'Film School' is Steve Boman's account of wild ride in career change

Steve Boman
After a career in journalism and househusbandry, Steve Boman took a leap of faith and went to film school at USC. After a disastrous start, he ended up creating a show for CBS. He expounds upon his adventures (and missteps) in his memoir "Film School."
MPR photo/Euan Kerr

There are many reasons to go to film school. Steve Boman says his was desperation. A reporter by trade, Boman saw his opportunities narrowed dramatically by the seismic changes in the journalism world.

In his early 40s, he took off for one of the most prestigious film schools in the world at the University of Southern California. Boman's memoir, "Film School," recounts what turned out to be a wild ride.

Longtime Minnesota Public Radio listeners may recall Boman reporting from KLSE in Rochester in the 1980s, where he covered stories as varied as the concerns of the local immigrant community, medial breakthroughs at the Mayo Clinic, and the controversy over whether Amish people should be required to place reflective orange 'slow moving vehicle' triangles on their buggies.

He left Rochester for a job as a courier for an organ transplant service, flying around the country on lifesaving missions. Then he worked in newspapers.

When his wife, Julie, went through medical school and residency, they moved to California and he became a househusband, caring for their three children.

When doctors diagnosed Julie with thyroid cancer, meaning she would need months of treatment, Boman saw he needed to do something dramatic to get back into the work world.

"I am not going to do it by going back and working as a general assignment reporter, or as a corporate speech writer," Boman said. "And it was Julie, my wife, who said 'Have you ever thought of film school?'"

'Film School' book cover
The Cover of "Film School" is a caricature of Steve Boman and his family, with heavy Conan the Barbarian influences. Instead of a sword, he brandishes an Ariflex camera. As the Hollywood sign burns in the background, a villainous hipster film student is a menacing presence. Boman says it's a tongue-in-cheek admission that as a Minnesotan he felt a little out of place at the USC film school.
Image courtesy BenBella Books

It was a crazy idea, but Boman felt he had run out of options.

"I thought, yeah, I can't do much. I seem to only to be able to tell stories and do poor carpentry," he said. "So I applied to one school that it seemed like the most sense to go to, and that was the University of Southern California."

When he was accepted to USC, Boman admits thinking that with his journalism background, film school wouldn't be too hard.

"The very first day one of the instructors comes in and says, 'We had a student who had been to medical school and had been an ER doctor before he came. And then he went to film school and he said going to film school was much, much harder than his experience in medical school,'" Boman recalled. "And I thought 'That is a bunch of baloney.'"

But as he relates in his book, Boman found film school has a way of building you up, and then slapping you down. Making movies even on a basic level is a complex business. Not only does a film student have to wrangle the technical details, there's the challenge of getting a script, actors, and people to run the camera and sound.

And then there were other complications.

A couple of weeks into his first semester, Boman thought he could avoid a major hassle by using his own children as actors for his first film project. All went well until the screening, when the instructor demanded to know whether Boman had a "studio teacher" on set while he filmed the children.

A studio teacher watches out for the welfare and education of child actors during shoots. Boman hadn't hired one, and the usual penalty was expulsion from school.

Ultimately the instructor let him off, but the rest of the semester was so stress-filled that Boman dropped out at the end and moved back to Minnesota. He returned to USC two years later, only to have disaster strike again as classes were due to begin. Boman had a stroke, at the age of 42.

Remarkably, he had no lasting effects, and Boman was determined to get through. Within 90 minutes of being released from the stroke unit, he was back at film school. The next few months were terrifying, until he learned how to control his condition.

In Boman's third semester came another improbable development, what he calls a "freaky thing... a class exercise that snowballed into a prime-time series, just as simple as that."

The drama series, called Three Rivers, was set in a transplant hospital; it was a pitch that Boman wrote based on his experiences as an organ courier.

Three Rivers premiered on CBS in October 2009, but lost out in the ratings contest to Desperate Housewives. It got pulled off the Sunday evening schedule after only two months, and the remaining episodes were used as summer filler in 2010.

Somewhat surprisingly, Boman said he wasn't all that disappointed when the show was cancelled.

"Heck no! It went way further than I thought it would," he said.

Steve Boman is back in Minnesota now, working on a new series, but can't divulge anything about it.

What he can say is that he feels a little squeamish every time he sees his memoir, "Film School," in a bookstore, because it's so personal. However he believes people will remember it long after they have forgotten Three Rivers.

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