For those of you who don’t know – I’m (supposed to be) a filmmaker. When I was twelve I decided I wanted to be a film director and from that point on I was a woman on a mission. I left home at age 19 – flew halfway across the world, and spent 7+ years pursuing this dream in the US.
The last two years of that pursuit – well, they kind of broke me.
Allow me to rewind:
It’s the beginning of my senior year at undergrad. I’m a “superstar”. 3.95 GPA, dean’s list, honors program, winner of every scholarship and award, general over-achiever.
Toward the end of the first semester I decide to apply to one of the most prestigious MFA programs in the country for film. I get the rec letters, I write my essay, I put together my reel, I send it in….
And then I freak out.
I run to the office of one of my favorite professors, I knock on her door, and I collapse on her couch crying.
Prof: What’s wrong?
Me: I sent in my application today.
Prof: And what? they already rejected you? That seems a little far-fetched
Me: No. I just know I’m not going to get in. And it’s the only place I applied to.
Prof: um – and how do you know you’re not going to get in? Have you developed telepathic powers? Or can you see the future? Because that would be awesome.
(her dry wit does nothing to reduce the sobbing)
Prof: come on, what’s wrong?
Me (as if I’m confessing to murder): I have no original ideas. I suck.
She cracks up laughing.
Prof: Honey – there are no original ideas. There haven’t been more or less since the greeks. You should know this – I remember distinctly that you got an “A” in your intellectual heritage class.
Me: But… But…
Prof: But nothing. No idea is original. it’s the style and personality behind its execution that makes it unique.
4 months later I get called in for an interview at prestigious grad school x.
3 weeks later I get accepted into their directing program.
2 years later that little breakdown in my mentor’s office is peanuts compared to the insecure mess that I’ve become.
and now – 3+ years after that – well, I’m still an insecure mess, but at least I’m writing again (that is – if this blog counts for anything).
I could sit here and bore you with the internal politics of “prestigious grad school x” and how the place’s cliques and nepotism (and the fact that I was one of the few students there who didn’t have a rich daddy to pay his/her way) basically sabotaged my chances of success there from day one.
To be honest – I have so much venom toward the place that it could fill an entire book. And I’m avoiding mentioning the name mostly because of that venom – I doubt they take too kindly to alumni who trash them.
The place is evil incarnate. With the exception of a few gems in the faculty, it is a machine that will work tirelessly to stuff you – the square peg- into their round-hole-idea of what filmmaking is. That is, of course, unless your parents are rich or famous – then feel free to express yourself and terrorize your fellow students and they will happily look the other way and make sure to ask you for a generous donation later.
I came into grad school x a talented, award-winning (and yes somewhat too cocky) filmmaker. I left there a jiggly mess of insecurity.
Don’t get me wrong, this is not only the school’s fault. I am responsible as well. I was so concerned with getting the approval of my peers and the faculty that I completely lost my sense of individuality.
I was targeted from day one because I was good, and because I knew I was good. And instead of telling everyone to piss off and go Fuck themselves I bought into their bullshit and left there believing that I was worthless.
Yes – my initial air of cockiness was most likely incredibly annoying to the people who felt threatened by me (it’s a really competitive environment), but that gave them no right to tear me down, and I was a complete and total idiot for letting them.
And the result is, that it’s been 3+ years since I left that godforsaken place, and this blog is the first bit of writing I’ve done for fun since then.
I love this blog – but I do think it’s time to get my career on.
I’ve spent the last four years making a heck of a lot of excuses as to why I don’t have a feature script ready to go, why I haven’t directed another short, bla bla bla.
There was even a point where I convinced myself that I can’t write. Even though in my heart of hearts I know I can, and I’m even pretty good at it sometimes.
At one point I also decided – heck, I don’t want to be a writer/director at all. it’s not practical and I don’t love it anymore. Also BS.
I made some feeble attempts at getting some development money and such – but my heart was never in it and every word that I wrote was forced and disingenuous.
It was about a week after my second miscarriage. I had just hit the wall (metaphorically speaking). I was having a complete identity crisis.
From a place of panic I decide that the next logical step is to get a Phd. Of course! I mean hey, every woman who miscarries needs to get a phd, right? Especially if it’s in film! Let’s just ignore the fact that your body and soul are both decimated, shall we?
I decide to call up yet another one of my mentors, also an old college professor (I’ll call her LL), and a woman who I really idolize.
She had just come to Israel to visit a few months before, and I actually met up with her two days after my D&C, so she knew more or less what I was going through.
She hops on skype.
LL: So – what’s up?
Me: Well, I um, had another miscarriage.
LL: Oh honey, I’m so incredibly sorry to hear that.
Me: Yeah, well, um, it’s ok. That’s actually not why I called. I need some advice.
LL: Ok – shoot.
Me: Well, I think it’s time for a change – and – well, I thought of maybe going for my Phd may do me some good, and I wanted your advice on who to talk to over here.
LL: Sweetie, um, are you sure you want to do that?
Me: I think so. I mean, it’s not like “trying to be a director” is getting me anywhere.
I start sobbing.
LL: Oh honey – listen. I know you. You are not cut out for academia. You are a filmmaker.
Me: No I’m not.
LL: Don’t say that. You are. I just think that – well – that “Grad school X” kind of took away your voice, and you don’t know quite how to handle it.
Me: *sobbing uncontrollably*
LL: Listen – do something for me – let this idea sit for a bit ok? How about grabbing a video camera and shooting something – anything – just for yourself. I don’t know, maybe a love letter to the babies you lost…?
Me: *sob* ok *sob*
LL: Just find your voice again. I promise you that once you do that, things will be a lot clearer.
I haven’t picked up the camera – yet.
I don’t dream much – or at least I don’t remember most of my dreams. However, for the last three years or so I’ve had this recurring nightmare, and it’s the only one I remember. I’m in a room surrounded by people, and I’m very angry and upset. I’m crying. I’m trying to yell at the people around me, and I choke. No voice comes out.
It’s amazing to me that it took that conversation with LL to make me understand the meaning of that dream.
Two weeks ago I meet up with a producer friend of mine, who basically stepped in and saved my thesis film at grad school x when the faculty screwed me over on it.
We hung out, and we were talking. He says “You’re a wine bottle. “Grad school X” is the cork. If you don’t get rid of that cork pretty soon, the wine will turn into vinegar.”
The guy has never seen “Lost” so I will forgive him for changing around the wine bottle metaphor. But he’s right. Goshdarn it. He is.
I used to be fearless when it came to my films. I would spill my guts into every script. Every frame was me. Not all of it was perfect, but it was all me.
The problem is that I don’t know where to start. I don’t know how to remove that metaphorical cork. Though I do think that this blog is as good a start as any.
And here is my next step.
I am coming out of the filmmaking closet.
Embedded below is a short film I made in 2004. It’s called “Make-Up”. It’s not perfect by a long shot – it was the first time I ever directed dialogue. But it’s me. It’s my guts on that screen. It’s the last time I really allowed that to happen. I’ve made “technically better” films since then – but who the hell really cares about that?
Yes – and by watching it, I will no longer be called “mommyodyssey” – you will see my name on those credits. (as long as it doesn’t show up on this blog for future employers to google, I don’t care).
I hope you enjoy it.
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