From Filmmaking to Writing: How the Heck Did I Get There?
A career path is rarely straight and simple. And as I ponder my own professional journey, I realize the title of this post is misleading. I should have said from drawing to filmmaking to writing… I’m still baffled at the path my career life has taken.
When I was old enough to hold a crayon, I was drawing. Years after I had moved out of the house, my mom gave away our old coffee table. It was round, and as it was being rolled out the door, she saw years worth of my drawings on the underside of it for the first time. In the winter, when I couldn’t play outside, I’d make a “fort” by covering the table with a quilt, and I’d lie on my back and draw, all the while making up stories in my head about the drawings.
When I went to CalArts, I discovered the ability to use my drawing to tell stories “outside” of my head. I became a story artist and thought I’d found my niche. But then I found that I wanted to have more of a voice in the stories that were being told as a whole. Story artists can give their opinions, but they are limited to the scenes that they are given to storyboard—small parts of the whole.
So I became a director. And I loved it. But there was a downside: I didn’t draw anymore. Now don’t get me wrong; directing is great. It’s the perfect job for a control freak. But it’s also exhausting! Everyone needs an answer from you! You’re constantly fielding questions from every department: story (plot, character arcs, themes, is it funny enough? is it dramatic enough?), color (color keys, emotional color arcs, what color is that door? what color is that shoe? what color is that rock? what color is the inside of her nostril? – omg!), sets and props (design of shapes, where does that window go? how many trees do we need on that hill? how tall is that blade of grass? – OMG!), camera angles and moves, animation (who is the character? what is her motivation? why does she say that? how does she move? can we open up this scene another 563 frames? – OMG!!), character designs (how skinny is she? is she too fat? is she pretty enough? are her boobs too small? do her shapes work with that other character? have we made her too milk-toast? shouldn’t we make her more like that other character in that other movie? – OMG!!!)
It takes years to make an animated film, and director-driven or not, it usually ends up being a film created by committee. The story is always, always compromised, because there are so many voices clamoring to be heard. The director’s vision is usually compromised by the end of a film. Only a favored few can get their vision across the finish line unscathed. But depending on the film and the studio, a lot of those films are still fun to watch and successful— others… well… maybe not so much.
After my last stint at directing, I decided I wanted to tell a story that I could protect as my own. I am the only one asking the questions and giving the answers—for better or worse. Doesn’t matter. It’ll just be mine. If it’s something people want to read or see, great. If it’s not, great. It’s still mine. And when that’s done, maybe I’ll jump back on the directing horse. After all, it was pretty fun… and despite the questions and the compromises, I love working with a bunch of talented, crazy people!
Has your own career path been filled with as many twists and turns? Sure, things tend to be more complicated, but looking back, I think a few swerves make things a lot more interesting.
Image courtesy of SPDP via Creative Commons