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GTTP completed the pilot episode of the independent drama television show, FARM STORY, about three New York City forty-somethings who trade the bustle of city life for the gentler pace of rural Chicken, Virginia. Once there they search for happiness, for fulfillment, and for a place to call home. They are currently in the process of selling the show.
GTTP is also in pre-production for HOT FLASH!, A Superhero Story for the Menopausal Age, with filming to begin soon.
Tag Archives: Farm Story
Ok, so it’s been about a month since the bulk of our filming finished and this virtually-impossible-to-write blog post is getting written today if it kills me. Why “virtually-impossible-to-write,” you ask? Because putting this experience into words is ridiculously hard. Thus far this has been the definition of indescribable, but for my loyal readers, (hi mom!) I will try. Before I really begin, a status update:
The SHOW is not yet done, not nearly done. Yes we have 99% of the show shot. BUT, number one – 99% is not 100% (we still have a couple of inserts and establishing shots left to film in NY), and number two ”principal photography is done” does NOT mean “the show is done.” There’s still all the post-production work to be done – color correcting, scoring, title sequence, ADR, music…oh, and, you know – THE EDITING! And THEN, after it is finished, after it is put together, and the production work and the post production work are done – for real and for true – Terri and I still have to find a network or production company that wants to fork over the money to make the next five episodes (or better yet – the next five years of episodes) and then, when that happens, we need to start the whole production process all over again for episode two. BUT!!! We’ve come this far, and Peeps? This is a pretty far way to come. So here and now, I will attempt to relate this experience – shooting my first TV show…
A quick disclaimer before I go into more specifics: I have a terrible memory. I remember things in snippets and moments but not as whole experiences (for all I know this is how everyone remembers things but it always seems slightly disconcerting to me that I can remember the smell of the ferns in the grove on my wedding day in the exact moment I said “I do,” but can’t remember what I did last Thursday night – like, the entire night is a blank to me, and I wasn’t even drinking, wait was I?) This is why I take so many pictures and why the invention of the smartphone camera was a blessing for me and a frustration for my husband – “put the phone away and experience the moment,” he says. “But I want to be sure I can remember the moment!” I say. Anywho, that memory thing coupled with the fact that I’m a born storyteller – always editing and embellishing the actual experiences of my life so they make a better story – means you’re not going to get accurate reporting from me BUT, you’ll hopefully get a good story. So! Here’s the story (or at least some of the story) of the Farm Story shoot:
There were so many unreal and amazing parts of this experience, so many moments where I couldn’t process at all the immensity of what we were doing. Don’t worry, I know we are just making a television show, not curing cancer or anything, BUT! we are making a television show! I mean, not a little home movie on a camcorder, a real honest-to-god TV show. With a cast of 14 and a crew of 20 and a bunch of locations and a production van and a picture car and 2 kids and a dog and a cat and a rooster named Leroy. And that is huge (not the rooster). In fact, it is so surreal to me that while we were filming I had a moment where it hit me and I stopped, dumbfounded, in the middle of a residential street in Staunton, Virginia. I actually stopped dead as it hit and said out loud, “holy good lord. We’re making a TV show.” (To which cast and crew around me were like, “uh, yeah, where have you been for the past week?”)
But, you see, for the eight months leading up to the shoot, I had been in producer/director mode. For all of Pre-Production, I was in head-down, producer “triage-the-problem” mode. You know, just getting it done. And for the last two weeks of pre-production, and the first week of filming, I was in head-down, “figure out what I want artistically, explain it to the cast and crew, and figure out how to get that filmed” mode. Basically, from January to September, I never had a chance to stop and realize that this was a big deal in my life and so, on that Saturday afternoon, on North Market Street, in the middle of Staunton, Virginia, the realization took hold and physically forced me to stop and observe what was happening – even if it was just for a second. In fact, it was such a strong feeling that I was briefly unable to function (it felt like what I imagine it feels like to be gut punched, but without the pain) as everyone around me did their thing – set up the lights, put the picture cars in place, touched up makeup and hair, held reflectors, prepped microphones, wrangled the kids, and just generally got ready to film the scene. And I looked around and saw all these people and I thought to myself, “holy shit! These people are here because of Terri and me and NO ONE else! WE did this.” And it was overwhelming.
Don’t get me wrong, the moment passed pretty quickly – within 30 seconds I came back to myself and we got on with the business of making the show but seriously, Guys, it’s been surreal. Well actually surreal and not at all surreal. And here’s the thing, you know how you have those moments where you have two contrasting experiences at the exact same time and you’re not really sure how both can exist at once but they do and you go with it? Well, that was what it felt like to make Farm Story. It was simultaneously new, and exciting, and unbelievable while also being normal, and comfortable, right, and even…kind of mundane (in the most exciting sense of the word.) While we were in it, in the day to day-ness of it, it was just sort of ordinary. It just felt right and comfortable to crawl out of bed at the buttcrack of dawn, stroll downstairs, meet up with Alex (Director of Photography) and Tom (Sound Mixer) and go over the plan for the day. To find Julia, or Logan, or Eric (my lead actors) in hair/makeup and chat about the scene we were about to film. To swing by craft services and grab myself a banana. To basically just move through the set, and the day, as the director. It felt natural, and comfortable, and completely, totally, utterly right.
So, let me set the scene – If you like Farm Story on Facebook or if you follow our blog (which, if you don’t, what’s stopping you? Get on that, People!) you know that the entire shooting process started off with a day of shooting in New York City. In addition to our skeleton crew – Alex, Tom, Kelli, (Script Supervisor), Jen, (temp 1st AD), Molly (Production Coordinator), Noah, Lucy, and Will, (our three New York PA’s who, sadly, weren’t all able to make the trip. Only Noah was able to go to Virginia for the main shooting), a few friends acting as extras, and four principal actors. The shoot was an exciting and crazy day, but, in the world of filmmaking, kind of a short one.
