blatant, black reality.

To preface, I’m not really sure why I’m writing this. Maybe it’s for you, maybe it’s for us. My heart has been at odds with writing/filmmaking as of late. So, I figured I’d funnel some scrambled words onto the internet, to you.

I have all the ingredients for a burnt meal of failure: I hated reading as a kid, I made a 17 on my ACT, I made a C in freshman English class, I went to a college that had one C stand, I have no education on writing or directing films and I love Jesus. As you surely know, a vast majority of Christians make terrible films. These are the things that run through my fickle mind. True things, yet to which I scream, “RUDY!”.

All odds were against little RUDY (Sean Astin). The scrawny little body of his could barely cage his raging heart. Sleep was no match for his big dreams of playing on that Notre Dame field. I’m not a huge sports movie guy but I recently saw it for the first time in years and it filled my little brown eyes with tears of joy. He wanted it so badly! Nothing could stop him, nothing could crush his goals. After each big hit, after every let down, after every rejection, he kept on gettin’ up. He would not and did not give up. In simpler terms, he put in THE  WORK.

DREAMS vs. GOALS. Apples and oranges, my friend.

I’ve had younger guys come to me and express their aspirations to become a screenwriter and without wasting a breath, and with my wand of discernment tightly clasped in my hand, I quickly realize that they don’t truly WANT it. It’s more of like, “Yeah, I think I could write scripts. I just don’t have time.” To that, I say, if you truly wanna do something, you’ll make time.

I don’t think they know that writing means working 24/7 because it’s all in your head. Your head doesn’t clock out at 5. My brain houses a jumbo gym for ideas and I’m the only employee. Quentin Tarantino worked on Inglourious Basterds for ten years. You can’t just grow a blond mustache and wear short shorts to be Larry Bird; you gotta put in the work. I’m the Karate kid’s kid. I’m the patch on a Private’s arm. I’m no master or veteran of screenwriting but in the little time I’ve attempted to do so, I have tasted the lonely solitude it requires.

I don’t go out on the weekend. I barely see movies. I sit in the dark in my $10 writing chair from Goodwill with back sweat drizzling down like condensation on a cup. With fear and uncertainty oozing from my fingertips, I type little, black letters, one by one into the white abyss. Apart from working on set and spending time with my girlfriend, my closest friend is my laptop. Honorable mentions: other writer friends who let me vomit ideas on them day and night. Mostly night.

After hopelessly watching my queue of shootable scripts stack up a few months ago, I asked myself, “If I never became a director and I could only write for people, would I?”

Yes.

I want to direct movies more than anything, especially my own writings but the answer to the question above was something I needed to know before I got into a complicated, life-long relationship with writing. I had to make sure I wanted it. I don’t write and direct because I want to be known for it. If I wanted to be known for something, I’d pursue acting. Actors have faces. The average movie goer has no clue there was a script, let alone a writer. Writers are faceless ghosts trampled under the red carpet. Everyone just wants the switch – they don’t want Edison and his 10,000 failures. I write and direct because it’s what I crave, what makes my blood boil, why I don’t sleep and, why I wake up.

HUNGER vs. STARVATION. Tomatoes and potatoes, mi amigo. (I hate tomatoes by the way.)

Put a starving person and a hungry person in the colosseum and see who walks out alive. Desperation knows no rules. Most guys my age are just kind of hungry, not sure what they’re exactly craving for dinner. Now, I’m not saying I want to kill people like a gladiator. I’d hope to share whatever food scraps I can get with the next guy. What I am saying is that I’m waiting in line, starving.

I know it’s one of the seven deadliest sins in the religion of film, but I don’t drink coffee. I usually stick to a morning cup of blatant, black reality to get me going. It tastes like humble beginnings. Though it’s bitter, and no it’s not sweet, it’s healthy for my heart. I’m a nobody in the world of film. I’m an extra in the background, just trying to find something to stand on so I can see how it’s done. Even if the odds are never in my favor, I’m just gonna be waiting for my chance to get on the field, even if my mom is the only one chanting “Rudy.”

