Monday, January 31, 2005

Characters Running Amock

Why is my screenplay getting more complex? That wasn't the plan. I was supposed to simplify it to make it easier and cheaper to shoot, but these damn characters just want to do their own thing. I don't know what they are up to, but I can't wait to find out. And it better be good.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Dress Rehearsal

I have decided to shoot a short film in April in preparation for my feature. The idea is to shoot it in the same style, with the same cameras--Panasonic DVX100A and Aaton A-Minima-- and roughly the same crew. I need to find out if I really want to shoot with the DVX100A. It will be a dress rehearsal for the big show.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Everything is Pretend

Where am I going to get the courage to get up in front of people and act? I don't know, but I have to do it and there is no getting around it.

What we want propels us into action. Action precedes all emotion. We really think we are going to get out of this alive. Of course we are not. We are all going to die. But we go around acting as if we are never going to die. We are all actors in our own reality.

Monday, January 24, 2005

Stalker of Truth

Luckily, I just stumbled upon the essay that got me into the Telluride Film Festival Student Symposium. Today has been a day full of self-doubt and my words remind me of why I love and make art.

The question was: If you could only take one film with you to the future, which one and why?

Stalker of Truth

A few of years ago, during my nihilistic-existential-Nietzsche-worshipping-black turtleneck-wearing period, I found myself lying on a couch, pondering the absurdity of existence. As I succumbed to the mind-numbing effect of channel surfing, I stumbled upon an image that would change my life forever: A small, burning candle resting on a stone wall juxtaposed with a black-and-white image of a man and a German shepherd sitting on the ground in front of a small pond.

The camera slowly dollies back to show a small Russian wooden house in the background. As this mesmerizing shot unfolds, it begins to snow. Then, the man, the dog and the house are revealed to be inside of an open, roofless Italian cathedral. The film ends and to my dismay there are no end credits! For days, I couldn’t think of anything else and my search for this film, which had provided me with a glimpse of personal truth, became an obsession. I finally found out the film's title, Nostalghia, acquired it and rushed home to watch it again. I was not prepared for the effect that this film would have on me as a human being and an artist. It helped me to realize that, unknowingly, my one-time, nihilistic perspective of religion’s promise of salvation as a dangerous illusion had buried the precious gift of longing for truth deep within me.

I needed to know that I was not alone and abandoned in an empty, absurd universe. Within the first ten seconds in Nostalghia, the late Andrei Tarkovsky shows me that I am not; and as the film unfolds, I have surrendered my attention and consciousness to the hands of a true and powerful poet of the cinema. And he, in turn, has made me a fellow stalker of truth.

The film’s conclusion—an extremely long take of a dying Gorchakov trying to cross a pool carrying a lighted candle in response to a request by Domenico—could be the most moving scene this legendary film director has ever shot. This sequence captures what no amount of searching, studying, reading and asking was able to do for me in my life up to that point. It provides the answer to my questions about personal responsibility for my own destiny and personal happiness. This answer is contained in the close up of Gorchakov's hands as he shields the candle from the wind and slowly puts it down. Unable to verbalize the beauty of this sequence, I looked to Tarkovsky’s own writing. In his book Sculpting in Time, he writes, "The way must be found from one person to another. Such is the sacred duty of humanity towards its own future, and the personal duty of each individual." Tarkovsky's films and the sage-like words of wisdom found in his book helped me to discover the meaning of true responsibility; that every human action has intrinsic meaning, and that therein lies hope. In Domenico’s own desperate words, "We must go back to the point where we took the wrong turn!"

Nostalghia tells us that we have two choices: Perish in a last, desperate cry of warning like Domenico. Or, like Gorchakov, carry the flame of the human spirit with conviction and yearning for a fulfilling existence. Tarkovsky’s films evoke a world illuminated by faith and the promise of transcendence, in which authentic spirituality can flourish. Although I still wear black turtlenecks, I no longer view Sartre and Nietzsche as my support group for dealing with mankind’s path towards more suffering and destruction. Rather, I participate in Tarkovsky's sacred dialogue with creation because he wants his audience to join in this sublime conversation. And I take part in this extended dialogue as a film lover, artist, filmmaker and kindred spirit.

