2019 Year Recap
I have lived more in this year than I expected to live in a lifetime. The story of this year is the story of many relationships, most of them creative partnerships. It's also a story of achievement, of pain, and sublime transition. I feel lucky to have lived it and to have survived, and for the deep relationships forged along the way.
High level...I moved to LA (temporarily), directed a feature film, traveled to some beautiful places, and started a company.
I have lived my life out of balance, dancing between extremes: 60 days straight of 13-hour work days, 5 apartments, travel between SF and LA, week-long pockets of hard relaxation. Many days I have woken up not entirely sure which bed I was in until I opened my eyes.
The year began with New Year's in Mexico City with Elie and Andrei, my first new friend of the new year. I remember sitting on top of the Teohuiacan pyramids and marveling at the mystery of who built them and the power of something that's 1000 years old. (As well as the most epic New Year's party I've ever been to.)
I went back to SF and we immediately jumped into our Sundance project, creating fake news at the festival -- silly antics, fake websites, and adventures blended with promotion for our project. Collaborating with Ellie, Ellie, Jon, and Sean was a dreamy weird vortex of unreality and a week I won't forget.
I landed from this crazy week in February, back on the mission to get together a film team and get together a company. At this point shooting the film looked very possible, but the pieces weren't coming together. It was a few weeks of follow-ups from Sundance, flying back and forth between LA and SF, and taking meeting after meeting.
Then I met Mike Kolko, who brought in an old friend Ronald Krauss, who quickly became our Executive Producer, setting up meeting after meeting with people he knew. We met with Siena Oberman who introduced us to Nancy Yalley, who became our producer and a primary creative collaborator on the film.
Nancy -- words cannot express the power of what we did together and how I feel about you. You were our rock, you held everything together and pushed it forward. We accomplished the impossible (and it nearly killed us!) She brought on our co-producers Andrew and Marvin, and we hired a team -- I'd give shoutouts but there are 40 wonderful people I want to thank individually.
March and April were meetings and more meetings, getting everything ready. I raised more funds. We hired more people. And I worked closely with Cynthia Huffman, a powerful, extraordinary casting director. Cynthia, you brought us our incredible cast and made this movie! Every Thursday and Friday I would fly down for two full days of casting sessions, then fly back home for the weekend. Jared Scott made the most involved self-tape I've ever seen and right away we knew he was our lead. We were getting worried that we wouldn't find the two other leads, and then Keith Miller came in at the start of a full day of casting. He blew us away and we nearly canceled the rest of the audition day. And then, a week later, Grace Rizzo came in and wowed us, both with her performance and her uncanny similarity to the character.
Working with these actors was a dream. It was new for most of us (a feature is a different beast than a short, and the long character arc makes it a marathon, not a sprint) and we learned together, creating a shorthand to talk about characters and getting to know each other more deeply.
May was a month to connect with family, and I went with my family to Tel Aviv and Jerusalem to see our cousin Amalia get married and spend time with Michael, Carol, and Jeff. Though I was working late into the nights, it was great to get this opportunity to spend quality time with family and witness this beautiful moment.
I crash landed back to San Francisco and, in the space of five days, opened a tupperware container to spend last moments of quality time with friends (sharing some amazing moments with Zane Witherspoon, leaving the fun for hours at a time to work on the script), packed up my life, and moved to Los Angeles. I woke up at 7am, was packed and out of my room at noon, and at my parents' house by midnight. The next day began the 13-hour days as I pounded away at the last draft of the script. We moved into our production office in Glendale, and it was off to the races.
One month till the shoot...a movie is made in preproduction, and we had a lot to do: scout 40 locations (yes I am insane), cast a few more characters, shot list the film, build the visual look. I was in rehearsals and special effects meetings and investor pitches by day, writing 30-page color theme docs by night. It was hard and it felt GOOD -- I was being used, fully, to the max.
Difficulties on the production started early. Two weeks into preproduction we lost our Locations Manager, with very little work done, and locations plagued us for the whole process. Then we lost two Assistant Directors in a row.
Shooting began and it was HARD. We were doing too much, our location was mad at us. At some point someone asked me how I was feeling and I said "I have no feelings, only goals." But looking back in retrospect I did have feelings: awe at what we were creating, terror, and immense gratitude. It felt so good to be making something with so many wildly talented people.
