Tomorrow my son Jake graduates with an MFA in Screenwriting from the American Film Institute Conservatory. I am immensely proud of him. One of my many failings as a parent is that I did not say nearly enough over the last twenty-five years that I was immensely proud of him. I taught Film Studies in a public high school for thirty years; the boy now seeks a career as a Hollywood scribe. The apple does not fall far from the tree.
And I am immensely proud of him.
If we view parenthood as a tunnel, I can now see the light at the end of the tunnel. I realize that most of my readers are currently pondering the tunnel, or have just entered the tunnel, or are halfway through the tunnel. This doesn't mean that I am now abdicating fatherhood; I just think the nature of my relationship with my son is about to change again as he reaches a milestone we've seen coming from way down the pike. I am looking forward to this.
Jake took to movies from an early age. His first favorites were the original Star Wars trilogy. To illustrate how long ago this was—and in a suburb far far away--he used to watch them on laserdisc. One year for Christmas, we gave him a VHS tape of the documentary Star Wars To Jedi: The Making of a Saga, which he loved and watched a LOT.
He was three.
Not quite understanding that these movies had been made many years before he was born, he began to ask for Star Wars toys, so his mother and I would dutifully scour vintage toyshops and garage sales. I'd put the word out to my students and they'd bring in mostly-working spaceships and shoeboxes filled with Star Wars action figures. That's how Jake got a Shuttle Tydirium! And an AT-AT... a Slave 1... a Tie Fighter... an X-wing... you get the picture. Oh, here's the picture:
Beauty and the Beast, but all that "haunted, wolf-filled forest" stuff with Belle's dad at the beginning freaked him out, so we left. Yes, we went home. (I wish more parents today would do this.) See, he wasn't quite ready. And if you want your kid to grow up loving movies, you don't spend his first movie-in-a-real-movie-theatre hissing at him to sit down, shut up, and stop being SCARED BY THE SCARY STUFF. You take him home.
Instead, Jake's first full-length movie theatre experience was Ferngully: The Last Rainforest. (If you're not familiar with it, it's actually really good.) This time, Jake was ready. In fact, he became so immersed in the experience that at one point, when the cute little lead pixie needed to fly away into the forest, Jake stood up during that quiet moment, waving and calling "Goodbye, Crysta!" at the screen. And an entire theatre full of people went "awwwwww!" Because I may not have mentioned this yet, but when he was small he was ADORABLE.
Of course, wanting your kid to love movies does not mean he gets to see ALL the movies. Until he was about 10, we had a rule that when Jake watched a movie at a friend's house that wasn't rated G, he needed check with us first. The only time Jake disobeyed this rule proved the wisdom of our policy. The movie? Twister. It's not only PG-13, but particularly scary, especially for a kid growing up in Illinois (fifth in the nation for tornadoes. We rule!) Long story short: for years, our Jake was afraid of inclement weather. You know, one of those things that parents can do NOTHING TO FIX. See, movie ratings DO serve a purpose!
Starting in grammar school, Jake delighted in making movies with his friends during the summer with my video camera. I was often cinematographer, as Jake (like Orson Welles before him) preferred to both direct and star. In retrospect, I refer to these films as the "up and down the stairs" series because they featured him and his friends chasing some bad guy or monster around the house, and inevitably up and down the stairs. The climax of these homemade opuses was always staged in the kitchen or out on the patio, because they inevitably featured someone being shot or stabbed or bludgeoned. Even movie kids need house rules, and ours was "no fake blood on the carpets." The boys made it from chocolate and strawberry syrups, they used COPIOUS amounts, and that shit stains.
Jake's taste in movies was preternaturally good from a very young age. I remember some of the films he would re-watch again and again on DVD: Bowfinger, Big Fish, Pleasantville, and a couple other films that later became the subject of my previous column, "Unsung!" The one exception was Pokemon. Jake once dragged me to a Pokemon sequel just to get the special tie-in Pokemon card they were giving away. I fell asleep during that godforsaken film. (Gotta catch... some ZZZ's!) Truth be told, even he didn't like it much. He was more of a Princess Mononoke guy. Movie kid!
