Sunday, October 6, 2013

Blogging class prompts blog teacher to actually blog (and post random hiking pictures)

Yellow Aster Butte
I had the distinct feeling that since I'm teaching a blog class TODAY for Seattle Public Library, I should probably update my own blog. Ahem.

(By the way, the photos here are  just some totally random hiking photos to make this post look pretty).

What to report? I'm finally making good progress on the children's novel I started three (or was it four?) year ago. It feels so good to be living in the fictional world again! The last time I was really in the groove with a novel was then I was writing BreakupBabe, and well all know how long ago THAT was.

Granite Mountain
Not that I haven't tried. I've written sh*tty first drafts of at least three novels since then, followed by sh*tty second drafts that I eventually gave up on because I could get no traction.

Then in 2010 I had a teacher named Joni Sensel.  She told me NOT TO GIVE UP on the book I was writing. Not because she thought it was so great or anything. But because I was suffering a syndrome common to many writers where I would abandon an old idea in favor of a shiny new one once I started to struggle with the old idea to much.

Chinook Pass
Because there is always struggle. It's just that sometimes you don' struggle quite as much, and you get lucky - as I did with BreakupBabe, which mostly wrote itself thanks to that miracle known as a book contract (and because, even though it was a novel, it was mostly about ME).

I knew that Joni was right, and that if I didn't just buckle down and finish something I might forever be drifting between ideas. So, three years later, having not given up, here I am FINALLY making progress on this thing and feeling good about it.

It might never get published, of course. But, while that is an important thing for a writer, it's not the most important thing. The most important thing is that I'm writing. I'm making progress. And I'm enjoying it. So I feel like I have a purpose in life again .

Meanwhile I also wrote a fun articles on tree climbing (scary!) and backpacking (not so scary unless you encounter a bear or get lost!) both of which feature lots of my pictures including vintage 70s photos of my family wearing external frame packs and clothes that would never be allowed on a mountain today, such as jeans and cotton.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Backpacking Greenwater River and Echo Lake

Yay, wilderness! It has been too long since I backpacked into thee, bearing much too heavy of a pack, and returning home with blisters and mosquito bites. Thank you Echo Lake and Greenwater River  for welcoming us with mostly sunny skies and no mouse attacks in the middle of the night.

Dave crosses the Greenwater River

At Echo Lake

Trail with wildflowers

More Echo Lake

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Thank you Lopez Island

Oh Lopez Island, thank you for providing me with the first writing retreat I've taken in years. You are so lovely and quiet. Perhaps a little too quiet at times, but never mind that.
Watmaugh Bay

I love your secluded trails, sweeping ocean views, quiet coves, your delightful farmer's market and your hippie vibe. I love not having to lock my door, or my bike,and not having to put my dog on a leash.

That's why I'm setting my latest novel on you! I hope to take more (tax-deductible!) trips to you in the future. If only you had been a tad more sunny but then you provided one day of glorious sunshine. What more could I ask in June-u-ary?

xo Rebecca

Alone on
Shark's Reef Point

Iceberg Point

Thursday, June 20, 2013

2013 in photos

I take so many trips it's hard to keep track of them all. I try to be good about organizing my photos and writing in my journal, but it doesn't always happen. Sometimes I write about my trips for magazines. That's a good thing because then they don't feel so ephemeral.

Where have I been in 2013? As usual, most of my travel is in the northwest, but what a place to explore! I've ridden horses on a southwest Washington beach, climbed a 200-foot Douglas fir tree in central Oregon, mountain biked in the jungle on Oahu and the deserts of Tucson, and explored the Greenwater River and Skookum Falls in Washington. Let's not forget ski trips to Lake Chelan and Mount Rainier! Most of the time with my usually-smiling husband Dave, but sometimes with other adventurous friends.

While this has been one of the saddest years of my life, it has been happy in many ways. As you can see from the photos below, which are just a very few snapshots from this busy and bittersweet year.