Short or not, though, there is something ridiculously exciting, indescribable even, about shooting on the streets of NYC. The last time I was actually shooting on a main street in Manhattan was way back in my production assistant days on NYPD Blue and Godzilla and US Marshalls (yes, mom, everyone has heard the story about Tommy Lee Jones scolding me) and back in those PA days I promised myself that I would not set foot on another Manhattan movie set unless and until I was either in it or the director. I kept that promise to myself. On Farm Story, we filmed a scene on the subway, yup, the NYC subway system! We filmed a scene in front of Terri’s and my old apartment – a scene with two picture cars, no less! And the most exciting – we actually filmed a walk and talk scene, with two actors crossing 5th Avenue, at 40th Street, on a Saturday afternoon – we were a little clump (two actors and six crew-some walking backwards) crossing a ridiculously busy NY city street – don’t worry, Mom, we crossed with the light. But seriously, I still can’t believe we got the shot!
And then the next day, most of those folks who were on the NY shoot, piled into a 15 passenger van and a 12-year-old Subaru and drove for 7 and a half hours to arrive at our, as-yet-unseen destination – a beautiful 18th century brick farmhouse on 27 acres of land. We arrived, we had some dinner, we went to bed, and the next morning we were up with the sun to do some work.
What followed from there is a blur of filming the likes of which I had never experienced before. 12 hour days at locations all around Staunton, sometimes as easy to get to as the yard of the farm house (because we were, you know, filming in the yard of the farmhouse) and sometimes requiring us to pile back into that trusty 15 pass and head the 20 miles to hit the locations in Staunton proper. Speaking of Staunton proper, while there we filmed in: a diner, and a motel, a bookstore, an office, a beautiful house (see the North Market Street gut-punch above), a downtown apartment, and an impromptu traffic jam. On the farm we filmed in three different bedrooms, two kitchens, a dining room, a library, a living room, a screened in porch, two hallways, a patio, a lawn, and backdoor steps. We filmed in the sunshine and in the rain, on a dusty dirt road and in a dried up corn field. In vehicles and out, at all hours of the day and night. And, although we averaged only 12 hours a day we managed to stay on time and on budget, and I still don’t know how we did it. Our lunches each day were delicious – good, fresh, well prepared food – but our dinners? Our dinners were sublime…
And now I come to the thing. The thing that I talk about ad nauseum, the one thing that everyone who knows me knows about. The point I’m trying to make, the feeling I can’t fully describe, the thing that this blog post is really about: Family is important to me. It’s like the Most Important Thing. It’s what it’s all about. Not only the family you’re born into, but also the one you choose and, if you’re lucky, the one you create. On every project I do, I try, as much as possible, to bring family members I’m actually related to along for the ride but whether the blood family is able to join in or not, I always always always look to build a family on each show. It’s one of the reasons I use the same people over and over. It is, in fact, the reason I do this crazy theater/film thing. It’s why I started a company — so that I could have this whole little family whenever I work on a project. It’s what it’s all about. AND, when Te and I first talked about Farm Story, we talked about building a family that would create this show. A group of people—a cast and crew—who would work together and live together and eat and drink together. We wanted our meals to be family meals – to the extent that Terri and I both wanted the dinners to be prepared by our parents and local “friends of the production”. We wanted home cooked meals. Yes, we wanted it to be, as Tom said, “a professional thing we’re doing here,” but we also wanted the group to bond as family.
And you know what? It totally worked. All of it. The filming, the living, the eating and drinking together. The parents making a few dinners and the local friends making the rest. The late night storytelling, the early morning coffee dash. The massive breakfast prepared by cast, crew, mom, and dad on the day we didn’t start until 2pm, the scary-clown-movie nights that found everyone watching, shouting at the screen, the birthday party on set at 1AM. And the meals – while we were in Virginia, at the end of every shooting day, we gathered on the screened-in porch of the main house and we ate together. We got to know each other, we processed the day, we played cards, we razzed on the PA’s. We laughed, we cried, we worked, and we even got a chance to play a little, but most of all, we became a family.
Hopefully that family will continue. Like I said above, now comes the hard work of editing and getting the show out there so you can all see what we did. Now comes the hard work of selling the show so that we can do this all again with these wonderful people (most of whom I. Did. Not. Know. A year ago!) Now comes the hard work of making a living at day jobs because Terri and I both put that whole “I need money to live” thing aside while we did Farm Story (thank you John and Rob for that).
So the next step is to get it out there and the first step towards that is Austin. Again, as you may have seen on Facebook, the Farm Story script got accepted to the second round at The Austin Film Festival, entitling Terri and me to participate in special panels and workshops. And we’ve put together a trailer on the off chance that the acquisitions person from AMC or Netflix says, “oh, I LOVED your script. Do you have a trailer of what you’ve made?” So, tomorrow afternoon Terri and I are off to Austin. We’ll attend our first film festival. We’ll network and shmooze. We’ll hopefully set up some meetings and hopefully move the project forward. But whether something major happens there or not, we will now focus all of our energy on finding a way to get cameras rolling on episode two. And, until the day comes when cameras do roll again, I will hold in my memory twelve glorious days and nights in the Shenandoah Mountains and…
The hot cramped rooms, particularly the Brooklyn bake
Hearing walkie talkie “chatter” on my set thanks to the Zello app
Bonding with my tribe
Homemade biscuits and gravy
A chinese fire drill
A soy field at dawn
Red elfin ears
An unplugged phone ringing
Wagon Wheel on the radio
A downright freaky doll
Mountain mist in the morning
Dinners on the porch
A broken down Subaru 2 hours from our destination
Tiny rooms with too many people
“Terri, you gotta hold my movie”
Star-filled nights with too much wine
and long busy days with not enough sleep
And I will forever be humbled by and never fully able to express what it means to me that friends and family far and wide (and a few strangers) ponied up forty-five thousand dollars so we could make this show; that local crew jumped on board for very little money and absolutely no glamour; that actors, both local and not, found their way to Staunton (by car and train) to sleep on a rented bed and do their work, sometimes for as little as a few hours; that Terri’s parents and my parents each traveled more than 500 miles to stay respectively in a guest room and a two star hotel room (that they got kicked out of for a day of filming), AND to cook a few dinners for 30 people; that sisters and nieces and nephews gamely participated in this insanity; and, last but not least, that Tom, Alex, Molly, Noah, Julia, Logan, Eric, and Sulekha all got in the motherfucking van not for the promise of riches or luxury or fame; they got in the van with virtual strangers, for a 7 hour drive because they trusted this script and they trusted my ability to get this done; because they trusted me, a person they didn’t know well (and in some cases didn’t know at all). They all enthusiastically just said, “yup, I’m in!” They became a family and they forever changed my life in the process. Thanks, guys. You’re the best!
