I had started writing a blog about how our last filming day went. But, I wasn't feeling in the rambling spirit, and, instead am choosing to share my gratitude (originally posted on Facebook).
Don't worry, kids, I saved a draft of my original post.
Thank you to everyone who came to play with us Sunday. It was a tremendously successful day in terms of what we were able to shoot, how quickly everyone assembled/disassembled/reassembled, and the general camaraderie of our film family!
James - Thank you for opening your studio & home, and accommodating every need, request, gear, and guidance! And, NBD, for being one of the primary reasons we picked up filming again this year <3
Angela - my rock, reality check, & right hand. Thank you for ALL that you do on set - which extends far beyond your "Set Designer" designation. I think there may be a second "Set Ninja" credit added to the IMDB database.
Jesse & Chops - thank you for being my mighty alternating 1st & 2nd unit crew of 2. You guys kept the day moving, and the shots look fantastic. You ran around and worked your asses off to get a ton in the can. Thank you.
Pat, Lily, Anna, Jessica, Hannah, Sarah, Nicole, Candice, Eli - Most of you have been here from the beginning, and are still hanging in after a 2-year hiatus. Nothing but love, respect, gratitude & the feels.
Rita, Brooke, Ev, Mary, Marion, Amadeus, Amy - thank you for joining in these episodes. Some of you were here on super short notice, and came to set prepared, professional, and open to the completely inappropriate & ever-adapting shenanigans that erupt from my twisted brain. You all fit right in with our motley crew.
Becky, Rita, Maggie, Tori - Your dedication to your childrens' interests & experiences made the day special. Thank you for hanging out while waiting for their scenes to be ready. They really did an awesome job, and their composure and great attitudes on an uncomfortable, longer-than-anticipated day were amazing. Thank you for giving us the opportunity to work together!
I sincerely hope I didn't miss anyone. I am so proud and grateful for each one of you, taking a chance on me & my project. YOU have made it possible, and I appreciate your participation in this journey.
With love & appreciation,
I'd like to take a moment, please:
It is a struggle to be an independent filmmaker. Period.
I generally work 7 times for one project:
The hours are what you can scrape around your full-time job. I work at least 40 hours per week. A year ago, it was averaging closer to 50. I have to give at least 2-3 weeks' notice before taking time off, so I have to plan carefully, knowing I can't just throw in 'rain dates'.
The little pockets you plan for unfailingly fail in some way - equipment issues, last-minute drop-outs, locations fall through, actors get sick, toilets breaking... Yes, I have personally dealt with all of the above.
And, it's all your problem. After all, this is your circus, and your gloriously talented monkeys. It's all YOU.
If you're lucky enough to have a team to help scout for locations, schedule cast & crew, plan shot lists, you're at a slight advantage - slight only because the contingencies still apply.
No one else will ever care as much about your project as you do.
So, you hitch up your big-girl pants and carry on. And, this just gets you to the production stage!
On set, you work with a diverse group of people. It's your job to make them comfortable, set expectations and get the work done. They opted to work with you based on reputation, the script, group you're working with, or any number of personal reasons. And, if it's an unpaid project, you need to work harder to ensure you provide value and respect for everyone's time.
You get through the pages, all your planned shots, and everyone goes home. Your film/sketch/series is in the can, and you've captured your vision to the best of your ability. And, it won't be without compromise, but you accept that as part of the deal. Sometimes things won't work practically as you'd envisioned, and sometimes you simply run out of time. But, it's done, in a tangible form. YOU DID IT!!!
It's exhausting, expensive, and exceptionally exhilarating when it all comes together.
But, it's far from over. Now it's your job to sort through all the pieces you've captured, and collect more, to craft your narrative. The fun part is over. And, now the fun begins.
This round is the longest, loneliest stretch. It takes painstaking precision, a feel for timing, and a lot of perseverance to assemble this moving jigsaw puzzle.
The collaborative sustained energy of your cast and crew have long since gone, as you stare at a monitor for hours on end. However long you think it will take you to assemble even a rough cut - multiply it by 3...or 10.
Oh, and, don't forget, you still have that day job (and maybe family, health conditions, other responsibilities). So, again, this is all pursued in your personal time - when you feel physically and mentally up to the work.
And, as fun as it can be, believe you me, it is WORK.
