Festival Wrap Up

Another city, another festival. Except…

…this one had deep meaning for us.

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New York City! Where I lived for over 15 years. Where Catia and I met. Where I had my first professional play staged, and where my first feature film (and second) were shot. New York City has long been on our list and we were thrilled to show our movie.

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A happy writer/director and his star/muse on the red carpet (Photo: Don Heller)

Unfortunately the festival couldn’t screen the best version; they waited too long to test the movie and by the time they did (an hour before our screening) they couldn’t get it to work. (I asked them for a test a week earlier but, oh well…) We had to screen the only back-up I could get, which was a BluRay with Spanish subtitles (from our Marbella adventure). The color and framing were off. But it was still our movie, on the big screen in Union Square.

And it was a packed house. Friends from all walks of life made it, and many joined us for a rooftop party at Bar 13 around the corner. Like a high school reunion, college reunion, family reunion and wedding all rolled into one.

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Skidmore College represent!

And we took home another award! The Audience Choice Award for Best Dramatic Feature. After three glorious days and nights we headed back to Los Angeles.

This was a perfect end to our festival run.

Festivals

Mementos from our fantastic world tour.

Wait, what?

Yep. We’ve been on the circuit for over a year. It’s time to hang up our shoes before becoming the old horse in the race.

Mind you, we’re not opposed to more festival screenings. We are just no longer submitting (a.k.a, paying) for festival submissions. If someone wants to screen our movie, we will happily oblige.

And what a great run it has been. Six festivals, and seven awards:

Best Feature – Washington D.C. Independent Film Festival
Best Feature – The Valley Film Festival
Audience Choice Award – Austin Indie Fest
Best Screenplay – Austin Indie Fest
Best Actress (Catia Ojeda) – Marbella International Film Festival
Best Actress (Catia Ojeda) – Austin Indie Fest

We are thrilled and honored for all the recognition we have received so far, and in return, I’d like to give out some awards to the festivals we have attended. Some did things a little better than others, and they deserve a shout out.

So, without further ado, here are the awards Closure would like to give to film festivals!

Best Filmmaker Relations – D.C. Independent Film Festival
Our first film festival set the bar very high for how filmmakers were treated. Different staff members in each department timely answered each email, whether it was about PR, our screening, or random festival questions. When our Saturday night screening started to fill up weeks in advance they brought in catering and a musician to entertain in the hour prior. The events were all well organized, thought out, and on time. Each talk back session was moderated by a staff member who had watched the movie and asked knowledgable, thought-provoking questions. And after our screening the projectionist personally delivered the DCP of our movie safely back in our hands (although I certainly would have trusted them to hold it). I assumed this was the standard filmmaker/festival relationship. I was wrong. (Runner up: The Valley Film Festival).

Best Built In Audience – Vero Beach Wine and Film Festival
We had screenings at other festivals with larger audiences than our two screenings in Vero Beach, but those were in cities were we brought in a huge crowd. in addition to the (ahem) plentiful wine and beautiful beach, the festival brought in audiences hungry for movies.

Best Award Trophy – Marbella International Film Festival
Don’t get me wrong, we are grateful for ALL of our festival awards, but this fancy glass award that Catia Ojeda won for Best Actress is truly mantel-worthy. (Special merit goes to D.C.I.F.F. which did not actually have a trophy for Best Feature but we happily accepted a $1,000 cash prize instead).

Best Indie Spirit – Austin Indie Fest
I mean, BESIDES the fact they have “Indie” in their name this young festival is doing everything right: hosting the entire festival in a hotel so filmmakers can bounce from screenings to the bar to the room without missing a beat, a diverse group of filmmakers who are truly happy to be there and making movies, and since the fest falls on Veterans Day weekend, a special program of films made by Vets. Plus a bunch of prizes for the winners. Hard to believe this festival is only two years old! (Runner Up: The Valley Film Festival)

Best Location – Manhattan Film Festival
New York City is the greatest city in the world, and the festival theater was right in the heart of it, in Union Square. (Runner Up: Marbella Film Festival takes place in a beachside resort town in the south of Spain. Very hard to top that.)

