Category Archives: filmmaking

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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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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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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Five Too Few: Dynamo 5 and the Legacy in Need of a Renaissance

For as long as I can remember, I’ve loved superhero comics. And yes, I’m talking mostly about the mainstreamers –– Batman and Robin, Green Arrow, Superman, and Wonder Woman. I also have a pretty strong affinity to many of the underdog champions, like Metamorpho, Elongated Man, and Black Lightning, who aren’t as well known by the masses. And I don’t mean for this opening paragraph to be so DC-centric, but I don’t marvel as much at Stan Lee’s breed the way I used to in the ’90s; back then, you couldn’t tear me away from any stories starring the amazing Spider-man, uncanny X-Men, or my personal favorite Marvel misfit of the time, Ghost Rider.

One thing I’ve always been skeptical about as a somewhat closed-minded teenager reading comics in between classic works of literature was any superhero from some other universe outside the main solar systems of DC and Marvel. I certainly tried a few titles: Valiant’s Ninjak, Dark Horse’s Hellboy, and Image’s WildC.A.T.s and Cyberforce. They all seemed to center around pale imitations of A-listers and popular superteams, with the exception of Todd McFarlane’s Spawn, of course, which was badass in story, art, and originality.

It wasn’t until many years later that I opened my mind to the idea that cool heroes could exist outside the worlds of DC and Marvel. After joining the Broken Frontier staff, I conducted and wrote up an interview with comics and TV writer Jay Faerber, who was penning a crime series I enjoyed immensely called Near Death, that I found out about two other superhero-oriented series he worked on from 2002 to 2009 –– Noble Causes and Dynamo 5.

Dynamo 5 –– an original superhero team with unique abilities and real world problems.

Dynamo 5 –– an original superhero team with unique abilities and real world problems.

Even though I’m only two trades into the Noble Causes franchise, I’m already hooked, although not nearly as much as when I started reading Dynamo 5. I’ve read all five trade paperbacks, all in the course of a couple of months. See, after I met Jay at NYCC and had him sign my copy of Near Death #1, I snatched up a copy of Dynamo 5, Volume One: Post-Nuclear Family and turned it over to read the back cover, and I was immediately intrigued by the story’s originality:

He was the world’s greatest hero, but Captain Dynamo was not a faithful husband. Now he’s dead and his family is trying to piece their lives together. As his enemies descend on his unprotected city, Captain Dynamo’s widow rounds up his five illegitimate children, each of whom have inherited one of their father’s super-powers. Can these total strangers come to terms with their powers, their father’s legacy and each other as total chaos erupts?

With Noble Causes, Jay blends the superhero mythos with soap opera sentimentality, which all other action/adventure books of the superhero sort steer clear of. But by embracing it the way he does, Jay allows us into the everyday lives of this highly unlikeable but strangely fascinating family; plus, we see it all through the unbiased eyes of Liz Donnelly, the widow of the late Race Noble, much the way readers view the world of The Great Gatsby though the eyes of Nick Carraway. What Jay does best in Dynamo 5, however, is shift the focus onto five young strangers-turned-family members trying to cope with the knowledge that their father was Captain Dynamo, a Superman with somewhat less of a moral code when it came to extramarital affairs, and that they have now collectively inherited his role as the defenders of Tower City since his death.

When I had picked up this first volume of Dynamo 5, I honestly wasn’t in the mood for another superhero title; I’d been trying to round out my comics knowledge with indie titles, ones funded through crowdfunding platforms like Indiegogo and Kickstarter, and old crime and horror comics as research for my own upcoming series Siren’s Calling. But when I opened that gorgeous cover by Mahmud A. Asrar, I got through Post-Nuclear Family in a single sitting. As a matter of fact, I made it through each of the other four volumes in the same manner –– one shot, one after another. I was that engrossed in the lives of these teens-turned-teammates in this fresh take on the Teen Titans. This was not your typical superhero story, but rather something fiercely different and very similar to the graphic literature I’d been consuming. It fit right in with my research, and every book gave me tons of enjoyment, too.

And then I reached the end of Dynamo 5, Volume 5: Sins of the Father, and saw that the series had come to an end.

