Pamela Harris

Posts in the Film Category

En Route July 2, 2017

Last month I directed a short film called "En Route." I ended up co-writing, it, too. The photo above is a production still from the set, a car. That’s me in the way back, making notes. In front are the actors getting ready for the next take. The arm you see is the DP resetting the camera.

The opportunity came in the side door versus my trying to push through the front, which is how a lot of breaks happen in my life. An actor from Wynn’s asked me if I’d give her notes on a short film she was writing for herself and another actor (who was also the producer). The script was about estranged sisters, something I know a lot about. In the film, the sisters drive together to the one-year memorial of their deceased brother and need to find the connection they lost long ago. The story was extremely ambitious for a six-minute short film.

I gave notes, she did another draft, and I gave her notes on that. After the third draft the script got very interesting to me and I told her I’d love to direct it. She said there was already a director attached. We went another round on the script and then a few weeks later I got an email from her asking if I still wanted to direct the short. I immediately said yes.

Directing is a crazy amount of work. I loved almost every second of it. There are so many moving parts to making a film and I don’t know how I knew what to do but I did. Years ago I spent a lot of time crewing my way around the set and all that experience was right there with me. Working with cast I got to put into play what I learned from Wynn. From start to finish, even during very stressful or intense moments - bad weather, camera glitches, losing light, editing - I stayed in the flow of it all. We all did. What helped was I had a very clear vision for what I wanted (and made look books to share that vision). Our shoot was calm and even fun, despite how dramatic the script was and the emotional places the actors went. The whole project was so satisfying. Now I want to make a feature.

I don’t know what made me anxious whenever I thought about directing my own project. Maybe it was not wanting to embarrass myself. Maybe it was old shit. Whatever it was, I’m way over it.

Red Nose January 24, 2014

Yo yo that a red nose?

When we first started looking at pit bulls I saw that some were described as red nose. A few days after we got Ginger, Joe mentioned that people were coming up to him on the street and commenting in an almost reverential way about her red nose. I was experiencing the same thing so he investigated. 

Red nose pit bulls are from an old, revered line of pit bulls originating in Ireland that are the foundation of today's American Pit Bull Terrier. Though this bloodline is as diluted as it can be, certain communities see red nose pit bulls as status symbols. Pit bull is a blend, not a pure breed, and red nose pit bulls are perceived as being the closest to purebred you can get. Teenagers and adults come up to us and ask how much we paid for her and who we got her from and when we tell them she's a rescue they look at us, confused. It's like saying we got a Cadillac for free, or, even better, an Avanti that still runs.  

A few days ago I was walking her through a nearby garden and a guy yelled over "Want to sell your pit?" I looked at him, incredulous. Did I want to sell my dog? By the time I got home I was shaking. My head had gone from a guy simply asking a question to worrying about someone wanting to steal her. My feet planted as fear and fury brewed.

I'm not surprised my maternal instincts are feral, but they blend curiously with also being a total Jewish mother.

"I should knit her a scarf to keep her neck warm," I say daily to Joe.

"Her neck is fine," He says to me.

"A little scarf. A cowl. I'll make her a little cowl. Maybe get her a sweater. She'd be so cute in a pink little sweater."

Joe watches my lips move as I switch to wondering if we should get her booties since the sidewalks are covered in salt then I finish my yarnball of thoughts with "she'll eat the booties right off and choke on them."

Yesterday Joe pretended to consider a pink sweater for the dog because it was my birthday. It was a great birthday; Joe went to the Dominique Ansel bakery and got pastries to start the day, then I heard from a lot of friends, then I took Ginger to a snow covered basketball court and she played with another dog there, which meant she slept while we watched 'Hitchcock' with Helen Mirren and Anthony Hopkins. (Loved the movie idea, good acting, loved the use of sound but the movie is a mess.) I'm coming down the final stretch of finishing a project and whenever I get to this place I'm distracted by bits and pieces of another world. I steadily grab my phone to text myself an idea or better dialogue or something to add or cut in a scene. It was the perfect movie for my head since, like Ginger, I could watch and look around the room and watch some more and think about breakfast and quickly text myself and chuckle then go back to movie and not miss a beat.

A Real Simulation February 7, 2013

(photo is from Area's photobooth)

I love seeing patterns on the street. Not in the design sense (I do, but that's not what this post is about) but in the people sense.

I've always seen patterns and started noting them a few years ago when the tranny hookers at Christopher Street and Hudson began to look like they had just gotten the baby to sleep and were dashing out to pick up a jug of laundry detergent. They'd be wearing gray collegiate sweatshirts that read Dartmouth or Yale, beat up pale pink sweat pants, and their hair was haphazardly tied up in a scrunchie. The kicker was they wore no make-up. I loved it, found it conceptually fascinating, and then poof! Make-up and size 12 stiletto's were back on the corner.

Then it was blind people. I saw them everywhere, for three days. Then people missing a limb; an arm, one leg, a hand. I'd see them all over town so it wasn't like there was a prosthetic convention going on in the neighborhood.

