There are moments in our lives when we have no choice—there is but one door through which we can walk. Other times, while we have choices, the “right” door is obvious to all. Then there are those moments when we are both blessed and cursed with an abundance of choices, each spiced with possibility and potential and we find our progress stymied not by too few opportunities, but by too many.
Such was the month of April.
Returning from a cruise to Mexico at the end of March, my wife, Stephanie and I spent several days in L.A.. It was partly a trip to visit friends and partly a chance to scope out Chapman University where I'd just found out I'd been accepted into the master's program for film school
. The school seemed great—a small, intimate campus in large, Spanglish buildings set among the sort of exotic flora only Southern California can produce. I strolled around the campus, spent time grilling both students and professors, sat in on a class and came away with a very nice overall impression. More than anything, however, I was just excited at the thought of being back in a scholastic environment.
That evening, we drove up to Burbank and visited an old friend of Stephanie's who's a Post Production Supervisor at Warner Bros. We were given a fascinating VIP tour, zipping around the lot in his golf cart, ducking in and out of sound stages, wandering around the various sets and peeking in on the Poseidon
(the film he was overseeing at the time) post-production spaces—giant mixing stages, the ADR dubbing stages, the score stages, the editing booths, etc. We met the director, Wolfgang Peterson (Das Boot, Air Force One, Troy
), as well as the producer, Duncan Henderson (Dead Poet's Society, Harry Potter, Master and Commander)
and the editor, Peter Honess (Rob Roy, L.A. Confidential
). To pull back that curtain and see how the magic is made was a thrilling experience.
The next day we spent in Hollywood with one of my dearest friends, Kris (click on "play video")
, an independent producer, writer and actor. His roommate, Tad
, who's an agent with ICM, the third largest talent agency in the country, listened politely while I told him about my plans for the future.
And then he tore them apart.
“Why in the world would you want to go to film school?” he asked. “Forget it! It's two years and 80 grand—skip it, move to L.A. right now and just begin working. Sure, you'll start at the very bottom and it sucks, but it's where everyone starts. The key is getting out here as soon as possible, diving right in, and working like hell.”
There was obviously a lot more to it, but you get the gist.
What he said made a lot of sense and needless to say, took the shape of an existential monkey wrench. I thought I had everything planned out—going to film school and then taking Hollywood by storm. But now those plans were in shambles. I called Stephanie's friend at Warner Bros. and asked if I could take him out for breakfast. He agreed. When I asked him about the validity of Tad's advice, he said he couldn't agree more. In the successive days, I interviewed two former production assistants who now cut film trailers—they couldn't agree more. A cinematographer—he couldn't agree more. A script supervisor and screenwriter—she couldn't agree more. And of course Kris was thrilled at the idea—we've wanted to work together for years.
When the acceptance letter for Boston University's graduate film program
arrived shortly after we returned home, I felt the glow of satisfaction, but not the thrill of possibility. While the decision was far from made, I knew the direction toward which my heart was inclined.
The Hollywood dream. What a cliché. It is my aspiration, my ambition, dare I say my calling to work in the film industry. If I don't go for it, I'll always wonder what could have happened if I had.
My wife is overwhelmingly supportive. My friends and family are overwhelmingly supportive.
So why is it that at the time of writing this blog, I am turning my back on L.A. and packing my bags for New York City...
* * *
On a Saturday a few weeks ago, Stephanie came in from fetching the mail, her face aglow, a large envelope clutched in her hand. Suddenly, I knew what it had to be. A large envelope was a good sign, right? Surely they don't need large envelopes just to say no?
I grabbed it excitedly, haphazardly ripped the top open, and yanked the contents into the light.“Dear Mr. Fibbs: I am very pleased to inform you that you have been admitted to the MA degree program in the Department of Cinema Studies at New York University beginning in the Fall semester, 2006.”
