“The fact that I make movies for a living is proof that God has a sense of humor”
I grew up in two places, Middleburg, Virginia a small country town outside of Northern Virginia and Santa Fe, New Mexico. After graduating from Radford University in southern Virginia I moved to Colorado. I was an outdoor recreation major and I went to work as a wilderness guide and ski bum. After a few years of “living the dream” I moved to Steamboat Springs, CO to work with a youth organization called Young Life.
I always enjoyed working with Young Life and high school kids however I had a difficult time explaining what Young Life is to people. It’s a organization that is built on relationships. They host weekly meeting, summer camp trips but most of all it’s adults and kids spending time together looking at the purpose of life by living it out together. As you can see it’s still hard to really understand.
In 2000 technology changed and everything was going digital. Video cameras and Apple computers now made video production incredibly simple. I bought a used camera off of Ebay along with an apple computer and began telling the story of Young Life by producing fun short films of our adventures. This soon led to a passion for story telling.
It didn’t take long before I became interested in making movies. There were several high school kids with the same passion. One in particular Ryan Scheer. I was 25 and Ryan was 16 and we soon found ourselves talking about making a movie. We had no idea what we were doing but we decided to go for it.
I drove 3 hours to Denver and bought every filmmaking book I could find. The first step was to find a story. I’ve always believed that the best stories come from things you know. At the time I knew a lot of great high school kids that were figuring their identity, love, and friendship so we wrote a romantic teen comedy called Eddies Tree House. I borrowed a software license from a friend and began writing the script.
Once the script was complete we had to find a cast, crew, and a few dollars. Ryan told me that he had a few friends that might be willing to help. I showed up one afternoon at the high school to find 100 kids packed into a classroom. They were all very excited to help. We created a sign up sheet and started asking kids what they were good at. Some knew how to shoot photography, some could drive trucks and trailers, some could act, some knew lighting from theater class, others had parents that were willing to give us locations and were willing to cook food. We now had a crew!
Over the next six weeks we scouted locations, rehearsed with actors, and scheduled every detail. Kids were responsible for everything from wardrobe to getting RV’s to set. It was going to take 27 days with 5 all night shoots and only 2 days off. We raised $10,000, a lot of favors and began shooting the movie two days after school let out.
Six months after the production the film was finished. We rented a local theater and invited all of our friends, donors, and supporters to come to the premier. The movie turned out to be really bad however for 2 hours we saw people with smiles on their faces as they celebrated the story of an impossible vision come true. A group of small town kids had produced a movie.
In 15 years of filmmaking, “Eddie’s Tree House” was one of the most exhausting and fulfilling movies I have ever made. I learned countless life lessons making that film, many of which I still use today. We had to be creative and depend on each other. We became a family and learned that the process is as important as the product. Most of all, never confuse the problem solving stage with the decision making phase otherwise you will never move forward.
Soon after completing “Eddies Tree House” I left Young Life. I had fallen in love with story telling and I got my first break. A wonderful lady and her husband were in the audience for the premiere of “Eddies Tree House” and they asked me to go to Kenya, Africa to shoot a series of wildlife documentary short films. I love adventure and this was right up my alley! I had never been to Africa, all I knew was what I had read in a few National Geographic magazines. I had zero experience filming wild animals but I figured if I could create a feature film I could figure this out. I called a good friend Bryan Miller who had just graduated from film school and asked him to join me.
We arrived in Africa and loaded our gear into one of the coolest vehicles on the planet, a Toyota Land Cruiser. Not the soccer mom version. As we entered the city we were right in the middle of the slums of Nairobi. At this point in my life I had never seen real poverty. This was much different then anything in the US. To this day I can vividly remember a women and her kids digging through a trash filled ditch billowing with sewage. A paralyzing fear came over me. “What if our Land Cruiser breaks down?” Would they kill me? It sounds crazy for me to admit this but the reality was I had never developed a world view much less understood the world was a much bigger place then the one I knew. I had no idea this event would be pivotal to what I do today.
We arrived at the wildlife conservancy and now had a job to do. For six weeks we roamed the African savanna filming the world’s most notorious animals. We filmed from low flying helicopters, trekked through crocodile infested waters and were chased by baboons. On other days we would visit water projects, schools, clinics for tribesman who had no healthcare. People on the planet had problems I had never considered and they were being solved by ordinary people just like me.
After several months of editing footage, thousands of DVD’s were printed and sent out around the world. It was the first time I realized I could bring stories to thousands with the tool of filmmaking. Perhaps if the story was compelling enough they might even decide to make a few changes in their own lives. I started to see that maybe God had a bigger purpose for me then I thought.
Chapter 3 Moving to LA
After living in Steamboat Springs for 5 years I made the decision to move to Los Angeles, CA to be closer to the film industry. It was a slow start but after 3 or 4 months I began to build relationships and started working as a camera man. I worked on small independent film sets and soon began working on adventure television shows for Discovery, National Geographic, NBC and CNN however it wasn’t what I expected.
There is an odd feeling when you reach a goal and you realize it’s not what you thought it to be. On a warm Saturday afternoon I poured myself a cold beer and sat down in front of my TV. I was so excited to watch my very first national TV show for NBC! As the hour ended the credits began to roll and I saw my name pass quickly before my eyes. It happened in less then a second andjust as quickly as I felt the power of fame a commercial appeared. I think it was for dish soap. It was a very cold moment. Their was an incredible sense of dissatisfaction. I had worked for a year to get to this point but for some reason it felt empty. On the outsideI was climbing the ladder of success however inside I knew the ladder was on the wrong wall. The next morning I began thinking about making a change.
I have always had a love hate relationship with LA. I love the access to the industry, the weather and my friends that live there but I never got used to the sheer amount of people and the traffic. To be very honest, I often didn’t feel like I fit in. I wasn’t into fancy cars (a status symbol in LA) I drove a truck and wore Carhartt’s most of the time. Not exactly the LA vibe. I’ve always been thankful for my friends there who excepted me for exactly who I was however I never had the opportunity to share my passion for the outdoors with them. I once asked a good friend to go camping with me and he told me that unless the “camping” had 700 thread count he wasn’t interested. That pretty much sums up my relationship with LA.
In 2002 I got a call from a church in Orange County, CA. They needed a documentary cameraman to go to Rwanda, Africa to shoot footage for CNN and Fox. They were doing a segment on a Pastor/Author named Rick Warren. To be very honest I really didn’t know who he was. At this point in my career I had met a few celebrities so I wasn’t star stuck. I reviewed a few articles before leaving and read 40 pages of his book (no pun intended) “The Purpose Driven Life” on the plane ride to Rwanda. I figured I was well prepared for the shoot. It was very clear that Mr. Warren was a world leader and a major voice in American culture however I was just there to shoot a story and come home. What I didn’t know at the time was the next 12 days would reshape the rest of my life.
To be continued....