reflections

Authenticity and Personal Marketing

Not forgetting the fact that Santa Fe is a small village and I know people as a result of my many art shows, and my one man play that ran here four summers ago, I take to the street armed with postcards to announce the movie premier of The Twilight Angel.

James Koskinas on Canyon Road, SF NM

James Koskinas on Canyon Road, SF NM

Necessity is the mother of invention. We have a limited budget for marketing, but bits of time. I quite like it, talking to people on the street. And I’ve also been spending a lot of time writing my Facebook friends personal notes and invitations to the film. A lot of them never post and consequently have never met me. I’m discovering them for the first time. The ones who do post know about the film already but I write them personal notes.

I want to let them know I’m thinking of them. The response from almost everyone, even the ones who I am just introducing myself to for the first time is mostly overwhelming. Yes there’s a segment that doesn’t respond but many do, and they respond with thank yous… I’m coming, or I’m out of town but good luck and please let me know when I can see the film again.

It’s very profound and I’m making lots of new friends in the process. A personal handcrafted message written to each person is very powerful, and I realize I’m on to something.

We all like to think we’re special. Wandering around the village of Santa Fe, handing out cards for the movie, I meet people I never would have met unless I had a film to announce, and never would have made so many personal contacts, gotten so much positive feedback.

I’m finding out how much people are interested in me first and then the film. Old friends who own restaurants are happy to see me. I say, “come to the film and bring your cards and advertise.” They seem more interested in how I’ve been. “Don’t be a stranger,” they say when I leave. “Good luck. I’m happy for you.”

I realize you can’t market anything more than who you are. Authenticity and knowing I care about them go a long way. That’s the joy of living in a village. It reminds me that everyone counts here. Our audience is really our family. Friends old and new want to help, to be part of The Twilight Angel. The film, not yet seen has drawn us closer together.

Somehow the process has made me a better person.

Artist Became the Story

Twilight Angel Concept development

Koskinas tells a war story

As we plan where, when and how to launch the Twilight Angel, I am mindful of how this whole thing began, a year and a half ago.

After we had firmly committed to do “something” based on James’ war stories, we convened in my studio to work on the concept. Sitting around the coffee table James would read a bit or tell an anecdote from memory.

Kayla comforting Koskinas

Twilight Angel script team

There was so much love and grief, so much power in his voice as he told these stories. We knew that this was to be a big part of our narrative. As James emoted the terrible beauty of the the relationships and events from that time, my dog Kayla would come over to comfort him. She didn’t want him to be sad.

The Artist's Story

The Artist’s Story

We came to feet that our movie’s story should be about the Artist, and how his past shaped his work and his process. We knew there was energy there. The ghosts were a powerful force compelling him to work. And we also knew that there must be some transformation, some way that our character reversed the spiral and claimed his own power.

war graphic

The war in the art

We dug deeper into our character’s painting. His war would turn inward and become enacted on the canvas. Like a graphic novel’s pages superimposed on each other he would paint the stories they commanded, yet now each became a self-portrait.

Koskinas and dog

a love story

As we worked Kayla stayed very close, helping James hold this deep place he was exploring within his Artist-self. The story flowed out, the Artist recreating himself, reframing his history.

Our story would be this process – a love story!

Kayla approved.

Creating the Music of Twilight Angel

Back in the Fall of 2012 when we were just trying out production strategies for the Twilight Angel, we decided to put together a little experimental short based on James in the process of painting. It needed music to help hold the editing together. My legacy of producing music-videos asserted itself in the pinch for putting this thing together in time for an event we were using to drum up support for our Indiegogo fundraising campaign.

I shot the footage one night so James and I could get a feel for working together in the intimacy of the artists’ process. We got some good material, but it wasn’t part of a narrative yet. So, to edit something together, I chose as the foundation a piece of music I had created with Rusty Kirkland about a year earlier.

It was sort of an exotic groove with a lot of polyrhythmic guitar and percussion that I knew would be fun to cut the video to it. I layered-in a spoken word recording I had of James’ and the short “Duende” manifested itself.

When we showed it at the fundraiser it got such a great response that it served as a model for most of the painting scenes that we did for the movie. Based on the feedback we got, it seemed like the music was a good fit. James encouraged Rusty and I to come up with more contributions to the soundtrack.

Months later, after the narrative story and the production strategy was more nailed down, we revisited the need for a substantial amount of music. We felt like it was essential to balance the monologue parts of the film and had evidence that viewers liked the way music worked with the act of painting.

