Archive for October, 2007


Posted in DIY, Film, Journals, Life, Video, Web on October 29, 2007 by blakejohnson

Again, while perusing the articles on Microfilmmaker Magazine’s website, I discovered this article on fund-raising.  It was less creative than the other articles I’d found, being more a business aspect of filmmaking than a creative one, but I think that was a little bit the point of it.  Most people I know don’t realize the fund-raising part of filmmaking even exists.  It’s very glazed over or even just avoided completely in amateur projects especially.  I watched an interview once with Bruce Campbell where he said “You’ve gotta put on your businessman’s hat for just a few minutes and work out how your business is gonna work,” basically that the investors get a certain amount of money back, if you had investors to start with.  Essentially, the point was that money is used and hopefully made at the end of a project, and what happens with that money needs to be clear from the beginning and you, as the head of your project, need to be careful to abide by those rules you set out for yourself from the get-go.  It’s a very important part of filmmaking that I’ve barely even touched.  We did have to raise quite a bit of money for LATENT(CY), the feature I directed last year, but before that I’d not fund-raised for any project I’d worked on.  It was surprising how much effort went into just raising money and how much more work was added to the whole project when we began thinking about raising money.  Not only through donations and helpful family members and stuff bringing food or offering gas money and what have you, but screenings of our older films with non-free tickets and such.  Other things to do would be things like DVD pre-sales, or other merchandise you can easily make or acquire that’s related to your film and is legal for resale (T-shirts, coffee mugs, the memorabilia stuff that’s easy to get made in bulk or make yourself).

One thing I always wonder is why Hollywood movies cost so much money.  It’s obvious that lots of it goes toward transportation costs, as well as paying the actors ridiculous amounts of money, and the directors and producers as well.  They also have tons of people working on projects from the writer(s) all the way to the marketing department, comprised of most likely more than just a few people.  I would also think that some of it goes toward locations, lots toward costuming, props and sets, if there’s much of that in the film, depending on when the film takes place and what it’s about.

The interesting thing now to me, mostly, is that when more and more effects are involved in a movie, it seems like more and more money is called for, only us low-budget guys often prefer films with digital effects (simple ones, for the most part) that can enhance the film because they’re easy, cheap and accessible.  There are tons of people these days wanting to go into visual effects, 3D animation, graphic design, and all those fields, and often, filmmakers either double as effects artists or know enough about the technology and have friends or favors owed to them by people who work in the field that it’s often either free or super cheap to get some good effects on a low-budget film.  For example, I’m a filmmaker, much more of a storyteller and writer/director type, but I’m going to visual effects college starting in February to learn the Hollywood techniques using big-budget tolls and resources for basically learning how to work in a studio right out of the program.  All of that knowledge is mainly universal, in concept form, so it’ll be easy to go home and on my much lower budget machine figure out how to do what I’d learned that day in classes on my own stuff.  Not only will I have the capability to shoot, edit and finish a film all with my own equipment, I’ll have deep, professional-level post-production visual effects background and know-how for my projects as well.  It’s an incredibly useful “double-major,” as it were, to have in this day and age where digital is becoming so much cheaper, easier and more accessible to the average Joe.