Victor pushes the limits of his newfound strength battling against aliens in Dynamo 5, Volume 5.

Hector pushes the limits of his newfound strength battling against aliens in Dynamo 5, Volume 5.

But the story wasn’t over.

How could it be over? One of the characters I’d seen mature from a visor-wearing Cyclops to an Incredible Hulk (sans the skin tone and Rob Liefeldian muscles) lies on the ledge of the dark side and I needed to know what was going to happen to him. But there was nothing more to the story except a holiday special. No Volume Six. No closure. Nothing.

I’m not sure why Dynamo 5 ceased its run after its fifth volume. There had been talk of another miniseries called Certain Death,” but the last anyone heard of that was from Jay’s old blog back in May, 2011 and a few pages illustrated by “Sins of the Father” artist Julio Brilho that’s posted on Jay’s Facebook page. Aside from that, the series seems to have remained “aborted.”

Until now, perhaps?

Recently, some smaller press publishers have reinstated lots of b-side superheroes like X-O Manowar for active duty. I gave some of them the benefit of a read, and none of them resonated with me the way Bridget, Hector, Gage, Olivia, Spencer, and even Maddie, the widow of Captain Dynamo, had. Don’t get me wrong, Valiant’s Harbinger, Dark Horse’s Ghost, and even DC’s Swamp Thing and Animal Man are all great action/adventure stories, but that’s where it stops for each of them. The kind of substance and humanity that Jay penned into every issue of Dynamo 5 is what’s lacking in just about every superhero story today. Now maybe substance and humanity don’t sell many books today, but perhaps what’s more important is having an audience that cares enough to help Bridget here lift Dynamo 5 to new heights and finally resurrect it from “Certain Death”.

Can we be like Briget and resurrect Dynamo 5 from "Certain Death"?

It’s kinda funny, but when I left Jay’s setup at the Image Comics booth at NYCC, I handed him a calling card for my book Crowdfunding for Filmmakers and said something along the lines of “if you ever want to crowdfund another few issues of Near Death, let me know and I’ll help you do it through the crowd.” But while his tale of Markham, the hit man who has a near death experience and vows to save a life for every one he’s taken, was compelling from first issue to final, the ending in Near Death #11 felt finished and complete. Markham lives in my head, and I know exactly what he’s doing, and where he’s doing it, too. But the kids from Dynamo 5? They’re in a limbo of my mind, an unfinished chapter that’s perhaps yet to be written that the fans would love to read in a single sitting, and once again become further invested in a superhero story with more substance and humanity than any other currently on the racks.

Or am I the only one who thinks this way?

I can’t be the only one.

Can I?

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C’mon, Dynamo 5 fans, speak up in the Comments below and let me know your thoughts, and whether or not you’d love to see a Volume 6 hit the comic shelves from Image soon.

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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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Riding the Writer’s Road: Three Lessons Learned in Three Months of Writing

Today marks the beginning of my fourth month writing The Tao of Crowdfunding for Filmmakers, and on May 1st I should have a complete manuscript ready to turn in to the editors at Michael Wiese Productions. Back in December, I wrote a post called “Tao Te Trig: The Flow, the Muse and the Working Writer’s World” about what I’d learned during my first month of being a working writer, so I thought I’d continue that here with three important lessons I’ve learned in three months as an author.

Lesson #1: Get Organized, Stay Organized
I’m no stranger to the written word; I’ve written at least a couple thousand poems (if you count my napkin poems of 2000 – 2003), a dozen short stories, one five-act play, and four feature-length screenplays (two of which are still with us) and the one thing I’ve learned is to get and stay organized. I wrote about my ten pages a day screenwriting philosophy, but I find each type of writing demands different requirements and so each requires unique organization.

Sometimes the texture of a napkin is more conducive to a decent poem than a page from my Moleskine.

For The Tao of Crowdfunding for Filmmakers, I spent a day and broke each of my eleven sections into weeks. I worked a four-day per week writing schedule, my days off from teaching, and squeezed in some extra hours on the days I did work but had a substantial lull between classes. If I finished my weekly quota, I refrained from getting a head start and instead worked on something else; I was already being pretty ambitious with my weekly schedule as it was, and sticking to it was challenge enough.

