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Back in town
By Chris Colcord
Fort Wayne Reader
A few years ago I had the inspiration to take advantage of the video producing facilities at Access Fort Wayne and make my own documentary. A great idea for a feature-length film had tapped me on the head and I wanted to see how feasible it would be to complete the project through the library's production studio. Turns out it wasn't too hard at all — Access Fort Wayne allows all citizens of the county the opportunity to make original programming, provided that the film maker attends some orientation and training sessions with the production coordinator. The library needs to make sure that any prospective director has at least a modicum of competency with cameras before allowing their expensive equipment to be utilized.
Anyway, I attended the initial orientation meeting (usually the 3rd Thursday of the month), pitched my idea, and then told the coordinator that I would return when I had the script written and all my ducks in a row. The completed project would eventually air on the local access channel, which was fine with me — I just wanted the story out there, somewhere, anywhere, and it didn't bother me if it was running on a relatively obscure community channel. As many writers have said before, a story doesn't really exist until it's available to the public.
My idea for the documentary was this: I wanted to do a story about failure. At that particular time I was acquainted with three terrifically talented artists — an actor, a musician, and a painter — who had left Fort Wayne to set the world afire and then returned, defeated, a few years later. All three were introspective, verbal types who spoke candidly about what had happened to them in their bruising encounters with the Hellbitch Fame. Each person had a distinctive voice and perspective, and I thought the three stories would illuminate the difficulty of all artists when they try to make a name for themselves in a capricious and indifferent world.
As you probably guessed, I never completed the film, which has always been a painful, ironic memory: I failed at failure, for Chrissakes. But it was probably inevitable. After some initial enthusiasm about the project — who doesn't want to talk about themselves? — each of the subjects developed a serious case of cold feet. It was obvious that the prospect of having a recorded artifact that documented their most painful memories for all perpetuity was just too daunting. And I began to sense that they were getting suspicious of me and my intentions; they thought I wanted to gloat, or demean them, or make fun of their dreams. Which simply wasn't the case.
I tried to convince them that not only was I sympathetic to their experiences, I was one of them: I had been one of the young expatriates who had lit out for higher grounds. After college I went to New York, scrambled for work, tried stand-up comedy, wrote jokes for a never-produced television pilot, begged my parents for money. Shortly thereafter I came home with my tail between my legs, not wanting anyone to even notice that I was back in town. The film I wanted to make would chronicle that disjointed feeling when you return home after failing, when every familiar hometown landmark seems to mock you for your previous dreams. It would be compassionate, empathetic. On the artist's side.
But all for naught. The film exists in theory only. I do hope to complete it someday, though I know I'll have to use different subjects. But it's a story that I'd love to tell. Fortunately (or unfortunately), there will always be a steady stream of potential interviewees, for there will always be beaten-down expatriates returning to Fort Wayne after flat-lining in the big city.
I'm certain there are bitter Fort Wayne scenesters who are secretly delighted when a native son falls flat on his face in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, and is exiled back to Northeast Indiana. I've never understood this schadenfreude — I mean, I couldn't hack it in New York, but that doesn't mean I'm not rooting for every one of my friends who tries. I've made my peace with Fort Wayne, but I recognize that it's hardly the desired destination for the young and the improving.
I try to keep track of my friends when they leave, through the apartment-scrambling and job-seeking and the auditions, the initial successes, the brushes with fame, the pure headiness of just being there. After a year or so, the ones that are destined to come home, you can sense it — the frustrations, the sudden attacks of anxiety, the day-to-day annoyances of trains and homeless and cattle calls. The wondering if it's all worth it. The pure poverty. Whenever I hear a friend in NYC or LA talk about getting new headshots taken, to shake things up, I know it's over — actors can't control anything, but they can control their headshots. It's like when they tell you they're going to star in an independent movie — every actor makes an independent movie, and 99% of the films are never seen. If someone is pinning all his hopes on the success of an independent film, it's only a matter of time before you see him shuffling down Calhoun Street, collar up, hoping that nobody recognizes him.
It's a funny thing, whenever the native returns, how long it takes for everyone to recognize that he's back in town. I've run into a returnee who told me, embarrassed, that he'd been back for more than a month, but hadn't really gone "out" yet. And when I see mutual friends, they're startled to learn that the guy is even back. I wonder if he sees Fort Wayne the way the "normal" woman saw the carnival grotesques in Ted Browning's Freaks: as the circus freaks prepared to welcome the woman into their clan, they formed a circle around her, chanting "One of us, one of us, one of us." And the woman bolted in horror.