Category Archives: film

I Believe in Lonesome Rhodes: Dual Natures and Darkening Knights

Confession: I’m hooked on the 1957 classic A Face in the Crowd, starring Andy Griffith as Larry “Lonesome” Rhodes, a humble folk singer from the country who quickly becomes corrupted by the fourth estate of the media, in this case, radio and television.

One thing Elia Kazan’s masterpiece taught me when I first watched it was that influence is indeed power, –– of the individual and the crowd. Most importantly, it reminded me that “there ain’t nothing in this world you can’t do when you let the best side of you take over.”

But A Face in the Crowd also demonstrates how one’s own influence can corrupt oneself; how the ego, even when expelled from within, leaves a lingering trace of itself like a cancer waiting for an opportunity to rise again.

How there’s nothing in this world you can’t do when you let the dark side of you take over, too.

Perhaps the greatest show of filotimo ever.

Darth Vader: Perhaps the most conflicted character ever to grace the screen.

Those of you who know me well enough know that I love movies that dive deep into the duality of their protagonists. Films like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hide, Billy Wilder’s The Lost Weekend, and of course the original Star Wars trilogy (and those pesky prequels, too) are a few of my favorites.

My second time watching A Face in the Crowd was partly as research for a talk I’m giving this March, but it got me thinking, for some reason, about Christopher Nolan’s 2008 The Dark Knight. A single phrase kept knocking at my mind, which is repeated throughout the film, though the writers borrowed it from Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale’s classic graphic novel Batman: The Long Halloween:

The final page of Jeph Loeb & Tim Sale's Batman: The Long Halloween.

The final page of Jeph Loeb & Tim Sale’s Batman: The Long Halloween.

Harvey Dent, former Gotham City District Attorney turned two-headed kingpin when he’s not behind the gates of Arkham Asylum. From the original Batman and Detective Comics to Batman: The Animated Series, Two-Face has fascinated me as a conflicted character, and Nolan’s Bat-film brought him to life in ways that make Joel Schumacher’s purple-faced fool in Batman Forever all the more laughable.

But let’s backtrack for a moment to A Face in the Crowd. At the beginning of the film, we find Lonesome Rhodes fast asleep in a small town jail cell and abruptly awoken by Marcia Jeffries, who hosts a little radio show called “A Face in the Crowd,” in which she discovers talent from the people of her own town. After hearing Rhodes rock the jailhouse, she invites him to host his own morning show. Immediately he’s a hit, charming listeners and viewers alike with his folky jams, fun anecdotes and stories of his days in his hometown, which may or may not exist. Soon after, he starts to realize the power he wields over the people of this small town.

Eventually, Rhodes becomes the host of a TV show, and his ratings soar. Soon enough he’s partying with industry players, hobnobbing with political influencers, and even teaches an unpopular Senator what it takes to connect with a younger voting audience. Drunk with his newfound power, Rhodes becomes filled with hubris, which does him in by the end, brought down by the same forces that set him atop the pedestal –– the crowd.

In The Dark Knight, Harvey Dent is frequently referred to as “Gotham’s white knight” –– the counterpart to its Dark Knight –– the stereotypical “good cop” who can’t be bribed or brought down, and who will do whatever it takes to ensure justice is upheld.

Well, he’ll do almost anything.

But when Dent fails to uphold justice, and his failure costs him the life of the woman he loves, Two-Face takes over, and “the white knight” formerly known as Harvey Dent crashes and burns away by the very system he fought so ardently to defend.

No comment.

No comment.

Dent serves as a visual representation of the duality that all memorable protagonists have struggling within them, which makes for dynamic, three-dimensional characters, in which we invest more of our attention and ourselves. Instead of seeing the shades of gray, Two-Face makes life and every decision about light and dark, black or white, clean side or scarred side on the flip of his custom coin.

The interesting thing is this: with Lonesome Rhodes, as with Harvey Dent, as we watch their rise and fall, we never lose sight of their good sides –– the man with the laugh that encompasses his whole self and the white knight we want to believe still believes in justice, not murder on the edge of a coin toss.

By contrast, no matter how “dark” the Dark Knight becomes, he’ll never fall to the depths of darkness that envelope Harvey Dent. And similarly, no matter how much Lonesome Rhodes blights the color from Marcia Jeffries’ cheeks and dress, she still sees the shades between right and wrong, which ultimately gives her the strength to destroy the cancer that once humble folk singer has become.

That’s these two films teach us –– the test of true power: the ability to do right, so long as it doesn’t cost us our own selves in the process.

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Ain’t No Anton Karas Blues: My Vienna Recap

Freshly baked apfelstrudels, morning and evening mélange (cappuccino), and the textural stylings of old world cobblestone streets and Romanesque-to-Baroque buildings are probably what come to mind to the many people who have made the journey to Austria’s Imperial City, Vienna.

For me, it was all that, and a little bit more.

Third Man Poster

Once my girlfriend Marinell and I got finished untying the various knots that the pretzel-twined city streets tied us into since we were without the luxury of Google Maps and forced to use only physical maps, we discovered a charming world of cafés, classical music, and foodie culture.

Some of my favorite moments besides attending my first concert of classical music at Mozarthaus and a Sunday matinee of Hänsel und Gretel at the Volksoper revolved around food and drink. This should come to no surprise to those of you who know Marinell and I well enough; that’s what we enjoy doing most when we go anywhere we haven’t been to before.

Goulash in a bread bowl started our first night off in Vienna on the right boot –– and the hot red wine served to us in little red boot mugs also made our first trip to Stephansplatz, the city’s center, a wonder despite all the designer shops that surrounded the plaza.

Yes, that is the awe-inspiring Rathaus behind me and my expression of utter impress.

Yes, that is the awe-inspiring Rathaus behind me and my expression of utter impress.

