This is 100% true: hundreds of millennial filmmakers were called to create cinema magic by the singular experience of watching the Behind-The-Scenes of The Lord of the Rings Extended Edition (and who can argue with those amazing book-like covers?). We all dreamed of being in those rain-soaked trenches of Helm’s Deep, creating chain mail link-by-link, imagining unique clothing patterns specific to each race, then weaving them into the fabric of each costume with a specificity that no one would ever see, save the individual actor dawning the attire.
That was my film school. I don’t know how many times I watched those BTS clips or examined every frame until it was burned into my brain and became a part of my creative process. This experience taught me that the essence of world building could be so much more than a few painted flats in the background; that it could establish a unique identity for each character and share their history with the audience.
Now that I have revealed myself to be only somewhat of a nerd, allow me to add fuel to the fire.
I grew up the oldest of five, in a homeschooled family in the 90’s during the satanic panic. There was a lot of long, bad hair, not knowing what the hell to say to boys, and thankfully no internet to catalogue the first two. Reading was one my favorite past times, but in a busy house it was challenging to find time to myself. However, when I found a window (sometimes a literal window) of time between my studies, chores, and assisting my mom, I would escape into the woods behind my house and read with my back up against my favorite tree. It was there that my imagination ran wild.
Some of my favorites were The Attic Club, Nancy Drew, and the delicious YA series Star Wars Jedi Apprentice (I’m still in love with Obi-Wan, ok?). I usually identified myself with the heroes in these stories. The good kid who gets chosen to go on epic adventures because an adult sees them as special and unique.
Special. I love this word. Can you tell I am a Four on the enneagram yet?
I find it so interesting that as a young person, I spent most of my young life imagining a future where I was special and unique. The thing is, I never really broke the rules.
I waited to have my first beer until I was twenty-one, I tattled on my friends TP-ing the neighbor’s house, and never gave a full-frontal hug to a member of the opposite sex until I was in college. (Wait, that wasn’t a rule?)
The thing is, I never felt like I was really missing out. I truly believed that by abstaining from all these “frivolous events”, I was coming out ahead in the race of life. And while I still don’t regret missing some of the antics and ensuing heartbreaks my friends loaded up on, a part of me wishes I had better stories to tell around the lunch table. What I missed out on was the camaraderie, letting go and enjoying the ride, and having the best crazy story about “Pinky” at the college reunion.
Fast forward a few years and now I am living in Los Angeles, working in the extremely competitive industry of film design. There is not a day that goes by without someone mentioning a historical reference that makes my face go blank, my stomach tightens into knots, and my conscience wrestle with the decision to either smile and nod or reveal the great gaps in my pop culture knowledge. I hate it.
But herein lies the great irony: my work on film sets over the past five years has led to many of my “firsts”, because I work in the art department, where we research, develop, and oversee the visual look of a project. So, on the TV show The Fosters, I had my first day of school on the set of Anchor Beach Community Charter School, built on the Warner Brothers lot. I made hundreds of posters, flyers, banners and even helped with a STEAM robotics competition. On the film The Way Back, I rode my first school bus and had to research what the heck a “fat head” was to attend my first high-school basketball game. While working props on a digital series for Snapchat, I learned how to play beer-pong, attended my first disgusting frat party (I so did not miss out there…) and learned how to roll a joint from a set dresser.
Even though some days I still feel like I missed out on what some might consider a “normal” number of experiences, there are so many things I would not trade for the world! I have gotten to ride a space shuttle, to the Moon and Mars, on For All Mankind, and learn what it would take to survive in those environments. I have drunk wine in beautiful Napa Valley while filming Wine Country. I’ve named shops and businesses after my friends and family on Bless This Mess and learned to play tennis on the set of King Richard. I still pinch myself when I think of the one-of-a-kind experiences, I have been a part of. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
I know I am still early in my own journey, but I find that I no longer want to just be the hero of my own story—I want to become a guide who helps raise up the next generation of heroes. The Gandalf, the Yoda, the Morpheus (why am I struggling to think of any female sages?), one who helps shape the future heroes of this world, many of whom will be storytellers and creators in the media realm. We have a huge honor, and weighty responsibility, to steward our art, and our lives, to form a better future!
So, as I continue my own journey in this industry as an artist, leader, and awkward nerd, I hope that what you see inspires you to create art, not just for yourself but for the world. Because it desperately needs what you must give, and I hope that I can assist you along the way.
“There’s some good in this world, Mr. Frodo, and it’s worth fighting for.” – J.R.R. Tolkien