Happy Birthday to John Lennon and Jackson Browne

Today marks the birthday of two of my music icons John Lennon and Jackson Browne. John would have been 76 years old johnlennon1if he had not been killed. Their songs have given me happiness and comfort throughout my life. When I first really discovered music during my prepubescent years, it was the music of Beatles that resonated with me. It woke me up and gave me a sense of belonging along with millions of others inflicted with Beatlemania. As time went by their music changed as they became more experimental and the world changed as well.

I recently saw Ron Howard’s film, “Eight Days of the Week” the other night. It was about the Beatle’s touring years. It was beautifully edited and the sound was superb and I looked at it with the eyes and the appreciation of a grown woman who was now a photographer and filmmaker. It gave me a new perspective about their early days than the one I had when I was a smitten preteen. Back then I was just another young girl who was overwhelmed by these lads from Liverpool.

I had attended both of the Beatles concerts when they played Shea StadiumBeatlesTicket4 copy in 1965 & ‘66. Even though I had been there it was the first time that I had actually heard what the Beatles played that night. My family had just moved from Rochester, NY to the NYC area and my dad had somehow obtained 4 tickets to the show in his company’s box seats at Shea. It will go on record as probably the best gift my father had ever given me. It was more of an event than a concert. It quickly became historic and an event I will always remember.

As I got older and had experienced a couple of real relationships with the opposite sex, I moved to California. It was the early ‘70’s, and it was a different time and a different culture.JB I became captivated by the early California sound of Joni Mitchell, Crosby Stills and Nash, the Eagles and of course Jackson Browne. Their music defined an era and my young adult life. Jackson’s songs brought awareness of social issues and motivated the huge demographic of baby boomers to take action. To this day I remain a huge fan of Jackson Browne’s and try to see him in concert at least twice a year. In some ways his lyrics became my religion.

Music makes us happy, provokes us to take action and comforts us when we’re down. It’s universal. I think back to the 1960’s and how the Beatles and their music had gone viral. That was way before we had the Internet and social media platforms and I wonder, how did that happen? I suppose the stars were aligned and it was simply “the right time” to create one of the biggest phenomenons in music of all times. Of course it had a little help pushed by the emerging demographic of baby boomers who were ready to take the world by storm.

I wonder what John Lennon would have gone on to do in his life, if he hadn’t have been stopped by a bullet some 40 years ago. His music will live on and I will keep going to Jackson Browne shows as long as he keeps giving them. Their music is the sound track of my life.

Jackson Browne in concert
Jackson Browne in concert

Let the Good Times Roll (Laissez les bons temps rouler)

If there is one thing I’ve learned from a lifetime of travel, it’s that the more you immerse yourself into the culture of where you are, the more rewarding the experience will be.

This past weekend I flew to New Orleans for a friend’s big birthday bash weekend. 100 of her friends traveled to the Big Easy”Cajun musician playing accordian, New Orleans, Louisiana from all over the world to her help celebrate her 50th in a way that only this city can offer. Most of the activities stayed clear of the French Quarter and the tourist scene and took place in parts of the city that felt “real”.  You can’t help but feel the deep culture and history of this city, once you get yourself beyond the “sleaze”.

We had a couple of memorable dinners but one stands out in my mind, not just for the incredible cuisine, but also because of the company that evening. I was seated between a very distinguished young man from South Africa and a writer from Los Angeles. Across from me was an Italian who was living in London and a couple from Mississippi.  Some folks I had met 10 years ago at the 40th birthday bash. The conversations were diverse and entertaining.

After dinner our group left the restaurant and formed our own parade in typical New Orleans style.  Two NOLA cops on motorcycles led us and a second line band as we marched a few blocks to our next stop. It was a first for me – to be dancing up a New Orleans street, along with 100 other folks enjoying the moment.  It was pure happiness and not just for our group but for all those who came out of their houses or restaurants and bars to watch our small parade go by. I enjoyed every bit of that 4-block walk and it is etched in my mind forever.  And that’s the sort of thing that separates a city like New Orleans from a city like “Vegas”.

I was blissfully exhausted when I boarded my flight home Sunday night. When I ordered a glass of wine, the flight attendant happily announced that the man in 1 A is buying everyone on board a drink tonight. He was getting married and wanted to celebrate with his fellow passengers.  Le bon temps continued to roll.

