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As I watch the U.S. Open, I’m reminded of Samuel Beckett’s insight from “Westward Ho” every time I see a medium shot of (now) finalist Stan Wawrinka. The quote goes like this, “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”

stan-tattooI think of it when I see Wawrinka because it’s tattooed on his left forearm.

Four years ago, I set out to direct the feature film, “Inside-Out, Outside-In.” The film never got made. Simply put, I failed. (Or at minimum, did not succeed on my timeline). Ouch.

To be fair to myself, I did direct another feature film in this time frame that’s currently touring film festivals, the neo-noir poetry mindbender Guys Reading Poems. But the achievements of that film don’t remove the stubborn reality that I wanted to make “Inside-Out, Outside-In” and it didn’t happen.

Failure seems especially daunting in a culture dominated by a materialism that has even managed somehow to take over spirituality (VISUALIZE IT AND THE MILLIONS ARE COMING, DUE TO SPIRITUALITY!). We expect materialism with the Kardashians and reality television and, more cynically, in a corrupt political system. But now, even many self-help gurus and ministers peddle the idea that financial success and empowerment come to those who pray (correctly) and really believe it. So failure can feel not only like a setback, but also like the sign of a moral and spiritual shortcoming (YOU DON’T BELIEVE IN YOURSELF OR IN THE POWER OF THE UNIVERSE ENOUGH!).

Also, for those of us who identify with the struggling artist motif, there’s a shadow side to failure that sees in it not only moral shortcomings, but also moral superiority. After all, it’s easier to embrace failure if we think of those who’ve succeeded to higher levels than ourselves as cheaters or sociopaths or spiritually bankrupt lawyers (and indeed some of them are). The danger in thinking that way is that a failure can reinforce a false narrative that you failed because you’re too good to succeed, akin to the mantra “only the good die young” – which implies that the old among us are not so good. In this case, we can harbor thoughts of “only the good go unrecognized and fight on as starving artists” which implies that “only the corrupt (or sellouts) succeed.”

Neither of these strains of thought works for me anymore. Self-help gurus craft good soundbite, but I guarantee that 99% of them could not direct a feature film and pull it off. In fact, most of them wouldn’t get past dealing with SAG-AFTRA. And struggling artists holding onto their purity and embracing failure’s more noble undertones sometimes sell their passion project and then they buy condo’s, too. I’ve seen it happen.

My thinking now is that failure – especially failure in terms of the materialistic world – is just not that grandiose. In itself, it doesn’t show much about who we are as people. Some amazing artists never succeed financially and some do. Some extremely successful people got there because they cheated, lied and manipulated their way to the top. Others worked really hard and conscientiously extend a helping hand to those on the way up.

The quote implies that if you’re NOT failing it’s because you’re not trying. The only way you can’t fail is by having no aspirations at all in your life. And that’s the ultimate losing approach to being human.

This week, I set up our Google Drive and re-ordered all the folders with regards to “Inside-Out, Outside-In.” I called the first meeting of the few people involved with the project at this stage – my manager Bradley R. Bernstein, my brother J. Parker Buell and longtime Fatelink collaborator Camille Carida, who was in the reading of the material way back in 2013 and has been a constant source of encouragement on the script. We talked about our system of naming files, scanning receipts, recruiting producers, investors and talent, creating talking points for the film and organizing a reading of the revised script in November. Afterwards, Bradley said it was the best meeting I’ve ever run. For now, the film is like that. It’s just meetings and lonely hours at coffee shops rewriting and determining file naming conventions with the hopes that it’ll save us effort six months later when the team expands from four to 124. To the extent that I succeeded in this one meeting, I attribute to a willingness to try again, fail again, fail better. Thank you, Samuel Beckett for your wisdom. And Stan for enduring the pain of a tattoo (and for being amazing enough at tennis that we all get to see it).

Tomorrow, I’m heading to a very successful friend’s condo to watch the Stan Wawrinka-Novak Djokovic final (to save money, I don’t have a television or cable subscription right now). I love Djoker, but I’m pulling for Stan. I hope I catch a shot of his tattoo.

On Monday, I get back to work on “Inside-Out, Outside-In.”

Scene 10 Shot B - Inside-Out, Outside-In

Nathaniel is taken aback by Jason’s performance. Note: It’s a solo shot, unlike the other two auditions. (storyboard drawn by Monte Patterson).

Hunter Lee Hughes is a filmmaker living and working in Los Angeles. His feature film, Guys Reading Poems, is currently on the film festival circuit and will screen at the Breckenridge Film Festival on Friday, September 16th. His favorite tennis players are Stan Wawrinka and Novak Djokovic.

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