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High anxiety: An interview with Brian Elliot

Published: 

September 26, 2021

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By

Griffin Kelly

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Artists Spotlight

When Brian Elliot’s oldest son, who was in 4th grade at the time, said he wanted to play roller hockey, he got anxious. 

“It was very quickly evident to me that my son had no idea how to do this,” he said. “I felt great pain for him, and I was so prepared to just take him off the rink and say, ‘It’s no big deal. Let’s just go home.’ Internally, I was thinking we’re going to have to recover from this, buy him ice cream and patch his wounds up.”

To Elliot’s surprise, his son had a lot of fun. Even if he wasn’t that great at it, he would learn and get better. 

Despite having an adventurous childhood himself, Elliot never wanted his children to feel uncomfortable or like an outcast. He wanted to protect them.

“I subconsciously turned into a stereotypical Jewish mother – Mel Brooks’s version of that,” he said. “I realized that as an adult, because I’ve learned so much about the world and how ‘unsafe’ it can be, we sort of innately gain this fear to protect our children from harm.”

Moments like these were the impetus for his and David Feagan’s short film “Age of Bryce,” which was a finalist at the 2020 Lake Placid Film Festival short film competition.

In the film an extremely protective mother keeps her son from experiencing anything the world may throw his way, bad or good. Her neurotic behavior even has her chewing Bryce’s food for him.

It’s all delivered in a comedic fashion, but Elliot, who teaches film at Baylor University in Texas, wanted to show how being an overprotective parent is not helpful to children.

For the past six years, Elliot was a faculty-in-residence, meaning he and his wife lived in an apartment-style dorm with his students. The concept was designed to foster a greater sense of community among students and teachers, making it easier for film students to partner with theater majors or music students to collaborate with artists. He started to see high levels of anxiety in his students.

A staff counselor would later tell Elliot, “Kids this generation haven’t learned how to fail. If they fail a test, it’s devastating to them. In our generation, if we struck out or failed a test, your parents would just dust you off and say, ‘OK, let’s keep going.’”

Some anxiety among kids today stems from having “helicopter parents,” parents that would constantly hover over their children, making sure they’re staying out of trouble, always minding their studies and hanging out with only the best people. It’s since transformed into “lawnmower parents.”

“Now we just mow things out of the way, so they have less conflict,” Elliot said. “The heart behind it is noble. We want to protect our kids and have their lives go well, but it can be counterproductive because we need to experience the resistance in life. You’ve got to bump up against it and keep going.”

Elliot first became invested in film as a child. His parents would let him stay up late at night to watch TV. He and his mother enjoyed epic films such as “Chariots of Fire” and “Lawrence of Arabia.” His mother’s favorites were Doris Day and Rock Hudson movies like “Pillow Talk” and “Send Me No More Flowers.” These classic rom coms were enjoyable but maybe not the most helpful to a young boy.

“It kind of screwed up my idea of romantic relationships,” Elliot said. “I was pretty good at getting a girl to be my girlfriend, but after that, I kind of didn’t know what to do. I realized it was because that’s when the movies ended. Nobody in the movies teaches you how to sustain a relationship, just how to get one. So, I had to learn how to actually care for someone, not just hook them.”

Nevertheless, those late-night movie session with his mother sparked Elliot’s interest in film making.

“I would escape into these movies. It was sort of healthy and sort of not,” he said. “But as I got older, I started leaning into and understanding how these things are made and how people can communicate to others through the use of media.”