2011 Feature Film shot in Camden, ME

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Thank you for The Strand.

This is a very belated ‘thank you’ to all the people who came out to see our movie when we screened it in Rockland Maine this August. It was an evening that still gives me a  rush when I think about it; ‘Like the Water’ on the marquis, a line of people around the block, such a great and enthusiastic response after the screening.

It was thrilling to screen our movie in a theater I had spent so many hours in growing up. One of those moments where you think: “Ah, if only my younger self could see me now.” It is a satisfaction devoutly to be wished. But beyond the full-circle pleasure of screening our film at the Strand, the true joy of the evening was the incredible turnout; the people who showed up by the dozens to support us and witness our work. While there were some in the crowd who were strangers to me, the majority of the audience I knew well and have known most of my life.

It is a humbling experience to make a movie; the number of people required who come together around a single purpose never fails to awe. It often feels, on a movie set, that there is a kind of perfect storm of industry; that somehow everyone knows where to be and what to do and all these efforts combine to create the  miraculous moment the camera can roll and the director can call ‘action.’

It has occurred to me that – if you’ll forgive the metaphor – my life as an actor has been in many ways akin to a movie set, and that any accomplishment I have made, is due in such large part to all of the hands and voices and talents and love and support of all the people I have been lucky enough to know. Particularly, particularly all of the people who were in the theater on August 8th.


If you weren’t lucky enough to come from a small community, with little nightlife and one hell of a community theater scene, then let me tell you: the people who come out to watch you perform in your bad and usually long and usually musical performances, are an invaluable gift to any wannabe child actor. When you walk onto the stage at the local opera house and the seats are filled, you feel a little infinite, a little famous, and really proud and excited to be a storyteller; you feel that this thing you love very much is indeed a worthwhile pursuit. And that feeling will sustain you, years later, when you are living in LA and out-of-work and wondering why the hell you have subjected yourself to this career path.

The trouble with being an actor is that you can’t do it without an audience, and to those who took the time to be an audience me as a child I have to just say Thank You Thank You Thank You. So many of you were there at the Strand that August evening, and I can safely say: I would not have had the gumption or the desire to be an actor let alone make a movie of my own had I not had a lifetime of support from all of you. It is a gift beyond measure and I strive every day to make you proud and return that gift in this way that I know how. Thank you.

September 14, 2012   No Comments

The F-Word

Last summer was filled with new experiences and steep learning curves but I never once doubted we would make this film. I knew there would be challenges; I’ve participated in enough creative ventures to know that though the memories may be all roses, the journey itself passes through thorns. Nevertheless, during those quiet moments, just as I was falling asleep, I was filled with excitement and awe to be a part of this experience, but under the flutter there was a deep sense of calm. I truly believed that together we could do this.

So why write about that terrible F-word: failure? If you’ve seen Like the Water or simply read this blog, you know this is ultimately a success story. Why feel the burden to write about something depressing and unpopular? Why cast a shadow on the memory of such an artistically fulfilling summer? I’m writing this because I have to. I tried to ignore it. I tried writing something else. I tried giving up on the idea of contributing anything at all. The theme of failure, however, has been coming up over and over. I can’t seem to get away from it so I decided that it was best to deal with it directly: along with the tremendous sense of accomplishment and pride that were part of my personal journey of making this film, I also came face to face with Failure.

The night that Caitlin and I shot our confrontation scene (the “Charlie/Lola fight”) was one of my first experiences on camera, my background being mostly theatre. Our rehearsals had been incredibly dynamic so I was excited to see what this night would bring. Our crew worked away to set up for the shot and we began shooting around 2 AM. At this point we’d been filming for two weeks and I’d spent considerable time on set. I knew how supportive, patient and wonderful everyone was but for some horrible reason when the moment of “action” came, I freaked out! I was overcome with the fear of disappointing everyone, wasting people’s time, ruining the film, proving that I was a fraud and shouldn’t have been asked to be a part of this project to begin with. . . in short, all of my nightmarish thoughts and visions swept over me like a tidal wave. And because I’d been so confident in our project and in us as a group, I didn’t think about or prepare myself for what the moment of “solo” time would be like. I wasn’t at all prepared for the sense of responsibility and ultimately the fear, the paralyzing fear that I would feel.

