Tag Archives: film

Lesson #346: Getting clear.

7/1/15.

I can’t quite explain what was happening in my brain as Amy was talking yesterday, but somewhere in the midst of it, something clicked for me. And today only confirmed it further.

Like Amy, early on in my life I fell in love with the way movies made me feel; how all these elements could come together and move a group people—even change people. Before I lost all my baby teeth or knew how to write cursive, I already was putting on shows with my Barbie dolls on my bedroom floor. By the time I was 10, I had a notebook full of novel ideas and chapters, pieces of movie and television scripts, and short plays. I wrote and devoloped a television series about a group of pre-teens living on the beach before I even had boobs. I remember asking my mom and dad to use the family computer to type all of these scripts and chapters, printing out pages and pages of stories and sticking them in Lisa Frank folders (that I still have… it’s hilarious). Kids were asking for Polly Pockets and Easy Bake ovens, and I was the kid asking for a typewriter.

My friends would come over after middle school, and we would re-enact scenes from Hannah Montana in the living room for our parents. On a shitty flip-cam that I got for Christmas one year, my neighbors and I would record ourselves singing songs we wrote in spiral notebooks that were falling apart from being written in so much. We even took turns strumming my small green guitar that we had absolutely no idea how to actually play. 

When I picked up a much better (but still shitty) camera at the age of 12 and made my first semi-real video with a friend, we decided to post it on YouTube for fun. I later found a video editing software that came with my laptop, and started experimenting with more videos. That’s when it really began.

I started making and filming my own original skits—then music videos—then movie scene re-makes—then my own short films. I gained a YouTube following and started building relationships with people in the online community who loved doing the same thing. My interest in being in front of the camera began to grow as well. During my first year of middle school in sixth grade, my mom encouraged me to try out for the school play. I won best actress for my role as the school nerd that year, and tried out and acted in the plays every year after that. I continued to do theatre all throughout high school, making friends and falling in love with the costumes and characters and stories; both performing and directing. I took what I knew from the stage, and let it inspire me to do some of the same things on camera—and I loved it.

In one of my first production classes in college, it hit me: I was developing and writing treatments before I knew what they were, and shooting low angles and high angles and rack focusing before I even knew they had names. I was a writer, producer, and sometimes actor, and I didn’t even know it. I was just doing what I loved.

As I got older, I realized it wasn’t just the act of movie-making that I loved.

It was storytelling.

As you can see—I used the word “love” at least four or five times while explaining my story.

And if that doesn’t say something, I don’t know what else does.

When Amy told us yesterday to get clear on what we want by tuning in to what we love instinctively—it only solidified the answer for me.

Storytelling runs through my veins; it’s constantly on my mind and in my heart.

But I’m still pretty confused.

I mean—I’m 20.

Storytelling is a very broad term. I like a lot of things—so many things that I don’t know exactly what I want to do yet. I don’t know where to start. I want to act. I want to talk and discuss. I want to write. I want to develop. I want to produce. I want to direct.

At my internship this summer, I love being there. I like what I’m doing and how much I’m learning. I’m working hard.

But in the midst of Amy talking, I realized something right then and there.

There are two different kinds of hard work. There’s the kind of work where you try hard because you want to appear good, be good, or look good.

And then there’s the kind of work where you’re working hard and you don’t even realize it. Where you stay up all night (like right now on the living room floor writing this) to perfect something, or understand something, or finish something. Where you work hard because you want to discover, or find, or build, or be better; because you want to make something the best that it can be.

You’re working hard for yourself.

And I realized the second is the one we’re supposed to chase after.

I found that where I worked my hardest, is creatively.

Using my brain to create. To problem solve with my eyes, heart, and mind. To figure out where something should be placed, or what to capture, or how something can be told. To strategize how it can be marketed and advertised and sold. To execute visions, and write ideas. To bring something inspiring to the world. And it’s what what feels right to me.

I don’t know where I’m going yet.

But I do know that feeling is what I’m going to follow.

Day 346.

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“Perspective.” A guest lesson by Jeremy Benbow.

I am not made like any of those I have seen. I venture to believe that I am not made like any of those who are in existence. If I am not better, at least I am different.

