What goes up…

Less than a month ago we won Best Feature in the D.C. Independent Film Festival.

Talk back

The post screening talk back, featuring Producer Beau Genot, Catia Ojeda (Nina), Writer/Director Alex “Top of the World” Goldberg, Producer Katie Rosin, and Milena Govich (Prudence). Photo: Elias Savada

Three weeks later and I’m engaged in a bitter email feud with the head of a mediocre script competition about being unfairly judged in a contest where my EXCELLENT script didn’t crack the top 100.

Oh, and this competition ended LAST YEAR. I was notified of my rejection five months ago.

So… how does this fall from grace happen so quickly?

A show business life exists on a rollercoaster. The highs are awesome and the views are amazing (Look, I can see J. Law’s ankle tattoo from here!) but in an instant it all drops out from under you. Then you are in a dark tunnel, can’t even see your own shadow, and the heights are a distant memory.

YES the movie life can be glamorous, especially our time at the festival, but I share the following with you because it is hard. And there is often rejection. Relentless rejection.

The downward spiraling began at the fest, actually. Before leaving D.C. we found out about two other film festival rejections. Not a big deal.

Upon landing in Los Angeles we returned to normalcy. There is still a lot of administrative work to do on the movie. So we kept at it. We didn’t have any pending festivals in March, but there were five in April so it would be great to get things in order before then. But the downward slide continued…

  • I received a rejection from a prestigious writers conference for one of my plays. No shocker, but still disappointing. Even more disappointing: within an hour two writer friends were celebrating their acceptance to the same festival on Facebook.
  • Another film festival rejection: guess we aren’t going to TriBeCa.
  • Was notified that my ranking on a technical writing website (the bulk of my income for the past few years) has dropped from 4 stars to 3 stars. This will make a big difference in my income. I appealed the demotion. My request was denied.
  • Another film festival rejection: guess we aren’t going to San Francisco.

“Now wait a second,” I hear you say. “You’ve been in this business for a while. You know all about rejection. Stop yer bitchin’.”

Valid point, imaginary you. I signed up for this. And should be prepared. In fact, we’ve been doing some lobbying on our behalf. Yes, you could submit your film to a festival, do nothing, and wait until you get the response in your inbox. Or you can lobby. We still have nearly a dozen festivals pending and there are multiple festivals where we have networked heavily, utilizing personal contacts from investors, artists in our movie, and other supporters. One of our investors premiered her recent film at a certain Midwestern film festival where we applied. She set me up with the head of the festival and we have been corresponding. Our prospects look good. Great, even.

But as we wait for the official decision the slide continues…

  • I attended an acting class with the Antaeus Theatre Company where the students did scenes from one of my plays. For this I was paid a stipend. It was a great experience. So why is this part of my downward spiral? Because I realized that when my check for the stipend arrives it will be THE FIRST MONEY I HAVE MADE IN 2018. Which is because-
  • -I am unemployed. Other than my technical job listed before, which has been dry so far this year. My wife, forever a freelance actor, is unemployed until the next job comes in. But she hasn’t had a single audition in two months, right about the same time she told her agents she was pregnant. So if you are keeping score that’s two unemployed artists, and a mortgage, and a three-year-old in preschool, and another kid on the way.
  • Tax time. Pulling receipts together to meet with our tax preparer. Looking at all the submissions for competitions and festivals from 2017. While some are still pending, most were rejections.

And that’s when I noticed for one submission I did not receive the feedback I paid extra to receive. And that was the last straw. I hastily wrote the competition, waited a day, and angrily wrote again. The head of the competition cheerfully wrote me back and sent my coverage, which he claimed was sent two months ago. I didn’t receive it.

I read the coverage and it was glowing. The reader loved it. Gave only one slight note. I quickly wrote back, (almost) calmly explaining that this barely constitutes as feedback and since it was so glowing, how did it not make the top 100? His answer was less than convincing. Clearly, this competition was not worth my time or money.

But rather engage in a back and forth, I took a step back and realized that it IS a roller coaster. And I’m at the bottom. And things will turn up.

Then we got the email from that midwestern festival we were eagerly anticipating:

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I guess this coaster still has some downhill before we climb up again. Out of five potential festivals we could attend in April, only one is still pending.

Keep pushing. Keep climbing. We won Best Feature at our first festival. We’ll get into another.



