Almost four years ago I was working an office job in a cubicle and hating my life.
The only thing that brought me happiness was bringing small moleskin sketchbooks into work in my pocket and relentlessly doodling and writing ideas into them when I thought no one was looking.
The problem with having a job that requires you to be there for four hour shifts, but only gives you 45 minutes worth of work, is that you find yourself with hours of time trying to look busy, or simply doing your job really really slowly.
So either you finish all your work and sit in a squeaky chair, trying your hardest to look productive while scrolling through Vimeo Staff Picks and drooling at gorgeous cinematography and sighing to yourself because you're not making.
Or you take out your tiny sketchbook and start writing.
I wrote so much in that awful 6 month span of melting under fluorescent lights and nervously glancing over my shoulder.
I'm sure no one would have minded that I wasn't working the whole time. That's what everyone else was doing anyway.
But I was much different four years ago than I am today.
Beside the point.
In that awful, chilly cubicle I started writing my second feature film.
It wasn't the way I had approached my first film, Things Found on the Ground.
I had written that story in high school, I had wanted it to be a novel, but then it dawned on me that putting my ideas on paper wasn't enough for me. I wanted to create worlds that people could experience, create feelings within people that were rooted in sight and sound, not just through words on a page.
It took me 5 years to take the shitty novel written by a 16-year-old from script to screen.
But it happened.
Writing this new script was different. I had been collecting ideas and moments and character traits in my little sketchbooks ever since we had wrapped production. It was a strange time of life. We had just had our last screening of the film at a local festival, and now I had no idea what to do. I found myself working three jobs, loaded with school credits and little to no social or romantic life.
So I started stitching together all the pieces from my little sketchbooks. I started making spec posters in Photoshop (something I always do, and they're always awful).
And over the course of the next several months, even after I quit that mind-numbing job, I kept cobbling and cobbling and knocking moments and scenes around until I had built up what I thought was an admirable sophomore effort at a feature film script.
HO BOY. Was I wrong.
The script was fucking terrible.
A few people, upon reading what I had sent them for feedback, told me I shouldn't make it, that I should write something else and forget about this project, because, seriously? Train hoppers? A mother/daughter drama? Street musicians? Super lame.
Now I like to pretend that I'm a bad ass and I'd much rather see a film about train hoppers than a mother daughter drama. I was too cool for that shit.
Yet, what did I cut out of the story? Everything but the mother/daughter relationship.
I kept honing it down, taking something that I would normally scoff at when reading a log line and shaping it into something that excited me, made me think, made me jump with glee every time a moment in the script filled up my heart and I wanted to do a private dance party in my room by myself. I don't know how stories evolve the way that they do.
Looking, listening, feeling what is real, what's not, what's intriguing, what's not, what excites you, what doesn't, what makes you think, what makes you roll your eyes.
It's not a magical gold sifting game.
But then again, yes it is.
It just takes a long time.
I even did a table read before I knew it was good.
I did two.
This second script about a mother and daughter took me two years to write.
But here's the funny part.
A year into writing it, before the script was even passable to be considered what one might refer to as 'a good story', I started casting.
I don't know where this idea came from, or why I didn't listen to my partner in movie-making crime (Marty Kaszubowski) when he told me that casting so early was insane. I didn't care. I wanted to know who these characters were that I was writing, and I felt that the only way to find out was to cast real people in the parts, before the script even had three concrete acts.
What surprised me was the response I got, even from the simple character descriptions. I found myself swimming in emails and scheduling Skype interviews left and right.
You can't just sign off when that happens, you have to shoot the shit and have them read the lines and then at least fit in some talk about the project.
I learned to stop doing that pretty goddamn quickly.
Anyway, through this process, I had the pleasure of meeting Ashley Shelton.
She auditioned for one of the roles of the street musicians-
Another side note: the story used to have street musicians and train hoppers in it. Don't ask. It didn't work, and we're moving past that now.
Long story short, Ashley was incredible. Even with the feeble, few-lined sides I had posted on my audition page, she took whatever I gave her and breathed an incredible life into the lines, and no matter what I wrote, I felt like I was hearing the words for the first time as soon as they came out of her mouth.
It inspired me.
I went from having a flimsy dramatic and 'trying to be cool' script, to a robust family drama with a backbone of fantasy, following the path of some of my favorite films of all time, Joe Versus the Volcano, and Beasts of the Southern Wild. Mixing well-acted reality and beautiful fantasy together has always been my favorite thing to watch, and now I guess to write.
