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filmmaking

In the works ...

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In the works ...

My calendar is a beautiful color coded hot mess of appointments, meetings, deadlines, and productions. I repeat to myself that I am fueled and nourished by my clients, subjects, and films that I get to create. This helps me push through the next round of work. 

I keep going back to a visualization I had while having my aura read about ten years ago. I was told that my energy was grounded and I am delightfully and magically making the world move about me as I move through it. As a director, I loved that image. Right now, I am in it. The world is swirling around me and I am slowly stepping through it. 

From the inside, it is a thrilling and scary place to be. I am questioning my work, what I have to say and what I have created thus far. I am feeling pulled toward my new age. I feel a new transformation bubbling underneath all this activity and I am not sure where it is leading me quite yet. 

I've come here to update. But really, I think I just needed a minute to put some thoughts on paper. I am feeling ready for my next artistic iteration, my reinvention or emergence. I know it is happening underneath the surface, but I have yet to give this new found "thing" a voice.

That's all I have for the moment. I have lots of cool new work to share. Which is the source of all this activity. I've been keeping my instagram updated, come join me there: @melissafoxmedia

 

 

  

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On Location | Santa Monica in 24 Hours

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On Location | Santa Monica in 24 Hours

It was a crazy 24 hours, action packed with little sleep, lots of pressure to do a good job and some laughs. I donated my time with my team at fig media for a secret project with The Sergeant Shriver National Center on Poverty Law. My first time in California, love that it was for work on a production that I care deeply about. Grateful for good eats, fun clients and cool projects! 
More details to come in 2017. 
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EATS

Seafood and Bites @ Santa Monica Yacht Club.
ORDER:  Gin + juice cocktail with the Octopus Skewers and Blackened Catfish. 

Salad and Rose @ Tavern
ORDER: A Glass of RoseThai steak salad, papaya, cashews, bok choy & lemongrass
CELEBRITY SIGHTINGS: Alejandro G. Iñárritu, Academy Award Director + Marcia Gay Harden

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TEAMMATES

@james_gustin  #lookingveryLA (Executive Director) 

@james_gustin #lookingveryLA (Executive Director) 

@melissafoxmedia  #soakinguprays (Cinematographer) 

@melissafoxmedia #soakinguprays (Cinematographer) 

@firstlady.a  #toesinthepacific (VP of Communications) 

@firstlady.a #toesinthepacific (VP of Communications) 

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On Location | Charleston; South Carolina

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I never expected to end up in Charleston as many times as I have over the last few years for work. It was not on my list of "must have," places to visit but I am glad the opportunity presented itself. The air literally smells like barbecue. Every corner is dripping with historical significance. I fell in love with it's cocktails, horse drawn carriages and charm. It is easy to romanticize the big beautiful homes, huge bridges and local art scene. 

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SUNRISE, BARBEQUE, WHISKEY, WHISPERS AND HISTORY.

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EAT: THE RAREBIT; CHICKEN + WAFFLES + MOSCOW MULE or NICKS BBQ; PULLED PORK or 82 QUEEN; SHE CRAB SOUP + SWEET TEA

BUY: SWEETGRASS BASKETS FROM ARTISTS FROM AN OPEN AIR MARKET

STAY: THE FRANCIS MARRION HOTEL

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On this trip I was filming a wedding for a good friend and coworker. He filmed my wedding day and I was delighted to return the favor. It took some convincing to get the newlyweds up at sunrise. It meant an early morning after little sleep for all of us. But I am so glad I pushed for it. This was by far my favorite part of the weekend. Our relaxed couple enjoyed their first sunrise as husband and wife while we documented the glowing occasion. Can not wait to share the teaser!