Our World Premiere

Well, here we are.


A badge, a bozo, and a bourbon-based beverage (photo: Catia Ojeda)

It’s been a long journey to get here. No, I’m not talking about this entire process, I’ve said that frequently and you can read past posts to back that up. No, I’m talking literally getting here. We left our house at 6:30am and it took 90 minutes to get to LAX, then a struggle of getting three suitcases, two shoulder bags, a stroller, a car seat, a monkey backpack filled with kids books, and a three-year-old from the car to the shuttle bus to the terminal. Then a cross country flight (no nap for any of us), a frustrating 10 minutes of installing the car seat in my parent’s car, and then a rush hour drive to my parent’s place.

But we did have something to ease our travel woes: our first review. While I try not to hold too much stock in reviews (if you listen to the good ones, then you’ll listen to the bad ones) I was pleased that the critic understood what we were trying to achieve. He had positive things to say about the cast, the script, and the tone. Maybe there is an audience for us out there.

So here we are, a day later, attending our first festival. The D.C.I.F.F. team has been very gracious and responsive to all of our questions, so I was glad to finally put faces to names. Catia and I grabbed our quick dinner, watched a movie, and then went to the afterparty where we met more filmmakers. Milena Govich, who plays Prudence, joined us as well, as she also has a short film she directed in the festival. And it was great to hang out, have food and drink, and just talk film. An added bonus: since we were staying with my parents there was built in babysitting for our kid.

The next day was our premiere. Very excited not only to show the movie to an audience, but to people I know throughout my life as D.C. is my home town. Family, friends, even a few teachers were planning on coming. The big wrinkle: after days of pleasant sunny weather in the 60s, it got colder. And snowed. And then warmed slightly. And turned to ice. Some people starting texting and calling in their regrets. Would anyone show?

After leaving our kid with a sitter, my parents took us out to a great dinner before the screening. And as nausea set in, we made it to the venue. And there were people there! And a bar, and food, and live music as pre-screening festivity. It’s the Saturday night and the festival staff pulled out the stops.

We gathered our team for a photo:


From left to right: Milena Govich (Prudence), producer Beau Genot, Catia Ojeda (Nina), composer Jamie Christopherson, me, and producer Katie Rosin. (Note to self: get the photo from the camera where we were all looking.)

In addition to me, Catia and Milena, our composer Jamie flew in from Los Angeles. Beau left his vacation early, departing from a cruise stop in the Caribbean. Katie drove down from New York with her family.

The prior movie and discussion ran long, so we continued eating, drinking and talking, which was a blessing as there were so many people from my past with whom I wanted to reconnect. And then, it was time.

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D.C.I.F.F. Executive Director Deirdre Evans Pritchard introduces our movie.

Beau, Catia and I took our seats in the back of the house. The lights dimmed. Here we go.

I have sat in the audience for many of my plays, ranging from full house opening nights to sparsely attended matinees, and it is always a gut punch. Some jokes don’t get a laugh as big as you want. Some don’t get laughs at all. There can be shifting of seats, indicating boredom. There can be stillness, indicating that an audience is on board. Usually, my nervousness ebbs and flows throughout the performance.

But tonight the nervousness vanished pretty quickly. The laughs came where I intended them. The audience was focused and into it. Beau and I looked at each other in the first few minutes and nodded; they were with us. When I grabbed Catia’s hand she didn’t recoil or tense up, a sign that she was comfortable with what she saw (as comfortable as one can be, seeing themselves projected 20 feet high). We were doing it.

Knowing that the Q and A would immediately follow the screening, I ducked out to go to the bathroom. On my way back in, I watched the crowd for a moment:

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Nina (Catia Ojeda), Franklin (James Andrew Walsh) and an audience’s gaze.

The movie ended. Applause. And the questions began. Comments were positive. Questions were insightful. I was pleased to see two former high school teachers of mine in the audience, my film teacher Bill Blackwell and one of my drama teachers, Frank Shutts. It meant a lot to me that they made it, and they certainly had a great influence in the work I make today.

And then, it was over. I fielded a few more questions and then a tall, thin guy tapped me on the shoulder.

“This is yours.” He handed me a box. In it, a hard drive. Our movie.

