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September 17, 2004. That was the very last day that I worked for the late Musicland Group in their Sam Goody division. It was not a “small step,” but a “giant leap” into the unknown, the second major risk I’d taken in the early 2000s – the type of dice roll you only take when you can, and for me, a chance I was only able to take thanks to the support of my wife – the same girl that encouraged me to take another drastic measure just a few years prior. The bottom of my “voluntary resignation” form read like this…

2004quitting

Q: WHAT IS THE REASON FOR YOUR RESIGNATION? BE SPECIFIC:

A: I’m pursuing a career in the film/video industry as an actor/director.

Q: DO YOU HAVE ANOTHER JOB?

A: Not yet.

James Zahn - Wizard World Chicago 2004The change in direction in September of 2004 can be directly traced back to August of 2001, when I left another “career” with this crazy idea of “going back to school” to learn more about film direction and screenwriting. I left 60-hour workweeks and mandatory 14+ hour shifts for uncertainty and a pay-cut, falling into a gig with Sam Goody to compliment my classes in Chicago – a gig that was delayed by a few weeks thanks to another infamous date, September 11, 2001. All said and done, I did take classes, and I did begin working in film and video regularly as side gigs to my work with ‘Goody.

What prompted the big jump in 2004 was that, after getting my feet wet a bit working random jobs here and there and everywhere, my wife and I finally thought that it would be possible to do something in the film realm full-time. A taste of that came earlier that same year, when I was actually sitting at a Sam Goody meeting in Oak Brook when a call came in that a bit part as a bartender had opened up on the then-shooting OCEAN’S TWELVE. I bailed on the meeting, and a few hours later found myself face-to-face with Andy Garcia as he heckled a comedian for a scene that was mere seconds in the film. Fast-forward to August, and I used my vacation days to work in extreme heat and polyester on the set of ROLL BOUNCE with Nick Cannon and Bow Wow. It was on that film that I would meet the late Justin Mentell, who would be one of my best friends until his untimely death in 2010.

James ZahnWhile my resignation notice said to “be specific,” and it appeared that I was, there was actually a more specific reason why the jump happened when it did… I quit to write a feature-length screenplay for what I’d hoped to be a small, independent feature to serve as my directorial debut.

The months that followed would be an interesting series of adventures – working on independent short films and music videos as a cameraman, editor, fx team member, production assistant, casting associate, you name it. I landed a short-term gig on a FOX pilot called PRISON BREAK (which would become a bigger gig a year later), but above all, that screenplay did get written. And it’s sequel did as well. In fact, a snowball effect took place that would end up consuming the next few years of my pre-Rock Father life. I did find work as an actor/director, just as I’d said on that note.

What I’d left my job for on September 17, 2004 eventually became known as DEATH WALKS THE STREETS (DWTS). It’s a project with a long and troubled history, and while it’s not become a film yet, it almost did – and it became other things (acclaimed comic books), and is the reason why DANCING WITH THE STARS (DWTS) fans taunt me on twitter a couple of times a year. 

The DWTS project? A story for another day.

To Be Continued…

 

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