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Screening of The Magic Life at Vanderbilt

Vanderbilt University has a film series called "International Lens" and my doc, The Magic Life, was selected as one of their films for this spring -- I just got back from the screening and a Q&A. I personally found the event to be quite enjoyable. My brother (who is a professor of law at Vandy) presented the film -- and I've actually never heard him discuss the film in such a public forum so it was fascinating for me to hear what he talked about. In particular, he talked a lot about the overaching theme of the film -- that of following one's passion -- and how my own life mirrored that of the subjects in the film, something which I certainly never set out to do. He talked about, to this day, how my parents will call him and ask, "So when is Nelson going to give up acting and get a real job?" Not the support you'd like, but the reality of life for me and for a lot of individuals pursuing an atypical career.

Among the audience members, I'm not sure if I've ever had such an intellectually engaged audience -- not super surprising since the audience was comprised of the larger Vanderbilt community including a number of professors. Some of the questions were around the technical aspects of the film (e.g. what the editing process was like) -- but a lot of it was around themes and areas it explored. One person noted how he liked the ending -- how it wasn't your typical happy ending -- because as a father of 3 kids who does encourage his kids to follow their passions -- that he wanted them to see that sometimes you have good outcomes, and sometimes you have not so obviously good ones as well.

My brother and I were talking afterwards -- he's probably seen the film 5-6 times and obviously I've seen it countless times. This audience was very different than other audiences we've screened it for -- they laughed at different jokes and were completely silent at points which we thought were laugh out loud funny. It's interesting when you're working on a film -- you'll often have something in it and think, "That's really funny." -- and sometimes you're dead on and other times, it takes a lot of screenings before, frankly, someone laughs at it. Then you have this moment where you go, "I knew it! I knew that was funny!" Maybe not nearly as funny as you originally hoped, but at least someone shares your sensibility for that particular line or joke. A similar example -- an audience member noted how much he enjoyed the car scene with Matthew Noah Falk and asked some detailed questions about how that was captured, etc. Penny Falk -- an invaluable consultant and friend to the film -- she had told me early on that that was her favorite moment of the film. How her heart just broke when she saw it. But what was interesting was that no one had previously mentioned that scene to me, even though I, like Penny, found the scene quite moving. So similar to the more whimsical moments, it was intellectually rewarding when this audience member pointed it out specifically.

I remember reading some recap of a meeting Jason Reitman had with various Sundance filmmakers (obviously much earlier in their careers than him) -- and he was telling them how he should enjoy those screenings -- that those types of screenings (even as he was promoting the Oscar-nominated "Up in the Air") were some of the most joy he had experienced as a filmmaker. Obviously on a much smaller and different level -- I've grown to so appreciate every screening, large or small -- for my doc. For all the folks who it engages, raises interesting questions, makes think, or just plains entertains -- it's really quite rewarding. I think sometimes, especially living in L.A. where I'm surrounded -- frankly, by sheer size and success and a level of snarkiness too -- I think back over this past year and consider myself quite lucky. 

Following Ed's comment about my parents, we talked a little about them afterwards and I was telling him that my Mom's view of at least what I do filmmaking-wise has changed completely -- a complete 180 degree turn. She's interested, invested, and tells me how she's sent the film to her friends and asks for updates on it. Totally different than before when this work was dismissed as a sideshow. Ed was noting that they saw it in real theaters (my Mom flew down to Nashville for its premiere at the Nashville Film Festival which was held at an AMC and my parents both saw it in NYC as part of DocuWeeks which was held at the IFC Center.) But it's interesting and weird -- just from a psychological standpoint. Even for me -- at the AMC, I saw "The Hunger Games" maybe a month or two before at the same cinema! Then to see my film up there was weird and surreal. But I think it's this type of stuff that I've grown to so appreciate. Someone -- a festival, a screening series, even random people who email me from Sweden or Hungary or wherever asking if they can buy a DVD -- they're just interested in this piece of work and want to find out more about it. You do the work because you love it and you hope it gets seen -- but it is so rewarding and fortunate when people take time out of their lives and day to see your work and maybe think about it some too.