Nine Things I Wanted to Be When I Grew Up

Me at 10, with my velour shirt

A few days ago, I quit my job as a producer at an interactive agency in order to return to the sort of day jobs I prefer: art director and designer. (It's a nice way to pay the bills as I wait to get my next film funded.) This has made me look back at all the careers I wanted to have when I was a little boy. It may or may not surprise you that I never had any aspiration to be an astronaut, fireman, or baseball player. I did, however, want to be...

  1. An actor. I never pursued this seriously - I wasn't even a high school drama geek. But I did play the leading role in a tiny production of Dr. Doolittle when I was but 4 or 5 years old, and even then I made sure I learned all my lines, and was annoyed when one of my costars was a no-show because she opted to go to a birthday party instead. (The teacher filled in for her.) My exasperation with the flakiness of actors has remained a lifelong affliction. But if a filmmaker friend suddenly asked me to perform in his or her movie, even today I wouldn't say no. (I did star in a friend's 50-minute-long thesis film at CalArts in my early twenties. I wasn't bad.)
  2. A movie poster designer. I didn't even know that this was a job by the time I was 5 or 6, but I spent many a day drawing movie posters at home. I was dreaming up sequels and remakes, mostly (you'd think I would have wound up a studio executive!), a great many of them inspired by the Pink Panther movies that were so popular in the mid-'70s. Frankenstein and the Wolfman were also frequent stars in many of my fictional film posters, which included credit blocks and all.
  3. A cartoonist. I was 5 when my mother remarried, and I loved looking at two of my new stepfather's books: one was a collection of Norman Rockwell paintings. The other was a tome of Disney animation art. A couple years later, my stepfather - himself a wannabe cartoonist - bought How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way, and by then I was certain that I wanted to grow up to be a cartoonist. I never realized those goals - the closest I got, professionally speaking, was when I was 27: I got to draw a bunch of cartoony characters for a website for the IRS. Yes, the IRS. The site was called "TAXi" and it was aimed at teenagers. Alas, it's no longer online.
  4. A naturalist. Meaning, more or less, park ranger, only without the policing aspect. This was one of those things where your mom says, "Wouldn't you like to be a so-and-so?" and you shrug, "Sure, that sounds like fun," even though you have no serious interest. But I enjoyed hiking in the woods, and observing wildlife, and making little trails and bridges - still do, in fact - so for a few months when I was 9 or 10 it seemed like a fun job. But by the time I dropped out of Boy Scouts when I was 11 (those merit badges were too difficult to get!), "naturalist" fell off my radar. Blame the invention of the Apple II computer.
  5. A long-distance runner. Jogging was big in the late '70s, and I was an eager participant in my elementary school's recess-and-lunchtime running program. I even got trophies for racking up the most miles (something like 139 in one school year). The forgettable Michael Douglas film Running came out around that time, and I found that a big inspiration. But I lost interest quickly after briefly joining my junior high's long distance running team. Blame that on the Apple II as well.
  6. A video game designer. It was 1981, and what adolescent boy who squandered away his allowance on arcade games and Atari 2600 cartridges didn't want to do this? Sad thing is, today this could very well be a lucrative career for me. But after a brief foray designing a few failed CD-ROM titles between 1992 and 1995, I didn't stay in the field.
  7. A fine artist. In school, it's typical for a kid who knows how to draw a little to start dreaming about becoming a serious artist. My high school art teacher Mr. Rushton introduced me to Prismacolor pencils, which became my medium of choice. I did quite well and cranked out a lot of surrealist drawings, only to discover - by the time I graduated college and made a very half-hearted attempt at getting my work into a couple of galleries - that the art world considered colored pencils to be an "illustrator's medium". So I gave up out of frustration (and also because I soon got my first post-college job, where I spent all day using this new software called "Photoshop", which exhausted my desire to create pretty pictures by the time I got home from work).
  8. An animator. You can see where this is going, can't you? Anyway, when I was 16, my classmate - and future college (and post-college) roommate - Chris Mitchell talked me into attending a summer animation course at the local junior college. Chris himself got bored with the class after a few quarters, but I stuck with it. (Not to say that Chris gave up on animation: since then he's worked on seemingly every show out there, from Ren & Stimpy to The Powerpuff Girls to Samurai Jack.) When I finally got into CalArts - a mecca for every teenage animator - I was actually bored with animation, which was fine, because by then I wanted to be...
  9. A film director. I was 17 when I wrote and directed my first "movie", a spoof of the old Guten Tag! films we watched in my high school German class. My classmates were the stars, I edited in camera, and sadly we didn't have time to finish it. But I can at least pinpoint the birth of my so-called career as a filmmaker to that one project. And really, I have to say, I'm very lucky that I did eventually get to try my hand at most of the things I always wanted to do. I hope you can say the same one day yourself.