the Providential Blue

As recorded in the entry Splits & Decisions, my husband and I made the hard choice to turn down a job that would have meant being separated from each other for a month and unable to worship together in church.  We were confident about our decision, yet unsure how God would provide.

One of the most challenging parts of being in a filmmaking family is that we rarely know where/when the next job opportunity will make an appearance.  It is easy to take the 9-5 job for granted (such as my own).  There is a measure of (perceived) security in the name tag, time clock and routine.

However, in the film world, work is very unpredictable.  Typically, my husband learns of an opportunity only a few days in advance and sometimes it means working away from home for several weeks or months at time.  In a miniscule way, I can relate to miltary spouses in facing deployment separation. I know what it is like to pack the bags and gear in 48 hours and say your goodbyes and suddenly go back to a more solitary home routine.  (Though I cannot imagine coupling that with the dangers and stresses of combat!)  I know what it is like to get up in the middle of the night to have a sleepy phone call to accommodate your opposing schedules.  I am familiar with the sudden shift of responsibilities.

We have been blessed in the many ways that God has provide for us as a family over these last three years.  The novelty of blessing never seems to wear off when the phone rings and an opportunity presents itself out of the providential blue.  We know each paycheck is a precious gift from God.  We know each new contact is part of His plan.

So this week when the phone rang with a job that fits in nicely into the calendar between now and our vacation in September, pays far more than the other job and allows us to worship together on Sunday . . . well, it only reinforced the humbling knowledge that God is in control.  He knows the beginning to the end.  He has only the best plans in mind for us, to His glory and not our own.  This week was a little reminder that God is good in the lean times and God is good in times of plenty.  The precious part of this life is that He walks with us for the entire journey.  When we look to Him in our joys and disappointments, we are looking up into the eyes of a Father who gave His own Son to grant us salvation.

This is a God I can trust.

“Fear the LORD, you his saints, for those who fear him lack nothing.”

–Psalm 34:9

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Manna & Moonlight

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This will be the autumn of new adventures. 

I am taking a marriage counseling class, I am considering re-starting my community knitting group, I am forging ahead with my screenplay and I have decided to run a 5k in October.  I have wanted to run a race (for fun) for a long time, but wanted to participate in a cause that is more than just rescuing guinea pigs or having to run in lederhosen (if so inclined, you can do both!).

While reading the local news, I discovered a 5k race in my own backyard, which is far enough down the calendar for me to be prepared.  Manna on Main Street is a community organization that exists “that everyone might be fed.” In their 30th year, they are celebrating the blessing of service to thousands who have crossed their doorway. Manna is an impressive grass-roots organization, and I encourage you to check out their site and blog.  For those of you who live in the Bux-Mont area, Manna is one of the many non-profits supported by Impact

In order to get in gear for the 5k, I am relying on an old friend: the Couch-to-5k Running Plan.  Last night I hit the pavement under a moonlit sky, iPod in one ear, reflector on arm and cell phone in pocket (ICE). For the first night out, I did not focus on specific times other than trying to alternate between walking and jogging.  I surprised myself. I had a nice jaunt of about 2 miles.  Other than a blister (guess I’ll be using other sneaks), I feel pretty good today.

I had forgotten how nice it is to blow off steam this way . . . when I got home, even less than a half-hour later, my mind was more prepared to sort through Celtx and organize my script’s storyline. 

Of course, the moonlight helped too.

Splits & Decisions

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Occasionally, we are presented with an opportunity with which we wrestle feverishly.  Having experienced a string of lean months without film jobs in sight, it is increasingly difficult to say “no.”  Yet, this is where we find ourselves this week.  My husband was offered a position in New York, and though the pay was modest, it was tempting to keep riding the wave of film work.  But, back-to-back features wear on a marriage, especially when the jobs are away from home.  And as he thoughtfully presented me with the options, we discussed the pro’s and con’s of the job.  Tonight, over spaghetti and meatballs, we discussed our mutual decision to decline the offer.

