You could say my filmmaking career officially began in Los Angeles, the day after I graduated from USC. With the familiar structures and confines of academia behind me for good, I put myself to the task of building a career in an extremely competitive industry. I certainly wasn't alone: not only was I one of almost 100 other film students that graduated that same day, I was in a giant city full of many other eager, driven, and talented people hoping to earn a living in the business of movie making.
It can be daunting to imagine oneself as just one among so many, trying to stand out as the most creative, most talented, most (insert your own adjective here) in town. But it can also be comforting: the path before you, though difficult, is well trodden.
I walked that path for 18 months after graduation, taking any job I could get my hands on, even if it meant working for free. The idea that, "it will be great for my reel," was often my only motivation as I tried to build a body of work that would make me stand out from the crowd. I also did data entry, web design, graphic design, wedding photography, and more data entry in an effort to contribute a few pennies to the household finances (fortunately for me, Jen was working as a nurse at the time). Despite the frequent frustrations (and mind numbing data entry jobs), I felt that all my effort was leading me slowly forward: so many other Angelinos had made it work in this biz, and I would too, by grinding it out and staying on the path until I "made it."
But the following year, shockwaves of the housing market's collapse made us realize quite suddenly that we could no longer afford to live in LA. We owned a small condo in Seattle, and had been renting it out for approximately the same amount as the monthly mortgage payments. In October, our renters decided to move out, and we discovered we were no longer able to get even half of what we had been charging them for rent. We couldn't afford to cover both the mortgage and pay rent on our apartment in LA, and our mortgage was underwater so selling wasn't an option. It seemed to us that we had no choice, and by Christmas we were living in Seattle, in that condo, slightly stunned and unsure of what would happen next.
I can remember the night Jen and I stood in the kitchen in our apartment in LA, mugs of tea in our hands, and talked about what it would mean for us to leave LA and move to Seattle. As a nurse, we were confident that Jen would quickly find a job. But for me? How was I going to find work as a relatively inexperienced filmmaker in a city with such a small film industry?
Skip forward five years. Jen and I are still in Seattle, in that same small condo. We now have a 2 year-old daughter and another child due in December. Jen is no longer a nurse: she is in school full time, studying to become a naturopathic physician.
Thankfully, my career as a filmmaker has not ended. Certainly, things have not always been easy: since landing here so suddenly, I have had to carve out my own trail as a filmmaker since, unlike in Los Angeles, there was no well-trodden path for me to follow. On that night five years ago in our kitchen in LA, in the midst of such unexpected turmoil and on the verge of uprooting ourselves, I remember admitting to Jen that, in spite of everything, I felt a small but steady sensation of excitement: excited to enter into something uncertain and mysterious. She said she felt it too.
Last week I was back in LA for a shoot at Fuller Seminary. I flew down a day early and ended up reconnecting with a few people I hadn't seen since moving to Seattle: professors, directors, producers, and friends. With each person, the conversation eventually turned back to the days just before Jen and I left LA. More than once I heard someone say, "I was so worried about you when you left."
This was hard for me to hear, and since returning home it has continued to sit uncomfortably in my brain, making me sad and annoying me at the same time. It implies either a myopic, LA-centric worldview, or a lack of confidence in my potential as a filmmaker. Certainly it reveals a lack of faith in something that I believe very strongly, that a meaningful life is the sum of many parts, and success as a filmmaker (or success in any field) is ultimately a much smaller and less important part of that meaningful life than these people seem to realize. In other words, what if their worries had been realized, and I was no longer a filmmaker? Wouldn't I still be their friend? Or Jen's husband, and my daughter's father? It was a reminder that we can too easily find our identity and worth in our careers alone. Our work matters, sure. But we need to embrace a definition of work that is broad enough to encompass more than just the way we earn our money. I've heard a lot of people use the world "calling" in interviews I've shot recently to get at this idea.
It was disappointing to hear that colleagues and friends had been worried about me as I left LA rather than excited and hopeful, but I do believe that their worry came from a place of care, from wanting what they saw as best for me. And for that, I am grateful. Looking forward, though, I hope that when people I love step off the familiar path and into something less certain, I choose to be hopeful, to be excited for what adventures may come, and not to worry.