How the Beatles Influenced Me as a Photographer & Businesswoman

With all the hype happening this week around the 50th Anniversary of the Beatles coming to America, I couldn’t help but reflect how much this band influenced my own career as a photographer and filmmaker.

  1. I was inspired me to “capture” history (and use my camera as a means to that end). Beatles on Ed Sullivan Show - February 9, 1964To start with, the first pictures that I remember taking as a child were photos I snapped of the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show.  I vividly remember as I anxiously awaited the show to begin, that I needed to document it somehow.  It was just too important not too.  In fact it was so important that I have kept that snapshot in a small box of memorabilia for 50 years! I’ve spent a career documenting some of the most incredible places, people and events of my time.
  2. They inspired me to be a storyteller.  I used to orally tell stories to just about anyone who would listen to me when I was a very young child.  But when the Beatles hit the scene, about the same time I started noticing the opposite sex, I turned my fantasies into my own written stories.  I’m still writing stories and now translating them into ePubs, books and movies.
  3. They expanded my universe.  I began to “see” things differently because of the Beatles.  I became aware of different cultures, countries, music and wit. It was like an awakening for me and I knew then that I wanted to explore as many cultures and experiences as I could. I’ve spent a lifetime exploring the unknown.
  4. They taught me to always learn, grow and challenge myself. I grew up as a child and later a teenager, during one of the most pivotal and changing decades in America. As the Beatles moved beyond the “feel good” and innocent lyrics of songs like “She loves you…..yeah, yeah, yeah”, to the lyrical depths found on the Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album, I too was changing.  It was like we were growing together. I remind myself daily to always be learning, exploring, growing and challenging myself and that has helped me stay fresh in my career.
  5. I learned that “The Beatles” were more than the sum of 4 individuals. John, Paul, George and Ringo all brought their own unique talents and personalities to make up the most phenomenal band of all time.  But they were also savvy enough to know they needed expert guidance and collaborated with great people like Brian Epstein and George Martin.  It taught me the importance of collaboration and to surround myself with people who have talents that I don’t possess.

Karma and Being Real

I had an awesome night last night.  My husband and I had tickets to a Jackson Browne concert. The seats were way up in the up most reaches of an old theater in New Brunswick, NJ.  They weren’t great tickets, but nevertheless, they were tickets to a concert by Jackson Browne, my favorite singer/songwriter.

During intermission, a guy, who had climbed four extremely steep flights of steps, walked into the “gallery” and announced that he had one available ticket in the third row and asked “Does anybody want it?” After a minute of trying to comprehend what the man had said, I spoke up and said “I’ll take it” and then asked  “Is it really in the third row?.  He confirmed, and then I asked my husband “you don’t mind do you?, gave him a kiss and flew down to my “new” seat.

It was an amazing night, JBto sit so close and be able to see and feel the music.  Jackson is one of the most intimate and real songwriters around and I got totally absorbed into his performance. I thought about my stroke of luck in getting that seat.  I thought perhaps my luck was changing after a very “trying” month. It was like a karmic blessing.

As I watched and listened to Jackson, I saw an artist whose talents and music have endured the test of time.  His topics and lyrics are just as relevant as they were when I first started following him, some 40 years ago.  That’s because he writes about the human experience – the triumphs and the failures that we all have.  He strikes a nerve with his truth and honesty.  Some say his music defines a generation.  Perhaps.  But Jackson’s music certainly defines who he is.  He’s about as authentic as you can be.

Jackson inspires me to create from my true self and do the work that I am meant to do.  He also inspires me to be a better person. After his encore, he waved to the audience and said, “Be good to each other”.  That said it all.

 From The Pretender, by Jackson Browne

I want to know what became of the changes
We waited for love to bring
Were they only the fitful dreams
Of some greater awakening
I’ve been aware of the time going by
They say in the end it’s the wink of an eye
And when the morning light comes streaming in
You’ll get up and do it again
Amen

Your Inspirational Heroes Are Just Like You

Today, October 9th is the birthday of two people who have been very inspirational to me over the years – Jackson Browne and John Lennon. Lennon would have turned 73 years old today if he had not been gunned down in NYC when he was only 40 years old.  I admire both of these men, not only for their incredible skills in writing but also for their activism and courage to stand behind their beliefs.

