So, before we dive into my recent talk with Kyle, you might remember him from this video that he filmed on Maggie and I back in 2014. Kyle has been a dear friend and fellow creative. We'll often hop on a call and chat about the industry, creativity and how we fit our creative perspective into an ever-changing world.
One our most recent call wanted so see where Kyle's mind was and where he was heading, so we put this interview together.
JB: How do you describe your creative style?
KJ: My creative style combines live documentary style with a beautiful cinematic look, taking what is and romanticizing it.
JB: That's an amazing approach, how have your influence impacted you?
Being a business man and cinema photographer
KJ: Running a video production company really requires 2 engines that are equally important - Business and Art. You can’t have one without the other. If you’re a great business person but your videos are stale and look like they’ve been shot by an amateur, no one will want to hire you to showcase their work. If you’re an amazing artist but suck at business, you won’t make enough money to sustain your craft and will have to spend a majority of your time working for someone else and less time on your craft. I try to get equal parts inspiration for business and art.
JB how have your influence impacted you?
KJ: For business, I read a plethora of books and listen to podcasts. For books I’d recommend 4 Hour Work Week by Tim Ferris, School of Greatness by Lewis Howes, Creative Confidence by David Kelly and Tom Kelly, and Elon Musk by Ashlee Vance. Podcasts that have radically influenced me are the Tim Ferris Show and Chase Jarvis Live, specifically 30 Days of Genius.
For art, I’m absolutely involve with everything Music Bed creates. I frequently visit their vimeo page and watch “Stories That Matter.” That video was a pretty transformative one for me and encouraged me to hustle hard after the things I’m passionate about. There’s also a documentary called Press Pause Play on Vimeo. It’s free and I highly encourage you to take the time to watch it. It’s my favorite documentary that poses the question, “Is the internet and digitalization good or bad for art?”
JB: I’m in love with the music bed as well, their vision is incredible. It seems that you’ve been self-taught, with that in mind Whats your view point on Formal Education vs. Self-taught?
KJ: I can’t argue that one is better than the other, because there are really spectacular people from both sides. It really depends on your personality. If you like to work hard, but be told what to do and have people point out a clear, risk-free path to follow that has been trodden before, I would recommend school. If you’re a trail blazer and have trouble with authority or want to study only your passions and nothing else, I would suggest no school, especially if you don’t want to work for a company.
JB: I feel the Same, It’s so personality dependent, I’ve personally taken both, I graduated from the New York Institute of Photography, but I felt that It gave me a simple foundation on photography. With that said i’ve learned that I’m the type of person that will dig for hours learning on youtube / blogs and immediately go out and practice.
What was your approach and would you do it differently?
KJ: It’s hard to say if I’d do it differently. I got my degree in Biblical Theology and Youth Ministry. These theological degrees couldn’t apply less to what I do in the business/marketing world, but if I hadn’t gone down the path I did, I wouldn’t have met my wife or ended up in Denver. I didn’t think you could make a living from filming videos, or at least me specifically. It took a very soft launch, doing side projects after my full time job for me to discover it was possible. But I do have this thought: School can cost somewhere around $20k-$80k (obviously more and less than that, but for the sake of the scenario go with it). You can spend 40-60 hours full time listening to lectures, taking notes, doing homework and putting 100% of your energy into succeeding. You leave with 4 things, sometimes 3: debt, a degree, knowledge and potential connections. After 4 years, you have nothing else. Now take that same scenario and apply it to starting a business. Take $20k-$80k and put it towards equipment. Spend 40-60 hours watching tutorial videos online and actually shooting in the field. Offer services to other video companies and try to get some clients by yourself.
If you did this full time for 4 years and you work really hard, you would have a bunch of really great equipment (which would have been paid off by the end of the 4 years so you wouldn’t have any debt), tons of connections, a portfolio of good work, and you’d be concentrating all your effort only in the place you want to be. After having 4 years of pitching, shooting, interacting, selling, directing ect. under your belt, you would be much much further ahead than the guy with the degree who now has student loans and is starting from square one with no equipment and very little connections and little to no portfolio pieces. I truly believe that school is for some people and not for others and looking back for me, I would’ve not gone to school. But that’s also a really scary and risky step and school is a way to coast for a little while longer without having to take that risk.
JB: With that approach in mind, there are now so many “Directors, film makers and storytellers Where do you see film making going, what is the future looking like?
KJ: Oh boy. Where to start? I think the most obvious and most interesting is the idea of virtual reality. I’ve been reading books and books, listening to buckets of podcasts and really trying to prepare myself for the future. Every year the film industry is changing. I started filming on mini DV tapes and I remember the first digital camera I shot on and I thought, “There’s no way this will become popular. It’s too easy to erase files. We will always be shooting on tape.” Little did I know how wrong I was. Then the 5D mark ii came out with cinematic quality video on a DSLR and I would look at it every day on my computer, till I finally got my hands on one. Then Sony came out with mirrorless cameras that changed the game as far as color range, slow motion and low light. DJI also started to release drones and I just ordered their latest “Mavic Pro” which you can fly with your iPhone and tack people via camera. I’m just on the brink of buying GoPro’s 360 (or virtual reality) camera. Virtual reality is going to be different than any of these previous inventions. We’ll be making new films, new commercials, new live coverage, new everything once VR becomes more popular. Back when the internet first made it’s appearance, there were a handful of people that took advantage of it before it was popular and those people struck it rich because they were the first ones on board. I’m hoping to do the same with virtual reality, whatever that looks like.
