Wednesday, March 2, 2016

The Superbowl of Story-Telling


I always watch the Academy Awards. Every year. I don’t care about the fashion. I don’t care about the celebrity couplings. And I don’t care about anything that happens on the red carpet (unless it’s a Benedict Cumberbatch photobomb – I am partial to those). Most years, I’ve seen few if any of the nominees before the awards ceremony takes place (this year was no exception – I’ve only seen Inside Out, The Martian and Star Wars: The Force Awakens). But, I still watch the entire show from the opening monologue through the award for Best Picture, and then I go to bed all teary-eyed, so happy for all of the winners despite having probably not seen the work they’d just receive honors for.

Me, video-clerking c. 1996
This may make me sound like a crazy person (I own it), but I can’t help it. The Academy Awards is the Superbowl of story-telling, and as a writer in the pee-wee league equivalent of my sport, I am awestruck by them. Despite the fact that I see so few films, I still love story-telling through movies--it’s just that nowadays if there’s a screen on in the house, my daughters either have it tuned in to Disney Junior or they’re binge watching a season of Full House on DVD. Back in high school though, when I worked at a video store, I watched just about every movie I could get my hands on. I also spent a lot more time at the movie theater since tickets were five dollars apiece and I didn’t have to hire a baby-sitter every time I wanted to go see Titanic (Which was six times. I saw that movie six times in the theater). Back then I was invested in the Oscars the way most people are—I had actually seen most of the movies and had an informed opinion about who I wanted to win the awards. But truthfully, I think I like the objectivity that comes with being clueless about the nominees more. When I don’t care who wins, I’m able to see things differently. I don’t put these actors and directors and writers on pedestals, assuming they have an edge on a successful career the rest of us aren’t privy to. I’m able to see them for what they are—regular creative people chasing the hell out of their dreams.

As a citizen of a creative universe, when I see another compatriot receive honors for doing well what they are most passionate about, I’m so happy for them it makes me weepy. The older I get, the more I believe that there is no greater satisfaction than to use the specific talents you were given in this life to create something great in the world, so I want to celebrate whenever someone achieves that, which happens about every five to seven minutes at the Oscars, in between commercial breaks.

The fruits of my script writing
Chances are, I will never know what it’s like to author a story that’s turned into something so grand as a movie, let alone one nominated for an Academy Award. In fact, I’m pretty sure I came as close as I’m ever going to get a few years ago when I penned a thirty minute Easter play for my church, whereby I adapted R.C. Sproul’s “The Priest’s with Dirty Clothes” into a parodied Disney musical (I sometimes work within a very specific genre). To date, this little project is one of the most treasured accomplishments of my lifetime. There was something magical about handing a script I wrote over to a director who handed it to actors, singers, set designers, and lights and sounds operators who collectively took the words that were once only ideas in my head and turned them into something so (relatively) big and (undeniably) beautiful. I remember standing against off to the side of the audience during the performance (weepy yet again), listening to them laugh and cry (at the appropriate times) completely in awe of the finished product and all of the people it took to get it there. That feeling times infinity must be what writers feel like at the Oscars.

Probably my favorite moment from the 2016 Academy Awards came in the acceptance speech of Pete Docter, director of Inside Out, which to no one’s surprise (not even an Oscar know-nothing like me) won for Best Animated Film.  He spoke a lot of quotable truth before the music played him off the stage, but the thing he said I loved the most was this:

“We are all so lucky, regardless of a gold man, because we get to make stuff.”

I'm glad that he sees it this way because he's right. The freedom and means by which to live creatively are privileges denied to many in this world. Those of us who are blessed to be in such a position shouldn't take it for granted. We should "make stuff" with all of our hearts, and we should celebrate it when others do too. Which is why I'm going to continue to watch Oscars every year. And the Emmys. And I'm going to appreciate great art. And listen to awesome music. And attend brilliant plays. And read good books. 

And maybe write some good ones, too.

Until then though, enjoy this fan video of his imagined Songs Eight Six film adaptation. And if you happen to be a millionaire movie director, let's make this happen...