CALLED UP | My First Short Film

Hi, everyone!

It’s been a long time coming, but I’m excited to announce that my first short film, “CALLED UP”, is finally out! I directed and produced this project, along with co-writing the script. A lot of work was put into this, and it’s been a very fun process, despite any difficulties that many have come along the way. I feel a weight lifted. I’m normally incredibly self-critical, and I personally know what could have been done better in the result or in the process, now, but I’m just grateful and proud of our work. I’m just glad the result of all of our time and efforts can finally be seen.

This story, this production, these people that helped me bring this to life–they all mean a lot to me. A special shoutout to Andro Salazar, who’s a familiar face in 4381 and stars in this film as Aurelio.

“CALLED UP”–After the passing of their best friend Aurelio, two friends play one last game with him at their favorite baseball field.

A story about joy, coming of age, and moving forward.

I hope you enjoy this piece.

Desert Hearts and Visibility

“My only clear memory is arriving. The rest is a blur. An absolute blur.”

It’s 1985: The push for gay rights feels stagnant. Aids is still “the gay plague,” ignored by the Reagan administration and taken seriously only in pockets of the U.S.. Slurs are commonplace, sexual education is limited, and, needless to say, it’s a difficult time to come out. It’s in this year that Desert Hearts (dir. Donna Deitch, 1985) is released – a criminally underseen American romance that deserves recognition for its craft, performances, tenderness, and defiance during a time of immense, sweeping homophobia.

The backdrop is Reno, Nevada, circa 1959: moments of silence on a dusty railroad are taken over by the distant squealing of tracks. A train saunters into the frame, crawling to a stop. Vivian (played by Helen Shaver) carefully steps off to see Frances (Audra Lindley), an older woman with a Southern charm, despite living in the Northwest. She’s arrived here to establish residency – after six weeks, this move will make her divorce swift. The distance, in theory, makes it less painful.

They set off in a truck to Frances’ guest ranch, where Vivian is staying before she finalizes the split. On the ride there, a dot forms on the desert horizon further down the road: a car speeds down the opposite side of the highway and jolts at their side, switching to reverse. Cay (Patricia Charbonneau) drives alongside them, backwards, shouting niceties at Frances and taking a welcome note of Vivian.

Vivian’s presentation and personality are a stark contrast to her new surroundings. She’s an English professor from the New York North her demeanor is suited, her attitude tact and proper. Straight-laced and decidedly straight. Throughout her time on the ranch, she doesn’t shy away from letting the emotional weight of her marital affairs be known. Still, she refuses to be vulnerable.

On the other hand, Cay wears her heart on her sleeve; she projects herself the way she likes, sleeps with whoever she wants (men, women, and swingers alike), and says what she means. She recognizes the loneliness in Vivian and becomes fixated on the idea of seducing her. The relationship between the two blossoms as they grow closer together, through cracked smiles and whip-smart dialogue (“I won’t take off my robe.” Well, we all have to draw the line somewhere.“)

The chemistry on display here is intoxicating. Whenever Vivian lets go and loses herself in Cay, it’s mind-melting. It’s like the film freezes and they’re each left entirely aloneindividualized, seen through each other. It’s so cathartic that it feels like voyeurism.

This becomes the place – in each other’s arms, away from their surroundings (though Cay would be much more content if they acted outwardly and held it on their sleeves). The two continue to meet. Frances inevitably catches wind of their relationship: “You people,” “sinning,” and “never understand it” are thrown around willingly, and Vivian’s time on the ranch, along with her relationship to Cay, is put in jeopardy. Cue the rest of the film.

While watching, it becomes apparent that there isn’t much support in their surroundings. The men are a negative presence entirely. Every man we encounter feels like an obstacle – the closest we get to a positive contribution is one half of a couple that Cay has sex with, who, bare minimum, genuinely listens to what the two have to say after asking about their lives. Otherwise, they leer, judge, and treat the two like objects. None have good intent in their interactions; they all assume that they exist for them.

Later on in the film, Vivian walks up to a gambling table at the casino where Cay works. Immediately, she’s pulled in by a wealthy, stump-nosed man who wants to “teach her the game.” She wins; he tries to congratulate her with a kiss. Cay, while tending the slot machines, is grabbed at, touched, and catcalled. At home, Vivian is pursued unconsentingly in her own room by Frances’ son. The family she stays with is judgmental and openly critical. Support is only found in smaller spaces from other women.