The saddest things to me, really, is the fact not that the sets get torn down at the end of every movie, but oftentimes they just get thrown away, all the pieces and equipment and stuff that’s not going to get used by the crew anymore, since the film’s done, often just gets thrown away.  That’s like taking half the budget and flushing it down the toilet!  It’s incredible!  If I ever made a big-budget movie I’d at least sell as much as possible, if not to make back the money then to at least know that the stuff wasn’t just going to waste.  It’d be a wonderful way to make back the money that was used in the making of the film, and since ebay’s here, we can pretty much sell anything we have to anybody around the world.  If you’ve got something like a candlestick that was in a movie selling for 5 bucks, somebody would take it.  The huge wastefulness of Hollywood is just one more thing about the industry today that bugs the crap out of me.  It’s so illogical, so immoral and irrational that I don’t understand how they continue to get away with it, especially with the climate, social, economical and other crises we have in the world right now.  That money, if for some incredible reason the production company decided they didn’t want it, could be used for charities, could be used to help someone else make a movie, could be sent somewhere and put to good use.  Actors don’t need to get paid millions of dollars, that’s ridiculous.  Actors in low-budget movies are often just as good and don’t even get paid a quarter that much, and they’re probably plenty happy with their jobs.  If you could cut the salaries in a film’s production in half, use it all either for other stuff for the project just to sell the idea better (make it more believable) or even just cut the budget in half that way, there would be a lot of money to go around for other things, not to mention a ton of talk about the film cutting costs way, way down and still coming out great.  Because who ever heard of a film that’s super cheap making it into the Hollywood distribution circuit?  Oh wait… Rodriguez did it and it made his career.  Oh, right.  So why doesn’t anybody else?  I would love to see someone take a real, full budget for a big-time Hollywood movie, rework it and get it as cheap as it could go without sacrificing the quality of the project, and see what the ending difference would be.  I think it would be an incredible eye-opener into the wastefulness of Hollywood, the talent and creativity that needs to be in movies (yes, even in the business aspects of them, like fund-raising), and the fact that you can make something great from nothing and still be OK by the end.  I think it would be a wonderful realization, if somebody would actually do it.


Micro-Budget Light Kit

Posted in DIY, Film, Inspiration, Journals, Video, Web on October 29, 2007 by blakejohnson

Here’s an article written by Cinematographer Scott Spears about assembling a very thorough light kit with very little money, compared to a Hollywood or even some indie film budgets.  In the end it comes out to about 265 bucks, however, if you find deals and buy in a state where there’s little or no sales tax (like New Hampshire, as far as I know), then you’d cut down on some prices.  Light stands can be made (though I’d recommend having at least one professional one, used probably, since it’s much cheaper), and lots of diffusion and gels can be made or improvised for free as well.  I’d also like to point out that gels aren’t crucial anymore in this digital day and age where you can do almost anything with a computer and some decent software in post.  I’m not in anyway telling you to wait until post-production to think about your shots, that would be suicide, but plan out your production down to the last little snack break so you know everything about every shot and you can save time and money (if you’re paying cast or crew, heh) by not spending a lot of time on set fiddling with settings and angles of lights with gels and stuff.  While in one sense this can be useful, if you watch the extra feature on Robert Rodriguez’s DVD for Once Upon A Time In Mexico on working fast and cheaply but staying organized and in control, it’s most important to do just that – stay organized and in control so that you can move very quickly, cheaply and efficiently, but also get all the footage you need to the project before you wrap shooting.  It’s a bummer to have to go back and do reshoots, but it happens, and it’s best to be as organized as possible so you not only don’t have to, bu you can add easily and quickly to the shots you did get while in your super-productive phase of organized low-budget filmmaking.

Going back to the article, it describes quite a few different types of lights that can and should be used on sets and locations, many different ways of plugging things in, adapters, cables, diffusers and all types of stuff related to lights and getting you to light your stuff well so it looks good in the final edit.  It’s a very good read for anyone interested in lighting, or filmmaking at all, and it’s definitely a must read for those of you who are making a film or going to make a film soon.  Keep it all in mind for your next film and try to budget in a lot of the things on the list.  Search around for deals and tips for DIY solutions on the cheap or for free, since there are definitely some for some of the things on the list.

