When you choose to live this creative life (or rather – when it chooses you) inspiration can come in many forms. Sometimes inspiration is something that starts as a little spark inside of you.
But sometimes, someone else’s creativity is a tremendous inspiration.
Our longtime family friend BK Dennis is a painter, and her work inspires me. That word doesn’t even encompass enough. Awes. Floors. Whammos! Some people are so very talented in their fields. When a person like that is kind enough to share his or her work and stories and inspirations, then that has the effect of elevating us all.
Sometimes as she paints, she shares a snapshot with me of her current project. Below is a snapshot (not a full professional photo as would be on her webpage) of a scene from the cattle drive movie that we recently produced.
For the last twenty years, I have been the proud owner of one of BK’s paintings. It hangs on my wall in the dining room, where I can see it every day.
In addition to being a talented painter, BK (and her husband and family) are longtime family friends of ours. We met when we lived in West Texas. BK and her husband have been as good of friends throughout my entire creative journey as one could ever hope to find. They celebrate my highs (and listen to me complain about the lows). Their support has been consistent and strong. It really makes a difference when you think “Why did I ever think it was a good idea to do this?” — no matter what the “this” might be.
Creativity begets creativity.
Thank you, BK, for sharing your work with the rest of us.
I got a call on Tuesday night. One of my plays was going to be performed as a staged reading on Saturday night.
I did some rearranging and on Saturday, I was prepared to go to the theatre.
So, I get in my little car and off I go to Oklahoma City. I have not been to this particular theatre before. There is an element of the unknown on these situations: you don’t know where you are going, or what you are getting into, or what the event will be, or who the people will be, or how the play will be performed.
As a playwright, I put words to paper. I create a story. I build the *start* of each character.
It takes a theatre troupe to make a play happen, and it takes real actors to bring the play to life.
On this night, October 13, 2018, I had the experience of seeing REAL actors, inhabit these characters that I had dreamed up, while they performed my play.
I must confess…I made a total fool of myself, gushing over these actors. I probably gushed at them three times each. It was over the top and it was too much. I am used to limiting my behavior when something is bad (not letting on that I am disappointed, etc, not showing criticism in how a play goes down)…but I need to practice some form of restraint when things are too good.
The event was at Carpenter Square Theatre.
There was a reception at 7:10. They had a large offering of international foods in the lobby. While there, they were having a silent auction. The lobby had a showing from a local artist. Already the evening is off to a good start.
The theatre had reserved table seating for the playwrights. This was something I had not seen before, but to have a seat reserved up front. Wow!
The theatre itself is small. The audience is close to the action. As a result, the audience response is immediate. It is right there. The actors have a feedback to play off of.
Five plays had been selected for this play festival. Out of 45 that were submitted, one of my plays was chosen?!? One of my plays that I have submitted EVERYWHERE and has been rejected EVERYWHERE? It has been rejected so much, that I was starting to get a complex. Maybe it wasn’t any good? Maybe I should shelve it. Maybe it didn’t “Translate”. Maybe it was too depressing.
But part of being an artist (part of being a writer) is to say: I have a voice. I have something to say. There is a story here. Let me tell it!
So, with trepidation…I had submitted this play to Carpenter Square Theatre.
Imagine my surprise when a play that has been rejected dozens of times….finally gets…Accepted? Gulp!
I had made arrangements to be free on Saturday. Saturday rolls around. I don’t want to get out of bed. My stomach is upset. I trundle out to my easy chair and put on a Netflix video so that I don’t have to think about the world.
In general, nerves are not a part of my creative experience. If I am performing, be it musically, singing, acting or emceeing, I don’t get nervous. Try as I might, I don’t understand stage fright. I wish could understand it (to help others who do suffer), but I don’t.
The only things that have made me nervous in show business (so far) are playing music at weddings (I freaking hate weddings!) and…being a playwright. That seems to be such an odd situation. Playwright, nerves? I mean…I am not producing. I am not acting in the play. When we had our play performed in May (which also had great acting – 2018 has been the year of good acting) I didn’t have the nerves. I figured….great! I have conquered that issue. Onto the next issue.