JB: Wow, then were would you like to see yourself in 5 years?
J: I’m working towards developing a video production team of 5. It’s small enough to be fast and nimble and take risks, but it’s big enough to where I can get out of the trenches and get my head more in the clouds. My greatest strength is coming up with ideas. I execute maybe 1 out of 10 ideas I have due to time restraints. If I have a team, they can dedicate 75% of their time on typical commercial projects and 25% of their time creating really cool content for ourselves (ie. documentary, video podcasts, video classes etc.) I’m currently in an office downtown, but would love to own a spacious studio and invest a lot into the design. I love working in an environment where you feel creative the moment you walk into the room and I hope to own a space where that’s the case. I also hope to be doing a lot of really cool experimental stuff with VR in the next 5 years and develop a team that becomes one of the first in the game.
JB: With that in mind how has it been working as a film maker in Denver, especially since the city is growing?
KJ: I moved out here 2 years ago with 1 client, thinking to myself “I may have to live with the in-laws for a year or two. I may have to make a lot of sacrifices, but I think this might be possible.” Then once I moved to Colorado to start the business, it took off like I never would have expected. I very quickly started shooting for clients like Smash Burger and Heinz, interior design companies, healthcare, small businesses, and everything in between. I spent every extra penny I made on new equipment every month and now I’m hiring my first full-time employee in January. My hope is to hire 1 new person each year for the next 4 years till I have a team of 5. I learned so much about my experience that I started writing a book to give tips to people on how to start a business and make money doing stuff you love. I hope to release it sometime next year, along with a supplementary podcast.
We live in an age of disruption, and you fall under one of two categories: The Disruptor or The Disrupted. I choose daily to be a disruptor, using cost and time effective solutions for people who really want high quality videos but can’t afford a $50,000 production. According to the US census, as of May 2016, Denver is the fastest growing city of the largest 50 cities in the United States. New roads and buildings are going up every day. A large chunk of the migration is moving to work for software, engineering and start-up companies. You can count the number of video production companies on your hands and feet. There’s way more demand than supply for affordable quality video which is becoming more and more important every year, plus we’re right next to the mountains. So whether I want to shoot something urban, suburban, or in an epic landscape, Denver Colorado is the perfect spot to be.
JB: You mention writing a book, with that in mind, what are a couple key steps would you recommend to starting film makers?
KJ: 1. Get the best equipment you possibly can in your price range (I can give you suggestions - firstname.lastname@example.org) and remember that good audio is 90% of the quality of your video.
2. Find a mentor right away. It could be someone you know really well, or you just email for advice, but get someone who can teach you the ropes. You don’t know what you don’t know and I got about 4 years of experience in 1 year working for someone who was much further along than I was.
3. Hustle. It’s really really hard work. Expect to work 60 hour weeks starting off. Do as many free projects as you can and work on projects that you want to work on, even if you don’t get paid. If you want to get paid to do what you love you have to expect to do it for free for a while. Do lots of experiments and constantly be out in the field, not just behind a computer or waiting to get hired. Hard work is the only secret sauce there is in starting a company.
JB: Its all about the hustle, I find that it comes down to building in as much pre-production as possible for a shoot. Maggie and I will often spend 6-8 days planning for a 1-2 hour shoot. With that comes so much mental prep and learning to envision how you see the project panning out, especially when a client is involved.. How do your prep-mentally for a creative project?
KJ: I’m a huge believer in your work reflecting your hour-by-hour attitude in life. If you are feeling stressed or burdened or depressed, your work will suffer. It’s really important to stay healthy physically, mentally and creatively. This means being very intentional with everything you do every minute of the day. On my way to work, I listen to the Tim Ferris show or Chase Jarvis Live podcasts for inspiration. Those podcasts always get the creative juices flowing. Then, I pay to be in a collaborative co-working space (which I highly recommend) where I can meet people on my break, have good coffee on tap 24/7 and get the creative buzz of a group of young entrepreneurs working hard. I sit at my desk, which is all white with a mahogany drawer. I’ve got pine candles on my desk that I light every day for the smell, I pop on my Bose sound-cancelling headphones for comfort and quality sound and pour a giant Nalgene of water for the day. On my desk I have a Moleskine journal I titled “idea book.” Whenever I think of anything cool to experiment or a great quote or a dream video project, I write it down with little picture icons. Everything is organized and clean, from the physical space I occupy, to the files on my computer (which are triple backed up). All my work is done on my 5k iMac, and my to-do lists are clean and simple. When I go to a shoot, I have pelican cases with “pluck-and-pull” foam I used to create a custom layout for all my cameras and lenses, all with a bountiful supply of charged batteries and empty 128GB cards. Everything is top-of-the-line, in order and exactly how I like it to be. It’s because of the delicate care and attention to these details that I can remain refreshed and excited for creative projects. I think investing in quality gear/notebooks/books/etc. is essential for creating quality work. Spending $20 on “4 Hour Work Week,” $20 on a Moleskine journal, $300 on quality Bose headphones, $350/mo. for a creative cowering space etc. may feel like you’re throwing money out the window because realistically you could live without all of that stuff. But if there’s anything I learned the past couple years, your creativity is far more valuable than that. Whatever it is that keep you excited and creative is worth the money because whether it directly or indirectly impacts your work, the quality will improve if your overall passion is high. So do what you can to feed the passion, be disciplined and keep things clean, surround yourself with the things that you find beautiful (which could be a desktop background, pine candles or sticky notes of inspiring quotes) and throw away the stuff that doesn’t get you amped on life. If you have a stapler on your desk that you don’t really use, or a card that meant something to you 4 months ago, but you glaze over it and forget it’s there, but you feel to bad to get rid of it, toss it. Or at least hide it from your view. Only look at and use things that increase your creativity and regularly cycle through items in your environment that get you exited to work. There’s a phrase that summed up 2015 for me which is, “It’s worth the money.”
