The little film that could… and then couldn’t stop.

PosterThe short film that began the slow journey of experimenting with completely independent distribution only on my website and then generated a following on Twitter and other social media platforms, and helped me make connections with several people I didn’t know before, has now gone the extra mile. I’m proud to say that it has been chosen in a local short film festival here in Paris. It has no cash prizes but does give awards for the usual categories and involves the participation of the city, local film lovers and film industry members.

Some facts…
This the first time I’ve been accepted to any festival. (Not a big shocker)
It’s the first festival I’ve applied to here in France at all.
Naturally, this will be the first time I screen a film to European audiences.
This will be the second time this film has gotten a public screening, the first time was in New York.

For a film that cost a little over 100 dollars to still be amassing viewers every month, to have been screened in New York and Paris, and to have been a major part of getting the visa that brought me to France to make my next feature is mind-boggling and proof that independent, truly independent distribution is entirely possible. Not without struggles, of course.

More details soon on the venue and the festival. Thank you all for continuing to support.

Incidentally… So long, Crumbs

crumbs

This article is why so many people like me get so bothered by fad, chain food places that descend like plagues on neighbourhoods in cities like New York, causing local business to close and completely erasing parts of city streets. It’s because when the fad dies and the cupcake place, or the frozen yogurt place, or the infantile candy shop for adults, or the criminally overpriced hamburger joint eventually close as they invariably do, the incessant and gluttonous need to have a location every ten blocks means neighbourhoods that once were… well… neighbourhoods, now have massive spaces that are empty and impossibly expensive to rent even for the kinds of high end chains that create them. And the bodegas and laundromats and diners and family restaurants and bars and even hospitals they replaced are gone forever because what people don’t think when they delete a bar or a diner is that neighbourhood staples are almost impossible to recreate or even move to another location. When a local business has a story, and is a meeting point for locals, and has spent time developing a relationship with its environment, you can’t just take the roots and replant them in less expensive soil in another neighbourhood. The roots are severed and are often impossible to repair.

So, good riddance, Crumbs. And thank you for the twenty or so locations in and around New York that you’ve now left with giant unrentable holes where a part of a neighbourhood once stood.

Incidentally: On Michael Sam

michaelsam52I’ve spent 10 minutes looking through Michael Sam articles today and not one of them tells me why his being drafted matters from a sports perspective so I can’t tell you how good of a football player he is. But what I CAN tell you, for those of you that perhaps don’t follow sports, is that while being drafted into the NFL at all is an extraordinary achievement, being drafted 249th overall in the 7th round is, in the world of entry drafts, a relatively insignificant signing. Not being able to find one news source talking about his statistics and talents as a defensive end among any of the top news items on any search engine, and instead all of them talking only about him being gay is NOT a sign of tolerance and progress in sports. It’s a sign as clear as day that no matter what an athletes talents are, their sexual orientation still matters more than their numbers.

Yes, this is and should be a source of pride and hope and inspiration for the gay community in and out of sports, but for everyone else and for the following and analysing of sports it couldn’t possibly be less relevant or be less of a story. And journalists and news outlets do this athlete and any other gay athletes a disservice when they only talk about his sexual orientation and not the skills that he’s spent the greater part of his life honing to try to be the best at what he does. You want to know the only thing that’s going to matter to the Rams (the team that drafted him) in winter when the season is over if he even makes the team (which at this point is not definite)? Sacks, Hurries, and Tackles for a Loss. You’d celebrate him more, if that was your aim, by learning what those stats are than learning the story of his sexual orientation and I have a feeling that like many other openly gay people in the public eye, he’d say the same thing.

Happy Birthday, Mr. Lorenz Hart

Composer Lorenz Hart Wearing Suit

When I think of writers like Lorenz Hart, and find myself listening intently to lyrics I’ve heard thousands of times, if not more, as though they were words I was hearing for the first time, I often wonder if people at the time were aware just how rare it was to be witnessing a lyricist with his talents.

Loneliness is one of the themes perhaps most explored by popular song and thoroughly so in the infinite stacks of sheet music that comprise the American popular music songbook. But in all those thousands of songs, did anyone ever write a line that summarises the discovery of being alone after a failed relationship more than, “Now I even have to scratch my back myself…”

Harlem born and raised to Jewish immigrant parents who gave him every tool possible for that ‘better life’ so many arrived in New York seeking, he made his way from the halls of Columbia University to the floodlights of Broadway where his career flourished. But his own dissatisfaction with his appearance and with his life, and the pain of society telling him that being a homosexual made him unacceptable could only be drowned out by crippling amounts of alcohol. It is a stark reminder not only of the brutality of intolerance but of what it is to suffer from depression. As Stephen Fry often puts it, people tell you to just snap out of it and find a silver lining and that’s simply not how it works.

