Tuesday, January 11, 2011

I’ve taken the long way to the crossroads.

When I was a little girl, I dreamed of becoming an astronaut and robot builder.  Everything I did academically was towards that goal. I fancied myself a scientist and I excelled academically in every subject.  I don’t recall exactly when my artistic tendencies started to creep out.  I think I first tried to express that need by drawing.  First, I drew Peanuts comics and as I got older I progressed to sketching from fashion magazines.  I’ve always written.  My favorite thing to do academically was to write essays analyzing literature.  I’ve always taken pictures.  My grandpa gave me my first camera and my dad built me a darkroom in the wine cellar when I was in middle school.  I practically lived there and I still crave the feel of fiber paper and smell of Dektol on my fingers.  My grandma had to drag me out to eat dinner and go to bed.  But you see, in my mind, these weren’t worthy pursuits.  Space travel was important; art and writing were just hobbies I loved and was good at.

It’s pretty tough to be at a top university and suddenly realize, one year in, that science is not your calling; that you dread going to physics class where all the much-harder-working Chinese students are getting Cs and that you can’t wait to go to art history and literature classes.  It’s hard to let go of previous dreams and replace them with new ones.  It makes you feel like a failure until you accept the truth.  This is where I am.  I’ve come full circle and, as Domenico screams in Nostalghia, I’ve come back to where I took the wrong turn.

I was living in Puerto Rico studying and making conceptual art when I had a dream.  I dreamed that I was directing a film.  It wasn’t a surreal dream at all; it was clear and concrete and I could touch it.  I had never been on a film set or location, but I saw the equipment, lighting and crew just as they are in real life.  I woke up and since then it has been an obsession.  I never wanted to make films in Hollywood. I didn’t even know what one had to do to break into that business.  Hell, the first screenwriting book I ever read was Alternative Scriptwriting, Writing Beyond the Rules (First Edition, by Jeff Rush and Ken Dancyger).  I wasn’t really sure what kind of films I wanted to make until I saw The Double Life of Veronique.  This was around the time Pulp Fiction came out, when everyone wanted to become the next Quentin Tarantino. I think a lot of filmmakers still do.  Kieslowski showed me what film could be and that I wanted to do THAT. I wanted to make The Decalogue.

My boyfriend cheated on me and, after a difficult time, instead of going to The Art Institute of Chicago to get an MFA as I had planned, I turned down a scholarship and decided to flee Puerto Rico and go back to San Diego to the comfort of family and friends.  I finally read Syd Field.  There was no screenwriting software back then, so I set the tabs manually on my dad’s Mac.  I continued to write ridiculous screenplays and three years later, thanks to the digital revolution, the possibility of making films became a reality.  I enrolled in film school and never looked back. I edited my idiosyncratic first films on Media 100; then on Final Cut Pro.  I became obsessed with shooting on film and a small beauty called the Aaton A-Minima.  I wrote, produced and directed my own films and shot many films for others too.  I never wanted to move to Los Angeles until five years ago when I couldn’t stomach one more day at my day job.  I gave notice, sold my belongings, and spent the summer in Italy.

I don’t why or how I decided I wanted to be a screenwriter for hire. Five years ago, that gradually became my new thing. I continued to write ridiculous screenplays, except that now they were what I thought would have an audience. I didn’t know shit. High concept? What the fuck is that? Action films, I thought. Maybe. It wasn’t until quite recently that I finally grasped what that meant. The fucking hustle. I simply thought that if I continued to improve one day I’d write a screenplay that would get me noticed. Only then, I’d market myself. Whatever that meant. I didn’t want to bother. I believed that I had talent and I just wanted to write. The rest would take care of itself.

I won some comedy contests and I got a taste of what a writing career in Hollywood would be like. I call it “Chucky’s Fiasco.” It was the beginning of the end.

Early last summer, I started to hang around a screenwriter’s board full of mostly pathetic people trying to write something commercial. I wish I had come across that board three years ago. I would have saved all the time I wasted on a delusional pursuit. Now, don’t get insulted. Let me explain. If that is what you want to do, great. Do it. But first, really pay attention to the realities of what you’re pursuing. Talent has little to do with it. You need a lot of luck. And you must do a lot of bullshit stuff that has nothing to do with creating. It’s just so sad that most of aspiring screenwriters are waiting, some proactively and some passively, for a studio, or anyone, to make their film. That is the worst thing you can do with your life. If it doesn’t happen for you, then you’ll have nothing in the end.

It’s so weird to finally have thoughts and feelings that feel real, genuine and that make sense. For five years I’ve been fooling myself. I thought what I wanted was legitimate and real. It wasn’t. Just like going to space wasn’t.

These past few weeks, going to museums and browsing through my journals and sketchbooks fucked me up but eventually brought me back to myself. I stopped making art because I got it in my head that I could and that I actually wanted to make a living as a screenwriter. I was wrong. It’s not because I don’t have the talent, I just don’t want to do the things you have to do to get noticed. I don’t want to send queries, I don’t want to write high concept scripts, I don’t want to pitch. I don’t want to waste my time doing that when I can be doing my work. Also, I don’t like anyone telling me what to do. I never have.

For a while I tried to fool myself into thinking I could pimp myself out and write crap I don’t respect for the money. I can’t because I can’t write a movie that I would not pay to see. When I see a Hollywood movie I never say “I want to do THAT!” When I go to a museum or watch a foreign or experimental film, I always do and I know I can and I should.

I cannot, and I will not, spend one more second thinking about writing for Hollywood or anyone else but me. I’m still going to write, but I’m going to write what I feel like writing without a care in the world. I make films. I don’t write shit waiting for someone to make it. I can greenlight a film whenever I well damn please. And I can help others make their films too.

So, my dear screenwriters, there is one less out there for you to compete against. I leave it to you to write the movies for the masses, the Academy Award winners, and the moneymakers. You can buy the house with the pool and I will continue to rent. And be happy.

I hope you know who you are and where you fit in, and if not, that you’ll discover it and eventually find your place in the world. I think I’m almost there. Maybe.



Liz said...

Blog verità.

Jamie's Foggy Musings said...

I really like this. And I'm so jealous that you've been behind the camera. That's what I want to learn to do. Beautiful post.

Jean Luke Retard said...

Hey, even Errol Morris does eHarmony commercials.