how to set a house on fire

September 1, 2009

A titillating post title (but perhaps an inappropriate one given the number of wildfires tearing through California right now.)

I’m using it because it’s the title of H’s latest film. It screened at the SF Museum of Modern Art last night. It was part of a selection of youth films which are being released on a companion disc with the latest issue of Big Bell, a local literary magazine.

going to the moma

going to the moma

I will probably get in trouble for posting about it, once H finds out. And he will find out, because he googles his film titles on a regular basis, to see what’s happening with them. That’s how he found out that one of them had been screened in places as far-flung as Syracuse and Denver and Weeneebeg, Canada.

I’m going to risk his wrath because I’m proud of him. He screened a film at the MOMA!

How to Set a House on Fire is H’s adaptation of a short story. H decided to go with an adaptation for this film because he wanted to focus on the cinematography, which is his particular passion. It was filmed mostly by lantern-light, around the time of the summer equinox (which Chris would translate as “very late at night” because he helped H on this film and it took a lot of waiting for it to get dark enough.)

(Edited: This post originally had a link to H’s film. I removed it, as H didn’t love the idea that anyone Googling the title of his film got directed straight to his mama’s little blog. If you’d like to see the film yourself, simply do a search of this post’s title on youtube.)

When H decided to go to school last year as a high school junior, I felt somewhat like a failure as a homeschooler. It wasn’t a choice his homeschooling friends had made, and I wondered if I could have done something to prevent it. But one of my firmest homeschooling beliefs is that learning should be directed by the kids. It must be meaningful to them. If H wanted to go to school–and he was 16 and old enough to make such a decision–then, ultimately, one of the most homeschoolish things I could do was support his decision.

And despite so many things that I don’t like about school–how H gets little say in his education, that there’s so much busy-work, that his schoolwork is directed from the outside rather than being fueled from within–I can reconcile myself with it because H is happy. And because he has his filmmaking.

In H’s filmmaking life, he’s still working like a homeschooler. He’s directing (literally and figuratively) what he wants. He’s pushing himself in new ways constantly. He’s making things happen through the sheer force of his vision and his dedication. (I would love to link the program that’s helping H with all of this. But he forbade me to link to it, not wanting Mama to show up on blog searches, which I probably will in this case anyway. If you’re curious about the program, ask me!)

There’s more than one way to set a house on fire. You could start with a match. Or you could make sure the inhabitants of that house are rubbing their creativity and inspiration together often enough to set things smoldering. And then you’ll have a different sort of fire.

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{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

Angela September 1, 2009 at 8:05 pm

This takes my breath away, and I’m not even entirely sure why. I know you must be proud. H too. Congrataltions to you both.


patricia September 1, 2009 at 10:40 pm

I’m so proud. And excited too, that he’s found something that thrills him so.


Emily September 1, 2009 at 9:39 pm

MOMA. Wow. Nice work H. 🙂


patricia September 1, 2009 at 10:41 pm

Can you believe it’s the boy you once wrote a knight story for?


Emily September 2, 2009 at 10:17 am

He was five… FIVE! Sigh.


susan September 1, 2009 at 10:04 pm

Oh congratulations to H! I just love how the film is lit. By the cigarette, then the lantern, how the old photos light up in succession. And then that final flick of the lighter at the end and darkness. How exciting to have it screened at MOMA. Education has sure not been the filling of a bucket at your house, but the…oh never mind, I am sure you know how that quote ends. 🙂


patricia September 1, 2009 at 10:48 pm

I love the lighting too. I think it was the potential to play with light that attracted him to this particular story. And I know he was thrilled to see how well the lantern worked as a light source.

I hadn’t thought about that old adage in this case. It works! No one around here would want to fill up their buckets with anything I’m pouring anyway…


Tara Reese September 2, 2009 at 10:31 am

this is so incredible tricia. a MOMA screening!
and i do think that H going to high school is a very homeschooling decision. you should both be so proud of yourselves. i’m proud for you!


patricia September 2, 2009 at 10:37 am

Thanks, Tara. Yep, I am proud of that kid! Now I just wish he’d make his bed.


molly September 4, 2009 at 1:20 pm

oh my goodness! incredible film. i actually cried at the end. but don’t you know i cry about everything? oh well. my bucket is filled with tears and my heart is on fire. the lighting is incredible. did you see the movie appaloosa? not a great movie IMHO, but the credits at the end are phenomenal. still shots presumably from the movie stage, invoking nostalgia from the wild west, and stunningly lit. i had flashbacks of those credits while watching H’s film. the scene where the family photos are lit up by the lantern, one by one, as the narration speaks of the generations that have lived in the house – well, just marvelous.


molly September 4, 2009 at 9:30 pm

we came back so i could show the fam the movie – and i wanted to say just how much i love the last paragraph of this post. brilliant!


patricia September 5, 2009 at 9:14 pm

Aw Molly, thanks for such kind words. Of course as his mother, I find it moving, but it’s nice to know that it touches others as well. I tried searching for the end credits for Appaloosa on youtube, but no luck… How neat that you came back to show the film to your family.

This is what comes of letting your kid play with the family video camera when he’s twelve, shooting movies about elves to Led Zeppelin songs…


Liz September 5, 2009 at 8:35 pm

That is just amazing! Very well done. Like everyone else who’s commented, I just love the lighting. I love how visually sophisticated it is, the pacing in the editing, the performance of the voiceover, and Pat’s music at the end! Owen said that it reminded him of the film “In Cold Blood”, one of his favorites.


patricia September 5, 2009 at 9:12 pm

Thanks for leaving a comment, Liz!

Isn’t Pat’s music cool at the end? They’ve collaborated on a few of H’s films now, and I love that. They did this collaboration from opposite ends of California, when H was at Inner Spark. It’s amazing how technology allows that these days.

The “In Cold Blood” comparison is quite a compliment!


Kristin September 8, 2009 at 7:53 am

I predict what you probably already know: H will go far in the film making industry. Chiaroscuro lighting is my favorite and he’s got it down. Pat’s music lends a distinct mood as well.


patricia September 8, 2009 at 10:18 pm

Thanks for the supportive words, Kristin. Means even more, coming from a filmmaker!


Jennifer Escalona October 29, 2009 at 10:47 am

First, wow.

I found this post (and this movie) in a round about way, because I’m doing a Master’s paper on Flash Fiction and decided to procrastinate by randomly Googling some of the flash fiction stories I enjoy most.

This film is absolutely beautiful. Did I catch from your post that your son is high school age? Because again, wow! By no means am I a film critic, but the lighting and the transitions in this short were amazing. Congrats to him! I look forward to seeing more of his work. How proud you must be!


patricia October 30, 2009 at 7:58 am

Thanks so much for taking the time from procrastinating to leave a comment, Jennifer. 🙂

Yes, my son is a high school student–currently applying to film schools for next fall. Let’s hope those film programs are as receptive to his work as you’ve been.

I assume that the short story is one of your favorites since you were Googling it. Not only was it a fabulous piece for my son to adapt–but the author was wonderfully encouraging to my son about the possibility of the adaptation, and the resulting film. An all-around positive experience for my son.


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