March 11, 2009

Year of Living Generously - Hollywood Edition

Have you ever wanted to work on a movie? Whether it's in front of the camera or behind it, I think a lot of people have wondered what it's like. I had the chance to do that shortly after I moved here to California from New York. For me, it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and while it was hard work, I wouldn't trade having done it for anything.

A friend I've known for as long I can remember is a talented writer and had made an award-winning short film in college. A few years after graduating, he'd developed a screenplay and decided to raise the money to make it here in San Jose, completely on a shoestring budget. At that time, I was doing temp work so I had a lot of free time and flexibility, and I was delighted to help work on his dream project.

Raising the money took a lot longer than shooting the movie. At that point in time, I was struggling to get by as it was -- even with a nest egg, California was an expensive shock to my wallet -- so while I wasn't able to give much cash, I gave many, many hours. I had enough of garage sales to last a lifetime and a half, let me tell you. But it worked. Combined with all sorts of fund raising efforts, from hitting up our parents to asking local merchants for in-kind donations, and a few of my friend's own credit lines, we were ready to shoot in the summer of 1995.

I became the mistress of wardrobe, for reasons that were never clear to me. I'm no fashion plate, but it was a job I could handle. It involved a lot of Poloroid photos for continuity -- this was before the advent of the digital point and shoot camera, remember -- and a lot of waiting around. Oh, and I was also a driver because, well, because I had a car.

In two weeks -- the hottest two weeks of the entire year, I recall -- I learned how to sleep almost anywhere, ate more bagels than I had ever eaten before, fell a little bit in love, witnessed someone getting fired, had a near emotional meltdown, and watched the magic of movies come to life. I even had my name in Variety when they did a tiny notice about the film; apparently wardrobe is a position that got listed routinely.

It was an almost surreal time, and it was also one of the most stressful but rewarding experiences in my life. While the movie never got picked up for distribution, it did have a big premiere locally; I got to see my name and hard work up on screen, popcorn in hand. That was a night I'll never forget.

It was the type of experience that anyone who plans to work in movies should get a chance to have, because it's literally a "from the ground up" kind of environment. Journalism students at Middle Tennessee State University are getting that chance in a film called "The New True Charlie Wu," which is shooting right now in Nashville. When I saw the introductory video from the film's writer and director, Bob Pondillo, on the Charlie Wu site, it really resonated with me and took me back to those days when the film was gearing up and the sky was the limit. Like the film I worked on, this one is being funded entirely by fans in exchange for your name in lights...or at least on the big screen. The details on how it works can be found here. But, in short, you will get a screen credit based on how much you -- and the people you refer -- contribute to make the film a reality.

Why give to help a movie get made? It's simply another kind of giving to education, really. The next generation of filmmakers has to learn their craft, and this is how they do it. And, let's face it, we need movies. It's been well established that, in difficult economic times, people turn to entertainment to help them escape from sometimes difficult realities. Equally true is that they need our support when they're getting started even more than they do when they've "made it" in Hollywood.

For this month's project in my Year of Living Generously, here is what I propose: Go, check out the site using my referral URL -- -- and see what it's all about. Sign up and make even the minimum donation (which appears to be ten dollars), then come back and put your individual referral URL in the comments. For each of you who does this by the last day of this month, I will give an additional five dollars to the film. Plus, one person who makes a donation and makes a comment here will win two tickets vouchers to AMC Theaters in North America. There may be another, special prize that will be announced later.*

Fifteen years later, I'm in a different place in life than I was in the days of the endless garage sales. This is my way of honoring that incredible time and paying forward the chance I was given to participate in it. It may not sound like much, but seeing your name on screen for the first time is a memorable moment, and it's one I'd like to share with you.

+++Update: Initially I did not realize the minimum donation was $10. Because of that, I am upping the prize to four ticket vouchers to AMC or Cinemark or Regal Cinemas, winner's choice+++

*The pesky fine print: All comments must: 1) have a name; 2) have a valid referral URL; 3) have a verifiable email address; 4) be made here by March 31, 2009 at 11:59 PDT to be counted. The AMC ticket vouchers can only be awarded to a commenter who lives in North America. Comments world-wide, however, will count toward the donation total. Anonymous or inappropriate comments will not be counted, either for the donation total or the giveaways, and will not deleted. All potential winners will be contacted by email, so a valid email address is required and you will have five days to reply with a regular mail address that must be in the area described above. The maximum amount that will be donated by me for this post is $500. All decisions about the donation and the giveaway(s) are mine and are final.