Just as I cannot imagine a life without those I love, I cannot imagine a life without this film. Tarkovsky’s masterwork keeps me honest and gives me the necessary bursts of hope and strength to persevere despite the world’s human suffering and glamorized triviality. Every time I watch Nostalghia, I discover something new in the work that addresses the universal search for meaning. Some people have meditation, yoga, self-help books, Tibetan philosophy, psychiatrists, Oprah and Dr. Phil. I have Nostalghia, Andrei Tarkovsky and the drive and ambition to make my own films that will, hopefully, touch someone the way this great filmmaker's art has moved and changed me.

"Art is born and takes hold wherever there is a timeless and insatiable longing for the spiritual." -Andrei Tarkovsky

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Festival of Beautiful Mold

I spent more time staring at the cheese at the window display of the fromagerie at Rue Cler than at the paintings at the Grand Gallery of the Louvre. I have never seen such a festival of mold. It was beautiful. The way the light hit the rough textures and the varying shapes of cheese reminded me of Goya’s brushstrokes, which I experienced up close and personal just two days earlier. The smell inside the cheese shop was strangely reminiscent of the odor coming from the mummy at the Egyptian exhibit at the Denon wing of the Louvre. Actually, I didn't really see much of the mummy since it was so dark, but I knew it was there because I could smell it. You need humidity and darkness to preserve relics, and you also need them to grow mold worthy of Parisian taste buds.

At Rue Cler, I did not feel insecure, self-conscious and bitter as I always do when I go to the supermarket back home. Why should I? I am in a foreign city, thousands of miles away from California, and no one knows me here. I am not looking for the latest, not-from-the-frozen-section, new pathetic food, I may be able to concoct quickly and easily given my culinary limitations and disdain for food shopping. I will be merely perceived as a tourist beholding works of art and curiously taking in the culture around her; investigating the Parisian habit of living well. At least in Paris, I am not that pathetic woman who cannot cook and buys Lean Pockets only when they are six for ten bucks. No, this was not Albertson’s two-for-five bucks-take-your-pick from cheddar, Monterey, or pepper jack cheese. (Now that I think about it, I never saw an orange piece of cheese in Paris. Blue, yes.)

I was not feeling self-conscious, as I should have been. I was surrounded by Parisians carrying chic basket weave bags, making their way from store to store buying fresh produce, fresh bread, fresh meat, fresh fromage and the perfect wine to go with it. No, I was not self-conscious because days before I had decided to embrace my status as a tourist. I got tired of trying to read my guidebooks and maps without anyone noticing: by keeping them open inside my bag while trying to figure out where I was going or by hiding behind large structures and out of the way alleys to consult them in private. Being incognito was too stressful and so what! I am a tourist and I don’t know where the hell I am going and I need maps to find Shakespeare & Co., which happened to be just under my nose. Now, where was La Maison du Jambon? I proudly took out my guide book, took a sip from my cafe crème and consulted it without shame. According to Rick Steve’s book, right across from la pharmacie, two doors down from the beautiful, smelly mold.

Monday, January 17, 2005


I step out of my apartment in San Diego and immediately feel my ass on fire. It is mid-January, but the sun is shining brighter and hotter than in any day in August. I get a strong urge to go back inside my cold apartment and try to recall what 30 degree weather felt like. In Paris.

The minute you step into Paris, you start to have strong feelings for it, and to take it personally. The Reverence for the city and for its abstractions disappears and turns into something else as the experience becomes more and more concrete and romantic notions slowly dissipate. I was there for the daily miracle that writers and artists long for and was expecting it to be even more special than the ones at home. Where else could you live more inside yourself than in Paris? Standing by the curb side, waiting for the shuttle that would take me there, I watched my breath hit the cold air. I waited and waited and I did not mind because I was also on the look out for the daily miracle that would enable me to tell what was inside me. I had to be patient. Could it come at Charles De Gaulle airport or did I have to wait until I was finally in Paris? I took out my micro-cassette dictator and held it close to my mouth. I started to speak, but the thoughts were not worth recording. Not yet.

The shuttles came and went, picking up their respective passengers outside Exit 8 of the terminal. I had been very fortunate and did not get airsick, but now I had to endure the shuttle ride from Roissy and to fight my natural inclination for carsickness. We passed an area that closely resembled Orange County and then what I could only guess were the Projects. The Projects are the Projects wherever you go: dilapidated, dirty buildings with clothes hanging off the window sills. I was not worried. I was very aware that this area was not Paris and it had nothing to do with Paris and that I would be in Paris soon enough. However, I was not prepared for the glaring and critical eye of Paris. I knew quite well that I had set myself up.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Prima donnas at the queue.

