By David Weldon
Forward by Shane Hurlbut, ASC
When you’re starting off, one of the biggest challenges in the film industry can be just getting the chance to be on set. “How do you find work?” “What’s the best way to get on set?” “How can I work with XYZ?” – I get asked these questions all the time. Let me tell you right now, though, that getting on that set, working with that Director or DP or whatever that opportunity may have been, that’s just the beginning. It’s just your first hurdle, your first leap, and you will be leaping right out of the frying pan and into the fire. With so much of the conversation being about how to get on set, we’re not focusing on the real question:
“How do you STAY on set?”
Once you’re there, done your job and wrapped, will you be getting a call for the next job? Well that will depend on a whole lot of factors that can’t always be boiled down to just “how hard you worked” or how “pretty” your images were. That’s why we’re starting this series, A Filmmaker’s Mindset: Core Concepts for Success. So that I can share a few core concepts with you, and then my team will share their experiences to show you how these concepts helped them build their careers.
First off, and I know I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again:
I’m really excited to share all these different perspectives from members of my team and how they stayed “tenacious” (ooohhh yeah, I like that HA) throughout their careers. First up is David Weldon, our Creative Director at Hurlbut Visuals and an up and coming Director of Photography in his own right.
Hi everyone, David Weldon, Shane’s Creative Director. My story with Hurlbut Visuals is a pretty good one as far as how it came to be, and from what many of my friends and colleagues have told me, it’s a good story to share to encourage others to pursue what they love. I’m going to share a story that goes back before I even knew about Shane and Lydia Hurlbut and what I feel has shaped who I am today as a professional.
If you like, you can take a listen to the “Cinematographer’s Insight Podcast” where I sat down with Rob Ruscher and shared the story of how I came to be a part of the Hurlbut Visuals team. You should listen to Rob’s other guests as well! Rob has taken a little bit of time off in doing his podcast, so I’m hoping that by mentioning it here, it will encourage Rob to get back on the horse! Come On Rob!!!! Love Rob, he’s a good friend.
Where My Career Began: College and First Job
My professional career started in Television Broadcasting back in 2008-2009. I was freelancing for the Pittsburgh Penguins in the NHL as a part-time shooter/editor. Back then I desperately wanted to work in sports. I love sports and this was the “dream.” One of my college pals got a job for the Pittsburgh Steelers in the NFL and went on to get a Super Bowl ring for his work in their media department, pretty sweet. I went to college in Pittsburgh, after spending 18 years of my life growing up in Maryland, so the exposure to a different city and lifestyle was great, especially since I wasn’t attached to the sports teams in the city. It was great to freelance for the Penguins and not have a direct attachment to the team, it left me hungry to create and learn more and to look outside of Pittsburgh.
I got noticed by the Penguins because when I was in college I started the first NCAA Hockey Broadcasts for my University (Robert Morris University). I had been producing/directing a sports tv show for our student tv station in my sophomore year and by my junior year I had moved onto producing/directing half of the Men’s & Women’s NCAA Hockey home games. Robert Morris gave a lot of opportunities to students, giving you complete control of projects, virtually letting you say that the show was yours.
At the time, Robert Morris didn’t have the latest and greatest equipment either. We had just started using Final Cut 4 on Mac Power PCs. We were using CCU style cameras from the early 90s, where most of the cameras had a “ghosting” image. Needless to say, we had some gear that was in bad shape.
Due to the physical logistics of the Robert Morris’ hockey complex (which was not on the main campus) I was not going to have access to the “fly pack” of camera gear that we used for football and basketball games, which took place on the main campus. I was going to have to find another way to get these broadcasts going.
I had some political firepower in my back pocket that made this possible. At the time, the media department was in transition. I approached the new department director asking if I could change my show that I did my sophomore year which was a sports debate show, “Borderline.” I called it and asked to turn it into a Coach’s show focused around the Men’s Head Coach, Derek Schooley, which was going to be called “RMU Centre Ice.” I was flat out denied. I was told that my production the previous year wasn’t strong enough to allow me to continue on as a producer/director and that I would have to take a back seat.
My show “Borderline” won a Bronze Telly Award my Sophomore year and it was the only program to do so that year…..so yeah…politics….
I wasn’t deterred. I wouldn’t continue to be told “no.” I learned that the new director wanted our studio to be “available” for the documentaries that were going to be produced. I decided to take a new angle – live sports. I came back to the director and pitched the idea of the live broadcasts, leaving the studio space free, I wouldn’t touch any of the camera gear that would be used for the studio. I got the go ahead to do the project.
