As a film student, I have had a multitude of different assignments. It depends on whether I am taking directing, set design, acting or camera techniques. It changes every semester and I welcome the new opportunities. It is all pertinent to my studies and will help form the foundation of my career. I love every minute of it. Before I can take on difficult subjects, such as the history or contemporary lives of Native Americans, I must hone my craft. There is so much to know, and with each project, I add to my list of skills. Someday I can execute my “masterpiece.” I expect my signature style and unique subject matter to gain accolades. We shall see. Students dream big!
I have done all sorts of things, including an indie style student film. It was super challenging and rewarding. I had to select the “cast,” choose the location, set up props, work on makeup and costumes, and much more. I feel that I have been getting a truly well-rounded education. Now I am working on writing and shooting a commercial, which is a very different animal. The entire process varies, and of course the length is condensed. You must convey your message with just a few lines of dialogue and some key images in a minute and a half at best. It will be fun to see if I succeed. I will certainly get feedback from the instructor and the other students. We are all in the same boat.
After considerable thought, I decided not to make it too complicated. I will do a takeoff on traditional ads for washing machines and refrigerators—the usual household stuff–by focusing on a luxury faucet for the discriminating homeowner. In the old days, it would have been the housewife or “homemaker.” Not any more in this liberated era. I will have the man of the house observe the faucet in a supply emporium and start dreaming of how it would look and operate at home. You know the drill. You do a fade to the fantasy sequence. It is part of the requirements of the assignment.
I have the perfect prop in a box in my own apartment. My mom gave me a new kitchen faucet as a special gift since the old one has been leaking buckets. The Brizo faucet is brand spanking new and its shiny glossy surface will be the standout image in the commercial. I will use close ups to reveal its beauty and grace. It certainly is coming in handy. I am so glad I haven’t yet installed it. Otherwise, I might have had to get a toaster, mixer or shower head instead. Ha! I can save money on my prop and set budget, which is seriously meager. Now I have to choose the music. What goes with curved chrome? I shall ask Siri or Alexa. They know everything.
After long days of studying film in school, I can’t turn my brain off when I get home. When it comes to bed time, I am full of ideas that I want to commit to celluloid. I just have to write them down. Forget about sleeping. Welcome insomnia. This is a common ailment of college students, or so I am told. Other students talk about it as if it were the plague. We all sit in class trying to be attentive, but in reality we are exhausted. Our professor is somewhat sympathetic but he just advises us to go to bed earlier. Try that when a million people are texting you and expect an immediate response.
Music is my savior. The right mood can be set with some soft sounds. Never something heavy metal or too lively a beat. I use that in the morning to wake up and stay alert. At night, I have to try various solutions. I hate warm milk and turkey so forget about that home remedy. They say to get in bed an hour before you fall asleep and turn off the TV and cell phone. Don’t subject yourself to any stimulation. Be sure there are no bright lights outside your window. Use a shade and dim the lights. I have tried everything. One thing the experts never mention is a ceiling fan. My faithful Westinghouse, the best ceiling fan brand in the world, creates a wonderful kind of silent noise as the blades turn in space. It is also hypnotic to look at. Sure, I could use an alarm clock that features nature sounds, or white noise as it is called; but then I would have to get a new one and I already have the fan in place.
You can see that I have given my insomnia a lot of thought. The fan is not intrusive as sounds go. It generates just enough to put me to sleep fast. One day, the remote was broken and I nearly panicked. It was a long night. It was a simple fix and I now have a reliable sleep motivator. I want to write a letter to Westinghouse as a paean to this wonderful device. They should put “insomnia cure” in their descriptions online. I guess I can just write a testimonial and give it a high rating.
I can see that such a fan would be great for kids’ rooms. When they are infants, they have a mobile. As they get older and grow out of it, a ceiling fan would replace it as a source of peace and quiet. I bet my parents never thought of this clever idea. I have the fan to keep me cool in the summer as I have no central air. It provides a lovely gentle breeze that is just enough to keep me comfortable. Now it does double duty as white noise. Let me tell you, it works.
There are many things that we think we know about cultures that are not our own. One of the main places we get these assumptions from is the entertainment business. It doesn’t matter if the material they are putting out there is patently false or disrespectful, or if there is any context to the culture they are portraying. As a result, many people think they know and understand things when they really don’t.
I am not saying that it is done maliciously or with the intent to harm – at least, not most of the time. Things are changed for lots of reasons: convenience, out of ignorance, to make a joke, because of oversimplification, laziness, or simply a lack of understanding, to name a few. I’m not justifying anything, and I’m not giving anyone a free pass because they didn’t realize people would be offended. I also totally understand (coming from an ethnic group that is constantly misrepresented, for many reasons) and believe that these minority groups are justified in their anger, frustration, and humiliation when they see their culture abused in these ways.
