First off, I can’t write this blog weekly, cause I don’t do anything well on a weekly basis, and writing words so that they make sense is REALLY HARD. I think maybe I can do it every two weeks, which is what I think I had been doing at some point. Unless that was a dream or something… But I wanted to clear something up. I feel like I did something wrong last week in my post when I just kind of casually let it slip that I had recently been in Hollywood for the screening of one of my new motion picture shorts. Like it was no big deal.
But the truth of the matter is that it was no big deal.
I mean, the fact that my film was being screened in the LA area – That was kind of a big deal. To me, anyway. I don’t want to rely too much on metaphor here, so I’ll use a simile: LA is like the “Hollywood” of the world – the filmmaking world, anyway. So it’s definitely a huge deal for a backyard filmmaker like myself.(That’s not a metaphor; we literally shot The Legend of Grassman in our friend’s back yard. Like 70% of it.) It was a great, productive trip. And the most fun I’ve ever had screening a film. But it wasn’t a huge deal. I’ll tell you why.
2011: It was a huge deal when Lynn Lowry’s manager emailed me asking me to call him just minutes after I had emailed him. I had never emailed an actor’s manager before and half-expected to never hear back. And now I was expected to actually TALK to him for REALZ. With very little notice, I was soon on the phone with a real Hollywood dude while pretending to be a real filmmaker who knew real things about real stuff. It was terrifying.
Working with Lynn herself wasn’t so terrifying. Somewhat intimidating to think about, perhaps, because of her incredible amount of talent and experience. But in practice, all her talent and experience were there at my disposal, in the service of the film. Which just means I don’t have to work as hard as usual and then I look like a better director for it. It’s a pretty righteous deal.
So after that experience, something clicked on in the producer side of my brain. In my mind, there was Tyler before Lynn Lowry and Tyler after Lynn Lowry. And latter Tyler is a much better producer than former Tyler. I wanted to use my new producer powers for good, and I had some sky miles saved up – which happen to be the two main ingredients for adventure.
I work at a community television cable station in Norwood, Ohio, which happens to be the birthplace of Oscar-winning actor/singer/dancer George Chakiris (West Side Story). I had always thought about doing a program about him at work, but as we just learned, Pre-Lynn Lowry Tyler had no producing skills whatsoever, and no idea how to make that happen. As it turns out, Pre-Lynn Lowry Tyler was kind of a moron because all I really had to do was go to www.georgechakiris.com and click “Contact.”
I don’t remember the exact content of my email to him, but it was probably something like “Hey, maybe I could interview you or something.” And I don’t exactly remember how he responded, except that it was probably something like “Cool, bro.”
And that’s how I found myself on a plane to LA, (a.k.a. Hollywood of the world) panicked cause I suddenly realized that I HAD NO IDEA HOW TO INTERVIEW SOMEONE!!!! WHAT AM I DOING!!!! WHO DOES THIS!!!! WHO JUST CALLS UP RANDOM OSCAR WINNERS AND FLIES TO LA TO SHOOT INTERVIEWS WITH THEM?!!!! I’M NOT A PROFESSIONAL!!!! I WORK AT A CABLE ACCESS CENTER!!!!!
I must apologize. I don’t usually panic like that. But it was kind of a big deal for me. The only other time I remember having similar thoughts about my work is on the first day of principal photography on Grassman. Only then, it was more like “Who in their right mind shoots a movie?!!! Why don’t I just WATCH a movie if I want to see a movie so bad?!!! WHAT AM I DOING!!!!”
Oddly, I still don’t really have answers for any of those questions. But I can tell you my visit to Los Angeles to see George Chakiris is one of the best things I’ve ever done. We met at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, where the first Oscars were held, where Marilyn Monroe used to live and he told me about working with Marilyn Monroe. He told me about working with Charlton Heston, Ricardo Montalban, Rita Moreno, Natalie Wood, Gene Kelly – GENE KELLY!!!! – And told me stories about Elia Kazan, James Dean, Judy Garland, and Marlene Dietrich. I was so thoroughly absorbed in the conversation, I forgot to ask him about working with Howard Hawks – HOWARD HAWKS!!!! The most interesting portions of the conversation, however, centered around another Hollywood notable – GEORGE CHAKIRIS!!!! CAUSE HE WAS SITTING RIGHT IN FRONT OF ME!!!! We talked about the awesome stuff he’s done and the awesome stuff he’s doing, and much like Lynn – thankfully – was so nice, so generous, and so supportive to an inexperienced filmmaker.
In E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, there’s a scene where Peter Coyote as a peaceful alien-loving scientist, shortly before murdering E.T., says to the boy who took the alien into his home, “I’m glad he met you first.” And then he and his fellow scientists murder E.T.
That’s how I feel – not the part about murdering E.T. – I’ve always been an extremely vocal critic of that. But I spent years making films in a bubble of my own making. I’m so glad that when I finally reached outside that bubble, to Lynn Lowry and George Chakiris, that I met them first. I can only hope that Peter Coyote doesn’t murder me now.
I have a feeling he won’t.
That meeting with George went extremely well. I hadn’t ever attempted anything like this. But I was prepared and determined, and I focused on the work instead of my anxieties. Except on the flight, where I flipped out in ways I’m not proud of. The interview I did with him became part of a larger documentary I’m still working on, profiling other successful artists and performers from the same hometown of Norwood, Ohio. I think it’s shaping up to be a great film, and I’m very proud of the work I’ve done on it – though it eventually lead to this unfortunate incident at Roger Neal’s Style Hollywood Oscar Suite in Beverly Hills several years later when I was ATTACKED BY LAMB CHOP!!!
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(Which, in retrospect, I think was inevitable.)
The whole endeavor was way outside my comfort zone, but I pushed through it. And this is why my LA (county) premiere was not too big a deal. I mean, it was very exciting to me. But because I had put in the work expanding my comfort zone, I was able to enjoy every minute of it and not worry about whether or not I was qualified to be there or not.
Always actively push your comfort zone. Sometimes push a little, sometimes push a lot – it doesn’t matter – each time you push it, it expands. I’d probably stop short of causing yourself a full-blown panic attack, but if you aren’t occasionally doing things that somewhat terrify you, I think you’re doing life wrong. Eventually, your comfort zone will expand enough to allow you to do the things you’ve always dreamed of, whatever those things may be.
If you’re Peter Coyote and your dream is to murder me, however, perhaps your comfort zone is just fine right where it is.