#RealWorldArt: Nicole Solomon

30 Jun

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This week’s #RealWorldArt subject
: filmmaker and writer Nicole Solomon.

 

Whenever I read about artists who are successful at making their own work, I always wonder ‘how the hell did they do this and live a real life while doing so?’ As a working artist, I find achieving a life/art balance to be incredibly difficult. I am always on the lookout for advice about how to do it. When my former theater professors at the University of New Hampshire asked me to speak to a group of artists about life post-school, I went to social media to get new perspectives. Over 40 people commented, and my friend (and blogger/filmmaker extraordinaire) Michael DiBiasio asked me to guest blog. The response was so good that I’ve decided to conduct interviews with working artists on a semi-regular basis.

June ended up being a busy month. I was out of town for an entire week doing a workshop with I Was There Film Workshops, and other than that, hard at work on the new version of my first feature film. In addition, I spent a few days working on an article about some of my favorite independent films of the 21st century, which will be released soon. As a result, I haven’t had a chance to update the site much, but I didn’t want to get out of June without releasing my #RealWorldArt interview with Nicole Solomon.

Nicole is a filmmaker, writer, and all around excellent person. She’s working closely with me on my feature film, and was one of the first people I asked to participate in my #RealWorldArt series. She has a lot of interesting things to say stories to tell. I hope you enjoy them.

I’ll be back next week after the holiday with a general update on all things filmmaking. I’ll be in Chicago this weekend for the 4th of July. Expect plenty of instagrams.

Also, take a minute and join the mailing list! I’ll be sending out my film Future Perfect to anyone who joins!

Take it away, Nicole!


Have you always wanted to be a filmmaker, or did you evolve into it? How did it come about?

I don’t think I understood what being a filmmaker meant when I was a kid. I didn’t get that “director” was a job. I wanted to create other, fictional worlds, and was always doing that. My sisters and I would record radio dramas on our Fischer Price  tape recorder. I was always writing, sometimes screenplays. Weird, kid screenplays. In middle school I started but sadly never finished an adaptation of Ann. M. Martin’s Slambook.

In high school there was one quarter where you could take photography or video, so I took video and I loved it. I’m really glad I had the opportunity to take that class. My teacher, Karl Madden, was great. He suggested that I do some program for highschoolers at one of the colleges in the area. To be blunt, I was pretty depressed and wasn’t going to pursue something like that.

After high school I went to Eugene Lang and majored in cultural studies. I missed video.  I did do a couple projects when I went home on vacation with my sisters, including an hour long (terrible) movie, but then it was a few years before I did anything filmmake-y again.

I took an intro to digital video workshop at DCTV, and then applied for a two day a week internship so I could take almost unlimited workshops for free. At this time I had an intentionally weird and flexible work schedule, so I could give two normal work days a week to this in exchange for classes. I got a Panasonic DVX-100 on a credit card and Final Cut from a friend and started making videos alone and in collaboration with others. I mostly did music and activist/social justice related stuff.

I don’t know that I thought of myself as a filmmaker until I started thinking about going back to school to study film, which as you know I did in 2011 at CCNY, as we were in the same class and that is why we know each other. I’ve been making films both professionally and not for awhile and now I even have a degree in filmmaking so I guess I’m a filmmaker.

 

229978_371106829620918_2039357229_nNicole shooting.

 

How have your expectations changed the longer you’ve been making art, and how has the art you’ve made changed?

Not to sound conceited, but in elementary school I was awesome at creative writing. “Writing” was always my favorite subject in school–it was obviously the most fun, it came to me easily, and I did well. The teacher would approve the best works in class to be “published”–which meant some kid’s mom (I’m not sexistly generalizing, it was always a mom) took your handwritten masterpiece home and typed it up on a typewriter and bound it in a wallpaper sample of the author’s choice. Every story I ever turned in got published. Until one day in second grade, when I turned in a first draft of a story I’d been mulling over for months about some alternate universe with a unicorn in it that I was really excited about. I’m sure the execution was lacking and all, but I was passionate about this story. My teacher wasn’t having it, and said “Nicole, not every story needs to be published.” Which is true, and an important lesson. Not every fucking story should be published. But my main takeaway at the time was that I was not necessarily going to agree with other people (gatekeepers or otherwise) about which stories should be published, and that the stories I most thought should be published might be the ones least valued by others. So that was an important change in expectations.