Oahu in March

Washington in May

Washington in May

Suntop Lookout, WA in March

Mt Rainier in April

Greenwater River, WA in June 

Greenwater River, Wa, in June

Tree climbing in OR, May 

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Advice from Seattle Filmmaker Aviva Peltin on Indiegogo, Making a Short Film, and More

Aviva Peltin
Recently I did a Q&A with 19-year old Seattle filmmaker Aviva Peltin, who co-produced and directed the wonderful short film Canna along with 22-year old Erin Bosetti

Aviva talked about her successful fundraising campaign on Indiegogo; what she'll do differently next time she makes a film, and how she managed to make a 20-minute movie for only $2500.

Q: What did you do to prepare for the Indiegogo campaign?
A: Before starting our Indiegogo campaign, Erin and I wanted to make sure we had a solid concept to pitch to our family and friends.

We made sure our script was complete and that the audition process was underway before we launched the campaign.We also had most of our crew lined up to assure potential sponsors that we were serious and passionate about this project.

Q: Your promo video is great! How long did it take to shoot and produce it?
A: Thank you!  Walter Dalton, my screenwriting teacher from Northwest Film Forum, was a huge motivator to turn Canna into a short, and I am so grateful for his guidance. He was the first actor to agree to be part of our short and having him be in our promotional video was exciting for us.

I think the most effective campaigns have a clip or trailer from the actual film, but since we were in pre-production when launching our campaign, we thought a promotional video explaining why we needed the money would suffice.

We spent a weekend making the promotional video, one day to shoot and one day to edit. Since we didn’t really expect strangers to donate to our campaign, we wanted to show our friends and family that we meant business.

I think the only way to get strangers to donate would be to release a clip of the film or release something visual that shows what the film will look like with enough financial backing.

Q: Why did you choose Indiegogo over Kickstarter?
A: Erin and I were totally new to filmmaking and had never made a short before, so we really had no idea if we’d get the financial support we needed.

Kickstarter is all or nothing --  filmmakers only get to keep all the money donated if they reach their original goal. Indiegogo allowed us to set a financial goal, but wouldn’t take away all the money if we didn’t reach our target.

However, in the future, I might consider doing a Kickstarter campaign instead.  I think people trust Kickstarter more and are more willing to donate on that platform.  Kickstarter is better known, and I’ve donated to more Kickstarter campaigns than Indiegogo.

Q: What kind of publicity did you do for your fundraising campaign?
A: Erin and I sent out emails to all our friends and family, asking them for support. We also posted regularly on Facebook and Twitter. I’m sure people got so sick of us.

Q: Throughout the campaign, what did you do to keep interest going and encourage backers?
A: We continued to bother people throughout the campaign.  Once we finished casting and started rehearsing with our actors, we posted photos of our actors on Indiegogo to show that we were serious about this project.  We asked the actors and crew to help promote our campaign, too.

Q: Your budget was only $2500, is that right? How did you get so many talented cast and crew to volunteer?
A: Yes, that’s correct.  We were surprised and delighted to connect with so many enthusiastic actors and crew members. Erin and I didn’t know how many actors would show up to audition.

We auditioned over thirty people! We were absolutely shocked. We posted casting calls on filmmaking Facebook pages such as Seattle Filmmakers and Actors and The Filmmakers Matrix. We also posted casting calls on the Northwest Film Forum Callboard.

Additionally, we emailed local children theaters to find child actors. Holding auditions was extremely nerve-racking and difficult for us. I did not enjoy rejecting people – especially children. I felt so cruel, but came to realize that selecting the best talent is necessary to make a good short.  We chose actors who felt authentic to the characters we had created, and we’re so pleased with the casting.

Erin and I went to high school together, so we recruited some alumni to be crew members such as Johnny Valencia, our talented cinematographer and editor and Elizabeth Schiffler, our music director.  Scott Bowen, our sound engineer, contacted us through Craigslist and he turned out to be a great asset to our team.

Our crew came together so seamlessly.  People were so kind and just wanted to help, and we were incredibly appreciative and humbled.  I think Seattle is a really great city for filmmakers – people are down to earth, creative, and talented.

Q: How long did the whole process take you, from the moment you conceived of the film until the day you finished production?
A: I never would have imagined how many hours go into making a short.  Erin and I thought we’d meet once a week or so to write and start producing.  We were so wrong.  We met almost every day at various coffee shops throughout Seattle.  It felt like we were in filmmaking boot camp.

