And now we have 3 weeks to reach our goal and make this film happen.
Cathedrals is an exciting adaptation of the Raymond Carver story “Cathedral” starring a blind actor that will raise money for organizations which help the blind. This is my passion project, and I’ve got an amazing team at Sawhorse Productions behind me. I just need your help to make it happen.
I promised an update when I was able to figure out who the copyright holders were for “Cathedral,” the Raymond Carver story I’m adapting into a short film. I am a man of my word.
In the vlog above, I describe the journey it took me to get there, from hunting through the U.S. copyright archives to asking New Media Rights. In the end, all it took was a Google search, and the word “estate.” I also talk about interviewing Greg Shane from CRE Outreach, an organization devoted to empowering blind people, for the Kickstarter video. He directs all the productions at Theater By the Blind, so he’s a great advocate for the blind and a huge asset to have in our corner.
Greg Shane of CRE Outreach
My Letter about why this project should be allowed
It hasn’t been all roses, though. We still have to convince Tess Gallagher, Carver’s widow and executrix, to allow this film adaptation of his story. She was hesitant at first because of the departures from the original story, but I wrote the agency a letter:
This project is so important to me. Would it be possible to chat on the phone with her? I would really love to get tell her about all the great things we’re going to do to help blind and disabled artists with this adaptation, the fact that we have partnered with CRE Outreach to raise opportunities for the blind through Carver’s work, which I think is a wonderful thing. I’d love to tell her that by adding these departures, I’m incorporating elements of Carver’s story “Fat,” enriching the story not from any bastardization but by infusing Carver’s greater universe, as Robert Altman did with Short Cuts. I want to tell her about why this film will be talked about–not only because it’s a “Cathedral” adaptation, but because of some awesome and filmically experimental sound design, and because we are taking a risk by casting a blind person rather than going the easy route. Our production team has produced both The Hammer (2010) and The Championship Rounds (2013), movies that both starred deaf actors and brought a lot of interest on the film festival circuit, and attracted big names, because of it. We’re not using Carver’s name to get our movie out. We’re using our movie to get Carver’s name out, and hopefully introducing Carver’s work to a new legion of people who otherwise wouldn’t have read him, and would perhaps pick up a book or two because of it.
Tess Gallagher (right), a distinguished author herself, and Raymond Carver.
Tess is a writer, and I think that if I make a writer’s appeal to her, she’ll understand why the departures are a great way to incorporate Caver’s voice into film format, as many other adaptations failed to do. As we know, Carver is especially known for using narrators with strong voices and perspectives, and by framing the Cathedral story, we get to hear that voice, that unique perspective, coming from Phil as he tells Rita about what happened, just as the narrator does with the reader. For me, it’s important that when somebody Googles “Cathedral short film adaptation“, they don’t get a smattering of half-assed college assignments, as it stands now. It’s important to me that Birdman (which seemed to poke fun at him) doesn’t come to be the biggest Carver touchstone in this decade. It’s important for me to make something enduring that does Carver justice and represents him correctly, which is why it would be great to have Tess as a collaborator. I would love to listen to her concerns and make any changes to the script that she feels uncomfortable with.
I think we all want the same thing. Ms. Gallagher wants to honor his writing. The agency wants to honor his writing and grow his audience. And I want to honor his writing and grow his audience, all through raising awareness for a great cause: benefiting blind and disabled artists.
So there it is. There’s my appeal. Hopefully that strikes a chord in her and to anybody who wants to come on board! Please like the Facebook page to keep up to date with the latest developments.
I like to describe Medium as YouTube for text. There’s a big community of writers running on on likes, comments and engagement, hoping their writing pushes through the noise. Because it’s the brainchild of one of Twitter’s founders, there is a vast majority of writing about startups, tech and digital nomad-tinged life advice. This is why when I wanted to write a satirical piece about an iPhone app that rates and organizes your photos, I chose to publish it on Medium.
