Wednesday, May 4, 2011

The Ackbar Bow

My friend and I used to joke about getting our careers off the ground. Achieving "escape velocity" was the term he used - the idea being if we worked hard enough and made consistently solid work, there'd be a point at which the spacecraft (our aforementioned careers) would not only blast off (fortune and fame) but would break free of the earth's gravitational pull, thus finding a comfortable orbit (no more day jobs!)

To put the analogy to bed, sometimes I feel like a delayed shuttle launch.

Then there are times like last week's shoot, where the opposite is true and everything just clicks.

Backstory - my friend and I are making a short teaser for a TV series pitch. As our little project ballooned into a fifteen-person, multi-location machine, he started a new job and became almost completely unavailable. So with an impending panic attack as my co-pilot, I reached out to a few friends and colleagues and did something I don't do often enough. I asked for help. It was the best thing I ever did.

Suddenly, there were prop and wardrobe lists, make-up artists, contact sheets, call times, passenger vans, locations, rental pickups and this thing started to get very real. In the final week leading up to the shoot, we were moving like binary Neo at the end of the first Matrix - all calm and invincible, but without the horrible acting.

In trusting the skill and talent of others, I could relax (as much as I ever relax) and focus on the story we were trying to tell, concentrate on how best to tell it. We made both days with plenty of time, and had I not lost my car keys (an inevitability I attribute to turning 40 on our first day of shooting), I would have walked away feeling almost guilty for having such an excessive amount of fun.

And yes there were technical problems and personality conflicts and certain ideas that killed on paper just didn't sell when real people replaced written words and the usual amount of feeling like the film was shooting us as much as the other way around, but somehow it was happening. One funny idea cooked up two years ago at a party was becoming a physical thing with characters, structure and personality.

So I took a breath and did a little "Ackbar bow." I guess I felt the situation called for it. Now, since just about every emotion I've ever had can somehow be traced to one of the Star Wars movies (just the old ones, not the CGI turds), I'll explain.  There's a scene in the final battle sequence of Return of the Jedi, not the idiotic teddy bear fight on the ground, but the complex space battle taking place around the death star. The rebels are grossly outnumbered, face insurmountable odds - yet they continue to fight. One lucky pilot (depending on how you look at it) kamikazes right into the bridge of a massive super-star destroyer - disabling its navigation systems and sending it slowly careening into the death star in a cataclysmic explosion. Finally, a victory for the little guys! The rebel leader, everyone's favorite ambulatory lobster, "Admiral Ackbar" watches the scene and just bows his head. Overcome with emotion, relief, possibility, exhaustion, he just has a moment to take it in.

If it makes any sense, I felt a twisted kinship with the Admiral as this project came to life. I took a breath, had my moment of possibility, and for a second felt slightly farther from the earth's gravitational pull.

In living color here, for all you rebel scum...

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