Vividly, I still remember my first day of film school. A classroom full of anxious students sat at our workstations. High powered computers lined the walls and I found myself right in the middle. We read the curriculum on the screens as we awaited our teacher. Clicks, hums and alight chatter filled the room.
“I’m professor Hartman, you’re intro to film professor!” roared a voice from outside the classroom. Inside marched a short man with thick rimmed black glasses, clad in flannel who wielded a cup of coffee like baton.
“From now on you will only film scripts that I approve! Do you understand me?”
Uneasily we looked to one another as we turned our focus upon Professor Hartman. Who the fuck is this guy, I thought to myself.
“Oh, I see,” he continued. “A buncha artistic introverts in this group huh? Speak up like it wasn’t your parents bank account that go ya here!”
“Yes...sir” we as a group mumbled.
“If you maggots pass my class you will be filmmakers. You will be an instrument of visual storytelling praying to the film gods for studio financing! But until that day you are punks, you’re not even a P.A. You’re not even an unpaid intern. Because I am hard, you will not like me! I am a hard critic but a fair critic. There is no genre bigotry here. I do not look down on comedies, documentaries or period piece dramas. Here all your ideas are equally worthless. And my job is to weed out all the creative hacks who do not have unique ideas or the means to manifest said ideas!”
My god, I thought to myself as my brain tried to process Hartman’s diatribe. No one had prepared me for this barrage. No high school teacher had ever dared to speak with such condemnation.
Professor Hartman marched up and down the line of students at their stations. His focus came upon my unfortunate being in the unsettling silence as he looked us over, searching with those venom filled eyes for a victim. I looked down, ashamed I couldn’t face him.
Friends and family had warned me film school wasn’t totally necessary. But they hadn’t prepared me for this. A tall male student made eye contact with Hartman one too many times.
“What’s your favorite film string bean?”
“Bullshit. From now on your favorite fucking movie of all god-damn-time is Hidden Fortress. Do you like Kurosawa or do foreign films insult your white entitlement?”
“Well there’s one thing you’re not gonna like big guy, we only play art-house films at our school theater. NOT vapid tent-pole summer blockbusters that Hollywood craps out because mouth breathers such as yourself just can’t say no.”
I couldn’t take it anymore. An anger had begun to grow. Hartman, this loud mouth ass of a man had to be jealous of the George Lucas types. Jealous of other’s success.
“Whos’a yous’a?” escaped my mouth before my brain could register what had happened. Professor Hartman recoiled in horror then bolted in my direction. Like an angry goblin he sneered and paced, looking for who had spoken up.
“Out-fucking-standing! I’ll have all of you wrangling cables until you die! I’ll have you wrangling cables until your soft hands are bleeding!”
My heart beat rapidly. Why had I spoke, more importantly why had I talked like Jar-Jar fucking Binks? Hartman stopped in front of the female student next to me. She was talented, I had watched one of her shorts before class started.
“Was it you?” he shouted.
“No professor, no.” She responded.
“I bet it was you! You look young enough to think the prequels were good!”
I could see her body begin to tense up. I couldn’t tell but maybe her eyes had begun to glisten. Was that a tear beginning to form? Maybe I just tell myself that now, in hindsight to boast my own ego for what I did next.
“Professor, it was me” I declared.
He turned and looked deep into my soul. His face riddled with rage. A rage which could only have come from years of industry failure. Years of never quite making it while friends and family asked when he would give up. Now he was forced to get a real job, so he taught. No doubt he did it to pay off his sizable student loans. Loans most of us would one day face as well. With a mocking chortle he stepped into my grill.
“Well no shit,” he said. “What have we got here? A voice actor? A prequel fan? I admire your honesty. Hell I like you. You can come over and watch some of the films that I made!”
Thud, he dropped his coffee on the ground and roared at me “Pick that up!”
I scrambled to the ground, caught in some basic survival mode where I needed to please the monster in front of me. The coffee leaked out as I grabbed the cup. Before I could stand back up, Hartman bent down and got back into my face. The smell of coffee and cigarettes escaped his mouth as he launched into another yelling fit.
“You little scumbag, I got your name! I own you! No Jar Jar! No parodies! You will learn proper fucking filmmaking! I will teach you! Now get up, you best unfuck yourself or I will delete all your films so they never see the light of day. I will fucking spare this planet of your trite attempt to create art. I will fucking fail you, do you understand me?”
I nodded yes as I handed him his coffee back. Greedily he snatched it away and sized me up a second time as we both stood again.
“Why’d you join my beloved film class?” he asked.
“To make people laugh.”
“So you’re a comedy writer? We got fucking Mel Brooks here. Hey Mr. Brooks why don’t let me hear a joke? You got a joke right funny man?”
I froze. Had I been at home, in front of my computer, I could have come up with a hundred jokes. Even now all too easily they come to me as I remember that first day of film school. Ideas were everywhere in the creative ether but they all alluded me at that moment.
