Episode 209 — Fired and Homeless


Episode 209 — Fired and Homeless

Welcome to Episode 209! I’m going to talk about something a bit different: about my first real job, getting fired and becoming homeless — and what I’ve learned from that in order to remain successful in my career and ensure that I stay on top and in control over everything over the last 20 years.

This is a bit of a different Episode and I’ve been a bit uneasy about doing it. I’m not comfortable opening up about certain subjects; and even here, I tend to downplay it as well. However, this experience shook me at my core at the time: I lost my job and I got kicked out of the place where I was staying — all on the same day! It made me quite vulnerable.

The reason I bring this up is not because it’s a sob story. The way that it affected me was that I never wanted to go through something like that again! It changed how I handled things moving forward. Having something like that happen allows you to think, “Never again!” It fueled me and it made me be in control of my job. It made me check in with my supervisors; and if there was a sign that I could do better — I would do that! I was constantly making sure that I was always killing it.

I bring up a few insights along the way. I haven’t really talked about this before. I don’t think I ever told a soul, but I think about that experience a lot. I do try to communicate what my lessons were and what I do now whenever I’m down. That’s the context to this Episode.

Let’s dive in!



[01:03] Have you ever sent in your reel and wondered why you didn’t get the callback or what the reason was you didn’t get the job? Over the past 20 years of working for studios like ILM, Blur Studio, Ubisoft, I’ve built hundreds of teams and hired hundreds of artists — and reviewed thousands of reels! That’s why I decided to write The Ultimate Demo Reel Guide from the perspective of someone who actually does the hiring. You can get this book for free right now at www.allanmckay.com/myreel!

[02:19] It’s already August! This year has flown by! If you’re in the U.S., here is an announcement: I’m going to be speaking at the Industry Giants event next month: http://industrygiants.org/guest/allan-mckay/. You’re welcome to come along! I will be there September 21st and I’ll also have a booth set up. (There will also be a lot of beer and barbecue!) This time around, I’m going to try to stop by id Software (www.allanmckay.com/129) as well as meet up with Ryan Connolly of Film Riot (www.allanmckay.com/133).

[38:34] One of the biggest problems we face as artists is figuring out how much we’re worth. I’ve put together a website. Check it out: www.VFXRates.com! This is a chance for you to put in your level of experience, your discipline, your location — and it will give you an accurate idea what you and everyone else in your discipline should be charging. Check it out: www.VFXRates.com!


[06:50] I thought about doing this Podcast for many years but I didn’t want to do it. I finally thought, “Fuck it! I’m just going to do it!” This is about the time when I was 16 years old and I got my first real big job. I moved to the other side of Australia for that job [where] I didn’t really know anyone. I ended up getting fired (it’s the only time I was ever fired). I was homeless with no money and no way of getting home. I’ve never really told this story because it’s not a fun one for me. Looking back, I could’ve done things differently now.

[08:01] The key thing that I wanted to get across is this a couple of things. I was [living] in Brisbane and I was offered a job in Sydney that I really wanted to do. But being 16, I’ve been living with my mom (although I’ve been paying rent) and it felt quite intimidating to move to Sydney. I got offered a job in Melbourne but I wasn’t really interested in it. However, I ended up taking the job that I didn’t even want because there was someone I knew online (who worked in video games) and who offered me to sleep on his couch. I want to mention all that because it’s relevant. Occasionally, we’ll do something because it’s just easier. There is an excuse behind it! There is a lot of situations when we could take the dream job but we take something easier that sabotages our success. I could’ve moved to Sydney and taken my dream job, but I ended up taking a job that meant sleeping on someone else’s couch. So I want you to think about that: What rational excuses do you make that sabotage your dream and the opportunities you could be having?

[10:20] I turned down the job that I wanted in Sydney and I took the one in Melbourne and started sleeping on this guy’s couch. He had his girlfriend and a roommate living with him. His roommate wanted me gone right away. So I started getting pressured to find my own place. I was trying to find a roommate again but no one wanted a 16-year old roommate. I wasn’t willing to take a regular apartment. The job that I was doing I didn’t like (it was a game for Warner Brothers). The job that I really wanted was in Sydney. I would come home and do matte painting and the things that I wanted to be doing (instead of what I needed to do for my job). [12:12] Here is a big lesson: If you aren’t doing what you find fulfilling for your day job, you’re going to spend every free minute trying to do what you really love. It’s always better to do the thing that you’re care about for your job. That way you can go home fulfilled.

[12:45] For me being frustrated meant doing what I loved in my spare time. You have to have that fulfillment in what you do. At the same time, I was learning Soft Image 3.7 Extreme. But because I wasn’t passionate about it, I was frustrated with it. Again, if you’re passionate about something, you just want to do it over and over, in your free time. If it doesn’t excite you, you aren’t going to apply yourself. If you love it, you will be inspired and it will become easy. The doctor who came up with the 10,000 hour concept said that you need to love what you do. Otherwise, you will never master it. I ended up looking for apartments in my spare time. I would be coming to work late, so I started to fuck up on my job. With my current studio Catastrophic FX, I’ve always mostly hired local artists. I communicate to anyone who wants to work with Catastrophic that they need to situate themselves first. In my case, with trying to find an apartment, my job was starting to fall apart.

