picture of producing the film, and how to tell this story so that it does justice to those that lived it.

When I see the excitement of others, like my friends last night, it rejuvenates and recharges me. That weight of responsibility is quiet for just a moment, and the light of what is happening shines on me for just a moment. And it is then that I have to pinch myself again to realize that all of this is real. That dreams actually do come true. That there is a place in the world where you can do what you love, and by doing what you love, you actually bring happiness to others in the world. And it is at that moment that you simultaneously realize how lucky you are, how fragile it all is, and how small you really are in the world.

Hollywood is an ongoing, never-ending roller coaster ride. It's filled with dips and dives. Twists and turns. And like every great roller coaster ride, it's chock full of things that might occassionally make you want to vomit. But all in all, if you can hold on to the feeling you have at the end when you're unbuckling the seat belt and heading to the cotton candy stand, you'll discover that it's a ride well worth taking. And one that will never disappoint. So, suit up fellow warriors, it's game time.
--Fran Harris, Crashing Hollywood

Monday, August 10, 2009

The First Rough Cut

A few weeks ago, I showed Surry the first few minutes of our edited film. It's a very rough cut: nothing but the interviewed edited together. What a delight it was to have something to show him! While he watched it, I got goosebumps. The powerful statements made by our cast carry such weight. I can only imagine the excitement I'll feel when I see the finished film!

Now, I know this project is close to me, but I have to tell you that it is going to be great. Just those first few minutes of edited footage proove to me, once again, that what we have on our hands is going to be amazing. It's relative to today, and an important subject matter.

Matt keeps coming over to edit. Surry keeps me motivated. And the rest of our volunteers stand waiting and ready to work when we get the director's cut finalized. We're moving along slowly, but steadily. Every day that passes, I grow more and more anxious to wrap the project so that we can share it with the world!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

McNamara dead at age 93

Robert McNamara has died. I have been studying his role in the Vietnam War, and watched a documentary about it called The Fog of War. It's interesting to read coverage of his death, and compare it to the other recent deaths: Michael Jackson, Farrah Fawcett, Billy Mays, and Ed McMahon. It reinforces temporal existence.

Robert S. McNamara, 93; manager of Vietnam War
from NorthJersey.com
http://www.northjersey.com/obituaries/50153522.html?c=y&page=1

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Independence Day

This week my friend and I went to our favorite pub. We like the pub because it is consistently entertaining and feels like our own version of Cheers, where everyone knows our names. The pub is full of people cycling through, and we come home with the most interesting stories. This week, I met a red headed, freckle-faced Marine named McCready.

We talked for a while about sand spiders in Afghanistan. Someone I know recently told me these spiders can be as big as the size of a steering wheel, and I want to know if it's true or not. McCready tells me someone has been exaggerating. But they do get to be really big, about the size of your hand. And they crawl into cool places, like sleeping bags. I can handle spiders, but not when they're the size of a steering wheel. We talk about Afghanistan, and about being a Marine.

He tells me about war strategies, and losing some level of hearing in his left ear because of an IED. He talks about the extreme heat in Afghanistan. Sleeping in holes in the sand. Jealousy of those stationed in Iraq because the conditions are much better now, and they have a McDonald's. He talks about how he disklikes training new recruits. He talks about recruiting during a war. And about the differences of fighting a world war in comparison to these smaller wars that are largely misunderstood or supported.

Our conversation pauses for a moment. McCready looks embarrassed that he has been talking for so long about the Marines and Afghanistan. The pause seems to bring him back to the present, sitting in a pub talking with an American woman that's never been there, much less through any military training.

"Sorry. I could talk about it all day," McCready says. "I'm sure it's boring."

He mistakes the pause as my lack of interest. In reality, I am letting it all sink in. Little does he know just how enthralled I am by the details. It's not likely that he'll understand that without knowing about our film.

I tell him about the documentary, the research, interviews, subject matter, and meeting people like Col. Roger Donlon, Mike Benge, Maj. John Plaster and the Montagnards. I tell him their stories, because I have been mentally living their experiences in Vietnam for so long. I tell him their stories because that's what I know well now, and it mimics what he has been sharing with me. I tell him about Col. Roger Donlon's experience at Nam Dong, and Maj. John Plaster's experience behind enemy lines. I tell him about Mike Benge getting captured, and his experience as a POW. I tell him about Viet Cong war strategy, and the relationship between the Montagnards and Special Forces.

