but how tender is
a runny egg
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but how tender is
a runny egg
I'm currently working on an as yet unnamed science fiction feature. I had the story idea for it back when I was in college, and since then I've approached it and abandoned it more times than I can count. I just can't seem to get it out of my head. Which is a good sign, I guess.
Sometimes I feel guilty about taking so long to write (can I just finish a draft, already??) but today I looked back on the past three years of living with this story and had a realization:
The core of my story is virtually unchanged, but it has grown in subtlety and lost its certainty in many ways. Much the same could be said about my faith. And that's why I'm starting to see screenwriting as a devotional practice.
Writing this story has been an intensely personal journey that has challenged and refined me, forcing me to grapple with big questions and come face to face with the ramifications of what I believe. One minute I'm crying out to the Spirit for inspiration and the next I'm doing my best to puzzle it out on my own. Even in the weeks or months when I'm not working on it, I sense tectonic shifts in my paradigm forming new crags and valleys in the landscape of a film I'll one day finish.
When I started, I thought I was telling myself a story to better understand my faith, or even to defend it to the doubting world around me. Now all I can see is God's practiced hand in the process, revealing himself to me through a medium I have grown to love.
Earlier this year, I attended a panel with Jeff Nichols, knowing little about him other than the fact he'd directed a McConaughey movie called Mud awhile back. He was still in production for Loving at the time, but he said this about the project: “it’s the most beautiful love story I've ever heard. I can't wait for you to see it.”
I went home, watched his movies, cried a lot, and before long I had proclaimed him my favorite director. His movies access something wordless within me, capturing a sense of wonder and tragedy, a doubt-filled longing for love and belief. Jeff Nichols has the rare gift of crafting characters that speak volumes without saying a word. They aren't eloquent people, but everything we need to know about the difficult questions they're asking can be read clearly on their unremarkable faces.
You can imagine my excitement when I found out that Loving was going to be the opening night film at Austin Film Festival. But I was slightly worried he would miss the mark with his most Oscar-y movie yet. Thank God he stayed true to his flawless storytelling instinct.
Loving manages to address equality without being a "message movie.” Rather than making it about the civil rights movement, he chose to hone in on the quiet love story of a real-life couple, Richard & Mildred Loving, whose lives were affected by the unjust laws of their state. In doing so, we see a more realistic portrayal of the personal pain that systematic racism inflicts on everyday people.
More than anything, I believe Jeff Nichols’ brilliance as a filmmaker can be attributed to his humility. That's what struck me about the clean-cut young man on the panel before I saw any of his movies. The power of Loving, like everything else he's made, lies in his willingness and ability to get out of the way so the story can speak for itself in silent eloquence.
Chasing a dream demands sacrifice. The unavoidable reality is that mastering a craft requires years of back-breaking work and intense focus. We're all familiar with the story of the lonely artist whose friends and family fall by the wayside as they pursue their passion. It's the price of the arts. Or so they say.
"My dear, find what you love and let it kill you." – Charles Bukowski
Little waves of guilt wash over me when I find myself spending time with my friends instead of writing. How much of this investment in relationships is wholesome, and how much is procrastination or distraction? Am I weak to retreat into the comfort of friendship? Am I one of those dreamers who will settle for a far too quiet life for fear of being lonely?
I'm not sure of my motivations. But recently a friend of mine shared a thought that struck me: Some people build a community for the sake of honing their art, while others engage in the arts for the sake of having a community.
The more I thought about it, the more I realized the latter was true for me.
I learned to love movies in the first place because watching movies was our family's nightly tradition. I learned to love filmmaking because it was a project I could work on with my brother. We grew up making videos together as kids, and in college we made short films. Early this year, jumping on set with our friends felt like the most natural way in the world to spend the last moments of Christmas vacation and the first moments of 2016.
Those sweet moments during filming, where everyone is working hard and cracking jokes and believing in a story you wrote – that's what I'm really after.
When I think about my dreams for a career in film, I remember seeing a photo on Twitter of the Avengers cast and crew having dinner together. I saved that photo to my phone because I so desperately wanted a seat at that table, just to share a meal with the talented people making the stories I loved.
I remember the 2015 Academy Awards and Wes Anderson's face filled with such sweet joy and pride as his crew won award after award because he had created for them an environment where they could thrive. Every one of them thanked him for that, and I knew that was the kind of director I wanted to be.
