Starting From Nowhere

This has been a long time coming.

Here I am, living in the middle of nowhere, dreaming big about filmmaking. I hesitate to say I dream about “becoming a filmmaker,” because that sounds like achieving success, and I have no idea if this venture will be successful. So let’s stay away from that labeling for now.

I’ve loved movies ever since I was a little kid, because who doesn’t? It’s a chance to get absorbed into another world and away from your own sad sack lifestyle. It’s a chance to manipulate we humans into feeling again, despite our movement away from real and non-social-media interaction. It’s a chance to tell stories. It’s a chance to let our imaginations take over. All of those great things.

Despite all of this love and fascination, I hadn’t really taken any steps earlier in life to pursue filmmaking. I think it’s because I’ve written myself off of a lot of things at a young age. I remember thinking even at 15 that I shouldn’t try acting because if I were really good and special, I would be in films already, like Natalie Portman. This “too late for me” attitude stopped me short an absurd number of times at an absurdly young age.

Speaking of acting, that was something that I tried a few times in high school, but I remember taking casting rejections hard. I assumed that I wasn’t cast because no one liked me, because I was a talentless hack, or because I would never fit into the group of actors at my school. I never once thought about whether or not I fit the part, because if you ACT, you can be ANYTHING. Being yourself was not a factor, and I worshipped that notion. (I learned much later, like in the past year, that you can never escape yourself, no matter how hard you try …)

So, I stayed away from acting in college to avoid more rejection, turning to music because I had a bassoon scholarship to uphold, and I assumed I was supposed to be focusing on music. I studied theater, but passively, educating myself about theater history, great plays and playwrights, props, sets and costumes, but participated in actual productions only peripherally (in pit orchestras, volunteering as prop manager, designing and building sets, etc.).

I keep trying to think about what I did for so long after college, and I keep coming up hazy for those first 5 years or so. No, I wasn’t drunk the whole time, but I was spending time with friends, watching a lot of shows and movies, working on a relationship with my future husband, and trying to figure out the whole career thing. I am a hard worker and a loyal worker, and I put in lots of time on my first job as an Administrative Assistant, and then worked my way up to a web developer position, where I put in even more time to learn all about the field. I encountered lots of challenges, thinking I would never get it, because I was stupid or because I was a girl and this was usually a job for men. Now I’m proud that I’m decent at it, and I consider it a little “fuck you” to all of the people (including my lame former self) who assume that women don’t make good web developers.

Web development is challenging and fun, but it was never a great creative outlet for me. You get to make creative decisions and solve problems, but I needed something else to do in my free time, which I had a bit more of after my first year developing. So, I joined the community orchestra and eventually took a risk and tried out for a play in 2012. It was a community theater musical, and I loved it. It was a chance to meet new people, sing, and come out of my shell. I loved it so well that I did another show the following Spring. Directly following that, I had a family issue that came crashing down and sucked up all of my free time for a solid year and a half.

That’s for another blog post someday.

Speaking of taking risks, I’m not very good at this. I took my first job so that I didn’t have to risk moving back home and risk not moving in with my boyfriend. I didn’t quit this job before transitioning on to web development, but rather learned some tricks of the trade and landed the job so I didn’t have to risk my livelihood. Trying out for the play was the first risk in a long while, and it resulted in other risks. More plays, learning to dance, taking voice lessons, building a performance résumé and putting myself out there to connect with more people. These are creative risks that I am proud of.

But, with any risk comes doubt, which brings me back to the subject of filmmaking. More than a year ago, I decided that I wanted to try my hand at filmmaking, because just like with acting, it wasn’t “too late” for me to try. I set to work researching film history, learning about great films and filmmakers, watching films that stood out in film history, reading biographies of filmmakers, researching how to make low budget productions and more. Though I steadily chipped away, the books eventually started gathering dust, and the tripod my husband gave me never came out of the package. I was fizzling out before I even began, because I was afraid of taking a risk, the risk that even after all of the hard work and research, I wouldn’t be any good.

Plus, why would I want to take on another male-dominated field? It’s not easy, let me tell you.

