Why is this here?

I'm a filmmaker currently touring the DIY Feature A Genesis Found around the campuses of colleges and universities across the Southeast. This is the personal account, for better or worse, of its successes and failures.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Screening in the Plains at Alabama Polytech

I've grown a lot, personally and professionally, throughout the course of this film, from scripting to distribution.  And, certainly, since that spans my life from age 21 to 24, I'm gonna grow-- but I think this film has acted like a catalyst, in some ways-- like a concentrated punch in the face to my maturity and perspective.  As I was telling my Wonder Mill colleguae Ben Stark earlier, I used to hold art, specifically movies, to a very, very high regard; essentially, I looked at the stories and artistic expressions of a culture as the defining legacy for which said culture should be interpreted. 

But going through the "grind" of a DIY feature, and the grind of working a low paying day job to support my ambitions, sometimes to the inconvenience of my wife and myself, and experiencing the successes and failures, the few, hard fought rewards and the more steady pile of inconvenient but non-life altering disappointments, my perspective on film, and art, has changed.  I now see it is just another dimension in cultural definition-- something in the conversation-- but not inherently more essential to the human experience than other great human institutions, like politics, faith, sex, technology, athletics, philosophy, and morality.  And though art is a lens through which all of these institutions can be analyzed, art can too be analyzed through the lens of these other institutions.  Usually I felt more comfortable relating to everyone, and everything, through my love of the arts, especially movies.  But after "living the dream" for nearly three years, I don't think that's still the case.

The Grind

I've learned a lot about filmmaking, the modern film culture, and the modern film market, but I think more importantly, the struggles have forced me to reevaluate my perspectives on the world, and on my ambitions, and on my goals, and led me to a pretty profound conclusion.

I think anyone who wants to be a successful craftsman or learned man, upon reaching that state where they are no longer, at least in title, a "student" of their desired craft, probably goes through a similar paradigm shift in perspective, and feel as I felt-- hunger for interests, hobbies and conversations that have nothing to do with your craft.

I won't say I got burned out making Genesis, but I certainly consumed the culture of movies and filmmaking for a good chunk of time, to a point where I eventually had no clue what was going on in any other aspect of the cultural life.  I guess, over time, that's a grind in and of itself, and the need to develop some sort of consistent hobby with NO connection to the silver screen became paramount.

So what did I do?  I rediscovered my boyhood love of college and professional sports.

Roll Tide Roll

Now granted, there are much more haughty, "intellectual" appearing things I could be doing with my spare time than reading "Bama vs. Arkansas" game previews and cruising to Colin Cowherd or Braves play-by-play, but in re-embracing sports I've come to appreciate the "more-than-meets-the-eye" moments of subtle brilliance that can be found in them, along with, of course, the more touted elements of organized athletics, like set up, payoff, tension, twists, shifts, turnarounds, excitement, gutting misery, and angelical joy. 

Since I hail from the Southeast, and especially since I hail from Alabama, it should be no surprise my chief sport of choice is College Football (though I lament the fading popularity of Baseball, probably my favorite game to play and close second to follow), the one sport that, since the 1926 Rose Bowl in which 'Bama smacked down the then dominant Washington Huskies (much due to the play of my distant, by marriage relative football great-- and later Western Matinee great-- Johnny Mack Brown) had put the South on the map as a dominant power.  There are few pro teams down here in any sport, as there are few major markets-- but, aside from the Atlanta Braves (the only other sports team I wholeheartedly support), who wears our region's support on it's sleeve, most of the region has few "true" representatives in the professional spectrum (we all love the Saints, but that's "Norleans" team alone).  So down here, it's all college, it's all football, and it's all SEC.

Johnny Mack Brown

I'm an alumnus of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, and my wife was in Color Guard with the Million Dollar Band, so just like everyone else at school there, I got an up close and personal look every weekend at the joys, pains, nuisances and rewards of SEC football in the craziest football environment in the nation.  Granted, I was there during the painfully mundane Shula era (I graduated after Saban's first season), but still, the Bama faithful is pretty unwavering whatever our record, and Game Day was still full of plenty of hub-bub.

So despite all the awful traffic, annoying alumni, jerky LSU fans, ridiculously priced parking, and the school's legendary athletic achievements overshadowing its equally impressive but undersung academic ones, its a cultural phenomenon that can't be ignored nor written off as "rednecks living vicariously through athletes" (just as a comic con can't be written off as "geeks living vicariously through fictional characters").

Well, to avoid a really long, un-movie related tangent, let me just say that, the reason I bring all this up is, my love of College Football and Crimson Tide history and lore has, to a certain degree, peripherally influenced my approach to the scheduling and execution of this tour.  For instance, I initially included Arkansas and Kentucky on my "must visit" list, despite their fringe-regional status and distance from my home base, simply because of their inclusion in the SEC; I've participated in a few back and forths with my contact at Tennessee exclusively about the school's recent struggles with its football program; and I've even chuckled to myself when thinking about wearing my "13 Time National Champions" tee shirt to the Florida and Texas at Austin screenings of Spring '11.

