Basement Tapes

Recently someone told me they were trying to “break into” Hollywood. I kind of looked at them funny like, “You ARE in Hollywood.” As far as I’m concerned, if you’re working (whether paid or unpaid) and are living or a part of Hollywood, you are already “in” Hollywood.

Hollywood is just a LOCATION, it is an industry too…but it is a more so a lifestyle and culture that has very little to do with how big you are as a actor, writer, director etc.

I was also thinking about the idea of “breaking in.” I mean, are we trying to rob a bank or something?

I’ve been reflecting a great deal about the “six degrees of separation” concept. As far as I’m concerned, as long as you’re doing something, you’re already a part of it. You’ve already been initiated into the tribe. And the only reason people are working (or slaving) in Hollywood but still feel like they’re “breaking into it” is because they see it as a hierarchy: like it’s some stairway to heaven that they don’t rightly deserve. But Hollywood is just a location.

When I worked with the cast for NUNE, I saw the actors as “stars.” I projected an archetype into them and I saw the bigness in them. My goal was to bring that out as much as possible. I know that we all have to start out somewhere but even the biggest people in Hollywood are always starting over. Angelina Joli for instance, just started directing. And Reese Witherspoon did something super insanely indie and ballsy for her new movie WILD. They shot without any grip department. People are breaking out the box, everything is converging. There is no separation. And it’s inspiring.

I think about the slogan, “A star is born” when I cast actors. Everyone knows that the movie industry is dried up and lifeless; it’s nothing without a new star, new talent. But they’re stuck in a cycle: of making films so inflated in cost that they can’t take risk by not using a named actor to get a return. This is justifiable. To get a new star, you have to work with “unknowns,” you have to introduce them.

Major studios don’t have that luxury because they’re an investment firm; they treat actors like stock (market). If you’re an investor, you don’t put your bets on a losing stock. You choose the best performing ones (financially). So it’s nothing personal. It’s business. But now and then you get a new stock that is a good performer—like when the Google and Apple stock started turning around. That’s how it works on the investment side of film. And I enjoy working with the actors who can potentially “out-perform.” It’s very exciting.

I’m as avant-garde as anyone can get yet I feel more like a Hollywood filmmaker more than most people working the grounds everyday at a major studio. I feel that way because everything I do puts me in touch with the same process that any big filmmaker goes through: we work with the same crew whether we realize or not; even if it’s a PA (production assistant), a gaffer or a DIT guy doing thankless work; everyone is so intrinsically connected it’s scary. I buy and rent my shit from the same people. I shake hands with the same vendor. The same walkie we used on set goes out one day for me, and the next week it’s probably on some Chris Nolan film set. The high school we filmed at is the same high school shown on major TV shows. And in fact, what was funny to me was when we scouted the location and ran into an imposing industry clan; it was like being in a Zoo, when one animal from Africa is staring at another animal from Siberia. We’re different species in the same zoo. There’s no glass bubble. That is the illusion I won’t buy into. I refuse to believe that I’m separate from anyone else.

A while ago, I was in my parents’ basement. I went through some old home videos I shot when I was film school. I have over 200 video tapes (at roughly 60-90 minutes each) of my life in film school. People used to hate me because I had a camera attached to my face everywhere I went. I took it to class, I ate with it, I rode the bus with it. I even strapped it with gaffer’s tape to my motorcycle and rode with it. Some of my first meetings of new friends in life were caught on tape. I met my first kitty cat that I would adopt on tape. I used to call the video camera my “camera eye” because my eyes and lens were inseparable. It got to the point where everyone got used to it and felt it was only natural to talk to me while being filmed.

They was a lot of footage to go through, very long hours. I came across one video where I filmed myself editing (hours of me just sitting there editing and listening to house music) and a friend of mine, Paul comes by and asked me to look at his cut for an experimental film (this was all on video).

