I suppose there are easier ways to kick-start a writing career than building a yurt. Alright, there were more reasons that just my writing career for building a luxury Mongolian tent in 2010. Chief among them was getting out of show business.
At that point (2010) in my professional life, show business was everything. It was my job and it was my lifestyle. Everything rolled into one. And yet, despite making a good living as a film lighting technician, I wasn’t completely satisfied.
When I first broke into the industry my end goal wasn’t to become a film lighting technician. It wasn’t my intention to chew up all my time and energy being a cog in the wheel of someone else’s film. My intention was to make my own. But that wasn’t quite how it all unfolded.
Sylvie was a make-up artist on the Saint John movie. We started as a fling. It turned into a long-distance relationship. Later that year I asked her to move in with me.
For three years, starting in 1997, becoming a filmmaker was all I thought about. Learning the industry. Gaining confidence. Contacts. Then I would make my film. My move.
Sure, I’d made a few short films before. I started making them in high school. A couple in university. But I wanted to take the next step. Make my mark. Move beyond being a crew member.
Finally, in 2001 I completed “Shotgun Journalism”. It was a flop. After applying to several dozen festivals it got accepted into exactly ONE. It was back to making my living as a lighting technician.
That’s not to say I was banished to Siberia. Film can be a very good job that provides a good income….provided there’s work. For any number of unpredictable reasons you could be as busy as hell one minute and famished the next. And then there are the grueling days.
These two (BIG) factors contributed to looking beyond film to find fulfillment during those lean times. Though I continued to write, my confidence, not surprisingly, had taken a bit of a hit. Instead I tried being a handyman. An apprentice electrician. I even refocused my efforts into freelance writing. But no matter what I did when film work picked up again I always went crawling back. I had made a lifestyle choice that would require drastic measures to break free of completely.
Or, more accurately, accidental parenthood.
The year my short film appeared in ONE film festival was also the year I would fatefully meet my common-law heterosexual life partner Sylvie Mazerolle. During one of the slow times in Toronto, I ventured out Atlantic Canada to work on a couple of movies. The first was in Halifax. The movie: “Phase IV” starring Dean Cain and Brian Bosworth. The second was “Vendetta: No Conscience, No Mercy” starring Daniel Baldwin.
Now, truth be told, I wasn’t the ONLY reason she moved from Moncton, NB to Toronto, ONT. She was pursuing her dream of becoming a make-up artist. But, fortunately for all concerned (and to the surprise of the many who’d seen a film fling come and go) we’re still together.
Seeing as how we were both established in our careers, parenthood wasn’t exactly top of mind. Not until we started to notice the encroaching sands of time. We decided to take a six-week trip to Southeast Asia to answer the question of whether or not we wanted to become parents. (That trip became the subject of my second book “Finding Asia”)
We came back no more certain about that topic, but damn sure about our love of travelling!
Luckily for us, film was custom-made for people who liked to work their asses off so they could have time and money for just such a purpose.
And that’s when Drew Barrymore entered the picture.
Yes, that Drew Barrymore, and no I’m not a celebrity stalker.
In most of her films, what you see with her is what you get. She’s bubbly, funny, sweet, cute and sexy. For most of her movies she didn’t exactly stretch her acting chops to achieve box office glory.
But every now and then an actress gets a chance to step out of their comfort zone and push their limits. I just happened to be working on the film where that happened.
The name: Grey Gardens.
Normally bubbly and fun with the crew, Ms. Barrymore employed the method style of acting to accurately portray the character “Little” Edie Beale. She was in character 24/7. She wouldn’t answer unless addressed by the name of her character. Meh, whatever it takes. I didn’t think twice about her chosen method.
In addition to remaining in character during the entire shoot, there was also the matter of extensive make-up, wardrobe and hair requirements. Shooting days became marathon 15-hour days.
By the time we wrapped on principal photography a few weeks before Christmas 2007 everyone was exhausted. But still up for a few festivities.
Not often does A-List talent appear at the wrap party. Perhaps owing to the grueling demands of method, or hair or whatever, Ms. Barrymore did indeed make an appearance. I happened to run into her on the way to the bathroom. It was a long hallway, separate from the rest of the venue. She saw me and stopped right away.