Then, similarly, I realize I've been talking too long. And the pause brings me back to the present, sitting in a pub with a soldier surrounded by people drinking heavily and laughing loudly. The setting is a stark contrast to our conversation, and the pause jolts me back to the present moment.

We sit there, in a crowded and very loud pub. Two strangers from very different places, unexpectedly finding common ground. I am silent at the thought of what's happening today, and how closely it mimics what I have been studying about the Vietnam War. He again looks a little uncomfortable, and asks if I'm OK since I'm visibly lost in thought.

Our eyes reconnect, and I smile. "Yes, thank you. I'm fine." He seems more at ease.

He is protective about others constantly bumping into me, but in an old fashioned and very polite way. Like a gentleman, he helps me find a seat so that we can keep talking with less distraction. He offers to buy me a beer as we continue to talk. Our bar tender, now busy with a new incoming crowd, misses McCready's signal for drinks. I offer a quick glance at our favorite bar tender, who he responds immidiately to my eye contact. It makes me think that McCready's restrained strength could be easily missed. He does not advertise it, nor does he demand attention. His manners, gentlemanly ways, stature and stance remind me of my grandfather.

My grandfather would be celebrating his wedding anniversary tomorrow were he still alive. He was a Marine. Semper Fi to the day he died. A true gentleman who opened doors, wrote love letters to his wife, and fought during WWII. Never pushy or militant. Never boastful. But humble with a quiet, restrained strength.

In his honor, my grandmother still gives red, white and blue flowers to the church for the alter during our nation's Independence Day weekend in honor of their wedding anniversary. They got married in their hometown, at a little church, and had a reception at my grandmother's family home. The black and white pictures of them are so charming. In the photo, she carries flowers from her family's garden wearing an understated white dress, and he wears his Marine dress uniform. She still points at the picture, smiles, and says, "Isn't he handsome?" The love for her late husband has never left her eyes or her smile. It's almost tangible. One of those things that seems almost unfathomable today, when you find yourself in a conversation about the recession, bad job market and divorce rates. Her continued love for him seems like an enigma, something you can't believe until you witness it first hand.

Suddenly, the details of my life, and all that has happened before I was born seems orchestrated by a force larger than me. All of the details that feel so unrelated and nebulous start to form a recognizable pattern. Something that feels like it's leading me towards a future that is uncertain, but beautiful. Something that gives me hope that we will finish this film soon and share it with others. Something that uplifts my spirit, and makes me feel a great sense of pride for our country. A country that has not always done the right thing and is not presently favored by the world, but a country that has the chance to change the future. Suddenly, I understand that the possibilities that are truly endless.

Suddenly, too, my friend signals that it is time to go. I shake the Marine's hand. I thank McCready for his service, the time he's just shared with me, and the drink he bought me. And as we walk out of our pub, my friends laugh loudly about something unrelated. I walk quietly, realizing that, to me, this man represents what Independence Day means right now. I look over my shoulder, caught between my laughing friends and the quiet McCready still sitting at the bar.

He's the man on the ground. He's the one who lost hearing in his left ear because an IED blew up. He's the one sleeping in a hole in the sand, fighting in a war that I don't fully understand. He's the one training new soldiers, so they don't make mistakes. He's the one waiting to be shot at by the enemy because he's not allowed to shoot first. He's the one in 140 degree heat making sure I can stay comfortable in my home here in North Carolina.

Today, the sun is shining. Blue, peaceful skies and green grass surround me. My family and friends are grilling out. The pool is open and inticing. Life is good. And I find myself appreciating it more because of working on this film. I hope, with genuine sincerity, that this film may honor and uplift those that have given me the great priveledge of this freedom and independence. It is not something I take for granted. That is certain.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Enemy of the State

Gene Hackman's character:
"You know, in guerilla warfare, you try to use your weaknesses as strengths."

Will Smith's character:
"Such as?"

Gene Hackman's character:
"Well, if they’re big and you’re small, then you’re mobile and they’re slow. You’re hidden and they’re exposed. You only fight battles you know you can win. That’s the way the Viet Cong did it. You capture their weapons, and then you use them against them the next time. That way they’re supplying you. You grow stronger as they grow weaker."

A few weeks ago, the movie Enemy of the State was playing. I like conspiracy movies, and these lines of dialogue overlap a critical transition in the movie. It's where the underdogs amp up to fight for themselves against the bad guys. I highly recommend it, and thought the dialogue was incredibly relevant to our film. Enjoy.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Frequently Asked Quesitons

Many people have been asking me questions lately about our documentary film. I have noticed a trend in some of the questions, as they get repeated, and have lately thought this is a great foundation for web content. There are the expected items for any doc film website, but I wanted to generate an FAQ section based on real life interactions, and feedback from my networks online.

