How old are you? In college, maybe? In you thirties, and wondering if there's more to the desk job you said you would never keep forever? In your forties, and wondering how you got to the place you are, comfortable with what you're making but uncomfortable knowing that there's more out there for you? You're never too young to do what you want with your life, because where you are is the only place you can change what your life is from here on forward.
I know this column has given many the rah-rah pep talks about going out there and doing it, but usually within the context of some other theme. This time I want to beat it into your heads. I've had a bad year. I have had a lot of setbacks in my work on creative endeavors. That didn't stop me from writing, editing, shooting. As bad as this year has been, as many times as I've wanted to quit trying in anything outside of working to pay the bills then sit at home, play video games, watch movies, and be a non-expressive lump, I didn't.
I forced myself to open a file. Video, text, audio, didn't matter. I would just sit down and double click. Then I looked at something I loved, in theory at least. A story. Something I had the power to craft towards what I saw in my head. Maybe my head was in a bad place, but it still worked. I still had ideas, and I knew what I liked and what I didn't. I tried as hard as I could, when it was the hardest for me, to remind myself of what I wanted to do.
We all get one go around this world. If you believe in the heavens above, the hell below, or any place of transport for the soul, you take into account a removal from this sphere we call home. If you're an atheist, well, the end is the end. Reincarnation does not give the memory of who you were, just the weight or lift of who you were in your soul's journey. The point is, this life must be this life. For whatever it's worth, it's what we have for now, maybe forever. There is no good reason to not be true to one's self in the short time you have.
This year, these past few weeks in particular, have reminded me of the presence of death. You could have a disease that wastes you away slowly. You take a few days or weeks to get out all of the things you'd wished you had said to those you cared about, express your regrets,and come to terms with all of the things that may have been. More likely, death will be swift, sudden, erratic. You might not know it happened.
The point is, you have one life. Are you saving up to make one feature that will be the culmination of your life's work? Are you happy with a ninety minute summary? Seriously? I could not imagine having such a limited passion. Everywhere there are stories. On the street, in my imagination, and within the events of my life. A movie is two hours on the long side. Try to think of two hours of your life that were ridiculous. Two weeks that can be summarized. If you don't have anything, you need to look at what experience you're drawing from for your stories, what people might relate to. If you haven't lived, you need to before anyone can take anything you say to heart.
Since we all die, we all have one epitaph. One tombstone, one obituary, one write up, and maybe one blurb on IMDB. When Orson Welles died, he was known as Unicron, the planet eating planet from the TRANSFORMERS movie. Now we look back and think of him as the man who did CITIZEN KANE and so forth, but that's not the man who struggled against studios in obscurity and shadows for decades. On the flip side, Heath Ledger died after the performance of a career, a star-galvanizing turn as the joker, despite years of thin box office and middling reviews. I've been a fan since 10 THINGS, and I know I read a lot of catty reviews over the years from critics who got amnesia the moment he died. Death changes perception, but there needs to be something worth looking back at.
Have the "young phase," or the "experimental phase." Don't be afraid to go out and make something personal and bad. Express yourself for cheap, and for no other audience than the person you wanted to piss off when you invited then to the theater, only to see something scathing towards them spooled out in front of a dozen cheering strangers. It's a cheap and hilarious high. Do some odd shorts just to get a sense of the camera or lighting or sound. Do things that are painfully self-indulgent. Just don't waste a lot of time on them.
The more self indulgent you get, hopefully, the more self-satisfied you get. You'll get stupid crap out of your system. Anger, odd angles, a chance to see some actress naked in a scene, the use of a random location that just looks great. These are things we sometimes decide we want to shoot, even if we have nothing to hang it on. Purge, express, do it, move on, get on to being a fucking film maker.
The old adage is that we learn from our mistakes. Credence Clearwater Revival sang about how "Some day never comes." If some day you'll start shooting that script you have, you'll never make mistakes. You won't get to screw up because you will spend your life waiting until you think the moment is right. There is an odd perfection in nothingness. Just know that it is in fact nothingness. Zero is the only absolute.
Someday is for the people who hope death gets them in the back of the head. Keep looking forward, and you won't get to see the empty abyss of the past. Everything you never get around to doing is one more thing you won't have to think you could have done better. Where is the shame in not finishing something you didn't start? You didn't waste your time, less yet anyone else's.
On the other hand, if you hope to live a long life culminating in a bedridden string of good-byes and wistful remembrance, go ahead and start planning now. Have a series of events worth looking back on. I'll tell you right now that if you haven't sacrificed your own time, money, reputation, and probably more, you haven't done anything worth reflecting on.
We all have the life we're living. It's up to us to make it worth the years it takes to get through.
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Patrick hails from Baltimore, MD, where playing by the rules is frowned upon. Only average things come from playing it safe.|
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