Witham and Kirkland in the studio

Rusty and I go way back as co-creators. We were friends and had done some music together in college in the mid 70’s. A few years later he came into the studio in Chicago to help me out when I was working on finishing some of my own ideas after my band, the Free Lunch Theory, drifted apart. He was awesome on guitar, and adapted well to improvising within a context. Plus, I think he had a lot of fun immersed in the technology of the recording studio environment. We liked working together.

For Twilight Angel I knew Rusty and I already had about 4 or 5 pieces that might work well in some of the scenes that we had finished shooting. There was another test screening of substantial portions of the film coming up in 6 weeks and I needed some more new music to edit in to what we would show to our supporters and new fans.

After that first screening of Duende, James had been very supportive of Rusty and I doing the majority of the music for the film. We finished shooting all the principal photography and I began editing, I needed the tracks to integrate with the editing. James sat in with us one day at Rusty’s studio to get the ball rolling for creating the rest of the soundtrack.

Rusty Kirkland, guitar

I recall so clearly being at the recording console that afternoon. After the three of us had some discussion, Rusty strapped on the guitar and started to play, just improvising freely based on thematic concepts we had talked about. After pacing about a bit, James settled on the studio couch, leaned back and closed his eyes. Rusty played and I provided some minimal beats for timekeeping. I recorded everything.

At one point James exclaimed, “Oh! That’s Grandma’s house.”

We kept on. Rusty exploring an ambient approach at some point later elicited, “That’s me going AWOL” from the couch. Each time I annotated what got a response and then over the next few weeks we produced something from those seeds. We finished 6 more pieces for the test screening and another 3 soon thereafter. There are 15 Witham-Kirkland pieces in the full feature.

Studio Collaboration

Studio Collaboration

That first afternoon in the studio epitomized the creative process for me: you put several artists in the room together, and they will invariably make something dynamic and evocative. I believe it is a testament to the cooperation of the individuals involved that we ended up creating such a wonderful soundtrack for the Twilight Angel in such a short time.

Captivated by Brush Strokes

I felt intimately connected with the artist on his journey of self-discovery as I watched his struggle and artistic process in bringing his painting to life. I was captivated watching his brush strokes and color choices tell his story!

- Jane Emanuel

Praise for Twilight Angel

High praises, laughter, tears and applause for your dear, raw, inspirational, daring journey put to film, James Koskinas, Julie Schumer, John Witham… I love that Fictional Character! I need to really see it a few more times to catalyze my full creative potential. Thanks for including us in your credits. You ALL amaze me. You truly do. I love who you each are and all the succulent gifts you bring to birth in this wild, awakening world. How do we change ourselves, to change the world…? I suggest the arts, truth, fierce self exploration & expression & by all means, see, own & share this movie, as it launches upon the world! & buy some art! That always helps me!
-Jen Klarfeld

Review of The Twilight Angel by Trisha Caetano

I would like to share with you my personal perspective, my personal feelings, my personal understanding and awareness because of this film. After all, isn’t that what art is about for the viewer?

The 11 previous paintings were of the dead, the ‘Twilight Angels”, ghosts of the past forcing you to paint them, give them life in death, a canvas immortality. The canvases simply flowed, emerging as the ghosts of the past painted the painting.. The last painting would not emerge because on a far deeper level, this had to be a painting of you, of your past, of your death, of the death of what you might have been, of the death of the soul. And the agony begins: frustration, boredom, anger, fear, hopelessness.

Segment by segment in the film you peel away all these feelings, emotions, thoughts, perspectives of your past and the agony forces you to begin to emerge on the canvas: distorted, inadequate, struggling, emerging without shape or form, using colors from dead artists of the past. Painting until your past agony begins to emerge on canvas; twisted, distorted, tortured, chaotic and interestingly, in female form. Then the sword, slashing cutting destroying the past.

And then, the most tender and deeply touching part of the entire piece with amazing cinematography, the perfect shot, perfect lighting; your fingers tentatively, gently probing the opening in the destruction, the perfect glowing white light shining through, the tentative connection to the emerging of the soul. And the creating begins. Sewing the cuts , they are still there but healed, and then the true beginning. You begin to explore you, to create you, brush stroke by brush stroke, who you truly are emerging. Not the pleasing of others, the struggle to be meaningful, to be recognized, to be accepted, not the whore who paints what will sell, no. What begins to emerge is the you of You, your own living, vibrant, authentic, soul.

