Thursday, February 6, 2014

LA FIRSTS: Joshua Caldwell

LA FIRSTS is an interview series at ATW&SB that shines a spotlight on just a few of the countless people who make the brave and absurd decision to move to Los Angeles to write for film or TV. We talk about what got them packing boxes, the realities that hit when they first came to L.A. and important milestones they finally achieved.

Joshua Caldwell is a writer, director and producer based in Los Angeles, CA. He runs his award-winning production company Meydenbauer Entertainment, where you can see some of his work and hosts the podcast Hollywood Bound & Down. Follow him on Twitter: @Joshua_Caldwell.
When did you first move to LA? What made you bite the bullet and do it?

I moved to LA in October of 2006. I had originally planned to stay in Seattle after college and start a production company with some buddies of mine, get some feature films going and then move to LA when I had a reason to move to LA. We figured it'd be better to be a big fish in a little pond. What made me bite the bullet much sooner than I planned was that in June of 2006, immediately following my college graduation, I won a Golden Popcorn at the MTV Movie Awards in the Best Film on Campus category. As a result, I was meeting with agents, managers, and production companies and I realized if there was ever a time to move to LA, this was it. Of course, it took years before anything ever really came of it but I still think it was a smart move.

What was your first apartment like?

When I moved to LA, I moved with two friends of mine and we didn't know the city, didn't know where to live and we were looking for 3 bedrooms. The only thing we could afford was was, what we felt at the time, not close to the center of LA. Of course, now I live not that far away from one of those apartments we looked at and realize it's not as bad as we thought. So, my friend and I agreed to share a bedroom and we decided to get a place in Park La Brea. I'm pretty sure there's a huge number of people who had their first apartment in Park La Brea and for those who don't know, Park La Brea is this huge apartment complex in Los Angeles with a bunch of apartment towers and then rows and rows of townhomes. It has like 4000 units or something like that and was built in the late 1940's. It was a great place though. Spacious, even with two double beds in the master bedroom, and it was really close to everything. I honestly couldn't have asked for a better introduction to Los Angeles.

What was your first job? 

Technically, my first job in LA was directing a bunch of music videos for Epic Records (see below) but that was more of a gig. The first real job I had after moving to LA was working at Nordstrom in the men's shoe department. I did it because 1) I had just gotten married and needed a steady income, 2) they allowed me a ton of flexibility with regards to meetings and time off and 3) I thought it would be short term as I looked for an industry job. I ended up leaving right as the great recession was hitting. You work pretty much entirely on commission and the dwindling paycheck, coupled with the soul crushing retail experience, ended up causing me to quit.

Any weird job interview stories or unusual tasks you had to perform?

I don't really have any weird interview stories or unusual tasks but one of the things I found to be very frustrating while interviewing for jobs was my experience. I had too much of it. I was going out for editor positions at documentary companies and assistant positions as weird, small production companies and was getting turned down because I, apparently, had too much experience. And I was like, "No, I really want the assistant editing job." So, it was actually a very frustrating process for me because I don't think any of these companies saw the advantages of having someone with my experience, I think they just wanted a body to run errands. Or maybe they could tell I was lying about my enthusiasm for answering phones.

There was one random gig. I was always on the lookout for side gigs to earn extra money, specifically editing gigs (easier to come by than writing or directing gigs) and I actually ended up editing this Persian music video. It was shot on the RED camera (which at the time was brand new) and so I wanted to get my hands on some footage. I had randomly applied for the job among many others and then the director got back to me. As I recall, he showed me which existing music video we were ripping off, and asked me to basically copy it -- which I did. I turned it in and never heard from the guy again.

What was the first thing you shot? 

The first thing I directed in LA was in February of 2007 and it was a music video series for Ronnie Day, a singer/songwriter signed to Epic Records. The series was a co-production between Epic and mtvU, MTV's university network, through whom I had won the MTV Movie Award. So, they came to me and asked if this is something I would be interested in doing. The project was to shoot six music videos that told a narrative story. We were given $60,000, which for me sounded like a lot of money, but in the end really wasn't. Ronnie Day's album was...not quite concept, but essentially through the individual songs, told the story of his romance and break up with his girlfriend. I picked the six songs that I felt best highlighted the big moments and set to work. We shot the film down in Orange County, Los Angeles and up in Northridge. My goal was to give the series a sense of how epic teen romance feels, to paint a picture of how it felt to be going through something like that, during that time of your life, and I think I succeeded. Met some great people on that shoot, including Tiffany Brouwer, an actress who I've since worked with a number of times.

The idea was to air this as a six week series on mtvU and so I actually spent three months in New York editing the videos out of the mtvU post-production facilities and became great friends with a number of the guys who worked there. Personally, I think they came out really well but we found out before the last video even aired that Epic had dropped Ronnie from their label -- so the videos themselves never really gained much traction beyond the initial airing, although you can continue to find them online.

When was the first time you felt like you had "made it" or what was an important milestone for you?

The first time I felt like I had "made it" and that things were going to be okay was when I was promoted to Director of Digital Media at Anthony E. Zuiker's company Dare to Pass. I started there as an assistant and quickly showed my value -- enough to earn the promotion. The benefit to that I was now classified as an executive, working for the creator of CSI:. And you don't really go backwards from that. If for some reason I had to leave, I could be looking for junior executive or executive jobs -- instead of assistant jobs. So, that's when I was like, okay, you've got some cache and you'll be able to use this job to find the next one. Of course, what I realized was that I didn't want to be executive, so when I did leave, I did so to pursue work as a director/producer -- but the friends I made while working at Dare to Pass and the industry contacts I gained have definitely served me well.

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