Just before visiting a friend in Newport last Sunday (who is also one of the actors in First Signal), I went to Easton Beach to do some drone photography. Since I purchased the DJI Spark last year for First Signal I’ve had a great time taking all kinds of images. The number of doors it has opened for me and my projects has been very encouraging. Photography and film, in my view, is all about inspiration.
I have two favorite mansions I love to visit in Newport; The Elms and Rosecliff. I don’t recall if The Elms was closed last weekend, but I know that Rosecliff has converted the second floor (which was primarily bedrooms) into an exhibition space.
Discovering Bill Cunningham: Facades was an absolute delight. Having been to New York City in the 70s and lived there in the 80s, I could relate to the atmosphere of the city at the time when he captured these images. The juxtaposition of his muse Editta Sherman wearing all kinds of period costumes against the architecture of New York was truly inspiring. If you’re in the Newport area or plan to visit, this is one exhibit I highly recommend.
For me Rosecliff has held a particular fondness. It was the first mansion I visited with my mother in the 1980s. When I was publishing a figure skating magazine in the 90s and early 2000s, we photographed Nancy Kerrigan at the estate. I think “Tessie” Oelrichs would be pleased how Rosecliff is still entertaining guests well into in the 21st century.
With pre-production well under way for First Signal, it’s exhibitions like Bill Cunningham: Facades that inspire ideas for my own projects. The saying “a picture is worth a thousand words” reminds me of the still photographs you often see accompany the production of a film. While making a film is about moving pictures, it’s “the still” that often promotes the project.
In my view inspiration doesn’t happen overnight. In the creative world, it comes from a cumulative effect of new experiences. It also comes from surrounding yourself with equally good people that inspire and motivate you to create. In today’s world of always being “plugged in” it’s easy to get drawn in to those that endlessly complain or live in a world of negativity. Those that live in that world are, as I said when I was in a Star Trek fan film, “dismissed.” Simply put, life is short but I’m making a feature.
Since my last post I’ve traveled to a variety of events; a World War 1 reenactment, the USS Salem and “Cars and Coffee” at Fort Adams in Newport. Although I’ve always been someone who takes a fair amount of pictures, I now find myself looking to tell a story through some sort of video. Sure, it’s the filmmaker in me that wants to tell a story, but I can tell it’s all leading up to something else.
That’s the great thing about this industry. First, we have so many tools at our disposal. No longer are we limited to the cost of entry to the trade, when the barriers have come so far down economically. What it comes down to is our respective imaginations to create or even better—experiment.
Yesterday when I was leaving Fort Adams I drove down a street back to town I’ve taken numerous times. But this time I stopped. I wanted to capture some sort of drone shot of Newport with all the sailboats. As I walked towards the water I noticed something in the near distance. I soon found myself at the statue of Jean-Baptiste Donatien pointing towards Newport. Needless to say I did a few takes and will be creating a video shortly that starts with this French nobleman.
The one thing that usually happens when I’m shooting with my DJI Spark are the inevitable conversations I have with total strangers. So many hear about drones, but to actually see one in action is still relatively rare. Yesterday, two tradesmen that were rebuilding the pyramid next to the statue of Donatien started asked me a variety of questions. From range, to types of shots, to cost, to how it’s operated, I’m always happy to offer what I can in response. This particular encounter worked out great as I lost my sunglasses in the area shortly thereafter. After they saw me walking around several times clearly looking for something, they offered to help. In total Sherlock Holmes reconstructive fashion, they showed me where I walked and low and behold one of them found the sunglasses!
Over the years I’ve met so many interesting people through my films and other projects. The one thing I don’t think you can be in this business is an extrovert. This is an industry of engagement and introducing others to new experiences and your work. Sadly, I know some talented people that are very gifted but rely on others do to their promotion. By example I met someone several weeks ago who built a great website, but then stated they didn’t share it to social media because they don’t like to promote themselves. In a total defeatist tone, they continued by saying, they just weren’t good at it. What’s the point in creating something if you aren’t going to promote it? This doesn’t mean you have to be a braggart, but it’s OK to say “I’m pleased to present my new website.”
Speaking of websites, before I started doing my “pre-production” work leading up to AFM in November, I found some of mine needed updates. Thankfully, with development platforms like Wix or WordPress we can now build and update our own websites that don’t require a bank of programmers.