Christmas Markets are the big thing in Vienna during holiday season, and that’s where Marinell and I found ourselves frequenting most evenings. My favorite was the one in the Rathaus, which quickly became my favorite building in the Imperial City ever since I started Googling images of Vienna a week before the trip, but others included a rather large one at Maria Teresa Plaza and, of course, the one at Stephansplatz.

The Third Man Door was probably the biggest highlight for me. One of the main reasons I wanted to visit Vienna was because of Carol Reed’s 1949 movie The Third Man, starring Orson Welles and Joseph Cotton. I longed for years to stand in the doorway where the mysterious Harry Lime (Welles) makes his first appearance in the film, and I did. And it felt awesome.

Not as smooth as Orson Wells, but hey, I'm standing in the same doorway he stood in during the Third Man shoot.

Not as smooth as Orson Wells, but hey, I’m standing in the same doorway he stood in during the Third Man shoot.

Schloss Schönbrunn, the summer palace of Vienna’s royal family, the Habsburgs, was an amazing experience as well, and one in which I learned a great deal of Viennese history (‘cause, y’know, I didn’t do any research before jumping on the plane to Austria). Marinell and I toured through some beautifully decked-out rooms, and also scaled the hills and dips in the Garden.

Upper Belvedere and Klimt’s “The Kiss” rounded off our extended weekend in Vienna. The Belvedere is a museum inside a Rococo-style palace and houses an impressive array of artistic voices, including Egon Shiele and Gustav Klimt, who’s “Kiss” haunts art lovers to this day, and there is nothing quite like seeing it there in person.

Some of my least favorite things (aside from our navigational difficulties) included this little trio:

Cafés are really just restaurants, and more so, many of them, even the top ones that were listed in both DK’s Top Ten Vienna and Lonely Planet’s Vienna Encounter, like the Café Museum (which proved near impossible to find) and Café Sperl, which was featured in the Richard Linklater film Before Sunrise, had a very Jersey Diner feel, only with much more grandiose chandeliers.

The Café Mozart, another location in The Third Man. What delicious cakes we ate that night.

The Café Mozart, another location in The Third Man. What delicious cakes we ate that night.

Not finding the Third Man Museum on the one day of the week it’s open because, well, after an hour and a half of searching for the street it was supposedly on, we gave up the search for the elusive Pressgasse, deeming it nonexistent.

Not seeing some of the sites I wanted to see, like the statue of Marc Antony in a chariot pulled by lions or Reisenrad, the famous Ferris wheel on which Orson Welles and Joseph Cotton have their tense discussion in one of the cars in The Third Man was a slight downer. But hey, when you’re beginning most days after 10AM and spend half your time just finding the places you actually want to see, you’re libel to miss out on a few things during a mere four day long visit.

The one thing Vienna seemed to lack, however, was the romance I was expecting, either of the Third Man or Before Sunrise varieties, even during the onset of winter. I suppose it was my fault for expecting something, since the secret of true happiness, I’ve learned, is to be without expectation. But after an entire year of non-stop work-related travel across the U.S. and to England and Canada, just being able to see something new with Marinell was all the romance I really needed to call this a vacation one very well-spent.

Love this lil' Lady of mine!

Love this lil’ Lady of mine!

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All that said, I’m planning out my vacation for summer, 2014. Where should Marinell and I soar off to this time? Add your suggestions in the comments, and thanks for reading!

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Linklatering Perfekt, Plus Five Lessons to Perfect Your Filmmaking

Yesterday morning, my body instinctively woke me up at 6AM, which would normally be 7AM, but due to daylight savings time it was an hour earlier. And as I lay in my bed, I started thinking about the one film I made that I’m most proud of. It’s a short sex comedy called Perfekt. I shot this story about an aging Don Juan searching for his perfect match back in 2006, when I had only two other shorts under my director’s belt, The Coconut and The Hotel Edwards. What begins as a fun little sex comedy, with main character Matt (Bill Schineller) looking for the perfect woman, one who embodies everything he loves and who also happens to be a virgin –– culminates in an unorthodox confrontation with the near perfect Nellie (Kate Kenney).

Well, I’ve been gearing up to work with my girlfriend Marinell on shooting a book trailer for my good friend James Broderick’s book Stalked, his first work of fiction after a lifetime writing nonfiction like The Literary Galaxy of Star Trek and Now A Terrifying Motion Picture! For the trailer, I enlisted the aid of both Bill and Kate. Each of us go way back; Bill and I first acted together in a 1920s/flapper era production of Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice, and I’d met Kate when I was casting for my sci-fi themed rendition of Antony and Cleopatra, in which I originally chose her for my female lead, but she wasn’t able to accept. I was so impressed with her, I kept her contact info, and when I had my script for Perfekt, which back then had a very different original title, I reached out to Kate immediately and offered her the role of Nellie.

Looking back on all the years and other film projects I’ve worked on like my Indiegogo-funded Cerise and Mating Dome, no film contributed more to my education as a screenwriter, director, and filmmaker than Perfekt. The film is far from perfect, but the poignant performances from Bill and Kate, the visual story arced by Alain Aguilar, the poetry beneath the subterfuge of seemingly simple dialog, and Ventzi Assenov’s evocative score; and even the sexual comedy at the beginning that paves the path to a heart-rending finish –– all of it pulled together in a way that none of my subsequent works have yet been able to achieve.

Perfekt Postcard designed by Marinell C. Montales

Perfekt Postcard designed by Marinell C. Montales

And this is why I’ve decided to pull a “Linklater” –– to get the band back together in the spot where it all the drama went down for Matt and Nellie, and bring about a second installment of Perfekt.

And we’ll call it Perfect.

Of course, there are some definite things that will be different this time around; after all, it ain’t 2006 anymore. And like I said, as a self-taught filmmaker with over a dozen shorts under my belt, here are five lessons I took away from the making of Perfekt that I will perfect further when I start shooting Perfect in 2014.

