Questions for an Independent (woman) Filmmaker

I’ve had several people come up to me and ask me how I’ve managed to write, direct, produce and release two short documentaries, one feature length documentary and the pilot episode for a docu-series – all without funding.

Also, people wonder if I just pretend to not have any money and continue to work and magically produce funding for each film. So, with these wonders (or questions) and others I’ve yet to mention I’m making my first entry in a while to clarify a few things; both professionally and personally. So, here we go!

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Q: How do you make your films?  

For the past few years I’ve been making my films with a Canon DSLR Rebel T3i Camera, a Panasonic audio recorder and editing footage with Sony software. The camera I’ve used it since my days as a journalist and has never failed me – well, once, because it was under the sun for too long and it over heated. But after a few days to recover it went back to working just fine. I don’t have much money to spend on making films – so I turn to technology a lot as well as try to get in touch with people at the placed I can afford to travel to. While many people may find it a bit difficult to see past the low to “sugar-string budget” of my documentaries – I hope they can see the message and story I’m trying to tell with each one of my films.

In essence, to make one of my films it’s about $1,000 on average with the resources I currently have. I try to extend each and every dollar, so I do most of the work myself. I direct, I manage camera(s), I edit, I use a free online music database under a creative commons license – I distribute, send out press releases and submit to film festivals all on my own. This takes a lot of work, but the even a single positive comment on a film is more than enough compensation for all the hard work I’ve put into one particular project. Also, the internet is a wonderful platform to distribute films, and it’s free.

Q: If you don’t have any money to keep on making films, what keeps you motivated?

Let’s face it, not everyone is made for this. While I don’t have the finances right now, I have to say that my determination and my passion for making films is what drives me; it keeps me motivated to continue with being a story teller. Why? Because while, it is somewhat about me and attaining my dreams, it’s also NOT ABOUT ME, but about the stories I tell, the people in it and the characters that represent people who have gone through hard times. My passion for making film is way bigger than the whole in my pocket. Because of this, if I feel a topic needs to be discussed or addressed in film, I’ll find a way to make that happen. Also, knowing that this process is what would be considered a “marathon” and not a “sprint” it gives me the patience to continue working slowly and surely on achieving short and long-term goals.

Q: You seem to lead the perfect life, how do you stay so positive all the time?

I don’t lead a perfect life – my life is quite complicated, the thing is I like to keep things very private…and I’m not always positive. Truth is I struggle with depression and I’m under constant stress over taking care of my father. Yes, I get to go to the beach whenever I want, but I don’t always have the time. Yes I live in a tropical island, but that doesn’t mean eternal happiness. Yes I smile all the time, but that doesn’t mean that I’m always happy. The way I deal with it all is: meditation. I have to take at least 2 hours to myself to work out and meditate right after. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be struggling with depression, the depression would take over completely and I’d be paralyzed with pain and despair. Like I mentioned before, my determination to keep moving forward and accomplish my dreams is very big – bigger than my depression and my wallet.

Q: How do you balance all your responsibilities with work?

Simple: Scheduling – there is a time and place for everything and I heavily rely on scheduling and sticking to time frames. I also have to accept days as they come.  There are days that nothing can be done about anything….where stagnation is the theme of the day. Instead of fighting the fact that I can’t accomplish a particular daily goal or get something done that dayI just go with the flow and let things take their course. If I fight, that only adds to the stress and I have enough of that already. Meditation helps so much with keeping me mentally balanced and stable and throughout the day I meditate for a few minutes if I need to. Just take a moment to breathe, acknowledge thoughts and move along. Also, having pets and spending time with them and basking in their pure unconditional love helps plenty.

Q: Are you in a relationship? Aren’t you afraid of intimidating men with your independence, intelligence and self sufficiency?

I am currently single…and NO. While so many people have advised me to tone down my “strong” characteristics, but, I’ve found that the person who is right for me will not care about my sense of independence since I’ve had to do so much for myself for so long. They’d understand me, support me and encourage me, just like I’d do for them. The key is to find a person to care and show they care in the little ways – because it’s the little things that count. So, no, I’m not afraid of intimidating anyone with any bits of my personality. Just the same way they shouldn’t feel afraid to intimidate me with any bit of theirs. If that happens, then they’re not the right one for me – or I for them.

Q: How far do you plan to ride this “filmmaking train”?

For the rest of my life and into the Oscars, BAFTA’s, Cannes, Golden Globes…and all the awards before that…

Q: How does your own experience influence in your writing and film ideas?