We started chatting and she professed her guilt at not being more social while on set (which, apparently she is known for). I reassured her it was okay, but she would have none of it.
“I so wanted to talk to you,” she pleaded, “You seemed so nice. I’m really just a hippy valley girl.”
And then she gave me a big hug and a kiss before going on her way.
I floated back to the dance floor as I met up with my wife. Remember me, Jason from Palmerston. Farm boy who just had a chance meeting with a beautiful Hollywood star. Those butterflies must have lasted a bit longer than I anticipated.
That December we drove to New Brunswick to celebrate Christmas. Sylvie’s parents greeted us as we stepped in the front door.
Flo Mazerolle greeted her daughter with a tight, warm hug before she noticed immediately that something was amiss. Something wasn’t right. She didn’t hold back what her mommy instincts were telling her:
Being in show business is grueling. Doing something you didn’t set out to do even more so. Being a new parent, living on a main street in a major city without family help all contributed to our decision. It wasn’t arrived at arbitrarily. Not long after our son was born, Sylvie and I were putting in the time to figure out an exit strategy from film. There was a catch. How do you translate film experience into the real world?
I saw it as an opportunity. Y’see during those long slow times on set I’d salvaged my sanity with the help of a notepad. About two dozen of them over the years. In addition to all of the other things I tried to get out of the industry, I also managed to get a few articles published. I took a Copywriting course. I thought if I had just the right shove, a clean break away from film, I could find a full-time position as a writer.
THAT was my goal. What I got when I first moved to New Brunswick in 2010 was freelance work. I tried to make the best of it but it didn’t go well. I switched careers and jobs a few times. But the experience of making the move from Toronto to New Brunswick was perfectly suited, in my eyes, to a book. Unfortunately a book takes time. Time doesn’t wait. I needed to get some kind of income that was going to lead to something. I parlayed my film lighting experience into an electrical apprenticeship. Once again I was far away from my goal of becoming a writer. Only this time the monetary remuneration wasn’t nearly so good. And to add to my misery I was working for a man who, when provoked, could scream and yell like a banshee.
My only salvation: I went back to my notepad. I wrote like crazy. I also I pitched the hell out of “Life, the Yurt and Everything” and I also vowed to make that unwelcome tyrant the bad guy in my first novel. In the evenings I would pitch. In the mornings I would write.
I quickly wrote the rough draft of my first novel “The Prince of Acadia & the River of Fire” in the car before my dreary workday would begin. I was also feeling hopeful that “Life the Yurt and Everything” would get picked up by a publisher or an agent.
After several months (and the occasional earful of indignation) I finally got the break I was looking for. I had a New York agent interested in the idea. He asked me for a re-write on the sample chapters I sent him. I was FINALLY going to get out from under the foot of the John Gerryston (not his real name) aka the White Wizard!
And then the agent regretfully declined. I kept pitching for another ten months. I finally had enough. The idea needed to get out. I needed to get out from under it. Turn the page on that chapter. Find the resolution to the story. Put it to bed. I took it upon myself to publish.
Like a proud parent I gave birth to the book “Life, the Yurt and Everything”. A year later I finished the travel book “Finding Asia”.
Two books and NO marketing plan. Evidently I had it backwards. I thought distribution was the most important thing. I’ve since learned marketing is the key. The rest will take care of itself.
I’m now putting some of that hard earned wisdom to use with my first novel. Once again I have the book ready before I have everything else. Well, not everything. I have a domain. I have a Facebook page. I have the beginnings of an email list. I started public speaking.
In short, I’m putting in the building blocks for a career. It started with “Life, the Yurt and Everything” and continued in “Finding Asia” and now I’m going in a slightly new direction with “The Prince of Acadia & the River of Fire”.
It’s taken me six years, five careers, four jobs, and one yurt to get to this point. All things being equal, I might concede a weekend writing retreat might have been a cheaper alternative.
Thank you Jason for this great article.
Although his website is "Under Construction" you readers can tuck this email address away and catch up on what Jason is up to - www.jasonhamilton.com
His books are available at amazon.com
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