I’ve been attending the Los Angeles Film Festival this week, including a Symposium on Marketing and Distributing your own film – mostly tools and case studies on getting your films in front of people, and how to make a living without selling out. But, that’s the topic for another blog. The discussion excited me and exhausted me at the same time. Overall, it led to some self-reflection, and I discovered a connection between my drive to make films, and the question of having a family.
As a kid, I was sure of 2 things: 1) I was going to have a big family, and 2) I was going to be an actor. I even wrote a paper about acting in 1st Grade, which must of put my parents on high alert status. (I used to blame my mother for being anti-dreamer, until I discovered that her father lost his life savings investing in a fake record company. And when I think of how I must have unwittingly pained her when I signed up for the Columbia Record Club, practically rubbing each new record album in her face…) Films were already influencing me. Sure, STAR WARS was an amazing event, but it was INDIANA JONES that pumped my blood beyond the tipping point and jazzed me about the possibilities of living an adventurous life, becoming a cool hero, and carrying a whip. That spark continued on through the 80’s. But, then came Python. Suddenly, silly was the new hip. Like many fans, we imitated the sketches of Python often, but that was only a gateway drug to writing my own sketches, creating such classic characters as Mr. Pilgrim and Cliché Man. It wasn’t long before my love of comedy and my love of movies fused together as conjoined twins.
I went to Engineering school because I seemed to like math, but the classes didn’t excite me at all. However, I knew what was expected of me as a middle class Chicagoan with a work ethic – get a job. So, I worked at Andersen Consulting. I was miserable, but I couldn’t figure out why. If I showed any spark of individuality, it showed up in my performance review, and even led to some meetings of concern. So, I made corporate America my enemy. The more they tried to professionalize me, the more felt like I was working for “the man.” I had a purpose in life – fight for the justice of the worker!
Then I met my wife, who showed interest in my creative side, so I took a Screenwriting class to impress her. Before I knew it, I couldn’t see myself doing anything else. And, as I dove deeper into the art and craft of filmmaking, I soon realized why I loved movies. They could hold true power using emotion and story to inspire new thoughts and perspectives. Perhaps I could some day affect an entire worldwide audience. My mother always said one person cannot change the world, but I still intend to prove her wrong!
So, what happened to my goals as a child? I’ve been exploring becoming a parent, but I have to admit it’s not a burning necessity. So, why did I lose that drive? I’m realizing that filmmaking seems to fill the gap that used to drive my need for children. For starters, the day-to-day process of making films parallels parenting. Film projects are called “my baby,” filmmakers “put a project to bed,” and a producer can drive his assistant to “cry like a baby.” In a broader sense, a film can have a life of its’ own much like a matured son or daughter. A good film could go out into the world and develop relationships with large groups of people, engaging them with laughter, tears, and excitement. A good film could provoke discussion and thought. A good film could carry on my name and ensure a decent place in history. After all, who wouldn’t want to be immortal? I certainly feel that even in death, I still feel the lasting presence of both Frank Capra and Larry Fine.
Truthfully, if I wasn’t pursuing this elusive career, I would have no doubts about raising a family. In fact, I would probably need a child to focus my creative energy, assuming I would be the same exact person, except with a hidden sadness worthy of a Lifetime movie. I would be some sort of empty-hearted middle manager, completing tasks and reaching goals for the sake of a corporate objective. Boring and sad - a sadness that is matched dollar for dollar in some 401k.
But, I am not that person. I don’t want to end up like the miserable millions who numb themselves with corn starch and reality dance shows to forget that moment when their own reality of raising children stomped on their hopes and dreams. I was always a different kind of person. The signs were always present, even if they stayed under the surface for many years. Much like when I put on a dress for fun, and my parents sat me down for a concerning talk about homosexuals, they must have seen seen some red flags when I wrote that acting paper in 1st Grade.
Eventually, I had to come out of the closet. My family hoped I would go to school, get a job, and have a family - the “normal” life path. However, when I realized that my desire to make stories and capture them on film wasn’t going away, I had to admit that the rumors were true. I had to admit to myself first, and then to my family: I am a filmmaker.
And although that meant a lifestyle change, and some new shoes, I think my family has finally accepted me for who I am.