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I recently heard a surf camera man describe the role of a filmmaker as the “the dark side of the lens.” Something about it immediately struck me. I am not particularly a Pink Floyd fan so if there is some derivative tie to the music or some subliminal message intertwined in that statement than I am not aware of it. I am however drawn to the statement beyond its clever play on words. Learning to dig deep into your mind and pull images and worlds out and repurpose them to something others can see is a strange set of skills to acquire; a skill set that I have dedicated my self to since Lance Madzey (NCHS Film Instructor) first told me what a filmmaker was. Cameras and lenses have become the way that I have conditioned myself to interpret and explain the world, my human experience told in angles and F-stops. My parents always encouraged me to keep open eyes and an open heart to the experiences; make up my own mind about what the world has to offer and speak furiously with my own inner voice. It is my voice that sits in “the dark side of the lens”, it is the culmination of a struggle of my passions and fears, and in the world of collaborative and commercial art it is the one thing that is truly mine.
My voice has been louder and quieter many times in my life. When NCSD asked me to do this blog, two things immediately raced to my mind, “I am a fraud,” and “advice is a form of nostalgia.” If there is some validity to the preverbal phrase known as “making it in Hollywood” then I certainly have not. Each day is still a struggle and the Facebook pictures of me touring the world, camera in hand, make up less than twenty percent of my actual year. I know I am certainly not the only one guilty of living a much cooler life in social media than in reality but this is not the place for that coyness. I am also not here to confess my sins and cleanse my soul of my own fakeness. I just think that anyone my story might inspire deserves better and truthfully so do I. This leads me to the advice portion. My advice is very simple, and like all advice it is nostalgic and full of self projection. Simply the best thing I can say is “take yourself seriously” and don’t wait, do it now. You are every bit the artist, or salesman, or whatever you want to be now that you will ever be. Sure, education and experience will increase your knowledge pool and skill set, but right now, this very moment you have passion, love, hate, inspiration; all the fuel your voice needs.
By high school, many have certainly learned to quiet and probably even silence their own voice. It’s that feeling you get at a concert when you want to suddenly throw up your hands and wave your body to music that inspires you but you don’t because no one else is, or you don’t want to look stupid, or whatever other reason. That simple act silences your own voice and denies you inspiration. I truly believe that creativity is exponential. Every creative professional I know draws inspiration from other artists and other mediums. That insecurity of not belonging is, by the way, a feeling that never goes away. I am thirty and I feel it everyday. “Peer Pressure” was the buzz-word when I was teenager, I refuse to downplay the feeling with such a pamphlet worthy phrase. And I promise you that even the people who pass out those pamphlets feel a pressure to conform, to be part of the status quo, adopt the societal standards of whatever society they may be part of. Musicians historically hate playing shows in Los Angeles (where I currently live), which seems counter intuitive. LA is supposed be a hub of creativity and art. The audience just doesn’t participate, it is a crowd of creative people that are just too cool. They’re above it. Truthfully it is obnoxious. I say dance.
It’s part of the human experience but not necessarily human to be conditioned to suppress your emotions, to quietly absorb inspiration, to create with our voices in a way that makes us feel safe. The classic student film example is when the Protagonist wakes up to a banging alarm clock and the provocative and strange reality of the film we just saw ends; it was just a dream. It’s the thought that somehow this disconnection of dream and the reality that our voice created will protect us from the true ownership and the criticism that may come with our own emotional clarity or weirdness. I have been guilty of it many times over. I wrote a screenplay in high school with exactly that ending. Madzey was good enough to tell me it was junk and to own my work. As I grew older I thought that somehow my accomplishments would create a barrier between me and the vulnerability that my voice made me feel. It started by winning the very festival that I am returning to Wyoming to participate in as a judge and lecturer. After that it was obtaining degrees. Now it’s playing big festivals and getting good reviews. It’s not that I am not proud of my accomplishments, because I am, they were a lot of hard work, driven by my passion to create, my need to be an artist and speak loudly with my inner voice. My point is that you never get to rest, not even on your laurels, when it comes to taking yourself seriously. My very successful and good friend Ken Bergman calls it the F.U.D.s, Fear Uncertainty and Doubt. The good news is that anyone who has tried to do something great with their life has felt it and overcome it. The bad news is that the harder you push against it, the louder and more honestly you speak or even scream with your voice, the harder the pushback will be. You are, after all, messing with the universe, you are in the process of creating through sheer force of will. People will hate your work, hate you, tell you that you’re crazy, call you pretentious; people who you respect will turn on you. I once had an AFI professor refuse to critic my film because it offended him so much. The entire screening he stood over me staring daggers. And the truth is, that as much as that really, really hurts, it’s the survivable stuff. Your own mind is the real minefield, self-doubt creeps in and you start planning your escape to a more sustainable life. Next comes the depression of letting everyone who ever believed in you down, but mostly the pain of writing the eulogy on your dream and hearing your voice drown to a whisper.