I don’t like to fail. Many would rightly ask, “Who does?!” But I really don’t like it. There are people I know who are braver when it comes to facing possible failure. This sounds like a value judgment and I really want to avoid making one. I just mean to say that I’ve found that some can roll with disappointment and risk better than others. I’m adventurous and will take huge risks, but risking failure, especially in a public setting, that’s not for me. I hated piano recitals, for example. HATED THEM. My teacher(s) required recitals every few months. I didn’t want to play in public. I didn’t want to be judged. I enjoyed playing for myself. I enjoyed the challenge of learning a new piece, working through it technically and then practicing to the point where I could feel myself in and through the piece. But it wasn’t for public consumption. I’d get too nervous and I didn’t like the attention. I couldn’t lose myself in the music the way I did when I was alone. I tried practicing really hard to perfect my pieces but I still got nervous and my fingers wouldn’t cooperate. I decided that practicing more and working harder was not the answer. Somehow it never occurred to me to practice not worrying so much, not caring if I made a few mistakes (or ten!) in front of people. As soon as I turned thirteen I decided I was old enough to quit playing the piano, so I did! Aside from those piano recitals, I haven’t experienced all that much failure in my life. I’ve been lucky I suppose that most of my risks have paid off. And most projects that were failures were shared ventures, so somehow my pain was mitigated. That night, however, even though our film set was incredibly collaborative, I felt utterly alone and afraid and I couldn’t shake it: I felt I was doing a terrible acting job, I was closed off, I didn’t make spontaneous choices, I was so tense that I started losing my voice (after the 14th take or so . . . kill me now!). Pretty much the only horror that didn’t come about that night was the earth opening up and swallowing me whole. And believe me, I actually prayed for that.

I kept fighting, each time feeling more and more defeated but I continued to fight. The problem is that I was fighting myself and descending deeper and deeper into my own hell. What truly breaks my heart is that I was so deeply disappointed in myself and so caught off-guard that I lost all faith and confidence in myself. My many years of work and study, my investment in my art, in my friendships, and in myself, it all counted for nothing. I was simply a terrible actress, a horrible friend and a colossal waste of time and space. It’s terrifying for a rational person who loves to achieve and excel to realize that there’s a powerful place in my psyche where all merit and worth count for nothing. At that moment I was a stranger in a strange land with no currency. I had no worth and I knew it. Worse than that, I believed it.

After Caroline (finally) decided to move on to another scene I sat on the back porch of Caitlin’s house, utterly exhausted and defeated. The sun was rising and the view across the backyard towards the water in the distance was stunning. I was so relieved it was over! Soon my girls were around me. I was dumbstruck and blindsided and for the first time in ages I felt I had no good explanation for or even an instinct about what had happened. Finally my tears were flowing and I once again felt the support and strength of these wonderful friends around me. Caitlin looked at me as I apologized over and over and she said “Sal, don’t apologize. We got the scene! We got it. And believe me, I’ve been where you are right now and I know it feels horrible. I’ve been there. And I’m telling you all these things that you’re thinking right now, they’re not true.” I’m filled with such gratitude when I think about that moment. The terrible thing about feeling that kind of paralyzing fear, that internal scramble and panic as it became clear to me that I was in the act of failing in the most public, open, and humiliating way, is that I lost all sense of being part of a community. I lost all sense of being there with my friends, my colleagues, my fellow artists. It was just me, in a glass cage, writhing in horror at my own pathetic self and they were witnesses to it. That moment was reduced to a “them and me” in the most acutely threatening way. It’s horrible and embarrassing to admit because I love and admire these women. But that moment wasn’t about them. Or our crew. Or the fucking birds that started chirping, marking the hours that had been wasted by my shitty acting. It was about my worst fears coming true: failing publicly when there was so much at stake professionally, personally, and artistically, and feeling utterly alone.

