Saturday, November 1, 2008

My Plan to Establish a Filmmaking Career, Pt. 1

How am I, at 33 years of age, approaching 34, ever going to succeed at what has always been my dream of becoming a successful screenwriter or filmmaker?  Years have gone by and I’ve accomplished very little in that regard.  I’ve done a lot of other great things: married the girl of my dreams, obtained an accidental though profitable and mostly rewarding career, gotten out of debt, had three dog-children, and I’ve seen my wonderful step-children grow from pre-teens into young adults. 

Creatively, however, I’ve moved very slowly, and accomplished very little.  Nineteen ninety-eight through 2001 was a very prolifically creative time for me.  I wrote three full-length screenplays (Rage, No More Tears, and Turnabout); came up with the ideas for many others (Walking Shadow, The Tasha Files, ReVisit, The Whispering, Rift, and The Space Between); placed second in an L.A. screenwriting competition; worked on four different local independent film projects; started filming Turnabout; filmed (though never edited) two documentaries; starred in seven community theatre productions; built a couple web pages; and started writing a couple plays. 

Since 2001, in the past seven years, however, I haven’t done too much.  I finished filming Turnabout, but it took three years just to do that, and I still haven’t completed the editing of the damn thing.  I’ve only written one more screenplay – Rift – and I’ve only completed one other scriptment, ReVisit.  I’ve only starred in two community theatre plays.  I’ve reduced my weight from 207 pounds down to 187 (wait, that’s not a creative accomplishment; I’m definitely reaching now) … and, well, that’s about it.  That’s all I’ve accomplished.  In seven years.  Seven years in which I’ve gone from 26 years old to 33.  The original goal was to complete a movie before I turned thirty, and I completely missed that boat. 

So where do I go from here?  Do I give up on the idea of ever becoming a successful Hollywood or independent filmmaker or screenwriter?  Do I live the rest of my days a happy IT Director of a law firm, and just enjoy watching other people’s movies on DVDs?  Listening to their commentaries, watching their documentaries as they live the life I wanted so badly?  Do I read their published journals or biographies and experience their lives vicariously?  Or do I still try to do something about it?  Is there still time left? 

So, first of all, the thing I need to get past, obviously, is the age issue.  Who cares if I’m 34 when I break into Hollywood?  Or 37?  Or 44?  Does it really matter?  Just because Rodriguez, Smith, Tarantino, Welles, Cameron – and most of my heroes – got their starts when they were still in their twenties, doesn’t mean that my path will necessarily follow in that direction.  I may end up becoming an “overnight success” when I’m in my forties.  If that’s how it’s meant to be, then that’s how it will happen.  I’ll arrive at Sundance, my film, whatever film that happens to be, will become a success, and they’ll all be waiting there at some eating establishment, Smith, Tarantino, Rodriguez, with open arms, and they’ll be like, “Hey, we’ve been waiting for you for years, you slacker … where the hell have you been?”  

Yeah, I wish.

So, okay, we get past the age thing.  It might take me another ten, fifteen, even twenty years to become recognized, to become a success.  No big deal.  That’s just the way it will be for me.  So, what’s next?   How do I get there?  Will it be through Turnabout?  Or through another low-budget feature that I haven’t even dreamt up yet?  Or will it be through writing?  Will I win some competitions?  Become a Nicholl fellow?  Or will I bypass all of that and just get an agent?  How will it happen?

This is all boiling down to me trying to figure out where to place my creative energy next.  We’ll work out the specifics of that in the next blog.  

Sunday, June 24, 2007

A Little Inspiration from Rodriguez

How does one remain inspired? It's difficult when you have demands: a full-time-plus job, domestic responsibilities … how do you keep the dream alive? Sixteen years ago I graduated from high school with the aspiration to become a Hollywood screenwriter-director – a hyphenate, one of those amazing people like Billy Wilder, John Huston, Cameron Crowe, George Lucas, James Cameron, Woody Allen.

Now, to be honest, it took me a while to get moving on that dream. I didn't finish my first screenplay until five and a half years after high school. I've written three more since, and I've filmed my own extremely low-budget movie. But in 2001 I got a real job, and in 2003 I got promoted. I work nearly 50 hours every week, I have a busy life, and it's often difficult to find the mental inspiration or energy to keep the dream alive.

One needs to be motivated. Inspired.

I guess, for me, one of the most inspiring things that I've encountered in the past few years, that re-kindled the flame and made me not want to give up on the dream just yet, was seeing the featurette, "Inside Troublemaker Studios," one of the special features on the Once Upon a Time in Mexico DVD. That disc came out in late 2003. I was three years into the filming of my own low-budget miniDV production, and it seemed like I would never get to the end of filming, let alone editing, and I was about ready to throw in the towel.

I wasn't, at that point, the hugest fan of Robert Rodriguez. I enjoyed Desperado when it came out, and I took inspiration from his book Rebel Without a Crew. I was educated and entertained by the audio commentary on El Mariachi. His Four Rooms segment was hilarious, and it was the best part of that whole experiment (sorry – Quentin). However, Rodriguez's films since then – From Dusk Till Dawn, The Faculty, and Spy Kids – while decent, were not necessarily my cup of tea.

The special features on that Mexico DVD, however, really inspired me, especially the "Troublemaker Studios" featurette. Rodriguez essentially had converted his garage into a full post-production facility. He had a mixing and sound recording studio, editing and score creation workstations, a visual effects hub, a kitchen, workout equipment, and sound-effects editing stations (with staff), all in his freaking garage! Admittedly, it was a very big garage, with some additions – but it was still his personal garage, on his home estate in Austin, Texas. It was like a miniature version of Lucas's Skywalker Ranch.

That was what I wanted to be doing! I didn't want to move to LA and become part of the rat-race there, just being another aspiring nobody in a sea of aspiring nobodies. I wanted to build a miniature version of Robert Rodriguez's garage in my house! (Well, very miniature, like in a closet or something – but hey, it's a start!) After seeing that featurette, I was excited, I was jazzed, I was ready to forge forward and complete my first film.

If you're a fellow aspiring digital filmmaker and you're in need of inspiration, I recommend checking out any of the commentaries, featurettes, and ten-minute film schools on any of Rodriguez's DVDs.

(Robert Rodriguez has written and/or directed El Mariachi, Roadracers, Desperado, a segment of Four Rooms, From Dusk Till Dawn, The Faculty, the Spy Kids trilogy, Once Upon A Time in Mexico, The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl, Sin City, Planet Terror (from the Grindhouse double feature), and he is currently working on Sin City 2).