Ok, so this is a long post. Like, a really long post. Sorry about that. But it turns out, when you’re talking about your passion, it’s kinda hard to keep it short. Feel free to jump to the links and/or skip to the end (that’s where the really important stuff is, anyway.) -Jess
As many of you know I have been a television fanatic my entire life. In fact, my life is defined by the shows I watch now, was watching then, will be watching tomorrow.
There are the shows of my childhood that I watched religiously with my sisters – Quincy, Eight is Enough, 240-Robert, Simon & Simon, St. Elsewhere, Remington Steele, Riptide – the list goes on and on and on.
Then there are the shows I watched on my own as I got older. In junior high it was Miami Vice – I still remember the conversations Colleen and I had at our lockers about Crockett and Tubbs.
There are the days in high school and early college where I was obsessed with Twin Peaks and Northern Exposure. (And yes, I’m well aware of the Northen Exposure episode that did an homage to Twin Peaks.)
The night during freshman year college spring break, when I had come home from a bad date in an awful mood and my dad had known the only thing that would pick me up – a Star Trek The Next Generation marathon where we watched a full videotape of 6 episodes, long into the night.
The ER fanaticism (particularly in those early seasons) when my aunt called with a family crisis during the ER season finale and I not only didn’t pick up the phone until the commercial break but when I did pick up, the first words out of my mouth were, “Aunt Irene, you know it’s the season finale, why are you calling NOW?” (yup, that story is legend in my family – most of the time I’m a very good niece, I swear.)
After college I had moved on to The X-Files and there was the taping mishap when, during Jen and Kelley’s rehearsal dinner, thinking I was safely recording the season finale, I left the television unattended, went to the dinner under the tent in the backyard and discovered (days later) that halfway through the episode someone, (who shall remain nameless), had changed the channel to a Red Sox game! Not even the Yankees! Not even the post-season! As you can imagine, in the days before dvrs that was a rough one!
There was Highlander and Gilmore Girls and Due South and Farscape; Thirtysomething, and I’ll Fly Away, and Party of Five, and Chicago Hope. In recent years it’s been The Wire, and West Wing, and Friday Night Lights, and Doctor Who, and Breaking Bad, and Mad Men, and Orphan Black, and Justified, and ANYTHING from Joss Whedon. There have been shows that barely lasted a season and there’s been that old stalwart, Law & Order that lasted for 20 and of which I never missed an episode. There are dramas and scifi, and action adventure, but there’s comedy too: Newhart and Cheers, and Friends, and Sports Night and Scrubs, How I Met Your Mother and Modern Family, and Happy Endings. There’s even an animated show here and there - Aqua Team Hunger Force and Family Guy, I’m looking at you (though admittedly, I’m not nearly as obsessive over animation.) The shows go on and on too numerous to name them all, but the one uniting factor for all of them has been my obsession and family, and friends are all used to me starting out conversations with “That reminds me of this one scene in…”
When I get hooked on a show – I watch it all, in order – I do not miss an episode. Yes, there are the shows I have a casual relationship with – I’ll drop in, enjoy an episode every once in awhile, but those are rare. There are even the shows I hatewatch (again dropping in and out of them), BUT if I’m committed, I’m committed and I can’t let them go. My love for my shows defines moments of my life and Holy Good Lord, the things I’ve seen on TV! It is true that I place my defining career moment – that moment when I knew I wanted to be a director – as my first viewing of a film (Star Wars, to be exact – yes, when I was like 6). But if that was the moment I new I wanted to be a director, the moments that honed that realization, and cemented that decision; the moments where I began to really understand what a director is, and what kind of storyteller I wanted to become, those moments are too numerous to keep track of and stretch through decades of capital M Moments of television where a TV show blew me away, made me excited, made me think, made me laugh out loud, made me cry, made me who I am (warning, spoilers abound in the bullet points below):
- when the camera goes slo-mo in that one episode from Highlander when Richie realizes what he is now;
- when Carter comes into his own and takes charge of the ER in a crisis;
- when Bob Newhart wakes up next to Suzanne Pleshette at the end of Newhart;
- when Buffy whispers her guidance to Dawn before she takes that leap;
- when Picard joins the poker game;
- when Lorelai realizes her feelings for Luke;
- when CJ gets the goldfish from Danny;
- when Niles’ ironing his pants turns into a 10 minute, absolutely brilliant bit of farce;
- the kaddish for Uncle Manny in Northern Exposure;
- the Galactica falling through the atmosphere of New Caprica;
- the lawnmower in Mad Men;
- the goat fight in How I Met Your Mother;
- Jayne’s hat in Firefly;
- the locket in Farscape;
- the chair flip in Alias;
- the bullet in Fringe;
- Doctor Donna
Moments on top of Moments on top of moments that have moved me and stuck with me but more than that made me stop and think “wow, I want to be a part of that! I want to be responsible for these moments for other people.” Honestly, it’s why I’m a director – for the moments.
So, why am I telling you this? Why now? Why wax rhapsodic about my TV obsession on a theater blog? Well here’s the thing you may not know: this company was never intended to only be about theater. If you watch the music video I made a few years ago, you’ll see I titled it a “Going to Tahiti Production”. You see, I LOVE theater (obviously), but from the beginning, I never intended for GTTP to only do theater. Always always always I have been finagling, to make a film or, better yet, a TV show. So finally we come to the point… finally, the television obsession and the directing thing are starting to collide. Finally I’m making a TV show. To say that it’s a dream come true doesn’t begin to cover it…and honestly, it’s also not accurate, you see, the dream can’t come true – I can’t make the show – until the money is in place, and, though we’re going strong we still have a looooooooooong way to go with that. BUT, I’m closer now than I’ve ever been.
