Okay, so I started writing about an entirely different topic and really just hated what I was writing. So, I deleted the entire thing and started all over again. Instead, while my wife and I are sitting in our hotel room overlooking the ocean on this warm Sunday evening in Honolulu, HI, I started thinking about all of the different questions I am asked by the younger generation of dirtbike video kids coming up.
I figured I would answer a common question: “How do I get to be where you are right now?” First of all, I would argue a paying job, a savings account, and the ability to book your own flight and hotel in Hawaii. See that? I made a joke. It was a bad one. But, I still said it and you can’t take that away from me. Seriously, how do you get yourself into a position like myself and/or Wes “Can’t Answer Your Calls, but I’ll Venmo You for Taco Bell because Chase Stallo Won’t” Williams? I am asked this question a lot and to some extent, I’ve probably already answered it in very broad strokes in past articles, but I thought I’d give it an honest try while on an island.
I know some will provide the answer of “you just gotta work hard,” or “you just gotta grind it out until it pays off,” which, yes, that’s not wrong but it’s also a shit fuck answer. Everybody has their own unique story of how they came up through the ranks. As I’ve discussed multiple times, I came up through shitty jobs at a limousine company, Disneyland, Starbucks, an art store, and Target before I got my “big break.” But, there is more nuance to all of it.
The reality is you kinda sorta gotta know somebody in this industry while also having a knack for a specific talent/ability. So, assuming you’re reading this, let’s assume you also have a passion for photography and/or filmmaking. For me, I grew up racing. Ross Maeda at Enzo did all of my suspension. Ross’ younger brother is Donn Maeda. Donn was, during my come up, the editor-and-chief at the now defunct TransWorld Motocross Magazine. In 2003, I realized that the art of photography struck me as something I wanted to do, and I quickly realized I wasn’t terrible at it. Ross was a part of the crew of people I grew up riding with (I grew up with a much older riding crew), which meant I spent time around Swap, which also meant I would bother the piss out of him about how to work for him, tips on how to improve my photography and more. Swap took me under his wing and, it was one of those things where luck meets preparation and I got my first job in the industry as the associate editor at TWMX.
My first job in the industry was literally as a photo journalist for, at the time, the biggest motocross publication in the world. It was an eight day a week job with a lot of travel and a lot of sacrifice. Throughout my time at TWMX and afterwards coming up with different media outlets, I would miss birthdays, anniversaries, weekend holidays, and more. It caused serious issues with my personal relationships. My wife (girlfriend at the time) and I spent more time being on and off then was healthy for anyone, my best friend from high school and I had a massive falling out and didn’t speak for roughly a year… I could go on. But, it wasn’t pretty. All that so I could live a dream that I had.
The dream comes with a lot of perks, but when you’re trying to prove yourself and solidify yourself as one of the guys to be called upon when there is a job to be done, it comes with a lot of strenuous situations amongst loved ones. Thankfully, for me, it’s all settled itself and those days are (mostly) a thing of the past. But, you gotta think about the sacrifice and if you’re willing to makes those. And, you can never think you’re above a job or tasked asked of you. Granted, for me being in year 14 of this career, I’ve been in a position to turn down jobs that do not interest me. It has nothing to do with being above a job, but after a lot of years doing this shit, you can usually work yourself into a position of saying yes to jobs you believe in and no to jobs that you don’t think will fit you. But, when you’re coming up, say yes to everything so you know what you like and what you don’t like.
FIND A MENTOR. For me, I had Swap and Garth Milan take me under their wings during my photography years. I would always ask them for help, tips, or constructive criticism. When I transitioned into filmmaking, Cliff Talley and Wes Williams took me under their wings and helped me so much to understand the whole world of video. To this day, I still ask Wes for help when needed. Cliff retired from the industry and now owns and operates a massive almond farm in central California, but I owe him a lot for helping me get started, especially during the hot years of the DSLR life. So, find that mentor and let them take you under their wing. That means probably working for free for a while, helping them on set however they need you to do so. It could range from operating a B camera angle to simply being the guy who carries the camera bag around all day long. I did both and everything else in between. And, I did it with a positive attitude, and always asking what they would need next and saying thank you! Saying thank you goes a long ways.
