The other day somebody told me something along the lines of, “But it’s only a little video. It doesn’t need to be fancy.”
And everybody that’s ever made any sort of motion pictures ever simultaneously rolled their eyes.
Here is the thing… that is one hundred percent correct: video doesn’t need to be fancy! If you have an iPhone you can make a movie and tell a story with just a little production value.
But you can’t have just a little context. Heartfelt Interview with a lot of laughter in the background feels less heartfelt than Heartfelt Interview with clean sound, or Heartfelt Interview that never says what exact Heartfelt Issue we’re addressing. It takes time and energy to set context up no matter what.
There’s this guy that is kind of a staple in film school curriculum by the name Kuleshov. He taught at the first film school ever. He’s kind of a big deal.
Basically, this Kuleshov character cuts together a shot of an old man at a table acting very neutrally with several different cutaway shots: a bowl of soup, a young child, and a coffin. He screened the three different pairings of the old man + one of the three shots to his students, and depending on what the second image was, that determined how the viewers saw the old man. When he was with the soup, they thought he was hungry. When he was with the coffin, they thought he was mournful. You get the idea.
So I thought I’d try Kuleshov’s experiment on myself. I used one line, “My name is Rory Gordon and I make videos,” seven different times.
Normal*, Sexy**, Creepy***, Clueless****, Aloof, Like a Crazy Cat Lady, Normal again.
All of these are on top of “ridiculous” obviously.
My point in all this: be deliberate with your video. Just because all you want is a 60 second montage of you at work, be mindful that the most professional mission statement in the world won’t hold up if you’re saying it half naked, if the sound is bad, or if otherwise what you show doesn’t back up the words you say. The magic word is context.
And when you hire a professional like me, that’s what you actually pay for: not my gear, but my ability to set up context in which you look like a deliberate version of yourself. I’m not fancy: I’m just a good story teller… which is fortunately for me, not something that Apple has figured out how to sell in that sexy minimal packaging yet. Fingers crossed.
PS - Anyone out there have any experience where you didn’t look like yourself in a photo or video? Let’s commiserate.
*As normal as possible with me anyway. **If jailbait is ever sexy and I am ever not completely awkward. ***More than my usual “staring at you unblinking behind a camera” creepy. ****As if I’m not always.
Welcome to the thrilling conclusion to this tepid saga! This is just one chapter in the story of my own business, going from part-time Williams-Sonoma chef to colorist and beyond. Thanks for following along.
I have this theory that Oklahoma is actually like a fly trap for creative people. Seriously, when the only thing to do as a teenager is drive around and stare at flat land, it’s pretty good motivation to make something more interesting. I have a distinct memory of being sixteen, spending an entire spring break driving around Southern Oklahoma aimlessly and feeling like every inch of those plains was filled with possibility. The Flaming Lips, The Starlight Mints, Will Rogers: there are a boatload of talented people who have called Oklahoma home. Oklahomies, you know.
In Oklahoma, I had a shoot with Braid Creative to look forward to. I was delighted when earlier in the fall I got an email from Kathleen about my small business video essays. I had connected with her earlier because she’s awesome, the internet makes the world a smaller place, and funny enough - she lives in my old ‘hood. She thought a small business essay was a kick-ass idea and she and Tara were a kick-ass fit for one. Meanwhile their approach to small business coaching was something my tiny, sputtering enterprise could really do well with. I showed up to Braid Creative and was there for maybe five minutes before I knew we were all going to get gold.
My video essay illustrated what made their growing company appealing in an irreverent, researched way. It was pretty magic to hand in a project that rocked not because of the gear, but because I finally found a client that wanted my perspective and liked the product I most wanted to make. At the same time, the creative roadmap I got from Tara and Kathleen kind of changed my life. They gave me words for what I have to offer: a simple loud statement to replace the staggering silence I’d previously stumbled over when describing my business.
Now, the roadmap sits on my desktop. I kind of think of it as a treasure map though, because my spirit animal is an angry pirate.
The best part of the roadmap was seeing my own words echoed back to me, but confirmed and made stronger by a second and third party. The sisters Braid are more like a second, third, fourth and fifth party. Their relationship to creative vision is exponential.
I could see I wasn’t just grasping at straws. I looked at our findings and I did have a product people wanted. I just had to find the right market. Which was maybe not primarily brides: it was other business owners.
This was a huge challenge for me to accept, because so many of the photographers I admire are indeed wedding photographers. And A Practical Wedding practically launched my business, so I felt extremely torn about no longer pursuing wedding photography.
Don’t get me wrong, I have my classicfavoriteshooterstoo, but the thing about these wedding industry rogue-agents? They have such genuine content on their blogs and websites, both their photos and words attract customers as kick-ass as they are. I wanted some of that constantly unfolding narrative. I could see it developing in front of me day after day, thanks to the webernets.
As a young creative professional I am constantly consuming other media, trying to find a balance between looking for inspiration and making something that’s distinctly my own. The greatest asset the roadmap from Braid provided me was that: a clear picture of what I’m great at.