Most days I am braindead after my day job. A shower, a nap, and, if I'm lucky, I'm able to put a little time in on an idea or edit. I try to take at least one of my days off to focus exclusively on editing for a few hours. But, again, editing is a long, intricate process. Four hours may mean two seconds of a film come together, or maybe one problem millisecond is worked out.
"So, why'd ya ask for a moment, Pep? This seems pretty straightforward. You don't seem to be ranting about the process or bitching about anyone. What gives?"
Simmer down, Sally. I'm getting to it.
No-budget, independent filmmaking is a difficult, mostly thankless, unappreciated and underestimated endeavor. It is full of compromises, struggles, obstacles, time-sucks, hidden expenses, and, in the end, your film/episode/series may not even get many views. It may turn out shitty - or others may make you believe it is. It may never be good enough, make you any money, or be deemed 'worth it' to those who were part of the journey.
You can only hope that's not the case. But, if it is, and you agree, you can learn from your mistakes & move on. Either way, you will have made something, which is far more rare than you realize.
And, now: MY MOMENT:
I choose a moment of gratitude. (Fuck y'all who were hoping for drama - there ya go, it's in a parenthetical).
I gratefully acknowledge the cast, crew, and tribe who consistently support what I do. Who have joined my no-budget, unpaid projects. Who collaborate and work with me to create the best version possible. Who don't need to know the nitty-gritty of what I'm doing, or how far along I am with editing their scenes. Who give me breathing room to get things done within the time I have. Once in a while, someone will respectfully inquire about progress, to which I am always upfront, and try to push myself as much as possible.
But, most of all, I wanted to appreciate and acknowledge the TRUST of everyone, that I will finish what I started. That it will be the best version possible, and that we can learn & grow together.
In the meantime, I sincerely THANK YOU. I know there are long stretches before you see the fruits of your labors, and I appreciate your patience and continued support.
And, for those readers who haven't been part of my film projects, thank you for being here. Your support is also part of this journey.
In those quiet, dark moments, where nothing distracts my poor battered brain, I remember that once I had a voice. A powerful, strong, and musical voice.
Don't get me wrong - I never mastered breath control. I strained the shit out of my vocal cords. I wasn't an A-list chanteuse, or a belting diva, but I had something.
Voice lessons confirmed that I could make a pretty sound, and I was in several choirs throughout my school years. Once, a friend remarked that he could hear me clearly among the chorus - which, honestly, may not have been a good thing (perhaps I was out of tune)....or, maybe - just maybe - I just had strength.
At the very least, I had my own voice. And, I was good enough to be part of a select ensemble that toured England & Scotland. Maybe I was....SOMEBODY.
...until that day it was taken from me.
Adding to the list of medical maladies, ITP was introduced into my world during my 20s. One of the treatments was the drug Danazol: a male hormone that was meant to dumb down my immune system so it would stop attacking my platelet cells (male hormones to dumb anything always tickles me). My doctor assured me that my voice would go back to normal after I was off the drug. Unfortunately, the ENT disagreed - and was correct. My vocal cords were permanently altered. Much like a 13-year-old boy, I went from squeaking voice breaks to a deeper register than I'd been born to have.
This is a subject I've touched upon before, but one that's never gone away. Almost 20 years later, I'm still not 'over it'. I'm haunted daily by the reminder of what I once had - and who I was. I am constantly choked (sometimes literally) and stifled by the changes that this drug catalyzed. My vocal cords irreparably changed, and a piece of me disappeared in their scarred wake.
After several years of heartbreaking, painful vocalizations, I got to a point where I took on vocal therapy. Exercises and practice took me as far as escaping the gravelly, strained conversational speech I'd fallen into. But, my singing voice was never the same.
I have unusual breaks in my singing voice, and can seem to get out the 'difficult' head-voice after some warm-up. But, the 'natural' chest-voice breaks and cuts off with rude finality. It kills me every time it happens. I retreat back inside myself, and quiet the melodies that are bursting to be free.
Growing up, I sang all the time. It was one of few things that made me feel better in the wake of a wicked, cruel world. I'd sing while doing homework, while learning the words to my favorite musicians' cassettes, then CDs, or as part of various ensembles.