Miraculously, on our tight timetable and budget, Caroline finessed a way for us to reshoot the scene a week later. The experience was much better that time, thank god! I came prepared: I had a $100 bill in my backpack and had warned my dad that if the same thing happened I’d just start running and get as far as my $100 would take me and then figure out what the hell I was going to do with my life!

As fate or the director would have it, the footage in the final film is from that first night’s shoot! I was mortified when Caroline told me this but she assured me that it worked much better in the context of the whole film. Live and learn. I don’t control it all (what?! really?!) and therefore can’t give the “perfect” performance. I’m happy to say that Caitlin was right . . . we got it! I give all due credit to Caroline, to our editor Mikaela, and of course to Caitlin for making the scene work—but I can also watch my work and feel good about much of it. Thankfully, because it’s such a collaborative art form, there was room for me to experience this failure and still have this project be one of the things I’m proudest of. The art of filmmaking. Truly amazing.

Without romanticizing my experience of failure I can honestly say that I’m grateful for it. Grateful to know that I survived it. Grateful to realize how many gifts failure can bring. I was reading a section of Martin Heidegger’s Being and Time recently where he describes an experience of scheitern, most aptly translated as “shipwrecked” or “shattering.” He says that our success in real, genuine thinking, occurs only in and through the experience of shattering/shipwreck. Only through scheitern can we measure any progress. Failure is a time of facing fear. It’s a time of wrestling with the monster(s) head on, a time of experiencing a real-life nightmare. In that sense there’s something exhilarating about it. For a time (which to me felt excruciatingly long) I experienced the underbelly of so many drives, desires, and beliefs and got to deal with myself in an all-out crisis. While it was something I’ll always be grateful for, the shattering was very real and deeply felt, and like a pebble in a pond, the ripples extended out to other areas of my life. It broke my whole life open. The process of rebuilding, however, has made it possible for me to write part of this after a day of surfing in Bali . . . having traveled there after finally taking the risk to fall in love again.

One thing that I can say quite objectively is that part of the reason I experienced this shattering is because I was working with women who were much better at risking failure than I. Caitlin was writing her first movie and starring in it; Caroline, first-time co-writer and director; Emily B, acting and also producing for the first time; Susan, acting with us after having been our teacher; and Emily A-W, running the whole production and dealing with insurmountable tasks daily. All of these women were taking huge risks and it’s not that I wasn’t, but my risk felt communal, like we were all in it together. I discovered that for me, truly risking failure is about sticking my own neck out and facing the firing squad (or the chirping birds). What a gift, to have been pushed by circumstance and by these fierce spirits I’m lucky enough to call my friends, to get back on a track where failure is likely to be a more regular part of my life. It’s terrifying and exhilarating and the way I’ve always wanted to live. My life: an adventure! Thank you to everyone who has taught me about failure, by example or otherwise, and thank you to all of you who witnessed my failure that night (or the ripple-effect afterwards) and helped dust me off!

Failure is part of life, a part that I am starting to embrace as fiercely as possible. I’d like to become more expert at failing. What a terrifying thought!! But I’ve taken to heart the words of one of my favorite writers, Samuel Beckett: Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.

August 13, 2012   1 Comment

Belief in the YES

We got to premiere our movie in Waterville, Maine at the Maine International Film Festival — an amazing experience for all of us and also a lovely reunion with each other and the various people who helped make this film happen. After the screening which I was newly moved by–we made a GOOD movie on top of everything–the six of us who started the project plus our director of photography and our editor, all women, got up to do a Q&A. Being in front of an audience to answer questions about a film that is dear to your heart and that the audience may or may not have just enjoyed is nerve wracking. I was thankful that the questions were fantastic, insightful and enabled us to talk about the process of making a super low budget, first time movie in some depth.

