The Literary Drover No. 1586

I once took a class in filmmaking. It made sense and seemed the logical thing to do because I had taken classes in film theory and film history, so the next step was a course in filmmaking.

The filmmaking program at the time lacked in funds and resources and students determined to make films had to make do with aged and abused 16mm film cameras. The magazines were so warped that they had to be taped and taped again with black electrical tape to keep light leaks out.

My opinion was that film is a visual medium and a story should be told with images, not words. I wrote a script for a short film – it was five minutes long – and emphasized everything that happened did so visually. I created storyboards for each shot in the film, and I rehearsed the actors until I decided they were ready to be shot. (With a film camera, that is.)

We shot the film, developed the film, and I edited the footage to get the desired result. Then I showed the film to my fellow filmmaking students.

No one said a word when the exhibition was done, and the lack of response convinced me that I was probably the single worst filmmaker ever. William Castle and John Waters were geniuses next to me, it seemed.

I quietly slipped my film from the projector and left the darkened room with a decision in hand: I would drop the course and never again speak of the matter to anyone.

The following day, as I made my way to the enrollment office to drop the course, I heard someone call my name. I turned and saw the instructor for my filmmaking course frantically waving at me. I paused, waiting for him to run across the campus toward me. When he caught up with me he paused to catch his breath, and then asked me why I was headed toward the enrollment office.

I explained that I was intending to drop his course because I decided, based on the response to my film, it was best I do so.

He quickly moved between me and the door to the enrollment office. You can’t do that, he said.

Feeling fearless in a moment of what I considered certain despair I moved toward him and asked, without exception: Why not?

Because, he said. If you had stayed for the other films you would have seen why.

I looked at him, subtly taking in his breath, wondering if the Friday Afternoon Club had gotten a three day head start.

Come on, he said. I will show you the other films and then you decide whether or not you want to drop the class.

I followed him back to his wretched screening booth and he showed me the films other students had made. His assessment was correct.

He let the last of the films exit the projector and turned on the lights. Then he looked at me. Now do you understand?

I said I did, and also said that I would remain in the course. Before I left that horrid semi-darkened space that smelled of something suggesting unfiltered cigarettes and sweat, I posed a question to the instructor: If my film is so good why was it no one responded to it?

That, I was told. Is the mark of quality.

As I was preparing for the publication of SCENE OF A CRIME/FOR UNTO US that experience came to mind, and I paused, wondering why.

The day SCENE OF A CRIME/FOR UNTO US was published a fellow I know, whose acquaintance I made when I was talking a course in film history, contacted me because he had heard I had a book coming out. I suggested he purchase a copy and let me know what he thought of my storytelling.

He researched the matter and came back with questions, as is his practice:

Do I need a Kindle? No.

Do I need a Nook? No.

If you want to read it as a PDF, you can do so. If you download Adobe Digital Editions for free you can read it that way.

He purchased a copy of SCENE OF A CRIME/FOR UNTO US. He read it using Adobe Digital Editions.

I heard nothing more from him. A month passed. I was otherwise busy with promoting the book. Two months passed. No response. My experience with a lack of response in that filmmaking course came to mind. I considered whether or not to contact him, to ask for his opinion, and decided against doing so.

About a week ago (as I write this) I received a rather long e-mail from him. It was about SCENE OF A CRIME/FOR UNTO US.

He told me what he thought of my writing, my storytelling. He told how it “had affected him, haunted him, and disturbed him” because he had never before experience ‘such raw humanity’. He told me how he read it again and again and how it had caused changes in him. Before reading it he had a rather ‘flippant’ perception of the world around him, and how the stories had changed that for the better.

I wrote back to him, thanking him for the response, the praise, and asked him why it had taken him two months to respond.

He called me. We talked. He told me the reason it had taken him two months to respond was because it of how the writing had affected him, and how he struggled to comprehend what was happening to him.

In silence, then, change becomes.

If you have read SCENE OF A CRIME/FOR UNTO US, and if you were affected by the writing, the stories, please let me know.


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