“But it’s a web series, Jess. Didn’t you just film a webseries that’s in editing now and is supposed to be released in the fall?,” you say. Well, yes, I did and it is, and it will be. And yes, technically Farm Story is a web series in that it will first air on the web. And it being a web series allows us to afford to make it. BUT, Terri and I have big plans for this little series. You see we’re not making it like people normally do a web series, we’re making it like a regular ol’ tv show. What we’re doing is filming our very own tv pilot – an hour long drama for a six episode first season. Yes yes yes, it will be distributed online first. But after that, who knows? We have the first 3 episodes written. We know the arc for the remaining 3 episodes. If all goes according to plan, this won’t be a little project. This will be the first season of a multi-season story. If all goes according to plan, this is the next 3-7 years of our lives. Don’t get me wrong, GTTP is not abandoning theater, not even close. In fact, Molly will be doing a workshop production of a new “beyond words” theater piece this summer. And GTTP will have a full production slate through the 2014-15 season (in fact, stay tuned for announcements about that) BUT, GTTP is growing and branching and every day getting closer to the production company I envisioned when I first started out.
The reason I’m making such a big deal about Farm Story, (and you can read all about the development of the project and all the latest happenings on our Farm Story blog) is that this show is our biggest endeavor yet. Our biggest budget by far (50K). A completely new medium for us. Farm Story is a completely crowd-funded, donation-based show (that’s right every dime for this show is coming from donations from y’all). This is locally-grown TV. No big Hollywood studio yet. No big Hollywood money yet. Everyone on this project is either working for peanuts or volunteering, Terri and my folks are cooking some of the meals – are you beginning to see the picture here? We literally can not make this show without the support of all of you. So, I know I’ve asked before but now I’m going to ask for more. This is one of the most important (and terrifying) things I’ve ever done. So, whaddya say? Wanna help us make a television show?
So, with that in mind, if you’d like to make a tax-deductible donation to Farm Story and be a part of this revolutionary, locally-grown TV thing we’ve got going on here, go to the donate page of goingtotahitiproductions.com for instructions; OR, if you want to donate through our crowd funding site, RocketHub, and get rewards for your donation, go here. Truly truly truly, EVERY little bit helps. And, if you can’t donate right now, please spread the word. I also highly recommend checking out the video on the Rockethub page, where you can learn even more about me (as if you need to after this blog post), Terri, and the project; not just because I made the video and I think it’s a damn fine l’il movie, but because I think it conveys the spirit of what we’re doing.
So, yeah, basically – Theater is cool. Going to Tahiti Productions‘ new theatrical season will be announced in July/August. TV is cool. GTTP is making a show. We need money and support to do it. Jessica is a crazy television junkie. Thanks for reading.
Going to Tahiti Productions is a sponsored project of Fractured Atlas, a non-profit arts service organization. Contributions for charitable purposes of Going to Tahiti Productions must be made payable to Fractured Atlas only and are tax-deductible to the extent permitted by law.
And every year, as the weather starts to warm and we have those first real days of recognizing that the winter is truly over (though this year, I don’t entirely believe it) and the allergies start acting up for real, I can’t help but think of a particular commencement speech. It was not actually the speech delivered at my graduation. To be honest, I don’t even remember who spoke at my graduation, let alone what he or she said. No, this particular speech was over ten years before my time and was one that, until the wonders of being able to look up just about anything on the internet, I had only ever heard about second hand from my mom:
In 1980, another dad got to play a special role in his daughter’s graduation. I don’t know if he actually handed his daughter her diploma, but that graduation, Alan Alda delivered the Connecticut College commencement address. His daughter was in attendance, graduating from the school and he not only delivered a beautiful speech that could have applied to each of the graduates present, he also managed to make it a personal bit of advice from a dad to his daughter. The whole speech is beautiful and powerful (why else would my mom still talk about it almost 25 years later) and can be read here. But there’s a particular passage that I feel applies today. Towards the end of the speech Mr. Alda gave his daughter, and all of her fellow graduates, the following advice:“I want you to have chutzpah. Nothing important was ever accomplished without chutzpah. Columbus had chutzpah. The signers of the Declaration of Independence had chutzpah. Don’t ever aim your doubt at yourself. Laugh at yourself, but don’t doubt yourself. Whenever you wonder about yourself, look up at the stars swirling around in the heavens and just realize how tiny and puny they are. They’re supposed to be gigantic explosions and they’re just these insignificant little dots. If you step back from things far enough you realize how important and powerful you are. Be bold. Let the strength of your desire give force and moment to your every step. Move with all of yourself. When you embark for strange places don’t leave any of yourself safely on shore. They may laugh at you if you don’t discover India. Let them laugh. India’s already there. You’ll come back with a brand new America. Have the nerve to go into unexplored territory. Be brave enough to live life creatively. The creative is the place where no one else has ever been. It is not the previously known. You have to leave the city of your comfort and go into the wilderness of your intuition. You can’t get there by bus, only by hard work and risk and by not quite knowing what you’re doing, but what you’ll discover will be wonderful. What you’ll discover will be yourself.”
I can’t even with this. No, I’m serious. Did you read that? I know it’s a long passage, but this isn’t just an excuse for me to avoid coming up with a long blog post of my own. It’s important. It’s powerful advice from a successful man about a crazy, competitive, unpredictable business. But it’s more than that – it’s poetry, man. It’s frakking poetry. I feel like I want to claim this as a manifesto for myself and for GTTP.
Because, here’s a little secret, Gentle Readers – it’s all true. You need to be bold. You need to not doubt. You need to let the strength of your desire give force and moment to your every step. You need to move with all of yourself. You need to NOT LEAVE ANY OF YOURSELF SAFELY ON SHORE. It’s about the leap. It’s about being brave. It’s about embracing the unknown. It’s about having the nerve, having the chutzpah. It’s about leaving the city of your comfort and going into the wilderness of your intuition. It’s about hard work and risk and NOT QUITE KNOWING WHAT YOU’RE DOING. It’s the only way you’ll find greatness. It’s the only way you’ll find yourself. And, it’s what we’re doing here at Tahiti. To be honest it’s what we’ve been doing all along, but now, we’re about to do it in a bigger and scarier way then we ever have before. Not only are we about to make a television show – yup, an honest-to-god tv show, but we’re also about to exist in two mediums simultaneously. Next week, I will head down to Virginia for a pre-production meeting with my UPM (that’s Unit Production Manager to the non-film folks), my Associate Producers and my Writer/Co-producer, as well as our first big fundraising event, and our first official location scout with our Locations Manager. And, while I’m off gallivanting in Virginia and prepping Farm Story, Molly will take the reins here and start prepping her next project – a theater-beyond-words piece derived from the music of Camilla Ammirati and text of Alexis Roblan.
