Nadja Tesich

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It’s funny as one get’s older we kind of rewind the past. Nadja was my screenwriting teacher at Brooklyn College. We were a small class, and we were expected to produce a screenplay in one semester. Needless to say for a young 20 year old it seemed like a hard task to accomplish, but Nadja spoke to us, read with us, and gave us criticism on what we were working on. I remember that our class was bigger in the beginning of the semester then it was towards the end. My screenplay was titled “Young & Independent” and it ran a whole 127 pages. It was a story of two guys trying to come to terms with young adulthood. It had romance, comedy, and a twenty something vibe. Now to put this into context this was the mid 80’s. Such films as “the Breakfast Club”, “St. Elmo’s Fire”, “Sixteen Candles”, “Fast Times at Ridgemont High”, and “Some kind of Wonderful” were playing, and I guess I figured I could write the definitive young adult movie that would catch fire. Also I think “Thirty-something” was playing on TV, and was gaining in popularity, so you can gauge where my head was. I was pretty naive, and I had no idea what I was doing. It was only later that I began to know what a successful screenplay was, and how to write better, and that was to Nadja’s credit correct. The secret on how to write better is to write and then re-write. Nadja took the time for each of us and listened, and dispensed her wisdom. If you may have not heard of Nadja since this article I would not be surprised. She was the subject of Eric Rohmer’s short film “Nadja of Paris”, and she was his assistant for many years. She is also the sister to Steve Tesich the academy award winner for his screenplay “Breaking Away”. Nadja knew stuff, and she tried to teach it to a few of us. Her expression “it’s in your head” was a favorite of ours. To her credit the few of us who finished our screenplays passed the class, but it wasn’t much later then I realized how much of a mark she made in my life.

Nadja had written a few novels as well. “Shadow Partisan” in 1996, “Native Land” in 1998, “To Die in Chicago” in 2010 and “Far from Vietnam” in 2012. She was an extraordinary writer who used what she experienced in her life in her work. That was the key. Now myself being older I find that some of the best stuff that I write comes from the personnel. “It’s in your head” is the phrase that keeps coming back to me. I have in no way been as successful as Nadja, but her life lesson still reverberates in my psyche. Good teachers do that, and she was a great teacher. It’s unfortunate that I did not know that back then. Back then I was a kid trying to pass a course, and finding it frustrating to write every day.

So what has this all got to do with filmmaking or low budget filmmaking? The idea is where it all begins. Re-writing that screenplay only makes it better. Get criticism from many different people. I certainly got that for my first screenplay, and it still wasn’t that good. After reading it again these many years ago I cringe at the premise, and the storyline. What was I thinking? A buddy of mine wrote a screenplay about a aspiring film student, and it was way better then mine. He had taken stuff from movies he loved, and from personal experiences and made a far superior screenplay, but did Nadja give him a better grade? Simply no. She was given the task to get students to write. Write a screenplay, and guide them through the process. We all critiqued our own work, and I even took the script and budgeted it out for another class which I can’t re-call the subject. My budget breakdown was okay, and came in at the seven figure mark. I used figures from my producer’s handbook (does anyone remember them?). My professor in that class commented on the breakdown. He wrote something like: “I don’t know how any studio can justify the budget of this movie about twenty-something year olds”. Ouch!  But I didn’t care I got a grade and moved on. I did budget the screenplay as a studio picture, so I felt my figures were on the conservative side.

But back to Nadja. She had done the incredible. She had whipped out of us a full screenplay in a semester, and all she did is talk to us and review with us. She sure could have ripped into my screenplay and showed me the problems, but she was more and more interested in getting the idea down on paper in the right format. Don’t get me started on setting the tabs on my typewriter for screenplay format. We were graded on that as well. I laugh now with all the scriptwriting programs out there on how easy format really is. Back in the stone knives and bear skin era we set our tabs on a typewriter. I eventually got a Brother word processor that made it a lot easier. Remember kids this is all before affordable desktops.

It was in the re-writing that our screenplays would shine better. Of course back then we wrote it and forgot it. It was a grade. I even remember how she talked to each one of us after the course and how she said that you needed to keep writing. The idea is what is key. She was right of course. Now older I think of things like that. She was a great mentor and I wish she would still be around. She passed away in early 2014, and the world is a bit darker without her, but I still remember Nadja, and the lessons she taught. Hindsight is 20/20, but good ideas don’t die. So if you’re frustrated about making films maybe the idea for your film is right in front of you. Remember “it’s in your head”. Now go write and write something good. We’ll all be better for it.

 

Here is a article Nadja wrote about her experience in Paris and filming Nadja of Paris:

‘Nadja à Paris’

A Deadly Obsession….