We started meeting regularly in September, held auditions in November, filmed in December, and completed editing and sound mixing by January 31st.  We’re still not done with the process, though.  We have to send all our sponsors the incentive gifts we promised them on Indiegogo.

Q: What was the best part about the filmmaking process?
A: Making this film was truly a dream come true for me.  I’ve always written short stories, but what’s amazing about filmmaking is that it’s collaborative. Creative writing is isolating.

I loved co-writing with Erin and then seeing the words we had written being performed by the actors and actresses we had chosen.  It was magical to see our concept evolve into a script and then seeing the footage for the first time.  I’ve never been more proud of a project.

Q: Will you do anything differently next time you make a film?
A: Yes, definitely.  Making Canna was such a learning experience. Although I’m happy we were able to create a longer film (Canna is almost twenty minutes), next time I would limit the short to five minutes.

Festivals have a much more difficult time programming longer shorts, and we didn’t realize that the length of Canna might hold us back from being accepted into festivals.

Q: Will you do anything differently next time you run a crowd funding campaign?
A:If I use Indiegogo or Kickstarter in the future, I want to try to attract not only family and friends to the campaign, but strangers as well.  Like I said before, I think releasing something to show sponsors what the short would look like would potentially attract new donors.

I also want to look into grants. I can’t keep bothering my friends and family for money.  I need to figure out other ways to finance my film projects. Any benefactors out there?

Q: You’re only 19 and your partner Erin is 22. Where did you learn the skills to be a director/producer at such a young age?
A: Before making this film, I had taken a screenwriting class and interned for a feature film called One Square Mile, but only had limited understanding of how to make a film.

Back in September, when Erin and I started this project, I started reading a helpful book called, How Not to Make a Short Film by Roberta Marie Munroe. Erin and I used to refer to it as “The Red Book That We Choose to Ignore,” but in the end, we took a lot of the advice Munroe offered.

 Honestly, we learned how to produce and write and direct as we moved forward with our project.  “Fake it ‘til you make it” was my motto.

Q:What’s next for the film Canna?
A:We’ve submitted it to a few film festivals, so we’re waiting to hear back from them.  Unfortunately, we weren’t accepted to NFFTY, the National Film Festival for Talented Youth under 22, which was our ultimate goal.

They received way too many longer films this year; perhaps, if Canna were shorter, we would have been accepted.  I’m still so proud of Canna, though, and I think it’s a great representation of the kind of work I want to pursue.

Canna is now on Youtube, so please check it out!  Here’s the link:

Q:What’s next for you as a filmmaker?
I just finished another internship for a feature film called Lucky Them, which was directed by local director Megan Griffiths.  I was the Product Placement Intern and had a really great experience.  I got to meet the writer who also helped produce Lucky Them, and meeting someone who has my dream job was thrilling for me.

I’m trying to set up my next film internship now.  I’m also currently working with a production company to try to sell a reality show concept I pitched to them last year.  They just completed a sizzle reel and will try to tell it to networks in the next couple of months. I really hope it sells.

I’m also working with some friends right now on another short.  We’re at the very beginning stages of planning, but I’m excited about that. I want to continue to write and produce shorts and I’d love to get into NFFTY. I’m also currently writing my first feature screenplay about an 18 year-old who skips higher education and joins a temp agency instead.

After taking two years off after high school to pursue film, I’ll be continuing my education in the fall.  I was just accepted to University of Washington and Seattle University!

My ultimate goal is to write and produce television shows and feature films, but I’m aware this industry is so difficult to break into.  Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote “Every artist was first an amateur.”  This quote is now my desktop background, and I read it every day. I can’t expect to make it professionally unless I work at it.  Think about it, even Spielberg was once an amateur.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Planet of the Ex-Boyfriends Begins!

Oliver Tuthill and Matt Harrison
At last I have my own actual filmmaking photos to share and not just cheesy graphics swiped from the Internet!

The photos sprinkled throughout this entry are by my talented friend, Sergey Vasilevskiy, who was the photographer during our promo shoot form Planet of the Ex-Boyfriends in late January.

It was my first time producing ANYTHING and thanks to the fantastic cast and crew, it went swimmingly well. It was also my first time as a writer getting to hear my words acted out and brought to life. That was a thrill too.

