The Year Behind, the One Ahead (A 2016 Review and 2017 Preview)

At ITVFest with Districtland

Last year around this time I wrote that I planned to take it easy in 2016.

Heh. That was funny.

I was as busy as ever in 2016. But on the flip side, I did not go through any film production which quintupled the number of white hairs in my beard (See Districtland, making of…). On the contrary, this year I went through the best production of my life with the cast and crew of #humbled.

It’s sort of funny if you look at it. In 2015, I made a 22-minute Pilot episode for a TV show, which was shot over four days and cost more than $8k, and the experience nearly led me to quit film. In 2016, informed by many of the lessons I learned on that production, I made a 75-minute feature, also shot in four days, and costing less than $7k. And it was one of the smoothest, most enjoyable experiences I could have imagined.

What made the difference? More on that in the future (see a forthcoming e-book/essay on the making of #humbled to come). The point here is that 2016 proved that more busy doesn’t necessarily mean more stressful. That said, I am still going to pull back next year. For real, this time. The past few months I have been feeling generally exhausted. And maybe I do want to rest on my laurels just a little bit (no seriously, I actually did win some laurels). I feel fantastic about what I’ve done the past few years, but damn, 2016 was tough.

Yes, the election wrecked me like it wrecked a lot of people. It was more than just the outcome itself. My obsession with news in the months leading up to it was certainly unhealthy. And, I nearly lost one of my closest friendships as it became clear in the early months of 2016 that he was a Trump supporter. In response, I proposed a weekly podcast in which he and I discussed the issues. That certainly occupied plenty of my weekend time in the two months leading up to election day, but of course it solved very little.

In the aftermath, I have largely withdrawn from public political debates. I really, genuinely have lost much of my interest in the daily back forth, and that is probably strange to hear to people who know me well. The social media echo chamber is bad for public discourse and bad for society (yet good for business!), as I’ve written. So, I can perhaps count this loss of interest as one of the very few good things to come from Election 2016.

As I’ve dramatically scaled back my social media and news consumption post-election, I am beginning to feel an attendant ever so slight freeing of mental bandwidth. It feels good, as if I’ve started taking weekly short walks in the woods (I haven’t).

I look forward to more feeling like that in 2017 as I reduce the number of projects I’m planning. I would like to read more and get outside more. I would like to start climbing again regularly. I would like to get more kitesurfing time in, and that means freeing up my weekends to do those trips out to Dewey and Lewes that I skipped some of this Summer when I was in production. Of course I plan to use some of this newfound mental bandwidth to write, but I plan to write longer, less often, and yes – more truthfully.

I don’t think there is much I can do to impact others’ thinking. But to the extent that I can here, in prose, on a blog which not that many people read (I know, I have the stats), I would say this: try to detach a little in 2017 and think about who you really are, what you really want, and what it is you really value. For me that process has been about throwing lots of stuff up on the board and seeing what sticks. After four years of concerted, dedicated, organized effort doing that, I am happy to report that it is slowly and yet unquestionably working. I encourage the same for you.

A 2016 Review

In 2016 I read Marie Kondo’s book on tidying up, which you may have seen, oh I don’t know, everywhere. It’s a short book, a quick read, and yes Kondo is a little crazy. But one thing that stuck with me, besides a new way to fold clothes, is the way she thinks about discarding things. Take books, for example. Most people keep their unread books on their shelf for years, waiting to find the time to read them. Wrong approach, says Kondo. You should donate these books, but with gratitude toward them for showing you more about what your interests really are (this doesn’t apply to books you have read that continue to remain precious). The same goes for with clothes. Discard the stuff you’re not wearing with gratitude: they taught you more about your own style, more about yourself. And so on with all your things.

I’ve essentially transposed Kondo’s way of thinking about objects on to my annual list of goals. The ones that I don’t accomplish are less failures, and more opportunities to think about who I really am and what I value. Which brings me to my first item from last year:

ONE Bar

Last year, one of my major goals was my “Mystery Project.” I didn’t want to say publicly what it was because it involved making something in a competitive marketplace that could easily be copied or stolen.

