“The man who has confidence in himself gains the confidence of others.” -- Hasidic saying
In my junior year of high school I watched a public television show that changed my life.
It was called “The Men Who Made the Movies” and after viewing the biographies of such filmmaking legends as Howard Hawks, Alfred Hitchcock, Raoul Walsh, Frank Capra and Vincent Minnelli, I decided that I wanted to be film director.
And now, here I am, many, many years later, and I’m…not a film director.
Okay, I’ve made mistakes along the way, allowed myself to be distracted by things like holding a job and trying to maintain my health, which caused me a lot of trouble over the years.
But the biggest obstacle was myself. Deep down I don’t think I ever really believed that I could make it. I wanted it to happen, I wished it would happen, but I didn’t do enough to make it happen.
Of course it’s an incredibly long shot and only a fraction of the people who try for it actually succeed. But if you start a journey thinking that you’ll never make it, then you’re finished before you’ve taken a step.
So I decided to take that step. After much of the usual agonizing I go through whenever I have to make any kind of decision, I signed up for a 10-week film director’s course at the School of Visual Arts.
And on Wednesday--my second class!--I directed two actors in a scene from a short film script I had written.
I actually got to say things like “Action!” and “Cut!” I talked the lingo, discussing the merits of a dirty close-up versus a clean one.
And I learned that the phrase “the martini is up” means the last shot of the night is about to happen.
It was challenging, it was exhausting, and it was pretty scary at times. And I want to do it again.
I wrote that script a long time ago, but I never made any attempt to shoot it. I finally realized that I was dragging my feet because I was afraid to direct it.
I didn’t know where to begin, so, as I do far too often, I did nothing…except stew about not doing anything.
Now I know why I was afraid: directing is hard. You have to make decisions—important decisions—every other minute.
I like to think that I’m talented writer, capable of banging out good dialog and telling a convincing story.
But turning those sheets of paper into an actual film is a whole other kettle of martinis. I write; I work alone in front of a computer. I don’t deal with people. Directors, on the other hand, deal with people all the time.
The school brought in two professional actors to do my scene. I’m not a natural leader so telling someone to do something, no matter how politely and respectfully I do it, is very difficult for me.
And by taking this class, I see that it's best to guide the actors rather than order them around.
There were rough patches, of course. At one point, I was speaking with one of the actors and I asked him if he should stand in a certain way.
“You tell me,” he said—and rightfully so because that’s my job—directing.
While trying to set up a shot, Todd, our fabulous instructor, turned to me and very politely said “you figure it out.” And then he walked away. It took everything I had not scream “no, don’t leave me!”
Film directing is a two-headed job where you have to watch the actors on the set and keep an eye on the monitor to make sure the shot looks good.
Todd said there are some directors who will leave the set entirely and just watch the scene on the monitor, but I didn’t want to do with that. I wanted to be there for the actors.
So I picked a spot between the actors and the monitor, hunched down like a shortstop, and shot my scene.
The actors were great, doing take after take from different angles so we could get coverage. By the end of the night I was sick of the scene--and I wrote the goddamn thing.
I had considered taking a directing course at another well-known school, which shall remain nameless.
However, the course description at that other place seemed to be all about theory and studying the work of big name directors instead of doing any directing.
I don’t have time for theory. I want to get in there, make mistakes, find my way, and, God willing, lose my fear.
Besides, I’ve taken other courses at the SVA, including a two-week screenwriting course in Ireland way back in 1980, so this is kind of like coming home.
I don’t think PBS will be doing a special about me any time soon, but at least I finally took those first few steps toward my dream.
The martinis are on me.