I recently had the opportunity to attend the New York premiere of a fantastic new documentary film called City LAX: An Urban Lacrosse Story. The documentary follows a group of inner-city kids as they learn the traditionally preppy sport of lacrosse and work to hone their stick skills and compete in the state championships. City LAX has won top honors from several film festivals and will be screened on ESPN this weekend during the NCAA Lacrosse Championships. Check out my full review of City LAX and find out when to watch it on ESPN.
For career changers and frustrated creative types, the story behind City LAX is also pretty compelling. I spoke with filmmaker Tor Myhren about his experience making a feature-length documentary in his spare time while keeping his high-pressure day job in New York. You don’t necessarily have to quit your day job to make your creative dream come true.
Tor was inspired to make the film by his brother Eric, the public school teacher who started the City LAX program in Denver (City LAX started in New York as the brainchild of Mat Levine) . Tor is an advertising executive and had frequently visited his brother’s inner city classroom to talk to the kids about advertising. When he heard about Eric’s lacrosse idea, he knew it would make a great film.
Unfortunately, the timing was really bad. Tor had just accepted a big new job as the Chief Creative Officer for the legendary Grey Advertising in New York. That’s a pretty demanding day job. Tor is the man behind the E*Trade talking baby and the Oprah car giveaway.
He knew it probably wasn’t going to be feasible to make a documentary in his spare time, but he couldn’t let go of the idea of telling this story with his best friend from college, Gabriela Cowperthwaite, a documentary filmmaker.
The timing was really bad for Gabriela too. She had recently given birth to twin sons and the City LAX project would require her to move her family to Denver (from LA) for six moths ASAP to start shooting.
“There were a million reasons not to do it,” Tor remembers. Most of us would have given up on this dream as being totally unrealistic. Not Tor and Gabriela. They decided to go for it. Tor financed the film himself, Gabriela moved to Denver with her twin babies in tow, and they got to work.
Both put in a lot of late hours to finish the project. Because they had a very limited budget, Tor relied on the kindness of his friends and colleagues in the advertising and creative fields. Many of them donated their time after work — during all-nighters and weekends — to edit, finalize the soundtrack, design the movie posters and graphics, and complete all of the details that make a film great.
Without his day job connections, Tor would never have been able to recruit this world-class talent from the advertising world for free. Bennett McCarroll, the head of production at Grey and another very busy guy, edited the film during his off hours — usually between midnight and 4AM.
It took them a year to edit and complete post-production during these stolen “spare time” hours. “If you are passionate about something, you can make time for it — no matter how busy you are,” Tor says. “When you love what you’re doing, it doesn’t feel like a hardship.”
Tor actually loves his day job too, unlike many artists who grudgingly work from 9 to 5 to finance their dreams. However, he felt an irresistible pull to tell the story of his brother and those amazing City LAX players.
He says he never really fancied himself as a documentary filmmaker, but this story pushed him to take on the title. “Documentary filmmaking is not exactly a money making enterprise,” he admits. “People make documentaries because they strongly believe that a story has to be told to the rest of the world. They then go on a mission to tell that story in the most honest and compelling way they know how.”
Tor and Gabriela succeeded in that mission with City LAX. I urge you to check it out on ESPN this weekend to see why this story so motivated these two to give up sleep for so long.
You may also want to remember their story the next time you tell yourself that you don’t have time to work on that book or business idea or painting. You don’t always have to quit your day job to follow your dream.