The Void

James Duvall and coffee cupThere is a void in all of us and around all of that sucks in every negative thought, action and belief that is said to us about us from others or ourselves. This is rough. How do you separate what is negative from what is truthful and needs to be fixed. The hardest part in building our team of filmmakers, has been watching this void devour hopes, dreams and finally actions.

I see it daily in actors, writers, directors, and people just trying to finance a movie. Constantly battling the void, trying to make their movies better or present their films better. It often seems like laying twigs over a hole and throwing dirt on it, then praying no one steps on it and finds the hole again.

Part of the problem is that, imaginary problems. Imaginary problems require imaginary solutions. The problem is you cannot solve an imaginary problem so the imaginary solutions devour all you time. And it is time, not talent, or brilliance that will lead to success. All those other elements that people think are important are not, unless there exist time to put them in action.

James Duval on Mano a Mano

We have all met talented people who are constantly putting time into their boyfriends, girlfriends or both. People who you know could make it. Their relationships become their excuse. Then there those who just run out without prepping for their meetings, with a first draft of a script, or the first pass on a film (this is the twig covered hole) and only feed the void with the on going rejections.

Time is for intelligent thought out action. It is a mathematical formula that surrounds all of our lives and endeavors. Applying it to our hopes, dreams and more importantly actions. What if you knew for a fact this was your only life, that there was no afterlife. How would you treat your time, your dreams and hopes? Your passion would hopefully become the important part in your life.

Appetite is the void. I need this. I need this hour, this moment. What if you needed your success and you found joy in your dream and the efforts to make the dream happen. If you are not finding joy in your dream, maybe its not what you are looking for. I am not talking about the moments of frustration or self-doubt. I am talking about in the moment of when you are doing them.

Cropped Jim CIMG1444Have you ever met a writer who hates writing? Probably will not be successful. Athletes enjoy the pain of training. Professional athletes train a lot. Be a professional. Acknowledge the void; try to feed it as little as possible. Enjoy the good and the bad moments of your dream. Let the bad moments drive you to moments of success.

If at all possible avoid people who will push you into the void or worse encourage you to walk into the void yourself. The successful writers I know, and some of them have had major films, get up every day and write. Just as an athlete will train or exercise daily. This advice works at every level for every creative or action motivator in a project.

To put it simply, those who work for their dreams and work daily are more likely to achieve their dreams. Don’t feed or be feed to the void.

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Hope and the Power of the Dream

Hope and the Power of the Dream

James Duval profile picturesI am not certain this blog will win me friends or not. When you talk about what motivates people you almost have to treat it like a discussion on religion. In some cases it has almost become a religion. How people feel has become from my experience more important than what they do. When this is applied to a life long dream, well how do you know it won’t happen? I can’t predict the future. I can barely predict the present.

I have been involved in hundreds of conversations on how to make it in whatever endeavor people choose. I have met many people who have succeeded. I have noticed a difference between those who try and those who actually accomplish. It falls down to an understanding of how to keep one word in perspective, hope.

Now I am not saying I have accomplished anything. That I believe is for others to judge. On this topic I am speaking only as a person who has observed. When I think of hope I think of in two ways. The most common way is a fear or hope of consequences. Kid wakes up, remembers he had a report do, and then prays with all his hope that the teacher does not ask for it. Sometimes happens. I had a few unexpected extensions. But reality usually was it was due and I did not have it. That is common hope. Then there is hope where you have done everything you can and you place the rest into the hands of the universe and you hope it turns out the way you want it. That is hope where you understood the obligation of your own effort and acceptance of our own human condition.

How does this apply to film, being an actor or accomplishing anything in the film industry? The people I know who have succeeded by my definition, have a few things in common. The first thing is forward motion. Every day, almost every moment they are focus on moving forward. They will get up and write, even if it is bad, They will go to any audition no matter how small or presumably unimportant, they will go out with the intention of meeting someone to finance their film. Even if it is just the slightest part of an inch they are always pushing forward.

