Thursday, December 29, 2011

Happy New Year!

With only 2 more days left in 2011 (3 more if you're in the USA), it only seemed appropriate to wish you all a wonderful New Year's Eve and Day!

It's been a crazy year, filled with travel, loss, sorrow, adventure, laughs, smiles, many new friends, and nearly 50,000 frequent flier miles on my Star Alliance card. Seriously guys, when are you upgrading me to First Class?

I restarted this blog last December, and since then Adventures of the Orange Sweater has logged nearly 7,000 page views. I want to thank each and every one of you for letting me share this grand adventure with you. It's been a privilege so far, and I hope you've enjoyed the journey thus far.

2012 has plenty to offer as well! For AOTOS, I'll start 2012 with Cambodia and my last couple months in Korea. It promises to be very bittersweet as I come back to the United States, but I won't have too much time to dwell on it. My biggest project yet begins in June, sandwiched between Film Festivals and planning an even bigger project for sometime late in 2012. I can't say much yet, but if everything works out...well, let's just say I might need a whole lot of extra pages inserted in my Passport...

I plan on ringing in 2012 the only way I know how: with friends, adventure, and my 5DmkII around my shoulder. Expect a new post early in the new year.

For 2012, I challenge you to go somewhere new and exciting. Many of us don't travel nearly enough, and we make so many excuses not to do so. I promise you, it's worth it. Traveling opens your mind and gives you perspective. You learn so much when you throw yourself out of your comfort zone. Trust me. Life is amazing...but you have to make it happen! 

Have a safe New Year everyone! I'll see you in 2012!

Friday, December 16, 2011

Thoughts on Filmmaking and Happiness


Working on films is tough. Really tough. They become harder when you're working on them for free, and  even harder when you have a bar set so high that you just can't seem to step back and say "it's finished". There's the common saying that films are never truly finished. You always find things that you can improve on. Eventually, they have to escape the parental embrace of the producers and director so that others can enjoy them.

For my first major filmmaking endeavor to be involved with, this proved to more true than anything else. It was our baby. It still is our baby. We didn't want it to leave the house until it was ready. 

For "Roots of Happiness," that was a period of about a year and a half. The first real work on the production began in the Spring of 2010, and the final edit was completed in December of 2011. This was a project unlike anything else I've ever worked on before. I was working abroad. I had a team that was much more talented than I was. I had a major role to play, and the stakes were high. I wasn't getting graded on this project. I didn't have professors to help me out along the way. I had to give my best effort and do it right, otherwise run the risk of letting not only myself and my team down...but letting the children of Tumaini down.

That becomes hard, because doing that kind of self reflection on a humanitarian project can play tricks on what your true intentions are.

If there's one thing I hate about filmmaking, it's the ego that seems to come with the profession. You are always trying to sell yourself. You need to. That's how you make contacts and get new jobs. In the process, you hype yourself up so much that sometimes you believe that you're always best for the job. There is no room for humility. Admitting weakness can be the kiss of death. You are literally competing with every yahoo with a YouTube account. Filmmaking is democratized now, and everyone thinks they are the next Steven Spielberg.

I was lucky. I came in with the expectation that I would be a Production Assistant. I would learn how to use the cameras and equipment on the ground by observing. I had dabbled in production while in college, but my focus was screenwriting. I knew my level of skill wasn't up to par yet. I had something to prove, but I didn't have that confidence to approach this project with that ego.

All of that got thrown out of the window when we stepped foot into Tumaini. Being with those kids changed my life. Literally. I took a bigger role in the production of the film, but everything revolved around the beauty and happiness of these kids. I would take breaks to play soccer or talk with them. They were so kind and so humble. Whenever I feel down and out, I close my eyes and think of Tumaini, and I smile again. You can't help it. 

That kind of lesson came at the perfect time in my life. I was fresh out of college with a lot to prove. I was finding out what kind of man I wanted to be. They touched my heart when I was most impressionable, and it's affected my career and how I approach filmmaking and life ever since. They purified my intentions.

Now this project wasn't all roses and rainbow unicorns, either. There were rough times as well. When I was asked to write the script, it was months after the trip and at a time when I was unemployed, depressed, and not sure what life had in store for me. I was questioning my writing skills too. What drove me to stay up late and pump out 7 drafts of the script with my director was those kids. I watched every clip and logged every interview, and for 2 months I literally lived in that brief time we were all in Tumaini.

