When I was 12 years old I was watching lots of movies but I never got the idea that I could be directing them. In 2006, then 12 year-old Emily Hagins of Austin, Texas completed her film which took her two years to write, produce, direct and edit herself. She took a strong interest in movies at an early age and when "The Lord of the Rings" hit theaters she had to watch it over and over and over again, dozens of times. The movie inspired her so much she decided she wanted to make movies and be a director. She knew absolutely no one in the film or entertainment business so she decided to ask the only person she knew for help: Peter Jackson, the director of "The Lord of the Rings!" Emily's letter to the director was responded to with a recommendation to talk to a friend of his that lived in Austin, where Emily was. That friend didn't know what to do other than invite the young girl to his annual film festival where the young girl watched a zombie movie she absolutely fell in love with and decided right then she wanted her first movie to be about zombies.
Within two months Emily had written a script for a full length film with lots of scenes and tons of roles. When she showed her parents they were encouraging and supportive but weren't too sure how likely it was she was going to be able to finish making her movie. Using a small handheld video camera, a microphone attached to an old painter's stick, a cast of actors recruited from her school and a very loving mom to apply zombie make up to dozens of people, Emily Hagins made her first film at the age of 12. Her film "Pathogen" was shown publicly to all of her friends and got her lots of media attention. A documentary film was made about her directing her film called "Zombie Girl" and Emily has gone on to make numerous short films and two more full length films, one about ghosts and the other about vampires. Her third film about vampires called "My Sucky Teen Romance" was filmed when Emily was 18 years-old and received a theatrical distribution deal.
Given Emily's lack of connections, lack of resources, lack of funding and her age, directing a full length movie should be impossible. Somehow this talented, driven and passionate young girl found a way to get a movie made and it led her to more movies and with each film, her experience and skills have increased. Her current projects look much more professional and polished. By the time Emily is in her twenties or thirties, she should be a real force to be reckoned with in Hollywood. While the rest of us were being spectators and watching worlds unfold on our television and movie screens, as a kid Emily Hagins was creating and shaping her own worlds for others to watch. Her story is truly inspiring because she never saw a barrier to her purpose, she just set out to learn and do the things that were needed to get the job done. If a 12 year-old girl can make a full length film, what can we as adults accomplish with tremendously more at our disposal? We don't have homework or curfews to deal with, but perhaps we have children of our own that need our time and attention. Well, why not take your children and put a camera in their hands and shoot something together? There are only the barriers we decide to place on ourselves and so many amazing freedoms we have if we only dare to look. Why not capture them?
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Millions of people have watched the movie "Rocky" but very few know the story of how it came to be created. It is one of the most inspiring stories of an artist making it that you've ever heard, even more inspiring than the movie itself that inspired millions. Sylvester Stallone was no stranger to overcoming the odds. As a baby he had to be pulled out with forceps and began life with physical limitations and a speech problem. There was only one real goal Stallone ever had in his life: to be an actor in movies. When he began acting no one wanted him because he didn't look like an actor and he spoke funny. Every agent in town turned him down but he kept showing up to their offices and eventually one decided to take him after he patiently waited an entire night for him to return the next morning. He got a few roles playing gangsters and tough guys but wanted a real career.
Stallone was extremely broke because the work wasn't enough to make ends meet. It got to the point where he didn't have enough money to pay to heat his apartment.. On a cold day he went to the public library because it was warm there. He was not a reader but someone had left a book of stories by Edgar Allen Poe and he picked it up. Stallone became so inspired by Poe's stories and the author's own story that he decided to try his hand at writing. He wrote with not much success but remained hopeful. His financial situation got worse and one day he realized he couldn't afford to feed his best friend in the whole world, his dog, and stood in front of a liquor store until he found someone that bought him for $25. It broke his heart to let him go but knew now he'd be fed.
Two weeks later Stallone was watching TV and a boxing match was on. Muhammed Ali was fighting Chuck Wepner, an underdog fighter that somehow managed to hold his own with Ali and even knocked him down. He immediately became inspired and in about 20 hours worth of writing over 3 days he had the 90 page screenplay for "Rocky." He was confident in the story and one day mentioned that he was also a writer and they were willing to take a look at his script. He was dead broke and starving at the time but his luck was about to change. He was offered $125,000 for his script! He had only one condition: he had to play the role of Rocky. They told him he was crazy and to take the money and they'd find a big star to play Rocky. He said no. They came back to him with another offer of $250,000! Stars like Robert Redford, Ryan O'Neil or others could play the part. He said no! He was starving, broke and he'd never dreamed of so much money but he stuck to his guns and said he had to play Rocky. It got up to $330,000 but he still said no! They ended up paying him $35,000 but he got the part.
"Rocky" was shot for one million dollars in 28 days and went on to be highest grossing movie of 1976, making $200 million dollars at the box office and won three oscars including Best Picture. Sylvester Stallone's story is one of complete determination and the very highest of ethics. He did not compromise his self-determinism or abandon is dreams, he kept fighting and putting his goal out front until he won. Stallone is a uniquely inspiring guy who went on to inspire countless millions of people across the planet with his tale of a boxer that goes the distance, but the true inspiration is from his own example. An interesting thing happened when he got his paycheck for $35,000. He didn't buy a car or throw a big party. He immediately went back to that same liquor store he had sold his dog at, every day until he found the guy that had him and offered him $100 for him. The guy said no! (He had grown attached to the dog in the one month that had passed). Stallone said I'll give you $1,000 dollars, just please let me have my dog back, he's my best friend in the whole world. He said no! Finally, he had to pay the guy $15,000 and a part in "Rocky" but he got his dog back. You may recognize him, he was in the movie too. He was Rocky's dog, Butkus. When you're feeling uninspired watch "Rocky" and the next time you do, think about the starving artist that didn't starve and his best friend that didn't either. It just might help you put things in perspective. You don't have to drink raw eggs like Rocky but you might want to get yourself a nice tall glass of integrity.
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I'm David Carus. From overcoming one of the most dangerous cities in the country and graduating from one of the most prestigious colleges in America to leading an educational movement as a teacher and running for Congress at the age of 25, I decided the best hope our world has is through art.