Spotlight: East and South
Independent Spirits: Spotlighting small companies with moxie and unique voices
By Cory Sekine-Pettite
Once again, we shine our Spotlight around the country, looking for people doing interesting work in film and television production, animation, commercial production, and additional services for our industry. The companies profiled below represent a diverse mix of specialties and an array of attention-grabbing projects.
Ryan Lightbourn / Sleepwalker Studios
Ryan Lightbourn is fueled by passion and the love of filmmaking – and horror movies. The Bahamian native and Orlando, Fla. resident runs his year-old Sleepwalker Studios as the primary director/DP/editor. As this issue goes to press, Lightbourn is completing his company’s first feature-length film, Sleepwalkers. He describes the film as “a backwoods creature feature.” Lightbourn loves the horror genre. In fact, his next movie, a sword and sorcery feature, is lined up for a November 2014 release to video-on-demand (VOD) outlets. And he currently is writing a Predator-style Sasquatch film that he expects to release in 2015.
“Typically, with a low-budget film, you’re stuck with what you shoot during your main production schedule,” said Lightbourn. “However, over the past five years of freelancing, my producer Tim and I have amassed all of the necessary gear to shoot a professional product so it costs very little to improve our films via second unit. With Sleepwalkers, there was one fairly long scene where we just weren’t getting the performance we wanted, so we scrapped it and patched it up with something bigger and better when we shot second unit. We will always have very strict quality control over our films.”
Lightbourn began his career in 2009 as a “one-man show,” directing short films and music videos. He shot a few videos for some well-known hip-hop artists, including Big Sean, Travis Porter, Plies, and Slum Village, which were featured on MTV and BET, and one of them even shows up in an episode of Showtime Network’s Ray Donovan. But Lightbourn’s passion always has been narrative film, especially scary ones. So, during his time making music videos (He estimates he shot more than 100 of them.) from 2009-2012, he also was working on long-form projects. For example, he wrote and directed a short film in 2011, called Roid Rage, which did well on the horror festival circuit, he said. The trailer received more 3 million views online.
“I became a filmmaker to share my ideas with the world, so last year I decided to reboot my career and start from scratch,” Lightbourn said. “The music video and DP gigs had become my bread and butter, so it was a difficult decision, but Sleepwalkers turned out exceptionally well for the budget; it’s receiving a lot of press based off the trailer and it has already been requested by a number of top studios and agents.”
Though he works mostly within driving distance of his Florida home, Lightbourn does occasionally venture into international work. “As a native of the Bahamas, I’ve shot a wide range of music videos and commercials on many different Bahamian islands,” he said. “I also had a photo shoot for a reggaeton artist in Puerto Rico a while back. I shoot a lot of stock footage, so many of my shots that do well are from the Bahamas. Once you venture away from the major city/island, Nassau/New Providence, it’s a truly mind blowing experience.
“The film commission is extremely supportive of locals, so I’d love to go back there and shoot a feature film some day,” Lightbourn continued. “There’s an old legend about a half-bird/half-man creature called Chickcharney, who lives in the swamps on the island of Andros. I have many ideas to expand on that concept.”
Lightbourn says he plans to be extremely busy over the next couple of years. “A lot of blood, sweat and tears will be poured into my films to retain high levels of both quantity and quality. The money is secondary for me; I’m not doing this to make millions. I’m just happy that I get to make a ton of films.”
Did we mention the blood?
|Ryan Lightbourn on set, as well as two scenes from his original film, Sleepwalkers.|
Image Associates (iA) is a Charleston, W.Va.-based firm that specializes in TV commercial production, long-form video, aerials, and ENG/EFP crews. The award-winning company (more than 20 Telly Awards, Batchy Award, ADDY’s) has a staff of 12 and works mostly in the Mid-Atlantic region. From a two-person documentary crew to a 40-person, feature-style video production, iA has the experience, relationships, financial capacity and infrastructure in place to effectively plan, staff and equip any size video production shoot, the company boasts on it Website.
Additionally, iA asserts its dominance as the most complete field production equipment package in West Virginia, which includes a multi-instrument HMI lighting package, a Bell Jet Ranger with a Cineflex mount fitted with a Sony HDC-1500 high- definition camera for aerials, and a remodeled edit suite for 2D and 3D animation, color correction and effects, and more.
|For more than 15 years, Image Associates has been producing the bulk of the West Virginia Lottery’s spots.|
For more than 15 years, iA has been producing the bulk of the West Virginia Lottery’s spots, and it regularly works for ad agencies, networks, and corporate clients such as Discovery and Entertainment Tonight. Image Associates also provided production services for J.J. Abrams’ Super 8 movie, the History Channel’s Men Who Built America and The World Wars, and the Travel Channel’s Ghost Adventures Live.
“We began as a production company, but due to market size grew into the agency side of the business,” said Bill Hogan, iA creative director/managing member. “Over half of our production work is generated by our agency side.”
