Hating (and Loving) Your Old Work: My First Feature Film

“Forever Midnight” (1998) – My first feature film.

A lot of filmmakers hate to watch their own movies. Even master-level directors like Steven Spielberg and John Carpenter say they can’t stand to watch their old work. And that seems really weird, right? But I get it.

It does seem insane to spend so much of one’s life doing a thing, to nuture it like a child … and then to cast it out into the wilderness and hope you never see it again. No one said filmmakers were sane.

When you make a movie you often see it 100 times before it’s even released. Editing, sound mixing, testing, screenings … By the end you’re sick of it. But more signifinatly, that same critical eye that you used to make the movie, to craft every detail, is the same eye that tortures you afterwards. You only see the mistakes you’ve made. You can’t look at it objectively because you’re too close to it.

And time usually makes this worse, as your skills improve and the flaws become more obvious. Frequently, a trip down memory lane results in a harsh pummeling of ego and ends in the pit of despair (kind of like the one in The Princess Bride).

So this is one of those blogs where I’m secretly preaching to myself more than to you guys. As filmmakers we need to allow these things to exist in a certain moment and time, and be more zen about it. Stop beating ourselves up and just let these things be.

The truth is, someone out there loves it and doesn’t see the flaws you do. What’s also true is that someone out there hates it way more than you do, so you just can’t control these things.

So now to practice what I preach … (deep breath)

In 1998, fresh out of film school, I directed my first feature film. Shot for $50,000 on 16mm film, inspired by the indie spirit of Clerks and El Mariachi, we made Forever Midnight. A coming-of-age drama about three friends and their transition from high-school into the real world. It was an amazing adventure, made with a wonderful cast and crew, and I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything.

But you can’t see it anywhere. It never got distribution and it never made its money back. But secretly I uploaded it to YouTube years ago … and never released it. Because of these regrets.

Let me be clear that I am so proud of everyone who worked on this movie. I look back on all of you with nothing but love and gratitude. And while the movie was not “successful”, I did get to travel the country with it on a college campus tour. It was like my trip to Europe, and as a young man I got to see the country. New York, Chicago, Texas, Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky, Alabama, Vermont, and more — and I got paid to do it!

Ah, youth …

But watching the movie makes me physically cringe. There are scenes I am profoundly embarrassed with. Dialogue, characters, huge story elements I wish I would have done differently. But I didn’t know what I didn’t know.

But I need to let go of these feelings. I need to be zen and let it exist, flaws and all. Time to release it into the wild. So here it is, for the first time on the internet, my first feature film …

2 thoughts on “Hating (and Loving) Your Old Work: My First Feature Film

Add yours

  1. Rad, good work.

    Last night I texted my boss that I was inspired by his willingness at our annual sales conference to go ahead and sing on stage with his friends who were playing acoustic, even though he’s a drummer, not a singer. Because it was an example of how to not be afraid of performing imperfectly at things in front of other people.

    Revisiting old work is like old diaries being read. Sometimes the content strikes as surprisingly profound and other times, just profoundly embarrassing.

    Ultimately there’s something cool in all the old projects that heart and soul were poured into, because they’re 100% human. And so many people let their whole human lifetimes go by without cultivating anything that required giving it everything they had, warts and all.

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