Monday, September 03, 2012

Hopes for an Overnight Success in Four Years

Four years ago this week, I walked out of my comfortable office on Sunset Boulevard for the last time. A month before, I'd given my boss 30 days' notice, making the conscious decision to leave a well-paying job that would've led to a very successful, lucrative career in film marketing. I'd already bought a round-the-world airline ticket and a video camera.

As I left the sleek, brown glass and steel headquarters of the Directors Guild of America, with its windows that didn't open, and circulated air that made me and nearly everyone else in my office sneeze, I felt the enormous weight of uncertainty bearing down on me. But I also felt relief. I didn't have to help sell films I didn't care anything about simply for the sake of a paycheck and health benefits.

The distribution company that I worked for is a good company; it continues to do very well. Everybody there - including the bosses - are still friends. But I was bored. I worked in the TV and film business for most of my career, but had never known what it was to commute to a desk with a computer on it every day and do the same tasks day-in and day-out until my late 20s. There were some perks, for sure, but none worth the nerve-dulling, monotonous boredom.

I had no idea what I was going to do with the camera. I had a loose daydream that I would use it to film a hosting reel during my travels. I wanted to work in the kind of television I liked to watch and that inspired me: documentary series, a la Discovery Channel-style programming. I'd make a reel, maybe a short web series, and try to find an agent and weasel my way into hosting a real travel show someday. Or become the female Mike Rowe. Blend some of my favorite things, namely, educational TV that's also entertaining, and experiencing new parts of the globe and different cultures.

My then-boyfriend, a brilliant television editor, volunteered to edit the footage I brought back, which was exceedingly kind of him since I left him behind for two months and traveled around the world on my own. (Dodging come-ons from men in every country I visited.)

The footage that he saved (since I had no idea how to film anything), turned into The Peregrine Dame, a small web series that got mediocre views, and didn't even bring me an agent. My boyfriend and I, and then just I, worked on it for another three years off-and-on around other jobs in TV, then around going to school to study journalism.

In 2011, I edited the third season of the series, and washed my hands of it. I put some money into advertising and then let it go, just looking to monetize the existing work. It would live on, and I was proud of it, but few people were watching and I had only made a few dollars back. I decided to learn to write so I could travel and sell articles rather than videos. It's just a hell of a lot less work that way. And I don't have to put makeup on every morning I'm out there.

Just as I made the decision to leave it alone indefinitely, I got an email from a woman in acquisitions at a tiny start-up travel and adventure network called The Venture Channel.

A year-and-a-half after resolving to stop working on TPD, The Venture Channel is about to launch in four countries, with another half-dozen in the works. China is coming online any day now, and India will go up October 1st, if all goes according to plan. The Peregrine Dame looks to be one of Venture's anchor shows, and the CEO of the network and I have grand plans.

In two days, I leave home one more time to Latin America for seven weeks in order to film and deliver five more episodes of TPD, rounding out 10 half-hour shows for the first of what I hope is many seasons of TPD on The Venture Channel.

When I stop fretting for a moment about the details, logistics, story ideas, permission to film in other countries, visas, booking travel, having the right wardrobe, equipment, cameras, power adapters, enough tape stock, budgets, and whatever else bashes around in my brain nonstop in the lead-up to shooting, I look back on the past four years and get emotional.

I started out just wanting to host a travel show and be like those guys on Discovery. Instead, I ended up producing and editing one too. I've had wonderful experiences during my travels, met people I will forever call friends, and have been very fortunate to see a huge chunk of this beautiful, inspiring, frustrating, calming, maddening, exciting world. I've also had moments of deep self-doubt, insecurity, and pain going through the steeper-than-Everest learning curve trying to absorb all the new knowledge that the scope of work I've taken on has forced upon me. My relentless, unapologetic work ethic strained my relationship with that brilliant TV editor, who saw me in sobbing hysterics more than once when it looked like the project would never go anywhere. I've seen who my real friends are after I disappeared for months on end to edit around school and other work, and they'd still be there for me when I came out the other side. Some days I don't know whether to feel extraordinarily grateful or scared shitless. Most of the time I feel both, simultaneously.

It's difficult to tell exactly what will happen until the network gets its legs in each new market, but I can say that for the rest of this year, at least, I get to do what I daydreamed about when I left my real job behind years ago. I still don't have an agent. No one but me has ever pitched this show, and no production company in Los Angeles would look twice at it. I owe a life-long debt of gratitude to my now ex-boyfriend - who has become a genuine friend - for the work he did and for believing in me, my ability, and potential.

The angle of the show has changed from its beginnings as a short format series. Originally, I traveled without a crew because I couldn't afford one. Every time I told someone about the project and mentioned traveling alone internationally, 70 percent of men and 99 percent of women would immediately ask if it was scary or dangerous. First question. I found my angle from those conversations.

The message of the TV series now is to encourage people - especially women - to break out of their fearful mindsets and have experiences that they've always wanted to have, regardless of whether someone can go with them. I've been welcomed into homes and to tables in restaurants full of strangers because they found out I was on my own. People reach out to me in amazing ways, and look out for me at the same time. The statement "I don't have anyone to go with" is not an excuse to not do something you've always wanted to do. The world isn't going to wait for you.

Like I say in the new main title sequence of the show, it's about learning that going solo isn't so scary and that being alone doesn't mean you're lonely. See you on the other side of Latin America.
 


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