Mountainfilm on Tour’s Family of Filmmakers

Mountainfilm is an amazing festival that takes place each year in Telluride, Colorado.

Here is their mission statement, “Mountainfilm is dedicated to educating, inspiring and motivating audiences about issues that matter, cultures worth exploring, environments worth preserving, adventures worth pursuing and conversations worth sustaining.”

I have been honored to have three short films screen at the festival and each time I attended, I left a different person than when I arrived.  I found my time at Mountainfilm inspiring as a filmmaker and as a member of this incredible community.  After my first trip to the festival I said, “I arrived a filmmaker but I am leaving an activist.”

In order to share the films they screen, they created Mountainfilm on Tour and take films all over the world.  They screen for groups, schools, organizations, etc.  Each year they come to Los Angeles and do a special screening for the employees of Sony Pictures.

Last week, I was invited to attend their latest screening out here.  I did so gladly and was absolutely blown away and inspired by the films and the filmmakers in attendance.  Passionate people spoke about why it was so important to make the films and the subjects of many of the documentaries were there to see their stories told on the big screen.

What makes this festival so special to me is that it not only invites filmmakers from around the world, but it also creates a family.  I am deeply honored to be part of this family and will be eternally grateful to Mountainfilm for adopting me into it.  After the screenings several of the filmmakers went out together and I found myself in the company of artist that were comprised of some of the best filmmakers in the world.  They shared their future projects with a passion that burned inside them.

Mountainfilm gave me the opportunity to share my work with the world but it did so much more!  It continues to inspire me to create and to be a passionate member of the human race.

At the end of the evening a photograph was taken of the Mountainfilm family and I will treasure it.  This frozen moment in time reminds me that I am part of something bigger than myself and that they have given me the gift of standing shoulder to shoulder with people I respect and am humbled to call my friends.

Thank you Mountainfilm!

Second Row L to R: Jonathan Browning ("The Job" and "Eco-Ninja"), Lucy Walker ("Wasteland," The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossomand The Crash Reel), Joe Peeler (editor of "The Crash Reel"), Brendan Nahmias (co-director "Wolf Mountain"), David Holbrooke (director of Mountainfilm, Chris Smith ("Tiny: A Story about Living Small"), Ryan Suffern ( Running Blind The Movie"), Tom Shadyac ("I AM") — with Adrian Belic, Jonathan Browning, Lucy Walker, Joe Peeler, David Holbrooke, Christopher Carson Smith, Ryan Suffern, Jackie Zampella and Tom Shadyac.

Front row L to R: Adrian Belic (“Genghis Blues” and “Beyond the Call”), Omi Vaidya (star of Big in Bollywood) and his wife, Dan Duran (co-director of “Wolf Mountain”), Jackie Zampella (AP on I AM – The Film),
Second Row L to R: Jonathan Browning (“The Job” and “Eco-Ninja”), Lucy Walker (“Wasteland,” The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossomand The Crash Reel), Joe Peeler (editor of “The Crash Reel”), Brendan Nahmias (co-director “Wolf Mountain”), David Holbrooke (director of Mountainfilm, Chris Smith (“Tiny: A Story about Living Small”), Ryan Suffern ( Running Blind The Movie”), Tom Shadyac (“I AM”)


Love & Cards

“Lucky at cards, unlucky in love.”

There is a good chance that you’ve heard some variation of this idiom.  Recently I gave this theory some serious thought when a friend invited me to play a “friendly game” of Texas hold ’em.  Side note, any time the term “friendly” is used to describe a game, know there is nothing friendly about to happen.  “Friendly game of football”…start up the ambulance, someone is going to the hospital.

I had never played a single game of Texas hold ’em but I’ve watched the national tournament a number of times on television and felt confident that I would be able to bluff my way through a fun evening of cards with friends.  (In the distance, an ambulance starts its engine.)

