My (little) Nervous Breakdown

I was at work when I got the email.

Well, at my internship.

But for a day at my internship, it hadn’t been a bad one.

Things were coming to an end there either for me or for them or for both. They were running out of funding fast and office space and a good chunk of time had been spent that very day with the director, trying to convince him to store things from the office at his apartment in preparation for “the move”.

One of my two bosses, an annoying-pert-anorexic-type with an MBA and a Com degree, who talked to me like I was 12, had recently left for an associate producer gig on a reality show and while I resented her ability to obtain solid work, I was glad to have her out of my hair.

And anyway, that day, I was working for the producer, a guy who once cheered me up by improvising a song about how much my office sucked on acoustic guitar, and who resembled what I might like look like in the future if I laid off the neuroses and started wearing hempen shirts.

What’s more even, is that even though I wasn’t getting paid, I was working directly for someone I liked and not only that, but I was actually doing something fairly important for him, tooling around with Final Cut Pro, cutting selects and exporting a DVD for a meeting he had in a few hours.

Even if I wasn’t paid, I felt valued and valuable, which is really all you need at an internship.

Which brings us to the email.

I was putting motion on some sketches that artists done for the movie on spec, to give an idea of some material they might be adding to the film.

My phone buzzed in my pocket and I turned it on as the producer checked out reals for post-houses on his laptop.

“Fuck.” I said and dropped my phone.

“What?” He asked, his back turned, intent on his screen.

“I’ve been rejected from my own school’s film festival.”

***

The night before the Bummer Summer premiere/Director’s Series at Cantor, Zach Weintraub proposed a plan to me.

My phone buzzed. I was at work. A text:

“wanna get some old crow and street meat and hand out fliers?”

(To be fair I’m not sure if those were the exact words–it was a while ago–but that was the sentiment.)

We met up first at Sammy’s Halal over on 4th and Broadway, which is known for its liberal use of onions and the Vendy award it had gotten a few years past.

The Old Crow (or Jim Beam?) we got from Warehouse and we sat down in Weinstein’s freshman outsourced-dining-hall to eat our food and mix our drinks.

Zach had gotten a Dr. Pepper to mix with his whiskey, while I had gotten a Welch’s Grape Soda, a bottle of which had been difficult to find.

When Zach emerged from the downstairs bathroom, alchemy complete, he handed me my bottle which, combined with the spicy sauce/uncertain quality of the Sammy’s, caused me a big, disorienting tummyache.

As we ate, Zach examined a postcard stuck to a dining room napkin holder, situated in between us on the table.

“This is a great idea!” Zach exclaimed and summarily removed the postcard, sticking on a postcard-sized Bummer Summer flyer.

We spent the rest of the night handing out fliers, in that dining hall and at Tisch.

In one encounter, a graduate student took a flier, only to complain about Cantor’s preference for undegrads and accuse me of being drunk.

“Yes, he’s drunk.” Zach said excitedly.

“Bastard.” I muttered under my breath, since he must be as drunk as I was, or if not, he was a big douche.

When we were done handing out fliers inside, we went outside Tisch, to where the smokers stand, to bother them too.

“Hey, do you uh, like movies, you know? At all? Sometimes see them?” I said, giving the pitch I’d given before.

The smokers laughed as I endorsed and introduced Zach and they said they be there as they passed and left Tisch and Zach and I took their place.

“Did I ever tell you about the greatest moment I ever had at this school?” I asked Zach.

He looked at me, with a mix of amusement and resignation.

“No, but I guess I’m gonna hear it now.” He replied.

“I was a Freshman and it was early in my second semester. No one had like my sound project I had did, but everybody thought I asked good questions and the teachers all knew me, ’cause I would knock on their doors and bother them all the time.”

“I lived in a small dorm room and my roommate was handsome and popular and a skateboarder, which all made me insecure, so I spent all my time at Tisch.”

“Sometimes I would just prowl around the common room, looking for people I’d know, ‘running into them’, ‘accidentally’, ‘by chance'”.

