“The Babadook” is so close to being great it’s scary


“The Babadook” was one of the most talked about horror movies of 2014. The film has a Metascore of 86 and a Rotten Tomatoes fresh rating of 98%. But for me, like a sprinter prematurely celebrating meters before the finish line as he is overtaken by another runner, it fell short of excellence at the end.

Although I feel “The Babadook” was a strong film—not just a fine horror film, but quite a dramatic achievement—I found myself underwhelmed as the credits rolled. Screenrant said, “While ‘The Babadook’ is a well-crafted, insightful, and overall excellent film, it’s not going to be for everyone.” I think this movie would be “for everyone” if it not for the lame reveal and conclusion.

“The Babadook” is the directorial debut of Australian actress-turned-filmmaker Jennifer Kent. The story follows Amelia Vannick (Essie Davis), a grieving mother to a problem child Samuel (Noah Wiseman) as she copes with the loss of her husband, who died in a car accident driving her to the hospital to deliver their son. Their troubles multiply when they find a strange children’s book about a man named Mister Babadook. For the Vannick family, Mister Babadook is more than just a children’s story.

But what the movie is really about, and where it excels in its storytelling, is grief. It is well crafted with multiple layers of meaning. Mister Babadook merely is a physical stand-in for the pain of loss and the coping with grief. And as Sam reiterates, “You can’t get rid of the Babadook.” Indeed, you cannot get rid of loss; cannot permanently do away with grief.

BABADOOK-Ameilia and Sam at Table

The film’s lead role and one of its biggest achievements is Essie Davis. Davis is transformative as Amelia Vannick. It’s a phenomenal performance by a gifted actor in the hands of an actor’s director (Kent was an actress for two decades, even graduating alongside Davis). She weaves in and out of drastic emotions: exhaustion, hopelessness, groveling, embarrassment, eventually psychosis, and then rage like I haven’t seen in recent cinema. I say this without any sexism: Davis’ outbursts are stronger than any male counterpart’s.


Kent cites “The Shining” as inspiration. This is most prevalent in Davis’ Jack Torrance-like transformation from a flawed but always trying to be a good parent to an extremely aggressive threat to her own child.

Screenrant said, “Where other horror films cast mother figures as strident protectors, Amelia is far less heroic (at times) and, for that reason, significantly more relatable—placing the audience inside a haunted home where the horror isn’t always black and white.”


Kent is an admirable storyteller with a unique understanding of the craft, as both actress and filmmaker. Upon graduating from the National Institute of Dramatic Art in 1991, she worked primarily as an actor for two decades. But towards the end of the 90s, she was losing her passion for acting and reached out to Danish director Lars von Trier, who then gave her a job assisting on the set of “Dogville” (2003). Wikipedia states, “she considers the experience her film school, citing the importance of stubbornness as the key lesson she learned.”

Kent weaves an impressively complex, honest story. At no moment did anything ring untrue to me—and we’re talking about a supernatural monster movie. But then again, we’re not. Because the monsters and the horror elements of “The Babadook” are not other worldly, they’re deeply rooted in the human condition. The monster is grief, the pain is loss, and the decisions are driven by a need to cope with loss and grief.

Kent said that she sought to tell a story about facing up to the darkness within ourselves, the “fear of going mad” and an exploration of parenting from a “real perspective”. In regard to parenting, Kent further explained, “Now, I’m not saying we all want to go and kill our kids, but a lot of women struggle. And it is a very taboo subject, to say that motherhood is anything but a perfect experience for women.”

I’m not a woman, I’m not a mother, and I’ve never wanted to kill my son. But I get, without any sense of morbid irony, why Amelia could contemplate stabbing her son to death. He is difficult, he is problematic, and he does not make her life any easier. The love of her life, the father of her child, is killed driving her to the hospital to deliver the boy. That scenario alone brings up a very tough question with a simple answer. Can a mother feel resentment towards her child because her husband is killed in the process of bringing the boy into the world? Simply, yes. She can. That is a perfectly acceptable emotion to feel in that situation. Kent’s dedication to honest portrayals of taboo subjects is inspiring.

Kent’s storytelling honesty is rightfully heralded. Tim Teeman at The Daily Beast states that the film informs the audience that grief has its place and the best that humans can do is “marshal it”. Egyptian national film critic Wael Khairy concluded that the film is “based on something very real” and “feels unusually beautiful and even therapeutic.”