The invitation was at a Hollywood Producer’s house and the other players were all successful men in the industry, so I knew that we wouldn’t be playing nickel, dime, quarter.  I rounded up every bit of money I could scrape together, ironically turning my nickels, dimes & quarters into bills, and headed to the game.  It should have been a warning sign that the host had his own custom poker table set up when I arrived.

At the start of the game everyone would “buy in” at the bank and if you ran out of money, you could always do a second “buy in” to keep playing.  Before the game was over, I had to “buy in” five times.  That means five times I went “all in” and lost.  Near the end of the evening, the other players would look at me and say, “Please fold.  This is not a bluff.  I am going to beat whatever you are holding.  Get out of this hand!”  But I am a slow learner and would respond, “We’ll see.”

We took a break late in the evening and I said to the host, “My problem is that I am a dreamer and totally disregard the odds.  I play with my heart and not my head.”  I constantly ignored the fact that I was holding nothing and believed that the River would magically turn my random collection of low cards into something of value.  Not a very good strategy.

The other players would comment on the odds of success based on which cards came up.  “He has a 31% chance and he has a 69% chance of winning.”  (The Turn)  “Oh, now he has a 19% chance and…etc. etc. etc.  At that moment I realized, OH!  There is a mathematical strategy to this game!  Naive?  You bet.  Which explains why I lost almost every single hand.  My plan was much more simplistic.  Stay in the game, cross my fingers and hope for the best.

After my fourth “buy in” one of the players tried to help me by saying, “You don’t have to play every single hand.”  My response said a lot about my playing style, “What am I, a coward?”  That generated a great deal of laughter at the table.

At the end of the night, my friend offered to give me some money to cover my losses and I turned it down.  I told him that I made my own choices and my losses were my losses.

At least I could take solace in knowing that my terrible luck in cards assured my great luck in love.  (In the distance, an ambulance starts its engine.)

“Unlucky at cards, lucky in love.”  Not so sure that is quite accurate.  As I have written about lately, ad nauseam, I am dipping my toe back into the dating world for the first time in a very long time and I am finding  that it is probably closer to reality that how you play cards is also how you love.  At least that is true in my case.  I play with my heart and not my head.  I believe, time and time again, that while I may not be holding a great hand…if I hang in there my luck will change with the next turn of a card.  I stay in when the smart thing to do is fold.  I go “all in” on every hand.  I am terrible at bluffing and I constantly show what cards I am holding and what is in my heart at any given moment.

I need to pay attention when I hear, “Get out of this hand!  This is not a bluff.”  Instead of believing, maybe…just maybe…the next card will turn the tide and change everything.

I am learning that in both cards and love, there is a happy medium.  Go ahead and buy in.  Get a seat at the table.  Play smart.  Play the cards in your hand and not the ones you hope are secretly out there.  It’s OK to fold.  You have to be alright never knowing what cards the other player was holding.  The best hand doesn’t always win.  Even if you have Kings and you believe that you can’t lose…someone out there has Aces.

Finally and perhaps most importantly, don’t blame the other player.  Own up to the fact that you made your own choices and your losses are your losses.

Maybe it would be safer and less painful to stick to solitaire and avoid “friendly games” of cards and love.  But that is not the life I want for myself.  No matter how many times I have to “buy in”, I’m going to continue to have a seat at the table.

So maybe I haven’t really learned that much after all.  (In the distance, an ambulance starts its engine.)

Pancake Time!

The first spot I ever booked in Los Angeles was for “Ah, The Power of Cheese” by the Dairy Council.  In the commercial, I try to purchase cheese at a small shop and inadvertently trigger an elaborate security alarm.  I trip a laser beam, get hit by a giant paint ball and am finally arrested by multiple very large police officers.

It was a a two-night shoot on the Universal Lot and it was my introduction to what it felt like to not only live but to actually work in Hollywood.  Just a few months earlier, I had been working as a Production Assistant and was the lowest man on set.  Now they provided me with a stunt crew, people who took care of my every need and even a guy who’s only job was to drive me around in a golf cart.  I told him, “This feels silly.  I can just walk.”  His response, “Listen, dude.  If you don’t let me drive you around, then they are going to make me do another job that involves a lot of heavy lifting or some other BS!”  He drove me around for the entire shoot.

