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These Are the People in Your Neighborhood
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Old July 22nd, 2008, 10:49 AM   #1
Major Player
Join Date: Apr 2008
Location: Chicago, Illinois USA
Posts: 645
Chicago photographer to video, what I want to do when I grow up.


I've been on this forum for sometime and have found the information from all over the world to be just amazing all the time and overwhelming some of the time. Thanks to the host(s) of this site for keeping the info out there.

A bit about me. I graduated from Rhode Island School of Design back in 1978 with a BFA in Photography and a strong film background.

For the past 28 years I've run my own studio specializing in healthcare, medical and pharmaceutical clients. Mostly people, location, and lifestyle stuff, and a smattering of product photography.

Most rewarding were the projects that involved shooting actual people in an editorial style that would then find their way to medical and in-service type videos for huge pharmaceutical firms. I did allot of travel to some really cool places. The budgets were fantastic, and maybe best of all, no art directors breathing down my back so I could come back with a true photographic interpretation. Now it seems that there are always 10 people behind my camera I have to shoo away!!!

Over the past few years, as the advertising business was beginning to get freaky and clients wanted cheap over creative, I started thinking about what I want to do when I grow up. Again.

I'd always wanted to do something with film or video, and not adding to the glut of mostly awful commercials that we are bombarded with.

I did the unthinkable. I "fired" about half of my clients that were just to cheap, but kept me busy. I also RAISED my creative fee. I did this because I felt I could use the time to learn something new, mainly Final Cut Express, and all aspects of video, audio, and so on. As you can imagine, this did open up some time. Worried a bit, but what a relief. Oddly, some of those clients came back with more "reasonable" budgets.

I also had an epiphany that I have really done well for myself in photography for many years, and that maybe it was time to give back a little. I wanted to do something that made a difference and was much more meaningful than shooting for the self congratulating industry of advertising.

I stumbled across an ad in Craigslist volunteer section for a senior center looking for "film makers" to work on films about the residents of their faciltiy. Basically legacy films: describe your child-hood, parents and so-on. I called, joined, and now just finished my second film. Each film involves about five people. Cameraman, interviewer, research, first (rough) editor, and final editor. On the two that I have worked on so far, I've been cameraman, rough editor, research, and final editor. I've added music, scanned old family photos and do motion control in FC. I've also used my old still photo skills to photograph the resident during various point in his or her day. I love working with "B" roll stuff. This helps cover the many edits of the actual interview footage. The next project will have me doing the interviewing. I'm scared, but I know it is something i need to do and learn.

After a film is completed, there is a showing to all the residents and families that can be wheeled or walked to the "premier". A DVD copy of the film goes to the family, the person in the film, and the facility. maybe a few for the volunteers. And that's it.

This film legacies will be around much longer than the person who's film I worked, and possibly even me. Families will be able to visit these for generations to come.

Since this is a volunteer, not for profit, we work with pretty bare bones equipment, like an older Canon Optura 50. Editing is done on an Imac with Final Cut Express, storage a Lacie 500GB drive. Some new lights have been ordered, but before that, it was ambient or a small 100watt desklamp (yes, desklamp) for lighting!!! I brought in a couple of Lowell Omni's with umbrellas to help augment.

This has been one of the most rewarding experiences in many years. I've learned TONS of new stuff. The people that run the program are great as well, and they care about this on-going project. Probably the best part for me is the reaction of the resident and the gratitude is something that no amount of money can buy. I can't remember the last time someone was grateful for something I had done in the ad world!

Epiphany number 2- could I possibly make even the smallest living doing something like this on my own? Well, that, my friends, is the goal at this point. I'm after gratitude and appreciation, more than money at this juncture in my life.

Ironically, just when I thought it was safe to walk past a photo or computer wallet cringes. Someday I hope to own a Canon XH A1 or something like, but then i need storage, more horsepower in computing, mikes, Final Cut Studio, monitors, OYE VEY.

So that's where I'm at. I did see that there are people that specialize in this and one site in particular that I found interesting is These guys REALLY put together a nice show. One of the owners is on this list. I even emailed a love note, but have not heard back...

So if you are in Chicago and doing this kind of thing, and need a camera person, editor, I'm here.

OK. I gotta go back to studying now. Best to all of you.

Jonathan Levin
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