I’m writing this because I do not live in NYC, LA, Austin, Seattle, or any hub of indie moviemaking. (Actually, LA isn’t really an indie film hub, though I do know a few indie filmmakers that live there.) I live in a part of upstate New York where it’s difficult to find jobs, period, let alone film jobs. Nobody likes a pity party, especially an internet based one, but at this point, I’m not sure what else to do.
Three years ago, I started work on a film I’m still working on. Maybe I was naïve about all this, but I honestly didn’t think it would take this long to make it. For starters, it took me well over a year to write the first draft of the script. During this time, I was laid off from the job that inspired the project, and because those jobs were shipped to the Philippines, my co-workers and I were given Trade Act Funding (TAA). Since I figured this was likely a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, I decided to enroll in an online program through SUNY Morrisville. Since I already have a four year degree, I signed up for the one-year certificate program. I was hoping that when I finished the program, in 2012, I’d be able to shoot the movie then. May 2012, I finished the program, but no movie.
To compound things, I had to look for a job. I thought that once I had a decent, well-paying job, I could really focus on the movie again. 2013 came around, and my unemployment ran out. In the meantime, though, I did manage to contact a producer I met at SXSW 2012 to write a budget for me and she agreed. She suggested that I whittle it down 120 pages, which I’m still working on.
I attended SXSW 2013 with the help of family and friends. There was more in going down there than it was to stay up here and continue looking for work. With the exception of 2010, I have gone down every year since 2008. Since 2009, I have attended the festival as press on behalf of The Film Panel Notetaker. It wasn’t a terrible festival experience by any means, but it also was more of a letdown than it’s been in the past. I didn’t see all the people I normally see. I hoping to gain more momentum for this project, and came away disappointed. After I got back, though, I did do a little work on the script (namely, whittling it down) with a friend of mine, who, unbeknownst to me, was already becoming very sick.
In May, I caught a bit of a lucky break. A break that I wish had happened ten years ago, five years ago, or maybe even two years ago after I was laid off. The Amazing Spider-man 2 shot some second unit work in downtown Rochester. I got hired on as a Set PA for the final two days of shooting. Spider-man may not be the movie I ultimately aim to make as a filmmaker, but it gave me an opportunity to work on a movie that wasn’t my own, and a chance to see how “The Big Boys” play. I took this with the hopes that maybe I can parlay this experience into doing more work on the production side of things.
The David Byrne and Kathleen Hanna quotes I posted earlier resonated with me. I’m at a point in my life where the hardships are just getting to be plain hard. Kathleen Hanna had a lot more notoriety at my age now (the age I believe when she had that breakdown), but I can identify with feeling like I’ve put in a lot of effort into my passions without having much of a payoff.
For awhile, I began to explore the wine industry as a possible day job. Wine is the big industry here, and I began applying to every winery within fifteen miles of where I live. Earlier this fall, I worked as a harvest volunteer at two wineries. I learned a lot about the local wine industry and met some very nice people. But ultimately, I realized that it was a way of avoiding the inevitable…dealing with the unhappiness of my current situation.
Last month, I attended the Woodstock Film Festival, even though I wasn’t (and still am not) in the best financial situation. As an opportunity to have a respite from my recent problems, it was great. It had its highlights: Seeing Martha Frankel and her Actors’ Dialogue is always a pleasure. I also enjoyed the documentary panel, wherein Judith Helfland gave advice that I wish I had heard five years ago: if you want to work on film, especially if you’re a woman, find work as an editor, or as a soundperson. I don’t know if I care much about editing, but location sound work sounds interesting to me. Or at least operating a boom sounds interesting to me. And I liked all the films I saw. On a certain level, though, it was a bust: other than seeing Frankel, I didn’t see anyone I really knew, or liked to see. I had to drive everywhere, and one night on the way to a party in Kingston, I had a panic attack driving down Route 28. Driving in the dark in the rain on a road I barely know was just too much. I ended up skipping the party entirely, drove back to where I was staying in Saugerties, and called it an early night. One thing this festival DID do for me, though, was that it made me realize that I still want to do film, but that maybe I need to do something different.
At the end of October, I got hired for two jobs at The Outlet Mall, one permanent and one seasonal. Unlike last summer, I don’t miss not working. Yet, I don’t feel like I really belong in customer service anymore. I’ve never particularly enjoyed doing customer service positions. In the past, I could put up with doing them, though, because the payoff was that I could travel to SXSW, NYC, or any other festival and network. I’m not making as much money as I was in the summer, but I feel like I would feel this way if I were making more money in a tasting room. After more than a year of seriously looking for work, the Outlet Mall is the best I can do? Between this and what I have to deal with in terms of my film career, I feel like I’m juggling disappointments.
I don’t want to get out of film, but after nearly six years of going to festivals, giving money to the Kickstarter Campaigns of other filmmakers, as well as working on my own project, it bothers me that my efforts have yet to yield any real payoff. I’ve never been asked to work on anyone’s film, though that doesn’t bother me as much as people not committing to my film. Aside from the producer, I’ve had a couple of prospects, but no one genuinely interested. The one thing in my life that I’m truly passionate about is giving me more pain than pleasure right now, and it’s been that way for awhile. Until very recently, though, I’ve been in denial about it.
What am I not doing? At a panel I attended at SXSW, the panelists talked about that it is helpful to live in a place where you can be plugged in. Craig Zobel talked about living in Athens, GA for awhile after his movie The Great World of Sound came out, and felt like he was not as “plugged in” as he had been. I’ve stuck it out here because of this project (as well as other factors). Now, it’s beginning to feel claustrophobic. Yet, I cannot afford to leave. I desperately want things to start happening on this project, and would like to shoot it sooner rather than later. Having to find a job better suited for me (if not a “dream job”) makes things all the more complicated. Out of fear of being snarked at, I’ve avoided talking about this in the past. But I feel that for as long as I’ve been doing this, I’ve earned the right to complain.