As far as film schools go, NYU might as well be Harvard. It's one of the most exclusive and selective programs in the country. NYU's Film School (technically known as the Tisch School of Arts
) boasts such alumni as Billy Crystal, John Cusack, Ethan Hawke, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Ang Lee, Spike Lee, Woody Allen, Oliver Stone, The Coen Bros., Meg Ryan, Martin Scorsese, and M. Night Shyamalan among hundreds of others.
At last count the school has produced 16 Nobel Prize winners, 13 Pulitzer Prize winners, 13 senators, 56 Congressmen, 25 Academy Award winners, 8 Grammy Award winners, 9 Emmy Award winners, and 8 Tony Award winners. Saul Bellow went here. So did Elihu Root. And Elmer Bernstein. And Bernard Herman. And Neal Simon. And J.D. Salinger. And Alan Greenspan. And Jonas Salk. And now me.
I dreamed but never really hoped to get in. I sent in my application knowing that it would boomerang back to me in the form of a polite but decided refusal. It was my one not-a-shot-in-the-world-but-what-the-hell application.
Except that that isn't what happened. Sometimes, dreams really do come true.
My L.A. advice is solid and difficult to argue with. This is going to cost time and money and certainly blood, sweat and tears. If my Master's doesn't give me a leg up on the ladder to Hollywood creative production, I may, indeed, need to start, once again, at the bottom of the L.A. food chain. All things that, had I settled on the path that led to California in the first place, may have, to a large degree, been avoided. I know they're right.
Here, now, at this point in my life...at this point in our
lives...this is what's right for Stephanie and me. Her job couldn't be more thrilled for her. They've agreed to let her work out of New York. As a Manager of Media Relations for a large space advocacy non-profit, this is the mother-load. She will be going from a small, luke-warn media market to one of the most monolithic and dynamic in the world. While not technically a promotion, it is a move of inestimable advantage.
Every few days we pinch ourselves. Manhattan...soon we'll be living in Manhattan! It is a change we can't wait to embrace. A friend told me the other day that New York City is going to be overwhelming. That's OK, I answered, we've been underwhelmed for long enough. We can't wait to feel the rhythm and pulse of the great city, to soak in the sights, sounds and smells of America's most vibrant, cosmopolitan metropolis. To stroll the boulevards, discover the best-kept-secret delis, take in Broadway shows, trade our cars in for the subway (especially nice with today's gas prices), and, of course, immerse ourselves in NYU's phenomenal film school.
L.A. isn't going anywhere. But this moment may never come again. These are tandem chances of a lifetime—extraordinary opportunities we dare not let slip through our fingers. This is a special occasion in which we have both been given the chance to pursue our dreams and reach for our unique stars—and do it together.
I know it's only a matter of time until I find myself in L.A., working with friends already established and creating the magic we all know we have within us. Perhaps the wait will be only the length of graduate school. Film school will give me the necessary connections, allow me to enhance my teaching options, build my resume and, God forbid, allow me to fall back on something later in life. I don't want to lose my focus on ALL that I want out of life—and film school was always one facet of that dream. Hollywood isn't going anywhere—it will still be waiting for me. However long it takes, that, it seems, is another metamorphosis and another post.
* * *
I've started another blog to chronicle my film school adventures: The Film Snob
. I’m not quite sure of the shape this blog will take. I see colors and sense patterns, but don’t yet see the latticework that will make up the structure.
It will not resemble this blog, which is usually updated only once every week or two, generally with substantive and protracted posts. Instead, I envision The Film Snob
to more resemble the traditional blog—updated often with short posts about remarkable events that took place over the course of the day or week directly relating to my experiences in film school. Additionally, it will be more professional in nature. I will maintain The Ready Room
for my more personal topics.
You may notice when you go there, that I've already posted quite a bit. The entries are composed of several posts from this blog that cross-pollinated well, copies of my film reviews for DVDFanatic
, as well as a few film related articles that I wrote for The Colorado Springs Gazette
during my time at the newspaper. The most recent post is a 2005 New York Times article that proclaims a Cinema Studies MA as the new MBA. It's a fascinating read.
I may not have much more to say on it for the next few months of preparation but will, no doubt, have no end of things to talk about come September.