Santa Monica is a beautiful city, but the parking situation is cruel.
Last night, I was sitting in the modern playhouse—really enjoying the space; I was even getting turned on by the idea of having a private screening for the actors and crew of NUNE there. And then I thought about how each one of them would either have to valet their car or pay for three hour meters and stress out if we went over—and I thought to myself, “Well, this part of town isn’t very friendly. I’m gonna pass on it.”
Not that interested in theater, I went to see the show because it was a table reading for industry insiders—for a TV pilot. I was interested to see how this presentation would translate from stage to film in terms of the writing.
The energy was very intense, very high. I felt like I was back in NY, at one of those off-broadway shows. Maybe it was because everyone was dressed in black. You don’t see that much in sunny Santa Monica or LA period. But then again, the show’s subject was gothic. The room was filled with so many creative minds: a cast of 25 and an audience of industry people—who are also directors, actors and so on—and it’s electric.
In a very creative environment that’s enclosed like that: the feeling is very sexual. You just want to have sex with somebody. Creative energy is like having too much to drink where everyone looks cuter.
All the creative energy built up and locked up in one space makes it easy to fall in love or find actors so incredibly attractive—even when they aren’t. It’s because the energy is made of deities, greatness and exerts Dionysian glory that’s perversely narcissistic and self-indulgent. And this in turn, feeds your own indulgence.
It held the same feeling I had when I used to be a club kid, spending a great deal of my life (three days a week) in NYC dance clubs. There’s a lot of peacocking and energetic mating and worshiping one another—like beautiful deities. And when we’d dance, it was a performance of worshiping our own narcissism, exhibitionism and exchange of creativity. Sometimes it’s exchanged by competing and challenging each other’s style; very much like a mating game: in the peacock fashion of out-exhibiting someone else’s game. Competing for originality and authenticating yourself to the most extreme and learning how to stand out amidst other colors. This is a competitive arena that is hidden and prepares one to be the best artistically; to stand out from the crowd.
That’s how Madonna came up with “Vogue” in the 90s…she hung out in a lot of gay clubs—and watched the gay men and mainly drag queens challenge each other’s narcissism on the dance floor. The club life in the underground scene was like that—a great explosion of creativity.
This theater gave me the same feeling: where boundaries are unclear but the creativity energy is the same as being in a dance club. Unlike a club though, there’s less permission to violate people’s space. The beauty of club life is that it’s fearless and prepares you for stage fright based on the fact that you refuse to be ignored!
Usually when I direct, I don’t let myself feel those sexual vibes. My responsibility to the project is too great. While I’m aware of it, I know the sexual buildup is just a compression of mounting creative energy. I funnel it into the creativity and vision. I learned very early on that if I waste the energy on a literal level—the production and story will fall apart because it fucks up the focus. So sexual creative energy is a very delicate cocktail that I try not to mix in a professional context.
But outside of a project, I allow myself to get infatuated with actors just like anyone else. Whereas athletes discipline and condition themselves physically for a competition, I regulate and discipline my emotions and energies when making a film. I do this because I’m acutely aware of the power of alchemy and how the creative energy is no different than the testosterone that increases in athletes.
Because I’m nonathletic and spend most my day on a chair, I’m fascinated with athletes and how hard they push themselves. It’s no accident that the ideal for the main character, “Nune,” (in my film, NUNE) is an athlete, a cheerleader. It goes deeper than the stereotype of them being the most desirable breed in high school. They are good role models for cultivating inner potential and transcending limits. I borrow the goals that athletes have and apply them on an artistic level.
Athletes aren’t priests or ascetics and will have their binge days. A disciplined artist is no different. When you work, you don’t screw your models, your assistants or your actors. When you’re not working, you can do whatever the fuck you want. Even so, when an athlete binges, he knows how to get back on track.
Last night, I decided that I could date actors as long as I don’t work with them in the future. This is a caveat—because creative professionals often hook up so that they can collaborate. Yet there’s quite a number of directors who don’t work that way—and I’m one of them.
I like the idea that some men have wives and mistresses. The mistress is their fantasy slut and they’re not going to ruin that by marrying her: she would therefore not be a mistress anymore but a wife. When you make a film, the project is like your wife; it is committal and devotional. It holds a much more special place than a mistress. The wife makes you grounded, the mistress lets you play. When you confuse the two and let the mistress be your filmmaking process, you’re cheating on your film.
Many of my favorite directors often end up marrying their leads. Even so, that is not for me. I believe that movie-making is a form of modern tantra where the lines get blurred. People think that crossing those delicate boundaries is harmless. The mistake is no different than when tantric practitioners take the power of sexual energy to a literal level. It was never meant for that. It’s energy that’s alchemical and designed for transformational outcome; for liberation.The tests and trials of the sexual friction is to allow that energy to warp and mutate and metamorphose into a new level—after which, you experience levels of creativity unmatched by any amount of sex.
During the theater intermission, I accidentally met one of the actresses and I felt this pounding in chest that was simply ridiculous. Up close, I saw all the details of her face. It’s one of those things where I can read and invent the “story” of someone in a fraction of a second. And I thought to myself, “You know, I’m off the clock now. I’m not directing. I can fall in love right now if I wanted to.”