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DO: THE OLD SLAVE MART MUSEUM

No visit is complete without making a stop to the unspoken undercurrent of the city: The slave markets. If this were civil war era then I am a Yankee from the land of Lincoln. So I felt a little out of place reading placards for the mansions of Confederate generals who have been known to enslave many. On top of the old slave market, sits a confederate museum. On my first trip to SC, the confederate flag was everywhere. Thankfully on this trip, it was no where to be found. I was surprised to see how much of the history of slavery for this area, one of the largest slave ports, refused to honor the upsetting history of its former residence. The one slave museum I could find was small and contained no more than a few relics and oral histories. This museum was next to the historical museum row, whose houses were home to the daughters of the confederacy and plantation owners. That is when I realized I was standing in a city that was built on the backs of its slave population. Letting that reality sink in, hurt my soul. Any history of slavery, began in Charleston. This is where the ships unloaded their cargo. The romance and charm disappeared into the chasm of an expunged horror that had been reduced to no more than a whisper. It would be nice to see more dedication devoted to this history but the sad reality is that after the civil war ended, many documents and history was destroyed to release the owners from the stigma and persecution of owning slaves. Therein lies the unspoken undercurrent current of the city. A historical tension that once felt, can not be unfelt. 

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Noted: I have not had time to enjoy the beaches. The Citadel sounds cool but is just a military school. There is such a thing as He crab soup too. Cobblestone is hard to walk on. The south has more humidity than I can handle. My northern accent sticks out like a sore thumb. There are more churches then Starbucks. Uber will not pick you up at the airport. The bed and breakfasts downtown looked amazing. The light becomes harsh earlier and longer then in the north, so ideal filming conditions are sparse. Fort Sumpter looked small. Many sailors walk the streets in uniform, as a Navy Base is nearby. 

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How To: Five tips to nailing a thoughtful, emotional and story rich interview.

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How To: Five tips to nailing a thoughtful, emotional and story rich interview.

In documentary filmmaking questions are king.

I could write for days on this subject. Interviewing people is a beautiful privilege. Recording someone is transformational. Leading people to their emotions is not only healthy but it serves the deeper hunger that we all have to connect. It is such important work.

Stories matter. People matter. I believe that if people told more of their stories to one another that we could create a more compassionate world. Anytime one can humanize an issue, we are one step closer to creating understanding across cultural, social and economic boundary lines. Have you ever asked the homeless man you pass every day to tell you his story? If you did, how might that change your view of that person? This is why I love my work. I get to ask these questions. I get to be curious for a living. 

Storytelling is an ancient art. We have evidence of it's impact on ancient societies through language, art and artifacts. Ancient cultures passed down their traditions through oral storytelling. I think stories are part of what makes us human. It is a form of expression. We love storytelling so much we have made whole industries out of them. Film, photography, social media are all bi-products of our desire to tell stories. Stories start with questions. 

In screenwriting class my instructor, the kick ass female director Jennifer Reeder that you should totally look up, always told us that if you feel stuck, start with a question. "What if?" If that didn't lead you anywhere, become an expert eavesdropper. Listen to people. Ask questions. 

When I first set out to be "filmmaker," I thought I was going to make narrative films. Before that I thought I was going to be an "animator." I wanted to make disney movies. It took years for me to arrive at the conclusion that what I actually wanted to do was to tell people's stories. It was the stories that inspired me. When I arrived at working on documentaries for clients I discovered that I felt most alive when I was asking questions and letting my curiosity guide me toward getting to know someone. It just so happened that I had a wonderful product of that curiosity in the form of a film. 

So ask questions. Ask lots of them! 

Then think about the kind of questions you are asking. They set the tone for your film and your relationship with it's subject. 

Here are five tips to nailing thoughtful, emotional and story rich interviews. 

1. Research, Write and Prep. The internet is an amazing place. Google your subject. Chances are there is public information that you can find out before the cameras come out. This will save time and help give you information to go deeper with your subject. Find out about their passions, tastes and lifestyle. Use this information to craft thoughtful questions that help your subject relax. I will sit down and make copious notes on a persons interests. I may or may not use all this information in my interview session but I will hold it in my mind in case I need it. Knowing if someone is a middle child versus an older child can help you discern personality traits and styles of questions. Then put together a plan for your interview and start writing your questions. In my work with clients I go as far as to write a script. I won't be focused on getting my words exactly, unless I run into a jam, but I will be able to see my whole story at once. 

2. Word questions carefully. Language matters. Use questions that inspire people to answer with a story. Be aware of your own bias in a question. This will show up in how you word the question. You can still choose to use your bias toward the goal of your film but be aware of how it works. 

