Yesterday, I got a message on Instagram from a stranger, and I assumed that this random message originated from a spam account, but I was surprised when I read:
"I just saw The Lonely Lights. The Color of Lemons. It was beautiful. Thank you."
In truth, I haven't thought about this short in many years. I haven't actually seen it for even longer so after reading this chance and thoughtful note, I decided to watch the film again for the first time.
Man, what a trip. Ten years ago was such a different era. I was ambition and naive, my expectation of a film and directing career was that it was inevitable, and nothing would stop me.
This film emerged from bull-headedness and narcissism. I made it from the deepest parts of who I was. It was the first time I opened myself artistically, not only was I disclosing my deepest thoughts and secrets but it was also just pure and unadulterated filmmaking. It scared me but at the same time, it was fucking thrilling.
At the age of 23, I had full creative control. I took out nearly $10,000 in student loans and also won a $20,000 grant to make the film. It was the only time as a filmmaker that I felt completely able to do just... create. I followed no rules or voices to appease anyone. I didn't make it for anyone but myself. What emerged was a weird and abstract name poem that represented who I was at that exact time and space. How unusual and rare that is.
The film gave me the confidence to move to Los Angeles, to come out of the closet, to believe I could actually make something of myself. It separated me from an insecure and lonely teenager who lived in his own head, who put on an aggressive, no-bullshit attitude to people. I can't imagine what an insufferable son-of-a-bitch I was in college before this short.
"Lonely Lights" allowed me to let others in, to know that I wasn't alone in the universe. The "girl" in "Lonely Lights" isn't just a real friend from high school, it is the world around me. My faith. My friends. My God. My expectations and my memories.
For me, "Lonely Lights" was a flag pole film. A short that defined everything about myself until that point. It was my childhood, my insecurities, my fears. It was who I grew up to be.
And for some reason, people actually wanted to see it. I don't remember now how many festivals it played, but highlights include the Los Angeles Film Festival, London Film Festival, SXSW Film Festival (where it won a special jury prize), and AFI. This isn't to discount festivals in Seoul, Hong Kong, Montreal, Norway, and even old conservative South Carolina. In total, the short played 40 something festivals worldwide and won a few jury prizes along the way. It's likely the most accomplished thing I've ever created.
But it wasn't the calling card that I had hoped it be. A queer-leaning experimental short doesn't scream "bankable Hollywood director" and it's been difficult to find the right project since.
Soon after, I wrote and directed another short film, "Sunlit Shadows" and this one started its festival circuit at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival. Now was the time to start that career I promised myself, but all those hopes fell apart just over a month later, on February 28th when I tested positive for HIV.
That day broke everything. It broke my first (and only) relationship. It broke my ambition to create. It broke my wide-eyed wonder of the world. It broke who I thought I wanted to be. I regressed after that day, and it took another three years before I was able to recover from it.
That's when I made "2 28," a hyper-personal web-series about the experience. A film so extreme and close-knit that it shuns most people away. I can't recommend anyone to watch it because it's not a friendly viewing. It's not likable. It's angry and sad. It's pretentious. It's confused and chaotic. I was attempting to recreate the "magic" I had with "Lonely Lights," something that was truthful and pure, but instead, it emerged as a cold and experimental dredge.
That said, like "Lonely Lights," "2 28" was a flag pole film. Though it only covers the five years since "Lonely Lights" and didn't have the "success" of the former, it examined who I was since moving to Los Angeles, the singular relationship I've had, and how my sexual addictions derailed my ambition for a film career.
In many ways, I think "2 28" was my last film and the idea of making another one feels unnecessarily daunting. Since "2 28" my creative focus has shifted. I've opened myself up to other mediums.
This year I wrote a book. This book, unlike everything else I've done, is pop fiction. It's big and ambitious and broad. It's traditional in its storytelling, has real characters and plot and unlike "Lonely Lights" or "2 28" which are inspired in large parts by the experimental short "Sink or Swim", it's approachable.
It's been five years since I released "2 28" and ten years since "The Lonely Lights." In some ways, this book, currently entitled "Advent of the Roar" is my new flag pole. It's a culmination of where I am as an artist since "2 28." I no longer have an urge for the hyper-personal and to hide that hyper-personal with abstraction and experimental filmmaking. "Advent of the Roar" is a book that traverses my observations of the world, politics, and emotional state and buries them in a book that reads more like an amalgamation of Tolkien's "Lord of the Rings" and Lucas' "Indiana Jones" films than withdrawn, experimental pretension.
When I was was in eighth grade, I had the ambitions to be the next Spielberg or Stanley Kubrick. This was a 14-year-olds ambition. Twenty years later, I'm happy exploring art and creativity in other mediums. I can find success in small victories and happiness in the day to day. I'm less ambitious than I was, but in some ways, it's made me a happier and all around more open person. The world is less about who am I and where do I belong, but who am I as part of this world?
Life is a weird and wonderful journey, and I'm eager to explore the next ten, twenty, thirty years and all of its exceptional unknowns. It's fucking exciting.