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On Wednesday I came back to the US from a documentary shoot in Honduras. That is a post in and of itself (coming soon). Suffice it to say my friend Jesse (who I had been shooting with) and I were immersed in a fascinating place with genuine and passionate people engaged in the rehabilitation of people and country in the mountains of Tegucigalpa.

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Base camp for the first few days

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Tegucigalpa

There's a pile of cow skulls like this anywhere that people have to eat. They're just usually not under a bridge in the middle of the city.

There’s a pile of cow skulls like this anywhere that people have to eat. They’re just usually not under a bridge in the middle of the city.

Ironically enough, I had a local SIM card with minutes and data. I was more immediately connected to the rest of the world while in Honduras than I am in LA (because I had no data plan there). Being connected made me realize how easy things are to navigate with a smart phone.

Directly following the documentary in Central America I had been hired to shoot an event in the Northeast for a medical devices company. The plane leaving Houston (the layover destination) was late leaving the runway due to airplane traffic.
Upon landing in Newark we were notified by the captain that our gate was occupied and we had to wait.
I had, by this point, switched back to my T-Mobile SIM, which had a newly purchased data plan that my phone wasn’t accessing.
A car had been arranged to pick me up at Newark, however, because the plane was more than an hour late, I had to take Uber.

Remember the no-data plan problem? There was also no useable WiFi at Newark airport. After spending a while walking around the now-empty hallways of the terminal looking for WiFi, I had to ask my contact to send me a car.
I hate being a burden.

The shoot I’d been hired for included an event at the medical device company’s headquarters in New Jersey as well as an event in Boston. The next evening I was in a car headed to Penn Station in New York. Of course the shooting that day had gone late and the car service had showed up late and traffic in Manhattan was…traffic in Manhattan at 6:30pm.
Needless to say I missed two trains in a row and was close to missing the third when I came to the ticket counter and found that if you miss a train and don’t call to cancel within 20 minutes Amtrak deletes the credit you had from your original purchased ticket.

The only possible way to get that credit back, the ticket agent informed me (in that extremely polite east coast manner), was to use a greasy, black plastic in-house wall phone in the middle of the train station.
Have you ever tried to get an automated voice to understand a complex number-letter sequence in the silence of your own apartment?
Now imagine doing that in an echoing tile room packed with hundreds of people. Also there was Christmas music. Blaring.

After hearing for the 6th time, “I’m sorry, I still didn’t understand, let’s try another method,” I hung up and asked my contact to buy another train ticket.
Burden. Failure.

But at least I got on the train. And, five hours later, to the hotel, which was only a nippy half-mile walk from the Boston Back Bay station.
It was 2am. Luckily the event didn’t start til later in the day on Thursday. I had almost a full day to rest. I set my alarm for 11am.

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9am.
Swanky, climbing guitar riff, reminiscent of a Buckethead sequence.
Ringtone. Not alarm.
Ringtone!

It was my contact asking where I was, because I wasn’t downstairs at the event. But the event didn’t really start til Thursday night! Friday was the first morning session at 8am.

“Dude, It’s Friday.”
First time that phrase have ever been a bad thing. I had been so messed up from my travel that I didn’t know what day it was.

I grabbed my gear and rushed downstairs. Or at least to the elevator, where I waited for it to descend the 35 floors of the hotel.
Days smear together, locations blur, stories blend. It’s a weird sort of life on the move.

Some of the girls at Casa de Ester in Honduras braiding my hair.

Some of the girls at Casa de Ester in Honduras braiding my hair.

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It took 2 hours.

 

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I should be in Kenya in 5 days, according to previous conversations with the production company I would be working with in Nairobi. Unfortunately, email, skype, facebook, and phone calls don’t seem to be a preferred method of communication so I don’t really know if I’ll actually be gone next week. Waiting for money to come in from the cable network has halted production on the tv show, thus the waiting.

Waiting doesn’t have to be so bad. This week I had the opportunity to be part of a production crew shooting the MAGIC fashion expo in Las Vegas. There were several shows going on at once with a video crew assigned to each one. My partner and I shot FN Platform, which featured nothing but shoes. Everything from high-end high heels to flip flops and John Deer work boots (yeah, like the tractor/mower company).