It influences plenty. There are many things I’ve gone through that can be found in my writing and things I’ve seen firsthand that influence the topic of documentaries I make – I have a few screenplays that have tidbits of my life, but people won’t know what they are unless they know me personally – it’s fun!

If you have any questions for me, you can send it to me via email (see side bar) or just add them to the comment section!

To stay up to date with the films I make and upcoming series subscribe to my YouTube Channel and be sure to watch Forever Boogies and Salt Water!

What’s in a SUP lesson?

Last Friday I was asked to tag along with for a SUP (stand up paddle boarding) lesson with the Puerto Rico Surf & Skate Club feat. the Sirenas Taínas (link leads to video of the events) and I was blown away by the magic that children with autism and down syndrome have when learning something. Anything.

There were about 20 children at the Vega Baja summer camp, all of which have been diagnosed with autism. I knew that they were going to do well, what I didn’t expect was the exceptional way these children took to water, the SUP boards and how easy being in the ocean came to them. There is no other way that I could describe it as incredibly special, motivating and breath taking. Here are some photos of the event, you can see more on my flickr account (see side bar to connect to it) and please watch the 8 minute video I’ve linked above, you’ll be sure to see what I mean by magical.

It’s Summer! (and there’s a new short documentary out!)

Let’s welcome the summer by watching a short documentary about a group of volunteers who teach children how to skateboard and body board! I promise it to be fun, light and with great music!

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Alex Melendez, director of Puerto Rico Surf & Skate Club with his son Edward (L) and two students at a recent body boarding clinic in Manatí, Puerto Rico

The group, Puerto Rico Surf and Skate Club, is a young non-for-profit organization that came about after needing to find new athletes in the sports of skateboarding and body boarding. I met their director Alex Melendez, when I was filming Forever Boogies. I was impressed by his down to earth persona and the dedication to the children he’d been teaching.

When I met him, he’d just started his organization, but his dedication for the sport, for the children was as if he’d been working with the club for decades – and while the sports are deemed to be “extreme” this man was using these extreme sports as a way to help children diagnosed with autism, down syndrome, ADD, ADHD and more. But, how can children who have these types of diagnosis even focus on something like skateboarding and body boarding? Easy, it’s something that is physical and requires focus and ease of mind. I’ve witnessed children who are on the verge of having an anxiety attack immediately calm down once they get on a boogie board and start paddling out, their faces lighting up with indescribable happiness when they’re riding a wave.

I won’t go on and on about it, I invite you to click on the link and see it for yourself: https://youtu.be/DbnSvayGSN4

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What have you been doing for the past 5 years?

We’re often so focused on the goal that we forget to take a look and enjoy what we’ve already accomplished. It isn’t until we are asked, in earnest, what we’ve been up to – when we realize what we have already done in the process of trying to reach that end goal.

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try to tell me that Kris Holden-Reid doesn’t look like Chris Martin

I was recently having a conversation with a friend. Telling her that I had a new celebrity crush and how confused I was because the actor looked so much like Chris Martin from Coldplay – and since I’m not sure if Martin is a handsome man or not, he is in fact a funny guy and that could work for me. As the conversation progressed to me saying something like “I’ve been single for like five years, I’m ready to settle down with the right person” she asked me what I’ve been doing for those years; my answer:

 

  1. I’ve been taking care of my Dad;
  2. I’ve been taking care of myself;
  3. I’ve edited 5 manuscripts, 2 of which have been nominated for several Latino Literature Awards;
  4. Been featured in an investigative journalism collaborative book;
  5. Given talks at La Guardia Community College;
  6. Completed 3 films – one (unreleased) scripted short and two documentaries – while starting to work on a fourth film;
  7. I’ve written my own novel that’s yet to be published (because I haven’t pitched it out really);
  8. I’ve written two feature length screenplays, and most recently a short film screenplay;
  9. Gained an incredible amount of weight due to depression;
  10. Beat my depression and became active with Pilates, dance, and swimming;
  11. Became a part of the #EveryBodyInAds movement for the Irish Jewelry company Trinkets Jewellry

While listing all these accomplishments makes me feel mostly awkward – as if I were overtly bragging on the things I’ve done, it can serve as a reminder that I haven’t been wasting my time during the past five years. In fact, I’ve been setting up a strong foundation to my career as a filmmaker and positive role model/figure to encourage people to keep on working on their dreams despite their current challenges. As a full time caregiver of a parent, I have to say – it’s hard. Very hard to do anything else other than worry for them, stay on top of their medical appointments and other things that they need. Still, I manage to do so and ensure that I take time to myself while I’m making sure he’s well. Because if I’m not good, there is no way I can do anything for anyone else.

