Hi Stage 32. My name is Colin MacDougall and I'm a recovering Millennial. However, as you can tell by my "Less Than Jake" reference, I belong to the class of young adults who values the "good ole days" and real talent over flash in the pan focus grouping. I'm not cool enough to be a hipster, but just awkwardly self-aware enough to be cool... possibly just in my eyes but that's good enough for me.
I am the product of divorce, as the majority of my peers are, and my father served in the US Navy for my formative years. So I attended 16 different schools before graduating high school.
Change isn't something that necessarily scares me, in fact, it's basically ingrained into my genetic code. This gypsy-fashioned lifestyle seeped into my choices once I fell into the real world in 2004, after graduating high school. My generation has been constantly told we can be anything we want to be since we were in the first grade. I realized early on in my work force career that our figureheads forgot to mention one thing- getting your dreams is VERY VERY hard work if you come from Middle America! The "give 110%" axiom only works if your 110% is not someone else's 50%.
I, like I suggest everyone does at least once in their life, got into the food service industry fresh out of school. I'm pretty sure if everyone had to experience this line of work for even a month, the people of the world would be much nicer to each other- my simple recipe for world peace. I worked hard and eventually became a manager. Then I stumbled upon the opportunity to be a flight attendant, traveling the country and slingin' pretzels with the best of them.
At 30,000 feet the world does seem like a limitless canvas of opportunity. The air became a retreat from the hustle and bustle I'd grown accustom to on the ground. It is beautiful. However, a bit like Icarus, I started to realize that my career path was a horizontal one despite the ever-changing altitude. 3 1/2 years and a busted ear drum later, I decided to go back to college to truly pursue my dreams of making films. I have wanted to bring stories to life on camera since I was ten years old. I even begged, unsuccessfully, every year for a camcorder (yes I remember life pre-iPhone) for Christmas.
Unlike the doomed Icarus, however, I have the ability to learn from my mistakes and the mistakes of others. In today's economic climate, it is nearly impossible to progress in your career without a degree. Despite my utter disdain for the higher education system in America, I pushed through and graduated with a BA in Communication from Auburn University.
Then came yet another jump into the real world. Well more of a crash... it's 2013 at this point not 2004. I'm also now 28 and have been burnt by bad decisions in my youth, so caution was my speed. I threw my résumé up into the virtual wind and hoped upon hope that anyone would respond. They didn't. I had already started and stopped an Indie startup company with a few friends in my hometown, and gotten as much experience as I could. But networking with industry professionals wasn't something I had had the opportunity to experience.
I then happened upon a contact in Los Angeles and decided to go back to my old hub of Atlanta due to the tremendous amount of filming the tax incentives have brought to the South. I was lucky enough to land a post-grad Production Internship at the HQ of an incredible production company in the ATL! Through hard work and dedication to always being available, I quickly moved up to the role of Office Coordinator. I learned that researching solutions and being open to learning new things is key to moving your way up in business, particularly this business. After much deliberation, I decided that I wanted to be on set more than I wanted to be in an office environment. My direct supervisor and mentor, in his endless wisdom, told me to follow my heart... and so I did.
It's funny how cyclical the world is. I spent most of my young adult life running away from the small town in Alabama that my family decided to retire in. Fate decided, nonetheless, to test those steps and offered me the opportunity to work on a feature called White Water
(coming in 2015), which depicts the social tensions of the Civil Rights movement through the eyes of a child. I was more than a little scared to jump off the ladder I was currently on just to go to the bottom of another. But in the end, it was the best decision to make! Remember to never let fear make a decision for you.
Another of my many life mentors told me in the past that sometimes you just have to "fake it until you make it." And that's what I did. I went onto set with very little technical knowledge of how features work, but I knew that I was driven enough to learn.
Your first steps in the film industry are all about wanting - wanting to learn, wanting to better yourself, and wanting to get paid. The last is pretty crucial, but don't shrug off non-paid gigs when you're starting out. Talented people tend to stick together and help each other get jobs, so it's important to always make a good impression - whether you're talking to an actor, director, producer, script supervisor, make-up artist, grip - whoever!
Also, don't be scared to ask questions (when the camera isn't rolling or I'll be forced to shush you.) And...always offer a helping hand. People sincerely like others who are interested in figuring things out, especially if they're a pro at what you are interested in. Use your cell, sparingly, as to not seem unattached to your tasks, to jot down notes on what you learned that day and avenues that people give you to learn more.
The most important tool you have in your arsenal right now is- dum dum dum- common sense. You're allowed to make mistakes, just make sure you learn from them.
After the film wrapped, I went back to Atlanta with a suitcase full of laundry and a feeling of accomplishment. Then the inevitable happened… I didn't have another job yet. Coming from a full time job to freelancing is a scary situation. You never know where your next job will be, and you are completely reliant upon your networking from your previous jobs. But don't let it get you down. It took me two weeks to get my first gig in Atlanta (thanks to an awesome Script Supervisor who shall remain nameless, thanks a million Scripty!)
After just finishing my first gig, I got booked on two other jobs and am fully booked for possibly 6 weeks. So, work is out there. It may take you 500+ miles and two weeks to get to them, but believe me it's worth it.
Here's to the next 500 miles and their potholes, pit stops, and promotions!
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As always, Colin is available for remarks and questions in the Comments section below!