“X Marks the Spot”: My First Job In Film – Part 2
In the first part of “X Marks the Spot: My First Job In Film”, I took you on a journey from my hometown of Knoxville all the way to my tall tale of fighting through shark infested waters of Miami. I left off at the point where Spike Lee’s assistant had explained that since I had missed the initial interview for one of the paying production jobs on the film “Malcolm X” that the only position left was a non-paying internship. I was at a fork in the road, but after much prayer and 12 thumbs up from my 6 brothers and sisters, I quit my job and walked into my destiny.
When I first arrived in New York, I felt like the city was operating on a much faster speed and that everyone (but me) was sprinting toward an invisible finish line. I learned to keep up and before I knew it, my first day as a “non-paid” intern had finally arrived. Working at 40 Acres alongside Spike Lee was surreal and he was as charming, funny, intelligent, aloof and moody as I thought he would be. I fell into my daily routine of answering phones, opening mail, faxing and filing, making copies, taking out the trash and—like every production intern—running a lot of errands. I loved going to the “Malcolm X” set; and seeing Denzel Washington in character made me feel like I had been transported back to the 60s. And there was always this cool juxtaposition of period piece costumes intermingled with crew wearing varied “X” gear.
My hard work paid off and in less than three months, I was finally offered my first job in film. This paid position was to be a production assistant and quasi 2nd assistant to Mr. Lee. Receiving a salary allowed me to move into an apartment closer to the office, which also brought along greater responsibility. I was usually the first one in the office and the last to leave, so I was assigned the task of opening and closing up shop. I quickly learned that a normal production day was anything but normal and usually lasted no less than 10 hours and sometimes closer to 15 hours a day. In addition to my duties around the office, I was sometimes assigned to work on other projects that Mr. Lee was directing at the time. One particular project that stands out was a music video that was being filmed on a street in Brooklyn near the 40 Acres office. New York City blocks can be extremely long and this particular Brooklyn Street lived up to that image. My job was to sweep the entire street—that felt miles and not just blocks long—and clean up all of the front walkways surrounding the brownstones that would be featured in the music video. I was very young and I thought my youth would shield me from achy muscles and sore feet, but I was wrong and after that all-day, exhausting experience, I traded in my trendy sneakers for the kind of support shoes that nurses usually wear
Regardless of the job I was assigned, I maintained a positive attitude and before I knew it, Mr. Lee offered me the chance to organize his 40 Acres & A Mule film seminar series; the same entertainment seminars that I had attended when I lived in Pittsburgh. It was a full circle moment and dream come true and I eagerly accepted the job. It was a lot of hard work (and team effort), but it was worth it because a few of our esteemed speakers were Robert DeNiro, Martin Scorsese, Debbie Allen, Mira Nair, Julie Dash, Andre Harrell, the Hughes Brothers, and so many more amazing celebrity guests. We also had a lot of great interns working with us and they were a huge part of the seminar’s success as well. But, there was one intern who had a horrible attitude and she never wanted to help do anything: pass out flyers, check in attendees, or anything else that she was asked to do. One day, she sternly refused to get coffee for one of our celebrity guests and as a result, she was fired on the spot. Witnessing that incident taught me a great lesson and that is: you’re never too big to do a small job. At the end of the 16 week run, it was determined that we had produced one of Spike Lee’s most successful seminar series. Shortly after that, the film “Malcolm X” was released and at the premiere, my family and I waited with anticipation (and close to 20 minutes after the film ended) to see my name flash across the screen in the end credits. I can’t even describe the pride I felt in knowing that I had contributed, in some small way, to such a historical and beloved film. Working on “Malcolm X”, producing the film seminars at Long Island University, and even sweeping that horribly long street in Brooklyn are memories that I hold close and are very dear to my heart to this very day.
My first job in film was truly magical and it jump-started the creative journey that I’ve been on ever since. After 40 Acres, I moved to Los Angeles and secured my first job working in television as a writer on a talk show for BET called “Live From LA”. The series was short-lived but I’ve been working consistently in television as a writer and producer from that moment until now. And in another full circle moment, in October of this year, my producing partner Nick Ramos and I will kick-off a series of MME entertainment workshops and seminars that we will be hosting at various high schools and colleges around the Los Angeles area. Some of the top names in the industry today will be our featured guests and if you’re interested in attending, let us know in a comment below. And who knows, your attendance might just give you the same motivation and inspiration that the 40 Acres film seminar series gave me all those years ago.
What was your first job experience (and it doesn’t have to be in the entertainment industry)? Share your story in the comment section below!