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Those who know me are well aware that I can talk and talk for hours. And often do. The past few days in Wisconsin, I have spoken so much, my tongue is tired and my brain aches. But it has all been for good.

The opening of the Flyway Film Festival was a joyous affair — visiting filmmakers hobnobbing with the north-western Wisconsin locals in a funky arts space. Pepin, Wi is a cute lakeshore town on the vast Lake Pepin (which is actually a wide portion of the Mississippi River.) I have been to my share of film festivals — and the catered spread at the party was amazing — dozens of different canapes, mini desserts, and of course — MANY types of cheese.

The locals are friendly and endearing and seemed very interested in the film world and the movies they were to see over the weekend. Kelley made the keynote speech — a semi-improvised dissertation on “feeding your dream” and making film for the love of the craft and the personal drive to tell your story. I have seen Kelley speak many times — and am always inspired to keep trudging forward. He definitely made an impression on those in attendance — everyone was abuzz with compliments.

The next morning, I was one of the leaders in a roundtable discussion among a dozen or so filmmakers on marketing, social media and planning for film festivals. I was hesitant to add to the conversation (started and well-handled by Kelley and PR guru Sherri Chandler), but once I opened my mouth, it was all over. I felt like I spoke continuously for 45 minutes, spitting out tips and tricks to help festivals market films, insights into the PR plans of film events, and ways to make meaningful connections with festival decision-makers. Afterwards, I felt little guilty about monopolizing the conversation — but was assured by many that the spewing of knowledge was much appreciated. Whew.

We packed the car, got Pilot settled in the van (which now is as easy as opening the sliding door — Pilot jumps over the luggage and boxes directly to his bed, turns around three times, and instantly falls asleep,) and headed towards Madison, WI. The drive was nothing special — although I must comment that the WI Department of Transportation has created a series of rest stops which are huge, architecturally interesting, clean and friendly. Dorothy, I don’t think we are in New Jersey.

We arrived at the home of Jim and Trish as a light drizzle began. The generous friends of Kelley are delightful. He is the director of the bourgeoning Wisconsin Film School and she is a late-life grad student and teacher. They came to Madison after their home was decimated by Hurricane Katrina a few years ago. Trish is an avid knitter — and yes, I am immensely jealous of her yarn collection and bookshelf of rare crafting tomes. Pilot met and was polite to their two dogs, and we all enjoyed a delicious meal of chili and beer. Good people + good food = great times.

Pilot and I stayed at the home of local filmmakers Jess and Michael. Cheerful and accommodating, they were wonderful hosts — even their hound mix, Cosmo. The next morning, Kelley and I were “on.” We team taught a course on “Making the Personal Film” to 11 beginning filmmakers. We showed some examples (Dustin Grella’s “Prayers for Peace” among others), then broke the class into three groups. The next 5 hours were spent writing, planning, shooting and presenting their mini films. In the process, people made connections — hopefully bonds which will allow them to collaborate in the future on more filmmaking projects.

I was surprised at the results. Three groups told three stories in three completely different ways. Thoughts on food were told in the standard talking-head manner. A diatribe on the correct use of language was told through humorous reenactments, and insights on dog companionship was done as a collection of voices over images of a spunky Jack Russell terrier.

Back to dinner at Jim and Trish’s — this time with some additional guests: more local filmmakers, and some eco-evangelists. The evening’s conversation consisted of knitting stories, tales of snakekeeping, and protesting bear hunters. I knew 1 out of 3, so I was able to hold my own. A little.

Sunday, Kelley and I took general questions about filmmaking, then heard a few idea pitches. While all of the projects are worthy of further investigation, I was struck by the skill level of the class. Madison is not a huge film town — in fact, the WI film office is non existent, there are no dedicated film schools in the state, and there is little support for indie filmmakers — let alone the professional crews. Many of the filmmakers I spoke to had little idea of how to put their stories together — or even where to start. I am grateful to be a filmmaker in an area with vast resources — but realize now that there are areas of the country which desperately need similar programs. As a filmmaker blessed with access to people and knowledge, I need to find the best way I can to help those who need the same. Something to think about.

We ended the evening with mediocre Chinese food, a little laundry, and helping Jess and Mike with converting AVHDC footage into something a Mac can read. NOTICE TO ALL FILMMAKERS LOOKING INTO HD CAMERAS WHICH SAVE TO A HARD DRIVE — SKIP IT! AVHDC is a consumer codec — and work well in personal editing suites like iMovie — but the proprietary format kills Final Cut Pro and other professional packages. Ok, enough with that rant.

Kelley, Pilot and I woke up early today to head to St Louis (via a lunch with a filmmaker in Cedar Falls, IA). Tomorrow morning, I will head to the top of the Arch — something I have always wanted to do. Yeah!

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I’m stuck before I start.

I have an idea for a screenplay (although I will probably write as a stage play and present at Capital Fringe 2011.)  The general premise is a look at backstabbing D-list celebrities on a game show set — think either Password or Match Game — and how unsuspecting contestants get thrown into the drama.

Problem is, I have so many ideas, I stall out after a page of writing.  And while I usually outline my scripts, I am having concerns about structure, game play, people’s recollections of game shows (after all, the genre has changed, and many are focused on making contestants look stupid), and how to write in a part for an unsuspecting audience member who I want to drag on stage to play in the action.

  • Do I set the piece in the 70s?
  • Do I use real celebrity names?
  • Do I simplify the game play (Password with 4 players or Match Game with 8)?
  • Do I add in elements such as showing the action caught by the cameras on large screens to the side of the stage to contract the actual happenings with the televised reality?
  • Who’s story it is/Who is my protagonist — a Production Assistant who is on the set for his first day of work, or one of the celebrity players?

I want feedback — and at the same time, I think I need to just make a few key decisions and delve into it already.  I really wanted to write much of this on the road — after all, there is a bit of downtime between events — and writing is a good way to harness my energy.

Aaauggghhh!

This morning, Kelley and I spoke for a few hours at the Douglas Education Center’s Factory — a film school outside of Pittsburgh. While the school was lovely, the town was sad. No place to get a cup of coffee. No place to grab a snack. No place to shop.

Evidently, the town had 28,000 people a few years ago — but when the mill closed down — 20,000 fled.

The students ranged from newbies to kids who are almost done with classes. They seemed to be interested in what we discussed (distribution, festivals, crowd financing), but were nervous to ask questions.

Pilot sat in on the class — and fell asleep towards the end (as did a few slackers in the back of the room.) He is adjusting to the road — I don’t expect him to eat for a day or so, and he is slow to drink water. From the last road trip, I know that he will come around. Already, he is comfortable with the drive and van. Now is the power drive.

We left Monessen, PA at 12:15pm, so we should be at our destination in Pepin, WI by 1:30am. That’s a lot of driving. Tomorrow, Kelley gives the keynote at the Flyway Film Festival, and I will speak at a few roundtables and panels.

UPDATE: We arrived safely at 2:20am. I will not repeat the long-drive experience again for quite a while.

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