Oliver Tuthill and Tara Walker
Originally my plan was to use the promo immediately in a crowdfunding campaign. Then I realized I could apply for a 4Culture award and get an answer on that as early as June (they seem like a fantastically organized org) so I poured my energy into applying for that and will now wait and see if they give me any money. If they DO, I get to save the crowdfunding for the post-production phase.

All cast and crew
If they don't, well, I'll use the promo we're creating to anchor a Kickstarter or Indiegogo campaign near YOU!

News tidbits
In other writing news, I'm teaching my fave class starting March 20th at Hugo House - Roughing It: Write a Rough Draft of Your Book in Just Six Weeks. There was still room last time I checked but it fills up fast.

Also, this past winter a short article of mine was published about Scottish Lakes High Camp, one of my favorite places to ski and relax. A big part of its rustic charm was that the hosts, Chris and Don Hansen, were so warm and friendly.

Don Hansen
Sadly, just this past weekend, Don died in an accident at High Camp. If you just look at his picture on the front page of their website (which I've also posted here) you will see what a vibrant and positive person he was. That smile says it all, because he was always wearing it. I will miss you very much Don, thank you for all the fantastic memories (and for always encouraging me to ski down stuff I might not have otherwise had the guts to do).

In better news
Dave and I are off to Oahu today. Crazy! This is the second time in ONE year we've gone to Hawaii but winter in Seattle can get hella long and dark. Especially when you're mourning the loss of your mom and best friend.

We'll be returning right after Daylight Savings begins so things will be literally a little brighter then. Strangely I usually don't look forward to that. Like a mole who's been hiding all winter I'm afraid of the sun. But not this year. Oahu here we come!

Friday, February 8, 2013

Secrets of a successful Kickstarter campaign from a Seattle filmmaker

Ilona Rossman Ho
In my quest to learn about the Seattle film world, I've been meeting lots of friendly and generous people in the local film community. One of them is Emmy-award-winning filmmaker Ilona Rossman Ho.

Ilona recently ran a successful Kickstarter campaign for her short comedy Dressing Up, and she was kind enough to share tips about it in this Q&A.  Her campaign ran for 30 days in July-August of 2012, and garnered $3114 ($114 more than her goal!).

Q: What did you do to prepare for the campaign?
A: Looked at lots of other campaigns, did web research, and talked to other filmmakers who had done Kickstarter campaigns.

Q: In your campaign, you say that “Dressing Up” in in post-production after “three years of hard work.” What happened in those first three years?
A: 2009 – A woman in my writer's group, Sandra Ahola, shared the first draft of her short comedy called Outside Experts. We all loved it; I especially liked the scene where the mom is having a wild poker party! The writers group spent probably 9 months of meetings reviewing Sandra’s rewrites (along with other scripts – we met every 2 weeks and everyone had day jobs).

2010 – Sandra completed the script and I started looking for funding. I submitted a film proposal to Seattle IFP; we were a finalist but didn’t win. The proposal took about six weeks of research for me to write. It was actually fun to write since it included a lot of the creative thinking about the film – what the characters looked like, locations, etc.

2011 – I submitted a film proposal to 4Culture in winter 2011 and won an award! 4Culture is an amazing organization; besides the money, an award like that is a wonderful affirmation for an artist--a great way to kick off the project. Next, I found two dedicated producers and began pre-production in the summer of 2011.

The producers and I met once a week during the summer pulling it all together: having auditions, script readings, hiring crew, finding locations, etc. We all had 3 kids so that was an extra piece for us to manage, but we actually bonded over that too. We finally shot the film over two weekends in November.

2012 –  In January we reshot one scene and I starting working with my editor. In late spring we took a detour to create the trailer, getting that done at the end of June. Then in August we went back to work on editing the actual film. We finally had picture lock in October 2012 and then I worked with my composer on the score; and also worked with the colorist and sound design team.

2013 --  Film is finished in January! Now I’ve started submitting to festivals and I’m tweaking my EPK (Electronic Press Kit).

Q: How long do you think the final stage will take (which you defined as “post-production including color correction, sound design, music licensing and festival submissions”)?
A. I’ve mostly completed those things and now I’m focusing on festivals and getting distribution. It will probably take all of 2013 as festivals are spread throughout the year.

