When Mike Kravinsky went to work at ABC News in 1981, he figured he would spend a year there and then head out to Los Angeles to become a filmmaker.
Well, it didn’t quite work out that way. It took the 59-year-old more than three decades to follow his dream, and he’s not in Hollywood, but Arlington, VA.
Kravinsky’s first feature film, “The Nextnik” the story of a worker who has been downsized after 25 years without warning and must reinvent himself, has hit the screens at independent film festivals around the country, such as Trail Dance Film Festival in Duncan, Okla. and the Alexandria Film Festival. And he’s now working on his next screenplay.
Talk about pixie dust.
Lots of boomers know how it goes. You start off someplace, and in a blink of an eye, the years have collapsed into time. “ABC turned out to be a great place to work,” says Kravinsky. “They gave me great opportunities and great experiences and one thing led to another.”
Kravinsky worked for the network for 29 years as a video editor and technical director. It was a good Emmy-winning run, but three years ago, he accepted a buyout.
“I was ready,” he says. “It had become routine. I probably could have stayed there longer, but I said why not give it a shot? Everything was lining up to make the move and take a chance.”
At his back, Kravinsky had his wife, Liza, who urged him to “do what makes you happy.” And the couple, who have no children, have a knack for living frugally. “We’re not living on peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, but we do drive a seven year old car, and we don’t buy expensive clothes and furniture. It’s just our lifestyle.”
Financially, his first move was to tap a no-load mutual fund company advisor for some minimal guidance. He wanted to be sure he was making good choices with the funds he had accumulated in his former employer’s retirement plan, and, of course, to sort out how to manage his buyout monies.
Baby steps at first.
Kravinsky had launched a web site about change and transition even before he took the buyout package. “I had wanted an outlet to do some writing, do some videos, and talk to people who had taken professional leaps of faith,” he recalls.
With the web site up and running already, once he was flying solo, he started a blog. “The same technology that gave ABC the ability to let more experienced people go, was the same technology that gave me the ability to do the things I wanted to do.”
Kravinsky soon realized, however, that he was doing the same thing he had always done, but doing it for himself this time. His magazine-style video and online stories about career changers, were all newsy.
“I should get out of my comfort zone here,” he told himself. “How do I do that? Why don’t I create a character, based on what I am experiencing, as well as what those people who I had done stories about had gone through. So that’s where the film was born,” he says.
In the first two minutes of The Nextnik (a word that is meant to riff off of the term beatnik), the fictional lead character, Larry Zimmerman, 55, gets fired, after 25 years on the job. The yarn is about him searching for something new and experimenting with different careers.
The film itself cost $25,000 to make, which is like nothing, says Kravinsky. Those funds were mostly earmarked for actors and crew salaries, meals and insurance.
The biggest savings: his own sweat equity. He auditioned and hired actors. He hired technical people– a director of photography and a makeup artist, but the rest he did himself–the writing, producing, directing and post-production. He secured the locations to shoot in the Washington, DC area– Arlington, Fairfax, Leesburg, Va. and Rehoboth Beach, Del. “I would be directing people and ordering food at the same time,” Kravinsky laughs.
The film began in stages. First, a 30-minute web series. Then Kravinsky got the urge to push beyond. He spent two months adding and rewriting scenes, and went back and filmed to build his series into the feature film. Current length: 77-minutes.
While many second acters return to school to add skills that let them segue into their next career, Kravinsky did his time on the job. “It was my $25,000 film school.”
One big reward: “I’m always struck by how many people in late 40s 50s and 60s stay after a screening and want to have these long conversations. They want to talk and talk about starting over.”
It’s easy to understand how his film has struck a chord with Baby Boomers. “We have always defined ourselves by the job that we do,” Kravinsky points out. “It’s just the way we were raised. I think even at 65, people need something to do. You can’t just have a 25-year vacation when you’re 65. People really need to accomplish something.”
Tricky part –the learning curve. “The actors and the crew were really patient with me. On one early shoot I shouted out: “Speed” and was quietly told…the word is “Action.”
Here’s more of my conversation with Mike Kravinsky about his celluloid second act.
Kerry: What did the transition mean to you personally?
Mike: Freedom. There’s something nice about routine, but routine can really start wearing on you when there’s really nothing left to accomplish.
Kerry: Were you confident that you were doing the right thing? Any second-guessing?
Mike: I was absolutely confident that I was doing the right thing. Not necessarily the web site and blog, but I knew I was doing the right thing by moving on. It really felt good when I was initially doing the blog after I left ABC. But there was something gnawing that I wasn’t accomplishing everything that I wanted to do. Basically I have been re-living something that I thought I would do in my 20s–move out to LA and become a filmmaker. This was the time to take a chance and the technology was such I could afford it.
Kerry: Anything you would have done differently?
Mike: The little misdirection I might have taken really brought me to where I am. I would have had to do the blog to realize I was doing the same thing that I did at ABC and remind myself… wait a minute I can make movies now. That process gave me the idea to do the movie.
Kerry: How do you measure your success?
Mike: I would measure my success by making a little bit of money. It’s really nice to get people happy about your product and want to discuss it. I’m not looking to become wealthy, but I am looking to make a product and be able to sell it.
Kerry: How big a role did financial rewards play in your decision to make a transition?
Mike: None. I was just ready. My feeling was if I got into any kind of trouble financially, I knew that I could go back and do some freelance. As long as we don’t go crazy and buy a Tesla everything will work out.
Kerry: How did your preparation help you succeed?
Mike: The preparation was working behind the camera on the blog videos and then the web series. Working in TV prepared me to be very exacting in my preparation of a production.
Kerry: What do you tell people who ask you for advice on career changing or starting over?
Mike: You can’t just do it. Everybody’s situation is different. There are financial issues. There are family issues. What if you have a sick parent or kids in school? Some people just financially cannot do it. If you’re in a position that you are able to do it, and you have some savings, then you can give it a shot. You should have a year of savings backlogged, so you are able to go back to school to learn something new if you have to, or work part time in a particular industry.
The biggest preparation is you have to feel financially comfortable in whatever it is you’re going to start to do. Do the downsizing and what ever you need to do to be able to take on something new. Then hopefully your new work will start paying some kind of salary. It might not be much to start, but enough to pay the bills. That’s really the bottom line.
Kerry: What books did you find helpful
Mike: What’s Next? Follow Your Passion and Find Your Dream Job and Marc Freedman’s The Big Shift. He’s something of a pragmatist. You have to be very pragmatic.
Kerry: Any unexpected surprises?
Follow me on Twitter, @KerryHannon I’m the author of Great Jobs for Everyone 50+: Finding Work That Keeps You Happy and Healthy … And Pays the Bills (John Wiley & Sons), available here www.kerryhannon.com. Check out my column at AARP. My weekly column at PBS’s NextAvenue.org is here.