The Chronicles of an Indie Filmmaker

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Why I Create…

This past week a colleague asked me, “Why do you create?” I stood there for a few minutes, dumbfounded, probing my thoughts for an answer. I soon realized I had to recall my past to find the answers. Childhood wasn’t the “best of times” for me, and I knew I had to recall memories and moments I have tucked away in the back of my mind long ago.

Like a scene from a sci-fiction film, I’m immediately transported to Ocean City New Jersey, a small seven-and-a-half-mile-long barrier island in Southern New Jersey, I recall the island’s long sandy beachfront on the east and sweeping marshlands on the west. I was a small six-year-old kid wandering the beaches, streets, and boardwalk of that small 3½-mile wide Barrier Island searching for the storytellers who lived, worked, and visited the town I called home, which, oddly enough was known as “America’s Greatest Family Resort.”

Oh man, I lived for the stories, longed for them, and could not wait to lose myself in their telling. During the winter months, when the island was a ghost town, I would sneak inside The Strand Movie Theater on 9th street to get my fix and immerse myself in the world projected on the screen.

Back then, I hated school, mainly because I was the forgotten kid in the class, a ghost behind a desk. No one, not even the teacher spoke to me. Until one day, I became so frustrated, I threw a chair at the teacher to let her know that I was real. I got her attention and a seven-day suspension that I cleverly hid from my Mother. Most of the time no one cared if I was there or not and for that reason, when my seven-day suspension was over, I chose not to go back.

My classroom were the streets, beaches, and boardwalk of Ocean City where I was the center of attention and I knew every inch of it. I knew the names of every street, where the cracks in the sidewalks were, which planks on the boardwalk were loose, and the names of every boarding house, restaurant, and church in town.

My Mother worked as a nurse at an old folks’ home across the bay. Often exhausted from working twelve-hour shifts, she slept when she could. The only time I saw her was when she came into my room early in the morning to give me a kiss and remind me to stay out of trouble.

My mother kept a red, white, and blue leather belt that my sister and I christened, “Old Glory,” with our backsides. She stopped using “Old Glory” on me altogether, mainly because she couldn’t catch me, or was too tired by the time she got home. Instead, She would give me a stern lecture and a word of caution, “keep it up Joe, and you’ll turn out just like your father.”

Back then, I was very aware of his absence, on those days I would skip school, run down to the corner deli and buy fresh Italian rolls with my lunch money to feed the seagulls. I would climb the 5th Street jetty, toddle over the rocks, sit down close to the edge where the windswept boulders met the sea and toss pieces of bread in the air.

The seagulls cheered me up; made me laugh every time they snatched the bread from the sky. They comforted me, made me feel wanted and welcomed. I could always count on them. After the bread was gone I would stare at the horizon and think about my father, imagine what he was like, wonder where he was, and what he was doing.

I was a street-smart little hustler, always knew how to make a dime and although my sister was older; I looked out for her. I shoveled snow in the winter, sold newspapers on the beach in the summer, raked leaves in the fall, and gave directions to lost tourists in the spring. At the end of the day, I would count the nickels, dimes, and quarters and buy something to eat for the both of us.

Every Friday, I would help the little old ladies carry grocery bags to their cars at the supermarket on 16th Street. They would offer me a few coins, but I would refuse. I learned, if I refused their first offer, they would, nine out of ten times, offer me more the second time. Sometimes scoring some paper money, I would only accept the folded bills and worn pocket change from them after they fussed and insisted. It didn’t feel right, taking their money, so to relieve the guilt I would put half of the take in the little wooden box at St. Augustine’s on East 13th Street, say three “Hail Marys” and spend the rest on something to eat for my sister and me.

Ocean City had more churches than any town in South Jersey, and on the weekends, they filled-up to capacity. Crusaders would stand on the boardwalk, holding signs that pronounced “Repent” and “Christ Saves” and preach the gospel to anyone that would walk by.

I attended church for the first time when I met a young family on the boardwalk the day before; the father was standing by the water fountain on the boardwalk preaching about the rapture. His charismatic delivery formed a crowd around him, curious I crawled through the front of the crowd when I emerged he asked me if I was saved. I didn’t understand what it meant “to be saved” but I found out in church the next day.