When they were setting up shots, I would wander around the lot alone and one night found the Back to the Future courthouse and clock tower around the corner.  I remembered looking at it on the “big screen” years ago and now I was actually standing right in front of it.  I went up to the front door, pushed it open and stood inside.  I am a little embarrassed to say that I secretly thought that the interior would be a working courthouse instead of a skeleton building.  But it didn’t matter.  I was standing INSIDE it!  Nerd alert bells went off for miles.

As I said, it was a two-night shoot and on the second night there was the biggest shot of the entire commercial.  The crew was pulled back almost a block to get a wide shot of my final moment, where I fall backwards right in front of the stopped tires of the arriving police cars.  On a side note, this shot is also when I learned what precision driving really means.  They blocked off my fall from the curb onto the road, where three police cars would come to a screeching halt just inches from me.  We walked through it and the AD had me hit my mark.  The drivers rolled into their final position and each got out, making only a mental note where their final marks would be.  The head driver said, “Just make sure to hit your mark.”  I found his comment comical because they were coming at me about three-miles per hour in the rehearsal.  When the cameras started rolling they burst out from around three different blind corners at FULL SPEED!  Suddenly the stunt driver’s advice made sense and I kept thinking, “Hit my mark!  Hit my mark!  Hit my mark!”  They slammed on their brakes, tires sliding across the wet road and stopped…exactly on their marks.  (If you ever see the commercial, I am not acting scared at that moment.)

When we were finally ready to shoot the final wide shot, multiple cameras were set up, everyone moved back a block and there was a time when I was completely “alone”.  We were trying to beat the sunrise and I could feel it starting to break over the buildings in the distance.  Over the bullhorn the 1st AD yelled, “Roll Cameras!”  My hand on the doorknob of that fake cheese shop, I looked up the streets and in every direction was a mass of people all staring in one direction…at me.  I can’t begin to describe what was going through my head & my heart but I remember thinking, “Don’t EVER forget this feeling.”

After we completed the spot I wanted to create a ritual for myself.  Something I did after every shoot.  Get a beer?  Buy something for myself?  Go someplace special?  No.  It had to be something inspired by that shoot but also something I could duplicate each time I was wrapped.  That’s when I decided my ritual would be to have a pancake.  Silly?  Simple?  Odd? Perhaps.  But that is what I did after that shoot and have done after every shoot since.  Pancakes are accessible almost anywhere at any time.  There was one time that I knew I would be in a remote area after shooting a documentary, so I pre-made a pancake and sealed it in a baggie.  After the shoot, I sat alone in my car and ate a very stale pancake.  But the ritual was kept alive.

There are no “rules” for Pancake Time, only guidelines.  1. I eat a pancake.  2. I go alone.  (Very few times, I have gone with someone from the shoot who knows that I do it  and what it means to me.)  3. I spend my time thinking about how incredibly blessed I am to have the opportunity to live my dreams.  I remember the day and relish the feeling of accomplishment.  4.  I give the server a higher than usual tip.  The size varies on my current financial situation that day.  The goal is to give them a tip they have never received but sometimes I just don’t have access to that much money and it depends on if it is a project I funded myself or one where I am paid to do it, but I always leave as much as I am able to give.  If they say anything, and I’ve heard “Is this a mistake?” multiple times…I say the same thing every time.  “I had a really good day today and I want you to have one too.”

When I am working on a shoot, I am so focused on getting the job done that I rarely take the time to realize how special this moment really is to me.  Pancake Time gives me that chance.  It’s a gift I give myself.  A little pocket of time between living my dreams and going back to reality.  A brief reminder that life is a gift and dreams do come true.

I also get to eat a pancake, so that’s pretty great too!