I’d like to think that things are changing, even if it is only gradually. It has only been more recently that if a certain character has a specific ethnicity, that casting directors are actively trying to find someone fitting those criteria instead of just some popular actor that they feel will bring enough star power that nobody will care that the person is completely wrong for the role.
These things are changing not because Hollywood suddenly grew a conscious and is making more of an effort to find and promote minorities. No, things are changing because audiences want things to change and are using their power to show the entertainment industry so: they are speaking with their wallets. Things are changing because people want to see more diversity in their entertainment. This allows more people of color to tell their stories, get behind the camera, and for people who look like them to stand in front of it. This is such an important step to bringing a better representation of all cultures in this field. There is so much to learn from in a diverse culture, and the entertainment industry could set a gold standard for the rest of us to follow.
Now that people of different nationalities are appearing in worldwide releases, are participating in the writing, editing, and production process, we have the ability to tailor the story. We can correct fallacies, we can abolish stereotypes, we can shine a light on what makes our views so unique and worth paying attention to.
That only happens when we are portrayed and represented accurately. It needs to be authentic: in character, in dialogue, in experience and portrayal. That’s why I chose film as my area of study, and that’s why even on the hard days, on the days where I wonder if I will make anything at all of myself, I know that even if I don’t – I have to try. It’s not just me that succeeds if I do, it is all of my people.
Just because I am a student, don’t turn away from this blog! Young as I am, I have stories to tell. You will get insight into the mind of a Native American female who aspires to be in the entertainment industry. It is hard enough for women in general, if not for a minority. Like acting, behind-the-scenes jobs are a man’s world. We all know when women are behind the camera, because it is such a big deal.
Let me expose you to the trials and tribulations of my life, as short as it has been. I intend to make my way despite obstacles. So far, nothing has slowed me down. In fact, I am right where I want to be—in film school. I envision a career as a director and I expect the road to be open the entire way. I will make it happen and perhaps pave the way for others to enter the film and television field en masse.
I will do most anything to advance my career. I am always on time for class filming projects and often take the lead in their implementation. I stick it out on long days, even when I have to be on my feet for hours and I go home with aching appendages. But I have an answer for that! I bought a really good foot massager from this web site. Who doesn’t crave a good foot rub now and then? It is divine and revives my feet in an instant, but it is also a long-term investment in my career. When they show documentaries of film making, the director is on his feet yellow through a megaphone. Ha! He does have a “director’s chair” but it might well be for show.
There are few good films on Native Americans and even fewer TV shows. The stereotypes are rampant. Images of my ethnic roots are limited to westerns and cameo performances by famous actors like Rodney Arnold Grant, Russell Means, Wes Studi, Graham Greene, and many others. In the old days we had Jay Silverheels and Chief Thundercloud. The roles were sparse and mostly character parts. The best one I can think of is Will Sampson opposite Jack Nicholson in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. He was more than memorable. Chief Dan George also stands out as does Lou Diamond Philips who is part Cherokee. He is one of my favorite actors. I see that my work is cut out for me if I want to give my ancestry a fair shake in the business.
So come on board with me as I pen my blog and clue you in on my progress. Meanwhile you will get all kin ds of interesting tidbits. You will soon get my opinion of Wind River with Jeremy Renner and Martin Sensmeier. It is about a white man on a Wyoming reservation who consoles an Arapaho tribal member who has learned that his sister has been murdered. Stand by!
I am a budding filmmaker with no budget. This is not a contradiction in terms. I find that you can do a lot if you are resourceful. You can beg, borrow or steal. Ha! No really, you can get most anything you need to make a student film. Just don’t plan your concept around a major set design. For my class, my friends and I have come up with a storyline that takes place in the present day in a local setting. This makes it easier from the get go. As for costumes, makeup, props, and the like, we ask everyone we know for help. Makeup doesn’t have to be new for example and every woman has extra. We have eschewed wigs so there is one thing to cross of our needs list.
People who know we are from a set design class are more than willing to let us film in and around their homes. If we want an unusual location, our status as students gains us entrée right away. Plus, when we need particular prop, we look around our houses for anything we can repurpose. We can paint or otherwise transform anything. Building your own sets is also easy when you have the knowhow. We have learned the art in class. You can make quite a good film with what is on hand. We keep the camera angles simple and the dialogue pertinent. Telling a story is half the battle, but it has to look good as well.
