Jeanne & Mike: Original Art Wins Best Short Film at Direct Short Online Film Festival March 2016

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My short independent documentary, Jeanne & Mike: Original Art has just won “Best Short Film” in the Direct Short Online Film Festival for March 2016. I love that this festival recognized this as a short film, not solely a documentary. I also love that there are so many opportunities for independent filmmakers to get our work seen. The rise of mobile plays a huge role, as more entertainment is consumed on smartphones and tablets. Online film festivals are simply the next step in helping people like me reach a wider audience than we could have ever dreamed.

Jeanne and Mike: Original Art

For the past year I have spent all my free time (and then some) making a short documentary about my parents, Jeanne and Mike Drasky, and the art in their house.

The movie is called “Jeanne and Mike: Original Art”, and you can play the thumbnail version below, or click over to Vimeo to watch on a full screen.

I was not a filmmaker when I started this project. I’m not sure if I can actually call myself one now, because I made this 14-minute film with my iPhone.

It started simply enough. I recorded my parents, first just on audio, then later on video, talking about how, over the course of their 56 years of marriage, they have never bought a piece of original art for their home. All the art and craft and photos and memorabilia on the walls, the shelves, the kitchen countertops, the back porch, has been created by them and other family members. Three generations (and counting) of self-taught artists.

Favorite Shots from 2014

Enjoy the Road AheadI’ve been compiling my favorite photo shots for years for family and friends – travel, birthdays, that sort of thing. But starting in 2013, I took a more serious look at the images I make all year long and how they tell a deeper story of where I’m at in the work/creative/life process. The challenges. The triumphs (as small as they may be). The questions. The sometimes circuitous way I come to answers, solutions or shifts in focus.

What I can tell from compiling my 2014 favorite shots is that what I chose to define my year was the epitome of all that went right. Obviously, the year was not without its personal and professional challenges, difficulties and stumbling blocks – those play into the images one makes all year long. But where I chose to portray those more in 2013, I flipped the coin in 2014.

View 2014 vs. 2013 on Flickr.

As I move from the freelance career that has spanned nearly three decades in publishing, journalism, public relations and marketing into one that employs all this into a creative agency that tells stories with digital media, you’ll see that in 2014 I got to travel fairly extensively, spend quality time with my 80-year-old parents, watch my paying work begin to merge with the image making and writing I’ve struggled with for so long, and enjoy the freedom of living life with my Australian wife in the afterglow of equality, justice and simple fairness being granted in the United States.

I also got a new camera.

Wishing all of you who read this far continued breakthroughs in your creative process in 2015! Enjoy the road ahead.

“Enjoy the road ahead.” Photo by KT Drasky. Hipstamatic, taken with an iPhone 5S, Helga Viking lens, Blanko film. Savannah, Georgia, March 2014.

Maya Angelou, Writer, Activist, Streetcar Conductor, 1928-2014

maya-angelou-headerEvery writer with a blog is going to go into high gear today and over the next news cycle churning out fond reminiscences of a great American lady of letters, Maya Angelou, who passed away this morning at the age of 86. I wish I had more to offer than this.

I don’t know why but back when I was in high school certain English classes (well, we called it “Language Arts” in those trippy ’70s days) read certain books and other classes read different books. I was not in the group that read Maya Angelou’s break out memoir “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” and I’ve always kind of resented that. (I was in the group that read “Catcher in the Rye”, but that’s another blog post.) Because of this oversight which I thought was imagined until today, and now realize it was very real, I’ve been deprived of reading one of the great books of the 20th century (in lieu of getting to read another). Both books, from what I understand, having only read one, are supposed to be ways of uplifting and tuning in teenage readers through some dark and cynical stuff. I imagine the best adults are those who read both of these books in high school. The next best (today at least) are those who read Angelou’s story of triumph over adversity. And then there are those who can only identify with Holden Caulfield as they slither through middle age (but I digress).

Having not read Angelou’s seminal work at a time when it might have meant the most to me, I move onto the first of the first Clinton inaugurations in January 1993. For those who think the election of Barack Obama ended an awful era and ushered in hope and change, you were either too young or have forgotten how hopeful we all were when Clinton-Gore took back the White House from the first Bush and eight years of Reaganomics before that. Bill Clinton even widely used the word “Hope” (as in, he still believed in a place called that – his hometown, Hope, Arkansas). To prove that America was going to be different going forward, he called on Maya Angelou (who also grew up in rural Arkansas) to read her poem “On the Pulse of the Morning“.