But, nope! All I wanted to do on Saturday was to go hide under the covers.
I didn’t want to gas up the car. Didn’t want to check the tires before the long drive. Didn’t feel like eating. But you need to eat, and then what is that going to do to your stomach? I had one last can of chicken noodle soup and I was panicked thinking I didn’t have any.
But you go. You put on your ritziest outfit and you get your cameras and you go. Because this is what you wanted to do. You wanted to be a playwright, so go be a damn playwright!
Once you are there, in the moment, you get your plate of food, and you sit at your lonely table, apart from the crowd – who all seem to know each other, and you kind of go….”I shouldn’t be here. I’m too small-time. Have I paid enough dues?”
Then people start coming over. This was one of the most welcoming theatre troupes I have experienced. The sense of community in the theatre warms my heart. Because the theatre is not about cliques and exclusion. The theatre is about inclusion.
And…to my extreme surprise…the people in this theatre embraced me. I have spent my whole life as an outsider (mostly by choice). When people include me as a part of them…and welcome me with open arms…THAT is something!
Actor Richard Ridley, Playwright Amanda Ball, Actor Al Bostick.
The play is entitled: The Girl on the Tractor.
My cell phone just rang.
It was a number I didn’t recognize. Since the majority of those are telemarketers, I didn’t pick up. Then the voice mail beeped.
One of my plays has been chosen to be performed this Saturday at Carpenter Square Theatre!
I gotta tell you – this does not get old!!!
Playwrighting is something that we came to late in our creative dreams. Growing up, I wanted to be a 1) country music singer, 2) mystery author 3) actor in major motion pictures 4) movie director….and then at some point after that…then came The Theatre!
I pursue each and every one of those goals (and a lot more besides). But as a writer…it is astounding to see your creation -which exists as words on a sheet of paper – come to life in front of you. It is a thrill to see an actor interpret your words. Yes…there are sometimes when you want a scene to play out a certain way. But…I enjoy the thrill of seeing someone find some interpretation in those words that I have not even considered.
Besides which – theatre people are cool! As a collective group: they share: they share their talent with the world. Being an actor means that something inside of you is bursting forth. That takes guts. Theatre people are courageous. Most of us avoid uncomfortable situations – but theatre people will play any situation or any character. Theatre people don’t mind the spotlight, in fact, they welcome it. Theatre people are about inclusion. They are all about embracing our differences and finding some way to be a bridge to human connection.
It is a huge honor to get to be a part of this community!
To the Carpenter Square Theatre troupe – thank you!
Do you read movie credits?
I have always read movie credits? I kinda baffles me when you are in the theater, and as soon as the credits start to roll, people stand up to leave.
Back in the olden days…when we had the gentle sloping movie theater floors….I’d have to stand up at that point, just to see the credits. Thank goodness for stadium seating – where I can now sit down to read the credits. But I got in the habit of staying thru till the bitter end…because they put the music credits at the end, and I’d want to see who sang what song.
Then, it became a measure of respect…it takes tons of people to make a movie. If something was on the screen for two seconds, well….that may have taken eight hours to film. People work hard to make movies, even if that amount of time is not proportionally represented on screen.
So, I read names…names that I have never heard before and will never hear again.
Then THIS happens:
A movie that I worked on years ago came on late night cable. I have not yet had the opportunity to see it.
I watched it to see if I got edited in. Boom! I did. Twice – not that you can tell it’s me.
Then you watch the credits. As an actor, I have made several movies for other people. I have yet to be included in the credits….
Until now! That’s me!
Seventh name down on the list.
When we were filming the cattle drive movie last September, Don pitched the idea that we should travel Highway 81 in Oklahoma, and film the historical Chisholm Trail sites.
It only took me a year to be able to execute that. We finalized the movie a couple of weeks ago. Obviously, the “historic sites” video isn’t in that.
But there are so many other video projects we want to do about the Chisholm Trail, and maybe a week ago, we started talking about this trip.
We set a day that worked for both of our schedules: Monday. Sounds great.
