30 July 2009

The Calm Before the Storm

On August 1st, Project Twenty1 will begin. On that date, the competition's organizers will announce this year's element, and all the competing teams, including my own, Team Hard Boiled Productions, will have three weeks to write, shoot, and edit together a short film that somehow incorporates that element. Some teams will succeed, some teams will turn in their films late, and some teams won't finish at all. It will be a period of great activity and inspiration, punctuated with drama, stress, and elation.

But it's not here yet.

Red Seven, the film I helped make in
the first year of the competition

I'm currently languishing in The Meantime, keeping my eyes and mind open for locations, collaborators, ideas, music, and all the other things that go into filmmaking, but not doing much else. I can't. It's against the rules. All facets of creating the actual film must occur within that three week period. Besides, I don't know the element yet. In the first year, it was "21," in the second it was "light." With this one, I can't even hazard a guess.

And so I wait.

, our entry for
the second year

I avoid working on other creative projects; I'm afraid to give them my full attention for fear of being distracted, or having my artistic energy sapped and diminished. I go to work, put in my hours, and then go home. I dip my toe into a few short term writing jobs, articles for the next issue of the magazine, but these can be done quickly, and don't usually require the same sturm und drang of filmmaking.

It's a fallow period. I usually experience them when I'm in between major scripts, the time when I'm searching for a new idea and fidgeting because I fret that I don't have any more in me. This time I know exactly when I'll be exiting the fallow period, but that doesn't make me any less unhappy. If anything it just makes me more edgy, eagerly anticipating the arrival of August 1st so I can get off my ass and blow minds. Or, lacking that, at least finish the project on time. That in itself is an accomplishment to take pride in.

But before I can do that, I must bide my time, which I do by making observations about the city around me.

New York City is currently drowning in humidity. The level of stickiness has passed all reasonable boundaries and is edging into sheer absurdity. The atmosphere at present is what I like to think of as "Tennessee Williams hot." Rags for brow mopping are not out of place, and cold liquor drinks like Mint Juleps and bourbon and sodas are frequently desired. Every so often the heat is interrupted with an unholy rain storm. On Sunday, my roommate and I were caught in a downpour that rivaled the typhoons I witnessed in Japan. For ten minutes in the middle of the afternoon, the sun still shone as the skies vomited a monsoon of water and a bevy of winds, causing traffic to stop and umbrellas to break, and transforming the curbs into free-flowing rivers. And then it ended, and we caught a train into the city.

It always rains when I'm outside.

Today was similar. I chose to go to lunch just as the sun-blotting clouds unleashed their fury upon the populace. I hid beneath my brand new umbrella, which, like all umbrellas, is not big enough to protect my entire person, and which already has a torn flap due to the torrential winds. The storm lessened a bit, then redoubled itself a couple of hours later, with lightning zapping the top of the Empire State Building and the sharp thin rain moving along with the wind and cascading into the stony brick facades of the neighborhood, looking more like the bottom of a waterfall than a summer shower.

You would think that with all these storms, one of them might break the humidity. But none have. If anything, they only make it worse. Entering my apartment feels like I'm hitting a wall, and I suddenly pour out even more sweat, rushing to throw off my bag so I can sit down and not move a single muscle. I cool off while I wait for my computer to start, and tonight it screams and protests more than is usual, the fan frequently whining into high-pitched life, probably because I've had it for four years but have never taken it in to be cleaned or repaired or updated, and also the heat is telling it to screw with me.

I like to think that in this state, the downtime state, I am a sponge soaking up information, which I can then use for Project Twenty1. Right now, I am collecting facts, tidbits, songs, movies, sentences, scenes, and hopefully these will all eventually cohere into something resembling a compelling narrative, one easily shot on a small budget and with a minimum of locations.

It's possible. Crazier things have happened.

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