Here are the questions most commonly asked:
  • What's the film about?
  • How did you get interested in this topic?
  • How did you start the project?
  • How are you making the film?
  • Who is working on the project with you?
  • What equipment are you using?
  • Where did you get funding?
  • Did you go to Vietnam?
  • Where are you making the film?
As we continue with post-production, interest in the film has been growing significantly. We're committed to finishing is as soon as we can, but at a pace we can handle since it's a bootstrapped effort and many of the team members work full time elsewhere.

So, are there unanswered questions you have had, too?
I'm happy to answer any questions you have about the film via this blog. It'll also help us develop the FAQ section of the website when we get to that stage in the project. As interest grows, I anticipate that the website will need to go live soon (at least a first version before we get the logo, brand, ID, etc. developed and finalized).

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Creatures of Habit

Humans are creatures of habit. So, I'm going to do my best to keep updating this blog at least once a week. Conversations today lead me to the understanding that I'm so focused on finishing the film, that I am neglecting other areas of the film's development. This blog is one of them. I took a double, then triple, look at the date of my last entry. It's been more than a month since I last posted something!

No doubt, a lot has happened since then:
  • Matthew (or Doc, as he is nicknamed by our mutual friends) finished digitizing all of the footage, which has been an absolutely tremendous support. He's also been very helpful in keeping me sane, telling me the emotions that I'll go through as we embark on the post-production journey.
  • We finished transcribing all of the interviews, and I have a notebook full of dog-eared, poorly numbered pages.
  • Matt has also started coming over to edit the footage, muddling through my maddening notes. He's a patient being, and is earning his place in heaven for his work. He's been helping me figure out what we'll need to do once the first draft is finished: tweak transitions, edit the audio so it is all similar, pinpoint where we want animated graphics and images, etc.
  • And, my biggest, most exciting film news recently: We now have at least one minute of edited footage on the timeline!
It's been a painstaking process, but one that is clearly worthwhile. Every step of the process has proven that this project is SO much bigger than just me, and those that immediately surround me. We, as humans, need to know that we're a part of something bigger than ourselves, I think. This film is definitely proof of that. It's not just a film about the Montagnards and Special Forces, it's a film about humanity, how we treat one another, the art of war, individual sacrifice, and consequences of our actions. Above all else, it's about keeping promises.

Every time I meet a soldier, the film naturally comes up in conversation. They are fascinated, I believe, by the discovery in a casual conversation and the fact that (1) a woman is making a film about the Montagnards and Special Forces, (2) I know the term Montagnard, and (3) how I can see the connection between the Vietnam War and the war overseas today. It has happened several times over the past few months, and each time the response has been something to the effect of, "Please do us right. Tell our story, and let everyone know."

It genuinely brings tears to my eyes as I write it. I remember how they stare me dead in the eye, asking with such authority and simultaneously with such helplessness. I frequently feel so small and insignificant, but at those moments I realize that I've been charged with something so huge.

Next Steps
There's so much work left to be done, but we are moving along at a pace that we can bear. I work full time (as do many of my other volunteers), so nights and weekends are film time. But sometimes those things get interrupted by things that life brings with it: supporting family and friends, chores like paying bills or cleaning house, and every now and then mini-vacations to keep ourselves balanced.

Once we get the first draft finished, we'll review what we have and possibly reorganize some of the clips. At that point, we'll decide if we need a voiceover or not. Then we'll identify where we need to use still images, music and animated graphics. Once we get that official director's cut ready--the draft that is as polished as we think it can get--we'll show it to select audiences (or test groups) to see what the reactions are to the film. I think I'd like to have a few different test audiences. After that, we'll likely have some tweaks to make. Somewhere in there, we'll bring in the marketing / communications team. (Yay! Something that's familiar territory.) Then we will finally start to release it to broader, bigger audiences. And from that point forward, I imagine, it just might be coasting from there.

We'll need things like a learning center to share info about the Montagnards and Special Forces, bios for the cast and crew, a photo gallery, etc. And I imagine that we will need a press kit with some of that information available for download.

I'm incredibly anxious to keep things moving forward. But, I promise to keep updating this blog more often. It has clearly been neglected, which contradicts the amount of work that is still happening on the film.

