Not Bad for an Unknown

Flashbacks. Lots of them. Not just because it just turned 2018.

You know that feeling of your life moving in waves of recaps…and how interesting that people often do this only on their deathbed. But in fact we do it ritualistically every New Year’s…we look back—and review.

I had been doing this as a child…looking always into the future and staring back—as if I were on my deathbed—reviewing my entire life. I think I was, and continue to live my life backward—trying to get used to this world. I am only beginning to accept what life is, and that it is good.

I review too much of my life in chapters and serial volumes. Each day, I am reflecting back at a week, a year, a decade, a critical moment in time…sink or swim. Do or die.

I often tell my friends that I have cut off the pictures of my past. There is nothing of my high school years—which I hated most. And why? They ask.

Why.

Because that was another lifetime. I am a different person now. The images I had of myself did not even look like me and in many ways, were not me at all. They were of someone else. Someone completely fucked up. Call it Life.

Sometimes when I’m driving down a street in LA, I start to fantasize about whether I had been down these streets in a past life…

I sink into a deep romanticism and drive with half my attention here—and the other half elsewhere…

I do this often on Pico Boulevard. I know, not the most interesting street in LA but there’s something snaky and long about it and how it goes on forever and not sexy in any way. It runs through the southern tip of Century City and movie studios—the road feels like old Vegas, 1970s. Don’t know why. Past midnight with the warm air and windows rolled down—cool wind gentle enough to hang your whole arm out like a chola, a badass gangster…something like that.

I do this often on 6th Avenue going East parallel to Wilshire. I sink into my imagination of a quaint 1950s feel and tap into all the history that this street seemed saturated with. Along the winding tree-lined road without borders, I could feel all the old Hollywood actors from the golden years having driven down here—although you never see 6th in movies or TV. I imagine them drag racing and crashing their cars…

Dazed, my eyes closes halfway to imagine the 4-point intersection of green lights flashing by like neon Shamrocks.

Sometimes I drive by Tomy’s Burgers and look back at my old self, just two years ago—standing outside at 5am eating hot greasy fries while I stare at the wall size ads behind bus stop glass of the hottest shows on TV—and think about how I don’t watch TV, and think about how I wouldn’t know what it’s like to be that famous—and how I don’t really care because…

I keep remembering the time I was seven years old and I was spiritually wide awake. I’d walk down the street alone and pass lovers on the grass and say to myself, “That’s just a crush that will end one day.” And the Mexican lovers giving each other hickies and chewing on each other’s nubile fat lips would look back at me—and give me dirty looks—because I’m Asian and they hated us for being in the hood, or perhaps they saw my thoughts—that I knew, how transient all this is…and I knew that one day I would go through what they would go through…to feel the pain of first love…lost love…and how love can either fuck you up forever or make you a better version of yourself—and it’s usually the former…and I’d never thought I’d choose to give up sex and relationships forever—because there’s something out there much bigger—that I can’t seem to find on this planet—filled with wounded people.

I remember that incident so vividly and how I couldn’t watch TV of 1970s reruns because the psychedelic colors made me lose my appetite and made me wanna vomit and I couldn’t understand why the color choices surrounding the world I live in were so depressing—then, and in the 80s….which all seems cool and retro now. I didn’t understand why phones were green, and furniture was brown, why curtains were orange…maybe I was seeing something totally different in my vision—maybe I was living in the future.

Every now and then I remember In-N-Out Burger on Sunset Blvd…in Hollywood not too long ago—in 2016 when it felt just like yesterday. I had been rehearsing with Jess for NUNE and we got the munchies as I drove her home to the Palisades…We pulled into the In-N-Out and she told me a story about that’s how she met her dyke jailed drug dealing girlfriend who sold her burgers through the drive-thru window…and she told me she likes her girlfriends bad…

We inhaled burgers and fries and continued driving West along the tree-lined Sunset Blvd, which always felt like a romantic street to me and you can feel its scenic-ness even in pitch darkness.

I was blasting electronica in my car and the night was so peaceful. Those are the best times I had with Jess—just us doing bullshit nothing.

I gave her lots of rides home cause she had gotten in a massive car accident a year before we met and it messed up her brain so she was not allowed to drive. A year or so later, I was called into a deposition by a lawyer who wanted to grill me by going over a lawsuit related to the accident. They wanted to know if Jess really had a brain injury—since she was able to perform and memorize lines in my film.

