Thursday, October 18, 2012

Work, Love and Bruce Campbell

My personal favorite piece in my creative portfolio is called "Reboot Your Life," a spec ad promoting that I created for one of my graduate classes at Emerson College. Beyond the fact it's the only piece where I demonstrate more than rudimentary design talent, it conveys the "Journey" deep metaphor in a narrative format that is pop culturally relevant and makes full use of color theory to clearly chart the protagonist's emotional arc.

However, just because you really like your own work doesn't mean you should let it sit there, inert. While I presented the main character's journey as a fairly direct trip through a sea of irritation until he reached his source of happiness, I just recently recognized it as an Orphean journey. A journey for happiness is essentially a journey for love. You spend the majority of your life with (ideally) one person and one career, and you go through a figurative Hades for both, sometimes without total success. Dating and job searches are even essentially equivalent processes now as well. There is no basic difference between criteria like "must love dogs and musicals" and "3-5 years experience required" (a phrase I'm come to hate with an intensity reserved for pedestrians who wander into traffic when the light turns green).

Careers are no different than relationships in that the first love isn't necessarily the final one. The first love though, is unique in that it comes in the time in your life when it feels like it will be the only one. It's impossibly hot and intense and you forsake almost everything else to make it work. However, when it ends it's also the one that hurts the most, and in my experience it also plays a major role in shaping your permanent worldview.

My first love seduced me with a devil-may-care swagger, a great sense of humor, and a spectacular chin. While in high school, I was having a great time trying out television production, going out for school clubs and internships but not really ready to make any real commitment. There were other stable options like psychologist and lawyer that were compatible with my educational profile, and my parents were dying to set me up with them.

The catalyst for taking the plunge into television came from reading Bruce Campbell's autobiography If Chins Could Kill: Confessions of a B-Movie Actor. While I was only somewhat familiar with Bruce from Army of Darkness, Hercules and Xena, I bought the book due to positive word-of-mouth and a constant interest in genre television.

Bruce's story, without any hyperbole whatsoever, changed the course of my life. His story about growing up with a close-knit group of friends who loved filmmaking, and had the confidence and entrepreneurial spirit to both create and market their own movies, spoke to the life that constantly filled my dreams. When Bruce and his pals (who included legendary director Sam Raimi) hustled for funding and ultimately got the chance to film the cult horror classic Evil Dead in rural Tennessee, it read like the ultimate adventure. Though the crew had to endure numerous injuries, production setbacks and difficult living conditions, the various hardships only made independent filmmaking seem like a rite of passage to adulthood and eventual greatness. Their ultimate success in securing a distributor for a film that eventually became one of the most celebrated independent films of all time, made any dream seem fully attainable.

If Chins Could Kill was full of cautionary tales - the story of working in a Budweiser factory between jobs and the "Anatomy of a Paycheck" chapter were plenty scary - but I was fully infatuated by then. I bought that book for everyone I thought would be similarly inspired by it, and throughout college I amassed a DVD collection including Jack of All Trades, The Adventures of Brisco County Jr. and Bubba Ho-Tep for continued inspiration. My final senior project at BU was actually a proposal for an adaptation of his novel Make Love the Bruce Campbell Way complete with a budget projection, casting shortlist and merchandise in the form of Make Love the Bruce Campbell Way condoms. (I got an A, in case you were wondering).

The problem that often happens with first loves though, is because they burn bright it's easy to blind yourselves to the serious problems in them. It's not always one specific party's fault - the problems on my end were detailed in PA'ed - but at the same time it's hard to ignore the relationship issues when they put you in personal danger (like the time I got mugged during a production run) or expose you to situations where you feel like the worst of yourself instead of the best. Eventually, after years of essentially working a combination of all the worst summer jobs I've ever had, I hit a breaking point and called it off.

I still think about that first love a lot, which is obvious from this post and from the earlier post. My regret is I never got my big Evil Dead adventure - the closest I came was working as a grip on an Instant Film Festival production which resulted in the director (a TV director of some note, actually) never returning the portable hard drive he borrowed from me. However, I did learn a lot of lessons during that Orphean journey. I learned about how to collaborate with a diverse range of personalities and effectively prioritize projects for multiple departments. I also learned the proper way to present myself professionally, and only seek work where I felt I could use my brain and reach my full potential. When true love finally comes along for my career, I'm sure I'll know it in my heart immediately, because my first love showed me what I needed to be happy.

