I know the term “college boy” means someone who is kind of a snob, and if you will, it suits this article if we take it in a very ironic way. But my intention was to truly mean “college boy”. After graduating from four years of film school, I look back at my experience as I was trying to cope with a new city and a crazy crowd. Or maybe not so crazy. I felt a hole in me when I came back after it was all done, even though there was nothing more for me there. I did not feel my best when I was in college, but in the end I tried to make the best of it.
Before I actually started everything, I had to go through admission exams. I think those exams were the most important exams of my life. I went through them and got in third!
It all started in the fall, and I was brand new to Cluj. I moved to the city about a day or two before school started, but to me getting used to a city was something I didn’t know how to do, even though I had done it before. The other time I had done it, it was a tourist though.
The building where we were supposed to take classes was just across the street from the main building of the university. The university I attended is quite renowned and said to open quite some doors in its teachers’ and students’ lives.
I discovered that I knew one of my colleagues there. She later moved to another university. However, I felt like everyone was a lot more familiar with the college and with each other. They actually seamed friends. I had no clue how to be around so many new people. I’m not sure how I got to meet each of my colleagues, but I know it wasn’t fast. Being in film school, there were not many students who had been accepted, we were 21 in the first year, and by the end of the fourth year, only 16 had remained. But I still struggled to connect to them and to the teachers.
I found that I felt more connected to some of the teachers than some of colleagues, but I don’t know. Maybe it was all in my head, and I am imagining.
And then, the assignments started coming in. Being a vocational medium, and a very modern faculty, we were supposed to always complete assigments, depending on the class, each week or each month. I had never done a film in my life, I had just tried to film stuff and edit it together, but I had no idea about framing or professional editing! Most of my colleagues, though, seemed to know these things, and I didn’t know from where. I started being sad, because I felt that friendships were created on the base of how good your projects were. Better said, friendships were created on the base on how the teachers evaluated your project. I can remember one time, we had to do an assigment.
I was always being told in photography that my photos weren’t good enough, but this was a video assigment. When the teacher saw that it was filmed in the so-called ‘hand-held’ technique, he was horrified. I can remember being actually scared. Funny thing how later hand-held filming became my trademark thing and I like it to this day. But if the teacher said…
And that’s how it went in the first year: they said, I did, they did not like, they did not approve, I felt like I was falling from a cliff and life continued.
I remember in one of my first days in Cluj, someone told me that I seemed “indie” to him. I replyed asking whether that means like someone who likes Indian cinema. That was the firts contact I had with the “indie” world, which I later connected to the idea of “the hipster”. I could now finally define my colleagues, or at least what they seemed to me. The group reminded me of that picture of the evolution of the hipster: in my year we had them all: from the fauxhemian to the scenester.
And they were all so obsessed with their preferences of directors, art, “art” and films that I constantly kept rolling my eyes. One guy was so emerged in his world, that, I don’t know if conscious or not, he made himself look like Roman Polanski when he was young. I thought that was quite weird, and not in a good way. I was not like that, because I did not know anything about professional cinema and what the art world is actually like, so I was open-minded about anything that came my way and tried to take it in. Of course, after I finished all four years I started finding my voice in terms of creativity and cultural preferences.
One of the first assignments we had was to make self-portraits of us, both video and photo. It was easy. There is a famous say: “Painting is easy when you don’t know how, but very difficult when you do.” Edgar Degas said it. Now if you ask me to make a self-portrait, I don’t know what I would do, but back in my freshman year, I took a picture of myself dressed up in my favorite pajama, holding my hand near my heart, something like a religious painting I guess. One of my teachers considered it to be cheesy, while others had nothing to say I guess. On video, it was another story. I first did a clip, edited in Movie Maker, about how I had written a lot but didn’t want anyone to read it. The second self-portrait was a symbolic attempt, which looking at it now didn’t quite succeed to express the fact that I’m a dreaming boy. I don’t know if I need to go on and on about each project that I finished. I mean, I was involved and each assignment I got was the best I could do, with the resources I had, both physical and mental. As a freshman I was quite sad that things did not go my way: I worked very hard, but nothing came through. I did documentaries, reports, animation movies, fiction and almost everything in between.