You see, I think I figured out something early on: Music is one of the few true magics in the universe. Music is truth. Music literally sings the heart's desires, pain, and beauty. It expresses every notch on the spectrum of human emotion. My favorite type I deemed 'spaz singing' - the most powerful, raw emoting of the singer/songwriter's words. It's a shouting expression of a moment of truth. Of Beauty. Of uninhibited power.
Music, nature, and love. These three things are the most raw, naked truths that have ever, and will ever, exist.
Don't believe me? Take a walk in a forest, or on a beach. Do you feel the sense of calm? Wonder? Watch a musical - where the most vulnerable and true feelings of the characters are shared through powerful, and utterly beautiful words & melodies. And, it all revolves around love. And, in its many forms, MUSIC is the one that is most far-reaching and inclusive.
Music, nature, and love - they change you & they are all parts of a whole. We need them, and we live them. And, when one or more of these are taken from you, the void is never truly filled.
In the figurative sense, I've always maintained my own voice. My mind truly works like no other. My personal viewpoint, twisted sense of humor, and ability to see many sides of any issue come out naturally. I've been told I have a memory like a computer, that my ideas and understandings are unique, and I read people pretty easily (unless, of course, they seem to be paying attention to me in a romantic sense, then I am the greatest fool). But, that's another story....
But, in the moments where my mind is quiet, there is no denying the pain of my heart's void. The gutting moments where I attempt to sing & everything is choked and suppressed. I think I got to a point where I began to naturally try to make myself smaller, pull everything inside myself - and my voice was the biggest part of the collateral damage. I don't know how to reverse it, but I feel like all my creative ventures have followed suit.
I shrink, and take everything that's wonderful with me. I choke, and freeze, and only have brief moments where I am to free myself from my own restraints. In those moments, I enjoy freedom...from myself.
The funny thing is, my second feature film WILL be a musical. It is planned, and the pieces are in motion. Like most things in my world, it has met with my own resistance. I feel like I can not truly write it until I can free my own voice - literally. To be able to sing the parts, and create the music. I know, in my heart, that this is the only way I can truly move forward.
And, it is fucking terrifying.
"What if" is the blessing & curse of my existence. It is a breeding ground of the most wonderful and out-there ideas and flashes of inspiration.
But, it is also the most paralyzing force in my life. Because, honestly, I could give a flying fuck if you like me, my thoughts, or my face. (Honestly, we know that's not completely true, but just roll with it).
Of all the 'what if's in my life, I think "What if I never got my voice back"? is the one that guts me to the core. My voice is truly the only thing I have. That I've ever had. But, and here's the stupid human bit - I haven't done jack shit about getting it back. I got myself back to speaking (mostly) without grit or strain, but, the ONE FUCKING THING that was "ME" - well, it's been in purgatory for almost 2 decades.
What a piece of work is man....
I've worked through some of my blocks - told my practical conscious mind to fuck off while I made a feature film. While I learned new skills & met wonderful mentors, friends, and co-conspirators to delightfully demented feats of folly.
But, this ONE thing. This ONE super important thing - and, quite possibly, the root of every other mental/creative/emotional block I face... I let it starve. I learned to inhale my song instead of setting it free. I mean this quite literally - I find myself breathing in a melody or conversation instead of exhaling & getting it out. I catch myself, but don't know how to stop it.
Funny thing is - I know my true voice is there. I can feel its presence behind my eyes, and in my heart. It fills both, with this angsty, potential energy that makes me want to cry. To scream. To run. To beat my head against a wall until I feel something - or to punish myself for...punishing myself? And, then, to run again. It is a real energy that I can feel pulsating, and held back within the constraints of my mind and body. Sometimes, I can visualize its struggle, bouncing upon the balls of its/my feet - ready to GO!!!!! And, I tame it again. Hold it back. Sigh it away.
Wow, fucked up, eh?
I have been stuck for a long time now. At times, this truth attacks - then retreats. I've allowed myself furloughs, and very brief encounters with the greatness I could achieve (not ego - but, greatness in the limited capability of my singular person).
Call it anxiety, or depression, or the quicksand of "What If"...or the knowledge that I am missing... No... Lost.
My "me" has been lost for quite a while. Of course, it didn't help that my work life took another piece of my identity recently - but, again, a story for another time.
It's been a year+ of direct blows - from many directions and ventures, and this has brought me to some hard revelations that I can no longer ignore. But, the hardest of all is facing the fact that I've been lost. Locked away. Muted. Subdued. Halted. Fighting own damned self. And, missing....for a long time.