I reached out to the local community access station MCA-TV (Moon Community Access Television), which was and still is run by Jim Koepfinger who happened to be an alumni of Robert Morris, and it was 2 miles from campus. I did some research prior to going down there, learning all the names of the people who worked for MCA-TV, I learned Jim was in charge and knew I needed to get to him to try and make something happen. I found Jim’s email and shot him a message from my student email. I told him who I was, what I was looking to do, and that I wanted to meet with him. I knew that if I could just get in the room with him, that I would have a chance to make something happen. I wanted this so badly, I really did! I’ll admit, I was not the most studious person in school, but something about being able to create a project from start to finish and see it through, really spoke to me.
I loved sports and through my time living in Pittsburgh I had become a hockey fan. The University’s team was only a year old, so this would be something that would get me “noticed” by the outside world. Internships were and still are the way to get your first start in any business, but it’s always good to have something to bring with you to showcase your work and how you think. That’s how I have always viewed it, a piece of your work, your creativity is an example of your mind, how it moves, what influences you, and how receptive you are to the outside world.
I walked into Jim’s office at MCA-TV, nervous as hell, but I kept to my mission. We sat down and talked, only to find out that we had a mutual interest. Jim had been trying to work with the University getting his TV “truck” to be used for sporting events so he could help teach and give back to the University. Of course, it took a one day meeting with a Junior student for it to happen, after he had been trying for nearly 10 years.
It took just a few weeks to get things organized and going between MCA-TV and the University. We had full support of the sports department and the media department. In early 2008, we launched the first broadcast of NCAA Hockey in Western Pennsylvania.
The People You Keep Close to You
There are a few parts of this story that are missing because it would take me hours to write it all out. The largest part of the story is the people who are around you and the friends you make who want to support your passions and you want to support theirs. While I was at RMU and specifically this project, it was my friends like Laura Lamouree, Ken Vedder, Greg Difiore, Dan Yost, Gary Smith, Brian Tirpak, Bill Romango, Andrew Chiappazzi and lots more who played a part in this coming to life.
It’s not about doing everything yourself or thinking you are the best and that no one else can do what you can. The best part of my college experience was learning that I needed a team around me. The best creatives in this industry have a team around them at all times. People that they can trust, that they can rely on. It’s like going to battle, you have to know that if you make a mistake and take a hit, that the person on your left and your right will lean over and pick up where you fall.
My goal in telling this story is to take a minute to pull back from the tech and the “how to do it” material that we write a lot here. You must spend time giving attention and focus to other areas other than just how to do something technically.
This is art. A film, a live sporting event, a commercial – it’s all art. You have to understand the language of that art in order to deliver a compelling story. Your team, is a part of that language, how you get that art off the ground is a part of that language. It is all one cohesive unit, you must look at each part as equal. If you let one side thrive while another side suffers, your art will suffer.
Creating Your Own Path
The largest question I expect to hear after many of you reading this is, “how did you make it into the business after this?”
The answer is complex, but simple. I didn’t quit. You just keep learning, you continue to move forward. The crux of this story is the internship. That was the goal. It was an internship (un-paid but for college credit) with the Pittsburgh Penguins. I had a connection to the Penguins, but I knew I would have to deliver something to get noticed. My hockey broadcasts were my “spec spots,” my “portfolio” pieces – this is what I handed to their Director of Production, Chris DeVivo, and Game Night Producer, Bill Wareham to get noticed.
This is “working for it” and how you catch someone’s attention. I was fortunate to have such a great mentor as Joseph Hale who instilled this in me. He set me on the path for success. Joseph was the one who opened the door to the internship but also prepared me for four years. He taught me how to make it, how to make the right moves, and showed that you can be valuable to people.
Advice for Every Path
If I could offer advice to anyone, coming out of school, in the middle of your career looking for growth, it’s one thing: don’t hesitate. Act first and think while you are doing it. Ask for forgiveness after you’ve done it. If someone tells you “no” on the first try, you’ve got unlimited lives in this game to find the person who will tell you “yes.” It’s not up to them to get the ball rolling, it is up to you. At the end of the day, everything you face is just a challenge and there is a solution. If you can simplify it down to this idea, you can find that solution to what is in front of you. Essentially in one word, it is a “mind-set.”
Don’t go into something thinking “this won’t happen” or “it is impossible.” Force yourself to know that you will accomplish what you are setting out to do. Just because you don’t have the answer in front of you right now, doesn’t mean you won’t very soon. Be fearless.
We will continue this story in a few weeks, where I will get you to the date in history I’ll never forget, April 17, 2012, when everything in my life changed forever on the show floor at NAB.