Thursday, October 12, 2006

An Astronomer in Hollywood- Part I

I've just had to "introduce myself" as a filmmaker for a couple of different audiences. It's always an interesting exercise for one to try to define oneself. The first audience was a foundation from which I am seeking funds, the second was a class of beginning filmmakers. Needless to say, I had to tweak my story to fit each audience. I thought I might share a bit of that biography here and then explain the journey upon which I am about to embark:

I have wanted to be a filmmaker since the age of five. Why? I was terrified of E.T. Fear drove me to my desire!

I guess I should explain that. E.T. scared the living crap out of me. I'm always surprised when I meet people my age who weren't frightened by this long-necked, sickly-looking, Debra-Winger-backwards-talking creature, but I guess most people found him and his creepy smile to be "cute." Yikes. I was convinced that he lived in the downstairs bathroom- the creepy, cold, dark one down the hallway from the roaring washer and drier and in front of the garage (which was full of poisonous brown recluse spiders that bit my mother on the arm- and people think children have irrational fears). We only used that one when we came in from playing in the snow and had to go to the bathroom so badly that we could not hold it to make it upstairs to the "real" bathroom. I might add that my fear for this room was confirmed by an accident involving my father confusing "D" for "R" in the family truck and driving through the wall of the garage. I digress.

My mother noted my fear. It made her a little sad that a child should be terrified of such a touching story. She decided to show me the "behind-the-scenes" clip of the film. She showed me that not only was E.T. just a puppet, but that he was hatched from the creative mind of this guy named Steven Spielberg. While I still avoided the downstairs bathroom (what do parents know, anyway? After all, it looked like Drew Barrymore thought it was pretty real), I was fascinated that something someone had once imagined could become so real to someone like me; real enough to provoke this strong emotional response. I decided right there and then that I wanted to be a film director just like Steven Spielberg.

Another film that stood out in my mind was "Pete's Dragon" (made the year I was born, I saw it much later on television). The concept of "real from imagination" became even stronger when I learned that the dragon was nothing more than a series of drawings! How could this be? I became obsessed with the concept of animation. I made flip books out of my scary biology textbooks (yes, I had some strange fears as a child, but even E.T. didn't like frog dissections) and dreamed of the day I could play with a film camera and make my drawings come alive!

These dreams were quickly snatched from me. My grandfather decided to give his Super-8 camera away and I begged him for it. Even at the age of 10, I knew I could not animate with my father's video camera because it couldn't shoot single frames. He merely told me that I wouldn't know what to do with it and gave it to my cousin (who I'm sure threw it in a closet when he realized a video tape wouldn't fit into it). Besides, he added, it wasn't a toy for girls anyway.

Not a toy for girls? Why not?

This stuck in my mind. Indeed, I only knew of one female director, and that was Penny Marshall. At such a young age, I was not interested in the types of films she made. I was convinced that the only way I was going to be involved in films was to become an actress. As I took absolutely no interest in my appearance, I saw my chances of working in film become quite slim!

Still, I stubbornly held on to my dreams. You can't stop a child's imagination. On the Catholic school playground, I directed the other children in reenactments of Disney cartoons, using those Tinkerbelle read-along books as my script. My mother and father were called in for a parent-teacher conference. While I was doing very well, my teacher noticed some...strange things about me. My desk was a mess. The top was designed to open up to a metal storage tub. I was not using the tub to store my papers and books (which were piled under my desk). I was using the tub to... well...

She opened the desk and my mother recognized it immediately: it was the entire set of the show "Moonlighting," recreated in miniature and clearly labeled. It was a show we used to watch together. One episode stood out in my mind: the detective team is chasing the "bad guys" and suddenly, they wind through the film set (it was a comedy)! They run past gaffers, extras, and cameramen! My mind wanted to fill in the blanks and figure it out. What did that set look like? To my parents' credit, I was not scolded. I was, however, advised to clean my desk.

My brother and I began making movies with a borrowed video camera. I would "direct" and my brother and his friends would "star." The stories usually involved dinosaurs or space travel. I became famous among his friends for creating "dino-vision" and a science lab explosion in the basement (I did get in trouble for that). Of course, I became infamous for ruining their illusions when they took away my creative control! I did things like zoom in on their empty cereal bowls that were supposed to be full of food and exposing the fact that they were eating Air-on-a-Spoon.

Despite our creative differences, my brother and I were tight film partners. We'd watch the same films again and again, trying to memorize the lines of our favorite characters and noting all of the continuity errors. As brothers and sisters tend to do, we drifted apart a bit when he entered high school. My film interests matured slightly. While I still found Sci-Fi fascinating, I also started developing an appreciation for drama. My biggest revelation came when I saw "The Piano." Finally, a film I loved, directed by a woman! If Jane Campion could do it, maybe I could, too...

My obsession with film (particularly animation) continued. Although I was attending the University of Colorado (in state=cheap), I decided I wanted to go to film school. I weighed my options and chose CalArts, where both my interests in directing and animation could be cultivated. I drove out to Los Angeles alone at the age of eighteen...

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