Living the Actual Dream

Scandal airs today!

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Just my family with the cast of Scandal. You know – the usual. (Photo by Mitch Haddad)

Today, I have one show in prep (Mistresses), one show in post (Grimm) and one that’s airing (Scandal). This marks the first time that has ever happened for me. This is basically living the dream. I may not have a lot of days like this, so it’s critical that I appreciate and enjoy it while it lasts. Pretty great day.

Cue the shutter clicks!

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Scandal Promo!

Here it is!

That voice over. That voice over…

It airs this Thursday so tune in, five readers!

Meanwhile, I’m starting my third day of prep on Mistresses (the show). Things are going fine – have a long week of prep and meetings coming up. The production just kicked off shooting Season 4 this Friday and they also have just moved back to LA after a season in Vancouver. They are still building and painting and figuring out how to produce the show with these new conditions – so it’s fun to be a part of it.

More self promotion to come as we get closer to Thursday!

Finding Carter airs today!

Today is the airdate for the episode of Finding Carter that I directed back in October. It’s been folded into a two-part, two-hour episode that serves as the season finale special. I’ll be on Day 8 directing Scandal so I won’t be able to watch alongside MTV’s amazing live-tweeting operation they’ve got going.

The great cast of Finding Carter.
The great cast of Finding Carter.

So, five readers – tune in and boost our numbers by five!

Now What?

Well, that was fun.

Last week, the second Law & Order: Special Victims Unit I directed aired as you know, my eight readers.

This time, while the East Coast broadcast went live, I spent that hour on Twitter watching the SVU writers and cast live tweet. It was amazing, in part that they, along with the #SVUDieHards out there, got #rectalprobeelectroejaculation trending, as well as #VarnishedEel. (Those two things make sense if you actually saw the episode.)

Anyway, yeah, that was pretty fun. Especially since I wasn’t actually watching the show, but I was “watching” people reacting to certain scenes as the hour went along. It was fascinating.

So now what? No episode on the horizon (though some are in the works, nothing officially booked yet) and only the vast expanse of the 2015 calendar ahead.

Well, it’s back to what I do in between actual assignments – writing. I have a feature script that is almost ready to show people after one small round of revisions. And another script with a partner that needs a rewrite as well.

We also have our Story of a Girl: India short project “Born Positive” that is still in post production 15 months or so later. Partially because we’re out of money and are considering a small crowd funding campaign.

And this weekend, I’m going to be on a panel at the Directors Guild talking about directing fellowships after my experience with NBC, ABC and Sony‘s.

So I guess that’s now what. Onward!

Oak Creek and Connecticut

I promised this blog would be about work and I would stay away from politics and current events. But current events continue to intersect with my work, so I apologize – this post might get sad. And I might be slightly all over the place. You’ve been warned.

On Tuesday, we held an advance screening of the Visual Law Project‘s third and newest film, The Worst of the Worst at Yale Law School. It was great – we had more than 200 people pack the largest lecture hall at YLS. People had to stand along the back of the room and extra seats were added in the aisles. The audience was filled with Yale students, former inmates, and Department of Correction officials.

There were also community members from here in New Haven, Connecticut. I wrote out” Connecticut” because now it’s all everybody is talking about. But I’ll get to that in a minute.

The screening of TWotW was bittersweet for us. We were so proud to watch our new team take over, but it also means letting go of the reigns of this little program we created. VLP will live on, and that’s sort of amazing, as I described in a previous post. We held a wrap party with the team – one of the best film collaborations I’ve had the pleasure of being a part of – and toasted to crossing the finish line. Now let’s hope some film festivals pick us up because that would be fun.

Hours later, Valarie and I got on a plane, back to Wisconsin and Oak Creek. Some incredibly sweet and caring people – none of whom are Sikh, by the way – wanted to host an evening of films and art to share the Sikh culture with the broader local community in the wake of the Oak Creek tragedy. They spent months organizing two nights of events for Valarie and me. We came and showed American Made, clips of Divided We Fall and a short we made of Oak Creek.