I've never met Bruce Campbell (although I did attend a preview screening of My Name is Bruce that he hosted which was awesome). If I ever get to meet him at a Comic Con or book signing, I'd like to personally shake his hand and thank him for his work influencing my personal journey, helping me learn a lot of valuable lessons for (hopefully) future professional success, and most importantly, how to love the Bruce Campbell Way.

Friday, September 28, 2012

The Arts and Sciences

While I don't actively work in film and television anymore, I am still an avid reader of blogs and news sites that track the development of upcoming projects. A trend that has been noted (and complained about) by everyone on these sites is the huge volume of films and TV programs that are reboots, remakes, and well-worn adaptations, with recent announcements ranging from the new Beauty and the Beast series coming to the CW (which was already a TV show in the late 1980s) to a reboot of the The Mummy, which completed the final film in the original series all the way back in 2008.

There are a lot of obvious reasons for the endless stream of rehashed pop culture. The entertainment business is high-risk with a margin for error that makes "razor thin" seem like the size of the Grand Canyon. The decisions of a few executives affect the lives of countless cast and crew. The 2008 WGA strike, which lasted only 100 days, cost the industry over $2.5 billion. When that amount of money is at stake, key decision makers are prone to stick with proven success.

I believe there is another reason beyond financial preservation, and that is that many producers at the studio level and the creative level have no frame of reference outside Hollywood. Have you ever wondered why there hasn't been any truly original live-action kids' television outside of Sesame Street? That's because the majority of senior Nickelodeon/Disney Channel writers came from the "TGIF" family or have been entrenched in those shows for decades. The lack of true creativity on multi-camera sitcoms, long dominated by Chuck Lorre, is largely because his shows have always shared key creative personnel, in some cases dating back to Roseanne. The recycled nature of popular programming prevents the infusion of new ideas.

The inability to incorporate the wider world beyond Hollywood, at the expense of higher-level creativity, is more apparent and damning in the adaptation process. One of my favorite books is World War Z by Max Brooks. Utilizing the malleable framework of a worldwide zombie plague, Brooks structures his story as a historical anthology, with various narrators from around the globe recounting the story of their nation's response to the epidemic and subsequent war to retake the planet. The stories featuring characters from countries like Israel, North Korea, India and Russia were compelling because of their foundation in the countries' actual history, religion, cultural values, politics and international relations.

This book was optioned by Paramount as a future tentpole, but the eventual shooting draft stripped away the novel's structure and global scope, reducing it to essentially War of the Worlds 2 with Brad Pitt instead of Tom Cruise. Even worse, the book was blatantly ripped off by Daniel H. Wilson's vastly inferior Robopocalypse, and that book is getting a movie adaptation too.

I believe that to create a work of pop culture that truly resonates with audiences, you need a muse beyond pop culture itself. The best recent high-profile Hollywood example that immediately comes to my mind is District 9, which used alien contact as a metaphor for South African apartheid. While District 9 was sold by this high concept, it's also an intensely personal story of identity and loss, providing timelessness beyond its social message.

My personal creative portfolio largely focuses around the idea that the human experience requires a full appreciation of life's landmark moments, as well as the progression of world society in general from both a scientific and social standpoint. My initial inspiration came from reading physics books by Michio Kaku, whose work I was fortunate enough to be introduced to by my Dad.

Kaku's work, from his landmark book Hyperspace to his most recent Physics of the Impossible and Physics of the Future projects human scientific progress beyond the 21st century to tens of thousands of years from now, outlining the possibility and even inevitability of fantastic technologies like interstellar travel and artificial intelligence. Learning about potential space flight technologies like solar sails and ramjet fusion engines, as well as astrophysical theories like the Kardashev civilization scale, not only provided a strong knowledge base for authentic speculative, but a belief in human ingenuity that can be incorporated into any creative piece, either personal or commercial.

