(Disclaimer: It’s late, I’m tired, and I’m hungry for success and a good Philly cheesesteak.)
April 28, 2012. That was the official date of my graduation from Oakland University. It was the date that I officially received my Bachelors of Arts in Cinema Studies (Criticism). It was and is a far cry from where I thought I’d be twenty three years ago. On this date precisely twenty two years ago, I was attending — flunking out of, really — Michigan State University, addicted to CNN’s coverage of the [first] Gulf War, eating Gumby’s Pizza, while trying to figure out how I could recover from the mess I was making of my life. I’d abandoned the Air Force R.O.T.C. as I felt the detachment never had its act together. I abandoned my major, because electrical engineering simply wasn’t what I wanted to do but there was no computer science program at MSU dedicated to churning out programmers, at least as far as I was able to discover at that time. In reality, while I was — and am — fascinated by programming, it ultimately wasn’t and isn’t what I really wanted to do with my life. As I told a friend recently, I only really got to be good with programming because when I was a kid with my Atari 800XL computer, I didn’t have a word processor nor did I know what one was for several years, and so I took to trying to create something that would just let me write.
Writing… In all honesty, it’s the only thing I’m truly good at. I personally don’t think that I have the vision of some of the greats; I don’t think I could write thirty or forty novels with the same characters like some authors have. I tend to think that my stories are simplistic and often immature, that there needs to be a moral that I’m failing to add.When I read my stories, I find them entertaining, but I often feel they’re missing something… Something to move them from good to great.
So when I finally gave up on the tech industry after it abandoned me yet again, I decided to shift gears and move from my logical, technical side to my more creative side, and hope to build a career in writing. When the film industry started picking up and all the stars aligned and the Cinema Studies program became available at Oakland University, to which my mother is an alumnus, I enrolled thinking about screenwriting as a potential career.
During my three years at Oakland University, I’ve had some truly great teachers, and I’m going to name names here for all of you out there. If you’re lucky, you’ll be fortunate enough to have one or all of them as your teacher one day. Dr. Kyle Edwards, head of the Cinema Studies program, accepted me in with open arms despite my technical background, and taught one hell of a class on Sound Era Films. Dr. Ross Melnick was only there for a single year, but I was fortunate enough to have him for three classes, and I’m astonished at how much film and theater history there is to learn courtesy of that man. I’ll never look at or think about a Roxy theater without thinking about the man behind the name now. Dr. Doris Plantus-Runey is an eccentric genius and I looked forward to every damned minute of her screenwriting and adaptations classes. Hunter Vaughan is not quite as eccentric but no less a genius, though I must confess that film theory beyond montage is not my forte. I must also thank him for exposing his students to Last Year at Marienbad and a few other esoteric films that really make you think, and don’t just entertain. Expect the unexpected! Dr. Heidi Kenaga is another slightly eccentric professor, but I don’t think there’s anyone that knows more about films. Name a film and she can discuss it in detail, and I was very fortunate to be taught by her in each of my three years at OU. There are others as well, including some outside the Cinema Studies program such as my Japanese teacher, Masae Yasuda — who moved on to the University of Michigan — that are more than worth noting. They’re worth thanking and appreciating. To all those I’ve left unmentioned, thank you!
I seem to have left the rails of my original train of thought… Or have I? Without these people, these classes I’ve taken, and the opportunity to sit and stew on all that I’ve learned, I don’t think that it would be remotely possible for me to embark upon a writing career, let alone do it successfully. Not that I’ve gotten there yet, mind you, but I needed to be shaped and honed. I certainly look at every television show and film with a more critical eye, identifying the things I like and dislike the most about them. I can now spot themes I never would’ve consciously noticed before, and I can question and appreciate the choices made in the writing phase more than I ever could before. I may have earned at BA of Cinema Studies, but what I really did is build a set of tools to help me achieve my goals. They can’t be given, they have to be developed. When combined with the skills I already possessed, I have no excuse for not succeeding. My stories may still lack something of a moral character, in my eyes, but that doesn’t mean they’re unacceptable. The point of many stories, like mine, is to entertain, and so that’s what I’ll do.
I have the tools, I just have to use them.
To that end, I’ll bore you for another few moments with a brief discussion of some of the things I’ve watched recently, and what drew me to them. First and foremost are the shows that I love because they simply make writers look cool, Castle and Californication. I watch both of these shows because of the writer connection, the fact that I’m living vicariously through each of the central writer characters which are wildly successful compared to myself, the humor, the writing, and the actors playing the writers in question: Nathan Fillion and David Duchovny. Perhaps I read too much into it when I draw a parallel between the two actors as both were on wildly popular if not successful sci-fi shows at some point before they took on these authorial personae, but given the “mundaneness” of their current characters’ career choices, I like to think there’s some hope for myself. Similarly, I watched Midnight in Paris earlier this evening, starring Owen Wilson as a screenwriter aspiring to be an author. Besides the obvious parallel to my own life, or desired life, this film was intriguing from many different points of view, even if you don’t like Owen. Frankly, it seems that Woody Allen might make me a fan if he keeps this up! Then there’s House of Lies starring Don Cheadle. There’s no good excuse for watching it other than I enjoy it, but there’s something that was done often in the first season that is so far largely missing from the second, and I hope it returns before they lose my viewership: breaking the fourth wall. Marty, Cheadle’s character, would regularly talk to the viewer, hold up cue cards, and do bizarre things that none of the other characters would notice during every episode, and I loved every single moment of it because he was an acknowledgment of the absurdity of his character’s situation. It’s been used sparingly so far this season, but I hope that’s because they’re saving it for something really good. The final thing I want to mention is House of Cards, a Netflix produced series available exclusively (for now at least) on their service. Like the other House I mentioned here, the main character — Francis Underwood played by Kevin Spacey (another one of my favorite actors, by the way) — frequently breaks the fourth wall, bringing a bit of levity and insight to the otherwise deep and heavy political angling and pressure of the show. I’m not saying I’m a fan after watching the first two episodes this evening, but I love what I see, and I have to admit that I am beyond fascinated with Underwood’s relationship with his wife. He may have the political power and ability to scheme like no one else, but he appears to be as deadly loyal to his wife as she is to him, though it is clear that she holds some measure of power over him. I think the thing that caught my attention in the first episode was when she said to him in no uncertain terms “My husband doesn’t apologize to anyone, not even me” which forced him to reevaluate his reactions to a political snub. There’s an oddness to their relationship that I can’t quite define yet, but it’s going to have me coming back episode after episode.
So I’ve rambled on for almost exactly fifteen hundred words. (Well, exactly that at “words.”) Why? Because I’m not where I thought I would be more than two decades ago. Because I have developed the tools to put me where I want to be two decades from now. Because I know what I like, what I want to capture, and what I’m going to give you. It’s time to stop delaying and panicking and start writing and crafting. I may not get there this year, but I will get there. I’m now putting forth the effort to get there, and if I fail, well, that’s fine too. But I’m not going out without trying. Clancy Brown, in his role as Kurgan in The Highlander, said “it’s better to burn out than to fade away.” I get that now. It’s better to give it my all and fail than to have never tried at all. Perhaps I’ll have a brief but brilliant career. Perhaps I’ll have a long and amazing career. Perhaps not. But if there’s no effort, I’ll never know. If I can’t put a moral in my stories, then I’m going to put sin in. Just know that something wicked this way comes!