By ERIC A. HOWALD
Of the Keizertimes
Bentley Michaels was living in Los Angeles and attending classes at Musicians Institute in 2009 when his roommate bailed on him, leaving him holding the bag on a $1,200-a-month apartment.
It’s a cliché, right? Someone heads to the bright lights of LA with a dream and little else fueling the escapade, only to end up crashing and burning through no fault of their own. Michaels wasn’t the first and won’t be the last, but he’d had something that most of those hard luck hardcases didn’t: a pair of McNary High School teachers who, in their own ways, had prepared him for such a challenge.
“I was in the perfect town with the perfect amount of incentive – not getting kicked out of my apartment – for all of my random skills,” Michaels said. “I made a list. I could play guitar, I could play bass, I could play piano, I could play drums, I could do voices, I could do impressions and I could act.”
He sent out 100 e-mails a day for five or six days every week and managed to survive on what he made using any combination of the listed skills prospective employers needed. The contacts he created are still creating job opportunities after a recent move back to Salem where he pays the bills working out of his basement studio as a full-time recording artist.
Most recently, he supplied the voice of a mobbed-up fox to an animation studio in Australia, but recent projects have come in from New York, LA, Texas, Canada and the United Kingdom.
“I recently did a commercial for Juanitas Chips and they needed music. Happy Mexican music was the only direction I got, but I made something. I wouldn’t know how to do that if I hadn’t learned it in high school.”
Michaels freely admits to being something of a jerk to most people while he attended McNary and, while he regrets the headaches he might have caused, there’s also a larger regret that still looms.
“I wish I would have realized the power of making things together,” Michaels said.
That’s not to say he was entirely oblivious to it. It was actually his willingness to be hit with a car that gained him entrée to Mike Markee’s film classes.
“I had to get Mr. Markee’s permission to be in the film class. I went down there as a scared freshman and in my first year in public school. I told him I love doing this, but he said, ‘Well, I don’t know ..,’” Michaels said. “At that point, Mike Gonzalez and Rich Zielinski burst into the door and announced that they needed someone to get hit with a car.”
Michaels volunteered on the spot.
“We went out totally unsupervised and Mike had this big old beast of an Oldsmobile. They hit me with that thing eight times,” Michaels said. The last take claimed Gonzalez’s sideview mirror as a casualty, but Markee had Michaels’ permission slip in-hand when he showed up back at his door.
“It ended up being the opening montage for the Celtic news program and the tagline was ‘So good it hurts,’” Michaels said.
It was the start of an important time in Michaels’ life and one he’s drawn on ever since. Markee was wise enough to teenage antics that students looking for an easy A often found his film classes more of a challenge. While the class did spend time watching movies, they also had to take notes and try to arrive at a better understanding as to the decisions involved in making them.
“Mr. Markee would get on our asses if we were sloppy. He instilled a a sense of being proud of what you’re doing. Yeah, maybe it was just the morning announcements, but he told us to edit them together like a champion, make the transitions look good,” Michaels said.
Michaels also fell under the wing of Linda Baker, the school’s then-drama maven, where he acted in all but one play in his four years. Baker knew of his interest in film and hounded Michaels to film the plays which turned into other jobs like filming music performances or helping schoolmates produce videos for college applications.
“I was a pain in the ass and she knew it, but I would do anything for her,” Michaels said. Other jobs for the drama department included helping choreograph fight scenes in Macbeth and teaching the entire Celtic offensive line to tap dance for an appearance in Oklahoma.
“She encouraged me to take ownership and use the things I knew to help out,” Michaels said.
After high school, Michaels spent time touring with his own band, American Barier, as drummer, and the lessons he learned about the arts at McNary went with him.
“I was the annoying guy. I was the one recording things, taking notes and then going back to the group to say this is how we can make it better,” Michaels said.
He intended to become a session drummer with a degree from the Musicians Institute, but he soon found himself making his own way by doing the work rather than attending classes about doing the work.
Connections made in that time period also helped him fulfill another dream, a gig as Batman in a short parody film.
“I thought I was going in for the voice, but the director wanted me to play the part. I don’t consider myself an actor, but if I hadn’t done all those things in high school, I wouldn’t have had the comfortability to step in front of a camera,” Michaels said.
Even the first contacts he made in film classes have turned into jobs. Gonzalez recently helped film and performed in Lake Noir, which was shot predominantly in Keizer. Michaels provided all the music for the finished project.
While the degree may still be something of a work-in-progress, Michaels recently started taking tutoring lessons in voice acting with the help of a mentor he connects with over Skype.
“After a few months, she had blown my mind. I made more money last month than I did in October, November and December,” Michaels said.
Last week, Michaels was invited back to McNary by the instructors heading up the various fine arts programs to speak with students. He was impressed enough with the current direction of the programs to want to be more deeply involved. He expects to be volunteer teaching sometime soon.
“They’re starting to integrate and mesh it,” Michaels said. “The kids are using the same programs I use to make a living. If this is what they like to do, they can start now by finding each other and making things together.”