“My name is Raymond Morris, and I want to be a filmmaker.”
This is how I introduced myself in May of 2016 in an email to the Raindance Film Festival about their postgraduate degree program. This was also the first time I felt like I was embracing a “secret” side of myself. To this point in my life, I was very good at doing what seemed to be expected, etc. I was working as a youth minister but was beginning to feel led towards something different. Filmmaking was something that always piqued my interest, and having passed up a big opportunity once already, I felt like I had missed my chance. I was feeling the desire or need to pursue post-graduate studies, but that brought about a cross-road in my life. Go for a Master of Divinity and work in ministry for a while. Go for a Masters in film and let everyone know that you may want to do that instead.
What to do.
I looked ahead in my life and tried to think of what would happen if I clicked “send”, and then again if I did not and continued with the status quo. What could I really learn from a program about movies? That’s no way to go about this, right?
I clicked send.
Today is exactly one year since I had that interview to be in the Raindance Postgraduate Film Program. I will be transitioning out of youth ministry on December 31 to working full-time with videography/film for at least 1 year. (For more on that, look HERE) There’s a lot that has changed, a lot that has been revealed to me, and a lot further to go. However, in that whirlwind of a year of postgraduate work, there have been three distinct things that I have learned about both film and life.
1) “In the beginning was the Word.”
Before applying to the program, I had the opportunity to talk to Raindance founder Elliot Grove. We discussed a bit about the program, then he asked me for my story and what I wanted to do in the filmmaking world. Being a youth minister and lover of film, I explained my vision to make content that entertains and engages people, sparking conversation and change. He looked at me, and he simply said “You know, that’s a very biblical concept. Isn’t it John 1:1 that says ‘In the beginning was the Word’? So see? Even Jesus knows the importance of starting with a good story. You just need to be bold enough to write it.”
While that is a bit out of context, he had a point. It starts with words, yes. I spoke many words over the years, words that expressed joy and hopes and dreams and goals and frustrations, yet many times my words would remain just that: words. Words are easily created, easily said, and easily lost if they remain hot air. Sure, we’d love to follow up on those words, but fear appears (probably in the form of a balloon touting clown) and shackles us from truly pursuing what we feel passionate and called to do. I can talk about how amazing my characters and story are going to be in the screenplay I write for my Master’s, but unless those words are followed by work, they’ll remain potential and not reality. We are afraid to mess up, afraid of a set back, afraid it won’t be what we envisioned it would be. Winston Churchill once said that “success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.”
Messing up is fine. Failure is not the end of the world. That’s why there’s grace and forgiveness. Do your research, make sure what you’re wanting to do is not TOO crazy or won’t hurt yourself or others, talk to wise people, and at the end of the day, make a decision. It may end up being the best decision of your life. Or not. Either way, it’s not the end.
2) Different makes all the difference, unless it doesn’t.
The first day we met in the Google+ hangout for class, I was not sure what to expect. One by one my fellow cohort members arrived. Something became very clear very early on: the world has a lot of different kinds of people. I was in a room with people living in: Canada, Japan, UK, France, Austria, Africa, Greece, and then me in Vienna (not Austria), WV. To say it was a tad intimidating at first would be an understatement. As we began our conversations about why we chose this program and what our histories were, another thing became very clear very early on: we were all very similar. Through different accents, a love for film was ever present. Through different areas of emphasis (directing, writing, fiction, documentary), a passion for story was clear. The diversity of opinions and backgrounds is what intimidated me at the start and made me love the program even more as time went by.
The diversity was important in researching my characters and learning what style I wanted my story to be as well. I mean, who wants to watch a movie they feel like they’ve already watched 100 times before? It takes work, research, trial, error, and perseverance to try and learn enough about different ideas and ways of working to make something new, fresh, and well, make it work!
It’s also something that made me look at the world around me differently. I thought “when was the last time I engaged someone in conversation that I knew thought differently than me about (CHOOSE TOPIC HERE)?” Is it possible to shield myself so much from different thoughts and opinions that all I would ever hear would be validation? Where is the richness in that? Where is the love and kindness in that sort of living? It is easy to complain about a different opinion.
It can be uncomfortable to talk to and befriend someone that is very much different than you, at first. It was Abraham Lincoln that is credited with saying “I do not like that man. I must get to know him better.” What if we made it a habit to, before complaining or yelling about a different side, we crossed over and got to know the person first? I think this is something that is modeled for us in the person of Jesus. Frequently, the people seen as dirty, outcast, different, wrong, etc were the first to have face to face conversations and interactions with Him. This is love. Helping others without regard for ourselves.
Does it mean we are going to have to condone everything the person does? Nope, it does not. But if they need help, they need a friend, why should we deny any human that? Different people from ourselves make a difference in our lives, but they end up not being so different from you and I after all.
3) While the story is important, the characters are the ones that drive it forward. And those characters need to be real.
In the last module, I was tasked with looking deep into the psyche and histories of the characters I wanted to create. In the research I was doing on different filmmakers’ processes for this step, I came across a quote from acclaimed director and object of my deep affections Christopher Nolan, where he said that he only allows himself to “think of the characters as real people” and that’s it. You hang out with them, know how they’ll talk, know that when situations arise how they will react. Real people, genuine people, are essential to making a film’s story memorable and palpable to an audience.
And real, genuine people are essential to making my life memorable and palpable on a daily basis. Having a friend, or two, or twelve that you can lean on, have them lean on you. People that when placed in a situation you probably know how they’ll react. People that you can sit and feel comfortable not saying anything with, or comfortable dubbing over the American football commentary with your own personal British football commentary.
This goes the opposite direction too. It’s easy to be locked away from the world and work tirelessly on whatever you’re needing to work on, but if you can’t let real people in once in a while and either help you through lending a hand or helping you breathe, or you can’t break away for an afternoon or two minutes to call or text a friend or family to check in on them, your story will be lacking for it. Work time in to visit family. Let your mom know that you finally learned that separating you laundry cleans it better. Let grandma know that while you haven’t found “that special someone” as of now, it’s because nobody has been worthy to meet her approval quite yet. Text silly GIFs to a sibling. Rekindle a friendship that ended for dumb reasons (even if that dumb reason is you). Whatever.
The point is, this life cannot be done all alone, and coming from a writer that is big. Since we supposedly like to booze it up and be depressed all alone and stuff. Right? (No, Mom, I’m fine, really. I am.)
The last year has contained a lot of changes and good stuff for me (school work, making a short for a 100 year old record producer, Chicago, lots of caffeine), and I’m really excited to see what happens next. It isn’t set in stone, and even if it were I’m sure God would find a way to break the rock in half. But the lessons learned both about film and life are going to stick with me for a long time (special thanks to all those teachers who knowingly or unknowingly helped with that: my advisory, mentor, Mrs. Morris, Alicia Malone because of her channel, awesome new book, and that one time she sent me the Spielberg book for free a while back, Trevor King, Austin James, just to name a few).
So go out, find a great film and enjoy it with someone equally great. I think if we did that a bit more, we’d live in a better world, you know?
Oh! Christopher Nolan is really really good at his job. This is your weekly reminder.