A precious friend asked me the other day, “What do you do when [your husband] is working?”  In truth, I was touched that someone had even asked the question.  I frequently have difficulty engaging in peer conversations about rearing children, the 9-5 work life, planned time off and leisurely weekends; I am learning to relate in different ways.  I recognize that our married life is off-beat from the typical suburban life. Though I work traditional banker’s hours, I often manage our rental company before and after my “day job.” Many days, I have softly held a trembling elderly hand and ten minutes later found myself stacking aluminum pipe and counting ratchet straps.  It’s a gear shift that makes me chuckle.

When my husband is working on a feature film, his schedule changes considerably during the course of production.  Some scenes are filmed during daytime hours–some at night.  The worst weeks are full of “splits,” which means he leaves for work midday and comes home in the wee hours of the morning.  It takes a lot of mental adjustment.  I often nap in the evening, so I can be awake for an hour or two when he gets home, just to have a conversation.  We rarely know what to expect more than two or three days out.

I try to occupy my time with knitting projects, reading, heading out in thunderstorms to take photos, working on my screenplay, cleaning/reorganizing (a challenge with a mound of film gear constantly stacked by the couch), gardening, etc.  I am happy in solitary pursuits, though those days arise when I come home from work to an empty home and think, “Man, I really don’t feel like being alone tonight.” I need to do a better job of reaching out to others and developing deeper friendships. Truth is, I am a socially shy person.  I thrive in my professional world, but I find personal connection more challenging. It is an area of my life that God’s mercy continues to reform.

My husband and I are hoping that God will supply a local film job that will give us the opportunity to worship together at church on Sundays and have a date night or two.  Also, we deeply treasure the time we share with our friends–as a couple and particular friends we enjoy on our own.

So again, we walk in faith, trusting that God will supply our every need–whether He uses Bollywood, Stein Mart commercials or Septa.  He does have a sense of humor.

Scripted

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My husband and I have noticed that many of our peers do not quite “get how we work,” referring to our marriage.  Some of this may be our personalities, but our professional differences are confusing as well.  He works in a land of make-believe; I work in the land of all-too-real.   But, we have more in common with each other than what is seen at first glance:

  • We love images (art, photography, moving pictures, etc.)
  • We love small town America; we live in a small town and delight in her micro-culture
  • We love collaboration–working on a team that pools its resources and creates a masterpiece
  • We love a very wide variety of music
  • We love stories and people (each person has a unique experience in this world)

So recently, I have traded my world for his . . . and when my husband came home from a 14-hour day on set, I announced I had begun writing a screenplay.

                               HUSBAND
Oh, really?

                               WIFE
Yup. I already have the first few pages done.
It’s sort of a coming of age story.

Husband reaches for the stack of paper and starts to read, flipping between pages, making mental notes. After several minutes of silence he responds.

                              HUSBAND
I didn’t know you had it in you! This is better
than the last ten scripts I’ve read for work!
I already have a distinct mental image of these characters.

                              WIFE
What do you mean you didn’t know I had it in me?

Wife shoots husband a disgusted look.

                              HUSBAND
I mean, I always knew you were creative, but this
flows really well!

-Later-                              HUSBAND

Well, I am giving you a goal: have it finished by Christmas. That will force you to stay disciplined.

And, off I go on this new adventure.  I have always enjoyed writing, but this is a new experience for me.  In truth, so far I have found the story is developing very naturally, though I know the roadblocks are coming.  I have been jotting down names, phrases, bits of stories and backgrounds of characters into a small, silver journal.  Then, I type away with the journal propped on one pile of scripts from various film jobs and a cup of coffee teetering on another stack (to be used for format examples).  So far, I have consumed several pots of high-test and typed about ten pages.  A few nights ago, I sketched a brief synopsis of the ending.  Now I must fill in the twists of the story–admittedly, the biggest challenge.

