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Entries in Documentaries (19)


The Price we pay for Switching Paths: A Moviemaker’s Perspective 

“The good news is you came a long way. The bad news is you went the wrong way” – J. Cole in Love Yourz

The Album Cover for "2014 Forest Hills Drive" by J. ColeA lot of the dissatisfaction I’ve had with my pursuit of a career in film directing is what makes the lyrics in rapper J. Cole’s song “Love Yourz” (from his album 2014 Forest Hills Drive) oh so relatable. Every quest has its challenges but I cannot say whether I would’ve still chosen this path if I had to do it all over again.

Just when I think I’m making headway, something brings me back into the reality that I’m not only nowhere near where I thought I’d be, there is also no telling whether I’ll ever get there.

Sometimes it feels like I need to just put in more work to master the craft, as the saying goes. Other times it feels like I need to network with the right people or chuck directing altogether, in favor of another area within the entertainment field, such as screenwriting or casting or storyboarding or something. This is one of the reasons why I started considering television as a serious alternative. Producing community TV programs might provide more bang for my buck in terms of better results, faster turnaround and the opportunity to make a difference in the world.

More often than not, however, I’ve wondered if I wasted years, relationships, resources and money going after the wrong dream – one that I probably had no business pursuing in the first place, given that I did more writing and drawing in my youth than anything else. Perhaps I would have been better staying on the path of fine arts, for if I kept at it, I imagine I’d be a lot better at it today than my present sketchbook shows.

On the set of a short film production.Even if I did switch careers, there is a steep price for doing so, according to author Steve Pavlina who points out that “most art forms are too crowded and too competitive to make a living from unless one commits to becoming outstanding. Dabbling in fields every few years or so will prevent you from reaping the rewards of building a financially sustainable practice that comes from long-term mastery.”

This is an understandable factor to consider, given that leaving film for something else would likely involve me starting from the bottom – once again. On the flipside, he also suggests that we get out of any project, relationship or career, etc. as soon as possible if we would not have embarked on it knowing what we know now. So what the hell is Steve Pavlina smoking?! I mean, it sounds like his advice rests on two sides of the fence. One minute he’s suggesting you spend a decade or so honing your skills and then the next minute he’s warning readers that there is no “honor in dedicating your life to the pursuit of a goal which no longer inspires you.”

In almost every step of my tv/film projects, I find myself bouncing back and forth between delight and frustration, asking myself if I should continue riding this rollercoaster of uncertainty any longer. This question is a no-brainer for Grant Peele, a husband and father who did the complete opposite, leaving a thriving career in Real Estate to achieve his life-long dream of becoming a filmmaker. The early days of his journey, along with those of other men and women who switched career paths, are chronicled in the documentary I’m Fine, Thanks, a film about complacency and whether the paths we ultimately choose to follow are connected to who we are or someone else’s American Dream.

Grant Peele preparing for the Midwest Premiere of his documentary film "I'm Fine, Thanks."One woman in the film describes what it's like to climb a corporate ladder and then reach the top, only to realize she had it leaned up against the wrong wall. Having not yet reached the middle of this current journey I’m on, I think I’d rather just take her word for it as opposed to finding that same thing out for myself when it’s too late.

I used to fantasize about how exciting it would be to win an Oscar and attend Cannes or get hired to work on some huge Hollywood production starring heavyweights like Denzel Washington, Jonny Depp or Meryl Streep -- accomplishments of which would be equivalent to the top of a ladder. Today, I rarely think about milestones like these and find myself feeling indifferent to them, when they do cross my mind. That’s an uneasy sign that something isn’t quite right. Although I have yet to figure out what that something is, I’ll be trucking along on this yellow brick road of motion pictures until I do.

P is for Perspective


When YOU were a child, what kind of career did YOU want to have?

How do YOU know when to hold onto the cards YOU’RE playing, and when to fold them?


Making a Living vs. Making a Difference: What being an Everyday Superhero Really Means

(l-r): Steven Samra and Tasha French Lemley, publishers of The Contributor newspaper.Of all the videos I’ve watched that highlight stories about disaster relief, the one where a Red Cross volunteer says she "worked in the corporate world for 30 years making a living,” and then retired, and now she wants to make a difference, stood out most. Her statement had me wondering how many of us choose one or the other, rather than overlapping them.

It concerns me that some men and women in communities across the nation feel like they aren't in a position to have a positive impact on other people while also being able to put food on the table. I don’t know about you, but when I picture what the right time to make a difference looks like, that image often doesn’t depict any one of us waiting until some abstract point in the future. After all, the future is uncertain and none of us can guarantee we’ll even be around to see it.

Of course, we all need to make a living to survive and have opportunities to enjoy our days here on this earth. Even in the midst of our daily hustle and bustle, there’s still room to make a difference at the same time, if each person puts forth effort in marrying the two. Prime examples of this can be seen in the tireless, underappreciated and often unglamorous work of everyday heroes who have a positive impact on other people or issues that matter to them upon noticing that something needs to be done.

