Sunday, December 07, 2008

Segua quel sogno

I knocked my girlfriend, now wife, up when I was 31. I was just a few months into the transition from my life as a club promoter and band manager to trying to become a filmmaker. I'd been writing and acting off and on for years, but I never let myslef enjoy any sustained pursuit. I was ready to put the other stuff aside and dedicate myself to the silver screen. Because of my past in the visual arts and my friendship with a top tier production designer, I cut my teeth in the art department at first. We worked on high-end stuff - American Express, The Gap, Volkswagen. But as a non-union member of the art department I couldn't do much but hang about the set waiting to go pick something up from a prop house in the art dept. truck. My experience never paid off very directly as anything I worked as an art director later on didn't have a budget that allowed for any elements used in the big budget stuff. It was helpful to be around top commercial directors and DPs and stars like Whoopi Goldberg, Beyonce Knowles and Jerry Seinfeld. I had been around people of such celebrity in the club business, but working on a set with them was much different. In fact that was the type of experience my friend was trying to help me get. When I started talking about getting into Local 52 to become a prop man and earn three times what I was as an assistant, my boss strongly discouraged me from putting on a tool belt of any sort. he knew how much less likely it would have been for me to pursue directing that way. One of the prop guys on our regular crew was John Ashton, formerly the guitarist of The Psychedelic Furs. John had a family and was very pleasant on set, but he didn't love the work as I recall. He certainly didn't urge me to take the test to get into the union. A couple of years later The Furs went on tour. John played the tour and invited us to the show when they played Jones Beach.
I've gone off on an unintended tangent. I was going to talk about how ten years ago I began pursuing a career where success and financial security is elusive. And started a family at the same time. I thought about giving it up then. And while Nicola was pregnant I worked more in the art department than I wrote screenplays. I had some ideas kicking around and did some outlining. I wrote a couple of short stories hanging out in the back of the prop truck. I was making money being around what I wanted to do, but I wasn't doing what I wanted to do or even learning that much about writing or directing. And the money I was earning, while decent, was but a fraction of what I'd earned in the past. Then Henry was born and I thought about law school or something much more practical. It occurred to me that the best thing I could do for my child was to show him how to pursue a dream. I didn't have to succeed, I just had to follow my heart. Even so, I thought if I didn't see some tangible results by the time I was forty I would move on.
I threw myself into learning about film. I started saying no to art department gigs. I started studying acting again. I took classes at SVA and later enrolled at NYU. I bought a 16mm camera and a DV camera and made films and videos. I started teaching acting. I directed some plays. I wrote a script. After a couple of years I tried to find a job I could do to make some money in the industry while working toward directing. I tried editing. Then I went back to the art department. It was obvious to me and others that I needed to be directing. A funny thing was happening - my awareness and knowledge of what was good was growing at a much faster rate than my ability. It was as if a sportscaster suddenly found himself expected to play the game expertly instead of commenting on it expertly. I was becoming a student of and a commentator on the game rather than a player. Not completely, but it was more the case than not. I continuously waited to become. And waited. My posture gaining in sophistication all the while.
I'm now 41. I haven't quit. I've thought about it. I've felt guilty as year after year goes by with more money going out to fuel the dream than comes back. I've done some good work and continue to learn. My good work still isn't out in the world. It's starting to happen. Getting turned down for Sundance called some things into question. I didn't expect to get into Sundance. I don't think I was unfairly rejected. I recognize the many many factors that go into those selections. Yet there's this voice in my head that says, "Hey, if you think you're so goddamned special; why didn't you get in?" Funny that -- "You." I didn't submit me. I submitted But A Dream, which I made, but it isn't me. Made Crooked is closer to me, there's certainly no doubt that the story comes from me, but it still isn't me. Dangerous Writing is the closest thing to me that I've ever made. That and Nora Mae, my first short. That's part of the reason I want to get Made Crooked out there first.
I digress once again. Even as I claim DW is me, were it rejected I might not feel the same self-doubt. What I wanted to accomplish with DW was about telling a story in a certain way. I never expected it to be good or get me anywhere. Whereas with BAD, I thought it was going to be the calling card that green-lighted Original Glory, a script I wrote that had a major agency was packaging. Even with Made Crooked, the expectations and projections were eminent.
Whatever resistance to finishing films that I've been working through is diminishing. Now that that particular struggle is over I find myself exhausted not only by the herculean efforts to get past my fears, but by the endless ardor of working with no money. Right now I'm feeling like I can't put myself through making a film by any means necessary again. The New Orleans project is much bigger. And because it is much bigger, I have much less control over whether it will happen or not. I am determined to follow through and take it as far as I can. Though at the moment I'm not sure where the energy to do so is going to come from.
I saw Quantum of Solace last night. Possible the most boring blockbuster I've ever seen. $224 million! The director Marc Forster started off small less than ten years ago with a stylish indie. I forget the name of it. Then he did Monster's Ball. When I'm reminded of such career arcs, I maintain some hope. Then I see the making of a Britney Spears music video this morning. It reminded me when seeing the elaborate sets just how long that I've been trying to do something with nothing.
I don't have any answers. I'm going to work on finishing these two no-budget features. And I'm going to keep going on the NOLA project. I'd like to say what I'm going to do after that, like if it doesn't work out within eighteen months I'll go back to school to become a ...
But that would be unproductive and disrespectful to the great mystery of life. So for now I think I'll just keep doing what's in front of me, leaving the results up to the powers that be.

Following that dream,
Signore Direttore

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