The second thing that is in common is acceptance of responsibility for their own success. I have heard at least a 1000 times how someone’s agent or manager is not doing anything for them. I have done that myself. Okay logic question: This is easier for actors:

You have an agent. You have not succeeded yet. So what level of agent do you have? Probably not one that will make it happen for you. On the other hand, if you are responsible for your own success then the agent probably can help you help yourself. Why? The agent is also trying to make it also. This is the reality at the beginning— beginning is, are you successful yet? No? Then you are still at the beginning. Success is a partnership waiting to happen. Now reality dictates that not all partnerships are good. That is understood.

Consequences are a mathematical approach to thinking. If the cow its grass it makes milk. If it does not make milk it becomes hamburger. (sorry for the visual) Hamburger is not what you want to be. You want to be part of a process that leads you to your goal.

In filmmaking it is the understanding that the film comes first, the acting comes first and that constant motion is necessary. If you are treating the process like math and you just keep doing it you will find some measure of success. Success leads to more success. Hoping that you will be a great actor or director, but spending your time not doing things related to actually succeeding in your dream gives you no choice but to hope.

Movement gives you an understanding that you will win and accomplish your life goal. It may not come in the form you want, or even expected. But when you find it, you know it. Making you dream the result of consequences in my opinion is a more likely path to success.

Part of our problem is the word consequences. For many people the word has a bad connotation. For me it is the result of an equation. If you want a different outcome you change the elements in the equation. If you do this you don’t need hope so much. You have understanding.

Decisions are hard. We always want to hedge a bit on them. Just in case we are wrong. The what if I fail fear kicks in. What will people think? When I began this journey with my friends I used to point out that lots of people die before they get to the mountaintop. For me the journey was the justification for the risk. Dying while climbing a mountain is better than standing and only staring at it your whole life. Film is a mountain; if you climb you have a better chance at getting to the top than if you just wish.

The other part of taking the consequences approach is most people around you will not understand, even if they are giving lip service to the same dream you have. When you make it many of them will make up a little lie to justify in their minds how you did it and they did not. The thought of the consequences of their decisions is beyond their ability to accept. You must have had a “special” friend or just got lucky. Success is rarely luck. It is almost always motion. You can walk into success. You can run, crawl and even fall into success. But rarely can you stand into success.

I have chosen to live my dream and to always push forward. As such even against difficult odds, I have manage to make some movies and even get them out. I have found myself to be part of a wonderful team of human beings, Continuum Motion Pictures. I have found myself surrounded by people who want and are willing to move forward with their dreams.

James Duval

Surviving as a Director and Where Do You Go

With the Killers Mask from Cider Springs Slaughter

With the Killers Mask from Cider Springs Slaughter

As a kid I remember dreaming of being on the set. The actions inside my head took place in dolly moves and crane shots. I did not grow up to be a director. I did grow up with a love for film and those who make them. I also feel I have gained a little bit of an understanding o what makes filmmakers tick.

Making a movie is always a mixed bag of emotions and agendas. Directors pin their hopes on a film and what it might do for them. Good directors usually can manage both and keep their focus on the film itself.

Continuum Motion Pictures The Team

Continuum Motion Pictures

It’s the agenda I want to focus on. I am making a basic assumption here, that the director wishes to make another film, make a bigger film and hopefully someday have a shot at making the big films.

I will share with you a bit of history I know. I have a friend who has directed a couple of big movies. He even went number 1 in the box office twice. His secret before he got to direct his first almost major film, he had directed probably a good 15 to 20 short films. With the digital world being what it is and the fact that all the filmmaking tools are now in the hands of almost anyone who wants to make a movie. Make movies. Make a lot of them. Set some rules so that if one of them gets attention it can go some where. Rules as I mentioned before about music and logos. Be working every chance you get.

The Worst Movie Ever and it is seen every where.

The Worst Movie Ever and it is seen every where.

I have had the chance to talk to many filmmakers around the world. Those that set their minds to it and take action make movies. Not always the best movies but they make them.  That has been our approach. Stay in production. Along the way you meet others that want to make movies as well. Work with them. Build a team.