Whether it’s film, acting, writing, or whatever you want to do in this life, don’t let a stop sign held by inadequacy hold you back. Put in the work. It’ll be a long, bumpy road, filled with many a fork in the way. Just check both ways and then send that gas pedal to hell. Roll your windows down and give that blank piece of paper in front of you a nice one-finger salute and write on, my friend. Write on.

One of my favorite filmmakers, Salomon Ligthelm, says it best in this gorgeous little piece. https://vimeo.com/90667610

I surrender to the great abyss.

Before you go, take a couple minutes and revel in the inspiration of a beautifully written scene from one of the greatest trilogies of all time, starring none other than Sean Astin. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Soe8ayi3ScE

Sean Astin & I on set of MOMS’ NIGHT OUT last year. In theaters May 9th, 2014.

unknown waters

This season of life has been one in the water, swimming through the black abyss of questions. I’m drifting across unknown waters hoping to find an island where I can make movies and get married. The water doesn’t have to be crystal clear and I don’t need a mini umbrella in my coconut. I just need an island. Somewhere to stand would be nice.

I’m in a post-college-trying-to-figure-out-how-to-become-a-filmmaker season. There’s no forecast, no map, rain or shine. I take the days one-by-one.

My arms feel like lifeless noodles, but they keep raisin’ to the sky, digging in, moving me forward, one stroke at a time. At times, sharks swim up beside me and cause some waves, using their talent of discouragement. The great whites that swim in my heart and the hammerheads posing as friends come hungry for blood, circling me. Sometimes they get a good bite but sometimes I stick a pressurized scuba tank into their mouths and pull a much needed trigger. (That was a JAWS reference.) Sometimes I feel like I’m trying to climb a ladder with no arms. “Will I ever write anything good? Will I ever become a real filmmaker?” I don’t know the answer to those questions but… I’m still breathing and I’m still writing.

Obviously to become a filmmaker, by definition in my own personal dictionary, one would have to, funny enough, make movies. There’s no three step program on how to become a successful filmmaker. There’s no recipe, no easy button. Some guys go to film school, while other guys don’t finish high school. The common denominator between them is unyielding, unrelenting passion. Desperate passion. I think desperate people will succeed. Lots of people talk about becoming a filmmaker but they spend more time on Facebook. They spend more time wishing than making. Lots of kids wanna play in the NBA but only a few play in the rain for hours until their hands are raw. There are hundreds of yellow brick roads that lead to the big screen. I’m trying to lay my bricks.

I want to be a filmmaker for the rest of my life, short-lived or old and gray. That’s what I do all day and it’s what I think about all night. My mind won’t stop. I’ve even asked it nicely at times, so I can sleep like a normal human being but NOOOOOOO. Now, I don’t want to be the best filmmaker ever because I won’t be. I don’t wanna be the next ____________. I just want to tell the stories I need to tell and the ones no one else will. Stories told honestly from the soul in it’s rawest, truest form. I want to encapsulate an atmosphere of love and honesty that allows everyone on my set to be themselves, truly. Film sets are one of the greatest places to build relationships. Credits will one day be forgotten in the tomb of things that don’t matter but the intentional, meaningful conversations won’t be. That’s why I do what I do.

Now, don’t think I’m on my knees coining for your money. I’m walking down the streets, putting in the work, looking for dropped dimes. I try to be the hardest worker on set but even still, a film career doesn’t come from my hand alone. It comes from God and it comes from the opportunities He’s given me. So to all the men and women who’ve allowed me to work on a set, who’ve given me opportunities to be stretched and taught, thank you. I owe it to you. From the palm of your hand, I eat like a hungry rat, starving for experience.

I’m a nobody. I’m not a rock star, I’m not a superhero, I’m not saving the world, I’m just trying to make some meaningful films.

If “thank you” were a cuss word, I’m about to swear your pants off. I’d tighten that belt if I were you.