So there were good questions and good answers, and then Gary Wheeler, one of the wonderful people who gave of themselves to help us make Like the Water, asked a final question of the group: “How did this process change you?” The girls started answering on the opposite end of the line and I started racking my brain for an answer. As the microphone was passed to me I realized the gift that our summer in Maine had given me: a belief in the yes. I’m generally a person who believes that people are going to say no to me. It’s just the way I approach the world. But in order to film our first movie for a very tight budget and in the great outdoors within a month, we needed all the yeses we could get. So I had to start asking for stuff, for free, on a daily basis. The funny thing that I never expected was that the people of Camden, Mid-Coast Maine, and the State of Maine at large offered our movie the yes before I could even ask, cheerfully and without asking for payback. One day when I stopped for gas at my favorite filling station between Camden and Rockland, I was talking about needing a ladder. We had an 8 ft, we had a 10 ft, but we needed a 14 ft for a specific shot we wanted to do. The cashier heard me and asked what I was up to. I told her about the movie and she said, “Well let me go out back and see if we have one.” They didn’t and we ended up finding one someplace else and got the shot we needed. But a week later I was at the same gas station and the same cashier was there and when she saw me she asked, “How did that ladder thing work out?” I was struck that she remembered me and wished us success. She embodied the yeses and the open arms we were welcomed with during our time in Maine.

Those open arms have not only continued to surround Like The Water but have made me more confident in the yes of life. It has changed me. It’s a powerful way to view the world and is due entirely to my experience in Maine making our movie.

August 6, 2012   No Comments

Behind the scenes of Like the Water

In honor of our premiere in just FOUR DAYS, and in anticipation of a glorious reunion in the state of Maine, here is a little insight to what it was like this make this movie together in such a spectacular place.

Music: “Life by the Mile,” by Andy Laird.

Editor: Kathleen O’Loughlin of KTO Video

 

July 10, 2012   No Comments

Director Caroline von Kuhn and an Exciting New Project!

I think a lot of first time directors might have looked scared or worried on their first day on set. Caroline looked exactly like a fish in water. Utterly at home, utterly comfortable, utterly in command. It was really impressive to watch as a creative partner but even moreso as a friend. I was producing for the first time and scared out of my wits on most days. That she seemed to walk on set knowing exactly what to do was impressive. I may or may not have done some google searches to see if she had, in fact, directed film before. She hadn’t.

I’ve since decided that Caroline must look at directing as a means to an end to get out into the world all the nuanced stories that live in her mind, and her calm and precision come from executing what she can see that most others probably can’t. Her latest endeavor, for which she departed for Norway exactly one day after we finished shooting Like the Water last year, is my proof of that. She has taken Peer Gynt, a Henrik Ibsen play (he’s the famous Norwegian playwright who wrote Hedda Gabler and A Doll’s House among others), and developed a theatre project in collaboration with a wheelchair using actor and using the contributions of the entire cast to unearth a story with which we all identify: a flawed soul wrestling with dreams and demons in pursuit of his fullest life.

Caroline has also taken the whole project to the next level: she enticed the Nationaltheatret of Norway to join as a co-producer and they’ve invited the whole team to their International Ibsen Festival this August for a developmental workshop, with the intention of producing the final production in 2014 which will travel to New York, London and Oslo. Caroline’s project represents the first American group they’ve invited in years and the first group that has a disabled and able-bodied integrated cast.

Her project is currently raising money and building steam. You should check out more about the project on their IndieGoGo page here:

http://www.indiegogo.com/thepeergyntproject?a=801957

And also check out the beautiful photos of the rehearsal process here:

www.thepeergyntproject.com

And, finally, like the on facebook here:

https://www.facebook.com/ThePeerGyntProject

Caroline is the consummate artist, tackling difficult intellectual material and injecting it with the human element, something with which we can identify across languages, cultures, and time.

