I’m sure many people, like me, first got into film as an adult (or got into it at a younger age, but never thought they could make a career out of it, and then finally took the plunge).
I just started taking classes in film studies at my local community college on January 20th, but we haven’t had as many classes as I’d have hoped by now because Mother Nature got in the way. For me, I’d always been interested in film but hadn’t studied the visual side of things, just the writing. I’d worked on a few screenplays (some of which are now lost, unfortunately). But it might be for the best, since some of the ideas were not fully formed, too cliched and now I can approach screenwriting and storytelling from the point of view of someone who’s had some life experience but hasn’t lost her “wandering spirit” or sense of joy and wonder. I’ve overcome many obstacles, had triumphs, made great connections, and have learned a lot about myself and the world.
Now, after all that, I find myself studying film with people almost ten years my junior (which probably is not all that uncommon in film school). Yet there is a sense of awkwardness since there are differences in what we’ve experienced, or when we experienced them. For instance, I was in middle school when the DC sniper attacks happened, and I believe many of classmates were in the second grade. I have a very distinct memory of that event not only because I was a little older when the sniper ravaged the DC Metro area, but because I was actually a student at Benjamin Tasker Middle School when the shooting happened. For a photo assignment, we had to take pictures to document a “sense of place” and capture an emotional response. I took pictures of the woods where the sniper hid, remembering a copy of Time Magazine I kept in my room for a long time after the shooting happened, of the best photos of 2002. A photographer did exactly what I had done, but not from my viewpoint. He hadn’t been there, he hadn’t woken up that morning with dread thinking “This day is not like any other day.” He hadn’t had a dream the night before where a kid, who I would later discover, looked exactly like the victim, was shot in the school parking lot. So, for me, visiting those woods took a bit of courage. I’d struggled in the past to convince myself that there was nothing I could have done. There was no way my dream could have stopped the event from happening. I was blameless. The other students’ memories, which are very valid and important, instill in my mind a sense of ‘otherness’. I am not like them. I have different. I am older.
Whenever I meet people and they discover my age, it seems as if they are shocked, and maybe a little nervous about befriending me. I wonder, now, what’s so bad about hanging out with me? Then I realize that I, too, am perhaps afraid. Afraid that I won’t have anything in common with my fellow classmates, that they may interpret my experience and knowledge as pretentiousness, or that I just don’t fit in. I’m there for the same reason they are: to learn.
I’m just as new, if not newer, to filmmaking as they are. I’m a greenie. I’m still learning the best way to hold the camera steady while shooting, how to create emotion visually and not just in words. For me, words come easily. As you can see above, I described my experiences and feelings about the DC sniper attacks with words, not pictures. I’m a very visual person. I love to draw and paint, but the details get me. I can’t draw details very well. But abstract art I do really well. I’ve been told that my art is very beautiful, that people can tell just by looking at my art that I am a creative and intelligent human being.
So, why this feeling of otherness? Why do I feel so different? I’ve always felt a little different. I never liked the same actors as my friends in middle and high school. The actors I liked were classically trained, most of them British (thanks to the Harry Potter films). The Harry Potter films opened my eyes to the world of great actors, both British and American. I’d always admired George Clooney, Robert Deniro, and Dustin Hoffman. Yet, after watching Harry Potter I gained a new appreciation for the former actors’ works. Alan Rickman quickly became my favorite, and when I told a fellow student he was my favorite, they went “eeewwww….he’s old enough to be your dad.” I simply told her I admired his acting abilities, to which she responded, “Heather, that’s not how it works. You’re supposed to like celebrities for their looks.” I obviously missed the memo, but I didn’t care. I liked Rickman because I could come away from reading or listening to one of his interviews knowing more about acting and with some witty comment to ponder. Other celebrities talked about themselves, and while that’s all fine and dandy, I liked that Rickman didn’t really do that and kept his private life private. And just to be clear: Alan Rickman was handsome, I just wasn’t attracted to him (sorry, Alan).
Another thing Harry Potter did for me was turn me on to reading. I was always a reader, but became a lover of a literature as soon as I put down the first book. I wanted more. I started reading, reading, and reading. I discovered I’m good at context clues (where you figure out what’s going on in a sentence by using the words you understand around it). I started to read books with big words, and I needed to look many of them up in the dictionary, but I was able to use context clues to figure out what most of them. Before I knew it I was reading at the college level at 14. I didn’t realize I was reading college level books until someone told me that the book I picked up (I used to pick books because I liked their covers) was by Tolstoy and most people never finish it, even people my parents’ age. It was Anna Karenina and I had a mild obsession with Oprah at the time and her book club was reading it, so I was going to read it. Tolstoy was then my favorite author. I don’t pick absolute favorites lightly. Being “one of my favorites” and “one of my absolute favorites” are completely different things. I admire a lot of people, places, and books. But absolute favorites stick around for a long time. For instance, Alan Rickman and Leo Tolstoy are still my favorite actor and author respectively. I love things deeply. And people, too. That kind of compassion and depth is not always cool. It’s not exactly frowned upon either, but it definitely sets one apart. At least it did for me. Sometimes in a bad way, as people didn’t understand me so the only thing they thought of doing was tearing me down. But I didn’t break. Yet the sense of otherness remained.
The main quest I have over the next year, and the rest of the career, is how to use this feeling of otherness to create something beautiful, a piece of me that transcends the boundaries of my self-doubt.