I heard someone bellowing my name across a busy yard in South Pasadena. The sun was just peaking over the rooftops in the quintessentially suburban, southern California neighborhood. I wound my way through the swarm of crew as they buzzed around, setting up for the first shot.
“JAAAAAAANE!!!” I heard it again and this time filled with dread; I knew who was yelling and he was sounding pretty dark. I took a breath and headed toward Herr director, coffee in hand, half a breakfast burrito threatening to vault from my stomach onto the perfectly manicured lawn.
I can’t remember exactly what happened next. I know I got yelled at (in front of 90 people) for something the grips did. My first thought was “he doesn’t yell at the grips, ‘cause they’re too burly and there’re too many of them.” The next thing I heard was a voice in my head, clear as a bell, saying: “you really can make a bigger contribution to the planet than another Diet Coke commercial.” This happened in the spring of 1999. A month later I was enrolled in grad school.
I’d been working as a freelance line producer on music videos and commercials for fifteen years. It started out as an ideal career for a single mom… I’d work like crazy for two or three weeks then have a bunch of time off to spend with my kids until I booked the next job. Stable? No. Fun? Hell yeah.
Producing music videos in the ’80s and early ’90s was a dream come true. The money was decent, the supervision minimal and a lot of the clips that came out of that era were fantastic. In between jobs I’d watch old films made by Bunuel, De Sica, Truffaut, Godard, Wenders and loads of others, since I based my value as a producer on an extensive film vocabulary and an innate ability to organize directors’ ideas into a manageable shooting day.
In the mid-to-late ‘90s, it all started to change. The music industry was losing its economic viability to downloading and The Real World changed the face of MTV forever. Having two kids rapidly approaching college years and the music industry circling the drain, working on commercials became the obvious choice.
What I realize now is that my core values never aligned with those of the advertising industry. What I remember most about working on commercials was the pre-occupation with food. Instead of thinking about camera angles, lighting, how the art direction looked, styling or film references, my job was now reduced to getting food for the ad execs, because essentially, they employed me. The hours were crazy long, so I was in charge of finding the best take-out breakfast, lunch and dinner, primo catering and locally crafted craft services for the set. I didn’t understand what eating had to do with filmmaking. The fun factor was lost; the new heroic challenge became finding the coolest “undiscovered” restaurant for the obligatory client dinner.
I signed up for grad school solely with the intention of finding an “interest” more intellectually stimulating than producing commercials. I had gone to therapy on and off for years and always found psychology a fascinating subject. While I had no intention of changing careers, my kids were about to leave home and I knew my life could use a little more juice.
Getting my Masters is a blur. I continued producing, with college tuitions to pay and kids to support, but ultimately fell in love with the study of psychology. I began my internship, simultaneously doing a lot of international jobs; one of my supervisors joked that I might be re-traumatizing my clients since I was constantly leaving. But working at free clinics, I had no other choice.
My reset wasn’t super easy. I decided to go for a license and in California the process is rigorous. The internship included 500 “kid and family” hours which I did at a “non-public” school, which is a school for kids who couldn’t make it in LA Unified. They were either fresh out of juvie or had learning disabilities and needed weekly therapy and an IOP. It was deep in the ‘hood and the majority of the students had been seriously traumatized, primarily from growing up in South Central in the ‘90s. I could tell these kids were smart, they just had so much PTSD, they checked out under the pressure of having to learn in a classroom.
Then there were exams I had to pass and the rigors of starting a new business. I created a niche of treating people from the film and music industries because I thrived on frequent rescheduling and I understood the artistic personality. I helped my clients understand their creative processes. I folded in entrepreneurs because I found their endeavors to be equally creative and often misunderstood. I got more training and more credentials.
I’m so much happier in my new career for so many reasons, one being that it’s given me a lifestyle that I love. I moved to Sonoma County a few years ago, but keep my practice in LA. I have time to work on outside projects, including a series of Apps, starting with Rx Breakup, co-created with Jeanine Lobell, my long-time friend from the music video days. Rx Breakup has close to 60K downloads, so it has to be a “bigger contribution” than helping sell Diet Coke. A bunch of people have thanked me for helping them change their lives.
When I think back to that morning in South Pas, I know it must have been really painful and embarrassing. I knew I’d hit a wall in a career I used to love. But, like childbirth, I don’t remember the actual pain, because I’m so happy that it all went down that way… If it wasn’t so terrible, would I have had the same motivation to make such a drastic change? What about that voice that said I could make a bigger contribution to the planet? So glad I heard that message. Maybe there’s a lesson: no matter what happens, no matter how heinous things seem in the moment, you can use that energy to kickoff a change. Stick to what feels right. Reset. And always stay willing to work on creating a life you love.