Throwing in the Towel

I feel pretty tired right now.

Time for some serious rambling!

There are, of course, natural reasons for this fatigue.  I’ve been up late, not gotten a lot of sleep, been working hard, been a bit stressed about things, and so on….

I’ve also been busy with a lot of film making stuff.  Both of the regular followers of this site will know that in recent weeks I’ve actually managed to complete work on three personal short film projects, including a pseudo-documentary that was over 15 years in the making, a movie about gravity and ATM’s, and a film made in a 24 hour period.  That doesn’t count the work that I’ve been doing for my…um, work: a film we shot in India a few months ago that my students have been feverishly editing.  They leave soon, and so their involvement on the project ends, but the work doesn’t.  So, more to do!


Not one of this year’s students, but the same idea…


And on top of that, there’s another little film that we decided to do amongst the media peeps at the mission I work in, a little science fiction film that I wrote and that we decided to do as a way of practicing our skills and developing our craft.  It’s entitled Call Me, and is the first film that I’ve made that really dealt with the idea of time travel, albeit not in a particularly original way.  This is only surprising because it’s a plot device I’ve been interested in for a long time, so it seems like something I’d have ventured into before.

The film was a challenging production,  but indeed various members of our team did get a chance to experiment and figure out how we can do things.  However, in the end, that was all sort of pointless if we didn’t actually complete our movie, and because things ended up taking about 2.5 times longer than planned, that task fell to myself and a couple of other stalwarts.

All this to say that at the end of one day of shooting, when there was still a long way to go, I remember thinking something like, “Why do I do this?  I don’t actually enjoy it.  What’s the point?  Do I even like making movies?  Have I ever made anything of value?  Has my whole life just been a colossal waste of time?!!”

OK, no, I didn’t actually go that far with things.  But I did feel a complete lack of enthusiasm with continuing the process of making this movie.  Or making any movie.

I’ve felt this way before.  Particularly in 1987 or 19888, back when dinosaurs roamed the earth and we thought push-button phones were still kind of a big deal.  I was a young kid at the end of my illustrious high school career and looking with uncertainty at the future before me, and thinking it was time to forget about this whole movie-making hobby that I’d developed over the past 7 years.

See, when I was 11 I was given a silent Super-8 movie camera by my parents, and I spent the next few years creating practically a lifetime of cinematic images of my cat, as well as bad superhero and horror movies.  Then somewhere along the way when I was in high school I decided to create a spy / espionage thriller that I called The Specialist:  The Trouble with SCUM.  “SCUM” was an acronym that stood for “Subversive Corporation of Underworld Maneuvers”, I think, and I played Victor Gastrula, aka the Specialist, an unlikely adventurer who gets involved a hackneyed plot involving two mutually dependent roles of Super-8 film that are being sought after by various spyish sort of organizations.


Ben thru the ages redo_3
An artist’s rendition of the time described


Actually, the title was a bit ironic, since Victor Gastrula didn’t have any noticeable specialties of any kind.  He was just a guy who had some sort of intelligence world connections who made it his habit to help people in trouble, but came across the movie’s crisis by a complete happenstance.  Really, for the purposes of the plot, he could have just been anybody, except for the fact that later he has a good friend who is an expert code-breaker (and, in what I think ended up being a deleted scene, a drawer-full of dossiers of other actual specialists whose help he could have called upon).  So I guess he was sort of an Equalizer type (remember that show?), with a dose of Mission: Impossible thrown in for good measure.

Anyway, the point of all this is that I decided to make this movie and then I spent about a year shooting it, and another year editing it.  Two years!  And in the end, it turned out to be about 50 minutes long.

Did you catch that?  I made a nearly one hour long silent Super-8 movie.  Can you imagine watching it?  Frankly, the idea is ludicrous.  Who could stand such a thing?  An hour!  And that hour is spent watching me run around in fake fights and pretending to have conversations with people, and trying to make sense of the plot, and almost nothing in the way of subtext or production design.  Gaah!

And also, it was shot over a year!  Often, I had to construct lengthy scenes where the actors were not present together in real life, and shot their portions of the project months apart.  And this is in New York, where the climate is definitely not the same all year round.  I had learned something about editing action together (although I’m afraid if I watch it again–as it’s been years–that it will turn out I knew nothing about editing action together), but even the cleverest editing will not hide the fact that some people’s shots are in the snow and some are in the springtime!  Or one bit features me getting knocked unconscious and then waking up with a completely different hair cut.

Anyway, by the time it was all over, and I was finishing filming this monstrosity, I was also coming to the end of my time in high school, looking out at that uncertain future, and thinking maybe it wasn’t going to include film making.  Maybe I was done with this whole business.  Maybe, it was time to throw in the towel.  And so I did.  Symbolically, anyway.


I felt as tired and worn out as this weird duck statue I saw in Indonesia once


I almost typed “metaphorically” but that’s not right.  I actually literally threw a towel.  A blue towel, in fact.  See, even back then, I was using the whole “Blue Towel” thing for my “film production company”.  And whenever I could, I would even work an actual blue towel into my films.  And not just any blue towel, there was actually a specific blue towel that I had pulled from my parents closet.

And so I decided, when it came to the last shot of The Specialist, after Mr. X, who had been revealed to be police officer Philip Grey, had been defeated and both roles of film recovered, I had the tired Victor Gastrula wipe his face with that towel and then throw it at the camera.  Cut to credits!

Awesome, hey?  I took my towel and I threw it right at the camera, to symbolize that I was done.  Finished.  Film making was dead to me.  Dead, I tell you!

Until a year or so later when I decided to make Imprisoned, a humorless and immature “thriller” that was even worse, except that it was a lot shorter.  And then I went to college and started studying film making, and made a bunch of serious but boring stuff.  But then I pulled out the Super-8 camera again and made Secret Agent Rick and started to figure out how to have fun with this whole thing again.  And later there was Death Rangers from Pluto and Shoot the Piano Player Dead and I Get No Dates in Winter.  They weren’t all good.  Maye none of them were.  But I was enjoying myself again. And I wanted to do more.

Over the years since then, there have been several different times when the feeling of  “Good grief, what’s the point, I’ve had it,” returned.  Or alternatively, I forgot about film as something I enjoyed, and it just became work, or a chore, or an obligation.  But I’ve learned to recognize those stretches now, and to realize that they are not going to last.

Because it never does.  It always fades in favor of, “Hey, what about this idea?  We don’t have to just talk about it, we could actually do this, wouldn’t that be cool, etc.” And that’s how something like Stingray or 24 Minutes or A Movie About Itself comes to be.  So this feeling I have now?  The one where I’m tired and sick of it all?  Well, I know that’s not permanent.  At some point, I’m going to get inspired again, and then we’re going to be off.


Also, this is me directing a fight scene on a hillside in Nepal, while it was raining, for my  work-related filming.  And let’s face it, that was fun.


Until then, a little self-discipline will not go amiss.  So I’m going to keep at it.  Because I’ve also learned that actually finishing stuff is waaaaay more rewarding than not finishing stuff, but that’s properly another ramble.  In any case, those movies from India and other places aren’t going to finish themselves.  And neither is Call Me.

And somewhere in the background, the next big concept will be brewing…

Incidentally, did I tell you my idea for a real-time science fiction movie which happens over 24 minutes, but in which for one character those minutes are occurring in a random order?  I was just thinking about it the other day….




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