Q: How did you choose Kickstarter as your crowdfunding site over Indiegogo, the other major player out there right now?
A. I was curious about this too; why choose one over the other? I asked some other filmmakers and they pointed out that with Indiegogo the backers are charged even if your project doesn’t meet its funding goal. With Kickstarter no one is charged unless you make your goal so your backers have a bit more confidence you can complete the project.

Q: The trailer for Dressing Up is hilarious and I can see how you would have gotten funded based on that alone. How long did it take to create that and how many people were involved?
A. Thanks! That was a fun collaboration with my editor although I was a little nervous about having myself on camera. I’m not an actor and have a lot of respect for the craft. But my editor did a great job cutting it and getting rid of all my ‘ums’ and ‘ahs’! I’d say it took us about 2 months – everything takes longer since it’s low budget. Basically if a higher paying gig comes up the low-budget project gets set aside.

Q: Your Kickstarter campaign is pretty stripped down. It’s just the trailer, a brief description of the film and why you need the money, and bios/photos of key cast members. Was it a deliberate choice to keep the campaign simple?
A. I had planned a fairly simple/straightforward campaign, since I was doing it all myself I wanted to keep it manageable. I might have put up a little bit more but the user interface for Kickstarter is not very friendly and I had to redo and re-upload pics and docs numerous times. So I just kept it simple.

Q: Throughout the campaign what did you do to keep interest going and encourage backers?
A. I had donated to other campaigns and I always liked hearing about how the project was going. It was interesting to hear the backstory. I decided to do the same with my backers--let them see behind the curtain. I went through all my material and put up things like a marked up page of the shooting script, the original notes on a song written for the piece, lots of pictures and descriptions of the various phases I was in -- like going to color correction, sound design, and working with my composer.

Q: Was there ever a time it seemed like your campaign might not get funded? If so, what did you do?
A. The very beginning is hard because you don’t even see any donors on the page until you get the first 10. So I asked my best friends and close family members to donate just a small amount to get to that first 10. After that I posted on Facebook and sent emails to everyone I knew!

Q: If you had to do it all over again, what would you do differently?
A.Collect/document more of the process to use as content and allocate more time to actually building the page. That took much longer than I expected.

Q: Any parting advice for someone about to start a crowdfunding campaign for a short film?
A. Start the campaign on a Saturday morning so people have time to take a look while they have their morning coffee. Keep your rewards interesting but manageable. Have fun and enjoy the adventure!

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Movie dreams do come true

About a year and a half ago, I first started exploring the Seattle film world.

Doing informational interviews, joining organizations like Women in Film, taking fun classes like Let's Make a Movie! with local teacher Nils Osmar.

One of my goals at the time was to work as a production assistant on someone else's film. And then, maybe, one day as a producer. But I saw this producer goal as a very unrealistic one. I already had one unstable, low-paying, creative career as a writer that I had to fit in around my better-paying day job as a technical writer. How would I ever earn the experience to be a producer?

Besides, I discovered, many people in the Seattle film world are also working day jobs. In film. For corporate clients like my very own Geeksoft. Then doing their creative projects on the sides for little or no money, or at their own expense.

Still, I perservered in my attempts to get a low-paying or volunteer gig as a production assistant. I just wanted to be on a film set. I never dreamed that I would leap right over the job of PA into producer. For my own short film, Planet of the Ex Boyfriends (which I wrote in the "Let's Make a Movie! class).

From one low-paying dream career to another
The first shoot is in two days. We'll be making a promotional video to use on Kickstarter or Indiegogo.

And, whoa, what an education it's been just getting ready two make a TWO MINUTE movie. The paperwork. The phone calls. The emails. The decisions. The desperate help I've solicited from other local producers. How do I do this? What form do I use for that? What kind of insurance do I need? Wait, I need insurance?!

Earlier on in this process, a generous person who offered advice warned me, "It's just as much work to make a short movie as a long one."

And I can see how that's true. As I go along in this process, I'll share the things I'm learning in more detail. But here's the most important thing I've learned so far. (Or rather, learned again, because it's the kind of lesson you have to learn over and over in your life).

I dreamed of being a screenwriter and producer. Now I am a screenwriter and  producer. No matter what happens with this project, I made my own dream come true (with much help and encouragement from others).

