Presents Under the Tree

The holidays can be a hard time. I know that kind of runs counter to the whole “spirit of Joy” thing but I feel like a lot of us are faced with some of the trickiest emotional conundra of the year during this stretch of family gatherings. This isn’t an original thought by any means, and I’m not interested in any alarmist pop psychologist statistics about holiday trauma - I just want anybody reading this to know that I’m happy to meet you where you are, be it in the state of relaxation and joy which you so deserve, or in a more anxious or altogether stressful position. I’m here for you either way!

The film around which this blog is centred takes place on Christmas Eve. Fittingly, our kickstarter audience will get to see the film on that very night. The unintentional poetry of the timing of this brings me great holiday joy, but more to the point, I really hope that this film finds you where you are.

None of this is the hard-hitting deliverables news you were hoping for though, so here it is:

-We’ve submitted to ~14 film festivals, mixed between international big ticket events to very local programs

-The final sound mix and colour are locked and mastered

-The feature script is coming to its final drafts

-Kickstarter downloads went out today

As for the team, everybody is doing great. I’ve gotten to see just about everyone this holiday season and can report that they’re all up to really cool things:

-Adam’s latest is a docudrama on BBC iPlayer, find it here.

-Ben Hosking is developing his latest short Better Off. Follow him on socials for updates!

-Cinthia Chen moved to New York recently and is already crazy busy with theatre work! Her live cinema project is still in post.

-Leah McGurk just curated a TEDx event in London. Find the videos here!

-Delia just finished her first semester in college, where she’s been doing lots of plays!

-Ernie has been acting in some pretty killer commercials as well as continuing to develop educational doc projects

With this whole project progressing, I’ve had time to get to know the film really well. I’m pleased (and a little embarrassed) to say that having watched the masters quite recently, I really love it. I hope you will too.

<3 BHT

Updates and Updates

This French artist, Melik Ohanian, won the Duchamp award last year and there was an installation of his at the Pompidou which was all about time. He had photographs of Cesium during its state change, which is the method used to define the metric standard of the second. The literal second that is used as a base unit of time on every clock in the world, he photographed it’s measurement and then played with light so as to warp one’s perception of it. He was able to make physical the phenomena we all know well, that time seems to move quickly at points, and painfully slowly at others.

The past month has been one of those quick times, really quick like a gust of wind on a hot day that is gone before you know it. A friend of mine once told me to express gratitude rather than guilt in any situation in which I was not actively malevolent so suffice it to say, thank you, all of you, for your patience. I’m lucky enough to have been hired to work on a pretty cool documentary which has been in a hectic period of shooting, research, and production. That’s all I’ll say about it, but suffice it to say that things are calming down and I can provide some pretty cool updates on Off Season, where we are, and where we’re goinadag.

First of all, some great announcements.

Sam Slater is currently working on the music. He’s a great musician and you should listen to his stuff and we’re so stoked to have him doing original work for the film. We brought on Tessa Barlow to play a key character off screen and she ended up being critical to the whole movie. We’ve got Jeremy Eisener, our production sound recordist, doing the mix. He’s awesome.  Annie Lye, our BTS photographer and general unsung hero of the film, is doing graphic design and branding materials. She gets the voice of the film despite my having 0 lexicon for design, and it’s already looking great. All of these little things add up to a huge difference in how we finish the film and how the experience is to watch the thing. I’m so stoked to hear Sam’s music, and to see a final master of the film with proper sound and color. I’m stoked for you to see it too.

As for distribution/release, I had a great talk with our best boy electric and friend Tom Faison. Tom’s a great filmmaker and artist whose work you should all know and check out (currently working at the rad as hell Parkway theatre). He articulated well exactly why it was important to me to take this film to festivals, namely, we want to see it with other people! In the room! Cinema, for me, has always been this at its heart, watching something together on the big screen. So we’re gunning for a bunch of festivals, some you may have heard of, some you may not have, and we’re optimistic about our chances. We screened a preliminary cut of the film for a small test group in the end of May, and could not have been more pleased with the reactions. We’re aiming to have the film done and mastered by mid-August for submissions. Once we hear back from those festivals, we’ll have updates for you, but long term the film will be up online (depending on festival programming) after the 2018 circuit. If you’re a kickstarter backer and want to see it, fear not, because private screeners will be inbound to you as soon as they’re ready.

Second of all, I wanted to update you on what our crew have been up to since the film.

Adam Barnett, our DoP, has been signed to Wizzo and Co, a great new agency in the UK! Big ups to Adam. Check out his website where his new feature and promo work can be found. Having known Adam for a bit now, I can say he just keeps getting better.

