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For the Sammy Fabelmans of the World

Updated: Sep 12, 2022

I was inspired by the just-released trailer for Spielberg's #TheFabelmans to share some of my own childhood footage.

The trailer includes shots of the fictional Sammy Fabelman filming a model train set.

A frame from the trailer to Steven Spielberg's "The Fabelmans"

It's a tale from Spielberg's own childhood in the 1950s - and something I did, too, as a film-crazed kid in the 1990s.

Train footage from my childhood filmmaking experiments, mid 1990s

The Sammy Fabelmans of the world are passionate creators - but they rarely get to see that the folks who've 'made it' also started out like them - with only our dreams, making dumb things with bad tools in weird places.

I remember when I was 'Sammy Fabelman'. These experiments with old train sets on the floor of my bedroom were lonely affairs. No one else participated. No one watched the footage. No one gave me advice, or guidance, or support. I knew there was magic to be captured, but I also knew I hadn't captured it. There's disappointment in those early experiments.

There's joy, too - the joy of catching that glimpse of something. At one point, I put the camera's lens right up to the doorway of a "factory" that the train would zip through. Through the lens, I could see a different world - a special place that was bigger than the universe, but could somehow fit on my bedroom floor. No one else got to see that magic - because I hadn't captured it well. The shots are blurry, shaky, poorly lit, and they don't tell a story. But I caught a glimpse of how cinema can lift us out of ourselves and transport us to better places.

That strange combination of exhilaration and loneliness - of discovery and the inability to share it - marks the "Sammy Fabelman" experience. There are Sammy Fabelmans out there now, playing with phone cameras, editing on laptops, trying to make sense of this magic they can sense but can't yet fully express... It's maddening, but it doesn't have to be so lonely anymore. We can show them that where they are - their flawed attempts to make magic - that's where we started, too.

So I share some of my first baby-steps into filmmaking, and I encourage fellow filmmakers to share theirs. Let's see how you got your start! What are your earliest experiments with movie magic?

Share them. Tag them. So the Sammy Fabelmans of the world know we were all beginners once.

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