Director Houston recounts past

Film director, producer and screen writer John Houston’s ’75 silver screen dreams started at the age of five or six, when he was observing the facial expressions of the people around him while they watched an old Hollywood movie shown on a bed sheet with a little three-wheel projector in a local recreation hall that his father designed.

“Their eyes were bulging out, almost like they were drinking,” Houston told audience members at a Silliman College Master’s Tea on Thursday. “On their faces all the emotions were displayed. The emotion led to some kind of resolve. I looked at them and thought: ‘I am going to learn how to make movies and bring them back here.’ ”

Director, producer and screen writer John Houston ’75 speaks at a Silliman College Master’s Tea about his quest to become a Hollywood star.
Eric Anderson
Director, producer and screen writer John Houston ’75 speaks at a Silliman College Master’s Tea about his quest to become a Hollywood star.

Houston, the founder of film, television and media production company Drumsong Communications Inc. and a vocal disseminator of the ancient Inuit culture, told about 20 members of the Yale community about the path that led him to his success in the media world. He is the director of Kiviuq and Diet of Souls, and screenwriter and director of Songs in Stone.

Much of Houston’s discovery of his life-long passion happened during his undergraduate years at Yale. In 1972, when one of his father’s books was purchased by Paramount Pictures to be made into a film, young Houston thought he would finally get his chance to launch himself into filmmaking. But the beginning of his career could not have been tougher, he said.

“I was the coffee boy — a very taxing job indeed,” he said. Houston shook his head and smiled as he recounted his days running around the studio and trying to memorize everybody’s coffee preferences. One day, a man stopped him and asked what he would really like to do with his life. Screenwriting, producing and directing, Houston replied.

“‘Well, you just keep serving really good coffee, and one of these days, young man, you will be writing, directing and producing,’ ” Houston said the man told him.

“It didn’t come back to me until 25 years later when I was at a studio, sitting in a chair and giving instructions,” he continued. “I suddenly had this huge flashback of that moment 25 years ago … and I realized I was really doing all these things.”

After having tried out his “Hollywood dream” by working for directors in several major studios such as Paramount and Disney, Houston grew tired of it.

“I’ve held the lantern while other masters have painted their masterpieces on them. What if I want to paint a painting? Will I find the same kind of support?” he said he asked himself at the time.

Houston talked about how his Inuit background affects his professional life. The cross-cultural society in which he was brought up promoted modesty, he said.

“Unfortunately that was not true in the recreational industry, so it was an entirely new experience for me,” Houston said. “All through my career I am always trying to create a balance between maintaining that kind of modesty and figuring out how to speak the kind of language to step out.”

Audience members interviewed said they found Houston’s talk engaging.

“I appreciated that he really shared the path of the career he took, because a career in this kind of industry is really difficult,” Nathan Harden ’09 said.

Jennifer Lin ’09 said she thought the talk was fascinating, especially when Houston described the childhood moment when he was first inspired to make movies.

“We didn’t get a chance to talk about the oral history [of the Inuits], but we got to listen to the oral history of himself,” said Lin, who spoke to Houston after the talk.

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