The Insider’s Guide to Independent Film Distribution

I really love this book. So much I decided to post my Amazon review here on my blog!

Author: Stacey Parks

When my latest documentary film went into postproduction I began trying to figure out how to work with distributors. It was all so overwhelming, especially these days with digital distribution added to the mix. I looked right here on good old Amazon and found this gem of a book. I learned so much in a few days and I put the practices from the book to work for me right away. Before long I had two distributors biting on my film. Both sent contracts for us to look over and once again, Stacey’s book was a plethora of information on contracts and checking distributor references. My favorite part of the book was the interviews with distributors. With the book and our contracts in hand I was able to decipher all of the legalese and figure out what I needed to negotiate for.

Park’s book strikes an excellent balance between digital and conventional distribution models. The book gave me the confidence to actually have a conversation with a distributor and know what I was talking about and what to ask for.   I am happy to keep this book on my bookshelf and use it again and again.

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New Year, Old Friends

The entertainment industry shuts down from December 22nd through the first week in January every year. I usually take a few trips during that time. I spend a few days around Christmas with my family in Oklahoma and then the rest of the time I have traveled to many different destinations throughout the world, but the last few years I have mainly stateside and spending more time with my family.  Is a nice change, but I know it won’t last. Eventually I will find somewhere else to go after I spend Christmas with them.  This year I decided to see old friends. Some I had not seen in 15 years.  I would do a loop.   Two guys I had not seen since the military lived in Denver Colorado. Since I was in Oklahoma I wasn’t to far away. Also, at the bottom of the state of Oklahoma was my friend Dusty, another old friend from the Navy. I have kept in touch with Dusty since I got out and we have spent much time together as well. I decided I would do a 6 state loop. I spent some time planning out my route and also to shoot some old and abandoned places. I rented a car in Oklahoma and then drove west. First stop was Cheyenne Wyoming. I stayed the night and the next morning ventured out to Laramie and then Centennial.  I could only go so far up the mountain road after I passed Centennial. Too much snowfall and the road was blocked off by the park rangers. I snapped this picture near the closure point. Snowmobile heaven.

Centennial  Wyoming

Centennial Wyoming

 

After I came to the end I turned around and headed for Denver. I took Highway 287 through the mountains.

Wyoming highway 287

I shot this in Wyoming along Highway 287

 

I had not seen Todd and Lenny since October of 1997. We had just finished a 6-month deployment around the world and for many of us, this meant the end of our 4-year enlistment. We were all just kids then. Excited to finally be able to get out. Wondering what lay ahead for us. We were what they called “short” as in short timers. I had 4 months left of my enlistment when my ship, the USS Constellation pulled back into San Diego. On the drive down I wondered what their lives would be like now. All I knew was their youth. Now these guys where men.

colorado

 

When I got to Todd’s house he came out and we met mid way on the sidewalk. We hugged instantly and shook hands hard. A lot of feelings came rushing back to me. I saw a montage of my time in the Navy and our fun times together. The best part about seeing someone from your past is that they remind you of things you did. Memorable moments. I had forgotten all about the memorable hot-tub moment with my then girlfriend Arian. We were getting naked, drunk and laughing way too loud in our little hot-tub party. We were at Todd’s apartment complex where he had just moved in. Luckily the landlord was cool about it all and just made us get dressed and go back in the apartment. Seeing him now he looked older but still the same. Gone was the boy and now a man had taken his place I lost touch with Todd after we both got out. Things happen and my life after those first few months of being out where chaotic. We didn’t have cell phones then or even Facebook. Keeping touch meant writing things down. On paper. Papers get lost. Years later after many searches and finally with the invention of Facebook, I found Todd and then Lenny. It was really good to see them. Lenny looked older but still the same. Both where doing well. How much they both had changed. We talked for many hours about the good old days.

USS Constellation Vets

Old friends new memories

I spent a super tame new years eve with them. We drank and laughed for most of the night. The next morning I got up early and Todd and I sat and talked for a while before I had to leave. We had a great time and it was great to see them both.

Red Rocks Amphitheater

Todd took me to see Red Rocks Amphitheater. Here is a shot of it:

 

On my way down to New Mexico I found this ghost town called Ludlow Colorado:

ludlow

I stopped in Whiteflat Texas outside of Amarillo and snapped this old school:

Old School in Whiteflat  Texas

Old School in Whiteflat Texas

 

And then I found this church in Electra Texas. A huge owl lives there so I didn’t venture too far into the church.