The short word for it is Infatuation. I let myself get whisked away even if whatever ideas I have about a person is unreal. I know it’s a glow that will fade so I try to indulge in it before reality sets in. It’s sort of like a meal that you eat while it’s hot and when it get cold, it’s not interesting anymore. It’s like the metaphor of the Cinderella coach turning into a pumpkin. For me, an artist needs to always elevate the pumpkin into the coach. This is part of exercising the creative and emotional muscle.
In the arts, you are always romancing something in your head. You have to, because you need the power of an emotional ideal to nurture you. You work that muscle the same way you have to work any skill to get better. You have to keep dreaming.
That dream is what gets passed onto the audience ultimately. And it’s the feeling of getting lost in an ideal that I want the audience to have. This infatuation also goes with artists who want to work with other artists—they help elevate each other’s ideal. It’s about being close to an ideal that the artist has created. The glow and magic of that ideal enraptures them. This ideal is also what fans ultimately experience.
Infatuation has its dark side and that’s where heroes fall.That’s where you have the Hemmingways and geniuses who are self-destructive. The idea of rock stars and actors destroying themselves is not a romantic ideal but is a sad excuse for being a loser.
There are a few amazing Hollywood industry people, acting coaches and mentors, like Diane Christiensen that nurture and build integrity in child actors so they don’t end up becoming emotional train wrecks. These type of emotional and spiritual preparation is what makes an artist strong in the sense of creative athleticism. They won’t need the collateral damage of drugs, sexual addiction and alcohol to be vulnerable or artistic. And this is what will make them stronger role models and in that sense, “idols.”
Filmmaking is the art of idol-making and it can’t be avoided. It warrants a legitimate feeling of falling in love and of having a secret and personal relationship with the characters. This stuff is mentally caustic and powerful. If someone can’t handle the power of an idol—they become a stalker and fall completely into a delusional state.
But I feel that if you do your job right—you can only elevate that person to a higher place. I promote the quality of being swept away or totally taken by something beautiful or magical. They say that when you wear something nice and someone compliments you on it, it’s because they see a reflection of themselves. It takes a person who has beauty inside to recognize something beautiful. So a movie that has magic in it imparts and energizes the magic that lies dormant in the viewer.
I recently read an interview of a famous actress recently, and she said that in her Jewish religion, worship of idols or “false idols” is forbidden. So when asked where her Oscar award statue is, she said she couldn’t remember because she doesn’t get caught up in worshiping false idols (idolatry objects).
I agree with that but I also know that movies are an art of hypnosis which uses tools to assure that you’re possessed and hooked for life. Even if this actress didn’t want to stare at a statue, she has done something far worse that she can’t avoid: which is to become a statue and image that others would stare at.
The power for movies to do that are inherent, so the “false idols” or idolization thing cannot be avoided.
If you are an actor, you have to be made into a deity. If the director can’t do that, then he is not doing something right.
Yet this idolization is what makes movies both dangerous and great.
I try to focus on the part that’s great. And that part involves awareness. The dangerous aspect of transference is when it’s unconscious. When you’re working with such a powerful medium where worship is unavoidable, it’s best to make the experience as beautiful as possible. You have to make it transcendental rather than destructive.
In either case, the audience goes under a state of “possession” by the archetype or G-d-like quality that they imagine. There is good to become of that. You can get them to be so madly in love that they can step out of themselves and hold onto an ideal that gives them a reason for living—for breathing in each day, like when falling in love.
It’s important to have some aspect of humanity that is unbreakable, incorruptible and so pure that nothing can destroy it. And this you can only build within yourself as an ideal. It can never be found outwardly. So when a film can offer that outwardly, it is worth investing the energy into and running with it.
Yet I’m not referring to false idols. I’m speaking of feeling immense power of relating to something bigger than yourself—that gives you zest for living, succor and immense inner renewal. In action films, the device is hero worship but what I’m talking about goes deeper because a true idol has no grandiose enlargement of vanity. An ideal can give you a feeling of eternal life; that part of you that never dies no matter how much that that ideal can by crushed by others outwardly. Transcendental idealism is neither worship nor idolizing: but helps retain the most beautiful and perfect essence of yourself.
The Jews may preach about how G-d is formless, and although IT probably is (because It’s big and inconceivable), they forget that G-d put us here on earth in a human form. And so we use forms to emulate this G-dliness. We don’t put our faith on thin air, we hold onto an image of a great ideal within us in order to go further. When you are born, your parents take on that first G-d image. And when they fail to do that, you look for it in something else. In life people fail us, so we keep raising the bar on that inner image. The beauty of film is that it can offer that perfect image where you can love a character inside-out despite their flaws.
When I watch movies, I want to fall in love and get totally lovesick. I don’t see a lot of shows that do that. But the few that do really inspires me. I love everything with James Dean in it. I love Robin Johnson in TIMES SQUARE (an obscure film that’s tragically out of print) and I love Clea DuVall in BUT I’M A CHEERLEADER. All these characters relate to Nune regardless of gender. I study every part of their character the way you study every movement of someone you’re madly in love with. It’s their characters that drive me crazy—and how they play them. And I want to create the same feeling—and then some. The essence of the idol is that you become weak before before them yet are empowered, grow stronger and are self-assured because that idol lives inside your imagination.
I hope that when people get a chance to see NUNE, they can see this effect taking place. I haven’t mastered it yet but I want make stuff that drives people crazy for decades and just get totally lost. Perhaps there’s no greater reward in making movies—than getting to indulge in lovesickness.
Here’s a video on mastership. Although it’s focused on acting it applies to areas of creative athleticism: Four Levels of Acting: Becoming a Master