And then the unthinkable happened -- our cinematographer fell ill and had to leave in the middle of a shoot day. I remember the feeling of shock as he left in the middle of the day, watching my primary creative collaborator leave, and with him our days of conversations about the film. He had the whole film in his head, and several days later his doctor told him he couldn't continue.
But the show had to go on. Once you have this much money, people, inertia on the line, you can't stop. A lesser producer might have called it a day and regrouped, but not Nancy. She found Evan as a replacement within an HOUR.
"Michael, this is Evan, he's going to be shooting today," Nancy said to bewildered me.
"I'm going to take a break and eat some lunch," I said.
You don't have time. Next shot is up in three minutes.
"Okay," I said, looking at Evan. "Umm..it's a movie about two people who try to ruin each other's lives online?"
And then we were off, finishing our day with two hours of overtime. Thanks as well to Ben who jumped in and shot several days as well.
And two days later, after we wrapped for the day, I was sitting at a bar sharing beers with Michael Pessah. I sent him a text: \u00e2\u0080\u009chey what are you doing the next month or so?\u00e2\u0080\u009d and miraculously he was free. He read the script and his first question after I told him what we were going for was, "and how are you telling this story visually?"
Michael, you saved our film. You jumped headfirst into the deep end and brought your brilliant eye, your grace, and your storytelling. Learning to collaborate as the ground moved under our feet was such an experience.
And what is remarkable through all this is that what came through the lens of the camera, even on the days fraught with difficulty, was powerful and beautiful. The film was working.
The shoot culminated in a week that began with our ending, a beautiful technicolor Blade Runner confrontation coalescing of all the themes and all we had learned about the characters. The power of the performances had me struck. I cried from the Director's Chair.
After the film wrapped, I wanted nothing more than to get the hell out of dodge, so the next night I flew to Louisville to see Chase\u00e2\u0080\u0099a sister get married.
Chase, rekindling our relationship and working on this film together has meant so much to me. You believed in me and supported me through every step of the process. It has truly been a wild ride and we are so blessed to have your support.
After the wedding I flew to Guatemala (on Shoshanna's recommendation) to decompress. I found the Mushroom Academy and remembered beauty in nature. Within two days I got my heart broken. I remember carefree nights on the bridge, playing mandolin and singing under the cathedral of the Milky Way, as the water rushed by us below. I will always remember those stars and those few nights.
And I left, cut my trip short, to get to Burning Man. I missed my friends and tribe. Deciding between really resting and having open time and space to reconnect with everyone, I chose the latter. Getting to Burning Man was hard and complicated, and a very terrible thing happened. I'm not at liberty to talk about it here due to the people involved, but it was the worst thing I have ever experienced by far, and I spent the next few months in part recovering from the trauma of the experience. In the process, some powerful relationships grew stronger (Dan, June, Duckles, Jesse, Jared, Tucker, Austin, Sena; Ethan, you are rocks. I cannot thank you enough.)
I landed back in Los Angeles in September. I wasn't rested, my living situation wasn't good, and the movie had to continue, but it was just me to push forward. Bleary eyed, I found a new place to live and began a new, second round of discussions and meetings, this time aimed at building the company to execute the new kind of film release we were making. I was going back and forth between LA and SF.
I grabbed dinner with Todd Huffman, who generously offered thoughts, feedback, and connections within his network. He brought Elizabeth to an event that Jim O'Neill and Jonathan Cain were hosting at Jim's house. Elizabeth was moving to LA and looking for the next thing, and after speaking for a few weeks she decided to come on as our Chief Operations Officer.
Elizabeth -- you have helped build this company to what it is and will be. Between your knowledge, your experience, and care, I am so incredibly grateful to be on this journey with you and excited about what we will create together. It's been wild and fun so far.
At the same time we brought on Zach Fish as our Chief Narrative Officer to produce our event. What an incredible thing you've done and will continue to do Zach, structuring our project and turning this wild thing into a scoped and actionable project. I know that you will make this project incredibly cool and it's been awesome working with you.
As the start of a team, we built our plans and structured out the project, started the wheels turning, and we've been full on with the process ever since. We brought on Jon Schoonhoven, Ad Naka, and Justin Bortnick. We've grown to a team of 8 and will grow even more in the coming few weeks.