“Just what I thought,” he sneered. “Under pressure you got nothing. What are you going to do when you’re on a set and an actor is bombing a scene and you need to come up with something new? Are you going to stand there in front of the other actors, the producer, the entire fucking crew with that stupid fucking lost look on your face? Are you going to just call action and hope something happens? Not after I’m done with you!”
He turned and searched for a new victim and I thought about what he said. The weight of his gaze lifted, but his words still hounded me. I felt the warmth of blood rush to my face. Being called out on day one as a comedy hack had not been my plan.
“What’s your excuse?” he bellowed back at the woman next me. “I bet you’re the type of storyteller that simply Mary Sues her protagonist through the plot without any real conflict or consequence. I’ll be watching you!”
The student next to her began to smirk. With his ire completely raised and his chest fully puffed out, Hartman turned and looked the bastard dead in the eye.
“Did your parents have any kid that’s didn’t end up at an art school?”
“No professor.” He responded.
“I bet they regret that! What’s your favorite movie? You’re a white guy in film school, let me guess ‘Magnolia’. You smell like a P.T. Anderson fanboy.”
“Yes professor, he’s a visionary, a modern Kubrick.”
“I fucking knew it! From now on your favorite filmmaker is a female director, can you name one?”
Ava DuVarnay, Kathryn Bigelow, Patty Jenkins, Sophia Coppola, Nora fuckin Efron, the names rolled in my head. This guy was on his own though. I wasn’t responsible for his limited film knowledge.
“I fucking knew it. Get yourself to the IMDB and do some god-damn research. I want a paper tomorrow on the impact of female filmmakers on any decade!”
“I-yes uh yes professor.”
“Now, this semester is going to be tough. We are going to draft and redraft your scripts until they are as mediocre as your limited life experience, which you think is just fucking important enough to share with the rest of the god-damn planet. No montages! No flashbacks! No twist endings! You haven’t earned those storytelling techniques yet. Now get to your computers and write me something that isn’t a pretentious piece of shit!”
Even though Professor Hartman had forbade the use of montages until our feeble minds could artistically grasp them, as not just a cheap filmmaking gimmick, the next few weeks of class felt exactly like a montage.
We wrangled cables. We put lenses on cameras. We shot footage. We re-shot the footage when Hartman hated the dailies we screened in class. We wrote script after script.
We marched through the hallways holding cameras in one hand and a light meter in the other, shouting “This is my camera, this is my light meter. One is for filming, one is a f-stop reader.”
Despite his temper, we began to take to Hartman. While he might have been a failed filmmaker to the outside world, he knew his stuff and taught us with a fury. Clearly he had no desire for his students to make the same mistakes he had.
Even though I dropped out of film school later that year, I’m still thankful for Hartman’s teachings. And here tonight, as I accept this Oscar for best directing...I...yes that’s the music, they are telling to wrap it up...OK...As I stand here before you my colleagues, I want to speak to the young people out there watching. To you I say, don’t be afraid of critique, find your own Professor Hartman! Embrace his failures, learn, embrace your failures! And don’t fucking use montages and flashbacks until you understand why they are used! Goodnight and thank you!
#rleeermey #artschool #filmschool #fullmetaljacket #kubrick
Fear surges inside me once again. Cold descends within the room and clutches to my skin. I close my eyes and try to control my breath as a chill surrounds me.
“It likes the fear, it likes the fear, it likes the fear…” is the mantra which repeats as the hairs start to rise on my head.
With heavy thuds my heart begins to pump at a furious rate. I can feel it all around me now. The pressure continues to build as I lose control and hyperventilate.
“Don’t look, don’t look, don’t look.” I whisper.
The urge to open my eyes must be denied, for I know what will be seen. Such a sight would be too much for a fragile mind to bear. My hands cover my face in an effort to hide.
“It will be gone soon.” I tell myself in desperate hope.
The atmosphere becomes electric, my body begins to rock back and forth, back and forth, back and forth. I tremble and can’t stop the movement as its frozen aura permeates all around me.
At first it was but a thought, a simple jest. An abstraction that I could overcome, now it is real and right in front of me.
Temptation to behold the unknown becomes my greatest foe. Oh to look upon it again. See the beast for what it is, confront the villain and find my courage before the situation grows more dire.
Too late though, I could feel it had already entered my mind. We were one, the day was lost. I laughed like a fool. I whaled like a madman. When I could no longer endure, I opened my eyes.
Silence beset the room as I gazed upon my assailant. Before me, laid neatly upon my desk, the blank pad of paper. A canvas of unfettered whiteness mocked me. Despite my best efforts, an empty void had set in, all motivation gone. Now it had me, my creativity was no more.
I sighed and accepted this failure once again. Today was lost to fear, insecurity and self-doubt. Would this be the moment my drive was gone forever? Would the fire to write ever return? Only tomorrow would present another chance to capture the story. Even then, would this creative wall continue to persist? Would the joy ever be back?
To put pen to paper. To confront the demon of writer’s block and spill black ink upon the barren page, first though I needed to adjust my thermostat. For this chilly air did me no good.