I've always meant to start a blog, but no event or announcement has been significant enough to motivate me.
Sarah Jones was a 2nd assistant camera on the film Midnight Rider. She was 27 and, from all accounts, loved what she did. I'm know the feeling.
She probably showed up on the set Thursday, February 20th having no idea that in a few weeks she would be recognized on the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' annual awards, The Oscars, telecast. Posthumously.
It's weird the type of thing that effects me. I didn't know Sarah. I don't know anyone who knew Sarah. You wouldn't know that looking at my Facebook posts, and sure wouldn't know it looking at my friends' Facebook posts. So why is this my first blog post?
My initial answer is I don't know. More on that later.
Not too long ago, I had a lengthy career in the entertainment industry. I was attracted to it from the very start. When I was a kid, I had a few toy magician sets. I enjoyed creating the illusion of something that wasn't real.
I started operating studio TV cameras at the age of 16 for the local PBS station. They had nice gear, a brand new control room and high quality facilities. Before graduating high school, I had secured a paying job operating studio cameras and audio boards for live TV. Nothing could've been better.
In January 1993, I went off to film school in Orlando, FL. It was Valencia Community College - a school Steven Spielberg called, "One of the best schools for training young film technicians" a few years earlier on the TODAY show. I went with my parents' blessings. Had I not gotten into serious legal trouble a year before, I'm not sure things would have turned out this way. Sometimes even the worst events have desirable results.
I hope that will be the case here.
After school, I got work in Orlando's mid-90's production boom - grip/electric mostly. The set can be a dangerous place, so accidents are foreseen and precautions are taken.
But the 2nd assistant camera getting hit by a freight train?
I always hear people talk about risk in terms of insecurity. Quitting your job and heading to LA with no idea where you're going to live or work, but knowing you want to work in film. Quitting your job and moving to NY to pursue making iPhone apps. That's not risk. That's insecurity. Overcoming insecurity is always a pre-requisite to pursing my dreams. Never the other way around.
When I was in treatment for alcoholism, a counselor there phrased fear as, "What am I going to lose, or what am I not going to get?" Sometimes change is necessary. It's easier to face fear once I know what to look for. Insecurity is nothing but fear, and fear prevents me from living.
Risk is something different. Risk is taking action knowing something bad or unpleasant may unfold, but either this consequence is ignored or believed to be escapable. Encouraging this act is the perceived payoff.
Risk is avoidable.
I've been one of those who's taken risks. For photographers of any sort, the image of an awesome shot gets adrenaline pumping. Negligence often follows, and it just gets worse from there. I always hate viewing the footage and realizing the shot wasn't as great as I conceived.
When I headed out to LA, I was ready to take on anything that came my way. After many years as a technician, I was going for broke to be a writer. My friends thought I was silly, but friends don't crush dreams; they nurture them. So my friends wished me luck and encouragement.
Insecurity can creep up at any time. I was told, "Get a job as a PA on film sets, and make friends with everyone." I had done that 10 years before, and the thought of doing it in LA, after all that time, scared me. I didn't know it was fear; I mistook it for arrogance. I though arrogance was necessary.
So I took a job at a large post-house in LA. Experience is good.
I hardly wrote anything. I wrote one spec script for The King of Queens and was told I was stupid for speccing such an old show. I'm supposed to write a spec for The Office instead. The King of Queens was in its last season and The Office was hot. Geez, don't you know anything?
I wrote two acts of a movie with my friend Brad C. Hodson. We never finished it. Every now and then I open the file and look at it; sometimes I scroll up and down. I intend to finish it when I find the time. I haven't looked for the time.
What I did do is work long hours; 10-12 hour overnight shifts that sometimes went longer. The best part was the drive home in LA morning rush hour traffic. 10-12 hours is good for a shoot, but that's crazy for a facility with 'round the clock staffing. Not crazy enough for me to quit. I was too afraid.
On occasions, I would be invited to be a grip or electric on a friend's shoot. I enjoyed that. I've always been excited by lighting things, and I'm good at it.
When I was in film school, I always ended up being the generator operator. We had a real generator, a real grip truck, and real lights. It was invaluable experience. Only problem: I wanted to be on camera crew. I never was, and I never pursued it.
So maybe that reveals what's going on. Maybe I'm sad that someone who did follow that dream died so unnecessarily. Maybe I see a lot of myself in her. That might be a bit of an over-simplification.
In 2010 my dad had open-heart surgery at the age of 82. It's one of those moments that forces a re-evaluation of life. If life ended today, would I regret how I lived it?
