I am an alum of the Stowe Story Labs—a magical week of seminars, pitching boot camps, writers’ circles, drinks, socializing, and gorgeous scenery that all converge to open your mind a bit more as you try to overhaul your script into something magical. David Rocchio, the head of the Labs, asked me to work on a short essay for their newsletter. To quote his trusting, open guidance he suggested, “Something on film and why it is important/necessary/completely unnecessary but addicting, like coffee…”
Like a lot of folks, I can ramble. Or, I can fall into the trap of getting too touchy-feely too quickly, (the curse of being a mother and dialogue facilitator that doesn’t get embarrassed or squeamish). But, the greatest danger, I find, with open-hearted essay topics like this, is that it can mimic a lot of my early exploratory content and story work:
I ramble and write and put ink to paper only to find what I wanted to say way… way… way… too far in.
Guilty as charged. It’s a blog after all. An extension of me. Indulge me for a bit… Plus, this is a rough draft for David…
However, the pragmatic instructor in me recognizes that messages are often absorbed in practice. New tools are best understood as they function with use—no one can take anything away from an abstract vacuum. So, I decided to apply these essay topics to my own life and current writing problems these past few months: that of pitching my portfolio to managers and production companies; research; and revisiting drafts to get back on the writing horse after time away from my latest spec.
- But first, I have to know my ingredients well;
- How it relates to me;
- Then lastly, I can dare relate it to others.
Here’s a stream-of-conscious word association exercise:
Important: top in a hierarchy, above all others, “bae.”
Necessary: causes death or harm if removed, functionality fails if missing, a prerequisite, a required cog in a machine.
Completely Unnecessary: frivolous, impractical; unless making serious bank and steady work, not putting bread on the table…
Addicting: sweets, alcohol, fats, joy, endorphin rush, a crash, guilt, anger, frustration, desire, lust, a cycle, repetition, denial.
Making it all about me for a bit.
Why is my writing and a love of film important, above all other creative ventures? Well, it, literally, gives me life, gives me an identity, gives me an anchor of purpose, grounding myself within a universe defined by the gravitational pull of my relationships to others. I am Shelley when I write—the amalgam of archaeologist, romantic, actor, mother, athlete, car-loving, history buff, emotional clustercase.
Is it necessary? Well, without it, as I noted above, I wouldn’t’ be able to function as a fully-whole individual. I’d be a bit if a poser. Also, art, writing, and other creative endeavors are a product and a process that work in a symbiotic relationship. One cannot read a story without it being written. Entertainment or growth or education, therefore, cannot exist without the transfer of knowledge and content into the printed word. And that transference is for many writers, a dance into a liminal space where personal transformation pollutes and catalyzes the pure content with a new interpretation. Or, if you’re still with me, I write about dead people, gods, or grandparents, or farms, Chicago, etc., but the process of crafting these worlds are a visual, emotional, and transformative journey in and of themselves, beyond the final audience’s needs I may have nestled in my mind’s eye. It’s necessary info for them if they’re curious about my topics—but it’s even more necessary for me to create it in the first place.
Completely Unnecessary…? Okay, Domestic Mary Poppins is going to show up and say stop believing in that daytime magic for a moment and just clean up your damn mess. You’re talking to a small-town Iowa girl who went to a liberal arts powerhouse in a big blue state—someone who treaded amongst muscle car and truck enthusiasts at football games, while reveling in medieval archaeology—someone who worked alongside a lot of brilliant scientists, but recognized that the last thing she’d ever want is to be labeled a snob by her audiences. I have to straddle, mediate, play both sides, act as a translator and conduit. I am well aware that my moments of creation must be tempered with the pragmatic. It can’t all be black turtlenecks and auteur and awards. If I’d be embarrassed to talk about it with my grandmothers, it just can’t fly. Not shy away, mind you, just remember that the most complex issues can always come across with simplicity and purity of heart.
Addicting? At times you curse your laptop, swear at your second act, and cry that your heartbreaking tale of woe evoked nothing but blasé responses in readers. And you do it all over again… Of course it’s addicting. We’re extroverted introverts. It’s our flash in our pan. The wallflowers get to bloom for a bit.
Are the cinematic arts important for others and the world? Life is a mosaic, a tapestry. (I’m going to mix a shit-ton of metaphors, just a heads-up…) The arts and artistic expression are merely one thread or gem-like element within, but the entire composition would be lacking without it. We humans filter, analyze, absorb information, reflect, and grow. The culturally-specific, foreign, and unique becomes familiar, shared, and common by observing, listening, and taking on the actions of mimicry of others—if we’re bold enough to try, that is. Through these moments, the tragic can tip into comic. The funny? Hauntingly beautiful. And then, if you’re lucky, you have now trained the observational and empathetic muscles of your soul to quiet your busy life, stop, and notice your fellow man are shrouded in their own tapestries and mosaics. It’s part of growing up. You step back and see how your unique, messy, brilliant, heartbreaking process of transformation and growth was repeated differently, uniquely, and brilliantly all around you. That’s powerful. That’s what film can do—you can try on someone’s tapestry, feel their threads, look for commonalities, revel in their differences. Role-playing as a tool of greater self-awareness of you as well as your species. La La Land. Moonlight. Ex Machina. Under the Skin. Frank… the past few years I’ve visited a lot of amazing worlds and been touched by all the people inhabiting them.
Necessary for others and the world?
More on this below, but the arts are like moving a muscle in one part of your body, or eating a particular mineral or vitamin. Yes, perhaps you can function without it, but you’ll never be in tip-top shape as a human.
Completely unnecessary to others, and the world? Well, now we’re stepping into that cyclical argument that erupts with every rise of conservatism in social and political circles. “Necessity” implies investment. And artistic expression, debate, fear, confrontation, ambiguity, freedom of expression, oppression, propaganda, are all vocabulary that get tossed into that mix. I’ll never say the arts aren’t necessary. Fuck that. At times, yes, cuts and cutting-back occurs, but if the sentiment is celebrated, your soul is dead.
And no one wants to live with zombies.
Are films addicting to the world?
Film addicts are our enablers, our conduit into worlds we never dreamed of. If we don’t have the time or resources or pedigree to be considered a titled, publicly-praised “film addict” they are our allies and anchors, tethering us to that web of tapestries of stories and experiences. They are tour guides with raging, glowing eyes showing you the new, the fresh, the heart-rending, and at times, the gem buried in an old forgotten friend. Like any good drug or vice, film will always evoke strong emotion, possession, posturing, and its own mini forms of sufferable tribalism… and if it doesn’t, it didn’t work. This shouldn’t give Creatives license to be dicks, of course (like the Zombies above, Dicks find themselves friendless with no references to their name), but it means that if it challenged and questioned and provoked, someone listened. And if the world doesn’t listen to one another, that’s just fucking boring.
Unimportant, boring Zombies enslaved to the concept of practical necessity. If I had remained that, I would have never discovered the real me.by