The failure is rarely in the production values or technique, people just want to hear and see a good story. Take a moment on your stories. Work on a couple of ideas at the same time. Try and work with many writers or people who are trying to be writers. The number of drafts is what is important on a script. By definition a first draft no matter how good it is, is bad. Work out the stories so they make sense. And if you are making a movie that does not make sense intentionally embrace it and people will notice.

To quote World War Z when Brad Pitts character is talking to the Latino family: Those that keep moving live, those that stay die. There is truth to that in filmmaking. Keep moving and keep filming.

What Kinds of Film Should You Make

James Duval on Mano a Mano

James Duval on Mano a Mano

I always hear that you should do a horror film. I have often given this advice myself. I still think it is good advice but the world is changing. With the rise of the little to medium platforms and the requirements of nearly every film doing a multi-platform release. That advice may actually no longer be as accurate as it was in the past.

I think much of what is right really depends on what your personal agenda is – Now all of this is assuming you have already made at least one. Your first film need only serve the purpose of being a first film. The only advice I would give on a first film is how long should it be. Don’t be in the situation where you almost have a feature. If it is a short great, if it is a feature it has to be at least 70 minutes long. Also, if you think you do want a chance at getting it out into the world, do not include logos, copyrighted images, copyrighted music etc… in your film. If you do and you are doing it for artistic reasons, don’t expect anyone else to be able to get your film out.

Now you have made your first short or feature (remember 70 minutes minimum), you want to make another movie. I think it is now about where your heart is. There is making films for business reasons, and then there is making ones to show you are a director/write or producer. Both Business and the heart can now lead you to becoming a studio director. Passion will always lead you to making a better movie – assuming you know how to make a movie. If you do not know how it will lead you to getting through the process.

I know what I see when I view directors films and as a partner in Continuum Motion Pictures I review many films. I look for something that says this persons vision is special, he sees the world differently. Things like angles, effects and sadly even story can be fixed by bringing other people in. It is about that little quirk that exist in every great director discovered or undiscovered.

Continuum Motion Pictures Presents Zombies Vol. !

Continuum Motion Pictures Presents Zombies Vol. !

I love horror and science fiction films. It is my go to place. I think the genre allows for a lot of latitude and creativity. Dramas require a real understanding of the story as you are showing people the lives of other people and they have to be believable. I have seen very few well written dramas on the indie side of things. It is hard to fix it on the set with a drama. Additionally the actors need to be top notch. They have to transform. In horror and other action based genre’s much of the time your actors just need to react. Now when you do get a great horror film it is always acting plus story and great directing.

Coming of age films: Hmm love them most are really bad. Why? The person who is telling them rarely has come of age. I almost think you need to be over 35 to even have a chance to make one of those work from scratch. Though I have seen exceptions. And in those cases the directors and the writers have been over 40 in their hearts. What ever you do in this genre, do not be cliche and that is hard.

Your personal story: Probably not interesting. I don’t even think mine is and I am over 50 years old. Lots of people think their lives would make a great story. Yes if you fictionalize it. Some of the best bio-pics have very fictional moments to capture the essence of someones life. Also very few people can truly hide their personal story in a fiction environment.

I was once told that nearly everyones first films were about their sexuality or their politics. I have found this to be consistently true. It is probably best to avoid both and explore the world as an astronomer explores the night sky. There is so much out there why would you want to stare a the ground. Have fun with life and its possibilities.

Now Shock and Awe: After the 60s and early 70s it becomes a little hard to shock. Oh you can gore it up and their are many people who love that. You can surprise people by putting someone in a shocking position and it can work. But it only works if the story is solid. Gross out is easy at every level. Put your efforts into a solid story.

These are just my opinions of course. Let no one dissuade you from the film you want to make. Sometimes it really is this is the only film you could make. It is always better to be making a movie than not. The suggestions I am making are if you actually have a choice. Shoot within your resources and never apologize for that. If all you have is one room, hell make it the best one room film you can. I have seen some. It can work.

Next, keep track of reality. If it is your first or even second film, well it is only your first or second film. Just keep working to get better. Watch great films, it will help. And most important BELIEVE.