The August 5th shooting in Oak Creek is now four months in the past. When it happened, Valarie and I grabbed our cameras and headed there to document the aftermath, the memorials, and the community rising up together. We returned several times, were welcomed back into the community as family, and continued to film. We put together a short from the footage, but hadn’t shown it save for a Sikh film festival in New York which was unfortunately held about the time Hurricane Sandy left town.

So on Wednesday, we showed it to an audience filled with people who lived through it.

I had this fleeting thought: Who are we, what gives us the right to show the worst moments of their lives, reflect it back to them, and sit by and watch? It was heavy. But people expressed gratitude to us. Some told us seeing it all again gave them a chance to cry, which they hadn’t done before or had not in a long time. Others found it important, and still others had to walk out because it was still too raw to see unfold on the screen.

I’ll post the video here eventually, but it was definitely heavy to watch it with them, knowing that they were both on the screen and in the audience around us.

The next day, we had the same program thirty minutes away in Racine at the Golden Rondelle – an incredible landmark building created for the 1964 World ‘s Fair by SC Johnson, our venue hosts. It was also a terrific audience of almost entirely non-Indians who appeared to be really engrossed in American Made (which I was forced to sit through for the thousandth time – the lights didn’t dim enough for me to make an escape without people seeing me).

At the same time, I found out that I’m now officially an NBC Directing Fellow. I’ll be shadowing on “Law and Order: Special Victims Unit” in February when I get back from our honeymoon. So it was a two-day trip to Wisconsin that was cathartic and rejuvenating.

Today, we returned from Wisconsin and arrived in Hartford, only to see the news as soon as we landed: “27 killed in Connecticut mass school shooting.” The news of course got worse when we discovered that most of the dead were children.

Here Valarie and I were, having come from the site of a recent mass shooting in America, only to find that one had just happened in our backyard. Newtown is only 24 miles from New Haven. So Valarie and I went – no cameras, just as mourners – to the vigils in Newtown.

When we arrived at night in Newtown, many streets were blocked off by police, so Valarie and I walked nearly two miles in the cold. It was surreal. We walked on streets in a New England town that would usually have cars, but it was pitch black with only the light of police high beams silhouetting a person in front of us carrying tripod or a camera. Then we’d come upon an extremely well lit building – the fire station where the families awaited to find out if their child was alive or dead, surrounded by famous newscasters, media, and police officers. We walked some more and got to the little town. Then to the gas station. Then finally a Methodist church where we joined in prayer for the vigil. And then uphill in the dark to the Catholic church.

There were Christmas decorations everywhere – and presents lined the inside of the Methodist church’s foyer. It was unnerving, the juxtaposition of the joy of the season with the sorrow all around us.

And the media. I have never seen so many cameras – maybe at the Rose Bowl, but that’s a maybe. There were photographers and reporters everywhere we turned, giant light panels and literally two or three dozen satellite trucks. Outside the Catholic church, people cried in between faces lit by news cameras with on-board LED light panels. Photographers with long lenses captured teary-eyed children and adults.

We squeezed into the church to hear the end of a sermon, asking us to pray for the children who died. Valarie wrote on the message board set up for memorial messages: “From the Sikh community in Oak Creek, Wisconsin – our thoughts and prayers are with you.”

I still can’t believe this happened today and I was there today, in a town, hours after a tragedy. Again.

I was getting the sense from people – overhearing conversations on the street or in the bar we ducked into for warmth – that they are starting to realize that their little town, Newtown, will be the new Columbine, or Aurora, or Oak Creek. It will join the list of places marred by unspeakable tragedy. The town will be said as short hand – you know, we don’t want another Newtown to happen here. It will never be the same to live in such a place.

I’ve never been very vocal about my beliefs about gun ownership and gun control. But I have to point out something. I grew up in a quiet Midwestern suburb, upper middle class I guess, and not ever in danger for my safety – certainly not like in some areas of the city of Chicago. I’ve never really lived in a big hunting area and I don’t think I personally knew anyone who owned a gun until very recently.

But here’s how many times gun violence has entered my life:

This is insane. This shouldn’t be – not for someone who is seemingly living a safe, “normal” American life. But perhaps this is what is becoming normal.

It can’t. We can’t let it. Somehow, we can’t let this madness drive us to fear, anger, and evil. Somehow, we can’t let it be normal.

