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.

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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!

And with the quickness it was over.

Our screening day approaches. This Saturday.

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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.

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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.

…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.

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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.

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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!