When I got out of college I wanted to make movies. But I had no idea how.
So like a lot of graduates, I sent out resumes to various movie studios and production companies (and corporate video producers), extolling my wonderful academic achievements, packaged in specially purchased, elegantly designed resume envelopes.
In the days that followed, I awaited the influx of telephone calls from would-be employers, eager to snatch up such a talented candidate.
Suffice it to say a couple weeks with no responses was my introduction to the catch twenty-two of having no experience.
I remember walking into the few interviews I managed to schedule, equipped with my black briefcase and firm handshake, knowing the interviewer would overlook any technical shortcomings and hire me on the spot.
Invariably, these imaginings faded with the screech of my student film being fast-forwarded, my interviewer holding the controller, explaining he wanted merely to “look at the framing.”
How I Got Started In Filmmaking
Regardless of how I perceived myself in a town revolving around motorcycles, my dwindling bank account was a stabbing indication that ambition combined with stubbornness could be a curse.
So instead of California and New York, I started my career in Pennsylvania… except I wasn’t pitching package deals to major studios or for that matter, any studio. Instead I was pitching household appliances, like washers and dryers and microwave ovens.
In the weeks that followed, I gained twenty-six pounds and added another chin to what was once a pretty chiseled jaw line. I joined the “Midnight” bowling league and was pleasantly surprised to learn that the inability to button my trousers had no effect on my bowling release.
Thus, my scores increased and I became a familiar face among a culture of beer drinking, hard-edged factory workers.
I was drowning my filmmaking dreams with beer and cheeseburgers.
After bowling, I would go back to my parent’s house, plop down on my bed with a cupcake and a glass of milk and I would just watch Top Gun for hours, pretending that instead of Tom Cruise, it was me. I wanted to barrel down the highway to the danger zone on a cool motorcycle.
I wanted to date hot chicks.
I wanted to be someone.
I wanted to move to California and make movies.
In the morning, I would wake up with cupcakes mashed in my hair, stare at my fat face in the bathroom mirror, and leave for my appliance sales job. When sales were slow at the store, I would order cheeseburgers, and start eating.
One day, when I really felt bad about my sad existence, I decided to do something different.
I went into my cubicle and started writing a screenplay.
Since I never wrote a screenplay, I had no idea what I was doing. But I was so frustrated, and fat, and hating my life, that it didn’t take long until I had a first draft…
During my time writing, I also landed another interview with a local production company. The company produced corporate videos and television commercials.
It was a good interview. The only problem was, the company wasn’t doing well. And the only way they could hire me, was if they fired their cleaning service.
So I took the job and became a janitor. How is that for glamor?
Truth is, I didn’t mind the crap work. Scrubbing toilets taught me a valuable lesson. I realized if I can keep my dreams bigger than the crap, I can get through pretty much anything.
I had no choice but to become the most successful janitor this company ever had. And I never complained. Someone had to do it, and at the very least, I ate lunch with a group of talented film and video professionals.
And here’s the cool part. Any time there was a shoot, I would find some way to get involved. I worked hard and fast. I gained the respect of the other employees and the soon I was able to trade in the mop to do some grip, boom and other production assisting.
The owner of the company knew my ambition was far bigger than our small town. And unbeknownst to me, he was reaching out to his friends.
One night I received this weird phone call from a producer in New York City.
Turns out he was a former grunt (just like me) from our small production company.
“Our buddy Joe dropped your name… Said you want to get out of Pennsylvania. Think you can come over to the Apple and work a gig?”
The next day, I was on Amtrak, headed into the heart of Manhattan.
When I got off the train, things moved quickly. I had never worked in New York. The producer met me Penn Station, took me to the location, and gave me a list of things needed. I started the day fetching coffee and lemon lime seltzer water, and bagels.
Having never worked in the city, at times I was lost in the streets with fifty pounds of drinks and hot coffees.
When I got back with the stuff, the director pulled me aside.
“Kid, let me ask you a question. One of our camera guys didn’t show. Have you ever worked a camera?”
“Yeah (But not really!) “
“Good. You’re getting a 50 dollar raise.”
Now in retrospect, that put me at $150 for the day, which at the time seemed like a million dollars.
The director handed me a set of headphones and when I put them on and plugged in, I heard this amazing electrical “phoowsh.” And with that sound, I became a professional. Over the next hour I was in bliss.
After the shoot, one of the guys I met handed me the telephone number of an indie feature film producer.
“This guy may have some work for you.”
The next day, I called the producer. Sure enough, he needed help.
In the months that followed, I packed my car and moved to New York City. There, I quickly learned how to hail a cab, where to find cheap food and how to navigate the subway. Everything in that town seemed like an adventure.
Soon after, I began reading stacks and stacks of screenplays and writing coverage for the producer. Every day a new shipment of scripts would come from managers and agents (and a few savvy writers who got past our gatekeeper). Then it was my job to go through the pile and read everything in hopes of finding a gem. Unfortunately, most of the screenplays were pretty bad and ended up in the filing cabinet.
But every so often we found a story that worked.
As this happened, my role in the company changed. Because I had some production experience from working corporate shoots, I was invited onto set. I was also invited to deal making meetings with prospective investors and was able to participate in conference calls with acquisitions executives. This experience gave me a script to screen understanding of indie filmmaking.
But my best lesson came on our last movie together. We were going into production on a 1.5 million dollar budget. At the time, this was our most ambitious project, which seemed like a good investment because all the marketable elements were in place. We had great actors, a great script and money in the bank… Then disaster stuck.