On February 16 I was honored to be a guest speaker for the Girls Are Worth It event brought to you by the Women Like Us Foundation.
This is the first speech I wrote but decided to not to go with it. Seeing how most of my audience was scheduled to be teenagers, I thought the Rocky series was something that would not resonate as strongly with the younger crowd. However, there is truth in my original speech and it still holds up so I thought I was share it with you all.
When I was asked to talk you ladies about how you can do anything you set your mind to… because I’m a film maker and my memories and life lessons are wired in the movies I watch… I wanted to pick one movie to be a allegory of my story into film making…or what I call…stuff in the basement.
Ripley in Aliens – no I don’t fight aliens. Some directors think of actors as aliens but i don’t.
The Bride in Kill Bill –I detest violence and revenge…but she had a cool sword though.
So I thought of the movies outside the box of female characters because really there are not many I relate to – and that’s why I write about them. But there is one character that has been there for me to be my guiding light, that has picked me up in my moments of self doubt, when all the chips were down. I always had Rocky.
How many of you have seen any of the Rocky movies?
I hope after this talk you’ll watch one and you’ll bring your mom.
I’ll give you the back story. By day Rocky Balboa is a leg-breaker on the docks of Philadelphia, by night he’s a club fighter in some of the dingiest places. Although he’s proud that’s he’s never broken his nose in a fight, he’s a South Paw (fights left handed) and not many people are jumping at the chance to fight him. This all changes when the Heavyweight Champion of the world, Apollo Creed, is in need of promotion.
As a female director there are 4 things I relate strongly with Rocky.
#1 he’s a fighter – and I don’t mean this is the clenched fists, and bloody eyes. I mean in the sense that he has something to prove and will work hard, gather a team around him, train, educate, keep moving forward. He won’t stand for someone telling him he can’t.
When I was 10 I was told that I can’t be a director. I was told it’s for 40-50 year old men.
When I was 16 and enrolled in a improv class I was told by my teacher to forget film making and be an actress because I might see some money in that.
When I was 17 I was told by my drama teacher that I would never succeed in film making.
When I was 18 before I moved to LA my family advice was, “You’ll be back to the Midwest”
When I was 19 I was told by my college professor, that I would never make it as a filmmaker in the Hollywood Studio system because I was female. I quit school.
When I was 25 my first daughter was born and my father asked “I wonder what she will be?” I said “What ever she wants to do in this world” It was a wake up call. How could I support her and not turn into the others who put up caution tape around my dream? I started to fight.
The metaphor of a fighter is a universal one. Rocky says “You, me, or nobody gonna hit you as hard as life but it ain’t about how hard you’re hit, it’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward. How much you can take and keep moving forward, that’s how winning is done.”
When I was 29 I made my first real film for a major audience. I felt like I was no longer hiding. No one came up and arrested me to put me in dream jail.
Second thing I relate to as a female filmmaker to Rocky.
#2 he’s a south paw – I relate to this as being different. Being a female director. Just like Rocky had to learn to fight with his right hand, I had to learn the male-dominated film making game. But I know I have something the 95% of filmmakers don’t my south paw, my ability to write and showcase female characters. The ability to inspire a team with compassion and commreddrie, to organize and to build moral and get things done. I bring out my South Paw when I need it and it does though people through a loop.
I’ve been on film sets where I’m the only female. I broken into the Boy’s Club of film sets and I’ve been welcomed and I’ve been shamed. I’ll never forget one set I was on where I was in charge of scheduling and when pressing the issue that we were running out of time I was asked if I was on the rag.
I’ve gotten better at come-backs to masonigetic talk. I remember while filming Ingenue I was suffering heatstroke in the 100 degree weather and I handed the set over to my AD who joked “Men don’t get heat stroke, must be that defective gene women have.” I replied “you mean the one that creates life?” he high-fived me.
Third thing I relate to as a female filmmaker to Rocky
#3 he’s all heart – there is no ego in Rocky. He’s a boxer because as he says “I can’t sing or dance.” Really it’s because it’s all he knows.
Real life isn’t as simple as the movies. It’s very hard to say that there is one thing you know about and that’s it. We’re all great at lots of things. I think of my grandmother and her 3 career options – nurse, secretary or homemaker. The world is now open to you and finding your passion – what you love with your whole heart isn’t as simple.
I was lucky enough to be able to follow my heart in a few areas, writing, sales, homemaking but I knew in each I didn’t have my whole heart into it. When I made films, that’s where I would rather work than sleep. Rather edit than eat. My heart was in it and when you’re heart is in it, Rocky taught me, you win.
In Rocky 1, he’s battling the Heavy Weight Champion and everyone is discounting that Rocky even has a chance. Rocky says “Nobody’s ever gone the distance with Creed, and if I can go that distance, you see, and that bell rings and I’m still standin’, I’m gonna know for the first time in my life, see, that I weren’t just another bum from the neighborhood.”- that’s heart, that’s determination.
In Rocky 4, when Rocky is training to beat the super-enhanced fighting machine that is Ivan Drago you see this amazing montage of Ivan training with computers, treadmills, and he’s hooked up to every electronic while Rocky is using the environment around him. He’s running in the snow, climbing a mountain, lifting a wheel barrow with his friends in it. Heart over technology wins. heart is something that can’t be measured on a scale or by a computer. You know it when you feel it and you know it when you see it.
Films at the box office are more technology than heart. There are few cities that Michael Bay hasn’t CGI blown up. There is less reality and less heart in the majority of films that are being released. So my films have heart. I strive for my films to leave you with something – a lesson, a conversation, a reaffirmation because that’s what movies used to do. They used to be a road map for a life. You could escape into the world of a boxer and mentally take the punches with him and punch back and come out 2 hours later unscathed but more powerful.
Joseph Campbell said “we have not even risk the adventure alone, for the heroes of all time have gone before us. The labyrinth is thoroughly known. We have only to follow the thread of the hero path, and where we had thought to find an abomination, we shall find a god. And where we had thought to slay another, we shall slay ourselves. Where we had thought to travel outward, we will come to the center of our existence. And where we had thought to be alone, we will be with all the world.”
#4 he’s got stuff in the basement
Probably one of the most subtle brilliance’s in the Rocky Saga and it comes in the last movie. Rocky is old – way past the recommend age to fight in the ring, the love of his life has died and his kid things he’s an embarrassment When asked to fight an exhibition match against the current heavyweight he tells his friend he’s thinking of fighting because he still has stuff in the basement.
Knowing your “stuff in the basement” is the tool you need to accomplish anything you set your mind to.
People ask me if I always dreamed of being a filmmaker. Dream is too flighty of a word to me. dreams are these things that are above you, hard to reach, always just out of grasp. But you’re basement, you center self, is always with you. I know that when ever I was off doing other stuff, there was a filmmaker in the basement.
Stuff in the basement is where you hide your true self. In under the boxes of “nay saying and dream killers” it’s hidden in the dirt of self doubt. It’s lost in the clutter of “what if’s” but it’s there. It’s always there. And when you find it, when you find that stuff that it’s as if that darken basement is filled with the most brillerent light, everything is much clearer, sharper more defined. A short path will revel itself before you. If you follow it, another and another will be discovered. that stuff in the basement is what fills your life with meaning. Everyone’s stuff is different. For me it was film making – telling stories visually.
Once you’ve found your Stuff in Basement, fight like a girl to get it.