How The Millennials Do It

How The Millennials Do It

Backstory Pt. 2

By Steven Pressfield | Published: July 10, 2014

Continuing my safari among the creative young people of the millennial generation:

In today’s conversation with Jeff Simon, I ask Jeff what brought him from Chicago to L.A., how he got started in the movie business, what networking is like today among twentysomethings in Tinseltown, and what he learned working for eighteen months with Tom Cruise and Doug Liman on the sci-fi film, Edge of Tomorrow.

Jeff talks about his own career arc and how and why he began to “think bigger” about his aspirations for himself, artistically as well as commercially.

(The transcript of today’s video is below. This post is #2 in a series of eight, which will run in this space on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Click here for post #1.)

Steven Pressfield: When you got here to LA, what happened in the first year or so? How did you kinda get your feet wet and what did you do?

Jeffrey Simon: So I got here during the writers’ strike which meant that everybody was out of a job. I actually had more meetings with bigger people than I could ever imagine because they weren’t working. I met with big time production designers which is what I came out here to do, since that was my degree, and I thought I’ll production design for awhile and try to assist one, so I met all these people. They were like, “Your work looks alright. I might hire you, but I don’t have a job!” The first eight months of being out here I had no money and so my buddy, David, who was my roommate at the time and I decided to start doing web design. He’s a programmer and I’m a designer so we decided we should team up and started a little web design company.

S: Well that’s interesting to me because it’s kinda under the question: well, how does an artist survive, right? It’s not just eating Ramen noodles every day, right? Some of the people we’re talking to here are living in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, or wherever and they’re thinking to themselves, “Should I move to New York? Should I go to LA?” What’s your thinking on that sort of thing?

J: I think there’s a lot of people that struggle with that, but I think there’s no way not go to LA in my mind. You gotta go where the action is. If you don’t then you’re just kidding around.

S: It’s better to go kinda where people are because you make friends, I mean you guys at home can’t see behind the cameras, but there’s like six people in here and they are all Jeff’s mates that are working on Camp Abercorn and are your friends and I’m sure you guys network and have all kinds of connections between you.

S: Yeah, so tell me a little bit about how that works for you guys now.

J: Well, a lot of us are aspiring filmmakers so somebody will write something and they’ll say, “Hey, you’re my buddy. Will you come help me film this for little to no money for awhile and in return I’ll help you on your next one.” The big film schools are all here so USC and AFI and UCLA so you sorta meet people starting at the grad school or student level and then those people work up to doing short films and other things. Somebody will need a P.A. on a bigger project and they’ll hire you. That’s how I met Oliver.

S: A production assistant. (P.A.)

J: A production assistant. I think if you’re just sitting in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, then you don’t know if you actually like making films or not even if they’re your favorite thing ever. I think the process of making a film is very different than wanting to make films, I guess.

S: Yeah, it really was the same back in my day, too. The other thing, of course, is like if someone is thinking of hiring somebody for a project and they’re living someplace else then they’d have to fly in.

J: So much happens last minute. It’s like, “Oh! We got this idea to do this other thing we need some more people. I’m going to call my friends who I know live here who are available now.”

S: You get phone calls I’m sure where people say, “We’re shooting this weekend can you come out to Simi Valley six hours from now?” Right?

J: Yeah. One of our cast members, Declan, we actually had to cast super last minute because the guy we had playing Colin was like, “Listen, I got this gig doing this NBC show. I found out just now I can’t be in your project anymore.” And so we cast him like three days before we were supposed to start filming.

S: So, let’s cut ahead now. Ok, you’ve arrived in L.A., you have various day jobs, you’ve met people, you’ve made friends. Now between that and when Camp Abercorn first started, what was going on?

J: I had been progressing in the Art Department world. I had been assisting this guy, Jimmy Cuomo – he’s the Pee Wee’s Playhouse production designer, and he’s really great. I worked for him for three or four years, and then moved on to working for Oliver.

S: Oliver…

J: Oliver Scholl, the production designer for Edge of Tomorrow. He did Independence Day. He’s a big time science fiction guru. And for me I’m like, “Here’s this amazing production designer, I’m getting to work with him every day learning about what I could be doing in fifteen years if I keep at this.”

S: It was similar for me in the sense of there’s work that you do by yourself when you’re just in a room with your own people, but then there’s when you’re working for other people who are mentors to you. You really get a view into how the big guys do it.  I know that was very helpful for me when I would see that. Was it for you, that whole Edge of Tomorrow experience?