“What’s the plan?” Don texted me. I said, “Leave at 9.”
Our plan all along was to make it to Okarche, which happens to have the best fried chicken in Oklahoma, and have lunch. Sounds fun. Drive around some, film, laugh, enjoy the day, take photographs, have lunch.
At 9, Don and I climb in the car and head out. The first thing I wanted to find was when we were out on the trail, I remembered a little metal sign, hanging from a post. Well, we drove around and around and never did find it. Was it actually there? Or did I dream it?
That’s helpful. You know you are in the right location. There are several historical markers across the state. We plan to film a few of the historic sites, to use in a future video.
Now, keep in mind…our plan was to eat the best fried chicken in Oklahoma for lunch. So, I had a light breakfast, about 6am. I was hungry. After awhile, Don asks, “How far are we going to go?”
I said that I didn’t have a plan. I had planned to drive around and find some historical markers to film, and we’d eat lunch. But…if we got to such-and-such place, we could do this. If we got to such-and-such town, I wanted to visit a cemetery where I have family buried.
Don said, “Are we going to go all the way to the river?”
And we kinda looked at each other and said, “Why the hell not?”
And I am hungry and we are nowhere close to the best fried chicken in the state of Oklahoma. Don suggested we get a bite to eat on the way, and we’d have our chicken for supper on the way back up the trail.
And away we flew…down the trail, stopping to film things along the way, knowing there were some places we’d stop to film on the way back.
You know what? Oklahoma is a big state!
I started off driving. I had pulled a file off the internet, and when printed, it came to 9 pages. I got the highlighter and highlighted town names, (which were not in any kind of geographic order.) There was an atlas in the car.
I had figured we’d drive and we’d see those brown signs above, then we’d know where to stop.
Yeah, um, not so much. Don read the instructions, then translated them, and tried to figure out locations. At one point he was coordinating the printout, the map, a map we got from a museum, and his phone, trying to pinpoint the location of the Chisholm Trail. He took a lot of notes, about where we’d been, what we had filmed, and what was still to filmed.
As he said, this would have gone a lot better with better research and planning.
Planning? What planning? I had no idea we were going to go south of I-40! LOL
We found some amazing sites. History is mind-blowing!
A man named Bob Klemme engineered a project to place these markers across Oklahoma on the Chisholm Trail.
One of the most amazing sites was east of Addington.
This obelisk sits on a hill that served as a lookout on the Chisholm Trail.
If you make it that far, you gotta cross the Red River into Texas! I rolled down the window to breathe some Texas air, and we started back north. By this point, you gotta calculate the miles of where you are, where you need to go next, and how much daylight you have left.
Needless to say, we didn’t get to film everything. But it was fun.
As the sun set, the next worry becomes…what time does the fried chicken place close?
I called them. They close at 10.
At long last, after a FULL day, where we hadn’t planned enough, hadn’t researched enough, and didn’t know enough, we got to the restaurant that serves the best fried chicken in Oklahoma. Eischen’s Bar!
There are eight items on the menu. A whole fried chicken is at the top of the list.
The waiter asked what we wanted. I said chicken. Don said okra.
When the food came, we were happy, happy people! (We’d only been waiting All Day to get to some fried chicken!) (We’d only been crawling in and out of the car, in the near 100* heat and lugging cameras around All Day to film a project that we didn’t plan for nearly well enough.)
Don’s phone logged our locations and the trip.
On rest of the way home, driving in the darkness along the old Chisholm Trail, we put some western swing in the CD player, and sang along under the night sky.
Four hundred ninety-six miles.
And ONE WHOLE fried chicken later…we got back to the place where we started.
You’d think that would be enough! I mean, geez…come on! 496 miles. Only a glutton for punishment would do that, right?
So, what happens next?
We have a completed movie!
It still doesn’t feel real. This movie has been in works for close to a year. That’s almost one year of this project…a project which is so big, it seems like a mountain that is so high that you can’t climb it.
One year of a project so insurmountable, that you can’t even think how to approach it. To work through this, I had to break it into segments, then break that into segments, then break that into segments. Then figure out each segment. Then put it all together. And *hope* that there is something there that people will connect with.
