Monday, April 09, 2012

SAHKANAGA - Days 1 & 2

Hey, I'm John Henry Summerour. I'm on the road and in the skies with my feature, SAHKANAGA, on the Southern Circuit Tour. I may be one of the few remaining filmmakers (and human beings?) who don't own a smart phone or digital camera, so I will try to create pictures out of words.

I've been on the festival circuit since April of last year (you can check out the playdates here) and since then the only months where I got to be at home without traveling were June, January and March, so I'm pretty used to packing my bag and heading to the airport at this point. Well, something surprising happened this week. I actually started to get nervous about departing for the Circuit. I had dreams in which I was visiting friends and they kept telling me to sit down but they had no chairs, or the one where Julia Roberts was at a party, dressed as a mime, standing with her nose in the corner as though she had misbehaved. All the dreams were eerie and I kept thinking, "Why am I getting nervous about this trip? I've been all over the world, cool as a cucumber. Why now?"

#1 - This tour represents the completion of an incredible year, traveling to new places and sharing the movie with audiences who have surprised and inspired me. The film will continue to play a few festivals here and there, but once you've been on the road for a year it's time to pass the torch to the new crop of independent filmmakers, and things inevitably slow down. I also realize that the Circuit could be my last opportunity to sit in a room with others who are experiencing the film for the first time, to feel them reacting as the story takes them on a journey. I know many filmmakers hate sitting in the theater as their movie plays, but I think that's crazy. We make movies to share with audiences, right? For me, getting to spend time with each audience is the reward after years of hard work, and it teaches me so much about my own storytelling.

#2 - I will turn 35 on this trip. Birthdays are always a time of reflection on the year I've had as I ponder where I'm going, and the conveyor belt of life chugs along, making me want to live every single moment to the absolute fullest. So, you know, it can be an emotional and slightly edgy time of year.

#3 - Festivals are fun! I get to show up and someone else has booked the theater, sold the tickets, hired a projectionist and worried about the logistics and finances.  Now that I'm reaching the end of my festival year, I still have the goal to self-distribute the film in New York (where I live) and Chattanooga (where I grew up, and shot the film). Fun time is over. I'll spend the next several months trying to execute my plan for self-distribution while negotiating deals to make the film available on Netflix, iTunes, DVD, etc. It's been good for me to learn the business-side of filmmaking, but it ain't no party.

#4 - Now what? More than anything else, I really want to be working on a new film, but I haven't been able to focus my energy on writing new scripts and building the foundation for a new project while trying to bring SAHKANAGA to completion. Someone asked my sister what I was working on next and she said, "John has to ride that SAHKANAGA pony all the way to the stable before he can take out another horse." I do think the stable is in sight, and though the pony is gagging and stumbling, he's definitely going to make it. But once we get to the stable will I have the energy to climb back on a new horse and take off again? Will I remember how to ride a horse? Will the horse get spooked? Will I run out of apples?? And so a new cycle begins... facing the unknown, challenging myself to rise to the occasion, summoning strength and passion from the depths. It's a daunting endeavor, but it's time.

#5 - Sometimes strange dreams and bad feelings come true:
My trip to Charleston was a S_ _ _ SHOW. I'm not gonna lie. The first plane out was delayed, then the entire flight was cancelled due to "Mechanical." (One word, that's all we got.) I spent an hour trying to book another flight to Savannah, Augusta or Greenville so I could drive to Charleston, but everything was sold out due to Easter Weekend traffic. (Never travel on Easter/Passover Weekend, folks, not unless you like to witness cross-generational familial meltdowns in which strollers become weapons.) My rebooking was interrupted by a guy running through the terminal cheering, "We got you another plane to Charleston!" That plane was being flown in from Boston, so they loaded us onto a bus and shuttled us 30 minutes to the Marine Terminal where no one had been given advance notice that a plane was coming in from Boston to pick up a busload of angry passengers. Not a good scene. The computers crashed, printers ran out of ink, paper jammed, no one could get rebooked. I witnessed an old man in a wheelchair screaming, "I WANT A PRIVATE JET!" Time stopped. The Delta representative considered him and said, "Sir, that's not how it works. We are trying to get another plane for all the passengers..." "I WANT A PRIVATE JET I WANT A PRIVATE JET!!!!"

It was nuts, but we finally made it to Washington DC, and then Charleston, where I encountered total gridlock while people on the other side of the highway screamed across to us, "The First Lady is in town! They've shut down the interstate!" (I later found out it wasn't Michelle Obama, but the First Lady of South Carolina who was on a book tour, or something.)

Once I made it to the Halsey Institute, everything mellowed. I was greeted by Lizz who checked me into the beautiful historic housing and recommended a place to grab a sandwich before we did a picture/sound check. The screening went well. I got to meet my editor's best friend from college, my composer's brother, and a woman from back home who has been a Facebook friend for years but we've never met in person. (It's always extra special to have people from Walker County in the audience since they really know the world of the film.) I had a late and delicious dinner at Husk, and the next morning I took off for Savannah where I've finally had a moment to jump off the pony, take Julia Roberts out of the corner, and blog it out.

And so it begins...

(Stay tuned, I'm going to get more coffee.)