The Amazon and the Iceberg

12 04 2010

I’ll start this story off by copping to the fact that at this time in my life I had not finished college. Don’t get me wrong, I had been on track to graduate college, I just hadn’t crossed the finish line. I had been 17 when I started college at USC Film School. In my second year of college, I met a woman, got into a relationship with her, and unexpectedly started a family. This pulled my focus away from the pretend world of college and firmly into the very real world of parenting. Shortly after my daughter was born, her mother passed away, and I became a full-time single Dad. The dream of finishing school seemed to get farther and farther away as I took on a day job to pay rent, and found myself coming home at the end of a long work day drained, exhausted, and still needing to be a father. Time passed, and along the way I started other relationships, met women, went out on dates, went to clubs, and followed around one of my friend’s bands.

It was at one of my friend’s shows that I met her… one of the women who would have an indelible, lasting impact on my life, and not at all in the way you think. I don’t want to use her name here, but I’ll allude to it. She had taken on the name of a famous vine swinging jungle man, and it was oddly appropriate since she was a 6 ½ foot tall amazon herself. She was tall and well-built, with long streaming blonde hair. She was hot and knew it… flaunted it… used it…

I had been on a few “dates” with her in a friendly capacity, but this night was different. This was an actual date. Just the two of us, no noisy rock band, no other friends, just this tall drink of water and myself. I picked her up at her pad on Melrose, and took her out to a nice meal. We laughed, and flirted, and boy did she flirt back, never failing to blow a kiss, or smile, or bat her eyes. After the dinner we laughed, and walked arm in arm to the nearby movie theatre.

This was 1997, and at the time the biggest movie of all time was in theatres. You know the flick…. DiCaprio, Winslet, and a fucking enormous hunk of ice. Now don’t get me wrong, in retrospect, the movie is definitely not all that… but at the time, it wasn’t about the story, or the dialogue or the slightly schmaltzy love story… it was about the experience. James Cameron had delivered something that reminded people what was great about movie making… he united an entire country in the collective experience of being on that ship’s final fateful journey. When you stepped into that theatre you physically left dry land and spent the duration of the trip on an experience… a true popcorn epiphany, surrounded by a full theatre audience that was on the same journey with you. When the boat creaked, and the boat began to break apart, you have expected your feet to get wet. Every sound, every effect was designed to make you feel a visceral part of that experience. It succeeded beyond al measures at fully capturing the audience’s imagination and attention. A true classic movie experience… even if the movie was a little hokey.

But that’s not the way the Amazon saw it. To her it was just a lousy movie with lousy writing and flat acting. To her it was an overblown and unbelievable love story wrapped around a historical contrivance. To her it was the worst that Hollywood, or even America has to offer. It was an embarrassment, a waste of celluloid, and an all around complete waste of her valuable time… and after the movie we had a drag out knock down fight about it.

She was not just content to insult the movie, she had to drag the entire audience into it. She called them slow, stupid and dim-witted for falling prey to the marketing machine, and believing that this was a movie worth seeing. They were fools, and America was full of morons if this was what passed for entertainment…

I argued with her, trying to explain that it was about the experience of the film, not the movie itself. It was about being a part of something. It was about a collective socially bonding moment where the entire audience became as one… but she would have none of it. It was just schlock. Nothing more. And then she said it… I couldn’t believe what I heard then, and almost 15 years later, I still can’t believe she said it.

“Well,” she said smugly, “I graduated from Yale, so I should know!”

I was dumbfounded. I had long since given up any hope of taking this woman to bed, and was just trying to salvage the last vestiges of my own sanity through this discussion, but that stopped me dead. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to say something, or couldn’t have said something, it was just that I didn’t know what to say, but I knew what I WANTED to say.

“Well I graduated from USC Film School, so I should know BETTER!!!!”

But I hadn’t graduated… and I knew it. I couldn’t say anything. I felt like the scarecrow, and somehow her diploma did make her smarter…

I don’t remember the rest of the evening, or what if anything was said after that between us, but I do remember that feeling of having this woman taunt me with her supposedly elite educational accomplishments. I remember the feeling of not having completed something that had been important to me. I remember feeling less than….

And within a few days I was in action. I pulled together info about USC. Found out how many credits I was shy, how much classes cost, what I needed to do to secure student loans, and I made a vow to myself that I would never get stuck in a discussion like that again. I felt like an unarmed man at a gunfight. This time I was going to finish what I started.

Before long I was back in classes with a new passion. The first time I had been in college it had been for my parents, for my pride, for the bragging rights…. This time it was for me. I delved into classes hard. I took challenging courses and kept rigorous notes. I took pride in my education, and I paid for every class with my own money. Along the way, I sold a TV pilot, helped my father get through a divorce, dated and got engaged to a sorority girl, and found myself, but those are all stories for other posts….

I remember before I went back, I had been keeping a long, long to-do list. It was a chronicle of every thing I wanted to do but hadn’t gotten around to yet. Write a book, travel to Europe, start a business, buy a computer, get my daughter to the dentist, buy toothpaste…. Just an epic running chronicle of a million tasks, and in bold letters FINISH SCHOOL. A friend had given me some great advice when he saw my list. He suggested I break it into two lists…. He explained that some tasks are reoccurring, and never really go away (like wash the car, or pick up the dry-cleaning), while others get finished and then are done, never to find their way back onto your to-do list (like get a dog, buy a new car, have kids… etc). Those one time tasks are the ones to focus on, because once they’re done, they’re done… So I followed his advice, and reorganized my list. There has never been a greater sense of satisfaction or pride than the day I got to look at that list and just draw a big dark line across that one lonely task:

FINISH SCHOOL

What’s the moral here? Well, my beautiful woman shared a concept with me recently. She explained that for any situation, there is always a reason to do it, and a reason not to do it… and then there is the third force… a separate entity that pushes us all to make one decision or the other. For me, the Amazon was the third force, and for that I am forever grateful. The moral is that you never know when, how, or through whom that third force is going to show up and change everything for you… be conscious of the people you meet, be clear in your intentions, and always be ready to plant that tree, otherwise you might find yourself stranded on a sinking ship with a 6 foot tall Amazon and an impending date with a gigantic fucking iceberg….