I dream of fame (of course I do), but I'm mostly attracted to the idea of sharing a story I needed to tell myself with a small tribe of people who needed to hear it, too. It's not wrong to want an audience; it's a beautiful form of connection.
I might be naïve, and I already know I'm idealistic. But I want to prove we can rise together. I want to believe that kindness takes us far. Maybe I don't want success enough. Maybe I'm afraid of the sacrifice required to get me there. But I'm more afraid of sacrificing the sacred pleasure of telling stories with my family, mentors, friends, and you.
I finally mustered the courage to tell a story at one of my favorite Austin events! So glad it was captured on video, even if it's just crappy live stream footage. I even got a little mention in Orange Magazine!
I've had three roommates in a year and I'm about to get a fourth. The turnover has been frustrating as I work so hard to build a home here in Austin. So after coming back to a shower curtain-less bathroom one too many times, I finally bought my own. Funny how a single purchase can help me feel more settled.
I'm slowly beautifying my tiny duplex - adding new yard sale furniture finds, filling up space on the walls, clearing off my bookshelf to make a poor man's standing desk, finding creative ways to let in more natural light.
A friend of mine shared an article on minimalism, so it's inspired me to downsize, too. Goodwill donations are packed into the back of my car, freeing up one of my trunks to store the old, shedding Christmas tree previously taking up precious floor space in an eyesore cardboard box.
I went through my stash of cards and programs and newspaper clippings and save-the-dates, time and space granting me a new perspective on what's truly memorable. I glued ticket stubs and concert wristbands into an unused notebook, knowing full well I'll never get around to scrapbooking again.
I even organized my digital files, uploading and archiving and converting and backing up. Uncovering old ideas with some promise and tucking away middle school essays for a future chuckle.
As I wait for a new surge of creative energy, I'm glad I took the time to clear my space and de-clutter my mind. My nest is ready for the next idea to hatch.
It's terrifying to watch my motivation seep away.
I've been so determined not to settle for mediocrity, but to my horror, I keep catching myself thinking it would be so much easier to surrender. Not everyone has to be great, you know. And I might even be happier.
I like to think I'm a driven person, but if I'm going to make it in the film industry, it has to be because of a higher calling. Selfish ambition can only get me so far, and that's not very far at all. I'm 23 and already burnt out. It's pathetic.
So this month I've been focused on resting and listening. I'm unsure what my next steps are after working at a PR job for almost two years. I'm no closer to the film industry, and now I'm barely even writing. I've been waiting desperately for the Lord to speak, asking him to give me some direction, some confirmation of my calling. Reading Acts has made me hungry for the intimacy Paul had with the Lord - listening, hearing and obeying in one fluid motion.
When I got quiet, God spoke up.
"Fan into flames the spiritual gift God gave you." (2 Timothy 1:6)
I've heard it before, but this time it was for me. My writing is the gift he's given me. I have my higher calling. Now it's up to me to fan it into flame, to feed it, to give it space to grow. And the better I listen to my Source, the more powerful it will be when I write because I will be communicating his message.
Friends, my Father's voice has rekindled my courage.
I finally watched a video a friend of mine sent me awhile back of the Chewbacca mask lady addressing a room full of young people with big dreams. It's exactly what I need to hear in this season because the Lord is walking me through the exact refinement process that she describes.
It doesn't matter how talented, how anointed, how gifted, how passionate or how willing you are if you're not fit to do the things God is calling you to do. And that is spiritually fit. The thing that will take you further and further in the kingdom of God is 3 things:
1) Diligence. Be diligent in the work of the Lord.
2) Patience. Have those moments where you stop and you wait on the Lord. Don't rush into ministry or a good opportunity because it looks shiny. Wait for the voice of God to direct you.
And the third thing - it's the biggest thing if I could get to my 16-year-old self.
3) Have obedience. When he tells you "move," move. When he tells you "stop," stop. When he tells you "indulge in the delights of my table," indulge. But when he says "that's not yours, you can't have it" – step away.
Do not try to make a name for yourself. His name will always out shadow yours.
Watch the full video here (her charge begins at 7:00).
I hope this challenged you as much as it did me.