July 9, 2012   No Comments

A Real Dude.

I know we’ve talked about so many great women involved in this production but I want to take a moment to talk about a dude. A gentleman and a badass. A real dude.

Ryan Croke

It takes a great, confident, kind guy with a sense of humor to work on a film crew with so many women, especially with a female producer, director and DP. And we lucked out with each person – guy or gal – who came onto this project. I constantly could not believe my luck or why these talented folks would want to jump on board with a first time director but jump – and jump fully – they did.

The dude I want to write a few words about is one Ryan Croke. Ryan had worked before with Eve Cohen, our cinematographer, and we were fortunate that Eve convinced him to come along for the ride. Ryan’s role was that of Grip but with our tiny crew (and even tinier budget) he served so many roles; it feels like false advertising that he is listed in our credits simply as “Grip.”

On one of our rare days off during our six-day shooting weeks, Ryan joined me on the front porch of the Mountain Street house in Camden, where we unwound each day by talking of life and film and drinking our free, sponsored PBRs. On this afternoon, before we joined the rest of the group for a lake swim, I got to hear about an incredible story Ryan was bringing to life through film.

I cannot begin to do Ryan’s friend Grant’s story justice, so I am not going to try. Ryan has promised to share his story in another post shortly but in the meantime, please do see his link below. Ryan spoke to me of Grant’s life – his injury, his recovery, his spirit, his continued athleticism and his joyful, adventurous living. Ryan’s celebration of this inspiring man reminded me of the power of documentary film, not just narrative, in portraiture, in expressing the gift and challenge it is simply to be human. Grant’s story and very person could hold one captive for hours, as it did me that July afternoon last summer with Ryan on the porch. Through his filmmaking, Ryan will be able to share this story – a story which really needs to be shared.

Each day I was in great awe that this cast and crew, most of whose experience greatly outweighed my own, were here serving this film with me and giving their every fiber of energy and talent. Hearing their stories of their own film pursuits was pretty awe-inspiring as well. Here was Ryan, having flown across the country to give his summer to work for next to nothing in Maine, taking on every responsibility that could come up on set and never losing his chill, positive vibes. Such a rock to each person lucky enough to meet him, such a giver. A true gentleman. And a badass. A real dude.

June 15, 2012   No Comments

Jane

We’re spending the time in anticipation of our premiere admiring the folks who made it possible. Today, I’m going to heap loads of love on a person who I think exemplified why were successful. She embodies generosity of spirit, hard work, and is an artist in her own right.

Oh, the glorious Jane Rosenthal, who flew herself out to Maine from LA because she wanted to be involved in a project she found out about through her parents, who are family friends of the FitzGeralds. She said, “I’ll be an intern.” In about 24 hours on the ground in Camden, she had rendered herself utterly indispensable. She was proactive, she took on all sorts of challenges, and if I may say, always looked marvelously cool doing whatever she was doing.

And while she makes a spectacular Key PA, she’s actually a published poet. And she edits a literary magazine. (Like I said, so COOL.) You should check out the offerings:

theneweryork.com, an experimental literary publisher and arthouse out of Brooklyn and Santa Monica.

Her poetry and thoughts are on a very well curated tumblr: Jane In Bed

And you can just go ahead an buy the awesome lit mag on Amazon. Do it.

From The Newer York:

May 30, 2012   No Comments

Big Girl Panties

Last summer scared the shit out of me.

I believe in fear.  I believe that it can be an extremely creative energy.  I know that when I get asked to do something and it scares the hell out of me, I have to do it.  Why?  Because every time I have felt extreme fear and moved through it, I have had the most rewarding experiences of my life.

Last summer was one of those experiences.  As the time to go to Maine drew near, what kept running through my head was: who the hell do we think we are????  We were 6 friends who had a bold vision, but no practical experience of getting a film made.  We were sure to fail miserably!!!  Oh God what have we done????