Thankfully, I have so many friends extending hands. I've pushed, denied, whined, angsted, and otherwise procrastinated reaching back to them. I've become that unworthy, ungrateful, unbelieving rock, unyielding to the possibilities of...possibility. I've continued to lock myself away, in the 'comfort' of my mind's purgatorial prison.
But, now, it's time to get my 'self' back. Seriously, my life is wasting away, and before I'm too old/decrepit to enjoy it, I need to just cut the crap. (I also need to stop thinking of myself as a worthless lump wasting time if I'm not being productive. The hardest 'task' I have is to find myself again - and that's not a physical activity, measurable by progress metrics. I think I really need to just BE for a while, and that's fucking difficult - truth be told, I know, somewhere within my suppressed psyche that I've been avoiding the quiet time that reintroduces me to myself & my needs).
Cut the crap, Pep.
Step 1: Get my fucking voice back. It's time I sang again - or at least reached the full potential of what my truth is. Maybe I won't be able to unleash my true voice, or have the power I once owned, but I won't know until I get some goddamned guidance. Voice lessons on the way.
Step 2: Thank & honor all those who have extended the hands I've ignored or slapped away. Thank you for your patience and continued support while I farmed & cultivated my own bullshit. It's a fertile garden, but nothing grows there.
It's time I cut the crap. Fer realz.
It's easy to hide. To procrastinate. To deny. To destroy - by action or neglect. The really difficult part is to TRY. To BELIEVE.
Magic is real. Love is real. I am surrounded by it every fucking day. When I allow myself the luxury of walking in nature, of listening to melodies, I can't deny its truth. It's about fucking time I created my own.
And, with that, it's time to end this ramble & move forward.
Thank you for sharing the journey with me.
Peace & Love,
PS: This dark stroll has been brought to you by "The Greatest Showman" with a side of Vodka & Castelvetrano olives.
After-the-Fact Bonus: What brought on this particular post? Watching the Greatest Showman. It is inspirational but also a reminder of a pattern: I watch movies with really talented casts, sing these heart-wrenching, beautiful songs, and I am in awe and admiration of the talent, at the same time I mourn the loss of my own. It is one of the most visceral and powerful responses I feel to ANY stimulus in my life. I can not shake it, nor do I want to. But, today, it makes me want to DO something about it. Hopefully, it doesn't fade by tomorrow...
I know. I'm shocked, too. We're in this together.
Yes, I joined the party. So, follow me @pepperedpro, like some pics, or otherwise connect!
Do it now - I'll wait.
Hey - Thanks! Good to meetcha!
I got a hand-me-down phone from my dad, so I can still keep my Luddite flip-phone for not calling anyone. But, I now have the ability to *Legally* participate in the Instagrams. All of them. Don't worry, I'll leave some for you. It's a big world.
Honestly, I can't figure out how this social media stuff works. IG is a visual place - which means I can share my photography, BTS photos of projects, quotes, memes.... and maybe reach some new eyeballs...potential viewers/fans/investors/stalkers.
Note: I am NOT looking for stalkers. Super serious on this point.
Because, really, that's what it's all about, right? Finding a community of folks to appreciate each other's work? I make fun, silly videos on youtube. I have a feature film, and an upcoming 2nd webseries & edutainment venture as well. Oh - and am writing feature #2 as we speak.
But, I'm competing with 1000s of other pieces of content for your attention.
Really, I'm doing this for you.
FINE. It's all for me. It's a fucking selfish world & I'm no different from the next guy...er...gal.
So - follow me on IG...or not. Check out my channels "Stuff and Nonsense" "Peppered Productions", "Fairfield Follies" on Amazon Prime.
Or...don't - I'm here regardless.
Ok. Luv ya. By-bye.
That's right, kids, we are LIVE!!! www.amazon.com/dp/B07LC3JK34
After 8 long years, setbacks, obstacles, laughter & tears with a great team of cast, crew, "Fairfield Follies" is officially released. The film is free for Prime Members!
A satirical look at the stereotypes & assumptions we make about others, the movie follows the exploits of an idealistic director attempting to put on an all-inclusive holiday pageant with a cast of politically-incorrect characters.
Please check out the movie! Share/review if you're so inclined.