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Why i’m dropping out and taking the biggest risk of my life

For what it’s worth, I’ve been writing and making films for almost half of my life.  Since August I’ve been enrolled in the Bachelor of Education program at Trent University. With that said, you’re probably wondering how a filmmaker and writer stumbled into the teaching profession. It’s a long story.

I was fortunate to make a lot of films during my tenure at Ryerson University, many of which were screened and won awards at film festivals worldwide.  I got a job working as a director’s assistant on Stephen King’s Bag of Bones, getting a chance to see how a Hollywood production ran, which was in huge contrast to my indie productions.

The job situated me with an internship in Hollywood, a place that seemed like the moon to a boy who grew up in small town Nova Scotia.  I worked on script coverage, reading all the screenplays that the production company received, taking in all the good and the bad and providing the company with notes as to whether they should develop the idea or not. It was the perfect job for a budding writer and filmmaker.

But in my six-month and all-in Los Angeles stay, I came face-to-face with the most difficult thing for an aspiring professional to bear – failure. The production company fell into bad times and was unable to develop future projects. In those six months, I was also writing a few concepts – one being a mini-series pitched to Sony Entertainment, and the other a web series to be distributed via YouTube. Both of the projects were the product of two different partnerships, and both rapidly decayed. The projects fell into bowels of development hell. Los Angeles chewed me up and spit me out.

Failure was new to me. I found success early in my career as a filmmaker, and I never once thought of an eventual decline. It was an immature way of thinking that was driven by a youthful ego, the thought that I was almost destined for success. A tough lesson was learned.

In the immediate aftermath, I returned home blaming my failure on friends and the vicious Hollywood haphazardness. I kept writing, because it was all I could think of doing, but the days turned into weeks, and the weeks into months. I was a blatant cliché of the tortured, pajama-clad writer and was fully aware of it. I had to get out of my parents’ basement.

I was always interested in teaching. My sister was going to a school in Port Hope and I heard they had an opening for members of the associate faculty. The job involved working both in the classroom and boarding house environment. I thought it would be an interesting experience, and as a writer you must gather such things, so I applied and got the job.

Working with students gave me a purpose outside of myself, which I badly needed at the time. The routine made me a functioning member of society again, and in the two years that I had the job, teaching seemed like a feasible way to support myself as I continued to create.

When I taught screenwriting, I shared some of my work with my students and many of them asked why I was teaching. I told them it was a way to support my art, but the question plagued me. Why am I teaching? Why aren’t I tackling my love for film head-on? I enjoy teaching, I have respect for the profession, and admittedly, the pension seemed pretty nice – or at least, that’s what my colleagues kept telling me.

But it seemed too safe. I knew that I would fall into a comfortable life and continue to wonder “what if?” And I knew the question would haunt me forever. I couldn’t bear the thought of my primary passion becoming a hobby. Film means everything to me.

I once had the chance to speak with Edgar Wright, the filmmaker behind Shaun of the Dead (2004) and Hot Fuzz (2007). I asked how he made a career for himself as a young filmmaker coming from small town England. He told me that he simply continued to make films no matter what and eventually someone noticed him. He simply persevered.

As I got deeper into my 20s, many of my friends and acquaintances in the film-making realm gave up. These talented individuals abandoned their craft and moved on to something that pays the bills. They’re comfortable, they have nice things, but they aren’t happy. They still dream of telling stories. I can see it in their eyes and I can hear it in their voice.

I once heard that the road ahead is lined with broken dreams. I believe in that statement, and I firmly believe that those who persevere are the ones that see what the rest of the road and the journey has to offer. I believe that those who can give time to their passions are the ones who get to live them.

This trip won’t be easy. It may not be fun, but I can’t imagine doing anything else. I’ve survived much of what it has to throw at me thus far. I’m at an age where I am only responsible for my actions and myself.

I don’t owe anyone anything, but I do owe it to myself. I want to look back and know that I gave it my all – for better, or for worse. If it all works, if it all pays off, I’ll see you at the movies.

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