For anyone who’s seen anything on VHS footage of hurricane/wannabe jackass videos in Florida (The Fruits in 2006), to a film of me with a shaved head beating up my brother (no.14 in 2013), I just want to thank you for watching. Thanks for believing in a skinny homeschool kid with hopes as high as everest of making movies. Thank you for encouraging me, for pushing me to be better, for pouring your life into me. Thanks to the people who’ve read and given notes on my scripts. Thanks to all who have helped me on set at one point, even if you had better things to do. It means the world.

PS: Thanks for reading.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I gotta tighten my floaties and jump back into the abyss.

*underwater splash sound effect*

the happy ending.

It was an overcast tuesday colored with a cold, grey tint covering the sky. With soft window light showering the room I watched my brother literally breath his last on this earth. Laying on his hospital death bed, Jordan’s head was slightly turned to the right. His chest raised as his body tried to keep living, his gasp for air was heard in my heart. I shut his laptop, leaned up in my chair and with fear in my heart I said, “Mom…” As my mom quickly turned to his aid, he tried to breath two more times. Trembling and helpless, I watched his last battle for breath. His chest never raised again. My brother, my hero, my closest friend, my fellow warrior in this battle of life, dead. Sweet, gentle, kind-hearted Jordan, gone. Seventeen years of a relationship like almost twins, over.

The ice-cold, bone-chilling darkness that cloaked my heart was utterly horrifying. My mom ran out to get a nurse as my dad began to cry loudly. I watched three nurses come in and check for signs of life. Nothing. They’d cared for him nearly a year, and now these nurses cried as they checked for his heartbeat. They knew and I knew. The big-dog doctor came in to double-check and sure enough, he nodded in agreement with the nurses. He tried to close Jordan’s eyes but they wouldn’t. He tried again and they resisted again. He gave up politely and awkwardly as I watched his every move.

Once everyone finally left the room, I shut the door. I walked over to Jordan’s bed, unsure of everything. I looked at his once joyful face, finding nothing but the cold shell that once housed my brothers heart. I held his lifeless right hand as I whispered bits of my broken heart. Shocked and empty, I shared my last moments with my brother. My mom called my brother Jeff to tell him the “news”. (He couldn’t be at the hospital because he was sick that day. When someone has cancer, you can’t be around them if you have the most common of colds.) I could hear Jeff’s cries through the phone.

I remember calling our friends back in Palm Bay, Florida. Coach Grimes, Casey, Jared, Tom and Joe. One by one, I uttered words I don’t ever want to say again. I remember Joe almost dropping the phone as the words “Oh… shit” passed his lips. His mom nervously called for him in the background and it sounded like the phone hit the floor. That was the end of our phone call. In silence, I sat in one of the ugly aqua green chairs in the hallway of the 6th floor in the children’s cancer ward wing. I wanted to send every one of those chairs blasting through a window.

That was five years ago. Tuesday, August 19th, around 3:10 in the afternoon.

Before you fade to black, make sure you sing the fluttering, musical number of the airplane making its way onto the pallet. Don’t forget to wipe their mouth, silly. Make sure they’re fat and happy! When this deed is done, you can then fade to black. And by fade to black I mean fade to white, because it’s happier. The happy ending. The dishonest, happy ending.

We don’t deal well with honesty. We don’t deal well with blunt truth. We don’t deal well with the harsh realities of this world. We don’t deal well with death and frankly, we don’t deal well with the truth. We want closure, but life doesn’t always grant us that. So we trade truth for selfish closure. We’d rather not know what really happens. We want the good news first and the bad news never. We want joyous hymns as the unathletic kid hits the game-winning shot from half court.

I don’t relate to dishonesty. I connect to the broken, honest scenes, written by people who’ve experienced life as is.

I want to be transparent and honest about the most radically tragic day of my life. I’m not saying we should always focus on the dead bee on the ground instead of the sunflower standing above it. But sometimes we need to focus on the dead bee because it’s a part of the world the flower lives in. Maybe it gave it’s life for the flower? Sometimes the best lessons we can learn in life is by how not to do something. By showing an opposite, I don’t necessarily need to see the other side of the coin to understand the coin, itself. I’ve seen what it can become when in the wrong hands, I can imagine the coin on the other end of the spectrum.