Cinthia Chen, our production designer, just wrapped production design on a large-scale short film, a period piece, and is returning to Taiwan for a bit before moving to New York. Her live-cinema play about the late Asian-American film star Anna May Wong, is still in development after a sold out performance in the spring.

Benjamin Hosking, our producer, has a new website where you can find information about his latest short and docs. He has been working in production rolls around the Boston area as he preps a new short which should prove to be really cool.

Leah McGurk, producer, is currently producing a slew of new short films in London where she is based, as well as working part time at a movie theatre and curating a TED event at her university.

Delia Cunningham, our lead, just finished a series of readings with her New York-based theatre company G45 Productions, and continues to audition and participate in theatre, film, and TV projects. She’s working on one of the shorts Leah is producing in London this summer, and starting at Northwestern in the fall.

Ernest Anemone, our other lead, just wrapped a new short and continues to audition and work in the Boston area. He’s got a new agent (Andrew Wilson) which is also very exciting!

I’m so damn proud of all these guys and gals. Hire them all.

Third and finally, I just wanted to thank again everyone who has supported the film. It’s so encouraging to welcome you all to our team, whether you donated money to the kickstarter or liked us on Facebook or have kept up with these posts or told a friend about the film, it means the world. I don’t throw that phrase around lightly - for a couple of years of my life now, this film has been the better part of my world, and it’s been an honor and a pleasure to share it with all of you, to bring you on board and see people respond to it.

Alright. I can feel the Cesium liquefying. Will update you all more and more over the course of post.

<3 BHT

PS - Kickstarter backers, surveys went out today! ^_^

Magic, co-star of  Off Season, &nbsp;watches as G&amp;E sets up his beauty light. PC Annie Lye, always.

Magic, co-star of Off Season, watches as G&E sets up his beauty light. PC Annie Lye, always.

Marathons and Sprints

My Dad always used to make me PB&J - two whole sandwiches with a big glass of apple juice - every Sunday. In retrospect, I think this utter spoiling might have had something to do with the fact that this was the one day he would see me a week, and that he must have known even that wouldn't last as long as either of us wanted; nevertheless, I have to attribute the peanut-butter and jelly spoils to my Dad's underrated and over-reported folk-philosophy which he bestowed upon all of his kids in their own ways. He was a stoic in one sense, finding meditation in the works and labors of a life in construction and carpentry, while finding meaning in education and the cultivation of wisdom - at least, so he spoke. He insisted to all of his kids that you don't go to college to get a job, you go to get an education. Despite whatever the modest ups and significant downs in my relationship with him, this lesson rang in my ears. Still does.

Grief is a marathon, not a sprint. Off-Season producer Leah McGurk and I wandered through New York a few nights ago before her bus back to Toronto and mused on this, on how we had gotten through a year of grief. While I'll leave her story to her, and the rest of the team's to their own, suffice to say that by pure coincidence a significant portion of the team lost loved ones over the course of development and production of the film, and in many ways I think (and hope) we all found a little solace in this story, which in many ways lives and breathes in the realm of grief, denial, and loss. My Dad passed away a couple days after I got home from a year abroad in London, this past June. Almost a year ago now. I hadn't seen him in over nine months, and had spoken maybe half a dozen times with him while away. I had written an early draft of the feature length version of the film before I got back. When I returned to work after the funeral, my boss and a key patron of the project, Howard Woolf, asked me if I still wanted to make the film. I said emphatically yes, although I had very little intention or expectation that I could. The notion of making a film about the search for the proverbial missing parent felt wrong in the wake of this tragedy - don't speak ill of the dead and that. As I kept writing though, I started to realize that the film wasn't about my Dad but rather for him. For him to hopefully understand what the emotional state of life was like for my Mom and I in his absence, but more just to show him what I could do, what I could build, what this education he had so earnestly encouraged me to pursue was worth. I realized that it had always been an engine, that no film was going to repair or undo what I wanted to be different between us, but that by committing full-heartedly to this pursuit, I could exalt the best of what he had taught me, my favorite parts of our relationship. This, to my surprise, did not decay with his passing, but amplified.