5. Hire the right amount of crew with the right skills to do the job right. When I shot Perfekt, the budget had a hard stop at $5,000. With that, I was able to hire my first assistant director, sound recorder, boom operator, and a couple of productions assistants. Factor in Alain and myself, and we were a modest crew of around seven members. One thing I learned back when I shot Cerise with its larger budget of $15,000 and a crew of fifteen folks) is to always hire the right people for the right job. Oh, and always, always hire a producer.

4. Document the filmmaking process with photos, video, and (now) social media. It’s hard to think where I’d be without social media. I made Perfekt, Myspace was really just starting to be something. I didn’t know about Facebook, and there was no Instagram so you could easily and immediately share your on-set photos; I mean, we were still using digital cameras to take continuity shots, and not one of us thought to use that camera to take some shots of the crew working on the film. It was a vastly different time, and looking back, I’d love to have more than a tiny handful of photos of me on the set of Perfekt. So this time around, we’ll be documenting the process, and maybe even livestreaming the shoot, too.

3. There are many more factors than money involved in getting great audio. Audio prides itself in being the bane of every filmmaker’s existence, and it was no different on the set of Perfekt (or any of my other films, for that matter, with the exception of The Coconut, Speed Musing, and the Pepper Coat video, being silents.) Back then, I thought that if you put most of your budget into audio and hire a good sound guy, Hollywood-caliber sound will abound. Not so. There are many more factors at play in the battle for quality sound, like location, electricity, airplanes, and the like. This time around, I’ll be factoring them all into the shooting of Perfect.

2. Shoot the most important scenes first, especially when in an uncontrolled environment (like a bar). One hefty mistake I made while shooting Perfekt’s many bar scenes was shooting certain less important scenes before the most important scene in the whole film –– the climax. We were shooting at Bar Majestic in Downtown Jersey City, now a lovely spot called Razza, and we had the entire bar to ourselves all morning until 4PM, and I chose to shoot various quick scenes during that time, thinking we’d have plenty of time. By the time the clock struck four, the bar opened to the public, and I had to shoot the finale, a long, Woody Allen-esque conversation between Matt and Nellie, with a roomful of bar patrons having conversations in the background. We made the most of it, though, and still managed to walk out of the then Bar Majestic at a little after midnight with some solid shots and slightly subpar sound.

1. Be more organized in the editing room. This is the biggie, and if I were the kind of person who held onto regrets, this would be the only one: Not having a single copy of Perfekt in digital form to date. See, when I was prepping the film for delivery to Ouat Media, distribution was more about physical copies back then (evidenced by the $90 DigiBeta tape I had to ship to Canada), and because I had secured distribution for Perfekt, I couldn’t show it anywhere online ‘cause they had the rights for three years. Flash forward a couple years, when I swapped my MacPro tower for a MacBook Pro, but never loaded all of the files that pieced together Perfekt in a single location; there were files on every hard drive I owned, internal and external. So when I finally tried to make a digital file to share with friends, there were gaps in the original cut of the film because I simply couldn’t locate all the missing files. The good thing is that by the time Perfect is shot and ready for your eyes, it’ll only be available in digital form, and you can bet the farm that all those files will be in a single location.

Now that I’ve recapped what not to do in the filming of Perfect next year, and I’ve got my two actors 100% onboard, it’s time to start writing the script!

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Filmmakers –– What are some lessons you’ve learned from shooting your previous films that you’ll be sure to steer clear from when shooting your next? List them in the comments below –– perhaps I’ll be able to add a few more lessons to my utility belt.

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A Tale of Two Cons, Part Two: VidCon 2013

Last month, I was in Anaheim from August 1st to 3rd. For those of you who don’t know, Anaheim is home to Disneyland (which my excellent friend Troy got me into and showed me around) and … well, that’s probably about it, really. But once a year, every YouTuber who is anyone swarms to the Anaheim Convention Center for a massive community experience called VidCon.

VidCon_3A_Logo_Rectangle_Large_White

VidCon started back in 2010 by Vlog Brothers John and Hank Green as a place where YouTubers could gather together with their fans and where the YouTube industry could come together and discuss where the future of online video  is headed.

This year’s VidCon pried open my eyes to the possibilities that YouTube has for digital content creators and fans alike. It’s set up a lot like San Diego Comic-Con: There’s a showroom floor, which showcases everything from MCNs (Multichannel Networks) like Maker Studios, Big Frame, and Fullscreen to YouTube service provides like LootCrate and social media websites like Lovvvit. VidCon showcases everyone from Smosh, Toby Turner, and iJustine to musical acts who found their start on YouTube. (Rebecca Black ring a bell?) The best part for someone like me were the keynotes and panels like the one I was on about advertising and branding while raising funds for your projects. Lots of learning mixed with lots of fun.

There are also tons of happening parties, epic rap battles in the foyer, signings, and giggle-screaming tweens galore, and even a giant “Sharkzilla” (no, not promoting the second installment of Sharknado, thankfully, but Discovery Channel’s Shark Week –– Whew!)

<< Rewind <<

A brief flashback about my prior relationship with YouTube: I’ve been the kind of person who’s never understood YouTube. When I first discovered it, I remember my friend Raul Garcia showed me a Simpson’s spoof video, and I said to him “this is what you wanted to show me?!” I can’t remember what exactly it was I watched, but I remember I didn’t enjoy it all that much.

> Fast forward >>

Then I spent some time working with my filmmaking comrades Alain Aguilar and Joe Whelski on this idea for a series of one-minute skits centered around a character simply called The Fool, a war vet who’s back from an unnamed war and tries humorously to fit himself back into society.

After six well-shot episodes, the series went nowhere. No virality. No five million hits. Nada.

