When I was young, I wanted to be a cartoonist more than anything. I went to college, put out a couple of books that only did so-so in the marketplace, and came home one Christmas break to find an offer from an old friend to write a few commercials for Woody Woodpecker’s 50th Anniversary merchandise. It wasn’t the same as my dream of working in comics, but I thought it might be fun. It turned out to be quite an adventure and led to writing some regional television.
I was flexible, and it paid off as I discovered a talent for writing in a different medium.
I continued down the path as a writer, found myself an agent, and tried my hand at writing feature screenplays. A few were well-received, so after I went to film school, I eventually moved to Los Angeles to chase that dream.
Halfway across the country, while watching television in a Texas hotel room, I saw the name of one of the only people I knew in Los Angeles scroll by in the end credits of a show. By the time I got to California, I had an interesting lead on a job working with him in reality television, where I could be part of something that paid the bills until I managed to sell a screenplay.
Again, I was flexible. I had no idea where it would lead me, but it sounded like fun.
I found myself enjoying reality television and the stability of the work. I had the chance to work on a lot of interesting shows at a time when reality was still figuring out its most modern incarnation. Survivor had made its debut that year, and reality was booming. I put the traditionally-scripted dream away for a while and chased reality television hard enough to make a name for myself in it.
Guess what? I had a great time. A decade and a half later, I’m still having a great time. I can count myself among the creative teams behind a respectable number of milestone shows in reality television. I was nominated for an Emmy® in 2009. I’ve written what some call the definitive text on producing for reality and traveled the world showing people how to tell stories more effectively in a corner of the business often derided for its fast, cheap and noisy approach to entertainment. Yet, there’s sometimes a “gee whiz, you sold out and abandoned your dream” tone to the way a lot of students and young filmmakers talk to me that continues to drive me nuts.
I have a lot of respect for my friends who write, produce and direct films. I’ve had the pleasure of working with Guardians of the Galaxy and Super writer/director James Gunn on some of his shorts (as a 1st and 2nd AD), written a short that featured Jenna Fischer and ran on the front page of NBC.com, and had meetings galore on different feature specs of my own. Its fun, but it’s not my bread and butter… reality is.
I’ve had many years of working 50 weeks strong on reality shows. For a period recently, I was handling two and three shows at a time during the height of Basketball Wives, Basketball Wives L.A. and the less popular Baseball Wives on VH1. I should feel bad because my idealized fantasy screenwriting career didn’t take off? I don’t think so. With hundreds of hours of finished product all over the marketplace and a number of ratings triumphs to boot, I’ve enjoyed this unexpected twist more than you can imagine. I’ve worked on shows featuring everyone from Ozzy Osbourne to George Hamilton to Gabrielle Carteris. I’ve made good friends and worked with a great many of the folks on The Hollywood Reporter’s latest “25 Most Powerful People in Reality Television” list.
I get it. Movies are cool. They just are. It would be fun to say I wrote Iron Man at parties. I have no regrets, though — wonderful things happen when you’re flexible in your career choices and surf new opportunities as they arise.
Heck, some of the best stuff I’ve seen in ages is on the web. Few things make me laugh as hard as a good Glove and Boots video from Bento Box on YouTube, and surprise — that’s not feature writing, either. Have a look:
All I’m saying is — look around you. Realize that you can have a lot of fun with the many variations on your “ideal” career. I’m glad I’ve had an opportunity to make my living as a storyteller… which I might not have if I’d turned up my nose at reality almost fifteen years ago. I sometimes oversimplify my position by saying that the important thing is that your checks clear… not every project is your dream project, but every time you get paid for lending your creativity to something, it pours a little more water on that seed in your heart that working at a bank or a pallet yard might not.
The important thing is to make stuff and have fun. Be flexible and enjoy the opportunities as they roll in.