“The Babadook” is shot by Radek Ladczuk with an Arri Alexa and Zeiss Master Prime lenses in 2.35 : 1 aspect ratio. According to Wikipedia, “The film’s final color scheme was achieved without the use of gels on the camera lenses or any alterations during the post-filming stage.”

In a monster movie, genre fans want to see an interesting visual creature. Kent insisted on a low-fi and handmade approach to Mister Babadook.  They favored practical elements, using stop-motion effects for the monster with a large amount of smoothening completed in post-production.

Kent explained to the Empire publication: “There’s been some criticism of the lo-fi approach of the effects, and that makes me laugh because it was always intentional. I wanted the film to be all in camera.”

Kent’s minimalistic portrayal of the Babadook monster might be a wet dream for certain horror fans, but in my personal opinion, I hated it. I wanted more. I’m not someone who needs over stimulation or constant full frontal monster imagery. “Jaws” and “Alien” are more frightening for their forced restraint. But Kent does such an expert job of building suspense, what with the beautiful art in the children’s book, the half-second inserts of the monster in the background, that it demanded some sort of substantial reveal. There is a reveal, I just didn’t like it. When we were meant to climax, we were forcefully restrained. Who likes that?

Kent’s impressive eye for visual storytelling is displayed by Amelia’s moments of slumber. A very early Hitchcock image where she floats down onto the bed is at once dreamy and nightmarish. Later, sleep is no longer a fantastical elaborate camera move but a static image. Through Amelia’s insomnia, we see her barely coherent, almost comatose as she watches television all night. I can feel how tired she is. I’ve been there. It’s a feeling of mental instability. Lack of sleep is real life, real pain, and everyday torture. It’s a major subplot for Amelia’s character.

Kent’s direction and Davis’ performance are flawless from scene to scene on just what a woman would really feel at varying stages of insomnia: at moments she has frustrated outbursts of rage and other times she is in a sort of loopy bliss when she nods off despite her son asking her to make him something to eat. I feel the pain and I feel the bliss of giving up.

On an aside, I was impressed with the design on the character’s hairdos by the hair and makeup department. Early shots of Amelia show her hair unkempt and staticy. So is her son’s. She looks tired and not put together. Later, at her niece’s birthday party, we see a group of mothers the same age as the tired Amelia, but they all look impeccable, well rested, happy, and thematically significant, they have great hair perfectly in place.

My biggest problem with the movie, aside from the monster reveal, is the resolution. I find it pretentious, too on-the-nose, and anti-climactic for a movie that brilliantly builds towards a reveal. The pacing is flawless. The attention to craft and mood is expert. But I find the final series of “monster point-of-view” shots of Amelia literally feeding the beast locked away in her basement (see why I say it’s pretentious?) rather dull. In fact, when the screen cuts to black after a way-too-nostalgic resolution shot of Amelia hugging tight to her problem child, I found myself infuriated as I awaited the first credit title card to confirm my suspicions that yep, that’s it.

Syvology on the MIshka NYC Bloglin said the film’s ending reminds the viewer that such matters continually exists in the “basement” of the unconscious and are “dealt with as-needed.” The “basement of the unconscious” being represented by an actual basement is as subtle as a drunk pervert.

But I digress because certainly I’m bitching about an overall good movie. I recently praised “It Follows” for its personal horror and emotionally fused story. “The Babadook” does this even more masterfully I think. But, “It Follows” had a better ending with its hokey booby trap at the pool hall.

My feelings for “The Babadook” are mostly positive and focused on the craftsmanship of a character driven horror story. But I didn’t “love” the movie. My demand for a big reveal, a real scary moment at the end, is lowbrow. But I stick to it.

I’m a filmmaker so I analyze movies more than most. I can’t always sit back and enjoy a movie the way I did growing up, when I loved whatever my mom took me to see at the Franklin Mills theatre across the street.

“The Babadook” had me gripped and waiting for the payoff the way I used to as a kid in a matinee showing, sitting in the dark and sharing a small popcorn with my mom. I eagerly waited for an inspired closer. Unfortunately, I didn’t get it. Despite all of my appreciation for the craftsmanship, I was still that kid in the movie theatre, a little older, as the credits rolled and the lights went up. I looked over to my mom and asked, “what did you think?” And she shrugged her shoulders and said “it was okay.”

