Sam Raimi's First Professional Film Job Was Commercial Driving (Badly)

Director Sam Raimi was born in Royal Oak, Michigan, a suburb of Detroit. He attended high school in Beverly Hills, Michigan, and attended Michigan State University. In the late 1970s, when Raimi was still a teen, he began shooting Super 8 movies with his friends — including his buddy Bruce Campbell — in the woods and streets of his home state. By the time he was 22, Raimi had managed to gather up the wherewithal to fund "The Evil Dead," his most ambitious project up to that time. "The Evil Dead" became an underground sensation and cemented his career as a filmmaker. The movie is shown on the midnight circuit to this day. 

But, like any successful person, Raimi's career wasn't as clear as any brief biography could possibly elucidate. Raimi wasn't making a living with his filmmaking, and he, like so many of us, had to pay his dues. For years, Raimi worked a series of crappy, low-paying jobs in order to make ends meet. The future director knew he wanted to have a career in cinema, but as a young man, didn't yet have the know-how to begin a career in earnest. As such, he plunged headlong into the local Detroit filmmaking scene ... which was, at the time, mostly commercials and car-related industrial features. Detroit, after all, was a car town. 

Raimi, who produced the new movie "65," took part in a recent AMA session on Reddit with the "65" directors Scott Beck and Ryan Woods. One fan asked Raimi what his earliest film industry experiences were like, and he recalls a job where he was yelled at for driving badly. It seems Raimi lied about his driving abilities to get the gig, and that got him in trouble. 

The Detroit film industry

Of course, when one refers to "the Detroit film industry," one isn't describing mainstream feature films. Most American studio movies were shot in Los Angeles, or funded by American dollars and shot overseas for tax reasons. It seemed rare that a Malibu mogul would bolt upright and think of Detroit as a filming location. As such, Sam Raimi — as a lad interested in movies — went into the not-so-glamorous world of car advertising. Raimi recalled his early jobs as a teen, writing: 

"The only professional Detroit film industry jobs were making commercials so Bruce Campbell and myself would get part time jobs after school working at low budget commercial production companies. We'd sweep the studio floors, get the clients coffee, set up snacks, hit the slate and generally help out. Because Detroit is an automobile town most of the commercials were selling cars so we'd learn from the grips how to use spray on the hubcaps, how to professionally light an automobile, how to use silks ..."

Many in the industry can likely tell similar stories to Raimi's, as many of the entry points to filmmaking are at the bottom. Many future cinema luminaries or office workers who make a living behind the scenes started in mail rooms, next to filing cabinets, or fetching 30-year-old key art out of a creepy vault located in the studio's underground parking structure. That last one is a personal experience of this author who spent two years interning for Roger Corman in the early 2000s. 

One does learn a lot from these menial jobs, although the skills may not always be useful to rise in the ranks. Additionally, low-paying, entry-level studio gigs are the opposite of glamorous. Sometimes a low-paying job is just a low-paying job.

Stay in formation!

The above photo is indeed Sam Raimi, appearing as a hitchhiker in "The Evil Dead." That's about as clear as he appears on screen. 

Raimi continued to talk about how horrible it was to work in the studios, fetching coffee and sweeping floors. It became even more horrible when he and Bruce Campbell were asked to drive in formation with other cars. Raimi jumped in to help, despite the fact that he had no professional driving experience. He recalls a lot of shouting and anger. The director wrote: 

"[T]he hellish days were when the producers would grab us and tell us 'HEY KID get in that car you're driving! We're gonna make a 'W' formation and then a 'V!' The producer would be yelling at me through the radio telling me I was ruining this saying 'CAR SIX, HAVEN'T YOU EVER DRIVEN IN FORMATION BEFORE?!' And I was so nervous to admit I was Car Six and hadn't ever driven in formation. We learned a lot during our time as production assistants."

It may be his experience as a P.A. that taught Raimi a more practical, hands-on approach to filmmaking. In interviews, Raimi rarely feints toward pretension and seldom affects any pretense of being an artist. He appears to be more of a "Let's just get it done" type of filmmaker. Working as a P.A. on car commercials will certainly make the romance of filmmaking fade quickly. But Raimi developed an attitude of whimsical tenacity that led to some of the more entertaining B-movies of his generation. If you, dear reader, are stuck in a low-paying production job, know that you could still be the next Sam Raimi.