Monday, April 25, 2005

Crewing Up

Well, aside from the students who will work on the film this summer, we are starting to crew up with a few professionals. We have reached an agreement with a great DP who is semi-local (he lives a few towns away). We are negotiating with an assistant director/production manager-type who has worked with students before and can help organize things, and we have slotted in one of our colleagues in the department as our sound guy. So things are shaping up.

What's weird is this: having started a production company for this production, I am the man in charge. I hold the checkbook (and, you know, the debit card -- but holding the "checkbook" sounds more official). So as we begin to actually plan to pay people for their work, and to write checks for things like production insurance (so annoyingly expensive), I am starting to get cold feet.

I am hesitant only because I am afraid of committing too much money or committing it to the wrong things or people. My producer is really laying out the budget -- it's not like it's all on my shoulders -- but it still makes me nervous. But there is so much stuff that costs major money that ISN'T on the screen (insurance, catering, etc.) that I'm really starting to relate to how tight producers and execs are with money.

My producer, who is a colleague on faculty and who has taught here for more than a decade, keeps telling people "well, it's the director's decision, he's in charge," etc. And it's just weird because I feel like I am so undecided on so much. A big part of filmmaking is decision-making. There are countless questions, and you have to know the answers, or at least know which ones need answers and which ones can wait. So I'm gearing up for that mode. It'll be helpful when I'm done with classes so I can focus on that a little more.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Bathroom Observation and Extra Credit for Failing Students (two completely unrelated items)

Just stepped into the bathroom to find a well-dressed man waving his hand repeatedly in front of the paper towel roller. After three or four fruitless waves, I finally said "it's not one of those" (or something like that). He seemed very exasperated that he had to reach up and pull some off the paper towel roll.

I'm guessing he was visiting from across campus, possibly the science building, where the standard of living is quite a bit higher than our humble home in the communication department.

IN OTHER NEWS: I was expecting a student to visit today to discuss his grade. "I'll come by during your office hours" -- why do they never actually do that? In any case, I knew he was doing pretty poorly, but I went ahead and ran the numbers on his grade this morning -- he's failing pretty badly. He's already asking about extra credit.

Of course, I provided no less that THREE extra credit opportunities for the class already, only one of which he plans to complete (the other two opportunities have already passed; they were connected to specific events). I really hate to fail anyone, but I am very reluctant to artificially inflate a grade with innumerable extra credit opportunities.

Now the harder part of it -- he's one of a few students I've had who have some sort of disability. I received from him a special notice from the university's office of disability assistance (not the exact name) that because of his (unnamed) disability, he is allowed to have extra time to complete tests. Which he has had; no problem. But when I talk to this student, he's just one of those people who doesn't seem to be 'all there.'

So, I'm just wondering -- how would you handle this if you were in my shoes?

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

That Language Quiz that's going around...

I don't usually do these things, because I rarely have the time or the patience, but I was curious about the results of this one...

For a native New Yorker who relocated to the south as a child, I was pleased to find out that I'm closer to standard American English than either of those two...

Your Linguistic Profile:

60% General American English

25% Yankee

15% Dixie

0% Midwestern

0% Upper Midwestern

Blogging as work avoidance

Avoiding two things today that I don't feel like doing. In reality, I'm delaying the inevitable. I'll do them as soon as I finish this post...

Got my contract yesterday for year two on the tenure track. Slight raise. School is struggling with financial issues, so I wasn't expecting much. Just nice to have the contract signed, sealed, etc.

One of the things I'm avoiding: working my way through first set of headshots for the film (the other is prepping for a couple of lectures for next week). Casting is rough -- so much depends on getting the right person for the lead in this film. Lots of interested actors submitting headshots. Not a lot who look anything like the characters. I am not locked into a specific look -- all I require is that the leads not be that typical actorly "good looking" types -- which of course all these actors are.