This time I did not miss out. A fairly new arrival in San Francisco, I sat on the edge of my futon, coffee in hand, in front of the TV, watching as Angelou so eloquently did her best to pull our diverse nation together. It is hard to watch that video today and know that while there are many more believers among us, the hate still rages on, laughably at times, until its ugliness spews forth in new and more violent or destructive ways. Witness “Maya Angelou, Racist, US-Hating, Anti-Semitic Nutjob, Most Overrated Crappy Writer, RIH” just cranked out a few hours ago on some rightwing wacko website. As more Angelou facts come forward – she was the first black woman street car conductor in San Francisco. She supported Malcolm X, Fidel Castro and marriage equality – certainly she’ll be denounced as harshly as she is being uplifted in praise. (USA Today has put together a handy-dandy one-pager fit for a saint – a reading list, inspiring quotes and top R.I.P. tweets by stars like Marlo Thomas and Ricki Lake.)

In writing this blog post I learned more about Maya Angelou than I knew yesterday. She was so much more than a woman who wrote a book I never read and delivered a poem at a time I’ve never forgotten. She danced, she lived in Cairo, she married a Greek and she delivered her last tweet just four days before she died. And she’s left behind a healthy legacy of written words someone like me, who hasn’t really read any of them, can savor for as long as I like.

Source: New York Times, “Maya Angelou, Lyrical Witness of the Jim Crow South, Dies at 86.”

Kim Novak’s Face

Kim Novak's facePoor Kim Novak, laments the Interwebs. The once glorious golden girl of fifties era films is now 81 years old and hadn’t been before a camera in decades. All that was to be remedied on Sunday night at the 86th annual Oscars (just 5 years older than Ms. Novak, but obviously holding up extremely better), when the world got its first official glimpse of the actress in a very long time.

Those of us who expected to see a slightly faded beauty who had been living in peaceful obscurity on an Oregon horse ranch were plainly shocked and awed to see a woman looking much younger than 81. But at what cosmetic surgical price?

Novak looked more like a 54-year-old office manager with a bad marriage and problem children. Who could blame her if she dabbled a little in that Vicodin prescription she’d been given for a bum knee and occasionally had a glass or two more of that boxed wine in the ‘fridge than is considered “acceptable”.

But Novak is not 54, and her choices to try and continue looking that way (or as one blogger sadly pointed out, “sort of like someone who had admired a star so much they sought out plastic surgery to help them ‘look’ more like their idol” – even if the end result would have you demanding your money back), are as much a lesson to all of us who aspire to look a little younger, a little thinner, or just a little plain better to relax.

There have been endless blog posts and ensuing online conversations since Sunday night on the culture of Hollywood and beauty and the double standards for women vs. men – yadda, yadda. Kim Novak was far from the only one at the Dolby Theater who has tried to avoid, postpone or simply not accept aging. There were far more younger women and men in the house all going down the same path (some, sadly even further along it and with many more years ahead of them to do further damage).

But, let us not beat up on Kim Novak – rather let’s embrace her and her new look as a world-weary 54-year-old (her hair seemed a bit of DIY perm, her outfit, while I’m sure cost thousands, looked a tad like a good find at TJ Maxx) and score her a 10 on the new unfashion trend scale of “normcore”.

Normcore is about wearing what’s comfortable (baggy sweatpants, flannel shirts, sneakers and trucker hats on bad hair days). It is people (both women and men) saying no to fashion. As in, too busy to have time to care what people think, too broke to buy expensive clothes and/or too creative to conform. Its offshoots are women without makeup and men not bothering to shave. Its roots are firmly entrenched in Middle America. It is being embraced by teens and twenty-somethings in Brooklyn and beyond.

Could such a fashion backlash at the grassroots rumble its way to Hollywood’s core and lead to a facial and body image backlash, too?

Could we soon see Sandra Bullock tipping the scales at a healthy 140-lbs and still defying Gravity? Might John Travolta open his eyes again and remove a trucker hat at next year’s Oscars and scratch his well-known bald pate? Kim Novak’s face is the starting point. Let the conversation continue.

Image: “Kim x9” by KazzaDrask Media.

Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?

I met Joyce Carol Oates at a book signing about 15 years ago. The prolific writer had just finished her tenth-hundredth book and was making the rounds. Everyone in line had her new book tucked under their arm or pressed against their chest. For some reason I think it was Blonde – the one that imagined the inner self of Marilyn Monroe. Whichever book it was I hadn’t bought it yet, much less read it. I carried in my hand a beat up paperback copy of stories of young America – the tagline for Oates’ mid-sixties collection of short stories Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?

