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!
When you are a writer, there is nothing quite like having an actor bring your stories to life.
This weekend, we went to the theatre to see our play, “The Stevens Sisters” performed.
The organizations that presented the play festival are the Town & Gown Theatre and Troupe d’Jour in Stillwater, Oklahoma. The proceeds from the festival went to benefit a local charity called Kickin’ Childhood Hunger.
This was the finest acting that I have seen on one of our plays thus far. It’s wonderful to see how talented actors can bring words to life. Before this, the play only existed as black ink on white pages.
Then you see it live and see it embodied. I don’t care how many times you see your work performed…this does not get old.
Theatre people are fun people! It’s fun to get to be around people who “do what we do”. For a couple of hours this weekend, we saw stories come to life in front of our eyes. The outside world drops away. You forget your troubles. You forget your cares.
“The Stevens Sisters” is by Amanda Ball and Karen Ball. This was the first time that Karen has had the opportunity to see one of our works performed live.
As a matter of fact, it was the first time she has been asked for an autograph!
Actor Shelli Aliff, Playwright Amanda Ball, Playwright Karen Ball, Actor/director Sharyl Pickens.
Long live the theatre!
…negativity all the time
…out the window
Love thy neighbor
…me me me me all the time
…everyone is wrong but ME ME ME
Stand up for one’s self
What Should Be
…the way it is
My new single!!
It’s been awhile since I released any new music. I started working on this song during a huge creative spurt last year. I recorded a demo, and really liked it, but it need some tweaking.
So, what did I do today? Lots and lots of tweaking! LOL And paperwork. And scorewriting. And editing and editing and more editing. Proofreading. Computer work. Computer glitches. Computer file formats. Rendering. More computer glitches.
But here it is.
This is the first time I have released a song that was created in my home studio. If you recall how many times I complain about audio engineering…it seems like it’s amazing that I even got this far. (And yes…full disclaimer..I do comprehend how much farther there is to go – in terms of me learning and being adequate in audio engineering.)
But something about this song captured me from the beginning. It’s one that I play over and over. It touches me on some base level. For me…music is about generating a response in the listener – whether that response is to tap your toes, or dance in your chair, or make a tear come to your eye, or touch your heart in a way that says, “I have felt that way before!”
I guess that’s why I’m not at the top of the charts. It seems to me that modern music has taken away the emotion. Modern music (ie the ‘popular’ tunes that are controlled by mega media companies) has taken away emotion. It seems to have no human connection. It is a commodity – manufactured to the lowest common denominator.
This, THIS is my stand.
Music – no matter what the genre, is about capturing the human condition.
As to the song itself…
every artist needs a muse.
This song is both inspired by…and dedicated to…
You make me smile.
One of our voice over artists has attempted to record the voice over (VO) on his own – with his existing equipment. The quality of his performance was great! But the quality of the audio was lacking.
The solution is to record him with actual audio editing software, so that I could engineer the session, and try to record the best original source material at a clean audio.
We met at a hotel this week, and I had all my equipment with me. (It felt like I had more electronics in the car – than I had left at home! Ha)
Now…the problems: an unknown environment. This hotel has a heating/air conditioning system that has a continuous fan. You can turn the actual air conditioner off, but you still have a background noise. Who knows what kind of interference you might get from any electrical appliances?
And you have walls and objects that are going to bounce sound.
At first I set up a location for him to sit on a chair and talk into pillows. Nope. That ain’t gonna work.
There was a recessed area next to the cabinet where the television sat. I got a hotel blanket and we created a makeshift vocal booth. We positioned a chair very close to the blanket, so that he was facing a blanket and *hopefully* that is going to absorb sound bounce/block the fan of the air conditioner.
Then it took a whole lot of monkeying with the audio software to find the best settings. That just takes time. There is no way around it. Do an audio test. Adjust. Test again. Adjust.
Finally we arrive at what…(I hope) is a good setting. Again, with audio engineering, there is no “one best way”. You make your best guestimate, and you dive in.
When you engineer a session like this…it takes all your concentration. It takes all your focus. So rather than me running the alternate lines, we had a volunteer who, ever so kindly, offered to help (ie–she said she was leaving the hotel room for us to work and I am going…NOOOOO! You have to stay and read lines!)
Her lines will not be used in the final recording. But it is critical to have someone help out in this way…to give your voice over artist something to play off of. You get a rhythm in your dialog, and having those lines spoken aloud really helps.
Bless him…Tommy Ball read take after take after take after take.
He put so much effort into this: first of all–being willing to take the gig in the first place. Then you learn your lines. Then you craft a ‘performance’ of how to sell your character. Then, you attempt to record your work in your own home on your own equipment. Whew!
Mind you – the other voice actor recorded his lines in my studio some weeks back. It’s not like the two voice actors were in the same room – working at the same time, and playing off of each other’s character.
No, it is that much harder – to work solo, to have no idea what the other actor is doing, and still “pull off” the performance.
What is the measure of a good performance?
Well, at our previous session – with different actors, we were outdoors, and the person who is on cam and on mike was so amazing. I glanced behind me, and one man had his hand over his mouth and his eyes were bulging out, trying to stifle laughter while we were recording.
This time?? Tommy “sold” that character soooo well, I had to clap my hand over my mouth to hold back the laughter, and hope like heck that I hadn’t made any noise that would ruin the take!
We have had so many volunteers, giving freely of their time and effort and energy – to help a movie get made.
But things are progressing.
“Head ’em up…move ’em out!”
Things are progressing on the post production of the movie.
A lot of the work involves us at a computer. Not a lot to blog about there, and that kind of work doesn’t seem to make for fun stories.
But…on occasion…you get to work with talented people who sure do make you smile.
Cowboy poet, Sam Wylie, entertained us with cowboy poetry. All along, I thought how neat it would be if we could include some of his poems in the movie.
I asked Sam, and he said yes, he’d participate. We arranged to meet at 10 am. At 9am, I am out on my porch, and the weather was nice and the wind was calm.
Then the wind hit. And a cold front. And lots of wind noise. We wanted to film outdoors, so we went to Carmen’s (the trail boss) horse barn, and used it to block the wind.
Sam (on the left, above) reads a poem, while Sonny Harrison (right) listens. Both of these men were drovers on the cattle drive.
Sonny gears up to read a poem.
We made it for an hour, working outdoors in that cold and wind. I didn’t want to stay out that long, but it was so much fun, working with these talented men, I kept asking them to do additional readings and additional locations.
We came back to my home recording studio, to record the cowboy poetry in some sort of controlled audio environment.
Sam Wylie reads his poetry in studio.
The whole session went well. It’ll be fun to see how all this comes together: video, audio, music, sound FX, voice over, poetry…the list goes on and on.