Storyboard: Zach Leazer

How a life in the Air Force prepared me for a life making movies

The first time I ever directed anything, I was still serving in the United States Air Force. I know that’s a weird concept, but just hear me out for a second.

I was an airplane mechanic doing my first tour of duty in Arkansas. My buddies and I were still in basic training, which meant one thing: time. Lots of it. When you get used to a military schedule, you become accustomed to making the most of every waking moment. In this case, that involved getting some friends together for something that was about as far away from our demanding and rigorous training as you could imagine: shooting a music video.

I always knew I wanted to be involved in movies. What I never expected to find was a community of fellow veterans who were bonafide film nerds. These guys could discuss American genre films and the finer points of cinematic technique with as much eloquence and conviction as any film student I ever met.

Eventually I came into contact with Sam Gonzalez Jr., another veteran. I met Sam on a set where I was acting as a PA. After we discovered that we had both served, we got to talking. Sam kept mentioning this school, tucked away in the hills of Pasadena where many of the crew members were taking film classes. That school turned out to be ArtCenter College of Design.

For me, ArtCenter illuminated the intersection that exists between the separate worlds of military discipline and filmmaking discipline. It extends from everything to the rank structure—showing respect to your superiors, reporting problems in a clear fashion—to the physically demanding nature of the work itself. Suffice to say, once you’re used to a military schedule, twelve-hour set days don’t seem so crazy.

Our scholastic environment was sink or swim, and none of us would have had it any other way. When you accept the invitation to ArtCenter, you accept the invitation to rise to the occasion and redefine and raise the bar by which we measure success.

Sam and I still talk to this day—in fact, we’ve since collaborated on a feature that’s making its way on the festival circuit. I never thought we’d go down that particular road together, but life has a way of surprising you.

Perhaps more than anything, my time in both the Air Force and at ArtCenter has taught me the value of acting in service of a much larger piece. You could be a directing major, but if your friend asks you to do ADR voice work for his short film, you’re going to help him in any way possible. That same spirit—the spirit of generous creativity—is something I am continuing to foster here at ArtCenter, and something I hope to carry with me for the rest of my life.

When you accept the invitation to ArtCenter, you accept the invitation to rise to the occasion and redefine the bar by which we measure success.

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