Wednesday, December 12, 2012

From the Empirical Archives: Finding Your Bliss by Tara Grover Smith

Finding Your Bliss
Tara Grover Smith
Originally Published in the June 2012 Issue of Empirical

Filmmaker Pat Solomon began his career shooting extreme sports movies, and for the last twelve years has been directing commercials. His first feature film, Finding Joe, is being released this fall and is, in part, a re examination of the hero’s journey as described by Joseph Campbell, the famed mythologist and scholar.

In Bill Moyer’s interview with Campbell in the “The Hero’s Adventure,” Campbell says he chose to study heroes because “they’re what’s worth writing about.” Campbell, who died in 1987, coined the widelyknown phrase “follow your bliss.” Finding Joe explores how we can obtain the worthwhile lives we really want, and how we can understand ourselves and our place in society through the symbolism of heroes. But Finding Joe is only “a little bit philosophical and a lot inspirational,” Pat reassures. I spoke with Pat over the telephone about his creative process, our mutual Campbell idol, and bliss.

Tara: How did you learn about Joseph Campbell and what made you decide to create a film about him?

Pat: When I saw the Moyers interview for the first time, I really kind of geeked out on it. I thought: I’ve got to learn more, I’ve got to read more Campbell, but I think most people aren’t like that. It’s heavy material. Unless you’re really into it, it’s hard to follow for a long period of time. When I was watching the video later in my life, I thought about using different icons that speak to a broader audience about mythology.

Tara: You say in your blog that the movie is “something almost everyone can relate to and certainly everyone can use right now.”

Pat: That was the start of the process. I wanted to make “follow your bliss” cool or more accessible. That was a goal and a starting point for the film.

Tara: We’re in uncertain and unprecedented economic times. The trailer for the film says, “We wake up to the fact that we’re the hero of our own lives and we get tired of being the victim. What we do with our lives is what makes us heroes.” When did you realize you were the hero of your own life?

Pat: Even now, I’m realizing that. That’s a hard one, you know, because it’s easy to be a victim a little bit. It’s easy to say, “Hey, it’s the economy’s fault, it’s not my fault.” As long as you’re in that victim role--it’s the economy’s fault, it’s my boss’s fault, it’s my husband’s fault, it’s my wife’s fault--you’re kind of stuck. You don’t have a lot of choices.

Tara: Campbell said to put your bliss first, not to follow the money. What would Campbell say about these times when we’re maybe not able to be paid for doing what we love?

Pat: I think it depends first on how important money is to you. Oftentimes I think money is important because other people have told you it’s important. It’s not really money that’s important but that it’s important you have a nice house, that it’s important that you wear really nice clothes, that you drive an expensive car--those are the messages that we’ve got. The money may be important for the wrong reasons. Also I think if you’re doing what you love doing, money becomes secondary to that. Going forward in your own life is a proces —decisions on a day-to-day basis are motivated by what you really want to be doing. Are you happy doing what you do every day or are you miserable?

Tara: I noticed that your commercials are very rousing with much of these same heroic themes, with glimpses of people striving to make themselves better. Has Campbell influenced that work as well?

Pat: Campbell really influenced my philosophy, outlook, my filmmaking. So, yeah, those processes are in my commercials. I’ve shot a lot of very masculine, machismo themes with modern-day dragon-slaying- -man against big wave or big mountain.

Tara: Are you following your bliss?

Pat: This movie is such a joy. It’s really opening doors to people who have never heard of Campbell or don’t know what “follow your bliss” means. And so, yeah, I feel like I’m definitely following my bliss.

Tara: Great! I love your frank blog about various issues coming up that you hadn’t anticipated with the making of the film. You can’t use any of the footage of Jerusalem or Indonesia although you spent months there and thousands of dollars. You write, “It’s a big gamble if it doesn’t pay off. Of course, if it does, ‘I planned it that way’.” You say that no matter what, you have to try because you don’t know what’s going to happen. Your lesson from your blog says to keep taking these steps forward, don’t be idle. You said earlier when first seeing the rough cut, it was like seeing a diamond but it was still embedded in coal. It takes a careful hand to coax out the diamond, and you write about having to have this faith that: 1) you indeed have a diamond and 2) you’re not going to overcut and ruin the potential beautiful shape it could have. Can you tell us a little about the process there?

Pat: The process there is I shot all this footage and spent tons of time, money, and energy in one direction and then I realized it wasn’t going to work. I was hanging on to it because I’d planned on it and then saw my plan going up in smoke. I had to be able to step away from the process and say, “Okay. It’s not working.” But I also saw that there was something there. I knew there was a little diamond, little inklings that there was something special there.

Tara: In a more recent blog posting you’d said that it wouldn’t have been the same if you hadn’t gone through that process, even though you couldn’t use some of that footage.

Pat: Yeah, the movie definitely wouldn’t have been the same for several reasons. One is it has a lot to do with the way that I viewed the process. My process and the process in the movie are one and the same. When you watch the movie, it’s very classic hero’s journey arc structure. The hero’s journey you see on screen is reflective of the journey I was going through. Had it been easy, the movie would have reflected that. It wouldn’t have been as deep of a movie. And it wouldn’t have touched on those core issues. And because of the struggle—and by struggle, I don’t mean I wasn’t having fun, that it wasn’t joyful—I took a step and knew it was the right step. The movie wouldn’t have been the same if it had gone according to plan.

Tara: You have spent the last several years working on this film. How do you find balance in your life?

Pat: I think balance is hard to define. We need to find balance between our work and our play. That’s a very classic, very American way to put it. But it’s more complicated than that. For instance, I’m sending out this movie, and it’s taking up a lot of time. I love the process and I’m learning a lot, but I still need to take time to do the things I love to do. I love surfing. So, there are times when I just have to say: I’m going to go surf. I make time for that activity. I’m married and have a child, and have to balance out time spent in those relationships. I guess when we talk about balance we have to look at all the things important to you. It obviously means time management (laughs).

Tara: Do you feel like you have another feature-length film on the way?

Pat: Yeah! I think there’s a bunch of them. I have a lot of ideas about the next one and I’m not sure what it’s going to be yet, but there are 4-6 ideas I think will really be cool.

Tara: We’ll have to be on the lookout.

Pat: This one’s not really done yet. It needs to get out in the world and then I can take a breath and concentrate on the next one. It’s kind of like a golfer has made a really long putt. I’m just watching the putt, and I’m like, “God, just go in the cup!” That’s where I am right now. “Get in the cup, get in the cup!” I can’t think of a real relaxed way of stepping back and looking at the next project until the ball goes in the cup.

Tara: Is there anything else your audience would like to know about your film?

Pat: I love the idea of people who don’t know Campbell going to see this movie. Most people while watching it put their own baggage up there on screen. I just want people to watch and be surprised and take away from it what they will. This film is a real eye opener.

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