I’ll never forget the day Adam Starr brought his drone to the set of Justice Is Mind. When I wrote the part in the story that called for a drone, I count myself lucky that Adam had one. In those days (2012) a drone for an independent film was a novelty. Adam had recently purchased a drone for a commercial shoot so thankfully he had one. As you can see from the image below, he did a great job. And with his VFX skills he transitioned from drone footage to special effects seamlessly.
Last weekend was a bit of a drone adventure for me. After my successful shots at the McAuliffe-Shepard Discovery Center earlier in the month, I went to a WWII event at Battleship Cove. I go every year, but this time I brought my DJI Spark. Although I’ve been working with the drone for a few months now, I never really put it through the paces. The image above was from the drone’s maximum height (without the remote controller). Yes, “Big Mamie” is a big ship! To watch the video, click this link.
The next day I went to Newport, RI and toured The Breakers. Although I took a picture of Marble House with the drone when I was at one of the “Cars & Coffee” shows, I had yet to video one of the Gilded Age “summer cottages.” After the tour I started to envision what I wanted to see from this great mansion that was the home of Cornelius Vanderbilt II. For those that remember the opening credits of Dynasty, that was my motivation. To watch the video, click this link.
To answer what some of you may be thinking, yes, I always get permission to film at museums and the like. The drama you hear about drones is pretty much nonsense. Operating a drone is like driving a car. It’s called practice and being responsible. If I’m not sure about something, I’m not going to try it. One of the cardinal rules is pretty simple—always be able to see your drone. Today’s drones have so many wonderful features built right into their programming. For mine, I can just tap “return to home” and that’s exactly what it does.
As part of SOS United States takes place on the USS Massachusetts, I’ve always wanted to do some filming at the museum. My interest in The Breakers was obvious. What filmmaker wouldn’t want to film such a grand residence? Because these two locations are so unique, my aim was to get two different looks if you will. But there are those moments when you kick yourself. I was approaching the low battery warning and had one more chance to get a shot at The Breakers. I hit “tap to fly” and the Spark was moving forward nicely. After a few moments I hit return to home. But I forgot to hit record when it was flying! Thankfully, I had enough footage.
Of course I originally purchased this drone for First Signal. Although actor and crew scheduling conflicts meant moving the film to 2019, this actually gives me more time to experience the capabilities of the Spark. There’s lots to shoot in the region!
As for First Signal, SOS United States, and my other projects, I always have a plan b. This November I’ll be traveling to the American Film Market. I haven’t been to Los Angeles since Justice Is Mind had its west coast premiere in 2014. It will be great to make new contacts and visit with friends and colleagues from my days in “Hollywood.”
This past Friday I finished my fifth class playing an NCIS Special Agent in the Naval Justice School’s mock trial program. When I first started in this program back in December 2016 I was simply cast as an actor, given background information to learn and literally jumped into the deep end of the pool. For those of you that have been following this blog for the last year, you know how much I enjoy this assignment. It’s important work. Not just for me as an actor, but for the school, the students and the military.
Now that I direct and supervise this program for the government contractor the responsibility level elevates. It’s not just important that I do my job as an actor, but I need to insure that others are doing their job as well. As a director my goal is that they present a strong performance on stage and off.
This round was particularly special for me when a recently retired NCIS Special Agent joined our group as an actress playing an “NCIS Special Agent”. Obviously, she brought a wonderful perspective to the part and was a joy to work with. But when she presented me with an “official” NCIS challenge coin, well that just made this round all the more exciting. But rewarding for me came at the end when I was getting ready to leave on Friday. One of the students walked up to me and thanked me for the work I did. Likewise, I thanked him for his service and the work he is doing. In the end, that’s what this is all about.
But as for out and about, it wasn’t all business. I had time in my schedule to visit the Audrain Automobile Museum to see their latest exhibit. If you find yourself in the Newport, Rhode Island area, I highly recommend a visit.
In regard to visiting, I will be at the Joint Base Cape Cod for a National Guard training exercise on April 6-7 and 10-11. To quote from the registration link for those interested in being a Casualty Role Player, “The training exercises will simulate an emergency response to a manmade or natural disaster including a structural collapse and/or nuclear, biological or chemical incident.” I will be there in a production capacity. To learn more, and to be considered as a Casualty Role Player, please visit this link.
It’s hard to be believe that auditions for First Signal will soon be here. With auditions set for April 14 in Nashua, NH at the Nashua Library and April 15 in Natick MA at the Verve Crowne Plaza, we have some great talent scheduled.
With First Signal being the first installment of what I hope to be a franchise in this “First World” universe I created a decade ago, the challenge is finding the right actors for the right parts. I’ve been fortunate over the years to work with some wonderful talent. Actors that are not only great at what they do on camera, but a joy to be around when the cameras turn off. That’s vital when casting a film. Because long after the last “cut” is heard and the cameras are turned off, it’s on to promotion and marketing.
This month marked one year since I was hired for a role playing character at the Naval Justice School (NJS) in their mock trial program. Since that first class last December my character and responsibilities have grown. There’s even been a change in the government contractor that administers the contract. But through it all, it has been an amazing experience.
The majority of projects I have worked on the last twenty years have largely been one day or multi-day projects (particularly for film projects). But this recurring opportunity is not only important work for NJS but greatly contributes to our acting experience and respective networks.
While a few of us are original to the program, the majority have been part of the program since March. For me it feels like a traveling troupe of actors with our audience being the students and our stage being the courtrooms of the school.
For this round I was directly responsible for bringing on new actors. As I mentioned to some of them this past week, when I receive a resume I always try to find some sort of six degrees of separation or similar project. One of the actors had previously done a mock trial program at Harvard, so that was a no-brainer.
In my view it works when an actor is open minded to the process of one of these role playing characters and gets along with other actors. The latter may sound a bit obvious, but it’s probably the most important because we spend so much time together. When I think of the amount of socializing we did this time it confirmed that we had a solid group for this round.
The one thing I can’t emphasize enough is the networking part of it all. When I was doing background on a film earlier this year, one actress and I hit it off and she was the first one I thought of when filling one of the larger roles. With another, I came up with the idea for an original story with her in one of the starring roles. Another one of the actors has been enjoying a successful run in Rhode Island theater circles and some of us plan to see him in his latest play next weekend. But there is one actress that I’ve worked with since last December, that sadly won’t be returning this coming March as her husband has been transferred to another military base.
When I first met Helen last December, she was so positive, with a constant smile and eagerness to help others. It didn’t take long for us to become fast friends and when I was in Newport this past summer we caught up over lunch.
So many of us are coffee drinkers with constant walks to the kitchen or the Starbucks on base. Helen, who isn’t a coffee drinker, suddenly arrives with a coffee maker, filters and coffee! As we were all struck with amazement and gratitude her response was along the lines of, to make our day easier. On our last day this week Helen wrote each of us a personal note. This wasn’t email, but a handwritten note!
Helen’s generosity, kindness and talent is something all of us should strive for.
The weather in Newport last week could not have been nicer. On the drive home Friday, I was reflecting how fast time flies and the weather we had last December and March. Let’s just say it wasn’t very cooperative from black ice to blizzards! But this round could not have gone smoother. From the trials at the Naval Justice School where fourteen of us participated as role players in their mock trial program to evening festivities and touring, it was a great time all the way around.
As I discussed with one of the newer actors to the program, this is probably one of the most unique acting gigs they will do. It’s one thing role playing a character, it’s another interfacing with over sixty students, instructors and leadership at the school. It’s that depth of involvement that has many of us returning for every class.
But with another class over, it’s time to return focus on to other projects. That new idea I mentioned in my last blog post means I will be firing up Final Draft this week. While I won’t go into the premise just yet, it will largely be a one location drama. The genre—science fiction.
As a writer my ideas come from a particular moment or experience. With Justice Is Mind it came from writing the sequel to First World. For this story, I had a basic idea for it last year and wrote down some thoughts placed in a folder called, brace yourself, ideas. But it was over the last four weeks at the Naval Justice School when I started to think about it again and talked to one of the actresses who I already have in mind for a part. Perhaps it was also the fact that fourteen of us are either in a classroom or a courtroom that the idea started to blossom.
Like I told this actress, I generally can’t start writing a story until I have an ending in mind. I need to know where the journey will eventually end. Now, that may change at some point, but it’s something to work towards.
As for the genre, the numbers I’ve been gathering over the last several years just reaffirm the market interest in science fiction. Ten years after its release First World is still generating revenue. The psychological sci-fi of Justice Is Mind, combined with a dramatic story arc through a courtroom, is what brought audiences to theaters and now online.
But for this weekend it’s time to decompress from the last four weeks. However, I will leave you with one word that will be mentioned in this new story…
The hotel is booked. The luggage is packed. Around noon I’ll be leaving for a week. This is the week of the mock trials and are the “performance” days. But unlike a theatrical or film premiere, no tickets are sold. There’s no public audience. But when all is said and done, all of us involved take our performances out into the real world.
Having played this character for the third time, there’s always something new to learn. Some new process, procedure or training an agent will need to know. Or an area of law that will be focused on. It’s one thing writing a legal drama like I did with Justice Is Mind, it’s another to be on the witness stand being questioned and cross examined by an actual lawyer. In a screenplay I know where the dramatic arcs are. I never know when they are coming in this setting!
So often I hear about this acting class or that acting class. This technique or that technique. I see actors obsess about learning this secret or that secret to acting. In my view I’ve always liked the way Anthony Hopkins has described the process, “I just learn my lines.” In the case of the NCIS Special Agent I play, I need to know my background and statements. I then research certain areas of law and procedure that may apply and then visualize the setting.
As for settings, while I’ve worked with most of the actors and staff from the school before, it has been great working with Monty Lyons. As some of you may remember, Monty played a police detective in Justice Is Mind and did an excellent job in the role. In this program Monty and I play the same character. Owing to the structure of the program we don’t often see our characters performed by other actors, so when I saw Monty play the role the other day, it was interesting to see his take on it. If I was to score his performance from the old figure skating scoring system, I’d give him a 6.0!
Finally, reuniting with some of these actors has brought forth some new ideas for projects down the road. Looks like I’ll start writing a new screenplay next week.
The title of this week’s blog pretty much sums up my day yesterday in Newport, RI. No, I wasn’t back at the Naval Justice School, it was literally a day trip of cars, coffee and forts. With the warm weather back here in New England (for the most part), this is the time of year when I look for interesting day trips on the weekends.
The Preservation Society of Newport County and Audrain Automobile Museum teamed up for a terrific event at Rosecliff that brought together cars and coffee (thankfully it was Starbucks!). The one thing about car enthusiasts is we are passionate people. Yes, conversations start around a particular vehicle but then generally migrate to other topics. In the end we learn something new. In this connected (yet disconnected) electronic age we live in, events like this get us out of the house and into social settings.
Passion was also evident when I took a tour of Fort Adams. I’ve seen the signs for years pointing towards Fort Adams, but finally visited yesterday. The history of this fort is beyond impressive. From its founding, to how it was constructed to its unique place in American history, our tour guide was not only a wealth of knowledge but enthusiastic. I can’t recall when a tour guide conveyed such a diverse amount of information during a tour.
It is about passion how things move forward. If you’re one of those people that live in a “someday” world, you will miss out on things that inspire. When I travel, meet new people and learn something new that’s just one more idea for something I might build or create at some point. Rosecliff, built from a fortune made long ago, is now visited by tens of thousands a year. Fort Adams, built to defend the United States and known for its technical innovation is now being showcased by guides who share its enthusiastic history in a modern world.
Creating does take time and nothing happens overnight. The one thing that’s important is to surround yourself with people that are supportive. I know that sounds like some sort of off the shelf self-help book, but it’s true. It’s OK that you might not share my vision or passion for something, but you’ll forgive me if I steer my ship past your port.
Putting aside for a moment what drives our motivations to create, yesterday was also about the preservation of history. In parts of our world where museums and heritage sites have been destroyed by terrorism, yesterday reminded me about the importance of preserving history for future generations. So while you may read about history in a textbook, there’s nothing like experiencing it in real life.
A visit to an estate. Military trials at a naval base. A meeting with the Prime Minister. No, this isn’t the plot for a new screenplay (although I have some ideas), but what my last couple of weeks have been like in Newport, RI.
I discovered Newport back in the early 1980s when my mother first brought me down to the seaside city. Touring the mansions and learning about the Gilded Age was something to see for someone who grew up on a farm. It was two decades plus later when I struck a deal with The Preservation Society of Newport County to photograph Nancy Kerrigan at Rosecliff. It’s hard not be awe struck at the majesty of these great “cottages” and imaging the grand parties of days long past.
Although I’ve toured all the mansions, I haven’t visited The Elms since those early days. The self-guided tour is a nice improvement from the live tour guides. It lets you go at your own pace and learn about additional details that time doesn’t permit with a guide. It seemed fitting to my Newport visit that The Elms was built for coal baron Edward Julius Berwind who supplied coal to the Navy. Because back to the Navy it was for the last few weeks.
Last Thursday I finished working at the Naval Justice School as an actor in their mock trial program. This was my “second tour” at the school. While I’ve been fortunate to have a variety of interesting opportunities in the industry, this by far offers not only the ability to act but to learn something in the process.
First, there are generally no set lines per se rather a scenario for your character with action points that must be adhered to. In my view it takes role playing to a whole new level. While there’s a highway and destination for each character, it’s the exits along the way that give the character and the entire scenario depth.
But for me it’s the atmosphere and the importance of the assignment. Yes, I’m working with other actors, but our primary interaction is with the officers, students and staff at the school. In other words this is real life. The students that attend the school are generally all lawyers and graduate from this program for military postings all over the world. Suffice to say we take it seriously. You can learn more about the Naval Justice School at this link.
What was nice about this “tour” was not only working with some of the same actors from the first assignment but meeting some new talent as well. The actors I’m pictured with here at the school are extremely talented. I had the opportunity to see some of them perform their character and they had me believing they were living that person.
Of course I was watching with my director hat on. Because who knows what project I may be working on next or have the opportunity to recommend an actor that is both talented and professional. Just as when I produce my projects, I want to work with actors that understand the word “team” without striving to become the center of attention off stage.
As for talent, I had the wonderful opportunity to visit with Lindy Nettleton who invited me to her play reading group. Lindy, as some of you may remember, played the Prime Minister in First World. I’ll still never forget her audition. She arrived with the actor who was auditioning to the play the President. We couldn’t find a quiet place for their audition, so what did these two professionals do? They got into character outside an elevator bank and read their lines…brilliantly!
Finally, for those of you that are car enthusiasts, I highly recommend the Audrain Auto Museum. A must see!
On Thursday one of the most interesting projects I’ve been part of came to a conclusion. As I mentioned in my last blog post, I have been playing an NCIS special agent in the mock trial program at the Naval Justice School in Newport, Rhode Island. In all honesty, I can’t remember when I had so much fun on a project. Given a personal event I went through a couple of weeks ago, it was great having this project to stay focused on something else.
The very nature that this was a role play character in “Agent Ashburn” meant that I did a variety of research, from what NCIS actually does, to inspections on Navy ships to certain military procedures and associated lingo. And as the mock trial was about a sexual assault case, I needed to know what was involved in a SAFE kit, trauma, etc. Let me just say this, watching Law & Order: SVU helped!
There were numerous times when the students, whether trial or defense counsel, asked my character questions that generally weren’t in our background information. At some point in time these students will be practicing law in the real military and civilian world. With these mock trial programs counting for a significant part of their grade, I thought believability was important so having an additional knowledge base helped. As an actor it also challenges you to learn something new and to expand your horizons.
Another highlight was working with the other actors. This was most certainly a diverse group of talented people from all walks of life. Imagine fourteen actors who never met put in a room with no WiFi. While I know people that can’t fathom being disconnected, there was, ready, conversation and cards. From the mutual support of our respective characters to numerous card games, the days passed pretty quickly. At any moment a student would come in to take us out for questioning or testimony or the captain overseeing the program would check in and give us some additional background. I haven’t played cards in years, but one of my new favorite games is bullshit.
As for the personal event? A couple of weeks ago when I was driving to Newport my car hit black ice, went into a guardrail and then did a 180 degree turn back into the guardrail. Yes, in an instant I saw my life pass in front of me. While I thankfully walked away unscathed, my car was totaled. The support I received on my Facebook post was unbelievable. Black ice is terrifying, it doesn’t discriminate between a tank or car.
The ten year history with my Pontiac Solstice began when I bought the “Starship Voyager” in Los Angeles in 2006. At the time I was working on a national TV show. Suffice to say more than one well known personality has been in the passenger seat. I drove her across the country and she saw me through a variety of life events. But one thing is a guarantee, she is immortalized in Justice Is Mind.
On a closing note with the Naval Justice School, it’s always great to leave on a positive note expanding your network and making new friends. Something tells me I’ll be working with them again sooner rather than later.
As for Star Trek one of the actors discovered that I was in a Star Trek fan film some years ago and found the link on YouTube. For those that follow Star Trek there is that one word that sums up the status of a character.