Typically, though, the professors and school representatives I deal with about the tour could care less about Football, or at least care less about making small talk jokes about competing football programs with me.  And, at the end of the day, sure, it's a non-factor-- even for next weeks screening of A Genesis Found at "the enemy"-- Bama's big instate rivals, Alabama Polytechnic University.  You may know them as Auburn.

I've never been to Auburn and am looking forward to finally being on the Plains.  A lot of my friends and high school classmates went there, or are still going there, and I'm looking forward to seeing all the trailer parks college kids live at down there.  No Auburn joke intended, they really do folks!

Regardless, in keeping with the task of compiling historical highlights of the menagerie of schools/towns we're visiting on the tour, here's a brief write up of Auburn:

First charted in 1856 as a Male College, Auburn changed its name every other week or so until eventually landing on Alabama Polytechnic Institute at the turn of the 20th Century, with the nickname of Auburn originating around the same time (cause the students down there couldn't pronounce "Polytechnic"-- booyah, now that's an Auburn joke!)  In 1960, the school officially changed its name to Auburn University.

Though primarily known locally, like it's rival UA, for it's football program, the school also features nationally renowned academic programs in numerous fields of agricultural study, and in veterinarian studies.  It's also known for its work with the study of software engineering, and was the first university in the Southeast to offer Bachelor and Master degrees in the field.  Other innovations include the least original mascot in Division 1 Athletics (Tigers) and the eloquent refinement of the "War Eagle" battle cry by drunken frat boys into "War DAMN Eagle", which is still heartily endorsed to this day (last Auburn joke, I swear!).

Aubbie has a bunch of mascot brothers round the NCAA

The school has some interesting ties to the Civil War and Reconstruction, as the school's entire student body and faculty enlisted in the Confederacy at the advent of the war, effectively closing the school until 1866, with some of campus even serving as a Confederate training ground and hospital.

Auburn (the city) is the largest in eastern Alabama, and was initially inhabited by the Creek tribe.  After being settled by former Europeans, the town became quite attractive to families for the establishment of various primary schools and academies, and the town and its econony grew steadily until the Civil War.  After the Civil War, the town entered a pretty heavy, nearly-40 year depression (which also saw some ravaging fires of the downtown area) before becoming economically vibrant again at the turn of the 20th-Century.  This is similar to the depression that has plagued their football program since the end of the Pat Dye era (couldn't resist, I'm sorry).

Jokes and rivalries aside, I'm very excited about playing at Auburn.  It's our first big SEC school on the itinerary, and I got a  lot of friends down there.  Plus, with the heavy ties to Native American history in the school's culture, and the general interests of its student body, I think Genesis will be received pretty well.

A Genesis Found screens at Auburn this Thursday, October 30 at 6:00pm in the Haley Center room 2213.  For more info, check the our official site here.

"Heading west from the Cumberland Gap, to Johnson City, Tennessee"

Heading to East Tennessee State University next week, in Johnson City, on Wednesday, October 6 at 7pm.  That's EASTERN time, Lee.  Last screening in this time zone (at the Secret City Film Festival in Oak Ridge last fall) I didn't account for that, and showed up late for my time zone, let alone theirs.  Barely made the curtain call. 

Want more info?  I'll be soliciting some local press outlets today, but until then, you can check out everything I have at our official site event page here.

I've decided that, to get as much out of this tour as I can, personally, it would be a good experience to research the history of the towns/schools the flick's screening in/at, to better my understanding of the South's history, and to give me something genuinely informative to blog about.  I won't retroactively cover the previous schools (aside from Auburn), so here's the first one Imma gonna do.

East Tennessee State celebrates its Centennial next year, and is home of the Buccaneers.  Johnson City, located in the Northeastern part of the state (yet Southeast from the Cumberland Gap, despite what the trucker says in Old Crow Medicine Show's "Wagon Wheel") and is historically known for its musical roots and its strategic importance as a rail town.  Apparently it was a hotbed for bootlegging during Prohibition, and got the moniker of "Little Chicago" (similar to Alabama's own "Phenix City" in the 1950's).  Not only that, but apparently the city had direct ties to Al Capone's Southern distribution apparatus, and the fiend even was, for a time, a resident.

Another great thing about Johnson City-- they don't trust a Carney.  Apparently the town is known for some rather quirky ordinances, including one that taxes carnivals, circuses, and other traveling gypsy-esque entertainments to deter them from setting up shop in the jurisdiction.  Since this little tour of ours is a post-nuclear, domesticated, part-time, sissified off shoot of that tradition, I'll get a kick outta snubbing the tax when we screen-- unless of course the students at ETSU are forced to implement another strange law that enables local police to impress citizens into temporary deputy service.  Citizens Arrest son!