Naturally, I followed him with the camera to his editing room and I taped him playing his black and white experimental short film on a Steenbeck (yes, on 16mm film). The music was really haunting and freaky. Paul was a strange guy: he had a headful of hair but he shaved off ½ of the front part and dyed the rest bright fire-engine red. He looked like Bozo The Clown and he wore very big thick black rimmed eye glasses. He was a young dude with the voice of a commander; almost corporate. He was mature because he appeared to be working in the industry—not like the rest of us kids.

He stopped the scene and asked me what I thought. I told him the music was really frightening me. He said, “Yeah, my friend Moby made it for me.” I thought nothing of it. Well, many years later, we know where Moby went. A thousand years from now, if anyone reads or finds my diary in the digital cave—they won’t know who “Moby” is. But for now, he’s kind of a big deal.

And this explains why Moby is so connected to the independent and experimental art film scene; it is because like everyone else, he began somewhere—and he never forgot it. He stayed true. He just did his thing. Paul did his thing, I did my thing and I’m still doing my thing. So whether or not we “make it” somewhere or “break into” something was irrelevant. Eventually, everything comes full circle.

The fascinating thing about life—at least my life—is that the six degrees of separation is really just one degree from greatness. I was one degree from this “Moby” guy. I was one degree from Maya Deren, I was one degree from Stan Brackhage, I worked with Mike Kuchar, and I was best friends with Howard at the Millennium, which was an ungodly connection to every single experimental filmmaker worldwide. Everyone and everything I love and admire I would eventually meet or be one step away from. I believe that love draws people together. We may call that destiny but it’s actually love.

My favorite director Robert Bresson is dead. Shortly before he died, I met a NYU professor who was only one degree from him. I told him how much I loved Bresson, how I got him and I considered making a documentary about him. So he gave me his phone number and address (in France).

None of these people I mentioned may mean anything to anyone in the mainstream. But they were legends in their own right and respected. There were countless incidences like these; from the educational, political, science, the arts and entertainment to inventors, ancestors and heritage; so many connections to greatness.

The point is, we’re always surrounded by greatness but most of us continue to chase an “illusion.” I don’t know who taught us that. We think great people are somewhere else, above us, or whatever. They are absolutely around us. And if we cannot recognize it now, we never will even when it’s under our nose.

Great people aren’t great because they’re rich, famous and powerful. They may become rich, famous and powerful because they were true to their inner-greatness. For them, it is not a matter of ego, it’s the fact that they have to express themselves; and the hunger for self-expression is the fuel that manifests greatness.

Then we hear about the secret masters that never reveal anything to anyone; the kind that you have to trek a million miles to get permission to see; and only the winding branches of serendipity and faith will get you there.

My Tai Chi teacher did that…to get the blessings of his own master. Those silent people are great in a way you can’t imagine. They are inaccessible for other reasons. So they do not need to prove to the world through ambition that they are great. They’ve already transcended this world. What we believe to be qualities of greatness is often misleading and based on bad education; of lacking proper educators, mentors and mainly—masters.

This is why I don’t worry about “breaking” into anything. I am content with what I have. I know that everyone’s great. When I meet people from all levels of industry, I treat them with as much respect as anyone else.

Tonight, I was listening to some tracks and I came across a freaky unreleased song called, “Sighted,” by Moby. And then I laughed. It sounded exactly like the track that Paul played for me. I wondered if Moby too was digging into his basement tapes.

We Shall,


Ji Strangeway is a filmmaker, writer, and poet specializing in female-centric LGBTQ. She is also a fierce blogger aiming for a new level of indigoness and bad assery. Find out more: | Follow FB: jistrangeway.official  #jistrangeway

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Ji Strangeway

Ji Strangeway

Executant of the Ineffable

The Three Gates of Speech stipulates that you ask these questions before putting your foot in your mouth: Is it True? Is it Necessary? Is it Kind? Since this doesn't fit the purpose for every occassion, the criteria for my path is: Is it True? Is it Necessary? Is it Indigo?

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