Still, while I’m mostly uncomfortable with bragging on myself – I do feel a bit of annoyance when people who haven’t met me personally, have gotten to know me as the “one who organizes stuff” or “keeps things super clean” or “the one who can go shopping for an entire outfit in 10 minutes flat” from what they’ve heard from people that do, in fact, know me.

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some of my acquired skills is interviewing, directing and editing footage

Although we’re not our jobs, I have worked hard in many different areas and have done other things than be super clean and organized, and fast at clothes shopping. Being fully aware that I’m far from being financially successful/independent – I have to stay that I’ve put a lot of effort at building the foundation to acquire such success/independence at a not-so-far-off date. Maybe that’s what most people classify as successful, and until that isn’t achieved – one can only be known as the one who is super organized, clean and fast at clothes shopping.

At a recent get together with an old friend – she introduced me to some of her new friends – one of which shook my hand and said “I know everything about you!” and then proceeded to tell me “you go shopping for clothes and don’t try them on, and they still look perfect on you”. I wasn’t shocked to hear that from her, since the person who introduced her is always commenting on those particular things about me. But, I was a little disappointed that there wasn’t much else to talk about.

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you don’t think I can’t carry a conversation? EW! 

Nothing is worse than having a person not interested in starting a conversation with you because they don’t think you’re have anything worth talking about. Their knowledge of you does not dwell into anything further than the simple skills – and they care not to make conversation based on those facts that they’ve heard repeatedly about you. They don’t know about your hard work, your goals, and don’t know about the other set of skills you’ve honed for almost all your life and are putting into practice professionally.

Sometimes, it doesn’t matter. What matters is that you know what you’ve done and what you’re planning to do at a later date. For brief moments, it’s okay to just be that person who is super fast at picking out clothes and excellent at organizing – because there will come a time when you’re going to be that person who will be known for what you’ve been working towards.

Coral Swimming
snorkeling over some awesome coral in Vega Baja in 2014

So, while many people I’ll most likely not interact with again continue to know me for my OCD’ness – I will go snorkeling and start working on my next film.

Hopefully I’ll find the right guy to settle down with as I’m making my life happen

Production Starting Soon!

For the past few weeks I’ve been getting ready to start production on my next documentary – finally it’s going to happen!

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early b-day gift, can’t wait to start using it!

Last week I got a new Vivitar Action Camera from my Dad as an early birthday gift. According to the online reviews the picture/film quality is just as good as a GoPro, so I’m really excited to start snorkeling this week as production starts to roll for Beneath the Waves – I’ll soon be posting still shots from my adventures in the sea!

Today, I decided that after failed attempts at Crowd-Funding I would launch a “monthly donations” page. Inspired by a musician who I donate to, I thought that if a modern day troubadour can get monthly donations from his fans, why can’t I? It’s hard making it in this business, but with your help, it can be that much easier! I think this way, people can take take control of what they see, and what’s released in film – bringing in the audience as participants in the makings of the films that they see is something exciting, innovating and possibly game changing for the industry.

Hopefully, this donation set up (which doesn’t expire) will be successful and I would be able to complete the next three films I have in mind; three wonderful documentaries – here is a little bit more about them:

Beneath the waves: (est. length: 50minutes)
Genre: Documentary
Writer/Director: La Shawn Pagán
Language: English/Spanish (sub)

Synopsis: Focusing on the health of coral reefs around Puerto Rico, the film will feature both healthy and at risk areas in the Atlantic and Caribbean Seas that surround the smaller of the Greater Antilles. Focusing on how the combinations of over-fishing, climate change, along with human contamination have negatively affected the health of the islands coast – while presenting a possible solution for same.

Ocean Therapy: (est. length: 25minutes)
Genre: Documentary
Writer/Director: La Shawn Pagán
Language: English/Spanish (sub)

Synopsis: A short film about how the ocean and water sports (e.g. surfing, body boarding, SUP) has been proven effective to treat autism, multiple sclerosis and depression.

Forced into Silence (est. length 60minutes)
Genre: Documentary
Writer/Director: La Shawn Pagán
Language: English/Spanish (sub)

Synopsis: A film set to focus on men who have been sexually assaulted and victims of domestic violence at any point of their lives. With a look at the emerging centers that care for their specific needs in The Netherlands, Sweden, and the newer centers for men’s care in Australia, and the U.S., Additionally it will look at the current laws that protect victims of domestic violence and sexual assault and what makes it so hard for men to be recognized under these laws, furthering the struggle of men to find a voice in a (increasingly extreme) feminist world.