Best Overall Quality of Screened Movies – The Valley Film Festival
It is standard for the quality, budget, and storytelling to vary WILDLY at film festivals. Each festival has their own method of determining how movies are accepted. We saw some wonderful, entertaining and thought-provoking movies. And we saw some “how the hell did this get selected” movies. But at VFF, the overall quality was high. (Full disclosure: I did not attend Vero Beach WFF and I only saw a series of shorts at Manhattan Film Festival so I can’t weigh in on their selections).

Best Parties – Marbella International Film Festival

Gala

As fantastic as it was, Marbella’s closing night gala with it’s live entertainment and five course meal wasn’t even the best party of the week.

Each night, another party… and sometimes multiple parties in one night. Whether it was poolside at a fancy casino hotel or in a beachside bar with a known classic rock band on the bill, there was usually free booze, live entertainment, random VIPs (at one party I had a conversation over excellent cava with the Ambassador to Spain from Cyprus!) and lots of merrymaking and networking for all the filmmakers and a ton of locals.

After taking the above picture of our awards and festival badges it’s bittersweet to walk away from it all. Those of us who create art having a burning desire to tell stories, even if it takes all our time, energy and money to do so. We all want our work to be appreciated and to entertain people, and to see it happen in theaters large and small all across the country (and Spain!) has truly been a magnificent experience. And I can’t wait to do it again with another movie.

But first… time to take Closure to a larger audience… including YOU!

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Momentum

I listen to music all the time. Whether it’s in the car, while I’m jogging, or working, there’s always something playing. When it comes to my writing, whatever the project needs dictates the playlist or radio station, and I will stick with that music throughout the creative process. Outside of the actual writing, there are a handful of songs that keep me going throughout the writing process, sort of like a creative cycle mix. Before writing something new I always listen to My First Song by Jay-Z, which is about treating every new project like it’s your first and your last. Another great motivator is The Distance by Cake.

Also on my playlist: Aimee Mann’s Momentum.

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“Even when it’s approaching torture I’ve got my routine.”   Aimee Mann – Momentum

The lyrics may be vague but the music is on message: a strong driving beat that propels you; you have no choice but to keep moving forward. Plus, it’s featured in the excellent P.T. Anderson movie Magnolia, not only one of my top ten favorite movies of all time but like Closure, a great film set in The Valley (see what I did there?!?).

This past fall I felt the stars were lining up with my career, and everything was moving forward. Closure screened at three festivals over a five week period, winning five awards total. We signed with a producers rep. Distribution seemed imminent. I started breaking out the story for the next film.

On top of that, my writing career also had momentum. I had staged readings of two different plays, productions of my play IT IS DONE at a lovely 200 seat theater in Raleigh, North Carolina in November and another fantastic production at Theatre40 in Beverly Hills scheduled for January. Starting in late September I had my writing being presented somewhere around the world through February. It was actually happening. There was momentum.

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The promotional poster for IT IS DONE in Raleigh, North Carolina.

I did a push for agents. Reached out to friends in the business to see if they would connect me with representation. Many people were supportive, but said they couldn’t help (which I totally understand). There were a few people who actively offered to connect me to agents and manager, of which I was thankful.

New Years Eve rolled around. Like any couple with young children, my wife and I had our champagne around 8pm, toasted to a productive, happy and healthy year, and went to bed by ten.

January rolled around… and crickets. The first few weeks are usually quiet in this town as many in the industry get settled after the holidays. Some say that nothing happens until after Sundance. But our phones and email inboxes were silent throughout January.

I distracted myself with the production of IT IS DONE that opened at Theatre 40 in Beverly Hills in the middle of the month, continuing to push for distribution and for an agent. It was all happening at the same time, and I was calling the shots… as long as I remained active.

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That was my promise to myself. As long as this show was running I was still active. I diligently pushed for representation, massaged contacts at theaters across the country, and kept hustling for Closure distribution.

Reviews for It is Done were spectacular. Three different theaters expressed interest in mounting their own production, on top of the half dozen contacts I was working on across the country. This was my time to move on to the next level where I would be managing my productions, creating new content, and being paid regularly. I was ready for the next level.