In the Casino locker rooms, Cay and her best friend Silver (Andra Akers) recount the long work days and make a point to check in with each other. Solace, still, is limited – the two work under the thumb of a male manager who constantly ogles his femme coworkers and continuously pursues Cay. Wherever they go, they’re bothered. Their existence and expectations are held to heteronormativity. Their only escape is in private. The relationship that forms between Vivian and Cay feels genuinely defiant and sacred.

This is an intimate story of love painted across rolling, dusty hills and pink sunsets, driven by a need for self-discovery. A film emblematic of both its time and now, Desert Hearts showcases the difficulty of projecting oneself openly  and acting as you are in a heteronormative environment. The complexity and tenderness of its characters are served graciously through the film’s meditative pace and the curated words that Cay and Vivian share with one another. It’s bonkers how well everything works together and how such complexity is found in something that, on paper, is straightforward.

The context of its release as an explicitly queer narrative emboldens what is already a fantastic film. Desert Hearts is a dream worth your time – and if the rawness of its romance isn’t enough, the smiles, timelessness, and sparse Nevadian scenery absolutely will be.

(Available on the Criterion Channel)

Writer’s Block

An empty word document with that flickering bar highlighting your continual lack of establishment. Everyone has experienced this feeling at one time or another when putting thoughts to paper, that moment of blankness and solitude. This duration of thought collection, followed by the inability to formulate ones thoughts into a verbal set of words to record. The hardest step of any writing project is putting these initial thoughts down, as once anything has been established there is at least a continual reference point that can be utilized freely. My advice for any writer is a technique I’ve slowly conformed myself to doing regularly; keep a journal or a notebook. Take notes of your thoughts and ideas as they sporadically come to mind, then utilize them as reference points to create your starting point. This can help you to skip that blank page stage, and continue evolving your work forward. I refer to my multitudes of pages of notes and ideas as I finally begin writing my new script, continuing past that flicking bar.

There’s A City In My Mind

Hello 4381 Productions,

If you have been following my blogs on here, or if you have just been within the vicinity of me within the past year, you have probably heard about my thesis entitled The Road to Nowhere. It is bittersweet to say that this project is finally coming to a close. I have my thesis defense in front of my committee tomorrow morning and while I am definitely nervous, I am also really excited to talk about this passion project extensively.

This thesis has been truly an introspective project. While I initially reflected myself in the story, this project has been reflected back onto me. It has shaped the way I identity myself as a writer, as an artist, and as a person in this crazy world. As much as the pandemic and circumstances have changed and morphed my original plans for the project, I really wouldn’t have this any other way. Let’s just hope my committee agrees.

I also want to say a quick thank you to everyone at 4381 Productions, from KRH to my peers and colleagues. I know you guys have been hearing me go on and on about this for the better part of a year so I thank you for your support.

“ I’m feeling okay this morning, and you know,
We’re on a road to Paradise, Here we go, here we go…
There’s a city in mind, come along and take that ride…
And it’s very far away, But it’s growing day by day…
Would you like to come along, you can help me sing the song…
They can tell you what to do, But they’ll make a fool of you,
And it’s alright, baby, it all right ”Road to Nowhere, Talking Heads

Screenshot from a virtual table read of my thesis screenplay, featuring actors and directors from Honors College Club Theater

Laundry makes me feel like my life is together

I’m not sure why, but I always have liked asking people what their favorite chore was when I was growing up. I did not receive an allowance, because my parents believed since I lived in the house I should do my part by keeping up with household chores. My sister and I did not have a ton of chores, but just basic tasks, such as keeping our rooms/bathroom clean and picking up after ourselves. When we became a little older we started doing things such as vacuuming, laundry, washing/putting away dishes, etc. My absolute least favorite chore is dishes, whether they are my own or someone else’s, I find something gross about it. I still do them, because it needs to be done, but I don’t like it.