James Duval

2014 And Going Strong

I personally had the chance to spend the beginning of 2014 with my family. This was a rare event for me. I am usually spending most of my time here in California working either to get a film made or to get a film out. Lately I have been spending much of my time with social media. Why well it is the age of meanness to some degree. People read something online and well it must be true. It has become such and issue that I believe it was an ATT commercial that talked about some girl believing her date was French because she read it on the internet. With the lack of honesty in advertising or action these days any company has to prepare for the inevitable bad info on the net. I try not to focus on this too much instead focus on positive things. Like my family and the success of my two sons. The success of our company Continuum Motion Pictures, but at times it just is honestly hard.

I can say this. Filmmaking like high school has its good moments and its bad. It has its bullies as well as the kids who stand up for the other kids. And it has it gossip, and the internet gives free reign for people to believe lies and half truths.

So here is a statement: I love making movies. I love helping others make movies and honestly I am pretty good at it. I love getting movies out and we are definitely good at that and getting better. I am fortunate, the intelligent and the professional seem to recognize this.

At times like many of you I do get depressed working with people or sometimes against the efforts of not nice people, but it keeps it clear to me, to quote a wonderful teacher and mentor in my life Bonnie Gartshore “Cowards destroy and you don’t strike me as a coward.” I see a lot of bravery in filmmakers trying to do the impossible. I rarely see cowards. I hope I never become one.

Make your movies and make your dreams happen. No one can stop you no matter your past or what people may assume is your past. Your friends will stick by you and if not, well we all know what that means, they were not your friends. When you succeed there will be those who talk about “how you got there” and why they have not and then there will be those that simply respect you. Be good to yourselves and most important be kind and gentle with yourselves. There is quite a bit of love out there, plug into it and BELIEVE

James Duval

What to Do on the Bad Days

James Duval

We all have bad days that seem to wipe out our momentum. I wish I could say they can be avoided. They can’t. Well, at least, that is my own personal experience. I do think, though, that the aftermath of a bad day can be avoided. That is where you spend days telling yourself, “if only I could stay positive, then I would be further along than I am” and all the kicking yourself that goes along with that.

On my journey I have had bad days, bad weeks and even a few bad years. At one point in the middle of a spat of a few bad months is when Continuum Motion Pictures received the call that gave it the opportunity to have offices on the Paramount Studio lot. On another occasion during a period of over-all badness is when we suddenly went into production on one of our best films.

I personally don’t think you should worry about whether you are having a bad day or not. I have seen many actors give bad auditions because they are having a bad day. I have seen whole teams of people give up on films and their dreams because they were going through a bad time. I have seen composers let their lives get in the way of opportunity. And I am certain that you have seen all of this and more in your own life and the lives of your friends who have left the journey of their dreams.

Jason Durdon and Danny Torres at Paramount 2012 when Continuum had offices there.

Jason Durdon and Danny Torres at Paramount 2012 when Continuum had offices there.

Now the promise of the premise, “What to do on a bad day”? My answer will not make sense to some; to others it will be obvious. Enjoy it. That does not mean relish in it and pass it on. There is never an excuse for passing it on to other people. They do not deserve it. Enjoy it means notice it, watch it unfurl, but give it no power. Be professional and give the task you are doing the positive energy that it needs. Don’t worry about the day, but worry about the task at hand. The day will handle itself. If you are having a bad month, year or even life, and trust me – I have been there on the “life” part – it is not important. Focus on the the journey. If you are an actor, act; if you are a writer, write; and if you are a director or producer, simply barrel down on your project.

If someone else is having a bad day, it is okay to give them fifteen minutes or more if you have the time. But when you walk away, turn your thoughts to your projects. Don’t let the energy slip into you.
Chaos has to to find a home, if you don’t give it one with yourself.

