I’ve been writing screenplays and running writer’s groups as a hobby for most of my adult life. Two and a half years after my son’s death I was spending most of my time sitting on the couch, getting through the day with a few weekly rituals I’d managed to put into place: babysitting two small boys one day a week and my writing group. The carrot we offered ourselves in the writing group was a trip to Hollywood when we finished our current scripts. And we’d all just finished one!
On the couch one day I got the idea to write a script about three older women taking a trip to Hollywood, inspired somewhat by my writing group. But although I am a prolific writer, I never really believed that any of my screenplays would actually get made into Hollywood films. My life was so dark during these days that I immediately tossed aside this idea for a screenplay, too depressed to start what seemed like an impossible task, but needing something really big to give my attention to in exchange for a brief reprieve from the pain of my loss. That’s when I got the idea to just film the actual trip I was about to take. I had no idea where the journey would take me, but it was the start of the making of In His Footsteps.
My previous company had given me, as the CEO, income protection insurance in the event that I was unable to work. The unimaginable happened, and I truly was unable to work. But the insurance company refused to pay. One day while I was sitting on the couch, trying to come up with a new project and the money to go to Hollywood, I was actually 5 months behind in rent and didn’t have a penny to my name. But I began planning the trip and thinking about what I would like to document for this film. I live for big projects, things that seem impossible. A documentary fit the bill.
I’d been fighting with the insurance company for 2 years and within a week of deciding to make a film about my journey through loss, I received a check from them. My road trip could begin. At the start of the journey I had no idea what I might end up with as a film. When my son died I read every book on the subject and watched every film. I didn’t find anything that gave me proof that it was possible to go on, or to ever find happy moments, after the loss of my only child. But I knew if I could prove to myself that it was possible, then I might be able to make a film showing what I’d hoped to find – proof that life isn’t always over when we think it is.
One of the subjects I’ve explored as an entrepreneur is that of failure. Failure is a critical element of success. When the company I created went under 10 months after my son died, it was the biggest failure of my life. At this moment I couldn’t see the seeds of my any potential bounce-back, but I figured that if I visited Silicon Valley on this trip I just might find what it takes to get back up again. I have.
In His Footsteps was my first film. A personal documentary is challenging enough in itself, but sharing my loss with others was extremely uncomfortable. I had the added challenge of presenting my dead son to the world so I could make my loss real to those who would watch the film. I hadn’t been able to look at his photo since he died and suddenly I needed to not only look at his photos, but hours and hours of video of him. I thought I would die from this new pain as I sifted through the incredible archive of his life. One year to the day after I began filming I finished the final cut of the film. That was an unimaginable relief! I am not sure if I will ever be happy to watch it, but I’m sure my writer/filmmaker/chef son has had a big hand in it. It feels as if we made it together across the grand divide that now separates us.
I had a lot of fun making this film. I needed proof that fun could exist again for me. Making In His Footsteps has started me on a new career, and re-started me on others. I’ve been encouraged on this new journey by my son’s words (from an interview when he was about 24 years old):
“I’ve discovered that when you actually go through some challenge in your life, through the whole process of it, at first you’re really upset about what’s happened to you. And then you face up to it and deal with it. When you come out at the end of the arc you have that inspiration. But you don’t control when it happens. It comes though when you’ve actually gone through something. Like in a movie, a character goes through an arc; and at the end the audience feels inspired because they see him go through the whole process.” Shaka Taylor