So when I asked about someone’s favorite chore, a lot of people would respond with, “Anything but laundry”. I never understood why, because all you do is dump your clothes into the washing machine and walk away until it’s time for them to go in the dryer. I always thought it was the kind of chore that you could leave and go get something else done while you’re waiting. I do have to say though, hanging up clothes is something I’ve always complained about. Growing up, I would leave a stack of clean clothes on my dresser for days because I did not want to hang them up. Mainly because most of my clothes I hang up and I have a minimum amount that go in drawers.

Anytime I have a cleaning spree, which is usually 2 times a week, I always feel better after doing laundry. I have always been a tidy person since I was young, and to this day I cannot sit down and start homework without a clean workspace. It won’t even be clutter around my desk where I am working, but just any clutter in my room overall. It is rare that my room is messy, but occasionally can be a little cluttered if I have a busy week, and then by Friday I clean it all up at once. I try and clean up as I go though throughout the week.

Cleaning is definitely a therapeutic task for me and if I really have time, I do a deep clean where I go through every drawer, container, box, etc. I do this to get my mind off things, especially when I feel like my life is a mess. It gives me a sense of control over something and at times I need that because it brings comfort to be in the known of my life. However, I know the unknown is frightening, but you will never know what your future has in store for you until you step out of your comfort zone.

On Full Moons and Falling Back in Love

This spring break, the last one of my undergraduate career, was my first true mental break in over a year. Last spring break was heavy with the world shutting down and an awful sinus infection finding a way to destroy the last bit of emotional stability that I had, summer brought a social uprising and taking four summer classes (you know the ones when they push twelve-weeks of curriculum into much less? Yeah, those). Fall threw me, I felt like myself again, but I found myself writing my first feature film and getting very oddly specific recommendations when my algorithms took my writing research as a serious interest in the history of one particular mental institution in Dallas. I even spent my winter break working on that same script, tirelessly trying to meet a writing deadline while teaching myself more and more about character development, motivations, and hounding myself about walking the fine line of staying true to the story and trying to not let any of my internalized socialization too heavily impact the way the script turns. Finally, this spring break, I got the chance to breathe. But, I got caught up in my own habits.

There’s this thing about loving to write. Sometimes an emptiness will creep up, and it’s only then that you’re reminded that you have to purge words in order to feel like yourself. It is so much a part of me, that during the first moments of freedom in a long while, I found myself at 2 am curled up in bed, surrounded by spiral notebooks and old, scattered notes, starting a new script under the light of reruns of The Nanny.

It’s not like I ever fell out of love with writing. I’ve thrown myself into it since my fifth-grade teacher did a unit on poetry and we spent days flipping through the thesauruses and dictionaries. Of course, growing up changes things. There are essays that we’d rather not write, annotated bibliographies in classes that we’ll forget we took. All of it compiled, chasing the next stroke of brilliance can force you into an unintended mundane.

This time, the pacing changed. Especially in comparison to the work produced from the long year that seemed to have no end, the beauty of potential in new characters, new destinies, new wants, and needs was exciting, not rushed, not stressed. This is what I see as the Honeymoon period. It’s flirtatious, it’s boundless. (It isn’t my absolute favorite phase of writing, I’m a Capricorn Venus. If you know, you know.) But working on this new project, a drama about the inevitability of family ties and repeating generational mistakes, as well as doing edits on the short (that my highly neurotic self surprisingly wrote in two days), Beauty Will Save the World, have put me into the mindset of aligning my energy with that of the impending full moon.

The full moon in Libra this Sunday can mean a lot of things depending on anyone’s natal chart placements, but overall, Libra is a fascinating sign for creatives to come into contact with. Its ruler of the planet Venus, Aphrodite for Greek Mythology stans, is simply beautiful, charming, loveable, and open to the potential of romance. On its other side, is indecision, vanity, and melodrama. I know I can’t be the only person who finds myself embodying those traits to some extent. But there is justice for us creatives. It’s all about fair decisions. The symbol is literally a balanced scale.

This is all to say that this weekend, I have a challenge for you. Fall back in love with creating. Remind yourself of the details, in the way you’d remember the face of a lover, bit by bit. Make a list. Jot down your favorite words. Draw something. Paint something. Go reread your favorite poetry. Play.