I've been thinking about this a lot lately and it just spilled out on Twitter, so I thought I'd share. Still fairly new to the nuances of cultural appropriation, but here's my personal take.
I want to be respectful when it comes to cultural appropriation, but I fear the angry attitude that's often attached to the discussion. Here's my concern: as a white girl, I could be called out for displaying Asian cultural aspects (✌🏼 in photos, for example). But what critics don't realize is that I grew up in Thailand, so it's not that I have an obsession - I'm actually expressing *my* culture.
I feel this tension most strongly among the Asian-American community.* I'm white, so I could never belong. I'm viewed with suspicion. If I think an Asian guy is hot, it's a fetish. If I like anime, I'm a weeaboo - despite the fact I grew up watching Doraemon in Thai dub on hotel TVs.
My fear is that by focusing on eliminating cultural appropriation, the "us versus them" mentality deepens, meanwhile excluding those who walk the line between cultures. Because I so greatly fear being misconstrued, I actually limit my cultural expression. Which is the opposite effect we want, right?
So please be sensitive. Cultural lines are blurring. And that's not necessarily a bad thing. Don't make assumptions. Let's teach and share - gently, not angrily.
* In Thailand, my expression of Thai culture was more readily accepted as a friendly gesture rather than appropriation. My experience with Thai international students in Austin has been similar. And dressing in culturally appropriate clothing during my internship in India was met with immense gratitude (some young men we met made a point to thank the women in my group for respecting Indian values of modesty).
Writers talk a lot about the idea of finding their "voice" - the unique theme or style by which their work is recognized. A voice develops over a lifetime, of course, but one clue is to pay attention to what stories impact you most deeply.
When I think about the movies that have changed me - Take Shelter, Sound of My Voice, Interstellar - I see a common thread. Each one takes me out of myself, bringing me in contact with something breathtaking that exists just beyond my comprehension but just within my grasp. They all, in one way or another, explore the story of a fool who has it right in the end. The emotion that persists long after viewing can only be described as holy fear.
Many aspects of my faith are difficult for me to understand, or sound far too good to be true. But I can't seem to shake it. I find my confidence in quiet moments, a warm gut feeling, a near-audible voice speaking sweet words I wouldn't dare make up. Those films have stuck with me because they manage to capture that sense of mystery and awe. To quote A Beautiful Mind, they help me "believe that something extraordinary is possible."
Faith can't be proven or explained. God doesn't fit into a neat theology. But he's alive and active and intimately involved. That's my experience, anyway. So more than anything, I want my voice to create a space for others to have their own personal encounter with the divine.
My church here in Austin is doing a series on the covenant members of the church. Here's my profile (it ended up being a fun little writing exercise):
My favorite color is red. Red is BOLD - something I aspire to be.
I have to choose?? I like everything except cockroaches, ticks, mosquitoes and slugs (somehow snails are fine)… I ran over a snake a couple weeks ago and still feel bad :( If I have to choose, I guess I would say cats because if a cat takes a liking to you, that means something special.
A gift card to a clothes store, cuz then I’d have to go shopping. Ugh, no. Buy me movies.
I’m recovering from a period of having trouble connecting with worship music, but Draw Near by Bethel is one that always speaks to me. I’ve also been enjoying songs by All Sons & Daughters and Tow’rs lately.
I grew up as a missionary kid in rural northern Thailand. I think the biggest thing I learned was that God doesn’t ask us to be successful in the world’s terms. He just asks us to be faithful. My parents are still in Thailand, and are often discouraged by the lack of response, but I will always admire their willingness to do the work God has called them to, with or without results.
"All these people died still believing what God had promised them. They did not receive what was promised, but they saw it all from a distance and welcomed it. They agreed that they were foreigners and nomads here on earth. Obviously, people who say such things are looking forward to a country they can call their own. If they had longed for the country they came from, they could have gone back. But they were looking for a better place, a heavenly homeland. That is why God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them." Hebrews 11:13-16
“Home at last."
I have a calling to writing and filmmaking that I can’t seem to shake. I’m still figuring out what that looks like as I work an 8-5 office job in an unrelated field, but I always have some sort of story growing.