I thanked the projectionist for his great work (not everyone can accurately screen a movie, it’s harder than you think) and walked out to the lobby, clutching five years of work.

That next few days consisted of viewing features, dozens of shorts, attending a brunch and a closing night party. I only saw four of the ten narrative features so I had no idea if we would get an award, but I naturally liked our movie the best.

And then, the announcement.

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My first acceptance speech. Don’t let the shocked face fool you: I’m thrilled. (Photo: Elias Savada)

A shock. Pure joy. Our first festival. Our first award: Best Feature. A great start to our festival tour. I gave a little speech. When I finished Beau grabbed the mic and THANKED THE FESTIVAL. Oops. Note to self for the next time. If there is a next time. God, I hope there’s a next time!

The celebration was short-lived. The party ended at 10:00pm. The next morning we were up at 4:45am to fly back to L.A. Back to the grind and the hustle. Back to more festival submissions. Back to writing more scripts. Back to finding more work. But this helps:


Looking forward to the next steps on our journey. Stay tuned!

And with the quickness it was over.

Our screening day approaches. This Saturday.


Put down that book and get dressed, we have a premiere to go to!

This means that last week we had to finish the movie. We had to color correct, add the credits, place music under the credits, create a DCP (which is how the movie projector reads the film and puts it on the screen) and send the hard drive off to Washington D.C.

And of course, there were complications. Point 360, where we were doing color correction and the DCP, would proof the audio files from Stand Sound, our audio facility, and lines of dialogue would be missing, or there would be original temp music playing simultaneously with the permanent music, or other oddities would occur. I had to zip back into Hollywood and do some audio correcting, then back to Burbank for more proofing. Again, I was fortunate to live so close to Point 360. The producer calls, and I’m there in five minutes.

Finally, everything was straightened out, a DCP was made, and we went back into our edit room one final time.

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Our edit room. Since this facility lives and breathes movies and TV, the decor is refreshingly rock and roll. Lots of rock art on the walls, and every edit suite is a different iconic album.

It was a small group: me, Beau, Senda the D.P., and Justin Kelley, our intrepid Unit Production Manager, who hasn’t seen one frame of this movie but it’s always good to get fresh eyes in the room.  And for 90 minutes we sat and watched the complete movie for the first time.

There are still some mistakes; we noticed a misspelled name, there is the wrong music during the closing credit roll, and a few other tiny gaffes that no one will likely notice, but I noticed. For the premiere, what we just watched is what will be screened (there is no time to make changes now).

We walked out of the room, blinking in the midday Valley sun. Well, I realized I forgot my sunglasses so I walked back in and alone, looked around the edit room.

This was it.

Even though there might be further tweaking, this is basically the last time in the room on Closure. It really hit me; I put in nearly five years of work, with the bulk of it happening in the last twelve months. Three weeks of shooting, and then nearly ten months of editing. And once I walk out of the room, this chapter is over.

I soaked it in and briefly considered stealing all the snacks on the table, grabbing the bottled waters, the comfy rolling chair, holding on to ANYTHING to keep it going. (I have hoarded food before; Catia and I are still using the large bottle of hot sauce that was on the craft service table back in April). But it’s time. Time to walk out of the room. Time for the next phase.

So tomorrow Catia and I get on a plane (with our three-year-old “assistant”) and cross the country to attend our festival premiere. Hopefully we can make changes in the coming weeks, but for now it’s time to soak in the festival experience and have a good time. It’s time to show our baby off to the world.


Heading Towards A Finish Line

It’s Tuesday. Our movie screens in 11 days. There is so much to do.


Photo courtesy Katie Rosin

It has been a lot of fun receiving congratulation texts, calls and emails. And I’m getting excited for friends, family, and even some cast and crew to see our movie on the big screen. But we still have one slight hurdle to jump:

We have to finish the movie.

I know what you’re thinking. “Why would you submit your film to a film festival if it’s not finished?”

It’s a common practice. Film festivals are used to looking at unfinished cuts and can anticipate what the final product will look like, just as long as your running time is very close to final, and your music is in the same ballpark. Since September we have submitted our unfinished version, which was missing audio mix, score, color correction, VFX, and contained many temporary tracks in place of score and permanent placed tracks.

In the past few months we have finished our audio edit, approved almost all of our VFX, put together all our music, and are halfway through with color correction. But the clock is ticking. And there is no better deadline then actually having to screen the music in front of a live, ticket-buying, audience of 250 people.