The Babadook

‘It Follows’ Review: Best New Horror Movie in Years


It Follows” is technically a 2014 movie, but with its wide theatrical release this past weekend (seeing even popular festival movies in my local non-NYC/LA theatre is getting rarer and rarer), it is currently my reigning favorite of 2015.

David Robert Mitchell’s sophomore effort, “It Follows” is an anxious, nightmare logic horror film about Jay Heights (played by the lovely and talented Maika Monroe from Adam Wingard’s The Guest and Sofia Coppola’s The Bling Ring) doing the deed with an older boy and now, uh-oh, she’s cursed. Mitchell’s movie is not merely about a girl labeled as a “slut” but as someone actually cursed by having sex, someone who is now being stalked by her deed in the form of an amorphous monster that can take the shape of anyone—strangers, or even people she loves. This boogey man stalks her from a distance, approaching slowly at a walk, hoping to grab hold of her and kill her off once and for all.

“It Follows” touches on the anxieties of many virgin (or not quite virgin) teenagers fixing to do the deed, as Nic Cage in “Peggy Sue Got Married” would say, “What, you mean sex? Ha ha, intercourse. You wanna have intercourse?”. Mitchell harnesses this anxiety wonderfully into an expertly crafted genre picture that is nostalgic of movies from the 1970s/1980s (for me, it touches the same nerve as the original “Nightmare on Elm Street”).


“It Follows” looks great. Shot on the Arri Alexa and Red Epic, Director of Photography Mike Gioulakis (“John Dies at the End”) creates a cold, eerie world ripe with pretty colors and people in desolate Detroit.

As Variety put it, “As Mitchell explained at the pic’s premiere in Cannes, ‘It Follows’ marks his attempt to make a ‘beautiful horror movie’ — equal parts gentle and aggressive.  At times, his meticulous compositions rival Gregory Crewdson’s ethereal suburban-gothic photographs.”

Untitled from Beneath the Roses (2003–2005) Gregory Crewdson
Untitled from Beneath the Roses (2003–2005) Gregory Crewdson

A friend of mine commented that “It Follows” reminded him of Nicolas Winding Refn’s 2011 proof-in-digital-filmmaking-excellence “Drive”. I was a little thrown off by this. It took reading Mitchell’s quote on a “beautiful horror movie” to understand the “Drive” reference. Just as “Drive” was a beautifully violent movie, “It Follows” is a beautifully eerie movie.

The movie starts off with a 360-degree camera pan around a Detroit suburban street as a teenager runs out of her house in her pajamas (and high heels), seemingly fleeing for her life from a presence we (and her neighbor) cannot see. The actress does a wonderful job of registering the fear in one frame, then backpedaling when she realizes nobody can see her assailant, playing it off, running back inside, and returning to speed off in the family car.

Filmmaker Magazine on the 360-degree shot: “Unlike dopamine-inducing mood enhancers, the opening sequence of unique hybrid ‘It Follows’ aims for atmosphere, not climax…It is cinematic foreplay, simultaneously tease and microcosm. Over the span of several minutes, David Robert Mitchell succinctly anticipates not only the plotline of the narrative, but also its themes and infrastructure.”

As an avid fan of Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Boogie Nights”, I’ve always loved the 360-degree pan. Anderson’s scripted circular shot around Eddie Adams’ bedroom early in the film is both evocative and appropriate. Like the opening of “It Follows”, Eddie’s wall posters of bikini babes and muscles cars, his massive dong squeezed into a tight pair of undies, his practicing kung fu moves in the mirror; all these elements “anticipate not only the plotline of the narrative, but also its themes and infrastructure.”

A similar nod to Anderson would be the use of an extreme close-up of Jay in a hospital bed. There are not many close-ups in “It Follows”. In fact, mostly wide angle Cooke S4 lenses are used for the film’s entirety. Paired with the 2.35 : 1 wide screen aspect ratio, we are constantly looking over the character’s shoulder for the spooky “It”. So when we do get a close-up, it packs a punch. The ECU of Jay’s bloody bandage, with its fine focus and heavy falloff, is reminiscent of “Boogie Nights” many close-ups, shot with anamorphic zoom lenses.