Because I saw what my niche was, I could find inspiration from anywhere, from anything, at any time, and keep a grip on my different perspective. Anytime I get a little jealous, it pays in scores to have what I really want written down. I look at the map again and decide if I’m actually envious of something that would help my path. Usually the answer is no.
I came home from Oklahoma feeling calmer and cleaner, ready to put my business back together in a way that made sense. Ready to invest in the right channels.
We whipped through the plains again, rolled down the windows when we could, filled up when it was cheapest, and were sent off with a lot of snacks packed with love and blue cheese dip. It was much better than the dollar-menu-induced intestinal distress endured on the previous trip.
James got three calls for jobs while we were gone, and when we came back, I was working at the Dailies lab more than ever. I chose to go in and train with color correction software, even when there wasn’t money attached. I went from developing my business as Rory Gordon Photo: A Lady That Shoots Businesses and Weddings and Please Hire Me Please… to Rory Gordon Photo: Portraits of Businesses.
The story gets less dramatic after this point. I continued to go work at Williams-Sonoma, the lab, and run my business for a while. But most of all, I made a choice. I’m a professional videographer and colorist, and that’s where I should choose to concentrate my efforts. I chose to be more concerned with being an imaging professional than paying bills, and it happened. Slowly, and with hesitation, but it happened. I worked really hard at the lab, and one day I was so tired I just knew I couldn’t do everything anymore. I put in my notice at Williams-Sonoma and that was that.
We didn’t miraculously have more money. I didn’t have any more connections. I just rerouted my energy. I brought back some of that magic from the plains. Feeling like I had choice and options again made me the brokest rich woman in the world.
Outside my office, 2012
If I could tell anyone who was in my shoes from 2011 anything, it’s this: if you find the right path to focus your energy, things will get easier. And when it happens, please give yourself a treat because finding a path is a huge accomplishment, in and of itself. Go out for lunch, develop a light soda addiction, start a soft pretzel slush fund. Even if you discover you’ve got three months left at a day-job, just the knowledge that each step is finite will give you something to go on.
So I leapt. I began to realize my future might actually include professional imaging science. And that brings me up pretty much to where I am today.
I remember when I got hired in my first production office I said to my good friend MJ, “This job is going to change everything.” She laughed and said, “This is your first job. Any job would change everything.”
View from inside my first production office, 2010.
That’s still true. Any job I take is important, because now I choose to take it with conviction and clarity of mind. Any job I take gives me another choice, which makes me a little richer.
Last I left my tepidsaga of varied states of over and under employment, I dragged myself tooth and nail decided it was time to pony up the expenses and go home to visit.
To be honest, the promise of collecting my crock pot and a few stray pieces of luggage tempted me as well. I wasn’t sure we could fit everything in the car, but you know, worth a try. I mean, you can make a lot of budget-savvy meals in a crock pot.
Despite yet another nerdy girl version of a run in with the law in Texas, we made it home, the same as usual. We found a few roadside oddities, of course.
We were greeted with hugs and smiles and I was happy to get to introduce James as my husband over and over. And considering how many segments there are in my family, there is always a lot of announcing things over and over.
The hard part of going home is, and always has been, going back to a family with so many centers.
My family reminds me of the sprawling nature of Los Angeles, which reminds me of the sprawling nature of Oklahoma City. It’s maybe why I like both cities so much. There’s no real center to LA: the center depends on what your priorities are. If you’re young and cool and like music, Silverlake is the center. If you’re a hiker and love the beach, you love Laurel Canyon. If you’re like me and can’t get away from Hollywood, that’s where you live.
That is also what I have had to learn to love about my fractal family. Divorce, different backgrounds, spread across a 40 mile radius all over Oklahoma… my family should have a diversity development program on a TV network. And though I love them all dearly for making my life richer, it is hard to find time to see everyone. It is physically exhausting to know “going home” means switching houses every couple days. The only way to keep things straight is yet another Google Calendar. I just, excuse me, wanted to poop in the same place for more than two days.
But this time was a little different: I had a set of eyes and ears with me to watch me try and balance it all and reassure me yes, I did the best I could do get everyone in.
I was hoping to shoot some sort of epic photo essay across the country. Maybe find a weird hook like goofy sodas found in rest stops and start an internet meme. But now I see I took a lot of my favorite kind of photos: people in their natural habitat. Nothing much going on, other than subtext. Photos of people just kinda, being there.
These stories, the kind of small, everyday anecdotes are the ones that truly captures my interest. I was missing shooting material that was captivating to me first, before a market or an audience.
And the magic from the trip was subtle too: when I started to simply say what I wanted out loud, to let my quirky, irreverent loud mouth run off a little bit, I found the same kind of people gravitated back to me. To my surprise, I did not scare off my whole family. Even more of a surprise, I started to notice we have more in common than I thought.
And we fit everything back in the car.
My career and family were mirroring each other again. Both were like messy, colorful piles of jello I was trying desperately to hold in my hands sans bowl and keep from spilling all over the place.
I knew I had something meaningful, I just had to figure out how to keep a hold on it. And I needed a fucking bowl, already.