Scrolling past all of my classmates successes on FB (and mostly being OK with it) I came across a post asking for film school advice. 'What should I know before applying to film school?' The replies spanned from mundane financial issues to sour grape rejects listing all the successful directors who insist film school is a waste of time. I thought about my own decisions. The good and bad. Why the core decision for me to go to Grad School paid off, why it didn't and that it might be a good way to open my new blog.
Before I started a single application I asked myself why I wanted to go to film school. It wasn't as easy as it sounds. Complicated people are complicated. We complicate things. It takes effort to boil out all the nonsense and get to the syrup. To the sap. To the sweetest of the sweet and fuck that takes work. Long walks through the woods. Barefoot on concrete moments. Yelling. Crying in the shower. Weird sex stuff... and then it happened.
I figured it out.
It wasn't especially profane or mind blowing.
I wanted to be a better filmmaker.
I wanted to be a better storyteller.
Yeah Pat, water is wet. The sun is warm and bears shit in the woods. Shut up and close this blog down! Who wants to read about what I already know?
When you direct you're holding a delicate beautiful baby bird in your cupped hands. You're swatting away the hawks and hunters and no matter how many swooping predators peck at your face or nibble your ankle, you always can lift you hand a little and peek at that little baby bird. The Mother Stone. Making a huge life decision (like spending $250k and five years going to film school) are exactly the same thing. You need to find that core thing that guides you and never forget about it. I endeavored to enter film school focused on improving myself as a creative professional. That would be my North Star. My compass. My delicate baby bird and I was committed to protecting and nourishing it at all costs.
I'll spoil the end of this blog for you. I might have been wrong.
Film school can provide a lot of things but rarely does it provide everything to everyone. You kind of have to pick. Contacts? Experience? Connections through faculty? Prestige? Anyone who has gone through a high pressure film school can tell you, you can get lost in the woods really easily. It's a minefield. You can lose yourself. You can forget yourself or what you want of who you are. Imagine trying to navigate the dark woods surrounded by a crowd of classmates, professors, professionals all telling you which way to go. And they're all pointing and pulling you in different directions. It would be easy to lose sight of your own path. I thought I'd inoculated myself. It would always be about the work. Work. Work. Work.
For three years I spent nearly all of my time working. Writing. Critiquing. I showed up to every class. I was early and vocal. I spoke up. I made myself available to classmates. If they needed something, I did what I could. When I felt unsure, I returned to my little baby bird. Now, with those three years in my rear view, I can say without a doubt I am a vastly better storyteller than when I came in. Like BIGLY. I got what I wanted. I'm ready to make my first feature. I feel confident. I have plenty of scripts that are in good shape and are moving forward. I've got more practice leading a team of creatives. It was a big leap forward, as an artist.
After leaving New York and returning to the solitary fields and Wal-Mart parking lots of SW Kansas, I've been running through cornfields, staring off into sunsets and barreling down dirt roads, leaving tall columns of road dust mistaken for fire. (Did I just write all of that off the top of my head? Dang, that was pretty good). I've also come to realize my "work and professional development-focused" baby bird may not have been the best choice. I'm not saying i regret it, but there have been some consequences.
When you're work focused, you stay in and write. You dont go to the party. People don't know you outside of class time. I never walked through Manhattan with a classmate at 2am. I never got into some shit, or got stuck on a roof or shared moments of panic or fear when a late night bar visit whent south. I just dont have the personal relationships that many of my classmates have. Relationships and friendships formed from social moments are strong. I wonder if my absence this made me seem aloof or distant? When you don't show up, people will always assume you didn't come for the worse reason.
I could write an entire blog about the anthropological history of social interactions. Why we shake hands. Why we smile. Why we told stories around the campfire. For the purpose of brevity I'll say, when you dont stick your hand out, when you don't smile or share campfire time with other human beings, they don't trust you. They think you are trying to kill them or worse.
Many of my classmates are working with each other now. Writing script together smiling on step-and-repeats together. They gather for birthdays in parks. They know about each others personal lives because they shook hands and got caught in the rain and sat around campfires while I prepped for classes and storyboarded.
Returning to that post asking for advice, being a creative professional is about more than just the work and while I may not be wired to the more social aspects of our business, we should be. I wish I'd tried a little hard with that stuff. Film school is a social place where relationships are formed outside of work and those relationships are what will bare fruit. So don't just do the work (I mean do it, because your work ethic will help you later into your career), be a person. Sit around the campfire.