Do we work to live or live to work? This is a classic soul-searching question that many Millennials are asking in these uncertain economic times. Newer members of the workforce are entering a cold reality of less job security, less vacation time, and a far less likelihood of receiving any sort of health care coverage or pension. While every American generation has done financially better than the one before, Millennials are not overly optimistic about this pattern continuing. In a much-discussed recent Newsweek article, Joel Kotkin coined the under-35 set as Generation Screwed.
Given this bleak outlook, it makes sense that Generation Screwed is having an existential crisis. Americans are noted for wrapping their identity with their career, but that seems like a dangerous proposition when your career outlook is increasingly fickle. If you are living to work but your work finds you disposable, what are you living for? Who are you?
Marty Lang knows a thing or two about the fragile nature of the workplace and its tragic impact on the psyche. Over the years, Lang has been laid off five times. His father, on the other hand, worked for the same company for 35 years. In Lang’s mind the dread and worry associated with the threat of a layoff is worse than the actual layoff. “You spend every minute of every day in fear, wondering if today is the day. Living with the threat of being laid off is an all-consuming thing, and when I dealt with that, I focused all my energy on work, to the detriment of
hobbies and things I loved.”
One thing Lang loves to do is make movies. Lang, a UConn alumnus, graduated from the Florida State University Graduate Film Conservatory in 2002. He has worked on over 50 film projects, including co-producing the satire Being Michael Madsen (Virginia Madsen, Daryl Hannah, David Carradine, Lacey Chabert, and Michael Madsen). Lang, who recently finished up a stint as a visiting professor of film at Quinnipiac University, is currently the Assistant Director of the Connecticut Film Industry Training Program. According to Lang, “it is the best crew training
that any state offers.”
While filmmaking in the greater Hartford area has expanded over the last few years, Lang foresees a quantum leap in quality filmmaking if and when the Connecticut Studios opens. This, Lang predicts, would allow the area to mirror the filmmaking success of southern Connecticut with bigger budget independent projects. In 2009 the filmmaker began working on his most difficult project to date—directing and producing a screenplay he wrote. After a long period of post-production, Rising Star is coming to area screens.
Rising Star is a romantic comedy/drama about an overworked 20-something insurance adjuster who discovers that layoffs are coming at his workplace. While drowning his sorrows at a bar, he meets a bohemian-type carefree girl who has polar opposite views on work and life. They spend the weekend together in Hartford, trying to figure out if it's better to live to work, or to work to live. The film was shot entirely in Hartford and features some well-known area landmarks like Bushnell Park, Sully’s Pub, the Mark Twain House & Museum, and the Connecticut Science Center.
On Friday, August 3, Rising Star will have its Connecticut premiere with a red carpet event at the Connecticut Science museum. While the red carpet event and its 7 p.m. showing are sold out, a second showing (at 9:15 p.m.) has been added. Tickets for that showing can be purchased HERE. Rising Star will also receive an outdoor screening on Friday, September 7 in Bushnell Park as part of Hartford Parks Free Movies after Dark program.
Rising Star had its world premiere at the Seattle True Independent Film Festival in May, where it won Best Premiere and Best On-Screen Romance. It also became the first out-of-town film to sell out its screening. The film stars Connecticut actors Gary Ploski and Emily Morse, along with Durham native Michael Barra (who recently appeared in the The Amazing Spider-Man) and area personality Gary Craig. The film features eight songs by Klokwize, an innovative hip hop artist from West Hartford. Klokwize will perform at the September7 Bushnell Park event.
Lang purposely set out to make a regional film. His goal was to realistically show Hartford; highlighting the vibrant arts and culture of the City alongside the grittier aspects of urban life. Lang hopes that a viewer sees that there “is a real heart to the city. That’s kind of like my town, my area.” Similar to the indie film Medicine for Melancholy, where San Fransico serves as a character more than a backdrop, Lang set out to prominently feature Hartford. The name “Rising Star” is a nod to Hartford’s recent marketing slogan.
The filmmaker also hopes to have viewers consider the larger work/life questions that have nagged him. “The struggles I’ve had led to this film.” The two main characters in Rising Star represent opposing impulses (working to live versus living to work) in an economically tumultuous time. It is a struggle that many non-Boomers will be able to relate to. The anxiety that comes with building an identity around something that might not be there in the future.
The pessimistic view on Millennials and young Gen Xers is that they are developing a deep-seated cynicism that will cause them to wallow along haplessly throughout their working life. That, of course, is not the full picture. The optimistic view is that they are adjusting to the “new normal” by becoming dramatically more entrepreneurial.
The making of Rising Star was a perfect example of this. While it is incredibly easy to make a low budget film, it is incredibly difficult to make a high quality film on a shoestring budget. In order to do this, Lang called in favors and raised the necessary budget with a Kickstarter (on online fundraising tool) campaign. He built up interest with a high quality website, active social media, and a large mailing list. Lang also held a sold-out rough cut screening at the Mark Twain House & Museum.
All of Lang’s hard work seems to be paying off. While the characters in Rising Star debate the choice between following their work and following their passion, Marty Lang is clearly following his passion.