There's a scene in the movie
Good Will Hunting where Matt Damon, who has been given a court appointed counseling session, walks into an office where Robin Williams plays a psychiatrist. Damon says
"I read your book" whereas Williams dryly responds "Oh, so you're the one."
It is in that vein that I write this biography. Whether you ventured here willingly or stumbled upon this page by mistake... this is my story.
Everybody has to grow up somewhere and for me that was Cherry Hill, New Jersey.
When I was in 4th grade I sat next to a kid named Eric Goldberg. Eric could draw like a man possessed. At that time, his claim to fame was decorating our book covers with Disney characters and drawing animated "flip" books. Eric went on to be a huge animator at Disney (like he worked on Fantasia) . I could draw as a kid (sort of) and my feeble attempts to mimic Eric's flip books were my first steps towards a career in motion pictures.
For as long as I can remember I have been a storyteller who thinks in pictures.
I was fortunate enough to have had an Uncle who worked in Hollywood as an Art Director. He became a huge influence on my future career. He worked on original TV shows like Gilligan’s Island, Wild Wild West, Get Smart and Gunsmoke. He also did a lot of movies that have become classics. The first time my family went to California on vacation, he took me to work with him. I spent that day running around on the lagoon for the Gilligan set, shot pool on the train they used for Wild Wild West with Robert Conrad and ran around the streets of Gunsmoke with Buffy and Jody from Family Affair during their studio lunch break (because we were about the same age). Yes, I got to play with that shoe phone that Maxwell Smart made famous (because my uncle designed it) I remember very little about going to Disneyland that summer… but I remember everything about that day at Studio City.
I went to the University of Montana for college, mainly to ski I think. When I couldn’t afford a ticket home to the East Coast for Spring Break or Christmas, I headed south to Los Angeles to stay at my uncle’s place. I remember standing in the darkness of several studios where my uncle was working just watching movies being made. I was hooked.
But when it came time to choose a college major, my uncle actually discouraged me from getting into this business.
The motion picture business was going through a metamorphisis of sorts. It was changing from an industry where everyone worked for one of the major studios... to an industry where everyone was more or less freelance. You'd "crew up" for a movie or a commercial or whatever and work there until it wrapped. Then you would hopefully move on to something new. For the old guys, my uncle being one of them, this offered no job security. It was the beginning of the end, or so they thought. So after a brief stint as a Pre-Law major, I decided to get a business degree. The thinking was that you could always get a job with a business degree (yea right… as a supermarket manager perhaps). The problem was, I hated the Business School. That is, everything except the advertising classes. I took every advertising course I could. They fascinated me and I was good at them. Then, one day at registration, they told me I could not take any more of the advertising and media classes I wanted to take unless I was a Radio/ TV and Film major.
I said “I’ll be right back” ... and in 20 minutes... I had a new major.
For graduation my Uncle gave me a gift… a job in the Art Department on the original Hawaii –Five- O . It was shooting on location in Maui. A dream job. Believe it or not, I declined (yes, a girl was involved) deciding instead to try to make it on my own. I still think about that from time to time. We all come to forks in the road during our lives. This was one of mine. I don’t regret it, but my life would certainly be different now if I had gone. It took a while but I finally got a job in Charlotte, NC with a 16mm film production company that made sponsored films for Fortune 500 companies. $8000/year. It was the early 80's and even back then you couldn’t live on that kind of money. I called my dad for advice and he told me to look at it as if I were being paid to go to graduate school. It turned out to be good advice and I became a Southerner.
We worked on some cool stuff for some really big clients, both directly and through their advertising agencies. It was my first introduction to working with celebrities. More importantly, we got to wear a lot of hats. I was actually hired as a writer but I quickly learned about running sound, lighting, cinematography, directing and editing. We shot on film and edited on Moviola flatbed edit benches… actually cutting the film with scissors like it was done then… but , man, we were making movies!
On the personal side of things, I met a girl, got married and started to raise a daughter, Ashley. To this day she makes me smile and is one of the things I am most proud of . Watching her develop into an accomplished still photographer and an amazing mother is something that gives me great pleasure.
Eventually I outgrew the production company I was working for so I quit and joined another production company across town. They were "higher end" and specialized mainly in television commercials. That interested me. Being able to make someone laugh, cry or buy something they probably didn’t need in 30 seconds takes skill ...and I wanted to master it.