“It Follows” Extreme Closeup
“Boogie Nights” Extreme Closeup

The movie’s beauty is chiefly displayed when Jay has sex with Hugh in the back of his car in an abandoned lot. The shot is used prominently in the trailer and was the main image I remembered other than Maika Monroe in her pink bra strapped to a wheelchair.


Variety said, “If ‘Myth (of the American Sleepover)’was his John Hughes homage, then ‘It Follows’ is the director’s best stab at doing John Carpenter.” The parallel to John Hughes is interesting and isn’t lost on “It Follows”. Particularly, in his regard to sex and how he treats the teenage, sometimes goofy choices of his characters with the utmost respect.

Filmmaker Magazine had an interesting look on the sex scenes: “Her (Jay) enervating encounter with Hugh and Greg’s comforting presence are catalysts for sparks of desire, with Jay at the apex of a triangle including both Greg and Paul. Atypically for teen flicks, sex among the trio is fairly pleasure-free, especially for Jay, who performs like the cold wife in I-have-a-headache jokes.”


Sex is never really shown for pleasure’s sake, which actually makes the sex scenes some of the most interesting to date. Whether it’s Jay riding Hugh in the backseat of his car moments before being chloroformed, Greg eagerly pumping Jay in her hospital bed under the guise of wanting to understand what she’s seeing (a very clever take on the lengths men will go through to get laid), Paul’s awkward attempts to capitalize on bedding Jay finally being fulfilled towards the end of the film, or the intense sequence where Jay strips and paddles out into the water towards a boat full of men, presumably to pass the curse off to one or all of the men aboard.

The sex serves a purpose to Jay that is not pleasure. It aids the plot, so that we’re not merely watching teens bone for the hell of it. As Desiree Akhavan (“Appropriate Behavior”) put it, “To me, the best sex scenes are not about sex. There has to be a reason we’re watching them fuck.”

IT FOLLOWS-Underwear Mirror

Mitchell asks the question, “what happens when you have sex?” What stigmas linger after? What have you lost? What stains your soul post-coitus? What happens if you don’t have sex? Since, in his narrative, the only way to get rid of the monster, the curse, like the curse of being thought a virgin in the teen world, is to have sex with someone. Not only do you have to have sex with someone, but now that person has to have sex someone else or “the curse” comes back to you. This is a monster of spreading sexuality without any of the pleasure. It’s not about enjoying it, it’s about getting it over with.

The soundtrack and production design were both winners. The score was composed by Rich Vreeland, better known as Disasterpeace. I love the electronic score that has been playing in Adam Wingard’s movies and now Mitchell’s. It’s very cool and effective and pairs nicely with digital imagery. Electronic music, digital imagery, it’s a match!

In “It Follows”, technology is never rooted in any specific place or time. The TV sets are the old box kind with rabbit ears. There are landline telephones. The cars in the suburbs of Motor City are all outdated. Yet, one of the characters resembles a modern day hipster and is seen regularly reading from a seashell shaped, makeup compact-like e-reader that is not of this world, or maybe futuristic. The effect is that this movie is not a throwback to the 1970s/1980s anymore than it is a modern storyline. It is timeless. It is iconic.

Mitchell on production design in Filmmaker Magazine: “Those were all used to place the film a little bit outside of time, like in a dream or a nightmare, but there are elements from several decades, from the ’50s to now to things that don’t actually exist. When you watch it, you start to pick up on these elements, and it’s a little disconcerting, and in the back of your mind, you’re searching for something to ground you and tell you where you’re at. We were trying to avoid all that. I worked really closely with the production designer, and he did a great job of mixing and matching all these pieces. It leans in the direction of the ’70s and ’80s, but it’s a nice mix.”


Mitchell is an exciting filmmaker because he seems to be going against an idea I’ve been thinking a lot about lately. It’s an idea implanted in my brain by a comment Bret Easton Ellis made on one of his opinionated podcasts. He states that younger filmmakers haven’t lived life enough to make original art. To paraphrase, Ellis says younger artists choose their decisions in their movies based not on what they know about life, but rather what they’ve already seen in movies.

I’m still debating how I feel about this comment but it did get me thinking about movies that I like very much, particularly Wingard’s “You’re Next”. Going further, Wingard’s latest movie “The Guest” is an even bigger throwback to older horror movies, a blend between John Carpenter’s “Halloween” and “The Bourne Identity”. You can throw Ti West’s “House of the Devil” in this mix as well, as the only thing I liked about that movie was its 1980s look and pace.