That's when the story started taking shape. As it did, I started to appreciate everything I had and how lucky I truly was. I had confidence in what I did, but that arrogant ego that usually comes with it was dissolved by good intentions. 7 drafts later, my major role on the film was finished.

I look back at the last year and a half, and I realized how much this film impacted my life and how I approach filmmaking. That ego is still there, but good intentions always prevail. I'm less jealous and more grateful.  Most of all, I realized how sacred my art really is. It isn't my job to promote my skills or to entertain to better myself or to score more hits on my Youtube. My job is to tell a story and make you feel something. 

"Roots of Happiness" has come a long way. I can't wait to share this story with you. It's wonderful and touching. It puts a smile on my face every time I watch it. And, with every step we take to getting this film out there to as many people as possible, that dream we had of making a film to benefit these beautiful children half a world away gets one step closer to becoming a reality. 

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Weddings, Santas, and Lunar Eclipses

Every once in a while a day comes along that, by all standards, is a perfect day on paper. You have a series of events spent with a group of people that creates that perfect storm of awesome and amazing. All week you stare at your computer just hoping that the day comes quicker. Disappointment isn't an option. Everything is too perfect to fail.

This past Saturday was one of those days. The perfect day.

It started early Saturday morning. I had to wake up at 6am to catch the early bus into Seoul. It's December and I'm in Korea, so that means I woke up to ice on my window and seeing my breath inside my apartment. Rolling out of bed was hard, but that shower was amazing. I left my apartment around 6:15 with my camera bag packed and my hair looking perfect. This fohawk is out of control...

On the bus, I was feeling quite nostalgic. I was looking at a calendar this week, and I realized that I have a little under 5 months left in Korea! That time flew by. I also discovered this song by Youth Group that wasn't helping my cause any:
I'm feeling like I'm growing up so fast that, sometimes, I don't slow down enough to realize where I am and how amazing life is. That innocence of my youth was wasted on ideas that happiness came through a career and good money. I'm so fortunate that, at 23 years old, I'm learning that there's so much more than that. Once I stopped worrying about my financial security, things fell right into place. I can feel again, and I know that when I finally leave Korea I will be swept up in a sea of emotions. It was fun while it lasted, right?

Anyways, I met up with my friend Hyeyeong at the bus station in Seoul just in time to hop on another bus heading to Yeongju, Hyeyeong's home town about 3 hours east of Seoul. This town was a spitting image of the town I grew up in. It was small and had this charm that only home could provide. It was so drastically different from the hustle of Suwon and Seoul, and that change of pace was incredibly refreshing.

We met up with her mother for just a little bit, where I continued my streak of impressing older Korean women by spilling a cup of coffee on my pants. Really classy, I know, but I think she found it really endearing. Maybe it was the fact that my face was beet-red as I straddled a heater trying to dry my pants. You can't cry over spilt coffee...no matter how much those 2nd degree burns hurt.

We headed up to the chapel around 12:30 to go to Hyeyeong's friend's wedding. Yes, I crashed a Korean wedding...with coffee stains down my pants and looking like I'm backpacking through the country. I do not know how I get away with these things.

The wedding itself was actually really cool! The ceremony was remarkably western. The bride and groom were in this chapel that reminded me of the bridge on the USS Enterprise. The ushers all looked like flight attendants from space. The walls were white and glowing. It was crazy.

Then the music started to play...

The bride and groom each had a theme song that led them down the aisle. The groom played Sandstorm:
I would like to take this time to apologize to my future wife. I'm sorry, but I will be having this song at my wedding. That, or "Eye of the Tiger". Wait, I'm single again? Eh...worth it.

The bride had something along the lines of Alanis Morissette....did I mention that the groom was led by two flight attendants with swords and a light show?

Anyways, crashing the wedding was great, but my goal was to stay invisible. I did not know these people. Heck, I didn't know why I was there in the first place. It seemed like a good idea at the time. The next thing I knew, Hyeyeong was dragging me to the front of the chapel to take pictures with the bride and groom that I did not know.

Now think about this for a moment: you just had the most important day of your life. You get back from your honeymoon and the photographer contacts you about your pictures. You're excited to see them and share them with your family. When you take a look at them, you see everyone you love standing in front of the chapel....and then there's me in the background, photobombing the crap out of your wedding picture. It would be one thing if I was standing with the guys too. I would blend in. No, I was on the girl's side. I'm about a foot taller than all of them, and with my fohawk you can add another 3 inches. I did not blend in. I was not invisible.

