Right after I graduated from the University of Southern California, my first job was to party like a rockstar, mostly to suppress the disbelief that I had actually just graduated from college.
You see, three years earlier, I had dropped out of college in Atlanta and moved to Hollywood to be an actual rockstar, but after my first and only construction job, carrying 4×8 sheets of plywood up five flights of stairs for about a week, I decided to continue my education.
During my years at USC, I formed a band and one of my fraternity brothers was a bartender at the top college bar, “The 32.” I asked him if he could speak to the owner and let my band play there sometime. That night, he said he spoke with the owner, who said he wanted us to play that Saturday night, St. Patrick’s Day.
One problem. We only knew about 5 songs. He smiled and said:
“Careful what you wish for… you just might get it.”
So we played the same set three times over, and made $200. We were invited back, and we learned more songs.
After graduation, I proceeded to send out resumes to every advertising agency on the planet. I was going to be an Advertising Copywriter! With an English major from a good school, I felt very qualified to both read and write. This would be easy.
No replies. Turns out you need something called “a book” if you want to get into advertising. I didn’t know what a book was, but I was pretty sure I didn’t have one.
So, a fraternity brother of mine hooked me up with a job as a production assistant, or PA, in high-end commercial film production.
For those of you who don’t know, a PA is the entry-level position in the film production world and you get to do important things like fetching coffee for pompous directors, aimless carrying heavy things around the set because you don’t know what they are, or where they go, and jabbing a 20 ft long aluminum poles into the ceiling of a sound stage before every take to make the crickets stop chirping.
I don’t think every PA gets to do that last one. I was special. Needless to say, being a PA isn’t a career choice,
At some point in my first year as a PA, I worked for an editor who gave me the advice:
“if you don’t see the barriers in front of you, you can walk right through them.”
I figured he was either stoned, or a crazy wizard, but I believed him, so I came up with the idea of starting my own advertising / PR / Production Company. Social media didn’t exist yet, but it would be perfect. A one-stop shop for everything. The only problem was, I had only one year of experience in production and zero experience in the others… and social media didn’t exist yet.
That dream lasted about a week… because I saw the barriers.
So, I became a film and TV Art Director instead. I designed sets, something I learned from a book over the weekend, built sets, painted walls, drove trucks, wrangled props and everything else that makes you arrive home covered in paint, and I loved it… until I didn’t.
I was working on a TV comedy show for E!, and studying improv comedy at The Groundlings, and thought to myself, like many people do, that I could write an episode as good as the ones on TV.
This time, taking my stoned wizard editor’s advice, I wrote a spec episode (an episode you write for free to prove if you can write or not), gave it to the producers and ran for cover, like someone who had just lobbed a grenade. I even plugged my ears.
I had no previous writing experience but I refused to see the barriers.
To my surprise, they thought it was funny, and hired me to write more episodes. I was still the art director too.
“Careful what you wish for… you just might get it.”
Then came my A-Ha! moment. Not the 80’s band, just a moment where everything came clear.
I was art directing a funny strip club scene in an episode I had written, and the director didn’t like my choice of tables and chairs. I thought to myself “I sat night after night writing this script. This is my script. These are the tables and chairs I saw in my head when I wrote it. Who the f**k is he to tell me…?”
He was the director, and that was his job. Not mine.
The only way for me to solve that problem was by killing him, and declaring that I was now the director, or striking out to direct my own stuff. But since TV shows don’t work like Game of Thrones, I decided to direct my own stuff.
So after that show, I joined a sketch comedy troupe and I started shooting, directing and mixing pre-shot commercial parodies in with the live shows. I was hooked.
By 2004 I had years of production experience, and launched a production company dedicated to making “funny online videos for businesses.”
Even then, many people didn’t know what online video meant, nor did many even have DSL, and YouTube was still a year away.
We pressed on, doing early online video work for clients like IBM. Then social media happened so we rolled that in as a way to get video views. Then, as the nature of PR changed, we rolled that in as well. Then we added advertising, to satisfy our clients who needed paid placements, in addition to organic outreach.
Full circle back to where I thought I wanted to start.
Not long ago, I looked in the mirror and realized that my agency, Supercool Creative, was pretty much exactly the company I had envisioned, back when I had no experience, no contacts and no book. I kept moving, walked through the barriers, wasn’t at all careful what I wished for, and somehow arrived.
I think the Millennial generation understands the concept of “not seeing the barriers in font of them” better than most, but then again, tell that to the guys who stormed the beaches at Normandy.
So maybe the trick to getting where you want to be isn’t so much a matter of not seeing the barriers, but rather refusing to acknowledge them. Give them no importance and before you know it, you’ll look back and realize France has been liberated.
In the words of my Alma Mater… Fight On!