Why I Do What I Do (Pt. 1)

OK, I’ll admit the following may seem a bit self-indulgent, but taking a cue from one of the big-shots here at Adobe who recently began a large team meeting by giving us a presentation on his personal history (and how it relates to why he’s chosen his particular career), I thought I’d pause for a minute and consider the same thing myself. How did I get into this field anyway? Why do I do what I do? It’s a good thing for everyone to stop and take stock of these things now and then, and I think it’s a good lead-in to explaining to you why I have the passion for the work I do today.

So if you’re looking for the “tutorial of the day” you should probably skip this post, otherwise, please do read on.

My fascination with television began when I was 7 years old. My father had decided to become a serial Game Show contestant (and by that I don’t mean he was a contestant on a “Serial Game Show”, but that he was a contestant on a few different game shows) –anyhow– on Lincoln’s Birthday in 1974 I got to attend a live taping at ABC’s studio on West 54th Street in Manhattan, to watch my dad compete on the then-popular program The Big Showdown.

Having already spent the lion’s share of my first 7 years front of the TV set, it was a huge thrill to spend an afternoon in an actual TV studio. I got such a huge charge out of the whole experience that I decided right then and there that I would work in the television business when I grew up. The fact that my dad won $7,000 that day probably didn’t hurt either.

My repeated pleas to mom about turning our living room into a game show set didn’t pan out so well.

Fast forward to 1984 and high-school-age Bob was watching cable TV at a friend’s house in Manhattan (we didn’t have it in the Bronx yet). He put on a show on channel “D” . . . well, you could hardly call it a “show” as it consisted of 2 knuckleheads around the same age as us horsing around in a TV studio. My friend though it was hilarious, and I thought it to be the stupidest thing I’d ever seen on a television screen — but I was able to see past the crappiness of this particular show and realize that one could rent such a studio and put on a show and actually have an audience.

I had read about Public Access before but had never actually seen it. With a phone call to Manhattan Cable’s Public Access coordinator, and a fake Manhattan address in hand, I secured a half-hour slot on Thursdays at 5:30pm on Channel “C”, and found the cheapest studio deal in town at a place called Metro Access — a fully equipped Black & White TV Studio, with a live feed into the Manhattan Cable master control, for 30 bucks an hour (incidentally, this was the same studio that the infamous Robin Byrd Show originated from).

I wasn’t aiming to just spend the weekly half-hour just horsing around as that seemed pretty lame. I wanted to “Produce” something – get talented people involved and make a real program. Since I was then a student at the famous School of Performing Arts (the school that the movie & TV series “Fame” were based on) I had loads of friends who could help me create something really entertaining. And so the “Darren Behr Show” was born. I don’t want to get in to who Darren Behr is, or why the show was named after him since he was never actually on it, but we did some pretty interesting stuff in our weekly half-hour, “cablecast” live on Channel C. I produced and directed the show (and funded it with the proceeds from my after-school messenger job) with several of my talented classmates working as the cast & crew (including Chastity Bono, daughter of Sonny & Cher).

What made the whole experience so amazing in was that there was this platform (Public Access) which in a place as large as Manhattan pretty much guaranteed you an audience. Remember, there still weren’t that many channels to choose from back in 1984.

Along came the time to start thinking about college, and my first thought was to study TV Production. But I was a Music major at Performing Arts (I’m a bass player), and was also thinking about that as a course of study. The decision was actually made for me when I discovered that you needed excellent grades to get into the really good TV Production programs. So off to Music Conservatory I went.

I didn’t really do anything at all with TV or video for awhile, as the short supply of bass players kept me pretty busy for the next 13 years (I had a pretty successful career as a professional musician). But in 1996 I decided to leave the music business behind (for reasons I don’t want to get into right now) and had to figure out what to do next.

I did have to make a living, and I did have some graphic design chops from my days of laying-out my college newspaper on the then state-of-the-art Macintosh Plus with it’s whopping 1 Megabyte of RAM and 20 Megabyte external hard-drive the size of a shoebox. And so I was able to B.S. my way into a temp job designing Power Point slides at the big Wall Street firm Smith Barney. Not a “career move”, for sure, but a relatively painless way to pay the bills.

I’d been there a few months when one day the head of the video department walked in and asked if anyone knew a program called After Effects as he needed to have some animations created for a video he was producing. As was my habit in those days, I said “yes” right away (despite not having a shred of an idea what After Effects was, nor any experience in animation) and immediately hi-tailed it to a large Manhattan bookstore to buy a copy of After Effects Classroom In A Book for AE 3.0.

Being a musician and having an astute sense of pacing, tempo, and time, I picked up the concepts of motion graphics and animation pretty quickly (I would learn later on that this is a common thread with many AE wizards). Being already adept at Photoshop made the interface and concepts in AE pretty familiar (as my friend Dean Velez likes to say “if you’re a Photoshop user you already know 50% of After Effects). I also understood video workflow from my days of producing a live TV show every week back in high school. It seemed that I’d hit on something that could be an actual career for me.

Soon after that, I landed a full-time job in Smith Barney’s in-house video department. I taught myself how to edit video using the (then rare and expensive) Avid systems, and helped launch the company’s in-house TV network “NextGen TV”, which was the first of its kind on Wall Street.

But creating corporate videos for a Wall Street firm can be . . . well . . . kinda dry, so I started branching out.

Tomorrow . . . on to making some “legit” TV and globetrotting in in hi-tech startup land.