And, yup, that means I’m about to give up a bit of control (yes it is actually that hard for me to even conceive of such a thing, despite the fact that I couldn’t have chosen better hands to leave GtTTheater in than Molly’s). GTTP is about to have its first theatrical show that I will have very little involvement in. Although I’ll be around and consulting and I’ll still be blogging about and talking about it, it really won’t be mine at all. It’s time to let the GtTTheater fly without me for a bit – don’t get me wrong, it’s not like I’m done with theater, not by a long shot – in fact, come October, I’ll be back in the rehearsal room with Molly for our Fall show – but for the next few months, I will be taking a bit of break to focus on television and as Farm Story moves forward, and Molly takes the reigns of our newest theatrical adventure, we will try to follow Mr. Alda’s advice. We will be bold. We will be brave. We will have chutzpah!
As many of you know, I recently moved from one part of Brooklyn to another. Finally, with Within Arm’s Reach done for now, and with The Jane Games entering the editing phase, (and so taking less of my time), I’ve begun to unpack. And, as part of that unpacking, my ridiculously supportive (and super patient) husband requested that I sort through the 5 bankers boxes worth of memorabilia that I have moved from place to place over the past 10 years (in all fairness the 5 boxes started as 1 very small shoebox) and get rid of that which I “can’t remember the origin or emotional significance of.” Turns out, there was a lot to discard…but it also turns out sometimes being a packrat pays off. Especially when the stuff is from before the days of regular email, Facebook, and smartphones recording immediate photographs of every event. So, yes, I discarded a lot (like, 4 bankers boxes worth) but I also found some beautiful treasures, one that I want to share…
Some of you know of my Uncle Johnny, the artist who inspired me as an artist but also the inspiration for the name Going to Tahiti Productions (you can read that story here), and some of you actually knew him when he was still alive. He was a pretty cool guy — though not a talkative one (like me, he didn’t really enjoy talking on the phone, though, on occasion when we got to talking about a movie or book that we liked (or hated) the conversation would be animated and would go long into the night) — but letter writing was pretty much how we communicated. I would periodically send him a long letter about what I was up to and he would send me a card or a book or a note back to check in. But, whatever the letters or cards or notes or books contained, he always had some words of wisdom from an older artist to a younger. It didn’t matter that his medium was paint and mine was actors. It didn’t matter that he wasn’t making money with his art either, and that he knew that struggle wasn’t easy. It didn’t matter that he was 3000 miles away and we, East Coast Family, rarely got to see him. There were always encouraging words…we were always going to Tahiti.
So, while going through the memorabilia boxes, I came across this note card from Uncle Johnny. It doesn’t have a date and the envelope with a postmark is long since gone (even in my packrat ways, I did find a way to throw out envelopes from people who’s addresses I already had), but I think it’s from the mid-late 90′s. The note starts off, in response to a letter I sent him, “I…hope you are working 20 hrs/day and living off of adrenaline, intuition, and the euphoria that is show business/production.” And continues, “yes; bizarre, surreal, weird, monsters, religion, love: It must be Art.” Judging from that, I think I (and he in his response) was referring to the first movie I was a PA on in the city (ah, my days as a Production Assistant…another story all together). So that would put it in early ’96, after Atlanta but before I was officially living in the city. But, I digress…
I must have been philosophizing in my letter to him, because he goes on: “I also see that you have turned your predicament into philosophy (more Art, I’m so proud of you). Getting paid is the next evolution – no pay, some pay, now and then pay, low pay, little pay, more pay, steady pay…” The man knew of what he spoke. And then, this:
“Give the best you have, always keep learning, grow with each project, hang tough, Dream, reach beyond the reachable, be true to yourself – good things will happen.”
So, GTTP is following Uncle Johnny’s advice. After Molly’s current directing gig, I, Salome, she’ll be jumping in to Tahiti’s next show – a beyond words theater piece that is, right now, just beginning to take shape. And me? I’m jumping in full force to Farm Story, GTTP’s first foray into television. Regular updates are happening, well, regularly, here – primarily from writer and co-producer, Terri Viani (and occasionally from me), but basically, what you need to know is: our production calendar is set, crew interviews start tomorrow, fundraising is about to begin in earnest, auditions will start in late June, and, if all goes according to plan, cameras will roll on September 6th! It’s big…who am I kidding, it’s HUGE! It’s overwhelming. It’s scary. It’s new. It’s crazy. It’s television. It’s what I’ve been dreaming about. It’s utterly terrifying. BUT, I’m jumping off the cliff. I’m taking Uncle Johnny’s advice – I’m giving the best I have, learning and growing with each project, hanging tough, dreaming, reaching beyond the reachable, being true to myself…Get ready, folks, because here come the good things – Uncle Johnny said so.
I know I’ve been a bit silent on the blog lately…the combination of temporarily shifting the blog posts to the Rockethub page and the end of the show itself (followed by the post show depression that always accompanies that) have lead to a real dearth of posts here on our main blog. But, fear not, gentle readers. I’m back and with me so are the blog posts. SO, let me do a little wrap up on Within Arm’s Reach, and then I’ll get to what’s next.