One of my favorite things to see is a tourist window shopping around the corner on Prince St., say - maybe their bag or coat caught my eye - then six hours later I'll see them in Chelsea. Sticking with tourists, I've had a week where all I saw were tourist couples arguing loudly. No-one swears like the French and I don't need to speak it to know that.

Occasionally the patterns show me things. This summer I was walking through Tribeca late at night and passed a woman outside Nobu wearing a micro mini paired with red-soled 8-inch heels. This isn't unusual to see since it's everywhere, all the time. This night though it hit me that she couldn't run if she had to. 8-inch heels and cobblestone streets don't mix well and if she was chased she'd surely be caught. Maybe New York is getting safer.

The pattern I see now is a broader one, not yet defined. It mostly involves people in their late 20's to mid-30's and it has to do with a desire for an '80's kind of decadence. Desire is the key word, since what really seems to be desired is a simulated decadence, a decadence that's safe and without an edge. Granted, I'm talking about a sliver of this age group: the sliver with money. Interestingly, in the actual 1980's this group made a bundle of money on Wall St. With this new faux '80's sliver, their parents - youth of the '80's? - make the money and support them.

What fascinates me is how accepting and even hopeful this group seems to be about being part of the status quo, the mass appeal. Even the hipsters, moneyed or not, seem eager to define their personalities through fashion that advertises brands from the 1970's, or their clothes co-op an entire ethos and lifestyle of a past generation -- any generation -- except their own. Their clothing choices isn't political: it's as if commercialism and identity have happily merged. The individual is no more.

Over the last five or so years a private club scene has blossomed here. The application process to join paints a picture of exclusivity, one where artists and creative types romp freely, yet this isn't the clientele and members know it. Anyone can join these clubs, something also known by members. The decor is simulated chic, the art offends or excites no-one, and even the personality of the crowd has a consistently homogenized tone. (Soho House is the one private club I've been to that has personality, plus they throw fun parties and from what I hear have a great breakfast scene.) These clubs do reach out to creatives with free memberships, but the comps I know are home watching Netflix or getting ready to take the dog out. (The art world has been turned inside out and culturally neutered, too, but that's a longer discussion.)

In the east village I'm seeing '80's hairstyles and dye jobs; fur is back on the street; drugs are being sold openly; there's a pile of new shows and movies in production that take place in the '80's; and music, even some EDM has hints of a Flock of Seagulls. All this isn't the point I'm writing about. What is, or what congealed all of this and turned an intuitive 'is it the '80's?' cog inside me was a company called Reviv.

A close friend spent the New Year at a fancy hotel in South Beach and one afternoon around the pool he noticed men and a couple of women sporting colored arm bands. Some had more than one arm band on. He asked his date what they were and she told him they had seen 'the doctor.' The doctor?

My friend wanted to better understand what she meant so his date took him upstairs to a lavish suite. Inside it had been turned into a spa, or more appropriately, a med-spa, called Reviv. Every bed and chair had a (mostly male) 30-something hooked up to an IV. Hot nurses tended them while a doctor casually roamed the room. Each client was receiving a personally tailored infusion, a doctor-concocted blend of saline and multivitamins and medications - some were getting oxygen - for whatever ailed them. All ailments were gotten by partying too hard.

Run by an ex ER doctor who threw around terms like 'Hydrating therapy' and 'MegaBoost' and 'UltraVive,' this was the womb you went to if you drank too much or snorted too much cocaine or needed to sober up so you could start drinking again. This struck me as real decadence, nothing simulated about it.

My friend isn't much of a partier and back down at the pool his date called over some of the armband wearers. This crew -- all trust funders -- ignored my friend and spoke to his date of how they wanted to start their own Reviv and make it global. My friend listened quietly, since he recently helped build a global brand which he sold for a huge chunk (and now heads another global brand). It was like this crew was playing at business, acting out what they'd do knowing full on they never would. And it wasn't because they didn't have to; talking about it was satisfying enough. Fantasy success has a built in safety net -- you never have to lose or fight for something. What struck my friend was that this crew showed no desire to go for the real thing. Simulation is sufficient.

I find it all disturbing. I know that change, ultimately, is good and I love when I see signs that we're moving into the future. Right now I can't understand or find purpose in how this sliver moves our evolution forward. Sometimes we gotta go back to move forward, so I'm hoping this sliver is the equivalent of an algae bloom, one that will eventually block its own sunlight and cut itself off at the legs.

(photo by Christopher Payne)

When the prod. co. with the first look with Sony showed interest (please see post behind this one, 'Starting Out') I thought Yay! I've made it! They introduced me to five agents and I picked one. I started looking at houses to buy. Four months in the prod. co. disbanded and I got the script back. I stopped looking at houses.

My agent sent the script around and suddenly it was hot. Aents at William Morris and CAA called - I went back to the real estate listings. My home would have at least three bedrooms.

Then just like that my script got cold.

I had been writing a new script, JOYVILLE, a dark comedy about competition. I gave it to my agent and she took it out. A V.P. at a dream production company loved it. He nurtured the project through the gears of his co. and at the top it came down to my script and an action pic. Action won. The V.P. called my agent and said,"I'm going to fuck my boss for not making this. I'm giving it to the competition." He gave it to a producer at Brillstein Gray. She read it and loved it. I was back to four bedrooms.

