musing of a production professional

Pleiades Star Cluster

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I am up on the roof of my barn, morning tai-chi.  I go up in the darkness before the sky splashes with color. Alone up there in the dark I feel as if I am standing on the curve of the universe and the world is spinning under me.  I am able to detach from myself and circle above while my body goes through the beautiful tai-chi movements.  I am living with lupus, that said I am to avoid extreme heat and cold, but here on the roof the cold numbs my aching joints and limbs, muffling the noise of my boisterous daily pain. I can forget for a few moments that I have a debilitating illness that wages a daily war on me.

The sun peeks and colors transform the darkness and I am brought back to earth. This morning I am concentrating on my breathing, balance and ignoring the pain in my feet from the frozen roof shingles under them. 

“Katherine Ray Are you tripping?! What in gods name are you doing!?” Breaks the calm of the morning. 

It seems the neighbor up on the hill a few acres away has spotted me on the barn edge in some bizarre pose.  I calmly turn and causally wave not wanting to shake up the morning calm with a shouting match across the hillside. I go back to regain my focus…no… not going to work now with an audience. 

I shimmy back down the side wall and into the large window; quickly wrap myself up into a blanket.

My neighbor’s words still playing over in my mind… I believe everything good or bad happens for a reason and the universe at this time has asked me a question… I start to question myself if I really know what I am doing and how I think I can pull this off.  Should I slow down and re-group?  No one would blame me…. I grab some coffee and hobble to my laptop…toes are still tiny ice cubes on the end of my feet… where are the fuzzy wool socks when you need them… I have a mountain of paperwork to get caught up on for Metamorphosis. I begin to organize myself and make my lists…oh by the way I love using Evernote for keeping me together… it works well with the way my non linear Dyslexic mind works, check it out… ok commercial over.

A few cups of black strap molasses sweetened coffee later, I am about to let the wave of negative thoughts overtake me, when an email from a grant giver pops up on my email. 

When writing and applying for grants the first and most important bit of wisdom I can bestow upon you for proposal success is: make very good friends with the person deciding who is awarded the funds. If they like you they will go out of their way to make sure you have every bit of information you need to make your proposal stand out from the rest.   A new message from my latest favorite person awaits me.  She is giving me early heads up on a grant I sent in, its going to be approved.  It was a small amount of money for an even smaller indie documentary, but it will make a huge difference to this young aspiring filmmaker trying to make her first film. I am not noticing the pain in my still frozen toes any longer!

I hear my neighbor’s voice in my head once again but this time around I can confidently shout back “I know what I am doing and what a great trip this is turning into! “


Gustave Doré's illustration to Dante's Inferno...

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Budgets Budgets and more production budgets…

I’ve spent the day going over budget sheets and production budget forecasts for two different clients.  Funding is always a major factor in whether any company is successful or stopped dead in its tracks and entertainment production is no different.  The problem is, in film, television and the arts in general, one can’t sit down at the local bank and ask for a business loan… no matter how great the script or cast or crew.  It just doesn’t work that way for the entertainment gypsies.  Crowd funding has become a great resource, and one I try and push with the groups I work with who are on a small budget or no budget. 

Sites like Kickstarter and Indie go-go are funding conduits for a wide variety of start-up businesses, and art ideas.  The key to using them successfully is marketing your idea to a wide pool of people wishing to donate to your cause.   

So, you have your project now what?

One way to get your production some attention beyond the scope of your social network is to get some local press. But how you say? OK let’s go over some quick points.

We live in the wide world of global media and new outlets are invented almost everyday looking for content. But first look local, local press can mean a few things.

It can literally mean “local media” ie:  your cities newspaper, radio, and television stations .  It also your online community — not geographically local, but groups unified by a particular interest or topic. It can also be the place where your production is centered — but not necessarily where your office/home base is located.

Now say you’re fundraising for a documentary film about the ecological and sociopolitical history of the Great Lakes and you live in New York, the New York media most likely isn’t going to be interested. But blogs about ecology and economy or environmental activism would be, as would the local media in the region you’re film is concentrating on.

Here are a few ideas to get you started in identifying and pitching press to get your project additional coverage that will optimistically bring it additional funding.

  1. Identify what “local” means for your project. Find out where your project has local interest: either in an online community, locally within your own town or city, or in another geographical location where your project is focused.
  2. Put together a pitch. Don’t just stick to the old-school press release format. Make sure your project has a landing page that provides more information and an online destination (this could be your crowd funding project page, but might also be an additional website), and be sure to include links to that page. Put together some hi-resolution images to send. And finally, yes, write a press release. These three elements should be included in your pitch.
  3. Put together a media list. Who are the influencers in your locality? Bloggers? Local television stations? Radio personalities? Maybe you’re not just pitching media, but like-minded organizations who would be interested in including your project information in their future emails and press releases. Think outside the box. Think big. Build your list to be bigger than you actually need it. Don’t edit it thinking, “Well, they wouldn’t be interested.” Be inclusive — but make sure everyone on your list is relevant.
  4. Distribute your pitch to the media list. DO NOT SEND A BLANKET EMAIL to everyone on your list!  Pick the top 20 or 30 leads you have and write a personal note with your links and attachments. Be conversational in tone and be sure to tell them why you thought they could use the information. For instance, “I noticed you’ve written about similar scams on your blog about consumer protection, and our documentary seeks to expose…” Be personal, appealing and genuine.  Mass emails are not any of that and a sure way to show you really don’t care about the recipient. NOT a good impression


  1. Don’t just wait around — follow-up, update, be proactive. Don’t use the “spray and pray” method, but try not to be too spammy, either. You don’t want to badger journalists. But make sure your sites are updates with relevant information. Perhaps locate the people you pitched on Twitter and follow them — join in their conversations. And within a few weeks if you haven’t heard anything, follow up by sending a relevant update. “Hi — I sent you some information about my project on September 20th, and since then we’ve had over 500 supporters — including anonymous donors — rally to protect this rare species of tropical ant in your area.”
  2. Repeat. Are you sure you hit ALL your “local” lists? Keep thinking outside the box to identify additional localities where your project would be of interest. Then continue with step 2.