One of my greatest realizations since graduating college is that I am in complete control of how I spend my time. I refuse to say things like "I ran out of time" or "I wish I had time to..." because I have exactly the same amount of time as anyone else. Either I can choose to take charge of where I invest it, or I can passively let it disappear due to my laziness or inability to say no. But as a mentor of mine frequently tells me, whenever I say yes to something, I'm saying no to something else. Or as my parents say, "good is the enemy of best."
I talk a lot about being a filmmaker, but how much time do I actually spend writing and filming? At some point, I have to back up my words with actions. And if I want to get anywhere with my passions, I can't avoid the fact that I need to put in some serious hours to hone those skills. When I finally came to terms with that reality, it was freeing to see how much I could delete from my life. Saying no was empowering. I'm more relaxed and at peace now because I'm investing in my higher calling instead of wasting time on a million other things.
You'll always have restraints on your time. Maybe you work an 8-5 office job (like me). Maybe you're a new parent, so your focus is on your kid (and rightfully so). But realize you have more flexibility than you might think. If you care about something, you make time for it. Period. It's fine if your priorities have shifted – just make sure you're spending your time purposefully on whatever you care about, not out of a false sense of being trapped.
I promise you, you're not.
Waking up too early but greeted by an Abilene sunrise, I find myself again at ACU Film Fest. All the emotions of my younger self come rushing back. Still glowing from the small town glitz of the gala, nervously awaiting the judges' true assessment. Painfully aware of my shortcomings, but unable to shake the feeling I'm onto something great.
Above all, I'm terrified of believing in the foolish grandeur of my dreams. Because filmmaking is just something fun I do with my brother, right? It takes me until senior year and the most powerful bout of post-Film Fest depression yet to realize I'm a storyteller in my own right. Sometimes it takes everything in me to have faith in marvelous things.
Two years later, I'm back in that little room for the student feedback session, but this time seated at the judges table. I feel nauseatingly unqualified sandwiched between my heroes, though I've always felt the love seeping between the lines of their fair critique.
The judges retire to a hosting professor's house after the gala, squeezing up narrow stairs to a low-ceilinged room where I screen a short film completed just two days before in subconscious obedience to the Film Fest rhythm. Suddenly I'm a student again, memorizing their every comment.
I feel silly calling myself a screenwriter without a feature to prove it. I may never get that Oscar, but how many do? I'm on the hundredth mental revision of my acceptance speech, but lately I've been letting go of that all-demanding idea of success.
Filmmaking is something I'll do with or without a paycheck. If I spend any number of my days writing and indulging in the complex depth of my emotions, any precious few hours on set with beloved friends who believe in the soul-shifting power of stories, then I will have lived my life richly.
Movies have helped me believe in the impossible. That the fool of this world has it right in the end. That something breathtaking exists just beyond our comprehension but just within our grasp. Movies have consistently brought me to my knees in holy fear, healing me with holy tears. So if that's the closest I've ever felt to heaven, then that's exactly where I'll be found.
My first ever baby photoshoot was dang hard, but little Clara was a joy!
Red walls, decked halls. My latest shoot was a joy. Working with fuzzball Wrigley was something new and we loved the vibrant colors at Mueller Park and The Thinkery!
I had the pleasure of shooting this sweet girl's senior portraits!
As much as I hate Daylight Savings Time and the impending colder weather, fall means it's time for Austin Film Festival. I first attended AFF last year, just a few months after moving to Austin. It holds a special place in my heart - for the inspiration I received, the friendships I forged, and as a temporal marker for my arrival in this city. I immediately decided to make it a tradition, and this year was just as fulfilling as the last.
AFF is unique in that it's the only writers-focused film festival. Screenwriters are held in high esteem and panels are generally centered around the craft and business of screenwriting. And of course, lots and lots of film screenings are held in theatres around town.
Below is an extensive recap of my experiences this week.
Legend: If you can get past the foul language, Tarantino-level violence and one-dimensional female characters, you'll greatly enjoy Tom Hardy's performance as both a London gangster AND his criminally insane gangster twin.
Baby, Baby, Baby: For fans of 500 Days of Summer, this hilarious and honest exploration of love and heartbreak is sure to endear you, just like the adorably awkward cast and crew that charmed me at the Q&A following the screening.