Abandoned Church in Electra Texas

Abandoned Church in Electra Texas

Abandoned Church in Electra Texas

Abandoned Church in Electra Texas

 

 

When I finally got to the Oklahoma state line I drove to Dusty’s house and stayed the night. Dusty was also in the Navy and we were also roommates in an apartment condo we shared near the beach in San Diego. By the time I made it to his house,  I had logged close to 2,000 miles on the rental car.

Dusty-Fellow vet  and friend.

Dusty-Fellow vet and friend.

 

It was a great trip. Dusty is the one vet I’ve mostly kept in touch with all of these years. We were roommates back in San Diego too. We lived in a condo that was close to the ship and also close to the beach. We had so many good times back then. It’s always great to see these guys. We all have the same stories and we all relate to each other on a deeper level than most people who have never experienced wartime situations on the front lines. These guys had my back and I had theirs. Its what you do when you’re in the military. After all of these years, the bonds are still strong between us all. For nearly four years these men where my neighbors, my friends, my brothers and my protectors. Experiencing traumatic events with others brings you close. It’s different to see it on the other side now.

Lake near Marietta Oklahoma

Lake outside of Marietta Oklahoma

 

From The Other Side

I’ve been in Los Angeles for 6 years now. It’s such a large city that it takes time getting to know places and to figure out where you are and where you want to be. I moved here pre smart phone. I remember having stacks of printed Google map locations in my car along with a Thomas Guide. My system worked pretty well, but at times I would get lost and have to call someone. Roommates, friends, ex girlfriends and acquaintances have all taken me to different places throughout the city over the years. Showing me the way around. It’s been sort of a patchwork quilt of familiarization for me. Experiences both good and bad are vividly remembered when I rediscover places in my travels around the city. It’s like seeing something again that you’d forgotten about, but from a different side.  A new perspective. When it happens, I often replay the experience in my mind about what I was doing and whom I was with.

Last night I was on a rooftop looking out over Hollywood Boulevard when I spotted a familiar coffee shop down below. Years ago I  remember being there with my laptop using the free wireless, drinking the cheapest cup of coffee on the menu and looking for work. I was so poor then. I had lost my car to engine failure, and didn’t have the financial resources to fix it. I had to ration my food as I waited on the results of whether or not I’d be accepted into the food stamp program. I had a subway pass and 10 bucks to my name. Luckily my girlfriend at the time offered me a place to stay so I wouldn’t be homeless. I came so close to that.  It was such a dark time then.  When the call came that day to be one of the producers of a play  being developed for a run at the Geffen Theater, I almost lost it with excitement. The people around me sensed something good had happened and one asked if I got a callback. I said, “Yes.  It’s to produce a play here in LA.” After that people started asking about auditions and who was directing it. I felt my reasons for being here were now justified. Previously I’d flirted with the idea of getting a regular job so I could eat and survive, but then why was I out here? Looking over the boulevard it makes me feel so warm tonight. I’ve come a long way since then and seeing it from the other side makes me really appreciate all that I’ve had to overcome.

A Beginner’s Guide to SuperStorm Sandy

My friend and fellow veteran Peter J.F. Meijer (In the photo he is the one holding the sign) wrote this recently and I feel honored that he allowed me to place it on my blog. 

 

A Beginner’s Guide to SuperStorm Sandy

For the past three weeks I have been living Hurricane Sandy. From working in the NYC Office of Emergency Management the night before the storm to search and rescue during and evacuation shelter management and debris removal after, I have been in the eye of this storm. I could write a book about everything that has taken place, and may very well do so, but here is the first of many dispatches I will send out. The following is a brief rundown of my work with Team Rubicon, a disaster response and humanitarian aid organization that mobilizes military veterans to respond to crises. If you are in New York, please come on out to volunteer! All are welcome; contact me and I will let you know where to be and when. Our operations in the Rockaways will be running for at least another two weeks. For previous dispatches, please check out my blog atwww.PajamaRadio.com

 

The reporter from Newsweek was trying to get a sense of timeline. The past couple days had been a jumble, with day bleeding into night, chaos into tranquility. Salt stains drew jagged line across my torso. I had little in my system save cigarettes, Red Bull, and the occasional Power Bar. I felt alive. The reporter was confused.