The Roll is admittedly a pretty neat app that assigns your photo an “aesthetic score” and then describes your photo using keywords. The best photo on my camera roll, a picture of my girlfriend exploring the rocks on a beach, scores a 96%. I decided to test The Roll to see how it would do with a “random sampling” of photos pulled from the internet. I posted the score and keywords it assigned them. As you could guess, my “random sampling” includes some instantly recognizable famous photos, known for not only their aesthetic beauty but for their political and historical impact. Here’s a sampling from the piece:
While The Roll is able to detect the “beauty in nature” this photo exhibits, The Roll is unable to comment on the responsibilities of Western journalists in the third world, their conflicting roles as both objective documentarians and active players in the horrors in front of their lenses; nor quantify the tragic consequences of photojournalism in the public sphere. But it’s early. Looking forward to the next update.
The story behind the vulture photo is disturbing, one of the reasons that the photo matters. Check out the full article on Medium for more misguided photo analyses, and my conclusion of whether technology will eventually be able to replace humans when it comes to judging visual art.
X Men: Apocalypse was released this Memorial Day weekend with Sophie Turner playing Jean Grey. No matter the reviews, though, no matter the box-office numbers, people will still adore the actress. And for good reason. She’s delightful.
Sawhorse Productions needed a pinch-hitter to direct Sophie in her cover shoot for GQ. Blake and Gino were working on a Pepsi Halftime “rap-up” to air soon after the Superbowl, so they called me in. I’d directed an Improv Imagination episode with Katie Lowes from Scandal, but this was a bigger deal. A little more run-and-gun, a little more involved. The DP Casey doing A cam, and a B cam operator. We had a PA, who I asked to go to the grocery store and buy apples (unbeknownst to him, two hours later he’d be balancing those apples on his head while Sophie shot at him). We’d film b-roll of the photoshoot, then try to squeeze in a humorous little feature sometime afterwards or during lunch.
GQ came up with the creative a couple nights before. Bryan Singer posted an Instagram vid of teaching her archery in prep for X-Men, so we were going to have Sophie use a toy bow-and-arrow. Our first idea was some sort of archery challenge. Can you hit that target? No. What if it has Ramsay Bolton’s face on it? Yes. But that idea was “shot down” (cough) –instead, they wanted her running a-muck, shooting up the set. Fair enough.
My first and probably biggest decision was choosing the bow and arrow, which was upsetting, because you know, who am I to pick out a girl’s trusted weapon? Seems like a very personal decision, one that no man should have the right to determine or legislate. Even so, I had five options. I put myself in Sophie’s shoes: which one was the least embarrassing? They were all embarrassing. One was pink. New strategy: utility. I had the sound guy spend 45 minutes testing which ones worked, and which ones would worked too well. I didn’t want any deaths. No deaths on this set. In the end, we went with a Zelda/Robin Hood-esque arrow you see in the video. The ritualistic-looking bow stand, by the way, was one of my pillar candle holders I brought from my apartment. Yes, Pier 1 sells weapon stands for your weapon relic needs.
Sophie was great. She was down. She was totally go for all of this. The things I was asking her to do–shoot at her photographers, chase a goofy stampede of people running from her down a hall, hide behind clothing racks and look ULTRA-SERIOUS–should’ve made her want to tell me to go fuck myself. Instead, she went with it, smiling the entire time. It gave the shoot a feeling of some sort of high school project–we all knew we were making something goofy, rough around the edges and spontaneous. Instead of feeling insecure about that, she took it seriously, even after hours of being in front of the camera posing for the mag.
A few surprises made it into the cut. First of all: Look, I didn’t actually want her to shoot anybody in the head. Aim at them, I said, but you know, don’t really pull back all the way. Just kind of let the arrow out softly.
Nope. She had no interest in that. She had the bow, and suddenly she was out for blood. I highly doubt the photo assistant knew she was going to nail him right in his head. On the first take, she drew the string back, and… the arrow fell off. On the second, right in the head. The shock on his face was so real. The three guys cracked up at how absurd it was that she actually launched that thing. I said, “Great! But let’s not um, actually kill someone.” She was like whatevs I’m a boss ass bitch.
