Bi-Polar at Work.

Bill Plympton called me the other day and asked if I was interested to make a music video and before he could even finish his sentence I said YES YES YES feeling a surge of manic energy rush through my body and brain. The heavy lid that for months was keeping me in the cold coffin of being depressed and unfocussed slid off and I was was let out to fly. Yippee!

All of sudden everything was amplified. A minute idea seemed like a gigantic one. Everything was exciting and everything had to be made right now, on the spot.

I cranked out the storyboards in super intense 3 hours and presented them to Bill. I do know that with a mind on fire like this I need a reality check. Bill liked the boards and approved. Reality, check.

Next step – animating.

Animating requires a strange kind of focus – on one hand you have to look under your fast moving hands to make sure lines flip with each other. On the other hand, you can’t think too much about what you are doing, because over-thinking kills life and art, so you must think of something else. Which in my case forms a flow of obsessive, highly emotional thoughts about politics (- Why the hell Chris Christy fucked it up like this!?), friends (- Is Pat still my friend if he snubs my emails?!), Facebook (- Chris Robinson posted a grumpy comment to my post!) and film festivals (-They hate me they hate me they hate me and my film!).

The faster the thoughts run, the faster my hands move. It’s a miracle the paper doesn’t get thorn to shreds in the process or doesn’t set on fire.

At some point the walls start to hum then start to vibrate. It’s annoying, so I stop, get up and touch them. They vibrate or not? Not sure. The vibration stop.

I sit back at my light box and walls start humming again. Fuck. It’s annoying. But the annoyance fuels me with a manic speed. I discover can block out the vibration if I match it with rhythm of my work. The irritation gets pushed to the edge of my consciousness. Papers flip faster and faster.

Then music starts to play. A beautiful, gentle piano. For 2 seconds. I barely catch it. The moment I raise my head, it’s gone.

I get up, walk to the door and pop my head into the hallway. No way anyone is playing piano in this warehouse. Carpenters drill holes in they furniture projects and lay smelly layers of varnish on surfaces.

I sit back at my work table. The piano plays again. All right, let the music be. I won’t ask where it’s coming from.

It stops.

At the end of the day I have 2 huge piles of drawings – one on the floor, sketches and tries. The other on the table – final animation. One minute. In one day. Done.

I wake up at 2 AM. Everything is vibrating – walls, my body, my thoughts. From this maddening vibration a sense of urgency emerges. The world might end in 5  minutes. I need to scan all the drawings right now otherwise I will never see the results of my work.

I jump of of bed and walk to the scanner. The room is ice cold. I open the scanner’s mouth and place a drawing in it. The scanner blinks and says in a high pitch voice:

- Why are you making me work in the middle of the night? There is tomorrow, trust me.

Arguing with a scanner all of sudden seems like too much of an effort and I go back to bed.

 

A color sample of work in progress music video:

Tarzan try

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Accident

When I got on the bike I knew something terrible was going to happen. The vague premonition that I had every time I got on the bike this time was amplified by specific somatic nervousness. The man I was living with had been evasive lately. To gain his attention few days ago I told him I wanted to break up. He just smiled, put on a coat, walked out the door and hadn’t been back since. The mutual push and pull that had lasted for years, the routine reciprocated manipulations were’t working anymore. Was it over?
It was a frightening thought. What was outside the structure that this verged on abuse relationship provided me with? I had no other friends but him.
I rode the bike carefully, weaving through the Saturday shopping fever traffic and stupefied by a weekend pedestrians who absentmindedly ventured into the bike’s path.
But riding slowly is not quite an option for  competitive person like me. In the distance I saw the green light turn red and saw an opportunity to cover 2 more blocks before the light went red on me. I picked up speed.
Just then a cab pulled by the sidewalk leaving a space for me to pass between it and the parked cars. I aimed to pass when the passenger door opened right in front of me.
The bike hit the door and I ascended into the air.
Briefly released from the pull of gravity I looked to the ground. The dark gray asphalt looked hard and unwelcoming.
- If I fall, I’ll break my neck or 76 other bones, – I thought.
I pulled out my cheap cellphone, flipped it open and pressed “send”.
It connected right away.
- Terminal 5. Give your report, – a mechanical but still feminine voice said.
- New York. Broadway, – I said fast, trying to be efficient. – While riding a bike I hit taxi door. In the air.  Distance: 8 meters.
- Report accepted. Connecting you now.
Elevator music version of Beatles “Let It Be” filled the pause.
Then music stopped. I was connected.
- What is going to happen? – I shouted into the cellphone.
My anxiety just like my flight trajectory was reaching it’s peak.
For a long while I heard nothing but wind. In fact, 734 winds because my cell phone’s small screen indicated that’s how many connections I was on right now.
Then the last digit changed to 735.
- Kiev. Boryspilska street, – a mature man’s voice said urgently. – Construction site icy, no safety harness. About 20 meters to go.
- Kiev, anything to soften your fall? – a cracking voice of a man or a woman said with a neutral expression of resignation.
- I fear for the worst. Heading towards a pile of bricks, – Kiev said.
- Brother, I am in Bangladesh, – a male voice came in. – A construction site accident, just covered 73 meters, 3 more to go. Going towards a parked cement truck. You are not alone, is all I wanted to say. You are not alone, brother.
A mumble of many voices came in as a confirmation:
- You are not alone.
- You are not alone.
- You are not alone.
The number changed from 735 to 734 then to 733.
Then back up to 735.
- Vietnam. Lao Sai. Crossing a rope bridge in high wind. The bridge flipped. 23 meters to cover.
- How old are you, Vietnam? You sound awful young.
- A year and half.
A murmur of horror.
- Water will soften your fall.
- River is shallow with rocky bottom. Water too fast.
A murmur of hasted prayers.
But I had my own pressing need. I wanted to live.
- Hey, – I said. – Sorry for butting in. 6 meters to go for me, any suggestions?
- New York, chill. Only 6 meters? You may only break couple of bones.
- I have no insurance. I’ll be left rotting on a sidewalk. I might as well be dead if I break a couple of bones.
- Your mother has a third cousin in Ohio. Ask her
The number changed to 736.
- Bordeaux. Roe Boulan. I slipped on a bathroom floor with nothing to catch my fall. I am 87 and one meter for me is like 68 meters for the 20 year old. I fear for the worst.
I switched lines.
- Emma! – I shouted into the receiver.
- Emma speaking, – a distant voice said with suspicion.
- I am falling, 4 meters to go. save me!
- What do you want me to do?- the voice said grumpily. – Catch you? I am in Ohio, you dumb nit.
- Tell me what to do.
- Can’t you just slow down your fall?
- I can’t!
- Then I don’t know what to tell you. Wait. My first husband was an alcoholic, he fell many times when he was drunk, but never broke a smallest bone. A doctor in a hospital once told me that when drunks fall their muscles are relaxed because of the booze. A normal person always tenses her muscles at fall. Try to relax, sweetheart. Have a drink or something.
- OK.
I got off her line.
- She told me to relax! – I shouted into the other line.
An approving murmur:
- Relax.
- Relax.
- Relax.
Without closing my eyes I imagined sipping from a glass of wine. I felt my body accelerating towards the pull of asphalt and thought of landing on a soft mattress of hay and flowers.
Then I hit the ground, rather, the ground hit me with a brick fist. The phone disconnected.
I stayed on the ground for a few seconds, then moved one limb after another, as a test. Nothing seemed to be broken. I got up and looked at the taxi.
After navigating my fall and gravity I was back to navigating social interactions.
I speed dialed another number and started to approach the cab.

 

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Merry Winter Solstice!

Yesterday at 12:11 PM I was with my sweetheart, on N train crossing Manhattan bridge, going from Manhattan to Brooklyn.  It was the exact time of the 2013 Winter Solstice officially taking place. The Sun is now slowly turning back to us making the days longer.

I like to celebrate Solstices, it connects my inner moods with the outer, Cosmic events. Like the mood of deep despair and darkness hits it’s peak at Winter Solstice and then starts to give way to lighter, brighter mood.