When people ask me, “Are you a Christian filmmaker?” I politely shake my head in a “no.” like fashion. I’m sure as a kid, you grew up wanting to be a “Christian” cheerleader, or a Christian golfer, a Christian firefighter, or even a Christian basketball player? No. I’m just a filmmaker who happens to love Jesus. What’s in my heart will come through in my scripts. I have to make sure my heart is in the place it needs to be when I write so that truth comes through. Pain is real, death is real and thankfully, Jesus is too. I’m all about a “happy” ending, if it ends truthfully. Sometimes the truth sucks. Sometimes it hurts.

I love Jesus and I’ll claim His name until I die but the movies I make won’t be at your local “Christian” bookstore. Because a title card slapped on the end with an out-of-context Bible verse isn’t a good ending. Because hope isn’t always dressed in fickle happiness; sometimes, it can seem like a desert. A desert that may look like an endless journey into death but instead, it’s a long, scary path to life.

no. 14

I’m excited to finally release my latest short, “no. 14″. This film was made with no budget, it was all out of pocket, shot in a day and a half.

GEAR:
RED Scarlet
L 16-35mm 2.8, L 85mm 1.2, 50mm 1.4
edited in Adobe Premiere CS6
colored in Davinci Resolve

I was blessed to have many talented hands on this project in every facet. From my friend Jake Sidwell composing the music, to Jordan Kelley doing the makeup, to Brett Driver and Michael Gentilini, Jr working the camera, to Olan Rogers and O’Ryan McEntire making the posters, to Chris Brank lending his gear for Taylor Wooten to rock the audio, to my brother Jeff acting and fighting beside me, to Isaiah Stratton “drowning” in a gross pond, to Brent Christy killing it, to Doug Young lending his studio for the location, to Corrie Danieley talking me through my character, to Nico Sexton lending his faithful assistance and to all the people who advised my script and gave me feedback. I couldn’t have made this without you.

the story

In anything that relates to hit-men, we see the money, the women and the cars, but what we don’t see is the pain that’s left at the end of the day. We see the external outcomes, we don’t get to see the internal issues. James Bond is a great example, along with Jason Statham. At the end of the day, the only company these guys have left are STD’s and blood money. The goal with my character Uriah was to give a glimpse into his internal struggle with his lifestyle.

the goal

In short, to become a better filmmaker. I’ve always been interested in stunt work and fight choreography but I’ve never been able to focus on those two things in one sitting.

the transformation

I’m not in front of the camera if I can help it and that’s for good reason. Writing and directing is what I want to do for the rest of my life, with some stunt work on the side. If you do see me in front of the camera, it’s probably for physical roles or for stunt sake, “no. 14″ fell into both categories. Back in August when I pitched this idea to a few close friends, I told them that I didn’t want to look like me and that I may grow my beard out, starting in October and maybe getting some sort of haircut. My goal was to not look like Justin Robinson. A brilliant friend of mine, Ryan Hendrick said, “Start now.” After 5 months, my puberty traveled from Iraq to my face, resulting in the beard.

the fighting

(This is a still from my first ever short film, “Battle at the Tilman” summer 2006.)

I  have no training whatsoever with stunt work or fighting. The only experience I have is spending hours upon hours of fake fighting with my brother Jordan. Most fight scenes in movies are the most unrealistic things you’ll ever see. I am aware of line between realism and  exaggerating the fighting to look good on film. For example, foreign martial arts movies shoot with wide angle lenses to show all of the action because the talent can do the action or you have the American movies with tight/shaky camera work to hide the action because the talent can even throw a decent looking jab. Some martial arts movies turn into a huge dance routine or the Jason Bourne camera work just gives people a headache. I wanted to try and find a happy medium. Fight scenes are all about camera work (ANGLES ARE EVERYTHING.) Most real fights aren’t pretty, they obviously aren’t choreographed, and they usually go to the ground, resulting in some ground and pound action. If you’ve ever witnessed a real KO or a UFC knockout, you know that the face can only take a limited amount of straight blows to the jaw, usually resulting in contorted bodies and bloody faces. Realistically, fights don’t last very long, unless someone was on drugs, which is why I wanted this fight to last about 30-40 seconds.