The next outtake that made it in the cut was when she hit the mirror with the arrow. After the first take where the arrow fell off the bow, I can’t say she felt super confident with it. So when she aimed at the mirror and the thing stuck right to it? A goddamn miracle. A feat of epic skill. So she stood up and pointed at the thing and cursed in utter awe of herself and we don’t have the best coverage of that but that was definitely an awesome honest reaction. She had overcome her doubts, become one with the arrow, and now was ready to face the final boss: Kyle, our PA.
The scene was to hit Kyle in the chest with it, then bite the apple. Get it? It’s a twist. Apple twist. First off, the apple kept falling off Kyle’s head. I knew Sophie was down to earth because she kept picking this dirty apple off of the ground and trying to reuse it, but I was like, “Listen, don’t even worry bout it. I got us a whole bushel of apple” and I took out a big produce bag and she was like oh ok it was so rad. So she pulls back, aims, fires, and it hits him… right in the face. It wasn’t my proudest moment. It looked painful. When a grown man says “Ow!” in front of a small crew of people and a well-known actress, you know that whatever’s happening to him, it’s painful. So, officially, publicly, I’d like to say that I’m sorry Kyle. But she did give you a hug, so that’s nice. You can see that blooper at the very end of the video.
If you’re interested in what I’m working on now, keep tabs on Cathedrals. It’s a short film based on a Raymond Carver story. There’s no bow and arrows, but there is going to be alcohol, so join the party.
From what I’ve seen in the copyright section my Carver books, it looks like the sole copyright holder of the story was the man himself. The problem, you can guess, is that he’s not around. I can’t call him. I can’t tweet him. He’s in a better place, bless his heart. #blessed Because of this, though, there’s no one I can talk to in order to get express permission. I can go for it and hope that nobody pops out of the woodwork to sue me, but I’d rather just say “hey!” first, buy them a coffee, and we can work on that woodwork together.
Thanks to Loren Cochran for the advice so far, but I was wondering if anybody else knows the answer: if the copyright holder is deceased, who can I talk to make a derivative work? Please get in touch! Maybe leave a comment on the Facebook page. I’ll let you know the answer once I find out.
My primary focus right now is preparing for the Cathedrals Kickstarter. And believe me, I’ve got big plans. This will be one of the most epic effective, crazy fairly normal Kickstarter videos of all time. We shot my portion of the video last week, but I’ve got a few more experts I want to talk to on camera in order to round out the “pitch.”
1. A Raymond Carver “expert” (or just a book editor) talking about the need for a modernized, truthful adaptation of his work, especially following Birdman, which kind of smeared him.
2. An advocate for the blind at an organization that works to support the blind or the disabled in the arts. I want to donate to an organization like this as part of the Kickstarter campaign. (e.g. “If you donate $50, we’ll donate an extra 10 on top of that to [Blind Advocacy Organization]”)
3. One of our producers, perhaps Eben Kostbar or Earl Bolden Jr., talking about why they wanted to jump on board and help make this thing a reality.
4. The blind actor who we cast.
I’m reaching out to organizations and experts for #1 and #2, but if anybody has any suggestions, I’d be happy to hear them!
The second thing I’m diving into is planning for the rewards for donors. These are just in the planning stages, and I need your feedback! What looks interesting? Would any of these appeal to you? Please let me know in the comments what you think works, what looks like I vomited.
Kickstarter allows you to edit perks later, so we can experiment as the campaign progresses, but we might as well start with some cool rewards that get people excited in the first place. Here are some ideas, ordered generally from low donation/high supply to high donation/low supply.
