After graduating from Baylor I stayed in Waco to avoid moving home and try to figure out my next best move toward filmmaking. I still had friends in school so I lived the college student lifestyle without any actual classes. It was during this year that one of my best friends began dating the girl who would eventually be my wife…
There is a multi-chapter soap-opera involved between meeting my wife and the day we married. In many ways it was a relationship that grew organically and seemed to surprise us both. Along the way there were many false starts, heartbreak, and long-distance difficulty. But as I turn 40, our marriage enters its 16th year, and that says more than I ever could. The full story is best saved for its own entry.
With my film success seeming mere steps away, I applied to a few film-school masters programs. Florida State took an interest in me and I flew out there to have an interview that was my first glimpse of how sheltered and innocent I really was. I seem to remember being accepted into the program, but something about the interview and the scale of the debt I would incur kept me from attending.
Instead I drove to Los Angeles and spent a month living on the couch of a guy from Baylor who was making in-roads as an editor. I was quickly aware that film school was far from vital and he seemed to think he could get me steady work. It almost seemed straightforward, as if all that remained was the move itself.
I returned to Waco for about a month, wrapping things up and packing my car for a cross-country pilgrimage to a place I had no roots or in-roads. I drove straight to an apartment where I met three new roommates that were connections, but complete strangers. To their credit they took me in despite my oddities and I announced loudly that I’d be working so much I’d be on my own in six-months.
The opposite was true.
Paying my meager bills and $400 share of the rent soon became a real struggle. My editor friend got me a few assistant editor jobs but I was wildly under-trained and under-experienced for the work. Each new client only hired me once, and that work soon dried up entirely. I eventually exhausted all my industry opportunities and wound up working as a belayer for a rockwall at Universal City walk, outside the theme park. My days and nights were spent hauling people up a simple rock climbing tower. The good news was I was in great shape, the bad news was Hollywood was all around me but I was no where near it.
Eventually, I added REI to my list of odd jobs and also worked as a temp in everything but the film industry. Frustrated, I called on one of my only remaining industry contacts and he got me a meeting with an Executive at New Line Cinema.
To my surprise, this meeting got me an in-road with New Line’s internal temp pool. I’d love to say I made calculated moves through here but in truth I was green and innocent to the point of ignorance. I just went with the current of my New Line jobs and was blessed to find my way into Post Production, temping for the man who would eventually hire me full time.
I spent a Decade at New Line Cinema, and nine of those years were in Post Production working for a great boss. I had a lot of responsibility for my age and experience and gained a good amount of knowledge and the respect of those I worked with. I was in Hollywood, making decisions and being a part of big films. The Austin Powers series. Rush Hour. And of course The Lord of the Rings Trilogy which became a focus and highlight of my time at New Line and my twenties.
The New Line job allowed me to take the huge leap into marriage to my amazing best friend and finally get us under the same roof instead of on either end of a long distance call. (Incidentally, my wife and I have often discussed how much cheaper our dating would have been in this age of cell phones, no long distance, and roll over minutes.) I finally moved out of the apartment with three roommates, my six-month stint having turned into more than two years!
Our 15 month engagement proved to be twice as long as it should have been, but our wedding exceeded our expectations. We found a great odd shaped apartment in Burbank after looking throughout Orange County. I still wonder how completely different things would have been if we’d started our marriage down in Orange County so far away from the industry and the friends in the San Fernando Valley.
Though the rockwall job was behind me, Climbing remained my #1 hobby. I even built a climbing wall in our large second bedroom and used it for years. Most weekends found me in a car with my climbing partners, headed to and from the year round climbing available in California.
Over the years we began to venture further away for our adventures and soon discovered both Yosemite Valley, and Mammoth Mountain. Many Friday nights were spent driving into the wee hours in order to wake up Saturday morning in an outdoor playground. This time is a blur of campsites in the pines or low-rent condos around Mammoth.
All the while, the scale of my New Line job grew as Lord of the Rings took up more and more of the studio’s resources. A hyper-secure teaser reel needed supervision world wide and I was blessed with the chance to go on some of these trips. I went to Sao Paulo, Brazil and Buenos Aires, Argentina on assignment for New Line and felt the growing obsession the world had with the LOTR films. I was proud to be part of this trilogy, but ever more frustrated with my own lack of creative progress.
There were short film productions and multiple scripts scattered through these years, each with their own lessons, failures, and victories. “Mountain Cry” was my film school, shot on 35mm and using more steps and resources than I would ever recommend. I believed it would be my entrance into much larger things, but there were many lessons there on pride, perception, and having a realistic worldview. In spite of my successes in my day job, Hollywood was teaching hard lessons in every one of my creative pursuits.
As day-job pressure and creative stifling increased, I felt a growing pull to be far away from everything Hollywood and decided to go camping on my own. I’d been camping many times, but was intrigued by the idea of spending time in complete solitude far from the reach of cell phones. I remember prepping for my first solo-trip and having strange conversations with my Hollywood co-workers. Many people seemed to think I would never return. They told fantastic tales of bear attacks and poisoned berries and wilderness disasters. It was clear to me that these people had probably never been camping, let alone away from their cell phones.
Around my 29th Birthday I did my first solo, and I admit it was daunting. But waking up a day’s walk from civilization has a cleansing quality and I found myself assessing priorities and daily life in more objective and healthy way. I remember being besieged by the lyrics to terrible songs rolling through my head as my brain seemed to be purging itself in the quiet. I journaled at length in the alone hours and came home very thankful for my wife and my life, and far less impressed with Hollywood and my day-job.
My transport to and from the mountains was my 1990 Nissan 300zx, a car that I’d lusted after when they were new but couldn’t afford until a decade later. This car was the first dream-car I’d ever owned and unbeknownst to me it would plant the seeds of big change in the decade to come.
I continued at New Line, and we opened our home to the various Baylor graduates and Texans who were moving to Los Angeles. I knew I didn’t want anyone to come to LA with as little support structure as I’d had. My wife knew she didn’t want me out at every lunch and dinner trying to meet with everyone. So, we made our home a revolving door. And in the years to come I think we benefitted more than anyone.
Los Angeles felt like home, and I finally felt like I understood the realities of Hollywood instead of just the outside perception. But there were still big lessons and challenges to come. Read Part 4.