Ascension of the Ego-Boy

I'm thinking back to when I was just a little filmmaker, an undergraduate at Penn State. In the very first class, like many classes of that era, we only had access to Bolexes and a simple kit of three open-face 650w lights. Like many undergraduate boys, my ego outstripped my abilities. Like many students of media, I acted as if the gear I used was the single largest factor in success.

Here I was, one of a legion of insecure boys with big heads (Ego-Boys), sitting in the hallway waiting for a class to start, when HE came in. Z was a strong student in another section of the intro class. I hadn't seen anything he'd made, since films were only shown on 16mm.  As far as I knew, this kid was out-Spielberging me.

He lumbered over to the equipment check-out carrying a HUGE orange case. Different from anything any of the rest of us used. The hallway was abuzz... what's in that case? How'd he get it? Why didn't we have access to it, whatever it was? After returning his gear, Z came down the hall. "Sup, guys. You finish shooting?"

I can't remember the rest of the conversations, because I can only remember how obsessed I was with a.) the gear in that case, and b.) playing it cool so as to not seem like I cared what was in it. You know, like whatever, I use stuff in big orange cases all the time, no big deal. I liked stuff in big orange cases back before they got popular.

I found out later that the big orange cases contained three open-face 1000W lights. Same brand as what we used in the intro class. They even looked identical, the only difference was that they had an extra 250W of output. I didn't feel like a total idiot, I was probably too busy wishing I could use the CP-16 instead of the Bolex. Or later, the SR2. Or the [insert instrument here].

I don't remember when I came to my senses about technology and art. I remember having a moment when I was proposing my MFA thesis film, and I was adamant that I was going to animate it traditionally. One of my professors made a deflating offhand comment: "what does that even mean?" I ignored him at first, because it seemed all I ever got from my professors at that point were deflating, offhand comments. But this one was truthful. It didn't mean anything. This is not to say that it never means anything, but for the kind of work I made then (and still do now), it doesn't.

I hear it now in my students. They shoot on HDSLRs with huge sensors and cut 1080p on their laptops, but when they discover that one of their peers got to lay hands on a RED, I hear them, especially the Ego-Boys. "Aw man, I wish we could get a couple of those here." It takes a lot of self control to not strangle them. There's no talking to them about it, it'll just make them dig in deeper. The Ego-Boy syndrome will run its course. Or maybe it won't. There will always be James Camerons. It's not the job of any professor to craft the personalities of students.

But the quest to help them do better work sooner by getting out of their own ways...