Headshots are designed to make actors look good. So even the quirky looking people look normal and kind of good looking in their headshots. Naturally, this makes it tougher for me. There are probably 3 out fo 20 or 30 that I think might look right for the part (different kinds of right, but right in some respect). But I don't trust my instincts enough to eliminate people based solely on headshots. Then again, we can't audition everyone -- just not enough time.

So I am about to delve into the elimination process, feeling bad to be judging people pretty much solely on their looks...

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Working on the script

I've been tinkering with the script for the movie this summer. It's funny -- I've loved this script all this time, but I got insecure and have been convinced it just isn't funny enough. It's probably not insecurity... it has some stuff that is kinda funny, but not really that funny.

And the opening scene I appended to it was okay, but not exactly good, and not as good as the rest of the script. So I worked on a new opening -- it's so hard to just say, "today I will be creative" and actually come out with something good. So I took my own advice and just started trying to write, and I'll be damned if I didn't write right through the creative block and come up with something that was (a) pretty hilarious, (b) stylistically a great set up for the tone of the whole piece, and (c) thematically connected with many of the isssues in the film. And, as a bonus, (d) the final image of the scene is an echo of the final image of the film, so in many ways it feels like the (new) ending was meant to be.

I am no huge fan of George Peppard, but "I love it when a plan comes together."

Best part: I talked the co-writer today (we have written this thing mostly over the phone and via e-mail, with me taking over once I decided to direct it)... I read the scene to him and he loved it. I was hesitant because he is hard to please sometimes (which is a good thing), but he couldn't stop laughing and agreed with me on all that the scene accomplishes.

(Picture me giving myself a little congratulatory arm-jab like Anthony Michael Hall did in The Breakfast Club. Yeah, I still got it.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

The book and the movie

MentorColleague mentioned our book idea to one of his bigwig friends while in town, who happens to be a big muckety-muck in my department, and muckety-muck told him that he wants our university's press to have first option on the book. Apparently, according to MentorColleague, the book is already sort of in demand without having been written. Weird. I don't know if Muckety-Muck has connections within the university press or what, but knowing who he is in his field, that wouldn't surprise me. I was also told my MentorColleague that MucketyMuck really thinks highly of me, which took me by surprise because (a) I hardly know him and feel like I have nothing to say to him when I try to engage in conversation, and (b) I'm not all too sure that he's high on the creative-work-as-scholarship issue. Or, at least, I wasn't sure... but now I'm thinking he's fine with it. It does't hurt that the Dept Chair's assistant told him about my recent festival/screenplay competition placement (top 4 in a fairly major competition)...

Back to the book: so on his flight home, MentorColleague worked on an outline, a chapter list really, and sent it to me for my notes and thoughts.

I ran this whole thing by Dept Chair, and she was supportive, though not ecstatic (I was asking her about how it would affect my tenure -- i.e., is publishing a book, for me, a big enough plus to make it worth it?).

The issue is that I am supposed to make films and write scripts for tenure. And I've been doing that. Making a feature this summer, entering scripts into competitions, etc. My thinking is that a book such as this would only help my case, especially with those factions within any university that just don't "get" creative work as scholarship.

Plus there's the issue of my ego. Seeing my name on a book cover -- hmmm, hard to pass that up. I started out my writing career wanting to be a novelist and a poet (yeah, there's a lot of people making a living as poets), so even though I am making films now, part of me really wants to walk both sides of the aisle and be respected creatively and intellectually. It's a hang-up I have, I guess -- I want people to think of me as an intellectual. Seems kind of shallow when you say it out loud, and I'm certainly no literary theorist. I think like an artist.

And the idea of being asked by MentorColleague to co-author a book -- just that, in itself, is a big deal to me. Trying not to get stars in my eyes about all this. It will be a lot of work, if I do it, and Dept Chair's point was just that I shouldn't let it distract me from the main focus of my tenure case -- creative work. Which is a good point.

In any case, I won't be able to do much with it until the fall, because the film is occupying my every waking moment right now.

