4/14/2014

If You Can Find Your Inspiration Nothing In This Universe Will Stop You

When I was little, my mom would always play Bruce Springsteen on Sunday mornings. I would wake up and go to church at Trinity Presbyterian—the same one my dad went to when he was growing up. Whenever I got home, I walked in the door to “Thunder Road.” There was something so enchanting about the saxophone solo at the end of this song. That’s what I remember most. Later in the afternoon, after hunting for wild beasts in the backyard, or sailing the stars with my friends at the park, I would fall asleep on the couch listening to “Atlantic City.” I didn’t see a picture of ‘the Boss,’ until I was much older. It didn’t matter, I closed my eyes anyway. Growing up, my gym teacher would always play Bruce Springsteen during Phys Ed. As soon as Mr. Mac—the same gym teacher my dad had—walked into the gym, he would blast “Born To Run.” Every day I tried to make the words out. I always thought it was “Champs like us.” On the non-gym days, I played the tenor sax in band class. In between Duke Ellington and John Phillip Sousa, I would try to play “Dancing In The Dark” by ear. It didn’t always sound right. But, I do remember the day when I figured it out. And yes, it was the only thing I played for two weeks.

Before high school games, I would always play Bruce on my iPod in the locker room. All the other guys suited up to whatever awful rap was playing on Z100 at the time, but all I needed was the guitar riff from “Glory Days” to get myself pumped. And, that night after we danced on the clouds in triumph, my girlfriend and I drove to our own “Secret Garden.” She would wear my varsity jacket when she was cold—a green jacket with white sleeves and an “EB” over the right breast, same as my dad’s.

It wasn’t until high school that I developed a true appreciation towards the lyrics in songs. The ‘poetry’, as Governor Christie referred to it during his cameo on Saturday Night Live last year, is truly inspiring. And, it’s just that: poetry. He told a story with every song. They were snapshots of life thirty or so years prior, but I felt as if I was living them. No other artist matched the key which my brain thought in. Because of this, I felt I had some sort of guiding light during the insanity of high school. Whenever I doubted all the life choices my friends and I made, I would turn to Bruce for direction. And when he couldn’t help, I constructed my own route.

Songwriting was one of my creative outlets growing up. By high school, I was ‘First Chair’ on tenor sax in the Jazz band and managed to teach myself guitar, piano, drums, and harmonica. Music was how I saw the world. And, if you view the films I’ve made over the years at Rutgers, you’ll be able to see too. Writing songs alone at the lunch table, was the first time I tried to tell autobiographical stories. Just like Bruce did, I wanted to share my voice and my views. Things that bothered me made their way onto my lined notebook paper. The awkward growing pains of falling in and out of love were preserved in ink.

I’ve always thought of myself as a unique case—as if the mundane daily grind shouldn’t apply to me. Even as I sat in those boring World History classrooms, I felt that somehow I was destined for more. As much as I loved my dad, and I still do greatly to this day, I didn’t want to be just like him anymore. I didn’t want to grow old in the same town I grew up in. I didn’t want to join some white collar/black tie computer corporation (In fact, I swear to myself today that if I ever find myself having to wear a tie to work, then I have failed). Knowing all of this during high school was a blessing that I never truly appreciated. I just assumed all of my friends knew what they wanted to do in life at that time as well. In hindsight, I was very fortunate and I have since then come to appreciate having this drive so early on.

Filmmaking became the natural progression of my desire to share my story. Bruce’s lyrics laid the foundation. But, being a visual-orientated learner, I found showing to be much more effective than telling. I was that video guy in high school. Honestly though, what film major wasn’t? I could tell you all the cliché stories about making lip-sync “Livin’ on a Prayer” music videos and LEGO-people films with my Steven Spielberg LEGO camera when I was little. But, I don’t want to bore you. The main reason my passion for film hasn’t dwindled in the insanity of college, is because I’ve never been more inspired than after watching New York filmmaker Luke Matheny win the Oscar for ‘Best Short.’ His film God of Love, resonated with me for so many reasons—its humor, romanticism and beautiful cinematography. But, I think it hit home with me mainly because he was a student when he made it. It was a class project. He got his college buddies together and did something that he truly believed in. All these thoughts ran through my head, sitting on my dorm room couch, in Winkler Hall, during freshman year at Rutgers. I was in absolute awe.

Every filmmaker dreams of winning an Oscar, but that wasn’t why I was blown away by Mr. Matheny’s project. If he can do it, why can’t I? And why haven’t I done it yet? It wasn’t enough that I lived in a special housing program that granted us 24/7 access to video equipment. I now had a purpose; a reason to be the absolute best that I could be. God of Love validated my dream that a hometown boy from the Tri-State could make a name for himself in film. I knew Kevin Smith did it. James Gandolfini went to Rutgers. Frank Sinatra and Jon Bon Jovi dabbled in acting. Even Thomas Edison did it—and he practically invented Cinema as we know it. But, watching a student win an Oscar in my first year of college, was the most inspiring moment in my life. The next three years at Rutgers were greater than I ever could have imagined.

Navigating the growth in the filmmaking world at RU, has been a wild ride over the last 3 and a half years. I’ve screened at festivals in Los Angeles, New York, and most recently, the Cannes Film Festival in France this past summer. In looking back on the wonderful adventure that Rutgers was for me, none of it would have actually happened if it weren’t for all the things that kept my creative wheels turning. My family, my friends—which, according to my most favorite critic, are the greatest friends anyone could ask for in the world; I would have to agree. And that’s what I want to leave you with: If you have that inspirational thing in your life; be it right now or in the past, don’t ever let it go. Cherish all of the wonderful feelings it gives you. Let it capture your essence. But, most importantly, allow it to embody your soul. Breathe in each day knowing that you will conquer the world with your art and become the master of your universe. If you tell yourself and truly believe in your heart of hearts, nothing in this universe will stop you from following your dream, then you will undoubtedly succeed.

Yes, you will indeed. 98 ¾% chance guaranteed!

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