We try to avoid the amateur look of most student films even though we use Super 8. After all, this is what fueled the independent film movement and it can’t be too mundane for us. You get sound from a little copper band along the edge. We don’t have the equipment yet to go beyond our modest means. However, we think we will succeed in making something pretty remarkable. An example of our creativity is the way we took an old trampoline and reused it in a new way in one scene. I got the idea from this blog post – https://www.trampolinechoice.com/ways-repurpose-old-trampoline/. We wanted to create an eerie mood as part of our story when one character appears unexpectedly in the background as if in a dream. We asked the “actor” (a student in disguise of course) to jump on the trampoline as a way of creating an otherworldly effect. The result was awesome since you didn’t see the device, only the character emerging into the dreamer’s consciousness. So effective!
There is nothing you can’t do at this beginner’s level. We learned a lot about resourcefulness and adaptation. A plethora of borrowed lamps creates ambiance while dry ice resembles smoke and mist. A good makeup artist is always vital and there is inevitably one in every student group. Some of us become drama coaches after we have done our job with set design. The director is the key role and we fight to win the title.
Becoming a director is my ultimate goal, and what I am studying at school. To me, it is one of the hardest things about making a film or TV show. You can have a great script, fantastic actors, and top notch people doing every job, but every single one of those people takes his or her cue from the director. It is both an intimidating and exciting job and I can’t wait to start doing it for real.
Since everyone looks to the director for guidance, I want to be able to remain strong in my convictions. Thanks to my upbringing and experiences, I feel like I have a unique perspective to offer, and I never want to lose sight of that – especially not when I am behind the camera. I am not saying that I won’t listen to constructive criticism or that I will ignore ideas from the cast or crew. I never want to muddle my vision, however. I want to be confident enough to accept when somebody has a better idea and when I need to just stick with my own plans.
It’s definitely a work in progress. The first few times I have been a director on school projects, I have been incredibly nervous. It’s one thing to be messing around with friends who are eager to listen because you know better than they do. It is an entirely other experience to be here in school with people trying to become professional actors and film crews, who have definite opinions on how things should be done and aren’t afraid to tell you so. But, especially when we’re dealing with a topic that is in my wheelhouse, I am trying more and more to make sure my voice is heard and my directions are followed. That means having more self-confidence than I think I have had in my whole life.Luckily, the more experience I get, the easier it is to find.
Another goal of mine is to be sure to portray the subject matter authentically. I feel it is important to be true to the material as far as set design, dialogue, and costume go. I want to do research and to have trusted consultants and experts that I can talk to so that I can verify that everything we’re doing is as accurate as possible. I know that won’t always be easy, but it is something that truly matters to me. Being true to the things that matter to you will help make you a better director. At least, that’s my opinion.
My last goal is to be good at directing. That might seem silly, or even just way too obvious. But, because there is such a lack of Native American women in the entertainment industry in general, every mistake I make will reflect poorly on both my people and my gender. The better I am, the easier it will be for all the Native Americans and women who come after me. That’s a lot of pressure to put on myself, but I think it is important to keep it in mind.
Some of the students in my editing class go to the movies together every other week or so. Afterwards, we sit around and dissect whatever we saw: if there were plot holes, scenes we would have shot differently, the pacing, things like that. It can be really helpful to talk about this stuff after having just seen it: we can talk about concepts in class, and we can try them ourselves, but seeing it on a huge screen in a crowded theater reminds you that there is a final product that real people pay actual money to see.
We went to see Wind River recently. If you’ve never seen or heard of it, it is a movie about a man who works for the Fish and Wildlife Service. He’s out on reservation land (and it is based on a real reservation) and finds the dead body of a Native American woman. The movie spirals downward from there. It is one of those movies that was a real heartbreaker of an ending – and you know it will by the way things happen throughout the movie, but you can’t help but feeling that way at the end anyway.
Two things stood out to me, while I’d say only one stood out to my classmates.
First, I’ll go with the obvious one: the film is based on a real incident, and it helped to shed light on some of the ways that Native American Reservations are a tough place to live. They are not designed for its people to live a respected, autonomous life. It is, in no way, separate but equal to the way other American citizens are protected. Back in the 70s, a non-Suquamish man living on a Suquamish reservation, was arrested and charged with a crime. To make a long, disturbing story short, this man claimed that he wasn’t subject to tribal law because he wasn’t a member of the tribe. And the Supreme Court agreed with him. Let that sink in for a minute. Can you imagine that as a rule anywhere else? Say your parents are hit and killed by a drunk driver, but the person who hit them lives in another state – they get away with the crime because the police who arrested him aren’t from his state. Do you hear how crazy that sounds? Anyway, the movie brought up the disgusting fact that federal agents have to get involved and that many people get away with doing horrible things to Native Americans on their own reservations. It is appalling, and it was good to see so many of my classmates get an idea of how awful it is.