I’m adding my full moon playlist if you want something to listen to as you stare at the moon this weekend, just as I’ll be doing. If we unknowingly do it at the same time, it’s kind of romantic.

https://music.apple.com/us/playlist/full-moon/pl.u-4JomGllCJjA4JR

 

What IF

I don’t know who knows this story. But last Saturday (3/19/2021) , me and two other friends – Suri and Johnny, were having lunch and having a good time at the Food Court in Galleria Mall.
We just thought that having fun and enjoying going to the stores was just like a regular weekend.

While we were eating and chatting, gossiping. Suri sat in front of me and she saw a lot of people running down from the balcony, all over places to the exits. She was telling us “What the heck is happening?”I looked back and saw like “OMFG are we having a terrorism or active shooting, or even bombing in the mall right now?!”. Suri said, Shit! RUNNNN!! RUNNN!”. We started to run immediately and left the food there without hesitations.

I ran first and led the way for my friends but while I ran I looked back to check my friends with me or not. Unfortunately, actually Suri and I lost Johnny in the crown. We were very panicked and waited for a bit. However, everyone was trying to run out of the mall as soon as possible with their friends and family. It was a chaos, people stepped on people and tried to get out of there. Suri and I didn’t have a chance to see Johnny, and we told each other to just run out the doors first to hide and wait.

We hid behind the cars but still scared that what if it was a bombing, the whole building would be collapsed. We waited for like 5 minutes but had not seen Johnny walk out. Suri was suffocated, shaking and crying. I was so scared that she would faint at the same time and still looked for Johnny. We tried to call him, but there was no service, still keep calling him until he picks the phone. Like 5 more minutes later, he picked the phone and said he was on the other side of us. We got him, and we ran out of the building.

Maybe some people think this was just a false alarm about shooting or bombing and laugh. But put yourself in our situation you would feel how we felt. There was a family trying to hide. His son (about 10 year olds) was numb and frozen; his wife was shaking and panicking. I dont even want to think if that was an active shooting or bombing. I have never ever faced with this terrible scenario and never wish to be in that again!. 

Thus, now I can tell how unlucky people feel when they have to face these horrible scenarios. Luckily, it was not an active shooting or bombing. Everyone safe!

Here is the link that someone recorded:

https://twitter.com/TheInsiderPaper/status/1373398028523077642?s=20

Vacation to Mystic Falls (Covington, GA)

When I was 18 and my sister was 14 we wanted to go to New York for Spring Break; just the two of us. My parents said absolutely not and at the time of course we complained because I said I was “an adult” and could handle going out of state on a trip without them. Thinking back now, I’m glad they were not those parents that would have made that a “learn the hard way” kind of situation. We definitely would have ended up in China or been kidnapped.

Now, being 23 and my sister 19, our parents let us go on a trip. It wasn’t as far away as New York, but they were still checking in on us while we were away. That being said, they let us go, so that’s all that mattered. We only went for 2 nights, because we had one purpose for going there. This was to visit all the locations of where our favorite tv show was filmed, The Vampire Diaries. My parents did not understand the point of flying somewhere to take a picture on a bridge or in a field of grass was, but they didn’t question it.

I thought it was a waste of money to rent a car, but after adding up how much I spent on uber rides, I should have gone with the car. We flew into Atlanta, but stayed in Covington, which was a 40 minute ride from the airport. Once we got to the hotel we wanted to nap, because out flight was at 7am, so we had to leave our house at 4:30. However, as tired as we were, we did not have much time, so we had to make the most of our visit. We also packed summer outfits, such as shorts, sleeveless shirts and did not account for the fact that the weather said it would be 45 both days we were there and raining. That’s what a spontaneous, last minute, unplanned vacation is all about though, right? Not looking at things like that..? Anyways, we had a good time despite all the mishaps; that is what I feel makes a vacation fun to look back on.

