Monday, August 10, 2009

Happy Birthday to John Kyser, 1953-2002

I want to wish a wonderful, happy birthday to my father, John Michael Kyser. Today, he would have been celebrating his fifty-sixth birthday. On April 29th, 2002, my father tragically passed away at the age of forty-eight. He is survived by his mother, Lucille Kyser; two brothers, David and Paul Kyser; and wife and son, Gretchen and Jack Kyser. In his memory, I am posting one of my college essays - which reflects on his death and the art of filmmaking - that I used in my applications to both New York University and University of Southern California.

Every artist is born with a sense of entitlement for his own work, craving admiration and respect for creative expressions without exactly knowing why. As early as six years old, I poured my heart into countless short stories, screenplays, and amateur films, and while this certainly fed my creative hunger, I could never pinpoint the purpose of my artistic innovations. What did my obsession with theatricality reveal about my psyche?

My father, John Michael Kyser, passed away when I was eleven years old. My films and screenplays that followed were splattered with sheets of raw human emotion and characters with damaged psyches. I did not feel comfortable speaking about grade school insecurities in the following years, but my works were flooded with more importance and meaning than I had ever intended.

The idea that a work of fiction can transcend the boundaries of its particular realm - whether that be literature, film, theatre, or poetry - and evolve into a statement on the human experience, had never crossed my mind. Film was entertainment, therapy was painful self-discovery - the two could not possibly intertwine. Or so I thought, until I came across film director Martin Scorsese.

Imagine a twelve year-old gaping in awe at the immediacy and unsettling depiction of human struggle and triumph in Scorsese’s film Raging Bull. The picture worked as a subconscious catalyst that awakened the impassioned filmmaker and human artist within me, chronicling the rise and ultimate fall of Jake La Motta (Robert De Niro), a self-destructive New York prizefighter.

Initially, I felt guilty for having connected and even pitied La Motta, for in any generic instance he would have been considered the villain of the film. What I later discovered was that Scorsese presents La Motta not as a distinctly good or bad person, but rather as a complex human being whom the audience could both despise and yet pity at the same time. The anti-heroes of Scorsese films serve as direct parallels to Scorsese’s own troubled mentality, which echoes mine in a similarly disturbed fashion.

The more I watched, the more converted I became. Directors such as Scorsese and Woody Allen made pictures about their own internal demons that they could express only through fiction. In a Scorsese interview, film critic Roger Ebert notes that “out of his pain…[Scorsese] has directed some of the best films ever made about loneliness and frustration.”

Loneliness and frustration, my two best buddies in the wake of my father’s death, are the fuel for my flaming passion for making movies, like Scorsese and Allen. More importantly, that passion, obsession, enables me to tackle my own personal demons in an indirect manner. My art is my therapy, and my therapy is my growth. And if one day my creative energy and artistry should arrive in film theaters - my demons released for the scrutiny of mainstream audiences - I can only hope that a young man finds a connection and a purpose in my art, and I can be his Scorsese.


  1. Ahhh... This essay reminds me how much I've fallen since I decided to make movies. I don't know. I was getting pretty creative and poetic due to depression and loneliness myself, but over the past couple of years I've made great friends and brightened up my personality, and, well, yeah. My thoughts are not as complex as it used to be, or at least I want to believe it that way. I just can't seem to think or write half as passionately I had used to. It feels weird in a twisted way, sometimes wishing that I was depressed again.

  2. That's a great insight - most artists produce their best work when they're at their loneliest. However, the drive and determination that comes from being upbeat, I think, helps us better understand our past loneliness and frustration, and better use those feelings in writing.