“It was just a way to keep my energy up, I guess.”

“But one time I did this, I ran into this TV teacher, James Gardner. And I never taken a class with him, but he knew me, from all the questions I asked, and he had a class where he brought in special guests, old buddies from his TV days, to come talk to the kids and impart some wisdom.”

“Today, he told me, he was bringing in an executive producer from Arrested Development, which I fuckin loved. He told me I could come on one condition: that I go and announce in the freshman colloquium that this was happening and that any freshman who wanted to come could.”

“I show up and I’m there early and the guy’s not on yet. They’ve got this guy from The Love Boat there who’s talking about his path that he took and teeling us that everyone gets a chance and that’s it what you do with it that counts. I nodded my head, but I waited.”

“And when the guy came on, Jim Vallely, he was really funny and he pointed at people and made fun of him as he took questions. And I was embarrassed, so I stuck my shirt over my face and he called me, ‘guy-with-his-shirt-over-his-face-deargod-why-are-you-doing that’ as he spasmed with his shirt over his face and the whole class erupted in laughter.”

“But it turns out he liked my question. And he took another from me. And Mitch Hurwitz, the creator of the show showed up and he took a question from me too.”

“And as the class ended, the students pooled around Jim and Mitch and I felt shy and inadequate and not as cool or funny as these people, I didn’t even know why I was in film school. So I thanked Jim for my taking questions, poking in in the crowd that surrounded him and he thanked me too, an honest thanks. I left the classroom, but stood still. And all that stuff The Love Boat guy had said sunk in. And I turned around and went back.”

“And then Jim offered to buy me a drink. And then he offered to buy everyone a drink. It was the day it was announced that Arrested Development wasn’t being picked up for another season. He had decided that he just wanted a bunch of people who loved the show who he could talk and exult with.”

“And we drank and smoked and ate Mexican food with giant margaritas. And I came home, thinking it wasn’t even real.”

A pause.

“Wow.” Zach said. “Nah, you never told me that story.”

“Yeah,” I replied. “You wanna know what the things is though?”

I didn’t wait for him to reply.

“Out of all those kids I’d made the announcement to in my freshman colloquium, I was the only one who went.”

***

My producer once commented on how bulky my iPhone case was, a comment I replied to by throwing it against the wall and then picking it up and showing him my Facebook page on it.

Ever since then, he had been suggesting to me, when I saw me, that I should make a commercial on spec for the company that makes my iPhone case.

Looking back on it, parts of the day I found out I had been rejected from First Run would probably make for a good commercial.

I’d bounce my phone on the desk, throw it under the counter, slam my fist into it and yelp in pain.

I had somehow managed to complete the selects that the producer needed for his meeting, while muttering and tilting over all the while.

I even did the customary things: calling professors, emailing to see if it was a typo or deletion (it wasn’t), calling my parents.

I didn’t call Eva or my friends.

After all this, I didn’t even know if they wanted to be friends with me, wanted anything to do.

It felt at the time like I’d built my whole identity coming to school as a Tisch man, a film student who knew the ins-and-outs of the school, who was friends with the teachers and who was loved or hated by everyone.

It was grandiose identity, but it gave me room to function, a platform of sorts, a place, however imaginary, that I could make art from.

In other words, at Tisch, improbably, I felt accepted.

I guess all the phone-bouncing, the calls, the illogical fears of further rejection by my friends, my peers my girlfriend–they were symptoms of that, ongoing.

As for the office assistant and the producer, they watched on in a sort of stupor for a while or would go back to their computers, like it was some sort of dance or strange Shakespearean display.

At one point the producer came out and looked at me as I paced around the office, dialing and redialing, and he mock-whispered to the office assistant:

“Well shit, I wish he had gotten in.”

***

In the days after that, I came to varying conclusions, some healthy, some not, as I tried to get over the rejection.

I had been rejected by 20 film festivals already at that point (with 30 more to hear back from), but this one hit home more, you know.

It was the first year the festival had ever been “competitive” to get into. And sure a film could not get an award or have a bad timeslot in previous years, but the plan was this year to show some films in Cantor and the rest in a classroom downstairs in Tisch, three weeks later.