>> Fast Forward >>

Years after The Fool, my girlfriend Marinell and I started up a short-lived but very fun movie review show called Trafflick, in which we’d watch movies, then drive home and talk about what we thought for a minute or so.

We got some views on our YouTube page, but nothing to warrant my thinking that YouTube could serve as anything more than a place to host silly videos.

> Playback

VidCon, 2013 –– the event that showed me just how wrong I was. Here are three brief misconceptions about YouTube I’ve since debunked:

Misconception #1: “YouTube is a video-sharing site.”

It’s not, it a video social network, and when used properly, it’s probably the most powerful social network out there. And only a select number of people use it right. Some even make some decent money uploading YouTube videos.

Misconception #2: There’s a lot of shit on YouTube.”

There’s not a lot of shite on YouTube, but rather a lot of niche. Today, if you can think it up, you can make it happen because somewhere in the vast universe of online content, someone will want to see your video, and like it, which creates the convincing illusion to many that there’s “a lot of shit” on YouTube.

If you mine for what you like, you can find gold on YouTube.

Misconception #3: “It’s too late to start my own YouTube channel.”

Absolutely not. YouTube can be an intimidating space, that’s for sure. I’ve learned a great deal about how it works during my three days at VidCon, and even though the space seems to be ruled by a handful of mafia-like MCNs, there are also thousands of gigabytes of user-generated content creators out there

My key piece of advice is to just do you.

Perhaps I’ll be getting back to doing movie reviews on the go with Marinell (heck, I bought an iPhone car mount from iPole for that reason). Maybe I’ll start a web series if the right idea presents itself. Who knows –– what I do know is that VidCon has completely transformed my perception of YouTube and this entire culture of content, and I’m glad there are folks like Ray William Johnson, Natalie Chan and Ashens doing their thing and inspiring others to do the one thing this world fosters most of all these days:

Create something.

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Goals Versus Commitment in Crowdfunding for Indie Film

The other day, my girlfriend Marinell told me about an interview she read in The New York Times with Hugh Martin on “The Importance of Commitments.” I took a gander at this interview myself, and of course I started thinking about this concept of goals versus commitments and its relationship with crowdfunding for independent film.

A goal of $50,000 would've made this fun campaign for Total Frat Movie more successful than the goal of $300,000.

A goal of $50,000 would’ve made this fun campaign for Total Frat Movie more successful than the goal of $300,000.

Something I see way too frequently as Indiegogo’s manager of film and video is that filmmakers wanting to raise a lot of money. I mean a lot of money. Part of my duty as the guy who literally wrote the book on Crowdfunding for Filmmakers has become talking them down from the ledge of a $1.5 million ask and settle them into a target amount that fits more their lifestyle. This becomes much easier when I frame the discussion in terms of goals and commitment.

A filmmaker may need $250,000 to produce his or her feature-length film, but that goal won’t mean much if the filmmaker can only realistically commit to raising, say, $20,000, based on a variety of factors like the size of one’s current network and the amount of time he or she can devote to running the campaign. Therefore, my question to prospective campaigners isn’t what’s your goal?, but rather how much are you committed to raising?

Now, I’m the kind of person who truly believes that if a filmmaker wants to raise $1.5 Million for a film, he or she certainly can. But a look at some of the most successful Indiegogo campaigns –– Angry Video Game Nerd: The Movie, for instance, clocking in at 325,327 before their game was over, and Shemar Moore’s The Bounce Back, bouncing even higher up at $638,483 –– have been triumphant because of certain factors, specifically a passionate core fan base. But even still, angry video game nerd James Rolfe committed to raising $75,000 and was able to double-up that number instead of trying for $500,000 and coming up short at just over $300,000. Now, if we as filmmakers have less of a fan/subscriber base than these heavy hitters, it’s safe to say that $250,000 may be a difficult number to reach. But if we commit ourselves to raising a more reachable amount, then we open wide the possibility of shooting past our own commitment level and surpass even our most ambitious crowdfunding goals.

So before you crowdfund your next indie film, ask yourself not what your goal should be, but what you and your team can commit to raising, and then go on raise it!

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A Tale of Two Cons, Part One: Comic-Con International, San Diego

Some of you may have realized that I haven’t written a new blog post in about two months. Believe me, it’s not that I’d forgotten or because I’ve given up the writer’s Way for the suit-and-tiestyle of startup life (there are no suits or ties where I work). I’ve become quite the jet-setter since joining the ranks of Indiegogo, so much of my time is spent at 30,000 feet or prepping for film festivals and other big events worldwide.

But enough excuses for not writing. This month, I’m giving  you “A Tale of Two Cons –– Comic-Con International and VidCon,” one out today, and its companion piece due out on August 21st. Two posts for the two months I missed about the two cons I’d attended. So let’s get on with it, shall we?

Last month, I attended the one and only San Diego Comic-Con for the first time ever, and what a marvelous experience it was. From DIY Iron Men meandering about the gray carpets to alien creatures stalking the children and posing for photo opps, Comic-Con is the premiere spot for all things comic book, movie, TV, and gaming, a veritable Geekopolis where it’s not only alright, but recommended that you unleash your innermost child and geek out. As a frequent attendee of New York’s Con, I have to say SDCC weighs in at a slightly higher class than NYCC ever could; while the latter fills up the Jacob Javitz Convention Center, the former spills out of the San Diego Convention Center and takes over the entire Gaslamp Quarter.

