Eleven Years Ago

Eleven years ago today I started my first day of film school at the American Film Institute. I like to think that this means I began my life as a filmmaker at that moment – September 10, 2001 – even though it was probably more gradual than that.

So, where have I been, what have I done in my first decade as a filmmaker? And where am I going? (Boy, I ask myself all the time…)

I felt like reflecting yesterday while I was walking through Lower Manhattan on a 9/11 memorial with an interfaith crowd where we were urged to recollect where we were eleven years ago. Let me back up and start at the beginning of yesterday first.

In the morning, I joined my producing partner/wife Valarie on an early morning ride down to New York City. Valarie was invited to be a guest on the “Melissa Harris-Parry Show” on MSNBC, and we were being driven in a hired car to 30 Rockefeller Plaza – “30 Rock” – for the live recording. The NBC flagship building is really cool – 1920s Art Deco, black with gold trim. We were brought up to the third floor where it appears all of NBC News programming is filmed including NBC Nightly News.

Everything for MSNBC appears to happen in Studio 3A – which is both a working newsroom and a studio set. I love watching live television production. Although different in its artistic approach and its immediacy, it has the familiar aspects of motion picture production – focused and professional crew, on camera talent, production assistants, abundance of coffee, etc. I peeked into the control room a couple of times, which was cool. I also watched the crew change the backdrop from the “Up With Chris Hayes” show to the “Melissa Harris-Parry Show” in one commercial break. It’s all one swing set with the backdrops on rails and a digital screen that changes with a click.

Also – the cameras moved by themselves. True. All remotely operated, except for the jib.

During the show, before Valarie was introduced, they showed clips of our film, Divided We Fall – the film that inadvertently helped make Valarie into the public figure and media presence that she has become.

Afterwards, Valarie spoke at the 9/11 Unity Walk and we were implored to remember where we were on Sept. 11, 2001. I did that, but I also thought about the strange, circuitous path I’ve taken over the past decade. I was in film school, suddenly in a post 9/11 world, came out with a successful film, nearly had a screenplay made by a famous filmmaker, nearly created a television show. Then, I met a girl with a documentary project. We made that film, fell in love, and somehow that film became successful (we married eight years later). The mentor who started my career died. I had another screenplay that someone paid me to write, another project that nearly was made, and then I made a few more small projects that kept me alive. I became a directing fellow at a television network, wrote scripts, optioned a book, met producers, started a documentary film program, taught a little, and moved out of LA (for a short while). And I watched my wife become star of sorts – which brings me to Studio 3A and yesterday.

None of it was planned. When you get out of film school, and you have a good short film, you sort of assume the trajectory is as follows: good short film+good feature script equals a shot to make your own movie or getting a script writing job. I had that happen, but in a totally different way than expected. I’m still, of course, trying to make my first narrative feature film. (If I told that to my 24-year-old self, I would’ve not believed it.)

We came back to New Haven and returned to our film world – one film in post (The Worst of the Worst), a documentary concept being hatched (Oak Creek), a narrative film in pre-production (The Infected) and two documentaries about to shoot and start in Year 3 of the Visual Law Project and a script that I’m talking to a producer about next week. Not to mention, the sudden increase in demand for both Divided We Fall (including a random Indian television broadcast of the film in August) and American Made (unfortunately because of the shooting in Wisconsin – but at least they’re being put to good use).

So, all in all – somehow, these last eleven years, I’ve put together life as a filmmaker.

The next decade? Feature films, television directing, teaching – all of the above. Who knows. I’ve learned that you can plan to a certain extent, but much of it is up to fate/luck/karma – to paraphrase Bill Murray in Ghostbusters.

Back to editing both Oak Creek for a few online venues and The Worst of the Worst for the Sundance deadline.

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