I was at the end of the road. Summer had just begun and I knew that my dreams of being a musician were over.
Not that anyone forced the end of my dreams. It’s just that I knew it wasn’t in my cards.
For one thing, I just couldn’t fathom touring. Don’t get me wrong, touring sporadically sounds like fun. Small doses being the key word. Most people fantasize band tours being these crazy five month adventures where you get to rock and roll all night, party everyday, and see some fantastic sights. It’s true that you get to play to crowds and travel around. But you’ll be practically playing the same sets for eight months to two years (that’s right, two year tours. Not that uncommon). And when you’re not traveling from place to place, you’ll be doing a lot of PR and whatnot. Basically, it has a lot of perks but it has a lot of tough work and definitely isn’t for those wanting a “normal” life.
But it wasn’t just the touring. I can handle that price. But it was also the fact that I could never find the right band members to play with. Either they’d be too far to play with or they’d have polar opposite tastes than myself. And I needed people if I was going to make it as a musician.
At the end of the day though, touring and band members would be an obstacle I could find the will to overcome. The main reason why I didn’t delve further into music, was that I couldn’t write it. I could play Paradise City and Eruption on the guitar and played electric keyboard in the jazz band, but I couldn’t write a song for the life of me. It was like trying to write Homer’s The Odyssey in hieroglyphs. I wasn’t amazing at guitar or piano, certainly nowhere close enough to having the potential to become a studio musician or desired band member. I was simply decent at playing during that time, meaning that I had to know how to write songs if I wanted to really start a career. So, that was that (the irony is that I now know how to write songs).
So here I was in my twentieth year with my teen era officially dead for good. I had to do something to move forward. And more importantly, I had to get a summer job. Which was when an opportunity of a lifetime happened. An opportunity I wish would come by more often these days.
I got the opportunity to be a PA (production assistant) for The Secret Life of the American Teenager. To be fair, it wasn’t a hard job search or a random occurrence by any means. It was through my family that I got to work on the show, back when they were shooting their first season. It might’ve not been luck, but I felt lucky to have the job.
There were a lot of memories working as a PA for the show but for the most part, they were pretty good memories. The hours were great, averaging around seven to eleven hours. That might sound like a lot but you have to understand something about working on television. They require a lot of hours. Secret Life of the American Teenager is nothing compared to most shows. Most shows can average around ten hours if you’re lucky and can stretch on for sixteen hours (and even longer than that) for a single day. The main reason for the easy hours was due to a fantastic crew who were able to set everything up quickly and professionally, as well as the fact that it’s a dramady and not some action packed show (a.k.a only a few sets and no elaborate sequences that require a good deal of preparation).
And that wasn’t the only perk of working on it. I got free breakfast and lunch served by a professional chef. More important than that though, was the fact that the atmosphere was friendly (another sometimes rare thing for a show) and the gofering and other tasks at hand weren’t difficult or time consuming. Which gave me some downtime.
Since a lot of my work was simply waiting around for things to get set up, I’d sometimes bring a paperback novel to read. And while I didn’t read a lot of novels during those dog days of summer back in 2008, I did remember being introduced (metaphorically) to a few authors. Stephen King for one, who’d have a major influence on my writing years later. I’m not sure which book I first read of his, although I’m pretty damn sure it was Night Shift during my time on the show.
But what I do remember reading that year, was William Gibson’s Neuromancer.
Gibson’s novel what I call a permainfluence. A work that has an everlasting impact on whatever I write. I was a somewhat jaded, burned out kid who felt down on his luck and given a second chance, reading about a has-been hacker who was down on his luck, washed out, betrayed, and given an opportunity of a lifetime. But it wasn’t just the fact that I could relate to Henry Dorsett Case. Despite being written in 1984 (making it over two decades old at the time), it still felt completely ground breaking. The abstract and often poetic style of prose dragged me into the grey, bleak megacity known as “The Sprawl”. As well as the cyber world known as the matrix. I admit, half the time I didn’t know what the hell was going on due to the terminology and the seamless blend between the real world and virtual world. But I got it. William Gibson taught me that a novel can be so much more than just a story written in words. And more importantly, he taught me that a novel can be pretty damn cool.
I think the final nail in the coffin, the moment I realized that writing might be a path worth taking, was when I got to get a taste of what it would be like as a writer’s assistant and took notes during one of the writers’ meeting. I thought to myself It’s creative, I’ve always enjoyed daydreaming stories, the pay isn’t too shabby if you’re successful, and I don’t have to tour around for over a year. This might be one hell of an interesting gig to take.
Near the end of that summer job, there was one last piece of the puzzle. I asked the writers what writing software they used. Unlike a good deal of the industry that uses Final Draft, they used Movie Magic Screenwriter. So I ponied up some $120+ bucks, bought it, and haven’t regretted the purchase ever since. It’s served me well all these years. Especially when I first got it and was doing a good deal of writing during the latter part of that summer.
But I wasn’t writing screenplays. Or prose for that matter. Instead, I was writing something entirely different.
To be continued…