A mother bird is understood to be the prime example of all the positively associated attributes for what a ‘good’ parent is perceived to be, but did you know it is also the mother bird who pushes her baby out of the nest when it’s time? Well that’s what my mother certainly did. Now, I’m not using the nest as a symbolic gesture for the ‘home’, though that story is quite different, I mean to resemble the nest as a the ‘comfort zone’. Here’s the story of how mother bird pushed me out.
Long story of Act One, short: A few months before my undergrad was complete, my parents moved to Oklahoma to support my brother as he was accepted into an engineering program. Before this time I applied to grad school at FSU for film. I was convinced I was already accepted. I traveled, waited and failed to produce a backup plan. The FSU email popup and discovered I wasn’t accepted. After a day of careful contemplation, I drove from the tip of the South to the nation’s flatland center where the wind never ceases.
Act Two: Once there and supremely out of my element, I fell into an obvious depression. Now, the thing about my family you need to know is they’re a group of people who fix things. We call out the shit which needs taken care of and don’t let elements fester. So, it’s needless to say that my mother became impatient with me. Along with my father’s intuitiveness, it’s easy to pinpoint where my hunger for accomplishment and frustration of impatience comes from, but unfortunately I also hail from the generation of those without grit. You can now see my inner war. My mother became the bird and offered me a particular perspective about life. She said something like this, “Grad school only lasts for two to three years where you walk out with an insane amount of debt and no guarantee of employment. You’re 24 years old and in five years from now, you’ll still be considered young. Take these following three years, make as much money as possible, network and treat this time as if you were in grad school. Hit the industry as hard as you can and if by the end of the third year, you’re not doing what you want to do, find a stable job.” Now, that’s easier said than done and of course I fought her on this idea primarily due to my self-doubt, but she was correct.
Final Act: Here’s her syllabus of my quote-unquote first year of grad school:
1 Make Money: I became a bartender. I felt like Tom Cruise in Cocktails. I remember being given the application and at this point in my life, I didn’t know what a liquor was or what IPA meant. So, there was hesitation. However, I needed money and a flexible schedule to venture. The bar was a little modern-day speakeasy called ‘Gatsby’ from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel and it was one of the most thrilling experiences of my life. It’s sadly closed down now, but during my time there I got fat, learned how to flirt and made a dear friend along the way who’s currently in LA striving to be a talent agent.
2 Cold Call: The intent is to find a job in the film industry through an execution of building relationships. “What, Neil? You say you don’t know anyone… give me a break.” I cold called professors, family doctors, politicians I volunteered for, a distant friend of a relative who knows a guy whose cousin’s wife works as a PA on a Warner Brother’s set… the list goes on. Another thing I did was with each film watched, I listed every production company I saw during the opening credits. Mom is famous for saying, “The worst thing they say is ‘no’!” and though I was hung up on by a few, surprisingly I received many invitations. One of them was the producer of The Godfather (I & II). All it takes is one.
3 Dirty Fingernails: I have experience in acting… more theater than film, but I got a headshot by Beadles Portraits, built a demo reel and sent it off to acting/talent agency. On a film set, you learn more from the experience than you do anything else and the people you meet along the way will surprise you in the future. There’s honestly no alternative to this type of education. Yes, I both value and use my college degree in everything I do for my career, but the only way to progress is by actually doing the work… paid or pro bono.
All in all, you need a supportive team in your life whether the pursuit is to be successful in a creative field or for something personal and that team needs to generate from the home. Sure, you can have mentors and whatnot, but if the person you have coffee with every morning is skeptical… it’s going to be a difficult endeavor. Life promises to be unfair, don’t make it harder than it has to be. Here’s the other thing about support teams no one will tell you… if your team constantly praises you, find an alternative. All the earnest directional entities in life derive from reality and have an intensive purpose of challenging you to graduate over your past self. Find someone who will be real with you and next time you’re stuck in a bind, call your mother bird.