A Leap of Faith: Part I – The Job

6 02 2010

It was 2003, and at the time I was working as an assistant to a manager in the film industry. In his day, he had been one of the big wigs that they wrote novels and fictional stories about. He was the man who made Arnold Schwarzenegger the superstar he would later become, he had managed Gena Rowlands and Christopher Plummer through the bulk of their careers. He had been a top agent at ICM for years… but that was then, and this was a whole different era for the film industry. It was an era where agents were becoming managers, and manager were becoming producers, and here I was as an assistant.

This was the third in a series of frustrating jobs helping someone else build THEIR company. Somewhere along the way of this job, my life had gone through the ringer…. I had broken up with my fiance while she was on a semester abroad in Amsterdam, the World Trade Towers had been attacked, and I was trying my best to maintain my sanity while raising my 8-year-old daughter single-handedly. It was around this time that I got a karmic break. My father’s landlord (who I’ve spoken about in other posts, and will no doubt speak of in many, many more since he was the initial inspiration for this blog) called my father, asking for a recommendation of a computer trainer. Now, I was doing computer tutoring and fixing a few Macs on the side, and I certainly knew what I was doing, but I hardly considered myself a professional computer trainer. That being said, opportunity is where luck meets preparation, and I wasn’t about to pass this chance up, so I took the job.

I quoted my price at $75/hour, and was shocked to get no resistance to that price. And so began the job that would change everything. I would work at my day job during the week, and then work with Kurt every weekend. I was not there to teach Kurt computers, nearly as much as I was there to give him new things to think about. We explored all sorts of technology, ways of communication, and electronic solutions to everyday needs. Along the way, I learned as much as he did. Then I would go back to my day job….

My boss was in the process of finalizing a deal to produce a major motion picture, his first. He had secured Harrison Ford as the lead (a big win in anyone’s book), and had an offer out to Josh Hartnett for the other main role. Everyone in the office was excited, myself included… then I read the script, or as much of it as there was. Having been raised by a screenwriter, having been to USC film school to become a screenwriter, having read hundreds of scripts, and worked professionally to analyze scripts for major film studios, I knew what a good script was supposed to look like, and I knew how the process of writing a script was supposed to go… this script was a mess.

Harrison Ford had been sold on the concept of the script by the manager and the film’s fairly well known director. He hadn’t even read a page. This was because there were only 20 pages of the script so far. As the writer would finish pages he would email them to us fresh off his computer, they weren’t proofread, they weren’t edited, and they weren’t very good. We were in a rush to start the filming so that it would work with Harrison’s schedule. He had another film he was supposed to start on shortly, so it was a mad dash to get him in front of the camera. My spider-sense began to tingle… this was a slow-motion train wreck, no doubt about it. I tried to tell my boss the script was off pace, and the structure of the script didn’t work. I offered suggestions, criticisms, warnings, but it all went unheeded. Before we even had a final script, the shoot dates were set, and we were going into production.

I had long enjoyed watching bad movies, just to laugh at them… Ishtar springs to mind (a movie I’ve seen more times than I should ever admit in print) or Howard the Duck, or Waterworld, or Gigli, you get the point… And as I would watch these tragedies of modern filmmaking and egos run amok, I would always ask the same question: “Did they know they were making a movie this BAD?” Now I had a definitive answer… YES!!!! But once a bad movie is in motion it takes on a life all it’s own, and all you can do is hang on for the ride and hope your instincts are all wrong and that the box office will redeem all the time and effort.

This was the moment I realized I was done with this job, and began to think daily about escape. Unfortunately, I couldn’t seem to formulate a good game plan. I needed the money to raise my daughter and pay rent, my computer work wasn’t going to cover my needs, plus I couldn’t desert my boss in the middle of this disaster… after all, during filming I would be running his office’s day to day needs almost single handedly. I was screwed…. Or was I?

BRRIIIIIINNNNNGGGG!!!! BRRRIIINNNGGGGG!!! My phone started to ring. I picked it up, and my Dad was on the other line. My savior. He was going to Costa Rica for a vacation with his girlfriend, and they wanted me to come along. They would even pay my way to get me there. They were hoping I could come for the entire 6 weeks they would be there, but there was just no way I could do that. But an idea began to coalesce. I went into my bosses’ office, and told him I was going to take some vacation time. I would wait until the movie was released (only a few weeks away), and after the initial opening weekend I would take my vacation time of 2 weeks. This way I could be there for the initial weekend, but be gone before the inevitably huge second weekend box-office drop. It was perfect. He didn’t want me to go, but he didn’t really have a choice, after all I had almost never missed a single day of work, and he knew that he owed it to me.

And so the plan was set.. I wasn’t sure how this was going to get me out of this job, and get me back into a place where I was happy in my life, but getting out of the country was a good start. And I needed any help I could get….

NEXT: A Leap of Faith: Part II – The Wave