1. access to the production diary
2. digital copy of original soundtrack
3. Twitter shout out from Sawhorse/Ben/actor
4. digital copy of film
5. Kickstarter thanks credit
6. we donate to [blind advocacy organization]
7. film poster
8. invitation to opening screening and afterparty
9. Instagram shout out from Ben
10. copy of first draft of screenplay
11. special thanks credit
12. Ben writes a poem about whatever you want
13. pages from script used on set, signed by actors
14. associate producer credit
15. visit to Sawhorse offices, meet and greet with producers
16. include a personal item or artwork in the film
17. join us on set
18. interview on “Making Cathedrals”
19. executive producer credit
20. include your name in the film
21. Ben changes his license plate to whatever they want
I’m pulling for #12, because I really want a reason to have to write poetry every night for the next 6 months straight. Let me know if you have anything you’d like to see! You can leave a comment on the Facebook page or YouTube vlog.
Big shoutout to Jason Ludke for letting us use his “Cathedral” artwork to promote the short film until we can create some original artwork for the project. Check out his website. He’s got a lot more calming Carver-related paintings that are pretty cool!
Today I launched a vlog about my journey to make the film. Why a vlog? Why bother? I explain a little more in the video, but it’s because I was reading Show Your Work by Austin Kleon (great little pick up from Barnes & Noble–even though B&N is pricey, there’s something to be said for things calling to you from the shelves), and realized that if I want people to be excited for the film… hell, if I want the film to even be made, it’s important to bring people into the experience of making it. Why wait until the DVD to throw in the extras? I want to bring you in on the journey. I’m overcoming the fear of sharing unfinished, unpolished stuff, and throwing it out there. Thanks Austin. Your $12 book is worth at least $12.50. Definitely more. I thought I’d start there.
I also talk a bit more about why we wanted to hire a blind actor for the film. Did you know that about 30% of blind people are below the poverty line? After learning more, it invigorated me to bring awareness to and provide more opportunities for the disabled in the arts (and yes, the greater workforce). I think that’s what’s incredible about independent film. Since the bottom line isn’t the dollar, we can work towards bringing about change rather than bringing in profit. By crowdsourcing (read: Kickstarter or Indiegogo), I’m hoping we can do a little part in making not only a good movie, but a little good, too.
For a couple years I’ve been threatening to adapt Raymond Carver’s “Cathedral” into a short film that combines the best parts of that story with some truly unique sound design ideas. If I was a good salesman I might say these sound design ideas have never been done in a film before. Of course, that’s probably not true. Moreover, does anything make you want to roll your eyes more than hearing a sentence like “never been done in a film before?” Probably not. So I’m not going to say that sentence, but you get the idea.
I don’t believe there is enough form experimentation in narrative films. Even “arthouse” indie-minded films tend to showcase a story in traditional ways. Though the content is shocking, out of order, or shot in a unique way, on the surface the audience is still watching a scene shown in a frame with as little interruption as possible. Film has the opportunity to use both sound and sight to express a story, but movies tend to tell the story visually, with the audio only enhancing the visuals, always in sync, rarely contradictory. I see an opportunity to use those tools separately.
I’m interested in film as an experience, rather than a mouthpiece for a story. Most movies in theaters try to get out of the way of the story—they want the audience to forget they’re watching a film entirely. But I’m interested in using the form to give the audience a unique experience. In the same way as most movies, many novels seek to relay a story. Poetry, however, uses rhyme, rhythm, spacing and line breaks to deliver an experience to the reader. I want to do the same thing with Cathedrals.
WHY ADAPT “CATHEDRAL”?
Carver’s “Cathedral” presents a great opportunity to tell a story through an experience. One of the major characters in the story is a blind man. Blind people use what they hear to understand their world. They’ve learned to live without eyes. Therefore, I want to present his part of the story in the same way to the audience. I want the audience to hear the story first, and see it later, so that hearing becomes the dominant way to take in the story.
For parts of the film, the visuals will be delayed several seconds, so that the scene feels slightly out of sync. Like a blind person, the audience will use their ears to take in the full story, rather than just their eyes.
I’ve tested this effect before, and it has a couple amazing effects:
1). It focuses your attention to the sounds, and how they connect to what you’re seeing. 2). It makes you feel a bit stoned or drunk, which matches what happens in the story. 3). Most importantly, it creates a strange dissonance that mirrors the dissonance between the characters on screen.