They were literally throwing me in the basement.

So I did a lot of things.

I got real depressed. I reached out to teachers. I wrote mass emails to the administration asking for notes, or an explanation. I tried to figure out what was wrong with my movie, what was wrong with me.

What started out as one rejection pooled into a perceived string of failures that struck the chord of one of my greatest fears:

That I am out of touch with the reality of my life.

That I’m a joke that everyone is in on but me.

In between these further mini-meltdowns, these aftershocks, one of the emails I wrote to the administration (posted here) snowballed with more people sending emails out to the administration expressing their dissatisfaction.

I was cc’ed on emails and received direct ones thanking me for what I’d done, telling me I was “right on” or urging me not to stop.

But even as I was egged on, the fact still stood that a judgment had been made and that I hadn’t “made the cut”.

***

Later that week, I saw the new Martin McDonagh play, A Behanding In Spokane, in previews, with my friend Langston, who was in the city to commence cat-sitting my parents’ apartment, while they went on a much needed vacation to Texas.

My dad kept insisting I need a vacation too, but I kept shrugging him off, asking him where I would even go.

(“Nowhere I wouldn’t feel like a failure.” I thought to myself.)

As we left the play, an odd and somewhat unsatisfying affair, we descended through the snowy night to the 42nd Street Subway, where at first I thought I saw a classmate and then was sure of it as we shook hands and talked, coldly.

Because the first thing I’d recognized when I’d seen him, was that he had made the cut and I hadn’t.

“Is this how it’s going to be?” I asked Langston as we got off the train. “How people are going to treat me?”

“I don’t think he treated you different than ever.” Langston said.

“Even worse.” I muttered, through the snow.

And as I head through the weekend now, I still don’t know what comes next or how to feel.

I’ve been told many times that if you don’t take rejection well, that this isn’t your business.

But even though I’ve graduated, I’ve always come back to Tisch.

Through those halls, looking for someone to run into.

Maybe this is growing up, or maybe it’s saying goodbye.

But even with some nice emails–

I’m don’t think I could hand out fliers there, drunk, on a cool winter’s evening with a good friend.

That, I guess, won’t ever happen, again.

***

SAMMY’S HALAL CART (“street meat”)

Chicken and Rice w/hot sauce, white sauce, onions– $5.00

SE Corner of West 4th St and Broadway

RWto 8th St. BDFV6 to Broadway-Lafayette.

***

A final note:

One of the films that didn’t get into the festival I happened to be acquainted with and it happens to be online.

It’s an excellent 3-minute animated short called “CUBES” by Kelly Goeller.

One of the ways I’ve kept sane through the film festival process is by seeing my friends, whose films I KNOW are good, get rejected from the same film festivals I have.

In my mind, there is no excuse why this film should not be in the running.

If you care to watch it, the link to it is right here,

If you like it, feel free to email Kelly here and let her know.

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3 Responses to My (little) Nervous Breakdown

  1. lisa says:

    Don’t ever rule out happiness, the possibility of redemption, or the good things that emerge from an injustice about which you refused to remain mute. You made or reacquainted yourself with a lot of potentially valuable allies this week, which will positively affect your karma, I think. One nice step might be to let those colleagues whose voices joined yours last week know that you are interested in working on future projects with any of them.love mom

  2. Nick I feel like this probably would have happened to me if they had a competitive process at First Run when I was there. And I also went through like an entire post-graduate year haunting the Tisch halls before experiencing the ultimate disillusionment with the program. These are all very normal things. Seems weird to say but I think you’ll be better off in the end than if, say, all your filmmaking dreams came true right out of the program. Lots of those folks make one film and then are never heard from again. These sorts of set backs are what spur creative people on to really light the world on fire. Just my two cents.

  3. Matthew Chao says:

    That’s bullshit! Kelly’s definitely should have gotten in, it was amazing. Whoever’s in charge of the selection process must have empty sockets where their eyes should be.

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