Some things I learned in Georgia:

  1. People are way nicer about pedestrians. I actually started to take a little bit of advantage of their niceness, until my sister told me not to or we would get ran over. A car would be going a full 60 mph and see us waiting to cross and come to a stop, no stop sign, and wave for us to run across. Even if there was a stop sign, it was always a “you go ahead!”. Which I believe is super nice, because whether it is your turn or not in Houston, good luck not getting flattened.
  2. Next, their stop signs are embedded into the concrete, like actually on the road. I’m not sure if this is to ensure people do not miss a stop sign or what, but I found it effective and it seemed like a good idea.
  3. The cars only have liscense plates on the back. I do not know the reasoning for this either, but when our Ubers would come I would always have to go around to the back to check that it was the right car.
  4. There are NO bugs outside. I mean there probably are, but I did not see one. Not near the flowers, not near me, not buzzing around while people were eating outside. I’m not sure if the cold and rain drove them all away, but I found it nice to not have mosquitos or bees around me when walking around or eating food.
  5. There is a difference between Texas southern people and Georgia southern people. This is probably a given, but I can tell the difference between when I say I live in the south and then if someone in Georgia says they live in the south. The Georgia southern style is very old fashioned, with beautiful antebellum plantation homes. I also see the difference in Georgia southern accents versus a Texas southern accent.
  6. Also, everyone seemed to be very kind. I heard this is also relevant to Canadian people, so someone back me up if you have been there. No one was in a rush and it had this quiet sound to the area, maybe because we were in a small town, but it was peaceful to walk around. One lady was walking her dog in the neighborhood when we were taking photos and she said hello to my sister and I and asked how we were. It was not the “hello, how are you” though where you say it but keep walking in the opposite direction because you either don’t really care about their answer or don’t have time to go in depth so you just answer with, “good”. It was more of a genuine how are you and she stopped and we talked for a good 45 seconds and continued on our way.

Continuing about the trip, this was the most I’ve walked around outside since last year. Which sounds depressing, and my excuse would be “I’m busy with work and school”, which is lame, but also covid really put me in a bad spot and I did not have the energy to get out of my house. Even though everything was shut down, walking around, such as in your neighborhood, was one of the few things you could social distantly do. I did not do that though and I think this is the first time I have spent more than 10 minutes outside and not because I was going to my car or getting the mail.

I always think it is fun when you go on a trip for a reason, but then you end up getting more out of it for other reasons. While it was cool to go to the film locations, I also enjoyed walking around for 8 hours outside and enjoying the trees, the rain, flowers, people, and fresh air. It all comes back to what you forget about when you get too caught up in your daily activities. Sometimes I wish I had more time to enjoy simple things in life, but I probably just need to make more time in my life for it. I make time for everything else that I need to get done, so if something is important enough to you, make time for it in your life; whether that be a person or an activity.

Lastly, below are some photos that I made side by sides of, for those not familiar with the show, to show why we took a picture in front of a bridge or in a grassy field. Which the best part of this was, calling an uber to drive us during a rainstorm to a field of grass and him watching us set our phone against a tree while we posed looking out at the highway. Or when another uber driver took us to the bridge which is now a popular bypass apparently and not a random bridge in the middle of no where, like it was 12 years ago in the show, and us running in between herds of cars to take a photo on it. Good times.

 

My one other favorite thing was one of the shirts I’m wearing is one that a character wore in the show. It’s like when a tv show first releases and everyone is obsessed with the actors/actresses and what they wear or like because you just like their character.. that was me. Therefore, I had looked for some of the clothes, but I started watching the show back in 2016, (the show went from 2009-2017) so the clothes were pretty outdated and not sold anymore, but one girl was selling hers online and I was able to buy it.

 

                                                   

My sister’s last year as a teen

Today was my sister’s 19th birthday. It’s crazy to think this is her last year as a teenager. She always seemed so far apart in age from me, but soon she will be in her 20’s. Being the oldest, I never knew how much I could learn from her. The moment I became her big sister I learned what it felt like to care about someone more than myself. She taught me selflessness, or to laugh more at life and not take things so seriously. She made me realize that no matter how different we are, it’s not a bad thing. It’s what made us grow closer, by understanding each other in a new way. Who knew the person I’ve tried to be for her growing up, she would be the same for me.

Happy Birthday, to my sister, Sadie.

 

You ever find the perfect shell?

You ever go walking along the beach and see a perfect shell, but a wave is coming in? You know what I am describing, perfect shell, wave and you in your Sunday best? And you’re thinking, “that is a damn fine shell, but I’m standing here in a three piece suit” or maybe “a nice dress with a fine bonnet”.

But still the lure of the shell wins out?

