Life Lessons

 Life Lesson 1: Fear No Fear

Documentary filmmaker
Fort Greene, Brooklyn

I always marvel at filmmakers who stay so compartmentalized in their role as a director or producer or cameraperson that they manage to avoid learning how to record sound properly, or how to light an interview. I never went to film school—it seemed too insular—but since I've ended up becoming a one-person crew, I've had to learn the technology of making movies on my own, and by watching others on the job. But the technology of moviemaking just gets more and more complicated all the time.

My handicap is that I have one of those ADD [Attention Deficit Disorder] dispositions that make technical manuals read all hierogliphy. I got around this by faking it for as long as possible, and by having friends I could call in a pinch. And believe me, every editor has someone they call regularly—often late at night—when first learning an editing program. Sometimes I have low-level panic attacks where my brain can't seem to absorb any more information about frame rates, codecs and compression data. I've had to get over my technophobia in order to take advantage of new cameras and software that really advance the quality level of low-budget productions. But therein lies the challenge of what I do: Every time you think you've learned your trade, everything shifts just enough for the curve to get curvier and the road to get longer...

photo: Leslie Van Stelten

Extra Credit

Do I enjoy the technical aspects of documentary filmmaking? No. Is the end result more important than wounded pride and a few brain cells? Yes. It's what the old folks call priorities.

Get Smarter

Mac Editing software classes,
Final Cut Pro individual training,
Avid and Mac editing systems training,

Life Lesson 2: Pass the Tests

Vice President, Sales, Corcoran Group

photo: Leslie Van Stelten
When I started in this business I was hired by a company who let me "hang my license," which means I sold properties for them instead setting myself up as a broker. I learned the skills to do this as I went along: how to sell a property, how to deal with clients, all the steps of making a deal.

But before you can do that you have to get your license. And to qualify for that you have to go through something like 22 hours of extremely intense classroom study and reading, then pass class tests and then pass the state exam. It's all legal information, and mostly rules that you won't necessarily use in a day-to-day sales situation, but that you need to know exist—to protect your client and yourself. All transactions here require a lawyer, but if you don't know the legalities of mortgage commitment and anti-discrimination and so many other things you can mess up a deal before it really gets started. Learning this can be grueling depending how you do it, because it's all, ultimately, rote memorization—and that can be pretty dry. Some people take their classes one or two nights a week, spread out over a two-month period, but it's hard to retain all that information over such a long time. But I took two three-day intensive courses at NYU, where they compress all this information into six full days over two weekends. It was much easier for me to retain what I needed to know to pass the tests and get my license. And, like I said, while I don't use it everyday, it's in my back pocket when I need it.

Extra Credit

Although it's really important to know all the rules and regulations that apply to the business, it's really the ongoing experience of learning how to work with different types of people in different situations, and how best to teach them what they need to know about what's probably the biggest purchase they will ever make in their lives that's most important. You can really only learn these things on the job, and it's ongoing.

Get Smarter

NYU’s Real Estate Institute,
New York Real Estate Institute,
Continuing education courses in real estate,

Life Lesson 3: You're Smart Enough


photo: Leslie Van Stelten
As a chef, I envision myself as a sort of laborer—I've always hidden behind that self-definition as a way to avoid facing my embarrassment over not being "book smart." But when I was running a catering business in San Francisco I found myself learning things I never thought I could. For example, like how to translate a recipe that's meant to serve six people into one that serves 800; this has much more to do with math and physics that the sort of culinary vanity that the folks on Top Chef would have you believe. In school I had zero math and science skills. I felt incapable, and shied away from learning equations. Later, though—through of trial and error, and with the help of a simple calculator—I was able to figure out what foods hold heat longest and which should be in the ovens at what time, and how to make sure that everything is prepared and assembled at the right moment, and how to orchestrate when all of these should go in and come out of the ovens... It's like some sort of derranged John Zorn session crashing a wedding in the Hamptons.
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