– Jean Jacques Rousseau

I had always planned on visiting Los Angeles before I started my senior year of college, and I’m glad everything worked out. This last month has been wild, and I’ve learned more than I could’ve hoped for from industry veterans, as well as locals from around the city. With that being said, working in the industry is no joke and it requires a lot of dedication. I’m currently working as a development intern at Disruption Entertainment with seven other students from schools across the country (Harvard, University of Texas, art schools in Chicago etc.). I was extremely nervous at first, and it showed, because I messed up… a lot. However, I recovered pretty quickly, as I began to realize that I have a slight edge on the rest of the interns. It’s all due to my perspective on life.

Let me explain:

My dad is from inner city Chicago and my mom is from southern Virginia. They met at the CIA in the 90s and got married shortly after. A couple years later, they had my brother Josh and I, and we’ve been chilling in the suburbs ever since.

What a wild ride it’s been, man.

From Tae Kwon Do students, to band kids, to summer camp counselors (EVERYONE SHOULD BE FORCED TO WORK 3 MONTHS AT A DAY CARE OR FAST FOOD RESTAURANT. BUT THAT’S ANOTHER DISCUSSION), my brother and I were exposed to a lot of different activities and groups of people. In general, I guess it’s the people I’ve met over the years that made me seriously consider filmmaking as a career. (Don’t get it twisted, though. I literally carried my VHS tapes and camcorder around the neighborhood when I was a kid. I think I still have a video of an old fight from elementary school. Movies have been a part of my life ever since I can remember.)

My friends and I did a lot of dumb shit in high school, and I think it was then that I realized our aimless adventures through NOVA meant something. It was the adrenaline rush I got from trashing the neighborhood and laughs shared while loitering in public parking lots that made me want to capture the same energy and emotion on film.

I’m not gonna go into details concerning the influential people in my life, cause some of it is personal and I don’t want y’all stealing any ideas (yeah I’m serious), but my experiences with friends and family are what keeps me going. Both of my parents grinded throughout college and fought through difficult times in their lives, only to have their dreams come true. They’ve instilled this drive into my brother and I, which is why I know I’ll make it.

To be clear, I don’t think that I’m better than anyone else. Everyone has different views and ideas that could be light-years better than mine. I’m simply blessed to know why I’m in Los Angeles and what I want to do, because many don’t. It’s only a matter of time until I’m able to channel my thoughts and feelings into the works of art that have been playing in my head. Sure I’ve been frustrated and angry (PEOPLE REALLY TRY YOU OUT HERE) but I’ve just had to keep everything in perspective and focus on the bigger picture: my desire to make emotionally driven films that mean something. My life hasn’t been perfect. I’m sure yours hasn’t either. It’s the positive and negative memories you take from your past that help you grow into the person you want to be. Your experiences are much more unique than you realize. Know what sets you apart, and use it to your advantage. Keep this in mind while working your ass off and I’m sure you’ll make progress in whatever it is you wish to do in life. I dunno man, that’s what I’ve tried to live by and I’ve gotten this far.

It’s only up from here.

-Lesson by Jeremy Benbow-

Lesson #317: How to fail.

6/2/15.

Today was the first day of our LA summer classes.

Phoef Sutton, the executive producer and one of the writers for the legendary show, Cheers, came to speak to our group of twenty students.

I know you’re probably all tired of hearing about the entertainment industry…

…but it’s sort of my life.

So buckle up.

There’s two very important things I gained insight on today.

1) How to fail…because it’s going to happen.

2) How to succeed………..because it’s also going to happen.

Let’s start with number one, shall we?

How to fail.

Sometimes, your pitch for a project or idea will be met with laughter—or even worse—silence. If you’re a chef, you’re going to have at least one or two shitty recipes. If you’re an architect, you’re going to create many blueprints that just don’t work. If you’re a teacher, you’re going to have one or three or five lesson plans that flop. Out all of the great things you are destined to do in your career or in life—there is going to be one or two things you produce that absolutely suck. That’s a promise. And that’s life. But that’s okay.

Walk in the room, know and believe that what you’re bringing to the table is the absolute best thing ever—and when the day comes that it’s not—laugh it off.

On to the next project.

And on to number two.

How to succeed.

Ah, some good news.

Turns out, success is promised just as much as failure.

Sutton said the entertainment industry is “impossible to get into.” He described it as a wall that can’t be penetrated.

But he reminded us to look around.