Post re-evaluation, I made a change. For the second time in my life I moved across the country with no job, but, again, I knew what I wanted to do. I left LA just weeks before the post-house was voting to organize with I.A.T.S.E. local 700, the Motion Picture Editors Guild, a movement of which I was a big part. I regret the timing of my departure, but with a lease ending in LA and room for rent opportunity in NY, I didn't second guess myself and pulled the trigger. That, I don't regret.
I'm in the tech industry now. I left the entertainment industry after 20 years because I was done with it. I thought it was a permanent move. Now I'm not so sure.
Tech is different in many ways. We work in a office. We work during the week and take weekends off. We don't lift heavy things. We have time to see family and friends. No one gets hurt. Even Carpal tunnel is avoidable. Tech also pays well; for the first time in my life I can pay rent with no problem - and I live in Manhattan.
I once worked for a venture-backed startup. For my film friends that don't know what a startup is, it's a small company trying to do the impossible with no money, or a small company doing nothing with a lot of money - it depends.
Tech is the same in many ways. Startups are like TV shows; a lot of money is invested to create something. That something will usually fail, but only after a group of people have dedicated their lives to it. It stays in the red. Occasionally, and I mean occasionally, that something will be a hit and a cash cow for the investors. It will bankroll all the failures. The people involved in the failure will do it again, and so will the ones involved in the success.
I used to be one of those people. One of my co-founders at kanvas liked to reference blog posts about the roller coaster ride we were on thinking they would encouraged us. After reading The Struggle, who the hell would get on-board?
I would - because I like confronting fear. I used to let it guide me; now I guide it. The blog posts did encourage me.
Sometimes I think I get easily discouraged. Sometimes I think I'm just smart enough to go inland before the storm. Sometimes I have just changed my dream. Did I change to keep up the excitement? Or avoid the failure?
It's often the latter. I've come to understand proceeding past my insecurities is easy when I have no intention on seeing them through. It's like volunteering to fight Goliath knowing I was going to run rather than be beat down.
But walking away sometimes makes sense. When I left kanvas, I wasn't abandoning a dream - I was chasing one. My co-founders don't know it, but the genesis of my decision to leave was one of those blog posts. After reading The Risk Not Taken, I began to think I was in the wrong place. While I disagree with Andy Dunn's use of the word risk, I realize he's speaking of insecurity. Among his valid points, "It turns out there is risk in taking the steady job. The risk is generally not financial. It is spiritual."
But that's not related to my decision. In fact, nothing he said is related. It's how he said it. He's a startup guy and he's a good writer. Being in tech doesn't mean I can't enjoy writing, and it doesn't mean I can't pursue other dreams.
I gave up on writing because I was writing what everyone told me to write. No wonder I grew tired of it. It wasn't fun. Wait a minute - it wasn't fun - that's why I stop doing the things I once loved so much. I'm not doing it my way; I'm doing it someone else's way, and I don't like it. I can confront my insecurities when I'm enjoying my journey, but who wants to do that when they're miserable?
The co-working space I work in has a motto, Do what you love. So what do I love?
I don't often ask myself that. I forget my passion because I'm easily distracted by the promise of large payouts, or, at least, a steady paycheck.
For my tech friends that don't know what a 2nd assistant camera does - they do a lot of the tedious, but important, work for the camera department such as loading/unloading camera magazines (in today's digital age, I imagine they manage the storage media. Who knows? I pre-date digital film cameras). They also maintain and operate the slate, what most people probably know as a clap board - probably the most iconic thing associated with film. "Scene 10 take 2. <clap>." I find it to be the most attractive job on the set. I regret not pursuing it.
In my various startup ventures we sometimes worked long hours to get the next version of our app out on time - the self-imposed deadline. We didn't see our friends or family. We couldn't talk to people about our work - not because it was secret, but because they just didn't understand. It's no different than filmmaking after all.
So I write the iPhone apps I want to write. I write the scripts I want to write. I write the blog posts I want to write. At last, the reason why this is my first blog post.
This doesn't mean I'm good at these things, just that I enjoy them. When I moved to NY, I could hardly write an iPhone app with a UITableView, but I kept at it. I networked with people who loved doing what I loved doing. Now, I'm a freelance iPhone developer, in demand and good at what I do. Dream pursued. Now what? Why did I pursue this dream and not the others?
That'll have to be a different post.
I've been encouraged to be happy by a woman I've never met. I hope more good comes out of her tragedy, and many others share that hope. That's why 62,054 people signed a petition to have her remembered at the Academy Awards. I watched in anticipation during the in memoriam segment and was disappointed when her picture didn't show up...then I was ecstatic when I saw the banner after Bette Midler's performance. Thousands of people are ecstatic, too. Some don't feel the Academy did enough. Whatever the case, what's happened is what we in the tech industry call a disruption - an event that changes the way things are done. Forever.
That's my prediction, and I'm sticking to it.