As far as the wrap up is concerned, Within Arm’s Reach was a dream. Despite, a short tech (and a tall projection area), a big stage (and a small budget), too many technical cues (and too few technicians), a large cast (and a tiny dressing room…(I kid, the dressing room was nice sized for the group and had its own bathroom)), but seriously despite a bunch of things that seemed like they would be stumbling blocks to getting the show off the ground, the performances soared. I’m going to take a moment here to pat ourselves on the back (and then I’ll return to the modest, humble, Jess that I know you all love) – Molly and I did a damn fine job with the adaptation – capturing the spirit, mood and characters of the book. And, across the board, the cast was superb. They took these characters and ran with them, creating a moving study of 6 months in the lives of the McLaughlin Family. The designers, again working with very little time, (and even less money), brought the world vividly to life and did so with smiles on their faces. And directing this bunch – cast and crew – was a pleasure from top to bottom. I will also say that though there were stresses (there always are during tech) and though there were a couple of all-nighters (that’s to be expected with a 3 day tech) the tech “week” for Within Arm’s Reach was quite possibly the smoothest and most enjoyable I’ve ever experienced. And, because I can’t resist, I’m just going to mention that this was an all female creative team…short on time and money and absolutely no (zero, zip, zilch) strife…could it be the all female group? I leave it to you to be the judge…
So, yeah, the show went beautifully. We’re putting together a real photo array, but, in the meantime, for those of you who didn’t get a chance to see the show, below is a selection of production stills…
Do I wish we had had larger audiences? Yes, as always, yes. Do I wish we had been able to bring in a bit more money with the show? Again, yes, as always, yes. But I also know the world we’re in. I know that original work on the stage is tough to bring an audience to. I know that low budget means there isn’t always money for the massive publicity push of a larger show and so we’ll keep doing what we’re doing (the slowest of slow builds) and know that if the work is consistently good, eventually the audience will find us, and keep coming back…that and know that our next big payday we’re hiring the marketer of all marketers to get more butts in the seats!
Alas though, now this show is ended. The props have been stowed. The set pieces are safely ensconced in Molly and my apartments. The costumes have been cleaned and stored. The bills have been paid. …and the depression has set in for real…so now what? Now, Molly and I strategize about what’s next. While we are both working on projects separate from GTTP – Molly, on a workshop production of I, Salome by Joseph Samuel Wright and me on The Jane Games, the web series by Jennifer Teska and Laura Riley, that I’m directing (on which I’m about to jump into the editing stage) – we’re also planning what’s next for GTTP. As always, GTTP is moving forward – onward and upward to the next project. And that next theatrical production will most likely be a new movement/theater piece from Molly, hopefully to be performed in June and for me, I will soon be jumping (and taking GTTP with me) completely into Farm Story, GTTP’s first foray into web series production. If all goes according to plan, we will start filming in September. In addition to that, Molly and I are looking to do another round of workshops and hopefully a reading series of new plays. Stay tuned for details!!!
And, once again, because I didn’t say this yet in this specific blog post – THANK YOU, ALL!!! Thank you for supporting GTTP! Thank you for coming out to see our work. Thanks to everyone who made it out for Within Arm’s Reach. Thanks to everyone who donated on RocketHub and directly. Thank you for being a part of the GTTP Family. Without you all, GTTP would be nothing and me? I’d just be directing traffic…and seriously? That’s one thing I have no interest in directing.
Ok, so when you think of Tahiti, you don’t think of trudging through the snow and the cold or of hunkering down around the heat of the computer screen to type your little heart out with numb fingers. No. No you don’t. You think of beaches and tropical breezes, drinks with umbrellas, and palm trees . . . alas, in wintery New York it was definitely more of the former than the latter, including a snowy day of callbacks where we trudged through the show to see a bunch of very talented actors (who also trudged through the snow – THANK YOU AGAIN, those of you who came and read for us on Monday) read. Anywho, as I said in the title of this post, it’s been a busy couple of weeks for Tahiti…
Not only did I just get back from an amazing location-scouting-meet-the-community-Farm-Story-pre-production meeting in Virginia last week, not only am I about to jump back into filming for The Jane Games, but I also just held auditions and callbacks for Within Arm’s Reach and we have cast the show. That’s right folks, we are full steam ahead with WAR (and, yes, that is how I will be abbreviating it because it takes a lot less time to type than the full title and I will be typing it a LOT in the next couple of months. Besides, it’s a family drama so in a way it is about war . . .) So, three updates follow and then I’ll get back to the business of the 3 productions I have going on.
#1) Terri and I, in discussing the logistics of Farm Story, decided that it made sense to film in and around Staunton, Virginia. The script calls for rural and small town locations and Terri, who’s brother lives in VA had seen this wonderful area that offered the promise of everything we need. So, we decided to go down there and check it out. And as I mentioned above, last week I returned from that trip – a four day Virginia visit, during which Terri and I did location scouting, met with some locals and generally got a feel for the area. Check out the last two posts on the Farm Story blog to hear all about what our Virginia trip accomplished and what’s next for Farm Story. It’s really starting to heat up, it’s all very exciting and we can’t wait to have you join us on the web-series-production journey.
#2) This weekend, I jump back into The Jane Games. We have a day of filming on Saturday and then four days of filming next week, and then another few days during February and March . . . and then of course, we go into the editing room. I’m excited to jump back in though by late next week, I might need someone to just shout out the title of the project I’m working on before I step into whatever I’m doing each day, just so I can keep it all straight and not talk about the changing structure of family through the generations when I’m shooting a web series about Jane Austen or launch into a full description of Farm Story themes when we I’m up to my ears in table work on WAR.
. . . which brings me to . . .
#3) Within Arm’s Reach – so, as I mentioned above, we held auditions and callbacks for WAR this past week and I’m THRILLED to announce that we have a cast and a crew. Over the next couple of weeks, we’ll be doing “Meet theWAR Team” posts but in the meantime, I’ll just get the names out there:
Within Arm’s Reach - Cast
Within Arm’s Reach - Crew
Although Molly and I have been working tirelessly on revisions for the adaptation, we really jump in to production on Thursday of this coming week, when we hold our first read-through. As usual, once we really begin there will be much more to report but, in the meantime, I wanted to do the official release of our production image (see above) and our WAR aviatrix (see below), courtesy, as usual, of the every-amazing Christine Diaz:
Ok, I don’t have a lot of time because it’s been a long day and I still need to pack for the Virginia (Farm Story location scouting) trip, but I did want to just get out a quick blog post. I will do a longer/joint Farm Story blog post about this but I did want to take a minute and talk about the amazing week I’ve had directing a web series.