Did we accomplish it?
I have no idea.
I *hope so*!!!
Not only do we have a completed movie, we made it in time to enter the Sundance Film Festival this year. As of today, we have that entry submitted.
None of this feels real yet. Maybe six weeks ago, I had this moment of disheartened anguish that we were not going to have a Sundance submission this year. This Cattle Drive movie is unique. This is our best opportunity to say to the world, “Hey…we make movies!” or “We are artists!” or…”Let us entertain you!”
So, the thought of things being delayed, even further, just sank me to a new low.
Then whammo! It all starts to come together. When those puzzle pieces started falling into place, they fell into place. And made a pretty doggone good movie!
There is still a lot of work on this project to be done (need to build our short film for children, need to build a trailer, press kit, incorporate subtitles in the big movie, build a movie poster, work some smaller youtube videos utilizing some of the other footage.)
My biggest problem with this project – once the movie was actually done, is to figure out the DVD encoding, processing and compression.
Why can’t there be a road map for these problems?
I *should* take a moment or two, and savor the “Look what we’ve done so far!” moment. But that moment hasn’t hit yet.
In the meantime…imagine your best Don LaFontaine voice:
“Chisholm Trail – Past and Present…..coming soon, to a film festival screening near you!”
Have you ever put a puzzle together? And I don’t mean one of those easy ones with the picture on the box.
What’s the biggest puzzle you have put together – when you don’t know what the finished project will look like?
The editing on the Chisholm Trail movie is almost done!
(Sigh of exhaustion).
We didn’t have a script. We didn’t a preset story in mind. We went out to film this, completely blind as to what the finished movie would be.
(See the September 2017 archives for blog entries about the Cattle drive and the filming.)
This is a documentary. We tried to tell a story. Did we capture the story of the 2017 Chisholm Trail Cattle Drive?
When you see the movie, you can answer that question!
Editing a movie isn’t easy.
Let me say that again:
EDITING A MOVIE ISN’T EASY!?!?!?!?!!?!
That statement is not intended to be a complaint. But it is a statement of fact. I keep using the line, “If we were in Hollywood, there would be sixty people doing what we are doing.” In our filmmaking endeavors – we have two.
My partner Don and I work well together. We each have our strengths and they dovetail together.
I have to build the structure of the project. But once there is something there to work with, Don can come in and edit it/work it/tear it apart/make it better….and still have enough energy to make me a cheesecake!
See…I TOLD you we work well together!! LOL
Once we were properly snacked up, fed, fueled up and ready to go…we dove in.
It took a lot of steps to get to this point. And I am not talking about the filming. This is “after” the filming is done, and we have the movie footage “in the can”.
Log the footage. View the footage. Evaluate the footage. Make notations.
Then THINK. Think of what this will be. Think of what to do and what not to do. Sometimes the decisions you make about what not to do, are more important than what you actually include.
Develop an intro that will “grab” the audience.
Find *something* that will touch the human. What tells the story? What makes you care? What makes you want to know more about a cattle drive?
Plan your video shots that tell the story.
You don’t just put a bunch of video clips together and then be done.
Plan, build and create your audio track. This was the big job on this movie. A cattle drive happens outdoors – in the wind and bugs and weather (and the cars, humans, dogs, lawnmowers, planes, drones, trains). We knew that a lot of the on-site audio would be questionable.
Plan your music fills. I have a recording studio, so I worked that and built the smaller music myself.
Write the voice over track. Record the voice over track. Import that into the footage and sync it to the video.
So, let’s say that you’ve done all that. Let’s say that you have put months and months of your life into this project.
Let’s say that at some random point….say today’s random point…you know that you are close to showing this project (which you have carried so close to your heart), to the world.
You have to face the reality: what if the world doesn’t like it? What if I didn’t do my job? What if we didn’t tell the story? What if the audience doesn’t care?
You have to get up your gumption and your courage.
Being an artist is about putting yourself out there. It is standing on your feet and making a declaration: Hello, world! I am a filmmaker and I have something to say!