In the push and pull between those moods, the Sun always wins, although never completely:

Winter Solstice 2013

There is also another thing. Many years ago I read that people who have house plants are happier than people who don’t. So I went ahead and rescued one plant from a garbage pile, was given another as a gift, impulsively purchased the third one at Home Depot and grew 3 more from grapefruit seeds. But I did all that in a sunny summer time. The plants were happy till the cold hit. My studio doesn’t have heat and the huge windows let the winds blow through. When in the last few weeks it reached 40 F inside I put a coat on and turned a small infrared heater facing me on. But had to leave the plants unprotected in the cold. I saw their leaves shiver and shrivel. I knew at least one of them will loose all it’s lush greens by the end of January. The others will go pale and yellow.

- Just wait and hold on to your roots, – I told them. – The Sun will return one day soon and will hug you again. Your greens will spring back.

It is the same thing I tell myself when I go through mentally dark time and can’t bear the pain anymore:

- Just wait and hold on tight to the crazy hope that make you alive. Your film will premiere and reach it’s audience. You’ll be able to pay rent by Summer Solstice. All will turn out well.

And so I grab the things that keep me alive and by stretching my arms try to get sunlight on them. Without a hope I won’t be able to get through the winter.

Winter Solstice 2013 2

But sometimes all I want in an empathy. Please hold my hand and tell me all will be all right.

Sun and moon

Happy Winter Solstice!
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Parental Guidance in Filmmaking.

Do you show your work to your parents?

I am sure American parents are super supportive, otherwise how would you explain the unfathomable self assurance of most Americans? The school system conspires with the parents, too.

- Both teams have won! – a referee announces to 2 competing groups of 9 year olds.

- Everybody gets a prize! – an arts teacher ends a drawing competition in a kindergarten.

- You are so pretty, you should be next Shirley Temple! – all girls in the class get the same note on Valentine’s day.

But I was brought up by Eastern European parents, the tough breed that doesn’t shell out encouragement easily.

- Did you draw this with your toes? – they say after you give them a handmade Happy Birthday card.

- You were 0.2 seconds short of the school’s previous year record, – after you win a 500 meter distance race.

- You look like an ugly teenage boy, – when you (a girl) are about to go to your first date ever.

- It’s not true and you embarrass our family, – my mother told me after my short story was published in a local paper. I was 14 at the time.

It was a personal funny story about me clearing out our pantry from perceived useless stuff like old burned pans, moldy jars of lard and rusted sieves only to have my mother upon returning from work to retrieve all the junk from the trash bin.

Since then my mother was always quite weary of my stories, they always revealed too much personal information for her cautious Eastern European self.

I don’t have a problem writing stories about imagined people, in fact, I LOVE writing pure fiction, imagined characters in fantasy events that never took place outside my head.

The problem is that no one is interested in my fiction. It is sappily emotional, overly romantic and it roots for an underdog (poor, old and disabled) whose psychology is not well comprehended by the writer.

In my long history of writing and telling stories I have discovered that people prefer narrative from my personal life, and they find it funny. My critical, unforgiving Eastern European eye makes it for a good comedy.

So, I write personal stories and sometimes I make personal films like “Teat Beat of Sex”. Perhaps that’s why I moved from Latvia to New York and make films in English – so that my mother wouldn’t understand them.

But the word got to my parents that their daughter is making a film based on family events.

- Relatives are worried, – my mother warned me a year ago. – They don’t want the family secrets fly out all over the place like drunken bats.

- Don’t worry, – I replied. – I’ll never release the film in Latvia.

But we don’t live in an age of Iron Curtain, and languages don’t create safe barriers anymore.

When we run a Kickstarter campaign, about 150 of our 800 backers were from Latvia. They unambiguously stated their interest to see the film translated and released in Latvia.

In campaigning heat one makes big promises like a horny man who temporarily loses his mind and promises marriage to a woman he intends only to “enter and exit”. Of course, I said YES we’ll translate the film!

