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You CAN Go Home Again

Thomas Wolfe based an entire novel on the phrase “you can’t go home again,” but I’m just about to do that as we move One to One Box to the Zaentz Media Center in Berkeley, where I got my start in the film industry. The Zaentz Media Center, aka Saul Zaentz Film Center, aka Fantasy Building, has a fabled place in the history of cinema as home to a string of Academy Award-winning films produced by Saul Zaentz.

I was fortunate to have played a tiny part in that history when I got hired out of film school as apprentice sound editor on "The English Patient." My path to that position illustrates how an unpaid internship can lead to greater things when the right people are involved. This was one of those rare fortuitous instances where I did exactly what I needed to get my “foot in the door.”

During the previous summer, following my first year in an MFA film program, I was introduced to a group of editors who had offices in what was then a thriving post production audio facility situated in the seven-story Saul Zaentz Film Center, as it was then called. A few days after meeting them all for lunch, I was invited to work as an unpaid intern on a small independent documentary called “Round Eyes in the Middle Kingdom.”

On my first day, I showed up at 9am and by 6pm I noticed that nobody was getting ready to leave. As a summer intern, I had every right to say my goodbyes and head for the door but I sensed that I might be missing an opportunity in doing so. Post-production audio is a labor-intensive process, involving 4-5 sub genres of sound, each with its own workflow and expertise, and although this was just a modest documentary, the crew at SZFC was sufficiently dedicated as to want to give this film its due by including sound effects, Foley, ADR, group ADR, music, sound design and dialogue editing.

As the days went by and my hours increased, I was given more opportunities to get involved in these different sub genres. Of course, it was a luxury to be able to spend what turned out to be nearly 80 hours a week for four straight weeks as an unpaid intern. This is the kind of decision that any aspiring professional must weigh carefully. On the one hand, you are working for free and potentially being exploited; on the other hand, you may be gaining expertise that is far beyond what you can learn in school and not having to pay for it. The decision, to my mind, depends on how valuable that expertise may be to your future and how much you can trust the people you’re working for to do right by you.

In my case, this turned out to be the right decision. This was an opportunity to become “one of them” and at the end of the four weeks I was not only given a share of the modest profits, when a paid apprentice position came up the following week, I was the one they recommended. I earned a full time wage for the final six weeks of the summer and received my first credit on a feature called “Carried Away.” A week before my graduation from film school the following spring, I walked into the Film Center and was offered the apprentice position on “The English Patient,” working for the best-in-the-business on a film that would become legendary as the first to encompass a fully digital post production workflow. It also won nine Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Sound.

The Zaentz Media Center no longer houses feature films, but the offices are occupied by numerous luminaries from the independent documentary world, including several Academy Award-winners, as well as many terrifically talented folks who do post production. The lobby downstairs is decked with gold records, awards and photographs from Mr. Zaentz’s storied career. So many old friends still occupy the building that I had a tough time making it through the halls when I visited last week. It's good to be home again!

Aside from offering splendid views of the Berkeley Hills and Golden Gate Bridge, the move should not impact our work with current and future clients. We are a 12-minute drive from San Francisco during mid-day, and it happens that many of our current clients are located in the East Bay. We look forward to making more history and expanding the potential of online video with you.