Two Lunes: Probably the most important film to me at the festival, Two Lunes reveals the parallel experiences of a South Korean international student in L.A. and a Vietnamese student in South Korea. I chatted with writer/director Huieun Park following the screening, telling her about my personal connection to the themes of cultural transition and loneliness as an outsider, and she was deeply touched. We exchanged contact info, so I hope we can build a friendship around our passion for that particular perspective which is so rarely shared.
Brooklyn: Nothing particularly innovative about this period piece telling the story of an Irish immigrant to New York, but the characters are heartfelt, banter witty, romance satisfying, emotions honest and setting glorious.
Father's Day: A daughter's begrudging Father's Day visit uncovers past wounds as her dad continues his guise of playful affection. A lovely and honest depiction of broken family relationships, and how it's possible to love someone despite their many faults and persistent frustrations.
Red Rover: Ripe with religious undertones and uncertain optimism, this haunting film follows the short journey of two teenagers who escape the mass suicide chosen by their small community in the face of a supposed apocalypse. Exploring the abandoned countryside, they reassure each other with a bittersweet narrative of what might have been.
Sophie: When a Chinese mother abandons her daughter, the little girl and her reluctant grandmother struggle to come to grips with their new reality and eventually find a way to connect. I loved this short for shining a light on a situation that is far too common in Asia.
Motherland: When I realized this short was in Thai, I got REALLY EXCITED. It presented an interesting perspective on Thai culture and family dynamics. I introduced myself to writer/director Dew Napattaloong after the screening, a Thai UT film student who grew up between Thailand and the States.
Central Texas Barbecue: I'm not much of a barbecue person and I rarely seek out documentaries, so major props to this short doc for giving me a legitimate meat craving.
Several months ago, I had the opportunity to be an extra in a short film directed by Will Bakke and Michael Allen, the creators of Beware of Christians and Believe Me. Will Bakke was one of the judges at ACU Film Fest when I was still a student there, so of course I jumped at the chance to connect with them and support their project now that I was in Austin, too. My bestie, Katheryn, came down from Abilene to help them with the shoot as well. Two all-night shoots, one freak storm and a handful of one-take shots later, we finished filming. The short turned out beautifully so of course I was delighted when I heard the news that it would be premiering at AFF! Seeing it on the big screen was definitely a highlight of the festival. I'm already looking forward to the eventual 20 Somethings feature!
I attended a conversation with Gary Ross, writer/director of Pleasantville, Seabiscuit and The Hunger Games, and writer of Big, Dave and The Tale of Despereaux. Unsurprisingly, he had a lot of brilliant things to say.
On Big: "It was the easiest thing I ever did. Pure fun."
"I highly recommend getting a writing partner. It can be so lonely in your 20s."
On Dave: "I realized I would only be able to live with myself if I wrote the movie I was happy with, even if they didn't like it."
On Dave: "It was such a cheesy idea that could easily be awful."
On Dave: It required a sustained suspension of disbelief, so casting real people from the political sphere was crucial to creating a sense of realism.
"The only thing that ever kills a movie is running out of time."
On Pleasantville: "It's not so much a statement as an examination. It's Genesis: about accepting the the Garden - snake, apple and all."
"I want to be a director, not just shoot my script. You have to obliterate and reimagine the script while you're shooting, and then again in the editing room. It takes personal bravery. You have to be inventive and calm and have a bit of a chuckle that you're jumping out of a plane. Don't be too attached to the sound of how you wrote your script. Be open to happy surprises. Investigate the potential inherent in each scene."
"You need to keep your vision intact. Is it your movie or theirs? Satisfy yourself."
"I'm scared all the time, but I surround myself with people who make me brave. I'm as scared as you are, but we both have to try."
"Edge is the easiest place for filmmakers to hide. It's simple to be cynical and not reveal yourself and your true feelings."
On Seabiscuit: "The hardest thing you could possibly write is a movie about kindness. It's about broken people in the Depression, an unlikely nuclear family. These people were kind to each other. They healed each other with kindness."
On Seabiscuit (inspiration for a particular scene): "I was galloping a horse along a trail by the sea in Baja, which was a sleepy little town at the time. Bushes ran on either side of a packed dirt road that went for maybe ten miles straight. Warm wind in my face as it went from dusk to twilight. Eventualy, I realized that while I could no longer see, my horse still could. It was the most exhilirating (but safe) horse experience of my life."
