What Viggo Mortensen taught me about blogging


You know what REALLY makes me happy as a creative person? Getting my inspiration from all sorts of places. I can't just rely on the medium that I am working in for inspiration - it ends up being too limiting. Too much of a closed loop. 

If I am looking for photography inspiration, looking only at photographers results in a second-guessing loop where I wonder if any of my ideas are original. Or I doubt that I can create ANYTHING of value.

What I need is creative sources from all sorts of different genres and mediums to inspire. And as you know, one of those is film. Film at TIFF (Toronto International Film Festival). And not JUST the film but the amazing Q&A's AFTER the film.

You see, you get to meet the filmmakers and you hear them speak of their craft. The how's and the why's of what I had just seen.

I heard actor Viggo Mortensen speak after seeing Everybody Has A Plan last month. As soon as he started, I pulled out my journal and pen and madly scribbled notes, hoping that they wouldn't be too cryptic for me to read later. They weren't.

Viggo taught me two things. 

1. Prepare for when luck arrives.

I don't care WHAT your medium is - photography, art, music, design, acting - there have been and will ALWAYS be way more people doing it at a high level than there are opportunities. 

So prepare. Get your skills up. Take e-courses. Study bloggers who are better writers, better networkers, better photographers. WHY are they better? Learn that. And that other thing too.

Then you WILL be ready.

2. The bigger the budget, the more pressure to appeal to every demographic.

Of course this was in the context of big budget Hollywood films vs. smaller ones. I saw one at TIFF called At Any Price that was SO forumulaic although trying to masquerade as an indie film. You could tick the boxes as you watched - Zac Efron for the younger set. Dennis Quaid for the older set. Romance. Car racing. Fight scenes. It was trying so so very hard to be EVERYTHING for every possible viewer that it had no passion. 

Viggo's film? You'll either love it or hate it. It is THAT particular director's vision of THAT particular story. 

In blogging terms? How big do YOU want to be? What's YOUR vision for your blog? Who's YOUR ideal audience? Do you like long posts or short ones? Which photographs do you usually pick? What's YOUR style? Who are YOU? Not who you THINK you should be. Who are YOU.

I remember Jasmine Star at Alt Summit last January talking about being so "you" that people will either love you or hate you and nothing in between. Be so YOU that there is no doubt about whether I'll keep reading or not. And those who stick around will REALLY be into what you have to offer.

So there you go - happy to be inspired by other artists and creatives. What do you think about what Viggo had to say? How can you be more YOU? You know, like Gretchen Rubin says in the Happiness Project, "Be Gretchen". And how are you preparing for luck?


What to Wear to a Film Festival

I have this down to a fine art - what to wear and what to carry. I know - it's obsessive! I THINK about this stuff - a LOT. It's my fave time of year and I'll be damned if I'm going to mess up even a SECOND of it by not being prepared. So here we go.

With four to five movies a day, some days in completely different venues all over the city, there isn't much time for anything else but watch the movie, listen to the Q & A and then zoom out to get to the next one. My days would start at about 7:30am when I'd grab breakfast, preferably a substantial one as I wouldn't be eating again til early that evening. No time. Movie, movie, movie, movie, eat, movie. Then back in the hotel ready to sleep by about midnight.

So you REALLY need to be self sufficient and ready for anything. But you are on foot, taking the subway or cabs so you can't carry around too much. Standing in line to wait to get into the theater, you don't want to be dragging around a large bag. And if you are carrying a coffee, you need a hand free.

This is what I brought with me:

  • E-reader for line-ups when there was no one to chat too. This was not THAT likely as I've had some of THE best conversations with other TIFF goers.
  • book light while waiting IN the theatre before the movie
  • tickets of course. One year at TIFF I was 7 months pregnant with the girl. Pregnancy brain ensued as I threw out ALL my tickets along with a napkin. Smooches to TIFF staff who reprinted them all without any question.
  • journal and pen. I'm in the midst of the Pathfinders course by Chookoloonks - need paper and pen for morning pages AND notes/quotes from movies I am seeing. And whatever pops into my head.
  • toothbrush and paste. Obviously - I am out for 17 hours straight. 
  • Kleenex

And an umbrella - a small one to save space. One year I DIDN'T have one and while I was watching a film, it began to pour. No time to get one. No cabs to be found. Me running down the street being splashed with gutter water by buses and cars. Drenched. Squishy shoe drenched. Wonder why no one wanted to sit by me once I dried off during my next movie? More than a little whiffy and no time to change.

You wil die, I tell you, DIE if you are without comfortable shoes. I might have been sitting for 5 movies (10 hours at least) but when I wasn't sitting, I was standing - in lines, for the subway, for coffee. They are looking a little worse for wear but they served me well.

Clothes - fall in Toronto can still be hot and humid. Natural fabrics that can breathe and styles that are comfortable. JCrew cotton tunic with a leather belt over leggings.

Muji cotton jersy tunics - cap sleaves and sleeveless - over leggings or jeans.

Muji cotton raglan sleeved top.

James Perse leggings and Gap jeans alternated over six days.

And in case it gets chilly at night, a cotton sweater from Anthropologie.

Did I have any accessories? I DID bring some jewellry - a few necklaces and such. But I didn't wear much of it. And it all can squeeze into a carryon to save MORE time at the airport. That's it for six days away.

