Un-couch’d: Maybe i am insane

‘Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you have imagined.’
Henry David Thoreau

I first read this quote on a photograph that was given to me by my friend Julie Anna back in 2008. The photo was taken atop a hill overlooking the New Zealand countryside. It brought a rush of excitement that made me want to take dynamic inspirational photos and video of other countries and cultures. It reminded me of what I was really passionate about and what I really wanted to do. However, for the next year and a half that photo would hang on my wall while I played video games and watched countless movies.

Growing up I’d always wanted to be in the movie business. It started, of course, with watching films such as Star Wars, Indiana Jones and Back to the Future. The real desire came when I saw the movies FX and FX2. I knew that becoming a special effects artist was my calling. Little did I know as a kid, in order to achieve that goal I would need to learn a lot about chemistry, physics and be quite handy with tools. While I’m not completely mechanically inept, I wouldn’t say I’m a guy who can get things fixed. After all, that’s what money is for. Pay someone else to do it, right? So with this new information, I decided that maybe becoming a special effects artist wasn’t my calling.

So I joined the military.

Nearly a decade later I found myself rekindling that desire to work within film. Not as a special effects artist, but as a cinematographer and editor. So in 2006, with the help of my cousin Bear, I started teaching myself how to do both. Over the next two years I educated myself, and it was a blast. I was learning a new skill as well as doing something I absolutely enjoyed. I did small videos for schools and friends and then in 2008 I attended a small film school in San Diego. That’s when I got the photo. It stoked the fire in me that was already burning. But like I said, soon after it merely hung on a wall while I sat on a couch.

Then in 2009 I read a book by Donald Miller called A Million Miles in a Thousand Years. It’s a book about living a better life. It’s about going after those things you desire. It’s about telling a better story than just sitting on the couch watching TV. It was a kick in the pants for me. I knew I needed to do something other than what I was currently doing. At that time, I was working for the military again and making decent money. But I didn’t like my job. It was so boring. So I looked for another one. One that I would love.

And I found it. On Craigslist.

So I applied and I got the job. My new title was cinematographer / video editor. When people asked me why I took a job that paid me $6.56 less than my previous one, my response was simple: I was now doing something I enjoyed.

I absolutely loved it, but it wasn’t enough to get me off the couch. During the 2010 summer I reread Miller’s book and realized I was still living on the couch wishing I could accomplish my dreams. So finally in June of that year I told my cousin Bear, who I played video games with, that we should make a short film. He completely agreed.

Even though I lived in Anchorage, Alaska and he lived in Vacaville, California, we started the process of writing a short script and realized we had the potential to make something larger. So instead of writing for the short film, we decided to rewrite a trilogy he had written back in 2002. It was a lot harder than initially anticipated. But it was fun. I was moving towards what I wanted to do with my life.

The final thing that pushed me beyond the point of no return was the movie The Astronaut Farmer. IMDb describes the movie:

A NASA astronaut (Billy Bob Thornton), forced to retire years earlier so he could save his family farm, has never give up his dream of space travel and looks to build his own rocket, despite the government’s threats to stop him.

Mark and Michael Polish wrote this movie back when they were making their other films, Twin Falls Idaho and Northfork. The brothers were told time and time again they couldn’t make indie films the way they wanted to. Yet they did. They not only made two films but they made a third called Jackpot. The Astronaut Farmer is basically about their experiences within the film industry, and the countless times they were told they couldn’t make it.

At one point in the film Charles Farmer (Thornton) is before a governmental review board and they ask him why he is building this rocket. His response: ‘You see, when I was a kid, they used to tell me that I could be anything I wanted to be. No matter what. And maybe I am insane, I don’t know, but I still believe that.’

That was the clincher. I did have things I wanted to accomplish in my life. I did have dreams I wanted to see fulfilled and the couch wasn’t the place they were going to come true. I wouldn’t find myself sitting around anymore. And I wasn’t going to listen to people tell me that I couldn’t do what I wanted to do.

It took four months to complete the rewrite for the first script. It was the most fun I’ve ever had writing. And now we have this full-length feature film script ready. Since then we’ve mailed out more than a hundred query letters to literary agencies for representation and have had good feedback. But we aren’t done. This is only the first script of five we are now working on. And recently I had the opportunity to work as a production assistant on a Hollywood film set here in Alaska. It may not be a big deal to many people, and others may think it’s a small step, but that’s just it. It’s a step towards a final objective.

I’m not looking to become famous and rich. I’m not looking for tons of money or a big house and nice car. I merely want to do the things I enjoy and have dreamt of since I was a kid. When I die I want people to say, ‘Geoff was a man who went after the things in life he wanted. He went confidently in the direction of his dreams.’ And those dreams aren’t going to be accomplished sitting on my couch watching TV or listening to those who say it can’t be done.

Because, just like Charles Farmer, ‘When I was a kid, they used to tell me that I could be anything I wanted to be. No matter what. And maybe I am insane, I don’t know, but I still believe that.’

Photo: Geoff Matero