I told the guy, no, not at all. We had to rehearse more than normal because she couldn’t process the information normally and I literally had to videotape our rehearsals and put directions in subtitles so she could review my direction over and over again. Sometimes her brain would shut off and although her eyes would be open she seemed asleep.

When that was all over, they mailed me a transcript of the deposition which cracked me up hard because it read like a personal interview—and recorded so many strange things I said. I was talking about how Jess had a G*d experience or something like that and some spooky events in her life after the brain trauma. All of which was fascinating because she had a spiritual awakening.

It was only because of the awakening that Jess and I wound up working together.

Divine intervention. Yes it happened with making NUNE, time and time again—moments and scenarios of things that came so unexpected—good and bad…

When I first moved to LA, I drove down Olympic Avenue a lot and I would drive past Los Angeles High School a million times. Night and day and day and night…I would pass by and every time I would look up at the LED sign for the school’s mascot which is “The Romans.”

I looked forward to seeing that sign night after night because it inspired scenes in my head for RED AS BLUE. I gave me mental images of scenes for the story…

So when I wrote NUNE to be made into a short film version of RED AS BLUE, I imagined myself filming the movie at LA High.

I was fantasizing and got goosebumps trying to imagine how I could ever rent an entire high school to make a movie. Me, just one person. A woman…with nothing really.

I didn’t know a soul in this city. No money, no real job, no contacts. Just my creativity—a vision. I spent every moment dreaming of what to do next of how to make this happen…

I decided to go for it. Placed an ad for a casting call and started taking in headshots and auditioning people and went through all the motions of making a film again—like I did a while ago.

Because all my films are self-financed, I can only make one every 5 or so years.

It’s oversimplified now…none of it was easy. Making NUNE was the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life—because I did it on a large scale and alone. They say film is collaborative and although that’s true—but when you’re a pioneering spirit like me—you don’t wait to for anyone—you don’t wait for someone to understand your vision because they never will—because it’s yours and no one else’s—so you have to put both feet into it. You have to just do it…sink or swim…do or die…and it seems I keep getting resurrected.

Three years later, I walked onto the campus of Los Angeles High School for the first time. And as I walked through I tried to feel the emotional quality of the place and I did not like what I felt. The campus felt negative and dark like a prison. I figured, well hey, that goes thematically with your scenes. But no…

Once I met the site manager that was when I knew that this school would not be for me. My search for a high school location was the one of the hardest tasks of making this movie—especially if you’re not part of mafia, part of the secret industry, part of all that. It’s all rigged. And it’s meant to keep small people like me out.

Throughout my visits to dozens of schools, I got to know the education system and the inner workings of the politics and it was very interesting shaking hands with some of these folks—sketchy victims of the system, con artists and smalltime crooks raking in just enough to pay off their mortgage.

I will never forget the drive I went on a golf cart on an ominous windy day. I could taste the poverty-complex of the school in the air and feel it in the pesky wind which I envisioned for whatever reason as clouds of brown dust.

The site manager gave me a tour of a school in the valley…it was sketchy and filled with strange hints and under the counter dealings—it was as if I had to understand what a wink was and pretend not to play stupid but I did because I wanted to remain blind to how corrupt everything was.

And I won’t forget those Santa Clarita days which were so depressing driving through high desert and trying to penetrate through walls of bureaucracy only to stumble upon a depressing campus filled with concrete boxes called classrooms lain out like military pods along a barren suburban landscape. I wanted to drop in unexpected because no one would take my calls and to see the campus regardless. With or without a tour guide.

I believe it was 110 degrees that day when I pulled up to an outdoor lot that had roofs erected over the cars to keep them from melting. I walked up to two high school girls and asked them where the cheerleading field was and I needed to go watch them practice: I needed to do my research firsthand.

One of the girls didn’t want to talk to me and the other was fascinated that I was making a movie so she gave me a tour of the campus. I told her all the scenes I needed to film, so she took me to the field were cheerleaders happen to start practice and then into the gym, the locker rooms and when I asked her where the hallway lockers were she said, “We don’t have any.”

I was like What? A high school without lockers. You’re kidding me.

Nope.

Only in California.

Well, what do kids do with their stuff?

They have to carry their belongings with them.

That ended my search and I was glad I dropped in and scouted location without making an appointment because all this would have been a massive waste of my time and already it was a big waste anyway.

To think, what a crazy idea—renting an entire high school to shoot a movie. Only big studios do that. What the fuck was I thinking?