I finished the script the spring before we decided to shoot the fantasy sequences.
After those scenes were shot, everything else seemed to fly into our faces quickly.
Seeking funding, finding investors, pitching to a room of people I had never met before, asking them for money, casting everyone else, finding locations, securing craft services, props, wardrobe, equipment, all that shit that comes with pulling a film together.
Except this time it was bigger.
Unlike my first film, this didn't involve me and a few film school friends switching off camera, lights, sound, occasionally having actors hold their own bounce card or hold the camera to get shots of their feet (because that is really original), this was a real INDEPENDENT FILM. I had a CREW. I had a BUDGET.
I had my shoes tied tightly and I was so ready.
I had been doing pre production for a year in advance, so the shoot went like clockwork.
Except that our first day of production was 20 hours. The day ended with me in hysterical over-tired tears and everyone exhausted beyond belief.
But in a way it set up a precedent for the rest of the shoot. None of the shooting days were ever that bad as they were for those first 20 hours.
We figured out how far everyone could be pushed (including myself) and never crossed that line again.
By the end of the shoot, everyone was saying that it had been the smoothest and best production they had ever been a part of.
The editing process was actually basically the same as it had been for my first film.
The bulk of the work was done by me, alone in my bedroom, on my laptop.
The end of the post production process was also basically the same as it had been for my first film.
It ended with me, in my house, with my best friend Erika over, ordering take out and watching cartoons to unwind our brains.
I don't know why I felt the need to write all of this down, or if anyone will even read it, but I'm nostalgic, I like to trace my steps, and I like to see how far I've come, because I'm self centered and constantly am convinced I'm never growing or doing anything right, so really, this whole post was not to honor a film, or commend those who worked hard, (though they did, and they should be commended times a trillion), it was merely to make myself realize that no one will ever care about the films you make as much as you will.
Let that sink in for a second.
Then try to keep doing it without looking over your shoulder and wondering if you're ever doing the right thing.
We're not curing world hunger.
We're not feeing and housing the homeless.
We're barely even spreading awareness of social issues.
So why do we do it? It can't be because we're purely selfish beings who have no idea what else to do with our lives because we've spent thousands of dollars (if not more) in order to elbow our way into this industry, and therefore can't be paid to do anything that benefits society.
Do we matter?
Does any artist matter?
OF COURSE WE DO YOU DUMB DUMBS.
Yes, films are hard, and expensive, and often overrated, but it's not about the film. You can argue that point with me, that's fine. But it really is not about the film at all.
It's not about making your dreams come true, though that's a huge part of it.
I'm going to let you in a not-so-secret secret. Up until last year, I had never experienced the feeling of being in love before. Except through filmmaking.
How nerdy is that? Okay okay, hold on, wait. I'm not talking like I wanted to hump all my movies and start making out with my DVD copies and newly printed scripts in public and start bringing my films on a flash drive to all family events to introduce to my relatives, it wasn't that.
It set my heart on fire. How many things in life set your heart on fire?
How many things in life cause you to squeal with glee to yourself in excitement?
Passion is a word that is thrown around too often. But it's what films have given me. It's what I hope becomes contagious when people watch them.
I have this crazy idea that when something real and true and powerful makes it's way through my pen to a script to an actor to a camera, to a screen, into someone's eyes and into their brain and heart, if it doesn't get lost in translation, and it affects someone, that is actual, real magic.
That's the shit that sets your heart on fire. And if that fire doesn't go out while trying to get the idea to become a reality, and if an audience member comes up to you after a screening and says 'hey that really set me on fire' (no one has EVER said this to me, and probably never will because that's a really fucking weird thing to say) BUT if someone tells you that you impacted them, and you can tell they mean it, that is so powerful.
And the high of getting that spark all the way through the process and into the heart of a spectator is what filmmaking is for, to me.
It's all a big act to keep a spark from going out.
No, nobody really cares about your movie. So you fucking better. Give everything to it. Don't expect anyone to care as much as you do. Don't get sad when they don't. Pour all you've got into making it the best goddamn story you've ever heard. Let yourself hate it. Let it hate you back. Let yourself fall in love with it. Let it turn into what it needs to be to become the best.
And then when it becomes the best, maybe someone will look at it, and give you that affirmation that hey, this is a good film.
You say thank you.
And you make another one.