Saturday, April 16, 2011

Do one thing every day that scares you.

Taking Eleanor Roosevelt's advice literally, I watch 28 Days Later again late one night, feeding my ongoing love/hate relationship with zombie films - or infected films, if you want to have that argument.

Although I don't think she was talking about zombies. And neither am I. I'm talking about film. (Should you click on her name and buy a t-shirt, I don't get a cut. Just so you know.)

"Do You Want To Be A Filmmaker?" the email asked. Well, gee, I haven't thought of that in years. I did have a hoot back in the 90s working on the film Whatever. And as I am exploring new career options and there aren't any "So, You Want To Be Death Midwife?" seminars in the Washington, DC area, (nothing's off the table) I decide to give it a go.

Admittedly, attending a forum on filmmaking does not have a high scare factor. Not like bungee jumping. Or going to an Scientology open house. But it is a departure from the work-life I've created around two decades of Chinese language studies. And departures can be scary.

The day of the forum torrential rains pound most of the Mid-Atlantic and a band of tornados threaten the DC area. Perfect weather to talk about film. And the cost is perfect too. Only $10 for the whole day which includes a panel of noted filmmakers and workshops on camera, lighting and sound. The writer/director of The Blair Witch Project, the movie that made my then-Bangladeshi boyfriend's petite Indian friend puke in a New York City trash can, is on the panel. I hope I get the chance to tell him that his movie made someone I know throw up. But I'm sure he gets that compliment all the time.

The venue is a theater where my son and I often get our musical theater fix, one of which involved a vampire bunny. Not the best $22 I've ever spent. The fact that I'm in a children's theater and that the $10 on-site registration fee requires a student identification (something the on-line process, I swear, didn't mention), should've tipped me off. And in hindsight, most of the adults I see are dropping off kids, throngs of teens and pre-teens who I'm assuming came to see George & Martha: Tons of Fun. George and Martha the elephants. Not the Washingtons.

It isn't until a woman with a clipboard instructing all film seminar attendees to file into the auditorium and we all stand up together do I realize what I've done. I've signed up for a forum intended for students. Not even college students. Junior high and high school students. Things just got a bit more scary.

I consider leaving but I've already paid. Ten dollars. I've also walked nearly a mile to catch the Metro and then walked another quarter mile to the theater. I am doing this, dammit. Student i.d. or no student i.d. At least in an old, torn Ramones t-shirt, black hoodie and sneakers I'm dressed appropriately. Maybe I'll blend.

Excuse me, ma'am, says one of the kids as he heads to his seat.

Name calling, are we? Is that how this going to go down? Well, during the lunch break I'm heading to the cafe down the street for a beer. Enjoy your juice box.

But they seem like nice kids. Nice kids with their own audio/video departments. They talk about their current projects and have coolers phones than mine. I chastise myself for comparing phones. This isn't high school. Well. Today it kind of is.

What the hell. I plunge full-steam into the seminar which is well produced and professional, beginning with screenwriting and ending in post-production. I learn industry secrets about scriptwriting. Follow format! And creative collaborations. Filmmaking is a team sport! Thankfully, the sports references end with that one, something that concerned me as the moderator, the entire discussion panel, all the workshop presenters and most of the attendees are men. And boys. They couldn't find one chick working in film?

Age and gender aside, I learn other secrets. How the right backlighting adds ethereal highlights to an otherwise flat hairdo and can heighten and sculpt your cheekbones, something more restauranteurs should keep in mind when lighting their dining rooms. How a humming beer cooler is actually really loud if you're filming and not just drinking in a bar. How some guys become sound recordists for the gear alone. And how their wives feel about that. So much to learn. We dabblers love hearing years of experience speak.

I look around and wonder why no one else is taking notes. Quietly I slide my favorite Pilot G-2 gel pen and Wonder Woman notebook back into my bag. Even among teenage, techie gear nerds, I'm a nerd. The Ramones t-shirt has helped not in the least.

But the day proceeds fine. Until the end of the lighting workshop. Then things get a bit shaky. I ask a general question on how Julian Schnabel accomplished that dreamy feel in The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, a movie about Jean-Dominique Bauby's efforts to write his memoirs when the only remaining corporeal movement left to him was blinking one eye. (Bauby is pictured at right). I loved this film until learning how much Schnabel altered the truth for the sake of adding petty drama.

I say something to that effect to Mr. German Lighting Guru but he's too busy digging in his camera bag for something he calls a Lens, baby. I blush thinking he's coming on to me when he pulls out a Lensbaby. Oh. Well, if we're not going to flirt, can we at least slam Schnabel for being a deceitful bitch without mucking about in the weeds too much?

When on an exploratory career expedition, stay out of the weeds.
(This is my advice. Not Eleanor's.)

As soon as he suggests a lens, my heart starts pounding. Please, don't ask. Please, don't ask. "So, what type of camera are you using?" I hate him. With his $200 denim jeans and bed-head hair, I hate him for asking me this. I can't remember what kind of camera it is. It's a Sony, I think. With some letters and numbers after it. I've never been good at remembering names with alpha-numeric combinations. I feel exposed. Over exposed. All washed out and two-dimensional. Something you want to avoid when filming, by the way.

Didn't I tell him that my "film" project is pulling my son in his Red Flyer wagon around our DC neighborhood to capture his fleeting childhood?

How do I tell him, now that he's mounting his precious Lensbaby onto his camera to show me the great effects I could achieve with this innovative lens, that my 5-year-old will be the one holding the camera? Do I use words like cinema verite and verisimilitude to change the topic? Luckily he has a plane to catch and cuts his demonstration short.
Auf wiedersehen.

I'm sure all of the child-attendees know what type of camera they own. So not only am I one of the only adults at the seminar (some parents stayed), now I feel stupid. Great. Little do I know that a chance to redeem myself waits in post-production, a place where so many mistakes are fixed. If this were a scene, the script would look something like this:



A woman in her late 30s or early 40s fidgets uncomfortably in her seat. After a day-long filmmaking seminar, she feels out of place, inexperienced. To demonstrate their post-production prowess, a renowned media production company shows off a political advertisement depicting China taking over the United States. It's in Chinese with English subtitles. The woman notices something. She raises her hand with a question.

Um. I'm just curious. Have any Chinese people called you about this commercial?

Not that I know of. Why?

Well, it's just that it's set in Beijing and you've used an image of Mao Ze Dong and the Chinese Communist flag. But the actor is speaking in a strong Taiwanese accent. That ... wouldn't happen.

Um. No. I didn't know that.

Just a small detail.

But the Woman knows it's not a small detail. She relaxes back into her chair and smiles.