SDCC-2012-logo8 As an aspiring comic book/graphic novel author, the lessons I learned at SDCC about the comics industry, entertainment business, and beyond are also heavier. Last year, I had a hefty number of takeaways. [LINK to Broken Frontier article] This year, my conversations included S.M. Vidaurri (Archaia’s Iron, or The War After), Marcus To (Archaia’s upcoming Cyborg 009 –– apparently I’m a huge fan of Archaia Entertainment), J.T. Krull (Aspen Comics), and Jeff Smith (Bone and RASL) with brief eavesdroppings on conversations with legends like Len Wein and Jimmy Palmiotti, and some elbow rubs with Ed Catto, I was also representing Indiegogo at SDCC, so I got to speak with lots of folks who are interested in the “crowdspace,” like Jon Bogdanove, who had launched a Kickstarter campaign for his upcoming graphic novel Strongman. If only I’d gotten to him earlier! However, if this Strongman: Volume One campaign doesn’t reach its goal, I hope to help Jon craft a “Stronger-man” campaign for Indiegogo.

I also had a great conversation with Steve Stern and Dan Cote, co-creators of the Zen: Intergalactic Ninja franchise from the late 1980s, who also have a pretty sweet side business in which they turn movie scripts into comic books. I’m thinking of working with these guys on my vampire/sci-fi/dramic (yeah, I just made that last word up) screenplay A Beautiful Unlife.

I remembered this from the old Nintendo 8-bit video game. Had no idea it was a comic, too.

I remembered this from the old Nintendo 8-bit video game. Had no idea it was a comic, too.

And there was also a high-octane panel I co-moderated with The Crowdfund Mafia’s CEO Michael Fultz featuring the campaign owners of some of Indiegogo’s top funded campaigns like Toby Turner, Sean Keegan, and Corey Vidal. Add on top of that lots of time hanging out with Lloyd Kaufman and the crazy-cool folks at Troma Entertainment and meeting tons of animated film folks thanks to Facebook friend-turned-real-life-friend Alexia Anastasio, I couldn’t have asked for a better first experience at SDCC.

But what good is a blog post without lessons? In a nutshell, here’s what I brought back from San Diego Comic-Con aside from a ton of new reading material:

There’s lots of talent out there, from illustrators to filmmakers. And in a world where everyone judges everything, that talent can sometimes go unacknowledged. Don’t get me wrong, I also realized there’s lots of stuff out there that probably shouldn’t have left the imagination. But the fact is it did, and it has audience because we live in a niche-driven world. Look at steampunk, which is picking up steam (couldn’t help it, sorry) more and more every year. In fact, I picked up the first two issues of Steam Wars, a ‘punked out version of Star Wars from the Antarctic Press booth.

I got my copies of Steam Wars signed by creator Fred Perry.

I got my copies of Steam Wars signed by creator Fred Perry.

Almost everyone’s interested in crowdfunding, and although Kickstarter itself was not at SDCC, I did feel its tremors in the Force in the form of campaign cards and even a display of sculptures that’s currently raising funds for production. Even though the kompetition was MIA, the concept of crowdfunding was very much alive and athrive; everyone I spoke to wanted to know about Indiegogo. In fact, my friend Alexia, who’s a huge advocate of my work and my book Crowdfunding for Filmmakers, spent a good chunk of SDCC introducing me to all the talented animators she knew, like Bill Plympton, the subject of her very own documentary Adventures in Plmptoons!, which was partially crowdfunded on Indiegogo. And at a party she invited me to, those introductions lead to deeper discussions, and a consensus was met –– crowdfunding is the future, and it’s now.

Artist’s Alley’s a tough gig, and I don’t know how artists do it. Marcus To was telling me this was his first Comic-Con that he wasn’t chained to a table in the Alley, and because of it he was a lot less stressed; he didn’t have to worry about not being at the booth, since if you’re not at the booth, you’re not making money selling your art. One thing I did notice is that if you want to get noticed, you have to be proactive and engaging, and not expect your work or your names speak for themselves. Most of the artists in the alley were more like graffiti on the walls –– they didn’t assert themselves or try and bring people to their tables. Many of them even looked bored, like they didn’t want to be there. It’s a hard gig, sure, but as with anything, you’ve got to make an effort if you want to steal the show.

Taking over the digital comics space one publisher at a time.

Taking over the digital comics space one publisher at a time.

ComiXology paves the future of comics, and comic creators need to embrace it. I’m really writing this to convince myself of it. I’m not into digital comics; in fact, I bought at least five graphic novel trades that I have on my tablet as reviewer copies that I haven’t gotten to because, well, they’re not in physical form. But ever since reading –– no, experiencing –– Batman ’66 #1 and seeing the potential that digital comics can have, I’m a proponent of this for my own graphic work, though I’ll still remain a reader of hardcopy comics. One of the shoulders I brushed against, but exchanged no words with at Graphitti Designs’ Dead Dog Party, was that of one of ComiXology’s co-founders, who was standing across from Paul Guinan, no doubt deep in conversation about robots. I’ll remedy that this October at NYCC for sure.

There’s something about Troma that folks don’t understand, and it’s this: They do it right! Say what you will about the films themselves, but love ‘em or leave ‘em, Lloyd and the Troma Team get them made and distributed on much more than an indie scale, and they’ve been doing it for almost forty years. I was even fortunate enough to get Lloyd on the panel, and aside from a few “Llewd” comments about how folks tend to break into the industry (something about having strong lips and good knees, I believe), Lloyd brought up the most important thing about doing anything –– put your mind to it and do it.

That's the legendary Lloyd Kaufman, myself, and Megan Silver hanging out at the Troma booth.

That’s the legendary Lloyd Kaufman, myself, and Megan Silver hanging out at the Troma booth.

Every experience should enrich our lives, and all the time I spent at the 2013 San Diego Comic-Con have added more Ka-Blam! to my power-packed drive to move forward with my own Siren’s Calling in the smartest way possible to ensure I get my next story out to audiences. And the same way SDCC piqued further my interest in comics culture, VidCon –– the premiere YouTube festival –– gave me a deeper appreciation for the world of online video. But more on that next week!