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Magic Vegas signI learned so much about shoes. I had no idea, for one, that there were so many shoe companies. Did you know a company called Rollasole sells shoes that come in a can and are dispensed from vending machines? Yep. There’s also Otz shoes which were inspired by the shoes found on ötzi the iceman. The event was an expo where designers could show their latest releases, while attendees were mainly retailers looking for the next line of shoes to carry in their stores.

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My heel after the first day of walking around the HUGE showrooms. People with fitbits were recording well over 8 miles in a day.

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It was about fashion after all.

The ironic thing about the week was all the cool people I met from Los Angeles while on the shoot. Leaving this place that has become home to go to Kenya would actually be really difficult. But not going to Kenya to take on this opportunity to be part of something amazing would be equally hard.

In other news, my trusty Saturn Ion and I were in a collision a few weeks ago. I’ve been driving around with no left rear-view mirror, but didn’t think anything of it. It turns out the car is a total loss and is destined for the salvage yard on Friday. Good news is they’re paying me for the car and I won’t have to deal with a car while I’m away. Bad news…if I don’t leave for another few weeks I’m car-less. It’s like living in medieval Uzbekistan without a horse. IMAG0297

Driving is the favored mode of transportation among most Angelenos (of which I am now one). For a rather considerable stretch of history, the horse’s gallop was the fastest speed one could achieve overland.

Now, we drive. And so do I. Most of the freelance work I get around the city of LA causes me to drive. Driving here means spending a lot of time not in motion (which is strange to think about since from the beginning of human transportation we’ve been used to continually plodding along to get somewhere. Now to get somewhere we have to be at a standstill for much of it). In order to keep my blood pressure down and to take my mind off of the fact that it takes about an hour to go anywhere, I listen to podcasts.

One such podcast that has captured my attention is called Hardcore History. It’s presented by a very passionate Dan Carlin, who does a fantastic job of not only telling stories about obscure people groups and times around the world, but also stringing together concepts and offering up very provocative thoughts on history and the present.

The most recent series of episodes took an interesting look into the Mongol conquest of…everywhere.

One part that stood out to me was his description of the homeland of the Central Asian nomads. He described a harsh, bleak environment that required grit, tenacity and core strength just to survive. He described the 150lb drawback of the Mongol bows as well as the necessity to learn to fire the bow from horseback at full speed. He drew the connection that the land and environment had created the toughest warriors anywhere on earth at that time (subsequent battles with China, the Middle East and Europe showed the results).

He also described how Central Asian tribes would often conquer their settled, “civilized” neighbors residing in cities. If the nomadic group decided to inhabit the cities and domestic societies, within a few generations they would lose their edge on the battlefield. Their tactics and demeanor began to take on the sedentary lifestyle of their conquered rivals.

And in the end (this is me drawing my own conclusions) it seems that warfare never actually brought down the Mongols. It was the adoption of a sedentary lifestyle and the acquisition of material and empirical wealth that dragged them far from the hungry, lean, fast-moving warriors they had been.

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As I have moved back to Los Angeles, gotten an apartment, and basically “settled down”, I’m reminded by how easy it is to become slack and unfit in every way. Even putting together a place to live brings in all sorts of choices. And it is too easy to choose convenience over anything else.

While editing a video in the airport, my headphones broke. So I found a quick solution to keep it on my ear, and kept editing.

While editing a video in the airport, my headphones broke. So I found a quick solution to keep it on my ear, and kept editing.

But I didn’t come back to this country to do it the easy way. Of course I’m nowhere near hunting for my food, and building fire and shelter. My transportation is mostly in a vehicle, which requires very little of me to operate. But I’m still confident I don’t have to lose my edge just because I live in one place.

We have a floor lamp, but not much floor.

I am not interested in returning to some primitive state. Rather the question I am asking is: how can I create a lifestyle that involves work and creativity on a daily basis? How can I move toward a lifestyle that is built for a human body and spirit? I don’t think I’m content to access my strengths and challenge my weaknesses every once in a while.

So what about you? At the end of a day do you collapse on your bed, spent and happy from a hard day’s work? Are you inspired? Does your lifestyle prove that you were created to problem solve, design, build, labor, and enjoy the result?

