A year ago today…

It was a year ago today that I received the wonderful news via email that the French Consulate in New York had approved my application for the visa that allowed my wife and I to move to Paris. Now, settled like batter poured into and filling every crevasse of a mold, we find ourselves looking forward towards less preparing our new life here and more towards enjoying living our new life here, not that that hasn’t been happening already since the day we arrived. If you’re open to exploration and know how to look around, Paris is a town that happens to you without the need to go hunting for experiences.

With the commencing of this second year, I’ll be beginning to write the screenplay for the film I am making here as the project for my visa. As I’ve told those who’ve asked me before, I don’t know what it’s about, nor do I like to have that outlined before starting. But it will definitely be, as with everything I’ve ever written, a dialogue-driven (some would say “dialogue-heavy”) comedy/drama. It will be set in Paris and will be in English to try to make the point that there is an English-speaking world in this city. There are Parisians, that is, people who have been here long enough to be thus called who are Anglophones, and also Europeans who simply use English as the only unifying linguistic link between them. My theory is that a large number of Anglophones sadly stay away from watching films set in France which, let’s face it tend to be in French, because of the language barrier, the mechanics of reading subtitles, the understanding by audiences that subtitles are poor conduits of a film’s dialogue, and the fact that there is some cultural connection that they’ll fail to make with a film. Not to mention the wretched and appalling misrepresentations of France and Paris in particular to be found in several films aimed at Anglophone audiences. The solution, to me, is to acknowledge that there is an English speaking world here and to tell a story that takes place in that world.

So, to mark the year since the email that changed our lives, this is a tiny note of thanks for those of you that have been around since the short was released and those of you that have started following in the last year. The majority of the small crowd that follows me online got connected to me via my short film and the efforts I made to promote it online via social media to continue to push my idea that independent filmmakers can use nothing more than word of mouth and social media to promote their work if they’re willing to be clever (logistically and financially) in how they produce their films. So far so good. Because of the fact that I am just me and I’m not doing this under the flag of some distributor or outside producer or investor like a lot of “indie” filmmakers out there, I don’t have any specific targets or financial goalposts to reach for so each person that watches my short or my shorter videos and decides to stay in touch is like currency to me because it increases the pool of people who know what I do, increasing my audience for next time. This is not easy, but it beats having a producer tell me what to do with my work.

It’s hard to justify doing this if nobody is there to watch the films and stay in touch. If it feels natural, I’ll talk about the process as I write. I hope you’re all there, and more of you as well, when I get to the other side of this part of the process and I’m ready to begin the production.

Thank you,
Phil

Meeting Elmore Leonard

When I met Mr. Leonard, it was the first time I had met someone in person who I felt was influencing my ideas of wanting to write and make movies. I was about 20. I was at a reading of his and I remember being undoubtedly the youngest person in the room by several life experiences. There was a very long line to see him after he had read from his latest novel so I figured that waiting until the line dissipated would give me more time with him.

It would make for a more succinct story to say that I carry with me to this day one profound and elegantly crafted piece of advice he gifted to me but there wasn’t any such exchange. I simply told him that the way he wrote was teaching me that I could write my dialogue in my screenplays however I chose because he clearly did things his own way and in a style that was, at least to me, unconventional. I also asked about what would be involved in securing rights to his novels for film purposes because the idea interested me and he said he unfortunately didn’t really own his material because the publishers did and that they made those decisions but he suggested that it was a nasty business trying to make a movie from a book because of rights and licenses and went on to explain the process. Of course I know this now, because I’ve had to look into several copyright related issues with the music I use in my films. Though the question seems a naïve one to me today, having him answer me anyway instead of laughing at me may have been one of the major events that sparked in me a practice I maintain to this day, which is that with my film work, I always ask anything if I need something, no matter how seemingly large or bizarre the request. Had he been condescending, it could have affected that ability to ask people things without fear of rejection which eventually came to be a trait I adopted in daily life as well. I was probably just some kid to him, asking a question larger than my head. I imagine that I came off like someone sitting to eat a steak with salad tongs and a ladle; right general area, wrong equipment. But he certainly didn’t make me feel like it. He answered me like he might have answered any one of those other people there to see him that were old enough to have bought his first novels when they were first published. He answered me like he might have answered a professional producer, filmmaker or established writer well into his film career and not the way most people would have answered some young kid barely out of high school, faking his way through university unsuccessfully and only beginning to assemble the frailest wisps of insight about how to write anything substantial or, for that matter, intelligible.

In the end, he may have inspired me more as a person in those brief minutes than for his craft. It would be silly to think he remembered meeting me, not that that was ever the point. And I don’t think he was looking to influence anyone either on that night or at any point in his life. It doesn’t strike me as something you set out to do. But if we care about what we do, I guess all of us regardless of what our vocation is, do hope to show others who want the same thing why that thing matters to us and why we value it, as a way of helping them discern whether it really matters to them. There isn’t really anything else of use that you can offer as someone with a certain amount of experience. Getting from Mr. Leonard that evening something with the meaningless banality of “advice for a young person beginning their career as a writer” would have been advice I probably wouldn’t remember today. The further you swim out into experience, the more you realise when you look back that where you’ve ended up isn’t a place you can give directions to.

I suppose I thought at the time, like many people do when meeting someone they admire, that the simple fact of meeting him would be something I could look back on, a bit selfishly, as a great moment in my memory. “I met Elmore Leonard once!”, I imagined I would say. But instead we had a chat, and I have a story about when I met a really interesting person first, who happens to be a writer I like second. His respect for me and treating me as a peer though I had hardly anything more than a whisper of an idea of how to write (still working on that, I might add) tells me today about how much he valued being a writer himself. I’ll cherish that more than a handshake and an impersonal autograph on some tattered piece of paper any day, although he did offer to sign something for me as well.

I met Elmore Leonard once.

In memory of Elmore Leonard, 1925-2013

Leonardsign