Cradle to Grave: From Our Backyard to Hollywood
Posted Jun 5, 2009

I've often heard of fathers trying to live out their dreams through their children. In my case, I actually am--and my son seems none the worse for it. Through my college career, one of the things I wanted to do was to study filmmaking. For many reasons, this was not to be. My interest in film finally found expression when I started my video business in 1988. My son, Jason, was 14 at the time and very eager to work with me in this new venture. Whereas many dads connect with their sons through sports, Jason and I connected through video. We spent many hours together making music videos and short films, as well as shooting various events.

As we worked and learned together, it became very obvious that making movies was a passion for him--and something he was very good at. After high school, he continued to learn about video production in college. He was very popular in his college video classes, not only because of his great personality but because he and his friends could work on projects on my nonlinear editing system-something the school had not yet invested in.

After getting his degree in broadcasting and communication, Jason moved to Hawaii, where he did video work for a nonprofit organization. It was through this contact that ESPN heard about him and hired him to do freelance camerawork for a deep sea fishing show. In addition to his on-location work with ESPN, he also traveled extensively, doing video work for the nonprofit group.

His ultimate dream, though, was to go to Los Angeles and become a movie director. By the time he finally made the move, he already had a decade of video experience. He told me, "The key along the journey was saying ‘yes' to shooting nearly everything-from a blushing bride to a speckled catfish."

His work on a soundstage soon led to other opportunities for using his skills, from editing to directing short films.

"I'm happiest when I am on a set working," is a statement that he would frequently make in our discussions of his work. Recently, two feature films that he directed had their debut within a week of each other. The first, Coyote County Loser, is a romantic comedy that was shot in New Mexico.

The second is a "mockumentary" called Jesus People (www.jesuspeoplefilm.com), a film that grew out of a series of short videos written and produced by two of Jason's friends, Dan Ewald and Rajeev Sigamoney.

Having been a keen observer of Jason's journey from our backyard to the back lots of Hollywood, I asked him to share how his experience as an event videographer (yes, he has shot countless weddings) helped prepare him for his current vocation as a director.

"My background in video work has been invaluable for my work in Hollywood," he told me. "It was a huge advantage to have so much of the technical knowledge already set before learning how to communicate with a DoP, break down a script, coach a performance out of an actor, and all the other required skills of a film director. When you're covering a live event, you have to think ahead about your coverage as there's so much you can't control.

"Having that live videography experience has been a huge help when planning the shots needed to tell a story. I found that my experience as an event videographer especially paid off with Jesus People," he explained. "It was shot as if it was a ‘live event,' in that it looked like a real documentary. A lot of the comedy was improvised, so I had to cover it with two cameras ‘in the moment.'
For purposes of style and function, I was able to draw upon the techniques from my past."

In watching Jason's journey, I've also seen that it has not been easy. Only those willing to make personal sacrifices and not give up their dreams are the ones who have a chance of succeeding.

Knowing what a price he paid to get where he is today as a filmmaker, I asked Jason, "What advice would you give to an event videographer who wants to break into motion pictures?"

"Don't do it! It's life-sucking work and highly competitive," he replied. "It takes a lot to achieve any level of success in showbiz, and the process is long and hard. If that doesn't stop you, then the key to ‘doing it' is to just do it.

"With the opportunities the internet gives us, a filmmaker can shoot and edit anywhere, upload the film, and then find an audience. For the event videographer, taking advantage of technical experience and the ability to tell a story are key to starting the process of breaking into filmmaking.

"When you cover an event, you're telling a story. Draw upon those instincts. Start with small, simple projects and go from there. Both of the films I directed were done because someone just decided to make a film, no matter the obstacles."

Jason and I still make movies together-usually of family gatherings. As I watch him work with his nieces and nephews and observe the fun and excitement they experience, I wonder, are they the next generation of filmmakers? Time will tell.

Alan Naumann (alan@memoryvision.tv) is the author of The Complete Course on Funeral Videography, an updated and expanded version of his popular Business Everlasting training DVD. A featured speaker at WEVA Expo 2004-8 and a two-time EventDV 25 honoree, he is based in Minneapolis.