National Shout Out

There was a solid few months this year where I was good at updating this little space for my three devoted readers. I’ve seemed to have fallen off the wagon a bit, so let me catch up a little here, chronologically.

First, and most importantly, our little Yale Visual Law Project film, The Worst of the Worst, was featured on national television. Wife/Producing partner Valarie was invited for her third appearance on MSNBC’s “Melissa Harris-Perry Show,” this time to talk about America’s prison system and specifically the subject of our film – solitary confinement and supermax.

Here’s Valarie from her hour-long appearance on the show:

It was so exciting to see that clip on TV, and coming out of the commercial break no less! The really cool part is that I was allowed to watch from the control room for the entire show, and got to see the film being cued up to play when the show returned from the break. I also got to see the telepromter text that Melissa Harris-Perry was about to read on air and to see “The Worst of the Worst” as part of it. It was awesome.

It has been amazing to witness our little Visual Law Project come so far from such a small start – just an idea we had, that Valarie pitched to the school, that I helped bring to life – that is now a legitimate producer of documentaries, validated in some small way by this appearance on a national news program.

In the meantime, I was fighting with the audio output from the unnamed nonlinear editing software of ill repute and finally was able to send some version of our audio files to Sound Mixer extraordinaire Sanjeev Brar. Just yesterday we finished the sound mix at Gramercy Post, a boutique sound studio in Manhattan where Sanjeev works. He edited all the sound, built sound effects for our few animations, and then did the final mix with us for six hours. This week I’m going to resync the finished audio to the project and output our screening copies and screeners.

December 11 at Yale we have our advanced screening for the students, faculty, and some who appear in the film. So close. So very very close.

In other news, some good people in Wisconsin are putting together a screening of Divided We Fall, American Made and our little Oak Creek short – including a screening in Oak Creek. More details on that to come, but the screening is December 12 in Oak Creek and December 13 in Racine, Wisconsin.

Valarie gave me for my birthday a present that signals the dawn of a new era – a DSLR camera that shoots full frame, 35mm sensor HD video. And it’s not the Canon 5D Mark III. We now own a Sony a-99. It’s technically a DSLT – digital single lens translucent instead of reflective – the technology is newer and I’m just learning about the difference. It’s very exciting, this camera – also can take professional XLR microphones after we purchase the adapter. It’s a beautiful camera and I’m so looking forward to using it.

Last, but not least, I’m still waiting to hear definitively about NBC’s Directing Fellowship, hopefully this week. I promise an update again before too long.

Ten Years and Going Strong

I’m in Los Angeles, about to screen American Made at USC hosted by the Interfaith Youth Core at their Interfaith Leadership Initiative conference. About ten years ago at this time, American Made was only words on paper – I believe I was about to start casting and was trying to raise $39,000 so we could shoot on film and finish on film.

Now, ten years later, I’m back in my second hometown showing it to students who were not even in their teens when I shot the film. It’s amazing and humbling to see how long American Made has lived as a viable, enjoyable, relevant movie to watch and share all these years later.

We’re sticking around LA for a few days for meetings, including a couple of producer meetings on various projects. At the same time, I’ve sent out the short Oak Creek film to Sanjeev Brar who is hunkered down, bracing for Hurricane Sandy, and about to do us a huge favor in quickly sound editing and mixing it for us. I sent him via Dropbox an AAF of the Avid project and he is going to edit from that and send back a completed .wav file for me to sync back up to the project.

So I brought our mobile Avid system with me to LA. Hopefully Monday evening I’ll be able to sync those back up and send it out.

Then back to New Haven to sync up the color corrected video track of The Worst of the Worst and prepare for the sound mix. It’s almost almost done!

Editing a Memorial

This past week I’ve been mostly working on editing a short montage-style overview of the last two months of Oak Creek and the aftermath. Taking the footage we captured in the week after the gurdwara shooting, combined with interviews of the mayor and police chief, as well as the trip to Washington DC and the hate crimes hearing, we put together an 8-minute film – or glorified recap sort of. We added some news footage to give the piece a broader context.