The film becomes an experience.
When the climax of the story occurs, you will feel that experience emotionally, too. I can’t wait for you to feel it. It’s going to be shocking.
Sawhorse Productions is helping me create this experience. Unfortunately, as of now, all the money needed to create this experience is coming out of my own pocket. That’s why I’m asking for any help at all in the creation of the project. Perhaps you want to donate some of your time to providing props for the set or PA-ing on our shoot.
Feel free to get in touch with me. I would be tremendously grateful for your help. Like the Facebook page for updates, subscribe to my YouTube channel to watch more from the filmmaking vlog. Shoot me an email, and I’ll send you the script.
1. You’re cooking on the stove and a GREASE FIRE breaks out. What do you do?
a) Cover the pan with a lid, smothering the flames.
b) Try to eat the food, even though it’s clearly mostly burned. End up ordering pizza.
c) Take your family out to McDonald’s.
d) Take your family out to an especially nice restaurant. When your spouse asks you why you chose such a nice place, try to pretend it’s not to an apology for all the times you might’ve ruined dinner before, or any time she’s gone to bed disappointed with you, in want.
2. You head to The Cantina, your favorite college bar, with a couple of girlfriends. You’re talking to this cute guy Brett who you’ve been eyeing during 2nd Semester Spanish. After putting your margarita on the bar, you head to the bathroom. When you return and continue sipping, you feel suddenly lightheaded and drowsy. Hay carumba, you think. Something must be wrong. What do you do?
a) Better make that next one a vodka soda.
b) Better make that next one a vodka soda, and a water.
c) Grab your girlfriends. You’ve been drugged. While you can, tell them you think Brett was the one that drugged you. But please, don’t say anything to him. You don’t want to be that girl. I mean, you‘d totally lose your chances with him, whether it was true or not.
3. You wake up in your bed at 4 a.m. after only two pathetic hours of sleep, and notice the thick, metal ceiling fan 10 feet above your forehead beginning to rattle. Dust drips down from the corners of your room. You are encased in overwhelming dread as you realize what is happening: there is an EARTHQUAKE. Your girlfriend next to you turns on her side and looks you in the eye. She asks, “Do you even care that I can‘t sleep right now?” What do you do?
a) Say, “How was I supposed to know that? I was asleep.”
b) Whisper, “Of course I do. I was so worried about you that I wasn’t able to sleep myself.”
c) Scream, “Jesus Christ. Is it always about you? We have to get out of here. There is an earthquake happening!”
d) Lean in, silently wrapping your arm over her side, and pull her in close.
4. 8th grade. Middle school. Do you remember it? A CHEMICAL FIRE breaks out from a freak explosion in the chemistry lab. Kids are running down the hallway dripping in bright blue flames, clutching their backpacks as if trying to catch the bus. You look down and some of the fire has been thrown onto your pant leg. Jessica is watching you, horrified. God, you remember Jessica. The flames creep up your pants, and as you look at her, her luscious, plump skin, her cleavage peeking rhythmically over the top of her shirt (as she tries to inhale the remaining oxygen from the room), your loins become enveloped in the chemical heat. Your heart feels like it is on fire. What do you do?
a) Take a deep breath. There’s nothing to worry about. Your body’s just going through changes you may not understand right now.
b) Make a joke about it. Girls like jokes, right? Have you heard the one about being burned alive.
c) Whatever you do, do not let her look down at your pants. She will run, screaming, and will never forgive you for expressing your true desires.
d) If the fire has not spread to any of your other clothing, strip off your pants. Make out with her right there on the hard, linoleum floor, writhing among the casualties.
