L.A. Street Names, the one and only

Introducing My New Labor of Love: L.A. Street Names

It took over two years and thousands of hours of research, writing, and web design, but last month my new website L.A. Street Names finally launched. As you might guess, this project is about the origins of Los Angeles street names – not just in the city itself, but across all of L.A. County: Beverly Hills, Compton, Pomona, Pasadena, you name it. I investigate each street from scratch, finding out who or what it's named for, when it was laid out, and so forth. Then I write up a tidy little paragraph: everything you need to know about the street and its namesake. Sounds wonky? Maybe. But it's enormous fun. I get to play detective all day and unearth all kinds of forgotten L.A. history and residents. It's truly a dream project.

The site currently has just under 1,300 finished street writeups, out of more than 50,000 streets in the county. I hope to maintain enough sanity to keep plugging away for many years on this thing. It would be great to reach 5,000 streets.

Since I'm so in love with L.A. Street Names right now, my filmmaking – we must call it a "hobby" at this point, it's not really a "career" – is dormant. I'm certainly not averse to making films again, but I don't know how long it will be before I come up with a truly great idea for a short or a feature that I can feasibly finance.

Meanwhile, I'd like to mention the recent successes of some of my past collaborators: Tricia Fukuhara, who costarred in my most recent short film Words to Live by, is in the principal cast of the upcoming Paramount+ series Grease: Rise of the Pink Ladies. Words to Live by's editor Cheryl Campsmith won an Emmy for her work on One Day at a Time. Speaking of Emmys, Melanie Lynskey, who starred in my features Foreign Correspondents and Claustrophobia, just received a Best Actress (Drama) nomination for the Showtime series Yellowjackets. Caroline B. Marx, costume designer on Foreign Correspondents, also works on that show, so it's a mini-reunion for them. Congratulations, ladies.

With Armando Torres and Jane Petrov at PIFF

2020 Hindsight

Boy, none of us saw 2020 turning out like that, did we? Life sure can change fast. Maybe it's fitting that I didn't post an update here all that year. Not that there was much to update you on, film-wise.

My most recent short Words to Live by did manage to get a local screening at the Pasadena International Film Festival last March, just two days before Los Angeles County went into lockdown and moviegoing was no more. So I was lucky to have one final burst of festival fun, and was proud that star Armando Torres, producer Jane Petrov, and director of photography Andie Ximenes got to see our film on the big screen. But aside from a virtual screening at the Victoria Texas Independent Film Festival, that was it for Words to Live by. Even without a pandemic shutting down festivals, it wasn't going to play anywhere else. Too bad. I think it's a pretty good movie, but I suppose it wasn't [insert buzzworthy adjective here] enough to excite festival staff. Maybe someday people will appreciate it for what it is.

You won't be surprised to read that I have no new film projects on the horizon. Yet I've been extremely productive lately!

In fact I've moved on to a very large, very interesting, and very non-film-related project. It's called L.A. Street Names and that's precisely what it's about: I'm researching the history of streets and their namesakes throughout Los Angeles County, then writing a juicy, info-loaded paragraph for each one. Not just the famous drags like Hollywood Boulevard and Rodeo Drive, but loads of obscure and fascinating names, from Venice's Abbot Kinney Boulevard to the Valley's Zelzah Avenue and way beyond. Ever heard of Lark Ellen Avenue in West Covina? I've got it covered. How about Bandini Boulevard in Commerce, Gaffey Street in San Pedro, Empire Avenue in Burbank, or Kellogg Drive in Pomona? I'm there. This is going to be a massive website and app – with 50,000 streets in the county, the work will never truly be done. But having written nearly 600 paragraphs thus far, I've already uncovered loads of long-forgotten stories and characters from bygone times. Crime, scandal, tragedy, weirdness: it's all here in the streets we Angelenos live on. I've debunked many myths as well.

Naturally, once the site and app are ready – sometime later this year – you'll read about it here first.

Have I given up on filmmaking? I have not. If I ever get a great idea for another film, and the money to make it, I'll proceed. But filmmaking is rife with heartache and stress, and it's always a gamble: you can sink your heart and soul (and time and cash) into a project, only for it to go little-liked and/or little-seen. In comparison, something like L.A. Street Names is simply delightful to work on, to the degree that even if nobody sees it, it doesn't matter, because I am enjoying the research and the writing so much. So as long as I'm having a ball with this project, filmmaking will remain on hold. I will, however, endeavor to post more Lists of 9 and movie reviews here than I have been lately.

For now, I wish you an optimistic new year, and let's hope we all leave 2021 much happier, healthier, freer, and saner than we were when we entered it.

At Lake Placid, NY, October 2019

2020 Visions

Here we are at the end of 2019, and what do I have to show for it? Well, Words to Live by went from screenplay to finished film over the course of the first half of the year, so there's that. The second half of the year, alas, hasn't been too favorable for the film. I am grateful that festivals in Lake Placid and Sioux City deemed it worthy of selection, but in the meantime I've received a lot of rejections – including, stingingly, from festivals that accepted 20 Matches in 2016, and even one (Anchorage) that awarded it Best Short. On the upside, it does speak to the integrity of film festivals, as many disgruntled filmmakers believe them to be rigged. I am proof: Anchorage can adore you in 2016, then dismiss you out of hand three years later. Sometimes it really does just depend on the work.

I do think Words to Live by is a fine film – certainly as fine a film as I could have made out of my screenplay – but it clearly isn't the unique and unusual thing that 20 Matches was. I'm still trying to be optimistic about its festival fortunes in 2020, as no fewer than thirty festivals have yet to weigh in on it. But let's just say that I'm not scheduling my calendar around any of them. Still, it would be nice to share the film with more people. I'd like to get at least one more acceptance letter.

In other news, on December 14 I officially get back all domestic distribution rights to Claustrophobia. It's been fifteen long years since Lionsgate released it on DVD, but very soon I can do whatever I want to with it: put it online, let people watch it for free or maybe charge them a buck... I have no idea. How do people watch indie movies these days? Anyway, one thing I will say: for the rest of time, this film will never again be known as "Serial Slayer".

2020 is otherwise an unknown entity. I currently have no fully-formed ideas for new films, and after all the time and money spent on Words to Live by, only to find that it's not connecting much with festival programmers, I need to reassess just what my hopes are for any future films I might make. Should I just make cheapies for fun, then dump them on YouTube? Should I shoot the works and try to get a feature going? Should I retire from filmmaking altogether? Your guess is as good as mine, dear reader. But until I grow absolutely bored with the whole enterprise, I'll at least keep writing Lists of 9 and movie reviews (I recently finished my 1,000th!) on this here website.

Ruby Park, Tricia Fukuhara, and Angie Kim toast the film’s completion

Words to live by: Done, done, and done

Well, that's another notch in the ol' filmography: as of last Tuesday, June 25th, 2019, Words to Live by is completely finished. We actually "finished" it nearly a month earlier, but I wasn't happy with the original sound mix, so I hired a new sound editor to essentially start from scratch. That took a while, but now we're done.

We shot Words to Live by way back in February, so it feels like it took an eternity to take it through post production. (That said, friends of mine have been mostly impressed that it "only" took four months to finish this short.) Hence the lack of updates between then and now. But talented people have busy schedules, and a small film like this sometimes needs to sit on the back burner until all the collaborators can find a moment to work on it. I don't mind this at all. I'm just grateful to have landed such fine talents as editor Cheryl Campsmith and sound editor Daniel Russell.

The next goal is obviously to get this film on the festival circuit. Already I've submitted to around two dozen festivals, with at least three dozen more to go. Those later festivals, which mostly take place in the spring of 2020, haven't posted their calls for entries yet; if I get summarily rejected from all the fests I've already submitted to, this may discourage my plans about submitting any further.

What would such rejection say about Words to Live by? I don't know. Although I feel like I'm too close to it, and I need to pull it out of my brain for a few weeks, I do like the film very much; I think it has some wonderful performances (especially from Angie Kim, Armando Torres, and Leandro Cano, as they have the most screen time) and I love the visual work done by cinematographer Andie Ximenes and colorist Tristan Seniuk. But I took a few offbeat narrative risks, inserting some light moments into a relatively dark storyline (the film's about a man considering suicide, and the burden he places on a stranger to talk him out of it), and I have no idea whether this will work for any of the festivals that I have submitted to. Hopefully some, at least, will find it a poignant and human film worth sharing with their audiences. We shall see.

Angie Kim and Armando Torres in Words to Live by

Words to Live by – It’s a Wrap!

After months of diligent screenwriting, fundraising, casting, planning, location scouting, and stressing out, I am pleased to report that my new short film Words to Live by is now in the can. We filmed it last Sunday and Monday right here in Los Angeles. I had an immensely positive and talented cast and crew. And despite the cold, late nights – it's no mean feat to shoot 14 pages of script over the course of two days – and one mildly irate restaurateur, everything went remarkably smoothly. Most incredibly, in the middle of LA's wettest February in years, it just happened to be dry on the nights when we had to go outside. The film may have looked beautiful if we'd shot it in the rain, but everyone would have been miserable and possibly dead.

The film stars Angie Kim, Armando Torres, Leandro Cano, Tricia Fukuhara, Ruby Park, Merrick McCartha, Cathy Diane Tomlin, William Christian, and Stacy Arnell. Great actors and great human beings. Cast them in your own project, you'll be glad you did.

Editing comes next. My producer Jane Petrov and I will start poring through editors' resumes as soon as I finish decompressing from a busy week (so much paperwork!), and then we'll move into this gratifying, frustrating, and endlessly creative stage. The interesting thing about Words to Live by is that – unusually for me – my script allowed for a lot of interpretation, from how an actor can perform a line, to how the editor can structure the montage in the middle of a film, to what kind of music the film needs – score only? Diegetic music? Both? Neither? I'd like to think that this flexible approach is a sign of maturity rather than indecisiveness.

Speaking of maturing as a filmmaker, today marks the twentieth anniversary of the world premiere of Foreign Correspondents, my first feature. This doesn't quite make me feel old, but I definitely feel the passing of two decades. So much water under the bridge. And the DVD is still available on Netflix. (Trivia note: I sold the film directly to Netflix's Ted Sarandos, long before he became one of the most powerful figures in Hollywood.)

In Vienna, the setting for 20 Matches

Moving forward with “Words to Live by”

I just realized that I never posted an update after the completion of the Words to Live by Indiegogo campaign. Well, in the end, I didn't hit my ambitious $12,000 goal, but I did raise over $10,000 from a lot of generous people. With whatever pocket change I need to cough up myself, it's enough to make a movie with.

Already we are in the midst of casting the film. Casting Director Michael LaPolla and I have now watched the first round of self-taped, online auditions – such a difference from the old days, when I cast Foreign Correspondents and Claustrophobia, and actors had to physically come in for their first readings – and in mid-January we will hold in-person callbacks. We've already got a lot of great actors to choose from, so I'm confident that we'll wind up with a terrific cast.

At the moment, we're aiming to shoot the film for two days/nights in early February. Right now that seems extremely soon, especially as we have yet to scout locations (which will be challenging, keeping our low budget in mind) and hire crew. But a lot can happen in a month. For example, this December I went to Austria with the wife, caught a cold and recovered, did all the initial casting for the film, painted my staircase (which was a bear), finished a major freelance writing gig, went up to San Jose for Christmas with my family, and adopted two new kittens – and there's still three days to go! In short, January will be packed with activity, and hopefully by the end of that month I'll be fully prepared to shoot Words to Live by.

The poster, at least for now

The Words to Live by Indiegogo campaign is live!

This morning I launched the Indiegogo campaign for Words to Live by, my next short. I'm asking for $12,000 by November 20th, which is a pretty big amount for such a short period of time, so we'll see whether it succeeds.

The Indiegogo page speaks for itself, so I won't add any more about it here. In any event, in a month's time, after the campaign ends and I know what kind of budget I'll have to work with (if I don't raise the full $12,000 on Indiegogo, I'll cover the rest of the film's budget out of my pocket, which is what usually happens with my films), I'll commence pre-production: signing with SAG, location scouting, and casting. I'm very excited about the casting, for reasons which my Indiegogo page will explain. If all goes well, we'll shoot the film in late January or early February.

I'm not alone on this venture. For the first time in years, I have a legitimate producer: Jane Petrov of SkyTown Entertainment. I've known Jane for years. She's a good egg. Our associate producer is also our casting director: Michael LaPolla, who also cast my last short 20 Matches. This film is in good hands.

In other news, as noted in a recent List of 9, my beloved cat Cricket passed away last month. After twelve and a half years with her, my wife and I are heartbroken. But early 2019 will not just bring forth a new film, it will bring forth a new kitty or two.

A Close Encounters pilgrimage, August 2018

The new script is finally done, and it’s called…

After another lengthy gap between updates, I'm proud to announce that I finally finished the script for my next short film. And it only took 22 months after the story's inception!

Shortly after my previous update last February, I forced myself to plow through the script, hoping that the physical process of writing would magically work through the problems I was having with the second act. I was right, it did work, and I was so happy that I put the script down again for several months. After that, the usual doubts resurfaced: the film is going to cost more to make than I'd like; maybe it won't turn out so good; will it be worth all the stress of crowdfunding, production, submitting to film festivals, etc.?

That last question shall remain unanswered for now. For now, I have a good, shootable script, and I've settled on a final title for the film: Words to Live By. As the plot concerns a woman who is asked by a stranger to talk him out of killing himself, I feel the title is apt.

What's next: preparing a crowdfunding campaign for the film. I've already floated some ideas for backer perks past close friends. I may try one more round of internal reviews. Provided that I get my act together, I'll launch the campaign sometime next month. Of course, once upon a time, I was going to shoot the actual film in November. That's obviously not happening now, but that's okay. It's usually best to wait until after the holidays anyway, when everyone's in town and the nights are long. (The film takes place at night.)

My next update here should be an announcement of the crowdfunding campaign. Unless you just want to send me a check for $10,000 and get this film financed all at once.

What I’ve been doing instead of screenwriting

A Site Refresh… And What Happened to “Reprieve”?

If I waited two more days to post this, it would be one full year since my last update. Ugh. It's true that a lot has been going on in my life – a death in the family, lots of travel, other jobs and distractions – but those who visit this site regularly know that I've been diligently adding Movie Reviews and Lists of 9 all the while, so it's not like I've vanished off the face of the earth.

In fact, you will note that these list and review pages have been redesigned, with larger images and more relevant "If you liked this, you might also like..." links at the bottom. For years, those bottom links were automatically generated, and I couldn't fix them, no matter how unrelated and arbitrary they were. But thanks to my trusty developer Natalie MacLees, I can now manually curate those links and have them point to more relevant content. As you might guess, with over a thousand pages, it will take a long, long time to curate them all.

Time is something I seem to have in spades these days – except, apparently, to write the screenplay for my next short film Reprieve. It's been sitting on the back burner for well over a year now. Why? I'll be honest with you, dear reader: I don't have much of a middle for the story yet, and it's been frustrating. I have the first and last parts of the film all worked out, but in-between, it's just a bunch of images in my head. Although this is a short, so a tight dramatic narrative is not as crucial as it is for a feature, I still want to give it some structure. Because I haven't been able to flesh out the middle section yet, I've been using it as an excuse to not write the script. Bad Mark.

Now that I've finally dusted off this Updates section with a new post, I will try to keep at it. Thus my next goal is to write a first draft of Reprieve, even if it has an anemic second act, so that I will at least have something to work with – and something to update you on. It will not take me another 363 days to do this, I promise.

In Alaska for the 2016 Anchorage International Film Festival

“20 Matches” Now Public, and What’s Next

At this point, it's safe to say that 20 Matches is done with the festival circuit. It had a good run, with 18 film festivals and additional screenings, including a full month on Alaska Airlines. To mark the occasion, I have removed the Vimeo password and everyone can now see this film in its entirety. You can watch 20 Matches on my Short Films page, or directly on Vimeo. Enjoy!

I'm ready to write the script for my next short, tentatively titled Reprieve. The story's all fleshed out; I just need to type the thing. This film, a drama, will have a totally different style and subject matter from 20 Matches, and I'm really excited about the diverse casting I plan to do for it. From what I saw at festivals last year, the vast majority of American independent films still have predominantly white (and often all-white) casts. That bothers me – and yes, I've been guilty of it myself – so while I won't tell other filmmakers how to cast their movies, I've made the decision to cast minority actors in all the major roles. This actually suits the film's theme, so it's not just a stunt.

If I can get my ducks in a row fast enough, I'll start crowdfunding Reprieve in late spring, and if I really have my act together, I'll shoot it in late summer. Life has a tendency to get in the way, though, so it may wind up being a 2018 shoot. Time will tell.

Anchorage International Film Festival

“20 Matches” in Alaska… and on Alaska?

As we wrap up 2016 – a year that most people I know would call an awful one – I am grateful, at least, for the film festival exposure that 20 Matches has received. It's not over 'til it's over, but my current assumption is that the Anchorage International Film Festival, which I'm attending December 7-10 (20 Matches screens on both dates), will be this film's final festival.

Technically, 20 Matches was accepted into 20 festivals, which is fitting, although one festival (Blow-Up, in Chicago) seems to "accept" about 90% of their submitted shorts, but only screens the usual 10% of submissions, so I'm not officially counting that one. Nor am I counting the Columbus International Film + Video Festival. They accepted 20 Matches back in March, then strung me along for 7 months before playing the film to a tiny private audience of screenwriting enthusiasts (led by my old Foreign Correspondents DP Scott Spears!), half a year after their actual festival. Boo.

So really, we're talking 18 festivals. Not too shabby.

The film's still out to three foreign festivals, but my acceptance rate outside the US has been dismal thus far: 3 acceptances out of 30 submissions. So I'm not holding my breath. Compare that to festivals within the US: 15 acceptances out of 32 submissions (not including Chicago and Columbus). That's a nearly 50% acceptance rate, which is astoundingly good!

Onward and upward, in any event.

I recently hatched a new idea for a short film, and right now I think it's a good one. I'm taking a few weeks to mull it over. Come January, if I'm still feeling excited about it, I'll bang out a script and strategize financing.

Meanwhile, I just learned that 20 Matches will screen on December 21 at the Berlin Film Society, so that's pretty wunderbar.

Finally, as hinted at in this update's headline, 20 Matches should be playing on Alaska Airlines' in-flight entertainment next month! After the film screened at the Seattle International Film Festival, the head shorts programmer contacted me to tell me that SIFF has their own channel on Alaska Airlines (a festival sponsor), and wanted to include 20 Matches in their programming. My film could play there for 30 to 90 days. The paperwork's been signed, the deal is done, but there are no guarantees, so time will tell. If you fly Alaska Airlines in the near future, keep an eye out. I myself will be flying Alaska to Alaska next week, so maybe I'll get to see for myself.

20 Matches will screen here, in the movie theater of my youth

Upcoming Film Festivals

This Friday I'm driving up to my home town of Cupertino, where I will be presenting 20 Matches at the Diamond in the Rough Film Festival on September 24 at 6pm. It's not a big festival, but it's in a theater where I practically grew up watching movies, so I couldn't say no. If you're in the Bay Area, why don't you stop by? Especially since I sacrificed a potentially awesome trip to New Orleans for the NOLA Horror Film Fest that same weekend. (My film screens there on Friday, September 23 at 6:45pm.) Alas, you can't be everywhere at once.

Besides Cupertino and New Orleans, the next upcoming film festivals for 20 Matches are Catalina (screening on September 30 at 10am), Red Ditch Halloween Film Festival (in Redditch, Worcester, UK) on October 28-29 (no screening time yet), and Tallgrass, in Wichita, Kansas, on October 15 at 12:30pm. I dearly wish I could attend Tallgrass, one of the best independent film festivals in the US, but I'll be in New Jersey for a wedding. Again – you can't be everywhere at once.

Oh, one more festival just gave me the nod: the inaugural HorrorHaus in Los Angeles, November 5-6, in North Hollywood. Again, no screening time has yet been set, but I will certainly be in attendance.

At this point, 20 Matches has gotten into 17 film festivals. (There's one more in Europe that I can't reveal yet.) Of course I hope we make it to 20, as that would be fitting, but it's up to the fates. I'm still waiting to hear from 11 more festivals, so we'll see.

But to give you some idea of how hard it is for an American indie short to get into a festival outside of the US, only 3 out of 23 foreign festivals accepted 20 Matches, whereas a whopping 14 out of 29 US festivals accepted it (nearly a 50% acceptance rate – amazing!). So why did I even bother submitting to foreign festivals, you may ask? Because most were free to enter. Though it can be argued that it's wiser to spend $40 submitting to one US festival that might actually like your film than it is to spend hours and hours searching for freebie festivals in other countries that will most assuredly turn you down, and won't even be polite about it. (Many don't even bother sending notice.)

Another lesson I've learned is that I should have risked entering more high-profile American festivals, now that several of them have actually accepted the film. I can think of at least twenty that I wanted to try – but those submission fees would have added up to at least $800, and at some point you have to ask just what you're hoping to gain from it all. Still, I spent about $140 on foreign festivals this past year... If I could do it all over again, I'd take that money and spend it on three good American ones instead. (USA! USA!, etc.)

In any event, while it's been a fun tour on the festival circuit, and I certainly hope to attend one more outside of LA before year's end, emotionally I'm done. At least with 20 Matches. I'm ready to start working on a new film. As of this writing, I have over a dozen ideas, but they are all half-baked. I need to pick one that excites me, and that I can also afford to make, and run with it. It would be great to have a new production going by this time next year. Stay tuned...

At Dances With Films with composer Chris Wirsig, casting director Michael LaPolla, and star Nina Rausch

Midway – Maybe – Through the Festival Circuit

It's only been two months since my last update, but a lot has happened in regards to 20 Matches' film festival journey. The screening at the Seattle International Film Festival went very well, with a huge screen and a large, appreciative audience of local movie lovers. (Sometimes you don't get many people at your screening besides other filmmakers, so Seattle's big turnout was flattering.) And I also had a great time at Dances With Films here in Hollywood, which had a gorgeous venue (the Chinese Theater!), a cool crowd, and lots of friendly filmmakers. 20 Matches star Nina Rausch and some crew members were able to attend that one, which made it extra special.

Since then, 20 Matches has played at two genre festivals, neither of which I was unable to attend: FilmQuest in Salt Lake City and the Bucheon International Fantastic Film Festival in South Korea. The latter marked my film's international premiere, and since it's such an influential festival, I'm hoping it will lead to more. (I recently received four invitations to festivals that I hadn't even entered, as their programmers saw 20 Matches elsewhere. It's exciting news, but nothing is set in stone yet.)

Coming up next: two small festivals that are dear to my heart: the Ballston Spa Film Festival in upstate New York and the Diamond in the Rough Film Festival in Cupertino, California. Ballston Spa was the only festival to play any of my previous short films (full disclosure: it was founded by an old friend of mine, who asked to screen them), and of course Cupertino is where I grew up.

If you're in either area, 20 Matches screens at Ballston Spa on August 6 at 7pm and is free! Meanwhile, Diamond in the Rough runs September 24-25 in Cupertino. I do not yet have a screening time, but if it's on the 24th, I'll try to be there in person.

Right now I have yet to hear from 22 festivals, around 10 of which should be sending out their announcements within the next week. Most are foreign festivals that were free to enter, so my expectations are low: American shorts don't typically play at foreign festivals. (20 Matches was one of only eight US shorts in Bucheon.) But while Cupertino would make a sentimental last stop on the festival circuit – growing up, I saw so many movies at that little theater – I do hope it's not the end of the line for this film.

At the 2016 Nashville Film Festival

“20 Matches” in Seattle… and Hollywood

More film festival news: 20 Matches has been accepted into the Seattle International Film Festival (SIFF) and Dances With Films, a well-established festival based in Hollywood. SIFF is thus far the biggest festival my film has gotten into, and like Nashville it's an Oscar qualifier. And DWF is no slouch; out of the dozens of film festivals based in and around Los Angeles, it's easily in the top 5. It's sure to be a party.

If you're in the Seattle or Los Angeles areas, come see 20 Matches on the big screen. I'll be attending both festivals in person, so you can meet me too. In Seattle, it screens at the SIFF Cinema Uptown on Friday, May 27, at 9:30pm (in the "Devil's Spawn" block of shorts). At Dances With Films, it screens at Hollywood's famous Chinese Theater on Sunday, June 5, at 5:00pm (in the "Competition Shorts 5" block).

It may be a while before I hear from any more festivals, though I did just get accepted into my first one outside the US. They haven't told me when I can make this news public, so for now I'll just say it's in Asia.

Greetings from Ashland, Oregon

Gone to Ashland, Going to Nashville

Forget what I said in my previous update: I will be at the Nashville Film Festival after all, screening 20 Matches at 9:30pm on Friday, April 22. My wife Miki talked me into it. She told me that I'd regret not going, and I agreed. So I will be there April 20-23. I'm excited. If you're in the Nashville area, please come on down, see my film, and say hello. (20 Matches screens before a feature called Maskoun that night, and also at 9:30pm on Monday April 18, though I won't be there for the Monday screening.)

As for the Ashland Independent Film Festival last weekend, it was a grand time. I highly encourage all filmmakers to submit their work there. They are incredibly well-organized and generous to their guests. Ashland is also very cute and walkable. 20 Matches screened with some great shorts, and although our audiences were relatively small – it's hard to convince Ashlanders to stay out until 11pm, it seems – those that came liked the film a lot. I hope to return to AIFF someday.

20 Matches also played very well in Sarasota and Phoenix, with my composer Chris Wirsig representing the film at the latter.

I close with this intriguing bit of news: I was just accepted into another major film festival. I can't tell you which for a few more weeks, but it's a good one, and I'll be attending.

20 Matches at Nashville and Sarasota Film Festivals

More festivals for “20 Matches”: Nashville and Sarasota

20 Matches keeps chugging along on the festival circuit. I'm now able to reveal that it will be playing at the Sarasota Film Festival this Saturday, April 2, and next Saturday, April 9, both times in front of the French feature film Disorder. (Ironically, Disorder stars Diane Kruger, whom my casting director and I had tried to contact for 20 Matches, back when we thought it was remotely possible that we could land a well-known star.) Sarasota is a nice big festival, and it's certainly an honor to be chosen to play before a feature, as opposed to being part of a block of shorts.

20 Matches was also accepted into the Nashville Film Festival, which at this point is my biggest festival yet. Nashville is one of those rare "Oscar qualifying" fests, meaning that if I win a prize there, it qualifies my film for Academy consideration. (Not that I'm actually expecting this.) As with Sarasota, I've been chosen to play before a feature: 20 Matches screens with an Arabic film called Maskoun on April 18 and April 22.

Alas, due to my limited resources, I won't be able to attend either of these wonderful festivals in person. But I will be at the Ashland Independent Film Festival next weekend, where 20 Matches will screen for four nights in a row, April 8-11. (I'll be there April 7-10.) So I'm thrilled about that. Due to a death in the family, I had to skip my film's world premiere on March 17 in Victoria, Texas, so I'm happy to be attending at least one festival this year!

Meanwhile, I'm still waiting to hear from from twenty more fests. My running total of rejections is now at 15, while I have technically 6 acceptances. (The sixth festival isn't exactly a festival, as it turns out, but more like a monthly screening. I think. I'll tell you more if I learn more.) Fifteen rejections is a bummer, but frankly, I expected most of them (Sundance, Cannes, SXSW, anything in Europe). Of the twenty festivals I've yet to hear from, it's possible that as many as 7 or 8 will accept 20 Matches. But film, like all art, is subjective. I could be getting twenty more "no"s. Only time will tell.

20 Matches’ first three film festivals

“20 Matches” Now Headed to Film Festivals!

Residents of Ashland, OR, Phoenix, AZ, Victoria, TX, and a city I'm not allowed to name yet: 20 Matches is coming soon to a film festival in your town!

A couple of months ago, my friend Jon Stout, who's seen his share of film festivals, told me to expect to get into about 10% of the festivals that I enter. Well, as of this writing, I have submitted 20 Matches to 41 festivals... and I've already been accepted into four of them. Now, if Jon's right, that'll be it. So let's hope Jon's not right. I'm still waiting to hear from 29 festivals, but odds are good for at least a couple more acceptances. (With eight rejections so far, odds are good for more of those as well.)

The Ashland Independent Film Festival, which runs April 7-11, 2016, was the first to accept 20 Matches, and I will be there April 7-10. I love Ashland so much that I bought my plane ticket to nearby Medford within 30 minutes of being accepted into the festival.

I should note that, after entering the usual top-tier festivals like Sundance, Slamdance, SXSW, and Rotterdam (all of whom turned me down), I wasn't sure where else to submit to, so MovieMaker Magazine's annual "50 Film Festivals Worth the Entry Fee" list became my guide. Ashland had made that list, and so had the Victoria Texas Independent Film Festival, the third festival to accept me, but the earliest to play this year. So the World Premiere of 20 Matches will be on March 17 in this small Texas town. (VTXIFF runs March 17-20.) I can't miss that, so I will be in attendance. Plus, I've always wanted to go to Texas, and Victoria's just two hours from Austin, Houston, San Antonio, and Corpus Christi. Texans, drive down and say howdy.

I certainly can't forget the International Horror & Sci Fi Film Festival, a programming arm of the larger Phoenix Film Festival, which runs concurrently. They were the second festival to accept 20 Matches, just a couple days after Ashland. This festival is held on April 7-14, 2016, but as they only screen short films April 7-10, there's a conflict with Ashland's schedule, so it's not likely that I can make it to Phoenix in time. However, the film's composer Chris Wirsig will be there to support the film, so Phoenicians and Scottsdaliens, be nice to him.

The fourth festival is a pretty big one, but I can't reveal it until March 16, as per their request. Until then...

Me, Nina Rausch, and über-backer Hans-Peter Zimmermann at the LA screening

The Year to Come

Happy 2016! Here is where I'm at with 20 Matches, since my last update:

In November I hosted two private screenings of all my short films, concluding with 20 Matches, in Los Angeles and San Francisco. Each evening was quite unique, in terms of venue and audience, but I had a lot of fun at both screenings, and response to 20 Matches has been strong. I'll put it this way: nobody has yet suggested to me that they hate the film, and I'm pretty good at sniffing out hate.

I am slowly getting to the end of sculpting all 107 clay matchbox figures for my Indiegogo backers who ordered them, with just 23 left to make. I've had a good time creating these figures, and everyone seems to like them (some have gone positively bananas over them), but I'll be so glad to be done with this. A lot of crowdfunded filmmakers disappoint on the fulfillment process, but I won't be one of them, dammit.

As for film festivals, I happily underestimated how much money I had left in the Indiegogo till, and how many inexpensive entry fees (including free ones) I'd come across, so as of this writing I have submitted 20 Matches to 29 festivals, and can afford to enter at least 10 more, depending on submission fees. (I'm no longer bothering with those festivals that charge $50+ to submit.) So far no acceptance letters have come in, but it's still very early in the game.

Finally, I just added a proper page for 20 Matches, mostly to acknowledge all my backers by name, as I promised to do in my crowdfunding campaign.

No other film plans are on the immediate horizon, but who knows what the future holds?

A still from the finished version of 20 Matches

“20 Matches” all finished

As of September 17, 2015, less than two months after we shot it, 20 Matches is done. Music (by Chris Wirsig) is done. Editing (by Dustin Frost) is done. Credits (by William Lebeda) are done. Everything is done! Now comes the grueling part: entering it into festivals. Thankfully, my Indiegogo backers were so generous that I have enough money in the till to submit to 17-18 major festivals before the film's budget officially runs dry. I've already submitted to five of the biggest ones; if there is any good news to report, I will, of course, share it here. But regardless of whether I get accepted anywhere, I am proud of this film. I think it's creepy, moody, beautiful, and thought-provoking.

One of these days, if I can figure it out, I'll create a separate page for 20 Matches on this website, since I promised my Indiegogo backers that I would thank them all on such a page. Until then, I do have a trailer on my short films page. Please take a look. (The actual film won't be posted publicly online for at least another year; I want to keep it under wraps while I submit it to festivals, though my backers will soon get to view it privately.)

Everything else is going well. In August I celebrated 10 years of marriage with my lovely wife Miki, I'm writing the content for this fun tie-in website for The Last Witch Hunter, and I'm still plugging away for Fandango and some other clients. That's all for now. Enjoy your autumn!

20 Matches: Nina Rausch and hot-headed costar

“20 Matches” – It’s a Wrap!

We did it. We shot 20 Matches.

"We" in this case is me and the extremely talented German-born, Los Angeles-based actress Nina Rausch, along with our equally talented crew: director of photography Marianne Williams, costume designer Mary Wuliger, casting director Michael LaPolla, production sound mixer Brent McClain (who also worked on Party Pooper and Ron and Nancy), key makeup artist Keely Maroney, and Marianne's camera assistant, who wishes to remain anonymous because he only wants the public to know about his actual DP credits. (Showbiz people! But seriously, he was a nice guy and good to work with.)

It was a one-day shoot in Burbank on Sunday, July 26. And we really did light the whole film only with matches, one at a time. (The Sony a7S is remarkable for low-lighting situations.)

Now it's up to the editor, composer, and post production supervisor to work their magic. (I'm keeping their names under wraps for now until I sign their contracts, but I'll talk more about them once the film is done.) The editor is already progressing quickly, and I'm hoping that the film will be finished by September 3, so I can start entering it into festivals.

Once again I offer my heartfelt thanks to all the good people, friends and strangers, who backed 20 Matches on Indiegogo last March. Whether you came in at $2 or $500 or anywhere in between, it was greatly appreciated, and your money was put to good use. I hope you will soon agree that you helped me make a strong, compelling, and truly unique film.