Caleb Mann on Film Making
Roughly fourteen years ago while traveling through the states from Wisconsin to North Dakota I experienced my first performance on a stage, I had no idea what to do and I didn’t know what was going on. I remember when we arrived at the theatre my grandmother told me we were there to see Wild Bill. To me, the experience was extraordinary. Being nine years old with a mind and spirit full of imagination, I had no idea that I was going to act with none other than the greatest hero of the old west. I thought he was the real deal. Now, I’ve come to realize that I never actually realized that the man was an actor playing Wild Bill. I thought he was Wild Bill himself. For the short period of time in which we shared the stage I was practically his sidekick, for that short amount of time I could have been his real partner in crime. I dressed up backstage and they sent me out, I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t have to know what to do because even though we were living a fantasy in front of all these people and bringing to life actions and events that had already taken their course a hundred and fifty years ago; being lost in that imagined world is perhaps a feeling I’ve been chasing for years. I’m not sure I’ve ever actually had another experience like that. It’s hard to live up to the imagination of a nine year old.
In middle school I was put into two drama classes. In fifth grade I was assigned to play the uncle in Wizard of Oz. In eighth grade I was assigned to play the monster in Beowulf. These were pretty much the most ridiculous and easy parts because I was the least interested and interactive person in the class. I had no interest in those productions…
What changed? when I was nine, I found so much joy and reward from being involved spontaneously in the play with “Wild Bill”. So why didn’t I have even the slightest attraction to playing the parts in the school plays? I think there are a few reasons. The most obvious for me is thus; First of all, I did not do well in school. I couldn’t take anything seriously and I was frankly treated very badly by most of the teachers. I have terrible memories of my schooling and I achieved no education whatsoever, schooling was definitely the biggest waste of my time. So generally I was not predisposed into doing anything in accordance with the staff of my schooling years. Second, I was a very shy kid when it came to putting myself out there for people to see. I didn’t do this often, sometimes when it would happen on accident I would get attacked by others because I might have had a little to much energy. I can remember being nervous for these productions, I wouldn’t show up to rehearsals and never did a performance in either show. So in addition to being nervous, I didn’t feel comfortable being artistic in the spaces I was given in school.
When I was involved with school theatre I never reminisced on that distant time when I was in the old west with Wild Bill. It never crossed my mind. Today I think of it because it really was my first authentic performance and my first peak inside an art that would later come to help me develop my sensibility both as a musician and film maker as well as a performer. When I think about Wild Bill I understand what direction I should be heading in when I make a film. Simply put, authenticity, spontonaity, life in extraordinary and truthful circumstances, real people and an adequetly entertained audience.
Of course, I have a really long ways to go. But I know and understand that in order to meet any imagined idea it must be thoughtfully and thoroughly meditated on with all of the foresight and technical capacity one can muster. These tools take time and dedication to build and it must be done bit by bit, over a long period of time. That’s the only way to develop anything worthwhile. It takes time and consistent involvement.
When I graduated highschool I was asked to play the piano at graduation. I was begged by my mother and guilt tripped by my teachers. I agreed. The day of my graduation they announced me as an “accomplished pianist”… I was not. I could play a few songs at best. So, afraid of ruining my performance and being seen as a terrible “accomplished pianist” I approached the piano. I sat down and my gown fell over my hands, I couldn’t see my hands and I began to shake; my body proceeded to go numb. I lost all concentration and about half way through the song I lost my place and just let my hands fly about in a hundred different directions pressing all of the keys on the piano to which I was hearing crickets in the crowd. I began clapping for myself and after turning a completely different color in the cheeks finally the audience began to awkwardly clap. That would go down as the pivot point in my idea of what it meant to be on a stage. It’s the worst thing that can happen when going out on stage with a message that you’re supposed to communicate, be it a piano piece or a shakespearean monologue, to face plant in front of hundreds of people. I decided that the feeling was not so bad. I would never quite experience it like that again. Now I know; if you believe in your message strong enough than you won’t fail in getting it delivered to the audience. That’s what I believe now. But it took a lot of trial and error. It’s a memory I’ll never forget.
Most of us must be pretty familiar with the good life, with happiness; because we tend not to dwell on happy memories (those are taken for granted) we dwell on the intense ones, mainly the tragedies. When life stains our memory it’s because the emotional intensity of that situation has gone beyond most other experiences we’ve had. This makes us form a persona that’s directly related to the trajedies we’ve experienced. Some of us are luckier than others. If you have a lot of tragedy in your life then you have a lot to think about. It’s a heavy burden to carry, but it’s where an important part of your creative will takes it’s roots.
It’s this side of life that I want to understand and I’ve chosen film as the only medium capable of exposing and sharing that heightened sense of living. So that it reflects the same richness that the story would have if it were being experienced by one of us. The heightened experiences, the stains in our memories. I want to capture the minute that stain was made on the actors memory, both comically and tragically.
Written by Caleb Mann