5. You and three coworkers get stuck in an elevator. One of them is Brad, which is terrible, because you’ve been avoiding him ever since you slept together after the office Christmas party and he moved back with his ex-wife a week later. Between the four of you, all you have is two pieces of granola, a cigarette, a lighter, a travel mug. You have no idea how long the elevator will be out of order. You need to ensure your survival and get help. What do you do?
a) Hit the “emergency” button. After about an hour, it becomes clear that no one is coming to help. This stresses you out, so you smoke the cigarette. Brad gives you a look, because that asshole knows you’ve tried to stop smoking before.
b) Midway through the cigarette, Brad gets the idea to set off the smoke alarm with the lighter. You curse yourself for not thinking of such an obvious solution. You only started smoking again because of his ex-wife bullshit. Now he’ll certainly get the Account Manager job instead of you. Unfortunately for Brad—but you’re not sure you mind—he couldn’t get the lighter to set off any alarm. Serves him right.
c) Twenty-four hours pass. Two of the coworkers have urinated in the crack between the elevator and the door to your disgust. All four of you sit on the floor among the stink, and Brad is beginning to look sincerely fatigued. You know, relationships are tough, scary, all of them. As Brad sits against the wall, his knees facing skyward, his eyes closed to the fluorescent lights beating down from above, the sweat beads are undeniable. Surveying your inventory you begin to think, Wow, this travel mug is useless in this situation. Why was it even mentioned? Why are we locked in here? You begin to believe it is some sort of design. You, Brad, and the other two guys did something to deserve this. What did you do? You must all tell each other. You begin to spurt out everything you’ve ever done wrong, anytime you were confused and scared, anytime you felt unsafe in your own skin, looking into the eyes of a friend. The hours pass. Brad interrupts you. “I’m done listening to you.” “Screw you, Brad,” you say. He says, “Fine, but I want a turn to confess, too.” You say go ahead. This should be good. “The first mistake that comes to my mind is how I treated you,” he says. “I never should’ve gotten rid of you like that.” You immediately look at your feet, tucked barefoot under your skirt. “I didn’t know how I felt about you. It was scary. If I wasn’t so reckless with my actions, with my feelings, we would never be locked in this elevator like this.”
d) You begin to feel for him. “It’s okay,” you say. “I was reckless, too.” You reach out your hand to him because you notice his eyes begin to water. “Don’t cry,” you say, because you believe you know the answer to the question that keeps repeating, over and over. You get on your knees, and crawl to him. You gently rest your hand on his shoulder and with your other hand reach into his left pocket. Inside his pocket is a sheet of paper with a combination of numbers and letters lying upside-down at the bottom of the page. It’s the answer key. He had it all along. You just had to reach in and get it out of him. The elevator melts away, and for the first moment in a long time, you finally feel safe.
Last year I went to Los Globos in Echo Park with my girlfriend to throw my name into a hat and have the chance at telling a story on stage for The Moth, one of the most widely recognized nationwide storytelling events. I didn’t invite any friends, because although I rehearsed and wrote and planned, there was no guarantee I’d get to do anything other than enjoy some great specials on Red Bull drinks.
We happened to go during Red Bull’s 30 Days in LA (which, incidentally, is starting up again), so the show, while free, was packed. Usually everyone gets a turn. This time, there was twice the turnout of a usual StorySLAM event. So if I did go up, I had an audience.
Look at that crowd. Look at those hipsters light bulbs.
Of course, instead of assuming I would go up, I ordered a price-so-low-that-you-have-to-get-one Red Bull vodka, and immediately regretted it once I downed most of it and my foot nervously pounded the floor like a tiny soft jackhammer. My name was called and as I waited to walk on the stage, suddenly realizing how jittery I felt, I wished I’d been responsible and simply had a few shots of vodka instead.
Just kidding. Nobody wants shots of vodka.
Since your set could only be five minutes, I had been tightly gripping my iPhone all week, using the voice recorder to get the story under that running time. Trim this section, cut that section, figure out what’s important, what’s the beginning/middle/end… It was certainly fun for a writer. I was prepared, but a bit off-base. It seemed that night everybody just wanted to talk about fucking: where they did it, how they did it, whom they did it with. Instead, I was about to talk about time I exploited homeless people.
Good reading the room! Check out the video below. The effects of the Red Bull are obvious.