My desire to further my education beyond television and marketing was further strengthened while working as a part-time copywriter at the American Program Bureau. One of the reasons that I accepted the position was because APB's CIO told me "it's very easy to be inspired here" and it was honestly an understatement. As an industry-leading speaker's bureau, the company represents the top minds in fields ranging from geopolitics and biomedical research to environmental protection and entrepreneurship. I was exposed to fascinating works about the global women's rights struggle (Half the Sky by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn) and national economic disasters (Harry Markopolos' No One Would Listen). Constantly writing promotional copy about vibrant figures and their causes taught me how to speak in the language of multiple fields of study, and provided a creatively fertile range of settings and issues for future creative pieces.

I read an article when I was living in LA about how the one of the easiest ways to get a "bad" script sold was to craft a narrative that combined low shooting costs with more infamous pop cultural trends. While it may be tempting (and honestly, a lot of fun) to have The Situation team up with the Long Island Medium to rescue Khloe Kardashian from a hostage situation at a WWE show, I will always maintain that the best creativity comes from education.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Don't 'Fabe Your Nerd Stuff, Bro.

the WWE Championship, the richest prize in the game
A couple months ago on the T I ran into my friend Kenny, who happens to be a top blogger on Kenny's articles primarily focus on emerging trends in youth culture that often walk the line between fringe and mainstream in the public perception, such as dubstep or the proliferation of Internet memes. While talking, Kenny said one thing that while fairly innocuous, stood out to me, "hey, everybody has a weird interest."

While I think it would be hard to disagree with that sentiment, it led me to think about why people hide their interests or hobbies, if they're not somehow criminal or otherwise damaging. As I've gotten older, I've found that sharing your hobbies with others can be one of the one of life's most fulfilling experiences, and has allowed me to grow personal connections and stimulate my creative mind.

My number one interest/hobby for half my life, which was a key element in shaping my personality and relationships today, was professional wrestling. Wrestling caught my interest when, after loving WWF Royal Rumble for the Super Nintendo, I found out the legendary Hulk Hogan was retiring after WrestleMania 8! (I was only in 2nd grade at the time, and did not yet realize that wrestling retirements were less permanent than comic book deaths or celebrity marriages, and Hogan would wrestle another 20 years.) Once that show passed with a Hogan triumph, and "Macho Man" Randy Savage defeating Ric Flair for the WWF Championship in one of the greatest matches of all time, wrestling faded out of my consciousness. Two years later, it re-entered with a vengeance when I found out that the Undertaker was going to wrestle a second Undertaker to determine the one true Undertaker, and I had to see it! (Amazingly, I've met other fans with the exact same entry point, which blows my mind.) Similar to WrestleMania 8, that show, SummerSlam 1994, had a brilliant match, Bret Hart vs. his brother Owen in a Steel Cage, to supplement the gimmicked main event, and that was the match that hooked me for good.

Wrestling appealed to me for a number of reasons, none of which were the violence, foul language and sexual objectification of women that parents fell all over themselves to attack during its peak years of popularity. Wrestling, to pre-teen me, was an action-packed morality play, where heroes tried to prove that skill and willpower always triumphed over dishonesty and ruthless behavior. Occasionally heroes fell to the dark side, but other times, the villains were redeemed. One hero who on-screen never wavered in his beliefs was Bret "The Hitman" Hart, even as he got booed mercilessly for refusing to change with the times and embrace the late-90s antihero fad. That refusal to bow to peer pressure, and the value of hard work over gimmicks, made Bret Hart the character, and to an extent Bret Hart the person (who weren't that different) an early childhood role model.

As I moved into my teens and early twenties, wrestling's appeal to me wasn't so much the soap opera but what happened behind the curtain. When you're in late adolescence, pro wrestling can seem like an impossibly romantic lifestyle. While more performance art than a sport, it's one of the most athletically difficult endeavors to pursue, a chaotic combination of gymnastics, martial arts and even modern dance in its reliance on coordination and cooperation with your opponent. Matches by independent wrestlers like Jack Evans, PAC, and El Generico remain some of the most visually stunning athletic accomplishments I've ever seen. My viewpoint perceived pro wrestlers as getting the opportunity to travel the world, from Mexico to Europe to Japan, doing what they love with no other responsibility, performing in front of electric crowds and enjoying a battle-hardened camaraderie with their peers.