But in the after-campaign sobriety a different thought had entered my mind. How could I upset my family? Latvia is a very small country of 2 million, everybody knows everybody else. Latvians, like their parents, are an opinionated and critical bunch, their comments can be skin scraping harsh. One of the infamous proverbs in Latvia is “The most delicious food for a Latvian is another Latvian“. I live in a safe distance from the place but my family members would have to pay consequences for my indiscretion.

However, translating the film is tempting. After all, I could lend my voice to 2 translations – in Latvian and Russian. It would be exciting to see how the film works in language other than English. Also, Latvians would probably be more appreciative then Americans of the strange visual metaphors and symbols used in the film, as they are coming from the same culture.

On my recent trip to Latvia for a brief (weeklong) visit, my parents insisted I show the film to them.

- We want to see this baby of yours, – they said. – To check if all the toes and fingers are in place. If something is missing, we’ll tell you.

I had no doubt they would.

Shivering with an apprehension, I set up my laptop for the screening on the kitchen table. I knew they had no power to stop me from releasing the film, but there is this 5 year old inside me yearning for parental approval. Some very small but still a part of me thinks that if they put veto on the project, that will be it.

The film started to roll and my worries were pushed aside by the hard work of trying to simultaneously translate the dialogue. It’s an impossible task for an inexpert like me, a lot of subtlety got lost. “It was the brief moment around Summer Solstice when everything explodes with blooming – nature’s way of assuring that seeds and fruit ripen just before the first frost in late August kills life and growth” was translated as ” ehr… Summer Solstice short… flowers… seeds… ehr… frost kills”.

20 minutes into the film I noticed my father’s face relax. Since it was HIS side of the family depicted in the film, I was anxious to know his thoughts, so I stopped the film and asked how they felt.

- It is fictionalized, – my father said simply.

- Are you concerned what your sibling might say about it?- I asked.

- No one would recognize this story as our family’s, – my mother said.

- Just wait till we get to the part with you, Mom, – I replied. – We’ll see how fictionalized it will seem to you then.

But when the part with her came on she just wanly smiled. She didn’t think it was her.

At the end of our kitchen screening they said they liked the film.

- It is an important story that should be told to Latvians as well as everybody else, – was their verdict. – Go ahead, translate and release the film here!

Such support and encouragement was unexpected. What is going on?

Have my parents got Americanized after watching too many American shows on Latvian TV?

 

 

 

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Thankful THANKSgiving!

Thanksgiving is one of those holidays that we celebrate without admitting to ourselves that it is one of the greatest and most ancient pagan celebrations, like Solstice. In the old times this was the time when people stored the fall’s ripened fruit and vegetables in cellars, and braced for the winter. Birds and pigs were slaughtered and stored, too (it’s cheaper to keep dead, salted and smoked meat around than livestock that demands hay and grain).  And then  of course, there is the notorious fattening up ritual – eating up as much of those dead birds and pigs as possible in one short pre-winter day, to transfer the fat from their bodies into ours. Before Global Warming the winters were harsh and the skinny folks risked not seeing the spring.

So yes, lets grab our axes and go to find those birds! Hopefully they are big enough to feed the whole village, because it took a village to make “Rocks In My Pockets” and oh boy that village is now hungry!

For this THANKSgiving I want to THANK YOU for following this blog. You are amazing and your support matters as much as coloring and compositing to make “Rocks In My Pockets”.

THANK YOU!!!

THANKSLegLETTERs

 

 

 

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The Day of Importance

Today’s probably the most important day for “Rocks In My Pockets”, but it surely doesn’t feel that way – it’s overcast and sort of gloomy. Inside I feel a bit like a partly deflated birthday party balloon. The fun times, the party was in May when the studio was full of quietly focussed people who knew how to tell good jokes at a lunch hour. Today it’s only Wendy and me – Wendy is putting the locked picture together with the final sound mix and that will be it.

The film is done.

Yesterday I went to Yessian to have the final sound mix session with Weston Fonger, “Rocks” sound designer. I was feeling down because the film didn’t make another round of big festivals – if by now we haven’t heard from Sundance and Slamdance it means it didn’t get in. The doubt was eroding the last of the delicate optimism I had managed to save despite of months of rejection.

