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My 83-year-old grandpa just made his first movie

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When I envision myself in my 80s, I imagine taking long naps, watching lots of television and only moving when it’s absolutely necessary. However, if you’re like my grandpa, being in your 80s means making your first movie. 

A fellow Cardinal himself, my grandpa is, as my family likes to call him, “the most interesting man in the world.” That’s why it wasn’t shocking when, one night at dinner, he told us, “Oh yeah, I’m creating a short film.”

His movie idea came from an article he wrote and published in the Los Angeles Times about a haunting experience he had one night in 1987. 

That night, April 17 of 1987, my grandpa went to a live show starring Dick Shawn, a famous American actor and comedian. During his performance, Shawn collapsed on stage. Everyone in the audience thought it was part of his skit — Shawn was known for his out-of-the-box jokes — but, after several minutes, Shawn still did not rise. As people in the audience laughed, Dick Shawn died on-stage.  

Not surprisingly, my grandpa has never forgotten being in that audience. And 33 years later, while rifling through some of his old files, he found the original clipping of the article he wrote. He decided he wanted to tell Shawn’s story and honor his legacy. So he called his friend, an entertainment attorney with connections in the movie industry, and pitched his idea. Before he knew it, they were auditioning actors and actresses, organizing the crew and camera equipment, writing the script, hunting for places to film. They found an actor to play my grandpa in his fifties, who looked shockingly similar to him. One day, I was told to dress in 80s-style clothing and I was an extra in the back of a scene. Other days, I sat off-screen, snagging the free snacks and watching them film. 

My grandpa was one of the directors, giving the actors suggestions based on his actual experience (“No, it happened this way”). At 83 years old, he ran around the set from 8 in the morning to 9 at night. He was happier than I had ever seen him, doing something he truly loved, something that excited him. 

His film, titled “Leave ‘Em Laughing,” is going to be submitted to film festivals this year, including Sundance and Tribeca. 

As Stanford students, there’s a sense of urgency to make an impact, to create something extraordinary, before we’re even legally allowed to rent a car. On one hand, that’s amazing — we’re a community of extremely ambitious individuals. On the other hand, however, it generates an overwhelming pressure at such an early age. 

So if you’re feeling that immense pressure, learn from my grandpa: It’s never too late to find what you’re passionate about, to start something new and create something remarkable.

Contact Lauren Grove at lgrove ‘at’ stanford.edu.