Close up Hands Tea x

Sit a bit and hear some observational stories I’ve been steeping.

Short Film – LONG Story

There’s a mantra among writers that keeps them sitting in their chair, more often than not: “Writers write.” What’s comforting to a lot of writers about that short phrase, is understanding that not everything you write is going to be earthshaking, monumental, New York Times Bestseller List writing. It’s just what you do. From journaling, to list making, to story outlines, to snippets of dialogue you overhear (or say) – you write it down. That makes you a writer. Maybe not a journalist or novelist – but, you’re a writer.


When I was a kid, I was storyteller. Not a “sit around the fire and I’ll Mother Goose the crowd” storyteller. I was a liar. Not proud. Just being honest. If I had an audience of even one heartbeat, I’d weave tales that left the listener with raised eyebrows and a rapid pulse rate. I wasn’t after polite applause. I was in it for the ovation. Rarely did I disappoint. Someone was always left standing, even if it was me -awaiting the spanking that followed the telling of such tales. I’d come away bruised, but emboldened. The power of words was worth the smackdown.


Why did I fib? Because the real world was pretty miserable. The woman who adopted me at birth, had already been through two abusive marriages by the time I was nine, and routinely filled our home with drunken vagrants auditioning for the role of her next boyfriend. It wasn’t unusual to find a burnt spoon, syringe and balloon in our bathroom trash on a Monday morning to signal the weekend was over. If you think those were the stories I was going to tell on the schoolyard, you’re mistaken. My lies went in a completely different direction. If there were going to be chants of “Liar, liar! Pants on fire!” directed at me, I was going to make sure mine were fancy and smarty. The people in my stories looked good. They should have been thanking me, not spanking me.


I always knew the teachers suspected me of fabricating stories, but they never got angry with me. They’d hand me a pencil and paper (my favorite writing tools still, to this day) and tell me to write it out. It was the most therapeutic, healthy thing anyone did for me. They gave me permission to get it out of my system. If it just rattled around in my brain, it festered and released noxious gases that made me ill.


When I started high school, my best friend and I got matching diaries. With keys. They were light blue and pastel pink confectionary books that just screamed (in a terribly girly voice): Life is CUTE! Hers was. Mine wasn’t. As a result, I spent an extraordinary amount of time in her house during those years. So much so, that her father (a man I called Papasahn, to express my gratitude for his dad-ness in my life), likes to say that my face showed up at the dinner table one night and never left. Because of their decent family life example, I was not only able to have a bar set for the future I wanted –  I felt safe enough to write the truth about the real world. The lies stopped. When I opened my mouth, thanks to the Brock family, I had great stories about great people to tell.


Then, Sophomore year, my real-life fairytale family moved away. I would try to describe for you the giant wound that left in my heart, but you might accuse me of exaggerating. But, to me? It truly was the size of the Grand Canyon I’d visited on their family trip the summer before. Writing was the one thing that helped. My BFF and were prolific pen pals, making plans for the future and glossing over what our days were like (she, now the new kid at school and me, now wandering the hallways a bit lost at our old one). Writing a letter every day or two was a darned good sanity plan, until one of the above-mentioned mother’s boyfriends lost his mind.


The paranoid, schizophrenic, pill-popping, ex-con that somehow won the right to live in the master bedroom of our madhouse finally realized I wasn’t going to trot off and find another family to live with and that bothered him. Then, it angered him. Ultimately, it enraged him. I’ll spare the details of this story for another time, but what you need to know is that it wouldn’t be a stretch to think that the man who’d spent time in prison for attempted murder might have been itching to try again, on a smaller victim. Smaller, but faster. Because I got away, the witness to this incident knew she had to let me go, before I became a story in the local newspaper.


The sister of the second husband who left when I was nine (no adoption papers, so he was never legally “Dad”) finally got her way and I went to live with her. She’d never had children and had tried many times to bring me permanently under her wing over the years, always telling me that she had tried to adopt me. In fact, I spent most of my childhood summer/winter/spring vacations and spontaneous weekends with her, but nobody pulled the permission trigger to let me live 365 days a year in her home. Finally, after running for my life, I went from the frying pan into a strange… warming tray, in a house less manic but still slightly mad (in the Hatter from Wonderland way). The stories that came after that, wrote themselves.


