NO ALTERNATIVE: “…And That’s A Wrap!”

The last time I updated my blog, we had yet to begin production on “No Alternative.” Perhaps it’s a testament to the all-consuming nature of production that you have not heard from me since! I am therefore extremely pleased to write that we’ve finished principal photography and the film is in the proverbial “can.”

On the set of “No Alternative.” Photograph by Joshua Sarner.

It want to reiterate that I would not have been able to get this far without the help and support of everyone who contributed to our crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo. Because of the strength of the Indiegogo campaign and your stalwart support of the cause, this project has gained the attention of magazine, newspaper and television outlets around the country. It also attracted the interest of investors who also believed in the film — both in its message, and in its commercial viability.

I can honestly say that everyone involved in the filming, from the actors to each and every crew member, was emotionally connected to the material and brought their A-Games to the set:

It was an absolute pleasure to work amidst such a passionate and talented group of people. The leads, Michaela Cavazos and Conor Proft, impressed me more and more each passing day. They were outstanding as Bridget and Thomas Harrison and I can’t wait for viewers to see just how outstanding their performances are on screen. I was also thrilled to work with veteran actors, Kathryn Erbe (“Law & Order: Criminal Intent”) and Harry Hamlin (“Mad Men”), who played the Harrison parents. I can’t thank them enough for their passion, generosity and faith in me as their director. Coming-of-age movies about families are hard to make in Hollywood, but I truly feel this movie was meant to be made — it was a near-impossible task, but everyone’s contributions made it possible. And it was not only monetary contributions: people donated their time, their 90’s era vehicles, their wardrobe, their food, their houses (as locations and for lodging), their instruments, their band logos and music, among many, many other valuable goods and services. My hometown, the City of Yonkers, could not have been more accommodating throughout the process — it has always bee a dream of mine to shoot this film there. This project was about as grassroots as it gets; and you know what, each and every step of it was invigorating!

Left to right: Conor Proft, Kathryn Erbe, William Dickerson, Harry Hamlin, Michaela Cavazos.

I’m extremely excited to be heading into the next phase of the film: the editing phase. We have a wonderful editor, Natasha Bedu, who has spent a lot of her time recently cutting the Emmy Award-winning series “Intervention” on A&E. Natasha couldn’t be more excited to be part of the team, and I’m thrilled to have her on board!

As we venture into post-production, our fiscal sponsor, From the Heart Productions, has encouraged us to continue raising money for this final, and crucial, part of the process. Those looking for end-of-the-year tax deductions, all contributions remain fully tax-deductible. Please share the project, if you haven’t done so already, and consider adding to your contribution if you feel compelled to do so — we’ve already done so much with a relatively small amount of money (by Hollywood’s standards), a little bit more will assure we get the best post-production sound and color correction we can swing. Here is a link to our current campaign:

https://bitly.com/noalternativefilm

Thank you so much for your support! I wish you all the best this holiday season!!

 

“No Alternative”: Pre-Production Begins

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Lions and tigers and bears, oh my! Or, more precisely, casting and locations and storyboards, oh my! Lately, my days have been a triptych of both beautiful and nightmarish imagery, all in service of the pre-production of “No Alternative.” Pre-production has even infected my dreams: the latest one was an elongated hike, alone in the mountains, but thanks to the inexplicable logic of the dream medium, the terrain was the movie itself, and I wasn’t even halfway to the precipice.

However, the most turbulent time for me, with respect to my subconscious, is after filming ends: 3-4 weeks after wrap, I begin directing in my sleep. My wife gets woken up to find me sitting up in bed, pointing at things in the room while calling “action” and “cut” and shouting my DP’s name “Rob” a lot. It makes for some interesting evenings.

If you’ve ever directed a film, you understand how it consumes your life. That’s why pre-production is such a critical part of the process. You can’t go into battle without a battle plan, right? I can’t stress enough, the Hitchcockian goal of striving for boredom on set; he often remarked that he was bored on set, because he had already made the movie before he got there. He was simply witnessing the execution of his vision.

Striving for this is a great thing. Will you be bored on set? Unlikely. However, you will stress a lot less if you’ve already broken down the script, done your beat sheets, and storyboarded the whole damn thing.

That’s where I’m at. I’ve broken down the script, I’ve beat out all the scenes—I know each and every character’s objectives, obstacles, action verbs, adjustments, circumstances, physical life, backstory, and perhaps most importantly, I know the subtext of each scene. In a perfectly constructed scene, the camera films the subtext—the subtext that is translated from the page into a visual metaphor on the screen. I’m smack in the middle of storyboarding. I would love to sit in a secluded corner and visualize the film in such detail that I will have tested and troubleshot every possible shot in my mind. But I have casting and location scouting to do!

