I write to you from the trenches of pre-production on my first independent feature film, June Falling Down. You know the place if you’re a filmmaker. You’re absolutely mired in scheduling and last-minute casting. You’re finalizing locations and wondering how on earth you’ll feed everyone. You’re desperate for money – not just for the film but for your own personal needs as a human (read: Even a cheap haircut is a luxury right now and peanut butter is a daily part of your meals).
At times you’re actually doing it. You’re juggling, picking up the phone, shooting out email after email, thrilled to see your project take wing. And at other moments you find yourself panic-stricken, lying on your bed with your hands over your eyes, as the tasks and lists pile up. Even resting feels like a waste of time as you moan to yourself, “This is more than I – or anyone – can handle.”
These are the moments when you wonder why you’re even doing this. Why on earth would you want to make movies?
It’s a question worth asking – over and over again. Because when you remember the answers, when you slow down enough to thumb through the back pages of what made you a filmmaker – that’s what gets you back up on your feet to make this movie happen.
First: ready for a feminist rant? I’ll be as brief as I can, for now.
When I was a teenager and later in college, I didn’t see anyone like me in movies. And I didn’t see anyone I wanted to become either. I remember how depressing it was to see yet another movie where the lead woman “found herself” by designing shoes or getting a makeover or finally allowing herself to stop being so uptight/perfect and fall in love already. I remember when every movie “for women” had a dressing room montage. I remember when Sex and the City the movie was a huge hit and it was in all the papers – Women Actually Go to the Movies!
Seriously? We’re half the world. We see the same movies that men see. That includes The Wolf of Wall Street and Iron Man. I read recently that Olivia Wilde took part in a public reading of American Pie with the girls playing the guy roles and vice versa for fun, and the guys got tired and said it was boring playing the girls.
I remember when Tina Fey and Amy Poehler first showed up on Saturday Night Live. Then Kristen Wiig. Bridesmaids. I mean, that movie just happened! A comedy with women! I remember when I discovered the writer-director Nicole Holofcener. I remember when I saw Lost in Translation with my parents at the theater.
And now there’s Girls. A TV show that is admittedly imperfect. But when it first premiered, I laughed out loud with such a relief – and a tinge of envy.
Because Lena Dunham had done it. Or gotten closer anyway. Life from the young woman’s perspective. A perspective that did not exist to flatter the girls on the show and make them look beautiful at all times or completely put together. (In fact, the opposite. And why NOT? We’ve seen enough “beautiful” women’s naked bodies. We’ve seen enough movies and TV shows made for 14-year-old boys.) And bonus – this was a show where young women made terrible choices! Even degrading choices. Fantastic. They do it in real life too. It’s not a good thing, but it happens. A TV show can reflect that.
I am more than happy to work harder than I have ever worked before to find my place in this new world of filmmakers. That’s what I’m doing. And I hope to bring a lot of heart and depth to it. And humor. And a decent Midwestern perspective.
(Feminist rant over now, by the way.)
I come from good people. My parents loved movies – so I loved movies. I used to escape with movies. That’s one of your options when you’re an introverted and awkward teenager. Books, painting, music, dance. That was me.
But watching movies was the best way to completely immerse myself in another world. I remember my parents adoring Sense and Sensibility and Legends of the Fall – those great, sweeping epic movies with haunting, romantic music. I remember seeing Almost Famous with them (my dad always said he was like the kid in that movie) and nearly dying over how great music used to be. My mom remembers seeing suspense thrillers in the theater with my dad and how he’d scare easily and would jump and the popcorn would go flying across the seats.
I remember my dad. He passed away five years ago now (I was 22). I remember him howling over Fargo and doing the dance from Pulp Fiction in our kitchen. I remember doing homework and seeing him come out of the living room with tears in his eyes. He’d been watching The Sound of Music. “When the dad comes in and starts singing ‘Edelweiss’ with the kids! Oh my god…” He sniffled back tears and laughed at himself before grabbing some ice cream that he would later flick to the dog in small spoonfuls as he finished the movie.
I remember him in the last stages of his cancer, with very little hair and a white, white face. Late winter afternoon. He was lying in bed. His hands looked too big for his body, he’d gotten so thin. I hit play on the CD player and the soundtrack to Out of Africa filled the bedroom and he closed his eyes and breathed deeply.
In the weeks before he died we watched a lot of movies and TV. It’s all we could do. Sit. Some of my best, last memories are of us watching things that made us laugh. I remember watching Wanted and laughing hysterically at how ridiculous that movie is, the curving bullets. I remember my dad laughing so hard at Curb Your Enthusiasm that he cried. At that point, the tumor in his lungs was wrapping itself around his heart. He clutched at his chest and laughed airily, wincing. “Oh, that’s so funny! Oh my god, that’s so funny.”
In the years since he passed away, I’ve wrestled with my old, pre-cancer, dreams of making movies. Of course death makes you question things. But I come back. I’ve always come back.
I got through college, made it to California. Wrote for a while. Badly. Everything was about cancer and little of it was worth saving except one short story about a young woman returning home for her friend’s wedding and failing to be a good sport about it because of her dad’s death.
Now it’s about to be a movie. And I believe I have it in me to do it well. Not perfectly, but well. I have my convictions. I have an incredible, supportive community. No dad to show the film to when it’s all over, but, then again, I knew that from the beginning of all this.
I’ll have a movie about a girl who I know feels real – even though she is not me. Some writers say that every character they write is a version of them. That might be true to an extent. The good and the ugly are all separate versions of me. One thing’s for sure, the father in this movie, in June Falling Down, is not my dad. I would never try to re-create him. I could only fail.
It’s the experience of cancer, the experience of grief, the silly moments in a family, my version of what it’s like to be a young woman in this world now – that’s all I can do. A thumbnail painting, slice of life, call it what you will. I believe it’s a movie worth making. It will have heart, it will have humor. It will feel like me. It’s all I can offer right now. And in the dark moments that come as I wind up to make this movie, this is my touchstone.
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