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The comments section at the bottom is for your feedback. What do you think? Is it a worthwhile pursuit?

Moving back to the United States (until further notice) has been a strange transition. Of course this country is home in many ways, and yet I never quite seem settled in it. But the current period of life I am in means that where the wind blows, there I go.

At this point the wind is blowing west to Los Angeles again. After working on my first feature film as a cinematographer in Manila I have been picking up odd motion picture jobs and co-producing a film as I prepare for a move across the country (as I write this I am on a corporate video shoot for a medical instruments company).

Hopefully it is already known that the short film Hadeas is now in its funding stage on Kickstarter. (If not, please visit the page!) Coming back to LA to work on a creative project with fellow APU graduates Randy May, Megan Prescott, and Becky Train seemed like a great plan. Randy began writing the script last year and together we talked about the possibilities of what we could create. The project has ended up being more important than we could have first imagined, providing a creative outlet to try new ideas and challenge us as we grow in our knowledge and love for the craft of cinema. You can follow the production journal here.

Due to a random set of circumstances, my drive won’t be straight from Chicago to LA. I have a few stops to make along the way. Pennsylvania, South Carolina and Texas are among the destinations. So I might as well make an event out of it.

And now seems like a perfect time to embark on another journey. It is almost amusing how chapters of a life can be marked by movement from one place to the next. So this trip will be advantageous as I seek to redefine who I am as an artist, what I am pursuing, what I want.

In terms of business, I’m forming my brand.

It’s something global.

It’s something creative.

It’s something narrative.

It’s something collaborative.

I can’t quite put my finger on it yet.

4 continents in 3 weeks. Finally, I’m living up to the title of this blog. Even as I write this I am on an Amtrak bus to Sacramento.

After bidding farewell to Australia I prepared for my next project and adventure in rural Kenya.

SONY DSCI had been asked in Christmas of last year to accompany my grandmother, mom and dad on a trip to meet a pastor (Paul), his family (wife Mary and their three kids plus adopted children) and his ministry in a place called Kitale (a bumpy 9 hour drive northwest of Nairobi). My grandmother’s grassroots ministry, Tamar’s Voice, which reaches out to heal the wounds of sexual abuse, had been contacted by the Kenyan pastor with a similar vision for healing in rural East Africa.

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Left to right: Jan Tuin, Mary Odari, Paul Odari

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“Mama Jan” speaking to women at Divine Love, Paul translates.

IMG_1687 My only other experience in Africa had been a trip to South Africa in 2004. I didn’t really know what to expect. Even more so considering the trip was happening with 3 generations of my family and with no structural support of a big organization or church.

In essence a family from the US was meeting a family from rural Kenya.

I had the intent of visually telling the story of this unique connection for other’s to learn as we did, but I didn’t realize how much I would become involved in it. The video will be used to raise money for the women’s rescue home the two ministries will build together in western Kenya.

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Children at the Amazing Love school, part of the Divine Love ministry in Sikhendu.

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Strapping on speakers and heading to church.

Poverty is something that has always been on my mind. And, like most upper-middle-class-Christian-white-folk, I considered myself an expert on it. Rockin’ my TOMS shoes and going on short term missions trips, I was actively engaging with what I saw as a major issue in the world.

SONY DSC SONY DSC R1-05328-0007If nothing else, taking a trip to Kenya expanded my view of poverty.

Feedback on this thought would be much appreciated; I want to know what you think. It is beginning to grow on me that to view poverty as merely a lack of resources is to severely misunderstand it.* What if poverty is ANY situation where human flourishing is compromised? So perhaps Australia, The United States of America, other industrialized counties are living in extreme poverty of a certain kind? Let me explain.

Imagine a dusty, rough landscape. Rich, red soil and deep green vegetation hung beneath a vast blue sky. A rutted red road cuts through the green and disappears into the horizon. Covering nearly every square meter of this place is the buzzing of activity: women carrying children in back slings sell roasted maize and potatoes along the road. Children haul bundles of sticks. Cows graze by the roadside (on grass!). Rows of tin shacks open up to reveal electronic appliance stores, cell phone top-up shops, car repair centers, agricultural veterinarians, even hair salons. Motorbikes zoom in and out of goats and sheep (that eat grass!) herded by young entrepreneurs. Chickens (that ate bugs and grubs and seeds) hang in butcher’s windows. Old men sip tea and watch the activity. Old women roll chappati and stir ugali (made from the corn that grew just meters away). Everywhere, everyone is doing something, and all the while interacting face-to-face with each other. Smiling faces, straight teeth, hardly a set of eyeglasses to be found.