This afternoon I will return to our lush Burbank post-production facility (they have snacks within reach of my greasy fat fingers! Fresh berries! And someone to get us hot or cold beverages whenever we want!) where we are in the final days of color correction.

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Another day, another edit bay.

Color correction involves going shot by shot, cleaning up the images. For example, if the streetlight in the background is too distracting, we can turn down the intensity. Or, if an actor has a zit poking out through the makeup, we can zap it. Or it can be big picture stuff like deciding how blue we want the sky, or the ocean.

It’s time consuming, but at the hands of our colorist Jake Weathers we are moving along. It helps to have our Director of Photography Senda Bonnet sitting in. She knows far more than I do about coloring (and filmmaking in general). My mantra for this process has always been “surround yourself by people who know more than you.” And that mantra has been working out for me.

But we are under the gun.

The plan is to finish color correction tomorrow, sync up the audio mix, work in the VFX, then add the credit roll and music to go under it. We on the production team have been scrutinizing our credits, double-checking all names. Getting information wrong in the credits would be embarrassing (and expensive to fix) so the time is now.

Once everything is imported we need to watch it in its entirety and make sure there are no glaring errors or admissions. Then we need to create DCP (Digital Cinema Package) which is a collection of files on a hard drive. These files, combined, make up the movie. The hard drive needs to be shipped to Washington D.C. this Friday so they have plenty of time to test screen it.

Going to be a busy week. Let’s hope we make it.

And Here We Go!

This film has been in the works for years. Don’t believe me? Well, check out this blog’s first entry… from February 2nd, 2013.

That’s right (or… write?)! I have been working on this movie, in one way or another, for five years now. So much has happened since then: the birth of my son, a number of film scripts written for hire, even two moves which includes-

STOP. There is no time to reminisce.

Because our film is about to have its World Premiere!


Here we go!

That’s right, on February 17th all of our work comes to the next stage of development, which is BRINGING IT TO THE PEOPLE in the D.C. Independent Film Festival. And while I’d love to reminisce about everything that has happened in the past years, all the struggles and rejections and triumphs and little victories that make up this journey, I don’t have time.

Because we still have to finish this movie.

Wait, what?

Audio Post. And color correction! And VFX! And the final credit roll. And we are less than four weeks from premiere. I mean, tickets are already on sale. So what do we do?

Four weeks is long enough to get it all done (after all, we did shoot most of this movie over two weeks.

First, the final audio mix. This past Friday Beau, Katie and I watched the entire film with the sound team and attacked the few trouble spots. Now we are immersed in the world of color, and there’s so much to do still, but-

-but take a minute. Scroll back to the top of the post. Look at those laurels! Actually, don’t scroll back, I’ll put them here again so you don’t strain your scrolling finger:


It’s important, after five years of hard work, from writing to developing to fund raising to everything else, we now have the wonderful opportunity to look at time differently…

…a milestone time:

Saturday, February 17th
Burke Theater
Naval Heritage Center
Washington D.C.

And here we go!

…Bring the Jazz

I had a vision. An audio vision, if you will.

As we were gearing up to shoot the movie I thought about the music that would become basically an additional character to the film. Since this movie is a detective story, and we would be paying homage to some film noir traits, I wanted to have a jazz score.

But how to do that on a limited budget? In his excellent book about ultra low budget filmmaking Rebel Without a Crew, Robert Rodriguez says the answer is simple: write your own music.


Robert Rodriguez: a one man band.

One problem. My six years of piano and five years of saxophone in my formative years did not translate into actually being able to WRITE music. Unless I want the score to be REALLY minimalist (and out of tune), I had to think elsewhere.

Enter Zak Shelby-Szyszko. He lives and breathes jazz. He works or has worked for jazz-dominated record labels such as Resonance Records and is a consultant for the Angel City Jazz Festival. I came to him with a crazy idea: does he know any up-and-coming jazz artists who would be willing to place their original compositions in our movie for… ahem… VERY cheap? And the emphasis on original compositions. We can get an artist to donate their music for free, but if they are recording a John Coltrane song, we’d still have to negotiate with and pay the Coltrane estate. Zak watched our rough cut, said he could certainly help, and so we hired him.

