INTERVIEW : IRA GLASS : PART III
Do you recommend to “beginners” that they be fearless about putting work out there to be judged, as long as they know it’s going to be a learning experience?
Yes. It was interesting to me these last two years watching Mike Birbiglia turn himself into a movie maker and at every stage he both had the arrogance of believing that he could do it and the humility to know that he wasn’t any good yet. He had a rough script, and it was okay, I guess, not quite there and he got into the Sundance Screenwriting Lab and they paired him with Mike White who’s an amazing screenwriter who gave him notes, but then he also went out to talk at length to Miguel Arteta and Noah Baumbach and other filmmakers, and he showed the script around to lots of people. David Wayne is another filmmaker. He showed it to Lena Dunham. He really just got input from a lot of people and got them to explain to him: “Okay, here’s how to handle this or that.” I just had incredible respect for it, and when we started to put the film together, he hired this amazing cinematographer who could teach him that world, and we had this amazing editor.
He knew what he didn’t know and then he used other people’s expertise to pull him forward. I feel like that’s how you get there. I think so many of us are too shy to. We don’t want to be a bother to other people. We don’t know how to approach other people, and I think that’s a huge advantage that he had just in terms of his personality — he wasn’t self-conscious about that somehow. He knew he needed the help and he was secure enough to just ask. In a way that, for most of my life, I haven’t been so able to do. He was much bolder than I ever would be.
Right, you came with $50 bucks. He just asked. Do you think that most people are willing to give advice? That people do so much work toward reaching a pinnacle in their career or their lives, learning all sorts of things, but might not get asked — if someone would only ask them, they’d be willing to open up and share what they’ve learned?
I think it’s a really delicate thing and people have to be approached in the right way.
Does it depend on the level that they’re at or just the way in which they’re asked?
It depends on all those things. It’s really just like a human connection you’re trying to make. With Mike, I think he was performing his one-man show and some of these people would come and see the one-man show and the one-man show is amazing and he’s so talented. They would come backstage and chat with him afterwards and he would get to know them that way. They have respect for him even though he was not a filmmaker yet.
They knew he’s got something on the ball, I guess. He had that going for him. Occasionally, I’ll be giving a speech or something and somebody will press a CD in my hands who has never done anything and a lot of people are like, “I’m busy. I have stuff that I’m supposed to be getting to that I’m not even getting to,” and they don’t feel they can take on fifteen minutes of listening or half an hour of listening and write somebody a note. It’s a thing. They’d have to be pretty convincing or make the story seem compelling. The best thing that would get me into it would be if the story they were telling on the CD had some promise for me where I felt like, “Oh that just sounds good. Even if they can’t totally execute it, I kind of want to hear that.” That’s the thing that sells me.
In your Goucher College commencement address you said to students: “You will be stupid.” I’m curious if that ever stops, the whole being-stupid thing.
If you’re lucky that never stops. Ideally, if you’re trying to do creative work the worst thing that could happen is that it gets too easy and then you’re doing the same thing over and over. If you’re successful what’s happening is you’re constantly setting new goals for yourself and inventing new things and trying things that are really hard. That’s been one of the great things about doing the radio show is that we can constantly reset what we’re doing to make it hard again, and I have to say, it’s really hard. It’s easy for me to write a radio story. I know how to write a radio story, but making a show is really difficult still and I feel like that’s a sign that we’re doing the right thing. It’s like we’re constantly trying to invent stuff we’ve never done.