Now, I have a complete first (and rough) draft of my book of about 300 pages (more than I ever thought I’d write!), which will now need to be cut down during the revision stage; and a new stage means new organization.

Lesson #2: “Be Impeccable with Your Word”
This is the first of four agreements I took to heart from reading Don Miguel Ruiz’s book of Toltec wisdom The Four Agreements, which I discovered buried at the bottom of a box of books at one of the universities where I teach.

The Four Agreements of Don Miguel Ruiz.

You may wonder why my two blogs, Hat & Soul and The Trigonis Review, don’t have a regular frequency for posts, and that’s because I refuse to push any of my writing out into the world that isn’t at its very best. An idea is precious, and it exist in our minds in its purest form; there it retains 100% of its power to inform, to inspire, and ultimately, to transform. Once we attempt to translate that idea into words, it will undoubtedly lose some of its original essence because words are all too human while the idea itself is divine. By the time we choose our words, we may only be getting across to the reader 75% of the actual, untainted idea.

Therefore, in order to maximize the power of language, writers must be impeccable with our words. If we know we can say something more clearly and concisely to ensure that our readers will understand exactly what we want them to understand, then we owe it to ourselves and to our readership to put forward only our very best writing.

Lesson #3: Resistance is Futile
As much as I don’t want to admit this to myself, let alone to all of you reading this, I spent a great deal of time resisting my natural calling as a writer. I’ve always prided myself on being a poet, and I’ve been trudging along this mysterious life with a suitcase packed full of self-imposed rules of what it means to be a poet –– Always Think Deep Thoughts; Always Appear Beat and Brooding; and above all, Never Sell Out, which oftentimes means only the first two words of that sentence for me.

"Untamed Muse" by Tom Kidd: A great depiction of my vision of a poet.

Sometimes it takes more than a imaginary muse to tell you how it is and help you see the world through a different pair of shades.

How did The Tao of Crowdfunding for Filmmakers come about in the first place? My girlfriend Marinell and I were talking one night about how so many crowdfunders were benefiting from my first Tao of Crowdfunding blog post, and she suggested I write a book about it since I’d been grumbling about not having an actual book of poetry published yet. I declined, to which she retorted that I really should start making money off my writing. Initially, the poet in me got upset, but the writer hidden deep inside heard the call. I wanted to write a poem, but instead I wrote a solid proposal with the idea in my mind of proving to Marinell that a legitimate book publisher would, in fact, want to have this book as part of its catalog. Interestingly enough, I didn’t need to prove anything to her –– she already believed in me with utmost certainty that I could do it; instead, I ended up proving it to myself. The rest is history and a Twitter hashtag.

And here I am now, closing in on my 34th year and I finally understand that while only living the life of a poet I’d been neglecting my “Unlived Life” as a working writer; I never believed someone would want to pay to read something I’d written. I’ve since unpacked my old Million Miler filled with fabricated Rules and the faintest whispers of Resistance and embrace the scribe’s boulevard up ahead, with all its curves, turns and crossroads, and green lights as far as the eye can imagine.

*       *       *

What are YOUR thoughts about life on the “scribe’s boulevard”? Writers, any advice you’d care to share from your experiences? Readers, any thoughts from the reader’s perspective of things will help us pack this Comments section for the long journey ahead.

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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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Tao Te Trig: The Flow, the Muse and the Working Writer’s World

Tuesday, November 1st, 2011 marks the day I started writing my very first book, The Tao of Crowdfunding for Filmmakers, for Michael Wiese Productions. Thirty days later, I’m about a hundred pages into my 200-page guide focused on helping indie filmmakers raise funds for their films on IndieGoGo and other crowdfunding platforms.

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Checking off chapters and counting pages on my table of contents.

So what have I learned so far traversing this uncharted terrain of my personal writer’s journey? First and foremost, writing is hard! It’s funny because that’s usually the first thing I tell my writing students at each of the universities where I teach, but I never fully understood how true a statement it is. As a poet for most of my writing life, I’d become very used to waiting for inspiration to strike, for my faithful muse’s hand to brush the back of my neck, the way Doris Dowling’s does to Ray Milland’s in The Lost Weekend, and leave behind a fresh idea in the airy form of a mysterious scent that lingers long after her touch.

