Search for Wisdom

I came to Hollywood seeking significance, but I lacked wisdom.

Over the past 12 months, I’ve been fortunate enough to meet many people. Some were writers, actors, directors, cinematographers. Others were pastors, mothers, doctors, lawyers, baristas, yoga instructors. Not one could teach me the meaning of wisdom.

Yet I sought desperately the way to be happy. I sought the knowledge–artistic and spiritual–necessary to become a great artist. And more than that, a great man.

I learned to be an intern. I asked the executive what it meant to actualize your inner truth. And she sent me to the manager.

I learned how to get a manager. And I met managers. And they told me to go to the indie filmmaker.

I befriended the indie filmmaker. I asked him, “What must I know to succeed?” And he told me to go to the networking lunch administrator.

I went to the networking lunch administrator, who meets in the back of the Chinese restaurant on Wilshire Boulevard. And she sent me to the virtual reality expo.

I witnessed the virtual reality expo in 3D Atmos Surround. Along the way I met Anne Hathaway, who could not teach me the meaning of wisdom—only the difference between Versace and Valentino.

I studied the greats: Fellini, Coppola, Scorcese. Lasseter. I resolved to write every single day until my fingers bled and my heart exploded in authenticity. This authenticity I believed to be the secret to enlightenment. If I died in the street one night they would find a 350 page unsigned manuscript strapped to my hand I swore in the name of art.

I visited the Dreamworks Lot, the Writer’s Guild Library, and the CAA Building. I don’t know if you know this, but the Creative Artists Agency represents over 3,400 of the most influential filmmakers in Hollywood. Forbes Magazine estimates that it is worth over 5.39 billion dollars. If you’ve never been to the CAA building, it’s this big white complex full of agents scurrying about, split down the middle with this sweet garden. It’s a cold mix of Monticello and that 2000 crime drama “Boiler Room” starring Ben Affleck and Giovanni Ribisi. It is not a popular place for tourists, but I’m not just any tourist.

Today I visited the CAA Building, and between those long, wide halls, past the elevators and security guards, by the garden there was an open door. And no one was looking (everyone’s attention was on an event they were setting up for later), so me, not knowing really where I was going, just sort of slipped in.

And I went down a staircase, and it got sort of dark, and when I reached the bottom there at the other side of the room was Steven Spielberg.

WOAH. I was in the same room as the director of JAWS. And let me tell you. When you reach that point, you stop caring about propriety. I had to shake his hand, at any cost.

I’m not going to pretend he was paying any attention to me. He was talking to someone—probably a writer friend. But I got a grip and I was dressed pretty nice, so I skirted past all the tables in the room before he could leave and I said something like, “Mr. Spielberg I’m a huge fan. I so respect your work and what you’ve overcome in the industry. It’s an honor to meet you.” And he smiled. He was pretty creeped out. He wasn’t keen to like, shake my hand or anything.

But SURPRISINGLY, he engaged me. “Who are you?” He said.

“I’m a writer. I want to write for science fiction and fantasy television or the CW,” I said. “Can you give me any advice?”

Steven Freaking Spielberg said, “I’m about to meet my agent. But you’ve got guts. I’ll give you one tip on the walk over.”

So we went out the back of the room, into this dank hallway, and there were all these pictures of Hollywood greats lining the walls. I didn’t know what to say. Should I go for the practical or the personal? What would you say? We reached a wooden door studded with gold around the frame, and behind that was another door, which was purple, and he pulled out some keys and opened that one to reveal an office with a silver table and a bowl full of fruit I had never seen before.

I said, “Mr. Spielberg, can you tell me just one thing, out of everything in your long career in entertainment. What is the secret to wisdom?

There was a twinkle in his eye as he leaned close and whispered,

“Rey is a Skywalker and Leia’s her mommy.”

Moana, 2016 – ★★★★

What’s really interesting about Moana is how dedicated it is to fitting the title heroine in a traditionally male narrative. That is the brilliance of this movie. She’s not a princess–she’s “the daughter of the chief.” Unlike Mulan, who alters her destiny by dressing as a man, or Tangled/Frozen, which are at times deconstructionist for the sake of being deconstructionist, Moana is treated equal to boys right out of the gate.

On the other hand, Disney knows what it’s doing. The movie doesn’t harp on the fact that Moana is a girl, but it doesn’t ignore it either. Though the quest to feel validated, self-reliant and significant is tried and true for many male heroes, there are some subtle moments–particularly in some of the names Maui calls Moana–that imply it is more impressive and celebratory that Moana succeeds because she is a girl. This acknowledgement of overcoming societal challenges is what people mean by the phrase: “Girl Power.”

Moana is sassy, strong, and beautiful–with long curly hair. She doesn’t learn to fight–Maui teaches her to sail. None of the characters really use violence. The plot focuses more on exploration, magic, and a host of colorful and wacky animals–including the world’s dumbest chicken and my personal favorite–a giant crustacean David Bowie impersonator. She wants to please her dad, and her biggest mentor is her grandmother. The movie ends with the restoration of a life-giving plant goddess and Moana placing a pink shell on top of a pile of her forefathers’ heritage stones.

Yet no one questions her ability to lead the island. She never marries or has any romantic interests. And Moana’s desires and so much of her dialogue could easily be recorded with a male character without any significant changes to the story. I think any kid would want to be strong like Moana.

This is frankly an adorable movie, and one of the most genuinely fun and funny kids movies I’ve seen in a while. Though fitted through the story beats of many other Disney adventure films (like Hercules or Aladdin), the mythos of Moana is surprisingly complex. Sometimes, there might be a little too much storytelling and exposition. But as a high fantasy buff, I appreciated it. Not to mention how important storytelling is to Polynesian culture, and the fact that all the legends are told via animated tattoos on the biceps of Dwayne Johnson’s character (Maui).

What is also interesting about the movie is how it deviates from the common path of “Power through friendship” in favor of “Power comes from within.” Throughout are beautifully composed shots of stark, terrible loneliness. Moana’s best friends are a chicken and the open sea. Maui was rejected by his own parents, and copes with that pain through relentless egotism and affirmation through literally hugging and talking to himself. The stakes are high, with Moana leaving behind all her family and ostensible worldly happiness, but the villain is hardly personal. Instead, Moana and Maui seem to face down all the chaotic forces of fate itself with the power of what is either human willpower or that nebulous word–“Faith.” They live in a world of epic myth that parallels the uncaring world of real life, and their armament is a sense of personal destiny. That is the central conflict of the movie. Not revenge or lust for power. It is Existentialism Vs. Self-Determination.

In the end, randomness is destroyed and order is restored. Maui can only defeat his insecurity through personal confidence. The goddess of the sea chose Moana for her internal bravery, which she uses to approach the fiery villain (at risk to her life) and remind it that it has a good heart. Of all the lessons this movie could have decided to teach–especially to young girls–the most important was the importance of knowing who you are.

Vía Letterboxd – Garrett Sisson