Jason Beckwith - Biography
My lengthy life story.
I grew up in a small Northern California surf town called Santa Cruz. My mother’s five brothers lived in Redwood City, and worked with animals at a theme park called Marine World Africa, USA. I got to visit frequently as a child, and went backstage at the lion, elephant, animal encounter and parrot shows. Hollywood needed an elephant for a movie they were making, and one of my uncles was chosen as the trainer to go with the elephant. So, they took the elephant to Death Valley, put both my uncle and the elephant in costume. The next year, my mother took me to see the movie that her brother was in. It was titled: Star Wars.
Seeing that movie at a young age mixed with the behind the scenes experience that I had created a desire to study special effects and film-making with a near obsessive focus. Growing up during the 80s, I was drawn to special effects heavy movies like Indiana Jones, Back to the Future, Battlestar Galactica, Buck Rogers, Dragonslayer, and others. I followed the behind the scenes in magazines that I found at my local comic book shop like Star Log, and Cinefex. I also began reading comic books as well. Super-hero were not my favorite genre, though. I was drawn to more human stories, often in independent comics. Neil Gaiman’s Vertigo run was a favorite.
But, I’m getting ahead of myself. Somewhere around the third grade, I was going through my grandparents basement, and I found an old magic set that my Uncle had purchased, to see if there was anything that he could use in his parrot show. There wasn’t, so he gifted the magic kit to me. I felt like it was special effects that I could do live! I learned the tricks, and performed my first magic show in the third grade, at eh school carnival. While magic was then left behind for number of years, it would be revisited in my teens.
I consider myself part of the first generation to have computers in the home. My first computer was a Commodore Vic-20. Programs were stored on audio cassette, I the modem was 300baud. As an only child with parents that were rarely available, I spent a lot of time learning BASIC, and how computers work. I loved the story-telling in text based games from Infocom. My school had Apple II’s, and I assisted in the lab. My interest in computers continued to grow, as my computer was upgraded to a C-64.
Somewhere around this time, my interest in magic tricks resurfaced. It coincided with a visit to our town by David Copperfield. Once I saw his show, I was a regular at the local magic shop and the magic section of the library. As my knowledge and skill grew, I began to perform on the streets of my little tourist town with a hat out. At that point, I was doing it for fun, not money. I was acquiring tricks quickly, and learning everything that I could about Magic.
Then, through a bizarre set of circumstances, I found myself homeless, living on the streets at the age of 15. I kept away from the law, and the street performing became my meal ticket. Constant performance enhanced my skills and I was known as that guy that does tricks. I hitch-hiked around California during that period. The high times were great, and the low points nearly unbearable. I wouldn’t take any of it back. It shaped who I am.
Around the same time, my small town caught the eye of Hollywood, and a couple of films were made here. The first set that I ever saw was a second unit filming for the last ‘Dirty Harry’ movie, ’Sudden Impact’. Then, ‘The Lost Boys’ was filmed in Santa Cruz. A friend and I gave false social security numbers to be extras, and were filmed just outside of the comic book shop that frequented. She made final cut, and I didn’t. My fascination with film-making grew, and it’s very nostalgic to see my old comic shop on screen.
Then, I found myself apprenticed to a Wizard. I had picked up enough wood and metal working skills before I dropped out of high school, that I was employed building the props for levitating women. I continued to work as a stage hand, and in manufacturing magic tricks until I got a job working behind the counter at a magic shop. For the next 5 or so years, I worked at ’Steve Dawson’s Magic Touch’ in Saratoga and Milpitas. During this time, I began giving lessons at the shop, spending my weekends performing shows, and attending junior college.
Somewhere during this period, I came to realize that audiences will enjoy a trick better if it is wrapped in a story. I began to weave tales around the routines that I performed, and could hook my audience through an emotional connection to the story. I began to think of magic as ‘prop assisted storytelling’, trying to use the impactful moments of the trick as punctuation to story I was telling. This revelation helped form the basis for much of the pacing in my stories.
