I hate stories. I hate them because they don’t make sense. I hate them because they’re such a tease. I hate them because I can’t live without them, and they seem to know it. Stories make us do stupid things sometimes, and what do we get in return?
After I graduated college in 1997, I took out a $12,000 loan from the bank and borrowed another $12,000 from my grandmother to finish the student film, Smoke…, which I had made when I was at CalArts. I was twenty-two years old, and I had no business going into $24,000 of debt when I still had plenty of student loans to pay off. Like I said, stories make us do stupid things sometimes. During the day, I was living the dream, working my tail off as an animator on my first feature film, A Bug’s Life, at an upstart studio located hundreds of miles away from Hollywood. The studio was Pixar.
At nights, after long days of animating, I would come home to paint backgrounds, figure out how to fill out exposure sheets, and navigate a whole new world of film production I had never experienced before. It was one thing to make a student film, shot on video, and playing in a theater just feet from where it was created. It was quite another to make a film that was actually shot on film (yes, 35mm, I’m that old), track down negative cutters, get prints made, find festivals, and all the other things I thought I knew but quickly realized I didn’t, all in order make sure that this little story of mine could stand on its own in front of an audience several thousand miles away from me, often in another country on another continent.
In the end, I may not have made a penny on the film, but I gained an education in filmmaking. More importantly, this was one of my first lessons in taking the Nike adage of Just do it, and and really Just doing it! Some might say that is easier said than done, and to that I have to agree. Back in 1997, the only thing stopping me was money, for which I took out loans, and my own effort, which I was happy to contribute in my off hours. That film was a singular endeavor, but anyone knows that the majority of filmmaking is a collaborative process. People, budgets, release dates, production schedule, profits, losses, seniority, novelty, these all play a part in the Just do it part of filmmaking. So maybe a slight adjustment to the adage is needed. Maybe it should read Just keep doing it.
Since my film, Smoke…, was completed in 1997-98, I have been fortunate to lead a dual life. By day, I’ve been able to work on amazing animated films, as an animator, story artist, character lead, Directing Animator, and Supervising Animator. I’ve been able to work hand in hand with many different aspects of the entertainment industry, including films, shorts, books, theme park rides, video games, and even ice capades! I spend a couple of years as the Chief Creative Officer of a mobile entertainment start-up, leading a creative team to create worlds and characters for a generation who engage with entertainment in a way I would never have even dreamed of when I was a child. But throughout my career, stories keep knocking at my door, demanding to be let in.
Over that same decade and a half, I’ve pitched some sort of short, television special, or feature film on average every two years. I even created a web comic for a couple of years, hoping that would satisfy my story needs. This all meant once again I would spend my nights, or more often the case as I got older and adjusted my schedule to find the only time when family obligations almost never overlapped, very early mornings, working on these side projects. Step by step, little by little, writing, drawing, and creating stories. I’ve taken more chances than most sane people probably would to create these stories, and I often wish I could tell them to go away, stop knocking at the door, and leave me in peace. Wouldn’t I be so much happier and have more time in my life without them? While I’d like to say yes, I have about as much chance of not finding a way to tell stories as I do of growing hair on the top of my head (I am follically challenged).
So I’m back where I started, and while at times I still do hate stories, in truth I love and appreciate them. I love them because they help make sense of the world. I love them because they’re fulfilling. I love them because I can’t live without them, and I know it. Stories make us take chances, and what do we get in return? We get to experience a world we may have never imagined, but understand is everything we could ever hope for.
To all the storytellers out there, Just keep doing it.
(For those interested, here’s my completed film, Smoke… https://vimeo.com/85275300)