For as long as I can remember, I have wanted to make films. I went to a very small Catholic high school that had no semblance of a film program. I came to Ball State University eager to learn the filmmaking process. Before I arrived at Ball State, I had never even been close to a camera let alone a legitimate film set. I was constantly told that the only way to get involved was to meet people. This became my mantra, my code. It was engrained in my mind. I had not even arrived at school yet, and I was already consumed. I was going to focus my college life on making movies. I knew I would succeed. I did not know how hard it would be.
The first day I was here, I began making connections. I tracked down every lead on film projects like a bloodhound. I was ravenous in my endeavors. I live on the Emerging Media Living Learning Community floor, which means I live in a film community. My neighbors were interested in making movies like I was. However, my passion surpassed anyone else’s. My drive could not be quelled. I began by knocking on every door in my hall, introducing myself and making connections right at the start. When I met someone, I met their friends and their friend’s friends. After a week I had a web of contacts. Some were useful, and some were not. The one’s who weren’t, I quickly forgot.
Soon the callouts came for the different film and media clubs. I joined Cardinal Filmworks, the largest film group on campus. I surveyed the room upon entering to find the people in charge. I knew if I could get to them, I would be in. For reasons unknown, I was incredibly nervous. I am not the type of person who gets nervous when meeting new people. I waited until after the meeting to introduce myself to the president and vice president. Nervously, I shook each of their hands and quietly said my name.
Weeks went by as I attended meeting after meeting. I thought the offers would be rolling in as the weeks went by, but I was wrong. I would try to join film crew after film crew but to no avail. No one wanted a freshman with no experience. I was considered a liability, a burden. How could I prove myself or learn anything if I never had the opportunity? I thought I would be caught in an infinite loop of being rejected because of my lack of experience and never getting experience because of my rejection. My spirits fell. I didn’t know what to do. I began to doubt my dreams, my ambitions, my talents, and myself.
It was now half way through the first semester. I still had no experience and had done nothing worthy of note. My family and friends were constantly asking about my progress and how many films I had made and when they could see them. I had nothing to tell them. Then one day, I was sitting at the Cardinal Filmworks meeting when I noticed a man who was obviously much older than the rest of us. After the meeting, I saw him talking to the president and vice president about getting a crew together. I acted like I was inconspicuously reading a poster so I could eavesdrop on their conversation. The man was named Ben. He was a graduate of Ball State University and was getting people together to create his film he had written and was directing. It was called Lightning in a Bottle and was set to be a full-length feature film. He spoke of sending the film to major festivals around the Midwest. My heart jumped when I heard he needed low-level crewmembers. My prayers had been answered. This is what I had been waiting for all this time. I knew I would do whatever it took to get on this crew. I approached him and asked about his film. He asked for a list of my credentials and experience and the names of any films I had worked on prior. I stammered. I had absolutely no idea what to say, so I said nothing. I
couldn’t even think of a good lie. He told me that he was looking for people with more experience. I was rejected. Once again, I had been rejected because I had no experience.
I was about to give up, just call it all in. I felt like my chance would never come. I was sitting at my computer one evening when an email popped up. I opened it and began reading. It was from the president of Cardinal Filmworks. He was asking for people to help him on his camera crew for “a new film called Lightning in a Bottle.” I froze. I reread the first few lines to make sure I wasn’t missing something. It seemed surreal. The more I read, the faster my heart began to beat. He asked for a resume to see how experienced I was. I decided to do the only thing I could to ensure the job. I lied. I made up movies, jobs, experiences that never existed. It was wrong, but I needed to be a part of this incredible opportunity. The next day, I received another email. I hastily opened it and scanned the words for something positive. At the bottom of the missive read, “I would like you to join this project.” I was elated. It was like finding the Holy Grail and El Dorado at the same time. I was basking in the glow of the email. It wasn’t until minutes later that I realized the gravity of the situation. It hit me like a ton of bricks. I still had no experience. Even though I had received this email, I still had never been close to a film set. Being hired did not change the fact that I knew nothing about filmmaking.
The first day of filming quickly came. It was a cold autumn morning. I slithered out of bed at five. The air was crisp and bitter like only an autumn morning in Muncie could be, but was filled with electricity. I was more excited and more nervous than I thought I ever could be. We drove for an hour to a labyrinth of a forest in Anderson. The precision of the crew was militaristic. Everyone knew his or her specific role. It was like a finally tuned veteran orchestra and I stood out as the rookie. I stammered and tripped and dropped everything I touched. It only got worse as each minute went by. People were coming up to me and asking for help finding C-clamps, C-47s, light kits, 35mm lenses, bounce boards, balancing sheets, boom poles, dollies, and cat skins. I knew what none of those were. I was forced to stand in waist deep frozen water to set up equipment, dig holes in the mud, and move eighty pound rocks from the river all in the name of film. I had never come close to a tripod, so when the director asked me to set up his tripod, I froze. I looked at the tripod the same way a surgeon would look at an open ribcage. It was made up of three plastic legs, but it looked like it had the intricacy of a pocket watch. The sweat began to drip down my forehead. My hands began to quiver. My vision blurred. The world around me became eerily quiet. I stared at this monumental task before me. I didn’t know where to begin. I picked it up and adjusted the leg clamps. The extensions slid out and locked into place. It was over. I had done it. I looked up at the sunrise with a triumphant glow.
The day only got easier. Things seemed to simply fall into place and go smoothly. The sun rose and protected the crew from the freezing November air. The shoot lasted thirteen hours. I finally made it back to my dorm, frozen, wet, bruised, battered, and exhausted. Yet I was strangely elated, satisfied in my hard days work. I woke up that morning expecting to craft an amazing film, and instead set up a tripod. I had learned something that day. It was small compared to everything else, but I did learn. And to me, that was enough. I had to lie constantly and fight constantly and work hard to get to that set so I could set up that tripod by a river in Anderson, but it was worth all of it. I knew it would take time and hard work, but eventually I would learn how to make movies and be great at what I want to do. After constant setbacks and let downs, I became confident that things would be good.