As an imaginative child, I used to dream of all the things I could be. The life I've ended up building is different, but no less wonderful.
I've had a varied career path, from working in factories, to writing for newspapers, to public relations, to teaching, to producing web sites for The Walt Disney Company, and to being a producer of digital content for The Television Academy. I've also enjoyed various volunteer opportunities, working for causes in which I believe, helping to create and run science fiction conventions, and helping to coordinate a volunteer corps for a huge Hollywood autograph show. At this point, I can do anything I put my mind to!
I spent 21 wonderful years as a high school English teacher in Landisville, Pennsylvania. I taught English, journalism, creative writing, and theater. I also directed plays and advised a variety of clubs over those years. I loved teaching, and I loved my students. I believe I learned as much as they did, perhaps even more. I learned time, people, and crisis management. I learned to take large, complex subject matter and to break it down so that my students could understand it. I learned to plan, but also to think on my feet if the plan didn't go exactly as I'd envisioned it. I learned to be comfortable in front of groups of people of all ages, backgrounds and interests. I didn't so much teach English as I taught students.
Directing gave me yet another set of skills. Working with students to help them to understand characters beyond their experience was a wonderful challenge. Finding and maintaining a vision for the final production honed my creative abilities as well as my abilities to make that vision understood by my cast and my technical crew. I tried to do plays that were not typical "high school" fare. We tackled productions such as 1984, Fahrenheit 451, and The Sting.
The clubs I advised were helpful, as well. Two of my favorites were Anchor Club, a student branch of Pilot International, a service group, and Amnesty International. In both instances, the students and I got to interact with the larger community, and to make a difference in that community.
While I was teaching, I had the opportunity to work for Lancaster newspapers as a freelance journalist. I spent ten years going to borough council meetings, school board meetings, and writing feature stories on everything from tofu to James Burke, a BBC journalist speaking at my alma mater, Millersville University. I met people from all walks of life and plied my writing skills, as well. I felt that I had fulfilled the promise of the journalism awards I had earned in college.
In 2006, I moved to California. I took an early retirement from teaching, and went looking for new challenges. Working through a staffing agency, I landed a contract position at the Walt Disney Company as a content manager for their online presence. I learned to use their proprietary CMS (Content Management System), and worked with Photoshop to create art for the sites, as well. I worked as a contractor for three years, moving into an Associate Producer role on Disney and Miramax sites, and then was hired directly by the company as an Associate Producer for the DVD portal, the company's catalog for home entertainment. Although the position was called Associate Producer, I was, in fact, the full producer for the DVD portal, as well as producing a site for The Secret World Of Arrietty, a retelling of the story of The Borrowers. I also fulfilled the Associate Producer role on the John Carter and Beverly Hills Chihuahua sites. While at Disney, I honed my skills in scheduling, troubleshooting, and creation of web sites. I worked closely with many different business units, from the studio to marketing, as well as outside vendors and technical teams. Since then, I worked for a short time as an associate producer at an ad agency, and am now the web site producer for the Television Academy. In this job, I am responsible for daily updates to the site, gathering and editing stories and photos both for articles and for photo galleries, and I manage several freelance writers producing original web content. The site mirrors the award-winning emmy magazine and also contains video and photo galleries from Academy events, including the Primetime Emmys, the premiere award for television excellence.
It's always been important to pursue anything that interests me. That has led to my being involved in many kinds of groups, from social causes to entertainment conventions. With my love of organizing, I've often found myself working as a volunteer to help events to get off the ground. Two of my favorites have been working with Science Fiction conventions, where authors were the guests of honor, to gathering and overseeing volunteers for The Hollywood Show, one of the largest autograph shows in the Los Angeles area. Through that show, I have been able to meet many of the actors and musicians I grew up admiring, and, in some cases, to have become friends with them, as well. I've met authors such as Isaac Asimov and Thomas M. Disch, and brilliant performers such as Ernest Borgnine, Louise Fletcher, and my dear friends, Shelley Berman and Bob Einstein. It has been wonderful to be able to tell these people who have been such a part of my life what their work has meant to me and how much I admire them.
And One More Thing
One of the short-lived jobs I did when I first moved to California was assistant to a Public Relations company owner. It was a temporary position, but while I was there, I had the opportunity to participate in the Elevate Film Festival. The festival's impetus is to have filmmakers create a short, uplifting film on a topic pulled from a hat. The filmmakers have 48 hours to set up, shoot and edit the film for presentation at the festival. I suggested following Shelley Berman as he taught a poetry class at the Motion Picture and Television Fund home in Woodland Hills. The idea was accepted, and I was a producer on the film. We won every category in which we were entered at the festival, and the finished product remains one of the things of which I am most proud.
All photographs and text (c) Melissa H. Byers 2021