Its an early morning here in the corner booth at Panera, I’m drinking my second cup of hazelnut coffee and out the window I see the slow but obvious approach of fall written in the flat puffy clouds that hide the sunrise. I’m all hazelnutted out, hazelnut coffee, hazelnut cream cheese on my bagel, clearly I’m not fighting the end of summer anymore. The fall always brings with it a certain level of, lets say, “emotional intensity” in me. Its the time of my birthday, the season that marks the end of the freedoms and possibilities of summer and the return social structures of the classroom. But this emotional intensity of fall always helps me create some of my best films and video work. Its when I created “Lull”, the first real film I did that pretty much launched my videography career as I know it.
So as the soundtrack to J.J. Abrams “Super 8” plays from my woefully inadequate and severely damaged iPhone, I figured I would share with you all, the story of how I became a “videographer”.
My path to filmmaking didn’t start recently mind you, even though I’ve only been recognized for my work over the last few years. My love of cinematography and my obsession and commitment to it started over 30 years ago. I came from a family of 4 where money was not a luxury, and at times we struggled. The cool kids wore levis, I wore “toughskins”. We bought “No Name” cereal in the white box with the black writing. Showers were limited to 2 minutes, then the water got shut off. The thing that did not lack though, was love and encouragement. I may not have gotten brand new G.I. Joes at Christmas, but when the toys would end up on the warehouse shelves of Zylas for 1/3 of the price, we could get them. We never went without anything, we just had to be creative about how we got it.
In those early days, I remember seeing my grandfather with his old super 8 camera, taking videos of the dogs, Grammy hanging laundry, anything that was happening around the 200 year old house that sat at the top of the dirt road. I love my grandfather, so much so that I named this company after him, (he’s the Earl in Earl Studios), and thats one of the reasons I become so interested in that old super 8 camera, it was an excuse to hang out with Grampa. For years I played around with the super 8 camera, shot some fun stuff, but the thing that always held me back was I could never get further than the shooting. It cost money to get film developed, and once you did that you needed a projector to show it, and these were just not options for us.
In high school I was lucky enough to have a group of film buff friends like me, we would watch films constantly, reciting lines verbatium, piling into the family van for Friday nights at the Bedford Mall, back when they had a theater. In our group, we had the one “rich friend” whose dad had bought him a shoulder mounted vhs camera that we used to shoot our summer films, ghostbusters redux’s and Indiana Jones tribute films. Back then, there was no real way to edit those tapes, so if we wanted to make a film, we had to shoot each scene back to back chronologically.
Once my mother graduated from nursing school things got easier for us, and I still remember the day we both snuck off to Lechemere after she got home to buy me my first video camera, a Bell + Howard vhsc with awesome special effects like “Sepia tone” and “Black and white” and “fade to black”. “Don’t tell your father” she said. I went everywhere with that camera, shot everything, did alot of cheesy stuff like pan and zooms and things today that make me cringe, but I was out there shooting, filming, living my dream. I took that camera with me off to the Army and would spend my downtime in the isolation of the backwoods of Louisana making goofy films with my friends, like “Chucklehead” and “Chucklehead 2”. At this point, I had progressed enough in my sophistication that I figured out how to run 2 vcrs together to edit my films, running them back and forth, playing one and hitting record on the other. I figured out that if I cut out and pasted titles on a tv screen, then filmed that screen with the video out running back into the tv, I could create this cool wormhole effect. Back in those days, there was no internet, the book store was the library, and for a kid like me, there was no easy way to figure out how to do any of this stuff, the only option was to go to film school, which even with my GI Bill, was not an option.
I continued to make my little films through college, recruiting my acting class friends to be in my films like “Meathand” and “Coffee with Rachel”, which, looking back all my films had the same story line, an outcast nerd who falls in love with a girl out of his league and yet somehow in the end the get together. I started the “Independent Filmmakers Guild” at UNH, which got its name because I was inspired by George Lucas’s story of working outside the Hollywood system, which is what I was doing, mostly because I lived on the other side of the country.
I’m sure at this point, if your still reading, your asking yourself “Hey Jeremy, why didn’t you go to film school like your friend at Emerson, or move to LA when you got out of the Army?”. Well my faithful reader, I’ll tell you why. The first reason is money. Film school, or at least Emerson was so far out of my price range it was laughable, there was just no way I could amass the loans and grants to pay for the difference between that and the GI Bill. The second reason was because I was scared. All my life I had wanted to be in films, I acted in school plays, made films with my friends, it was my absolute dream of my life. But at every corner every single person told me that that dream was unreal, that I would fail, everything fails at filmmaking. Its not a responsible thing to do, to try to become a filmmaker, and eventually I believed them, and gave up on the dream. The last reason is that I love NH. I traveled all over when I was in the Army, saw so many places, but almost every day in the army I would pull out the UNH course catalog and dream of coming home and going to college at the place that I felt was the epitome of what I wanted my college years to be, the fall leaves, snow, walking the hallowed halls of higher education in my home state with my white baseball cap and sweatshirt tied around my waist.
More years passed, but not a day went by that I didn’t’ have a camera in my hand. By now they had improved to the mini-dv format, and we could shoot then import footage into the computer and create movies to show to everyone….well, almost. The internet was so slow it was unrealistic to post them online, and dvd burners were pricey, plus every dvd player was different, so the dvds played in some players but not others. None of that mattered though, because for the first time, I was actually making films, real films! I could shoot something, take the 2 or 3 hours to get it into the computer, edit the clips, add music and titles and there it was, a real film!
That was 2000, 15 years ago, and I’ve been committed to making this my life ever since. I wasted the prior 20 years because I didn’t’ commit, I didn’t’ go for it as they say…I didn’t believe in myself. I should have followed my heart back then, but I didn’t’ know all the self help positivity mumbo jumbo that I know now. Videography and filmmaking was not as “cool” as it is today, where everybody’s cousin with an iphone is a “filmmaker”, and likes are more important than actually talent. Someone can buy a 5d and in a week can call themselves a “filmmaker”.
That is not me, and its important for me to share that. Filmmaking is not a hobby for me, its not something I started doing last year because I realized that my camera also shoots video. Videography and filmmaking has been a part of my life as well as my dream since I was 10. Every thing in my life has always revolved around a camera, and I’ve always seen my life through a lens. But for most of that time, I was to scared to take a chance, to do what I loved because there was the risk that I could fail, and now I realize that I failed by not taking the chance to begin with. I’m 40-something, married, 2 kids, a house, car payments, student loans, I’ve never had more to lose than I do now, but despite all of that I choose to take the chance, to pursue the dream I had as a kid to make filmmaking and videography my life. If I fail, so be it, but one thing I’ve learned in my life is that you cannot fail when you do what you love.
If you read this far please print this out to redeem it for your free cappuccino .