Dec 15 2016

Finding Your 12 Best Days: Edward Burns’ Reflections on Filmmaking

In Independent Ed: Inside a Career of Big Dreams, Little Movies, and the Twelve Best Days of My Life, Edward Burns relates his experiences working in the film industry as a writer, director, and actor. Burns directed and produced his first film, The Brothers McMullen, on a tiny $25,000 budget — which went on to win the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival in 1995. Since that initial success, he has gone on to make ten more films on his own terms and act in several big budget Hollywood movies (such as Saving Private Ryan) and television shows.

This memoir highlights Burns’ successes, but perhaps more importantly delves into his mistakes, the poor decisions and bad luck that makes a movie fail to be the success one hoped it would be. These missteps, more than the successes, are where the greatest lessons lie.It’s hard to figure out why something succeeds, much easier to point to the number of reasons why something didn’t. His honesty in looking back on these moments, in which he examines where he went wrong and where the cards were against him, is a part of what makes this memoir work.

A few practical, useful pieces of advice are littered throughout the book (the difference between a master shot and a two shot, for example), providing some help in the nitty gritty of making a movie — but the real value of this book is in his philosophy toward filmmaking in general.

For Burns, the act of independent filmmaking is the ability to make movies according to your own vision and away from influences that might compromise that vision. He describes the twelve best days of his life as the twelve days he spent filming his first movie, The Brothers McMullen — twelve days telling a story true and making a movie for no other reason than the sheer joy of making a movie.

The Brothers McMullen

The Brothers McMullen (1995)

After The Brothers McMullen became a success and as his career as a director progressed, Burns continued to seek out those twelve days of joy. This lead him to choose projects that may have had smaller budgets, but that provided him with the freedom he needed to tell the kind of quiet stories to which he was drawn and to experiment with new technologies (such as using digital cameras and premiering some of his films on streaming services).

With the availability of such technologies, he notes, filmmakers have the opportunity to seek out their own twelve best days, to experiment and learn how to make movies while in the process of making movies in the same way writers learn how to tells stories through the act of telling stories, and musicians learn how to create songs by plucking strings on a guitar to get it right. He explains:

“At this moment, anyone who dreams of becoming a filmmaker is lucky indeed. For the first time in the history of cinema, filmmaking does not need to be a capitalist enterprise. You no longer need millions of dollars or even thousands of dollars. You are no longer beholden to someone writing a check. It no longer needs to be a business. It can be your artistic expression.”

Many filmmakers have realized this and are using various outlets on the internet to get their movies made and seen. But, as someone who’s often felt overwhelmed by what I believed the barriers to moviemaking to be, it’s empowering to be reminded that those barriers than I had imagined them. It’s a strong message for me — for all of us creative types — to get back to work and to keep seeking out those best days, those days when we are engaged and living our work.

As a footnote, I realize that I’ve never seen any of the movies Burns directed. As someone interested in independent filmmaking, I’m fascinated by what people are able to accomplish with small budgets and creative thinking. It would be interesting to do a marathon focused on movies that Burns directed to see how his skill in low budget movies evolved over time.

Another Note: This book was an ARC provided by the publishers in exchange for an honest review.


Oct 4 2016

Writing in Chaos

Although I’ve pursued the more solitary act of writing poetry and fiction, I’ve been interested in the process of filmmaking since high school. The collaborative nature of the medium, in which a handful to hundreds of people with their own skill sets, come together to tell a story is fascinating to me. As an entry point into the medium, I’ve tried to write screenplays (both short and feature length) over the years and have even made some awkward attempts at directing with no idea of what I was doing and no understanding of the complexities involved in the process.

Other than the money and (more importantly) time aspects of the filmmaking process, the biggest obstacle for me over the years was trying to figure out how to track down a community of filmmakers to work with. I didn’t even know where to begin. So, I was stoked to discover MMTB – Movie Making Throughout the Bay, which not only provides that sense of community, but also has a “get in there and get movies made” attitude with workshops and challenges that focus on making moviemaking happen.