My formative young adulthood became a wrestling-fueled odyssey, from New England to London, England, from Montreal, Quebec to Los Angeles, California, meeting a huge variety of fascinating people simply because I could speak languages from "lucha libre" to "puroresu" to "catch" and "World of Sport." I met one of my closest friends, at the time an aspiring wrestler, on a trip back from a WWE event on the Green Line simply because I overheard him talking about a recent independent event and decided to join the conversation. During the course of our friendship, our back-and-forth discussion of his pro wrestling training options led to his decision to move to Los Angeles, where he met his wife and started his own business. I don't want to credit myself too much, but eventually, a very specific kid will be born because I was a wrestling fan.

My friend's move was also a key factor in convincing me to make my own leap to move to LA and pursue television production, knowing I'd have an immediate support system. While in LA I continued to be heavily involved on the indy scene, writing for SoCalUncensored and traveling to shows with my writing partner/good friend Paul Newberry, who I met on a different wrestling site and was a part of my wrestling writing collective I had started in college. Together we drove day or night, in both sunshine and tropical storms, from the High Desert to Orange County, visiting tiny converted auto garages, JCCs and Elks Lodges. The SoCal wrestling community, from the wrestlers to staff and fellow fans, felt like a makeshift family, helping me navigate the often overwhelming experience of living in Los Angeles. I actually got my first vaguely "Hollywood" job in Los Angeles due to wrestling, as my boss was a cousin of one of the wrestlers performing and happened to be sitting next to me at one of the shows. Networking truly can happen anywhere.

No matter where I happened to be, I was writing about wrestling the whole time, and in addition to gaining valuable practice in long-form writing, it also gave me a unique education in storytelling. Wrestling at its most basic is a serial television series, with decades of detailed continuity. Sharing my opinions on wrestling required an understanding of story structure, dramatic escalation, and proper characterization in terms of motivation and logical action, and the lessons I've learned from decades of wrestling viewing inform my fiction writing today.

Wrestling even drove me toward my college major. As a high school student volunteering the local public access station, one of the younger station coordinators was also a pro wrestler and developing a locally syndicated show for his promotion. I eagerly jumped in, eventually serving as that show's cameraman, play-by-play announcer, co-editor and "Associate Producer" (I insisted on the title because it sounded cool.) The confidence I received from that experience, co-producing my own aired show, made me believe I could be a working communications professional. Even though it didn't work out, I have credits no one can take away and tons of stories to tell.

Personal passions, whether artistic, scientific, or just plain "nerdy", represent a huge part of your identity, and expressing them and sharing them openly can open up a huge variety of personal, professional and social pathways. So next time you're thinking putting about putting your favorite anime program as your office laptop's wallpaper, why not go a step farther and put it on your second monitor too?

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Comics, A Teaching Booster

Green Lantern, Booster Gold and Captain America battle Vengeanzo, the Vexing Villainous Veiltail! (aka our fish Bubbles).

I officially entered the "very late" period of my late 20s a short while ago, and now that I'm closer to an era of fatherhood than childhood, I've been thinking a lot about different teaching tools for my future kids. I know I want them to be literate, moral, imaginative, openly curious about the world around them and naturally think beyond themselves. Beyond the obvious methods like early reader books, trips to museums and Sesame Street, for later childhood my mind immediately turned to comic books.

It's totally understandable if you laugh, scoff, condemn or use some gesture that encompasses all three. There are obvious complains about modern comic book storytelling and they are all completely valid. Comic publishers prominently feature juvenilia masked as "adult themes." Multiple high-visibility, tentpole events and promotional initiatives in the last two decades have come under fire earlier for objectifying women, gruesome violence and using sex for shock value.

However, like all popular media, you have to look for the right comics and most importantly, the best representation of the industry's iconic characters. A character like Superman has endured for generations and will endure for countless more because he represents a timeless idealism, presenting the idea that if a being is given limitless power he will always work for the greater good with unbreakable integrity. Spider-Man is arguably the most beloved character in comics because he paints the struggle of growing up, coping with personal loss, and accepting adult responsibilities in the context of battling Green Goblins and alien symbiotes. Grant Morrison, in his excellent book Supergods, eloquently summarizes the lasting appeal of superhero comics: "We love our superheroes because they refuse to give up on us. We can analyze them out of existence, kill them, ban them, mock them, and still they return, patiently reminding us of who they are and what we wish we could be."

