Today is director Ang Lee’s birthday. He is known for ‘Brokeback Mountain’, ‘Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon’, and ‘Life of Pi’.
Upon researching him today, I discovered an essay he wrote after winning the Oscar for Best Director for ‘Brokeback Mountain’ in 2006. The essay deals with Lee’s early hardships as an aspiring filmmaker. (The essay was translated by Irene Shih and you can read it in full on her blog).
It’s really quite a story. Lee describes, against the behest of his father, enrolling as a film student. This one act strained their relationship for two decades. Lee spent the subsequent six years after graduation without work in the film world, due to the difficulty of making a career in the arts. Before school, his father had remarked that “every year, 50,000 performers compete for 200 available roles on Broadway” as a way to discourage the younger Lee from pursuing this elusive field.
Lee’s wife emerges from the essay as the family’s foundation and main facilitator of his eventual success. She supported Lee and their two children with a career in pharmaceutical research, while Lee helped in the house and continued to try to break into film. (This situation is quite similar to writer Matthew Weiner’s life before his success in television). As Lee said in an interview with the Guardian, “I was picking up the kids from school and doing the cooking and writing. Most of the time I didn't do anything – there was a lot of anxiety because I couldn't invest in anything apart from filmmaking.”
Lee, then in his early thirties and feeling embarrassed, enrolled in computer classes – secretly, until his wife discovered a class schedule. Concluding that this abandonment of his passion led to his recent morose mood, she simply told him, “Ang, don’t forget your dream.”
This moment of acknowledgment spurred Lee to find the confidence to fully embrace the pursuit of his dream of being a filmmaker—his true self. And that confidence underwrote a series of small successes that led to the notable career we associate Ang Lee with today.
As Lee explains,
“Sometime after, I obtained funding for my screenplay, and began to shoot my own films. And after that, a few of my films started to win international awards. Recalling earlier times, my wife confessed, ‘I’ve always believed that you only need one gift. Your gift is making films. There are so many people studying computers already, they don’t need an Ang Lee to do that. If you want that golden statue, you have to commit to the dream.’”
The essay is worth a read in its entirety.