For nearly a quarter of a century, Dan has been a 12th-grade English teacher in Reading, PA. By all accounts, he is a beloved, respected teacher. His is the class everyone wants to take before they graduate. You know the type.
But there's more: Dan is also a first-rate documentary filmmaker. Just a few years ago, he started his own film company -- Rockfish Productions -- and began creating an impressive slate of engaging, important films.
Rockfish's first production, RINK RATS, told the story of a now-dormant street hockey rink in Berks County, Pennsylvania. A rink full of memories and history.
Dan's next film, TWISTS & TURNS, gave us the tale of an inspiring woman at work in a pretzel shop, trying to survive against a battered business climate and a city in decline.
Dan's current work-in-progress is a film I am particularly excited about: STANDARDIZED is an exposé of the standardized-testing industry and the negative impact it has on our children's education. STANDARDIZED is an important film, into which Dan has poured his heart and soul, not to mention his years of experience in the classroom. The trailer speaks for itself:
A filmmaker and teacher who insists he is always learning, Dan Hornberger stopped by the blog today for this enlightening Q&A about the creative life.
Hey, Dan, so tell us: when did you know you wanted to be a filmmaker?
A few years ago, I was inspired to begin a small digital video project. That project turned into a two-hour doc that had a very special, localized audience. It made a lot of people very happy. The digital filmmaking bug bit me…bad.
What creative work most recently inspired you?
Last year’s Academy Award Nominated Live Short Films all provided inspiration. All five of the films include incredibly strong stories, characters, and cinematography. You can download all of them on iTunes for $7.99. It’s a steal.
In moments of self-doubt, how do you push through?
A combination of stubbornness and anger motivates me. I’m so tired of people in authoritative roles making decisions that are not only asinine but also incredibly self-serving.
Have you ever abandoned a creative project?
Abandon is a harsh word. I like to think I simply put them on the backburner.
Which of your works comes closest to the way you heard/saw it in your head?
The short film I’ll be working on in 2014, tentatively titled The Lane, has been growing in my head for the last two years. I’ve been working on docs the last few years, but I’ve been agonizing over this because it’s going to be very personal and carefully created. It has to look exactly how I envision it. I’ll let you know if I succeed.
My favorite documentary is …
a toss up among Why We Fight, Inside Job, and, believe it or not, Mad Hot Ballroom. The first two should inspire Americans to maintain strong levels of cynicism and vigilance. The third, a real joy to watch, reinforces the need to keep strong arts/music programs in public schools.
The last movie I saw was …
The Kings of Summer. Three teenage boys run away and live in the woods for a few weeks. While it’s not flawless, it’s a wonderful metaphor for growing up. It succeeds where The Way Way Back fails.
The next film in my Netflix queue is ...
A High Wind in Jamaica. I saw this film when I was a kid and remember being stunned and angered by the ending. I read the novel a few months ago and want to watch the film again.
The next book on my reading pile is …
The Prisoner of Heaven by Carlos Ruis Zafon. Earlier this summer, I finished The Angel’s Game, and now I feel the need to finish the trilogy. Beautiful writing.
The book I can’t wait to read again is …
Every year I teach Lord of the Flies, and I never grow tired of re-reading it. William Golding’s near perfect novel reaches deep into the human psyche and throws it all up in our faces. Dark, sad, perhaps even overly pessimistic, the novel reminds us of the need for compassion and decency.
Does The Great American Novel exist (yet)? If so, what is it?
Mark Helprin’s Winter’s Tale could very well be the greatest American novel. However, most people don’t want to put in the time to read all 768 pages. Plus, reading it requires thought. Helprin’s obvious love affair with New York City is reflected in his beautifully composed sentences. It’s one of the books I will revisit for the rest of my life.
What creative work would we be surprised to find on your bookshelf or your TiVo?
Bookshelf: Arkham Asylum, the graphic novel. The most disturbing, artistic “comic book” I’ve ever read. Simply a classic. While I don’t have TiVo, I never miss two shows, both of which are on BBC America: Dr. Who and Orphan Black.
The movie I really should have seen by now is …
Well, as of last week, I would’ve answered Lawrence of Arabia. But I was able to watch it in its entirety a few nights ago. I’m certainly glad I did. Now, I would answer Food Inc. I just don’t know if I can force myself to watch it. It won’t be a pleasant experience.
The most difficult thing about the life of a creative is …
Juggling family life with a career with creative projects. Often the projects take a backseat.
The remake I would love to direct is …
The Uninvited. The 1944 original, starring Ray Milland and Ruth Hussey, is a great, old ghost story. A film with the same title was made a few years ago; however, the stories were entirely different (and that film was idiotic). I’d like to update the ’44 version, keeping a comparable storyline but using some of the terrific tension builders similar to the techniques employed in The Woman in Black. I must add that Robert McCammon’s Boy’s Life would make a memorable mini-series on HBO, Showtime or AMC. I don’t care who obtains the rights, just PLEASE let me direct it.
My big thanks to the talented and always insightful Dan Hornberger for stopping by the blog. To learn more about Dan's films, visit www.rockfishproductions.com. And if you care about what's happening in our schools, keep your eye out for STANDARDIZED, coming soon.
If you enjoyed this blog post, please check back regularly for more about the creative life. And join my email list to stay up to date on my debut novel, PHOENIXVILLE RISING, coming in October 2013.