When you give a ten-year-old a video camera for his birthday, you might expect him to use it, abuse it and grow bored, sprinting head on into another fleeting passion. Truthfully, that’s what adults should want for the children in their lives; the ability to explore different interests and develop well informed goals. A mere decade on this planet is often not nearly enough time to love something so steadfastly that one might decide to do it forever. I, however, am an exception to statement. I was given the tools to be a filmmaker when I was ten years old, and 16 years later, I still haven’t put them down.
At a very young age, I developed a reputation for carrying my camcorder with me everywhere. Birthday parties, vacations and field trips were just a few of the many occasions that gave me an excuse to use it. However, I truly believe that the passion developed as I, surrounded by a crew of neighborhood kids in my front yard, would make short films any chance I could. In high school, an enjoyable weekend meant setting out to make a movie with my closest friends. We weren’t concerned with the talent of our actors or the lighting of our shots, all that mattered to us was being able to make a film together.
As graduation neared and major life decisions needed to be made, I understandably wavered a bit. It became clear that my circle of friends wouldn’t be jumping into this shark tank of a career field with me. I would be swimming alone, upstream. My parents had always encouraged me to chase my dreams, but they too were apprehensive. “Having a backup plan is just the smart thing to do,” my mom would say, encouraging me to pursue filmmaking alongside a more practical major. I want to preface this next part by admitting that it was not the smartest thing to do. In fact, it was a stupid decision, but one that I wholeheartedly made.
My biggest worry was that a backup career plan would leave me with a safety net I would undoubtedly fall back on. As strange as it may sound, I found peace in knowing that I had to make it work as a filmmaker. There was simply no other option. I wasn’t going to be like my friends who had traded their crazy dreams for more practical goals. Telling stories is all I had ever wanted to do, and I was going to do it.
So, I went to college to learn to be a filmmaker. I quickly developed a circle of new like-minded friends, and some older ones. Every day, I felt like I was back in my front yard, making movies with the people I cared about most, only this time we knew what we were doing. It was there that I realized my true passion was video editing. It not only seemed more fun and practical than directing, but way less stressful. I didn’t need to be in charge, I just needed to be a part of this process. I needed to make movies. Of course, there were ebbs and flows, long nights, difficult professors and even nightmares of waking up in bed to the hum of a bright neon sign that said, “You’ll Never Make It.” I’d be lying if I said there weren’t times when I believed I truly wouldn’t.
After college, I started to come down with a bad case of the “What have I done?” virus. It felt as if companies had my name on some sort of conspiracy auto-reject list. I couldn’t even land an interview. There was a point where I thought I would forever be stuck in the same low paying, under-appreciated retail job I had since I started college. My plan of filming weddings and editing my friends’ projects on the side was great for experience, but I still didn’t feel like any of it was helping me move forward in my career. It wasn’t until November 2017, when a friend from college recommended me to a woman who was looking for an editor for her documentary. That woman’s name was C.Kimberly Toms and the documentary was Escaping Fed. After our first conversation, an hour-long phone call, I was sold. Not only did this film have the potential to be the biggest project I had ever worked on, but even then I saw the lasting effect it would have on the lives of those who watched it.
Months went by as we trimmed away at the seemingly endless hours of footage. My days would often consist of working retail until seven at night and editing until four in the morning. A friendship between Kimberly and I very quickly sparked. I felt like the work I was doing on Escaping Fed was truly appreciated, leading me to resent my day job even more. As Kimberly and I spent more time working together, it became increasingly difficult to watch her horrifying story unfold on film. Though, no matter what, we kept pressing forward, a small team of individuals committed to telling this story and affecting real change.
The pipe dream of Kimberly and I being able to work together full time turned into a reality in January of this year. I was able to quit my retail job and work as Roulez Media‘s Creative Director. It finally all felt worth it, like I hadn’t wasted sixteen years devoting my life to telling stories through film. Of course, I’m nowhere near the finish line, but I found yet another circle of people to be creative with, and that in itself feels like a victory. When you give a ten-year-old a video camera for his birthday, you might expect him to use it, abuse it and grow bored. But be careful, because you also just might create a filmmaker.