black place mats

Film School Week 1

I’ve always toyed with the idea of keeping a journal to splay out my thoughts and keep a record of the strange and often scary things that run through my head in times of stress. I’ve also heard that it could be a good way to relieve some of that stress, and as anyone that’s been in my position can attest, the first week of college is fucking stressful. 

Now, I’ve dreaded this for a long time. Not because the concept of higher education put me off, or because I secretly didn’t want to do it, or because I thought college was a waste of time. No, it’s because of the drive. I have a crippling fear of driving, which I may do another entry about later. In short, being behind a wheel makes me panic like a Spider-Man UE4 developer trapped in a room with a Marvel Executive and a lawyer. Something about driving gives me this feeling that the whole world is out to get me and every time someone goes around me because they think I’m not going fast enough or they honk at me for waiting too long to go when the light turns green all makes me want to climb out of my skin and leave this planet and go live on Mars in a hut with good wi-fi. (this isn’t stream of consciousness is it? Oh, I guess it is now.)

Anyway, the drive to school is 45 - 50 minutes long. A 10 minute drive to pick up my friend Josh from his apartment stresses me out, and as you an imagine, the drive to school is 4.5 - 5x worse than that. The first day of driving there alone came, my mother being busy with prior engagements at work and my father being lazy. I thought I’d use my GPS to get there, but google decided that instead of a straight path down the highway, I should get onto the highway, get off of it, get onto a different highway, and then eventually merge onto the one I was already on. This all being uncharted territory for me, I went along with it and added way too many extra steps to my commute. 

The first day on Monday was rather easy, being that it lasted 2 hours. Apparently the school had assigned me a schedule to go there on Mondays and Wednesdays every week, but then mysteriously altered it to Tuesdays and Thursdays without notifying me. The teacher in the first class spent the usual 2 hours rambling about safety procedures and reading from a syllabus. Though I figured something was wrong when he did the “what the fuck is everyone’s names” thing and said I didn’t appear on his class list. Class ended and I wandered to the front office to ask about it and discovered the mix up. 

This is the point where I considered something drastic and violent, because I had driven to the school one extra time than I needed to for the week and gas was expensive. I opted to make this day at least somewhat productive by making a short jaunt across campus and getting some financial aid paperwork to fill out at the main building of the school. This meant wading through the crowd of people all staring directly up at the sky with what looked like 3-D glasses from Sharkboy and Lava Girl. As much as I wanted to sit back and gawk with them at the cosmic ballet of a solar eclipse, I had things to get done. So I spent the majority of said eclipse in a waiting room as the student help desk thing ignored my request for a form that was in a basket two feet away from where the guy was fucking sitting I could just go back there and get it why do I have to wait this is fucking stupid I hate everything. Thankfully though I walked out with the form and got to see the eclipse at its peak with some of those 80s bully glasses they were handing out. 

Tuesday was boring. All we did was look through the syllabus AGAIN, but this time with a different teacher and a different set of students and it lasted the full day instead of one class. My rampant insomnia had kept me up until 3 AM the night before, which I consider impressive for myself seeing as how I saw the sunrise every day of summer. This led me to making some tweets to mock the situation and of course people immediately couldn’t tell when I was trying to be silly. I got a mixed bag of encouraging messages from fans that wanted me to succeed and several crazy people ranting about how I should get my money back and quit college because they had a bad experience with a completely different type of college in a different state. And as we all know, if someone has a bad experience or dislikes something, EVERYONE ELSE should disregard its existence forever under their advice. 

