When I Grow Up

October 24, 2012 — 1 Comment

When I was a kid, probably 10 or 11 years old, I started “production” on a film called The Search for Han Solo. It was adapted from the Marvel Star Wars comics my friend Scott and I read obsessively, and I typed up the script (or at least the first 10 pages or so) on an electric Smith-Corona typewriter. Written and Directed by Brian Fauth, it said on the front cover (along with an awesome drawing of the Millenium Falcon!) It took place between The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. I imagine I worked on it sometime during my 5th grade year, trying to keep my mind busy while we waited for Jedi to come out the following May.

We designed costumes, cast our friends in the principal roles (I was Luke, Scott was Vader, Melody was Leia), and even held an initial rehearsal or two in my basement. Then we gave it up because A) we didn’t have a camera and B) we weren’t that motivated.*

(That was also the year we got a VCR, I think, so any thought of making a film was probably squashed by the delight in being able to watch The Wrath of Khan over and over again whenever we wanted.)

My childhood was spent staring up at movie posters of E.T., Raiders, The Empire Strikes Back, etc. Typical Generation-X cultural upbringing, but I know I paid more attention to the idea of “the director” than most. Behind-the-scenes documentaries introduced me to the idea that “Spielberg” was the person behind Jaws, Close Encounters, and getting Gertie to scream.

When I was in college I tended to focus more on studying classic film than I did my official “classes.” I don’t know if that’s because I was a bad student, or my mind was truly pulling me in a different direction. I could spend hours and hours learning about Hitchcock, Hawks, and Truffaut, but getting me to attend my science gen-eds regularly was another story. (Yes, kids, Mr. Fauth sometimes skipped class. It happens.) At one point I announced to my parents my intention to quit school and start learning how to be a film director, but like my previous attempt at being a filmmaker, it fizzled pretty quickly. The most I could show for it was a bunch of bad shorts made with my friends, with title like “Pete Gets Big!” and “Springtime for Butcher.” (One involved my dog Pete growing suddenly huge and destroying the town, while the other was a loving tease at a friend of mine.)

There was a point of course, where I realized that I was never going to start making real films of my own. Strangely, it happened around the time I got a job working on an actual Hollywood film that was being made in Illinois. I had a job as a stand-in for two weeks, and it was awesome, but I was also in the middle of starting a Masters degree in teaching.  At one point I was offered a chance to head out to Los Angeles to continue the stand-in work once they moved the shoot to sound stages to film the interior shots. And I said no.

Part of it could have been the simple practicality of it. Where would I live, how could I afford living out there, blah blah blah. Maybe I didn’t think someone like me, a small town Midwestern kid, would make it out in Hollywood. (That whole Lutheran “I’m nobody special” thing we tend to have.)

Oddly enough, I look back now and I realize how I was strangely motivated to get my education classes completed. I never really found them interesting or valuable, but I was actually working hard to get them done. Earlier that year I had started substitute teaching in Sandwich, my hometown, and I kind of liked it. I liked it a lot. I was good at it. Whatever it was that I was doing, kids were responding to it, positively.

That was 1996. By January of the following year, I had a job directing a musical at Sandwich High School. My first paid theatre gig. Directed by Brian Fauth. That spring I taught fifth grade for a couple of months at my former elementary school, and that was it.  The rest, as they say, is history. I finished up my degree in teaching a year later and got a job teaching in Oswego.

1999. The Wizard of Oz, with Leslie as Dorothy and my stage manager Heidi.

So after 30-odd shows with Sandwich, Limelight, and a couple of junior highs, I find myself in Dublin, Ireland working on another graduate degree, this time in directing theatre. And the classes are okay, but it’s a strange mix of “Hmm, that’s interesting” and “Hmm, I already knew that.” And I’m very rusty at writing papers. We’ve only a month left and I still don’t have any idea how I’m doing in class. I find myself easily distracted by classic film again. I get itchy to jump on a train and go somewhere, but the budget won’t permit that right now. We have a week off from class next week, so that’s a relief. A chance to clear the head and figure out the next steps in my life.

At this point in my life, I know I’m never going to be that big-time film director I dreamed about becoming in my younger years. I probably won’t become a famous Broadway director, either. And that’s okay, to be perfectly honest. The nice thing about getting a little older is that you get a sense of clarity about where you’re life’s at, and where it’s going, and what you want from it. You want to be doing something worthwhile, and if I can continue to be a good teacher, and maybe get a job running my own drama program again**, then that’s all I really ask out of life.

*Seriously, hats off to these guys for making a shot-by-shot remake of Raiders of the Lost Ark when they were kids. If only I had their stamina and patience.

**Preferably where my full-time job also involves running a drama program, since trying to run the last one while also teaching full-time tended to make me a bit crazy and exhausted.

One response to When I Grow Up


    Kids, this is a story I’ve told you before in class, but the bits about my relative level of focus on my studies is a new one. The moral of the story is this: if you’re actually engaged and wanting to go to class/school, then you’re on the right track. If it’s boring you, or you’re not getting anything out of it, then there’s nothing wrong with taking a hard look at your situation and yourself. School shouldn’t be torture, especially when you go off to college and pay the big bucks.

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