  • DO: Describe to me what it felt like to ________. Tell me about ___________. What drives your passion for _________? 
  • DON'T: Were you upset? Do you like ______? If you can answer a questions with "yes" or "no" it is not a good question. 
  • DON'T:"How do police infringe on peoples rights when they scan cell phones during a riot?" Leads the subject to answer based on your believe that they are in fact infringing on rights. 
  • DO: Describe how you feel about police listening to cellphone scanners during a riot?

Wonderful TED talk on conversation analysis. 

I love listening to smart people talk about their work. This talk applies to interviews and communication. There is so much information in how you ask a question and how one responds. 

Prof. Elizabeth Stokoe takes a run on what she terms the "conversational racetrack"-the daily race to understand each other when we speak-and explains how to avoid hurdles that trip us up and cause conflict. Elizabeth Stokoe is a British scientist. She studies conversation analysis. She is a professor at Loughborough University.

3. Ask subjects to respond using "I" statements. Third person storytelling only works if there is a narrator talking about the subject. If you are letting your subject tell the story, they should use the phrases "I feel," "I think," "I know," versus "You feel," "You think," ect. With upsetting subject matter I like to remove myself from the upset and I might start to speak in third person. Good storytelling asks the subject to say "I." It is a small tweak that can make the difference between a story that inspires and one that falls apart. 

4. After you ask your question, listen carefully and pick out themes. Scan for words that are repeated. Listen for words that create feelings. Notice when the person across from you decides to not explore a topic. It is all data. Listening is a key element to getting a great interview. If I can pick out a theme from a story I can lead my subject deeper and gain trust. It is like getting a wonderful gift - it is affirming for the subject to understand that you care and are paying attention. This creates trust. It will also allow you to see where you can lead your subject deeper. 

5. Ask about feelings. I consider this to be the most important tip. Try this at home and with friends: Ask about feelings. While you are listening to your subject pay attention to your own emotions. Chances are if you are feeling something, your subject is feeling it too. Ask about them. "I noticed when you talked about ________, I felt sad. Is that true for you? Why do you think that is?" This is a skill, you can learn it. Notice and ask. You will be amazed with where this simple tip will lead you. 

BONUS TIP: Did you notice that only two of my tips are about writing the questions? The other three are about how you behave when you ask them. 

Yes, you need questions that are crafted to get the type of stories you are looking for. However, the key to getting a thoughtful, emotional and story rich interview is how you are with that person. How you feel listening to them. Feelings and relationships are a big part of my work. Don't run from them. Embrace them, feel them and talk about them WITH your subject. If you haven't "fallen in love" with the person you are interviewing by the completion of your film, you have not done your job and you can not expect your audience to fall in love with your film either.

And seriously, look up Jennifer Reeder and her new film #crystallake  

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Creative Blocks

 

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I know the feeling. The one I get after booking a cool project. The money is in, contracts are signed and now it is time to get to work. I pour myself a hot cut of tea and look over my notes. I read interviews, creative briefs and brand statements. When I think I am ready, I open up a new document and get ready for the genius to flow. 

The cursor then sits there. It blinks in defiance. It begs me to put down an idea. I am stuck.  This happens to me at every project. Be it a painting or a script I am writing. I am both thrilled and daunted by the blank page. 

 "Just start," I tell myself. Even if I have the intention to throw it out later, at least it will be a beginning. So I start. I fall in love with my first few ideas and then pat myself on the back for being so clever. The words are flowing out of me until they hit a brink wall with the weight of a thousand caffinated hang overs. At this point I hate myself. I hate my ideas. My genius is stupid. I give up and walk away for an hour. No use forcing work. 

I end up sleeping on it and come back to the computer renewed. This process happens a million times over the course of a project. I both fall in love my work and loathe it at every stage. That part of my work never goes away.  

Editing is the worst. Watching footage can be painful. It may be my best work to date. But it might not match the high standards I have set for myself. The footage represents all the choices made on a set. Editing is the process of wrestling with those choices while still seeing the big picture. I have to let go of what could be and focus on what is. I make little happy discoveries as I go. One minute I adore it the next I curse it as rubbish.  

At some point I call the work finished. I come to the conclusion that I have done the best with what I have. Months or maybe a year later I watch my work and finally aprreciate it. Creating is vulnerable. I don't think that will ever go away. I often call the same process: wrestling the beast. A blog for another day. 

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