Paul Taylor is a writer and director. His directorial debut, Driftwood, is a feature length film entirely devoid of dialogue, and was awarded the Grand Jury Prize at the Slamdance 2016 Film Festival. He followed this with the short film, Succulent, which screened at the 2018 Sidewalk Film Festival and was part of Spectacle Theater’s Hidden Visions series. Kiddo, his most recent short film, screened at the 2022 Sarasota Film Festival and later that year at the Tallgrass Film Festival where it was presented with the award for Outstanding Screenplay. Prior to his work as a writer and director, Paul was a cinematographer for a number of years, having shot a myriad of independent features and shorts. He resides in New York with his wife, daughter, two cats and a variety of houseplants.
Permit me to make some sweeping generalizations about filmmakers: They’re selfish. They’re judgmental. They’re competitive. They’re stubborn. They’re neurotic and dogmatic and pedantic and sycophantic. They’re compelled to express themselves using images and sounds and deceive themselves into thinking that others will be interested in seeing the culmination of their efforts. It’s a warped self-defense mechanism against death, a pitiable form of immortality at that, and deep down they’re all aware of this, but persist because they have to, because they need to, and because they’d rather not work an office job (although most of them do in order to fund their work). I feel at liberty to generalize so liberally because I am a filmmaker and I most certainly possess varying degrees of those qualities.
So, what happens when a filmmaker (at least like the one above) becomes a parent? Well, as someone who’s been a father for 2.5 years now (not including the nine-month incubation period or the years prior as a cat-daddy), I can tell you, unabashedly, though not without remorse, that having a child as a filmmaker is both the best and the worst thing I’ve ever done and is something I’ll struggle with for the remainder of my life, especially when my daughter (and any other subsequent children I may have) is old enough to read this.
It works for me like this: the fear and excitement and changes don’t commence when the child is born. In fact, it starts directly upon completion of the attempt at conception. What then follows are bright-eyed and bushy-tailed weeks compounded with anxiety and uncertainty while awaiting the Prophetess of Pregnancy to reveal your future with what amounts to a $15 litmus test. When it finally reads positive, you are filled with a joy so great it renders you speechless. When you and your partner are finally finished embracing and celebrating, it hits like an unseen right hook to the nose. You are suddenly filled with dread and despair as you frantically try to reset your proboscis back into place and are then pummeled with a fusillade of existential punches: When will I get to make that film now? How can I put food on the table and also afford to make a movie? Oh my God, it’s over. I’ll never make a film again. That barrage is then followed by a steady stream of shame-stomps: Am I really complaining about not being able to make a film? With all of the poverty, greed, lies, pandemics, wars, impending ecological disasters and doom that my child will have to face, am I really worried about making a fucking film? Go fuck yourself, Paul. And as I’m lying on the ground covered in festering wounds and blooming hematomas … Yes. Yes, I am complaining.
My impending responsibility for the life of a semi-helpless human being completely rewired my neural pathways. The mental bandwidth typically reserved for the creation and/or consumption of slow, meditative cinema was rerouted. Any effort to engage in such high-brow, highfalutin entertainment was now impeded by something akin to a 404 Error. We’re sorry, but that energy is now required for more adult-oriented duties.
Context: I made my directorial debut feature with Driftwood, a slow, moody, contemplative, sci-fi chamber drama devoid of any dialogue that won the Grand Jury Prize for narrative feature at Slamdance 2016, and followed it up with the 2018 short Succulent, a languid reverie bookended with a four-minute unbroken monologue of a character recalling a fond and distant memory. Flash-forward to 2019, when my wife was three months pregnant and I was having a veritable identity crisis. Who am I? What do I like now? What am I going to make next? Am I capable of making anything any longer? What is my name and who are all of these people haranguing me!?
All I desperately wanted was to shoot one more film before Edie, my daughter, was born, because who the fuck knew when I’d ever get to make another one. So, I didn’t read What to Expect When You’re Expecting. Instead, I learned and coped by way of filmmaking. I channeled all of my emotions of impending parenthood into the script for a short film, Kiddo. And in retrospect, the film is strangely, horrifyingly accurate; all of the screaming and arguing, the heartache and resentment, the love and laughter and hope that comes with expecting and raising a child is present in Kiddo. The film was born out of desperation, of urgency, of uncertainty and terror, the thrill and adventure and the panic-inducing Call to Parenthood. It’s an 11-minute distillation that epitomizes the emotional whirlwind of changes that come with expecting a child and having one. The prop changes and discontinuity and rapid-fire editing, the dialogue and deep-seated resentment, all of it reflects the changes in the characters’ lives, in my life, in the life that I share with my sweet, patient angel of a wife, Annie, who has a love-hate relationship with Kiddo, because it unquestionably, unremittingly puts so much of our emotions and personal life on public display.
Because I felt incapable of conceiving the types of films I previously made, with Kiddo I returned to my filmmaking roots of two decades ago, when I was making skateboarding videos and shooting terrible sketch comedy on a Hi-8 camera. However cringe-worthy it is to watch those tapes now, there is an intriguing sense of innocence, naïveté and free-spiritedness that was present behind the lens at that time, which I then employed and exploited and combined with the skills I’ve learned thus far as a writer, director and former DP when conceiving Kiddo. I eliminated all the lessons I devoured in film school and, for the first time in 10 years, tried simply to enjoy myself and make something personal. As filmmakers, we’re sometimes led to believe the only way to make good art is to suffer. Well, fuck that. I have enough on my plate.
This approach, this total abandonment of rules and structure and formalities, reminded me why I became a filmmaker in the first place. I never wanted to play by the rules, but I did want to play, and my life and my work has been an attempt to bridge those two contradictory inclinations. Now, as a parent, I get to experience the full gamut of life in all of its trickery and fuckery and use those experiences as I strive to create films that are more honest and more human and, most importantly, more playful.
My films will never be the same again and it took Edie floating in Annie’s gut and her subsequent birth for me to get to this point in my life and my filmmaking “career.” Edie, you did this. You are responsible for Kiddo. You are the reason why I now use Rogaine and why I am back in therapy and why I will never get a good night’s sleep again, and I couldn’t be any more grateful because all of the joy that comes with being a parent outweighs all of the hardship. Fifteen seconds of you maniacally running around in circles in the rain with your mouth agape, trying to catch raindrops on your tongue or me removing lint from between your toes before your bath because you’re afraid of the way it floats in the water and then you subsequently breakdancing in the bathtub, or, more simply, when you learned how to fucking walk, instantly offsets the cumulative effects of sleep deprivation, anxiety and fear. All of it simply disappears like it’s been ctrl+z’d out of a timeline. It’s magical.
I’m not claiming to be a new or completely different person. Becoming a parent doesn’t work that way. It’s more that having a child forces you to think and perceive the world around you differently, and in the best possible way. You find yourself more optimistic even when things are so completely fucked and dire because your children are pleasantly ignorant of the suffering of this world and curious in a way that defies description. By association and/or emotional osmosis, you begin feeling the same way, seeing the world through their eyes and experiencing life all over again. And you learn how to play all over again. You get to play more than you have in decades and playing is the surest form of rebellion against the perversions of adulthood.
So, for now, I’ll continue to play.
Featured image shows Joslyn Jensen and Frank Mosley in Kiddo; all images courtesy Paul Taylor.