While the current narrative in popular culture for superhero fiction is "grim, gritty and dark," these heroes being used as avatars for high ideals are not relics of a forgotten Golden, Silver or Bronze Age. While building my personal pull list, I've found that Tony Stark in Matt Fraction's The Invincible Iron Man is one of the coolest characters in the Marvel Universe not because of his bleeding edge weaponized armor, but because he applies his genius toward green technologies and building a future that ensures a thriving and healthy humanity. Geoff Johns' Green Lantern at its heart, is a story about how willpower, imagination and bravery are the strongest forces in the universe and can overcome even cosmic crises.

The character that speaks to me the most though, is one that's been considered a joke for the majority of his existence. Booster Gold, created by Dan Jurgens and also written at various points by Geoff Johns, Jeff Katz, Keith Giffen, and J.M. DeMatteis, was originally the superhero personification of the me-first 1980s. A time traveler from the 25th century who used future technologies to become a superhero and leave behind his tainted football career, Booster was primarily motivated by fortune, glory and tabloid headlines. His reputation as an underachieving goofball was reinforced through his close friendship with the Blue Beetle, Ted Kord, with their antics including the pair buying living islands and hoarding New York's Oreo cookie supply.

However, as DC's storylines in the past decade progressed through story arcs such as Infinite Crisis and 52, both the Beetle and Booster evolved beyond silly caricatures into more well-rounded personalities. Ted Kord, who now had a renewed focus on his creative brilliance, resourcefulness and good nature, was tragically killed. A devastated Booster, realizing the cost of his irresponsibility, dedicates himself to true heroism, and almost immediately is chosen to carry the literally Herculean task of protecting the entirety of time.

Booster Gold Volume 2 narrates Booster's adventures in the timestream, and throughout the series is revealed as a superhero who is flawed and completely unsure of himself in the face of unimaginable, terrifying adversity. He is forced to make impossible decisions, such as the opportunity to restore Ted Kord to life at the expense of the universe falling apart, and constantly doubts he has the strength to do the right thing.

When confronted with these choices and these obstacles (and there isn't a single second in Booster Gold Volume 2 when his ordeals stop), he perseveres and does the right thing. He looks deeps inside himself and accepts his responsibilities no matter what the repercussions may be or how afraid he feels. As "The Greatest Hero You're Never Heard Of," Booster accepts his anonymous burden of protecting time knowing he will never get respect from the superhero community that still treats him as a joke. While he still wants that respect and popularity, he has the support of a small but loyal group of friends and loved ones that carry him through his mission, and that is most important to him.

These character traits make Booster Gold to me, one of the best identification figures in modern comics. As kids grow up, they may not have to be protect the planet from a three-eyed warlord, but they will have to face issues like peer pressure, moving away from home, chasing a career dream or personal relationship crises. Booster is far from a perfect hero and makes mistakes, but he learns from those mistakes and retains his ethical compass and integrity. As Morrison writes in Supergods, "we've always known we'd eventually be called upon to open our shirts to save the day, and the superhero was a crude, hopeful attempt to talk about how we all might feel on that day of great power, and great responsibility." When choosing a role model for my kids (besides their family, and prominent scientists/academics), I'd much rather trust heroes on the page who will never let them down, rather than celebrities/athletes tainted by 24/7 social media culture, when the time for their figurative "shirt-opening" arrives.

Unfortunately, in the transition to the New 52 Initiative, DC Comics retconned (erased) all of Booster Gold Volume 2. According to the current DC Universe, Booster's adventures in the timestream never happened and his best friend/catalyst for character growth, Ted Kord, never existed. However, while these stories may not exist in continuity, they will never leave the printed page, and I plan for the Booster to be on my shelf for many years to come, to be enjoyed by a certain group of new readers, along with his pals Green Lantern, Iron Man and Captain America.

Thursday, April 19, 2012


The sitcom that never was

While going through my three year starving artist experience in Los Angeles, I had the privilege of joining The Office as a Production Assistant for the back half of Season Four. Since this was in the immediate aftermath of the WGA strike, which likely derailed the careers of countless assistant-level aspiring auteurs, this was the Holy Grail of PA jobs.

