“There’s always the fond hope that someday I’ll get to do something else, but I’ve come to terms with the fact that I’m very good at making genre pictures, and I can express basically anything in them anyway.” – Wes Craven
Blogging landed me a contributing writer gig at an award-winning Hip-Hop magazine. It also broadened my horizons through French and Italian cuisine. It also helped me make a movie. It also put me in a position to collaborate with famous magicians. Yet, screenwriter and director Wes Craven’s perspective on being pigeonholed into horror films led me to understand that many of these gains pale in comparison to how writing a blog helped me push forward to create a little more life inside myself where there was none.
I learned how to focus on what I’m good at.
Committing to a long-term activity is a challenge for me sometimes.
The 30-day YouTube video series I worked on two years ago turned into a 30-video series as those initial 30 days turned into weeks and soon, two months flew by without one new upload.
I was editing the videos on an old, slow running computer that, after going through multiple repairs for other problems, started crashing while performing simple tasks.
I lost my enthusiasm and patience for the series after only eight videos into the project. It has yet to be completed. In the spring, I started a new YouTube series that was originally planned to be published in conjunction with my Mixed Bag of Tricks theme for the 2015 Blogging from A-Z Challenge. You'd think I'd know better after the "Making of" film series became more of a burden than a fun activity. Writing blog posts was the only thing that remained consistent throughout those (and other) attempts at growing my YouTube channel.
I completed the Blogging from A-Z Challenge five years in a row -- a prime example of being dedicated to finishing what I start when it involves writing. I have a few YouTube subscribers and know some people have watched videos I made but there isn't much activity on either side of the channel -- mine or the viewers. There is rarely ever a question of whether I should work on blog posts or not. It's a non-issue, as it must get done.
I feel like something is missing when it's been days since The Madlab Post was updated. Blogging has its moments of setbacks and annoyances but at the end of the day, I know I can do it. And I like it. It's fun. It gives me a chance to express viewpoints on subjects that matter to me while introducing people to films no one else would have likely told them about.
Blogging also helps me help filmmakers who put their blood, sweat and tears into making their dreams a reality. It's nice to be a part of that. Especially when people respond to it. People visit, read and comment on the blog posts I write here. Sometimes you agree. Sometimes the topic at hand doesn't float your boat. Either way, it helps to know that people relate to my blog posts, respond to them and spark conversations around them.
Blogging has allowed me to combine my experiences and fascination with the moviemaking process with the knack for creating things, even if the pieces being created are in written form.
I learned how to code somewhat.
Web development is not my forte but blogging expanded my knowledge in website building. I used to leave matters that had to do with the backend of a site up to other people who were well versed in that area. Then came the time when I wanted to change my header image, add sharing buttons and adjust various aspects of The Madlab Post, back when I had it hosted on Blogger. In those early days, I just used whatever options were available.
Since Blogger had templates, it was the answer to my preference for that set-it-and-forget-it type of backend management. I later became interested in third-party widgets, cool looking graphics and making adjustments to the design and layout of my blog. This led me to Blogger Buster, a website run by a woman named Amanda who writes tutorials on how to make all sorts of tweaks to your blog. I also read other tech websites and online forums where website owners in different industries discussed the ways in which they were able to get a certain result regarding the appearance or functionality of their site.
From adding navigation menus and hyperlinks in blog comment signatures to resizing images and formatting posts without using a web-editor, blogging had me doing more coding than I ever thought I would. It's a benefit that has enabled me to utilize the HTML and CSS skills I’ve gained even when I’m not blogging, which helped me customize the website for my short film Abyss: The Greatest Proposal Ever and tweak other websites of mine.
I learned about leverage.
There was a time when I wanted to schedule an interview with a director whose feature film I heard about through the grapevine. His debut drama, about Marines getting ready for their first deployment, was gaining some buzz and I wanted to help spread the word. Except he was in California. I’ve never been to California and didn’t have the resources to just fly out there for the sole purpose of speaking with a man I never met, about a movie I had yet to watch.
Then, he said he’d be in New York soon for the screening of his film. That was a better bet. So, I went to New York, where I got to hang out with film and television executives, watch a handful of movies that I never knew existed, and chat with several promising directors about Tyler Perry, war in the Middle East and stereotypes of minorities portrayed in the media. While there, I also met his producer and ate calamari for the first time in my life. It wasn’t as gross as I imagined it would be. Later, I came home with new headshots, new friends and a better understanding of how the entertainment industry operates.
I learned how to enjoy the climb and not worry about results.
When developing film productions, I tend to focus on the end result. Will anything come of this? What will I gain from doing this? It’s a means to an end. There was a season years ago when I treated blogging that way too (see the lesson on sensationalism below) and I think the content suffered because of my choice to use it as a tool to get something else. Thankfully, I grew out of that phase and realized that the process of blogging is enough on its own. The opportunities, traffic, goods – monetary or otherwise, that result from blogging are icing on the cake. I already have the prize that is running a space where I get to express myself in this medium, inspire and enlighten people and hone my own voice.
The victory comes when I hit the publish button on each blog post I write. I’m not aiming to pimp out this blog for money, cars, clothes (shout out to Drake and Trey Songz!), accolades, being on the cover of magazines or landing a guest spot on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon. If any of these things can be had from blogging, perhaps I’d be crazy not to welcome them but I won’t hold my breath waiting for such breakthroughs to arrive. That’s not the motivation behind why I blog. I create the kind content that I want to put out into the universe and for one reason or another, men and women in different parts of the world feel compelled to visit and read these writings. THAT is what I would call a win.
