It’s one of those detestably vague acronyms: Everything I Learned about Film-making, I Learned from a Hummingbird. Seriously, I absolutely must give one of my characters this name. It’s simply too good to languor in a blog. Of course, if the character is female, she would be called, FALIE HAFLIM. But that’s another topic.
Hummingbirds are tiny things, with wings that whir between 70 to 200 beats per second. They are the only bird capable of flying backward. As their metabolism is so intense, they must eat about 7 times every hour just to stay alive. When they sleep, they enter into such a deep state of “torpor” that they have oft been mistaken for dead. Of course, the most romantic among them say they can only be awakened by true love’s kiss.
As a teenager, I participated in an outdoor meeting amid the awe-inspiring pines of my Pacific Northwest home. It was an inspirational gathering of about 50 like-minded teens which allowed us to bask in the beauty of God’s creations as we listened to each other and shared our thoughts and ideas. We all dressed nicely for this event: ties for the boys and dresses for the girls. Although I’ve never favored floral prints, I was wearing a floral dress on this day, for some reason.
Sitting in the dappled sun as it broke through the giant pines, my floral attire apparently appeared very life-like, because a local hummingbird buzzed over to examine me. He flew right up to my face and hovered there about a foot away, eyeing the nutritional possibilities offered by my florid frock. His wings whirred intensely while his body remained perfectly still. He cocked his head a little as his black eye surveyed me. I cocked my head right back.
“Tasty,” he asked?
“Fake,” I replied.
“Why,” he asked?
This question caught me off guard. I had to think about it.
“Serendipity,” I responded.
Now it was his turn to think. He looked me straight in the eye: which, by the way, is a bit unnerving when you’re looking back at what appears to be a very sharp, needle-like beak pointing right at your sclera.
“Explain,” he said.
How do I do this? How do I explain that:
- I’m uncharacteristically wearing flowers because I thought they’d make me look pretty;
- that looking pretty is all for the sake of art;
- that art is an expression of passion designed to evoke the passion in others in hopes of creating a connection, however tenuous or permanent;
- and that “connection” is the deepest longing of the human soul, and
- that it somehow completes us, filling in the gaps of our imperfect being;
- that it heals our wounds and breathes in life when the lungs of our essence are a hollow vacuum and our heart has forgotten how to breath… kind of like a hummingbird in torpor.
“You,” I said tentatively. He nodded.
“Me,” I said. He nodded again.
“Same,” I finished.
“Yes,” he said, and flitted away in a streak of brilliant color.
Oh, I see! Huh! I wasn’t teaching him—Ms. Superior-Human I thought I was. He was teaching me. As I sat in awe surrounded by that natural cathedral, all I could do was wonder, “What did I just learn from this unexpected visitor?”
Of course, the things I analyzed then in my 15-year old mind were considerably different from the things I recognize now. They were no less important and no less insightful. I’m merely in a different space now: as it should be.
As I’m a film-maker by trade, and have—of late—been writing a script which I have every intention to eventually direct, I’ve been meditating deeply about what makes a great film. Story, of course. The story must be solid. Without that, the foundation will crumble entirely. The real test of a great film-maker, I believe, is the ability to communicate that story to a wide audience in a way that impresses them; a way that moves them somehow in heart, body and mind. After all, isn’t that the point of all great art: to make that intangible connection with our fellow-wanderers?
Thus, the thing that most impressed me about my conversation with the hummingbird was that it took place in complete silence. Maybe I don’t need to make a lot of noise to be heard and appreciated? I just need to find a way to entice the audience to listen to the silence. There is much that can be said in silence. When I coach actors, I always say—and I firmly believe this—that the best acting—the truth of a scene—is found between the lines.
Secondly, I noticed that we spoke simply: one word questions and responses. Hmm. I take this to mean, “Respect the intelligence of your audience.” Everything doesn’t need to be explained if care and thought is invested in the communication. Choose how to present the story wisely, and the receiver will fill in the blanks—probably a lot better than anything I could have actually said or even shown.
Maintain eye contact, even if it’s uncomfortable. In film, I think this means, “Be open and truthful, even when it’s uncomfortable—especially when it’s uncomfortable—to do so.” That intelligent audience can smell a disingenuous thought a mile away. Speak and show the truth, and they will respond in kind.
Leave them wanting more. When he left me, my eyes followed that hummingbird until he was out of sight. I wondered where he went, and my mind lingered on our experience together long after he was gone. A great film should do the same.
And most notably to me, how amazing is it that to this day—decades later—I still remember this oh-so brief encounter with incisive clarity. Literally, the entire experience from the moment he appeared in front of my face to the moment he streaked away, tallied all of about 12 seconds, tops. Never let it be said that I am merely one, and a small one at that. All too often I think this and must remind myself about the hummingbird.
One more fact about hummingbirds: most of them never survive past their first year of life. They are a fragile flame in our biosphere. But oh, what beauty they bring and how blessed are we to share the earth with them.
Thank you, my friend, Hummingbird. You continue to teach me.