I had the honor of meeting Jackson after one of his concerts last October.  It was a memorable moment. Jackson had allowed me to use his song, “Alive in the World” in my film, Opening Our Eyes and it had been arranged for me to personally thank him after the show. He was warm and generous with his time and we talked a bit about the blues – a topic that continues to surface in my life.

The blues (music) seems to be the foundation of many of the musicians that inspire me. The blues is authentic and that authenticity comes through in the lyrics of both Jackson and John.  Throughout their songs, we get a very clear idea of how they feel and think. They share their frailties and inner thoughts as we see them as real people just like us.

I suppose a lot of us think it’s too risky to be so open with our thoughts and our hearts and choose instead to bury our  dreams, desires and fears inside the deepest recesses of our minds. A lot of angst can come sometimes from remembering things that have happened in our past – things we did or wished we had done – things we said and wished we hadn’t said – you know all those fleeting thoughts that seem to haunt us at times.  None of us can change the past – it has already happened. But we all can choose how we let our past affect our present and our future.

Some of us try to “block out” the painful things that have happened in our lives. I have found that I can’t really succeed in doing that because there will always be something that will trigger a memory. In fact when I try to “close myself” off like that, it actually just continues the pain, because I’m expending negative energy, trying to “block” it out . Instead, I try to channel those thoughts when they come, into more positive energy by reminding myself who I am, not how someone or something made me feel.

Everyone has ups and downs in their lives – it comes with being human.  That’s why the music and lyrics of Lennon and Browne resonate with their fans – they can relate- as humans. I think as creative people we can learn from these two musicians – how to take chances and how to be true to ourselves and follow our own path – regardless of how unconventional it may seem to others .  When we are true to ourselves, we will find that our future direction will unfold as it should – we just need to get out of our own way.

“You don’t need anybody to tell you who you are or what you are. You are what you are!” John Lennon

How a Passion Begins

There are a million things I should be doing right now. My husband and I just returned from a 6 day road trip to Chicago to see our daughter, Erin and all the “stuff” of life piled up while we were away. I should be out in the yard picking up dozens of littered branches that had come down in a storm that happened while we were gone – and yet I’m compelled to write.

Writing became a habit a few years ago, when I would wake up early in the mornings with my mind fully active and spinning with ideas.  Instead of tossing and turning in bed, I would get up, go to the computer and write – like this morning. I was encouraged by a friend to share some of those writings through blogging, so I did. I know that I break every blogging rule, because I write what happens to be on my mind, instead of being consistent to a theme and I generally don’t provide a lot of links, but somehow readers like these ramblings. Regardless, writing is something that is part of me now.

This past weekend we happened to be in Chicago while the Chicago Blues Festival was going on, so of course we had to devote a day to it.  It was a bittersweet experience as so many blues legends had passed away this year and it wasn’t the same without them – Pinetop Perkins, Willy “Big Eyes” Smith and Hubert Sumlin to name a few. But being at this festival brought me back to the first time I attended the Chicago Blues Festival

Junior Wells

in 1993 when I was in Chicago shooting a story on the city for the National Geographic Traveler Magazine. My plan was to cover the festival for one day as part of the story – I ended up going all three days and that’s when my passion for the blues began.

I hadn’t even thought of shooting video back then, but 2 years later my partner Tom and I began shooting 35mm motion footage for stock – and that’s when my passion for motion began.  Funny, within a two year period, two passions surfaced in my life and collided into the making my first short documentary The Delta Bluesmen, six years later.

As I listened to the music last Saturday in Grant Park, my mind wandered in a million directions, but once again I thought about how the universe works – that is if you don’t fight it.  The times in my life when I have just followed my instincts, have been the most gratifying times of all.  Most of the time, I was simply listening to a higher voice inside, instead of following the dogma of the day. It hasn’t always worked out and I’ve had my share of rejections, but that all goes into the messy mix of life.

I try to not linger on the negativity that comes with “rejection” and focus on the “rewards”.  There may not have been as many as I would have liked – but they would not have happened at all, without the lead up.  It all comes with the many years that go into the “overnight successes”.  Life’s too short to put road blocks in my own way or talk myself out of doing something with a hundred “great” reasons to rationalize it. And so – I’ll take the bitter with the sweet any day.

Happy Birthday John and Jackson and Goodbye Steve

Today John Lennon would have turned 71 years old, had his life not been snuffed out by a man with a gun in New York City over 30 years ago.  John was always someone I revered – in the beginning as a heartthrob – later as an activist for peace and for living his life the way he wanted to live it  – despite what others thought.