When you're a movie kid, parties are just an excuse to think about movies. The 1997 re-release of Return of the Jedi was perfectly timed for Jake's 7th birthday. (Ever try to form an X-wing out of cupcake frosting? My wife has.) Once we had all his friends dress up as their favorite movie stars and rented a limo to take them to Planet Hollywood in Chicago. (You haven't lived until you've spent an hour in a limo packed with costumed 8-year olds.) Being Italian-American, for Jake's high school graduation party we were duty-bound to serve the legally mandated buffet of fried chicken and mostaccioli; but the one spin we gave the standard grad party was renting an inflatable screen and a portable AV set-up, including video projector. After dark, Jake and his buddies enjoyed "backyard movies" on the inflatable screen. His program picks: a double feature of Billy Madison and American Grafitti.
Over the last two years, Jake has been living in Los Angeles as a Screenwriting Fellow at AFI Conservatory. (He has even gone to screenings at the New Beverly Cinema with
Have I mentioned that I am immensely proud of him?
Congrats to Jake! Can't wait to see his name on the silver screen!ReplyDelete
Sounds like you raised a good kid. Hope he finds success in the movie biz! I have two kids myself, and I hope that they have at least an appreciation for film. They are 3 and 5 and watched A Trip to the Moon twice in a row on Saturday morning on Netflix with me. Once in B & W and once in the colorized version. Then my 5 year old asked if we could watch "that black and white show with the funny guy" aka Charlie Chaplin. Sadly that has been taken off of Netflix. I think I've got a good start with them. But, like you, I will be proud of my kids no matter what they do (unless it's serial killer or bank robber or etc........)ReplyDelete
Nice article, and congrats on Jake's graduation.
That's awesome, JB - a very touching tribute to your son - congrats to you and Jake!ReplyDelete
And the bloody condom story made me laugh out loud.
Congrats are in order JB, that was a very moving piece you wrote!ReplyDelete
Awesome message, JB. Congrats to you, your wife, and Jake. Enjoy.ReplyDelete
That was a beautiful piece J.B. I wish there were more oarents in the world like you. Your son and I are the same birth year I think. Your support of your movie kid has brought a lump to my throat. Excuse me.. coughReplyDelete
This is wonderful on at least 743 different levels. Congratulations, Jake!!ReplyDelete
Woah. I think I got something in my eye reading that, your a proud parent, Congrats to Jake and have a great night tomorrow ;)ReplyDelete
Congratulations to you and your family. Thank you for sharing this and I can't wait to watch something that Jake has written!ReplyDelete
I will echo the others and say this just wonderful. It's making me a bit ready eyed, but I will chalk it up to my lack of sleep since entering "the tunnel".ReplyDelete
Beautiful article for a beautifully talented kid (*ahem) adult. Congratulations to Jake, John, and Jan!!ReplyDelete
Beautifully written. Jake has always been super cool. How could he not with such awesome parents? :)ReplyDelete
Great column JB! And Jake, my friend, congrats and best of luck with everything movies going forward :-)ReplyDelete
Thank you for raising a Movie Kid. Congratulations to your son. Screenwriting? So awesome.ReplyDelete
This is such a wonderful and moving article. My hat's off to you and your wonderful family. And it makes me more excited than ever to raise my own kids.ReplyDelete
Congrats to Jake, I look forward to seeing his work! And I gotta applaud JB for this heartfelt article.ReplyDelete
Congrats on raising a potential filmmaker that will most likely be part of the solution instead of part of the problem. Looking forward to Jake directing "Star Wars: Episode XXII" in the not-that-distant future.ReplyDelete
Hey, JB, Jan and Jake! 'Twas I who greeted you at your table at Bob's Big Boy tonight. It was cool to see one of my favorite podcasters live and in the flesh. I guess in La La Land, your dreams really can come true...ReplyDelete
If only Hollywood Doug had been there it would have been an F This Movie West Coast Mount Rushmore, instead of just a JB family hat trick.Delete
Yes, if what you mean by "your dreams really can come true" is that you wanted to enjoy a really tasty burger.Delete