Works and Days

Meet Derek Owen '97

Derek, can you give a bit of background about your Reed experience?

I got interested in physics in high school, and the decision to major in it at Reed was a bit arbitrary. At Reed, I was drawn to music, and spent a lot of energy there. After graduation, I spent a lot of time doing music, played in bands, worked hard to establish a career and finally decided that music wasn’t a life that I imagined being able to sustain. During the time doing music, I was in NYC, working a job I hated, playing music. The joints in my fingers swelled and I couldn't move them. I had a two-week period where I couldn't play. I decided to leave New York and headed to Los Angeles.

How’d you make the transition from music to film?

Terror is a keen motivator. Knowing that I wasn't happy in an office job, having one career under my belt that didn't really go anywhere, I knew I had to make something work out, so I was driven. I went back to school, film school. Film schools in general, if you go thinking that people will push you, you might be deluded. The benefit is that you get access to equipment. You can defer loans, so that you are sheltered somewhat. You can go start making things. I dug in to class stuff; learned to edit; learning to shoot.

Are you happy with the way that your career is going along?

Yea, I’m pretty happy. In my career so far I've worked primarily as an editor. That’s a good gig. You have a lot of control. I'm starting to transition into more writing and producing, like show running. I'm just getting ready to start my first gig doing that in a few weeks. There's a lot more stuff to do along those lines.

What are the things you want to pass along to current students as they begin to pursue life beyond Reed?

Networking is huge. People who have done better sooner in their careers did a better job at networking than I did. In entertainment, it's such a risky business, so many things can go wrong, you're working in a medium with pictures and sound, creating stuff from scratch, it's not always intuitive. You absolutely want to work with people whom you trust. So, the more people you know and who know you, the better off you are. You've got to have those trusted people around you as you work and advance.

Looking back, I’ve wondered whether a different major would have made more sense, but I think ultimately I learned to think, and I came away with a framework.

Another thing I know for sure is that you build a high pain threshold at Reed. In the creative fields, don’t get a lot of opportunities to show what you can do and a lot of times when you DO get to show what you can do, those chances don’t occur under ideal circumstances. At those times, having the faith in your ability to get through is incredibly important. Every project I've started has a moment where I say, "I can't do this—I'm going to quit." Every single one. But, I did Reed. I wrote a thesis during my senior year. I know that I can always pull things out. So, as hard as it may seem to you today, just realize that you are laying the groundwork for future success.

Tags: alumni, film, television