"Movies are thematic investigations. My favorite scenes pose a question rather than supply an answer. You can have a clear point of view - you just can't put it on a fortune cookie."
Some of the best opportunities at AFF are the round tables, where attendees have the chance to engage in small group discussions with experienced filmmakers. Here are a few tidbits:
Mark Swift: "Don't underestimate the social aspect of the screenwriting business. Get better at talking to people. Take an improv class."
Mark Swift: "Write what you want to write. Write one for them, then write one for you. Cut through the noise. Find a producer who likes your voice. It's a matter of breaking through, then staying there. You have no idea how good you have to be to get the opportunity to write a crappy movie."
I asked: "What advice do you have for me? 22 years old, a year out of school, working at an office job. How do I stay inspired and develop myself as a writer?"
Mark Swift: "Get close to people who are already working. Be a production assistant. Read scripts. Find other writers and read each other's work."
Matt Cook: "Go on some adventures. I spent four years in the military when I was your age and I am constantly drawing from that experience. Keep writing and the cream will rise to the top."
Mark Swift: "Don't be like all the other film students. Get a weird job. Have a point of view. People will recognize authenticity on the page."
Two of my favorite people from last year's festival were John August (writer of Big Fish, host of Scriptnotes podcast, and ridiculously nice person) and Nicole Perlman (writer of Guardians of the Galaxy and one cool lady). John August does a live podcast recording at AFF every year. I was in the audience last time when he interviewed the likes of Cary Fukunaga (True Detective, Jane Eyre), Susannah Grant (Erin Brockovich), Peter Gould (Breaking Bad), and more. I also attended a fascinating panel in which Nicole Perlman described her process of writing Guardians of the Galaxy, which is where my ladycrush began.
This year, John August and co-host Craig Maizin had Nicole Perlman on the podcast, along with Steve Zissis of HBO's Togetherness. Sadly, I wasn't able to attend the live recording this year (or anything with John, Craig or Nicole for that matter), but I thoroughly enjoyed listening to it after the fact. Nicole Perlman continues to kick ass. (Notice me senpai!)
Cuz some things are too good not to share.
The genius of this clean and simple organizational system works for any notebook you desire. I'm two months in and loving it. Get started here.
I thoroughly enjoyed the experience of "Green Light Corridor" by Bruce Nauman at The Contemporary Austin. We squeezed between the walls, adjusted our vision and took our time lingering in green. I didn't want to leave. I foresee many more afternoons in that strange, glowing space.
I had the pleasure of attending an early screening of Room directed by Lenny Abrahamson (Frank) and starring Brie Larson (Short Term 12). If you have any interest in psychology and appreciate a film that manages to make you cry without pulling cheap heartstrings, GO WATCH THIS MOVIE. Oscar please?
Cuz some things are too good not to share.
I've been anticipating this movie for MONTHS, ever since I heard the premise and even more so after reading the brilliant novel by Andy Weir! It did not disappoint. The film had a few slight changes from the book, but Mark Watney's smartass tone was perfectly expressed onscreen - a refreshing departure from the angst of other recent space movies like Gravity and Interstellar (though I love those movies, too).
The success of The Martian just goes to show you what wonderful things can happen when you are genuinely excited about creating something. Andy Weir's story quickly escalated from nerdy blog series to 99 cent find on Amazon to New York Times bestseller to Ridley Scott directed blockbuster. Bottom line: enthusiasm is infectious - and might just get you a movie deal with freakin' Matt Damon!
Motivation to sit down and get 'er done. Full article.
"The first draft is always perfect, because all it needs to do is exist."
Non sequitur + smart observation + middle school humor = Poorly Drawn Lines. Here's a great review attempting to explain the absurd charm of one of my favorite web comics. Like it on Facebook for your daily lol.
And his faith is raw. Read the full interview and check out the accompanying photo/video shoot (do I spy baptism imagery?)
If we can understand that we’re all imperfect, let’s come to God and come for his help. You’re not weak by doing that. I think that’s a common misperception of Christians, that you’re being weak because you can’t handle it. None of us can handle this world, dude! It’s eating us alive. But, man, I don’t wanna have to do it on my own.
Stumbled across a new favorite: "boondoggle." It has a fascinating history, is hilarious to say, and even has a Thailand connection that makes this missionary kid chuckle.