At the end of the service, the preacher asked if anyone had been saved, I stood up and declared that I was. At that moment, the church erupted in roars of “Praise the Lords” and waves of “Hallelujahs.” It was then the preacher came over, shook my hand and welcomed me. I was overwhelmed with so much praise and attention from the parishioners, tears streamed down my olive-skinned face, I savored the moment and the attention. After that, I got saved at every church in town.

I met all sorts of people growing up in Ocean City; Kind ones, mean ones, and evil ones too. I recall a moment from my childhood I have repressed. It happened so long ago, but the memory is so vivid and full of detail when it invades my thoughts. A moment I was lured under the 11th Street boardwalk and molested.

It was the lessons I learned on the streets that saved me. I had the street smarts to take advantage of the opportunity to defend myself and get away. I kicked the man in the groin when he tried to unbuckle his belt. He flew backward into a sandy patch of concrete blocks and broken beer bottles. I could hear his screams as I rushed out from under the boardwalk and his curses as I rushed over to the summer police officer walking his beat.

The storytellers I met during my island exploits were a mixed bag of characters as colorful as those I seen on screen. They entertained, mentored, and distracted me from the harsh realities I found myself in. There was John, the evangelist, who would preach about the gospel and the end of the world to anyone who dared to stop and listen.

Giovanni, the owner of a small Italian boardwalk restaurant, who would feed me fist-sized meatballs and amuse me with tales from his childhood days in Sicily. There was Dave, the 5th street fisherman, who would convincingly tell me tales about talking seagulls that flew about the island and the biggest fish he ever caught.

These are just a few of the many storytellers I met during my childhood. It didn’t matter if the stories were true; their stories, each told in their own style, became my own and allowed me to connect to the world around me and escape the abandonment I felt as a child.

As I grew older it was the lessons learned embedded in these stories that guided me through my troubled adolescence. For most of my childhood, I grew up in and out of foster care, abandoned by my mother, father, and older sister. Often mistreated and abused by those charged with my care. Told I was dumb, and placed in special education and forgotten until I dropped out of school in the 9th grade. As I transition into adulthood, stumbling over the potholes of life, I discovered new meanings within the stories and I soon began to develop narratives of my own.

I would later discover new ways to express myself in photographs, video, or some form of art. Looking back it was these narratives that encouraged me to overcome the situations I found myself in. Like all art, stories have the power to motivate and encourage change. I have witnessed this power in my own life, overcoming many dire circumstances and situations I found myself in. Its the lessons learned in these stories that encourage me to overcome my learning disabilities. I returned to school earned a GED, an AA, BA, MA and an MFA. I create to leave a legacy, to be remembered, to overcome my circumstances, and to express and communicate how I am feeling. I create to be free.

Why Do You Create?

This past week a colleague asked me, “Why do you create?” I stood there for a few minutes, dumbfounded, probing my thoughts for an answer. I soon realized I had to recall my past to find the answers. Childhood wasn’t the “best of times” for me, and I knew I had to recall memories and moments I have tucked away in the back of my mind long ago.

Like a scene from a sci-fiction film, I’m immediately transported to Ocean City New Jersey, a small seven-and-a-half-mile-long barrier island in Southern New Jersey, I recall the island’s long sandy beachfront on the east and sweeping marshlands on the west. I was a small six-year-old kid wandering the beaches, streets, and boardwalk of that small 3½-mile wide Barrier Island searching for the storytellers who lived, worked, and visited the town I called home, which, oddly enough was known as “America’s Greatest Family Resort.”

Oh man, I lived for the stories, longed for them, and could not wait to lose myself in their telling. During the winter months, when the island was a ghost town, I would sneak inside The Strand Movie Theater on 9th street to get my fix and immerse myself in the world projected on the screen.

Back then, I hated school, mainly because I was the forgotten kid in the class, a ghost behind a desk. No one, not even the teacher spoke to me. Until one day, I became so frustrated, I threw a chair at the teacher to let her know that I was real. I got her attention and a seven-day suspension that I cleverly hid from my Mother. Most of the time no one cared if I was there or not and for that reason, when my seven-day suspension was over, I chose not to go back.

My classroom were the streets, beaches, and boardwalk of Ocean City where I was the center of attention and I knew every inch of it. I knew the names of every street, where the cracks in the sidewalks were, which planks on the boardwalk were loose, and the names of every boarding house, restaurant, and church in town.

My Mother worked as a nurse at an old folks’ home across the bay. Often exhausted from working twelve-hour shifts, she slept when she could. The only time I saw her was when she came into my room early in the morning to give me a kiss and remind me to stay out of trouble.