What I needed was a kick in the ass, and I got one when lo and behold, a movie was filmed this January in my nowhere town of Northfield, Minnesota. I could have dodged the production entirely, but fate I think had something else in mind, especially when it decided that filming should take place where I work. At my desk even. I volunteered to be an extra in a small scene, which was not remarkable at all, considering that I literally just had to remain in the seat I sit in every day for an extra 90 minutes. This shit came right to me.

I got to see what it was like for a crew to work in a space I knew well, I met the location manager Will, who told me about how he had recently gotten his job, and later that evening I got a Facebook friend request from the actor in the scene, Jay Black. Turns out Jay is also the co-screenwriter of the film and a successful comedian, and for some reason gave a shit whether I lived or died (I still am not sure why).

We struck up some Facebook conversation, and I told him about how I enjoyed acting, so he told me to have a conversation with some of the other production staff. I met with Mike Leahy, one of the co-producers of the film, the next day. I was nervous and surely awkward, asking how he got his start and how actors got connected with this production. I asked for professional advice, and he mentioned that if I wanted to act in film, I needed to relocate. This caught me a bit off guard and though it wasn’t surprising news at all, I didn’t really know how to recover from that answer. I snuck away when he got busier a few minutes later.

I told Jay about my failure, and he got me Mike’s email, because I’m so bad at networking that I didn’t even ask for his contact information. I told my husband that I didn’t even know how Mike could help me, since he was a producer and that wasn’t really the role I wanted to pursue. I thought about it for a day and then emailed Mike to see if he had any advice for making short films. I didn’t hear back for a day or two, until Mike wandered into my office and asked to talk to me about my question.

What’s with all of these nice people wanting to help someone out? I am sorry to say that I always assumed all people in the biz were total narcissistic assholes who only cared about themselves, and I’m so glad I was proven so unbelievably wrong.

Well, Mike gave me some of the best advice I’ve gotten and that I absolutely needed to hear – that if I was interested in making a short, I needed to find some collaborators. His job is about connecting people together to make a production, and not everyone has to know every aspect of the film. He surrounds himself with experts in one or a few things, because no one person can know everything. “But how do I get other people to be excited about my stupid idea?” I asked. He told me that I had to start by not calling it a stupid idea, because no one will follow you if you don’t even think it’s a good idea. Touché, Mike, touché.

During that same week, I had more conversations with Jay and observed the filming at another local location, getting to hang out with Brian Herzlinger, the director, Brady Smith, one of the actors, and Steve Hofstetter, another great comedian who was pulled in for a small role. While observing filming, I was so terrified of saying something stupid that I mostly kept quiet and listened to everything anyone else had to say. Brady and Steve gave me more of the bad news that if I really wanted to act, I needed to move right away, and they also gave the helpful suggestions of getting an agent and putting together a reel.

I’m so grateful for their advice, but I know that taking a giant leap is something I cannot do, at least not right now. Leaving for New York or Hollywood would be like jumping off of a cliff with a parachute someone told me might work if I’m in the right time at the right place. Call it lack of bravery if you want, but I’d rather climb down the cliff strategically, stone by stone. Maybe sometime I will take a large but massively calculated leap and make them proud.

And though I was scared while interacting with these talented people, there were a few short moments of realization where I noticed that I was literally sitting at the table (insert Sheryl Sandberg reference here) with creative artists. I could be one of them.

While I was processing everything that was happening and digesting this good advice, I came up with my idea for a series of shorts. So, in lieu of packing up my bags and heading west, I am going to be making a web series with some amazing women that I can’t wait to collaborate with. I am going to ask for help along the way, because I will need it. I am going to fail in some ways, but I am going to succeed in others. But the important thing is that I am going to do, and not just think about doing.

All in all, these past few weeks have been:

  • Full of generosity from other artists
  • Full of personal turmoil (my social anxiety was at an all time high)
  • Full of bravery
  • Full of possibility

And I can’t wait to get started.

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It's okay to be a digital creeper. You can even give me a shout-out over email if that's your thing.