The person who makes a success of living is the one who sees his goal steadily and aims for it unswervingly. That is dedication.
-Cecil B. De Mille
Everyone remembers the ‘star’ from high school. It could have been the prettiest girl in school, the valedictorian, the class clown, a beloved student who simply had the best personality, the top athlete or anyone else that may have stood out from the crowd. In my case it was, Nick (Dominick) Domingo. A handsome, strong singer and dancer, Nick led the choir (which would later be the inspiration for FOX’s hit TV show, “Glee”) as the president and most dedicated member of the John Burroughs Vocal Music Association. Despite his perfectionism, obvious talents and determination, Nick was always kind, humble and well-liked by his peers. Even as a teen, he had the charisma, professionalism and singing voice of an grown man. There was always something special about him; hence the reason for this month’s Spotlight. Burbank houses many talented people and Nick is one of those special and focused individuals. If anything, he’s an inspiration to anyone who wants to work hard to obtain their goals on their own. Even though high school seems like a million years ago, I will never forget the kindness he showed to all of the other kids he interacted with, myself included. A born leader.
For the interview, we met at Paty’s for lunch and caught up on his latest accomplishment; authoring the urban fairy tale, “The Nameless Prince”. Getting answers was like pulling teeth, because Nick does not like to talk about himself. He’s an incredible listener and has a sincere interest in other people’s life experiences, relationships, dilemmas, goals and every day issues.
DD: I know you have had quite the extensive career. Let’s start with what you did when you got out of high school. I know you’re an artist, you sing, dance, you’re a filmmaker, visual artist, and now an author. What can’t you do?
DD: I am just being honest. You were the guy in high school. You did everything. You were the star! That’s what I remember. You were VMA president, too!
DOMINICK: (Trying to change the subject) They modeled Glee after our show choir at Burroughs. Did you know that?
DD: Yes, I did.
DOMINICK: While they were developing the show, they needed a school to base their story on and so they used Burroughs. My sister sang the first solo in the very first pop show and we started 4 years later. It’s amazing that this whole legacy started around us and these kids [today] don’t even know it.
DD: What did you do after high school?
DOMINICK: After I got my GE out of the way from Valley College, I went straight to Art Center in Pasadena.
DD: And Art Center lead you to Disney, right?
DOMINICK: I started at Disney one month after I graduated from Art Center. I interned there half-way through school. They offered me a job while still in school, but I told them I needed to finish. They then told me to ‘knock on their door when I graduate’. One month after graduating college, with five bucks in my pocket, Disney told me to start work on Monday.
DD: Tell me what you did at Disney.
DOMINICK: I was a background painter by definition. It’s one of the few departments where your work appears on the screen untouched. I painted the backgrounds for, Lion King, Pocahontas, Hunchback of Notre Dame, Tarzan and Fantasia. I worked there for 10 years. I was living the dream at 21. I started at the top. People would ask me what I really wanted to and I would tell them ‘I was doing it’. You can live the dream. People couldn’t wrap their minds around that you can actually start at the top.
DD: But you’re very talented and lucky.
DOMINICK: I worked really hard for everything. Art Center is one of the most demanding schools in the country. I teach there now. It’s one of the most expensive schools, most demanding and I graduated with distinction, which is above honors. I was one of two people to graduate with distinction.
DD: Very impressive.
DOMINICK: Sorry to go on and on…. But considering I wasn’t born with a silver spoon in my mouth and I had to learn how to be a good student. I had nooooo skills. I had to learn everything on my own. I got private scholarships all on my own. I am kind of a hard-a** instructor on my students because I know they’re capable of anything. If I can do it, then anyone can.
DD: See, that’s inspiring. No, you weren’t born with a silver spoon, and yet you still went to the Harvard of art schools. After Disney where did you go?
DOMINICK: I left Disney 12 years ago. I got in at a good time and I got out at a good time. They call it the ‘Renaissance of Animation’. I would say that the Little Mermaid was the beginning of the Renaissance. I interned while Mermaid was being finished so my internship was surrounded by that film. A film would take 18 months in pre-production and 18 months of production. I would work on one film for three years. While working at Disney, I was burning the candle at both ends. I worked in freelance for other art directors at Random House (and other companies), so I would have something to fall back on. I have always wanted to write a children’s book. I missed out on my youth. I worked all of the time. I went to Paris to actually work for Disney. At one point in my youth, I thought we all had to suffer through our art and struggle, but while in Paris, I visited Rodin’s Garden and looked at how Victor Hugo lived while writing Hunchback and realized these people lived in luxury! I came back and realized I didn’t need to suffer through my art. Being an artist is having access to the struggle without having to live it.
DD: Did you speak French?
DOMINICK: Oui! I learned it just to work over there. I studied for three years.
DD: Tell me about your family.
DOMINICK: My parents met in ‘61 while cruising down Honolulu Boulevard in Montrose. My dad went to Hoover High School and my mom went to Glendale High. I have three older siblings. Burbank knows my family very well. My mother owned, Sharron’s Costumes [in Burbank] for 20 years. We were very involved at church. I was an officer at United Methodist Church, participated in Burbank On Parade every year and my sister was in ASB. We all were very involved in the community without even realizing it.
DD: Your parents raised some pretty good kids.
DOMINICK: My parents are very lucky. They have 16 grandkids and knock on wood, we’ve had very little tragedy. My parents did something right.