With every film I make, I want to get better. This was my attempt.

Thanks for watching. I really appreciate it.

Poster by Olan Rogers

Brilliant behind the scenes stills by Michael Gibbons

http://michaelgibbonsmedia.com

pollen

It’s that time of the year again… where pollen reigns free.

<——— This is what pollen does to me during spring time.

If you’re allergic to pollen, like me, I made a sketch for you.

Sometimes, it’s healthy to just go make a random, little video

just for fun. This video features music by my friend, Mason 

Bayne and the killer duo of Chris Burch and Gunner Willis.

Thanks to Andrew Bradford and Ryan Hendrick for the

assistance.

homework

Apart from my own attempts at screenwriting, this is what I do in my “downtime” on pretty much a 24-7 daily basis. I study films, watch interviews, listen to soundtracks, re-watch No Country For Old Men, study screenshots and read scripts. Sleep isn’t at the top of the food chain for me.

Here’s a great website I found through a fellow filmmaker, Colin Mcquire. Great cinematography frame-by-frame: http://evanerichards.com/2011/2018

Scripts I’ve been studying:

Zero Dark Thirty – written by Mark Boal

http://www.sonypictures.com/movies/academy/media/zerodarkthirty-screenplay.pdf

Django Unchained – written by Quentin Tarantino

http://screenplayexplorer.com/wp-content/scripts/django-unchained.pdf

Argo – written by Chris Terrio

http://warnerbros2012.com/screenings/assets/argo.pdf

Music that’s been on repeat:

“The Vikings” show is pretty sick. A very unique take and style on the vikings. It’s a little strange at times but what I dig about it is the coloring, genre, costumes, locations, floki, music, acting and freaking Ragnar’s mohawk. Medieval-ish stuff is one of my favorite genres of all time.

I’ve also been studying some Wes Anderson films as of late (Thanks, Gunner!) For some of them, it’s my first watch. If you’ve seen any of his work, you know how unique and somewhat weird his style is. The funny thing is, it usually works. I do know that some people either hate or love his films but I find myself learning from his strengths and weaknesses. 3 things I love about Wes Anderson: 1) His stories usually have some aspect of family, filled with broken people and family issues. 2) How he tells his story with his camera. Wide angle, strange framing and long jib shots. 3) His musical choices. His movies are filled with quirky songs from all genres. I find myself writing to playlists of music from his movies on spotify.

Short films that have inspired me lately:

“Cargo” – This little story reveals the deep love of a father in the midst of hellish conditions.

https://vimeo.com/56629974

“The Candidate” – A brilliant idea that keeps the mind moving, great cinematography, awesome style with pounding music. Some language.

https://vimeo.com/42934682

“Bone-yeerd” - A  strange, dark film, but beautifully told. Plus, this film features a brilliant actor friend of mine, Mark Ashworth.

https://vimeo.com/26441107

I’d love to know what film stuff you study.

the fatal place

I got the awesome opportunity to work on a project produced by Elevation church. “The Fatal Place” had a killer crew, led by our director, Jared Hogan, Steven Lester – first AD, Brent Christy – gaffer/key grip, Jeremiah Clever – audio and our wonderful producer, Ashley Hollingsworth. I got to be the first AC, working with the red epic and zeiss glass/super speeds generation one. Steven Lester taught me a lot about the ins and outs of being a first AC. He was basically my teacher for 3 days in the deserts of New Mexico. Class was good and I didn’t fail the class, thankfully.  I’m grateful for opportunities like these.