Over the the weekend, I participated MMTB’s first Writers & Actors Short Film Challenge. Writers showed up at the MMTB headquarters in Rodeo, CA — and interesting jumble of a building with rooms that can be staged in a variety of ways — were given a set of guidelines and four hours to complete up to three scripts. The guidelines were simple enough: keep the story under three minutes, include all three available actors, set the story using one of the rooms in the building, and no special effects. After four hours of writing, we gave feedback and voted on the scripts, and the top three scripts were filmed that night.

I managed to complete one script to my own satisfaction — which was not selected for filming. But I received a lot of positive feedback for my incredibly awkward bathroom scene, which starts out humorous and becomes a story about one of those unexpected moments in which two people connect. I also received some great feedback about how to make the short script better. (Someone said the script made them incredibly uncomfortable because it was set in a bathroom, which made me laugh because uncomfortable was what I was going for.)

In general, I was impressed with the number of quality screenplays that the group was put together and I had a great time sticking around to watch the scripts become films. All of the actors were equally impressive, memorizing their lines on the fly, getting into character, doing a rapid shoot, then switching up for the next one and doing it all over again.

On set at MMTB in Rodeo, CA.

ANNOUNCEMENTS!

I seem to have forgotten entirely about making any announcements in a while, so I’ve got quite a few of them to share. Woo!

First, I’m incredibly honored that the editors of Noxnbinary Review has nominated my essay, Beyond Shahrazad: Feminist Portrayals of Women in The Arabian Nights, for Best of the Net 2016.

Several poems from my forthcoming chapbook, Pantheon, have been published online. You can read three poems — “Harley Quinn,” “Rogue,” and “Ursula,” over at Issue 8 of Yellow Chair Review, and a fourth poem, “Sarah Connor: Our Lady of Self Determination,” within Issue 26 of Literary Orphans.

“The Tenth Sister,” a prose/hybrid poem that is part of a series based on the Twelve Dancing Princesses fair tale, has also just been published in the Write Like You’re Alive 2016 anthology from Zoetic Press, September 2016. The anthology, which I also helped curate, is free and full of tons of great writing.

And last but not least, “Because Her Face Fades,” a poem I cowrote with Laura Madeline Wiseman, was recently published in Faery Magazine #36, Autumn 2016,

What I’m Reading

China Miéville’s Perdido Street Station is amazing but presents slow, slow, slow reading for me. It’s a little too challenging for my overworked brain right now, but I keep pressing on.

Still reading Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott, as well.

What I’m Writing

In addition, to the script challenge I mentioned, I’ve also launched into the THE POEMING 2016, which my first three found poems based on Stephen King’s The Plant up at Tendrils of Leaves and ready for your reading pleasure.

Usually when creating found poems, I work in erasure (like this, for example), in which I take a printed text and blackout words until all that’s left is the poem. It’s a very restrictive way of doing found poetry, as you have to move down the page in such a way that it remains readable, but it also provides the ability to incorporated fun visual elements.

But I’m trying something different with THE POEMING, opening myself up to using any word on the page in any order. But since I’m still drawn to the tactile sensation of writing on paper, I end of creating wild intricate webs of lines and circles words (as pictured below). It’s a fun sort of chaos and somehow I’m still able to decipher it as I work through a page — despite sometimes getting temporarily lost in my own maze.

Goals for the Week:

  • Get all my required POEMING found poems written and posted.

Linky Goodness

“That book you’re writing is mewling again in the dark. It’s a half-formed thing — all unspooled sinew and vein, its mushy head rising up out of the mess of its incomplete body, groaning and gabbling about this life of misery it leads. Its life is shit because you haven’t finished it. It’s flumping along on stump legs, pawing its way through your hard drive, bleating for attention. It needs words. It needs plots. It needs resolution,” says Chuck Wendig in his post, “Here’s How To Finish That Fucking Book, You Monster

And since it’s a King month, here Why Stephen King Spends ‘Months and Even Years’ Writing Opening Sentences.

Also, 40 Jokes That You’ll Only Get If You’re A Grammar Nerd