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.