Jun 3, 2009

My Very Own Private Sgt. Pepper Revue

Yesterday, there was an amusing bit of news about how House actor Hugh Laurie had once had a pact with his friends while teenagers, to kill themselves before the age of 40, because their juvenile minds had assumed they would have accomplished all that they would've needed to do by that magic number. Needless to say, this act was not carried out, but what interested me more about this piece was the actor's final statement. Laurie, who is approaching 50, added: "You hope that your teenage self would like and forgive your 50-year-old self. It would be awful to think that they'd be ashamed and appalled - that you were a betrayal of everything they thought they'd become."

Generally, I neither report nor comment on whatever piece of celebrity piffle currently masquerades as entertainment news, but this one comes rather timely, as I too have been self-reflexive on such things. Just this morning, I had an interesting philosophical chat with a colleague, who like myself still pays his dues in the trenches awaiting the big break. His concluding statement "I really feel that the clock is ticking for me..." is one I can certainly relate to.

All of this however coincides with a post I've been meaning to write for some time this year. To coin a lyric from the Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band record, "it was twenty years ago today..." where I ended perhaps the most pivotal year of my life. (I had previously alluded to this way back in my "Pasta With Mr. Pleznik" post two summers ago.)

At the age of 20, I had made the daring, but insurmountably rewarding decision to return to high school and upgrade my Grade 13. Even during my two years previously spent in the work force, there was little doubt that I wanted to pursue a career in the film industry. However, I was biding my time (while making some money in the process) to decide if this was truly what I wanted to do. No starry-eyed individual was I-- the hardships and sacrifices I would encounter were already a reality; it was simply a matter of my deciding if I was prepared to take those risks. Therefore, in September of 1988, I re-enrolled in high school, with a full course load to upgrade my marks, and however possible turned every experience I could into something integral to getting accepted into film school.

Those crazy ten months to date remain the most overwhelming, trailblazing and rewarding moments of my professional life. In addition to taking a full day of classes, all while doing full-time shift work, I still somehow found time to be in two plays, and write and direct a feature-length video... all while forging bonds and being blessed with experiences that I still continue to cherish. The fall of 1988 understandably began low-key until I gradually became immersed in the arts-theater community at school. However in those early weeks, even then I needed only to look back a few months to my previously shiftless life, and compare to the then-present, where I was re-anointed with the possibility that I could do anything, and I damn near did.

But of all the things I had the good fortune of doing that year, the one that made me was the feature-length video, The Broken Circle. This was a dramatic piece about two friends who are killed in an alcohol-related car accident, and how the tragedy affects their friends and family. We managed to get money from Citizens Against Drunk Driving (or CADD, in its popular acronym) due to its subject matter, but I completely resisted turning it into a dry educational film, and instead made a narrative in which I could also explore some of my favourite themes as a writer even then (specifically mortality and time).

What it lacked in technical expertise, continuity or experience (it was the first time I used a video camera, let alone directed anything), I feel it made up for in ambition. To be honest, I had a great storyboard in my mind of how to shoot the movie, but couldn't due to lack of equipment, improper locations, and not having the experience of course to adapt to such changes. Still, for what it is (Tigger in a china shop), it probably remains the single most rewarding thing I've done to date creatively. It played on local cable for (I'm told) two years, and the Governor General (I'm told) received a copy. Most importantly, this was the thing that helped me solidify some friendships, and of course was the catalyst to help me get into school.

So, upon leaving school in June of 1989, I felt that I had the world on a string. My future seemed secure, and in place, and I also had the brains, the drive and guts to make it a reality. Now if someone had posed the question upon me as to what my life would've been like 20 years from then, no doubt my answer would've been that I would've been married, had a couple of kids, and was some hotshot filmmaker in the city of Toronto. For all that though, not once did I have glossy dreams about making a pile of money, and not, certainly not, about working in Hollywood. My modest goals were comfort and respect.

Still, in another imagined scenario, I'd be very interested to see what the precocious younger me of 1989 would have to say about my present setting. I didn't make the great Canadian movie, I don't have any little ones running around, and now perhaps more than ever, I am filled with indecision over what to do with the rest of my life. I am not turning this post into a pity party, because I don't necessarily regret how things have changed. Instead, things opened up to new and valuable life experiences. I've happily been with a special someone for almost fourteen years, and since I've been doing this publication on the side (which thereby begat screenings, webcasting and any other way I could spread the gospel about the kind of cinema I adore), I have forged new friendships and have had valuable experiences along the way. (In fact, most of the people in my current social circle I can attribute in one way or another due to this little magazine I sporadically publish.) For this little thing which is essentially a hobby and barely a business, however I would prefer to think that people take me seriously for what I do. And if given the choice, I'd much rather be remembered for it than what pays my rent. So therefore, I don't necessarily look back on my professional life with shame and scorn. On the flip side, had I ventured down my chosen path, there is a possibility I'd be starving right now, too.

This of course brings me to my next point-- another in our philosophical conversation this morning. The older we get, the more comfortable we are in our setting, and the harder it is for us to take risks due to the increase of obligations (among other things). In my current state of mind, I wouldn't care if I showed up on a film set for the rest of my days (although I grudgingly admit it is a necessary evil for any little projects I do). I no longer wish to be that hotshot filmmaker. My current passion is in my writing, and sharing my love and knowledge of film history. The clock may be ticking, but I don't necessarily perceive that as a threat, despite our youth-obsessed culture, and despite that too much of the clock ticks by while I spend too much time thinking instead of doing, and let things become excuses for not taking the risk or exerting the ambition.

As much as our culture tells us otherwise, I really don't think that life is a race-- if you play all your cards at 25, what are you going to do for an encore? You have to learn to make the best out of your situation, and value the experiences you garner along the way. I'm not one for self-help books, but one thing of late which has helped me gain more focus than I've felt for months, is list-making. Ultimately, I ask myself three questions ("What makes me happy?" "What in my life do I hate, and how can I change it?" "What do I want?") and vow not to answer them falsely.

I don't necessarily think I've betrayed who I was twenty years ago, it's just that I've found a different set of values, and have found happiness in other unsuspected ways. If anything, I am simply restless about what new experience I want to take on. Two decades later, as certainty recedes to confusion and energy wanes to a purring lull, one could say I wouldn't have all the answers I had hoped to achieve. Instead, I am still learning to evolve.


Barry Smight said...
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Barry Smight said...

Specific details will change from person to person, of course (!), but what you say speaks for sooo many of us.

As for film/video production, Toronto is a joke. ("Mickey-fucking-Mouse", is how a friend of mine puts it. There is an "attitude" here, when there should not be! A truck-load of imcompetent fools.)

You really have to go to the States, preferrably Los Angeles, to really succeed. I have lost track of how many times people have told me "go to L.A., you're just wasting your time here".

"Oh, really! No... "