Ellis got me thinking is nostalgia for old movies I like a reason to like new movies? I’m sure in some ways the answer is yes. But it doesn’t quell the question of where will our new horror movie come from if we spend all our time referencing older horror movies? Then again, this has worked for Quentin Tarantino.

I think Mitchell’s “It Follows” is as close as any to an original horror picture. Although I think his movie is very similar to Wingard’s style (Maika Monroe, electronic soundtrack, 1980s aesthetic), at the heart of “It Follows” is something very personal to the director. And not personal the way I think things are for Wingard, which, for kids who grew up loving movies, references to movies we love are very personal.

But Mitchell taps into something deeper than love for movies, he taps into his feelings.

He taps into his own dreams: “I had it when I was very young, the nightmare. I had it several times and I still remember images from it. I didn’t use those images for the film, but the basic idea and the feeling I used. From what I understand, it’s an anxiety dream. Whatever I was going through at that time, my parents divorced when I was around that age, so I imagine it was something to do with that.”

Mitchell isn’t drawing his horror elements from things he has seen in movies, (although he does know horror movies), he draws them from his own life.

The point here is that if you want to make something new and exciting, something nobody has seen before, something, I believe, like “It Follows”, then you have to break away from pastiche and get back to the roots of art, which is to express whatever you inherently know to be true, the way you know it, and the way you feel it. The way we feel Mitchell’s anxiety in “It Follows”.

Write Selfishly, Readers Will Be In Ecstasy

My laptop is ready to blow. It overheats so much these days that my keyboard is burning away my finger tips until I’m forced to take a break from any writing. These are the notes from a computing inferno.

It has come to my attention that blogging has become some sort of mental health pill for me. These posts are all over the place in topic but all share the same purpose for me as a writer: a way to stop moping and start writing. This blog is a perverse confessional, a manic cry to the world from an isolated bedroom, a message in an electronic bottle thrown out into the cyber sea, amongst all of the obscurity of millions of other blogs, billions of other words, hoping to leave a few ripples and maybe some waves.

This is indulgent. This is selfish. This is ok.

A writer has very few hopes of leaving behind many original pieces. Life is full of monotony. Even the anguish, the wars, the deaths, the physical and mental tortures have all been experienced and reiterated countless times. So why try? The reason is because you’re the only person who experiences these things the way you do. Write things the way you know them. Let the reader see big, universally known experiences through your eyes.

Kurt Vonnegut says in his novel Timequake:

“Many people need desperately to receive this message: ‘I feel and think much as you do, care about many of the things you care about, although most people do not care about them. You are not alone.”

This is why readers need to hear your voice. Maybe you’re saying something they’ve felt and so desperately need to have affirmed. Feeling alone in your thoughts can be crushing. For me as a writer, feeling unoriginal in my emotions, whether it is heart ache, insecurity, or confusion, is devastating.

Writing is a beautiful art form. You don’t have to be a “writer” to gain the benefits of writing. It’s something I think everyone should do. But I am a writer. I may be an aspiring writer when it comes to my professional dreams but in my soul I am nothing else. Like any dream I have to pursue my goals with blinders on to deter the blurs around me.

In Factotum, Charles Bukowski said:

“If you’re going to try, go all the way. Otherwise, don’t even start. This could mean losing girlfriends, wives, relatives and maybe even your mind. It could mean not eating for three or four days. It could mean freezing on a park bench. It could mean jail. It could mean derision. It could mean mockery–isolation. Isolation is the gift. All the others are a test of your endurance, of how much you really want to do it. And, you’ll do it, despite rejection and the worst odds. And it will be better than anything else you can imagine. If you’re going to try, go all the way. There is no other feeling like that. You will be alone with the gods, and the nights will flame with fire. You will ride life straight to perfect laughter. It’s the only good fight there is.”

So the message in this blog post’s bottle is the above: selfishly fight the good fight for yourself and your readers and throw anything that prevents you from doing so to the side and out of your mind. There is nothing but greatness waiting for those willing to shed comfort. Comfort is a tethering chain. Free yourself. Give your readers affirmation that they are not the only ones feeling this way. They will be as grateful as you are to the writers who have done this for you.