JB: What then is your favorite project you’ve worked on?
It’s hard to say what my favorite project is because there’s such a variety of work I do each week like social media campaigns, small business website videos, virtual walkthroughs, a reality-tv style web series, mini-documentary style stories and everything in between. It’s the ebb and flow from project to project and I think it’s that variety that keeps things exciting. If I were to only do one style, I would get bored of it and want to try something else, no matter how cool it was. But if I had to choose, it would be the videos I’ve been working on recently for a non-profit called GHI (Global Health Initiatives). GHI is a branch of Centura Health here in Colorado and supports projects and hospitals in five different countries. I’ve been to four with them so far: Napal, Rwanda, Tanzania and Peru. The next one is Haiti. We get to fly overseas for roughly 10 days and go deep into remote villages to film stories of families who’ve received free life-altering surgeries. I just got back from Peru last week where we took a boat down the Amazon river, hopped onto a motor cart, then hopped onto a tiny adjacent river on a peka peka boat (named after the noise of the old sputtering engine.) Deep in the jungle was this old house on stilts, where we filmed the story of this man named Eric, and his family. Eric was close to dying from an infected appendicitis, and it just so happened that a team of doctors from the US took their time off to go perform free surgeries. That was one year ago, and now thanks to surgery, Eric was able to live to see the birth of their 7th child. Today he is healthy and working. I got to hop on an old rickety fishing boat with Eric and his son as he cast out his net and caught fish that they gutted, cooked and ate. It was an experience I’ll never forget.
JB: Thats incredible, since your travel often, I would assumer there would be pre-shoot anxiety. How do you handle it, as well as the often found creative block?
One time I was asked if I was comfortable shooting a broadcast television commercial. I said I had shot a few videos that made it in the previews of theaters but not for live television, but I could figure it out and it wouldn’t be a problem. I flew out to Ohio to shoot for America’s largest custom home company, Schumacher Homes. I flew out for about a week to shoot a series of videos and the first day I arrived, I ended up in the CEO’s office. He had me watch a video that he said they previously paid for but they hated it. He went on youtube and pulled up the video in his office. As the commercial started, you could tell a lot of money went into it - somewhere between $20k-$60k. They had professional actors, hair/makeup crew, lighting crew, the whole shebang. And as I watched, I had a mini panic attack. I was way in over my head and terrified that they weren’t going to be satisfied with what I gave them. I got to my hotel room that night, called my wife and said, “I think I’m screwed. If they didn’t like that video, how in the world are they going to like my stuff? What am I doing here?” Talk about pre-shoot anxiety. And here I was, about to shoot a series of television commercials all by myself, of which I had no experience in. Needless to say, that night I prayed for creativity and quality. God has really been there for me in the highs and lows and there is a Bible verse that says “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” There’s this extremely cheesy saying that my uncle used to say, “You do your best and let God do the rest.” And while I hate the cliche cheese factor of that quote, I really love the thought behind it. Basically, work your hardest and if everything goes wrong, you’ll be alright. So the next morning I pulled myself together and worked as hard as I could to make a masterpiece. The commercial they showed me had 700 views on youtube. On Facebook, the average was around 200 views per video. The video I made for them went on to get 58,000 views on Facebook which got more views than all other videos they had posted in the past decade combined.
JB: Incredible, in closing out our conversation whats one thing you can't live with out when on assignment?
KJ Is it too obvious to say my iPhone? I use it to take pictures for location scouting, take notes when meeting with clients, referencing youtube videos, I even used it to record voice overs for a lot of video projects for some pretty big clients. I use it to showcase my work on instagram (@kjcreative), take pictures of business cards so I don’t loose them, it contains the shotlists I can reference while on site at a project, and I’ve even shot a video while listening to a soundtrack from my phone to get in the mood. It’s the ultimate creative swiss army knife.
JOEL BEARNOVEMBER 02, 2016