Today is also singer/songwriter Jackson Browne’s birthday.  His music and lyrics have resonated with me since I first became acquainted with his songs back in the early 70’s when I was living out in California. I’ve been in and out of touch with his music over the years, but recently I’ve been influenced by his songs as well as his social activism. Jackson uses his craft to create awareness, gets people to think and moves  people to action.

Jackson Browne

A line from his song “Alive in the World” inspired the title of my documentary Opening Our Eyes, and I have been extremely fortunate to obtain his permission to use his song in our movie for community screenings and film festivals.  Next week, I will get the opportunity to personally thank Jackson when I get to meet him after his concert at the Wellmont Theater in Montclair, NJ.

Last week we lost one of the “great ones” – Steve Jobs. 

Steve Jobs

I’ve always admired Jobs for his vision and for what he brought into all of our lives.  But mostly I admire Jobs for remembering to “Stay hungry and foolish”. And for reminding us to march to our own tune.  He sums it up more eloquently than I in his 2005 Stanford University commencement speech:

“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”

I admire these three men for  listening to their hearts and for following their dreams – for daring to be different. They have made our world a better place and have inspired me to do the same.  I don’t know how much more time I have on this earth, but I do know that I wake up each day and remind myself to make it count.

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The Power of Music on 9/11

Today is a day of remembrance – it’s been 10 years since the Twin Towers came down in NYC, changing the Manhattan skyline and our lives forever.  We all can probably remember exactly where we were and what we were doing that terrible day.

As for me, I not only remember that day vividly, but the weeks that followed, even though I felt like I was living in a daze.  What I remember most was the healing power of music.  In fact, music was one of the few things we humans could let into our hearts and minds to try to begin to soothe our souls and deal with our pain and our fears.

Music is a universal language.  Regardless of where we are in the world, music is one of those things that can still define a culture and a people, even in a world that seems so homogenous in so many other ways.  I think that’s why it resonates with me, it speaks to the place I’m in, even though I may not be able to communicate with words. Music transcends any language and connects us on a deeper more primal level that goes straight to the heart. When I was interviewing blues musician Willie “Big Eyes” Smith, he told me “If you sing me the blues – I know exactly where you’re coming from”.

I think all of us can define moments in our life by a song that we remember.  We have all been exhilarated by music and have danced the night away or conversely been healed by music when it seems like we just can’t make it through the day.  What else has that kind of power?

Today, I will pause and remember that tragic day 10 years ago that changed our lives forever and as I do, I will heal my soul with music. I know if Willie “Big Eyes” could heard me singing the blues today – he’d know exactly where I was coming from.

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Conversation with Director/Editor Erik Freeland

I was extremely fortunate that Erik Freeland of Springhouse Films was the editor on our film Opening Our Eyes.  I learned a lot from Erik through our collaboration.  I thought I would share some of Erik’s insights about the art of editing.

What makes a good editor?

Knowing a little bit about everything. Art history, popular culture, physics, linguistics, music… it gives you more points of reference for understanding and presenting the story. Attention to detail is very important because in the end, nothing goes unnoticed by the audience. I guess I’d have to say patience is tremendously important –– even though computers do amazing things, editing is at its core a tedious process.

We all seem to wear more than one hat these days – do you? If so do those skill sets complement each other and how?

I started in this business as an editor but really wanted to have more control over the material I was editing. I’ve have been fortunate to be able to also have a career as a director. Understanding those two disciplines and knowing what is possible in each allows me to visualize the editing process more during the shoot.

I know from editing projects myself, it has made me a better shooter. For still photographers who may not want to edit their own projects – what tips can you give to them about shooting video and motion?

Don’t cut too soon. Be patient and let a shot evolve.

When shooting a scene or a moment in time, think of it as different framings: the wide establishing shot, a medium shot of the main action or subject and little details that can serve as cutaways to prolong the scene or intercut the other shots while masking breaks in continuity.

Plan your movement of the camera and commit to it. When you start a pan, resist the temptation to reframe the shot mid-move. Keep it moving for long enough to make the shot usable in the edit and cut only if it really falls apart.

Keep in mind how much footage you are shooting vis a vis what you will want to end up with. You don’t want to miss anything important but a lot of redundant footage can really be a liability in your edit.

What does a well-edited film mean to you?