Very soon I spent hours listening to dozens of recommended musicians. All VERY talented. And fairly quickly we were able to pick songs that reflected the tone of scenes. Some songs were clearly just temporary tracks, like we’re not really going to use this Miles Davis song for the climactic fight scene. But the tone was right. After a few months we had filled our rough cut with dozens of songs, about half from artists who might be willing to license their music for very cheap.

As for the rest, enter Jamie Christopherson, a talented and seasoned composer who had worked with our producer Beau before. He, Zak and I watched a cut together and discussed the music arc, including various tracks and themes for different characters. It was very easy to figure out what would be scored and what would be placed music.

Fast forward a few months. The score is finished and beautiful. Jamie recorded in his home studio, bringing in a jazz guitarist and horn section to round out some tracks. As for the placed music, we are still in negotiations with some of the artists but I am optimistic that we have our music.

We might not have a finished movie yet, but for now, the soundtrack exists on my computer. And if all goes well, it can grow up into a soundtrack album someday.


Can’t publicly share the songs yet, but if you want to come over for a drink some evening I’d be happy to play the soundtrack for you.

Next up: color correction, visual effects, and a VERY BIG EXCITING ANNOUNCEMENT!

Bring the Noise…

Now our film is a film.

Well, it’s not finished yet. And it was shot on video, not on film, so it was never technically “a film.”

But you get the point.

What I meant is that Closure is now officially picture locked. The movie is what it is. The story is there and is not changing any more. Or is it?

We move on from our lush edit suite in Santa Monica to a post production facility in Hollywood to focus on audio. This excites me for two reasons: first, the drive to Hollywood from Burbank is MUCH easier than the 60-90 minute commute each way to Santa Monica. I mean, all I have to do now is take Olive to Barham and then sneak through the Cahuenga Pass into (EDITOR’S NOTE: no one outside of Los Angeles cares which route you take to get places. Move on).

Second, the nature of the work excites me. The movie is locked, for better or better. Now it’s time to expand the aural universe. This means adding foley, which is the reproduction of everyday sound effects. I get to ask and find answers to a lot of fun questions like these:

  • How angry can we make the seagulls in the first beach scene? (Answer: very angry by the end)
  • What sounds can we add to get across that Jack’s apartment smells and no one has been there in a week? (Answer: flies!)
  • How loud is the music coming from the car stereo? (Answer: louder than I first thought.)
  • How much of Marco’s panting (played by producer Beau’s heroic dog Buddy) should we hear? (Answer: exactly what we recorded during production, no more, no less.)
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The view from the director’s seat of the amazing comedy duo of Iskandar (Marcelo Tubert) and his dog Marco (Buddy Bubstein). (Photo: Alex Goldberg)

And of equal fun, we get to fix some of our problems. That air mattress noise during the bedroom scene? Gone. The leaf blowers from our first day of shooting? Erased. And the dialogue we can’t hear well?

Well, fixing dialogue takes an extra step. We brought in a few of the actors for ADR, a.k.a. automated dialogue replacement, a.k.a. dragging actors back in to look at themselves on the screen and try to match what they are saying. Sort of like this:


How the magic happens. (Photo: Alex Goldberg)

Much of our dialogue was well recorded from the shoot, but we still had to bring in five actors. Each one spent roughly 15 – 30 minutes filling in dialogue holes, and helping us fill in logic holes.

Wait, what?

As I said at the top of this entry, “the movie is what it is. The story is there and is not changing any more.” Except it is. Remember those story issues we had? Now’s our chance to change dialogue to help the story.

Here’s a dirty little secret about the movies and TV: whenever you hear someone talking but don’t see their mouth move, only the back of their head, chances are you are hearing something they did not say in the moment. If you can’t see their lips move, we can make them say almost anything. Go ahead, put on your favorite show now and watch two minutes. Right? See it now? No, I didn’t just ruin your viewing experience, I enhanced it! You’re welcome.

And that’s what we did. A few moments where characters are in a scene but not on camera or facing away from us, we made up new dialogue. Cleared up some sticky plot points. Streamlined the story. AND YOU’LL NEVER KNOW WE DID IT.

Except I just told you we did it.

So now our audio track is clean, shiny, and sounding great. All that’s missing is the music.

Coming up next: the highs and lows of getting music into your film for no money.