It seems almost wrong to find joy in the creations of such a sad person but if there is a silver lining in this story it is that the work of Lorenz Hart exists today for us to enjoy, and that his lyrics represent some of the finest words ever crafted in popular song. Good lyrics go beyond technical brilliance and strike that chord deep within us that make us feel like someone else understands. The song below, “It Never Entered My Mind” is one such example which has been recorded countless times, but in my opinion nobody makes you listen to its lyrics like Frank Sinatra does. Please listen to it again, or for the first time.

Happy Birthday, Mr. Lorenz Hart.

Incidentally: On Linguistics and Loanwords

Just a new thing I’m gonna do when something is too verbose for social media platforms.

Bizarre (and slightly arrogant) anglophone linguistics…
We’re perfectly fine in English using the Spanish singular loanword ‘conquistador’ but when we pluralise it we don’t follow that grammar with the correct ‘conquistadorES‘, we say ‘conquistadorS‘. And most arrogant of all, if the Spanish said ‘conquerorES‘ instead of ‘conquerorS‘, anglophones would correct them. Yes, English is the most prevalent language in the world (for now) but perhaps it would be a good idea to stop perpetuating dated, anglocentric linguistics that symbolically depreciate other languages. And besides, if you’re going to pronounce it wrong and conjugate it wrong, why not just say “the Spanish/Portuguese conquerors”. Conquistadors sounds like someone with bad spanish ordering a drink at a resort in the Dominican Republic and at least that guy’s doing it to attempt the local language.

Ignoring Intolerance at the Olympics

Repeatedly in the past weeks, there have been people online grossly misunderstanding and downplaying the severity of what has been said by the Russian government by way of their president with respect to homosexuality and this year’s Winter Olympics. The degree of indifference to this issue shocks me because it’s another typical example of how popularity determines whether an issue is important or not. A gay rights issue at the Winter Olympics and nobody cares. But what if the mayor of a city hosting the Super Bowl were to say he or she was against one of the teams playing because they had a gay player on the team? The internet would collectively explode in reaction.

The Olympics official website has a downloadable version of their Olympic Charter. In it, you’ll find their ‘Fundamental Principles of Olympism’. This quote that follows is from the 4th principle (I knocked off the end bit but I didn’t reword it in any way)

“The practice of sport is a human right. Every individual must have the possibility of practising sport, without discrimination of any kind and in the Olympic spirit.”

Am I the only one not understanding how the privilege of hosting the Olympics can be given to a country that last June passed a law forbidding “the promotion of homosexuality and other forms of nontraditional sexual relations”? They also outlawed “gay pride” festivals and attempts by foreign homosexualist activist groups to normalize their lifestyles or to campaign for same-sex legal recognition. No, no, no. Can’t have that. Can’t have homosexuals wanting to be considered “normal”. And certainly not with the help of any immoral foreigners who might be perfectly happy being gay. That just isn’t right! But, it’s ok everyone, the Olympic Games can go on as planned because the country’s president, Vladimir Putin has said, literally (again, not changing the words) that gays can go to Russia, they just have to “leave the children in peace”. Mr. Putin’s clearly never asked gay adults how many of them had heterosexual parents because he seems to be under the impression that homosexuality is something you can catch like a cold or stomach flu if you aren’t “left in peace” when you’re a child. To say nothing of the fact that there are plenty of heterosexual people that engage in some pretty “nontraditional sexual relations”. Homosexuality isn’t brainwashed into you, Mr. Putin. It can’t be shown to you so many times that you decide, “hey, that sounds like a good deal, I think I’ll be gay”. It’s not something people can embed in your head and repeat to you over and over until you decide you’d better do it so that you can fit in and not to be different. No, Mr. Putin, these things don’t describe homosexuality at all, they describe intolerance.

