I’m pleased to introduce you today to Jesse James. Jesse and I met on Twitter through our mutual publisher, Booktrope, and I believe the first conversation we launched into was about the TV show LOST (you can imagine how crazy conversations like that quickly become), and then later I recall him admitting, also over Twitter he needed Karo syrup to make more fake blood. Needless to say, this man is creative and funny and definitely an entertainer.
When I read his post for this series, I was excited! I immediately wrote him and said, ” I really wanted a ‘in spite of you’ blog post to come along, and I just got one.” It takes courage to ignore people in power over you, and still go forward for what you want. Jesse did it.
BECAUSE I KNEW YOU by Jesse James Freeman
When you think about writing about someone who has changed your life for good, all permanent like, tons of people flash through your memory: parents, grandparents, your drunk Uncle Bo Don (not for that reason, thankfully), the alien that abducted you (not for that either, but it was a close call), the girl that got away that you should have tried a little harder to talk into not getting away. There are tons of people behind us in our possible paths as Pink Floyd would say.
I chose my college film professor. I’d rather not call his name, because I figure he’s still alive – he’s kind of like Mum Ra. Yes, I am scared of his evil Eisenstein and the curse that might befall me if I speak the name into the world, so we’ll just call him Mr. Professor – because it’s comforting to me to imagine him as a friendly calculator from my youth
Mr. Professor was the first thing I had in my academic life that equated to a mentor. Film school was a fantastic time for me, I was fascinated with storytelling with light and sound – and to be able to express myself in this art I had to learn a lot of technical things that my right-brain liberal arts education had prepared me for thus far. Playing with film was kind of a cross between being a real scientist and a real-enough alchemist.
Everything about it was numbers, charts, equations, and graphs. How many 10K lights do I need at this angle to paint the picture within a certain F-Stop and film-speed? When I finally got the image on film and the sound on the Nagra how do I put it all together to properly convey the action of the scene? I took a philosophy class and learned about a guy named Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel who created a dialect made of a triad: thesis, antithesis, synthesis. If you apply that to film editing it teaches you how to put the puzzle together and convey thoughts through the arrangement of images.
What I wasn’t learning about, and that I didn’t realize I wasn’t learning about until I was far into the program, was story. I didn’t know anything about writing an actual script, beyond the ten minute vignettes we spent every Friday shooting. Mr. Professor didn’t like it when I wrote a feature length script, I’m not guessing that he didn’t like it, he told me so in my academic review.
He told me that he was training technicians, even though he was a celebrated professor in the art department, and that while I was technically proficient, passed all of his tests, and went the extra mile on my projects that I would never work in the industry.
I didn’t play well with others, my ideas and the things that I wanted to do weren’t what everyone else wanted to do. He suggested that I stop making models and figuring out how to make matte paintings and writing screenplays – his main suggestion to me was that I should learn to play golf. “It will be good for your networking skills.”
Mr. Professor made of point of preaching to us that we should under no circumstances consider going to California. He told us that his own son, his prize student, had made it less than a month in Hollywood before coming back to Houston to make instructional videos for big companies. When I was finally done with the credits I needed to graduate from Mr. Professor, I pointed myself in the direction of Hollywood, California.
Anything Mr. Professor told me that I couldn’t do, and he told me that I couldn’t do lots of stuff, I made sure that I did. Don’t shoot your own stuff, so I shot my own stuff. Don’t try to break into the mainstream, so I did whatever it took to get noticed by the mainstream. Don’t waste time writing scripts, so I became a screenwriter.
I had such an intense hatred for Mr. Professor, and such an immense chip on my shoulder from all the things he told me weren’t possible, that it would be years before I realized something: I wasn’t living for me, I was living so as not to become him. What did I even want to do with my life? If I figured that out, how the hell was I going to break from these patterns and ruts in the path that had guided my way for so long?
I realized that all I wanted to do was to tell stories. They didn’t have to be movies, or TV shows, or sung by a chorus of animatronic-dinosaurs.
They just had to be stories, and they just had to say whatever it was that I thought needed to be said. That was going to have to be good enough, and it would be, because as long as I was staying true to me – for the first time in a long time – they’d be anything and everything they needed to be.
Then I had to figure out how to write a novel, but that’s a blog for another day…
Billy Purgatory is Jesse James Freeman’s first novel. He’s also studied psychology and film and scripted comics. When he’s not writing books, Jesse James trains falcons to kill Leprechaun Robots, and will continue to do so until the world is relatively safe.
Jesse James recently contributed 4 essays to the book Write for the Fight: A Collection of Seasonal Essays, co-authored by Tess Hardwick (Riversong) and Tracey Hansen. All author proceeds will be donated to charities engaged in the fight against breast cancer.
Jesse James is currently working on Billy Purgatory and the Curse of the Satanic Five, MythCop, R. Cane, and Witches vs Robots.
This Post Has 2 Comments
Gale Martin25 May 2012
Very interesting post. And I am like you, Jesse, in that rejection–being spurned or dismissed–is a powerful motivator for me. I’ve been an “I’ll show you” kind of kid since I was an ankle biter. Nice to know I have a kindred spirit in the Booktrope realm.
Elise25 May 2012
Yay for kindred spirits! Thank you, Gale! I am the tender soul who is crushed easily by discouragement, and I really admire those who are able to tough it through the mire of nasty opposition. I applaud you both!