I enter the Continental terminal at George Bush International Airport in Houston, struggling with my four pieces of luggage weighting over ninety pounds. Words cannot describe the horror. People everywhere! I cannot get past the crowds and I can hardly see the ticket counters. Where the fuck do I go? I calm myself down thinking there is no way I have to stand in line, since it is the airline's fault I missed my connection to San Diego last night. No way I am standing in line. Making my way through a crowd of Mexican travelers with boxes masquerading for luggage, I approach a ticket agent. "Where do I go and do I have to stand in line?" She points to the other side, where I came from, and nods. "Really, but let me explain--" She nods and points, interrupting me. She doesn't know shit. I am sure I don't have to stand in line. It is Continental's fault I am stuck in Dubya's Daddy's Airport of all places! I tell my story to another agent who is trying to direct human traffic and she tells me to go to the side where I came from. The International counter? I just came from Amsterdam, not going back, although I really want to. She indicates she is sure that is where I am supposed to stand in line. Stand in line?

I take my place in line wondering why I am standing in line. After twenty minutes I spot the Domestic E-ticket counter across the cluster of Texan travelers. Let's see...I am going to San Diego, which means it is a domestic flight, and I don't have a paper ticket, which means I must be an E-ticket. Feeling glad that I took a logics class in college, I rush to get out of line. I knock down the queue dividers as I trip over a Mexican lady's cardboard box makeshift luggage. I don't look back and I push my way through the crowd. This is no time for good manners. I find the end of the line at the urging of another Continental employee. I ask her if I really have to stand in line, especially since I just stood in line for twenty minutes in the wrong line because of another Continental's employee's fault and am I going to miss my flight?!!! She looks at me dismissively and I can read her mind: HONEY, JUST BE GLAD WE PUT YOU UP AT THE SHERATON AND GAVE YOU A TEN DOLLAR MEAL VOUCHER. NOW GET IN THE GODDAMN LINE. Oh, yes, thanks ma'am and the Sheraton has real hair dryers, unlike those contraptions in European hotels. Fine, I'll get in line.

The wait wasn't that bad and I get to the front within fifteen minutes. I am five minutes from a clean getaway back to Southern California, when I spot a Mexican family of four standing to my right. Great, they cut in and there is nothing I can do about it since I am not the belligerent type. Really, I am not. The ticket agent, MY ticket agent, starts to help them first. I stand there patiently, smiling, waiting my turn. I notice the father is holding a stack of papers and I sneak a peak. At the top of the front page it reads: "Make a Wish Foundation." I continue snooping and read: "Miguel's Wish Participants." I immediately search for Miguel. He is standing next to his mother, holding his little sister's hand. He is about ten, thin, big eyes, wearing glasses and a beanie. He looks at me shyly. I can tell there is no hair below the beanie. The ticket agent is having trouble finding the little girl's reservation and I translate, since the father can hardly speak English. They must have it, it is in the paperwork he handed to her, he indicates. While the ticket agent looks for the reservation, the father asks me if I am also going to Orlando. No, I'm just stuck in Houston, poor me. The ticket agent finally finds the reservation. What a relief! They misspelled Emily's name. Since this is going to take a while, another ticket agent helps me and I finally get my boarding pass. Before I leave, I wish them a fun trip. Say hi to Mickey for me!

I head for the security line. This line, I am sure I have to stand in. I am about to break down. I make every effort not to. I am ashamed of myself. Of having felt so distraught and unfortunate over nothing. Swallowing my emotion, I put all my crap on the X-ray machine. I take off my boots and watch them roll away as I walk through the metal detector. No beep and I am almost home free.

When I arrive at the gate, I am informed there are no more seats on this flight, but that they will ask for volunteers to give up their seats. Well, at least I don't have to stand in line to board the plane. I find a seat at the gate and make myself comfortable. I know I will get home. I think about the hamburger I ate last night at the hotel, compliments of Continental Airlines. And about the bed at the Sheraton, which was the most comfortable bed I slept in the whole trip. I am lucky.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

The Goal

I just returned from Paris and Amsterdam full of ideas and inspiration. I will shoot my first feature this year. There is no doubt about it. It is not about how much money you have, if you even have a budget or what will happen after the film is finished. It is about the process. It is about the work. The work must be done.

"Happiness... it lies in the joy of achievement, in the thrill of creative effort. "--Vincent Van Gogh