A Blog Suffers When You’re Trying to Make a Movie

I knew it has been a while since my last blog post, but I didn’t realize that today marks two months exactly since I last posted. Yikes. My apologies to anyone that has been anxiously waiting for my next post. (I’m aware that with that last sentence I’ve subjected myself to crickets chirping throughout the internet kingdom.)

I’m proud to say there’s a good reason why I haven’t been actively contributing to this beloved blog: I’ve been writing. Yes, I’ve been hard at work feverishly working on a new feature screenplay that was designed to be affordable enough to make myself on a shoestring budget. I’m ecstatic with the results and am proud to say it’s been my fastest turnaround on a feature yet. I wrote the first draft in two weeks and am already finished a solid rewrite. You wanna hear what it’s about? (I’m smiling and nodding at the computer like Natalie Portman in Garden State when she asks if Zach Braff wants to help her bury her dead hamster.)

Here’s a synopsis of my newest, coolest feature screenplay, a slasher/comedy entitled Die, Hipster! Die!:

When a group of pretentious college hipsters anger a gypsy fortune teller with their shallow youth culture, she summons James Mean, the Patron Saint of Cool from Hell to wipe out their hipster house party. It’s up to Luke and Brea, the only non-hipsters in attendance, to put a stop to this demon’s Crusade for Cool and to prove that there are still young people with character in this age of Wayfarers and Pabst Blue Ribbon.

Screenplay and log line experts of the internet community please don’t rip my way-too-long synopsis to shreds! I like it. But anyway, it’s a super cool, really funny, pretty hip, and original script that I’m proud to be moving forward with. Some Philadelphia actors love it and I’ve even gotten it into the hands of a few local producer types.

Major problem is money of course. I hoped to just start filming it this month and crowd raise funds as I went but of course, my ambition might have overshadowed my means a little, but only slightly. I’m going to get my “ducks in a row” as one producer mentioned and try to do this right. Who knows, it could be my The Evil Dead!

I’ve had a pretty good, productive journey writing and rewriting this thing. I started Transcendental Meditation in January (something I wanted to start blogging about but didn’t get around to) and I have to say I’ve noticed an increase in my productivity and problem solving when it comes to my writing. I can’t chalk my success with this screenplay completely up to TM, I feel like this moment was coming for a while. But there has to be something said about Die, Hipster! Die! being the quickest feature I’ve written post-meditation.

I was so excited to get up every day with a solid plan of attack: shower, meditate, and write. And not just blindly writing; I knew exactly what I should do next. Now, I have pretty close to what my finished product will look like and I’m in a writing rut. I want to write something! This whole process has been like riding yet another high wave that drops me off on the shoreline, leaving me to watch it roll back into the sea. That’s a feeling I’m used to and an analogy I beat into the sand. But hopefully, with a little help from TM, I can limit my turnaround time of how long I stand on the shore before paddling back out into the water.

This blog post starts up the writing process again. I’ve got a lot of work ahead of me making DH!D! a reality on the movie screen. It’s an exciting process that I’m looking forward to. But there’s no reason I can’t be writing the next script in the meantime. As Robert Rodriguez advises in his book Rebel Without a Crew, “be scary.” Constantly working, constantly be moving ahead on your next big idea, always being original; that is frightening. Be scary, my friends. Keep writing.


Breakfasts You Wait Up All Night For

Film poster for Diner - Copyright 1982, MGM
Film poster for Diner – Copyright 1982, MGM (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Is there any place packed with more nostalgia, laced with greater laughs, or drenched with more classic memories than that of the town diner? Every American community has one of their very own; a little neon building with a menu ranging from eggs to lobster, ready to be cooked twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.

How many movies and TV shows feature such an establishment in their storyline? Cheers is all about that particular hot spot. Barry Levinson’s film Diner centers on it as well. And while finishing the first season of the FX series Louie today on Netflix, I saw my own day’s events mirrored in the end of the season finale when, after returning home from a disastrous night on the town trying to pick up girls, Louis C.K. is greeted by his young daughters who are awake and alert and wanting to go get breakfast at 4:00 in the morning. The series ends on a beautiful note with the audience watching Louie and his daughters through a diner window as they eat together.

The scene captured a very simple, rich, bonding moment between a dad and his daughters that perhaps sunk a little bit deeper for me because I shared a similar moment with my mother early this morning.

