In the 1980’s I discovered the “frame” button on my Dad’s VHS camera and wondered what it did. After reading the manual and experimenting I discovered stop motion video and how to use jump cuts for special effects. My love of film was born right there and from that day forward my spare time as a 9-year-old was spent making films, animating inanimate objects, and creating special effects. Like any kid I dreamed of making it big, I pictured my name in lights, and I pursued my craft. By high school I was an accomplished editor and working for a software company in Boston designing a program that would offer affordable non-linear editing…the basic principles behind Media 100. I was editing content for a local company, directing small music videos, and interning at various communications businesses. I was on my way.
At Sarah Lawrence College, I founded a comedy show called “Tight Pants” along with my friends Matt Lancit and Jeremy Konner and we all realized we were on to something special…combining education with our passion with a path to our careers. This is what makes SLC one of the best colleges in the nation. Jeremy and Matt were brilliant…natural comedians. The writing that emerged from their brains and onto the screen was astounding! I was technical, detail oriented, and particular…I approached comedy from the aspect of delivery and the medium in which it is presented. The three of us, along with a cast of writers and performers, were a match made in heaven. The work-load was astounding! So much so that it consumed my Sophomore and Junior year completely. We spent every waking our not in class raising money, writing scripts, scheduling shoots, filming, editing, and organizing live showings of the finished product. The lines between friends and co-workers became blurred and this is where I think I started to become a dick. The project had crossed over from passion to career and we all knew it. We found ourselves juggling a full-time job and full-time education…it was insanity. We got offers from multiple entities such as The Daily Show, Nibbleox.com, The Late Show, SNL, etc. We wanted to keep the group together and not sell just one piece, or a few jokes, or just the services of a few of us without the rest. So in signed blue ink and a failed contract we watched our baby die and learned the hard life lesson that sometimes if you want to get ahead in this business you need to be prepared to grab an opportunity to move ahead. Sometimes you gotta be a dick.
I’ve never wanted to achieve anything in life by stepping on someone else’s shoulders and I never will. It is against my moral fiber. However, I learned that its okay to take an opportunity that is good for you and then once you are established you can reach back and bring along the people who helped get you where you are. I know this because it is how my post-college career was possible. I got pulled up. I had directed a hit show for Disney, directed an international hit TV show for the WB, and was in the running for another kid’s show when I got the call to line produce a broadcast commercial. It was an interesting move for me to go from the directorial to producing but at 23 I was already a bit tired of the daily grind and looking forward to something a little less go-go-go. I produced a number of commercials and became well established in New York with my crew and we suddenly became the guys to go to for green screen work.
At the same time I kept working my way up the ladder on the film side as an assistant director on independent films like Frozen River, Seven Miles Alone, The Cry where I started earning the reputation in NYC as the AD to call when indy films were going to go broke. My crew and I would get hired to come in, asses what was wrong, cut scenes, cut crew, cut budgets, and help roll out films so they would get finished. It was good work and put me on a plethora of sets but I had to do what I hated to do…tell people their labor of love was going to die unless we turned it into a labor of profit. What’s better? To see your film die and never see the light of day…or to see it slightly changed and released with a few plot holes and a profit? It took a long time to understand it was the latter, because people who make films that get released get hired more than people who make films that die. So…I became the most loathed AD by production assistants in the Tri-State area, the man assigned to directors as opposed to hired, and a producer’s dream. “You’re a dick,” PA’s would tell me. It was only logical that I would move to producing instead of directing at this point…my time in the director’s chair had temporarily passed.
