As an animation student at the University of Southern California, I’m required to make a film to graduate. Since my first day of college, I’ve looked forward to senior year with eagerness and excitement. It’s gotten scarier as it’s gotten closer, sure, but I still feel an exhilarating rush when I think about directing a film and finally being able to put it ahead of everything else. I usually have so many ideas in my head that I thought trying to decide what I wanted my film to be would be painful and tedious.
I never expected to figure out what I wanted to do for my thesis film as early as my Sophomore year.
Yet, that’s what happened.
The idea came to me like a sudden fever as I pondered an assignment in an animation-centric screenwriting class. Usually good ideas take a lot of time to emerge and just getting one requires a lot of active development, but this one came to me in an instant.
When my professor asked me and my fellow students to close our eyes and visualize ourselves moving through the rooms of our childhood homes and pick a memory to write about, I eventually found myself lingering in my livingroom. I stared at the armchair where I spent so many hours doing homework as a child with my mother directing my focus and keeping me moving smoothly from one question to the next. At that age, if she didn’t help me, doing a simple math worksheet could take hours and hours due to my severe inattentive ADHD. In my mind’s eye, I settled back into that chair, looked in my mind, and I pondered how, on a fundamental level, my mind flowed the same way it did when I was in elementary school. Sinking into those emotions, and sensing into my mind, I started to replay things I felt from inside my skull, and then I saw a huge mass of strings congealed together. I pushed as hard as I could, yelled at it, begged for it to move and do something on its own, but as the pressure of time crashed down, it wouldn’t budge. Everything exploded from there. I started writing the script that would eventually become the first scene of my thesis film and I was so engrossed that I didn’t look away from the computer until it was done.
When I did a reading of it in class, people went silent.
Perhaps it's the nature of living so long with a certain neurological structure: it feels so intimate and natural that visual ways of conveying it grow over time without you even knowing, then burst out when something summons them. It forms into something incredibly authentic and original.
I didn’t decide that this idea was “the one” until the summer before junior year. It was a weird, existential summer, and I felt dissatisfied with my inability to just snap my fingers and make 15 short films appear. I was somewhat cognizant of how intense my expectations for myself were, but I still felt like I wasn’t good enough. My perfectionism and high expectations had killed every personal project I had tried to do since the start of college. Each time, I froze up and let myself get paralyzed by my own strangling grip.
I had no idea how to get out of this. Every step I tried to take would be chastised by my superego for not going far enough. It took a lot of time to really think about it and create the space I needed to realize I was strangling myself. Feeling rejected and undervalued, I sought ferociously to deliver, deliver, deliver, but no matter how many times I pulled the trigger, nothing would fire, because the gun was ultimately not loaded. I realized I couldn’t squeeze productivity out of myself by just mindlessly submerging myself in pressure and pretending I would die or be imprisoned by the corporate overlords the moment I graduated college and never have the chance to make anything again.
My dad suggested that maybe, instead of expecting myself to make a bunch of short films every year despite my college workload and executive dysfunction, I could calm my potatoes and just make a kick-ass thesis.