My first film festival

25 Jun

I had to keep pinching myself Thursday night after I picked up my badge.

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“Filmmaker.”

That’s no trivial label. At least not to me. The laminated purple card was a flashing green light of proof that I can do it…hard evidence of non-amateur status. There were others wearing the same badge who had done “really important work” or come from places like Sundance. And I was wearing the same badge as them. It may be the closest to the edge of the twilight zone I’ve ever come. I don’t want to touch the sun — it’s far too hot — but it was nice to be warm for a little while.

One of my long-time Okie film friends was my date to the opening night party and then to the short film Ai Weiwei afterward. Toye is diligent and hard-working and talented, and it was a joy to introduce her to the people I knew there. Before the short, an award was presented to Gray Fredrickson for his lifetime achievement in film. A lot of people are given awards, some deserve them, but this presentation really got my attention. Albert Ruddy had been flown in to present the award to Gray, and I will never forget what he said about him. He said that you could count your real friends in Hollywood on one hand and Gray was one of them. That what Gray had taught him in business was integrity. Everyone has a chance to lie or bend what’s right to make the deal, he said, but Gray refused to do either. Gray took the podium with tears in his eyes. I confess I was a bit misty, too. To have anyone say that about you is special, but to have Al Ruddy say that about you in front of your peers is overwhelming. I attended OCCC, but I never had class with Gray. The only time I ever met him in person was when I dropped off my capstone DVD and project binder during the summer, and he was the only one in the office. He didn’t know me from a hole in the ground, but I’ll never forget standing there thinking, “I just handed my homework to an Oscar winner like he was an office assistant.” Those few minutes at the podium tumbled around my mind all weekend, convicting me and stretching my insides. We’ll come back to that later.

After Ai Weiwei, Toye left, and I swung by the after-opening night party at the Iguana to see if they might let me order something to go. The kitchen was closed, but the DCFF volunteers were lovely and tracked down a to-go box for me so I could take some of the finger foods home. I heart the Iguana. And volunteers.

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Day Two arrived, and I had to go to work and then home to wait for plumbers (who gave me a gorgeous new faucet that does not drip! hooray!). While I waited I debated which films I’d attend that night. I chose Cinema Six and See Girl Run. Just going to be super honest here and tell you that I was not a fan of Cinema Six. It was the film that I was the most excited about based on the description of the plot. It should have been a highly-relatable, funny film. But it ended up being neither and going nowhere. It was 99% foul language and 1% story. So much potential, but bitterly disappointing. It got me a bit scared about what I was going to find in See Girl Run, but I had nothing to worry about. See Girl Run was a well-made film starring one of my Mentalist favorites, Robin Tunney. The best part of the film was the filmmaker’s answer to the audience question, “Why did you make this film?” He replied that making films about married couples in jeopardy who cheat is completely unoriginal, but that fidelity in films is. So he wanted to make an original film about fidelity. Love it! His film had already been picked up by a distributor at SXSW, so he could have just stayed home while his film finished the film circuit, but he and several of his team came up in person for the event. That’s classy.

You should probably also know that if you are making plans to attend the film festival, it’s not a good idea to bring kids. Until the festival gives folks a heads up about story content or parental advisements in these unrated indies, always best to assume the films are for +18 grown-ups only. Which is a shame.

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On Saturday, I met another filmmaking friend for the Filmmaker Brunch before my big event. I was so nervous, and Libby was so precious. She brought me flowers and helped me navigate small talk at the table with the filmmakers of How Do You Write a Joe Schermann Song and Blunderkind. Did I forget to mention I’m a wallflower at heart? After some seriously delicious food we trekked next door to the theater for the Screenplay Table-Read. My mom arrived. Did I mention I was nervous? They called me backstage to have me sign off on permission to record the session and put it on the DCFF website. Then the table-read began.

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It was a bit tricky trying to hear the screenplays themselves behind the actors reading. Mine was second, and even though I knew the story inside and out, I found myself crying. Must have been the good actors. After they were all over, they called we two filmmakers in attendance down for Q&A. I was in panic mode. I don’t do stages, or on-camera. And if you watch the video, you’ll see why.

While the scripts were being read, I found myself already panicking at the Q&A portion — I knew someone would ask, “Why did you write it?” Everyone always expects me to say I had a traumatic family experience with Alzheimers. Which is totally untrue. The night I set out to write the film I went to the local park and sat on the swing. I prayed and asked God to show me what to write. The Lord usually answers me with images which I try to express in writing. And that particular night, there was something so sweet about sitting on that swing in the lovely fall darkness. I could remember swinging as a child, and yet here I sat as an adult needing it just as much as I did then. It made me remember my family, and it’s troubles, and how pain would drive me to or be eased by a simple trip to the swing. Knowing that so many others feel the same pain I have known made me want to write the truth — truth about what it is to live with humans, and the truth that there is hope so real and beyond our control that we cannot escape it.

But that day I was sitting there trying to think of what to say — how do I answer that question in a couple of sentences? I’d never come up with a tagline for my inspiration for the film, just the film itself. Big mistake. So I’m crafting an answer about the importance and worth of family and hope, and then I get up there and went totally blank. Hi, I’m Jennifer, and I have a problem with public speaking. Eeeeek.

And here is where we get back to Gray Fredrickson. While I was contemplating answers I was also worrying that what I really think and believe and am motivated by would offend the present filmmaking congregation. Without going into any specifics, I was worried I might have to lie. And then I remembered Gray. If he didn’t have to compromise his integrity, neither do I. And that thought encouraged me and unfroze my fear-paralyzed brain, and I began to remember other lovely examples of the kind of person I want to be that I saw in my time at Act One. The next thing I knew, my thoughts were focused on gratitude and imparting encouragement in spite of my sheer terror.

It didn’t stop me from blanking out up there.

But I felt the grace of God walking down front because it was His script. I felt the grace of God choosing which seat I sat at because it was His table I’m allowed to sit at. I felt the grace of God toward my fellow filmmaker beside me, who is a human being just like me highly valued by his creator. So I butchered the most important answer. I didn’t lie. And those terrifying steps I took were the right ones my own character needed to take.

I didn’t win. Meh. Of course, winning was more important to me than I let myself believe. I’m a firstborn, that’s what I do. The winner was chosen by audience vote, and I just didn’t drum up enough attendance to make that happen for me. My name was not called out at the awards that night, and I cannot put a winning label on my project or resume. But as I told Toye at the wrap party later that night, “That’s Hollywood, baby.” The Best Short Screenplay Award was the only award given based on audience vote rather than professional peers. The minute that I begin expecting the industry (or the world) to be fair, I’m done for. One of my friends recently said, “There should never be a bad movie made,” meaning — there is so much talent, are so many good scripts out there, there is never a reason to make a bad one when you can make a good one. Of course, that’s not how it works — and I know it — and I’m still here.

That’s what the laminated purple badge really means. Baptism by reality accomplished. Due #1 paid.

And I am grateful for it. Lessons learned. Experience gained. Great food eaten. Real friends I can count on more than one hand. And a laminated purple award of my own to remind me WHO I AM that they can’t take away. Score.

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2 Responses to “My first film festival”

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. California Adventure 2012 « In Which I Blog - July 6, 2012

    […] Friday morning.  Susie went off to work, and I sat down to do the same…on my blog.  I got My first film festival post written, and that’s it.  It takes me a loooong time to blog.  You may have noticed the big […]

  2. ‘The Swing’ gets nominated! | Cracked Pot Productions - March 29, 2013

    […] Thank you, deadCENTER! DCFF short screenplay finalist read-thru My first film festival […]

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