Exit 747

I get up at the crack of dawn today, which is not a time of day that I've seen much since last Spring, and even though the palest blue sky and freshest air greet me with much enthusiasm, it takes a hot shower and a cup of tea before I manage to return the sentiment. So what is it that could rouse me from a peaceful sleep state at such an unfamiliar hour? A free filmmaking seminar right here in the State of Jefferson!

An hour later, I'm heading down I-5 gazing cheerfully at the (now bright) blue sky, the golden fields of grass and autumn leaves that cling to the soft rolling hills flanking the convenient strip of asphault, bopping my head to "Piano Jazz with Marian McPartland" until I reach Exit 747. A somewhat ironic name, I think as I consider the giant aircraft of the same numeral and enter the town of Weed for the first time in my life, an eager and amused look on my face. All this weekend, the College of the Siskiyous and Mt. Shasta City have hosted the 4th Annual Mount Shasta Independent Film Festival, and on its last day, I have come to learn what I can from a "real" filmmaker.

Jerry Alden Deal has been in the film industry for many years, writing lots of Hollywood scripts and even directing a couple of short films along the way, but he has only just directed a feature film that he wrote himself. He described "Dreams Awake" as a family movie, a drama centered on personal journeys, with a focus on the mystical Mt. Shasta itself.

I settle into my orange plastic seat in the small lecture-style classroom and glance around me: there are upwards of 20 people there and several kids, including some teenagers even (which proves that they don't all waste their weekends playing video games and smoking, uh weed?). Jerry introduces himself and points out the people in the audience who helped on the film and, I notice, looks to his wife, Barry (also executive producer on this film), who is sitting behind me, because, I like to think, they really are a team, great partners, and in love with each other. Ah, warm fuzzies!

Over the course of the next three hours, between my restless shiftings (my family always said I had a bony butt as they kicked me off their laps, and based on my experience with this 70s-era plastic, I now agree with them), I learn that making a film can require an enormous amount of time and energy and it is therefore advisable to make one about something I am passionate about and that will motivate me to continue nurturing it, quite possibly for years on end. I also learn that Jerry sees Hollywood studios as corporate enterprises and really valued his experience making a film independently of their bureaucracy. It does seem, though, that either way one goes though – big dogs or local shelter – money is a major character in any film. Note to self: get as much as possible, as soon as possible!!

He shows us some "standard def" daily clips, including one of a steadi-cam moving up a staircase that took nearly two hours to shoot. According to him that was much too long, but the shot looks great, so maybe it was just the right amount of time? We see a couple scenes with the lead actors and I suddenly become aware of the importance of sound in a film – these rough cuts had yet to make it to the editing and post-production stages and it was a make-it-or-break-it difference in lighting and noise. Note to self: always be appreciative of the entire crew! Eventually, Jerry even shares a couple of outakes to demonstrate that in filmmaking, as in life, the shit can hit even if you have written the fan out of the script. In this case, an unscripted car alarm and a farting "sound" entertain us, while ruining the shots. Strangely enough, this is the good stuff because during months of 12 hour work days, it actually keeps everyone sane, especially the director.

In the end, I wistfully look back at the picturesque campus (snowy mountain, tall evergreens, squirrels, and a stream!), but my mind is already racing ahead, full of renewed committment to my own cinematic ambitions.

Until "Dreams Awake" makes it through post-production and finds a distributor, you can find out for yourself just what it took to get it where it is today:

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