This is a guest blog post by Brian Russell of Red Shoe Film. I found Brian’s story extremely inspiring and encourage anyone who’s considering video (or any art for that matter) as a second career to read this.
I’ve been listening to Crossing the 180 for the past several years and I love the podcast. I’m a new filmmaker, and pretty soon after hearing it the first time I set a goal: Get asked by Ron Dawson to be on the show. I know, most people want to make a feature film, or get hired by some A-list client, or become a YouTube sensation. I haven’t had a video go viral, and I don’t have a big blog or thousands of followers on Twitter and Facebook. So why did I think getting on Crossing the 180 was a good goal?
Well, Ron is always talking about helping others, and marketing and taking care of business. These things don’t even really seem to go together, but somehow I think that’s was DareDreamerMag has accomplished. That said, so many people have helped me in unbelievable, unselfish ways. It would be nice to pay it forward in some small way. And somehow sharing my journey makes it seem just a bit more real. For me, I am in ACT II of life … and I still think I am living in a dream sometimes.
My previous business provided sales and service of parking revenue control systems. Huh? You know, the gates, ticket machines and credit card systems you use when you park your car in a garage at the airport or hospital. This is the kind of job that you avoid talking about at cocktail parties. I found that it made the eyes of the unfortunate listener roll back into his or her head. It’s what I would call a dull-normal business. Necessary, good for many people, provides jobs for many people, but just not all that exciting.
But in 2008, at 40 years old, I had a big shake up in life. Some time off, sleep-away therapy, and a lot of soul-searching helped me get back on track. In 2009 as things were feeling a bit better, and I was trying to figure out what to do in Act II, an author friend of mine called to ask if I could video tape and edit some YouTube videos for her. I had been a hobbyist back in the day and she didn’t want anything that looked professional. She wanted it to look like she did it herself in her apartment. Well, by asking me, there was no risk at all of looking professional! I knew nothing about video production (unless you count iMovie HD).
Stay with me here. This lead to a one day shoot in NYC with a Sony HDV HandyCam and six weeks banging my head against the computer and going to the Apple store to learn Final Cut 6. Frame rates? 1080? 1920? Codecs? Rendering? Huh? It’s just a picture, right? iMovie never asked me these questions. Here was the first result.
I’m getting to the point … I promise. In October of 2009, my wife and I were in our local camera shop and they had a Canon 7D on the shelf. I had heard they shot really cool video, and I had seen one of Philip Bloom‘s early “People” videos online. For some reason my wife told me to buy it. I hadn’t taken a still photo in 17 years, and my only previous video experience was the HandyCam and iMovieHD. But I was really loving Final Cut and just amazed by the things I could do, and what YouTubers all over the world were willing to teach me for free. She had a 50D and some lenses, and she thought it would be good for me. This was an outrageously expensive impulse buy.
One of the things I have done right with my life is to avoid debt. And generally I have avoided debt by NOT making impulse buys like fancy new DSLRs. But because of our no-debt policy, we did have the money. So I bought the 7D.
This camera literally changed my life. Three years and four months later, I have shot and edited over 600 shorts — most of the time as director/producer as well as DP, but sometimes just as a shooter or DP. I have bought new cameras with video production profits, including the 5D Mark II, and recently the C300 and the 5D Mark III. My client list includes 7-Eleven, T-Mobile, GE, MasterCard, Philips, Habitat for Humanity, Author Meg Cabot (of “Princess Diaries” fame), Muzzy Language training and tons more. I have shot commercials, corporate video, weddings, Bar/Bat Mitzvah’s, drug & alcohol education and a ton of food and non-profit videos. And I have made over 60 personal/family videos … every new thing I need to learn is tried out on my family, and the gift is a treasure-trove of memories for my kids, siblings, in-laws and friends.
In the meantime, I did have to deal with my fair share of friends and family (especially my mother) who thought I was absolutely, certifiably and completely nuts. Becoming a video guy in my forties? Huh? What? Crazy talk. In fact, this is what many people told me I couldn’t do when I was a kid. But here’s the trick … in my case, I never set out to be a video guy (or DP, Producer, Director, Editor, whatever.) All I really did was try to learn something new. And then another new thing, and another, and another. Today I am busy full-time as a director and DP for corporate video production. And my clients LOVE that they don’t have to go to New York City (which is about 50 miles from me.)
I have loved every single day of this process (well … ALMOST everyday … there have been one or two that have pretty much sucked!) But even the difficult, frustrating and maddening days have given me great gifts of learning and knowledge. I am making a living and supporting my family with video production. I have two kids in college and a third in high school. This is an expensive family to support, and to me this is nothing short of a miracle.
I was in business for 19 years with my father and brother. It provided well, but my soul was miserable in that enterprise. But, there is always a silver lining. What I didn’t realize at the time is that those experiences gave me something amazing … today I am an artist with an amazing business background and education. I have met so many people in this business who struggle every day. They are really good at what they do … but they lament the old days, don’t get “this whole DSLR” thing and struggle to find work in what is admittedly not one of the best economies we’ve ever had in the U.S. They aren’t good at invoicing, or selling a new project to a customer, or rolling with it as projects change and evolve. Nearly all of them are artists (or in some cases technicians) with no business background at all. I am so lucky to have had every miserable experience in that business I hated. I could not do what I do today without that background.
The past few months have been a bit of a new turning point. When I started, I was happy to do ANYTHING that was related to video. I was also thrilled when anyone would pay me anything to hold a camera or edit video. Today I have reached the point where I have the privilege of being a little more discriminating. I no longer accept new event work unless it is a direct referral from a previous client (and a client who I liked!) Nearly all my new paying business is corporate, non-profit or food related. I am working on several personal projects with a writer/producer friend. My family and personal videos remain my real passion. The closest things I’ve ever had to “viral” videos are a piece sending my son Sam off to college, and a short documentary on the local clean-up efforts following Hurricane Sandy. Another of my personal favorites is this piece just completed for Habitat for Humanity:
Ok, so we have come to the end of this guest blog post, and what is my message? I still haven’t been asked by Ron to be on Crossing the 180 (though I continue to list this as one of my goals down the road.) I guess my message is simply this: If you want a new life, you can have a new life. “Let’s see what the universe brings to me,” is pretty much my philosophy in life these days. I can’t wait to see what happens down the road.
A former owner of a dull-normal business, Brian Russell is now a filmmaker based in Connecticut. He loves his family, video production and red sneakers!
Ron’s note: I love this story. As someone relatively close in age to Brian (i.e. the same age) I find it very inspiring. You’re never too old. FYI, Sir Ridley Scott directed his first feature film (1979’s “Alien”) when he was 42 years old. 34 years later (at nearly 80 years old) he’s still going strong.
Oh, and Brian, you may yet be a guest on my show one day. You never know. 🙂