The thing that got me the most excited was the spirit of “We don’t have the money but we’ve got the creativity” that permeated this article.  It’s all over the place in independent filmmaking, since most indie films are low-budget, done quickly and with as much creativity as possible.  It’s not really a communal thing exactly, but it’s the fact that lack of money doesn’t stop people from doing what they love to do.  That’s the coolest part.  It’s so fun to read an article like this and watch low-budget indie movies because they represent, to me, what filmmaking should really be all about and what Hollywood’s been losing in the past years.  There are so many good low-profile movies coming out and so many huge-budget effects-driven trophies paraded around the marketing world that are just so obnoxious to me.  Spending as little money as possible, getting the utmost in results and solving any and all problems creatively is the best way to do things, I think.  This spirit is not completely lost in Hollywood, I know I’ve mentioned him before but I’ll do it again, Robert Rodriguez finished one of the Spy Kids movies in about six months, and can’t even keep track of the number of setups he does in a day.  That is cool, I think, because he’s working as quickly and efficiently as possible so he can get the most done in a short amount of time and still have fun and get some awesome movies out there when they’re done.  Typically, films take almost six months just to shoot, in Hollywood, but in the indie world, in my world, I took 4 months with cast and crew to make LATENT(CY), from concept to completion.  It was a hell of a ride, and incredibly stressful, but it was my first feature, and it was with a crew of five and cast of about four, with a lot of learning curves all going at once.  Next time, I’ll know a lot more about what I’m doing, and so will the rest of the people involved.  Hopefully that means a more productive, faster, better piece with high quality, low or no budget and some huge efforts on the parts of both cast and crew.

The spirit of do-it-yourself(-with-no-money) in my version of filmmaking I think is what makes it so exciting for me.  I spend as little money as possible making as good a product as possible, and when it’s you and your friends who all love to make a movie, that’s easy, and it’s even fun.  I don’t understand the Hollywood way of thinking they can solve problems by slapping money on the budget for some enhanced effects work in post or something when they could have just organized or done it right on set and not had to worry about it at all.  Also, one thing I think is kind of funny, and this is very unrelated, in the fact that a lot of indie actors are often, I’ve found, as good as or better then big-time Hollywood actors who get all the attention, and the indie actors don’t get anywhere near as many jobs.  Doesn’t really make sense to me but hey, it keeps them available to the small-timer who wants a good movie made with barely any money… like me.  Bruce Campbell said something once, comparing indie filmmaking to Hollywood filmmaking, “indies can always slow down with more money, but Hollywood can’t speed up with less money,” and I think that’s perfect that he said it, but really, really stupid that it’s true.  How sad is it that Hollywood can’t creatively solve their problems in production on a movie and save tons of money while indie filmmakers do it all the time, creating just as good of a final product, but they don’t get even half the distribution deal at the end.  I guess now it’s just name recognition, but that’s a pretty depressing world then.  If we depend on names to watch a movie, that’s pretty sad.  Sometimes it’s nice to see a familiar face in a new role, or even a sort of familiar role, since actors nowadays are becoming more and more typecasted, but I’d personally rather see someone I’ve never heard of before pull off the performance the character they’re playing deserves.  When that happens, it’s awesome to watch a film, even if I don’t know about anybody involved in the movie, it’s worth it.  I think it’s the talent and the effort that counts, the final film doesn’t matter if there’s no point, if there’s no value in the story or there’s just a lot of flashy effects with a really weak storyline to it.  If it’s got even the simplest of plots, like Cashback or The Big Bad Swim, it can be told in a way that makes you just love the entire thing, simply because of the obvious effort that went into the whole project.

As for the article, it’s definitely worth reading and thinking about and remembering on your next project, for all you filmmakers out there, definitely read it and keep it in mind.  Best of luck, and keep on making things nobody’s ever heard of, that’s when it gets cool.


Self Distribution

Posted in DIY, Film, Journals, Video, Web on October 29, 2007 by blakejohnson

It’s been quite a while since my last post and I apologize, things have gotten quite busy around here from school and work to doing my best to keep up with some smaller-scale films coming out in the video store I work at now (I will briefly recommend The Insatiable, Still Life, The Postcard Bandit, Stephanie Daley and The Big Bad Swim as good ones to start with).  I was told for my English independent study to find some articles on the school library’s site related to film and read and react to them.  However, since I wasn’t allowed access to the articles themselves for some reason, I turned to the next best thing – Microfilmmaker Magazine’s articles.  These are usually great articles filled with useful tips from people who typically use a budget of next-to-nothing for their films, and the write of this article just happens to have been on the crew for Still Life, a low-budget indie film I watched just the other night.