According to Hogan, iA provides production services for features, crews and equipment for visiting producers and network assignments, but the company’s principal business is commercials. Current projects include a spot for Frontier Communications, videos for the West Virginia Housing Development Fund and United Way of Central W.Va., and commercials for a dental franchise.
Incidentally, Image Associates has the only true grip truck in West Virginia and is the only 4K shop in the state, Hogan says. “4K is here and agencies and others expect it.”
|[Above Top} A Pixeldust staffer working on the fine details, and an image from The Fabric of the Cosmos.|
Since 2004, Bethesda, Md.-based Pixeldust has been making waves in the industry with its work in content and programming, commercials and video production, 3D animation and VFX, web design, motion graphics, and Spanish productions. Along the way, it has earned 36 Emmy nominations, 12 Emmys, 15 Telly awards, acceptance into eight NY festivals, and multiple ADDY’s and other awards.
“We are very good at storytelling through animation,” says Pixeldust Co-founder Elizabeth Andrade, who founded the company with Ricardo Andrade. As Elizabeth explained Pixeldust’s origin: Ricardo was the director of the art department at National Geographic TV. Under his supervision, the full-service art and animation department provided concept development, 3D animation, visual effects supervision, and digital compositing for more than 60 hours of programming annually for National Geographic Channel, MSNBC, PBS, and Fox Specials.
“To make a better use of his talent and experience, we saw the opportunity of working with other entities like Discovery, NOVA, Smithsonian Networks, as well as expanding into museum exhibits, government, corporate, and non-profit firms,” Elizabeth said. “We combined our strengths, creative and administrative.”
“We have been blessed with the opportunity of working in many high-end productions, like The Fabric of the Cosmos, with Brian Green, a four-part series in NOVA based on Green’s book, where we depicted very complicated principles and theories like Multiverse, quantum leap, time and space,” continued Elizabeth. Additionally, Pixeldust worked on the animation for Alien Deep with Bob Ballard, a five-part series for National Geographic. The company produced animation to show deep ocean exploration, rogue waves, and theorized life on Mars.
Currently, the company is working on many projects, including a museum travel exhibit, a film about Whistler, best American fighter planes, and several corporate and non-profits productions.
Pixeldust has clients throughout the country and around the world, from Los Angeles to Atlanta, and from Mexico, Europe, the Middle East and Asia. Elizabeth said the company’s work overseas is mostly animation for documentaries, open sequences, and graphics packages.
“With globalization and the expansion of social media, our audiences have become more sophisticated in what they expect to see on the screen, either Web or TV,” Elizabeth said. “We understand that! Audiences want to see on television and Web the same quality of animation as Hollywood movies, but they don’t care to think of the difference in budgets. Our motto is simple: If our name is going to be on the credits it has to be amazing! Sometimes [that work ethic] is not good moneywise, because we end up spending more time than was budgeted, [but it] is a matter of pride.”
If you ask freelance lighting videographer Glen Kantziper about the keys to his company’s success, he might tell you “quick evaluation of a shooting situation and how to proceed in a timely manner requires experience. Having a camera and lighting package that is extensive but very portable, flexible and organized is essential for success in location work. I provide such a service to new and regular clients on a consistent basis.”
|[Above] Glen Kantziper|
Kantziper Production Services & Rental, Inc. (KSPR) is based in Jamestown, N.C., where Glen has been assisting local and regional producers, plus fellow DPs for more than 20 years. A graduate of journalism school, Kantziper began his career in broadcasting before branching out into corporate communications with a North Carolina-based production company. It was there that he began working his way up the production ladder, gleaning skills from experienced freelance DPs before embarking on his own freelance career in the early 1990s.
“Network and cable network jobs made for a couple decades of work interspersed with many corporate productions, mostly single camera, but also multi-camera productions,” Kantziper said. “Lately, the occasional commercial or broadcast shoot provides variety in mostly corporate production work ranging from educational videos to underwear model shoots.”
Kantziper’s work has included shoots for The Science Channel, Al Jazeera America, Hanes Brands, Champion Brands, and a recent collaboration with Panasonic professional video products.
Flexibility in his schedule and working style is another key his career success, says Kantziper, because many of his projects are last-minute assignments. For example, during his interview with Markee in June, he said, “This week, I’ve shot a corporate training session and I’ll cover a press conference tomorrow. Next week, I’ll be on vacation if nobody calls, ha! The week after that, who knows? It has been more than 20 years of what I have the good fortune to call a career of ‘an endless series of unrelated events.’
“I will likely go 4K in the coming weeks for an aerial shoot coming up in a few months,” Kantziper continued. “If nothing else, the 4K camera will allow for reframing in 1080 space and that’ll come in handy for some of the ‘talking head’ work I do – sort of like shooting with one camera in two different focal lengths simultaneously.”