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My first feature film was shot in 1998 while between jobs.  It was now or never, and my wife and I agreed it was time.  As they say put up or shut-up.  I had placed an add in Backstage for actors, and got a ton of responses.  Culling down all the responses to people I wanted to invite to audition seemed Herculean, but some how I managed to get some actors in for audition.  I rented an audition place in NYC and set a date.   I videotaped everyone who came and was not surprised at the talent that should up.  I finally arrived at who I wanted and contacted them.  What was next was to set a date for the beginning of filming.  One of the hardest things I had to do.  I needed to hire the rest of the crew, and solidify a date to the beginning of filming.

It is one of the most important things you can do.   Set the date.  Make it real.  Make reservations on where cast and crew were staying, contact SAG, and set up a payroll account for all.  After all it’s show business, and filmmaking is a business, so that’s how I went about it.  This is pre-internet days.  Now things are at your finger tips, but back then you had to call people, and get the wheels in motion.  This is where I learned about the business of making a films.  Insurance, permits, catering, lodging, and travel all had to be done.  I know you’re thinking this doesn’t sound like guerrilla filmmaking, and you would be right.  I knew what not to do, and that was try and short shift the talent.  The guys and gals in my cast and crew were paid, and I received a limited low budget agreement from SAG, so I could do a limited theatrical which included film festivals.

I shot for 11 days with a very minimal crew.  I kind of over reached, and should have found others to help, but money dictates all, and hence it was the only way I could go.

Working with the actors was a joy, and my crew went the extra mile.  How did I do this?  I got professionals.  I paid what I could, feed them and housed them.  Simple as that.  My pet peeve in the entertainment industry is the under-cutting of salaries from the crew to the cast.  You get what you pay for, and in this case I got a great bunch of talent for very little.

The downside was that I over-extended myself.  It took me awhile to cut the film together, and do the soundtracks.  By 2003 I had a finished film, and a DVD. I never got it into festivals, and soon ran out of money to continue to do so.  I was content to distribute it myself through a company that has since folded.  It sold several units, but I still have several units leftover.  I did get offered a tentative distribution deal from dubious distributor, but that did not happen because the terms were ridiculous.  I was not going to relinquish my world wide rights in perpetuity for a film I sweated and toiled over for so long.   No regrets though.  It was a great experience, and one I hope to do again.  This time smarter and wiser.

The good thing is that I filmed “Deadly Obsessions” in film.  Though 16mm I can still go into the negative and rescan it for HD.  Maybe someday, or perhaps someone may offer to do that for me for a piece of the pie.  Right now I’m looking at digital downloads on such places as i-tunes, and or Amazon.  It takes money to make money, and right now I’m perfectly fine telling everyone I am a feature film director and producer, and I can point to “Deadly Obsessions” and say we did our best and we are all proud of it.

 

 

I Lost at the Movies….

It started way back for me.  Guess I’m one of those kids that parents sat them down in front of the TV to occupy themselves, or maybe I was just a visual kid.  Loved comic books, and read them voraciously.  It was one of the reasons I was always ahead of my grade in reading.  No one thinks about that when they see a boy or girl reading a comic book.  Up the street there was a comic book shop where I could trade my old comics for newer ones.  Actually it was an old army/navy store that sold war memorabilia, but the guy running it also sold comic books.  He had a great system where he also bought them from us neighborhood kids, so we could buy new comics.  It suited me just fine.  I had a place I could indulge my comic book addiction and make some money when I needed money for newer comics that were on the newsstand, which eventually were sold back to the comic book shop which provided the store with a constant stream of new product.  Photography was my outlet until I inherited my grandmother’s Super-8 camera.  Then I became more and more fascinated in making small little films .  They were crude, and not very good.  It wasn’t until I got a better camera that I became enthralled in Special Effects photography.  I discovered a magazine called CineMagic where like minded people made their own backyard productions.  Before CineMagic there was Super-8 filmmaker which showed me how to create better films.  It eventually became something I always wanted to do.  I dabbled in Special effects make-up to create blood, scares, and bullet wounds.  I tried my hand in stop-motion cinematography where I animated first my old GI- Joe dolls, and then I began creating armatures and building creatures to animate.  Eventually I drafted my friends into my little epics.  Space Pirates Revenge, Resurrection, I Vampire were all little mini-epics that I did along with my friends.  I eventually made it to Brooklyn College where I studied film production.  I have worked on low budget films in numerous positions, and have created a number of short films.  I continue to do so to this day.  I created a feature film entitled Deadly Obsessions which was shot in 16mm film, and was available for a short time on the web.  I do have another blog, which I did for a number of years, and still do occasionally, but it is time to move on, and hence this blog.  Here I want to discuss and link to other articles and like minded people.  The landscape of filmmaking has changed, and it’s gotten a bit easier for someone to see their work now.  The Internet has knocked down some of those walls that once prevented ordinary people from making movies and getting them seen.  I hope to write here my experiences, and my conversations with other like minded individuals about filmmaking and how does one make a living at this while still feeding the addiction of storytelling.  It’s a balancing act for sure, but one that I feel I am not alone in.  Thanks for listening.

Medirecting