There’s a lot of work that goes into making a movie – short or long – and I know it’s a choice I make to do it, especially when it’s outside of my day job that keeps me and my children alive. Yes, I would love to be able to do this as my job full-time, but it’s also incredibly freeing to choose which projects to do and when. And no matter how much is going on at my day job, I am constantly, constantly, working on a creative project. I don’t see filmmaking or writing as “work” even though it’s hard. I don’t see it as work even though I know sometimes I’m sucking at it. To me it’s like breathing – it’s part of my autonomic system. It’s in my DNA.
That knowledge was something I discovered when I dropped acid as a teenager and came home after a concert with hours more to go in my trip. All I wanted to do was write things down. I was a wildly moody teenager (or maybe that’s just being a teenager) and writing about the world and about what was going on in my head helped me survive from one day to the next. I truly believe that writing saved my life, and as it saved my life it became my life. So no matter what I’m doing, every day, I’m writing or reading or watching something that expands my knowledge of the world, of myself, of people, but mostly of storytelling. The goal changed as well from simply surviving to the next day to producing something for someone else to enjoy.
Recently, I wrote a short film about this moment in my childhood. ACID TEST will be in production at the end of January. So the question is: Why this project? Why now?
The easiest answer is that while at the Cannes Film Festival this spring, I felt the need to take a creative risk. Do something personal and challenging. No movie that screened there – whether I liked it or not, whether it was good or bad – was made without blood on the table. And my story, this insane laughable absurd and horrifying story from my 15 year-old self, had been on my mind for a couple of years. I’d used it in writing grant applications. And while I’d told the story over the years as a funny crazy can-you-believe-it story, there was something infinitely frightening about putting that story out into the world in such a public manner as making a short film. Because even if my film never makes it to festivals, there are a number of people who are already a part of this process. People who are supporting me and my fellow filmmakers, reading our posts, talking to us at events, sharing in our triumphs and struggles. And as much as this story is funny and absurd when I tell it, I’m really shining a light on a pretty painful time in my life. And even after all this time, there is still a part of me that wonders if my parents would disown me for simply telling this story or even hinting at the truth within the story.
Call me stupid, but when I’m afraid of doing something, it usually means I need to do it.
It’s been 5 years since I last directed actors, and that time around I was working with one of my best friends. I loved the experience of making SISTERS, but that was also exactly what I set out to do: have fun making a movie. I set out to make a film I knew I could make simply because the bigger challenge at that point in my life was whether I wanted to keep making movies at all. I had been doing a lot of documentary work and enjoying writing at home. I had two small children. Production is a pain. But then I got on set and I remembered how much I love making a movie.
Toward the end of the Cannes Film Festival, I told my director and co-producer on the short that had gone to the Short Film Corner my acid trip story and they immediately vouched their support for turning it into a short film. This is the first time I’ve taken a story from my own life and made it into a short script instead of starting with a fictional character or world. ACID TEST is fictionalized for narrative purposes, but it’s true. And I’m trying to hold on to that authenticity and continuously nail down the “OH MY GOD I’M MAKING A MOVIE IT’S SO COOL” hype because even though the ego keeps me putting one foot in front of another in pursuit of a crazy and unrealistic dream, I know it’s not going to get done without the work. And it’s gonna be hard. And it’s gonna be scary. And there will be times where I’m going to suck at it. And I’m going to wonder why I’m doing this and bleeding money and begging people for help.
But the time to take a risk is now. Cannes helped me see that. In the 10+ years since USC, I’ve been living my life, keeping my head down, and doing the work to becoming a stronger human being and a stronger filmmaker. In the same way that I now feel confident and capable to teach film, I feel like I’m in a much better place to be able to make a film than ever before. A lot of that also has to do with the community in Houston of solid, dedicated, and talented filmmakers I’ve met and worked with. I wouldn’t be able to do any of this without them.
Usually, the next step after already doing lots of shorts is to make a feature, and ACID TEST does fit within a larger, feature-length story. But I wanted to focus on just this turning point, on a small moment with these characters, and take on the challenge of a bigger production, visual effects, and a personal story without adding the challenge of doing a feature on top of all that. Shorts don’t have much of a market, but I hope that ACID TEST will lead to feature film opportunities. No matter what, it’s already proven to be a great step forward in this journey.
What I find truly amazing about filmmaking is that you take a team of people, working toward their individual understanding of a story and a vision that’s completely fake, manipulated, and cultivated for a visual/aural effect that will generate an audience affect because it captures life and truth and humanity in a moment of stunning clarity. I’m terrified of that goal, terrified of falling short, but I must face that fear and keep trying. Because this is breathing to me. This is life.
So if you want to help me out, like my posts, share with your friends, and if you have money to give to this journey, we offer the gift of a tax-deduction through our fiscal sponsor Southwest Alternate Media Project (SWAMP). And if you’ve read this whole thing, thanks for sticking with me. As an artist, the hardest part is finding people to stay til the end!