When I was shooting and trying to come up as a photographer, I literally worked for free for three years. I paid for my own expenses out of pocket and sometimes I couldn’t go shoot something because I couldn’t afford to make it out to the location. So, expect to work for free, but look at it as a free education. If you do it right, you are with your mentor on jobs asking them questions, you are being exposed to camera gear you’d typically not have an opportunity to get your hands on, you are seeing how these shooting days ago and the mount of work that goes into them, and how we work with/handle the client(s).
LEARN STORY. Please, please, please… learn story. Instagram bangers are an amazing way to start out and get your name out there. However, they will only get you so far. If you are content on doing Insta bangers, that is perfectly fine. Bang your heart out. I love it! However, those don’t land you clients like Red Bull, American Honda, SportClips, Travelodge Hotels, GEICO Honda, and more. What lands the aforementioned type of clients is the ability to tell story. Every one of those clients I have landed is because of my ability to tell a story. Not because of my Instagram bangers.
How do you learn to tell a story? I promise you it’s not overcomplicated: go find a rider you have access to (local amateur kid, family member that rides, or a local at the track who would probably love to have a video) and simply shoot a single day with them. That’s all you need. One day. Shoot your establishing BROLL at their house and/or at the track, get your action, and get a sit down interview and ask them eight to 10 questions. Build it all out into a three to five minute piece, color it, add in music that fits the mood/vibe you’re after, and repeat that process. Keep doing those and studying each one of them. See what you like, what you don’t like, send that to your mentor for advice, and go back and create another small three to five minute story piece and follow everything I just said. Over time, you will improve your story abilities and learn what works and what doesn’t work. From there, you can start working on understanding composition, interview lighting, etc (those things come over time). And, most importantly, you open up yourself to people like myself and Wes who now know you have a keen eye and a general ability to tell a story. Thus, it makes it a lot easier for us to want to hire you on that next Red Bull or KTM North America job.
BE PATIENT. This job isn’t a sprint. As I’ve said, it is the world’s stupidest marathon. It may take six months, a year, two years, or longer before you find yourself in a position to be earning a consistent pay check in this world, but patience is a virtue that will pay off. I’ve seen multiple people come up with great talent, but they didn’t have the patience, work ethic, or the right attitude to stick it out. Honestly, if they did, they would’ve been in great spots right now. But, when assigned a task, you gotta follow through on what you say you’re going to do. Currently, I am in Hawaii with my wife. Do you really think I want to be writing this right now on a vacation? Not exactly. But, sometimes you gotta do shit during times you don’t want to in order to follow through on your obligations.
Don’t get me wrong, I love writing these articles, but it’s not always going to be convenient or “glamorous.” You need to show that you’re dependable and others can count on you as needed. So, this one is more so about not only being patient, but also being dependable and having a positive attitude. I would also like to add that having a good, appreciative attitude will get you be a big stand out. If you are asked to go move a c-stand or grab this or that out of the car, do it with grace. I’ve experienced people that I’ve brought on to be a production assistant or camera PA and when asked to grab a lens or a c-stand, provided me with attitude or sass. I may not look like I am paying attention, but I assure you I see more then you realize when we are on a set.
To close this out, I will reiterate: find a mentor, learn story, and be patient. My long term goal is to go make real deal movies. That whole industry is new to me, so I am having to apply all of the aforementioned to myself right now as I am figuring out that entire space as, essentially, the new guy on the block. However, everything is possible. Just don’t be an asshole. And, trust that Wes and I actually know what we are saying. If we knew of a short cut, we would tell you because we would’ve taken it as well. But, the only shortcut I know if is that of social media. It’s much easier to get your work out there and to also reach out to others you look up to for input and/or a mentorship of some sort. But, once you get that far, it’s time to strap on a pair of HOKA’s and prepare for the marathon the commence. During the marathon, you will find out quickly whether or not you want to make the sacrifices and commitment it takes to make this passion a sustainable career, or if you’re just in it to periodically have fun when is convenient for you (which is also fine).