“Okay, let’s start at the beginning. What were you doing when you learned you would be working Hurricane Sandy?” He was interviewing me about a rescue I performed in the eye of the storm. My narrative could be afforded a certain amount of give.

“I was on the North Fork winery-hopping while dressed as Captain Kirk.”

It’s hard to make this stuff up. I did fudge things a little. Truth was, it was a friend who was dressed as Kirk. I had been assigned the redshirt, the disposable actor who was often the first to die during Star Trek landing parties. I didn’t know this during our tasting sessions until Trekkie after Trekkie told me to stay safe. For the interview it was a little white lie, Shatner-ized so as to be even more ridiculous. The truth is often so.

By the Wednesday morning interview I was going on roughly six hours of sleep since Sunday, the day before Sandy pummeled the eastern seaboard. After leaving the evacuation shelter my first stop was my new, still-being-renovated apartment. Before Sandy, its location just a block in from the river had been a selling point. Access to Hudson River Park, the Highline, and Chelsea Piers in the heart of Manhattan’s chic Meatpacking District.

Until Monday, the river’s splendor was figuratively at the door of my ground floor, on-the-street apartment. Then, thanks to Sandy’s storm surge, it was literally to my door. Funny how quickly an erstwhile selling point can drop resale values. I was fortunate that, though it lapped at my threshold, no water flooded my home. Not so for tens of thousands in the area.

None of this was at the top of my list of concerns Monday night. Since we starting working Sandy our primary mission was assisting the city with emergency shelter management. We ferried non-emergency patients, delivered supplies, and inspected shelters to see how to improve operations. I was at a shelter in Brooklyn as the storm rolled in when a volunteer from Gerritsen Beach pulled me aside. Her disabled husband had stayed at home while she went to a shelter to volunteer. Their home was in Zone B, which was recommended evacuation, as opposed to the mandatory evacuation in Zone A. But the sea was rising, and her husband called to say that the water had already started flooding their one-story house.

She asked me if I could go check on him. I directed her to call 911 and continued to oversee operations. She came back fifteen minutes later, saying the water was still rising, 911 was busy, and the storm had blocked the front and back doors, trapping her husband inside. I directed her to call the local police precinct, looking up the number for her. She came back ten minutes later, saying the water was still rising, no one was answering the phones at the local police precinct, and her husband had to struggle up a ladder into the attic to temporary safety. Nearing hysterics, she pleaded for us to do something, not knowing when the storm surge might peak.

My partner was dealing with a news crew that wasn’t supposed to be filming inside the shelter. I had an idea. I pulled my partner aside and laid out my plan to solve both issues. There wasn’t strict consensus; we were not supposed to do search and rescue. After a rather spirited conversation in which I may or may not have made an expletive-rich argument about not coming out there to sit on the sidelines, my partner relented. We briefed the news crew on our changed mission and offered them a seat. Literally jumping at the opportunity, they followed us out the door and into our van. Off we went.

By then the city had ordered all municipal personnel to seek shelter, but we guilted our driver to continue on. The winds were already gusting at hurricane-strength, knocking down trees before cruelly watering them with buckets of driving rain. Via iPhone navigation we got within a half-mile of our target before the water grew too deep to continue. We jumped out of the van to see a guy unloading a rowboat full of people he had already pulled out. I asked him if we could tag along. He hollered, “Come with me or get left behind!” We each grabbed a side of the boat and drove on.

The news crew got out. The reporter wanted to follow along, but her cameraman protested in no unclear terms that he wouldn’t bring their expensive equipment into the eye of the storm. We left them behind as the wind blew down branches, power lines snapping and whipping the air. Sandy summoning Xerxes, the wind catching snapped electrical cables, lashing the surge in anger. In the distance we could see the Rockaways burning, like a faint sliver of sun rising on the horizon.

Imagine your neighborhood under four to eight feet of water. Headlights from submerged vehicles casting an eerie underwater glow. At first the water was to our knees, then our waists, and reached up to our armpits. Stumbling over unseen obstacles and struggling against the current we drove on. As debris flew and wind gusts topped 80mph it dawned on me that I might not have made the best decision, but there was no turning back. As we passed cars we checked to ensure that no one was stuck inside, and yelled out to homeowners to see if there were any emergencies. After wading into a couple other homes identified as folks in need we reached our target. His deck had floated up and blocked the front door; debris in the kitchen was pushed to the back of his house and stacked up by the storm surge. We hacked and pulled and freed a path inside, shoutingTom! Tom! until we heard him respond from the attic. We led him carefully down the stairs as he clutched his dog, Buddy, in his arms. Escorting Tom to a waiting boat, we made our way back to the van and drove him to the shelter.

