Don't Let Fear Win, Take The Shot
“Go for it” is the advice advertising alumnus turned two-time Emmy nominated producer, writer and director Jonathan Buss ’94 gives to students, something he learned from experience. With no job to welcome him and no professional experience in the film industry, Buss took a gamble and moved to Los Angeles after graduating from Bradley. He paid his dues by working his way up the ladder and putting himself through film school. Eventually, the gamble paid off and Buss was part of the behind-the-scenes content for films like “Black Hawk Down,” “Anchorman” and “The Hangover.” He worked his way up to producing documentary series like CNN’s “The Sixties” and “The History of Comedy” and the HBO comedy film “7 Days in Hell.”
Buss had always dreamed of being in the entertainment business. After trying his hand at acting while in high school, he decided being the storyteller was more his speed. Told over and over again that “it was too risky” or to “pick something easier,” Buss relented and followed in his brother Michael ’92’s footsteps to study advertising at Bradley.
In the back of his mind, Buss still had his heart set on filmmaking. His plan was to gain experience by creating commercials — essentially short films — which would launch him into film. During his senior year internship with an ad agency, his boss told him, “Not everyone makes it in advertising.”
Crushing his idea of a safe, easy route this news led Buss to question his path. “I wondered why stick with something I don’t want to do,” he said. “Why not fail at something I really want to do?”
Once in LA, he applied to the University of Southern California School of Cinematic Arts (USC), cold-called companies for jobs and revisited the contacts he made during a Bradley class trip. His only lead was a friend of a friend who produced documentaries on the set of major motion pictures and offered to let him job shadow.
“I basically worked for free, helped wherever I could and took in as much information as possible.” After two weeks, the owner liked what he saw and offered Buss a full-time job. “It was the best of both worlds, the great storytelling that comes from documentaries and the excitement of being a part of a major motion picture like ‘Apollo 13.’” To top it off, he was accepted to USC that same week.
Buss is in his element when involved in the creative aspects of a project. He likes to be at the heart of the story. “There is always an interesting perspective to everyone’s story.” He also measures success when he hears that first laugh from the audience or sees the audience click with the story.
“I was always drawn to comedy,” said Buss. “I was the student making my classmates and even the teacher laugh. I like to get a rise out of people.”
When he received his first Emmy nomination for “Everybody Loves Raymond: The Last Laugh,” Buss was excited and in shock. “It wasn’t about winning, I was just excited to be included among a group of people I admired.”
Returning to the Hilltop to speak with film students, he urged them to take the initiative and that hard work pays off. Buss also said not to let fear win and that failure is a stepping stone.
“This is advice I still follow today,” he said. “People will appreciate that you took the shot and will nurture your initiative,” he said. “What I look for when hiring is someone who works hard, shows up on time, and is respectful. Don’t be afraid to ask, ‘What more can I do?’”