Yoga training at Rachel Lloyd's GEMS are among the therapeutic and fitness services provided to young women.Thousands of teenagers, like those in the documentary film Very Young Girls would be in jail, dead, on drugs, or still exploited in sex trafficking rings across the U.S. if Girls Educational and Mentoring Services (GEMS) CEO and founder Rachel Lloyd waited until retirement to provide counseling, legal assistance and housing to children and young women in the sex trade.

Several hundred homeless veterans like those in the documentary film Street Paper would still be lacking a place to sleep at night if The Contributor newspaper founders Tom Wills and Tasha French Lemley waited for thirty years or until they were done with their careers in fine arts and outreach work, respectively, to provide jobs for men and women – some of whom served in the military -- affected by homelessness and poverty. Heck, most of us would even be up the creek without a paddle today, if the great inventors, activists, philosophers, leaders, and artists of previous generations decided to wait a few more decades before making their mark on the world.

People like Lloyd, Wills and French embody the fact that there is no better time to make a difference than now. We need not put off doing good deeds until later on in the future when it’s more convenient for us. After all, if you’re already on your way to mastering the art of being your own superhero, just imagine how wonderful it would be to teach someone else how it’s done.

M is for Meaning


What was the last documentary YOU watched?

If YOU inherited six figures from a long lost relative, conditional upon your using half of the money to impact other people’s lives, how would YOU make a difference in the world?


What I Love About the WAMEGO Documentary Series

WAMEGO Film Director Steve Balderson's recent projects include "Farflung Star," "Culture Shock" and "Occupying Ed."Told in a trilogy, Steve Balderson’s WAMEGO documentaries uncover what it takes to make films outside of Hollywood. It showcases the real-life experiences of a film director who found success on his own terms, but not without dealing with various complications, naysayers and downright manipulative, egotistical people who believe that there is only one way to make a splash or be relevant (whatever that means) in show business.

Making his feature debut “Firecracker” -- complete with 35mm film cameras, elaborate set constructions, and tons of personnel -- quickly taught him how expensive and time consuming it is to try and emulate tinseltown’s method of producing, marketing and distributing movies. So when the time came to start new projects, he eventually took a different, simpler route to get his movies made and hasn’t looked back. While WAMEGO STRIKES BACK is my favorite among the three documentaries in this series, I’ve learned a lot of valuable lessons from all of them.

The best part is that viewers don’t have to work in film or be in pursuit of careers in the entertainment industry to enjoy any of these movies. What I love most about WAMEGO documentaries are how they don’t put that glitzy, sugar-coated veil over life as a filmmaker nor do they present the movie industry as a doom and gloom, dog-eat-dog, swimming with sharks image to viewers. Its message encompasses both ends of the spectrum and various areas in between that have you saying “wait a minute…did that just happen?” – Oh, yes it did! Welcome to the independent film and what it’s really like behind the camera!

There is a moment in one of the docs when Balderson arrived at a film festival where organizers didn’t know the name of his movie, despite being on the schedule to screen in front of hundreds of people.

I also remember the time when craft services went AWOL in the middle of production, causing an unexpected change of plans on how (and what) his actors, sound guy and other people working on his film would be fed. Only he can tell you how that compares to the time when he found out the footage of scenes his cast and crew just finished filming was suddenly gone. In addition, there may be nothing like the time when prospective investors bailed on a film he was developing, without a word or so much as a heads up.

When the challenges of independent filmmaking aren’t rearing their ugly head, road trips with his cast and crew are among Balderson's ideas on how to spend your day off. It’s also common to see those who work on his films enjoying beers together, pool parties on set or attempting car repairs for a fellow member of his eclectic brigade. WAMEGO shows how making movies can be fun and productive, with Balderson fostering the kind of workplace environment you would have at a summer day camp for adults.

The events that transpire from one minute to the next in these documentaries can teach you about persistence, self-confidence, overcoming obstacles, speaking up (and standing up) for what matters to you and having the courage to buck trends even when other people are betting on you to fail.

In celebration of the 10-year anniversary of WAMEGO: Making Movies Anywhere, Steve Balderson decided to do a re-release of this award-winning documentary. WAMEGO is available on Vimeo to watch for free as well as WAMEGO STRIKES BACK (Part 2: Watch Here) and WAMEGO: Ultimatum (Part 3: Watch Here).

So, consider this my gift to you this weekend: Three movies I love watching. All Free for you to watch now, thanks to the passion and grit of a man from Kansas who the late Roger Ebert named as the best-kept secret in American independent cinema.”

Happy Valentine’s Day to all, and may YOU enjoy the people, places or things that make you smile this weekend!