This article caught my eye a long time ago and has been taking up browser tab space for a while, as do lots of things I catch interest in and save for later.  This morning I sat down and read through it, though, and am very glad I did.  I’ve been trying to get into the film festival circuit with my short feature LATENT(CY).  It’s for rent at the local video store now, but I wanted an even wider audience.  I’ve sent it in to a festival and have been looking into even more, and if you know about Withoutabox then you’ll know it’s pretty easy to find festivals that will accept your project.  This article addresses not only the often misguided optimism of low-budget filmmakers when they enter festivals but the solution to such a problem: self-distribution.  There was one recommendation that was to order in bulk copies of your own film, authored with labels and cover art and packaged nicely and the whole thing being very professional, in order to sell yourself through a website or booth or whatever.  That’s handy, but it’s expensive, and right now, I can’t do expensive.  The next suggestion was to find a website like IndieFlix or CustomFlix that will help sell your DVDs at little cost to you, and both of you gets cuts of the revenue from the product.  These sound like much more solid options, since I’m not losing any money I currently have, I’m only gaining, and my films can be listen on  The only catch here is promotion and advertising.  Of course, when you’re on a nothing-budget, you don’t have an advertising or marketing department and you don’t have any sales reps laying around wanting work.  However, you do have the internet, word of mouth and film festivals.  Festivals get a wide audience; being listed on Amazon and big distributors like that give that audience easy access to your film; and finally, being partnered with a company like IndieFlix or CustomFlix (though not contractually – you’re completely free to pursue other distribution deals) provides easy actual distribution of your film to your wide audience acquired through festivals.  It’s a great start-up guide for self-distribution, and even for those who’ve been having trouble getting their projects out there for a while, I’d recommend reading it.

It made me think a bit about the “new” technology of the internet and the ease of getting a name and a work out in the world for people to see.  Everything’s just so easily accessible now that it seems we’re over-cluttering the net and sites like YouTube with stuff that’s really not important.  Chick fights and nasty sports crashes get old real fast, and yet they’re probably the most widely watched videos online.  I was thinking about the ease of distribution and how simple it seems now, especially after finding these sites and ones like OurStage, to get a film out to the public.  The clutter of video on the web now prevents us from being able to sell our films, from effectively using the technology we have at our disposal for any and every use possible.

All in all, this was a very useful and interesting article about a guy who’s been around the loop for a while and found some ways to get around the problems often faced with trying to get a name out in the world.  He’s got a nice sense of humor and even though he points himself out as cynical or a “Simon Cowell of the group,” he has a very valid point.  You can’t depend on film festivals to get your name out, and you really can’t depend on those like Cannes or Sundance who once hosted Indie flicks and now invite Hollywood and huge-budget films to show at their venues to get your name out there either.  Optimism isn’t bad, is his point, it’s the placement and use of it that can be the downfall of an indie filmmaker.  Get out there and do your homework, make your product sell, and use the resources available, but be careful and active about it.  Best of luck.