Thank goodness for Hyeyeong, as we got out of dodge just after the reception and traditional Korean stuff (they dress up the bride and groom in traditional clothes and give them A TON of food). After a lovely cup of coffee and learning more about her hometown, we hopped on the next bus back to Seoul.

This is where the night gets kinda weird...

I had my camera gear on me to take some pictures of a bunch of foreigners in Hongdae dressed as Santa. It's called Santacon. Every December, the foreigners in Korea get decked out in their Santa gear and roam the streets of Seoul drinking and having a good time. It's the reason why most Koreans think we are crazy, and it was completely worth it.

My friend had me stand on the 4th floor of this building to take pictures of the 300 or so Santas that came out to spread holiday cheer through the streets of Hongdae. It was weird man...most of them were clutching bottles of soju and beer, and half of them were smoking and looking like the Santa Claus from the metro shopping mall in Newark. Whatever...my job was to take pictures and have a good time.

It was something of a pub crawl, so our first pit stop was the Ho Bar (get it?) to get some alcohol flowing. Upon getting to the bar, I noticed something read and blinking in the corner near the dance floor. It was none other than Party Rock Robot Santa. With impeccable timing, the DJ cranked up Party Rock Anthem   just as I noticed him. I handed off my camera to my friend and told him I had some business to take care of...

The next 3 minutes was a shuffle-off between me and the Party Rock Robot Santa. I crushed him before the dance break, as he couldn't even do a proper running man. Take the robot head seriously...

Shortly after, the Santas began to migrate to the nearby park to wreck havoc on the streets of Hongdae. Before we could get there, though, a lone voice screamed "stoplight dance party" just as the streetlight turned red. Two hundred of the Santas in the vicinity sprinted out into the crosswalk during the red light to have a 30 second dance party in the middle of the street. Taxis and cars were honking. Koreans were taking pictures on their cell phones. Me and my friend Warren were shooting pics and video from a nearby streetlight. It was nuts. They did this for a good 20 minutes before we arrived at the park...

Hongdae is famous for the musicians that take their music to the streets every Friday and Saturday night. This night, a Distrubed-wannabe Korean band was situated on the playground and putting on a show for the growing crowd of drunk Santas. Moshing ensued, and for a good hour we stood around in the 15-degree winter night rocking out to some band we just so happened to mob.

At around 11:30pm or so, everyone stopped dancing. They were all looking up at the sky. I looked up too to see a total lunar eclipse starting. It was such a strange feeling. The park was nearly silent. 500 people I didn't know dressed like Santa were staring at the sky watching the eclipse. I half expected to see the real Santa fly across the moon, just to shock and awe us even further. We didn't need it. That moment was something strange...I just can't seem to explain it.

The night ended early for me. Hyeyeong caught the last bus home, and me and my friends went to the local sauna to rest for the night. I spent the early morning hours in the hot tub talking with a new South African friend about UFC and investment banking. I hopped on the early train home to Suwon to rest.

As I stepped off the train, I felt somewhat victorious...like I had won something. Every all-nighter in Seoul seems to end with me stepping off the train and feeling as if I had achieved something. Maybe it's a reminder that I am alive...that I'm still able to do things like this and enjoy life for what it is. Maybe it's just a sense of relief, that soon I'll be in my nice warm bed and sleeping my Sunday afternoon away. Either way, you can't help but want to raise your arms up and cheer on the new morning. The perfect day!



Or, in my case, you can leave your smartphone on the train and watch it as the train takes it to the most southern point in Korea. I'm really going to miss that phone...

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Party Rock!

One of my favorite things to do with my kids is to break down boundaries and get them to do things they never thought they could do. Not gonna lie, that backfires...alot. Sometimes though, I can get them to do cool stuff like this:

Wawoo Middle School Flashmob - Party Rock Anthem by Ryan_Abella
Education wise, this breaks all the rules...probably because we're having too much fun. I thought about it for a while, and I realized that these kids are my friends. They are friends that, whether I like or not, I will have to leave behind in 5 months. That's hard to think about because as their teacher I've developed a relationship with them and I can say, with all my heart, I love each and every one of my students. Tears will flow I'm sure, but until that day I'll push them to do things like this. I've learned way more from them than I thought possible, and that's something that sticks with you forever. I'm hoping they feel the same way.

Oh yea, and I have a fohawk now. Party Rock!