The year behind, the one ahead (A 2015 review and 2016 preview)

On the set of Moonshot.

On the set of Moonshot.

This year I found out where my limit is, because I passed it. You can tell because I now have, for the first time, white hair in my beard. We’re talking white, white – not gray. Look for me to be closer shaven in the coming year than I was last year in order to disguise said new white hair.

But seriously. For years and years I let time go by with a feeling of not having done enough with my life. Plans unrealized, goals not met, projects not started, or abandoned. In 2014 I began to seriously change that dynamic, and in 2015 I can say for the first time in my life that I maybe did too much.

To be fair, I am still, by my own standard, behind in life. I turned 34 this year; oh, the things I could have accomplished by now had I not been… so many things. But let us leave that extremely long list of past mistakes and regrets for another post, and continue on.

A 2015 Review

2015 year packed so much in that the stress at times actually became not worth it. There were moments this year when I realized I had stretched past my breaking point. Of course, my biggest creative project this year was also the one that forced me to step back a moment and consider what it is I really want to be doing in the filmmaking business, and why. That was Districtland.

Districtland

Anyone who knows me knows I’ve been focused on making Districtland a reality for much of the year. In January and February I rewrote Cristina Bejan’s excellent play into the Pilot episode for a Television show. The next few months were spent casting and in pre-production, and somehow in-between that and five weeks in Europe over the Summer I did a crowdfunding campaign to help pay for it.

We filmed the Pilot in August, did post-production in September and October, and had a finished show by November. The Washington Post and other publications did pieces on it. The Pilot will premiere at the DC Independent Film Festival on March 4 at an event on Capitol Hill, complete with a set from These Quiet Colours, a Q&A, a reading from an upcoming episode, and an afterparty.

Districtland has also been submitted to a slate of carefully selected festivals with a particularly good reputation for surfacing new content for Television. I’m also coordinating with my producers in DC to work privately to sell the show through individual meetings and contacts. As I’ve written many times before, this is a show about young people in D.C. that hasn’t been told before, and it should be told.

Empower Kids America

In the first few months of 2015 I injected myself into a national debate on parenting, precipitated by the case of Danielle Meitiv and her kids, who live less than a mile from us in Silver Spring. The story made national and international news. I gave dozens of interviews to local, national, and international news outlets (the Meitivs did hundreds more), organized events, showed up at the state legislature, led a Change.org petition which attracted over 1,000 signatures, and built a fledgling communications campaign designed to force change in Maryland state policy.

And change we got. Following months of controversy, including pressure from our organization, the Meitivs, and Lenore Skenazy’s national effort to promote Free Range Kids, Maryland Child Protective Services revised its policies to explicitly declare that letting one’s kids out to play by themselves was not in and of itself grounds for a CPS investigation (as it had been before). We more or less declared victory.

Following the effort, and in discussions with Danielle and Lenore, we decided to rename Empower Kids Maryland to be Empower Kids America. We don’t know yet what the future holds for the movement, but there is much work left to be done around the country – and far too many parents still getting caught in a bureaucratic web of misguided laws which criminalize parents who deign to give their kids freedom to roam.

Moonshot

In November I had the distinct privilege of signing on as an Associate Producer to Moonshot, a short film by Matt Lucas. I met Matt last year at the Rosebud Film & Video Festival, where both of us had shorts screening. I liked him immediately and was looking forward to a project we could work together on.

After going through production with Matt and his team, I can say for sure that Moonshot is going to be freakin’ awesome. And it was a real pleasure working with so many great people (waking up at 5:30am with them, sleeping on hard wood floors with them, drinking beer with them, but most of all watching them all display extreme competence at their jobs). I look forward to working with many of them in the future. In fact I’ve already hired two guys off that crew for a work video next month.

MEP Health

Speaking of work, it’s never lost on me that I actually have a full time job, and one that I love. (By the way, to any MEP folks who are reading: all of the above is stuff I do on nights, weekends, and vacations, and maybe the occasional lunch date or week-day coffee meeting… basically, while you are training for triathlons, taking kids to soccer games, and deservedly catching up on sleep from your back-to-back nightshifts, I am making movies).

This year was a big year for MEP Health – we merged with two other companies to form a new, much larger one with national reach. This is mostly exciting, and a little unnerving. There is always change in life, and I’ve always been better than most at rolling with it. And yet, there are many great things about my work at MEP Health over the past five years, first as a consultant, and then as the Director of Marketing & Social Media, which I hope don’t change.

The company has given me a lot of autonomy, and that’s probably my most precious value when it comes to work satisfaction. The folks who run the company are great leaders, and they do an excellent job of balancing their communication of expectations with their expectation that we will work on our own to get the job done.

On top of that, they are just great people generally, and and they have excellent judgement about the future of healthcare. The merger is designed to help us grow faster. If you’re interested, check out the MEP Health blog; I’ve also published a few posts of my own there.

 

A 2016 Preview

I could have a huge number of projects on my slate. Dirty Old Man, which I’d planned to write this year and didn’t get to, is still on the back burner. There’s also a feature-length version of Humbled (see below) to think about, as well as an ambitious adaptation of my short story, Runaway Human. All of that, though, is being postponed.

In the interest of not getting too many more white hairs in my beard, I am actually declining and postponing much in order to focus intently on two major projects for 2016 (ok, two major projects plus two short films). Here’s what they are:

7k Films

This right here is actually the first real public announcement for 7k Films. I don’t want to say too much, because I’ve said all of it better on the brand new 7k Films website, which you should check out. But suffice to say that I think this could be big. We are officially launching next year, and will begin taking submissions for the first round of funding starting in July. We’re also on Film Freeway if you want to bookmark that now.

Mystery Project

For once I’m starting a project that I can’t really talk about yet. But I will say this: I plan to make something. Something real, tangible, and that you can hold in your hands. It’s not a writing project or a film project; it’s a manufacturing project. And it concerns perhaps the most frivolous and satisfying and glorious activity I have learned in the past five years. But oh, what a pure, pure joy that activity is.

Humbled and Cam Girl

In addition to working on Districtland, I wrote two short film scripts last year, both of which I plan to shoot early in 2016. Humbled is about a young theatre director who is looking to fill an existential void through a theatre production. Think Bird Man meets Waiting for Guffman, except without the supernatural stuff. The first five pages of Humbled were selected for a table read at ScriptDC this year – and both the audiences and the judges loved it.

Cam Girl is about what it sounds like, but I’m more concerned with the internal life of the titular character than what happens on the outside. The film is a small character study in sex, desire, and what it means to be an exhibitionist online, and I’ve already cast a great actress to bring her to life. Look for further announcements next year.

 

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  1. Pingback: The Year Behind, the One Ahead (A 2016 Review and 2017 Preview) | Russell Max Simon

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