The Little Film Guy

Posted in DIY, Film, Journals, Video on October 21, 2007 by blakejohnson

I’ve been thinking recently about the sort of mentality that usually comes with low-budget or no-budget filmmakers, and how that in its own way affects their perceptions of the world of independent film.  I think a lot of the time that the festival circuit seems so closed off because it tends to just assume that the people wanting to enter know how to enter, or that the people who are going to enter already have enough experience and a fair amount of contacts to help them get there, that their products are going to be somewhat professional and worthy of some kind of festival viewing.  The only problem is that the people described are not everybody, and usually almost everybody wants to get into film festivals.  I haven’t found a respected festival that gives real screenings of films and whatnot like a normal film festival that is known widely that accepts the uber-amateur filmmaker’s submissions.  In my very recent experience, you can make a film and submit it to a festival very easily, but to find out about the resources available to you to help in submitting and the places you can submit to, you need to have some experience both in the practical filmmaking field and the online indy community.  I’ve found recently that a resource online for submitting to film festivals is  It’s a great resource where you register your film, give it all kinds of information, which amounts to close to twenty pages I think of information about the cast and crew, budget, various lengths of synopses, all kinds of information from who to contact for copies of the film to how it’s distributed (film prints, DVDs, VHS, BetaSP, etc.) and where it was filmed, details on all the cast and crew like contact info, etc.  Not all of this is required, however, to be able to enter in most festivals, there is a requested or required press kit, which includes photos, a trailer, synopsis, etc. that you can manage from the website, and all sorts of other easily manageable publicity tools like an audience page with info about the film for other members of the website to check out your film and see when and where it’s playing at festivals and whatnot.  Also, through membership with the website (which is free and honestly simplifies the process of getting into the festival circuit hugely) you get discounted prices on entries into lots of festivals, with the obvious option of upgrading from your free plan to various paid versions of the membership with exponential benefits.  The free version however, is incredibly useful in streamlining the process of promoting your film from registering it only once, and then being able to submit it to as many film festivals as you want, or that exist – provided you have the money to send it with your entry.  Now, the idea I was thinking of was basically this: a super-low-budget amateur filmmaker is often at a disadvantage in terms of not only money but effective contacts (people with experience who can help out with things from VFX to color correction to simple tips on set or model building), quality actors, crew members, effective props and costumes and makeup jobs, all of which severely limits their films right from the get-go.  These limitations can often hold back the telling of a great story, or work for the filmmaker, forcing them to become more creative in getting the story told their way, without spending tons of money like the heavy-hitter of Hollywood tend to do.  This forced creativity makes them even more capable filmmakers, simply because they come up with unconventional ways to solve very conventional problems, and often they don’t cost a thing.  Getting back to the main topic of breaking into the public’s consciousness, the audience of a film likes to be entertained, no matter how open-minded they are.  The constraints put on filmmakers to get their stories told well on a next-to-nothing budget (or a truly-nothing-budget) often make them work very hard to get their film completed, both wearing them down until the end where they’re happy just to premiere their film for friends and family and call it a good run.  That’s what I did.  The almost self-defeatist attitude of a low-budget filmmaker that often comes at the end of making a film I think is really what kills independent filmmakers the most, because the festival circuit does seem closed off when you’re exhausted from making the film and don’t know how to get into it.  I wanted nothing to do with my film after it was done.  I wasn’t very happy with it, though it was almost a $1400 that was 56 minutes long and got a great response at the local premiere.  A few months later, I put the film online on YouTube – the big kahuna of video promotion on the web – and got very little response, however the response I did get was wonderful.  The audience truly appreciated it.  The next thing I discovered was the usefulness of Withoutabox.  I conversed with my contact at an online filmmaking magazine, talked briefly with an ex film teacher of mine, and we discussed the availability of film festivals that didn’t seem closed off to small-time filmmakers hoping to find an audience for their work.  Essentially, there are none, none that we found anyway.  This whole thing feels very rambly right now.  I get notified because of my membership with Withoutabox of new festivals that have approaching deadlines, in case I want to submit something to them.  However, these festivals are often bigger festivals or ones that don’t seem to have a very good chance of getting my film shown at their venues – they seem pretty closed off to the bigger filmmakers of the low-budget arena.  This is the problem.  However, after registering my film on the website, going through all the steps and providing as much information as I could, setting up an audience page and a press kit for it, I was able to search through all types of festivals and qualify my project for their showing.  It takes the festival’s requirements and the information I gave about my film, matches them up, and lets me know if they’re compatible, if I need to change something or if they’re asking for something like a 35mm film print of my film for submission – which I couldn’t and wouldn’t do.  Essentially, the point is that small-time filmmakers often feel closed off simply because they don’t know where to look for a wider audience for their films.  Withoutabox definitely solves this problem, but not without some work on the part of the filmmaker (registering and inputting all the info) and then a little searching around their site for some good festivals.  If it’s just an audience you’re after, you’re all set once you’re registered to start submitting.  If it’s monetary awards you’re after, you’ll have to look into more of the bigger festivals, which often means you’ll need an impressive product.  It’s definitely worth looking into and definitely worth getting a membership, but don’t have the defeatist attitude of just a local premiere and calling it a good run.  Once you’ve registered your film on the website, there are so many doors that open up, so many festivals that are calling for entries that your project will likely fit.  I think the point is small-time filmmakers don’t have many connections or much experience, but are the ones most anxious about getting attention; people with a bit more experience, especially in a small town, like me, are often more used to the idea of a small local premiere or none at all, and calling it good when it’s sent out to friends and family.  The interesting thing is that the ones seeking more attention don’t have the connections or information or resources they often need, and the ones with the connections and resources don’t seem to notice them and utilize them to their best interest.  I think that’s just one way that disheartens the small-time filmmaker, just the fact that they overlook their opportunities to be heard of because in their mind, they’re done with their film.  The anxiousness for attention is gone somewhat it seems, and that’s what I thought was interesting, that I still definitely want recognition for my films, but I’m accustomed after being around a small town with little audience and few people who care about my projects that I’m just used to being done with a film and moving on to another one, instead of pursuing the completed one and promoting it, telling people about it, and hoping for new connections and new contacts to be formed that may come together for a better final result on the next one made.  The littlest film guy is the one I guess with the hugest dreams, simply because they don’t always know or see the realistic process of making films and getting known; the small-time filmmaker with more experience often still has those dreams, but leaves them be for the future, because they see more of the difficulties in getting known and recognized for films well made.  It’s interesting how just the location of the filmmaker themself can influence their productivity and attitude toward pushing a completed project through the festival circuit.  This is really badly written and it doesn’t quite outline the idea very well but it helped to think about it I guess.  At least it’s progress in my research paper and in my journals homework assignments.