We got what we needed, and so did the news crew: http://www.ny1.com/content/top_stories/171575/soldiers-bring-knowledge-to-brooklyn-rescue-effort

(If you got a story might as well tell it; we’re a donor-based organization after all.) Other highlights:

– http://usnews.nbcnews.com/_news/2012/11/01/14838500-war-veterans-hit-sandys-front-lines-for-rescues-cleanup?lite

– http://articles.nydailynews.com/2012-11-10/news/35038012_1_vets-rockaways-tour-bus

– http://www.newstatesman.com/world-affairs/2012/10/new-york-teeth-hurricane-%E2%80%93-heroes-and-errors

And that was just my first 24 hours of Sandy. I have been working her non-stop since. Highlights included quelling a lunch-lady riot, dealing with heroin addicts who were cut off from crucial doses of methadone, fixing a constantly-failing generator, driving into the Rockaways during Winter Storm Athena against a stream of evacuating National Guard and FEMA personnel, watching fistfights break out among quarreling clergy, and sleeping in the same clothes for six days while living but 40 minutes from my apartment. Plenty more stories to tell, but not enough time. Not just yet, when there is so much more work to be done.

If you would care to make a donation to support our efforts, please head on over here: http://fundraise.teamrubiconusa.org/fundraise?fcid=218129 . Exactly 100% of donations go to field operations, and any unused donations are refunded. More stories to follow in due time.

 –Peter J.F. Meijer

Chili Cookin’

I love making chili this time of year when the temperature drops. I make it from scratch. Instead of red meat I use turkey meat. It’s a much better meat and better for you.

Here is my recipe:

1-2 lbs. of ground turkey (or rabbit, or deer or beef) meat browned and drained

1 tsp. each of:

Oregano, basil, Italian seasoning, time, garlic powder (not salt! never use garlic salt please!), and onion powder

2 tablespoons of paprika

Grind up some dried chili peppers or buy it ground up and make about 1/2 cup

1 bay leaf

Cayenne pepper (only if you like it spicy. Otherwise leave this out!)

1 tablespoon of salt (optional)

Dice one bell pepper

Dice 1 small onion or 1 half of a regular onion.

Sauté bell pepper and onion in olive oil for 5 minutes.

Use a crock-pot or a large pot and dump all the ingredients into it.

Add 1 8oz can of tomato sauce and then add two 8 oz. cans of water.

Add one 140z can of kidney beans

Cook for 2 hours on medium low heat stirring frequently.

1/3 cup of masa flour. If you don’t know what that is, go to a Mexican supermarket or market and go to the flour aisle. You will see masa flour. masa flour is used to thicken the chili and you use it right before you serve it. It’s the last thing that goes into the pot before you dish it out. Be sure and stir it in good and check the consistency before serving. Too thick?  Use water and stir stir!

Let the chili rest for 5 minutes on NO heat before serving.

You can of course use a mix, but it won’t taste as good. I promise you that. If you have to use one, use the best of them all: Carrol Shelby’s chili mix. It’s everywhere so it’s easy to find. He’s a fellow Texan and of course who could forget the Shelby Cobra car from Ford? Yep that’s him. He is responsible for a lot of Detroit power. The man does make some good chili and we both use the same ingredients.

 

Enjoy!

 

Winnebago Man

So last night my friend Allia and I watched the documentary film Winnebago Man.  It’s a story about Internet sensation and Winnebago pitch man, Jack Rebney, who’s colorful and aggressive commentary between takes from commercial filming went viral long before the Internet helped it achieve worldwide popularity. For years it was literally passed around on VHS tapes and for years no one knew what happened to Jack until filmmaker Ben Steinbauer hired a P.I. to find him.

When Ben finally found Jack he did not believe he was a star. He admits later to putting on an act when the filmmaker hunts him down and we meet him for the first time.  The story is there is no real story. We meet Jack and that was that, but then Steinbauer starts digging deeper and realizes that Jack is a fragile man whose eyesight is starting to fade due to the onset of glaucoma. Over the next few months and oncoming years, we see Jack grappling with old age and failing health. Locked in a constant battle with Steinbauer, Jack fights with him about what he wants to say to people. Upon the completion of the film, Steinbauer films himself and Jack along with his best friend at the Found Footage Festival in San Francisco. Jack speaks to the audience. He is charming, witty and funny, and his passionate anger about Dick Cheney makes the crowd go wild.