During that same time period, I got the opportunity to shoot and direct a music video for a relatively unknown band called the X-Teens… for a new network called MTV (am I really that old?). You can see that silly video here. At the time, MTV didn’t even have enough material to stay on the air past midnight but its popularity was growing. The video was made to compete for something called the Budweiser Golden Guitar Award. Each week a winner was chosen and if you won... they put your video into regular rotation on the network for a while.
For a band, this was the holy grail.
The band is long gone but I used the experience to bootstrap myself into the music video world and for several years I worked the Nashville scene shooting videos for country music stars. It was a new and up and coming way for artists to get noticed using MTV and the CMT (the country music channel) as their vehicle. I wanted to be an overnight success and was pretty sure I would be… so much for being young, stupid and cocky. It just doesn’t work like that in this business. You have to put in your time. So I worked for another production company or two and with the help of some great technical people and some very loyal clients, I began to establish a following.
In 1989 I was working for a production company that was brilliantly creative but very poorly run. So poorly, that I was afraid I would come to work one day to find the doors boarded up and the owner in Debtor’s Prison. By now I had a wife, a kid, a house and I was feeling the weight of that responsibility. I never really wanted to own my own company, but the time had come… and Oasis Films was born.
I had no money, no gear of my own, no studio and no guaranteed business. I was also scared to death. I had visions of living in a car with my family. Luckily, that never happened. I opened the company with $2500 and I set a modest goal… to make enough money next month so I can be in business the month after... and to never take any of it for granted. I tried to never lose the fear that it could all go away tomorrow. Luckily, that never happened. We took off. Each year we got a little bigger than the year before. As our work matured our client list grew. Eventually we had a staff, all of the toys you need like cameras, lights, mixing boards, editing suites, etc... and we built a studio to put it all in. My accountant was smiling.
As a company, we were never really great at the "shotgun sales approach"… the one where you fire off a broad shot and hope you hit “something”. I was always jealous of the companies who were good at that approach. They would end up working for a lot of different, unrelated, clients whereas we seemed to latch on to a few choice ones. We were more precision oriented and in the long run it was the better way to go. Our success came in long winded relationships with clients who kept coming back. We cut our teeth on Chevrolet all over the United States for ten years and Coca Cola for thirteen. When Chevy went away we started shooting for Ford throughout the country with J. Walter Thompson Advertising…. a relationship that still exists. We did retail for Belk Department stores and several others for more than a decade. We shot for Food Lion for fifteen years and stayed with them even as they bounced from advertising agency to agency. For Harris Teeter supermarkets, seventeen years and still going strong. And along the way we did our share of banks, lotteries, credit card companies, NASCAR, music videos, sports teams and everything in between.
Looking back, it’s hard to believe.
Here in the South it’s hard to specialize so you have to get good in several areas out of necessity. For me, it’s been dialog, lifestyle, automobiles, celebrities and kids. But I have done just about everything you can think of. I am what is known as a Director / Cinematographer. In short, I typically like to shoot my own work. Some Agencies want Director’s who just direct and although I can play that role, I typically shy away from those projects. At my core is a love for photography. And whether its still photographs for my gallery, cinema for a movie, footage for a music video or something wild an Advertising Creative brings to the table… I like seeing it first through my own viewfinder. Its a passion. Hopefully you will see that in my work.
That brings us to the here and now. A few years ago my brother died in what many would consider the prime of his life. His death shook me to my core. All of a sudden everything that seemed so important... wasn't. I had made some money during my career and along the way I miraculously saved some of it. Money can't make you happy... but it can create opportunities that can make you happy. So I decided to make some changes, see the world and create some stories. My staff all set off on their personal journeys and about a year ago I decided to sell off the equipment and real estate Oasis owned. Basically... cash out. You can rent that stuff when you need it and in fact, most production companies do.
Oasis is still a viable production company and I still run occasional jobs through it. But I am now in the position to work only on the jobs that interest me with people I find interesting. For example, I struck up a relationship with a company in Africa and have done several projects with them, with another on the horizon. Fun stuff. My second documentary has been sitting on hard drives for a few years now and I just started the editing process on that. Something long overdue. I've also established informal "sister" agreements with several production companies that I often work through, either as a director, a director of photography, or both. It has opened up some interesting opportunities. It lets me do what I like to do without all of the responsibility of a full blown production company to wrangle.
And most importantly, it gives me more time for my still photography, a true passion. Although I do shoot stills commercially from time to time, I find my greatest peace with a still camera in my hand wandering around some beautiful landscape or in the presence of animals. For those of you interested, you can see the fruits of those labors on my still photography website which you can access below... it's fun to look at.
Life is short. I'm trying very hard not to lose sight of that.
Enjoy your time on this site.