My father was a builder, and a very good one, though he didn't start that way. A favorite story of his family and friends recalls my uncle, taking him on an early job, smashing up my Dad's first attempt at a counter-top molding, uttering one single phrase, "Do it again, and this time, do it right." This too rang in my ears as I was writing. I would read back in my empty apartment, delete whole drafts without back-ups. Do it again. Do it right. I don't know if this is reflected in the quality of the script or the film. I do know that the doing of it was the important part, for me. For him too, I know that meaning was found in the doing. Be it in the building of some lawn game or the fixing of a deck or the waterproofing of a basement, a life was found in the doing of things. When I got my first real job, working as a carpenter, he sent me a box full of old reliable tools. He had moved long since then, and I would see him on holidays, talk monthly. For a brief moment in our lives, we had something to talk about. The little petty ways a 2-inch drywall screw can save or ruin a frame. The infinite virtues of channel locks. The peace in a cup of lemonade and bag of pretzels in the truck home. It's a hack metaphor, but all creative endeavors resemble building in process. Careful planning, rigorous attention to detail, and the exhausting and satisfying process of hard labor. While I'm proud of the film, while I can't wait for you to see it, I have to again be clear here: the virtue is not in the final product. The product and its quality are incidental to the process, the doing. I learned this from my Dad. The film couldn't have been written without him.


As the team for Off-Season came together in preproduction, I had had half a year to deal with my grief, to learn to live with it as a new permanent addition to my life. Some things in the script needed explaining - I developed a little common reading, rife with poetry, prose, and little anecdotes from my own life to try to bring a crew with diverse backgrounds into a common language. We had actors from Brooklyn, a DP and producer from London, a production designer from LA via Taiwan, and half a dozen other localities. One thing that never needed explaining was the main character's emotional state. We all understood what it was to lose someone, either through empathy, subjective experience, or both. Despite the frankly massive levels of collective anxiety associated with trying to shoot a film of this scale in the budget we had, I believe we all understood, underneath it all, the sanctity of that emotional space. We had all been to funerals, some of us a few that year. We were all longing to find people who were lost, like Ellie does. I'll love the team of this film forever for that, for their silent and earnest and abiding empathy. 

After my father passed away, different members of the team also helped me through that process, to literally survive, and I'd be remiss without mentioning them. DoP Adam Barnett took me for a long walk around London. He bought me a book and told me I'd be alright. It meant the world. PA and consultant Danielle Bryant cooked me dinner and let me crash on her couch. Ernest Anemone (playing John) bought me a burrito and let me rant about death and the human condition. These little acts of compassion were not their job on the film, nor were they social obligation. These brilliant creative people all also happened to be some of the most emotionally generous people I've met. I think the two tend to go hand in hand. Without them, the film certainly wouldn't be here. I'm not sure if I would be either. I wish that was hyperbole, but grief takes a heavy toll. I'll leave those stories for another day, but suffice it to say that I'm okay and it's very much because I took advantage of the resources available. If you, dear reader, struggle or have ever struggled with not wanting to exist, you're not alone. I've linked the national and state resources below. It's scary to talk about this publicly, but it's important.

 As I said to Leah the other night, wandering around central park, reflecting on our year, "people always die at the worst times." I know it's a bit of a dark joke, but in the marathon of grief, a little irony can go a long way. We had our first test screening of Off-Season at Tufts University last week. The crowd's response to the film couldn't have been more positive, engaged, or pleasing to the team. There was high praise for the performances, the cinematography, and the story, and this is all for an early preview of a still unfinished film. After this, and despite the great reactions, I was visibly upset, and Leah and lead actress Delia Cunningham asked me why. I couldn't articulate it well at the time, but I think I was simply disappointed he didn't get to see the film - not because it wasn't what I wanted it to be, but because I think he would have loved it. He might not have gotten it, it might have been hard for him to watch, but I have to hope that he would have been thrilled that I had taken his advice, that I had gotten an education, that I had built something. Even if it went nowhere. Even if it touched on things that were hard for us. Having spent a week accepting that he won't get to see it, and listened to the responses, I couldn't be more pleased. I heard from a few who connected with it personally, creatively, and thematically - that the film actually meant something to them in their own struggle with loss. Showing the film to my family a couple days ago yielded similarly touching results. 

Filmmaking, like grief, is a marathon, not a sprint. The pleasure is in taking each step - despite the pain therein. As I learned from my father, may he rest in peace, one can find peace in that work. If the results are helpful to others, all the better. I hope that they are, I hope this film is. Either way, I can't express how much supporting this process has meant to me, and I hope to the team as well. I write this now, close to halfway through the marathon of our fundraising, to express to everyone who has supported the film just how much it means.

And for those of you running your own marathons, creatively, logistically, emotionally, or otherwise, I wish you way more than luck.