Here is the trailer:

 

Used to Be a Cowboy…

Horse,

Saddle,

Saddle blanket,

Bridle.

Oh and a brush to quickly comb the horse’s back before placing the saddle. When I lived on the ranch I could do all of this in about 10 minutes. That includes catching the horse. You had to be quick on the ranch. Ready for things that randomly happen. If a fence is low a cow will jump over it. If a fence is weak a cow will plow right through it. The threshold for pain is amazing.  We spent many a summer in sweltering 100 degree Texas heat meticulously fixing every inch of 1500 acres of fence line. Riding our horses up and down the fences daily. Always on the lookout for compromise.

East Texas winters are harsh and always bring lots of rain, ice and even snow. Catching 1500 pound cows in freezing rain can be a deadly disaster. This happened to us one early evening right around dusk when dad saw some cows break through the fence surrounding one of our lakes. When the weather dipped below freezing we would often keep the herd away in favor of heated water troughs. It was 5 degrees below zero that evening and the frozen rain felt like daggers on our skin as we stepped away from the house and into the truck. Dad and I could barely hear each other talking because the ice was raining down so hard. We soon realized we had to do this on foot as it was going to be impossible to do it with a truck or a horse. We wrapped up with our cattleman’s coats and pulled a poncho over that and our old felt cowboy hats we each had for situations such as this. At first it was damn near impossible to not fall over from the weight of the frozen ice dropping on us and slipping on what was on the ground. We soon learned to maneuver by spreading our legs a little wider when we walked. Balancing our shoulders and arms in a triangular fashion to withstand the weight of the ice pouring down on us. Dad had a large heavy-duty spotlight that normally would shine 50 feet, but tonight it was less than 5. We could barley see from all the ice coming down. We made our way to the pasture gate and I had to pull my glove off to unhook the latch, which was frozen solid. Dad remembered to bring a hammer and I beat on the latch until it broke free. By this time I couldn’t feel my hand or the hammer in my hand and was barely able to get my glove back on. We found the cows under a small grove of trees and proceeded cautiously. They were scared so we turned off the light, which then caused the cows to spook and scatter. The smart ones left the pasture, but two cows darted for the lake. We tried to run after them but pretty soon we heard the sound of hooves on ice. One cow stopped, realizing the herd had gone the opposite direction, turned toward us and ran. We had to move out of the way to let her pass.  The other cow moved farther across the lake.  You could hear the ice creak and moan from the weight of each hoof beating down on it. The cow finally sensed something was wrong and stopped. The creaking sound reach a fever pitch before it snapped and water started rushing in. The animal fought, kicking the ice and clawing at it desperately trying to dig itself out of the hole it had created. Her breathing was heavy as she bellowed out for help in a crazed adrenaline fueled frenzy. Pretty soon the bellowing sounds began to lose intensity and her pitch changed to a muffled whine. Her breathing began to slow as hypothermia set in. Slower and slower her breathe became weaker and then one last burst of energy to fight with the ice before the breathing stopped abruptly. We hung our heads in defeat. Powerless. The rain had all but stopped now and the winter silence was all that was left. Normally we would have shot the animal to put it out of its misery, but I had forgotten my pistol in the rush to save the animals.

The next morning I got up early and picked up our ranch hand Manuel, before heading down to the lake. When we got there we could see that the water had frozen around her. Her eyes frozen a solid white making her appear ghost like. Her whiskers frozen with a light dusting of snow and ice covering her back. Frozen in a state of action, her front legs plowed into the punctured ice sheet around her. I felt bad for her and wished things had been different. Manuel slid across the ice and was able to fish a small cable around her front legs, which we then tied to her head for a makeshift harness. The harness was then attached to a larger chain from the winch on the front of the tractor. I grabbed my shotgun from the cab of the tractor and shot the ice around her. After 3 blasts the ice broke and she quickly slipped below the surface. Manuel tightened the winch and slowly pulled her across the ice, the winch groaning from the strain. We left her under a small grove of trees and headed back to the house for coffee.