That day, I dropped into three more schools in the hot suburban deserts unannounced and none of the schools had lockers. I was getting good at this and knew who I’d  have to contact to get the quickest tours without an appointment. I became friends with janitors. They are the butlers.

My morale has never been so low and depressing because my vision of the scenes in my head was dimming.

A high school without lockers in a movie is like filming a beach without sand.

On those hunts, I visited so many places where classic movies from the 1950s to present time were filmed—and the oldies told me stories who remembered. The most classic was GREASE because like every boy who had a crush on Olivia-Newton John, I did too, except I was a girl and wasn’t allowed to—so I put the pain and agony of the dark ages into RED AS BLUE.

Little did I know I was getting a Hollywood History tour. Name a movie had been made in a school—I had probably been there.

How this all happened don’t ask. The short answer is Divine Intervention. Ditching the LA school system completely. Thinking outside the box. Losing sleep. Persistence.

When people didn’t return my calls or avoided them, I would make a surprise visit. And if they wouldn’t see me, I’d wait in a lobby or stalk them. I am a pretty good stalker.

I’ve been told that I was one of the cutest stalkers by a producer once. I’m not sure if that was a good thing. I followed him to the men’s bathroom.

These days, I get goosebumps driving through Los Angeles because I’d drive past locations where I had a fulfilled a small little dream. It was small but big because I did the whole thing with very little help and very little money. I had to be extremely resourceful.

And though I never considered myself a salesperson or good at sales, I was selling the whole time: selling my vision. Selling my vision to talented people who were sick of working on rote projects that had no soul and just wanted something artistic for their reel. The power of leveraging your vision to make up for other things you don’t have: money, contacts, and clout. My vision is a commodity.

I’d get goosebumps when I drive by Los Angeles High.

I’d see the Before and After of the time I was only fantasizing about renting an entire high school…only to find something far better.

I shot in the Palisades while big budget expensive TV shows like Modern Family were filming—and here I was, taking up a weekend slot—no different than any other film production company. It was as if I walked through the veil of reality—because as they say, it’s not like their shit don’t stink. We’re no different. If you make a film, you’re a filmmaker. It doesn’t matter how you did it or how you paid for it. The playing field is even as soon as you start rolling.

I get goosebumps driving through expensive areas of Culver City where you could never imagine renting an entire restaurant with literally no money…

But I did it because I dropped in unexpected one day. Ate at the place, then went to the counter to ask for the owner. And the owner gave me the space only because she said I was “one cool chick.” And I really appreciated that—because I really had nothing else to offer.

Divine intervention. Divine because she told me she never rents out her place to filmmakers. It’s too much trouble. G*d bless her. She’s gonna go to heaven.

I get goosebumps because even though I feel like I haven’t done anything seriously major in my life—now and then I have to go back to IMDB because Google keeps taking me there, and then a smile came over my face.

NUNE, rated at 6.9 stars.

A small feat perhaps. A little film nobody knows except for the secret youth who are begging for a longer, bigger version of my short—but my hands are tied. I need a good 2 million at minimum to do that.

I say, darling, read RED AS BLUE when it comes out and experience a much bigger world…it’s easier, more immediate and you can hold it in your hands forever.

What’s a small film like NUNE, sitting in IMDB next to all the other current must-watch lesbian films? The playing field is leveled as long as you play. There is no big or small anymore and that’s what I love about technology and the bridging of our much bigger, global world.

In the grand scheme of things, I look at the entertainment business like this—and the earth with its one percent against the rest of us. And while the rest of us are constantly competing for attention just look up at the sky:

You see millions of stars but you can’t see them all. Look deeper, they grow fainter…and you’d have to go so far to see the rest…but. It goes on forever.

Look down at the earth—and this what you see: a million dimmed lights of stars that are meant to shine…but you only see a few….the one percent. The celebrities, the moguls, the movers and shakers, the empires and they are the first stars you see…

You have to go far and deep to see people like me.

So you see, it pays to play small, to be small, because there is no such thing as small. There’s only richness and vastness that is untouchable…and this is what G*d expects—

It expects to probe that deep to get to you and me. It looks into us and searches for a mirror of Its depth to see and know the unknown. 💙

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: www.jistrangeway.com | Follow FB: jistrangeway.official  #jistrangeway

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Finding my visionary twin is better than sex, better than having children, and is like finding your true religion.Tweet

About

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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