If you're looking for scandalous insider gossip you won't find it here, as every member of the cast and crew was totally friendly and professional. John Krasinski once bought pizza for everyone, and multiple cast members provided ice cream and Dippin' Dot carts. I got to ride in a Ferris wheel on the Santa Monica Pier with Creed at the wrap party and listen to him talk about the beginnings of his performing career. I got fist-bumped on multiple occasions by Craig Robinson, who was an unbelievably cool guy to the entry level staff. The only way it could have been more of a Heaven on Earth for a TV nerd is if the cast of Community arrived from the future in a TARDIS.

This does have a point, in case you think I'm name-dropping for SEO purposes. What stood out to me about The Office was that since it was such a well-oiled production machine, there wasn't a whole lot of work to do for 3 off-set PAs. Work primarily consisted of occasional deliveries to the Universal studio lot, sets off-site, or the dreaded and harrowing script revision run to cast and executives. [Fun Hollywood Fact: the true power of a film/television executive is directly proportional to how probable a drive to their house at night would result in death. Some of those estates make a trip to Dracula's Castle look like a suburban cul-de-sac.] Two of these production runs may have permanently altered the course of my life if my mentality had been different.

I was tapped to make a script delivery to one of the producers during location shooting for the "Night Out" episode. While waiting for the all clear to walk on set, B.J. Novak formally introduced himself to me for the first time since I had joined on the show. While I don't remember the details of the conversation, I did bring up that I was a fellow Massachusetts native, was interested in standup comedy, and had seen him perform at the Hollywood Improv in the past.

I didn't think anything of that encounter at the time, but a few days later B.J. came by the production office and actually initiated a conversation with me, asking how much standup I had done and if I had been to any shows in Boston. I mentioned I had performed a couple times so far (in bowling alleys),and had been to nearly every Boston comedy club, with my favorite being The Comedy Studio (the site of many failed first dates in college). B.J. mentioned that he had a few connections in Boston comedy clubs and if I was interested he would refer me to them. So, to recap, based on a couple of short conversations, one of the hottest television writers in Hollywood was willing to help me get booked at legitimate venues in a major metropolitan city.

I never brought it up again. It gets worse.

A few weeks later, I went to deliver new pages to the show's casting agency. I dropped the pages off and quickly walked away when the casting director caught me and asked me to stay and actually read for a part in the "Job Fair" episode - the 17-year old nerd harassed by Michael Scott. I'm sure having thick glasses, a round face and acne at 24 played at least a small role in this turn of events. I went in, read the pages, and related the experience to the production staff. They told me that since the show had a history of rewarding crew with on-camera roles or notoriety, (the most obviously notable being that Ellie Kemper's character is actually named after longtime Office staffer Kelly Hannon) I actually had a solid chance at getting the part. I spent the next week chugging Airborne to avoid getting sick in case I got my big break.

The character's speaking role was expanded from three lines to three pages of dialogue in rewrites, so the show now needed an actual actor and I didn't get the part. I wasn't that disappointed since I always knew I was a long shot, but I was even told later by casting it was a close call and I had a look that might fit Apatow-type projects, and with some formal acting training I might have a niche.

I never sent a thank you letter to casting. I figured I had gone to LA to become a writer and producer, not to act, so it wasn't a big deal and I didn't want to invest the money for acting classes. I could always do something nicer for them next season to thank them for the opportunity.

A month later I was informed I would not be retained for Season Five. I was given reasons why and heard others from third parties, but it would be unprofessional to speculate which reason was true. I did get a recommendation letter from one of the producers for my later grad school applications, which I appreciated.

I imagine many people in the entertainment industry work far harder than I had for far longer and never get golden chances for a big break, and I had blown two in the space of a few weeks. I had figured these unique and valuable opportunities would simply be there "when I came back." Instead I was expelled from TV Heaven so abruptly I didn't even get the chance to get my audition tape as a memento. I never considered that in LA these moments are rare and fleeting and if you're out of sight, you're permanently out of mind. I had even just learned this lesson a few months prior, when the WGA strike permanently cost me my job on iCarly (where I was actually the tenured PA and also worked with a tremendous production group) and it hadn't been ingrained.