Remember: all of this does take time, but one news story on a local TV station, or a post on an influential blog , or mentions in tweets can mean a difference of thousands of dollars.


Image by Mike Babcock via Flickr

Today is another outside of Metamorphosis day and I get a rare treat.  I am sitting behind a studio camera waiting for a show to begin. 

I love working as a camera operator.  It’s all I ever wanted to do since I was a tow-haired six-year-old holding my fathers  Bell and Howell  8mm camera.  I successfully worked as one for many years but had to give up full-time shooting when my back blew out, and I could not handle the weight of a 30 pound camera on my shoulder for ten hours a day.  With technology rapidly changing and cameras shrinking every day, I might have to rethink my decision….

There is more to camera work than just making sure the lens is in focus and your shot is in frame.  You need to have a sixth sense about where to find a great image.  I love looking for “the” shot.  The audience member listening intensely, the band member lost in their solo, a single tear sliding down someone’s face.  The action the audience members wouldn’t see because they are focused on the main action, but add so much detail and complete the story line.

Live television is my favorite type of TV gig, you only get one take, timing is essential, and the action in front of the camera is genuine. You and the other camera operators are akin to an orchestra with your director acting as conductor masterfully guiding the visuals and cutting tempos between the cameras.

 Halfway into the production I hear my favorite line of the day “OK 2 (today I was camera 2) go find me a shot”  Ah, sweeter words were never uttered in my ears through  ill fitting studio headsets.

 I become Artemus on a hunt, swiftly searching for my subject, warming up with a few cut always that are first-rate, but not the world series out of the park home run, make  the director squeal in his chair like a little school girl shot.  This is where your sixth sense kicks in.  You see through your viewfinder but also gaze beyond it, taking in the image of everything else around you…. There it is!  …Slow zoom in…rack focus….wait for it… “NICE SHOT 2!” …Ah… my reaction resembles one by the lost middle child of a 12 sibling family starving for a moment of attention at the dinner table from Mom.  I smile, content knowing that I stirred at least one person, the important one that will remember I caught the money shot, and ensures I get called back to work again another day.

Campfire Theatre

Campfire Theatre.

Campfire Theatre

Camp fire

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I’m sitting at a stoplight watching the grey rain clouds fly past the orange and gold tree line in the distance. Blue sky keeps blinking between the grey. My Director pokes me to tell me the light has changed to green.  We are on our way to a production location, my polish director sits next to me chatting in polish to someone back home. The PA is crammed into the back seat of my little brown mini cooper playing away on an I-pad. The rest of this odd tribe of production guys follow behind me in a dented white rental van. I am talking into the recorder of my i-phone via headsets while driving. Technology.  We are in a car the size of a postage stamp and yet worlds apart from one another. 

I love this crew… now…it certainly didn’t start out that way.  Back in January I took this 4 week freelance gig and was explicitly informed that everyone was tight-knit group from Poland I was the outsider, basically nothing more than a Sherpa to guide them around the city.  By the end of the 4 weeks they wanted to take me back home and marry me off to siblings… nice to have options.  Currently I now hold an exec producer title and enough crazy shared experiences to be considered a member of this Eastern European production tribe, although being the only one not speaking the language I am still the outsider. 

“Excuse me but does this have to do with Metamorphosis?” You ask my readers?… someone has to pay the lawyers fees, accountant fees, incorporation fees, and every other bill that comes up just to get this company up on its legs…

 “Beat it” by Michael Jackson starts playing on my stereo, the silver-haired director in my passenger seat starts laughing.

 “Katarzyna,(yes… they call me that and not Katherine) I remember coming home from the disco in the 80’s and hearing this song in the subways…fun times.”

An image of this man in a wide collared polyester shirt and tight pants, ala Steve Martin in one of his SNL skits in the Solidarity era Poland played to my mind’s eye.  He started to talk about how wild the club scene was to the P.A. jam-packed into the back seat.  Mind you the young P.A. in the back seat wasn’t born anywhere near the 80s… she listened with mocking disbelief.  As they began to bicker in polish, my mind wandered off to thinking about how these two people were born in the same city but light years apart from one another.  My director dealt with a country under soviet rule, and rations, protests, fighting, struggling for a free Poland.  This young lady was born into a completely different universe of wealth, freedoms, Big Macs, and cable TV. She heard the stories in history class but it was just that, stories of a bygone era.

I would love to take the two, sit them down by the campfire, and have them both verbally paint a picture of their home for us all.  They both walk the same city sidewalks, but oh how different they must analyze it all. Vastly diverse life experiences, each engaged in on the very same street corner, years apart from one another, and both tightly intertwined with the same culture.

I cant help but think it would make for a great night of theatre.

Metamophosis Teen Theatre.

Metamorphosis Pirating.

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