Many things. I think first and foremost, it’s about clear storytelling. It shouldn’t be confusing and leave the viewer behind. The editing shouldn’t stylistically overpower the story. Secondly, the rhythm of the cutting should help move the film and should be sympathetic to its tone. Third, it should move you, surprise you, change your mind, do something… I suppose I could say the same things are equally important in directing a film.

As an editor, you can have a lot of influence over the meaning and arc of a story. How much influence should an editor have? Does it depend on the director?

An editor should exercise as much as they can… without upsetting the collaborative balance. Everyone involved in the film should influence it to the best of their ability. Otherwise, their contribution to the process is short-changed. Of course, every working relationship is different and some are less collaborative.

What makes a good director?

I think some of the same qualities that make a good editor are part of a being good director. Knowing a little bit about everything as a director for instance, allows you to tell many types of stories and immerse yourself in the subject matter. Attention to detail, multi-tasking capabilities, being able to verbally communicate about visuals are of course all important skills. There is also a balance between focus and objectivity. A good director is fused with the film –– totally absorbed in every detail. At the same time, they have to be able to look at it and all decisions objectively and from a distance, almost like the eventual viewer.

What makes a good story?

Characters you care about, conflict and location, location, location…

What’s more difficult – editing a 2 minute piece for the web or a feature length film?

Hmmm, that’s a hard one. Kind of like asking which is better night or day.

Does editing have trends? Maybe you can point out a couple of examples of style over the years.

OK, first I don’t profess to be a film historian but I try to keep up on things. I tend to watch the films I like the most over and over. Technology has certainly created trends in film editing and directing. Advancements in keying technologies, motion tracking and motion capture as well as realistic CGI environments are but some of the major trends that have changed the way films look and are edited. Probably the closest things to trends specific to editing have been related to timing and pacing. The time-lapse of “Koyaanisqatsi” in the early 80’s, the repetition and multiple outcomes of “Run Lola Run” and the quick cutting shorthand jump-cuts and time-compression in Guy Ritchie’s films like “Snatch” have all had a huge influence over the editing of their time.

Licensing and Music

Music is the heart of any film, tv show, commercial and just about any other type of “content” that delivers a message.  Personally, I think that music is equally important to the visuals and dialog, in setting the feel and pace in any of those “products” I just mentioned. Imagine any of those things without music!

While working on the post production of a feature documentary recently, I became aware of just how important music was to the film and that I needed lots of it. In all I think we used over 53 pieces of music in a film that was 76 minutes long. And, I think we still could have used a little more in spots.

It’s amazing to me how many professional photographers don’t consider the licensing process when it comes to music. I’ve seen too many portfolio samples with “main stream” music that I know hasn’t been licensed because it’s prohibitively costly.
When you enter into the world of incorporating music into your creative projects and businesses be prepared to spend money and keep proper documentation. I learned a lot in this process and I’ll share with you some tips:

• Be prepared to spend money, especially if you are looking for broad rights. Even licensing royalty free music adds up if you want a mass market license. That would include everything from TV to a theatrical screenings to DVD’s and VOD, internationally.
• Even royalty free music in some cases comes with different tiers of licensing rights. One company I worked with www.neosounds.com had two options – Standard Licensing and Mass Market Licensing – the difference was that for TV broadcast, standard was national and mass market was worldwide.
• Make sure you keep all licensing agreements as well as any receipts for  music – both electronically and printed copies. You will need this documentation. If you want to mass duplicate DVD’s – you will be asked for proof of licensing.
• Keep track of the music, the title, the publisher, the recording company, the artist, the songwriter as well as how much of the music was used (time) and where in the film. You’ll need all this info for your “cue sheet”. A cue sheet is basically a list of all the music that is used in a film in the order that it appears – with all the info above listed. If your film is accepted by a film festival they will ask for it.
• Don’t forget that most times you will need two licenses for a song. One is the “synchronization license” which is permission from the publisher to use the song and the other is the “master use license” which is permission from the recording company for a particular recording of that song.
Apple Loops is “free” to use as long as you aren’t reselling just those clips as clips. But you’ll still need to download that license on the Apple website.

I’ve learned a lot over the last couple of months in what it really means to be a producer – at least in terms of what is needed to get a film off the ground after the “fun” part of creating it is over. But, while this type of work isn’t “fun” – I’ve grown by the process.