[15:49] Meanwhile, at home, the roommate was saying he wanted me out! They gave me until the end of the week to move out. I remember going into work that morning and being told to collect my stuff and leave the job. Here I am: Sixteen years old and I didn’t know where to stay! I remember the manager taking me for a walk and I said, “Is everything okay?” He put his hand on my shoulder and said, “We’re going to have to let you go.” That’s when I went upstairs to do the exit interview.

[17:04] We need to have the key things for foundation: having a home, money, a person to love, having a purpose. Leaving one of those out of the equation can really make us lose our balance. Lacking any of those could disrupt your whole life. I was having my job, my income and my home being taken away at the same time. All of that — in a split moment! It affected everything. I remember leaving the building and not knowing what I was going to do. I didn’t know where I was going to sleep that night! I remember going to catch the train to get my bags. No one was there. I remember sitting down on the couch and crying my eyes out. I didn’t know where I was going to sleep and had no way to get home. That meant that I had to figure it out. I stayed at the train station and was trying to figure out what to do. I called my mom from a payphone so we could figure out a strategy. I didn’t have people around me to give me advice.

[20:42] That went on for about 3-4 days. I didn’t have any money. I finally got home but that experience really fucked me up for good 6 months. I really messed me up and I was having nightmares about being trapped in places. It related to being helpless. Looking back, I realize my heart wasn’t in the job. The good thing is: Once I left that job, I called the job in Sydney and told them that the job didn’t really work out. I’ve only been fired once. It happens enough that it’s not a big deal to tell the new employer. Within that day, I’d lined up a job. At the time, it was reassuring to know. In hind sight, if you’re going to do anything that requires a big shift, have contingency plans in place. I’m saying this from witnessing my and other people’s situations. If you start to think about, “What’s the worst that can happen?” and plan for it — you can segue into that plan if things go wrong. The more you can plan ahead and the more you’re smart about it — them more you can line up jobs and set yourself up for success.

[24:00] Again, I see people who get themselves into really dumb situations because they didn’t think ahead. Instead, you could think of it as a possibility and setting yourself up for success. I hope that resonates with you. That also means that if you think of things going wrong, you can avoid it. A roommate situation was probably not an option for me, so I should’ve found myself a studio for myself. That’s what matters: When you relocate to a new place, it’s important to secure yourself. Once I got back, I taught at a University for a year. Eventually, I moved to Sydney and got that dream job and it was the most important experience!


[25:54] So think of the invisible scripts that you’re playing out to sabotage your life. There will be times when you have the perfect opportunity! I could’ve gone to Sydney right away. Instead, I took a job I didn’t want, in a city I didn’t know. All of that because of some stupid excuse I’ve made. I want you to think of those excuses you make. You could go and be successful, but you make excuses to try the easier paths. The so-called “easier path” resulted in my being homeless for 3-4 days. The only reason I mention all this is not because it’s a pity party. I took this negative experience (I had nightmares and it made me worry about everything — which I think I still think about) — and I made it a strength. From that point on, whenever I took a job, I would make sure I was killing it. I made sure to check in with my bosses constantly. I didn’t want there to be another surprise that crept up on me. I wanted to make sure my foundations were intact.

  • I would constantly check in with my supervisors;
  • I would get a vibe on how people felt about me;
  • I would prevent anything from popping up.

[30:03] That negative experience meant that I would always protect myself. I never wanted to repeat that experience, so I would nail every job. I want you to think about the negative things you’ve experienced and look at them as strengths. You can make sure those things never happen again. Keep checking in and don’t let those things happen! That’s the main thing I wanted to talk about!

[31:40] Find the thing that you’re most passionate about because the rest will fall into place. You will be addicted to what you’re doing. If you’re taking on a new job, make sure to get situated. Get your life in order! I try really hard to not let personal things get in my way of my job nowadays. I remember talking to one of my Podcast guests Kevin Baillie (www.allanmckay.com/148) and saying to him when I was going through a bad breakup, I wasn’t letting that affect my professional life. Things are going to affect you but it’s good to separate things. Robert Rodriguez wrote in his book Rebel Without a Crew that he had per diem to stay at a hotel while working on location. He’d save his money and sleep at the office. That’s the last resort! I look back at my experience and know that this will never happen to me again because I won’t allow it! It shook me enough that I will always take charge. So that became my strength!

[34:44] So look at things that cripple you and use them as fuel! I hope this makes sense to some of you and it helps me connect to you. As long as you know what could happen and insure that unexpected surprises don’t pop up. Use it as fuel!

I hope you got something from this Episode. It’s weird for me to open up about this story. Some of the more traumatic things that happened to me, I’ve kept to myself. Life is all about taking risks but you need to have backup plans in place. You need to know how to adapt constantly. You need to be aware of the outside sources.

The more you set yourself up for safety, the more you will succeed. The more you put in — the more you get out.

Please email or message me with your story. Please share this Episode around. That would mean the world to me!

Thanks for listening! I’ll be back next week. Until then —

Rock on!


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