I’ve transcribed the story below for you readers out there:
My first job in LA is on Skid Row. I’m visiting from Boston on an internship. I’m 20 years old, and filmmaking to me is art, and authenticity, and honesty. And I’m so excited because this movie is about a girl who’s run away from home, and she’s living on the road with homeless people.
I don’t really know much about LA, but I’m headed downtown, and suddenly downtown is looking kind of scary a night. And it’s an overnight shoot. I finally get to the set. I’m part of the art department, so I’m going to be setting up the set, all the tents and all the homeless blankets. And I’m also running interference, which means you have to keep people from entering the filmmaking.
I ask a fellow PA. “How do I do this?” And she just says, “If people look too interested, just tell them you’re working on a tampon commercial, and then they’ll lose interest.” So I’m like, “Okay, that sounds not really helpful, but thank you.”
We get to the site and throw the truck against the sidewalk and unload all the tents. The art director says, “Let’s hurry this up, because the longer we’re here, the more we’re in danger.” And I’m like, “What do you… what do you mean?” And she says, “Well, we’re in the worst part of LA. Just so you know!”
And you know, I probably look like I’m 12 years-old-at the time, so I’m kind of scared. I realize all of the homeless people are just around the corner from us, just rows and rows of actual houses and tents and trash bags. And I feel like once they get a whiff of people with wallets around the corner they’re going to just tear us apart like a zombie brigade. And so we’re trying to get things done really quickly because we’re on the front lines. There’s only four of us and the rest of film crew hasn’t shown up yet, so it’s just us and the zombie apocalypse. We’re throwing down the tents, and then one guy comes out, and I’m like, here we go. We’re told to ignore him, and we ignore him. Eventually the art director says, “Get out of here.” And he goes away. And I’m thinking, okay, crisis averted.
The tents we’re setting up are newly bought. They’re like, from Target or something. They don’t look like they’re old, so my job is to take this tank thing and spray it down with water and grit and basically just ruin these tents, and I couldn’t help but notice that just around the corner are real tents and real trash bags and stuff that people are actually living in. And here we are, just ruining this nice new stuff. But I figure it’s for sanitary reasons, so I’m like, okay, whatever.
Another homeless guy comes around and I ignore him, but he’s right behind me as I’m ruining this tent, and he says, “What are you doing?” I start to feel guilty. The art director takes care of him and he leaves, but another one comes, and I’m kind of feeling overwhelmed like the enemy’s at the gates. But then the art director starts talking to this guy, and she’s talking to him like a five year old. She says, “We told you to leave. You’re not supposed to be here. Get out. You’re not listening.” He slowly walks away and I’m thinking, well, we’re actually in his spot. This is where he lives.
When we get done with the tents, she looks at them and says, “I don’t know if this is good or not. I have an idea…”
So I’m spraying, and she brings one of the homeless people back and starts to talk to him like a real person. And I’m thinking, well, that’s nice. But then I hear her say, “Is this realistic? Can you help us? Does this look like a place you would live?” And I’m shocked, and pretty embarrassed. But the guy, to his credit, he’s kind of excited somebody’s talking to him. So he says, “This one looks too formal, this doesn’t look good.” So she says, “Thank you.” She says to us, “Destroy this all.”
So we do. We tear it up, we spray it down and we throw chairs everywhere. But I see the conflict on this guy’s face, because he’s finally being used but he’s just watching us destroy something he could’ve used. And we’re not helping them at all, you know. We’re just using them. At that point I felt nauseous. The rest of the film crew came and I finally felt safe, but I’m wondering whether I should’ve ever felt unsafe in the first place. And I think I realized then that filmmaking in LA wasn’t going to be about truth. It was going to be about making things smooth and contributing to the illusion.
I walk across the street. I sit down and watched the ironies unfold. This guy kind of pops up next to me, out of the blue, out of nowhere, and he says, “Are you guys shooting a movie?” And I’m a filmmaker now, essentially, so I tell him the truth. I look him straight in the face, and I say, “Well, we’re shooting a tampon commercial.”