Yes, I'm quite excited. Surry gave me another pep talk today. It was exactly what I needed to hear, and I'm so eternally grateful to him for the unending support and guidance he continues to provide. Perhaps I'll convince him to one day work on an autobiography! He's a fascinating person, full of talent, passion, wisdom, surprises and amazing stories.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Good Days, Bad Days and Family

One of my cast members told me that his time in Vietnam was some of the happiest and saddest times in his life.  There were good days and bad days.  Naturally, it was a war.  The highs were high and the lows were very low.  He laughed a lot.  Cried occassionally.  Wouldn't really trade that time for anything.

Today, I am having a down day.  Writing, for me, becomes very difficult on days where I am not the happiest.  But today I have decided to write anyway, because it's important to remember the challenging days just as much as we remember the joyful ones.  Filmmakers know that the good becomes even better when contrasted against something bad.  It's why we have comic book heroes and arch nemises, after all.  Superman's great, but compared side-by-side with Lex Luthor he looks even better.  So, we have our good days and we have our bad days.  My point is that it's important to recognize and appreciate both. 

My reason for writing is not to complain or rant, but merely to remember that I struggled today.  The film is a blessing in so many ways.  A challege that has helped me grow into a much more confident young woman.  It's helped me understand what I want to do with the rest of my life.  But, on days like today, I have to appreciate the pains that come with those joys.

Today was a struggle, for certain.  And when one thing goes wrong, it's easy to see how everything can come crashing down around you in a second.  I write in these ambiguous ways because the details of what specifically went wrong are nebulous to anyone that doesn't know me very well.  My sister came over, listened to me, and sat with me.  It's the people to whom you are incredibly close that make things like a documentary film happen.  They may not be doing a specific task like designing, editing or writing, but they support you and hold you up in ways you never knew you needed.

Without my sister, without my family and friends, I would never be able to dream of doing something like this--and it is to them (as well as many others) that I am incredibly indebted and grateful.  We are given a family by birth, but we have the chance to make our own families at various points throughout our lives.  Seth Godin happens to call them tribes.  We get to make our own circle of people that are interesting and valuable to us.  Entrepreneurs call them a brain trust.  Businesses call them a board of directors.  There are many names for family.

One of the Montagnards to whom I have been introduced as a result of this project--a great leader in his community who works harder than many men I've met--calls his American friend a brother.  It's such a simple term, but holds so much weight.  Brother.  It's a term they use with love and respect, honor and gratitude.  Brother.  It is a term that unites two grown men who made great sacrifices together, long ago, so that I could enjoy freedom in my country (and do things like make a documentary film).

Family.  We are given a family, but we also make our own families as we journey through life.  It's not without our families that we accomplish much of significance, either.  Sure, it's possible to do great things without the support of your family (whether a given or created family), but it's so much more enjoyable to share the experience.  Even when you're pitifully sobbing like I was today.

There are many people that make a project like this happen.  Some you see in the opening credits.  Some you don't.  Yep, in a film, there are so many people that make it come together.  And that's one of the reasons I really enjoy this form of art: the collaborative efforts.  Maybe I'm old fashioned, but it feels like one of those barn raising events where the whole community comes together to build something.  And that's pretty excellent in my book.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

A Vision of the Future

Last weekend I had a vision of the future of this film. It was really exciting! My team and I had finished it. Normally, that alone would be enough to be exciting, but this particular vision showed me possible next steps. The premonition was specifically about special screening events.

My whole team and I--cast, crew, family, friends--we were getting all dolled up for a screening of the film at The Rialto in Raleigh, N.C., or at The Airborne & Special Operations Museum in Fayetteville, N.C. It was a chance for the whole team to come together in person and be recognized. The entire event was classy, beautiful and entertaining. It caused a buzz about the Montagnards, people were asking questions, learning and seeking more information. The Montagnards that live in Raleigh performed traditional dances and songs, there was a Q&A session with a panel of experts like John Plaster, Dr. Hickey, Mike Benge and Greg Stock. Even the media came, asking questions about the Montagnards and how the film relates to what's happening today in Iraq and Afghanistan.

What gave me the greatest sense of hope was the possibility of raising funds for real change. Wouldn't it be exciting to not only honor our allies, but to use the sales of tickets to raise money to help enrich the lives the Montagnards lead here in the United States, the country that abandoned them. The possibilities were endless in this vision of the future.

The pressure is on. I so desperately want to finish this film so that it can be shared. The people I have met, the information they have shared, the stories they've told...I hope I do it justice.

