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I KNEW ROBIN WILLIAMS

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I knew Robin Williams.

Not personally. I never met the man. And, in the minutes after learning of his passing, I had to visit his Wikipedia page to recall that he left behind three children (Zak, Zelda, and Cody) and had been married three times.

I knew Robin Williams. I didn’t know him personally, but I knew him.

He also leaves behind an astounding, almost intimidating body of work. From television to the stage to the silver screen. From Mork from Ork to Popeye. From Good Morning, Vietnam to Good Will Hunting. From The Genie to Mrs. Doubtfire. From Broadway all the way to Neverland. He provided such an immense joy to my life. When I think of my childhood, Robin Williams immediately comes to mind. And when I heard he took his own life, I burst into tears.

I knew Robin Williams. I didn’t know him personally, but I knew him. I burst into tears upon hearing the news of his suicide, and it wasn’t just because his work, his beautiful work, meant the world to me.

Robin Williams lost a lifetime battle with depression. This is how I knew him. And this is why I cried.

Growing up, I struggled with depression and had an incredibly distorted view of my own self-worth. It’s hard to pinpoint when and how it happened and, to be honest, it doesn’t really matter. It was there. It existed.

Film and television became my saving grace, providing context to a life I found increasingly difficult to understand. All art (on a base level) is just humans trying to forge a connection with one another or, conversely, explore why that connection sometimes doesn’t exist.

Ships passing in the night and all that.

I’m reminded of this reoccurring dream I have. I’m running through this forest and it’s almost pitch black. A dark emptiness. But it’s full of people. Everyone I know or ever have known. They’re there. I can’t see them, but I know they’re there. I catch blurs. I can almost touch them, but they’re always just out of reach.

Robin’s attempt to reach them came through his art. Through his acting. Through his stand-up. My god, his stand-up. The brilliance of it. It’s not hyperbolic when people refer to him as a “force of nature.” He was a shooting star. A supernova.

But if you go back and watch any of his performances there’s an almost indescribable sadness to Robin.  He’s always chasing something. A laugh? A smile? I’m not sure if that’s the answer. I think it’s deeper than that. He found one string to pull on, one opening, and – BOOM – off to the races, his mind working ten million times faster than yours or mine ever could.

It’s as if he needed this. It was his natural high, which I’m sure he attempted to replicate with the alcohol and the drugs over the years. He was a rocket ship shooting into outer space. But when that ship turns around and hurdles back to Earth… what then? You can’t fight gravity.

Because once the laughs stop, once the performance ends, the lights dim and the curtains close, it’s just you. You and reality. And that can be a very scary space to live in.

You know the saddest part of people declaring, “O Captain! My captain!” this week? At the end of the movie Robin, as he did in life, still has to leave.

I wish I could jump into some kind of time machine, find him, grab him and hug him. Tell him, as he told Matt Damon’s character in Good Will Hunting, “It’s not your fault. It’s not your fault.”

But I can’t. All I can do is remember that I knew Robin Williams and do my best to grab and hug the people that are still here. To give thanks to those who supported me through my struggles. To honor his memory by continuing to make films to maybe, just maybe, help another little boy or girl who might be going through a rough spot in their lives.

And then, when I think of my dream, I’ll remember that even if I can’t see the people through the darkness… I can certainly feel them all around me. And that it’s a beautiful feeling. That it’s enough.

I knew Robin Williams. And every time I watch one of his films or stand-ups, I’ll do my best not to cry, but to smile. Because in that moment, when he reaches me, he’s no longer dead. He’s brought back to life through my laughter. And because that connection has been made we can remember that we’re not alone. In that moment, we defeat depression.

We did it, Robin.

Thank you for everything.

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MY MASTERS

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“If you figure a way to live without serving a master, any master, then let the rest of us know, will you? For you’d be the first in the history of the world.” – Lancaster Dodd, The Master

Whether you know it or not, you serve a master. If you’re fortunate, you recognize it early on and are blessed with an apprenticeship that could last a lifetime.

I’ve been on a particular kick recently in discussing cinema, invoking its name countless times over the past couple of months. There’s a reason for this, beyond the obvious that I am a filmmaker with a deep adoration for movies.

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PERCHANCE TO DREAM

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Why do we dream?

This has baffled us for eons. What is the function of the dream state? Is it physiological? Biological? Psychological?

I’ve always been very taken with the idea that dreams allow us to process information and experiences that we absorb in our waking life and, through our sub-conscious mind, better make sense of them.

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I DIDN’T CHOOSE IT. IT CHOSE ME.

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I was raised Jewish.

My family is Jewish. Cultural, New York Jews in every sense. Reform Jews– meaning while we honored and observed the big holidays and my siblings and I took part in Bar or Bat-Mitzvahs, it was a very “modernized” version of Judaism. We didn’t observe Shabbat. We only attended temple during the high holy days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. We certainly did not keep kosher.

Our Judaism seemed to be less about faith and more about tradition and community. To this day, my extended family still gets together on these holidays, but more for the occasion of sharing each other’s company.

So, yes, I was raised Jewish. Am Jewish. Will always be Jewish. But when I think of faith, when I dwell on what inspires me and provides context and understanding into the depth of humanity, I am inevitably brought back to one thing.

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THE WORLDS WE’RE UNAWARE OF

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The story goes that Akira Kurosawa, the most revered filmmaker of Japanese cinema, is doing press for one of his last films, Dreamsand is asked the following by a reporter:

“It must be so nice to be at the end of your career, having completed so many films, and know everything about cinema.”

Kurosawa replies:

“There’s a world of cinema that I’m unaware of.”

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TRANSCENDENCE

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It wasn’t enough to simply grunt and howl. We needed to speak.

It wasn’t enough to simply speak. We needed to paint on cave walls.

It wasn’t enough to paint on cave walls. We needed to write and sing and create forums to share in the experience together.

We used art to process our lives, to provide meaning and context to uncertainty.

We desired to feel understood and we knew ordinary language would not suffice.

The great works of art form an almost spiritual communion between creator and audience.

That invisible space that exists between them births a kind of magic.

In that moment, both the artist and audience reflecting back, speak those two transcendent words.

“I understand.”

(Image above is from one of my favorite films of 2013, Noah Baumbach’s “Frances Ha.”)

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LET THE AUDIENCE PIECE TOGETHER THE PUZZLE

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“Art, in itself, is an attempt to bring order out of chaos, and certainly puzzles. The nice thing about doing a crossword puzzle is you know there is a solution.” – Stephen Sondehim

This is why exposition doesn’t work.

Exposition is pretty easy to find. Something about it feels off. It’s lazy. And, justly so, the audience feels cheated.

As an audience, we want to be truly engaged. Stimulation occurs when we’re figuring out what the art means to us– Is this making me happy? Sad? Nosalgic? How do I feel about this? Why should I feel about this at all?

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