Be Afraid. Be Very Afraid.
When I finished the screenplay for West of Her, it represented more of my own hopes and fears than I’d ever explored in my work, and I knew right away that it was the strongest story I’d ever produced. And it seemed so easy to make—all you’d need was two actors, a car, and a camera. And so, after being out of touch for five years, I reached out to my old friend Cam, who was now working as a Director of Photography up in Toronto. “Hey,” I said out of the blue, “let’s make a movie!”
After the Maine Media Workshops, I’d decided not to pursue a directing career. I was passionate about film, and I’d loved making movies with a few like-minded buddies, but when I imagined directing in the Hollywood I’d always seen in movies like The Player, not to mention Entourage, the stress seemed like too much for a sensitive artist, and I’d focused on the solitary world of writing.
But now, as I told Cam, I had a script that we could shoot in the ragtag let’s-put-on-a-show spirit of the movies we’d made in Maine. We could bypass all my Hollywood anxieties and make a movie the way we wanted to.
Yet as we started fleshing out what it would mean to make this film, discussing high-end equipment rentals and a shoot that would involve driving almost 4,000 miles, my mind began to reel at the logistical nightmares. I could never pull this off, I thought. This isn't me. I’m a writer. Though I wanted to make this film so bad it hurt, I told Cam I needed to put it on the back burner.
I went back to writing, but I was plagued by the memory of how thrilling it had been to believe, for a few days, that I could make a movie. And as the months passed, it became clear that I had to take the plunge. I’d never felt anything close to this immense need to create a piece of art, and I needed to chase it, or be haunted the rest of my life.
But I still believed the logistics of making a road movie would be impossible for a first-time director with my negligible training. So I wrote another screenplay, something small taking place in a single location. I was perfectly happy with it, though not passionate. I sent it to Cam and said, “Let’s make this one, and we can use it as a stepping stone to make West of Her some day.”
Cam told me the new script was pretty good. But he told me something else, too: West of Her was achievable. Everything that scared me was something we could overcome with hard work and planning. It wasn’t impossible. Just a challenge.
I told him I needed to think about it, but what he said had jolted me. When I’d written West of Her, I had opened myself up and spilled out onto the page, and the reason I was even considering getting into film was how passionately I felt about this movie. I just struggled with two deep fears:
a) I cared so much about this project that my heart would break if I didn’t get it right.
b) Shooting a sweeping cross-country travelogue independently seemed so difficult that you don’t often hear of people doing it.
But when I took a deep breath, I realized that being scared of failure is a really lousy argument against doing just about anything—and it might actually be a really good argument for doing it. I was lucky enough to be in a position to make a movie, so why wouldn’t I use the opportunity to take the biggest swing I could?
I wrote back to Cam and told him, “Let’s do it.”
And with those three words, I was in pre-production on my first feature, with nine months to pull it all together. Check back next week to see whether all of those challenges that had seemed so insurmountable a year earlier had gotten any simpler…