J: What was different about Edge of Tomorrow for me than other project was that I started out in development. So Tom Cruise wasn’t on board yet. it was just Doug Liman, the director, Oliver, some illustrators, and me, basically.

S: So you got to see how it happened from the ground up, uh?

J: So for six months it was us putting together pitches for Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt and Warner Brothers. I got to work with Doug a lot and saw what he was doing and thought, “That’s more interesting!”

S: At this point now, Jeff, are you starting to really think, “Well I really want to be directing?”

J: I knew that I wanted to write a project and direct a project of my own and when I was in London every night, after working sixteen hour days, I would come home and write a little something. Gray Oak Productions, my production company, I founded in 2006 when I was in college. So like eight years ago, so I knew that I wanted to produce my own films eventually. I didn’t know if it would happen or how it was going to happen, but that’s sorta always been part of the plan. I’ve been equally interested in business as I am in the creative side of it. Film is sort of the ultimate art form in that sense in that you need to have good business because it takes a lot of money to make a film, but it’s also music and visuals and storytelling and all of the creative side that I’m interest in, too.

NEXT TIME…

J: There’s so many screenplays in Los Angeles that never get made. Honestly, I figured if I wrote something it would never happen, and plus we can distribute it online for basically free.

S: So this is a whole different world from my era.

Posted in How The Millennials Do It

7 Responses to “Backstory Pt. 2”

  1. July 10, 2014 at 6:47 am

    It’s Rice Lake. Eau Claire is an hour south of me.

    (I just thought that was a funny place to reference. If Eau Claire is the middle of nowhere, I’m even more nowhere than that. And I love it.)

    Loving the videos.

  2. Mary Doyle
    July 10, 2014 at 6:55 am

    Jeff, you’re an impressive young man who has a lot of the “big stuff” figured out already (making your own breaks, taking chances, being receptive to opportunities) – really enjoying these videos!

  3. Sharon
    July 10, 2014 at 9:17 am

    Good stuff. I enjoy Jeff’s enthusiasm and work ethic. I’ve been a website creator and manager, and all that can entail including interviewing and adding content. I’m not a designer but have good taste so I was able to do good layout. Have always appreciated the design on this site and again, nice to see Jeff and hear his story.

    Question: where should a writer of fiction and non live? Yeah I know, anywhere they can write which is anywhere, and we do. I’ve lived and worked an small and large cities and cultures. In small towns, islands, and more rural distractions are few. Yet in international cities like Barcelona or Seattle, diversity and art are stimulating!

    As I age it grows more difficult for me to engage “real” writers and I think y’all know what I mean. I get some fix from playing violin in orchestras, being an art docent, and doing social activism; yet, at times I even consider moving to Maine to get S. King vibes, and even LA which is a crazy materialistic place – thoughts? Where would you live as Writer if any place possible?

    Thanks for the series. Love, Sharon
    p.s. I recently gave my spare copy of The Authentic Swing to a receptionist who, as she took my money, mentioned she’s a writer but can’t get it going.

    • July 10, 2014 at 4:13 pm

      Sharon, I think a fiction writer can live anywhere — and most of them do. In small towns, often university towns because they teach there (that’s their day job.) It’s different obviously for screenwriters or dramatists, but a fiction (book) writer can really live anywhere. Most seem to go for quiet with lots of nature around.

      Not me. I like the city.

      • July 11, 2014 at 7:53 am

        Yup, frozen white north for me. With plenty of travel if I can.

      • Sharon
        July 11, 2014 at 3:38 pm

        Thanks for the answers. I find myself craving city for my upcoming move. Right now in small college scenic rural dog-walking Southwest for summer work and actually missing City!

        in recent years I drove throughout US with longer times in New England, (fiefdoms) Outer Banks (2 hurricanes), Miami (crazy place!) Texas (deer killers) Arizona & Nevada; Israel and Bahamas. I wrote my way through all those terrains and can’t say one is more productive than the other, for we writers know how to live in “Beruit” and can swing authentically independent of location…yet for me, after all this time in nature and quiet so quickly contrasted with diverse populations – diversity wins. Gotta have it despite the craziness.

        The answer to my own question right now is to go where what I’m writing about is happening, so that’s what I’m going to do. Not to research but maybe to help human trafficking issues, one of my passions, as I write through. Always great to hear other Writer’s process. Thanks and love.

        Shabbat Shalom.

  4. July 11, 2014 at 12:49 pm

    Thanks!

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