By this point in my life I was engaged, living in California, and commuting back to NYC to produce commercials for major brands like Hershey’s, American Express, Bank of America, etc. I was part of an award-winning team and we were the best at what we did. I was ruthless as a producer (not mean), but precise. My attention to detail and budget management made our projects beautiful, engaging, profitable, and award winning…which kept the clients coming back. Then suddenly I realized, I had turned my back on film and had a huge gaping hole in my resume. Films weren’t making money, my life was in San Francisco (not LA), and my work was in NY. I was torn. Life helped nudge me in the right direction when my business partner was a dick (I was a dick too) and in 2007 I founded CreativeRHINO with my fiancé Kate. I was going to at last be my own boss again and make the art I wanted to make…and for a while I did. I was going to not be a dick! I was going to stop working for the man! I was going to change the world!
In the summer of 2009 we garnered national attention when we moved our small business into a camper trailer and cut all ties back to “the mainland.” They called us “Digital Nomads” in the newspapers and clients wanted to work with us because of the competitive rates we were able to offer by eliminating our overhead. It was a dream come true. It was like college all over again. My career and my passion had collided and I was happy. My business partner was my wife, our schedule was our own, and we got to travel the country in true American fashion. It was magical. Then we got more work, and more work, and more work and eventually we spent less time traveling the country by the light of a dashboard and more time flying to destinations and staying in hotels. It became clear we needed to drop anchor, which we did in 2010 when I brought my services to our largest client in Wichita, KS and took a job as Director of Viral Marketing.
Today I am the Director of Marketing…a far cry from the days of film making but at least I got my director’s title. Eh? Funny? No. In all seriousness, I’m very happy and my priorities have changed. I wanted a family and knew what needed to be done to do that. I couldn’t cross back and forth across the country my whole life…summer had to end. I also became the Managing Partner of an iconic restaurant which has been a life-long dream from years of working in them and having a love of food. As well I sit on a number of boards including the Tallgrass Film Association where I get to provide opportunities to budding filmmakers. I work hard at my marketing job, give my passion to the restaurant, and everything else goes to my family whom I love and adore. I’ve become “The Man.” Not like, “Yeah…you the man!” No, just “The Man.” That guy you work for and is the target of little companies that can’t understand why anyone would ever want to live like this.
Apparently…I’m a dick.
This week I found out a number of small digital nomads like my old company were stealing business from me. Moral conundrum. Here are these guys living the dream, doing what I’ve done, and loving life. The only problem was they were breaking the law and doing something morally wrong to my business. So instead of calling the police and launching any kind of legal battle I called them each individually and plead with them to try to see things from my perspective, to understand why it was morally wrong, and to give them the opportunity to stop before I had to take legal action. This lead to hours of conversation with the small business owners who kept telling me I didn’t understand. I do. I did. What they failed to understand was my situation. I am not Goliath and I am certainly not out to squash them. I am a family man trying to scrap out a living, provide for my children, and stand by my moral ethics that at the end of the day I will never look out across the top of the mountain and feel beneath my feet the shoulders of those I have stepped on to reach the summit. I will climb there on my own, I will enjoy the journey, and every opportunity I have to reach back and pull someone up with me I will…even if they will then climb ahead of me.
So that is how the little wide-eyed film maker went from a freelance Liberal to the Midwestern businessman. That is how the digital nomad laid a brick and mortar foundation. That is how I became a dick in the eyes of those around me. They say you shouldn’t worry about what other people think of you, only what you think of yourself…but if people call you a dick enough times you start to feel like a dick. I like chocolate. I love bacon. I love the process of creating something interactive and watching what it evolves into as the world changes it. I love people. I love conversation. I love my past, am aware of my present, and have no clue about my future. I don’t like that some people think I am a dick because I do what needs to be done to make my businesses successful…but I have found that the more successful you are the larger the target you are. When we were driving all over the country we knew that at some point we would have to create a foundation and abandon the digital nomadic life if we were going to grow. Our company had to grow up. That is what I have learned in life for both business and personal morality…you have to be prepared to adapt and change if you want to grow, otherwise you are stuck. Today some people still think I’m a dick…who knows what they will think in time as they grow and their opinion of me changes.
Maybe someday I’ll be a dickhead.
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