Beyond these lost opportunities, I have multiple spec scripts and original work that I never bothered to submit to any talent agencies before I moved home. I was afraid of being rejected, or being perceived as an imposition, or bothering people like B.J. to the point I would have a black mark on my entertainment career. I decided I would simply do the job I was doing the best I could until I had a high enough profile for my talent to be recognized. That never happened, and now I'm completely out of the industry, which would have been the end result even if I had been an "annoyance" to famous and powerful people and gotten "kicked out." You only get one real chance to make your mark in the entertainment industry, so you might as well approach it by being assertive and fighting for every inch of recognition. The overwhelming majority of aspiring artists and producers flame out anyway, and you're out of the industry whether you feel like an "embarrassment" or not. There's no difference between going out with a bang or going out with a whimper, you go out just the same.

Life has still worked out fairly well for me despite those missed chances. I have a Master's degree in a growing field, a stable job with actual benefits (which, newsflash film students, most studios don't give PAs), and a salary that allows me to save for my future (ditto). I live with a beautiful, funny, and bright girlfriend who constantly blows my mind with how utterly perfect she is for me. I still do standup for fun once in awhile and write when I can. I'm even pulling out my personal slush pile and seeing what I can do with it - the creative dream dies hard.

However, I can't help but wonder what might have been if I had I drank from that Grail when it was given to me. Going forward, it's always the better option to try and leap across the invisible chasm.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

The Eureka Rhino


My girlfriend recently took me to the Harvard Museum of Natural History to prep for a field trip as part of her unit on rocks and minerals. While this was the first time in my entire romantic history I had to do homework as part of a date, I genuinely enjoyed getting to learn about the unique properties of quartz and pyrite and the composition of meteorites from outer space.

When I had finally filled in the worksheet to her satisfaction, we made our way through the museum's other rooms, and that's where the "Eureka!" moment that led to this blog happened. I'm wandering semi-aimlessly through the Indo-Asian Birds and Animals exhibit, and I start staring at a life-size replica of the (very endangered) Sumatran Rhino, and suddenly it hits me, "I can't believe how lucky I am to be human."

Surrounded by rooms upon rooms of animals, insects, and birds, I remembered that the odds of being born human, considering the over 8.7 million species on Earth and the potential innumerable life forms beyond our planet, is like winning the Mega Millions times a factor of a billion. We are the only known species that has the ability to fully appreciate our senses, understand the universe around us and utilize our intellects to broaden that understanding.

Unfortunately, the complementary thought to appreciating our unique gift is that it's a gift that is finite, only occurs once for certain, and its end is inevitable. It's also a feeling that can come out of nowhere and be incredibly terrifying. One day you're watching Doctor Who and poor Rory gets shoved into a black hole or shot by a cosmic time bullet for the hundredth time, and you realize life is precious and fragile and you suddenly feel like you're drowning and getting hit in the chest with a sledgehammer at the same time. (I admit, that last statement was a fun exercise in seeing how purple I could make my prose.)

My point is that while we have received this incredible, limited-time-offer opportunity, in my observation I don't see people make that realization that often and make full use of the incredible gift of our brains. I'm definitely not saying everyone needs to turn off their TV/smartphone/Wii forever and dedicate their lives to testing string theory, because entertainment is one of the many unique creations we get to fully enjoy as human beings. Instead, people should think outside themselves once in a while. It's a far more personal version of what Neil DeGrasse Tyson is advocating in his new book. While other topics are important, hey, let's spend a little bit more attention and energy on space exploration. Space exploration, in this case, being akin to finding and pursuing a passion, overcoming fears, playing sports, and discovering other ways to keep your mind, and really, your whole self from turning to mush.

This blog definitely is not going to be as preachy as that prior paragraph. There won't be any "How To" posts or life advice either, since I can't overstate how seriously unqualified I am for all of that. I don't even often practice what I just wrote. This post instead represents what I hope will be underlying tone for this blog, as I reflect on various learning experiences from my somewhat nomadic life and share topics I find mentally engaging. This blog, in short, is going to be a tool to help me recognize develop my impactful "Sonic Trail" (BAM! Overtly cheesy and forced personal branding!) through life and make the most of my humanity.