My story is set in Summers County, West Virginia in the 1960’s, and I have completed a significant amount of research on the culture, geography and era.  This is the land of the legend of John Henry–the beautiful but financially strapped home of miners, laborers and railroad workers.  Today a book on Summers County arrived in my mailbox, and I can hardly stand the wait until I can highlight and mark up the pages with my thoughts. My characters are developing nicely on paper, but I think to get a realistic sense of their world, I will have to take a long weekend to Summers County (any excuse for a road trip, right?).

Christmas is less than six months away (21 weeks).  On a productive evening, I have been turning out two pages in about three hours.  A typical script is 90-120 pages in length.  I am aiming for 100 pages, or roughly five pages per week.  When my characters have told their story, I plan to submit the screenplay to the Nicholls Fellowships competition.

Why not?

Awakening the artist within . . .

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I am not a trained filmmaker.  But, I am an artist.

When I was a young teenager, I corralled my younger siblings and announced on numerous Saturday mornings, “Let’s make a movie!” This consisted of my brothers being coerced into wearing our sisters’ dresses, toddlers transformed into mice using lipsticks and eyeliner, choir robes turned into judges’ court dress, and fire . . . always there was fire (much to my mother’s distress).  My father was a brave soul for permitting us to use his relatively expensive toy to record our short films.  We even had a production company name, “The Slug Company.” I do not recall what “Slug” had to do with anything, but it was copyrighted in crayon and had a cute trademark.  We even made stop-motion commercials with Lego characters. We thought of everything.

I came to love that Panasonic OmniMovie VHS camera.  It lived a long and happy life and managed to capture about 15 years of fun and love.  It recorded the growing up of almost every child in our family (my first years were recorded in 8mm).

With the years of college and learning to survive in the “real world” in my twenties, I managed to lose a tremendous amount of my creative focus.  I have always loved to write, draw, paint, take photographs, work with wood, bake cakes, knit, sew, sing, play the piano (what little I can plunk), design gardens, decorate my surroundings and bask in the illumination of fine art venues.  Yet, somehow I found the stress of life corroding those moments of artistic development.

Cut to:

I married a filmmaker.  And, he relentlessly encourages me to reawaken the artist within this weary soul. For a while I fell into a terrible habit of thinking that creative pursuits were extracurricular to life.  What a sad pit in which to fall. My husband has reminded me that art and creativity are essential elements in enjoying life and the God who made it.  The joy that I discover in creative exploration is a God-given gift, of which I am a steward.

Most recently, I have begun writing a screenplay (a topic for another day), and I have committed to taking photographs.  I have a Canon 7D at my disposal, and I am learning to reconnect with the feel of her weighted metal body which warms in my hands and the sixth sense of what captures the joie de vivre of the everyday.  I am discovering that when my eye is paired with the lens, I cannot worry or fret.  I am forced to stop and listen with my heart.  I wonder how a sensor and screws can be transformed into an instrument of worship, yet when I finish capturing a scene, I find myself more thankful to God for all that Has done for me. In this I am learning to understand more of Him, more of me . . . and more of what my husband feels when he lights a set with kino’s and china ballsThe lesson learned is this: whatever gifts God has given to you, whatever exercise of skill brings joy to you and others, do this to the glory of God.

1 Peter 4: 10-11 (ESV)

As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever.

Amen.

the Gaffer’s Glass

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Enough serious stuff . . . every independent filmmaker’s wife knows that after a long week of splits and ridiculousness, the only remedy is “your woman and a drink.”

In honor of my hard-working man, I have named this tasty beverage, the Gaffer’s Glass.  It is intended to play with warm, glowing colors and remind him of his Southern days at UNC School of the Arts.

To him and his loyal crew, CHEERS!

the Gaffer’s Glass

  • 1 part American Honey
  • 1 part tonic water
  • a splash of peach schnapps to your liking (2-4 tbs./glass)
  • a large, juicy slice of fresh peach 

pour over cubes of ice

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How to survive on a filmmaker’s salary

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One of the biggest challenges for us is learning to deal with the ups and downs of our bank account balances. Early in our marriage we learned that our cash flow is going to be feast or famine (including times when production paychecks bounced!).  Periodically, this has been a source of conflict between us, but we have made peace with this reality of filmmaking. We have had our share of mistakes, but have found a good budgeting rhythm.