Tomi Ungerer - Far Out Isn't Far Out Enough

tomi ungerer far out isn't far enough
I go to TIFF each year and see as many movies as I can squeeze into my schedule, especially now that I no longer live in Toronto. I go to TIFF each year to be inspired - I KNOW that's a cliche. But it's true. I get inspired. 
But every once in a while there's a film that I KNOW that I will continue to think about for months later. A film that changes how I think and how I live. 
This year it was the documentary Far Out Isn't Far Enough about Tomi Ungerer, one of the best-selling, award-winning childrens' book authors in the 1950's and 1960's.
Ever heard of him? I hadn't. And that is the magic that is TIFF. I not only get to see a documentary about someone that I knew nothing about, once I DO learn of him, it's a personal game changer.
In one of his last interviews, Maurice Sendak noted that he never would have written Where the Wild Things Are without Tomi's inspiration. "I'm a self-taught raving maniac but not as crazy as Tomi. Or as great as Tomi".
It was Tomi who convinced Shel Silverstein to write children's books and introduced him to Ursula Nordstrom, publisher and editor of juvenile books at Harper & Row from 1940-1973.
But by the early 1970's you couldn't find ANY of his books in any bookstore or library. They were discarded and banned and Tomi was ostracized by the industry. It would be over 30 years until his books were back in print.

So what happened?
Tomi identifies himself as a "natural provocateur". He comes by it honestly having grown up in the Alsace region between France & Germany before and during WWII. "I was French at home, Alsatian in the street and German at school". When the Germans invaded he was forbidden to speak French and had a few months to learn German. "You don't need Berlitz - a knife at your throat is enough".
That experience made him a complusive truth teller, spending his whole life showing the devil in himself and in all of us. But this need to point out that the emperor has no clothes is what eventually ended his career in the US. "I cannot live without my barricades. I have to be out there fighting something".
Tomi moved to NYC in 1956 with $60 in his pocket and immediately found success as an illustrator. It was the golden age of illustration. He drew the first poster for the movie Dr. Strangelove.
And he wrote dozens of childrens' books that were published in over thirty languages and won many awards. The stories are delightful and subversive and yes, a bit dark. Tomi has always felt that adults shouldn't talk down to children, shouldn't humour them with simplistic, white-washed stories.
   tomi ungerer crichter the three robbers
tomi ungerer
In the 1960's Tomi also created some of the most provocative anti-Vietman War posters.
And because it was the 1960's, he easily could have these parallel careers. Add in his erotic illustrations for Playboy (where he met Shel Silverstein) and his erotic art books, and you have three very distinct streams of work.
Award-winning childrens' book author, Vietnam War protestor, and erotic artist. Without the internet, there was little chance that anyone would connect the dots - each was its own distinct world.
But someone did. Connect the dots, that is.
And that was the end. His childrens' books were removed from libraries and he was ostracized from the industry. He moved first to Nova Scotia where he and his wife farmed pigs for a few years and then on to Ireland where he still lives today. 
It's only recently that his childrens' books are back in print.
The documentary is one of the best that I have seen in a long time and I do love my docs. Part of it is the subject matter - I was scribbling all sorts of Tomi quotes in my journal in the dark. And part of it is the structure used to tell Tomi's life story with the backdrop of parallel history.
Here's a taste of the documentary. Note the perfectly executed animation of his line drawings - something that so EASILY could have been overdone but isn't. So it's not only the subject matter that makes this documentary worth seeing, it's the quality of the filmmaking itself. Be warned that it DOES include some of his explicit images. 
He's a provocative man bursting with creative energy. One of the things that I adore about TIFF is that you not only get to see the films, you get to meet the filmmakers after the screening in a Q&A. Tomi was as charming in person as he is in the documentary. 
"In my life I would rather take corners than curves and keep them very sharp". I tend to be more of a curve-taker but have had my corner moments. Live long enough and we all do I suppose.
I do admire his passion and drive. And his childrens' books are a delight - even all these decades later.
So I will be thinking of Tomi in the months to come - his creative energy, even at 80. His explosion of ideas. His commitment to making his own subversive path. His delight in making art. And I will be thinking too of the clever storytelling used by the documentary - the animation of hundreds of Tomi's illustrations, the soundtrack, the perfect balance of interviews and exposition.
And THAT is why I go to TIFF.

I am off to TIFF - Toronto International Film Festival

Am I ever at home? Between Hawaii and ALT Summit and LA and NYC and the cottage and visiting the folks and ALTNYC I have been the queen of travel this year. Craziness!

And now it's time for TIFF - the Toronto International Film Festival.

It's my favourite time of year. I won't go into the administrivia and strategizing involved from late June when the ticket packages went on sale to late August when the catalogue of films was delivered by courier to my home to the festival itself in September but let's just say that I am REALLY excited to be doing this.

I'll be seeing 19 movies in 4 1/2 days. Yup. Gotta squeeze 'em in. Lots of Scandinavian flicks. Fave Danish director Susanne Bier and Danish actress Paprika Steen (Inward Facing Girl, she was in Celebration) plus Czech director Jan Hrebejk

Leaving Thursday and coming home Tuesday. A little bitter that I won't see my boyfriend Colin Firth but what can you do. (I REALLY don't have to link to Colin Firth, right?).

That'll be me with the backpack and the bottled water and the trail mix rushing between theaters all over Toronto. With comfortable shoes of course. And sitting on the left side near the front of the theater - always that spot.

Did I tell you that I love this? Smooches to TIFF - you are THE best film festival anywhere with THE best film audiences. Go read Dor Dotson's charming blog to find out why.

For those of you also going, what are you seeing? And if you aren't going, ever been to a film festival? Ever watch a foreign film? Why or why not? Need some recommendations to get started? Something accessible to dip your toes in the waters of foreign film?