Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Don't Try This At Home

July 2, 2013

Here's for the adventure New Orleans + e. Style.

NOLA has been a beautiful place to regroup, write and eat puffy, powdered Beignets (New Orleans Restaurants, Morning Call) and the occasional Po Boy (Parkway Bakery is a must).

Aside from the regional tasty delights, I managed to get into some mischief. My camera person hungers for all things historical. Margaret Coble took us on the unconventional tour of New Orleans (as if we'd be on the ordinary tour), and we passed a rather popular cemetery ... with grip trucks!

I whipped the car around, paying immediate lip service to stopping for the camera person. Let's be honest. Film equipment will get me to spin around most anytime. 

We unfolded ourselves from the Ford Focus (compact is not a cute word when describing a car). Then a 100 yards away and parked six car lengths long stretched a quite fantastic, great big ol' grip truck. For non-filmmaker nerds, that's were all the film equipment is stored.

In this case, they stored some people too.

Margaret grumbled something under breath. About how we'd be stopped by the Man In Black with dark shades guarding the gate.

Survey Says: Negatory!

In fact, that would be a massive negatory as we walked by him like Harry Potter draped with invisible cloak. The three of us drenched in sweat from the 91 percent humidity and near 100 degree heat walked right onto the set of American Heist.

Say what you will about Adrian Brody, but the guy's got acting chops. The Pianist was fantastic and Wrecked has dimension as well. And there I was standing only a few feet from the guy who scored both an Oscar and a kiss from Hallie Berry (though he was clearly more about the kiss than she).

For Star Wars freaks and geeks, Hayden Christensen was also there and can I say Darth Vader looked much smaller in the person.

A production assistant suddenly emerged from behind a crypt and line of C-Stands. She was a twenty-something cross between Cher from the film Clueless and a forgotten character from Melville's Moby Dick. She spoke with a muddied Southern/Newark accent while adjusting her tank top and sports bra, simultaneously fighting the big crawl of her excessive short-shorts. She slipped a pair of $5.99 sunglasses on top of her head and appealed to me with eyes that must've worked on any male of her fancy and most likely her father. She told me how her life would be over if I got any closer to set. I'm not in the business of ending one's life. Especially not on film sets, so I was cordial and remained at a distance.

But then I got curious, and you know what curiosity did to the cat.

Margaret thought we could get a better angle. She accepts my film geek, wanna-see-all-the-dolly-track and big lights self, so we weaved through headstones and mossy covered crypts. The summer green grass folding under my sneakers, only whispering we were there.

I positioned myself quickly out of view but with a view. Needless to say, Margaret had not brought us to the "best" position. It was as if I went from a few bleachers back to the nose bleed section. You can't fault her for trying. I mean, she's not a break-into-set tour guide.

I was about to peel off when what was most likely the Key Set PA approached He slipped on his reflective aviator sunglasses on descent.

"You're crew, right?' he ask/confirmed.

That's how I walked passed the Man In Black.
  • Cargo shorts (check)
  • Ball cap (check)
  • Sloppy T-Shirt of Unknown Origin (check)
They thought I was crew. Dilemma, dilemma. I mean, I was making a film. Not that film but a film, so I was technically crew.

"Nah, I'm just passing through," I said.

The temperature shifted.
His jaw clenched.
Friendly, he was not.

He reached for my arm, and we'd just met. I'd say that was forward for a date and surely not comfortable with said complete stranger. 

"We're good," I said. "I'll leave. Just no hands, okay. We're good."

But what can I say. The gentleman was handsy (yes, I misspelled that).

"Seriously, we're good. I'm going out the gate that I came in."

"What gate?" he asked. "No one can get in any gate."

So I did the point in a direction thing.

I described said Man In Black.

I slipped my phone in my back pocket and held both hands up as if Jack Lord said, "Book'em, Dano," so as to not further alarm the Key Set PA. But it was too late. He was speaking into his ear piece mic walkie.

"We've got a situation here."

Situation? I've agreed to leave. I've told the truth. That I walked on set with no objection from one said Man In Black and a twenty something PA who was robbed of $5.99 for a pair of sunglasses. How am I a situation? I'm completing into the comply.

Well ...