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From Auteur to Author, Part 3: Crowdfunding for Filmmakers Comes Full Circle

The circle is now complete –– I’m officially an author!

On Saturday, April 6th, I had my first-ever book signing for Crowdfunding for Filmmakers: The Way to a Successful Film Campaign, published by Michael Wiese Productions this past March.

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There I am reading to a captive audience at Tachair Bookshoppe, Jersey City.

The combination reading/signing was held in my favorite city in the country –– Jersey City, which also happens to be where I’ve lived for seven years now –– at a quaint little local bookshoppe called Tachair. The evening was special in many ways, mainly because I was surrounded by those who have been most supportive of me and my creative aspirations over the years. In the house was my lovely Lady Marinell, of course, to whom my book is dedicated; my brother Walter and sister-in-law Patti, who nearly made me well up when they told me how proud they were of me; and James Broderick and Vince D’Onofrio (not the actor, the playwright), two great friends, respected mentors, and former colleagues of mine from my days at New Jersey City University, where I’d taught Civilizations courses over the past ten years before trading in my adjunct status for the more reputable title of manager for film, web and video at Indiegogo.

Also in attendance were some exceptional folks whose friendships and support I’ve cherished over years, including Michael Ferrell and Devin Sanchez, two-thirds of the creative team behind the indie film Twenty Million People, which was successfully crowdfunded on Indiegogo between April and June of 2012, raising $13,515 on a $10,000 goal.

Amid a packed audience captivated by my personal stories of how Crowdfunding for Filmmakers came about and the various chapters I chose to read from, the evening was made even more significant simply because it was hosted by Tachair Bookshoppe. See, back in April, 2012, I wrote an article about Jersey City’s lack of a physical bookstore for Jersey City Independent. At that point in time, Tachair was a “roving” bookstore that would set up their tent at all the different markets and festivals in Downtown Jersey City. But partly because of my article and the spirited reception it received online, Aleta Valleau, her son Paul, and her mother Carol set up shop on Newark Avenue where they now sell used books, best-sellers, and books by local authors like me (and I hear those sell better than those best-sellers!)

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A throwback to the Cerise acrostic poem days –– an appropriate thank you to to a bookshoppe dedicated to preserving the written and spoken word.

It has been an amazing journey, and it’s not over yet! From crowdfunding my short film Cerise during the early dawn of crowdfunding for indie filmmakers to writing my first blog post in my “Tao of Crowdfunding” series, which would go on to inspire Crowdfunding for Filmmakers, and onto my current calling as one of two film gurus at Indiegogo helping filmmakers to craft successful campaigns, I’m certain none of this would have been possible without the blessings of the crowd –– Not my initial book deal with MWP, not my book being made available on Amazon, and not this book first book signing.

Make no mistake: It’s because of all of you terrific folks who’ve entered into my life, and who have allowed me to enter into yours, that I continue to receive such humbling triumphs and rewards, and I’ll pay it forward in helping our community make their independent filmmaking dreams come true, one campaign at a time.

That, and making a few more of my own come true, too. Stay tuned for more on that!

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From Auteur to Author, Part 2: Crowdfunding for Filmmakers Arrives on Amazon

After six months of writing like a rock star, including one complete rewrite and two full revisions, plus another two rounds of copyediting with an editor, and most recently an in-depth review of its first galley proof, my book Crowdfunding for Filmmakers: The Way to a Successful Film Campaign is yet another step closer to your bookshelves.

In fact, my (not-so-)little 255-page tome of crowdfunding tidbits and tactics is now available for pre-order on Amazon.com!

I’m still hard at work with my amazing editor, Gary Sunshine, and our layout editor, Gina Mansfield, to make Crowdfunding for Filmmakers read smoothly and look snazzy, keeping in the vein of the blog posts that inspired it (“Three Ps for a Successful Film Campaign” and “A Practical Guide to Crowdfunder Etiquette,” as well as “Twitter Tips for Crowdfunders,” featured on Ted Hope’s Indiewire blog). I’m very honored to have this book added to the Michael Wiese Productions catalog alongside other best-selling books like Save the Cat! By Blake Snyder, Directing Actors by Judith Weston, Film Directing: Shot by Shot by Steven D. Katz, and many others covering topics ranging from screenwriting to film editing and beyond.

For now, set your sights on what these awesome indie film and crowdfunding folks are already saying about Crowdfunding for Filmmakers:

“John has been a practitioner and teacher when it comes to crowdfunding. This book helps anyone learn from his experience. Readers will be empowered to turn their ideas into action and action into money and success.” –– Slava Rubin, Founder & CEO, Indiegogo

“There is actually a science to the new zeitgeist for artists known as crowdfunding and John Trigonis’ Crowdfunding for Filmmakers contextualizes the history as well as outlines a step by step method to a successful crowdfunding campaign in an easy and enjoyable read indispensable to any and all future crowdfunders.” –– Filmmakers Jayce Bartok (The Cake Eaters, blogger MovieMaker) and Tiffany Bartok (Tiny Dancer)

“What do ancient Eastern philosophy and crowdfunding have in common? John knows and illustrates this connection wonderfully in Crowdfunding for Filmmakers, a very thorough look at not only crowdfunding, but social media, promotion, sales tactics, and so much more.” –– Daniel Sisson, Daily Crowdsource

“Chock-full of fantastic funding tips for your next movie by a filmmaker who has been through the process firsthand.”  –– Brian Meece, CEO of RocketHub, The World’s Funding Machine

Crowdfunding for Filmmakers is scheduled for a February 2013 release, which means my 35th birthday will be extra special this year, as this book marks my first step into a larger frontier –– that of a published author and crowdfunding consultant. And I couldn’t have achieved any of it without the help of my community, my ultra supportive family and friends, the generous funders behind my short film Cerise, who helped pave the road toward the brave new realm of crowdfunding and book publishing, and especially my girlfriend Marinell, who pointed out this road to me, revved me on to write the proposal for this book that I hope will instruct not only filmmakers, but creative artists of all sorts, in the art of successfully crowdfunding their next projects.