In all seriousness, if you’ve done your beat sheets properly, you shouldn’t have to test and troubleshoot every possible shot imaginable—if you know what the scene is about, and you’ve identified the subtext, there is only one way to shoot it.

We’ve been able to recruit a wonderful casting director in Judy Bowman, who is based in New York. We are shooting the film in Yonkers, NY, the fourth largest city in the state, which sits just north of the Bronx. I believe Elia Kazan once said that casting the right actors is 85 to 90 percent of directing a successful film. Woody Allen also said that 80 percent of success is showing up. So, I figure if I cast the film mostly right and show up most of the time, the film will be gangbusters.

Casting is its own art form. This is a very small, independent movie; however, in my experience, actors want to work, and if they see themselves in a part, your chances of booking them for the role are high. We are dealing with a cast primarily of teenagers, which means we’ll be auditioning a lot of people for the majority of the roles. The roles of the parents, however, are such that we might attract bigger name cast members—they’re big parts that can be shot out in a relatively short period of time. You obviously want to find the right people for the roles, but “names” typically don’t audition for independent films. It’s understood that an offer (money, backend points, etc.) is made to an actor before that actor will read the script. That might strike some as snobby, but if you think about it, if name actors (they’re classified as “name” because they’re in demand) responded to every request to audition for an independent film, their days would be completely occupied with them.

From my standpoint, it’s a bit of a gamble. If you’re going to make an offer to an actor, you want to do your due diligence and become as familiar with that person’s work as possible. You should also, if possible, contact those who have worked with that actor before. Most other directors, producers, actors, will extend you the courtesy of sharing their experience with said actor. This courtesy was extended to me once in the past, and it saved my film (and sanity): I ended up choosing not to work with an actor who was problematic on other people’s sets.

We are in the midst of making a few offers and lining up auditions. It’s exciting, but can also be anxiety inducing. While Kazan’s statement regarding actors is sound, logically; actors are also just one part of many parts of the filmmaking process. If you put all your stock in them, you are doing your story, and vision for that story, a disservice.

I will be getting back to my storyboards momentarily; while some directors don’t like to do them, I find they’re essential. You are basically making the movie (sketching every shot of it) before you make the movie, and that would tickle Alfred Hitchcock. And if it would tickle Alfred Hitchcock, I must be doing something right. The sooner I can see my movie in its entirety spread out in front of me, the easier it will be to breathe.

[This piece was originally published in Film Slate Magazine]

An Inside Look Into the Making of “No Alternative”

I’m thrilled to announce that Film Slate Magazine will be publishing a series of real time updates on the pre-production, production and post-production of my film, “No Alternative.”

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“No Alternative” is a personal film that, these days, is near impossible to get made in Hollywood. I’ve written a great deal about how the decline of the middle space of filmmaking has essentially mirrored the decline of the middle class in this country—the chasm between the one percent of filmmaking—tent-pole blockbusters—and the ninety-nine percent—indie films, which have been relegated to shrinking microbudget levels—has never been greater, or more stark.

I’ve directed a few features and never really considered crowdfunding as an option, but Hollywood’s rather myopic focus on the “biggest” and “broadest” has led indie filmmakers like me to welcome such an avenue—we’ve always had to beg, borrow and steal, but such an ethos has never been more germane to independent filmmaking as it is right now. Inspired by my sister’s real-life struggles with mental illness, “No Alternative” couldn’t be more personal to me, and therefore it made for a good project to attempt to crowdfund. Through my research, I’ve found that people are more likely to contribute to a person with a personal story, with a cause, than to simply a story itself.

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We raised over $50,000 through Indiegogo and continue to raise funds through our non-profit sponsor, From The Heart Productions here: https://bitly.com/noalternativefilm. The campaign attracted a lot of attention and drew support from a great deal of people, including Amazon Studio’s own Ted Hope. We’ve been able to raise eighty-five percent of our budget from outside investors who were also drawn to the project and its accompanying crowdfunding campaign. It’s important to remember that crowdfunding campaigns are not only about raising money, they’re also about establishing, and subsequently building, your base. This base includes supporters, fans and potential business partners like investors, producers and keys of departments. The crowdfunding page for your film serves as its “go-to” hub for people interested in it. The best part of it is: if they like what they see and hear, they can be a part of making the movie a reality!