This is what I told myself and the other actresses on set:  it’s time to put on the big girl panties.  It’s time to live a life of bold dreams, no regrets, full of life force and vitality.  We pushed ourselves to our edges, and demanded that of our tribe members.  I did many things I have never done before:  acted with my students (terror!), howled and keened and wept and stormed (horror!), swam naked in the lakes (nausea-inducing!), took a Zumba class (?????!!!)… the list goes on…

Here’s what I learned:  every day I was scared, and every day I went to sleep feeling more alive than I ever have.  This idea of the big girl panties is so useful to me-that when I feel the little bratty part of myself taking over, when I feel fear and I start a little temper tantrum inside, and I fight to keep myself safe and small, I think of Maine.  I think of how I witnessed the women in my tribe stepping up in a big way.  I believe in their bigness, and I believe I stepped up too.  I believe in my bigness.   I silence the brat by taking bold steps despite the fear.  I believe in my big girl panties.

May 29, 2012   No Comments

Sorry to be a downer…

I came across this post on Indiewire and wanted to share with everyone, men and women. It is a sad reality that there are so few women getting to make movies in this business and it’s time for a change. It is flawed and unfair that 95% of the stories we are being told in film are coming from the boys. I wanna say to the ladies out there who dream about making their own movies- I can’t wait to see what you got, don’t wait for anyone to give you permission to get started,  and if they won’t let us in to Cannes, we’ll start our own damn festival!

 

May 24, 2012   No Comments

STAY HUNGRY

I can confidently say that the experience of making Like the Water changed my life. We set out, a group of women friends, to make a film that utterly bucks the trend. We didn’t really know that’s what we were doing, mind you. We thought we were making a movie about a young woman’s journey into herself that might speak to other women like us.  In the process of making the film, we also wanted to demonstrate – despite what every women-centered reality show will have you believe – that more than fighting, we collaborated with one another, supported each other, and were as a team much greater than the sum of our parts.

Finding funding for a bunch of first time filmmakers who are gearing their story towards an otherwise under-served (and therefore, mostly unproven) audience is an uphill battle, to say the least. We had many moments along the way where we nearly threw in the towel. We talked of pushing back production to the following year, of changing the parameters of the project and making a short, of scrapping it all together. And this was where it was crucial that we were a team: one person would dig in her heels and say, “No, we’re not giving up yet.” As individuals we sometimes fell prey to our fears, but as a group we were hungry for something larger than ourselves, something that would demand we all grow into the space it created.

And the experience of producing a micro-budget feature: the generosity of spirit, the personal risks, the hard work, the advice, the solace, the humor – the whole village it took to make it happen – gave me the confidence to strike out on my own and found Seed&Spark, a production company and digital platform I hope will help other filmmakers like us tell their stories their way and build their communities as they go. Building this new platform has me doing a lot of reading on everything from start-up funding to new financing models to personal narratives of filmmakers. Yesterday I read something in a Venture Capital advice column that put Steve Jobs’ famous words on what was perhaps my most valuable lesson from the women of Like the Water:

“Stay Hungry.”

Don’t give up. Don’t celebrate to early, either. Know that it will demand more than you think you have. It’s a long road and at every turn you benefit from putting one foot in front of the other because sometimes that’s all you can do.

I have many days where I don’t feel like doing anything, sitting alone in my office with the demand: “Make something happen!” But I’ll get an email from Caroline about a great offer of support from a film festival colleague or an update from Susan Main on a class she’s teaching in Italy or news from Caitlin that she’s booked another amazing acting job and I am reminded that we succeed because we are hungry to do more, to excel, to turn our ideas into realities.

And so I write the next iteration of the business plan. Or I call the person I’ve been shy to call. One foot in front of the other. Hungry.

 

May 22, 2012   No Comments