There’ll be more to come in the months ahead, so stay tuned to Hat & Soul for the latest on Crowdfunding for Filmmakers. In the meantime, click here and order a copy today (and tap that “Like” button, too!)

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Top Eight Movies I Saw in Theaters in 2011 (Because I Only Saw Eight Movies in Theaters in 2011)

As many of my closer friends on Facebook and those who follow me on Twitter probably know, I spent the bulk of 2011 writing, teaching, and doing research for my second feature-length screenplay Caput. That research took the form of film noir, and I spent just about all of my free time seated in front of an old 23-inch Magnavox tube television watching everything from Billy Wilder to Nicholas Ray, from Jimmy Cagney in The Public Enemy, White Heat, and a bunch of what falls between to everything from Humphrey Bogart and a few titles from Edward G. Robinson.

So needless to say it’s a bit difficult to pull together a “Top Ten” list when you’ve only seen eight movies in total through the course of a whole year. And even though I spent an entire week in Cannes during the Festival du Cannes with my short film Cerise, I didn’t even get to see one film while I was there. Not one!

But out of what I did see in theaters during 2011, here’s how they rank up:

8: Green Lantern –– Okay, it was “Boys Day Out” and my buddy Dave and I saw this in 3-D and afterwards compared the movie to all the Green Lantern comics we’d ever read, and concluded that this isn’t really the best interpretation of GL.

7. Captain America: The First Avenger –– It’s been a heavy year for comic-related movies and me, and although I’m not much a fan of Marvel Comics or even Captain America and the Avengers for that matter, I found this movie to be entertaining at best, and quite ridiculous at worst.

6. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo –– This was the last movie I saw in 2011, and while it was very well-done with great performances by both Daniel Craig and Rooney Mara, it’s really nothing more than a straight remake of the superior Swedish version (and not the best testament to any skill David Fincher may have as a director).

5. The Greatest Movie Ever Sold –– The only doc I saw this year, and a humorous and informative one at that! I definitely recommend this one.

4. X-Men: First Class –– Entertainment at its best. I thoroughly enjoyed this installment of the X-Franchise, with wonderful performances by both James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender as the conflicting “brothers” Charles Xavier and Erik Lehnsherr (Magneto).

3. Source Code –– A semi-brainy film for sure (Oh, how I love anything dealing with parallel worlds and other Michio Kaku-like stuff!) in the guise of an action drama. A fun ride which offered up a few minutes of heady conversation at the diner afterwards.

2. Rise of the Planet of the Apes –– By far the most entertaining action film I’ve seen in a long time, and although the CGIed apes could be a bit distracting (mainly at the beginning), my enjoyment wasn’t all that hindered. This experience was enhanced by the fact that I saw Rise of the Planet of the Apes in an AMC Dine-In Theater in Menlo Park, NJ (there’s something to be said about watching a movie like this over a juicy burger, crisp fries, and a Blue Moon fast at your side!)

1. Midnight in Paris –– An absolutely beautiful film and (in my opinion) Woody Allen’s best work to date (but that could also be because it caters to every fiber in my being as a writer and aficionado of classic literature!) This experience, of course, was made even more special because I saw it with my Lady Marinell in Paris (around the midnight hour, too) with French subtitles. Viva la Paris!

As an added bonus, here’s a proper Top Ten List of Films I Wanted to See (But Didn’t) in 2011:

1. L’Artiste
2. The Flowers of War
3. Anonymous
4. Melancholia
5. Another Earth
6. The Skin I Live In
7. The Adjustment Bureau
8. Coriolanus
9. Sleeping Beauty
10. Win Win

Most of these are on my Netflix, and once I’m done with my brief James Bond phase, I’ll start catching up on these 2011 films.

That’s all for now, folks. It’s been a superb year for blog writing, poetry writing, classic movies, and book writing for me, and I’m hoping 2012 continues this tradition tenfold.

Happy New Year everyone, and thanks for reading!

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Bird on a Limb: My Facebook-Updated Family Tree

I was always a good kid, at least according to my Dad. I was quiet, introspective, always thinking and always creating. Even as far back as before my mother died, while the grown-ups were talking grown-up things in the living room, I would be in my room quietly playing with my Star Wars action figures. At birthdays and Christmases, long after unwrapping my Millennium Falcons and Fortress of Fangs play sets, I could be found sitting Indian style beside our artificial tree trimmed with kitschy1970s ornaments carefully cutting out the He-Mans and Skeletors on the Masters of the Universe wrapping paper.

That little boy isn't me, but it may as well have been; I loved that play set!

I grew up (somewhat) and learned the value of a dollar and the importance of a dream during weekends selling French fries and stirring egg cream sodas at flea markets, street fairs and carnivals. I finished high school with long hair and a four-year scholarship to NJCU, finished college in five years as a B student with a batch of poems under my arm ready for grad school, and I completed my term at Brooklyn College in two years still sporting a B average but with a better batch of poems bound in customary Master’s Thesis fashion.

Then I grew up some more (sort of), going on to be a Renaissance man of sorts –– published poet, DIY filmmaker, one-time guitarist, part-time blogger, rabid social networker and freelance professor drifting between various universities across New Jersey. Overall, I consider myself pretty fortunate to be living this particular life without anyone telling me otherwise; whenever I wanted to be different, and ultimately when I needed to be myself, I’ve always had a solid limb on the tree of my being out on which I could perch and sing freely, and this limb is my family, which has supported me in everything I’ve done, from tracing comic book covers for some extra pre-teen spending cash to going away to London for a summer to study Shakespearean theater and acting at the Globe to making films today.