The highlight of Tuesday was a moment where I made a genuine connection with one of my teachers. He was a young guy, maybe in his early 20s, who had been editing since 2009 and graduated from the school, only to realize that he loved Post-Production enough to teach it between professional editing jobs. At one point he tried to demonstrate to a half asleep class that they should have a watchful eye for editing choices in other people’s projects to avoid their mistakes and emulate their strengths. Thus, he showed us the short film he had edited during his time in the class. It was some short that had premiered at our state’s film festival, chronicling the plight of an overworked steel-mill employee that began an unhealthy competition with him to receive a promotion and make his family proud. Then he murders his friend by pouring lava on him and making it look like a random industrial accident. The teacher began rolling through it and pointing out his own mistakes as an editor in the film. An act of humility that I found refreshing after going to high school and answering to a faculty of self absorbed assholes that became teachers to feel like they were important. He explained how he made continuity mistakes with a character placing his hand on his face in one shot, then in the next shot removing the opposite hand. Mistakes such as this drive people in the industry fucking crazy because they’re trained to look for it, but none of the students noticed the goof. Myself included. That was when he started briefly describing the scene with the lava and I derailed the whole flow of the class. 

I asked him more questions about how he did such an impressive visual effect and I genuinely feel like it made his day that I was so fascinated. He gave up on talking about the syllabus and instead talked with me about the process. Apparently they had gone out to the back of the school and placed a black felt mat behind a mannequin and then poured green paint on it. Then he rotoscoped the footage to show only the green paint, which he then digitally altered to have the texture and glow of molten steel. He then placed this footage over the actor in the scene, who simply just fell down on the set because real lava is expensive, and lined up the way it poured over the mannequin with the way it would have theoretically landed on the actor. Having seen a lot of visual effects tutorials or watching the behind the scenes videos for Dragon Ball Z abridged, I knew almost all of the terminology he had thrown my way and I kept up in the conversation rather nicely. I don’t know how the other students felt about it considering it was just them watching two guys geek out over special effects, but frankly I didn’t (and still don’t) give a shit. It was fun. This was followed by a drive home where the GPS told me to get onto the highway, then off of it, then under it, then over it, then onto it again. Suffice to say, driving was not fun that day and I got home with my hands shaking and my legs numb and my ass sore from sitting for 56 minutes. 

Thursday started with… well today is Thursday. But today started with me wanting to procrastinate getting out of bed, so against my better judgment I set my alarm clock forward an extra 20 minutes after it rang the first time. I laid in bed with my eyes closed and my heart pumping through the back of my spine at the thought of driving. I didn’t even sleep for that 20 minutes. I just waited. Thinking. Panicking. After that I took a shower for 30 minutes like an idiot. Starving African children could have eaten all that water I wasted. Then I got into the car, turned on the GPS and it said that the drive would last 55 minutes because traffic was so heavy on the highway. Class began in one hour. It offered an alternate route where I did the same bullshit gymnastics of getting off and on the highway 6 times, but I decided that I had the path memorized a certain way and I was going to stick to it. So I disregarded the antiquated GPS and just drove there from memory with about 8 minutes to spare before class started. I had a decent amount of sleep the night before and I was on time and the drive was easy. It seemed like things were off to a good start. Then things started becoming more clear. 

The teacher in my Production 1 class seemed different from other teachers in some way that I couldn’t quite place. But today in seeing him run through a Powerpoint on the basics of shot composition, the rule of thirds, shot types, etc. I figured out what was off. He wasn’t a teacher. He had no degree for it. He as just some guy who, much like everyone else teaching here, was a student with a passion for film who started passing his knowledge to a new generation. It didn’t feel like I was being talked down to, it felt like I was being talked to. It felt like he was just some nice guy, maybe even a friend, trying his damnedest to explain how this stuff works. And then I realized something funny on top of that. I already knew everything he was explaining because I had studied this stuff in my free time since I was 9 years old. I think the only new information I received that I hadn’t picked up from documentaries, books, or YouTube movie reviews, was the technical aspects of these fancy 4k cameras and special tripods they wheeled in from the back room. Sure I was as lost as everyone else when it came to the equipment, but the mechanics of shooting a scene, the methods of writing, the terminology of camera movements– all of it I already knew.

The rest of the day after felt like something new. I felt like I was somewhere I gave a shit about what I was being told. After 8 years of drifting through school and feeling bored out of my mind (as well as some unhealthy levels contempt for my middle and high school’s respective staffs) I felt something bizarre. Caring. It was stuff I thought was cool. I was being taught stuff I’d probably be trying to figure out at home anyway if I wasn’t at the school. At long last, there was a sense of purpose. 

