Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Part III: Leaving Plato's Cave: My Move to Austin

Part III: Leaving Plato's Cave: My Move to Austin

The life which is not examined is the life which is not worth living. 

There is the risk you cannot afford to take, [and] there is the risk you cannot afford not to take.
--Peter Drucker

Leap, and the net will appear.
--Zen proverb

One day, I was sitting at the desk in my law firm's office in Manhattan (, and looking north out the window on the 45th floor of 30 Rockefeller Plaza. I could see the entire expanse of Central Park from up past the Reservoir to the buildings that line the northern border of this protected patch of green and water. Life was good with work. I co-chaired the Entertainment, Media and Sports Law Practice Group at the firm, lived in Greenwich, Connecticut and my sons were both "launched" with successful careers and independent lives. I was of an age that, with persistence, It was possible to work and ride my way into a comfortable retirement staying where I was and doing what I was then doing. However, something didn't resonate with that life plan. There was a "restlessness" that would not leave me. I came to realize that it was because I needed to get "back to the middle" and center with the "creative side" of myself. I had long channeled these instincts into being an organization-builder and entrepreneur within established organizations and institutions. I did not have any particular plan or focus for such professional dysplasia though.

About that time, a colleague from Austin, invited me to attend the Film Festival there (, with our firm to act as one of its sponsors. That took me to Austin ( and my eyes opened. It can probably be best synthesized by the following:

Sometimes you've got to let everything go--purge yourself. If you are unhappy with anything...whatever is bringing you down, get rid of it. Because you'll find that when you're free, your true creativity, your true self comes out.
--Tina Turner

So, not one willing to just "settle" and to "measure out my life in coffee spoons," www/, I decided to leave New York and step completely outside of my comfort zone. Thus, in January of 2005, I headed across country to Austin in order to buy a former Schlumberger corporate campus of several hundred acres and convert it into a digital-era production and post-production movie, television and videogame studio under the aegis of a new Texas entity named Lone Star Entertainment Ventures. Not that I knew anything about raising the $28 million that they were asking, how to fund the construction conversion "build-out" funds, or even how to run a studio had we actually acquired the land and buildings by some miracle of business serendipity.

I spent nearly three years in Texas learning more "how not to do things" than how to actually do them correctly. My Austin friend, Tommy Warren, would some years later teach me how you really get that sort of thing done there, when he launched his Spiderwood Studios just south of Austin ( I am reminded of Edison's quote where he indicated that he had never failed in his quest to invent a working electric light bulb. Rather he said that his experimental efforts merely meant that he learned "a thousand ways not to build a light bulb."

Making a major life transition is really a lot like experimenting. There are a number of "false positives" and "blind alleys" that are built into the process. Mostly what I learned from that period of how not to do things, was getting a better perspective on realities governing the scale/scope of projects I was attempting and also about how to make (and not make) partnership/relationship decisions. I also learned that it is not in my personal make-up to adapt well to living in a small town nor to be far from a large body of water and the air that it shares. Having grown up on Lake Michigan, summered in northern Minnesota and Canada, schooled on the Potomac/Chesapeake Bay, and then lived on the edge of Long Island Sound for most of my life, I didn't realize the importance of water's proximity to my well-being and inspiration.

During my Austin tenure, I helped with the process of launching a few Internet start-ups, worked on a few fledgling productions of films and did my best to volunteer time and expertise to help Texas create its first media tax incentives program through the drafting and passage of a Bill by the Legislature. The latter was a pale shadow in comparison to other states' similar measures, notably next-door neighbor Louisiana's, but it was a start and the new law was passed in the Spring of 2007. After attending the Governor's signing ceremony for the latter at the former Austin Airport, now a converted studio, that Summer I pulled up stakes and headed to the coast to live in Malibu and start the next chapter of my creative journey.

In many ways, Texas was an "achy, breaky heart" stage on my creative journey west. What I subsequently came to learn, and more importantly, feel is that hearts can heal with the passage of time and the onset of wisdom and perspective.

© 2011 by William Nix. All rights reserved.

No comments:

Post a Comment