This is the experience you three created for me, witnessing a journey of the soul. And on a very deep level, opening me and inspiring me. This is the truth of art, it is why art has emerged from man before it appeared on cave walls. You have truly achieved art.

Thank you James, Julie, John for allowing me to experience this recognition, connection, inspiration.

-Trisha Caetano, August 31, 2013

Trisha  is internationally known as a pioneer in Inner Child, Integration and Regression therapies. She has trained psychotherapists and health care professionals in many countries. She does yearly training’s and seminars in Japan and The Netherlands and has been a guest teacher for 11 Dutch institutes. Trisha was President of The Association for Regression Research and Therapies, Inc., a world-wide organization of professionals focused on regression as a therapeutic tool in healing. She was Director of their training team to certify therapists in this method.  (trishacaetano.com)

The Movie as Shamanic Ritual

The film being “done”, you’d think it was the end of the journey. The product was tied up, finished. A milestone, years of work. You rest from your labors. But the film was never created with those goals in mind. That’s where this idea of mine comes in: film-making as shamanism.

The vision quest is to know yourself truly and deeply in a different way than you have before.

A Place of Power

Koskinas finding a place of power

With the film now being finalized in the editing stage, and having seen it a few times, I started realizing its effect on me. Forget the work, the hours spent; that was great fun, I was like a child I was making something without realizing what I was getting into. Beginners mind, that’s a great place to be.

And then I realized people were going to see it, even if it was only five, they would see what I had made, see my paintings, hear what I had written. Mine and John’s work. But the words were mine and I realized I had to stand behind them and what they meant. I had to be very serious about this.

The film has forced me to get very clear about the person I am now and the kid I was when I went off to war. I had to go back through my memories, feel my way back and claim the purity of that kid.

When we first started making the film, Johnny Witham, my cohort, the D-O-P, sound, lighting, co director and fellow chief bottle washer told me, “we’ve got to trust our creativity.” We’d have to go with what was inside of us and trust it would come out they way it was supposed to. The film wasn’t going to be anymore, or less, than our own: his and mine.

We had found our place of power standing there in that moment, and that’s what we went with.

No amount of planning, organizing in the search of something perfect could have ever gotten me to take the first step. Nothing intellectual could have prepared me for something so vast, so daunting.

We had a script, to be sure, yet nothing was written in stone. The sets, the props, the lights, the staging, all lay out in that fog bank of creativity. We’d have to row over to it.

In a real sense the film is still becoming a shamanic ritual. When shooting it, I had to use my unseen instincts and talent for survival. I followed my bodily sensations around. What was coming up, I moved towards it.

The technical end of things: all in John’s hands – the lights,cameras, sound – manipulated and collaborated in this instinctive process. Machines have souls, or do they?

Throughout our creative process, a jazz-oriented call and response, all the elements seemed to be right there when we needed them, a meeting of linear and nonlinear points of view.

We left fear out of the equation, leaving him at the front door early on.

The set glowed with its own magical process, taking on its own life. At some point I realized that the fate of the film was always hanging in a precarious balance, just as was the character I was enacting.

Yet that was part of the excitement, the challenging act of balancing the unknown with what we trusted.

I clearly feel that the universe needs me to play this role. I may have been Cabeza de Vaca, a front man. Clearly Johnny was some force behind it all orchestrating, directing, repairing.

Now that it’s almost done, I feel the film is asking me: who am I really? Why say what I say? What are the motivations behind my intentions? And, finally, am I responsible for what I’ve made?

If it’s truly a real heart-felt, passionate film, and not a ploy for ego needs, I’ve got to revisit the process.

The film is a way to keep me informing myself about myself. Instead of an end, it’s an initiation for something new: a new me. That’s the point about shamanism, that’s the real power of making it. Nothing is separate from me.

I think the character in the film makes that turn into himself, dealing with the pain of uprooting his personal history, his bumps and warts. In speaking about the war he is actually reliving it, living his own fate. Precarious yes, but he keeps on painting, the only thing he can really do. I think it leads him out of the film and into himself. And we want to show that.

Taking the Squad Home

The walk home

Poised

As we close in on the finishing stages of the editing process I find myself lingering a bit on watching the raw footage on either side of the take. It’s one of my ways to get refreshed for the next stage of this long process.

There is a thing that happens invariably just before a good take. I’ve come to enjoy seeing these moments – the camera is rolling, James has been bantering with me or working himself into the state required for the particular scene. Then there is this briefest of pauses before he goes into action and delivers the next line. As an editor now, that is my cue, “oh, this is going to be a good one.”