After a fantastic five week run the show closed… and the machinery ground to a halt.

No agent or manager meetings. No word on productions. Distributors for Closure liked the film but were dragging their feet on offers. Our plan for a spring film festival tour evaporated with each rejection. For the first time in over a year I had nothing on the calendar.

And it felt terrible. Despite all the successes of the past year, suddenly I felt obsolete and kept asking myself “is any of this worth it?”

The same went for my wife and our film’s star. Despite the release of the final season of her television show Just Add Magic in January and the upcoming release of a Netflix series of which she will be a recurring guest star, she had nothing going on as well. Zero auditions. And that number is not an exaggeration.

In the days following the closing of my play we’d sit down for dinner and not talk about the zero emails we received during the day. Or the zero phone calls. We also didn’t talk about our mortgage. Or our two young kids and how we were going to provide for them if the phone doesn’t ring.

Days turned into a week. Which turned into weeks. Then a month.

JUST FUCKING RING. One call. One ping in my inbox.

Momentum had ground to a halt.

So what to do? Exercise more and work off the pounds I put on traveling the world with the movie. Write more. I finished a play I had set aside for a year. I outlined and broke out the story for my next screenplay.

And we waited. It’s the worst part of the show biz life when that loud voice in my head says that it’s done. It’s hard to write something new if the universe (or what I think is the universe) screams “nobody cares about you” in my ear.

But I kept writing. Because that’s all I can do.

And then…

…the phone rang. First Catia’s phone. An audition. Then another. Then a callback. Then a booking.

Distributors started returning phone calls. And sharing our movie with people in their office.

And we got our next film festival acceptance. We are taking our movie to New York.

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Back to the mothership where I lived for over 15 years and where Catia and I met.

And the wheels are turning again! Things are slowly picking up. It’s hard to keep faith when nothing is happening. And it can all go away again, but in the meantime I have to keep up the hustle. Keep writing. And keep working to get as much exposure for this movie as possible.

Hopefully this time the machine doesn’t stop. But if it does, keep the faith that as long as I work at it, something else will come.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Marvelous Marbella (and a look behind the glamour)

Spent a glorious week celebrating our European Premiere at the Marbella International Film Festival on the Costa del Sol in Spain. And as you can imagine, it was a tremendous experience. Hotel near the beach…

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The lovely view from my hotel room balcony.

…meals with views…

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A nice relaxing meal before our first screening.

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Just your run of the mill fancy restaurant on the beach.

…visiting new places…

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Me and co-Producer Laurence Leonard and behind us, the glorious view of Ronda.

…meeting filmmakers from around the world…

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Me and Ashley Barrie, the Scottish producer of the Spanish movie Luz.

…getting to enjoy Spain with some of our team…

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From left: Sarah Tubert, Marcelo Tubert, V. Lucas, Alli Joseph, me, Jane Ojeda, Gabriel Ojeda (not pictured, Laurence Leonard)

…lively entertainment…

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…and of course, watching movies…

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Hey, look at us outside the theater!

The festival gave us seminars, mixers, and parties that went late into the warm, breezy night with seemingly endless amounts of champagne and appetizers.

However, one thing was noticeably lacking:

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The above photo was taken three minutes before our second screening. Not pictured is the ONE audience member awaiting our film. By the time the film started there were 11 people in the theater, and EIGHT were from our group. That means three people outside of Team Closure watched the screening.

Fortunately, our first screening was better attended.

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A bar in the back of the theater, how cool is that?

We were lucky to have our first screening on the opening night of the festival, immediately following the kickoff reception. About 40 people attended the party and most took their champagne down the steps to the seating area.

And we were lucky. Many screenings had less than 20 people in attendance. I attended a few screenings with less than 10. One film, Morine, had two people in attendance and one was the director. And for the last movie I attended for most of the screening I was THE ONLY PERSON IN THE THEATER.

So how does this happen? Clearly the festival (in its 13th year) is not focused on audiences. The parties and networking was great, well planned, and heavily attended. People just weren’t interested in the film part of the film festival.