Every television show, every film, every Netflix series?

A producer, writer, director, and so on is behind every single one.

You have to find a way to get through the wall; a place to squeeze or break in.

Our professor, Tom, added on to the comment:

“Yes, there really is no real way to get in. But people get in all the time because people are always needed.”

Tom also said this, which I loved.

Everyone is searching. Talent is rarely undiscovered in LA, because people are always looking for something or someone great. Even if it takes 10 years, you will get found out.”

It’s all about persistence.

And it’s only a matter of time.

Yesterday at an italian restaurant on Sunset, I had dinner with my cousin who has been modeling out in LA for a few years. As we were leaving, a man sitting in the back corner with his entourage (I use the term lightly) looked over at me and said: “Beautiful dress. Beautiful girl.” I thanked him, and we engaged in a brief, friendly conversation.

Come to find out, this guy runs an entire modeling agency. While I wasn’t quite sure if he was attempting to recruit me or not, I told him I was from Virginia and was only here a short amount of time. He told me this:

“Los Angeles is a great place. There’s endless opportunity out here.”

So as it turns out, yesterday’s random fiasco ironically ties into part of today’s lesson.

Success is everywhere!

But here’s what I’ve learned from experience and from class today:

You can’t always go out asking for experience.

Sometimes, you have to create experience for yourself.

Both success and failure are promised. But you choose which one you let triumph the other.

Day 317.

Lesson #297: What a bridesmaid’s shoe and a camera can teach us all.

5/14/15.

Today I started editing the wedding I did videography for last week. I noticed that in some of the shots, I was so focused on whatever I was focusing on, I didn’t see that other things were wrong or out of place within the frame.

For example,

I got a beautiful shot of a bridesmaid’s wedding shoe.

It also just so happened to have a large piece of cardboard laying two inches in front of it.

Nice.

So let my amateur wedding videography skills be a lesson to all of us.

In fact, let it be a lesson about life.

1. Check what’s in your frame. Your subject isn’t the only thing that’s in the limelight.

Life translation: Pay attention to what’s going on around you. Focus is good—but when you become so fixated on one thing that you forget or neglect to acknowledge everything else? Not so much. It doesn’t matter whether that “thing” is a person, object, or goal. Are you so set on what you’re after that you’re missing out on other great “things”? Other people, opportunities, chances? Are you so fixed on what you want that you’re creating a negative space for yourself? For others?

2. Once you see something that needs to be removed from the frame to make it an even better shot, do it.

Life Translation: Don’t be afraid to move something that isn’t working in your frame—AKA—your life. You might have to move it a little to the right or a little to the left. That’s prioritizing. Sometimes, it’s just not right and you need to take it out all together. That’s okay too. Every once in a while, our frames needs re-assesing and our lenses need re-adjusting. My good friend Cherese and I talked about this the other night. She told me, “When people think conflict, they think that it’s the end of a relationship or friendship.  It’s not. Conflict is simply the chance to re-evaluate.” So do just that. Prioritize, move, remove, shoot, repeat. You’re the photographer and cinematographer of your life. You have creative reign.

Sometimes we get it wrong. Every shot won’t be perfect. Every shot can’t be perfect. But that doesn’t mean that we’re bad, or that this one shot reflects our abilities. It just means that we have the opportunity to learn from it. We have the chance to readjust.

And lucky for us, we get more than one shot in this life.

Life really is a roll of film.

So keep shooting.

Day 297.

Lesson #291: What I learned when I just went for it.

5/8/15.

Whether you’re uncomfortable with stepping out of your comfort zone, scared you might fail, or embarrassed by the lack of things you know:

1. Start somewhere.

You don’t and won’t get experience if you never put yourself out there and physically go after what you want. Seth Kingsley, one of the head writers and producers at E!, emailed me this after I sent him my resume:

You rock. I love students who know what they want to do and go after it! I talk to kids all the time who say they want to be writers but don’t write. Or aspiring actors who don’t act. You, on the other hand, are getting things done! So keep it up.

I promise you, I didn’t realize that what I was doing was special. I still don’t. I’m just truly doing what I love to do. But what Seth said inspired me to think about my life and pursuing my dreams even more. Actually—it helped me today in my attitude towards tackling what seemed like something I didn’t know how to do or think I could do: just go for it.

