During jury duty, filmmaker Brett Novak had an epiphany.
The Lombard native was enjoying a thriving career as a visual special effects director and producer. He worked on huge projects -- movies like "Acts of Valor" and "Water for Elephants," plus music videos for Beyoncé, Britney Spears, Lady Gaga and other A-listers. He also did commercials for companies like Ford and Nickelodeon.
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But during his six weeks in the Los Angeles courthouse, with some extra time to think and to follow a more-normal work schedule, he decided he'd give it all up.
"(Jury duty) totally threw my world into a spin. I got to see the sunlight in California for the first time, rather than sitting in a dark office, working for 20 hours a day," said Novak, 25. "In the production world, if you're not available for a little bit of time, you disappear. ... So I went through my own little transformation then. I thought, I love where I'm working, but I kind of just wanted to sprout off and go independent."
So, after his jury service ended, Novak began making his own movies about skateboarding -- a sport he's loved since he was a kid at Glenbard East High School.
He had competed in a few skate competitions ("my knees have been broken so many times"), where he met international skateboarding pro Kilian Martin -- the man who would later star in many of his films.
Shortly after Novak started posting his artistically filmed skateboard movies on YouTube, huge media outlets like the Los Angeles Times and CBS News took notice. Novak and Martin even appeared together on "Last Call with Carson Daly."
"The weekend I quit my job was the weekend the first video blew up," he said.
Several of the films soon had more than 1 million views each.
"You don't need to be a skateboarder to watch these films and enjoy them," he said. "(They're) about people. It's not any more complicated than that. It's about connecting to another human being. I like the movie 'Black Swan,' and I know absolutely nothing about ballet."
Novak's love of skateboarding began at Villa Park's skate park, and his love of filmmaking began at the Technology Center of DuPage in Addison, a technical education program for high school juniors and seniors.
He credits his teacher, Jeff Heise, with "having more of an impact on my filmmaking than anyone else," and says his entire career was born out of his "TC" experience.
"I got more out of my TC experience than I did spending $100,000 on college," said Novak, who earned a degree in digital arts and design from Full Sail University in Florida. "To the film world, your degree means nothing. I've never once been asked about my degree, and I'll be paying back $1,100 a month in student loans for the next 20 years."
For the past three years, L.A.-based Novak has traveled all over the world making skate films, and is now filming in India with Martin.
Novak admits his sudden career shift three years ago led to "quite an immense pay cut," but he still earns a comfortable living and is excited about his work. He continues to do some Hollywood projects on the side, including an upcoming music video for a very popular rock band (he's contractually not allowed to talk about it).
"Because of re-embracing this part of me, my career went in a whole new direction," he said. "The irony is, if you do what you love, you don't care about the money. And you'll master it. And someone will want to pay for it anyway."
-- Jamie Sotonoff
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