by Tim Smith
At some point in my life my momma said there’d be days like this, but I’m pretty sure she didn’t envision what I had going on this particular day when she said it. It was Friday, September 19, 2008, and I woke up in Washington D.C., only 200 plus miles from my home base in New York City. I was two weeks away from completing a seven week documentary project that saw me traveling the country and into Canada to visit all 30 MLB ballparks, interviewing fans and adding my own commentary along the way for a film called, “Twice in a Lifetime”. You see, I had done this trip in 1998 as well and decided it would be a good idea to try it again – in the same Jeep Wrangler- but filming it and blogging about it this time. The other main difference between 1998 and 2008 was that in 1998 I was fresh out of college without a care (or bill) in the world, but this time I was running a major event video company in New York City with rent to pay, part-time employees to manage and projects to oversee. To say the least, it was slightly more of a challenge this time around!
On the morning of September 19, the challenge increased because I was supposed to be flying to Minnesota to pick up my car (long story- read the blog!) in order to drive to Toronto for my third-to-last game of the season. Instead, one of my videographers called and told me he wasn’t able to film a New York City wedding shoot the next day because his mother had fallen ill and he had to travel to California to take care of her. I didn’t count on this happening! I had a precise schedule of ballparks to hit and travel plans made in order for this to work out and only four days left in the trip. What the heck was I going to do now?
After a few calls, I realized I would have to film the wedding back in New York City myself. The problem was the itinerary for my documentary. I needed to get my car back closer to the east coast and it was still in Minnesota. I had a flight booked from D.C. to Minneapolis via Atlanta (hey- I saved $40 at the time when I booked this very indirect route!) which put me in Minneapolis at two in the afternoon. I decided that I would drive the 10 plus hours from Minneapolis to Detroit, where I would take a one-way flight to New York City and leave my car (so it would be closer to Toronto, where I would need to be in three days to get to my 30th ballpark).
To complicate matters, my friend who lived in the upper peninsula of Michigan wanted to join in on the trip so I had to drive to Detroit through upper Michigan to pick him up so he could also catch the one way 6 a.m. flight to New York City, which added two more hours to the drive. Along the way from Minneapolis, my GPS went out, and I went an hour out of my way. I did a 360 and went into a ditch braking to avoid a deer in Wisconsin. I got pulled over in a small town in Michigan for driving without lights on. I fell asleep at the wheel for at least 30 seconds at one point, but through all this still made it to Detroit at 5:00 a.m., just in time to catch my flight to New York City and prepare for a 10-hour wedding shoot at one of New York City’s top wedding locations.
I think I made it through the day on pure adrenaline, and the video turned out great – but I literally fell asleep walking on the sidewalk after the shoot trying to catch a cab back to my apartment. I was spent. The next day, a Sunday, was game 28, the final game ever at my beloved Yankee Stadium – and even then – I could hardly keep my eyes open. I took a bus to Baltimore on Monday for the 29th game which was the Orioles and a one-way flight Tuesday to Detroit where I got my car and made it to Toronto, for the final leg and stadium of the trip. I was done. I had made it and my business – the way I pay the bills and eat every month – was still intact.
I wasn’t sure eight weeks earlier if I was going to be able run my business and complete this project at the same time. It would be tough. I had guys that worked for me who I had assigned jobs that I would normally film myself. I hired and trained a new editor and taught him my editing style so I wouldn’t get too backlogged in projects. I bought a wireless modem and e-fax service. I had my mother become my bank with all funds from clients being sent to her and then from her to my bank so there was always cash to pay my employees and fill up the gas tank. It didn’t matter, though – I was determined to do it. The reason I started my video business in the first place was so that I could do projects exactly like this!
It all started in the summer of 2000 when I impulsively bought a Canon GL-1 without even knowing how to use it to film another baseball related project I had in mind. That project never really took off but the camera was nice, and I kind of liked the things I could do with it. A close friend of mine was getting married soon after I bought it, and I offered to film his wedding for him. I had never even seen a wedding video, but I figured it would be a fun keepsake – and hey, I had a $2000 camera. On the wedding day, I didn’t really know what the heck to do, but I got some good footage, and the couple was eventually thrilled when I gave them the DVD. (Took over a year because I didn’t even have a computer at the time capable of editing video!) I eventually bought the iMac that looks like a lamp and taught myself iMovie. The wedding was hardly a masterpiece but they loved it! A friend from the same circle asked if I could film his wedding – and then a cousin – and it went on, and on. After a while I had figured out some tricks and tips for shooting the wedding day so it wasn’t just a guessing game for me. The other thing was I actually was starting to like filming weddings! Sure, I wasn’t out making Clerks or The Blair Witch Project, but I was doing something creative and using a video camera to do it. Some day, I would make my movie… As I got better at filming and editing weddings, I realized I needed to start making money too. I created a website with a few clips from the free weddings I filmed and made business cards to pass out to friends.
