The day after he dropped his son off to join the Marines, Tom Roush walked into his boss’ office and gave two weeks’ notice without another job lined up.
“I’m done,” Roush told his boss at the TV station where he sold ads. “I hated going to work and I thought, ‘I can just sit here or I can do something about it.’ ”
His balls-to-the-wall, why-the-hell-not attitude, his natural curiosity and willingness to learn new things — mixed with a little luck — have led to a rich, fulfilling life for Roush. It has propelled him from a small town on Florida’s “Redneck Riviera” to a prosperous film career in Hollywood to a successful 17-year run in ad sales.
Roush has never been one to wait for things to happen for him. Whether driven by passion or personal circumstances, he has reinvented himself numerous times over the past three decades. It’s a process that has been exciting and fulfilling, but also lonely and painful at times.
“But for all of the poorly planned things I’ve done throughout my life, things have worked out pretty well,” says 55-year-old Roush. “Every time I jump, I usually land somewhere and work to make something of it.”
A Lifelong Wanderer
Now Roush has landed in a new job as an account executive at Data Gumbo in a cutting-edge industry — blockchain. Blockchain, originally devised for the digital currency, is a system in which a record of transactions is maintained across several computers that are linked.
He’s traveled a long way from Penscacola, Florida, where he grew up in a town with little diversity but a lot of religion. His father worked at a paper mill and his mother was a school teacher. Nobody around him was doing anything he wanted to do.
“I was a wanderer,” says Roush. “My ambition was to leave.”
So, in the middle of his junior year of high school, he dropped out. One of the few things he knew how to do was play music — trombone and guitar. So he worked odd jobs and applied — sight unseen — to California Institute of the Arts (CalArts), one of the nation’s leading colleges of the visual and performing arts.
“I had never been there before and just showed up,” he recalls. “I slept in a room where they stored mattresses.”
Getting a Face Full of Everything
For someone who grew up in a sheltered world — where everyone pretty much looked the same — CalArts was a major culture shock.
“I didn’t know any Jews and I’d heard rumors about people being gay,” he says. “I saw my first Shakespearean play and my first foreign-language film. I got a full face full of everything at CalArts.”
Roush jumped into this new world with both feet, fully embracing all of the new people and experiences. He graduated with a music degree and moved from Valencia in the Santa Clarita Valley to Venice Beach. To pay his bills, he played in a few bands, taught guitar lessons and worked a “mind-numbing job” filing papers at a law firm.
“I lived in an apartment that was so small that when you opened the refrigerator, you hit the counter,” Roush says, describing the Venice Beach place he shared with two friends.
Making It in the Movie Business
The only people he knew who were making a living worked in the movie business. So that’s where he set his sights. While visiting Pensacola, he found out that Florida State University was launching a film school. He moved back and finished the two-year program, heading back to Los Angeles where he got a job working for special-effects shop Cinesite Studios.
“I remember the first day of work, thinking, ‘I’m in the movie business, I’ve made it,’” Roush recalls. “I was so happy to have a job, I didn’t give a damn what we were working on.”
What he was working on turned out to be Waterworld — the most expensive film made at the time and what one critic called an “embarrassing, confusing cinematic disaster.” But while some may have panned it, working on the film was great experience for Roush, who cut strips of film to splice in the special effects — a skill he had learned in film school. He enjoyed working with “the Kevins” — actor Kevin Costner and director Kevin Reynolds.
In a stroke of luck, Roush met a woman whose brother, Clint Culpepper, was the script acquisitions manager at Columbia TriStar Home Video — now Sony Pictures Entertainment. Culpepper needed somebody to read scripts and provide summaries.
So Roush, who worked the night shift from 7 pm to 7 am at Cinesite, would have the scripts messengered to him, read and summarize them during his down time, and have them back to Culpepper by the time he got to work. He said people were making multimillion-dollar decisions based on his summaries.
“Eventually, they sent me more scripts than I could summarize,” he says. “He offered me a job as the story editor.”
From a Tiny Apartment to Cannes
Eventually, Roush became manager of acquisitions. He was living the high life, staying in the lavish Sony Suite at the Cannes Film Festival overlooking the iconic red-carpeted steps, making good money and writing scripts.
But Roush’s life would take another turn, this time back to his hometown. At this point, he was married to a girl he had gone to hig