One of my best stand-up stories over the years, has been one about a funeral. For a cat. Yes. You read right: A cat funeral. Yes, it’s tragic, but it’s also bizarre and surreal… because I didn’t really know the cat. It was a stray I’d brought home in the hopes that my Maternal Unit (because she was the most motherly-ish figure I had in my life) would connect and maybe love me more — because she showed such love to the cats in her home. I thought that surely this raggedy cat and I made a loveable team. The cat immediately hid and wouldn’t come out from under the beds or out of closets.  By week two I was leaving for a 1,000 mile road trip (in a funky, rattletrap of a motorhome) with “blood relatives” (she wouldn’t say “family”) of the Maternal Unit and I thought the cat would fondly remind her of me while I was away. To say that that was exactly what happened, would be lying. The whole tale ends with an elaborate, fancy funeral for a cat that I had to orchestrate and attend (with another high school friend, just the two of us) for a cat that was my bedroom sidekick (me on the bed, the cat under it) for about 10 days. For over 35 years I’d tell that story to rapturously engrossed, appreciative audiences. One day, I was told, “That story should be a short film.”


A friend, at the time, decided we could be the team to turn my true life story into a short film. We’d both had ringside seats on Hollywood sets over the years and knew we could pool our knowledge, experience and strengths to make it happen. We sat together and shaped and crafted and molded and shoved the tale (tail?) into a short-as-possible screenplay. I created the shot-for-shot storyboard and pitched it to a possible investor, a man I dearly adore, who decided to trust us with $50,000 of his money. We started an LLC, opened a bank account as 50-50 partners and began to round up people to create our cast and crew. We went to multiple thrift stores shopping for wardrobe. She decided she wanted to try and direct and I agreed, saying I still wanted to express my opinion, but knowing she and I saw the same vision. A leading industry cinematographer made unheard of, almost fairy godfather-like arrangements for us to have access to Panavision equipment, free of charge. We shot the film, strangely ran out of money, but then got another angel investor to give us $7,500 and we shot the remaining footage. The film was edited and completed, leaving only credits and sound to finish. The editor introduced us to the founding member of a seminal 80’s rock band (whose first British Top 10 hit *cough* was about a cat) who agreed to compose the soundtrack. Even with setbacks here and there, the making of this short film was magical.  People came through to help us, at the exact moments we needed them, over and over again. Throughout the entire process my friend and I (both first time female filmmakers over fifty) worked really, really well together, until we didn’t.


At this point in the story, I have to throw myself under the bus for where things went sideways. You see, telling a story from my life differs from the stories that fall out of my head onto paper or computer screen. I’ve got plenty of fiction that I’ve created – children’s chapter books, articles, an advice column, etc. – all socially acceptable forms of pretend, as an adult storyteller. But, telling the truth is a tough MoFo (always was, still is).  Even though my short film screenplay was about a cat, there’s emotion, there’s pain and there are people involved – many of them still alive.  I care deeply about all the personalities connected to the story, not just the original ones, but the professional bodies that came onboard to create the 22 minute film. Where I dropped my basket in this process, was when changes started to be made without any communication. Changes that I knew would have a ripple effect and that bothered me. Greatly. Changes meant the original vision of the tale was shifting and would alter professional relationships being made.


An even bigger issue, for me, was being left out of ANY decision making in what had been, from the get-go, a 50-50 partnership. Think of how that applies in a marriage! — You have two people who’ve made a commitment to walk a path side-by-side, evenly yoked. Sometimes, for one reason or another (illness, obligations, time restraints, etc.), one partner may not carry their full load – and a decision has to be made about how to continue on the journey. You don’t just forge on ahead, leaving your other half behind. You might have to stop, for a moment, until the other person is ready to go on. You might have to inform the parties waiting for you, that you’ll be delayed. You might have to take a detour, so that nobody is left behind. But, the bottom line is that you communicate with one another about the decisions being made. And, you have to be emotionally honest about decisions made via outside parties that don’t involve your partner. That’s how it works in love, with family and in friendship… it’s not always how it works in business. Sadly.


As a storyteller, this might be where this story ends. I’m not sure, as I’m not the only author of this tale/tail. All I know, is there’s a film out there that took a jagged piece of my heart to create, and I have to wait to see how things play out. I do believe there will be much good that comes from the project. For example, I know that from this filmmaking partnership, a director was born. She will go on to do great things and I will applaud her successes and feel pain when she skins her emotional knees, as is bound to happen in this business. As for me, I will continue to tell stories. It’s what I do.


xo – t.




“The truest form of forgiveness, is to accept the apology you know you’ll never receive… and move on.” – Unknown




About TKatz

An absorbent observer's view on life. Opinions served up strong, but never bitter. T. and observation -- For tea and conversation. Actress/Singer/Writer/DJ: Words for Sale (Spoken, Sung, Scrawled) KHTS AM 1220 Fridays at Noon & Drive Time 3pm to 7pm. MWF