My mother kept a red, white, and blue leather belt that my sister and I christened, “Old Glory,” with our backsides. She stopped using “Old Glory” on me altogether, mainly because she couldn’t catch me, or was too tired by the time she got home. Instead, She would give me a stern lecture and a word of caution, “keep it up Joe, and you’ll turn out just like your father.”

Back then, I was very aware of his absence, on those days I would skip school, run down to the corner deli and buy fresh Italian rolls with my lunch money to feed the seagulls. I would climb the 5th Street jetty, toddle over the rocks, sit down close to the edge where the windswept boulders met the sea and toss pieces of bread in the air.

The seagulls cheered me up; made me laugh every time they snatched the bread from the sky. They comforted me, made me feel wanted and welcomed. I could always count on them. After the bread was gone I would stare at the horizon and think about my father, imagine what he was like, wonder where he was, and what he was doing.

I was a street-smart little hustler, always knew how to make a dime and although my sister was older; I looked out for her. I shoveled snow in the winter, sold newspapers on the beach in the summer, raked leaves in the fall, and gave directions to lost tourists in the spring. At the end of the day, I would count the nickels, dimes, and quarters and buy something to eat for the both of us.

Every Friday, I would help the little old ladies carry grocery bags to their cars at the supermarket on 16th Street. They would offer me a few coins, but I would refuse. I learned, if I refused their first offer, they would, nine out of ten times, offer me more the second time. Sometimes scoring some paper money, I would only accept the folded bills and worn pocket change from them after they fussed and insisted. It didn’t feel right, taking their money, so to relieve the guilt I would put half of the take in the little wooden box at St. Augustine’s on East 13th Street, say three “Hail Marys” and spend the rest on something to eat for my sister and me.

Ocean City had more churches than any town in South Jersey, and on the weekends, they filled-up to capacity. Crusaders would stand on the boardwalk, holding signs that pronounced “Repent” and “Christ Saves” and preach the gospel to anyone that would walk by.

I attended church for the first time when I met a young family on the boardwalk the day before; the father was standing by the water fountain on the boardwalk preaching about the rapture. His charismatic delivery formed a crowd around him, curious I crawled through the front of the crowd when I emerged he asked me if I was saved. I didn’t understand what it meant “to be saved” but I found out in church the next day.

At the end of the service, the preacher asked if anyone had been saved, I stood up and declared that I was. At that moment, the church erupted in roars of “Praise the Lords” and waves of “Hallelujahs.” It was then the preacher came over, shook my hand and welcomed me. I was overwhelmed with so much praise and attention from the parishioners, tears streamed down my olive-skinned face, I savored the moment and the attention. After that, I got saved at every church in town.

I met all sorts of people growing up in Ocean City; Kind ones, mean ones, and evil ones too. I recall a moment from my childhood I have repressed. It happened so long ago, but the memory is so vivid and full of detail when it invades my thoughts. A moment I was lured under the 11th Street boardwalk and molested.

It was the lessons I learned on the streets that saved me. I had the street smarts to take advantage of the opportunity to defend myself and get away. I kicked the man in the groin when he tried to unbuckle his belt. He flew backward into a sandy patch of concrete blocks and broken beer bottles. I could hear his screams as I rushed out from under the boardwalk and his curses as I rushed over to the summer police officer walking his beat.

The storytellers I met during my island exploits were a mixed bag of characters as colorful as those I seen on screen. They entertained, mentored, and distracted me from the harsh realities I found myself in. There was John, the evangelist, who would preach about the gospel and the end of the world to anyone who dared to stop and listen.

Giovanni, the owner of a small Italian boardwalk restaurant, who would feed me fist-sized meatballs and amuse me with tales from his childhood days in Sicily. There was Dave, the 5th street fisherman, who would convincingly tell me tales about talking seagulls that flew about the island and the biggest fish he ever caught.

These are just a few of the many storytellers I met during my childhood. It didn’t matter if the stories were true; their stories, each told in their own style, became my own and allowed me to connect to the world around me and escape the abandonment I felt as a child.

As I grew older it was the lessons learned embedded in these stories that guided me through my troubled adolescence. For most of my childhood, I grew up in and out of foster care, abandoned by my mother, father, and older sister. Often mistreated and abused by those charged with my care. Told I was dumb, and placed in special education and forgotten until I dropped out of school in the 9th grade. As I transition into adulthood, stumbling over the potholes of life, I discovered new meanings within the stories and I soon began to develop narratives of my own.