But should it matter? We make movies to share stories with people. Whether it’s watched in a theater or on your TV in the comfort of your home theater, we are nothing without an audience. While it is always fantastic to see the movie on the big screen, it’s somewhat depressing when there is no one in the audience.

Some film festivals have a built in audience. The Sundances and South Bys sell out theaters right and left. Those communities crave seeing new movies. But other festivals I guess are just about the parties and networking.

I certainly don’t regret going to the festival. It was a fantastic time. And it’s an extra laurel on the poster. I’m just bringing it up to show that this experience is very much an analogy for show business in general. We like to get dressed up and celebrate and hype ourselves, but frequently behind the scenes it is hard to get people to see your product. We promote the successes, and try to bury the struggles. And there are a LOT of struggles.

Oh,, and another reason there is no regret… we won an award! Well, more specifically, Catia won Best Actress!

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The 2018 Award Winners! And me, of course, accepting on Catia’s behalf.

The festival would have been an unforgettable experience even if we didn’t win an award, but taking home the hardware does make it a bit more of fun. And in the end, that is what everyone can see.

Oh, and as for the movie Morine which had less than 10 people combined at two screenings? In the center of the above picture is Tony Farjallah, a Lebanese filmmaker, who won Best Director! Tony was a very nice man and he and I had numerous conversations throughout the festival. I’m glad I got to know him a little bit.

And maybe THAT is the real reason we go to film festivals.

 

 

Festival #2 in Review

As I mentioned in my last post going to the Vero Beach Wine and Film Festival was going to be bittersweet because Catia wouldn’t be with us. She’d be home nursing our newly born baby. Because our first kid was born two weeks early and the festival is a week after the due date, we figured the new kid would be three weeks old. And her OBGYN says that ovens usually cook the same, so we were in the clear. I’d attend the festival and as a happy side bonus, sleep like someone who wasn’t up all night with a newborn. Win win!

Well, you know what they say about plans…

…three weeks before the festival, all quiet. No baby. Two weeks, all quiet. A week out, all quiet except for my rightfully pissed off wife who was feeling a ton of pain and aches 24/7. So the cutoff day for me to attend would be Monday. Have the baby Monday, I get on a plane Wednesday. First screening Thursday afternoon. No problem!

Monday came and went.

Tuesday came and went. Cancelled my hotel, got a voucher for my flight, and hoped the baby would be born on Wednesday so I go Friday, in time for our second screening on Saturday morning.

Wednesday came and left. Trip officially postponed.

It’s a bummer to not attend our second film festival and see the movie with a new audience, one who doesn’t know anyone involved with the movie. But I was proud that Closure would be well represented.

Beau stayed for the duration, and sent back photos:

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Not pictured: intense humidity. After all, it’s Florida in June. (Photo courtesy: Beau Genot)

Also in attendance, one of our actresses, V. Lucas!

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V. Lucas and Beau Genot (Photo courtesy: V. Lucas)

In addition, one of our investors/co-Producer Laurence Leonard flew down from New York just for the screening. So we were well represented.

And it went well! (So they said). The audience was engaged, stuck around for the Q and A, and came up to Beau following the screening to say how much they enjoyed the movie and how they could relate to Nina’s journey. They also vowed to spread the word. Or so they said. Catia and I were still at home. And Catia was getting LARGER.

Two days later we had our second screening, at 9:30am.

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No confirmation as to whether or not Manolo Blahnik attended. (Photo courtesy: V. Lucas)

Word must have spread because this second screening was packed. More Q and A, more fans. Which is what festivals are about, meeting new people in the industry and getting festival audiences to watch the film.

Sunday afternoon the festival wrapped. And Sunday evening, Catia and I were able to introduce our latest collaboration:

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Me and the little dude. (photo courtesy: Catia Ojeda… you know, the one who did all the work bringing this kid into the world)

Did I miss out on the experience? Absolutely. But ABSOLUTELY worth it for this little dude.

Mom, dad, baby and big brother are nesting and trying to get sleep when we can. In the meantime, we are under consideration for nearly 20 festivals from mid-August through the end of November. And with a little luck (and if the programming gods are in our favor) I’ll get back on the festival circuit soon.