Even though the first year ended in tears, it was best for me to look forward, hoping that things will change. I knew that the dynamic would change, it’s inevitable, I thought, but hopefully it wouldn’t get worse.
Everyone had their obsessions and I was not part of the gang. This was my obsession and I was living with it. I feel like I made everything look so dark and bad, looking through my written thoughts of the time, I was not very happy and felt like everyone was just on drugs and uninterested. And to be honest, to a certain extent they were really uninterested. I remember once asking a guy something and he replied he didn’t care. I was just trying to reach out and start something, because now I remember that they used to tell me that I didn’t do stuff with them. I do not know what they did, but I would like to.
Going onward, I noticed that each student had his or her own thing they would cling to, and not accept other things. I say things, because I can’t find a more general term. One guy was obsessed with westerns, the other with the regime that collapsed in Romania in 1989, a girl was obsessed with “surreal, symbolic things” and another guy with saying “I don’t know, it’s… yes”.
And the teachers didn’t do a great job either. I mean, they would always tell us how bad everything we do is and personally, although I tried, I couldn’t find my voice through elimination. I’m not good at this, I’m not good at that, I can’t do this…
This is something a teacher with whom we had an acting class pointed out, the fact that we’re always being put down and that, surprise, it’s not a good thing. I think I will always be grateful to him for telling us that.
At this point, I feel like everyone hates, the teachers, the students and the staff. I was living with someone and I in my freshman year I had lived at another family. It’s really hard for me to live with someone I don’t want to live with, and to feel excluded and disliked at college! I am wondering if I am going to find my place.
Another thing I had huge problems with was the lack of tolerance. As everyone grew “as artists” and as people, they started not liking each other and not talking to each other, instead of tolerating and accepting. Accept that you have divergent points of views in life, and everything will be a little easier! I am really pissed that they would not accept a different point of view and that they had streams of thought that were really hard to follow and make sense of. But why do I bother?
I don’t know if I asked myself this back then, but I do now: what did I care? Why was I so involved? There is no general truth, and I knew that then as I know it now.
I was told not to photograph the things that I liked, the way I liked it, I was told not to film the way I wanted, not to think the way I was thinking and yet and I somehow I did not give up. I took it all in and tried to learn something from it. Why are they saying this? I’ll admit, most of my “early” work is bad but it’s supposed to be bad. One thing a teacher said once (actually he said it more times and I have a deep respect for him) was that we were not a production company, but a school. So why were we always put down that “we can’t sell this” when we were not doing it for more than a year or two. In this field, you’re not a professional after many years of practice.
I need a vacation! So much struggle, and for what? I remember I felt like there was a “standard”, that needed to be touched. And it wasn’t so much of a bar, but a cumulus of conditions to make a project be considered “good”. For example photojournalism was good, something else was bad. I didn’t like it that everything was done in a hurry and sometimes superficial, while other times we used to focus on an unimportant thing so much, that we overlooked the whole project.
And there was a lot or mockery and I felt there was more unexpressed mockery. I feel, in retrospect, that I put too much of my soul into some projects. I was always being told “don’t take it personal” and I agree and think the same, but as a director I like said “how can you not take it personal?”
I realized at one point that it wasn’t about the grades. I had always had good grades, but this did not bring me any appreciation. I did not know what to eat, what to do, how to do it and how to become better.
In the mean time, our building got a full renovation, and instead of having glasses in a former basement, we had them upstairs, in rooms filled with expensive computers and a studio.
This did not change much for me though. I was amazed by how a lot of people thought that they understand the depth of the human soul, but do not understand simple things. A lot of students also were not coherent at all when it came to creating, thinking and doing things. That’s my opinion.
Was I missing out on things? Maybe. But I didn’t want to do things that were fake or just for trying to feel included. I don’t want to feel included.
I know I am weird, but I hoped people will still befriend me for who I am.
I have not drawn all my conclusions yet.
Read part two of the article here