I realize this all simplistic. But imagine if you are a farmer in the 1800s and you wake up – and heaven forbid – your wife has passed away in her sleep. (Horrible example, I know.) You still have to milk the cows, feed the chickens, and most likely the fourteen children you have. Then you get to grieve and handle the issue of the tragedy. We live in an age where we are supposed to pay attention to our feelings and the feelings of others. That is a good thing. But we give so much energy to how we feel, that it often stops us from doing what we need to do. People seem to need to feel if something is the right direction or not. Success is based on decisions. Now, these decisions can factor in intuition but feelings are not necessarily intuition. Intuition is a thought in the back of your head, or a “gut feeling”.

The other side of things is how we want people to feel about ourselves. I sometimes get caught up in this, especially due to the fact that people in film are not always the most mature and it feels like perpetual high school at times. The reality is this: we are very seldom made successful by how people feel about us. We are made successful by delivering. Can you ultimately deliver even if you are having a bad day or week?

People can hate you, but if you deliver the role and are not too difficult too work with, it really does not matter how people feel. Now note again: if you give people a reason to feel badly towards you, well, you might be passing on your bad days, and that has consequences.

James Duval in Alaska with family age 9

James Duval in Alaska with family age 9

Now, a disclaimer: Sometimes a bad day is an on-going battle with a real mental illness called depression. We all have an obligation to be aware of each other as human beings and to acknowledge medical conditions visible or not visible. That is the other side of the “bad day” coin. I am not certain how others need to actually deal with it, but I try to at least be aware of it and not let it affect how I see or feel about a person. Depression runs in my own family and even I suffer from it at times. I have worked with people who suffer from depression and PTSD. I take a deep breath and try not to personalize the conversation, and focus on the shared goal. If you keep the goal in the forefront of your mind, you can even move through your own depression when you have too.

Bad days are not necessarily the fault of anyone. There are many factors involved for ourselves and others. I feel I can best sum it up this way: give yourself the benefit of the doubt. You may just be brilliant and you may even accomplish your goal. To do this, you just have to keep moving in the direction that you set your sight upon. It does not matter if today you move an inch or if you move a mile – you just have to move.

Enduring to the End and Making Your Dream Happen

With the Killers Mask from Cider Springs Slaughter

James Duval with the Killers Mask from Cider Springs Slaughter a Continuum Motion Pictures horror film

I have been doing this many years now and in all honesty it has taken me longer to get to where I am. I do not know if where I am is actually very important in life terms. I do know that I can look back and recall every decision that has brought me to the point that a company I helped start has accomplished and is accomplishing things. We have made some movies, we have help get many filmmakers films out and are continuing to do so. I think i can give credit in particular to one decision. I am responsible for my dream. 

Like many of you I have chosen to be a filmmaker. I have had a similar journey to many people I have spoken to. There really has not been any thing special about my journey. I have simply chosen never to stop off the path of that journey no matter what. I have spoken recently to a few filmmakers who have consider giving up. I have hear the term that this business is “bullshit” or “nothing is ever real”. I can’t say I have had that experience as I think we have tendency to over generalize  what is occurring to us. If we give our displeasure a vague label, then there is nothing ever to solve, and we are always right in our failure. I like specifics. The hardest part of the journey has not actually been in getting funding for a film, or writing that winning script, or even production. It has always been people. As I continued my dialogue with the filmmakers wanting to quit, I found that when I pushed, there difficulty was the same. The difference is they were letting their experience with people stop them, while I think I can say honestly we have tried to learn from our experience and in the end choose to work with better people. 

Others should not have the power to push you from your dream, no matter what they say or do. Oh and they will say much, spin little truths in big lies and stand their in their spot light thinking they have done an amazing thing in hurting you. All I can say is you must be very important for someone to dedicate their time to hurt you or stop you. If you are that important you are probably close to success. So I have learned to smile and take the most difficult thing in the business — the people  and smile. 

Choose who you surround yourself carefully and know that you will have to deal with people who turn out to be as my son would say butt heads. Don’t let them dissuade you from your dream. YOU are important and what you are doing will turn out amazing, if you simply do not give up.

The company I helped co-found Continuum Motion Pictures is doing fun things. We hope to be able top share in the fun. Believe in your journey.

James Duval