When I finally got front and center of Ms. Oates and handed her the paperback, she laughed. “Where did you get this from?” she asked.

Probably a used bookstore, or maybe a flea market. I didn’t know. I just had it in my possession since college, when I first discovered the short stories of Joyce Carol Oates. When I wrote short stories, too. When I was going to be just like her – only less prolific. She could keep the novels and biographies and dissertations on boxing. I just wanted to write short stories. And for a while, I did.

“What do you do?” was the next question Ms. Oates asked me. Because I’m not sure I ever answered the first.

“I’m a writer,” I replied – because I was (am) a writer, an editor, a marketer, a publicist. I work with words. I don’t write short stories (right now) but I’ve always done what we refer to now as producing “content”. Tons of it.

“Isn’t it fun?” Ms. Oates said to me. “Writing. It’s great.”

I nodded, smiled. I don’t remember what I did to tell you the truth. But I got my beat up copy of Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been signed to “K.T.” – my initials – the ones I used when I wrote (might still write) short stories. Because in addition to wanting to be just like Ms. Oates, when I was a teenager I also wanted to be just like J.D. Salinger (until I learned more about him). But Salinger is no more (I once saw Joyce Maynard in the Whole Foods parking lot in Marin, but that’s an entirely different story!). Joyce Carol Oates is on Twitter.

Which brings me semi-circle at least to some next steps for Kathy (K.T.) Drasky and KazzaDrask Media, because where you are going always depends on where you have been. There are a couple of posts on this site that elaborate on a few iterations of my 30-(yes, count ‘em!)-year career in the word and image business.  (Links are posted at the end of this entry.) But it’s safe to say that probably no career choices have been more changed since the mid-1980s than those that are related to the way we communicate.

I’ve spent the past 6 months taking a look back at the smaller picture – the past five years of blog posts I wrote that explored some of the work I was doing, but more precisely, the manner in which how I was doing that work was changing. I’ve also looked back at the bigger picture – the 30 years of work, first in the publishing industry, and then as a freelancer – a journalist, a copyeditor, a fact checker, a publicist and ultimately the all-encompassing “digital media specialist” and “content provider” – which means, generate, upload and get people to click.

The result of all-of-the-above, led to the selection of three words to sum up what I’ve come to find I am most passionate about, not just now – but for the past 30 years – which undoubtedly means I will hold them dear for at least 30 more.

Creative. Content. Curation.

That’s where I’m going. It’s where I’ve been.

Other posts:

Live Streaming the Yule Log

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One of my fondest Christmas memories as a small child growing up in the shadow of New York City in the 1960s is of my father sitting in the living room, his feet up, a strong drink in his hand and the Yule Log on TV – WPIX to be exact.

We didn’t have a fireplace, but we had a color TV, and when you put on Channel 11, you and everybody else in the New York Metro area became one with the 17-second open hearth loop and traditional Christmas carols. Nat King Cole’s “Christmas Song”, aka “chestnuts roasting on an open fire”, in all its haunting glory is the one I remember most. Maybe because in my father’s no-nonsense approach to bringing up kids, he informed us that Nat King Cole had died of lung cancer just a few years before.

On that note – flash forward to Christmas in California, where I’ve lived for many years, the last 10 or so with a real, working fireplace. It is another “spare the air” Christmas Eve in San Francisco, so we won’t be lighting our own personal Yule Log. The fact that it’s 60 degrees out makes this basically a non-issue. Besides I’ve had the Yule Log app on my iPad for the last few Christmases past since it usually is a spare the air holiday around here anyway.

This morning I came across a great column called “Historical Shit” in the online version of the Village Voice that gives those of us who grew up with such fond memories of the Yule Log on WPIX more “historical shit” about the Yule Log than anyone but someone who grew up watching a fireplace on their TV at Christmastime could possibly stand. I’ve read every word – twice – and now am even writing my own post about the Yule Log because, obviously, I’m a huge fan.

Two years ago the phrase “there’s an app for that” probably rang truest in our online lifestyles. Indeed, it did for me on Christmas Eve when I found out I could get cited for lighting my fireplace and placed my iPad with the Yule Log app ablaze in front of the home hearth. In 2013, “live streaming” is probably the year’s biggest change to the way we used to do things. Now you can watch what you want to watch when you want to or tap into radio and TV stations from around the world – no longer limited by broadcast reaches or the the FCC.

Best. Christmas. Present. So. Far. WPIX is live streaming the Yule Log from 6 to 10 pm tonight (Christmas Eve), and from 9 am to 1 pm and 7 to 10 pm on Christmas Day! All I have to do now is remember is to put my feet up, get a strong drink and adhere to Eastern Standard Time before giving my Dad (and Mom) a call.