The Post-Production class was filled with editing terminology I wasn’t familiar with like the L-Cut, the J-Cut, Picture Lock and a few others. But I knew how to DO all of these things. I had already done them in my free time on YouTube projects. I finally had names for these processes I had self taught in my last 2 years of pursuing this strange potential career path. Things were starting to make sense and once again, the post production teacher and I ended up just talking about random technical stuff while the class probably rolled their eyes. He was barely older than me by a few years and he clearly shared a lot of my opinions and favored techniques for these things. I never expected that the first friend I’d make would be one of the teachers, especially given my history with authority. 

After that in my script analysis class I think I surprised the professor. He asked a question and I answered in a way that caused him to stutter and rethink his next words. I think I inadvertently stole his thunder a little by teaching the class a bit of film history that he wanted to tell. We were discussing types of characters and their levels of effectiveness with an audience. He asked “Why do you think the anti-hero become so popular in the 70s?” and I told him “because we had just gotten through Vietnam. In times of war, morals become more gray. Soldiers sometimes have to make tough decisions and do bad things for a good cause, Vietnam especially. When good and bad started to fade together in people’s minds it became easy for that to bleed into the writing at the time and you have more characters reflecting society’s feelings.”

He seemed impressed and annoyed at the same time as he said “that’s exactly right, yes.” But he continued on and I kept quiet the rest of the class. I’m sure he had characters in mind like Paul Kersey or Alex in Clockwork Orange. The entire time I rambled my psuedo-intellectual answer, all I had in mind was the Punisher. I was worried I’d end up sounding like an obnoxious know-it-all-teacher’s-pet asshole like Peter Parker in that new cartoon if I had kept going. It still felt nice to be right for once. Instead of being the bored/depressed kid in the back of the class praying for either death or the bell to ring, I was the smart one that was engaged and smiling. In fact, I started becoming self conscious and hyper-aware of it, but all day I think I was the only that just couldn’t stop… smiling. 

The drive home was better. I had finally figured out the most simple path and I just went for it. I disregarded the GPS and its dumbshit advice. Sure I spent 25 minutes of the trip in grid-lock dead stopped traffic, but I felt in control. I felt like I was confident in my ability to find my way home. I didn’t mind how slow it went because I knew that everyone on the road was in the same boat as me. And the slower you drive, the less likely you are to fly at the windshield if you clip a concrete divider. So I sat and talked to myself on the way home, cracking jokes back and forth with the voice in my head whom I’ve affectionately named “Co-Pilot” and I had an okay time. I got home and realized that everything was going to be okay. I kind of wanted to cry. I also kind of wanted to laugh. 

It felt like all these years of worrying about the inevitability of college and the dangerous commute just came off my shoulders. I felt like a boulder was lifted off my chest and I could breathe again. Now I know why I wanted so badly to go to this place for all these years. Its where I belong. And while it will certainly get a little stressful in the coming months to meet deadlines and collaborate with other creatives, its all the kind of stress I have spent the last years growing accustomed to by doing over the internet. Its not the stress of feeling stupid because I struggled so hard in my math class. Its just the same kind of hassle I’ve had to deal with already by virtue of being an artist. Its the kind of hassled I want to deal with because I know when the final product came out, it was all worth it. Feeling dumb in math class all these years to learn something arbitrary wasn’t worth it. This all feels right. Like I’m Jerry at a daycare for other Jerrys while Rick and Morty go off on adventures. This place was made for me. So yes, an art school is fucking worth my money because I’d rather feel what I’m feeling right now than be some 19 year old working in McDonald’s during the day and feeling hollow inside because I can’t express myself creatively. I hate that shit. 

This isn’t going to be easy, and there might be parts of it that suck. There might be parts of it that drive me to tears and anger, but it’s worth it. I finally found a place where I belong and that I love. Love isn’t easy. Its a lot of tiny problems to solve one by one to make a thing work in the long term. That’s okay. I’m prepared for that and there’s nothing else I’d rather be doing. For just once. I’m feeling okay. And that feels kind of amazing.