Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Living the Dream

It is extraordinarily hard to know what you want.
It is harder in a way to know what you want than how to get it. Sometimes we block our desires for fear we won't get them. Our fears of disappointment and rejection are so huge that we will stay with things we are unhappy with because we know them. Fear of the unknown is so big.
I like big. It's a good word. Short but expansive. It makes me smile when I say it.
Choosing what you want is the biggest difference you can make in your life.
You cannot be doing what you'd rather be doing until you have made that choice. Not the decision, an informed choice. Choice about what you are, what you want and what you will have to lose to do it. 
-- Nicola Phillips, The Big Difference: Life Works When You Choose It

These are words from a book I happened to pick up on January 1, 2007. Inside the book I wrote "a $10 gift to myself" thinking it would inspire me. I only bought it because it was 1/2 off, and years later I'm still enjoying the book and the notes I wrote inside it.

This morning, especially, I recalled where I was in my career (and emotionally) when I bought the book. Filmmaking seemed like a dream that was so far away because I didn't know how to do it, where to go, or how to figure it out. I also didn't know what, exactly, I wanted to do in the industry. I just knew that I wanted to try it.

The year before I bought The Big Difference, I had decided to move to L.A. When I visited L.A., I loved it and wanted to stay. I thought about whether I should ship, drive or sell my car. I thought about how to get a job in L.A. to pay the bills while figuring out how to get into the film industry. I could be a secretary, or answer phones. Something corporate to pay the bills. I even looked at where to live, and how to find roommates. I was convinced this was the plan. But something didn't feel quite right. So I stayed in my beloved home state of North Carolina.

Low and behold, I have been able to do everything I wanted to do in L.A. right here in Raleigh, N.C. These two worlds are quite different, but I have been able to try what I wanted to try without actually moving. I was able to study improvisational comedy through ComedyWorx and iO, and I am now making my own film. How lucky I am to have had these opportunities in my home state.

For those of you who are trying to figure out your career, what you want out of life, and how to make your dreams come true, I recommend this book. It leaves you with a lot of questions, but helps you think through things for yourself. It helps you figure out the path you'll take, because none of us take the same paths in life, right?

My favorite chapter is titled "Living in Chaotic Space," which is exactly where I've been living for about three years now. The learning curve I've faced in making Abandoned Allies is both thrilling and simultaneously exhausting. Because I crave new information, though, this chaotic space has become quite satisfying and comfortable (on some days, but not all days).

In the past week I've wanted to throw my massive desktop out the window out of frustration. Then on days like today, I'm in the right place at the right time and the right people show me the right information. It's as if the universe aligns for the briefest of moments to show confirmation that I am doing what I'm meant to be doing. And that, my friends, is worth any frustration I might feel along the way.

Besides, these silly little battles I have are so insignificant when I see the bigger picture. Any time I start to feel tired or have self-pity, I am reminded of the struggles that my cast members went through in their lives. It's a healthy dose of perspective, and I am often left weeping in the midst of editing video.

How I long to share this film with you. I only hope that the film will tell these stories well, and that you'll forgive me of my first-time filmmaker mistakes.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Talk at NCSU (Round 2)

This morning I was lucky enough to visit Dr. Patterson's STS 323 class to talk about Abandoned Allies and the issues it covers: human rights, foreign policy, the US Special Forces, and our loyal allies, the Montagnard people. I'm very grateful to Dr. Patterson, his students, and Laura Hartman for the kind introduction to the class.

It's an honor to share the subject with such smart university students. The subject is a complex one, and speaking to Dr. Patterson's classes has helped me think through our messages and how to distill them down into smaller bits of information for a presentation (outside of the media of film).  Abandoned Allies has a very narrow scope, and would be much longer if we covered all that I wish could go into it.  Finding what to cut / keep has been one of the biggest challenges.

Today, the room was full of about 200+ undergraduate students, many of whom are set to graduate soon. They were kind enough to listen to me talk about our project, and all of the things I've struggled to learn since the adventure started in March 2008. It's tough to not get amped up when talking about what's happening to our allies in Vietnam today.

Once I learned more about the truth explored in Abandoned Allies--and I still have more to learn--I couldn't help but be embarrassed and upset about it. Our government made a promise to the Montagnards: fight with us, and we'll help you find freedom.  We didn't live up to that promise.  It's a bit therapeutic to finally start sharing these things publicly, because we (as Americans) can actually do something to change this without the fear of being thrown into jail. Our Montagnard friends in Vietnam don't have that freedom, as all of my research has shown me.

Our country is trading with Vietnam, yet our allies are facing persecution in that country. It's a very complicated thing, to some degree. Do we continue trading or not? Can foreign trade be lumped together with human rights? How could our country stipulate human rights worldwide? Then again, how can we not stipulate that our allies be treated fairly? I have many more questions than I have answers.

Last night, in preparation for the talk, I searched for news relating to Vietnam.  I found one article from the Canadian Press titled "Vietnam jails 2 hill tribe villagers for plotting anti-government protests" and another article from titled "Bill Clinton pledges more help to Vietnam." These two contradictory articles leave me with a feeling of unrest. Both were published in the last month. On one hand we have the persecution of Montagnards (or "hill tribe villagers" as the article calls them) and on the other, we have our previous President promising economic benefits for trading with the very country doing the persecuting. It's there, in black and white, for anyone who wants to piece it together.

These talks to students have been really helpful because this doc is not just a film--it's real life, happening today.  My interest in this subject won't end after the film is finished, or after it has been shown to audiences. It'll be a lifelong interest of mine, as I learn how to be a more active/responsible citizen of the United States. I love my country. Learning these things about the broken promises of our government hurts me, and I search for answers about how to make it right.

Dr. Patterson asked me to speak to another class this afternoon, so I will head that way soon. I'm learning more from these talks than the audience is, I'm sure. They raise great questions, and a few students have even offered to help us with the film and events related to it.  I'm so grateful and honored.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Viva La Challenges

Forgive me if that title is grammatically incorrect in French.  It's been a while since I've studied it...and I was always better at the accent than the foreign grammar.

Soooooo, it's been a while.  How've you been.  Good?  I'm good, too.  Actually, that's a half-truth.

The whole truth?  I've been trying for a week to export Abandoned Allies so that I can get it to my team (designer, animator, composer, music supervisor), and every attempt has been a royal failure.  Each moment, hour, and day that passes makes that deadline creep closer and closer.  I've become the bottleneck.  It's incredibly frustrating.

If you're tracking the progress of our film, know that we're making progress.  It's taking time, but we're moving forward.  I'm not one to moan about all the failures.  It's too depressing living it, much less writing about it.  But I've had my fill of challenges this week, and I'm looking forward to a vacation when the film is finished.  Anyone wanna send me to Disney World so I can be like the commercials?

Keep us in your thoughts (and prayers if you do that, too).  These next few weeks are going to be seriously intense, but I look forward to them, knowing that we can pull it off.

"Success is the ability to go from failure to failure without losing your enthusiasm."
-- Winston Churchill, former prime minister of Great Britian