Part of the Vitality Arts Special Report
Ever since I learned to talk, I’ve been an obsessive movie-watcher. When I was little and disliked something, “I’d yell ‘Cut! Let’s take that again.’” Was I, an infant in diapers, a toddler who liked to watch stuff blow up onscreen, a born director? It seemed to be so.
When I was about 5, I watched a program called The Million Dollar Movie, which showed the same flick five afternoons in a row. It fueled my obsession. (It also fueled my lack of interest in homework, but that’s another story.)
I remember, as an impressionable kid, being entranced by a women’s prison picture called Caged. On Monday, I enjoyed the gore. By Wednesday I was studying the camera angles. By Friday, I was able to discuss whether or not the director subscribed to the auteur theory.
While attending college at Columbia University. I focused on a more practical goal: getting a well-rounded education. My dream of directing started slipping away.
As time went on, I started shooting 8 millimeter shorts in the backyard. My senior project at prep school was a short film for which I received an A grade. It looked like this was going to be my profession, but after prep school and college I got a little lost. Actually that’s an understatement. Ferdinand Magellan got a little lost. I missed my destination completely.
While attending college at Columbia University. I focused on a more practical goal: getting a well-rounded education. My dream of directing started slipping away. After graduation, I taught English, and the closest I got to being a great filmmaker was putting on so much weight I started to look frighteningly like Orson Welles. I taught. I wrote. I struggled with depression.
I finally bottomed out when I hit 50.
Then last year (with a little help from antidepressants), I realized it’s never too late to reroute your trip, recapture your dreams and accomplish something remarkable. I’m sure Magellan would agree. If he hadn’t, you know, died in 1521.
I knew I needed to shake off the doldrums and start making films. OK, so I wasn’t ready to direct Citizen Kane. But making a video — that sounded possible.
I scoured Facebook and found a band that wanted to make a video, too. I listened to a song from the group’s upcoming record, wrote a detailed treatment for it and the following week we were shooting.
I was nervous. It had been a while since I had given anyone any kind of direction (unless you count telling my cousin to go back to rehab). But when the stage was lit, the band ready and the camera rolling, it was surprisingly familiar. I gave the musicians tips on body language and facial expressions. I could tell when their lip-synching was off. I was aware when I should micro-manage, when to back off.
In fact, my mid-life calm made me better at it. When I was younger, I didn’t handle stress well. I wasn’t patient. When reshoots or multiple takes were needed, I freaked out. But now, it just felt right.
That first video came out pretty much the way I’d imagined it. It felt miraculous. The band was thrilled. My friends were thrilled. Most importantly, I was thrilled. And I had to do it again. Soon, I did. I found there were a lot of superb musical artists who wanted to make videos.
I’ve now directed a slew of videos. They’re all on YouTube and have generated real buzz for the bands (you can see a couple of them below). The confidence and optimism that came with pursuing my dream at long last really fired me up. I’ve since written a feature-length script I hope to make. It’s on!
I never ask myself why now? I’ve accepted that most of our endeavors simply have their own timetable. There’s something cosmic and beautiful about directing little films at this age. Realizing youthful dreams when you’re mature is a wondrous thing.
I’m not all the way there, of course. But I’m plugging away. And maybe, if I’m lucky, before it’s all over, I’ll get the chance to do a remake of Caged. That’s when, as a director, I’ll know one thing for sure: I will have finally made it.
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