But sometimes there are other branches helping to hold you up that you may not have noticed, or perhaps you may never have been aware of.

This year marks the fifth anniversary of my Dad’s death as well as the first anniversary of my discovery of new family members on my Dad’s side. Actually, it’s more accurate to say these hitherto unknown branches of my family tree reached out and discovered me.

Thanksgiving, 2010, with Marinell Montales, Andrea Bertos Quintaglie, me, and Danny Androutsos.

I never knew much about my Dad’s side of the family because whenever he would tell me stories about his past, I would be more interested in drawing Ninja Turtles or making up intricate stories starring my Super Powers action figures; I was too young to appreciate them. Instead, I recollect only brief bits: My grandfather John owning a coffee shop in Athens and drawing when business was slow and my Dad crying as a boy whenever school was closed are little more than vestiges now. The story I remember most tells of how my Dad was marooned in New Orleans because of a stomach virus, and his fellow Merchant Marines had to sail back out to sea and couldn’t wait for him to recover. The reason I remember this one is because I wrote up a story about my Dad for my feature writing class when I was a journalism major at NJCU. That tape-recorded interview I did with him captured the last remnants of his voice before the cancer left behind only a whisper.

The only other thing I remembered was that my Dad had a cousin who lived in Florida named Chris Bertos. That’s how I met Andrea Bertos Quintaglie. She reached out to me through a Facebook message with the subject heading “looking for” and a message that read:

Hi John…I’m looking for a John Trigonis who would be my second cousin on my dad’s side (Chris Bertos) This John’s dad’s name was Teddy and has since passed away. I was just thinking of this person & wanted to make the connection…so if you are the right John (because 3 John Trigonis came up) and you would like to connect with your dad’s family respond…Thanx, Andrea

After I let Andrea know that I was in fact the right John Trigonis, we exchanged a bunch of Facebook messages, and I learned so much about a part of my family tree I hadn’t even known existed. Apparently, I not only now had newfound family members here in the U.S., but there’s a whole flock of second and third cousins living in New Zealand, many of whom knew my Dad. And through Andrea, I was able to make the acquaintance of Nina Bertos Androutsos, Nina Bertos Papadopoulos, and many more of our Kiwi cousins whom she had connected with through Facebook and some serious Sherlock Holmes detective work.

Last year, Andrea held a truly splendid and emotional Thanksgiving celebration, and I finally got to meet her, as well as many other cousins of mine, many of whom proceeded to spin some interesting stories about my Dad; many of them recalled instances when he would come to family gatherings, dance, drink and be merry; others reminisced a tale or two that’d been passed down through the years about how the two dads would get into all sorts of trouble when they were younger.

My Dad, a troublemaker?! Well, blow me down!

At this festive gathering of newfound family, I also had the pleasure of meeting a cousin of mine from New Zealand, Danny Androutsos, whom I found to be a kindred spirit; he’s a musician who happened to be on a world tour –– something Kiwi men do as a rite of passage. It felt as though all the years removed between the two of us were stitched up in the few hours we spent together that Thanksgiving, as well as the couple of nights we spent running around New York City with wine, tasty food, and plenty of catch-up conversation.

What’s more, Andrea and the family attended the Big Apple Preview of Cerise back in December, 2010, which made the event even more special for me because not only was I showcasing my latest short film to my friends, supporters, funders and family, but I was also able to introduce my brother, sister and family to Andrea, Danny, and my other cousins, and it was a heartwarming spectacle to see them all interacting throughout the evening.

My cousin Danny rockin' out at Bar Medusa in Wellington, New Zealand.

I grew up with a large family from my mother’s side; my brother Walter and sister Renee, as well as my brother’s family –– my family –– not only make up the bulk of the branches of my family tree, but they have also been the trunk, never moving, always there, for good moments like graduating college or not-so-good; when my Dad died on December 14th, 2006, my brother and sister were there for me at three in the morning to let me know that it’ll be alright. Perhaps I’d always taken the idea of family for granted, and now, having had some new dots connected on a part of my Dad’s bloodline I’d known little to nothing about has added more balance to my identity as a Trigonis.

I’ve always been proud of my Greek ancestry even though I still know very little about where I come from; I’m especially fond of my surname; Trigonis (Tρυγώνια) means “bird” or more accurately, “turtledove,” and, interestingly enough, is most famous for its use in the old Greek proverb “Μ’ένα σμπάρο, δυο τρυγώνια,” or “One shot, two birds.” I started thinking about identity and ancestry a while back when a man named Vasilis Trigonis reached out to me on Facebook asking if he and I might be related. What’s more interesting is that he’s from Thessaloniki, Greece, and according to him, in the nearby city of Veria there’s a high concentration of people with our same surname. But I’ll leave this story for another time.

Interesting fact: The mythological Phoenix is the natural life partner of the τρυγώνια...

But perhaps Vasilis was right when he wrote that he’s “quite sure that soon or later we’ll discover the story of our ancestors.” And in my case, along came Andrea, and because of her, I’m a few layers deeper to discovering my roots. It never really mattered so much to me when I was a kid, or even when I emerged from grad school with my MFA in poetry. But now, to know that for all these years I’ve been supported by the family I’ve known and loved all my life and a family that has only recently been unearthed but has been there all along gives me a strangely mystical feeling, one that makes me proud of the little I’ve accomplished in this short span of life, and unravels a reason as to why I’ve been able to safely land on any limb I choose without having my song’s get muffled or lost in the leaves. The stronger the limb, the stronger the support for this turtledove to sing from any height.

And if there’s a Facebook in the Great Hereafter, I only hope my Dad might look down past the cosmos this Christmas, 2011, to give this, my latest status update, a “Like.”

My Dad and me, circa 1982, maybe. I've since traded in my pistol for a pen; I'm sure I've made him proud.

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