Short Story: The Runner

Posted in Inspiration, Life, School, Writing on October 14, 2007 by blakejohnson

This is a short story I wrote last year as part of a creative writing class and after talking a bit with author Cliff Burns, he suggested that I put it online on my blog and see if anyone notices it here.  So here I am, putting up for the world to see, if the world looks at this blog, heh, and for anyone and everyone to enjoy.  Please, if you use it in anything let me know beforehand and make sure you have my permission for whatever you’re using it for.  Other than that, enjoy the story and any and all feedback and comments are perfectly welcome.

The Runner

“Children remind us of who we used to be

while showing us who we have become.”


            “I remember running through the snow in winter, the trees were dark and black.  Stephen, he was my brother, would always be in front of me.  I tried to catch up, but I never could.  You guys would, you run faster than I did then.  You’re all better runners.”

            The little children lay underneath their Great Grandpa’s big beard, his chin bouncing it about as he spoke.  They listened intently, interested, tired from the day of play outside.  It was Christmas night, and the entire family gathered to give each other love and thanks.  Snow sat on the windowsills outside, the children’s mittens sat on the hearth warmed by the big open fire; the warm tongues licked up the sides of logs and ashes, burning and blackening the wood.  A few parents sat around the fire, fathers with their wine glasses, tired eyes and half-buttoned shirts, making room for the full bellies leftover from dinner.  The mothers withered in the sofas, tired and drifting off into sleepy hazes, the snow outside and the fire inside comforted them warmly to sleep.  Great Grandfather continued his story, and the room lay resting, tired, breathing calmly and sedated.

            “The snow almost stung but it was cold and we loved it.  We just loved running, rushing past trees with the wind on our faces.  The cold and the white are mostly what I remember.  It was cold.  One time, we ran too far, and we were caught in a storm…


            The two of us ran through the woods, we raced and raced, stumbling over our own feet and the deep snow.  We kicked up clouds of snow like dust behind us as we dashed through it.  The trees were all black and gray, dark and dead; the branches stuck out like fingers and claws, grabbing at our coats and pants as we ran through the forest.  Stephen was twelve, and he raced after me.  I was ten at the time.  We came up to a clearing, and it was deep and white, the trees leaned in toward me as I stood underneath them.  I was smaller then, everything else was giant, and I was scared when I looked up at them as they quivered and bent in the wind.  They reached for me with their long arms and their talons, their fingers stretched out to grab me and clutch me in their huge hands.  Stephen came through the trees, panting, and fell beside me in the snow.  He made the trees stand back.  He was bigger, so they seemed a little bit smaller.

