I have pretty much always wanted to be a filmmaker (at least since I had been given my father’s old camcorder). I realized that achieving this goal might not be the easiest thing in the world to do. In 1994, it was basically impossible to be interested in American cinema and not be aware of a man by the name of Quentin Tarantino. He had just completed his second feature, Pulp Fiction, which, with its perfectly insane blend of stale cinematic tropes and inventive narrative wickedness was the right film for the right moment. The film put Quentin in the spotlight. Even if you were not aware of who directed the majority of the films you saw, chances are you knew who Quentin Tarantino was. I was ten in 1994.
Two years prior to Pulp Fiction, Tarantino had made his film debut with Reservoir Dogs, a Sundance-bred favorite. That same year, Tony Scott turned Tarantino’s script for “True Romance” into a film. Prior to 1992, nobody had heard of him.
This last fact was important to me five years later, in high school. Quentin had been cinema’s enfant terrible these last five years, and I, with no small amount of optimism, was penning a screenplay (what turned out to be a 154-page tome of satire entitled, “Enter the Graduate”). Living in suburbia on the East Coast with no industry connections, I knew I would have to grow a thick skin and become immune to rejection. That is part of the deal. But time was on my side.
You see, Quentin was born in 1963. That means he was slumming it until he was nearly thirty! Thirty! The hottest, most lauded and acclaimed director in America—perhaps the world—could not get noticed until he was entering his third decade. And boy, did he make it! At this rate, I had double my current lifespan to break into the film world.
Fast-forward to double my lifespan. Pulp Fiction has recently celebrated its twenty-year anniversary. Tarantino is now a middle-aged established director threatening retirement. I am thirty-one and “Enter the Graduate” does not exist, except on paper. I have made a number of smaller works, which have grossed a grand total of $0.00.
My main financier for these cash windfalls is myself. As such, I have continually held down a desk jockey day job, such to the point that although I went to film school, my resume reads like a very decent candidate for an accounting job.
So what gives? I have filed my Sundance Labs rejection next to the others and while I have met such acclaimed storytellers as Oliver Stone and Olivier Assayas, it has been during Q+A sessions where I might Q and they would A. I have never bitten someone in the chest, and if I had you would likely not read about it, but I would likely be in trouble.
Thirty may just be a number—an artificial measurement utilized to track and measure. Turning thirty brought no huge denouement. If anything it was much slower and more insidious, as you find your membership revoked from the places you had learned to call your own. When people talk about the group of folks in their twenties, they don’t mean you anymore. You can no longer travel with “EF College Break” and in most surveys you are in a different bracket.
But we are not here to discuss aging, let us not talk silly quarter-life crises. Speaking of silly though, a thirty-year-old waiting for his break in the arts is a bit sillier than a fresh-faced twenty-one-year-old.
Or at least it can feel that way. Everything doesn’t always work out as we planned. This doesn’t necessarily constitute failure, however. I quite like my memory of how during the last night of my stay in Vegas for a film festival, I won big at Craps, allowing me to leave Vegas with more than when I arrived (to be fair, the fest covered the hotel and did not leave us with too much free time to drop hard-earned cash). This late night Craps session went so late we missed our 6 am flight the next morning, and we were booked on another flight in the extended legroom section that arrived only twenty minutes later than our original due, to a shorter layover (all at no additional charge). Hell, I just liked getting to go to a film festival.
This is not something that everybody has done, and it is not something that I would have done had I not pursued film. My life, which is something that is happening now, not something that will happen later, when the stars align, is full of interesting fruits grown from my choices. I have arrived Day-One on a film set fully aware that I knew nothing. Completely out of my element, I looked at a group of folks, many of which I had never seen before, and wondered how we would survive and what would be left of us. I have witnessed the world disappear into a bubble, in which the events of the outside world vanish and the only thing happening is the flick and the only people that exist are those of us making it. And I have arrived at the end of that bubble, with that same group of strangers, now allies, feeling we could conquer everything as we complete our last day.
I haven’t become Tarantino. Most people haven’t. In fact, everybody in the world save one person hasn’t. That is one of the problems with comparison. Movie studios realize this all the time. One movie makes bank; they make another similar one and it tanks. Comparisons are generally created by searching for the results we want, and working backwards. And it will be easier for you to find the zany story of a guy who worked as a clerk one minute was being paraded around the world the next then it will be for you find the story of a guy who struggled for years, made a few shorts, then slowly worked up the means to make a feature which has seen modest returns through streaming media. The former is just much more printable and fun to hear!
Likewise, isn’t this is an interesting story: a bartender writes a script, puts it “out there,” and get Harvey Weinstein to buy both the script from him, as well as the bar for him, and lets him direct the script. It is an interesting story, and I hope he enjoyed it because Troy Duffy alienated and demonized himself, and has worked very little since The Boondock Saints. Let us not judge too quickly, however.
Life happens and expectations should be made by the individual, considering that individual solely. Who knows, if I was discovered as the cinematic genius I assumed I was in high school, maybe I would not realize the insane opportunity Troy Duffy was afforded either, and behave similarly. After all, it was to be expected, given my sheer genius and talent.
By re-evaluating and considering the journey, we keep ourselves honest. Delusion fades at both ends. There is nothing wrong with struggling to be a singer/songwriter at age thirty-seven if that is all you want to do. If you are honest, you will have to evaluate and weigh your desires. Maybe you discover owning property and starting a family are creeping up just as high on your list as being the troubadour. But no comparisons, neither with Bob Dylan nor with your old high school buddy Steve who now has three kids and an in-ground pool. Just be honest with yourself. If you are honest with yourself, you will know when the scale tips in one direction over another, and evaluate your life, happiness, and contentment at that point. Until then, you enjoy the ride and what you are achieving—which is a full and honest life, with minimal regrets. Which is some achievement.
In Eiji Yoshikawa’s epic novel Musashi, Musashi Miyamoto aims to be the best person he can be. So he puts into writing, “I will regret nothing,” then realizes that this is flawed. This simply means he will not regret any of his actions taken, regardless of their morality. So he changes it: “I will do nothing that I will regret.” This is harder than it sounds; it asks of us to stop for a minute and evaluate ourselves, alone.
I am thirty-one years old, and I still work at a desk. I am also working on making a feature which I wrote with an actress in mind after seeing her on a giant theater screen. From this bizarre one-sided introduction, I have since met this actress. She has read the script and shared feedback. I met up with her at Lincoln Center where she was showing one of her films. Several folks in the “biz” were there, including a rising cinematographer whose name you would likely know if you keep up with independent cinema. The actress mentioned I am a filmmaker. The cinematographer perks up, always looking for connections. He asks my name. I tell him. I see his eyes flutter through the Rolodex in his mind. Name-checking me, he comes up empty. Soon, he resumes his previous conversation.
That he does not know of my name is too bad, but I carry no regrets about it, as it is through no fault of my own. If I had stopped a few years back, not written the script, not dared to reach out to the actress, then, maybe, yeah it would have caused regret. But as a suburbanite kid who had an idea and an actress to fulfill that idea, I was now sitting at Lincoln Center chitchatting about film and getting name-checked by a prominent director of photography. If I am honest with myself, that is not something in my regular wheelhouse. That is a whole new experience. And I am cool with that. I like that. Because even though Quentin may have made a film by the time he reached my age, Xavier Dolan has made five and he still has four years or better to go until he hits thirty. But those are entirely different experiences. And until children and mortgages call out my name, I am cool with riding this experience out and seeing where it takes me.