I have been intending to talk about identity and filmmaking for several weeks now, and I finally have a little time to devote wholeheartedly to it. This is important, and I don’t want to mess it up.
I have been on many journeys over the past few years. There are the physical journeys, moving to New York City. Moving back to Greenville. I have done that a couple of times, actually. And each time I left New York, part of me considered it a failure. That I was giving up. But that mind set was only there because of the emotional and mental journeys I have also been on. I won’t go into detail about all of the journeys, only the ones that pertain to film.
The next phrase I am going to use is false. And I will explain why a little later.
I have wanted to be a filmmaker since grade school.
I did everything I knew to do along the way. I attended the Fine Arts Center in high school where I got to learn the basics. I went to Bard College, where I learned from some of the most punk rock professors about the nature of filmmaking. Not the surface level technique stuff, mind you, but the heady questions. The deep stuff. It wasn’t about how you were filming something, it was about WHAT you were filming.
I recently found a journal of mine from my college years, and in it I recorded my advisor’s answer to a question I posed. I want to quote my whole journal entry below.
I just asked Adolfas [Mekas] if I was making progress. If I was doing what I want to be doing well enough.
He said my progress was better than most of my peers, but his interesting comment was about doing what I want to be doing.
“Evrybody wonders that. You’ll wonder why all of your life. You’ll be 85 and still wondering, why film?”
I guess the question is not to ask why. I guess there actually is no question. Just do. Move through the self doubt. Adolfas said it would always be there.
I feel like I knew myself better back then than I have more recently. My younger self, for once, had more of the answers than my older self. Once I got out of school and began working in the industry something happened. I started thinking I didn’t want to be a filmmaker. I started thinking “what if I find a related field instead?” This thinking led me to my Master’s degree in Entertainment Business.
Don’t get me wrong. I appreciate my degree. I think it definitely helps to know the business side. But I also think I got it because I was running from myself. I had twisted things around so horribly in my head that I managed to convince myself I didn’t want to make films anymore.
So how did the change happen? I think it happened for many reasons. When you start working on movie sets you’re at the bottom. You’re the lowest of the low. And there are a lot of hits to your ego at the bottom. So it was probably partly due to that.
What probably affected it more was how it started feeling like a daily grind. Like any other kind of job (only with way more hours). It didn’t feel like it did in school. It didn’t feel free or rebellious or fun or even smart anymore.
But neither of these reasons are the root of the problem. The root of the problem comes back to that phrase earlier that I told you was false:
I have wanted to be a filmmaker since grade school.
A phrase like this can single-handedly shake your filmmaker identity to the core. Because at 22, at 23, at 24, every year up until this one, at 28, I was still saying it. “I want to be a filmmaker.” When what I really should have been saying since the first time I shot something, since the first script I wrote, was
I AM A FILMMAKER.
It’s a simple as that. And it’s as complex. Identity can be impossible to figure out if you’re looking at the facts wrong.
You’re a painter if you paint. You’re a musician if you play an instrument. I know this. So why was it so difficult for me to see the same as a filmmaker? Honestly, it’s the system. That system tells you how many hoops you’re supposed to jump through to “make it.” How many years you’ll have to be a PA before moving up one rung to gaffer or grip or AD or 2nd AC. It’s fishing for a promotion just like any other job. And it’s not for me.
Because once I accepted those four words, I AM A FILMMAKER, my world changed. I am now back in that mindset that I had in college. That view of film that my advisor and all of those other punk rock professors had taught me. For that matter, every single one of my film professors are filmmakers, and not one of them went the “studio system” route. And how successful are they? Their films pop up in the Whitney Biennial all the time. They win awards. They get screened at the most interesting and funky venues.
Now truly is the time to embrace this mindset. Thank you, internet. Thank you, blogging and vlogging and Twitter and YouTube and Vimeo. Thank you, accessibility. Because of technology, I don’t have the hurdles that my professors had. I can get my films out there.
Since I have embraced this mindset I have become unstuck. No longer is it “when I become a filmmaker I’m going to do this.” Now I have four projects in the works simultaneously. Now I feel like I can walk out my door and shoot.
The most important advice I can give anyone that’s right behind me in the identity development of a filmmaker is what my advisor told me. You’ll always wonder. You’ll never feel safe or comfortable. But you’ll also always just know, because you’ll never be happy doing anything else.
My name is Rebecca, and I am a filmmaker.