I’ve been in love with movies for as long as I can remember. When asked, I usually trace it back to my grandmother, who used to have me over every Friday night for tortellini and peas and ice cream and a black-and-white movie. But honestly, I can’t even recall a time when I didn’t thrill at the thought of sitting down in a dark room with a large (refillable) popcorn, waiting for the first light to hit the screen, and holding my breath as a new adventure begins.
My parents have said that when I win my first Oscar, they’re going to make a clip reel of all of our old home movies where little baby Alex looked up at the video camera and said “give me that!” I fear that if they use every shot available, it might be several hours long.
But the single most powerful experience that has influenced my love of filmmaking, (aside from making my own movies of course), was The Lord of the Rings. Specifically, the behind-the-scenes documentaries that came with the Extended Edition DVDs. For something like five years, every single night would end with me drifting off to sleep while watching one of those documentaries. They were detailed and informative, powerful and fun, and they truly made you feel like you were there, sharing in the joys and the trials and the outright silliness of making one of the greatest film trilogies of all time. I learned about how movies were made, I learned about how directors act, and on every set I’ve run since, I’ve made it a priority to encourage that level of camaraderie and friendship among the cast and crew. I even specifically based the behind-the-scenes features of The League of Ordinary Gamers DVD on their structure and style. Those videos were my first film school, and I got more joy and knowledge from them than I will ever be able to say. They are dear to me.
And then, in 2013, I got a shard of my past for Christmas: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, Extended Edition.
With three DVDs of special features.
It took me a little while to begin watching them, to be honest. I was enjoying my family in Dallas, and then I was getting back into the routine of Los Angeles. I’ve got a full-time job these days, and I knew that I didn’t want to start watching these videos casually, while I worked or something. I wanted to savor them.
And so, this Thursday evening, I went to bed early, turned on my TV, and started at the top.
And suddenly, I was in high school again.
The flood of nostalgia combined with the utter freshness of an experience I’d long since memorized in detail was shocking. Disorienting, almost. From 1,400 miles away, I could smell my house in Dallas. I could feel my old sheets, hear my pets walking past my room. I swear to God, I started worrying about whether I’d done my homework.
But most of all, I felt a hunger, an eager yearning, an ambition like a terrible, wonderful thirst. That’s what I’m supposed to be doing. That’s where I’m supposed to be. Working on that scale, telling that kind of story. I felt myself rekindling a much-cherished yearning for creative exertion, an ambition for ambition, an insatiable urge to attempt greater and greater projects, because that’s where I excel. That’s what I enjoy.
I’m still making my way through these new featurettes, a few at a time. They’ll probably last me another day or two, in their initial viewing. But there will be a second viewing, and then a third after that, and there are two more movies coming as well. I’m sure there will be viewings upon viewings for years to come. And alongside them, there will be action. For all the sense-memory flashbacks, I’m not in high school any more, and this time I’m riding that wave of eager ambition all the way to the finish line.
And when I get there, I’m going to make some tortellini and peas and ice cream, curl up in bed, put in a movie, and say this is where I belong.