As many of you know, a few weeks ago I was brought on to direct the web series, The Jane Games. The show is an imagining of 6 Jane Austen heroines brought to modern times, who are competing on a reality dating show hosted by Jane Austen herself. The scipt is pretty hilarious and it’s gonna be really fun for the audience, but that’s not what I wanted to post about. What I wanted to post about was what I’ve learned so far directing the show.
Now, as you know, I’ve directed a fair amount of theater in my time in NYC, and I’m pretty confident in my abilities in that arena, but I have much less experience directing film. I have made a music video and a 16 minute short film, but I’ve never done anything that could be considered long form and, though each episode of The Jane Games is only about 5 minutes, there are 22 of them, and they do follow one complete story arc, so this has been quite an education. And I don’t just mean that about learning the logistics of being on a film set (some of which have started to come back to me from my PA days in the late 90′s – ah, remember that time Tommy Lee Jones scolded me and I snapped at him? Yeah, good times) or learning the art of knowing how to get the stuff you want on film so that you and the editor can build the show you want to build in the editing room later. And I’m not talking about the education of how you direct – how you talk to actors, how you tell the story, how you skew the characters’ and story arc to show your idea, your “vision”, turns out all of that stuff is actually the same whether it’s film or theater (and it was amazing to me, that about 15 minutes into the first day, it just felt normal. It was just directing – (directing with much less rehearsal time than I’m used to) – but directing all the same). The education I’m actually talking about was the tiny miracle that came with this experience. You see, I’ve gone through my life, particularly my adult life, knowing I was born to be a director – theater, film, tv, whatever – but it’s really hard to go through life knowing that and yet not having had the opportunity to really test the “film, tv, whatever” part of that statement.
So, now that I have seen the footage we’ve shot so far and now that I’m starting to picture the very funny and fun narrative we’ll be telling, I can actually say (with some real knowledge of the fact) that I was right. Turns out I was born to do this. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is a relief, a revelation and…an education.
On November 3rd GTTP completed two kinda big deal things – one personal and one business – but both had an effect on who GTTP is as a company.
The personal first – Yours truly (aka, GTTP Artistic Director, Jessica Ammirati) ran the New York City Marathon. As many of you know, I was supposed to run it last year before Hurricane Sandy put a damper on those plans, and after that experience I wrote about “Art and Sports and the things they Share” and, as my facebook peeps know, I already wrote a blog post about the experience of running it this year which you can see both on my personal FB page and on the ING NYC Marathon page; BUT, in this particular post, I’d like to just mention a word about perserverance. As in: have it, believe in it, keep doing it (whatever “it” may be). You see, #1 – I don’t really like running. No, I swear. I’ve been training off and on for this marathon for 13 years (yes I said years! And, though much of it was the “off” part of off and on, for the past two years it was serious running-5-days-a-week training) and I DON’T ENJOY RUNNING. I enjoy having done the run. I enjoy that when I’m running I can eat pretty much whatever I want and I won’t really gain weight. I enjoy the way my body looks and feels because of the run. But I kinda HATE the actual run. I keep waiting for that runners’ high to kick in…uh, I’m still kinda waiting. And, #2 – I’m a slow runner – I’m from hearty Italian peasant stock so though I can keep going, I can’t really get there fast. At my fastest (which was the middle 2-13 miles of the marathon), I was running about an 11 minute and 26 second mile. So, you know, not nothing but not exactly record breaking speed. And then, after mile 13 I slowed down a bit, and from 13-21 I ran about a 12 minute mile. And then I slowed down A LOT for the last 5.2 miles. The entire thing took me 5 hours and 46 minutes (and 18 seconds) to complete. A long time. I mean, it was under the 6 hour goal I had set for myself but still longer than the 5 hour and 30 minute goal I had really hoped for. But here’s the thing – it was awesome! I mean it. The run, the marathon, the experience? The FIVE HOURS AND FORTY SIX MINUTES (and 18 seconds) OF SUSTAINED PHYSICAL ACTIVITY?!?!? It was amazing. Hands down, freaking awesome, once-in-a-lifetime kinda thing here. So, I guess what I’m trying to say is (and I know it’s been said before much more eloquently than this but here goes): It’s worth it. Persevere. Keep pushing. Go after your dreams or goals or things you forsee for yourself. Or whatever you want to call it because most of the time it’s going to pay off. It can’t not. Not after you’ve put in all that time, work, energy, thought. 13 years ago, I had this wacky idea – “maybe I’ll run the NYC marathon” but more than that I had this thought – “I want to have this experience because I think this experience will mean something to me, will shape me in a certain way, will have an effect on the person I am.” And so I decided to pursue it. And, like I said, it was seriously off and on. There are whole years in there where I didn’t lace up a sneaker…but in the end, I had the experience I did because I wanted to do it, I prepared to do it, I pushed to do it. I persevered. And I did it. I did “___________” (YOU fill in that blank for you) and it was SOOOOOO worth it. When I was 10 years old, I had a similar thought, goal, dream, what have you – “I want to be a director” (it was actually when I was 6 that I first thought it but it wasn’t until I was 10 that I began to understand the thing I wanted to be and do was the job of a director). So, here I am 30 years later. GTTP is fives years strong and I’m doing this thing – this hard, exciting, scary, challenging, wonderful, life-changing thing. So I guess my whole point is…perseverence is cool, and I truly believe that, like gravity, it always works…
…and sometimes, that personal perseverance connects with someone else’s personal perseverance and you end up with a business accomplishment…which, of course, brings me to…
The business thing that happened on November 3rd:
GTTP’s Managing Director, Molly Ballerstein, completed the run of her first GTTP show, The Sandman’s Coming. Slowly this company that I envisioned in my living room 6 years ago is starting to grow into it’s future shape. You see, I never planned for GTTP to stay my baby. I always wanted a partner.
