It’s the dead of winter in February 2013 and I just got fired on a street corner. My (now former) boss looks like he’s going to throw up. He doesn’t want to do this. But he has to.
Looking back now, it was the best thing that ever happened to me.
Close to three years earlier I graduated from college without a clear plan of action of where I’d find gainful employment. I was an “aspiring” filmmaker and they don’t hand out jobs to aspiring filmmakers. I didn’t have any technical skills. I had an understanding of and could operate a camera. I appreciated the beauty of lighting, but I was no cinematographer. I wasn’t a gaffer.
My life was devoted to cinema, to writing and directing, but I had little idea of how to turn this into any semblance of a career.
For a while, I floundered. I transferred old home movies to DVD to make a few bucks here. Walked my friend’s dog to make a few bucks there.
I was still “aspiring” and had to eat.
During this time, I finished a short film I was very proud of. It even got into a few film festivals across the country. It felt good to share the work.
But whenever I met people—at festivals, at bars, at parties—and was asked that inevitable (awful) question of, “What do you do?” I would always answer, “Well, I’m an aspiring filmmaker.”
I felt like a sham if I did not include the word “aspiring.” Who was I to just “declare” myself a filmmaker?
Eventually, I got pulled into the world of commercial production. Spent a good year at one company where I took on a kind of apprenticeship. I learned, hands on, about producing, project launching, and creative collaboration.
It was incredible. I was working! I was working a lot.
But as the year passed, and this position became close to full time, I started to get an itch. I felt my creative resourcefulness waning.
Unfortunately, the “aspiring” part of my title took up too much volume, while the “filmmaker” side was relegated to sitting in a corner, afraid to show himself. This wasn’t what I wanted.
Luckily, I got fired shortly thereafter.
It was business. Not personal. The company was headed in a specific direction, having just re-launched, and growing faster than my boss had expected. They needed an office manager who had done the job for years… and I simply had no desire to manage an office.
“What’s next,” I asked, “What do I do if I’m not working here?”
“A year from now, you’ll be doing your own thing, man,” my boss started, “You shouldn’t be here. This isn’t what you should be doing. You don’t want to be an office manager. You don’t want to sit at a desk and move papers around.”
I went back up to the office, put some things in order, said my goodbyes to a few people, and left. And, like magic, it was as if a gigantic weight had been lifted off my shoulders. The feeling was transcendent. The entire world was in front of me again.
Jumping on a train back to Long Island (I was living at home at the time and paying off student loan debt), I looked out the window and smiled. I couldn’t stop smiling. This was not normal behavior for an individual who had just been let go from his full-time job.
But I was happy. I was happy because I knew what would come next. No, I didn’t have a roadmap. There were no potential jobs lined up. But as I sat on that train, passing by houses and building and streetlights that I passed hundreds of times growing up, I made the best decision of my life.
I quit aspiring.
No longer would I be an “aspiring filmmaker.” I would be, quite simply, a filmmaker. Because that word, aspiring, was a crutch. It kept me unaccountable from doing the work.
It was a roadblock I put up in the back of my mind that read, “You can’t do this now. One day, you might be able to, but certainly not at the moment. Who do you think you are? You can’t just say you’re a filmmaker. You’re not good enough or a creative enough. You’re too young. No, no. That’s something you’ll get to later.”
Removing the word “aspiring” from my vocabulary when describing who I am and what I do was exhilarating. It forced me to take ownership. Because if I now had the audacity to call myself a filmmaker, I better well go out and make something. I better start writing again. I better start creating.
When I woke up the next morning, I went for a run in my childhood neighborhood. I passed one corner, and saw my best friend’s house. And there, just ahead, was my elementary school bus stop. I kept running and saw the parking lot where my friends and I would hang out on aimless Friday nights in High School.
It all felt new, as if I were reliving these memories for the first time. It was at this moment in which I realized there was still so much to explore and discover. So much to imagine. So much to share.
And when I introduce myself to people now, I tell them, “I’m a filmmaker.”
I was an “aspiring filmmaker” in another life.