You can watch the film here: https://vimeo.com/62992476

A little behind the scenes fun: https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?v=10151334879372694&set=vb.660937693&type=3&theater

The director, Jared Hogan and yours truly.

shia labeouf

i went to new york for the first time on march 11th, 2013. i was working for my good friend, chris brank on a shoot in millburn, new jersey. before the shoot started, we had some down time to spend in new york. like thousands of others, we ventured through the city with nothing more than excited hearts. after a slice of greasy, new york “za”(pizza), we made our way around the city that never sleeps. we were about 100 feet from the entrance of central park and it was then, in the midst of a crowd in a crosswalk, i made eye contact with shia lebeouf. watch the rest of the story in this video by my friend michael gibbons. check out his site here: http://michaelgibbonsmedia.com

granted, shia labeouf is one of my favorite actors and, in my opinion, a very underrated one at that. the dude always delivers! that being said, i never want to treat people in the industry with a paparazzi type welcome. no one likes that, especially shia. paparazzi doesn’t even let him enjoy his coffee at starbucks without a photoshoot. when i saw him, he could tell i knew who he was. josh, michael, chris and i stopped in our tracks and they looked at me with curiosity, “what are you gonna do?”. like any good tourist, we all had our cameras in hand, like a cowboy with his gun. i handed josh the camera because i knew if i approached shia with a camera, it would attract attention and i’d look like a papa with a razzi. (most paparazzi dudes don’t look like your average, white, american. i look a little darker than your average cracker.)  there’s certain times where you shouldn’t approach someone ‘famous,’ but if you do, don’t fangirl them. they’re real people too, they pee just like we do. they have jobs, and in this case, shia’s really good at his. anybody can spot a person with an agenda, especially selfish agendas. now back to the issue at hand. he had his hood on and he was walking fast. i had no idea what i was gonna say but i just wanted to encourage him somehow.  i truly just wanted him to know that i care about him, apart from movies.

after catching up with him, i called his name, he turned and took off his hoodie and said, “what’s up man?” as he said that, he saw chris about 20 feet behind me with a (C100) camera over his shoulder. he quickly pointed at chris and went into defense mode with, “i don’t know who you are!”. i chimed in with, “he’s with me.” which cooled him down and chris pointed to his phone, reassuring shia that we weren’t the razzi. i told shia that his audition video for the orphans play was awesome. i felt like that got his attention because he had just uploaded it to vimeo about 3 weeks before. (thanks isaiah stratton. shia’s hour long auditon video for the play orphans: https://vimeo.com/58326220) he humbly responded with. “thanks man. i appreciate that.”. after that, he grabbed my hand in rocky balboa fashion and said let’s grab a photo real quick before this causes any attention. i never planned on getting a picture but the quick gunslinger that chris brank is, had his phone ready and took that moment in time and made it into one of those cool picture things. with a quick handshake and a request for him to scream, “OPTIMUS!” we parted ways. (i’m kidding, i didn’t ask that.)

it was really cool to meet shia but my heart is always heavy for people in the industry. they go through a lot of bull. at the end of the day, credits don’t matter, people do. they’re toyed with, stalked, and used to no end. granted, only my toes are wet in the industry that is film but what i’ve seen is, most of those types of people need solid, loving friends, not more fans. how many people ask for things from those guys, instead of truly asking how they are. your agenda will be known, they can see right through the crap. make your agenda honorable. give with your life, don’t take. i’m here on this earth to love Jesus and love people. i hope and pray that i’ll always go against the grain and love those guys instead of trying to use them for my own, selfish sake.

 the crew – josh weir, chris brank, yours truly and the very scottish michael gibbons

photos by michael gibbons

small little things – short film

here’s the trailer to a new film by my friend, jared hogan. i got to help produce this short in january of this year. the adventure of shooting this brought us from charlotte to kentucky, indiana, chicago, all the way to wisconsin. shot on the C300.

https://vimeo.com/62049305

writer/director – jared hogan: http://hoganjared.tumblr.com/smalllittlethings

director of photography - ben joyner: https://vimeo.com/benjoyner