Koskinas-In the Dark Place

James Koskinas is in the dark place

It is like the energy of the wave he has summoned slides up the beach and when it reaches its furthest extent, rests in a moment of stillness before plunging back into the ocean.

When I see that, I know to mark it “in,” to start now. We will not see that moment in the finished film, just the result – James diving back into the story. It is one of the pleasures I’ve had being so immersed in making this film. I get to see moments like that, see him work, feel that moment of still energy poised at the edge of creation.

OK, two more scenes to go…

The End of the Shooting.

John and I had been locked down for months in my studio shooting our film, rehearsing, building sets, painting scenes, setting up lights.  Shooting footage.  It was a process that literally became more than some grand idea of a movie.

Still from Scene 4

Koskinas on the set for scene 4

Actually a movie is a series of small events linked together over a period of time  -in our case a period of months.  We started off shooting scenes, I wrote and rewrote the script all the while we kept shooting footage, like a boxer training, practicing his footwork, feints.   All the extra footage was roadwork for what was to come.

It was much more than I imagined.  I had the script, John had to do the scenes, had to design the sound, the lighting, the way each scene looked.   How to operate two cameras with only himself.   I had to learn to trust that he was going to do all this.

Koskinas preparing for a line in Twilight Angel

Koskinas preparing for a line in Twilight Angel

I had my own burden in the middle of all this.  Namely I had to get myself out of the way, my ego, my fears, and deliver my lines.  We had a criteria for my performances if you want to call them that.   If they were believable, we bought into them.   We never called it acting, we just wanted something from me that was real.  Something that we both believed.

Shooting a medium close-up

Witham shooting Koskinas medium-close for Twilight Angel

Imagine, John is moving cameras all over, up and down, side to side, adjusting the light, the lights fail, the sound fails, a camera goes on the nod, a fuse, a bulb blows up, we’re in the darkness and somehow he gets it all back together.  I’ve been waiting and waiting for the moment, holding onto myself, trying to stay contained, centered, until John calls, “roll it.”

We’ve had over thirty takes for some scenes.   Late, cold, tired, we pressed on.  Trading quips, jokes, laughing, pushing the envelope. Pushing into the script.  I wanted to change the script, just wanted to let the cameras roll, see what came up.  John held onto the discipline, forcing us to go step by step inch by inch.

We both designed the sets, the art direction. He would have an idea for three scenes in a row, then I would. Inside the structure of the script, the organization, the schedule, we managed to stay flexible. You’d have to been there to experience it. It’s called film-making.

Arduous, long. Fun.

 

It’s a Wrap!

After 6 months of pre-production: camera tests, trial scenes, script re-writes, readings, set-building and (of course) fund raising – then another 3 months of actual production – we now have all the principal photography completed for the Twilight Angel.

Witham Preps Camera at the Dunes

Witham preps the 5D rig at the dunes

Fittingly enough, some of the last scenes we shot were the rare exterior scenes of the film and they were done in locations that are quite amazing. After weeks of shooing “noir” in our little studio, the expansive dunes in southern New Mexico created the most striking contrast.

 

Koskinas on location for Twilight Angel

Koskinas on location for Twilight Angel

The space and the light were perfect for the reverie of the scene we called “AWOL.” I won’t divulge the details of that part of the film, but I’m sure you can get it’s essence.

 

 

Linda Leslie and Julie Schumer scouting locations

Linda Leslie and Julie Schumer scouting locations

We had timed the shoot to follow a trip to Tucson for a gallery opening of Linda Leslie’s paintings at Jane Hamilton Fine Art. Our Exec. Producer Julie Schumer’s paintings are also at that gallery, so it was a natural field trip for the core crew.

It felt like a celebration of the completion of this phase of the movie. Day-in and day-out James has done a tremendous job of performing this heart-felt story. We’ve worked hard to capture that narrative in a way that we all feel is visually appealing and does justice to the subject and the art.

 

The Artist

The Artist

Of course, the art is the subject… because it is inseparable from the story of the artist – and vice-versa.

Keeping that in mind, we go into post-production: the editing, animation and sound design that glues it all together. I love this part as much as the photography… maybe even more so. For me editing IS storytelling. It is an artform unto itself.

As I ardently prepare for many hours at the editing workstation assembling and shaping this film, I’ll remember the openness, the space, the light of the dunes and how for me that symbolized the freedom to create this movie, to put something beautifully true into the world, to hope that it touches somebody and that it resonates something in them.

Witham captures the last light