I learned about relationships.
Around 2008, I started blogging about a scrappy shorts festival called Couch Fest, founded in Seattle by a cool man named Craig Downing. A few years later, I became one of the festival’s hundreds of hosts around the world who showed award-winning films to strangers on a single day. Another screening followed in 2014 and being involved with Couch Fest got me an interview with Tinsel & Tine, a website dedicated to food and film reviews.
The woman who runs Tinsel & Tine also attended my screening of the short films and later helped get the word out about an event I did this year for shnit CINEMAS Worldwide, an international film festival based in Switzerland with jury presidents including screenwriters Geoffrey Fletcher (Precious) and Paul Haggis (Casino Royale, Million Dollar Baby).
As a member of The Large Association of Movie Blogs (aka The LAMB), I’ve appeared as a guest on the LAMBcast, an iTunes podcast featuring select groups of men and women from all over the world who share a love of film. Before that, The LAMB published a guest post I wrote about the nominees for “Best Original Song” for The Lamb Devours the Oscars, a 32-part series dissecting the 85th Academy Awards. Later that year, I was one of the presenters during The Lammys, an annual online awards event where members nominate and vote on the best movie blogs in various categories.
Once a year, a few dozen members gather for a meetup -- the most recent one took place in London. I wish I could’ve attended that one, or the previous gathering in Chicago or the one that happened in Las Vegas a few years ago during Academy Awards season. I hope to one day be able to attend and hang out with my fellow LAMBs in the flesh.
I learned about sensationalism.
Law & Order: SVU actress Mariska Hargitay had a baby and and Grey's Anatomy actress Ellen Pompeo got married. Good for them. But I don’t know how my blogging about it makes the world a better place. It doesn’t. Nobody cares and those that do need to get a life. There was a time when I thought writing about celebrities in the entertainment industry would help boost my blog traffic numbers (regardless of how relevant the topic was as it relates to my filmmaking goals). Then I would start earning tons of revenue from Adsense.
Then a big media entity such as AOL would buy me out for six figures. Ok, now I’m kidding with that last part but wait, at what point did I go from wanting to be an Oscar winning movie director to being delusional enough to think that the celebrity “news” (à la Perez Hilton) type of path is the right one for me to follow? What the hell was I thinking?! Those blog posts didn’t gain much traction, and for good reason.
Although many other blog posts that I would consider to be more meaningful and contain more substance brought similar results, I am more proud of those pieces.
Even if there’s a chance that nobody will care anyway, I might as well write something worthwhile to share in the chance that someone stumbles upon it while perusing the interweb during their lunch hour.
I learned about what makes life worth living.
One day, I read something an author named James Altucher wrote about “push” being more important than “focus” in terms of life and success. He explained that the “the push is the ability to get up, open the curtains and push through all of the things that make you want to go back to sleep.” Altucher further simplified this by describing it as “just pushing forward to create a little more life inside yourself.” There isn’t a time that I recall when I dreaded working on a blog post. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said about my feelings toward filmmaking.
Blogging makes me want to get up and open those curtains, to meet what comes of whatever journey I find myself on from day to day. In that respect, I think I went from being an aspiring movie director who also blogs to becoming a blogger who works on films in various capacities. Conventional wisdom (or was it Mark Cuban?) states that if you want to know what someone cares about, pay attention to how they spend their time. If there is truth to this, then I suppose I must care more about blogging on the subject of movies and how they’re made, and writing screenplays, than I do about making films of my own.
Wes Craven never set out to be known as the king of a genre that thrives on gore and terror. Using these movies, however, he played the cards Hollywood dealt him in a way that still managed to explore aspects of humanity that were are often ignored; subject matter he believed people were unwilling to confront.
Just as Craven found an upside to the limitations he encountered in his career, I’d like to use blogging as a vehicle to connect people with the kind of stories, artists, movers and shakers in film that fall under the radar, yet, have the power to impact lives in a positive manner if given the chance to do so.
When I studied filmmaking in school, most of the feedback I received from peers was that the stories in my projects were solid but there is room for improvement on the technical side. Outside of working on other people’s films over the years, I’ve written, shot, directed, produced and occasionally edited a few projects including one documentary, a one-minute comedy and a short buddy drama. During this time, I noticed a common, yet familiar, thread out in the real world -- people were drawn to the story structure more than the visuals. Add to that the numerous film festival rejections that came my way, financial burdens of making movies and no prospects on the horizon; I started to wonder if I was climbing up the wrong ladder.
During long breaks between film productions, I’ve also taken on opportunities to publish content for several websites and media companies. The difference between these two paths is going after a film career put me in debt whereas choosing to write articles put food on the table. Although that ship sailed some time ago and I have yet to pick up new freelance gigs, I’ve learned that my filmmaking approach just isn’t working. I’m just not the best at making films. I’ve also started to come to terms with the fact that I may be good enough to be better at writing screenplays, and blogging, than many others trying to build something helpful in the jungle of niche topics. I’m ok with that.
Today, I think there is no better way to acknowledge Día de los Muertos aka Day of the Dead – a Latin American holiday of mourning and remembrance; people celebrate the circle of life by honoring the deceased -- than by paying tribute to Wes Craven, a man with an English literature and psychology background who upgraded the horror film genre by way of social commentary throughout his body of work.
*This post was inspired by the evolution of James Altucher through games of chess.
How do YOU celebrate the life of deceased loved ones?
What is YOUR favorite Wes Craven film?