SONY DSC R1-05328-0010 SONY DSCNow imagine a wide open road. Smooth concrete, big parking lots, rows of lit storefronts pass by. A pattern in the businesses emerge (mostly owned by a few people far away). Hardly a person to be found except within their glass and steel (or plastic) escape pods. Shelves stockpiled with products made from a few ingredients. Plastic and chemicals sterilize every surface. Everywhere there is space, air conditioning, and silence.

Poverty?

Of course financial poverty is very real, with some living not far from starvation, with little disposable income for malaria drugs. And corruption in Kenya can’t be ignored, it is a cause of suffering to its people. Of course the majority of Kenya lives on less than $1 per day. But maybe we miss the power of that statement. They LIVE on less than $1 per day. These are people of extreme resourcefulness and hard work.

So with this in mind, financial poverty isn’t the problem. It is a symptom. The highly toxic nature of our food and personal care products in the US isn’t the problem. It is a symptom. To treat a symptom is to miss the bigger picture of human flourishing. The good life. The Kingdom of Heaven.

The book When Helping Hurts (by Steve Corbett, Brian Fikkert) talks about aid in three different ways: relief, rehabilitation, and development. It suggests that to provide one where another is needed is to stunt the growth process.

In our experience with the pastor of the church, we were surprised and impressed by the leadership structures put in place, the room for growth in the visions he and his team had for a women’s shelter, an already existing primary school and youth ministry. It became clear very soon that this community was above needing relief. There was potential, is potential, for development. And the possibilities are nearly limitless when local people, who have an acute awareness of local needs, take initiative. Our time in Kenya began to take on the look of a partnership, not a mission’s trip. We were siblings in the family. The agenda wasn’t ours, as the outsiders. We allowed ourselves to experience Kenya (as much as possible in 11 days) along with our Kenyan brothers and sisters.

And it was sometimes awkward, sometimes without sure footing and sometimes we got it wrong. It was clear we hadn’t practiced partnership in cross-cultural interactions. It seems that no matter how well our meaning, we have another, more sinister default setting.

Now I don’t want to make the mistake of leveling all of poverty in every part of the world as equal. There is a major difference between the poverty of finance and the poverty of social capital and relationships: we, in the US, can go about our daily lives largely unaware of our lack. In the developing world, there is no choice. Waking up to need every day is the only way to wake up. I’m not proposing negligence as an alternative to colonialism. So maybe partnership is needed, but it has to be partnership. The dignity and empowerment of everyone involved must be a priority. As wealthy Americans, we are more than our dollars (do we really believe that?). And rural Kenyans are more than their lack of resources. There is a larger goal we can work towards than simply having more disposable income. Do we think that to make East Africa like the US will somehow allow them to experience more of the richness of being human? Will it allow them to experience relationship with God more clearly?

Perhaps in more ways than one we have much to learn.

Are you preparing for, leading up to, a missions trip or “serving trip”? What goal is implicit in the actions and schedule of your team? Are you narrowing the definition of the good life to financial resources? There is no shame in getting it wrong.

So why is this post appearing in a blog about a filmmaker? Now imagine a production company in the developing world that trains children from the slums in photo and video skills and then employs them, giving them vital skills for a creative and constructive future. Imagine this production company sustaining themselves financially on commercials and corporate productions while consistently emphasizing the creation and distribution of their OWN content. Stories about their world, told by them.

I would love to start such a production company.

But what if it already existed? Film production in East Africa? We’ll see. More to come on that.

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*Our team of 4 read excerpts from a book called When Helping Hurts, which helped prepare us for what we would soon experience.

A few days ago I reread the subtitle of this blog.

“A filmmaker on the other side of the world,” I thought, who’s that? Oh right!

The whole point of the “unfolding story” was to maintain the episodic events of the development of a filmmaker who intentionally took a position in a far away place (though Australians assure me it’s not so far from them) in order to become better at the visual art of storytelling.

