June 5, 2013 —
When he was younger, my son would pepper me with questions about how to do things. “How can I make a one-man flying machine?” was one that piqued his interest early on—enough so that he bypassed Mom’s knowledge base and went straight to the President of the United States (then Bill Clinton). Bill wrote back, telling Conor that NASA was working hard on things like that and that Conor should study hard and stay in school. But Conor was a dreamer. He was a creative kid who could be kept happy and busy with a lump of Sculpey clay or a pencil and a pad of paper. The regimentation of school did not suit him, but he was easy to like so he never got into big trouble even when he missed deadlines or skipped class to work in the “tech office” in high school. His teachers would wag their fingers at him and then smile and tousle his golden head. His father and I worried about him too much, but we always had faith in his creative skills and hoped they would serve him well as an adult.
Cut to Conor as an adult. Faced with a sheaf of papers from his co-op board for making some slight alterations to his new apartment, Conor laments that this is too much like schoolwork. I reply that being an adult is what they were trying to prepare him for in school.
But even with his tendency to dream, Conor has already accomplished big things. A film school drop-out, he never stopped making films. Using the new technologies available—all of which he managed to master without formal instruction, seeming to achieve mind-meld with Final Cut Pro and other software—he made short films, wrote screenplays and edited other people’s work. He landed a job at a French film school in Manhattan, first supervising college-level film students, then teaching pre-production and cinematography. He is as focused as a teacher as he was scattered as a student. He says teaching has made him understand what his teachers were trying to tell him. He just had to learn it himself.
It is hard to watch your children make mistakes knowing you can’t help them. Sometimes I feel like the voice on my GPS trying to guide them “recalculating... recalculating...” as they ignore my well-earned wisdom.
Five years ago, at age 20, Conor wrote the screenplay for what would evolve to be his first feature film. With a cast and crew that became a kind of family, he saw a dream become reality. We watched as he began to value collaboration—a skill they tried to instill in middle school but one he never valued until recently. He learned the value of a script supervisor and became a more nimble filmmaker. He used his diverse talents as a writer, cinematographer, editor and composer, but he wasn’t afraid to let go as an auteur when the film would benefit. My proudest moment came when he edited a short section of himself onscreen, forsaking his cameo for a tighter scene.
In April, the film, “Killing the Dog” premiered at TakeTwo Film Festival in Manhattan, garnering an award for Outstanding Film. His new family of collaborators shared the stage with him as we watched from the audience. There will be more festivals we hope, and there are already more film projects. Although he didn’t follow the President’s advice precisely, he has managed to make some of his dreams come true.