Kitesurfing Bar Retractable LinesWell, it was a kitesurfing bar with retractable outer lines (click the image for a bigger version). Some of my kitesurfing friends have heard me talk about this for years now. It could virtually remove the problem of tangled kite lines and make rigging and de-rigging twice as fast. I even did a patent search on this idea – nothing comparative came up. Seriously, this would be an awesome product if some talented engineer can overcome the design challenges. Not to mention I could write off every kitesurfing trip for the rest of my life. For what it’s worth, I call it ONE Bar. Retail price $399. Detachable outer lines ($49 each) of varying length can be switched out for different sized kites.

There are a lot of reasons I didn’t get anywhere with this last year. Someone I was working with bailed. I really didn’t want to call up manufacturers and start talking to them about tension coils. The process of manufacturing seemed overwhelming to me. I don’t know enough about things which struck me as difficult to learn about on my own. There are a lot of excuses I could offer. But the fact is, I didn’t do it, and so this year I remove this from my list of goals with gratitude. It taught me something about myself.

If anyone takes up this project, I would appreciate a free bar as soon as the prototypes are out. And hey, a little licensing fee wouldn’t hurt. I’ll be a brand ambassador for life.

7k Films

The failure of ONE Bar is in stark contrast with my other major project of 2016: the launch of 7k Films. By all measures it’s been a great success. We received 68 submissions in our first year and were written up in a great piece on NoFilmSchool.

In case anyone’s counting, 68 submissions does not let us break even, considering the award for winning is $7,000. That’s ok – I hope to build on this success for next year. My goal is to make 7k Films into a self-sustaining company so that we can keep producing micro-budget films. Speaking of which, I am really excited to support the 2016 winner, Graeme MacMillan. I think he’s going to make a great movie.

#humbled

I’ve already said most of what I had to say about #humbled. I want to add here yet another note of personal gratitude to the cast and crew who helped me make it. I can’t thank them enough: Rob Raffety, Greg Tindale, Suzi Sadler, Ted Hogeman, Vincent Terlizzi, Katherine Folk-Sullivan, Cole Gladis, Richie Pepio, Kaelan Dickinson, Jenna Hall, Claude Stark, Justine Hipsky, Diego Salinas, Xiao Wang, Molly Moses, Nikki Smallwood, and Deidre Starnes… THANK YOU! I would bring each of you to set again in a heartbeat. If any of you are making something in the future and feel that I could be of help, just let me know. I’ll be there.

Cam Girl

Cam Girl is an interesting case. A 7-minute short, I shot it back in February in one day with a crew of three, including myself. Post production took about another month. The smoothness of the Cam Girl production was one of the things which gave me confidence that I could pull off the audacious #humbled shoot. I am truly proud of this little film – I think it’s my best short film to date. And yet, interestingly, it has been rejected from film festivals which my previous, inferior films were accepted to. Why? The obvious answer is that Cam Girl is too sexual. But I think it is unquestionably a better short film than My Love Is Real or The Lonely Kiter. So, you figure that one out.

US Acute Care Solutions (USACS)

As I’ve told my work colleagues, I’m the only employee around who will take a week’s worth of paid vacation to go work 12 hours a day on a film set. That’s exactly what I did in July to make #humbled, working seven straight days on rehearsals and filming at the Silver Spring Black Box theatre a few blocks from my house. Those kinds of vacations aren’t exactly good for recharging, even if they are creatively satisfying.

The fact is, to write a long post about my creative work without mentioning USACS would be pretty disingenuous. Having a good day job is what allows me to do all this work on nights, weekends, and vacations. The USACS leadership is genuinely dedicated to attracting and retaining excellent employees – it’s really a matter of competitive survival for a physicians group. I was fortunate to find USACS founding partner MEP Health more than five years ago as a client, I was fortunate to grow into a much more central role with them over the years, and I’m fortunate now to be part of the larger marketing team behind US Acute Care Solutions.

Thanks to the leadership there for hiring me, and for being continually supportive of my creative work.

A 2017 Preview

Next year I plan to devote primarily to building on the success of 7k Films. I have both immediate goals for the company (break even financially, make Us & The End a rousing success) and larger grand ambitions, which I will leave unsaid for now.

Meanwhile, I am conspicuously committing to not producing any of my own work this year. Hopefully I can keep to that and give myself a genuine rest from the consuming work of production. I am certainly fine admitting that I am no Woody Allen, capable of writing and directing a film a year every year in perpetuity on into eternity. And besides, I still have plenty of marketing and promotional work to do for #humbled, including cutting an official trailer.

And finally, I will, as always, continue to write. Here’s to the new year. So long, 2016.

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