And he believes me, and he goes back inside, and he loses interest.
Still, my heart. Do not
Try to love this thing.
It is a dead end, dead
Before the chance, before
Even the touch of regular air.
Still, my body. Do not
Work too hard to give this baby.
Water on a brick
Does not grow flowers. The brick stays a brick,
And cracks when it falls.
Still, my mind. Do not
Panic at this dead chunk inside.
They’re working to remove it,
And after, you can shed yourself
Of this tumor inside.
Still, my I. But my I can’t help but wonder why
And mourn a dead, just a little pound
Spilling out: My dear daughter,
First try, first kiss, my first love now blacked.
Heavy hole, and the next I fear will be another blank
Weight inside, another bad egg and another,
And instead of trying again, the terror of
This cancer will linger and tumors will continue,
And instead of two it will just be me,
Forever alone filled with tumors, my husband forever alone.
Still, I can’t let that feeling become. I will
Push against despair, because I know
Life continues, so
My heart, my body, my mind,
Be still: and push, push, push.
Last week I launched the beginning of my travel blog and YouTube channel, Vagrant Tourist. I will be migrating all travel-related posts there, and maintain this blog for everything else–updates on my film projects, editing projects, and writing projects (Yes, poetry, yes! Who’s psyched?). Unfortunately, I never really began to write here regularly, something I kind of regret. I mean, BENCARO.COM had everything. Sharing options, related posts, a whole damn color scheme. Why did I let it rot!? Why did I squander its love!?
Why did I never write in BENCARO.COM?
I had so much trouble launching this blog the way I wanted it, and, while this might peg me as dense, I could not wrap my mind around what I would focus on, what categories to feature in the posts vs. what content to feature in other pages. Mind boggling. With the launch of Vagrant Tourist, I will be happily able to distinguish between putting on a cool, journalistic face over there, and getting a little more personal over here. It’s a great relief. Let’s talk about what will be here from now on, in terms of categories:
Film – Updates on screenwriting, directing and editing projects.
Food and Drink – All of the LAWeekly articles I wrote up will probably live under this category.
Poetry – Straight up.
Writing – Here’s where things get interesting. This will be a mix of creative writing, including fiction, non-fiction, journaling, and yes, poetry. I’ll throw poetry in there, too. Hope you’re okay with that.
My idea behind Vagrant Tourist was to make a Vice-like brand (both blog and YouTube channel) for travel. Worldwide, Vice does some important and, you know, some not-so-important work. While I might not be investigating anything as, um, interesting as “How to Make Korean Poo Wine,” perhaps that’s okay. Both IFC and Onion launched Vice parodies recently. In a promo for Edge, Onion’s new show, a white guy in his late 20’s stands in a dilapidated middle eastern town and faces a woman in a hijab. With a concerned look and a serious, action-hero tone, he asks her, “When was the last time you got high?” I think it’s safe to say people are amused by Vice’s skater-attitude hang-ups.
That said, while the subject matter might be lampoonable, their documentary production is a classy affair. I love the run and gun shooting style and minimal music. There’s only the slightest touch of voiceover editorializing and producing. It’s barely there. Gone are news correspondents trained to speak like Harvard-graduated robots, or conversely throw on leather jackets to signify that they’re “adventure journalists.” Many Vice correspondents are models, musicians, or young journalists whose chief assets are their willingness to experiment. They don’t seem to interview their subjects, but rather talk to them.
This is the style of writing and video I want with Vagrant Tourist. There’ll be videos about my trip to Asia, but also about stateside hikes, walks, street art, whatever looks visually interesting. I’ve also got some great footage of Nguyen Tran, chef, owner and banana suit-wearing personality of the restaurant Starry Kitchen, to show me some of his favorite eating spots in the Valley. There’s all sorts of stuff in the pipe.
Hopefully, the site split will help me focus both sites, and give me some incentive to throw some new posts more both here and over at Vagrant Tourist.