Are You Directing Your Own Life?

Last night I had the pleasure of dining with Filmmaker Chris Barrett, actor Efron Ramirez (best known for his role as Pedro in Napoleon Dynamite), YouTube Comic EdBassmaster, and Barret’s Publicist partner. Barrett and Ramirez had spoken to a group of underprivileged highschool students in Camden, NJ yesterday afternoon, and were doing a media circuit for their new book “Direct Your Own Life.” (We shot this short comedic-like video after dinner that shows me dressing like Pedro and getting “caught” by Efron).

It was a motley crew, which is typical when online-video pulls together characters who wouldn’t likely meet otherwise. And Barrett’s publicist partner asked me where I was heading with the online-video gig. “Do you want to have your own television show?” she asked.

That question made me realize that we often act in our lives, but fail to direct them. The book’s jacket cover states that “too many people are losing faith in their dreams… (the book) helps you write your own life script,  assemble your team, and ultimately debut your dream.”

This got me reflecting on what motivates me in my atypical role as marketer by day and YouTube guy by night. I awakened thinking about some of the formative moments that led to where I am now… and whether I’m directing my life or a b-grade actor in someone else’s production.

  • I worked for 7 summers at PBS television station in New Orleans, and paid for my growing audio and video obsession by disk jockeying parties and videotaping weddings.
  • I attended Georgetown University, and was asked to be Marketing Director for the Georgetown Program Board. I got a taste of marketing and liked it. Meanwhile I watched Michael Eisner’s son (Breck) making films on campus, and I had the pleasure of doing a voiceover for “Alex of the Underground” (an allegory based loosely on Alice in Wonderland). I marveled at the energy of film making but didn’t see it as a safe bet… too many people chasing too few opportunities.
  • My first job after graduating from Georgetown was a short-lived internship at advertising agency Earl Palmer Brown, which forever burst my dream of being a traditional advertising executive. Over beers these agency veterans would urge me to find a different path than theirs. They found artistic passions at night, and suffered through thankless, mechanical work during the day.
  • Later I’d work for 9 months at a newspaper startup that produced excellent editorial at negative profit. Warren Rogers, who covered Kennedy as a journalist and wrote a book about Robert Kennedy, was the editor in chief of The Georgetown Courier, and he hired me for $16K a year. Rogers erected a symbolic white-picked fence that separated the editorial team from the advertisers. There would be no “advertorial” under Rogers’ guard. I eagerly covered any films being shot in Georgetown, and once got to interview Pierce Brosnan. The paper, of course, went belly-up because it couldn’t sell ads.
  • I was crushed. I had worked around the clock as an aspiring journalist, but the economics weren’t solid. So I decided to take fate into my own hands by applying to the best MBA school for entrepreneurship — Babson. Either I’d get in, or bag business school and roll the dice in filmmaking.  I got in.
  • Years later as I maried and my family grew, I chose the safer career of a marketer — working at interactive agencies, big-5 consulting, and for five years at Johnson & Johnson. Now two-plus years as a Product Director for a Fortune 100 firm. Marketing is interesting, but what keeps me energized is this online-video space, and how it’s inviting me to apply both my creative passion and my experience as a marketer.
  • Playwriter John Guare said at my graduation, “never get a job.” But then you find yourself with children to support and a mortgage. So you take the job, and seek whatever passion you can milk from your job and look after hours to keep the fire burning. Hey- it beats coming home and watching TV.

Now, of course, my passion for film and video are converging with my profession of marketing. Online video have lowered the “cost of entry” and blurred the lines between advertising and content. So while it’s still hard to answer the question, “where are you heading with this, Nalts?” I am having the time of my life. But am I directing, or am I a hired actor in someone else’s film? Worth some reflection for me, and probably all of us.

27 Replies to “Are You Directing Your Own Life?”

  1. Awesome post Kevin. It’s a question I’ve been asked too, and one I usually just answer with “building my network and my resume for that future editing/producing job. I’m obviously not comfortable in front of the camera, but desire to spend 18 hours a day behind it…

  2. I was moved by this essay. You know what my hopes are for you. Hang in there and don’t lose faith.

    The collab with these guys looked like loads of fun.

    Next time someone asks you if you want your own t.v. show…. the answer is “yes.”

  3. Good post. I have piles I want to write, but I’m due at work all too soon, and then it’s off to a funeral (or the visitation, anyway).

    I will say this. My dream is to be behind (or in front of) a camera for money. I’ve done that to an extent through a few TV commercials and wedding videos, etc, but I really want more.

    Great post!

  4. This is great stuff to reflect on, indeed, and as I don’t wish to bore readers with a similar backstory, I will say that my career philosophy is… um… similar. Where my advertising background comes more from the creative side of the picket fence, I think you and I and a lot of others in the online community are pointed in the same direction…

    One of the hardest questions I have to answer is, “What do you do?” To which I usually answer, “I write and produce creative content for Internet, radio, and TV.” But I never feel like that tells the whole story. Fact is, I’m finding that my “job,” if you can actually call it that, is changing all the time — very quickly, and very drastically from what it was five years ago, or even one year ago… So my “elevator speech” usually ends up being either too vague, or too long.