I’ve been open and honest not only about my personal connection to the material, but also about the filmmaking process itself. I’ve written a book on microbudget filmmaking and plan to put my experience and theories on the subject to the test on this film, and I will be keeping a journal of sorts of the process and publishing it in Film Slate Magazine over these next few months as we make “No Alternative.” Stay tuned!

Top Ten 90’s Misfires

10. LASERDISCS

While an earnest attempt to satiate cinephiles’ appetite for a higher quality home viewing experience of their favorite movies, the laserdisc was a clunky, impractical product. They weighed into the pounds, were very noisy to operate (due to the weight and speed it had to be spun) and not all the analog information could be stored on one side, necessitating the flipping of the disc every 30-60 minutes, and in some cases, the removal of the disc and loading of an additional disc for movies that were especially long.

10.Laserdisc

I admit to having a laserdisc player back in the day, and still sing its praises when it comes to “Star Wars”: it still remains the only medium in which a high quality version of the STAR WARS TRILOGY was released in its original state, before it was permanently altered by George Lucas. Yes, I still have the trilogy on laserdisc…and I continue to treasure it today.

9. BEEPERS

Also known as a “pager,” this simple communications device allowed someone to call it and leave a return phone number on its digital display.

9.Beeper

Teenagers in the 90’s seemed to want to have one, and actually thought it was cool to wear—backwards, with beeper inside the pocket and clip displayed proudly on the outside of the pocket. This didn’t last long, not only because the beeper was soon to be overshadowed by the cellular phone, but also because everyone realized that there was no good reason to have one of these damned things unless you were a doctor, drug dealer or a teenager who enjoyed having their parents beep them every half-an-hour.

8. THE LEXICON OF GRUNGE

In November 1992, The New York Times ran an article that cracked the code of “grunge speak.” The newspaper listed a number of slang terms that they claimed to be uniquely associated with the Seattle grunge scene.

8.LexiconOfGrunge

Turns out, the list was a hoax, a practical joke pulled on the esteemed newspaper by Megan Jasper, a receptionist for Caroline Records. By not adequately scrutinizing the article before running it, The New York Times proved itself the cob-nobbler [loser] in this particular instance.

7. “WATERWORLD”

This movie starring Kevin Costner was the most expensive film ever made at the time. It was released in 1995 to terrible reviews and is still considered one of the biggest box-office bombs of all time. Dennis Hopper also won the Razzie for Worst Supporting Actor.

7.Waterworld

Having said all that, I don’t think WATERWORLD is as bad as everyone thinks it is. It’s a cool concept and visually enthralling. And, come on, a Razzie for Dennis Hopper? For playing Deacon, the leader of the “Smokers,” a ragtag group of post-apocalyptic outlaws who ride haphazardly around on spiked jet skis and armored boats? Did I mention Deacon is a futuristic pirate who has one eye? A pirate who chain-smokes; notwithstanding the conceit that the world in which the movie takes place has been covered in water for generations and the last tobacco plant to have grown anywhere is not even within the scope of anyone’s memory. A Razzie for an actor forced to smoke such old, stale cigarettes? This is more like an Oscar-snub.

6. CRYSTAL PEPSI

Crystal Pepsi was marketed on the shelves as a “clear alternative” to normal colas, insufficiently equating clearness with purity and health.

6.Crystal-pepsi

Its slogan was: “You’ve never seen a taste like this.” While it was interesting to look at, no doubt, the fact remained: sodas are meant to be swallowed. And this soda, in addition to being caffeine-free and not at all resembling the flavor of a cola, tasted…bad.

5. THE “RACHEL” HAIRCUT

The “Rachel” haircut is a short, choppy, layered ‘do, square-like around the face, which was made famous by Jennifer Aniston in season one of the hit television show FRIENDS and named after her character, Rachel Green.

5.Rachel-friends

Despite her association with the cut, Aniston disliked the hairstyle:

“Have there been disasters? I think that’s a very relative term with hair. Let’s say there have been moments I’d rather not relive, like that whole Rachel thing. I love Chris [McMillan, her hairstylist], and he’s the bane of my existence at the same time because he started that damn Rachel, which was not my best look. How do I say this? I think it was the ugliest haircut I’ve ever seen. What I really want to know is, how did that thing have legs? Let’s just say I’m not a fan of short, layered cuts on me personally, so I don’t love revisiting that particular era.”

