I’m sitting down at my writing/editing/promotion bay for the first time in a week and a half. It feels like a lot longer.
When I first started breaking into Hollywood… the movie industry, I heard the truism offered a lot, the gist of which is, “It’s got to be your life.” I didn’t used to believe it, mostly because I had some unsettled philosophical wanderings to complete. I’ve recently thought about it some more and I’ve changed my mind.
This may or may not be news to you since you may or may not have been reading every post I’ve made on ALGORITHM Journal. There have been hints of it through it, things I didn’t recognize until a few days ago.
For instance, Jiro Dreams of Sushi. I’ve mentioned that in a previous post. After watching that movie, I realized it was ethical to be a workaholic. Not only that, to be the best in a field… I actually don’t want to use that term “best” because it implies competition instead of success.
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To succeed in many fields, as we progress as artists, eventually the only viable measuring stick we can use is our own work. I don’t mean the group of artists, I mean a single artist.
There’s a great documentary called Gerhard Richter Painting. It’s almost entirely about his process and not in some critical or analytical way. It’s mostly watching Richter, or his assistant, mix paint, select a canvas, apply the paint to the canvas until it becomes a Gerhard Richter painting. Richter may not be alone in the world of abstract impressionism… but he’s definitely in a class of his own. His work, in my opinion, is good enough to really be judged, not against the world of art, but how it fits into the annals of Richter’s work.
That’s what I’m talking about. The the world of movies, it’s Coppola, Scorsese, the Coen Brothers, Fincher, etc. They can’t be compared to other filmmakers. They can really be only compared to themselves. They have each made masterpieces and that becomes the fulcrum for comparison.
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So, Jiro Dreams of Sushi. After watching that, I had a conversation with my wife, I love her more than everything else in this world combined, and she’s the only person for whom I would quit making movies. We both agreed that we were workaholics and that we were going to be placing work ahead of spending time with each other… if the decision came to that. If I hadn’t made that choice, I would have stayed home with my wife, not moved to San Francisco for a month, away from her, and made ALGORITHM.
We give each other permission to work. We know that our work is important. She is a pediatric physical therapists at one of the best clinics in the world. She makes crippled children walk, often after their doctor has told them it’s impossible. She makes the world a better place. That’s something I will gladly give up my time with her to help make happen.
And, she believes in what I do, that my iconoclast position as a filmmaker is a vital role in society and I am uniquely suited to fulfill it.
Without this mutual support, I don’t know if I could do what I do. I do know I wouldn’t be nearly as happy doing it. I believe she feels the same.
What I’m getting at is that, though my wife and I have committed to love and cherish each other, we’ve also committed to support one another. In life, in the choices we make and how we approach things. We support each other’s work.
For me, that means making movies.
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My younger brother, James, owns an advertising agency. He works hard, maybe harder than I do, but probably not, for reasons that shall shortly become clear. James has hobbies. He has children (children are another thing my wife and I have chosen to do without so we can better do our jobs). He has things he does that are entirely unrelated to his job at the agency.
I had a problem I brought to James, since he works so hard. I don’t have anything I can do that isn’t, in some way, related to my movie making.
If I read a book, I’m analyzing story structure, grammar, etc.
If I watch a movie…
If I go for a walk, I’m looking at the way the sunlight hits things, measuring contrast ratios, luminosity of different times of the day, with different atmospheric diffusion (read: pollution).
If I’m talking with people, I’m learning about what they do, so I can more accurately capture their humanity in the fictitious characters I create.
Sometimes it feels like a trap. The only thing I can do that really gets me away from making movies is sleeping, until I have a really great dream that leads to a good story, which has happened many times.
The real emotional truth of it is this: I love what I do. I love making movies. I love all the time I get to spend by myself when I’m writing. I love meeting and working with amazingly talented creative people when I go into production. I love all the time I get to spend by myself when I’m editing. I love that I get to create worlds, I get to daydream, and then figure out how to make my dreams a reality. The fact that that is what I do for the vast majority of my waking, and sometimes sleeping, life is truly amazing.
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I have (read: had) a friend. He was my friend for over ten years, I would put him in the category of good friend. He is an incredibly generous person. I’ve spent the night at his place when I didn’t have anywhere to go. He’s stayed with my wife and I when his need arose.
As a teen, my friend was an actor on one of those shows everyone watched. Then the show got canceled, and he became a model and lived in Paris for a while. Then, that ended. Sometime in his twenties, he went to college and got a degree—I think it’s in marketing. That can be a very useful skill for someone who’s job depends on relationships, which is really what marketing is, building relationships.
My friend is an actor. He’s been in some pretty major movies, in some very minor parts. The problem is, he doesn’t commit to the life. I don’t know if it’s that he wants to be an actor so he can party in L.A. I don’t know if he wants all the time off that most working actors (actors who work enough to cover their living expenses) have.
What I do know is that my friend doesn’t love the process. And, because of that, he doesn’t commit to the projects, to the career, to the life that is required to make it as an actor. And, because of that, he has yet to break in.
After over ten years of watching my friend struggle to break in, I told him this. I thought our relationship was strong enough to handle that, since he had done the same to me many times (for which I’m incredibly thankful). But, it didn’t. That conversation was the last time we spoke.
I miss my friend. I hope he gets his dreams because, regardless of our not being on speaking terms anymore, I still really care about him. But, I won’t work with him. He doesn’t commit and there’s no room in the budget range I’m working at for people who don’t commit. I’d hire him as a secretary in a moment. But, that’s not what he wants.
It may seem like I don’t have friends who aren’t a part of movie making. That’s not true. I do have friends who aren’t in the industry. In fact, most of my very good friends’ only connection to movie making is me. I may make movies, but I’m still a human being who requires human connections. And, I value those connections.
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I’ve been sick for the past week and a half. That’s why I haven’t been working. I couldn’t work. I could barely get out of bed. Now that I’m healthier (there’s still a lingering cough), I’m ready to resume my life. That’s what it feels like when I’m not working… as though my life is on pause.