R.I.P. Saul Leiter

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Saul Leiter passed away at the age of 89 this week. The American photographer, born in Pittsburgh, but a quintessential bohemian New Yorker was 89.

Leiter was one of the first street photographers to use color film beginning in the 1950s, but calling him a “street photographer” is giving him short shrift. Leiter was more like a painter with a camera. His images as grand as they may seem now (New Yorkers in the 1950s dressed well, men in fedoras, women in stockings and high heels) lack pretense. He shot off-center, vertically and kept those with the blurred subjects and reflections. In fact – that is the work that defined him. Snow, rain, fog, street lights, windows, mirrors and motion were his muses.

Read much more about Saul Leiter in this New Yorker piece.

R.I.P. Ruth Dewson, The Mayor of Fillmore Street

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San Francisco businesswoman Ruth Garland-Dewson passed away on October 28 after a long illness. Ruth was a fixture on Fillmore Street, where she owned and operated Mrs. Dewson’s Hats since the 1970s.

While the hat business was good to her (and she to it – selling hats to Mayor Willie Brown and actors like Samuel L. Jackson and Sharon Stone), it was Ruth’s selfless acts and deeds, often generated from behind her desk at the back of the hat store that earned her the nickname “The Mayor of Fillmore Street.” Whether getting out in front of the 2008 Obama campaign or helping underprivileged girls and women, Ruth was a “force of nature” – a description of herself she absolutely loved.

Ruth was my neighbor here in the Western Addition of San Francisco, a neighborhood that is changing faster than Ruth could change hats. When I first moved here about 10 years ago, there was no Falletti’s, NOPA or $4 coffees and slices of toast. I found the Divisadero Corridor to be a strip of automotive repair shops and storefront churches and I wandered its wind-blown streets, usually in the late afternoon snapping photos.

It was on a morning in early February 2008, though, that I heard horns honking and a woman yelling down on Oak Street, and I grabbed my camera and ran outside. There was Ruth, waving an Obama sign and stopping only to say, “Who are you?” when I went to take her picture. She didn’t recognize me with my big camera in front of my face. But when I said, “Hey, Mrs. Dewson, it’s me – your neighbor,” she struck a variety of poses and I shot her in action. I ordered her some prints and dropped them through her door, and a few days later got a call. She was on her way to Beverly Hills to receive the Power of One award for her work in helping to free Flozelle Woodmore from an unjust prison sentence. Would I come along and photograph the event for her? We’d get to meet Academy Award-winner Halle Berry!

Over the course of the next year I’d work with Ruth as her publicist on a variety of different events, including the election of Barack Obama as our 44th President. “Go Obama, you’re black enough for me,” Ruth had said when the candidate was criticized by some in the African American community as not being true to his full heritage. We wrote a press release around that statement. And I loved hanging out with Ruth at the hat shop on election day, where she worked her old school push button phone, the Mayor of Fillmore Street in action.

Ruth became ill shortly after this and soon had to leave her home to move into an assisted care facility. She held onto the hat shop for awhile, making infrequent appearances behind her desk, but eventually had to sell the business and accept retirement.

In my own career, I have worked with a lot of interesting and talented people. But only one legend. R.I.P. Mrs. Dewson – you were indeed a force of nature.

Photo by KazzaDrask Media.

Obama Sworn in for Second Term as President

Congratulations to President Barack Obama, who was sworn in to his second term at noon today in a private ceremony.

In accordance with US law, the President is to be sworn in to start a new term at 12 noon on the 20th of January. Because the 20th fell on a Sunday this year, the ceremony was private and low-key, with just members of Obama’s immediate family on hand. Tomorrow the pomp and circumstance of Inauguration Day will take place in public.

Click here for the January 21 Inauguration Day schedule.

In a sweet nod to equality, the second term for our first African American president kicks off on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, the day American’s pay homage to slain civil rights leader.

How soon is now? That’s the civil rights question looming over Obama’s second term for those who still suffer on-the-books inequality. Will he continue to fight for full federal equality for gay and lesbian Americans? In his first term, his Administration declared the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) unconstitutional. While cases challenging the 1996 law are now in front of the Supreme Court of the US, the Republican Party continues to defend DOMA as the law of the land.  And millions of LGBT Americans remain second class citizens, unable to access many rights heterosexual Americans take for granted – like equality in housing, employment and marriage. How soon is now?

Photo by KTDrasky (taken in San Francisco, with an iPhone 4S).