A few years ago we sat down and calculated the bare bones of what we need to survive–and by survive, I mean . . .

  1. have a roof over our heads
  2. have enough food to keep us healthy
  3. have enough cash to put gas in the cars
  4. put aside a $1000 in a savings account for emergencies

By the grace of God, we have been able to this (and more) even in our leanest times. We decided that no matter what, the first 10% of our increase (all funds entering our bank account, whether earned or given to us) would be tithed to the Lord and given to our church.  This has been a huge blessing to us, and has encouraged us even when income was scarce and job prospects were not on the horizon.  I will explore this topic more at a later date.

Now for the nuts and bolts:

We have determined that we are going to live a very modest lifestyle, which often means making sacrifices that are socially unpopular.  We live in a small, one-bedroom apartment.  We do not have cable.  In tight times, we do not dine at restaurants.  We buy clothes/shoes when what we own has fallen apart or can’t be repaired. We buy our groceries at Aldi.  We troll Craigslist. We use Redbox instead of seeing films in theaters (ironic, eh?); the silver screen is a rare treat. We use the public library for books, music, etc. We drive cars that are paid in full and are 10+ years old. I cut my husband’s hair with Wahl clippers.  I use a salon, keep a longer hairstyle, and only get highlights 1x a year as a treat; I could live without this and have done so when needed. We go for walks at our local state parks. We have second-hand furniture.  Most importantly, we have learned to be content with what we have.  We have learned to turn thrift and savings into an enjoyable adventure, and we celebrate bargains and the feeling of saying “no” to consumerism.  When we do make an important purchase, we save steadily until we can buy a quality product that will last the duration.

My husband and I have made a committment to pay down ALL our debt.  When we married we had a combined mess of eight credit cards, three student loans and a car loan.  Through debt snowballing and perseverance we have whittled that list to four credit cards and one student loan.  It has not been easy, but each time we see a $ 0.00 balance, we celebrate and find new energy to tackle the next balance.  Using free accounting software such as Mint has been very helpful, and our credit union has been a valuable resource as well.

Admittedly, we have relied upon my income as our “base” and my job has supplied us with good healthcare insurance and a few other handy benefits such as a pre-tax health savings plan and retirement benefits.  However, recently we have added a Roth IRA for my husband to start saving toward our retirement in addition to the money we set aside for my 401K.  We recognize that at some point we may not have the safety net of my income to rely upon, as we are planning to start a family at some point.  Our goal is for me to stay at home full-time with our young child(ren).  There are lots of private insurance options out there right now; the new healthcare legislation has helped in some respects.  We know that in the future we will be paying for coverage out of pocket from a company like Blue Cross / Blue Shield, Aetna, etc.  No matter how financially strapped you may feel, there are insurance options available–even just to cover emergency hospitalization. The Independent Magazine has a thought-provoking and practical article worth reviewing.  Though the article is from 2008, the information remains useful. Additionally, do not neglect to contact your state’s Health and Human Services office to see what low-cost plans may be available to you; you put your taxes toward these services, so do not be hesitant to use the services if you need them! Most importantly, maintain some type of medical insurance.  It is a necessity in these times.

Cash savings has been our salvation time and time again.  We set aside 10-20% of our income to liquid savings, some in our local savings bank and some in a money market fund through Ally. We have a goal to save enough to cover a full year’s worth of living expenses; at present we can cover about three months,  but we are making progress.

So how can YOU survive on the unpredictable, often measly filmmaker’s salary?

  1. SAVE a portion of what you make; no exceptions.
  2. Get rid of debt, particularly credit card debt.
  3. Be diligent.  Small steps over time add up.
  4. Do not take unnecessary risks.  Stay insured (car/medical/home).
  5. Sit down and figure out what your minimum financial needs are.  Live on that budget and learn to be content with what you have been given.

So what questions do you have for this filmmaker’s wife?