Writing  Off-Season , Dan Taylor Sr. present in the process courtesy of a fully loaded PB&amp;J

Writing Off-Season, Dan Taylor Sr. present in the process courtesy of a fully loaded PB&J

Endings and Beginnings

Stories are everything. I mean this in the literal sense and the more existential sense. Basically though, I'm uninterested in making a production blog about what I learned and the varying degrees of pride I have in my own work or the work of my team (though I'll gush about the team plenty regardless). As per those guidelines, then, I will attempt to create a blog full of little stories which get lost in the shuffle of creation. Many of these will focus on my team. Some of them on my dog. All of them will be true, though not all of them will be factually verifiable. Here's the first, and in a sense, the last.

Two nights ago at around midnight I walked the three or four blocks between my place and Off-Season Production Designer Cinthia Chen's place with two bottles of wine. We had just closed and struck her one-act, an incredible live-cinema piece for which I was the director of photography. The piece, which everyone should read/watch/ask her about, was about Anna May Wong, the first Asian-American Hollywood star. It combined filmmaking and theatre in a way that I don't think has really been done before; we sold out the theatre, had people standing, and over half the audience stayed for a talk back. I hope Anna would have been happy with us. We lugged our multi-thousands of dollars worth of equipment carefully back where it belonged, and then I went to find Cinthia.

She was in the afterglow of her amazing performance, and over a cigarette we discussed the previous year. I always quit smoking while creating something - it never lasts into the night we wrap. That day, two days ago, was a year and a day since Cinthia and I had taken a trip to Bologna to visit our mutual friend (and Off-Season BTS photographer) Annie Lye. That trip fell right after Cinthia and I had both had really hard months. I had broken up with my long time girlfriend and was not handling it well. She had just lost her grandfather, flown back to Taiwan for the funeral from our year abroad in London, and then flown back to London in time for our trip to Italy. We had been friendly while in college but when we met at Gatwick airport, drained, depressed, exhausted, we were pretty much instantly close friends.

That 3.5 day trip we rarely slept, or did anything other than eat, drink, and talk about art and life. We were constantly moaning that the whole thing was much too "Before Sunset" - but instead of falling in love with strangers, Cinthia and I just enabled our mutual worst instincts towards lofty pseudo-spiritual ideology and art. We had both been planning thesis projects which were left-brained, smart, achievable things, i.e. boring garbage. Then, I think around 2AM on night one, we started casually talking about what we would do - you know, if we could do anything. I had had this treatment and early draft of a feature film, titled Trail at the time. It was about a girl who went looking for her opiate-addicted mother on horseback. Cinthia had this idea, she had seen a few Katie Mitchell plays which used live filmmaking, and she had this latent obsession with Hollywood's first Asian-American star, Anna May Wong. By the time we were walking to Bologna Centrale to catch the train to Verona, we were on each-other's case. I heard Cinthia's idea, and told her she had to do it. She must. She explained all these ideas, all these things you could do with the story. Then we would switch, she would tell me I must make my film and I would go on about it all. Annie must have been a bit bored of it all by the time we were coming back from Verona.

Flashing forward several months, I spent the Summer writing. And the Fall writing. And some of the Winter. Cinthia too. We start trading designs. The feature became a short (shooting with animals is expensive y'all). We get a schedule and Cinthia books her tickets. This time she's flying from Taipei to Boston, two weeks before production, to start building our sets and sourcing props. I remember dropping her in the middle of a cranberry bog with nothing but a wheelbarrow and her two hands to strike one of our sets. Later that night, she was helping cook the crew dinner. Then, Cinthia's project came up. For the past month we've been looking at blocking, redesigning the conceit of live-filmmaking from the ground up. Then, building three studio cameras and emulating period-accurate cinematography. She gave me her all, I gave her mine. Then, the other night. A year and a day since we had been wandering around Bologna with a few euros, a constant flow of Espresso, and some dumb ideas we would indulge before going back to "real life". 

We're about to start fundraising for In The Off-Season, the short film that came as a result of that original feature script, that trip with Cinthia. Her play just closed two nights ago. Cinthia and I shared my third-last cigarette and mourned the end of a cycle of creation; then, we started to plan our next trip. I am scared to finish Off-Season, to let these characters go into the world. I'm scared I'll start smoking again. But I know there is a choice between mourning and redemption, between pride and asking for help, between indulgence and the hard adult work of showing what you create to the world.

So for those of you who know us well, or for those who just heard about this online, for anyone in-between:

Please join me and help us turn this ending into a beginning.



Cinthia and I walking down the right bank of the Adige in Verona Photo: Annie Lye

Cinthia and I walking down the right bank of the Adige in Verona
Photo: Annie Lye