I was always hoping to find someone who would want to direct shows and help guide the company into the future with me. Yes, I want to direct but I want to direct as part of a family of artists, not out there on my own. And, with The Sandman’s Coming, GTTP has taken that first step into a new world. A world of LOTS of people’s ideas instead of just mine. A world of exploration, of partnerships and who knows what else. It’s an exciting step for us to take and an exciting way to do it. Because, guys? Seriously? Sandman was extraordinary. A movement theater piece that explored the nature of addiction, identity and human connection. That looked at addiction not in a sensationalistic way but asked instead, what do we do-how do we deal with additction when it isn’t sensationalistic? When it isn’t glamorous or tragic? When it is just a part of everday life – ugly, complicated, terrifying and banal – ordinary everyday life? Haunting and evocative, beautiful and moving, painful and transformative, this show stays with you long after the lights go down. Take a gander at a couple of the production stills above. We have more that we’ll be posting on the website shortly. The Sandman’s Coming was a truly powerful experience. And proof that GTTP is so lucky to have snatched up Molly as soon as we found her.
So that’s what we’ve just completed. Now, as Jed Barlet would say, “what’s next?” (Y’all knew I was a West Wing fan, right?) Because, in the end, you have to keep moving forward…ALWAYS. And moving forward we are with a couple of rather exciting events.
Cat Lady Without A Cat
That’s right. Once again GTTP is co-producing Carrie Keskinen’s hilarious one woman show - “A hilarious and heartfelt story of one woman’s journey from a painful divorce to her new life in New York. Finding a dead mouse in her apartment is the catalyst for letting go of her past and fears of becoming a crazy cat lady, and discovering her true self.” And this time around GTTP peeps aren’t just on the producing side. This time around, I’m Assistant Directing the show and Molly is Stage Managing. Because the show’s first performance was sold out United Solo Festival, decided to extend and add a second show. Join us on Saturday, November 23rd at 4pm for the additional show. The performance is at The Studio Theatre at Theatre Row, 410 West 42nd Street by 9th Avenue. Details and tickets available here.
December Benefit – GTTP talks SEX!
We’re currently planning our December Benefit – GTTP talks Sex! Ha, ha! Now you’re paying attention? Details to follow but for now, save the date – Before you head out of the city for your holiday festivities, we hope you’ll join us on December 20th at Shetler Studios for an evening of storytelling with the Tahitians.
Within Arm’s Reach in March
Molly and I are currently finishing the stage adaptation of Ann Napolitano’s beautiful novel, Within Arm’s Reach. From Library Journal (Starred Review) – “Narrated in six different voices, this stunning first novel explores the multigenerational dynamics of one Irish American family and exposes misunderstandings and broken relationships… Although this exquisite, skillfully written gem addresses serious issues – e.g., guilt vs. loyalty, the past vs. the present – the narrative remains hopeful and includes ample doses of humor and wit.” In the next few months you’ll be seeing a lot from us about Within Arm’s Reach. We’re settling on a performance space and a crew in the next couple of weeks and will look at holding auditions in January. The plan right now (of course dependent on things like “what space is available?” and “how much money can we raise?”) is for a two week performance run in March. Expect trademark GTTP elements – original storytelling and innovative use of lights, sound, set, projections, costume and movement. More details to come soon. And then more and more and more…
Farm Story filming
GTTP is thrilled to make this announcement: We’re about to move into the world of film and TV production! As a director I love love love theater but from the beginning I’ve also always wanted to direct in the film and tv world as well. So, why haven’t I, you ask. Actually I have a bit – I made a music video for Camilla Ammirati’s awesome song – The Ballad of Chicken McGann (which you can see on our GTTP Youtube Page) and I made a short film of Skin Flesh Bone – but I’ve never made a full length film or television pilot for a couple of reasons. #1) As you know, although theater ain’t exactly cheap, it’s definitely cheaper than film and tv production. In the past, thanks to all of you, we’ve been able to raise the budgets for plays but the starting budget for a television pilot episode is exponentially higher than your average low-budget theater production. So, we haven’t jumped in before. #2) I knew that raising the money for and actually filming a television pilot would take a LOT of my time – as in – all of it. And I didn’t want to abandon theater production while I went off to spend all of my time on a television show. #3) I’m not a writer. Though I’m a decent interpretive artist, I’m not exactly good with the creative writing thing. And so, I’ve never had a script that made sense as the first episode of a television show. BUT NOW – all three of those things have changed. (Actually #3 and #2 changed and that made me willing to jump in and change #1). So #3 changed with the entracnce of Terri Viani, a dear screenwriting friend of mine. She has written an amazing script for the pilot episode of a television series called Farm Story. As you know from previous blog posts we now have Molly on board so there went #2. She will spearhead the theater stuff while I flit off to film Farm Story (see the next paragraph for more details on that). And so, we’re ready to jump into #1 – the money. Going to Tahiti Productions will coproduce the television show with Terri’s company, The Writer, Ink Productions and I will direct Farm Story. All that being said, GTTP’s official involvement in Farm Story won’t really heat up until Within Arm’s Reach is nearing completion but, if you’d like to follow the progress of independent television production (a formerly unheard of field that, with the advent of the internet and inexpensive (but high quality) film/video technology, is now becoming more common), check out our Farm Story blog here. As of right now, (and, of course, dependent on fundraising) we are planning to film in New York and Virginia in late June/early July of 2014. Although we are THRILLED to be taking this step, as I said, this doesn’t mean that GTTP will stop doing theater. While I’m off rehearsing and filming the first episode of Farm Story, Molly will be here running GTTP and working on her own show…
…which brings me to another GTTP first – it’s an exciting 5th Anniversary year for GTTP! For the first time GTTP is commissioning a show. (We’ve hit the big time now, kids!) Molly is currently in discussions with a playwright friend to write a collaborative movement/theater piece that will feature original music and will hopefully run around the same time that I’m off filming Farm Story - so, late June/early July.
Workshops, classes and readings oh my!
And, last but not least – we were so excited about our last round of workshops and classes that we’re going to do it again. Stay tuned in January for class and workshop announcements. We’re also planning to launch our reading series starting in the new year.
We hope to see you at one of the many upcoming events as GTTP heads into the second half of our 5th anniversary season.