So we’ve got a country who’s president doesn’t want foreigners bringing their nontraditional sexual ideologies to his country, athletes who can be gay as long as they don’t infect Russian children with their gayness and don’t seek to be equals (can’t wait to see a gay athlete win gold). I’m sorry, IOC (International Olympic Committee), you haven’t increased awareness and tolerance by granting Russia the Olympics under this president, you’ve rewarded the ignorance displayed by their legal system. And seeing the outpouring from the global community about this issue, with ample time to amend your decision, you chose not to do so. So tell us, what part of Russian law pertaining to homosexuals do you see exactly as contributing to your principles of “practising sport without discrimination of any kind”?

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

A Dump Called Pigtown

dodgers

Sixty-three years ago this past weekend, a wrecking ball painted like a baseball ploughed into a dugout in Ebbets Field, the home of the Brooklyn Dodgers beginning the demolition of a part of the borough that would leave a void in the hearts of its people to this day.

If you don’t get Baseball, if sports just don’t speak to you, and if you think affection for a stadium seems something rather silly, consider the following…

Think of your favourite town; maybe it’s where you live. Picture the restaurant where you order without looking at the menu and feel like you’re in your own living room. Picture the grocery store where you run into people you know and strangers whose faces you recognize. Picture the shop that knows what you order and how you like it done. Picture those two streets that meet at that one corner that makes you smile every time you walk past it. Think of the place you want to see first when you get back from being out of town. And then picture all of that taken away at once. In one weekend. Not slowly, like the encroaching spread of gentrification but in one immediate concrete crushing demolition. This is about more than just Baseball, but about a neighbourhood being left with a giant hole where a vital part of the community once stood and because of nothing more than someone deciding there was more money to be made by moving the team elsewhere.

We tend to see sports today with more cynical eyes than in the past. Professional sport has, through many recent struggles and public embarrassments, left an image that inspires very little adulation and leaves a bitter taste in the mouth of even its most ardent admirers. The steroid scandals of the past ten to fifteen years marked the fall of what were some of my first sports heroes as a child. But there was a time when these sports and their teams and their players meant more to their communities in eras when less distractions and pastimes gave sport a more important place in daily life. Sports teams have the ability of becoming inextricably linked to the cities they play for, until they become as much a part of every fan’s home as their own living room. Such is the case with L.A.’s Lakers, Toronto’s Maple Leafs, Green Bay’s Packers, and indeed even to this day with Brooklyn’s Dodgers.

It’s oddly fitting that the anniversary of the demolition falls on the eve of the stirrings and small chatter of news stories that lead to Spring Training where we remember last year’s players and their successes, welcome new faces, argue incessantly about the ones sent away, and where for a short while every team has a chance, no matter how implausible, of being crowned champions. The segment I’ve linked to below from Rick Burns’ documentary “Baseball” explains the weight of the Dodgers leaving Brooklyn beautifully. If you like sports, and I would argue that especially if you don’t, it’s worth watching this short clip. For those of us who love baseball and get a rush each April when we see our team in uniform again, it’s a clip that speaks to an emotional connection many of us have with the game because of what it represents in our lives very often from its first impressions in childhood. Fans from any city and fans of any sport find something to relate to with the story of the Dodgers and how a piece of land that was once a garbage dump called ‘Pigtown’ helped make a borough one of the most recognised places in the world and gave the game of Baseball memorable moments that are cherished to this day.

Check out the video I mentioned, HERE.

Perspective

Perspective

La fontaine Médicis in the Jardin du Luxembourg

 

You don’t need me to tell you how beautiful Paris is. I might do that some other time.
Moving on…

Perspective.

This one word keeps coming up time and time again since moving to Paris. Literally. Because I keep repeating it. As I immerse myself in the thick of the streets, the people, and their sights and sounds, the concept of perspective constantly reemerges.

In the past weeks, I’ve been exploring this French world for the first time that I’ve spent years learning about, understanding of course that Paris is Paris and that France is, well, in many ways something else entirely, and that therefore “French” doesn’t work as an all-purpose adjective. I’ve found myself coming face to face with views of things, accepted norms, which have been hard for me to understand. I don’t know if it’s because I’m comparing what I know to what others say, but I’ve found myself leaning towards and enjoying things that seem to be considered quite “uncool” for lack of a better word. Uncool I can deal with. I’ve been uncool my whole life. But “unrefined” is something that begins to feel more personally offensive no matter how self-assured you are. And the fact is that it would appear that not liking a certain world of desserts, a certain culinary world, and a certain world of social activities makes one markedly unrefined among a certain demographic in a way that I can only relate to having the wrong kind of running shoes when I was in grade school. Because it’s not just about having the other shoes, it’s about the lowly status you have by choosing the other shoes on purpose. Perspective: I don’t need my shoes to be expensive or popular, I just need them to work.