I would later discover new ways to express myself in photographs, video, or some form of art. Looking back it was these narratives that encouraged me to overcome the situations I found myself in. Like all art, stories have the power to motivate and encourage change. I have witnessed this power in my own life, overcoming many dire circumstances and situations I found myself in. Its the lessons learned in these stories that encourage me to overcome my learning disabilities. I returned to school earned a GED, an AA, BA, MA and an MFA. I create to leave a legacy, to be remembered, to overcome my circumstances, and to express and communicate how I am feeling. I create to be free.

What do ya know…its me Professor Joe :)

In my second semester teaching in the Media Arts Department at New Jersey City Univerisity as an Adjunct Professor.  I am teaching Understanding Movies: The Art of Film to 20 undergrad students from various backgrounds.  Exciting.  Stay connected with me via my personal blog. I will be officially be writing and publishing a post on a daily basis.

 

Review/Response to Cartel Land (2015) Directed by Matthew Heineman.

 

Cartel Land is a bone chilling and gripping, “on-the-ground” documentary about two modern-day vigilante groups fighting to stave off the murderous Mexican drug cartels.In the Mexican state of Michoacán, Dr. Jose Mireles, a small-town physician is known as “El Doctor,” leads the Autodefensas, a citizen uprising against the violent Knights Templar drug cartel that has wreaked havoc on the region for years.In Arizona’s Altar Valley – a narrow, 52-mile-long desert corridor known as Cocaine Alley – Tim “Nailer” Foley, an American veteran, heads a small paramilitary group called Arizona Border Recon, whose goal is to stop Mexico’s drug wars from seeping across our border.Filmmaker Matthew Heineman embeds himself in the heart of darkness as Nailer, El Doctor, and the cartel each vie to bring their own brand of justice to a society where institutions have failed.

CARTEL LAND is a chilling, visceral meditation on the breakdown of order and the blurry line between good and evil.The film examines the cause and effect of multiple issues (Poverty, Corruption, Greed, Good Vs. Evil) and successfully demonstrates their interconnectedness and effect on the people in the documentary. I think the decisions Heineman had to make were first risking his own life to capture the footage needed to tell the story effectively.In order to visually show us what was going on rather than just tell us with a lot of talking heads. Another decision Heineman made was to show the good and not so good side of the subjects in the film. A form of contradictions in character. Which made me question and ponder about the real intentions of their actions.For example, one was when Mireles’ orders one of his men to “put into the ground” one of the captured cartel members. Another moment, when Mireles’ courts a young woman. A Third was when the members of the auto-defenses group begin to cross the line from vigilante to criminal. Kathryn Ann Bigelow interviews Heineman for “ViceTalksFilm” Episode about Cartel Land http://goo.gl/hRFW0G

In the interview, Heineman talks about how he was inspired to make the film after reading a newspaper article about how everyday civilians took a stand against the cartels in Mexico. Heineman talks about his research and approach, and how he had to gain the trust of Nailer, a leader of a paramilitary group called Arizona Border Recon, and then shot with them for 4 to 5 months on location in Arizona.The cinematography is breathtaking, taking in a hybrid cinematic, hand held cinema verité style, that gives this film a very immediate and cinematic feel. The use of aerial shots and dolly shots add production value and make you feel you are there.

Chronicles of an Independent filmmaker…

gsp10_SMALLAs an indie filmmaker living in the greater New Jersey/New York city area I am always looking for an opportunity to work and collaborate with other like minded artist who share my passions. I enjoy surrounding myself with people who are “about the work” and committed to their craft. Filmmaking is a profession that demands the collaboration of people with different skills, backgrounds, and experiences.

My favorite part about collaborating is getting to know the people I work with, listening to their ideas, learning about their passions, and observing them apply their craft . It is synergistic when people work together to bring the written word to life. Everyone playing their a part. and then celebrating the hard work and success afterward.

The hardest part about being an Independent filmmaking is finding people like these who share you commitment, and work ethic. It is a challenge to say the least.

