For many years, I dreamed of making a film. It was always my vision, ever since I saw “Bonnie amp; Clyde” on television. I found nothing more exciting than the idea of telling a story on the big screen. All through my teen years, I floundered, though, the result of an affinity for partying hard.
These years were marked by confusion and disillusion. At one point I moved to Massachusetts to try and make changes, sometimes called a ‘geographic cure’. Not much changed, but it was there my dream was renewed when, in 1986, I went to the local theatre and saw “Platoon” by Oliver Stone.
I will always be indebted to Mr. Stone for reminding me of my purpose through his work, although I’m sure that wasn’t his intent. I went home that night and worked on my first treatment (overview of a script).
It was a long time before I finally followed through on the dream. I was working at the post office, making more money than I ever had. I was miserable. My young son lived 100 miles away, I was working 50-60 hrs a week, 6 days a week, every weekend and holiday. I had seen a blurb in Rolling Stone magazine regarding a contest for a video commercial sponsored by Tommy Hilfiger.
I sat down on a break and wrote the commercial in 15 minutes, and visualized how I wanted it to play out. The time requirement was 30 to 50 seconds in length, which was very manageable. Looking back, this lesson is repeated in filmmaking. You shoot a few minutes of footage at a time, put them together, and eventually you’ll have a full-length feature film.
I asked a friend to do cinematography and editing, with the promise of half the winnings should we win. This is another lesson: hire those who can do what you can’t. I learned how to play “America The Beautiful” on my Stratocaster, which played under the voiceover. We shot the video over a few days time, entire cost: $50 for clothing. I mean, it was a Hilfiger commercial. I thought to wear his clothes was a good idea
. My partner at the time used a CanonXL, and she had Final Cut Pro on her computer. We submitted the video on September 7th, 2001. I attended a 2-day seminar on making independent films that weekend in New York City. I came home and that Tuesday 9/11 happened, and the world turned upside down.
Like most people, I experienced a great deal of sadness. I had just been there in Manhattan over the weekend. It was surreal.
I didn’t think of much else, but it was hard not to think about our video. The theme of the commercial was “What the American flag means to me”. It was sponsored by Hilfiger when after a survey it was discovered how few Americans owned a flag. After 9/11 flags were flown all over, and a renewed sense of patriotism occurred.
We were informed by mail we won a runner-up prize of $10,000. I had a lot of mixed feelings at the time, but the lesson was obvious: creating a film was a definite possibility. I felt that our win was a sign from God, that this is what I’m supposed to be doing. And that’s where it all started.
In all, there were 30 winners in the contest out of 700 entries. Very similar odds of getting a film picked up. But from the time I wrote the commercial on that dock at the post office, I always felt we would be one of them. This is another lesson: If you don’t believe in your work, neither will anyone else. So make it your best. Stay tuned for more.