            I felt safer when he was around.  We both stood, he brushed the snow from his clothes, and we stared at the huge trees.  The snow was crystal white, paper white, like white-out, not erasing but covering up some mistake under the snow.  We stood with our mouths wide open, until little snowflakes began to drift down to the ground and into our mouths where they melted with the heat of our tongues.  The trees swayed in a wind and the snowflakes whirled around us, faster and faster they swirled, and the wind tugged at our hair and our clothes.  The trees shot their claws back at us again full force.  Now they were coming for both of us, and even though Stephen was there, this was the first time he didn’t make me feel safe.  He couldn’t save me anymore, because the trees and the wind and the white-out snow were coming after him too, to cover him up in the bleak, blank white.  The wind howled and whispered evil words in our ears, I could have sworn I heard it cursing our names, and felt it licking my neck as it whipped at my face.  The black trees continued to snatch at our clothes and we ran again, into the other side of the woods.  We ran and ran and the wind and the snow and the trees followed.  I could see shapes in the snow.  The flakes formed images in the air, the wind made them move, and the trees smashed them away like broken panes of glass on a cold misty morning.  I could see people and places in the snow, girls and boys, teenagers, friends and families.  I felt almost frozen, and yet I couldn’t stop running.  I could see my family, my friends, everyone I loved, all smiling at me and trying to hug me, then they were torn out of my sight by the trees.  I saw myself with a girl, we held hands and kissed, and the talons reached out and snatched her up, ripped her into a million pieces like shredded paper, and spread her out to mingle with the white-out snow.  I wanted to cry.  I felt something kiss my neck, my lips, I could feel the girls touch, or was it the wind?”


            Great Grandpa sat in the middle of the fireplace; all the children lay on his lap and the parents had trickled out of the room like the snowflakes to the ground outside the window.  The room was warm, full of soft, deep breathing, and youth.  Except for Great Grandpa, that is.  A few parents remained in the room, one lone mother of a child in Great Grandpa’s lap sat across from him, listening intently.


            “I felt hot, my body ached from running.  I felt fire surge through me like it does through a tube filled with gasoline; I was full of energy.  My body throbbed with heat, my legs ached and my arms stretched out in front of me.  I raced against the wind, my eyes searing with tears and the wind stinging my cheeks.  The trees slapped my face and the snow tore at my skin, but I didn’t care anymore.  I raced on, I could no longer see Stephen, but I heard his breathing, his near silent crying just like mine, and I wondered what he had seen in the snow.  We raced and ran, chasing something now that we didn’t know, couldn’t see, but wanting only to escape the claws and the evil whispers and the white-out snow behind us.

            All of a sudden another clearing appeared, and I couldn’t see anything but the sun, the bright light staggered my vision and blinded my thoughts.  I stopped to shield myself from the sun, putting my arm up in front of my eyes, and I heard Stephen running past me, and then I heard him stop too.  I couldn’t see him, and I didn’t want to look, for the sun was shining straight and hot, but I heard his running stop.  I felt warmer, the sun slowly glowing my skin back to life, the yellow warmth melting the white-out from my face and hands, cleaning my clothes of spattered snow, and healing my face of the whips and burns the wind had dealt so cruelly.  It felt like my skin was rolling itself back up onto my face, covering back up the scratch marks and sealing my blood and life inside.  Light burst from the clouds as if they’d been holding it back, and the fluffy reservoir had just been broken, the sheer luminous force unleashed.  I realized that the cold was gone now, and I turned to look at the forest.  The claws were retreating into their cavernous wood, the whispers grew softer, and the white-out snow was no longer stinging, but falling almost playfully onto my cheeks and face.  It gave me cool comfort in the blaze of the sun, and offered a refreshing splash of memory of that colder life in the woods to the healing of my scars from my journey.