In the meantime, I hope you all enjoy a full night’s sleep. Please tell me what that’s like!


Coming up next: more festivals? And taking steps towards distribution.

Raise a Glass!

In my last blog post I wrote about the steep drop on the roller coaster of Closure’s (and my) career. Rejection after rejection after rejection after-

-well, you get it.

But things will turn around, right?

After publishing that post a few more rejections came in. I (briefly) considered retirement. I threw an enormous pity party for myself (no one came). But then…

Ding!

We have a bite! We are officially going to our second festival!

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Great grapes! We’re going to Florida!

That’s right, the Vero Beach Wine and Film Festival. We are thrilled.  Another chance to show our movie to a paying, public audience. Actually, TWO chances:

Thursday, June 5th
5:30pm
Vero Beach Theatre Guild

Saturday, June 7th
9:30am (GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOD MORNING, VERO BEACH!!!)
Costa d’Este Beach Resort and Spa

After the cycle of rejection and hard work (I am still working 30 minutes to three hours A DAY on this movie, months after we completed our edit) this is an exciting development. A beautiful beachside location. Lots of movies. And apparently, even more wine (don’t forget, film is second fiddle in the name of the festival).

But this festival is slightly bittersweet, because-

“Oh shut up, Goldberg. We’re all tired of your complaining, Mr. Movie Man. Just close your trap and enjoy yourself for one minute.”

I promise you, I am enjoying this moment. And I will enjoy my entire time at the festival. I mean, how could you not enjoy Watson the Waterborne Wine Waiter!

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I’m pretty sure he walked this viognier over directly from France.

But someone will be noticeably missing.

Catia is pregnant. Like, VERY pregnant. Like, by the time you read this blog there might be another squishy bundle of joy in our arms. I am NOT COMPLAINING about having another child. We asked for it. We literally made it happen.

But this means that she will not be joining in on the adventure to Vero Beach. We thought about all traveling as a family, but taking a three-year-old and a newborn across country is a recipe for disaster, very expensive, and since we wouldn’t be sleeping much I wouldn’t be working to my potential at the festival, making connections and networking as much as I can.

We wanted to take our baby moon (a.k.a. a brief vacation before the newborn chaos begins) to a festival together in March or April. A grandparent or two would have stayed with our older kid and the two of us could have celebrated our film together at one of eight festivals in San Francisco, or Dallas, or Nashville, or Atlanta, or New York, where we first met and lived for a long time.

But no, we got rejected. From all of them.

Again, I’m not complaining. I will very happily attend VBWFF and take in every adventure and opportunity I can (plus, enjoy sleep in a hotel room without an infant crying every 3-4 hours). I am extremely grateful for the opportunity. It’s just bittersweet that the woman who is my muse, my partner, my soulmate, and the inspiration for the script can’t go.

Catia and I started dating nearly ten years ago. I was instantly smitten. I remember very clearly on our third date as we were in a fantastic Italian restaurant in Astoria, drunk on the early stages of love as well as great food and wine, she told me that she booked a role in a play and would be leaving town for three months. While my heart wanted to scream “don’t go” at her I knew that she was a talented actress and the worst thing I could do for her career (and her soul) was to get in the way and be anything but encouraging. I congratulated her and told her it will be an amazing adventure. I said I’d miss her but knew that she had to take the opportunity. And, if she’d let me, I’d come visit and watch her onstage.

A month later she left for the job. And we kept dating long distance. And I did visit her…

…twice.

And proudly watched her perform at Riverside Theatre…

…in Vero Beach.

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Young lovebirds at the poolside restaurant at the Costa d’Este Beach Resort and Spa. Nine and a half years later, our movie will screen in this very same building.

In June I will happily celebrate the movie and all the hard work everyone has done. Beau and I will definitely network, socialize, see other films, and meet a lot of people…

…and I will raise a glass or two in honor of the star of our movie. Next festival, we’ll do it together.

What goes up…

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

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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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Shit.

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.

Right?

Our World Premiere

Well, here we are.

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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:

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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:

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