Sophia Costanzo directs a film set.

Sophia Costanzo

Los Angeles, California, USA

The Culver Plaza Theater – a dinky, dilapidated, neighborhood theater with torn seats that creaked every time you shifted, stale popcorn and flat soda, and classic malfunctions during screenings – this was my weekend haunt with my dad. Once the movie started rolling, the world of the cinema became my microcosm and the flaws of the theater disappeared.

The Culver Plaza Theater has since closed. When I think of my time there, I am reminded of the larger-than-life murals of great actors that lined the walls and the impactful movies that stirred a passion within me, ultimately shaping what I want to pursue. This tiny, endearing theater served as my first classroom and the movies served as my most influential teachers.

Celluloid heroes came to life. When I was fourteen, I was a victim of bullying. Sometimes I faced rumors or online harassment, other times I was physically bullied. On occasion, people would stand and leave the table when I sat down to eat lunch, but it was in those moments that Rocky sat next to me, telling me life hits you hard, “but it ain’t about how hard ya hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward” (Rocky Balboa). From a movie, I learned I could persevere despite challenges that faced me. Every time I was fearful, whether I was about to speak to a middle school assembly about my experience with bullying and how to prevent it, or premiere a short film of mine to an audience of three hundred students, I reminded myself that “sometimes all you need is twenty seconds of insane courage” to get started (We Bought a Zoo).

I recognized how I could affect others through movies when I premiered my short film “Valedictorian,” which focused on using prayer to overcome fear. Cecilia, a high school valedictorian, practices her speech in the bathroom. As nerves set in, she becomes fearful. Cecilia remembers a prayer her late father taught her: “I am not afraid, I was born to do this.” In order to overcome her fears, Cecilia uses this prayer to gain the courage to give her speech, just as her father would have wanted.

Students approached me to comment on how my film related to their own lives, saying that they were inspired to use prayer more often as a tool for combating personal struggles. Realizing the powerful impact my film had, I showed it at a summer leadership conference. Tears streamed from members in the audience as they reflected on prayer in their own lives. Those tears validated my ability to serve others through film and confirmed that film is my vocation.

I am aware of the hard work and determination required to pursue this calling. I recently met with a producer who works with Jerry Bruckheimer Films, and at first he did everything he could to discourage me from becoming a filmmaker. But maybe he saw a little bit of himself in me, because by the end of our conversation, he said that I would only make it in the industry if I knew for sure that I wanted to do this. I can’t see myself doing anything else. I want to leave behind something that changes and challenges people’s ideas. I do that through film, and continue to do so now as I have completed a BA in film at the University of Notre Dame and am pursuing an MFA in Film Production at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles.

Movies have taught me how to stand up for my beliefs and challenge injustices. My own films will guide others to do the same. All those years ago at the tiny Culver Plaza Theater, I was blessed with a gift of learning to see the world through a window of moving images. Now I will do something with that gift. When I am behind the camera looking through a lens, I show people the world from my point of view, which has been shaped by my experiences. What is mine becomes theirs. And it all started in the theater with broken, squeaky chairs.