These films are incredibly complex and diverse in nature, but the subject matter is one that needs to be discussed and explored by a greater audience. Beneath the Waves and Ocean Therapy are incredibly relevant for today’s climate change affected world – how we are affecting the planet beyond the surface and how it affects us in return (Ocean Therapy).  Whereas with Forced into Silence will (continue) to explore the complex topic of male victims of domestic violence and sexual assault. The production on FiS has begun, but was halted because of lack of funding – this is a huge disservice to the men AND women who are struggling.

I kindly ask you, to check out my new monthly donation page on Patreon and sign up for as low as $1.00 a month to help me make these films. Who knows, one day you’ll be able to be say you ‘produced an award-winning film’!

At the corner of happy and positive influence

Today, as part of my monthly crave-satisfying run I went to Walgreens to get me some chocolate (Lindt Dark Chocolate w/Coconut ) and some kettle popped corn.  As I usually do, I walked in, took a shopping cart and proceeded to walk through the isles – because that’s what I do when I have time to waste. I grabbed some dog food, and proceed to go to the snack isle and get me the pop corn, chocolate and added Tazo English breakfast tea.

Walking towards the register, I noticed my favorite cashier was working today. A young girl with auburn hair, a raspy voice and a lively smile that sort of reminds me of Punky Brewster (since I don’t know her name I’ll call her that from here on) – she always greets me with big smile. Today she was more enthusiastic than usual to see me, I guess it’s because I haven’t been there in a while. As she scans my items she already knows not to use plastic bags. I always refuse to use them because they’re non-recyclable items here and I don’t want any of the bags I toss out to end up in the ocean and subsequently in a sea turtles tummy when the poor thing confuses it for a jelly fish and starts chomping.

Punky, starts putting my items in my cloth tote bag and stops to see my tea, she enthusiastically tells me that she loves that tea and if it can be made iced, I tell her yes and proceed to give her instructions on how to make an ice black tea and she nods and grins wider. Then, she tells me that she “started using cloth bags like you [me]” and I smile. I congratulate her on the progress of thinking about the environment, the convenience and suggest she keeps a few of these tote bags in her car, just in case she needs to run an errand last minute – just so she never has to use a plastic bag.

I always keep a tote bag with me
I always keep a tote bag with me and sometimes, I even match it

After paying and exiting the store I realized what I had done the last six months: I had positively influenced a person to make smarter choices for the environment just by making smarter choices myself. I felt good. I was also reminded that people often forget how their actions influence others, be it positively or even negatively. I was glad I was in the former group of influence.

Although the Puerto Rican Senate recently approved a law that will prohibit the use and distribution of plastic bags throughout the island – after the agency of waste management along with a group of private citizens requested the ban, I have been taking my tote bags everywhere and promoting their use. All in the hopes to minimize waste; promote recycling and maintain the health of sea creatures that are primarily affected by this specific type of trash.

Many local people are confused as to how they are going to deal with the new law. Wondering how they’re going to carry their groceries, since they’re so accustomed to using the plastic bags. As I walk buy with my bag of totes, I hope to continue to be the positive influence that I already have been for Punky. Who so happily let me know that she’s doing what she’s seen be do for months – and that she feels good about it.

I guess what I’m trying to say with this post is that: while you think that you’re only doing things that will affect you personally, it will undoubtedly influence others – you have the choice of what kind of influence you want to be in the world. All I know is that I’m really happy with being a positive one….I also have to ask Punky’s name…dang

If you like to know about the good things some local surfers are doing for the community, watch my docu-short Forever Boogies, if fitness is more your thing, watch this awesome clip featuring Olympic Trainer Francisco “Capu” Ocasio and Bodyboarding champs Galdo Gomez and Fran Castro.

Open Heart

So, being that I live in a tropical island (for now) there’s something I realized when I recently went to New York City: I really love wearing flip flops and tennis shoes with light socks. With that said…my recent visit to NYC was busy, invigorating and inspiring. While I do miss the diversity in people and food, as well as missing that I don’t have to drive everywhere. I feel violently stripped of my independence because I can’t just jump into my car and go anywhere my heart yearns for.

Mr. & Mrs. Marijanski!
Mr. & Mrs. Marijanski!

The past two weeks I spent it helping one of my best friends organize her wedding. As her maid of honor I helped her with flowers, selecting gifts for the bridesmaids and everything else that would entail being not only a maid of honor, but a wedding planner…and three assistants. Even though I have family in the City, I didn’t really tell anyone I was there until the day after the wedding because I knew I wasn’t going to have time to spend with them – harsh I know, but I knew I wasn’t even going to be able to breathe, much less travel anywhere to see anyone.