A few months ago, a friend from high school saw my final video project that I talked about in a previous lesson, and asked me to film her wedding. My response:

“…………You know I’ve never done that before right?”

She told me she knew. But she believed in what I could do.

Honestly, I was scared shitless. All the way up until today, and even all the way through the wedding, I was terrified.

All I could keep thinking was: “Am I doing this right? Do I look stupid? Am I getting the right things?” 

My lesson of the day isn’t “how to stop nervous thoughts” or “overcome them” or ‘”solve them.” Oh, no. When you’re nervous, you’re nervous. When you’re scared, you’re scared.

But as you’ve probably heard before,

do it afraid.

Do it not knowing what you’re doing or if it’s right. Do it with questions. Do it with doubt.

But do it with belief that that you can get through it, that you will learn from it, and that it’s your first step towards something.

2.If you want something, don’t settle for not getting it.

Gonna be real for a moment.

Sometimes I just have to hope and pray the whole world doesn’t read this blog.

Tonight, I also met a really attractive and nice guy. And we ended up kissing.

This is completely not like me.

No. You don’t understand.

If an attractive person even looks in my direction, I’m like: “What are words?”

But tonight, I decided that it wasn’t going to end with me going home and wishing we had kissed. It was going to happen.

It was somewhat obvious that we might be into each other. And then it became blatantly obvious. We talked all night, but then it started to get late so I said bye. I looked back at him and walked really slow. He laughed at me from down the hallway and caught up with me to walk me out. When we got to the door, we awkwardly stood there for a minute and then said bye again and went our separate ways. I got in my car and was like, “What? What? No. I’m not leaving until—no.” So I seriously got out of the car, went back in, pretended I left something (classic), found him, and made him walk me to car.

You know how it went from there.

Anyway.

This is really awkward. I’m literally posting this on the internet.

But basically, what I’m telling you is this.

IF YOU WANT IT, GO GET IT.

Period.

The end.

Thank you, today, for teaching me a great lesson, and helping me realize that I have way more guts than I give myself credit for.

It all starts by—well—starting.

So whatever it is,

go after it.

Start by starting, and don’t back down until you get what you want.

Day 291.

Lesson #276: Going the distance.

4/23/15.

Back at it again.

Hi there. If you’ve been reading my blog for some time, you know how I feel about grabbing every opportunity you can, listening to everyone you come across, and learning from what everyone has to say.

So today, Geoff LaTulippe, JMU alum and the screenwriter of the hit movie Going the Distance starring Justin Long and Drew Barrymore, came to speak at JMU. I admittedly skipped class. Like, when was this ever going to happen again?

I’ll keep it short for you. He was awesome. He was down to earth, honest, hilarious passionate, and real. He didn’t beat around the bush, but he was kind, helpful, and positive too.

Here are some things I learned from him that can apply to anyone, even outside of the creative field. But for my writers and aspiring writers—this one’s especially for you.

1. He never thought what he is doing was even a possibility for him.

But it’s real. And he’s doing it.

Take note.

2. Collaborate with others.

Two or three brains think way better than one.

3. The two worst things you can do?

1) Follow a trend because it’s a trend.

2) Not tell a story because you think it’s already been told. (You, my friend, may have just missed out on creating the best story of your life.)

4. Writers block is real.

To do:

1) Drink.

2) Walk away, whether that’s physically or mentally. Go to a different scene. Go to a different room. Come back later.

5. If you aren’t writing stories that you really want to tell, then you won’t tell them well.

Point blank.

6. Have thick skin.

Or else you’re kind of sort of dead meat.

7. It’s okay to be a lot of things.

They say you need to find your niche, but here’s the real deal: Be (or get) great at one thing, but it is never ever ever bad to be good at many. Sell all your abilities, make yourself marketable, just don’t spread yourself too thin.

8. You have to learn to just not care if someone likes it or not.*

*…But there are rules.

When they seriously don’t like it?

1) And they’re paying you?

Ask, “How can I fix it?”

2) They’re not paying you, but you respect them and their opinion?

….Ask, “How can I fix it?”

3) They’re not paying you, you respect them, but you have to go with your gut—you really like what you’re doing.

Say “Thank you.” Keep going. Someone is going to love it.

4) You keep getting the same message from different people over and over?

Listen.

