November 07, 2013

Work Vs. Play: In Search Of My Own AMERICAN SCREAM

"They may not remember me, but they'll remember what I've done."
The American Scream from director Michael Stephenson (he of Troll 2 and Best Worst Movie fame) is a documentary that follows three "home haunters" who happen to live about an hour away from me in Fairhaven, Massachusetts.  Each year, Victor, Manny and Matthew (with the help of his father Richard) turn their respective homes into elaborate haunted houses, complete with authentic props, set dressings, animatronics, and a collection of volunteers dressed up as all sorts of terrifying creatures.  The three Halloween enthusiasts reside within a few blocks of each other and while all three display an intense dedication, each approaches the yearly tradition with a completely different mindset.  Matthew and Richard are adorably low budget, forgoing any sense of realistic terror in favor of simple entertainment.  I could spend hours watching them try to attach two bloodied baby dolls to a motorized see-saw or build an alien creature out of vacuum tubes and paper towels.  Manny is a tinker at heart and revels more in the creative process than the final product; he has so much fun dumpster diving and actually constructing his creations that he doesn't really care if everything little thing is perfect come Halloween, so long as everyone has a good time.  For Victor, it's all about the big show.  The son of strict religious parents who never allowed him to celebrate Halloween, Victor now spends all year working up to that one night of the year and he's not afraid to drive his family crazy, spend thousands of dollars or enlist the help of seemingly half the neighborhood in order to ensure that once he opens those doors, every minute detail has been precisely designed and executed to terrify each of his visitors.

All three haunters are entertaining in their own peculiar way and their respective houses each looked like an absolute blast on the big night, but Victor was the guy with whom I could most easily identify.  You see, as much fun as Victor has turning his own home into a yearly frightfest, it's just not enough.  Nothing makes him feel as happy, as excited, as alive as when he's haunting.  It's his most favorite thing in the world, and Victor doesn't want to limit himself to just one night a year; he wants to do this ALL THE TIME.

I get that.  It's a debate I've had with myself a lot over the past few years: do I need to have a job that I absolutely love doing, something that makes me excited to go to work every day?  Or can I be satisfied with a mediocre job if I spend my free time engaged in a more fulfilling activity?  I've talked about this before, how my current occupation is neither torturous nor rewarding, it's just sort of there.  I have very little to honestly complain about; I'm well paid, I love my boss, I get the chance to work with interesting new technology and when I leave the office (rarely later than five o'clock) I don't have to think about work until I return the next morning.  I know plenty of people who would kill for a job like this and I'll admit there were some lean times in L.A. when I truly missed the freedom and security of working here.  But after two and a half years, the daily grind of life in a cubicle has started to wear on me and it's become clear that while this job may be logistically more convenient, it still leaves me with an emotional and creative deficit in my life.  I therefore have two alternatives: either I quit in favor of a more personally enriching yet almost certainly less financially solvent career, or I keep my job and throw myself wholeheartedly into some other pastime in my off hours, Victor Bariteau style.

Obviously Option B is the easier choice, as it ensures my ability to keep paying my rent.  And yet, is that enough?  Will the pleasures derived from an engrossing hobby match or outweigh the tedium of a hum drum employment?  Or will I eventually just find myself wishing that my hobby was my employment and getting frustrated when that's not possible?  Am I Team Manny or Team Victor?  In a lot of ways, that's been a big part the experiment that is this website and I'd say the results have been partially successful.  I do really enjoy the writing and I plan to continue steadily in some alternative capacity after my year is over, but the fact that I'm perpetually behind schedule makes the task feel ever more daunting.  (At this point I'm on pace to finish my screenings by March and my writings by May.)  I'm also a little disheartened that, aside from a handful of articles, I haven't been able to significantly increase my readership over the past eight months.  Friends and family tell me that they enjoy reading my posts, and that's truly gratifying to hear, but I don't see people sharing articles on Facebook or Twitter and I just can't seem to get my work to travel outside of my immediate social circle.  Considering the amount of effort I've poured into this project, it's incredibly frustrating to feel like I'm just shouting into the wind.

I'd love to parlay this experience into a steady writing gig for one of the film websites I regularly follow, but I also realize that such a gig isn't going to be the kind of thing that will let me walk away from my day job.  But I expect that to be the case with most anything I'm really passionate about.  I've also been contemplating getting back into acting again, although I've been out of the game so long that it would probably take me a while to work my way back up to level of production I grew accustomed to in college.  Either way, that's not really any more viable of a full time career option than writing at this point.  I guess I'm cursed with a love of occupations that generally operate on low and/or inconsistent paychecks.

So perhaps this decision has been made for me, at least in the short term.  I'll keep going with my perfectly decent job and look elsewhere for personal fulfillment.  I'll continue pouring my energy into the projects and activities that make me truly happy, and maybe if I'm lucky, someday I'll get the opportunity to turn my passions into a career that means as much to me as haunting does to Victor Bariteau.

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Title: The American Scream
Director: Michael Stephenson
Starring: Victor Bariteau, Manny Souza, Matthew Brodeur, Richard Brodeur
Year Of Release: 2012
Viewing Method: Netflix Instant - Laptop