DD: You’ve had a pretty exciting life. Any other jobs that required you to relocate?
DOMINICK: I worked in Jerusalem for an animation lab. I was there for a month.
DD: What was THAT like?
DOMINICK: Amazing. I generally do what I do over here; Illustrator by trade, background painting, character design, visual development and other things as well. As far as Israel, there was incredible diversity. I was not in a disputed territory so all I saw was cooperation. It was wonderful. Everyone has their time to go worship at the same place; The Church of the Holy Sepulchre. There is a family that has held the keys to that place for over 500 years. They lock and unlocked the doors in order to allow all religious groups to go in during their particular prayer times. Isn’t that incredible?
DD: I had no idea that one family has done that for centuries. After you went to Israel and Paris, tell me what you did next….
DOMINICK: I wrote a screenplay about having a broken heart called, “Giving In”. I wrote it in two weeks. It’s about the anatomy of a broken heart and people aren’t comfortable with the heart break. If you can’t receive or give love, you begin to die. That’s the kind of premise of the screenplay. We have a limited tolerance for other people’s pain. I am the one guy who will listen to your break up stories. I have empathy for people’s pain. It was a very raw story. Bonnie Raitt gets her heart broken and she writes a song the next week. I had indirectly used my life experience in my work but I had never been that cathartic about it. It spoke to people. We did a reading in a theatre with actor, Chad Allen and everyone loved it.
DD: Tell me about film school.
DOMINICK: I sold my house and used the money to attend New York Film Academy. I shot my film on 35mm and worked really hard at it. You get out of film school, what you put into it. I put in my own money, so the stakes were higher. I loved learning in the trenches. It had a very high production level, beautiful to look at. It was my baby. My story telling skills have improved since that film, but the look of it was as good as it was going to get. It premiered at the Alex Theatre in Glendale. The Alex Film Society was very nice and allowed me to play it there and it later won some awards including; Best Short Film at Palm Springs International. It is not the best work I have done, but I have grown as a filmmaker.
DD: How many films have you made?
DD: All short films?
DOMINICK: Both short and feature. I want to make more. It’s hard rubbing two pennies together in this town. I am always joking ‘if you don’t have a rich uncle, it’s hard making a film in this town’. All I ever wanted was to make that one film and I love story telling. I love the film process. It’s a fabulous medium to work with. I always thought that I never wanted to be rich and I never wanted to be famous. I would just love for somebody to believe in my work and was able to finance my work from one film to the next. I would love to retire as a filmmaker.
DD: Your latest work of art, “The Nameless Prince”….. What inspired you to write this book?
DOMINICK: At one point in my career, I finally thought that making guerilla films, being on set is tough and that I still love story-telling, not just filmmaking. I realized I had a writing resume that was growing. I was turning 39 and mortality was kicking in. So, I started writing my memoires. They call it narrative nonfiction essays. A couple of them got in to anthologies and I thought, “OK, I am not crazy. I can do this”… I won an award for my piece on Paris. As far as, “The Nameless Prince” I wrote in about a year’s time while sitting in coffee shops. It takes place in Silver Lake where I lived.
DD: Are you the Nameless Prince?
DOMINICK: The main character is very much me. There’s a kid named, Seth who lives in an alternate realm. He travels through a porthole to another world and they call him, “The Nameless Prince”. He needs to figure out his name in order to save this realm. Seth is very autobiographical. He is a kid that’s a little different, an artist, and he’s ten years old. He’s one type of protagonist that you don’t read much about. Do you remember Eleni Christofi from school?
DD: Yes! Of course! (Eleni is a bubbly, kind, outgoing, blue-eyed Greek girl that attended JBHS just one grade between Nick and me).
DOMINICK: Well, the opening scene is our childhood. The character is Elena instead of Eleni. So, it’s a story of us as kids. I used to have to protect her and walk her home. We were neighbors. That’s just the opening scene.
DD: What age of readers is this book intended for?
DOMINICK: Young adult.
DD: Did you do the illustrations as well?
DOMINICK: Yes. (Nick opens up a folder and shows me large pages filled with swirling cool colors that formed incredible scenes around the young protagonist, Seth. Dominick’s fantastical artwork is jaw-droppingly beautiful).
DD: I love it! Your work is incredible.
DOMINICK: Thank you. I have a graphic novel version that’s out with the novel. They hit bookshelves this week. (He points to a bridge on one page of Seth’s world). See that? THAT is the Glendale Avenue Bridge and it is the porthole. It’s where it all takes place. I wrote a lot of this story without pause. I believe in allowing the creative process to flow. I know what I am writing about on one level but you can’t know what you’re really working out cathartically in the moment.
As we finished our lunches, Nick generously picked up the tab. We said our goodbyes and I got in my car and replayed the conversation we just had, over in my head. I am so impressed with him. He’s such an inspiration. Talking to him makes me want to finish all of my projects that are either half-done or just scratched out on the pages of a spiral notebook, I have set aside somewhere in my apartment. Life is about taking chances and Nick is the epitome of chances taken. I heard once that success is when opportunity and preparation meet. Are we born risk takers or do we decide to be that kind of person? That is a question I will have to ponder. Regardless, life is seemingly what you make of it. Thanks, Nick for your inspiration.
My next article: a review on, “The Nameless Prince”.
Dominick’s book launches July 15th.
For more information please visit www.TheNamelessPrince.com