I'll spare you the blow by blow of the next. Mostly because it's late, and we've got a lot to do before we head out of NOLA in a few days. Needless to say I was, along with Margaret and my camera person, escorted off the set of American Heist. A professional filmmaker kicked off a professional film set. It's all good. I mean, I did get to see some swanky film-geek gear and watch Adrian Brody do the acting thing up close.

We'll see what's next, but hopefully, that's the last set I get booted off of for the rest of my career.

Just Let It Go

Stories From The Road
July 1, 2013

This became our  catch phrase early on. The notion of letting go of expectations, necessities and other refinements. We were displaced by choice in an effort for me to excite and energize creativity in at-risk youth. The camera person was on the journey to grow as an educator and hopefully as a techie-in-training. Learning the intricate details of camera gear on the road for someone who is not a professional Director of Photography isn't always easy.

I have been exercising patience often.

I have failed a lot.

I continue to try again.

I didn't reach the numbers of at-risk programs I had hoped to in New Orleans. The Teen Zone at the New Orleans Public Library (Main Branch) was fantastic. But to stay on here for several days, I've felt disheartened that I couldn't get more off the ground. It feels like a half-failure. Here I was in what seemed to be a significant at-risk location, but I haven't been able to excite programs enough to return emails, phone calls or acknowledge any of my limited street cred.

So let's just say the doubt thickened by today. Here I am recharging my batteries (literally and figuratively) and working to plan the next leg of the journey. Following leads to Navajo at-risk youth along the selected drive. Trying to get ahead enough to have something happening in San Francisco while having a meal with Kickstarter supporters. Ordering posters and equipment (thank the universe for and hoping the budget could support me + 1 camera person for the month.

Changing the world isn't easy. Which is a "duh" to most. I just thought a few more opportunities would open up in New Orleans. It is fourth of July week. People head out of town. The world spins and at-risk empowerment pales in comparison to the fireworks and time at the beach. That was the pulse I got from my friend Margaret Coble who reminded me that the voyage was never about the numbers.

It's about impact and connections and exciting an idea. Talking with my camera person, I've started to realize there is a greater idea at work here. I haven't fully wrapped my mind around it, so I'm quiet on it. But I feel it brewing. Something is on the way!

Photo by C.G. Watson
Chico, CA

Monday, July 8, 2013

They Say Change The World

And as all of you know, I decided I would try ... literally. My art, writing/filmmaking/photography, has been my way to change the world. Then there is this adventure. The great compact car travel across America to meet with at-risk youth and discuss themes in my third novel FAT ANGIE.

This you all know.

What I do want to tell you is this: Lives are changing.

In New Orleans, LA, I met with a group of mostly homeless youth with author Michelle Embree. I had been so melted from the travel but mustered the energy to pull out humor and meaning to the connect.

It was ... fantastic!

About that melted thing. I actually forgot my copy of FAT ANGIE in the car but had brought in a case of PRIZEFIGHTER EN MI CASA (first novel) to give-away to the kids. When they asked me to read, following Michelle's new fantasy W.I.P, I was like, "uh, no. I don't want to follow that."

You know the obvious. I did.

I read the Prologue and jumped into Chapter 1. So there I go, reading with all that is the world and heart of Chula and her family and a hulking stranger called El Jefe. Still feeling insecure about following up behind Michelle's reading, I went on for a bit longer then stopped.

Then it happened.

In an almost unison, they all leaned forward. Even the librarian leaned in.


Whoot ! And more of that !

They asked with a fantastic enthusiasm for me to continue reading, and I did. And can I tell you what a feeling it was to remember that PRIZEFIGHTER is where the voice and truth and heart of all this novel writing came from. From the darkest moment of my life, came one standout story about a girl named Chula (Spanish for beautiful) who felt like anything but.

I don't know that it was accident or serendipity that I forgot FAT ANGIE in the car.

What I do know is that we talked about the themes of FAT ANGIE and heard the story of PRIZEFIGHTER EN MI CASA and that moment was a win.

A win because I showed up. Being my best with what I had.

(Event: New Orleans Public Library - Teen Zone)

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

The Behemouth vs. e.E.

Seriously. When you're driving 12 hours to your first stop and you haven't slept in days, the twists and turns from Ohio to Kentucky through Tennessee to Alabama wrap around the tired quick. Then there's the storm. Now this is what you should know.