4. CANDLEBOX

Okay, maybe there were worse crimes perpetrated against music in the 90’s by the likes of Vanilla Ice, Billy Ray Cyrus, The Crash Test Dummies, Snow, and Los Del Rio and their godforsaken “Macarena,” but the trouble with Candlebox was that they were often directly associated with the grunge movement—at least that’s what major radio stations had you believe at the time, due to their relentless playing and replaying of “Far Behind” at the top of every hour and between much better songs from bands like Alice In Chains, Nirvana and Pearl Jam.

4.Candlebox

The other above-referenced songs were at least excluded from what was labeled “alternative;” it’s the distinction that Candlebox was included among that which was deemed “alternative,” when in actuality their music didn’t really aspire to be anything greater than the perfect music for an elevator or radio in a dentist’s office, that qualifies them as a “misfire.”

“Now maybe/

I didn’t mean to treat you oh so bad/

But I did it anyway”

Yes, you did, Candlebox…yes, you did.

3. DIAL-UP INTERNET

We all remember the days of dial-up internet, and those are days we would surely like to forget.

3.Dial-up-Internet

Dial-up connections require nothing more than a computer, a telephone network and an honorable amount of patience (it could take up to an hour or more to download a few megabytes). These days, dial-up is virtually obsolete; especially considering that most of the things we do online now—stream videos, skype, game, file share, download music—are impossible to do with such a slow, and archaic, connection to the net. That didn’t prevent people from trying, just as long as you didn’t use up all of your 1000 free hours you got on CD.

For many, AOL is synonymous with dial-up, and the mere mention of the acronym still frustrates a lot of people and brings back memories of the piercing static sounds one had to sit through while waiting for a connection and praying for the words, “You’ve Got Mail.”

2. “NOT!”

Not: for the purpose of this list, a word made popular in the early 90’s by the movie “Wayne’s World.” A user adds “not” to the end of a sentence to overtly highlight the sarcasm in the sentence itself.

Example: “What a totally amazing, excellent discovery… NOT!!!” -Wayne Campbell

2.Not

There’s a reason why no one uses this word in this way anymore, and I’m positive most of us would like to keep it that way.

1. Y2K

The Year 2000 problem (aka the Y2K problem, the Millennium bug, the Y2K bug, or just Y2K) was a problem for both computer and non-computer documentation and data storage that resulted from abbreviating a four-digit year to two digits.

1.Y2K

Concern swept the world—the apocalypse was about to arrive, and it was going to be caused by the inability of computer systems to process that changeover in dates from the year 1999 to the year 2000. Without corrective action, long-working systems were suspected to break down when the pattern of ascending numbers […97, 98, 99, 00…] suddenly became invalid. And this catastrophe would, of course, lead to the end of the world as we knew it: infrastructure dependent on computer data and management, like subways, phone service, and financial transactions, would implode.

John Hamre, the United States Secretary of Defense under President Clinton, was quoted as saying: “The Y2K problem is the electronic equivalent of the El Nino and there will be nasty surprises around the globe.”

Needless to say, we survived.

For a whole lot more on the nineties, check out my new film “No Alternative”: http://igg.me/at/noalternative

 

“No Alternative” – The Crowdfunding Campaign

No Alternative - Indiegogo - Card -4

I launched my first crowdfunding campaign this week.

Crowdfunding is its own art form—an art form I’m no expert at, I’m sure—but indie film is at a point where grassroots funding is becoming more and more critical to sustaining its viability. It’s almost impossible to get Hollywood to fund something that’s not a thriller, or a horror movie, or a comic book movie—and they rarely ever fund coming-of-age films. The filmmaking community, and their audiences, have been left with tent-poles (studio movies made for 150 million and up) and microbudgets (movies made for under a million, often far less than a million).

The middle class space of filmmaking has disappeared. This is something I’ve written a lot about for Indiewire over the past few months. I’m hoping we can rebuild this artistically important space, one movie at a time—and right now I’m attempting to fight the good fight with my new film: “No Alternative.”

The character of “Bri Da B” is inspired by my sister, who for most of her life suffered from mental illness. One of the ways she was able to cope and enjoy her life was through rapping. When the character of Bridget becomes “Bri Da B,” that transformation into someone else helps lessen the pain she is feeling in her life.

I have always thought of “No Alternative” as a love letter to my sister, a plea for her survival. That’s why I originally wrote the novel this film is based on. I wish I could tell you that plea was successful. But, I can’t. The majority of my sister’s life was a battle fought against borderline personality disorder, drug addiction and suicidal behavior. A battle she ultimately succumbed to on July 1, 2014.

While she may have lost her battle, I’m hopeful we can win the war—and we can do it in honor of her, and others who have suffered like she did. The issue of mental illness needs to be destigmatized and “No Alternative” seeks to do just that.