As I took evening courses through the JC, I was surprised to find that I had completed the requirements for transfer to a four year college. I applied for a scholarship, performed a magic trick during the oral portion of the entry, and was accepted to UCSC. My major was Compute Information Sciences. Here, I was fascinated with CGI and the emerging technology for 3D animation. Also, the internet began to grow while I was in college. I had access to Alias/Wavefront on Silicon Graphics machines, and began working with 3D packages on my MacIntosh. I remember setting up animation in Specular Infini-D that would take 13 hours to render a single frame at 320x240.
In the private sector, I took a temp position doing data entry at Hewlett Packard for a year. I built up my computer, and began putting together example multi-media projects in MacroMind Director. I became a master Lingo Programmer, and got a job at my first advertising agency. I was animating tutorials, technology showcases and authoring cross-platform multi-media CD-Roms. Our client list included Macromedia, Apple, Microsoft and Netscape. Before you could download whatever you want from the Internet, you had to buy the CDs in stores. If you bought Netscape 3.0 from an electronics store, then you’ve seen my work. And yes, their Friday afternoon margarita parties were as epic as you heard.
As computers became capable of playing video larger than a postage stamp, I began to transition to non-linear digital editing. Early on, I was still doing a lot of motion graphics and animation. I moved to a larger agency, and worked in the interactive department. If you went into a radio shack, and saw a demo of Compaq computers playing, then you’ve seen my work. If you bought a colorful iMac, when you first turned it on, it said hello in number of languages. That was us. When the Apple stores opened, the on-screen animations showing their products came from our group. Then the dot com crash happened.
I moved agencies again, and continued to create animations and transition to video editing. One of the things that was difficult at the time, was green-screen compositing. As I was the one that would be doing the keying, I began traveling to sets to technical direct the footage being shot. As I grew into that role, I began to learn how film sets worked. My interest in cameras and digital video grew. As the agency grew, I bought video equipment that I rented to the company for shoots. We had 4 edit stations, and a full studio for making corporate communication and product showcase videos. I was in charge of it all.
I owned a Panasonic HVX200, which was a game-changing camera, in it’s day. On the internet forums, this guy that owned Oakley glasses began talking about making a revolutionary camera. At NAB, they showcased the Red One Digital Cinema camera. It was revolutionary, but there was no way that I could afford it. I saved for two years, and was finally a late adopter of the Red One camera. I rode the Red wave through their upgrade program, from the Red One up through the Dragon.
Through a series of management errors, and the housing crisis, the agency that I was working for took a dive. Shortly before I left the company, I had reignited my interest in creating comic books. Thanks to my lovely wife’s encouragement, I wrote the first four issues of ‘Taking Eden’. When I was finally laid off, I decided to put my 20 years of agency life behind me. I had made some good decisions with my money, so I decided to take the leap into creating comic books full time.
At first, I was still working on a lot of video projects. I worked with a lot of aspiring directors to help them create their passion projects. I filmed a number of shorts such as Delve, MORAV, The Trespasser and other short films that were never completed. I grew disillusioned by the amount of work I was doing for no return. I found myself taking gigs that were pulling too much of my time away from my own creations. Despite working on engaging content, and often at decent pay, I found myself taking gigs to support camera upgrades. I decided to sell my gear, and put it into my stories.
When I was kid, if people asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, my smart ass responded with, “A has-been”. I always thought that it would be better to be a has-been, than a never-was. At this point in my life, fifty is approaching fast. While I have magazines showcasing my work, 13 telly awards, a house and kids, I’m still a never-was. My success has been moderate, and my acclaim underwhelming. I feel lucky for the experiences that I’ve had, and I wouldn’t change anything. The best part of this story is that with 25 comic books written, and 21 completed to date, the opportunity to rise from obscurity still exists. I’ve thrown a ton of myself into the books, and it’s my strongest desire that you enjoy them and reread them for years to come.
Thanks for taking the time to read this. Both of you.