My first big break was when a friend in New York City passed my card along to her friend who was having an Indian wedding. Little did I know how different and how big of an affair an Indian wedding was, but I gave her a quote and she hired me! They loved their video and referred me to other Indian friends who also hired me. The ball was now rolling where I was actually brining money in doing something I liked. Of course I needed better equipment if I was actually getting paid for the job so I bought a nice shotgun mic and a lav mic for the vows and toasts. I bought a decent tripod and threw out the beat up rolling suitcase I used to transport the equipment and actually bought a pretty nice camera bag. (Which I still have and use often!) I really started feeling like a pro. My next big break was when I decided to actually advertise on the wedding website, the Knot.
Inquiries were infrequent, but I got a call from a bride a week before her wedding and quoted her $2500, which was twice as much as any of the other jobs I had done at that point! I’m not sure why I quoted that high, but she booked and I now had a huge paycheck for doing something that was actually kind of fun. I also booked a wedding around the same time for about $2000 from a friend of my girlfriend. Little did I know that she would love her video so much that she referred me to every friend she knew who was even thinking about getting married! I have done over 15 weddings now that were a direct result of that bride! Things were going well, and the equipment kept getting better and better.
I also got involved with wedding professional organizations to learn more about the craft and network with others who were doing the same thing. I learned so much from these groups, and it opened up a whole new world for me, seeing that I might actually be able to do this full time. Others were so helpful and so willing to give their time and advice that my business continued to grow. I was soon interviewed by WedVidTalk. Com, a website for wedding videographers, and the exposure allowed my work and views to be heard by others in the industry. I met more people through this and some actually worked for me later when business was so busy that I needed more shooters to cover the days when I was double or triple booked!
I eventually ditched the original camera and bought a DVX 100A, which I loved. After about 18 months with the DVX, I upgraded to HD and bought a Canon XH-A1. I now have four Canon XH-A1s as well as Canon DSLRs which I use on almost all of my wedding and corporate projects.
Things were going well – business was great and the money was rolling in. But, something was missing. Ever since I was in college I knew I wanted to be a filmmaker, screenwriter or stand-up comedian. The problem is that I was now a full-time businessman whose part-time aspirations for being a performer and filmmaker were disappearing. By the summer of 2008, my business had reached a level where I had both a wedding company and a corporate video company. I was at a point where expansion was not only possible but probable and logical. I was still doing most of the work alone but had a network of freelancers who shot and sometimes edited to help me get things done. Now I was in position to expand and bring in some full time people to take this business to the next level. But then it hit me. That’s not what I wanted to do. I wouldn’t be true to my original artistic aspirations if I became just a full-time businessman. I needed to break off. I needed to make a film. What the hell was stopping me? I had some money now. I certainly had built up a lot of great equipment – most of which was the same being used by filmmakers worldwide. I had enough equipment that I actually rented out my equipment to colleagues frequently. Why the heck wasn’t I making films? I needed to make my films not just films about other people’s weddings and events.
The 10 year anniversary of my first trip around the country to see the ballparks was coming up, and I was itching to do it again. I still had the same Jeep Wrangler I used the first time, and it was possible to do the trip. While I was running my own business and had to deal with responsibilities there, I could make it happen with proper planning and assignment of shoots, etc. I planned out the route and once that was on paper, I was convinced: “Twice in a Lifetime,” the movie, would be a reality! It felt so good to plan it and then do it – realizing that I was not selling out my original visions and dreams. I was also still managing to run my business and secure film jobs while on the road. I could have my cake and eat it too. Why had I waited so long to do it?
What I learned through a chance encounter with professional creative coach Joanne Zippel, is that my business is actually what she likes to call “bridge work,” or work done to pay the bills that allows you the time to pursue your true passion and creative aspirations.
“Take the time to identify, understand and embrace all of your natural interests and talents. What do you love? What energizes you at work? What types of activities are most natural to you? What is your personal working style? What kind of working environment do you need to feel whole and engaged?” Zippel asks. “When you are clear on what these are, look for work opportunities that encompass these elements. Even if you are not doing what you believe to be your actual dream work, you can be doing work that is authentic, empowering, financially rewarding and that frees you up to pursue your dreams.”
It took me eight years of building the business and ignoring my passions before I conceived this project and then actually went out and did it. All along I had been building up a business that was actually great and parallel “bridge work” for me to pursue my true passions! There was no need for me to expand it really because then it would no longer be bridge work but just a job. Now I have more than half my week to spend on my projects while also giving 100% to my clients and projects. In fact, last year we were awarded the Big Apple Award for best NYC Event Video by the International Special Events Society at a black tie awards gala at a top New York City venue! When I reached the stage and shook the hand of the award presenter and said a few words to hundreds in attendance, I couldn’t help thinking of how great it would be if I could achieve the parallel experience of this in the world of my true passion – filmmaking – by one day standing on a stage in Los Angeles and thanking the crowd for my first Oscar for documentary filmmaking!