Sunday, January 14, 2007

Part One: A life full of...

...shall we say, questionable choices, all of which seemed perfectly sensible at the time.

PARENTHETICAL HESITANT, DISCLAIMER-TYPE THOUGHT: I don't like being too detailed about my life in this journal. For some reason, I worry that some ghost from the past might recognize me -- not that I'm well-known, because I'm not -- and embarrassment would ensue. But a few people have made noises about wanting to know more about me, so here is the first of an occasional stab at it....

I have had three "careers" in my life. None were related, none were the result of anything I learned in school. In fact, had I paid more attention in the classrooms, I might have done something else entirely. Like getting a real job and enjoying the material fruits of a more stable lifestyle.

It began with my wanting to take time off from school, and finding a job in the motion-picture business. I fell into the field of animated films and special effects. In those days, animated films were not the products of computers; they consisted of animators' drawings (transferred to transparent "cels") photographed in sequence to create "motion." It was a time-consuming process at every level.

My specific job -- though at times I did many other related jobs -- was to photograph the cels, using what were, in essence, motion-picture cameras mounted on large, structures. By moving the camera and/or the artwork in various ways, the operator added some of the "motion" to the finished film. It was a job that could be done, in basic form, by almost anyone. Or it could be a very complex, creative process.

I was good at it. I learned the tricks of the trade -- in large part because the business was then full of "old-timers" who passed their knowledge to me -- and became one of a relatively small number of people who were considered "experts."

Bad luck for me: the job paid damn well, so well that I abandoned any thoughts of going back to school and concentrated on establishing myself in "the biz."

But after doing this for a dozen years or so -- and enduring the business's seasonal slowdowns, the heavy overtime when schedules got tight and a thousand other ulcer-inducing factors -- computers began to intrude into the process. The "old ways" were beginning to fade out, and what had once been a labor-intensive creative process began to be entrusted to machines, and those who could program them.

At first, I went along with it. In the transitional stage, the old cameras were adapted to computer control. Since this didn't work all that well in the beginning, I would usually turn the computer "off" after the clients went home, and do the work the old-fashioned way. I was as fast as the machine, and more accurate.

But that stage didn't last. Computers did more and more, and I could see there was no future in what I was doing. Worse, I didn't (and still don't) even like computer-generated animation. There was something about the "old-school" product I felt was missing from the new stuff. But what I felt certainly didn't matter to anyone else. So: in with the new, out with the old.

And out with me.

I then went to work for a friend who was a real-estate appraiser. Once again, I learned quickly. In a short time, I was doing this guy's research for him and writing the narrative portions of his reports. Toward the end, I was doing the whole thing -- including setting values -- and he'd just put his name on it. We started doing some property-management work as well.

I didn't find this very fulfilling, but it was paying the bills. I might have stuck with it, but my employer was getting into some questionable situations -- this was about the time of the great "savings and loan" scandals, when some banks were failing and a lot of commercial buildings, apartments and the like were available if one knew how to get in on the "deals" -- with some fast-talking speculators.

We had a chance to develop some nice long-term situations that would have brought in plenty of money. I suggested we take the conservative approach, but he (and his new "partners") wanted to go for the quick in-and-out deals and pull lots of cash out right away. Which blew up in their faces.

It was at about this time that I met a magazine editor at a party. We got to be friends, and I suggested a story for his magazine. I have to admit I was not thinking of writing it myself (I just wanted to read what an "expert" might tell me about the subject), but he, quite naturally, assumed that I was proposing to write it.

He told me to give it a try. So I did. Three weeks later, I handed him the copy. He read it, changed not a word -- another editor called me to discuss changes, but decided to ignore the "style book" and let a few sentences that violated the rules stay as-is because she liked them -- and when it hit print, there were my words and my byline staring me in the face.

It was intoxicating.

Worse, just a few weeks after I turned it in, a nice check arrived in the mail. We hadn't discussed money (see how seriously I was taking this as a possible career?) and I was stunned at how much they paid.

I was hooked.

The rest, as they say, is history. Or, in this case, the subject for a later entry.


Anonymous said...

Did you ever run into Ward Kimbal amd "the boys" in your first gig?

Google permitted.

MrScribbler said...

"anonymous" -- I actually knew Ward long before I was old enough to work any job...he lived about a half-mile from my parents' house.

KauaiFinn said...

Wow! Thanks so much for sharing this bit of your history!

So, in a sense, you wound up in this career by "accident"?

Can it be done the same way today? Could a writer approach a magazine editor with a column (or a write up on this or that), having no prior experience, or a college degree in journalism or similar - and get noticed as you did?

I would guess much of it today would hold on "who you know" + having been published before + a college degree...(?)

I'm still curious...
Still want to know about the different avenues, and how you get there, and what one needs to get there (and what are the realistic chances of getting there).

Is it all about being at the right place at the right time?

MrScribbler said...

KF -- All -- or part, or a little -- will be revealed. Eventually.

You can always approach an editor with your ideas -- maybe not directly, as I did -- and he or she might react positively. But the chances are, in my view, slim. Remember that I did not ask for a job as such...they would have been free to reject my work if it had not been satisfactory. The risk was, at it remains today, all mine.

At the moment I did this, the risk to me was minimal. I was still working the other job, and had a wife who was bringing in money.

There was no "grand plan." It simply happened. It's still possible, but the odds against it working out are long.

DAL said...

I barely have high school English, so a career in writing was never for me, and in fact it would never have occurred to me. I've had lots of menial jobs, never a cool one.

Eagerly waiting another part to this, Scribbs.

Anonymous said...

That is so interesting!! Thanks for sharing a piece of yourself with us.


lowandslow said...

Fascinating, Scribbs. I find it sad when entire industries fade away due to new "technology". I understand "new" is usually faster and cheaper, but hands-on work done by true craftsmen can never be truly emulated by computers.

I'm impressed by how you keep re-inventing yourself. Although you may not agree (modesty?) I see that as the sign of an ultimate "winner" in life.

Tell us more, please. :)

Sunny said...

This is most interesting, MrScribbler. Thankyou for letting us in for a peek into your life. :) {{hugs}}

Anonymous said...

Oh, I just bought a book about digital slrs photography,(mrS, i am afraid that I am out of my depth with my camera...) and saw a chapter about adding motion to a photo.
Darn! It used to be so easy to take a
picture...I'm worried i have gotten to my personal "Peter Principle"

Anonymous said...

Also those cels are cool. i have seen several Disney cells at the local autograph shop...However I kind of concentrated on Robert DeNiro pics...:)