I also wanted to make sure that I had hours to be able to talk, laugh and enjoy my family without having to worry about needed to go back and deal with wedding stuff. So, as my friend was planning the celebration of the journey she’s going to take with the love of her life, I made sure she had my undivided attention – to ensure the process was easier. That was the first week, and the wedding went off beautifully.

The day after, I slept. Like a baby. The following week I went to the scheduled appointment to donate platelets at the New York City Blood Center, after a little over an hour and almost an entire IV bag filled with my white matter, I gathered my strength and went uptown to see my grandfather on his birthday. He was so surprised he gave me a tight hug and his eyes filled with tears. At 89 years young, the only man I’ve known in a grandparent position was emotional, smaller than what I remembered him being when I was a child, but still as loud and enthusiastic about his Mets.

don't be fooled by his grumpy look - Grandpa is a total sweetheart
don’t be fooled by his grumpy look – Grandpa is a total sweetheart

We spoke about all things Puerto Rico, New York, and my work. Although he doesn’t quite understand what it means to make movies – well, independent movies on hardly any budget, he’s very supportive of my work. He’s seen my documentary Forever Boogies and loves it. Of course, that’s something I’m extremely happy about. Leaving late, I realized how much I missed him, and my grandmother. While she and I didn’t always have the best of relationships – she actually was extremely abusive towards me when I was a child – I now enjoy the benefits of having a relationship with the only grandparents I have left in this life.

That second week I was able to enjoy a great Friday. As a ‘thank you’ for all my efforts as a maid of honor, I was given tickets to see Joel and Victoria Osteen at Barclay’s Center in Brooklyn. Arriving early, I wanted to make sure I skipped the long lines that I was sure were going to take over the block. At 11:30am I was within the first 15 people in my line (there were six lines). I was behind two Colombian ladies who were talking about their families back home (gossip) and a Dominican lady and her friend were behind me – both of which were complaining when two elderly and disabled African American women skipped the line before us. Silently I listened to all the harsh comments in Spanish whispered behind me, as I watched these two women struggle in the cold air with their wheelchair and walker respectively. At one moment I felt compelled to look behind me and I saw that the clearly defined six lines merged into a giant single line as it wrapped around the block – obstructing the entry for the subway. Everyone was eager to see the Pastor Osteen.

A night of hope with Joel & Victoria Osteen
A night of hope with Joel & Victoria Osteen

As soon as I walked in and got my ticket stub, I saw a table for World Vision, and immediately felt bad that I couldn’t afford to sponsor a child right then and there. Then I tried to excuse my lack of finances with the fact that earlier that week I donated an insane amount of platelets that will undoubtedly help children with Cancer “you still helped someone!” I said to myself as I walked away from the photo of the child that captured my attention. His beautiful hazel eyes against his dark skin asking for some type of help from anyone…his frame a little too thin for his height and age. “I’ll help you soon, I promise” I repeated to myself as if he were in my brain and could hear my thoughts.

Further walking towards my section I stopped by a table and purchased a book for $10 and a t-shirt for $20 (also a gift from my friend), joyfully I walked to my seat and prepared to personally hear the message I’d only been able to watch on television. The Osteen children came out signing with the band and wowed me. I’m not being biased – not at all, but I have to say, they both sing beautifully, although my favorite is Alexandra, her voice is so clear, strong, and with a perfect degree of rasp that is completely delightful. Their rendition of the classic Amazing Grace is simply moving. October 16 is a day I will never forget.

I felt every word, ever emotion went running through me and my mind was clear of every decision that was eating at me. I had been considering so many things, so many huge decisions. Do I stay, do I go? What if my father gets really ill again? What if I don’t make it? What if I can’t make it back if he gets sick again? Extremely depressing decisions to make all whilst aggressively attempting to make my career take off – then I heard the message that gave me hope…the message that cleared the clouds from the sky and opened my heart – the message that changed my life.

“Let the wind blow you toward the right direction,
quit fighting what He has in store for you…
Sometimes God will deliver you from the fire, other times,
He will make you fireproof and deliver you through the fire”

While I don’t want to spoil anything, there are changes that are coming. My life has been revived; my spirit has been freed from the chains of guilt and fear that crippled me for so long. My heart has been opened and I welcomed my destiny fully.

I will complete two films, even if that means I have to finance everything myself and make the production scale smaller than what I wanted to – it’s not something I’m foreign to, I mean I did it with my debut docu-short. The world will know my work, and will be positively influenced by it. That’s what really matters to me: getting the message out there.