Graduation Day. I was finally free of high school (I went to three of them, and I was so ready to “move on”). Armed with what I saw as talent for TV entertainment (and comedy), I wanted to move into the world of film making. However, I wasn’t going to go to a film school as a Freshman. Instead I went to a local community college that had a film program. I was thrilled by the thought of stretching out and moving into film. I should have stuck with the comedic stuff, but I wanted to do some substantial things with film. In short, I wanted to be “serious.” Oh boy, that’s not a good road to go down because serious can quickly dovetail into pretentious and bathetic. What I lacked in intellectual depth, I made up for in good photography with my student films.
I stayed on the film track with through junior college and even got very involved in the student film club there. So much so, I became the club president. I had a good time with that, but a combination of petty jealousies and ambition made me clash with my club VP and I eventually quit. I was pretty sensitive and insecure then, so if my work was crushed by a steamroller of criticism, I really affected me on a deep level. I couldn’t take the negative comments I got from a screenplay I wrote for a student film project that the film club was supposed to bankroll, and I just kind of…dropped out. This came after I was rejected by the UCLA film school, and the double whammy was too much for me to take. So, I decided I would just kind of find some kind of job and sulk. I was able to get an overnight job being a board op for a local radio station. It was an ideal job. I worked alone, I didn’t have much by way of responsibilities, and I could spend time doing things that were totally unrelated to film and that stupid film club that gave me a lot of grief. It was also a time I started to question whether I had any talent in film and TV. Sure, I could run a camera, set up lights, make sure the audio was good, but did I have the vision to direct? Did I have the talent to write screenplays?
Well, because I had dropped out and worked when my boss asked, I eventually moved up from my overnight shifts to being on the air. I caught a break. I was given an opportunity that many budding DJs would kill for, and I ran with it. It was fun, but it wasn’t what I really wanted to do, but since I was still in sulking mode, I just went with it. I worked on my on-air sound and generally tried to have fun with my radio job. People I knew heard me on the air and were excited by the thought that one of their friends was a DJ…so that was kind of cool. I stayed at that job for about three months and then decided that I would go to SF State (my safety school for film making) in the fall. I enrolled for four classes (12 units). One of them was a screenwriting class, and while I found SF State a refreshing change from my community college, I still felt kind of lost. I wasn’t sure if film was my thing. I wrote short screenplays and scenes, but they were boring and stupid. I did well in my class, but my more academic courses kind of difficult and I struggled with them. When I say “struggled,” it was because I didn’t study.
And then another opportunity came knocking…
My step dad came home one day and said that his co-worker’s husband worked for a company that needed a camera person who could run a video camera and could edit tape. I got the number of the guy who was hiring and gave him a call. He told me about an orientation video he was producing for the company (it was a defense contractor). I did what a lot of sales people did during the telephone conversation: I presumed the close. I told the guy what I could do for him and asked when I could come in for an interview to talk about the job. He said he needed to interview more people, but I assured him that I was ready to work. I had one interview and knew I had the job when they showed me the equipment (which they didn’t know how to work). It was very similar to the equipment I used in high school, so I could fire up a camera and shoot in short order. Also, their editing equipment was exactly the same as what I used in high school, so there very little training involved.
I got the job.
For the next year, I worked for Physics International as a “photographic specialist.” I shot both video and 35mm film for their newsletter and video projects related to human resources (i.e., orientation videos, safety, how to, and even raw footage for defense contracts — mostly bombs blowing up). I worked there for exactly one year, and still had my part-time radio DJ gig on the weekends (I did some fill-in during the weekday, too). So between the two jobs I had one full-time job. I was living at home, had money, and really enjoyed myself. After a year of doing that, however, I grew bored with both jobs. My “photographic specialist” job was just mind-numbingly boring at times since there wasn’t much work. My DJ job was fun, but there was a lot of turnover, and one of the owners of the station (Bay Area radio icon, Dr. Don Rose) basically walked after his partners reneged on their promises for pay raises and better studios. I got a new program director (who changed the format) and…it…just…wasn’t…fun…anymore. So, after some soul-searching, I decided I was going to quit my photographic specialist job and go back to SF State and finish my degree. However, I’d keep my weekend DJ gig because I wanted spending money.
At SF State, I enrolled in another screenwriting class and took a few more GE courses. It was also the semester I met Julie in Speech 150, but we didn’t start going out until the end of the semester. It was a really great class because our professor was such a passionate guy that it was infectious. He used to tease me that because I was a “radio guy” I probably knew I was going to get an A (I didn’t), but after that semester, things started to change again. My mother asked if I wanted to go to Guyana (where she and my father were born) because her father was ill and needed help with his rice plantation. I thought it was a great opportunity to see the birthplace of my parents and finally connect all those stories about Guyana to a place I could experience in person. I was going to spend the entire spring semester there — presumably helping my grandfather with chores around the place. I knew nothing about rice production, but I could do low-level work, so I thought it would be a challenge, but also kind of fun.
So here I was…as a crossroads. Still a film major, still working as a DJ, still unsure about my abilities, but ready to leave “all that” for a few months and spend time in South America to figure out what I wanted.