Stand on the Shoulders of Giants and Perhaps You’ll Be in Their Company Too

Tonight is the 83rd Academy Awards. While I don’t own a television and I have no interest in watching the broadcast, I am monitoring the live feed as the winners are announced.

I have mixed feelings about the Academy Awards in general. While I appreciate recognition of good works within the various trades, the Academy Award is not the only indicator of greatness. There are plenty of other accolades one can accrue: the Golden Globes, the BAFTAs, the various critics awards, the various guild awards and of course film festivals. And of course there are plenty of derision one can receive as well: the Golden Raspberries, a negative review and the scorn of your friends responding to the news via [insert favorite social network here]. Finally there’s the “well-deserved” factor: either you won for the right one, you won for the wrong one or the wrong one won over the right one. So you either scream with excitement or you scream with damnation … either way your throat is sore like many a football fan three weeks ago.

For myself, I just appreciate good work wherever it is, no matter if awards were given or not. After all, there are examples of films that never due got their due at the time of release but then accumulated great attention afterward. In 1994, there was one film that was nominated for seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture, but didn’t win a single one. But a year later, it was the top rental in the United States and currently it sits fairly comfortably as #1 on the Internet Movie Database’s Top 250 Films. In 1942, another film was nominated for nine Academy Awards, including Best Picture, but only won one (Best Original Screenplay). But in 1998 (and again in 2007), it was #1 on the American Film Institute’s “100 Years … 100 Films.”

The point is not to like something just because it won this award or that accolade. It should connect with you, inspire you, motivate you, challenge you and perhaps even take you to a greater height from where you were. Yes it’s great when it wins something or gets this much attention. But wouldn’t you like it any less if it didn’t get that one award you were hoping it would get?

Now all of that being said … I look at these awards and do think about where I was, where I am and where I would like to go.

I was, for a long time, a dedicated viewer of film. For a long time, it was entertainment but something I really enjoyed, though I didn’t always understand why. But then as a teenager, I began to see it as something more than just mere entertainment. I started to notice it more as an art form and that you can dedicate to it like an artist much in the same way a painter does using paint, a photographer does using a camera and a composer does using music. Finally in college, I began to consider more the possibility that I could do it as well and I didn’t have to depend on people miles away from me to make something.

In order to get to that point, I too had to stand on the shoulders of giants. If there was one person whom I could call a “cinematic father figure,” it would be Stanley Kubrick. While it’s easy to “like” him for the films he made, it’s not easy to like him for his personality that has become legend and exaggerated myth. While others may have called him “obsessive” or “control-freak” or “perfectionist,” I see someone who was very passionate about film and wasn’t going to settle for mediocre. He was the first one who taught me that if something’s worth making, it’s worth making very well. Over time there are other directors as well: Paul Thomas Anderson, Wes Anderson, Michelangelo Antonioni, Darren Aronofsky, Stan Brakhage, Robert Bresson, Carl Theodor Dreyer, David Fincher, Jean-Luc Godard, David Lynch, Christopher Nolan, Yasujiro Ozu, Akira Kurosawa, Preston Sturges, Andrei Tarkovsky, Orson Welles, Billy Wilder, among so many others. In all the films I’ve ever watched – from the ones I liked to the ones I didn’t, from the ones I thought were great to the ones I thought were downright awful – I’ve learned something and I think that is what made me what I am now and what I hope will take me further.

Right now, I stand by a great accomplishment of having finished three feature-length scripts within a year. This was someone who only wrote a script once before but never took any type of screenwriting course or never thought of himself as capable of writing something that others could read and enjoy. This was also someone who was battling his own personal depression due to by very heavy circumstances and situations, both outside his control and due to his own fault. [And no, I didn’t end up writing something like Anti-christ, though interestingly I saw it during that time]. And while it was quite therapeutic for me, I wrote it with the intention of making them. So it was important for me that they were written and were written to the best of my ability. And so with some persistence, dedication, a bit of outside help and yes plenty of time, I did it.

And now, I still want to make them and am doing everything I can to make it happen. The best comparison I could make is with Boriska in Andrei Rublyov (dir. Andrei Tarkovsky, 1966). Boriska is around twelve to thirteen years old, whose father was a bell maker but died due to plague. But he manages to convince emissaries of the Grand Prince (of Moscow) to commission him to cast a grand bell that most seasoned bell makers would deem impossible due to Boriska possessing the “great secret to casting bells.” Acting purely on faith and a certain naïveté – and yes there are some prayers to the Theotokos involved too – he immerses himself and directs the casting of the bell. In the end, it’s successful and this even inspires Andrei Rublev, who at this point took a vow of silence and vowed never to paint ikons, to take up ikonography once more.

So for me, I would like to be able to cast this impossible bell and all I have is faith, courage, some proven talent in other areas, and yes some naïveté. While it will be nice to get an accolade or two for my efforts and the efforts of future collaborators, what would really be nice is to be able to stand amongst the company of those who inspired me to do this in the first place. Maybe someday I will don my own tuxedo and walk down the red carpet and be “entertained” by the hosts. And perhaps I could even be called down to take home a statuette of my own and say “thank you” in total shock. But the accolade that will be the most important for me is to say: “I made it. And I made a film or three too.”

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