Rodeo Drive and Kosovo: The Power of Illusion and Story
At age 22, I stood by a window in a hotel on Rodeo Drive, courtesy of Sony Studios, and watched. Celebrities, obscured by dark limo windows, passed by. Aspiring actors-serving-as-doormen sweated discreetly in the heat hoping today would be the day their big break would walk in. The world’s affluent strolled the streets amidst khaki-clad tourists who snapped photos of every street sign. It was a world of beauty, of ease, of illusion; a world separated by a veil where very talented people are bound by expectations of a public who has no idea how hard they have worked, how much faith it has taken, how close each one who has “made it” has come to never making it at all – not for lack of talent or opportunity, but because it hurts so damn hard to pick yourself up, takes so much energy to keep believing. Even after success has come. Yes, a world where being good at what you do means that everyone believes they have a right to you – but no one actually knows you.
(What kind of a world do we live in where because you’re a talented artist, you have to worry for your children’s safety? Where people take a bite out of you and think that for some reason, it doesn’t hurt? That you get used to it? Really??)
You are, after all, a human being like everyone else. You’ve never felt otherwise. You’re thankful, god-damn thankful, for where you’ve come, what you’ve achieved. You wouldn’t trade it for anything. Yet sometimes you wish that those staring after you knew that at times you stare back: gazing into their ability to be known. Not known of.
Yes, I gazed out the window and I watched.
In the background in my room, ABC News broadcast a report from the 1999 NATO airstrikes in Kosovo. The American reporter struggled to find words as tears etched a crinkled farmer’s face. His family gone. Eating breakfast together that morning, lying dead in a field by lunch.
I stood by the window and listened to the grief of a father, broadcast to the world. His reality and the world outside my window seemed worlds apart. But were they?
Illusion. Reality. Story.
The news ended and a tabloid came on. The reporter had no problem finding words to extol the latest rumor of a celebrity going through a divorce. Unflattering images of her flashed across the screen while dramatic words, carefully chosen to incite the worst assumptions, were read off the teleprompter. Gushy, dishy, juicy, don’t-miss-this, can-you-believe-it, he-must-be-sleeping-with-this-other-Celebrity. Poor-her. Oh-but-we-love-it. Stay-tuned-for-More.
We believe the tears of the farmer. We don’t believe the tears of the celebrity. Why?
Illusion. The world of filmmaking produces illusion. And rightly so. Stories that aren’t real are carefully portrayed as if they are. We write them so they’ll feel real. That’s what good storytelling does. It draws viewers into the story so perfectly – so entrancingly – that for two hours they forget that it’s not real.
They forget that it’s not real.
And they forget that the people who make these stories possible are real.
The money, the glamour, the lifestyle, the ease. These, like the polished film are the end results of an invisible process. Part of the beautiful Illusion. But the Illusion is not why people make films. We create and view films because Story is integral to our existence as human spirits. Because we believe in the power of Story. We are Story. We live Story. We come from Story and we create Story. It’s everything. The farmer in Kosovo. The celebrity in divorce. Worlds apart? No. Human Story.
I stood at the window and looked out at a world where illusion and story create reality.
How much of the Illusion is controlling your life? Where do you draw a line between authenticity and meeting expectations? As a successful artist, how do you ground yourself? Where do you choose to expose your humanity, where do you hide it?
Can you dispel Illusion if you dare to let people see your humanity? Would you still be respected? Would the magic still be believed in? The irony lies in the fact that the public believes in the Illusion, but devours the slightest tidbit of Story because they want to feel that talented people are “just like us.”
What would it take to start telling stories of the creative decisions an actor has to make, the long hours, the physical toll, the psychic and mental exhaustion and rewards of living in and with characters for months on end? Or the silent conflict a director endures trying to hear his intuition over the noise of budget? Or the weight a screenwriter feels, conscious of the difference one word can make.
Could the gap between Illusion and Story be bridged? What do you think?
Let’s find out.