Asude: Welcome Stephen, we’re really happy to have you here. You must be one of our oldest users so we’re glad to share your story with our community! Could you tell us how you got started with videography and your background in videography?
Stephen: I was born in 1990 in Corona, CA. Shortly after I moved to the midwest, Illinois where I spent most of my childhood. Growing up in a suburb of Chicago in the Midwest, there was not a lot to do. When I discovered my parent’s video camera at an early age, I was immediately hooked. I started making films as a young kid, and it was always my go-to hobby growing up. As I got older, I got interested in skateboard and would make skate films. In high school, my family moved to California and there I took a video production class. I thought it’d be easy since I was already into the filmmaking. What I didn’t realize is that I’d have a big “aha” moment. I loved the class and realized “wow, I can actually “study” something I loved in school”! Up until that point, I did not know what I wanted to do in life or even what to pursue studying further in college. Once I had this realization, I went all in with becoming a filmmaker. I ended up going to film school after college and starting my own production company shortly after that.
A: It’s really a huge chance to figure out what to do in life at a young age! Then, what happened?
S: In film school, I was creating films and starting to work freelance. At the same time I started a filmmaking blog on Tumblr which quickly grew to become one of the top blogs in that category on that platform. From there, I shared my journey, filmmaking inspiration as well as did gear reviews. After college, my wife Chelsey and I started our company TréCreative together. Over the years, we’ve grown our team and now shoot a wide variety of projects from lifestyle to commercial, all over the world!
A: Unbelievable! And, how did you earn your first money out of filmmaking?
S: Good question! While I’m sure there were small projects here and there in high school, it wasn’t until college that I learned the power of a good video. I would use my video skills as leverage to get things I wanted. When I discovered this fun product called The Human Slingshot online I immediately wanted to try one. I noticed on their website they had no great videos of the product in use, so I reached out via email. In short I told them what I noticed was missing on their site, I sent them some examples of my work thus far and mentioned I’d love to help them create a more powerful video and social media launch campaign. They ended up agreeing and sending me 10 Human Slingshots. I was blown away! I went to a film school in the LA area and everyone was about to go home for Spring Break. So I sent some slingshots home with two other filmmakers, one from New York, and one from Chicago. I wanted to increase the perceived “production value” of the film and this was a super easy way to do that! They came back with some great footage and we cut together the film using additional footage I shot around Southern California. We launched the product on Facebook giving away the rest of the slingshots to build hype for the brand and they ended up getting noticed by Skymall which led to an incredible partnership for their company. The best part of this story is what followed in years to come. Because I over delivered for this client, he fell in love with my company. He was getting married and ended up hiring us to shoot his wedding in Colorado. Being from California, it was amazing to be flown out to a destination wedding. In the years following that wedding, it directly led to two other Colorado weddings, and five destination Mexico weddings. Counting those and other commercial film opportunities this project led to, we have probably received back an ROI of $50,000+ over the years from that one project we did basically for “free”.
May my ceiling become your floor.
A: A true success story! We heard that you have a film featured by Martha Stewart for your wedding videography business. Could you tell us a bit about your inspiring videography style?
S: I love movement. Moving the camera and moving an audience. Early on in my film career, glidecams were still relatively unused by people outside of Hollywood. When I saw DevinSuperTramp’s early travel films or what Vinny Minton was doing in the rollerblading world I was blown away. In a world of drones and amazing technology available to filmmakers nowadays, people today take shots like these for granted. But eight years ago, these filmmakers were breaking new ground and it was jaw-dropping. When I saw what these guys were doing, I knew I had to get a camera stabilizer! Since then, camera movement has always been an integral part of our style, whether it’s motorized edelkrone sliders, time-lapse or on a gimbal or glidecam. As far as editing goes, I was also a percussionist growing up. Rhythm has always played a role in our editing style and I always love to let the music drive our edits so that the visuals and music perfectly pair together to create powerful emotions.
A: It’s also one of our favorite editing styles for sure! And, how does it work in the backstage? What are the preparations you make before you begin filming especially for “in the moment” filmmaking?
S: I used to honestly just “wing it” with most shoots. I had honed my craft doing wedding videos and even worked for a summer camp for a couple of years making weekly highlight films. This taught me to edit very fast but also to learn to capture what was in front of me in a creative way without thinking. This still plays into our style of filmmaking, and even though our films may be more planned out in advance, I love building in some creative buffer into our shoots for this organic style “in the moment” filmmaking. Before shoots now, we do a lot more pre-production. Thinking through what the piece needs and creating a shot list and schedule to help achieve that. Charge all the gear, double check we have everything.
A: Always a good advice! Do you prefer buying your equipment? How do you feel about renting them?
S: I’ve always been a buyer! I’ve only rented gear 3 or 4 times in the 8 years we’ve been doing this. If I can find a way to buy something, I will. Here’s how I see it… Camera gear holds its value pretty well, especially gear like lenses. If I buy a lens for $3000 and then two years later sell it for $2000. I’ve just rented an amazing lens for $500/year. That’s $1.36 per day. I then can take that $2000 cash invest it towards the next version of the lens. When you own something, it still has value and you can cash out at any time and put it towards the next item. I do this with cameras all the time because they’re being updated almost every year. If you sell at the right time, you can still get a ton of value and then just turn around and put that cash towards the next camera. I do agree with the idea though if you are considering a large purchase, rent it once or twice for a project see if you like it before going all in. When I bought a RED camera, I tried one first and messed around with the footage in editing to be sure my computer could handle it. As soon as I saw the footage, I was sold.
A: Speaking of editing, what software do you use for post-production?
S: We use Premiere Pro primarily and After Effects, if we need to get fancy.
A: What’s the equipment you generally bring to a set?
Cameras: RED Raven, Canon C100 Mark II, Canon 5DmkIV, DJI Mavic Pro, GoPro.
Lenses: Canon L Series Lenses (35mm, 50mm, 85mm, 100mm, 135mm, 200mm) Canon L Series & Sigma Art Zoom Lenses (16-35mm, 24-70mm, 70-200mm).
Sliders/Motion Control: edelkrone SliderPLUS + Action & Target Module, Syrp Magic Carpet Pro.
Stabilizers: Steadicam Solo Stabilizer, DJI Ronin S, Monopod, Tripod, Shoulder Rig
Audio: Portable Recorders, Lav Mics, Shotgun Mics, Booms Etc
Lighting: Westcott Flex Studio Kit, Aperture Light Storm C300d, Light Modifiers/Reflectors.
A: A detailed list to note! What are your thoughts on the future of filmmaking with the technology is advancing so fast?
S: With technology making it easier and easier to produce highly cinematic shots, filmmakers who stand out will have a well-developed skill set (or team of people with well-developed skills) outside of just having gorgeous imagery. When you can add crazy value to your clients outside of just making them a great looking film, that’s when things get exciting.
A: Couldn’t be truer. Could you share the best piece of advice you could give to other filmmakers?
S: Every time you pick up your camera you get better. If you want to progress, pick up your camera every day.
A: Practice makes perfect! Although you are well known for your photography and videography business, after years of "trading dollars for hours" you seem to have mastered the art of passive income as well as effectively building multiple 6 and 7 figure eCommerce brands online. What’s your biggest ambition for the future?
S: My wife Chelsey and I have two main ambitions for our businesses. We want to continue pursuing being creative while dreaming together how we can encourage and empower marriages and finances in everyone we come in contact with through storytelling and community.