Two weeks later she left on maternity leave.

A manager liked my first script and wanted to rep me. "What can you bring to the table?" I asked. He brought me an Oscar winner. The Oscar winner's current movie opened and bombed. She got into bed and wouldn't get out. The manager vanished. My script , again, was cold.

My agent sent JOYVILLE to Howard Stern's production co. His head of development loved it, but not for Howard Stern. I told him I had another script and pitched the project the Sony group liked. There was a great part for Howard Stern in it, too. The HoD read it, thought the part was too small for Howard Stern, but was I interested in TV? I was very interested in TV. The HoD gave me a headline he saw on CNN that he thought was interesting. Could I do anything with it? I took the headline, blew it up into a show and when I finished we were happy with it. Finally, I had something moving in the pipe.

I saw a contest in The New Yorker in collaboration with HBO: write an episode idea for THE SOPRANOS. There would be five winners and I ended up being one of them. I turned the idea into a spec script and my agent gave it to a TV agent at her agency. Suddenly I had meetings with Dick Wolf's guy (LAW AND ORDER) for a new show they just shot a pilot for. The meeting went well, the show was something I could definitely write for, when would I move to LA? NBC dropped the pilot. The show was now dead. I met Sydney Lumet's showrunner/TV guy. We clicked, it was great, then his show didn't get picked up. Goddamn.

My TV agent came to New York, we had a strategy meeting, then he vanished. Literally. Rumor had it he had two wives and one of them found out about it. He was in Spain, Portugal, maybe South America. I was on Shit Street heading toward Fuck-You-ville.

I wrote a horror movie. Even for me it was a little too far out.

Painting and drawing had been going well and I got into a big show. This would be the one that would catapult me into the world. The show opened, my phone started ringing, I got reviewed well, it even sold okay. When the show came down and it got quiet again. Very quiet.

I had a studio visit with a major museum here. It was the worst studio visit I ever had. (Two months later the curator came back and bought a painting, for herself, not the museum. I still didn't get in the show.)

Part of my agreement with Howard Stern's production company was I would get the TV series back, sole owner, if it didn't go into production in three years. I got it back. Because I was focusing almost exclusively on TV, my relationship with my film agent ended.

I was brought in to adapt an Elmore Leonard short story for a TV director. A month later the financing fell out.

I could go on. There's a lot I'm forgetting, blips I'm leaving out, grants I was short-listed on, etc. Every time I got something I was sure it would rocket me into stratosphere, it would be the one. Instead it was just a baby step. I kept telling myself no matter what, keep going. So that's what I did.

Then then three years ago I didn't want to anymore. I'm hardy, a New Englander by birth annealed by New York City. I've been mugged at knifepoint by a tranny (she was better dressed than me); chased by a machete-wielding crackhead; was wrong time/wrong place for a suicide (he jumped in front of a subway); and had a neighbor hang himself from a landing above my door. I've seen things I wished I never saw and have done things I wished I never did. I've had as much inside chaos as outside, then seven years ago I punctured an artery cutting a bagel. Sitting in the trauma unit at St. Vincents pushed me to a bottom, which slowed me down enough to peer inside. I started sorting through the past and present and two years later my mother was diagnosed with lung, brain and bone cancer.

Two years into her illness was three years ago. If you've ever been close to someone with an illness like this there's a moment that gets crossed when you know they're going to die, for real, no matter what. Not next week, not next month, but this year will most likely be your last together. When I saw that point I was traveling nonstop to be with her, my career was stalled, I was stalled. One day I came back from visiting her and sat down in the middle of the path. That's how I pictured it, my life as a pine needle path through trees. I sat down and didn't want to get up. Wasn't going to get up. I felt done, with what I didn't know. Whatever it was, I was quitting.

I had never, ever done that. To sit down meant I was a failure, a loser, someone who had lost the fight. I sat there not caring. It was like I emptied out: worry, concern, care, angst, passion, fear and joy - it all became inert. I sat there feeling nothing.

Two days later Diane called. "What are you going to do about it?" she said, tough friend she is, then added "Get up and get going." I put my feet under me and stood up. I wasn't relieved or happy or sad or optimistic. There was no cheerleader saying This is good! You're back on your feet! I was still empty, simply up.

I roamed aimlessly around my house and the next day I roamed in a muttering, puttering and scratching kind of way. Which meant there was life brewing. I cooked dinner, put one foot in front of the other, watched traffic. I got an idea for a new project, a one-hour pilot about a group of teens that would be fiction, but personal. Very personal. Personal would be new for me. What was strange was how calm I felt even though I had just done the worst thing I could ever do, give up. The calm gave me a moment of objectively and I asked myself why it was the worst thing, why quitting scared the shit out of me. And it hit me that the calm I was feeling was lack of fear. I had given up, done the one thing I swore I'd never do, and now I was on the other side of it.

I wrote the pilot and a new world opened, personally and professionally. A head fuck got replaced with faith. I didn't see it coming. It so wasn't how I thought things went.