What an awful 36 hours. Went to a free concert on Sunday night, saw two great bands and came home on a real high, happy and carefree and ready to take on the week. Then I saw the news about Vegas. When I went to bed there were 2 confirmed dead. When I woke, there were 59. How do you make sense of that? Then Tom Petty died and it all just felt like a punch to the stomach. My dad always says, life is for the living, and that's probably the best way to think about this madness. You can't just sit around and feel sorry for yourself. You get back out there and try to make a positive change. Still, though. There's something strange going on right now, something poisonous. Devastating hurricanes, earthquakes, fires, mass shootings, and, for the past year-and-a-half, the nastiest, most divisive political rhetoric I've ever witnessed. Who are all these insane people? And why are they part of the national conversation? I don't know. That dream of living in a small cabin on a remote island, surrounded by books and art and happy thoughts, sounds really appealing.
I started research on a new story for a Zoetrope contest that ends in 19 days. Not sure I can pull it together in time but it's been fun thinking about the format again. Revisited Roy Kesey's beautifully strange and funny collection, All Over, for inspiration and it's got my brain firing on all cylinders.
I took a long walk through Koreatown today and was super inspired by all the amazing signage. This place is a goldmine for vintage design. It reminds me of a funny Tim Siedell tweet about how nice it was to be back in LA; how the strip malls are beautiful this time of year. While hilarious, for photographers like me who are influenced by Stephen Shore and William Eggleston, it's also true.
I visited the Salton Sea in late March on my way back from spring training in Arizona. I've been intrigued with the area since I first saw Plagues & Pleasures on the Salton Sea, an offbeat documentary narrated by John Waters. My first stop was Salvation Mountain, a candy-colored, Jesus-inspired, desert folk installation painted by local resident Leonard Knight over the course of 25 years. Knight passed away in 2014 but his technicolor vision lives on.
"We are well advised to keep on nodding terms with the people we used to be, whether we find them attractive company or not." - Joan Didion
I'm constantly going through old work because I like finding things that I once overlooked, only to discover there was something interesting in the first place. It works both ways, though. Pretty much everything I thought was cool a decade ago really doesn't hold up anymore, hence why I'm always deleting old photos from my site in the middle of the night. I look at something and cringe and suddenly I'm questioning why I liked it in the first place. Perhaps I'll change my mind a few more times before all's said and done.
This outtake from a few summers ago is the perfect example. I don't know why I didn't like it at the time; maybe it's not sharp enough, or the lighting is too harsh in the top-right corner of the frame. Perhaps I just liked other photos from the session better.
But this morning I was trying to find something and when I opened Lightroom, this was the first thing I saw, and it caused me to pull back for a second and think.
It's so cinematic, so full of mystery. I don't know. The mind works in funny ways.
So I submitted my first TV pilot to Amazon Studios last week. It's not the script I came down here to pitch (that still needs some polishing) but rather something I pivoted to in early March. I'm really proud of the story and think, with the right nurturing, that it could be a huge hit. More importantly, I think it's bold and original. I realize getting a script optioned in this town is like hitting the lottery (especially one that isn't superhero or zombie related) but, who knows? Maybe I played the right numbers this time. In the meantime, I've already started research on another series and plan to have a first draft knocked out in the next two weeks. We'll see how that goes.
German director Wim Wenders is best known for his beautifully desolate 1984 cult film, Paris, Texas, as well as art-house classics like Wings of Desire and Buena Vista Social Club. But I've always admired his still photos, which possess many of the same enigmatic and existential qualities. (Most were taken on set or while location scouting.) Wenders' abandoned, dusty roads and lonely landscapes invoke a nostalgia for a fading America; even when subjects are in the frame, they're staring off into the distance, dislocated from time and place. Check out a curated selection of my favorites here. (Photo © Wim Wenders)
Really excited about this weekend's Echo Park Rising festival, particularly Surf Curse's free show tomorrow night at the Echoplex. Originally from Reno, these punk rockers have earned a cult following in the Los Angeles DIY scene with their beachy, lo-fi sound. Featuring one guitarist, one drummer, and two haunting voices, these young upstarts have been the soundtrack to my summer. Check out their latest album below.
I saw Korey Dane play a few weeks ago at The Echo, where he was celebrating the release of his beautiful second album, Chamber Girls. Dane is a singer-songwriter from Long Beach known for his earnest, poetic dreamscapes about love and loss. While just 27, he's sort of a modern-day Kerouac, a rugged individualist with sad eyes and a rebellious spirit. The new songs, recorded almost exclusively live over a whirlwind 72 hours, are hypnotic: rootsy, introspective numbers that tug at your heartstrings as you contemplate the meaning of it all. Check out the video for "Half Asleep" below and then pick up the new album. (Photo: Lera Pentelute)
The week in photos.
I've spent the better part of eight months trying to explain why I moved to LA, to friends and family, to fellow artists, to clients, to total strangers, and the more I say, the less they seem to understand. On a certain level, though, there's no secret: I wrote a screenplay and want to get it made. I'm one of those guys.
More importantly, I didn't want to wake up one morning and regret not pursuing this dream. The film industry is a young person's game, and deciding to enter it at, say, 50, with nothing on my resume but a feature I wrote back in grad school - one that I don't even particularly care for - would be daunting. Probably impossible.