But once you get to writing an actual book, whether it’s nonfiction like mine or the great American novel or even a feature-length screenplay, you really can’t sit up waiting for inspiration to come strolling in any ol’ time she likes; you have to inspire yourself, and that’s been the single most challenging part for me while writing The Tao of Crowdfunding for Filmmakers so far. Writing about a topic like this, and in such a short span of time as six short months, I’ve been relying heavily on myself, not my muse, to conjure up the magic words necessary to concoct an informative, entertaining and inspiring bit of literary thaumaturgy.

And I have been fortunate so far. I’m working my way through these white unlined trenches because I’m writing about my own crowdfunding success with Cerise on IndieGoGo, as well as detailing the success stories of many other campaigns as examples to further illustrate my points. Plus, I’m incorporating a bit of the Tao Te Ching into each chunk I churn out, and this reinvigorates me whenever I fall into a spell of writing very straightforward, factual information, since it’s a philosophy I subscribe to in every aspect of my life. After all, when you write what you know, you’re able to flow.

Doris Dowling, muse to Ray Milland's tormented writer in The Lost Weekend.

Then, something wonderful happens. Once I work myself into that “Zone,” at about an hour or so into the key tap and space bar hustle, my muse will occasionally sneak over to my writing desk and massage my creased temples, help me find a way to elevate a rather insipid concept of crowdfunding up into the ranks of the almost poetic. The other day, for instance, I waxed metaphoric my concept of eliciting versus soliciting funds which I first brought up in my second Tao of Crowdfunding post “A Practical Guide to Crowdfunder Etiquette” by comparing it to a steak dinner:

Here’s the difference in a more practical setting: You see your friend going to town on a piece of steak, cooked just the way you like it. It’s dripping with juices and smells unbearably delicious. So you ask him, “Can I have a piece of your steak?” to which your friend now has the option to say yay or nay. They have the power over you. Now, if you look at that steak and salivate over it –– well, that won’t work either ‘cause that’s just sad. But if you look up from that magnificent bit of medium well goodness and say to your friend something along the lines of “Man, that steak looks and smells delicious!” as a statement, you will elicit a reaction from your friend, which will most likely be “It is… (wait for it) “…Do you want to try a piece?” Now you’ve got the power and soon after, a tasty piece of steak.

I was in “The Zone” and then this chunk of elaboration flowed seamlessly out of my fingertips. It was inspiration’s finger sliding across the back of my neck; all I had to do was keep up with the flow of words flooding into my mind and write.

It took me a full three weeks to build up the discipline and get into the swing of what it means to be an actual working writer (and receiving my first check in the mail from MWP made that realization all the more solid, of course). To be perfectly honest, being a writer is something I didn’t really think I could do. I realized that I had too many misconceptions about it, all of them fabrications with no real footing in the real world. For years I believed that if I wrote something that wasn’t necessarily as creative as my poetry or as high concept as my screenplays, I simply wouldn’t enjoy it, and in turn, it would become the worst thing writing could ever become to me: A job.

Bruce Lee's Jeet Kune Do symbol, reflecting the everlasting flow of yin and yang.

My over thinking this for all these years has worked against what the universe had written down in the penmanship of the stars as in my best interest, and I know as well as anyone that when you work with the universe, all is right. Taoist sage Lao Tzu calls this wei wu wei, or “doing without doing.” By not over thinking something, everything gets done. In that way, The Tao of Crowdfunding for Filmmakers is meant to be written, and I’m the one who’s meant to write it.

I’m going with the flow now, like a stream flowing in one direction: forward. When a stone stands in my way, I simply stream around it and discover new ways to say something on my own because when you’re a working writer, you can’t wait for your muse to saunter in at whatever hour of the day or night she pleases (deadlines be damned!) to inspire every sentence you write. You must rely on your own flow, and trust that your own words will be the right words.

But, of course, it doesn’t hurt to leave the porch light on, too.

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