9. You can survive here. You can survive there. You can survive anywhere.

Any place you go is just a city with houses and buildings. Put your two feet on the ground and go. Don’t psyche yourself out. You’ll figure things out.

10. Pull inspiration from everywhere.

Your friends. Strangers. Actual people. Actual events. That fight you had? Save what you wish you would have said.

Write all that shit down.

And lastly,

11. Storytelling is for everyone.

Make some noise.

Geoff LaTulippe did script coverage for four and a half years, and he’s been at screenwriting for a total of seven.

His response?

“I’ve been at this for seven years, and I’m only just beginning.”

Yeah, take that in for a second.

I think I’m in love with what he said about this.

People expect to get things right away. They don’t expect to work hard, or have to learn. But I think Geoff is as successful as he is because he knows these things. He knew he had to do all of these things, and then did them. He realizes that where he is now is still only the beginning. It’s always the beginning, because we’re always learning.

The greatest part is, when he said it, it was literally so casual. It wasn’t like he was trying to make a statement, or freak anyone out, or scare everyone in the room out of the industry. And that fascinated me. It didn’t seem to deter him. It didn’t deter me either. It was actually inspiring.

My roommate Morgan came home upset tonight. She had just had dinner with a few graduating graduate students from her major, and they told her grad school has been the most draining, intense—possibly even wasted—four years of their lives. All their time in the past four years has been devoted strictly to school.

Honestly, any other day I wouldn’t have known what the hell to say.

But today I knew exactly what she needed to hear.

I told her about Geoff LaTulippe. How it’s been seven years for him, and he says he’s only just beginning. He’s only scratching the surface. And I told her it was the same for her.

What, four years of your life working hard? That’s nothing. You’re going to lose four years of your life devoted to studying something you love, and then you’re going to go out into the world with the rest of your life ahead of you, doing what you want because you worked hard to get there. Four years of your life—and it will only just be the beginning. I told her, “Heck, you have at least another 30 or 40 years on top of that.” And she smiled.

So if you learned anything from this?

Work hard. Put in time. Keep learning. Be inspired. Go where you need to be to make it happen. Get stuck. Get unstuck. Get stuck again. Keep going.

This life is yours.

You just have to go the distance.

Day 276.

Lesson #247: Movement. (Or, That time I saw Selma)

3/26/15.

Tonight I finally saw Selma.

It never gets easier to see things like this.

Ever.

I’m pretty sure I’ve never cried so many angry, heart-broken tears during a movie in my entire life.

Seeing what black Americans went through in the past to earn us what we have today seems unfair. Not just the mass cruelty that occurred, but the fact that people lost their lives in the pursuit of it all. The fact that they did this for us, for the future of America—but what have we suffered in comparison? People willingly and unwillingly died for what we have today, and yet, we didn’t even know them. We never will.

It rattled me. But the good things always do.

Reading about history on a page and seeing it portrayed in front of you are two very different things.

Keeping in mind that not everything is 100% accurate, the representation of it all—visually—is still a very powerful thing.

What I love about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s story is his persistence.

Most articles and textbooks paint Dr. King as a fearless leader, and no doubt, he was.

But what I loved about this specific portrayal of his life and his works is that it showed multiple sides of Dr. King. Not just his fearless one.

The film demonstrated that Dr. King, too, was scared, just like any of us. He called a friend in the middle of the night in tears, telling her he needed the Lord to speak to him. He marched across the Edmund Pettus Bridge with hundreds of followers, only to turn around after bowing down. He didn’t always know what to do. He didn’t always know how to act, or react. He was human.

But he was strong. He was articulate, and eager, and passionate, and hopeful. When President Johnson wouldn’t change the law, Martin didn’t stop there. He just knew he had to start elsewhere. (It seems like Dr. King knew all about Lesson #245, hehe.) He was smart. He was strategic. He did what was uncomfortable. He raised hell. He found another way. And he did this all while remaining true to his people, and true to his faith. Fear was real for him; it was there, but it was conquered. And with that, one man changed the world.

Some things are hard to face. I can’t even tell you how many times I wanted to turn away from the screen, and close my eyes. I was scared and saddened, but stirred and inspired.

It’s good to be shaken up every once in a while.

Let things that make you feel, feel.

Movement is what starts it all.

First, within yourself.

Then, with others.

Day 247.