Get Money for your next Story from Short Film Production Fund

I came across a Short Film Production Fund in my search for news and articles to post for my Integrated Media class at Brooklyn CUNY. ( link https://screencraft.org/fund/ ) below is something that you may be interested if your a filmmaker in need of funds…

ScreenCraft, a Los-Angeles based media company dedicated to helping screenwriters and filmmakers succeed through competitions, events and educational content has teamed up with BondIt, a film and media fund with recent film credits including “Sharknado“, “Wild Horses” (starring James Franco and Robert Duvall) “31” (directed by Rob Zombie), “By Way of Helena” (starring Woody Harrelson, Liam Hemsworth and William Hurt) & “The Invitation” (SXSW winner).

Here is the rub….it cost $35 to enter. UGH…

SIX GOLDEN RULES for FILMMAKERS on Social Media

I found this article on   “Six Golden Rules for Filmmakers on Social Media” It answers a lot of questions that I had as filmmaker…ie “What’s the best way to ensure a successful online fundraising campaign? How do I self-distribute, or digitally distribute my film well? What should I post on my Facebook page as opposed to my Twitter feed? What if I’m not on Twitter?”

“Engage your audience”

Here are six golden rules, (full descriptions here http://www.pbs.org/pov/blog/news/2012/04/6-golden-rules-for-filmmakers-on-social-media/)

1) Be a person.

2) Join the conversation.

3) Try transmedia.

4) Fish where the fish are.

5) Don’t sell something people can’t buy.

6) Ask your audience.

 

Working for the Golden Door Film Festival

I had the opportunity to apply my skills and talent for the Jersey City Golden Door International Film Festival. I worked with a producer from the festival to write, direct, produce and edit five thirty-second spots to promote the 2015 Golden Door Film Festival on social media. The organizers of the festival wanted to highlight the films, venues, with an emphasis on New Jersey and Jersey City.  The videos created were to be fast paced, excitement building promotional pieces between 30-35 seconds. Below are a few of the videos I created.

Dear Mr. Facebook…Thumbs Down!

Screen Shot 2015-10-04 at 6.19.59 PMDear Mr Zuckerberg.

Your website has taken over my everyday life. There is nothing I do without checking your precious little book of faces first. It has not only become an a  means of communicating for me with friends, family and colleagues, but increasingly it has become an utter distraction, I spend insane amount of hours, liking cat videos, commenting on selfies, and perusing others post, pictures, and comments.

I understand that you are going to implement a “Dislike” button. A great way to promote negativity among the lazy people who can not formulate a few words to form a sentence in a comment or post.

I think there should be a law…one that ensures one is engaged in the real world before one loses themselves with the the pages of your book of faces. REAL FACE TIME before FACE BOOK. Well its time for me to post a status update, comment on another insane act caught on video and uploaded to your site, and remove a few “friends” from long list of people I have never met. Please like my facebook page, and follow, and comment.

Best,

Joseph

KLOUT – Know Your Social Influence

The Klout Score is a number between 1-100 that represents your influence on and offline. The more influential you are, the higher your Klout Score. Klout scores can change on a daily basis. The site tracks these changes and charts them, letting you know when your strategies have and have not been effective.

What Does Klout Measure?
To use Klout, you have to give the site access to one or more of your social media accounts: Twitter and Facebook are the staples, and LinkedIn is supported, too.  Klout actually gives you four scores altogether: an overall KlouScreen Shot 2015-10-04 at 7.07.20 PMt score, True Reach, Amplification Probability, and Network scores.

Klout reportedly looks at 35 variables on Facebook and Twitter to measure the scores. The overall Klout score is highly correlated to clicks, comments, and retweets, according to the site. True Reach considers the size of your “engaged audience,” looking for instances of followers and friends whScreen Shot 2015-10-04 at 6.20.26 PMo actively “listen and react to” your posts. True reach is a raw number and the only score not based on a 1-to-100 scale. Amplification Score is the likelihood that your messages will be retweeted, receive an @ reply in Twitter, or receive a “like” or comment on Facebook. The Network score looks at your engaged audience (the same people from True Reach) and then considers how influential they are.

Klout never says exactly what it measures or how it weights and punches all these numbers. It specifically calls out Facebook and Twitter, but leaves out LinkedIn. It talks about clicks, comments, and retweets, but doesn’t even hint at whether any of these is seen as more valuable than another. And is there a difference, score-wise, between a frequent commenter’s replies (perhaps a very nosey and vocal close connection) versus having many different people reply to your posts? Klout never says.
Screen Shot 2015-10-04 at 6.20.17 PM

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