The Horror…

It is early May and my heart aches.  It aches both up and down.  On the one hand, I am celebrating and planning big screen premieres on both coasts.  Our WORLD PREMIERE at DANCES WITH FILMS 18 and our east coast premiere in New York City at the MANHATTAN FILM FESTIVAL.


These are causes for celebration to be sure, as it has been a particularly challenging festival submission process since last autumn.  One must truly learn to manage expectations no matter how proud you are of your work or how positively your brain trust reviews and responds to it.  This I thought I’d learned years ago, being a part of the following “required viewing” for all who are venturing forth with their movie under their arm.   There is always room for the learning of further lessons.


My heart aches on the downward side because once again, neglect has resulted in a most horrific event.


THE APPLE TREE was inspired by many things, not the least of which has been my time wandering the trails and rocky outposts of the Shawangunk Ridge in the Catskill region.  My best friend grew up there, and since our late teens we have met almost yearly in October, both to celebrate his birthday and experience the glory that is the natural world.   These hills hold treasures unlike anything else in the world and I dare say the lionshare of imagery in the film comes from right here.  It is astonishing how the carelessness of the very few can bring about such massive destruction and loss.  I sit here wondering just how many of the background images from the movie are now a charred ruin.


THE APPLE TREE has been a labor of love.  I miss it being a part of my everyday life, at least in the creative aspect.  Laying the groundwork for the screenings that will bring it to a wider audience is rewarding in it’s own right, but it isn’t nearly the same.  It feels like someone close to me has died, or at least suffered a debilitating setback.  On the upside, life finds a way.  Nature returns.  Not even our own stupidity can fully halt its will to regenerate.  Pete Seeger saw that everywhere he looked.  I remember him writing and performing a song, almost on the spot, when he saw blades of grass piercing up toward the sun from cracks in a sidewalk.  “Make way for the grass…”, he sang.

People…be mindful…be respectful…please be careful.   We must answer the call.

Hope to see many of you in Hollywood and The Big Apple.  It is my hope that THE APPLE TREE speaks to you.

The Keeping of the Word…

As of this past Sunday, February 15th, THE APPLE TREE has been completed in full.  All that remains is the creation of DVD and BluRay screeners and a DCP (Digital Cinema Package) in the event that film festivals would like to present the movie at their event.  The final stage was approval and delivery of the sound mix. Michael Benish has mixed everything I’ve made since TEN ‘TIL NOON, back in 2006.  His work has always been exemplary. The last time I saw and worked with him was in February of 2012.  We were wrapping up the mix of the music documentary WE RUN SH*T, which was to premiere at our beloved Phoenix Film Festival.   I’m sure I’d see him more often if I could, but Michael resides with his family in Temecula, California. That’s a bit of a haul. The WRS mix ended very late at night, and he generously offered me a travel mug full of coffee for the long drive home.  I assured him I’d return it as soon as possible.  Well, life happens.  Still, almost exactly 3 years later, I was able to return that mug to him.  We took a photo to mark the event.

Hey, it may sometimes take awhile, but I always keep my word…dammit.


A Journey’s End…

Well would you look at that.  A new blog entry.  See?  I told you so.  On January 19th at 3:12pm, the day we set aside to honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., I finished the last shot on THE APPLE TREE.  I suppose I expected to feel more emotional than I did, as I have been living with this project for such a long time.  Completion never seemed imminent.  Then again, this final shot brought this final image, just a still frame in a sequence of many. THAT mention just brought a tear.  It was clear as and an azure sky of deepest summer.  Tommy was waving good-bye to me.


I suppose you can liken it to parenthood.  Once you experience that kind of love, even amongst the madness of it all, you can’t fathom life without those adorable little creatures being a part of it.  I honestly don’t yet know how to start living without the act of working on this movie.  Sure, I have several other creative ideas and in truth I’ve started working on them now and again in my spare time, but this movie was a labor of love like no other.  I’ll just say it.  It’s hard to say good-bye.  You juggle sadness and relief on a daily basis.  You are accomplished and free to move on, yet you are letting something slip way into the world to be whatever it will be. Parenthood indeed. I hope to enjoy watching what happens and what life this little picture may have.

Maybe this is a good time to give you a peek at THE APPLE TREE’s infancy.  I’m sure I’ll catch some flak for saying this, but I am not an advocate of too much prep work and planning.  I am, by nature, an immediate artist. My lack of patience likely has something to do with that, but I truly work best just getting down to the nitty gritty, churning out the work and revising as I go.  Layouts bore me.  I know what I want and how to achieve it and at present, I have no team I have to explain myself to.  Many like to do what are called “animatics” or a preliminary form of an idea consisting of a series of drawings or still frames, sometimes with a voice-over or music and sound effects, that are sometimes used in fund-raising.  It gives a rough idea of what you’re after creatively and shows your collaborators or the powers that be what you hope to achieve.  They are also often used in test marketing.  (Something my day job has caused me to loathe outright)  I took a stab at this many years ago, probably late 2009, when THE APPLE TREE was still just an idea. Nothing fancy, just black and white photoshop drawings, roughly animated.  I don’t know about the rest of you, but time is precious to me. Animation takes a long time to realize and I felt that time was better spent actually making the movie rather than planning the whole thing out in this fashion.  Therefore, I abandoned the idea.  What I was left with, however, was an amusing little standard definition quicktime movie with creepy music, bad artwork and REALLY funny young voices, provided by the zany offspring of my dear friend and sometime collaborator, Paul Osborne. So sit back, relax and enjoy the silly…

Honestly, at just about the mid-point of production, I eventually did end up doing full color stills as placeholders so I could edit together a rough outline of the movie.  I wanted to start thinking of it more as a movie and less as a PROCESS, which was what it was becoming.  I hit several creative walls over the years of making this thing. Putting those stills together to catch a glimpse of how it was coming along and what it might look like did more than enough to lead me back to the rosy-colored path.  Early tomorrow morning I go to the color timing session. There truly is no turning back now.  Stay inspired, folks.

A Question of Character Modeling…

This is the very first blog entry for the animated short film, THE APPLE TREE.  This is also my second attempt at a blog.  The first was on a personal website I launched a few years ago, which was an attempt at marketing myself.  The first entry of that blog was entitled, “The First of Many…”.  It was the only entry ever made.  I learned to forgive myself since I had just become a father for the third time, and time itself was a commodity.


I’m sure my indifference to blogging on that first endeavor was that I was falling in love with my son, Antonio, and also that I have no affection for talking about myself.  Most filmmakers ooze narcissism.  They should.  They have to.  It’s part of the gig.  I don’t care.  I find it tiresome and pretentious. However, since the aborted blog experience I have produced a work of art that means an awful lot to me.  This means I’m confident that I’ll have plenty to say about it in the coming year and I do hope you’ll pop back here for a visit and update from time to time.   Having typed all this, and assuming you’ve had a chance to hop around THE APPLE TREE’s website, I suspect there is a question or two about character modeling.

On the CREW page, you may have wondered why there are only two female character models credited.  A glance through the STILLS section clearly shows that there are four characters in the story, two male and two female.  The short answer is that the main character, Tommy Willis, is based on three people.  All three served a different purpose in bringing Tommy to life.  The character of “Grizz” came simply from the nickname of an old high school acquaintance who most likely played football, and variations of strange young men I used to see wandering the streets of New York City.  Way back in 1984,  I had been mercilessly dropped at the corner of 34th Street and 9th Avenue by my parents.  I was terrified by the imminent start of my freshman year at the School of Visual Arts.  I remember taking the long walk to 23rd Street, seeing many strange people and thinking to myself, “That guy has white hair and very strange colored eyes.”  Fast forward about 30 years.  I needed a villain.  Grizz was born of the haze of my Manhattan period.

Night Sloane

But back to Tommy.  As I was working on the early shots, I found myself noticing certain things about his look. His expressions were familiar.   Then it hit me.  I had subconsciously based Tommy on my longtime collaborator, Joe Kraemer.  Long story short, I had met Joe when he was all of 11 years old.  We’d attended the same high school, five years apart.  Since then, not only has he scored every film or misguided video project I’ve ever made, I have directed him as an actor twice.  His facial expressions drew you in and constantly made you wonder what was going on behind his eyes.  Perfect for movies.


I put him through an arduous shoot in the summer of 1986, then again in the summer of 1987.  Two different movies, two different characters. More than once I subjected the poor kid to my explosive temper.  I would say I wore him out in more ways than one.  But he has remained a loyal and ridiculously talented friend.


I have to admit that once I realized this, animating Tommy became less of a chore.  It just felt like spending time with an old friend that I don’t see nearly enough of.  Joe leads a very busy life and is currently working for director Christopher McQuarrie and mega-movie star Tom Cruise.  I’d say he’s arrived.  So I naturally could not call him up and ask him if he could show up and do character modeling work.   Prior to starting work on THE APPLE TREE, I had not animated or drawn much for about 20 years.  I was incredibly rusty and truthfully, I’ve always had trouble with perspective.

Enter the second Tommy model in the form of Matthew Witkop.  He is the son of one Jerry Witkop, whose photography provided me with most of my reference for the apple tree itself.   Jerry came to me through a very close high school friend and is based on the east coast.  I have not yet had the chance to meet him personally, which pains me because his contribution to the film has been invaluable.  When I mentioned to Jerry that I had no idea what a high angle view of a young boy looking up at a tree looked like, he offered up Matthew, who was similar in age.  The two images below provided the foundation for one of the more important moments in the story.  To both Jerry and Matthew I offer my profound thanks.


The third piece of the Tommy puzzle?  That would be me.  Every so often, one needs to know more about human movement than one’s imagination can conjure up.  More than once, I had to figure out how many frames a certain arm movement needed, what someone would look like in a crouching position and what a proper “head shake” looked like.  Enter my iPhone and self.  Why do I not credit myself as a character model?  That’s simple.  I already have too many damn credits on this movie and I didn’t need another.  Did I mention that I dislike talking about myself?

Stay tuned, my friends.  Feel free to give me a shout at any time through any of the social media portals in the upper right corner of the website. If you haven’t already, please go to the facebook page and give it a LIKE.  I’m always trying to raise awareness of the movie in any way I can. Also, please share the website link far and wide if you would.  Being modest and introverted carries a heavy price tag.  I’m a lousy self-promoter.

Have a great day and thank you ever so much.