            As my face and clothes warmed in the glow of the sun, I looked around for Stephen, for I couldn’t hear him anymore, no breathing, no exclamations of how joyous the day was, of how he loved the sun and all its beauty, not even a whimper of pain from the scratches of the claws back in the forest.  I saw nothing, and I heard nothing.  It became acutely clear that I was on a precipice of land, a monolithic rock face overlooking a vast expanse of… nothing.  Only more white as far as I could see, surreal, peaceful, and eerily so.  Stephen was nowhere in the white, but I already dreaded where he could be, and I already knew.  I stepped carefully to the edge of the cliff, watching the powdered-sugar snow in front of me, and I knew, even though I couldn’t see him below, that Stephen lay motionless at the bottom of the mountain.  We had never even known there was a mountain there, and now we knew more than we had ever wished.  My tears now fought against the comforting warmth of the sun, they shot to my eyes like shock to a brain, like a scare to a spine.  They froze on my cheeks, and then melted in the sunlight, carving little paths down my face, making wrinkles too early in my life.  I knew I had to go home now and somehow explain what had happened.

            I turned back to the forest, the claws stretched out toward me, the wind sucked at my face, and the snow began swirling again.  This time I walked.  The pain made no difference, and this time it barely hurt.  Nicks and bruises, scratches and cuts all seemed to sting for a moment and then disappear, Stephen’s death was too overwhelming, and even though he couldn’t make things better, the pain from his loss made this pain hurt less.  There were bigger things in the world, and now I had seen them.  I came home only wiser, and next time I went out to enjoy the snow, racing wasn’t fun anymore, chasing the snowflakes and climbing the trees didn’t make me smile in the way that it used to.  My heart ached whenever I saw the snow, and my eyes became nearly full wells, almost overflowing onto my cheeks, renewing those wrinkles, those little paths in my face.

            Now I have all the wrinkles I could want, but “Stephen’s wrinkles,” as I like to call them, are still there, and my heart still aches when the trees begin to sway and the branches look like claws.  I can almost see his face in the whirlwind of white-out anxious children crave on Christmas Eve.  Snow is beautiful, serene and calm, but to me it means death, and tonight, Christmas night, is the only night I can look around and remember myself before we raced through the woods, and remember Stephen when snow was still just snow.”


            All the children were now long-asleep, and the parents had filtered out of the room.  Great Grandpa sat talking almost to himself, his beard bouncing less now, and slower, the movement echoing the volume of his murmurs.  The dying embers behind him were still warm, just like that sun had been years and years ago.  But this warm was indeed comforting, and he was too lost in thought to relate the two feelings, so he let it warm him.  The rest of the room lay silent.  The children all slept, the benches and chairs empty, the stockings hung waiting for Santa Claus.  The one lone mother sat on the edge of a couch, her chin in her hand, her elbow resting on her knee, and she was staring in a trance at Great Grandpa.  She muttered an intent “hmm” of awe, her eyes wide and tired, her hair drooping, and her clothes creased.

            Her murmur stirred Great Grandpa from his dreamlike state, and he shivered off his memories for the night.  He looked to her with innocent, almost pleading eyes, then retracted his barren, vulnerable stare and replaced it with a somewhat melancholy gaze.  He pointed his eyes to the children, again innocent, and hopeful.

“I wish I could sleep that soundly,” he said, quietly.

“I bet that’s what you used to look like,” the mother replied.

            Santa’s eyes welled up with tears, his cheeks became red as roses, but not merry.  His belly jiggled but not with laughter, and the twinkles in his eyes as he looked back at her were not the twinkles of joy, but the shimmer of tears in the reservoir of his eyelids.  And then the tears were gone; he was left with dry, red eyes, memories of an old brotherly love, and the warmth of the fire and the small bodies on his knees, their deep, gentle breathing coaxing him to his own rest.  He lay asleep there with the little children, and the mother he barely knew stood, brushed out a crease or two, walked over to him, bent down and kissed his forehead.  She was quiet and gentle, but she smelled of sugar and plums, and the children stirred, and Great Grandpa nudged them out of his sleeping spot.  The worries lost, and the pain forgotten for the time being, the children and Great Grandpa Claus looked almost like the same person, only one with more wrinkles than the rest.

            The mother stood looking at them, then turned to take her leave.  She slowly walked out of the room, turning off the lights as she went, plunging the room into darkness illuminated only by the tiny flames and the dying embers of the fire behind the old man.  She smiled at him, comforting, sweet, loving, and she walked off into the darkness of the house.  Great Grandpa and the children slept that night, when all was quiet, and the wrinkles and the tears were healed in the firelight.