I returned home after a genuine “night out on the town” complete with before and after parties in a hotel overlooking the Philadelphia art museum, topped off with just enough luck to find rides to and from the bar without paying for a cab, and a nice enough valet parker willing to let me forgo the $35 parking garage fee and store my car on the hotel’s entry ramp until his shift was over at 3:00 a.m.

Upon returning home late that night, around 5:00 in the morning, my mom was already awake. We’ve had strange sleeping schedules the last few weeks. I was far from tired and she knew it. So the idea came about to take each other up on an offer we’d been trying to fulfill all week: to grab some breakfast at the diner down the street. Until this point, we were unable to find time to do so since I’ve been sleeping late most days. But now, with the blue morning sun peering in our apartment windows, this seemed to be the perfect time.

In a little plastic booth fitted with its own individual electronic game machine, my mom and I both ordered Western omelets with eager anticipation. And although we didn’t talk much in this early hour; my eyes slightly singeing with sleepy acids, my thoughts still swimming in left over alcohol, I think we both enjoyed the moment as we quietly ate our eggs and soaked in the atmosphere of the diner we’d been coming to for years.

It was truly a magical moment. If my life was a syndicated program, one of the ones like The Wonder Years where an older, wiser me narrates the tales of my younger, goofier self, I’d have had some kind of eloquent closing line synced up with that breakfast that would lead right into the closing credits.

A Love Letter to California

Hollywood Sign
Hollywood Sign (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Working at a country club in New Jersey affords me two months of “vacation” meaning that the club closes for January and February due to lack of interest in snow golfing, which to me sounds like a lot of fun, actually. Nevertheless, I’m free to collect unemployment and reconnect with my thoughts for two whole months.

How should I celebrate this wondrous lapse in obligation? There is a wild child within me, chained deep down in the cellar of my heart that sometimes screams loud enough to connect with my brain. This wild child screams, “Go to California!” And maybe he adds a few expletives, too for good measure.

Oh California, what a lovely thought. Ah Los Angeles, the only destination for an aspiring screenwriter/director seriously looking for validity. How nice it would be to axe the “aspiring” part when I tell people about my time spent pursuing filmmaking.

I would love nothing more than to pack my Chevy with copies of my screenplays, changes of clothes, camera, and paperback copy of Woody Guthrie’s Bound for Glory as I set off on the kind of cross country, coast to coast road trip that movies have been fawning over for decades.

How glorious to travel, stopping as I please, all in culmination of seeing the big, bold letters of the HOLLYWOOD sign. I could careen my car up and down Mulholland Drive, hoping desperately to not be sidetracked by amnesia-by-car accident or run off the road by any Mr. Eddy’s demanding that I get a driver’s manual. (I’ve been watching a lot of David Lynch lately.)

California is a place where a young man with long hair can get by on conversation alone; swapping anecdotes for bottles of booze, wisdom for a warm place by a beach bonfire. It’s a place where I can transition seamlessly from my dream of surfing the Pacific coast to doing what they call “couch surfing,” trading my board for a place to crash for the night. If not a sofa, then a fine patch of stained carpet on a guy named Brody’s apartment floor.

I could even march into one of the big name production studio’s lots, barging into a tired producer’s office, and slam down a copy of my latest script pointing a definitive figure to the cover page saying, “This is the next big thing.”

And that old, tired producer wouldn’t be able to hold back a grin at my outsider naivety, my out-of-towner’s courage, and he’d probably cut me a check right there on the spot because California is a place where people take chances on newcomers based on gut feelings.

But alas, this love letter, though straight from my heart (fucker) seems doomed to be only the meandering thoughts of a boy stuck in his Pennsylvania bedroom hacking out fantasy on a piece of paper. It takes a lot of money and a whole lot of determination to be spontaneous, it seems.

Why do we thinkers, us readers, we with such passion burning holes in our soul; why do we, why do I feel the need to restrict myself from such desires? Perhaps it is just fate, with a firm grip of my inner workings, trying to tell me that there is no perfect place, no place more pregnable with dream-realizations than the place your two feet are standing. Certainly this fact is grounded by the words I read earlier today in Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick, that my promise land “is not down in any map; true places never are.”