I. Don't. Like. Tornados.

So it would make sense that I don't like storms that can produce them. I saw the "Danger, Will Robinson" red overwhelming the doppler radar of my AccuWeather iPhone Ap but thought, "How bad could it be?"

Yeah, you know the next.

The tiny Ford Focus powered into the edge of said storm with a norm-like rain to windshield greeting. In a matter of seconds, we were engulfed in swaths of hurricane like rain. Wind whipping around the frail frame of the car, intent on ultimate compression and the sky ... well, at 6:17 pm shouldn't look like 9:45 pm.

There wasn't a tornado. Let's be clear.

There was however a behemoth of a swell in the sky. Lightning ripping lose in vein like stretches.  Big bolts breaking from sky to the ground with determined intent. This storm had furry and focus and the thing wasn't moving fast.

Cars and eighteen-wheelers peeled off the highway, seeking refuge on the shoulder or bridge underpasses, and I continued forward at a mere 10 miles per hour. As the sky darkened and the rain and wind pummeled us, I saw an exit ahead. In horror films, this is where it goes even more on the worse. You know. Small film crew exits off main highway and meets certain doom.

I took my chances and steered off the yellow brick road of sorts. A Stop sign and a right turn shifted the wrath of the storm's attention to my side of the car.

Can I say, THAT SUCKS!

By some good fortune, a Chevron gas station was on the horizon with a L A R G E awning over the gas pumps. I pulled underneath it, turned off the ignition and sat quietly for a moment ... shaking. My adopted father had been a weatherman for a stint in the military, and I had been educated with great consistency when not to tussle with the sky. But there I went, so intent on making it to New Orleans (or as close as I could), and went all out tussle with a tiny, compact Ford Focus.

I think you know who won.

I hunkered down there at the Chevron for an hour and half before the warnings spread to where I needed to travel to get to NOLA. We back tracked our route toward Tuscaloosa where we called it a night in Moundville, AL.

I felt pretty defeated on that drive to Moundville because we didn't make it farther on day one, but I felt grateful that we were safe, mostly dry and unscathed from the storm (save the ego but who really needs that thing).

In route to Moundville (I find that name so unique), we saw this beautiful cloud formation. Looking straight on it, the bubble/pearl shapes were like nothing I had ever seen in person. It was quite a  contrast to the storm. While it didn't take away the sting of miles-needed defeat, it was a sort of silver lining. It was a beautiful in the chaos. Which felt kinda of like what I was trying to do this summer.

Well, sort of.

(Travel Date: June 28, 2013)

Monday, July 1, 2013

At Risk Summer (From NOLA)

For the last month, I've been heavy on the social media promoting an unconventional book tour/documentary tentatively titled At Risk Summer (which will most likely become At-Risk Summer). On the quick, At Risk Summer is about the impact of a professional artist mentoring youth in creative burst workshops across America. In this case, I'm that pro artist traveling America in a compact Ford Focus with more books (first two novels) to give-away than clothing to wear.

As I continue to meet with youth across America, I'll discuss issues around bullying, belonging, self-image, loss and essentially the gamut of topics raised in my third novel FAT ANGIE (Candlewick Press, March 2013).

See, I wrote FAT ANGIE because I had something to say to kids who I thought needed something to hear. Shortly after the book came out in March, I realized that I wanted the themes of the book to hit the kids who needed it the most. A lot of at-risk kids don't have professional creative mentors. And FAT ANGIE is about access.

So I redefined the idea of a shoe-string, self-funded book tour into something that was about reaching out and directly connecting with at-risk youth. And I realized there was a bigger idea here that might motivate others to see the value in what I am doing this summer. That's where the idea of a documentary came into view. 

Translation: Me + At-Risk Youth = Workshops To Access Their Voice

So. .. I'm on the road as in right now. I'm doing the travel to communities small and large in an effort to empower young people to take back their lives with their voice.

While I can't walk down the halls and stop the bully from bullying, I can show up through my writing and my presence and say, "You are not alone. I am listening. Let's try to write a better ending today."

As I travel America, fan-amaze-tastic authors have agreed to be a part of the documentary. How tastic? Well ...

You all are officially on the know. Now I'm gonna update my blog with my first two experiences. Thanks for the read and rock the world!