There should be a very quiet alarm sounding in the back of your mind, that is your bullshitmeter, it’s a very key piece of equipment, keep it close and properly maintained, it could save your life.

In truth I had no idea what I was doing. I didn’t even realize I was going to the LITERAL othersideoftheworld until I was on the plane, most likely over Fiji. There was this massive bump of turbulence that suddenly reminded me of the last time I had flown over the Pacific on my way back from Australia where I had studied for four months.

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Australia (when someone draws a map of Earth on a napkin, this is the piece of real estate that is most often missing, though if they’re drawing a globe on a napkin they’re probably involved in some sort of international espionage and they don’t have time for trivialities). So then it hit me, as the water molecules that had been swimming in the plastic cup in my hand competed in a race to my shorts. They won, all of them.

For a split second I wondered if I could persuade the captain to turn around, really quick. But then I remembered that documentary about how pilots don’t get paid very much and I figured I would just let them drive.

So. The story.

There may be some of you in this [small] blaudience who know a few details of the film I’ve been working on. Maybe you cringe as much as I do when you hear the words “yeah, so this film I’ve been working on.”

For some reason I can’t stop the words from coming out of my mouth in that exact order. I might as well say, “yeah so while I was sitting on my couch for 4,032 hours straight, I tried to make this pile of bottle caps into a scale model of the Eiffel Tower, with my mind. Dude, I like, have no idea why, but it didn’t work.”

More or less, that is the feeling of accomplishment that washes over me when I think of the work/pay-off ratio of this current project.

But, as we all know, artists can be unfairly critical of their own work. Van Gogh certainly comes to mind.

In truth, I’ve learned a heaping ton about filmmaking in the past year. The opportunity has been to develop, or pursue, a story based on the experience of study abroad students. While the film’s original idea centered on a collection of stories of Australians living “with global significance in a manner of local relevance,” there were drafts that looked oddly like Rob Bell’s Nooma videos, and at one point Darth Vader was considered for a cameo (he backed out after some development meetings with Mickey Mouse).

If there is one piece of wisdom I gleaned from my cinematic education at APU, it was certainly that “the finished movie is only one of the products created from a film.” This has been true of this experience (mainly because there is no finished movie yet). After trying again and again to put the same pieces together in different ways, I have come to understand that telling a story is somewhat like eating an ice cream cone: it’s messy but at some point you have to commit.

The good news is, the time crunch is on, and I’ve committed. Ready for distribution by June.

I went to high school in the early 2000s (though I guess people in a hundred years will look back on now as “the early 2000s”), so when I watch films like Perks of Being a Wallflower or The Breakfast Club I can’t really pretend to be nostalgic. But there is something about cinema that earnestly attempts to bring forth some truth about high school that grabs me.

I suppose you feel that you’ve maybe had not-the-greatest high school experience if stories like those make you wish you could do it all over again.

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In a hypothetical world, I would go back and do it again, mainly because it’s a hypothetical world, so I wouldn’t have to deal with tedious homework, the smell of the cafeteria, and the general sense that I’ve been incarcerated. I think there’s something about that whole mess that brings to the surface people’s tactics of dealing with adversity.

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     short hair

Mine was to assemble the strangest collection of experiences in order to have very little in common with my classmates. That’s a bit harsh, maybe it wasn’t my intent, but the outcome was the same.

I traveled to a few different countries, and lots of states, joined a bagpipe band, participated in live theatre, made stop action movies for hours and hours and hours and hours. And all the while, I didn’t really do the experience of high school with people.

I made it through the meat grinder without

     getting arrested for doing drugs

     never got anyone pregnant, I didn’t even try

     didn’t break any federal laws, or state laws

     wasn’t hated enough to get beat up but I also wasn’t the center of attention

     And in the end I got good enough grades to go to a college and pursue the dream

     Success right?

Right. So why is there a tiny fissure of discontent when I look back on high school? Or is that just the predestined seat of those memories for everyone? Are there always those stories you wish you could retell; this time not caring so much about keeping your own status intact, or remaining unscathed from the fray?

And how in the world

do you live from now on

if you plan on getting the most

of the time you have left?