We chitchatted before the session. I like those professional chitchats, they put me on the same emotional and mental wavelength with the person am about to work with. The chitchats force me to get out of my head, to connect with the person in the room.

I complained to Weston that film is not doing well with the big festivals, that we have to solve the distribution and marketing puzzle ourselves and it might be a good thing but it would be better if the film was somehow recognized by the industry.

- Am starting to think maybe I haven’t made a good film, – I said, while biting my fingernails.

- But the film is beautiful, – Weston said soothingly. – Don’t despair. It’ll go to places.

Then we re-recorded the opening scene’s scream. I screamed my head off 12 times. The 12th attempt was the best and so Weston put it in. After that I had to sit in the middle of the room, watch the movie with the final mix and take notes.

When the film started I was not looking forward to it. After all it was the source of my  recent agony – how could I enjoy something that has been rejected so many times? But as the film went on I perked up more and more. The sound mix was excellent and the sound quality through the speakers was superior to any other experience with the film I had had before. I was thrilled. Proud and amazed that I got to work with the talented smart people like Weston and Kristian, the film’s composer. The effort that the production team lead by Wendy and Rashida put into the project have paid off. The film looked great. And I started to get a burning desire to see the film in a theater, with good projection, as a shared experience. Maybe I shouldn’t give up the festivals yet? Or perhaps we should hire a theater booking agent?

After the session I thanked Weston, we chitchatted again a little.

He said that maybe because he comes in the last part of the process he gets to see the filmmakers in despair, or depressed, or in panic mode. But in the end, all the films he had worked with do well.

- It’ll be good, – he said encouragingly. (I guess by working with filmmakers so near postpartum he had to develop his nurturing side. I appreciate that.)

And so I took the sound file back to the studio and Wendy (who now works for Bill Plympton and comes to my studio only as necessary which is once a month) came today to put the picture and sound together. Wendy knows how to tell a good joke, but she has a lot on her mind too – working for two directors on 4 different projects cannot be easy. So we are both serious and focussed. Not too many jokes today.

She is about to finish and we agreed to go out and CELEBRATE!!!

DSCN7901

 

 

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From Outer Space to Gravity of Marketing

Soon after we reached our May 31st goal – to get “Rocks In My Pockets” in enough shape to submit it to Toronto International Film Festival – I started to feel as if a powerful leg with a steel-toe boot kicked me into the Outer Space. With my Mind floating and weightless while my Soul writhing in pain I was unable to pull myself closer to the world, however many desperate moves I made. “Gravity” captured so well that particular feeling that I couldn’t label it as just another Hollywood flick. To me it was a metaphorical movie about depression – a depressed person is just like a person ejected into Space, so disconnected from other people she can only feel her own breathing. She can see Earth but can’t get back unless she finds a new meaning to her life. Miraculously, the meaning comes from something someone said some time ago, something that starts making sense to her more desperate her situation becomes.

Well, I am back from Space and want to thank you for turning on those little lights at nights so I can see you to know where to return.

Yes, “Rocks In My Pockets” didn’t get into Venice, Toronto, Telluride and New York Film Festival. It looks the film didn’t even have a chance there. Now we are waiting to hear from Sundance, Slamdance, Berlin  and SXSW. Not sure what we will hear.

Since I don’t believe in inactivity (action has saving powers of gravity), I am not folding into an armchair for the wait. Together with Sturgis Warner, the project’s voiceover director and co-producer, we put together an LLC dedicated to distribution of “Rocks In My Pockets”. We did massive research  on DIY film distribution and marketing. It looks like a scary venture (only a filmmaker and a crack addict know how fast money can burn) but we do believe that the film has an audience and we are determined to reach it.

Below are my first feeble attempts at deciding what images would be good for a “Rocks In My Pockets”poster. To get a feedback we posted some of them on “Rocks” Facebook page and got valuable critique. Join the fun, give us your notes!

Poster with SPIRIT

Poster 3 Poster 7 Poster 4 Poster idea

 

Posted in Depression. Personal Stories, Festivals, Marketing, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments