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.
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!
Last Sunday my friend Kim Merriam and I went on a day trip to Newport, Rhode Island. Aside from knowing Kim since we first met as teens at the local figure skating club, Evidence and Justice Is Mind were both shot at her house. As I’ve toured every Newport Mansion at least twice, I left it to her to pick which one to tour. She selected my favorite mansion – Rosecliff.
Rosecliff is particularly special to me. Having first visited the mansion with my mother in the early 1980s and being the location for The Great Gatsby and other films, we photographed Nancy Kerrigan there for the cover of the figure skating magazine I used to publish. It also gave me some additional ideas for the political thriller around the sport of figure skating that I will be formally announcing this week with the launch of the website.
In the story there are two starring characters, a champion figure skater and the president of the national governing body. While the former has been struggling financially, the latter, in addition to her skating responsibilities, runs a multi-national industrial concern. The setting for her estate should be a grand one like a Rosecliff. On a side note, in early 2017 Rosecliff will be featuring an exhibition to all the films that have been shot at the mansion. That will be a must see!
As an independent filmmaker, it’s about laying the foundation for all aspects of a new project well in advance. From visiting possible locations to talent, crew, etc. This week I began reaching out to colleagues I used to work with regularly in the sport to introduce them to the project before the announcement. It was one thing when I went to World’s this year in Boston telling people I had an idea, it’s another to send them a completed script.
It was great working with Adam Starr over the last few weeks to create the first concept poster of the project. In addition to being an Emmy Award winning cinematographer, I’ve worked with Adam since my days as a magazine publisher. From producing my first corporate video back in the day to his special effect work on Justice Is Mind, he really knows how to take an idea and run with it.
When he created the official poster for Justice Is Mind, my idea for the concept was pretty straight forward. I wanted to incorporate an MRI scan along with a picture of Henri Miller looking towards the future and the reincarnated Wilhelm Miller looking towards the past. He pretty much got it on the first pass.
Writing an original story takes time. It is not something that is just thrown together for the sake of rushing a project to market. For me it’s about developing and creating a project that’s long remembered after its initial release. Isn’t this the whole reason why we get into screenwriting and filmmaking – to tell original stories?
For those that follow me on social media you’ll see me post a “Now watching…” comment usually followed by a film produced between the 1930s and 1970s. I gravitate towards those decades as that’s when original stories were told to great fanfare without the special effects being the story. Thankfully with the democratization of the film industry from production to distribution, filmmakers have the opportunity to tell their stories outside the Hollywood system.
INT. ICE RINK – OPENING CREDITS