Footwear aside, this is ultimately about opportunity. I have no problem whatsoever saying that I simply don’t have the opportunity to indulge frequently in restaurants that serve dishes for 20-25 euro or more. Living life the way my wife and I choose to live it means we don’t use our money for expensive restaurants. So, that opportunity is also a choice. There are other things I prefer to spend money on: good ingredients for cooking at home which we do often, we have a cat we like to care for as best as we can, having a nice evening in a café with a little dessert, live music, and other such comforts and material things I choose to place more priority on than eating in the newest restaurant. Not to mention an aversion to any chef that feels that their original creation is something that deserves to be expensive just by virtue of being different. In my book, to ask someone to try something that original, you should be making it cheaper in case they don’t like it. Don’t think that would work? Just imagine an unknown independent musician saying, “Well, you’ve never heard my music before and it’s really different so my album is $50. Hey, I have to pay for my studio time!” Food is worth what you want to pay for it, fine. But must we look down on those who choose to eat for less and must we imply indirectly that not eating in expensive restaurants is tantamount to not eating well? The reason I’ve never felt the need to pay a lot for restaurants is because I’ve always felt that paying more money hardly ever seems to be directly proportionate to the quality of the food you get. Perspective: it’s just not what I like.

As you read sites online and study the social dynamic of how the “coolest” places are talked about and how the more authentic, old-fashioned places are talked about or not talked about at all for that matter, you will see a clearly established norm revealing itself that dictates that only the new, the challenging, and the different are of any value and worth discussing. And to not like those new places, somehow makes you the kind of uncool that borders on making you and your opinion irrelevant. There is, I believe, an unspoken philosophy that to enjoy traditional French food in traditional French restaurants means that you’re clearly not just missing out on something, but missing out on something better. To prefer it, essentially makes you profoundly boring and decidedly uncouth.

Why is a regular sandwich from a boulangerie so frowned upon? Why don’t people write about traditional food with the same fervour they reserve for molecular gastronomy? Why are there so many pictures of foamed food online and hardly any of croque monsieur and pot au feu? Why does more expenisive equal “better”. A noted blogger in Paris recently ridiculed “Tati” on Twitter, a local discount clothing store chain equating it with basically being trash. Coming from a home where my immigrant Masters-student parents got us whatever clothes they could afford and often mended them to fit, I wondered what this blogger would think of my childhood photos, where a discount clothing store would have been a treat. With respect to food in particular, are we so bored with the past that an expensive dish in a fancy new restaurant trumps a traditional well-prepared dish just because of how much it costs? Or are the traditional dishes simply too vulgar for our contemporary refined tastes? In an episode of his series on Paris, Anthony Bourdain suggested that it seems that nowadays, to be new and relevant you have to come out against the establishment. I think he’s right, but why does that have to be the case? He uses the example that to be a new rock band and be relevant you have to attack U2 and posits the idea that to be a new restaurant you have to do the same: attack the croque monsieur, the cassoulet, and the poulet roti. Perspective: I don’t eat food because it’s in a new, interesting place. I eat it because I enjoy it and my body can digest it. If it’s native to my surroundings, all the better. (That’s the psychological element I choose to include in my dining choices).

Of course anyone can like whatever they like, and all of this is admittedly a bit “first-world-problems” to even be talking about. It just seems to me that so much of this phenomenon is about enjoying a certain kind of experience, certain restaurants, and certain neighbourhoods, which can be had in most any cosmopolitan city in the world. And I just wouldn’t ever move to a country to not partake in how that country eats and lives. I know this isn’t only happening here, and it is of course just my opinion, just my perspective. I just think it’s a perspective that isn’t often heard because it’s perceived as less glamorous. In any event, it’s what has come up repeatedly since moving here: the idea that how you take this place, and any other place I suppose, depends on your perspective. And my only thermometer for measuring the relevance of mine is that the Parisians I’ve met have been either completely unaware of this phenomenon or have laughed in the face of it with a wave of the hand and a “pfff…whatever” when I ask them about it. I will simply ignore it as well and just continue to do my own thing regardless of how uncool it may seem to others.