The idea was to make it part memorial, part recap, and part story of a community rising up from grief. I’ll post the video here next week, but we’re really happy with the way it turned out. We wanted to make sure we included the voices of each of the six victims’ families. A few weeks ago, Jonathan Smith – who went with Valarie to shoot a couple weeks ago – put together a montage on Final Cut Pro how people discovered that day what had happened.

Since I’m editing on Avid Media Composer, he sent the file to me as one long clip, which I imported and put into the sequence myself. The trick was making changes to his edited clip since I didn’t have access to his sequence/timeline. It ended up working out fine, but it’s a tricky workflow, especially for something longer.

I then added a sequence that is similar to the Groundswell video we put together in  August, but changed around and added words and images from the Oak Creek mayor and police chief.

One trick I had to figure out was how to get HD news clips into the edit. Fortunately, I had the foresight to TiVo a lot of the news coverage on August 6 – the day after the shooting – and that following week. Turns out, TiVo has a conversion software system that allows you to take your networked TiVo, select recorded clips, and convert them for play on your desktop or devices. So I did that an imported them into Avid and it works great – just a bit time consuming is all.

So we put together a pretty good sequence that we’re going to show tomorrow, Saturday Oct. 6, at the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund National Gala. SALDEF and The Sikh Coalition have been on the forefront of fighting the good fight for the Sikh community for more than a decade now, and have done some amazing things. The dinner (where Valarie is also receiving an award) is in Washington tomorrow and members of the Oak Creek Sikh community will be there as well. I hope we did them and their experience justice with what we’ve put together.

Will post next week with the clip and how it all went.

INPUT

I’m still in Sydney, having a grand old time at INPUT 2012. I believe INPUT stands for INternational PUblic Television, and as such the conference invites Public TV producers from around the world. So I’ve been hanging out with some great people, been involved in really good conversations, and have seen some really incredible programs – amazing stuff that’s produced and showcased through public media.

There have been programs like Australia’s Go Back to Where You Came From – a high budget Survivor-style reality program that takes six white Aussies and follows them as they go on a reverse immigration/refugee path back through places like Malaysia, Kenya, Jordan, Iraq. And The Cardinal Files, which is a ’70’s period-piece Chilean show about the brutal Pinochet regime – but told like an action thriller. Also, Hitler’s Children which interviews the now grown-up children and grandchildren of high ranking Nazi officials and how they come to terms with the sins of their ancestors (and of Germany’s).

That’s just a few examples of the stuff I’ve seen. I’ve probably been watching about six or seven programs a day in the curated sessions.

Really amazing stuff that’s is sort of remarkably being produced by public TV elsewhere.

The American films have been good too, though I missed two of them because they were screening at the same time as Worker Drone. (Southern Belle, Wham! Bam! Islam! and More than a Month.

Unfortunately, Worker Drone was programmed at the end of a very long session, and after an 84-minute German film and by the time I screened, there were only about 20 people. So the conversation was a bit lacking.

Either way, it was great to see the film projected – looked great and the whole thing got me a very easy free trip to Australia. The final session is about to start and then it’s off to Melbourne for a week before getting back to working on The Worst of the Worst.

Still Shooting

So we thought we’d be totally wrapped up filming interviews and other stuff for the Visual Law Project Year 2 Film. But alas, no. Yesterday, we had a two final (?) interviews lined up within a three day period only to have both of them fall through within a two hour window.

The first of which happened two days early, which was okay but the interviewee has some life problems that need sorting out (he’s the one mentioned in the previous post). The other interview was a drive along I was filming from the backseat with one of our VLP team members. The interviewee became uncomfortable with having us around (not because of anything we were doing specifically) so she cut the trip short and promised to allow us to follow her in a few days.

So… back to the editing room with what we have. We hit a point in the film where we had to carefully strategize how best to shape it going forward. Which means I have about two days to cut together a little short film. I should be able to, we’ll see how it goes later today and the weekend.

Oh, and there’s this: Worker Drone was selected to be a U.S. representative to INPUT 2012 in Sydney – an international conference and film festivals of sorts for public television producers around the world. It’s a pretty cool event, I went there in 2007 with American Made. More on that to come – trip is in May.

Back to the machine!