This week, we're sending out casting notices to every place we think will be useful (focusing on regional talent -- we really just don't have the money to bring in talent from NY or L.A., though I have a few actor friends on the east coast who I'd like to cast, who in fact were cast when I was producing this film a year ago, before I moved and had to uproot the whole production and move it here.

We worked on our miniscule budget this week, trying to pare down how much we're spending on food and lodging. How is it that food and lodging are the major expenditures in our budget right now? That drives me nuts, because you don't see it on the screen. In reality, you do, because if you take care of your actors and your crew, you'll see the effort in return, but I hate spending this much on these things and having nothing left to attract a name actor.

Speaking of which -- I realized this week I have a connection to an actress, someone who is sort of a "name" but who hasn't worked a lot lately. by her own choice. So I asked my friend about getting a script to her and guaging her interest. He is willing to approach her about it, and he quoted me her minimum weekly rate. Basically, to cast her in one of the leads, it would cost me my entire budget. This doesn't surprise me -- it just disappoints me. Here I have the actual opportunity to cast a legitimate name actress (albeit a minor name, a former TV star, and not someone who was huge, but nevertheless a name who could help me sell the film), and I can't do it because of money -- and not a lot of money, but just more than I have access to.

So I'm rethinking and trying to see if she would be interested in a smaller part. Maybe her day rate would allow me to bring her in for a couple of days of shooting. We'll see.

Friday, April 08, 2005

Nice Day, A New Opportunity

Such a busy day (and week)... I haven't had a chance to get on and blog. I was part of a panel discussion at an academic arts festival, and the other panelist was a former professor and sort-of-mentor of mine from my grad school days. We didn't suggest the panel together... it just worked out that way. As it ended up, I mostly sat and listened as this colleague gave most of the talk. Which was fine, really, as I hadn't prepared nearly as much as he had (he suggested the panel topic and had obviously given this talk before).

I gave a few insights towards the end. My first time doing this, so I was nervous (hence my being okay with him doing most of the talking!).

Afterwards, we sat down to catch up on old times. Surprise of surprises, he asked if I'd be interested in co-authoring a book with him. That took me by surprise. He was asking about my research interests. He knows my tenure consists mainly of creative work, so he was curious if writing a more scholarly book would be helpful to me (more like a scholarly/popular hybrid)... I am curious about this too and will speak to my chair, but I can't imagine it would do anything but help.

I felt honored... still thinking about it.

Gotta run.

Friday, April 01, 2005

Feeling Irregular

Okay, gross title -- sorry... I confessed I was terrible with titles...

I am speaking, though, about my blogging. Haven't had time to get on here and sift through thoughts to post anything coherent. And I have a busy morning, so maybe I'll get to this later.

In the meantime, here are some search terms that have brought people to An MFA *is* a Terminal Degree (they're not nearly as interesting as the ones I've seen on ProfGrrrl's site:

  • Terminal Degree, What is a Terminal Degree, Terminal Degree MFA, MFA Terminal Degree: Apparently, I'm becoming a vacation destination for people who don't know what a terminal degree is. FYI, it's the highest degree in a given field. Also FYI, it doesn't always have to be a PhD. That's the point of my site's title, in case you're curious.
  • mfa applicant blogs:Do MFA applicants have their own blogging categories now?
  • teaching screenwriting:I talk about this occasionally, so no surprise on this one.
  • terminal (2004) - movie script: I didn't write this movie, but I didn't think it was as bad as everyone said it was. And the script for it cannot be found at my site. But thanks for stopping by.
  • mise-en-scene shawshank: I wouldn't be surprised if this was one of my students. We are doing mise-en-scene presentations in class, and one of them just did Shawshank...
  • i'm good enough, i'm smart enough: This popped up last week, which I thought was kind of funny. Then a similar search brought someone else to me. Why are people searching this phrase, I wonder?
  • mfa and stupid: my all-time favorite so far. Yes, I often wonder how stupid it was to do an MFA... seeing as... well, you guys know the rant.