Chaotic Space

Deadlines, deadlines. At my full time job, and in life in general, deadlines are not to be missed. It's a sign of keeping your word that you'll meet a deadline, a sign that you're worthy of trust, that you can be held accountable. That, when you give your word, it actually means something. You've made a promise, and it's up to you to keep it.

I keep giving myself hard deadlines so that I can finish a certain stage of the project. I need a date, a deadline, to work towards. My background is in graphic design, which is typically done for a client, which means there's usually a hard deadline. So, you learn to work backwards. If the design is due three months from now, you can set up deadlines for the process: first draft, review, revisions, etc. For the film, though, there is no client. So, these self-imposed deadlines help me keep things moving forward. It's all in my hands right now, and the work of my volunteers can't start until I finish this battle against myself to stop tweaking the screenplay.

Many people have asked why write a screenplay if it's a documentary. I've gotten a lot of questions about that. Well, it's the road map for me and my team. We have 30+ hours of interview footage, a mountain of original images, archived 8mm film, original audio, and eventually original animated graphics and original scores. We have a volunteer team of editors, writers, designers, musicians, managers, marketers, programmers and more that ask to help on a weekly basis. Simply put, the screenplay is a way to make order of the seemingly chaotic space we're in right now.

It's easier to tweak lines of text now, rather than wait until we're down the road. It's easier to battle myself, alone in my house, than drive my editors crazy by asking them to move footage around on the timeline. We are, after all, volunteering so I want to make it fun for everyone. If it starts to feel like work, then they might walk away. That's a very real, very scary thought for me. This group of volunteers is made up of my friends, colleagues, acquaintances. If they feel the need to walk away because it's no longer in their best interest or they have a major conflict in time committments, then that's one thing. But if they feel the need to walk away from the project because it's no longer fun, then that is altogether very different. I can't pay them, so it absolutely must be fun.

So, I want to protect them and give them an enivornment in which they can flourish and do their best work. Work they are proud of, and want to share with their network. Work that builds their portfolio so they can get paid jobs. Great, intelligent, talented people are hard to find. I want to make more films, and I only want the best people on my team. And, I want to take the lessons that I've picked up from my full time job and work in the most effiicent means possible. It's all been about processes for me at work in the past two years, and I've not forgotten those lessons while working on this film.

There comes a time and a place where you have to recognize that you've got it as good as you can get it right now, though. An artist is rarely ever finished with a piece of work. The time to stop tweaking is coming for me soon. I've been working on the screenplay since January, when I returned from my interview with John Plaster in Wisconsin. There is much more work to be done, and I'm holding up the process by tweaking too much.

So, my final deadline is the end of May. I boldy state that I will finish it this week, before my Memorial Day vacation. We shall see, we shall see. Wish me luck, folks. I'm in a battle, and it shall end soon! Man versus self. Who wins?

On the other hand, I must pat myself on the back for just a moment. I've been reviewing the footage and transcripts, and it's quite refreshing to see just how far I've come in the interviewing process.

Previously I mentioned that there are a lot of synergies between my full time job and this film. What I've learned at work, I have applied in my filmmaking. And now, what I have learned on my film, I can apply at work. Interviewing skills help save money, basically. The more talented the interviewer, the faster you get to clips you can use. The faster you get to clips you can use, the less time and money is spent filming and then hunting for those clips.

Think of it in the America's Next Top Model terms. Tyra's always congratulating her models when they get a lot of great photos, especially when they have the final pick in the first few frames. Back in the film days, you wanted a model who could strike a winning pose quickly because it means less money spent on film. Oh, man, I spent so much money on film! Today, even without film, the same rules apply because time is money. The faster you get to the winning end product, the more money you save. The more money a model saves a photographer or creative director, the more jobs she'll book and the more successful she can be. Similarly, the more skilled you are as an interviewer, the more money and time you'll save, allowing you to keep building your portfolio.

If only I had these skills at the beginning of the project. We must live and learn, though. We must learn to yeild to that which we do not know, so that we can grow in the chaotic space. We should surrender to where we are in life, and go into something new open minded and ready to learn. This project, as I previously mentioned, has helped me grow in so many ways. Ways that I will be thankful for the rest of my life. There's no doubt that my world is changing. It's one unbelievable dream come true.

"Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go."
--T.S. Elliot

"The ability to let something go, to yield and thence to empty, is essential to growing. New skin does not flourish until the old has been sloughed off."
--Nicola Phillips