The other thing, and this was something that I noticed that they might not have (because nobody brought it up), was toward the end. One of the older members of the tribe is sitting outside with paint on his face. He calls it a “death mask” and the main character asks him about it. The man replies that he doesn’t know if he did it right, because there is nobody left to teach him. That part hurt my heart so much. I think of the pride and culture that my people had, that has been slowly stripped away and died with our elders.
That’s why I think what I am doing is so important. I need to preserve our stories, show our people, and continue our culture.
Today in my editing class, we talked about making hard choices. There are always going to be decisions made in the editing room that we might not like but that would be better for our film or show in the long run. My professor talked to us about how there would be times in our career where we were completely in love with a scene, for whatever reason, and would have to trim it down or completely cut it. Whole characters – even impeccably performed by great actors – might need to be eliminated.
He was speaking from experience, of course. He told us a story about how he finally had a chance to make a film adaption of a book he had loved. When every scene was shot and the filming wrapped, the movie was too long by at least a half hour. He had to cut a scene that was one of his absolute favorites in the book. While it was a great scene and the actors did their jobs well, it didn’t drive the plot forward well enough and letting it go freed up a lot of the time he needed. We talked a little about how hard it is to translate something cerebral like a book (meaning most of the action plays out in your mind) to something as visual as a performance. Things have to adapt and change in order to go from one to the other, and there’s an endless amount of ways for you to accomplish the task.
Our professor also talked about how it isn’t all bad, and how there are workarounds. Directors create special “Director’s Cut” versions to be released for home viewing, or even add everything to a deleted scenes section on the disk or streaming service. There are ways to have everything we want, he said, even if it is after the theatrical release.
It really got me thinking. I am not looking forward to making the kinds of decisions he is talking about. I know that in the grand scheme of things, this is the job. There will always be choices like that. There will always be good scenes that don’t make it into the final cut for whatever reason. It sucks and it isn’t fair but it is reality and I will have to come to terms with that if I want to be a real director someday. While I know that there is a “consolation prize” so to speak as far as director’s cuts or deleted scenes go, it is still hard for me to accept right now. I can’t imagine being so attached to something and then having to get rid of it. The idea that all of our hard work, and all that emotion, would end up on the cutting room floor and potentially wouldn’t be seen by anyone is a little heartbreaking.
I don’t know if I need a thicker skin, if I need to be better at managing time and pacing (so I run into this issue less) or if I need to be less emotionally involved in what I do, but I will have to find a way – or combination of ways – that works for me so that I, and any project I am working on, survive the editing room!
Growing up, I was mostly around people that looked like me. The people on television and in movies, on the other hand, didn’t look anything like me at all. When I was younger, I would ask my parents why this was and they never really had a good answer. They certainly weren’t going to get into much detail about discrimination and oppression and all that with a six-year-old, so they explained it the best way they could and hoped it would satisfy me for a few years.
The question never really went away. I wanted someone, anyone – it didn’t have to be the main character even, a kid at school or a neighbor would be fine – to have the same straight dark hair and darker skin that I did. But there rarely was, and when there were Native American characters, they were hardly recognizable to me. They were often stereotypes that I didn’t understand when I was younger because they weren’t anyone I knew or could identify with. They might as well have been a completely different species for all the good it did me and my people.
As I got older and started paying even closer attention, I realized this wasn’t just a Native American problem. This was also a female problem. Actors could get meaty roles long into their silver years, while females were sent to plastic surgeons or risk being put out to pasture the moment they got crow’s feet – or were regulated to grandma roles when they were often much younger than their male costars. There were also so many movies glorifying the idiotic man-child and making villains out of strong, opinionated, career- or academic- minded women. And that’s not even mentioning the double standards in wardrobe! Men could be wearing three-piece suits and look sexy, but if a woman wasn’t bearing tons of skin, she was usually an uptight, repressed, lonely shrew of a person.
It was both eye-opening and frustrating. It was also a big part of why I decided on this career path, to be honest. If I want to see more people who look like me onscreen, and I want to see more people who act like me and have similar experiences, then I have to be willing to do something about it.
At first, I figured my best route would be to be a screenwriter. I could create believable characters that I would be proud to see on screen. But there were two problems: 1) once I turned over the script, there was nothing stopping the producers, casting people, and director from changing things however they saw fit. And 2) I wasn’t all that great at writing scripts. I just don’t have the talent for it.
I didn’t want to give up on my dream of making films that better represented my gender and my culture, however. I decided that I needed to be someone with a real say in the final outcome. That’s when I set my sights on becoming a director, and I haven’t looked back since.