In March 2008, I visited Los Angeles for the first time to interview people for an A&E Biography on Winona Ryder. I was extremely excited. I'd never been to the West Coast, and I was going to finally see the legendary Hollywood! The Film Frontier! City of Dreams! I am not a stranger to naivety, but I was perplexed by what I actually found. The city was glum, overcast and rainy, with a chill in the air, which certainly didn't help. Driving around, it felt like a ghost town: no one was out walking, the buildings boxy and dull. The colors were bright but seemed muted by loneliness, as if we were making our way through a vast, abandoned movie set.I have taken a bite out of the Oscar noms [nom noms].
The Kodak theater had already begun to set up for the Oscar ceremony. Tents and red carpet lined the street. But there was no excitement, no kinetic energy, no passion. I felt as if I was playing a game, that this wasn't really Hollywood, we were just pretending it was. I could walk up to the and push over building facade like a piece of cardboard. And in my eyes, that's all that Hollywood seemed to be: a dying illusion.
Normally I would be very excited about the Oscars, but over the years, my anticipation has dwindled substantially. Like every rare-yet-memorable tradition (Christmas, birthdays, lunch at McDonald's), the Oscars were a welcomed treat in my family. At least, for my mom and I, it was our Super Bowl. It was the only time of the year that....
a.) we were allowed to stay up until 2am..and lastly, that I could immerse myself in the glitz and wonder of Hollywood. Hilarious things happened at the Oscars, things that (before the internet world) you simply couldn't miss seeing firsthand. Billy Crystal as Luke Skywalker! Whoopi as the Queen of England! Roberto Benigni jumps over chairs to accept Oscar!
b.) total control of the remote was relinquished to us from dad (and thus no skipping through commercials!)
c.) we could eat entire cans of pringles and make cheese nachos, whilst on the couch, whilst in pajamas...
By age 9 I was convinced that I could become history's youngest Oscar host. I would arrive in one of our crappy Stromberg fixer uppers on wheels, wearing an exclusive TJ Maxx ensemble. James Earl Jones would come out with a bunch of yellow pages to prop me up high enough for all to see. (Ah, a child's humor.)
But it wasn't just the hype and the entertainment value of the Oscars that left a kid like me in awe. I just loved movies. My parents had brought me up on a healthy diet of Bugs Bunny & The Twilight Zone, cartoons like Animaniacs & The Simpsons, which parodied some of the greatest films ever made. Even though I hadn't seen most of these classics, I already knew them so well somehow. Granted, I had a long way to go. But Spielberg, Burton, Lucas and Orson Welles were common vocabulary during my childhood . I worshiped them. They did what I longed to do; write amazing stories, envision them onscreen, and convey that vision to the world.
However, what was hidden to me were the politics of the whole biz. The fact that this was a film "industry", and that not everything was as magical and wondrous as it appeared. Cynical as it may sound, I'm sure everyone can agree that money runs the show. And while many are often rewarded for creativity and filmmaking prowess by the Academy, there always seems to be a hidden agenda as well. I knew about Spielberg and Burton for a reason. And there were many other movies, other directors, other writers, completely other realms of film that I had not even begun to explore.
Now that I'm older (though not exactly wiser), and have attended a film school divided amongst the pretentious (who think that the Oscars are simply a joke, a dog-and-pony show for manufacturings of the industry mill), the enthusiasts (for which Spielberg, Scorsese and all epic filmmakers reign), and those who are in-between/uncertain/tolerant.
I'm not sure what category I fell into, since all of these new realizations scared the shit out of my naive mind. I just wanted to make movies...or so I thought. What did becoming a filmmaker mean?! Would I have to sell out? Or would I have to give up my love for those movies that were now deemed "cliche"? I was afraid that I would never be able to honestly like a film again. I would be labeled! classified! ridiculed!
As a child, I thought everyone equally respected movies; all movies. I thought celebrities were figures of prominence, success. I believed that the union of moving image and music and performance was an art form - was a superior art form - that when experienced could evoke joy, resolve conflict, bring people together, move them to tears. I wanted to be a part of that, share in that moment of creation and be responsible for changing people's view of the world.
Now, I find myself confronted by a big brick wall. On the other side, a machine that is fueled by money, fame and thousand of egos. How can one scale this wall? And once you do, how can you be sure that you're doing it not out of a delusional hunger for fame and acceptance, but from the sincere passion to create something of meaning?