    So, are you directing your life, as opposed to “also appearing”? Absolutely. If you were merely acting, you’d be a day-job bitch by day, and a lazy, dreamless TV-watching something-or-other by night, and 60,000+ current YT subscribers would otherwise be asking, “Who the f**k is nalts?”

    But I can understand your hesitancy in the “Where are you heading with this” question… I think that because the concept of marketing via online video is still pretty new, it IS a hard question to answer… I find it much more adventurous to rephrase it and ask, “Where is this taking me?” Lewis and Clark didn’t know where they’d end up, or what they’d find when they arrived… And Columbus didn’t end up where he thought he would… But they all had, as Napoleon Dynamite said, “skills.” And they knew which way to point themselves to start their journey.

  5. Good one Kevin! I think we all envy the balance you seem to have struck between career and home. Most of us fall into our work and eventually it becomes what we are. You seem to have started with what you want and shaped your job to fit. Nice.

  6. I was told once if you do something long enough you’ll get good at it. I think that comes to roughly 10,000 hours.

    Some people are good at doing just one thing and if they stay focused will probably achieve their goals. For those who prefer a variety, the Creative Arts is an outlet that allows one to wear many hats. However, the price for that choice is usually financial instability. Of Course, I don’t think it should be that way, but then I commute to Utopia.

    The one thing I do know is humans are full of good and bad ideas and when they get together and focus the best that can happen is they make history, the worst, have a good time, learn something the hard way or get killed. In the final analysis success is arbitrary and subjective, you’ll know the outcome of your real success by who all shows up at your funeral.

    All the world’s a stage and we are merely players

    Alive, attitude is still everything.

  7. I want to do movies on the side. Like do one a year. That is my goal. And I would prefer to be funding, writing, directing and acting in them and selling them to studios after the fact.

    That is the goal, though.

  8. Even before I read the blog, my first thought was “you’ve been reading the secret again, haven’t you.”

    now I’ll go read it and see if I am wrong.

  9. Oh. I see. You’re reading the bookcover blurb to “the secret” as written by napoleon dynamite..

    Why do you think I’m always hitting people up for vicodin? Because I chose the way of those ad guys you talked about. Then my career stalled, I went insane and thought “I know! I’ll go to a third world country and adopt a baby! that’ll fix everything!!!”

    Um, that was a five year plan that wasn’t well thought out.

    my dream job would be to write the inane comments i write on your blog, on videos, and especially on twitter. Let me tell you, that twitter will teach you quick how to edit yourself and still make sense. 140 characterrs is not NEARLY enough characters to for me to adequately describe the problems i’m having with Satan and my own impacted fecal matter.

  10. Great post nalts. I feel your pain. I feel your thrills. It’s a tough question to answer, but for me, I just want to live off of making comedy. At Wicked Awesome Films, we started off with a bang, almost made a movie, almost had a pilot, met with some big people, met with some small people, learned any one who wants to manage you has ulterior motives and now, as I try to start this thing all over again with my BOBJENZ brand that is 100% all me, I find it, strangely invigorating instead of daunting. Having 100% ownership over my fate is a lot different than a partnership. Don’t get me wrong, I love the work we’ve done with WAF. There’s more to come there, no doubt. But right now, it is all about what direction I want to direct MY life in. And man, this post of yours gave me confidence in that. Thanks.

  11. One can make the decision to direct one’s destiny. Especially in this country, it is possible to conjure up a life one imagines through hard work and sheer will. Even if events fail to unfold exactly as you envisioned, your hard work will allow you to take advantage of opportunities that come along.

    You’re making it happen. Isn’t that how you feel?

  12. Mock away. All I know is that if I can end up doing what I’ve wanted to do since I was in 7th grade, get paid $152,000 last year for it (not much compared to some, I know) and have a wonderful wife and two beautiful kids–If I can do that, then just about anyone can achieve what they want to achieve.

  13. What’s that old saying, find a job you enjoy doing and you’ll never work a day in your life? It didn’t say anything about paying the bills though. Hmmmm!

    I’m a marketer by day too. I market my disgruntled ass all around the office at work, like a huge billboard that says, DON’T “F” WITH ME OR I’LL SNAP YO NECK FOOL!” If only I could get paid for it. I think I do it rather well, I seem to get my point across and it seems to reach all the right people.

    Stepping stones, my friend, stepping stones…I’m sure you’ll take the path you want when you’re ready. Seems like you found a happy medium for now.

  14. I love how being in high school means that, while I can’t, for the most part, apply this now, I can, however, apply this lesson whenever and wherever I can, and it’ll actually change my life, as opposed to the old farts on here who can’t really change their life (SUCKS FOR YOU), because they have wives and children, and, in nutcheese’s case, people to insult.

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