How it all started; or How to direct by simply directing

After years of writing scripts but not feeling satisfied, I predictably woke up one morning in a crisis.

What am I doing?

Ever had the feeling that the universe might somehow be conspiring to keep you from achieving your goals?

That's how I felt that particular morning.

I'd been out of film school for years. I'd held a potpourri of jobs in the industry ever since; at an agency, at a studio, as a reader, as a writer. It was all oddly unsatisfying.

Why the hell did I get into the movie business to begin with?

As soon as I'd posed the question that way, the answer was clear (and absurdly, the answer was also something I'd stopped doing when I started writing scripts full-time). Take a guess what it was? 

Here's the answer:

Directing. 

Directing was my first love, my intention from the start. My goal.

Why did I stop?

At the beginning, screenwriting to me had been my means to an end. I figured nobody would hand me a great script to direct (which is true) until I was an established director, so in the meantime I'd better learn to write scripts for myself as best as I could.

Here's what I didn't realize: everything you do in life is a step on a path. No action is independent of context. It's all leading somewhere. Going to law school? On your way to being a lawyer. Working in an agency? On your way to being an agent. Writing scripts? You are becoming a screenwriter. It's all a step on a path towards a specific destination.

If you don't want the destination, get off the path.

I'd been writing scripts in order to direct. But I'd stopped directing. By focusing entirely on screenwriting, I was becoming a screenwriter entirely. That's not what I wanted to be.

I began directing again. Shorts, videos, documentaries, small projects. I kept writing, but now I directed what I wrote. Writing became satisfying again because it wasn't the end of the process for me. It was the beginning. After I wrote something, I went out and made it. Shooting on video. Editing in my bedroom on my mac. It was a very satisfying time. I didn't think anymore about maybe getting to direct one day.

I was doing it already.

Even with just a cheap video camera in hand, a couple of friends for crew, standing on a cold street in the early morning with too little sleep and no money, I loved what I was doing. I felt successful. Not in the way we typically keep score, with money and 'stuff', but in a way that matters: I was doing something I loved doing. I was enjoying my life again.

I began going to film festivals, meeting other film-makers, comparing notes. That's how I met Zac Stanford.

Zac was a very talented guy who'd had a very similar journey only in the opposite direction. He'd been writing and directing shorts for a while. but as he told me back then, he loved writing and had always seen himself as a writer. He directed because he didn't know any directors around who wouldn't screw up his words.

It was a good match.