A young film school student approached my friend Tom Davidson ( yellow t-shirt) some years ago. I had worked with Tom years ago at a TV station in Saskatchewan when he was working as a film cameraman. Tom went on to shoot and direct commercials and television series. The student asked Tom a very simple question; "How do I get to be you"?
Without missing a beat, Tom said, "It's easy, just start at a small prairie television station and work for 25 years."
Maybe not the answer the student wanted, but it was the right answer.
Continuing on the question posed in an email to me, regarding "the secret" to having a career in writing or any aspect of the creative end of filmmaking, I continue to examine that premise, that there is a secret, or maybe there isn't. Or maybe it's meant to be. I posted "The Secret" last week as an ongoing examination of why some people become successful and some don't. One would suggest talent, education, drive, family money, all of those things.
Or just pure accidental luck.
I guess I could say my first "big break" was getting a job at a TV station in my second home town, Windsor, across the river from Detroit. But it didn't really start out to be that, or at least that's what I think. I just wanted a summer job, having worked on a Chrysler assembly line the year before and needing money for college. There was a listing at the local government job office for a mailroom applicant at the TV station. There were other jobs that paid more, this was $53.50 a week. I chose to apply for the mailroom. And the hiring officer told me it was a permanent job, not summer only.
I lied and said ok.
I started early Monday and arrived before the studio was going. And it was that instant for me, that I realized this was my life and I never turned back. I felt I had won the lottery, I still remember the dark studio with big RCA video cameras on dollies, hanging down like dinosaurs sleeping. Was it luck?
The only thing I know is that movies and TV were my life, I was buying Variety at a downtown Detroit newsstand when I was 15, when other kids were buying Teenbeat. I had always been curious about movies, watched the credits, learning the names and recognizing actors and directors and writers, even at the age of 8. I still think it goes back to the time my mother carried me up to the projectionist's booth when I was around 4 to calm me down after I was so terrified of the big rattlesnake on the screen below.
The clicking of film as it ran through the projector and the warmth of the powerful lamp were all comforting to me. So maybe that choice of the mailroom job was not an accident, but then that calls in different theories, most of which contradict each other.
Why do we choose what we want to do?
Or do we choose at all? Is it chosen for us by other forces?
Whatever the reason, the facts are that I did love movies and TV, well beyond what most kids liked. You couldn't pull me away from a TV set or a movie. But lots of kids do have the same interest so it can't be as simple as a love for movies.
I loved my first job, even staying after work to talk to the directors and the audio men and the engineers, sometimes staying around until midnight. I could never get enough of that place.
I also was bodyguard to Bozo the Clown.
That was a hard job, you couldn't get that job. I and another mailroom friend, Ted Lindsay were responsible to get our local Bozo to toy store openings and other events, usually in Detroit. When we were once stopped by Detroit police for not having proper tail lights on "the Fun Hut" trailer, kids gathered around and chastized the police for arresting Bozo.
They let us go.
I stayed in the mailroom for 6 months, then went on to film editing, after that a stint at the radio station in the same building and finally into the photography department where I got to play with real 16mm cameras.
I was the luckiest 22-year old I knew. Or was it fate? Years later, my Grade 6 teacher met me and said she wasn't surprised I was working in television. So maybe there was an innate compass within my brain that directed me towards anything that resembled movies or television. But I wonder about that day I went to the job center and found that job listed.
I think that most of us fall into jobs, whatever our level of education is. Windsor, a satellite of Detroit with car assembly plants, seemed to have two kinds of jobs; working on the line for incredibly good wages, or becoming a teacher. Both my closest friends were teachers and, upon retiring recently, both were glad to get out of teaching.
Some of us, though, get lucky and choose the job we want.
I mean, hanging with the "Boze", what more could you ask in life!