And that feels good.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Collaboration in the film world

I've learned a lot about the film world in the few days since I wrote my last post.

For example: it's absolutely great to have creative collaborators. But if you're relying on them, and they flake on you, you're screwed.

Best Boys, Gaffers, and Key Grips
Let me back up. One thing that really appeals to me about filmmaking is the collaborative aspect of it. I've always been fascinated by movie credits, and the strange terms that roll before me after a movie ends. Best boy, gaffer, key grip.

But mostly what makes me sit through the film credits every time is imagining how fun it would be to work with so many people. It would be so different as my life as a novelist, where I am mostly working in isolation, with no one to be accountable to except myself (except for that one glorious period in my life when I had a book contract).

In one of the special features on the Finding Nemo DVD, the Pixar screenwriters talked about how long it took to perfect their story.  But what struck me most - and made me the most jealous (besides the fact that they work for Pixar!) - was that they all had other people to bounce their ideas off. Partners. Collaborators.

And so far, in my short tenure as a writer/producer, collaborating with others has been the best part of it! It's been fun, educational, and most of all, incredibly motivational.

But now for the cautionary tale.

The ugly side of collaboration  
For a while now, I've been trying to get work as a production assistant on local films. I finally had a three-day, unpaid gig lined up for next week, and I was very excited. It seemed very organized and relatively "big-time," at least by my standards: there was a lot of crew and they were planning to shoot in both Seattle and Washington D.C.

Then it got cancelled. Because, from what I heard, some key collaborators -- all of whom were volunteers -- flaked on the producer to the point where she just couldn't move forward. Which, I'm sure, was heartbreaking for her.

This brings us to one of the conundrums of indie filmmaking. You need all the volunteers you can get, because who has any money to make films except Steven Spielberg? But if your volunteers flake on you, you'll never get your movie made.

Luckily my current collaborators are all reliable and very enthusiastic. I will be paying them eventually, although not much.

But what happened with this movie I was supposed to work on has driven home two very important points to me.

1) It's good to pay people if you at all can. (Thank you Geeksoft day job for bankrolling my project!)
2) Collaborating with others on a creative project can be exhilarating but also dangerous.*

*Of course I already knew #2, having had my fair share of bad experiences with, for example, rock bands with egos run amok. But those were never projects that I was sinking my own money or tons of creative energy into, the way I am with Planet of the Ex-Boyfriends.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

The good news and the bad news

Fun stuff
Greetings and happy 2013!

My new year started off with some good news when I found out that Seattle Theater Readers will be doing a dramatic reading of my short screenplay "Planet of the Ex-Boyfriends" later this year.

Equally exciting, I'm gearing up to produce the film in tandem with award-winning Seattle director Oliver Tuthill of Blue Wood Films and Portland actress Tara Walker, among other talented cast and crew.

At the end of the month we'll go into production for a short promo video to anchor our online fundraising campaign.  Which brings me to my next topic. Over the next several months I plan to blog about the process of bringing this film to life. I'll discuss things like:

  • How terrifying/exciting it is to call yourself a "movie producer" for the first time
  • How terrifying/exciting it is to contemplate asking everyone you know for money
  • What works in online fundraising and what doesn't (as I teach myself)
  • What it's like from a first-timer's perspective to be part of a film production
  • What it's like to work as a  production assistant on other local films
 Soon I'll be launching a Facebook page for the movie (naturally) and be asking you all to like it (naturally) before I ask you all to donate to my fundraising campaign (naturally).

 Not so fun stuff
Mom had a dazzling smile (not fully shown in this picture)
As you may or may not know, my mom, Eve Agiewich, died on October 13, 2012 from lung cancer.

Anything I try to write about it right now just sounds saccharine. (One of her favorite words, by the way).

I was lucky enough to spend a lot of time with her near the end and to be there when she died. Though traumatic to be present at her death, it was also one of the most profound experiences I've ever had.

Maybe I'll blog about that in the near future, maybe not. One day I'll be writing about her more for sure. A fictional version of her already featured prominently in BreakupBabe: A Novel, wherein she always gave our heroine Rachel good advice, which was always ignored.

Mom being her adventurous self in Alaska, Sept 2011
She was the best mom anyone could ever ask for and I miss her desperately.

Whose good advice will I ignore now?