Meanwhile, I started working with Michael, our editor who I met through Darren Stein. He's been cutting the film and polishing it until it looks beautiful, and we've done a few events in LA and SF showing off what we have so far. Michael, I'm so excited to see this thing come together.
I also moved into Treehouse through getting connected with Joe Green. Treehouse is an experiment in co-living, a new kind of building designed for shared space. I moved in, and have been excited to be part of the electric energy of the space. If you're looking for a spot in LA, come think about moving in! Thank you Joe for bringing me into this community.
The last few months have been wild. I've been ON all the time, catapulting from LA to SF, meeting from interview to edit session to dinner and drinks to sleep to do it all over again. Being a part of a fast-growing, fast-moving team is exhilarating.
I think we're creating something that's going to work. I am excited to watch this thing grow, to empower our entire community to create immersive art on the internet, and to play a part in an important global conversation. It is so gratifying to experience the creation of art among friends as a product of all this hard work.
By the end of the year I was burnt out. Burnout is real, and it's important to address it. I told my company I'd be completely unavailable for the week of Christmas (I uninstalled Gmail and Slack on my phone) and partially available this week.
If you are burnt out, TAKE TIME OFF AND DO NOTHING. These two weeks in Hawaii have been incredible (amazing times ringing in the new year with Drew, Elyse, Ashu, Seth, Ela, Archie, and Michael.) The first few days were spent spinning down from incredible intensity. The second few days were about getting to a place of being present. Now, one week in, is the first day I feel relaxed and at ease, at peace with myself. Downtime is how we become better at what we do -- it's absolutely essential.
What a year it has been. I am thrilled to close the book on 2019, to celebrate the victories and successes, let go of the difficulty, and embrace a new way of working in 2020.
For this new year I aim to find balance, as much as is possible amid all this turbulence. I am making a personal commitment to self care, to downtime, and to presence, and supporting all of this on my team.
I'm excited to EXECUTE this project and unleash it on the world in June. (You can join! Link in the first comment for how you can create art with us.)
I'm excited to MOVE BACK to San Francisco, my home and where my community and chosen family lives. I'm aiming to move back around March. (I'll still be in LA part time.)
Some more shoutouts from the year:
Eric, your weekly support and friendship has made such a powerful difference. I so appreciate your consistent mentorship and consistent thoughtfulness, and am glad for our friendship.
And to the mentors and advisors who have offered your wisdom and time so generously: Alex, Jeremy, Joseph, Mischa, Benja, Brandon, and so many others that I can't mention you all by name.
And to my friends and adventure buddies for whom memories strongly stand out: (removing tags because FB limited me to 50): Rob, Joey, Mareesa, Adrienne, Alex, Muriel, the Agape crew Maryna, Ellie, and M'chelle, Evan and Ash, Micah, Irina, Tim, Shayna, Ivan, Anna, Aza, and others I am undoubtedly forgetting..
Hurrah hurrah, see you all in 2020!
For those who read this far, I'd like to share a poem I wrote which is the best articulation I can make of what it was like to make a film:
We close our eyes and dream a collective dream. The screenplay, the conversations, the interpretation passed from mind to mind brings us to a shared understanding of the reality we are creating. It should feel like this, it should be like this. These are the emotional truths we are attempting to touch. And then each department, each human, reaches into their creative minds and physical resources. The clothes come on, the lens is chosen, the location and more importantly the specific tiny sliver of location we choose. The shifts of focus, mirroring the gaze of attention of the human eye. And the actor, summoning the character and reality of the scene.
In a gasp and for a brief moment, we converge. And what I have realized is this: that feeling of nostalgia you get when you watch a movie, that feeling of almost-having-been, that feeling of touching and then having lost, that feeling of approaching and seeing perfection. For that brief moment when the camera rolls and the take comes that gives us a twist in the gut; we have touched the live wire that creates it. We have seen that moment being born. It dies immediately, of course. We, too, are left with only the memory of its full actualization, or more accurately, the memory of the imagining of its full actualization.
I'm in love with the fire we summon to meet each other. With the depth of soul that is visible only in these singular moments, that begins to fade as I call cut and has dissipated back into its primordial pool by the time the trucks are loaded and we say our goodbyes, ready to do it all over again the next day. I am in love with the moment we create together, shining like a jewel as the poor, unstructured reality around us fades away and we live briefly in a world that makes sense.
We have intersected with a dream.
We have touched the ideal, with the world as witness.