Otherwise…despite the fact that it is increasingly difficult to make a living doing the things that I think I do best, I have come to expect to be compensated in some way for most creative work that I do that is not a personal passion project. Beyond childhood daydreams of being a famous writer or movie star when I grew up, I never even had a goal of making a living off of making art until I was well into my 20s. I always assumed I’d have to have a day job. And I still do, at least sometimes. But there are pockets where you can actually get paid to do work you both enjoy and feel good about, that is fulfilling. That was a revelation.

It was also an intense experience to direct Small Talk. I’d barely directed actors before, let alone a crew that large. And it is the most fun thing to do in the world. Directing a film like that, a film that you care about and requires all these other people, is basically like playing pretend or whatever as a kid, except that you are supposed to boss everyone else around and everyone is there to play exactly what you tell them. Directing a non-documentary film is basically getting to be the most selfish, bratty kid who makes all their friends do exactly what they say when they come over with their Star Wars action figures. And that’s a job people get paid to do. It’s kind of ridiculous. I did not understand how awesome directing is until I started doing it.

 481535_10152357211960354_1296658884_nTalking shots on the set of Small Talk with cinematographer Jeanette Sears.

 

What role does your day job (or jobs) play in your creativity?

I’m trying to mostly have my day jobs be creative at this point, which is great. For the past year or so (since I graduated from  CCNY) I’ve been mostly doing freelance work of some sort, and a lot of it was work that was exciting and rewarding. I recently completed a long term project with a wonderful Jewish feminist organization called Ma’yan who have a research internship for teenage girls. The last group of interns decided to research the impact of sexist media on girls and make a documentary about their findings. Ma’yan brought me on as a consultant. I helped figure out how to execute the project, developed educational materials for the interns and gave them a kind of crash course in advocacy documentary filmmaking. I also helped with the production and ultimately edited the thing. It was very important to me, Ma’yan and the interns that this really be the interns’ film–they were the directors and I was there to serve their vision as an editor. I brought a lot of ideas to the table, many of which we used, but many of which we didn’t. It was a new and challenging experience, one from which I gained a lot.

The first job I had after graduating college that I could stand for more than a few months was as a phone sex operator, which was a creativity-requiring job. It wasn’t usually creatively fulfilling, but it felt better than most of my other viable employment options in part because it was creative. Also, once I started working from home and part time, it was just an incredibly flexible way to have a steady income stream. I could do all kinds of housekeeping and busywork–record keeping, light research, etc while I was on calls. My apartment was so well organized back then, it was great.

How do you balance making art and dealing with your everyday life, job, and responsibilities?

Making art is pretty integrated into the rest of my life. My life partner is a musician, so he gets it and and we don’t have any of the tension artists and other people with careers/passions that can take a lot of emotional energy and cause your schedule to become bizarre sometimes have. I try to have day jobs that are creative and I feel good about as much as I can, and I try to have the less-great paid work be flexible. If I can possibly afford to, I try to have a work schedule that will allow me to work on my own and other people’s film projects, and have time to write things I’m not getting paid for and get enough sleep, if possible. It’s a hard balance to strike, and one I don’t always strike. Sometimes I run myself ragged in a way that is not healthy or sustainable for me.

I also make sure to build things like exercising, cooking (it is so easy to have a schedule with no time to cook and thus eat terribly and/or rack up unaffordable takeout bills), experiencing art in a focused way (like going out to a movie or museum or sitting and really listening to an album rather than having it on in the background while I do other things) and calling my grandmother regularly into my weekly schedule. Some of the ultimately most important things to do can be the easiest to put off when there’s no deadline. It’s a cliché, but it’s true that if you wait ‘til you find time, you’ll never have it. You have to make it where you can, if you’ve determined something is a priority..

What’s next for you?

If all goes well, heading to festivals with my short film Small Talk. I’m submitting to a lot of different places, hopefully some will go for it.. In terms of new projects, I am just starting work on a feature script that will be directed by my friend (and Small Talk producer) Flavio Alves, which I’m very excited about. I’m working on some personal projects, including a television pilot. I’m finishing up editing a music video I directed for “The Promise” by The Shondes that might be out by the time this runs. I’m also working on a cookbook that I’m hoping will be out in spring 2015. I’ve been in a writers’ group for years (we meet weekly to give one another feedback on our work) that is developing now into a publishing collective called Stone Crow Press. We just launched a website and blog (www.stonedcrowpress.com) that will hopefully contain useful resources for other writers as well as feature just good, smart, funny writing that anyone who enjoys such a thing might like.

 

537690_10152360068975354_1983389834_nThanks Nicole!

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  1. Read My Links: 7/3/2014 | The Stoned Crow Press - July 3, 2014

    […] I (Nicole Witte Solomon) was interviewed about how I manage to make art and a living at the same time. (Somewhat […]

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