Gone Fishin’: How to Catch Big Ideas in Deep Water

English: David Lynch, photographed on 10 Augus...
David Lynch, doing his signature spirit finger motion when discussing ideas floating around,photographed on 10 August 2007. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I like quotes. I have spent many hours copying and pasting quotes from artists I admire into my Evernote app for further handheld inspiration. Recently I’ve been diving head first into the work of filmmaker David Lynch. I seem to find I have some things in common with Lynch, at least I perceive so. Specifically, I hold a great deal of admiration for his imagination and his idea generating process. In many interviews, Lynch refers to ideas as fish and his extended conscious-mind as a pond where these idea-fish are swimming around, waiting to be caught. Lynch says:

“Ideas are like fish. If you want to catch little fish, you can stay in the shallow water. But if you want to catch the big fish, you’ve got to go deeper. Down deep, the fish are more powerful and more pure. They’re huge and abstract. And they’re very beautiful.”


I’m not embarrassed at all to say that quotes like this send me gushing like a teenage girl at a rock concert, (or a Justin Bieber/Taylor Swift festival. Is that what teen girls gush over now?)

Lynch’s rationale that we all have great ideas swimming around in our subconscious, waiting to be found and explored, is enlightening and liberating. He admits to not knowing the best way or even if there is a way of locating these ideas and bringing them to the surface. They just kind of come, sometimes when you least expect it, and you have to be ready for them. A forgotten idea can drive an artist mad, so keep your pen and paper (or trusty Evernote app) handy.

This journey into the “deep water” of one’s soul is not necessarily a Lynch original. I can recall a quote from F. Scott Fitzgerald, “All good writing is swimming under water and holding your breath.” I love that quote. Writers must pain themselves and even torture their souls in order to squeeze the pulpy prose from their juicy brains. Good writing is about feeling something on a very deep level and having the courage to push forward, through the emotion and onto the page.

Even before reading this Fitzgerald quote, my first encounter with the term “deep water” came in a creative writing class where I met my current hero and greatest teacher, poet Christopher Bursk. Chris, whom would be agitated to be referred to by his last name in this post or in the classroom, spoke regularly about the importance of paddling out into deep water in order to write beautifully. Our assignments were often exercises in swimming in deep water; write a poem about something you regret, write about a person you would benefit from being dead, or the self-indulging, soul scrutinizing personal “Song of Myself” that we’d have to write and share in front of the class.

The greatest advice from Chris on writing about deep water was a story he’d tell us about taking his son to swimming lessons. The swimming instructor said the best technique for swimming out of deep waters and to the shore was the dead man’s float; where you put your head under and trust the water to keep you afloat as you paddle forward.

This is of course true for writing. Much like Fitzgerald’s quote, sometimes you have to trust that the pain or longing of the deep water will keep you afloat and just start paddling, start putting the words on the page, and eventually you’ll make it ashore.

These quotes and this advice have helped me channel emotions into some of my best writing. It’s a constant struggle though but I’m content with battling every day. It’s a compulsion to want to strike out every day in hopes of getting that good idea, catching that big fish.

I was thinking of myself, Lynch’s quote, and came up with an analogy. If you’re ever uncertain of why you can’t come up with a good idea, look at the process as you would look at fishing. When you go out fishing, they don’t always bite. Fishing is all about patience. Staring at your rod or checking your hook constantly won’t make the fish come any quicker. Sometimes you just have to lie back and let your thoughts drift when all the sudden you see your line bob and you scurry to your pole, your pen and paper, and start reeling the fish in.

Some people are better at coming up with ideas than others, just like there are master fisherman in the world. In this regard, I think I’d say I’m a talented idea fisherman. I get ideas, sometimes several ideas, every day and I try to be a work horse in order to get them all into a project, down on paper. For the analogy’s sake, I’m good at getting fish to take the bait. But I will say that I have trouble catching the big fish. I’m young and still learning to explore myself and be honest with my emotions.

If I do manage to hook a big fish, a great idea, I often find I have trouble reeling it in and getting it onto the boat. Or worse, sometimes when I do get these big fish onto the boat, adapted into a story or script concept, my ship sinks before I land safely ashore. Sometimes my emotional state implodes unexpectedly and my ship, my safety, submerges with all the ideas and ambition onboard.

So what’s left when I hit the water, away from the safety of the vessel? Usually I panic and suck in a lot of water. But then I remember the wisdom of my heroes, I put my head under the current and start paddling towards land. And sometimes I’ll find I’ve carried one of those big fish along with me as I step onto the sand.

Put In A Good Word For Me.


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