A scene you won't find in Johnson City

Here's hoping for a fun experience evading a pitch-fork carrying mob outta town while blaring some Flat & Scruggs down I-81.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

More Press Folks!

Found some new press online for A Genesis Found, in a story promoting our UNA screening in Florence, published in the Florence-Times Daily.  Actually a very good article on the tour and the film in general (I don't sound like a complete fool), but The Nocturnal Third was mistakingly referred to as The Nocturnal Kind.  To quote Benjamin Stark (the film's writer/director)-- "It's sequel time!"

"The Decoy" comic is online

Ever wonder what that photo of the WWII aviator in the blog's logo has anything to do with being a "Son of Arkie"?  Not sure I can answer what makes it logo material, but I can justify it's connection to A Genesis Found.

It's John Patton Jr. (whose theories are the key inciting incident in AGF) back in his WWII days, when he was a ball turret gunner in the Pacific.  If you don't believe he fought in the PTO, I have some additional proof-- like a story from his combat days.

Check out the new strip from Southern Truths featuring John Patton Jr., our online comic strip tie-in that picks up where the A Genesis Found left off.  In the newest entry, "The Decoy", JPJ fights for his life aboard a B-17 during a critical night raid.  You can read the strip at our official site here.

Been a long while comin': Early Tour Stops and Refining the Process

What Has Gone Before....

A Genesis Found Tour Screenings at the University of West Alabama (Livingston, AL - 9/8/10), Pearl River Community College (Poplarville, MS – 9/14/10), the University of South Alabama (Mobile, AL – 9/15/10) and the University of North Alabama (Florence, AL – 9/21/10); release of new strip from Southern Truths featuring John Patton Jr., the tie-in comic strip, called "The Decoy".  View it here.

My Excuse

So my somewhat forceable foray into maintaining an informal, open presence online as an outlet for the tour experience has already taken some studders, as I’ve essentially avoided blog duties since the tour “officially” kicked off with the UWA screening September 8.  I can blame lots of things—the unexpectedly hectic pace of the early stages of the tour, other obligations taking priority, life in general—but that would simply attempt to mask the fact that, at the end of the day, I’m not much of a fan of the quick expiration dates of writing distributed via modern social media—ie, I haven’t really embraced the joy of blogging yet.  And I ceartinly haven’t embraced the pace. 

Regardless, this Brave New World that has such people in it dictate their terms, and all us folks with a “product” to “sell” have to be willing to go with the flow.  But it’s also my blasted travel blog and I’ll update it when I durn well please.

The Screenings

I’ll admit, giving you folks a case by case breakdown of every little tour stop we go to might get a bit exhaustive in it's lack of interesting description.  So instead, how about a general breakdown of the process of a screening, flavored with a basic description of some variables.

Generally, it's pretty simple.  I've yet to earn my stripes on an overnight road trip yet, so I've only had the experience of full day trips, though some for pretty good distances.  Here's the skinny:

- Screw around at home instead of properly preparing, then get behind because printing out some promo comics or burning some promo DVDs took longer than I budgeted.  Also generally have to scramble make some last minute budget adjustments to keep the tour's meager finances in check.  Get on the road later than I hoped and fear I won't make it to screening location without adequate prep time.

- Despite disorganization, generally wind up an hour early anyway-- then have the fun of scouring campus for the venue (since most don't have their own address separate from the school) with the added assurance that I didn't remember to write down the host professor's phone number. 

- Then, it's all pretty simple from there-- find the venue, meet the host, set up my table of freebies, get the pre-show started-- and then stalk away into the shadows until game time-- possibly to add some sort of heightened since of drama to my presence and to my entrance, or to just avoid being red-faced when less than a dozen people show up as the only crowd.

- After a brief introduction, I start the flick, again stalk to the shadows of the auditorium, watch about 15 minutes to gauge audience interest, then step out for the next hour and a half to wander campus, listen to some sports radio, and bug my wife on the phone.

- Get back just as Elliot is slamming down the trash lid, field some questions by generally a very courteous and interested audience (be the number ever so humble), if I'm lucky sell some DVDs, pack up, and head home.

Pretty cut and dry so far, and not much variation-- I'll have to get back with you when something overly dramatic happens.  Very little in the form of "interesting tension."  Aside from a miscue that kept me from making a lecture and screening at Pearl River Community College (and thus being forced to missed what was our best turn out yet), no drama.

So we head out to our first BIG school next week, to Auburn University (or, in Bear Bryant's words, "That old cow college...").  I have some very enthusiastic support there from the Archaeology club, and looks like we've gotten a pretty saturated marketing campaign going on campus, for our means.  Even got them airing the trailer on the student TV station.  

So here's hoping for a good screening-- and hell, maybe a little bit more drama along the way too.