I was there as recently as two weeks ago and it was not the first time. The F.U.D.s were straight up kicking my butt. After the overwhelming success of Escape From Tomorrow at Sundance, I returned to LA to three feature films offers. It would have been more movies than I have ever done in a single year and they were all back-to-back starting in February! The first I passed on because they simply would not pay me a decent rate. The second sent over contracts the next day, then silent for two weeks, then a “thank you very much but we are going in a different direction,” and the third pushed to the summer because of money problems. The “it’s them not me” can only sustain you for so long in that situation and then come the F.U.D.s. The way out was simple, just be honest and quiet my mind long enough to listen to my voice. I simply asked for help and work from my friends and colleagues and sure enough it came. I had become too comfortable sitting around waiting for the phone to ring, but creation is proactive by nature, you have to be proactive. If you can’t find work, start to create your own. We all live in this world of uncertainty and the film industry is incredibly fickle. Other creatives will draw to you and you inspire one another. There is an amazing community of creators who all battle the F.U.D.s. Toss in a little inspiration- mine came in the form of a music festival with great friends. Then you’ll start to realize that the F.U.D.s are very much a choice and are the product of being vulnerable by creating and not living life in the status quo. If you created those F.U.D.s and they are a bi-product of you, then you can control them but only if you have the courage to take yourself seriously.
“Advice is a sense of Nostalgia.” I tried to remember where I heard it, I was sure it was in some brilliant book by one of the beat authors or a Walt Wittman poem that I read in college that somehow drifted into a dark cobweb laden part of my brain. For a day and a night I tried to remember where I heard it; this morning I gave up and used the most powerful form of memory recall; I googled it. It is from a song on the Romeo and Juliet sound track; which appropriately enough was super popular when I was in high school. So there it is, take it or leave it, that is my advice, and yeah it is biased, and yeah it is projection of something that I am not great at, but truthfully I hope you all can learn it before thirty. Take yourself seriously. I certainly do, technology has given your generation the loudest collective voice ever. The human condition is broadcasted 24-7 by any one brave enough to speak with their voice. And yeah, the internet if full of haters, trolls, and people too afraid to say something worthwhile but there are a lot of people creating great art and speaking truth. If you choose the path of an artist it is going to be hard, harder than I can describe or you can imagine. I hope that doesn’t discourage you in any way. Filmmaking is the blood in my veins and I love it with my whole heart, it has taken me around the world, let me collaborate with artists and musicians that I idolized and read about in textbooks, and magazines when I was younger. Now those people are my peers. I just wanted to give you a real look into what it is like. To understand that everything you feel now you will feel forever. Creation is terrifying and you are just so, so vulnerable. Even being so candid in this blog makes me feel a little F.U.D.s, after all I have to see a bunch of you next week and even people I went to high school with, yikes! But everyday I am thankful that I get to wake up a filmmaker, I get to lead with my heart and speak with my voice, live in the dark side of the lens. I will leave you with one last quote of course by one of “The Beats” because that’s what pretentious Artsy Fartsy types do.
“The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn, like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes “Awww!” -Jack Kerouac
*Lucas is a featured judge and presenter at the Wyoming High School Short Film Festival on April 25 at the America Theater in Casper. Free filmmaker workshops run from 8 a.m. – 3 p.m. with the film festival beginning at 7 p.m. Tickets for the evening film screenings are $7 each.