Living La Vita Loca
Nick Hauselman's professional history reads like few others'. He's a writer and an equipment junkie, a guy equally comfortable putting pen to paper, interviewing subjects on-camera, directing a crew, and editing footage in Final Cut Pro. When he describes his services as script-to-screen, you're inclined to believe him.
The Chicago native began tinkering with video cameras as a member of his high school's video yearbook staff, but his exposure to videography and screenwriting—and his interest in pursuing both professionally—dates to his youth. "My mother wrote educational videos when I was a kid, so I've always been around the process," Hauselman recalls. "I've always been a writer."
He continued to hone both skills while earning a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. During his sophomore year, Hauselman spent a semester in London "shooting all sorts of footage with my Panasonic VHS-C camera. I edited it down, VCR to VCR, and went to the local audio shop to do the audio dub," he explains. "I laid down the music after the fact and sold a bunch of my highlight reels to other people on that trip. It was pretty rudimentary, but it was my first real venture into videography."
Soon thereafter, he and a college buddy began writing comedy sketches, which they shot and edited for a show they dubbed The Fourth Rail. A local television station started broadcasting the show and "suddenly, random people in Madison would recognize us on the street," Hauselman says. "Writing those sketches indulged my screenplay interests." It was an itch he would continue to scratch after graduating in 1994. "That first year out of college, I wrote and directed a 16mm short film. I had a crew and shot over five or six days. Rather than spend three years and a lot of money going to film school, I did that." He also started writing full-length features in earnest. "I can't claim any classical training as far as the screenwriting is concerned," he explains. "I read a lot of books, became a student of film. I casually studied plot structure and wrote maybe five or six screenplays along the way."
During that time, Hauselman worked as a trained interviewer for the Shoah Foundation, filmmaker Steven Spielberg's effort to videotape and collect the testimonies of remaining Holocaust survivors, and as a camera-assistant volunteer. He also trained at Second City, Chicago's famed improvisational comedy club, and at ImprovOlympic (now the i.O. Theater), another training center known for its long-form improvisational comedy. "ImprovOlympic was the antithesis of Second City," Hauselman says of the years he spent training there with coach Tina Fey, now Saturday Night Live's head writer. "All of those experiences slowly mixed with who I was and fostered my ability to be creative and to write."
By September 1996, Hauselman was living in Los Angeles, working on commercials and the occasional film. He served as a location assistant for the feature films While You Were Sleeping, Love Jones, and My Best Friend's Wedding. He taught English at a public high school in L.A. He continued to write screenplays and had "very encouraging meetings" with producers and agents throughout Hollywood. From these experiences, Hauselman adds, he learned "how to be in front of people and how to direct"—skills that would come in particularly handy for what would come next.
Will Work for Film
In early 2002, Hauselman became a professional videographer via the formation of Will Work For Film Productions (WWFFP), a full-service studio that specializes in wedding, birthday, and concept videos. His "first big break" came the following year, he says, when a San Francisco-based friend hired him to produce a video commemorating businessman George Roberts' 60th birthday roast. (Roberts is a co-founder of the private equity firm that famously bought out RJR Nabisco in 1989. Publicity from the buyout—the largest in history—later inspired the book and film Barbarians at the Gate.) "This was an elaborate, $100,000 budgeted video that incorporated interview footage, archival footage, and South Park-style animation," Hauselman says of the project, which he co-produced, co-wrote, and edited. "I'd never worked on anything that big, from a budget standpoint. It put me in the position financially to upgrade all of my equipment. It also sparked this golden egg question: ‘How can I get more of those types of projects?'"
Months later, Hauselman would catch another break, this time working on the roast video for the rehearsal dinner preceding the 2005 wedding of actor John O'Hurley (best-known as Seinfeld's J. Peterman). "It had a $50,000 budget and was the most fun I've ever had on a project," he recalls. "I got to interview famous people like Loni Anderson, Robert Hays [of Airplane! fame], and Cheech Marin. I got to do cutting-edge stuff with green screens and 3D backgrounds. It was really creative and funny, and it enabled me to buy a whole new lighting package."
Since then, Hauselman has earned several WEVA Creative Excellence Awards and has built his business primarily through word-of-mouth referrals. He also maintains a website loaded with video clip samples of the concept videos, industrial projects, and special event videos (weddings, bar mitzvahs, birthdays, and roasts, among them) he's completed. "Having a cool website is really important, especially now," he insists. "People want to see something before they call."
From the beginning, Hauselman has operated WWFFP as a one-man shop that is open to clients "24/7," and he continues to market himself accordingly. "My selling point is that I do everything," he says. "I do the scriptwriting, the shooting, the editing. I'll mic it, light it, do the interviews. I'd love to have an assistant, but it's cheaper to do it myself." It's a model that seems to have worked, too: In four years, Hauselman has been involved in well over 100 projects of all types and sizes.
Judging from the diversity of writing and producing experiences Hauselman has racked up in the past 15 years, it seems he's happiest when he has lots of irons in the fire. When he's not working on WWFFP projects, he's working on screenplays, writing new ones when inspiration strikes, and pitching existing ones (among them a mockumentary and a thriller) to agents, producers, and other Hollywood movers and shakers. Just this spring, he teamed up with an established television and feature film producer to develop a New York-based historical drama he wrote. The two are currently securing financing and looking for a studio to greenlight the project.
Also this spring, Hauselman partnered with EventDV contributing editor David Robin, founder of Encino, California-based Boulevard Video Productions, to create a new venture that will focus on high-concept and industrial videos with budgets of $10,000 or more. According to Hauselman, Da Vinci Media Works aims to become "the in-house production company for corporations" with big budgets and big ideas.
"David's been around for 20 years and is firmly entrenched with video planners, so this is a great opportunity for me to merge my creativity with his production values," Hauselman says of the venture, which completed in May a demo for Sequoia Productions, the largest event production company in the Los Angeles area. "I've been consulting with David on Boulevard Video projects for awhile, and with this partnership, there will be a different kind of energy." From his work with Da Vinci, Hauselman says, "I hope to learn some new techniques and new skills—directing kids, for example—and with WWFFP, I'll still get to do the smaller stuff, too."
No matter what he's doing, Hauselman says he'll always try to infuse his work with some element of surprise. "I want to be as unique and creative and funny as possible without recycling old ideas," he explains. "I never want to do the same thing twice, so I'll ask myself, ‘What's the last thing you'd expect to see in this situation?' And then I'll do it."