Yeah, I know you know, happened to me the other day. I was wearing this tuxedo, tails, top hat, the works. I know you’re asking yourself where I got such a nice set of threads and truth be told, I conned a tailor out of them. I gave him some magic beans in exchange for this tux. He told me the material was imported and I said the beans were magic. Well, I was feeling bad about the trade since the beans weren’t any kind of magic. Then I checked the label and it turned out the tux wasn’t any kind of imported. So, I guess with both pulled a fast one. All of that is neither here nor there or even over to yonder.

What matters to this story is that I was wearing this tux, walking on the beach wearing this amazing pari of Lucchese sharkskin boots. Now the story on the boots and how I got ’em is a bit simpler to tell. I knew a guy with the boots and then he didn’t want them anymore on account of the boots were shark and they yearned for the sea. He gave em to me if I promised to take ’em to the beach every now and then. Well this was then and I had the boots out for a sandy stroll. Then I spot this shell, this prefect shell tumbling in the sand. I decide to throw caution to the wind and run after it. As caution caught a good breeze and floated into the sky, I dove for the shell and another wave washed over me, knocking me down. I had a good grip on the shell and tried to get it and myself above water, but something had a hold of the other side of the shel and it was pulling on me and pulling hard. I was heading out to sea and heading out fast. At some point I must have blacked out, but I had a death grip on that shell.

So I come to in this underwater magic kingdom. There’s seahorses swimming around with prawns riding on top of them and mermaids fanning me with kelp. Let me tell you, kelp does not make a good fan. I still got a grip on this shel and I slowly become aware of this tugging on the other end of the shell. There’s this big dude tugging and saying “leggo, leggo of the shell. It’s my shell. Gimme.”

So I wake up completely and say, “No. It’s my shell and you leggo.”

And then this guy pulls this crap, “I am Poseidon god of the oceans and this is my shell.”

I say, “I’m holding it and from where I’m sitting, it looks like my shell. Also, I thought the god of the sea was named Neptune.”

“I am known by many names. Neptune, Poseidon, Bangpūtys, Morskoi, Manannán Mac Lir, Yam, Ezili.”

“So, you got a lot of aliases. You don’t sound like a god. You sound like a straight up criminal. Also, wait, Ezili is a goddess not god.”

“Don’t judge. Just let go of my shell.”

“No. Make me.”

“Someone, fetch my trident.”

“You can go and get your trident and you know what happens when you do, you let go of my shell and it is mine. Possession is nine tenths of the law. You try to take the shell and I will sue your ass.”

“You surface dwellers are so selfish.”

“Surface dwellers, what the hell? You a Morlack and me an eloi? An Eloi wearing a tux? Can you be any stupider? Who do you think you are?”

“I AM THE GOD OF THE SEA!!!”

“You sound like a spoiled brat. I had the shell, it’s my shell and I’m not letting go. You aren’t letting go. No way to solve this.”

“Yes, there is, Ariel, get dad’s phone from the charger and call Sol.” One of the mermaids, the red headed one, swam off and came back shortly.

“He’ll be here in a couple of minutes.”

So, we sat for a couple of minutes, each holding our side of the shell. Then this guy come bopping in. Looks at the two of us and says, “Not again.”

So, Poseidon or Neptune or whatever the hell his real name is says his part of the deal and I say my part and then Sol thinks for awhile and says, “I know, we will cut the shell in half.”

“Solomon, that is always your solution and it never works.” That’s when I notice that most of the stuff down there was cut in half. Shells, barnacles, this IKEA dining table, an anchor, a limited edition Hell Boy figurine.

“It always works. Always. Always, always, always.”

“Guys. Guys. Guys!” They finally turned my direction.

“This just got really stupid. I have no idea why King Solomon is down here. That’s just a bit much for me to take. Plus the fact that you have so much crap cut in half shows that you are just a petulant child and you’d rather have stuff destroyed then admit you’re wrong. So, I’m just gonna go.”

“Pretty preachy all of a sudden.”

“Shut up, King Solomon.” I was getting tired of all of this.

“Sol’s right, you’re pretty preaching for a guy with no shoes.”

Then I looked down. My boots had swum away. 

So, I left the two of them high fiving and looking at the shell. Who high fives anymore?

Anyway, I bought a better shell at Neptune’s gift shop on the way out. I’ll miss those boots, but I’m sure they are happier now.