What I need to do

How a talking raccoon kept me out of jail and made me follow my dreams

I should be in jail right now.

Surrounded by bars, shorn of my Bachelor-contestant hair and signature scruff, two years deep into a 40-year sentence where I would have plenty of time to contemplate how the salutatorian of his graduating class ended up in this spot.

During the summer of 2014, I was nearing the end of the hiring process to work in the Erie County Sheriff’s Department where I would work in a jail or holding center guarding inmates.

Essentially, my work would involve going to jail every day for a good chunk of the rest of my life.

I always assumed I would work in law enforcement more than I aspired to the field. It’s a solid career that pays well with good benefits that required very little prerequisites as far as schooling.

I had passed the written and physical exams with relative ease. I interviewed with a panel of three officers, one of which was a very small Latino gentleman who did not speak and just stared me down while I answered their hypothetical questions including what I would do if a friend tried to drive home drunk from a clam bake I was hosting.

I paid to have my fingerprints taken and answered the questions that would be used in my future lie detector test, mostly going down a list of slang terms for drugs and saying whether or not I had partaken in them.

By August, I was just waiting for the call to tell me when academy would start and life as I knew it would end.

But I received a much more important call – an invitation from my friend Saeed to see “Guardians of the Galaxy,” starring the schlub from “Parks and Recreation” and Bradley Cooper as a talking raccoon.

James Gunn, the writer and director of the film, made me care more about characters that – even as a lifelong comic book fan – I knew nothing about more than I care about some people in my actual life.

Five minutes into the film, I was in tears. Five minutes later I was in stitches. I had never seen such a well-done, tightly scripted movie on that scale.

I left thinking, “Man, I wish I could do something like that.”

That quickly changed into, “Why can’t I do something like that?”

Which became, “I need to do something like that.”

I called the Sheriff’s Department to turn down my position and enrolled in UB to major in film in the department of media study.

I gave up a life of guaranteed stability to gamble on what is, to be fair, a bit of a pipe dream. And I’m sure I am not the only one.

Maybe my fellow DMS students weren’t about to strap a gun to their hip and vow to protect and to serve, but they are risking a lot here, forgoing the “guaranteed” path because this is what they need to do.

This is our lives and we treat it very seriously. And that is why I get so angry when the department doesn’t treat us the same way when we voice our concerns about not being properly prepared to enter the industry.

The department will tell you simultaneously that they are preparing students adequately but also that this is not the focus of the department which is very much steeped in experimental film. They put down the traditional “Hollywood” techniques. The same techniques that affected me so much and brought me here in the first place.

The techniques that will actually get you a job after you graduate.

Granted, I know personally I could have done better research before coming here regarding exactly what the department is about.

But when most of your students are dissatisfied with the curriculum, maybe it’s time to start making changes.

I also know that outside of UB, I did not have many choices if I wanted an affordable education in the area.

And so like many DMS students, I am left to do a lot on my own. Getting equipment and working on projects outside of school because I do not believe that writing essays about how Sartre can relate to a French film from the ‘70s will make me a better filmmaker.

That’s what James Gunn would have done.

That’s what Star-Lord would do.

That’s what I’ll do.

Because this is what I need to do.

David Tunis-Garcia is the arts editor and can be reached at david.garcia@ubspectrum.com