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Coloring in Your Own Path


Rob Bessette '05
Rob Bessette '05

During my first year at Hamilton, I had a hard time choosing my major. I always had an interest in the arts, but I didn’t think that was a responsible choice for a college major. So as a freshman, I took a variety of classes to see if anything else piqued my interest. I tried classes in geology, philosophy, economics—pretty much everything. None of them clicked. 

So during my sophomore year when I had to declare my major, I chose the subject matter I was most passionate about: studio art. I was unsure whether this was the right decision or not because what on earth do you do with a studio art degree? How was I going to make money? Sell drawings and paintings? Doubtful. At least that’s what I told myself. The one thing I knew was that taking those classes didn’t feel like work. It was fun. And I really enjoyed it.

Fast forward to my junior year. At this point, I was taking pretty much every possible art elective. But one stood out in particular. Intro to Video with Professor Ella Gant. I had never really considered “video” to be part of the arts in the traditional sense, but this class totally changed my perspective. We learned very basic filming and editing concepts in a digital format that was relatively new at the time. This class, for me, was amazing. I simply loved it.

With this newfound passion, I decided that I wanted my studio art major to have a concentration in film and video. Now, at the time, that wasn’t an option. But I pleaded my case to the powers that be and they accepted my proposal. Since there was no syllabus or guideline for this concentration, it was up to me to lay out the game plan. I met regularly with my advisor, and ultimately we came up with a decision that my senior thesis would be a documentary movie. So I started from scratch and did the entire thing—wrote, storyboarded, filmed, edited—from start to finish. At first I wondered if I was getting off easy. All my classmates were constantly writing papers and studying for tests. But I quickly learned that was not the case. Yes, my workload was different, but it was intense. Ultimately, I finished my documentary and screened it in front of 50 friends and family. It was by far the most rewarding moment of my academic career at Hamilton.

This is kind of a long story, but I feel it’s important to lay the groundwork for my life after college. I knew that I wanted to do something with video, but I wasn’t exactly sure what. I didn’t even know if there were jobs out there for such a thing. When all was said and done, the process I enjoyed the most was editing. I spent countless hours in the media lab reviewing footage and assembling edits. I was not very proficient with computers, but that quickly changed out of necessity. The more I worked at it, the better I got. Practice makes perfect. I learned a lot from my advisors as we reviewed early iterations of my documentary. I learned why certain edits worked and why others didn’t. I learned about pacing, music, and storytelling. I was so green and raw. Everything was completely new to me. I give a lot of credit to my advisors and professors for sticking with me in what was a very passionate, yet challenging undertaking.

I figured I had to be near a city in order to pursue my career in video. New York City was an obvious choice, but also quite intimidating for a small town boy like myself. Boston was my next logical choice. So I reached out to some contacts I had in Boston and asked if anyone knew of such a job. Thankfully, my inquiry yielded some results. I had about three to four places to reach out to. Of all of my options, only one sounded promising: a video editing company based out of Back Bay that specializes in commercials. It sounded like the perfect fit. So I made some phone calls and followed up with some emails and landed an interview. Granted, the interview was only for an internship, but I had to start somewhere, especially with my minimal experience in the field. I was really just looking to get my foot in the door and would pretty much take any position.

The interview went great and I was offered an internship. Most of the work was not glamorous—a lot of grunt work,  coffee runs, general paperwork, and client services. But when there was downtime, I was able to work on state-of-the-art equipment and pick the brains of veterans in the industry. It was an intangible resource that could not be replicated under any other circumstances. I was soaking up as much as I could and loving every minute of it. The job, however, was only part-time and not enough to pay my rent. So I picked up another job. I was literally running from one job to the other to make ends meet. I was never discouraged, though, since I was doing something I loved. Work never really felt like work.

I did this for a couple of months, and there was some turmoil within the company. One of the founders broke off and started his own company. And in doing so, he took several employees with him. This left some job openings at my current company. They had noticed my hard work and dedication and offered me a position as a night assistant editor. Obviously, I was thrilled. I immediately quit my other job to solely focus on my new position. 

This was way back in 2005. A lot has happened between then and now. But the short version is I put in countless hours to learn my craft and in doing so, it opened many doors for me. Very early on, I learned about color correction and that quickly became my new obsession. I decided that the editing path was no longer for me, and I wanted to become a colorist. For those of you who don’t know, a colorist essentially creates the look, style, and feel of a film. Think of The Matrix and how everything is green. Now that’s obviously an extreme example, but that’s the general idea. This process takes place on every film, movie, and commercial. In tandem with the cinematographer, it’s a colorist’s job to make the piece look like it does.

With this slight detour in my career path, I worked closely with my more senior colleagues. I had my own responsibilities, but I tried to learn from them as well. Almost as an apprenticeship. One thing I quickly realized was that it wasn’t their job to teach me. I still had to do my work and they still had to do theirs. So I didn’t want to get in their way, but at the same time I wanted to learn from them. I was able to do this by simply doing my job to the best of my abilities. I’d ask questions when they were pertinent, but not in an annoying manner. I was careful not to be a bother, and still, gather as much information as I could.

During this time, I distinctly remember several of my college friends going to graduate school and I wondered if I was missing out. If I was doing something wrong. Should I be going to grad school? I was getting paid very little as an assistant and wasn’t exactly 100 percent sure I’d be able to find a profitable career in the field. While talking about this very subject on the phone with my father, he really put things in perspective for me. He said, “It’s kind of like you’re already in grad school. Look at how much you’re learning. That’s more valuable than what you could learn in any classroom. In fact, it’s kind of like they’re paying you to go to grad school.” That was a real light bulb moment for me. Now, I’m not saying graduate school is bad. It’s definitely not. It’s just not for everybody. And just because someone else is going, doesn’t mean you should. In fact, you may get more value out of “real-world” experiences than you would in a classroom.

I realize that this may not seem pertinent to Hamilton, but in actuality, it is. Hamilton allowed me to pursue a major and concentration that, at the time, didn’t even exist. With the guidance of my professors, advisors, and counselors, I was able to find a job in the field. I consider myself very lucky that I’m able to go to work every day and truly love what I do. One thing I do acknowledge is that a lot of my career path has come down to timing. In several instances, I have just been in the right place at the right time. That’s just luck. However, it’s up to you what you do with that luck. You need to take advantage of the presented opportunity and make the best of it.

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