This is the story of a boy, a dream, and one great big deus ex machina.
Right after my first viewing of Christopher Nolan’s Memento, I knew exactly what I wanted to do with my life. I knew what it was that was going to make me happy. I was twelve, at the tail end of middle school, and the path that lay ahead of me finally had a distinct direction.
Becoming a writer/director was my dream, but my then-reclusive tendencies kept me from practicing my skills as the latter. The former was a lot easier to work on since I spent so much of my time in my room anyway; spending that same amount of time in the same place only while warmed by the sickly glow of my computer didn’t seem to make that much of a difference.
So there were no Super-8 movies or Handicam films for this teenage shut-in; scripts and stories it was.
During the intervening time between then and college, I wrote and wrote and wrote, all the while striving to maintain my 4.0+ GPA because I knew exactly where I was going next: UCLA.
My reason for choosing that school was actually not because of their film program, far from it. Actually, my reason was quite illogical and unscientific. My cousin Sal, whom I had looked up to for as long as I’d understood what that phrase meant, had gone to UCLA and I’d spent an equally long amount of time trying to fit right into his footsteps.
One of those footsteps was choice of college. And so when I discovered my calling, I found it was more than a little fortuitous that UCLA had a film school. (Of course, I lucked out that it also happened to be one of the best film schools but I didn’t even bother looking into that then.)
I kept my GPA steady and graduated with the honor with the Latin name for “Second Best,” and along with that, I got accepted to the University of California, Los Angeles. Things were going just as I’d planned.
College didn’t change my hard-working ways. My tunnel-vision kept me from indulging in any of the smoke-filled, debauched antics a higher education is supposed to embody, but at the very least, I kept honing my craft and continuing my streak of exceptional grades.
See, getting into UCLA isn’t enough to get into their film school. For the first two years, you still need to take the General Education requirements and then you apply specifically for the film program itself. Then out of all their applicants, they choose fifteen applying from within the college and another fifteen from aspiring transfers applying from outside.
Fantastic odds, no? Well, I had enough confidence then – although at that age, it was probably more hubris than anything else – and so those facts didn’t deter me.
It didn’t hurt that I had the opportunity to work on fellow Offender Justin‘s film Finishing the Game during one of the summers leading up to my application. Armed with a letter of recommendation he had written me and a very strong set of writing samples, I felt as though I wasn’t waiting for a decision – I was waiting for my acceptance.
Sure enough, I made it past the first round of the process, winning me an interview with the program’s staff. This was nerve-racking because, well, writing is second-nature for a human turtle who spends all his time doing just that. Human interaction? That’s a whole other story, pun intended.
After buying a suit from Nordstrom that I knew full well I would return later, I went to my interview.
I opened the dialogue with the two people from the staff with a joke about how I was returning my suit right afterwards.
It didn’t go over well.
Unfortunately for me, that note set the tone for me for the rest of the interview. I did my best, but my insecurities found a foothold in the energy of that failed joke and looking back, I think it was noticeable. I left the room with a worry that would stretch from June to the middle of August.
After much bated breath, I received an e-mail mid-August that said I did not get in, that I was first on the waitlist. There was an implication of hope with a mention that people sometimes reject their offer, but it didn’t do much for me. All I needed to ask myself was this one very important question: if I got into the school, would I turn it down?
So I was virtually rejected and in addition to all the disappointment I already felt at myself, I still had to tell my parents, parents who had supported me in spite of their own wishes because of my unwavering uncertainty in my dream. And here I was now, uncertain of my future.
Things were not going as planned.
My father was at work, so I gave him a call. He comforted and reassured me, which meant a lot, but I expected that from him. What happened next, with my mother, sticks out in my mind that much more.
Simply put, my mother can be rather… emotional at times, fevered if you will. And so I prepared to break the bad news to her while bracing for the verbal barrage I knew was coming, which would consist of a guilt trip straight to medical school.
I didn’t dress it up. I told her plainly that I wasn’t going to film school. I didn’t need to say anything else because those words carried all the subtext in the world, with the quiet way I said it, with the slouched body language of someone broken and defeated. I cried, but I don’t remember if she did.
What I do remember is that between sobs, she didn’t yell, as she is prone to do, nor did she try to reprimand me for my foolhardy ambitions.
No, she told me that if I still wanted to be a filmmaker, then I should, that she would support me in following my dream, film school-educated or not. And that made all the difference in the world.
Somewhere in the back of my head, like a faint whisper, I still had the knowledge that I would be a filmmaker, but her words, her faith in me, crystallized that feeling. It made that timid voice a battlecry. I was going to show everyone. I survived.
The tail end of September rolled around and the school year was starting again. By then, I had reconciled myself with not going to film school. My back-up major was set, unpalatable as it was, and I was already meeting up with people to make movies on our own.
Then, on October 1st, 2007, I got a call from a number I didn’t recognize. It was the film school at UCLA. Someone had turned down their offer.
And the answer to that one very important question? It’s ‘No.’