The campaign for “No Alternative” is officially being sponsored by From the Heart Productions, a 501(c)3 non-profit organization that supports films that make a contribution to society. By contributing to this film, you are not only helping other socially conscious films get made, but your donation is also tax-deductible.

This campaign encompasses the entire process—from pre-production, to production to finishing the film in post. I encourage you to check it out on Indiegogo: http://igg.me/at/noalternative

There are some amazing perks/rewards for contributors. Here is a list of just some of them: Signed editions of my books, Parental Advisory “Bri Da B” official movie T-Shirts, filmmaking mentorships with both myself and my co-screenwriter, Dwight Moody, opportunities to be a part of the movie as featured extras, as a band, or having supporting characters named after you, and we’re even offering major “hero” props from my previous films like “Detour” and “Don’t Look Back.”

Please check out the campaign page for all the other cool rewards you can redeem when you make a contribution.

“No Alternative” probes the lives of rebellious kids who transition into adulthood via the distortion pedals of their lives in an era when the “Sex, Drugs & Rock’n’Roll” ethos was amended to include “Suicide” in its phrase. Help destigmatize mental illness, addiction and suicide: there is no alternative.

Thank you so much for your support.

NO ALTERNATIVE: “The Clarity of Regret”

NoAlternative-TitleI just completed my book tour.  It was a great success, and also a heck of a lot of fun.  I’m grateful to those bloggers who hosted my book and to Kriss and Kai of The Finishing Fairies for organizing the endeavor.

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On the tour, I released an exclusive clip from a reading I did at Stories Books and Cafe in Echo Park.  Here it is:

The promotional campaign for this book has been grassroots.  Perhaps in line with the spirit of the characters in the novel, the concept behind writing this book, and consequently marketing it, is the “DIY” mindset.  If there is a core ingredient to punk rock, if there is an ideal to aspire to in said art form, it is the collective embrace of the do-it-yourself spirit, culture and lifestyle.  Just like the indie bands of the early 90’s, before there were social networks and paid advertisements on facebook and twitter, it was all about word-of-mouth.  So, if you’ve heard of “No Alternative,” and you dig what it’s about, please spread the word.

Here is the excerpt from the novel that I read in the above clip:

This break-up was the bittersweet kind, as if there is any other kind, but a kind nonetheless, and this kind fell into a specific subset of the bittersweet break-up, one that is typical among teenagers who have professed their love for one another, exchanged sterling silver rings, broken heart pendants, leather jackets, punk rock mix tapes. It’s falling head-over-Converses in love at an age when we’re still growing, physically, mentally, and emotionally, but more than just growing, expanding at breakneck speed, finding ourselves at a pace that is downright alarming and which will never be duplicated for the rest of our lives. It’s guaranteed that no love will last, but this teenaged love feels like heroin in the brutal rush of its power, its ability to commandeer the body and the mind and its ability to make you feel like a steaming pile of shit when it comes to its crashing end. It’s not that teenaged love is more powerful than any of the other types of love we experience throughout our lives, it’s just that we will never feel that way again, never feel that rush of addiction, the certainty that we have found our proper place in the universe and we feel that way precisely because we haven’t completed our physical and mental maturation. That’s what makes it unique. That’s what makes it addicting. That’s what makes it so enervating when it starts and so heartbreaking when it ends. And it always ends. And when it does, what was once there, what was once perfect, becomes irretrievable –

It’s lost forever.

Jeremy and Leslie were on the beach, kissing tenderly and gently, the way a couple that is not brand new starts to do at some point before they stop kissing altogether, kissing for what was soon to be the last time. It was the fact that they knew it was going to be the last time that made the kissing even more tender, as though there were memories tied up in it, as though there were regrets, not of times gone by but of times that would never be. He could feel her face, their cheeks grazing against each other’s, their tears mixing together, and he remembered how he licked them off his lips, tasting them. He tasted the salt; it was like he dipped his tongue into the expanse of the Pacific Ocean. As Jeremy sat in his dank little holding cell in Bronxville, it was like the break-up was happening to him all over again, like he was replaying the events in his mind with Technicolor clarity, not the cheap rewinding and replaying of a VHS tape, but the hyper-clarity of a laserdisc, right down to the depiction of the blood dripping into the sand after she left. It was as High Definition as hi-def could get back then. Before there was Blu-ray and plasma televisions, there was the clarity of regret.

Thanks for reading.

You can find the book on Amazon, in Paperback and in Kindle: www.amazon.com/noalternative

William Dickerson is Stephen Fry proof thanks to caching by WP Super Cache