So I made the leap into the great unknown with nothing but my collection of books and a few cameras and enough savings to give it a go. I left a six-figure copywriting job at a tech giant, working with some of my favorite people in the world. I just had to do it.
Again, that's the obvious part. But there's something else, too. Something more abstract.
You see, I've consumed so much art made in Los Angeles, about Los Angeles, that I had this romanticized view of life here. From my two favorite novels, Joan Didion's Play It As It Lays and Bret Easton Ellis' Less Than Zero, to Ed Ruscha's gas stations and photographer John Humble's topographic explorations, to the mid-century modern architecture of John Lautner and Richard Neutra, to classic films like Chinatown and Big Lebowski, there's just something about the aesthetics here, and the history, and the landscape, that I'm obsessed with. And I had to experience it.
There's also the local music scene, and all these brilliant garage acts like Thee Oh Sees, Ty Segall, Bleached, Mikal Cronin, Mac DeMarco, Kevin Morby, basically all my favorite bands, playing at my favorite venues. And you're right there in front, taking it all in. That's been the best part.
What's been a pleasant surprise, though, is that, in the world I hang out in, which consists mainly of East Hollywood, Los Feliz, Silver Lake, Echo Park and DTLA, there's this beautiful, collaborative, do-it-yourself spirit, with all these amazingly creative artists helping each other out, playing on each others' records, appearing on each others' podcasts, designing each others' album covers and performing at each others' shows, making short, experimental films with each other, scoring those films, putting on benefits for non-profits and art spaces, literally, giving their shirts off each others' backs, that's really been something.
What's even cooler is that I don't feel any competition from anyone. Everybody is so talented, and everybody is doing their own thing, and nobody has time to be petty or jealous. Well, that's not true. Hollywood is filled with petty and jealous, but so far, I haven't had to deal with any of it, and something about this little bubble feels right. Hopefully, it'll continue.
Every day, though, I comb these streets, taking photos, going to shows, talking to strangers, searching for inspiration, and around every corner is something new, something beautiful, something essential to my being.
And the only regret I have is not making the decision sooner.
Back in July 2001 I wrote an early draft of Rescue Dawn for German filmmaker Werner Herzog. At first, I was just supposed to help with grammar and sentence structure, as well as assist with the soldier’s dialogue (it's a war film). But after meeting with him at Fantasy Studios in Berkeley and discussing the project, I was given free reign to re-write the entire screenplay, including the reworking of major scenes.
We also collaborated on several new scenes after going through my changes at his apartment. He would start by asking how I would respond to a certain situation, say a guy kicking me in the face while I was on the ground (the main character is a prisoner of war), and I would rattle off a series of vulgarities - just whatever came to mind - and he sat there and transcribed everything I said, verbatim, stopping only to inquire about the meaning of a particular word.
For lunch each day we went to the liquor store across the street and grabbed turkey sandwiches and Sobe fruit juices, which he seemed to enjoy. When we weren't working on the script we talked about books, Harmony Korine (who I admired), the pros and cons of digital video, and what it was like to walk from Berlin to Paris, which Herzog did in his early 20s to visit a sick mentor. After a few weeks, it almost felt like we were friends.
What strikes me now, as I look back on the experience, was his obsession with getting every little detail right. If I had a question about Dieter Dengler, the Naval officer whose story the film was based on, Herzog would go to his desk and pull out a handwritten letter from his archives, or an old photograph from the war, and he was like this little boy showing off his stocking at Christmas. His enthusiasm was contagious.
Herzog is often praised for his tenaciousness, and you realize the stories you hear about him are true, how he'll stop at nothing to get each film made, but he’s also so down-to-earth, so passionate about his craft, that you walk away from each conversation inspired.
What's interesting, though, is that I was warned about his temper beforehand. I heard all the crazy stories about him pulling a gun on Klaus Kinski back in the day, and I was told to watch my tone with him. Instead of working with a megalomaniac, though, I found him to be this gentle, soft-spoken man, and he couldn't have been any nicer.
At the time, I was thrilled just to work with him. In fact, when he left his initial voicemail I played it over and over, partially because I couldn’t understand his thick accent, but mainly because I was so happy he had discovered me. It was surreal. Here I was this no-name MFA student at the time, writing weird short stories that were really polarizing, and here was the master of German Cinema leaving me voicemails.
A few years pass and I'm teaching English at this junior college in Sacramento, and I hadn't heard from Werner in a long time. I guess I assumed the project had been scrapped. Maybe he couldn't find funding. Maybe he wanted to work on something else. Maybe he didn't like what I had done with his script.
Then, one night after watching Grizzly Man, Herzog's 2005 documentary about Timothy Treadwell, I started to do some research online. A few google searches and boom, I find the trailer for Rescue Dawn. It was exhilarating, and a bit strange, to hear Christian Bale – a great actor, in my opinion – say my lines.
When I first met Herzog I agreed to waive screenplay credit (it was, of course, his story), but he promised to credit me as a consultant. This was his idea, and it seemed perfectly, so I signed off on it without consulting an attorney. Five years later, when I finally saw the film opening weekend at the Embarcadero Theater in San Francisco (with, like, ten other people), I waited till the last credit on the screen rolled by. My name wasn't on it.
So it goes, I guess.